Hotel California

It has been well documented on these pages that we have had holidays with the boys since they were born. In fact, in their two and three quarter years (at the time of writing, if not publishing, owing to delays in actually finishing this post) on this planet, we have had three summer holidays, two of them abroad, and a couple of autumn mini breaks.

The one one common factor in all of these holidays has been that we have driven to the destination. Just the sheer amount of crap that you have to carry around for babies and young toddlers had put us off flying. It would be difficult enough taking one small child and I am full of admiration for any couple taking a child abroad on an aeroplane, even more so if it is a lone parent and child making a trip.

Just before Christmas though, almost a year in the planning, we took a winter break abroad. Over the years we have been regularly visited by a friend from Sweden, an ex-colleague of Mrs Aitchworld’s from when she worked for a Swedish company. Every time we see her she suggests we go over and visit Sweden and stay with her and her husband. Their three boys have all reached adulthood and have left home so there is plenty of space for guests.

It is also mentioned, every time she posts a picture on social media of the winter snow they have in Sweden, how much the boys would love to play in it, go sledging and build a giant snowman. We don’t really see much snow in the UK, and what little we do see has normally melted long before we get organised enough to even leave the house, never mind get a sledge out of the shed. And every time the invite over is re-iterated.

We decided to put our friend to the test – a shit or bust situation. Did she really mean it when she said we could stay with her? Would she really be so accommodating when faced with two adults and two identically-aged toddlers turning up on her doorstep, suitcases in hand? Well, yes, yes she would. So way back last January a short break to Sweden was organised for the end of the year to coincide with my birthday. Sweden is pretty much guaranteed snow in December.

In view of the distance between rural Cheshire and Sweden, this could only mean one thing – we had to grit our teeth and take Arthur and Henry on their very first flight. Looking back through my journal notes to when we booked the flights, I see that I wrote down “what have we done?”

The thought of flying with the boys has always filled me with dread. I think I inherited this from my parents. I’ve never asked them directly about whether fear factored into their decision making process when choosing their holidays when I was a child, but we never flew anywhere – we always drove to get to our holiday destination, even when going abroad. Given this was the ‘70s and my dad favoured British Leyland cars over any other brand, this was quite a risky endeavour.

One of my earliest memories of a holiday was sitting on a bonnet of my Dad’s 1972 Austin Maxi (JTU483L) in a lay-by on the shores of Lake Bled in what was then known as Yugoslavia, now Slovenia, in 1975. I would have been three years old. Nowadays I wouldn’t even think about driving there, even in a modern car, never mind something built in the Midlands in the 1970s. I’ve just checked and it’s over 1100 miles away!

My memory of the event is slightly enhanced by the fact there is, somewhere, a photograph of me sat on the car in said location, although it is probably 30 years since I have even seen that. But I remember more what happened next, in very clear detail. A gentleman driving a Volkswagen van (a bay window type 2) pulled up and parked in front of us in the lay-by. I am fairly confident it was dark green in colour. The driver got out of the van to admire me.

In the 1970s, middle-aged men getting out of Volkswagen vans to admire small children wasn’t as suspect as it sounds, although with hindsight it probably should have been. My shock of bright blond hair was a sight unseen and quite a novelty in Yugoslavia and drew attention and admiring glances wherever my parents took me. The man was a sweet salesman and once he had finished admiring me, he wanted to give me some sweets…

I’m not painting this well am I? However, it was wholly innocent and my parents did accept a gift of some sweets. I don’t remember them exactly, but I do know they were a jelly type of sweet and delicious. I also recall being particularly distraught some weeks later back at home when I went to eat some and discovered they were all gone and I had finished them. It may be a coincidence, but I think that this is where my love of Haribo and Volkswagen vans may have started.

