Friday, 19 March 2021

Lockdown 3.0 - when I learn I am officially both "Fat and Stupid", make some poor "hair" decisions and Pika-Chutato is Born!

 "Hey guys...I have some exciting news!" I say over dinner.  

I have cooked us some full meat mince and some pretend mince (Quorn) to see if they spot the difference and wedged them into taco's with fresh guacamole, a home-made salsa and some tabasco on the side.

"Or do you?" says Caitlin. 

"In actual fact - for once - I do!" I say whole heartedly. "For I have received a call from the Doctors and..."

"You're going to die?" says Caitlin.


"You're stupid?" she says.

"No - your Dad is going to get his covid jab on Monday!" I feel quite emotional.  You see the little chart on the tv and Bojo Gummidge or his minion Matt Hand-cock-n'balls-it-up telling us the jab will save us.  But you don't believe it will ever amount to anything other than a pretty little line on an excel chart in Downing street.  But no!  It's actually happening to me - now!  So this is good news.

"But dad," - says Fintan. "I thought they were only doing band 6 now and the over 70s?"

"Yeah - you are younger than mum. So why are you getting it before her?" says Declan, weighing in.

This is a great point and one I like to make very often - at least each Sunday before dinner when Frank Sinatra sings "You make me feel so young...because you are so old and dumb..." (Note - this is only because "Young" scans so well with "dumb" - Sarah is not dumb, except for the bit where she married me!).

"Well apparently kids.  I am in group 6 - I asked if it was a mistake but apparently it is not."

We google the list of reasons for being in group 6 and read them out:

"Have you ever had an organ transplant dad?" they ask.

"Nope - just the brain...nothing important..."

"A neurological condition? Arthritis? Lupus? Dementia..."

"a BMI above 40?...mentally ill....chest complaint?"

"Hmmmm...." I say and we calculate that I would need to weigh about 30 stone to hit that sort of BMI.

"So dad...we think it's cos you are fat and stupid...that's why you are getting it..." and Caitlin and the boys burst into hysterics.

I call a friend who is in the NHS and she explains there is a fancy algorithm identifying fat stupid middle aged dads through-out the country for just this occasion.  But I should take it, as cleverer people than me (basically two years olds plus) have spent alot of time on it.  I agree.

I have the jab and feel mildly euphoric afterwards in the Church car park.  I am being jabbed in St.Colomba's church hall where our children have had leaving parties for the end of their time at St Werburgh's and Christmas parties and disco's.  Opposite is the church where I've sat numb-bummed and singing along to nativities and celebrations.  It feels totally surreal seeing a masked up army of volunteers leading us through our Jab process.  We head in one door and come out via the fire exit - reborn and jabbed up.

Later I feel like total shit.  About 12 hours later in the dead of night, I am shaking and feverish and my head is banging.  I wake up the next day feeling like I drank twenty tequila slammers and lost a bar fight with Tyson Fury.  This is like the worst case of man flu ever.  I moan a bit and take a tonne of pain killers.  Luckily no-one really lets me operate a plane or a JCB, so I can ride it out behind my PC.  

I am better after 36 hours but milk it for as long as humanly possible.  My manly moans gain no traction with anyone in the family.  I am gutted. 

Earlier in the lockdown - the darkness is really starting to piss me off.  Lockdown with sunshine is one thing.  Lockdown in the freezing bloody cold and total darkness most of the time is a total pain in the arse.  I don't think Caitlin felt actual sunshine on her skin for about a month.  We all have a serious case of sun and fun deficiency! This is what it must be like to get stranded in pack ice on a ship on an Arctic voyage.  With no hope of rescue. Forever. Combined with homeschooling and 5 of us on the internet trying to make work calls, log in to live maths lessons, biology lessons etc - it has its challenges.  And when Captain Tom died - well that was just double shit. 

The family pass like ships in the night.  We leave our various dens once in a while for tea, coke, Jaffa cakes, pickled gherkins and beetroots (I recently had what can only be confused with pregnancy pangs for these food items during lockdown) to return once more to our workplace.  Tied to the bloody laptops.

Caitlin can at least jump up and down on the couch during her school day and employs this as a useful learning technique. 

The highlights are:

1. The night it snowed and we all went lockdown crazy, ran outside, kids in PJs and coats and had a massive snowball fight.  Obviously a socially distanced snowball fight involving no one at all except ourselves who live in a street like Diagon Alley in Harry Potter.  We were basically cloaked from all the usual muggles who never noticed the massive snowball fight outside. Guvner.  I believe a police force somewhere in the midlands actually tweeted a warning for throwing snowballs.  Snowballs! The only snowball that should be banned are the ones containing advocaat and gin.

2. Midway through February, my hair reaches "Peak Big" and goes beyond all hair tolerance limits that have been set for my thatch.  It is at this point that Sarah calms her nerves with a large glass of red and begins to attack the Einstein thatch.  I quickly become impatient and take over and totally ignore whatever Sarah is telling me.  I head to the mirror and begin to use the clippers myself.  

