Thursday, 29 August 2013

HD's guide for the new school term

Well, we made it. Hopefully I haven't spoken too soon. 6 weeks ago parents everywhere experienced a universal panic attack and now we are breathing a collective sigh of relief. In only a few days time our little cherubs will be back in school.

To make sure the new term runs as smoothly as a toddler with diarrhoea, here is HDs guide to getting back to school.

(notes: This post does not apply to teachers who have spent the entire holiday entertaining their own kids before beginning another 12 weeks of entertaining 30 stranger's kids.)
  1. Never ever tell any of the school staff what you do for a living. Unless you want to be building the barbeque for the summer fate, doing a talk on road safety, making leaflets for the PTA or running a pottery workshop keep that information to yourself.
  2. Never ever volunteer to help on a school trip. One of two things will happen (a) Your child will behave the way they normally behave for you, which will shock and stun their teachers and make you feel like a crap parent (b) Your child will behave the way they normally do in school, which will make you realise that they should be behaving much better for you and make you feel like a crap parent.
  3. Never ever dress up to do the school run. If you arrive at school looking poor and dishevelled, possibly with some sort of drug or alcohol addiction your child will be forgiven almost any misdemeanour. If you arrive in a Range Rover and Versace suit you will not be allowed any leeway at all. This will become painfully obvious the first time you don't pay dinner/snack/trip money on time or send your child to school wearing no underpants. If your kids go to the sort of school where everyone has a Range Rover and a Versace suit, just opt for last season's model.
  4. Never ever complain about anything. Parents in rough schools don't complain about anything - they are happy if their kids get home alive. Parents in posh schools complain about everything. You may think the teaching staff are simply an extension of your domestic staff. They are not. Also you may believe that the size of your wallet guarantees that your child is a gifted academic/linguist/football player/singer/astronaut and should be treated as such. Remember, as the parent, you are the person least able to make an objective judgement on what an absolute cretin your child really is.
  5. Never ever get a job in your child's school. This will result in a number of things (a) your child will have the piss taken out of the mercilessly for all your idiosyncrasies. This will be particularly true if you are too fat, too thin, too short, too tall, too ugly, too attractive, too smelly, too fragrant, too foreign, too local or have a big nose (b) You will be very disappointed when you realise your little genius has the nickname 'thicky Smith' (c) You will force the Head to brief all school staff that 'thicky Smith's' mum is coming to work at the school and to not speak to her at all for fear of incrimination.
  6. Never ever believe your child when they say what they've done at school. This is particularly true of boys. If you complain to the Head that your son always seems to do 'nothing' or has been taught how to make a bomb and you're not very happy about it you will be the laughing stock of the staffroom for some time.
  7. Never ever ask for more homework. Homework is a no win for everybody. Teachers don't want to set it or mark it. kids don't want to do it. If it's easy it's not worth setting. If it's hard the kid won't be able to do it without input from the teacher - or the parent will help by showing the child a method last taught in 1968 which may undo an entire term's learning. You may think that 8 minutes more homework will solve your child's chronic ineptitudes. It won't. Just play the game and sign the bloody homework diary when you have to and everyone can have the weekend free.
  8. Never ever become a parent governor. School's have to have them. The only useful parent governors are those that have a clue about running a school. Sadly those kinds of people don't want to be parent governors as they've been in school all day. You may think having attended school gives you some level of expertise. It doesn't. I've been to a massage parlour but that doesn't qualify me to become a prostitute. The worst kind of parent governors are those in senior positions in their day jobs. They want to have input and think everywhere should run like a bank. This is dangerous and will result in a number of things (a) you are guaranteed to upset half the parents and all the teaching staff with your ideas for extending the school day, free summer schools and lunch time homework clubs (b) you will force the Head into convening pre meeting meetings so that all important decisions can be made on the sly before you arrive. Parent governors should be like Cheryl Cole. Seen but not heard.
  9. Never ever brag about your child's achievements and school progress to other parents. There are a number of possible results (a) Other competitive parents will spend their time trying to out brag you (b) parents with low self esteem will worry that their own child is under performing (c) normal parents will think you have some sort of inferiority complex which you are trying to redress through your own child's perceived successes (d) everyone will think you are an arsehole.
  10. Never ever try to organise regular social events with other parents. Yes there will be people at the school gates who you warm to and will become genuine friends. You will spend time together out of choice and you will be able to rely on each other for child care, emergency pickups, borrowing of Christmas concert outfits etc. However if you stand at the school gates every morning desperately trying to arrange quiz nights, skittles nights, day trips to Alton Towers etc. a number of things will happen (a) some people will start avoiding you (b) some people will think you have no actual real friends (c) Some people will think your marriage is on the verge of collapse so you are trying to spend as much time out as possible (d) most people will think you are having an affair with Harry's dad who is the only male parent to attend every event. As a sub point here it is worth noting that at some point on a 'mums' night out someone will suggest organising one for the Dads. Don't! They won't want to go!

If some of this applies to you, you have a few days left to sort it out. If all of this applies to you then you are a lost cause - and in reality you won't be reading this as you'll be on a mums and kids trip to Caerphilly Castle or reading up on the latest National Curriculum changes ready for your first governors meeting.

To the rest of you. Read this advice carefully so that you do not make the same mistakes and you can carefully avoid those that do.

Have a great term and get cracking on that Badger's costume for the generic winter festival concert.

Hapless Dad.

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

10k page views - woohoo!

My blog has just reached 10 thousand page views. I know, for you established bloggers out there, you probably get close to this every day but for a newbie it's quite a milestone. I'm very pleased.

I posted a piece and tweeted about it knowing that I was close to the 10k mark. I figured maybe a quick post and a few well timed tweets would get me where I wanted to be. I was right!

