Sep 262014
 

A pot of yoghurt with plain packaging

There’s something I’ve got to get off my chest. It’s very much a first world problem, but one that I think many other parents experience on a daily basis nonetheless. I’m sick of food packaging that has cartoon characters on. There’s a direct correlation between the presence of some fictional person/talking animal and an extended mealtime plus subsequent tears before bedtime. And, yes, the tears are often mine.

Now before I go on, I realise that there are plenty of foodstuffs that haven’t been plastered with cartoons, but the ones we get are usually on multi-buy discounts and we’re on a budget. Right, I’m free to continue venting my spleen… Yoghurts are the biggest culprits. My kids seem to base their choices on who is on the pot rather than the flavour inside and, of course, they always want the same one. It’s not as if the characters in question are at all representative of what they can expect to be eating – for example, Peppa Pig is strawberry when she should clearly be bacon.

Then there are the ones that come in tubes. Not only do they result in the grim situation where you have to help your child finish them and inevitably get a combination of spit and yoghurt dribbled on your hands, they’re also a complete lottery. There’s always a random number of each character in every box. They often come in odd numbers too – how is that helpful with two children? It’s almost as if the executives of these yoghurty empires were once sat in their offices and one of them said “You know what would really upset parents? An odd number and only one of the lead character in each pack. Bwa, ha, haaaa!”

Kate got the boys some boxes of raisins with Disney characters on them for their packed lunches recently. I really don’t like Disney, but they were cheaper than the other options so it was fair enough. Except for the fact that they won’t eat the ones with Minnie Mouse on – simply because she’s not either her fella or his dog. Now, every time I open the cupboard to get stuff for my packed lunch, I’m greeted with five or six copies of her stupid face looking at me. I’m seriously contemplating putting a mousetrap in there to see what happens. Again, there’s the issue of the product inside not having anything to do with the character on the front. Although raisins may look like rodent faeces, they’re actually grapes that could have gone to much better use.

To balance this out a bit, I’m going to concede that there’s at least one positive example of things for young children being festooned with images of their favourite cartoon characters. The nappies that Xander has at the moment have Dora the Explorer and Diego on them – and I can’t think of a better use for images of those two. Try saying that two ways, Dora!

Sep 152014
 
Lots of books

Some books: yesterday

I was tagged in this meme on Facebook recently by one of my good mates from university and, as I’ve hardly read any books since those days – which were more years ago than I care to remember now – thought I ought to write a post about it. Especially as my degree was in English Literature; I feel I owe the subject something having neglected to read much since those happy days. So here, without further ado, are ten books that have stayed with me…

Dogger by Shirley Hughes
It’s a shame that this book’s title has some rather different connotations now! It was my favourite story as a young lad and really captured the emotion of losing a much-loved toy and the joy of having it returned. I lost my favourite toy – also a dog, as it happens – on a couple of occasions and it really resonated with me.

Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
Everyone loves an underdog – or underfox – story and I was enchanted by this one. It’s a classic tale of the little man taking one back and, of course, has Roald Dahl’s trademark dark edge which I think is vitally important in children’s literature. They need to know that there’s danger out there – and that it’s okay to challenge the greed and corruption of supposed authority figures.

Nicobobinus  by Terry Jones
Another one from my childhood that I’m really looking forward to reading to Dylan and Xander. A captivating adventure with plenty of mild peril and fantastic characters. It’s written with great affection for the main protagonists and with the kind of humour you’d expect from one of the Monty Python team.

Lord of the Flies by William Golding
Yes, there’s probably something very wrong with me, but this is an amazing book about the brutality that mankind is sadly capable of and I couldn’t put it down. It’s a fascinating premise and I remember being intrigued by the way Golding’s initial description of the idyllic surroundings that form its backdrop hints at the horror that is to come.

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
I’m counting the entire trilogy of five as one here. They’re all brilliant books that are as much a celebration of whimsy as they are entertaining, laugh-out-loud stories. For me to persevere with a whole series of novels says a lot about it. The likes of Red Dwarf owe it a massive debt of gratitude too.

