Sunday Night

I went out running with my eldest daughter again this evening – another ten sets of two minutes running, one minute walking. Our next run will be on Tuesday night at the running club in town – heading out onto the streets with the unlikely band of “Couch to 5K” runners. I still feel a bit like a fraud, given that I can probably run 5K now at quite a clip – I have to keep reminding myself that I’m not doing it for me.

I haven’t told my daughter that she ran considerably faster tonight. As predicted, being thirty years younger means she’s getting better remarkably quickly. It will be interesting to see how her will power is when the run lengths increase.

What else has been going on today?

I wasted a couple of hours playing Minecraft this afternoon. After getting the chores done around the house I vanished into the pretend world, and completely lost track of time. Falling into lava by accident and burning to death served as a wake-up call of sorts. I haven’t logged back in since.

(When you die in Minecraft, everything falls out of your pockets – so anything your character had about their person can be retrieved. Unfortunately if you fall in lava, everything burns. Ergo – I lost quite a number of imaginary things that are of no consequence to the real world, so I don’t know why I’m even telling you).

How on earth is it 10pm on Sunday night already ? Where did the weekend go ? I’m tempted to stay up all night playing retro games – I installed a number of emulators for long-forgotten systems on my old laptop the other night. I got them working, but didn’t get around to playing any games.

I think perhaps before I do that I’ll go make a coffee. Coffee always seems like the best way to start any damn fool activity late at night.

Sunday Evening

Usually on a Sunday evening I would be making sure the kids have clean clothes for school, putting things in my work backpack, washing up, tidying up, and generally getting steeling myself for another week of mayhem. Only that’s not happening tonight – because the kids are still on their summer holidays, and I’m off work too.

There are plans to wander into a nearby town with our eldest daughter tomorrow – she has booked her holiday to coincide with mine. Somehow I think my arm will be twisted into buying her lunch at Nandos – she’s crafty like that. She also knows I like Nandos, even though we all know its really just over-priced chicken and chips.

Note to self – stay the hell away from Yo! Sushi, and Wagamama, because there is not enough money in the world for that. At least in Nandos you can order bottomless drinks and frozen yoghurt, even if you only make it through two each before feeling like you’re going to throw up spectacularly.

Beyond Nandos, I have no idea why we’re going. I suppose I could get some clothes for the trip to my parents – I’ve not bought any clothes at all since last summer. I need a new pair of trainers too – my last pair are so beaten up that the kids won’t let me wear them (yes, my teenage daughters have started to judge me).

Starbucks might figure in our plans at some point – it usually does – in a Winnie the Pooh “oh look, there’s Starbucks – we might just get a little something” kind of way.

Half the reason for getting out of the house for the day is because Miss 14 has invited a number of friends for a sleepover. We have pitched the family tent that saw us through numerous camping holidays in the back garden, and decorated it with fairy lights. If the weather is nice tomorrow night we’re also setting up an outdoor cinema – we have an old projector inherited from the infant school. I’m guessing we might need to apologise to the neighbours at some point tomorrow evening.

In other news I’ve been tinkering with a few things today. I rebooted my Tumblr blog. I still can’t decide how much effort to put into Tumblr – I’m tempted to use it as more of a life-stream than this blog – somewhere to post the smaller thoughts that aren’t really big enough for a “proper” blog post. I don’t know. This post is nothing more than a few random thoughts glued together, which kind of makes a mockery of it.

Anyway.

It’s already 10pm. An early night and a book for me (we know in reality I’m going to play chess, surf the web, and read online comics for the next hour, don’t we).

A Summer of Song and Laughter

There was a moment this afternoon, while our house was filled with fourteen year old girls, that I couldn’t help smiling – even though they were thundering up and down the stairs like a herd of elephants, shouting conversations to each other, and had taken over the living room for the better part of the afternoon.

While most teenagers are written off as social media junkies that gaze into their phones for hours on end like soporific zombies, these were doing anything but. For an hour they played various versions of hide-and-seek throughout the house.

I wondered both if this is the summer we have in store (they all broke up from school on Friday), or if this was a one-off throwback to years gone by, before relationships, hair, and clothes dominate everything they do, say, and even think.

