Sunday, 31 May 2009

Making a meal of it

Aside from all the sightseeing in the second half of the week just gone, there were regular opportunities to grab some light refreshment.

Our biggest night was Thursday when Vicky, Wee John, Vanessa and I headed out for dinner on Lusty Beg, a little island just a couple of hundred yards away from Boa Island where we were staying.

Driving there was not advisable, as a nearby sign clearly pointed out.

But thankfully there was a ferry on hand...

...which Vicky was only too happy to call.

Some of the locals found our presence of interest whilst we waited for our lift...

...which duly arrived.

The ferryman was a jolly fellow although we took Chris De Burgh's advice by not offering payment.

And after our short but memorable journey...

...a fine night was had... all.

Saturday, 30 May 2009

Separated at birth?

Like, no doubt, everyone else in this country without a life, tonight I've been watching the final of Britain's Got Talent.

And with apologies to anyone who’s already spotted the similarity - I've been away for a week so loads of journalists may have written about it - Susan Boyle and Desperate Dan from The Dandy?

For me, the resemblance is uncanny.

Back from the (Land of the) Black (Stuff)

Only me.

Yes, exactly a week after arriving on my father's doorstep for Jamie's christening followed by several days careering around Ireland North and South, the Whites have arrived back at base camp in Pudsey.

And what a week it's been. Indeed, other than a few days of dodgy weather and - sadly, much more seriously - the fall-out from the horrible murder in Coleraine on Sunday night which has cast such a dark shadow across my home town, it couldn't have gone much better.

After saying goodbye to my family (Jamie's new Godfather Sebastian is pictured with him above), his Godmother Vicky, other Godfather Wee John, Vanessa, his lordship and I headed down to Wee John's family's holiday home near the Irish border on Tuesday afternoon.

Located on Boa Island (yes, a real island) in County Fermanagh, it is quite a place with more bedrooms, toilets and showers than even the Queen would require. One would hope.

With Jamie's Grandma Judy and Granddad Mike joining us from stage six of their ongoing holiday to literally hold the baby whilst the rest of us "youngsters" (we wish) played, we took in Donegal Town...

...St John's Point...
...Lusty Beg...
...and, on each occasion, went straight home afterwards for a cup of tea and a slice of Jamie Cake. All very civil, very relaxed and nothing untoward happened at all.

And if you believe that, loyal readers, you'll be believe anything. Unfortunately, I now have the grass to cut before the British & Irish Lions run out for the first game of their South African tour at 2pm. Oh, and then there's the FA Cup Final at 3pm - thank goodness for Sky+.

But, if you care to come back tomorrow, I'll tell you some of the fun stuff then.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Happy Anniversary (to us)

By the time you read this, the Whites and several others will be in deepest Fermanagh, on the border with the Irish Republic, doing as little and drinking as much (Jamie excepted) as possible.

One of the reasons we intend to have a little tipple is because, on this day four years ago, Vanessa and I were married.

I was recently searching for an old Word file on this PC and stumbled across my wedding speech.

As bridegroom's speeches go, it is perhaps a touch on the long side. Indeed, if my memory serves me correctly, our friend Fran won the sweepstake with a guess of 28 minutes. But that included numerous gift presentations and you'll be able to read it much more quickly than that, trust me.

I have taken one or two superfluous bits out but I've also added a few little explanatory notes in brackets so you know who I'm referring to as we go along.

I hope you find it mildly amusing. And if not, at least you'll be glad you didn't have to sit through Wee John's effort as best man.


I’ve always said I would never begin my wedding speech with this phrase but

“On behalf of my wife and I…welcome to what is - so far at least - the best day of our lives.”

I must begin by thanking Geoff (Vanessa’s dad) for proposing his toast. As I do so many of Vanessa’s family, I regard Geoff as a mate. Not just because he has been so good to us as long as we’ve been together. He’s also a mate because we need each other. We’re both nerds.

I first met Geoff in the House of Commons and, as the Yorkshire folk here are well aware, he, like me, is a political junkie. This has meant that we have spent possibly hundreds of hours at countless dinners over the last eight years boring the arse off everyone else present – especially Hannah (Vanessa’s sister).

But it’s been a release and an education for me – and I’m very grateful for that. I would like to thank him for his kind words and I promise not to let him down.

And I give the same pledge to Judy and Mike (Vanessa’s mum and stepdad). I’ve never been one for taking drink to steady my nerves. (I took a sip of whiskey at this point – ho ho).

But I remember very well forcing Vanessa into the Fox and Hounds in Horsforth for a couple of swifties before going to meet Judy and Mike for the first time. But they couldn’t have been kinder when it came to it – and this has continued throughout.

We both appreciate everything you have done, especially today for without your help today would not have happened.

The invitations, orders of service, menu cards – all down to Mike. It is also Mike who got us access to this building (we were in a Masonic hall – I know). Thanks for everything.

And Judy, who made the favours for the ladies present here today, the bridesmaids’ dresses – and Vanessa’s dress.

