Handbags And Gladrags

Time is spiralling out of control and as I write this the boys’ second birthday is two weeks away. If past form is anything to go by, the end of this blog post will be written sometime after their party.

They say, whomever they are, that starting new jobs and moving house are two of the most stressful things that you will encounter, but I suspect organising a kids birthday party ranks up there alongside these events, if not eclipsing them by some considerable margin. I have no idea why it has to be so traumatic, seeing as Arthur and Henry probably couldn’t give a shiny shit whether they had a party or not – I’m not altogether sure they understand the concept of a party at this age.

Firstly, there’s the cake. It should have a theme, apparently. This is especially difficult with our two because they don’t seem to like the same things as each other. Arthur is very musical, whereas Henry is all about vehicles. A car journey with Henry consists of him listing virtually every vehicle he sees then informing us that it has passed, “Car! Car gone. Lorry! Lorry gone. Ham! Ham gone. (Ham is Henry’s way of saying van). Truck! Truck gone. Nee Naw! Nee Naw gone. (A Nee Naw is any emergency vehicle with its siren operating)” and so on and so forth. Those long journeys fly by.

The only area where they both agree is the Disney film Frozen. Or, more pertinently, the theme song to Frozen, Let It Go. If either of them are having some sort of tantrum, or behavioural episode of a similarly uncontrollable manner, sticking Let It Go on YouTube will usually diffuse the situation. It used to be Peppa Pig, but she is so last year, apparently. I’m not one for gender stereotypes, but I hoped we had escaped the whole Frozen thing by having boys – it tends to be more a little girl thing.

The whole party for kids thing seems to be getting out of hand. At most of the parties we have been to for other kids of late, each parent seems to want to outdo the parents who threw the party a couple of weeks earlier. Everything has to be bigger, better and, crucially, far more expensive. I have heard rumour of well in excess of £100 being spent on a single cake for a one year old, which in my book is completely un-necessary.

Parties we have been to recently included and indoor bouncy castle, a face painter and a man that made balloon animals. All at the same party. This was for a first birthday party. Mrs Aitchworld enquired of the face painter how much it would be for her to attend our party and it was in the hundreds of pounds.

This was the start of us finding ourselves falling into the same trap and the cake area seemed to be one of particular consternation. The current line of thinking is we will have a cake each for them. One will be transport themed, probably having a tractor or a digger somewhere about it.

The verdict is still out for a cake for Arthur. He loves singing so we considered a microphone-shaped cake, possibly pink because he still loves Peppa Pig. We have even bought him a Peppa Pig microphone for his birthday (if I get this published before his birthday, please don’t tell him and ruin the surprise) but it is a fine line between ambition and talent. This left us thinking that if the former was greater than the latter, a phallic shaped cake might be the result, which made us briefly consider buying cakes from a specialist cake maker and have them made specifically for them instead of off the shelf in Tesco.

The research that subsequently went into this revealed the sort of prices some of the other parents are paying for a cake that is going to be displayed on a table in a church hall somewhere for an hour, before being squashed into napkins, then shoved into a party bag, then throw in a bin when it is discovered when the recipient gets home that one ply of the napkin has stuck to the icing. We decided to make our own. Pinterest is our new best friend. Well, it is of Mrs Aitchworld’s as she is the one who can make a cake. I’m useless!

The other area of concern is the party bags. There seems to be a general one-upmanship between party givers, each trying to out-do the previous party thrower by giving away a more complex and expansive party bag. The last one we received for the boys, alongside the obligatory piece of hellishly expensive themed cake, had sweets, chocolates, crayons, bubbles, a squeaky duck, a pencil, a notepad and an eraser in it. The next one I fully expect to have a smart watch and a laptop computer in it. Given a few more parties, I reckon nothing short of a widescreen television and an iPad (other tablets are available) being shoved into a party bag will suffice.

We realised that this was the case long ago and agreed that we would not fall into this trap. I wasn’t going to do them at all and was going to stick to my guns on it. Let them eat cake, I said. And one ply of napkin, of course.

But then something happened. They say things happen for a reason. Well this something was that the local Poundland closed down. Better than this, our local Poundland was, in fact, a Poundland Clearance store. This is slightly confusing, because rather than everything being a pound, there are varying prices – the clearance part of the title refers to redundant stock the company has bought from other shops closing down, rather than tat they have acquired and have to try to flog for a pound and still make a profit. Some of the stuff is actually quite good.

A closing down sale naturally means reduced prices. Not just reduced, but slashed. You’ve never seen so much excitement. The car park of the whole retail park was heaving. Fights were breaking out over parking spaces. The store was rammed – people were barging past others in the aisles to get to the good stuff. People were being pushed out of the way by shopping trolleys and wheeled baskets so that other shoppers could grab a bargain. In the middle of all of this staff were trying to get the last of the remaining stuff from the stockroom out onto the shelves. It was nothing short of absolute chaos. It was brilliant to watch.

And the reason I was there watching it was because we too were there buying things to fill party bags. I relented and changed my mind. In the last couple of days of trading, everything in our Poundland Clearance had 50% off. And a lot of that had already had 50% knocked off. We went mad and filled a trolley. And I mean literally filled it, right to the top. And then the next day we went back and filled another, because we felt like we hadn’t spent enough money.

