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Posts Tagged ‘Family’

We live in Chiswick – and it’s never been exactly “with it”: it’s more strongly associated with leafy wide streets where solidly middle-class, ever-expanding families wheel pushchairs that cost about the same amount as a small car past a bewildering variety of candle and skincare emporia, estate agents and delicatessens to one of the four hundred coffee shops in which slyly competitive games of “Who’s MOST tired by the nanny’s latest exploits?” are played.

But recently, Chiswick has got (to quote Terence Rattigan) “des idees au-dessous de sa gare”. Maybe five years ago, High Road House and The Cowshed led the charge, to the evident delight of all the (other) media people who live in the area. Two Vietnamese restaurants, a good Tapas place and a “South African deli” (I know – me too) have also popped up and appear to be going great guns. If Chiswick is a barometer of the nation’s tastes (and I’m sure that we can all agree that it is nothing if not that), it seems that the more cooking programmes are put on TV, the more likely it is that people will give up cooking altogether and eat out at every meal, on every day.

The most recent additions to the High Road have been the fleeting stay of a Jamie Oliver restaurant (OK food, RIDICULOUS prices – you can’t charge five quid more just becuase you’ve put soemthing in a Kilner jar instead of in a bowl), Bill’s (which seems to be doing a roaring trade in “Greasy Spoon Food at Michelin starred prices”), Byron (which has transported my children to a level of delight that I would have thought it would be impossible for a hamburger to achieve) and – newest of all – Jackson and Rye, a New York style bar and diner that has yet to open, but looks pretty cool.

So, where next for Ritzy Chiswick? McDonald’s has shut – which is only a shame if you need to lay your hands on twenty gobby schoolchildren in a hurry – and the bets are on for what will replace it. Pret-A-Manger appears to be the current favourite, but I’m wondering if we might not find ourselves hosting something EVEN COOLER! These are exciting times.

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The last time that I had my children (Half-Term: brilliant), one of the things that I promised Youngest Son was that we would play football on Sunday. After Church, and after “I’ve bought a few things for lunch” and after “I’ve got the lunch under way.”.

In readiness for this, we went off to Argos and chose him the football of his dreams (bright orange, covered in Nike swooshes and Premiership endorsements), which came what I can only describe as “flat-packed” – or, I suppose, a better descriptor would be “uninflated”. It was the work of but forty minutes to get in the car, drive to Richmond (where my parents live), borrow their pump, get back in the car, and get back to Chiswick – so that was GREAT. By the time we had a workable (playable?) football with us, there was only going to be an hour and a half for the football itself, it seemed.

Never mind: he’s only seven and even he’s not up for a full ninety minutes.

Daughter put the brakes on: “What am I going to do?”

“What would you like to do, darling? You’re very welcome to play football too.”

“I don’t like football.”

“Well… what would you LIKE to do?”

(The likelihood of her saying “Play on my DSi” had already been addressed through a previously negotiated, adhered to and mandated “Electronics Embargo” for Sunday – so that wasn’t going to be a problem.)

“Can I bring Baby in her Push-A-Chair?” (This is Daughter’s phrase for her doll’s pushchair, which, it has been decreed, will go EVERYWHERE that we do).

“Of course you can, Darling – but we need to go now.”

With this, Daughter responded with a look of horrified urgency (as though she’d just been informed that the house was on fire and we needed to get DOWN these four flight, through that locked door, and out into the streets, carrying only what we most valued) and bolted up to her bedroom. She came bumping back down, with Baby, Push A Chair, Umbrella, Changing Bag, Changing Mat and Travel blanket. Baby had enough kit to see her through a month on a cruise liner, rather than an hour in the park. However: we were ready, and so we left the house, with Youngest Son jumping along like Zebedee with his new ball.

Daughter was not ready for the trip to go slowly. In fact, it soon became clear, that Daughter had envisioned this trip as the sort of excursion that would make Shackleton blench and think twice.

“STOP!”

(The men all wait)

“Her blanket has come loose. She’ll get a cold.”

We pause and look on as she re-arranges the covers with a fair bit of clucking and tutting – ensuring that Baby is toasty warm and safe. Eventually, the caravan moves off again.

“WAIT!”

