Following the ceremonial eating of the last Christmas chocolate and the subsequent guilt, and its associated lack of self worth, I have decided to make a New Year’s resolution.
My family will, of course, place bets on how many days (or hours) my resolve will last but I will, in true 'only man in the house style', ignore them and press on.
I can’t decide whether to go for a positive resolution or a negative one because, as everyone knows, they fall into two groups. I could choose to word my new purposefulness as either ‘I will stop eating bad food’ or ‘I will start eating good food’.
Herein lies the problem; the jury is still out on what can be labelled as good or bad food. If I listen to the scientists I find that, although apples can be included as part of my 5-a-day fruit and veg requirement, the acid can also have a detrimental effect on my gums. Alternatively I could take notice of the health pages in the gossip magazines that I DON’T read for 5 minutes every morning before I leave the house. Actually, I read them just to make sure that my daughters are not being fed a distorted view of the world. The advice is generally woven around the idea that everything should be done in balance but, following an inner ear problem that was mistreated when I was a child, this too is a problem.
Perhaps the new-age multiple-choice gurus can offer an answer to my plight. They normally start by getting you to measure your current state by monitoring the condition of some random part of your body. ‘Know your knees, know yourself’ they tend to exclaim, whilst provided a handy map of the surface area of your patella in order that you might discover whether your mother ate mascarpone cheese during the fourth month of carrying you in her womb. They will then make an absolute statement about how this has lead to your inability to control your weight, without producing a scrap of evidence for such a claim. Pointing out that most people’s knees make an audible crack when they try to move to a standing position they will drive their persuasion home and you will find that you are unable resist.
So what, in the name of all that is chocolate, am I suppose to do if I cant even be sure which foods are good and which are bad.
The truth is that I am no more interested in eating less than I am in phoning in to answer one of those day time questions that appear just before the adverts on day time television. You know the type; ‘Name a Christmas character beginning with S who wears red and has a long white beard?’ Is it:
a) Santa, b) Satin or C) Santana
Even if I do try to win I won’t be sure that the producers haven’t switched off the phone lines before my entry is logged yet still charge me for the call. I wonder if the same things happened when you entered by post card; there might be sacks hidden around the country. This could be why I didn’t receive my Blue Peter badge in 1968 when I entered a painting competition.
My need to start a New Year’s Resolution is driven by two things: I have eaten so much chocolate I couldn't face anymore and, I have spent so much on food that I have no more money left even if I wanted to continue to over indulge. I need to remember for next year that Christmas lunch is just Sunday Dinner with party hats; that way I might not buy as much.
So after I have read the magazines articles on growing your own vegetables and seen the ‘Too fat to open your eyelids’ edition of Tricia, I check the condition of my knees and fall asleep on the sofa. With a chocolate smudge on my new white shirt and sweet wrappers resting on the ridge of my stomach I dream of successfully making and keeping a New Year’s resolution.
Some things have happened recently that have made me feel old. At first I was concerned but I now seem to have found a way of dealing with this revelation.
The first was during one of those quick shopping trips on the way home from work. I dashed around the isles getting the four urgent items and joined tea-time queue of other weary travellers in a similar position; all wondering why there was only one till open at such a busy time. I looked around the store at the other workers and had to wonder why folding empty cardboard boxes was more important than serving customers.
When it was my turn to be scowled at by the shop assistant I readied myself to pay and was asked to enter my PIN number. For the life of me I could not remember it. It had gone from my mind and I couldn’t find it anywhere.
I stood for a moment as if I was trying to understand the theory of relativity but nothing would come into my mind. I managed to pay for the few items with the collection of loose change I carry around with me because I am too lazy to empty my pockets.
I remembered the number just as I arrived home but that didn’t stop me worrying ever so slightly.
The next episode was whilst watching the telly. I had always been aware that TV viewing with older people can be a painful experience. My father had ruined many a good show by insisting that the quizzes were fixed and that none of what you see is true. Now it seems that he was right all along. I now watch the programmes with the same degree of cynicism and, in the process, annoy my own children.
‘Game shows are designed to make you feel guilty’ I explain to my long suffering daughters. The number of times the host says ‘The contestants will lose their chance to dance again next week unless you phone in and vote for them’ or ‘Their whole future in the jungle relies on your vote’. Apparently it is my fault that these celebrities don’t make it. Such pressure!
I say all this to my daughters and they look at me like I looked at my father; I know it is a sign of my youth slipping away.
The final example was fuelled by recent football events and the fate of the England team. I had watched the match against Croatia and felt more than sad at the outcome. My wife, noticing my malaise, tried to cheer me up by reminding me that it was ‘only a game’. This didn’t work even though she seemed to enjoy the conversation.
‘Now I will have to wait until the World Cup!’ I said trying to offer an explanation for my state of mind. Then it came to me that, even if I reach three score years and ten, I only have six World Cups left to enjoy.
Forgetting my pin number is one thing. Getting annoyed at the TV is another. Having only six of the most important football competition is just too big to cope with.
My wife, who also looked a little shocked at this, tried to come to my aid by reminding me that I do have the possibility of twenty three FA cup finals. It helped but I needed more!
‘How many premiership matches might I have?’ I asked, searching for comfort. A quick calculation showed that I had well over 800 to work with; all was not lost.
I started to breathe again and reflected on the fact that if you count all international matches, including friendlies, it is probably reaching nearly the thousand mark. By now I was on a role and working out other leagues and football competitions. It was good to feel young again. In fact my wife tells me that I haven’t ever really grown up, which I think was a compliment.
So my advice to you if you are feeling old is not count your life in World Cups; make the most of every game you can find.
Granddad has been with us for a few days leading up to Christmas. It is his chance to see the kids and to spoil them with the odd shilling. Just three years off ninety he has managed to keep both his mobility and much of his mental dexterity, meaning that the most fun we can have with him is over his gradual loss of hearing. He makes up for this lack by increasing the volume of both the TV and all of his conversations.
Perhaps it is because he wants to make the most of his time but these days he tends to rise early for breakfast; well before the rest of us have begrudgingly thrown our alarm clocks across the room.
Occasionally I will have to match him in greeting the sparrow’s song because of work commitments and have noticed that his deafness has lead to a lack in his ability to whisper. So he shouts his whisper to me from the foot of the stair, ‘Do you want a brew?’
‘No thanks, Sam, I am not thirsty’ I reply in true hushed tones for fearing waking the rest of the house.
‘Who’s Kirsty?’ he asks completely missing the point. Bless him.
He is a picture when we return from an evening out playing cards and sampling some local ale. He approaches the front door with his key ready and a firm instruction to me ‘to be quiet’, for fear of waking the whole house. Typically he tells me this in his not very quiet whisper.
Still having him around is fun even though he has his own special way of doing things.
A couple of evenings ago I was settled in for a night of watching pointless TV and eating comfort food when the old timer informed me that he was short of one Christmas card and would appreciate a trip to the super market to resolve this most urgent of problems. I wanted to quiz him on how much he liked the proposed recipient of this Christmas greeting but I chose to agree to a shopping trip because I was both running short of chocolate and couldn’t find a programme that didn’t have C list celebrities as the main attraction.
As we buckled our seat belts Granddad informs me that he had had the opportunity of buying a card for his collection when he was in town that afternoon but had refused to part with the £1.49 requested by the price sticker; he felt sure that he could get a suitable one for less than quid.
So we set off on our 5 mile journey to save my wife’s father 50p. I started to work out the cost of petrol for such an exercise but decided that the season demanded more kindness that I was currently feeling; that and the fact that my wife gave me a knowing look.
At the late-night supermarket we set off in different directions to complete our respective missions. My wife headed to the right and disappeared into a clothing section which brought me out in a mild panic. Sam went to inspect the vast selection of cards on offer and I went toward all things confectionary only to be side tracked by the electrical aisle. Why do they make these products so shiny and irresistible?
We met again on the way out and compared our purchases at which point Granddad confesses that he had not made a single purchase. ‘The choice is rubbish’, he says ‘And I am sure that I can get them cheaper else where’. It is not that he isn’t generous, he just likes to get good value.
It was at this point that I realised that the world is split into two types of people; those who will travel several miles to save 3p on a sliced loaf and those who have a life.
I wanted to explain this new theory to the old fella but was lead away by my understanding wife.
Eager to end this episode I encouraged our party to head for the car. ‘Come on Sam, Let’s get home I am getting thirsty’ I called.
‘Who’s Kisty?’ offered Sam in his own special way.
The decorating is coming along a treat and we have managed to work our way around paint pots and rollers to continue with normal life during the process. It has been my aim to limit most of the required work to applying several coats of emulsion and to resist any conversations about wallpaper.