I could spend half an hour saying how grateful we are Judy but I hope you already know. However, for what is worth – probably not very much given that Vanessa bought it – we have a little token to say thanks (then I gave her a pot plant – keep reading).

I should point out to the more observant guests that we know mothers are supposed to get flowers but Judy’s just about to go away on holiday – which was why we got her something different. Mind your own business.

Then there’s my own family. Thanks first for coming all this way. It takes about half an hour to fly here from Northern Ireland. We’re very grateful for you giving up so much of your time.

But seriously, I’m very proud of all of you and I hope you’re all equally proud today. Particular thanks to Jacquie for delivering the reading in true professional style. And Vanessa’s got something for you mum – and yes, they ARE flowers.

Before I move on to the bridal party, there are a few others we would like to briefly thank.

Although he’s not here, I would like to place on record our thanks to David Hall and everyone else at the Grove Methodist Church for doing such a great job today.

To Chris (Vanessa’s stepbrother) and Fran (our friend who eventually fell over and broke her camera) for agreeing to take the photos and to Colin (my friend), who didn’t agree to do the video but who went ahead with it anyway.

To Andrew and Dawn here at the Lodge (i.e. the Masonic hall). I think the only people who were more enthusiastic than us about this wedding were them. But we are very grateful – and I’m glad Andrew that I was able to keep my part of the bargain (I got him a bottle of Black Bush).

And to you, our guests. We’re grateful to each and every one of you for coming along – and especially those who bought us presents. I can’t tell you how much they mean to us – but I should have a better idea after the honeymoon once we’ve had them valued.

To those who didn’t buy us a present, you’ll find our address on your invitations. We accept bulky items and cash.

Thanks to our ushers, Jonathan (Vanessa’s brother) and Graham (my friend who has since emigrated – read on, if you’re still here).

I also remember very clearly the first time I met Jonathan, it was in a pub on Baker Street. Vanessa was a bit nervous about the whole thing as Jonathan apparently had something of a reputation for being a little “defensive” of his little sister when it came to meeting her new men.

So I thought I would show him I was different from all the rest, how kind I was, by bringing along a gift for Vanessa. Something symbolic of Northern Ireland, part of our national dress in fact. I bought Vanessa her very own black balaclava.

Looking back on it, I think the only reason Jonathan didn’t punch me was in case I pulled a gun. Anyway, I’m glad you didn’t. Thanks for that Jonathan, and thanks for doing such a great job today.

I would also like to thank Jack (nephew), our pageboy. Jack’s growing into a fine little English gentleman – at least he looks like one today.

We have something for you both.

And Graham. Hayley, Graham’s wife of a couple of months, was my best friend when I was a student in Newcastle 15 years ago. We lost touch for a while but found each other again. And I’m very thankful for that. Not just because she means a lot to me, but because it allowed me to meet Graham. Hayley was my best friend in Newcastle. They are now my joint best friends in Leeds.

I hate to be anything other than happy on a day like today, but one sad note – for Vanessa and me certainly. We’ll have to make the most of having them with us today as they’ll not be with us for much longer.

In a few months, Graham, Hayley and their little boy Cleve will be emigrating to Australia. Vanessa and I will miss you like members of our own family – which the three of you have certainly become. As for today, though, thanks Graham for your ushering and, in particular, for your singing.

The bridesmaids – how can I best describe them? Hannah – lovely but scary. Jane (Vanessa’s friend since school days) – lovely but scary. Nicole (Vanessa’s friend since university days) – lovely. Louise (since emigrated - visited us a few weeks ago) – scary. Holly (niece) – too early to tell. Quite a combination. Thanks to each of you for doing your bit today and for not spoiling our photos.

I’m sure none of you will mind me singling out Louise for a special word. For those of you who don’t know Louise – I’m only talking to the ladies here I think – Louise has travelled from Sydney, Australia to be with us here today.

Vanessa and I are genuinely privileged, honoured, all those drippy things, that you’ve come. You’ve been a good friend of mine for a long time and a great friend of Vanessa’s for much longer. We love you loads and we thank for you for coming all this way.

We have presents for each of the bridesmaids.

Rodney (my mate), our Master of Ceremonies, my Groomsman and the man with probably the biggest hair on show today. I didn’t realise, until we started planning this wedding, that you tend not to have a groomsman on this side of the water. And when I looked into it further, I discovered that there is a very good reason for this – he doesn’t actually do anything.

I was discussing this very point with my great friend Geoff Walls (met at big school) last weekend and asked him what Mark (met at primary school), his groomsman, did at Geoff and Karen’s wedding a couple of months ago. Geoff said that his only instruction to Mark was to ensure that his wine glass was full at all times. So there’s another job for you Rodney. Thanks in advance for doing that and for everything else you’ve done today. It’s very much appreciated.

And (Wee) John, my best man. John is the most unreliable person I know, well at least he was until the last few months. He has taken the whole best man thing incredibly seriously.

John organised the best stag weekend any man could have wished for a couple of weeks ago – other then my spine damage, sore arse and pink hair.

