Warren's Blog

Tuesday 21st April

I like to think I’m quite clever when it comes to the latest technology and gadgets and I’m often the go to man when friends and family need their new television hooked up, their new printer installed or their new mobile phone set up. I’ve even been called to assist in changing a ringtone on a mobile phone and waking up an unresponsive tablet computer. It’s something I enjoy doing, so it is never a chore. It seems I have passed on my love for technology to my five year old daughter Caitlin who has recently been teaching me a few things. On our TV box I’ve got many TV shows recorded so that I can watch later. Caitlin has also worked out how to record her favourite kids TV shows. So now when I scroll down the recorded shows I’ll see shows like Scooby Doo and Barbie have been added. But then Caitlin showed me something I didn’t know was possible, how to separate the recordings so that I only see my recordings and she only sees hers. The go to gadget man now has a go to gadget daughter.

Spring has sprung, longer days are here which means no one wants to be stuck in a stuffy house but instead out enjoying everything Portsmouth and the surrounding areas have to offer. But of course this means sometimes jumping in the car, strapping the kids into their booster seats and setting off on a journey that might take a little longer than usual. But as any parent knows this journey will not be an easy one because there are quite a few challenges to deal with as you travel between A and B. First comes the inevitable, those words that have come out of every child’s mouth on every journey throughout every generation. Even before the trusty car was invented all children were saying these words whilst travelling to their destination on horse and cart. Those words are ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ You’ll be asked this even before the engine has got warm, then at least every ten minutes until you can answer honestly with the word ‘yes’. Another challenge of a car journey with young children is when it feels like you’re in one of those new 4D cinemas when your seats vibrates to simulate the action on the screen. Except I’m not in a 4D cinema, I’m in  my car and the vibration I’m feeling on my back is my daughter kicking my chair. I ask her to stop, which she does, but when boredom takes hold those legs might start swinging again without instruction from the brain, but then I give her a look in the rear view mirror which makes her realise what her legs are doing and kicking stops suddenly. Then just when I think they’ve forgotten about the Frozen soundtrack CD that is sitting hidden from view in the glove compartment of my car, they request it be inserted into the CD player and turned up so that we can all have a family sing along. It’s the film that just won’t go away and I already know that the music from the successful Disney film will be part of many more car journeys this year. Then of course there are the times when I have to become a champion contortionist and demonstrate my extreme flexibility to retrieve a dropped toy or teddy. I twist my body in every direction possible, turn my arm so that it is almost coming loose from my shoulder joint and try and stretch and spread my fingers as far as they will possibly go to retrieve the toy or teddy that will be dropped again in five minutes time. But thankfully, eventually, after another interesting journey, you reach your destination without any stops. Well, that’s unless the dreaded words ‘I need a wee’ were spoken.

Tuesday 14th April


Apart from the sunshine and warmer temperatures, there are so many signs that nicer weather has arrived on the South Coast. There are the obvious things such as hearing the ice cream van and its chimes signal that a tasty treat has arrived on your street, as well as opening the curtains and letting sunshine flood into every corner of the room. But I’ve noticed a few other things signalling that spring has sprung, such as people walking along the pavement carrying a big coat that they’d brought with them ‘just in case’. Very soon, they realise that they would break out in a sweat if they wore it, so it ends up being carried under their arm. Another sign that winter is now over is the lack of parking spaces available along Eastney and Southsea seafronts, as the great weather means that hundreds are flocking to the coast. My daughters signalled the start of the sunny season by requesting to play in the garden. This means I have to summon the gardener in me to spruce up its sorry looking state, although before that happens I need to locate some spare change because the ice cream man doesn’t accept debit cards.
Every father and mother has felt proud of their son or daughter. You know the moment when they make your heart burst with joy and happiness because of something they’ve done. It starts from the very moment they are born, when you hold them for the first time and they look up at you. You have a mixture of emotions but feeling protective and proud usually overpower the rest. Then time and time again, they do things that bring a smile to your face. There are the more obvious occasions such as when they make a babbly noise for the first time or when they take their first steps and then land on their bottoms only to get up to do it all over again. Those moments keep coming right up to the first day at school when they look far too young to be wearing a school uniform. But I’ve come to appreciate that most of the things my daughters do that make me proud aren’t obvious. Recently my daughter Alyssa was riding her bicycle and inevitably, she fell off. It wasn’t the first time and it certainly won’t be the last but on this particular occasion, after crashing to the ground and using her hands to break her fall, she simply got up, dusted herself down and carried on, leaving one very proud dad looking on. Then, a few weeks ago my eldest daughter Caitlin picked up a sickness bug, which meant whatever food went down also came back up - but no one knew when that was going to happen. One of my least favourite duties as a daddy is cleaning up sick, which I have had to do on many occasions! This time, when Caitlin knew that she was about to be ill, it didn’t end up all over her Disney Princess duvet or on her cream-coloured carpet. Instead, she managed to get herself to the bathroom just in time. Another proud moment for me was when I asked three year-old Alyssa to sing a song in front of family members who had come to visit. Usually, she’s happy to take centre stage in the living room and perform for her mum and myself, but if anybody else is watching, she gets overcome with shyness. Recently, as her great nan and granddad watched, she sang a song that she’d been taught at pre-school. I wasn’t the only proud person in that room, I think Alyssa was quite proud of herself too. I have lots of proud moments with my daughters and I’m sure there will be plenty more to come.

Tuesday 7th April

When my daughters sit behind me in the car, strapped into their car seats, there are some places they get very excited about visiting. The many parks in Portsmouth spring to mind, along with Paultons Park and any swimming pool with flumes and slides. However last week, as I started the car engine, my three year-old daughter Alyssa asked me, “Where are we going?”. She wasn’t too impressed with my answer. My reply was, “To look for a kitchen”. OK, I realise that a kitchen showroom might not be the most exciting place for a child to be, but I was pleasantly surprised. It’s times like this, when a child is bored, that their behaviour is tested and I’m pleased to say that she was quite happy to look around with me. As we were about to leave, she called out, “Daddy”. I thought this would be followed with the words, “I’m bored”, but I was wrong. She had a request - to go up and down the in-store escalator one more time. For her excellent behaviour, I was more than happy to say, “Yes”.

It goes without saying that I love my children with all my heart. Being a hands-on dad gives me so much joy and I love spending as much time with my daughters as I possibly can. But let’s be completely honest here, sometimes children can make steam come out of your ears because they can be a little bit annoying! All parents know that sometimes their little darlings can drive them up the wall. For example, the occasions when they get all their toys out and don’t put them back in the toy box or when they get their colouring pens out and yet when it’s time to put them away, the pen lids have mysteriously disappeared. I have come to realise that sometimes though, it’s me, the dad, who is the annoying one. Yes, I can get completely in the way of their fun, just like the times when three year-old Alyssa or five year-old Caitlin are sitting all comfy on the sofa watching their favourite television programme or film. Then I come along with the noisy vacuum cleaner and disturb their viewing pleasure. Over the whirring sound I hear them say “Dad, we can’t hear the TV now”. If looks could kill, you wouldn’t be reading these words right now. Another way that a child can get annoyed is when you change their plans. We were all looking forward to a planned trip to the swimming pool recently but it had to be cancelled at the last minute. Try telling a three year-old child that it was “due to circumstances beyond our control” and you’ll have a blank and confused face staring back at you. Yet another way you can change from being a loving, kind parent into a horrible parent in the eyes of your child is to give them a broken biscuit. It doesn’t even need to be a biscuit, it can be a chocolate bar or a slice of cake. The rule is it must be whole and complete. Try giving them a custard cream that should’ve been put into the broken biscuit packet or a Kit Kat that no longer has its fingers intact and they will look at you like you are the devil. Recently, three year-old Alyssa has become more independent than ever and likes to do most things herself. So when she is putting on her shoes by herself and is taking what seems like forever, I must leave her alone to do it. If I intervene, I will realise very quickly that she does not need my help. Sometimes my children can make me a bit irritable but I understand that sometimes I make them irritable too!


Tuesday 31st March


It doesn’t happen often, but occasionally I have regretted a gift that I have bought for one of my two daughters or I’ve grimaced at something they have been given by friends or family. Most of the time the gift that has brought on these feelings is of a noisy musical nature, like when they were both given a flute type plastic toy that made the most piercing and ear splitting noise ever. I was a very pleased parent when they lost interest in those toys. But just recently came more regret but this time with something completely different. Before bed each night both my daughters love to read so I bought them a few new books to enjoy. One of these was ‘Where’s Wally’, a childrens book that features pages of various people and objects in different settings and the job of the reader is to find the character called Wally on the page. My help was obviously requested in locating the man with the funny name and it feels like the last few days have simply been spent finding Wally. Just like Wally I’m considering going into hiding until he is found.
We’ve all got a guilty pleasure and I’ve come to realise that chocolate is mine. I’m not the only one though, we’re a nation of chocolate lovers, but I worry that I enjoy it a little bit more than the average person. I’m not fussy at all when it comes to the sweet stuff. My top choice would probably be the milk chocolate variety which contains some sort of crunchy nut, maybe hazelnuts. But give me anything that has the word ‘chocolate’ written on the wrapper and I’ll be happy to consume its contents. Just recently I’ve got a real taste for the chocolate that supposedly contains seventy per cent cocoa which apparently has many benefits including improving your mood and releasing positive ‘Endorphin’ chemicals into your body. So of course, that gives me an excuse to eat more. But there is a downside to having a big love for chocolate and that is all the added calories it brings with every chunk eaten so I try not to indulge too often. I remember feeling frustrated after going for a five kilometre jog along Southsea seafront and my GPS running watch telling me I’d burnt off over three hundred calories. When I got home, my reward was a bar of my favourite chocolate, nice and cold from the fridge, just the way I like it. But a quick glance on the packet revealed the chocolate bar contained around three hundred calories. All that jogging for just one bar of chocolate that would be devoured in just a few minutes, life is just not fair. Although I don’t over indulge very often, there are two times of the year when I probably eat more than might be healthy. Christmas time when those big tins of chocolates make their way into my home and Easter time when extra space is needed in the kitchen cupboards for all the chocolate eggs with their huge over the top packaging. Our fridge usually contains a section where small bars of chocolate are stored as a treat for my daughters or to reward their good behaviour. But now, with Easter just days away I’m aware that soon it might resemble a scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. Unfortunately, none of that chocolate will belong to me. Being part of a large family means that both Caitlin and Alyssa tend to end up with what Charlie did in the famous film, a lifetime supply of chocolate. I worry that if left alone in the house with so much tasty chocolate, the temptation maybe too much to take and I may eat the entire stock. But of course this would be mean and it doesn’t belong to me. However, over the next few weeks I will be re-enforcing to my daughters the importance of sharing, like any responsible parent should.

Tuesday 24th March

Do you remember the time when viewing a photo album didn’t mean swiping to the right? I’m talking about when you had to put film in the camera, wind it on to take another photo and then visit the photo printers. Twenty-four hours later, you’d have your photos in your hands, unless you opted to pay extra for the hour-long service. Now though, most of us take all our photos using our smartphones. This is great, especially for parents, when a magic moment happens and you simply whip out your phone and capture it forever. But the problem is that I just take too many photos and because they are documenting my daughters’ early years, I want to keep every single one of them. I could get them developed so I have a physical copy, but I’ve got so many it would cost a small fortune. My phone memory is full so I back them up to ‘The Cloud’, but even that is running low on storage, unless I pay extra. Life was so much easier when a camera could only take twenty-seven shots!

Boys love their toys and for me, I’ve always been a lover of the latest gadget. When I was young, you might have seen me walking down Commercial Road in Portsmouth with my brand new shiny cassette Walkman, thinking that I was the bee’s knees. I’d hop on the number 21 bus from Copnor Road down to Commercial Road, hop off in Edinburgh Road and walk past the famous fountain just to visit the now defunct Woolworths to buy cassettes for my new modern gadget. Of course, being a store that sold a huge variety of things, shopping at Woolworths meant that I could also buy a pencil that I’d need later to wind the tape back when the Walkman would chew it all up. But when I wasn’t bopping around to some nineties pop music on the go, I’d be engrossed in the latest game on my Sega Mega Drive like Sonic the Hedgehog. In those days you couldn’t save your game, so to complete it took a lot of dedication and quite a few hours. I used to get annoyed when I’d get all the way to the end of the game and no one would be around to see my glory. Obviously things have moved on and the gadgets that I used to play with as a child and teenager now seem pre-historic. Imagine giving a cassette Walkman or Sega Mega Drive to a ten year-old child today. They would laugh right back at you. These days, my favourite gadgets include my smartphone and my sat nav. You wonder how we ever coped without them in the past, but obviously in twenty years time, the gadgets of today will look old and pre-historic too. I remember being at primary school and I was allowed to use a BBC Microcomputer, which was popular in schools across the UK throughout the eighties and early nineties with its black and orange keys. Now in schools, children are using the latest iPads and laptops as an education tool. Just recently when I was working on my laptop, my five year-old daughter Caitlin asked if she could have a go. I passed it to her, expecting her to look confused and pass it straight back. But I was surprised and delighted to hear her telling me all about the features of Microsoft Word and how to do a PowerPoint presentation. I couldn’t believe it, my five year-old daughter was telling me things that even I didn’t know about my own laptop. I thought I was clever when it comes to technology and gadgets but it seems my daughter is teaching me a thing or two. It also didn’t take a scientist to work out who had downloaded something new to my iPad - I’m sure that I wasn’t responsible for adding a Barbie makeover game. She’s getting clever and I need to try and keep up.

