Boots on the Ground

"Come on, Dad..."

“Come on, Dad…”

I’ve gone through my whole life without being remotely interested in footwear with brand names like ‘Mountain Goat’ or ‘Crag Climber.’  

But this walking lark has changed everything.

With the Pennine Way now just an ominous seven weeks away my thoughts have turned to my feet. And the simple fact that I’ll need something more than my trainers to march up Pen-y-Ghent and pals.

The same goes for Ben. He finished his Duke of Edinburgh practice expedition with his feet inside plastic bags. His boots took a week to dry out. So they’ll shortly be on first name terms with a skip.

He needs new boots. I need new boots. But ‘this walking lark’ is not cheap… [Read more…]

The Plague of Bees

"Plagues are locusts or frogs, Dad. Not bees..."

“Plagues are locusts or frogs, Dad. Not bees…”

I must stop drinking at lunchtime.

I don’t remember the bottle of red wine, but clearly I’m drunk.

It’s the only possible explanation.

And I’m worried. I need to see the doctor about this. I’m having hallucinations.

Right now I’m seeing a man in a full bee-keeping suit standing in our drive.

“Do you live here?” Blimey, even worse. I’m hearing voices as well.

Ah, he’s real. Now I look closely he’s not wearing a full bee-keeping suit. He’s wearing a bee-keeping top and Marigold rubber gloves. Spoils the effect slightly.

“Yes,” I say, suddenly aware that our drive is infested with bees. [Read more…]

The Football Family

The days before sponsorship...

The days before sponsorship…

Monday. A text arrives from the Beloved Daughter. Our final bills payment is due this week. Would you be able to transfer me £75? Then it starts again.

Of course, darling, there’s nothing I’d like more. And I’d be distraught if it didn’t ‘start again.’

Tuesday. Another text. Do you fancy going to the play-off finals?

Hang on. Yesterday she needed money to pay bills. Today she has enough to go to Wembley. Or am I’m being stupid? Maybe the text translates as Would you like to take me to the play-off finals?

Not this year, I tactfully reply. You need money: your brother needs money: another year. When it’s Wolves vs. Owls.

Yep, she’s become an Owl. Three years in Sheffield and she’s a Wednesday supporter. [Read more…]

I’m Struggling with Exam Nerves…

Here we go again...

Here we go again…

Seven o’clock. What’s that? Night Owl if I know my iPhone alarms. But it hasn’t got a hope.

I can hear the alarm downstairs. It’s going off right next to Ben’s bed. But with exams starting next week there’s only one way to wake a teenager – a serious shaking. And you learn to live with the inevitable abuse…

I rap smartly on his door. Wait the obligatory ten seconds – when he’s awake, just long enough to guarantee his laptop screen is showing school work – and walk in. I immediately trip over a shoe. Then I stand on a text book.

Yes, yes, I know these are trivialities compared to having younger children. How did the Spanish Inquisition miss standing on Lego in your bare feet? But they don’t make for a dignified entrance.

“Time to wake up,” I say.

“As you’ve just tripped over everything in my bedroom I am awake.” [Read more…]

Natural Selection in the Kitchen

Saturday morning. I was admiring the Swiss Army penknife I’d bought for our walk on the Pennine Way. Ben and I striding across the Dales – and what’s this? A horse with a stone in its hoof – no problem. I congratulated myself on my forward planning and snapped the blade shut. Unfortunately, I’d forgotten to remove my finger…

Sunday morning. Jane had bought me a new carving knife and a sharpening steel for my birthday. Just like a proper chef. And blimey, that was sharp. I sliced the bread open – and sliced straight into my finger.

Monday. “Are you in the bathroom?”

“Yes. What do you want?”

“Can you bring me a plaster?”

“Another one? What have you done now?”

“I’ve grated my thumb.” [Read more…]

Speaking with my Son

On the night...

On the night…

“Are you going to watch football with me, Dad?”

I was tempted. Sorely tempted. The red wine was open. A seductive selection of cheese was waiting. My eldest son was home from university. My wife was at a conference: my conscience 120 miles away at the other end of the M62…

The bookies stopped taking bets. Surrender was inevitable. The fat lady stepped confidently on to the stage.

But no.

There was work to be done.

“Sorry, Tom,” I said. “Duty calls. I’ll see you for the second half. You can finish the wine – I’m off to rehearse with Ben.”

“You ready?” I said thirty seconds later. “Public speaking rehearsal. Less than a week to go. Let’s do this.” [Read more…]

Into the Vortex

Am I not a good parent? Is my children’s welfare not at the heart of everything I do?

“Is there anything you need to take back to uni?” I asked Tom.

“No, I’m good.”

“Coffee? Biscuits? Notebooks?”

I glanced over his shoulder. My son was simultaneously working on two computer screens. ‘Working’ may have been a relative term for one of the screens – it was showing the Bayern Munich game – but the other one was full of graphs and wavy lines and the sort of equations that make Stephen Hawking nervous.

So he’s probably moved a little bit beyond ‘notebooks.’ But as a parent, you want to help. He’s 22. He’s doing a Masters in Engineering. But I’m his Dad. I still feel like I should be helping with his homework. So from time to time I ask what he’s doing. [Read more…]

A Piece of Lego Changed my Life…

March 2003. Tuesday night. Dark, cold, raining. Football on TV.

So like many of the events that change your life, I very nearly didn’t go.

But I hauled myself off the settee, dodged the puddles in a sodden car park and went to a meeting of the local Writers’ Circle.

The speaker was Paul Napier, the editor of the local paper.

Paul was talking about the mechanics of newspaper production. I started to drift away…

Then: “We’d quite like a humorous weekly column. If anyone thinks they could write one.” [Read more…]

The Mother’s Day Deputy

"The best Sunday lunch you've cooked, darling..."

“The best Sunday lunch you’ve cooked, darling…”

A lie-in. Cup of tea, slice of toast. A husband prepared to brave the elements and go to the corner shop; who’ll struggle back to the house under the crushing weight of a Sunday paper…

Yep, it’s a day to show the mother of my children how much we all love and appreciate her.

Thank goodness she finished filling the walls and hanging the wallpaper yesterday.

I’ll be expelled from the Real Men’s Union but it’s true. As the children get older Jane and I are specialising. She’s a remarkably competent decorator. My talents extend to putting the wallpaper paste on and making tea. I can, however, spatchcock a chicken.

Not a skill I’d be needing this week… [Read more…]

Doubting Thomas

“Anything special tomorrow, darling?” I asked my wife.

“Not really,” she said. “Meeting. I’ll have to go early. You?”

“Oh, just the usual,” I said casually. “Finish a client’s blog in the morning. Work on someone’s speech. And then I’m meeting the Archbishop of York.”

“Yeah, right Dad. Have you checked your medication lately?” My teenage son broke off from preparing a small snack – the one that would keep him going until the large snack that would keep him going until dinner – to express his ritual scepticism.

“Thank you for your belief in me, Ben. I am meeting the Archbishop of York. Just after two o’clock.”

“Alright then. Why?” [Read more…]