Monday, 26 December 2011

And so this is Christmas

15st 13lb, 4.5 units (reels back in amazement at own self-restraint in Christmas Day alcohol consumption, though sadly not in calorie intake and resultant avoirdupois).

An almost total stranger e-mailed me the other day with a simple question: “Whither Bloke in the North?”

Yes, I checked. There was a question mark at the end, and a second “h” in “wither”.

It seemed a reasonable enquiry, given the comparative lack of activity on this blog in 2011. Though curiously it still seems to receive more visitors than my other blog,, which I faithfully update every week. And to which I devote far more care and attention than I ever did to this, because each entry is also a newspaper column published in that great daily paper of the North East, The Journal.

Perhaps I inadvertently created a memorable brand in Bloke in the North. Or maybe “bloke” is just one of those words, like “porn”, that people simply cannot resist typing into search engines.

Dear faithful reader, I apologize for the lack of attention to your needs.

The facts are that I started this blog a little over four years ago when I was a confirmed bachelor (though not in the usual sense of “screaming queen”) of 53, largely unemployed, and contemplating a solitary decline towards an early grave. Starting it was a way of whistling to keep my spirits up, while in the back of my mind was the completely insane idea that it might catch the eye of a publisher who would commission me to write something more profitable.

I know. Ridiculous, isn’t it?

I also used it for a time as a surprisingly effective way to discipline myself into losing weight. By the time I gave up I was two stone lighter, though still about 21 pounds above my theoretically ideal weight. I felt much better about myself, though kind friends later told me that I looked bloody awful. There is nothing like a bit of fat for filling out wrinkles. So at least I must look terrific now that I have put every ounce back on, as fat bastards always do.

But before I did that, something completely unpredictable happened. My low profile presence on the internet caught the eye of a young woman, who got in touch to introduce me to a less particular friend who was in the habit of going out with older men. My correspondent had an unusual name, which looked like two spectacularly bad hands in a game of Scrabble. Only the fact that she gave the name of her employer, and that her chief executive happened to be an old friend of mine, prevented me from immediately consigning her message to the trash.

I never did meet her friend, but the young woman and I are now married with a two-and-a-half-year-old son and another boy due to be born in February, though the groans from Mrs H on the sofa last night did make me wonder whether we were going to have to revise our plans and call him Noel rather than Jamie.

So never believe those wiseacres who assert that blogging is a sad waste of time. This one literally transformed my life.

In so doing, it made me immeasurably busier. Not just because of the presence in my life of the aforementioned wife and children (almost) but because of the additional work I have felt obliged to undertake. This being my admittedly not particularly successful way of trying to support them in the style to which they would like to become accustomed.

Not only do I have less free time in which to write, but my natural subject matter has changed, too. From what were supposed to be hilarious tales of my pretty consistent failure to get my leg over with attractive young women who subsequently turned out to be clinically insane, to heartwarming “kids say the funniest things!” anecdotes of the kind so effectively parodied in Viz, and which were once (and, for all I know, may still be) the staples of the letters pages in the Sunday Sun, Sunday Post and People’s Friend.

I would be happy enough to post these on a much more regular basis, but I worry that doing so under the heading of “Bloke in the North” would be so far removed from its original prospectus as to put me at risk of prosecution under the 1968 Trade Descriptions Act.

On the other hand, perhaps it is the reader’s responsibility to keep up? Is Martin Sorrell regularly upbraided, at the head office of WPP, because he cannot supply callers with wire shopping baskets?


As an indication of what I am up against, the narrative was interrupted at that point so that I could answer two-year-old Charlie’s first question of the morning: “Where my Advent calendar gone?” (The answer produced tears, as he had got used to a fix of chocolate before his morning milk.) Then my laptop was commandeered so that he could watch three episodes of Chuggington while Mummy prepared breakfast.

Christmas Eve morning, and The Boy knows he has an important date with a chocolate Santa

“Would you like some eggs, Charlie?”


So Mrs H cooked delicious scrambled eggs while I carved some wonderful smoked salmon from Swallow Fish in Seahouses, and toasted and buttered a couple of slices of bread.

“There you are, Charlie. Eggs with pink fish. Your favourite.”

“No, no, no! I don’t want it!” The bowl was flung across the table, though we did not get more tears until he applied his full weight to disentangling the cat’s Christmas present from some obstruction or other, and it snapped and catapulted him across the kitchen.

All in all, a pretty typical morning with a toddler. Or at any rate our toddler.

