Archives for the month of: January, 2014

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Prole1 is playing with his electric shark in the living room.
Prole2 is in the kitchen, sitting at the table and watching me.
He has been staring silently at me for some time as I do the washing up.
I decide to strike up a conversation.

Me: Did you enjoy yourself at your friend’s house?

Prole2: Yes.

Me: What did you do?

Prole2: Stuff.

Me: What stuff?

Prole2: Just stuff.

Me: What did you have for tea?

Prole2: Food.

Me: Nice food?

Prole2: Yes.

Me: Did you eat it?

Prole2: Yes.

Me: Did it have a name?

Prole2: What?

Me: Your food, what was it?

Prole2: What?

Me: What was your food called?

Prole2: Dinner.

Me: Right….ummm….good day at school?

Prole2: Yes.

Me: What did you do?

Prole2: Stuff.

Me: Right, stuff….good stuff?

Prole2: Yes.

Me: Who did you play with?

Prole2: Friends.

Me: What did you play?

Prole2: Games.

Me: Ok..good..ummmm…in the playground?

Prole2: Yes.

Me: Right…right…playground….

In strolls Prole1.

Prole1: What are you talking about?

Me: School…

Prole1: I had a good day at school today, it was non-uniform day, as you know,  and we all gathered in the hall for an assembly in which there was a collection for the RNLI and I…

Prole2: HEY! EXCUSE ME PLEASE! WE WERE TALKING! PLEASE DON”T INTERRUPT! THANK YOU VERY MUCH!

Prole1 sticks his fingers in his ears and heads back to the living room.

Prole2: Sorry Dad, we were having a nice chat. Go on, ask me some more questions.

Me: Right….what did you have for lunch?

Prole2: Food.

Me: What was it?

Prole2: Lunch.

Me: Of course….

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A little while ago I was looking at the plaster on the wall in the living room.

I was unhappy in my living room.
It sort of made my teeth itch.
It was a little bit damp, a little bit shabby and there were just a couple of things sort of wrong with it.
Things I was living with, things we had lived with for years.
Things I was not really very happy to keep on living with but could not summon up the energy to do anything about because…well because I had kids and COULD NOT BE BOTHERED.

But there was a hole in the plaster about the size of a 50p coin and it bothered me every night.
I would look at it and I knew it masked a deep and lasting problem.
It was like probing a rotten tooth with your tongue, in the end something was going to have to be done.

The hole had been caused by the Christmas decorations coming down. A piece of Blu-tack had pulled off a circle of plaster
The plaster around the hole seemed to be separating and coming away.

One night I got up off the sofa and walked up to the hole. I found I could slide my finger in under the first millimetre or so and it began to come away.

I slid my hand in under and in a glorious swoosh pulled off the top layer of plaster from an area about the size of my kitchen table top.

The plaster underneath was older and rougher in places but seemed sound. Over a period of a couple of nights I removed the entire layer from the walls in the living room.

I wanted to know why the plaster had come off.
I live in a very old Cornish house, though everything is relative, actually for Cornwall it’s not even that old, about 120 years or so. The original plaster work turned out to be rammed earth. The walls had been plastered in mud.
Mud.
You can wax lyrical about cob buildings, the incredible structures of Timbuktu and the heritage of rammed earth construction but it came as a bit of a shock to find that dried out mud was holding up my granite and slate house.
Mud?
Really?

The walls themselves went down into the ground and any damp from the earth under the house would rise through the earth walls and evaporate off. Lime paint had been used as the original finish and lime kills mould. The damp would have evaporated away and regular fires in the hearth would have dried out the walls. Sort of. It was not a perfect system but it worked, until someone skimmed modern plaster over the top which stopped the water evaporating out. This caused a separation in the layers and ‘blew’ the plaster off the walls.

Modern houses don’t do this.
The way modern houses are made is a better system if you don’t want damp.
If you don’t want damp in an old house it is bad to use modern materials to mend them.
My house had been mended with a lot of modern materials.

As I got down to floor level it was apparent that the water that could no longer evaporate away had condensed and the backs of the skirting boards were rotten. I found this out by pushing my finger through one.

I pulled with two fingers and the fireplace surround came away and crashed onto the floor.

I had a peek under the the chipboard floor to find it was thick and black with mould. The joists under the floor were untreated wood sitting on bare earth and in many places had rotted to dust.

I was knocking on the wall to see if it sounded hollow above the skirting and a sheet of rammed earth plaster three feet high and four feet long slumped onto me.

My whole living room was rotten.

I moved the kitchen table into the bathroom.
The bathroom is the biggest room in my house, I don’t know why, my bedroom is a tiny cell that has 18″ space around the bed but the first time I walked into our bathroom I actually said ‘wow’, a phrase that is not often used in a positive context with regard to my house.
A large bathroom is BRILLIANT for maintaining the Proles though.
Oh, love it.

