We thought things could only get better….

Chirs-GayleAs I type out my 50th blog, kiss my virtual helmet and wave my imaginary bat towards the pavilion, I can’t help thinking about a wise, old friend of mine, Chris, who I first met at law school in 1993. In part, because he is kind enough to give me the occasional spare ticket to Lords for one of the summer test matches, but also because I’ve been thinking a lot recently about something he said that year.

I spent a lot of time at Chris’s house in 93/94 as I went out with one of his housemates and staying there was preferable to my house where my bedroom was next to the living room – not ideal either for sleeping or not-sleeping. As Chris lived with four women, he probably liked me being about too, so it worked out well.

As an aside, that year was an incredible year. Great weather, not too much work, my frisbee and cricketing skills came on a treat and, most importantly, brilliant people.

I was in Class D and have so many fond memories:

  • Pete W – The most generous and kind guy you’d ever want to meet whose dad sold a few TVs……to the Man U players!
  • Bradford Dave – A terrier in defence
  • Danny C – could have been better than Ryan Giggs if it wasn’t for a health issue at birth;
  • M-M-Matt B – better than Goughy at Yorkshire U-15s but since resigned to making really poor jokes about law; and
  • The Mighty Ola – simply a goal scorer extraordinaire

All great guys who also formed the core of our class football team – “The D:Ream Team” – unbeaten in the first term.

As and when this blog brings me fame and fortune, I’ll get Justin Lee Collins to organise a reunion.

Back to Chris.

There were actually two things he said from that year that I still remember today.

The first still makes me laugh from time to time. From memory , Chris was single for most of that year and didn’t have loads of success with the opposite sex, despite his four female housemates encouraging him and always trying to help him out. With hindsight, they probably scared off any admirers in reality.

Anyway, one night we were all walking back after a night out and Chris was getting on well with a girl we knew he liked and so the four girls and I did the decent thing and rushed ahead, heading back to the house, wondering at what point the next day we would see a bedraggled Chris making his way back to the house.

Accordingly, we were all a bit disappointed when about 10 minutes after we got back, we heard the key in the door and Chris wandered into the kitchen:

Us: “What happened, things seemed to be going really well with X?”

Chris: “Things did go well”

U: “So what are you doing back here…..alone?”

C: (In a rather pleased with himself tone) “We walked to her place; she asked if I fancied coming in for coffee; I told her I didn’t like coffee; and so I came home.”

We just stared at him in disbelief and it was a good five seconds before Chris realised what an absolute tool he had been and he fell to the floor, head in hands.

Brilliant stuff.

However, he also said something that I didn’t think much of at the time but 20 years on have recently adopted as my own life philosophy – I always was a slow learner!

I was comparing exam results with Chris one afternoon and his results in the 4 papers had been 50, 51, 51 and 60, the pass-mark being 50. He turned to me and said:

“I’m gutted about that 60 – what a waste of effort!”

At the time, I wasn’t sure whether he was serious as most people I knew were striving for distinctions, as was I, and wanted scores over 70, but looking back I’m not sure why as we all had jobs lined up already and I’m pretty sure the distinction I achieved has been an irrelevant footnote to my career.

I guess there’s something about a desire for external validation; for someone to tell you you’re a smart guy and doing a good job. But not sure it was making me any happier.

Well, after “striving for distinctions” for much of the last two decades, I’ve finally reached the conclusion that I think Chris had the right attitude after all. I guess the older one gets, one also can’t help but get influenced by tragic stories of people you know dying relatively young or soon after retiring.

Without getting too Pirsig on you (I promise I won’t mention the metaphysical nature of Quality – still no idea what he’s going on about), my current philosophy is about earning just enough to fund our lives and freeing up as much time as possible for me, V and F (and any sequels) to spend time together and also free up time for me to follow some of my other passions, such as this gender equality nonsense on a pro-bono basis – more on that anon.

As Chris explained all that time ago – doing anything more is just a waste of effort.

Now I appreciate that doing just enough over one’s life is a bit more complex in reality as one’s end date is unknown (we don’t live in The City of Domes in 2274, you know), but I’m working on the basis that I’ll make it to 85 and will just work back from there – simples!

Right, that’s enough philosophical musings for now – got any spare tickets for the summer, Chris?

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There are certain topics I’m not going to cover. Period.

I feel I’ve been banging the equality drum a bit much on here recently so although I’ve been trying to get my head round what I think of the news yesterday about a company offering “menstrual leave” to women, I’m going to leave it for the moment and chat about other stuff instead. 