While making a coffee in the kitchen, I blocked my ears from a really very dreadful rendition of one of the songs from The Greatest Showman that was coming from the lounge. I screwed my face up as I looked through the doorway, and was met with cackles of laughter from the collection of girls strewn across the sofas and the floor.

I can’t help feeling that I’m outnumbered.

Sunday

While sitting in Starbucks with Miss 18 this morning I installed the latest Harry Potter game on my phone (by the same company that made Pokemon Go). I won’t pretend to understand anything about it, other than it being overly complicated, and having some back-story involving the Ministry of Magic, Harry, and Hermione. While waiting for 18 to finish her ice tea, I discovered some magical creature or other causing trouble in the middle of Starbucks, and waved my imaginary wand at it (or rather, drew a shape on the screen). On the way home I discovered a rather spectacular invisible unicorn blocking our way, and stopped for several minutes to deal with it. Miss 18 was not impressed with me at all.

I’m home now. After spending the middle part of the day filling the washing machine with clothes, and watching Stranger Things, the rest of the family have returned from a shopping expedition (because OF COURSE the younger children’s shoes have fallen to pieces with only a few weeks of school left before the summer holidays), and I’m now half-watching the football World Cup final live from France. The children were obsessed with the tournament until England were knocked out – now they couldn’t care less who wins.

We have two more episodes of Stanger Things to go, and then have to wait another year for the next season. Myself and 18 are the only people in the house that have watched it – my other half tends towards shows like Criminal Minds, CSI, NCSI, Sherlock, Elementary, and so on – I’m more drawn to shows like The OA, Mr Robot, and Halt and Catch Fire – although saying that, it’s rare that I watch TV any more. The internet has almost completely taken the place of television in my life – reading and writing blog posts, catching up with distant friends, watching movies, playing games, and so on.

In some ways I’ve begun to think of those I know via the internet as closer friends than many I know in the “real world”. Both worlds are real of course – and I wonder if the generation that has grown up with the internet will not see such a division – because they communite with friends both near and far in the same way. I do wonder if their preference for messaging over face-to-face communication will have a negative effect in the long run though.

Anyway – enough soap box philosophy for one day. Time to put the kettle on and not think too much about anything for the remainder of Sunday evening.

Father’s Day, Funfairs and Goats

I woke with a start at 4am, and blundered my way through my phone while trying to find the radio app – to listen to the Tyson Fury boxing match. The fight finally began at 5am, and lasted approximately 5 minutes. It didn’t go well for the other guy. I fell back asleep moments later, and woke up wondering if the headphones I had been wearing would have left huge ring patterns on the sides of my head.

I have a vague recollection of an incredibly odd dream – something to do with walking around a house I had been to before, and finding all manner of things that had to be collected. It just occurred to me – in the dream I knew I had visited the house before, and knew my way around it – but thinking back, I’ve NEVER seen the house before. How on earth does your brain even do that – create memories to play back into a fictional movie moments before you wake up? That’s some spectacularly recursive craziness.

After finally scraping myself out of bed a little after 7am I wandered downstairs, had a shower, fed the cats, and cleared the kitchen. Our kitchen is something of a mystery to me – no matter how hard I work at clearing washing up before going to bed, the next morning there will be a sink full of washing up waiting for me. I suspect a traveling silent night circus has an extra set of keys to our house.

After firing two loads through the washing machine, and settling down to the second or third coffee of the day, the rest of the household crawled from their hiding places. My daughters appeared brandishing cards and a huge Toblerone chocolate bar just as I called my Dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day. My Dad is like me in many ways – or I’m like him – happy in his own company, with a propensity to nerd out at whatever he’s interested in this week. He also avoids the telephone if possible.

Miss 18 arrived in the lounge, with a question – “Are we doing anything today?”

My other half responded over her laptop screen while curled up on the sofa in her pajamas – “I thought we might go to the park this afternoon – the Regatta is on – there is a funfair”.

I had forgotten all about the regatta and funfair. The main day was yesterday – the park is closed to the public and becomes a ticketed rowing competition with dress code and free helpings of elitism. I know – I know – I’ll shut up now. On Sunday the park is opened, and everybody can wander in for free – visiting the various stalls, eating street food, drinking overpriced drinks, and paying to shorten their lives on questionably engineered funfair rides.