Another break: I turn around to see her, feigning anxiety and resignation.

“The sun is in her eyes.”

It becomes clear, relatively quickly, that Daughter does not have a plan on this one. It’s simply a statement of fact and one that she is looking to her father to solve for her.

“Could she close her eyes until she gets to the end of this road? Then the sun won’t be in them.”

“She’s not tired.” (This is said with all the dreadful finality of a hanging judge passing sentence.)

“Why don’t you turn the chair around and walk backwards until we get to the end of the road?”

She’s dubious: she has to confess that this MIGHT work, but I don’t think that she was necessarily really looking for a solution. She gives it a go.

Our progress is now slowed to the rate where we would have packed a light meal “for the journey”, had we only had the fore-warning and Youngest Son’s Zebedee bounces are getting more like Eeyore’s; but with the critical end of the road in sight, we are ready to re-manoeuvre Baby around until she’s facing the front and Daughter is pushing her once again. We’re almost at the park now.

“STOP!”

There’s no disguising the boys’ frustration now. Indeed, Eldest Son (who likes to paint things in as emotive a way as possible) does all but fall to his knees, crying out “WHY??????????????????” at this next interruption.

I do my best to keep my voice concerned and level.

“What is it now, Darling?”

“She’s cold.”

“But her blanket’s wrapped around her.”

“This is her Summer blanket. I need her Winter blanket. Can we go back?”

We don’t go back, of course. Instead, I persuade Daughter of the health risks of Baby over-heating, and we plough on to our final destination.

The football was great, by the way. Friends of Eldest Son were all in the park and we rotated who went in goal and every single person scored (yes: including me – I’m pretty nifty when pitted against players with an average age of eight and a half) – so that was great.

And yes: Baby made it back alive.

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So: after almost twenty months, more Estate Agents than I ever hope to encounter again in the rest of my life, an architect, a team of builders and a deep immersion in the auction houses of London, I am moving into my new house this weekend.

The children have already seen it and given it their unconditional approval, which is heartening, as I chose it largely with them in mind – as you would, of course. When I saw it, I wasn’t completely convinced – in fact, I was quite anti: but the endorsements of Sister, Parents, Old Friend at Work and Best Friend all brought me round and now I am enamoured with it. This is probably due, in no small part, to the fact that it no longer has mahogany floorboards, a black quartz kitchen floor and blue and white tiles in the bathrooms (one of the reasons I have spent so long not living in a house that I have owned for six months is that I decided to bite the bullet, do ALL the work – and spend ALL the money, rather than do it in drips and drabs, which would be disruptive – and I think everyone’s had enough disruption to be getting on with…), and is now exactly as I would want it.

It’s also the first time that I’ve lived in a house of this style: very modern and open-plan, rather than old and self-contained rooms. Again, I am now delighted with this way of living, and it’s also quite therapeutic to be living a new life in a new kind of space, rather than in a version of the houses that I shared with Ex Wife.

So: good times ahead. The children are excited, and I’m excited. If I can put up with the navy blue front door until the Spring, when I shall re-paint it (and there’s more than enough woodwork to be painting in the meantime), then all shall be rosy in the garden. Assuming some cunt hasn’t planted bamboo in there…

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Best Friend had to return to London during our holiday for a pitch, meaning that Talented Art Director With Monkey Arms and I were left in charge of the four children (my three and their daughter, Gifted God Daughter). It was a shame that she had to miss out, but it was great to spend a bit more time with TADWMA, even if occasionally it came with understanding looks from the good people of Taunton.

As we toured the local sights (Longleat, where the Monkey Drive Through was accomplished without the loss of the windscreen wipers to my delight, and the disgust of the children – not so the BMW X5 in front of us, whose car was all but left on bricks and spray-painted “Wanker” by the monkeys; Wookey Hole which only really came alive not during the exploration of caves thousands of years old, but during the time spent in the jungle gym; Weston Super Mare, where Eldest Son and Daughter covered themselves in the clay that makes us so much of the beach and appeared to be wearing grey diving suits), it became obvious as we (in that very English way) almost came to blows over which of us was going to pay for everybody, that the merchants we were dealing with thought they were dealing with a very modern family indeed: two dads and four children.