It is not that I mind a bit of paper hanging it is just that you don’t have to worry about plumblines and matching patterns with vinyl silk. You are also spared the embarrassment off confirming to the world that you never learn to cut a straight line with scissors.
I was happy that my plan was coming together when out of the blue, and in the middle of a conversation with our daughters, my wife mentioned that she would like to have a feature wall in the lounge. I asked what one of these might be and was told that it was good taste to paper one wall in order to show some creativity. Apparently it should stand out from the other walls in order that the other colours might find their own voice. In the name of all that is woodchip what has the world come to?
Not satisfied with this homage to makeover programmes the girls started to talk about accessorising the room. I listened further and understood this to mean, amongst other things, that the collection of photographs marking the Molineaux girls’ changes in hairstyles would no longer hang on our walls. The pictures themselves were not the problem; it was the fact that none of the frames matched that caused concern.
‘Feature walls, accessorising, colours having a voice’, I mumbled as I went off to apply masking tape to anything that could not be moved.
The girls spent their time looking through photograph albums trying to agree on which pics would sit well on our bright, clean walls. You can probably imagine that such agreement was not easy to find.
Females never like any of their photographs; or if they do find one that is just about acceptable a sister will object that it is not a good one of them and therefore couldn’t possible be used. My wife was pleased with most of them but, caught up in the spirit of decorating, held them towards the emulsion to see if they clashed which I am not sure is a wholly acceptable way of judging your children.
Meanwhile I carried on applying a mixture of paint and loose hairs from the brush to the walls. I daydreamed of simpler times when colours had names like Post Office Red or British Racing Green and when it was acceptable to cover old work surfaces with sticky backed plastic.
I was drawn back to the conversation by the girls’ hysterical laughter and my need to feel included. They had found a family holiday photo that had captured their whole attention.
Daughter number one must have been around thirteen and it was obvious that a family vacation was not what she wanted to be involved in, let alone a group photograph.
Imagine the scene; the whole gang on the beach, all wearing our cossies and factor six million sun screen (Mrs M being a nurse a lecture on sensible sunbathing was always an important part of our holiday enjoyment). I had my traditional holiday hat to protect my bald patch from harmful rays.
With the bright sun, the blue sky and the golden sand it was a beautiful and colourful portrayal of family life. Except that is for Mrs Molineaux’s eldest; she was wearing black trousers, black shirt, black coat, and dark sun glasses.
It was as if the teenager had been superimposed on to the photograph after the event. Her whole manner, even her facial expression, shouted her disapproval at being with the family on holiday.
As we viewed the photograph she admitted to not being totally committed to the collective family experience that year. I tried to encourage her by saying that perhaps she was our ‘Feature Daughter’ in that she stood out from the others and allowed them to find their own voices.
As a youngster I enjoyed the usual practice of joining clubs of various types. I am not sure what it says about my character but I invariable stayed in each one just long enough to cause my parents the expense of buying the necessary uniform. Then, with hardly a grass stain on my cricket trousers or a bead of sweat on my judo outfit, I would leave.
So it was that I approached parenthood with a little nervousness; feeling sure that my mother’s grandchildren would take suitable revenge on my lack of stickability by dealing with me in similar manner.
We went through various dance and sports clubs and I am pleased to report that my girls must have inherited their mother’s ability to remain in a group for more than five minutes. So when our youngest daughter announced that she wanted to join the Scouts it was not my confidence in her ability to last the course that caused my concern, just her choice of club.
‘The Scouts only let boys join’. I explained in that over confident way that parents have when they feel sure that they know more than their offspring.
After an increasingly frustrating exchange I was un-nerved enough to phone a fellow parent only to find out that not only do they now allow girls to join but the leader was in fact a lady. You could have knocked my down with a woggle.
So it was that the youngest of our tribe became the first female in the Molineaux family to both dib and dob.
I knew, as all parents do, that such involvement in a club was not merely for the kids. There is a force at play that has been around for generations; one that no feeble Dad can resist. It is the momentum that makes you have to join in with some event that all your logic tells you can only end in tears.
It started on the way home in the car when Mrs Molineaux’s youngest informed me that the Scouts were going to raise money by abseiling down the church tower. I should have kept quiet, or at the very least told her to speak to her mother about it, but I feigned interest and was drawn into the trap. By the time we had reached home and her excitement had reached blue Smarty level I had agreed to take part.
The day came and the helpless parents were lead to the church hall with their energy filled offspring. We were given a brief lecture at which the phrase ‘accidents very rarely happen’ was slipped in almost un-noticed. I wanted to shout ‘Very rarely! What does that mean?’ but I was under orders not to embarrass my daughter.
The children went first and confident procession of eight and nine year olds, including daughter number, bounced down the side of the ancient tower. It was then our turn and I had the misfortune of following a Dad who must have been in the SAS in his part time because not only did he tell jokes on the way down but he went face first. I resisted the temptation to cut his rope and teach him a valuable lesson about showing off.
When it came to my turn it seemed that the crack team controlling all things rope-like were distracted by free pizza. Unsupervised I stuttered my way toward to ground until, about half way down, the equipment snagged meaning that although my top half kept going my lower body would not move. I hung up side down on a rope for a few minutes allowing the ‘helpers’ to enjoy their pizza.
Eventually, still the wrong way up, I was lowered to the ground to the applause of small children and the sniggers of other parents all of which was caught on video.
I showed the footage to my parents as evidence that my juvenile lack of commitment had done them both a favour; neither of them having to face the embarrassment of abseiling down a church tower or similar.
They were too busy laughing at the video to say thank you.
I have always imagined the Molineaux household to be a replica of the Royal Family; the one with Jim and Barbara rather than Elizabeth and Philip.
I am not making this comparison because I swear a lot and sit around in my vest or that we alternate our family alcohol consumption with drinking tea.
No! I speak of such things because we have been, for many years, a family that congregates around the TV even when there seems to be little of interest to view. It never ceases to amaze me that we have over seven hundred channels available and yet still we complain that there is nothing to watch.
What surprises me even more is that, in our search for entertainment, we can spend the whole length of a programme flicking from channel to channel before going back to the one that we started at. Even when the adverts come on we embark on a flicking session and often end up forgetting which programme we were watching.
I am not complaining about all of our TV experience because we, like many others, find a great deal of pleasure in arguing about the scores awarded to celebrity ballroom dancers or debating the comments given to singers who have been deemed to be factored with a large amount of X.
I had thought that this was the picture of our future until a few days ago. I walked into the living room, after doing one of those jobs that it seems only Dads can do, expecting to find my precious family huddled around the box in corner. The TV was indeed switched on but the sound was at a low level whilst the three Molineaux females present (wife and two youngest daughters) were all sat typing away on lap top computers.
Amazed, I stood and watched for a moment and then asked a few questions to find out what had brought this seismic change in our lounge room activities.
Daughter number four was simultaneously watching video clips on YouTube (think computerised low budget TV channel) and ‘speaking’ to her friends on MSN (think an electronic version of passing notes around at school).
Daughter number three was engrossed in a video editing session whilst listening to music on an IPod through her head phones (think miniature record player that isn’t affected by dust).
My wife, who is curiously able to use a computer but not equipped enough to tune in her own car radio, was setting up own Face Book page (think diary, photo album and scrapbook shared with others). The girls had banned her from having a My Space page (think Face Book but for younger people) because they were worried that their friends might find out.
Engrossed in their own cyber worlds they would occasionally communicate their findings to each other, yet none of them seemed to have noticed that football was on the TV. What are these amazing pieces of electronic wizardry that have the power to quench negative comments about sport on the telly?
Is this the future for our families? Will the TV be merely background noise to the sound of computer keyboards? Are we about to leave behind our Royal Family status?
I shared these thoughts with my wife who was horrified at even the thought that we resembled Jim and Barbara. ‘We are nothing like them’ she protested as she went off to make a pot of tea.
When I was younger entertainment choices were simpler. We all watched TV and chose from three channels some of which only showed programmes for part of the time. The next day we would laugh at Morecambe and Wise as we shared the experience again.
Sitting around the TV was what we did in the evening when Dad came home from work. We were real people watching made up stories about imaginary characters.
Now we can listen to music whilst checking out websites and email friends with football on the TV in the background.
There is one benefit to all these changes; whilst the girls spend their time surfing the net I get to use the remote control (think one of the greatest inventions of all time).
My precious wife, in her wisdom, has decided that we NEED to decorate. The emphasis on the word need is in direct proportion to the strength with which she said it.
There are times when she uses the N word and it contains no more hidden meaning than any other comment. On this occasion, however, it contained all the force of any of the other times that she has felt that my involvement is required without delay.
I hadn’t noticed this lack in our home design set up until she mentioned it to me whilst I was engrossed in an exciting episode of Spooks. I tried the usual fake acknowledgements of the conversation but she seemed to mean business. I even tried to deflect things by saying that we would talk about it during the adverts but she was quick off the mark in noticing that the said prog was on BBC1.
