Honestly, explaining where babies come from is the easy bit..!

rude_rat

I think I have most of the attributes that go towards good parenting. I make up fun bedtime stories, know where we keep the plasters, let them win at board games, fake interest in their PokemonGo progress, drive them to school in the mornings, help with the homework and bounce with them on the trampoline. I am hard when I need to, soft when I should be and always, without fail, up for a cuddle. What I am no good at, and have been dreading since their birth, is explaining where babies come from.

I had hoped the subject would come up when their mother was about and I was in the garage, or away, or out of the house. I had managed to avoid the initial preamble quite well, the standard ‘you came from you mummies belly’ had worked for a number of years. But then forces beyond my control started to up the pace of my son’s questioning. It began when he came to me with ‘Lizzie’, his pet lizard, cupped in his hands, a look of worry on his face. ‘Dad’, he said ‘I am worried about her, she’s all squishy and spongy.’ I felt her abdomen and he was right, something wasn’t right at all. We put her onto the table so we could inspect her some more and she immediately flattened her body, arched her head upwards and started lifting her feet one after the other. We both just stared as one by one, little white eggs started popping out. ‘That isn’t poop for sure’ commented my son before charging off to alert the rest of the family that they should all come quickly to see. The eggs survived a night before Lizzy ate them but this had opened up a whole new world of questioning. How had she gotten pregnant? How long had she been pregnant? And where do babies come from exactly? I was lucky in a way as the sexual antics of a reptile are a fair way off from humans, so explaining things felt easy at this point and thanks to Google we all learned things without me having to draw a willy. But I was to be tested just a few weeks later when the rabbit decided to give birth as well. An egg is one thing but a baby rabbit is an altogether tougher subject. Our rabbits spend most days humping each other and how we laugh at their antics, I’d never considered trying to explain why our furry pets jumped on each other’s backs to the children, the pet shop had told us they’d been sterilised so I never gave much concern that their constant attempts would lead anywhere so we always said they were just playing about having some fun. Now we had a problem. Now it looked like I was going to have to draw a willy after all. I hoped the burden of explaining sex would fall to the school and checked the class syllabus in the hope that it was coming up soon. No luck, it wasn’t due until next term and the lady of the house was firm in her belief that on most jobs, most, if not all things and subjects family related, she has the final say. Vagina’s, semen, where things get stuck, who does the sticking and why, would most definitely be my job and mine alone. Reluctantly I got my pencils out, opened my sketch pad and began my introduction.

I will skip the detail, it’s enough to say I felt my class was a success and not as embarrassing as I had thought, although as an illustrator my willy drawings were pretty rubbish. Job done now let’s go hit the trampoline.

So a month or so passes and my son comes rushing into the lounge urging me to come quickly to see what Snouty, our pet rat, was up to. We have two rats, both male and both incredible pets. Friendly, playful and always doing things that make me realise how clever they are. I can spend ages watching them play, watching them eat and enjoy their fearless curiosity as they explore their world in my office. So I was interested to see what was happening to excite my son so much. I wish now I had been somewhere else, anywhere, but not in the house!

We found Snouty sat like a human, his back legs in front, his bottom on the floor, like he was sat in a chair. Very funny position indeed. But shockingly, looking closer it was clear he had his willy in his hand and was giving it right good tugging. I thought explaining the act of sex was hard work and my basic sex education class had wrapped up any further explanations but I was wrong, my mind was now racing about how to explain masturbation. And what is a rat doing bloody well masturbating anyway! Snouty made the whole thing doubly complicated when his dexterity enabled him to reach down and pop his willy into his mouth. Things went further pear shaped as by now my daughter had joined us and, on witnessing this act of self-fellatio, decided mummy should come and see, we should take a photo and tell everyone else we ever meet what we had witnessed because it was for them, the funniest thing they had ever seen. I failed as a parent at that point, I was overcome by inaction, and from nowhere, out popped their devices to video and photograph our rat having a bit of a self indulgence. The rat was totally unconcerned at all the attention and carried on enjoying himself, only stopping when he reached climax. That gave us all pause for thought and for a moment there was complete silence and we all started, mouth open at what was going on before the children burst into giggles and started asking me what had just happened.

I had managed to dodge questions about a lizard laying eggs, joke away humping rabbits and stumbled a little when the baby rabbit appeared, but now I feared I had a difficult task ahead of me to explain not only a masturbating, willy sucking rat but one that quite happily ejaculates onto his own stomach! Before they had time to bring up the questions I knew were coming, I declared it was time we hit the trampoline and ran off like a madman!

