SITTING in a classroom perched precariously on a chair the size of a small soup plate has had quite an impact on me…
There are the obvious aching joints and loss of all feeling from the waist down.
But there is something deeper – an unmistakable change in perspective.
A realisation that every now and then we need to take to step back and view the world from a different angle – a different place.
And so it was.
I found myself balanced on a tiny plastic seat barely a foot off the ground my legs doubled under a small desk.
Definitely a most unlikely place to gain inspiration and enlightenment.
But it was from this contorted, dreadfully uncomfortable place that I drew mine.
Eye to eye with twenty 11-year-olds imagining the 16th century life of a sailor on board the Golden Hinde – has proved a truly extraordinary experience.
As adults we forget all to quickly what it is to be a child again.
The relative simplicity, the security – the opportunity. In theory nothing is impossible… potential is limitless.
Now imagine being able to feel that again – to be free for a moment from the grinding pressure of being an adult – those money worries, health concerns, work pressure.
That is where I escaped to – and it was incredible.
To listen to the children on the same level – to share their thoughts and imaginations and to encourage them to realise them – is I guess one of the main reasons people teach.
And what a buzz.
The only drawback?
At some point you have to leave that absurdly small chair, stand up and become an adult again.
Tim gets glasses for the first time – cheer up fella.
BATTLE lines drawn…
Pencils sharpened – books flexed – rubbers cocked – eyes locked.
The time for diplomacy is over – ultimatum’s have been issued – time has run out.
Be brave, be bold… be ruthless if necessary.
DON’T show weakness – don’t blink – don’t shrink – your opponent is smart and wily and will exploit any opportunity.
“So Kate – what have you got for homework today…?”
Keep it light – keep it cool – keep it breezy – these early skirmishes will set the tone…
A smile – masks a steely resolve.
Oh she’s good.
I scrutinise her – trying to see beyond the poker face of an 8-year-old well versed in tackling a Dad on homework duty.
“Oh and some reading…” (very much an after-thought).
Keep your nerve.
“… and some French.”
Bingo. First round to me…
Getting to the bottom of what Kate has for homework is no mean feat.
Flush with success – push home the advantage.
“So let’s start with the spellings – shall we.”
Kate regains her composure.
“Of course Daddy” – the smile is back.
In her book is the title: “Speling test tmorrow” – umm – doesn’t bode well…
“Were, where, there, their…”
Each word written out – sounded out – spelt out.
“…bored, board, threw, through.”
Now – when it comes to learning I have to admit I’m old school – 1 x 2 is 2, 2 x 2 is 4 etc. – repetition is key to remembering stuff.
Repetition for Kate – SPELLS boredom!
And I guess here lies the conflict…
It’s dawned on me – my daughter is creative, sees everything in vivid colour and texture – demanding a more subtle and less methodical approach.
Fold in a stubborn streak honed from her father…
And a ruthless appetite for negotiation on EVERYTHING from her mother…
And voila – the kitchen table becomes a no-man’s land – a homework graveyard – textbook trench warfare – two sides dug in for the long haul…
Sounds bleak doesn’t it.
Well maybe I exaggerate – but let’s call a truce Kate.
Let’s blunt those pencils… unflex those books… and uncock those rubbers…
I promise to keep calm – well most of the time.
All I ask?
Do your best Kate – or is that “beast”…
You know you are brilliant.
And I really don’t need to spell that out. x
I WANT to tell you something about my son.
Yes – but I am his Dad!
So meet Archie…
Smart, blonde and fearless.
Six-and-a-half stone of infectious laugh and dazzling smile…
Fruit is poison – Chelsea is champion – sisters suck.
A guitar playing – pride inducing – sport loving – cheese bagel devouring son of mine…
But now – those not so broad 11-year-old shoulders face an unexpected burden.
Put simply – Archie suffers from moments where he goes absent – imagine a brain rebooting for several seconds – going AWOL.
The outlook? Unknown – he could well grow out of it – only time will tell.
Fallout? Parents fret and fear and fuss…
Archie? Not so much as a wobble, a word of complaint, a flicker of uncertainty or anger…
“It’s OK Dad – it can’t be helped. It is what it is.”
