My wife has a terrible habit of talking over TV programmes I am trying to watch.

 

My wife has a terrible habit of talking over TV programmes I am trying to watch. She possess the unique skill of being able to blurt out her everyday opinions during crucial, plot-defining moments.

It is Thursday night, and right on cue, she flops onto the couch, at a game-changing point in my programme, opens her mouth and throws out one of her regular observations, ‘You’re so boring,’ she says chirpily, like she’s reading out a list of characteristics she’s found on my CV.

I tut and rewind the programme.

What are you watching?” she asks with indifference, as she flicks through Homes & Gardens magazine.

There is no decent exit strategy for me here. Whatever I say she will rate my viewing choice as mundane. ‘It’s a documentary about the National Weights and Measures Department, I say, sitting forward to graphically illustrate that her chatter is drowning out the documentary. It’s a technique that I have perfected over the years observing my wife trying to watch Grey’s Anatomy.

Sensing that she is getting nowhere, she ratchets up the pressure.

Is there anything else on?” she asks, and slowly lets the magazine slip from her grasp. It flops down on the couch and splays out awkwardly; much like my wife.

Yes, there are lots of amazing, thought-provoking programmes on all the other channels, but I decided to fry my brain watching this rubbish instead,” I replied sarcastically, tightening my grip on the remote control, just in case she mounts a surprise attack.

Silence breaks out, so I make the bold decision to un-pause and let it flow. My wife is now slumped in a defensive posture with arms folded, and her legs soon join the party. I find myself wishing the documentary would throw out an amazing weights and measures fact that will soften her outlook and unravel her limbs; it doesn’t transpire, in fact, the worst possible thing happens; I start to lose interest myself.

I offer my wife the remote control. She smiles and says: “You’re weak,” and then starts flicking ravenously. She eventually lands on an episode of Murder She Wrote, an episode I know, for a fact, that she has seen before. To celebrate, she smugly pops a chocolate into her mouth.

My son walks in, stands right in front of the telly and just stares at it as though he has been hypnotised. My daughter shuffles in and does the same.

Move,” orders my wife. They both move away and then slowly drift back. They repeat this choreography several times. They’re like a pair of cuckoo clock figures revolving around the room. “Move out of the way of the telly,” she repeats, this time with more teeth on show.

What are you watching?” asks my son.

I’m watching MY programmes,” stresses my wife.

My daughter aggravates the wound by gyrating towards the forbidden zone in a hula hoop. As the hoop shimmies to the floor, she looks at her angry mother and says: “Mum, I’m hungry. Can you get me some butter toast?”

Rage is gushing out of my wife at an alarming rate, so I try and calm her down by saying: “You’ve seen this episode before.”

I know,” she screams, “but this what happened last time.”

 

Should you wear skin-tight cycling shorts when you drop your kids off at primary school?

 

It is Sunday night, the kids are in bed and my wife and I are splayed on the couch fortifying our relationship by gossiping about other parents.

These clandestine chats drive my wife crazy because I generally don’t know who she is talking about. The main problem being that I use nicknames, and she, in a rather old-fashioned way, insists on using their real names, which she embellishes further by describing their hair in graphic detail.

Do you know Tom from year three?” she says with a mischievous glint in her eye.

Tom?”

You know, the boy with the jet-black hair. It’s short at the sides and long on the top, but he gels it back.”

Do you mean Dracula?”

“I hope you haven’t called him that in front of our kids, ” she says in a preachy tone.

“Of course not,” I lie.

I have watched most of Breaking Bad marooned in such conversations. I think the writers of TV dramas, that are underpinned by complex storylines, should take into account that my wife and I, their target audience, get easily confused describing other people’s hair.

No, not not Dracula,” she says with a familiar frustration. “The one I’m talking about has got a brother in year four. Short hair, side parting.”

At this point, I am confident I don’t know who she is talking about, but what I do know is, that there are two of them. This is just enough information for me to pretend to be in the loop so that she can proceed.

“Do you know his dad?” she continues.

Yes,” I lie again. “What’s he done now?”

“When he dropped his kids off at school this morning he was wearing skin-tight cycling shorts.” She followed this statement up by doing a few hand gestures, which I think this guy would have found flattering.

