Some Thoughts on Father’s Day

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Because nothing quite says Happy Father’s Day like fruit does!

As the father of two young children I look forward to Father’s Day every year. I’m lucky; I have two great kids – lively, thoughtful, caring and loving. Granted, they’re not always like this and like many parents, I assume, I spend several hours a week quietly calling them names under my breath and wishing they’d leave me alone! This isn’t being unkind, just honest. Sometimes, my lively, thoughtful, caring, loving kids are complete pricks. And despite loving them with all of my heart, I can’t deny it. But they never let me down come Father’s Day.

Now I suspect that we can attribute a lot of the credit for a succession of successful Father’s Days to my wife. She loves to plan. She explores ideas, leaving no stone unturned in the pursuit of the perfect gift. And she has a way of making the kids think that this particular idea was there’s all along and that this gift choice was the kind of thing they meant when they told her that they thought I needed more socks. Don’t get me wrong, I know for a fact that the kids themselves – my daughter can be particularly thoughtful – have come up with some great gift ideas, but they still often need the wife’s guiding hand. And that of my Amazon Wishlist! However, the gift is just a part of why I love this particular day.

Both of my children are capable of terrible behaviour. Both struggle to control their emotions and tears are commonplace in our house. I suppose, for their age, in some ways they’re just a little bit immature, like their dad. It can be frustrating, but I’d rather this than a pair of emotional vacuums, holding everything in. They’re typical kids and I feel sure that as they grow they’ll learn to supress their reactions while retaining that emotion and knowing how to deal with it. And this is part of the reason why I enjoy Father’s Day so much. My kids both seem to make a conscious effort to behave. It’s usually payed back ten-fold on the following day, but on that particular Sunday, they suddenly learn to breath and reign their emotions in somewhat. As a result, Father’s Day seems peaceful. An island of calm waiting to be battered by a storm of emotion for most of the rest of the year. There have been exceptions, when one child has decided that they couldn’t possibly not speak up or cause a commotion, but largely speaking Father’s Day is fun.

Another reason to enjoy Father’s Day in our house is because my kids still haven’t lost their enthusiasm for it. Myself, I switched to just giving or sending a card decades ago. Me and my old man get along, but he sees no great need to be showered with gifts – or affection for that matter – and I see no great need to keep buying him stuff he won’t really appreciate now that I’m an adult. I sat through years of Christmas, birthday and Father’s Day present giving with much the same reaction – ‘Aye, that’s nice. Thank you.’ *Puts present on the floor by the side of his armchair – he’ll make it disappear later*. Eventually there seemed little point in the gift side of things. If I was doing it seeking some kind of love or affection, it wasn’t forthcoming and if I thought my present was going to change my dad’s life, then that idea was quickly shot down by his reaction.

My own children, on the other hand, excel at showing their enthusiasm for Father’s Day. The routine is always the same. We’ll decide when they’re going to give their gifts and then they’ll go out to retrieve them. The gifts are always ‘hidden’, adding to the excitement (they’re in the hallway, I’m just not allowed to leave the room). They will then re-enter the room, with their gifts still ‘hidden’ behind their backs. And here’s where the absolute joy of this day kicks in for me. They can’t contain their excitement. Both faces are plastered with wide grins. They can’t stand still, even though they’re lining up as though they’re about to be inspected. And they both have a present held, and usually only partially hidden, behind their back – there are probably others, hidden in plain sight this time, in a gift bag on the floor. Every year I pretend that I can’t see any of them.

They take turns in giving the first gift. Each year they start with something small, usually of their choice; something they’ve generally bought to make up the numbers a little bit. This is where Disney dad takes over, although it’s never a difficult role to adopt. By now I’m genuinely thrilled at what’s going on. My kids are practically quivering with excitement, almost unable to contain themselves and I am the focus of their attention. Brilliant!

After each gift or card I get hugs. If they’ve added kisses to a card – and they always do – I indulge myself, forcing them to give me every last kiss that they’d drawn on their greeting. If the kiss is in any way more of a glance I’ll not count it, just to get more. We squeeze each other tightly and even with my general fear of hugs I could stay like this all day. Even though I absolutely love a present, this is the best part of Father’s Day and the main reason why I love it. We may argue and fall out throughout the year, but for this 10 minute period we have all the love in the world for each other.