I put the sofa in the kitchen and the rest of the furniture in the shed.

Then me and the Proles packed up the living room and I ripped up the floor.
In the end there was nothing but bare earth.
The Proles drove their toy diggers in it.
The cats learned really, really quickly that it was not to be used as a toilet when I was around.
They also felt it was fair game if I was not.

It was awful in there. Full of rubble, dust and mess from the last hundred years.

I had to dig out the earth floor to clear out old rubble and rubbish, lay a completely new floor with damp proofing, strip off all the skirting boards and fit new ones to the mud walls, rebuild the fireplace and replace huge sections of blown plaster with wainscotting.

Yep.
Wainscotting.
The first time my friend the Big Chippy saw the mess he said “Are you going to cover that in wainscotting then?”
I did what any man would do in my position, I nodded, screwed up my face a bit, sucked air in through my teeth, blew it out slowly whilst nodding my head in a noncommittal way and said “Meh…maybe.”

Then when he was not looking I googled “Wainscotting” just to be sure what he was talking about.

Wainscotting.
Wood panels.
I covered over the horrible mess with wood panels.

I spent a long time doing this.
I work part time, about 17 hours a week but I am allowed to do more and take the accrued time off during the school holidays.

This means I work four days a week during school hours. I would get one day off each week away from the Proles to work on the house.
A guaranteed six hours a week.
Sometimes longer if I could get someone to take the Proles.

Every now and then someone would come over and help and sometimes they wouldn’t.
I owe my friends a lot, an un-repayable debt.
Co-ordinating favours is difficult. I like my friends enough that I did not want it to be an issue.
I did not want danger in my relationships.
Easier to carry on, when people were there it was nice, when they were not I made all my own mistakes.

I could do some work at night but if I am honest I did not do much. By the time I had woken from a broken sleep, looked after the Proles and got them off to school, then worked all day and picked up the Proles again and taken them through to bed time I had already done a thirteen hour day. The thought of getting into dirty clothes and pointing a wall was often too much.

The telly was in my room as well.
Dangerous that.

Life rolled on, the Proles and I tried having mealtimes in the Bathroom but it was a disaster from start to finish.
We took to eating meals in the kitchen, them on the sofa and me in the armchair.
We became adept at moving the armchair back and forwards to access the bits of the kitchen it blocked.

We found new pathways through the house and new family rituals to get us through to bed time.

The Bathroom table was loaded with lego, the stairs and hallway were turned to a car track and I lost sight of the Prole’s bedroom floor under all the toys.
Occasionally we would do a big tidy up but the mess that was the front room endured.

Finally, after months, the floor was laid, the panels fitted, the sockets rewired, the fireplace rebuilt and the skirting boards were fitted.

After all that work I finally put all the furniture back, the table came out of the bathroom (which was suddenly vast again) and replaced the sofa and chair in the kitchen and the living room became cosy and warm again.

The room looks…pretty much how it always did.
It is my living room, floor, walls, window, fireplace.

The difference now is I am happy in it.

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Confidence can be a variable thing in my house.

When Prole1 was very small, before Prole2 was around, in fact when he had just learned to walk, we were in a small Co-op in Newlyn.
He found a can of beans and lifted them off the shelf.

Me: What have you got?

Prole1: Beans.

Me: Do you want to buy them?

Prole1: Yeh

Me: OK, here is a pound, go and pay for them at the counter.

Prole1 stumped off down the shop. There was no way he could see over the counter but he managed to get the can of beans up into the bagging area.

Prole1: There you go Man. My got pound.

And he placed the pound coin next to the beans. This being Newlyn in the real world and not a Richard Curtis movie the young lad on the till stared at him like he was a talking wheelclamp or something just as improbable and then did his best to ignore the hard stare he was getting in return.
I would have been quicker to rescue Prole1 if Loz and I had not been giggling at the other end of the shop.

Prole1 has spent most of his life socially bomb proof.
Prole1 would try anything if he thought it was ‘the thing to do’.
He was an awful swimmer, just dreadful, but he squeezed into a wetsuit, put on a surf life saving uniform, grabbed a surfboard four feet taller than himself and hauled it down the beach for his fist surf life saving session.
When he was invited to act as a DJ by a theatre company for the work they were doing in a large Literary festival, Prole1, aged five, hardly blinked.
When it came to the festival itself he walked out onto the stage, spoke clearly into the microphone and played an hour of his favourite tunes.
He has been doing this on and off ever since.

When we are in the house however, he likes to be in the same room as me or Prole2.

Prole2 could not care less which room he is in and left to his own devices I only really see him when he is hungry.
He is not too phased by social situations but only if he is standing just behind Prole1.
Sometimes it is comforting to have a gobby older sibling.

He is currently going through a phase where he regularly gets worried in the night and comes into my room.

Prole1 is the sort of child who can order for himself, check items on the menu for meat content and go up to the counter to purchase extra cakes, drinks and stuff I may have forgotten.
Prole2 is good for getting things out from under the table.