As a parent you quickly learn that certain types of behaviour are out of bounds when dropping your kids off at school, or they will rank high on the gossip charts.

For instance, you should never ride your kid’s scooter to school. You may think you’re being ironic, but it will be seen as a desperate pitch for coolness. This, of course, pales into insignificance when you’re stood on a scooter next to someone showcasing their giblets in stretchy shorts.

Persistent lycra offenders will soon pop up on the radar of influential members of the PTA, who think dads obsessed with exaggerated crotch displays, are perfect for working on the hot dog stall at the summer fair.

Hang on. Who are we talking about?” I say with a furrowed brow. I have decided that this gossip is so juicy, I actually need to know who’s playing the lead.

My wife lets out a long sigh, and starts again, “You know Tom with the…”

I drift off again but I don’t feel guilty. My wife has known me for fifteen years and yet she still insists on describing people to me by using their real name, hair style and penis size.

 

 

My son puts just enough milk on his cereal to flood the kitchen.

 

It is a beautiful summer’s evening and my daughter is stuck inside the house forcing me to make her cry by identifying food.

She prods something on her dinner plate with a fork and asks: “Dad, what’s this?”

I rest my chin on my hand and I say with mock enthusiasm, “That’s broccoli.”

“Waaaaaaaa!!” She pushes another item forward. “Dad, what’s this?”

“That’s a carrot.”

“Waaaaaaaaa!!” To underline the deepness of her sorrow, she amplifies the volume of this cry to the level of a Dyson Airblade hand dryer.

She then decides to change her avenue of attack by willing me to make her cry by recalling numbers.

“Dad, how many more mouthfuls do I have to eat?”

“Three more.”

“Waaaaaa!!”

My son, on the other hand, is eating like a normal 11-year-old boy; slack-jawed, mouth gaping. I can see chunks of food tumbling around like trainers in a washing machine. He is speed walking towards the end of his meal so that he can ask me a question.

“What’s for pudding?” he asks. Unchewed objects abseil out of his mouth.

My daughter pulls at my sleeve. “Have I finished?” she asks.

My son looks at his distressed sister, then at me and asks: “Can I have some Coco Pops?”

My daughter pulls at my sleeve and resumes crying, “Have I finished?”

I am thinking that this is an opportune moment to cave in and dispense lollipops, but deep down, I know that they haven’t eaten enough vegetables to counterbalance the crap they will eat later, so I take one more round of crying questions. I immediately regret my decision as my wife walks in and surveys the scene. She eyeballs the daughter’s plate, she analyses the mess around my son, and finally, she analyses me.

She issues a set of directives that contradict my own; I let this pass. I have, by doing nothing other than crumbling, become the good guy. I am being promoted and demoted at the same time.

All questions are now directed past me and as such I feel it is OK to leave the table; I am wrong. My wife glares at me and I sit back down. Apparently, I have to stay to see her flexing her parental muscles. She might as well start doing lunges in front of me with the kids tied to her back.

My son throws the pudding question out again. I can see my wife mentally listing it as a low priority request and therefore I can deal with it. I take my cue, stretch my neck to look at what’s left on his plate, and say: ‘yes’. My wife looks at me disapprovingly. This was a high level request and I just messed it up.

My mistake was not remembering that we have an American-sized 6 pint milk container in the fridge. It’s too heavy for him to carry and he always puts just enough milk on his cereal to flood the kitchen. I am fearful that one day I will return from work to see milk lapping at the kitchen window, and my son bobbing past clutching a meteor-sized Coco Pop, and his sister twizzling around in the background, wedged in the middle of a huge Cheerio.

My son schleps over to the fridge. We both watch him struggle to take the milk over to his bowl. My reputation is at stake here. I am willing him to find some strength, and power through to the other side of the room where his empty bowl awaits. I can see from my wife’s expression that she is willing for a different outcome: she wants him to move his bowl over to the milk.

 

 

“Dad! We’ve just found an arm on the beach.” And other things to do in half-term.

 

It is the first time since my son was born 11 years ago that I find myself alone in the house for an entire week, and now that this blessed moment has finally arrived I am completely bored. 

