Baby sitters and small boys and hospitals and David Bowie


As an adult one of the things I found hard about leaving the children with sitters was the fact that the sitters did not know what the normal boundaries, expectations and limits for acceptable behaviour are in our house. What we are allowed to watch on the TV, when we go to bed, how many snacks we can eat , how long we should brush our teeth – all became negotiable once we were out of the house.

Luckily, I am such an ineffectual parent that most of those things are negotiable the rest of the time too so no harm done. I always thought David Bowie was being a cool dad when he wrote in Kooks;

And if you ever have to go to school

Remember how they messed up this old fool

Don’t pick fights with the bullies or the cads

‘Cause I’m not much cop at punching other people’s Dads

And if the homework brings you down

Then we’ll throw it on the fire

And take the car downtown

I now realise that he was as inept as in the parenting department as I have been. It usually needs someone sensible to sort things out, like my wife.

When we were small me and my older brother were once left with a sitter who was wonderfully amenable to whatever it was we said we were allowed to do.

A happy afternoon of trashing the house ensued, sugar sandwiches, mud fights in the garden, ransacking cupboards that were usually off-limits. We had fun.

Things reached a wonderful zenith when we found an empty cardboard box to play with. Well, I say empty, it was after we had emptied it. Everyone knows what fun you can have with an empty box right?

Taking advantage of the fact that the normal rules didn’t seem to apply we decided to hold our very own sledging competition. This is very simple, you sit in the box at the top of the stairs and gently rock yourself forward until you tip over the edge and slide down the stairs at great speed and spill out at the bottom, shrieking with laughter and running back up for the next go.

Naturally our attention spans wouldn’t allow for just keeping it at this. We decided what we wanted was more speed. The obvious way to achieve this was with a gentle push over the top step. Or a not gentle one if you wanted to see what would happen if a lot of extra speed was applied to the launch.

I should explain that the house we lived in at the time was one of those 60’s built ones with stairs leading straight down to the front door, the front door made of two glass panels in a wooden frame.

I am assuming that anybody who has ever seen a YouTube video or watched You’ve Been Framed will know where this story ends. If you didn’t guess; it ended with the first occasion of me putting my big brother in hospital, and ME in trouble for breaking the window. (I still don’t know why it was me, technically he was the one who broke it). So that is why I have found it hard to leave the children with sitters.


Around the world in a day – or less


Our tablecloth is a large print of a world map. It covers a rather beautiful oak table that we bought in a moment of impulsive consumerism. We would rather like it to survive until after the children have left home, although I suspect it will continue to be covered for a long time after that, until one day our great grandchildren come to clear the house of our possessions and shout “I do declare – there was a beautiful oak table under here all along!”

But I digress. The tablecloth seems to initiate conversations and discussion with just about everybody who sits and has a cup of tea with us. For some people it’s a raised eyebrow and comment on how ‘interesting’ it is. For others it is a chance to indulge in some curiosity sating walks around the world with their fingers.

Our own family plan imaginary (hopefully real one day) trips and trace the steps of previous journeys and adventures; it is a tablecloth of dreams and desires. To add to the excitement our world is often populated with little extra islands of Weetabix and archipelagos of sticky cake crumbs.

When granddad comes to stay he uses it to show us all the places he went to and talks about the things that happened to him during his time in the navy during and after WW2. This visit he told us the story of Bermondsy Bill;

When he was billeted with a family in Hounslow – with Mrs Collier and her unattached 18 year old daughter Barbara, who was sent to accompany grandad on any and every errand and excursion he left the house for – he was sharing a room with another sailor called Bill, from Bermondsy. Bill didn’t particularly like the authority aspect of being in the navy and found it hard to bite his tongue at times.
Naturally this resulted in lots of ‘opportunities for Bill to reflect on his conduct’, but eventually he went a step too far and was transferred, disappearing from the house and the base overnight. He was replaced with a married man who spent all his spare time fiddling his leave and forging passes and tickets so he could visit his family in Torquay.

Some years later grandad ran into Bermondsy Bill again, at a transit camp in India. He found that Bill had been given a ‘special duty’ on a patrol boat in the Arctic Ocean. He spent his time shivering with cold, watching for German boats sneaking down from the North and crying himself to sleep at nights. He had never progressed beyond stoker and thought perhaps he maybe shouldn’t have answered back quite so much.

We all felt there was a moral in here somewhere, but I will let you decide for yourself what it is.


When I was 5 my paternal grandfather died. All I really remember about him is that he took snuff and had a walking stick, also when we visited him we were allowed to visit the Olde Worlde sweet shop and buy a sugar mouse each (Me and my brother, not me and granddad.). Not much I know, what can I say, I was only small.

My other grandfather lasted longer, but lived further away, so I didn’t really know him that well either. He was an artist and had a moustache.

I have an appalling memory at the best of times, so the fact that I can dredge up so few details of men who I didn’t know very well isn’t too alarming for me, it’s just what it is.

However….this Easter my wife’s Dad came to stay again. He has been a regular visitor at our house throughout the boys lives. He came to help when I was working away, he comes to help out when we ask, he was here to babysit the older two when our youngest was born. He helps me fix things that are so far outside my skillset they are on a different planet (he is a retired plumber) and loves being around our boys. Every year he comes on holiday with us for a week and the boys all love having him to stay, as do I.

I am sure the boys will all grow up with fantastic memories of Grandad. He regales us with stories from his time as a sailor in World War 2, tells them about life growing up in his village and the things him and his 3 brothers used to get up to. He shows them different trees, plants and birds and gives them a different perspective on the world, from someone who remembers a time when things were different.