Prole2 has a wide circle of friends and is very happy to take on adventures, imaginary worlds and physical games, as long as he has back up.

Prole2: We are Fighting!

He points to a group of children who he has just left.

Me: Real Fighting?

Prole2: NOOooo! Playing fighting.

Me: Ok. Why did you leave them?

He began rolling up a trouser leg to revael a huge graze that was oozing blood and already starting to run down his leg.

Prole2: I am bleeding too much, It’s all tickly and my trousers are sticking.

Me: Ok. Um. Let me get a wet wipe…um…

Prole2: Yes. Then I will go back to them.

This from the boy who is too scared to flush the toilet because the noise is too scary.

The real shock came from Prole1.
We were in a Penzance cafe and he wanted another drink.
I automatically gave him some money and told him to go and get one.
He Froze.

Prole1: I am scared.

Me: Scared of what?

Prole1: Of asking.

I was about to tell him not to be so silly and get on with it but I looked and I could see he was starting to cry.
Prole2 looked worried.

Prole2: Well I’m not going.

I told them both to sit down and relax and that everything was ok.

As I started to walk towards the counter and tried to work out what had just happened.
As I walked up I realised I was a bit tense.
I took a moment to think about that and it came as a bit of a shock to remember, I have always been a bit nervous about shops, counters, ordering and paying for things.
I pretended to look at the cakes whilst I had a bit of a poke about in my brain.
I remembered that when I was about twelve I could hardly walk into a shop on my own let alone pay for something.
I had squashed this down because, well because you have to as an adult.
It had been squashed down for so many years I had forgotten all about it.
That said I am now forty three and this was no time to revert to childhood.
I rearranged everything back to where it had been in my mind and ordered some apple juice.

I came back to the table with a new found respect for what Prole1 had been able to do, at least up until that point.

He has come back to being a socially confident young man who seems to really enjoy meeting, talking an interacting in a way I find impossible.
I really respect him for that and he is back to being fairly self sufficient.
Most of the time.
Perhaps that scare brought him a bit closer to the world I live in.

Loving your kids is easy, learning form your kids is part of being a parent.
Finding out that your children have talents and resources you don’t is humbling.

It’s a bit annoying that when we sit in a cafe I can’t just automatically send them to the counter.

Sometimes I have to do it all by myself.

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Tonight we had a babysitter in so I could go to a meeting in the Town Council Offices.
Before dinner we had a long team meeting and the Proles were sent away to think about what they might like to do when the babysitter arrived.

The Babysitter herself was Prole2’s rather marvellous key worker from when he attended nursery.
I was a little overwhelmed at getting a professional in.
I always imagined that at this point in life I would somehow just be in contact with a network of teenagers who would take it in turns to come round once a week whilst I went off and did other things. Something adults do. Dinner parties, Salsa dancing, the Masons, I don’t know, something.
Where are they all? The teenagers? I have not seen one for ages.
Anyhow it was great that she could come round at short notice (and even volunteered) and the Proles were all a quiver before she arrived.

At dinner Prole2 ate an entire plate of pasta but left his sausage roll.
Prole1 ate three sausage rolls and left his pasta.
(Later, just before bed, Prole2 ate the last of the pasta and Prole1 finished the last sausage roll, a balanced meal, half in one boy, the other half in the other boy.)

Prole2: I need to do a show.

I have seen Prole2’s ‘shows’ in the past.
His version of the ‘look at my bottom’ song will live with me forever.
Especially as he was doing it at a Christmas party.
To two women sitting on a sofa across the room from me.

Me: Ok, what do you want to do?

Prole2: Puppets.

Me: Ok

Prole2: A Christmas story.

Me: Ok….why Christmas?

Prole2: I have an elf.

Me: True, true….

Prole2: I need a theatre thing.

Me: Ok, I think there is one in the shed.

I have a puppet theatre in the shed.

I used to work in theatre.

It’s only a small one.

Don’t judge me.

Prole1: Do you want to borrow my crocodile puppet?

Prole2: YES!!! Yes. Yes.

Me: What story will you tell?

Prole2: Three Billy goats. Only with a crocodile instead of a troll.

Me: Nice.

Prole1: You could do the Gingerbread man but instead of a fox you could have a crocodile.

Prole2: YES! Or I could do Goldilocks, I can get my  three bears toys, cuddly ones, and do ‘Crocodile and the Three Bears’ and he could eat them and all stuff.

Me: I would pay money to see that.

Prole1: I want to watch it.

Prole2: I need to make tickets, and you start the show when I do thumbs up and it will have a break for drink and apple slices.

Me: Sounds good. Do you want to do this now or get it ready when she arrives?

Prole2: When she arrives. It’s going to be FUNNY!

Her arrival was a little subdued with both Proles suddenly going quiet and staring at the floor.

I suggested that perhaps the Proles might have an exciting plan to reveal when I left.

