Sunday, June 21, 2009

A little bit of paradise in Hackney

... well actually Tower Hamlets. The annual Paradise Gardens fete in Victoria Park has come round again. We're off to meet lots of parents and their offspring.
Hoping the London Elvises are there.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Bob Crow is a dude

There is a certain type of person who is ready to applaud the pluck of the French for standing up for what they believe in - blocking channel ports, dumping sheep carcasses on the doorsteps of government departments, smashing up McDonald's, and so on.
Why oh why can't we be a bit more like them, they whinge. Why are the British so compliant?
But when we get an honest to goodness show of power from a group of British workers looking to exercise their rights, it's suddenly a different matter.
Well you can't have it both ways. I know that the recent Tube strike is a massive inconvenience to thousands of Londoners, including my wife, who doubled the time her usual journey to work took. But I've got to admit a sneaking respect for the RMT and boss Bob Crow for being being able to do it.
There's a great profile of him here which only increases my admiration for him. I particularly like the way he is unapologetic about the fact that some of his members seem to be paid quite well already. (The strike wasn't simply about money anyway).
The implication, which he swats away like Obama did his fly, is that nobody can seriously believe that a working class oik needs £40K for driving a train. Surely they'll only spend it on Sky, Rothmans and Lambrini.
Divide and rule brothers. 'Twas ever thus.
There is a particularly irksome comment on this that always pokes its chinless head up whenever there is industrial action. I can only assume that Paul Weller wants to twat these seabirds. Biting satire it aint.
I realise that everything I've written is slightly undermined by the fact that I live in Tube-free Hackney, and work from home... but power to the workers anyway.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

"We hate kids..."

I read a couple of articles recently that made me think, and also depressed me a bit.

The first is this one by Polly Vernon, who doesn't seem to be allowed to go a month without writing about how put upon she feels by society's insistence that everybody should have kids. The other is by Jon Ronson and relates the tale of how he had to leave a restaurant that refused to allow his 10-year old son in.

What is quite depressing about both is the feedback from readers who seem largely (70 per cent?) hostile to the notion of children and quite freely band about stereotypes of parents who are immune to the havoc their marauding ankle biters wreck on the lives of the childfree. They also perpetuate the myth that anybody with kids is so blissfully smug about their fecundity that they are incapable of being aware of anybody else's feelings, or simply not caring.

In my experience of parenthood - 19 months and counting - that's the last thing that most parents are. You become hyper aware of your place in the scheme of things, and also that not everybody is as besotted by your offspring as you occasionally are. Spending months wheeling a tank-sized buggy around quickly gets you enough looks to make you realise that you are a problem to some people.

I just don't recognise this idea that parents impose their world view on everybody else - did I think that before we had J? I honestly can't remember. Obviously we have him now, so my attitude is coloured by that, but I don't think I have ever thought that everybody should have children, let alone question somebody's motives for not wanting children. It's possibly the hardest thing I've ever done, because it is so unrelenting and you feel the stakes of messing up are so high. It really isn't for everybody. In some ways I feel that we've given up a lot in terms of personal freedoms to have a family - not particularly in financial terms, but in the time you lose that could have been frittered away so pleasantly. Now I cherish every spare half hour that I have to myself. That time has been given greater value because we have family commitments.

Thankfully, such online comments don't really reflect my experience of being a parent. By and large people in London, and Hackney especially, are remarkably considerate and helpful to parents. I've lost count of the number of times I've received some small, unsolicited kindness from a stranger who sees me struggling along with my load of childstuff. It's not unappreciated.

It does help that we have the world's cutest child though... aaaargh! Smug alert....

Sunday, June 07, 2009


The words are coming think and fast now from Jamie. He's turned into a fantastic little mimic and it's easy to forget that he's all ears. I believe he has already said one of the lesser swear words after hearing it from a responsible adult - not on my shift guv.
It all seems to have happened quite quickly. A month or so ago he was only saying individual words, and now he is threading them together in rudimentary sentences. He's only 18 months, and he wasn't saying that much at one, despite our parental pride in what seemed like wordiness at the time.
Now he can tell us, not only that he had had a poo, but how big it is (usually big poo), and that it is mummy, not him that is a beautiful boy, and that another portion of Shreddies is his favourite breakfast, thank you for asking.
He's also getting quite opinionated in a 'black is white' way. He will happily argue that this is the case and gets rather irate when contradicted. It's all getting very interesting.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Days like these