It is not that I am against decorating, in fact I find it strangely therapeutic, it is just that it always ends up being decorating with VAT.
Take for example the conversation about colour schemes; I am politely invited (and by invited I mean compelled) to join in with the selection, knowing full well that my opinions will be put to one side like an empty tin of magnolia.
No sooner has the title sequence started at the end of my favourite TV series and I am asked a growing number of questions that I am both too tired and unequipped to answer.
‘How much would a new carpet cost for this room’ she says signalling that she has more in mind than a few pots of emulsion.
‘A lot more than hiring a steam cleaner’ I reply pretending to be helpful but in actuality trying to apply the metaphorical brakes.
The conversation continues being punctuated only by my search for the tape measure in the drawer specifically designated as a ‘safe place’ for all those things that you use once a year. After ten minutes of muttering under my breath with my hands in the drawer I attempt to decide the required curtain size using a six-inch (and by six inches I mean 15.24mm) school ruler and a length of string.
The conversation only ends when I agree to visit the DIY centre the following weekend.
We arrive at the aircraft hanger filled with overpriced symbols of western aspiration (a little deep for a Saturday morning I know but I am still applying those metaphorical brakes) late enough to avoid all the retired folk who couldn’t sleep and so queued for the shop to open.
My plan was clear; paint, brushes, pay go for lunch. My wife’s plan was to spend years (and by years I mean too much time on a Saturday) looking at paint in very boring shop.
In truth we spent most of the time trying to decide whether we preferred Amber Spirit or Moroccan sunset; both of which were a kind of yellow and seemed to be indistinguishable from each other. We then had a dialogue (and by dialogue I mean argument) about which white we preferred which seemed to me to be a bizarre situation for two reasons; firstly, they were all white and the only reason we could see any difference was because we had them side by side in the shop, which of course would be the case in our hallway. Secondly, I was engaged in the conversation even though I didn’t care which version of white we chose. It is as if I had been conditioned by the surroundings to actually want to have an opinion.
I made the right decision in the end and agreed that my bride knew more about colour choices than me, thus both speeding up the process and making the possibility of eating chicken in harmony a reality.
I can now report that painting has at last started and were as during the selection stage I was effectively redundant somehow now I am needed more than anyone else in the household so that whilst I watch Amber Spirit dry my wife watches the next episode of Spooks.
Do you ever have that sudden rush of blood to your head that makes you think that you are far more skilled at something that you actually are? I did it last summer when I volunteered to be the photographer at my eldest daughter’s wedding.
At the time of agreement I felt sure that I could do it having dabbled a little with a camera whilst at college. As the wedding day grew nearer I began to feel a certain dread at the thought that so much relied on me. To give me comfort I arranged for my old pal Nigel to be available with his telephoto lens as a backup.
Suitably armed with a list of everyone who should be included in the after service snap session, and as many digital memory sticks as I could beg steal or borrow, I set up the tripod and camera in the grounds of the hotel that had become temporary home to the extended Molineaux clan.
I noted that several guests had not seen other family members for ‘over twenty years’; with such a lack of family commitment I wanted to ask them how they could justify costing me money by being present now. Instead I kept my thoughts to my self and set off on my mission to make everyone smile for long enough so that future generations would believe we were a fully functional family.
You would think that people would be sympathetic to the needs of an amateur photographer at his daughter’s wedding but I have to report that everyone (and by everyone I mean a few) were so busy enjoying themselves that they would often ignore my calls for attention.
People fell into five distinct camps that I am sure is typical for a wedding party:
There were those whose only aim was to ensure that they used all five of their disposable cameras standing in front of my more than expensive digital SLR. I tried to be polite but by now the sweat was starting to drip on to my lens as I developed a mild panic at the thought that I was out of my depth.
Then there were those who seemed to have temporarily forgotten their names; no matter how loud I shouted for them, or how near I stood to them, they were oblivious to the fact that I was actually addressing them.
Next there were those who could not remember which group they belonged to; no matter how many times I asked for ‘all the Brides school friends’ I would not end up with the correct group. I have eleven photographs of this group containing a selection of different people including an elderly female relative who thought she was joining a queue for food.
As with every wedding there were a few who had decided that there was far too much alcohol in the hotel and it was their mission in life to solve this problem. As soon as the ceremony was over they had loosened their ties and headed to find a position where they could simultaneously drink and complain at the prices.
There were, of course, those who happily joined in with my manic display of poor photography management. Aunties helping to throw confetti on the count of three. Children who did their best to not pull funny faces when I asked them to smile. Old men who didn’t feel offended when I suggested that they straightened their ties and combed what little hair they had.
As my time in charge grew to an end I was comforted in the fact that I had a digital camera and was sure that I had a good bunch of photographs to choose from. Fortunately I was reminded at the last moment that although I had included everyone that moved (and a few that didn’t) in my picture taking I didn’t have any with the Father-of-the bride on. I handed my camera to Nigel (everyone needs a Nigel) and stood proud, if not a little hot and bothered, with my precious family for a permanent reminder of our special day.
I know that nostalgia is not what it used to be but I am sure that there was a time when signs were easier to understand than they are today.
Take for example those found on toilet doors in any public building: gone are the days when we were presented with the choice between 'Ladies' and 'Gents'. It seems that 'Guys' and 'Gals' have a more modern feel. I even came across one set of doors that said 'Laddies' and 'Luvvies'.
Now please understand that I am not writing as one of those who wish the English language would remain the same forever. I just have a concern that one day I will be in such a hurry to 'pay a visit' that I will go in the wrong toilet.
As with most anxieties this concern is probably linked to an event in my youth that shaped my future thinking. I recall being in a youth choir during my school years and having to perform at Manchester's Free Trade Hall.
As 'artistes' we were ushered into the changing rooms somewhere below stage and told to wait until we were called. Just before we were due to appear in front of the expectant audience I must have had a touch of stage fright and urgently needed to find a toilet. I travelled around corridor after corridor until I eventually found a door with the word 'Gents' in big bold letters.
In I went and was happy to find that the toilets were empty; for a few moments at least. It wasn't long, however, before I heard voices which I soon realised were female. Sat in that lonely cubicle I had only two choices; I could make my excuses and leave red faced or I could wait it out until the crowd disappeared. Being the brave soul that I am I waited until the sound of ladies voices had faded. It appears that whilst I was 'engaged', so to speak, the caretaker had replaced the 'Gents' sign with a 'Ladies' one without checking if anyone was inside.
This experience has lead to the concern I have for the clarity of such signage. Now, it would seem that my worry is justified for we have started to move away from those containing words to pictorial representations. Most of them have simple block drawings of either a man or a woman which, in a bad light and on a full bladder, can seem a little unclear. Some establishments, in an attempt at being arty or clever, have engravings that seem designed to make you take a pause before entering whilst you take a closer look, thus slowing things down. This I don't need; at my time of life the whole process takes longer than I would like anyway.
Such things are not a problem on the continent where toilet boundaries are more ambiguous. I recall on one holiday to France stopping in a village only to find a communal loo where the females had to walk past the men's urinals to get to a cubicle. Added to this there was a distinct lack of seating facilities, offering no more than a hole in the ground with a chain hanging from the ceiling with which to hold oneself in a suitable position. Needless to say the daughters all refused to pay a visit on this occasion and thus waited cross legged until we happened upon a more up-to-date facility.
In this country, however, a 'privy' should be, by definition, relatively private. So come on Britain; I can cope with hand dryers that pump out cold air (that is why men wear jeans), I can deal with broken locks on cubicle doors (That is why we learn to whistle from an early age), I can even make do with over energetic flush systems on the urinals (that is why we hone our reactions on the gaming machines). I just need to be able to easily decipher what the sign means on the toilet door. If communication is to work it should do 'exactly what it says on the tin' (to borrow a phrase). Or should that be 'exactly what it says on the can'.
Much to my daughters dismay I have never been one for taking too many risks with my appearance; in fact I take comfort in the simple idea that weekends are about t-shirts, in direct contrast to my weekdays, which contain shirts and ties.
Even when I was younger I watched as other lads got curly perms (think Kevin Keegan) and ear rings (think the lads on the fairground who could make standing on a moving ride look easy).
I toyed with the idea of going blond in an attempt at looking like Sting until a rather too honest friend pointed out that they could change my hair but not my face.
So I was left to take pride in my handle-bar moustache (think The Village People). When I grew it in the seventies it was at the end of a fad for facial hair. I had quite light locks and so it took me months to produce anything that could be seen by the naked eye. Looking back at old photos now I can see that it just appears to be two faint clumps of fluff on either side of my chin with very little on my upper lip.