Animal Farm by George Orwell
I’m sure Orwell’s allegory would be on a lot of people’s lists, so no prizes for originality there, but I read this when I was very young and understood what he was getting at, which I think shows one of its great strengths. It helped years later when I was interviewing Alexei Sayle about being a cat owner. We deviated from the questions about felines into a much-more-interesting conversation about communism and what the cat in the story represents.

The Good Person of Szechwan by Bertolt Brecht
I don’t know whether plays count, but I’m choosing this because it’s brilliant. Three befuddled gods come to a cruel world looking for proof that good people exist. A tale of double identity ensues and the audience is confronted to make up their own minds as to whether what the gods are looking for is actually possible in the severe world they’ve created. Thought-provoking stuff!

Closely Observed Trains by Bohumil Hrabal
I read this one at university and got a first for an essay about it, so it obviously made an impression on me! A quirky tale about adolescence, heroism and misuse of ticket office equipment played out against the backdrop of Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia. It’s simultaneously tragic and uplifting. A great read!

The Vesuvius Club by Mark Gatiss
After The League of Gentlemen and before penning numerous episodes of Dr Who and Sherlock, Mark Gatiss wrote a trilogy of stories about Lucifer Box – a loveable rogue and socialite who also happens to be Britain’s top spy. It’s packed with colourful characters, beautifully described and genuinely laugh-out-loud funny. An entertaining romp.

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
I loved this title because I’d read nothing like it before. Thursday Next is a literary detective who lives in an alternate universe in which the Crimean War is still raging and dodos are common pets. And someone has got into the original copy of Jane Eyre and kidnapped the eponymous heroine. It’s littered with wordplay and literary references that make you feel smugly satisfied for getting. I must get round to reading the remaining books in the series…

That’s quite enough from me. Which books would be in your top ten?

Sep 132014
 
A collage of photos of a dad with his newborn sons and them in the present day.

Then and now – time flies!

With Dylan starting school last week and Xander off to pre school for the first time yesterday, I’ve been scratching my head about where the time has gone. Of course, parents up and down the country are pondering the same question and Fairy has jumped on this, asking some of us parent blogging folk to write about how quickly the time has gone.

I remember people telling me to enjoy the early days when Dylan was born as they go so quickly. At the time, I thought they were off their rockers – that is to say, although I was naturally enjoying spending time with him, the sleepless nights seemed interminable! Once we got into an established routine, though, it has indeed flown by and now we somehow have two little lads who wander about the house doing their own thing and answering back. In what seems hardly time at all, they’ve gone through all the landmarks you look forward to as a new parent and become so independent. They grow up so fast!

In terms of favourite moments, there are too many to mention and I think most parents would say the same. I remember my sister – who had kids before we did – saying something to the effect that every stage is allowed to be your favourite and that makes a lot of sense. Holding both Dylan and Xander when they were born, of course, are moments that will stay with me forever as are catching them when their first attempts at walking didn’t quite work out!

Fairy is ‘encouraging mums to embrace every moment’ and ‘make the most of every special moment, by giving them an extra big cuddle today!’ Well, obviously, I’m not a mum but can attest to the fact that dads enjoy cuddling their children too and Dylan and Xander haven’t been short of hugs from me. In fact, I ran across the playground after Dylan on his first day when he neglected to give me a cuddle. So there!

Here’s the ad that Fairy has launched to ‘encourage mums to embrace the power of soft’ – you may even like it if you’re a dad!

Sep 122014
 
A happy boy ready for pre school

They don’t know what’s about to hit them…

It’s been a week of landmarks in our house – hot on the heels of Dylan’s first day at school, we welcomed our first family pet, She-Ra, to the fold. She’s been hot on everyone’s heels since then and I’m becoming used to being attacked by something furry and a fraction of my size. Yesterday, marked the fourth anniversary of the post that started off Diary of the Dad and, today, Xander is off to pre school for the first time.

