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.

Twelve blogs of Christmas #12: Twelve Christmas moments I won’t forget in a hurry.

DSC_4361My uncle’s thoughtful present to our daughter. A set of eight children’s CDs containing no less than 134 plinkety plonkety songs, performed on what sounds like a Bontempi organ and sung in the shrillest voice imaginable. I cannot get them out of my head or CD player.

An extra special gift for me (The giver shall remain nameless..) A top, sized 18 – 20 (I am a 12) with additional information reading “EXTRA LARGE” in case I was in any doubt.

A special doggy treat. Catching a friend’s dog weeing into one of our old fashioned radiators, right into all those little bends and twists of the immoveable metal cave nooks and crannies.

 The joy of the chase. Misplacing my mobile phone and trying to listen out for it’s vibration over the din of Justin’s House Christmas panto, and a loop of 134 plinkety plonkety children’s songs; all the while kneeling onto thousands of tiny little sharp pine needles stuck in the rug and and holding the sofa up to peek under there.

Our Daughter’s Joy. Watching our daughter try out her bike for the very first time and her expression of sheer concentration and wonder.

Boxing Day. Having guests cancel Boxing day visit due to sudden unforeseen circumstances, and getting to spend the entire day together as a family on the sofa, playing games and watching films with a fire lit. – Perfect.

Being able to fully realise how blessed and lucky I am. Sometimes I can’t access these feelings. This year I felt so much joy.

missing people. Thinking about two dear friends who sadly didn’t make it to see Christmas this year, then thinking of the same friends’ families and loved ones, and how hard this time of year will have been for them.

Missing more people. Seeing my husband really miss his father (as he always does at this time of year) and feeling helpless.

Miracles. Being present to see my dad finally get up and join us for a couple of hours at Christmas, after spending 5 days practically comatose in bed recovering from radio therapy.

My new red handbag – best Christmas present. Ever.

Cooking my first Christmas lunch ever. Turkey with all the trimmings, pigs in blankets etc, Christmas pudding  and it was for 14 people. It was much easier than I thought.

 

 

 

 

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #7: So Macho

DSC_4363Last year for Christmas we gave our oldest son a simple MP3 player. We went through our music collection and filled it with happy pop songs that we felt he would enjoy – and enjoy them he does.

Very quickly he learnt some of the lyrics and he merrily sings along – often at the top of his voice – and very quickly we realised the error of our ways.

We are gay dads and without considering it we had filled our young son’s gift with VERY ‘gay man’ music.

Immediately his favourite song became ‘it’s raining men’, closely followed by ‘dancing queen’, ‘YMCA’ and ironically, ‘So Macho’.

I have never been under the illusion that I have a cool taste in music, which is fortunate because if I ever had been it would have been quashed when my nephews reached the age when they could express their feelings about it; it was often clearly stated that I like ‘sad old gay man’s music’.

And here I am passing it on to my son.

I am the first to scream about the merits of gay adoption, but even I have to acknowledge that when it comes to music, there could be a real downside for our children.

I am now going to take my tongue out of my cheek to go and ‘daddy dance’ around the Christmas tree to something very butch…where is that K D Lang CD?

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #6: A three and a half year old describes Christmas.

Photo by Lili Gooch

Photo by Lili Gooch

I don’t want to tell anyone about Christmas because you’re not my friend because you won’t let me blow the silver blower because the dog doesn’t like it.

 

Christmas is all about – I love my headphones – my people coming like Gran-Gran and Nanna and my cousins.

 

I like Christmas because little FlatOut – my friend FlatOut – is squeaking and he likes Christmas because he likes to help everyone. And Billy doesn’t look Christmassy because he hasn’t got a Christmas hat – can we get him one from the shops?

 

Everyone comes at Christmas, don’t they? At Christmas Eve my friends are coming – and my pink table can be the table for all the guys at Christmas. And Lily will need a comfy chair – can I put it there ready for Christmas now? Please? I just want to make it look like it needs to be so everyone can sit on my table and sit next to me for Christmas. Why not now?

 

But I’ve already told you all about Christmas, Daddy. Stop asking me.

 

Yes, oh and there are presents for Christmas, that’s correct. Because we get presents and can I look at what’s in those presents? Please, Daddy. OK – well I don’t want to wait. But OK.

 

Can you wipe my nose?

 

And the Snowman – I love that. That’s for Christmas as well, isn’t it Daddy? I love it – they sing in the sky – it’s so good isn’t it? It’s my favourite in the world. But I love Fungus the Bogeyman too because he’s so sticky at Christmas.

 

There’s roast chicken for Christmas, cake, I love cake, don’t I?

 

And Father Christmas comes and gives us presents, he’s red – that’s my favourite colour. And I can watch Rex at Christmas Eve. You know Rex. Rex, Daddy, Rex. This one here – Rex. Yes Shrek – that’s what I said.

 

And Christmas is pretty; it’s pretty at Christmas. And our tree is good and so magical for Christmas. And look – there’s a Father Christmas candle hiding behind that card map. And that’s what friends are for.

 

At Christmas everyone is friends together. I do like Christmas; I do Daddy.

 

But I don’t want to tell you any more about Christmas, because you can think on your own, can’t you, Daddy. So just do that, ok?

The Twelve Blogs of Christmas #5: Did they make the effort?

Image 5Did they make the effort?

Did they decorate the house or even buy you presents?

Did they make the day feel as wonderful as it should, did they make it feel special at all?

Do you have any memories of your Christmases before we became a forever family? Memories to hold on to and cherish as children should have.

Or was the neglect every day of the year?

We can hope that it wasn’t, hope that on this special day your needs were put before theirs. Hope that Christmas broke through the alcohol and drugs and brought out parenting they were incapable of the rest of the year.

Everything in your life has changed now and we will make sure that your Christmases will be how you both deserve them to be and hopefully they will be valued and remembered for many years to come.

Merry Christmas our Sons, our light, our life and Merry Christmas to your troubled birth parents who brought you into the world and without whom we could not be the family that we are.