Tuesday 17th March

Last week, I visited the Sea City Museum in Southampton with my daughters Caitlin and Alyssa. The main area of the museum explains the impact that the sinking of Titanic had on Southampton. This is something that fascinates me, but I wondered how much my girls would enjoy the experience being just three and five years old. Let’s face it, at those ages, history is not the most exciting subject, but I was pleasantly surprised. The museum has worked hard to create an interactive experience which meant the girls enjoyed dressing up to look like the ships' passengers, stoking the fire in the furnace room and sitting in the judge's chair in the court room. At the moment, they are too young to understand the story of the Titanic, but for any adult it is easy to be moved by the stories in the museum and particularly by the pocket watch which was found on the body of a steward. It shows the exact time it stopped. It's a poignant reminder and a tribute to the people that the city lost on board Titanic, plus a great opportunity to introduce the Titanic story to a new generation.

Throughout my childhood and teenage years, there were a few places in Portsmouth where you would've found me, when I wasn’t at home. One was Landport Adventure playground, where I’d either be playing tag on the huge wooden castle and the magnificent wooden boat or I’d be in the animal pen feeding the ducks or watching Casper the goat. Much of my pre-teenage years were spent there and I often drive past the playground and remember all the fun times I had with my friends there. Another place you would find me, especially on a Saturday, was The Pyramids in Southsea. My friend William and I would walk from Bransbury Park to the swimming centre just as it was opening and we wouldn’t leave until it closed. We’d just spend the whole day racing on the blue and green slides, zooming down the sidewinder and rushing to the main pool when the klaxon sounded, meaning that the wave machine was about to kick in. Another favourite hang-out of mine could be found in that concrete jungle known as The Tricorn. Most children who grew up in Portsmouth in the nineties will remember Monster Mania. It was a children’s soft play area that was full of ball pools, slides, swings, ladders, rope bridges, net and tubes. It was a great opportunity to be a child, act your age and enjoy some rough and tumble without getting a graze on your knees in the process. Just last week, I had a few flashbacks to my time at Monster Mania when I took my two daughters to something very similar, Krazy Kaves at the Pompey Centre. As soon as we paid and walked through the gates, they whipped their shoes off and made their way to the fun. To be honest, I would loved to have joined them but of course I’m now the grown-up, so I just sat and drank my free coffee, included in the ticket price. I enjoyed watching them make their way down the huge slide and land in the ball pit, then make their way back to the peak to do it all over again. Another lovely thing to witness was seeing them make friends with other children who they’d never seen before. I used to do the same at Monster Mania. You'd make a new friend for a few hours and then you’d never see them ever again. They had so much fun and as you’d imagine, they slept very well that night. It’s great to see that, just like when I was a child, there are still so many fun things for children to do in Portsmouth and for parents like me to watch and reminisce. 

Tuesday 10th March

Next month my daughter Alyssa reaches the ripe old age of four and right from the start one thing has always brought a smile to her face. It’s the world’s most famous cartoon pig. Peppa Pig has been a fixture in our house even before Alyssa was born as her elder sister Caitlin was also an avid viewer throughout her early years. From potty training, to first words, to the first day at pre-school, Peppa Pig was there.  Along with every pre-school child in Britain, my children were die hard Peppa Pig fans. An episode of the popular show lasts just five minutes but it is full of slapstick and irreverent humour, lots of muddy puddles and snorting laughter. It also has something else that keeps pre-schoolers hooked on the show episode after episode, but I’ve never been able to work out what it is. Maybe if I was three years old I would understand. Looking at the sales figures the popularity of Peppa shows no signs of waning. DVD sales have surpassed 7.5 million and book sales have boomed to 5.4 million. Even the Peppa Pig magazine was the number one licensed pre-school magazine. It’s not just UK children that have fallen in love with the show, it’s broadcast in 180 countries, I can’t even name that many countries. I also know too well that there are hundreds of things you can buy featuring the pink pig. Bedding, books, stationary, toys, figurines, balloons, party-ware, puzzles, backpacks, toothbrushes. Anything and everything is available to buy featuring the little pink pig. But of course there isn’t just Peppa. The show has other characters too. There is Peppa’s parents, daddy and mummy pig. She also has a little brother called George. Many friends, including Danny Dog, Suzy Sheep and Rebecca Rabbit. Not forgetting her school teacher Madam Gazelle. Of course, if you have the Peppa Pig teddy, you must have mummy and daddy pig, George and the rest of the gang. With a large family, after a few birthday and Christmases my daughter Caitlin had accumulated many of the teddys and liked to sleep with them all. I’ll never forget the night I was searching the house high and low for Danny Dog as she wouldn’t fall asleep without him. Now Alyssa has started watching a show called ‘Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom’, which is very similar to Peppa Pig, Infact it is made by the same people and they clearly know what pre-schoolers want to watch. Alyssa recently declared that Ben and Holly’s Little Kingdom is her new favourite TV show but she also made it clear that she is still very much a Peppa Pig fan which means she’s still very happy to visit Peppa Pig World at Paultons family theme park. I enjoy the park just as much as she does, so I was happy to hear this.


On the Heart Breakfast Show presenters Rich and Zoe were talking about when you were a child and you said the wrong thing in public. This is every parent’s worst nightmare. You’re out in a public space and your child blurts out a word or sentence that is enough to make your face turn a bright shade of red. Children tend to get a free pass for social awkwardness, they  are allowed to say words in front of strangers that an adult wouldn’t dare let leave their mouths. One Heart listener got in touch with the show and told us about her three year old daughter who liked to eat blueberries. She was in the supermarket when her daughter shouted, at the top of her voice, ‘Mum, don’t forget the boobies’. This reminded me of when I was in Gunwharf Quays with my daughter who was four at the time. A man with a sizeable belly was walking towards us and she blurts out in front of him “that’s what happens when you eat too much”. She was right and my face was red.

Tuesday 3rd March

Last week on Heart Breakfast with Rich and Zoe listeners were calling in with their tales of their childhood dollies and teddy bears and in particular the ones that were a little bit scary. Presenter Zoe brought her twin dolls that not only look sinister but sounded sinister too with the strange crying sound they made. If you were to step on that in the dark middle of the night it would be enough to put the chills up anyone’s spine. Zoe told co-presenter Rich that she’d put the dolls on a high shelf at night when she was a child, so they if they came to life in the middle of the night they wouldn’t be able to climb down. I’ve lost count of how many dolls my daughters have accumulated over all the birthdays and Christmases since they were born but I’ve often thought some of them look sinister. Just recently I got a fright when I walked into the bathroom and there sitting in the middle of the bath, looking at me, was one of those dolls, but with no body, just the head.
All fathers to be know that during those 9 months of pregnancy they’ll feel like a bit of a spare part. Right from the first scan of the baby up until the birth there isn’t really anything for dad’s to do apart from being there for your partner and giving support whenever it is needed. We witness what pregnancy is like for the mother and all the irritableness, uncomfortableness and exhaustion it brings. But we can never and will never know what it’s like. One thing I learnt during my partner Serena’s two pregnancies was never to come home from work and say ‘I’m tired’. I may be a bit exhausted but I wasn’t the one growing a human life in my body and I didn’t have another heart beating just inches below my own. Men have just never known what it’s like to be pregnant, until now. What happens when three men are given the chance to experience pregnancy? Well this experiment made news all over the world last week. Three English men decided to honour their wives by wearing pregnancy empathy suits for one month to try and see what their partners have gone through to bring a new life into the world. Apparently despite their comical appearance, these empathy suits can provide a complete shift in attitude towards pregnancy for men and it’s as close as ever possible to simulating the experience. With the suits strapped to their bodies the three men will experience abdominal distention, pelvic tilt, a shift in posture causing waddling, abdominal aches, lower back stress, pressure on bladder, stomach, and lungs, shortness of breath and even the baby’s movement. After ten days, one of the ‘pregnant’ dads wrote this in a blog post ‘To be honest it’s becoming quite tough. I don’t want sympathy for this, as it is what it is, and I agreed to go through with it… I am definitely getting a little grumpy… hats off to my mum and all the pregnant ladies out there’. Another of the dads taking part in the ‘pregnancy’ wrote that he went to work ‘out of breath waddling and sweating’. You can read these blogs and find out more about the experiment on the website 3pregnantdads.com, they make for great reading. The current human population of planet earth is estimated to be at seven billion. There is a stereotype that if men had to go through pregnancy and child-birth that population figure would be much lower and I believe this to be a stereotype that probably has some truth behind it. I’ve witnessed my partner Serena giving birth to both my daughters, without any pain relief and I know I couldn’t do it. I was more than happy being the spare part.

Tuesday 24th February

It’s inevitable that you will pass some of your traits onto your child and when you see it happening it can give a certain amount of satisfaction. It’s something you wonder even before your child has arrived kicking and screaming into the world, How much will my baby be like me? I’m not good with pain and I’ve always been that way. If I stub my toe on the corner of the door frame I need to lie down to recover. Some might say that I have a low pain threshold other have called me a drama queen. When my three year old daughter Alyssa recently tripped over on the payment and grazed her knee, what came next can only be described as a performance worthy of an Oscar. That tiny graze caused a lot of drama. That is one trait I wished I hadn’t passed on but recently I witnessed one that made me smile. Alyssa was tucking into some Rich Tea biscuits and announced that something was missing. She needed a cup of tea. Yes, just like me, she’s a dunker.
Should schools dictate the kind of haircut that your child chooses when he or she visits the hairdressers? It seems that the answer to this question is yes, but I struggle to understand why. Late last year I read in a national newspaper about a three year old boy who was banned from taking part in his first ever school photograph because the head teacher deemed his haircut was too short. Instead he was told to sit and watch the rest of his classmates have their photograph taken. According to the article the haircut was deemed ‘Extreme’. Even back when I was at school I’d see my classmates being sent home due to various hair related problems such as too much gel or hair that was too short and even hair that was too long and I’ve always wondered why. So I read on with interest to see what response the school gave for what I thought a heavy handed rule. The schools head teacher replied saying that this rule is part of an agreement with parents and is there to help maintain levels of attainment, behaviour and discipline and improve standards. It didn’t explain how a style of haircut can affect attainment, behaviour and discipline. This isn’t the first time I’ve read a story like this in a newspaper, in fact they seem to pop up at least once a month. A quick search online led me to a report from just three years ago which talks about a Leigh Park school which excluded a teenage boy from his lessons and took him away from his education, all because his haircut was deemed ‘Extreme’. The report said the boy was not allowed back into lessons until the small shaved part of his hair grew back. The school said that this was part of their school uniform policy. My view on this is that I completely understand that a school needs rules but a rule needs to be there for a reason and I find it hard to understand the reason behind it. Is a haircut that has two different lengths going to affect a child’s learning abilities or that of their classmates? Children and teenagers are trying to create their own identity and I think it’s important to let people feel comfortable in their own skin and for them not to be punished for being an individual. I think it is about time the rules were relaxed on haircuts in schools and the bigger issues were looked at, simply educating our children and filling their minds with as much knowledge as possible, whatever their hair looks like. Let me know what you think on Twitter @warrenhayden.

Tuesday 17th February


‘The Land of Make Believe’ is a 1981 single by Eurovision winners Bucks Fizz. The song was written about a child’s dream and it was only recently the lyrics struck a chord with me. Particularly the final part of the track where you hear a nursery rhyme "I've got a friend who comes to tea, and no-one else can see but me, he came today, but had to go, to visit you? You never know” . Apparently this bit was read by the daughter of one of the record executives. The reason I can relate to this song is because I often visit the Land Of Make Believe with my two daughters. It’s sometimes easy to forget what huge imagination young children have. But just this week, my three year old daughter played the Princess and I was the evil monster trying to get inside her castle. I must say I played the part very well, some might say it was Oscar worthy. To you, The Land of Make Believe may be a song but to me it’s a place that I love to visit with my daughters every day.
Can you remember the time when if you wanted to invite your friends on a night out or a party, you had to actually leave your house to drop by their house and give them a piece of paper with a address or number to rsvp. Now it’s 2015 and you don’t need to talk to anyone ever because we live in a world of tweets and instant messaging. Even that modern invention known as email is becoming a little bit old school. So if you need to invite friends to a party in 2015, it’s easy, just create an event on Facebook and invite all the friends who you want to come. They’ll receive the invite in their inbox and simply need to click whether they will attend or not. What a simple and convenient way to do it. I suppose on the face of it this seems like a good thing with less time consumed, but is it really a good thing? According to an article I recently read, modern technology is making us lazy in how we deal each other and we are horribly out of practice when it comes to face to face dealings with strangers. Basically it is grabbing hold of our manners and running away with them. Have you ever been at work and received an email from someone who was sitting next to you? I have. Why couldn’t they just tell me? The article also revealed that people now have no problem having loud conversations on their mobile phone in places such as a normally quiet library, whilst at the checkout at the supermarket or even whilst eating their meal at a restaurant. My phone once rung out loud on the ‘quiet zone’ of the train. If looks could kill you wouldn’t be reading my words in this column. As a parent, I want my children to grow up using all the technology available to them but I hope that this isn’t at the expense of their day to day social skills like greeting people with a simple “hello” and making eye contact when having a conversation. I also hope later in life, if they were in a library they would choose to go outside to have a phone conversation and that they would respect the ‘quiet zone’ on the train. But of course, I must practice what I preach and lead by example. This means always remembering to say please and thank you. If I forget, I have a three year and five year old to remind me, which they do. I don’t think I need to worry.

