Monday, 31 March 2014

The Grand Old Dick of Yorkshire

Yesterday was the hottest day of the year in the Lake District where we were spending my pre-birthday weekend.  It was therefore the obvious moment to put our big coats on and travel about three squillion miles underground to experience White Scar Cave, "the longest cave show in Britain." Good call.

The previous day, we went to a wildlife park where, first, Jamie was almost swallowed by a bear.

And then Charlotte narrowly avoided being pecked to within an inch of her existence by a giant bird.

But they're both still with us so no lasting harm done other than psychological.

Which leads me onto today and my actual birthday when I've been trying to combine a bit of work with some extra family time. Later, I'll drag Jamie to his swimming lesson.  But earlier, I took Charlotte to "Gyminis."

Now, I'd not been to this phenomenon before.  But, as I understood the brief, it involved Charlotte and other toddlers playing on some gym equipment.  And because this was the last session before Easter and a bouncy castle had been brought in, the latter would dominate proceedings and I could sit back and read the paper. It turned out I was mistaken.

To be fair, it started as expected.

Here you can see the promised bouncy castle with Charlotte (in pink) getting stuck in. But then events took a turn for the worse.

In the second picture you will note that the bouncy castle has lost its bounce.  You can also see an army of mothers moving things around. Yes, they're clearing the area for the musical section of proceedings.

This was not a surprise to any of the mothers present (note no reference to fathers, because none were there other than me).  Nor, indeed, would it have been to Charlotte's mother had she been in attendance.  Because they do it every week.  And when I say "they" that's precisely what I mean.  But Vanessa (wisely) thought it best that I didn't know.

A couple of minutes later, I was prancing around the room to the sound of The Grand Old Duke of York.  I was absolutely mortified.  Like pretty much every other living Ulsterman, coordination is not my strong point. This is a fact I'm very acutely aware of, making matters worse. So when the mothers were up I was down. And when they were down I was up. And when they were only halfway up I muttering obscenities under my breath.

Next on the playlist was Here We Go Looby Loo.

I'll not even expand on what happened during Ring a Ring o' Roses other than to confirm that we did all fall down - eventually. It turns out it's not that easy when you're heavily pregnant.

But even that wasn't the low point. No, that was when one of the mothers farted and I was the only one who laughed.

Anyway, it's over now, I did my bit and tonight I can have some nice food and drink.  For once I think I've earned it.

Sunday, 30 March 2014

He must've broken something

It's Mothers Day and, to mark the occasion, Jamie wrote his own beloved battle axe a very special poem.

Entitled "A Recipe For A Great Mum," it reads:

200mg of love 
A cup of cuddles
A pinch of kisses
A pinch of coolness
100g of beauty
50g of playfulness 
50g of happiness

Awwwww. (What a crawler).

Friday, 28 March 2014

That Friday f-off feeling

In the wake of my Wednesday rant about Jamie being barred from school on the same day the powers that be "clarified" the attendance policy, this afternoon we took him out 45 minutes early to get a head start on my birthday weekend away.

"Can you fill in the book please giving the reason for your child's absence?" groaned the hard-faced office woman.

Vanessa did as she was asked, sheepishly inserting the word "appointment" in the key box. 

Unfortunately this delicate task was not helped by Charlotte jumping up and down in the background, arms in the air, chanting: "We're going on holiday! We're going on holiday!" 

I don't care anymore. I'll be in the pub in two hours.

Wednesday, 26 March 2014

No lessons today

I don't do politics on this blog as I have few enough readers already. And I really don't do teacher politics as my big sister is Deputy General Secretary of the Ulster Teachers' Union and still possesses the ability to scare the bejesus out of me.  But I really must share this with you.

Members of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) went on strike today over issues that they can tell you about on the news tonight.  However, whilst I would certainly not dispute their right to strike, I would contend that parents and their children should not be casualties of their ire.

Vanessa and I received a letter from Jamie's headteacher last week advising that the strike was pending and making clear that the school had been encouraged to stay open "to try to maintain the continuity of educational provision." Good.