Cleverness is something that rubs off…

clever_mouse

I will clarify firstly that although the title is true, it doesn’t relate to me in that even being surrounded by a host of clever people, I am still as daft as a brush and in the ‘thick as a brick’ category, I am the odds on favourite to win. The children coming home with gold stars, ‘A’ pluses in their SATS and shining in their Spelling Bees gives me pride but I look at their maths homework like they ask, then cloud over after a few seconds before making my excuses and disappearing off to the far less challenging subject of finding a lightbulb to change. No, their cleverness hasn’t rubbed off onto me. It has however, rubbed off onto one of the family pets though, the mouse of all things.

We took a long vacation over the summer and on our return, having collected all the animals, my son sets about giving them all a cuddle. The mouse, she got some extra special attention and gets to play in my sons overgrown locks of hair. All fun and lovey. All smiles and giggles. Then the mouse leaps onto the sofa, off the sofa onto my daughter’s lap, off her lap onto the floor and under the sofa. That’s the last anyone has seen of her for the past four months. Since taking up residence in the sofa I have dutifully left out food and water for her and spent hours fruitlessly constructing a myriad of humane devices in an attempt to catch her. But it seems my efforts have been wasted as she manages to outwit each and every trap I set. Each morning I check the trap and each morning the bait has gone. Trap one was a bucket. A ramp led up the bucket and over the top was a thin wooden dowel running through a cylinder that had a tasty grape glued on with some raspberry jam. The theory was simple, she climbs the ramp, walks onto the cylinder, the cylinder rotates around the dowel and she slips off into the bucket. Nope, it didn’t work. She managed to get the food though. So maybe she was managing to jump out of the bucket. Okay, the next version of the trap used a deeper bucket. Still a nope. The design went through various modifications, all failures as after three weeks of hunting it was always the same, empty trap, food gone.

The next design employed a counterbalanced bit of stiff cardboard with the bait perched on the end. Think of it like walking the plank but the plank is not fixed. So once your weight goes over the point of balance, into the bucket you fall. Even after numerous fine tuning and tweaking, the bait was gone but there was no trapped mouse.

So after a few weeks the family are finding this rather amusing and weirdly routing for the mouse. The clever ones sticking together it appears.

A complete rethink had me build a new trap. She obviously has the balancing skills of a squirrel so my next trap aimed to beat her through deception of a more cerebral kind and used a plastic water bottle with the top half hinged with a couple of cocktail sticks and some rubber bands. The lid was connected to a pin in the base by some string and on the end of the pin was a grape. She pulls the grape, this pulls the pin, the pin releases the string and the rubber bands snap the bottle closed. A+ in geography children, paa! Come here and check out the genius that is your daddy. The following morning the bait is gone. Version two used stronger bands and I trimmed the hinge a little so the whole device was more sensitive. Nope.

The wise here would simply suggest I purchase a proper humane trap and stop wasting so much effort. And that is exactly what my wiser better half did. Unlike me, she didn’t spend half her waking life working on trap designs and the other half in the garage building them. She just went onto Amazon and bought one. I reckon the plan was to give it to me for Christmas but seeing my frustrations made it became an early gift, partly to stop me feeling bad that a field mouse had managed to outsmart me I suspect. The design was good, a trapdoor actuated by a small bar the mouse would step on as it moved towards the bait. A fraction of the size of my traps and visually far exceeding my chunky, blu-tac, masking tape and glue efforts. But it didn’t work. She took the bait and the trapdoor was closed but it was empty of any rodent. The next day we knew she was just having a laugh with us, food was gone and this time the trapdoor was left opened. Like the scene from Spy Kids, she had stepped over all the lasers and simply walked in then walked off with the booty.

It will soon be five months now that she’s been teasing me. A clever mouse in a clever family where it would appear the only one with the brain the size of a rodent isn’t actually the rodent, it’s me. And to further rub salt into my wound of inadequacy, the light I changed now isn’t working. So when you suggest someone is so stupid they couldn’t even change a lightbulb. You’re referring to me.

Maslow got it wrong, he never considered the rise of the ‘all you can eat buffet’…

chinese_buffet

Years ago I remember my marketing professor introducing us to this chap who, he told us, took some time to look closely at people and their buying habits. This was before they became known as consumers and before anyone had worked out why they consume. Abraham Maslow was his name and he came up with this Hierarchy of Needs concept, suggesting that as one need is satisfied, the next need then needs sorting out. Seems a reasonable sort of assumption, once you’ve got the basics taken care of, you’ll be wanting to top it off with something else, a little luxury maybe. But back in Abe’s time, no one had come up with the idea of the Chinese Buffet.

