Dear Dave

Wednesday 23 June 2010

Old blogs never die...

Dear Dave,

Homework has stopped, the artwork has started coming down off the walls and the teachers have begun packing up their worksheets ready to move to different classrooms. It won't be long before all pretence of education is abandoned in favour of getting the kids to sit quietly in front of a Disney DVD while the staff decide which pots of paint are worth keeping until after the summer.

Yep, the holidays are almost upon us and I suppose this is a good opportunity to look back on my first year with all the kids at school...


You know what the odd thing is? It feels like I've had less time to get stuff done than when Marie was only in nursery for two and half hours every day.

I suspect this isn't entirely what you want to hear, but it's true. Of course, it's not literally true - on paper, I have an extra fifteen hours of freedom a week during term-time now - but that's the way it feels.

There are plenty of obvious reasons for this. For a start, the kids are staying up later in the evening so I have less time to myself then. On top of that, the kerfuffle surrounding our kitchen refit has taken weeks of my attention. Not to mention, having three children at school means a greater chance of at least one being off sick and requiring a sympathetic slave to pander to their snotty whims...

All these things account for much of the discrepancy between what I think I should have achieved this year and what I've actually done. Thinking about it, the rest may be do to with multi-tasking. Last year, when I had lunch, I wasn't just having lunch - I was taking care of Marie as well. Now, I get to decadently sit down for a few minutes and watch Bargain Hunt. I can no longer count it as 'achieving' something. In the same way, there are all manner of tasks and chores that I used to be able to do while listening to a child tell me about their cuddly toys. These days, the hours when they're at home are crammed with homework, meals, baths and quality time. The tasks and chores still need done, however, filling up the time they're at school but giving me less sense of achievement because I'm not having to simultaneously ask relevant questions about a beanbag giraffe.

Somehow, the upshot is that I don't have much time to write to you any more. Quite how the absence of stuffed wildlife from my day makes this the case is a mystery but it's so.

More than that, times have changed. Take Father's Day as an example. Previous years I've been all but driven mad by advertising suggesting the ideal Father's Day experience would be some Homebase vouchers followed by an afternoon spent taking the kids to the zoo. As a housedad, the idea of spending even more time with the children didn't sound like a treat. This year, though, I turned into a dad stereotype and put up shelves. Lots and lots of shelves...

The shelves of doom.

The only tell-tale sign of being a stay-at-home parent I exhibited was that I continued on with installing sliding doors despite having a stinking cold, rather than taking to my bed and claiming I had the flu. Just keeping going, no matter what, is perhaps the one essential skill of being a housedad. Still, it felt like nothing compared to some of the soldiering on I had to do when the kids were small.

Life is different.

We've come a long way together, Dave, but (barring some unexpected expecting), nappies, sleep deprivation, parent-and-toddler, buggies and nursery are all past me. They're almost past you, for goodness sake. You don't need my advice any longer and being a housedad doesn't mean quite the same thing it used to for either of us. It's time to move on.

We might have to start discussing football or something....

All the best to Liz, Sam and Daisy.

Take care of yourself.

Yours in a whole new world,



Dear other Daves and non-Daves,

When I started writing this blog, I gave myself a target of keeping going for eighteen months and 150 posts. As it turns out, I've more than doubled that on both counts. It's been a struggle sometimes but mostly it's been fun and cathartic. I think the time has come to stop now, though, before my energy and enthusiasm fade too much.

I'm tempted to say that I'll still post occasionally but that would be like suggesting, 'Let's do coffee,' without setting a date - the reality is that it'll never happen. Better to draw a line.

I hope you've found Dear Dave entertaining, encouraging and helpful over the years. Thanks for all the support you've given me and, most importantly, thank you for reading.

All the best,


Wednesday 9 June 2010

Day 3653

Dear Dave,

It was Fraser's tenth birthday at the weekend. The Big One Zero. It hardly seems possible. He's gone from a gangly, stinky baby with very loud burps to a gangly proto-teenager with unruly hair in the blink of an eye.

It doesn't feel that long ago he was struggling to figure out how to smile. Now he can use the internet, perform long multiplication in his head and answer back sarcastically when I tell him to do stuff. Some things never change, though - the stink is different but the burps are still the same.

Ten. Goodness.

To mark the occasion, he invited some friends bowling and then we went to Pizza Hut. It all went relatively uneventfully for an outing involving half a dozen ten-year-old boys. We made sure, however, to return the guests to their respective parents as quickly as possible once they were full of free refills of Tango and as much ice-cream and sprinkles as they could eat. This seemed only wise.

Seeing as Sarah and I were also celebrating an entire decade of parenthood, Rob and Kate came round to visit once we were home. It doubled as a chance to show off the new kitchen (despite the fact it's STILL not quite finished yet).

They have two children themselves now, if you recall. Then again, you probably don't. Heck, if you're anything like me, you probably forget how many kids you have yourself half the time. My brain was Swiss-cheesed by parenthood years ago. Trying to keep track of everyone else's offspring is beyond me.

I suppose that wasn't always the case. At the start, every fresh arrival we heard about was exciting. When we had Fraser, we didn't know many other people with kids so it was great to finally have confederates with whom we could share our experiences. Suddenly, my in-depth knowledge of washable nappies made me a hit at parties. (Admittedly, these were the kind of parties where they serve fairy cakes and orange squash rather than beer and pretzels but when you have young children, you take what you can get.)

After a while, though, the scattered arrival of wailing bundles in cute little hats turned into a steady stream. They ceased being so exciting and became more of a way to offload some of the surplus tiny clothes and baby equipment we had clogging up our cupboards. Eventually, a torrent of siblings coupled with my own lack of sleep made remembering the names of the bundles difficult. These days, I'm lucky if I recollect which of my old acquaintances have kids, let alone how many and what they're called.

I'm vaguely aware of the many hours I spent coaching Rob through the panic and uncertainty of becoming a father in the weeks before his eldest was born but that seems a world away. Luke's two now and my own life has moved on. Babies are long ago. My knowledge of washable nappies is outdated and obsolete. To be honest, I forgot Rob had another child on the way until I got the text message saying she'd arrived.

Well, actually, the message was mainly Rob asking me to record the new episode of Stargate for him but I got the idea. Everything went smoothly and they even managed to decide on a name. Kate was keen on Rose, Martha and Donna. Rob was wanting Leia at first and held out for Buffy for a while. In the end, they settled on Willow.

Saturday was my first real chance to get a look at her. With five children between us, meeting up is something of a logistical issue. My lot have a packed social timetable. Rob and Kate, meanwhile, are still struggling to get out of the house with two. They turned up late and loaded with enough luggage to mount a polar expedition. Rob had to take three trips to bring in all the carry cots, changing bags, coats, blankets and toys.

There were ten frantic minutes of everyone talking at once, followed by a very dubious rendition of Happy Birthday as I brought out a cake with a surprising amount of fire on top. I served it up and handed out drinks but I hadn't had a chance to eat a piece before my kids scattered to the far reaches of the house in order to escape the small children. Shortly afterwards, Sarah and Kate disappeared to the lounge for a natter while they watched Luke play. Rob and I were left in the kitchen to try and settle Willow.

"This is nice," said Rob, rocking her gently in his arms.

"Thanks," I replied before I realised he wasn't talking about the new cupboards - he was examining the little cardboard iPod holder I've tacked to the noticeboard above the sink so I can watch repeats of Top Gear while doing the washing up.

"Want a shot?" he said, offering me his gurgling bundle. "Go on. You know you do."

"Oh, all right. She is kind of adorable." I took her and started pulling faces until she giggled.

Rob grinned. "It's not too late for you to have another one yourself."

"Hah! She's not that adorable. Plus, I get to hand her back to you as soon as she starts getting soggy."

"There is that but don't tell me you're not getting nostalgic."

I shrugged. "On the one hand, it's a shame not having a small, cute one around but, on the other... I'm not sure I could hack it, physically or mentally. I need more sleep than I used to, I have to be careful with my back and I've started heckling Bob the Builder. Besides, I think I've finally eradicated all the remaining milk stains coating the house from when the other three were small."

"Including the one behind the bookcase in the lounge?"


I stopped pulling faces and turned my attention to Rob. He looked like he had a confession coming on. I raised an eyebrow. "I'm not sure I want to know but..."

"Remember that one time you got me to babysit when Lewis was small?"

"Yeah, we hadn't even reached the cinema before you called us back. You had two bottles of milk, a Teletubbies video and a cuddly rabbit to keep him quiet and you managed to blow through them all in twenty minutes. And you woke Fraser up."

"You were going to see Lost in Translation. I did you a favour."

"I suppose but what's that got to..." A long-buried memory surfaced. "Hang on, I thought that bookcase had moved a couple of inches to the right but I assumed it was just the fevered imaginings of my sleep-deprived brain. I... Oh... How much milk are we talking?"

He raised his hands defensively. "It's OK. I gave the wallpaper a wipe and a quick spray with some carpet cleaner before I hid the evidence."

"Carpet cleaner?"

"I couldn't find the anti-bac."

I shivered.

"Don't worry about it," said Rob, sitting down and helping himself to his third piece of cake. "Wouldn't be surprised if Luke pees all over your lounge carpet in a minute. That'll cover over any lingering odour."

"Cheers," I sighed and sat down opposite.

"Any time. Still, can't believe you have a ten-year-old. Even Marie's got big. Doesn't seem long since she kept trying to eat my PS2 controller and now she's challenging me to a game of New Super Mario Brothers."

"She'll beat you as well. You'd better watch out - she's merciless with a blue shell."

"Figures." He cut me a slice of cake, too, and handed it over. "What about Dave? You still writing to him with helpful advice?"

