Archive for December, 2012

Boy’s First* Football Match

My parents hated football. Somehow I grew up to love it. I think it was because we only got 3 channels on TV in those days so the only time you saw football it was a big occasion. Either the FA Cup final (which quite literally lasted all day) or a big England game. Both came with a sense of a very big deal which appealed to me enormously. Also we lived very close to Brighton’s old ground, The Goldstone. On Saturdays in winter the street would fill with cars and men in blue and white scarves would get out of them and walk to the ground. You could hear the crowd from my road. Particularly you could hear the orgasmic roar when Brighton scored. All this and the fact my parents specifically loathed it is what got me interested in football.

Eventually one of my dad’s pupils (he’s a music teacher) called Joan and her boyfriend Fraser agreed to take me to games. This was when Brighton had a very good team indeed and had pushed their way for the first time in to the top division. I remember games against Liverpool, Man United, Everton. Spicy derbies against Palace. Joan and Fraser always kept me safe but actually being there just magnified my interest in what was a completely different world. Cigar smoke, chanting, obvious swearing and the odd fight in the crowd. On the field incredibly skilful players like Peter Ward, Mark Lawrenson and later Michael Robinson and Steve Foster. Most players were British, quite a few were internationals, many didn’t bother with shinpads and tackling from behind was routine.

When Joan and Fraser couldn’t take me Samir did. Samir was a family friend, an avuncular Lebanese professor who, away from sport was constantly engaging. At football he barely said a word. It was like his studious nature made him observe every nuance of the game and, having escaped civil war in Beirut, he was hardly likely to be put off by the odd skinhead scrapping in the North Stand.

Soon though I felt old enough to go unaccompanied. Again when I asked my parents they initially demurred but eventually I was allowed to go ‘as long as I went in the Family Stand’. My first solo game was against Wimbledon and we won 2-1 with a long range screamer from the marvellously alcoholic and be-mulleted Frank Worthington. I went in the Family Stand and it was boring as anything. Next game I went straight in the North Stand, right behind the goal in the singing section. From here I started to meet people who to this day I count as some of my very best friends. A community. As soon as I was able I went to away games and as soon as I was old enough I went to the pub before matches. We froze our knackers off in Oldham and colonized the pool tables of back street locals in Brighton.

All this is a very long way of saying that football for me is much more than 90 minutes of men running around. My wife still doesn’t understand when I want to leave a bit earlier than she thinks it would take me to get to the ground for kick off and that’s because I want to see my friends and have at least one pint beforehand. Ideally two or three. Don’t get me wrong, for the 90 minutes the game’s on nothing else matters and I am completely absorbed in the match but it wouldn’t be anything like the experience it is without the chance to have some Real Ale and bit of banter first.

On our next home game I am dropping this routine.

A good family friend has wanted to take her son to the new ground for ages. I got her tickets for the game against Watford on 29 December and, since Boy and her son get on very well I said we’d come too. I’m swapping my normal seat in the comfortable rowdiness of the West Stand Upper for a family seat in the quieter East Stand. There will be no pub, the focus instead on ensuring the kids have an enjoyable day out at the football. Hot dogs and programmes will be bought, I suspect, and colours worn with pride.

I worried I was forcing it down his throat but he now attends football club after school and works with Will, a coach from Albion In The Community. He’s been to a couple of their mini-kickers sessions and has a training top, replica kit, a hand clapper and flag. He is very excited about going already. Meanwhile I’ve abandoned my normal football bravado and turned in to Worried Parent. I shall have to ensure he has a wee before we leave. I will have to pick a train time that won’t be too crowded yet won’t get us there stupidly early or, instead, have us queuing for ever. I have no idea how to do this. I will need to check his hot dog is properly cooked, protect him from swearing and confrontation. Most of all, since he is scared shitless by people dressed in giant animal costumes, I shall have to protect him from the mascots, mascots who are there specifically to come up and say hello to 6 year old boys. Bugger.

But there are so many elements of it that I AM looking forward to. Getting off the train and seeing the stadium rise like a giant spaceship from the ground. Explaining the game and who the players to look out for are. Maybe taking him to the club shop and letting him add to his collection of Brighton stuff. Hoping we score. Hoping we win.

