Days with Tom #3. The Clip Show.

May 30, 2012

Hey Tom. Remember how I said I was going to document our days together? Remember how I warned you of my innate laziness? Well, one month on from my last post to you, I think you can guess what happened.

Yep. Nothing.

It’s annoying, because we’ve had so much fun together. Like… [CUE WIDDLY WEE HARP MUSIC AND WOBBLY VISUALS]

Getting you up in the morning

Ah, a freshly woken baby. Toasty warm. Can’t be beaten. OK, it would be great if you woke up a little bit later than HALF PAST FIVE EVERY FUCKING MORNING but once you’ve got past that, how can you not love this?

“Ah, Mr Daddy. We’ve been expecting you. I’ve done a poo by the way.”

Our morning constitutional.

This has become a firm favourite. (No, not a poo. A walk.) We roam the streets looking for cats to point at and dogs to be disconcerted by. A couple of days ago you were licked by a three-legged black lab. You didn’t like it. The licking bit, not the three-leggedness.

What I like about our trips out is that no-one bats an eyelid at a hungover daddy wandering the streets with a small baby wearing pyjamas and wellies. Mainly because it’s six in the morning and no-one else is around to see it. I like the fact that you’ve decided to come out with a book. Just in case the walk gets too dull.

Image

“Yay! Walking! PJs! Wellies! Book!”

Shortly after this picture was taken, you wanted to go home. Only another 12 hours to go before bedtime, which is why I thank God for…

Telly

Peppa Pig DVDs. Octonauts on Series Link. Baby Jake. Nothing keeps a baby occupied better than TV.

“Shh. Postman Pat’s on. Now go and get me some juice.”

Obviously we don’t watch the commercial channels, Tom. Children’s programming should follow the Reithian mantra of “inform, educate and entertain”. Notice the absence of “distract” . Reith obviously never had a small child running around his house.

How else do we spend the day? Well, we lunch. By crikey we lunch. We’ve been to Mr Jamie Oliver’s Italian Restaurants in Stratford and Canary Wharf a few times, popped over to Eat 17 for a Mac ‘n’ cheese (‘n’ Malbec) and occasionally, we’ve had lunch at our desks (or in your case, in your chair).

Post-lunch, we build massive Babel-esque towers, run around and refuse to go to sleep.

Well, I say “we”. It’s more “you”. Personally I’d kill for an afternoon nap.

No? Oh well. You carry on with the whole tower thing.

“I shall build a tower whose top may reach unto heaven. Actually, can I go to the park now?”

Only a few hours till mum gets home.

Days with Tom #2. Fantastic Day, by Haircut 1.

April 30, 2012

Hello Tom.

Well Wednesday 25/04/12 was pretty cool.

It started, as mornings usually do, with a bit of sofa time. Because daddy needs a while to gather himself before the day ahead. This is not a eupehmism for hungover. Honest.

It wasn’t unproductive, though. We got to look at mummy’s bra catalogue, which you found incredibly funny.

“Hahahahahaha! Babies drink from these! Hahahahahaha! Stupid babies!”

Later, when daddy managed to unpeel himself from the sofa (after Octonauts, naturally) we got dressed. For today there was to be no slobbing. Oh no. Today was haircut day.

Now you’ve had your hair cut before. It was a while back and our tactic was, to paraphrase a fellow parent, “to sneak up on you while watching CBeebies and lop chunks off”. (Her name is Elizabeth, she’s very funny and if you’re on The Twitter, you can follow her here.)

But this time it was to be a professional job. We went to a place called Lotolie in Walthamstow Village. Your behaviour was impeccable.

“Yeah, just a bit off the top, tidy up the back & sides. No gel.”

“Off anywhere nice for your holidays?”
“Well we might go to the park later.”

“Yeah, lovely. Good job. Bit more off the fringe maybe?”

Your haircut cost six quid. Now, I pay that for my haircut, but I don’t get toy cars to play with.

Afterwards, we did lunch. Because lunch is what daddy does. Even on his day off.

We went to a lovely place called Eat 17 (see what they did there?). You were unsure what to order.

Like the Sugarcubes said. “Eat the menu.”

In the end, you plumped for the macaroni cheese, accompanied by a cheeky apple juice (Del Monte ’99 unless I’m very much mistaken). Daddy had Merguez and Malbec. Don’t tell mummy.

Sadly we got rained in, so we had to have afters. I never knew such a small baby could consume so much ice cream. I had a chocolate brownie (well, what little I could rescue from your gaping maw).

“Mmm. I’m Michael Winner baby and that was delicious. Pay the lady, old man.”

Replete, we headed home.