"Jesus - are you sure about this setting?" I ask as big lumps of my hair shred off onto the bathroom floor. 

"Did you not listen at all Tom! I remove the guard - it's on the default setting - one!" she shouts over to me. 

"Oh crap," I say, realising that I have done a Shaun the Sheep on one section of my head.  It does look somewhat bald. 

"Why didn't you tell me?!" I shout from the bathroom.  Shout communication is a highly recommended form of family communication. 

"I did you idiot!" she says. 

"Ooops....well - no-ones gonna see me so what does it matter?" I conclude and continue with the clipper settings moved up a notch.  It's quite difficult clippering in a mirror.  I struggle a fair bit and decide to leave a "fuller" aspect to my upper head area (these are very technical hairdressy terms - I will explain down the pub in real life at some point).  So now I have lost my 1980s Bon Jovi Mega Mullet and gained a bouffant blob.  Niiiiice.

3. My worst Covid habit:  I begin to wake the kids up each morning for their remote school lessons by calling their mobile phones.  Actual shouting does not work on kids.  They are immune to the voice pitch of all parents. However, they can be fooled by using an app or mobile technology.  Haaa - who's the fool now?!?! I still try an old school "Ahhh Zawinga" Lion King intro once in a while as I fling open the curtains...but my heart's just not in it!

4. We did go to the shops and pick up some sunflower seeds in March - so my main highlight has been watering the random seeds with Caitlin and wondering what the hell will grow in the summer.  I'll keep you posted - Life is pretty crazy in lockdown.  

5.  I also buy some Calor gas and feel like a proper dad when the guy hands me the actual keys to the Calor Gas Lock-up.  For a brief minute I take on board the unique responsibility placed in my hands.  Take out a new Calor gas bottle and add my own old one (by the way - there is a total shortage of gas bottles right now).  Then re-padlock the locker and return the key to the shop. If this was a zombie apocalypse would I have been so civil? Would he have been so trusting?  I try to explain this hypothetical conundrum to Caitlin but she is more interested in the pack of fruit pastilles I got her. 

6. We painted a potato to look like Pikacchu for World Book Day.  Is this a low or a high point or have we just embraced this new Covid reality?  Either way - Pikapotato hasn't spread any arms yet or rotted at all.  He's still chilling happily on the table tennis table waiting for a game I think...

Monday, 18 January 2021

Tee-Pee outdoor booze-up, Boba Fett Christmas Day Wasssupppp and the Dangers of "Covid Foot"

 Wow.  On a scale of 1 to a million  - 2020 sucked a full million.  Luckily I am sure we can rely on 2021 to kick Covid's butt and bring us back into the light.  I mean - how bad could it get?  Literally - if Aliens landed on the Whitehouse Lawn it wouldn't surprise me. Or anyone these days. 

As I write this - Trump has been impeached once more for being a complete tool.  Not sure his end game?  Total Civil War?  Zombie Armageddon?  Again - it wouldn't be overly odd if he peeled back his mottled orange skin to reveal some sort of giant semi-sentient turd beneath. This might explain alot. 

In the meantime - we have a man with the looks and intelligence of Wurzel Gummidge on a bad day in charge of the worst pandemic crisis since the Spanish Flu.  He probably means well - but you get the impression that Eton only gave him the life skills to slap other naked men on the bum with a well-aimed towel-flick after a game of rugger, to sire random kids with whichever poor cow of a woman seems to be in sniffing distance of him at the key moment when he is feeling randy and to scare small murmerations of starlings and a few ageing crows out of a recently planted arable field.  

So - on the basis that we are totally screwed  What good has happened recently? Here's my photo summary of the last few months:

1.  Boba Fett called me up on Christmas Day really pissed and we had a good chat.

2. We chased a dodgy Santa down the road in the back of a white van and danced to Last Christmas on his Santa Sound System without being legitimately Whammed - cos it was still November.  It was ace.  Cheered us all up. 

3. We had a mega table tennis Christmas disco-athon.

4. I hung out with a JCB but couldn't work out how to hotwire it. 

5. I met my workmates in a giant beer Tee-Pee (not to be confused with a giant She-Pee).  It had a massive fire in the middle but no one was dressed as Hiawatha.

6. We ate 12 donuts and met a glowing painted dog at the zoo

7. We hung out with John Lennon at the cavern - and were the only crowd there.

8. We didn't die.

Well - we paid a Christmas visit to the zoo and hung out with the lemurs.  They really are quite cool to see up close in their actual enclosure as you walk about amongst them.  We got to see the Chester Zoo lanterns at dusk.  Which, when you can't get a ticket, counts as a stroke of genius.  Pick a dull wintry day at the zoo, loiter in the bar drinking hot chocolate and then slowly wander past the glowing animals and attractions as you leave.  Certainly fooled Caitlin - who was absolutely delighted with it. 