Also because I need to suck up to my mum a bit. It’s her birthday today and what with one thing and another my gift won’t make it to South Africa today so thought I’d send her a birthday blog instead.

Well when I say birthday blog, what I really mean is birthday / Mothering Sunday blog. I mean it’s not my fault they’re always in the same week is it?

In the same way, F will have to make do with a single Christmas  / birthday blog for her present at the end of December each year. I’m sure she’ll be fine with that.

F’s been on great form though and has made it to the “standing unaided” level in the “When is she bloody going to walk??” game. 

She’s definitely not a natural as although I say unaided, she still looks like she is learning to snowboard; she has a really wide stance and slightly bent knees and she wobbles all over the place before finally falling on her padded bum or occasionally falling forward. When she was first learning she was so excited about the standing bit that she forgot that she could break her fall forward with her hands and just face-planted straight into her Fisher Price garage which caused a few tears. She wasn’t happy either. 

I don’t really mind. I’ve always said that I’ve never met a 5 year-old who can’t walk, talk and has all their milk teeth so it will happen when it happens but come on F, make a bloody effort. 

Anyway, Mum, hope you had a lovely day and we’re all looking forward to seeing you in about 5 weeks’ time. 

Now where’s that number for Interflora?

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It’s time to WISE up, boys need more help than girls

The public have spoken.

Well, when I say “the public”, I mean that Mx36 was kind enough to suggest I keep my blog name as it is and who am I to argue with my loyal reader/manager.

I can only assume that Mx36’s supportive efforts are in the name of charity and she will be getting her Duke of Edinburgh bronze award or a tax break of some kind for her efforts, not that I am complaining. She has even sent one of my random musings to her Facebook friends giving me a decent amount of views this weekend, which is great.

Now if only she worked for a massive media business, then she could make a real difference!

On to the news of the day.

I know I shouldn’t, but I had to smile at the news that a boy has just won a competition set up by EDF Energy to encourage girls into science. Odd result I accept, but not as odd as the competition title: “Pretty Curious” because girls are um, pretty and, er, really curious. Brilliant stuff – what group of men came up with that??

It got me thinking about lots of things but I’ll save my nonsense about other ridiculous competitions such as Baby Jumping and Worm Charming for another time as I wanted to make a few more (semi) sensible points.

There has been a lot of recent comment about getting more women into STEM occupations. For those unaware, STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics and one of the organisations heavily involved in this effort is WISE (worth looking at the website) which has the current stated aim of getting 1 million more women into the UK STEM workforce.

I’m all for equality – have I mentioned that – and so if this is a massive issue in this country, then I guess it’s a good thing but I had a closer look at WISE’s detailed document of statistics that was published last July to try to reach my own conclusions.

Please flick through but my summary is as follows:

  • No real difference in subjects taken at GCSEs although girls do better than boys in exams;
  • Less girls take the STEM subjects at A-Level, other than Biology, but girls do better than boys in the exams; and
  • At undergraduate level, the distinction between the two sexes is quite stark with women far outweighing men in anything to do with medicine, biology  and veterinary studies and men dominating in other sciences, particularly computer science and engineering.

I also know from previous research that 57% of trainee lawyers are female.

So……girls are outperforming boys in all exams, earn more than them in their 20’s, and all want to be doctors, vets and lawyers whereas the boys want to be geeky computer guys and engineers…….and which gender has all the support to help them make better decisions?

Why is this stark distinction happening anyway? Well I’m a believer in role-models and I reckon young girls are making a subconscious choice between these two:


Conversely, boys see Mark Zuckerburg [have you lost my number, Mark?] making billions, and even see Leonard managing to pull Penny on TBBT, and think that the geeks will inherit the earth.

Boys, I don’t want to disappoint you, but you have to realise that for every one or two who invent Facebook or Twitter, there are a thousand of these guys:

geek-hierarchy-pic2

Janice Turner wrote a great column in the Saturday Times (such a wonderful paper don’t you think, Mx36?) about a month ago about the relatively poor performance of boys in education and how, if we didn’t look at the causes behind this soon and do something about it, the disparity will simply grow and grow and men will face significant issues in later life.

I agree and think this is a massive issue and that support is needed for boys/men.

