It’s Hard to Type With a Four Year Old in Your Lap

My poor little baby girl has been ill for the past week or so, and I think it’s quite telling about the relationship I have with her that whenever she hurts herself or she’s feeling unwell, she comes running to me.

father_daughterActually, she comes running to me most of the time. It’s not that she doesn’t get on with Mrs Nobbs or anything, she absolutely does, and she idolises her Big Brother just as any little sister should.

But when push comes to shove, she’s a “Daddy’s Girl”. Or, rather, a “Papa’s Girl.”

And I’m sure any parent knows just how ‘clingy’ a four year old can be when they are feeling unwell. I’ve spent a good portion of the last week or so with her clinging to me like a limpet, sleeping on my chest either in her bed, my bed or on the sofa or sitting on my lap as I try and use my laptop at the dining table.

And let me tell you, it’s difficult to type with a wriggly little four year old in your lap, hell bent on ‘helping’ you to type whatever it is you’re trying to type, playing with the mouse, or asking if she can play the Paw Patrol games on

Still, if I’m honest, I wouldn’t have it any other way.

1082137436I know how lucky I am to have my little girl, and to have the relationship I do with her. I know how lucky I am to stand in a cold, wet field watching my boy play football or sit with him as we learn to play the guitar together or get thrashed by him on FIFA on his Xbox any day we damn well please.

Far too many men these days are denied the opportunity to play the fullest part in their children’s lives that they can, either through their own failings or through vindictive ex-partners. And this, I feel, is one of the real tragedies of our times. To my mind, you can’t really call yourself  ‘a man’ until you’re a father—until you know what it’s like to see the utter, unconditional love in your childs eyes and felt that unconditional love in return. Until you’ve wiped their tears dry. Until you’ve chased away the monsters under the bed. Until you’ve cured whatever ails them them with a ‘daddy hug’.

I love being a father, that more than anything else, defines who I am.

Some people might say I’m wrong for say that and for what I’m about to say. Well, you know what? Screw them.

Children, both boys and girls, need their fathers and fathers never feel complete without their children. And every day I thank whichever deity happens to be listening that I have both my kids taking up so much of my time.


Learning the Guitar

I had a guitar for Christmas. Mrs Nobbs bought it for me. It’s because of an agreement I had with my son. If he passed his grade one piano, I’d buy him a guitar and we’d learn it together.

Of course, I’m a complete novice and he plays piano, cello and Oboe, so he’s raced ahead of me already.

But I’m persevering. Playing guitar is something I’ve always wanted to do and I’m not going to give up on it.

Yesterday, for a laugh, I shot a short video of myself practicing my scales (and doing them badly). I think what I’m going to do is film an intro to this later tonight, then cut the thing together and upload it to YouTube. It’ll be a laugh.

For you lot.

It’ll be embarrassing for me, I’m sure.

But actually, it might be a motivation to keep practicing and hopefully getting better. I’ll keep making videos and posting them and see if I make any progress.

Or not, as the case may be.

We shall see.

Oh, and do you remember my recording of me reading “The Gruffalo” to my daughter? Last night I recorded myself reading “Zog” to her. It’s on my soundcloud. Give me a day or so and I’ll post it here so you can listen to that too.

The Importance of Team Sports

My son will be 10 at the end of December, and after several years of him asking to join a football team, I finally relented and found him a club for this season. (By football, I mean the game that is called “soccer” in some parts of the world—the one that’s actually played with one’s feet rather than one’s hands, hence the name. This is the first and last time you’ll hear me call it soccer)

Youth football is played in age groups, and he’s in the Under-10s division this year (what with being ‘under 10’ at the start of the season and all). At this age they play 7-a-side instead of 11, the manager can make as many substitutions as he likes (to give the boys a rest, I assume) and they haven’t yet introduced the offside rule or yellow and red cards.

But more importantly, at this age, the boys are just starting to ‘get’ the idea of teamwork. They are just now starting to learn to ‘stay in position’ and ‘play for the team’ rather than simply chasing after the ball (although some boys seem to ‘get’ this more than others).

