Monday, 18 April 2016

Winning the lottery

If there is one thing I have learned from the white heat of the technological revolution, it is that it is always a seriously bad idea to consult an electronic device while in bed.

Even if one manages to avoid accidentally flicking the switch that will unleash a tsunami of top class pornography, the chances of getting to, or back, to sleep are as close to zero as makes no difference.

So very unlike my experience of the good old-fashioned book, magazine or newspaper, any of which are more or less guaranteed to bore me into the deepest of slumbers within minutes.

Nevertheless, when I woke in the early hours of this morning, I found that I could not resist sneaking a quick look at my iPad. Because I knew that, at 00.30 precisely, the Government was releasing the results of a lottery far more valuable and important than Camelot’s EuroMillions: the allocation of primary school places for September 2016.

I would have found out then if only my device had remembered the necessary password, as it is supposed to do but rarely does. So I put temptation aside, screwed my eyes shut with the determination of a Border terrier fixed on laying down some zzzs in the face of bright sunshine and some nearby pneumatic drill action, and checked again shortly after 6 when I was up and about in the normal course of events, and able to access the Top Secret Folder in which my passwords (all different, constantly changing and fiendishly hard to guess, obviously) are stored.

And there was great rejoicing in the House of Hann for the child previously described in these pages as The Baby, but now clearly overdue for promotion to The Boy Mk 2, had secured a place at our first choice school.

In reality this should have been no surprise given the operation of sibling preference and the fact that the school, though excellent in every respect, is not oversubscribed. A consequence, I imagine, not just of its being located in a fairly sparsely populated rural area but also almost on the boundary between two of the unitary local authorities into which our county was split by Labour in 2009. The fact that one of them came under Labour control last year suggests that there might have been some method in their apparent madness.

I pressed the “accept” button with alacrity and rushed to share the good news with the other members of the family, who all received it with total indifference. Because they had assumed (correctly as it turned out) that this was what was going to happen all along.

Personally, I feel that my pessimistic “what could possibly go wrong” mindset is of great benefit in allowing me to enjoy moments of elation when things do actually go right. On the downside, there was no one interested in sharing the bottle of Champagne I had reserved for this happy occasion.

Sunday, 17 April 2016

A day out with Thomas

Me: “Would you like to go and see Thomas the Tank Engine, boys?”

Boys: “No.”

Me: “Why not?”

Boys: “We’d rather stay at home and play on our iPads.”

(Technically Kindle Fires, but who am I to undermine their credibility in the playground?)

Me: “Well we’re going anyway.”

Boys: “Awwwwww.” So it was that we drove to Llangollen and shelled out £52 – that’s fifty-two English pounds, more than I earned in a week in my first job – to chug to Carrog and back in the sort of 1960s Diesel Multiple Unit which I always hated so much when it was the mainstay of British Rail in my younger days; plus shunting back and forth in Llangollen station yard in a brake van propelled by a very reasonable simulacrum of Thomas himself.

I would like to emphasise that this is NOT a selfie
There was a puppet show and face-painting as well, but the boys quite reasonably consider all that sort of thing beneath their dignity. All they really want to do is go into shops and buy toys, with scant regard to price, quality or the fact that they already own most of the items on display.

I managed to persuade them that there was no point forking out hundreds of pounds we have not got to buy model locomotives that I already possess, gathering dust in my loft in Northumberland.

I assembled a large collection of them in the early 1990s, confident that I was making a brilliant investment for the future. And indeed auction results did seem to suggest that vintage Hornby trains were an appreciating asset, for a time.

Only those prices were driven up by sad old men, like me, satisfying a lifelong yen to own the coveted toys they could never afford when they were children.

A quarter of a century on, the same sad old men are dying or downsizing, and there is no one particularly interested in buying the collections they built up. Hence I am consistently advised that my models are worth less than I paid for them.

Might as well let the children wreck them, then. That is, after all, what they were designed for. And at least it will give them some fun away from their iPads for a while.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Northumberland versus New York

In the Hann family, we believe in democracy. So we held a vote on where to spend the school’s Easter holiday (that was not actually at Easter) and the results were as follows:

Me: Northumberland (1 vote).

Mrs H and Boys: New York (3 votes, no spoilt ballots).