Incidentally, I do think that in the future that women will need support as well, but more a form of relationship counselling, as they won’t be able to find someone suitable to marry. In 30 years’ time, it will be a world full of Dr Meredith Greys having to choose between a whole bunch of Wayne Campbells and Garth Algars.

Anyway, rather than just blog about the woes of men, I’ve decided to do something about it and have set up a male support organisation. It’s all about a memorable name so I’ve come up with (fanfare please):

MILDEW – to encourage Men to become Lawyers, Doctors, get involved in Equestrianism (*cough*) and undertake more “Woman’s work”. Look, I may have squeezed in Equestrianism for the sake of an “E” but all I ever hear about is Zara Phillips and Charlotte Dujardin and her dancing horse, so think it’s fair.

Woman’s work may sound odd but it is to make a point about the traditional female roles. Men need to do their share of work around the house; to share child-rearing responsibilities equally; and to get more involved in child-minding/nursery roles and primary school teaching as these are the critical early teaching role models for children.

I need a strap-line too, how about something like:

“MILDEW – Helping you to be a fun guy”

All I need now is a national media organisation to get behind this and I think I’m onto something. Anyone know one?

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FeministDadwholikesNottingHill.com probably isn’t going to cut it

As I approach an unbeaten half-century of blog posts, which is a good 40 or so more than I imagined, I reckon I might carry this on for a bit yet as it’s quite fun.

So…..I need a bit of rebranding.

When I started this blog at 5am one Saturday morning last November and thought the fad would last a week tops, I didn’t waste any energy with the name and I just used an old nickname to arrive at the immediately forgettable url of candledave.wordpress.com and I also use the snappy candledave2 on Twitter!

Well, it’s time for a change and so I need some assistance to come up with a better blog address and Twitter handle.

In 2001, Royal Mail reportedly spent £1.5m rebranding themselves as Consignia, realised it was ridiculous and so a year later spent £1m changing it back.

However, I don’t have that sort of money so thought I’d crowdsource it from you guys for free.

To assist, here’s a list of the some of the well-read Dad blogs at the moment:

  • Man Vs Pink
  • The Dadventurer
  • Dad or Alive
  • Diary of the Dad
  • The Dad Network
  • Daddacool
  • YorkshireDad
  • Dadbloguk.com

Doesn’t feel like too much competition, surely I can come up with something comparable with your help.

I have had an initial stab at some options (with notes):

  • Day of the Dad
  • Shaun of the Dad – any other films with Dead or Dad or Bad in title?
  • The Dad Kennedys
  • The Ungrateful Dad – any other bands?
  • The Dadvocate
  • The Manifesto
  • The Manatee
  • Jermaine Grrr – ranty male feminist? Any other feminists?
  • The Mansplainer or The Mansplanation – ironic dig at the annoying habit?
  • AManinaWomansworld.com
  • TheLoneDadatSoftplayAgain.com
  • LookingAfterFonaThursday.com
  • NoSheisaGirlJustDressedinBlue.com
  • Icantdecide.com
  • Iguessthisplaceholderwillhavetodo.com

Ok, ok, I haven’t spent long on this as I have some work to do and am sure that there must be much better names out there that hint at fatherhood, feminism, humour…..and romcoms!

Give it your best shot in the comments section – there will be prizes and obviously an acknowledgement in the book.

Good luck.

D

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    “It was love at first sight” Sure, but what about the second time?

    There was I warbling on about a journeyman bestseller author, Robert Pirsig, and a proper legendary one pops her clogs at the same time, Harper Lee.

    I have to admit though that I have somewhat mixed feelings about “To Kill a Mockingbird” as I was forced to read it at school which appears to have left some form of small, indelible, negative mark that I sense wouldn’t be there if I had read it first solely for pleasure later on in life.  It’s still a brilliant book, don’t get me wrong and one should remember that it was published at a time when such racial injustice was the norm, so writing about it in this way wouldn’t have been without personal risk to Harper Lee.

    I also like Scout Finch’s quote on equality.

    I think there’s just one kind of folks. Folks

    Clearly this was written with racial inequality in mind but it obviously applies to any type of inequality so in honour of Harper Lee, and as long as she doesn’t mind, I think I’ll use that line from now on as my stock answer when grilled about why I have such seemingly strange feminist views.

    I haven’t read the follow-up “Go Set a Watchman” that was published last year but it has had mixed reviews, which isn’t that surprising as although initially billed as a sequel, it transpires that it was an early rejected draft of TKAM instead. In any event, it was always going to struggle in comparison.

