Month of Mondays

I read a tweet today that started with the phrase ‘January is the Monday of months’. It’s a sentiment I can wholeheartedly agree with, not least because I spent most of last month wandering around in a grumpy daze, being generally hap-hazard and wishing that it would be over. Here’s a small selection of reasons why:

I made another child cry at a birthday party: Honestly, I’m terrified at the thought of children’s parties taking over our lives at the weekends in the years to come. This is partly because I know the chances of me doing something stupid and/or awkward are enhanced in such situations. This particular example was (I think) only my third experience of being a parent at another child’s birthday party and on the previous two occasions, I’d managed to hide in the corner by the crisps and dip, so well out of harm’s way. 

 

On this occasion, I tried to be helpful. Big mistake. 

 

When the children sat down for food, I noticed that the little girl sitting next to M was having trouble with her party hat. I went to help and apparently managed to put the hat on her with no problem. Or so I thought as, five seconds later, the girl started to cry. As her mum came over, it became apparent that the girl’s bigger sister was sitting next to her and, if you’ll excuse me for being childish, was a massive tell-tale. “THAT MAN made her cry” said the older girl, pointing to me in the style of a witness in an over-dramatic television courtroom scene. “I’m really sorry” I said to the mum. “I was only trying to help with her hat”. The mum seemed ok about it, but any parenting confidence I had tried to build up disappeared quicker than the cocktail sausages on M’s plate. This was even before I inadvertently parked a sleeping H’s buggy right next to the music speaker…

The hopes of two nights’ uninterrupted sleep were cruelly dashed: I have a confession to make. Last week, I was away Istanbul for two nights on a business trip and a little part of me was looking forward to it. Obviously, I would miss my little family a lot but I couldn’t help but think about two uninterrupted nights of sleep sound-tracked only by the comforting whirr of the air-conditioning unit in my hotel room. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out like I hoped. The first night was spent trying to work out why the air-con wasn’t working, trying to adjust to the two-hour time difference, trying to log on to the hotel WIFI so that I could ‘face-time’ with my family and, above all, trying and failing to sleep. The second night was spent feeling progressively poorly, panicking that the planned all-seafood menu in the restaurant that my colleagues and I were eating in was going to make me feel even worse, eventually feeling even worse, wondering if I was going to be sick in the taxi and then being VERY sick when I got back to my room. The next morning was spent trying to sleep it off but being continually disturbed by knocks on my room door accompanied by a shout of “HOUSEKEEPING!”

 

Apparently, a scribbled note outside the door saying ‘Please do not disturb’ is not always effective. On a positive note – back in the UK, my wife and children apparently slept soundly on both of those nights.

Potty training: To be fair, this could have been far worse as we started in the week between Christmas and new year. M has picked it up generally quickly, although the process has not been without accidents or desperate purchases of more Dettol wipes than usual (our poor sofa cushions). Going into February, M now seems to be able to sit herself on the toilet/potty without clinging onto our shoulders for the whole time, so I’m hoping that this means I’m spared hearing every detailed squeeze, splat and splash of her bodily functions at close quarters.

Tantrums: I’m really hoping that the current strops that M seems to be throwing with alarming regularity are as a result of her own January slump. She seems to be arguing and cross about everything at the moment, especially when my wife has the nerve to start feeding H approximately five seconds before M demands her attention (funny, that). We’ve had an apocalyptic screaming fit about being denied a packet of Mini Cheddars whilst in the car(“MUMMY, WHY WON’T YOU LOOK AT ME?!) We’ve had a thrashing, yelling tantrum about the fact she wanted her miniature princess toys in bed with her and we’ve had all manner of kicking, drink-throwing and stamping hissy-fits about…well…I don’t really know. Also, when you don’t do EXACTLY what she wants during a game or activity, she tells you in no uncertain terms that it’s wrong (“No, no, no, no, NO!”)

 

Coughs and colds: Maybe part of the reason we’ve had the tantrums is because M is coming down with something. We’ve found that, at this time of year, she tends to have a cough equivalent to a 40-a-day smoker. H has been congested for what seems like weeks as well. All the vapour plugs and tummy rubs don’t seem to do anything about the fact that his blocked sinuses make him sound like a pig trying to play the trombone.

Logistics: There’s a great Michael McIntyre sketch about him trying to leave the house with his two sons. Now, with two young children, my wife and I can totally relate to how you have to start planning to leave the house an hour before you were scheduled to. This gets even worse in January with the extra coats, jumper, wellies, gloves, packets of Mini Cheddars  (we’ve learnt our lesson now) on top of the usual drinks, bags, baby wraps, spare pants, portable potties…this is even before we get to the protracted negotiations with M about what toys are being taken along with us, why it’s not really necessary to set the iPad up for ‘Topsy and Tim’ episodes when we’ve only got a 15-minute journey, why we are even going out in the first place and exhausted parental cries of “can you PLEASE put your socks back on!”

 

So, January, I’m not sorry to see you go. I know you’ve tried to win me over by bringing Crème Eggs back to the shops early (a crafty move), but I won’t miss you for these next 11 months. See you again in 2017…

Oh come, all ye fretful

  


It was Sunday evening. We’d decided to go to a Christmas carol service at the local church. I’m a little apprehensive about taking both the children with us for fear that the birth of the baby Jesus is going to be sound-tracked by H’s baby bowel movements and M’s random stories about dinosaurs, all enhanced by the church acoustics. The promise of a mince pie and sloe gin afterwards keeps me focused though and we are also due to meet some friends and their two young children there as well. So, if M kicks off – I thought – we have safety in numbers.

 

We arrive early to a packed church with hardly any seats left. After a lot of festive faffing, we find ourselves pressed into a pew near the middle (not conducive if we need to make a swift exit). Our friends manage to squeeze themselves into a corner at the back. I think that it’s actually really quite nice that so many people still flock to Christmas Carol services. Most of whom, I imagine, would not have expected a two-and-a-half year old to act as if she were drunk…

 

Here’s how the evening panned out:

 

Greeting/First Carol: M is wedged in between her mum and I, whilst my wife has H strapped to her using the baby wrap. M’s quiet at this point because she’s still weighing up the situation. Meanwhile, I’m absolutely sweltering in my fleece and unable to take it off because doing so would also lift up my t-shirt to reveal a shameful ‘Dad podge’ – a legacy of the fact that I’ve barely exercised in the last month. I also really need a wee.