On the subject of gifts, over the years I’ve had some memorable ones. I still have a bar of chocolate that’s wrapped in personalised packaging, telling me that I’m the best dad in the world. I think this makes it official. I can’t bring myself to eat it, because of course it’s much more than just a bar of chocolate. I’ve also had brilliant books and CDs – yes, some of us still live in the past – as well as the obligatory pack of socks, because everybody needs socks.

The most memorable gifts though have both come from my son. My daughter has given fantastic gifts too, but the ones that will always stick in my mind just happen to have come from my son. He’s always been a thoughtful boy. Since he could read properly he has taken the time to scrutinise greetings cards so that he finds just the right message for the recipient. And he’s always given lots of thought to his presents. Both gifts, although very well meaning, undoubtedly fall into the category of ‘quirky’. The first one that springs to mind was a banana. Not a bunch mind, just a single banana. I got other gifts too, but the one that he was most excited about was the banana. He was about 5 at the time. He knew that this was a fruit that I liked, so it was definitely appropriate. However, his reasoning was slightly more complex than this. Apparently, he’d told my wife that he had to buy daddy a banana ‘to make sure he’s healthy’. Given my heart problems of last year, it may be accurate to wonder if he’s actually some kind of wizard. Maybe he had watched his dad snaffling one too many chocolates or bags of crisps and thought, ‘this bloke’s out of control, here’s me being force fed fruit my whole life and my dad seems to be working far too hard cultivating a belly that he’s going to really regret in a few years time.’ Whatever the thought process, it was a gift that made me smile and one that I’ll remember forever.

The other most memorable gift though was a bible. No really. As ever, Louise checked and checked that this was really the present that he wanted to buy, in the hope that he’d change his mind, but no; he was adamant. The reason he wanted to buy me a bible? ‘Because that way God will keep daddy safe’. He was only about 6 at the time and of course that’s not an age when you question God, but either way it was incredibly sweet. So although it was a gift with a limited shelf life, when you consider the old maxim about it being the thought that counts, it was lovely.

I didn’t realise that bibles could cost quite a bit and apparently with this in mind, my wife and son trawled around the local charity shops so that they could buy a cheaper one and still have money left to spend on me elsewhere. Maybe I was being upgraded to a whole bunch of bananas, I can’t remember. In the end they settled on a hardback children’s bible with shortened versions of all the stories and some pictures to boot. So you can probably imagine my confusion when I opened it up!

As a matter of course we would then spend time reading it together, at Dylan’s request. We’d lie on our bed, cuddled up and read after his shower at nights, with me rationing the amount of stories, so that we’d get more times reading together! This really was the Father’s Day gift that kept on giving. And an even bigger bonus was that sometimes Dylan would fall asleep on me as we read and so we’d then just lie there for a while longer, warm and cosy with me content to just cuddle him in and listen to his breathing.  So in the end, perhaps it really was a blessing that he bought me such a leftfield gift!

 

 

 

Honesty’s the best policy? Maybe not when you’re a dad!

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Mmmmmmmm, great big chunks of onion!

All through our lives we’re told that honesty is the best policy. Your parents are the first to tell you this, followed by any number of well-meaning adults. Teachers, religious leaders, youth workers, police officers, neighbours, aunts, uncles, and pretty much any adult you encounter will tell you the same; it’s best to tell the truth.

However, when you grow up the boundaries start to shift. Take the process of applying for jobs for instance. You might find that honesty actually makes you the dullest possible candidate. So you add the odd interest or experience to your CV or your answers in an interview so that you shine that little bit brighter. In short, you lie. You know the type of thing. You might pick an obscure martial art and claim to practice it, adding that perhaps it might come in handy in your job. Tai Chi or something like that.

