Village News!!!

For one week only, breaking news from my local village.

Floral designs in the heart of Chelsea.

The Chelsea flower show is a tour de force of contemporary and classical garden design, but it is nothing compared to my elderly neighbour’s attempts to master the art of topiary.

It’s an expensive hobby. While you’re practicing you can actually run out of bushes. My neighbour solved this problem by sneaking into my back garden and re-designing my laurel bush into what looks like a seal chasing a Russian submarine.

Imagine this but more seal-like and in hot pursuit.

As we all know it is standard social etiquette to ask your neighbour’s permission before you start recreating underwater battle scenes in their laurel bushes.

First thing Monday morning I will be placing a call to the ‘Nuisance Neighbour’ department of the local council and asking to be put through to whoever deals with ‘unauthorised topiary’.

My wife has just pointed out that many local services are underfunded, and therefore it is unlikely that the council have a dedicated team that deals solely with unsolicited bush art. Fair point.

Teens getting shitty part-time jobs. Tips from the frontline.

It’s not easy. Shitty part-time jobs are rare. Luckily, my teen has landed on his feet. He works for an eccentric millionaire fluffing cushions in his speedos, but some aren’t so lucky.

Here’s what I’m hearing on the ground.

Basic minimum wage for a 16 year old is £4.35 per hour. A haircut at Mr Fadez is £9.50. Another £2 if you want it doing properly. So, to put that in context, to pay for one haircut, teens have to fluff cushions for three hours.

Please note. I am only using ‘cushion fluffing’ as a measurement of hourly work because it’s what my son pretends to do. 

Plus, in protest to all the shenanigans in Westminster over Brexit and Europe, I am now refusing to use Europe’s metric measurement system. From now on, I’m measuring everything in ‘Goldblums’. One unit is equivalent to the height of one Jeff Goldblum. My wife has just pointed out that it may be hard getting the building industry to use Jeff Goldblum as a unit of measurement. And that it might be better to use Dean Gaffney. Fair point.

How far is Leeds from Manchester? Approximately 200 Goldblums or 3000 Gaffneys.

Back in the eighties it was easy to get a shitty job in a supermarket. In my interview the manager sat me down and said, “I want hard workers. I just want you to come in here and sweat your bollocks off for twelve hours a week. Can you do that?” Of course, employment rules have changed since then and employers are no longer allowed to hire staff based on the dampness of testicles. Don’t blame me, I don’t make the rules.

More news as I get it.

The inside dope: GCSEs

The teenage years: a time when your child is blown off the map into a world of danger and temptation (yes, I’m taking a creative writing class).

I’ve had to deal with the teen’s first girlfriend, house party hangover and timely arrest for stockpiling fireworks.

But what have I learned?

First up: GCSEs. Here’s a few things I didn’t know about the exams. If you’re child is taking them, I hope this information helps.

1: OK, so you’ve got two kids taking the same subject in different schools. They could both score 80% but come out with different grades. One gets an ‘A’, the other a ‘B’.

2: An exam board can make an exam harder AFTER the tests have been taken.

How do they do this? They simply change the grade barrier.

Why is this important?

Here’s a quick example:

Let’s say that last year, your school’s exam board set an ‘A’ grade at 75%. When pupils take their mock exam, they use last year’s test papers with the set grade boundaries. They get 75% in their mock, so get an ‘A’ grade.

Now you come to the final test. Congratulations, you managed to get the same score: 75%, BUT they’ve changed the grade boundary, so now you need to get 80% for an ‘A’. They do not tell you about this boundary change before the exam. So, the pupil scores the same in their finals, as they did in their mocks, but get downgraded from an ‘A’ to a ‘B’. Naturally, the pupil feels like they’ve underperformed.

But this can go both ways.

Schools use different exam boards. One board could LOWER the boundaries (hey presto! More kids pass at higher grades). This is where some of the conspiracy theories come from. Some speculate that this could be used to balance out results across regions. Giving failing schools higher pass rates.

In short: kids getting the same marks are potentially getting different grades. This is key. Your child’s grade is not determined purely on their intelligence and effort. The system plays a big role. 

I didn’t know any of this. I naturally assumed that all kids taking english, for example, would take the same paper and be marked under the same conditions. 

What to do?

Firstly, it’s worthwhile finding out about the exam board used by your school. Are they prone to raising boundaries, or lowering them?

On result’s day, you just get the grade score. You need to get the actual percentage mark. This is more revealing and gives a greater insight. If your child is say, one mark away from getting a higher grade, you can ask for the paper to be remarked. If you’re close to the boundary, the school usually gets in touch to inform you. If the mark is altered upwards, the fee is waved, but if it stays the same, or goes lower, you have to pay approx £40.

What about retaking the exam?

It’s an option, but it’s not actively encouraged, unless there is going to be a massive leap. Plus, this is just anecdotal, so I can’t confirm, but I’m told that universities don’t even look at GCSE results, they just take the A level results. And even if they did, they would only look at English language and maths, alongside the character reference.

If we did it all again, what would we do differently?

I’d make one major change. The exam boards are all different and mark differently. I would treat the exam board as a client. Find out how they mark and write what the client wants.

Of course, non of this explains why my teen came home from his math’s exam with a love bite, but I hope it helps.

The case of the mysterious old couple.

I’m going to apologise for the swearing now.

It’s Tuesday morning and I’m fixing a writing bureau for an old couple, let’s call them Liz and Phil. The problem is, I can’t work out their relationship. They act like brother and sister but there is only one bedroom.

I find out the truth after ‘overhearing’ two phone calls.

Liz is on the phone to the alarm company:

It keeps buzzing,” she says. “Sorry, no I don’t know the alarm model number. My husband used to deal with all this, but he’s just…passed on.”

OK, hubby is dead, so who is this other joker?

At this point, a boiler repair man enters the house. He tells me that his name is, ‘Farouk’.

Liz and Phil go out, leaving me alone with Farouk. The phone rings. Eventually the answer machine kicks in. A woman leaves the following message: “I heard you two were both ‘there’ today. I think I might just…pop in.” The last line sounds sinister. It’s a threatening ‘pop in’.

Farouk looks at me and wobbles his eyebrows.

One hour later, Liz and Phil return with shopping bags.

You’ve got a phone message,” I say. Liz and Phil look at each other. Farouk and I look at each other. He wobbles his eyebrows again. Liz presses play.

They both listen intently, and then Liz says to Phil, “Oh my God. It’s your wife!”

I glance over to Farouk who looks like he is about to explode. The eyebrows are getting a thorough workout.

They both retreat into the bedroom. Phil emerges after half an hour, puts on a flat cap and goes out.

Liz stays in the room alone. The room is silent.

I walk over to Farouk. “She’s in there all alone,” I say. “Don’t you think that you should just…pop in? See if she’s OK.”

Fuck that. No fucking way. I’m not going in there with old fucking lady. Fuck that shit. Fuck right off.”

You’re giving me mixed signals, Farouk. Is that a yes or a no?” I ask.

No fucking chance. You fucking go in. I’m fucking staying here. Fuck that!”

Ten minutes later…

Liz appears, walks to the kitchen and starts making minestrone soup. She asks if we ‘want some’. I assume she is referring to the soup. We decline.

Two hours later, there is a knock at the door.

Liz remains seated. Cautiously, I open the door. It’s Phil. He apologises and says he couldn’t get in because he’s ‘forgotten’ his keys.

I finish up and ask to be paid. Phil rummages around in his pockets, looking confused. He searches through some boxes. Eventually he says he’s ‘forgotten’ where his cheque book is. I am being employed by him, to fix his writing bureau. He starts cozying up to Liz. Liz smiles back at him adoringly, gets out her cheque book and pays me out of her savings.

The End.

I initially posted this as a live thread on facebook. It managed to get one comment:

‘My boiler’s on the blink. Any chance you can give me Farouk’s number because I need someone to come round and swear at it’.

The problem with mothers…

It’s panic stations. My mother has dropped by unannounced.

She’s usually fine, unless she’s had a bad journey over. Then she takes her frustrations out on us through a series of withering put downs.

I test the water…

Nice journey over?” I ask. There is a feeling of anticipation in the air.

She lets out a deep, wandering sigh.

I don’t need to hear anymore That’s it. Game over. It’s every man for himself. That’s a sigh of despair. It’s not joyous sound, it’s not the kind of noise you make just before you go into a medley of songs from Mama Mia.

She patrols around the kitchen looking for someone to belittle, imagine Morrissey after he’s been at the sherry, and we’re all desperately looking for an excuse to slope out.

My mum, yesterday, just about to tell us all a few ‘home truths’ because she was angered by some roadworks on the A64.