 

First Reading: It goes quiet as the first reader takes their place at the lectern. They’ve probably practiced endlessly and have waited weeks for this moment. They are maybe rather nervous, but proud. They open their mouth to speak but their words are almost immediately punctuated by the sound of a toddler loudly asking “WHERE’S MY FRIEND?” Her Mum and I explain that her friend is at the back of the church with her Mummy and Daddy and that it would be really nice if M spoke in a whispering voice. The exact type of voice that both Mummy and Daddy are using now, but without the air of embarrassment and desperation.

 

Second Carol: M has got the idea that she can stand on the pew when we all stand up to sing. She does so, but also marches on a spot a bit as well, lending a more out-of-tune, percussive feel to ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ than is really necessary. Suddenly, those Zara boots we bought for her don’t seem like such a good idea. 

 

Second Reading: “WHERE’S THE LADY?” With no thought for my own bladder, I sit M on my lap so she can see the lady reading the second lesson.

 

Third Carol: (for which the choir sing the first verse and the congregation remain seating): M struggles to grasp with the concept that the congregation don’t join in with the first verse, so she turns around and loudly implores everyone to “STAND UP!!” I sit her down and my wife frantically explains the situation to M, before she can accuse anyone of spilling her pint.

 

Third Reading: “WHAT’S THE LADY SAYING??”

 

Fourth Carol: Calm is resumed. I breathe. It’s still really warm though, so I’m desperately hoping for a draft or a small gust of air from somewhere, anywhere. There are people in the church with thick winter coats on – how are they not just sweat puddles by now? “DADDY, WHY AREN’T YOU SINGING?” asks my inquisitive daughter during one of the quieter bits. “Because Daddy has a singing voice like a strangled cockerel”, I don’t reply. Instead I mime exuberantly, as if Christmas itself depends on it.

 

Fourth Reading:  M is studying the order of service and then drops it. I pick it up, she drops it again. All this leaning forward is not helping.

 

Fifth Carol: Choir only, this time. My wife and I realise the next two hymns are also choir only. We exchange a worried look and start to wonder how many people would notice if we snuck out mid-carol.

 

Fifth Reading: M is still sitting on my lap. She starts bouncing up and down. My bladder is NOT IMPRESSED. Meanwhile, H has woken up and immediately demands to be fed. My wife springs into action like a breast-feeding ninja and H is sucking away quite happily within 20 seconds. 

 

Sixth Carol: M is looking at the leaflet again and decides to enter into a Q&A with her mum as to where the three wise men in the picture are going: 

–          M: “ARE THEY GOING TO SCHOOL?”

–          My wife (quietly): “No, they’re off to see the baby Jesus…can you speak in a quiet little voice, please?”

–          M: “NO, THEY ARE GOING TO SCHOOL!” *waves leaflet frantically, hitting a feeding H on the head with it*

–          My wife: “Shhhhhhhh!!”

 

Sixth Reading:  M has discovered the little yellow envelopes that are at the end of the pew for the church donations. A lot of them end up on the floor. There are also a couple of pens there so , thankfully, this keeps her amused during the reading. 

 

Seventh Carol: As well as holding M as we resume the standing (and stamping) for ‘Hark the Herald Angels Sing’, I fill in my address details on one of the few envelopes that hasn’t now been defaced and place some coins inside. Who says men can’t multi-task?

 

Seventh Reading:  “I WANT COINS IN HERE”- M thrusts an empty envelope in our faces. To distract her, I frantically find an envelope that she hasn’t yet scribbled on. She duly obliges.

 

Eighth Carol: The collection occurs during this one. The man collecting the envelopes picks up the discarded, scribbled-on ones from the floor (as well as the laminated description as to why the yellow envelopes are there in the first place) and places them back on the pew. I mouth “thank you” and smile apologetically. He ignores me.

 

Eighth Reading: Is this one of the longer ones? It feels like one of the longer ones. M’s getting really restless now. It won’t be long before the birth of baby Jesus is being proclaimed alongside a loud verbal request to watch ‘The Snowman’ for the umpteenth time this weekend.

 

Ninth Carol: I need to wee. I need to wee. I need to w…OH COME LET US ADOOOORE HIM!

 

Ninth Reading/Blessing: For her swansong, M decides to try and go for a walk around. She makes it to the end of the pew before tripping over her own fleece which was by my feet, staggers backwards and lands loudly in a heap of hymn books, coats and order of service leaflets, ending up at the feet of the man sitting next to my wife. In her own ‘mic drop’ moment, she picks herself up and immediately struts towards our friends at the back of the church, oblivious to the fact she nearly trips up an elderly lady with a walking stick.

 

Merry Christmas, everyone 😀

All because I love Milk Tray

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There’s a commonly-held belief that, once you become a parent, you have to make certain sacrifices and that time spent on your hobbies and chasing your goals tends to get scaled back somewhat – the sad sight of my golf clubs gathering dust and spider-webs in my garage is testament to this.  Yet, although I’m a father of two, my dreams were – if anything –reignited recently with the news that Cadburys are searching for a new ‘Milk Tray’ Man.

That’s right – like many forgotten heroes, our favourite black-clad purple box-wielding delivery boy is getting a reboot – andI’ve applied for the role.

Yes, I’m only 5 foot 7 (5 foot 8 if I don’t slouch), look permanently exhausted and am getting increasingly squidgy round the edges.  But, if you look closely, aren’t many screen heroes really just flawed human beings rather than perfect specimens?  After all, take off the mask and Spider-man is really a gawky teenager, Batman is a recluse in desperate need of a Strepsil and don’t get me started on how many hours of therapy James Bond clearly needs.