We haven’t got party bags. We’ve got party carrier bags. And because we didn’t pay for the carrier bags, technically we should be charging 5p for them, which is probably a little more than we spent on the stuff inside each of them, even though they are full of goodies. Okay, so the Haribo (we noticed after we had put them in the bags) is Christmas themed, but I’m sure no one will notice.

The thing is, I’m not sure how we are going to top it next year. If anyone else has a Poundland Clearance closing down anywhere near them, let me know and I will come and clear some shelves in preparation!

Video Killed The Radio Star

It’s official. I’m old. Over the Christmas period I got a new mobile telephone and despite my best efforts, I failed in setting it up. I did pretty well, importing all my contacts and applications, but no matter what I tried I couldn’t get the damn thing connected to the internet. I was partially vindicated in that when I took it to the Carphone Warehouse, from where I bought the SIM card, in order for a teenager to sort it all out for me, that they were also unable to connect me to the internet. In the end I had to resort to ringing Vodafone (other mobile telephony providers are available) to help me.

And then there was the Firestick incident this week. Friends of ours gave it to us as a gift to thank us for all the stuff we had given them for their new-born twins. I’ve commented before on the generosity of our friends who have children (all boys) who are slightly older than Arthur and Henry and I lost my man cave up in the converted loft room months ago with all the incoming hand-me-downs. We have boxes of clothes and shoes taking us through the next three years. Getting rid of several van loads of clothes and toys was a blessing, not something we needed thanking for. But appreciated we were, and the Firestick was a thing of beauty; a gadget for me to play with. Man like gadget!

Once it was all plugged in and ready to go, I realised I had no clue how to find HDMI source on the television by using the remote control. Or any other method. I bought the telly only a few months ago – it’s one of these smart TVs that works off the internet, magic and witchcraft (but not off the aerial if there is a strong wind or a bit of rain, apparently).

None of the buttons on the remote for this new television have anything so obvious as the word “source” next to them, but instead rely on hieroglyphics that no one over the age of about 20 can understand. Even Mrs Aitchworld, a veritable youth at seven years my junior, was none the wiser. I eventually considered doing that most unmanly of things and reading the manual. I resisted to the best of my ability, but ultimately, in the wee small hours, I capitulated and dug out the manual for the TV in search of the solution.

Since I am using computers less and less, I consider my eyesight to have improved back to the levels it was at during my early twenties and in light of this I stopped wearing my glasses a couple of years ago. However, I may have been a bit premature in this assertion because I couldn’t actually read the manual. I don’t usually have trouble reading small print and assumed that the cheap paper the manual was printed on had caused the ink to bleed and therefore appear blurred.

Still, it played on my mind and while I was in Primark on a recent shopping trip to Manchester, waiting for Mrs Aitchworld to try on some clobber, I found myself stood next to a display rack of reading glasses. I was distraught to find, when I tried some on, they made print very much clearer.

Of course the natural thing to do when I got home was to google these symptoms and after many hours of research and self-diagnosis the verdict is that I’m going blind. This is going to be a bit of a problem for me because I’m not altogether keen on dogs; I will still throw away shoes that I have trod in a dog turd whilst wearing, although I coped admirably the other week (and ever since)when Arthur managed to tread in one and Mrs Aitchworld cleaned them up – I have been able to handle them without having to bin them. Given the rate at which the boys are growing at the moment, I didn’t expect them to still fit him for more than a few more days. So if a guide dog is out of the question, I will have to train the cats to take me for walks and I’m pretty sure that won’t end well.

All is not lost because I am confident that pretty soon Arthur and Henry will be able to sort this kind of stuff out for me. They are already starting to get the hang of an iPhone (other smartphones are available) and know which button to press in order to cut me off when they have had enough of my Facetime presence. At first it was attributed to clumsiness and them pressing the red button in error, but as time passes it is becoming apparent that it is their way of saying “I’m getting bored of you now, dickhead”.

We have even downloaded a couple of child oriented applications to keep them distracted while they are in the trolley going round Aldi to keep them out of the stock room and super specials aisles. They are getting the hang of them too and each action towards the phone is becoming more considered, more planned. It’s amazing to think that an iPhone to Arthur and Henry will probably be like a Nokia 3310 was to me when I first got one. It was a thing of wonder then, but very soon became outdated, just like smartphones will, once we all have Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in our heads as standard. I’m wondering if google glasses will help my reading issues…

I was an early adopter of the mobile telephone and had one long before everyone had one. And I always upgraded too, so an actual Nokia 3310 came to me pretty much upon release and I was suddenly able to send text messages; it was a revelation.

However, I hardly knew anyone else with a mobile telephone, let alone people who could actually receive an SMS, so it was a moot point really. There was one person, an ex-girlfriend who had SMS capability, but she had gone out for a bottle of wine several months earlier and never returned (it was okay; I had some beers in), so I doubt she would have been particularly pleased to have received a message saying “Zinfandel please” just because I’d upgraded my phone. Or “Znfndl plz”, as I believe would have been the correct way of abbreviating things in those days.

I have always spelt everything in full and punctuated correctly, so my text messages always arrived with the recipient in batches of several at a time. I still maintain this practice, but fortunately you are allowed more characters in a message now.This is probably one of the reasons I don’t get on particularly well with Twitter for me to get my point across would take many tweets and interest would wane after the first few. Not that anyone really follows me anyway.

Of course, then picture messages came along, and shortly afterwards technology gathered such pace that things like WhatChat and SnapApp came along, as did various other messaging applications to confuse the hell out of anyone who just wants to ask if a mate is coming out for a pint. And it is this similarity that brings me back to how quickly the twins are developing.

