Categories
Family Honesty

Five realistic ways to entertain your children, for free!

Entertaining children is no walk in the park – especially if you’ve already had your exercise for the day and can’t walk in the park. There’s also the added pressure of unhelpful suggestions that somehow we should all be getting our kids to unleash their inner Galileo or Hawkins when all we want is Five. Minutes. Of. Peace!

So, to help other parents who are hanging by a thread after many, many weeks of being at home, and who don’t want to give any more money to Amazon, I thought I’d rack my brains for those times when my children have enjoyed themselves, it hasn’t cost me a penny and it hasn’t felt forced.  Here’s my top five:

1. Let them make a ‘potion’

Give the kids a bowl or jar and (almost) free reign to put what they like into it. When it’s complete, decant the potion into a used water bottle and ‘voila’ your very own ‘marvellous medicine’.  It will be disgusting but you will get at least 30 minutes peace.


Warning: Before you attempt this – make sure you’ve put the good stuff away or your favourite hand cream is going to go missing.

2. Funny face drawing game

Get a sheet of paper, fold it in three and take it in turns to draw parts of a face.  Warning can be addictive – you may need a ream of paper.

Double warning this can get very silly, very quickly – watch out for the addition of “wee and poo” to the character that you’ve worked so very hard to render accurately.

3. Tickets Please!

This was a much loved game in our family when the children were small. Here’s how it works:

  • You are the ticket inspector – it is your job to inspect your child’s ‘ticket’ (real or imaginary, either will do) and decide whether they are allowed to pass.
  • You never, ever allow your child to pass on the first go.  You must inspect the ticket, then explain in outraged voice why you cannot let them pass because their ticket is out of date / for a different mode of transport / poo-stained.
  • Once you decide to let them pass, you must let them think they’ve got away with it before exclaiming “Hey!  That ticket says Mickey Mouse / is a used chip wrapper / is poo-stained!”
  • You then chase them around the house / garden until they are back at the start.

4. Shout at your children in a foreign accent

This game started in our family when we found ourselves stuck in a caravan with no TV on a very wet day.  Having become frustrated at the children’s failure to listen to me shouting at them not to play with the pull-out bed, I thought I’d give it a go whilst using a German accent (and the handful of German words that I know).  It resulted in unexpected hilarity and gave us a welcome respite from playing Uno for the 130th time.

Note: You don’t need to speak a second language to succeed in this game, but you do need to shout like you believe it.  

5. If all else fails…..give them an Argos catalogue

I reckon Argos could compete with serious publishing houses for the amount of print that they produce…and the popularity of their free doorstop-sized shopping bibles.  This popularity seems not to have waned with the advent of the digital generation – my children used love them more than the internet (they’re 11 and 13 now so, of course, TikTok rules).

Far from turning them into mad consumers it made them aware of how much things cost, encouraged conversations about saving, and there was the extra bonus of there being absolutely no risk of them clicking a link and adding twelve Lego Death Star kits to my basket.

Warning: You need one per child or a war will start.  No-one wants to be given the furniture section while the other one gets the toys….

So those are my top five – perhaps not quite enough to get us all the way through lockdown but it’s a start – if you’ve got anymore let me know!

Like this?  You’ll find more parenting ‘top tips’ and tales of family life as if really is in Reasons to be Cheerful Part II – available for download for just £1.99 during lock down and £5.99 in print.

Categories
Honesty Performing poetry Uncategorized

Why I Need a Wife

A few years ago I sat down and wrote a poem that reflected the frustration I was feeling with combining a career with parenthood. Before I share it with you, I should state that Mr Kent does his fair share of heavy lifting when it comes to family life – I definitely don’t have to go it alone.

But….but. There are just some things that seem to fall to a woman to do. And I’ll be honest, there are some things that I quite like to do. When it suits me. Having worked as a cleaner between the ages of 14 and 16, there are times when I love a bit of hoovering or scrubbing the grouting on our floor tiles. However, show me a toilet seat that has piss on it for the fifteenth time that week (par for the course with a boy in the house) and I am going to get very angry indeed.