So, with that in mind, here are some reasons why I believe that I should get the part:

  • I’m adventurous and daring. For instance, I once used a fake name in Starbucks and I sometimes stay in a supermarket car-park for longer than my allocated time.
  • As long as it’s not 100% acrylic, I’m almost certain that the black polo neck jumper won’t make me itch.
  • I can almost guarantee that the box of Milk Tray would be delivered to the lady in question with at least half of the chocolates still present and correct.
  • Ok, so I’ve never dodged sharks, jumped bridges or flown a helicopter (the latter two because I’m scared of heights, the former because I’d prefer not be torn limb from limb). However, I have safely carried a bunch of flowers for my wife from central London to Surrey via two tube lines and the 17:54 from Waterloo to Dorking – which is pretty much the same when you think about it.
  • Rather than terrify the lady who loves Milk Tray by abseiling into her bedroom window (and running the risk of a restraining order and pepper spray ruining the chocolates), I would be very British and knock politely yet apologetically.
  • I’m REAL (didn’t that whole ‘real’ schtick work for Zoella and her YouTube channel..?
  • I’m mature and yet still down with the kids (see above point).
  • Just like ridiculously skinny female models, I don’t think we should be giving young men an impossible vision of masculinity to live up to. Be more like me, an alternative and easily obtainable style of man without too much effort.
  • I believe in the product (especially the caramel fudge ones).
  • Modern cameras and lighting can hide your blocked pores these days.
  • My dodgy knee doesn’t give me grief ALL the time.
  • I’m happy to be paid in Milk Tray.

So, I want to do this. I want to strike a blow for short, mousey and tired over tall, dark and handsome. I want to show the world that modern heroes need not be hopeless visions of enhanced masculinity. I want to claim a victory for the simple man . Because, dear readers of this blog, I am a simple man. A simple man who just wants the chance to hold a box of chocolates whilst being filmed doing so.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to visit asos.com for some black trousers with that stretchy material…

No escape from the garden

Night Terrors...

Sadly, the time has come to admit defeat. I fought long and hard against the overwhelming inevitability of it all, but to no avail. My daughter has become besotted with ‘In the Night Garden’. Iggle Piggle has won.

As per many a story about a classic struggle, this all started in a branch of Homebase one Sunday afternoon. The three of us had finally arrived at the checkout after probably the most protracted discussion in history about a new bathroom mirror, when M suddenly pointed at the obligatory stack of discounted DVDs placed nearby and excitedly exclaimed “Piggle!” in reference to the ubiquitous blanket-carrying creature whose features adorned one of the disc covers.

“How on earth does she know that?” asked my wife.

Our surprise was because, at the time, M’s range of vocabulary was only just starting to take off, so it seemed amazing to us that she knew the name of a character from a TV show that we had proactively tried to avoid on the grounds that we thought it was, well, a bit weird.

And so the seeds of obsession had started. In all honesty, the finger of blame points squarely at my mother. She owns an Iggle Piggle doll from her teaching days and therefore must have introduced her granddaughter to the blue tyrant at some point.

We tried a number of diverting tactics and it seemed, for a short time at least, as though Peter Rabbit (albeit the new televised version of Peter Rabbit) had saved the day – despite it being aimed at children slightly older than 18 months. After each brief episode had finished, M would point at the TV and turn to us with a forlorn look on her face, exclaiming “Bunny…”. Truth be told though, I don’t think she had ever watched a full episode, instead she would get most excited about the cheesy, over-earnest theme tune which sounds like it is being sung by a man straining against the effects of a hernia:

Despite the adventures and hi-jinks of Peter and his friends, In the Night Garden eventually wormed its way to the forefront of M’s conscience by virtue of the fact that it is cleverly scheduled on the CBeebies channel just before she goes to sleep each weeknight. Much to my chagrin, its calming and otherworldly vibe seems to strike just the right tone before bedtime.

But it is this otherworldly feel that, frankly, creeps me out a bit. According to Wikipedia, In the Night Garden consists of ‘ a mix of actors in costume, puppetry and computer animation’. In print, this combination might sound perfectly normal for a children’s TV programme but, when you watch the show, it just doesn’t seem quite ‘right’.

Which comes to my – and my wife’s – main gripe about the show: The normal laws of the universe just don’t seem to apply in the garden.

For instance, let’s take the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk. The former is a living, breathing train seemingly without eyes and ears but which still needs to sleep at the end of the day and can travel up trees. The Pinky-Ponk is also without facial features and is an airship with various fins, propellers and which emits weird noises. But the most unsettling thing about these colourful contraptions is the fact that they seem to be able to bend the rules of physics. Usually, they appear smaller than the main characters – Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka. Yet, these three are still able to fit normally inside Ninky Nonk/Pinky Ponk, subsequently being dragged up trees and spun around in circles in the air, all the while appearing considerably more comfortable than any commuter travelling on South-West Trains.

In fact, Pinky Ponk’s tendency for manic spinning around actually made me feel slightly nauseous whilst watching one episode, so I’m amazed that Makka Pakka hasn’t yet pukey puked.

There is also the weirdness of the characters themselves. Aside from the random noises and whistles that make up the language of the night garden, each inhabitant displays some pretty odd characteristics:

Makka Pakka’s obsession with cleaning other people’s faces and collecting stones is, to put it mildly, a bit of a worry. Frankly, it’s the sort of behaviour you would expect to hear about in a news report covering a serial killer in the American midwest.

Upsy Daisy likes to sing loudly through a megaphone like some sort of crazy bag-lady and carries her bed around with her in what may be some sort of Tracey Emin-inspired piece of performance art.

The Pontipines and the Wottingers sound like something out of West Side Story and, unfortunately for them, are neighbours in a miniature semi-detached house at the foot of a tree. Despite the outward pleasantries that comes with them being tiny wooden toys, I fear that there might be a feud silently raging within those walls. The Haahoos, meanwhile, have this slow, creepy floating vibe that remind me of Reeves and Mortimer’s sketch about Masterchef in the Lloyd Grossman era (the friendlier days – before it got all arrogant and shouty).

Finally, of course, there is Iggle Piggle himself. Looking like the product of an illicit relationship between the Pilsbury Doughboy and one of the Smurfs, Iggle Piggle magically arrives via boat in the garden every episode before leaving the same way at the end, sailing across the sea back to – well, who knows? It is safe to assume that his journey doesn’t take him across the English channel, as there is no P&O ferry in sight and barely a hint of an English celebrity doing a charity swim. Wherever he lives though, Iggle Piggle clearly has very poor healthcare coverage, as he unfortunately still has bells, squeakers and rattles embedded in his body. Ideally, he should also see someone about the loss of balance he also seems to frequently experience. I’ve had labyrinthitis before – it’s not fun.