The teen gets up and delves into the fridge. My mum eyeballs him up and down. “You’ve always got your head in that fridge” she observes. He does a fake grin, thinking she’s joking. He’s too naïve to pick up on the sinister undertones. “Just like your dad when he was 16. Never stopped eating burgers. Burger, burger, burger. He would come in, put the grill on. Put the burger under. It always worried me, because back then there was all that fuss about the bad meat.”

‘Mad cow disease?” prompts my wife.

Mad cow. Yes. I’ve always wondered if he got it,” she announces to the room. The family scrutinise me, trying to spot symptoms. In just two short exchanges she’s inferred that my teen is a glutton and I’m about to start frothing at the mouth.

My wife picks up her phone. I glare at her and whisper, “Don’t you dare pretend to get a fake business call and leave the room.”

Don’t be stupid. I can handle caustic mother-in-laws. In fact, it’s my ambition to become one,” she whispers. “I’m actually on twitter. I’ve set up a new account. Say hello to…Sir Rants A Lot. Get it? I rant about things.”

How do you feel about petrol strimmers being used before 9am?” I ask.

Don’t poke the bear.”

As we speak, there are currently 4 twitter accounts under the name of Sir Rants A Lot. I would tell her but she is currently basking in the glow of her own word-play magnificence.

Any comments yet?” I ask.

No. It’s just a place for me to vent. Great name though, isn’t it? And it’s unique. You’re crap at thinking up names for blogs and stuff. You should get me to think up your names.”

I toy with the idea about setting up a twitter account to rant about all the Sir Rant A Lots.

My wife seems to have read my mind. “Why not set up your own ranting account?” she says. “We can moan online together. In fact I’ve just thought of the perfect name for you.”

Tell me.”

Mad Cow.”

I’m going back to talk to my mother,” I say and walk out of the fire and back into the frying pan.

My sexy, sexy shorts

Those shorts you’re wearing,” observes the wife, “they make your balls look massive.”

I was just popping out to the shops. Do you think I should change?”

You can’t go to the little Asda in those. They’re obscene. They’ll think you’re a space hopper salesman and you’ve brought two samples along.” She laughs at her own joke. Picks up the phone and starts typing.

Don’t send that to your school mother’s chat group,” I beg.

It’s got three likes already. Do you want me to read the comments?”

I love my wife dearly but I’m becoming increasingly alarmed at how fast she can type ‘space hoppers’. Undeterred, I decide to pop out to the little Asda in my sexy, sexy shorts. I’m not worried. I’m 50, fat and bald. Women aren’t checking me out. They wouldn’t notice me if I walked into the little Asda with a Catherine wheel shoved up my arse singing ‘9 to 5’ by Dolly Parton.

Just popping to the little Asda. Do you want some Crunchy Nuts?

Before you pop out,” says the wife, “I need to take some pictures. The girls are demanding it.”

This mother’s chat group,” I say. “It seems to revel in husband humiliation. Is that why you took so many pictures of me wearing that tight t-shirt with all the zips on it?”

I’d rather not say.”

What happens in half-term, stays in half-term.

It’s half-term and from my bedroom window I can see two scruffy kids from the estate stood in my drive. They are looking at my fresh, wet cement.

One of them picks up a stick…

Oi!” I shout. They don’t hear me. My wife waltzes into the room as I bellow, “Oi, you little shits!”

What have I told you about swearing at passers by,” she says, chuckles and flops on the bed.

There are two estate kids messing about with the cement,” I say. “They’re going to draw a knob or write Stop Brexit.”

My wife saunters over. “You chase them off. I’ll stay here and swear at them.”

OK,” I say. “Have you seen my slippers?”

The race is on. I have to get to the little shits before they draw a pair of hairy bollocks or write a politically divisive statement in the cement.

View from the bedroom window towards the scene of the crime.

As I enter the hallway, my teen son emerges out of his pit. Shoulders hunched. Hoody pulled over.

What’s with all the swearing?” he mumbles.

Ignore that,” I say. “Do you want to chase some kids?”

Hang on,” he says. “I’ll get my bubble coat.”

Bubble coat?”

Bubble coats are notoriously flimsy and no good in a rumble. They start loosing feathers as soon as you leave the shop. In fact I once fell into a rose bush wearing a North Face bubble coat which created a dense feather cloud akin to a bird strike on a 747.

As we descend the stairs to the backdrop of my wife shouting, “Wankers!”, I fill my teen in on the etiquette of street fighting…

Look,” I say. “They are only about 12 or 13, so we are not allowed to hit them, but they are allowed to stab us, film it and put it on youtube.”

So, what are we going to do?” he asks.

Mock them with hurtful taunts,” I say. I look at the teen. “Are you ready?” He nods. I open the door…

Two days later I am out in the front garden. The postman ambles up the drive. He looks at the cement patch.

Someone’s drawn a pair of bollocks in your cement,” he says.

It’s half-term,” I say.

Exploring new horizons. Stepping away from the Xbox.

It’s Thursday night and I can hear swearing and the banging of pans. I mooch warily into the kitchen to investigate.

“What’s wrong?” I ask.

I’ve been accepted for the fu**ing London marathon,” says my wife. Bong, crash, bang.

I’m confused. You love jogging.”

I hate jogging.” Bong, crash. “I pretend to like it. This is bad. I’m fu**ing crying.”

“You’re confusing crying with swearing,” I say.

“I’m crying on the inside.”

“It’s impossible to ‘cry on the inside’. And even if you could, how would I ever know?”

“Easy. I’ll be jogging.”

My teenage son shuffles in.

What’s happening?” he asks.

“Did you know,” I say, “that your mum has the power to cry on the inside?”

“Any chance we can teach her to swear on the inside?” he asks.

“No need,” she says. “I’m doing it now.”

My son turns to leave. “Hang on,” I say. “How was school?”

Meh,” he replies.

What’s the matter?”

Nothing.”

Have you fallen out with someone?” I ask.

“No. It’s…football.”

My wife and I were fed up with our son sitting alone, marooned in his bedroom playing on the Xbox, so we encouraged him to get involved in a team sport. He chose football but it’s been an emotional ride.

My son’s school team has lost every match. Even so, my son struggles to get selected. He’s only played once and was subbed after ten minutes. It was tough seeing him slouch off the pitch, feeling the sting of public rejection. We’re just hoping he turns a corner soon and plays a full game without being substituted.

Do you want to talk about it?” I ask.

The other team were bullies,” he says. “Private school bullies.”

What happened?”

We took them to the refectory and gave them a meal, and I overheard one of them complaining that we didn’t warm the plates before we put the food on. During the game, their supporters were chanting: ‘You don’t warm your plates! You don’t warm your plates!'”

“I’d like to report it,” I say, “but I’m not sure if there’s a cutlery trash talk helplne. Did you get a game?”

He perks up. “Yes.”

Did you get substituted?”

No,” he says and smiles. I look at my wife and mirror her excitement. This might be the turning point. “Well,” he adds. “I sort of got subbed.” I see the glint of hope fading from my wife’s eyes.

How can you ‘sort of’ get subbed?” I say.

I asked the coach if I could come off. I was playing really badly. I thought it would be best for the whole team.”

And that’s when I realised I also have the power to cry on the inside.

Daytime TV cop shows. My audition piece.

Three months ago…

It’s the summer holidays and teenage boys across the land are in a state of languid slumber till well past midday. Personally, I blame the vicar’s daughter.

To get them out of their bedroom, I’ve found that you need to give teens a group project that will crumble without their participation; involvement through guilt. So, in preparation for the long summer holidays, I’ve spent the last few months writing a daytime TV cop show and insisting we film it and he takes the lead part. (Yes, I’m unemployed.)

“What’s my character’s motivation?” he asked.

“He’s a maverick cop with a troubled backstory,” I said.

“What’s the troubled backstory?”

“He spent too much time with the vicar’s daughter,” I said.

Present day…

The project is now finished. Enjoy. But please be warned that I needed a love interest for the main character, but I was unable to persuade any teenage girls to appear in my ‘home movie’, so I had to use a balloon on a stick. Just go with it.

Plot…

Two maverick city cops push the boundaries once too often and get demoted. They’re transferred to a sleepy seaside town where they soon discover that someone is out to kill them…

See the first episode now…

https://bit.ly/2CXWFO2

Travel writing. My audition piece. Part 2.

My family love rain and angry locals so we’ve popped down to Cornwall for a holiday.

Day 1.

The cottage is great but the TV reception is a bit sketchy. So to provide some alternative entertainment, I bought an inflatable kayak and got a pair of teens to blow it up.