And given that I’m self-employed, and work from home, it makes sense that I am the one who is there when the children are ill. Part of my reason for leaving corporate life was to be more available for the kids but it doesn’t mean that I always want to do it. When the children were much younger, it seemed like they were ill every other week – our nursery seemed to have a policy of checking the children’s temperature at the door. How I longed for the slap-dash parenting approach of my childhood where digital thermometers didn’t exist.

There was also the small matter of nursery and school assuming that everything should come to me first – why do I get top billing? Then there’s organising play dates which in my experience is almost exclusively a mum-to-mum conversation. Same goes for taking them to parties (oh the horror of having to hang around in a hot soft play), completing permission slips and sewing on badges.

It’s small stuff, I know, but bloody hell it’s wearing. Parenting is relentless, marriage is compromise and maintaining a sense of yourself without being a selfish arsehole can be a tricky tightrope to walk.

So I wrote the poem. And it opened up doors for me. It led to the publication of my book and dozens of paid stand up performances. My initial print run of 500 copies is almost sold out and the tally of people I’ve performed to now runs into the thousands. Not bad for something that was designed to help me let off steam.

You’ll find the poem below. If you want to book me to speak, perform or would like to buy a copy of the book, drop me a line at toni@tonikent.co.uk

I Need a Wife

I need a wife

Someone to organise my life

To do the shopping, pay the bills too

Someone to clean around the loo


Someone who remembers when term ends

When homework’s due. Someone who sends

Completed forms, and makes dates to play

Who never forgets an inset day


Someone who remembers all the clubs

Gymnastics….beavers…..judo….cubs

Who does the washing, the drying, the washing again

Who sorts darks from delicates, whites and then


Someone who can magically find

The one sock that got left behind


Someone to stem the tide of mess

Sew on badges, hem a dress

Insure the house and tax the car

Someone who knows where my bloody keys are


I look around my life and see

It’s chaos if you’re married to me

The kids’ shoes are missing

Disorder is rife

I’ve just got to face it

I need a wife

Review of I Need a Wife by June Sarpong
Categories
Family Storytelling

Countdown to Christmas

What a week to be a working parent.  The children are hanging on by their fingertips to get to Friday when 1.30pm brings the end of school and the official start of Christmas.

They are puffy-eyed, over tired and bordering on hysteria in that unique ‘it’s nearly Christmas’ way. At school, the curriculum has gone out of the window to be replaced with DVD-watching, clearing out cupboards and a nativity that for all its beauty (and the best camel outfits ever to grace a church) will have sounded like a doctor’s waiting room thanks to the level of coughing.  Book bags spill over with Christmas cards and sweet wrappers as the healthy eating policy gets crushed under a sea of Quality Street.

Patiently waiting port

And while the kids are at school I’m working to pre-Christmas deadlines whilst accepting deliveries, sending cards and adding ever more to the festive food list. The closer we get to the ‘Big Day’ the bigger our appetites get. We are wolves, salivating at the thought of turkey and gradually upping our cheese intake to make sure our systems are ready for the dairy-binge that accompanies the port that’s patiently waiting in the cupboard.

Wearing ‘Sunday Best’ for breakfast, lunch and dinner

I am trying so hard to be focused but there is part of me wishing these next couple of days away.  I’m eager to join the children in their revelry, up for letting my hair down and dreaming of those few days when I point blank refuse to do any washing.  Let the jeans and t-shirts fester in the basket, we shall wear our Sunday Best to breakfast, lunch and dinner!

I can’t wait until nothing matters but the next game of UNO and finding tree chocolates. Or to savour that moment of giggling and shushing on Christmas Eve when we sneak the presents under the tree. A tree which now lives on the landing beyond the stair gate thanks to our puppy who thinks that baubles are dog biscuits. 

Knackered

And it’s not just the children who are tired – we parents are absolutely knackered. Just as puffy-eyed and bordering on hysteria as our kids, we too are hanging on by our fingertips before we can take time off.