I mooch into the TV room, do an awesome dive-bomb onto the couch, and scroll down all the programs that I have saved. I am pleased, and a little horrified to discover that I have 34 recordings of Magnum PI to watch.

The phone springs into life.

“Oh my God! I’ve think we’ve just found an arm on the beach. What do I do?”

This is my wife’s way of telling me she’s arrived safely in Scotland. She has taken the kids, along with four school-gate mothers and their offspring, to a remote, allegedly signal-free, cottage in the Highlands for the half-term break.

Just tell them it’s a monkey’s arm,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

I knew I should have called someone else.”

If I ever find a body part, I will, without hesitation, ring up my wife first to gain her counsel. It seems that my wife has a list of people she can ring before she settles on me. God knows what else she’s found that I didn’t make the cut for. When she returns, I need to make her aware that if she ever finds an arm again, I must be the first person she calls, or at the very least, she should ‘cc’ me in on it.

Some time later the phone coughs again.

“Why haven’t you called me back?” asks me wife. “It seems as though you don’t want to know anything about the arm that your children have found.”

“I’ve been busy,” I snapped, with blossoming indignation.

“You’ve been on the internet, haven’t you?” she remarked accusingly. Her tone drenched in the now familiar scent of disappointment. With a family, I think; you’re never totally alone.

I decide to watch Magnum and sporadically stare at the phone in the hope that the thing never rings again. Almost immediately the phone pipes up again, and I treat it with childish indifference, as though it has betrayed our unspoken agreement that I’m the one in charge.

It is my son; he sounds excited. “Dad. We’ve found something amazing on the beach, did Mum tell you?”

Yes, but I don’t think I’ve been fully cleared to talk about this.”

We’ve found… an arm.”

What type of… arm?” I asked, tentatively.

I imagine all five mothers huddled around a large kitchen table with tempers reaching boiling point, before they eventually concoct the perfect excuse which will make all the kids think that finding an arm is great half-term fun.

There is a slight pause before my son reveals: “Mum said it was… a monkey’s arm.”

It seems that my brain is equal to five women’s brains. I revel in this small victory for a moment, and then I take great pleasure in smothering the treacherous phone beneath a cushion and dive-bombing it.

 


I skilfully avoided my wife’s gaze by staying under the table until she left the room.

I had been at work for three hours when I realised that I was not wearing a belt, and I had odd socks on. I desperately tried to think of a way that I could blame my wife, but the well was dry.

My phone burst into life. It was my wife, or to give her my cute pet name: The Belt Thief.

“I’m going out tonight. Remember? I wrote it on the calendar ages ago. You’ll have to make tea,” she said in a loud voice to muffle out the background noise of her writing it on the calendar.

“What! All of it?” I replied.

“What does that mean?”

“I have to make yours as well?”

Quick as a flash, I thought of three meals that I could make for the kids which all revolved around spaghetti hoops.

“Yes, you have to make mine as well,” she sighed.

“But you don’t like spaghetti hoops,” I replied.

“We haven’t got any,” she said triumphantly. Sometimes I think she plans out these conversations.

Hoop shortages are common in our house, so much so that I’ve decided to get, ‘You won’t find any spaghetti hoops in here’, chiselled into my tombstone, which is to be followed by, ‘Hang on, there’s some alphabetti spaghetti, do you want that instead?’

I decided to take the unprecedented decision to ring my wife back, and ask her what I should make for tea.

“Why don’t you branch out from your signature dish of spaghetti hoops and make fish fingers,” she said. This gave me an unexpected boost because fish fingers are something I had thought of independently, which means, in my mind, that we both love our children the same amount. It also gave me the rare opportunity to outdo my wife by upgrading from fish fingers to show her that I love them more.

“What’s this, Dad?” asked my five-year-old daughter as she wriggled uncomfortably on her seat at the dinner table.

“That’s linguini,” I revealed theatrically, “and the thing that you’ve have thrown on the floor is called: salami.” I tried to catch my wife’s gaze. This was the start of a tense game of eye-avoidance which I knew I would lose, but as I’m always preaching to my son, it’s the taking part that counts.