Selfishly a part of me worries he will enjoy it too much. When I do go in the comfortably rowdy West Stand Upper it is with Best Friend Of All. He has 3 boys but both of us leave the kids behind. Recently I have been unable to make a couple of games and he has taken his sons, in rotation, in my stead. They have enjoyed themselves immensely and are bugging him to go again. If Boy enjoys himself (and as a parent I will have failed if he doesn’t) he will want to go again too. If he does we are already talking about getting tickets for the kids. This could be the end of one era and the start of another. Much less pub. Much less banter. Much more parenting.

Then again it could be a specific bond, father to son. I am very close to my Dad despite his dislike of football. Our special bond was swimming. My mum cannot swim so he taught me and my brother and it was always our special time together. Both my wife and I swim and so swimming for us is family activity on family days. Football may be our Father to Son male bonding. And I know my mates understand. We’ll see how it turns out.

*I say first. I took him to Withdean, our old ground, because we were playing a Cup game no one was interested in and we could get tickets together for me and Best Friend of All and all the kids. It was one of the dullest games on record and he was too young and we left at half time. I don’t count it. Saturday will be his first proper football experience.


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Two Men Have A Conversation About Christmas Shopping

Scene: Richard and Phillip are in a car driving to Sainsbury’s to do the Christmas food shop

Richard: Isn’t it odd that our wives have entrusted the Christmas shop to is, a couple of clueless old duffers? Very rum.

Phillip: Oh I suspect it’s just some sort of hackneyed comic device the writer is using to describe the ridiculousness of this tortuous annual ritual.

Richard: Well never mind that. Look at the bloody queue for Sainsbury’s car park!

Phillip: Jesus. It’s like the M25 on a Friday evening.

Richard: There’s only one thing for it…..

Phillip: Sit in the traffic and wait our turn?

Richard: No, no you idiot! Queue jump by driving on the wrong side of the road of course.

Phillip: Oh yes go on then (noise of engine starting). Oh look, that man appears to be shaking some salt on his chips only he’s forgotten to pick up the salt shaker. And what’s that one saying? ‘Cracking Blunt’? Well ‘You’re Beautiful’ was OK I suppose but I wouldn’t call him cracking.

One hour and 25 minutes later

Phillip: Quick! There’s a space!

Richard: Well spotted! (parks)

Phillip: It does look a bit like a Disabled bay though.

Richard: It doesn’t count at Christmas. During Christmas shopping you can officially park anywhere. It’s like a free pass.

Phillip: Richard?

Richard: Yes?

Phillip: Don’t you drive a BMW?

Richard: I do

Phillip: Surely it’s Christmas for you all year then!

(quick break to appreciate the obviousness of the last gag)

Scene: Inside the store

Richard: What’s the first thing on the list?

Phillip: Maris Pipers

Richard: What are they then?

Phillip: You daft old bastard! Everyone knows they’re red apples. Like these!

Richard: Good oh. What’s next?

Phillip: Semolina

Richard: SEMOLINA? Like that horrific cardboard desert we had at school. I bet they’ve got loads of that. (Spies assistant). Excuse me young man, have you got any semolina?

Assistant: I’m afraid we sold out yesterday. Nigella dredges her spuds in it on her Christmas programme. The second it aired we ran out.

Richard: DREDGES HER SPUDS? Is that a euphemism? And what, pray do perfectly adequate spud makers dredge them in the rest of the year?

Assistant: I’m not sure sir but I’m guessing nothing.

Phillip: Never mind, next item. Witch Hazel.

Richard: Fucking Witch Hazel? WHY?

Phillip: I suspect we don’t have any in and the shops are closing you know.

Richard: Excuse me again young man, when do you close?

Assistant: 4pm Christmas Eve

Richard: And open again?

Assistant: 10 am Boxing Day sir. With a sale.

Richard: You mean to say we’ve been asked to buy Witch Hazel because Sainsbury’s doors are closing for ONE WHOLE FUCKING DAY!

Phillip: Well you can’t be too careful.

Scene – the booze isle

Richard: This is more like it. No list needed here. We’ll need some advocaat and some Blue Bols.

Phillip: Are you sure they’ll get used?

Richard: Absolutely. Who doesn’t like advocaat at Christmas

Phillip (quietly): Me and the rest of the world…..

Richard: Don’t forget the Pale Ale and the Cranberry Vodka…..