On Christmas Eve Mrs H took him out to see a local hunt meet, because there is nothing he likes more than horses, dogs, 4x4s and horseboxes. He snored through the whole thing. Then she took her eye off him for a minute or two after lunch and returned to find him holding a strip of tablets that she had carefully hidden on a high work surface in a remote corner of the kitchen. He proudly announced that he had taken one. But had he? Mrs H could not remember whether there had been six or seven tablets left in the strip when she took her last one. Now there were definitely only six. So it was possible, though unlikely as the tablets seemed rather too large for a two-year-old to swallow. And given that it is hellishly difficult to get him to eat anything at all apart from fish fingers and sausages, what were the chances that he would he chew his way through a very unpalatable pill?

“Did you take one of Mummy’s pills?”

“Yes, I did.”

“Are you sure?”


On the one hand, it is said that small children never lie because they have not yet learned how to do so. On the other hand we know that he is immensely suggestible and will agree to almost anything.

So Mrs H consulted the internet on what damage taking one of her pills for gestational diabetes might do to a two-year-old. Then she rang NHS Direct, who did clearly did precisely the same thing. They advised that it would probably be all right, but there were some exceptionally rare potential complications, so the best thing to do would be to take him to hospital and have him checked out. The last thing any parent wants to hear on Christmas Eve.

By the time they rang back with this advice we had arrived at church for the Christmas Eve crib service. Since no urgency was suggested, and a spot of prayer seemed appropriate, we went in and joined the packed congregation. Everyone else sang three of my favourite carols: Away in a manger, Once in Royal David’s City and Oh little town of Bethlehem. Charlie sang Jingle Bells and somehow his one small voice seemed to carry through the church more powerfully than the several hundred others competing with it.

Then we drove to hospital and joined the queue in A&E, after asking Charlie yet again whether he had taken one of Mummy’s pills as it was very important and we were all going to have to go to hospital if he had.

“Yes, I did,” he insisted.

We were pleasantly surprised that the reception staff at A&E did not greet us by our first names as we walked in, since we see them so often these days. First there was a consultation with a nurse, who did not think there was anything to worry about. Then I stupidly raised the very rare complications that NHS Direct had mentioned, which sent her off to look them up on the internet. She returned with a doctor, who looked about 13, and that was after he had been prematurely aged by exhaustion. And we had a remarkably similar conversation with him. Then he went off to consult a paediatric specialist and came back with his advice: “Admit for observation.”

“You see, Charlie, you’re going to miss Santa now because you took one of Mummy’s pills. You’re going to have to stay in hospital.”

“No, no! I want to go home!”

“But you took one of Mummy’s pills.”

“No, I didn’t! I didn’t!”

“Then why did you say you did?”

“I don’t know.”

Did you take one of Mummy's pills?

“Of course,” the young doctor said, “If you want to ignore medical advice and take him home, that’s up to you.”

Mrs H asked exactly what their “observation” would consist of, and it proved to comprise waking him up in the middle of the night, checking that he wasn’t in a diabetic coma and measuring his blood sugar. All of which, she pointed out, as a (hopefully temporary) diabetic equipped with a blood testing kit, she was fully equipped to do at home, and bring him back to hospital if the results were unsatisfactory.

The doctor seemed satisfied with this compromise, so we left. As we drove out of the hospital, a little voice piped up from the back of the car: “I did take one of Mummy’s pills. I did.”

Back home, The Boy prepared a spread for Santa. I drew the line at eating Rudolph's carrot.

I don’t suppose we will ever know the truth, but he survived to see Christmas and to open his presents, which afforded him some pleasure. Though I relearned the lesson of last Christmas that one gift brings great joy to a small child, and more than one is really just a distraction. I assumed that he would be most pleased with the ride-on John Deere tractor that I had spent a hellish evening assembling from a kit of parts with the aid of instructions that came in a wide range of languages, apparently including ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics, yet strangely excluding English. However, this proved to be a disappointment on two grounds: (a) because he resolutely refused to pedal it, as seeming far too much like hard work, and (b) because I vetoed the use of the front loader attachment to bulldoze a large stretch of the lawn.

Would-be farmer with major capex in equipment

On the plus side, he was delighted with the modestly priced model Land Rover that I had bought him from the Rothbury toyshop that is such a great resource for those with small children obsessed with agricultural machinery.

After we came in from the garden, he became obsessed with (a) getting hold of my box of matches, (b) turning on the cooker and (c) placing his hand on the red hot hob. Perhaps it was these distractions that caused his mother to turn on the wrong hotplate and melt the plastic base of the smart new electric coffee grinder I had unpacked only that morning.

Then we had lunch, where the Boy carried his obsession with gravy to previously unseen heights, demanding that he be allowed to spoon more and more of it onto his already overflowing plate. He wouldn’t actually eat any of his Christmas dinner apart from a couple of chipolatas, once they had been carefully denuded of their bacon wrapping. Then he had a meltdown over the Great Gravy Shortage and fell off his chair. I ate my Auntie’s fantastic Christmas pudding and brandy butter, after which we all had a well-earned nap that was pretty much the highlight of the day.

Merry Christmas, everyone.