Prole1 remembered he could talk and was just kicking into gear as I left.

The meeting was a washout.
The door to the Council Offices was locked and I found myself on the pavement with two artists.
We went for a drink, where I tried and failed to not talk about work, and then I went home again.

When I got in a film was just finishing on the telly.

After I had thanked the over qualified babysitter I went back into the living room.

Me: Did you do the show?

Prole2: No, we watched Laurel and Hardy and then a film.

Me: Oh…fair enough.

A short pause and then Prole1 bursts into floods of tears.

Prole1: I didn’t give her a cuddle goodbye…..!

Prole2 stared at him for a moment and then gently began sobbing and collapsed on the floor.

Prole2: Me either….

Later they calmed down and as they were finishing each other’s dinner Prole2 looked up.

Prole2: If she comes again I will do the show.

Me: That would be nice. What story will you tell?

Prole2: You Know. The one. Goldi-crocs and the Three Bears.

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On Monday nights we go shopping.

About once a month we need to stock up on bulk items.
There are evolutionary hangovers from when this was a vegan house
I was never a vegan but if you live with a vegan it is so much easier to keep a vegan house and indulge yourself away from it.
One of these hangovers is the heavy reliance on rice milk as a dairy alternative.
The rice milk is bought in 12 packs and lasts ages but in our smaller supermarket is more expensive.
We stock up on rice milk, fruit juices and cat food in the larger more impersonal supermarket down the road. These shopping trips can be the most expensive of the month so I try to keep them around pay day.
Sometimes this works.

Regardless of which super market we shop in we always go to the smaller of the two for tea on a Monday night.
The Proles always have macaroni cheese with garlic bread, fruit and apple juice.
They have eaten this meal regularly for the last four years.
Macaroni cheese with garlic bread, fruit and apple juice.
Every Monday.
Every Monday we walk up to the counter and I ask what they want.

Proles: Macaroni cheese!

Four years.

I have all sorts of things but they have remained steady.

Tonight Prole1 had toasted cheese sandwiches and chips with a side salad and some fruit.
This was a big night for us.
He is going through a growth spurt at the moment and eats everything he can. As an over fussy vegetarian this is precious little in the supermarket cafe but what he found he ate.

I looked at how big and stringy they both look.

Prole2 used to sit in a high chair, drumming his hands on the tray, shouting ‘Hot, Dad, hot’ and pointing at his dinner.
The high chairs were on wheels and I once went back to the counter to get some cutlery and found the space I had left Prole2 empty.
Prole1 was grinning all over and looking like a guilty dumpling.

Me: Where did he go?

Prole1: I hid him.

Prole2 was round the corner, still in his chair, facing the wall and laughing and laughing and laughing.

After dinner I give them a pound coin for the trolley and watch them as they wrestle it in through the door.
In the early days the security guard would wink at me and go and help them, he was huge with a smart uniform and a peaked cap. Prole1 used to salute him.

They are much slicker these days but before we go in we often stand facing each other, all put our hands in the middle and do a team talk.
It used to be just me that did the team talk but now the others sometimes take their turn

Mine are clearly the most didactic and to the point.

Prole1’s go on for ages, re-hashing the long series of catastrophes that have befallen us as a family unit in the past. Crashed trollies, trips, bumps, collisions, dropped eggs and tantrums.
It is not just the Proles that have tantrums.

Prole2’s are the best.
By best I mean shortest.
He just likes the group ‘WhOOOOooooOOP!’ at the end where we all high five.

Prole1 drives the trolley with varied success. Most of the time he is fine.
At least he only really runs over members of his own family these days.

We follow the same route through the shop, scooping pretty much the same food each week.

We follow the same pattern on the ‘big shop’ nights but here there is a toy aisle where I take on the responsibility for the trolley and the Proles stare open mouthed at the consumer joy beyond their grasp.

We finish shopping, we go home, the Proles feed the cats and we spend the last half hour before bed watching telly.

As a parent I read about the importance of a steady routine.

I mapped out the days and joined them together into mapped out weeks.
The ceremony of the week evolved and unfolded but has maintained for years now.
What we do on each day of the week is really important.

The Proles really settled into the routine and as long as they knew where they were and what the game was they became relaxed and easy to be with.
I really started to appreciate it.
I knew the timings of the various days and knew what snacks to pack.
Which washing on what day to get us to the end of the week.
When to check for homework, which activities to switch to if the weather was bad.
The night we go shopping, the night we go swimming and so on. High point of the week is still pizza club with the godparents.

I still rely heavily on all this as the foundation of my week with them.

I am not so stupid that I have not self analysed and I know a huge part of the reason the Proles like routine is because I am easier to handle when I have a steady routine.

They can guess my moods and recognise patterns of behaviour.

I also just really like routine. It means I don’t have to think.

Tonight watching Prole1 eating cheese sandwiches instead of macaroni cheese gave me a chill of fear.