In trying to become closer to the girl or boy of your dreams you might find, again, that honesty might not make you that attractive. He or she might not see your full potential as a lover or life partner if you tell them that, actually, the furthest you’ve travelled is Cleethorpes, you haven’t really given any thought to ambitions or that you don’t really have any interests. So you might combine these type of things and spout forth at great length about your dream of taking a gap year and travelling the world. Because, of course being confined to the toilet in your Far East hostel as you gradually make the air funkier and funkier is a truly endearing image and undoubtedly the stuff that dreams, and partners, are made of. If only you had someone to share this passion with…

“Lying to your kids is pretty much what the first chapter of the Dad Manual is devoted to.”

As a dad I’ve found that telling lies is more or less essential. Two words: Santa Claus. A few more: The Tooth Fairy. You see what I mean? Lying to your kids is pretty much what the first chapter of the Dad Manual is devoted to. Then you get to the interesting stuff like Dad Jokes and Dad Magic. I mean, who knew you could produce a coin out of a kid’s ear just by becoming a dad? And did you even realise just how funny you were until you had kids?

Over the years I’ve told many, many lies to my kids. All harmless stuff, but lies all the same. I’ve dated supermodels (believable, I know), I can speak Spanish (hola), I’m a trained street dancer (if you’ve seen me move the only surprise here is that I haven’t claimed to have been Patrick Swayze’s dance coach for Dirty Dancing, because I think it’s plain to see that his character may well have been modelled on me), I can make a block of sugar hover on the top of a cappuccino by using magic (my son was genuinely upset when he found out that this wasn’t magic, just the sugar floating for a while on the froth), I was in the SAS (I’m certainly one mean looking hombre, that’s for sure) and whenever we visited a particular theme park when my kids were younger I would delight in telling them that we were visiting the power station with the massive cooling towers that we had to pass on the way there. This was a lie which they fell for, literally every time.

“I became Gregg Wallace and my daughter faced up to her very own Masterchef final.”

So when my daughter decided that she was going to cook the family tea recently, it became a true test of whether or not honesty really is the best policy. My daughter is 12 and in Year 8 of High School. She’s learning to cook, amongst other things. And we we’re putting her cooking to the test because my wife, in her wisdom, had agreed that we’d eat my daughter’s spaghetti Bolognese for tea. My idea of freezing it and letting the kids have it for teas when we’re at work was rejected so that we could all put it to the taste test. So I became, Gregg Wallace and my daughter faced up to her very own Masterchef final.

Now there wasn’t a lot to this particular spaghetti Bolognese. A supermarket bought Bolognese sauce, some spaghetti, an onion, a handful of mushrooms and some lean beef mince. What could possibly go wrong? Well, as it turned out quite a lot.

“…I’m quite a picky eater…”

On the day in question I’d been thinking about this Bolognese, sporadically, all day. It was something that genuinely terrified me for several reasons. Firstly, I’m quite a picky eater – I don’t like onions and I’ve never liked beef. I genuinely don’t get the fuss about beef at all. To me, it’s just really bland. Bland and very forgettable. But I’ll tolerate sometimes it so that the beef lovers in the house get to chow down on cow. So the fact that this was a Bolognese made with beef mince immediately troubled me and deep down, I already knew that I wasn’t really going to enjoy this meal. Obviously this worried me, because I knew that my little girl would be desperate to impress. However, I also knew that she’d be bright enough to recognise that it was never going to be a favourite with dad.

I’m also not a fan of too much sauce on pasta (fussy and a little bit juvenile, I know, I probably need to grow up) and having looked at the pile of ingredients on the kitchen table I imagined that I was going to get a mansize dollop of the stuff all over my spaghetti. Protesting simply wouldn’t cut the mustard (applause for the cookery based pun, please) with my wife who thinks I’m just being fussy and juvenile and that I need to grow up.

“…a curry, a Mexican, something with a lot of garlic…”

On the night in question I wandered into the kitchen as my wife was dishing up our tea. Where usually the downstairs of the house will be filled with the wonderful aroma of whatever’s cooking, tonight there was just a strange nothingness. Usually the smell of what’s cooking will be mouth-watering, – a curry, some Mexican, something with a lot of garlic – but tonight no such aroma existed and as a consequence my mouth was unusually dry. This was not a good sign at all. My enthusiasm waned with each passing second and it looked like my dad lying skills would be put firmly to the test here. In fact, I was going to probably have to employ some advanced level Dad lies.

