May Day

It’s our first Bank Holiday Weekend in England.  The sun is shining and it’s a beautiful day!

We go for a walk around my little town. First to a playground around the back of the Youth Centre. A place I used to go to with me mates when we were kids. Once a week on a Tuesday or a Friday. We played football or tennis, listened to James on the stereo and attempted to flirt with each other. It’s boarded up now and covered with graffiti. My boys enjoyed playing in the playground, climbing the half broken frame. I worry, what with their improved reading skills, they might notice the “Mae is a cunt” scrawled on the metal frame.

We go to the park. More swings and more slides. A group of bored teenagers sit on and around a park bench. My son asks me why would anyone want to smoke? I tell him maybe it’s because it makes them feel cool or important. He laughs.  The teenagers slump off into the woods. After a while, some smoke rises through the trees. They’ve tried to set a tree on fire but they scarper before the police arrive.

I don’t live in a bad area – it’s alright. The number of Range Rovers and personalised number plates tell me that the people are doing alright too. What bugs me is that people seem to just ignore or accept or not care about this crap. I worry my kids will too.

I’m not preparing them properly for Britain. I keep asking them to do things like “share” and “play nice”, argue that, “just because he did that to you, doesn’t give you the right to do that to him!”, and chastise them for being “bloody awkward!”. I fear I might be turning them into loony-lefties.

I need a big garden with a big trampoline and an even bigger fence around it. I should stop caring about this stuff. Pot holes don’t feel so bad sped over in an SUV.

We need a break.

The Easter holidays are finally over – finally!

British parents have been gripped by the court case of Mr Platt, trying to overturn the decision of a fine for taking his kids out of school for a (no doubt educational) trip to Disneyland. The fine was £120. I have an opinion on this. But first…

My honeymoon – ah, it was wonderful. We stayed in a luxurious beach resort in Thailand. A room with a private swimming pool, boat and canoe trips into Yao Noi, the most amazing fresh fruit and vegetables, incredible food. It was truly heaven.

It was also for three nights.

Because, dear reader, we were already with child. ‘With’ meaning that our one-year-old was staying with grandparents. So our three nights were a mix of joy, elation, relief, guilt, extreme tiredness and regret. When they were over, I had to be dragged onto the boat back to the mainland by the Thai kickboxing instructors.

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Every time I see this picture, I die a little.

I try to avoid giving advice to the youth of today but I will drop this pearl: don’t have kids before your honeymoon. It will ruin it. Don’t even conceive on a honeymoon! Use whatever protection you can get. There’s plenty of time for that after. Because once you have kids, ALL holidays will be crap.

I give you an example. Up until 2015, we were living in Japan. Our departure was looming and so I decided to treat my family (and, primarily myself) to a night in the fantastic Tokyo Station Hotel. Oooohh!

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This hotel is stunning. In the heart of the commercial area of the metropolis, a stone’s throw from the Imperial Palace and surrounded by luxury apartments, skyscrapers and shopping malls. Its Victorian brick structure is somewhat incongruent surrounded by modern convenience, yet it has an understated elegance. I imagined spending a night of luxury here. The room didn’t disappoint. The huge queen sized bed, a bath you could actually stretch your legs out (a rarity in this country) and a rain shower! Rain. Shower. Rain. Shower.

It sounds wondrous and it should’ve been. But I forgot we had two kids in tow. A long bath loses its appeal when you have to share it with two kids. And a rain shower isn’t the most convenient ways to clean off a kid with a dirty nappy. Unfortunately, no romance took place in that queen-sized bed. The lack of sleep was caused by constant kicks in the head from my youngest. I lay there, regretting the whole stupid idea and promising myself that as long as I have little parasites to take care of, I will never try to do anything nice.

And so to Mr Platt. Apparently he has spent £12,000 fighting this case. I admire his chutzpah. Of course, in public I’ve been championing his cause: it’s freedom, innit, and have you seen the prices of Centre Parcs during the holidays?!