So it is that, as I approach half a century (not out), I have decided to get a tattoo. Not a big brash one, just a small discrete symbol of my wish to be different, by being the same as other people. I recall meeting one larger than life girl who had a tattoo of David Beckham complete with his own miniature Tattoos; this is surely commitment to the cause when even your tattoos have tattoos.
My father-in-law (who, at eighty seven, has fought in seven world wars for the likes of youngsters like me) rolled his eyes and chuckled as I announced the news of my intent to be permanently marked.
He has a rather impressive military shield on his left forearm so I asked him how he came about having such artistry on his body. He told me that during the Second World War, when he was stationed in India, he and a mate had too much time and money available for such young lads away from home.
They had been for a night out and had more than their fair share of rocket fuel and so were feeling very brave. They arrived at the Tattooist just as he was getting ready to close but managed to talk them into staying for just two more jobs.
He agreed and they both selected a large and intricate emblem to go on their chests. The proprietor, however, was unable to stay in order to do two difficult pieces. He suggested that one of the lads should have a chest tattoo and the other should have one on his arm.
They were both a little disappointed but agreed to toss a coin to see who should have the glory of the chosen design. My father in law lost and, in his lubricated state, unhappily had to make do with the lesser offering.
The next morning things were a little different, as his army pal woke in pain to face a day's duty with a stinging reminder of their drunken episode.
Hearing granddad’s tale has made me take time to reconsider the idea of body art. So what I am supposed to do to mark my journey through middle age.
My third daughter settled the matter by deciding that she wanted to get her own emblem carefully inked on her wrist and has accused me of wanting to copy her; then rest of the girls joined in to say that my idea of body art at my age was all wrong.
So I am left with choosing either blonde streaks or a curly perm; or perhaps, seeing I have a receding hairline, growing my hair long and wearing it in a ponytail, pulled back so that it looks like it has been caught in a lift door and is stretching my forehead back (think Francis Rossi from Status Quo).
Recently we had to send away our old and tattered driving licences for address changes requiring us to provide photographs.
Having found a photo booth, and enough change to feed it, we set about trying to work out how to get the best from this most cruel piece of modern machinery. I am not sure what it is about them but they seem to bring out panic in nearly everyone. You respond as if you are about to capture a piece of your very soul and not just a convenient picture.
Steeling ourselves we spun the seat to the required height and read the instructions. My wife had volunteered to go first and you would think that would be the end of the story. Impatient to get on with other more important things I attempted to put sterling into the slot but my wife was not ready to pose.
She took out of her bag several combing devices, a selection of make-up gunk and a small mirror. ‘I will have to look at this photo for the next few years’ she said as if offering a defence.
Having satisfied her need to prune she positioned herself and the picture was taken. Now it was my turn and I readied myself to get it over with as quick as I could. ‘Are you not going to comb your hair’ said my bride with a mixture of care and disappointment. ‘Do you think I need to’ I replied. She handed me a comb without a word as if an answer to my question was not necessary. Hair suitably rearranged I sat waiting for the flash to go off trying to neither smile not grimace; such that I ended up looking like I was slightly constipated.
We waited for our photos with a mixture of fear and fun knowing that they would look both awful to us and amusing to anyone else who viewed them.
‘I am going to get mine done again’ said my wife threatening to spend another four pound. I convinced her that there was no point in redoing the sitting as it was unlikely that anyone would see the finished result due to the fact that she never drives fast enough for the police to be interested in stopping her for a chat.
I understand her concern because I know as well as the rest of the population that the machines are designed to show every blemish and wrinkle so that no feature will escape the glare of the flash lighting.
I also think that we have been spoilt by the computer technology available to us meaning that we can touch up our snaps in a way that was once only available to top fashion photographers. I have enjoyed the fact that I can remove the odd blemish and wrinkle without resorting to plastic surgery.
I am not sure about the morality, however, of airbrushing your children’s photographs to make them look prettier. I once had a colleague who edited one such picture so that his son’s ears didn’t look to be so sticky out. I can’t imagine it would give you much confidence in later life to know that your dad thought you were so ugly that he had to resort to such measures.
Anyway no such luxuries with a photo booth so were left to make the best of a bad lot.
When we arrived home I made the comment that we could use one of the photographs to renew our passports, thereby saving money. My wife would have none of it insisting that she was unwilling to travel around the world having to show people this sub standard image.
‘I suppose it is only four pounds’ I thought as she went off to make a phone call. She returned a few moments later looking happier and declaring that it was all sorted for the passport photograph as she had booked a hair appointment for the following week and would feel more confident about the resultant picture after that.
I looked at my photograph and then looked in the mirror noticing that the half smile-half grimace facial expression was now a permanent feature.
I am really good at parallel parking but have to admit that I am only good when I have the right conditions. Bizarrely, I can manage it really well between two narrowly positioned cars yet when I have to park next to the curb, and I have acres of room, I fail miserably. The same is true when towing a trailer; given the reference points of a narrow gate opening and I am a show off at reversing; in an empty field I am faced with too much choice and I look like a buffoon. Of course at my age I have years of experience to call on (reversing that is – not looking like a buffoon).
When our daughters were younger we were kindly given a caravan so that we could upgrade from the usual canvas holidays to ones with a few more luxuries; and when I say luxuries I mean curtains that don’t meet in the middle and lights that hint at being good enough to illuminate your world.
All packed up we set off for Cornwall with ideas of hot weather and rolling seas in our minds. My only concession to my inexperience at towing was a pledge to not go down any road unless I was sure that there was an exit at the other end. Reversing a trailer, after all, is for farmers and show offs. There seems to be a rule for family holidays that it set to try all parents; whenever you need a toilet/garage/restaurant you cannot find one.
When the noise of hungry children was at its loudest, we decided to stop at the next café for some well earned nosh. We drove for miles trying to convince the children that it wouldn’t be long before we found a food outlet.
Nearing desperation we spied signs for a country pub offering an ‘all day menu’. It looked to be a decent pub on a decent road, complete with children’s play area.
As we headed off the main road I saw two signs that made me break out in a mild panic; the first was a declaration that we were entering a dead-end. The second was a sign indicating that the road was un-adopted with the implication that it would be uneven.
By the time all of this news had sunk in it was too late to do anything about it and we could see the welcome sign in the pub window. We were all so tired and hungry that I decided to park up and worry about getting out after we had eaten.
Once all the feeding and watering had been done we returned to our vehicle and mobile home ready for the rest of our journey. I look at the car, then look at the road, then looked at my wife and kids and decided to make them feel proud of me.
It was a nightmare; not just because I couldn’t get the car and trailer to face the right way but because the beer garden was full of people watching every turn of the steering wheel. Some looked sympathetic, some where laughing and I swear I heard one or two of them clapping.
I tried for about a month (that is to say ten minutes) to make it work but I just kept ending up in more and more trouble. It looked more like I was trying to fold the car and caravan in half than turn it round.
Eventually one of the lads in the pub came over to offer some help. He explained that he was a lorry driver and that he couldn’t watch anymore as it was too painful an experience. It took him seconds, and I mean seconds. I swear that he even used just one finger on the steering wheel in an attempt at adding to how ridiculous I looked.
My daughters cheered, my wife said an embarrassed ‘thank-you’, and I went with the driver to the pub to buy him a drink. I walked back to the car feeling like a young buffoon determined to never try reversing a caravan again.
Like I said; Reversing a trailer is for farmers, show offs and smug lorry drivers
Much to my wife’s bemusement I have spent the best part of my life avoiding the need to eat breakfast on a regular basis. I just don’t wake up hungry. Even when the girls were young, and I had the pleasure of arranging four different bowls of cereal, I was never tempted to join them.
I suppose it is because I have certain beliefs about the first meal of the day that have been, up until now, unshakeable.
Firstly, breakfast isn’t breakfast unless it contains bacon. I once heard someone in a hotel ask for a Full English without bacon. I wanted to walk across the room and tell them that they were asking the impossible.
Secondly, I have never heard a conversation about cereal that had the word ‘tasty’ in it. My wife has tried to convince me to try muesli and other cereals but she talks about them being ‘healthy’ or ‘good for your constitution’, none of which makes me want to get involved in such morning food.
The other phrase she uses, as if it has any serious meaning, is that ‘breakfast is the most important meal of the day’ to which I reply ‘well if it is it should definitely include bacon then’.
So it is that I very rarely have breakfast; except on holiday or special occasions when I will have a proper Full English.
For years I have maintained that I have seen no detrimental effect due to missing this morning nosh session. Then one day my wife returned from a training session as part of her job as a Practice Nurse; the subject, Healthy Eating.
I always fear these occasions because she will come home with ideas that she wants to test on me. I have had blood taken, diabetes tests, my heart rate monitored, breathing capacity tests and now I was faced with a survey of my eating habits.