Most of all, though thanks to you John for being my best mate for what seems like an eternity. I’m not going to enter into the detail of some of the experiences we’ve had together, and I hope very much that John doesn’t either in a couple of minutes. But you know I’m grateful and I think, over the course of our two lives, we’re just about quits – although I’m certain you’re still a round down. Thanks and we’ve got a present for you and for Rodney.

And finally, the reason why I’m standing here – Vanessa.

It was Tuesday 17 June 1997, the day of the second ballot for the leadership of the Conservative Party. I’m sure you remember it well.

I arranged to meet up with someone who can only described as my mentor over the last nine years, Roy Beggs (former MP for East Antrim – wrote about him last week) – good to see you and Wilma here today – and walk across to a Virgin drinks reception in Westminster. We had a quick chat with John Major on the way and then a quick chat with Richard Branson once we got there – those were the days - before we finally reached the drinks tray.

Oh dear, they only served wine and I didn’t do wine. So I picked up an orange juice. Roy asked why I wasn’t drinking and I explained.

“Barry, son,” he said as one of surely a thousand pieces of good advice during my time in London, “you’ll never survive here unless you drink wine. It’s an acquired taste. After about 10, you’ll be wondering what all the fuss was about.” Wise words.

A couple of hours later and not quite 10 glasses of wine but closer to 10 than 6, I staggered into the House of Commons Sports & Social Club for a pint of something I was more familiar with.

The sequence of events from this point on are a little hazy and not desperately dramatic but it basically involved a Bonny Langford lookalike – who turned out to be Jane - laughing at my name badge – as it appeared on my security pass hanging round my neck. She then told a Zoe Ball lookalike – who turned out to be Vanessa – who got involved in the conversation. Then we all sat down together and talked for several hours over beer. I can barely remember a word of it other than the fact that I almost bored Vanessa to tears with tales of Northern Ireland politics. Who said romance was dead?

However when I woke up the next morning – alone, I hasten to add, on Roy’s bed sofa to be accurate – I came across a piece of paper in my wallet with Vanessa’s name and about 16 numbers scrawled on it. She was obviously playing it very cool.

I gave her a call and we arranged to meet the following week, and the following week, then we went to a concert and that was about that.

Thanks goodness.

And so marriage it now is.

I’m one of those people who likes to learn from others, people who know better than me, people with real experience of a particular situation or institution, before I go into it myself. My entry into marriage has been no different.

My favourite insight, uncovered after many weeks of research, comes from, one of my all-time heroes, one of the greatest living philosophers, a true man’s man. It comes from Homer Simpson.

When asked what marriage was like, Homer responded: “Marriage is like being married to your best friend. And he lets you play with his boobs.” I’m looking forward to many happy years.

Vanessa is the best thing that’s ever happened to me, she’s everything to me and I love her. Thank goodness, in fact, that her only flaw appears to be her taste in men but I’m delighted that I am the one to benefit.

Anyway, I thank you for your attention, I thank you all for coming and do please make a point of enjoying yourself for the rest of the day.

And then we all went off to dance to our Mr Bean tribute DJ.
We're back from Northern Ireland on Saturday when normal service will be resumed.

Monday, 25 May 2009

The christening

Boy, I'm rough - perhaps the 14 hours of drinking played a part.

But it was a great day yesterday. Indeed, it was flawless.

Jamie was almost well behaved during the ceremony despite the minister playing havoc with his hair by dousing it in about a gallon and a half of Holy water.

The star of the formal bit was my little nephew and Jamie's proud godfather Sebastian who did his reading brilliantly. It was only afterwards that I admitted to him that I wouldn't have been brave enough to do it had I been in his shoes.

Then it was off to Johnstons Bar for the christening party which, again, couldn't have been better - thanks to Clare Johnston and to Susan for that.
And what about the (chocolate fudge) cake?! My mum organised it with a local baker and no-one would dare touch the half featuring Jamie's face. But rest assured, I will do a lot of damage to it in the days ahead.

The final part of the day was Detective Inspector Fitzpatrick's barbecue in Portstewart. He even bought some hair in for the event.

Drunk boy for the occasion was Wee John but, given his teeny tininess, it was hardly a shock. Still, where there's a problem there's obviously an opportunity and it was one I was determined not to miss.
Oh, and there was also the karaoke.

As for the rest of the week, we're due to head off on a boat trip later today courtesy of Wee John's larger-than-life brother-in-law Big Tony (above right). And tomorrow, we head to Fermanagh for a few days of fun on the lakes.

Thursday in particular will be a special day and, although I won't be able to access a computer again until Saturday, I have written a new post which will miraculously appear here at one minute past midnight on Thursday morning.

I'm now off to find a life jacket (and some headache tablets).

Friday, 22 May 2009

Ready to brave the water

We're (almost) all packed up with very definitely somewhere to go - the christening week of James Richard White (why settle for a day if you can find an excuse for seven?)

We set sail from Liverpool at 10.30 tonight, are scheduled to dock in Belfast eight hours later and, all things being equal, will be in Coleraine in time for breakfast. But there will won't be time for putting our feet up. Hell no.

