Thursday, 30 April 2009

You really couldn't make it up

You may or may not have been following the ongoing row in the House of Commons over MPs' expenses. I'd respect you more if you haven't.

However, the reason our Parliamentarians are suddenly in such a rush to appear to be cleaning up their act is because, in July of this year, literally millions of receipts covering their expense claims since 2004 will be published.

Rumour has it that there will be lots of very embarrassing stuff buried in the detail, resulting in the sudden and messy end of several "promising" political careers.

But I, for one, didn't realise the situation had got quite so bad.

If you want a laugh in these desperate and dark times we're all now supposed to be living in, do yourself a favour and read the following short extract from today's Daily Mail. It's the funniest thing I've read in ages (and I assume it's not supposed to be):

Love cheat MPs on 'suicide watch' as expense claims threaten to expose affairs

"Three Labour MPs are said to be terrified that the release of their expenses claims will expose them as adulterers and financial cheats.

"Four ministers are also understood to have warned party whips they might have to resign for abusing the system, when MPs' receipts are published before the summer recess in July.

"The three unnamed backbenchers are said to have been placed on 'suicide watch' by Labour whips, who fear they might break down when the details of their excesses come out.

"Two are understood to have had extra-marital affairs with other Members of Parliament.

"Not only are they believed to have shared hotel rooms during annual conference get-togethers and party away days but also to have double-claimed for the rooms on their expenses.

"If both MPs have claimed for the bill they will be branded frauds as well as love cheats when journalists and freedom of information campaigners sift through their receipts.

"The third backbencher is said to have made 'grotesque' financial claims.

"A Commons source told the Mail: 'The whips have three Labour MPs on suicide watch. That's how serious this scandal is. The whips believe they might kill themselves.'"

OK, I'll say it in case you're too polite. GOOD!

Wednesday, 29 April 2009

You can't leave him hanging

Sometimes when you’re a father, you simply have to hold your hand up and concede that your 10-month-old has outsmarted you – particularly when he held his hand up first.

I’ve been teaching Jamie how to do high fives in recent days and he’s coming on well, even progressing to the stage of doing high tens in a cafĂ© on Sunday afternoon.

However, four o’clock in the morning is not the optimum time to show off your new trick. Or so you might think.

Once again last night, he was up at around 2am, shouting the place down. Vanessa dealt with him and he was back down again about half an hour later.

However, as in previous nights for as long as I can now remember, he began to shout for a second time at 4am. Both Vanessa and I went in, administered teething granules, Bonjela (the baby one which hasn’t been banned) and Calpol before I gave him some water and attempted to put him back in his cot. But he wasn’t having that.

So I held him for a few more minutes hoping that he would drift back off. He began to smile manically at me. I tried to ignore him. He began to gurgle. I ignored him. He stuck his arm in the air, looking for me to lay some skin on him. Man.

I explained that I would give him one high five and no more. He smiled. I gave him a high five. He stuck his arm back in the air. I gave him two more and drew the line. I then tried to put him down. However, rather than immediately shriek and wriggle as has been the norm, he lay there motionless for a few seconds. Brilliant. For the first time in ages, I thought I was winning and sat down on the floor next to his cot ready to watch him go to sleep.

But as soon as I was comfortable, he began to move. He rolled a bit, grabbed hold of the side of the cot, pulled a bit, grunted a lot, pulled a bit more. And slowly but very determinedly, he began to rise – still in his sleeping bag. A few seconds later, he was standing.

As I wrote a couple of days ago, he has been doing this in his cot for a little while but I’d only previously seen him once he was on his feet – not actually going through the process of getting there. But here’s the thing.

Just as he reached his full height, his left arm came up, his hand opened and he smiled at me triumphantly, demanding a high five for his remarkable achievement.

A more responsible father might, at this point, have put him straight back down and told him to go to sleep. But, come on – what a trick. And what a cheeky finale. I loved it, couldn’t help but laugh and quickly surrendered – giving him a huge high five.

Two minutes later, he was out of his sleeping bag and in the spare bed with me. Five minutes after that, he was fast asleep until a little before 7am.

I might have caused even greater problems for Vanessa and myself tonight but, when all is said and done, you don’t leave your little boy hanging.

Tuesday, 28 April 2009

Preparing to greet Fluffy and Dwarfy

Whilst Vanessa and I continue to feel just a little bit sorry for ourselves (another noisy one again last night), there is thankfully plenty for us - and Jamie - to look forward to in the coming weeks and months.

First up is this Friday when our good friends Louise and Wee John arrive to stay for two and three nights respectively.

Louise (captured above) went to university with Vanessa in Newcastle and, a couple of years later, they shared a flat in London.

On the downside, she's Welsh, has crazy dark hair which gets everywhere and is unbelievably dippy.

But, more positively, she has a heart the size of Australia where she now lives. Coincidentally, her tummy and bum will soon be just as large as yesterday she phoned to say she is expecting her first child.

Whilst this is obviously terrific news for Louise and her partner Tim, it is an untimely development with regard to the weekend ahead as the sight of Louise falling over after three glasses of wine remains one of nature's greatest sights. Indeed, I've always been surprised Sir David Attenborough has never bothered to film it.

Purely by chance, Wee John (pictured right) who has featured on this blog several times before, is also travelling up from Wales. But fortunately he is a Coleraine man and will definitely be on the drink.

Everyone calls him "Wee" John but, in truth, he's much smaller than that. He's tiny, minuscule, barely visible and is sadly destined to just fade away as the years tick by.

They'll both be very welcome and, as I say, it should be a fun few days.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Difficult to stand

A new problem has arisen which has made it even more difficult for us to get Jamie back to sleep when he wakes in the middle of the night: he's started standing up in his cot.