But secretly, I wonder if it’s all worth it? Because holidays with kids will always be crap. It really doesn’t matter if it’s Disneyland, Legoland, or Sunderland. My kids will be running around having a great time and I’ll be chasing them, thinking how wonderful it’d be to come here ‘just the two of us’. My advice for Mr Platt would be if he has that money, he should hire a term-time babysitter and go to Disneyland with his wife, while his kids are enjoying the so-called best years of their lives. It’d be a shame to drag them out and make them go and shake hands with a plastic mouse.

Our poverty-stricken half-term involved walks in the woods, walks in the park, walks in the woods again, more walks in the park, walks to the library and walks back again.  I realised that I really didn’t need a break from the kids so much as a walk with them. Plenty to explore and entertain them. Like climbing half-fallen trees in the woods, running away from a disturbed wasps’ nest and staring curiously at mating frogs in the canal.

A lot of walking. But walks are free. And parks and woods. And libraries … for the meantime. Enjoy them while you can. Because someday, the kids will fly the nest. And then you’ll be stuck having amazing holidays in paradise.

Board Games

My kids have reached the age when they have started weighing up options, making independent decisions and understanding the joys of cooperation and competition. And so sitting down at a table and playing a board or card game has become a pleasure – especially as they’ve also reached the stage when they can actually sit down at a table. But board games, like tables, range in quality. Enjoyment and fun can vary. So here are my two cents on some games that have been taken out of the box in my house.

(By the way, it was hard to avoid a board/bored pun in the title but that would insult both of our intelligences. And board games are not boring – not at all!)

Snakes and Ladders / Ludo

I think it’s a bit like Woody Guthrie songs and Humphrey Bogart films whereby the copyright has expired and it’s in the public domain or something because they’re usually pretty cheap – like the one I picked up on Amazon. Board game aficionados tend to look down and dismiss games like these because they a) are completely run by chance and require no skill – not even the skill of hedging your bets or pushing your luck as in Yahtzee! or the incredibly frustrating (in an incredibly good way!) Can’t Stop, and b) the players are all working independently (especially in Snakes and Ladders) and little or no interaction is needed.

I have to disagree. There’s a lot of value in Snakes and Ladders. The crushing lows and the all-too-short highs reflect accurately the absurdist tragedy that is life and it’s good to expose your kids to these feelings early. Those 99 squares to victory seem like a cinch and yet landing on that really long snake for the third, fourth time really hits home how life stacks the odds up against you. I can’t think of a better way to teach that short of asking for a high five, moving my hand out of the way so they miss and then punching them in the back of the head twice.

One of the benefits of board games is that they are teaching my kids to be humble winners and gallant losers. That’s “teaching”, not “taught” – we’re .. ahem! .. working on it! But Snakes and Ladders gets them to practice this a dozen times per game. That’s more bang for your buck. And my kids love it – a little more than Ludo, which can drag at times.

Junior Monopoly

This, on the other hand, stinks. Monopoly flatters you that you’re following some semblance of strategy but it’s pretty much luck too. The fastest out the gate almost always wins. Junior Monopoly is a paired-down version: no auctions, no remortgages, no trades. But like it’s big brother (and unlike Snakes and Ladders) it has that same drawn out feeling. In Snakes and Ladders, the player in pole position can change in an instant. But in Monopoly, you know who’s going to win pretty early on. And after that, it’s an endless build-up of resentment, bitterness, self-superiority and smugness. Educationally, I guess it can prepare children for the inequality and unfairness of the UK property market but as a game, it left us all cold. Except our youngest. He would win without really understanding why. Look at his mountain of money and his evil capitalist smile!

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I am an old man and most people hate me. But I don’t like them either, so that makes it all even.

We all felt dirty playing this game. So we healed ourselves by selflessly donating it to the local charity shop.

Top Trumps

I loved these cards when I was a kid and my children love them too. They fill my young men’s heads with piles and piles of unimportant statistical information they can bore women with in the future. My son now knows that the Airbus Beluga has a flight speed of 544mph, outperforming the behemoth Antonov AN-225 Mriya.