Scene: At the checkouts

Richard: Well that was good. Only two hours queuing for a till. I’m sure it was three last year.

Assistant: That’ll be £334.56 please!

Richard: THREE HUNDRED QUID! At least Dick Turpin wore a mask……

Richard and Phillip leave and walk straight in to an Audi reversing out of the trolley park.

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Painting The Tree

So, nearly a year in to the blog and my first proper craft post. Mainly because I am to craft what Giant Haystacks was to riding Derby winners. However even I managed this. What is it? Well, first some background.

Giant Haystacks not riding a horse or crafting

Giant Haystacks not riding a horse or crafting

At Christmas we don’t have a real tree. This is entirely down to laziness but before you judge us too harshly know that my own memories of real trees are not exactly golden. Maybe it was because we got a cheap tree when I was a kid or maybe the non-drop species hadn’t been invented yet (if one can invent a tree) or maybe it was because it was the 1970s and EVERYTHING in the 70s was shit with the exception of punk music. I don’t know. I just know that my dad would come back with a real tree some time in December which we would then decorate. This would cause half the pine needles to fall on the floor. These would then be hoovered up by a parent wielding an upright vacuum cleaner the size and weight of the sort of small car manufactured in cheap South Korean car plants. That would then be followed by whichever parent had done the hoovering having a stiff drink. Then the other half of the pine needles would fall off.

By Christmas Day it would resemble not so much a Christmas Tree as a Christmas Stick. You still had to stare at it till January 5th but at that point the problem of how to get rid of it would arise. I vaguely remember having a very bare Christmas Tree in the front garden till about May.

But I understand that fake plastic trees are a bit environmentally shit and look particularly unappealing. I also understand that part of the magic of Christmas for kids is preparing the tree. What to do? Last year my wife hit on a brilliant solution that has become a family tradition.

We got a 3D cardboard tree (so recyclable) from Red Jelly. It comes with cardboard decorations and a cardboard star. Then you get in to your messy clothes (or supposedly, of which more later) and paint the tree. Here there are no rules. Any colour or style goes. You leave the tree to dry and then you paint the decorations and hang them in the holes, put on your painted star, add some tinsel and bingo.

Boy tree painting

Boy tree painting

This year we had some help from Best Friend of All and his 3 boys who had not been briefed and therefore were not in old clothes. We kept ours in their day clothes too and I’m pleased to report the only casualty was Whirlwind’s tights. She did also attempt to paint our fridge blue but thanks to a combination of vigilance and water based paints it still retains it’s original hue.

Tree painting is tremendous fun, environmentally sound and, at the end you have a tree that is completely unique. It’s beginning to look like a day glo, multi-coloured, cardboard Christmas. And I love it!

Side 1 drying

Side 1 drying

Finishing touches - ready for tdecorations

Finishing touches – ready for tdecorations

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Should Under 3’s Be Banned From Infant School Nativity Plays?

Boy has just turned 6 and has a (very small) speaking part in the school Christmas Play. So proud of his rehearsals have I been and so eager has he been for me to go that I have booked that afternoon off work to attend. However, as it stands, only one of us will be able to see it.

The school has banned under 3’s from attending. Whirlwind is under 3 (and appropriately named believe me). They have also stopped running a crèche. This leaves our options thus:

1)      I go and my wife stays home with Whirlwind

2)      Wife goes and I stay home with Whirlwind

3)      We find a babysitter

4)      We participate in a baby sitter swap scheme being unofficially organised by the parents group

Option 3 is harder than you would think. None of our parents live in the same town as us and our friends all have school age children who they would either be watching in their own plays or collecting at that time. Option 4 may yet work only you a) need to be CRB checked (I am but my wife isn’t and she’d be doing the reciprocal baby sitting) and b) the times of the other class’s play clashes with Whirlwind’s regular play group.

To be honest it’s all become a bit of a pain in the arse.

One part of me is really annoyed. Banning under 3’s would be fine if you still ran the crèche. Getting rid of both at the same time puts many parents who’s older child is performing in a difficult dilemma and directly discriminates against parents with toddlers. Whirlwind certainly wouldn’t be banned from similar events elsewhere. Certainly not at, say, the local church’s carol concert (I am atheist, my wife is Christian, neither of us bang on about it).

