Support your local(ish) team

IMG_4288YOU SHOULD always support your local football club.

I made that noble pronouncement for most of my adult life. Right until I had my own family.

My friend Nick predicted that would be the case. Long before Boy Wonder was born, Nick had a son and promptly enlisted him in Everton Juniors.

I scoffed. ‘You live in Sussex, mate, why not bring him up as a Brighton fan. It’s a lovely little set-up, just down the road from you. You should always support your local club.’

He scoffed. ‘My Dad supports Everton, I support Everton, my kids will support Everton. Wait until you have some of your own. Don’t tell me you’ll bring them up as Leeds fans?!’

Well, as Nick now knows, the answer is a firm no.

Tomorrow, I’m taking Boy Wonder to Middlesbrough to see his first ever live game. In a delicious twist of fate, ‘DaddyBoro’ are at home to (Dirty) Leeds.

A good win for the home team should not only entrench Boy Wonder’s love of ‘our team’ but also hopefully extinguish any association with the club of his birthplace.

Just to be sure, I’m buying him a magazine for the train journey north, a Boro hat and pin badge. I’ve promised him a proper breakfast, half-time pie and fish n’ chips before we return later in the day.

My friend Chris, a fellow Boro fan, isn’t sure it’s such a bargain:

Consigned to a life of misery, ridicule and unfulfilled promise with a pie and a hat.

He might be right but I think luck is on my side. After five years of mid-table mediocrity in the second tier of English football, Boy Wonder has come of age at exactly the moment we’re top of the league and gunning for a return to the razzmatazz of the Premiership.

Yes, that makes us glory supporters but in today’s world of accelerated gratification it’s my best shot of signing him up to my tribe.

Our anthem is Steel River. Our hero remains a Brazilian who isn’t much taller than Boy Wonder. In 1986, when I was 14, we went out of business. The impoverished town put its collective hand down the back of the sofa to help the club stay afloat and a 26-year-old local businessman did the rest. He’s still our chairman.

Steve Gibson will undoubtedly agree that you should always support your local football club.

Given his global outlook, running an international haulage firm, I’m equally sure he’d agree that ‘one of your local football clubs’ is fine as well.

Especially when it means your Dad can go to the match.

Whale V Fat

Fresh startBOY WONDER and I practised his new list of spellings tonight. When we got to ‘whale’, I added ‘like your Daddy, a big, fat mammal’. Bless him, he started spelling the word, pausing only to reply ‘you’re not fat, Daddy’.

But I am fat.

For men, that’s a hard thing to admit. We’re ‘big boned’, ‘stocky’, or it’s ‘just a beer belly’, like some lauded trophy.

The Duchess, bless her too, occasionally tells me Ray Winstone is attractive, which I think is a (loving) code. Mind you, in our 13 years together she’s never seen me sport yellow budgie smugglers. Nor has she seen those betting adverts.

I was first conscious of my weight when I started university, after a post-exam summer of indulgence, and the campus health advisor politely told me to lose a few pounds. The funny thing is, I was two stones lighter than I am now.

For most of my adult life, my weight went up and down without ever being too excessive. However, it shot up in my mid-thirties, beginning with our Italian honeymoon in 2006. Three weeks of gargantuan pizzas, robust pastas, steaks, red wine. Followed by a month-long world cup gala of pubs and parties.

Since then, I’ve often been disciplined at the start of the year, perhaps losing half a stone or more, only to gradually put it back on again. For example, by last summer I’d lost 10 pounds but ended the year exactly the same weight. As a friend says about himself, I’ve lost hundreds of pounds over the years. Yet, I’m still fat.

So, I’m interested in a new online community called Men V Fat. It was set up by a journalist who tried to get diet help a few years ago but found there was nothing out there for men. He says in a recent post:

Did you know over 80% of men are stressed at work, you’d be abnormal if you weren’t stressed. Did you know that issues with appetite are harder for men because they biologically need to consume more calories and because mass consumption is seen as a manly attribute (MAN v FOOD anyone?) It’s also painfully apparent that men get nowhere near the level of education that women do on how to cook healthy food and also advice on what constitutes healthy eating.

I’ve sought a little education over the past few years. I’ve read Gary Taubes and Tim Ferris. I understand that processed foods, so prevalent in the food chain, are destructive. Lager is no friend, either. Yet, they sure are tasty and convenient, hey?

I used to exercise regularly. Even after the kids were born, I ran up to 25km a week, to the point where I was chasing a PB in the 2012 Great North Run. Now I’m struggling to complete a 5k. Yes, I’ve developed asthma over the last few years but I’ve let it defeat me. Yes, I was studying intensely last year but in hindsight exercise would have alleviated the stress.

Too many excuses. (The same goes for updating this blog.)

I can’t afford them any longer. The kids are six and almost four. They deserve an energetic father, now and in 10 years’ time.

Men V Fat says that you’ve got to acknowledge you are fat – don’t laugh it off – work out why, set some goals and start doing something about it.

So, here goes…

He’s football crazy, he’s football mad

BOY WONDER has got football fever.

It started with Lionel Messi and my account of how he ignored people’s anxieties about his diminutive build in his youth to become the best player in the world. Motivational speech over, I showed Boy Wonder this video collection of Messi dribbles and goals, complete with the South American ‘goooooooaaaaaaaalllllll’ commentary:

He was hooked.

