Archives for the month of: February, 2014

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Tidying up is a bit of a minefield.

I keep finding things.
Sometimes I lose them.

Actually, a lot of the mine field is cleared now.

In the early days I dared not move.

Loz’s cup, tea bag still on the side, teaspoon in small pool of cold tea.

I will never see that again.

Marcel Duchamp put a toilet in an art gallery and called it art.

I’d give away his Fountain just to see Loz’s cup, tea bag and spoon again.

But you can’t live in a gallery or museum.
By definition they are for ‘appreciating’, not for living and this is a house, not a work of art.

So the cup was washed, the tea bag thrown away and the work surface was wiped down.
Because that is what sane people do.
They wipe away the past  and then pay lots of money to see a toilet in a gallery.

These days, years after she is gone, a lot of Loz’s setting out of the house has gone.
There are few things left in the house who were last touched by Loz.
Those that exist are not shrines, they are just tucked silently in corners and I have not got round to clearing them out.
That said, the bulk of the material in this house is tightly tied up with her or the memory of her.

I am not some kind of Miss Havisham, I do not keep the place as a shrine to Loz but on the other hand I am aware that anything I move, remove or clear away erases one more clue to the identity of the Proles’ mother.
I don’t know what to keep and what not to.
I pick up clues from others who have shared the loss of a parent and I try hard to preserve a picture of her for them.
It will never be complete for the Proles but I hope that through the stuff I have saved there will be enough clues.

The drawers in the bureau are particularly dangerous.
I believe every house has a drawer or a place like this, where all the useful things you never use go.
Pens, elastic bands, spare paying in books, old phone charger, second best scissors, a lighter that might work, odd screws, funny coloured paperclips.
We have some tiny painted ballerinas in a box. I have no idea where they came from.
Clue?
I have a small ivory skull in a draw string bag.
Clue?
I have bits of old camera and spools of super eight film.
These are clues certainly but no way of knowing what of.
For now.
I can’t just chuck this stuff out, not until I can research it a bit.
Each item is irreplaceable in it’s potential and simultaneously worthless in it’s intrinsic value.
What to do?

I have twenty five document boxes in the loft, I may fill one more from the house but the rest of the stuff can’t be put in mothballs, it is part of the here and now.

Today I broke the dust pan.
White plastic.
Three ninety nine with a brush.
Bought from the Big W in Pool.
We had been forgetting to buy one for a couple of weeks.
I remember her standing at the other end of the aisle.
She was trying to make me laugh.
She stared at me blank faced and held up the brush and pan like the statue of Liberty.
I nodded once and she dropped it into the basket she was carrying, then turned and walked away saying nothing.
She made me laugh.

The brush got melted, I don’t know how. It was the sort that fitted into the handle of the dustpan and they both hung by the bin.
Loz put the hook there when I was away on tour.
When I returned she showed me the hooks for pans, cups and one for the dust pan and brush.

The brush, it’s efficacy seriously compromised with the melting incident, was thrown away.
You don’t just throw away a good dustpan, not if there is nothing wrong with it, even one as cheap as that.
It has stayed by the back door for years now, for a time replaced by a red brush and pan but reinstated when they disappeared.

Today I was clearing out the grate, shovelling up the ashes.
The dust pan split from end to end.

I sat there for a moment and looked at it.

These are the tiny bumps.

I taped it up, cleared out the grate, put the ashes and the pan in the bin.

I am not sentimental about a dustpan, it is just one of the many things that got me to where I am now.

When I was at college I had an extraordinary tutor.
He explained that true revolution cannot be bloodless.
He said that one always had to destroy the instrument of change as it offered a bridge back.
Bridges must come down.

Revolutions are not always driven by people, sometimes they are driven by circumstance but the rule holds true, in a real revolution the bridges must come down.

I didn’t want to keep  a cheap dust pan, I am just mildly upset that the bridges back to the world I knew are still burning and will continue to do so for some time.

The analogy of holding sand and watching it pour through your fingers is a good one.
I suppose it is popular for a reason.

I want to hold on to enough of the past to tell the boys what it was like.
I need to clear things away to make space for the future.
Whether I like it or not it is coming and one dust pan at a time the past is being destroyed.

I have an empty hook, and Big W closed a long time ago.

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Prole1 has been given some DJ software by our good friend.

He passed this on to us because Prole1 was invited to DJ in a tent in a festival when he was five.

While Prole1 was perfectly capable of specifying which track he wanted playing, and certainly had a confident if mildly verbose microphone style, he was not really coordinated enough to select tracks from my I-Tunes listing and found it hard to read quickly enough.

The software was a brilliant tool and with the addition of a controller with buttons and knobs for Prole1 to twiddle he would sit for an hour at a time, selecting tracks on the headphones and playing his favourite music.

His favourite music was a disc of tunes we danced to in the kitchen.
As the years have gone by this list has warped and evolved but he remains a slightly camp, disco fuelled, indie-rock DJ.

