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.

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The Aitchworld Playlist. So far…i

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

Marakesh 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

Rod Stewart – Handbags and Gladrags

Rush – Time Stand Still

Fish – Big Wedge

Rush – Circumstances

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…

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…

Never Forget You…

My favourite singer isn’t known for being a singer at all; he is the drummer with Queen, Roger Taylor. He does, however, have a superb voice. In my opinion, and I am somewhat in a minority on this but I just don’t care because I’m right, it is better than Freddie’s was. Nearly all of my favourite Queen songs are ones that Roger wrote and took lead vocals on. It is said that he can hit a high E in full voice. Despite attending Ukulele club, I have no idea neither what a high E might be, nor what full voice is; it isn’t something we do on a regular basis but I’m impressed nonetheless.

I have no idea why I actually ponder all of this, or why I am even writing about it, but it is the sort of unimportant shite that keeps me awake at nights sometimes. I think it came about because Henry had a throat infection and sounded a little hoarse, not unlike Roger, when he was singing the clean-up song to himself the other evening when he was tidying his toys away.

I think another reason was that on CBeebies the other evening there was cartoon with an accompanying song by an outfit called Tee and Mo that grabbed my attention for being, unusually, actually rather good. When I googled Tee and Mo it turns out the singer behind the song I so liked was Lauren Laverne, who outside of her TV presenting career is better known in the music world for being from the band Kenickie.

It got me thinking how other rock stars might sing to their children. I wonder if Roger and other rock singers with a really strong voice, such as Noddy Holder, David Coverdale, Brian Johnstone, Rod Stewart or Steven Tyler to name a few, sing lullabies or the clean-up song. Do they sing it in full voice? Do they hit a high E halfway through Incy Wincy Spider?

Generally I hate children’s TV. There is the odd programme I can stand and my current favourite of the crop is the cartoon Nora and Nelly. It is a cause of some debate in the Aitchworld household; Mrs Aitchworld insists they live in a caravan, despite the fact the listings clearly say it is set in a holiday park. I side with the listings and maintain they are merely on vacation, although I have to confess to being a little bemused that they seem to still be there in winter – most holiday parks close for the winter. This is suggesting I am paying rather more attention to the programme than I should do.

I had started to write great swathes of protestations about how I’m not all that interested in it and that it hasn’t got under my skin, but then I realised that, last week, as I was in the throes of planning a business trip to Ireland, I had started to ponder whereabouts in the country the caravan park is and whether I could visit it. Even now, as I write this from my hotel room in Tullamore, I haven’t completely reconciled the fact that I can’t actually visit a cartoon campsite while I am in the country it is supposedly in. Even though the thought has crossed my mind that if you changed the voiceover to a different accent, the holiday park could easily be in Skegness, a part of me still thinks I might be able to find it, with a bit of luck and local guidance.

All this aside, and lining up my excuses, the reason I pay any notice to this programme at all is because the music, both the theme tune and incidental during the programme, is rather catchy and really quite good. It has replaced Peppa Pig as my favourite TV programme. Ahem, favourite children’s TV programme, that is. Even Arthur is singing along to the theme now. He’s getting all the notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

Which, along a long and winding road, brings me inevitably to the Tellytubbies. Or, more pertinently, new Tellytubbies. The boys, apparently, love it. I’ve caught small segments of it as I pass through the room when the boys have it on the television, but I’m yet to watch a full episode. What I have discovered is that the Teletubbies have had baby Tellytubbies. How the hell did that happen? In order to find out, I made the grave mistake of googling “Tubby Sex”…

In The Night Garden, as I have documented previously, is another of those TV programmes I cannot abide yet somehow, the other Saturday afternoon, I found myself in an inflatable theatre in a carpark at the Trafford Centre to watch Night Garden Live. If you think the television programme is bad, I recommend you stay away from this. But, and it is a big but, if you do give it a body swerve, you will miss the most spectacular looks of amazement on your child(ren)’s face(s). Arthur and Henry loved it. They were transfixed.

The look of wonder and awe on their faces almost forced an unmanly moment and I very nearly welled up, and that wasn’t because of the cost of it all, which was not insubstantial. For the four of us it cost £70. The show lasted 52 minutes (yes, I timed it), which works out at a shade under £1.35/minute. I saw telephone lines advertised for lower rates than this when I was searching for tubby sex on the internet.

For the entire 52 minutes of the show though, Arthur and Henry sat stock-still, staring at the stage, fascinated with everything that was going on. They pointed every time the image of a Pinky Ponk was projected onto the wall of the tent. They laughed every time Iggle Piggle fell over backwards. This shouldn’t be encouraged because back at home Arthur has tried doing the same thing and ended up with a headache. 

Normally Henry is itching to move – he simply cannot stay in one place for any length of time, but for the entire duration of the show he remained exactly where he was seated. That almost never happens. It was worth every penny.