When we got back, daddy inexplicably felt like a snooze. Luckily, so did you.

Sleep tight son.

Days with Tom #1

April 25, 2012

Hello Tom.

Before you were born, I promised myself that I would keep a constant online record of you. It was to be a multimedia extravaganza. Much like that Google Chrome ad (sniff, still makes me well up).

Then you actually arrived.

“Morning! What now?”

And all those grand plans went by the wayside. It had a lot to do with the fact that you were really quite time-consuming. But if I’m honest, it was more to do with my innate laziness. Sorry, son.

Anyway. Now I find myself with a bit more time on my hands than I did before. I’ll be looking after you for a day or two a week. No mummy. No child minder. Just me. And I’ll be chronicling our adventures here.

Starting with…

Friday 20th April 2012

Thank you Cbeebies for being on from such an early hour.

I quite liked watching Postman Pat with you. I say, “with you”. I mean more you watched it, spellbound, while I lay on the sofa wondering if letting you spend the whole day in front of the telly would make me a bad father.

Of course it would. So we went out for brunch at La Cafeteria, Walthamstow’s premier eatery. You ordered the toast. I’d brought a banana as an amuse-bouche. I fed it to you while singing “Ba Na Na Na Naa”. Like the Kaiser Chiefs song.

Oh, we met Brian Harvey, formerly of 90s Boy Band East 17 (it’s good to see some people don’t abandon their roots). You were on your trike and waved at him as he walked past. You said “Hiya!” Good lad – nice to see that celebrity doesn’t faze you.

Of all the times not to be carrying a camera. Sigh.

Anyway, here’s a picture of Brian for old times’ sake.

“And ven ver fackin baby said Hiya!”

After that, nothing could really live up to your brush with stardom. I mean, we went to the swings, you had your obligatory middle-class lunch of pesto chicken pasta and did a poo. You also ran around. A lot.

But in the words of East 17, deep, deep down the whole Harvey thing was the real highlight.

Talking of which (tenuous link alert). You’ve got your first trip to the hairdresser’s tomorrow.

Should be fun. Fingers crossed.

A long time ago in an agency far, far away…

January 20, 2012

I was going to write something scathing about Vodafone’s latest TV ad featuring everybody’s favourite little green Jedi Master. But it’s just too, well, average to comment on.

Oh go on then, I will. “Do you think he tastes of wasabi?” is truly appalling and the whole thing’s terribly flat.

Anyway, I’ve been over on Youtube to check out other examples of Star Wars-based telly ads. The one with Chewbacca getting a blow dry for PC World made me smile, mainly for the piss-takey slow-motion bit. And Darth Vader getting the Orange brush-off is really rather funny.

Even funnier (albeit unintentionally) are these Public Service Announcements, as they’re called in the US, from the late 70s.

So remember kids. Don’t try to make the Kessel Run if you’ve had a few. Make sure you get your jabs. And, like the droid said, don’t smoke.

Record. Play. Stop. Delete.

August 17, 2011

One of the great pleasures of having a Sky+ box is Series Link – being able to set your recorder to tape (yes, I know there’s no actual tape but I’m an old fashioned kind of guy) entire series at the touch of a button.

(There are other pleasures, too. For instance, the perverse joy I get at goading Virgin Media customers who “can’t possibly give money to that appalling Murdoch man, he’s a crook and he runs the country don’t you know?”

To which I reply, “Well you give your money to a bearded self-publicist who can’t even drive a hot air balloon and keeps talking about his fucking Caribbean island. Whereas I fund a real, live Bond villain. Oh, and there wouldn’t even be a Virgin Media without Sky. So shut it.”)

Anyway, back to Series Link. I’ve found that, because it’s so easy to do, I forget I’ve actually started recording these programmes and end up with hours of telly that I’ll never watch.

Or rather, I’ll start watching and then realise the damn series isn’t worth persevering with. At which point I delete all episodes, taking great pleasure in watching the ‘available memory’ bar creep back up to 100%.

Game of Thrones, The Shadow Line, Boardwalk Empire… I’ve deleted them all – it’s actually quite liberating. It’s me saying, “In your face, telly! I could have wasted hours of my life watching this shit every week in the hope it’ll get better! But now I don’t have to!”

One programme I did persevere with was  Luther. I watched the first two episodes of the second series. I wish I hadn’t. Here’s  what I saw.

Idris Elba wandering around London looking like a mildly disappointed bear.

"But they said there would be honey..."

A psychopath who wears a Mr Punch mask (“Murder? That’s the way to do it!”). A woman who I think is also a psychopath talking about going travelling like an unhinged gap year student. Pam Ferris being some sort of gangland matriarch.I don’t know why, but everyone talks very quietly. UNLESS THEY’RE SHOUTING!