After school and down the pub, we empathise and encourage each other to give it one last push before we can run out whooping and yelling into the December air – we can taste time off and it Tastes. Like. Christmas.  

So if you’re feeling the strain this week, just know you’re not alone. Take a pause and take a deep breath – together we’ll get through this – let the countdown begin!


Like my writing? Check out my books

Want to hear me perform for real? Book me by emailing toni@tonikent.co.uk

Categories
Family Honesty

A Christmas carol

You know when you think you’re just going to hear a few Christmas carols being sung by your child’s class and it turns out to be a full blown church service?  That’s precisely what happened to me recently.  Perhaps the fact it was held in an abbey should have alerted me, but I couldn’t help but feel unprepared for ‘what I was about to receive’.

It wasn’t all bad though; the singing was great, the abbey was awe inspiring, I didn’t go up in flames and I learned a very useful lesson – some things never change when it comes to carol services.  I’m willing to bet you’ll find the same things too:

1. There will be a child who actually sounds like an angel

To the boy who sang the first two lines of ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, on his own, in the abbey, in front of hundreds of people – thank you, your voice is a rare and beautiful thing.

2. Two things about ‘We Three Kings’

i. The alternative version

If the person next to you also knows the “one in a taxi, one in a car, one on a scooter beeping his hooter” version it will offer you a wonderful moment of bonding.  It will also offer you the opportunity to pass on a tradition when you teach it to your children later on that day.

If you’re really lucky, your child will later furnish you with the following bonus lyrics:

“Star of wonder, star of light, star that set my knickers alight. Westward leading, still proceeding, fill my pants with dynamite.”

ii. There is a pause

Don’t rush into “Oh star of wonder” – oh no.  It actually goes “Ohhhhhhhhhhh (wait for it) …… star of wonder”.  The woman next to me said it reminded her of the punk version of Nellie the Elephant.  Which means that I now have two reasons to giggle my way through the carol.  And two ways in which to get it wrong.

3. ‘Oh Little Town of Bethlehem’ sorts out the regulars from the visitors

Doesn’t matter how many times I sing this, I always forget that “How silently, how silently” should be sung quietly (shhhhhhhhh)

4. You will revert to childhood at some point

I found myself raising my eyebrows at the re-telling of the immaculate conception and associated on/off/on again of Mary & Joesph’s marriage, especially as it was being read by a child.  So when I heard a man behind me say, “Oh, isn’t the text wonderful”, I presumed he was joking.  But as I turned to him in shared mirth I discovered that he was in fact A MONK.  A monk that was stood next to A NUN.  Neither of them were laughing.  Oh the hot flush of chastisement coupled with wanting to cry with embarrassed laughter.  Such. A. Child. 

5. ‘Silent Night’ is best left to the children

Even the nun didn’t try “sleep in heavenly pea……..eeeeeeeeece”.  Too high.  Best sung by six year olds.

6. Two things about ‘Oh Come All Ye Faithful’

i. It’s that volume thing again – the choruses start quietly.
ii. It contains the line, “He abhors not the virgin’s womb”.  And there’s no way I’m singing it.  Update it to “he didn’t doubt for one second that there wasn’t a reason to totally love and respect that woman’s womb” and I’ll consider it.

7. You’ll probably cry at some point

For me it’s all about ‘Away in a Manger’.  Can’t help it.

8.  ‘Sing Hosanna’ – still challenging

When I was at school the infants used to add an extra “of kings” right at the end of the chorus.  I went to one of my daughter’s first carol concerts and guess what?  It happened then, and it’s still happening today. 

9.  You should shake hands with the vicar on the way out

Whether it’s “thanks for the carol service”, “Merry Christmas” or “that’s out of the way for another year”, it seems a fitting way to finish.