I come back to this theme time and again, but as a parent I am finding myself looking forward to the next development and in doing so it is like I am not appreciating the moment. I so desperately want Arthur and Henry to remain babies (or at the very most toddlers) for as long as is possible, but at the same time, I’ve got a Google Chromecast that I unplugged from the television a few months ago and I could do with setting it all up again but unfortunately I’ve lost the manual. Not that it would be any good even if I did have it, because I wouldn’t be able to read it anyway. So as much as I want the boys to remain as young as possible for as long as possible, I could really do with their help on this! At the current rate of change, I reckon I could have it sorted by summer.

 

Running On Empty

I started writing this weeks ago, with every intention of finishing it promptly and publishing it forthwith. For many reasons, that didn’t happen, mainly to do with lack of time and sleep. But this week I have suddenly found myself unbusy after handing in my notice at work. After being relieved of my mobile phone and laptop, and saying goodbye to my colleagues, I was invited to leave the premises and my notice period was to be seen out on gardening leave, so I have some time on my hands. Or so I thought. It’s amazing how quickly a list of things to do appears when someone thinks you have lots of time.

Ironically, the garden needs to be finished after the landscaper we had employed to lay a load of railway sleepers stopped showing up after the second day of working with them and failed to finish the job. His work rate was pretty impressive in those two days and he got all but two of the sleepers in place. On day three though, nothing. He’s not even been in touch to tell us how we might pay him for the work he has done. Unfortunately, January and February aren’t really the months to be gardening, so I’m not sure I will get round to doing any actual gardening on my gardening leave. Annoyingly, I initially thought I had a three months’ notice period and might get round to doing something outside in March, but I was quickly disabused of that notion and discovered it is only a month.

So, the boys then… Well, all of a sudden the developmental leaps are coming through thick and fast and the journey of parenthood has suddenly picked up apace. It was brought home to me just how far we have come when, a couple of months ago, I was working away from home and decided to back up the very many photographs I possess on various devices. In doing this, I took a long and meandering trip down memory lane. I had my iPad (other tablets are available) to flick through old photographs and posts on the Aitchworld Facebook page, reminiscing, smiling a lot, and at times laughing out loud. At one point, to coin a modern parlance, I even did a little roffle.

It reminded me of a recent Facebook trend of people posting a picture a day, for seven days, of their children in order to demonstrate what makes them proud to be a parent. While I was on the ruminating trail I momentarily left Facebook and had a flick through the photo album on my phone. I reckon I could probably post a picture every hour and after seven days I would probably only have scratched the surface of the phone’s content. It is fair to say I take a lot of pictures of the boys and they took a while to all back up.

Henry started walking when we were away in France last October. Arthur followed suit by the end of the month, then Henry started running in early November. Completely out of the blue, at the local fireworks display in the park, in the biggest crowds our town ever sees, in the dark, Henry decided this would be the best moment to become Usain Bolt. We managed to catch him, but he has been determined to run at any given moment ever since. It’s like parenting Forrest Gump.

The other day he decided to run off in Aldi when we were doing the weekly shop; straight down the frozen food section and into the store room. I’m not out of shape, but cycling is more my thing than running and I had a hard time keeping up with him. Arthur decided this distraction meant it was a good time for him to adjust his gait to a faster pace and while I was trying to retrieve Henry from the Aldi store room, he was going in the other direction to the specials section in the middle of the store. Mrs Aitchworld started to run after him but then realised that her handbag with purse and mobile were still in the trolley so she was torn between boys and valuables. Coincidentally the specials that week were cycling accessories, so when I did finally catch up with Arthur at least I had something to look at that interested me.

Before we had the twins (but knew we were having them) and I think I have documented this, I was counselled that I should only listen to parents of other twins for baby advice. Take on board by all means the words of parents who have had one baby at a time, but they will not have a single clue what it is like to deal with twins. This was good, and indeed correct, advice. More than this though, parents of single babies, and only children, won’t see the magical interactions that you will only get with multiple birth siblings.

We first noticed it at nine months old, when the boys would have secret conversations between themselves. It was one such conversation, that neither I nor Mrs Aitchworld could understand, which led to so much cooperative splashing between them that it left the bathroom flooded.

Arthur’s speech is a little more advanced than Henry’s and both are trying to use words, but we still don’t understand most of what is being said and conversations are very much between the two of them. However, with each passing day, we understand more and words are becoming clearer.

Arthur clearly says Daddy, whereas Henry says Dadd’n. I love this little quirk of Henry’s. In fact when he learns to say Daddy properly, I will really miss it. He does point at my car and say “Daddy’s car” though, so he can say it when he wants. He can also say Volvo, which irks Mrs Aitchworld somewhat, because he learned to say this before he said Mummy.

If I had published this when I had intended, a month or so ago, I could have listed all the words the boys could say. They keep leapfrogging each other – one minute Henry will have the larger vocabulary, then a couple of days later Arthur will suddenly expand his. As parents, it’s impossible not to compare the progress of your own progeny with that of others, despite knowing it is futile and that every child develops at a different rate. To then compare your children with others, then with each other is enough to send you in a spin. But they do all catch up and despite slight differences, the boys are on a fairly level playing field with each other.