There are times when I wonder what I'm doing as a part time dad. When I'm pushing the buggy along the road and somebody - a shiny-suited Apprentice wannabe frinstance - catches my eye, and there's a momentary look that says 'Get a job'. At which point, I want to stop and say "You don't know anything about me. I could be a high flyer. I could wear a shiny suit." But I don't obviously - say it, or wear a shiny suit (usually fraying dockers and a stained T-shirt actually).
Actually, it's hardly surprising that I get that look as some days I do feel like a member of the long-term unemployed - not to mention looking like one, courtesy of my week long stubble. It's not that I don't do anything (see below), it's more that there is a feeling of being adrift from mainstream society when you are looking after a child. You keep different hours. You hang out in different places. You do different things. It's a whole subculture out there that I never knew existed. It's a world where lawyers and journalists mix with electrical engineers, shop workers and the real unemployed at strange little gatherings where you sit banging plastic instruments and singing out of tune songs about animals with strange anthropomorphic qualities. Who writes this stuff?
I often have this feeling that I should be doing something more worthwhile. That I should be working harder, climbing the ladder of success, and wearing that shiny suit with pride. But as my wife continually points out, I'm doing the most important job in some ways. In know she's right, and I know she would swap roles with me in a second, but I suppose that I'm as conditioned as the next man about what my role should be - trad dad breadwinner.
Again, I have to emphasise that I enjoy this new life I have. It's a secret life, and in some ways it does seem like a holiday of sorts when I'm looking after J. The problem is that the real world keeps intruding into our little Hackney Holiday world. There are always deadlines threatening, people chasing, and people to chase. It's the juggling that's the hardest part, and that's probably why I have this sense of dislocation. Because I have a foot in both camps, I'm never completely at ease in either.
I wouldn't change it though. This will end at some point and I'll be back to my five days a week routine and forgeting the songs about elephants scrubbing their clothes, and the glockenspiel tunes, and how much fun it can be.

What I do

  • Woken up by Jamie
  • Give him milk
  • Change nappy - Jamie's, not mine
  • Breakfast time
  • Playtime
  • Get him dressed
  • Try to have a shower - no shave
  • Walkies - get the bag ready
  • Leave the house
  • Go back to the house to collect forgotten stuff
  • Find a place to give Jamie his dinner
  • Nappy time
  • Grab a cuppa
  • Shop for food
  • Swings
  • Back home
  • Make dinner for Jamie
  • Story time
  • Play
  • Mummy home...
  • Get bedtime stuff ready
  • Run bath
  • Kiss Jamie goodnight
  • Make dinner while mummy puts J to bed
  • Do dishes
  • Me time!

Saturday, April 25, 2009

What have I done?

It was an odd Friday.
I was summoned to the Midlands by one of the companies I do a bit of work for. I started working for them at the beginning of the year after a sudden downturn in paying gigs being offered. The company had actually been pursuing me during the summer, but I didn't fancy it, despite the immortal line from the desperate middle manager doing the pursuing that it was "money for old rope".
How can you refuse an offer like that? Well, I did for a bit. But a worryingly quiet December had me beating a path to their door with my tail between my legs begging for work, which was still available. Phew!
It hasn't all been plain sailing though. The work isn't that interesting and there have been issues with the project - namely how long-term it was likely to be (my feeling is that it's going to be pulled at some point).
So anyway, I approached the meeting with a certain degree of ambivalence. I knew that there were a few changes in the offing as one of the main people in the team was leaving. So I ended up in a meeting where the manager was effectively saying could I take on more responsibility.
Before I knew what I was saying I'd effectively talked myself out of a job, saying that I wasn't currently able to take on more work from them (true), that I didn't really agree with that they were trying to do and presenting a withering critique of their corporate culture, which I think is too navel gazing.
The lady I was meeting with actually seemed a bit stunned, although she thanked me for my candour. It now seems that they will look for somebody else to take on the work, and I'll be let go.
As I headed home on the train I was reading ever more gloomy economic predictions for the next few years which brought on a sense of panic. Suddenly I was mentally pulling the emergency stop cord and running back up the line to let them know it was all a terrible mistake. This feeling has stayed with me for most of the weekend, despite my wife pointing out that I've got more work than I can handle at the moment, that I didn't want to do it in the first place, and that I'm always moaning about it.
I guess such periods of self doubt are the curse of the freelancer. The old saying is that it is either famine or feast, and there seems to have been more of the former than the latter of late. Will I live to regret this decision? Time will tell.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Choo choo!

What is it with boys and trains? J has taken a massive liking to toy trains, especially wooden ones like this. His cousin has some and so has a new friend of his, Kai. Unluckily - or maybe luckily - for Kai, he is only 12 months old so is less possessive about his toys than J is with his (and other people's). So when J starts playing with the trains, it's cool with Kai.
Anyway, this Easter, his granny got him his very own train set, which has probably turned out to be the best gift ever! It's the first thing he wants to play with every day. He was overjoyed to receive it and since there is a steam railway line where she lives, we thought we'd take him to see the real thing.
It almost didn't happen as he was asleep by the time we had taken the soggy walk to the local park where the train starts. After a cursory look around, we decided that he needed his nap more than a sight of the locomotives, so started off back home. At this stage he did wake up and with the train about to leave in a couple of minutes I rushed him back on to the platform in time for him to see that Choo choos really exist. It really was quite a wonderful moment and I was very touched by it. It was another of those gushy moments that make you realise how great it is to be a parent, no matter what Rachel Cook says (about mums).