Jr’s mom wasn’t all that keen on him joining a football team. After all, it’s a winter game, played in all weathers and her little boy really shouldn’t be out in the cold and wet—he might get the flu. But I was keen for him to join. And it had nothing to do with hardening him up to bad weather.

The big difference between me and my wife on this issue is that I played team sports in my youth and she didn’t. So I understand just what a young man can learn from team sports and why it’s important. And I don’t think this is something she really understands. She would rather he concentrate on his music (currently piano, cello and obo, although he wants a guitar for Christmas) or golf—which obviously you don’t play in the rain. I’m all for him carrying on with as many musical instruments as possible—that has all sorts of advantages for a young man—and I also want him to keep up with golf, if only as a hobby, because it’s the kind of hobby that can open doors—how many business deals are done on the golf course?

This difference between us in terms of team sports can perhaps be seen in our respective careers—I’m very much ‘part of a team’ in my job, relying on other people as they rely on me. But she often struggles to build that same sense of teamwork in her job—she’s a teacher and is very much on her own in the classroom most of the time, isolated from her fellow teachers for long stretches of the day.

I was discussing this with Jr this past weekend as we made the half-hour journey to his ‘away’ match. It was quite a wide-ranging discussion for an almost 10-year-old. It went from the way he’s settled in with most of his new team-mates, to the problems he’s been having with one of them in particular, to that week’s edition of The Apprentice.

You know The Apprentice, don’t you? Lord Sir Alan Sugar puts a group of potential business partners through their paces in an effort to win his quarter of a million pound investment. The present series is in the early stages, where the teams are still very much girls v boys and the boys have won both tasks while the girls showed all the backstabbing bitchiness we’ve come to expect of the show. It wasn’t actually the show itself that came into our discussion, but a comment from one of the panellists in the ‘after show’, “You’re Fired”.

She said something along the lines of “Men are used to working in groups of only men, they do it all the time even when they are kids, but women don’t. They’re not used to working with only women and don’t know how to cope with it.” (I couldn’t be bothered to go watch the show again to find the exact quote, but you’ll find it on the iPlayer if you’re really interested)

It was the kind of quote that, if said by a man, would have the Twitter Feminists up in arms, but since it was a woman that said, that’s fine, she’s just supporting the sisterhood and showing how the men have the privilege of The Patriarchy.

But that’s beside the point. Let’s for a second put sexual politics aside and ask if what she says is true, are men really used to working in all male groups but women aren’t used to working in all-female groups?

Well, as long as we’re talking about women who didn’t go to an all-girl school, I’d say pretty much. And the main reason for that is that, on average, girls are less likely to play team sports. Yes, there are a lot of young women who do play team sports and lots of young men that don’t, but, in my experience, you’re more likely to find it’s the boys that want to play football, rugby, basketball, etc.

Team sports are really essential to a young person’s development, and if you don’t take part in them, you really are missing out. Here are the things that I think, or hope, that my son will learn from being a part of his new football club.

The Importance of Teamwork—This one is obvious really. He will learn that you can accomplish more as part of a team than as an individual.

The need to stick to your Job—all young boys want to be the star player. They all want to be the one that scores the goals that win the games. But so far this year, Jr has been playing mainly in defence. And even so he has already been voted “Man of the Match” twice in seven games. And this is because he stuck to his job. He held his position and kept plugging away even when some of his team-mates had given up.

You don’t always get on with everyone on your team—but that doesn’t mean you can’t work with them for the benefit of the team. Jr is finding this with one lad in particular. He’s really getting along well with all the other boys, but this one lad and he really don’t like each other. But they are learning that this doesn’t stop them from passing the ball to each other during the game, from helping an encouraging each other so that the team can win.

The Qualities of Leadership—At this age, the team doesn’t have a captain, but they will next year and the coach has made it clear he’ll be picking the captain for the season based on the way they play this year. And I think Jr is already a contender for the job. He is showing the qualities of a leader, as evidenced by his two “Man of the Match” awards. He isn’t seeking glory for himself. He is watching the game to see what his team-mates are doing and telling them (or trying to) what they need to do.

