I’m no glittering star

Glittering star 1PARENTING IS no fun for the anally-retentive.

I should know. This afternoon, in act of extreme cruelty, the Duchess invited the Kids to build their own robot. Within minutes, our dining room was an explosion of cereal packets, glitter sticks and cotton balls.

Of course, it’s essential that parents motivate their children to be creative, stretch their imagination, get messy in pursuit of artistic freedom. I just insist it’s done in our house between 8am and 6pm, Monday to Friday.

Not only did the Duchess ignore my weekday rule: she got the Kids all fired up a mere half hour before she set off to work for one of her weekend shifts. I’m pretty certain I heard her cackle on her way out of the house. Cruel, like I said.

Glittering star 2I don’t think I’ve got a medical strain of OCD but I’m definitely not a lover of disorder. When I get home from working away, I have three priorities (which I feel are best expressed in tidy bullet list!):

  1. Spend time with the Kids, put them to bed and so on
  2. Hang out with the Duchess, watch three episodes of Masterchef
  3. Check the cupboards and urgently rearrange the precarious leaning towers of pots and pans before they topple over and ignite chaos across the cosmos

Our house is full of incredible Papier-Mâché sculptures that I’ll always treasure. But, to paraphrase Otto von Bismarck, it’s like sausages and laws: I don’t want to see them getting made.

But sometimes you’ve just got to take one for the team. So, this afternoon we built a robot. We kind of had fun.

I learned that I’m not just good for racing, chasing and wrestling.

The Kids learned never to reply in the affirmative to the frequent question ‘Have you finished with this now, honey?’.

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?


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.

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.

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Park tales: A boy is born

THIS WEEKEND, my son turned into A Boy before my very eyes. He’s shown boyish behaviour for some time, probably since he was 18 months old, but this was different. A Moment, as they say in the trade.

I took Boy Wonder and his little sister to one of our local parks – Meanwood, a favourite of the Duchess, as it’s close to the new Waitrose, not to mention that other notable explorer, Captain Oates. Before we arrived, I told him to stay close and not to run off without prior permission as Little Buddha moves very slowly and I couldn’t face an afternoon of stomach flips every time I lost sight of him for 10 seconds.

So, we get in there, we walk together up to the very big slide at the far end of the enclosure and for a few minutes we are as one. Little Buddha is happy to watch her big brother come flying down the metal shute and he likes having an audience.

Then everything changes. Another blonde of similar height roars at him and almost immediately proclaims to his mum chatting nearby: ‘I’m with my new friend!’. The pre-match rules are scrunched into a tiny ball and thrown in a pool of mud at my feet as Boy Wonder tears off with his new best mate.

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Labour pains – is this my midlife crisis?

FOR A time today, I considered the possibility of becoming a politician. The Labour Party is encouraging non-party members from the business world to apply for coaching as a councillor or even a MP at the next election.

It was a tempting idea and I had a good think about my suitability and prospects.

I care about fairness and social justice. I grew up on a council estate in a post-industrial town in the north east. I was the first in my family to attend university (as was the Duchess). I mostly read the Guardian, support lost causes (not least Middlesbrough FC), give to charity. I cut my professional teeth at a global blue-chip and for the last seven years I’ve had an inside view of a big Government agency charged with increasing affordable housing (a potential vote-winning issue). I work in communications, so I understand the media, the possibilities of technology, the art of promotion. The Duchess  and I have already began indoctrinating our children in The Ways of the (Centre) Left.

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Changing nursery is proving an education

Changing nurserySO OUR SON CHANGED NURSERY TODAY. He spent the morning saying his goodbyes at the private day nursery where he’s spent the last two and a half years. Come the afternoon, he was getting used to the much bigger nursery attached to the primary school round the corner from our home.

It was a big fish-little fish kind of day. He got mobbed this morning, with girls and boys running to greet him at the door and crying out his name like he was some sort of rock star. Maybe they could see the chocolate cakes the Duchess and I were carrying but he seemed to be a popular lad. He was certainly one of the tallest, despite being only three and a bit.

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