But, before I get too carried away and in case you think I am alone in my mistrust of the programme, I received the following comments on Facebook when I posted the simple sentence:  “In the Night Garden freaks me out”:

“Don’t ever watch it!”

“Me too – weird as hell!”

“If you listen rather than just watch, Upsy Daisy sounds like she’s having a permanent orgasm!”

“Wildly inappropriate…Iggle Piggle trying to get into Upsy Daisy’s bed!”

And, more worryingly: “Just wait; Give it 6 months and you too could be booking ‘In the Night Garden Live’!”

The show’s popularity is there for all to see. Not just in the DVD stands by the tills at Homebase, but also in books, toys, puzzles, games and various other forms of merchandise. It’s quite surprising, considering that only 100 or so episodes were made before the BBC pulled the plug in 2010, possibly because it became too expensive to make.

These 100 episodes are seemingly played on a loop on CBeebies, much like the episodes of that other ubiquitous show, Peppa Pig, which always seems to be on every other children’s TV channel and somehow happens to be playing the same episode every time I happen to watch it (the one where Daddy Pig drops his keys down the drain at the beauty spot and they have to dig up the road – in case you were wondering).

Given this enduring popularity, maybe the issue is actually with me (and possibly the other people I’ve quoted in this post as well). Maybe I’m too cynical? Maybe the creative youthful imagination and acceptance of the weird and wonderful has simply deserted me over time? Maybe I’m simply old-fashioned and I like my television shows to generally make sense or at least have some kind of rational explanation for any weirdness? After all, this would explain why I was so annoyed by the endings of Lost and Quantum Leap.

Whatever the reason, In the Night Garden has become part of our daily lives and appears to be here to stay, despite my misgivings.

In fact, I’m sure that there will be times where I’ll actually welcome it’s catchy little theme tune as it diverts M’s attention away from trying to draw on the walls or pour her milk on the carpet. I’ll be thankful for its soothing presence as it calms her down in time for bed.

But I guess that’s how it wins over the parents as well – meaning that once it’s got you, there’s just no escape from the night garden.

Darn you, Iggle Piggle. Even though you always leave…we know that you’ll be back.

Soft play politics

Just before my daughter turned 1, I came home from work one evening to find her clambering all over the littered sofa cushions as if it were her own personal soft play area. As well as being one of those “she’s not a baby anymore” moments, it also made me realise that she now needs more exercise if there’s to be any hope of getting her to sleep at anything approaching a reasonable hour.

So, the following weekend, my wife and I decided to take M to an actual soft play area. This was to be my first time experiencing this (my wife was a veteran of four visits), so I was initially a little apprehensive at the thought of somehow making a huge faux pas.

“Don’t worry, there are rules written on the wall”, my wife said, which was part witty remark and part instruction.

But, I figured that I was just being silly. After all, I was pretty sure that I could restrain myself from performing a running jump into the ball pit or re-enacting ‘The Hunger Games’ in the climbing area.

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Not an actual soft play safety notice

Despite the fact that we had to book a session first, we arrived to find that there were only a handful of other parents and children there. It started well enough, we found a table that would function as our base and proceeded into the ball pit. M was a bit apprehensive about this, but my wife and I joined her as reassurance, all the while trying not to think about all the dirt and encrusted bogeys that might be hidden at the bottom. We then went guided M up the mini steps next to the ball pit and down the adjoining slide. She absolutely loved this, but started to get a bit stroppy that she couldn’t climb back up the slide itself.

There’ll be more on that later.

We then noticed that, behind the ball pit and steps, there was a play area that was currently empty. In this particular section, there was a notice stating that it was ‘recommended’ that children under the age of 5 did not go in. This was presumably because it was a bit darker, there were a couple of large, exercise-style bouncy balls within and the steps were slightly bigger. However, being the determined little individual that she is, M wanted to go in and my wife seemed happy with this: “It’s fine, you’ll be with her”, she said.

So, in we went. I held M’s hand as she looked around and I helped her up one of the steps. It was at that moment we were seen by a fellow parent, with a son about the same age as M, on the other side of the netting. The little boy stared in the direction of M and I. His mum glanced over as well. “No, Callum, you can’t go in there as you’re not old enough”, she said, giving me an extremely disapproving look in the process.

With that one sentence, I had been firmly put in my place and told, in no uncertain terms, that she did not approve of my parenting. My soft play experience was only 15 minutes old.

I whisked M away to the car area (the soft play cars, that is, I didn’t take her outside and just leave her by the front wheel of a Nissan). We played there for a little while, whilst I tried to shake the feeling that my soft play ‘parenting card’ had been well and truly marked, probably with red biro.

A short while later, my wife came over and we decided to head back to the slide. One of us would escort M up the steps and place her on the slide, whilst the other would wait to catch her at the bottom. It was good fun and the smile on M’s little face as she came sliding down was lovely. However, as I mentioned before, there was a slight snag as M wanted to climb right back up the slide, clearly oblivious to the older children who were about to hurtle down towards her. So, every time I went to escort her away, she was not best pleased and made her feelings known. Sitting in the area next to the slide was the same mum as before, along with two others. As M cried, they looked over, fixing their collective gaze on my unhappy daughter and I. Feeling rather uncomfortable, I handed M over to my wife and took a bit of a breather.

Now, I can be overly sensitive sometimes and more emotionally robust people might have just ignored the other mums and got on with things, which is why I passed the baton quickly over to my wife. She’s a teacher and used to interacting with parents, therefore I figured she wouldn’t take any perceived slight as personally as me. So, she took M to play with some soft cubes and soft animals before heading back to the slide. But again, each time, M took exception to being removed from the slide once she’d reached the bottom (her mum had come down with her). A few minutes later, my wife brought M over and sat next to me, with a slightly embarrassed look on her face. “They are really judgmental, aren’t they?” she said, subtly gesturing over to the trio of seated mums, who appeared to be glancing disdainfully in our direction.

So, we just sat there for a while, looking rather awkward, like a couple of naughty schoolchildren who’d arrived late for class and neglected to do their homework.

For the remainder of our allotted time, we accompanied M around the soft play area almost apologetically. We left before the other mums had the chance to bring out the pitchforks and burning torches, although I assume that these are probably on an extensive list of items ‘not recommended’ for soft play.

