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.

Monday 6 July 2015

All's well that ends well

Our drive back from the perfect wedding on Sunday was enlivened by an exciting combination of mechanical brinkmanship and domestic drama.

My new Land Rover Discovery Sport, acquired at the end of March, had lulled me into a false sense of security by not going conspicuously wrong within a few hours of exiting the showroom, as Land Rovers usually do.

So I was surprised when a red warning light and the words “Restricted Performance” flashed up on the dashboard as I was driving in the fast lane of the M25. Though, being the M25, “fast” equated to approximately 15mph. Which isn’t even fast for a pushbike.

Like this, it was. Only red.

After a while, though, the pressure of traffic eased enough for me to able to accelerate. Only I couldn’t, at any rate with my customary ease, because the car would not change gear properly. I quickly established that this could be overcome by jabbing the accelerator pedal in a way that apparently encouraged it to do so.

Meanwhile a missed call on Mrs H’s phone proved to be from the lady charged with looking after our darling boys for the weekend, asking where I keep my tools. This is never a good sign.

Specifically, she was looking for a large screwdriver to remove the door handle from our bedroom, because “it wasn’t working any more” and our younger son was stuck inside.

I suggested that this might more likely have something to do with the bolt underneath the handle, which it duly proved he had used to lock himself in.

Could he unbolt it, though?

Silly question.

After a wide-ranging discussion on whether the bedroom windows were open (possibly) and whether we had a ladder long enough to reach them (definitely not) Mrs H had the brainwave of ringing our friendly local builder, who kindly drove around to the house and released the child from the room using a traditional combination of science and targeted violence.

We were advised that the boy emerged from the room with a broad grin on his face. His older brother, meanwhile, admitted that the reason Jamie had run into the room and locked the door behind him was that he had taken it upon himself to brush the child’s hair before they set off to visit their grandparents.

“I just wanted him to look smart,” he said, knowing full well that the only thing Jamie hates more than having his hair brushed is having it washed.

Still, all’s well that ends well.

And so too with the car, which I nursed as far as Beaconsfield Services before turning off the engine and turning it back on again. At which, as I expected, the warning light disappeared.

Still having the best part of 200 miles to cover to get home I rang the experts at Land Rover who said, among other gems, “No warning light, no problem … Yes, that often happens … Good luck, Mr Hann.”

So the solution to my motoring problems has become the same as the one to all my IT issues. “Have you tried turning it off and on again?”

Untroubled by mountains, floods, blizzards ...
the M25 at 15mph, on the other hand ...

Over lunch on Monday I told the story to a colleague who owns an equally new Range Rover Sport. “Happens all the time,” he said. As though it were perfectly normal to pay around £80,000 for a luxury motor car and have to turn it off and on from time to time to keep it moving.

We wound down from our trauma by taking the boys for a short walk down the lane by our house: the younger on his “new” trike (£10 from the local swapshop on Facebook) and the elder on the shiny new scooter he had been given for his birthday. It had remained in its box until now.

While he was much excited by its shininess, and the light-up footboard, he proved to be handicapped by having no idea how to use it. This was, apparently, the scooter’s fault. So much so that he rapidly dumped it by the roadside and pronounced it “Bloody rubbish.”

“Where did he get that word from?” I asked.

“John Cleese says it in Charlotte’s Web,” Mrs H replied.

Amazingly putting me in the clear once again.

Sunday 5 July 2015

Just perfect

We went to the perfect wedding yesterday. Which is a pretty remarkable thing for me to write, given that I normally don’t like weddings at all.

My age and outlook have combined to give me a decided preference for funerals, where there is usually the chance of joining in a rousing hymn or two, and an even better excuse for getting drunk after the service.

Added to which, I was effectively banned from attending weddings for some years after I was deemed to have behaved so appallingly anti-socially at one in particular that I couldn’t be trusted to go to any others.

This one, though, was very special. Held on the lawn of a lovely hotel in Sussex, it benefited from perfect weather, a gorgeous bride, handsome groom, world class music and some very entertaining fellow guests.

I particularly enjoyed talking to the elderly great aunt who believed that everyone in the world who aspired to receive a British tourist in their country should learn to speak English. While over the wedding breakfast I derived great pleasure and comfort from the company of the distinguished (knighthood, FRS) scientist whose travel ambitions were strictly limited to the occasional outing from his palatial home in Cambridge to his moated manor house in Suffolk. An approach to “abroad” curiously similar to my own.

There were some excellent and heartfelt speeches, too, particularly from my godson the groom. He told the company that he was ignoring a strict instruction from his bride to talk for no more than five minutes, and was taking as his model the 25 minute speech I had delivered at my own wedding.

I was later moved to check my wedding script, and found that it should have taken no more than 17 minutes to deliver, even allowing for drunken stumbles and pauses to allow the gales of appreciative laughter to wash over. Clearly it just seemed like 25 minutes to those in my audience.

Thursday 2 July 2015

Are I two, Mummy?

Today we are officially halfway through 2015, meaning that I am officially a useless blogger for having failed to post anything at all since last December.

In my defence I am an old man, with the inevitable ravages of age on my energy levels undoubtedly exacerbated by obesity.

I never said it was going to be a good defence.

Still, there is undoubtedly some progress to report. Yesterday, when Mrs H picked our now six-year-old boy up from school, his form teacher mentioned that there was a letter for us in his book bag.

“Yes,” said Charlie proudly. “I’m going to be in Form 3 next year!”

“That is supposed to be a private letter to your parents, Charlie.”

Still, at least it demonstrates that he can read, and that the taxpayers’ investment in his education has not been entirely wasted.

I guess it also demonstrates a modicum of curiosity and initiative, neither of which is altogether unwelcome.

Meanwhile his younger brother is three, and very focused on being so. Quarter him a sandwich for his tea and he will only eat three pieces. Offer him a sweet and he will demand three as follows:

“Are I two, Mummy? Are I two? No, I are three. So I have to have three sweets.”

Last week we decided that the time had come to begin giving the six-year-old some pocket money, and fixed on £2 a week as an appropriate starting rate.

“What about me?” asked the three-year-old.

“Do you think we should give Jamie some pocket money as well?’ asked Mrs H.

“Yes,” said Charlie.

“All right, Jamie. You can have two pounds a week as well.”

“No, I have to have three pounds, because I’m three.”

“Well that’s not fair because I’m only getting two pounds, and I’m six.” And so on.

We had my 90-year-old aunt to stay last weekend, and on Monday I picked her and Jamie up from home before collecting Charlie from school. Shortly afterwards, in the fairly narrow lane between the school and our house, we met a bus coming the other way at some speed.

“Oh, shit!” yelled Jamie from his car seat in the back.

“Is that a nice word to use in front of your Great Aunt?”

“No,” said Charlie. “But once Mummy said ‘Oh, shit!’ so now Jamie always says ‘Oh shit!’ when we nearly hit something.”

Whether it’s confidential letters or the occasional expletive, nothing gets past these children. Given that they live with me, the only puzzle is that their conversation does not consist entirely of barrack room swear words and politically incorrect allusions. Mrs H suggests that this is because “even they know it is wrong” and are therefore clearly more mature than I am.