Knowledge, strategy, a head for numbers and taking risks come into play and once you familiarise yourself with the cards then games can be quite even (too even perhaps?). I think they work best with a common theme: cars, planes, trains etc. There are some esoteric sets which do not work so well. A Star Wars set makes you compare Jedi Knights against space ships, which seems a bit forced.

Most importantly, especially for young learners, is that it’s easy to ‘lose’ and so build up their confidence and willingness to play again. Once they’re hooked, feel free to destroy them.

Twister

I always thought Twister was a little … sexy. This thought meant I was reluctant to play this with children when we picked one up from the charity shop. Truthfully, Twister is far from sexy and, for adults, boils down to a lot of elaborate calf and hamstring stretches. Is it fun? Well, I wouldn’t play it after dinner or ice cream as it does feel like a bit of a workout. And after 30mins, you no longer need the central heating on.  The only way you could possibly win against flexible kids is by being a yoga instructor or by pushing them over. Which I do. With glee. Highly recommended.

Pop to the Shops

This is by Orchard Toys, who have a whole range of beautifully illustrated, colourful, strong, durable board games which are education based. Education?! Bleurgh!

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Pop to the Shops is a game where you pop to the shops. There’s a lot of realistic toy (UK) money which you use to buy stuff and fill up your shopping list. The focus is on maths, making polite requests and money management. The sense of competition is almost zero – this isn’t race to the shops, buddy! It feels like those hippy sports days you hear about whereby there are no winners because everyone has to cross the line at the same time. It sounds excruciating. And it is, unless you spice it up a bit. I like to use it to introduce my children to the overt politeness of the Victorian upper gentry, turning it into a most agreeable game:

Me – “Ah, good day to you, kind merchant! And what a most arid day it is in the capital, what? Indeed, one’s throat is near fatal collapse! Could I perchance partake of a punnet of those delectable looking strawberries?”

Son – “Er, two pounds ten please.”

Sushi Go / Cockroach Poker

These are fantastic little card games, requiring strategy, tactics, deviousness and a lot of pushing your luck. I’m not going to explain the rules but just heartily recommend them both. What I will point out is that they are easy for my kids to play but they are too young to get to grips with the strategy needed to win. It doesn’t matter because my wife and I can play with them but on a higher plane, having our own little parallel battle. In fact, we have to incorporate just how rubbish our kids are into the overall tactics needed to win. This makes them just the most perfect games for all the family at the moment! As our children finally get their heads around the tactics needed to win, I’m sure a whole new experience will emerge for us.

Outfoxed / Hoot Owl Hoot

These two children’s games are co-op games, meaning that we have to work together to win or we all lose together. Outfoxed is a cross between Cluedo, Guess Who? and Yahtzee, taking the best elements of each: rolling dice, pushing luck and following a process of elimination. You play a group of detectives who, through a slow but enjoyable process of elimination and teamwork, are trying to hunt down a fox guilty of … of … something bad! My kids really love it. It’s a little easy for us adults but it’s the game that gets requested most in our house.

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I’d rather just play Hoot Owl Hoot! A ridiculously simple and yet ingenious game. There are no dice or counting but forward planning and teamwork needed to guide six little owls around a coloured board and in the nest before sunset. The tension can be unbearable, and it’s pretty difficult trying to get all six owls home. Although firmly aimed at kids, I can imagine playing a game or two with adults if suitable sozzled. Co-op games, I feel, have not only been a revelation to the board gaming industry but also teach valuable skills (delegation, teamwork, forward planning) to my children and create a warm atmosphere over the table. I sincerely implore you to check these out in time for the March winds and April showers.

Post-Millenials

When I were a wee lad we used to play with Transformers.

Blimey – that was a bit creepier than I remember. What was with all that green eyed, Village of the Damned business? Anyway, I guess we were a little overly enamoured with them because Transformers were the damn business! In my humble little school, they felt more popular, more loved than – gulp – Star Wars figures! These were toys to be played with – cool planes, trucks and cars which transformed into cool robots. They had exciting names like Starscream and Wheeljack and Bumblebee and all that Jazz. And manipulating these pieces of plastic was a real joy, along with making that creaking-cranking transforming sound with your voice.