The school have done this to give each child the best possible chance to perform without interruption. Now I know that Boy would much rather do his play to ALL of us than have perfect silence when he did. On the other hand he only has 2 lines. If both of them were obscured (or he was put off) by someone else’s toddler I would spend the entire remainder of the play staring at said toddler and their parents hoping my eyes would turn in to giant lasers and temporarily burn out their tongues. So I can see where they’re coming from.

Ultimately, though, I feel the decision has not been fully thought through by the school. It is not in the most salubrious of areas. There will be parents who cannot afford a private baby sitter. There will be single parents. The choices for them will be much harder than our dilemma. Hopefully they can get a partner in the baby sitter swap.

Am I only annoyed because I feel that it’s us who are being singled out? Is the school right to provide a perfectly silent environment for what is, after all, a play? Or is it better to have the whole family present and make it the family’s responsibility to look after their under 3 and to take them out of the performance is they become upset or badly behaved?

I’d love it if you could tell me what you think in the comments thing down there because I have absolutely no idea if my slightly miffed feeling is justified or selfishness.

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Swimming – Heroes and Villains

Recently I wrote a post about Boy’s first swimming strokes. Sadly, after that he went a bit backwards. He was still with the same swimming school that had got him to take off the armbands but they had to change pool and he hated the new pool. I thought this a bit odd but apparently it happens quite a lot. He went back in to his shell, became the old, scared Boy that didn’t want to go to swimming lessons. This was a shame I thought. I love swimming. I bang on about it a bit. Time in the water, for me is about fun AND fitness, giving your whole body a workout. And man alive, does my flabby butt need a workout. Whirlwind has found water immense fun since she was 5 days old. We suspect her of being a mermaid. I wanted him to get a fraction of that joy in his life.

We despaired a bit and then my wife found out about MXT swimming. On Saturday morning we took him for a half hour assessment, one on one.

I can’t tell you what happened because my wife took him while I stayed home to stop Whirlwind putting her toys in the oven. When he came home he was beaming. He told me he and Mario ‘had been a dolphin’. Then he said ‘Daddy, tomorrow when we go swimming do you want to see me swim underwater?’. I nearly fell over backwards. He was raving and happy and I agreed we’d go to the pool the next day, all of us. Then I remembered I was out that night with the Dads Club at his school and we had planned a very large one. Ooops.

The next day I had the sort of hangover that makes you feel like you’ve been dug up. It’s a good job my wife always does the driving because she was definitely doing the driving that morning. We drive because we go to Burgess Hill because it has a leisure pool that’s suitable for both of them (of which more in a bit). I managed to get changed without throwing up, got my gear in a locker at the 57th attempt and joined my family in the pool. Boy insisted on no arm bands, walked straight to the side of the pool and swam to me in a perfect, flat as a pancake, crawl with his head in the water. Then he did the same breaststroke. Then he tried diving in.

Neither of us could believe what Mario achieved in just half an hour! We are booking him in for four weeks of intense one on one at we think he’ll be swimming further and further after every session. I haven’t even met the guy and yet he is my ultimate swim hero already. Move over Michael Phelps.

Sadly there’s a villain too. The Burgess Hill pool is run by Freedom Leisure and they have just closed it for essential maintenance. For a month. It will be closed from today until the 29 December. We are prepaid members but on a swim only basis and guess what is the one thing we can’t do now? We naturally assumed they would suspend our membership for a month but no, they are taking our money even though we can’t use the facilities we are paying for. This would be bad at any other time of year but in the run up to Christmas it is outrageous.

They did say we could swim at 2 other pools but these are at Hayward’s Heath and Crawley, much further away, and pools the children don’t know (remember it was the POOL that freaked Boy out rather than his other school). Freedom have 2 pools in Brighton and Hove but they won’t transfer us to be able to use these so we have to pay again (to the same company) if we want to use them! And then there’s the fact that all their other Burgess Hill customers will be using the other pools as well as their own regulars.

I understand that a pool has to be deep cleaned from time to time and that there is a general clause that you may be unable to use it when it is in the membership. But a whole month? Including holiday times. REALLY? Shocking.

So while Mario is my hero Freedom are my villains. In fact for services to child unfriendliness they win my second ever soiled nappy award.

Disclaimer 1 – I have not been sponsored to write this and I have no connection with MXT.

Disclaimer 2 – Swimming after a night on Jaeger Bombs is neither big not clever.

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