It’s all rather disappointing. Just like lots of the other stuff I don’t watch.

Next week: I start watching the first episode of Camelot and marvel at the sub-Tolkien dialogue before fast-forwarding to the tits.

Good causes. Great ads.

July 29, 2011

I’ve seen two charity ads recently that I think are absolutely brilliant.

They’re great because they’re simple, human and true. So often charity ads (for example, Oxfam’s Be Humankind campaign, which looks like a dystopian Lloyds TSB spot) try too hard to be different. And in doing so, they fail to connect emotionally with the viewer.

These ads, on the other hand, connect in spades.

The first, by Adam & Eve, is for Save The Children.

Ignore the slightly too-polished production values. Disregard the dubious “Isn’t the western world wonderful?” imagery. And try to put out of your mind the fact that, to be pedantic, we are all “born to die”.

In fact, don’t watch the ad at all.

Just close your eyes and listen to the voiceover.

I think it’s beautifully written. Pitch-perfect. And the line “simply the bestest” is one of the nicestest copywriting touches I’ve read (or rather, heard) in a long time.

The second ad (from AMV for Cancer Research UK) is a great example of a copywriter leaving his (?) ego at the door. Instead of putting words into their mouths, he lets the subjects speak for themselves. The way the ad is cut enhances their stories to great effect, too.

The only flaw I can see is the “But thanks to the work of Cancer Research UK” bit, which sounds scripted and a little stilted. But no matter. The stories are incredibly emotive.

And the silence at the end says much more than mere words ever could.

This post may well appear in a different form on the Targetbase Claydon Heeley blog. Just in case you see it first and think I ripped it off.

Babies On A Plane

July 28, 2011

A couple of weeks ago, we took our six month old son, Tom, to New York. It was his first proper holiday and he was understandably excited. Actually, he was just his normal, cheerful, flailing, burbling, gurning self. But I like to think he was excited.

Anyway, this was his first time on a plane so it was a tad nerve-wracking. Would he be OK? Would he cry? Would I have to change his nappy during a spot of turbulence and end up with a toilet looking like an H-Block prison cell circa 1978?

What if he screamed for eight solid hours? How would his fellow passengers react? Like this?

“I have had it with these motherfucking babies on this motherfucking plane!”

It’s bad enough when it’s your own baby, but when it’s someone else’s, the screams seem, well, louder. And I’ll admit it. I was worried that we’d be seen as Bad Parents.

Thankfully, all went well (or as well as can be expected). So I thought I’d share a few observations, hints and tips on how to survive Babies On A Plane.

On boarding

Once you’re on the plane, carry your baby up and down the aisles to show him off to his fellow passengers*. This will reassure them that he is a nice, friendly baby who poses no threat to them. It also buys you precious sympathy points if crying ensues. “This is strange,” passengers will think. “That baby seemed so happy and smiley earlier. This crying must be a momentary aberration.” Hahaha suckers! Gotcha!

Pre-flight preparation

You’re belted up and ready to go. It’s time for the safety video. Now, while it is important that you acquaint yourself with where the lifejackets, oxygen masks and emergency exits are, it’s pointless trying to get your baby to do the same. He will simply think he knows it all.

We gave Tom the safety card to read. He just tried to eat it. As he does with anything that he manages to get hold of.

Mmm, tasty safety card…

Take-off and landing

The plane’s rumbling up the runway. The engines roar louder and louder. The wheels leave the ground. How do you solve the unpleasant ‘ear-popping’ sensation that can cause instant baby wailing (and dangerously raised blood pressure in nervous flyers)?

Simple. Feed the little bugger. He’ll be too engrossed in guzzling down The White Stuff to notice anything. Sadly, this ruse cannot be used throughout the entire flight as even the most milk-laden mother is going to run out at some point (and even the greediest baby is going to get full). On a completely unrelated point, it’s amazing how breasts can be such  distra… ooh, boobies!

Sorry, where was I? Oh yes. Flying. Right.

In-flight entertainment

It is utterly pointless sitting Junior down in front of the seat-back telly and hoping that he will be entranced by the latest movie blockbuster or old episodes of The Simpsons. He’ll quickly become bored and will be much happier covering the screen with his mucky paw prints.

“Booooo-ring!”

It’s not that he thinks the pictures are real; I reckon it’s because he’s convinced it’s a touchscreen. It’s not an iPad, kid – you need to use the remote control to change channels. (Talking of which, under no circumstances give your baby the remote control. He will only try to eat it. Or inadvertently press the ‘Call stewardess’ button. Which, as he’s not allowed booze or pretzels, is a waste of their valuable time.)

