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Friday, 24 January 2014

...You make your own (part two)



What happened is we took a two-week holiday to Holly’s mum’s apartment in Tenerife. The accommodation was free (thanks Lyn) and the flights were paid for in advance, but even so we went feeling very poor.

It’s a wonderful place to go for a holiday. The weather was near-perfect. Every day we went to the beach to build castles and sea defenses with flags and moats, and played in the pool. Dylan made us all jump in, holding hands, time and time again. He made lots of friends with the lovely Spanish children who played in the pool and shared their toys and swam like fish. I wrote Little Horrors and read more than half of Adam Levin’s brilliant epic The Instructions. We ate well and watched the Saints day parade down the main street of Puerto Santiago from the Chinese Restaurant where they know us (well, Dylan) well from previous visits, and then we watched the fireworks. And I made very good use of a prepaid international SIM card that I’d had hanging around since I was made redundant.



What happened is I started writing to companies and offering to work for free (for the experience) with no real success. I started using LinkedIn to connect with various Directors and Heads of Internal Communications, and writing to them directly—which got me an interview with the newly formed TSB bank in Bristol and lead me to briefly consider working part time in Aberdeen. I also registered to various websites, including Nationwide’s, to receive job alerts. It’s pretty demoralizing when people don’t want you to work for free.

Shortly before we went to Tenerife, I received an email from Nationwide, inviting me to apply for a role as Corporate Communications Business Partner. My instincts told me to ignore the job because (a) it was exactly the job I was after and (b) it was well paid. Eventually I applied to make up the numbers on my job centre report, and thought nothing more of it.



What happened is I received an answerphone message while we were in Tenerife from Nationwide. I called back and was invited to interview for the job. I laughed about it with Holly. We got home on the Wednesday and on the Friday, I went to my cousin’s wedding in Milton Keynes. On Saturday morning, my brother-in-law drove me down to Woolacombe for the middle two days of a four-day stag weekend, and we had an excellent time getting drunk outside a pub on the beach while the stag party were bowling in a nearby town. On the Monday morning, I researched Nationwide on the internet and saw that they’d been in the news for technical, financial reasons involving phrases like Basel III and leverage ratios. These are things I understand because of my previous job. I drove to Swindon that lunchtime, articulating my pitch – my one shot – in my head on the journey, and arrived for my interview a quarter of an hour late.

The following day, the interviewer called to tell me they wouldn’t be making any appointments until the end of November. She asked if I could start straight away on a temporary basis while they completed the recruitment process.

What happened is I wanted to laugh and cry and whoop for joy all at the same time.

I started work 24 September 2013, shortly after Dylan started going to nursery three days a week. I coordinated the internal announcements of the interim financial results and the launch of Core Capital Deferred Shares, and received rounds of applause for both. That’s never happened to me before. I like the job and the team. I miss Dylan like crazy but he’s busy all week and we make up for lost time in the evenings. I like the fact that I’m working again. I’m setting a good example for him. I guess we’re both embarking on brave, new adventures.

On Sundays, I took to cooking two big meals: a roast, which we ate with Dylan (it turns out he’s mad for my junior toad-in-the-holes, which he calls ‘toad-on-the-whole’), and a casserole in the slow cooker. Between the left-over meat and veg from the roast, and the casserole, we had good, real food to get us through the week without too much effort. The best thing I’ve made in the slow cooker is Jamie Oliver’s Cowboy Chili. Google it, try it, and I’m sure you’ll agree that other chilis don’t quite cut it in comparison.

What happened is I set up appointments with four of the local schools and Holly went to their open days. All four schools are good but three of them stand out and these are the ones we’ve put on the application form. In September 2014, my little boy, who used to wear nappies and crawl backwards and call his dummy a ‘Dodo’ is going to go to school. And he’s really excited about it.

What happened is they offered me the job, on a six month temp to perm basis, and I started on 9 December. Christmas was back on.