There is nothing like seeing your tiny son, still at primary school, dancing behind the decks while a pyramid of semi-clad men gyrate and stage dive to YMCA next to him, to make you see your offspring in a different light.

He is better at it than I am.

Recently the same good friend supplied us with a new controller.

It’s lovely.

It shines darkly.

Now I don’t want to be one of those pushy parents.
Metaphorically or physically I don’t want the Proles in sparkly top hat and hot pants doing jazz hands.
Not unless they really want to.
I don’t want to stand on a touchline and bellow at my kids, even artistically.
I don’t need to see him back on stage with semi clad men again.

But I have to say the new controller looks good….

But.
It has to come from him.

This can be difficult.
If you ask a child a question to which there is a ‘yes’ or a ‘no’ answer the answer seems to often be ‘no’.
Do you want to get out of bed?
Do you want breakfast?
Do you want to brush your teeth?
Do you want to go to school?
Do you want to play outside?

This means there are ways of ‘placing’ a question that give it a better chance of consideration.
We all fear change and if we are comfortable doing what we are doing then why bother changing?
Why take a risk?

So the questions become more loaded.
‘I am about to leave the bedroom now, it’s a bit dark in here, would you like to come with me?’
‘We are seeing the dentist soon and I don’t want him to pull any dirty teeth out, shall we clean them just in case?’
‘I have to go to work and the law says I can’t take you with me or leave you in the house, would you like to see what your friends are doing at school today or should I leave you in the garden with the cats?’
‘I will double your pocket money if you go out into the garden and don’t come back for ten minutes, what do you think?’

Loaded questions are tantamount to lies in that they obscure the truth somewhat but I still feel it helps if your children feel they are making informed decisions.

Sadly, the mental bargain I have made with myself and the Proles is that I am not actually allowed to lie to them on any subject except Father Christmas and the Tooth Fairy.
This is a long term plan.
I have added the mental challenge to never actually admit the “truth” about Father Christmas or the Tooth fairy as long as I live. This adds a bit of pepper to the game.
I can’t do the Easter Bunny.
I draw the line at the Easter Bunny, though I am willing to tolerate the Proles own beliefs.
I must now live the rest of my life perpetuating the legend of Father Christmas but I am damned if I am hiding eggs around the garden in the rain for the next forty years.

This not lying extends to empty threats.

Never make an empty threat.

If you lay down a consequence then you have to be sure you can carry it out.

Not following through leaves children confused over boundaries.

As a parent I find always following through means you very soon get fed up of laying down consequences and having to follow them through so you get very selective about what you say.

I try not to lay down the law too often these days but it is hard.
I often trip myself up.

So the promise not to be a pushy parent and the necessity to ask open questions that can be answered in a neutral and open hearted way come to a head as we look at the DJ Controller in it’s box.

I really want him to use it but he has not played any music for a few weeks now.

Perhaps he has grown out of that phase?

Me: Shall I set this up for you?

Proel1: Gosh…yes.

Me: I think it looks great.

Proel1: Me too. Look at it.

Me: Do you like it?

Prole1: What is it?

Gifted and Talented my arse.

Me: It’s a DJ controller.

Prole1: Nice, can you set it up?

Me: Of course I can.

Because I am Dad and dads can do anything. And because he has shown enthusiasm.

To this end I began to set up the controller.

Which comes with it’s own software.
Which needs my operating system to be updated.
So I made tea and while they ate I bought the software online.
I received a code.
The code unlocked a PDF.
The PDF had a different code.
I had to go to the Mac App Store and click on a quick link and enter the code.
I went to the Mac App Store but I could not enter the Mac App Store.
I cleared away the dishes and wiped down the table.
I tried another way in.
I could not enter the Mac App Store.
And another.
I could not enter the Mac App Store.
Time passed.
Finally I got a message saying I could not enter the Mac App Store to upgrade to my recently purchased operating system because the current operating system I am using needs upgrading.
I was then asked if I wanted to purchase an upgrade.
Which I could redeem at the Mac App Store.

I told Prole1 this may take some time and perhaps he should stop staring at me from the other end of the table.

Prole1: That’s a shame, I was looking forward to trying it out.

Me: Really?

Prole1: Yes, I love being a DJ, one day I want to be on Radio2.

Radio2.
Brilliant.
Chase that dream.

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I was on the phone to a very nice person trying to refine the definition of ‘Evaluation’.

This is what my life has become.

They said they had lots of letters saying their work was good.
Would these comments count as ‘Positive Evaluation’?

Me: No, just because someone says your work is good does not mean it actually is.

I was aware that I was wobbling on a contradiction in terms.
I was also aware I was probably crushing dreams.
That’s just part of my job, I do that all the time.
This was a point of semantics though and I could not leave it alone.

I grasped for a metaphor but the day was not with me.

Me: For example, if I asked the people in this office if I had good dress sense or not they would all probably say ‘Yes’.