My children, their friends and everyone else, judging by how busy and how many of these places there are, can’t get enough of them. Here’s why. You pay to enter then proceed to eat and drink as much as you wish. We don’t go too often, weekends when we do, as they don’t open till 8.30 which puts us way past the children’s school day bedtimes. So if they’ve behaved well all week, they earn a late pass and can choose between a late night movie or a family binge out at the Buffet. After accidentally letting them watch ‘Saw V’ for a few minutes my 11 year old now has a comfort blanket and sleeps with the light on, so movie night has no appeal whatsoever anymore meaning the buffet option is the predictable winner.

Now not to come over all Ebenezer Scrooge like, I see this family event as a bit of a challenge, rather like at the BBQ’s the school throws during the summer months where my sole aim is to consume and drink the equivalent of that terms school fees, at the Chinese Buffet, it’s the families obligation to aim to eat the cost of entry. So if the entry is 20 Euros per person, a chicken and chips supper cooked at home would come to say 4 Euros meaning we’d need to eat 5 of them each and, to then get the value I’m expecting, we’d need to each eat one more. Obviously 5 chicken and chip suppers is a bit silly, where’s the variety, but you get the gist. Our Buffet of choice has a wide choice, from most things that live in the oceans, most edible land animals and every food group known to man. There’s a chef who’ll fry it, grill it, boil it or bake it any way you like. You can go Asian, Mediterranean, British and all styles and flavours in between. For refreshment you have beer on tap, with and without alcohol, the entire Coca Cola portfolio, a choice of hot drinks and of course water. For dessert you can go mad with all manner of cakes, buns, ice-cream and sprinkles, yoghurts, fruits and my favourite, spray on whipped cream!!

With dates known a few days in advance, if all goes well and my little ones don’t end up on the naughty step, we have time to starve ourselves in preparation to ensure the objective of eating as much as we possibly can is achieved. I can offer some timely advice at this point to those keen to follow, advice which if learnt the hard way, like me, only ends in disappointment. Do not start your fasting too early as you will end up taking a snack, that snack will be something like a few bars of chocolate with a tasty caramel filling, more than a few generous handfuls of peanuts and a family sized bag of cheese and onion crisps. Nope, peak too early and you will not be able to eat anything like your 5 chicken and chip suppers. The trick is to begin fasting just a couple of days before and ask your good lady to hide or lock away sweets, chocolates and snacks leaving just some fruit and vegetables to nibble on.

The Buffet owners are well aware that people of my type are numerous and their business model is designed to ensure me and a boatload of capable eaters do not strip their margins. One way they achieve this is to set up shop in the equivalent of a warehouse, fill it with more seating than a football stadium and decorate it in the cheapest ways possible. Ambiance is not a word that pops up in their business plan, dining and experience are also absent. But those words aren’t in my head at all either, “I could eat a horse” and “let me in, I am starving” are though.

We take our table and draw straws to see who gets to mind the coats and bags (oddly always me), then everyone makes a bee-line for their starter of choice. My daughter comes back with a bucket full of muscles, my son comes back with one plate of fries, a plate piled high with noodles, 5 spring roles a side of stacked gherkins and a pile of king prawns. I wipe away a tear I am that proud. My better half, never sticking to the programme and refusing to join in what she calls ‘silly’ returns with a bowl of salad. If the truth be known, she doesn’t really like this type of place, her argument being that any establishment that takes away your plate but leaves your knife and fork is just not right. She comes along to keep us in line and acts as the designated driver.

Round 1 very much goes in our favour I think. A total entry cost of 53 Euros and, by my rough calculations, we’ve munched our way through 21 Euros worth so far. My daughter goes freestyle for her next round mixing a selection of coated fruit slices from the chocolate fountain, a plate of king prawns, sliced ham and some fries. My son puts a lump to the back of my throat, returning with a few large steaks, chunks of garlic bread, more prawns, more fries, a burger and some hot chillies. The good lady opts for some salmon, grilled with lemon and some rice. But not to worry, even without her active participation we have all but covered our costs by the end of our 4th collective visit to the food counters. Drink has been a major contributor to our success as I believe I am on my tenth large beer by now and my selfies are starting to attract stares and ‘tuts’ from fellow diners.

Fellow diners, that’s a odd term. Males usually, carrying multiple plates stacked to overflowing with food. I once saw one who must have had an entire ribcage on his plate, a whole lobster on another plate balanced on top and above that a medley of octopus leg looking things, in his other hand he held two plates of stacked fries with a cheese burger perched on each. If I had a pen and if he had had a free hand, I would have shook it and got an autograph. It’s the males again who seem to be constantly pouring beer from the tap whilst the women tend to gravitate towards the water cooler and the lighter, healthier choices. I have seen some monstrous eating from some women for sure, but on the whole, it is the men who do the heavy lifting.