In a long-term relationship praise is important. I needed her to recognise my efforts so that if she ever thought about having an affair, this golden memory of me reluctantly making tea would stop her.

I crawled under the table to pick up the salami and noticed that my daughter was wearing odd socks. I froze momentarily as I remembered that I had dressed both of the kids that morning.

I could sense that my wife was now trying to catch my eye, it’s as though she can smell fear, but I skilfully avoided her gaze by staying under the table until she left the room, and then my heart sank, as I heard the now familiar noise of salami hitting the floor.

 

 

 

 

Children: How to ignore them.

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It is Saturday morning, and I’m doing what I always do on a Saturday morning; I am hiding in the toilet. It took my five-year-old daughter only a few moments to find me, but I cherished each one. She banged on the door.

“Daddy, is that you in the toilet?”

“Yes, what do you want?”

“Can you build me a pond in the back garden?”

“Not right now.”

“Can you fill it full of fishies and frogies?”

“Yes, but not right now.”

“Daddy.”

“What!?”

“Can you get me some juice?”

“Where’s your mother?”

“I don’t know where she is.”

“Have you tried the other toilet?”

“Yes, but it’s locked and there is no answer.”

“Keep trying.”

Normally I find it hard to get a job. I am signed up to a kaleidoscope of high-energy recruitment agencies who send me details about jobs I feel obliged to like because they have spent time texting them to me. They all fade out to nothing, but as soon as I sit on the toilet I land a major contract to build a pond and populate it.

More worryingly, it appears that my wife has become better at ignoring the children than me. I don’t know the precise moment that the balance shifted in her favour, I’ll have to ask her, that’s if I ever find her again; she appears to be ‘off-grid’ at the moment.

My thoughts are once again interrupted by a clenched fist banging on the toilet door. I show my exasperation by slowly lowering the celebrity magazine, it’s pages fan out and make a familiar flapping noise before I eventually drop it on the floor.

“Dad, is that you?”

This time it is my son. It looks like my interrogators are working a continental shift pattern. Witty, sarcastic replies paraded through my mind like beauty contestants hoping to be selected. I rejected them all, and decided to lose my wrag instead.

“What!” I screamed in frustration.

“Where’s Mum?”

“I don’t know.”

“Can I have some juice?”

I don’t know where my wife is, but searching for her appears to be thirsty work. I imagine my kids glugging gallons of juice as they step over the skeletal remains of other kids who have been foolish enough to look for my wife, before they have to run away from the Indiana Jones’ ball she has rigged-up in the laundry room.

“Dad.”

“What?”

“Can I go on the Xbox?”

“Yes.”

“It’s not that simple,” he replied.

Instead of following my orders and flushing out her mother, my daughter had got derailed by a Disney movie, meaning that my son needed permission to kick her off the TV in order to play the Xbox. A high-level decision was required that would result in one of them becoming eye-wateringly upset. My mind wondered back to a much simpler time when I was being asked to build a pond and fill it full of happy, colourful things, and to a time when my wife was visible to the naked eye.

 

 

 

I was in no fit condition to accept flirty texts as I had just eaten some beef.

BH073K Heinz tomato soup

Fancy a bit of soup?

My wife has started sending me saucy text messages; she is clearly trying to annoy me. My wife knows that I am terrible at this sort of thing. I sent three texts back before I broke down and asked her what was for tea.

I was in the worst possible situation to accept flirty texts because I was at work, and I’d just eaten some beef. Throw in a chocolate orange and I’d be asleep. At my advancing age, my libido is easily knocked off course by chocolate and meat. I’m not ashamed. I think if you gave Warren Beatty a beef baguette and a chocolate orange he’d struggle to chase you around the bedroom.

Every time my phone bleeped I became anxious, and then the thing actually rang. Thankfully, it was my builder with a great big estimate for repairs. He said that after extensive excavations (prodding) he had discovered the cause of the damp patch in the back bedroom. For a brief moment, I wondered if my wife had put him up to this innuendo. Then I wondered what my wife was doing with the builder. Then I wondered what was for tea, so I texted my wife again. Apparently, she was having a big sausage for tea, and I was having soup. I spent the next few minutes on the internet trying to find out which depraved sexual act had been recently nicknamed ‘Soup’.