Back to the modern day, we have never been able to travel light with the boys. Earlier in the year when we went to France, we took the camper van (a Volkswagen, naturally). Of course, back then it was just a van but none of the camper part of the conversion had been done though, which meant we could take anything we wanted. And indeed we did. With flights, we had to fit everything that we needed for a few days holiday within the confines of suitcases. And as winter in Sweden involves sub-zero temperatures packing light isn’t easy – snowsuits for toddlers are bulky items, and we’ve got two of them. By the time we had packed everything, we realised we had more suitcases than we had adults to wrangle them around airports and into cars. This was going to be interesting.

For months I had intended to take the boys to the viewing park at Manchester Airport. Now that we’ve been to an airport waiting lounge, sat eating a breakfast overlooking the planes taking off and coming in to land, I don’t have to go to that expense, although I can’t help but think that the cost of flights to Sweden for four might somewhat have exceeded that particular outlay.

Ordinarily, the boys love aeroplanes. Whenever they hear one when we are outside, their eyes are drawn to the skies to look for it. I therefore, wholly reasonably, expected that the whole boarding and take off experience would be one of wide-eyed wonderment and excitedness. The reality of the situation was that by the time we had queued to board the flight, boredom with the whole situation had set in and as the plane took of Henry, sat next to me on the outbound flight, couldn’t give less of a shit if he tried. He was distinctly underwhelmed, and even Arthur wasn’t overly fussed about the whole event. And skipping forward to the journey home, during it both boys slept for a time at some point during the flight.

During our stay in Sweden, the sum total of snow that fell on Södertälje, where we were staying, amounted to little more than two centimetres. By the time I got the boys in their snowsuits and outside, it had started to drizzle. Do you wanna build a Snowman? Henry decided he didn’t wanna. He also decreed he didn’t like snow, or drizzle, and went inside pretty much instantly. Only Arthur and I were left outside to make what can only be described as a half arsed snowman, rushing it so we could get inside before we got too wet.

Meanwhile, in the UK, for the first time in years, the country was enjoying a huge dump of snow. Roads were closed, business and schools shut, and everyone was having lots of fun sledging, adopting penguins, hunting Polar bears and building igloos and equally impressive snow structures that would last a little bit longer than a mere few hours before the drizzle washed them away.

As usual, the British press were full of stories of the worst winter of ever, and for once, they were right in their assertion. January passed without incident, as did most of February. Then, right at the end of February, what was coined “the Beast from the East” struck and the UK was covered in a duvet of snow. Finally, I could see my boys enjoying the snow; take them sledging for the first time maybe. Well, I could, if only I hadn’t been on a business trip in Ireland.

I flew out to Dublin on Monday the 26th February for two and a half days of business meetings in Ireland, leaving from Cork on the afternoon of Wednesday 28th. On Monday one of my meetings scheduled for the Wednesday morning in Cork was cancelled by the customer, due to the weather forecast. I believe I used the words “nesh ponce” to describe said customer. Not to his face, of course, when I met him on the Monday at a revised meeting point. But at that stage, it just felt a bit cold.

On Tuesday, it felt a bit cold and there was the odd flurry of snow. At my last appointment of the day, with still another 30km of travel to go after it the customer called time a little early on the meeting for my safety – the weather outside, to him, looked a little foreboding. Again my assessment of their caution was less than charitable.

That night it snowed, both in the UK and Ireland. In Ireland, the last time they saw any sort of snow of merit was in 1982, according to the news. That night it snowed. Where I was staying, a small town called Clonakilty, it snowed so heavily so quickly, it knocked the power out. Fortunately, it happened just after my food and pint of Guinness turned up at my hotel table.

When I awoke the next day, there was about 20cm of snow and no such thing locally as a gritter. Indeed, between Clonakilty and Cork airport, there was no such thing as a gritter and the only method of applying grit and salt to the roads was a tractor with a digger bucket attached to the front occasionally tipping out a bit of grit onto the roads.

The news was that flights out of Cork had been suspended for the morning for snow clearing operations at the airport. My flight was due to leave at 3pm. When I arrived at the airport I was told that all flights to the UK for the rest of the day had been cancelled because of snow in the UK. All hotels near to the airport had been fully booked. I rang Mrs Aitchworld to tell her the news. She managed to find and book a hotel for me, and I booked onto a flight at 7am the next day.

