Jan 302015
 
A silver whistle.

My old best friend: yesterday

When I was 15, I earned a little extra money refereeing kids’ football matches. I completed a Football Association qualification, persuaded my mum and dad to buy me all the necessary kit and soon found myself knee-deep in mud every Sunday. I was surrounded by kids who, for the most part, loved it and played the game with smiles on their faces, boundless enthusiasm and absolutely no tactical awareness and parents who, despite being perfectly polite away from the field, were baying for blood at every decision which went against their little darlings. Twenty years later, I’ve found myself reprising this role, albeit in a different arena and with the attitudes of the players and the watching parent pretty much reversed.

The players, of course, are Dylan and Xander while the solitary member of the crowd is also a beleaguered member of the team of match day officials, Kate. The older the boys get, the worse the sibling rivalry becomes along with the need for us to intervene in confrontations. Most of the usual football offences come into play. First of all there’s the fouling and violent conduct – if they’ve had a minor disagreement about something, one of them will try and trip or shove the other. Thankfully, they don’t bite each other so at four and two they’re already showing a greater level of maturity and restraint than Luis Suarez can manage.

Then we have the foul and abusive language – sort of. Thankfully, we’re pretty good at avoiding swearing in front of them, so the phrases don’t exactly turn the air blue, but they still act like a red rag to a bull. Xander still accuses Dylan of being Barry Scott from the Cillit Bang adverts – which I’d certainly take as an insult – while Dylan has been known to retaliate by stealing his socks and hiding them. Admittedly, this is more in the dressing room japes category, but it has the desired effect nonetheless.

Let’s not forget dissent either. Neither of them can help themselves trying to get in the last word when summoned by the referee, and a fair few yellow cards – removals of treats and telly – and the odd red – trips to the naughty corner – have been issued as a result of their back chat. Fortunately, I have plenty of experience of this from my days as a man in the middle – albeit mainly with pushy parents on the touchlines.

Of course, being a referee, I’m fundamentally flawed and have probably made some harsh decisions, but at least I’m not Chris Foy. I’ll take that!

Jan 232015
 
A toy made up of the parts of several well-known super heroes.

The new me: yesterday

We had a bit of a scare recently. Xander fell down some stairs and we ended up in A&E. Amazingly, he was unscathed and is fine, so that’s fantastic. My reaction to the incident made me realise how much becoming a parent has changed me. Here are a few ways in which it has…

Don’t panic!
As alluded to before, I take things in my stride now and don’t panic. Of course, the prospect of him being hurt was horrifying, but I remained calm and zen throughout. I used to be like a headless chicken in situations like this, but have somehow learned to take a step back. It probably makes me look like a psychopath, but Tom knows that he isn’t.

Stronger
I’ve never considered myself particularly strong, but am probably in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I actually have visible muscles now and this is all down to carrying around two wriggly lumps known as Dylan and Xander. There is a limit, of course – that being when they insist on being carried at the same time. Oof.

I’ve got the knowledge
I’ve always been good at retaining information. Most of it before children were on the scene was the kind of stuff that only really comes in use at pub quizzes. Indeed, we won one mere days before my older son, Dylan, arrived. The stuff that I’ve learned about since though has actually served other purposes. From looking after babies and first aid to the workings of the education system and how to function on two hours’ sleep, I’ve got it all stored where my knowledge of capital cities and football grounds used to be.

More sensitive
I’ve definitely become more in touch with my emotions since becoming a dad. I’m always thinking about Kate and the boys when I’m at work and feel rubbish if they’re not happy for any reason. Some stories in the news over the last few years have really affected me like never before too. Just don’t tell the blokes’ union though, okay?

Don’t make me angry…
Despite being calmer and more attuned to my own feelings and those of others, I’ve also got quite angry in other respects. I’m angry about what the idiots in charge of the country have done to it and the rise of the thinly-veiled racist party that are gaining popularity by preying on the petty anxieties of stupid people and capitalising on the apathy of the lazy. Bloody hell, I’ve become politically aware…

Pennywise
No, I haven’t become the scary clown from Stephen King’s It – I’m much more sensible with money now. A lot of it is down to learning from Kate who’s always been very shrewd with the stuff and five months of unemployment last year helped improve our thriftiness too. I also find that I don’t really want anything for birthdays and Christmas anymore. What’s going on?!

How has becoming a parent changed you?

Jan 162015
 
A plate of peas and rice.