I checked my stats during the course of the day and saw the target getting closer and closer. Exciting stuff. Or sad as fuck depending on your point of view.

I also started to think a little about blogging and how things have changed for me in the short time I've been getting my stuff 'out there'.

When I started blogging my aim was simple. To be a writer. I have a friend who is an author. A very talented lady by the name of Laura Kemp. Laura is a former editor at the Western Mail who now works on a freelance basis, writing a column here, selling a feature there and producing an amazing first book "Mums like us". Many of you will already follow her on twitter @laurajanekemp and may have seen her speak at Britmums live this year. You will undoubtedly have read some of her pieces in quality publications and the Daily Mail.

I had already been writing for some time. Mostly about parenting (write about what you know!) but also about many other subjects. I used it as a tool for venting my own frustrations in a positive way and clarifying my own thoughts. Like most blokes my head is a jumbled mess of naked pictures and quotes from Blackadder but when I write, things just come out in an organised way. These 'articles' sat on my laptop and had been read by Mrs Hapless and Laura on a number of occasions. I'd passed things on to Laura in the hope of maybe using her skill and experience to get something published. She was extremely positive and helpful and pitched several pieces to various people on my behalf.

This continued for a year or so in dribs and drabs. I didn't really pursue it with any determination. Mrs Hapless (a marketing manager) and Laura had already suggested setting up a blog and using twitter to publicise my writing. To be honest I was a little nervous. Not about people reading my stuff, but about being open and unguarded. If you met me you'd think I was a gobby little sod, and I am really. But I'm also extremely private and don't like people "getting up in my shit" (sorry I've been watching too many episodes of The Wire recently).

However I worked out a solution. I began blogging as an alter ego - in this case Hapless Dad. This seemed to help as I was comfortable with people knowing about Hapless Dad.

I set up my blog in the simplest way possible as I am utterly clueless when it comes to anything technical. I set up blogger, fiddled with templates etc and posted the first few pieces from my collection.

I was hooked from the start. I posted every day and sat glued to my stats. Very soon the bank of articles I already had ran out and I began to post real time. This was when my approach completely changed. Instead of the blog just being a place where I put stuff I'd written it became a place where I tried to put things that people would want to read. I followed parenting trends and stories and I kept up to date with various events and milestones in the calendar trying to put my own slant on things and maybe raise a chuckle.

During the early days Laura pitched one of my pieces to the Daily Mail and, bloody hell, it was commissioned. I hadn't even had anything published in the free ads and here I was about to have my own by-line in the Daily Mail. Interviews were conducted, photo shoots completed and payments agreed. I was absolutely elated. Sadly the piece didn't run, at least it hasn't yet (crosses fingers) however it was still a massive feather in my cap (plus I still got paid) and made me think it was possible to make some sort of a living out of something I loved. I was also getting some great feedback on stuff I'd put on the blog, both from friends and the online community.

The Daily Mail piece was the last thing I pitched and this was some time ago now. I haven't pitched anything since. The blog became an activity in and of itself rather than a stepping stone to something else. I've had a few posts shown on various web sites such as dadzclub and parentdish but nothing paid. I've also linked up with a few other bloggers which helped to reach a new audience. Although I haven't put anywhere near enough effort into this. It has sort of fallen by the wayside.

The thing is I'm now at a bit of a crossroads. I can't devote all my spare time to writing (who can?) so getting the most out of my blog, producing articles, pitching to the right people etc is quite a tall order. Not to mention the fact that if you pitch an article you can't put it on the blog, which effectively means you have to write twice as much.

I now need to decide whether to focus on this blog, get as many followers as possible and try to make some money from it or just blog for fun and get back to focusing on selling some stuff to make a living. I've even thought of writing a book of some sort (who hasn't!).

Anyway, I'll keep you posted. Thanks again to all of you who read this blog and keep coming back. Your support is very much appreciated.

Hapless Dad.

Boys and girls, guns and makeup.

We are very much an ordinary family when it comes to kids. We have two, a boy and a girl. When you start out as a parent you tell yourself that sexism won't come into it. If your boy wants to play with a pram then let him enjoy it. If your girl wants to kick a rugby ball around, encourage her to go for it.

The thing is, in most cases, boys and girls fall very neatly into gender stereotypes without any help from you. We didn't consider this until our girl was born. However, when she did arrive, the differences were so stark it was almost laughable.

The first thing we noticed was communication. My boy mostly communicates through grunts. This is interspersed with bouts of verbal diarrhoea. My girl on the other hand is, what can only be described as, a talker.

When I ask my boy what he did in school he answers the same way every single time. "I don't know". In fact, as he is now approaching the age of 6, he actually laughs when he says it. He is fully aware that he hasn't the faintest idea what happened ten minutes ago and he now finds this faintly amusing. However, ask him to describe his favourite TV show or Wii game and he can communicate all the finer points with a level of eloquence normally reserved for the Oxford debating society.

Sound familiar? Mrs Hapless often jokes that I wouldn't remember my own name unless it was written on my jumper, and yet ask me about Blackadder and I bet I could regurgitate an entire episode without too much trouble. 

My daughter on the other hand remembers everything. From the moment she could converse she could tell you who was where, who did what to whom, what happened last week, where she's going tomorrow and what Mrs Jones said to Bryn after he'd been stealing crayons from the nursery. When my son is watching telly you could sacrifice a goat in front of him and he wouldn't notice. When it comes to my daughter, she does not miss a trick. There are no secrets from her. You can guarantee that the staff room at my daughter's school is alive with all the gossip from our home life that she has passed on to the teaching staff.