Tuesday 10th February 

Once upon a time there were just four television channels to choose from. OK, I know that once upon another time there were less than that but as far back as I can remember there were four. In those days there were no such thing as a Sky+ box where you can record, rewind and pause live TV. I wonder back in those days how any parent managed to watch their favourite programmes in full from start to finish. The other day my two daughters decided to do some colouring in together which gave me the perfect opportunity to sit down with a cup of coffee on my left, the remote control on my right and the television right in front of me. But as soon as a got comfy I heard the ever so common cry of ‘Daaaaaaaaaad’. Up I got to go and sort the problem. A few moments after I parked myself back on the sofa I was called again, this time to settle an argument over who got to use the purple felt tip. I must’ve been up and down about twenty times. Thanks goodness we live in 2015 where you can pause live TV.


For most of us, silence is something that only comes at night when our heads land on our comfy pillow and we drift off to the land of nod. But even then there can be many distractions, especially living in a busy city like Portsmouth. Maybe it could be the neighbours arriving home from work and the slam of the car door is enough to make my eyes ping open or sometimes it can be the whir of the windy weather keeping me up. Not so long ago the silence was broken by the sound of a fox crying on the pavement right outside my house. But no matter what time of the day, silence never seems to be an option with a constant soundtrack of noise. Even if you turn the television off there will be a whirring sound from something in the house maybe from the refrigerator or the boiler, unless you put your phone on silent there is every chance it will alert you to an incoming call or message and unless you put a ‘No Cold callers’ sign on your front door there is every chance you will hear a few knocks. But of course even when there aren’t these kinds of distractions our minds are still churning with information and thoughts. It seems that silence and solitude are becoming endangered, but does that really matter? I recently read an article which boasts about the advantages of taking some time out each day to enjoy some silence. These include improved blood pressure, less anxiety, a better immune system and lower stress levels. I don’t know whether this is true or not but it makes sense. In our busy life and schedules, surely a little bit of quiet can only be a good thing. But Most of us, every day, get out bed, check our phone, put the kettle on, watch the morning’s news, have a shower and go on our way with a day full of noise until our heads hit that pillow once again. But for me there is another thing that stops any silence from occurring, in facts two things, my daughters who are aged three and five. Children love noise, any noise. They enjoy talking, screaming, shouting, screeching and any word that describes the hundreds of sounds that can come out of their mouth. They also like toys that make a lot of noise like musical instruments and crying dollies. But I’ve got so used to the noise they make that it can sometimes feel a little odd when they are out of the house and I often look forward to the noise returning. But I do try to enjoy the odd bit of silence that comes my way. Silence can be golden, but when my daughters are home, silence can be suspicious.


Tuesday 3rd February  

All children lie. Sometimes it is quite funny when they are asked a question and you can see their minds whirring, with steam almost coming out of their ears, as they try to find an excuse. For example, recently I discovered that red felt tip pen had been written on our nice wooden dining table but when both my daughters were asked which one was the culprit, they both denied any wrongdoing. But of course the detective dad in me knew an easy way to find out - just look at their hands. The guilty party was literally caught red handed. But since then, both girls have realised that I want them to be honest and they get praise for this. So sometimes they will admit to something they haven’t done in order to appear more honest. This came back to haunt me when I told both daughters that I had bought a cake for their mum’s upcoming birthday, but not to tell her. When their mum asked them about their day they couldn’t hold in the truth and announced ‘Daddy has bought you a cake’. 

I’ve always been on time. In fact I’m never late and most of the time I turn up early. I just hate being in a rush and I’ve always felt that doing so reduces my effectiveness. You know that feeling when you are late for an appointment and the universe seems to turn every traffic light red on the route to your destination? It’s horrible. But getting there on time is not always easy, for many reasons. Sometimes we don’t estimate correctly how long it will take to get through the traffic or how long it will take to find a parking space. For me, these days, my biggest hurdle in getting somewhere on time is two little human beings called Caitlin and Alyssa, my daughters. From the time their eyes ping open after a night of sleep to the moment we all leave the house, nothing ever runs as smoothly as I’d like and as they did before I became a dad. How long does it take for a three year old to eat their breakfast? Well I can tell you that there is no definitive answer to that because sometimes their bowl of cereal or slice of toast will be gobbled down in the blink of an eye, but other times it will be eaten at a leisurely pace with every mouthful enjoyed and savoured. An unexpected spillage can make all the difference between being on time and arriving late. I remember the time that milk was spilt down a school uniform just as we were about to leave the house. All of a sudden, my three year old daughter Alyssa has become independent and likes to do as much as she can herself, like getting dressed in the morning. This is great, except it quadruples the time it takes for the task to be completed and when I try to guide her arm into the correct sleeve or when I suggest that her socks are inside out, her mouth will open and out come the words ‘I can do it’. We get there eventually. Missing items is often the cause for being out the door late out the door too. My car keys aren’t in the place where I put them, so a search begins, but how difficult can it be to find a bright yellow school book bag? It can be very difficult, I can tell you and don’t get me started on shoes and trainers. They seem to mysteriously disappear on a regular basis. But luckily my girls have a daddy who will try to be on time no matter what hurdles get in his way. We always manage to get to those school gates before they are slammed shut and so far I haven’t had the displeasure of signing the school’s ‘late book’.

Tuesday 27th January

There are many milestones in every child’s life and as a parent it is natural to want to be there to witness each one. But of course sometimes when a milestone is reached it is pot luck whether you are the one that witnesses it for the first time. It all starts when your child is a few months old and they smile for the first time. I thought I had seen my daughter Caitlin do this but was reliably informed that it was just wind. Then it can be when they try to imitate your words for the very first time with that baby babble sound or when they sit up without support for the very first time. All I missed due to being at work when they happened. There were some I did see though. When my second daughter Alyssa looked at me and said ‘Dadda’, which she’d never been said before, I was sitting right next to her and it was one of those beautiful moments that no parent would ever forget. Another milestone was reached when Alyssa walked for the first time. It was just her and I in the room when she took those very first steps across the living room and it filled me with so much happiness and I felt so proud. But it was a moment that she wouldn’t re-create for many days, making it look like her daddy had made it up. But just a few weeks ago I missed a moment in my daughter Caitlin’s life I really wished I’d been there to see. Caitlin went swimming with her mum and sister, something we love to do as a family and I dropped them off in the car before I went to host my radio show. That day at the age of five, Caitlin swam all by herself without the help of armbands. Upon hearing about it I once again had that proud dad feeling but was gutted that I’d missed the moment. So last week Caitlin went swimming again and this time I was there. After school we jumped in the car in headed towards the Pyramids Centre in Southsea. We last visited almost exactly a year ago, just before the centre was closed down with flood damage, so it was great to see it back up and running, especially as I had spent so many hours there having fun as a child. After stuffing all our belongings in the locker we made our way to the pool and arrived just as the wave machine had started. Shortly after we raced each other on the blue and green flumes and had fun splashing each other in the large pool. We had such a great time and the best thing of all was I got to see Caitlin swim towards me unaided. It wasn’t the first time she’d done it but it still left me feeling very proud.

There are some things my children have a great deal of enthusiasm for, like going to the park, eating sweets and watching Disney films. If only they had the same amount of passion and energy for other things, like eating their vegetables, tidying their bedroom and brushing their teeth. Some mornings and evenings when I announce to my daughters they need to make their way to the bathroom for that twice a day ritual known as brushing your teeth, they don’t exactly jump off the sofa with joy. It usually requires a certain amount of persuasion but recently my daughters have had a complete U-turn in their opinion. It’s all thanks to the type of toothbrush. They’ve gone from a regular child’s toothbrush to a bright pink Barbie electric toothbrush. This small change means they now ask to brush their teeth before I ask them and I have to tell them to stop before they brush their gums away. I hope the enthusiasm lasts and in the meantime I need to stock up on AAA batteries.


Tuesday 20th January

It’s now been nearly four weeks since Christmas day, how did that happen? But that is long enough for any parent to see which toys were the right decision and which toys were completely the wrong decision. What I mean by that is which Christmas presents delivered by the man with the big white beard and the big red suit actually get played with and which ones are already sitting at the bottom of the toy box gathering dust and feeling unloved. In an ideal world my children would have the same amount of enthusiasm for each and every present they received but, of course, every parent knows this is not the reality. If you have children who enjoy the Disney film Frozen, which I think is every child on the planet right now, you may have heard of the Snow Glow Elsa Doll. It was the must have Christmas present in 2014 and it was at the top of my daughters Caitlin’s Christmas list to Father Christmas. Every time the advert for the doll flashed up on the television it would instantly grab her attention. The problem was it was sold out everywhere. I visited every online shop I could think of and typed in ‘Snow Glow Elsa’ into the search box. The same two words greeted me every single time, ‘Sold out’. I visited many shops, often to be told ‘we had some this morning but they were sold within minutes’. This doll costing £34.99 really was the most in demand toy and was selling for over £100 on the auction website, ebay. I’d seen this sort of thing happening before. Back in 1998 it was Furbys, the blinking, bleating, interactive toy that had parents waiting outside toy shops for a new delivery to arrive. Two years previous Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story left Christmas ruined for many children with not enough to go around. But this was my first experience of a Christmas toy craze and I got well and truly sucked in. The most annoying thing of all was that about a month before our Christmas shopping began I’d seen a shelf full of Snow Glow Elsa Dolls in one of the large toy stores in Portsmouth. Now, they were nowhere to be seen. But, after a great amount of searching a doll was finally located and purchased without paying the ridiculous prices that some stores and websites were selling them for and on Christmas morning Caitlin was lucky enough to get the present she had longed for. Nearly four weeks on I’m pleased to report she is still playing and appreciating her gift. But it’s not her most played with present. That accolade goes to a pack of highlighter pens that cost just one pound and was bought as a stocking filler. Figure that one out.


Whilst jogging around the Milton area of Portsmouth I have been impressed with the amount of homes that are displaying the ‘Keep Milton Green’ poster. It’s in response to plans to build hundreds of new homes on the St James Hospital site. It is absolutely clear that there is very strong feeling amongst Milton residents that this new development should not go ahead and I agree with them. On an already overcrowded island it would increase traffic, bring more air pollution, cause a lack of school places, increase demand for NHS services and destroy wildlife habitats. It’s sad that the children who will have to travel further to school each day and the future generations who will be breathing in the extra air pollution won’t be able to object to this proposal until it’s too late. It’s a shame that many who will be stuck in traffic everyday won’t be aware why their journeys have suddenly got longer until it’s too late. But it’s an even bigger shame that the wildlife living on the St James land at this very moment don’t have a voice at all.


Tuesday 13th January


I’ve always been a fan of the actor and comedian Jim Carrey and I recently watched his 2008 comedy movie Yes Man. He plays a character called Carl, a man whose life seems to be going nowhere. But the fault of that is his own, being that he has an increasingly negative outlook on life and his operative word is ‘No’. In the film Carls friend suggests that he goes to a self help seminar in which encourages the attendants to always seize the moment and always say ‘yes’. Carl starts to seize every opportunity that comes his way and his life becomes better for it. I found this to be an interesting concept and wondered what would happen if I did the same and just said yes to every request that came my way. Then I realised that being a dad to a three and five year old daughter, this would be impossible. For if I was to say ‘yes’ to all their requests, we’d be eating chocolate for dinner, they’d be playing the iPad all day long and right now we’d be in Disneyland.
This week my daughter Alyssa asked if it will snow this year. That I don’t have the answer for. But this time of year it is often freezing cold outside, the roads and pavements can be icy, it gets dark really early in the afternoon and many people are suffering from that condition called seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as winter depression. Apparently it is very common at this time of the year and is brought on by the gloomy weather and not much sun light. The symptoms of this condition, which include feeling stressed, anxious and feeling irritable, are most common in January and February. Growing up though, winter has always been my favourite season out of the four and as soon as the outside temperature reached below ten degrees I couldn’t have been happier. I always thought there were so many things to like about winter. Of course I could get all poetic and talk about the beautiful sound of leaves crunching underneath my shoes, the sight of snowflakes floating from the sky and the crackle of a burning fire in your living room. That’s all great but I’m now cautious about stepping on fallen leaves after finding out first hand that they can be a slipping risk. Snowflakes falling from the sky are a stunning thing but in our part of the world it is a very rare thing to witness. And unfortunately I don’t have a fire in my living room that makes a crackle noise. Ever since I became a parent, my view of winter has changed. I haven’t got the winter depression disorder but I do admit that I can’t wait for better weather returning to our area. Portsmouth and Southsea are just so much more enjoyable when flooded in warm bright sunshine. With a couple of months until Spring arrives I worry that all the ideas for entertaining the children will have been exhausted and we’ll all be bored of being bored. But why should a bit of rain, wind and moody clouds stop us? So recently with my two daughters and my Springer Spaniel dog Ralph, we went for a long walk around the beautiful Milton common. Coats were zipped up and scarfs and gloves were put on and off we went. Being the middle of winter we spent the whole time dodging gigantic puddles and walking very carefully to avoid slipping on the muddy grass. Well apart from Ralph who decided to bomb straight through those muddy puddles. When we returned my two daughters got straight into the bath and the water turned a muddy brown colour. So now I’m really looking forward to spring and summer when Portsmouth is at its best and Milton Common doesn’t turn my daughters (and dog) into mud monsters.  