The children talked me into going on two such rides with them. The first flung you forwards and backwards while jigging you up and down like a demented Iron Giant had grabbed hold of you – accompanied by pop music and carrot chunks. The second involved sitting on a bench seat and being twirled in circles until your stomach really didn’t want to think about digesting anything for a good few hours.

The children were quite disappointed when I said I’d had enough – but then I noticed I had been among the very few parents going on rides with their children. I distracted them from being too downcast by paying for them to try and win some utter tat to take home with us. Miss 14 plucked a ball from a jet of air with a net – a feat of skill that took almost no skill at all. In return for tidying up said ball, she was offered any of the cheapest toys from the bottom row of a series of buckets of tat. She seemed pleased though.

I bought myself a cappuccino and a bag of freshly made donuts from a nearby stall while the kids tried unsuccessfully to win another goldfish. They have taken goldfish home from every regatta they have ever visited. I laughed as they failed, and considered setting fire to some more money just for fun.

Back near the river I got arm-twisted into having a go on a rowing machine. The children went first, and vaulted themselves to the head of the girls leader-board. I strapped myself onto the machine next, and wondered if I might do better than my attempt last year (my first ever go on a rowing machine) – where I had fallen off the machine mid-challenge. History very nearly repeated itself. I spent the last 100 metres of the pretend “race” trying to figure out how real rowers keep the seat underneath themselves. After filing a very average time indeed, the man running the tent made very complimentary comments about how well I had done, given that I hadn’t rowed before, and that the top times had been recorded by professionals (the Olympic team live nearby, so probably pushed the times out of mere mortal’s reach for fun). I think the man was just being kind because I was with the kids though. I did wonder though – how fast I could go, if I didn’t try to row in sandles, and could somehow manage to stick myself to the seat.

No, I will not be buying myself a rowing machine. I might be buying some goats though.

There was a petting zoo in the park – a nearby farm that works with charities had brought along a number of animals – a pony, a donkey, some chickens, some rabbits, and some goats. Oh my word the goats. How cute could they possibly have been? They were only young, so tremendously playful, inquisitive, and nosy. On they way home we didn’t just joke about getting some to avoid cutting the lawn ever again – we started to actually figure out what we might need to do in preparation.

Not Going to London

I was up at ridiculous o’clock this morning, showered, shaved, dressed, and ready to go. While brushing my teeth a small black cat stood in the doorway of the bathroom staring at me with huge green eyes. He only ever braves human contact when he’s hungry.

We were supposed to be going to London for a day wandering around the museums. By “we”, I mean Miss 18 and I. She had appeared in the junk room last night while I tinkered with Scrivener – wondering if we might do something together today. I offered her visits to local towns to go shopping, and she looked decidedly non-committal. I laughed, and said “you want to go to London, don’t you” – her face fell when I told her she would be buying her own train ticket.

We didn’t catch the first train out of town. We didn’t even leave the house. Miss 18 appeared in the kitchen a little after me this morning in her pyjamas, gazing at me as I stood by the kettle eating a bowl of cornflakes.

“Can you make me a coffee?”

“What sort?”

“A cappuccino please.”

I made the drink, then followed her into the lounge. She doesn’t like cappuccino from the Tassimo pods – she only likes the instant powder from the supermarket. If you make it like gravy it turns out pretty well – I taught her the method when she first started drinking coffee, and she’s become a complete and utter snob about how to make various hot drinks as a result. She spent part of her first pay-packet on her own china tea set.

“Are you not getting dressed ? We’re leaving in half an hour.”

“I’m not sure I want to go.”

“Why?”

She shrugged, and looked into her cup of tea.

“I should probably save my money”.

I smiled, and wandered off through the house. My other half had been planning to drop us off at a nearby railway station – to avoid maintenance work on the local railway line. She was now off the hook, and could have a well earned lie-in. Downstairs I immediately fell into the usual round of weekend chores – filling the washing machine with clothes, hanging last night’s final load on the line outside, and switching the dishwasher on. It seems there’s always something to do.

It’s now heading towards mid morning, and the day has rather unexpectedly become my own. I’m busy trying to talk Miss 18 into walking to the park with me – to feed the swans our leftover scraps of bread.