The communication differences extend to other situations too. When grandparents phone, Josh's only contribution is a raspberry down the phone before wandering off scratching his balls. On the other hand, if Lucy get's to the phone first you'll be lucky to get your hands on it before the new year.

There are significant differences in the way they play too. When my daughter turned 3 we had 8 of her nursery friends around for a little party. It was eerily quiet. Everywhere you looked little girls were colouring, making things, chatting and role playing. But oh my god, the politics was worse than a government re-shuffle! Friendship groups changed twenty times in the space of a two hour party, and they were pretty ruthless about it!

The next day, still reeling from the quietness of the girlies event we had ONE of my son's friends over to play. Within five minutes of arrival they had decided to throw the entire contents of Josh's bedroom down the stairs. It was like a scene from the London riots. Some kind of mob mentality took over them as they got more and more excited about objects they could sling down two flights. It wasn't long before they were play fighting, with swords, guns and anything else to hand. This inevitably turned into real fighting, followed shortly by a bollocking from yours truly.

What about the choice of toys? Big differences her too. I served in the reserve forces as a young man but I have never knowingly promoted this at home. Josh has found guns all by himself. He absolutely loves them. Lucy, on the other hand, spends her time tending to her many 'babies' and enough push chairs to warrant their own garage. When she's not looking after her ever expanding family, she finds ways to steal my wife's makeup.

There are so many other examples. Take potty training. My girl merrily trained herself while we were still battling with Josh. Even now he's never happier than being sat in his own filth.

I could go on. The list of gender specific behaviours displayed by my children is endless. However I have learned that you cannot take this for granted. Take sport for example.

Josh is, and always was, extremely athletic. As a four year old he ran the sport relief mile in 10 minutes without walking a step. There are many adults who could not achieve that. He's also quick over shorter distances and has the agility of a cat. As such we have pushed him into every sport imaginable.

As the younger sibling, Lucy always had to tag along too. We never thought about her in sporting terms as, the big joke in our house is her clumsiness. She falls over 8 or 9 times a minute, on a good day. Both have been going to gymnastics since they were very young. Josh spends most of his lesson getting told off as he tends to get up to mischief when he's waiting for his turn on the apparatus. However, while this was going on, something else was happening that we didn't expect. We were approached by the coach of Lucy's younger group. She told us that Lucy was a natural and she felt she was ready to try out for the elite girls group over a year early. She tried out, and got in!

This was quite a wakeup call for us. We never set out to treat our kids differently based on their gender. They naturally gravitated towards gender specific behaviours all by themselves, with no help from us. The thing is, you shouldn't let this influence your thinking whether consciously or otherwise.

Josh will always be a 'proper boy'. This is reinforced by his goggle eyed reaction every time Jessie J comes on the telly. Lucy will always be a girly girl but she posses a rod of iron down the centre of her body that my son doesn't posses. For all his physical toughness, she possess an emotional toughness that could reduce a rabid dog to tears.

In short, let your kids be what comes naturally to them - but never assume anything.

Hapless Dad.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Confusing what you do with who you are.

Some people are incredibly lucky. They understand that work is simply an amount of effort in exchange for monetary reward. Some of us take things way too far and start to confuse what we do with who we are. I'm guilty of this. Unfortunately I'm now dealing with the consequences.

I'm sure that many of you see no problem with this. Work is undoubtedly a significant part of your identity. Whether you are a fireman, a nurse, a stock broker or a stay at home dad it gives people an immediate indicator of the kind of person you are. They may be completely wrong but people do form an opinion.

Some people find this very uncomfortable. Particularly if their 'day job' is not really who they are. Actors consider themselves actors even if they have spent more time waiting tables than they have treading the boards. Some stay at home mums and dads don't fully adopt this persona. They view it as a life stage before they re-start their career when the kids are older.

Some of us, on the other hand are incredibly guilty of confusing work with who we are. This is particularly true of those in 'professions' or jobs that could be considered a 'vocation'. Doctors, police officers, teachers, nurses - this is far from an exhaustive list but I'm sure you get my drift.

When you have adopted a 'vocation' as your way to earn money you inevitably fall into the trap of confusing your job with who you are. This stems from the in built idea that your 'job' is somehow more than a job. It is something you live, not something you do. I'm not suggesting these kinds of occupations are more important. Far from it. However, they are jobs from which it is very difficult to keep things separate.

So how as this effected me? Well, for the last 12 years I have been a teacher. I did any number of jobs prior to entering the profession. However, one of my main reasons for re-training was to get that 'identity'. Teaching gives you an identity immediately. It can define who you are in both your own mind and the minds of others............. if you let it. If you tell anyone you are a teacher their opinion of you will be crystalized from the start - whether positive or negative. Once you divulge that information you are seen as anything between a 'Florence nightingale' type creature giving up your time to selflessly mould the next generation, or a work shy control freak with more time off than Santa Clause.

I never had a problem with this. In fact, in a perverse sort of way, I quite enjoyed it. So what's the problem? Well, to put it bluntly, I had children.

To cut a long story short I found combing my life as a teacher with my life as a parent incredibly difficult. Most teacher's take it in their stride. Not me. I found coming home to children extremely hard after spending my days with them. More than that, having my own children began to effect my work.

My job involved teaching kids that no one else would teach. The majority of my classes included kids with severe emotional and behavioural difficulties. I loved it. I'm quite a combative character and I loved the challenge of whipping a group of un-teachables into shape. However this requires total confidence. If you issue an instruction you have to be 100% confident in yourself and your ability. Kids of any age or level can sense weakness in a teacher - we all remember the ones from our own school days - and they will punish you without mercy if they see a chink in your armour. With the kids I teach you can multiply this by a factor of 10.