Alt his continues to evolve but the timeis coming when everything will have to change and move on.

I fear change.

That’s ok though.

That’s all part of me growing up.

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A large part of the landing is littered with bits and pieces of lego.

By the bathroom door Prole1 is putting the finishing touches to a space ship. Prole2 is busy with a pile of small pieces.

Me: Nice space ship.

Prole1: Thanks, it has a laser here, and a big gun here, these are it’s engines and it has sensors here and here and here so no one can sneak up in it.

Me: Wow, looks good.

Prole1: Yep, and here is where the pilot sits.

Me: Nice.

Prole2: I made this mobile.

He pronounces ‘mobile’ as one might pronounce ‘Bat-mobile’.
He is holding an improbable number of wheels joined together.

Me: It’s a good…thing.

Prole2: Look it goes ZOOMING FAST in this way and that way and that way and all ways.

Me: I…

Prole2: And it has a gun and a thing and the driver is here and he has a jetpack and a gun.

Me: Well…

Prole2: We made bases, I have all the bad guys and stuff and he has all the good guys.

Me: Right…where is your base?

Prole2: It’s here, it’s CAPTAIN SKULL’s base, these are the guns and all the droids look out from here and they can shoot. They have these mobiles and the helicopter is a spaceship and the space pirates can go ZOOMING FAST at the good guys when they attack.

Prole1: My base is here, it’s where the Jedi live, you can see the weapons we have and I have some droids too. They can get around on these speeders and my spaceship can land here.

Me: A lot of guns.

Prole1: Yes, we have a lot of guns because the bad guys have a lot of guns. That’s Master Yoda’s control deck.

Prole2: They have a lot of guns.

Me: Yes. A lot of droids.

Prole1: Yes, a lot of droids. They are all looking after the bases.

There is something odd though and I decide to probe deeper.

Me: Ummm…where are all the guys?

Prole1: What?

Me: Where are all the good guys and bad guys? I can see the droids, where are Captain Skull and the pirates and Yoda and all the Jedi?

Prole2 lifts up a card board box. Under it is a pile of lego figures.

Proel2: They are in here.

Me: Are they fighting?

Prole2: No, that’s the kitchen, Captain Skull is making biscuits and the guys are all helping him to cook.

Prole1: They are going to have a picnic after the next big fight.

Me: Right. That’s nice. Umm. What sort of biscuits?

Prole2: Garibaldi I think. And Jammy Dodgers probably.

Me: Oh, yes of course.

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The absolute litmus test for how I am feeling occurs when I am watching the Proles swimming.

The early days of swimming lessons were mildly embarrassing things.
They began lessons aged four.
Prole1 was still quite rotund when he started.
With his tight red hat and over sized goggles and shorts he looked like a chubby, grumpy, bald owl.
His early attempts at co-ordination in the pool would often see him slowly going round in circles or inadvertently joining the next class by accident.
He was taught by a man who believed yelling as loud as you can at small children renders the best results.
He would bellow at the top of his lungs as Prole1 veered off into open water or slowly sank to the bottom.
Prole1 adored his teacher with every fibre of his body.

Prole2 was still a couple of years off lessons at this point and would spend the half hour waiting for his brother swinging on me, climbing on me and seeming to attempt to unscrew my limbs. We sang songs together, I bounced him on my knee, read books, played games and we generally annoyed all the other parents.

When Prole2 started lessons he was so skinny I could not find swimming trunks that would stay up on his snake hips.
Every time he got out of the pool his bottom was showing.
His teacher was a softly spoken lady who wore artificial flowers in her hair.
She showered love and positive praise on Prole2, even though he actually managed to go backwards in every stroke.
I am not making that last bit up.
He used to actually go backwards.
I would get a warm shot of pride if, during all the splashing and thrashing around, he managed to maintain his position in the pool, let alone go forward.
In return for all her kind words, Prole2 was mortally afraid of his teacher, it took several months for her to win a sliver of trust from him.

The Proles did not exactly rocket up through the classes, both taking the ‘wear them down until they cannot stand the humiliation of being unable to teach us and HAVE to send us up to the next class” approach.
Four years of lessons have been a marathon, not a sprint.

These days they take it in turns, Prole1 has his lesson and when he comes out Prole2 goes in.
This is the time in the week they officially get to play on my phone.
The spare Prole makes a small nest of towels and curls up for half an hour and crashes through their favourite games.
Some of these are universally popular with them both, Angry Birds in it’s various guises, Gravity Guy and Jetpack but then there is a definite separation.
Prole1 will spend at least quarter of an hour tending his Smurf Village, building houses, feeding the pets, checking in on the Smurfs and planting crops.
It is a bustling happy place where Prole1 can indulge in some civic planning and harvesting food for the population.