Tuesday 6th January

It’s now been three years since I started writing for The News and revealing all about my life as a Portsmouth dad with all the joy and grey hair that it brings. As I enter my fourth year I still think back to the thirteen year old version of me delivering this newspaper to houses in the Copnor area. The One Stop in Copnor Road was my first ever employer and at the end of the week, after delivering the newspaper every day, except Sunday when there was no edition, I’d be paid the large sum of five pounds. Well at the start of my teenage life that was a lot of money to me. Strangely it was someone else who delivered the newspaper to my own house and I took an interest in our local paper from an early age. My earliest memory of The News was collecting posters of the Power Rangers, given away free with the paper when I was just ten years old. Twenty years on and I’m proud to still be connected with The News and incredibly proud to bring up my children in our great city.

Can you remember what your school dinners were like when you were a child? Maybe you have fond memories of healthy salads and fresh fruit but I’m guessing the majority of people will remember the not so appetising soggy chips and sticky semolina. My experience of school dinners actually started well. At my Portsmouth infant and junior school our midday meal time was quite tasty with a roast dinner on a Wednesday my favourite. Although looking back letting us have a cup of gravy to drink if there was any leftover wasn’t the healthiest decision for our growing bodies. I also remember us being allowed to go up for seconds and even thirds if more than enough food was cooked that day. It was when I went to my Portsmouth secondary school that school dinners took a turn for the worse. Most food would be served with a dose of dripping fat. Whilst waiting in the queue to be served I’d see the sausages sitting in the fat that sometimes would have hardened around it. Pizza, although tasty, would be served in a paper bag and the fat from the cheese would seep through the paper bag and leave the holder with a greasy hand. Put that together with the crunchy egg sandwiches thanks to the complimentary egg shell and the always lumpy mashed potato, school dinners throughout my teenage years weren’t tasty or healthy. Over the last ten years the school kitchen has changed for the better, thanks to that famous campaign by television chef, Jamie Oliver. Well this week marks another big change in our children’s schools with new rules coming into force across England. They stipulate that one or more portions of vegetables or salad be made available every day with at least three different fruits and three different vegetables to choose from each week plus there must be an emphasis on wholegrain foods in place of refined carbohydrates. Water must be the preferred drink of choice whilst limiting fruit juice portions to quarter pints due to the amount of sugar. My favourite new rule is that at school our children will now eat no more than two portions a week of food that has been deep-fried, batter-coated or breadcrumb-coated. The food I like to call beige food, which never looks healthy or particularly attractive on the plate. As for my daughters Portsmouth school, they’ve boasted about healthy and nutritious meals for as long as she’s been there and so far she has had no complaints and as far as I’m aware, gravy drinks are off the menu. At home the healthy regime continues but of course junk food isn’t banished completely and will make an appearance as a treat from time to time and not just for the kids.

Tuesday 23rd December

I read this week that fewer children across the UK are reading books in their own time and one in five are embarrassed to be caught with a book. Personally, I love to get lost in a book and it seems my children do to. We have so many books in our house I could run my own library specialising in books for the under-fives. After bath time the bedtime routine always includes book time and my daughters are sent to choose a book from the book shelf. This is when a squabble usually occurs, mostly over who gets the big Disney Princesses book. But once an agreement has been made and books have been selected they are tucked up in bed for some quiet reading, or in the case of three year old Alyssa, looking at the pictures. The thing is they never seem to get to the end of the book because when I check on them a few minutes later they have drifted off into the land of nod with the book still gripped in their hands.

I bet you’ve heard someone say this week how quickly this year has gone, if not I’m sure it will happen over the next few days. Ever since I became a dad just over five years ago it seems that the weeks, months and years are passing by faster than ever before. But for children it’s completely different. Can you remember when the summer holidays used to stretch on forever and Christmas day seemed to have more hours than any other day? In the life of a child a year is a very long time and much change happens between January and December. Life as a father is fast paced, fun and there is never a dull moment. Looking back it’s been a great year. It began with a trip to a place where I spent most Saturdays as a child, the Pyramids in Southsea. I wondered if my daughters would have as much fun as I did and the answer was a big fat yes. After a few hours of fun and many rides on the blue and green flumes my daughters were already asking when we could return. What a shame it was that shortly after storm damage closed the pool but it’s great to see the place back up and running now. In February I said goodbye to my twenties and began life as a thirty year old and wondered if we ever really grow up or are we really all just children at heart. With two daughters aged five and under I get to watch Disney movies, run around the house playing tag and build big towers with multi coloured building blocks and being thirty won’t put a stop to this any time soon. As summer arrived, so did lots of rain. But I decided not to let the moody clouds put a stop to a planned day at Paultons Park. Yes we did get a little bit wet when we queued and of course we got wet bums when we sat on the rides but both my daughters didn’t seem to notice the wet weather as they were having too much fun. As the morning turned into afternoon the moody clouds cleared leaving a warm and sunny day and leaving me feeling smug that we’d stuck to our plan. After six weeks of summer holidays it was back to school for five year old Caitlin and the start of pre-school for three year old Alyssa. Isn’t it strange how when there was no school to get up for my daughters would still rise from their slumber at the crack of dawn but now that they have school to get up for each weekday again they suddenly want a lie in. Life as dad is never boring. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about me and my family this year. Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy new year.

Tuesday 16th December

Earlier this year I treated myself to that very modern gadget known as an Ipad. So now I can surf the web, keep up to date with my emails, store important documents and even watch TV on the go on its large screen. But just last week I ran into a problem when attempting to download a new app, there was no room for it. I had run out of storage and after a bit of detective work it became obvious why. Taking up a large chunk of space on my Ipad were apps including the CBeebies playtime app and the Disney puzzle pack app. I can assure you these apps don’t belong to me but act as a boredom buster for my two daughters. But I don’t mind admitting these apps are really good and more importantly educational, so whilst they think they are playing they are actually learning. Three year old Alyssa enjoys the memory recall game Pairs and she’s got very good at it, beating me every time. Maybe I should download one of those brain training game, if only there was enough space.

I’ll get straight to the point, if you see one show this Christmas, it must be the pantomime at the Kings Theatre in Southsea. OK, so I may be a little bit biased. Last year I was part of the cast of Sleeping Beauty and was lucky enough to perform on that famous stage, so I got to know the team who make the panto magic happen behind the scenes and see just how hard they work to make the show so special. So it was a little strange to be back in the audience to watch this year’s offering, Aladdin. I took my seat in the dress circle, my favourite place to watch with a great view of the stage. From the very start when the lights dimmed to signal the start of the show was imminent, right up until the very end when the cast waved goodbye and the curtain dropped I was thoroughly entertained. What a fantastic cast. Antony Costa from the multi-million selling band Blue is the perfect choice to play Aladdin and was instantly likeable and made riding a magic carpet look easy. Aladdin’s brother, Wishee Washee, is played by panto veteran Aiden J Harvey who made the audience feel truly part of the show and the children loved shouting back his chant, which included the Churchill dog impression ‘Oh yeah’, many times throughout the performance. X Factor stars Kitty Brucknell plays Princess Yasmine and Jade Ellis plays the Genie of the Lamp. It became obvious why they got so far on the TV talent show. Their performances were stunning and to borrow some words from Simon Cowell, world class. The laughs came from not one, but two panto dames. Phil Randall is the Widow Twankey and Christopher Marlowe plays the Empress of China. They both delivered lines that had the audience in stitches but many times throughout the show just their entrance proved to be hilarious due to the outrageous and over the top outfits they were wearing. The cast is completed with Jack Edwards as Abanazar whose evil cackle was enough to put a chill up anyones spine and Gosport born Marcus Patrick who played the Genie of the Ring proved popular with the ladies in the audience. A special mention also to the dancers who really made the show feel special. Due to my panto experience last year, I watched the show through different eyes this year, knowing what is going on behind those curtains. But one thing is for sure, the Kings Theatre always delivers a fantastic pantomime and this year is no exception. I know how much effort is put in by the cast and crew and it really showed. When you see the show, I think you’ll agree.

Tuesday 9th December

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that my two daughters, who are aged three and five, don’t always see eye to eye. Each night before bedtime is bath time for them both which is sometimes the place where the battles take place. The most common complaint is ‘Dad, she splashed me’. In a tub full of water and bubbles I never thought that was a valid complaint, you’re bound to get splashed aren’t you? Well my opinion on this matter has recently changed after I went for a swim at Mountbatten Leisure Centre. There I was with my swimming shorts on doing a gracious breast stroke. Just imagine a swan, calm on the surface but working hard underneath the water. That was me. But the person in the lane next to me I’d describe as an angry whale who throws out air through its blowhole. I admit I was getting slightly irritated. So getting splashed in the bath is now a valid argument.

I hate to sound like a Grinch, especially as someone who absolutely loves Christmas time and considers it to be the best time of the year. But there is one job at this time of year that is becoming less of an enjoyable experience and more of a tiresome chore. I’m talking about putting up the Christmas decorations. I think there are three types of people when it comes to this subject. Those who like to get the tinsel, fairy lights and snow globes out as soon as the Christmas adverts come on the television, usually at the beginning of November. Then you have the people that will wait until the month begins with a letter D before a corner of the room is designated for the Christmas tree. But then there are many who will put up their Christmas decorations on Christmas Eve and take them down on Boxing day. Out of those three descriptions I always fitted into the first. Historically, my living room has always been transformed into a Christmassy winter wonderland when the month begins with a N. As soon as the Christmas lights in the shopping areas of Portsmouth have their Christmas lights turned on, that means my Christmas lights can be turned on. But this year it’s a completely different story. The first of December arrived and my living room was still looking the same as it had all year with not a piece of tinsel in sight. You see, over the years I’ve collected quite a large range of Christmas decorations and items that I could probably set up my own little Christmas shop. So now getting all those boxes down from the loft is a pretty big job. So this year it has been done in stages. First were the ceiling decorations, well once I’d found which box they were in, why didn’t I label the boxes last year? I did it all whilst the girls were in bed and when they awoke the next morning they loved what they saw, although they noticed instantly there was something missing, the Christmas tree. So that was the next job and this time I had a little three year old helper who assisted me in hanging the decorations on each branch. Just imagine the most impressive Christmas tree you’ve ever seen. It stands elegantly looking classic and exquisite with all the decorations and lights spaced evenly. It’s the king of all Christmas trees. Well ours looked the complete opposite of that. But there was one job left and that was to put on the chocolate tree decorations and I’ve learnt my lesson from last year. They’ve been put on the top half of the tree away from little hands.


Tuesday 2nd December 

Seven years ago, before I had become a dad and was put in charge of a little human life, I bought a sofa. An afternoon was set aside to visit a few sofa showrooms and browse the range. This is not a decision that should be taken lightly as the sofa is arguably the most important piece of furniture in the living room. It will be there when I need to unwind, it will be there when I want to chill out and watch my favourite television programmes and it will be there to host conversation between friends and family. It is also there to add beauty and elegance to the room. Well that’s what the stores catalogue said anyway. To be honest I just wanted something half decent to sit on. So after looking at the various types such as recliner sofas, corner sofas, fabric sofas etc I finally found what I was looking for.  A leather sofa that was shiny, comfy and cosy. It even had that lovely brand new sofa smell. Fast forward to the year 2014 and that sofa is looking very different. No longer is it shiny, even with some leather polish to try and bring it back to life it looks like it wants to put out of its misery. The comfort it would give at the end of a long day has gone, the cushiony bounce effect it once had has disappeared and that new sofa smell had been replaced with smells that my nose doesn’t welcome. You might think seven years is a good life span for a sofa but I think it would have lasted for many more years if it wasn’t for the destructive force that is my two daughters. All thanks to three year old Alyssa and five year old Caitlin it is almost time to let the leather sofa go to the place all sofas go when they have reached the end of their life, the tip. Over the last five years since I walked through my front door with a brand new baby who turned into a toddler then a pre-schooler and now and five year old going on thirteen the sofa has been in decline. Drinks have been spilled, food has been smeared and I don’t need to say more than on a few occasions the sick bucket was out of reach. So now the sofa is off to sofa heaven and our brand new sofa has arrived. Once again it is shiny, comfy and cosy and it even has that lovely brand new sofa smell. This means new rules have come into immediate effect. No eating or drinking on sofa and certainly no climbing. I’m determined this new sofa will stand the test of time. Wish me luck, with two children and an energetic Springer Spaniel in the house, I’m going to need it.


In The News last week I read that Portsmouth has the highest proportion of road casualties near schools. Apparently statistics found that between 2011 and 2013, one per 405 people were involved in road accidents within 500 metres of a school. This is despite Portsmouth becoming the first city in Britain to introduce a 20mph on all but major roads. I was saddened to read this but not surprised. Every morning on the walk to school with my daughter Caitlin which involves crossing two 20mph roads I witness cars zoom past us at what a predict to be way over the speed limit.  I can’t do anything about these stupid and irresponsible drivers who put lives at risk to get to their destination a few minutes quicker. But I can educate my daughters on the importance of road safety and make sure they know the green cross code and I’m hoping if more parents do this we could move Portsmouth from the top of that list to the bottom.