And what's more, he even manages to do it when he's still in his sleeping bag.

It is cute, I'll give him that. But it's also very draining.

Previously, we at least had the option of shoving his dummy in, rolling him over and hoping he'll go straight back down.

However, now, we obviously have to lay him prone first - and you can imagine how pleased he is when this indignity is inflicted upon him.

I genuinely can't remember the last time either Vanessa or I had a proper night's sleep - never mind both of us. And it really is beginning to take its toll.

But, as experienced parents keep reminding us (and fair play to them for doing so), all "phases" eventually come to an end.

Alarmingly, the end of Jamie's current phase looks anything but nigh.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

You have to laugh

I can't remember the last time I was out two nights in a row but I just have been.

Thanks to the generosity of Auntie Vicky who gave up her Saturday evening to babysit for us, Vanessa and I had the pleasure of going round the corner to have a meal with our good friends (from left to right) Layla, Gillian, Ewen and Simon.

The evening started off maturely enough. But then, somewhat inevitably, the wheels came off.

First Ewen did his "hide my ear in my ear" trick.

Then Gillian and Layla showed off their spoon balancing skills.

And then everyone just drunk too much.

But it was a terrific night and much fun was had.

Meanwhile, I have a challenge for you. Can you guess which fat bastard had two whole Weetabix for breakfast this morning?

You guessed right.

Saturday, 25 April 2009

Freebie fun

Not a bad view, all things considered.

The launch of Yorkshire Man was an absolute treat. Good food, plenty of drink, excellent seats and brilliant company (from left to right - Dan, John and Paul).

Indeed, the only slight disappointment was the Leeds Rhinos themselves who were, well, hornless. They went down with little more than a whimper to Harlequins who rode out winners by 21 points to four. Very poor.

Of course, the actual game is only a minor distraction when you're in corporate hospitality - especially when neither yourself nor any of your party are huge rugby league fans.

But at least we watched the game. I remember working behind the bar at the British Grand Prix at Silverstone when I was student. The marquee we were in was on one of the fastest bends on the track and seeing Ayrton Senna, Michael Schumacher, Nigel Mansell and Damon Hill weave their way through was a real thrill.

I had arranged with some of the girls I was working with to do the early "shift" and then they would cover me so I could watch the race itself, and I loved every second. There were a number of TVs in the marquee and, when I left for the start of the race, they were - unsurprisingly - all tuned into the live coverage of the Grand Prix.

However, when I nipped back mid-race to check everything was OK, the TV nearest the bar had been switched over to EastEnders and all the girls were huddled around it. They had even pumped up the volume so as to drown out the noise of the Formula One cars passing by just a few metres away. I've always thought there was just something a little bit wrong about that - but maybe it's just a bloke thing.

Friday, 24 April 2009

Respect to Yorkshire Man

You can only imagine my surprise (and amusement) a few weeks ago when I received an e-mail from my friend Dan inviting me to attend tonight's official launch of "Yorkshire Man."

What could it be?

A Yorkshire-themed Mr Universe competition (although perhaps a little less camp than the real thing)?

Was it a doll which looked like Fred Trueman?

Maybe a cartoon character with a flat cap and a sheep under each arm?

Or was a new movement being set up to support and protect local men from that other equally scary species which roams the moors, the dales and the nightclubs in this part of the world - "Yorkshire Woman."

Sadly in many ways, I was wrong on all counts. Instead, "Yorkshire Man" is, according to the invitation, "a straightforward, straight-talking guide on men’s health, which reflects men’s views about what sort of information they want and how it should be presented." So there. And I'm sure it's a very good idea.

However, even more excitingly, tonight's launch is being held at Headingley Carnegie Stadium, drinks and a three-course meal will be provided and, following no doubt a couple of speeches, all guests will then be ushered to the posh seats to watch the Leeds Rhinos take on Harlequins in Super League XIV.

Yorkshire Man - I salute you!

Thursday, 23 April 2009

St George's Day

It may come as something of a surprise to some, but the picture above was taken this morning in Bradford Centenary Square following the Council-organised St George's Day parade. And it was quite a spectacle.

As one might expect, St George himself was there accompanied by his traditional dragon prey (straddled by either the Mona Lisa or a clothed Lady Godiva, not sure which).

We had some extras from Blackadder II.

And we had many of the great and the good of Bradford district following along behind.

Sadly, Jamie wasn't able to make it along to celebrate a very important part of his heritage but I still made sure he had a flag to wave to mark the special day.

In the top right hand corner of the picture you can just about make out the card he and I clubbed together to buy for his mother. From her "two favourite Ulstermen."

Wednesday, 22 April 2009

Telly wars

One of the things you're repeatedly told as a new parent is not to allow your kid to watch too much TV. But equally, what many experienced parents tell new parents is, "you'll quickly get to the stage where you'll do almost anything to keep them quiet for half an hour."

I think both pieces of advice are valid.

In common with Vanessa, I certainly don't intend to allow Jamie to become a little boy who cares more about computer games and television programmes than he does about running around and being healthy. But, when he's jumping on your head at 7 o'clock in the morning and is bored of things to rattle, I don't see anything wrong with distracting him for half an hour by sticking the telly on.

And there is another element of my television strategy which I have been slowly bringing into play, namely trying to get him used to sport being on telly. Yes, I would rather he was playing it himself than watching it in an armchair. But by watching high quality sport on television, according to my thinking, surely he'll pick up some tips (ahem). And, OK, there's also the small fact that if I can get him used to it at an early stage, then maybe when he gets older he'll not insist on turning over the channel to see his own programme.