A visual metaphor for some faux swearing: yesterday

Something has been troubling me of late. On several occasions, I’ve caught myself using some really lame phrases to express my exasperation at things Dylan and Xander have done. On the face of it, the fact that I’ve taught myself not to use foul language in front of them is a good thing, but the faux swearing I’ve come out with is fucking embarrassing.

The worst one is ‘flipping heck’. What an abysmal substitute that is. It removes the strange kick we get out of making people nearby tut disapprovingly and leaves one feeling a little empty inside. Similarly ‘blooming heck’, ‘sugar’ and ‘bother’ don’t sufficiently articulate the same level of frustration as the much-loved phrases they’re replacing. Swearing is something that should be done properly. Alas, I can’t at home.

You see, I have a hard-earned reputation to protect. Regular listeners to the Love All Dads Podcast will know that I love a good sweary rant. I believe that there’s something very big and clever about well-deployed expletives – as well as the odd needless one for shock laughs – but now I sound more like Ned Flanders from The Simpsons. One thing that I’m not is a prude, but I’m starting to sound like one.

I think it’s the prim and proper thought process behind faux swearing that I dislike most. A lot of it comes from people decades ago not wanting to blaspheme. ‘Cor blimey’ replaced ‘God blind me’ and ‘crikey’ started life as ‘Christ kill me’. It can’t be just me who thinks these so-called means of venting are just a bit shit. The logic is flawed. Surely if people were that worried about being given a thunderbolt for a slip of the tongue, they’d be fretting just as much about being punished for having the urge to say something a tad rude in the first place. It’s phony and, ultimately, a load of bollocks.

Of course, there have been some inventive alternatives to swearing and blasphemy – particularly in films shown on TV and flights. ‘Funking barstool’ is one, for example, and I have to admit that I’m quite fond of ‘peas and rice’ but, again, it’s just not quite the same.

I think the only thing I can do to redress the balance is to start swearing my head off between the hours of 9am and 5pm. I work at a quango which is basically at the bottom of a ladder that ultimately leads up to a cabinet minister. To my twisted mind, that makes it fairly similar to The Thick Of It, so I’m going to assume the role of Malcolm Tucker.

We don’t have anyone who fits his description at the moment, so I’d be providing a service and I’m sure I won’t get into any trouble. It’ll also mean that I can turn the air blue without risking getting a talking to next time I pick up Xander from pre school. Sounds like a plan.

Fuckity bye!

Jan 122015
 

A wristband with flashing lights.

Like a lot of people, one of my new year’s resolutions is to take better care of myself so, when giffgaff offered me the opportunity to review a Fitbit Flex, I jumped at the chance. Almost quite literally, which is very much in keeping with what it does. For anyone unfamiliar with this kind of gadget, it’s a small tracker that you wear inside a wristband. It keeps a tally of how many steps you take in a day, as well as the distance you’ve covered and the calories you’ve burned as a result. At night, it monitors the quality of your sleep too and you can use it as a silent alarm.

To help you keep track of everything, there’s an online dashboard that can be accessed either via a nifty little wireless dongle in a laptop or an app on various smartphones. To check how you’re doing during the day, you tap the wristband twice and lights will indicate how far you’ve got towards achieving your daily goal – there are five lights, representing 20% each. As well as pulling in all the stats that it captures from your movements, it offers a couple of features that rely on honesty – namely how much water you’ve had to drink and the number of calories you’ve eaten. I’ll readily admit that I’m struggling with the former as I prefer to drink tea or squash, but I’m doing very well with the latter and have only exceeded my daily limits twice – on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, in fact, so they hardly count!

Six progress indicators illustrating distance covered and calories eaten.

Part of the Fitbit online dashboard – check out my badge!

The best thing, of course, is that it’s really got me thinking about ways of improving my lifestyle and I’m making little changes all the time. For example, I now walk the long way to and from the train station and have also adapted my morning routine to involve running up and down the stairs more so I can get my steps and distance in every day. I even venture away from my desk at lunchtimes now too. Amazing!

One minor gripe I have is that the calorie database which has been developed to allow you to quickly log what you’ve eaten only includes American brands that have different calorie counts. This sort of removes the point if you have to add something quickly, but I think this will only be an issue during the early days as it does remember things I’ve added.

A wristband, a small tracking device and a charger.