As per the entire nation - apart from all the ones who totally ignored the government advice and are probably dead by now - we didn't see our loved ones.  Instead, even though it tore at our hearts, we had multiple zoom and Facetimes with relatives cocooned against Covid in their homes.  So much for Boris and his "Jolly" Christmas.  What a total incompetent buffoon. Complete Moomin.  We did get to see some friends at a socially accepted bucks fizz sipping distance, which was cool.

It is the first year that we were unable to eat all the cheese, pate and chocolates we had stocked up.  I think I went into auto-pilot and continued to buy as if Christmas was going ahead as normal. Despite actual reality.  For a start, I had bought a 14 person Turkey.  Which was ambitious when it only had to feed 2 adults and 3 kids. 

This may explain why I currently feel and look like a cave bear just prior to entering a particularly harsh hibernation during the last Ice age.  I've literally stocked up with enough reserves to keep me in a state of Torpor for at least 9 months judging by my pre-hibernation weight.  My hair is now well into full cave-man look.  I have once more lost sight of my ears and no longer worry about looking like a tramp because everyone else I meet looks exactly the same.  Scientists have recently revealed that primitive man may actually have survived deadly winters by adopting exactly the same method as me.  So I am only following my natural captain caveman instincts! 

Before  Christmas, the canal trust came along and pointed at trees and looked very wise and then prepped the land adjoining our garden with about a tonne of gravel.  In preparation for re-laying the cycle path along the canal.  This has made for some comedy moments of a morning.  It is not often that you trundle downstairs to work (approximately 17 steps from bed to study).  Stagger 9 steps into the kitchen to boil the kettle and stare up to see two random blokes in hi-vis and hard hats driving JCBs and massive ten tonne travel trucks past your kitchen window.  Daisy is literally having a sh*t fit barking herself into some sort of crazed excitement every time a JCB goes by.  It's bad enough when she sees a squirrel or God-forbid - a magpie.  This is even worse.  

When they leave - we inspect the set-up.  There is a canal boat with its very own crane and a mini-JCB in it.  There are two other JCB diggers and a portacabin.  I am so excited.  This is surely my chance to recreate that scene in the Jizlopi video, hotwire one of these yellow bad boys and steam down the street with the kids as I sing "I'm Tom and I'm 45 - my Dad's Bruce Lee - and I've just stolen a JCB!"  But it all looks very complicated to drive these I settle for a JCB selfie instead (look - you must remember - we had just been in a November lockdown so you had to take your entertainment where you get it). 

Early in December - we find ourselves donning masks and heading for Liverpool so the kids can have their Piano Grading.  Of all the places we wanted to visit - Covid Scouse central in the middle of a pandemic was probably not one of them.  I love the city, but not when it is totally plague ridden!  But - I'd be blowed if we'd miss out  - we'd already paid for the exam in advance. 

So it was slightly surreal as we wandered past droves of newly released Christmas shoppers queuing (I kid you not) to get into Primark.  If only all those kids in Bangladesh working for one pence per day knew how their efforts were not in vain! Christmas be damned! 

We somehow found the Quaker Meeting house but I was pretty disappointed not to meet the bloke from the Quaker Oats box at the front door.  To pile on the pain - the building was modern and very fancy.  I had been hoping for a couple of puritans sitting on an upright turnip and quoting bits of bible.  Instead, I listened to the kids play some beautiful pieces on a grand piano whilst I read up all about the Quakers in Liverpool.  Bloody hell - they had a tough time - generally getting arrested or beaten up and totally killed for ages.  

After that - we pegged it over to Formby so Fintan could play his Badgers Hockey match for Chester.  We had intended to check out the red squirrels nearby but it was so damned cold - we mainly decided to freeze to death by the pitchside instead (well -me and Declan did whilst Caitlin and Sarah fell asleep in the nice cosy car!). 

Which leads us to today. January - apparently this is the day we're all most likely to top ourselves.  The Monday of doom.  All I know is that I am genuinely worried that Caitlin has forgotten what the outside looks like in lockdown 3.0.  And I am beyond sick of homeschooling and work combined.  I hated long division the first time - let alone the second!

I also know that as I lay beneath my computer desk today - waving the printer plug up through the gap - I nearly became a member of the castrati. 

"Sarah - can you grab the black plug - the black plug when you see it!" I tell her.  My head up against the top of the desk from below. 

"Have you got it?" I ask and wave my arm above my head and above the desk...grabbing not the desk - but in my youthful yet total innocence, my wife's buttocks.  

Instead of a kind hearted reciprocation or a loving "Ahhh Tom - you are so misguided but wonderful...," - she "accidentally" stood on my nuts.  I wonder if this is a new symptom of Sarah's post-covid recovery.  "Covid Foot".   If so - this is a very worrying development for me and all married men.  We are vulnerable...extremely. It must be! Definitely...maybe. 

Monday, 2 November 2020

What to do if your loved one gets Covid - and other top Dad tips...

 "Look Sarah, I don't want you to panic.  I want you to stay calm when we get the result - whatever it says."