At 2am the next day, I received notification that my 7am flight had been cancelled. This was for two reasons: a weather front of severe snow called The Beast from the East had done it’s stuff in the UK and was making its way to Ireland, followed by Storm Emma, which was bringing gales to whip up the snow into drifts of a magnitude never before seen. That morning, at Breakfast time, the Prime Minister of Ireland appeared on the telly box in my hotel room to tell the entire country it was on red alert, to ensure we we were inside from 4pm that day, and stay inside until the all clear was given.

Everybody did. The hotel I was in was in a suburb of Cork called Douglas, which was almost like a town within a city. At 2pm it shut. The whole town and everything in it. Staff at the hotel stayed there. The only thing that stayed open was one bar; it is Ireland after all.

I didn’t get home Thursday – all flights and ferries were cancelled. I didn’t get home Friday. All flights and ferries were cancelled. I kept re-booking my flight, only for each booking to be cancelled, one after the other.

I eventually left Ireland on Saturday evening, four days after I was due to leave. It was, however, after all the snow had left the UK, so I still haven’t got to see Arthur and Henry playing in the snow; we still haven’t been sledging or built that giant snowman we talked about.

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Circumstances

I freely admit to being a bit of a nightmare to buy presents for. The reason for this is that if I want something that is within my means I just go out and buy it, on impulse, usually within minutes of having the idea of wanting whatever it is, leaving little opportunity for family to surprise me with a present of something I’ve wanted for a long time.

And so it was that just a couple of weeks before Christmas I found myself in a shop buying a record player. We had just re-modelled our adult living room, rather foolishly splashing out on a brand new settee. Foolish, because we have toddlers. We thought about that though and bought a second brand new sofa to put in their playroom that we weren’t as bothered if they spilled things on. This was the plan, but we still wince every time they go near it with anything remotely edible. Mrs Aitchworld cringes and I get a nervous twitch in my right eye.

We also bought a huge bookcase that, as luck would have it, had lower shelves of dimensions that would house all my old vinyl LPs. There is something wondrous about an album cover, so much so that they should be displayed and not hidden away in a loft. There was once a pub near to me owned by a musician who decorated the establishments walls with framed album covers. (While this looked good, ultimately it was crap because you couldn’t get the LPs out of their sleeves).

Whole generations are missing out on the experience of studying the 30cm square (more if it was a gatefold cover) works of art that accompanied the approximately 45 minutes of music contained within, which entertained me while I was growing up. Tape cassette artwork and CD artwork was just too small to appreciate. And do recording artists even bother with cover artwork on albums these days?

What absolutely shouldn’t be displayed in the living room, ever, according to Mrs Aitchworld, is a bright silver, plastic and chrome stereo system from the early 2000s of the sort I had been using up in the loft room until it turned into a dumping ground of out-grown baby items and as yet too-big hand me downs waiting to be grown into. Apparently, as amazing as the sound quality may be, it was considered far too garish and vulgar, and would look out of place in a tasteful and classically styled living room.

A small suitcase-style record player, in a stylish red colour to match the decor and soft furnishings, was deemed acceptable though, and (literally) within minutes of this decision Henry and I were deep in baskets in the middle aisle of the nearest Aldi in order to acquire one. I didn’t need telling twice.

It should be obvious that I love music. I’ve mentioned it enough and although it wasn’t the intention when I started this blog, every blog post name has ended up being a song title (or at least a slightly paraphrased version of one) and this is now (and will remain) the standard. Usually as I am wittering away via the medium of typing words, a song will pop into my head that just suits whatever it is I am writing at the time; it fits the theme of the blog post. Sometimes it is the title, sometimes it is part of the lyrics. It has always been this way. Even before I even got into writing, this was the case, as I was reminded when I listened to Queen’s very first album the other day on my newly purchased turntable.