He’s so ready for it! He’s watched from the confines of his pushchair as Dylan was dropped off and picked up, desperate to join in, and threw himself into the taster session with great gusto and no hesitation. An early walker and talker, he’s been striding around confidently for as long as I can remember and can hold some hilariously grown up conversations for his two and a half years. With Dylan having his new ‘thing’, Xander needs one of his own and pre school is going to tick all the boxes.

Naturally, I really hope he enjoys himself and makes a few friends like Dylan has. I’m sure he will – he’s a friendly, caring little lad, so he’ll get on fine with others. The other thing I hope he’ll get is tired! Amazing though he undoubtedly is, it has to be said that he’s a force of nature with boundless energy and an apparent drive to break things – a little like Quantum Leap in reverse.

He breaks something in the house pretty much every day and I’m beginning to think that there should be an insurance category called ‘Acts of Xander’. One of the sections on his reward chart is ‘Didn’t break anything today’. He has yet to earn a star in that line… Hopefully peer pressure and seeing that other adults have a word when he destroys things will spark a realisation – and make him sufficiently knackered to sleep through the night without waking us up too!

He’s already quite good at drawing, so hopefully the calming influence of other children his age will result in him putting some of that energy into nurturing his creative side… hopefully that doesn’t mean he’ll graffiti the walls, but it would still be a step in the right direction. Joking aside, I’m really pleased for him that he finally gets to go. He’s going to love it and it’ll suit him down to the ground.

Have a good day, little man!

Sep 042014
 
A happy boy in his new school uniform

“Ayyyyyyyy!”

So it’s official – I’m now the dad of a child who goes to school. Yes, it’s a tired old cliché, but I really don’t know how we’ve got to this landmark so quickly. It seems as though hardly any time has passed since the day we brought Dylan home from the hospital, completely clueless as to what to do with him. To be honest, we’re still winging it with both him and Xander, but we’re now sharing responsibility with professionals who definitely know what they’re doing, so that’s okay!

Today was his first day at ‘big school’ – yes, I know secondary will take on that mantle in a few years’ time too – and despite a few muttered protestations to the contrary last night, he was really excited when he got up this morning. He was very proud of his uniform – which, it’s fair to say, will require a fair bit of growing into – and ran most of the way to school. He was still smiling his face off when he got through the gates too. He was so nonchalant about the whole thing, in fact, that he wandered off into his classroom before I had a chance to say goodbye to him. Was I as cool about it? Nope, I ran after him and demanded a hug.

He came back with three stickers on his new jumper and a photo of him seemingly loving his new surroundings. I asked him what his highlights were. “Playing with the oven and getting shown the toilets,” was his reply. It was a toy oven, of course, and who wouldn’t be excited at discovering a new WC?

I think he’s going to really enjoy school and am taking the fact that he delighted in being acquainted with something as mundane as the bogs as a sign that he felt comfortable there. I have to admit that I’m surprised that he took it all in his stride – he can sometimes take a while to accept new things, but he was calmness personified. Long may it continue!

Sep 022014
 

A box of flashcards with three cards with photos of animals in front of it

Keeping Dylan and Xander occupied during the summer months has been a challenge and a half. I think we’ve done pretty well for the most part and the key has been introducing plenty of new things to keep them from asking for yet another marathon session in front of the telly. Here’s one of said new things that did the trick: First Fun Flashcards.

Miles Kelly Publishing sent us a pack of their new flashcards aimed at children aged three and up and asked us to see how many games Dylan could come up with. Being a typical younger sibling, Xander wanted to join in – and he’s far from out of his depth with them, so I’d suggest that two and up would be a better recommended age – and they’ve played brilliantly together with them.

The first thing the cards had to do was pass the Xander test, which they did with aplomb. They’re nice and sturdy and he hasn’t managed to tear any of them yet! The flashcards in this particular pack are wild animals, but there other options in the range including colours and shapes and numbers. There are 26 cards with close-up images of the animals on one side and a full shot along with an interesting fact about the same animal on the reverse. There’s also a card offering suggestions to get children started playing with them.