At dinner the other evening Arthur pointed to something on his plate and said “carrot”. And it was indeed a piece of carrot. So Henry pointed a potato and said “tayto”. Then they both had a conversation with each other that consisted solely of the word “tayto”. This is the first time we had heard either of these words and we hadn’t been prepping them to say it or even focusing on those particular vegetables – they just picked them up. We realised at this point that we had better curb the swearing!

I was impressed when Henry gesticulated towards one of the cats yesterday and said “Dave”. Well, he said “Daiyve”, but it was close enough. And it was actually Dave that he pointed at, but we have noticed that both he and Arthur now refer to Charlie as Dave as well.

They can each say the other’s name, but again Arthur is a little more precise – he says Hen-nee. At the moment, Arthur is the more content at playing with one toy for quite long periods of time, whereas Henry is always busy and will move from one toy to the next with alarming alacrity. And he is always so excited about each new thing that he moves onto, that he wants to involve his brother and is always calling out to him. He calls his brother Rar-rar.

Sometimes they eschew the toy option altogether, if they are both with each other and have a common object to play with instead. Tonight the funniest thing in the world was the living room door, as they took turns to try and shut each other’s fingers in it. Luckily we have foam doorstops that clip on the top of the door to stop it shutting to in order to avoid such an eventuality.

It dawned on me that parents of single toddlers won’t ever get to experience this; the laughter, the shouts of Hen-nee and cries of Rar-rar, the hugs and cuddles in between shoving heads in the doorway were such a beautiful sight and sound to me that it damn near brought a tear to my eye…

Who am I kidding? Even Mrs Aitchworld noticed I had welled up. The truth of the matter was that I had to leave the room so that the tears could freely roll down my face unrestrained. It took quite a while to compose myself.

To do this I thought, as the kids were entertaining each other and needed little or no input from me, I would use the opportunity to sit on the toilet in peace and dry my eyes. I may as well multitask the toilet roll. Going to the toilet without interruption seems to be a life goal of many parents, judging by the comments on parenting blogs and memes alike. I thought I would be so ahead of all these backed up parents. And it was all going so well until Dave popped out from behind the towel shelf, hopped onto the cupboard next to the toilet and onto my shoulder, while Charlie tried to get through the locked door by pulling up the carpet the other side of it. If it isn’t one set of twins, it’s the other.

The Aitchworld Playlist. So far…

The more observant readers will have noticed that every blog post title is a song title (or a slightly amended song title). If the twins were slightly older, they would by now be able to work technology sufficiently better than I can in order to form the below into a YouTube playlist, to become the soundtrack of their lives so far. In my mind it is a bit like the film Goodfellas, only set in Congleton, starring babies and not featuring any mob violence. Henry is only days away from being able to crack the code for getting into my iPad, so once he has, I will get him to transfer this into a functioning playlist. For now though, a list of artists and the song titles will have to suffice.

It Started With A Kiss – Hot Chocolate

The Only Way is Up – Yazz and the Plastic Population

Wait A Minute Mr Postman – The Carpenters

Theo & Weird Henry – John Mellencamp

Bounce Baby Out The Door – Sarah Connor

Bohemian Rhapsody – Queen

Twin Exhausted – Ian Gillan Band

Sleeping Bag – ZZ Top

The Bogey Man – Yngwie J Malmsteen

Dedicated Follower Of Fashion – The Kinks

There’s a Guy Works Down The Chip Shop – Kirsty McColl

Sweet Child Of Mine – Guns n Roses

Caravan Of Love – The Housemartins

An Englishman In New York – Sting

The Sun Has Got His Hat On – Ambrose & His Orchestra

Hey Big Spender – Shirley Bassey

Spies Like Us – Paul McCartney

Blame It On The Boogie – The Jacksons

We’re All Going To The Zoo Tomorrow – Peter Paul & Mary

Watching The Detectives – Elvis Costello

We’re All Going On A Summer Holiday – Cliff Richard

Life Is A Roller Coaster – Ronan Keating

Money For Nothing – Dire Straits

Mrakesh Express – Crosby Stills & Nash

Great Beyond – REM

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road – Elton John

Orange Crush – REM

Red Rain – Peter Gabriel

Fun, Fun, Fun – The Beach Boys

All I Want For Christmas Is My Two Front Teeth – Spike Jones

Hey Mr Tambourine Man – The Byrds

Bicycle Race – Queen

Yes – Into The Lens

Madonna – Holiday

Pink Floyd – Another Brick in the Wall

Billy Joel – Piano Man

Dexy’s Midnight Runners – Come On Eileen

Nancy Sinatra – These Boots Are Made For Walking

Noisettes – Never Forget You

Queen – Radio Ga Ga

Eddie Rabbit – Every Which Way But Loose

Roger Taylor – I am a Drummer (In a Rock n Roll Band)

Jackson Browne – Running On Empty

The Buggles – Video Killed The Radio Star

I Am The Drummer (In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band)

This weekend we have mostly been recycling. At least that’s what I call it; Mrs Aitchworld calls it dumpster diving, despite not even being American. To explain, the mechanics in the garage over the road have ordered in a big skip and are having a clear out. The owners of the garage decided they would utilise it to clear out their homes as well and they turned up on Saturday afternoon and disgorged the entire contents of a Mitsubishi Shogun into the skip. It’s a long wheel base one, so there was plenty coming out of it!