Back when I was 17, freshly expelled from school, I decided I needed to express my feelings in writing to a girl whom I would no longer see on a daily basis. The thing is, back then, I wasn’t quite as good with words as I think I am today. In fact, I was quite the awkward teenager. However, I had music at my disposal. And so it was that I proceeded to write a love letter that was made up entirely of snippets of song lyrics, interwoven into an approximation of how I felt. I was the literary equivalent of Fat Boy Slim, mixing all the music up long before he had even thought about doing it.

There was always the danger of the girl in question could have recognised the song lyrics… who am I kidding? I wasn’t in the least bit trendy when I was 17. I liked progressive rock music. The love letter was constructed from lines from songs by bands such as like Marillion, King Crimson, Rush, Yes, Genesis (obviously from before Peter Gabriel left) Pendragon, IQ and I can even remember I used a line from Queen’s “My Fairy King”, hence why I was reminded of it when listening to the album it was from for the first time in decades just the other day.

It was a genius idea, fool-proof in winning the heart of the intended recipient even, especially when all penned neatly in fountain pen. I thought it looked the bollocks. To be fair, the reason I used fountain pen wasn’t necessarily because I thought nicely flowing ink would add a romantic touch. The reality was that I couldn’t, and to this day still can’t, write in any sort of ballpoint pen without getting covered in little spots of biro ink all over my hands. I have no idea why. Eventually I gave up with pens altogether and these days write everything with a propelling pencil.

If you are reading this, Vicky who lived in Congleton in 1988, and you did read my letter of that time rather than just shoving it straight in the bin, and it made absolutely no sense to you, now you know why. Mind you, you are equally as highly unlikely to be reading this load of bilge either, so it may forever remain a mystery to you.

So, what place has all this indulgent, reminiscing nonsense have in a blog that is predominantly about raising children, I hear you ask. Well, probably not much, except that Arthur and Henry have become rather taken with the whole record thing. While generally they love relatively modern artists such as Avril Lavigne, Taylor Swift and Katy Perry, often requesting these be played when in the car with me, they have actually started to ask that I get albums out of the new book case and play them on the new record player.

The two most common wants, currently, are “the green one” (The Yes Album) and “the bed one” (Pink Floyd’s Momentary Lapse of Reason) to play on the new record player. Arthur, the more musical of the two, likes to play it all very loud. Henry, obviously with not quite as good musical taste as his brother and father, turns them right down again. I foresee some cracking love letters being penned by Arthur in his teenage years! Both of them love counting the beds on the cover of Momentary Lapse, which takes them the entire length of the album because their capacity for numbers at the moment runs to about twenty and then they have to start again.

The boys aren’t yet fully aware of the capacity of an iPad or an iPhone*. They are starting to recognise certain icons on the screen – for some reason both Arthur and Henry like to play with the calculator app and once into an unlocked iPhone they can go straight to the app and start “playing numbers”. They also recognise certain Cbeebies apps and the Iplayer. However it is all a bit more luck than judgement a lot of the time, as I found out the other day when I left my phone alone and unlocked with Arthur in the playroom. Later that evening I was looking for a picture on my phone and I found in the region of two hundred and seventy pictures of Arthur’s face. I was quite impressed he’d found the function that swapped to the camera on the front of the phone though. I was also relieved that I hadn’t had to cancel yet another call to the emergency services again.

There is still just something a little bit special about pulling an LP off the shelf, removing it from it’s cover and lyric-lined inner sleeve, and then spending the next 22ish minutes listening to it, before turning it over and listening to the next 22 minutes of the other side. And although one day the boys will fully understand how to use phones and tablets, probably fulfilling their potential for usefulness far more efficiently than I can, for now, they seem to get the whole record experience that I grew up enjoying.

I’ve got loads of music on my phone and on memory sticks in the car, and yet still more on computers and hard drives and smart televisions dotted around the house. I can easily access pretty much anything I want, music wise, in seconds and it is all in one place. And that’s before even considering any online radio or on-demand streaming.