I snorted. "He knows more about parenting small children than I do now. I've forgotten half of it. My letters have turned into quick updates on funny things the kids have said. I should maybe just learn to use Twitter and be done with it."

"Might want to get the hang of Facebook first. Kate's beginning to get suspicious you haven't confirmed her friend request."

"Oh, yeah, sorry, I forgot."

"And you never reply to my comments on your Wall."

"I have a Wall?"

"Very funny." He cut himself yet another piece of cake. "What? I'm barely getting any sleep. Have to keep myself going somehow."

"Want a coffee?"

"In a minute. Once I've started on your chocolate bars."

I grinned. "I remember those days." There was a pause in the conversation as I nibbled at my cake and he devoured his.

"It is kind of like old times seeing you holding a baby," he said as he mopped up the crumbs. "Sure you don't want another one?"


As if on cue, Willow burped explosively, smiled, waved her arms about and giggled. She really was adorable.

"See! You've still got the touch."

"Well..." I began again, "it's..."

Then she was copiously sick all down my front and onto what was left of my cake.

I handed her back.

Yours in a woman's world,


Tuesday 1 June 2010

If only the questions were always this easy

Dear Dave,

Marie walked up to me the other day and asked me, "Where's Heaven?"

I was taken aback for a moment. Then I gathered my thoughts, ready to explain the concept of somewhere 'outside' space and time in a way intelligible to a five-year-old. I opened my mouth to speak but Fraser got there before me.

"Second row from the bottom, going backwards," he said, sauntering past.

"Thanks," said Marie and ran off again.

I had to assume she was doing a wordsearch...

Later, once she was in bed, I opened my usual (single) can of celebratory beer with a satisfying crack.

"What was that?" asked Lewis as we all settled down to watch some Superman before it was the boys' turn to head upstairs.

I pointed at my drink.

He looked confused. "Why does Daddy have to drink beer?" he asked nobody in particular.

I was slightly put out because my real addiction is coffee but, nonetheless, I managed to answer first. "Why do you think Daddy has a beer in the evening?"

Lewis grinned. "To stop him going insane?"

I couldn't argue with that. "Yes, that's exactly the right answer."

Everyone else nodded in agreement. Clearly, though, since I was talking about myself in the third-person at the time, it hasn't entirely worked.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Sometimes things are a little harder. Like when Fraser wanted to know what 'seduce' means, for instance. It was all to do with the Spy defeating the Field Marshal in the board game Stratego but still... Coming up with a suitable explanation of sex and murder for a ten-year-old was almost beyond me.

Then Lewis decided to play too and I had to do it all over again for an eight-year-old...

Wednesday 26 May 2010

Being a dad in the house

Dear Dave,

Thanks for the sympathy over the home improvements. The kitchen should be finished any day now, though.


Bear in mind that the foreman who told me this also said he'd have some guys round here first thing last Friday and they didn't show until half-past two. Yesterday he promised to arrive at lunchtime but failed to mention the other two workmen handily scheduled to turn up three hours earlier in the ten minutes I absolutely had to be out of the house in order to take the kids to school.

As such, I'm not exactly going to hold my breath until the work is completed.

In the meantime, we're all surviving being cooped up in the lounge with piles of displaced oven dishes. For now at least. Who will drive who mad first? I think it may actually have become a competition.

What do you call it when you tip out a skip full of uncooked, impoverished entrances?

A poor, raw door pour.

All those words have the same 'or' sound for me. They all rhyme. For Sarah, none of them do. The kids are somewhere in between. Arguing over pronunciation kept us busy for a while.
Yes, we're definitely losing it.

That said, I did get a bit of break on Saturday. Sarah got the kids' breakfast while I slept in and then I took Marie to a birthday party for one of her friends. I got to sit and chat to adults while she amused herself on the softplay. Then, in the afternoon, I put up shelves while Sarah looked after the children. I was still busy at teatime, so we ordered pizza. By the time I was finished, Marie was already in bed.

It was an unusual day. Having the kids around but not being in charge of them (or even really seeing them much) was odd. It was different from the times Sarah has taken the kids away for the weekend in order to give me a rest. Those occasions have been more like a brief return to the days before parenthood and I've slipped happily into the armchair with a beer in one hand and a remote in the other. On Saturday, however, we were all living our normal lives but the children weren't my problem. In ten years of being a housedad, this has almost never happened before. I had to deal with them for half an hour here or there but mostly I got to watch them pass by every so often and overhear their squabbling whenever an album ended on my iPod.

Strangely, I kind of missed them.

I suppose I got a taste of what many dads must experience on a regular basis. I didn't think much of it.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS As I suspected, Marie has succumbed to Lewis' persuasion and decided to become vegetarian too. I wouldn't have cared but she made up her mind during her friend's party. Suddenly she wouldn't eat the cocktail sausages. Half the sandwiches were out of the question too because they contained meat. Then she turned up her nose at the rest of the sandwiches because they had bread in. The nachos were refused for being too crunchy. She wouldn't touch the apple for no other reason I could make out than that she was on a roll by then.

She had to make do with a slice of pizza and some raisins.

Shortly afterwards, one of the helpers at the venue arrived with a tray heaped with bowls of ice-cream. She got the kids to shout how much they wanted it. There was much leaping and screaming from every child but one. For some reason, the helper chose to serve that child first.

"I don't like ice-cream," said Marie grumpily.

The helper tried to give her some anyway.

"Are you sure you don't want any? I'll put it here and..."

"I DON'T LIKE ice-cream."

Marie can be awkward and goes through all sorts of phases and fads but she's not kidding when it comes to ice-cream. She's tried it plenty of times and has always hated it. I had to step in. "She really doesn't like it."

The helper looked blank. Encountering a child who didn't like ice-cream was clearly a first for her. After serving the other kids, she wandered off in a bemused fashion with the spare bowl, muttering to herself.

Thankfully, if there's one thing I can cope with after ten years of being a housedad, it's other peoples' confusion. I just shrugged and ate Marie's sandwiches.

Wednesday 19 May 2010

Catering for everyone

Dear Dave,

Yeah, I know how you feel. With children in the house, trying to come up with a menu that keeps everyone happy can be difficult. The only way I think I could manage it would be to serve pizza and fish fingers every day (including for breakfast).

I used to dream of the day I could make one big vat of food, ladle it out onto five little plastic trays and then sit down for a traditional family meal in front of the TV. No fussing over individual dietary foibles, no cooking one meal for the kids and another for the adults, no having to wash up two or three sets of pots. I've given up on the whole idea, though. For starters, Sarah doesn't get home in time to eat with the kids most days. Rather than reheat the childrens' left-overs, I might as well make something fresh when she gets home. That way, we're not restricted to what the kids like. This is quite significant because Fraser won't eat anything with sauce and Marie won't eat anything she hasn't had before. Options that please everyone are limited.

Things have actually got a little more tricky in the last few days, thanks to a computer game called Harvest Moon which Lewis has been playing. In it, he gets to own a little patch of land, cultivate it, raise livestock and generally work hard in order to own a slightly bigger patch of land. I thought it would appeal to his latent farmer genes from my side of the family and help him understand his heritage. I expected him to learn the cardinal rules of agriculture:
  1. Nothing tastes right without a sprinkling of pesticide.
  2. Anything can be fixed with a combination of duct tape and binder twine.
  3. Never stand directly behind a cow. Ever.
This hasn't come to pass, however. In the game, the creatures are cute and fluffy. The sheep produce wool, the cows output milk and the chickens lay eggs. There's no mention of hotpot, steak or drumsticks. Having his own menagerie of farmyard animals has turned him vegetarian.

Eating bacon in the house has become something of an ordeal. It's much harder to enjoy it with a mournful eight-year-old looking on, sorrowfully muttering, "Poor pig..."

This now means there's rather a wide range of attitudes to meat in the family. Lewis is at one end of the scale but Sarah has already drastically cut down on her intake in order to reduce her carbon footprint. Marie, meanwhile, has never really liked meat much anyway. She'll eat sausages and the odd bit of sliced ham but that's about it. I, on the other hand, grew up on a cattle farm. I don't eat as much meat as I used to but I'm not going to say no if I'm offered something succulent - even if I once knew its name and used to watch it walk past the lounge window on a regular basis. Lastly, Fraser will eat pretty much any dead animal as long as it's roasted and I tell him it's chicken.

The chances of me finding anything that everyone in my family will eat actually seem to be going down. Often, I have to make five different variations of a meal. Otherwise, we'd end up living on nothing but fresh fruit, pizza and cheese sandwiches. (Although I should point out, Sarah's cheese sandwich would include salad, Fraser's would have the cheese on the outside and Marie's wouldn't have cheese at all. For myself, I'd be left with the crusts and whatever was in the fridge that needed using up. Yogurt butties, anyone?)

Never mind. At least everyone still eats fish fingers. Apparently they don't really count as meat...

Yours in a woman's world,


Friday 14 May 2010

The lift game

Dear Dave,

On occasion, Sarah and I pass the time by playing The Lift Game. This involves discussing which of our children we would least like to be trapped with in an elevator for an extended period of time.

Clearly, being confined at length with any of them in such a small space would not be ideal but they each have their own individual traits and habits which might add just a little more 'fun' to the experience. Marie would whine the whole time, Lewis would witter and Fraser would argue. Or maybe Fraser would witter, Marie would argue and Lewis would sulk. Then again, perhaps Fraser would burp, Lewis would fart and Marie would suddenly need to go to the toilet. Before long, it would be me doing the whining...