Friday, April 03, 2009

Here comes summer

The past couple of days have been seasonally clement for the time of year. (Excuse the Radio 2-isms but the wife keeps channel switching in the morning, so I'm currently being hit by a double whammy of Sarah Kennedy and Terry frickin' Wogan and they are gradually realigning my thought processes. All those Middle England witticisms and chummy texts and emails from the TOGs are doing my head in. Never mind the aural torture of playing the Birdy Song, or whatever, to terror suspects. Why not just give them a blast of this inane drivel and they'd be begging to tell their interogators anything.)
Anyway, the weather has been very sunny over the past couple of days, which really does lead to a Hackney Holiday feeling in the air. I was in the playground with J the other day and there were a couple of other mums availing themselves of the facilities by quaffing a bottle of cream-based liqueur and having a big spliff while their kids careered around. I have to say that the one in possession of the doobie did have the good grace to try and waft the fumes away from her as J started towards her. We made our excuses and left.
Hackney in summer is great though. We live near London Fields park and people treat it as their garden, so on sunny days, it is a fantastic place to hang out. There are amateur barbecue-ists, football players and frisbee-ers, folk reading the papers, punk picnics, rampaging dogs, the Hoxton trendies, kids dunking each other in the paddling pool, the obligatory men with guitars, impromtu cricket, young guys strutting around with their tops off and young girls looking studiedly unimpressed. It's just a great vibe, and we've got months of it to come, which is especially great for me as I have two days a week of dadding when I have carte blanche to have fun, as long as his nibs is into it as well.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009


It must be great being able, indeed expected, to sleep during the day. I am trying to type very quietly while J sleeps on the sofa. He did just wake up a minute ago, stood up and then lay back down on his other side. Amazing. I don't think he even realised he was awake.
Baby sleep is a strange thing. You spend half your life imploring them to get their heads down, and the other half trying to keep them awake so that they can sleep at the properly appointed times. Not that they ever do.
Other parents obsess about it almost as much as you do. It is a badge of some honour to have a baby or toddler that 'sleeps well'. Jeez! As if we have anything to do with it. They sleep when and where they like.
J has never been what you would call a great sleeper. When he was younger, he would sleep all day and be awake all night. That's how it seemed anyway. I can vaguely recall pacing the front room in the wee small hours singing Blackbird, Stairway to Heaven or some made up song for hundreds of verses. I actually thought that this would be a great way for me to imprint the lyrics to some of my favourite songs into my memory, which is terrible for such things. What I didn't realise was that at three in the morning, your brain is mainly concerned with ensuring that you don't drop the baby or stop breathing. So my recitations would be like a badly scratched record - sing first two lines of first verse, switch to last two lines of third verse, attempt half of chorus, and repeat from the beginning. Now these addled versions are indelibly imprinted on my mind never to be shifted.
Altogether now... Hello darkness, hello friend...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

It sleeps

The bairn is having a lie down and is now one and a half hours into an afternoon kip. Which is great, apart from the fact that he is sleeping through the remaining daylight and I still haven't been out of the house today. Unless he gets up in about the next five to 10 minutes, it's unlikely I will get outside today. Wake up!!!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Can we have that again?

I feel robbed of the festive experience. Everything started really well with some lovely days at the in-laws and Christmas dinner produced by the sis-in-law. It was all looking good for a week of excess and laziness when Jamie came down with something on the day after Boxing Day. It seems to have been some sort of virus and manifest itself with lots of vomiting and increasing listlessness.
He is normally really robust and active, so it was quite disturbing to see him so low. All he wanted to do was sit on his mum's knee - funny how she's the first port of call in troubled times. He didn't eat much and wasn't drinking a lot either, so we were quite worried about dehydration. We took him to an out of hours service where the paediatrician squeezed his fingers, poked and prodded him, before pronouncing he would get over it himself. There wasn't really much else we could do, but it was reassuring to hear he was going ot be okay. At the time it seemed as if he would never get better. I dread to think what's it's like dealing with long term illness in a child.
As luck would have it, he started doing an Uncle Albert and came across as the picture of health as soon as he encountered a doctor, painting us as a couple of paranoid time wasters. Cheers Jamie.
The next day, he was on his way to being more like his old self, but has not gone to nursery today to give him a chance to get back his old strength. Having spent to past week rinsing sick out of clothes, bedding and carpets, I am glad to have him back.