I am pacing up and down the bedroom whilst Sarah struggles to get her breath and is gasping on the bed. 

Secretly I am thinking that she might just have this Covid thing after all.  I mean, she has been wiped out in bed for days and days now.  I point out she is lucky that I decided we really needed a tv bed in lockdown but she is too sick to throw anything at me.  Not even a tea cup.  I know this must be pretty serious then. 

I'm hoping she'll get the all clear and me and the kids can head off to hockey.  But the clock is ticking.  It's been 72 hours (so much for Boris' world bloody class test and trace system in under 24 hours!)  

We call the NHS track and trace number and speak to a really chilled out caring Scottish lady, who unfortunately can't give us any update whatsoever.  However, by a fluke of the known laws of the universe (which also govern buses travelling in packs of three and computers always appearing to be fixed the moment you actually get an IT guy to come and fix them) - an email pings through on Sarah's phone. 

We hang up and because Sarah is a). Totally sick and b) can't find her glasses. I grab the phone and manically scroll down. In my head, I repeat the mantra in a Dad's army Clive Dunn staccato voice "Don't panic! Don't panic!"

I need to keep the patient calm and not worry her.  Show no fear. 

I read the message.  "Shit Sarah. Shit.  You've got it..." I yelp.  Dang. I had hoped for a casual Sean Connery like air of calm.  Epic fail. 

I give Sarah a hug and head downstairs to update the kids. 

"Declan. I don't want you to worry.  But mummy has Covid.  But she's going to be ok." I say as solemnly but upbeat as I can.  This is a difficult act to pull off with my limited range. 

Declan looks me square in the face with fear in his eyes.  "But she kissed me! On the LIPS!"

Declan has now consigned himself to certain death or a fate worse than that. 

I give Fintan the bad news.  He actually takes his ear phones out to concentrate (which is appreciated) and then goes and checks on Sarah.

Caitlin is sitting on the couch watching minecraft - dogworld on You-tube, whilst simultaneously building a minecraft "Dalmation station" on her Nintendo.  This appears to be a mind-numbingly dull exercise.  But given the situation - I don't push it. 

"So Caitlin...Mummy is ok...but she has that bug," I say. 

She stops building her Dog palace and looks at me.  I am not sure whether she is going to burst into tears or what. 

"Does that mean we don't have to go to school or do any work and stay at home?" She asks hopefully.

"Yes.  It's back to Daddy homeschooling again!"  

Caitlin climbs up on to the top of the couch and leaps back down onto it. Face planting straight into the cushions.  She then proceeds to do the 80's dance "The Worm" for the next five minutes before then opting to run up and down repeatedly shouting "Wahoooo!".

"Bloody hell Caitlin - I can only imagine how happy you'll be if both your parents get it!"

We do our "Covid Time" and come out of our isolation after 14 plus days.  On my first foray outside walking the dog, I swear they have repainted all the lines on the road.  The markings are soo so bright.  I realise that most people would be more taken by the trees and the wildlife...but no - it's the tarmac that most amazes me. Which is a worry.  

We have a cracking weekend.  Spotting a Kingfisher on our canal again and I get to play a game of hockey at last.  The crowning moment of the weekend being able to play with Fintan and Declan on the same team as me as we huff and puff around the pitch and have a whale of a time. 

Later, we carve our pumpkins.  My god, their innards are disgusting.  It felt like slopping out a giant babies nappy full of liquid mulch - with the consistency of baby shit. Horrific.  How have I managed to avoid this for my entire life?   I carve the pumpkin that a 3 year old might carve and feel that this is at the height of my artistic prowess.  Even Bob Ross would disown me.  And that dude loves everything, he is so chilled (but possibly very dead by now).

I dress up as a Vampire, Caitlin becomes "Toothless" the Nightfury dragon from How to Train your Dragon. And I stick a witches hat on Sarah (although some might say - I stick Sarah's hat on her).  I'll pay for that later. 

Caitlin races up and down the road.  Swooping back and forth and shaking her tail and wings. Every time we see a house with decorations, we put sweets that we brought with us into her plastic pumpkin bucket. This is a very strange Covid Halloween indeed. 

On the way back down the road, I realise that we need more coconut milk for our Indonesian curry as the last tin of milk was so out of date that when I opened it up it came out in a big lolloping solid splat of rancid curdled coconut milk (I was intrigued whether the use by date actually meant use by...and the answer is - it Does!).  So  - not being a total moomin - I hand my black and red vampire cape to Sarah and Caitlin and head off to Aldi. 

I wander round Aldi and cannot find the bloody coconut tins anywhere.  In the end, I ask an Aldi worker who is stacking shelves. 

"Scuse me mate...where is the coconut milk?" 

He looks at me like there is something strange about me. And then points at the enormous crate of Coconut Milk tins next to him - stacked four foot high. This is rather embarrassing.  I worry he might think I fancy him or am lonely but decide to move on and grab 2 random cans.  Later, I realise his odd looks and the strange way the three girls outside stared at me and the way the check-out dude looked at me was probably more down to the red and pink blusher covering my eyes and face. I had forgotten the vampire make-up Sarah had applied.  I wonder if they thought I had fangs beneath my face mask too?

