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.

Come On Eileen

Our elderly neighbour, Eileen, has been somewhat conspicuous from these pages by her absence of late. There is no particular reason for this, other than we just haven’t seen much of her over the last few months. She’s been around; it’s not like the milk bottles are piling up on her doorstep and the post on her doormat or anything, but we just haven’t seen her to speak to too much. Now summer is here, or at least spring, her patio doors are opened wide and we hear Eastenders emanating from her house, as we leave the supermarket across town.

The other morning, I was preparing for my weekly cycle ride, giving my bike a wash down after just getting the plumbing for the hose all sorted (long story) after a prolonged absence of outside water. Eileen came past, taking her dogs for their weekly constitutional (as Jack Russells go, they are a little on the fat side, it has to be said*) as I was doing this. “Yoohoo, I say, are you going for a bike ride?” Well, erm, yes Eileen; that was the general idea. “Well don’t ride like the devil” she advised, cheerily. And with that she carried on with her walk. Quite how the devil rides, she didn’t say, so I have no idea whether I succeeded in this mission or not. I don’t know if Strava have a “Devil” setting alongside “Mileage” and “Elevation” on their app. It will forever be a mystery.

I ordered myself a GPS bike computer this week after my cheap Tesco speedometer stopped working at the weekend. Funnily enough, for something that is attached to a mode of transport that is exposed to the elements, it didn’t stand up to a brief dowsing from a hosepipe following a liberal spraying of mud. It kind of defeats the purpose of having something that attaches to a piece of equipment geared for the outdoors that isn’t waterproof. I’m hoping I will discover “Devil Mode” when the new one arrives. I checked the spec for its resistance to water but couldn’t find any reference to Satan.

While we’ve got Eileen in the spotlight, she amused us no end the other weekend when a street party was thrown to honour the Queen’s 90th birthday. At the end of our road there is a St John’s Ambulance hall and they decided they would close our street, the one we live on every day but they use once a week to park badly while they have their first aid practices, and have a party. All the residents were invited to come along for a burger. Given that there are no more than about 10 houses in the locality, and that none of us know anyone from St John’s, and that we were all put out because we couldn’t get in and out of the street in our cars, we weren’t all that keen. It is especially galling that the 10 houses surround a small car park that the street party could have easily been held on without having to disrupt the neighbourhood. But then I guess it would be a car park party rather than a street party.

Eileen’s house backs onto our little neighbourhood, so wasn’t invited to the party. She heard it though. As soon as we emerged to go and get our burger, Eileen was hovering over the fence. “Yoohoo, I say; what is all that noise?” That noise was a sound system St Johns had set up to play some music through to give a party atmosphere. Ironically, they were playing “Come On Eileen” at the time. “I can’t hear my telly” came the complaint. The surprise was that St Johns could hear their sound system over the Emmerdale Street Omnibus blaring away  from Eileen’s house.

There is no seamless segue way into what I need to write about next, so I will just have to abruptly and clumsily change the subject. I don’t really know where to start… It has been decreed, by Mrs Aitchworld, that I have sole responsibility for “the talk” with the boys when the time comes. As they are not even talking properly yet I think that this assertion that I will have to do it is somewhat premature.

I hope I’m better at “the talk” than my Dad was – at the first sign of a girlfriend, and not before, his words of wisdom were, “Well just don’t get her pregnant”. It wasn’t a conversation I particularly wanted to have at a family meal. I don’t think my Grandma thought the timing was particularly apt either, given the way she nearly choked on her potatoes.

All of this came talk about “the talk” came about because one of the boys, and I don’t recall whether it was Arthur or Henry, started grabbing at his knob when one of us was changing a nappy. It could have been either because they both do it. It was me saying to whoever it was, “leave your knob alone” that prompted the conversation. “You can’t call it that!” Mrs Aitchworld exclaimed. This is the woman that had to leave a National Trust tour because she laughed when one of the guides said the word “knob”.

What am I supposed to call it? When I was a boy, a little bit older than the boys are now, obviously, I possessed a dictionary in which all of the rude or even slightly risqué words were circled or highlighted. I think it I still have it somewhere, so I was tempted to retrieve it and look for suggestions. Eventually, and without the aid of a dictionary, but not before amusing myself with every permutation and name for the male genitalia (no matter which way you address it, knob gags are funny), I decided on dinkle.

We had parents evening at nursery tonight. No, seriously, despite them being 15 months old and attending nursery for less than six months, we were given an appointment with each of the boy’s keyworkers this evening so they could report on their progress. We took them with us so they could see the disappointment in our eyes when we were told that Arthur sits at the back of class tipping back on his chair while chewing gum and Henry talks too much in class and has been caught round the back of the pram shed selling sweets at prices that undercut the nursery tuck-shop and is eroding their profits. I think the underlying theme of all of my school reports was “could do better”. I was hoping the apples have fallen a little further from the tree.

