Thursday, 31 December 2009

Ending the year on a high

It is fitting that, on the day the 2009 New Year's Honours were announced, I tell you about a particularly special individual I had the great privilege of meeting on Monday afternoon.

Because if this man isn't suitably acknowledged by Her Majesty three years from now after what I believe will be gold at the 2012 London Olympics, then I'll eat something stiff and made out of fabric (I don't do hats).

I speak of Great Britain rowing star Alan Campbell who, a few months ago, won world championship silver in the single sculls.

I've written about Alan here several times before, most notably during last year's Beijing Olympics when he reached the final of his class despite suffering a serious infection which, after surgery, left him on crutches only weeks before the Games.

I went to the same school as Alan - Coleraine Inst - and have had the pleasure of meeting his delightful parents Jenny and William a handful of times before, both of whom are very friendly with and incredibly good to my vertically-challenged and eldest sister Jacquie (below centre).

And this boy is sheer class; not just in a boat, but also as a human being.

He's certainly one of the most determined sportsmen I've ever encountered - his achievement in beating the odds to line up in Beijing is obvious proof of that. However, equally important is the way he conducts himself.

Watching him do media interviews over the last number of years and also speaking to people who know him, I see and hear nothing but good. (And given the tales of what some other high profile sportsmen and women get up to these days, that is more than a little refreshing).

Jacquie knows what a huge fan I am of Alan and, when she heard he was back home in Coleraine for Christmas, she arranged for me to pop in to meet him at his family home.

It was a big surprise for me and I can't deny it wasn't a little embarrassing. He's more than eleven years younger than me, wouldn't have known me from, well, someone he didn't know and yet here was I sitting in his mum and dad's front room waiting to say hello. But, I mean, it was Christmas, the time of the year when most of us have strange people foist upon us when we'd probably rather be doing something else - so why not Alan too?!

And as expected, he was a total and complete star. I didn't say much, to be honest: I was too scared I'd get carried away and confirm my status as an idiot. So I just kind of smiled and nodded a lot. But he was very kind and friendly and, after Jenny and William shared lunch with Jacquie and me in their kitchen (it's not hard to work out why Alan has turned out the way he has), he even went outside to extract Jacquie's car from the frozen driveway (and, no, I don't think it was just because he wanted us to leave - don't be so cynical!)

I normally hate this fag end bit of the year when all that seems to lie ahead is January, the cold and Celebrity Big ****ing Brother. But I have to say, the short time I spent with Alan Campbell has seriously brightened my mood. He simply oozes positivity and brightness, and deserves every bit of success and recognition he gets.

Do please keep an eye out for him in 2010 and, indeed, right up to what will hopefully be his seven minutes of glory in the summer of 2012.

And, whatever you're doing, have a fun and safe night tonight.

Wednesday, 30 December 2009

All's well that ends well

Yes, we're back - and so, therefore, is this rubbish blog (sorry).

As for what's happened since we last "spoke," the answer is quite a lot in a very short space of time.

When we left each other on Christmas morning, the Whites were about to head across to Vanessa's brother Jonathan and our sister-in-law Helen's house for Christmas dinner. We're always grateful for any invitation, but for the two of them to invite us in at less than 24 hours notice following our Christmas Eve mishap was particularly kind. And it was a terrific day (pictured above) which we'll long appreciate.

Jamie ate his dinner like a horse (which was quite ironic, as Christmas hats tend to make his daddy's head look like that of a horse).

And then Cousin Jack generously gave him a significant share of his personal Christmas chocolate stash.

The only downside was that that monotonous old twonk Dagenham Dave also turned up (although, mercifully, only half of him).

So that was Christmas Day. The plan was then for Vanessa's mum Judy and stepdad Mike to very kindly drop us off at Manchester Airport on Boxing Morning before they then resumed their own plans and headed for Leicester. And that plan was going well for at least 10 minutes - until Jamie barfed up his entire bowl of breakfast porridge, all over himself and his car seat.

The poor boy was minging and, understandably, none too pleased. And we were left with no alternative but to swiftly get him out of his smeggy clothes and into some clean ones. By the side of a busy road. On top of a suitcase. Dignified it was not.