However, in recent days a major crack has appeared in my devious plan - Jamie already appears to have mastered the art of using a remote control. For example, last weekend I was watching my beloved Boston Red Sox take on the Baltimore Oriels on ESPN America. He grabbed the control. I took it off him. He cried. I gave it back. He turned the telly off. I took the remote control off him. He cried. I gave it back. He changed the channel. I took the remote control off him. He cried. I gave it back. He turned the telly off again.

It was really was bizarre and I wasn't annoyed - just impressed by the skills of my boy.

Vanessa and I have since tried to palm him off with an old stereo remote control that doesn't work but, I'm afraid, it didn't take long before he saw right through our scam and demanded the real control back.

We'll have to see what the next few days and weeks bring but, somewhat sooner than expected, the White house telly wars have begun.

Tuesday, 21 April 2009

Following an impossible act

Today the British and Irish Lions rugby squad to tour South Africa this summer was announced.

Coincidentally, 20 years ago this month, I was a member of the Coleraine Inst 1st XV squad on tour in Japan, the first Irish school to play rugby in that country. Our captain was Paul McBride, son of the legendary Willie John McBride (left), arguably the greatest of Lions skipper them all.

As such, it wasn't easy for Paul or "Plug" as he was universally known to his teammates. There was media interest in his progress from an early age and, whilst he did go on to follow in his father's footsteps by playing senior league rugby for Ballymena, he didn't quite reach the lofty heights scaled by his dad - which was hardly surprising.

Meanwhile, last night, whilst I was waiting for Vanessa to arrive home from her baby group drinking session, I managed a very special achievement of my own.

It's taken me 18 months but I finally did it. Yes folks, I successfully changed the fused light bulb in our fridge.

Like poor Paul McBride, Jamie White will have to go some to live up to the feats of his father too.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Welly strange

In The Loop was very good, for anyone that's interested. But it struck me that, unless you're particularly into Westminster politics and/or creative swearing at high volume, it might not be your thing. Anyway, up to you.

On other matters, Jamie and I are on our own tonight as Vanessa is in the pub drinking wine with her mother and baby group. I'm not sure this is what mother and baby groups of previous generations did but I welcome it as a concept, am rather enjoying the peace and hope it goes on for at least another hour yet.

Also, I think I've just stumbled across some Sunday afternoon entertainment for the Whites this weekend. Yorkshire are at home to Sussex in the cricket and I quite fancied going along to that. However, I didn't like the idea of spending a whole day off away from fatherly duties. But I reckon I've found the perfect compromise.

From 2pm until 3.30pm, just around the corner from Headingley at Kirkstall Abbey (thereby making it easy for me to wander down and back), there is another great and traditional Yorkshire sporting spectacle due to take place. And I kid you not. Welly Wanging.

I quote from the pre-event publicity: "As part of National Welly Week celebrating organic gardening, join us for an afternoon of welly-based fun."

Sometimes life in general - and Yorkshire in particular - never ceases to astound me.

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Healy on his way to Pudsey

Another long and noisy night last night but we now think we know the reason for the recent spate of nocturnal upheavals - 'Healy' is about to make an appearance.

Named rather aptly after Northern Ireland's greatest-ever front man David Healy, the Healy I'm referring to is Jamie's new left front tooth.

I was trying to brush Chip and Dale this morning before Jamie suddenly decided to throw his head back to make my task more of a challenge (he's very thoughtful like that). I moved my eyes closer to his open mouth to get a better view of my targets and there was the tell tale little white mark in his upper gum.

If he's anything like Chip and Dale, Healy should be with us properly within the week. And I very much hope he is as I don't think either Vanessa or I can function for much longer on such limited sleep.

But at least we seem to have identified the problem and, at the end of the turmoil, Jamie will have another new friend.

I'm just about to jump in the shower now before we park Jamie at Grandma Judy and Grandad Mike's and head to the cinema to see In The Loop, the political comedy which has been getting such rave reviews in recent days. I'll give you mine tomorrow.

Saturday, 18 April 2009


Jamie had a nice surprise in this morning's post: two sets of his very own name tags.

With his arrival at nursery now only a matter of weeks away, his forward-thinking mother lovingly ordered them for him and I think he's pleased.

I remember getting my very own name tags when I was little and was most excited when my mum showed them to me.

However, the advantage I had over Jamie was that I was already able to read.

Hmmm. Maybe it's best we tell him to keep his coat on in nursery for the first couple of years, just in case he picks up someone else's by mistake. And anyway, it's always cold in Yorkshire.

Friday, 17 April 2009

No, we can't! (sleep)

There isn't much Barack Obama has done in his first 87 days as US President that I would wish to argue with. But I cannot agree with his decision to protect those CIA agents who used sleep deprivation to torture terrorist suspects when George Bush was President.

To be fair, my annoyance comes with a confession: my name is Barry White and I am sleep deprived. Yes, our wee...erm...boy was up to his old tricks again last night. And how.

My light went off at around 11.30pm as is the general norm. Jamie had been settled for almost four hours by this stage and all seemed well. But, true to form, by 1.45am he was off.

I actually felt quite bright at this point and bounded in next door to be a parenting hero - no problem to a dad of my calibre, thought I. Wrongly.

He did go back down again after about 15 minutes following some water, a bit of stroking and a couple of silly voices. But he only lasted another 15 before he was up again. I must have gone back in at least half a dozen times over the next couple of hours plus and just couldn't get him settled.

Vanessa then took on the mantle and, after a further couple of hours, she managed to get him down for a whole hour - before he wailed again.