Like my writing? Check out my books

Want to hear me perform for real? Book me by emailing toni@tonikent.co.uk

Categories
Family Honesty poetry

What every woman wants for Christmas

Darling, don’t buy me a Dyson

When you’re out Christmas shopping this year

There’s something else I’ve got my eyes on

But it seems that my hints are not clear


Sweetie, do not buy me saucepans

I don’t care how special they are

And I would think twice, if you think it is nice

To buy anything that’s “for the car”


Lover, do not buy me lingerie

That is tacky, or lacking in taste

Yes to knickers of silk, or a similar ilk

But not with holes “strategically placed”


Honey, if you buy me bathroom scales

You may find them wrapped round your head

I don’t want to measure the price of food pleasure

I’d like something special instead


Something that’s unique and fabulous

Something to take my breath away

Something that’s killer, as my stocking filler

To give me the best Christmas Day


But don’t expect me just to tell you

What I want, or which shop to go

If you want the surprise to light up in my eyes

I expect you to simply just know.


Like this? I regularly perform stand up and poetry for a wide range of audiences. To book me, email toni@tonikent.co.uk

Categories
Uncategorized

You want to live like common people?

When the Welfare Reform Act was introduced, Iain Duncan Smith was famously quoted as saying, “I could live on £53 a week if I had to“.  A petition was set up to see if he would like to prove it but of course he could live on £53 a week ‘if he had to’.  We all could, because in a situation where you have no choice, where you have little income and are reliant on the state to support you to some extent, or totally, then you just get on with it.  Many families already do.

This is not about to become a tirade against people who rely on benefits, nor a lengthy defence.  It is simply requesting a little more understanding of how bloody hard it can be to work your way out of that situation.

When I was growing up, both of my parents had low-income jobs.  Dad got home from work in the late afternoon and immediately took the parenting baton from mum so she could go to her evening job at a shampoo factory.  Our family was ‘dual income’ but we had bugger all to show for it.  No holidays, just hand-me-downs and great smelling hair – thanks Alberto Balsam! 

We did, however, have an appreciation of the importance of work because during the periods when my dad didn’t have a job (it was the 80s, redundancy was ‘a thing’) it massively impacted our household budget.  This was to become permanent due to his ill-health and subsequent death – without the benefits system I have no idea how my family would have survived. 

Now, when you are poor and a teenager, and wishing that your dad wasn’t dead, and that you had enough money to get the bus instead of walking to town, and that you didn’t have to wash your clothes in the sink because the washing machine is broken, and that your clothes didn’t smell because you try drying out a pair of jeans that haven’t been through a proper spin cycle, and that you didn’t have to keep asking the neighbours for bread and sugar, and all the other stuff that goes along with living on almost nothing and everybody knowing about it, you are in quite a precarious position.  You really are only a couple of choices away from being reliant on benefits for the rest of your life. 

But, if you can see through the grief and the shame and the sick and tired feeling that comes from relying on hand-outs, it might light a fire underneath you that makes you work like crazy to get out.  Which is what I did.

And because of that I know how hard it is to leave home at eighteen with no safety net. To decide that you cannot afford to go to university despite the college telling you that you’d earn a place. To leave behind friends, family and siblings that need you and to spend 90% of your wages on rent and train fare which means you have to live off Marmite sandwiches. 

I understand the difficulty in making friends when you’ve moved to a place where you don’t know anybody, of feeling out of place, lacking confidence, not having the right social skills and struggling to shut away the part of you that thinks you don’t belong. 

I know what it’s like to rent a room in a house that seems fine then the landlord starts telling you that you are, “not permitted to bring boyfriends round” and invites his friends from work over who knock on your bedroom door and ask if you’re naked, so you don’t feel safe and end up jamming your bedroom door shut by putting a chair under the handle. 

It is far, far easier to not do this stuff, to ‘stay put’ where you feel more comfortable and are among the people you grew up with. 

But I’m so glad I didn’t go back because every minute of effort was worth it. Not just for the incredible achievements that I have made in my professional and personal life but also for the evening when I was introduced to the man that is now my husband. I cannot overstate the value and importance of having a partner who has truly ‘got your back’ when you don’t have the benefit of the family safety net that many of us think is a given.