First it'll be off to Portstewart to park Jamie with my mum for a few hours whilst Vanessa and I visit Tesco to get the food in for the post-christening gathering on Sunday. And then we have to prepare it (that's a posh way of saying we have to make a load of sandwiches).

The next step will be to rendezvous with several friends and family members who will already have made it across from this side of the Irish Sea, before gathering up Jamie once again to head down to the West Strand beach for the annual Portrush Raft Race, stopping en route at the dodgems (for the adults) and mini-rides (for anyone called Jamie).

Then it'll be dinner tomorrow night in Coleraine, early down to The Loft on Sunday morning to get the party food laid out, the christening itself (do you like his outfit?), back to the bar, re-park Jamie at my mum's, a change of clothes and off to Detective Inspector Fitzpatrick's barbecue to the wee small hours.

Monday is set aside for partial recovery coupled with sight-seeing for guests. And, on Tuesday, the Whites and several others will head to Wee John's family's holiday home in Fermanagh - complete with bar and big screen - for a few days of who knows what. I know the Champions League Final is in there somewhere (does anyone know where I can find a Barcelona scarf?) I would imagine we'll need another holiday the following week to get over it all.

Despite failing dismally to update the blog last weekend when I was back for the North West 200, I will try very hard to get on my mum's PC on Monday to stick up a few words and pictures from the christening.

We all hope Sunday will be a very memorable day. (I've even made a personal pledge to "go easy" in the early part of proceedings in order to guarantee I remember at least something about it).

PS I fear all this christening chat has made Jamie nervous. He's just done his third poo of the day, and it's only lunchtime.

Thursday, 21 May 2009

Hot air and blond hair

Staying briefly on the theme of politics, one of the many changes the politically correct New Labour Government brought to the Palace of Westminster in 1997 was the replacement of the age-old gentlemen's barber shop with a new unisex hairdressing salon. And, as you might imagine, many honourable and right honourable gentlemen were far from pleased.

I remember discussing this with one of them at the time and he told me a wonderful little story about Enoch Powell (above), the controversial Conservative turned Ulster Unionist MP who will be forever remembered for his notorious 1968 "rivers of blood" speech.

The House of Commons barber was, according to my man, very chatty and saw it as part of his job to keep his clientele fully entertained whilst on the job (you know what I mean). But Powell was something of a cold fish and not prone to conversation if he did not regard it as worth his while.

One day, Powell placed himself in the barber's chair and stared straight ahead into the mirror without uttering a peep.

With a big smile on his face, the barber arrived with his cloth and scissors and bellowed:

"Good morning Mr Powell! And how would you like your hair cut today?"

Without as much as blinking, Powell replied darkly:

"In complete silence."

And no doubt it was.

This story is an admittedly tenuous link to the fact Jamie has just added another element to his already very lengthy bedtime routine - he has his hair blow-dried.

Regular readers of this rubbish will know that Jamie's has had a cold for most of his 11-months of life and clearly Vanessa and I want to try and stop his bad run. And as his hair's got longer, so it's obviously become more difficult to dry it properly after his bath before putting him down to (not) sleep.

We have been considering for a few weeks whether to chance a haircut before his christening. But he does look cute with it a little long and neither Vanessa nor I trust ourselves with a pair of scissors - particularly in advance of his big day.

Vanessa first got the blow-drier out last weekend when I was away and I missed his first couple of bedtimes earlier this week because of work. So last night was the first time I got to see how he responded to his latest bit of pampering.

Needless to sat, he was very enthusiastic, his nose occasionally pointing snootily in the air whilst the brush was running through his locks.

If we ever do get the BBQ summer weather we've all been promised, I fear it will be a very short time before he demands his own personal fan - waved by one of his exhausted parents.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

Politics can be a Ball

I achieved something of an ambition this afternoon when I took part in one of those ICM telephone surveys answering questions like whether I thought Gordon Brown should call an election and how would I vote when it was eventually held. I really should raise my personal horizons.

But politics can be fun and I can offer no better illustration of this than to tell you about my old friend and mentor Roy Beggs.

Although I haven't seen them for exactly a year, Roy and his lovely wife Wilma are coming to Jamie's christening on Sunday and I spoke to him yesterday to confirm the details. Still a councillor in his beloved Larne, Roy was the Member of Parliament for East Antrim from 1983 until the last election in 2005.

Thanks to my mother, Roy's brother Edmund and a piece of broccoli, he gave me my first chance to work in politics in August 1996 when he employed me as his constituency-based Parliamentary Assistant.

I remained in post until June 1997 when I moved to Westminster to run the Ulster Unionist office in the House of Commons. And for the next six years - the last three with Roy as Chief Whip - I literally had the time of my life, with the great man invariably at the heart of the fun.

For example, the picture above was taken I think 11 years ago at a BBC Radio 1 reception - Roy is on the right. After telling Zoe Ball that I thought her and Vanessa looked alike (to which Ms B said she thought that was an insult to Vanessa who, by implication, would therefore also resemble Martin Clunes), we had a pint with her fellow DJs Mark and Lard in the next door bar whilst John Peel gazed in through the window. All very surreal.