By the end of the evening, the end being decided by a now fed up and embarrassed wife who’s been kindly stacking our plates and cups (seriously, they don’t have glasses, just wax paper cups) really gives us a feel for our accomplishments that evening. “Dad,” says my son, “I don’t think that pile of plates would fit in our dishwasher’. I agree, there is at least two machine full loads there, not even counting the plates they had to take away to give us room.

In three short hours we have consumed our entire entry fee and then some. I am happy, the bargain hunter in me has succeeded. But the rise and rise of these places worries me. Not only will they overtake the Burger King’s of the world as a way of instantly feeding the children, they’ll add to our obesity crisis, the fishing grounds will be all but wiped out, more forests will fall to make way for more grazing land and my beer belly will cast a wider shadow until seeing my feet becomes a memory. We are no longer just satisfying a need then moving to the next, Maslow was wrong. We are exploiting our needs, they can never be satisfied, we don’t know when to stop. A sad thought that haunted me as I was helped into a standing position by some guests who knew the score all too well. Sure we had beaten the buffet, but the cost was high physically. I had eaten my body weight, had drunk a barrel, maybe more, standing was a struggle, moving near, impossible.

However there is a positive. With no need to eat at all for the next few days, we have saved a small fortune. There’s no reason for the weekly shop which means no need to fire up our dishwasher for a bit. Now, where did she hide the snacks..?

The morning battle and why I no longer take part…

school run

Normal people seek out a car park. Normal people open their wallets, feed the machine, press the button and take a ticket. In our neck of the woods though, that’s not the way to go about things as everyone simply refuses having to pay to park, especially if they think they are only going to be 10 minutes. The local council doesn’t want to build any more car parks, it’s a wasted investment. See, build a free car park and you’ll never get your investment back, build a pay one and you’ll never get your investment back, don’t build one and you get to keep what you would have invested. Instead, the council used this ‘investment’ to promote itself and attract more tax paying businesses by offering them a money saving deal. Build your offices here and we’ll possibly, though probably not, enforce the health and safety regulations regarding how many toilets per person you need to provide, but we’ll certainly not enforce any regulations regarding how many car parking spaces you need to have. So build an office for 500 people, create maybe just 50 parking spots and let your remaining employees fend for themselves along with those who work in the other 100 office blocks that took advantage of the local council’s ill considered offering.

Throw in a few schools within this same built up commercial area, all pretty big ones with 400 to 500 pupils for each one. Site them on single lane roads, a few on a one way road and in the middle put two car parks, both free. Now, around here, a free car park is more attractive than a Supermodel on a nude beach and therefore more crowded than said beach. Let’s do the maths. Six schools, 500 pupils each, say 2 children per car, what’s that..? Around 1,500 cars dropping the kids off. Then add in the workforce, that’s another 2,000 cars give or take. A conservative guesstimate therefore gives us 3,500 cars, in a rush, all aiming for pretty much the same point at pretty much the same time. Add in that each of them is more important than anyone else so ‘giving way’ or leaving space for anyone is the job of the car behind, not them.

Two lane roads, some roundabouts, pedestrian crossings and a couple of residential rat runs. That pretty much lays out the landscape for you. Now add in a whole pile of drivers with the observation skills of a cricket bat, the temper of a rudely woken hibernating bear, no regard for traffic signs or speed limits and no idea what an indicator is for. Hold that image for a bit… Just as you’re convinced a Spanish driver can no longer completely shock you with their insane lack of driving ability, they show just how inept they really can be by, having arrived at their destination, parking.

In France they call it the ‘French kiss’. This describes the little touches their bumpers make to the cars parked in front and behind as they parallel park. In Spain it’s more like a ‘fist’. Along the same lines as the French only the space doesn’t have to be big enough for your car when you start the manoeuvre as it will be plenty big enough when you’ve finished. Rather than look over your shoulder to get a feel for distance, you wait until point of impact. Add in lack of clutch control with a heavy throttle foot and you can start to see why car repair businesses do well out here. I read a local magazine where the editor was recounting an afternoon sat in a Marbella café watching some chap park his car. He said the minor damage inflicted on the other car was just that, minor, so other Europeans should just relax a little and take the Spanish attitude towards parking, less stress. He may have a point. But I’d guess he doesn’t have a very nice, nor very expensive car and hasn’t considered why Spanish insurance is stratospheric.