A look at what appeared on my plate only confirmed my fears. Dollop after dollop of a sauce that seemed to have had all the fun sucked out of it by the power of beef. And as I looked closer it just seemed to get worse. Onion. Great big chunks of onion. I knew that this was going to crunch in my mouth and I knew that eating this Bolognese was going to be a bit of a trial. For me, crunch is fine…in a packet of crisps. This is ironic as I imagine a packet of crisps is exactly what I’d go looking for later on, when the kids had gone to bed and I was hungry due to lack of tea! As I continued to stare I felt sure that all the red was draining away from the plate and I was left contemplating a distinctly grey Bolognese. I knew, however, that the more I stared, the more conscious my daughter could be of me not eating. There was nothing for it but to tuck right in!

“This was a forkful and then some.”

Now every fibre of my being, every sinew, wanted to sift out some of the stuff in the sauce. Let’s just nudge that onion to one side and smear some of that mince a little across the plate. I had to show enthusiasm though. I had to lie. So I gripped my fork, said a silent prayer and I dug in. Right in. Inner than in. As I lifted the fork towards my mouth I could immediately see that I’d overdone the enthusiasm. This was a forkful and then some. A forkful that could have probably become a mouthful for at least two of the people sat around the table. But I couldn’t go back. I couldn’t fake a wobbly hand and drop some. I knew that my daughter was watching and that she’d been waiting for this moment, not just all day, but for the last few days. She’d been genuinely excited by making a Bolognese and providing tea for the family, which was lovely. Meanwhile, I had been dreading it! I mean, who is actually the adult here?

As the first part of the food hit my tastebuds, I realised that the adult was definitely not me. That said, I faked a smile, let out a big beaming ‘Mmmmm’ of satisfaction and resolved to chew. Just chew. I’m her dad and if I can’t – in her eyes at least – enjoy her cookery skills, then who can. No really, who can?

After what seemed like an eternity I was still chewing. That enormous first mouthful just wouldn’t go away. My teeth seemed to be bouncing off the mince and the crunch of the onions was worse than I could have ever expected. I just kept ‘Mmmmming’. This seemed like a good course of action.

“How can you get a Spag Bol wrong?”

Finally that first mouthful was gone, but I couldn’t think of anything to say. Actually, I could, but it would have been in no way complimentary or encouraging. I realised that I should just Dad lie and move on, but I couldn’t. And this was not the time for blurting out something along the lines of ‘How can you get a Spag Bol wrong?’, ‘Does anyone fancy KFC?’ or anything worse. So in the spirit of keeping my mouth shut – which is a valuable lesson that, I must admit, mainly women have taught me over the years – I stuffed another forkful in and gave myself time to think. More chewing. More bouncing. More onions. Still no flavour though.

Suddenly, just as I was swallowing the latest tasteless morsel, I had a thought. A moment of blinding inspiration. I knew exactly what I was going to say and do. And so I said and did it.

*Turns to the right. Looks daughter in the eye. Taps daughter on the back of the head while she’s trying to eat*, “Not bad that, kid.”

It’s official. I am my dad. I’d just searched high and low through my mind for something inspirational to say to my 12 year-old after she’d made us tea and there it was. A bit of a slap to the back of the head and a “Not bad”. Dad of The Year stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. Imagine how great she must have felt hearing this. Imagine the warm glow that would shoot through her. All the trouble she’d gone to must have seemed totally worth it now because Dad told her that her Bolognese was “not bad”. Not good. Not delicious. Not smashing or tasty or even plain old nice. Just “not bad”.

“I could have critiqued her, told her that the beef was greasy and chewy…”

However, as the title of the article might suggest, I surely hadn’t done the wrong thing here either. In a world where no child is allowed to lose anymore and every kid, ever, is praised for simply turning up, I’d not given my kid a negative. I’d toed the party line. And I hadn’t lied, much. I’d protected her, just as a dad should. I could have critiqued her, told her that the beef was greasy and chewy, the onions not to my liking and that I was waiting patiently, but without hope for the moment that I’d really be able to taste something. But I didn’t. In fact, rather than a pre-prepared lie and an easily uttered “delicious”, I’d given my response some thought. Two almighty forkfuls worth of thought, in fact. And I’d argue that my honest, if uninspired “not bad” was better than your ‘it doesn’t matter how bad it is I’m going to force it down and tell her it’s “delicious”‘. My daughter now has something to aim for, while you’re just getting more of the same ‘delicious’ food next week.