The internet was oblivious to this new trend, so I asked one of the girls in the office. She seemed to think I was talking about food, until I asked her if she’d ever been ‘Souping’.

I returned home to find a letter on the table. It looked like it had lived a hard life. There was a dusty footprint on it, and a scribbled phone number underneath the words: ‘The Honey Man’. More worryingly, it was not in the usual pile in the corner, it had, for some reason, been singled out for special treatment. The tatty letter had been placed by the big bowl in the centre of the dining table. The big bowl is where my wife artistically arranges fruit.

I have seen letters like this before, so I approached with caution. On the top of the letter was a cute silhouette of a ballerina, and underneath were the words: Your daughter’s Dancing fees are now due. You owe: Just enough to hurt.

Turning my daughter into a dancing silhouette is usually funded by my wife. I fund my son, who wants to be the silhouette of a boy who’s had all his homework completed by robot servants.

The high-profile discarding of the letter was a subtle hint from my wife that I might want to start funding both kids’ activities. I do not have a letter that I can put up for tender like this; my son’s subscriptions haunt me electronically.

Some time later my wife burst through the door and splashed her house keys across the big table. I waved the letter in the air and asked: “Who is the Honey Man?”

“He’s the man who gives me honey.”

“Is that…me?”

“Do you want your soup now?”

 

 

Why would a tradesman be driving around Leeds with a chicken on the passenger seat?

raw-chicken

Come on, let’s go for a little drive

When the kids are at school I like to relax by going to work. The weekends are a little different, I manage to find a small air pocket of peace by taking all the things the kids have broken to the tip.

At some point during my luxury spa break at the local rubbish dump my wife will demand that I bring more sausages to the cafe that we own, but today was different; today she demanded a big chicken.

This annoyed me. I had just filled up the car with old lamps and bits of timber for a trip to the tip, so I was forced to put the chicken on the passenger seat.

The arrival of the chicken & I at the tip created a bit of a stir. As I opened the boot, two men: one large, one small, analysed my load. They quickly determined that my bent Art Deco lamps and wooden off-cuts were classed as commercial waste, and that they could not be dumped at a domestic site. In desperation, I pointed at the chicken.

“Why would a tradesman be driving around with a chicken on the passenger seat?” I reasoned.

The big one tried to clarify the situation: “Owning a chicken doesn’t mean that you’re not a tradesman.”

“So, it’s easier to believe that I drive a big chicken around Leeds and bend fancy lamps for a living,” I replied. “And to reduce my exorbitant ‘lamp bending overheads’, I secretly discard the lamps in a domestic tip so that I can dodge the commercial tip fees.”

I looked at the small one for reassurance. I assumed that because he was small he’d be more reasonable. The small one told me to leave. As I did so, I re-iterated that they were making a big mistake, and that I was clearly not a tradesman, unless of course, they had any lamps that needed bending, then I could offer them a discount.

I vowed to find another council tip with staff who believed that owning a chicken was a clear sign of innocence. The phone rang; it was my wife and she wanted to know how long I was going to be. “That all depends on the council,” I answered.

My wife finished the call by presenting me with a conundrum: I could either chauffeur the chicken around town looking for a tip, or I could drive the chicken to the cafe where she could cook it, serve it and earn some money.

At some point in the future, one of my many job applications will blossom into an interview. To assess my abilities, they will no doubt ask me to give them an example of a situation that required me to prioritise my workload and work to a tight deadline. I shall lie, and tell them that I drove the chicken to the cafe.

 

She moves like Shakira

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My daughter was five three weeks ago and she’s still wearing her ‘I’m Five’ badge that flashes. The badge has been a constant addition to all her dress-up costumes, from the pink princess, angel with wings and the one that looks like a gravedigger; she even made me pin it to her ballet costume.

At her age the dance lessons focus on the basics such as First Position, well, that’s what I thought. I picked her up from dancing, and I was having great difficulty stuffing her in the car seat. This was mainly due to her big coat; a coat I had never seen before; a coat that turned out not to be hers. This made me both angry and confused. If she’s going to pick up the wrong coat why can’t she pick up a light summer coat or one from Boden.