But she added: "Members of the NUT in our school will not be informing me of their decision on strike action until the morning of the 26th. It is therefore very difficult for me to make a decision about whether or not a class will be affected until I have more information."


She then proceeded to list those classes which were unlikely to be affected should the strike go ahead.  The list did not include Jamie's class.

She concluded: "The parents of children in other classes should assume their children will not be in school but you will receive a text from school at approximately 8.30am to confirm your child’s class is closed. If you receive no text your child should come to school as normal."

The promised text did come through, hence the above pic of Jamie's Pirate School in our house this morning.

Thank you local NUT members for your generosity of spirit, which is duly noted.

Now, Jamie's headteacher was a mere messenger lady in relation to the strike farce.  But you would think she might have realised that some parents were feeling a little touchy today of all days.  So much so that she may have chosen another morning to email out this particular missive, and I quote:

"Please find attached a copy of the new Attendance policy. This is a cluster wide policy adopted by all schools in the Aireborough area. 

Key points to note are:-

1. Only absence for very exceptional circumstances will be authorised. Parents MUST make an appointment to see Mrs **** for this. 

2. Fines will now be issued for unauthorised absence. 

3. If pupils arrive late, after the register has closed, this will be classed as unauthorised. Fines will be imposed for repeat absence. 

4. Any medical absence must be known to the Office and proof shown (i.e. appointment card). 

I hope you will agree that it is important for our children to be in school as often as possible to give them the education they are entitled to."

Funnily enough I do.  Sadly I can't speak for the NUT.  

Sunday, 23 March 2014

A worrying direction

Charlotte couldn't sleep last night so I did would any selfless dad would do, and let her get up to watch Match of the Day with me.  

But then we both got bored and decided to see what the music channels had to offer. I, for one, was not disappointed.

Midge Ure - yes! Howard Jones - oh, alright!  Bronski Beat - get in!

Charlotte, meanwhile, was fairly non-committal as I sang my way through my sad man 80s music fest.  She kept advising me that she really was enjoying herself.  But her demeanour suggested that her utterings were motivated purely by a desire to stay up late. Shocking, I know.

That was until I flicked over to 4 Music which has having a "So Wrong It's Right" evening.  Very much my kind of thing.

And this lot came on.

Yes, its One Direction. I'm really not a fan of those smiley, er, young men. Which, as a middle-aged gentlemen, is hopefully a relief to all of you.

But the same could not be said of my daughter.

Yes folks, we've got ourselves a threenager.  I may never let her out ever again.

Friday, 21 March 2014

It's back to the start for the darters

No, your eyes do not deceive you; that really is Peter 'Snakebite' Wright live on stage at last night's Premier League Darts in Leeds.  I hope you're as thrilled now at seeing him as I was then.

Thankfully there was special medicine available (in plastic glasses) to help Daniel (left), Paul and me cope with our all too predictable nerves.

Of course, when you go to a  sporting event - especially one that's going out live on TV across our great nation - you want to think you're getting to see something armchair viewer is missing out on.  And we weren't left disappointed.  

Have a look at this picture.

On the big screen you can see current World Darts Champion Michael van Gerwen chucking his arrows with a scary degree of accuracy.

On the left (indicated by my arrow) is the runway the players use to walk on stage to the music of their choice whilst the crowd cheers and spills beer over each other.

Now, for years, I have wondered how the security folk got the players through the masses to the start of the runway for their big moment.

But last night the mystery was revealed.

Let me show you by means of this simple illustration.

The yellow arrows indicate both the start and end of the runway.  

Pointed out in blue (although confusingly wearing green) is Michael van Gerwen who, you will immediately notice, is in fact walking towards the start rather than the end.  Yes folks, he is indeed walking the wrong way (his error highlighted in green).

This is because the unsmiling security bods - get this - actually walk the player from their dressing room to the start of the walk-on area along the runway itself before - when the cameras go on them - making them retrace their steps onto the stage. Really. I always thought there was a little gate at the start, but no. They don't bring them through the crowd at all!  REALLY!

I still can't quite get over the shock of this discovery, but I'm hoping to come to terms with it as time goes by.