We also took the boys last weekend to Rewind North. For those unfamiliar with it, it is an ‘80s festival, held just outside Macclesfield, featuring a couple of big names who stand out amongst a sea of acts you can barely remember from the ‘80s, most of whom you assumed were long since dead. 

Still on a children’s TV theme, one of the acts was the lead singer of the Noisettes, who also voices the character of Teal in the children’s cartoon Abney and Teal. I have no idea how she came to be on the bill because she was only born in 1981 and therefore the charts in the 1980s were completely untroubled by her music, as far as I know. There was no explanation in the blurb about the festival.

The boys loved it. We spread out a picnic blanket, slathered them in sunblock, put their sunhats on and we all relaxed. The boys danced and sang, had drums and maracas to shake and it was bliss. Of course it sparked some dispute. Everything always does. I claimed that the boys love of music was because I am always playing it in the car whenever they travel with me. I have a memory stick plugged into the car full of my favourite music. Mrs Aitchworld said it was just as much her because she has Radio 1 on in her car. Of course this is patently untrue because Radio 1 don’t play music; it’s all just noise.

I drove the boys home at about 5pm, with music, naturally, into the care of babysitters (thanks Grandma, Grandad and Leanne) and then got a taxi back to the festival so I could have a few drinks and enjoy more ageing music. If I’m honest with myself, music in the 1980s was pretty poor and time can only improve so much of it, but enjoy it I did.

I don’t even remember who the closing act of the night were. I don’t mean I don’t remember them from the ‘80s, I mean the effects of the alcohol had kicked in. Not really having much at all to drink for the last 16 months or so means that a very small amount goes a very long way. Coupled to the fact that although there was a strong security presence and thorough bag searches for illicit booze, having the boys in a pushchair meant we were able to secrete various bottles of hooch around parts of the pushchair and get it in, rather than pay the exorbitant prices of a festival beer-tent! We were modern-day bootleggers. The boys are starting to earn their keep, at last! However, as we felt compelled to consume our entire haul, it all ended up rather messy.

These Boots Are Made For Walking

All of a sudden, seemingly overnight, Arthur and Henry are starting to get things. I don’t mean they will rise to their feet and get me a pint of Guinness or anything so grand, but they are starting to understand things. Arthur for a while has been able to high five but it has been a bit hit and miss, and more miss than hit, if truth be told. There have been a few occasions when I have been on the receiving end of a high five to the face from Arthur. Either he didn’t understand the concept, or Mrs Aitchworld has been training him. However, in the last week every high five is bang on target.

They are starting to use words too. When either of the cats come into the room, Henry in particular, but Arthur will do it too, points to Charlie or Dave and says “Da”. At first I wondered if they were getting their parentage confused and they were trying to say “Dad”, but we soon worked out that it is their way of saying cat. It is also their way of saying Mum and fish too, but if you listen closely enough there are minor differentiations within the way they say the words. With fish, there is also the action of opening and closing their mouths, in the way that fish do, to accompany the word.

They also understand some of the stories I read to them at bedtime. There is one that is all about zoo animals, the plot being that the writer wants a new pet and asks a zoo to send the one. They start by sending an elephant and works through varying unsuitable animals to be housed as pets. It ends with the zoo sending the reader a dog (it was a Shih Tzu). Along the way of the story this evening, Henry was growling like a bear and roaring like a lion and ooh-ooh-aahing like a chimpanzee, while Arthur hissed like a snake and spat like a camel. None of the household knows what noise a giraffe makes, so I rather let the side down when we came to the giraffe department of the zoo. I might have to google a you tube recording of that one.

While I am on the subject of zoo animals, I was intrigued the other day when I noticed the stuffed Panda that Arthur likes to play with has a short stumpy tail. It occurred to me that whenever you see a Panda in a zoo or on television, it is usually sat on it’s arse eating bamboo shoots. I have no idea whether Pandas actually have a tail or not. I decided that I would google that one and as soon as I had typed “Do Pandas Ha…” the rest of the sentence was filled in for me and it is the top question asked about Pandas on Google.

Until now, Henry had pretty much singular vocabulary. It was babababababa ba ba bababa bababababaabaabaaa. Truth be told, he sounded like the Pearl & Dean music, only without the melody. Every day though, there is a new noise, a new understanding. When he is tidying away his toys (yes he clears up after himself; they both do) he sings the clean-up song from Baby Boogie that is played when all the instruments and props get cleared away. It sounds very similar to his nee-naw fire engine noise, but is subtly different. If I sing “Flash” it is soon followed by an “Aaah aaaaaaaaah”. If I ask him if he wants to go to rehab, he shakes his head as I sing “No, no, no”.

In some ways he has overtaken Arthur. He seemed to be getting things before Henry did, but he has reached a plateau. Henry has mastered standing up now; he is the stronger, sturdier of the two, but Arthur is still working on it and I think this is taking all his concentration. He can manage to stand up in the bath, the last place we really want him to be standing, but elsewhere he can’t quite manage it. And instead of developing his language skills, he seems to be honing his Pob impression by blowing raspberries.