They actually had a lot of fun. And when we stood back to admire their achievement, we were all in agreement that the kayak was an absolute death trap.

It should really be called a ‘rubberised death machine’ but I appreciate that may narrow its audience.

Day 3.

We’re now half way through the ‘holiday’ and we’re all ready to kill each other. I’m the prime target, due to putting the cereal bowls back in the wrong cupboard.

My defence that the cottage’s cupboards were ‘new and unfamiliar’ to me, and that I meant ‘no harm’ have fallen on deaf ears. I have been told to sit outside in the rain while they think about what to do with me.

Cottage security camera footage of me looking confused by the bowls.

To be honest, they don’t deserve me. I shall threaten to take my irritations elsewhere. The Lady Buckingham-Fosbury has shown a keen interest. From now on I shall enquire about putting my bowls in her pantry.

Day 4.

Down at the beach. I can totally understand why they put this image on the boogie board, because nothing says surfing more than a white horse that’s tried get its snout in the beetroot jar.

Top Tips.

At some point during the holiday you will inevitably fall into a plant while your wife is taking a selfie. In my case, I sat on a bench thinking there was backrest but my faith was misguided. Best thing to do is look bewildered, as though you have been pushed into the plant by an angry teen.

Beware! You’re skating on thin ice. You’ve already been busted misplacing cereal bowls. Falling into plants isn’t going to make you any more popular.

Day 7.

It’s the last day of the holiday. Time to build some bridges and apologise for your behaviour. Alternatively, you could do what I did, and just scour the beach for a family that looks a bit like yours and join them.

Travel writing. My audition piece.

It’s nearly half-term. A great opportunity to get away from it all with the kids. Alternatively, you could just ditch them with an aunt who lives with cats and fuck off to Rome. Just like what I have done.

Here I am getting ready to enter Rome’s annual Ross Kemp look-a-like competition. Or, for all you Italian speakers out there, the “Rosso Kempo” competition.

View from our hotel room…

Features all the classic Roman features: Cyprus trees, marble pillars and those shitty little cars covered in dust.

Day 2.

Popped down to the Vatican this afternoon to confess a few sins, such as spending most of the 90’s sat on a stool in the shed wanking off to pictures of Wilma Deering from Buck Rogers. The cardinal found my honesty refreshing and also wondered if he could borrow my stool.

The lovely Wilma.

 

Day 3.

Worried about those pesky Russian hackers finding your secret stash of homemade x-rated photos and using them to blackmail you? Just release them yourself and hey presto! the threat is gone. This is me during sexy role play…

My wife likes me to pretend to be a Dutch bicycle salesman called Nils Von Hotbody, who has arrived to pump up her back tyre.

 

 

 

The King of Spain’s toilet.

It’s Thursday morning and my mum has press-ganged me into making her a ‘unique’ toilet surround.

I’ve had 3 joiners visit,” she says. “I showed them my toilet drawings. They said they’d ring me back, but they never called back.”

Really?” I say, as I flick through pages of drawings.

The style,” she says. “It’s Spanish renaissance.”

It looks like something Henry the VIII would sit on,” I say.

Can you do it? she asks.

I’ll ring you,” I say.

I’ve been putting this job off for three months, hoping she’d find a joiner to take on the work. But it seems there are no joiners in her local area who specialise in gothic toilets, so I’ve had to bite the bullet.

For next three hours I toil away on the installation without interruption. Then she appears carrying a tray overloaded with Kit Kats.

I’ve brought you a snack,” she says.

Looks like you’ve robbed the Kit Kat factory,” I say. She tuts, and looks at the toilet. A confused expression sets in.

What’s the matter?” I ask.

I’ve spotted a problem.”

Is it the carved eagle?”

No, you’ve done a good job with that. I think the wooden panelling is too high at the front. I wont be able to sit on the toilet.”

I’m no fool. I realise that as your parents get older you have to help out more, but I didn’t think there’d be this much whittling.

We both scrutinise the facade and sure enough, I’ve created a fabulous medieval toilet surround for an old lady who can only use it if she wees standing up.

I’ve got it,” she says excitedly. “I’ll buy a disabled toilet seat. Margaret’s got one. They’re 4 inches thick. Then the seat will be high enough to miss the panelling.”

My mum now wants to raise the toilet seat to a height that she can only reach by pole vaulting.

She disappears again. I try to come up with some solutions. She reappears.

Ordered it,” she says excitedly. “But there’s a problem.”

I put my chisels down and sit next to the carved eagle.

Go on,” I say.

Well, the internet was really fast. I didn’t have time to check the delivery address. It’s going to your sister’s house.”

Why did you use her address?”

A couple of weeks ago I was really poorly. I didn’t want to make a fuss but I thought I was dying. So I used her address for my online shopping.”

This is a great piece of forward thinking by my mum. She’s organised a second address to accept packages just in case she dies during the delivery process. Enabling her to buy gothic monstrosities off ebay whilst suffering a heart attack.

We decide to take a break and mull over our options. I call my wife to keep her in the loop. She hates being out of the loop.

Have you finished making Liberace’s toilet?” she asks.

I think you’ll find it’s the King of Spain’s toilet,” I say. “It’s all going well. You now need a ladder to get on the toilet and my mum has sent a disabled toilet seat to my sister.”

You know why she’s doing this, don’t you?” she says. “Your mum is on her own. The project is just an excuse to get you to visit.”

This may be true, but I’m more inclined to think it’s an elaborate way to launder stolen Kit Kats.

I nip downstairs. My mum is watching Flog It.

Before you go,” she says. “I want to talk to you about another project I’ve got planned. And I don’t want you to take three months to do it,” she says jokingly.

With my wife’s words fresh in my mind, I sit down and take a look at the drawings for her new project. I do it without my usual protestations.

Looks interesting,” I say.

The style, it’s…”

Spanish renaissance,” I interrupt.

Good. You’re beginning to understand what I’m all about.”

Yes, I think I am,” I say.

The Hut. My dad/son summer bonding project.

All was going well until I received a text from my teen son in mid-November, it read:

I hereby inform you that I am withdrawing my services from the ‘project’. What’s for tea?

I replied:

I hereby warn you to stop seeing the parson’s daughter. Since you made her acquaintance you have been sullen and beset by ill humour. In addition, your curtains are permanently drawn, and when you eventually emerge from your quarters, I notice that you appear more hunched. It’s fish fingers.

A shame, but it all started out so wonderfully…

Fade in. Spring 2017.

Stage one: The base. 

Standard 6×2 floor joist propped up by 4×4 posts.

Please note, when you buy timber marked as 4 inch by 2 inch, it is of course smaller than that. It is in fact, 3 and 6/8ths of an inch by 1 and 6/8ths of an inch.

The imperial measuring system is from times of yore, and we have now ditched it for the far more accurate metric system, which the timber yards refuse to use. Saying that, you can actually buy timber that is 3 inch by 2 inch but you have to ask for a ‘Full 3 inch’. Which they will pretend doesn’t exist, because they have to go to the extreme effort of pushing through those plastic flap curtains to get it.

“Ere Geoff! Got an awkward customer out here. He’s asking for some wood that’s the same size as what he wants.”

Of course, the timber yard does have its benefits. I found a piece of dowling in Homebase for £4.25. I found the exact same piece in the timber yard for 80p. The only difference was that at the timber yard they called me a ‘bald twat’ and made some rather wild assertions about my wife’s nocturnal activities.

So, if I had to give Homebase some advice, it would be to lower their prices and dial up the abuse. I put this on twitter and I was thrilled to discover that they immediately implemented 50% of my advice. Now all they need to do is lower their prices.

Another important thing to note is that any young siblings will try and walk on your frame before the post cement has set. This is a great opportunity to reintroduce swearing into your family circle.

Stage 2. Boredom.

Once the initial enjoyment of outdoor swearing wears off, boredom soon smothers your enthusiasm. I took a ‘project break’ and decided to clean the chimney instead. Things escalated quickly… 

 

This is a picture of me in my youth. Full of hope and optimism.

This is a picture of me in my mid-forties, after I’d been up a chimney because I’d become bored of swearing at my own kids.

 

Stage 3. Teen Banter.

Time to insulate the base.

The best product on the market is called Kingspan, but it’s expensive. You can use a cheaper alternative called Quinn Therm. It took my teen son only a few moments to change this to ‘Quim Therm’ and then ultimately to ‘Fanny Foam’.

Please note. You only need to insulate the floor if you want the outbuilding to be habitable. If you using it for storage only, you don’t need any Fanny Foam.

Stage 4. Summer break.

If all is going well, the project should be progressing at a snail’s pace. It’s now time to leave it all behind and go away on your family holiday.