We conceded defeat at that point - it was 6am by now - and brought him into our room for his morning milk before putting him down in our bed. (Vanessa did all the work after I decided to stage a silent protest against his antics).

But the picture above vividly illustrates why we don't like doing this. The left side of the bed as you look at it, is where you'll normally find me (if you're a burglar or perhaps are just lost). You can clearly see Jamie's head very much to the right of centre with, below the duvet, his feet parallel to the headboard. And, circled in red, is Vanessa's head - shoved so far off the bed she's almost in the spare room.

I took the photo before leaving for work - both mother and baby were asleep at this point. And I was almost out on my feet. It's been a very long day since then.

So, I must say to President Obama, your stand in favour of those nasty sleep deprivers is wrong and disappoints me greatly.

"Yes, we can!" was Barack's rallying call during his election campaign. But for Mother and Father White - thanks to their disruptive little...BOY...when it comes to sleep, for now and for the foreseeable future, it looks like it going to continue to be a case of "No, we can't!"

Still, it's Friday evening so let's not get too downhearted.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Ulster ingenuity

Some news has reached me, via a friend in the BBC, of another dramatic development in the glitzy world of Formula One. And this time there's a Northern Ireland link:

"The Ferrari Formula One team have today fired their entire pit crew.

"The announcement comes in the wake of Ferrari's decision to take advantage of the British Government's Youth Opportunity Scheme and employ people from the Falls and the Shankill areas of Belfast.

"The move to hire them followed the recent broadcast of a documentary on how unemployed youths from the Falls and Shankill were able to remove a set of wheels in less than six seconds without proper equipment; Ferrari's existing crew can only complete the task in eight seconds with millions of Euros' worth of high tech equipment.

"Prime Minister Gordon Brown said this was a bold move by the Ferrari management which demonstrated the high esteem in which the United Kingdom is now held under his leadership.

"As most races are won and lost in the pits, Ferrari previously thought they had the advantage over every other team. However, they got more than they bargained for.

"At the first practice session, the Falls and Shankill pit crew successfully changed the car's tyres in 5.8 seconds.

"But within 12 seconds they had re-sprayed, re-badged and sold the vehicle to the McLaren team for eight bottles of Carlsberg Special Brew, 50 ecstasy tablets and some photos of Lewis Hamilton's bird in the shower."

Wednesday, 15 April 2009

Getting the brush off

Jamie's bedtime routine now has an extra element: having his teeth brushed. Both of them.

Although Chip and Dale have been with us for almost three weeks, it's only in the last few days that enough of them have been on show for me to give them a good polish. And, unsurprisingly, Jamie's not entirely convinced about his additional chore.

He doesn't like the brush going in, which is clearly a bad start. But the taste of the minty toothpaste tends to perk him up. However, crucially, he then doesn't like the actual brushing bit and his mood generally deteriorates very quickly - almost as quickly as my brushing motion whilst I try to get as many strokes in before the toothbrush is spat out.

I was looking forward to Chip and Dale having a few new friends move in over the coming weeks but, unless our boy's attitude to brushing improves, I'm no longer quite so sure.

Tuesday, 14 April 2009

Easter Tuesday

Back where I come from, today is known as Easter Tuesday. But it wasn't until I first came to live on this side of the water as a student that I discovered "Easter Tuesday" doesn't exist here.

Like the 12th of July, I have always had trouble dealing with this fact and have resented going to work. So today, for the very first time, I have taken it off as leave. And just as well as it's turned out for last night was possibly the worst night Vanessa and I have had with Jamie since he was born.

He's got yet another cold including a particularly heavy cough which has made it hard for him to sleep. So much so that, last night, it was close on 4am before he, Vanessa and I got our heads down. It was awful.

The more he coughed, the more tired and distressed he became and on and on it went. We dug out his inhaler once again - his "love" for his inhaler mirrors mine for Gordon Brown - pumped him full of Tixilix, Calpol, Ibuprofen, milk and water, and we rocked and sung. All to little good.

He woke again about 6.30 for his bottle and then the three of us dozed on and off until after 9 before stirring. Almost predictably, Jamie now seems quite chipper but Vanessa and I are destroyed. As I say, thank goodness I'm off and here's hoping for a better night tonight.

On a happier note, yesterday we had a family trip to Kirkstall Abbey in Leeds which included a return ride on a mini-train. Jamie had a ball, as did I when I spotted the jobsworth lady conductor who insisted on waving her green flag before the driver could set off. There was only one train on the go, the line was only about 300m metres long but she had to have her moment. And why not.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Whisky on a Sunday

It's Easter Monday (you probably noticed). For years, whilst still living back home, Easter Monday for me meant jumping on a train to Portrush, walking round in circles for about six hours interspersed with the odd lap of Barry's Amusements, then back to the train station - passing through the drunken mix of skinheads, bikers and RUC officers (one or two of the latter were sober, but no more than that) - and on to Coleraine. It was ritualistic, it wasn't that much fun but it was what I and many of my equally misguided friends did each year.

Since those days, Easter Monday has become a very different animal for me in that I couldn't tell you I did from one year to the next. Twelve months ago? Not a clue, and Vanessa's in Asda so I can't ask her. For that matter, I can't even tell you what we're doing today. We had a sort of plan to go somewhere this morning but Jamie was tired and is now somewhere dreamy with, one would hope, fluffy bunnies and butterflies in attendance. We'll all have lunch when he wakes and take it from there.

Save for falling on his head, I think he had a good first ever Easter Sunday. He received lots of love and attention from relatives and returned from Grandma Judy and Grandad Mike's with four Easter eggs. Given that he currently only has two teeth, they will take a lot of chomping so his mother and I may have to help out.

