Saturday, August 28, 2010


It's not an original observation, but they really are a bunch of bankers aren't they?

I'm currently looking for a new mortgage as we're moving house so I've been surfing finance sites for longer than is healthy. My current mortgage is with Gnat West (the Frank Bank - Unemployed? No money? Then f--- off! Thank you Viz) and they recently sent me a reminder that my current deal is nearly over. I've just been rereading their kind offer and see that the two year fixed deal they have offered me - a customer of 10 years plus - is more than 2% higher than an offer open to any old Joe, on their website.

They can't even claim that the web offer is new as I spoke to one of their call centre staff yesterday and he said it had been around since the time that my reminder was sent. And my muggins offer comes with a £199 arrangement fee, compared with no fee for the one on the website.

The sad and bad thing is that there will be people out there who have taken them up on this and be overpaying by hundreds of pounds a month. Customer loyalty really does only cut one way it seems.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Advice for Dave

I was recently interviewed for an article on the BBC website about being a dad to tie in with the birth of David and Samantha Cameron's latest child. It came a bit earlier than expected, but luckily they managed to get it up in time.

As a journalist myself, I can't complain about being misquoted. I did pretty much say all of that stuff, but because of the brief, I didn't get much of a chance to talk about the joy of being a dad. And there are lots of joyous aspects to it.

However, it's fair to say that I found our second child tougher than our first. Partly this was because of the mismatch between expectation and reality. Despite being told by enough people that two or more kids were a lot tougher than one, it went in one ear and out the other. I thought that by the time number two was on the way, we had this parenting lark down pat. More fool me. Like lots of aspects of parenthood, you really have to experience things yourself and find your own way through.

I particularly struggled with drawing a boundary between family and work time. Because I work from home mainly, it was all too easy to be dragged into domestic crises - children crying, wife crying, poomageddon etc. Combined with the inevitable lack of sleep (well, not inevitable I suppose. Our second has proved not to be the placid balance to his energetic brother, but more of the same), the first few months turned out to be a not very productive time for me work wise. It was just as well that we were in a freelance recession!

I can't imagine what it will be like for the PM to try and stay on top of his workload while being a thoroughly modern dad at the same time. Of course he's already had three children, including one disabled child, so he's probably more disciplined than I'll ever be. With Samantha laid up after her section, there will be plenty for him to - and not just making tea and toast as he joked yesterday. It's lucky for him that he has Nick Clegg to hold the fort while he holds the baby.

It's going to be tough for them though with Sam having given up her job and the freezing of child benefit - thanks George! Family friendly government? We'll see.

Oh and the joyous bits. Well, the early days don't last for ever, do they?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

To do list

After a few weeks of frantic searching, we have found a house in Essex which, if everything goes according to plan, we should move into in a couple of months. Which means that our Hackney holiday may become a permanent vacation.

Now that the move is imminent, I'm mentally listing things that we'll have to try and do before we leave here. Some of them are things that I've always meant to do but haven't got round to. Others are favourite activities that we'll miss when we move home. In no particular order:

* a meal at Buen Ayre on Broadway Market for a proper Argentinian steak. Window table please, as frequented by David Byrne a couple of months back.
* an afternoon at the Museum of Childhood with the kids. It's been my home from home for the past couple of years and the saviour of many rainy days.
* a morning swim at London Fields Lido - apparently the US swim team are eyeing it up for the 'Lympics.
* a few cheeky pints at the Wenlock Tavern, one of the few spit and spit pubs that haven't been gastro-ed up. They do blinding doorstop sandwiches to soak up the ale.
* go for a run along the canal past Victoria Park.
* complete a few more legs of the London Loop. Kids have put a stop on our efforts as most of the legs are a fair few miles and not particularly buggy friendly. It's a great walk though.
* late night bagels from Brick Lane. Preferably eaten slightly squiffy on a nightbus home to Hackney.
* cycle across London for free on the Boris Bikes. Although I've registered I still haven't tried them.
* ask to busk alongside Mikey at Dalston shopping centre.
* visit the Horniman museum. (I'm putting this down mainly because there's a good chance that we'll do it this weekend.)
* go to a ukulele night, such as the one in Stoke Newington's Lion pub.
* take a trip along the Thames on a boat.

There are plenty of other things, but that's a good start.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010


In some cultures it's thought that when you die you are presented with all the things you have lost 'on the other side'. That's a lifetime of single socks, dropped coins, mislaid keys and mobile phones collected in the great lost property office in the sky.

I'm expecting that moving house is somewhat similar and that we will start to unearth lost treasures from behind furniture and the foot of drawers that have been unopened for years. Since having children, the rate at which things go missing has increased exponentially. It's not just the obvious stuff like kids socks, although they do seem to have a life of their own, or hats and dummies (ditto). Stuff just seems to disappear into thin air to the extent that you begin to suspect a malevolent presence.

Toys are another candidate for missing in action status. This particularly infuriates me as I have something of the quartermaster about me - a place for everything and everything in its place. It drives me nuts when I can't find the last piece of a jigsaw, the final action figure for a particular toy, or the piece of track that completes the railway line. Where are they?