I was suddenly aware about how close everybody else’s desks were. I just hoped my usual droneing conversations did not penetrate the concentration of my hard working colleagues.

Me: Whereas if a complete stranger asked them if I had good dress sense or not, I think the answer….

I became slightly unfocussed and distracted at this point as these really are not the sort of analogies one should make in an open plan office.
I was guided to my conclusion by the stifled giggles around the room.

Me:…the answer would be quite different.

I felt I may have lost a bit of ground. I was not sure where from but it had definitley gone.

Me: Any way, umm, independent Evaluation would probably be a good idea.

The thing is, we might listen to a stranger more than we would listen to those close to us.
True they lack the perspective of years of knowing you.
On the other hand they have the unique perspective of not knowing you.

A complete stranger managed to say one of the most revelatory things about me when I was in London.
I was just stepping out of a rehearsal room in Waterloo, I paused for a moment and patted my pocket for the key.
There was a big chap coming down the street, it was about 6.30pm but still light.
He stopped and stared at me.

Here we go I thought, London, big chap, probably got guns and drugs and bombs because that was what I was told in Porthleven before went to find my fortune. London, it’s all guns and drugs and bombs.

He stared at me, raised one hand.

Man: I don’t have any money.

Oh here we go, thinks I, at least he only wants my wallet and not my kidneys or liver or to drug me or bomb me or something.
I sort of stared at him.
I did not move and was still mid pat.
With hind sight I must have looked a bit odd I suppose.

Big chap: I…you aren’t going to rob me are you?

Me: No.

How embarrassing.
I sort of coughed and muttered.

Me: Just looking for my keys.

Big chap: Bloody hell. You look really scary.

Which is exactly how I had tried to look when I went out that morning.
Here I am in a city full of criminals and thugs and drugs and bombs and guns, I had better dress the part.

Ok, not strictly true, I was also trying to create an air of dark, charming mystery for the ladies.
Sadly he did not tell me whether this element of my wardrobe and demeanour were working.
Wasn’t really the best time to ask though.
As a point of note, I later found out it wasn’t.

And it was a mile stone for me, to realise that perhaps other people were intimidated by me in the way I was intimidated by them.

None of my friends thought I was scary.
They all knew me.
Nice to hear it from a stranger.
Sort of, probably would have been better if he had not thought I was going to kill him to death with my shiv.

So when this lady sits next to me on the bench by the swimming pool I had a bit of a conundrum.

Digestive biscuits? Halva? Porridge?
No.
It’s sort of a savoury food smell but it’s not….it’s not…nice.

In fact, it’s awful.

Prole2: What’s that smell?

Suddenly he looked like his mother. She had an uncanny sense of smell. This was great if you wanted to locate the bakewell tart in the tent in the dark (never lose quality bakery products whilst camping) but it could also render her powerless, in a gagging heap, when trying to change a bin bag.
This uncanny power has passed to Prole2.
Mind you, i am far from uncanny and I could smell it.

Prole2: What’s….

I grabbed him, put him on the other side of me and gave him my mobile phone.
He began killing Zombies.

Prole2: Still smells.

I don’t have a great sense of smell.
If I can smell something it usually means things are serious.
Too much garlic.
A bit heavy handed with the cinnamon.
Shouldn’t have touched the aftershave.

This was a really serious nasal assault.
This was Tom Cat in the kitchen bad,
She really did smell.

Now I know what you are probably thinking, there are lots of variables here.
Open public space, lots of other people around, many sources of potential smell.
It is also unfair of me to point out someone else’s problems.
All I know is, the smell arrived when she sat next to me, stayed as long as she did and left when she stood up and left.
All the time it was there it was my problem too.
The second half of the swimming lesson was smell free.

Sadly she left me with another problem.

You see, she really did smell.

I did not stare at her, I did glance across.
I don’t know what someone who smell looks like.
I don’t think she looked like someone who smells.
She just looked sort of normal.

Not like the homeless guy who took his shoes and socks off on the Circle Line that time.
He looked like he smelled.

She looked, sort of, fine.

And I wondered if she knew she smelled.
I mean, if it was you and you never smelled any different, you wouldn’t know would you?

Is it more neighbourly to say “You smell” or not?

I mean I didn’t.
I wouldn’t.
But should I have?

Who else would?

Would someone tell me if I smelled?
Perhaps I do smell?

HOW THE HELL DO I KNOW IF I SMELL OR NOT?

I think back to all those friends who I have been in social situations with and not mentioned the unzipped fly, the toilet paper on shoe,  the food on face, the smudged make up. I actually left a table at a party because I did not know whether the girl I was talking to knew her blouse was undone. I thought maybe it was some kind of fashion thing but was not sure so ‘went to get a drink’ and never went back.

They were my friends and I couldn’t tell them.

Would I tell you if you smelled?

No, I’d probably cough nervously, mutter something about ‘evaluation’ and then go and get a drink.
And not come back.

I am sorry to say, if you smelled I probably would not tell you.