The Importance of Commitment—The last game he played was the first in really bad weather. It was cold and it was tipping it down. His mother would rather he didn’t play. But Jr insisted that he couldn’t let the team down just because it was raining. Not all his team mates were quite so committed

How to Win and How to Lose—Seven games into the season, the team has won four and lost three. Three of the wins were by six goals or more. One of the losses was 9-0. And after every game the coach wants the players to shake hands with the other team. I’ve watched Jr and he’s made the effort to shake the hands of as many of the other team’s players as he could. Win or lose, you need to retain that sense of sportsmanship. And he’s learning that.

I’m sure there are other lessons he’ll learn. I’m sure of it. But these are the ones I can think of right now as being the most important. And all of them are the kind of lessons a young man can take into adulthood and will stand him in good stead. I hope he learns them well.

“Arrow” Returns – But who’s in that Grave?

One of my favourite shows, Arrow, is back with a barnstorming season opener that ‘resets’ things after last year’s finale. Last year saw Oliver and Felicity driving off into the sunset together, leaving Starling City in the hands of Laurel, Thea and Diggle.

This year opened with a glimpse into “Olicity’s” suburban, domestic bliss—that image of Flick sitting on the kitchen counter reading a book and prodding an omelette (as seen in the trailer below) will live in my memory for some time to come. But all too soon Thea and Laurel show up asking for help and by the end of the episode Oliver has been recast as “The Green Arrow”, offering to be the beacon of hope that plain old “The Arrow” never was.

And with a nasty new super-villain on the scene, we’re all set for an exciting season, one that perhaps will bring some of the fun of the comic book to the screen (at last).

But… This wouldn’t be “Arrow” if there wasn’t some pain for the protagonists on the horizon and that was offered up in the form of a six-month flash-forward scene at the end of the ep which sees Oliver crying over someone’s grave and vowing revenge.

But who’s grave? That is the question. What follows are my thoughts on each of the candidates for a mid-season exit.

The way I see it, there are five possible candidates, so let’s go through them. Starting with…


Yes, Yes, I know. This is the most obvious one. After the way this season has started, could the writers possibly come up with a more heart-breaking way to send Oliver back to “the Darkness”? Imagine it, Oliver finally pops the question, they start making plans, then… Poof, she’s snatched away from him.

Flick’s death is also the most likely to bring Barry Allen over from Central City (although I’d have thought he’d have actually made it to the funeral rather than miss it).

However, I really don’t think the writers are this stupid. Flick is quite possibly the most popular character on the show, so popular that she’s done the impossible and transitioned from the TV show to the comic book. They’d have a bloody rebellion on their hands if they killed her off. I really don’t think that it’s Flick in that grave. Or maybe I just hope it’s not.


This is the next most obvious candidate, I think. Thea is the last remaining member of Olly’s family and killing her for good would certainly send him over the edge—just look at what it did to him last season even though he was able to bring her back!

Plus, with Thea seemingly having lost all inhibitions and sense of danger and looking very much like The Arrow looked in season one—that is, willing to kill—she’s actually likely to find herself coming to a sticky end, perhaps by going off on some reckless quest on her own.

But, again, I think the writer’s would be daft to kill off Thea. She’s utterly adorable, has been since day one. She’s also the connection to the world that Olly needs that gives him a reason to keep trying to save Star City. Without her, I think The Green Arrow might well lose his motivation.


Now, here’s a character the writers could kill off that I’m sure the fans wouldn’t be at all upset about. Which is exactly why I don’t think they will. This is because she’s just starting to become interesting. Black Canary has a lot of potential, and I reckon the writers want to do all they can to realise it.

Detective Lance

Lance has already tipped his hand in the first episode of this season and made himself a prime candidate for being offed. It would make sense from a story point of view. And I could see Olly blaming himself for not stopping it. But Lance’s death isn’t going to leave him crying at the graveside. So while I don’t think Lance will survive the season, I don’t think he’s the one in that grave.

Which brings us to…


For three seasons he’s been The Arrow’s conscience, his wise counsel, his trusted mentor. But the trust they had, and the friendship they shared, was shattered at the end of season three. At the start of season four, the animosity is still there, the awkwardness in their relationship clear to see.