I only paid scant regard as it was happening, but after they had gone, I noticed there was a large amount of primary coloured plastic now adorning the skip. This could only mean one thing – kids’ toys! It was hard to tell from across the yard to the garage, but there looked to be several items in near perfect condition, lying now in what the owners thought would be their final resting place. My intrigue was piqued though so I had to inspect further.

There were indeed many toys, all of them in good order and working condition and the mountain of plastic tat we already have in the playroom has swollen somewhat. As regular readers (if any exist outside of my head) will know, there is a musical theme that runs through this blog and music is something I hold dear, so I was especially pleased that I could rescue a small keyboard (in working order still with batteries in it) and a complete toddler-sized drum kit from said skip. The stand for the cymbal was missing, but I soon fashioned one with a bit of dowel and a couple of screws and a few washers.

Now most parents couldn’t think of anything worse than a drum kit that a toddler can play, but I like it. For a start, when I can hear Henry or Arthur bashing away at the drums or playing the keyboard, I know where they are. It gives me and Mrs Aitchworld a chance to get on with something else without constant supervision of the boys. The time to worry is when it all goes quiet.

Considering music is so important to me, it is something of a surprise that I waited until I was about 42 before I actually learned to play a musical instrument seriously, which was when I started to go to Ukulele club. First rule etc., etc. Beyond this, I have been known to have the odd toot on a harmonica over the years, but I wouldn’t say I was proficient in any way with one. Same goes for the keyboard – I can knock out a rough tune but I’m no Rick Wakeman. I tried to learn the guitar when I first went to high school, but the teacher was crap and didn’t inspire me at all and so I soon gave up.

I would love for the boys to be able to play instruments. It’s down to them, of course, but I will be trying to influence them. However, if I am totally honest with myself, it may be that I am trying to live my life vicariously through them now; for them to take up the baton where I dropped it. I’m not talking about the giving up of the guitar lessons. No, I’m talking about me and some guys from school; we had a band but we didn’t try hard.

By any stretch of the imagination, it was a short-lived affair, starting when we were about 17 and ending, when we were, erm, well about 17 really. A friend, Karl “Woody” Wood, had parents who owned a holiday cottage in Wales somewhere and visited it most weekends. He offered their home as a place for us to converge and practice our music. We weren’t so much a garage band as a living room, spilling out into the conservatory, band. We were middle class kids living in a small market town in Cheshire, after all. We had to give him some credit for this, so we did it by way of the band’s name and called ourselves Woody’s Comet.

The line-up consisted of Steve, who played guitar. Only he didn’t. He just owned a guitar and a fancy amp with various inputs that we could all use. He justified his position in the band by stating that he was musical and came from a musical family – his four sisters and his mum could all play instruments with flair and to be fair, Steve could play the trumpet. But not the guitar. Not a single note. We did suggest that he play his trumpet in the band, but this was stupid, for a rock group, apparently.

We also had Mark, who did have a guitar and could actually play it, so until Steve got to grips with it, we at least had a guitarist. We could sort out guitar pecking orders at a later date – we had enough issues in the rhythm section for now to contend with.

Damon could, he said, play drums but he didn’t own a kit. He said he was saving to get one. So that’s okay then. Complementing this rhythm section was not one, but two bass players, Jez and Karl (Woody). Having a surplus of talent, if that’s what we could call it (and if we’re being entirely honest about things, we couldn’t) should be a good thing, but Jez and Karl couldn’t agree on who was going to be lead bassist and who was going to be the rhythm bassist. It was a never ending battle. At least they had bass guitars and were reasonably proficient at playing them.

Finally, complementing the line-up was yours truly, on vocals and keyboard, the latter of which doubled up as a drum machine until Damon had saved up enough money from helping his dad on his ice cream round to buy a drum kit, and I also provided a tape-to-tape ghetto blaster with several line-in ports that would allow me overdub and mix.

The only problem with the keyboard aspect of my position in the band was that the instrument in question belonged to my mother and it wasn’t allowed to leave the house under any circumstances. I wasn’t a lot better than Damon in that respect. Any synthesiser sounds and drum beats would have to be overdubbed later from the comfort of the Aitchworld familial home.

We had a plan. Sort of. I wrote a few lyrics (I still remember the title of the first song I penned, “Children of the Night” – Mark claimed recently he still might have my scribbles of this song somewhere) and even designed an album cover of sorts, but I did it in the size and shape of a cassette case because that was the format our music would first be produced onto. The rest of the band would then come up with a tune to suit the lyrics. This was how all bands did it, right?

Well they may have but it didn’t work for us. None of us could agree on a tune. Naturally I had the basis of a tune in my head when I composed the lyrics, Steve had another once he saw them, Jez and Woody were arguing about who was the lead bassist, Mark sat quietly in the corner and every time Damon came up with anything it was summarily dismissed as sounding too much like the tune emanating from his dad’s ice cream van.

Eventually, Damon quit and Woody got married; I should have known we wouldn’t get far. It was the summer of ’89…

I jest. Woody didn’t really get married. Damon didn’t have a role to quit from because he never got the drum kit. His dad was also a woodwork teacher as well as running an ice-cream van and he did whittle some drumsticks up on the school lathe, but the drum kit to go with them was never forthcoming.

I don’t recall now whether we ever recorded much. I vaguely remember a tape-cassette existing of some of our work, but I have no idea how much or whatever happened to it. In fact I don’t remember us actually playing much at all either. It was about this time that we discovered alcohol and smoking, aided and abetted by the off licence that would serve us, knowing full well that we were underage, and the girl of only a couple of years older than us who worked there and used to advise on what best to drink to get the maximum hit. It was something different every week.

