Wednesday, 30 July 2014

Elle of a time so far

Good evening from 100 miles off the coast of Africa (according to the rep). 

This I find frustrating.  I've not been to Africa.  It reminds me of the time I went somewhere close to Germany.  I've not been to Germany either. 

More positively, I have been to Portstewart.  My mum lives there with my stepdad, Derek.  Tonight, in the bar queue, I met Margaret.  She's from Portstewart.  She knows my mum.  Derek does her painting.  It's nice to get away.

So far, I'm having a difficult time personally.  Last night I failed to reach the final of the daddies' dancing competition.  The fact that I was placed at the back of the stage behind short-arsed challengers from Spain, Holland, France, Germany and Poland was entirely deliberate (in my opinion).

The previous evening, I lost out in the soap quiz after bequeathing the winning answer (Dynasty) to a lady from Bolton. A kindly act which left my kids feeling unimpressed.

As luck would have it, they appear to be enjoying themselves (despite no drink being taken - Mrs White and I are tough on this).

The highlight thus far was Charlotte appearing on the front cover of Spanish Elle magazine.

It might not be the official version, but I reckon she looks alright.

Anyway, I'd better be off. It's gone midnight and it's time to put the towels down.  Did I mention there were Germans in?

Monday, 28 July 2014

A self-served near disaster

Our first full day on holiday, and I almost messed it up before we'd started. 

We're in Tenerife, by the way.  Almost precisely 2,000 miles from where I updated yesterday in Leeds.  But you're never that far away from home.

Last night I met a fellow Leeds resident at a self-service beer machine. He'd only been here for two days but already his missus had set down a rule.  Yes, whilst he was permitted to use said self-service beer machine, this was on condition that they occupied a table some distance away.  The reason being that she could check his balance between refill trips before in time informing him that the privilege had been withdrawn and it was time for bed.  Harsh.  But fair?  Not for me to judge.

I bumped into him in the jazz bar.

I hate jazz but it's self-service beer machine seemed less busy than the others so I grinned and drunk it.

But back to this morning.

Charlotte, like the rest of us, enjoyed her breakfast before we headed off to the welcome meeting (pictured above) which I'll tell you about again.

Our final stop prior to hitting the pool was reception to hire our safe.  After all, you can't be too careful - can you?

I paid the whatever it was from an envelope containing all our holiday cash. The plan being to then put this into the safe. 

The problem was that, around 20 minutes later when I came to complete the task in hand, I couldn't find the money.  Vanessa must've picked it up from the reception counter.  So I asked her calmly.  Nope, she didn't have it - apparently I did.  The only slight issue was that I didn't.  

Cue mad dash by me across our hotel complex in the direction of reception.  Where our envelope was waiting. 

I look forward to raising a glass of self-service beer to that later. 

Sunday, 27 July 2014

Up, up - and delay. (Possibly)

I'm tapping this out in the departure lounge at Leeds Bradford Airport as we Whites prepare to fly off for two weeks somewhere else.

I wasn't originally planning to update this rubbish until I get back; you deserve a break much more than I do.  But then I thought, why not?  

Regular readers will already be very aware that I don't have a life.  And not having a life somewhere else for a fortnight is as good as it gets.  Plus apparently they have free WiFi where we're going.  So updates you shall have.

As we prepare for the inevitable announcement that our flight has been delayed, I'm off to begin my holiday reading - starting with this.

I spoke to the great man himself on the phone on Wednesday.  I'm sure if I had a book out about my life, he'd want to read it too.  Or he might not.  

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Dog's abuse

As we build up towards the Oliver Turkington Memorial Dinner in September, I've spent many hours searching through old photos for our Facebook event page to help get everyone in the mood.

A couple of lines of explanation is normally enough in each case.  But the picture you can see above requires a slightly extended piece of commentary.

It was taken in an apartment slap bang in the centre of Tokyo.  The young Japanese man in the white tee shirt played against us in our final tour game in the national rugby stadium a couple of days later, and was officially "host" to Wee Colin (who took the photo) and me.  His tubby brother is in green.  And in the foreground is their drunken dad who was completely off his tits at all times.

Our host was an absolute gent who spoke perfect English and couldn't do enough for us.  But his younger sibling was a spoilt little so-and-so whose command of our native language seemed to centre around his knowledge of food products.  His other area of expertise, to my cost, was chess.

I'm not very good at chess.  I know how all the pieces move but I've only won a single game in my life, leaving me some distance from being a Grand Master.  Sensing my vulnerability, Fat Boy insisted that I hand my scalp to him on a plate.  And, not wishing to offend him or his nation, I reluctantly agreed whilst Colin sat sniggering from behind a newspaper.