And then Michael Bay came along and RUINED MY CHILDHOOD!

Well, not really. If I’m honest, it was puberty that ruined my childhood – nothing else. Damn YOU PUBERTY!!

Getting upset about remakes and reimaginings seems a little pointless when the originals were a bit, well, crap. One of the greatest things about YouTube is showing exactly how rosey your rose-coloured glasses really are. Watching clips of Transformers (along with other garbage TV from when I was a child) made me realise that I was duped! These were just 20 min commercials to nag your parents into buying stuff. I mean, a small group of noble fighters, standing up against evil despots trying to steal energy from the powerless inhabitants? C’mon, that’s ridiculous!

In 2007, a good friend and I decided to go and see Michael Bay’s hugely successful, metallic monstrosity Transformers. I don’t know what we were thinking. We were terribly hungover and perhaps feeling a little nostalgic (was YouTube around in 2007?). 15 mins in, we regretted it. My eyes were pleading with my eyelids to just close – just close and stop all this horrible, horrible stuff from penetrating their retinas! In a multi-million dollar CGI bullets, bombs and bums epic, the highlight – and I mean this in all sincerity – was when John Turturro took off his tie.

Well, that was the highlight of the film. The highlight of our cinema experience was a lady a couple of seats down with us. She was with her young daughter and, obviously as perplexed as we were by this monstrosity, started barking excitedly and incomprehensively at the screen, pretty much for the last half of the film. Our eyes turned away from the screen and we finished our popcorn watching her instead. Such violations of the Code are usually frowned upon. Yet, I can honestly say that she made what would have been a two-hour (plus change!) miserable experience an unforgettable trip to the cinema.

What’s my point? Not sure. Except that these Transformers have had a bit of resurgence and a new generation have experienced the joys of transforming extra-terrestrial robots into things you find in Jay Leno’s garage. I say ‘transforming’ – but look at these videos.

 

Where’s the joy in that? My kids expect me to buy them this crap? Where’s the manipulation? Where’s the promise of motor skills development? How can you make that “GAH-EEH-OOH-EH-AH!” noise? It makes me worry for the post-millennial generation my children belong to. Surely, they’ll become the laziest, demotivated, uninspirational generation EVS!

I’m not forking out money for those, so it means I’ve dug out my old Transformers – looking a bit like Sunnyside rejects – for my kids to play with.

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The toy equivalent of the current Take That line-up.

Despite their ragged look, they have been embraced all over again. I’ve enjoyed watching them discover something I used to love – half-satisfied that these toys have cost me nothing – half-concerned that I’m wasting an eBay jackpot on these ungrateful brats.

A World of Pure Imagination

Willy Wonka knew what he was talking about. Imagination is important for children’s growth. As we’re constantly told, we need to feed their imagination as much as their stomachs. Imagination and play are the cornerstones of childhood development. There is a toy producer called Imaginarium which makes a lot of money producing expensive ‘imagination’ toys – strikingly realistic, negating the need to imagine too much. Just joking – their toys are fab.

Children often have imaginary friends – although they seem to forget them as they grow up. I don’t remember having one, but I do remember bawling  when Bing Bong said his last goodbye. Like it was yesterday. Because it was. Sixth time in a year. Still bawling.

My eldest doesn’t have an imaginary friend but an imaginary hometown: Neverland. A world hard to pinpoint on our map but somewhere near Greenland, somewhere near Antartica, depending on the day. Population 703 billion. Main economy: aeroplane and sportscar manufacturing. Home to Atta: manufacturer of said aeroplanes and sports cars with a profitable side business in bus and train production. Next time you hear a rumble in the sky (a pretty big rumble, mind!), look up and you may see one of Atta’s triple-decker jumbo jet behemoths roaring along, making one of their 1 hour London to San Francisco flights. Incidentally, Atta is the name of the greatest football team on the planet – you may or may not have seen their dismantling of Manchester United last weekend – 171-38 – one of those rare 209 goal thrillers.