In particular I remember the snakebite we made using Special Brew and Diamond White. In fact just thinking about it has conjured up the taste of it in my mouth. This is probably why we tried something different every week because we didn’t want to taste it a third time. How we managed to clear up the vomit from the bathroom (and kitchen, and conservatory, and front lawn, and patio) before Woody’s mum and dad returned from their weekend in Wales is both a mystery and a miracle.

Needless to say, this activity got in the way of actually playing and being creative. I do have a vague memory of us playing something only to find at the end of it we hadn’t started the tape to record our masterpiece. I guess it was at this point that we decided that we weren’t quite cut out for it.

We had fun along the way though, and this is what I would like for Arthur and Henry, minus the smoking and drinking-until-they-vomit part of it obviously. But the creativity and the teamwork has got to be good for them. It’s part of what made me the well-rounded character that I am today. There’s no pressure though and to be honest, on the keyboard we dug out of the skip there is a record function and they have already committed more to tape than Woody’s Comet ever did so they are already ahead of me! I could have the next Hanson on my hands here…

Every Which Way But Loose

It is fair to say that Mrs Aitchworld, in her own home, is surrounded by males. There’s me, Arthur and Henry, and even the cats, Dave and Charlie, are boys. It’s inevitable then that, at some point, she would feel out numbered.

We did have hens, but these lived, in the main, outside. There was that one time when Henrietta was in her final days of old age and we brought her inside because it was winter and Mrs Aitchworld thought she looked a bit cold. There is also a picture somewhere of Dave having a stare off with Belle in the kitchen, him wondering what the hell a chicken was doing in his home (him and me both) but I don’t recall why she was inside the house.

These two occasions excepted, and discounting the female foreign students we have had stay with us over the years, since the boys came along (of the non-furry variety), it is a male dominated household and as the boys get bigger, this isn’t going to diminish in any way. We have discussed it previously and had agreed that we would consider having another child when Arthur and Henry are about 3 years of age. I suppose it shouldn’t have, but it still came as a shock to me when, towards the end of our recent holiday, Mrs Aitchworld announced she wanted to have a baby girl.

I don’t think we can plan it quite like that, and there is still a 50/50 chance that I might get to bolster my army yet further, so having a third child may yet work to my advantage. Until that day arrives though, we have bigger issues to deal with – Henry has learnt to walk.

He had taken his first few tentative steps while on holiday. Since then he had performed this trick a number of times, but never strung more than about three or four steps together. Last Sunday we braved a soft-play centre, in the absence of nothing more constructive coming to mind to entertain the boys. Both Henry and Arthur spent the afternoon crawling all over the under-threes section.

I spent the afternoon with soft-play-centre-rage. It’s like road-rage only much, much worse. The problem wasn’t with the centre so much, but with the parents who don’t watch, or care, what their darling little shits are getting up to. (Even now, a week later, I’m hitting the keys of the keyboard on my laptop even harder just recalling this). The under-threes section was clearly labelled and marked as such. It was a small area, but for an under-three must have seemed massive, and it was surprisingly adventurous in both height and level of equipment. The rest of the place, for the older kids, was huge and brilliantly equipped. If it wasn’t frowned upon, I would have gone for a play on all the stuff myself.

For some reason though, known only to themselves, there was a group of slightly older kids who insisted on playing in the under-threes section. They must have been at least seven years old. This is fine, but they were running about and paying no heed or attention to the small children, the ones the section was intended for, who were crawling around on the floor beneath them.

We tried a couple of polite “you know this is for under three year olds, don’t you?” type approaches to get them to move on, but they pretty much ignored this. We tried getting the staff on board whom, to be fair, did come over and point out the same as we had. This worked, briefly, but all too soon they were back. Like cockroaches. The rage got too much. I sat fuming in the corner of the ball pit, up to my chest in balls, surreptitiously arming myself with even balls under the surface in order to throw at their stupid little faces, should they poke them round this area.

Mrs Aitchworld on the other hand decided to go down the humiliation route. The next time one of the bigger kids crashed over Arthur, she pointed out, “This is the baby section. It is for babies. Are you a baby? Well, are you? If you want to behave like a baby, by all means stay in this section, but it will mean you are a baby. B A B Y; baby. Understand?” Surprisingly it worked. Not a raised voice or a plastic ball thrown in anger was needed, which was almost a shame because I’d psyched myself up for a fight!

Henry had all afternoon in an environment where had he wanted to walk, he could have practiced it and not worried about falling over in view of the soft landing he would have had. But no, he just crawled. When we got home we were all sat in the dining room with Peppa Pig on the telly (it’s always Peppa Pig – it’s the first thing that comes up in our Youtube suggestion list) and Henry decided that he would just get up and walk a complete lap of the island in the kitchen as if he had been doing it all of his life and it was the most natural thing in the world.

Now, a week later, there is no stopping him. I would even go so far as to say he is almost running. Last night, when I arrived home, he pushed Arthur out of the way on his trike and came running over to greet me. The moment he saw me his arms went up in the air and he toddled over to me in a manner not entirely dissimilar to Clyde, the orangutan in the Clint Eastwood films, so that he could have a cuddle.