Prole2 has found ZombieSwipeout.
This is a game in which you dismember cute looking Zombies.
I know, I know, I should never have downloaded it in the first place and I should certainly have deleted it from the phone a long time ago.
Small children should not play with Zombies, it really sits ill with me but HE LOVES IT so I am waiting until he moves on into another phase and I can surreptitiously drag it to the waste bin.
Soon, and then I don’t have to listen to the awful chuckling that comes from him whenever he plays it.

So, one in the pool and one out playing games, quick swap, other one in the pool and the other one playing games.

This gives me the best part of an hour to stare at the water.

In the early days I though about nothing.

My mind was not a complete blank but there was not much going on. I would think about the trip home, which lane I might drive in. I would think about next weeks shopping a bit. I would stare at the water.

As the years have gone on I sort of think about more.
For a while there was a nice lady who would sit next to me whilst her daughter swam rings around Prole1 and we would sometimes chat.
She was divorced and sporty and wanted to get on her bike and take on the world.
I can only imagine that is what she did as I don’t see her any more.
A little girl from Prole1’s class comes over most weeks and we chat about school and shoes and little sisters and how far it is to travel to Cardiff.

When I have no one to talk to I just think.
I can tell a good day and I can tell a bad day by how I get on at swimming.

I can’t tell you what I think about on good days and bad days.

Seeing it written down is open to misinterpretation.
Suffice it to say it is the mind laundry for the week.
I can have a clear out and start the week again.

This is the time to think about what worked and what didn’t in the last week, how the Proles are changing, how our routines are evolving.
We are growing as a family and it’s hard, really hard, to let go of the things that have made us comfortable.
There is danger in complacency, things fester, things get stale, things have no room or grow disproportionately.

You must try to manage the danger in your life.

I don’t give this much time during the week and I shut these thoughts down at night time. I did not used to. I used to think all or nothing about it. Long sleepless nights of mind racing worry with the Proles about to wake at any moment or blocking everything out because it was all too awful and hung over me like a towering cliff.

Sitting by the pool and watching the water is a good place to rummage around in the back of my life and get some, little, tiny amount of perspective. It is not exactly tranquil in the middle of six sets of swimming lessons but it is a start.

Prole2 swipes out his Zombies and Prole1 builds his village.

I wonder what happens to all the odd socks…

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It’s one of those days today.

The Proles are not here.

They are away for a sleep over with one of the Godparents.

There was a meeting that went past school pick up time.

So they are being picked up and they are staying over.
Prole1 has packed Teddy, his Harry Potter book and the origami project they got for Christmas.
Prole2 has packed Eeyore and two flat pack DIY gingerbread houses.

Good luck to them all.

I came out of the meeting and stood on the pavement.
It was getting dark, a little cold with a light rain.

In the past I savoured these evenings.
In London, on a night where I did not have to do anything or see anyone, there was nothing I enjoyed more than walking along the Southbank, crossing Waterloo Bridge and heading up past Covent garden, down Old Compton street and into Chinatown.
From there the West End opened up, Liecester Square and all the Cinemas were right there and there were some wonderfully shabby clubs that played all the wrong kinds of music just round the corner.
I loved the lights, the history, the smell of the place and the fact that no one knew me and anything was possible.
I had favourite restaurants and favourite pubs.
I used to know three or four pubs that, if I dropped into, would have people I knew and I could spend the evening out with.

London had it’s issues but what to do with a free evening was not one of them.

Tonight I stood there.
I stood there and thought of all the things I could do with a night off.

I could go for a nice coffee and think about it?
Actually I don’t like coffee and I resent spending £1.20 on a cup of tea I really do.
I know how much tea bags cost.
£1.20?
It was raining so I had to make my mind up.

Pub.
I don’t really know any pubs any more, I know where they are but I am not a regular visitor to any these days.
I could call a friend and see if they wanted to come out.
They probably would. If I called them.
We could drink beer in a pub, then maybe a meal?
Maybe catch the train home and pick up the car in the morning?`

Round of drinks, not much change from a tenner these days.
Several rounds.
Meal, even from a take away, and it would have to be a little bit of  a treat so say ten, fifteen pounds?
Return trip home?
`

What would I spend on that?

Is that what I want from an evening out? To spend most of a week’s food money on getting drunk?
I don’t do that any more when I can spend a fraction of that and be in my own home.
I am not a very eloquent drunk, these days it’s all wasted words.
I certainly don’t listen to anything any one else says either, not when I am getting wittier and better looking by the drink.
I have lost the taste for it.

Cinema maybe? Spend a lot of money watching a film I won’t enjoy and can’t be bothered to talk about on a big screen?
Pay to sit there in the dark.
Will see it for free in a couple of years.

Theatre?
I actually, and here I am not using dramatic license, I actually shudder at the thought.

Maybe drop round and see someone?
I have friends in town but I have not planned anything.
Would I like it if someone just dropped round?
Well in many cases yes and in many cases no.
Which case am I?
Should I get the phone out and start calling round?
If it should be that the first five people I call cannot see me tonight will that have too much of a negative effect?