So far, so heart-warming. See kids – getting ‘on your bike’ works! But my point is this. Finding the strength to invest that kind of effort and cope with the moments of loneliness, being broke, and generally feeling like you’re dragging the weight of the world uphill on a sledge is just about do-able when you’re young, single, healthy, positive to the point of naivety and have a couple of A-levels. But to find yourself in that position in your forties, with a family, or because your partner has died, or because you are ill, or if for whatever reason you came out of school without an armful of qualifications. How much harder is it then?

The Government wants people less reliant on benefits and more inclined to work and of course I agree. There is pride and fulfilment in going to work, bringing home a wage and feeling that you have made a contribution. It gives you confidence when you have your own money and feel in control of your circumstances. It feels incredible to achieve the goals we set for ourselves but what if something happens that takes those things away or knocks you so far back that you wonder how you’ll recover? Could you just ‘snap out of it’ then?

To our MPs I say yes, help people to make changes, find a way to bring more work into families and make more choices available to young people who aren’t starting out from a solid foundation. But do it with a little more understanding and perspective and don’t think that platitudes like those once offered by Iain Duncan Smith work when delivered by someone with a basic salary of close to £80,000 a year. 

We could all live off £53 a week if we had to, but we sure as hell wouldn’t choose to. 


The original version of this post is featured in my book, Reasons to be Cheerful, Part One. You can order a copy in paperback or as an eBook via Amazon.

Want to get your pupils or employees thinking about social mobility? I regularly deliver talks about my experiences in schools and as part of diversity programmes. Drop me a line at toni@tonikent.co.uk to find out more.

Categories
Dogs Honesty Storytelling

How to work from home when you’ve got a new puppy and a dog

What do you do when your dog gets a little bit easier to manage? You get a puppy – that’s what you do! And so it was that our family recently welcomed young Luna to join our 2 1/2 year-old Vinnie – completing our family (hopefully) for once and for all.

Having written previously about what having a dog does to your life, I thought now was a good time to update you if you’re wondering whether to add a puppy to your brood.

1. Wake up. A lot.

You know ‘Rock Around the Clock‘ – where Bill Hayley sings “One, two, three o’clock, four o’clock, rock”. Having a new puppy is a bit like that, except those are the times you’ll be waking up as your puppy decides:

  • One o’clock: She doesn’t want to be in a crate
  • Two o’clock: She needs a wee
  • Three o’clock: She needs a wee
  • Four o’clock: She wants a cuddle

And let’s not forget the times in between when your dog gets annoyed with the puppy cuddling up next to him. Or hears a noise. Or thinks that there may be a cat within 15 miles of your home.

2. Feed the dogs

While you have trained your dog to sit patiently and wait for his food, your puppy still needs to learn. Until she does, she will shriek like a banshee and pogo like a punk. You will regret the open-plan extension you built and wish for the cosy sound-absorbing kitchen you used to have.

3. Go for a walk

Now with one dog that is fully mature (although robbed of his knackers – poor boy!), and one puppy that cannot go on long walks, you have the following dilemma. Do you…..?

A. Walk the dog, crate the puppy, then walk the puppy later.

B. Walk the dog and the puppy together, but put the puppy in a rucksack on your front once she’s had her requisite mini-walk.

I went for Option B, because I thought it would be fun. And she would look cute. It was, and she did, but my puppy weighed close to 7 kilos. That’s is a lot of kgs to carry on your front. Especially when your dog likes a good three-mile stroll to start his day.

4. Hop on a conference call

All I can say is thank christ I am freelance. And that working from home is the norm for most of my clients. And that most of them have dogs. One call involved four attendees with five dogs between them. The person who didn’t have a dog was under pressure from his wife to get one. I’m unsure whether the assorted yipping, whining and barking from everyone’s hounds convinced him.

WHAT I WILL SAY IS……despite all the distraction – including my colleague’s dog barking because she heard me say “postman” (!) – we managed to hold it together enough to conduct a detailed discussion on virtual desktops. Perhaps having that level of distraction sharpens your game. More likely we’re all so bloody desperate for non-canine contact that the call was like a lifeline to the outside world and we devoured those technology words like a meal at Le Manoir.