But then guess what? Nope, even worse I'm afraid. In the midst of all the trauma of the previous 36 hours, we discovered that Vanessa had forgotten to pack any clean trousers for him and we were forced to insert him into his pyjamas (still by the side of a busy road, on top of a suitcase). Thankfully, no-one at Manchester Airport seemed too bothered when we finally got there - and neither did he.

Next was lunch on the plane...

...before being picked up by his Granny White and Grandad Derek and, a short time later, deposited in the arms of Granda White.

Daddy then took Granda White to the Railway Arms where they met famed local Guinness drinker "President" (Mervyn) Kennedy (below right).

What happened during the remainder of Saturday evening is something of a mystery to your blogger.

But, on Sunday, I distinctly remember Grandad Derek very kindly taking Granny White, Auntie Sarah, Jamie and I to Portstewart Golf Club for tea (and a "cure")...

...before, back home, Grandad Derek flashed Jamie his tweety bird.

On Monday, it was "down the town" in Coleraine for me before going off to do something very special indeed - I'll tell you about that tomorrow.

And, finally, it was time for "Cottage Pie Double Surprise" at Granda Whites...

...the "Double Surprise" being that I made it and no-one was ill (at the time of writing).

The dessert was later served up by Jamie's lovely little (although growing by the day) Cousin Katie.

One especially welcome guest at Monday night's gathering was Mr John Gordon (below), a very good friend who wasn't supposed to see Christmas this year after an intensive battle with life-threatening cancer. Thankfully it was a battle he won hands down.

And that, my friends, is the moral of the Whites' Christmas 2009. Yes, we had our problems but, in short, our flight was delayed by 36 hours, we were spoilt throughout and no-one died. John's presence on Monday evening brought that home to me very graphically indeed - and served as yet another reason why I (and everyone else) was so pleased to see him.

I hope you also had an enjoyable and memorable few days.

Friday, 25 December 2009

But what do elves actually DO?

Jamie began his second Christmas by watching Bob The Builder, which was somewhat ironic. Because when it comes to fixing things, his daddy is no Bob The Builder - Mr Angry, maybe - and already today that fact has been underlined once again.

The items which required fixing this fine Christmas morn were Jamie's new tractor and trailer which were very kindly sorted out for him by Granny White.

I started with the tractor, which I thought would be the most difficult item of the two to build. And I did take much too long attaching the steering wheel - probably about ten times longer than a practical father would take - but, like Bob and to my great surprise, I got the job done.

However, the trailer was a very different story and that job is still very far from done. In simple terms (and, in theory, it should be a simple job), the first step is to attach a little stud thing to one end of the axle - with a hammer. But I'm not good with hammers (or screwdrivers, or pliers, or drills, or get the idea). And I just can't get it on and, as a result, everything is starting to bend (including my sense of reasoning).

I am going back to the fray again as soon as I finish this. But, whilst I was crashing and banging and swearing (all very loudly) earlier, something occurred to me.

Shouldn't one of Santa's elves have sorted this out for me, sorry, Jamie? Aren't they supposed to make the toys for Santa or, at least, help him make them - hence their description as Santa's Little Helpers?

Perhaps there's been a new law from Brussels or somewhere which has meant they're not pulling their little weights this Christmas. Maybe they're only allowed to work a maximum number of hours which, in the run-up to Christmas Eve, is far from practical to my mind. Maybe they're on a "go slow" protest following the dismissal of a lazy colleague. Or maybe they've refused to use sharp tools for elf and safety reasons (WAHEY!)

Whatever the truth, once a few weeks have passed and he's ready to start thinking about next year, I'm going to write to the big man to demand an explanation. And maybe, by then, I'll even have finished building Jamie's new trailer.

Hopefully he'll like it as much as he obviously does his new tractor.

Thursday, 24 December 2009

Some things are just not meant to be

Above you can see a picture of our bags and Jamie's folded up pram. But, sadly, they're not in Coleraine where they should be by now. They're actually in our kitchen.

We didn't get to go to Northern Ireland for Christmas after all, or at least not for Christmas Day.

Some five hours after our arrival in Leeds Bradford Airport this morning, we were finally informed that our plane would not be leaving that particular strip of tarmac. But should we wish to take our chances, we could spin the roulette wheel in Manchester another five hours from then. However, in true airline company speak, they "could not guarantee that [we] will be able to fly."

