A fall at the finish…

So, imagine a nine-year-old girl. Let’s say her name is, er… Sillie.

Sillie has an old mobile phone she uses for music and dancing, a little bit of gaming, and to watch videos. Sillie’s phone doesn’t have a SIM card, so she can’t call anyone with it, but otherwise it’s fine.

Then, one day, the battery starts to go- her phone turns off at random and can’t decide whether it’s been charged or not. Sillie’s dad (who’s bloody clever, and a wiz with technology – as well as being really handsome and sexy) flashes a new ROM and buys a new battery, which seems to fix things for a while. But the same problems come back.

Eventually Sillie’s phone is no more and she is sad.

So, Sillie’s clever and handsome dad buys her a used mobile from eBay. This one doesn’t even have a SIM card slot, it’s the Android equivalent of an Apple Touch. He tells Mill – er, Sillie a new phone is coming and she is very happy.

The new phone takes ages to arrive because the delivery company cannot find the address of my – er, Sillie’s dad’s work (they get confused and try to deliver it to a nearby alcohol dependency unit), but Sillie is remarkably patient and grown-up about it.

Until, that is, the day the new phone finally arrives. On that day she goes inexplicably mental at the dinner table, having a tantrum about meal they eat every week.

As a result, the new phone is put away for another three whole days, and Sillie has to be very very good indeed for those three days if she ever wants to see her new phone.

And in other news, Amber has started sleepwalking. An hour or two after bedtime she’ll rejoin us in the living room: walk in without a word, try to scoop an invisible something off the floor, then sit down on the sofa with us.

The first time it happened we waited for her to speak, assuming she’d had a nightmare or something; but no, she sat down without a word, not even waking up when I carried her back up to bed.

It’s rather sweet, actually. :-)

Happy birthday, little Doob!

Happy birthday to not-so-little Amber Grace Carter (“Doob”), who was seven years old yesterday. :-D

Amber Carter reading her birthday cardsYou’d think, wouldn’t you, that by now I’d understand by how excited young children can get about their birthday. But no: twice a year, without fail, I am astonished at the levels of excitement it’s possible to reach.

She was awake at 1.30am on the morning of her birthday, but the Lovely Melanie managed to keep her contained until 6.30 (I can sleep through anything, fortunately…), when she finally caved in, woke me and let Amber open her presents.

Then it was downstairs for a birthday breakfast, and preparation for the big family party.

The day before I was off work (it’s been half-term here), and took the girls swimming. Then, after, I let Amber choose anything she wanted from the Co-Op for her birthday breakfast. She deliberated for about a second and chose chocolate-chip Weetabix – a box of 12.

Birthday dancingThere are still nine of them left today. Amber had one, Millie had one and I had one. No doubt there will be nine left in a month – that’s how impressed everyone was with them.

Chickens, I hope you like chocolate-chip Weetabix!

Then everyone had to get ready for the Strictly Come Dancing-themed party. The Lovely Melanie had been up till 11 o’clock the night before, turning our house into a facsimile of the Strictly studios and baking a pink Strictly cake.

I blew up the balloons.

There was indecision about which new birthday dress to wear – the Frozen dress with the gloves, the Strictly-style ballgown, the old Frozen dress…

I wore the silver shirt I bought for Millie’s Alien party.

Then the guests began to arrive – almost everyone could make it this year: Nanny, Grampy, Grandma, Granddad, Rich, Carla, Izzy, Conny, Ben, Sharon, Nik and Liz. In fact, there were so many people we ran out of tea bags!

Strictly Bexley Come Dancing
Strictly Bexley Come Dancing

Auntie Conny stayed the night, too, which was a nice bonus – we always love having guests to stay in Bexley, especially on birthdays, and the girls press-ganged her into helping them with all the Lego Amber was lucky enough to be bought for her birthday.

The Lovely Melanie joked about even the chickens getting together to lay a birthday egg – and we all laughed, because our chickens don’t, as a rule, lay eggs. But lo and behold, in the coop we found a fresh-laid egg!

And there was another one today. We’re beginning to suspect that Queen Cool was some sort of militant chicken, holding out for better conditions and withholding eggs until the management (i.e. us) gave in to their demands – whatever they were.

With Queen Cool’s death last week (of natural causes), more modern, less radical heads have prevailed and egg production has restarted. We hope!

Awkward conversation

Amber Grace Carter, you are hopeless at speaking on the phone.

You’ve been at Grandma and Granddad’s in Hatfield for the half-term holidays this week, and as much as your mother and I love to hear from you in the evenings you have yet to master telephone etiquette.