As it turns out, I didn’t finish my tea. My Spaghetti Bolognese – mainly great big crunchy chunks of onion – was later scraped off into the bin. No one really enjoyed it, not even my daughter, the chef. She ended up having a little cry, but she was supported, cuddled, loved and told that it was OK. I didn’t tell her that I was going to the chippy once she’d gone to bed either. If I’d told her the lie that it was amazing or delicious, I still wouldn’t have finished, prompting the bigger lie that it was simply because I was full up. There was no Masterchef style critique, no stinging remarks about flavour combinations or presentation. Just advice. Keep trying, don’t worry, that kind of thing. She didn’t even have to do the washing up!

The week after she made chicken kebabs. They really were “not bad”. Certainly better than the Bolognese. I held back on the happy slapping though; there’s only so much enthusiasm a bloke can muster after a day at work. There were no tears and less lies though. Our plates were cleaner too, which in itself was a glowing tribute, and an avoidance of the lie that our tea was ‘delicious’. So we all learnt something. My daughter learnt that value of being honest. and me? Well, I learnt that honesty really isn’t always the best policy when you’re a parent.

 

 

Despite my age, I can’t explain… (Part 1 of an occasional series)

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Me, not understanding stuff.

As a person gets older it’s widely accepted that they get wiser. It stands to reason, yes? You read more, watch more and simply experience more and all the while you’re like a little owl, made entirely out of sponge, just soaking up the good stuff. Because with age comes wisdom, right?

Wrong. Well wrong in my case, anyway. For me there’s an uncomfortable amount that leaves me wondering exactly what it’s all about. And it takes up an equally uncomfortable amount of my time.

That said, I feel fairly confident that lots of people will share my idea that there are just some things that you’re always going to be unable to get your head around. I mean, who among us can explain the popularity of creatures like Gemma Collins? Exactly.

“I’m a husband, father, son, teacher, graduate and generally something of a man of the world.”

I think we’ve established that in my case middle age has caused me to question quite a bit about myself. If you haven’t, scroll down past this blog and it’s all there. |There’s pictures if you get bored and it’s mildly amusing too. However, having put quite a bit of thought into it I’ve come to realise that there’s a great deal of stuff that defies any wisdom that I’ve managed to pick up along the way. I’m a husband, father, son, teacher, graduate and generally something of a man of the world. Stop sniggering. I’m kind of a big deal and yet I still find myself waiting for the wisdom that allows me to crack many a knowledge nugget. So let’s start episode one of another occasional series.

I’ll start with one that I know will prove controversial, especially here in Yorkshire. But here we go – I just don’t understand Rugby League. I’m not mocking it – each to their own. But I just don’t get it. I can watch it and to some extent feel entertained. But just when I feel like I understand it a question will pop into my head. I question why, if as I’m told, it’s a proper sport and a real man’s sport, does it attract so few supporters? The average attendance for the 2018 season of Soooooper League was just 8547. Surely it can’t be that good then? Also, if I do watch, I can’t get over the fact that it seems that every few seconds blokes just run into each other. Furthermore, the rule states that the ball can’t be passed forward, but to me it looks like it’s going forward on an almost constant basis. And given my feelings about being tactile, well I’m sorry, but there’s just a little bit too much groping going on. It’s less a sport and more like the scenes outside a nightclub at closing time when I was in my youth. In fact, the more I think about it the more it becomes like wrestling with added ball. And it’s not even a proper ball.

But it’s OK, rugby league fans. Here’s a little treat just for you. The next thing that, despite my years, I just don’t understand is Rugby Union. Again, I know this might prove controversial with some. In fact, my views on old rugbo have left some apoplectic in the past, which has only served to make me worse, I must admit. So in not understanding rugby union, you could say that I fail to understand maturity as well. It can’t be helped though – it really is a hilarious sport.