Wait though, I don’t really think like this, my sub conscious is throwing up problems.
There must be a reason I am feeling negative about my options.

It’s all a bit stressful when you have the security blanket of childcare whipped off.
You have to analyse things.

You have to analyse your needs and wants.

I could do anything.
I don’t want to do anything.

What do I want?

I want to go back to bed and sleep.

One of my friends once said “I bet you are grateful for the boys, it gives you a reason to get out of the bed each day”.

Yes.
The reason I get out of bed.
I get out of bed each day because I have the Proles to look after.
Each day, out of bed and on Prole patrol.
The logical extension of this is, of course, that if I did not have the Proles to look after I would probably not get out of bed.

Why on earth would I thank someone who makes me get out of bed?

I WANT to be in bed.

So I am standing on the pavement and thinking about my free evening and wondering what to do.

I don’t want to spend loads of money working up a hangover.

I do want to have a nice evening and feel better about it all tomorrow.

So I do what any sane person would do when faced with a clear evening off from childcare.

I go to TKMaxx and buy two fluffy white towels and a new bath mat.

Then I go home, feed the cats and have a bath.

Then I put a duvet on the sofa, I shuffle under it and I close my eyes.

And I am completely happy.

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At the end of a long day I am aware of the things I don’t do.
As a parent this is fairly universal.
Like a huge weight of failure that follows us round.

I don’t store the beans upside down.

If you store the beans upside down, or indeed many kinds of food cans with ring pulls, then when you open them all the thick stuff is at the top.
Turn it upside down over the pan, quick shake, everything plops out, no need to scrape out the tin.

It is so easy when you store the bean cans upside down.

I ALWAYS forget to store the bean cans upside down.

I know that if you put half a lemon in the dish washer the plates come out sparkly and fresh.
It must be ten years since I have actually done this. Even when I actually have half a lemon in the house and it ends up going manky I somehow manage to block out any connection with the dishwasher at all and throw it away.

Flat coke cleans toilets. Pour it in, leave for an hour, flush and scrub with the toilet brush.
Except in my house where it gets poured away.

The Proles’ drawers stick on their wardrobe.
I know that if I rub candle wax on the runners the problem will be gone.
I can see a candle from where I am sitting now.
It’s over there.
But the Proles are asleep (this is a lie, they are in bed but Prole1 is re-reading Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire for the third time and Prole2 is under the duvet with the cat, ‘cooking her dinner’ any way I can’t go in there now, it would be chaos)
Tomorrow I will forget all about it until I sit here again and look at that candle.

The things I could do with white wine vinegar and bi-carbonate of soda.
If I had any white wine vinegar.
If I had not removed the label from the bi-carbonate of soda and now can’t tell the bi-carbonate of soda from the baking powder or cream of tartar.
I should leave more labels on as well.

I take that back, those labels were rubbish.

I should have left them on though.

I don’t usually mind my failings.
To be honest I don’t often have coke in the house so I can almost forgive myself that.

It is more the principle of the thing.
I think culture tells us we should really be doing these things and the more we do them the more super beings we become.

I don’t want to be a Domestic Goddess (as far as I can tell there is no male equivalent to this, any how whatever it is I don’t need to be it) I think it is just entropy getting me down.
The tendency of the universe to revert to chaos.

I blame popular culture.
Specifically I blame Lucy Liu.

Lucy Liu, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore and by proxy any one who has ever starred in a ‘kickass’ action film ever.

Daniel Craig, Sean Connery, John Wayne even.

The problem is, they set out to do something and they just ‘do’ it.

In the film Charlie’s Angels the Angels are infiltrating the evil criminal’s base. Their strategy seems to be to be ‘kickass’.
They come out of the sea ‘kickass’. They remove wetsuits ‘kickass. They beat up bad guys ‘kickass’.
Lucy Liu goes up to the roof ‘kickass’ to set up a satellite link or something ‘kickass’. Something on the roof. It was ‘kickass’ anyway.

She arrives at her roof top destination with her ‘kickass’ computer satellite stuff but has no where to put it.
She reaches out her foot and ‘kickass’ flips a wooden crate onto it’s side and puts her techno ‘kickass’ stuff on it.

Even thinking about that moment depresses me.
I can’t do that.
Not with kids.

You know that you would take ages getting up the stairs making sure the Proles were using the bannister and then you would be all hot and be distracted or thinking about lunch and the crate would fall over and you would have to put everything down and pick it up again and then if you did get it back up one of the Proles would ask what you were doing and then use the crate as a drawing board or a fire engine or something.
And you could not stop them because you are too afraid of them falling off the edge of the roof.
And if you were trying to set up some kind of laptop satellite nonsense uplink thing the other Prole would just be asking if they could play Angry Birds.
What takes Lucy Liu a second and a half to achieve would take me several minutes and include a break for carrot sticks and a drink.

