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…

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…

Watership frown

Two rabbitsI’M LOOKING after rabbits this week. They belong to Boy Wonder’s school. I didn’t say a word when the Duchess informed me we were housing them through the school holidays. Now the rest of the family is down south for a few days, and I’m left holding the spinach and the pooper scooper, I wish I’d used at least two words.

I don’t like pets. In fact, I’m scared of them. I’ve always said that the Worst Job In the Universe is pet shop assistant. All of that chirruping and chirping. All of those smells. When Rocky Balboa courted Adrian at the local pet shop I nearly vomited in horror. Don’t do it, Rocky, I cried – she works in a pet shop, she’ll never properly remove the odour. He didn’t listen, of course. Punch drunk they call it.

Pet rescue

Adrian would have needed Rocky’s help to install the hutch in our garden. It’s got two floors, private bedrooms and an activity centre. Given the cost of housing in ‘rabbit hutch Britain’, if we still lived down south we could probably rent out this temporary extension for at least £250 per week.

The Duchess works weekend shifts, so I recently had a practice run feeding the rabbits and cleaning out their litter tray. Much to Boy Wonder’s mirth, I shooed them away from the front of the hutch before I started my duties (they’ve got teeth and claws, you know). Molly, the female and elder, got extra greens for being neat and tidy, pooping in the designated area. Ralph, otherwise known as ScatterArse, did not. The rest of the time, the Duchess has treated them like VIP guests, with exhaustive clean-ups (she ACTUALLY gets in the hutch, the mad demon!), three-course meals and soothing care. (For some reason, it reminds me of our courting days.)

Anyway, I had to work late tonight so I’ve just fed the very hungry beasts. I instinctively introduced myself as ‘Uncle Shaun’ and actually enjoyed watching them tuck into their greens and pellets (although I’ve suddenly got vague recall that the latter should only be dispensed once a day and I might be causing leporine obesity). I audibly wished them good night, like they were friends.

I hope ITV4 is showing Rocky tonight. I’m becoming attached.

Father and daughter: there’ll be Friday night tears




Up until a few weeks ago, I would only hear those magic three words from my two-year-old daughter as a result of blatant manipulation. Delicious treat or remote control in hand, I’d ask her if she loved me and, of course, she was always keen to confirm that was true.

It’s shameful, I know, but she’d left me no choice.

Her older brother remains hugely affectionate and demonstrative. In the early years, if I ever feigned tears he’d be straight over to cuddle me and salve my fake upset. There, there, Dada.

Little Buddha had never fallen for that ruse. In fact, a few months ago, I hid my face behind my hands and pretended to cry and she just laughed at me. I tried once more a short while later and she passed her rotten tissue to the Duchess and calmly observed that ‘Daddy is sad’.

I think she meant the other meaning of the word.

Continue reading

Forty-one and definitely counting

photo 1I TURN 41 tomorrow. It’s only 12 months since the Big Four-Oh-No but it feels quite different. Last year, my birthday was very special. I got lots and lots of presents. Lovely people joined my London celebration. I went out several times with different groups, acting like Queen Liz and my good wife the Duchess, with their extended birthday galas.

There’s little of that this time. My lovely family will spoil me, of course. Little Buddha seems keen to sing happy birthday to me, and anyone else in her orbit, every day of the week. Boy Wonder, meanwhile, has been itching to disclose my surprises but this year, for the first time, he understands the need for secrecy. I expect the Duchess threatened a cake ban if he’d scuppered her thoughtful plans.

So, I’m not moaning. Honest. It’s just different.

I guess my middle age started the moment my 40th celebrations faded. Only it’s taken another milestone for me to realise it.

Continue reading

Middle aged man goes to middle aged gig

TONIGHT I’M attending a middle aged gig. It’s my first foray into a music arena since I had kids and waved goodbye to my thirties – if you discount the time I took Boy Wonder to see Justin from CBeebies.

So, it’s fitting that the Duchess and I are off to see Elbow, a band of middle aged men who know a thing or two about love, loss, pain and pies. If you squinted hard, you might even think I have a passing resemblance to lead singer Guy Garvey, the northern Ray Winstone. Tall, svelte, clean shaved, sartorially elegant…

We nearly didn’t get tickets, of course. I saw the advert in the Sunday Times and received an enthusiastic approval from the Social Secretary. And then did nothing about it until there were only six tickets left. The MEN Arena holds around 25,000 people. I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s not like it’s Riverdance. Besides, Elbow like to put a runway from the stage into the crowd, so it’ll be like Guy Winstone is in our front room.

Continue reading

The 15th step to follow before you decide to have children

A BLOG post entitled ‘Fourteen steps to follow before you have children’ reached me this week, along with probably thousands of others as it apparently went viral around the world. It’s deserved success is due to its witty, perceptive insights into the everyday difficulties and frustrations of parenthood, all dressed up as a test for would be parents.

The post originally appeared on the parenting website Mamami, although a more accessible version can be found on an Australian news website (which is also proof of its global popularity).

My favourite is ‘Test 4: Dressing Small Children’:

1. Buy a live octopus and a string bag.
2. Attempt to put the octopus into the string bag so that no arms hangout.
Time Allowed: 5 minutes.

Continue reading