12 Blogs of Christmas #8

Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?

In theory no – it’s against my principles, but sometimes we cannot help opening “just the one” before midnight !

When do you put up and take down your tree?

Up: Almost as soon as the local Tree market opens and;
Down: probably not within the boundaries set by tradition/superstition.

What goes on the top of the tree?

A fairy (not a real one) or a star (again, not real), depending

Fake or real Christmas tree?

After a good number of years as a singleton with a re-usable fake tree, my wife has me converted to real and no way am I going back.

Favourite Christmas film?

It’s A Wonderful Life

Coloured or clear fairy lights?

Clear

Favourite Christmas song?

Depends on who is singing it – It Came Upon a Midnight Clear, if a choir; We Wish You A Merry Christmas, if our daughter.

Favourite Christmas food?

Sprouts. And my wife’s home-made sausage rolls. And Beef – I do not like Turkey !

What is the best Christmas gift ever received?

Socks

What is the worst Gift you’ve ever received?

Socks – it’s all about timing.

What’s the best part of Christmas for you?

Watching people open their presents; the second glass of wine with Christmas lunch

Most annoying thing about this time of year?

The West End

Advertisements

12 Blogs of Christmas #7 If you could be anywhere.

If you could be anywhere for Christmas where would it be and why?

Home, Home, Home!!!!!

If I could be anywhere for Christmas it would be at home with all three of my boys.

In fact, that’s exactly where I’ll be at home, with my family.

Just because I can and want to be.

Worcestershire cottage would be the only alternative, burning the fire log fire with the boys.

I’ve always loved Christmas and this year all I want for Christmas is to be at home, home, home with just me and the boys.

The Pixies. 12 Blogs #2


This year I’ve tried out an advent calendar. In our house it is a piece of cloth with 24 small pockets, into which I sneak a small item every evening after my son has fallen asleep. Something simple, tiny, unpretentious but special. He’s loving it.

The first week I focussed on stones and the like. One morning he got a biggish stone. Igneous looking. From the depths of the house collection. He showed it to his dad. Who raised his big daddy eyebrows in very real surprise. If not disbelief. ‘You gave him the stone I collected as a young boy from Vesuvius?’ Oups. I guess I did. Which would explain why I couldn’t remember where or when I’d collected it. He soon relented and he likes the beauty of passing it to his son. If only he’d been part of that decision. Not unlike the year I told our son The Santa doesn’t exists.

‘That’s the kind of stuff I think we should agree on as parents – before we tell him.’
That does seem very reasonable to me. Even in hindsight. But the cat was out of the bag. Out and gone. My son now tells a number of other kids that santa is just made up. Apologies if you are a parent of a kid who has met our six year-old myth buster.

That same evening of Vesuvius Gate my son asked me why I had stolen it from daddy.
I told him I didn’t think I had bla bla bla.
‘But mummy you lied to me.’
‘?! What do you mean…?’ I thought I’d been honest. Too honest it turns out.
‘I thought the pockets filled by magic…’
Errrrmmm….
‘You just fill them, Mummy. When I am asleep.’ He was very disappointed. And I was busted.

How to get back from that one??

Turns out there was a way back to December magic. After another few mishaps.

One morning my son complained there was nothing in the pocket for that morning.

‘Are you sure?!’ I remember finding something the evening before and carrying it downstairs. But my son was adamant: There was nothing there. I checked with him. The pocket was totally and completely empty. And my son’s eyes as big as saucers.

Hmmmmm. Puzzled but not deterred I went about my business, grumbling over what may have happened. I distinctly remembered having chosen something small and fine.

‘Maybe we have nisser (Danish for gnomes or pixies)….’

‘Maybe they took it? Like they sometimes take daddy glasses and put them up on top his head so he can’t find them.’

‘Or they ate the last biscuits. Pesky creatures …’

I walked into the living room and there on the mantle piece was the thing I’d chosen. Small and shiny. I managed to sneak it in to the pocket. And soon after I heard a scream of joy:
‘Mummy! The pixies have been! They brought me a crystal!’

Since that morning his faith in the pixies has been restored. Which all together is a better fit for our family than Father Christmas. They’re mischievous and fun. Not good, nor bad, but a bit of both. Altogether more real. They also don’t judge. No elves on our shelves!

Next year I think I may introduce more of their mischievous sides. You see in Denmark where I grew up you put food out for the pixies. Every night in December. To keep on good terms with them. If you forget you may upset them. And they may play tricks on you and your family. Like dye the milk blue only for you to realise as you pour it over your breakfast cereal. Or they may fill Your pencil case with raisin instead of pens! Which you only find out when in school.

I think my son is ready for some December themed mischievousness. But am I?