Foregoing the delights of Black Swan and Limitless myself, I spent most of the flight wandering up and down the plane with Tom in a sling, ending up (mysteriously) in the galley, where I would surreptitiously ask for a gin and tonic.

(Top tip. Make sure you add “And I’ll have the same” when you order. The stewardesses have never heard this joke before and will find it hilarious. Your baby, however, will stare pityingly at you, much like Sylvester Jr. as if to say, “Why have I been lumbered with this buffoon?”)

“Oh, father.”

Sleeping

Sleeping? Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaha!

Sorry. Lost it a bit back there. Bit tired and all that. If you’re like me, you’ll know how hard it can be to sleep on a plane. There’s the restricted space. The hums, bumps and vibrations. The constant interruptions. Now multiply those distractions by a lot and you can understand why babies aren’t great sleepers. Firstly, because those free eye masks are just too big. But more importantly, there’s just too much going on. Babies are like hairless puppies – they’re just curious about absolutely everything. So why would they want to miss it all by going to sleep?

Shh, he’s finally asleep. FOR ABOUT A MICROSECOND.

Tom managed a whole hour’s kip on the flight out. The rest of the time was spent being carried around the plane, savouring the experience and smiling at his fellow passengers. Some even smiled back, albeit warily.

On the way back, which was a night flight, he slept for most of the time (I assume he’d become somewhat blasé about the whole thing, what with it being him having become a frequent flyer in the space of a week).

And when he woke up,we let him sit in his own seat for a bit.

“Oh stewardess. Where’s my milk?”

*Only do this if your baby is smiling and quiet. Carrying a crying baby up and down a plane is like showing everyone the explosives you’ve got strapped to your chest. Please note: this is a joke.

Things I’ve seen in East 17

March 28, 2011

Not actual pigeon

Taking to the streets of Walthamstow with The Infant for his early morning Saturday consitutional, I spotted a particularly scabrous, one-footed pigeon out for a scavenge. Ignoring the tasty discarded remnants of a Friday KFC (why do pigeons eat chicken – don’t they realise it’s cannibalism?), it carefully picked up a piece of twig and flew up to where I assume its nest was.

Watching this, I was struck by the realisation that, even though it was a vile, parasitic vermin, that pigeon was a parent.

(OK, we’ve reached the point where the punchline should be. But being an equal-opportunities offender, I’m going to give you a choice, delivered by the comedian of your choice. Here goes…)

“Just like poor people” – Jimmy Carr.

“Just like Tories, ladeezangennulmen” – Ben Elton.

“Something deeply offensive” – Frankie Boyle.

Muy bien

April 24, 2010

I’m a big fan of dining out (and, by crikey, I’m getting bigger by the meal). But when it comes to talking about it, I find myself lost for words. Not in a ‘it’s so good I’m speechless’ sort of way; it’s just that I seem to lack the vocabulary. I rarely go beyond the basics of ‘all right’, ‘nice’ and ‘very good’.

Fortunately, I’d learned the Spanish for ‘very good’ before I went on holiday to Argentina – and it stood me in good stead. After haltingly asking for ‘oona maysa para doss pour favoor’ and mispronouncing most of the dishes on the menu, I’d invariably end up having a fantastic meal and telling the waiter that it was ‘muy bien’. Or on more than one occasion, ‘muy, muy bien’. (By the way, my wife, Kate, got the Spanish for ‘Very good, but I’m full’ down to a tee. It’s ‘Muy bien, pero estoy iena’ if you’re a woman. If you’re a man… well, real men never admit they’re full.)

Anyway, I had so many good meals while I was away that I hope you don’t mind if I share my top 3 with you. In each case I’ve linked the name to either the restaurant website or a review site that gives the address and phone number – so if you’re in the area and fancy a bite to eat, you can easily find the place. By the way, unlike those annoying Channel 4 ‘Top 100’ shows presented by Jimmy Carr, they’re not listed in any particular order. Although, just to complicate things, number 3 was far and away my number 1.

1. Cabaña Las Lilas is situated down on the quayside in Buenos Aires. The area reminded me of the similar area in Newcastle, right down to the bridge. Unlike Newcastle, however, the locals wear more clothes even though the weather is much warmer. Go figure.

Puerto Madero bridge

But on to the restaurant. I didn’t know this at the time, but apparently Cabaña Las Lilas is one of BA’s best known parrillas – good job I ordered the baby beef steak then (it was my first meal in Argentina – I was hardly going to have a green salad). I normally have my steaks rare – however, I didn’t know the Spanish for that so I went for ‘a punto’ (medium rare, I think. I still don’t know). The meat was beautifully soft and juicily pink, needing only the slightest cut of the knife. The chips were, like a Dime bar, crunchy on the outside but soft in the middle. The glass of Malbec (a glass? Such restraint!) that came with it was smooth and fruity. The dessert menu was surplus to requirements – I was done. But not well done.