5. Try to write something

A call is one thing, getting into “flow” is quite another. If you don’t have a puppy, you can have an immersive, ‘virtual puppy’ experience by doing this:

  1. Stab yourself in the hand, ankle or thigh every five seconds with a fork to emulate a puppy’s teeny tiny teeth.
  2. Go and stand in your garden every ten minutes to experience the joy of ‘encouraging’ your puppy to have a wee or poo. This can be made even more realistic by squealing, “Wee-wee – good girl!”
  3. To mimic a dog clambering onto your laptop while you’re trying to work, press the palm of your hand firmly onto your keyboard. Then swipe your hand across like Little Richard giving it the full Tutti Frutti. For an enhanced effect, lick your thumb and wipe it across the screen.
  4. Make a cup of coffee. Slosh it liberally across the table.
  5. Depending on the breed of virtual puppy you have in mind, trim an appropriate amount of hair from your head and sprinkle it on your clothes / in your keyboard.
  6. Steam clean your floor.
  7. And again – your virtual puppy has just wee’d in the hallway.
  8. Give up on the idea of writing then notice your puppy is sleeping. Write like a demon.

6. And finally…

Book a meeting for the following day. Announce to your partner the moment they get through the door that tomorrow it’s their turn 🙂


Want more puppy dog tales? Try these:

What to expect when your dog has been neutered

Doggy style

Or you can buy the books.


Want to hear some of my material? Book me for stand up or come along to one of my performances.

Categories
poetry Storytelling

Before

Before testosterone takes hold

And stubble grows upon your cheek
Before your voice descends an octave
Could I forever hold this week

Before the scent of little boy
Slips away like grains of sand
Before your chest and shoulders broaden
Could I forever hold your hand

Before your sleepy tousled hair
Is tamed into a grown-up style
Before your giggle turns to rumble
Could I read to you for awhile

Before your little body’s shadow
Lengthens to a full grown man
Before you’re big enough to hold me
I will hold you, if I can

Categories
Honesty Storytelling Work

Owning Up to My Mistakes

A conversation with my sister turned to talk of mistakes and being afraid; she had an upcoming university visit and was worrying about the journey there: what if she missed her bus, got the wrong train, couldn’t find the right room, or missed the start of the tour? What if her childcare arrangements fell through and she couldn’t go at all?

I’m 18 years older than my sister so, by her estimation, I’m a lot more ‘together’ than she is. More confident. Less likely to make a mistake. And right now, I guess that’s true. I don’t fear the fickle nature of public transport or panic about new experiences but I do remember how it feels to be in your early twenties when your skin is altogether a lot thinner and the world feels much bigger. I thought, therefore, the best thing I could do was share with her some of the mistakes I made when I was about her age. At the time, they were embarrassing, stressful and a little bit upsetting. In hindsight, I found them pretty funny and I thought you might do too. So here goes:

The Cup of Tea Mistake

I am 20 years old and I have never made a cup of tea. And now I’m being asked to make one for the visiting Regional Sales Director who is Very Important. I am a coffee drinker and coffee is easy: a teaspoon of granules, some hot water and a bit of milk. Oh yes, and a couple of teaspoons of sugar (this is back when everybody had sugar). Tea is an entirely different proposition. Tea for the Regional Sales Director who is Very Important is terrifying.

I know how it starts: bag in cup then pour your boiling water in and leave it for a bit, but for how long? The Regional Sales Director says he’d like it “Builders”. What does that even mean? How do builders like their tea? With cement in?

I stand and stare at the kettle before asking the office manager for help who (and I will be forever grateful to him for this – cheers Spencer) doesn’t rip into me but instead calmly talks me through the process. Before going off to tell the whole of the front office and then standing in the doorway to watch me make my presentation.