Let’s begin, again, with attendances. In the 2017-18 Rugby Union Premiership the average attendance was a mighty 14,165. So again, real sport, man’s sport etc, etc. Why does hardly anyone bother watching it then? And are you allowed to even attend if you don’t have, a) a Range Rover b) a faux agricultural flat-cap c) a wax jacket d) one of those old wicker picnic baskets and a tartan rug?

The hilarity really starts though, when you look at the game itself. Same excuse for a ball, same propensity (in my opinion) to pass it forward regardless. Then there’s the well rehearsed argument that we football fans always hear about rugby union. Get this – the players all call the ref ‘sir’. And they don’t backchat. Or swear. And they all love their mums. Thoroughly decent chaps. Just don’t mention eye gouging. Or having to drink your own urine from the local viscount’s welly. I don’t get it. I don’t care what you call the ref. I don’t care that they listen politely. If they’re that nice and well-mannered, then why is he having to speak to them in the first place? I’ll tell you why. Invariably it’s because Tristran has punched Spencer sqaure in the face again. Or because the heir to the Dukedom of Gloucester has just stuck his thumb up the arse of Prince Edward’s butler. Probably.

“Can we sing a song now, sir?”

And then there’s line-outs. We all line up while one of the ‘guys’ chucks the ball towards us. Then we lift another one of the ‘guys’ really high so he can catch it, only one of the guys from the other team might catch it. Oh, the jeopardy! And then, once somebody’s caught it, we all fall on top of each other. Any excuse for a roll around in the mud, which is great because soon there’ll be another excuse for a muddy fumble when the ref calls Scrum. Scrum, sir? Yes, sir. Grab Boselion-Smyth’s testicles, sir? Of course, sir! What’s that, now we all link arms, sir? Is there a hearty song to be sung, sir? No, sir? And I stick my head between Mortimer’s legs, sir? Rest his scrotum on the back of my neck, sir? Aah, brings back memories of boarding school. Can we sing a song now, sir? No, sir? Shall we just push each other until we all fall into a heap in the mud, sir? Jolly good, sir! Tally-ho, chaps!

Word for word that, as well. Obviously you have to be a lot cleverer than me to understand rugby. Or maybe I’m just not a real man? Perish the thought.

So what else, despite my years, is still beyond me? Well, salad for one thing. People say that when it’s summer I should be eating salad. Why? Why will leaves cool me down? Why will some radish hit the spot just because the weather’s nice? I’m really not a fan of cold food anyway. We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up, but we had enough for a cooker and a microwave. Both of which made cold food not only hot, but edible. Everything tastes better hot.

“I do actually eat the odd salad.”

But the appeal of leaves is beyond me, hot or cold. I thought they were more for hedgehogs to be fair. I’m not against them per se. I do actually eat the odd salad. But they do nothing for me and therefore, I feel quite justified in saying that I just don’t understand salad. When people tell me that lettuce is delicious I just tend to think they’ve temporarily lost their mind. Or that their taste buds have shut down for the day. Or that if they went on ‘Who Do You Think You Are’ they’d inevitably find that they were descended from a long line of rabbits. Lettuce is just crunchy water. Cucumber’s the same. Absolutely pointless. I could live to be 150 and I still wouldn’t understand salad. Although I’d probably have to eat a it more of it to reach such an age.

Moving on, I’m going to bring things right into the 21st Century. Something that is both really popular and completely beyond any wisdom I might have is Snapchat. Firstly, the whole point of it seems pointless. You post a photo that won’t last. Why? But before you post it you can do the thing that I really don’t understand. You can put zany filters on it. That’s right kids! Ever imagined what you’d look like as a dog or even an animal who’s identity is a little unclear, but narrowed down by the presence of whiskers? Crack on, then. But before you post it – for a few seconds – why not put another filter on it so that you look just like you’ve smeared Vaseline over your face? Or maybe you could change the crazy filter so that you look like a cat, or a hamster. You could strecth your face…or squash it. The squashy face one seems particularly popular and yet if I walk up to a friend and squish their cheeks in a bit of a choochy face thing, that’s harrassment. Yep, I don’t get it. I’m sure this makes me more old age fanclub than middle age fanclub to some, but I don’t care. The whole thing simply makes no sense. Those of you who have read one of my earlier blogs might recall how for a long time I didn’t understand Facebook though, so maybe I’m the problem here and not Snapchat.