Remember the car parks..?  two of them, both free, one with space for 200, the other with space for 100. Creative parking means a car park with 100 painted bays will fit 200 cars even allowing for those special people who take two bays by parking at a silly angle, so 400 cars are sorted. 3,100 to go. Street parking is all double or treble parked, no-parking zones are full, roundabouts are full and so are the pavements. Even the little park has been commandeered. What was once grass is now just mud and ruts, what were newly planted trees are now dead flattened sticks and what was once the pathway itself is now the entrance. A bit of a squash but everyone is in. At some point you’d have thought the Police would come along and do something, get people to show some consideration. They do turn up but what they do is just stand in the middle of the pedestrian crossing and stop traffic so those parked in the big car park can cross the road. Not issue tickets or have a bit of a chat to those parked badly or those blocking the exits, or blocking the pavements or double parked. No, they do the job of the ‘Lollypop Lady’. And even though the pedestrian crossing is traffic light controlled they just stand on the crossing furiously blowing their whistles, stopping cars with the flat of their hand when the light is red, waving everyone across when the little green man appears. Which I thought was the whole point of traffic lights anyway!  And the whistle they endlessly blow has no effect on the drivers, they’re sat in their tin boxes listening to music, it’s me and my ears that suffer being stood right next to them. And they have no effect at all, the traffic still does not flow, how can it when PC Plod has just whistled at a bus to move forwards onto the roundabout where it now has to stop which then blocks those crossing from the other side.

Look around and not surprisingly, you’ll find the Police car parked illegally on the pavement itself. If the Police don’t give a rats about where they park, just as long as it is close enough so they don’t have far to walk, and can’t be bothered to start handing out a few fines, why should anyone else worry. Heaven forbid if the police started doing their job and did a bit of towing and ticketing, the locals would kick up a fuss about the parking, the local council would hear about this and maybe, just maybe, the businesses and schools would be forced to contribute to the problem they are mostly responsible for. And pigs might fly. To take the absurdity of things further, the main car park has recently been developed into a residential home. We lose 200 parking spots and the development attracts another 100 cars to the morning jolly.

Me, I have retired from this daily battle. Instead I drive my troop close to the school then we get out and walk. It’s only a 2km stroll, takes less than 10 minutes, wakes us up, gives me some exercise and parking is easy. Okay it’s a pain in the rain and the cold is cold but I kind of enjoy it now. I enjoy watching the frustrated drivers peering ahead trying to see what the delay is, which of course is the same thing that delayed them yesterday, the day before yesterday and every day before that. I smile at the irony of the boxed-in parents angrily blowing their horns in the hope it will attract the attention of the now empty cars boxing them in when only yesterday, they were the one’s doing the boxing-in. And here’s the funny thing, on a normal day, walking is usually faster.

A reminder to keep you gate shut…

Man stood next to compost pileThe other day we had a dog wander into the garden. It wasn’t a stray, it looked healthy, was excited to play with me and chase a ball, enjoyed a biscuit or two but had no collar or identity tag. This is pretty normal, having a dog in Spain is not like having a pet in the true sense of the word. It’s rather something for the children to keep them occupied. Owners by law must have their dogs ‘chipped’ but never seem to bother with an id tag giving a phone number, so unless you’re inclined to make the journey to a vet, finding the owner can be difficult. Owners rarely make sure the garden is ‘dog proof’ and in my experience, care little for the animals themselves, usually leaving them in the garden whilst they go to work. So they often manage to find a way just wander off and either get run over or end up in our garden because someone, not me I might add, always seems to leave our gate open.

Anyway, we called security and told them we have got someones dog in our garden, gave a pretty good description and suggested they come round and take it away somewhere safe until the owners can be found. We wait, wait some more, and wait a bit more. By now, it’s getting dark, the dog wont go, we try but instead he just follows us around, if we go out the gate he comes along for the walk but follows us back in and ends up sitting on our front doorstep. My little ones come home from school, fall in love immediately, ask if we can keep him and spend an hour having fun with their new playmate. Later they suggest he needs feeding, the dog must be hungry it’s been here all day after all. Not being dog owners, we obviously have no dog food in the house, so with two excitable little children both wanting to feed the dog, good old dad jumps in the car and pops down to the supermarket to buy a tin of dog food.

I pick up two cans, a packet of dog biscuits and head to the checkout. A bit of a line because there is only one till open, even though they have 5 tills. Still, no big issues for me as the people in front seem to be like me, carrying just a handful of things and the person being checked out has almost been processed. In and out in less than five minutes.