The Fitbit Flex wristband, tracker and charger

This one little con is outweighed by several pros though, others of which include the fact that you can earn badges by achieving distances as well as goals you’ve set yourself – my inner geek loves these. I also have indisputable proof that I don’t get enough sleep due to Xander still not doing so himself . It also holds its charge for about five days – which is much better than any other gadgets I have – while the wristband is comfortable and easy to remove the tracker from for charging.

I’m really glad I said yes to this review – it’s definitely helping me stick to at least one of my new year’s resolutions and I feel much more positive than I normally do in January, so that’ll do me!

The Fitbit Flex has an RRP of 79.99.

Jan 012015
 
Several bottles of red wine

Goodbye, old friends *sobs*

I’ve never really been the sort to make new year’s resolutions, but this year I’ve decided to make a few. I figured that, even if I fail miserably – which is highly likely – setting myself a few goals can only be a good thing. Especially if I actually manage to stick to any of them for more than a month. I also thought that, by writing them down, I’d have a record with which to make myself feel guilty for being slovenly and letting myself down. Let’s see if this works…

Do more with the kids
Looking at the blogs and Facebook pages of others and seeing how much they do with their kids makes me think that we don’t take Dylan and Xander out enough. We had the great excuse of hardly having any money last year, but that isn’t the case this time round. We spend plenty of time playing with them at home, of course, but will endeavour to take them elsewhere too.

Take better care of myself
I’ve been a bit rubbish at keeping myself in good nick and feel like I’m starting to fall apart, so this is going to be the year in which I get my arse in gear. I’m going to get more exercise, drink more water and remember to floss every day. So there!

Stop shouting at the kids (as much)
Like any young children, Dylan and Xander are capable of being proper little sods at times and it’s tricky to stay calm after they’ve repeatedly ignored our requests to stop misbehaving. That said, I do shout at them too much. I’m somehow going to find an inner calm and only yell when it’s really warranted.

Blog more
I love this blog, but I feel like I’ve really neglected it since I got a job again. I’m going to get better at managing my time so I can write more posts before they vanish from my head forever, read more of other people’s and try to be more active on social media. Well here’s a blog post on day one to get things off to a decent start…

Drink less
I’m saying now that I’m not going to do Dry January. Let’s be realistic here! That said, I do use bad days as an excuse for getting a bottle of wine on the way home from work – and there seem to be a lot of bad days on this basis! – so we’re going to try not to drink on Mondays through to Thursdays. Don’t laugh, Mum…

What are your new year’s resolutions?

Dec 312014
 

Fireworks exploding in the night sky.

The year is just about at an end and we’ll soon be saying hello to 2015. We should be saying goodbye to 2014 too but, to be honest, I’m not sure it deserves a nice send off. I’m as much looking forward to seeing the back of 2014 as I am to welcoming the new year. It’s just been relentlessly depressing. I can’t recall a crueller year in the news; internationally, there have been wars, disasters, diseases and terrorism accounting for losses that beggar belief.

Here in the UK, our clueless Prime Minister and his equally out-of-touch cronies have guaranteed that austerity has plumbed new depths but have been creative with the figures to make it look like things are improving when they’re clearly not. Then there’s the rise of a party of racists and bigots whose leader has been named Briton of the Year. What on earth is wrong with some people?

My favourite song of the year was Maxïmo Park’s Leave This Island. While the lyrics and sentiment are about a relationship rather than dissatisfaction with the way things are politically – listen to another of their many excellent tracks, The National Health for that – the wording of its title has me sorely tempted to give up on Britain and go somewhere else. That isn’t going to happen, of course, so I’ll just sound off on here instead and promise to be positive again by the end of this post.

On a personal level, I’ve had a 2014 to forget. Thankfully, it didn’t end up being a big deal, but it got dangerously close with me unemployed for almost half of it and no money coming in. Fortunately, I got a job just in time – when we were down to our last £50, in fact – and difficult decisions were avoided. I know how lucky I am to have my health, family and a roof over my head. We’re still so much more fortunate than others and I won’t forget that.

There have been some positives, of course. Dylan and Xander started school and pre school respectively and are both doing really well. We’re so proud of how they’re doing – it doesn’t seem like that long ago that they were babies. We also had our first family holiday and welcomed our first family pet/my nemesis, She-Ra. Things have been pretty good on the blog too. I somehow got named the UK’s number three dad blogger by the media monitoring folk at Cision and, along with my good friends Darren, Lewis and John, was invited to do a live version of the Love All Dads Podcast at BritMums Live. It gets better; at the same conference, we won the innovate category in the Brilliance in Blogging awards. Hurrah!