But my favourite Roy incident actually took place whilst I was still working in his Larne office. In addition to the kitchen, there were two separate downstairs rooms in the building with Roy and I sharing the front room and his other staff Ian and Beth sharing the back room.

The IRA security threat was high at that time and the building was kitted out with bullet-proof glass and security cameras, the latter enabling us to see who was at the door when the bell rang.

On one particular day, the bell went and I looked up to the monitor to spy three women waiting to get in. Ian opened the door and took them through to the back room to enquire what Roy could do to help. And about five minutes later, he knocked on our door to ask if I could come and have a word with them, which I did, before returning to inform Roy of the situation.

"OK, Roy," said me to him. "We have the Adams family next door, a mother and her two daughters." (I call them the Adams family because that was their name).

"Each of them are pregnant and each of them wants a house. What will I tell them?"

From the middle of a huge white cloud of cigarette smoke, Roy took off his half-moon glasses and looked up at me blankly.

"Let me get this right," he said in a measured tone. "The Adams family. A mother and two daughters. They're all pregnant. And they want a house. Each. What will you tell them?"

"That's right Roy," came my reply. "What will I tell them?"

Roy paused, face still expressionless. And then came out with what I have since regarded as the best one-liner I've ever heard.

"Tell them to keep their f***ing legs closed!"

And that was that. He put his glasses back on, put his head back down and got on with what he was doing, leaving me to return next door to explain that Mr Beggs would of course be "delighted" to write on their behalf to the Northern Ireland Housing Executive but there were "no guarantees" etc etc.

It'll be nice to see him in church on Sunday.

Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Preparing to wet the baby's head

An added bonus of being home last weekend was that it gave me the opportunity to sort out a few bits and pieces in advance of Jamie's christening on Sunday.

Given that we were married here in Yorkshire, Vanessa had the bright idea halfway through her pregnancy that our son or daughter to be should be smattered with water back in Northern Ireland. Clearly I was only too happy to agree.

The service will take place in St Mary's Church, Macosquin, the little village where I spent the first 10 years of my life. And it holds some very happy memories.

The two of us went to meet the very down-to-earth minister there, the Rev Mike Roemmelle, back in January and he couldn't have been more accommodating. And on Sunday, Vanessa's mum, stepdad Mike, my dad and nephew Sebastian (pictured above) came with me for the morning service.

Sebastian's presence was particularly significant. Now 11 years old, he was born with congenital heart disease and has had some very difficult periods in his life thus far. But he's come through them incredibly well and is already one of the great characters I've met.

To give you an example, he arrived at my dad's door the other day - before school I think. On making it through to the living room, he turned to his grandfather and announced dryly:

"I need your chair, the remote control and something to eat. Is that too much to ask?" Needless to say it wasn't.

Alongside, my tiny friend Wee John, Sebastian has agreed to be Jamie's godfather (our friend Vicky is to be his godmother) and it really has added an extra and very special dimension to what we all hope will be a very memorable occasion in five days' time.

The Rev Mike briefly referred to Sebastian during his sermon on Sunday. But, when the three of us spoke after the service, the minister very gently asked him if he would be prepared to do a short reading during the christening. Sebastian agreed, albeit with a little bit of understandable hesitation. "I don't want to get stage fright," he explained.

I sent him a text on my way home emphasising the fact that he was under no pressure from anyone to read if he really didn't fancy it. But, later that evening, I received a response essentially saying that, because I had run the marathon for him last year, giving a little speech at Jamie's christening was the least he could do.

Sebastian doing a reading would be incredible and would undoubtedly bring the house down. But, as they say, it's the thought that counts. And, by agreeing to be Jamie's godfather, he's already more than done his bit in our eyes.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Bit of a dampener

More than 24 hours on and I'm still wrecked.

Jamie had me up at 5am this morning and then tonight showed me his ever-developing ability to wrestle - whilst I was trying to put his nappy on. And then his vest. And his sleepsuit. Oh, and his Slumbersac. Brilliant. It's just as well I'm such a laid back type of character (ahem).

Anyway, back to the long weekend just gone.

The principal reason for the trip was to attend the final practice session and then raceday of the 2009 North West 200, the world's biggest, fastest and best motorcycle roadrace event.

I was also there last year and had a great time. But this year, neither I nor the 120,000-odd other spectators were so fortunate. The weather was horrible, the races were continually stopped after riders fell off and, tragically, one young rider - 23-year-old Mark Young from Cookstown - lost his life after crashing out at high speed in the first race.

These things happen in roadracing - local legend Robert Dunlop was killed on the same section of the course between Coleraine and Portrush last year - but it is shocking nonetheless and obviously very, very sad for his family and everyone connected with the event.

On a happier note, being out all day Saturday with my dad (above left) and Vanessa's stepdad Mike made the venture worthwhile. Mike is bike mad and still rides his monster BMW machine around Yorkshire and beyond when he has the time and the strength to wheel it out of his garage. And the howling wind created a readymade excuse for my dad to drink copius amounts of brandy and port on his arrival home. It was an excuse he didn't waste.