“…at one point I remove my hands from the steering wheel…”

Imagine that one day I gave you a lift. It doesn’t matter where. I gave you a lift and along the way I drove my car at the kind of speed that made you feel decidedly uncomfortable. I threw it round tight corners, swept around in long arcing u-turns and then drove us down a hill  – again at break-neck velocity – that seemed damn near vertical. Oh, and at one point I removed my hands from the steering wheel and threw both arms in the air, whooping like I scored the winning goal in the cup final or had just won the lottery, while displaying the kind of facial expression one might associate with a mad man. Not the best car journey you’ve ever had, right? You wouldn’t be accepting another lift again any time soon. So explain to me the attraction of rollercoasters.

Despite my age, despite my travels, despite visiting several theme parks and even partaking, regretfully, in some of said experiences, I just don’t understand the appeal of rollercoasters. I don’t think I ever will.

“This was The Hoppings.”

Part of this lack of understanding could well be put down to chunks of my childhood spent around a far more rudimentary type of thrill-seeking than what we see today. Let me explain. In Newcastle, growing up, one of the highlights of the summer was the visit of a travelling fair; The Hoppings. Now this should conjure up images of the pastoral – village life, communities enjoying themselves, human harmony with a certain rustic charm and innocence. Well, might I suggest you get rid of that image, sharpish. Imagine a cross between scrap yard with rides and a particularly vicious open prison, where hundreds of teenagers and young adults would roam, snarling and scowling at each other, as well as often getting into fights. Imagine a place where rides existed, but the notion of health & safety didn’t. This was The Hoppings. Every year, I’d go and every year I’d have forgotten how terrifying it was. I won’t go into great detail, but in short, this wasn’t a place to be trusted and I’ve never understood the popular fashion of risking your life for around a minute of being thrown around while you scream at top volume. Call me old-fashioned, but I’ve always associated screams with pain.

And so it was that I grew into an adult who, despite the freedom to travel and indulge in whatever pleasures I chose, would never understand rollercoasters and other ‘fun’ of this ilk. My wife and my children, on the other hand, are confirmed thrill-seekers, but it’s roundly accepted that I’m much more a confirmed coat holder. I’ve visited several theme parks and am more than happy to sit out the adrenaline rush. That’s not to say that I haven’t sampled some of the rides, however. It’s not blind ignorance driving this. I’ve been brave and I’ve summoned my pioneering spirit in order to either prove something to myself or simply not spoil other people’s enjoyment. Yet, every time I do, I’m left with a mixture of bewilderment and terror. I don’t understand rollercoasters. I don’t understand the ‘thrill’. How can the feeling that you may die be in any way thrilling? How can being turned upside down and sent hurtling down a ridiculously steep hill be a thrill? No, sorry, despite my years, you’ve lost me with rollercoasters.

I’ve been a massive fan of music for as long as I can remember. My parents played me The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Mamas and Papas, Dionne Warwick, Johnny Mathis, Rod Stewart and loads more and from there a love of music was born. I was an avid viewer of Top of The Pops from an early age, soon developing my own tastes for artists such as Adam and The Ants, Duran Duran, The Jam and loads more. As I got older, my tastes broadened and I listened to an eclectic mix of music, collecting tapes and vinyl as I went. As a young man I fell in love with first The Stone Roses and later Oasis and Blur and entering middle age my tastes have continued to broaden. So if anyone can explain the appeal of either Ed Sheeran or Mumford and Sons, I’d gladly listen.

“I’m not knocking anyone for enjoying what he does.”