    Some classics should just be left alone. 

    It reminded me of how excited I was to discover the sequel to “Catch-22”, one of my favourite books of all time – definitely in the top 5. The follow-up is  called “Closing Time” and follows the travails of Yossarian about 40 years after the original and was published when Heller was about 70. 

    Never heard of it? Funny that. 

    Spoiler alert – it’s not very good, but I guess even Joseph Heller has to pay the bills.

    That’s the thing about sequels, for the very occasional Godfather II or Rambo, there are thousands of shocking efforts, any of the six Police Academy ones for example. George Gaynes must be spinning in his grave!

    But with F now approaching 14 months old, it’s about the right time for me and V to start thinking about a sequel. I’m not going to use this blog as a forum to debate the pros and cons of having a second child as it’s a pretty personal and private decision and although I’m happy to make fun of my painful ailments of the nether regions and to discuss my awkward loss of virginity for comedic value, I am going to keep a few things private.

    Nevertheless, when weighing up all the aspects of bringing another human into the world and how that might affect F and us as a family, both positively and negatively,  I can’t help thinking about it rather simplistically in film terms and whether a new little one would be  “Toy Story 2” (funnier and more emotional than the original) or “Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason” instead – a mere poor imitation of the first and nowhere near as much fun. Having to endure a few years of the parenting equivalent of Renee Zellweger caterwauling her way through Madonna songs in a Thai jail isn’t that appealing.

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    And I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for the meddling hotel wifi

    Bravo, Mx36, Bravo.

    Following in the tradition of all the great detectives: Hercules Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, Tom Barnaby and, er, Scooby and Shaggy, I feel that I should invite all my friends and acquaintances into a drawing room for the great unveiling. I would allude first to some comment that made me think you were my mother-in-law, and then move on to a quick accusation of someone in the NCT gang, before finally pointing the finger at you, Mx36, or should I say Mr and Mrs Mx36. 

    It has all the hallmarks of the wife being the brains behind the operation but I am sure that the husband is involved as well.

    The reality is that if it wasn’t for WordPress technology and a comment from my very own Watson, V, I would still be struggling; however, I’m afraid you’ve fallen foul of two things. First, the fact that not many people read this blog and, secondly, that WordPress identifies the country from which the reader is accessing the blog.

    So why am I writing this at 1.45 am? 

    Partly because my sleep habits are well and truly screwed these days, but also I felt it appropriate for you to be the first to read it, Mx36, as if my time difference calculations are correct, you will be the only ones of my very small readership still awake.

    It’s been a pleasure locking horns, Mx36, thanks for reading the blog, I hope you’re enjoying it and please share with the guys you’re with.

    Until the next time.

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    I reckon Robert Pirsig would have been a great dad……if he’d put his mind to it

    In early 2003, at the age of 31, I decided to quit my job and go travelling on my own for a year. One of my many great career choices with hindsight (not!) but, hey, I wasn’t going to reach enlightenment sitting in an office near Embankment advising one boring company on how to buy another boring company was I?

    Career progression aside, it was an amazing year and I will always have incredible memories that I am sure I will draw on from time to time on this blog, not just because every day was an adventure in a new and exciting location (except maybe the three days in Bangkok I allude to below) but with all the long bus journeys and spending a lot of time alone, I was able to catch up on reading some of those classics that one never gets round to normally.

    Recently, I’ve been thinking about one such book from my travels: “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by Robert Pirsig. It was quite appropriate at the time as from memory I was holed up in a tiny hostel off the Khao San Road in Bangkok, on my bed with my feet resting above my head on the wall trying to urge a thumb-like vein back into my anus. Even a Buddhist monk would have struggled to stay calm.

    Yes, readers, I suffer from the dreaded piles and they come out to play whenever I put my body through an intensive period of hell, usually alcohol-based. It’s almost as if once the alcohol level in my blood gets above a certain amount, one of the Numbskulls, let’s call her Emma Royd for want of a better pun, is sent out to the surface for air in slug-like form to send me a message to stop poisoning my insides. 

    Clearly, one bucket too many on the Thai islands had taken its toll and I had to go through the excruciating few days of penance and abstinence before it was safe for Emma to retreat back inside and tell her Numbskull friends that it was all ok again and the ones in the brain could then lay off the “Pain worse than childbirth” button.

    If there’s one thing to take your mind off the indescribable pain of the ‘roids, then it is trying to understand a long and turgid philosophical opus about Zen and the metaphysical nature of “Quality”. Still no idea.