Monday, 19 October 2020

Release the inner cheese poet!!!! Exorcism complete...

Ok...I've gone full poet...and wrote this. Its got more cheesey sentiment than Beaches.  But here it is anyway.  I might also post me reading it out loud but I only read poetry when I am drunk or on holiday (the two are usually combined). So it could be a while.

Covid Wishes

These are the things I’d like to do – probably just the same as you

I’d like to hug friends once more

Instead of chatting 2 metres at the door

I’d like to kiss a friend on both cheeks

I haven’t done either for thirty weeks

I’d like to hear a group singing and dancing together

I haven’t seen that since it seems like forever

I’d like to see my mum, my dad

See what kinda Covid they’ve had

I’d like to see my sister in the Disunited states

Where Black Lives no longer mattered

And cops sealed their fates

I’d like to see a new city

Across a sea

To hear new words

To feel abundantly free

I want to climb a mountain if I like

Race down it on a mountain bike

I want to laugh in a theatre

Stand and Ovate?

I want the crush of the football crowd

The surge when we score

The bottle of beers flying

Across heads…and the roar!

The glorious wild screaming when the sport is won

The wonder of life of what can be done

I want to see the sun from a never seen shore

Cram it all in before

There is no more and my body is done

I’m not ready for Covid life on Hold

There’s so much more that has to be told…



Monday, 13 July 2020

The Tree kangaroo of enormous virility and the smell that nearly killed us

"So the conservatory roof needs a bit of a clean and the gutters," I say wisely to my dad.  From the levels of moss growing on it - it looks more like Bilbo Baggins' holiday home.

We have been busy chopping back trees and doing odd jobs ever since he arrived.  Jobs have been building up over this lockdown!

"You know there's a dead magpie on your conservatory roof," dad says.

I look out of Fintan's window.  So there is.   This is karma you black and white winged devil bastards!  Karma!  Sitting outside my window 4am every morning! Eating grubs off my roof!

I know the incident.  It was Thursday morning and there was an awful squawking match going on outside.  I assumed it was some young upstart crow (literally) gate-crashing their territory.  But I'd never heard screams like this.  Either way.  It has been peaceable ever since.  And now the reason is clear.  The young pretender is dead.

Sarah comes up to inspect the situation.

"You'll need a broom or something.  Bring it in the window..." and she wanders off.  Dead birds, dog shit on buggy wheels. Why do dad's always get these jobs?

I opt for a "gravity assisted magpie removal" operation and grab a big massive stick from the garden (I keep big massive sticks for these sorts of purposes).  A few are propping up Caitlin's impromptu indoor tent camp.

I stretch out the window and get a good launch angle beneath its body and flick.  For the final time, the magpie launches briefly into the air before landing in the gutter.  Up the ladder I go - and a few minutes later.  Job done.

In between these events - we enjoy walks with the dogs to the river and watch the sail boats back on the water at last. We walk through Christleton fields and seeing as it was the great July 4th Covid beer independence day.  We chanced our arm at the Ring of Bells.

We're the only people there (well - it is still very early on).  The kids run around the playground and we sup on our first cold pints.  It feels good.

Later in the week, cricket is back on the Friday night.  We're only allowed 8 in the nets - but it's great.  I decide it is best to coach the under 11 team tactically from 400 yards away at the bar.  This sort of high-level coaching is sure to be adopted by the ECB any day now.  I am quite put-out that neither Cook nor Stokes has given me a call for tips against the Windies.  We meet up with friends and it feels amazing to see them all again.  Even if we can't hug.

The sun is shining, the kids finish off the day with pizza, burgers and a tonne of ice cream and run 'til they drop on the fields.  Kicking a ball 'til their chests ache and their legs don't work.  I feel the same - but suspect this is probably just a minor legacy of these past few months of covid - or an imminent heart attack.

My mullet and 1870's sideburns are finally attacked by the barbers.  The place is pretty cool, with Breaking Bad movie posters and retro Star Wars nods.  But I know I'm getting old when the conversation moves into unchartered territory.

"Eyebrows sir?" he asks.

"Yes.  My eyebrows?"  I am scared now.  What is happening?  Is this a statement or a suggestion?

"Shall I shave them too?" he suggests - clippers in hand.

Now - I have been sporting the Liam Gallagher monobrow for many decades now.  So it's too late for me.  But what did he have in mind?  A couple of funky indents?  I may never know, unless I pluck up the courage next time.  First time I've worn a mask whilst getting a haircut (apart from the gimp mask at that party one time...).  I am well chuffed with my haircut though.  I am sleek and thinner and at least twenty years younger (Christ - the mirrors are great in the barbers these days!).