12 blogs of Christmas 2017 #1

1. Do you open any presents on Christmas Eve?
No! Although the dogs sometimes does so without our permission
2. When do you put up and take down your tree?
Up about a week before Christmas. Down always on the 12th night.
3. What goes on the top of the tree?
This year a new Gold star but in past years we had a much loved dolly from my childhood which has finally snapped.
4. Fake or real Christmas tree?
Always real – Norfolk Spruce – for the smell.
5. Favourite Christmas film?
Love Actually.
6. Coloured or clear fairy lights?
Both. The more the merrier.
7. Favourite Christmas song?
I’ve got two; Stop the Cavalry because it always reminds me of my dad singing it, and When a Child is Born because my mum always played this every Christmas morning when we were little.
8. Favourite Christmas food?
All of it. There is not a single thing I don’t love about the food.
10. What is the best Christmas gift ever received?
A really long shaggy afghan coat when I was 11. It was completely unexpected and made me feel like a pop star.
11. What is the worst Gift you’ve ever received?
A Coffee pot from an ex. I kicked up a stink because I didn’t think it was romantic enough – feel bit bad about that now…
12. What’s the best part of Christmas for you?
All of it. I love it all.
13. Most annoying thing about this time of year? It starts too early…

My mum’s sausage rolls.

I grew up with avid foodie parents who loved nothing more than trying to outdo each other in the kitchen.

I’ve lost count of the amount of times my father demonstrated how to crack open and dress a crab. Seafood was his speciality and our Sunday tea usually consisted of crab, brown shrimps, winkles and cockles, salad and brown bread and butter and was utterly delicious.

My mum was a different story. Much as she tucked into the seafood with us, her heart was elsewhere and her absolute speciality was and still is making the most perfect shortcrust pastry you have ever tasted. It is a simple thing but done correctly is a thing of beauty.

She created numerous pie and tarts but the thing we loved most as a family – particularly my dad – was her sausage rolls. He was crazy about that combination of shortcrust pastry and filling.

It’s more usual to make a sausage roll using flakey or puff pastry but mum always favoured shortcrust and I have to say I still definitely prefer it.

Other essential ingredients are of course a good quality free range pork sausagemeat, pinch of mixed herbs and a grated onion, and a beaten egg for glazing.

Needless to say, this recipe has been passed on to me and my daughter now loves them the same way my father did. If she sees me making them she will let out a squeal of delight and rush over to try and ‘help’ me roll out the pastry (most of this ends up in her mouth). I imagine she’ll be making them herself before too long. Maybe with her own daughter.

Time marches on and my father sadly died this year but at the end of last year when he was getting frail and not eating very much, he and my mother came to stay and he asked if she would make some of her famous sausage rolls. We were both so pleased that he wanted to eat something – and seeing that my mother was tired I immediately jumped in and offered to make them instead.

“Ooh yes please! Can I help?”, came the cry from my daughter peeping round his bedroom door, so off we two went and made mum’s famous sausage rolls.

When they were done and we were all tucking into them around my dad’s bed, he took a bite, turned to my mum and said “Do you know I think this pastry might be even better than yours”…

I’ll never forget the look on her face or the smile on his. Priceless.

Thanks for all the laughs dad.

And Happy Father’s Day.