No, a heaving and a grunting from the aisle behind eventually reveals a tired looking bloke pushing a trolley, a trolley so full, it is actually bending and swaying and its shadow is blocking out the special lighting that’s supposed to make crap old vegetables look like freshly picked vegetables. Poor chap. No, poor me, the woman in front of me has been holding their place in the line. A cunning plan for them to avoid wasting their precious time actually waiting in the line itself. Thank you very bloody much. I expect them to suggest I go in front considering I only have three things in my hand. No. This is Spain, I must wait my turn. However, from people standing too close to me at cashpoint machines, I know how to do the ‘stare’. It’s a warning stare, a stare you do not want to mess with, a stare that says, ‘back off’, ‘beware’, ‘don’t mess with the likes of me’. So I do my best ‘you are going to die’ stare.  And although it fails with fat mum and dad and small army of children with  a full years shopping for microwave food and just add water snacks and a small chocolate hillock in their trolley, it worked with the girl at the checkout who quickly tells me to move in front and she’ll have me through the till. I am not sure if it is someone up there looking after me or someone up there is looking after the Grizzly Adams family, as I swear, if the ‘stare’ hadn’t worked, I would have shoved the dog food into his fat ugly face and tipped his trolley onto the floor.

So, back home, I find out the dog has gone. Walked off all on its own apparently. My saddened son desperately wants to feed it so we have to go out looking for it and after the effort it took buying the stuff, I too want the damned thing to eat it! We’re wandering the estate when security drive past, they stop and ask us if we’re the people who called about the dog. Mr. Big Ego with his gun and badly fitting uniform gets out, leans against the car and explains that the owners have been worried sick, looking for it all afternoon and wanted to know why we didn’t call security earlier. I explained to the security guard that we did indeed make the call, six or seven hours ago and that it’s not my job to help people who can’t be bothered to buy an identity tag for their dog and if they leave their gates open or don’t fence in their yard properly, what right have they to moan when they finally discover where it is, they should be thankful it’s alive. In fact, I should charge them for ‘dog sitting’ or at least the cost of the ‘lost dog’ posters they would have ended up having to get photocopied and stuck on lamp-posts in the area. I go on to explain how lucky the owners are the dog gravitated to our garden, where, being a family of dog lovers, we take care of lost looking furry animals like they are our own. He agrees. But then suggested that complaining about people leaving their gate open when we’d left ours open was a bit rich and asks where the dog is. Not exactly sure I reply. It’s run off…

The next stray animal that comes into our garden I will simply shoot it before the children come home from school, bury it in the compost heap and be done with it!

I am an Internet Failure…

internet failure

I see Facebook friends of mine with hundreds of ‘friends’, thousands of likes and countless ‘funny’ posts showing dogs in superhero suits and cats that look like Hitler. On twitter, someone I once had a fight with over a girl we both fancied has 600 people following him and all he does is give his opinion, in Olde Worlde English, on Manchester United football matches. I lost the fight but got the girl. She ‘chucked’ me a few weeks later though. Some celebrities have millions of followers and from what I can see, they all pretty much say the same thing, especially if anyone remotely famous or important drops dead. One celebrity tweeted a photo of the food they were about to eat, then later tweeted the photo of their empty plate… This got something like 2000 re-tweets. I see videos on YouTube with millions, some with hundreds of millions of views, usually they are little less than a pet doing something cute or funny, someone falling over, something exploding using vinegar or pranks made on the unsuspecting. Yet they go viral, get lots of shares, endless comments and make their creators famous enough to end up with a slot presenting some daft cable TV show.

I needed to get myself a slice of this pie. Reading through all the posts and tweets and looking at selfies and photo-bombs and knowing now what ‘planking’ really is, I set about my quest for internet glory, internet fame and the riches that would follow. Soon I too would be mourning the loss of some fellow celebrity as if I knew them personally and I too would be tweeting a photo of my lunch.

For weeks on end I grabbed clip after clip of our children doing their thing. My post production was, I felt, on a par with Hollywood, the titles amazing, the effects I humbly suggest were nothing less than stunning, imovie had liberated my creative juices, Garage Band had given me the musical talent of Eddie Van Halen and now YouTube would give my video an audience of millions and fans a plenty. 4 months after posting my mini-feature, I have had 4 views, 1 like (thanks Dad), no comments and no shares. Facing such humiliation was hard, but I continued my efforts. With the upgraded imovie, my second attempt would harness ‘stop-frame’ technology, high definition and now, Facebook linking to capture those elusive millions. And, having studied in-depth what was trending, I just knew that me falling off my bicycle would be an overnight success. This time I fared better, 2 likes (thanks Dad and thanks Auntie Mimi), 9 views and one offensive comment that I had to delete rather quickly. All this in just a few days. The snowball had started rolling, momentum was growing… The following week YouTube administrators took it down for music copyright infringement. It turns out that copying an Eddie Van Halen track using Garage Band is really not a talent after all.