When I was growing up, if you’d have told me that one day all the music I could ever want would be able to come through my telephone wires I’d have laughed. Then again, I do remember dialling 16 to hear records played by the GPO on repeat, via my parents telephone, so I suppose it wasn’t that far fetched. I still remember the bollocking I got from my dad when he got the first telephone bill subsequent to this discovery, although that was probably very much akin to receiving an iTunes bill these days. It’s funny how life changes, yet stays so very much the same.

*Other devices are available.

Big Wedge

Back in the early days of this blog, there were a lot of posts about poo. Not mine I hasten to add, and I don’t intend to start logging any details about my, erm, logs, but now I come to mention it, there was that time a couple of months ago when Arthur managed to figure out how to work door handles for the very first time and it was at the exact moment when I was in the bathroom catching up on some reading matter. I was mid shit and he wanted a cuddle. I managed to fob him off with a high five and a fist bump and off he went. Unfortunately he hadn’t worked out how to pull a door to (if I hadn’t have been there at the event I would have sworn that lad was born in a barn), never mind use the door handle to close it. The next thing I know, Henry is in the bathroom along with me wondering what all the fuss is about.

The boys have figured out how to work the bolt on the bathroom door if they are in the room while the door is shut, so I took the pin out of it in case they ever did find their way in and realise they weren’t livestock after all. This is fine if there is just me and Mrs Aitchworld in the house – there is no dignity left between us. We have both seen each other at our worst. Love is running to the bathroom and back at the speed of Hussein Bolt in order to fetch a potty for someone who is in bed and right on the cusp of a lumpy yawn. Seeing each other on the toilet is tame by comparison.

On this note, how do the boys know when a major hangover is occurring? It isn’t very often we drink, so when we do it tends to hit like a freight train the following day. And the day after that, if I’m honest. The morning after this particular event, for the first time in a very long time, the boys decided their toys of choice to bring into our bedroom at 6am (or maybe just before) was their Casio keyboard and a kazoo. Now, even though it was the Yuletide season, a pre-programmed Casio concerto of Jingle Bells and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town, at full volume, inches from your ear isn’t a welcome sound. We quickly invested in a Gro-clock, even paying for express delivery, so that if we ever decide to drink again, we can at least program the sun to come up a little later to give us a chance of some extra sleep.

Anyway, every year not long after such events, just after Christmas we have a foreign student stay with us for three months, on a work exchange scheme. This year is no exception and to get round the no lock on the door situation, the understood rules of the house are that if the bathroom door is shut, it is occupied. The problem therein is that if the boys keep leaving the door wide open after they have visited me mid motion, the sight of me with my pants round my ankles, running like a parent in a school sack race in order to shut the bathroom door, is likely going to scare our student into never wanting to return to the UK, if they just happened to see the open door and thought the room was vacant.

All of which meandering and thrutching leads me to the point I was attempting to get to, which is that we are potty training. Again, not me; I’ve kinda got the hang of it. But the boys have started their road towards being house trained, in particular Henry. The other day he actually took his first ever shit on a potty. I don’t know why, but it is the proudest I have ever been of something, and it wasn’t even my achievement. When I stood back and thought about it for a moment, I did wonder how low my life had sunk that I was so impressed with a shit in an injection-moulded, primary-coloured bowl. But Henry was very pleased with his effort too, and his pride was kind of infectious.

Of course not every shit is a hit and there have been accidents along the way. You have one perfect day, where there was no extra washing involved, and you think you’ve cracked it. You are a master in the art of toilet training. You get complacent. And the next day the washing machine and tumble dryer run from morning to night, coping with all the missed opportunities. The national grid is there just for us sometimes. I fear our next electricity bill – it will probably crack the tiles underneath the doormat when it lands. There is no way our internet service provider will be able to cope with the amount of data in it, if our utility company were to email it it to me.