Independence days

Photo by lili Gooch

Photo by lili Gooch

We live in London and we plan to move to a new home which we have chosen because it falls within the catchment of both our sons current school and a new secondary school that we feel sure they will both attend. We of course get priority school placements because of the boys ‘looked after’ status, however we have become aware that living further away from the school than their classmates sets them apart and we think that anything that makes them feel more included has to be a positive.
We have reasoned that the small ‘city’ garden in the new house is not an issue as there is a large park close by and a small open common just across the road. Regardless, a garden big enough to contain the boys, their friends, their boundless energy and their various toys and sports equipment would need to be as big as a football pitch.
The new house will be undergoing some quite major works and the boys will be 9 and 10 years old once we finally move in. Knowing our sons, we feel that at this age the boys will be mature enough and sensible enough for us to allow them the freedom and independence to play out in the park or on the common on their own.
I am fully aware that many would immediately disagree with that and I emphasis ‘knowing our sons’. I do not for one moment feel it would be right for all children and I shamefully acknowledge that if I had daughters – as hypocritical sexist and illogical as it is – I would probably not be saying the same for another year or so.
I grew up in the 60’s/70’s and had a pretty idyllic childhood in the English countryside. My oldest memories are of playing out with a friend of the same age, the pair of us wondering around alone in the village that my family moved from when I was just 5. We moved to a small town and my siblings and I played out alone from the day we arrived, this included playing in playgrounds, on farmland, building sites and also at the beach (as well as in the sea) which was a 2 mile walk from our house and a journey we undertook on foot quite regularly.
In contrast my partner grew up in the 70’s/80’s in one of the worlds largest and most populated cities, regardless he too spent his childhood playing out with his siblings and neighbourhood friends. He talks of a similar freedom and independence to that which I experienced and which we both now want to pass on to our children.
Yet we have become aware that – like many reading this I am sure – some of our friends and family are questioning our choice and quite simply think that there are too many dangers – especially in a city – for children of that age.
It seems that more and more parents are denying their children even the most basic of freedom and independence and this is something that my partner and I just don’t understand. It is a freedom and independence that we feel is crucial for their development and which surely has to come at some point in their childhood and we feel strongly that it should be sooner than later as we feel it will teach them to be responsible and to be able to face the challenges and dangers life will throw their way. Without allowing this ‘life education’ we think that we will be letting our sons down.
We are aware of the potential dangers (and of course of the vastly exaggerated ‘perceived’ dangers), but rather than try to create an artificial world that pretends they are not at risk, we will educate the boys to an understanding of what to be fearful of and in the unlikely situation that they are confronted with anything we would have armed our sons with the means to avoid/overcome the danger. We feel that being able to recognise dangers and to have the confidence to confront them is essential and only achievable if given the freedom to do so. A child too protected is surely more vulnerable when faced with a situation so unfamiliar to them or their learning.
Naturally we parents do everything we can to protect our children and would never knowingly put them in harms way, however life is full of dangers that we have no or little control over and indeed others that we do have control over yet we simply choose to ignore. Whether we like to admit it or not I think most of us probably put our children at risk pretty much on a daily basis, yet these are risks that are barely acknowledged or considered.
The most obvious of which is driving them in our cars, hundreds of children are harmed and killed in car accidents every year, more than in any other way. Although we all know that, we still blindly belt our children in and take that risk without giving it a second thought – of course we do, we have lives to live and for many having a car allows us to give so much to our children and for many it is seen as an essential part of family life. Yet we are putting our children at far greater risk in our cars than we would be by letting them play outside.
Also we are repeatedly informed of the shockingly high statistics of child abuse from within families and by those close to the family, yet we think nothing of leaving our children with relatives, good friends and indeed less well known sitters. Of course we do, but yet again this is taking a risk greater than letting them play out.
I am not for one minute suggesting we should not be leaving our children, but I am saying that if we are willing to take those calculated risks so readily, why is it different when it comes to playing out? Playing out seems to be the one area that parents focus on and are fearful of and that we have became paranoid about. Yet playing out is such an essential part of childhood, especially in these days of too much sweet and fatty foods and of electronic games that are all having an impact on our children’s health – in their childhood and more worryingly into their adulthood.
We all know the risks to children playing out are no greater now then when we were growing up – when all kids played out – do we not? Of course the media coverage highlights the dangers so much more then it used to, but we are regularly fed data that says it’s our perception that has changed, not the degree of danger.
I think nowadays it is often about the parents need to be seen to be doing the ‘right’ thing (and that need may be even more relevant for an adoptive parent), yet perversely that seems to be exactly the wrong thing for a full and healthy childhood for our children.
So we are moving house for our sons to be able to play out with their classmates, yet we wonder if any of the parents of their friends will feel the same as us and if there will be any friends to play with?
And of course the really big question is – will we feel the same in a years time?

Impressions

20150813_091346So, recently I’ve started to muse on my qualities as both a human being and a father. Why do I react the way I do to certain stimuli? What is it that makes me feel a certain way? How much of my angst-ridden crap am I inadvertently passing to my daughter? Am I a good person? Do I want my daughter to be like me?

To the latter, yes; in some very important ways. I want her to enjoy being silly; I want her to dance around like a mentalist, sticking her tongue out, blowing raspberries and laughing herself into a collapse as much when she’s 50 as she does now. I want her to have conversations in languages that don’t exist with people who know what she isn’t talking about and can join in unfettered by social mores as much when she’s 50 as she does now. I want her to eventually like sprouts, preferably way before she’s 50. I want her to understand that licking the yoghurt out of the bowl instead of using a spoon is probably not the right thing to do when you’re at a dinner party when you’re 50 (but that she can carry on doing it at home when nobody’s looking). I want her to carry on dressing her teddy-bear up in women’s clothes even though he’s a he, and if she wants to still be doing that at 50, more power to her.

But in other ways, no. I don’t want her to carry around guilt, ever, for anything. I don’t want her to be the kind of person that loses old friends because she doesn’t take the time not to. I don’t want her to question who she is, or if she’s a good person, or to be scared of expressing what she’s feeling. I don’t want her to know the pain of loss.

But she will. I know that. It’s part of life. The only thing I can really do is to be there for her and fill her with faith that I will listen, understand, offer advice when asked, keep my mouth shut when not, and ultimately whatever else may happen, fill her soul and mind with the knowledge and the feeling that she is utterly loved, without conditions. That’s all I can do. And really that’s as much as I can do.

Oh, and of course remember the Tickling Tree and bring it up constantly in front of her friends.