Which of them would create the worst ordeal is open to debate, however. The answer changes regularly, based on the kids' moods, their levels of tiredness and how long it is since they've each had a bath. That said, attempting to come up with something definitive helps to distract our attention and maintain sanity when one of our offspring is being particularly trying. It's always an intriguing thought experiment.

Of course, what with the kitchen being done and most of the house out of bounds or full of junk, things have become somewhat less theoretical. We've been stuck in six foot square of lounge for much of the last fortnight. That's bigger than a typical lift, admittedly, but it's been ALL THREE CHILDREN at the same time.

Ho well. I suppose, it's not been that bad really. We've managed to figure out solutions to most of the inconveniences and we're getting by. Friends and neighbours have kindly volunteered to help with cooking and childcare but I haven't wanted to take them up on their offers very much. Preparing the kids' food and keeping them in line is something I'm used to doing in all kinds of circumstances already - it's dealing with tradesmen that's the hard part. There's so much negotiation and uncertainty involved with that, I'm happier to keep control of my own destiny as far as stuff like meals and bedtimes are concerned.

Still, there's been rather a lot of whining, arguing, sulking and burping in a limited space.

I guess maybe this is what owning a car would be like...

Yours in a woman's world,


At least our magic dish drainer is proving its worth yet again:

Washing up in the lounge.
Doing the washing up in the lounge isn't as bad as it sounds. No, really...

Tuesday 11 May 2010

Nature vs Nurture vs Irony

Dear Dave,

As I've said before, sometimes we get the kids we deserve...

Last week, I spent plenty of time explaining to my children about the election and talking them through my decision-making process as I worked out who to vote for. I wanted to encourage them to discuss the important issues involved and to think things through for themselves.

I began simply, explaining about the reds and blues and yellows. Then I realised that the kids have got quite a lot older since the last election and I could use longer words. By Thursday morning, we were valiantly able to analyse the possible roles of the Liberal Democrats within a hung parliament.

I took the children with me to the polling booth, showed them what I was doing and made them feel part of it. I believed I was promoting independent thought - the kind of independent thought that makes my own parents chuckle nervously. I was pleased with myself.

Then, later, as we walked down the street, Marie pointed to a succession of signs. "Why do those say, 'Vote Green'?"

"They're to persuade people who go past to vote for the green party," I said. Then I remembered that I was supposed to be using the parties' proper names rather than referring to them by colour and opened my mouth to correct myself. "They're... They're... Er... They're actually called the Green Party."

"Did we vote for them?" asked Fraser.

"Well we didn't vote. I voted... but I didn't vote for them. You can when you're older, if you like."

Marie laughed. "I'll vote for who you vote for."

The boys nodded agreement.

This wasn't the response I was expecting. It normally takes lengthy negotiation to get my children to agree to put their shoes on. Consensus is unheard of. Suddenly they were willing to disenfranchise themselves without a second thought. "You don't have to," I said with a nervous chuckle. "I don't vote the same way as Granny and Grandad, for instance."

"Yes," said Marie patiently, "but I'll vote the way you do."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "Honestly, the greens are actually quite good. You might want to vote for them."

"I won't vote for them if you don't."

My head hurt. "But they want to look after the planet. It's just that they're not going to win round here. Maybe when you're older, the voting system will be different and it'll be worth you voting for them. I might vote for them myself."

"Then I will, too," said Marie, smiling and skipping off. "They'll get two votes."


Oh, how my folks are going to laugh when they hear about this...

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 5 May 2010

Responsible carpentry

Dear Dave,

Bang, bang, bang... Whirrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr...

Bang, bang.

Mutter, mutter, curse, mutter...


This is the sound-track to my life at the moment as tradesmen struggle to fit new electrical sockets into the walls of the kitchen. They keep encountering the random bits of metal hidden in the plaster. Perhaps the original builders thought these little surprises would add structural integrity somehow or the previous owners imagined lining the house with ferrous material would prevent aliens from scanning their minds. Who knows? The main outcome, however, seems to be that drilling a hole in our house is like a crazy carnival game of skill and chance (involving power tools). Will the bit tear three inches through plaster and brick? Or will it mysteriously stop after a centimetre and a half with a tortured screeching sound?

It's always an entertaining pastime but it's particularly fun when trying to anchor something using multiple screws. Like as not, everything will go fine until you've drilled enough holes to absolutely confirm the positioning of the curtain rail or cupboard but not enough to actually ensure it stays up. After that, it's iron-cladding all the way.

It's a great game. The electricians downstairs are really enjoying it...

Ho well, at least they're here and they seem reasonably competent. That's all I really look for these days. I've long since realised that tradesmen (and they do all seem to be men) regard acceptable customer service as putting stuff together in such a way that it works, is safe and doesn't fall apart. Good customer service involves also making it look nice. Turning up on time, listening carefully to requirements, keeping the customer informed and providing accurate estimates and invoices aren't really anything to do with it. These are occasionally necessary evils required to stop the customer phoning up five times a day.

I've grown used to this and now accept it as the way of the world. In fact, when the haulage firm telephoned a week in advance to confirm delivery of the new kitchen units I was quite surprised because they'd already posted the information. When they phoned again the day before arriving, then again on the delivery morning and twice more after that to keep me appraised of delays, I began to think they were stalking me.

In contrast, we had to get the suppliers to goad their trained fitters into finally turning up to do the detailed measuring. Then we had to repeat the procedure to get the fitters to provide an estimate of installation costs. We eventually got a terse email briefly listing the work required and with a number at the bottom. There was no break down and it was the night before we needed to confirm the order. We replied with details of which parts of the work we wanted done and asking for a revised estimate.

The fitters didn't respond.


When Monday rolled round, we weren't even entirely sure they were going to turn up. It wouldn't have been the first time we'd prepared at length for the arrival of a crack team of tradesmen subcontracted by a national company and then had them fail to show. When we had the insurance work done after our flood, I had to phone the repair firm's secretary so often to chase up AWOL tradesmen, I'd have been quicker friending her on Facebook and simply having been done with it.

It's weird. Plumbers and joiners and electricians seem unaware that it doesn't matter how good a job they eventually manage, if they don't do what they say they're going to do, on the day they say they're going to do it, I'm not going to be keen to recommend them. Perhaps they all have so much work to do anyway, they don't care, but it's still a little mystifying.

The excuse is usually that there was a communications mix up or that a previous job overran. If I'm lucky, I get a small apology but that's not guaranteed. I'm given the impression I'm meant to accept these explanations in a similar fashion to volcanic eruptions or an inopportune downpour of sharks - acts of God completely beyond a tradesman's control. They weren't taking a sneaky holiday and they didn't actively plan to leave my life in wet, collapsing chaos, so they aren't at fault.

It's mad. Now I think about it, however, it does sound kind of familiar...

The age of criminal responsibility is going to go up from eight to twelve in Scotland and there are calls for it to be raised in England and Wales as well (where it's currently ten). At first glance, this doesn't seem like a good idea. Lewis is eight and I'm fairly sure he has a decent grasp on right and wrong. He knows full well not to hurt other people, to set fire to stuff or steal things. In Fraser's class, meanwhile, I suspect there are a number of nine and ten year-olds who would quite like to do these things if they thought they could get away with it. It's reassuring they're legally responsible for their actions.

Thinking about it more carefully, though, maybe the issue isn't knowing the difference between right and wrong. Certainly, with my kids, it's the difference between right and careless that's the problem. It doesn't matter whether they're hitting each other, destroying the house or getting in my way, when my children are told off, they'll almost invariably cry, "I didn't mean to do it!"

I'm forced to respond, "You didn't try not to do it, either."

There isn't anything inherently anti-social about walking backwards or playing a handheld games console or eating a chocolate bar or using stairs. Doing all these things at the same time, however, is not the best plan. Neither is getting in the culprit's way and trying to wrestle the console from them because it's not their turn anymore. Standing at the bottom of the stairs and watching, meanwhile, is maybe less of a culpable act but it's not as good as going and finding a responsible adult to break up the fight. It's also stupid and liable to end in bruising.

And what reply do I get when I reiterate the rules?

"I forgot."

This is said as if reporting an unavoidable natural catastrophe on a par with a meteor strike or a sudden outbreak of badgers - something unforeseeable and beyond their control.

I can only shake my head for the thousandth time. "You have to try not to forget."

So, yeah, perhaps kids shouldn't be tried as criminals. It's a bit much to expect children to grasp concepts that many adults clearly struggle with. My only concern is that there have to be proper alternatives and some humane way of dealing with repeat offenders. We need something that will enlighten them but be so dull that they'll want to avoid going back. We need something that will make the world a better place whatever they go on to do in later life, whether tradesman or housedad, lawyer or doctor, banker or MP.

I'm thinking they should all be sent on a customer service course...

Yours in a woman's world,


Friday 30 April 2010

This is what cameras are for

Dear Dave,

Have I mentioned we're having our kitchen done? I think it's possible I might have let it slip once or twice. Not that I'm panicking at the imminent arrival of a horde of tradesmen or anything...

They'll probably have large hammers and thick, Glaswegian accents. They'll wave the hammers in my direction, mutter something I can't understand and then look at me expectantly. I won't know whether they're wanting a cup of tea or asking if it's OK to install the oven upside down because it fits better that way.

I'm not sure I can cope.

I was thinking it would be over in a week but then I realised I'll still have decorating to do after that. There's also the small matter of moving all the stuff back that I've just spent a week moving to other parts of the house. I've done my best to thin things out but there's still a ton left. Even getting rid of this car was more effort than I imagined:

A small, grey car for a toddler.

Fraser got it for his first Christmas but even Marie's been too big to ride it for at least a year now. It's been tucked under a chair in the kitchen, gathering dust, since about 2007. As such, I imagined I could safely take it to the charity shop without causing too much fuss.