However, having your own kids is different. They don't do what you ask them to do, at least for the first five times you ask. They behave worse for you than they ever would for a teacher in school. They answer back, they refuse to do things, they argue and they fight. All things that a teacher would and could never put up with in their classroom. There would be anarchy. I often joked that I was like a supply teacher in my own home. However this feeling started to infiltrate my working life.

I began to give instructions without truly believing they would be followed. A fatal error. As my confidence dropped so behaviour in some of my classes worsened. When you don't have full control in a classroom, teaching can be an extremely lonely and painful place to spend your day.

Over time, things got worse and began to have a significant effect on my home life. At which point I decided that, if my kids were to have the best dad I could be, I needed to wave goodbye to teaching.

This brings me to the crux of this post. For the first few months it was like the weight of the world off my shoulders and I still feel it was exactly the right decision for me and my family. However I've become aware of the fact I'm suffering from a bit of an identity crisis. When I'm asked what I do I sort of erm and ah for a bit not exactly sure what to say. I haven't felt that way in a long time. It's quite a strange and unnerving feeling for someone who has been defined by what they do. In fact, I even started answering this question with "well, I used to teach but now...........".

So where does that leave me? Well, sometimes you need to have a change in direction in life and this is an extremely positive and exciting prospect. It also leaves me at a crossroads. I need to find a way to separate what I do with who I am - something I've never achieved in the past.

Wish me luck!

Hapless Dad

Saturday, 24 August 2013

Top tips for a frugal bank holiday weekend

The bank holiday has arrived. We don't get many, and you can't bank on a member of the Royal family popping their clogs so you can have an extra day off. So you need to enjoy it as much as possible. However, budgets are tight for all of us these days but that doesn't mean you can't enjoy the bank holiday experience.

Here are HDs top tips for having a fantastic weekend without breaking the bank.

  1. Re create the experience of a day trip by putting your family in the car and staying on the driveway for four hours. You'll get all the fun of being crammed in a small metal box whilst stuck in traffic but without the expense of petrol. Also, instead of paying £15 for a cappuccino at a motorway services, you can just pop into your own kitchen.
  2. Give your kids the fun of a farm park by standing in a field. Farm parks are great fun, but expensive. Also, as it's a bank holiday weekend, they will be full of people who wear tracksuits but clearly haven't visited a gym. Find a field of cows or sheep near your house and stand in it with your children. They will get all the fun of seeing domestic cattle close up but without the ludicrous entry fee. Also, when the farmer spots you, having to run away will add an extra bit of enjoyment to the day - and it's great exercise.
  3. Take turns standing in the shower fully clothed. This will give the experience of the inevitable bank holiday downpour but without having to go anywhere.
  4. Find a Wetherspoons with a beer garden and play equipment. There is nothing better than getting steadily plastered whilst watching your children enjoy a slightly dangerous climbing frame. Also the beer and food is so cheap that it's more financially viable to spend the weekend there than to shop at Aldi. Not only that, the opening hours guarantee you can be fully occupied from 8am till midnight. There are some additional benefits. As we know, young children talk utter shite. This can be quite incomprehensible for a reasonably intelligent adult. If you position your family next to the inevitable table full of alcoholics who have been drinking Strongbow since breakfast, your kids will always have someone on the same level as them to chat to.
  5. Visit your parents. Grandparents enjoy spending time with your kids because they don't have to live with them. Pop in for a coffee and then ask them if they'll keep an eye on the kids for ten minutes. Disappear for the day.
  6. Re create a local church fate or family fun day in your own garden by charging your children to play on their own trampoline and only giving them 2 minutes at a time. Go the extra mile by setting up some tables and covering them with shit from your garage.
  7. Funfairs are a great option on a bank holiday weekend but they are ludicrously expensive. Give your children the experience for free by asking a man who lives in a caravan to stand next to them while they throw stones at next door's hanging baskets.
  8. The beach provides fantastic fun for kids and adults alike. However they can be extremely crowded on Bank holidays. Get the beach experience at home by pouring a little bit of sand into everything you own.
  9. Small children can't remember what happened ten minutes ago. This allows you to create fantastic bank holiday memories for free. Photoshop pictures of them in front of places of local interest such as Warwick Castle, McDonalds or the Taj Mahal. Show them the pictures every hour or so and talk about what a wonderful time you all had.
  10. Going abroad is an incredible treat but obviously costs a fortune. Give your family the feeling of this wonderful experience by visiting your local airport and reading a book for 8 hours while your children wreak havoc.
Follow this advice and you are guaranteed to have a pain free bank holiday but without spending a fortune.


Hapless Dad

Thursday, 22 August 2013

7 day detox - day 6

I have now decided to change the name of this week's posts to 'The 7 day Tox'.

Since beginning my detox plan 6 days ago I have eaten more rubbish and drunk more alcohol than ever before. So what on earth is going on?

I have a few theories. We are going through quite a stressful time at home. We have some money worries at the moment and the summer holidays is always a stressful experience as any parent will agree. I find that, on return from work, the idea of bland food and no booze has proved to be deeply unappetising. On the contrary, fatty, salty food and enough Pino Grigio to sink a battle ship has proved to be very appetising indeed.

I also wonder if my personality is a barrier to success in this sort of thing. I am generally quite a mild mannered chap, but the older I get the less and less I like being told what to do. In this case I'm being told what to do by myself but I seem to rebelling never the less.

Finally I'm questioning my motivation. If I really wanted to get my fitness back, this week would have been a breeze. The fact is I don't seem to want it enough to walk past the pizza delivery menu and break out the broccoli.

This presents me with a problem. At the end of September I am taking part in a 7.5 mile adventure race with a group of friends. Last year I completed the event with no specific training at all. My fitness levels were so good that I could take such an event in my stride (no pun intended). As it stands I can't see a way in which I can take part and not end up completing the event in the back of an ambulance.Am I bothered? Actually I'm not sure I am.