My wife and I both don’t drink. I had to stop because when I drink booze my feet swell up, and my wife stopped because when she’s drunk, she finds it harder to take pictures of my balloon feet and post them on the internet.

So it came as a great surprise to both of us when we discovered that my wife had mistakenly booked us on a booze cruise. It was a disaster. We all hated it, apart from our teen son, who had his ‘coming of age’ holiday. By that I mean he met a Scottish girl called Judy in the arcade. It transpired that Judy was generous with her affections and also amazing at Frogger.

Stage 5. Back to the grindstone.

You’re suitably refreshed from your holiday, and ready to get back to the project. Which is why it comes as a complete shock that you decide to go back up the chimney.

Take heart. This is just a temporary diversion based on the fact that you have totally underestimated how much the project is costing. By going back up the chimney you are not only metaphorically, but physically hiding from your costly mistake.

This is a deep psychological fault that can take many years of expensive therapy to cure. Or you could just board up the chimney.

Stage 6. Walls.

Back to the timber yard. Get some 3 and 6/8ths by 3 and 6/8ths of rough sawn softwood. Or ask for a ‘Full 4×4’ but remember, these don’t exist.

My timber yard does free deliveries but this can work out to be a false economy. They don’t have time to sift through the stock, so you end up with damaged and bent pieces. You can of course take these back and complain, but this will put you on their ‘Hate list’. As discussed above, being on the ‘list’ involves being exposed to ‘wife ridicule’. If you’re thinking about complaining to the timber yard, it may be prudent to get a divorce first.

Stage 7. Take a break.

On a long term project it’s important to try and forget you ever started it. To do this, my wife and went to London for the weekend.

My wife loves London, but she also loves to laugh, so I took her to the Tate Modern. There were plenty of modern art installations in there for her to laugh at. But the laughter soon stopped when she saw this…

Of course, when I first entered the room I thought I was back in the timber yard and tried to order 4 lengths of wood from the small boy with the otter’s head.

Stage 8. Present day.

It is now nearly Christmas and my son has abondoned the project. I am left with a half-built hut that resembles a Hillbillie’s moonshine shack.

All in all, a monstrous project that was hastily conceived, and so was the hut.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mission impossible: Finding a beach that’s tattoo-free.

A rare shot of me relaxing on the beach.

My wife and I are on the beach in Cyprus, padding along the sand, looking for a quiet spot away from other people.

It’s our first time in Cyprus. To be honest, it seems much like Spain. It’s dominated by modern, square holiday flats, but behind those, are old, narrow alleyways where the locals take pride in awkwardly parking small cars and then pouring dirt all over them.

This will do,” she says and dumps her bags on a sun lounger.

I sit down and my wife turns the rusty handle to unwind the parasol. Slowly, it begins to unfurl. Squeak, squeak, squeak. My wife looks down at me, smiles and says, “You lazy bastard. You should be doing this.” Squeak, squeak. “But no, you’re just sat there like Joan bloody Collins.” Squeak, squeak.

We’ve picked a beautiful part of the coastline, it’s a classic holiday brochure scene: a secluded spot in a picturesque cove with my beautiful wife, who is occasionally taking a break from cranking the handle to swear at seagulls.

We’re all alone, until…

Hey Morag!” shouts an old Scottish guy to his wife. “Let’s sit here. It’s a sun trap.” Morag doesn’t respond. “Morag! Can you feel how warm it is?”

Whaaat!!!” replies Morag.

I said: “It’s warm, are you warm!?” Silence.

My wife rolls over and whispers to me, “Short of shoving a thermometer up Morag’s arse, we’re never going to find out how warm she is.”

Shall we move?” I whisper.

My wife looks at me and says, “I’m warm, how warm are you?”

Whaaat!!” I say.

This goes on for a while.

We gather our things and wander along the beach, looking for a spot free from Scots of an unknown temperature.

What about here?” I say.

No chance,” she says and whispers, “Russians.” I glance at the Russians, they glare at me. Well, they’re either glaring or smiling; I can’t tell the difference. Whether drunk, sober or pushing in front of you at the hotel buffet, it’s the same expression. God knows what reaction you’d get if you tickled one.

We carry on along the beach, with my wife singing her reasons for rejecting sun loungers: “Too near bins… I can smell cigarettes…Too many tattoos.”

I stop and scan the horizon. “Shall I go and ask the beach attendant if he has any Russian or tattoo free zones?”

You’ll not be the first,” she says and swans off. Her big red floppy hat and kaftan billowing in the wind. “Come on,” she shouts.

No thanks, I think. Joan’s tired. Joan wants to lay down.

What’s your unique skill?

I’m doing a school project?” announces my teen son. “I need to ask you some questions.”

Fire away,” I reply.

Do you have a unique skill?”

No, but your Uncle James does.”

What is it?”

He always wins a prize on those arcade grabbing machines. Every time. It’s unnatural.”

Does he?”

Yes. Where do you think your Christmas presents come from?”

It may seem like a redundant skill, but come the End of Days, when the world is on fire and the seas boil, we’re going to need someone who can grab unofficial Bart Simpson toys. He puts his success down to having flat feet, apparently it improves his balance, making it easier to kick the machine.

A woman overcome with emotion after finally winning a prize from the claw machine.

My wife waltzes in…

Mum, I’ve got a school project…”

Not now,” she says. “I’m busy.”

But…”

Not listening.”

I just need to know if you have a special skill.”

Yes. Parenting.”

Really?”

Go and clean your room,” she orders. “See, it’s easy.”

My wife waltzes out laughing, throwing grapes into her mouth.

Most people buy fruit for health reasons, but I’m starting to suspect that my wife buys grapes just to make her exits more dramatic.

My son looks a little deflated. “We can do the project later, if you want?” he says.

We can do it now. It’s fine,” I reply.

Are you sure?” 

Yes, why?” I ask.

“Don’t you have to go and clean your room?”

 

Have a look at what you could have won.

This is my favourite claw toy. It’s an unofficial Hulk, which was obviously made by the arcade owner’s Aunty Lynn. I particularly love his startled hair, and you have to admire the amount of effort Aunty Lynn has taken to make sure his teeth look like piano keys.

Marriage is great, but honestly, the swearing…

I know who you are…sometimes.

It’s Friday night and my wife is flicking through the TV channels and passing many programmes I’d like to watch…

Stop! I say.

I’m not watching Rising Damp,” she says. Flick, flick, flick.

Stop!” I say.

What is it now?”

Can you close your dressing gown? My eyes are watering.”

My wife takes slouching to Olympic levels. Think, Roman emperor sat on a sofa from World of Leather. Eventually she settles on a low-rent feel good Christmas movie.

What’s the plot?” I ask.

Rich woman dies in a car crash.”

At Christmas?”

I know, sad, isn’t it? Her rich daughter is a brat. So before she goes to heaven she’s given the opportunity to change her daughter’s ways with the help of a guardian angel.”

The angel looks familiar,” I say.

He’s been in loads of things. I’ll give you three guesses.”

I spend most of my evenings sat on a couch being flashed at by my wife as I try to remember the actor who played Superman in the 90’s TV series. I’ve written to him several times, but so far he’s refused to help me out by only doing films where he is wearing a T-shirt that says: I am Dean Cain from the 90’s Superman TV series. And yes, I’ve put some weight on.

What’s happening now?” I ask.

Well, the dead woman is being told what her new ‘beyond the grave’ powers are by fat Superman.”

What are her powers?” I ask.

For fuck’s sake,” she says. “Just watch it.” Marriage is great, but honestly, the swearing.

Tell me, tell me?” I ask.

Ok. The brat cannot hear her or be directly influenced by her. The only people she can communicate with are the dog and the maid.”

How does she communicate with them?”

She wafts things,” she explains. “Look, she’s doing it now. She’s wafting the curtains.” I watch the curtains waft and the maid looking confused.

Aaaaah,” I say. “Is she the one that wafted open your dressing gown?”

Cheeky bastard.”

Honestly, the swearing.

I’m apologising for the punchline now.

This is wank,” observes my wife.

Stop shouting wank,” I whisper.

Why?”

“The correct etiquette is to refrain from shouting, ‘This is wank’ until you get home from the school talent night.”

She’s right though. We’ve had to sit through three guitar recitals of Stairway to Heaven before our teen boy came on and did some embarrassing white boy breakdancing. At which point three couples got up to shout wank in the car park.

This is one of the many perks of being a parent of teenagers. You can get them to enrol for extra curricular activities based on the premise that it’s character building or will look good to prospective employers.