I am sorry, I feel awful about that.

And if I can’t do it, perhaps none of my friends can either.

I take solace in the thought that if I do smell and my friends are too nervous to tell me a smell, at least I don’t smell as bad as that lady at swimming.

She left, smelling, and I was the lesser man.

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Today nothing was achieved.

We got up and breakfast took a little to long.
I was sorting out washing and drying and school uniform and games kit and only had a quick cup of tea.
Getting the Proles dressed ended with them shouting at each other.
There were no socks.
Home work was tough and was finished just as we had to leave so we were a bit pushed.
A large lego spillage hampered our final moments in the house.
The Proles left their coats at a friend’s house at the weekend so we improvised wet weather gear.
I hoped it would not rain.
It rained.
School busy, dodged through toddlers and buggies.
Pavement crowded, dodged through toddlers and buggies and dog turds.
The grass in the park is still waterlogged so I had to walk the long way round.
I sat down at work to endless phone calls and emails and could not really solve any problem at all.
Computer refused to ‘save changes’.
Stupid computer.
Meetings over ran and I ate nothing.
Spent the whole day running up and down the corridor, never quite managing to take time to go to the loo.
I left work a couple of minutes late and had to hurry to school.
It rained on the way so I ran for a bit and got to school early but overheated.
Scooped the Proles and headed home to pack the car for Swimming lessons.
We set out as soon as we were ready but today the journey, that last week took half an hour, only took eleven minutes.
Swimming pool car park is on the college campus and students’ universal attitude to road safety FREAKS ME OUT.
We arrived at the swimming pool in the rain and ran inside.
We had to use the broken locker.
I hate the broken locker.
It is a sad locker.
We sat on a bench together for twenty five minutes waiting for the lessons to begin.
We had nothing to say to each other.
Nothing.
The Proles were well grumpy by the time they went in.
I was well grumpy when they came out.
The showers were all taken and we queued, the changing booths were all taken and we queued.
Pizza club at a friends house was a triumph, this time no tears or shouting.
Must remember this one island of joy.
Back out into the rain.
The journey home took half an hour again.
How am I to plan a regular routine with unpredictable timekeeping on the A30?
We got in and a cat had been sick by the stairs.
The boys argued as they got ready for bed.
We finished the strangely right wing and mildly offensive ‘One Hundred and One Dalmatians’.
I felt like I had been licked by a Tory.
Proles went to bed.

Prole2 gave me a kiss.

Prole2: Thank you for a brilliant day Dad. I can’t wait for tomorrow.

Prole1: Here Dad, you can borrow Harry Potter and read it after you have done all your work. I love you.

Prole2: I love you too. To the moon and back.

Prole1: Love you always Dad.

I looked at them both, tucked up in bed, snuggled in for the night.

They both smiled.

Sycophantic gits.

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If I close my eyes and imagine the Proles I see them about six months younger than they are.

They are both eating like small horses at the moment so I was very pleased when the enthusiastic young man in the supermarket cafe under charged us.
This meant the Proles got the usual macaroni cheese, garlic bread, drink, small chocolate bar and fruit, Prole2 chose a cherry flapjack, Prole1 a fruit scone (no cream, no jam, no butter) and I had fish and chips, a macaroon and a pot of tea for six pounds forty.
In my defence I did say ‘Are you sure?’ to the enthusiastic young man and he waved me away saying it was a meal deal and I got a discount.

Certainly did I thought when I looked at the receipt later.

The Proles ate and drank everything on the table, we did some shopping and when we got home they had an apple each.

This means a growth spurt.

Funny word.
Spurt.
Not sure I like it.

I sort of take it personally when they grow out of clothes.
Prole1 has grown out of what I consider to be his ‘new’ school trousers.
Some times I get a real stab of regret that a piece of clothing they look SO DAMN GOOD IN has got too small.
I have a small bag of memory clothes in a trunk upstairs, first babygrows, tiny hats, first shoes but also those brilliant trousers, that checked shirt and those three piece suits.
Lovely stuff that makes me go all gooey whilst the Proles look on, slack jawed and blank eyed, staring at me holding up old clothes and sighing like I am mad.
Which of course I am not.

That said, Prole2 fell in love with a pair of combat trousers, trousers that were more hole than knee, worn paper thin so if you held them up the light shone through them.
I put them in the bin and two days later found them in his bed with Eeyore ‘sleeping’ in one leg and Puppy ‘sleeping’ in the other.

What to do?

The Proles are getting big.

I had to buy new school trousers.
I don’t have the absolute scruffiest kids in the world but they are pretty close.
It does not help that they have zero sense of style.
I am not one to talk about such things but at least I know to wear my pants inside my trousers, a simple mistake that Prole2 has made twice now.
Perhaps he was just trying to hold his trousers up.
He seems to have no hips.
Since I can remember, trousers have always slid off him.
His style of low slung trouser is often commented on, he looks particularly ‘street’ and I don’t mean Sesame.
He is not exactly cool though, Prole2 is also the only child I know who managed to tuck his tee shirt, his jumper and his coat into his pants and walk out of the supermarket toilet that way.
Prole1 is getting much better and is very good at getting all the clothes on and in the right order but somehow he looks like someone who has read a book about clothes and is trying them out for the first time.