(Two hours pass…)

After walking the mile or so into town together, then camping out in Starbucks for a while, we eventually found our way to the park, and emptied our bags full of leftover bread into the water – trying to share it equally among the swans and geese that rapidly converged on us. The park was full of market stalls – each year a twinned town in France descends on the park, selling everything from soft cheese to berets and 1950s jazz albums. We stopped at a stall selling street food, and bought garlic potatoes. After trying to eat and walk, we realised the impossibility of it all, and perched on a bench in the corner of the park for a few minutes – feeding our faces, and laughing about what other people might think of us. Trying to convince Miss 18 that nobody would be taking any notice of her was quite a challenge.

After stopping at the grocery store to grab a late lunch for everybody, we walked home via the bookshop. Although the town we live in is quite small, it has a very lovely bookshop, and we try to go in it as often as time or money will allow. For years there was no bookshop in town – when I first moved here there were two, but they were forced out by rent increases. Don’t get me started about commercial property owners in the local area – they have pretty much destroyed the core of the town in the last twenty years. All of the independent shops have gone – replaced by chains, or hobby shops run at a loss by the wives of wealthy husbands – I imagine to keep them either quiet or busy. Maybe both.

I hadn’t planned on buying a book – I have several books still waiting to be read – both on the shelf at home, and inside my Amazon Kindle. That didn’t stop me picking up a few interesting looking books as I waited for my daughter though – and also explains how I managed to reach the counter with a book in my hand. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it. I bought “The Night Circus”, by Erin Morgenstern. I’m not really sure how it got my attention, or how it ended up in my hand – perhaps it whispered to me as I walked past – books seem to do that sometimes.

Easter Sunday

I got up an hour ago – a little after 8am – and still find myself sitting alone downstairs. I can hear noises from the upstairs bedrooms, but nobody has appeared yet. It’s Easter Sunday. I don’t know where the Easter eggs have been hidden – I know that several were bought last week – before we ran out of money again. My salary should hit the bank tomorrow.

While walking to the store in town last night to get medication for our eldest daughter (who has had a stomach bug all the way through Easter weekend so far), I laughed at my own thought processes – I went from “what’s the point in having a blog at all”, to “maybe I should reach out more” in the space of 200 yards. Along the way I passed a cafe that opens late – and started judging the sixty-something crowd of people sitting around a long table inside – a phone was being held up to take photographs – I wondered how long it might be until the photo appeared on Facebook to show everybody they knew where they were not.

(an hour passes)

My other half appeared downstairs. Her Mum and brother are coming for lunch – meaning that she’s running from room to room, tidying up, putting things away, and so on. This means that everybody else needs to also be tidying up, putting things away, and so on – it’s just the way things work around here. I imagine I’ll be tasked with peeling twenty thousand potatoes later. I just finished cleaning the bathroom – which partly involved filling a plastic bag with two hundred bottles of various things that nobody ever realised they ever needed (and probably never did) – skin scrubs, repair creams, “ultra hold” hair gels, makeup removers, eye drops, and god knows what else. Nobody has used any of it for weeks – all I have left out is a tub of hand cream.

Cleaning toilets is one of those jobs that I imagine teenagers fully believe fairies accomplish for them.

Our middle girl ate an Easter egg for breakfast. This was entirely predictable. She last had a wash several days ago, and will wonder why her face has erupted in spots just in time to go back to school. Both of our younger daughters seem to have become allergic to water at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s just chronic laziness, or “being a teenager” – we generally have to threaten them to make them set foot in the shower, brush their teeth, brush their hair, or anything else that transforms them into a vaguely presentable person.

Anyway. I need to help. First job – extending the dining table to make room for seven people to sit around it. My parents gave us the dining table not long after we moved in – there’s no way we could ever have afforded anything like it – I imagine it will be handed down through the family for generations.

Preparing to Travel

It’s just gone 2pm. My other half is at a rugby tournament with Miss 15, Miss 18 is in her room filling out various health and safety assessments for her new job, Miss 13 is in the lounge playing monopoly with a friend that has stayed with us the entire weekend, and I’m packing a bag to travel to the other end of the country for the better part of the week. Oh – and the clocks went forwards this morning, so getting up at 8am wasn’t really sleeping in after all.