I suspect that some of them ended up posted in the bin when J was younger. Other items might possibly have been left at his nursery or tossed from his buggy. It's not even that this stuff is valuable. It's the not knowing where it is that annoys me.

At times of greatest exasperation my wife nods sagely and says, "I'm sure it will turn up." This drives me even more bonkers. Does she know where it is? Is it some kind of elaborate game that she has devised with the kids - "Let's watch daddy lose it, shall we. Hide his phone in the freezer." Mainly however it's because I suspect her of being the architect of many of our losses. She is very scatty, with a slack attitude to her own possessions which she is passing on to our offspring.*

The latest loss is a whole bucket full of toy dinosaurs. One or two of their number going missing is just about excusable, but the extinction of the whole pack (hmm, collective noun for dinosaurs?) is mind boggling. It's right up there with the mystery of the mini guitar amp. This isn't a particularly small item and we don't live in a particularly large flat, so where the flip can it be?

I'm beginning to think that there is only one solution to the problem - throw away half of everything you own. At least that way if something turns up later you will feel blessed.

* Sorry darling, but it's true!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Why the long face?

The overriding memory I have of my mum when I was growing up is that she always seemed grumpy, usually with me. Our house was a whole world of 'no'.

Now, of course, the boot is on the other foot, and I can see that what I took for her unfair crabbiness was probably just plain exhaustion at bringing up two kids on her own. This combined with the ongoing repetition of house rules and regulations designed to prevent your offspring killing or maiming themselves or each other.

This is particularly brought home to me now we have two children. To a certain extent it was easy to be fun-loving, easy going dad when we just had Number One Son. Now with his four-month old brother in tow, I frequently find myself in the role of bad cop, relaying all the many ways he is letting us down with his inconsiderate behaviour.

He is two years old. I am 43.

I think he can see it coming now. His face creases up into a mask of misery and he implores me: "Don't be annoyed with me."

It is a mask of course. He's well sneaky and knows that I find it hard to be hard on him. Unless like last night I'd been up all night, due to brother's sniffles, including a 2am trip to Tesco for Calpol which he only succeeded in dribbling down his front anyway. When his elder brother started complaining that he couldn't sleep in his bed due to wasps, it really was the final straw!

"Get in that bed NOW, and go to sleep. If I hear one more word from you I'll... " (tries unsuccessfully to think of a suitable sanction for a two year old. I had started to remove his favourite toys when he misbehaved, but when he said, "What shall we take away next?" it was apparent that my punishment regime had been turned into a game by him. You can't win.)

Eventually he did go to sleep, although not before complaining of more wasps and telling me where I should sleep (on the landing, outside his door). It's suffice to say that none of us are fresh as a daisy today - well, he is, but his parents are looking more haggard than usual.

Meanwhile, my dear old mum has turned into a doting and fun grandma. Enjoy your rest mum. You've earned it.

Sunday, August 08, 2010


The shiny-suited ones have done us proud and managed to sell our humble abode for an anything but humble price. I'm almost ashamed at what we're getting for it (subject to contract) - almost but not quite.

It was all over relatively quickly - about five weeks to sell, during which time we were absent for many of the showings. This wasn't on purpose - we simply have the kind of fun-packed social lives that require us to vacate the Capital at weekends. I'm glad we weren't around though. If there is one thing more dispiriting than having someone do the tour of your house in about two minutes flat (that's a no then!), it's half-hearing the muted discussions as they tear apart what's still standing of your little castle.

Now the shoe is on the other foot, and it's us who are the moneyed interlopers, traipsing through people's lives, guffawing at their taste in decor, and rubbishing their houses.  Actually, I'm not that rude. Not even about the one really horrible house we've seen recently. (A big clue should have been the requirement to remove shoes at the door). Even here I oohed and aahed and commented favourably on the room sizes - sometimes it's the only thing you have left in your armoury of compliments.

I haven't househunted for more than 11 years, and then it took me months and I probably saw about 30-40 properties before falling in love with the ample proportions of my current des res. Then it was a backwater street in a backwater part of town. Now it's a newly hip quarter of an Olympic borough, which is probably why it has done so well on the market. From a two-bed flat in Hackney, we're now looking at four-bed detatcheds in Essex. How does that work?

Not that our new-found paper wealth is making the process any easier. After sifting through properties on-line for ages, we had a shortlist of about ten properties, and surprise, surprise, none of them is quite right. Nice location but bedrooms are too small, loads of rooms but the garden is tiny, fantastic space, but it's in the middle of nowhere, amazing space, but it's right next to a car park... and so on. Then there's the different tastes and priorities of me and the missus.

I can't deny that househunting is great for the nosey though. It's a great insight into how other people live, and estate agents are such gossips. I love the way that they let slip with enough of the backstory to pull you in - "they've split up - such a shame. I think they'd take an offer!"

Hopefully everyone is open to an offer at the moment, as our initial plan of cutting our outgoings seems to be going to pot as we have exhausted the cheaper properties in our range and are now looking towards, and maybe beyond out notional maximum budget. Then again, this may be a once in a lifetime to get ourselves a pukka Essex mansion.