Prole2 inherits all his brother’s clothes, a system he does not seem to mind at all.
One day there will be some kind of mutiny but they seem to share clothes like they share toys.
One or two iconic pieces ‘belong’ to one or another of them, everything else is up for grabs.
Sometimes it works out fine, sometimes they just look odd.

I buy most of their clothes from E-Bay.
I was nervous of this to start off with, you never really know what you are getting and who knows where they come from?
However, in my experience, the sort of people who can be bothered to sell on children’s clothes on E-Bay are also the sort of people who see some sort of intrinsic ‘value’ in children’s clothes and are likely to have looked after them.
This was borne out this last week by the unpacking of Prole1’s latest wardrobe.

Each item in the bundle was individually wrapped in cling film.

They smelled like lemons.

The whites had a bluey white I liked.

They were ironed.

They absolutely did not belong in my house.

I swear I would have paid the money all over again just to get the Prole’s existing clothes looking that way.

I am not a ‘label’ person (partial to a Sherry’s suit and a Ben Sherman shirt but nothing too fancy) but these were all Jasper Conran, Kangol and even the cheap bits were from Next.

Once, Prole2 put on one of the E-Bay jumpers and we got stopped by three people asking where we got it.
Such things were not usually seen in Redruth.

The beauty of the E-Bay system is that you choose how much you would pay for the bundle, in total, including postage.
Personally I reckon two pounds fifty per item including postage is fair enough.
That way, even if the clothes are a bit duff you have not lost out too much.

So far though, we have been really lucky, loads of brilliant clothes.

A week later, you can’t tell them from the rest of his clothes now of course.

The trouble is that this state of bliss is coming to an end one day.
One day they will actually want to choose what they wear instead of just grabbing the nearest thing from the nearest drawer and dragging it on.
They will want to cultivate style and a ‘look’ and suddenly Dad buying second hand clothes off E-Bay just wont cut it any more.
And it will suddenly start costing money.

Meh.
If they want decent clothes they can buy them with their pocket money.
Their cousin is saving up his pocket money for a Landrover when he turns 18, Prole2 can start saving for a decent pair of slacks.

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The kitchen table has been a lego city all week.

After two days of building and tinkering I stopped by to see how things were going.

Me: Looks good. Which bit did you do?

Prole1: I did this half. This is the garden where they all meet, these guys standing in the garden are in a queue for the shop. The shop, as you can see, has a counter and this is where the assistants can take your order.
Behind them is the second counter where the people from the warehouse put the orders together and deliver them to the assistants.
Up on top here is the office and control centre. That lady there is in charge of everything. She passes messages and reads the sensors and has all computers and boxes. He is in charge of the warehouse and they are in charge of the assistants.
Out the back is the service road where motor bikes or trucks or small spaceships can pick up or deliver.
That’s the security guard.

Brilliant. Prole1 has designed Argos with a three tier management system.

Me: Right, good, what about you?

Prole2: I made all these mobiles and space ships.

Me: What a lot of cars and …things. Did you make that building as well?

Prole2: Yes. It’s a cage where baddies go. There is a big lock on the door and strong walls and all guns all over and cameras and things and if they try to get out all these guys on top bash them and catch them. Look, he has a thing and it spins and his thing is bigger than he is and can sweep down like this…BASH!

And Prole2, true to form, has designed a series of improbable vehicles and a Maximum Security Prison.

Me: Are there any houses? Do the people live anywhere in your city?

Silence as the Proles stare at their work.

The silence becomes uncomfortable.

Me: What is your city called?

The Proles stare at the table some more.

Me: Does the city have a name?

Prole2: It’s called ‘No Bedroom City’.

Sadly the No Bedrom City, has been tidied away.

It was a nice place to visit but I am fairly pleased it has gone.

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Prole2 was sitting having his dinner.

He generally wriggles and jiggles in his chair but not nearly as badly as Prole1 who prefers to stand next to his chair with one knee up on the seat to eat.
They are both fairly good at sitting properly when told to but during animated conversation they both forget and squirm back in to contortions.

Prole2 was staring at the floor.

Prole2: What’s that?

Me: What’s what?

Prole2: What’s that? That mouse.

Me: What? Sorry?

Prole2: What’s that? That mouse. What is it?

Me: I can’t see….um….what?

Prole2: There Dad, there. That mouse there. What is it?

There on the floor, plain as day, sitting beside his chair and shivering slightly, was a mouse.
There were also two cats in the room, sitting fairly close by and something about the way the mouse was shivering made me feel that perhaps the cats had been paying it some special attention before dinner.
I thought they were acting odd.
It was not a very happy looking mouse but it seemed content to sit beside Prole2’s chair whilst we looked at it.