Which is why it makes perfect sense for Diggle to bite the bullet. The Arrow no longer needs a big brother, a wise counsel. Diggle has, in that sense, served his purpose. But to watch them rebuild their relationship this year only for Diggle to be killed, really would be enough to set Olly on a path of revenge – and it would be a satisfying way for Diggle to bow out.

Plus, Dig also has a history with H.I.V.E. and that history is what could lead to his death. Everything about this possibility makes sense. Which is why, even though I’d be sad to see him leave, I think it’s John Diggle in that grave.

It’s speculation, of course. And there’s going to be a shit load of it from now on after every episode as the fans look for clues. But in the end, I guess we’ll just have to wait and see.

Smells like Dad Spirit

This morning, on the School Run, I had the music on my phone playing on shuffle through my car stereo via Bluetooth rather than listening to the radio and Nirvana’s “Smells like Teen Spirit” came on.

As the intro faded into the angst-ridden first verse I said to my son, “One of the best songs ever written this.”

“It’s not the best song ever,” he said. “It’s rubbish. I can’t even hear what he’s singing.”

“I didn’t say the best one ever, I said one of the best ever. If you asked one hundred people who know about music to compile an all-time top one hundred greatest songs, this song would be in most of the lists. Ninety percent of them or something.”

“What’s percent mean?”

I gave him a ‘look’, because that’s a conversation we’ve had more than once on the way to school. He knows what ‘per cent’ means.

Anyway, we listened to the song and he said towards the end, “Nah, it’s rubbish. It’s just noise.”

He’s only nine. I’ll forgive him for that. After all, he’s only nine. But it got me thinking—why is “Smells like Teen Spirit” a great song? And how do you explain why it’s great to a nine year old?

The thing about it is that most of the lyrics are pretty much nonsense – even when you can make out just what the hell Cobain is actually singing. I mean, look…

Load up on guns
Bring your friends
It’s fun to lose and to pretend
She’s overboard, self assured
Oh no I know, a dirty word


With the lights out, it’s less dangerous
Here we are now, entertain us
I feel stupid and contagious
Here we are now, entertain us
A mulatto
An Albino
A mosquito
My libido


Yay Hey Yay

And I forget just why I taste
Oh yeah, I guess it makes me smile
I found it hard, it was hard to find
Oh well, whatever, nevermind

They are nonsense, right? What is this song actually about?

It hit me when I was trying to work out how to explain the importance of this song and what makes it great to my son—there is literally no way for him to understand. Yet.

This is a song about the angst of a teenage boy and about the anger he feels at the world. It’s about that angst and anger continuing into young adulthood. It’s about the feeling of helplessness and hopelessness. From the opening riff that powers into life as the drums kick in, to the droning verse and hook into that amazingly powerful chorus. It’s up. It’s down. It’s up again. The drum beat is angry. The lyrics make no sense, but it’s not what they are that matters so much as how they are sung.

They whole thing is an expression of what it means to be a teenager in the modern, western world—or at least, the western world of the early-mid nineties. And I might be in my forties now but the world can’t have changed so much that this song doesn’t speak to today’s teenagers the way it spoke to us, can it?

In short, it’s about a whole bunch of emotions that, as a parent, I hope like hell my nine year old has not yet felt and won’t feel for a good few years yet.

“Don’t worry,” I said to him. “You’ll get it in five or six years. You’ll understand how great this song is then.”

At which point I was horrified. My own father had something similar to me at a similar age about the songs of Slade.

I’m turning into my Dad!

Actually, that’s not a bad thing. I mean, he was right about Slade.

Ook! A Personal Tribute to Sir Terry Pratchett

For as long as I can remember, I have loved to read. From Forrest Wilson’s SuperGran to Colin Dann’s Animals of Farthing Wood. From Narnia to Middle Earth.

I guess I was lucky that I went to a secondary school with a well stocked public library attached and, once a week during English lessons, we’d be taken down to the library and given the chance to select some books. When I was around 15, I picked out a book by some author I’d never heard of with this funny, cartoon-ish cover.