Millie has – she’s realised the telephone is an audio-only medium and that you have to speak.  She’ll tell us all about the trip to the cinema, the arts & crafts magazine she bought, who took up all the space in the big bed last night and what is planned for tomorrow.

Millie knows she’s effectively invisible if she’s not speaking.

You, Amber Grace, have an alarming tendency to go very quiet on the phone, so that most conversations consist of us asking “Are you still there, Amber?  Hello?”

Few things are more terrifying for an English person than silence like that in a conversation.

interrogation“Was it something I said?” I ask myself. “Have I offended her? If I haven’t offended her then why is she leaving me hanging like this? Is it some kind of psychological interrogation technique? What does she want me to say? Just tell me what to say!  WHAT DO YOU WANT FROM ME!!!!”

“What?” says Amber, at last, and I can hear Millie in the background saying, “They can’t see you, Amber; you have to talk.”

The legend of our flooring…!

You guys were  lucky, I was on hiatus when the whole flooring saga began back in November 2014, but at least you’re here now, when it may – at last – be nearing its’ denouement!

Our kitchen and dining floor sucked and – hey, wait – come back!  It’s not quite as dull as it sounds…

Anyway, our kitchen and dining room flooring sucks, and in October, following a small windfall, we decided to get it replaced. The adequate kitchen lino was there when we moved here back in 2008. The carpet was replaced back in 2013, when my brother’s in-laws gave some second-hand carpet and my Dad cut and laid it for us.

But…the carpet had not fared well in the dining room, what with dropped food, spilled drinks and a dangerous proximity to the back-door and muddy boots.

We decided to get it done properly and booked CarpetRight to fit us a lovely new wood floor across the entire kitchen and dining room.  They quoted, we agreed; they set a date, we agreed; at the last minute they rang to say they couldn’t come. We sighed. They apologised and gave us a different date.

One guy turned up. Fortunately, he was a very nice guy. Unfortunately, after about 40 minutes he called me downstairs and pointed at a nondescript patch of floor in the kitchen.

Damp, he said. Might break your new flooring, he said.

Might? I asked, Or will?

Can’t say, he said.

What would you recommend, I said.

It might be fine, he said.

Oh, OK, I said.

But might not.

Do it anyway, I said.

Five minutes later he called me down again and pointed an even more nondescript patch in the dining room.

More damp, he said.

Might break your new flooring, he said.

Might? I asked, Or will?

Can’t say, he said.

I signed. What would you recommend?

Might be fine… he said.

Yes…? I said.

But might not.

Do it anyway, I said.

Five minutes later, another call from downstairs.

JUST DO THE BLOODY FLOOR, I didn’t say.

More damp, he said, pointing at the back door. Bad damp. It’ll kill your new flooring inside six months.

What would you recommend, I said.

Needs fixing, he said.

Can you fix it, I said.

No, he said.

Do you know someone who can fix it, I said.

No, he said.

Right, I said.

And so we spent the next three months trying to get just three or four companies to come and look at our damp problem. We eventually managed to persuade three companies to come and give us a quote, which gave us three different explanations, three wildly different prices and three ways to fix it.

In the end, we went with the most expensive – almost three times the price of the simple nice flooring we wanted in our kitchen dining room – because their explanation seemed the most believable, their price the least likely to vary, and their fix sounded most permanent.

Their guy has been here today, seems not-at-all-dodgy and appears to know what he’s talking about. The Lovely Melanie remains convinced they’ll find an unexploded WWII bomb under our dining room (or something equally annoying and expensive to fix) but right now, it seems we might finally have our long-awaited new floor by the weekend.

I hope we do, because it’s Amber’s seventh birthday party on Saturday, and we wouldn’t want that to be spoiled by the kitchen and dining room being off limits, would we?

Vanished City

What isn’t there to love about the South East London Folklore Society? (SELFS, for short).

They meet in a pub (the “blokiest” pub in London Bridge, in fact), are largely populated by bearded gentle souls, the organiser goes by the name Nigel of Bermondsey and sports a very natty line in tweed and moustachery, they meet once a month and talk about…stuff.

Last night’s subject was the “Vanished City; London’s Lost Neighbourhoods” and didn’t disappoint; speaker Tom Bolton talked for an hour about “the most feared neighbourhood in the Western world, London’s first Olympic Park, its first port, the original Grub Street, a high society spa resort, an occult square, a landscape of ancient, mythical kings, a notorious slum, and the streets stalked by the first London serial killer.”

Something for everyone there, wouldn’t you agree?  It was so good, in fact, that I bought Tom’s latest book, The Vanished City.

It was also lovely to meet my friend Claire there, who I’ve seldom seen since sixth form days at Swindon New College.  Isn’t it great when you don’t see someone for many many years and they turn out to be just as nice as you remember?