But it won't be easy. I'll bet you sleep better than I do tonight.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014


Vanessa went to see Dr Goode first thing this morning to request some antibiotics for an increasingly gruesome throat infection.

We already knew it was a throat infection because, on Monday, she went to visit Dr Shitt-Too. You've met this medical genius before.

Dr Shitt-Too had a big gawk down Vanessa's gullet and immediately reported the presence of a number of white spots.

"You've got a throat infection!" 

Well done him. So what to do?

"Nothing," he said. "It should be better in a couple of days."

This course of "action" had already been predicted by Vanessa's friend Jill whom I met whilst dropping Jamie off at school. 

"He'll just tell her to pull herself together," she said dryly. Jill has "had" Dr Shitt-Too er, too.

I wind the clock on two days to this morning, when all - OK, Vanessa - was meant to be well. Then she woke up with the neck of Herman Munster. This is not a good look.

Thankfully, sensing that Dr Shitt-Too might have missed another crucial day at doctor school (i.e. the day they did sore throats) Vanessa had already shrewdly booked an appointment with the ever-reliable (but rarely available) Dr Goode. 

Following a short chat and a couple of "say AAARRGGHH"s, Mrs W was dispatched with some penicillin and a throat spray. Who knows, she may even get better now. 

As for Dr Shitt-Too, well, like me, he's clearly a man who's never truly found his vocation. Maybe he'll become the next manager of Manchester United.

Monday, 17 March 2014

Paddy whacked

Greetings dear friends, and may I wish you a Happy St Patrick's Day?

In fact, hold on a moment......Charlotte wants to do it.

There you go.

I was hoping to have a semi-lively evening to celebrate the achievements of Ireland's patron saint, which included founding St Patrick's Church, Coleraine in the 5th century AD. (Well played Paddy). I was confirmed there shortly afterwards.

However, you may have heard that the Ireland rugby team won the Six Nations championship on Saturday evening.

This pleased me very much.

So much so that I stayed up for a while.

As a result, I'm not sure I can do the same this evening.

Still, experience teaches me that you should never say never.


Friday, 14 March 2014

Goodbye Mr Benn

In the coming hours, many better people than me will share their memories of Tony Benn who sadly passed away today.  But, for the record, I have a couple to relay - because he once made me some cash.

As an unashamed republican, Mr Benn wasn't a fan of Northern Ireland Unionist politicians.  But that did not stop him, in 1998, sending a handwritten note to my boss, David Trimble, to congratulate him on his role in achieving the Good Friday Agreement.  I opened the envelope and was quite taken by the class and tone of his words.  And suddenly I was a Tony Benn fan.

So much so that, three years later, I made it my business to be in the Chamber to hear him deliver his final speech to the House of Commons. He explained that he was "leaving Parliament in order to spend more time on politics." I knew then - as I know now - that I was witnessing a historic moment and I will forever feel privileged to have been there.

But back to the cash.

One Thursday evening after work, I was walking through a courtyard in the Palace of Westminster towards the Tube station when I spotted Tony Benn standing with his arms across his chest facing towards the exit. A couple seconds later, a man appeared on a bike who, upon closer examination, I recognised as the Rt Hon. Hilary Benn MP.

(Here they are together supporting a Labour candidate, Emily Benn - Tony's granddaughter).

I stopped in my tracks to observe.  As I did, Hilary completed a couple of laps of the little courtyard, watched by his proud dad.  It was the kind of father and son scene that is common in parks across the country any Saturday morning.  The only difference was that Hilary would have been pushing 50 years of age at the time, was a Government Minister - and his dad was Tony Benn.

I mentioned all of this to a friend who edited the diary column on a popular Sunday newspaper.  The story appeared the next weekend.  And, the following day, a cheque for £50 landed on my doormat.

I spent it well and, as a result, will always hold Tony Benn in high affection.

Farewell to one of the greatest Parliamentarians of our time.  