The first couple of minutes went as well as could be expected; I moved a couple of pawns and then a bishop (I think) to make it look like I had a plan.  My overweight opponent countered by bringing a knight into play whilst simultaneously making two hot dogs disappear.

It was at this point that the door squeezed open and a little yappy (Jappy?) dog ran in.  Trying to be friendly, I smiled and made some comment about how nice the dog was.  (It wasn't.  It was just a dog).  Fat Boy simply ignored me, moved his rook and got started on the chips.

The dog moved towards me and then under the table where we were sitting.  My smile lessened.  Unseen, I felt the dog climb onto my leg.  My smile disappeared.  The dog began to, well, pump. My smile changed to a grimace.  Colin's grimace changed to a smile. The dog continued to pump.  I moved my bishop back to where it started.  The dog kept going.  Tubby moved his queen before shifting more chips.  I attempted to shake the dog off, but it was clamped.  Pumping.  I let a yelp out as the dog flew off my leg.  The dog let a yelp out as it bounced off the wall.  I looked down at my leg.  I was too late.  I excused myself as I headed off to the toilet to remove a white sticky substance from my sock.

But there was a happy ending (yes, another one).  The dog chose to follow me and, as I was about to close the door, I changed my mind and beckoned it in to join me. 

There was a radio in there which I turned on, then up.  After quickly completing the clean-up task and washing my hands, I rolled up the hand towel.  And I beat that dog to within an inch of its very existence. I justified my actions to myself on the grounds that I'd heard some Japanese people eat dogs and that's far worse. 

I then left the scene of the crime and returned to the chess board where Fat Boy swiftly achieved checkmate just in time for pudding.  The dog didn't come near me (or on me) for the rest of our stay. 

Tickets for our dinner continue to sell well but are still available. You can get yours by visiting the school office at Coleraine Inst, calling Diane Armstrong on Tel: 028 7034 4331 or emailing  You'll be very welcome.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Chin, chin

Yesterday was a painful day, principally because I hurt my calf muscle running for the train first thing in the morning.

As I howled my disapproval, I reflected back on calf muscle injuries through the ages and recalled that I last damaged mine in the Milk Athletics Championships precisely 30 years ago.

Indeed, just minutes before this picture was taken.

Control yourselves ladies.

Monday, 21 July 2014

Big Oliver stands tall

The last time I updated you on Oliver Dickey's progress in St Louis, I was able to report the quite remarkable news that he'd wiggled his toes for the first time in his life.

That was after his initial operation, but he still had another one to come.

Well, as luck would have it, that went rather well too.

Have a look at this.

Now, just so you know, this is the first picture ever taken of Oliver and his little brother Max actually standing beside each other.  Yes, standing.  Look how straight Oliver's legs are.  He's not been able to do that before. And look at his face.  There's a happy young man on a mission if ever I saw one.

And there is a final observation, which his stayed in my thoughts since I saw the photo on Saturday evening.

Notice how tall "Wee" Oliver is.

Yes indeed, he's not wee at all.  This shouldn't really be a surprise given how strapping his proud Neil is.  But Oliver's not previously had the chance to show everyone.      

For yesterday's trick, Big Oliver (as we must now call him) took himself off for a stroll around the lake.  Well, I mean, why wouldn't he?

To quote his mum, Charlene: "Uneven ground is one of the things that will prove difficult in the next few months for Oliver as he tries to build strength and improve balance but he gave it his best shot today."

Next time, it wouldn't surprise me if our hero walked across the lake rather than around it.

Saturday, 19 July 2014

For the first time I am clever

With Jamie off to a pirate party this afternoon and the weather forecast less than positive, I was racking my brains about what to do to keep Charlotte amused.

So I went for the Victoria Beckham parenting option: buy something at the shop.  

But what?

I went on to the Argos website to see if anything exciting (and justifiable) jumped out at me.  And, in a sign of what has become of me since fatherhood struck, I stumbled across an item which left me almost dumbstruck with excitement.

I would guess that every self-respecting mum or dad with a daughter of a certain age will be all too aware of the Frozen phenomenon.  If you're not, it's Disney's biggest kids' movie hit for yonks and stars sisters Elsa and Anna.

As is the way these days, there is no shortage of related merchandise to go with the film, with two significant exceptions; Elsa and Anna dolls.

I have tried to get my mitts on one of these for months and months, even to the point where shop assistants have openly laughed at me when I've enquired if they had any in.

That was until this morning when, lo and behold, I discovered that an Elsa figure had crept into the Argos storeroom in Guiseley - so I pounced to reserve it like the sad dad I have become.