After she had again ‘tutted’ at my avoidance of breakfast she quizzed me about my dinner habits.
‘I eat my sandwich at 9:15am’, I said not realising the significance of my words.
‘But that almost makes it breakfast’, uttered my bride in desperation.
‘No it doesn’t because I don’t have bacon with it’, I offered with impeccable reasoning.
Things went further down hill when she asked about my fruit intake for the day. She seemed all too eager to discount banana milkshake and a chocolate orange.
Eventually convinced that change was needed I agreed to start the redevelopment my eating plan by trying a number of cereals. The type I liked the most (either chocolate covered or sugar coated) were immediately banned as if my enjoyment of food was unhealthy. The variety I didn’t like all seemed to be made of wood shavings but were apparently good for me.
I finally found one that was bearable and decided to try it every day in an attempt at keeping my wife happy and hopefully losing a few pounds. One week in and I can report that it is just so very boring and I have come to the conclusion that I need more variety in order to sustain my interest.
Daughter number two (who had spent almost a year in the States) had informed me that it was not unusual for breakfast to include sausages AND maple syrup on the same plate. Now if it had some additional bacon it might be a good alternative.
Daughter number four added that in France they tend to just have croissants and jam as a lighter alternative, but this just seems like pretending to enjoy food; surely it is just posh jam and bread.
So what am I to do; I don’t really like cereal but my wife says that I need to eat breakfast every day in order to be healthy. What about bacon in a croissants; now I like the sound of that; OK its not a Full English, more a Part English, Part French.
As you might imagine we have had our fair share of children's birthday parties. How things have changed over recent years; when I was a kid it was tradition for Dads to get off to the pub during such occasions and only return when the vacuum had been switched off and the last balloon had been burst. In this present climate all fathers are honour-bound to, not only be present at the celebration, but to take an active part in the entertainment.
I remember, on the occasion of our youngest daughter's fifth birthday, having to set up a make-shift disco unit in an old village hall. This community building had seen its fair share of nonsense during its 65 years of existence but I added to the collective sense of Dad embarrassment on this occasion.
The music had been selected and the two bulb light-set that I had bought for the party, was making zero impact on the brightly lit, early evening, magnolia walls. Balloons had been blown up and sandwiches had been covered in cling film to keep them 'fresh'. Our girls were already buzzing with excitement due to too much fizzy pop and the promise of party games.
Eventually some parents arrived to drop off their children each one having that same knowing look; a mixture of pity for us who were left behind and joy that it was not they who had to hold together such a major event. I offered one or two of the Dads a drink in the hope of bribing them to stay but they were all too wise to fall for such a ploy.
We started the party games with a cheer from all the children who were now reaching fever pitch; the noise level getting beyond bearable. Pass the parcel went off without a hitch and I managed to arrange it so that every child had a turn at ripping off the paper; I am not sure if this amounts to fraud but it makes for less tears. My own sadness with the game was that the kids cared little for the time and energy it took to wrap the parcel in the first place, such a lack of gratitude.
The game that caused the most fuss was the one where children were paired up in a three legged race style with the addition of a balloon attached to a child’s legs by means of a string. The aim of the game was to pop everybody else’s whilst retaining your own. I foolish agreed to partner daughter number three and as soon as the music started we were off on our popping mission.
The problem that I have is that I get far too competitive for my own good; or the good of anyone else for that matter. With a look of manic delight on my face, I lifted my six year old by the arms and dashed around the floor bursting innocent children’s balloons. With neither favouritism nor mercy I aimed for every piece of inflated coloured latex I could see whilst flinging my daughter in every direction. My daughter laughed in delight, my wife sighed in embarrassment, the other kids cried in defeat.
I am pleased to report that we were the winners but our victory was ruined by the tears of the other party goers and the look of disappointment on my wife's face. I tried to justify my actions by saying that I was teaching the children a valuable lesson about losing but my bride would have none of it; she tried to tell me that the party was for smaller kids not bigger ones.
I was made to watch the incident back on video in order that I might understand how strange I looked as my need to win overtook my need to be nice. My wife had shown the video to some of her female friends and they had concurred with her assessment of my immaturity. In defence I showed it to a number of mates to see what they thought of the whole episode. To a man they all laughed and cheered my efforts recognising that I had indeed taught the children a valuable lesson; don’t let Dad’s join in at parties.
There comes a moment in every parent's life when you realise that you are turning into your own Mum and Dad. It comes when you catch yourself saying a stock phrase used by your parents; one that you swore you would never utter. It could be something like, 'don't come running to me if you break you leg' or, the one my mother aimed at me regularly in desperation, 'Do you look for every puddle to jump in on your way home'. What fun days; when finding a puddle of mud meant adventure and not avoidance!
My wife and I overheard a young mother saying to her four-year old son 'Do you try to find every possible way to annoy me when we are out shopping'. As if rational discussion is possible with the naughtiness of a child.
I am sure that other saying will immediately spring to your mind, most of which will seem to revolve around some common truth. Firstly, they are usually born out of frustration and therefore rarely produce a change in the child’s behaviour. Secondly, they are often an exaggeration and as such impossible to defend. Thirdly, they are often more of a commentary on the parent's lack of joy than the child's free spirit.
Either way, once you have offspring of your own, the urge to say them is irresistible and is indeed one sign that you are becoming like your own parents.
There was another instance when I realised that I was turning into my father. I was sat on the sofa, in that Saturday afternoon post lunch, half dream state that seems to be so much a part of my life these days, when I spotted my dad's hand in my peripheral vision. I recognised it straight away and then immediately knew it could not be his. Firstly, he was 48 miles away across the Pennines and I felt sure that his Post Office training didn’t include warp speed travel. Secondly, the hand was connected to my arm at the wrist and I could operate it by simply thinking. Before this moment it had never occurred to me that I was looking more and more like dear old dad; but then in a split second I was faced with this obvious truth.
So what other changes await me as I surge onwards on life's conveyor belt. Will I start to miss whole portions of a film because I am distracted trying to remember what I have seen the actors in before? Will I start to read the obituary column just see if any old school chums have passed away?
Will I spend the best part of the day looking for my glasses case just because I want to use the pen stored in it?
I am not sure what brings about this change and at what age you count as being old. I was on a bus not too long ago when two teenagers stood and offered me a seat. I wanted to be so very proud of them in what was a great example of how young people are good at heart. I calmly asked them to sit down and never offer me a seat again as, at half a dog year under 50, I was not ready to be accorded such a dubious honour. They understood the humour in my comments and I thanked them for the sentiment.
I know that some things are true about the aging process. Firstly, there is an invisibility with age. The bus example not withstanding, it is general true that I can walk through any public place unnoticed because I just look like anyone of the other middle aged, well-rounded, slightly balding men.
Secondly, youth has such energy, passion and attractiveness it seems that even when teenagers wear all black they appear to living in full colour, therefore I want to say that youth is NOT wasted on the young; they seem to do their best to enjoy it. Perhaps it is just that old age is wasted on the old.
Anyway I am off to watch a Black and White film on TV, after all they are so much better than those in colour. They don’t make them like they used to.
Let me just state for the record; I might be the dad of four daughters but I don't dress dolls, I don't like pink, and I don't carry handbags. I feel better for getting that off my chest. It's not that I am sexist you understand; I am quite happy to cry at a sad movie and do my fair share of household chores. I just feel the need to draw a line in the hormonal sand. The number of times I have been presented with a Cindy or Barbie, hair matted with hair band and arms twisted in a tribute to Twin Peaks, and asked 'Daddy can you put these trousers on my dolly?'
This is where I first learnt to shout 'I don't dress dolls!', whilst trying to force plastic legs into miniature denim. The fact that I have got five thumbs on each hand doesn't help matters but, after making my plea for mercy, I would usually give in and commit plastic grievous bodily harm.
My rejection of all things pink is probably just a bad reaction to the blancmange we were force fed at school; a dubious treat that came in a variety of unsociable colours. I sometimes wonder why I would have chosen to eat it, but then I remember that the other desserts on offer were sago, tapioca, and prunes. Enough said!
Pink, and when I say pink I mean all manner of bright colours, has been a recurring theme in my relationship with the girls. I recall needing a pen to complete a form whilst checking into a hotel. A daughter kindly rummaged through her tardis-like handbag and produced one that lit up when used, complete with a feather sticking out of the end. In my haste I hadn't noticed the glow and began to write at first unaware of the odd looks from other waiting guests. I have had similar experiences with umbrellas and key rings.
It is probably the hand bag carrying that causes me the most concern. I have always been happy to carry shopping home in plastic bags even though it has increased my carbon footprint. The problem comes when we are shopping as a family in one of those large centres where the shops look the same and there is a decided lack of chairs available for a tired dad.