When I think back, if my parents were disappointed, they didn’t show it. Even when I was expelled from school at the age of 17 (although the head of sixth form would swear that he merely advised me to leave and it wasn’t an expulsion), my dad bunged me a tenner to go out and celebrate. As it happens, I didn’t turn out too bad. I think my parents obviously saw that I was bright enough, but just a bit lazy. I had a good work ethic, when I remembered to be arsed. When money is involved it becomes a motivating factor and it gives me enough arsed to cultivate a good work ethic and I’ve managed to carve out something that resembles a career from it all. Of course there is no money in blogging, so how I have managed to keep writing to the point where I have created this, my 36th blog post, is something of a mystery.

The boys’ reports from parents evening were fine – they are developing as they should, exceeding a couple of expectations in one or two areas, and where they need to be pretty much everywhere else. It’s difficult not to compare your offspring to other children of similar age. Some are walking and almost talking; certainly forming words more coherently than Arthur and Henry are doing. Our two are crawling, pulling themselves up on things, but definitely not walking. Essentially they are still babies. And you know what? That’s how I like it. Life is flying by at an incredible rate of knots, so the longer they retain that little bit of innocence, the better as far as I’m concerned. It also means I don’t have to give “the talk” quite so soon and have a bit of time to prepare…


*Footnote: I actually see Eileen walking her dogs every day, so I was being a little harsh describing her hound-walking activities as a weekly constitutional. I have no idea why they are on a little on the rotund side; I can only guess she walks them very slowly and stops every few minutes to dispense advice to people on how to ride/walk/run.

Son, Can You Play Me A Memory

When I became a parent I was somewhat unprepared for, well, everything really. But in particular it is the feelings and emotions that have developed, or rather been exposed and brought to the fore, that I was least prepared for. Perhaps most surprising have been the feelings of paranoia. I expect most parents, especially new ones, go through this for a while.

Fifteen months in, I’m still going through it. If anything, I wonder if I am getting worse. Every cough must surely be consumption. Every mark or blemish is definitely meningitis, or at the very least chickenpox. Every time I go into the nursery at night when they are sleeping, when they are in an especially deep sleep, I have to check their breathing. Fortunately my hearing is acute so I haven’t yet had to resort to holding a mirror in front of their mouths when in slumber, but it’s been close. Both Arthur and Henry on occasion have vomited in their cots while asleep and the panic is they will inhale this and die a rock star death.

They are both living a rock star life. Sort of. Both Arthur and Henry love music, Arthur especially. Whenever he hears any sort of music, he will start rocking away in time to it. Even when an advert containing music comes on the telly he will move to it. I have mentioned Ukulele Club many times, far more than I should have, and I have spoken about the guitars I own and cannot play. I also have a harmonica that I’m not particularly adept at playing and in addition to all of these instruments, up in the loft room I have a keyboard that I picked up cheaply and on occasion attempt to play. Arthur and Henry love it – they will sit on my lap and bash out something that vaguely resembles a tune.

Granted, they won’t be troubling Rick Wakeman any time soon. Nor will I, because every time I try to knock out a tune, it inevitably morphs into the Night Garden theme – it is the only thing I seem to be able to play and no matter how hard I try to put an alternative series of notes together, I fail. All roads lead to the garden.

I don’t know why – we barely watch the Night Garden any more, which is kind of worrying because Mrs Aitchworld and I have spent a small fortune on tickets to see the live show. They set us back more, in fact, than it would have cost me for a couple of tickets to see the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain when they play locally to us soon, even at full price before gaining Ukulele Club discount. This is somewhat academic as Mrs Aitchworld has flatly refused to come along to the gig with me anyway, should I buy tickets. I don’t know what’s wrong with her.

When I was growing up, I didn’t really have access to musical instruments from an early age. I don’t think my parents liked noise. One of my grandparents, my mum’s mum, had a piano. She didn’t live locally until I was about six or maybe seven years of age, by which time I was well past developing any natural “from birth” musical prowess such as the boys now have. We were having the familial home extended to incorporate, quite literally, a granny flat, when a bungalow over the road came up for sale and she bought that instead, moving from her beloved Norfolk all the way to Cheshire. This meant that she could keep her prized upright piano, which would have almost certainly had to go if she had downsized into a part of our house.

I say prized; I never actually heard her play the thing. I don’t know if she could play it, come to think about it. I must ask my mum. It is one of my great regrets that I don’t know more about my grandma, despite her being the only grandparent I knew. Her husband, my grandad, died a year or so before I was born and my dad’s mum died, I believe, when he was still very young. His dad, my other grandad, was alive when I was born. Very shortly afterwards, on his way to meet me for the first time, he had a mild heart attack at the wheel of his VW Beetle, which resulted in a crash on the motorway embankment that killed him. Instead of him arriving at my parent’s home, the police did, in order to inform them of the accident and so I never got to meet him.