Christmas 2013 was about ice skating outdoors with Dylan at the mall. I push him around on an orange seal, literally racing around as fast as I can go, until I need to turn sharply to avoid a collision. The orange seal and me go left, and Dylan slides sideways across the ice on his shoulder. It was also about the office pantomime. Lyn drops Dylan off at Nationwide House and we head to the restaurant to watch a suspect performance of Goldilocks and the Three Bears, performed by a three man theatre company. Between that, the balloon animals, the visit to Santa and the (real) reindeer we find outside when we leave the office, it’s Christmas come early for the boy but for me it’s just a really long day at work. On the way home, I say ‘Thank you for letting me watch the pantomime with you, Dylan,’ and he says ‘That’s okay Daddy.’ I guess this means we’re going again next year.

If I still have a job. Oh God I hope I still have a job.


A couple of weeks later, Dylan is onstage at the Salvation Army hall, dressed as a sheep, to play his part in the Nativity. He’s the youngest member of the troupe. The other children are shy but Dylan is in his element. He sings loud and out of key and dances with abandon. He practices his tumble tots moves on his chair and parades around with his cotton wool ears pulled down over his eyes. And I bet there isn’t one adult in the audience who hasn’t noticed this angel dressed in sheep’s clothing, who is bringing innocence and joy and quite a lot of style to the original Christmas story.

That's my boy.x

Sunday, 19 January 2014

When it comes to luck...(part one)



Just days away from Christmas 2013, we take our seats at the front of the Salvation Army hall and the lights go down. The music starts and a procession of children make their way from the back of the hall, dressed as angels and sheep and other characters from the Nativity. The youngest of the children, dressed in black, with a white cotton wool vest and ears on elastic, follows the other children onto the stage. For a moment he looks unsure, then he smiles, breaks rank and runs to the front to wave and shout ‘Daddy!’

A couple of weeks later it's January 2014 and the question that lingers is this: whatever happened to 2013?

What happened is that my short story, Lost & Found, was shortlisted for the Plymouth and Bridport short story prizes. Both shortlistings are achievements but the Bridport one is huge, even if shortlistings don’t pay.

What happened is we finally got to see Carrie Underwood perform live, who was stunning, and Brantley Gilbert, another of my New Country heroes. The second day of the inaugural C2C Country to Country festival at the O2 Arena in London was a little slice of heaven for us country music fans. Whispering Bob Harris said we were in for a treat and he was right. Darius Rucker and LeAnne Rimes were also excellent. My other big gig of the year was Springsteen in Coventry. Mum and I sat near the back of the Ricoh Arena while Springsteen dedicated the whole of the Born to Run album to the late, great James ‘Tony Soprano’ Gandolfini, who had died the previous day. It was an emotional moment.

I played fewer gigs in 2013 but there were some good ones. I was invited back to play the Pucklechurch Revel, and Tara Humphris joined me onstage to sing She Will Be Loved by Maroon 5. I was the first act to play on the new bandstand in Page Park (after the official opening ceremony) and, once I’d played my new song ‘In Page Park’, Ant Noel joined me for Blues Highway and The Weight. Seconds before we played The River he leaned over and whispered ‘I may have forgotten my harmonica.’ Moments like this make it all worthwhile.

Playing fewer gigs gave me the opportunity to record and release a second EP, called Echoes. The songs were inspired by The Civil Wars’ If I Didn’t Know Better, but I ended up producing the title track in the style of Joe Bonamassa’s Sloe Gin. Ant played piano and organ, Alex Pearson played double bass, and Alec and Phil played electric guitar and drums respectively. They were all brilliant.
 
 
I was invited to play a set of Springsteen covers at the Curzon cinema in Clevedon, following the premier showing of the new movie, Springsteen & I. It’s probably the most enjoyable gig I’ve ever played. The lighting was great, the audience (in cinema seats) all faced the front and there was a huge floor fan on the stage to keep me cool. My set included Worlds Apart, Soul Driver, When the Lights Go Out, State Trooper and Darkness on the Edge of Town. Jerry Turner joined me and Ant for Thunder Road and then Alex joined us for The River. It was a once-in-a-lifetime thing and I’m so grateful I got to play.

What happened is Dylan started going to nursery three days a week. He's been awarded four badges in Tumble Tots and one badge for his swimming. He can’t go to playgroup anymore so we take him to Sunday school instead. His nursery tell us he’s exactly where should be developmentally except with numbers. Three years old and he’s already top of his class in maths.