I was wrong.

When I mentioned I was taking it away, Fraser wanted to keep it as a memento of childhood memories. I pointed out that if it stayed, it would have to go in the loft and he wouldn't see it again until he had children. Before he could reply, however, Marie chipped in with, "When I was small, I used to keep magnets in it!"

This brought various recollections back to me. The seat of the car slides open to reveal a storage area big enough for a medium-sized cuddly toy. Managing to press down the catch and slide the seat at the same time is beyond most under-fours, however. All three of my children spent happy years putting stuff inside, closing the lid and then crying because they couldn't get the stuff out again. Usually they got me to endlessly open the lid for them; occasionally they simply wandered off and forgot about the whole incident until much later when I'd already searched the entire rest of the house for their favourite snuggly, my phone or their brother's trousers.

In general, the thing drove me rather crazy. That said, the boys did have a ritual for a while where one rode through to the bathroom to get ready for bed on the car and the other followed on a similarly dinky trike. It was the Teeth Train. When it didn't run over my toes, it was pretty cute.

As the kids gathered round the car, sharing their memories, a lump formed in my own throat. They'll never be that small and adorable again. Surely one push-a-long car couldn't fill the house...

Then I came to my senses. The house is already full.

"If I take it to the charity shop," I said, "someone else will get to play with it and enjoy it. Isn't that better than it being stuck in our loft?"

They reluctantly agreed and said their goodbyes. There was much patting, fiddling and squabbling over it. Lewis stroked it and gave the horn a few final beeps.

Sarah and I looked on. "What do you think?" she asked after a while. "Will we get treated this fondly when it's time to switch us off?"

I did a quick mental calculation of the ratio between the annoying and delightful memories I might invoke in my offspring when I'm old, obsolete and my stickers are peeling away.

The numbers didn't look good.

I shook my head. "I wouldn't count on it," I said.

Then it was time for school and work and one last final, final beep.

As soon as everyone was out the door and round the corner, I made a hasty sprint to the charity shop before anyone (including me) changed their mind.

Goodness, if we're like this over a toy car no one's touched for months, what's going to happen when the Glaswegians with hammers try to take away the tiles from the kitchen floor?

Yours in a woman's world,


Monday 26 April 2010

Full cupboards and an empty wardrobe

Dear Dave,

I'm exhausted. That's all the stuff emptied out of the kitchen and office, ready for the destruction and appliance-shuffling involved in fitting a whole new kitchen. I've also stripped the kitchen walls of the kids' paintings, a layer of horrible vinyl wallpaper we were hiding under the paintings and two even more hideous layers of paper concealed beneath that.

I've learnt two things:
  1. We have a lot of stuff. These days, Sarah and I normally keep nearly as many possessions in a third of our house as we had altogether when we first moved to Edinburgh.

    This is scary in so many different ways.
  2. Ten years ago, before I became a housedad, I had three types of clothes - smart clothes for work, casual clothes for most of the rest of the time and old clothes for doing DIY.

    Now I merely have clothes.
As with so much else, I think I'll just blame the children and move on...

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 21 April 2010

Back to Earth

Dear Dave,

Yeah, I know, I haven't written to you much for a while. It's nothing personal - just a combination of school holidays and panicked preparation for the arrival of a new kitchen. My time is split between emptying cupboards and being forced to watch re-runs of Total Wipeout. When you're nine, watching grown adults get punched in the head by an automated boxing glove and then fall face-first into a pool of mud is apparently the funniest thing ever. Personally, however, I'm not sure what all the fuss is about. (Snorting hot coffee out my nose as some poor unfortunate does an unexpected back flip into slime is merely an attempt to bond with my children...)

By the time the kids have got to bed recently, I've been too tired to achieve much. Instead, Sarah and I have been catching up on some of the TV that passed us by during the years we were busy with babies. We've been watching Life on Mars. It's about a police officer who has an accident in 2006 and wakes up in 1973. He doesn't know how or why he's there but the situations and attitudes are so different from his previous experience, it feels like he's on another planet.

(You may not be aware of the show because you have small children and haven't slept since 2006. Let's face it, there's a chance you don't even know who the Prime Minister is. I'd tell you, but that could all change in a couple of weeks. All you really need to know at the moment is that someone seems to have checked down the back of a sofa and found the Liberal Democrats, much to everyone's delight and surprise. Oh, and the whole country is going to run out of bananas because of a volcano in Iceland...)

After a few episodes of Life on Mars, we also watched Dirty Dancing. That was made in 1987 but is set in the impossibly odd and distant world of 1963. Of course, as with Back to the Future, the the original release of the movie is now almost as long ago as the 'historical' setting was at the time. Somehow, we got to marvel at the wackiness of both the early Sixties and the mid Eighties.

Golly, hasn't the world changed?

Then again, never mind 1973 - for me, 2006 seems like a different planet. It was still a time of nappies and sleep deprivation. Leaving the house took almost as much planning as a polar expedition. Parent-and-toddler, buggies, nursery and so many other things that are long past were still a part of my life. Heck, I hadn't even started writing to you.

That's a long time ago.

When I was at a ceilidh a few weeks ago, I had a strange revelation when a friend offered me and the family a lift home - I realised that it would we easier making our own way back. We didn't have vast amounts of emergency equipment and spare clothes. I knew all of us could make it to the bus stop, catch a bus to the end of our road and then walk home without a tantrum or falling asleep or turning blue with cold or needing the toilet. Why wait for someone else to be ready to go and then have to faff with car seats and being ferried about? It was easier just to head off.

Somewhere along the line since 2006, I've reached a new level of freedom. My job has also changed drastically. I may be trapped watching nutters struggling knee-deep through slime but at least I'm not having to do it myself anymore. Yep, having three schoolchildren to look after is a very different place to be than having three wee ones under the age of six. My housedad adventure is entering a new phase.

What about you, Dave? Back then, you only had a single toddler. Now you have one at school and another almost at nursery. That's quite a journey. I don't think you really need advice from me, these days. In all honesty, I'm so old and forgetful now, you probably know more about looking after small children than I do. The apprentice has become the master.

All in all, neither of us requires the same type of understanding and support we used to. Don't worry, though, I'll keep in touch - just not that often. Besides, I'm not quite done yet. Once this kitchen's dealt with, I still have to tell you about a couple of things. Rob's new baby arrived relatively uneventfully but Scary Karen's getting married and you'll want to hear about that. I can't see it going smoothly. Let's just hope she isn't trying to turn it into a Total Wipeout special... or giving it a 1973 theme...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Have you considered taking on a padawan of your own?

Tuesday 13 April 2010


Dear Dave,

For me, one of the turning points of parenthood was a few weeks before Marie's fourth birthday when she developed the ability to get out of bed in the morning without immediately finding some reason to come and wake Daddy. I was no longer required to help solve the mysteries of toilet paper, her brothers could switch on the TV for her and all of them could last an hour or two without breakfast. I rediscovered lie-ins.*

Even eighteen months later, this is still a joy. Admittedly, my beauty sleep is frequently disturbed by shrieks and squabbling but I can simply turn over, put a pillow over my head and doze off again until the actual screaming starts.


I think we may have recently reached another turning point. I was in the kitchen sorting through Marie's enormous stack of craft materials the other day and realised she's barely touched the stuff in months. The glue-stick is still crusted with glitter she used for making Christmas cards, and a half-completed necklace of beads lies long forgotten, patiently waiting for some unsuspecting housedad to pick it up by the wrong end while doing the tidying.

She's moved on. During previous holidays, she's nagged me every five minutes to help her with sticking or cutting or threading. If not that, she's insisted on going to the park and being pushed on the swing for an hour. This is no longer the case, however - she's learnt to use a Wii remote entertain herself. She doesn't even need an audience the whole time anymore.

Suddenly, I can turn my attention to other things, despite the kids not having school. This opens up a whole new world of possibility. I could achieve all manner of projects.


The reason I was sorting through Marie's craft materials was because we're having a new kitchen fitted in a few weeks. This requires the room being emptied of everything from the pile of kiddie artwork to the Veggie Tales DVDs, the three dusty fondue sets and the fridge. There's an awful lot of stuff and I was thinning it a little in preparation.

Since then, matters have become more drastic. When the fitter came to measure up, he happened to mention in passing that the new units will be delivered ahead of the installation. We'll need somewhere to store them while the floor is laid - somewhere other than the kitchen.

The only other ground floor room we have is quite small. It's about big enough for a chair, a desk, an Xbox and a couple of chests of drawers. I know this because it's my study and that's what's in there at the moment. It'll have to be totally cleared out to make way for worktops.

I suppose there's a large cupboard under the stairs as well but that's full of junk already. It's also where the plumbing is. So that the fitters can get to all the pipes, the junk will need to find somewhere else to live for a couple of weeks... along with the fondue sets... and the drawers... and the desk... and the dining table... and the fridge...

The entire ground floor is going to have to be emptied. We'll have to turf Fraser out of his bedroom and turn it into our own version of the Room of Requirement in Hogwarts, crammed full of a mixture of treasure and tat. The overspill will be shoved into every spare corner of the house. There's a good chance will be using the tumble-dryer as a coffee table.

To make matters worse, in the midst of this chaos of upheaval and tradesmen, my safe place will have been dismantled. I won't have my quiet Xbox corner to retreat to. I'll be stuck in the lounge with the three children, huddled round the white goods, surviving on fondue until the cooker is reconnected...

So, yes, since Marie's learnt to entertain herself, I could be getting on with any number of things. I'm not, though. I'm taking the chance to hide with the Xbox while I can and finding any excuse to avoid moving furniture.