Jamie had been very good to that point, bless him. But there had been a few (perfectly understandable) tantrums and the idea of an elongated and crappy coach journey followed by another uncertain wait on an airport floor simply wasn't an option.

Since then, we've booked to hopefully get away on Boxing Day morning, albeit from Manchester.

I've been to Asda and Marks & Spencer to get food and other supplies.

I've had a word with Father Christmas to make sure he knows that Jamie isn't where he told the big man he was going to be on Christmas Eve.

And, tomorrow, we're off to Jamie's very kind Auntie Helen and Uncle Jonathan's to join what is always a terrifically fun traditional Christmas Day gathering.

So, you know, Christmas is far from being spoilt.

And, if Father Christmas does think Jamie has been a good boy this year (and who am I to tell?) maybe our little man will be much more cheery come the morning.

I'll therefore say it again and this time with extra enthusiasm - MERRY CHRISTMAS!!!

Wednesday, 23 December 2009

Can I interest you in a Christmas sing-song?

We fly off tomorrow morning to spend Christmas in Jamie's other home, known to the locals as Norn Iron.

I'll try and update this dross at least once before our return next Tuesday (29th).

But, until then, I leave you with The Whites' Festive Medley which you can access via the link below. (It took me ages to do so you'd better bloody access it - and don't forget to turn your speakers up!)


PS Even Gordon

Monday, 21 December 2009

Christmas comes but once a year - thankfully

I've reached that time of the year when I genuinely fear there may be more alcohol flowing through my veins than actual blood.

I had a big works do on Friday which finished in the wee small hours. Then, this afternoon, I was at a drinks party. Tomorrow is my office Christmas lunch. And finally, on Wednesday, I have another drinks thing.

Well, I say "and finally." But we're off to Coleraine on Thursday - Christmas Eve - to begin five days and nights of guaranteed carnage. And then Wee John's due up almost immediately for his traditional New Year backdropped "long stay."

Changes in January, folks, big changes - if I'm still alive, that is.

Vanessa and I arrived arrived back safely from Manchester first thing this morning after an "interesting" Pet Shop Boys concert (where much more drink was taken).

I say interesting because it was good rather than great. As Vanessa pointed out, at times it was like a watching a recording of Top of the Pops. All the music was pre-programmed (unsurprisingly, to be fair) and a lot of the vocals were also clearly on tape. Plus, the not full crowd was a bit flat and the sound wasn't great.

But, having said all of this, it was still a privilege to see them. And, my word, were they camp.

Above, you can see the four stage dancers wearing their lovely cardboard boxes (which both band members also came on stage donning)

Later the four bouncing cardboard boxes became four gyrating buildings.

And, to finish with, four swaying Christmas trees.

So, you know, it wasn't dull. Hopefully tomorrow's office Christmas lunch won't be either (unlike last year's which was held in a "dry" restaurant. I'm still struggling to get over that).

Sunday, 20 December 2009

Going West to see Neil Tennant and the other one

Assuming we get there in the current weather (and there's no guarantee on that), Vanessa and I are off to Manchester later for the the third and final leg of the Whites' Christmas Concert Triple-Header.

And hopefully we're saving the most spectacular till last, because it's the Pet Shop Boys.

I've only got two of their albums and one of those is their greatest hits CD. But they're one of those bands I've always wanted to see and, thankfully, Vanessa agreed to buy into the plan.

Indeed, rather than simply buy in, she decided to make it into something much more significant because tonight will be the first full night that both of us have spent away from Jamie. I've been away for a handful of nights over the last 18 months and so has Vanessa, but never together.

His Grandma Judy and Grandad Mike have the dubious honour of looking after him and it's obviously important that he's good if we're ever to get away again. Regular prayers are likely to be said.

But back to this hotel. Vanessa's got a well-deserved reputation for finding a good deal and she's managed to unearth a particularly bizarre one on this occasion. Basically, she got us into a rather plush establishment for the paltry sum of £20 (they'd run out of £10 rooms). But the catch is that you have to spend £75 in the restaurant, which doesn't open until 7pm and the support act is due on stage down the road at the MEN Arena only 30 minutes later.

We're not particularly worried about seeing the warm-up, only the main event. But we're still going to have to eat, drink and drink a bit more fairly swiftly if we're to make it on time. That said, I've faced many more unpleasant challenges than this down the years.