The country is the epitome of a flourishing capitalist success story. Money doesn’t just talk here, it screams. We sometimes walk down a Dublin street and spot a BMW or Audi whizzing past:

Son: “Look, Daddy, an Audi!”

Me: (not wanting to draw attention to such empty materialistic possessions) “Oh … yeah.”

Son: “Are they expensive?”

Me: “Yes, very. (mumbling) Some would say ‘too’!”

Son: “Do you like Audis?”

Me: “(‘NO!’) They`re okay. How about you?”

Son”They’re okay. But not as good as Attas. Only poor people drive Audis in Neverland!”

My god! Where did he get these materialistic obsessions?! He lives in ‘Bianca’ – a small seaside town outside of the capital (I’m assuming his relocation from the big city is due to the unimaginable air pollution) in a house, “a little bit smaller than the GPO .. just a little bit!”. Living the Neverland dream. Wanting for nothing.

“Ah it’s a bit of fun! You should encourage his imagination!” And I do. But there’s also his Neverland family. His Neverland mum, his Neverland brothers and sisters, and … gulp! … his Neverland dad.

I hate this guy! He’s a cross between Brad Pitt , Lionel Messi, Bill Gates and the Dalai Lama. Captain of Atta FC and responsible for putting 46 goals past David de Gea, incredibly handsome, rich, successful and generous – a real eye-opener to what my little Young Conservative in the making currently aspires to. It’s sickening! I try to hold back the bitter, petty recriminations – “well if he’s so good, why don’t you spend the weekend with him instead of leeching off me!?” – and try to remember that I’m being jealous of an imaginary person. I’m a father now. I have to be a better man.

Me: “He sounds like a really nice man, your Neverland dad!”

Son: “Yes, he is. And he’s really cool. And good at football and he has 10 BMWs!”

Me: “We should all have dinner together!”

Son: “Yeah, that would be so fun!”

Me: “He can pay”.

Uncomfortable dinners

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Conversation. Smiles. Sitting up straight. What is this parenting witchcraft?

What’s better than raising children? Nothing! Well, maybe free beer.

Living in a capital city means there’s always a lot going on. Including this Tiger Beer promotion for a free pint in one of the many bars in Dublin. These kind of benefits almost make up for the lack of sunshine and overinflated rents.

I went with my wife and kids to Harry’s on the Green – a nice underground bar near Gaiety Theatre. Plush surroundings, deep mahogany furnishings, a fancy cocktail bar and soft jazz playing over the speakers. Immediately, my wife and I had the very same thought: “we don’t belong here!”.

Going out to places is always a little disconcerting. I don’t want to have to be forced to go to McDonald’s or the Hard Rock Cafe or Abrakebabra (although, great pun guys!). But I’m aware of the nuisance children can cause at such establishments. Those looks you get from other customers are similar to the looks you get just by stepping onboard an aeroplane with a kid in your arms. I wish I were ballsy enough to sit down next to a frowning couple, order two Redbull and Cokes for my kids and then tell them to run free. But I don’t. Placating them with a blank sheet of paper and a pen is usually enough.

So it was with intense relief when another couple with kids walked in. Hallelujah! Comradeship, solidarity, support!

A happy sigh and a smile to each other, we watched them as they sat down. This is now a ‘family-friendly’ restaurant. Haha! Bad luck couples – your quiet romantic afternoon drink is now truly ruined! With any luck these kids will be worse behaved than mine.

It gave me an idea. In the spirit of Airbnb and Uber, maybe families can do ‘restaurant-sharing’. You’re in town with your kids, you want to grab a bite to eat somewhere nice but feel intimidated, you log on to our website and find similar stressed out parents who are willing to enter the same restaurant ten minutes before or after you, just to tip the balance in your favour. That’s it. Don’t need to sit together, or even say hello – a knowing nod or smile is all. Noone has the energy to sigh, tut and grumble over two sets of kids.