Maybe later I'll force Marie to do some gluing and then drag all three of them to the swing-park for some fresh air.

Yours in a woman's world,


*That's to say I can now stay in bed on the weekend until a time that I would have considered a bright and early start in my pre-fatherhood days. This may not technically count as a lie-in but it sure as heck beats being woken in darkness by plaintive cries of, 'I need my bottom wiped!'

Wednesday 7 April 2010


Dear Dave,

Yeah, it probably is about time you gave Sam a chore. We got the boys helping out when they turned six. They each have their own job to do and if they don't do it, they don't get their pocket money.

The plan was to make them realise that the house doesn't magically clean itself and thus perhaps give them some insight into the amount of work which goes into all the other things they take for granted. You know, inconsequential stuff like feeding, clothing and entertaining them, not to mention paying bills, herding them wherever they need to go and combatting the unpleasant odour of tweenage child that threatens to overwhelm the livingroom on a regular basis.

This hasn't entirely worked - Fraser still grumbles like his daily three minutes of housework is akin to slavery - but at least they're making some contribution to the household.

Choosing chores for them turned out to be relatively easy. Fraser hasn't yet worked out that one of the purposes of a plate is to catch crumbs, so he gets to hoover the kitchen floor after tea. Lewis' obsession with soft, fluffy items, meanwhile, means he gets to do the dusting. I'm sure you'll find something for Sam to do.

Bear in mind, however, that he'll require training and supervision. As with bringing new workers into any situation, there will be an initial overhead of time and resources. More people will be doing the work but less will get done.

There will also be a much higher chance of everything breaking.

Hopefully, it'll all work out in the long-run. I'm confident that one day we'll both have our own little team of minions that we can happily order off to thoroughly clean the toilets while we sit and surf the internet for funny photos of cats.

I suspect that that day may not be very soon, though...

After much goading and nagging I've finally managed to get all three of my kids to carry their empty plates to the worktop once they've finished breakfast. This usually involves some minor arguing and a couple of kids tripping over each other as they concentrate incredibly hard on trying to walk and hold crockery at the same time. Nonetheless, it should theoretically be worth all the effort in order to ensure the dishes are close at hand when I'm doing the washing up. Unfortunately, my children haven't quite grasped the concept of stacking yet:

The rest of the washing-up is somewhere over there --->

I think the plate at the end may actually be further from the sink than when it was on the table.

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 31 March 2010

The knowing nod

Dear Dave,

The weather is finally improving.

Er... Well, it was last week. (You know, before it started snowing again.) We had a few days of sunshine and relative warmth. As a result, when I walked past the swing-park during the day, there were several children there rather than one well-wrapped toddler forlornly swaying on a kiddie swing in the rain while his gran had a quick smoke.

Peering over the railings, I smiled and prepared to wave at familiar faces. Then I realised that I didn't recognise anyone. It was an odd feeling.

Once upon a time, I could almost guarantee that a trip to the park on a sunny day would lead to encountering several acquaintances. Some I knew from parent and toddler, others from nursery, a few from the kids' clubs and a surprising number simply from visiting the park on sunny days often enough. I didn't necessarily know the names of these people but we'd exchange pleasantries and chat about our latest parental disasters adventures.

That's the way things still are if I take the kids to the park after school. During the day, though, is a different matter. There are kids there taking their first steps whose older siblings weren't even born the last time I was at parent and toddler. I haven't run into them anywhere else either - I'm not loitering outside nursery anymore or having to be so readily on-hand at activities or the park. These children and their adults are complete strangers to me.

The other morning, I went straight from school to the shops and found myself having to go round the swing-park rather than into it. I got stuck. I stood at the corner and couldn't work out whether I'd be quicker going left or right. Trying to plot a course which didn't involve heading through the gate and then watching a small child on the helter-skelter for half an hour was beyond me. I spent a minute trying to work out which way might be ten seconds quicker and then gave up and tossed a coin.

I almost considered wandering through the park for the sake of it anyway but I decided against it. I'm no longer part of the club. I used to be able to smile at parents with young children and strike up a conversation based on mutual understanding. Now I just seem creepy.

It's a shame. I've lost a support network that I barely realised I had. I miss being able to share the secret signs and rituals reserved for parents with small children, such as the knowing nod of two buggy-pushers passing on a narrow pavement or a sympathetic shrug to reassure a tired mum struggling with belligerent offspring. People shepherding young kids exchange a hundred little gestures designed to show solidarity in the face of whatever life may throw at them (especially banana porridge). It doesn't seem like much but it can make all the difference when attempting to survive a cataclysmic combination of tantrum and nappy leak in the frozen food aisle at Tesco.

Now my children are bigger, parents with toddlers no longer give me a grin as I approach with my brood. They see a mob of scooters and hoodies barrelling towards them and quickly steer their little ones into cover behind the nearest wheelie-bin. Given enough warning, they hide their valuables and cross the street.

This doesn't have quite the same heartening effect.

I suppose it's just another example of how I need to stop relying on my children for my own social life. For so long, lack of time and energy meant I didn't have much choice, and now I'm kind of used to it. It won't work for much longer, though. As my kids become more and more independent, I'll see less and less of their friends' parents unless I make an effort to maintain contact.

I should probably go phone someone and organise coffee. The only question is, will I be able to think of anything to talk about other than children? Let's see: the World Cup, the Never-Ending Edinburgh Tram Project of Doom (and Road Works), the weather, children... er, no, hang on...


Yours in a woman's world,


PS The swing-park was painted the other week. On the plus side, it's no longer a tetanus shot waiting to happen. Unfortunately, the new graffiti which has since been added by some genius with a marker pen stands out really well.

As Marie's reading skills are coming on rapidly, I may need to sneak out in the middle of the night and make some alterations. These will incriminate anyone in the area called BUCK but it's for the greater good...

Thursday 25 March 2010

This blog has moved

This blog is now located here at

Apologies for the inconvenience but it's beyond my control. Hopefully nothing much will break but expect some hiccups over the next few days.

Should you get lost and end up in the wrong place, you'll be automatically redirected.


For feed subscribers, please update your feed subscriptions to

Wednesday 24 March 2010

Mirror, mirror, on the wall...

Dear Dave,

Being a housedad doesn't bring fame, fortune or exotic trips. It's not really something to enter into for the pension plan or the lengthy holidays. It's mainly an efficient way to combine receiving hugs and playing with cool toys while catching a cold.

Adulation and praise from my children is always a bonus, however. It was wonderful yesterday when Marie came out of school full of smiles and delighted to see me. She climbed onto my lap as I sat on a bench and she told me about her day and how much she loves me. Then she danced off happily to play while we waited for Lewis.

When she returned, I was rubbing my eyes. "You look like a goblin without your glasses on," she said.

I put them back into place. "So I look better like this?"

She screwed up her face and stared at me intently. "Yes... but you still look a bit like a goblin."

"Oh, cheers. In what way?"

"Your nose... It's very big."

Before I could respond, she went into a meltdown because her backpack was suddenly too heavy and she didn't want to carry it home. My little princess had returned to normal service. She probably coughed on me as well.

Never mind. The pleasantness was nice while it lasted. Nonetheless, if she's not careful, she's going to end up relocated to a deep, dark forest with a new career as scullery maid to seven diminutive miners...

That'll teach her.

Yours in a woman's world,


Just this once

Dear Dave,

Jen over at Following the Road tagged me with a meme. I don't normally bother with these things but since she's my Official Internet Friend, I thought I'd give it a shot. It's about writing. Actual, on paper, writing.

How does this pen thing work again?

The Rules:
write the following
1) Your name/blog name.
2) Right-handed, left-handed, or ambidextrous?
3) Favorite letters to write.
4) Least favorite letters to write.
5) Write “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog.”
6) Write the following words in capital letters:
7) Write your favorite song lyric.
8) Tag people!
9) Any special note or picture.

The bit at the end says,'When I write fast, it looks like this!' You should see 'very fast'...

Yours with a sore hand and inky fingers,


Friday 19 March 2010

Never start a land war in Asia

Dear Dave,

When dealing with my children, I learnt long ago to pick my battles. Sometimes it's worth letting bedtime slide by five minutes in order to avoid twenty minutes of tantrums and screaming. On the other hand, when it's time for school, it's time for school - anyone dawdling is going to get an earful.

I'm sure this comes across as inconsistent and capricious on occasion but in general it makes life more pleasant. The kids get to feel they have some control over their own lives despite the fact that, when it really matters, they don't. They win minor victories but we get where we need to be without too much of a fight. We all stay sane. Hooray!

What I didn't realise until examining Marie's fingernails the other day is that my inconsistency runs deeper than I thought. It turns out that I pick different battles with different children.

When Fraser was younger, he used to pick at his fingernails. When I went to clip them, I'd discover half of them ragged and maybe even bleeding. I was constantly having a go at him to leave them alone. It took months for me to achieve success and finally get him to stop. It was a slog.

In contrast, I haven't clipped any of Marie's nails in more than a year and a half. I assume they're still growing but I don't know what happens to them and I don't ask. Every so often, I remind her not to pick at them, she mutters to herself and we leave it at that.

Why? Why did I make a fuss with Fraser but not with her?

I suppose, for starters, she's a better DIY manicurist than he was. She hardly ever makes a hash of things and makes herself sore. On top of that, I guess I'm more tired than I was when Fraser was small. There's less fight in me, so I need to choose my conflicts even more carefully.

Most of all, though, I know I'd lose. Since neat fingernails are a relatively inconsequential issue in the grand scheme of things, that's really as good a reason as any to leave things be.