On these occasions I usually assume the job of pack-horse and am steadily loaded up with merchandise during the day. The only time I am offered any relief from my lifting duties is when they need me to pay for another purchase.
Plastic bags not withstanding, I choose to draw the line at carrying their handbags (and when I say carry I mean hold because walking with one would be too much to ask). I will occasionally agree if my bride stays close by so that other shoppers will understand that the article is not mine. As soon my wife or the girls move more than two foot away I put the bag on the floor; standing over it as though I am guarding an important object.
So here I am; a male living in a female world. I take comfort in the fact that, because we have all daughters, it was always my wife who had to take them to the toilet when we were out for the day. Men’s toilets are no place for anyone of a sensitive nature. I don’t want to go into to much detail but boys, whether grown up or not, have no sense of direction.
This apart, there has still always been a tendency to draw me into their girlie world. Therefore, as an act of personal therapy, I would like to add a few other items to my original list of things that I refuse to do. I don’t untangle knotted jewellery, I don’t empty blonde hair out of the shower filter, and I don’t answer the question, ‘Does this dress suite me?’
Actually I do all of the above apart from the last one. I have learnt that it is a question far too dangerous to answer even if you are carrying a handbag.
We have been thinking about holidays again and the air is filled with talk of flights and villas, lotions and costumes. There has definitely been a progression in our household when it comes to such things. Only a few years ago, when the girls were easily fooled by the idea that being under canvas was fun, we would prepare for the summer months with thoughts a little less grand. We always tried our best to get a holiday no matter how limited our funds; some times it was fulfilled by visiting family across the Pennines and taking trips out to towns with more sand than sea. Or discovering the debatable beauty of refurbished canal walks hidden behind newly converted waterside dwellings.
Most of our holidays involved camping and as such were a strain on our tempers and our backs. I don’t know what it is about inflatable mattresses but they seem to be timed to deflate at about the same time as you manage to drop off to sleep. Cooking is not much more fun as you try to make a Sunday lunch using one pan and a Swiss army knife. The girls were mostly oblivious to such difficulties and enjoyed the different sights and sounds of outdoor life.
One of our most memorable excursions was to an event on the Lincolnshire showground along with thousands of other families. Having arrived at the site, stressed from a journey with far too many toilets stops and burger wrappers, we attempted to set up the tent. Let me warn you that tents are like Christmas tree lights; they never come out of the bag in the same neat order that you put them in the previous year. To add to this trial I had forgotten to bring the large box of tent pegs collected over our years of camping. Being Friday night on a bank holiday weekend there was little chance of replacements being available, so I was left to wander round the campsite searching for all the bent ones left by previous campers. After losing several yards of skin on my knuckles during the straightening process, we were able to use our temporary abode at the same time as the light faded in the sky.
On the second night of our stay, at about two in the morning, I heard whispered voices on the other side of the canvas. As quick as a dad can, I scrambled out of the tent to see half a dozen teenagers about to run away. I managed to catch one by the arm and began my investigation feeling sure that they must be up to some mischief. The boy shook with a little fear as I quizzed him, 'What on earth are you up to at this time in the morning?' I asked.
'We were playing a game', he spluttered.
'A game! What kind of game?' I said, not satisfied with his response.
'I am not sure if I should tell you', he replied.
'Just tell me what the game was', I said letting go of his shirt sleeve.
'It's called Hunt the Loudest Snorer'.
I should have ended the conversation there but lack of sleep or stupidity had now kicked in.
'And...............who was the loudest snorer?' I asked uncertain of whether I wanted to hear his response.
'I am not sure if I should tell you' he repeated.
'Just say it' I said somewhat prepared for his reply.
I let him go and chuckled as I returned to my deflated airbed.
In the morning I told my wife about what had happened (she didn’t seem too interested at the time). 'At last!' she said with a sense of victory, as if now others knew of her life of suffering.
Her reply didn’t concern me and I did a victory lap around the tent; being a competitive male I take any ‘win’ as an achievement no matter how dubious. As my reward for being ‘The Camps Loudest Snorer’, I re-inflated the airbed and returned for en extra few moments practice of my new found talent.
Early morning bathroom fever used to hit our house every day, as the five females of the home all tried to mark out their territory. Mostly this involved laying claim to the hairdryer or carrying round the curly brush to make sure it was always available (I still, to this day, have to work out why, in a house of a hundred brushes, only one was good enough for all of them). Added to this was the rush for the bathroom door with each one demanding that they had a reason to take priority. I often tried to bring some logic to the arguments that raged about who should rightfully inherit the water closet first. I soon realised that my involvement was neither wanted nor useful.
Things have not always been so tense in casa Molineaux; for the first eighteen months of married life we owned a terraced house. It was advertised to us as having an ‘indoor toilet’, because at that time many older homes still only had an external ‘privy’.
In truth it was an extra cupboard built into the back box room but, because we are at a nostalgic age, we now lovingly refer to it as an en suite bedroom.
Over time we gradually increased our bedroom space to accommodate our offspring but, due to the older nature of our houses, we never quite managed extra bathrooms; meaning that queues for baths and toilets have been a regular feature.
I have tried several schemes in order to avoid such gridlock in the morning. I had a run of setting the girl’s alarms at 15 minute intervals, but it only took one daughter to sleep in to throw the whole schedule into chaos.
I have learnt over the years to spend as little time doing my own ablutions as possible in order that I might not enrage the already anxious female population of our house. When I do leave the shower, after the shortest time possible, it is to the sound of my wife complaining about the excess water on the floor; apparently I am supposed to begin the drying process whilst still in the foot and half of cubicle space.
I am not sure that the complaints are justified when you consider the obstacle course that I have to negotiate following female bath time; this after I have found my way through the haze of perfume and other noxious gases that come out of the cosmetic pots.
For me shower time is a quick event with the point of the exercise being to get clean. All our girls are unanimous in the view that it can also be good therapy to stand motionless under moving water for a very long time. If I were cruel I would try to speed up the process by turning on a downstairs hot tap in order to change the water pressure and temperature. (No! Honestly I haven’t done this).
At a moment of greatest frustration I once joined a local sports club because it had excellent showers and the queue was less than the one at home.
Things started to get a little easier as two of the girls headed for university and I hoped that my opportunity for a free bathroom might arrive when our eldest daughter got married last year. The actual result was that she now visits and brings her new husband along to join the queue.
My other main complaint is that my razor is no longer my own; after I have spent a small fortune on blades I find that they lose their sharpness within days. Apparently those designed especially for females are not as good.
I have finally fallen on an excellent idea that I am sure will solve such problems. It came to me whilst I was waiting to buy cheese at our local supermarket. I pulled the ticket from the handy machine provided and calmly waited for my number to be displayed on the electronic sign. Then it came to me; if it is good enough for shoppers wanting dairy products then it should work well with daughters wanting to start the day with a shower.
I have decided to adopt a new keep fit regime and am pleased to report that I can now lift the remote control without gasping for breath.
When doing my research to decide how to approach my new found zeal for fitness I noticed a theme starting to develop. Firstly I need to cut out sweet things and secondly I need to exercise more. Not exactly rocket science.
I have therefore decided to start small and let my routine grow. I am going to begin by cutting out three sugary things from my daily life. But what should they be. I already drink diet cola. This was the result of a previous attempt to reduce my noticabilty at gatherings. I managed, after two weeks, to get used to the taste and now I cannot return to the regular variety. Now I am left to wash down my mid-afternoon chocolate biscuit with a sugar-free fizzy drink. I have a feeling that one should cancel out the other but no scientific facts to back it up.
Incidentally, have you noticed that most ‘large boned’ people tend to drink diet drinks and a majority of slim people drink the normal variety? Not sure what to make of it but I am suspicious and wondered whether I am being given the whole facts.
Anyway, I still need to move towards being sans-sucre in other areas. I have decided, therefore, to give up listening to the Carpenters, I always found them very sugary. I will also cut out chocolate in the afternoon and not eat anything sweet after 20:00 hours (not even if the chocolate mints tell me that I should on the box).
Added to this I have decided to walk up one flight of stairs before getting the lift, instead of at the ground floor. I tried walking up all six flights at once but I had to set up camp on floor three and breath from my oxygen mask for a couple of days before continuing my trek.
The problem I have is that I am stuck in a vicious cycle. Two nights ago I went to the cinema and, because I have certain standards, I ate all my chocolate before they had turned down the lighting. This meant that I was forced to share a giant bag of popcorn with the rest of the family. My bride, of twenty-six years, chooses to take once piece at a time and eat it with her natural grace. I, however, feel that it would give me no challenge whatsoever and would not treat the product as nature intended it. It is perfectly obvious that one should take the biggest handful possible and see how many will fit into your mouth. You might not agree but I know that, in the spirit of Homer Simpson, I am right.
