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.

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…

Five memories from five years ago

Five memories 1OUR LITTLE boy turns five at the end of this week. By then, he will also have completed his first full week at school. Big milestones in his little life.

This blog is a casual diary of our adventures with our children. But I only had the gumption to start it in advance of Little Buddha arriving a couple of years ago. So, as I’m in a nostalgic mood, here are five notable memories from the birth of our Boy Wonder…

Waiting… We’d been trying for about 18 months. We’d been to see a consultant. We were finding each successive month of disappointment crushing and demoralising. Then, on a wet and horrible Friday in January 2008, I got off the train at Leeds to spot a missed call from the Duchess. ‘Can you buy some pregnancy kits, please?’ she asked breathlessly when I called back. I bought three from the station chemist and got a taxi. Blue lines all the way. Fucking blue lines. I was on the wagon. We had a bottle of champagne left over from New Year. We toasted our huge fortune and I then drank the rest of the bottle. The next morning, unable to sleep, I rubbed my sore head and stared again at those joyous blue lines. By the time the Duchess woke up, I was beaming again. A heady mixture of ecstasy and terror.

Waiting… Did I say terror? At the three-month scan, I was convinced it was all a joke. Apparently, I didn’t say a word during the procedure. I just stared at the screen, unblinking. ‘You could look a bit happier,’ the Duchess quietly scolded me . I couldn’t make out much from the grainy image and then I saw his little heart beat. He was a tiny human being. I could relax (a little). He’d be with us in six months. What’s his due date, we asked? September 11th, she said. So, that would make it 9/11. Oh.

Still waiting… Back in 2008, I was 36 years old. I’d lived more than 430 months on this planet. Which meant I’d completed around 72 blocks of six months. We were expecting our first child through the summer period, which as everyone knows lapses twice as fast as every other season. They were the longest days of my life. I bought one of those magazines that contained a weekly progress diary. Our wondrous progeny was only as big as a grain of rice in the early days. I checked a few weeks later and he’d graduated to the size of a grape. Once the Duchess did start to show, we were the only Brits thankful that the weather was miserable. (While I sat at home to make a few more lists, the Duchess spent a week at Chelsea working on an award-winning garden.) You’d have thought I’d be transfixed on that big date in September. However, at our first ante-natal class, I was the first Dad to be invited to tell everyone who we were and our ‘birth date’. Perhaps I’d misheard: ‘Hi, this is Karen, I’m Shaun, we live in Leeds and I was born 16th March…’ Oh how we laughed.

Five memories 2Still waiting… As if enduring all of those days and weeks and months was bad enough, Boy Wonder decided his daily diet of shortbread biscuits and Battenberg cake was too good to miss. Or perhaps he was just subdued by his Mum’s addiction to sniffing bleach and smothering herself in vapour rub! He stayed put for another nine days. Every time I left the office, people would give me that look: hope we don’t see you again for a few weeks. The next morning, they’d see me sitting at my desk and give me another look: Fuck. When it finally happened, it was the strangest thing. On the Thursday night, I went to sleep absolutely convinced that I’d be woken soon. Around 1am, the Duchess came back from the bathroom, we made a phone call and I completed the car journey I’d fantasised throughout the last six months.

Just a little while longer… The little beggar was still tardy. It could have been far worse, though. When we first arrived at the hospital, they couldn’t find his heartbeat and the palpably worried nurse called for senior help. I will never forget what those two or three minutes felt like. I started to crumble. The Duchess, meanwhile, calmly prepared for the unimaginable. Just as an army of doctors invaded the room, Boy Wonder must have awoken from the sofa at the rear side of the lovely womb and reared his head. Not far enough, though, and after 35 hours of labour the Duchess was in stirrups and we were surrounded by another army of medics. The Duchess said she couldn’t feel her legs, the medics told her to imagine she was having a very large poo. Forceps latched on, the consultants looked like they were preparing for tug-of-war. The rest of the team cheered on the Duchess. Go on, Karen. Go on, Karen, he’s coming. Here he is, keep pushing. Nearly there. And then the biggest, best, most beautiful cheer I’ve ever heard. I cut the cord, followed them over to the heat lamp and held the hand of my little boy.