After various attempts to have the result weighted by age or otherwise set aside I came up with an ingenious compromise: they went to New York, while I went to Northumberland. I even helped them on their way by allowing them to use the air miles that have been lying idle since I last banked with an organisation that gave them away on credit card transactions, approximately two decades ago.

I drove them to Manchester airport for their first security check-in of the day, given that they were travelling via Heathrow and would have to repeat the whole rigmarole there. I cheerily waved them off, but no one thought to look back and wave to me.

Apparently it was all great fun, though the elder Boy did manage to slip between the platform and the train while navigating the subway in the rush hour; luckily a couple of passers-by hauled him to safety. This tale improves with every telling (“Mummy, I could feel the wheel on my leg, starting to move”).

Other highlights included Central Park Zoo, the High Line, the Transit Museum and the Empire State Building. I refrained from pointing out that remarkably similar attractions could be found in the UK, without making a seven-hour trans-Atlantic flight.

Proudly demonstrating their Geordie ancestry: two boys in T-shirts while everyone else is muffled in winter coats

Most evenings they went to the same restaurant near their hotel and ate pizza. After their third visit, Mrs H suggested that maybe they could try somewhere different the next night. They initially agreed, then The Boy Mk 2 came up with an even better idea: “We’ll go to the same place, but I’ll order something different.”

As for Northumberland, it was very nice on the one and only day that the sun shone.

I missed them. I await an indication that they missed me.

Tuesday, 12 January 2016

By working as a team

I was sitting in my non-functioning geriatric’s reclining chair by the gurgling log-burner in our kitchen early yesterday evening, a Bloody Mary by my side and The Times on my lap, when my elder son and heir unexpectedly appeared in the chair beside me.

Now 6½, The Boy looked both intensely earnest and slightly odd. Though any concerns about the latter were swiftly dismissed when I remembered that he had recently lost both his upper front teeth, happily in the natural course of events rather than in a playground scrap.

“Daddy,” he began, as he usually does. “Jamie wants to have 101 Dalmatians …”

I was about to point out that we had already bought him the DVD, but was afforded no chance.

“… and that means we’ll have 103 dogs with the two we’ve already got, so we need to buy a really big house and garden.”

“OK, and how are we going to be able to afford that?”

“By working as a team,” he responded, nodding earnestly, for all the world as though he had progressed overnight from primary school to a full-time career as a motivational speaker.

“Do you have a great money-making idea, then?”

“Yes, we can do it easily by working as a team. I’ve got £25.19 in my money box, Mummy’s got £30 and Jamie’s got £6.21. How many pounds have you got, Daddy?”

“More than Mummy.”

“How much more?”

“Lots more.”

“So can we buy a bigger house, then?”

“How much do you think a bigger house would cost?”

“Ooh, maybe two thousand pounds?”

“Charlie, do you know how much this house cost?”


“Three hundred and sixty-five thousand pounds.”


“So a big house somewhere round here would cost getting on for a million pounds. Do you think we could raise a million pounds?”



“By working as a team.”

Clearly I should have asked: "Why does he want Dalmatians when the Border terriers are so perfectly colour-coordinated with the furniture?"

Shortly afterwards I heard him talking to his younger brother and Mummy upstairs, and got out of my chair and wandered up to eavesdrop and then intervene.

“Jamie, Daddy says he’s got LOTS of pounds, so maybe we can buy a bigger house and you can have your Dalmatians.”

“No, I said I had lots more pounds than Mummy. More than £30, that is.” (Quietly amazed that Mummy has any pounds at all, since she is even more famed for not carrying cash than Her Majesty The Queen.) “So I really don’t see how we can afford to move. We’ve got two houses as it is and we can’t really afford to keep those.”

“Yes, we can.”


“By working as a team.”

 I’ve always been a solitary writer and sole trader myself, but I look forward to this exciting new experience. Though at the risk of sounding cynical, I’ve bought a Euromillions ticket for tonight and suspect that there is slightly more chance of it yielding the price of a mansion than Hann teamwork.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

For you, the holidays are over

I returned from holiday late on Sunday, after an inevitably long drive from Northumberland that was considerably lengthened by road works on the A1 south of Morpeth.