As any regular readers of this blog (if there are such people) will attest, my mind is an odd place. I have recently enjoyed watching the TV series Limitless, which was a spin off from the film of the same name. The premise, if you are unfamiliar, is that there is a pill which unlocks the full capacity of your brain, leading to excellent learning capabilities and memory function. Although the effect of this pill is very exaggerated in the film and TV programme, memory and mind enhancing drugs do exist, albeit as a side effect for curing narcolepsy, and I have been sorely tempted to try them. However, upon unloading the umpteenth load of washing from the tumble dryer and pondering the electricity bill issue, my brain went into overdrive, even without the aid of any medication.

Firstly, although it wouldn’t solve the electricity problem, I wondered could the vent from the tumble dryer, the one that extracts warm air from the dryer out through a hole in the kitchen wall, be better ustilised to heat the kitchen somehow. At the moment, it is hidden behind the tumble dryer and the kitchen units. Surely it could be better utilised? My mind wandered yet further when I emptied the filter/fluff collector device. There must be a use for all this tumble dryer fluff. There has to be. I don’t know what it is, or how you would even commercially collect it, but I will find a way somehow.

Even without the artificial heightening of the memory, I recalled a number of years ago I was at an exhibition where someone was demonstrating slug pellets made out of compressed sheep wool. The natural salts in the wool deterred any slugs from visiting your flower beds. I have worked with food ingredients and chemicals for many years, and I know there are sodium phosphates and salts in washing powders. I mused whether there would be enough residue from these in the tumble dryer fluff, that if it were compressed into pellets would it do the same job? I think an appearance on Dragon’s Den beckons…

Time Stand Still

“Suddenly, you were gone, from all the lives you left your mark upon…”

It’s a funny old thing, time. I mean, one minute it is early January and I’d just started this particular blog post, and I do mean so early in the month that I hadn’t even broken a resolution yet, and the next thing you know it’ s the middle of November and I still hadn’t finished it. In the intervening months, many things have happened, some good, some not so good and some terrible.

I’ll start with the good – in January I got a new job. My previous job, when I was in the office, was a one and a half hour each way commute at the minimum. If there was any event on the M6, this could double and there were some days where I left home before the boys got up and arrived home long after they had gone to sleep. When I wasn’t in the office and was out seeing customers, often the travel times were longer and it meant nights away from home and my boys. My new job, working for an Irish company, meant some travel to Ireland, a country that I love and the home of Guinness, which just happens to be my favourite tipple, but it also meant that most of the time I would be around to see the boys far more. The concentration on the new job kind of took my time away of writing the rubbish that I do.

Next, the terrible – the boys lost a Grandpa: Mrs Aitchworld’s father. Deep down we know it won’t be the case, but we somehow expect our parents to be there forever; the realisation this isn’t true hits like a ten tonne heavy thing when it does happen. At the age of just 73, this shouldn’t really have happened to Henry and Arthur’s Grandpa. Cancer is a bastard.

The boys don’t fully understand of course. They saw Grandpa nearly every day near to the end of his life. In the final stages of the bastard taking it’s toll on him, confined to his bed and incredibly fatigued, the boys would say “Grandpa sleeping”. After he had died, they went looking for him in his room. We didn’t know what to tell them, so we told Henry and Arthur that he had gone up to the sky to be a star. Every now and again, seemingly at random, Henry will say “Grandpa’s gone to be a star”.

I’ve outlined previously how I used to be pretty much emotionally barren. This did change somewhat after the boys were born, but I thought I was reverting back to type, with very few things upsetting me, other than odd things, the strangest being a piece of music in Nora and Nelly that to this day I cannot listen to without welling up. The impact of my father in law’s death, I thought, seemed to be minimal upon me and I accepted it completely as a matter of fact. The reality was more that it was a delayed shock. Even acting as one of the pall bearers at his funeral I felt the same way. Then I saw the order of service, with David, my father in law’s picture on it, and the tears started to flow.

They haven’t really stopped either and I find myself weeping at all manner of things. Strangely Henry is usually the catalyst – he is the sweetest, most caring little two and a half year old I have ever encountered, so much so it sometimes overwhelms me.