My burping rabbit clip didn’t rock the world either. It did mark my entry into double digits though. 11 views.

I decided the time and effort of making videos was too much, but as I had finally dipped my toes into the Facebook world it seemed logical to pursue this further. It would even remind people when my birthday was due so they could send me their greetings without any effort or expense. After being happy with just my normal quota of 5 or 6 Birthday cards each year for the past ten years, having my inbox full of Birthday well wishing would boost my self esteem no end. I now have 30 friends, 20 of whom I vaguely remember from school, 4 whom I really don’t know at all, of the remaining 6, I live with 1 of them and speak to the others most weeks anyway. My most popular post (a cat that looked like Hitler) managed to be viewed by a feeble 120. And to put salt on the wound, someone then posted the very same picture to my timeline, and they managed to get over 15,000 views. On my birthday, only 6 people posted well wishes, one just saying I should go away and die, so really then, only 5. Still, being positive, that’s a 100% increase on the previous year.

My Linked-In efforts made a poor showing as well, 60 connections consisting mostly of my Facebook ‘friends’. Deviant Art is no better, 2 followers, 3 comments (by a strange coincidence, one just said ‘go away and die’), Dare I mention Twitter… No. I have just 1 follower who stopped following me after just a few days.

And so it can be said, with a certain conviction, that my overall social standing in the online social world is that of a social outcast. If there were an award for online failure, I would be the winner. “Unfortunately Mr. No-mates can’t be here to collect his award tonight and we couldn’t find any friends to accept it on his behalf, so moving swiftly along…” Billions upon billions surf the web, yet only a handful seem to find me. And statistically, of the handful that have found me and made an effort to comment, 46% of them want me to go away and die.

Knowing how unpopular or unimportant I am online is of no significance though. It doesn’t really reflect anything to do with my real life. I do have friends, not many I admit, but they are real, physically close when I need them and genuine. My family love me and those who know me know there is more to me than a few rubbish videos and photos of cats looking like Hitler. The most important well wishes on my Birthday come from the four most important people in my life and their spoken ‘likes’ and ‘comments’ on what I do or say are worth far more than any online ones. The truth is, I don’t really care about my failure to socially network online because I am not really aiming for online success. I thought I was but actually, Facebook, Twitter, Deviant Art, You Tube and all these things are just distractions I wander into as and when the mood takes me and time allows.

Most online ‘likes’ are worthless, most ‘comments’ are baseless and growing ‘followers’ has little true relevance unless you’re a celebrity selling your ghostwritten book. Knowing that you’ve stopped off at Starbucks and looking at the photo of your coffee and bun you’ve kindly posted leaves me in little doubt that the social network is beyond help and I am better off not worrying about being an active part of it.

I need to find myself a time-machine.

time machine

It was my son’s 10th birthday, him reaching double digits, him really coming of age, him just being him and us loving him more and more for it. Don’t you just love those times that you know are memories being made that you’ll cherish and hold forever. We had a great party. Go-karting with some of his mates followed by a massive water-pistol fight by the pool followed by two hours non-stop mayhem in the water. It was a great afternoon and a great evening with the other mums and dads who’ve grown close over the years. It was as near perfect as perfect could get. If the day were a pole dancer, after her first shift wiggling and wobbling, her thong would be full of crisp fifties. If it were a golfer it would be his second hole and the second hole-in-one of the day. Then the ducks died.

I’ve lost pets in my childhood and I can say that I don’t really handle death very well. The fact it was so sudden, the fact it was both of them and the fact that it was during a party all just made it the more unbearably sad for me and totally heartbreaking for the children. Tears flowed, questions with no possible answers were raised and in the first real moment of utter sadness my son experiences, all I can do is hug him and try to stop him seeing I too am crying, crying not only because our little ducks touched us in a special way, but because his sadness is just too much for me. I tried to think how my parents coped with my tears when we lost the dog or the guinea pig climbed those steps up to the pearly gates. But I just couldn’t remember. Just 10 years into parenthood and I am feeling out of my depth and unable to support him like a father should. I know we are only talking about a couple of ducks, but they weren’t just ducks, they were our couple of ducks, they were family. This then makes me worried for when the rabbit meets her maker or dare I think, when we end up with the dog they all so constantly hassle me for… How will I ever deal with that popping its clogs? He slept with us that night. I slept little, still trying to come up with answers that may help what was going to be a difficult Sunday. I failed in that as well and all day it was tears, hugs, more tears and more hugs. I felt crap, helpless and so completely useless.