Locals have angrily taken to Twitter to cite the resulting chaos as evidence of the need to make urgent progress on the Government’s pledge to dual the A1. Ignoring the fact that the problems afflict one of the bits that was dual carriageway already, until someone decided that the peak holiday travel season would be a good time to close half of it down.

As I walked through the front door two freshly bathed small boys hurtled down the stairs, yelling greetings. The younger shouted “Charge!” and literally flung himself from several steps above where I stood. Given my age, slow reactions and legendary lack of co-ordination it was something of a miracle that I actually managed to catch him.

“It’s a trust thing,” Mrs H explained. “It shows how much he trusts you.”

I remarked that it could easily have made him much better acquainted with another sort of trust. The one that runs our local hospital.

At any rate I feel able to mark down the fact that they were clearly pleased to see me as an indication that our two week family holiday in Northumberland had been a success.

Much more of a success, certainly, than our previous attempt to spend two fun-filled, sun-filled weeks on the golden sandy beaches of England’s premier stretch of coast. On that occasion we spent 13 days out of 14 watching rain lash horizontally against the conservatory windows, while the 14th day of brilliant sunshine was naturally the one we had arranged to spend indoors with friends in Newcastle, in anticipation of the deluge continuing.

It wasn’t sunny, as such, all the time. But it was generally dry and warm enough to be outdoors without either pullovers or displeasure.

We spent a fair bit of time on the beach, at Alnmouth, Seahouses, Bamburgh or Druridge Bay. The last was the greatest revelation: I had forgotten just how beautiful it is.

We spent nearly every half decent summer Sunday there when I was a child, driving in my Dad’s white Ford Consul or later green Morris Oxford, with Grandma H (1881 - 1973) in the back, always clad in black like the granny in Giles’s cartoons.

Out of the car boot came a primus stove encased in an old biscuit tin, on which Dad would first heat up Heinz cream of tomato soup, always diluted with milk, then brew tea for the grown-ups while I tucked into the packets of tinned salmon sandwiches. Then it was off over the dunes for an afternoon on the beach and in the sea while Grandma dozed in the car.

I have an abiding memory of discovering buried treasure in the sand one day: a hoard not just of old pennies but of shillings, florins and half crowns. My Dad offered to look after it for me. I never saw it again. With hindsight it is only fair to add that it might have fallen out of his trouser pocket in the first place.

Anyway, our days on the beach were just like that, only minus my late parents, the primus stove, the buried treasure and the canvas windbreak that might actually prove rather a good investment for 2016, if I still own a house in Northumberland and am permitted to return there for my holiday.

The boys would certainly be in favour. I asked the elder yesterday morning if he had enjoyed the break and he said he had.

“Would you like to go back again at half term?”


“I think Mummy wants to go to Majorca.”

“I don’t want to go anywhere they don’t speak English! I like it here!”

As Mrs H often observes, it was just like I had been shrunk and started speaking in a higher pitched voice.

The irony is that she also says that she shows him pictures of Majorcan villas and hotels, with swimming pools and sandy beaches, and asks if he would like to go there. And he says he would, very much. So long as he can make himself understood. “I don’t want to spend my time pointing at things!”

On the one hand this desire to please both parents by telling them slightly different things might point to a future career in diplomacy. On the other, I don’t think that a refusal to converse in anything but English is necessarily going to constitute a strength with the Foreign & Commonwealth Office selection panel.

Our nearest State secondary school brands itself as a “specialist language college”. So I suppose I’d better stop writing this blog and apply myself to something more remunerative, with a view to saving up to pay his school fees somewhere else.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

And that's why I are three

There was a gentle knock on the study door as I was wading through my daily delivery of press cuttings this morning.

“What is it?”

The senior boy, who plays the role of shop steward on such occasions, replied: “Daddy, Jamie would like some paper to draw on.”

“Come on in, then. Jamie, how many sheets would you like?”

Of course, I already knew the answer. Three. It is always three. Because, as you may well have heard, “I are three.”

A couple of days ago he asked Mrs H, “Mummy, do you know why I are three?” She shook her head and received a pitying look.

“Because I’ve been one, and I’ve been two. And that’s why I are three.”

I think you will find that his logic is impossible to fault.