I'm saving my energy for when she's a teenager and wants a tongue stud.

Yours in a woman's world,


Tuesday 16 March 2010

Nintendo - not so stupid after all

Dear Dave,

I picked up a secondhand Nintendo DSi the other day. We had two DSs already but Marie has suddenly taken quite an interest in Mario and the investment was worth it in order to ensure peace on our next long train journey. Four hundred miles of my three children taking it in turns to whine, 'Is it my turn yet?' doesn't sound like fun. Now they can all play Mario Party together wirelessly and I can have a nap. Fantastic.

Before I told the kids about the DSi, I got them to decide how much they'd be willing to pay towards a hypothetical one from their Christmas cash reserves. I was quite surprised how enthusiastic they were about the whole idea. After a little negotiating, I even managed to turn a small profit...

I had a little secret play on it before handing it over (for research purposes, of course). After the Wii, I'm a little suspicious of Nintendo's hardware output. The pointing and motion controls of a wiimote seem to be harder for small children to get to grips with than the sticks and buttons of a normal control pad. Even for adults, the experience can often be fiddly and intrusive. Only a handful of games wouldn't work just as well (if not better) on the GameCube. Half of that handful have involved me buying extra gizmos and attachments. All in all, the Wii has been hype over substance.

The DS is different, though. The combination of touch screen and normal buttons make it in many ways a superior games machine than either the PlayStation Portable or iPod Touch. This fact has just been rather obscured by a deluge of low-budget brain training software, cartoon tie-ins and pony simulators.

The DSi plays DS games and has some interesting but inessential extra features - internet browsing over wi-fi, game downloads, MP3 playback, two cameras and some photo manipulation software. These are fun but the machine doesn't do much which I haven't got two gadgets capable of doing already. It wouldn't have been worth upgrading from a DS but seeing as we needed an extra one...

I couldn't help noticing a couple of design flaws, however. The lack of a slot for Game Boy Advance games is something of a loss, for instance. That said, the biggest problem is that although the thing is compatible with WPA wi-fi encryption, the DS games it plays are not - they still only work with WEP. This sounds technical and dull and it is. You can't really imagine exactly how technical, dull and frustrating it actually is unless you have a Pokémon-mad nine-year-old who wants to trade virtual creatures with strangers in Puerto Rico but can't do so without you re-configuring your entire home network in a security-compromising fashion... Gah.

I also discovered that however low you set the console's volume, it still makes a lound whirr-click noise when a photo is taken. I shook my head at this, envisioning the irritation and embarrassment this is liable to cause me everywhere we go. There are plenty of places that I'd prefer we didn't draw attention to ourselves. Four hundred miles of whirr-click could easily surround us with irate fellow passenger. Not only that but they're all going to be aware that my kids are taking photos of them, merging their faces together and then defacing them with technicolour beards. This could severely hamper my napping.

The morning after the children got their hands on the DSi, however, I began to understand some of Nintendo's reasoning a little better. As I wandered the house, I heard the kids giggling close by. They were clearly up to something but I almost didn't investigate. It was early, I didn't have my glasses on and I wasn't sure I wanted to know what they were waving around in my general direction.

Since the DSi can post photos directly to Facebook and I was only wearing a towel, I was quite glad of a whirr-click noise to let me know what was going on...

Yours in a woman's world,


Friday 12 March 2010

Leaving them alone to be together

Dear Dave,

When, despite the busy schedule of clubs, baths, school and homework, one of the children does somehow manage to have a friend round, life is often easier for me. Rather than being extra work, having another child in the house is enough to keep all the others occupied. Older children find a quiet corner to hide from young visitors; younger children sit and gaze in awe at bigger guests. I stay out of the way and have a cup of coffee.

I used to hang around in the same general location, keeping an eye on things. I was there to explain any house rules the guest was unaware of, to confiscate any contraband they might have smuggled in with them and to make sure Fraser actually gave them a shot on the GameCube.

This last part quickly became frustrating, however. No sooner had he handed the controller over than he would grab it back. Unfamiliar with thumbsticks, power-ups and (in at least one case) TVs, his friends struggled to go more than a few seconds without virtual death but he never let them experiment for long enough to get a clue. He'd just shout stuff like, 'Jump up and ground-pound the Goomba. Watch out for the Bullet Bill!' Never mind that they didn't know the buttons or what a Goomba was - in the context, half of them literally didn't know which way was up. They merely let him wrest control from their limp fingers and then sat mesmerised as the shiny things bounced around on screen.

After a while, they left him to it and wandered off to see if they could find some LEGO.

I tried cajoling him to act differently and be more inclusive but it never seemed to do any good. I just ended up telling him off in front of his friends. The time he made a long list of what he was going to do when Brandon came round, I gave up. 'Ask Brandon what he wants to do' was at number 23.

After a point, it's up to my kids to make and keep friends themselves. There's only so much I can do. It's not like I'm around during playtime at school to supervise their social skills anyway.

Now I keep clear when one of the children has a visitor. Everyone seems to have more fun. I usually only have to intervene when one of my other kids tries hijacking the guest's attention. The miscreant then gets whisked away to the kitchen to do something exciting, creative and educational with me. If I'm lucky, just the threat of this is often enough to stop them interfering.

Sometimes they even go and hide under their bed covers.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Harriet came round to see Marie the other day and they rushed off for a shot on the Wii. I checked on them after an hour and the poor girl was playing intently but not doing too well. It may have had something to do with the fact she was holding the controller upside down. I turned it round and went away. When I returned five minutes later, she had it upside down again. She didn't seem to mind it wasn't working properly and it was apparently comfier to hold that way.

I went and hid under my bed covers.

Wednesday 10 March 2010

Making a date with a diary

Dear Dave,

I need to start carrying a diary.

It's not that I have any social engagements of my own to record, it's just that coordinating all the kids' clubs and activities is becoming more than my brain can handle. One of the children asks if they can have a friend round after school and I end up running through the following mental checklist:
  1. What day is it? By this, I mean which day of the week is it? If by some fluke I should happen to recall the actual date, it's no good to me. My life is run on a weekly basis. Monday is Fraser's drama class, Tuesday is Marie's Art Club, Wednesday is football for Lewis AND dance for Marie, etc.
  2. What are the kids signed up for? Knowing the day of the week is a start, knowing what that means is the secret knowledge of a primary carer.

    Me: How was work, dear?
    Sarah: Fine. Did Marie have fun at football today?
    Me: She had art.
    Sarah: I thought she did football on a Wednesday.
    Me: That was last term. Lewis does football on a Wednesday now.
    Sarah: Not Monday then?
    Me: That was before the summer, back when Fraser had Science Club.
    Sarah: Science Club has finished? He liked that.
    Me: There's still Maths Challenge - that's every other Friday.
    Sarah: What about Junior Explorers?
    Me: That's the third Thursday of any month with five Tuesdays.
    Sarah: Oh... Right...

    Not that anyone other than the primary carer needs to know this information, of course. In fact, it's probably safer if they don't. The strain of keeping track of it all addles the brain:

    Sarah: So did Marie enjoy the art then?
    Me: Seemed to. She painted a picture of a rainbow dustbin and wants you to have it to put up at the office.
    Sarah: That's sweet. It's only going to make Tracy more broody, though.
    Me: Tracy?
    Sarah: Tracy. You know Tracy - I've been working with her for two years.
    Me: I've lost track. Which one exactly...?
    Sarah: I was talking about her yesterday.
    Me: Er...
    Sarah: She came to our Christmas party.
    Me: I don't quite recall...
    Sarah (sighing): She dropped a mince pie and lost it in her cleavage.
    Me: Oh, yeah, following you now...
  3. Is there anything special on? Sometimes the weekly plan isn't enough. Annual, monthly and one-off events crop up on occasion. This is where most people would resort to a standard calendar. Since I've been known to struggle with dating cheques even on my own birthday, I tend to opt for a more ecclesiastical format. In my head, I don't pencil in Fraser's Boys' Brigade trip as the 27th - it becomes The Second Sunday after Lewis' Birthday. Marie's school show is the morning of The Third Friday of Swimming Lessons.

    Getting the dentist to write something like The Last Wednesday before the Endless Expanse of the Summer Holidays on my appointment card is always hard work, however.
  4. What do I need to do? I don't really need to know what clubs the kids are at. I just have to remember when they need to be where and what equipment they have to have with them. Remembering to collect them is also advantageous (although, if you believe their siblings, not necessarily essential.)
Deciding whether a visitor can be fitted into the timetable can be taxing. It usually involves several seconds of staring at the ceiling while making thoughtful noises. And that's just to remember the checklist.

I really should start carrying a diary. This has been the case for a while and the main thing putting me off is that my pockets are already full. Thinking about it, though, how much would it help? For it to work effectively, I'd need to go through filling in events and times and places. What are the chances? In reality, a typical week would look like this:

Monday: Drama
Tuesday: AC
Wednesday: Dance, Football
Thursday: Ella --> here, Rob - lunch (12?)
Friday: AB, RB, no BB
Saturday: Lewis --> Dan (?), Cinema

I'd have to translate the shorthand code, remember the details, figure in Sarah's schedule, try to think if there was anything I'd forgotten to write down and then add in routine items such as school times, bath nights and church.

I might be as quick and accurate asking the kids:

Me: What's happening today?
Fraser: Nothing.
Lewis: There's school.
Fraser: Aw! Why did you tell him?
Me: It's Wednesday. I knew there was school. Anything else happening?
Marie: I'm going to wear a pink hair clip.
Me: Er, I meant, is there anywhere else you guys have to go?
Fraser: No.
Lewis: Yes.
Marie: France! I want to go to France!