This was all swirling around in my head when the mother pulled out two iPads to keep her daughters quiet. iPads! In a restaurant! What is wrong with parents today?!

Photo credit: Tetra Pak

 

We’ll make great pets.

Pets. Urgh!

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Credit: diannehope

As a non-dog owner –  yes I know, I don’t understand. As a non-cat owner –  yes I know I don’t understand. As a non-gerbil, -parakeet, -gecko owner, I know I ‘ain’t never gonna understand.

I’ve never understood the necessity to receive such non-judgemental love, in exchange for the odd treat, regular meals and an occasional rub of the belly. I don’t believe they truly understand you. I know you think they do. But I don’t. For me, pets are a nuisance. They need looking after, cleaning, exercising and they’re just an extra mouth to feed. I made the mistake of helping bring two creatures just like that into this world – I’m not going to voluntarily hand over cash to make the same mistake again.

My kids bug me for pets but I shrug it off. They bug me to get a cool Audi. They bug me to go to Disneyland. They bug me for a lot of things that won’t be happening anytime soon. When househunting, I searched for apartments that weren’t pet-friendly just so I could say, “ah gee, boys. I’d really love to get a dog too but we’re just not allowed here. Not even a chihuahua!”.

It’s not that we’ve never had a pet. At my eldest’s nursery school’s summer festival, they would have a game known as KINGYO SUKUI which means “goldfish scooping”. Dextrously deficient children attempt to scoop out goldfish from a paddling pool into their own cup and then take their bounty home with them. Every year I watched this horror show: poor fish flapping about all over the place and then put in a plastic bag with sometimes six, seven other goldfish, taken home to who knows what fate. The Japanese are – how shall I put this – not overly concerned with animal rights at the best of times, but this was too much to bear.

As a self-styled piscine Oskar Schindler, I rescued four of these fish from a group of tormenting boys and took them home, on the way stopping at the supermarket and buying a fish tank, a filter and some food. Two of them didn’t last the week. The other two got on rather well and we often had a tank full of fish eggs. Trust me, goldfish stink: their eggs stink, their shit stinks and their food stinks. Before I took a shower, I would change the fish water in our bathtub, trying not to retch. The last of the goldfish left us about a year after their emancipation. I took it out into the garden to bury and my son and I built a mound of stones over its grave. I remember feeling quite touched (and somewhat puzzled) by my son sobbing from his first encounter with death and mourning. My wife shouted out the window, “make sure you bury it deep. I don’t want the neighbour’s cat digging it up again!”.

Back to the present. My son has taken the pet ban on the chin and made his own. In an empty jam jar, he scattered some golden stones from Bray beach, added a little plant and filled it with water. Then, on a piece of clear plastic, he drew his own little goldfish and dropped them into the water. I must say it’s quite sweet. And doesn’t smell at all!

Neat idea, huh? Thank you for reading and I’m going to leave you with this. For no other reason than it’s a cracker.

Bubbles

My wife is amazing. For a number of reasons.

First, she doesn’t communicate with me on our Facebook news feeds. I like that about her. For those couples who do: please, get a room! Like a living room or drawing room or parlour or something.

Secondly, she doesn’t wish our infant children, “Happy birthday!” on Facebook either. I like that about her too. Neither of them has a Facebook account and, if they did, I suspect they wouldn’t even ‘Friend’ me. To whom are these well-wishes aimed at? And didn’t you, like, see them that morning, like, at breakfast, or something?

She is also amazing because she has had to spend the summer entertaining two kids alone. This has seriously cut into her Facebook time but she has not complained. For kids whose parents are busy with work, there are not that many options out there. Coupled with Dublin’s unpredictable weather, it can make looking after kids in a summer holiday … difficult!

In Ireland, it seems like a lot of busy parents take advantage of the wide range of summer ‘camps’. However, these are nothing like camps because a) there are no tents, b) the kids come back at 5pm (!!!), and c) ‘camping’ is supposed to be a cheap alternative for cash-strapped, frazzled workers in need of a holiday. There is nothing cheap about them. Our local gym offers a swimming camp which is over €100 for a week’s course. Multiply by the number of weeks in a summer holiday and you may start to consider moving to a landlocked country just to be on the safe side.