A happy boy playing with flashcards

Then it was down to the business of playing with them and Dylan has taken the role of quizmaster very seriously indeed – Paxo should be worried. The boys’ favourite game is for Dylan to hold the cards and describe the animal on them for Xander to guess what it is. Both of them are very good at this and it’s definitely further improved their language skills. That said, “It’s not a monkey” wasn’t the best of clues, so there’s still room for improvement! They also enjoy guessing animals by doing their best impressions of them – and who wouldn’t eh?

Dylan loves counting so, when Xander wanders off to do something else, he tends to divide the cards up into groups of the numbers of legs the animals have or by their colours. It’s great to see both boys – but Dylan in particular – enjoying something other than cartoons or electronic games. It’ll serve him well for his imminent start at school too, so I’m happy!

The flashcards have an RRP of £5.99 – well worth it in my humble opinion!

Aug 262014
 

So, apparently, normal people are doing the Ice Bucket Challenge now too.

While it may smack a bit of jumping on the bandwagon, it’s for a great cause, so I was more than happy to do my bit for  The Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis Association – aka ALS  by making a donation and, of course, having ice-cold water chucked on me.

Having previous for such things, Dylan and Xander were only too happy to help. It’s nice of them to be so community spirited, I know. And finally, I apologise to anyone walking past our house minutes after this video was taken – naturally, I stripped off before running to the shower and forgot that the curtains in the front room were wide open. Oops!

Anyway, here’s the proof of my participation – please donate to ALS if you can!

Aug 202014
 
Intersections on a rail track

A visual metaphor: yesterday

There’s been a noticeable change in the air lately – after a summer in which we’ve mostly been spoilt by the elements, normal service seems to be resuming as the warm weather seems to be packing its bags slightly earlier than we’d like it to and an autumnal chill has been apparent for a few days. There are changes in the air for us too. Yes, I know that’s an ultra-cheesy segue worthy of Sky Sports News at the end of the transfer window, but that’s just about where we are now.

Anyway, changes, yes. Dylan and Xander have both changed so much over the last few weeks. Maybe it’s because I’m a functioning member of the workforce again and certain things are more evident to me now I’m not with them for the majority of the week, but there have been some pretty obvious ones too.

First of all, Dylan is growing out of things like Peppa Pig – hooray! – and into things that bigger boys and girls like. He’s become pretty obsessed with both Spider-Man and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I’m not sure how I feel about that really; although the cartoons are on channels that are supposedly appropriate to his age, they’re quite violent. Plus ‘new’ Spidey is a cocky twat and the heroes in a half shell now seem to be chiefly known as Leo, Donnie, Raph and Mikey which makes my blood boil. Needless to say, the campaign to own everything with images of both cartoons is well underway. Sigh.

Still, he’s getting much better at listening when we ask him to do things like tidying up and joining us at the dinner table and can now cycle in the right direction instead of backwards too, so he’s making some real progress. Just in time for school, which I think he’s going to love.

Xander, meanwhile, has been achieving milestones of his own. He’s getting the idea with potty training and seems to have reached the stage where he accepts that pissing in the bath isn’t cricket, so that’s good. His speech is coming on brilliantly too. He was already adept at making himself understood, but his vocabulary and ability to string sentences together have both kicked on massively. He’s also sort of sleeping through the night sometimes now. I know that probably doesn’t seem like a confident declaration on my part, but he’s been awful at night since day one and it’s a major relief that we all get a decent night’s kip now and then!

So it seems that he’s getting into more of a routine, which is convenient as… segue… he’s off to pre school in a few weeks’ time. Again, I think he’s really going to enjoy it and benefit from spending time with other children his age, so that’s great.

Maybe the summer has been a turning point for us all. To be brutally honest, the first half of 2014 was thoroughly shit; I found myself out of work, we had to abandon our plans of moving house and spent most of our savings keeping our heads above water. I’m cautiously optimistic that things are changing for the better at long last. Hurrah!