Later that day we began digging the grave at the bottom of the garden and to help distract from the gloom of our task, we began discussing what tree or shrub we should buy to mark and remember them. As it happens, the spot where we were digging was near the road and passing cars can be seen and heard a ways off, so having decided we would look for a yellow flowering bush, we began seeing if we could guess what car was coming by just listening to the exhaust notes. I reckoned I could spot any BMW 3 series manufactured between 2002 and 2010, he boasted of a pitch perfect ear for Volvo 4×4’s and any Ferrari. The next car he correctly guessed was a Volvo, my guess proved wrong, the Ford Focus most obviously had a blown exhaust as on any other day, I would not have made such a mistake. The hole was a good size when a throaty roar filled the still afternoon, it grew louder and went higher up the scale as the driver began accelerating. “That’s a Ferrari” he shouted as he ran to the fence. And sure enough, around the bend came a lovely Ferrari, trademark red, it passed us, crested the hill and turned into our road. “It’s coming here!” he screamed with excitement. And indeed it was. Earlier, a friend who owns a Ferrari had suggested that taking our son out for a spin in the car would be a super thrill and a treat to really finish off the celebrations. We also knew it would help lift his spirit. Boy did it work. The tears dried up, the smile came back and his face lit up in anticipation of a chance to go for a ride in such a stunning looking and sounding car. Roof down, engine singing, off he went with me capturing the moment on film.

I decided to wander up the road, I wanted to get some footage of the car coming back. So, with a cup of coffee I settled myself down on the verge and waited. And waited. I’ll add at this point that the car had only just come into the country, it wasn’t registered, was uninsured and had no tax, so it could only be driven around the estate. It’s certainly not a small estate but after twenty minutes, I was getting a little concerned. Twenty five minutes later a car pulls up, the window rolls down and out pops my sons head with a big grin on his face. “We crashed!” he shouts out the window. In disbelief I hear how the rear wheel spun up on a corner causing it to oversteer, which was overcorrected causing the whole car to spin into the golf club fence, knocking that all over and coming to a halt in the ditch. I went to their house later to look at the damage. Every panel was scratched, dented and needing some kind of repair, the wing mirrors were damaged, light clusters broken, runners buckled and I’d have guessed you’d be looking at a complete respray. An expensive car to buy, but a real expensive car to fix. I felt the pain. My son though, with a grasp of economics based on the market price of fizzy sweets, saw not a financial nightmare but a wild adventure park ride where they didn’t check your height and you got the front seat. The accident had made the ride quite simply the best thing ever and if he could do it again, he would.

It didn’t end there. Stupidity and his mates clouded my mind that day for sure as I had the most daft idea that it would be a good idea to nip over to the security office at the estate entrance and ask them if we could have a copy of the CCTV footage. Both my son and I thought that having the crash on film would give everyone hours of laughter, not right now maybe, but certainly in a few years. After all, how often can you say you’ve been in a prang in a Ferrari and have a copy on film to show everyone. See where my mind was going on this..? Well security said they couldn’t give us the footage, they said the cameras weren’t on. Yet as we drove off we could see the security guards hunching over the computers searching and scanning the footage to see for themselves a Ferrari being binned.

A short time later we get a call from the Ferrari owner. He was concerned and worried, he’d just driven past the scene of the crash and security were there snapping pictures of the damage. He wanted to know if he should just pretend it hadn’t happened or face up to things, go speak to security and admit fault. Obviously I said ignore it. Which, it turns out, was not only morally wrong but stupidly wrong as entry into the estate is through numberplate recognition cameras, meaning all residents have their cars registered at security. Finding the offending Ferrari would be a piece of ‘birthday’ cake if you’ll excuse the pun. If I had not gone to the security office, they may not have noticed the damaged fence until Monday or maybe later and by then they may have overwritten the CCTV tapes. But like I said, stupidity and his mates seem to visit my head far to often. There is no escape, the cameras I hope make for a more secure life, have him bang to rights, on top of having to fork out the full cost of the repair and respray of the car due to no insurance, he’s certainly going to be landed with a bill to fix all the fence he ripped apart. I can’t let a mate carry the full burden of the fence. Being fairly close to, but not completely devoid of morals, I will have to help in some way.

So happy 10th birthday my most amazing little boy. It’s one we’ll all certainly remember with a mixed bag of feelings and many conflicting emotions. Watching you put the little cardboard coffin in the hole with such care, listening to you say a tearful, final, ‘good-bye’ was both lovely and so incredibly painful. If I could ever have just one wish in life, It wouldn’t be to win the lottery or have a fancy yacht, it would be to go back in time so the ducks wouldn’t have died. But you know, I wouldn’t stop the car accident. Nope, armed with some wire cutters, I’d ‘take out’ the CCTV cameras at the scene, hide myself in the bushes and capture that one particular moment on video.