Me: Well. It’s a mouse.

Prole2: What’s it doing?

Me: It’s just sitting there.

Prole1: What is it?

Me: It’s a mouse.

Prole2: It’s a mouse.

Prole1: What’s it doing?

I waited for Prole2 to fill him in but Prole2 was staring expectantly at me.

Me: It’s just sitting there.

Prole2: Yes. It’s just sitting there.

Prole1 peered over the tops of his glasses in the manner of Lady Bracknell and then went back to his vegetarian sausages.

Prole1: A mouse. Just sitting there.

Prole2: On the floor.

Prole1 (chewing): On the floor.

I decided to move things on a bit and got a glass and gently placed it over the mouse.

Prole2: Mind his tail.

Me: Thank you.

I grabbed Prole2’s reading book from the work surface and slid it gently under the mouse and glass.

Prole2: What’s it doing now?

I took a look through the glass. There was no mistaking what it was doing.

Me: It’s weeing and pooing on your book.

I ignored Prole2’s helpless laughter and took the mouse out to the insect house. I let it go in the pine cone department.
This is my favourite part of the insect house, in the summer the cones are dry and open and all lock together, in winter they close up and go a greenish colour.
The insect house is a stack of pallets in one corner of the garden, the gaps in the pallets are filled with the sort of things solitary bees and lacewings like to live in.
I have never seen a solitary bee or a lacewing anywhere near it.
I am not sure I would even know a lacewing if I met one.
The pinecones are not good for either solitary bees or lacewings but I like them.
The mouse sat for a moment, them squeezed between two pine cones and was gone.
The mouse poo and wee was flicked into a bush and Lime Fresh Dettol Surface Cleaner was liberally applied.

Prole2 was head down on the table, shoulders shaking.

Me: What’s up with him?

Prole1: Still laughing.

Prole2 (indistinctly from the table): He…did a…did a…wee on my book…

All small animals do this to us.

The first time I caught a frog last year I knealt down and put it on my knee and let it go so the Proles could see it hop away.
I talked about it’s legs and skin and showed them it’s eyes, designed to be used in the water.
The frog clearly wanted to lose some ballast and emptied it’s bladder into my trousers and then half heartedly flopped sideways into the grass.

Oh how they laughed.

The very best one ever though was at a friends house where a Slow Worm was found on the back door step.
Five small boys were clustered round it, eyes and mouths open in wonder.

I decided to do the Dad thing and scooped up the Slow Worm.
It twisted through my fingers. They are silky smooth and have firm bodies, this one seemed content to be held.

It made no attempt to move it’s bowels onto me.

We all looked at it for a while and the various boys got up close to inspect it.

I offered it around the group.

Me: Would anyone like to hold it?

Shrieks of terror and much backing away.
Then Prole1 stepped forward.

Prole1: I am a bit scared but I will try.

I was so proud.

Being brave is to be scared but do the thing you fear anyway.
Good boy.
I took his hand and placed the Slow Worm in it.

Me: Gently now, just let it settle, don’t squeeze it.

Prole1: What is it doing?

Me: Well it’s doing….it’s doing a poo….

Who knew there could be so much inside one small Slow Worm?
Slow Worm poo, just for the record, is very like bird poo.
Whatever the consistency the other four boys in the group fell about laughing and Prole1 spent ten minutes in the bathroom washing his hands.

Part of me felt sorry for him but not the part of me that had changed all his nappies.

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We do home work at the worst time of day possible.

Children’s brains are supposed to be receptive and open at the end of a day.

I was finding that homework was becoming more and more erratic.

Some nights we go swimming, some nights we go shopping, sometimes Prole2 has a friend over for tea.
Prole1 never has friends over for tea but I imagine all his teachers have busy lives.

Homework was becoming a real stress.
Reading books are fairly straight forward.
Prole1 picks up his book, reads it through and gets me to sign the record for is teacher.
Most days he reads his book from start to finish.
He could achieve this at any time given the space to sit undisturbed.

Prole2 is more of a challenge as I have to sit next to him.

I never really considered what it might be like to do homework with your kids.
Seems unfair that the school should make me do this.
It’s not MY homework.
I know how to read the Monkey’s Magic Pipe, why do I have to sit around and listen to someone who doesn’t?

I pick up most of my references for a stable home life from the telly.
1970’s telly at that.

Reading with your child is one of those things that the Waltons made look easy.
The kids from the Little House on the Prairie seemed to breeze through reading books with ‘Pa’ before happily getting stuck into their ‘chores’.

Prole2: M…M…oh no wait a minute….L..L..L..L..um…O…O…L..O..N…LON…G….LON…um…LONG…um…LONG….L…O..N..G…LONG A, LONG AG…wait a minute…O….LONG AGO…LONG AGO….L…O..N…G…A…G…O….um…LONG AGO IN…I…N…IN…A….LONG AGO IN A…F…F…FAR…AWAY…FAR…um…FAR…um…FAR…AAY…um, no….
AWAY…FARAWAY…um…L…O..N..G…LONG…AGO…I…IN…LONG AGO IN….um…LONG AGO IN A….what was it again?…FAR…FAR…FAR…FARAW…um…FARAWAY…FOREST.