What happened is I’ve started taking Dylan to the cinema. His first film is Monsters University, followed by Despicable Me 2 and Planes, and his favourite bit is choosing the sweets before we go in. My favourite bit is the cup of tea and the chance to close my eyes, knowing my boy is quite content in the seat next to me.

The summer was long and hot, and we spent countless afternoons at Horseworld, Slimbridge Wetland Centre, and Vassals Park. We visited our friends Nick, Abigail, Joshua and the newest member of their family, Emilia, in Woolacombe, and Dylan and I spent the night in the motorhome. We spent a wonderful day on the canals with Grandad and Nanny Dinosaur. Grandad Choo Choo took us out in his motorhome, and we rode on a steam train and have a picnic on a diesel.

 
Back home, we had barbeque lunches in our garden and played with Dylan’s tunnels and tents, making dens and paddling in the swimming pool. We invented a game where I ask Dylan if he wanted a biscuit and, when he said ‘yes’, I cupped my hands under the surface of the water and threw as much water as I could into the air. Instant rain. Dylan thought it was hilarious and asked me to do it again and again, requesting ‘cake’ and ‘doughnut’ alternatives. I grew potatoes, sage, figs, grapes, strawberries, courgettes, lettuces and multiple types of tomato, including Golden Sunrise and Marmande. One lovely afternoon, Dylan said he didn’t want to play in the garden, he wanted to go to the park, and we headed over in time to see the air ambulance helicopter land next to the swings. Summers should always be like this.

Another afternoon we took him to the aquarium but, before we got there, we saw one of the eighty Gromits that had been distributed around Bristol. Dylan was already best friends with Roger the rainbow-coloured Gromit who lived in Staple Hill. We asked him if he wanted to go to the aquarium, or if he wanted to hunt for more of the colourful canines. It was a warm day and he made the right decision. He ended up in the Millennium square fountains, soaked from head to toe. Three or four visits to Bristol later, and with no map or guide, we’d seen forty Gromits. It was one of the highlights of the summer.
 
 
What happened is my redundancy insurance ran out. Dylan’s extra days in nursery were going to cost us another £250 a month, even with government help. From September 2013, we were going to be £500 a month worse off and my savings were nearly all gone. I have two stag dos and four weddings to attend in October and November, the last of which is in Jersey.

There’s no way we can afford it.

(to be continued…)

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Welcome to 2013




Dylan finds his mummy in the kitchen, washing up.
 
Dylan: What are you doing here?
Daddy: Your mummy was put on this planet to make wonderful little boys like you.
Dylan: Oh dear.
 
It has been a long time since I posted a blog update and this may well be my last. It’s not that I’ve found a job, it’s more that things feel like they are coming to an end and I need to make the most of my time at home.
 
I passed the Diploma and, incredibly, got distinctions in the exam and evidence file. The exam board said “All the judges agreed that they would wish to employ Chris. His enthusiastic personality and natural communication ability, combined with his clear speech and articulate way of presenting facts, make him stand out from the crowd. He has a vision for the future and we feel he will be an outstanding head of internal communications in a few years.” You’d think this sort of kind testimonial would go a long way towards getting me a job but I’m learning that it doesn’t work quite like that.

Every year I go to the Cropredy Music Festival with five friends. In 2011, we were all employed and pursuing careers. Right now, half of us are unemployed and another one is employed but unpaid. Holly’s brother was made redundant after Christmas. The whole of my old team was disbanded. The job market is bleak and it seems to be affecting everyone.
 
Still, we had a wonderful Christmas and Dylan loved every second of it. He’s doing okay with his letters and numbers, and he knows all the common colours. Occasionally he will tell me what two colours make purple, orange and green. He’s just passed his second badge at Tumble Tots and we have finally started swimming lessons. Unfortunately, the lessons coincide with his nap, so the first week I had to leave after ten minutes with Dylan sobbing in my arms. But we went back and he loved it. We’ve also started making weekly trips to Horseworld as Dylan has become quite obsessed with animals. He knows the names of all the horses at Horseworld and, in his animal books, can correctly identify lions, tigers, cheetahs and leopards, which I think is pretty good for a two-and-a-half year old.
 