Henry is weeks, if not days away from mastering walking. I might get that pint of Guinness brought to me sooner than I think. Mind you, if he carries drinks in the same way he tries to eat his food, most of it will end up on the floor. When Arthur manages to walk too, it is going to be interesting, chasing after whichever one of them is in most danger. I think reins are definitely in order.

Until now I had been baffled by the need for baby shoes. We have boxes full of them given to us from friends, ranging from simple slip-ons to Converse boots. All of them untroubled by wear or walking.

This development, when it happens, will be a milestone, I know. It will mean finally we can walk down the path to nursery, instead of me running down it carrying one of the boys, throwing him into the arms of one of the nursery staff while I run back to the car to fetch the other one. Invariably one of two things will have happened in the 30 seconds it takes to do this. The first is that the car alarm will be going off and Henry will be in there making nee-naw noises and joining in. The second is that a crowd of people have gathered around the car, looking at the abandoned baby left in a car on a hot day with the window only cracked open slightly, trying to get through to social services.

This happened to me the other day in the supermarket car park – I’d only walked across the car park and back to get a trolley and someone was waiting by the car getting all hot and bothered I’d left the boys in there. I wanted to tell them they had only been in there for an hour, pointed out the window was open a crack and said there was water in the front if the boys needed it, but I think they saw my “sod off and stop interfering” face and made a hasty retreat before I could lay into them. It is a problem that is exclusive to parents with twins (or triplets, quadruplets etc.) – when neither of them can walk, it isn’t like you can carry both at once.

I did worry though, the other day, I might not be around to see these major milestones. You see, while I was in the shower, washing myself, I found a lump. Down there. On my gentleman vegetables.

This could only mean one thing – I’d caught cancer and the end of my life was very obviously nigh. At least I have Critical Illness cover, so at least I could get a couple of decent cars with the pay-out to enjoy up until my inevitable demise.

When I mentioned this to Mrs Aitchworld, she didn’t show any concern but merely asked which one. It’s not like I name my bollocks; one isn’t Bert and the other Ernie. I can’t identify whether Arthur came out of one and Henry the other. I thought this rather an odd question. Maybe she was concentrating on the life insurance pay-out further down the line, and may also have been a little perturbed that I was planning to blow the Critical Illness pay-out on new toys for me instead of the boys.

Now us men are a bit crap in going to the doctor about these sorts of things, especially if your doctor is of the attractive female variety. Mine is of this variety, sort of… I don’t think I have once seen her smile and on reflection, permanently having a face wearing an expression like someone has just shat in your Cocopops isn’t all that attractive. In fairness I rarely see her at all; I’ve been to our surgery more times since the boys have been born than in the preceding twenty years and even then I try to avoid it like the plague.

However, I went across to the surgery so my doctor could cop a feel. She asked if I wanted a chaperone for the examination. I don’t know why; this is the doctor that examined me for haemorrhoids once with an inspection so thorough and all-encompassing that I could tell she hadn’t removed her watch. A quick rub of a knacker between thumb and forefinger seemed quite tame by comparison.

The doctor with the upside down mouth agreed that there was definitely a lump there. She didn’t show any concern either, explaining I was at the latter end of the age range for catching cancer of the bollocks (I’ve paraphrased slightly) and that it was unlikely. Just to be sure though, I was despatched for an ultrasound scan of the tackle.

There was a gap of about a week between initial consultation and ultrasound scan. It was a long week, spent largely with my hand stuffed down my pants for all the wrong reasons, if indeed there are even right reasons for having a continual hand on things down there.

When I arrived for the scan, a procedure I am au fait with because we had so many when we were expecting Arthur and Henry, I was a little early, so I had a nose around the machine that was about to reveal my fate. I noticed that there were settings on it for the area of the body that was to be scanned. I recall there were “Maternity” and “Limbs” settings and a few more that now escape me. I used to have a photographic memory and would have been able to recite all five settings after a mere glance, but these days it comes back with Quality Control stickers on it. I read through the settings and got to the third one, highlighted on screen as it was obviously the one that was to be used for me and I took offence. It simply read “Small Parts”.

I was screened off behind a curtain and invited to strip from the waist down. Did that include my socks? I took them off anyway just in case; I’m sure it wasn’t strictly necessary but it was all a bit vague, instruction wise. I was to lie down with a large piece of paper towel covering my man bits and the ultrasound machine operating nurse would rummage around underneath it with the scanner to see what’s what. She asked me to pull my penis up towards my chest. My chest? Make your mind up love, a moment ago it was categorised as small parts. It’s never going to reach my chest, even if it hasn’t been as cold out recently.

Apparently the doctor was correct in her assertion that I am too old for bollock cancer. According to the nurse viewing my knackers in wide-screen, high definition ultrasound, the lump I found was, apparently, calcified matter; something akin to tonsil stones but in the wrong place. Maybe I need to cancel that order for the new cars – I don’t think calcified matter counts as a critical illness.