So, I bought him the Pannini sticker album for the world cup. We’ve got Ronaldo and the England team but I expect to hazard bankruptcy in our attempts to secure the little fella who plays up front for Argentina.

I then allowed Boy Wonder and his sister to stay up for the recent champions league final. While she dozed off in the first half, he saw it through to the end of extra time. However, I now fear I’ve got a Real fan in the house. Hopefully, Ronaldo’s egomaniac antics will end that embarrassment before too long or Boy Wonder will realise that Messi also plays for the other team in Spain.

I bought them both world cup football shirts (£3 a piece in H&M, if you’re asking) – Spain for Little Buddha and Argentina, England and, subsequently, Brazil, for Boy Wonder. The Duchess is concerned this will lead to track suits.

We’re now counting down the days to the start of the competition next week. Boy Wonder hopes he’ll sneak in a few TV slots with me. I need to see what games are on when the Duchess is out or on shift.

When it’s all done and dusted, we’ve got our camping holiday and then the new English season begins. Will he still love football by then? Will he want to follow whichever team in the Premiership has the most recognisable world cup stars? Or can I finally execute my ‘DaddyBoro’ plan to lure him into my world (cup) of pain?

This is a high stakes game. I can’t afford to pay the penalty and see him fall for his local club, DirtyLeeds. Hmm, Boro striker Albert Adomah is representing Ghana at the world cup. I wonder if H&M stock that shirt as well?

Busy, busy, buzzzzz

'I'm a very mature student'

‘I’m a very mature student’

I’VE BEEN busy. No, I mean really busy.

At the start of the year, I began a postgraduate diploma. I figured I’ll be working for another 25 years so it’d be a good investment, give me that extra edge.

I knew it’d be hard, especially returning to academia after 20 years. But the Duchess told me: ‘It’ll only be nine months’.

Well, it is hard. Very, very hard. On Monday, I had to hand in two 2,500-word essays. I had just under a month to prepare and I must have researched a dozen books and another dozen journal articles for each topic. Made notes, ordered them, got my head round Harvard referencing.

I barely relaxed for the duration, didn’t watch TV once, studied most nights until midnight. And on the bus, the train, wherever possible. Despite all of this studious study I didn’t finish them until 3am on Monday morning. I’ve spent the time since convincing myself they’re crap, I’ll fail and so on.

I’m now preparing a 5,000-word planning assignment, due in July, and a 6,000-word project due in October. I’ll have to study hard throughout the period of the World Cup, not to mention most of the summer.

There is, of course, also the day job. Two lively, expectant children. Training for the Leeds half marathon and other duties like being a school governor.

Although this year is extraordinarily busy due to the diploma, I do wonder what it is about middle age, being a proper grown up, that causes such busyness?

I know lots of other people running sports teams for kids, training for Himalayan charity events, doing degrees before breakfast, having more than two children.

Ten years ago, most of us would have gone to work, come back, watched Hollyoaks, the Channel 4 news headlines, then eaten, drank, sat. We managed to waste hours watching TV, playing computer games, sitting in beer gardens. We were at the peak of our physical powers, unburdened by real work stress and we barely questioned watching trilogies with the curtains closed or two live footy games and an afternoon of six nations. Before going out properly.

Is it about being useful, as the hour glass turns the over way? Does busyness breed busyness? Do we all fear getting an ulcer if we dare to take our foot off the pedal?

Thing is, I haven’t really got time to think about it…

The parenting paradox

The parenting paradoxPARENTS ARE confused characters. We will our kids to grow and develop. We spend the rest of the time lamenting how quickly they’re growing up.

In the last few weeks, Little Buddha turned three and promptly got to grips with potty training after a few false starts (sorry to the Sainsbury’s person who mopped up that puddle near the pharmacy counter).

Shortly after her third birthday, she said goodbye to her lovely little private nursery and entered the big world of school, just like her brother a few years ago.

The Duchess’ text after dropping her off on the Wednesday lunch time summed it up nicely – the pride and the lament:

She was greeted like a Hollywood star. I—– has taken charge of her care. [Boy Wonder] greeted her arrival like a town crier and announced ‘Everybody, [Little Buddha] has arrived!’. H—– [head of unit] said that’s all everyone had talked about this morning. And she was off without a backwards glance with the promise of hot chocolate from G—–. I was a bit teary.

‘I was a bit teary.’ Our kids are still so young but for us it feels like we’re transferring from one distinct parenting era to quite a different one.

Dependency to independence seemingly in a blink of an eye:

  • Boy Wonder has dressed himself for a good year and Little Buddha is starting to reject our sartorial proposals. Pink or bust.
  • Recently both kids have slammed their bedroom door in our face. Like teenagers in training.
  • Little Buddha’s potty training success is good for our finances (and nasal passages) but we’ve just lost a whole routine of tummy kisses, sing-songs and chit-chat.
  • Last week, Boy Wonder corrected my knowledge about a historic figure. We checked the all-knowing oracle. Wikipedia confirmed he was right.
  • We rarely use the buggy. We’ve owned that vehicle for five years. It’s our Best Ever Purchase. By summer, it’ll be in a charity shop.

Given this minor revolution, it’s probably no surprise that the Duchess is once again Officially Definitely No-Seriously Broody. This is the trick of nature. The tantalising prospect of squidgyness.

I think about things like the steriliser, sleep and, sadly, the cost.

If we won the lottery…