The kids have an outdoor jamming session with their mates on Saturday.  Their new song "Ventilator Escalator" is actually pretty decent.  I am well impressed.  A solid riff and topical lyrics.  I am still holding out on being their band manager but suspect I am gonna end up as a roadie. And not even the chief roadie.

Yesterday we head to the zoo and see Sarah and Chris and the kids there.  It's ace to see them.  We have a picnic in the Chinese Garden area near the Cedar Tree (does anyone remember that Cedar Tree tv soap from the 80s? - I loved that tree in the opening credits and always make a beeline for them wherever possible).

We wander over towards the Tree Kangaroo's.  They look pretty cute and cuddly up in the tree.  Big bulging eyes and all.

I point one of them out to Caitlin.

"Look!  Look Caitlin.  That one has babies in its pouch.  Look two of them," I proclaim sagely.

The babies are pretty big.  Huddled up there right up between its legs and chest.  "Ahhhh..."I say.  "So cute," I think.  I tell all the kids and point it out to Chris and the Sarah's.

"Shut up you eejit," says Sarah.


"Is that her babies?" I ask the Zoo keeper who is ensuring we stay 2 metres apart and don't slobber all over the glass.

"No sir.  That kangaroo is a male..." he says.  Trying to keep a straight face.

"Wow!  That has gotta hurt.  That is not normal!" I say.

I wondered why the babies had no discernable features, such as eyes or legs or feet. It had cojones the size of bowling balls.  I swear! Totally out of proportion to the rest of it's body mass. An easy mistake to make.

After some more marsupial ball admiration, we moved on.  Although embarrassment can follow you for a bad smell. 

Which brings me to Sunday night.  We listen to Frank - "You make me feel so young" is playing as I carve up the chicken.  All is great in the world... except for that weird smell from the kitchen.

"Tom - do you smell it?" Sarah says. 

"Oh God yeah.  What is that smell?  Has the dog killed something?"

"There must be something rotting under the sink maybe?"

We then do what any exhausted parent would do and shut the kitchen door and forget about it...until today.

6am - I am awake.  It's light outside, but something evil has awakened my slumbering senses.

I open the kitchen door.  Daisy bounds out - happy as only a simple, possibly inbred canine can be.

The smell is horrific.  Declan wakes soon after.

"It smells like dead cat," literally. I last smelt that smell when our cat Juliet died under the floorboards in Beckenham.  She never did find Romeo.

"I'm gonna puke," I think to myself. 

Declan opens his bedroom door and points at the floor.  "It's there!  The smell!  It's there!!!" and he points at specific points like he is some sort of human smell locator.

Fintan leaves his room with a t-shirt around his mouth.  I kid you not.  This was a level 5 bio hazard incident. I consider calling Porton Down.

I open my mouth like a guppy fish and mouth breath (yep - I'm officially a mouth-breather) and enter the warzone. 

This is when I notice the "Vegetable soup" that Sarah started making last night and a light-bulb moment hits me like a rotting kipper.

"My god.  It's Sarah's vegetable soup in the slow cooker!" I remember her fatal last soup-related words.

"I'll just add some parsnips to the soup..."  And there you have it.  The odor of ammonia cat death mixed with acrid burnt rubber - all in one. Or as we all know it - "Mum's home made soup".  Now I also know where that bloody dead magpie ended up.

I do the only sensible thing and grab a can of Lynx Africa and begin fumigating the house, the way they fumigate the plane when you land in Dengue fever territory. 

"You can't cover a smell with a smell!" she will remind me.  But even she knows that sometimes you gotta do something or we'd all be dead by lunchtime.

I bin the whole sloppy dead mass outside and fear for the lives of those poor sweet blueflies.

We eat breakfast in the living room whilst I watch Match of the day 2 and What we do in the Shadows.  A dose of Vampire and footie always cheers me up of the morning.  And then I take Declan to school.  I am glad of the fresh air...

Monday, 29 June 2020

The daring rescue of Mr Nibbles and the curious development of Elf ears

So. It's day whatever.  My hair is so big I can no longer see my ears.  I could be an elf for all I know. On the plus side, I am seriously looking forward to my haircut on July 10th.  I will lose at least 3 pounds in weight by my reckoning.  My hair is so massive, I look like a fat dumb version of Einstein. That said - once I get it cut, I shall still be fat and dumb - but no Einstein lookey-likey.  Caitlin on the other hand - gets a Covidcut...

The highlight of the past few weeks has been a socially distanced trip to the cricket nets - once the government deemed this was ok.  This at least allowed the boys to throw / bowl small projectiles at each other until they inevitably gave up to kick a football at each other instead.

Meanwhile, hidden away in a small bush nearby, a small triumvirate gathered 2 metres exactly apart and partook in some home brewed beer tasting.  My good friend is still experimenting with his kits and bottling process, but so far the results have been impressive.  I am thinking that we could possibly start a moonshine operation and smuggle these beers over the border into darkest Wales.

After a few...I regaled the lads with stories of my dad's own brew and wine - some dating back to the fabled golden years of 1977.   Or the carrot whisky, Pete's Grandad at uni would make for us.  This was essentially paint stripper mixed with essence of carrot and left to ferment for many months. 