My wife and I are proud of the fact that we have forced our teen to audition for the school panto, where he successfully landed the role of Dandini. This has led to a further, unexpected perk: it allows me to take the piss out of him on an hourly basis by dipping into my massive vault of pantomime banter. I’m constantly slapping my thigh and rubbing the tea pot.

“Why are you rubbing the tea pot?” asks my wife.

I’m summoning the genie.”

The genie was in a lamp, not a tea pot,” she explains.

Parenting teenagers is tricky, it’s all about finding the right balance. It’s fine to shout wank in a school hall but it’s frowned upon to summon a ghoul from a tea pot.

I carry on rubbing…

It’s not funny anymore,” mumbles the teen.

Yes,” agrees my wife.”Your father’s daft. Don’t follow in his childish footsteps. Intellectually, you’re way ahead of him.”

“Can you just repeat that?” asks the teen smugly, rubbing my nose in it.

I said your father’s behind you. Behind you!”

My wife and I high-five.

Daddy’s Little Helper.

Some people will have you believe that’s it’s quite hard to become an inventor. Highlighting the long slog from concept through to design and onto production. But I found it easy.

A few years ago I put on some weight and I suffered serious inter buttock cheek chafing. Which is known in academic circles as, chef’s arse, or drummer’s bum.

My solution was simple but effective. I wedged some tissue between my cheeks. I called it ‘Daddy’s Little Helper.’ But it’s not all been plain sailing. There have ben a few teething problems…

Many moons ago I worked in a call centre. It was monotonous, brain-dulling work but my spirits were lifted by the camaraderie of my work colleagues; making the work almost bearable. But for my arse it was a different story. Spending most of my days sat down was brutal, and the sweat, produced from lying to my customers about the level of their insurance cover, would drip down my back and settle between my cheeks, making them sore.

Eventually, I introduced my buttocks to my invention and all was well, until that fateful Wednesday morning in 1996…

Generally I’m mild-mannered, but when I was selling insurance, I would transform into a corporate – take no prisoners – mode, which involved much pacing. I vividly remember closing a big deal that would earn my company a net profit of £12.99 in monthly instalments. I sat down in triumph and swivelled around on my seat to gloat at the rest of the team, when I noticed – right in the middle of the floor – was Daddy’s Little Helper. It must have become dislodged while I was in the animated throws of telephone sales banter, trickled down my trouser leg, and settled on the floor.

Sadly, the tissue didn’t look the same. Gone was the fresh, crisp whiteness. Now, it looked ragged and stressed, much like someone who owns one of those kettles that whistles. Some parts had even turned a ‘different’ colour.

I froze. Questions barrelled through my mind: How could I get it back? Will someone realise it’s been up my bottom? How much are those whistling kettles?

But before I could do anything, a girl got up to put some rubbish in the bin. She walked across the floor, and then, she noticed Daddy’s Little Helper. She stooped down to pick it up, but the cord from her headset was at its maximum limit, so she just cut the customer off. Then she picked up my grotty arse tissue. Our eyes locked. She smiled, I smiled back and then she threw Daddy’s Little Helper in the bin.

And that, my dear friends, is how I met my wife.

The day the hairy men came.

The door bell chimes. I peer out of the bedroom window.

Oh my god,” I say.

“What’s the matter?” asks my wife. “Is it your mother?”

It looks like a small angry man with a moustache.”

So, it is your mother.”

“Hang on,” I say. “Three more have appeared. And they all have moustaches.”

I like to keep in touch with scientific breakthroughs, but I can’t remember reading about a laboratory that has finally harnessed the power to clone my mother. Now there are four of them and they’re roaming around the village.

My wife peers out of the window.

I wonder what your four mothers want,” she says.

“It’s obvious,” I reply. “Revenge.”

I go down to investigate. My teenage son, Brodie, pokes his head out of his bedroom door.

What’s happening?” he asks.

There are cloned versions of my mother at the door.” I say. “I’m going to see what they want. Why don’t you come with me? Treat it like a day out.”

I’m being flippant but it’s been a while since our teenage son agreed to come with us on a family day out, and when he did, he just sulked, put his hood up and dragged his feet. It was like being stalked by a suicidal monk. 

My teenage son on a fun family day out at Legoland. Sorry, my mistake. This desolate landscape is obviously not Legoland. I think it’s Chessington World of Adventure.

I wander down alone and open the door…

The gang leader edges towards me. “Is Brodie in?” he asks. “We’re going to the park. Does he want to come?”

Hang on,” I say and rush up to my wife.

“What do they want?” she asks.

They want our first born child,” I say. 

My wife peers out of the window. “I think I recognise one from his old primary school.”

Which one?” I ask.

The one that’s vaping.”

This is what happens when your child reaches year 11, they’re exposed to ‘new experiences’. But don’t worry, it’s year 12 next. Just put your feet up and relax because that’s when the pregnancies start.

We can’t let him go,” says my wife. “They’ll peer pressure him into vaping.”

I tell our son the news. He speed dresses, bolts down the stairs and out of the door.

My wife and I peer out of the window and watch our baby boy disappear in a puff of smoke.

“What do we do now?” asks my wife.

“We’re in unknown parenting territory,” I say. “We need some advice. I think I’m going to ring up some of my mothers.”

Dog stalkers.

I’m sat at the computer watching the dog. It waddles behind me and hides a biscuit under the curtains. The dog looks at me with indifference. I look back with pity. Who hides treats knowing they are being watched, I think. 

I’m angry with the dog because my wife has started calling it by the same pet name she uses for me. I’m not sure if I’ve been demoted or the dog has.

I deide to play a game. I go to the curtains and remove the treat.

I’m now sat at the computer pretending to type, waiting for the dog to return and retrieve the ‘missing’ treat.

The dog is taking its sweet time following my imaginary plan, so I daydream about making money from my amazing skill of creating mild inconvenience to dogs. I’d create my own agency and call it, Dog Stalkers. People would ring me for assistance…

So, it’s hiding treats under your favourite cushion?” I’d confirm, and give out sympathetic noises. “I’ll be round straight away,” and then, shouting into the background, I’d say, “Fire up the helicopter Sebastian! We’ve got a cushion hider.”

Eventually, the dog strolls in. By strolling in, I mean I find it and direct it into the room.

It looks at me and I motion with my eyes towards the curtains. It doesn’t react. I would react, I think, if I was a dog. Stupid dog, I think.

The phone rings.

Hello Munchkin,” says my wife.

Hang on, I’ll just get the dog,” I say.

Haha very funny,” she says sarcastically.

Seriously. Can me and the dog have different pet names, please,” I ask. “It’s confusing.”

Ok, I’ll do it,” she says, “but only if you’re a good boy.”

 

Angry sex on the patio.

It’s Sunday morning and I am sitting with my wife on the patio. It’s a blissful scene: sunshine, croissants and just behind her head, I can see the dog humping a teddy bear.

Quick question,” I say. “The dog’s a girl. So why is it humping?”

We’re living in enlightened times,” she replies.

But it’s the weekend,” I say. “I need a break from being enlightened.”

OK,” she says, picks up the teddy bear and throws it to the bottom of the garden. The dog bounds after it, brings it back and starts humping in front of us again.

It enjoys having an audience,” I say.

It’s dogging,” says my wife and laughs at her own joke. This goes on for a while, and then my wife begins the agonising process of trying to get her dogging joke onto facebook.

Why is it so hard,” she says. “I should be just able to type it in and that’s it. Why does it want to know my location?”

Tap…TAP…TAP!

It’s easier to just do what the internet demands,” I reason. “Just type in ‘patio’.”

Our teen son pokes his head out of the bedroom window. “What’s all the noise?What’s happening?”

It’s OK,” I say. “Your mum’s just trying to be funny online.”

Meh,” he mumbles, and his head retreats back into the shadows.

I glance at my wife, who is angrily tapping away on her phone. This arouses the dog: Hump, tap. Hump, tap. Hump, tap. I find myself praying for my elderly neighbour to fire up his petrol lawnmower to drown out all the angry sex on the patio.

Eventually, my wife tosses the phone to one side and stares into the mid-distance.

I had a dream about you last night,” she says thoughtfully.

What happened?”

You were really mean to me, and to be honest, I’m still cross with you.”

I look over to the dog, lost in the heady swirl of a fledgling romance with an unofficial Disney character teddy bear, and think, don’t get married, just keep it casual, or else twenty years down the line, you’ll be apologising for being unreasonable in the dreamworld.

I shuffle over to the dog, in order to throw her love interest into the bushes, but before I make my intervention, I lose grip of my left slipper and it shoots off towards the dog. I fear it will view my slipper as the missing part of a wild threesome. It’s imperative that I retrieve my slipper before it embarks on an ill-judged relationship with no long-term prospects. I see my wife relishing this turn of events, and adding it to her list of things I do that annoy her: Mean in dreams, can’t control slippers.