Vanessa's mum Judy joined us three men (ROAR!...beat chest...etc... etc... ) on Friday for a trip round the pits area of the course in Portstewart. Admittedly it wouldn't really have been her ideal choice for a day out but one little episode undoubtedly made it memorable (although probably did little to cure her sleeping problem).

Like most people, I had heard of the so-called Wall Of Death which apparently used to be a common feature on fairgrounds in days past. But I'd never seen anyone motorcycle around one in anger. On Friday the four of us put that right. It genuinely was one of the maddest things I've ever witnessed. Indeed at times it scared the bejeezuz out of me. Thankfully none of the three bikers in the show - a father and his two sons - had as much as a scrape on them afterwards. But, for the life of me, I can't remotely understand how.

Sunday, 17 May 2009

A rollercoaster weekend

I'm literally just back through the door after four hectic days of eating, drinking, playing, organising, planning, dashing and quite a lot of standing.

And there's much to tell as a result - although I'm just too wrecked to tell it so, for now, you'll have to make do with a comedy photo.

With apologies for that and for not being able to update the site on Friday as I'd hoped, I'll begin the story tomorrow evening.

Meanwhile, I'm off for food, Britain's Got Talent and bed.

Night, night.

Wednesday, 13 May 2009

Bestie involved in tear-up

Whilst I was delighted a few weeks ago to see Jamie's first teeth "Chip and Dale" take up residence in his bottom jaw followed soon afterwards by "Healy," his new front man, the situation has just moved on.

For "Bestie" - Healy's partner up front - is now almost with us and his influence is already causing problems for Daddy's defence. (Just tell me at any time if you're bored with this metaphor and I'll stop).

Yesterday morning, Jamie put his head on my arm and a couple of seconds later I felt a sharp pain in my bicep.

Any thought that he'd bitten me was quickly dismissed as Chip, Dale and Healy are all still quite small and Jamie hasn't yet been showing any real signs of wanting to bite things. Like arms.

That was until last night when he ripped a big chunk out of his bath time sponge (above) whilst having a soak. Further examination of his mouth then revealed the presence of Bestie, who had nipped in unseen to make his mark (I'll keep going if you've got the time).

Then stupidly early this morning during 90 minutes of wrestling in the spare room, he came at me on several occasions like Hannibal the Cannonball (as my late grandmother would no doubt have referred to yer scary man behind the glass) mouth open, jaws chomping.

As I wrote last night, I'm heading off in the morning for a long weekend of motorbikes (and hydration) - so he can now chew on Vanessa instead.

PS In case you've nothing better to do, I will try to access my mum's computer for a few minutes on Friday to let you know how things are going at the North West. Be good until then or, if you're riding a motorbike, be safe.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

On the grid for the North West 200

As I write this with one eye (and two fingers), I'm keeping the other eye on the BBC's live web coverage of this year's first North West 200 practice session.

If you've never heard of the North West 200, it's the fastest motorcycle road race in the world and now Ireland's largest sporting event with upwards of 120,000 spectators expected to crowd around the nine-mile Portstewart-Coleraine-Portrush circuit on Saturday.

I'm heading across on Thursday morning to join Vanessa's mum Judy and stepdad Mike for the final practice session and then the races themselves two days later.

As a kid growing up in Coleraine, it was a significant event but not of the global renown it is these days. So far tonight, the BBC commentators have read out e-mails from web watchers in the USA, New Zealand, Australia, China, Japan and Malaysia plus all parts of Europe.

It's obviously brilliant PR for the wee part of the globe where I come from (and not just because a friend of mine is in charge of the PR) and something that I now dare not miss.

Click on to for the BBC coverage including live streaming of practice from 6pm on Thursday and from 11am on Saturday for the full seven-race programme.

If I tell you that the fastest superbikes go through the speedtrap on the way to Coleraine at 200mph (and these are public roads I'm talking about), you might regard it as worth your while.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Suck up and see

I bought something today which began to make me worry but now I think I might be alright.

The item in question is a handheld Dirt Devil which I managed to lay my hands on for less than half price (mainly because it was almost certainly stolen).

We've been needing one of these for a while. As you might imagine, Jamie tends to leave a trail of mess wherever he's been and it can be a little wearing to have to get the full-on vacuum cleaner out every time it happens.

Or perhaps I'd better put that another way. Jamie tends to leave a trail of mess wherever he's been and it can be a little wearing for Vanessa to have to get the full-on vacuum cleaner out every time it happens.

I'm not really big on cleaning, see. I cook lots - each of the last three nights - iron all my own clothes and often some of Vanessa's (no medals please). But I'm just not that motivated on the tidying and cleaning front, despite having spent six summers sweeping streets, emptying bins and cleaning toilets as a proud casual employee of Coleraine Borough Council.

Vanessa bought a handheld vac thing from Asda some time ago but, because she's a tight Yorkshire lass, it was cheap rubbish and can hardly pick up a smell never mind a heap of Farley's Rusk crumbs.

So when I saw the Dirt Devil in a dodgy Bradford shop at lunchtime, I had no hesitation in paying the necessary ransom fee (in cash, of course).