This brings me to the crux I think. I am a middle aged man and, as my twitter bio suggests I am in the throws of a world class mid-life crisis. Don't get me wrong I do not have an 18 year old Swedish mistress, there is no sports car/motorbike sat on my drive and I don't own leather trousers. However I am enjoying many other classic features of a mid-life crisis:

Firstly my career has gone completely down the pan. Up until the end of last year I was developing a successful career in education. I have other irons in other fires however my career as it stands is no more. This is not necessarily a bad thing and I am involved in a number of very exciting projects that may end up being more lucrative and fulfilling than the daily grind of employment. Taking a different direction has also saved my health. I have no doubt that if I'd continued in the same way I would have eventually done a Reggie Perrin.

I have suffered with depression, possibly since the kids were born. However this is a classic sign of someone who is not comfortable in their own skin and dealing with significant internal conflict. Depression is very often caused by anger and frustration turned inwards and I am a classic example of that.

I also seem to have divorced myself from the reality of daily life. I have pretty much stopped doing anything I don't want to do. Paying bills, putting together bedroom furniture, tidying the garden, household chores and making polite small talk have all ceased to be part of my existence. I constantly wear shorts and would rather staple my tongue to the floor with a croquet hoop than put a suit and tie on again. Basically I just don't care about much at all on a day to day basis.

So how does this all connect to my health and fitness and my failed detox program? Most people who are in the throes of a mid-life crisis spend their time trying to recapture their youth. Hence trying to improve their fitness, lose weight, buy new clothes (possibly a little too young for them), coveting flash cars and motorbikes which resemble a people carrier as little as possible, or finding themselves a little extra curricular activity with a younger model. This is true of men and women alike and should, in theory, give me the motivation for a detox.

The trouble is, during my youth I was a drunken, takeaway eating fool. I played sport in school and university to a decent standard but only for the social aspects. From the age of 17 to my late twenties all I wanted to do was sit on my arse either at home or in the pub. During my 30s I ran 7 half marathons and a full marathon as well as numerous other physical events and was possibly the fittest I have ever been. Now, it's like I've regressed to being 17 again. All I want is fun and pleasure. The attitude of a child.

Traditionally, when people reach middle age they start to worry about their health. I've gone exactly the opposite. I couldn't care less. I look at myself in the mirror every day as my newly flourishing belly strains to escape and I think to myself that I probably should lose some weight. In reality though, I have no motivation to do anything about it.

I hope this situation changes as middle age is definitely the wrong time to be adopting an unhealthy lifestyle.

I'll keep you posted.

Hapless Dad

Monday, 19 August 2013

7 day detox - days 4 and 5

Have lost a whole day of my life after discovering marmite flavour cashew nuts.

That is all.

Sunday, 18 August 2013

7 day detox - day 3

Ah, yes, ummmm, well, maybe not quite the best day yesterday. Let's look at the evidence.

When I updated my progress yesterday I was already chucking down the coffee like it was going out of fashion. This was due to a stinking hangover and an extremely busy night followed by a ludicrously early morning.

I'd love to report that after that minor hiccup I got things back on track. Unfortunately that would be an utter lie.

My daughter does gymnastics so at 10am yesterday we piled into the car and headed down to the gym. The gymnasts at the club are quite incredible. It is literally the only sport I have seen where kids can reach an incredible standard at such a young age. Whilst the younger ones perform their splits and handstands and assisted pull-ups on the bars and bridges that look frankly rather dangerous, boys and girls of no more than 7 or 8 back flip and somersault all over the place. Once the teenagers begin to perform it's like watching the Olympics - at least from the point of view of an overweight, middle aged man who struggles to touch his toes.

Her class lasts about an hour and 45 minutes. Not too much of a problem in the grand scheme of things and you wouldn't think it would present any dietary challenges. Unfortunately, in addition to the international standard gymnastics equipment and first class coaches, Lucy's gym also has...................a small café.

The first half an hour was fine. I sat watching the display whilst sipping my bottle of water. Then something unforeseen happened. Parents began to order..................bacon.............sandwiches!

The smell of crisp, smoked bacon, began to fill every core of my being. As I looked round the room, everything went in to slow motion. I watched every single glorious mouthful being consumed. It was almost perverse. In fact so perverse that it gave me a great idea for a web site.

I stayed strong. But fate had other plans for me. Those of you who follow me on twitter will know that Mrs Hapless is away on a Hen 'do'. So I had my son Josh with me as well. He was sat, quietly watching the gymnastics until he uttered the words "Dad. Can I have some toast?". How could I refuse. So I had to approach...............the café.

The closer I got, the stronger the smell of bacon. I asked for some toast, a small globule of dribble running down my chin as I watched the bacon sizzle on the grill. Then the girl behind the counter dealt the final decisive blow. "Can I get you anything else?", she said in all innocence.

"Yeeeeeeeessssss I'll have a bacon roll and a large coffee!!"

The words flew out of my mouth so fast she had to ask me to repeat them. Which I did and she provided me with the prize, at a decidedly reasonable costs. I devoured that glorious bacon roll like it was my last meal on earth and washed it down with a lovely frothy coffee. Lush.

"Bugger!" I thought. Consumed with guilt and a severe sense of failure I decided to make sure that the rest of my day went to plan.

We returned home at lunch time. I fed the kids and pondered what I would eat myself. I visited the fridge. Our fridge was decidedly empty. There is a very good reason for this. Taking my kids to a shop is like a cross between the London riots and a flash mob. They are literally everywhere, shoplifting to their heart's content. This makes it a very stressful experience so, where possible, the person doing the shopping doesn't take the kids. Fine when there are two of you. But in the absence of Mrs Hapless, I have not visited a shop.