Over-sensitivity and exaggerations for comic effect aside, I appreciate that my fatherly experience is limited (this blog isn’t called ‘The Experienced Dad’s Diary’), but I do know that this parenting business is hard enough without fellow parents making you feel like you are doing it all wrong. After all, each child is different and, as we all know, there is sadly no ‘one-size-fits-all’ manual.

Still, it wasn’t necessarily a bad experience. Slide removals aside, M seemed to enjoy herself and, as my wife put it when we were sat down: “There’s a blog post in this, isn’t there?”

How right she was. As our daughter gets older, it probably won’t be the last of its type either. In terms of soft play though, I might just stick to re-arranging the sofa cushions for the time being.

The Novice Dad’s Diary Awards

 

IMG_2103Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pride that I bring to you the first annual Novice Dad’s Diary Awards. The awards have come a long way from their origin as an over-caffeinated idea on the 17:54 train from Waterloo, so I am delighted that they are now a reality (of sorts). It is an especially satisfying moment following the bitter and protracted legal battle that occurred between this blog and a well-known brand of sauce, simply because I initially wanted to call them the ‘Daddies’.

Anyway, despite the lack of an esteemed celebrity host (Stacey Solomon wouldn’t return my calls), it’s time to grab a glass of follow-on milk and congratulate the winners.

Best Song or Rhyme: Old MacDonald had a farm.

An undisputed classic. Simple melody, great fun and you can make it up as you go along, especially if you have a plethora of cuddly toys at your disposal. Plus, who needs one of those brain ‘workout’ puzzles when you have to simultaneously sing and remember what noises a rabbit makes.

Most Depressing Song or Rhyme: Puff the magic dragon.

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I used to love this, until I looked up the lyrics again a few months ago. Putting aside the rumoured and rather unsubtle drug references, Puff was very happy living by the sea in a land called Honah Lee, roaring and frolicking in the autumn mist with his friend. Then, one day, his friend just stopped coming to see him, apparently because painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys. From then on, the remainder of Puff’s long life was spent living in a cave, sad and lonely. Stay happy, kids!

Also nominated: Three Blind Mice, Rock-a-Bye Baby, Five Little Ducks (nominated before I learnt that all of the ducks did eventually come back).

Worst Place to Change a Nappy: Train toilets.

More specifically, a dirty toilet on a speeding, jerky train, which also has one of those cubicle doors that just decides to slide open whenever it feels like it. Hand sanitizer gel may kill 99.9% of bacteria, but it won’t erase the trauma from your mind. Nor does it relieve the travel sickness.

Also nominated: Box Hill car park.

Best Product: Nappy bins

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I’ll be honest. Before our daughter was born, I practically bristled at the very idea of having a large poo receptacle in our house. Now, I can’t even begin to imagine the alternative horror of endless plastic bags, used baby wipes stuck to my clothes and searching on the internet for the cost of regularly fumigating the house.

Also Nominated: ‘Sock-ons’, teething granules.

Worst Product: Swaddling wraps.

I’m sure they’re great if being used to contain a plastic baby Jesus for the entirety of a nativity play but, in my experience, they’re not so great if you are trying to swaddle a real-life baby who would like to move her legs more than a few millimetres.

Also Nominated: Variable-flow teats, babygros with too many buttons (unless you happen to work as part of a Formula 1 pit crew).

Most Terrifying Potential Companion: Rosie.

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Rosie is my wife’s childhood doll, who has made an appearance on this blog before, due to her sunken eyes, demonic twitch and general demeanour of pure, unadulterated evil. Naturally, I hope that M never takes a liking to her. There was only ever one winner of this award, partly because all of the other nominees either mysteriously vanished or were found chopped into pieces on the patio.

Also nominated: May they rest in peace.

Most Baffling Technology: The CDs that insert your child’s name into each song.

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Genuine question – do they actually record the same song over again, replacing the name each time? How many versions is that? How many ‘takes’ is that? Is it recording studio trickery? Doesn’t it make the singer go insane? I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this.

Best Display of Patience: The lady next to me on our flight to Seville in November. I’ve mentioned this stoic hero before, but this award is well deserved. There can be few things more annoying when you’re trying to sleep on an aircraft than being repeatedly hit on the nose with a small plastic duck. Unfortunately, our winner could not be here this evening, so the duck is accepting the award on her behalf.

IMG_2095The Multiple Essentials Award: Bibs.

I’m not necessarily saying that our daughter dribbles a lot, but there’s more than one reason why the flooding was really bad in Surrey this winter.

Also nominated: Baby wipes, toy mice.

The John Lewis Award for Emotionally Manipulative Advertising. SMA Follow-On Milk.

“We ARE doing great”…

The Occasionally Tasty Baby Food Award: ‘Goodies’ Organic Apple and Orange Soft Oaty Bars.

IMG_2094Whilst only a few steps away from stealing candy from a baby, these are a useful alternative if you’re desperate for pudding on a Sunday night, the local shops are closed and you haven’t got any eggs for an emergency sponge.

Also nominated: Heinz baby porridge (blueberry flavour).

Most Cack-Handed Attempt at Putting on a Baby Backpack: Me.

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After numerous unsuccessful attempts in a Dorking car park, I eventually managed to lift both daughter and backpack onto my shoulders, all the while arching my back as if I was avoiding bullets in ‘The Matrix’. I briefly caught M’s reflection in the car window as she was being hoisted up for the final time. She did not look impressed.

The Matthew McConaughey Award for Pointing: Our daughter.

This award was named in honour of everyone’s favourite Oscar-winning Texan who seems to mark every statement with a jabbing forefinger thrust. M takes herself far less seriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuously pointing at everything, anything and sometimes absolutely nothing at all. This one’s for you, Poppet.

The Excessive Competitiveness Award: My wife.

Picture the scene: It’s Christmas and our 8-month old daughter is mastering the basics of crawling. My wife joins her, presumably in order to provide encouragement. Instead, she proceeds to race our daughter across the living room floor and wins comfortably. Mrs. D then raises her hands aloft at the victory. On that most festive of days, a monster was awoken.

Most Aero-Dynamic Breakfast: Porridge

Also nominated: Weetabix.

The Makeshift Chair Award: A shoebox.