He also brought back a particularly special gift - a bottle of 29-year-old single malt scotch whisky which, family tradition dictates, he will not be allowed to open until he is 21 and it is 50. Mike and Judy have done this for all their male grandchildren and I think it is wonderful thought not to mention exceedingly kind. And Mike, if you're reading this, yes, I promise to keep it upright (now you have it in writing!)

For my own part yesterday, as planned, I spent the afternoon at Headingley with my old friend Major Dave Sherrard and his boys Huw and Niall watching Leeds Carnegie lift the National Division 1 rugby union trophy. Huw (pictured below left) is my godson and I, by my own admission, have been a pathetic godfather - not helped, to be fair, by the fact that his dad's Army life has meant he hasn't stayed in the one place for very long. Vanessa, Jamie and I have arranged to head up to their current base in North Yorkshire in July to see Mrs S and her boys so I am going to get better.

A quick footnote for any rugby fans out there, don't you think Niall (on the right) looks like a young Ronan O'Gara (pictured below)? I think it's remarkable. I only hope he possesses the Ireland number 10's ball skills rather than his father's.

Sunday, 12 April 2009

Early risers

Save for a couple of minor stirrings during the night, White Jnr slept through until 6am this morning before quickly making clear that a return to Nod was not on his agenda - so White Snr had to get up. (To be fair, Vanessa did the early shift yesterday so I'm not trying to paint myself as a hero. Not really).

Recent experience has taught us there's no longer any real point in hoping he'll go back to sleep at this time of the day, so better to accept the inevitability of the situation and turn it into a positive. And this morning I did.

After giving him his milk, I changed his nappy, he immediately pooed in it (which clearly delighted me) so I changed it again and dressed him before throwing some clothes on myself. A bit of early morning TV watching and a mug of tea later and with the clock not long struck 7.30am, the two of us were trundling up the road (more accurately, Jamie was trundling and I was pushing) to get the Sunday papers and then on to the park for a go on the swings (with me again in the role of pusher). We were back by 8.45am so Jamie could have his Weetabix - not that he was particularly grateful, judging by the racket.

The rest of the day promises to be equally busy for both of us. I'm off to meet my old school pal Major David Sherrard (he's got a big gun and everything) and his family at Headingley to watch the Leeds Carnegie rugby union team almost certainly clinch promotion to the Guinness Premiership. Meanwhile, Vanessa's taking Jamie to Grandma Judy's where he intends to hold court in front of up to 20 relatives. I will join them after the rugby, by which time Dagenham Dave will hopefully have gone home.

Before I go and dig out my Leeds Carnegie shirt (when in Rome etc etc), a quick comment on the big news story of the day - the resignation of Gordon Brown's Poisoner-in-Chief, Damian McBride (feel free to stop reading if you're not remotely interested).

I worked in the House of Commons for six years and am as aware as anyone just how far removed from reality the Westminster village is. In some ways that is a good thing. I had some of the best experiences of my life down there. I met people I could only ever have dreamt of meeting and I saw a number of historic events at very close quarters. I was one of the lucky ones.

But that square mile in south-west London is also home to a significant number of hangers-on, parasites, muck-spreaders, trouble-makers and drunkards who have no interest in improving people's lives or making a positive contribution to our democracy. Damian McBride and his sidekick Derek "Dolly" Draper - the recipient of the e-mails we've all been reading about this morning - are indisputably in this category as, sadly, are several others close to Gordon Brown, one of the most "tribal" politicians to have held the office of British Prime Minister. It's at times like this when I realise I no longer miss my former life.

Saturday, 11 April 2009

The sights and sounds of Sesame Tree

I've written before about how much I regret the likelihood that Jamie will grow up with an English accent. It's nothing against any of my English friends (or wife, for that matter) but, as a proud Ulsterman, it just doesn't seem right.

That is why I haven't yet given up the ghost. For example, my boy and I have regular, clandestine "Learn Till Speak Norn Iron" classes (with me playing the role of teacher) and BBC Northern Ireland programmes regularly blare out from our telly. But yesterday I stumbled across another very useful vehicle on which to force feed him Ulster accents and, what's more, it's on his favourite TV channel, CBeebies.

Produced in association with the original Sesame Workshop in America, Sesame Tree is made primarily in the Province and follows the lives of Potto - a friendly monster who lives in a tree - and his friend Hilda the Hare, both of whom speak in thick, Belfast drawls. You can see them both pictured above with another local Muppet called Martin who comes from Londonderry, so he does, hi. Martin used to be in the IRA but is now Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland.

Also featured in the episode we saw yesterday afternoon were three "Weatherberries" from - according to my ears - Belfast, Portadown and Ballymena. It was one of the most surreal pieces of television I've seen for a long time, particularly when, in a short film, we went to watch six-year-old Brian lead a Loyalist accordion band in a march through the streets of Banbridge. Goodness knows what they make of all this in the Home Counties of England.

In fact, I asked Vanessa that very question who suggested the reaction might be something along the lines of: "What is that strange Scottish tongue these people are trying to communicate in?" Quite.

Jamie seemed to enjoy the whole thing although, realistically, it was probably the colours rather than the accents that captured his attention.

But, rest assured, I'll keep working on him.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Devil boy

I don't have Madonna's phone number and, if your name is James Richard White, it's just as well. Because, for most of last night and a fair bit of this morning, I would probably have given her a call and asked her to pick our Jamie up on her way home from Malawi (even rich beggars can't be choosers). He's been a nightmare.

He woke up at around 3.15 and, not only did he decide he wouldn't sleep again until 5.30, but he thought he would also throw his longest tantrum yet.