I could not even put the nappy change bag on the floor without it slowly slumping to one side, just out of reach of fingers, so I had to shuffle over and retrieve it, off balance and holding a squirmy child in the least ‘kickass’ way imaginable.

Nothing I do is ‘kickass’.

Please don’t get me wrong.
I have no desire to be Lucy Liu.
I don’t want to wear impractical leather wear and have ‘cute’ conversations with Drew Barrymore.
Really I don’t.

I just want the beans to come out of the tin first time.

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Tonight I cooked dinner pretty much how I always do but took the weekly gamble on cooking for three instead if two.

When it works we all sit down to dinner and share a meal.

When it does not work we all sit down to dinner and I throw half the food away.

It is a bit of a gamble because the boys have hot school dinners.
I am occasionally asked for packed lunches, mainly so Prole2 can have cake every day and so Prole1 can take it with him to chess club.
Chess club is a big deal for Prole1. For Christmas he only got one present, a wooden games compendium which he places in his ‘special’ drawer.
He likes the moves, he likes the strategy and he likes talking about it.
Every Friday he plays chess in his class at lunch time and hot dinners means he is often late.

Prole1: I think I should have packed lunch because if I am going to be an athlete and represent the school at chess I need all the practice I can.

Me: I agree but an athlete needs a balanced diet as well, to be in tip top shape.

Prole1: I suppose so.

I don’t know how long that one will last but it has not come back on me yet.

The thing is, in my house I don’t force the boys to finish their dinner.
When they say they are finished they can leave the table.
It does not matter if they have not eaten a mouthful, if they say they are finished then they can leave the table.

I can pin point the moment I decided to do this.
1977, at the dinner table. We were all sitting round the table and my younger sister was being told off for not finishing her dinner.
My father said ‘If she won’t eat, let her starve’.
Naturally enough the attempts to get her to eat continued but I quietly thought this was the most sensible thing he ever said.
It made perfect sense.
My sister would be happy because she would not be forced to eat anything,
My other sister and I would be happy because there would be no more shouting.
My parents would be happy because they could eat their dinner.

After all, she might be right, she might be full.
Also, if she was hungry at the next meal, my sister would want to eat more.
Aged seven I decided that should I ever have children this is what I would do.

The Proles are never asked to finish their dinner.

There is a ‘but’.
The rule in my house is that if you say you are finished then there is no more food until the next scheduled meal/snack time.

 It goes against the grain but as long as you hold steady and weather the first storms the passage gets much smoother.

Prole1 has not eaten his dinner at all on one occasion.
It was a difficult night but I did not let him have anything except water until the next morning.
Breakfast was unusually early that day and he has never done it since.
Prole2 tried it twice.

Since then we have not had many arguments at dinner, at least about food.

The only thing I have actually FORCED the boys to try was Sugar Puffs.
I insisted Prole1 try one on the grounds that he liked all the constituent ingredients and therefore MUST stop being obtuse and didactic and try one.
After 25minutes he gave in, ate one, said it was very nice and NEVER ATE ONE AGAIN.

I feel awful about that.

Every system has flaws.
The way I deal with meal times throws up as many problems as it solves but it sort of works.
The Proles are a bit skinny though.

Tonight I cooked pork sausages for me and Prole2 and vegetarian sausages for Prole1.

As I was cooking I kept thinking I had done something wrong.
That feeling that I had forgotten something.
Just a little, you know, odd feeling that I had missed something.

I even dished everything up.
Put it on the plates.
Mash, peas, sweetcorn, broccoli, and sausages. Gravy on the side.

Prole2: Good one Dad. Food.

Me: Thank you. That means a lot.

Prole2: I love food.

Me: Good. Glad I can make you happy. What did you have for lunch?

Prole2: Roast. Roast potatoes, roast vegetables and meat.

Me: Good.

This is not good however, roast is a popular meal with the Proles and this means they probably would not eat all their dinner.
This is the downside to not forcing them to consume every scrap of food I create.
I end up eating it all as bubble and squeak at 11o’clock at night.

Me: How about you, the same?

Prole1: Yep. vegetarian roast of course.

Me: Of course….

Then I remembered that I had cooked the sausages all in one dish.

Prole1 was already tucking in to his vegetarian sausages, which for the first time had been cooked in pork fat.

I sort of watched him.

Prole1: What?

Me: Nothing. dinner ok?

Prole1: Fine. Nice. Very nice thank you very much for asking.

Me: Ok…good…fine.

Yes.
That’s right.
I decided not to tell.
In the full and certain knowledge that at some point I will have to confess this to him and he will rack it up with Sugar Puffs as one of the great psychologically damaging food issues he will have to deal with for the rest of his life, I let my vegetarian son, a child who under his own moral judgement has been a vegetarian for 4 years now, Prole1, offspring of a militant vegan, eat those sausages.

And we finished dinner and the Proles ate the lot.