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By my side of the bed in the corner of our bedroom lies a shoebox, where M likes to sit and reflect whilst bringing all manner of things with her, as if she were a little blonde magpie. ‘Gifts’ that have been left there in recent weeks include various bibs and socks, a pair of pants, a contact lens container, my glasses, My wife’s watch, a hair clip and, bizarrely, an empty jar of harissa paste from the recycling bin.

So, that’s it for the awards this time around. Thank you for your company, but it’s time for me to head off to Elton John’s after-show party. I just hope he doesn’t get drunk, maudlin and start singing ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’.

(Almost) a year on: snot, steps and stairs

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Our little daughter is now only a few weeks away from turning 1. Being possibly influenced by the fact that I’m married to a teacher (and also because I decided upon the lazy idea of another list-based blog post), I thought that it was time for her first report card.

Etiquette:

One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the sofa watching M happily play with her toys, when she crawled over, grabbed my knee to hold on as she stood up before vigorously wiping her snotty nose across my leg. As if that wasn’t enough, she then proceeded to break out in a big, cheesy grin as if she’d never been more proud of herself. Clearly, there’s room for improvement here. E-

Sporting Prowess:

A+ for persistence. D- for awareness. The reason I include this second mark is because M’s current sporting event of choice involves the stairs, a part of our home that she is developing something of an obsession with. Now, before I say any more, I’d just like to clarify that my wife and I have a gate at the top of the stairs, but not the bottom. We also like to let her explore in general, but always keep an eye on her and stay very close whenever she heads towards the stairs during those times when we haven’t used her toy basket to block her passage to them. What I’m trying to say is that there’s no need to call social services.

Anyway, her event goes as follows:

Clamber quickly up the first two steps. Slowly climb the third. Tentatively navigate the fourth. Realise that it’s actually quite high. Stand up. Turn around whilst holding the bannisters for balance. Grin through the bannisters. Face away from the stairs. Grin again. Do some weird squat-thrust-type movements whilst making “ooo” “ooo” noises (presumably for extra technical points). Hold arms out. Fall into daddy’s arms and make an “ahrarr” noise that may either be a laugh or a baby-talk version of R Kelly’s ‘I believe I can fly’. Repeat ad nauseum.

Although I’m obviously making sure she is safe, I realise that I am also inadvertently encouraging this game at the same time. This must be one of those ‘Catch-22’ moments of parenthood.

Sporting Prowess Module 2 – Teamwork:

I attempted to share the excitement of team sports with her by setting up a mini rugby game whilst the 6 nations was on, with M and myself playing against the intimidating opposition in the picture below.

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It didn’t quite work, as the picture was taken in the 10-second window before the goalposts were knocked down by my team-mate. She didn’t even take the ball with her. And yes, I know that Twickenham doesn’t have a radiator behind the try-line. D-

Motor Skills:

Pretty good for her age, although she has trouble reaching the clutch pedal and doesn’t tend to indicate when approaching a roundabout. B+

Talking:

She’s usually very chatty, unless she is in an unfamiliar situation or meets someone she doesn’t know, in which case she just performs the obligatory ‘child stare’. When she’s comfortable and happy though, the sounds and non-words are many, ranging from “wawawawa”, “shzrrrrr” and “ahoooo” to an occasional disturbing throaty gargle that makes her sound like a gremlin. Even though it’s far too early for a first word, sounds that are similar to words sometimes take us aback. Given her unbridled enthusiasm when given one, I’m convinced that her eventual first word will be “banana”. A-

Physical Development:

Her crawling is surprisingly quick, especially when It comes to making a beeline for the aforementioned stairs, or random parts of the floor that may still hold some dropped banana from earlier.

Standing is pretty much conquered, although she does tend to hold on to something in order to steady herself, mostly my or my wife’s legs. As adorable as this is, it’s also rather inconvenient should you want to, you know, move. She’s making good progress with the walking too and, for some reason; she saves her best efforts for when out in public. It’s quite amusing to watch the slight panic in other people’s faces when she starts tottering towards them like a drunk in high winds. B+

Emotional Development:

She’s started to have her first few tantrums. Most of the time, this can be quite maddening as, so far, they’ve tended to be due to the fact that we’ve blocked her path to the stairs or that it’s time for her to go to bed but she would much prefer to stay up and stick her fingers in our food before going over to wipe them on the television. On the odd occasion however, it can actually be quite amusing. A couple of days ago, she was having fun with her baby-walker before the wall brought an abrupt end to her journey across the living room. Upset that she couldn’t go any further, she proceeded to look cross, babble loudly in frustration and throw her arms down in disgust. Whilst this instance may have been quite funny, I doubt I’ll find the majority of tantrums over the next 18 years quite as comical. C+

Sleeping:

Much like a football manager who is only as good as their last result, M’s sleeping pattern only seems as good or as bad as the previous night.  On the whole, she is actually quite good, but the one consistent is that she saves her most unsettled nights for Sundays. As this is right before the start of the working week, the disruption is about as welcome as a fart in a crowded lift. C+

Teeth:

B+. Eight of them so far, all causing considerable pain when you get them clamped round your finger whilst trying to administer her teething granules, which I suppose is rather ironic.

Bathtime:

Hates her hair being washed, repeatedly tries to stand up in the tub, grabs and chews the sponge, hates the sponge being taken off her, hits me in the face with the sponge and squeezes the water from it outside the tub, making me arguably wetter than her. All of which is much to her delight. Rubber ducks and her own toothbrush are only an occasionally effective distraction technique. D+

Social Interaction:

Very sociable once she’s figured people out. Possibly a little too sociable with other babies and children especially, as she gets rather ‘hands-on’ with them. Which reminds me that we need to clip her nails even more regularly. She’s like Wolverine. B+

Eating and drinking:

Breakfast tends to be messy. Many years from now, when we’ve long-since moved, the next owners of our house will still be finding mysterious pieces of encrusted, flung porridge in random parts of the kitchen.