Sheeran and Mumford and have sold untold millions of records (although I realise that nowadays that no one buys music and it’s actually only views and streams that count). Both leave me cold. I can stomach Sheeran despite how bland at all is. His music simply passes through me, like a bad pint. And I’m not knocking anyone for enjoying what he does. Friends and family tell me he’s great and that’s an opinion that they’re completely free to hold. But they’re wrong. I don’t care about his Galway girl or his Lego house and if he’s thinking out loud, then you can bet I’m not listening. On top of it all, he has the look of a ginger potato. Despite my years, I simply don’t understand young Sheeran and his appeal.

Mumford and Sons however, are even more of a puzzle to me. What I like to call, ‘another level of Eh?’ A riddle, wrapped in a puzzle, coated in a conundrum and deep fried in bemusement. There can be no other verdict than the undeniable fact that they are shite. Two paragraphs ago I stated that I’d gladly listen to people’s explanations of them: I’d like to retract that. Mumford and Sons are not only beyond my comprehension, they’re beyond explanation. I’m no officianado, but when a band are not only exclusively made up members of the landed gentry, but all called things like Rufus and Hugo, you and I shouldn’t be listening. We should be actively protesting against them. So enough, of this; I’m off to make a placard. ‘What do we want! Mumford OUT! When do we want it? FIVE YEARS AGO!’

The final thing that I don’t understand, and the thing that actually prompted this particular blog is a little bit left field. Gregg Wallace’s smile on Masterchef. Or, given that he’s not a totally seperate entity when he’s away from that show, just Gregg Wallace’s smile.

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Look again folks. That’s not actually the real Gregg Wallace.

“I’m not here to mock him or to get a few cheap laughs.”

Now, don’t get me wrong with this one. This isn’t a cheap shot at Gregg Wallace, who you could describe as a bit of an easy target. Despite certain things I’ve read – the ‘Greg?’ tweet to the army veteran stands out and he seems to be regularly annoying young women – I’ve got no problem with him. I’ve watched him on Masterchef and other programmes and he seems OK to me. And in terms of his smile, I’m not here to mock him or to get a few cheap laughs. I’m really not a fan of my own smile and regularly have to make myself laugh for the camera in order to not spoil family photographs. I genuinely feel like the bloke who forgot how to smile. So, I have no reason to start mocking Mr Wallace and his grin. I just don’t understand it.

Gregg Wallace’s smile is just a bit weird. In fact, it’s a lot weird. I’m sure it’s a genuine expression of joy and happiness, but is anyone’s smile meant to take up half of their face? Gregg’s does. Not only that, but his smile makes his shoulders scrunch right up and his eyes shrink, like he’s got terrible cramp. And let’s get this straight; he’s smiling, not laughing. His smile could mark him out as some kind of evil genius – it’s the smile of a deranged Bond villain, as far as I can see. When he smiles his knees seem to buckle and he visibly bends. It’s like that bit in old cartoons where the character takes the ‘villain potion’ and then starts to change dramatically, frame by frame and in overly jerky movements, into something green and evil looking.

“…you cannot unsee Gregg’s smile.”

I’ve watched on Masterchef as a contestant tells him what it is they’re cooking and Gregg will react by telling them something typically non committal like ‘Good luck’ and then positively explode into the kind of smile that might indicate he’s lost control of all bodily functions. It’s effortless, while in fact employing seemingly every fibre of his being and I’m fascinated. Gregg Wallace’s smile is like a dance move. I have to really concentrate in order to smile. I dread having my photograph taken and have often, on the quiet, been known to practice smiling in my bathroom mirror, such is my hatred of what it does to my face. Gregg Wallace’s smile though, is nothing short of a tour de force, like no smile you’ll ever see again. In fact, I’m sure that scientists, really clever ones as well, would confirm that once you’ve seen it you cannot unsee Gregg’s smile. It will never be forgotten and will in fact erase something really useful from your mind in order to just sit there and crop up for you from time to time.

Gregg Wallace’s smile is less smile and more chemical reaction and despite my advancing years, my descent into middle age and my many moons of learning, I simply don’t understand it.

So there we have it. Turns out I did grow older, but didn’t manage to acquire that much wisdom. Not enough to stop me wandering around daily, pondering the kind of things you ‘ve just read about. And certainly not enough to be able to explain Mumford and Sons, rollercoasters or the bloke off Masterchef’s mega-smile without my head hurting.

 

 

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