Take today for an example. The boys were taking a break watching my Wall-E DVD in their playroom. Mrs Aitchworld produced a fine picnic lunch for me and the boys and we were eating it in front of the telly, having a thoroughly agreeable Sunday.

On the screen, the scene played where Wall E and Eva appeared to kiss. I felt a sentimental lump in my throat. At this exact moment, Henry tipped his Smarties out into the middle of my squid rings. Immediately he fished out two brown ones and rather than ramming his sweets into his mouth, he handed them to me. “Here you go Daddy: they’re brown like your car”.

Tears rolled. Henry noticed. “Daddy sad!” He gave me a hug. I sobbed. And I’ve felt like I’m on an emotional knife edge for the rest of the day. I could go either way at any given moment. If Henry had have said “Grandpa’s a star as he gazed at the luminous plastic tat that is stuck to their ceiling when they went to bed tonight, I would have required re-hydration salts. As it is, I sat in the nursing chair still in their room to keep them company as they drifted off to sleep. They like that. I also had a little weep in the dark.

Sad news, but on a much lesser scale, I sold my beloved classic car, a 1993 Ford Sierra Sapphire Cosworth. Apparently. Jimmy Nail fans and Spender anoraks will understand completely when I say “it’s a beast”. I bought it, two weeks before their birth, with the romantic notion that I would take the boys to lots of car shows and bond with them over an old Volvo or something. The reality was that I did just a few hundred miles in a couple of years in it and every time I had to get it MOT’d the brakes were seized through lack of use. It was time for it to go.

To replace it, I bought a camper van. Sort of. What I actually bought was an abandoned project. It is a 2006 VW Transporter. I bought it insulated, with a nice lino floor fitted, a pop top roof and a couple of windows. But behind the row of front seats, it was empty. Windows have been put in the back doors, rear seats have been put in and the framework for the kitchenette and dining/second sleeping area is starting to go in. Many hundreds of pounds have been spent on all of the equipment needed to do this. Time, again, is the limiting factor.

My new job working from home with the fancy car (well, another brown Volvo)? Well that lasted less than six months and I became a casualty of economics. I didn’t care about the job – I actually hated it and knew I’d made a big mistake a few weeks in; it was poles apart from what was promised to me, but the loss of the Volvo was a bit of a kick in the teeth. I got a new job within a few days, based just a few miles from home, although it doesn’t come with a company car. I vacillated between buying a large Volvo and a large Land Rover, before going out and purchasing a Mini. Henry is over the moon. He loves Minis.

All of which random rambling brings me to my point. Or at least my starting point. The boys had their second birthday in March. This is an age other parents refer to as “the terrible twos”. Well, I may be tempting fate here, but I’m calling bullshit on that. I’m thoroughly enjoying this age. Throughout their life, I’ve not been wishing it away as such, but I’ve certainly been searching for the next milestone.

Soon after the boys were born, we were hoping for their first smile, their first clutch of a finger, then longer periods between feeds and so on. This soon turned into waiting for them to roll, then crawl, then walk, along the way saying their first few words. Each step along the way the boys have been leapfrogging each other with their developments, Henry doing something first before Arthur, then Arthur being the first of them to do something else.

While all of this was going on, and before they could really speak properly, I worried (as much as I ever worry; it isn’t something I waste a lot of energy or time on as it achieves nothing) about how I was going to teach them various concepts. Stuff like day and night – how would you explain it to someone with no concept of such a notion? But you know what? They just get it.

I don’t know how they have picked up what they have, but they have gone from knowing nothing, to being a lot brighter and intelligent than some adults I have encountered. The pair of them are like super-sponges, absorbing information like some sort of a giant vortex. It’s both fascinating and beautiful to watch.

For the first time since the boys were born, I am not wishing for the next developmental leap. I’m not wanting the next stage, whatever that is, to happen anytime soon. Just for a while, I’d like to freeze this moment a little bit longer. Time stand still.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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 to 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…