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Fat blokes in Leeds shocker

I'm fortunate enough to have attended quite a few big sporting events over the years. But this time next week I shall be in my seat (and occasionally jumping out if it) at a very different live sporting occasion. Yes, I'll be joining more than 11,000 loons at First Direct Arena in Leeds for round seven of the 2014 Premier League Darts.

I'm watching round six in Nottingham, live on Sky Sports, at this very moment it's shaping up to be almost as exciting as last week in Exeter. 

I've become a massive fan of what many ill-informed individuals regard as a "joke sport." But they're wrong.

The injection of huge amounts of TV and sponsorship money have made it a very lucrative - and hence competitive - past time over recent years. And on stage disagreements between the players are now increasingly common place.

In fact, this was 16-time world champion Phil "The Power" Taylor going at it with the current king of arrows, "Mighty" Michael van Gerwen,  in Glasgow recently.

Some friends have asked me if it's the free flowing beer, the players' cheesy walk-on music and the scantily clad ladies who wobble in unison with them as they roll towards the stage which are the true reasons why I want to go along. 

And I say: "No! Not really!"

It's the chance to see these incredibly hungry (and thirsty) warriors do battle. Their precision. Their ease of touch. Their collective mathematical genius. And their ability to land after a celebratory jump whilst everything above their belt line continues to travel upwards. 

The fact that I'll be so far away from the board that I'll not see an actual dart thrown is but a minor detail. 

It should be a laugh. I just hope I can remember enough to tell you something about it.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Small....far away....

I've reached an age where I'm beginning to have bizarre flashbacks more often than I would like.  And many of them are not pleasant.

Take tonight, when I was walking home from the train station and noticed that the Moon had made an early appearance in the still bright sky. I've helpfully pointed it out for you below.

And what memory instantly presented itself in my brain?

Since you ask, I'll tell you. It was of me, as a young boy, standing in the street firing a cap gun at it.  I kid you not.

It was (and is) wrong on so many levels.  And it reinforces the fact that I've never been the sharpest knife in the drawer.

Tomorrow evening, I'll look down to see what comes to mind.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

More cheese please

Despite being born in the early 1970s, I regard myself as an '80s child and my "musical influences" (to quote any number of pretentious pop stars) reflect this.

So when I heard that this summer Leeds will be hosting its very own 80s music festival, I was excited.  I then had a look at the line-up, and can best describe it as "mixed."

Synthesiser king Howard Jones is playing, which is great.  I like Howard Jones.  

So too Bananarama (pictured) - yes - and Kim Wilde - absolutely.  (In both cases I may feel compelled to close my eyes and remember what used to be, but still).  I can rhyme off three of Nik Kershaw's hits, who's playing too.  I know two ABC songs (they're on), two from Nick Heyward (him too) and the same from Altered Images (I do hope they haven't sacked wee Clare Grogan).

But who else is on the list, I hear you scream?

Anyone for Alexander O'Neal?  Brother Beyond?  Jaki Graham?  The Real Thing (who even cheesy me hasn't heard of)?  Possibly not.

Other reasons to attend?

Well, for a mere £12 you can have unrestricted access to a "posh toilet." Hard to resist.

And for only £53.95 (inc. booking fee - admission ticket to the event also required) you can even get to meet "Mark Shaw from Then Jerico."  Sadly, each patron is restricted to a maximum of 10 tickets each for this once in a lifetime experience - I imagine tickets to meet Mark are a tout's dream.

As things stand, at best, Vanessa has not committed to going.  And at worst, is downright hostile to the idea. Meanwhile, I still quite fancy it.

However, if we wait too long and tickets sell out, I must just turn up at the gate and say I'm Mark Shaw from Then Jerico.

Friday, 7 March 2014

Jumping into the weekend

I'm not very good on the Wii.  But I kind of understand that you're supposed to wave your arms about a lot.

Meanwhile Jamie, showing his Irish roots, adopts an entirely different approach to killing Star Wars baddies.

Think Michael Flatley in desperate need of the toilet.

Have a look.

Thursday, 6 March 2014

*The names have been changed to protect the innocent

With Vanessa out, it was my task this evening to collect Jamie from after-school club and Charlotte from nursery.