I guess it’s highlights like these that keep us all going through challenging times, so I’m massively grateful that there were some little victories along the way. Hopefully 2015 will be all kinds of awesome with highlights aplenty for everyone.

Thanks for reading and happy new year!

Dec 182014
 

A collage of gift ideas, including clothes, gadgets and games.

There’s a week to go until we’re surrounded by mountains of discarded wrapping paper and jealously-guarded piles of new possessions but, if you’re anything like me, there’s still some shopping to do. And it has to be said that us dads are irritating to buy for. So, just in case it helps anyone out there, here are a few Christmas gift ideas for dads that I’ve been happy to receive during the last year. I’m afraid I can offer no guarantee on availability or delivery times, but hopefully they’ll give you some ideas…

Converse
Who doesn’t like Converse, eh? I love them! And my friends at ExtremePie.com have a massive range of the iconic footwear. According to their site, pre-Christmas delivery is still available, so hot-foot it over there pronto!

Visit site

RavPower portable charger
A great little stocking filler this – it charges several different models quickly and has saved me from the first world problem of being incommunicado several times since I got it.

Visit site
Read my review

Philosophy Football T-shirts
There’s a reason I’ve been buying shirts from these guys since they launched 20 years ago. Perfect for the armchair philosopher and football fan in your life.

Visit site
Read my review

Remington Vacuum Beard & Grooming Kit
Although it hasn’t had much use in the last couple of months due to Movember and Decembeard, this shaver is the best one I’ve used by a country mile – and it reduces mess too. Magic!

Visit site
Read my review (Please note, the competition on this page has now closed)

100 Ideas for Dads Who Love Their Kids… but Find Them Exhausting!
Another great stocking filler that will help dads spend quality time with their kids even when they’re completely knackered!

Visit site
Read my review

Accentuate
If you like accents and don’t mind being laughed at, you’re bound to enjoy this game. I’ll definitely be getting my copy out after Christmas dinner!

Visit site
Read my review

90:10 hoodie
A recent addition to my wardrobe and my new second skin. I love this hoodie and can’t recommend it enough.

Visit site
Read my review

Corkcicle One
The perfect gadget for wine lovers everywhere. It cools and aerates your vino quickly and makes for a smooth pouring action too. Cheers!

Visit site
Read my review (Please note, the competition on this page has now closed)

Don’t forget the batteries!
According to Duracell, 71% of parents admit to forgetting to buy the all-important batteries at Christmas. They kindly sent me a couple of packs to save me the trouble. A Furby is en route too and I’ll be combining these gifts as a subliminal way of getting Dylan and Xander to behave. It might work!

Visit site

Dec 152014
 

A blue hoodie

I’m not an expert when it comes to fashion – far from it – but I know what I like and when I was offered this ‘Signature’ embroidered pullover hoodie for review by 90:10 it definitely fell into the ‘massive yes please, I’d love one of those’ category.

To provide a little bit of background before I try and sound like the style section of a men’s lifestyle magazine, 90:10 is a new brand for blokes who consider themselves 90% grown up and 10% not. Something that the vast majority of us with Y chromosomes will identify with, I’m sure you’ll agree. The launch of 90:10 represents a major change in career for creator, Dan Glatman, who has traded music management for this new venture which, like most of the good ideas in life, was born in a pub. He describes his vision as being to marry humorous and innovative branding to stylish and great quality clothing delivered to the customer at the right price in an environmentally responsible way. And I think he’s achieved that with aplomb.

A man wearing a hoodie

The same hoodie being worn by an average-looking model

The hoodie looks great – even on me, if I do say so myself – and is really soft and comfortable, which is especially welcome at this time of year. It’s made out of 100% organic cotton and available in five colours including the navy blue option you see here. I love it and am really not looking forward to having to surrender it to the washing machine

On a separate note, I was really impressed with how quickly it was delivered – it arrived the day after I confirmed my choice. This is especially good bearing in mind the infamous Christmas post, so Dan and his team have definitely got the 90% grown up side of things in order – I’m sure they’re taking the 10% not grown up element seriously too though.

This 90:10 hoodie retails at £42 including free delivery but, if you like what you see here, you can get 20% off when you quote “BLOG” at www.9010man.com.

Dec 132014
 
The beard of a handsome man.