After 90 minutes sleep, he roused once more and eventually I took him downstairs to play, to watch telly and to have breakfast. Clearly exhausted but unwilling to put his head down, he complained all the way until, at around 10, he finally decided to go to sleep for a couple of hours.

He's now up, about and in the best of form. Meanwhile, Vanessa and I are very pale and blotchy shadows of our former selves.

As my friend Jacqui - a mother of two herself - pre-warned me on Facebook yesterday, the pyjamas might have been the problem, just as they were a few months ago when we tried him in pyjamas before (we never learn - I know).

Jacqui wrote:

"Stick to babygrows and progress to sleep suits. Who cares if our kids still look like babies when they're six. Our sleep and sanity are worth it!"

And I think she was right for, remembering her words, I suggested we put him back into a sleepsuit just as dawn was breaking and it did seem to calm him down. Needless to say it'll be sleepsuits all the way from now until he's 16, never mind six.

Only one full day in and, already, this doesn't feel like any Easter holiday I've had before. But let's not be downhearted - there's plenty of time to go yet (or could that be a bad thing?)

Thursday, 9 April 2009

A brief encounter with Royalty

I remember, about 10 years ago, walking down Victoria Street in London and almost bumping into the Duke of Kent who was headed in the other direction - he's the very stiff, bald one who always presents the trophy to the winner of the Men's Singles at Wimbledon (yes, him).

However, visiting Asda this morning on my first day off work for Easter, Jamie and I had our first shared experience of bumping into Royalty. And I'm not talking just any Royality, hell no. I'm talking Yorkshire Royalty - in the form of Mr Raymond Illingworth CBE.

For those who don't know him - shame on you - he the ex-captain of the Yorkshire and England cricket teams, a former Chairman of the England Selectors, one-time England coach and ex-BBC commentator.

A proper Yorkshire hardman of the old school, he is rightly regarded as a hero in these parts. He is also a Pudsey man and still lives over the road in Farsley where he continues to serve as President of the famous local cricket club and also, so I'm led to believe, as their groundsman.

Because he resides nearby, it shouldn't exactly have been a shock to see him in our Asda - not that I've seen him there before. But I was still thrown back on my heels when the penny dropped.

Although almost 77 years old now, he still has those kindly but piercing blue eyes. And, when they met mine and my eyes gave away the fact that I knew he was, he gave me a polite little smile. I responded by nodding, and then just stood there looking gormless as he passed by with his trolley. But I felt ten feet tall. It's not often you bump into a proper sporting legend in your local supermarket and it made my day.

After our short encounter, I looked down to see if Jamie had also seen him. Unfortunately, he was totally transfixed by the sight of an enormously fat woman trying to push some skinny bloke down the aisle in a wheelchair - to be fair, it's hard to compete with that.

But I told him all about Ray Illingworth as I pushed him home and he didn't fall asleep once. I regard that as a definite sign of approval from my boy and look forward to introducing the two of them on a future shopping trip; if I manage to pluck up the courage to introduce myself to Ray first. So, in truth, it'll probably never happen.

Wednesday, 8 April 2009


Whether or not you agreed with my sentiments in yesterday's little rant about Michael Parkinson - and you are perfectly entitled not to - I did get one positive result out of it: an e-mail from Max Clifford's PA.

You would have to have been living on the Moon over the last few weeks to miss the fact that Max Clifford was Jade Goody's PR. And I would love to tell you that he read what I said in defence of his client on this site and then contacted me to say well done. But, unfortunately, it wasn't like that.

Instead, whilst I was having a sandwich at my desk at lunchtime, I decided to forward him a link to my thoughts and, a couple of hours later, Kate - his PA - e-mailed me back to say she would pass it on to him. Hopefully she'll be as good as her word.

On other equally important matters, Jamie wore his new pyjamas for the first time last night - and then decided he didn't fancy sleeping past 3.30am. It was horrible. One of those nights which, as parents, you'll never forget and I intend to make sure he never does either (once he's old enough to remember not to forget, if you follow me).

Vanessa and I have continued to bring him into our bed at around 5am after he's signalled he's bored with cot life for another evening and he normally goes straight back to sleep. But not last night and the two of us are obviously hoping it's not the beginning of another dreaded "phase."

And finally, an advert. I went to see my physio Johnny for the second time this morning. As I wrote here a week and a half ago, I've had to pull out of this year's London Marathon because of a leg injury which I should have had treated ages ago but have only now sought to sort properly. As well as manipulating the injury himself - to significant effect - Johnny has sent me away with a series of exercises which I am very confident will see my leg right (ironically, it is my right leg) in the end.

Should you live in West Yorkshire and require the services of a top notch physio who's an equally excellent human being, call Johnny Picot on Tel: 0113 255 1422 or Mob: 07964 622 559. You'll be back on your feet - or any other part that hurts - before you know it.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Push off, Parky

One of the things I promised myself not to do after Jamie was born was to become - in polite English speak - a curmudgeon or - in more direct Ulster speak - a begrudging, grumpy old bastard.

But, having read "Sir" Michael Parkinson's comments about Jade Goody in this morning's press, one has to conclude that this is exactly what he has become.

Describing her as "ignorant and puerile," and, "all that is wretched about Britain today," he went on to say that her death was, "not the passing of a martyr or a saint or, God help us, Princess Di."

You would have thought a so-called knight of the realm would at least have had the decency to let her body go cold in her grave before seeking to besmirch her character and her memory. Heaven knows how her family must feel.

I saw a bit of Jade's funeral on Sky News on Saturday morning before we left for Blackpool and, yes, it was ridiculously over the top. But it was also none of my business.