But, as I approached our front door several hours later feeling rather pleased with myself, it suddenly dawned on me that my decision might backfire. What if Vanessa preferred a bunch of flowers? Or a giant Toblerone? Or a cushion?

So I came in tonight, I gave her the bag with my purchase in it and waited for her reaction. Would she shout at me and demand an assurance that I would do my bit? Would she make me sign something to ensure I did? Or would she just shake her head and say nothing? It was actually quite a neutral reaction, as it turned out. Not hostile, but certainly not excitable. Fair enough, thought I, could be worse.

But when I returned to the living room about 15 minutes later after getting out of my work clothes, she was on all fours, trying to place her, sorry, "our" new toy into the recharger (it's cordless, don't you know) which was already plugged into the wall. And when she managed it, a red light suddenly appeared to show that she'd been successful and, guess what? She cooed, like a little birdie. I haven't seen her so happy in days.

Clearly, I would not wish her to know that I think she's pleased because it's "obviously" a shared house resource, not something that I would expect only her to use.

But if only she did use it, I wouldn't be unhappy. Not one little bit.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

Fishing for a friend

Following the excitement of a few weeks ago when Jamie met a big chicken, today he had an altogether different experience. He met a big fish.

We were at Tropical World in Leeds and, as you can see above, our boy made the initial running as the big fish tried to play it a bit cool.

But eventually, the big fish cracked and made his (or her) way down to see him.

And, by the end, they seemed equally fascinated with each other. Either that or the big fish was simply trying to stare him out.

Whatever the truth, Vanessa and I were later happy to offer Jamie an assurance that he was better looking than the big fish. Just.

Saturday, 9 May 2009

A brief encounter with Asda man

There was a very touching little cameo moment in our local Asda this morning.

I was pushing Jamie around in his pram, basket balanced on its hood, as I gathered up a few bits for tonight's tea.

He was having a whale of a time, smiling at all and sundry and offering high fives to anyone who appeared remotely interested in him.

We got as far as the vegetable aisle and I parked him up to go in search of one of those "medleys" that save you so much trouble when you can't be arsed. When I came back, a 60-plus-year-old grey-haired shelf-stacker was standing over him with Jamie grinning back manically.

"Do you want to swap places with me?" asked Asda man in a nicely spoken Southern Irish accent. Jamie continued to grin.

"Do you want to swap places with me?" enquired Asda man again. Jamie kept grinning.

"Do you want to swap places with me?" came the question for a third and final time.

Jamie, looking him right in the eye, smiled once again before letting out a ear-splitting yelp and sticking both arms in the air.

"No, son," replied the man with a tinge of sadness in his voice. "I wouldn't if I was you." And then he wandered off, pushing a huge stack of crates crammed with vegetables.

Given the chance, I'll bet he could tell a story or two.

Friday, 8 May 2009


It's difficult to know how to properly punish a 10-month-old little boy for keeping his mummy and daddy up for most of the night by refusing to go to sleep.

But then it came to us - put an embarrassing picture of him dressed as Tigger up on a website for all to see.

I hope it teaches him a lesson.

In fact, just to make sure - have another one.

Let's see him try to explain these to his wife and children (or "partner and pets" - who knows what lies ahead) in years to come.

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Meet Mr Party

We've had another new addition to the family and his name is Mr Party.

Although he may sound like a clown, a naff magician or a mobile disco DJ, he is actually a chair - or a "booster seat," to give him his proper title. And as his name suggests, he's foreign made (probably by an "amusing" Belgian).

Although we have a high chair here at home for Jamie and his Grandma Judy has one for when he's visiting her and his Grandad Mike, there are still times when it's useful to have something to plunk him into when we're out and about and he needs to eat (especially now that his bum has outgrown his Bumbo - which I think is a little ironic).

So I went looking for a booster seat this lunchtime. And after brief stops at Argos and Mothercare, I found Mr Party in TK Maxx for the tidy sum of two tenners - £15 less than the Recommended Retail Price (I'm a sucker for things like that).

I'm also a bit gullible when it comes to the blurb on the boxes of potential purchases, but who could fail to be impressed by the remarkable capabilities of Mr Party as outlined on his packaging?

For example, he has not one but two "adjustable straps" which can be "easily and safely fixed to the chair." Good stuff.

Mr Party is "adjustable to three different positions to the follow the child's growth." Forward-thinking - I like it.

He has a "practical, adjustable and removable tray." An altogether flexible new friend, I'm sure you'll agree.

He comes with his very own "attractive food container" - brilliant - which is "dishwasher and microwave safe" AND "can be slotted into the back of the seat for easy storage." Seriously, could Mr Party be any more exciting? I'm delighted to tell you the answer is a resounding yes.

For he also has a "three-point safety belt to provide extra safety" and an "adjustable shoulder strap" which "makes it easy" for us to carry Mr Party around.

But I've left the best till last - you'll love this.

Mr Party's "bear shape and lively colours" make him both "fun and attractive." And so says all of me.