Our house is a lot of unfinished jobs. Before Christmas, I started decorating our bedroom, and I’d like to think I would have finished by now if I hadn’t discovered a serious condensation problem in the loft when I went up to fetch the tree. We’ve emptied the contents of the loft into the spare room and my dad is helping me to improve our loft space but it is slow going. Our bedroom is on hold until the spare room is clear and I don’t know when that will be. On the plus side, the long periods of wet weather, followed by the recent cold, have highlighted problems with our cavity wall insulation, which will be fixed tomorrow. I’m looking forward to a warmer, dryer house.
 
I’ve more or less given up on writing short stories. Before Christmas, I started working on a sitcom which absorbed a lot of my free time, and then this was parked to work on a new recording. In January, one year after I recorded Americana, I went back to the studio to record four more of my songs. It was an intense weekend but I’m really pleased with the results, some of which can be heard here. My ‘Song for Christmas ep’ will be available to buy through iTunes and Amazon later this year.
 
I’m still gigging and last month I was invited to play an hour long set at the Pucklechurch Cider Festival. In May, I’ll be playing the first set after the official Page Park bandstand opening ceremony and I’m planning to write a song to mark the occasion. It’s lovely to be invited back to play these festival gigs, especially when I can see Dylan dancing and singing along.
 

He’s always singing nowadays. Loud and mostly out of tune. And he’s always coming out with new expressions like 'What are you doing here?' (meaning: what are you up to?) It seems like only yesterday, when his favourite film told the story of a 'wan' (lion) cub and the circle of life, he proudly stood at the top of the stairs and shouted 'Daddy, Wan-King!)'

Those days are gone but the entertainment never stops. Someday soon I'm going to have to go back to work and, even though I will hopefully be employed in the communications role I've been after for so long, it's going to be really hard to leave my boy.

He's magic.



Wednesday, 5 December 2012

If the 'Shoo' fits



Dylan has always been fond of animals—it’s something we’ve encouraged since he was born. A few weeks ago, we were walking home from the railway path and we saw a dog with its owner. I take Dylan over to say ‘hello’ but, instead, he says ‘Shoo!’ This is what I hear. ‘Shoo dog!’ Over the next few days and weeks this same message is shared with the cats and birds that visit our garden, the fish at the aquarium and the horses at Horseworld. We blame his grandmother.
 
I’ve finished my diploma. Towards the end the workload was intense and I even spent a few days gaining work experience with the lovely guys at efex Ltd creative design agency near Basingstoke. The results are due early in the New Year but I must say a big thank you to Holly’s mum for her support with Dylan in the run up to the exam—I don’t know how I would have coped otherwise.
 
In the week before my exam, I made roasted pheasant with apples and cider (Nigel Slater’s Tender vol. II), served it with a creamy fennel bake (Jamie’s Great Britain); and honey glazed partridge with bashed neeps and cabbage (Gordon Ramsey’s Healthy Appetite). I also made walnut and apricot slices (Green & Black’s Ultimate Chocolate recipes – the new collection), which everyone seemed to like more than me.  Last week we had roasted Spatchcock Poussin, which was beautiful, and I’ve made several bottles of Irish Whisky Cream, which probably won’t last until Christmas.
 
Since the diploma, I’ve tidied up the garden; given blood for the first time; helped out with Christmas in Downend; replaced all the light fittings in the hall, stairs and landing; and I’m currently decorating the master bedroom. This weekend I shall be representing the Friends of Page Park as an elf in the Christmas on the Hill parade.
 
I didn’t win the InkTears flash fiction competition but I haven’t given up. Not long ago I was interviewed about my writing and you can read the interview here. And I’m finally ready for another trip to the recording studio—I shall be recording more of my songs in January 2013.

Dylan’s doing really well at the moment. He’s eating and sleeping better than he normally does, and, thanks to his weekly visits to Tumble Tots, he’s always climbing and jumping. Before he goes to bed, he helps me to read ‘Maisy’s Bath Time and Maisy’s Bus’ – he recognises words like ‘hooray’, ‘brmm-brmm’, ‘ding-dong,’ ‘splash splash’, and all the numbers. Potty training has been mostly successful although he’s lost interest a little and now says ‘no’ every time we ask him if he needs the toilet (Holly gives him a choice: ‘toilet or potty?’ which works quite well). Last week he had an accident while sitting in his high chair—it ran off the chair an into the canvas basket where we keep Dylan’s thirty or so bibs. These days the washing machine is always on.
 