This always results in the loss of at least half of the contents of my sticky fist. When I was younger and leaner most of this excess would drop to the floor only to be used as sound effects at the end of the film. Now, however, the majority of the ‘fallen ones’ drop to be neatly perched on the ledge of my ample stomach, not more than 6 inches from my mouth. They remain there perfectly saved for me to enjoy during the rest of the show. The net effect is that I eat twice as much popcorn as I used to do when I was slim.
I think I need to find a cinema that is up six flights of steps.
My wife is a Practice Nurse and as such she keeps the family in check when it comes to anything medical. In this regard I can get away with very little in the way of man maladies. When sickness does call I am assured that, no matter how much pain I am in, I will make a full recovery. The term ‘man flu’ is often used to deflect from the seriousness of the way I feel. Other terms have been used too but I am not sure whether I am being nursed or patronised. ‘Man Stomach’ after a hot curry, ‘Man Migraine’ after a ‘couple’ of drinks and ‘Man Sciatica’ when I have been working in the garden.
There was one occasion when I was on several potions and lotions at the same time; cures for back pain added to antibiotics after having a wisdom tooth removed. Along with this I have some regular treatments on the go for allergies and the like. All in all quite a cocktail of, what I am assured are, legal drugs so long as I don’t go bike riding in France wearing a yellow jersey.
Even with these ‘Man’ difficulties I seldom get a look-in when it comes to sympathy because I am usually last in the queue after our four daughters. You can imagine that one runny nose follows another, leading to several weeks of extra toilet role use.
All our girls are blond with long hair so we also had weeks of hair treatment following an infestation of friends; the creepy crawly variety. We used the ‘they prefer clean hair’ encouragement used by our own parents but everyone knows that it is not the most positive thing to have.
We tried all the remedies but in the end it was evenings of combing that seem to do the trick. Even writing this I have started to itch as my nervous system comes out in sympathy.
I tend to get the least amount of sympathy when it comes to sports injuries; I am sure that it must be part of the NHS training to be less concerned, perhaps because they are seen as self inflicted. ‘I told you that you were too old to play such games’ my wife would often say as I hobbled back from playing football. All sports are capable of providing proof to my wife that I should begin to settle down. I once injured a fellow squash player when I rifled the ball directly into his eye causing him five days in hospital and two weeks of blindness. I have even been known to break a finger nail whilst playing crib with my father-in-law; sometimes the smallest of injuries can hurt the most.
Perhaps the most bazaar pain I have caused myself is during a five-a-side football competition. It was part of the rules that everyone should play in goals for fifteen minutes during the night. (This is the sporting equivalent of every musician having to play the drums for one song during a concert). I have met very few people who enjoy being in goals, those that do tend to be drummers.
As on all other occasions I tend to keep my inhaler as near as possible just incase I need some breathing help; I had the advantage of a breast pocket in which to keep my medicine.
I took my turn between the pegs and did my best not get injured in any sensitive area. I must have had a rush of enthusiasm because I dived for a ball to perform a near heroic save only to land on the inhaler in my pocket. Lying in casualty a few hours later I understood the hospitals staff’s amusement at the fact that an asthma inhaler had been the cause of two broken ribs.
I returned home to my private nurse to be greeted with one of her usual loving post-match looks. I handed her my prescription for two items that would cost us the best part of our take-away money.
‘I have thought of another ‘Man’ malady to add to the collection’, said my bride, ‘Man Poverty’; I am sure I heard her chuckle as she headed off to the chemist.
Despite the complexities of the British weather system I feel that it is almost time to bring out the shorts and the holiday hat in preparation for summer.
The holiday hat tradition was started at a time when the girls were young and I wanted make sure that they could easily see me in a crowd. As such I tended to buy ones that were distinctive and bright in colour. In the early days our daughters seemed fine with my choices but eventually they reached an age when the embarrassment hormones had kicked in and they became more and more critical of my selections.
Eventually the tradition became more of a need as my bald patch grew to a size that needed protection from the sun.
The promise of holidays brings other odd behavior patterns with it. For example I would never dream of walking around our local town without a shirt, yet put me within ten paces of a beach and I am happy to wear just 20 inches of material.
Added to this is the craze of wearing ‘bum-bags’. I am only just getting used to carrying a wallet yet on holiday I wear a purse strapped to my midriff in order to carry loose change, sun glasses and UV protection lotion.
Then there are flip-flops probably the most underrated footwear available; have you noticed how only a quarter and inch of foam is needed to protect your feet from the burn of hot sand. When I was younger the only way to deal with a scorching beach was to shout ‘Ooch, Ouch, Ooch, Ouch!’ over and over until you reached the cooling salty waters.
Perhaps the strangest part of holiday behaviour is when people insist on wearing shorts and T-shirt even when the weather is inclement. It is not unusual to see hoards of adults inappropriately dressed walking along the prom.
On one such occasion our extended family was caught in one of those sadistic British showers that follow holiday makers around bringing gloom. Not one member of our party had brought either umbrella or suitable coat to act as protection.
We all agreed that spending a small amount of money on cheap, colourful plastic coats would be a sensible plan, so off we marched in search of a retailer.
Aunty Amy, who was a loveable if slightly ditsy older lady, was ahead of the rest due to the fact that she was also seeking a place to buy a cup of tea. (It never ceases to amaze me how much tea is drunk by Aunties and Uncles of a certain age).
Ahead of us she disappeared into one of those shops selling gifts, spades and flags, only to reappear with a look of victory on her face and shouting to the rest of the group, some 30 yards away ‘They sell goolies in this shop’.
Perhaps it was the sight of such words coming from the mouth of our aged, usually polite, relative or maybe it was the fact that she was blissfully unaware of what she had said. Either way the rest of the gang enjoyed the moment. Family holidays have always been fun.
As our daughters grew to be teenagers they were generally less happy to be seen in public with the rest of the family and therefore had to be forced into ‘enjoying’ holidays. We have one set of holiday pictures that show this vividly. Our eldest daughter, who was thirteen at the time, insisted on wearing black for the whole of the holiday. I don’t mean shorts and T-shirt either; mostly she was wore long trousers and a black jumper topped off with sunglasses. She refused to be seen on most of the shots but when she did she looked like she had been superimposed on the photographs after the event.
When it comes to photographs my goal is simple; I need be allowed the time to hold in my stomach before the camera goes click. Fortunately I have learned to multitask to the extent that I can now smile and wear my holiday hat at the same time.
I have realized that sometimes you can be far too nice. I am not sure whether it comes from the need to be liked or as a result of not having the backbone required to say a firm and decisive ‘No’ when required.
It was in this vein that we agreed to look after a friend’s dog for a week whilst they enjoyed freedom from canine responsibility in warmer climes.
We had never been committed pet owners because several members of our family had developed allergic reactions to all things fur covered. We had ‘owned’ a couple of carefully selected rabbits for a short while, until I had to perform the customary animal funeral in the front garden. But we were largely unskilled in animal care.
I decided that it would be useful in helping our girls to understand the work involved in having a dog. I also secretly hoped it would stave off the repeated requests for us to get a canine of our own.
The puppy that was entrusted to us was a lovely, if somewhat stupid, Labrador. It seemed skilled in only two things; running at walls for no apparent reason and barking at imaginary visitors whilst ignoring those that actually came to the door.
The pet owners arrived early on the agreed day with the puppy and enough dog luggage to make me feel a little uneasy. They announced that, whilst obeying the rigid feeding times, we had to ‘on no account allow Joey to eat anything’ other than the vet-prescribed concoction, manufactured to cure puppy illness. In what seemed to be an attempt at humour, they helpfully left a pooper scooper.
So here we were; in charge of a dog whose constitution was such that, if it consumed even the tiniest amount of wrong food, would return all that it had eaten; in stereo.
Nevertheless, the girls were excited so we took the pooch for a walk as soon as the owners had dashed away to their holiday, with smiling faces. Each daughter took it in turns to be dragged around the playing field whilst the dog chased butterflies.
Being inexperienced I wasn’t sure whether the dog would complete its ablutions automatically or if you had to tell it to do so. I knew it obeyed when I shouted ‘Sit!’ but didn’t feel brave enough to try other commands.
It seemed to take it a very long time to perform and, having forgotten to bring the doggy luggage, when it finally did produce an offering I had to employ the inside-out plastic carrier bag technique used only by dog owners.
We returned home and everyone but Joey seemed tired; I would have had a nap on my favourite chair but it was now occupied by the puppy practicing being a guard dog, barking at vehicles passing the house.
The next morning I arose to prepare for the day in my usual way; filling the kettle and watching the news on breakfast TV.
I entered the conservatory, having almost forgotten about our four-legged house guest, to be greeted by a smell that I can only describe as industrial in strength. I am not sure what Joey had consumed but the result was exactly as his owners had predicted.