Apart from some milk and a jar of cranberry sauce left over from Christmas there was only one thing in the fridge. The leftovers of my Chinese takeaway from the night before. I tried to avoid it's gaze but it drew me in like a sweet and sour tractor beam. As I stared at it in some sort of trance it looked bigger and bigger and bigger until I could see nothing else.

In a state of panic and self loathing I grabbed the bag of chicken balls in batter, headed for the microwave and ate them all, in one, fluid movement. Bugger!

From there the day went from bad to worse.

It was the first day of the football season. Again, those of you who follow me on twitter will know that I am a rugby fan. You will also know that I think football is a ladies sport, but without the benefit of ladies. However, my son has started playing football and he really enjoys it. So in the spirit of pretending to be a good dad I have decided that I will make an effort to get into football this year.

This is a major challenge for me. I have tried before. I hate the fact that the players argue with the referee like spoilt children even though there is no way on the planet he is going to change his decision. I hate the way they fall over clutching their face if another player breaks wind within 10 feet of them. I find the attitude of some of the fans uncomfortable to say the least. I have never understood why you would hurl abuse at someone at the other end of a football ground who clearly can't hear you. Some of the instances of racial abuse etc. that have been directed at football players is nothing short of disgraceful. Some of the songs chanted by some fans would result in arrest if it wasn't just accepted as part of the game.

Then there are the commentators and pundits. Now, don't get me wrong, rugby commentators get on my nerves too. However football commentators have a special language that makes me scream at the telly. Here is an example:

"He's taken the ball on his left foot and he's slotted it past the keeper".

That may look perfectly normal. But no one speaks like this in real life! I have only ever heard this in football. In real life you would say:

"He took the ball on his left foot and slotted it past the keeper".

This might sound like a small thing but it drives me completely bananas.

I must also say that, as a sportsman myself I totally understand the levels of fitness and skill that premiership football players posses. It is quite breath taking at times and really quite graceful. I really do think they are incredibly talented and the money thing doesn't really bother me either. Good luck to them I say!

Anyway, I digress. To cut a long story short, I decided to watch the football. However I now had the challenge of finding a way to enjoy the experience. There really was only one option. Beer! So during the course of the afternoon I drank my way through the contents of a small off-licence whilst watching Swansea City get hammered by Man Utd. It helped. I also put a number of very small bets on the matches for this weekend. Nothing that I wouldn't lose down the back of the sofa, but enough to give me an interest in the results of the other matches. I have to say it worked, particularly as I had Aston Villa to win against Arsenal.

By this point of course the beer had removed the part of my brain that makes sensible food choices. So the rest of the Chinese was swiftly consumed. Along with the remainder of last night's bottle of Spar Chateaux Thames Embankment. My head hit the pillow some time after midnight.

So here we are on the morning of day three. I say day three. In reality it's day one again. I'm doing well so far. I've avoided coffee and just had some porridge for my breaky. Finger's crossed for a better day.

Hapless Dad

Friday, 16 August 2013

7 day detox - day 2!

It's Saturday morning here in Hapless world and it's time for the daily update on my 7 day detox.

I made some progress yesterday. After deciding to detox I stayed off the coffee for the rest of the day, drinking water, fruit and herbal teas instead. I went to the supermarket and stocked up on all the food I'd need to make this work. Lots of chicken, vegetables, brown rice, fruit etc. For lunch I had a chicken salad with no dressings or my usual 3kg of grated cheese piled on top. All was going well. I was feeling extremely positive and ready to make a change.

Then something happened to halt progress dramatically. I picked the kids up!!

My two little darlings had been at a summer sports event all day so I had the house to myself. Bliss. At 3.30 I picked them up from school and brought them home. At that point my detox plan started to go horribly wrong.

I feel I need to mention an important and very relevant fact about my kids. Individually they are fantastic. Together, they are an absolute bloody nightmare, particularly in the car. It doesn't matter where we are driving, Josh and lucy can create an argument out of thin air and make it last....for hours! If you want to know what this is like, go to your local Wetherspoons and find a table of alcoholics who have been steadily drinking cider since 9am. Sit next to them, listen to the conversation and wait for the inevitable flare up. The incomprehensible gibberish masquerading as an argument followed by some form of comedy violence sums up the process of driving my kids anywhere.

So, by the time I got home, I was absolutely fuming. What could possibly make me feel better immediately? A crisp sandwich.

From this point things deteriorated very quickly. I didn't settle for one crisp sandwich, I had three. After preparing the kids dinner I noshed a large packet of chocolate buttons. From then on it was pretty much all over. The booze was flowing by 5pm.

Once one cheeky beer had been consumed the prospect of grilled chicken and broccoli started to loose it's appeal. Something took over me. In an almost trance like state, I picked up the telephone. I considered calling the Samaritans, which would have helped I'm sure but my needs were much more primal than that. I dialled the number, 118 118.

"Can I have the number for the Magic Wok, Chinese Takeaway in Penarth please? - Yes you can connect me!"

So 40 minutes later, after managing to get the kids in bed, I was most of the way through a bottle of Spar Chateaux Thames Embankment and munching my way through a lifetimes supply of sweet and sour chicken balls. I went to bed plastered at approximately midnight. My heart racing as the MSG and alcohol coursed through my steadily clogging arteries.

There then followed the usual bed hoping that characterises a night in my house. When I went up stairs I found both kids asleep in my bed. I couldn't be bothered to move them so I slept in my daughter's bed. Some time during the early hours she climbed in with me. This meant I had to return to my own bed. My son is impossible to sleep with as it's like sharing with an unusually sweaty Michael Flatly so I had to pick him up and put him back in his own bed. I then went to sleep in mine.