    It was a tough read, particularly as every few pages, a surprising squeal emanating from the couple shagging in the bunk below would make me tense muscles in my buttocks that I never knew I had, sending a shooting pain through the anal area.

    Anyway, apparently ZAMM, as I’m calling it, is in the Guiness Book of World Records for being a bestseller with the greatest number of rejections from publishers before being accepted, with 121 of them. Strange record that, perhaps I’ll have a crack at it. If I send this blog to 200 global publishers and just wait for the rejections to flood in, then at least I’m a contender, right?

    I’m not totally surprised at the first part of the record, although I can’t actually believe that the 122nd publisher, William Morrow and Company, actually took it on, although I suspect drugs may have been involved! And 5 million people have read it – really??

    Look, I’ll be honest, I’m no Zen Buddhist and so I can’t guarantee that I fully understood all the points Pirsig was making, and catching up on some reviews as research for this blog hasn’t really helped me either. However, my take away is that clearing your mind and focussing on a particular task, even one as seemingly boring as motorcycle maintenance, can be quite satisfying and calming, but the key is to keep your mind focussed and to not let other thoughts get in the way, such as “Why didn’t I just take this bike to the garage?” or  “Oh shit, I’ve now got grease on my favourite top” or even “Aaaargh, my arse!!”

    Well, I’ve come to the conclusion that Zen (whatever it is) is crucial to childcare. 

    As you know, I look after F on Thursdays and yesterday I must have thought “D, be Zen, be Zen” ten or so times, most notably in the following situations:

    1. When chasing F round her bedroom from her changemat to her playmat desperately holding an open nappy round her bits and frantically trying to do up the tabs on the side as she crawls about naked,  praying that she doesn’t take the opportunity to piss and shit everywhere. 

    Why we bothered putting a nice light-coloured carpet in her room, I’ll never know; it’s a minor miracle that it’s not covered in baby effluent already.

    2. During the half hour immediately following her afternoon nap in which I can only presume she wasn’t fully rested and tried to scream the house down regardless of my various distraction techniques – reading Pirsig quotes had no noticeable effect – “But F, don’t you realise ‘Metaphysics is a restaurant where they give you a 30,000 page menu and no food’?”

    3. While wrestling with F, first to get her clothes on without dislocating her arm out of her shoulder socket and then trying/failing to strap her into the buggy – do those straps shrink in length each time?!

    4. When playing “Baby-Carrying-Apparatus-Tetris” in the under the stairs cupboard. We live in a pretty average Victorian terrace with limited storage for buggy et al. Accordingly,  we squeeze the buggy, car seat and baby rucksack thing in the cupboard under the stairs and it is impossible to take one thing out without everything coming out and even then the fuse box cover invariably falls off and the gas pipe looks like it’s going to split open. 

    5. As I finally moved all the spare boxes of crap from our move last September into the loft, the opening of which is conveniently situated on a tiny mezzanine area above the stairs which requires balancing a step-ladder on the stairs in a way that may even be too risky for Alex Honnold, let alone me, who gets a bit nervous walking next to a low wall if there’s a drop on the other side;

    6. On the third occasion on which I banged my head on our living room lights – they’re about a foot too low, don’t ask!

    7. Unloading and loading the dishwasher …..again

    8. When being offered a spoon with my latte at Caffe Nero, although I tell them every day that I don’t need a spoon.

    I accept that I have now well and truly moved into ‘First World Problem’ territory so I’ll stop there.

    The irony is that although Robert Pirsig was ostensibly writing a true story of a road-trip across America with his young son, Chris, he doesn’t come across as taking as much care with his father-son  relationship as he does with the spark plugs of his 1964 Honda Superhawk or his self-absorbed philosophical ramblings.

    A tragic postscript is that Chris died in 1979, only a few years after the book was published, in a mugging incident that only makes one want to treasure the moments with one’s child even more, despite the need to give a nod to Zen from time to time.

    So F – keep screaming, smiling, wriggling, pooing, giggling, whining, not sleeping, grizzling, reading, clambering and peeing. Keep doing all of the good stuff and all of the tedious stuff, just keep doing it. Please.

    Anyway, that’s enough philosophical musings for one day, time for Twenty Questions.  Mx36, I’m now totally confused so going back to basics with this one: “What is the meaning of the Buddhist idea of emptiness?”

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