Conscious of the fact that I wanted to buy shorts and tee shirts in TK Maxx for our upcoming holiday first and needed her full concentration to enable me to do so, I didn't tell Charlotte in advance of visiting Argos.  All I said was that we were going shopping - normally enough to capture any female's absolute attention.

Thankfully the end result was positive.

Although the singing wasn't great.

Hopefully at some point she'll Let It Go.  (Do you see what I did there?)

Thursday, 17 July 2014

A toast to kindness

It might only be Thursday but it's already been a week I'll not forget in a hurry.

First, my boss was appointed Minister for Pubs in David Cameron's Government reshuffle. (You read that right). 

And then this morning I had a knock on the door from the unspeakably kind lady - I shan't name her - who cleans in the building where I work.

She lost her little girl to a heart condition at a very early age. But instead of getting all angry and bitter about what had happened, as I suspect I would, she devoted her life to doing good stuff. 

Last year after Mags (above) died, the lady I speak of organised a whip round in the church she serves with great vigour and donated the proceeds to my Great North Run fundraising pot. 

Today's knock was similarly related. She knew I had committed to do the Great North Run again in a few weeks' time; Leukaemia & Lymphoma Research will be the beneficiary in memory of Mags and also the wonderful David McClarty (below) who lost his life to blood cancer on Good Friday of this year.

Our heroine had triumphed in our office World Cup sweepstake after pulling Germany out of the hat. The purpose of coming to see me today was to donate her winnings to this year's fundraising pot. 

Feel free to chuck some pennies in too, should you feel so inclined. Here's the LINK.

Whilst you have a think, I'm off for a training run.

Tuesday, 15 July 2014

School daze

Jamie got his school report on Friday, and we're all very pleased. Negotiations continue on what his reward might or might not be.

Almost as notable was the news he delivered about next term when he enters Year 2.

Once again, the classes are being mixed up so he'll have many different faces around him.

Of greater note was that his teacher will be brand new to the school.

We were talking about this over the Sunday roast and Jamie wasn't initially enthused.  So I shared a ditty from my Macosquin Primary School days.  (I'm the big girl pictured above dressed as a goalkeeper).

"I had a new headmaster, Mr Murdock, who became my favourite teacher," I explained.

(He replaced Mr Thompson, of whom I was never a fan on the grounds that he looked like JR Ewing and polished his head).

"Oh really, Jamie replied. "Why?"

"Well," I continued, "he treated me like a big boy." (Despite my big girl look, which was kind of ironic when you think about it).

"Was he old?" Jamie further enquired.

"No, he was quite young," I recalled.

"Yes, but Daddy.  Is he dead yet?"

This was not something I had considered - I do hope not - but, given that I haven't seen Mr Murdock for 31 years, I couldn't answer.

What I did instead was to fill my wine glass right to the brim and take a very large gulp.  

Sunday, 13 July 2014

Me still no adore le camping

Yonder is the pitiful sight of our tent early this morning; collapsed, soaked and desperate to get back in the car for another year.  We had much in common.

As I have written here many times before, I'm not a natural camper.  Going back to the 1970s when my oldest friend Drew (aka DJ Steady) and I spent many an evening in a tent in my back garden with Tinker the Cat our only form of protection, I have tried.  But it has always defeated me.

This year we returned to Runswick Bay in North Yorkshire with a gaggle of good friends around us.

And, on Friday evening, it started very, very well.

The kids went to bed early, leaving the parents to get on with doing what most parents do given half a chance.

And after bravely fighting off frostbite overnight, I awoke to find the sun shining.  Someone even claimed to have spotted a half-smile upon my bake.  Before it was off to the beach.

Charlotte had a splash.

Jamie had a paddle (thanks Hayden).

And we ended up at a pub with a view.

What's not to like?

Indeed, as the evening's entertainment got under way, my half-smile became a whole smile.

So much fun was I having that I chose to mark the occasion by taking a photo of Jamie with a big cock on his head.

As the clock ticked past nine o'clock and with the kids beginning to tire, Vanessa and I took them back to our tent to suggest that bed, er, sleeping bag might be an option for them.

But no more than a minute later, I heard raindrops on our tent.  No way.  It was gloomyish outside, but there was genuinely no hint of rain which - according to man with a dog I spoke to - wasn't due until the following afternoon.

A handful more minutes later and one of the most intense thunder and lightning storms I have experienced arrived overhead.  And over the next hour or so, it proceeded to deposit the entire contents of its pants on our tent.  Both Jamie and Charlotte were in tears, and I'm almost certain that I heard Vanessa sniffle at one point.