My beard: yesterday

I’ve been a little slow out of the blocks to mention this but, as it’s for such an important cause, it’s never too late… I’m taking part in Decembeard. Hot on the heels of Movember, the principle is the same – grow facial fuzz in the fight against cancer.

Decembeard and Beards for Bowels were thought up by Craig, a web and applications developer from just outside Birmingham. The campaign doesn’t benefit from funding and Craig juggles it with family life and his full-time job. “Beards for Bowels came from our aim to raise awareness of bowel cancer by growing beards all year round, but mainly campaigning each December… ‘Decembeard’ if you will,” he explains.

“Decembeard originally was mentioned on the radio by Chris Evans a few years ago shortly after Movember. Back then, I set up our social media profile, but the campaign was only driven during December. Therefore, I created Beards for Bowels (with a friend, Matthew) so we could help raise support and awareness all year round.”

I was surprised to discover that bowel cancer is the third most common cause of death in the world. It affects both men and women and, every year, over 40,000 people are diagnosed and more than 16,000 die of the disease. If caught early enough, it can be successfully treated so you can see why Decembeard is so important for raising awareness.

It’s a worthy cause, I’m sure you’ll agree. Having taken part in Decembeard completely by accident for the last couple of years – I tend to have a month off shaving after the constant razor burn of Movember – I’m doing so officially this time. It’s a much better excuse for my laziness and I’m more than happy to suffer itchiness in the name of charity. If a beard’s good enough for the fat bloke who somehow gets down chimneys, then it’s good enough for me too.

I’m primarily taking part to raise awareness, but if you wish to donate to the cause, you can do so on the Decembeard site.

Dec 072014
 
A bag of coal

This is what I’ll be getting for Christmas…

Elf on the shelf
What better way to scare the living shit out of your children than by telling them that the creepy looking interloper on the mantelpiece is spying on them and reporting back to Santa every night? I really can’t see the attraction – they look sinister and are the kind of insidious thing that crop up in Dr Who. Hang on a minute, Santa is an anagram of Satan. Hmm…

Christmas jumpers
Not to knock fundraising events for worthy causes that are based on wearing them to work but, to me, these are the embodiment of tacky. I really can’t understand why people get so excited about wearing them. I’ll be making a generous donation on Friday, but will be wearing my normal work clothes, thank you!

Shopping
I know I’ve written about this recently, but the conduct of people in shopping malls during what’s supposed to be the season of goodwill drives me round the bend. Manners are left at the door and it ends up like a rugby match, which reminds me of traumatic PE lessons.

Secret Santa
As if Christmas shopping isn’t stressful enough, we now have to buy a gift for a randomly drawn colleague. Inevitably, it’s someone you don’t know that well and you’re faced with the agony of getting them the right thing without causing upset. Because you know that they’ll work out that that thoughtfully-selected copy of Pets with Tourette’s was from you…

Putting up the tree
A new entry this year as I’ve enjoyed it until now. But we have a kitten who wants to kill it. If you’ve got the same problem, save yourself time with lemons, orange peel, citronella, vinegar and foil. None of them work!

Sending cards
Another political minefield that ends up as a dangerous game of chicken that’s at the mercy of Royal Mail. Do you send cards to everyone you know, or do you wait to see who sends them first then return the compliment and try to convince yourself that they’ll believe they crossed in the post? Argh!

Christmas specials
What’s worse than wall-to-wall Dora the Explorer and Peppa Pig? Interminable feature-length episodes of the most irritating characters known to mankind and formulaic tales of mild peril in which the festivities almost end up being cancelled, but sadly still take place.

Adverts
These short films about capitalism start in September and, by November, they take up more airtime than the shows they punctuate. They brainwash even the least demanding of children and get stuck in the heads of the most non-persuasive adults (Robo Fish! Ro-bo Fish!) If I get asked for that fucking chocolate coin maker one more time…

More adverts
This kind of links to the last one, but I think it’s worthy of it’s own place. Why do people get so excited about the launch of adverts? Despite the sentiment that they convey, they’re still ultimately about making rich people richer and nothing more. The little boy with the possessed penguin toy is all very nice, but is it really worth losing your shit over?

The Queen
I’ve got nothing against HRH and she seems to put up with a lot. She’s a good egg. But why do we need to hear the musings of an old lady who, in all likelihood, is sick of recording these messages? Give the poor old girl some time off instead next year!