Sadly, because I was in a bit of a rush tonight, I haven't yet had the chance to introduce Jamie to Mr Party. But I'm sure he will be pleased.

And hopefully so will I - when I actually get round to opening the box.

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Pies and fries

One of the most important responsibilities parents have is to ensure their sprog or sprogs "eat properly."

At the beginning, it's easy - get as much milk down them as you can because, as all the books insist, "baby will tell you when he's had enough" (or, to be more specific, vomit on you).

But, as they get older and move on to solids, the challenge gets more difficult. For, not only do you have to try to get the right amount down them, but you also have to get the right sort of food down them. That, in modern parlance, means "healthy food."

Vanessa has been very good at this. Indeed, sometimes I come home and half expect a vegetable rather than a son to be sitting in the high chair having his tea.

However, babies - like the rest of us - are obviously temperamental and sometimes fancy something a little different from the norm. This morning provided a fine example of this.

Vanessa was doing her best to shovel Weetabix down Master White's gullet but he just wasn't in the mood. The first reaction - at least from me - was to think, "he's off his food, he can't be well, shall we call the doctor?" But then I noticed Jamie's eagle eye locked on to the pancake I was holding in my hand. Hmmm.

So I gave him a bit. And a pancake and a half later, I sped off for my train as he called out for more.

Do you know how healthy pancakes are? Not as healthy as Weetabix, I would have thought, but what do you do? Surely it was better to give him some pancake than leave him with an empty tum.

I tell you all of this because, on Friday, I was reminded of one of the dangers that Yorkshire poses for Jamie in the years ahead. The picture above was taken in a pub in Leeds as Wee John and I waited for a train to Sheffield. Yes, it was an impressive menu but with a definite theme - and even I know that pies aren't generally regarded as "healthy food."

Not that I would wish to stereotype Yorkshire folk or owt (see what I did there?), but pies are popular in Yorkshire. In fact, they're very popular. As is gravy. Oh, and chips.

That being the case, we're going to have to continue to teach our little man some food discipline. And as this morning showed, it isn't necessarily going to be easy - particularly as he gets more headstrong.

But, there again, matters could be even worse. And I sum this up in two short words.

Ulster Fry.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Like father, oh mother

Thankfully for him, Jamie has inherited none of my looks. But on the flip side, he appears to have picked up my restlessness.

An old school friend once labelled me "Bee-In-The-Bum-Barry" and most people could see what she meant for I'm not very good at doing cool, calm and collected.

And tonight provided a perfect illustration of why I fear Master White is made out of at least some of the same highly-strung material. His bedtime routine was as normal and I put him down in his cot, ready to watch him drift off. But he had other ideas.

He pulled himself on to his feet, dangled his arms over the side of the cot and smiled manically. I put him down again. He reached up for a high five. I carried him over to a chair to nurse him to sleep. He lay and cackled at me. I took him downstairs to see if a bit of Champions' League football would do the trick. He battered me round the face with both fists, stopping every so often for a celebratory high five. His mother had a go at settling him down. He laughed and high-fived her too.

Eventually, she dragged him off to bed and, an hour and a quarter after his normal bedtime, he went to sleep. Dear oh dear.

But whilst I do feel somewhat guilty and certainly sympathetic for my contamination of Jamie's otherwise hugely impressive genetic make-up, it hasn't exactly been easy for me either.

My mum retired not that long ago after a lifetime as a nurse. Since then, she's done a number of things of note including getting a new mad dog called Boris and becoming an IT whizz.

The following is an extract of an e-mail I received from her on Friday morning:

"Boris has been dragging his bum on the carpet and so I went on the Internet and discovered it was engorged anal glands, this is why they sniff bums. It said you could go to the vet or do it yourself so I thought why not.

"Unfortunately it was raining and so I did it in the house with great results - only thing is the house stinks. Still Boris is happy and I saved money - maybe I could advertise and do it for other folk's dogs. I'll try anything.

"Love Mum."

Hopefully you see my point.

Monday, 4 May 2009

Scooby Who?

It's not every day you get to meet a cartoon legend in your local supermarket but yesterday Jamie had that chance. And I'm still not entirely sure what he made of it.

Scooby Doo was making a personal appearance in Asda so I parked Jamie up in front of him to see what happened. And, well, nothing really did happen.

Jamie just stared at him with the blankest expression he could muster. The more he stared, the more the big old dog "Scooby-Dooby-Dooed" at him. But Jamie refused to break his stare. Some woman with Scooby (it must've been his agent) then planted a Scooby sticker on young White. But he decided against blinking in acknowledgement. So I just wheeled him away. Perhaps a Scooby Snack would have been prompted greater enthusiasm.

Following this little encounter, Uncle Wee John and I took Jamie to the park to spend time with some divorcees.

Sunday is access day for many estranged husbands in Pudsey and I allowed Uncle Wee John to play the role of dad.

First he took Jamie on the swings, beating his way past several studded and tattooed specimens to bag one. (Some of the dads also had tattoos).

Then he put Jamie on the roundabout.

And when it was all over, he handed the little boy over to another adult - in this case me - to be taken home for his tea. As I say, it was a common scene.