Between rain showers, I take Dylan on a rare trip to the park. He plays on the swings and chases the other children, splashing through puddles in his Wellingtons. He’s always been a sociable little boy. He climbs up the steps of the climbing frame and a young girl, slightly older than Dylan, is blocking his path. ‘Move over and let the boy past,’ says her father but there’s no need, Dylan has it covered.

‘Shoo!’ he says, waving his hands at the girl. ‘Shoo!’ He’s such a charmer.



Tuesday, 16 October 2012

Little Accidents


We’ve been in Norfolk for a week, staying at my family’s bungalow on the coast. The plan was to potty train Dylan while we were here because he’s been so good at home recently. For the first couple of days there were a lot of accidents and Holly’s washing around four pairs of trousers a day, but he’s getting the hang of it. On Wednesday, Holly takes Dylan into Stalham so I can do some studying. She takes a change of clothes, just in case, but Dylan knows the routine and he uses the café toilet. Holly’s feeling pretty happy until she comes home and sees my trousers hanging out to dry in the late afternoon sun. They’re sodden.

She came home from hospital on the Thursday night, after four days of treatment. It was a challenging time for all of us but especially Dylan. He’d spent the weekend with his aunt while we were at the wedding; went to nursery on the Monday when Holly was admitted; went straight from nursery to his grandma’s for a couple of nights and visited his mum in a strange place full of scary people. When he eventually returned home, his daddy disappeared at bath and bedtimes because they clashed with visiting hours. He wasn’t reunited with Holly until Thursday night and this was when he finally went to pieces. He lost his appetite, refused to clean his teeth and didn't want to go to bed. He started coming into our room, in tears, about every hour during the night, worried that his mum might have left him again. Holly was signed off for a week and it took Dylan the same length of time to recover.

 
My diploma isn't going well. I need to provide three pieces of evidence to demonstrate each of eighteen competencies and I don’t think I can do it. My problem is that the diploma is aimed at people working in internal communication roles but I’m unemployed and I’ve never worked in an internal communications role. Life would be simpler if I had my old work laptop but I don’t and, without it, I’m in trouble. I need more examples, which means one thing: work experience. I’ve emailed the local councils and The Evening Post but it turns out that their communications departments are too busy and understaffed to reply to emails from people offering to work for free. It looks like it’s not going to be a question of passing or failing the diploma—at the moment, I can’t complete enough of the evidence file to stand a chance.

The Wednesday before we go to Norfolk was a good day for Dylan. His granddad and nanny took him to Bristol Zoo and, while the animals failed to capture his imagination, the dinosaur display was his idea of heaven. They bought him a box set of dinosaurs and it’s all he would talk about. I’ve added palaeontologist to his list of prospective careers.

The Friday before we go away was a good day for me. The upstairs windows were replaced, I learned that I'd been shortlisted for the InkTears Flash Fiction competition and one of my friends from the Bath Company of Writers, who happens to be an editor (as well as a prize-winning poet), has kindly agreed to arrange some work experience for me. It may or may not be enough, but I have hope again, which is a great way to start a holiday.



While Bristol sinks once more beneath the rain, Norfolk is a bucket full of sunshine. The Wednesday Holly takes Dylan into Stalham, I stay behind to work on my Diploma. Once I've finished for the day, I head over to the seafront for a ten minute stroll. To the north is Happisburgh, with its iconic, candy-striped lighthouse. To the south is Sea Palling. The tide is in and the waves are bigger towards Happisburgh, so this is the way I walk. About a minute later, I'm standing on the top step of the sea defences when a large wave hits the rocks in front of me, soaking me from head to foot. I would like to say that it was an accident but, rather than heading home, I remain in place through two more, huge waves. I'm drenched. This, for me, has always been what the seaside is all about.

We have a wonderful holiday. It doesn’t matter that I have to study while we’re here because I’m with my family and, together, we fly kites, build sandcastles and watch the seals on Horsey beach. Norfolk holidays have always been about enjoying good food and drink and, while we're there, I roast a shoulder of lamb from Stalham's excellent butchers, bake fresh sea trout from the fish kiosk in Happisburgh and we pick the last of the season’s blackberries in Hickling Nature Reserve. On previous visits to Hickling, I’ve seen swallowtail butterflies and marsh harriers, but the main attractions on this visit are the diggers and tractors. Dylan couldn't be happier. He sleeps well, eats plenty and opens the last of his birthday presents, which we held over for the holiday. Most of all, and like his daddy, he loves the sea. Every opportunity he gets he charges towards the retreating waves, then turns around and runs screaming up the beach as a new wave comes in. I'm pretty sure he's having a good time. And his favourite word while we're away?