No one has ever been that excited at my arrival at home. Well, maybe the cats, but that’s only because they know they are going to get fed. That has all changed though and they are having to all but fight for survival now because on a lap of the island yesterday Henry emerged round the other side chewing something. On closer inspection it turned out it was Felix’ As Good As It Gets. It transpired Henry was a fan and it really is as good as it gets, because he didn’t relinquish it willingly or easily. And he now has a shiny glossy coat! Charlie and Dave aren’t happy about their food disappearing in such a fashion.

Arthur has observed all of this and immediately wanted to do everything that Henry can do. Arthur looks up to Henry a lot. Unfortunately he doesn’t have quite the same sturdy disposition that Henry does and when he tried to copy Henry and take a couple of steps, he took on the appearance of a new-born gazelle. He managed a few steps unaided before falling into my arms, but it will be a couple of weeks before it all becomes second nature to him like it has with Henry. When we first tried to get him walking he wouldn’t bend his knees. At least he is doing that now, so we do have progress.

Of course, now they are walking, we have to think carefully about buying shoes for them. We’ve already bought shoes from them from Mothercare, but apparently these aren’t expensive enough. General consensus is that we have to go to a Clarkes shop to have the boys’ feet measured and then hand over many of our hard earned pounds for a pair of shoes so tiny that I could fit them in my pocket. And we have to do this twice.

Henry has slightly bigger feet than Arthur, so I was hoping once he was done with them, at least Arthur would be able to use them, but judging by the state of the Mothercare ones this isn’t going to be possible because they are fast wearing out.

“Buy them in the sales”, one friend advised. “In the last sale at Clarkes, I managed to get two pairs for £32”, she offered as a crumb of comfort. Well across a couple of sales between Brantano and Tesco I managed to get two pairs of walking trainers (in different colours) and a pair of work shoes for myself for less than this, and there is considerably more material in these than a pair of toddling shoes.

I still don’t know why everyone says it has to be Clarkes shoes. I was always dragged to the local Clarkes purveyor as a child and hated their shoes. Even though they came with a pin-badge to attach to your pencil case it didn’t make them any cooler. If anything, having that badge was just pointing out to the kids from the council estate whose parents couldn’t afford to shop at Clarkes that they had inferior shoes. It made one a target for discovering what the blue goldfish that lived in the U-bend looked like. They may have had inferior shoes, but they were infinitely cooler. Not that you had a chance to tell them this before the chain was pulled and the flush descended on your head.

My mum didn’t know it but I used to change into my trainers every day at school… Actually she probably did know this; mums know everything. And Dads. Henry and Arthur better not try and pull any of that shit with me – I will know.

The point is, my feet have turned out okay despite wearing trainers nearly every day of my childhood. I’m sure it is a myth perpetuated that if your children don’t wear Clarkes shoes, they will continue to walk like a new-born gazelle or an orangutan and that unless the appropriate footwear is purchased, at great expense, then the damage will be permanent. I don’t believe it. It can’t be proven, nor can it be disproven, without putting children at risk. If we don’t buy the shoes, then we are playing fast and loose with our kid’s feets’ futures. If we do buy them, we’ll never know if we could get away with buying just shoes. If only there were other countries where they don’t have Clarkes shoes that we could look to for guidance…

 

 

 

 

 

All We Hear Is Radio Ga Ga

It’s been a while since I wrote any words. Well, at least outside of a work environment. Given the nature of my job, visiting and having meetings with customers, I have to generate visit reports to relay the general content of the meeting to the staff back at base, but there isn’t much scope to vent about baby poo and vomit in those. I still do, on occasion, but generally it is frowned upon by management. Today I managed to spend half of a business meeting discussing the merits, or lack of, In The Night Garden. That’s going in a report – if I have to suffer it, I’m taking others down with me.

The truth is, there has been so much going on, both with the boys and outside of their world, there hasn’t been the time to sit down and bash out a load of meaningless drivel on a laptop. But the visit reports have to get done and by the time they have, there isn’t much time to sit and blog. This is a catch 24 situation though, because there has been so much in the way of development, that there is so much to write about. This could be a long one!

The big news is that we now have two way communication with the boys. Almost. They keep overtaking each other with their development. Henry has a wide range of vocabulary and started first to really communicate with us. “Gah” means “light” as in a light bulb. The switching on of any light in the house is accompanied by this sound. It is also repeated often and loudly on a car journey, which means Henry wants the courtesy light to be switched on. “Gah”, incidentally, also means car. And milk. And star. And quite a few other things, but once you judge the context in which the “gah” is being applied, you can usually work out what he means. “Gah gah” is not a tribute to the Queen song that has now become the title to this blog post, but actually means “all gone” in Henry-speak. “Nee-naw” means fire engine, unless said with a little bit of melody, in which case it is the Clean Up Song from Boogie Babies. It is also used to denote a car, when “gah” seems too much trouble to use.

Arthur waited a little while longer before making his verbal alacrity known, and his first words were “Peppa Pig”. We can even play a game with him – if he says Peppa Pig and we subsequently do the “Doop dooby doop doop, dooby dooby doop doop” of the theme song, he will fill in the gap with perfect timing. If we sing the “Peppa Pig” part, Arthur will attempt the “Doop dooby doop doop” section. This he is less successful at.