There’s an almost infinite range of camps: Starcamps (which builds your little angel’s confidence and prepares them for the cutthroat world of show business), photography camps, computer programming camps, even camps which advertise, seriously, that your child will spend 70% of the time on an iPad. Are these camps are only popular in Ireland? We never had this kind of thing when I was a child but that was a long time ago. Answers on a holiday postcard, please.

My wife has been scouring the Internet looking for ideas to keep them occupied and found this gem: a giant bubble maker. These things can be bought on Amazon for about £20 but it cost us next to nothing to put one together.Of course, we had to buy the bubble mixture from the nearest Euro shop – washing up liquid and water is always a poor substitute.

First, you need to get hold of a few pieces of junk mail: takeaway leaflets are particularly good. They have a waxy texture to them which make them quite resilient and waterproof. You need enough so you can make a pair of strong sticks (for more information on the forgotten art of stick making, look here). You then get two pieces of string: one short one and one longer piece. Tie the two ends of the strings to the two ends of the stick. Make sure the long piece overlaps the short piece, in order for a complete bubble circle to be made. You should have something that looks like this (or, most likely, better).

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And … er … well … that’s it!

I’m sure the manufacturers of more expensive versions will assure you that theirs have been expertly crafted and optimised through hours, days, weeks, months of laboratory testing and that their product produces the biggest, boldest bubbles on the block. Good for them!

Chronicling

A great philosopher once said:

Wise beyond his years. He hadn’t even had any kids. I don’t feel like my kids are growing up but rather exploding, quickly and secretly when my eyes are turned. One of my colleagues who has grown up children told me once, “I don’t know, it’s funny. You put them in bed one night, kiss them goodnight and when you wake up, they’ve flown the nest”.

My kids really like drawing now. My eldest is particularly consumed by it. At the end of the day, even the promise of reading a Roald Dahl book can’t get him to come to bed because he’s drawing. I’m not complaining – it’s a nice pastime and we encourage it. Before leaving work, I raid the recycling bin for unwanted and unloved one-sided photocopies that I can staple together into a sketch pad and bring home to my boys – what a guy!

The walls of our house are plastered with their drawings. Literally plastered.

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Not featured on “Changing Rooms”.

We’ll never win any interior design awards and my Pinterest account is rarely looked at but I couldn’t care less. It’s comforting to come back to a home filled with pictures of suspended blue skies, portraits of family members with no hair and twelve fingers, and frantic scribbles in primary colours. It’s also satisfying to use the word, ‘scribbles’. Sitting at the table with a cup of tea with your child, watching their knitted brow, pursed lips and chubby fingers grab that deceptively large pencil, listening to their deep breaths of concentration is a nice way to forget the troubles of the day.

These pictures are as precious as photos but are not treated as so: they’re often thrown away, put in a drawer or forgotten about. That’s why we have taken to photographing everything.

When we moved house, I found myself having to deal with a tonne of papers: work stuff, bank info, documents, my unfinished Hollywood script. These papers were heavy and bulky, and when moving country, sacrifices had to be made. Everything relatively important (too important to throw away, not important enough to be saved) was photographed and stored on a USB, and then I started photographing their artwork.

Flickr provides 1TB of free photos. Google Photos offers unlimited storage if you’re okay with some compression. My wife has a second Facebook account with only a handful of friends (grandparents, brothers, me) which she uses to upload anything and everything child-related without causing eye-rolling and long sighs from casual friends.

One more thing, when pictures have been scribbled and drawn, my wife always writes the date in the corner in pencil. This allows us to see real progress.

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What a difference a year makes.

Also, with more ‘creative’ endeavours, she also pencils in what these blobs and squiggles actually are. Thus ensuring that when they’ve flown the nest, we can look back on these efforts with warm smiles and not knitted brows of our own.