Sunday, October 28, 2012

Hello old friend

Yesterday we were in East London for a birthday party, so decided to do that rather embarrassing thing where you revisit your old house and street.

I'm glad we did actually. It was really interesting to see how Wilton Way has changed -  the trendification continues. Our old flat was on the little row of shops that is now lauded in Time Out and the New York Times as the Williamsburg of East London. Since I was last there, a new wine shop has opened in the old post office, a hip hairdresser in the old hairdresser's, and an art book shop in a store that was closed for as long as I lived there.

It really is very impressive and a model for reinvigorating retail space that owes everything to people following their dreams and being mutually supportive, and nothing to Mary Portas. It's the sort of approach that could work in  Colchester, and I know that there are enough imaginative and creative people to make it happen. Maybe they just need to focus their efforts on a particular street to create a little hip quarter with its own vigour.

Anyway, back in East London, the thing that really made my day was bumping into my old neighbour Mr Abdul. He is an elderly Pakistani gentleman who used to run a small grocer's next door in the decidedly pre-hip days. The only thing vintage about his shop was him.

He is a delightful old gentleman and it was hard to pass him in the street without stopping to chat and then wondering where the time had gone. His younger son and I used to get completely lost in dissecting the weekend's football results.

It was a lovely surprise to spot him walking down the street, looking slightly out of place among all the fashionistas and yummy mummies that now make up the local scene. I extended  my hand to shake his, only to be embraced in a big bear hug. It was most unexpected and not a little humbling - it's nice to be missed. We had the two boys with us as well, who he always showed an interest in, and was probably surprised to see how big they have become in the past two years. We spoke about how he was (health not so good), his wife (ditto), his son and his family (still living with them, and looking after his parents - good boy! Got a good job with Deloitte, although his first love was football and he had trials with Ipswich).

And then we went our way. It's possible I'll never see him again, which is a very sad thought.

Elsewhere in my old manor there were lots of other changes, not least the arrival of Boris Bikes. In the past I've called for them to be in East London and now you can hardly move for them, certainly in the strip from the West End to the Olympic Stadium.

We also lunched at Hackney City Farm, still a haven for young families and still a big it with the kids. Nice to be back, if only for a day.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The screaming begins when the bell rings*

Last week we had J's first assessment from his school. It was all very heartening: he's settled in well; he's making friends; his literacy and numeracy are both good (they probably wanted to say he was top of the class but couldn't because of some PC 'all will have prizes' rule. Tsk!)

Which was great. But what I really wanted to know about was his temperament in class. Because out of it, it's atrocious.

It's almost as if he holds it all together so much when he's in school that there needs to be a small nuclear explosion by the time he gets home. This makes for a very long day, as school kicks out at just after 3pm. The journey home is usually benign enough: we discuss today's school dinner; what he's done in class; who he played with, and so on.

But as soon as he gets in the house it's as if he undergoes a personality change, and not a nice one. Requests to change out of his school uniform are answered as if we'd asked him to commit some appalling act. Declining requests for sweets can also be met with him going ape.

Goodness knows what the neighbours make of his stomping and shouting. I'd like to say that I'm a model of calm when confronted by tantrum boy, but this would be misleading. If truth be told, I'm often driven to screaming back, which rapidly turns into a vocal arms race. I know it's wrong and there's nothing to be gained from trying to shout down a five year old, but sometimes it's all I've got left in my armoury - I don't feel good about it.

From speaking to other parents, I'm slightly relieved to hear that it is not just us that has a demon child. Other mums tell a similar tale. As long as we're within the bell curve I can live with it.

Luckily (I think) it's half term next week. Maybe there will be a week of sweet natured fun and games all round. Or maybe the bad behaviour will simply fill the whole day.

* Actually they don't have a school bell at J's school. I guess they've gone the way of free milk and rickets.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

On our bikes

With number one son getting ready to start school, I decided that I didn't want to drive him there every day. His school is around 1.5 miles away, which is a little too far for his little legs, even with his Micro scooter, on which he is a whizz.

Having researched a few options, I decide that the best was a bike trailer. His younger brother will start nursery soon, so we bought one that can accommodate them both. We actually bought this before we had bought the bikes needed to tow it. These eventually came from a great little charity in Colchester called Re-Cycle.

It collects old bikes and does them up before sending them off to Third World counties. They also recondition bikes that you can buy here, to cover their costs. Not only is it a great charity, but you can also pick up some fantastic bargains. The bikes go through a 20-30 point check and can be practically like new.

We picked up two bikes - a Raleigh mountain bike/hybrid type for me, and a sit up and beg style ladies bike for my wife. Together they cost less than the trailer itself. Both seem to have new or almost new tyres, came with a three month guarantee, and that all important accessory, a bell.

Although I have cycled off and on since I was a kid, this is actually the first bike I have owned since I was about 17.`1

The school run has turned out to be a great little trip to kick start the day. The school road gets fairly congested with traffic and you often have to park a few streets away, but with my vehicle I can navigate right to the school gates, or even inside.

I was a bit nervous about towing the trailer in traffic. A friend told me that they knew somebody who had given it up after having an unspecified accident. The roads to school are fairly major town roads with a few slightly hairy junctions and other obstacles to negotiate - narrowing of the road, traffic lights, crossings and so on. I took the bike out a few times before term started to get used to it, but there was no way to really prepare for the big day and rush hour traffic.

As it happens, I've been pleasantly surprised by the respect I'm given by drivers. I thought that my contraption would be viewed as a huge annoyance by psycho drivers, anxious to get by me. It's early days yet, but I haven't had any of that, and no road rage of any sort yet - thank you patient drivers of Colchester.

It's not stopping with me though. It was J's fifth birthday yesterday and his main gift from us was a bike. I can still remember the first bike I received, and it's heartening to report that he was as excited about his bicycle as I was with mine. Now we just need to get those stabilisers off and we can let the good times roll.

Monday, October 15, 2012

My muso days are over

Like many music obsessed parents, I always thought I’d pass on my ‘good taste’ in music to my children. I’ve always envisaged them sitting rapt at my feet as I tutored them in the subtleties of classic seventies progressive rock, the energy of punk and the earnest commentary of singer songwriters that adorn my record collection.

Of course the kids had other ideas. “Boring!” they’d shout as soon as one of my CDs was inserted into the stereo or car entertainment system. They much preferred a host of children’s favourites by the likes of Danny Kaye and others which have been slowly but surely driving me round the twist.

Recently we came upon a happy middle ground in the shape of Eighties zany pop duo They Might Be Giant. They’re best remembered for the annoying Birdhouse in Your Soul song, a tune that has always grated on me. However my wife loves them and chanced upon a video of the band’s song E Eats Everything on YouTube. This is a sort of Sesame Street animated ode to the letter E and other letters in the form of a description of their favourite foods.

Our two boys found it absolutely hilarious and insisted that it went on repeat. Its funky guitar riff was so naggingly insistent that even musically pretentious dad could appreciate it.

I then discovered that the band have actually recorded two albums worth of child friendly songs devoted to the alphabet and numbers (Here Come the ABCs and Here Come the 123s). As well as being sneakily educational, they are funny and enjoyable to both adults and children with some corking tunes spanning a gamut of styles including country, pop, Eighties electro and prog rock.

Car journeys are now a delight as we can sing along en famille to ditties such as Who Put the Alphabet in Alphabetical Order, I Can’t Remember What D is For, and the ever hilarious 7 song.

For now it’s a great half way house between my musical preciousness and their desire to belt out nonsense lyrics. And at four and two, there’s still plenty of time to introduce them to the delights of Yes, the Ramones and Nick Drake. I haven’t given up.