Tuesday 25th November

I’ve been absolutely determined to stick to my running schedule since the Great South Run. In previous years the cold and wintry weather has been too much of a good excuse not to put on my running trainers and pound the pavements of Portsmouth. But this year I’m not giving up, the main reason being that come Spring when the weather gets warmer I know my fitness level will have fallen off a cliff and I’ll have to start all over again. But another reason is because of how much more energy exercise gives me. It means when I’m on Milton Common with my daughters and they want to play a game of tag I'm not out of breath and panting after a few minutes. So the running schedule is still on, but running at this time of year in the evening when it’s dark outside has its problems, including dodging puddles and running into tree branches. But one distraction I didn’t think I’d have whilst out for my nightly run was witnessing lots of bare flesh. Please people, close your curtains.

Fads, crazes and fashions tend to come and go. You know when something is followed or used enthusiastically by a large number of people for a limited space of time. Most recently in playgrounds across the country was Loom Bands and everyone from HRH The Duchess of Cambridge to Harry Styles from chart topping band One Direction were seen wearing these bracelets made from colourful rubber bands. My daughter Caitlin was one of the many across the world who caught on to the Loom Band craze and I was forever finding tiny elastic bands on the floor around the house. But now I’m pleased to say that craze seems to have passed but inevitably, soon there will be something new that will come along and then go again as quickly as it arrived. Us grown-ups are also guilty of latching on to the latest fad and craze. Think back a few years when celebrity chefs Delia Smith and Jamie Oliver cooked their roast potatoes in Goose Fat. This caused sales to rocket in supermarkets and Goose Fat was sold out across the country. Back even further to the nineties and maybe you were involved in the latest dance craze, The Macarena. Sung and danced to at many weddings and birthday parties during 1996. Some crazes do return many years later. For example as I child I loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I watched the TV shows and had all the action figures. But a little while later they were out of fashion and I had moved onto the next thing. Now I’ve heard from my seven year old nephew that they are back in fashion and more popular than ever before. But there is one thing that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere anytime soon and that is the pre-school animated animal known as Peppa Pig. Created ten years ago and still going strong today. Last week it was revealed that this year alone the brand will make more than six hundred million pounds in global TV and merchandising revenues. The continued success and popularity is great for us, it meant that all the Peppa Pigs toys and merchandise my daughter received over the first few years of her life at Christmas and on Birthdays could be passed onto her younger sister Alyssa. Caitlin who is the wise old age of five years old, now says that Peppa Pig ‘is for babies’ but I still catch her engrossed in the show if her little sister is watching and I know she wouldn’t say No if a trip to Peppa Pig World was offered. With my daughters being just three and five years of age, I realise I’ve got many more fads, fashions and crazes that will make my wallet become a little lighter. But for now we’ll continue to recycle the little pink pig.

Tuesday 18th November

I’m one of those people that loves Christmas with all the tinsel, festive songs and baubles that comes with it. As far as I’m concerned Christmas starts as soon as Halloween and Bonfire night are out the way. It’s the best time of year, why not stretch out the enjoyment it brings a little longer? On my heart radio show recently I asked my listeners what they thought about hearing Christmas songs in a month that doesn’t begin with a D. The mixed responses included ‘I play them most months, they’re better than most of the other music out there’ and ‘It should be a hanging offence to play them before December’. I’ve already dusted off my Christmas compilation album and every car journey for the next six weeks will include Christmas Hits from Wham, John Lennon and Shakin Stevens. I’m pleased to say my daughters are enjoying them too, particularly ‘All I want for Christmas’ by Mariah Carey which I had to listen to on repeat on a recent journey, I’m starting to like it not so much.

Last Thursday I was lucky enough to host the Southsea Christmas light switch on for a fourth year in a row and this year the start of the festive season in my favourite part of the South Coast was bigger than ever before. With rain and heavy winds forecast I wondered if it would just be me standing on that stage talking to an empty Palmerston Road Precinct, but although the clouds were looking very moody, the rain and strong winds stayed away and the people of Southsea came out in their hundreds to enjoy a few hours of festive fun. I was in awe of the local talent that we had on that stage throughout the night who you might see again if you’re going to the Commercial Road and Cosham Christmas Light events over the next two weeks. The night started superbly with the Portsmouth Grammar School Brass Band who were followed by the talented Mayville High School choir. Other highlights included the Timestep School of Dance who had the crowd mesmerised with some modern dance and ballet and the Portsmouth High junior chamber choir who got Southsea feeling festive with ‘Silent Night’ and ‘White Christmas’. Then to help us turn on the Southsea Christmas Lights were some very special guests. The Queen of the Kings Theatre, Sandra Smith, otherwise known as the theatres PR and Promotions Manager arrived with two of her pantomime stars, Christopher Marlowe who will be playing the Empress of China in Aladdin and Marcus Patrick who you’ll see as the Genie of the Ring. It made a really nice touch that they arrived on stage in their pantomime costumes and the crowd were really impressed. Then came Father Christmas who assured the crowd that there will be plenty of Frozen’s Anna and Elsa dolls to go around this year. My daughters were relieved to hear that news. Then a highlight for many was the Lord Mayor of Portsmouth Councillor Steven Wylie who enjoyed being handed the microphone to get the crowd excited for the firework finale. I predict when his one year term as Mayor ends a career in entertainment awaits. The night ended with a huge fireworks display from the roof of Debenhams which created a round of applause from the packed crowd after the last one went bang. It was such a good night and it was lovely to see so many families from the area enjoy the entertainment and there is still lots more to come. Rich and Zoe from Heart Breakfast will be hosting the Christmas Light event in Commercial Road this Thursday followed by Cosham High Street on Wednesday 26th November. If you’re going, I might see you there. 

Tuesday 11th November

Last week it became necessary to purchase a new kitchen accessory. It’s something I’ve not had in the room before. I’m getting to that age where a new kitchen gadget, item or accessory can generate a certain amount of excitement and novelty value. But this item that will be added to the room with the oven and the refrigerator did not generate any amount of excitement and it certainly did not have any novelty value whatsoever. It was not a pair of oven gloves nor a cook book stand, not a no spill salt mill nor a stars wars ice cube tray. All of these items I saw on sale whilst shopping for my new kitchen item. Instead I spent my money on something that will stick on the wall and will be seen every day with it’s one and only purpose to jog my ever so confused memory, it’s commonly known as a White Board. It’s a fixture in many offices, schools, meeting rooms and workplaces, and now my kitchen. I suppose it could go in any room, but the kitchen seemed the right place. Why do I need one of these when I’ve managed all thirty years of my life without one I hear you ask? Well with my five year old daughter Caitlin at school and my three year old daughter Alyssa at Pre-school I’m struggling to keep up with my their ever so busy diary of events and special school days. Before half term from Alyssa’s pre-school was a note asking the children and parents to collect fallen leaves from trees during their week off school and return them after the break for a school project. This we did and Alyssa tells me she had fun sticking them together with glue. Then a note arrives home from Caitlin’s school about a school trip that requires and a slip to be signed and sent back along with a five pound note to pay for her day away from school. This was done and soon with her class mates she’ll be having a day away from school. But a few weeks ago a note arrived home which was read but sadly forgotten about and this is the reason for the new whiteboard in the kitchen. The first day back at school after half term was ‘Pyjama day’ at Caitlin’s school. All the pupils arrived at school wearing their nightwear, even the teachers. So that’s everyone in their onesies, nighties and slippers. Everyone, except Caitlin. Yes, I forgot. Luckily, living close to the school meant Caitlin was the odd one out for only five minutes after a quick dash home to get some pyjamas and she tells me there were some other children who were wearing their regular school uniform too. But now when a note comes home from school it goes straight on the whiteboard, I just hope I remember to look at it.

For children, a toy shop isn’t just a shop, it’s an experience. Sometimes it can almost feel like a day out. If you’ve ever been to the famous Hamleys toy store in London’s Regent Street, you’ll know that they have got the concept spot on. It’s like a paradise for children with toys of all kinds for all ages and you don’t just look at the toys but you get to play with them too with a demonstration on every corner and at every turn. When I noticed that the Toys R Us store in Portsmouth was having a re-fit I was looking forward to the result. I actually liked the shop the way it was. It was no Hamleys but it felt big with many aisles and you’d have to stretch your neck to look at the top shelves. In the new open plan look the many aisles and high shelves are gone. But the main ingredient is still there, toys and lots of them and it’s great to see the company is now competing with online stores on price, hopefully meaning the children of Portsmouth will have a large toy shop to enjoy for a long time. 


Tuesday 4th November 

In 2013, when I was approaching the finish line of the Great South Run, when every part of me was aching and I had very little energy left in me, I promised myself that would be the last time I would take part in the annual running event. But ladies, get ready to shake your head at what you are about to read. I compare the ten mile race to childbirth. Because a few months after the ordeal, once my muscles and joints had recovered, I forgot about the pain and signed up to once again take part on the Great South Run. I can now hear hundreds of women across the South shouting into the newspaper ‘It is nothing like childbirth’. OK, maybe I’ve exaggerated the pain just a little bit, but actually, after witnessing both my daughters being born, I think I’d choose a ten mile run over labour any day of the week. After that windy Sunday in 2013 when I’d fought my way to the finish line with thousands of other runners, I put my trainers away and it wasn’t until spring that they saw the light of day again. So three times a week for the last six months I’ve had my running trainers back on, my GPS watch strapped to my arm and I’ve been running through the streets of Portsmouth to get myself to the level where I can run ten miles again without passing out. I’m amazed at how a few months away from running put you right back to square one and it takes much practice and perseverance to get back up to a ten mile race level. But, thankfully, I did and I was there to take part in the twenty fifth Great South Run, although only the twenty fourth in Portsmouth as I found out recently the first run back in 1990 was held in Southampton. I’m so glad I did sign up again. I just love the atmosphere that the Great South Run brings to our city every year and I enjoy it more and more each time I do it, this year being my third. The thousands of people who come to spectate really make the run special and with my name on my bib I loved it when people shouted ‘C’mon Warren, you can do it’ which really helped, especially on the last mile along the esplanade when I had little energy left. I still haven’t decided if I’ll do the ten mile run next year, although I probably will. My five year old daughter Caitlin asked if she can do it with me next year, so we’re going to do the mini run on the Saturday and I can’t wait. 


I love looking back at some photos of my girls from when they were babies and they were first able to feed themselves. My favourite is when spaghetti bolognese was on the menu. Arguably, the messiest food in the whole world. The photo I have is of my daughter with a big grin on her face, looking at the camera with a face covered in orangey brown pasta sauce, spaghetti hanging from her ears and more food on the floor than in her plastic baby bowl. But it seems even now they are a few years older and meal times tend to be less messy, some foods still create a problem as I found out recently at breakfast time. Three year old Alyssa enjoyed tucking into some chocolate spread on toast and when I gave her a cuddle before I left for work most of it ended up on my freshly ironed white shirt. It’s a shame I only realised this after I’d arrived at work that morning 


Tuesday 28th October

I love listening to music, a bit obvious considering my job as a presenter on Heart. I also enjoy listening to podcasts and audiobooks and probably spend more time doing this than watching television. But this brings one problem that I’m yet to solve. Why is it that the pair of earphones that I use to listen to audio on my phone and iPod always gets tangled up no matter how hard I try to keep them untangled? It’s the bane of any music listener’s life. You’d think neatly wrapping them around my iPod after each use would be enough to keep them from getting twisted and interlaced, sadly not. Sometimes I’ll untangle each time I’m using the earphones but sometimes I get lazy and I’ll wait until they become unusable. But I’ve recently experienced this problem but on an even bigger scale. I bought my daughters a skipping rope each to play with and before the skipping commences it’s my job to do the untangling. Thankfully, It’s a job I’m getting quite good at.
Those hot summer days when me and my daughters would make good use of what Portsmouth had to offer now seems like a long time ago. Gone are the days of crabbing at Canoe Lake, playing in the park next to Baffins Pond and playing tag on Milton common, well on the rainy days at least. All because the weather has turned, shorts have been swapped for trousers, the leaves are falling off the trees and autumn is well and truly here. For all parents this can only mean one thing which might send shudders down your spine at the very thought of it, I’m talking about rainy day activities. When it’s pouring down outside, the trees are swaying from left to right and the front door won’t be opening anytime soon I’ve got two little human life’s who require some sort of mental stimulation to keep them occupied. Sometimes this can mean asking them to pick a DVD from the shelf. Not my favourite choice to be honest as recently I had to sit through the not so thrilling Barbie The Movie not just once but twice. That’s a few hours of my life I’ll never get back, but at least Caitlin and Alyssa seemed to enjoy it. Although the peace and quiet is nice and whilst their minds are engrossed in the movie it means they are not arguing, I much prefer to do an activity where we can interact with each other and they can be creative, which has meant the DVD’s are put back in their case and the new form of mental stimulation is arts and crafts. So now when outside the clouds are looking grey and moody, inside our house is full of colour with various acrylic paints and glues with piles of card and paper. Then of course you need stuff to stick to the card and paper so we are stocked up on small beads, coloured felts and fabrics and various stickers. Now we were all ready, the arts and crafts mixed in with some father/daughter bonding could begin. Don’t get me wrong, we had fun and there were some interesting ‘arty’ results at the end. But what seemed like such a good idea at the start soon turned into a bad idea at the end when it was clean up time. Wow, arts and crafts can be messy. For days I’ve been finding various bits of felt and stickers not just around the house but also stuck to me. Then there is the one thing that has now become my enemy, glitter. I was wondering why I was getting some funny looks whilst out shopping. I later found out it was due to my pretty glittery stubble. How it got on my face, I still don’t know.