On the plus side, we’ve been combining milk with weaning onto solids for a while now and M doesn’t seem to be at all picky. She even loves cauliflower cheese, which proves that there must be something wrong with her taste buds. Trying to give her water after meals is a struggle though, as she just uses it as mouthwash before spitting it out and wearing a look that can only be described as ‘contemptuous’. B+

Inquisition:

Seemingly wants to know about EVERYTHING. Current objects of fascination include mobile phones, the stairs, the TV remote, any toggles on an item of clothing, the stairs, anything stacked up on shelves that can be knocked down (books, DVDs etc.), the washing machine, the stairs, the door stop holding open the kitchen door, any food that you happen to be eating, any drink that you happen to be drinking, the stairs, the tumble dryer, anything that happens to be between her and the stairs, her own socks (still). As lovely as her curiosity is, it’s also incredibly exhausting when you have to pick her up and direct her away from the bin for the umpteenth time that afternoon. A-

Musicality:

C+. She’s obviously not writing her first concerto or breaking out the MC Hammer-style moves yet, but M does enjoy music and watching people dance and sing. This is surprising, given that I have a singing voice that sounds like a seal being clubbed to death. In fact, it’s even worse than this:

Storytelling:

C+. Enjoys being read to, providing she’s not wriggling away and trying to get to the stairs again. She also seems to enjoy telling the odd story herself as well. A couple of weeks ago, I picked her up from the child-minder for the first time. On the way home, she was babbling away in the back of the car as if telling me all about her day. It was strangely emotional.

Her thesis on the industrial revolution:

Ungraded. She’s still working on the introduction. It’s very shoddy work, if I’m honest.

To wrap or not to wrap?

In these first few weeks as a parent, I’ve found that I’m slowly getting used to all the baby-related logistics required when getting out of the house. Loading up the travel system, carrycot and car seat? Leave it with me. Changing a nappy anywhere at the drop of a hat? No problem. Making sure we have enough wipes and cotton wool to clean up the mother of all poo explosions? Done.

But, there is one thing I am yet to attempt: Wearing the baby wrap in public.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s incredibly useful as it keeps baby M perfectly snug in huge swathes of material, enabling the wearer to happily go about their business with the luxury of having both hands free (I didn’t intend for that to be as rude as it sounds). It’s also comfortable and designed for both mums and dads to wear. So, what’s my hesitation? Well, thanks to the wrap’s promotional material, I think it might have something to do with this guy:

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You see, I worry that the wrap somehow turns new dads into posers who stand in front of graffiti-emblazoned walls, whilst their child wears a look that says “This is really embarrassing, just let me go to sleep”.

Would I start trying to stand with my hips poised at a funky angle whilst giving the camera a slightly creepy grin?

I don’t even own a hat, but would I end up searching the internet for one like this striking example – not to mention the black fingerless gloves which give the whole outfit a look that sits somewhere between Freddy Krueger and a failed pop band from the 1980s? All in the name of living up to the high standards set here?

Alternatively, it could have absolutely nothing to do with the sophisticated devil above and more to do with the fact that I still can’t tie the bloody thing properly.

Don’t hold it upside down and start swinging it around

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Since the turn of the year, our plans for becoming ‘baby-ready’ have really kicked into gear. In the last couple of weeks, we have put wallpaper on the remaining wall of the nursery, ordered enough equipment and supplies from Amazon to single-handedly keep them afloat for the next year (they might even be able to pay their taxes this time) and have even started looking at offers on nappies. I bought a couple of packs of nappies the other day after having a brief, but concise discussion with my wife about what type we should buy. It went like this:

Me: Do you think we should buy cloth nappies or disposable ones?

Mrs.D: Definitely disposable. I’m not washing shit.

Another part of the planning process was to learn how to cope in an emergency. So, last week I finally attended the baby first aid course that I had scrambled to get a place on.  I say scrambled, because these courses seem to get booked up very quickly and, given that our child is due in 3 months, I figured it best to get a place as soon as possible because I knew absolutely nothing about first aid – or babies, for that matter. My wife, being a teacher, is qualified in first aid so I was doing this on my own.

The course was held one evening in a local nursery (or ‘active learning centre’). I was the first person to arrive and was promptly led through a vast array of corridors that made me wonder whether I was going to somehow stray into a snowy forest and find myself talking to a eunuch. However, I instead ended up in a tiny classroom with the heating cranked up to its maximum – it felt somewhat appropriate that dealing with a raised temperature was going to be one of the topics.

As other parents-to-be turned up, it became clear that everyone else at least knew one other person there, mainly due to them all being members of the same pre-natal class. Having shown a reckless enthusiasm by positioning myself right at the front next to the demonstration tables, I was hoping that I wouldn’t end up getting paper aeroplanes or spit flung at my head by the popular kids, just for trying too hard and making copious amounts of notes all the way through.

Our tutor began by introducing the emergencies that we were going to cover. These were ‘unconscious (breathing and non-breathing)’, ‘choking’, ‘raised temperature’, ‘burns’ and ‘bleeding’. All of these instances have different methods, depending whether or not you are dealing with a baby or a child. I started writing, aware that there were no course handouts. Between the frantic scribbling, listening to the tutor and looking the slides on the wall, I felt like I was conquering the male problem with multi-tasking.

Having first learnt the steps needed to check if a baby/child was breathing and how to then administer CPR if they are not, it was time for us to demonstrate this ourselves. There were three of the demonstration tables in the classroom and on each lay a plastic model of a child’s head and chest, as well as a model of a baby. Our ‘baby’ had a name (Annie), presumably because having a limbless torso lying next to it just wasn’t quite creepy enough.

I was the second one to go forward, having craftily studied the man before me. He was in a suit and looked confident. I was in jeans and looked petrified. Yet, having examined my scribbles and engaged with the other people in the group as if it were a collaborative exercise, I managed to get the steps correct. I looked, felt and listened for breathing. I then open up the airwaves, covered the baby’s mouth and nose with my mouth and provided short, sharp breaths. I then started on the chest compressions, pushing down on the breastplate to the tune of ‘Nellie the Elephant’. This song (as well as ‘Stayin’ Alive’, which has the same tune) helps you get the correct rhythm for the compressions. It also makes you wonder how many other children’s songs that the Bee Gees plagiarised throughout their career.

Anyway, having said goodbye to the circus with a trumpety-trump (trump, trump, trump), I turned to sit back down and breathed a sigh of relief – before realising I had forgotten to put Annie’s head back into position and ‘she’ now had an arched back that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Exorcist. I quickly amended this before cleaning the doll with the alcohol wipes that were provided.