My "what did you do at school?" chat with Jamie reached its completion just as we arrived at our back door. 

As we were taking our coats off, I then asked Charlotte if anything exciting had happened at nursery. 

"*Mary and *Joseph were dogging," she replied.


"Mary and Joseph were dogging." 

I didn't go to nursery. 

But had I done so, at least I would have been safe in the knowledge that dogging was yet to be invented.

Tuesday, 4 March 2014

Beware of me

This morning I went to see Dr Shitt-Too to receive the results of my recent abdominal scan. 

And Dr Shitt-Too didn't disappoint. That's right, he had no idea what's wrong with me. 

All he could be certain of was:

  1. I don't have a hernia; and
  2. I'm not pregnant. 
So that's all good. 

But then my day got even better.

Back in January I received an invitation to have my first old person's medical check. However, rather than rush into it, I decided to wait until Dr Shit-Too had confirmed his expected (by me) non-diagnosis before going ahead. 

As I was about to leave the surgery this morning, I thought I might as well book it in and asked the receptionist if she had a slot.

"Can you be here in 10 minutes?" she asked.

"I'm already here," I replied. 

"So you are," the receptionist continued, "see you in 10 minutes."

10 minutes later, I was standing in front of the nurse who, without being too judgemental, clearly seemed better qualified to conduct the examination than the mad receptionist.

And it began well.

My weight to height ratio was - and I quote - "perfect." So too, according to the nurse, was my waistline (which I know is not true, but still).

"Do you smoke?"

"No, never have."

I was on fire (spot the irony).


"Yes please."

"No, do you drink alcohol?" 

"Yes. Please." 

"No, how much alcohol do you drink?"


She asked for a guesstimate. I offered one. Raising an eyebrow over her little glasses, she suggested that I might want to be a bit more honest. I was a bit more honest.

She pumped some figures into her computer, which responded by making a funny noise. 

She then took her glasses off and said: "According to NHS guidelines, you are officially classed as a 'hazardous drinker.'" (I hadn't heard that term before, and was certainly not aware that someone of that description lived in our house). 

I told her that, as it was the first day of Lent, today would be a good day to be less hazardous. But, as there were two weekends of Six Nations rugby still to go followed immediately by St Patrick's Day, the new me would have to wait until after then.

She raised both eyebrows, before stabbing me with a needle whilst mumbling something about a cholesterol test. 

I hope I get her again next time.

Monday, 3 March 2014

A (machine gun) blast from the past

Jamie is doing a project at school at the moment about "toys in the past." It will end in a few weeks' time with a visit to a local toy museum.

Yesterday as part of his learning, Jamie was required to interview me on the subject. In a White Stuff exclusive, here is a transcript of how it went:

Question 1

Did you have a favourite teddy? 

I found out

Daddy had a teddy bear called Ted which he loved.

Question 2

Did you play with toy cars?

I found out

Toy cars in the olden days were called Matchbox cars and were made out of metal.

Question 3

What was your favourite toy?

I found out

Daddy's favourite toy was a toy machine gun.  His daddy also liked it so took it apart with a screwdriver to see how it worked.  It never worked again, making Daddy cry. 

I've never gotten over it.

Sunday, 2 March 2014

There's going to be a Wee wedding

No, dear friends, your eyes do not deceive you.

That is indeed an engagement ring on Rosie's finger as she looks upwards (I know) into the eyes of her betrothed - Wee John.  Really.

I've had a feeling for a little while that this moment may be coming soon (Wee John's sensible jumper is a bit of a giveaway) but I was no less taken aback when the pics arrived earlier today, followed by a phone call.    
Indeed, my sense of shock was matched only by Charlotte's state of confusion.  Delighted as she was to hear that Uncle John is getting married, she was also curious to know if Auntie Rosie was getting married too.  She is also mad keen to find out if Uncle John is planning to wear a dress.

All these questions and many others will be answered in the time ahead.

But for now, we Whites are thrilled to bits for them both.

And I feel a drink is very much in order.  Bloody hell.

PS Big thanks to John and Rosie for allowing me tell you all on here.

PPS Bloody hell again.