2. Bistro M After BA, we moved on to Mendoza. We had our first lunch at this little local place we found. It was called the Hyatt. We shared starters of panfried sweetbreads and carpaccio of beef. Both melted in the mouth.  My main of mushroom spaghetti (it sounds better when it’s ‘spaghetti con funghi’) was full of buttery goodness. To drink, we had a bottle of Alta Vista Torrontes – a fruity but dry white. Again, we skipped afters.

3. Butterfly Goodbye Mendoza, hello Bariloche. The town is a real ski resort, but this restaurant was anything but fondue and big portions. Butterfly is a small restaurant with only six tables available (as it was out of season, we were one of two couples dining), superb service and wonderful food. We chose the tasting menu with wine selection, and from the amuse bouches to the petit fours there wasn’t one false note. Highlights were the sweetbread risotto with morels (the ‘best risotto I’ve ever eaten,’ according to Kate) and the fall-apart-tender 16h hour-cooked Patagonian lamb shoulder. And we ACTUALLY HAD ROOM FOR DESSERT – an oozing chocolate fondant with home-made vanilla ice cream. The place was as good as any Michelin-starred restaurant, without the airs and graces.

As I said, that’s my top 3. There are many more lovely restaurants, but I’ve gone on enough and just writing this has made my mouth gush. But before I go, an honourable mention must go to A Los Bifes (partly because I took a photo of their frontage, partly because they were directly opposite our hotel, but mostly because we had our second best steak there).

I wonder what they serve?

And for a meal with a difference, Astrid & Gaston in Buenos Aires is well worth a visit. They do Peruvian cooking (no guinea pigs though) with a fine dining twist. I know the expression is used far too much (by me, here, for a start) but my main course of ribs with a sort of molasses reduction glaze really did just ‘melt in the mouth’. Ooh, and Freud & Fahle in BA’s Palermo district (like Soho, but without the wankers) is the only restaurant I’ve been to where they serve a cheese platter as a starter. The lamb chops with roasted baby turnips, carrots and leeks were fantastic too.

Ah, Argentina. I don’t think I’ve ever eaten so well anywhere else – and my waistband agrees. Muy, muy bien.

Home Alone 2

April 6, 2010

Sorry about the predictability of the headline. I know I could have spent some more time looking for different hooks upon which to hang this post. Ooh, I dunno. The election – hey, what’s that all about? Or whatever happened to [insert nostalgic riff here]? But when a gift horse trots up to you and nudges you gently in the chest it’s best not to… Actually, let’s stop that particular metaphor – this has been far too obvious and I’m only on my first paragraph.

There’s a lovely quote from Caitlin Moran in an interview with Martin Carr, which warns against settling for the first thing that presents itself to you. She in turn is quoting the late, great Alan Coren:

“The first idea that occurs to you, will have occurred to everyone. The second idea that occurs to you, will have already also occurred to the clever people. But your third idea – only you will have had that one.”

I love that. But I’d disagree with Alan in one respect. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to go with your first idea, just as long as you’ve carried on thinking and haven’t been able to beat it.

Take advertising. Please, somebody take advertising. I’ve got no documentary evidence to prove it, but I reckon that when the boys at Saatchi & Saatchi were given the advertising brief for The Independent, the line ‘It is. Are you?’ was at most number two on the layout pad. (My line would have been ‘It’s Inde-pen-dent. Write?’ And that’s why I don’t work for Saatchi & Saatchi.)

It would be lovely to see what the creatives came up with after ‘It is. Are you?’, if indeed they came up with anything. This was after all the 80s and they probably went off to the pub for the rest of the week.

These days, I’m not sure we have the time to think. We seem to be firing off first ideas, without the luxury of being able to sit back and see if we can better them. Or is this just a case of (grabs first available cliche) rose tinted glasses? I don’t know.

Well, I seem to have strayed somewhat from my original subject. So to get back on track, here’s my second batch of hastily cobbled-together observations about temporary single life.

1. It’s true. The ironing really doesn’t do itself.

2. Ditto the washing-up.

3. Chicken shouldn’t be eaten if it’s pink.

4. If you put a frying pan in the oven, remember to use an oven glove to take it out.

5. Body clocks aren’t as reliable as alarm clocks.

I know they’re all rather obvious. But I’m a bit pushed for time.


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