The downpour continued off and on until this morning, enabling Jamie to go for his second paddle of the weekend.

At this point, the rain itself had stopped and, after breakfast, it seemed that we could all get our tents down with little further trouble.

I therefore proceeded to spend the next half hour drying the outside of our tent with towels. Other camp mates, deeply impressed by my natural intuition, followed suit.

It was only with our half-collapsed and dry-as-a-bone tent about to come fully down that the storm returned - leaving us Whites with no option but to run into Hayden's family's tent, me trying desperately to muffle some particularly imaginative swearing. Further showers followed before we finally got the job done.  The tent was sopping and is currently sunbathing in our garden.

When things were going well on Friday evening, Vanessa suggested that we might choose to go camping for an extended period next summer in France.

I'm sorry, but the answer is non. C'est merde.

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Strike that

Jamie was named "Star of the Week" in Yellow Class last Friday, the fourth time he's lifted the crown this academic year. 

Vanessa has no idea how this has happened; I suspect it's got something to do with a Far East betting scam. 

As many parents will know, the prize these days for winning such an accolade is generally to take a special teddy home for a week and keep a diary. Enter Barnaby Bear. (You've met a previous incarnation of Barnaby before, although Vanessa wouldn't let me show you the really good pictures).  

The challenge is then to try to do stuff that makes the winner's family look all windswept and interesting by the time the diary is handed back. That's the unspoken law, at least.

Fortunately the Tour de France was in the neighbourhood last weekend, which was handy to fill a page. But we needed something else. Enter - or rather exit - striking teachers.

Jamie has already been deprived of one day at school this year (and his parents of a wedge of childcare costs) by one of his teachers walking out. And she was off on her travels again today. I hope she went somewhere nice. (I should add that only three classes in Jamie's school have been affected - again. When it was suggested to the head that some arrangement was made to cater for those left without schooling, she is reported to have replied: "We're not here to provide a childcare facility.")

Meanwhile, Vanessa and I had to find some way of keeping her pupil occupied whilst trying to earn money to pay for his holiday in peak season as we're not allowed to take him out of school. Imagine him having to miss a day so vital to his education, perish the thought.

As luck would have it, Vanessa stumbled across an emergency sports camp which had been set up locally to help out the parents of kids banned from entering their place of education. 

Therefore tonight, before going to bed, Jamie is about to complete Barnaby's diary. The title of the entry will be "What Barnaby and I did on Strike Day."

Let's hope tomorrow's not a training day so he gets to hand it in.

Tuesday, 8 July 2014

No more horse play

Not all readers may be aware of the biggest story in Ireland right now (just after a baker's refusal to produce a gay wedding cake featuring Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street).

I am, of course, talking about the cancellation of five Garth Brooks concerts which were due to held on consecutive nights at Croke Park in Dublin. 

As a result of a handful of residents objecting because they might not hear Coronation Street, an incredible 400,000 excited concert goers will now miss out seeing their big-hatred country music hero sing both of his hits. 

And whilst I kind of jest, I do feel genuinely sorry for those affected. I know many good people who had based their summers around the trip. They'll be out of pocket and broken-hearted and there's nothing funny about that.

So much so that I have been forced to ditch my own summer project. 

One Saturday morning in March when I was feeling a bit bored, I set up a Twitter account for Garth Brooks' horse.

The hype surrounding his master's trip to the Emerald Isle was reaching fever pitch and I figured there were jokes to be delivered as we got closer to the occasion. Unfortunately it's not to be. 

Therefore, out of respect to my Garth Brooks-adoring friends, the horse is going to get it later tonight.

It could've been beautiful.

Monday, 7 July 2014

Sun scream

Meet Kris (again), Head Coach of Jamie's Aireborough Lions Under 6s rugby group, and all round good guy.

Sickenly, Kris is yet to hit the 30 mark and is able to wear vests in public. (Being built like a bottle, it is an option that was never open to me).

He and wife Kate are currently on a mini-tour of Europe where the sun has been shining very brightly. 

And with the sun shining very brightly, Kris chose to slip one of his vests on. 

The problem was, it seems he was reluctant to risk staining it by covering himself in sun cream.

Here is the result.

Funniest thing I've seen in years. 

Kris and Mrs Brook are due back on Wednesday. I already can't wait to slap him on the back in celebration of their return. And maybe also on his neck. And both arms. 

Sunday, 6 July 2014

Headline news from Yorkshire - and St Louis

Unless you live on the Moon (or maybe Lancashire), you will hopefully know that this was Yorkshire's weekend in the global spotlight as the Tour de France rolled into towns and villages across the county.  