I need to get to the railway station by 4pm. The first train will take me to Maidenhead, then a second to Paddington, the underground through to Kings Cross, and finally onwards to Leeds in the north of England. I’ll be staying in the Holiday Inn Express at the “Armouries” – a huge museum dedicated to various methods of fighting and killing each other the years (fun!). I’ve stayed there countless times, and never set foot in the museum itself. It’s always shut when I walk past.

It always amuses me (or rather annoys me) when people presume that travelling with work means seeing anything of the world. Over the next few days all I will see is railways stations, packed trains, my hotel room, a number of conference rooms, and some busy roads I try to cross in a major city without getting run over. Oh – nearly forgot – I’ll also see the supermarket just along from the hotel, and the pizza place around the corner.

I’m always a little torn when travelling with work – while staying in my room with pre-made food from a supermarket is an attractive option (in a “can’t be bothered to deal with the world” kind of way), I know that sitting in a restaurant alone will provide endless stories to tell on the blog – even if nothing happens, you can always imagine the back-story of people that cross your path.

Anyway. Time is marching on. I should make sure I’ve packed everything.

Sunday Morning at the Rugby Club

It’s been a bit of a morning so far. My other half is out for the day at some sort of arts and crafts course, leaving me to shepherd Miss 15 to rugby. We caught the first bus out of town this morning, then set off towards the rugby club. I gave my daughter the choice between getting a bus all the way to the rugby club, or walking through town via McDonalds to get a breakfast wrap. She started walking almost immediately.

After realising we might not make it to the rugby ground on time, we DID end up catching a bus – thankfully the pitches are adjacent to a busy road that many bus routes pass along. After waiting at a nearby stop for a minute or two, a bus swept into view, and we jumped aboard. Quite how the driver didn’t know about the existence of the rugby club is a mystery to me – thankfully I knew the name of the bus stops near the NUMEROUS rugby pitches alongside the road, which he did know.

Another little thing that made the journey a little easier – our local bus services have upgraded the ticket machines on all vehicles to accept contact-less payments from debit and credit cards. I’m beginning to wonder when or if I’ll ever need cash in my wallet again – it’s disappearing from general use at a pretty impressive rate.

Needless to say, we made it to the rugby club with five minutes to spare. Quite why we broke our backside getting here on time is a mystery though, because of course we arrived first – meeting the coaches on the corner of the pitch. Miss 15 proudly claimed that she had walked all the way before I pulled the rug from under her (“don’t you mean all the way from the bus stop to the pitches?”). Over the course of the next few minutes a steady stream of teenagers arrived around us – all looking like they might have been reluctantly dragged from their beds a few minutes before.

I’m now sitting in the club house, perched on a high stool by a window, looking out over the rugby grounds. I’ve just finished a cup of tea, and have an hour to myself. I will wander down to the pitch side towards the end of training and accompany Miss 15 back to get herself a cup of tea before we begin the journey home.

When we get home later today I’ll no doubt be met by Miss 13 and Miss 18, both announcing they are bored and hungry. There will also be a sink full of washing up, and a kitchen strewn with the remains of whatever they have scavenged from the cupboards during the morning. It will not have occurred to either of them to clean up after themselves. If I question them, I will be “going on at them, as per usual” – and if I question their tone, they will make comments about spending the weekend with Miss 15 “as per usual”. Two parents into three children doesn’t go – and the older they get, the more barbed their comments become. We’ll ignore that they are plenty old enough to find their own entertainment, go grocery shopping, cook, wash up, and tidy up after themselves – because the argument really isn’t worth having.

This is where I stop this post from spiraling any further. Enough with the negativity. This is life – at the moment – and is a very similar life to lots of other families with teenagers. I guess in some ways I should be happy that I’m still involved in my children’s lives – I see lots of our children’s friends essentially living their own lives by their mid-teens – completely independent of their parents. That our kids know a world where dinner is always on the table, where we catch up with each other’s day over our evening meal, and where the house is always festooned with fresh laundry – these are things I should hang on to – things I should be thankful for. Being thankful doesn’t feel like the right sentiment though – because we actively make these things happen – they are about hard work, and modelling an example we might wish the children to continue.

Postscript – I stood next to a wonderful Mum for the last twenty minutes of training, and somehow got into a conversation all about the books we have been reading recently. Now I really DO have to start making time to read, because she will ask next time I see her…