Now then, where's my pointy hat...

Saturday, 19 December 2009

Snow funny

We've had a lot of snow round our way, thus providing the perfect opportunity to drag Jamie outside into the fresh air - and away from the telly.

But I made a schoolboy error before taking him into our garden: I forgot to turn the telly off.

Still, we'll know for next time.

Friday, 18 December 2009

Time for tears as a legend signs off

Unless you live on another planet (and I appreciate many of you do), today was the day when Sir Terry Wogan broadcast his final breakfast show on Radio 2. And, I have to admit it, I'm still in bits.

Like so many millions of others, I've listened to Terry on and off for most of my life. And, since he confirmed his intention to give up his morning show a few months ago, I've been tuning in pretty much permanently.

But this week has been very hard for his loyal fans - goodness knows how it felt for him. Each passing morning obviously brought the inevitable sign-off ever closer. And, when it came at shortly before 9.30am today, it would have melted the heart of the devil.

As Terry himself said in his closing remarks, many of his listeners' children have had children of their own during his 37 years on the air. I, for one, began listening to Terry whilst my mother spoon fed me my Weetabix in the early 1970s. It was therefore particularly poignant for me to be feeding my own son his Weetabix as Terry was playing one of his final tracks. And it really brought home what a major deal it was that the great man was actually moving on.

It's hardly original to say it, but Sir Terry Wogan is truly a legend, will always be a legend and millions and millions of people like me will be eternally grateful to him for his part in brightening up our lives.

If you didn't get a chance this morning to hear him say goodbye, you should really have a listen by clicking onto the link below. And even if you did catch it, you may not have seen the pictures.

But I warn you, tears may well result.

Thursday, 17 December 2009

Something you'll have to wait for

This is the time of the year when children across the world are waiting for Father Christmas to arrive (we're well into single figures in terms of sleeps left now kids).

Meanwhile, parents are waiting for lots of different things. Gifts ordered online for spouses but which haven't yet arrived. Many (meany) parents are simply waiting for the entire festive season to be over (boo you!) And Vanessa and I are waiting to catch our son's new party trick on camera.

Yes folks, Jamie can now do the actions to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star." Well, he could yesterday morning. And he could do it particularly impressively on Tuesday, both at nursery and at home before bedtime. So, last night, I thought I'd get the camera out and capture his routine for posterity.

But, save for a single point from him to indicate, "Up above the world so high," he wasn't for playing (have a look for yourself).

However, his mother and I will keep at the coaching (and the bribing) and hopefully we'll be able to get it on film and release it globally on DVD in time for Christmas. Or perhaps I'm just talking complete and utter rubbish and had nothing better to tell you or show you today.

Wednesday, 16 December 2009

Contrasting evenings

More "fun" on Bradford Road again last night.

Despite Laura at United Utilities (Tel: 07778 048008) telling us that Monday would be the sole day we would lose our gas, the company went ahead and turned if off again yesterday. It was eventually turned back on at 10.58pm and only because our heroic next door neighbour Barrington, Vanessa and I tore into them.

Vanessa challenged Laura who responded by lying again, Barrington then kicked her on the ground and I played a minor supporting role by arguing with some other patronising, slippery United Utilities bint who is certainly in the right job with the right company - and that is not meant as a compliment to either. B*stards. But, anyway, we're back on for now at least.

The really "good" news is that, once the gas people have finally filled in the holes in our increasingly infamous road, Leeds City Council are sending their boys round on 4 January to spend three weeks digging it up again. Is Jeremy Beadle definitely dead?

Thankfully Monday evening and the Pogues concert was a much more pleasant way to build up to Christmas. They really were excellent, probably the best I've ever seen them. Shane had three pints of Martini on the go at one point (before the accordion player did a flying leap straight into them) and finished up by downing a bottle of wine. But despite this, he still appeared remarkably sober (these things are relative, you understand) and the gig was all the better for it.

My mate John also seemed to have a good time and cut some incredible shapes into the floor of the Leeds Academy with his dancing, leaving a series of permanent and appropriate reminders of an excellent night.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

You've GOT to see this...

A fine night at The Pogues last night - more on that next time.

But first, today, I've got to get through a full meeting of Bradford Council.

Let's hope there's a touch more Christmas cheer in the City Hall chamber than there was at the recent budget debate in the Irish Parliament.