Tuesday 21st October

As any parent will know, time out is important. No, I’m not talking about the children when they’ve been misbehaving and are sent to the naughty step to switch their mood back from bad to good. I mean the time out that every parent needs from time to time to re-charge those batteries, let any stress drift away and to switch your mood back from bad to good. Sometimes it can be just five minutes away from the craziness to enjoy some calm, other times it can be getting the help of a babysitter to get away from the routine where you can use the sentence ‘this makes a nice change’. Well here’s something I never thought I’d say, my form of time out has become the gym. I know, what a strange thing to say. But I have the exercise bug and when I’m on the treadmill I’m relaxed and I recommend it to all parents. It’s a win win situation, I get some time out from the kids and they get a daddy who has more energy which means longer games of hide and seek and tag.
In the age of internet shopping and the ability to order an item at nine o clock at night and have it delivered the your front door the next morning, I believe that high street shops need to work even harder to make us, their potential customers, leave our homes and spend our hard-earned cash in their store. Those shops that we would normally travel further afield for like out of town retail parks and garden centres need to go even further to keep our custom. Let’s face it, these days you can buy everything on the net so I’m amazed at how many shops still have a non-customer friendly attitude and don’t realise that a little more effort could lift more people off the sofa and into their store. Without customers a store or brand is nothing, so it’s important to keep the people who buy your products happy. I’ve been in many stores in Portsmouth and the surrounding areas where you don’t even get a thank you at the end of a transaction, this usually means they won’t be seeing me ever again. I believe a way to make sure that people will return to your shop time and time again is to offer a unique and more importantly memorable (for the right reasons) customer experience and I have found one store in the area that is absolutely getting it right. Year after year it goes above and beyond to create a great customer experience and at this time of year a visit feels more like a day out rather the a place to do a bit of shopping. I’m talking about Keydell Nurseries and Garden Centre in Horndean. If you’ve been there you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. A great place all year round with excellent customer service but it particularly comes to life as summer turns to Autumn. On each visit I’m amazed at the time and effort that is put into making this a unique place to shop. Last week I took my daughters to visit the advertised ‘Halloween Walk’. What a great idea. Before you go in a sign reads ‘Young children to be supervised’ which may give you an idea of what to expect. My daughters loved it and when we reached the light at the end of the tunnel they asked if we could go through it again, so we did. Then there is the much loved Christmas shop where the eyes of my girls were open wide staring at the various lights, displays and decorations. We’ll be returning again nearer Christmas when they’ll have real reindeers to pet and the real Father Christmas to visit. It can be so easy for stores to brush aside the importance of a meaningful, fun and memorable customer experience, but Keydell nurseries have got it just right.

Tuesday 14th October

You may have read last week about the school that has made the decision to hire an ex Masterchef contestant to improve its dinner menu after a barrage of complaints from students that what was currently on offer was just simply boring. Now the usual school fare such as lumpy mashed potato served up with an ice cream scoop and grey looking mince served up with soft mushy carrots are a thing of the past and now students are tucking into fresh caught mackerel and Thai style fishcakes at lunchtime. I’m impressed with the effort put in but I’m left wondering how many of the children would choose mackerel over a burger in a bun with a big splodge of tomato ketchup in the middle. I thought these days school dinners had moved on from the past anyway. The menu at my daughter’s school boasts healthy, tasty and nutritious meals and so far she has had no complaints. And if it can done so cheaply on a school budget, maybe we should send the chef in to some of the local hospitals where the food looks like it was made in the 1970’s.
There are so many Disney films and many of them are sitting on a shelf in my house in DVD form, but what makes one of them more popular than the others? What makes children want to watch the same Disney film over and over again? I don’t have the definitive answer to this question but what I do know is the Disney film ‘Frozen’ has been a smash hit and my daughters love it and most days since the postman delivered the DVD to our front door, I have heard songs from the film being sung by my daughters and I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve sat through the animated story. It is now not just a Disney film, but a record breaking Disney film. This week it was announced that it is now the most successful animation of all time, overtaking Toy Story and the soundtrack is the best-selling album. If you’re a parent to young children you’ve almost definitely had the words to ‘Let it go’ and ‘For the first time in forever’ stuck in your head all day and now the album has sold over seven hundred thousand copies in the UK. But why is this story of a fearless princess who sets off on an epic journey alongside a rugged iceman to find her estranged sister, whose icy powers have inadvertently trapped the kingdom in eternal winter, so crowd pleasing amongst children? Well after watching it and then watching it again and again and again, I think I know why Frozen has caught the imagination of our children. Firstly it’s a tried and tested formula which has been used for many years. A formula that appears in many films and books for children which is the old fashioned tale of a Princess in the castle living in a Kingdom which has come under a spell. Of course we all know that just before the credits roll the spell will be banished and everyone will be happy forever and so do my daughters after watching it for the hundredth time but they still enjoy the journey towards the happy ending. Secondly, it’s really funny. My daughters don’t even laugh at my jokes in the way they do for the character Olaf the snowman, he’s the wisecracking sidekick who is a bit dim but adorable at the same time with a silly voice. I have a feeling Olaf dolls will be popular this Christmas. Thirdly, and what I think is the main reason for the film’s success is the highly addictive, witty, catch and sometimes absurdly annoying songs and most car journeys no longer require the radio due to my daughters in the back supplying their version of the frozen soundtrack. It seems the films popularity is yet to fade and this Christmas will once again be Frozen. 

Tuesday 7th October

On a visit to a well-known toy shop in Portsmouth I was convinced by the man at the checkout to sign up for their loyalty card. It means every time I shop, I earn points which will be converted into money off vouchers. Of course this is a clever marketing trick because by using the card they get to know what type of toys I will buy for my daughters. So if I purchase a Barbie doll, in a few weeks an email will enter in my inbox or a letter will drop on my doormat with offers relating to Barbie Dolls. Of course these offers don’t last long, pressuring me into getting to the toy shop fast to take advantage of this amazing offer. I don’t fall for it but it seems it isn’t just the toy shop who is trying to tempt me into spending more money. Another thing that regularly arrives on the doormat is the toys shops latest catalogue. Strangely when I got around to looking at it most of the toys had circles around them in felt tip and it doesn’t take a detective to work out who put them there.
I was so pleased to see the Pyramids centre in Southsea has reopened. I realise that this is one of, if not the most controversial building in the city. If you don’t believe me just have a look at the portsmouth.co.uk website and scroll down to the bottom of the page on any story about the Pyramids and you’ll find very strong opinions being put forward in the comments section for and against the leisure complex. It seems that for some, if the building just disappeared into thin air, tears would not be shed. But for me the Pyramids hold some very fond and happy memories of my childhood. Most Saturdays would spent there with friends where we’d queue up the white spiral staircase to race each other on the blue and green flumes, although everyone knew if you went on the blue flume you’d always get to bottom first and win the battle. But of course the most popular was the snake flume, I think officially called ‘The Sidewinder’ which would always involve a longer queue but would be well worth the wait for the faster and more thrilling ride. Then when the loud klaxon would sound we’d rush to the main pool to enjoy the huge waves that were about to start. Soon after we would jump out of the pool with our swimming shorts dripping wet and head for the pool restaurant for a bite to eat, usually burgers and chips. After gobbling down the food and fizzy drink we’d be back in the water and queuing up for the rides all over again until closing time. In February this year I took my two daughters to the pyramids for the first time. It felt like I had gone back in time, almost nothing had changed. The klaxon still sounded to signal the wave machine was about to be fired into action and you still won the race if you chose the blue flume over the green one. Sadly, for some reason, the thrilling snake flume was closed on the day but that didn’t stop my daughters having fun and on the way out they asked if we could come back. But then just days later flooding caused damage to equipment and ruined the venues electricity supply causing the complex to close it’s doors which left me wondering if that would be the nail in the coffin for the troubled Pyramids. All summer my daughters have been asking when we’ll be visiting again which is why I was most pleased when I read in The News the centre was back open to the public. We’ll soon be visiting to check out the refurbishment and I hope this place that brings back so many great memories for me is back for good to provide fun for a new generation of Portsmouth children and of course their parents too.

Tuesday 30th September

I’ve learnt that sarcasm is to be used carefully when talking to your children. Sarcasm is alive and well and in Britain and we are great at it but as someone who unashamedly uses sarcasm on a daily basis, I sometimes have to hold back when talking to my three and five year old daughters. This can be especially frustrating when I think of the most brilliant comeback to something they’ve said, but those words will not leave my lips because they just won’t get it. For example, when I say ‘I just love it when you spill your cereal all over the table’ they think I’m telling the truth. But it gets worse, as a parent there are so many sarcastic worthy things such as Father Christmas and the Easter Bunny that I have to be serious about. Then when my daughters tell me about something a tiny bit boring my response can sound sarcastic when I don’t even mean it. I’m told though, from parents with older children, soon my house will be full of sarcasm and it won’t be coming from me.

Life can sometimes be very busy, especially with two young children and trying to fit everything into just twenty four short hours just isn’t possible. This is why, as a parent, the internet is the greatest invention there has ever been. Before I became a parent the World Wide Web was primarily used for downloading songs that I like, playing games to bust some boredom and watching funny videos on YouTube. Oh, and of course, to spell check. Come on, that’s what we all use Google for, isn’t it? But ever since I’ve been responsible for two little humans and my day got a bit more hectic my use of the internet has changed and it means I can do some jobs even more quickly and ones that might normally take a huge chunk out of my day. Before Caitlin and Alyssa became citizens of planet earth I’d simply jump in the car to go to the supermarket or pop to the bank to pay a bill. But now my three year old daughter Alyssa can be eating her Weetabix at the breakfast table and my five year old daughter can be playing with her Disney Princess Dolls whilst I’m doing the weekly shop on the laptop. To be honest, I used to enjoy going to the supermarket and filling up the trolley with all the essentials but now with a busy life it’s just easier to do it all online and get it delivered at a time convenient to me. My decision was backed up when I recently went shopping on a Friday afternoon and promised myself I’d never return again. It was just so busy and instead of being in a supermarket it felt like I was on the dodgems ride at a funfair and I witnessed several moments of trolley rage. I’ve also noticed that doing the shopping online is actually saving us money as we’re only buying what we need and aren’t tempted by all those clever tricks that all supermarkets use like end of aisle offers with big red signs promoting how amazing the price is and of course there is every parent’s worst nightmare, sweets and chocolates conveniently placed right next to the checkouts. So the internet has saved my family not only time but also money. In a world of TV on demand it also means I can watch my favourite TV shows when I do finally have some spare time on my hands. But the main reason I use the laptop or tablet for watching television is because the main television set is being hogged by my daughters watching the Disney channel.

Tuesday 23rd September

The other day I was in a large Portsmouth supermarket, walking up and down the aisles filling up my trolley with food and essentials, mostly minding my own business when something grabbed my attention. There was a rather stressed looking mother and father with what I presume were their three children by their side. The reason for the stressed looking faces and tempers that were about to be lost was that the three children, who appeared to be all under ten years old, were arguing. They were doing what most siblings do and generally winding each other up and being highly irritating to each other. Then came the inevitable line that always precedes an argument between siblings and that was ‘Daaaaaaaaaaad, she’s being horrible to me’ and ‘Muuuuuuum, can you tell him to stop’. This is what I witnessed whilst I was popping a pack of pasta into my shopping trolley for that night’s dinner. Then came the threat from the mum and dad ‘If you lot don’t behave you’ll be straight to bed’ and ‘Any more of this and you’ll all be grounded for a week’. Although a stressful situation for all involved it actually made me smile with a little bit of satisfaction. Why? It made me realise that it’s not just my children who are at war on a daily basis and sometimes from the moment they get up until the moment they go to school. Then again from the moment they arrive at home from school until the moment they go to bed. Then of course it all starts again the next day. It’s a scene that plays out in most houses with siblings. Most of the time they’ll be arguing, bickering and fighting over the most trivial things. Before I became a parent I never thought I’d be referee in a fight over who gets to sit next to me at the dinner table. I certainly didn’t think there would be a full scale tantrum over which one gets to read a certain book at bedtime. But I realise that this is all inevitable as both my daughters will argue and be jealous of each other as they grow up and learn how to negotiate and cope in the right way with these situations. But although sibling arguing can be stressful and can sometimes make the home a less happy place I know that the sibling bond is often the strongest and will outlive many other bonds. So even though they are struggling now I know as they grow up they’ll grow closer and they’ll always have each other. That’s when I’ll remind them about the time they fought over who got to squeeze brown sauce on daddy's dinner plate. I’m not joking.

Last year when I reached the finish line of the Great South Run I promised myself I wouldn’t put myself through that ten mile run through the roads of Portsmouth and Southsea ever again. Especially after fighting through the wind on that last stretch past Eastney seafront. But for some reason a few months later I forgot about the pain and signed up to do it all over again. This year it is the twenty fifth anniversary of the Great South Run but for me it’ll be just the third time I have took part and after a lot of training through the streets of the city I’m actually looking forward to it. Although, my outlook may change when I’m five miles into the race. Recently when I was putting on my trainers to once again hit the pavements of Portsmouth my five year old daughter Caitlin asked if she could run with me. I explained she wouldn’t be able to keep up, her reply made me laugh, she said ‘It’s OK dad, I’ll run fast’.