She supposedly decided the format of the day before her death, her family presumably were comfortable with her choices and none of us were asked to pay for it. So where was the problem? And what more business of Michael Parkinson's was it compared to any of the rest of us?

What really sticks in my craw is that this is the same Michael Parkinson who made a life and a mountain of cash out of basking in the reflected glory and talents of others on his chat show. How was his career choice any less parasitic than anything Jade Goody did? And what's more, the majority of his earnings came from BBC Television and Radio - paid for by you and me through the licence fee - unlike Jade who to my knowledge appeared only on commercials channels, paid for by advertising, and in magazines and books which people chose to buy.

Since stepping down from his chat show, Michael Parkinson has been most often seen trying to sell his own book and taking yet more silver shillings through fronting up life insurance ads.

But getting back to the point, you might have expected someone of Parkinson's age and supposed "stature" to seek to be a positive influence on and advocate of the younger generation, rather than seeking to appeal to the prejudices of other begrudging, grumpy old bastards as a means of boosting his profile, his earnings and his not insubstantial ego. He will be hailed a hero by many but I believe he and they are wrong.

Thanks for allowing me to get that off my chest - I feel much better now.

Monday, 6 April 2009

Hole in my Sox

It looks like I really am going to have to push on with finishing this sitcom if fame is to be mine (and Ben's) and fortune is to be Jamie's before he starts school.

Regular readers (I do have some, honest) will know that Ben sent me his version of my original pilot script a couple of weeks ago. I have since been through it and he's done a great job but there's still a lot of work to do before anyone important is allowed to read it. However, we'll put the time in and see where we go. But a rather disappointing discovery earlier today has just upped the pressure.

As well as the sitcom and another idea for a one-off comedy drama, I had a big plan for a book which (needless to say) I hadn't quite managed to get round to doing anything about. And it may now be too late.

As briefly as I can, almost six years ago and just a few weeks before Vanessa and I moved from London to Yorkshire, the Ulster Unionist Party sent me to Harvard University in Boston for a "leadership" course which was also attended by representatives from each of the other major political parties in the UK and Ireland.

It was an incredible seven days which I'll always cherish. But, leaving the politics to one side, the highlight for me was a visit to Fenway Park baseball stadium to watch the Boston Red Sox take on the Toronto Blue Jays. I had seen a fair bit of baseball on TV prior to this but, like most people, regarded it as little more than jazzed up rounders.

After asking other course attendees if they wanted to come with me - they all said no, which was good for my confidence - I turned up on my own and managed to blag a standing-room-only ticket (an Ulster accent can be a very useful tool in Boston). I spent the next five-and-a-half hours standing in my tiny bit of room, directly behind an old timer who was sat down with his pals.

They were all retired, all baseball nuts and on a fortnight-long trip watching baseball at various locations on the east coast of America. He very politely asked me who I was and what I was doing at the game. After hearing I worked in the House of Commons, he declared his huge admiration for the British Parliament (he was an American, don't forget) and Tony Blair. So I recounted all I knew about Westminster and our then Prime Minister and he told me as much as he could squeeze into five-and-a-half hours about baseball. I left the ground completely taken by the game and, since then, have become hooked and a full-on Boston Red Sox fan complete with my own replica shirt.

Most bizarrely for me, though, was that word of my trip spread amongst the handful of Harvard professors who were teaching us during our week in Boston. Several times, in advance of lectures, a professor would request whoever had gone to Fenway to identify himself, then he'd ask me what I thought of the game and then he'd tell me how much he loved "those Sox." These individuals' heads housed some of the largest brains on the planet, yet they were all addicted to baseball and their local team. I found that fascinating, although I understood it a bit better when I read about the history of the Boston Red Sox some time afterwards.

Fast forwarding three years and being very bored in my job, I thought it would be a wonderful idea to try to persuade some kindly publisher to let me write a baseball-themed travel book (OK, so I'm a dreamer) which would begin with a greatly expanded (and much more colourful) version of the above story. The rest would centre on me travelling to America two or three times (probably on the wing) to do interviews including with some of the Harvard professors I met in 2003, attend a handful of games and meet some oh-so-hilarious baseball-type characters. And, whilst it would obviously be a great chore for me, I would selflessly put myself through it in the name of educating and hopefully entertaining my readers (please don't applaud).

I even bought myself a publication on Amazon which told me how to write a proper book proposal. Earlier this year, I actually set myself a deadline of the end of the summer to submit it. But a big spanner has just been chucked in the works. My old school friend Colin Andrews first alerted me to it when I was in Edinburgh for the rugby last month and I've only just got round to checking out the damage.

Here's what it said on the web about the first episode of a recently broadcast Radio 4 production entitled, Baseball and Me:

"Historian and baseball aficionado Simon Schama is presenting a two-part programme on BBC Radio 4 to reflect on why he, as an Englishman, is so fascinated by the American game that the British often dismiss as 'grown-up rounders.' The programme is called Baseball and Me, and the first episode will be broadcast this Saturday, March 7, from 10.30-11.00 am. Simon Schama’s adopted team is the Boston Red Sox, and he recounts that from the moment he saw the floodlit green of the Fenway Park turf and the theatrical attire of the Boston Red Sox, he was smitten. Before then, cricket had been his sport but, all too quickly, wickets became bases and bowlers became pitchers. In Saturday’s programme, Schama gains behind-the-scenes access to his Red Sox heroes, the locker-room, the scoreboard operator and, most importantly, the man who sells the famous Fenway Frank hotdog."

Sadly, methinks my baseball horse has bolted.

