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…