The blurb read thus…

There was an eighth son of an eighth son. He was, quite naturally, a wizard. And there it should have ended. However (for reasons we’d better not go into), he had seven sons. And then he had an eighth son… a wizard squared… a source of magic… a Sourcerer.

I thought it seemed like it might be good, so I checked it out, started reading it during the rest of the lesson when we got back to the class room and had “private reading” time (which I now know was just an excuse for the teacher to have a nice quiet lesson once a week). I carried on reading it that evening at home and I’d finished it by the end of the week.

That book changed my life.

I took it back to the library in my own time and got out another by the same author. Then another. Then another.

I just couldn’t get enough of the books by this man.

His name was Terry Pratchett and over the next 25 years I read pretty much everything he wrote. I marvelled at the skill the man had with the written word. The way his stories were so unpredictable, and yet somehow, at the end, you knew that you should have known that’s how they would turn out. He wrote with wit. His characters dispensed wisdom. And his plots left you thinking about the world in ways you never expected.

Terry Pratchett is the reason I write today. I can pay him no higher tribute than that.

It’s hard to explain to people who have never read one of Sir Terry’s books just what it is about them that is so special and what it is about him that is so special. It doesn’t help that you have to start by explaining that the books feature Wizards, Witches, an anthropomorphic personification of Death, Trolls, Dwarves, Elves, Vampires… You get the idea.

Or that they take place on a flat world that rides through space on the backs of four giant elephants who in turn ride on the back of Great A’Tuin, The World Turtle.

That kind of thing tends to put people off. At first. Then they relent and read one and they realise that none of that matters.

The wizards don’t use magic if they can help it—they are much happier living on the campus of Unseen University and teaching students about magic. And if they can avoid the students, so much the better.

The witches don’t use magic either, not unless they really, really have to. They are far happier using “headology”.

Death? He’s the lens through which we, the readers, view the world. And all the rest? They are just the myriad of races that make up the city of Ankh-Morpork, with all the racial tensions that you find in a city of that size with such a cosmopolitan population.

And this is the true genius of Sir Terry Pratchett—he uses this fantastical setting and these wondrous characters, to shine a harsh, satirical light on our own world and he does it with charm and wit and bag full of gags and unless you are looking for it, you don’t even notice the satire is there. Not until it’s too late and you’ve already digested and been affected by it.

All through my late teens, twenties and thirties, Terry Pratchett and the Discworld shaped my world view and moulded me into the man, and the writer, I am today.

And this is why I was so devastated to hear of his passing this afternoon. It felt as if I had lost a friend, someone who’s been talking to me through his books for twenty-five years. I’m not ashamed to say I shed a few tears as I read the hundreds of tributes to Sir Terry on Twitter. It feels a if a piece of my soul has been ripped out of me—as if somehow I’ll never quite be the same again.

That’s a ridiculous thing to say, I know full well it is, but how else can I describe it?

I have spent a large part of this evening in something of a daze, wondering around the house not quite sure of what I was supposed to be doing. I don’t think I’m the only one. The messages on Twitter are testament to that.

Terry Pratchett was loved by his readers. Not just because of what he wrote, but because he was him. The voice that came through in his books, that was the same voice you encountered when you met him—polite, Gentlemanly, friendly, but ever so slightly angry at the world and ready to poke fun at it with his wickedly dry wit.

I met him just the once, when I got the book pictured here signed. Actually, I had a number of books signed that day.

The queue was out the door of the bookshop and all the way down the high street. It was a miserable day, but all of us in the queue were in good spirits. I got to Sir Terry at his desk with an armful of books, not just the new one here was there promoting (The Last Continent), and timidly asked if he’d mind.

He looked behind me at the queue. Then at me. Then at the queue again. Then smiled and held out his hands for me to hand over the books. He signed them all. I will always remember that day. And I will always be grateful to him for indulging a starry-eyed fanboi meeting his literary hero.

Rest in Peace, Sir Terry. Your words, your world and your characters will live on in the hearts and minds of those of us who know, in our hearts, it’s real.

There are so, so many quotes from Terry himself that I could finish this piece with. But really, for those of us who know and love the Discworld, they know I have to leave the last word to this man… er… ape.