Now there is no stopping them. I am writing this from Carnac in France, where we finally made it to for our second holiday with the boys. Since we have been away Henry has continued to use “Gah” for all the things he already did but, to his credit, has added “tractor” “digger” and “more” to his range, and that’s just today. Arthur too continues to expand his vocabulary. They are in repeat mode at the moment, mimicking words that Mrs Aitchworld and I say to him or that he overhears. We will have to tone down our language, otherwise it is only a matter of time before one of them drops an F bomb in front of grandparents. Seeing as we are away with one set of grandparents, this might come sooner than we fear!

Being away this late in the year is both a blessing and a curse. The downside is that things like buckets and spades are in remarkably short supply in the shops in the UK. Shorts and flip-flops too were something that I had a very hard time in locating. The bonus is, when I do find these items, they were all reduced to shift them quickly so that the shops could clear space for their winter lines.

But then that is pretty much how I do all of my shopping – it nearly all comes off the Tesco reduced rack. Virtually the entirety of my current wardrobe has been bought right at the end of a season at maximum reductions. That money saving dude from the telly would be proud of me.

I like to think it’s living on the edge, getting things right at the last minute. It’s quite a leap of faith seeing clothing you like the look of but refuse to buy until it is reduced in price. The reality is that as I travel all over the country with work, if one branch of Tesco doesn’t have something in my size, I can almost guarantee another one somewhere else will. I haven’t been brave enough yet to buy a suit jacket that fits in one branch, but the matching trousers in another; I’m adventurous, not reckless.

Last time we went on holiday, a little more than a year ago, we didn’t dare brave going abroad. It is little more a vague and distant memory now, but I do recall that we were so new to parenting still that we didn’t know what to take so we just took everything. We crammed everything, the entire contents of our house, possessions worldly or otherwise, into every orifice of the car and filled the largest roof box Halfords have ever sold. And we used hardly any of it. The preparation for the holiday was one of the most traumatic events of my life, so this time it had to be different.

We started well. Over the course of a weekend and a total of five hours on the telephone, Mrs Aitchworld managed to book the ferry a few months in advance. Using Avios points to get a miniscule discount isn’t that easy, apparently. Quite how she made this booking is anyone’s guess – at the time I hadn’t even ordered my new company car. We had to assume that the request I had submitted would be passed. This done, we were then asked for dimensions of the car, which involved trying to find out from the internet how tall a car I didn’t have possession of was, then what height the roof bars that would fit the car but I also didn’t own would be, before adding on the height of an inaccessible roof box, stored on its end in the far reaches of a totally full garage.

We could, of course, have made it a little easier by taking Mrs Aitchworld’s car, as we had to the Lake District last year, but at the time of booking we had realised there was no way it was going to pass another MOT without spending roughly twice what the car was worth, so wouldn’t be keeping that. A couple of weeks ago we traded it in, with minutes left on the MOT, for something quite a bit smaller, so taking that would have been a last resort.

My choice of company car was finally approved. As I am in my early 40s and a dad, I needed a dad-wagon, so I chose a big Volvo, in brown, with an automatic gearbox. Nothing says middle aged better. I remember, in 1979, going with my dad to choose a nearly-new car from a local garage. I desperately wanted him to buy a Volvo estate that was for sale, purely because there were a couple of Lego bricks visible in the boot. He eschewed this option on the grounds that it was twice as much as he could afford, but as an 8 year old I didn’t understand the concept – all I knew was that he was letting good Lego slip through his fingers.

Two weeks before we left, my car hadn’t even been made. I needed to get permission from the lease company to take the car abroad, but for this they needed a chassis number and registration number. Such things can’t be assigned to rolls of sheet steel and plastic granules that are yet to be injection-moulded. There had already been one delay to the delivery date, with no guarantee there wouldn’t be any more. Panic set in. On more than one occasion I had a dream about a non-existent Volvo.

Finally, the day before we were due to leave, I was able to collect the car. I did say I like living on the edge by doing things last minute. It didn’t have any Lego pieces in it though. It was booked onto the ferry and we were then able to pack. Despite knowing (and planning in relatively precise detail) what we were going to take, and the new car being bigger than anything else we have ever owned, we still managed to fill it completely. I’ve no idea how, because we certainly haven’t brought with us anything un-necessary like we did last year.

The thought of flying to a holiday destination with the boys abhors me. Spending a couple of hours looking at planes at the airport before the flight, then a couple of hours on the plane itself, then maybe an hour at the other end getting to where we are going, seems to be a tall order. Far better, we concluded, would be to spend all day in a car, all night on a ferry, then another three hours in a car on the other side of the Channel in order to get to where we are going. On second thoughts…

Despite sounding crazy this worked. Well something has worked; maybe it’s because we have been with the boys 24/7 for a few days instead of packing them off to nursery while we go off to work, but we have noticed a lot of development from them, as I mentioned earlier, while on this holiday. Maybe it was the relaxing journey down here that has refreshed them, mentally and physically. Both Arthur and Henry will stand, completely unaided, upright like Meerkats for ages and, frighteningly, Henry has taken his first few steps.

I say frighteningly because once Arthur cottons on to this he will want to do it and once that happens, they will be off. I just know it will be in different directions too. Which one to run after will be whichever is in most danger or which one I like most at that very moment in time. The one thing we forgot to pack this year was reins. We didn’t need them last year, but they were probably in the roof box anyway, somewhere near the second steriliser we took; the one that goes in the microwave in case we stopped anywhere where they didn’t have electricity for the main one.

Has this holiday been a success, compared to last year? Well, we’re only a few days into it, so I will have to report back in a week or so, after it is all over and we’ve got back home again…