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.