As I bend over and prise the bear away from the dog, I hear the familiar click, whirr of a picture being taken. And then my wife begins the agonising process of trying to get an embarrassing picture of me onto the internet.

Who’s next on the hump list?

It seems my dog has a thing for poorly-stitched black market replica toys. I checked the dog’s phone and found these two candid pictures of my unofficial Hulk toy, who was brazenly showing off his buff torso and startled hair. When pressed, the dog admitted that they had been texting each other for some time, and that the texts were innocent at first and then became more flirty.

 

The random aisle of shit.

It’s Thursday night and it’s getting dark outside. It’s a real struggle to release myself from the warm embrace of the sofa to close the curtains.

Ha!” shrieks my wife.

Ha, what?” I say.

I win.”

Win?”

Our stand-off. Who breaks first and closes the curtains.”

I didn’t know we did that.”

Yes we do. And I’m winning.”

Dwindling sexual activity can be a sign that your relationship is dying, but if you find yourself having imaginary curtain stand-off competitions, I’d call a priest.

But we have a plan.

To keep things zesty, one day every year we flip parental roles. A whole day walking in eachother’s shoes. It helps rebuild our bridges by tapping into the hidden story of each other’s day.

It’s probably best if you know what our existing roles are. They’re very traditional. My wife takes responsibility for burying the family pets – sometimes she even waits till they’re dead – and it’s my job to answer questions about the 1980s.

Role Reversal Day.

Remember,” I say to my wife. “I’m you today.”

Monday’s are busy for me. You won’t cope.”

I’ve already started doing your chores,” I say.

Really?” she replies. “Such as?”

I got up early and killed all the houseplants.”

I don’t kill the houseplants,” she replies. “I neglect them over a long period of time. Big difference. Keep up.”

Have you done any of my chores yet?” I ask.

Yes. I’ve just googled Jennifer Aniston’s fake nipples.”

They’re real,” I say.

Fake. Nipples can’t be that hard for that long.”

Real.”

Fake.”

This goes on for a while.

Flip-Over Day is my idea. I dreamed it up five years ago. About the same time I invented ‘Love Rockets’.

I was getting seriously fed up with Valentine’s night. I’ve never understood why couples go out for a big, luxury meal and then have sex. Why not have the sex first? Rather than wait till you’re full of gammon.

So, on Valentine’s night I drive my wife out to a deserted field, passing all the gammon-munching perverts, then I launch two rockets. Each rocket represents our love for each other. The whole thing only lasts twenty minutes, which means we’ve got plenty of time to get home, dismiss the babysitter and have a curtain stand-off.

Ok,” I say. “What do I need to do first?”

Food shopping. You need to go to that store where everybody just buys bread and vodka.”

Aldi?”

Correct.”

Then what?”

Don’t get cocky kid. Let’s see how you get on at the bread & vodka shop first.”

One question. Am I allowed to…”

No. You are not allowed to buy anything from Aldi’s random aisle of shit.”

The random aisle of shit is my only food shopping highlight. I find the stark juxtaposition of products exhilarating. Last time I went in, I saw a plastic croquet set being sold next to an industrial log turning machine. Both £4.99. To be honest, I think they’ll have a hard time shifting these products, because since Brexit, there’s been a distinct lack of croquet playing lumberjacks entering the country.

Twenty minutes later I’m balls deep in the random aisle of shit when I get a text from my wife.

‘I know what you’re doing’. It says.

‘Gammon’s on offer’. I reply.

‘No thanks. Newsflash. You have to pick the teen up from school’.

Twenty minutes later…

BANG! The teen slams the car door shut.

How was school?” I ask.

Meh,” he replies.

We drive on. He plays with his phone. Tap, tap, tap.

We arrive home and the house is sitting in darkness.

BANG! The teen slams the car door shut. Tap, tap, tap. We enter the house. It’s eerily silent.

Dad, where’s mum?” he asks.

It’s Role-Reversal Day. She’s doing what I do.”

“Hiding from the world?” he says smugly, and slithers back into the cocoon of his phone.

It’s then, out of the corner of my eye, I notice muddy footprints leading towards the back door. The door is unlocked and banging in the breeze. I start to worry.

Has anyone…” I say.

Has anyone what?” asks my son, as we both creep towards the unknown.

Has anyone bought any new pets lately?”

img-25

RIP Mr Nibbles. Taken way too soon. Literally.

An open letter to publishers of children’s books.

Dear publishers,

To aid stacking, can we just have 3 book sizes?

I was thinking of using small, medium and large. Not: small, smaller, middle, medium, square oblong, small but tall, tall but small, massive and postcard.

img_2397

13 different sizes. Btw, I didn’t choose the carpet colour.

Here’s my plan, all books about the adventures of church mice should be this size:

img_2389

By the way, I found three of these. How many adventures can church mice have? Church gets put up for sale, greedy developers move in and threaten their home. Mice rise up and scare them away by pretending to be human. This isn’t, The Matrix, we don’t need a trilogy. Just to clarify. All ‘mice turning human’ stories should be oblongish.

Books about yams. This size please:

img_2396

You can have it. Calm down.

I am not allowed to give this book to charity because my wife has attached sentimental meaning to it. She used to read it to our son every night for a year. He now has a pathological fear of yam theft.

Obviously books about dinosaurs and monster trucks should be massive. To convey their massiveness.

img_2393

Roar

I also call for a complete ban on all books that aren’t flat, as they are responsible for 90% of all book avalanches. I’m fed up of watching the Princess Poppy range sliding off my monster book of dinosaurs. Princess Poppy deserves better, even though she is a spoilt little bitch.

This is madness…

img_2401

I don’t believe there is a sane person in the country who truly believes that a book about a penguin, who has a ‘devil may care’ attitude about where he pisses*, should be infinitesimally larger than a book about a tiger who came to tea, and the parent’s major concern was how much tea it drank.

Together we can escalate change.

Please join my campaign to increase the size of ‘The Tiger who came to tea’, by an amount that can barely be registered by modern measuring techniques.

*Note. I appreciate the Pingu pissing reference won’t make any sense unless you’ve seen the episode where he pisses on a trumpet. Utter filth.

The puberty scattergun.

img_1564

Let battle commence.

“Who’s that guy?” asks my wife.

Which one?” I say.

The one who is swearing at that kid?”

Oh, he’s the referee,” I say.

My son’s football team are playing in a rough part of Leeds and it’s my wife’s first time watching him. He’s given me strict instructions to contain her. She’s not allowed to embarrass him by running on to the pitch to chastise anyone who tackles him.

A few dads turn up and we stand on the touchline, mirroring each other’s body language.

“This game’s going to be a bit violent,” says one. We all nod and mutter in agreement. I can hear my wife anxiously grinding her jaw.

It was horrific last week,” says another. “The way his leg broke clean in two.” Grind, grind.

It was the screaming I couldn’t take,” says another. Grind, grind. “Oh, and by the way,” he adds. “I think you’ll all be glad to know that I’ve finally found the guinea pig.”

My wife jabs me in the ribs. “A broken leg and an errant guinea pig. Tell me more?”

Gerry’s guinea pig is always escaping,” I say. “They’ve had to reinforce the cage.”

“Where is it now?”

“It’s back inside Guantanamo Hay.”

The leg?”

“That happened because of the puberty scattergun.”

Under 14s football is a dangerous mismatch due to the scattergun approach of puberty. You have late bloomers, who are small and squeaky-voiced, playing against early adopters, who are hairy and 6 foot tall. Think: boy band members playing against the Hell’s Angels. It’s all hair gel and pubes.

The whistle blows.

We’ve got guinea pigs, a rabbit AND a dog,” sighs another dad. We all look at him and make sympathetic noises. Out of the corner of my eye I see a hairy boy sidle up to my son and growl, ‘I’m going to fucking twat you!’ I glance over to my wife. She is guerning and glaring at the hairy boy.

I’m starting to panic. The game’s only just started and it’s brewing into a perfect storm. I’m wrapped up in a foreboding atmosphere of impending physical violence mixed with an infectious dose of pet fatigue.

You’ve got what?” says another.

Guinea pigs, a rabbit AND a dog. The holy trinity of shitting machines.”

Have your kids lost interest yet?” I ask.

Mine have,” says another but our chat is derailed by events on the pitch. One of our team is writhing on the floor clutching his ankle. The hairy boy is standing over him swearing, and is being encouraged by his coach and parents. We all look over with a degree of concern, until we become certain that the injured kid doesn’t belong to one of us.