The big coat made my daughter look like a caterpillar. The Caterpillar shouted from the back seat that she’d learned some new moves and wanted to show them off.

The whole family were summoned for the performance; they didn’t turn up, so I confiscated all their electronic devices and forced them to turn up of their own free will.

My daughter started off in First Position, I then advised her she might be able to move a little more freely if she removed the big coat. She stood before us, in maximum cute mode, wearing her full ballet costume with the badge flashing away.

First position then turned into a succession of strange, jerky moves you might see Shakira doing. The grand finale was a lopsided forward roll. As the curtain dropped on this latest performance, the family members I’d forced to attend all looked at me with the same ‘I-told-you-so’ expression, snatched back back their devices and shuffled off to separate corners of the house.

A few hours later her best friend arrived for a play date. They both skipped off into the back room to rehearse for another performance. My daughter promised me that this new performance would be a little more ‘freestyle’. After sitting through many of my daughter’s rather avant-garde performances,  I have come to learn that ‘freestyle’ usually means more forward rolls.

We gathered on the couch, and my daughter appeared, her cute badge still blinking away. I don’t know who make the batteries in these things but I doubt NASA have developed anything this technically advanced. She entered the room very slowly, and the reason why soon became alarmingly apparent; she was dragging her friend along the floor by a dog lead which was tied to her now purple wrist. She then performed a forward roll, picked up the dog lead, and dragged her out again. The sound of flesh dragging along carpet will stay with me for some time, and so will the smell.

I have come to learn that ‘freestyle’ can also mean more dog leads.

 

I run downstairs in my half-open dressing gown and grab the baguettes.

Owning a café in a small village allows my son to see lots of different professions at work. There’s the Veg Man, the Pop Man and the Honey Man, but the one who has caught his eye is the Bread Man.

I find this confusing. Bread Man gets up early (much earlier than the Honey Man), he works in a hot environment and sets unrealistic minimum bread orders for cafes in small villages. I can see why the Bread Man does this to a point, he needs to make sure his efforts don’t go to waste, but having to accept 50 baguettes a day is setting the bar a little high for us.

I can’t eat 50 baguettes a day, I’ve tried, and there aren’t enough baguette lovers in the village, unless they are all secretly eating baguettes in our rival café.

Initially we tried to persevere with the intense bread orders but the surplus was stacking up in my back porch, which was annoying because I like to block up my back porch with coats my family and I never use. I even tried to re-purpose the bread by making my son some bread boots (see pic), but they didn’t catch on. They weren’t very good in the wet apparently, or the dry.

All this aside, the overriding problem was the Bread Man’s insistence on delivering bread in the middle of the night. Unable to get to the café to meet him, we asked him to deliver the unsellable 50 baguettes to our house. At 4am every morning he would slam the letterbox, bend over, put his mouth to the opening and shout: “Bread! Bread!” This would startle me somewhat and I would reach under the bed for my ‘nightstick’, which is a stick I have not yet been bothered to find or put under my bed to ward off intruders.

I would then run down stairs in my half-open dressing gown and grab the baguettes. The bread would then be swiftly spirited into the back room where I would count it to make sure I had 50 baguettes I couldn’t sell as opposed to 49; I didn’t want to be ripped off.

For some reason, after seeing all this, my son thinks the life of a bread man is somewhat romantic, akin to the adventures of a Musketeer; a Musketeer who oversells baguettes and regularly sees half-naked men in dressing gowns waving around invisible nightsticks.

I think the moral of the story is that if you ever go into a sandwich shop, or café, and they have run out of bread it is not for the want of trying.

Note. A few people have asked me if I have a pet name for my imaginary nightstick. Well, I have three imaginary names I can’t decide between, they are: Dr Damage, The Facilitator and Stick Astley.

This blog is currently being serialised in The Squeaker.

http://www.pudseysqueaker.co.uk/

My radio app has got stuck on a Belgian station. The upside is that there’s minimal DJ chat and you are introduced to new artists. As a result, some of these blogs have been written to Belgian rap (you’ve probably noticed how this has shaped my writing) but this heavily bread-based blog was created as I listened to Lady Linn. Please think of my bread troubles as you listen to her.