Then again, maybe I'll stick to the checklist...

Yours in a woman's world,


Friday 5 March 2010

Dirty housedad confessions

Dear Dave,

Several years ago, at one of the first parent and toddler sessions I went to, I found myself sitting around discussing housework with a group of mums. Once they were past the usual shock and awe at being in the presence of a man who knew one end of a hoover from another, we had a comradely chat about how none of us was being quite as thorough with the household cleaning as we had been in the era before children. An endless succession of nappies and feeds was sapping our time and energy. Where once we'd scrubbed and polished, we were settling for only a quick wipe. Those places which had previously been fine with only a quick wipe were merely getting an occasional guilty glance.

It was good to share our angst over the dirt that had accumulated in our homes and helped reinforce our mutual relief that the world hadn't ended. We'd all settled on our own new definitions of 'clean' which we could both live with and achieve. To sum it up, one mum said, "I've learnt that skirting boards are self-dusting. Once the piled dust on top reaches a certain level, any more just slides off."

This wasn't as reassuring as she meant it to be, however. My immediate thought was, "Oh, heck! Skirting boards are supposed to be dusted?"

Thankfully, I'd had very little sleep and I barely remembered who I was. I forgot the thought almost instantly and went to find another chocolate biscuit and a refill for my coffee. I had a small child who took stupid amounts of time to look after. The housework was a secondary priority. No soft furnishings had started shambling around of their own accord and that was good enough to be going on with...

Two more children and most of a decade later and I'm finally at the point where a spring clean might be feasible. The thing is, the world still hasn't ended. Apart from having to fight off the odd mutinous cushion with a stick every so often, the gradual descent of hygiene standards hasn't produced any consequences.

Er... Not too many anyway:
  • I used to think that jumpers needed washed about once a year but that was because I had several and I hardly ever wore them. I was forever doing something which required rolling up my sleeves. Washing-up, changing a nappy, bathing a child - you name it, I was doing it. So why bother with sleeves in the first place? I roamed the house in a t-shirt, ready to respond to the next mess or disaster. I was constantly on the move and the heating was turned up, so the jumpers lived in a drawer.

    Now the kids are at school all day, I leave the heating off. Jumpers are my friend. I wear them all the time. It turns out they do need washed more than once a year.

    Febreze only works for so long...

  • I dusted some black and white wedding photos the other day and discovered that they were, in fact, in colour.

  • Some things obviously need cleaned. A light switch which feels sticky isn't pleasant, for instance. On cleaning one recently, though, I noticed that the entire area surrounding it was a much darker shade of beige than the rest of the wall. The lighting in the room hid this fact well but I knew I really had to do something about the grimy paw marks. The problem was, I suspected a large amount of scrubbing might be involved and that was before I took in a couple of other locations in the room which needed similar attention. Luckily, I had some of the original decorating materials handy.

    Nothing shows dirt who's boss faster than painting over it.

  • I used to kick loose crumbs under the fridge. After having had various mouse incursions, I now hoover a lot. And keep all the food in sealed tubs. And keep a lid on the toaster. I hardly every clean inside the fridge but I'm fairly certain they can't get in there. It's not like there's ever anything in the fridge anyway. I go to the shops, buy fresh food, fill the fridge, the kids come home and the fridge is empty. It's very strange.

  • We needed a new oven five years ago but we put off getting one until we were ready to replace the entire kitchen. We needed a new one of those ten years ago. One delay after another has meant we still haven't quite got one yet. Nonetheless, my heart really hasn't been into cleaning the old oven for half a decade. I mean, it gets heated up to a couple of hundred degrees in there on a regular basis. How sentient can that slime in the bottom be?
Ho well. Maybe I'll get round to that spring clean next year. I suppose, in the meantime, at least the toilets are clean.

(Er, usually...)

Yours in a woman's world,


Monday 1 March 2010

Shock tactics

Dear Dave,

We've all been there:

"Don't play on the rocks - you'll get hurt."
"Don't throw your toys - they'll break."
"Don't pat the dog - you don't know where it's been."
"Don't write there - we'll get arrested."
"Don't get sauce on your shirt - it'll never come off."
"Don't eat that - you'll get sick."
"Don't touch that - it'll explode!"
"Don't do that - your legs will fall off."
"Don't throw rocks at that dog - it'll eat you... and be sick on my shirt. Then the whole world will explode!"

It's easy to get carried away when stating the possible consequences of whatever mischief the kids are up to. Worst-case scenarios always spring readily to mind. It's not hugely surprising that you attempted to put the fear of hospitals, social services and Santa's naughty list into Sam after his little experiment with the forks. I doubt he's traumatised. Unfortunately, it's far more likely he's ignored you entirely and is already back raiding the cutlery drawer.

If you can hear clinking as you read this, you might want to go and investigate...



See, I told you, he's fine - he wasn't even listening.

I suspect that's why these extravagant prophecies of doom are so easy for us to utter. Lesser threats and warnings have no effect and so we escalate in an effort to get a response. Saying that rough treatment will scratch a new toy doesn't alter the behaviour, so the possibility of breaking the toy is mentioned. Sadly, this is only ever going to stop a child battering an Action Man with a pan long enough to say, "It's not broken. See!"

The concept of 'yet' doesn't come into it.

To be fair, though, it can be the same for adults.

The current fire safety campaign involves emotive scenes of death and destruction, and stern warnings not to leave washing machines on overnight. The accompanying blurb on the website strongly discourages leaving a TV on standby while out at the shops and recommends switching electrical appliances off at the mains when not in use.

This advice is all very well but I can't imagine it's had much effect. I certainly haven't rushed round the house disconnecting things myself. Half the gadgets we own include clocks which reset when the power goes off - they're clearly designed to be left on the whole time. Bearing this in mind, why bother with the other stuff? I'm not switching the kettle off at the mains, for instance. I switch it off once a fortnight when I clean it and that's quite enough. Later in the day, I nearly always end up wondering why it's taking so long to boil...

I'm sure electrical faults happen regularly throughout the country but not regularly enough for me to spend my life fiddling with sockets. Nothing's burst into flames yet. Heck, when I was young, my mum used to get up in the middle of the night especially to switch the washing machine on because the electricity was cheaper.

I can't help thinking the advertising money would be better spent showing smiling, happy people testing their smoke alarms. The slogan could be 'Checked the batteries this week? Superb. You're awesome!'. (They could get Huey to do the voice-over.)

It's the same with those warning ads at the start of DVDs claiming piracy somehow leads to international terrorism. They always seem slightly divorced from everyday experience. Then there are the ones which go on about pirated copies being such low quality that showing one will lose you friends and family. I'm not convinced. I always imagine that if I had a pirated version I wouldn't have to sit through countless unskippable copyright notices. The only time I've taken notice was when a message popped up along the lines of 'Thank you for purchasing this genuine product and helping to support the motion picture industry so we can bring you more great entertainment!' It was a refreshing change from shock tactics.

Being positive about good behaviour can be hard work but I guess it's worth a shot.

Good luck getting the forks out of your neighbour's shrubbery without him noticing. I'm off to check the batteries in the smoke alarms.

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 24 February 2010

Olympic cheerleading

Dear Dave,

The US Ski Team appear to have taken a guy with them to the Olympics whose sole purpose is to stand behind athletes at the start, encouraging them in the seconds before they launch themselves down a stupidly steep, icy slope. He's a big bloke called Huey with dubious facial hair but, boy, can he sound enthusiastic while freezing his extremities off at the top of a snowy mountain. He whoops, he hollers, he claps, he tells the skiers that they 'can do this' and that they 'own' things. He's still shouting as they tear off into the distance.

Sometimes he gets to watch them hurtle to glory. As often as not, he gets to see them clip a flag and careen down the slope on their face. It doesn't matter. Next time, he's whooping and hollering just as hard.

This may, of course, be because it's as good a way as any to keep warm (not to mention it's his job) but it's impressive, all the same. I could do with my own Huey following me around the whole time - giving me a little boost when I'm flagging, egging me on to one last push, making me feel good about myself.

It's a shame that half the athletes probably learnt to phase him out years ago. The other half almost certainly wish he'd shut up and let them concentrate. Nonetheless, he keeps doggedly on. He must have had plenty of training.

Do you think he used to be a housedad?

Yours in a woman's world,


Monday 22 February 2010

Slippery slope

Dear Dave,

So much for a life of freedom and leisure now the kids are all at school. They're taking it in turns to have a mysterious illness which involves a day of dizziness, three days of feeling not too bad and then another week of stinking cold, sore throat and coughing. The result is that as soon as one feels better, the next is lying on the sofa, huddled under a blanket and coughing over the remote controls. Combined with the February holiday, this means I've barely been able to leave the house for over a fortnight.

It's not even over yet. Fraser stumbled out of bed this morning, ate half his breakfast and then stumbled back again, croaking mournfully about a headache. If the other two are anything to go by, he won't get much further than the lounge until Thursday. Then his right ear will start to hurt and he'll whine incessantly.


Ho well. The scary thing is that this spate of sickness has lasted so long, it feels like they've all got older in the meantime. Marie has discovered Nintendo, Lewis has lost his ability to stay out of arguments which don't concern him and Fraser has taken to sitting around in a hoodie while exuding an unpleasant odour. Two weeks with the heating on and the windows shut has turned the house into an incubation chamber. All my little Pokémon have evolved to the next stage.

Is it just me or is the fact that they've gone from calling farts 'bottom burps' to calling burps 'mouth farts' the beginning of the end?

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 17 February 2010

Crime and punishment

Dear Dave,

I miss owning a cage.