"Again."
 
 
If you enjoyed this blog, why not click on the new Followers link or enter your email address in the box above so you’re amongst the first to know when I scribble about a few more of our adventures. It’s possible to unsubscribe at any time. Bye for now.

 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Taking the Biscuit




We’re driving home from Mum’s and Dylan is pointing out all the things he sees. ‘Tractor,’ he says. ‘Lorry. Bus.’ When he runs out of interesting vehicles he resorts to: ‘House. House. House. House. House.’ I’m amazed at how quickly his vocabulary is growing and he’s even managing a few sentences. ‘See you soon,’ he says, and ‘There it is!’ Last week, he came out with his first, self-composed sentence: ‘Daddy ate the biscuit.’ It’s becoming clear to me now that the more he can say, the more trouble I’m going to be in.

No Dodo
It’s my fault really. I’m the person who robbed him of his dummy. Nursery was closed for the Bank Holiday and his Grandma was in Tenerife, so Dylan was mine for ten days straight and I wasn't going to get a better opportunity. We came home from swimming and, while he put the towels and trunks in the wash, I snipped the teat off his dummy. Yes I did. He came to me for his routine cake bar and I showed him that his dummy was in two pieces. He looked forlorn and tried to stick the teat in his mouth. I explained it was broken, took him outside and asked him to put it in the bin. I gave him his cake bar and then, instead of searching the house for his dummy (as had been our naptime routine), we searched for his ducks. He asked for his dodo and I reminded him that it was broken. I put him in his cot bed and he rolled over, and it’s just as well because I had tears in my eyes. I went next door and listened to him grizzle for a minute and a half...and that was it. Job done. He asked for his dummy a few times during the following weeks but a shake of the head was enough to pacify him. And now it's gone he’s sleeping better.

Syrup of Figs
The other thing I’ve cracked in the last month is his constipation. Rather than taking action when it becomes a problem, I’ve started supplementing his diet with a daily dose of Califig. In many ways this has been an even bigger breakthrough than cracking his dummy dependency. He’s happier. He’s discovered food and the joy of having an appetite. And this, too, is helping him sleep. I feel like I’m finally making a difference as a stay-at-home dad and it feels pretty good.




Festival Fever
That said, I’ve hardly been at home recently. In August, I spent four days with friends at the Cropredy folk festival; two weeks later I spent three days at the NAWG Festival of Writing and two weeks after that Holly and I went to her cousin's wedding near London. The 45th annual Cropredy festival was excellent. It stayed dry all weekend and the music, which included Richard Thompson, Big Country, Squeeze, Dead Flamingoes, Dennis Locorriere and fantastic newcomers Brother & Bones (above) and Larkin Poe (below) was spot on. 
 



The weekend between the writing festival and the wedding, I played the headlining slot at the Page Park Bandstand Marathon, with Ant Noel joining me on acoustic guitar, piano, harmonica and vocals, and Howard Sinclair on bass guitar, acoustic guitar and vocals. We had one rehearsal together on the morning of the gig and played a forty-five minute set including three new songs: Chris Cagle’s My Life’s been a Country Song, Ant’s Hurricane Rising, and The Band’s The Weight. It was the first paid gig I've done for a decade and I promised to take Holly out for a meal with my £60 share. After the gig, a member of the audience said I played the best Springsteen covers she had ever heard, which was pretty great.
 
Small Potatoes
Summer’s over and so, for the most part, so is the vegetable garden. Was it a success? I suppose it was in the sense that Dylan ate the strawberries and apples, and understood where they came from, which was my main intention.