Tuesday 16th September

The Isle of Wight is always there. By that I mean as someone who was born in Portsmouth and have lived in the city all my life I’m always aware of the island being there but never give it much thought about crossing the water to visit the place that is so close yet mostly feels so far and distant. Many times when I’m walking along Southsea seafront or driving along the esplanade I glance over to the island and remember a school visit when I was in secondary school. It was a Geography field trip and as I remember not a particularly pleasant one. I just remember doing lots of walking up many steep hills, examining many rivers and being taught about coastal erosion. As a fourteen year old this most certainly wasn’t the most thrilling day of my life and on this occasion I was actually missing the classroom. Fast forward sixteen years and I found myself back on the Island after my dad suggested we visit for the day with my two daughters. I wondered what this island that didn’t particularly impress me when I was a teenager would have to offer a three and five year old. It seems a lot. Firstly there was excitement when they boarded the Hovercraft for the very first time, the excitement on their faces mirrored the time when they were queuing for the rides at Paultons Park. So the day got off to a good start. Then came another first, a train journey. My daughters have never been on a train before so enjoyed our journey on the Island Line between Ryde and Sandown. I think the rickety journey which sometimes actually did feel like a ride at Paultons Park added to the excitement. After a short walk we arrived at Sandown beach, one of the most stunning I have ever been to. Before I knew it shoes had been flung off and feet and hands were deep in sand. They would have spent all day here if we could, but after dusting down the sand we made our way towards Isle of Wight Zoo. Well straight after we stopped off at a small but beautiful café to have a bite to eat.  The zoo is smaller than the huge Marwell we are used to but perfect for the little ones and they enjoyed seeing the big cats, meercats and Monkeys among others. But to be honest they were more excited by the stamp trail and finding the stamps to fill up their booklet given to them on arrival, what a great idea. As they say time flies when you’re having fun and it really did and before we knew it we had to make our way back to the station to catch our train. A perfect day and I won’t be waiting sixteen years for my next visit.

So all the children across the area are now back at school after the long hot summer and parents, although missing their little darlings, are probably feeling a little less stressed. The school run routine is now well and truly back in force and the daily challenge to get my two daughters washed, dressed and fed in time for school has returned. But being back at school has brought one big problem that I didn’t experience during the summer holidays. You see, when there was no school to get up for my daughters would still rise from their slumber at the crack of dawn which would mean I’d be watching brightly coloured children’s television at six o clock in the morning. Now that they have school to get up for each weekday again they suddenly want a lie in. This is so unfair, why wasn’t this the case during those long six weeks? But it’s OK, I’ve found opening the curtains to allow sunlight to flood in the room does the trick. But for when the mornings start to get darker, suggestions greatly received.

Tuesday 9th September

There have been many amazing discoveries by mankind. The obvious ones that spring to mind include gravity by Isaac Newton. He figured out that gravity is the force that draws object towards each other and this is why things fall to the ground and why the planets orbit around the sun. Then there is something that has saved millions of lives around the world, Penicillin, discovered by the great Alexander Fleming.  Without this powerful drug, some infections could prove deadly. And of course something that makes all our lives easier is electricity and we’ve got to thanks Michael Faraday who became the first person to produce an electric current by moving a wire through a magnetic field. All great and amazing but I’ve found something that I could now, as a parent, not live without. I’m talking about a discovery I myself made last week, colouring in pens with the lids attached. Not invented by me but made by Crayola and I thank them for me no longer having to lift up the sofa, look behind the TV and use up my precious time looking for lids to pens.

Do you remember your first day at pre-school? I think I do, but then I wonder if these are my own memories or created from stories I’ve been told. It was the year 1987 when the three year old version of me went to the pre-school at St John’s in Arundel Street Portsmouth and I’m told there were tears on my first day as my parents said goodbye to me at the school door and I was introduced to a whole new world. So, twenty seven years on it was time for my three year old daughter Alyssa to make new friends and learn through play at pre-school. How did this happen? It seems only yesterday that she was a helpless little new-born baby who’s survival was dependent on her parents and now she’s a wise three year old (Going on thirteen) who knows how to work the iPad better than me. She’ll be learning her ABC’s and I’ll be adapting to her brand new schedule. So as the big day arrived and we closed to front door to make the short walk to her new home for three hours each weekday, I wondered if this major milestone in her life would stay in her memory and if she’d recall the days events in years to come. Only time will tell but the good news was there would be no tears as on her first day I’d be with her for the entire session to ease her into this new experience gently. In we walked and the expected pre-school setting greeted us such as tables and chairs that didn’t reach any higher than my knees and lots of items for the children to express their arty side such as paints, pens and crayons. Alyssa was invited to play in the sand pit with a member of staff. I thought she might decline and recoil into me but without a thought, off she went without looking back to get elbow deep in sand and there her schooling life began. Later it was time for painting before moving onto some singing with her new friends. Of course the biggest hurdle is still to come when I leave her at pre-school for the first time. I’ll get her through the morning routine of brushing those tiny teeth, eating breakfast, getting dressed and finding socks that match but when I say goodbye to her at pre-school door will she cling on to me and beg to stay with me or will she simply give me a kiss goodbye and walk through the door with no fuss? Well during her first session she didn’t want to leave so I’m feeling confident there’ll be no tears. Well from her at least.

Tuesday 2nd September

If you’re on Facebook, I’m sure your newsfeed, like mine has been full of videos of people chucking icy water over their heads. It’s the latest charity craze to spread like wildfire across social media. If you’re not on Facebook, or earth, here’s how it works. You fill up a bucket with cold water and add a few ice cubes, then you pour it over your head (or get someone to do it for you) and then as you shiver through your soaked clothing, you nominate someone else to take on the Ice Bucket Challenge. Then you pick up your phone and donate money to charity. I was sceptical at first, wondering if people would donate, but I’ve read that so far £37 million pound has been raised, great news. I thought I’d got away with it, but then came my nomination, from Donna Jones, Leader of Portsmouth City Council (Thanks Donna). It was my daughter Caitlin who had the honour of pouring the ice cold water over me and unsurprisingly she enjoyed every second of it.

Parents, grandparents, babysitters and anyone who’s had the pleasure of looking after children, please take a huge sigh of relief, wipe the sweat from your brow, sit down and relax. Why? Isn’t it obvious? We did it. We survived summer. It seems like a lifetime, but it was just six weeks ago when we were looking forward to forty two days of keeping the children entertained during those long summer days, juggling busy schedules and hoping that we would all make it to September with not too much drama. But of course with children, drama is a given. I know at various stages it didn’t seem possible that we would all make it to the start of the next school term, it seemed so far away. Like during those long car journeys when you heard the sentence ‘are we nearly there yet’ a hundred times and those words would be etched into your brain. When you were tired and weary but with a bored child you’d have to gather some energy from somewhere and be chief entertainer. When you’d act as private secretary for your child, answering the door to their friends and picking up the telephone for them for the hundredth time that day. When it was raining outside which meant you’d have to watch a Disney film on loop and you suddenly realised you know every single word from the movie and know which song is coming next. But taking summer life with young children day by day, hour by hour and even minute by minute, it wasn’t so bad. OK, I’ll admit it. I’ve loved every second of having my two daughters together and home with me all summer. Alright, every second might be pushing it, because in reality, like a lot of siblings, they argue like cat and dog. But when they were civil towards each other, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Not just because there hasn’t been a school run to do for five days of the week and of course the daily challenge to get them washed, dressed and fed in time for school. With school for them, work for me, having quality time together to simply talk to each other and have a conversation isn’t always easy. So there has been lots of father/daughter bonding over the last six weeks and best of all I’ve been able to act like a big kid myself, whether that be on the rides at Paultons Park, running around the house playing tag or splashing about with them at the swimming pool. So goodbye summer, it’s been fun and I’ll miss you. But not to worry, Christmas is just around the corner.

Tuesday 26th August

This may surprise you, but I was actually looking forward to a recent two hour car journey with my two daughters. I naively thought that during that time as we headed towards to our destination we would do the one thing that a busy life seems to get in the way of, talking to each other. I imagined this time alone, strapped into our seats with nowhere to go, zooming along the motorway would give me a great insight into the mind of a three and a five year old. I’m sad to say at the end of the journey I think my hair turned grey and I aged a few years. It was an exhausting journey where instead of me asking them questions, they were giving them to me. Well only one question, ‘are we nearly there yet?’ asked what seemed like a million times. Then there was the song ‘Let It Go’ from Disney's Frozen sung over and over again. That two hour journey turned into three and a half hours thanks to traffic. I think I’ve started balding.
I’m ashamed to admit that before I moved in with my girlfriend Serena almost ten years ago when I had just said goodbye to my teenage years, I wasn’t the tidiest person in the world. In fact I probably wasn’t the only form of life in my Copnor bedroom with various types of mould and fungus growing at the bottom of various cups and bowls until I would finally get round to delivering them to the kitchen sink. Disgusting I know. But then I met Serena who can spot a particle of dust from a mile away and will make it her mission to blast it with some sort of cleaning substance to banish it from human contact forever. Most days in the Hayden household will include that whirring sound of a vacuum cleaner and that fresh smell of polish with surfaces so shiny they wink at you as you walk past them. The good thing is, over the years this obsession with cleanliness has rubbed off on me and Serena isn’t the only one who has a daily dance up and down the stairs with the hoover. So the chores in this house are split 50/50. OK, being honest maybe 70/30 might be more accurate, I’ll never reach Serena’s level of cleanliness. But if you arrived at my house unannounced there’s a chance I’d be elbow deep in fairy liquid or I’d have my hands full with polish in one and a duster in the other. Of course most of the time the mess has been created by the two little humans I call my daughters who I seem to be cleaning up after every single minute of the day, even long after they’ve been tucked up in bed and have arrived in the land of nod. But apparently by letting myself loose on the laundry I’m doing far more than just creating a tidy and clean environment to live in, I’m actually shaping my daughters future. Researchers recently found that fathers who performed household chores were more likely to have daughters who aspired to less traditionally feminine occupations, such as astronaut, marine biologist and a geologist. In contrast fathers who believed in gender equality and yet left most of the housework to mothers had daughters who favoured more traditionally feminine careers, such as nursing, librarian and a stay-at-home mum. So it’s all down to me whether my daughters will stamping out books in a library or stamping their space boots on Mars. I quite fancy a trip to NASA Headquarters in Washington DC. Anyway, I must stop writing, I’ve got housework to do.

Tuesday 19th August

It was really sad last week to wake up to the news of the death of actor Robin Williams. It was only this news that made me reflect on the amount of entertainment and laughter that one man had given me since my childhood. He made a bangarang Peter Pan in the 1991 movie Hook, a loveable genie in Disney’s Aladdin in 1992 and the hilarious housekeeper in the form of Mrs Doubtfire in 1993. With the latter, I was only nine years old at the time and walked from Fratton to the Odeon in North End with my older brother Danny, practising my new date of birth as the movie was rated twelve. As I’ve said many times in this column, one of the great things about being a parent is being able to re-live your own childhood through your children. Something I do every day. I’m pleased to say my daughters already appreciate some of Robin Williams greatest films and will continue to do so as I introduce them to even more.
Last week my daughter Caitlin celebrated her fifth birthday. A big day for her but an even bigger day for me as a got through her birthday party without having to call a therapist. Birthday parties always sound like a good idea and of course I wanted to make the day special for my first born child, but then the big day arrives and I don’t mind admitting I wondered why I didn’t just treat her to a day at Paultons Park instead. It would have been so much easier with no one to please or entertain but ourselves. But a party was organised and arranged so there was no backing out, the invites were sent and I was in way too deep. Although I still had nightmares about a bunch of children at the party full up on sugary treats, let loose to destroy my so much loved home. When I say ‘party’ I don’t mean we hired out some ballroom with children’s entertainers in every corner, a top DJ on the decks and a hired in caterer to take care of the food. I of course thought about all these things but then I remembered the devastating time I spent good money on a toy for Caitlin and she had more fun playing with the box that the toy came in. You just don’t need to spend lots of money to entertain children and most of the time the least amount of money spent equals the most fun.  The reality was a few friends and family invited to our house to sit in the garden, eat some cocktail sausages and egg mayo sandwiches, help themselves to the bowl full of crisps and take part in a game of musical statues. I like to be traditional, but it still took a lot of organisation and I actually realised that the cost of party food, balloons, banners, prizes for games, party bags etc all adds up. Childrens parties, even ones at home, in the back garden, don’t come cheap. As the clock struck midday, the first guests arrived for Caitlin’s 5th birthday party and the madness began. With children running around my house like they’re a wind up toy that doesn’t ever stop, there was one thing for it, get the food out. Such an easy way to calm down a bunch of hectic children for five minutes, but once those sausage rolls and jaffa cakes were downed, the chaos continued. But apart from having to be a counsellor to some of the children who were left disappointed when they didn’t end up with a prize after a game of pass the parcel, the day was a success. Caitlin asked if we can go to Disney World for her 6th birthday. Where can I buy a Mickey Mouse costume from? Disney can come to us.