The puppy was covered, as was the floor; in fact there didn’t seem to be anything in the room that wasn’t marked by the dogs output. As an instinctive reaction I reached for the pooper scooper but soon realised that it was designed for use with only healthy dogs.
I had never previously bathed an animal, and I don’t intend to do so ever again. Joey obviously thought it was a game and mistook my look of distaste for one of happiness, because it did all it could to make our cleaning time last longer.
I had just about finished cleaning the affected furniture when the girls came downstairs to be greeted by a beautifully clean animal. They were oblivious to the odd smell that still lingered as a reminder of my fun morning.
‘Can we get our own Dog’ said Mrs Molineaux’s eldest.
‘Please’ said the others in unison.
I have since apologized to my daughters for the miserable way I answered them that morning.
There are many things that are thrust upon an unsuspecting Dad over the years. Most of them revolve around the emptying your pockets of money at school events, or driving your children to their friend’s houses for sleepovers; only to return half an hour later with all the things they have forgotten to take.
The most embarrassing moments tend to be set in the noise filled environment of birthday parties. Gone are the days when Dads would escape to the pub during the festivities only to return when they had been sufficiently numbed against the smell of jelly and the sound of Agadoo; it seems that jam sponge is excellent at dealing with the hunger that develops after a few pints of best.
My personal low point was at the 9th birthday of daughter number three. My wife had spent a small fortune on face paints after seeing happy children walking around as butterflies and lions at a village fete. She ignored my pleading for helium filled balloons saying that party was for the children not for big kids; what is more fun than speaking in a high pitch voice and singing like Barry Gibb.
Most of the morning was filled with sandwich making knowing full well that they would be dumped in to a bin liner with the paper plates at the end of the evening. It never ceases to amaze me that we fill several large tables with party food and all kids want to eat is crispy snacks that seem to made out of polystyrene covered in unnatural colouring.
In order to ensure that we took revenge on the parents who had inflicted us with their children we prepared party bags full of noise making objects and hyperactivity inducing chocolate flavoured sweets. After all it would seem churlish to keep all the misery to ourselves.
After spending an eternity getting the three bulb disco lights to work in time with the music, my dear lady had convinced me that I was suitably creative enough to be in charge of all things face and paint related and, since it involved sitting down, I agreed to take part.
Daughter number two, who at the time was eleven, wanted to have Manchester United colours with the words ‘I love Hibby’ emblazoned on her face in tribute to an eleven year old boy called Matthew Hibbert; it seems he was worth the effort so I obliged but was determined to ask more questions about his character later on.
Some time after completing what seemed like several hundred faces I was talked into allowing daughter number three to reciprocate by colouring my, by now, tired face. Not being in the mood to be an animal I chose to have a single coloured background with the word FATHER on my forehead as an expression of my position in the family. What could go wrong?
My precious daughter did a good job and, resisting the encouragement of her elder sister to add an R, spelt the word correctly; although she ran out of paint half way through so that the word changed from green to red.
We have encouraged our girls to have a good work ethic by having either a part time job or signing up for some voluntary work. Our two eldest daughters both had paper-rounds and discovered the joys of carrying packets, heavy laden with Saturday supplements, to people with little time to read them.
For the most part they were successful in their new found working lives; however, there were a number of days when dad had to come to the rescue. A torrential downpour or a more than light dusting of snow meant I was woken, far too early than the law allows for on a weekend morning, to drive a daughter around the locality so that she could earn half of what it cost me in petrol. What made matters worse was that the paper-round that includes our house was already taken by someone else’s offspring meaning that we had to travel to another part of town to begin the mornings work.
Most of these times were bearable because the paper-round didn’t take long to complete and, being Saturday, I could drop on to the sofa on my return and slumber for a few hours. There came a day, however, when I knew the whole thing had gone too far. One dark autumn morning daughter number one woke feeling the effects of a rather nasty sore throat. It was obvious that she would be unable to fulfil her duty but, because we lived a little way from the newsagents, the papers had already been delivered to our door for further distribution. Partly because I wasn’t fully awake and partly because my daughter wanted to collect all of her wage for the week I agreed to do the paper-round. On this particular day our car was being repaired so the only other form of transport I had was my daughters 3/4 sized bike. I know! I know! Any right thinking, self respecting man would have flat refused and told the newsagent to collect the bundle. Well I didn’t; I got dressed and jumped on the undersized two-wheeler.
I was comforted by the fact that it was still dark and that I was wearing bobble hat suitable designed for fathers with a need to be incognito. After fighting my way through a seemingly endless numbers of garden gates that didn’t work, and extracting my fingers from letter boxes that must have been designed by sadists, I headed towards my last few deliveries. Every householder should be forced to try putting a Saturday edition of a national newspaper through their own letter box, after holding their hand in the freezer compartment of their fridge for twenty minutes, so that they understand the plight of paperboys and girls, and postal workers.
I finally realised that all of my self respect had vanished when I arrived at a road junction to be met by two other dads looking equally embarrassed. One of them seemed to have the edge as he was doing the work from the relative comfort of his car, but it was obvious from the bright yellow glare of his satchel that he too had lost the argument. The other one was on his ten-gear mountain bike looking for all the world like he was doing a spot of exercise. Although he tried he could not hide the extra weight he carried in his unsociably orange bag.
I knew what was going through their minds as we passed each other with the faintest of nods; firstly, they were thankful that they had spotted someone who looked even more ridiculous than them, namely me. Secondly, they pleaded through tired eyes that we should never speak of this incident again. The fact that I am writing this now constitutes a breaking of trust between male parents that will probably see me barred from snooker halls, pubs and curry houses the length and breadth of Britain.
I returned home with my manhood affected; both emotionally and physically given the bike’s uncomfortable seat. I sat down with my toast and morning drink to find that OUR newspaper hadn’t been delivered because another local child had rung in sick and their dad had had enough courage to stay in bed.
Have you noticed how footballers promise to give 110% commitment to their next, most important, game? Surely if you have the capacity to give an extra 10% then your original 'one hundred' is miscalculated. I am not sure what prompted this need for inflation in measurements but it seems to be catching. I asked daughter number two how good a movie was that she had just finished watching. Enthused with positivism she said that she would give it eleven out of ten. She confused matters further by remarking that it would have been given a twelve but the ending was poor. So what is happening to our communal method of rating? It seems that ten out of ten is no longer adequate in conveying a positive message. So it is with our food; long the bastion of confusion with its 'no added sugar' easily mistaken for 'sugar free'. We now have a full range of information available on the packaging of most produce on our supermarket shelves. I am comforted to know that I can take my whole week’s salt allowance in one bite of burger and that lemon sorbet can be included in my five fruit and veg requirement. Not all of these changes are as simple to understand as in the days of yore (by which I mean the sixties and seventies, where my mind has painted a picture of an idyllic existence). Back then you knew the type of milk you were buying by the colour of the top: Gold being the choicest on offer to wash down your Saturday afternoon wagon wheel. With Silver top and Red Top, came the Red/Silver of semi-skimmed and the white-water of Blue/Silver skimmed. In those days the choice was not made on the basis of health but on how well it tasted on your cornflakes or how little it curdled in your tea. There was one other variety on offer that I believe to be straight from the cows of Hades; namely Sterilised, known simply as 'Stera'. This was offered to meet the dairy needs of families without fridges and had a taste that grannies and old aunts loved. I remember as a small child returning home from a school friend’s house having tasted their home made Vimto milkshake. Determined to replicate this delicacy I pulled the slender bottle of evil from the end cupboard and mixed the appropriate amounts in a Tupperware jug. The milk and cordial were not for joining and I was left with a liquid that looked like it had been drunk once already. It seems that Stera had a special quality of only being able to mix with hot water and tea leaves. I have been a confirmed pasteurised drinker ever since but I confess that I have tried to lay off the Gold top in recent years hoping that my already clotted arteries might eventually work them selves clear. I have heard it said that the old milk 'coloured top' system is used by some females as a scoring system for rating potential male companions; Gold Top being the best men available, whilst Blue/Silver represents someone who looks like the real thing but has no substance. I am not sure what a Stera man would look like. I asked my wife how she would rate me using dairy products and she said I would be freshly produced cheddar because eventually she hoped I would mature. Not sure she gets the idea on this one. I still think the 'marks out of ten' system is the easiest to understand and should be used in all areas. Food could therefore be labelled as 3 out of 10 for health and 9 out of 10 in terms of taste. Footballers could be encouraged to reinterpret their 'over the moon-ness' as ten out of ten, and my wife could console me with a ten for cooking to make up for the three I would get for remembering really important things. The good news is that my wife has just confirmed that she sees me as a Gold Top in ‘most’ areas; it’s a good job that she is not lactose intolerant.