I know my mum could play the piano, but as children we were never allowed to bash away at it like I let Henry and Arthur do on my keyboard. I guess the difference is that the piano represented a large investment when it was bought and was therefore thought to be very valuable, whereas the keyboard I got was second hand and cost me about the same as three pints of Guinness.

When my Grandma died, still a few years before I left home, I was hoping the piano would cross the road into our house, but apparently it didn’t match the furniture my parents so coveted (and they still do. I don’t know why – it’s all G Plan and pretty hideous) so was sold off at auction. It would have been nice if they had have kept hold of it until I bought my first place, but then my first place was a first floor flat with a steep set of stairs that twist though a right angle at their summit, so it wouldn’t have got up there anyway. I have visions of that PG Tips advert from the ‘70s in mind, with my dad and me playing the part of the monkeys.

As it happens, the piano probably wouldn’t have matched our IKEA furniture anyway. It’s academic anyway, the instrument went long ago and between then and now a variety of styles of furniture have been and gone before settling on the convenience and simplicity of the Swedish flat-pack. Another reason is the addition to the house of ugly baby gates (I don’t think there is any other sort), ruining the style and the flow and general Feng Shui of the house.

Henry started crawling, of a fashion, a couple of weeks ago. Arthur followed suit about a week later. Henry hid his light under a bushel somewhat – the first we knew about it was one day when we briefly left the boys in the playroom, quite happily playing with toys and watching some form of nonsense on the telly. We knew he was spinning round and on occasion rolling over to make his way around a room to get to other toys, but on our way back to the playroom we found he had crawled the full length of the playroom and was halfway across the living room beyond, crawling much in the fashion of a beached seal, pulling himself along with his arms and dragging his legs behind him.

Arthur, we noted, was even coyer about his crawling talents. He practiced getting up on all fours and building up his strength, before committing to moving around. He tended to do this too when he thought no-one was watching him. He does this. We had no idea he could get himself from a prone position to sitting up, until we found him sitting in the corner of his cot one morning, looking at us as though he had been waiting for hours to come in and open the curtains. I think the fact he hadn’t worked out how to lie down again also had something to do with the frown on his face. A week after Henry started moving around from room to room, Arthur followed suit, giving up on all notion of crawling properly and just wanting to move around like his brother, dragging himself around in a similar manner, although his legs do make at least an attempt to move, whereas Henry’s legs are somewhat motionless. With this level of mobility, it was time for the baby gates to be mounted in the doorways to the nursery and the playroom.

Of course, this ability to traverse rooms has meant that both Henry and Arthur can get to drawers to open and close them. They can open cupboard doors and slam them shut. They can also get their fingers in the way of these drawers and doors. Soon, we will have to baby proof the whole house.

Obviously I don’t remember the arrangements when I was a baby, but I was a toddler when my sister was born and I recall her coming home. I have many and various memories of this time, most of them quite accurate it appears when I have quizzed my parents about them and compared notes. What I don’t have any recollection of is having any safety devices around the house. I don’t remember my sister having a dummy, so assume I didn’t either.

I asked my parents about this, this weekend, while they were round admiring the boys’ prowess at crawling about in a paddling pool and blowing raspberries in the water. The boys, that is, not my parents. What they get up to in the privacy of their own paddling pool is their business. My mum couldn’t remember any baby gates either. She said I was content sitting in a playpen playing with toys. This is patently untrue as I didn’t have any toys – this was the 1970s and we were poor. At one point we only had one car – that’s how poor we were. Austerity, thy name is 1970s suburban Congleton!

I think by toys what she actually meant was lumps of coal, bits of soil and worms. I was a forerunner for messy play. I have seen a picture of me holding a worm, and another taken allegedly a few moments later, empty handed. No one knows where the worm went, but legend has it that I ate it. What there is a notable absence of in the photograph is toys, so that’s all the evidence I need right there. My sister was apparently a bit harder to entertain, but she was shoved in a playpen anyway. By that point I was four so old enough to be allowed to go out and roam free. Different times.

I asked my dad about security arrangements of my early formative years and he couldn’t remember specifics, but that he was bound to have “rigged something up”. He was always very handy at knocking something together in an inventive manner. This is troubling me though, because this is the man that “rigged something up” with a car battery, a length of bare wire and a sheet-metal plate in order to deter cats from pissing up our front door. I dread to think what he could have invented to keep me or my sister away from the stairs. I know I can’t walk over any sort of metal walkway without completely losing any urge to urinate that I may have had. Maybe that’s where my dad got the idea for the cats from and I am a living guinea pig. It would explain lots…