TADWMA probably got the worst of it, as he queued for the entrance to Wookey Hole and explained that he wanted a family ticket (it being cheaper) while gesturing at me and my children, and was rewarded with a flustered and over-accommodating swiftness from the ticket seller.

On her return, Best Friend thought this was hilarious and made much play of it, referring to her husband as “Mrs. Eiljert” – but this was a step too far, and brought forth the heated and heartfelt objection “Why am I Eiljert’s bitch? He’s the one doing the washing up!”

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I shall write in full about the latest holiday with the children and Best Friend and Talented Art Director With Monkey Arms. For the moment, just let me record that it was the most brilliant fun, and that the children seemed to love every second of it: I had been slightly nervous of a week spent without electricity (and thus DSi, television etc.) but it did not bother them at all, and it was great to see how much time they spent outside, making up games, drawing and reading. Maybe a return to the Dark Ages is a necessity for every year’s holiday…

Needless to say Best Friend and Talented Art Director With Monkey Arms were both absolutely brilliant, and great fun to be around and made the whole thing even more fun that it would have been without them.

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Ex-Wife is (as predicted) moving in with Man Who Looks Like Steve Buscemi, in North London.

The children are staying at their current school, which is good as it’s clear that they don’t need any more disturbance, and she has been diligent about finding a way in which she can get them to and from there with relatively little fuss – to wit, The Magic Train (as it has been dubbed by Best Friend), which goes from North London to West London (and beyond in both directions, actually) in a matter of minutes. So, the education is not to be disrupted, but I am thinking that it can be supplemented.

As mentioned above, kitted out with all the requirements of a forty-year old man (younger girlfriend, cashmere V-Necks, expanding classical music collection), I became – unsurprisingly – enamoured with the back catalogue of Radio 4’s Desert Island Discs, delivered via the iPod.

Other than the varying charms and humour of the guests (high points being Ian McEwan, Lawrence Dallaglio and Kristin Scott Thomas – the low point being Giles Brandreth), and the music choices, the other great point of interest for me has been in discovering the nature of the early home lives and education of these (by and large) celebrated and gifted people. The thing that seems to be consistent across class, gender and country, is a parent (sometimes two) who exposed them early to books (not just reading, but “the cult of books”), often Shakespeare and always music. Music unending and constantly on: varying, but high quality (whether it was Ella Fitzgerald, Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan or – most often, it seems – Bach) seems to be the thing that animated these households and these childhoods.

No doubt it’s partly in the nature of the programme they’re appearing on: were it “Desert Island Books”, then I daresay books, libraries, recitals and the spoken word would make (even more of) a starring appearance; and the same is probably true of “Desert Island Kitchenalia” prompting fond, misty-eyed recollections of that sieve, that spurtle, that spoon. Nevertheless, there is something in music (and I know just how unoriginal this is) that is transcendent in every sense, which must account for its animating spark and its ability to provoke feeling and recall time and place. Like many others, I have rehearsed in my head what my choices would be (and I have gone down the path of “music that reminds me of people and occasions), and it was really easy: perhaps because I realised that music was constant in my young life too. I remember my father turning up Elvis Presley whenever it came on in the car, my mother pretending to be all of the animals in Saint Saens’ Carnival, being allowed to stay up late to watch “Carmen” (and then, at the age of ten, being taken to see Losey’s magnificent film of “Don Giovanni” in the cinema), and a steady progress of classical, opera, rock, jazz, blues and pop ever since. It was inter-mingled with the radio (never stirring from Radio 4), but there was always something in the background, over which we talked and about which we argued.

I am redoubled in my determination that it should be the backdrop to my beloved children’s lives whenever they are with me – and if that means that I begin to appreciate  more great music, and to learn more about it with them, then what a reward that will be.

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I turned down the other job offer.

I didn’t think I was going to this time (it is, after all, the third time that this network has offered me a job), but I did, after a chat with Great Researcher Whom I Like.

She suggested that I focus on the stuff that matters: and the stuff that matters is not the money, the title, the status. It’s the fact that my current Agency has been fantastic about letting me work from home/leave early in order to see my children. How could I put a price, or an intangible “prospects” label on anything when I stack it up against that?

Exactly.

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