The last 6 weeks seem to be a gradual decline into groundhog day total dullness.  It's like slowly sinking in the most boring quicksand ever.  This is what it must be like when a spider sucks you to death from the inside out over a period of months. Or what its like to find yourself becalmed in the Pacific Ocean with only a few tac biscuits left and Captain Ahab has just eaten the last Galapagos Tortoise for dinner. (Apparently they were the ideal mobile dinner for those long painful whaling journey's into the great beyond).

There have been brief highlights. Lanterns of flickering light in the covid storm.

The fence was nearly taken in an unusually breezy early May.  So there was some improvised chainsawing to save the garden wall and fence.  We managed to fill the entire garden with tree.  And I managed to chainsaw my metal stepladder a little too vigorously.  But we now have enough firewood to survive the upcoming winter apocalypse.

More recently, Caitlin noticed a small brown creature loitering around our outdoor drain at a less than 2 metre distance to ourselves.  The little blighter seemed totally oblivious to all the various hazards in our household.  This ranged from Fintan and Declan bouncing a critter busting basketball near it's head, the bastard magpie's overhead and the silent ninja cat death that lurks behind every garden fence.  In the end, it was dozy dung for brains daisy who decided to investigate and gave it a test "pat" with its front paw.  Well - that's pretty much like Mike Tyson punching a small child.   So things were not looking good for "Mr Nibbles" (Caitlin named him).

The next few hours involved no less than 2 calls to the local animal rescue service and the creation of a mobile "Mr Nibbles" paramedic field centre made from an old shoe box and filled with newspaper. I grabbed some sunflower seeds and porridge oats and we commenced "Operation Save Mr Nibbles from certain death."

"I think he is in a torpor," I told Caitlin knowledgeably - having just googled it.

"By the way Sarah - if this is a vole - it is officially vermin. are we now harboring vermin?" Although I would rather harbor vermin than a rogue Dominic Cummings (what a twat).

"Oh My god, he's eaten all the carrot, and the banana, and the oats, and the seeds, and the water."  Literally, this thing was about twice the size hours later.

"Into the secret garden kids!" I declare.  The secret garden isn't really that secret, it's the bit by the canal.  But it always sounded better when they were younger.

I turn the shoebox on its side and shoosh the little rodent out and on it's way.  He seemed pretty chilled and scurried off into the undergrowth. God bless you Mr Nibbles.

Since then, we've mainly survived on pool tournaments and dreaming of what restaurant we will go to when the world re-opens. I have a new found contempt for shit broadband. The bane of home schooling and working from home. The nation has reached peak Zoom and fallen off a zoom quiz precipice, no-one sends funny memes any more cos life isn't quite as novel and funny any more and motivation levels have reached levels that would embarrass a sloth.  (Apparently the sloth at Chester zoo once fell into the turtle aquarium in the land of the jaguar exhibit.  I cannot confirm if this is just some anti-sloth campaigning going on - but I hope it is true.  Dang they is lazeeee!)

We have met friends and shot hoops at the basketball courts nearby and found frisbee to be an excellent and well suited socially distanced sport between friends.

Declan has at last started back at school (the other two suffer at home with our homeschooling attempts).  Declan seems well happy to see his friends once more and their comedy haircuts and colours (there are greens and purples and all sorts of Covid surprises lurking upon their return).

I took Fintan up the travellator in Waitrose to pick up my new laptop, just so he could go inside a supermarket.  Never has the mundane seemed so exciting.  He dined out on that story for days. 

"What was it like Fintan?" asked Declan.

"Alright I guess,"

"You wanna play fortnite?"



"Have you seen those new skins...they're sick..."

Tuesday, 5 May 2020

Hug a tree, drink from the damned gravy boat and grow a mullet

Phrases I never thought I'd say until Lockdown:

"I think I have a mullet"

"I'm too hung-over to risk the chainsaw today... or this week"

"I've started drinking from the Gravy Boat - and I don't care who see's me!"

"I miss licking the whisk...I really missed that"

"Caitlin come quick - your friend is a canoe!"

"Pass me the feather duster"

"What the hell is an integer?"

"What's Kaboodle?"

"MyMaths is shit"

"If you're going to rollerskate in the house - you need to wear a bike helmet"

"Daisy - stop licking my feet!"

"Are you still eating roadkill then Paddy?"

"What does Squirrel taste like?"

"No...I don't know the name of the bar in Deep Space 9"

"You are sooo Joe Exotic"

So - apart from the general collapse of the world economy and all our jobs being on their arses.  This has been a good time for birds (well - except for chickens. Chickens always get a raw deal. Specially on a Sunday in our house).