And there’s the rub.
Despite being around more than 30 years longer than my son – and supposedly possessing far greater width of life experience – I find myself in awe of the example set by this 11-year-old.
His courage and good humour against the odds has had a major impact on me.
My perception of how we fit together – has shifted.
Now – I find myself learning from him.
I find myself striving to share his calm and resolute approach to such adversity…
And wondering whether I would possess the nerve to do it.
I sense the tables have subtly turned.
The benchmark of behaviour raised by someone not yet even in their teens…
I salute you Archie. Do not change – not too much.
After all you still have so much more to teach me.
And remember – whatever happens – you will always be my “sonshine”.
I love you very, very much – always.
Your Dad x
Scrub plans to write a miserable old entry about how depressing the weather is (grey, wet and worse of all – cold)… the fact it is a morose Monday morning… oh and that our endlessly hot and delicious summer has finally packed its bags and headed – well somewhere hot… simply WON’T do.
Chilcott snap out of it!
The barrage of brollies streaming past the window – the slumped shouldered, heads down folk cursing their lot – will not cast a shadow over the spirit.
I will be a beacon of positivity… my smile will radiate… my jovial demeanour will cut through the gloom and cast light where there is shade.
I refuse to let my glorious summer go quietly.
Trusted flip flops that have carried me across the baking sand of distant beaches – stay strong.
Shorts – take heart.
I will not abandon you yet – talk of trousers is too soon!
And tan? We have worked too long and too hard together to give up without a fight. Hold on.
As for you – silly colourful bangle bought in a Spanish shop full of tat – do not fear – I will not walk away from you…
NO – I will shiver at my desk and take comfort in the memories of the sun on my back, the sand between my toes. A hot, hazy vision of long lazy siestas and perfect sunsets…
THEY will sustain me as the knees knock – toes numb – and flip flops spark ridicule…
I will stubbornly cling to MY summer – clad in highly unsuitable footwear and leg exposing attire.
After all – behind those clouds – the sky is still blue.
A fork prods around the plate…
A wary sniff – a grimace…
A knife carefully sifting through the contents – the eye of a highly-trained forensic expert on the trail of a culinary crime…
Sigh from Domestic Dad – as he watches his daughter carry out a thorough post mortem examination of the food he has dared to serve up…
Suspicion is written large across her face…
Older brother Archie rolls his eyes – with that “oh – I’ve been here before” look…
Dad tries to keep his cool – poker-faced, trying not to blink first…
“It is spaghetti bolognese…”
“I know what it is Dad – but WHAT IS THIS…?”
Triumphant Kate singles out a small scrap of – well brown…
Let us call it exhibit A…
Before I can answer – “Quincey” has quarantined another small unrecognisable piece of her dinner.
She downs tools and sits back – her case for the prosecution made.
Now – every parent will recognise this dining ritual – the sheer joy of cooking for one’s children – and the eternal struggle to get your pride and joy to eat a vegetable…
They will also know there are two-ways to approach veg-phobic children…
The first – is as outlined above:
To dice, slice, mash, mince, chop, chip, liquidise, vapourise our little green friends – until they are a non-descript mush that blends perfectly with their surroundings.
Clearly in the art of culinary camouflage – this Dad needs a refresher course.
For the record – Exhibit A – was a slither of mushroom – deemed immensely toxic by Kate – in her book the very worst kind of cooking criminality.
“Daddy – they are slimey and poisonous and gross…!”
Exhibit B…? Oh she is good.
Went to a lot of trouble to disguise this one.
A pepper grated… Yes, Domestic Dad grated a pepper to try and sneak a bit of goodness under his daughter’s radar…
This then is the exhausting approach to render all vegetables unrecognisable – hell I’ve even tried to deep fry them all to a crisp to slip them under the wire.
So – when this fails – there is always the nuclear option…
The head-on dinner time showdown – when vegetables come as they are…
No dressing up for them.
Greens are green – and the peas are proud.
Confrontation on the menu…
Not even mock indignation from Kate.
“Don’t like that… and won’t eat that!”
“We’ve been through this – you will eat it or there is no pudding.”