I suppose that technically it was a play-pen but that's just marketing spin. It was a cage. When the kids were small, I could simply banish them to the cage whenever they were acting up. A few minutes of sulking or yelling in there and they soon calmed down. As a bonus, while incarcerated, they were much less of a danger to themselves, me or each other.

If they attempted escape, I could lift them back in. If things got really bad, I could leave the kids loose and climb in myself, curling up for a quick doze, safe from the screaming horde. (Ours had a nice padded base - soft, warm and machine-washable. Bliss.)

Merely the threat of a quick stint behind bars was often enough to cool any situation. As they got bigger, though, toddler prison became less convincing (and, besides, we needed more floor space to cope with the piles of LEGO and Pokémon). The play-pen went the way of the crib, cot, and high-chair.

Now the kids get sent to their rooms when they've been misbehaving. This is OK but not the same. Their rooms are too full of fun stuff to act as successful penitentiaries. It's like open prison compared with the high-security lockdown of the play-pen. There's no saying they'll actually want to leave when the five minutes is up.

Also, Marie and Lewis share a room so if they get both get banished at the same, the resulting pandemonium can be worse than whatever went before.

I'm actually finding it quite hard to think of ways to encourage Marie to behave. My boys aren't too fussed about being sent to their rooms but it's usually enough for them to get the message. Marie, however, can be completely unfazed by the experience. Even when her bed is emptied of its normal 507 toys and she's told to sit on it until she's willing to comply with household regulations, there's no guessing how long she'll stubbornly hold out. Sometimes she'd rather whine for two hours than say sorry.

Another example of her resistance involves breakfast. On school days, the kids have to be done with their toast by 8:30 or we're struggling to get to school on time. When Fraser was in Primary 1, he struggled with this concept, no matter how many times I told him to hurry up. He overran almost every day. Then I told him he wouldn't get to take a snack with him if he wasn't finished on time... I still had to goad him on but I only had to follow through with the threat a couple of times. The possibility of missing out on his Coco-Pop bar was sufficient incentive to eat quickly.

Marie doesn't care. She happily goes without her tub of raisins every other day. If some different misdemeanour means she doesn't get her tea-time dessert, she just shrugs. If her behaviour costs her a treat or some stickers or a trip, she knows there'll be another day. In the meantime, she's deriving too much satisfaction from digging in her heels and shrieking.

She can be hard work.

Of course, the way to virtually guarantee cooperation from the boys is to suggest they're jeopardising their computer game privileges. The prospect of a day or two devoid of Mario can bring them into line almost instantly. I don't invoke the possibility frequently, though - things have to be pretty desperate before I'm willing to risk a couple of days of having to entertain them without the aid of an implausibly acrobatic Italian plumber and his pals. Like the nuclear deterrent, it's only going to lead to mutually assured destruction.

I did decide to try the tactic on Marie at the weekend, however. She's been showing some interest in the Wii and DS since Christmas - nowhere near as much as the boys but enough to make the threat of their withdrawal worth a shot. She'd gone into meltdown at the mention of putting on her shoes and wasn't responding to any other bribes or cajoling, so I thought I might as well give it a go.

No dice. The tantrum didn't abate and she brought down 36 Nintendo-free hours upon herself. She didn't care... first.

By the following afternoon, barely ten minutes went by without her saying, "Can I play computer games yet? I've been really good." I stuck to my guns. She didn't get to play until the next morning. She wasn't sweating and shaking by then but it may have been close.

That evening, she started a strop when told to get ready for bed. I casually mentioned another computer game embargo. To my astonishment, she instantly leapt up and scurried off to locate her pyjamas.

It's still not as good as a cage but it's getting there...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS A couple of discipline points that have come to my attention recently:
  • After my kids have served their time, I always ask them, "Do you know why you were sent to your room?"

    They always reply, "Yes."

    On cross-examination, however, they never do.
  • When I want the children to do something, they hardly ever do it immediately. I find giving them a count of five in which to obey works well. It allows them time to argue and whinge but sets a definite deadline. I can also speed up and slow down the count to chivvy them along or give them some leeway.

    Unfortunately, they do have a tendency to leave compliance to the very last moment. I end up counting, "One... Two... ... Three... ... ... Four... ... ... ... F... F... Fi-nally." They come within micro-seconds of punishment. To my mind, this is leaving things a touch too late.

    It turns out this may be down to miscommunication rather than brinkmanship, though. I discovered yesterday that when Sarah's in charge, she counts to six.

    This explains a lot.

Monday 15 February 2010

Creeping middle-age

Dear Dave,

You know you're getting old when you look through your notebook of things to write about and see something interesting but can't remember if you've written about it already...

...and then you think that that, in itself, is worth writing about.

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Looking at our wedding photos the other day, Sarah pointed out that her mum was only eight years older than I am now. This was disturbing.

Friday 12 February 2010

Family planning

Dear Dave,

Here's one to ponder: When's a good age to have children and what's the best gap to have between them?

I've never really understood parents who wait until one child starts school before having the next one. It all sounds too long and drawn out. That said, I do recall getting rather a lot of horrified looks back in the day when I told people I had three kids under the age of five. They kind off assumed that either this was down to misfortune or insanity.

I like the way my kids are close together, though. The four years between Fraser and Marie might be enough for them to annoy each other most of the time but they can still play games together without Fraser feeling as if he's looking after her. Being in the middle, Lewis gets on with both of them.

Although, now I think about it, the two year gap between Lewis and Marie could provide some problems for me when they're teenagers. What with girls maturing faster than boys, they'll be ideally placed to provide each other with a constant stream of dating opportunities from amongst their classmates.


The truth is, there may not be an ideal time and spacing. There are always going to be bonuses and consequences. It's simply a case of getting on with it and seeing what happens.

Recently, a friend muttered that he'd maybe planned things poorly, in that he's going to have the fun of dealing with a teenage daughter when he's in his mid-fifties. I did some quick calculations and was delighted to realise that all mine should be out of the house by the time I turn fifty. It could be a close run thing - depending on the university, Marie might not have got through Freshers' Week before I'm blowing out a stupidly large number of candles - but, nevertheless, once the kids have grown up and moved away, I'll still be almost young... if only for a day or two. I'll wander around the house in my underpants to celebrate and then turn the TV to whatever channel I feel like without anyone complaining.

(Of course, I'm assuming here that my children will go on to higher education, which could be seen as somewhat presumptuous. However, much as I'd love to have produced a plumber, an electrician and a joiner, all my kids seem to be wilfully academic and only Lewis looks liable to have enough coordination to be trusted with power tools. Rather than getting my house fixed up for free when they're older, I'm going to be lumbered with their student debt. Ho hum.)

The happy dream of offspring-free habitation lasted for several seconds. Then a different train of thought dropped, unbidden, into my brain:

Fraser is four years older than Marie and a Scottish degree lasts four years, therefore... the time she moves out, he could have already moved back in!

Gah. Unless I change the locks, I could be in my eighties before I'm left in peace to wander around the house in my underpants. What's the good of that? When I'm eighty, I'm planning to wander round in my underpants whenever I feel like it anyway.

That'll give my kids something really fun to deal with when they're in their mid-fifties.

Yours in a woman's world,


Monday 8 February 2010

Old gadgets never die...

Dear Dave,

We achieved a new record in my household yesterday. Fraser was playing Peggle on the Xbox, Sarah was playing on my iPod, Marie was using the old laptop to buy furniture for a virtual bear, Lewis was tending to the needs of his pet monster on the desktop machine and I was in the kitchen hiding from all the bleepy noises while surfing the web on the 'new' laptop. All five of us were online at once.

This was a freaky realisation. We may well have reached a turning point in the history of human society. From here on in, cyberspace is going to take over. Another six months and we'll all be brains in jars, happily interacting via our avatars as they fly around electronic worlds in their personal hover cars while wearing tinfoil jumpsuits...

Or maybe not. The freakiest thing was actually discovering we had enough internet-enabled gadgets to make this possible. Not only that but we could have had several friends round and got them logged on in some fashion as well (provided our flaky wireless router didn't melt). That's quite a lot of gizmos, many of which will probably be out of date by a week on Thursday, if they're not already.

This got me to thinking. We already have a pile of ageing technology that we don't use very much anymore - Leapsters, an N64, three varieties of Game Boy, a tangled nest of headphones, an entire box of various cables that will probably come in useful one day, another box of cables that probably won't, two printers, a tub of floppy disks, speakers, keyboards, controllers, goodness knows what. Most of it still sort of works. Some of it is very handy on occasion. A lot of it is irreplaceable and yet much of it no one would take if we were giving it away. None of it can be legally binned.

It sits in cupboards and on shelves. At some point, it will end up in the loft. Once the loft is full, I'll have to start making furniture out of it.

You know how old people have random ornaments and photos everywhere? Things that are not worth selling but are too good to hand in at the charity shop? Stuff they inherited, stuff with sentimental value, stuff that their friends have secretly been hiding amongst all the clutter since 1987 in order to clear some space in their own homes?

Our generation will be different. We're not going to have display cabinets full of crystal and porcelain, we're going to have plastic crates full of power adapters and chargers. My kids will dread the thought of anything happening to me simply because it will mean they'll have to deal with my sofa made of inkjet printers and then poke around under the stairs where old Xboxes run wild and have strung up a web of USB wires to snare the unwary.

I don't think your lot will be fooled by your senile ramblings about how collectible your 1st generation iPad is either. We should maybe look into our recycling options.

Then again, if Great Aunt Edith spots a space in my house, she might try and palm off her wedding china on me. Perhaps it would be best just to arrange the technology in a tasteful display. I'll go do that now...

Yours in a woman's world,