As a result of his outburst, Green Party TD (same as an MP, only Irish) Paul Gogarty is my new political hero - bar none.

Do yourself a favour by switching on your speakers and clicking the link below to see why (and you might also wish to make sure there are no children in the room).

Trust me, it's priceless.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Ready to be dazzled by Shane's new sparklers

It's part two of the Whites' Christmas Concert Triple-Header tonight as, minus Mrs White (my good friend John McIlroy is coming with me), I head off to see The Pogues play in Leeds.

This will be about the tenth time I've seen the band live since 1990 when I saw them during my freshers' week in Newcastle.

In that period, they've kicked out their legendary front man Shane MacGowan for drinking too much (it's like turfing out the Pope for praying), replaced him with the now late Joe Strummer and then brought him back (Shane, not Joe - they're musicians, not doctors. Or mediums).

And a very good thing too. To my mind, The Pogues without Shane MacGowan is like an ice cream cone without any ice cream. A bit pointless, really.

And there's been another major development in Pogueland in recent times; Shane has bought some new teeth.

Aside from his drinking, his dodgy teeth were obviously what Shane MacGowan was best known for. But even he must've got fed up with the predictable jokes and got them upgraded. He's still no George Michael, though, you have to say.

Should be another good night.

Sunday, 13 December 2009

A quiet night in

Another weekend, another game of pass the parcel (which wasn't fixed in Jamie's favour this time, so he didn't win).

With the Whites heading to Norn Iron for Christmas, we had a pre-holiday period get together with most of Vanessa's immediate family (and mine too for that matter, given we're married).

Jamie's cousin Jack scared the bejesus out of him using face paint.

His cousin Holly tried to do the same by posing as a donkey. But sadly donkeys aren't scary.

Cousin Oliver ate dinner with him.

And Cousin Alexander simply charmed him.

On the downside, his father almost did him an injury by, after changing his nappy, mistakenly putting both legs into one half of his trousers - and not realising for almost a minute.

And his mother embarrassed not only him, but everyone present, by hosting the gig dressed as a cleaner.

Not sure what we're up to next weekend.

Saturday, 12 December 2009

A Christmas compromise

A rather weary Jamie emerged from his pit this morning to find something incredibly exciting sitting proudly in our front room: the 2009 White Family Christmas Tree.

Yes, Mummy's sh*t "tree" from the pound shop has been replaced by a much more impressive and three times more expensive specimen from Asda.

And whilst, at three feet, it might not be anywhere near as big as Daddy would like, he has been forced to accept that compromise is the name of the game this Christmas if Jamie isn't to wreck everything. (The desk top nature of the tree is crucial in this aspect).

So the question now is, how long will the new tree last.

Mummy's guess? "It'll be fine, we'll just have to watch him - we're not getting another one."

Daddy's guess? "Not long - perhaps we'd better get another couple in, just to have."

Christmas Time will tell.

Friday, 11 December 2009

John Kettleeeeeeey.....(Is A Weatherman)

Yesterday, I had an unexpected and, I have to say, surreal blast of sunshine into my otherwise overcast Thursday morning.

I received a Christmas card from John Kettley (Is A Weatherman).

I had the privilege of sitting beside the great man at a cricket lunch at Headingley last year. And he was excellent company.

We talked about cricket (as one tends to do at cricket lunches), football (he's a die hard Burnley fan) and that famous hit single by A Tribe Of Toffs which, if you've never heard it and haven't noticed the visual clue above, is called John Kettley (Is a Weatherman). In fact, you can even watch the video if you want:

John - he let me address him as that, rather than his full title of John Kettley (Is A Weatherman) - was excellent company, let me into one or two of his trades secrets (such as the fact that he often looks out the window and checks the sky before doing a live weather report) and then swapped business cards with me.

And I remember feeling a little embarrassed about swapping cards because, well, why would he possibly want to get back in contact with me?

To be fair, the final comment on his Christmas card may have given the game away i.e. he has a new book out and clearly wants me to buy it (as I might well do).

But surely he can't have written to that many people to ask them to buy his book. I mean, at what point does the potential increase in profits become outweighed by the cost of cards, stamps and ink?

However, whatever his reasons for sending it, the card made my morning.

Merry Christmas John Kettley (Is A Weatherman)!