We do this for half an hour a day.

I don’t remember endless hours of the Walton’s time being taken up with John Boy ripping the English language apart and leaving it scattered across the floor along side his father’s patience. I don’t so much have rose tinted glasses on when listening to Prole1 try to tell me the story of the Monkey’s Magic Pipe as a faint red mist behind the eyes.

Then there are the Maths Packs, a fun maths game that all the family can play.
Together.
Competitively.
With some one winning.
And some one else losing.
So we keep playing until someone else wins.
Usually the one who is good at maths wins.
Which means the one who is bad at maths gets crushed over and over again and all their confidence is stamped out of them across the kitchen table.
We played a snail game for an hour and a quarter until Prole2 final won.
Prole2 finally won because I kicked Prole1 under the table and he deliberately got a sum wrong.
We all had to have quiet time on the sofa after that.
I don’t even open the Maths Packs any more.

But the upping of the homework tempo has meant we were squashing it in here and there and missing it out completely on occasion.

The solution has been to get the Proles up half an hour earlier each day.

Up.
Breakfast.
Dress.
Homework for half an hour.
Go to school.

We manage to get it all done all of the time but it also means getting up really early.
This has had a knock on effect to our bedtime routine but everything is settled down to a regular way of working now.

Sadly, at the beginning of the day children’s brains are thought to be sluggish and unreceptive.

Seems me and Prole2 are going to be spending a long time over his books.

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Today I spoke to my sister on the phone.
I also spoke to her friend who she is staying with but I could not tell the difference between their voices. I thought it was my sister when her friend picked up and I am still not sure when the phone got switched over so I think that counts as one person.
One conversation anyway.

This will probably be the only conversation with the outside world today.
Some days, if we don’t count interaction with shop staff, I only speak to the Proles.

In the early days after Loz died this would happens a lot.
Weekends would go by without any input from other voices.
Even once I started work things were relatively quiet.
I would small talk with colleagues. We would talk about work. I would even talk at length with people we were working with on the phone.
At the end of the day I would feel like I had clocked off and gone back to my other life again.

Going to work was like swapping trains, heading in opposite directions, at fifty miles an hour, without either of them stopping.
One had very little to do with the other.

In one life I would talk to people, in the other I did not.

The only thing is I really missed with ‘small talk’ about the boys was about the little things. How they were growing, how they were getting on.
All the rubbish stuff about phases they are going through, latest tricks, funny things they said.
I missed having someone to share it all with.

I could tell family members but that is not the same as sharing, in depth, with the other parent.
There is always an edge when you are talking ‘beyond’ the family unit.
I don’t want there to be an edge.
I just wanted to share the ongoing roller coaster ride between breakfast and bedtime with someone.

There is an apparent discrepancy between wanting to talk and really, really, really not wanting to talk.

Now, let’s be clear, I do not sit alone and worry about this stuff.

I am quite happy about this state of affairs.

What I miss is asking for confirmation that what I believe about the raising of my children is true.
I particularly miss getting that confirmation.
This does not mean that I don’t lie on the sofa with a cushion over my ears listening to the telephone ringing and hissing: “Go away…go away…go away…’ at it until the ringing stops.

Since all the rules, such as they are rules about child raising, were drawn up with Loz it is inevitable that I find a ‘disconnect’ between what I think we should be doing and whatever anyone who was not there in the early stages of child raising discussions might think.

I don’t like being told I am wrong about my children.
I didn’t mind being told I am wrong about my children by Loz.

A dislike of having my frailties brought out in public is not the only reason I don’t really talk to many people but it is certainly there.

After all, if I want to interact with the outside world I can do.
I have tried this in the past, I can pick up the phone and call any number of people and they would answer.
I could invite myself round to their houses and even stay over on sofas, spare beds or floors.
I have a large number of generous and tolerant friends.

In fact the one night of the week when I force myself to interact with the outside world is for the post swimming Pizza Club at the Manager’s house. Since he and his wife are also Godparents (Or, as he insisted on being called when first asked, ‘friend-parent’) it is a very jolly weekly affair where our two families can get together.
I talk more at these evenings about stuff and nonsense and odds and ends than I do for the rest of the week put together.
Must drive them mad.

I used to have an open invitation Ukulele night round my kitchen table.
People would come from all over to sit around and play ukulele.
We were all fairly awful musicians, people who could hold a tune really stuck out, but the playing was almost the least of it, chatting and laughing were what it was all about.

I really liked listening to all the talking. I loved the banter and the small talk and the awful jokes. I was starting to dread making the small talk myself.