In other news, Amber’s bedroom has been redecorated – mostly turquoise, no pink, hurrah! – and some good news about my job, in that I am being shared with the Marketing Department once my work dries up in Research & Development next month.

So, probably less chance of redundancy. ;-)

New Eltham to Bexley, on foot

It was time to take a walk on Saturday – a family walk following the River Shuttle from its head in New Eltham to the woods behind our house, in Bexley.

There was a lot of moaning to begin with.

The Lovely Melanie and I thought it was a grand idea, a day out in the open air, getting some exercise, exploring the local area – what’s not to like??  If you’re six or nine years old, apparently just about everything.

To all the young kids who read this blog, keeping up with what the grown-ups are thinking, saying and doing, I say this: don’t slag off your parents ideas for entertainment, it’s terribly demoralising for them.

Kids, you can moan about your sandwiches, moan about the weather, moan about anything except the basic reason you’re out and about. We, your parents or guardians, have gone out of our way to find something fun, affordable and different for you to do; your complaints of boredom and boringness and how boring it is and the boring time you’re having on this boring walk that is so much more boring than any other boring thing in the world? They’re pretty boring, OK?  Especially when we’ve only been walking for five minutes.

Anyway.  We caught the train to New Eltham and set off to follow part of the Green Chain Walk.

The first thing to note is that none of us are experienced walkers.  We might not have a car but that doesn’t mean we’re hobbit-footed wanderers of the roads.  Duh!  London has the best public transport in the country!

But once off the high streets of New Eltham and onto the Green Chain Walk we could, almost, as the Lovely Melanie mused, have been in the countryside.

As someone who was born and raised adjacent to the countryside I wasn’t so sure, but our walk was very green.  We were never more than five minutes from a bus stop or corner shop, but we were surrounded by trees and grass and mud the whole time.

15845862173_abad171449_kWe crossed Avery Park first, Millie and I venturing through some hedges to discover hundreds of abandoned hanging baskets alongside tons and tons of composts.

Here’s Millie on top of one of the Compost Hills.

Then we stopped at our first playground and had a cup of warming tea or hot chocolate in the cafe before popping into the Avery Park Hothouse to see the tropical plants.

“Hot” is a relative term here, because the hothouse was decidedly un-hot, despite being full of cacti and palm trees – one palm tree in particular was impressive for both its large size and the fact of it being indoors.

16278238278_3819454278_kHere are Amber and Millie stood in front of it.

The Avery Park playground was far from our last because we stopped at about eight more on our travels.  The number of children’s playgrounds in this part of London is astonishing!  Follow the path of the River Shuttle as a child and you’ll think you’ve died and gone to heaven!  Eight different playgrounds in just five miles of walking!

One even had a pond where we could feed the ducks on the remains of my Marmite sandwiches. :-)

But after four hours of walking we were beginning to feel the cold (it was a cold, damp February Saturday, after all) and stomping down miles of muddy paths, only stopping for another playground eventually began to take their toll.

By the time I recognised where we were (in Sidcup, a route we’d explored just last year) my legs were starting to complain, as were the girls. The last mile home, all through familiar territory, were a struggle, but we made it, and collapsed through the back door of our warm and lovely home roughly five hours after we left.

Five hours to walk five miles may be a laughable time for you serious ramblers out there, but for us it was just about right.  And I even recovered in time to go out that very same night to the Catford Constitutional for a birthday party!

The magical bond of sisterhood

It’s a saddening experience to hear of your children behaving badly. It’s even more disheartening when that behaviour is towards their own sister.

Isn’t it, Amber?

What’s that, Amber?  I can’t hear you.

Yes, Daddy.

(So, er, I seem to be telling off an imaginary version of my youngest daughter through the medium of a blog that she doesn’t read.  Bear with…)

If someone is being mean to Millie we stick up for them, don’t we, Amber?  We do not bloody well join in and pick on her as well.

And yes, well done for getting dressed and tidying your room without being asked to this morning, but you’ve only done it because you knew you were in for a bollocking.  Nice try.

What’s that?  Yes, I know you’re sorry, but it’s a horrible thing to do, picking on your own sister with another girl.  What the hell were you thinking of??  Mummy and I are very disappointed in you, Amber Grace Carter.

I’m not going to say any more, but I want you to promise me that this will never happen again.

If you ever see anyone being mean to your sister – and Millie, this goes for you, as well – you go and help your sister, is that quite clear?  Millie’s your sister, part of your family, and you always help your family when they need it, OK?

I can’t hear you – look at me and speak up.

Yes, Daddy.

Right.  I don’t ever want to have a conversation like this again.