Below are some Grandad highlights that I am sure will be safely stowed in the boys memory banks, but I am also recording here, for posterity – and because they’re funny:

Feeding the ducks one day Grandad scooped one up out of the water, put it in his hat and told the boys we were bringing it home as a pet (we didn’t!)

When he was a boy him and a friend accidentally blew in a shop window with the shotgun they had taken to the woods.

In the navy his minesweeper was sent to clear 10 mines from an estuary. They could only find 8, but as they were due shore leave pretended to have cleared all of them.

His dad (Great Grandad) killed a rat with a broom in a World War 1 field hospital – only to find that one of the nurses had been keeping it as a pet.

He secretly doesn’t like Liquorish Allsorts, but doesn’t tell the family as they have been buying them for him for years.

He is a wonderful man and it is always great to see him. My biggest hope is that, if I ever become a granddad, I can be as grand as he is.



I like to drive. Being a lazy, broke and inept teenager I didn’t come to driving until quite late in life. To be precise it was when we bought our first car together, after we got married, that I decided I might not get good usage out of it if I couldn’t actually drive. So my wife was forced to endure a nerve- racking, teeth-grating, eyes-tight-shut year of me learning to drive. (Her eyes closed – not mine.)
I managed to pass my test first time and was soon careering round London like Mr Toad – windows down, music on, rev hard at the lights. I really didn’t know why I hadn’t done this sooner. True I did have one or two minor dings in the first few years, but nothing a few days of rejigging the sub frame, replacing the bonnet, wings, bumper, headlights and a paint job couldn’t fix. (You should have seen the other – brand new BMW – car).
To date I have been given one speeding ticket by a humourless traffic policeman just because I was doing over 90mph, the injustice of it! Well I did think so at the time, after all, I was in a hurry to get home for tea. He excelled himself by managing to spell the make of the car wrong on the ticket, even though it is written on the car in big shiny letters that he could have copied.
The other offence was having my photo taken as I rushed from meeting to meeting. This was resolved in the peculiarly British way of sending me a court summons, and then sending a letter telling me I could avoid getting a conviction if I paid to go on a ‘speed awareness’ course for a day. They really should do this for other offences – shoplifting awareness training, not punching people practise etc. I took the latter option and was treated to a day of being told that driving fast was dangerous by two retired ex-policemen. To be fair, I did stick to the speed limit on the way home from the course so it had some impact.
My biggest grumble about driving is that I always seem to miss the announcement that tells me when it is going to be National Drive Like A Dick Day. Consequently I am unprepared for people driving at a nice safe 5mph below the speed limit, coming to a complete standstill before making any sort of turn at any junction, not using their indicators (it’s none of my business where they’re going right!), going the wrong way round a roundabout (seriously, all the other traffic came to a standstill as we watched this death defying feat)
Now I have actually put this in writing I realise that the reason I miss the announcements is because National DLAD Day is pretty much every day round here. I may have to just give up and join in.
Anyway, last year my chickens came home to roost. My eldest son was learning to drive, and as I wasn’t working I became the main passenger/instructor/idiot that doesn’t know what he’s talking about. I spent many happy months being driven in a haphazard fashion around the local countryside giving , largely ignored, advice.
The test is now passed, and a happy eldest son has several months of being able to get himself from place to place without having to ask me for lifts, arrange times around what I am doing or wait for buses (no trains here since the winter storms washed away our tracks.) He is largely happy, and I am just a little bit sad as my first born, who will always be a baby to me, starts to become an independent adult.


The picture at the top is the car I was pulled over in, I cannot imagine what it was that drew attention to me!

Movie night

Friday night in our house is an institution. Like many other families we choose to end the week in relaxing and decadent style.

I can’t recall when it started, but it was some time ago and happens with clockwork regularity. A missed Friday cannot be cancelled, it has to deferred to a different night. It is the perfect end to what are often (usually) chaotic and busy weeks in a home where our children attend three different schools.

Once everybody is home from school, work, wherever else they may have been the routine goes like this;
Cook tea (some of us)
Eat tea (all of us)
Tidy up (argue about who needs to do what)
Make sure things for Saturday are all ready
Into PJs/onesies (depending on preferences)
Turn sitting room into oasis of tranquillity, with blankets, cushions, bowls of sweets, ample seating and soft lighting.

Once our middle son (Who doesn’t like sweets, doesn’t like to watch films – except the Spongebob Squarepants movie, and there are only so many times we can all watch that – and likes to go to bed early most nights) has gone to bed we settle down for the evening.

Occasionally we decide beforehand what we would like to watch. Notionally we take it in turns to choose the film, although the rota for this seems to be quite flexible and come round to the youngest child with suspicious regularity. There is often some horse trading at this point as we scroll through the available movies, each of us discounting various options for various reasons; seen it, sounds boring/babyish/stupid/girly, don’t like Meryl Streep etc. This can be quite a protracted process as we whittle down the main contenders and move to a vote on the final options.
Once we have decided what we will watch it’s settle down time, occasional bottles of beer or cider if we are feeling reckless and it is movie night.


Don’t misunderstand me, we love going to the cinema proper, but being able to pause for a break in some of the interminably long movies (hello Harry Potter and The Hobbit) is pure bliss, not having to arrange for a babysitter or try and get anywhere on time is also heavenly. Also, we can change the film halfway through if we choose one we decide we don’t like after we have started watching it.
Laying about in nightwear and rolling straight into bed once the film is over is about as much excitement and dynamism I can muster at that time of the week.

If you already do Movie Night in your house you will know all of these things already, if you don’t you should seriously consider it.