“I don’t want any pudding…”
“OK then – you will go to bed early.”
Change of tack.
“Dad (trying to soften me up) – I’ll eat three mouthfuls.”
“No Kate – you will eat all your vegetables.”
“Five mouthfuls and I’ll tidy my room.”
And so it goes on…
A dozen sorry looking peas get pushed around the plate – every now and then one is reluctantly cornered and with a pained expression put into the mouth to be chewed and then tortuously swallowed…
Ah – the delights of a home cooked meal.
What this Dad can’t understand is where this fussiness comes from.
He loved his grub – well except baked beans…
Oh – and fish with bones in it… fish with heads on it… fish with tails on it…
And – the skin of riced pudding… and the skin on cooked tomatoes… and taramasalata… and…
“Dad – we’re bored…”
“What do you mean you are bored…?”
“B-O-R-E-D – bored Dad.”
“So what are you going to do about it?”
The mercury is hitting 32 degrees celsius for the second week running – and the natives are getting restless.
The heat is rising on Domestic Dad – and he’s beginning to feel the pressure.
Hands on hips – Kate fixes me with that “sort it out Dad” look…
Archie just stares at me despairingly…
“How about a bike ride?”
I try to press home the advantage.
“It would be great – a ride along the river, bit of a picnic, freedom of the open road…”
Kate eyes me suspiciouly – ever ready to negotiate.
“Only if we can have an ice cream – and a prize…!”
“Yes for helping you out Daddy!”
Helping me out…????
So this is what it has come down to – my 8-year-old daughter is now doing me a favour and I’ve got to pay for the pleasure – great…
Rusting bikes are pulled out of the shed.
“Hunt the bike helmet” takes us on a long and torturous tour of all the dark places in our house…
And – Molly (the dog) runs off and hides at the end of the garden at the prospect of being dragged along main roads behind my bike. Funny that.
When finally captured – ambushed by a piece of salami – she sits morosely at my feet desperately looking for an escape route.
Wagons roll… we are off.
Well we get twenty yards down the road – until Archie points out his tyre is flat…
Biting my lip – back we go – get the pump and fill his tyres to bursting point.
Kate beams at me and says I am the “best pumper”… I certainly feel like one.
Back in the saddle we finally hit the open road – well is you can call a series of busy residential roads occupied by angry motorists – open.
Dripping in sweat from pumping up the tyres – I try my best to appear calm and cool.
Kind of difficult when you have sunscreen running in your eyes and your dog is doing her level best to drag you under a car.
“Daddy – Mummy says you shouldn’t use those words.”
“I know Kate and I’m sorry – but sometimes you get angry and naughty words pop out…”
“Well don’t be rude to Molly.”
Scolded by my daughter for swearing at the dog…
Behind me – Archie is singing Queen…
“I want to ride my bicycle – I want to ride my bike…
“I want to ride my bicycle – I want to ride it where I like…”
Honestly…? At this moment I would like to ride my bike into the river.
Just at the point of no return for our jolly day out on the hottest day for seven years – we turn off the road and onto the towpath running alongside the Thames…
A gentle breeze picks up to cool my furrowed sweat-stained brow and the sounds of maddened motorists and piqued pedestrians fades – to be replaced by the rhythmical melody of wheels crunching on gravel – and the laughter of children kicking up clouds of dust as they race between light and dappled shade…
Deep and sluggish the river winds its way – trees dipping their branches into the cooling water – the heat shimmering on its surface…
Oh my God the smell…
Molly – the canine terrorist – has taken her final revenge at the injustice of being dragged along for a stiflingly hot bike ride without a lift of her own…
Off the lead for – oh can only be a minute – the hairy horror has found a dead bloated fish on the bank and has proceeded to roll in it… and roll in it… and roll in it…
The stench is unbearable – Molly delighted at her eau de poisson all over body spray – barks at me in defiance and runs off…
Thoughts of a nice pub lunch with a dog that smells like a rancid prawn – go out the window.
Archie and Kate look at me – assessing what I’ll do next.
“This still means we’ll get a prize?” pipes up Kate.
Defeated – I nod back.
I’m thinking a new dog.