This is barbaric,” exclaims my wife. “Those parents. They’re fucking idiots. I’m going to say something.” 

“Calm down” I say. “You can’t just go around calling them idiots. We didn’t see the tackle. It could have been our player’s fault. They’re parents, like us. We’d get angry too if someone hurt our kid. I’ll go and have a word with their coach.”

As I make my way round the pitch, I have to pass a group of the opposing team’s dads. I always tell my son to stand up to bullies, and if he’s getting grief on the pitch, he shouldn’t back down. Put in the same position, I have to admit, I’m buckling.

My heart pumps faster as I get nearer. They see me coming and start muttering to each other.

The big one pokes his friends in the ribs and says, “We’ve just got a guinea pig.”

Cool,” replies his friend. “I hear they’re really low maintenance.” My god, I think. They really are idiots.

The ‘Outfit’.

_91299939_hi035399534

Dad, are you crying?” asks my son.

As a parent there are two things you should always do in private: crying and wanking. If you’re doing both at the same time, call the appropriate helpline.

As it happens, I am crying. I’ve just watched the famous clip of the Brownlee brothers. They were competing in a triathlon in Mexico. The younger brother was leading when he collapsed near the finish line. His brother stopped to help him and heroically carried his younger brother over the line, forsaking his own chance to become world champion.

I show my teen son the emotive footage. “That’s really inspiring,” he says. “Seeing something like that really makes me want to get involved in sport. In fact, I’m going to go out for a run. Now.”

Bullshit – I think. Teenagers don’t just voluntarily exercise, even after seeing their dad crying. It’s a smokescreen. He’s nipping out to the shop to buy fizzy dummies with stolen money; my money. But I’ve got a devious plan to scupper his cunning plan.

OK. Just let your mother know,” I say.

He thunders up stairs and I hear the low murmur of a teenager telling his mother a bullshit motivational jogging story. This is followed by excited squeals. He thunders downstairs.

You knew about this, didn’t you?” he says angrily.

What?” I say.

She wants to come jogging with me. And she says that she’s got an ‘outfit’.”

It’s tight,” I say, “and it’s ‘coordinated’.”

Christ,” he mutters and starts pacing around the room. The kind of frenetic pacing I usually see him doing when the wifi drops out.

Don’t worry about it,” I say. “Your mates won’t see you jogging with your mother.”

They will,” he says, “and we’ll be out for ages. She said that because I’m going with her, it means that we can jog past this ‘dodgy’ place. Somewhere she usually avoids because she doesn’t feel safe. Where’s that?”

She means the Conservative Club,” I say.

I nip upstairs to check on her progress. My wife sees me and does a little catwalk posturing. “What do you think of the outfit?” she asks, and theatrically plonks hands on hips.

I can totally see the outline of your fanny,” I say.

You’re meant to,” she says, and launches in to a series of star jumps. It gets very graphic, very quick.

I don’t think I’m legally old enough to see this,” I say and she flips me the finger.

I rejoin my son in the living room. A few moments later, the door bursts opens and a massive fanny on legs stomps into the room. 

It’s pain time, peasants!” shouts my wife like a drill sergeant, and propels herself into an exaggerated warm-up lunge. The colour drains from my son’s face.

“Yes; yes it is,” I say and search on my phone for an appropriate helpline.

One night in that there London.

I feel a sharp tug on my sleeve as the curtains close and the coffin disappears.

Have you read the eulogy on the back of the programme?” whispers my wife.

“Can you stop tugging my sleeve?” I ask.

“Sure,” she says, and pokes me hard in the ribs. As a mark of respect, I muffle my shriek of pain. She draws me in close and whispers angrily, “It says, ‘Live everyday. Smile more. Sing. Dance. Be happy’. We should honour her last words by doing something spontaneous. Let’s forget about the kids and just go out and get drunk.”

But…”

But what?” she asks.

We’re in Watford.”

I immediately try to change her mind, which in itself, is quite spontaneous.

I think the underlying message of the eulogy,” I say, “is not about spontaneity. It’s about people making more effort to be nice to each other.”

Bollocks,” she whispers, before adding, “I’ll arrange a babysitter; book a hotel and we’ll go into London for the night and get pissed.”

I’m no fool. She’s arranging a fun night out to annoy me. My wife knows that when I drink booze my feet swell up. I spend most of the night trying to stop her dressing me in sandals so that she can see the swelling in real-time.

We manage to find a vacancy at the Holiday Inn. Luckily, it’s the last room they have available. I drag her suitcase through the lobby. The plastic wheels sound like a train thundering down the tracks as they run over the gaps in the floor tiles. I see my wife holding court with a gaggle of female receptionists. There seems to be some confusion. My wife is gesticulating wildly with her arms and I overhear her say, “They swell up like balloons.” Four receptionists look warily at my feet. One of them waves. I wave back.

We arrive at the room. I try to swipe the key card.

Let me do it?” she says.

No. It’s my turn,” I say and keep on swiping. “You can have a go after the next funeral.”

My wife snatches the card, swipes it once and we enter. I flick the kettle on and she starts getting ready.

Give me an ETA on this. How long are you going to be?” I ask. 

I’m ready. Just doing my hair. Get your jacket on and we’ll get off.” I put my jacket on.

Ok. I’m on the launch pad. You?” 

Yes. I’m ready,” she snaps, walks purposefully towards me, looks me dead in the eye and says, “Hang on, I’ll just change my shoes.”

Eventually we head into London. The night is a blur. I remember stumbling out of a cocktail club. I also remember strangers asking me how I’d managed to get in to a swanky cocktail club wearing sandals.

I wake up groggy. One hour later, my wife, my headache and my swollen feet head off for breakfast. We leave the room and spill out into a rabbit warren of narrow corridors. I take the lead and wife shuffles behind. Soon, a large gap opens up between us.

“It’s left!” she shouts. “Turn left!”

“No. It’s a right turn to the breakfast room. If I go left, it takes me down to the spa,” I say and look behind me, but she has vanished.

Ten minutes later I arrive at the breakfast bar. My wife is already seated and drinking coffee. A curtain flaps behind her and a waiter scuttles out. He looks at me, coffee ready to pour, and says, “How was the spa?” they both laugh.

“Stop telling the staff about my little quirks,” I say. “There’s a watress over there who looks like she’s out of the loop. Maybe you should tell her about my piles.”

I feel a sharp tug on my sleeve as the curtains close and the coffee man disappears. She draws me in close and whispers angrily, “Don’t look now, but there is an American at the self-service waffle machine. He’s not letting anyone else use it. That’s so rude.” Throughout the rest of the meal my wife stares at the Waffle Man. The tense silence is occasionally broken by my wife whispering, “He’s making another one. The bastard!”

“Stay strong. Remember the eulogy,” I say. “‘Sing. Dance. Be happy’.”

“I’m going in,” she says, “It’s Hammer Time.”

In memory of our dear friend, Carrie. We sang, we danced, we were asked to leave the breakfast bar.

The lucky armadillo.

I’m trying to get ready for an important meeting but my phobias are flaring-up. I suffer from Koumpounophobia, which is a fear of buttons.

It started when I was 7 years old. I was asleep on the couch and when I woke-up, my little sister had covered me from head to toe in buttons. I don’t visit her much. In fact, I’ve only ever visited her new home once. I have my reasons…

My sister lives in a terraced house that sits on the footprint of an old button factory. There is a delapidated shed in the back garden which was originally used to store buttons. It rests on a patch of barron earth. When the rain falls, it sends little tremors through the ground and all the lost buttons rise up from the soil. It’s a horror show, and as I sit here, writing about the zombie buttons, I finally realise that there was no button factory, and my sister planted the buttons before I arrived. 

I have two other phobias. I feel sick, scared, angry and want to hit someone whenever is see a trifle. This comes from my Dad. I don’t visit him much. I have my reasons…

I was 21 and living at home with my dad and my button-stalker sister. My dad worked for several charities. He was a chaperone for Barnardos and also helped out at a local pensioner’s group; cooking them a free meal every Thursday. He’s always been a bad cook, but saw feeding pensioners as a chance to experiment. I remember one of his creations was just called, ‘Meat Bits’.

Thursday rolled around and I was forced to try my dad’s latest concoction. He’d made a trifle but it was a poor first attempt; all sloppy and lumpy. He called it ‘Scronge Monge’.

What do you think? he asked.

Bit sloppy,” I said. “Are you thinking about putting Scronge Monge on the menu with Meat Bits?”

“It’s already on. You’re eating leftovers from today. Dont worry, it’s fresh. I scraped it out of their bowls and put it straight back in the fridge.”

“Eurgh. Are you telling me that I’m eating trifle that pensioners have spat out?”