The lady who was next stood up, examined Annie and then announced that she was “just going to wipe off some of the excess alcohol”. Whilst my resuscitation skills may have been up to scratch, my cleaning afterwards apparently bordered on the excessive. In my defence, the smoky bacon-flavoured crisps I’d eaten that afternoon had been repeating on me, so I figured I was actually doing her a favour by being thorough.

When it came to performing CPR on the torso, a little more force was required that just a short breath and a gentle press. Well I say ‘a little’ because a clicking sound on the torso told us how much pressure to apply and it is a surprisingly large amount. The tutor told me to just use one hand and to straighten my arm, with the end result being that I looked as though I was struggling to unblock a U-bend rather than save a life. By this point, everyone in the room was looking towards me and, for some unfathomable reason, I gave a Wallace and Gromit-style cheesy grin before pressing away and cursing myself.

During the choking section, we learnt the Heimlich manoeuvre, but the process for dealing with a choking baby is quite different due to the delicate nature of their still-developing organs. Despite having said this, the tutor was still at pains to point out that the procedure definitely doesn’t involve holding the infant by the feet and swinging it around, ‘Gangnam Style’.

The different ways of dealing with a raised temperature were quite varied and I learnt that Calpol is the must-have of the child medicine world. By the time we got to burns, I was getting almost a little cocky as I was able to proactively name the three types of burn, largely thanks to having watched 10 seasons of ER.

Surprisingly enough, it was the bleeding section where I came a little unstuck as the tutor pointed out that we should all know how to wash and wipe a small cut or graze. The question in my mind was, which of these comes first?  Having gone through the more complex stuff at the beginning, I felt it was a bit like a qualified engineer asking which way up to hold the spirit level. Rather than potentially embarrass myself in public, I settled for asking Mrs.D when I got home.

So, after 2 hours the course ended. I was a little disappointed in the lack of certificate or even a badge or sticker but the main thing is that I now feel a little bit more confident in my fledgling ability as a parent. Joking aside, I would certainly recommend the course to any parents-to-be as it was really well delivered and the skills that were taught are invaluable. But, as our tutor concluded, I’m just hoping that I never have to use them.

The NCT Baby and Child First Aid course was provided by the British Red Cross. Information on all of the topics covered in the course can be found by clicking here.

Bad photographs of western Canada

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate enough to take a 2-week holiday to western Canada, starting in Calgary and ending up in Vancouver, driving through Banff, Jasper, Whistler and Victoria along the way .It was beautiful, full of stunning scenery, interesting wildlife and friendly people. As a result, I thought that I might share some photographs on this blog.

Now, there are some fantastic blogs and posts about photography on WordPress. This, unfortunately, is not one of them.

The reasons for this come down to two things. Firstly, I don’t have a new or high-specification camera. Instead, my photos come from a combination of my iPhone 4 and my wife’s old camera that has been in use for about ten years and is now missing a few screws. Secondly, I come from the school of ‘click first and ask questions later’, which means that my pictures tend to be a bit hit and miss.

Anyway, as per the post title, the photos you are about to see are not my best efforts (I’m keeping those ones for Facebook in a vague attempt to show off) but are probably better for comedic effect. This is therefore an ‘alternative’ photography post, one that pokes fun at the lesser photos that most of us take whilst on holiday but never actually show to people. So, here you go…

1) We flew into Calgary and this was the first picture I took after arriving and heading out into the city. It’s Calgary tower and very nice it is too. You’ll notice the strange angle as an indication that I was tired, jet-lagged and therefore couldn’t be bothered to take the few steps back in order to fit the whole thing in.

2) The Olympic plaza in Calgary, where the medal ceremonies were held for the 1988 Winter Olympics. I wanted to get a picture that focused primarily on the Olympic rings, but this time didn’t move forward enough. I do, however, have a nice snap of some steps and railings.

3) Minnewanka Lake near Banff. Absolutely beautiful if you can get past the schoolboy humour of the name. In this photo, I’ve somehow gone for a slightly wonky angle and some prominent overhanging branches.

4) Being a bit of a sports geek, I like taking photos of golf courses. It appears that I like it even better when the photo is dominated by a massive shadow. I somehow doubt this one will trouble the promotional brochures for Banff Springs.

5) Taken on my phone through the rental car windscreen, this is a picture of a coyote’s arse. You’re welcome.

6) This is a deer in Banff eating a bush outside a hotel. Oh, and some random people who wouldn’t get out of the way of my shot. Very inconsiderate.

7) Er, some rocks. Oh, and there’s a squirrel in there somewhere too.

8)  This was a very pretty waterfall. You’ll have to take my word for that as I haven’t got the whole waterfall in the shot, instead focusing on a lovely dead branch in the foreground.

9) Moraine Lake near Banff is stunning with it’s turquoise water and the ice on the mountains in the background. Apparently, I also liked this tree in the foreground as well…

10) I thought it was ‘arty’…

11) Note to self: When taking photos of the Athabasca glacier from the car – roll the window down first…

12 & 13) Pictures of a totem pole in Jasper. An unfortunate case of way too near and then way too far.

14) Along with that earlier shot of the coyote, this picture of a bear will be included in my upcoming book ‘Animal arses I have seen through a car windscreen’.

15) This one was taken on the ‘Peak 2 Peak’ gondola in Whistler. It holds world records for the longest free span between ropeway towers (3.03 kilometres) and highest point above the ground (1,430 feet). Sadly, this is not reflected in the photo because I’m terrified of heights and it was the best I could manage when I finally summoned the courage to stand up from a cowering, near-foetal position.

16) Mrs.D: Why don’t you move to the left so you don’t get that tree in the shot?  Me: I think it might actually come out alright…

17) Childish humour alert in Victoria.

18) The nearest I got to killer whales. I’m particularly proud of the way that it shows humans and nature co-exisiting on the open waters (translation: I was being thrown round on our boat and therefore included that dinghy in the shot by mistake).

19) Nothing depicts the power and meaning of a statue more than a photo that cuts off its head.  I have, however, included the head of that man in the blue shirt instead – will that suffice?

20) For some reason I decided to take a picture of the intersection between Georgia street and Hornby street in Vancouver city centre. This is great if you have a fetish for scaffolding though.

21) View from our hotel room in Vancouver. After all, who doesn’t love a good car park?