Tea made, I proudly walk from the kitchenette into the back office (which is attached to a warehouse and has no natural daylight and yet is where the management team choose to sit), and as I cross the carpeted floor…. I fail to hold the cups level and spill tea all the way from the door right to the regional sales director’s feet. Like Hansel & Gretel and their breadcrumbs, a trail of tea leads me past the laughing office manager and back to the kitchenette where I begin the process again. At least I know how to make it this time.

The Cup of Coffee Mistake

I am 23 years old and going to visit a customer. I have driven there in a company car – a real life company car! I have a very nice leatherette Filofax of which I am inordinately proud, I like to think its says I’m “serious”.

The meeting with the customer is in his office and he has something much nicer than my Filofax – a real leather, padded ‘conference ring binder’ with many pen holders, zipped compartments and slots for business cards. If there were a game of Top Trumps based on stationery accessories, he would definitely win. It lies open on his desk, ready for him to make notes based on all the very interesting things that I will have to say about structured cabling (hahaha!).

Before I can wow him with my knowledge of CAT5 however, he asks me if I would like a drink. I am tempted to request builders tea to see if his secretary knows how to make it but instead stick with what I know – coffee, white with two sugars.

The coffee arrives. It gets placed on the desk and as I reach across to take the handle I knock it everywhere. I watch as a tide of hot brown liquid rapidly makes its way across his desk towards the waiting leather ring binder. Mortified? You bet. Thankfully his reactions are lightening fast and his precious executive accoutrement is saved. However, the coffee does meet with a yellow legal pad which begins the process of mopping up before we can even grab a paper towel.

Like my manager before, the customer did not make fun of me right away, instead he offered tissues and said “It doesn’t matter”. When I returned to my office, I had to relive the whole damn thing again as my sales manager wanted to know how the visit had gone. My penance was to make him a cup of coffee every day for the next week.

The Passport Mistake

We’ll rewind a little bit here – this occurs not long after the ‘Cup of Tea’ incident. I’m 21 years old and it is 4am on a very cold December morning. There is snow on the ground and more on its way but, for now, I’m feeling warm as I am in a minibus with my colleagues from the freight forwarding company I work for. We’re all off on a jolly to Calais to buy continental lager from a hypermarket and maybe some French cheeses – the excitement!

Despite the early hour we’re in good spirits and there is plenty of banter to be had. Talk of the night before and what the rest of the day might bring when someone pipes up “Alright then, who’s forgotten their passport?”.

Passport? What do you mean I need my passport? Somewhere in my mixed up mind I seemed to think that I didn’t need mine….because we are part of the EU. Ah. It is fair to say that my comment of “I have!” quietened even the birds as they began their dawn chorus. My fellow minibus occupants looked at me as if I’d told them that….well, that I thought I didn’t need my passport.

Taking the collective decision that they can’t take me all the way to Dover because that would give me a stupidly long journey home, and they can’t take me home because they’ll miss the ferry, they drop me off in a village. I don’t think it was too far from our starting point but it’s 5am and there isn’t any passing traffic so I’m going to have to walk. Which is what I do until I come across a knight in shining armour – or rather the knight in a battery powered vehicle that is the milkman. He kindly drops me at the train station and when I finally get back home, I am in tears; a mixture of embarrassment, exhaustion and freezing cold. Fortunately my landlady is also a friend – she holds fire on laughing at me until she’s made me a much needed cup of tea.

The next day I discover that my colleagues’ minibus broke down on the way home and they were stuck in it for seven hours. They may have had their passports but they didn’t have any heating……

Sharing these memories with my sister made her feel a bit less worried and gave us both a good laugh – the conversation was far more useful than me offering her advice. It also served as a reminder that at a time when social media leans towards the celebratory, sometimes it can do us good to own up to our mistakes.

Categories
Dogs Family

Doggy Style

What do you do when your life has got a bit simpler?  You know, when the kids are able to take care of most things themselves and you feel like you have established some semblance of a routine.  You get a dog, that’s what you do. 