In the last month, I’ve harvested a good load of Maris Pipers—probably the equivalent of a couple of supermarket bags worth, which we've eaten as roasters or chips. Believe it or not I’m still picking courgette flowers, and we’ve had some good courgettes, too. For three or four weekends on the trot we had salad with mixed leaves picked from the garden, and last night I had a few radishes and tomatoes too. However, the cost and effort of growing plants has vastly exceeded the benefits, probably because of the weather. The tomatoes are rotting on the vines; the cabbages have all been eaten; the grapes are sun starved; the spring onions never grew and the radishes and rocket produced such a small yield it really wasn’t worth it.

So what will I grow next year? Courgettes: yes. Potatoes: probably. Strawberries, grapes and apples: yes, but only because the plants will still be there. Lettuces: yes. Herbs: maybe sage and basil but I’ll keep them indoors. Tomatoes: possibly, in the hope that the weather is better. Rocket, radishes, spring onions, cabbage: definitely not.

Apples, Apples
Our little apple tree didn’t produce a bumper crop but we didn’t do too badly and I found a couple of great recipes in Nigel Slater’s Tender: Volume II. Apple crisp is like a cheats apple crumble—cheap, quick and dead easy to make. It's also delicious. The sausage and apple casserole was also a treat. Last week I found a roast duck and white bean puree recipe in Rachel Allen's Entertaining at Home, which gave me the oppeortunity to roast some of our home-grown potatoes and try steamed romanesco. I’ll definitely be cooking this one again.

Taking the Biscuit
Holly took last Friday off work because she was suffering with colitis. On Saturday we left Dylan with my sister and went to London for Holly's cousin's wedding. It was a lovely day but we didn't stay for the evening reception because Holly was still poorly. We spent the night at a friend's house and left the following morning. We were about half way home when I was pulled me over for speeding, and I was lucky to get away with three points and a fine. The Police officer asked if there was any reason for me to break the speed limit and I said no, I just wanted to see my son. As I'm sure Dylan would say, 'If you eat the biscuit, Daddy, you have to pay the price.' The price on this occasion was £60. How about that for a coincidence?

On Monday morning, Holly is admitted to hospital. It's Wednesday as I write this and I've just taken clothes in to see her through to the weekend.


 

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

8 Hand Boy



Dylan points at the television and says ‘DeeDaa.’ This used to mean ‘Wall-E’, which we watched a few thousand times before we switched to Monsters Inc. and The Incredibles. None of these make him happy anymore but we've recently discovered that we don’t need to put the television on to keep him amused. If we give Dylan permission to look through the DVD cabinet, he will happily spend hours sorting through his DVDs, switching them between cases and then switching them back. Life is simple until it's time to tidy up.

Between Mickey’s Adventures in Wonderland and The Wheels on the Bus, Dylan has been enjoying the Olympics. He thinks the gymnastics is the funniest thing he has ever seen but it’s the horse riding that really captures his imagination. ‘’Orse,’ he says, over and over, pointing to the television in the hope that we’ll phone the organisers or the BBC and ask them  to put on a bit of unscheduled show jumping to keep him happy. Then Holly has a brainwave.


HorseWorld. What a great idea. It’s a retirement home for aging horses but it also caters for ponies, donkeys, rabbits, goats, pigs, ferrets and small boys. Throw in a few slides, a soft play area, an adventure playground and a café where short people can reach the controls on the microwave, and it’s Dylan’s idea of heaven.

This week, as well as grooming horses, riding toy tractors and climbing into pig pens, we’ve been swimming, had lessons on the harmonica, counted the ducks in Vassells Park, chased a local kitty around Page Park and made kites in playgroup. I’ve sent the second part of my Diploma off to the printers, made potato rostis, eaten the first of the cherry tomatoes from our garden and gone to the cinema for the first time in two years (to see The Dark Knight Rises). Last time I went to the movies, I was on paternity leave. How time flies.




I’m washing up in the kitchen when Dylan rushes out and says ‘Poo!’ For some reason, he isn’t wearing nappy. I ask him to show me and he leads me into the lounge, where his nappy is scrunched up on the sofa. Then he takes me to the downstairs toilet, where his potty is on the toilet with an inch of liquid in it. He took his nappy off, peed in his potty, took his potty to the toilet and then came to get me. This sort of thing has been happening a lot recently. Our boy is telling us that he is ready to be potty trained and we’re the proudest parents on the planet right up until the point where he urinates in one of our kitchen cupboards.

Oh well. Accidents will happen. Again and again and again.
 
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