One week I remember staring at the door and hoping no one would turn up because I had nothing to say.
They did turn up and I did have a brilliant time but a few weeks later there was no one free so I used that as an excuse to bring it to a halt.

Every now and then I would make the effort to get a baby sitter and go out for the night.
I would spend the entire time wishing and hoping it would be over so I could go home.
It sort of didn’t matter what activity was happening, I knew I would be happier lying on the sofa at home. Probably with the cushion close by in case anyone called.
Sometimes I would get as far as getting ready, heading out, pulling up in the car outside where ever I had arranged to go and then just turning round and heading home again.

I used to tell people I went home to be with the Proles.
No one ever questioned that when the Proles were small.

The Proles have become regular shields in this new world.
There have been times when I have been unable to get a baby sitter it is true.
I once called nine people and none of them were free so I gave up. I was so relieved.
These days it has to be something pretty special for me to go looking amongst my friends for someone to take the Proles.
Most of the time I decline all invitations on the grounds that I have a family.
Oddly I am happier taking the time out for work than for myself, once the burden of small talk is gone I can unclench.
Sometimes my brilliant friends do ask me to come out to play.
I do love them but I really do have to be in the mood.
Sometimes I am in the mood.
Often I am not.
In those circumstances it can be hard to justify it, to explain why a night in with facebook and Film4 is better than being social.

Evenings off are such monumental things, less than a dozen a year, that the pressure is enormous.
I so seldom go out.
Generally I don’t look forward to it and often I don’t enjoy it as much as being at home.

I sometimes dread invitations.
I hate to say ‘no’ to people, I really do.

I have been known to agree to go out with a group of friends, buy tickets and arrange an entire night without having the slightest intention of going through with any of it, just to stop them badgering me about it.

Twenty five pounds spent on a theatre ticket is money well spent if it gets people to leave you alone, even if you never use the tickets.
The way I reason it, I get an evening doing what I really enjoy and everyone else gets to go to the theatre.
I would spend twenty five pounds on that any day.
I certainly prefer that then actually going out to an evening I won’t enjoy.
After all, I am already twenty five pounds down on the deal, there is no need to be miserable as well.

But then….

Then there are the times when I do want to come out to play.
I am, after all, human.

I still like to see old friends, sit warm by a strange fire, drink in a pub, walk down a street at night, hug someone in the rain.

I still like to wear my old life like a coat on occasion.

I just have to take it off afterwards.

I can’t make this post as cheerful as it is in my head.
I am happy at home.
I have a great love for those around me.
I am grateful for all I have.
I smile often.
At the moment, I don’t need any more.

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Prole1: I don’t really want to wear this top.

It’s a black top with the word ‘conflict’ in graffiti letters across the left shoulder and arm.
I find it almost indistinguishable from his other tops, except that it comes (second hand) from ‘Next’ and there fore has an undeniable air of quality that my ‘George’ purchases do not.
He does look really good in it.

The rule is that he does not have to wear anything he does not want to.
He just has to give me a reason.

Prole1: Can I wear my shirt instead? The one with the buttons? Not this one?

Me: Oh. Why not?

Prole1: I don’t really like drawing attention to myself.

Me: Really?

Prole1: Yes. I don’t like drawing attention to myself.

Me: Like the time you fell off the stage during the Nativity Play?

Prole1: No. I mean no, not like that but no I didn’t like that either.

Me: Or the time you read out that stuff in front of a thousand people?

Prole1: No. It’s different.

Me: Or the time you went on telly for Children in need?

Prole1: No.

Me: Or that time you DJ’d at that wedding and all those men with no tops on were dancing on the stage and they jumped up and down so much they unplugged your mixing desk? Like that?

Prole1: Dad! Be serious.

Me: Ok. What sort of drawing attention to yourself were you thinking of?

Prole1: Well I don’t like people thinking I am something I am not.

Me: Like what?

Prole1: Like something I am not, you know.

Me: Ok, but how does that top make you something you are not?

Prole1: Well people might see me walking down the street and think I am one of the cool kids.

Me: Which cool kids?

Prole1: The cool kids from school.

Me: Oh, I see.

Those cool kids. I felt like I was lifting up a rock and looking underneath. It probably was not going to be pretty.

Me: What do the cool kids do? At school?

Prole1: Well, they like…they…they like mucking about and playing computer games and sitting inside and…and…not doing anything.

Me: And you are not like that?

Prole1: No, I like working and going outside and doing as I am told and working hard.

I looked down at him with his glasses and his squint.
Scruffy hair, with his serious frown and his wonky teeth.

Prole1: And I like chess.

Me: Yes. Chess. Are cool kids…are they cool? Do you want to be one of the cool kids?

I know he is brilliant and can do whatever he wants to.

Prole1: No. I think they are cool but they don’t like doing the things I like doing. Some of them are my friends but…I just don’t want to wear that top really.

Right now I had to respect that he wanted to wear what he wanted to wear.

Me: Oi!

Prole2: What?

Me: You have a new top.

Prole2: Brill…eee…ant!