At the ludicrous time of 5.45 am my son bounced into the room pretending to be a kangaroo. This woke me from my alcohol and crispy shredded beef induced coma. My daughter was back in the bed next to me. God knows what time she'd arrived.

Which brings us to the present. At 6am I stumbled into my kitchen, feeling as rough as a badger's cheese grater. The only possible solution! As I write this I'm now on my third cup.

So in summary, my 7 day detox is going to have to start all over again. My plan for today is to find a method of stopping my children from driving me to drink and unhealthy food choices. Any suggestions welcome.

Now then, what to have for breakfast when you can't have a bacon sandwich!

Hapless Dad

7 day detox plan - Will it work for me?

I've never written a serious post before so I've decided to give it a go.

Over the years I've never had to watch what I eat. The reason for this is activity and exercise. As a school teacher I regularly walked at least 20 thousand steps a day. In addition I trained with weights, I boxed and over the last few years I have run 7 half marathons and a full marathon as well as numerous 5 and 10ks.

I know this conjures up the image of some super fit chap. However, just to clarify, I did all these things extremely slowly!! Never the less this active lifestyle has helped to limit the effects of my diet.

My diet isn't 'bad'. On the whole I eat fresh foods as I enjoy cooking. However, I never refuse to eat anything. If I want a takeaway no problem. If I'm passing Macky Ds and I fancy stopping in on the way home for my tea I do it. Fry ups? happy days. If there are sausages or bacon in the fridge those bad boys are going to be in a sandwich pretty soon. Fact! I regularly have takeaways whether it's Chinese, Indian or Pizza as well as the compulsory kebab after a night on the lash.

I also have some other diet 'issues'. The first is portion control. I don't have any. One evening when walking home from the pub I stopped in three different takeaways.

I live the philosophy that things never taste quite right until they've got cheese melted on top. You'd be amazed how many meals you can apply this to if you try hard enough.

Then, there are crisps. People complain that a bag of crisps contains far fewer crisps than it used to back in the day. I have not been effected by this problem as I always, without fail, eat one of the massive family sized bags to myself. Don't even get me started on crisp sandwiches. I'll eat any number of those while I'm standing in the kitchen cooking dinner.

And then of course, there is liquid refreshment. Lets start with coffee. I started drinking coffee in university. I was a smoker back then and, to put it bluntly, I preferred to buy cigarettes than milk, and coffee was the drink I could stomach without milk. As I got older tea became less of a feature as I realised that, wherever you go it is almost impossible to fuck up a cup of coffee. Whereas tea is a very personal choice and very disappointing if it's not done right! Now I exclusively drink coffee. One or two cups a day would be fine. However, and many parents will appreciate this, my kids are up at the crack of dawn. Most days I have had at least 4 or 5 cups by 9 o'clock otherwise I simply wouldn't function.

Which brings me on to alcohol. I absolutely bloody love it. In all its forms. The only thing I will not drink is Pernod. Short of that I'm an off-licence owner's dream. I have never knowingly purchased just one bottle of wine as I know it just won't be enough. I drink every day. Less on Weekdays of course (only just) but bloody loads at the weekend. I find drinking a pleasurable social activity which has been a mainstay in my life since I was old enough to blag 4 cans of Strongbow from the local spar. My absolute favourite activity is a good session with some close mates.

So what's the problem? Well, age for one. I've reached a certain age. I won't tell you how old but put it this way, when I hear a 'new' song on the radio it's likely that I can now personally remember the previous 3 times it was released. Also I have had some health problems over the last year which has meant that I have not been in school. I have spent much more time writing. An extremely pleasurable activity but totally static.

My increasing age and sedentary lifestyle has meant that the effects of my diet have become more and more difficult to combat. Plus, with two small children at home, opportunities for exercise have become few and far between. I know you can make time for this but I'm pretty much exhausted most of the time. As such when the kids have gone to bed there is no real contest between an hour of heavy bag work or sitting on the sofa with a large pepperoni and a bottle of pino grigio.

As you can imagine, the effects are visible in many forms. My waistline for one! I am now consigned to shopping at the 'short and fat' section of M and S. I am also lethargic, short tempered and easily stressed. Not useful qualities with a young family.

So I decided to do something about it. I have always exercise at home or on the road as I have weights, boxing kit etc. But for the first time in years I joined a local gym and paid to have a specialised program put together for me by a personal trainer. Every year my friends and I take part in the Mens Health survival of the fittest race in Cardiff which is at the end of September. I also have a place in next year's London Marathon. I am fully aware that in my present condition I'll be hard pushed to be able to bend down far enough to put my trainers on let alone run a 7.5 mile adventure race with obstacles and assault courses. I thought a personal program, designed by a professional, would be the best way to kick my arse into shape.

After the program was designed I went along to the gym for the instructor to go through it. Oh dear!! I barely survived the warm up and have not been back since.

I started to realise that I needed to do something about the fuel I was putting in if I was going to be in any shape to train. This is where the detox idea came from. I don't believe in diets. I've seen so many female friends, not to mention Mrs Hapless, try every new diet under the sun with the same result every time.

However I do believe that you feel better when you eat the right stuff.

There are some pretty hardcore detox plans. Some of which involve surviving on water. That's just not going to work for me. So I've gone for something a little more manageable. It involves cutting out tea, coffee, alcohol, read meat, wheat, dairy, anything processed or packaged, sugary stuff, fatty foods and general unhealthy crap. I'm hoping that by cleaning out my system a little I'm going to lose a few pounds and get enough energy back to train.

Today is day 1.