“Yes. What do you think Meat Bits are?”

This leads on to my last phobia. Unsurprisingly, I have a sensitive gag reflex. It gets really bad if I wear a tie, which is why I hate pitching work to clients. During presentations I do a lot of dry-heaving, then I panic and attempt to discreetly end the meeting. In my experience, it’s rare for a client to employ the guy who kept puking, and then tried to jump out of the window.

There are several things you can take to deal with phobias: pills, herbal teas, meat bits. But I put my faith in lucky charms and superstition. I always carry a lucky armadillo with me. It’s very special; my daughter bought it for me with her own birthday money. I also think I’ll be cursed if I change the CD in my car. I’ve been playing Bruce Springsteen’s Tunnel of Love for the last 5 years. This irritates my wife. She thinks that the constant repetition dilutes the meaning of the words, and she ends up hating the songs. I know this because she tells me over and over and over…

Unfortunately, it seems that I’ve passed my quirks on to my daughter.

Dad,” she says, as I thunder down the stairs, clawing at the knot in my tie.

What?”

Where’s the Lucky Armadillo?”

It’s in my bag” I say, “next to the lucky pebble and the lucky bird’s feather.”

I delve into my bag to prove it, but it’s not there. 

Have you lost him?” she asks. Her cheeks redden. A dramatic mock-cry is on its way.

No, he must be upstairs. I’ll go get him.” I thunder back upstairs.

What the fuck are you doing?” asks my wife, as she picks up her white dressing gown from the bedroom floor, and loosely wraps it around her. She is bleary-eyed, and her hair is all frizzed-up at the back. She looks like a drunk Tina Turner searching for a sauna.

Where’s the Lucky Armadillo?” I ask.

Fuck knows. I’m the only good luck charm you need,” she says, and bangs into the door on her way out.

Eventually I remember where it is. It’s in the bowl of crap. I peer into the bowl and see that Armadillo is sandwiched between a stapler, a map of France and two…buttons.

I can hear the first few spluttering bars of my daughter’s false cry wafting down the hallway. I pull my sleeve up over my hand to make a rudimentary glove, close my eyes and fish out the Armadillo. I hand it over to my daughter.

Naughty Armadillo,” she says. “Where have you been?”

“Toss him over,” I say. “I need to take the plastic Armadillo to an important meeting.” My daughter takes Armadillo to one side and whispers to him.

What are you two whispering about?” I ask.

I’m just telling him to look after you.” 

My wife staggers into the room. Our daughter looks concerned. “What’s happened to Mum?” she whispers.

“The night. That’s what’s happened to her,” I say, and covertly pass her the armadillo. “I think you’re going to need this more than me.”

 

What have I told you about delivering salads to dogs?

The phone rings…

I’ve been bitten by a dog!” screams my wife.

Where?” I ask.

On my ankle.”

No, where were you?”

I was delivering a salad.”

What have I told you about delivering salads to dogs?”

It’s not funny. It’s a serious bite on my ankle.”

Anybody in this type of situation – pumped-up on adrenalin – can be prone to exaggeration, but I needed to know exactly how bad it was in case I had to leave work and pick up the kids.

Has anyone else seen it?” I probed.

Yes. The plasterer.”

The plasterer! Where the hell are you? The Annual Plasterer’s Dog Show?”

This isn’t helping.”

What did he say?”

He said it looked: ‘Nasty’.

We’re venturing into unknown medical waters here. I’ve never seen a dog bite story where a salad was involved and the victim was left so delusional that they asked a plasterer for a medical assessment.

Do I need a tetanus jab?” she asks.

I don’t know. What does the plasterer think?”

The only thing I know about dogs is that if you run one over you have to call the Police. I found this out after my mother knocked one over. She called me the day after the incident. Her voice was still trembling. She described how she’d just been out on a late-night shopping trip to Sainsbury’s. About how the dog had scampered out from a bush and bounced off the front nearside wing.

What did the Police say? Are you in trouble?” I asked her.

No, I’m not in trouble,” she said.

Did they take pity on you because of your age?”

No, I told them it was a fox. You can run them over.”

To be honest, I think this is very specific knowledge. You’re only going to know the legal requirements surrounding the hitting dogs, as opposed to foxes, if you’re doing it a lot. And judging by the amount of dents in my mum’s car, it looks like she’s on a mission.

The adrenalin surging through my wife’s body is starting to fade and is slowly being replaced by fury.

The owner hasn’t even apologised,” she snarls.

She’s probably embarrassed,” I reason. “She must be mortified that her dog has bitten someone. Now everyone in the village is going to be scared of approaching her dog with a salad.”

My wife lets out a chuckle. “Can you pick me up?” she asks.

Sure, and to make you feel better, would you like my mum to take another ‘late-night trip to Sainsbury’s’?”

The fear of dread.

It’s Sunday night, and due to my immense lack of resolve when it comes to standing up for what I truly believe in, I find myself camping. 

We are in a remote part of the Yorkshire Dales. Our tent pitched in dense woodland, far, far away from civilisation. It’s dark, windy and foreboding. I lay awake – desperate for a wee – staring at the canvas walls. Thankfully, this soul-crushing tedium is interrupted by the noise of someone being murdered outside.

I poke my wife. “What’s that noise?” I whisper. 

You do realise,” she says, “that you’ll enjoy camping much more if you can just ignore the sound of people being murdered.”

Do you think it’s an owl?” I say.

Yes,” she agrees. “An owl being murdered. Just relax. Camping is something that’s totally out of our comfort zone. We’re going native. Just go with the flow.”

I hate going with the flow; I’m a stick in the mud. The last time I went with the flow I ended up buying a pair of lemon-coloured flares. Since then I’ve vowed to stay away from anything dangerous or risky, such as freeform jazz.

The ghoulish noise draws closer. To defend myself, I pull the sleeping bag over my face. I poke my wife and whisper, “I don’t want to die surrounded by this much Gore-tex.”

Sssshhh,” she says. “Someone’s coming towards the tent.” My wife’s acknowledgement that something really was happening sent a tingle of fear down my spine. A feeling I’ve come to refer to as… The Fear of Dread. A sensation I usually experince when it’s my turn to cook and we’ve run out of fish fingers.

We can now clearly hear footsteps. We look at each other. Our faces contort into a mixture of bewilderment and shock. The footsteps fall silent as they reach the front of the tent. My wife gives me the stink-eye. I take this as a subtle hint that I should go out and confront the owl.

I unzip the flap.

I can see the outline of a young man, somewhere in his mid-twenties. He looks at me and says: “Did someone order pizza?”

Yoo-hoo,” shouts my wife. “That was me. Half pepperoni – half mushroom?”

Feeding the fish.

It’s Tuesday morning and I am getting the kids ready for school. I’m desperately searching for my daughter’s shoes when I notice my wife mooching about behind the car. She sees me, smiles and gives me the wanker hand sign.

I open the window.

Why are you doing that?” I ask.

It’s sign language for: Are you working from home today?”

This is quite insulting. Not every freelancer spends all day at home masturbating. Just for the record, I am working from home and I wasn’t planning on enjoying myself. But now she’s planted a seed. This is what happens when you get to my age. People have to remind you to masturbate. It’s like being reminded to feed the fish.

I carry on looking for the shoes but my mind is wandering. I’m trying to see how I can bend my schedule to accommodate this new development. It’s tricky and I even catch myself letting out a loud, desperate sigh.

There are several pitfalls that I’m trying to avoid. My wife is driving them to school. I can’t do it as soon as they leave because my wife might forget something and return. Eventually, I settle on a safe time, and if you work from home regularly, you’ll know exactly what that time is. Making a concrete decision lightens my mood and I congratulate myself on being flexible in an emergency.

Are they ready?” asks my wife.

They’re both ready,” I say and proudly point to two children wearing matching shoes.

Are you ok?” she asks.

Yes,” I reply. “Why?”

You’re smiling,” she says and eyes me suspiciously.

What time are you back from work?” I ask.

I don’t know,” she replies. “It could be any time.”

She’s on to me. To be honest, I don’t really want one, but I’ve put it in the diary now.

They leave. I lock the door and go into my office.

I click open my inbox and start sifting through my work emails. My mind wanders. If I get it over and done with now, then I can get on with my day unhindered. But I’m in the danger zone. My wife could come back at any moment.

I start the process.

My phone rings.

Hi, it’s me,” announces my wife, bright and breezy.

What do you want?”

I know what you’re doing.”

I’m not doing anything,” I say. “I’m just feeding the fish.”

Would you like me to come back and help you feed the fish.” she says suggestively.

I look at my schedule and sigh.