Not so little actually. An ounce shy of 10 pounds. Bruised, battered, crying with relief. Him, her, me.

It really is a miracle. The last five years have been the best of my life. But where did the time go?


Nature vs nurture

Nature vs nurtureOUR SON is a ‘typical boy’. We say it all the time. It started when he was very young with his infatuation with big trucks, diggers and emergency vehicles. He then moved on to knights, dinosaurs and police officers. When he started his current nursery, aged three, he grew obsessed with superheroes, particularly Batman. So much so that last year we held a Superhero Party for his fourth birthday.

In the last month, his love of heroes has migrated to the quintessential sheriff. Our breakfast chats now revolve around the Wild West, bandits, the noble gunman prepared to defend a town. I showed him Lego versions of the classic shootout; and we’ve had a few goes ourselves, with the young sheriff somehow always beating my geriatric skills at the ‘draw’. (My slowness of movement immediately comes in handy for the crucial melodrama of my death scenes.)

Right side of the law

The underlying theme is good vs evil, the goodie vs the baddie – and happily Boy Wonder will always wear the white hat. He wants to be a police officer when he grows up (I intend to wait 10 years before informing him that such public service spirit is hugely misplaced and I expect him to run a hedge fund).

What still confuses me, however, is what influences these very ‘typical’ boyish obsessions?

I might be able to answer questions about his latest fad – and, indeed, enjoy a bit of role play – but it’s been a while since I dressed as Robin at the sixth form Christmas party. Or wore cowskin chaps. He watches TV, with its nasty adverts – and the ubiquitous promotion of the Lone Ranger film, like the Dark Knight before it, might have shaped his latest interest. There’s also his school mates and other friends, with their big brothers. But often it feels like it’s genetic, a biological code passed down through the male species.

Pretty in pink

The nature vs nurture conundrum is skewed further towards the former by Little Buddha. Her obsessions are twofold: Peppa Pig, which is to be expected, and the colour pink. Which is not, because the Duchess hates it. She was a tomboy when she was young and she just doesn’t do ‘girly’. Little Buddha, however, is not to be deterred. She commands the pink bowl and cup at breakfast – and even suggests I give the blue versions to her brother – her bedroom is gradually becoming a poodle parlour and tonight when I settled her in for bed with a promise tomorrow of a late night of Ice Age 4 and Smarties, she smiled and replied: ‘Pink chocolates for me, Daddy!’.

I can’t work it out. The Duchess, meanwhile, is in denial.

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.

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Forty years and forty delights

THIS WEEKEND I TURNED 40. I officially became a Middle-Aged Dad. No one really looks forward to the Big Four Oh-No but a few days on I’m pretty relaxed about it all.

It certainly helped that my lovely little family, led by the imaginative if now bankrupt Duchess, presented me with a gift for each year of my life.

The gifts came in different boxes, each representing a stage of my adult life. Each bore a tag offering a clue. It was, without doubt, the most amazing, thoughtful array of presents I’ve ever received.

It’s a bit indulgent but I thought I’d share the list, as it gives a (strongly alcoholic) flavour of my 40 years, as well as proving what a lucky and loved old man I am:

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What is it about boys and swords?

Pirate sonOur three-year-old swashbuckling son seems to have turned our lovely little house into one of Yorkshire’s most versatile weapons store.

The funny thing is, he’s only got one actual sword – a pathetic foam effort that came with a pirate outfit – and that was confiscated months ago. It remains lost somewhere in my wardrobe.

Undeterred, Boy Wonder has adapted all manner of objects in his pursuit of imaginary baddies and villains.

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