As I have only just decided to do this I've already had four cups of coffee so perhaps not the best start but my plan is to stick to it for the rest of the day and continue tomorrow.

How do I feel? Panicked! Not so much about the food but how in the hell am I going to survive without coffee and 42 pints of lager? The short answer is I don't know.

Over the next week I'll post every day on how things are going - along with my usual blog based drivel. Finger's crossed by the end of the week I'll actually be able to see the keyboard of my laptop over my ever expanding gut.

Wish me luck.

Hapless Dad.

Sunday, 11 August 2013

Hapless Dad's holiday verdict

Ah yes, here we are. Back in Blighty after a week across the channel. Those who read this blog will know that I have a slightly negative view of family holidays. However in the interest of balance and impartiality I thought I would take a genuine look at what worked and what didn't. Hopefully this will provide some useful information for those about to embark on their summer break, or preparing to book for next year. Failing that, it will give those of you who had a thoroughly enjoyable break a chance to take the piss out of me.

What worked:
  1. Travelling to northern France. Basically, northern France is just like West Wales but with weird bread. However it did have some distinct advantages. It gave us the chance to enjoy a holiday abroad but without any major travelling stress. Our resort was only 45 mins from the ferry port so, whilst France sounds like a long drive, in reality the major part of the journey was a leisurely pootle down to Portsmouth.
  2. Travelling by Ferry. This was a definite success. I didn't have anything to do with the booking of our holiday, preferring to ignore the prospect hoping it would go away. So on our day of departure I casually asked Mrs Hapless how long the ferry crossing was. When she replied "6 hours" I was nearly sick in my pino grigio. However, compared to a 6 hour flight, 6 hours on a ferry was like heaven. The kids could get up and wander around at any point without fear of ruining the flight of a childless couple, falling over a inflight meal trolley or being sick. The ferry had a small softplay area, a cinema, a children's entertainer, a magician and an expansive deck area with no prospect of falling over board unless that was the intention. As such the kids were occupied and excited throughout the journey, while we sat on our already expanding arses.
  3. Wine. In France, actually cheaper than water. What could be better.
  4. The way the French do stuff. One lunch time we wandered into a nearby town looking for food. everywhere was closed, except for a grotty looking burger/kebab place at the end of the high street. We went in, desperate for grub and wholly disappointed that we couldn't visit one of the many lovely restaurants. It was just like any takeaway I had ever been in - with one notable exception - waiter service! Yes I had kebab and chips but we were served at a table, with a table cloth and napkins, and wine. This was supplemented by the fact that the takeaway service at the resort delivered 3 different kinds of delicious muscles. Yummy.
  5. Driving in France. Empty, well maintained roads with *gasp* no road works. Enough said.

What didn't work:
  1. Sleep. Anyone who reads my blog or follows me on twitter will know that my kids are early risers. For many families this situation miraculously changes as soon as they start using Euros. Before departure we were literally battered with stories of children having to be woken up at 1030 after having later than usual bedtimes. All that activity will certainly tire them out, we were told. Of course on holiday they are up much later so they will sleep on, people suggested. I have one word for that. Bollocks!! When we are at home the kids are up by 6am at the latest. Our only saving grace is that we damn well make sure they are in bed at a reasonable hour so we can relax. No bloody chance on holiday. Yes my kids were up much later than usual, outside playing with other children until well after 10 some nights. Did they sleep on? DID THEY FUCK!! This presented us with a dilemma. Either we put our kids to bed at 7 listening to the other kids playing outside or we let them stay up ensuring they only had 10 minutes sleep and spent the entire day grizzling and arguing. In the end we opted for a combination of the two. It also meant that our adult relaxation time amounted to about 18 seconds in between putting the kids to bed and falling asleep on the sofa. I must stress, I'm not bitter as I expected as much. However I must warn everyone that the first person to tell me they had to wake their kids up when on holiday is going to get knocked on their smug backside!
  2. Sleeping arrangements. Our accommodation was clean and tidy but quite small. As such Mrs Hapless spent the week sleeping in with the kids, which meant she was woken every 2 minutes during the night. I had to sleep on the sofa bed in the living room, which meant I spent the week lying on the small pile of dis-guarded pistachio nut shells that had been dropped down the back of the sofa by my daughter. This result is that after a week my wife and I have had less sleep than an unwilling guest at Guantanamo Bay.
  3. Cost. I won't go into detail here. However, once you take into account, the accommodation, the ferry, spending money, new clothes, stuff for the car etc our holiday cost approximately £1000 per second. This has naturally been added to our ever expanding credit card debt along with our honey moon from 7 years ago and every holiday since.
  4. Tea. I drink coffee. The reason I drink coffee instead of Tea is that it is absolutely impossible to get a cup of coffee wrong. No matter where you are in the world, coffee tastes the same. This is not true of tea. Mrs Hapless only drinks tea, so most of the start of our holiday involved trying to track down tea that didn't taste like shit - with little success.
  5. French children. French children are incredibly well behaved. Most people would not see this as a negative. However, this means your own children, and your parenting skills have absolutely nowhere to hide. When you venture out in public in the UK your kids can do exactly as they like. This is because however badly behaved they are you can guarantee they are not the worst in the room/restaurant/airport/children's disco. There is always a family taking a short break in between filming back to back episodes of the Jeremy Kyle show who will take the heat and the disapproving looks of other parents. In France, that family is you!
On the whole though, the holiday was relatively successful. My children are now 4 and nearly 6 so this was the first family holiday where we didn't have to take ten tonnes of baby crap and a pushchair, just in case.

However It would be fair to say I am looking forward to being able to put my kids to bed at 7 and put my feet up for a bit.

Happy holidays.

Monsieur Hapless Dad.