Well…you try to get a dog.  We tried to do the right thing and go down the Dog’s Trust route only to be met with a sea of cute little doggy faces, each above the legend that read “NOT SUITABLE FOR CHILDREN UNDER THE AGE OF 16”.  So we bought a puppy and almost a year on from that fateful day I thought I’d share with you a few observations so far……

Having a dog does terrible things to your wardrobe

You see the woman in that picture?  That’s me.  On holiday.  That’s what my holiday photos now look like: waterproof coat that packs into its own pocket.  Waterproof trousers that have an elasticated waist and no pockets so you can’t actually get at anything.  Walking boots – WALKING BOOTS!  I put this on and thought “oh my christ, is this actually my life?”.  Even the dog is staring at me as if to ask “Are you really going out dressed like that?”.

Having a dog does terrible things to your wardrobe – part 2

You see the woman in that picture?  That is also me.  In it, I am wearing a coat that I liked very much.  It is from North Face and is extremely warm.  It has now become my “Dog Coat” and sports a stain that I cannot figure out but which makes me look like I have been lactating.  It could be from the last time that the dog had his worming treatment at the vets and then rubbed himself all over my jacket…

You may also notice that I look tired in the picture.  Having a dog makes you tired.  Especially when you get a dog that needs a lot of exercise.  Or one that wakes up early in the morning.  Or one that does both.

Having a dog does terrible things to your house

You know those big plastic tub/bucket things everyone has – useful for transporting garden rubbish / filling with kids toys / filling with ice & beer (hurry up summer!) – well they’re also very good for putting in massive holes that your dog has dug in the garden.  He has stopped digging but we are yet to fix his landscaping.  I fear that we’ve left it too long and it’s now become a ‘feature’.

Our hallway – when not bearing muddy paw prints – looks like Depeche Mode have dropped round for tea.  It contains a variety of leads, collars and harnesses.  Let me tell you a little bit about them:

  • The classic harness – sports a ‘handle’ so that you can grab your dog as you vainly try to get him back on the lead.
  • The Halti harness – claims to “stop pulling instantly” – does it f**k.  My dog could use it to pull a car up the road in a World’s Strongest Man competition.
  • The ‘Gentle Leader’ face harness – also claims to “stop pulling instantly”.  It actually does.  What it doesn’t tell you is that it will cause your dog to every now and then stop and rub its face along the ground in an attempt to get the thing off.  
  • Normal lead – padded grip – nice 🙂 Now held together with gaffer tape because it got caught on the velcro of my Dog Coat and all the stitches started to come out.
  • Halti training lead – longer than a normal lead.  Bloody uncomfortable.  Takes a layer of skin off your hand if your dog pulls.
  • Extendable lead – never, ever allow your dog to say hello to another dog on an extendable lead.  You will end up in some kind of Twister manoeuvre with the other owner.

The stairs is a mixed bag.  We are back to having a stair gate.  I have been very earnestly informed that “it’s entirely possible to train your dog not to go upstairs, don’t you know” but after spending five weeks trying to combine working from home with instructing a dog that he may not go upstairs, I found the five minute installation of a stair gate the equivalent of a magic wand.  Also, nobody leaves their shit on the stairs anymore because the gate seems to act like a magical force field – double result!

But why am I telling you any of this?  Because if you are going to get a dog you need to know that:

Having a dog does terrible things to your bank balance

I have considered asking my customers to pay me in Pets at Home vouchers.  Toys last two days, food lasts two minutes, leads need replacing and pet insurance is the one insurance that you will without a doubt need to use.  You will need to buy terrible clothes to walk the dog in and a grille to keep your dog safe in the car oh and a crate that your dog will refuse to sleep in past the age of 4 months and a rug to replace the one that he chewed a hole in when he was a tiny pup.  You may also like to spend money on dog training which will be by turns enlightening and maddening – some lessons you will come away from feeling smug and others you will leaving feeling like a twat.

And just when you get to the point when you think, “Why the bloody hell did we do this?” – this happens:

and you realise that for all the terrible clothes, terrible marks to the house and the terrible impact to your bank balance, they’re completely and utterly worth it 🙂


Want to hear some stand up about the ‘joys’ of having a dog? Please book me – I need to get out without having to put on waterproof trousers!