 So far, I've been leaving bird seed and some out of date porridge oats outside for 7 weeks now.  They're not big fans of the oats, but the rest is going down a hoot.  I've taken my bird feeding to a second level and have invested in a massive bag of "Fat Balls" which is apparently like crystal meth for our avian friends.  My next step is to buy a heavy duty catapult so I can see off the magpies on a permanent basis.  They are no friend to any other bird.  My life literally consists of working in my small office and staring out the window at - you guessed it - the birds.  Sometimes a delivery man arrives.  At least this provides the dog with a purpose.

Last week - we had crap sleep.  Three in the morning. The dog somehow breaks out the kitchen (I suspect she has retractable opposable thumbs) and is going batshit crazy.  Barking and howling at the front door.

I am too tired to pick up any weaponry and instead stumble down the stairs to confront any attacker. I turn on the outdoor light and spot a fat smug-looking fox sitting by our car.
Daisy - get in your basket! I order her.  She carries on barking.

The next night.  About 2 in the morning.  "Wooooo wooooooo wooooo!!!"

Full volume fire alarm is going mental in the kitchen.  Daisy appears totally unphased (I suspect she has moulded some carrots into rudimentary ear plugs and is sleeping through the whole kerfuffle).

It takes me a few minutes to unscrew the alarm from the wall and rip out the battery.  There is no fire.  But there is a faulty alarm. This makes me mad.  It never went off on the previous seven hundred occasions that I genuinely burnt the toast or set fire to the grill with the extra fatty bacon in it.  It just bided it's time and waited...waited hundreds of days, thousands of minutes to strike.  What a bastard.

I binned him the next morning (despite the warranty still being valid I might add!).

I can tell this lockdown is getting to me.  I'm lowering my standards - and they were excessively low in the first place.  I mean - I've eaten pizza that has already been put in the bin.  I've reheated Chinese take-away 4 days later and thought nothing of it.

However, I've always drawn the line at drinking from the gravy boat. There is something sacred and sacrosanct about the Sunday dinner.  We still lay out the placemats which great grandad gave to me many years past (maritime themed pictures of epic naval battles).  The image of HMS Victory is the most prized placemat.  Although I have a secret fondness for the Temeraire - The Fighting Temeraire no less.

Anyway, we've enjoyed the Roast Beef, roasties cooked to perfection and the tenderstem broccoli.  We've saved the near tragedy that was the slightly char-grilled home-made Yorkshire puds and washed it all down with some Cote Du Rhone and Frank Sinatra in the back ground.

As we tidy up, I carry the white gravy boat with the thick as treacle-just-the-way-I-like-it gravy back to the sink.  The sink where it usually gets washed away down the drain (where Daisy then heads outside to lick directly from the drain). I am careful to make sure the coast is clear before I take an almighty slug straight from the boat.  Now - don't judge me.  There is no greater hidden pleasure than drinking straight from a piping hot gravy jug.  I can tell you...right up until Caitlin walks in and catches me mid slurp.

"DAD! What are you doing!"

"I will deny everything Caitlin.  There is no need to take this any further.  This is between you and me..."

"MUM! Dad's drinking from the gravy boat! It's disgusting!"

"I'm being food economical.  We can't waste anything in the lockdown!" I tell the family.

I feel slightly ashamed but also slightly liberated.  Try it.

Meanwhile - we are now becoming zoom pub quiz legends. Meeting up with friends on Friday's and Saturdays for grown ups and kids quizzes still.  It's great to catch up - even with the 40 minute break on zoom before redialling back in (obviously no-one actually pays for the service do they?).

And during the week - and in between the shed-tonne of kids school work - the children are baking Victoria Sponge cakes, Banana bread and heavenly treats with their Auntie Karina.  Wow - they taste amazing.

On Saturday we do our 5K hour exercise for the day in our hockey tops so the club can post all the pics online.  I pick a new route for us that brings us into Chester, past Eastgate Clock then left at the Cross and down to the Bear and Billet and the river.  Back via the Grosvenor park.

It is so strange, seeing a high street shuttered down.  Each with their little A4 Covid-19 sign letting everyone know they are definitely shut (like we'd been hibernating on Jupiter for the last few months).  I wonder how the hell the restaurants and pubs will ever get round to opening. I pass each one and reflect on fond memories - but mainly long held grudges.  Why do the bad memories stick when the good ones fade?

Hello sweet Nando's  - where it took nearly 2 hours (with a crying baby!) to feed us once.  Hello The Falcon - where the locals tried to attack us on a work night out many many years ago.  Hello Cross Foxes where my friend Jon was the chef and we would meet with the babies and sit in the no smoking section and feel like bad parents!

But strikingly - I find that I am looking up at the sky and the buildings a lot more now.  Some of these old buildings are magnificent. They are still here - five hundred years later.  So I imagine there will be shops and bars and gatherings in them five hundred years from now and this will be but a footnote in history.

The walk is invigorating.  Caitlin runs free through the park.  Arms behind her like a Spitfire.  Like Captain Tom's spitfires on his 100th.  The boys climb trees in a rolling pincer movement through the park.  I even hug one.  It's actually quite rewarding and cathartic.  That and the gravy boat - don't knock it till you try.