We Whites pitched up in nearby Burley in Wharfedale to watch the Lyra-clad warriors whizz past.

Thankfully this included Mark Cavendish (below centre) who, you might also have heard, crashed spectacularly just metres from the finish of yesterday's stage in Harrogate, putting him out of the entire Tour.

Sadly, the kids enthusiasm levels at seeing the riders was eclipsed by the earlier sight of a two huge bags of flying chips...

and a giant four pack of speeding Fruit Shoots.

The afternoon finished with ice cream and thoughts of a dip.

But this wasn't the height of the weekend's excitement.  Oh no.  

You'll hopefully have read last Tuesday's post about little Oliver Dickey who was about to undergo the first of two operations in America.

I'm thrilled to report that the first procedure went incredibly well, and the wee man is due out of hospital later today to begin a period of outpatient physio.  All good, but it gets better.

Yesterday morning I woke up to a text from Charlene, Oliver's dynamo of a mum.  She was reporting the news that Oliver was now able to wiggle his toes.  Oliver (below left with little brother Max) has never wiggled his toes before.  I mean, wow.  That is all.    

Thursday, 3 July 2014

Two fingers to the two Barrys

I came home last night with a bagful of new books for the kids. They made a nice change from 10-packs of Guinness and £10 wine for a fiver, which they normally hand back to me for "safe-keeping." 

There was a range of varied and exciting titles in there including Squeak the Lion, Charlie and the Cheesemonster and In A Minute, Mum

Charlotte having had a look - before scarpering off to her lair with two girlie books about princesses and fairies - Jamie undertook his initial assessment, making noises as he leafed.

Having finished his sift, he pulled one book out and held it up. It was called Barry the Fish with Fingers and the Hairy Scary Monster.

"Why did you buy this one?" he asked.

Before I had the chance to answer, Charlotte arrived back in the room. "We've got that one at nursery!" she enthused.  Good girl.

"Why did you buy it?" Jamie persisted, unmoved by his sister's interjection.

"Well, it's a follow-up to one of your other books," I whimpered, sensing he was a touch underwhelmed.

"Yes, he continued. "Barry the Fish with Fingers." 

"That's the one!" I beamed.


"Yes, Jamie." 

"You bought this book because it's got Barry in the title, didn't you?"

"Er, well, yes. I did. Yes."

"That's what I thought."

"Shall we read it now?!"

"No. I want to read this one," he declared, holding up a book about diggers and dinosaurs.  "Maybe I can read the Barry book to you tomorrow night."

I never realised six was such a difficult age.

Tuesday, 1 July 2014


Vanessa tried to teach Charlotte some manners at breakfast time, but it didn't go well.

After being bombarded with a series of demands prefaced with the words "I want," Mummy decided to take Little Missy back to basics.

Here's how the conversation went.

V: "What do you want?"

C: "A pancake."

V: "Say please."

C: "Please."

V: "No, say please can I have a pancake."

C: "Please."

V: "No. Please."

C: "Please."

V: "Please can I."

C: "Please can I."

V: "Please can I have."

C: "A pancake."  

We'll try again tomorrow.

Cometh the hour, walketh the Wee Man

Six months ago today - on 1 January - little Oliver Dickey's mum Charlene launched an online appeal to do something remarkable for her boy.  

You'll almost certainly be very familiar with the story by now and, if not, where have you been?  But just in case, 5-year-old Oliver from Coleraine was diagnosed with the spastic diplegia form of cerebral palsy at just 18 months and needs an operation to help him walk.

The stumbling block was that St Louis Children's Hospital in Missouri was his best option and the operation had a £60,000 price tag attached to it.  

But, you know, we Coleraine folk are nothing if not determined, so getting the cash was merely a minor challenge. And a mere two months later, the target had been reached.  With much of Oliver's aftercare still to be covered, the money the continued to flow in and more than £110,000 has now been raised at the last count.  Easy.      

Now the hard bit.

The Dickey family arrived in the United States over the weekend and, at 4.45pm today, the wee man goes in for his big op.

But there is already good news to report.

24 hours ago, Oliver went to see the legendary Dr Park (pictured above) for his assessment.  Throughout the past six months, Charlene has always made clear that the procedure was only ever expected to give Oliver the ability to get himself around in a protected environment - to visit the toilet, pick up a toy, that sort of thing.  

But yesterday Dr Park had a new take on things.  After examining our little hero, he told the Dickey family that he now expects Oliver to gain the ability to walk indoors and outdoors.  And, what's more, there is no reason to think that, with intensive physio, this will not happen within 12 months.   

The very best of fortune and fortitude to everyone involved in the coming hours.