UPDATE: I've just stumbled across the following review of the programme on The Times website:

"On Saturday Simon Schama had the chance to perform a great service for this country. Baseball and Me (Radio 4) could have been the half-hour in which the telegenic historian opened up a wonderful game to his trillions of fans; instead, he spent way too much time talking about himself."

Hmmm. Maybe I'm back in the ball game. Or, more likely, perhaps I'm just an idiot.

Sunday, 5 April 2009

Family fun in Blackpool

We're just back from our little jaunt across to Blackpool and I think everyone had a laugh.

Despite it being my birthday present, Master White was the obvious centre of attention - there was no point competing with that two-tooth grin.

But Daddy was able to have his moment on the Go-Karts where he lapped the whole field - most of them at least 15 years younger than him - and spent most of the rest of the day talking about it. You might think this is a little sad. And, indeed, you might be right.

Yesterday's trip to the Pleasure Beach was something of a disappointment for Jamie, mainly because he was too young to go on anything. But that was put right this morning when he got to try out several kiddie rides (most of them for three and overs, but we got away with it) in other parts of Blackpool and he enjoyed the swan best of all (although it might not look like it).

Probably the highlight of the break for all was last night's dinner in The Big Blue Hotel which was perfect, the staff were great and - in addition to the rib-eye steak, chicken, bacon and potato wedges he nibbled on - Jamie got to try some of Daddy's "Death by Chocolate."

Mummy and Daddy reckoned at the time it would be a small price to pay to get their boy to behave. What they didn't bargain for (naively, you might argue) was the effect it would have on his sleeping pattern. When Jamie did finally nod off - two and three quarter hours later than normal - after a prolonged sugar-fuelled session of manic behaviour and face-pulling, Mr and Mrs W were regretting their decision.

But no doubt bigger crimes were committed in Blackpool last night (seriously, you should've seen some of these people).

New week tomorrow then.

Saturday, 4 April 2009

Preparing for thrills and inevitable spills

The Whites are about to hit to road to Blackpool for two more days celebrating Daddy's birthday (Mummy's idea, not his - very important to point that out).

We're staying at The Big Blue Hotel (not a made up name) which is located right in the heart of the Pleasure Beach. This is both incredibly exciting and also very handy, given the amount of time Daddy intends to spend on the rides.

Coincidentally, Daddy has been to The Big Blue Hotel once before, about 18 months ago. He had dinner there during the Conservative Party Conference and sat beside his good friend Sean O'Callaghan, an ex-IRA informer who once famously saved the lives of the Prince and Princess of Wales. Mr O'Callaghan did not throw food at him on this occasion, unlike Jamie who is expected to try his luck this evening and probably again tomorrow morning at breakfast.

Jamie has been warned that his chances of going on the Tetley Teacup Ride will be greatly diminished should he behave in this way. But Daddy's not sure he was listening.

Full details here tomorrow.

Friday, 3 April 2009

Jamie goes Commando

Probably only for the baby connoisseur or close relative this one, but I am proud to formally announce that Jamie has learnt to crawl.

He isn't blessed with the slickest of techniques at this stage. Instead, it's a mixture of leg kicking, tummy waddling and brute force - like a mini-Action Man trying to carve his way through mud.

Nonetheless, he is able to get from A to D, knocking B over and spilling something messy on C as he goes.

His new found mobility does, of course, cause fresh problems for his parents. Our house is old and not the most child-friendly you'll ever stumble into. But moves are currently afoot to make the environment much safer for him, never mind us and any visitors who come our way.

Last night was the first time I'd seen him do his stuff so, if you have a spare 32 seconds, click on the play button above, turn your speakers on and watch him journey, slowly but determinedly. Sorry it's a bit dark.

Thursday, 2 April 2009


Come on, own up - did you fall for it? Tell me you didn't.

I know my mother did, as did my nephew Sebastian. No surprises there. Equally, Billatbingey - who left a comment on this site yesterday - clearly didn't.

No, sadly, Jamie is not destined to star in any forthcoming Milky Bar advertisements in cinemas or even in your home - or not, at least, that I'm aware of. It was all an April Fool.

I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me, and I hope Jamie does too when he finds out.

Good fun though!

Wednesday, 1 April 2009

Milky Bars are on him

Something really bizarre has happened.

Vanessa and I are not long back from my birthday meal and I've picked up both a voicemail and an e-mail which are probably supposed to be top secret - but I'll tell you anyway.

To cut two rather long ramblings very short, some production company wants our Jamie to become a new Milky Bar Kid - on the silver screen, no less.

To tell you what I know, Nestle - the company that makes Milky Bars and employs this production company - are planning to make a new advert which they hope will help them narrow the commercial gap with their great rival Cadbury. The method they intend to employ is as old as the hills: copy them.

In this case, that means making an off-the-wall ad which aims to provoke the same level of reaction as the Cadbury ad featuring the gorilla and the drums (yes, that one).

Nestle's big idea is to relaunch the Milky Bar Kid with not one but six or seven young "actors," the concept being to chart "his" development / progress from the cradle to adulthood - powered by white chocolate.

They want Jamie to play (what I would describe as) Lead Man #2 i.e. not the babe in arms, but the next one up.

The thinking is to only show the ad in cinemas initally but, should it catch on, then move it on to telly screens.

The individual who called and e-mailed me said she'd seen Jamie's picture on this blog and his blond hair and blue eyes made him "perfect for the role."

I know nothing more at this stage but, hopefully like you, I regard the whole scenario as very amusing (and possibly lucrative).

As such - and given that Vanessa's asleep and I'm a bit bored - I've mocked up what I think our boy might look like on his big screen debut.

Time will tell whether he makes it to Hollywood.