Tuesday 12th August

When you were a child did your parents cut off your crusts when making you a sandwich? I was always told to eat my crusts as it would make me grow and well, I’m six foot one. I don’t want to be one of those parents that bows down to fussiness when it comes to food. We’ve all heard of children who must have their sandwich cut into triangles because squares will just not do. I had a friend when I was a child who would have his circular luncheon meat cut into a square, his seeds taken out of the slice of tomato and of course those crusts were chopped away and thrown in the bin. What a fuss and a waste of time. But recently whilst my daughter was tucking into a cheese sandwich, she declared ‘Dad, I don’t want to eat my crusts’. This could start a lifetime of crust wastage, I thought. So I explained that all the Disney Princesses eat their crusts and that is how their hair grows so long and pretty. It worked. There’s no crust wastage in this house.
Does fun really have to cost so much money? I’ve been doing some research into places across Portsmouth and the South that I can take my children to have a great time but without my wallet getting lighter, because for parents summer can be expensive. For days when the coast is basking in bright sunshine there are the many beautiful beaches on the South Coast. On my heart radio show recently I asked my listeners who has the best beach in the area. There was lots of love for West Wittering beach, apparently I great place for Fish and Chips by the sea. Hayling Island beaches were also popular with people loving the calm and chilled atmosphere. Both of these I haven’t visited since I was a child so it’ll be nice to take my children for a few hours of making sandcastles and getting their feet wet and it’ll be a change from our local, Southsea beach. Another place on The South Coast to head for during summer is Queen Elizabeth Country Park. We took my daughters there last year on a warm summers day and although they were unimpressed with the amount of walking and trees, children are catered for well and they were pleased when they discovered amongst the trees many play areas and had a great time. Without leaving the island there are the many play parks in Portsmouth to enjoy and a favourite of my daughters is the Baffins pond area. One minute they can be feeding the ducks and watching the swans swim in the tranquil pond with the sunshine bouncing off the water and the next climbing to the peak of that massive metal slide in the park and propelling themselves forward to reach the bottom. Always busy and enjoyed my many families and children in Portsmouth, including mine. Another great place to take the children that won’t cost a single penny is the splash pool next to Hilsea Lido in Cosham. How fantastic to have an outdoor pool that is perfect for the little ones in summer. It’s also great to see that Hilsea Lido, enjoyed my families in the area for generations, is back open and what a great job the team have done to restore it and bring it into the 21st century. So it seems there is plenty to do in this area with the children during summer that won’t require punching your pin number into a credit card machine. I feel really lucky to be a parent in a city that caters for children really well. Let’s just hope the weather stays nice so we can take advantage of the free fun and if it does rain, well that’s what the Disney Frozen DVD is for.

Tuesday 5th August

After being part of the pantomime cast in Sleeping beauty last year, it was so nice to be back at the Kings Theatre in Southsea recently. I was there with my partner Serena to see, in my opinion, the funniest man on the planet, comedian Lee Evans. He was there warming up for his forthcoming UK tour. I’d seen him twice before including once at London’s O2 Arena, where I was watching him on the big screens as my seats were so far back he was just a dot in the distance. So it was extra special to see my comedy hero up close in such a stunning theatre and one of my favourite places in the city. It’s not often we leave the children in the evening with babysitters so they were keen to find out where we were going. They wanted to come with us until I explained that unlike at Christmas there wouldn’t be a Prince and Princess on stage.

When did we stop letting children be children? A primary school in West Sussex made headlines recently when it planned to tarmac over their grass covered playground. Why would they do such a thing I hear you ask? Why replace this natural, green lawn with the dark and ugly looking tarmac? Well here is the answer and be prepared to let out a laugh when you read the next sentence. It’s because the children are getting too muddy on the grass. What a terrible crime. How dare a child get muddy? Apparently the play area is used by pupils aged just four to six years old and it is closed off when it rains due to safety concerns. So to fix this so called problem the school has applied for funding to have tarmac put down in its place and it would mean that the school children would no longer have a grassed area to play on. What a crazy idea. I’m a parent to two young daughters and given a choice for them to play, run around, do cartwheels etc on a grassy area or on hard tarmac surface, the green stuff will win every single time without fail. As any parent of young children will tell you, trips and falls are common and as one grazed knee disappears, another will appear. The big enemy when it comes to a fall is concrete and tarmac. As soon as a child loses their balance and they topple forward it is inevitable that as soon as those knees make contact with the tarmac a graze or cut will appear. Whereas if that fall took place on a grassy surface, you’d be left with two green, possibly muddy, but un-grazed knees. As a parent I’d choose a grassy, muddy play area over a hard ugly tarmacked one any day and I’m sure most children would too. Soon they’ll be grown-ups and to get muddy will involve an expensive treatment at a health farm, so just let children be children. There have been other crazy ideas and rules I’ve read about in newspapers recently, such as the school that has banned children from running incase they trip over and another, although this time in America, banned children from hugging each other after incidents of ‘Unsuitable interactions’. No one goes through their childhood without getting hurt. I think we should be promoting confidence, not fear. It’s time to stop wrapping our children in cotton wool and let children be children. Let them roll in mud, just make sure you stock up on washing powder.

Tuesday 29th July

On the day before the children in Portsmouth broke up from school for the long six week summer holidays, I went for a swim. Off to the Mountbatten Centre with my towel and swimming shorts to enjoy that huge fifty metre pool before it would be taken over by over excited, energetic, lively and animated children who have no school to go to. With no children in sight, It was nice and calm. Up and down the lane I went starting with the front crawl before moving onto the breast-stroke then changing to the back-stroke. The best bit about swimming is I’m burning calories without even realising it, I call it easy exercise. But now the summer holidays are here I expect the pool will be taken over by parents using the pool as one of the many ways to keep them and their children entertained over the six week break and I’ll be dodging ten year olds dive bombing in the pool. I can’t complain though, as I’ll be one of those parents.
Last week there was an event that I just couldn’t miss for the world and I actually had to clear my diary and cancel an important meeting so that I could be there. I’m talking about my daughter Caitlin’s first ever sports day. There was no way I was missing that most traditional date in the school calendar, especially as it was the first time my daughter would have taken part in it. When I was at school I used to love the annual sports day. I didn’t have any aspiration to be a sports star and I certainly was not showing any signs of being a future athlete, but it was a great day of being out of the classroom and in the sunshine. As I was always considered tall for my age I was always entered into the hurdles race where I’d have to jump over a long bamboo stick that was balancing on two bright orange traffic cones. Unfortunately there was a boy in my class with even longer legs than me who took home the winners medal, so I had to settle with being the runner up, which I was actually quite proud with. I recently listened to a discussion about the effects of competitiveness at school sports days and worryingly that at some schools now there is no runner up, in fact there isn’t even a winner and there are certainly no losers. Apparently many schools are rewarding all pupils who take part and prizes are given to both winners and losers so that no one feels left out and no feelings are hurt. My personal view is that competition is good for children and that it can be a positive thing. I think sometimes we worry too much about how our children will react to certain situations and actually underestimate how strong and resilient they can be. At Caitlin’s sports day there was a sticker for the children who came in first, second or third place, but nothing for those who came in fourth, fifth or sixth. I watched as Caitlin stood at the start line, waiting for the whistle to signal the start of the race. I was so proud when Caitlin reached the finish line. Not because she came first, because she didn’t. In fact she tripped over just before the finish line which meant she actually finished in last place. I was proud because after she fell, with the whole school watching, she just got up and carried on. No tears and no fuss. In fact I didn’t see any tears from any of the children on that day. Like I thought, children are tougher and more resilient than we sometimes think. But there was one disappointment on the day, there was no parent’s race at the end. But it’s OK, I was brave too.

Tuesday 22nd July

Making news this week is how much time parents spend waiting in the car for their children. Sometimes it’s just five minutes here or ten minutes there until your child comes out of wherever they are, gets strapped in the car and is taken back home. But apparently if you add all this waiting time up over a lifetime you’ll reach twenty two days. That is a lot of waiting around, but it’s not all bad, there’s the radio to listen to and what a great opportunity to scroll down my twitter timeline. But once they get in the car and I put my phone away I actually quite like car journeys with my children as it is a time to chat with them away from any distractions such as the television and toys. Four year old Caitlin made me laugh on a recent trip in the car. As we were on our way to our destination she asked ‘daddy, are you my taxi driver’. I couldn’t think of any other answer, so I replied ‘yes’. On my tariff children currently travel free, just wait till she’s eighteen, then I’ll make my fortune.
They just don’t make children’s TV like they used to. I feel old and grumpy saying that sentence out loud and it makes me seem older than my thirty years on this planet, but in my opinion it really is true. But then again, I bet in the nineties when I was watching Zoe Ball and Jamie Theakston on a blindingly bright coloured set being more enthusiastic than anyone else on the planet every Saturday morning on Live and Kicking, my parents were probably thinking back to their younger days when children television meant Bagpuss, Thunderbirds and Multi Coloured Swap Shop. Take Bagpuss, for example. For one generation it is a classic, a nations favourite, a great kids TV shows that evokes countless childhood memories. For another generation it is slow, boring, out of date and something our parents used to watch when they were younger. But when my children have children I’m predicting they’ll probably look at the current days crop of kids TV and compare it to those classic TV shows such as Peppa Pig and Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom and come to the same conclusion as me, that children’s television isn’t like it used to be. One thing that will bring back old memories in a split second is music, and every generation has a theme tune to a childrens television show that as soon as it’s played will be swallowed up by your ears and will transport you back to that care free time when the most important decision of the day was whether go for the rice crispy cake or the flapjack in the paper bag for pudding at school dinner time. For me there is one show that reminds me of getting home after a day at school, getting quickly changed out of my school uniform and parking my bottom on the sofa in front of the television. It’s the one that had a host with the biggest and best mullet in the world, a set of twins with pom poms that every boy in the country fancied, lots of gunge that was a big part of most children television shows in the nineties and a show that every child, including me, would have given a years pocket money to be on. I’m talking about Fun House with Pat Sharp that ran on ITV from 1989 to 1999. At the weekend whilst flicking through the TV channels I came across a repeat of Fun House on Challenge TV. I called my daughter Caitlin in and I was pretty confident that Fun House would entertain her like it did me after school all those years ago. Just a few minutes in she said ‘Dad, can I go play in my room’. I was devastated. I think they just don’t make children’s TV like they used to, but my daughter disagrees.

Tuesday 15th July

What is the definition of a tidy house? I suppose it’s when you can find something in the last place you put it, things are where they are supposed to be, surfaces are clear, nothing can be tripped over and the house is ready for guests. But all parents know, with young children living in their house (and maybe grown up children, I haven’t got to that bit yet) there is never a time when the whole house has that clean show home look. There will always be a rogue colouring in pen without a lid peeking out from under the sofa and there will always be a clump of play-doh that has fused itself together with the carpet. But cleaning is best done when the children are out of the house or fast asleep in bed, otherwise it’s like brushing your teeth with a chocolate digestive in your mouth. Then you can enjoy the clear floors, clean surfaces and play-doh free carpets. Well, until tomorrow.
There is just one week left of parental freedom and then as your child leaves school, the gates will be slammed shut, locked and no matter how many times you shake those gates like you are an innocent prisoner they will not re-opened until six long weeks of summer have passed. Yes, it’s that time of the year that every parent looks forward to and secretly dreads in equal measure, the summer holidays. For forty two days it is your job all day every day to be chief entertainer, taxi driver, chef, toy finder, boredom buster, money dispenser and everything else your child requires until they are back in their school uniform in September. The first task is to admit to yourself that at some point during the summer, probably sooner rather than later, you will hear the ‘B’ word. I’m talking about when your child is looking glum and out of their mouth in a monotone voice comes ‘I’m bored’. It is the enemy of all parents, but my advice is that when you hear those words don’t rack your brains for ideas of what could take your child out of this spiritless state of mind but just let them be bored and allow them to use their imagination. Soon they’ll be grown-ups and every second of the day will be taken up by texting and tweeting. The second thing to admit is that during the next six weeks the television will be your friend. We all like to think that every second of summer with your children will be spent in the great outdoors under the sun watching squirrels run up trees but let’s be honest, some days it will be wall to wall Nick Jr and the DVD player will become warm as the Disney Frozen DVD is played several times in just one twenty four hour period. But then when they’ve finally got through every episode ever made of Peppa Pig or Spongebob Squarepants a walk is always a good choice of activity and can turn out to be a surprise summer holiday success. It costs nothing, it gets them out of the house it will help them sleep better that night. But of course we’re spoilt in this area for places to take the kids, although most of the time it will involve your purse or wallet getting lighter. Some days out planned with my daughters over the six weeks include Marwell Wildlife, The Blue Reef Aquarium, Longdown activity Farm and Monkey World along with taking full advantage of all the great free parks and play area we have in the city. Have a great summer and good luck.

Tuesday 8th July

Whenever a new toy is purchased for my daughters it has to go through the ‘Will they actually play with it?’ test. I don’t want to waste a single penny so I need to know if it will it be a loved toy and used every day, or will it be joining the ones at the bottom of the toy box that get forgotten about. Sometimes I’ve got it right and sometimes I’ve got it wrong. It always starts well, all toys get played with when they are new but by the time they become boring to their owner it’s too late to take them back to the store. I’ve found out that the more complicated and expensive the toy, the more likely it will end up at the bottom of the toy box and the more simple and inexpensive the toy, the more likely it will never get dull. Like recently when I bought a tub of coloured chalks for less than a fiver.  They get used every day and I’ve definitely got my money’s worth. They also make the garden fence panels look a little bit prettier.
Once upon a time, not too many years ago, it was unheard of for a man to be in the same room as his partner when she was giving birth to their son or daughter. Instead the man would be hard at work earning the money to pay for all the things that child would require. Or maybe they were down the local pub waiting for the phone call with a stiff whiskey in hand to help summon some Dutch courage for what was about to come. Back in the 1960’s only one in every ten men would be in the delivery room witnessing his child coming into the world. The main reason; it just wasn’t a man’s place to be there and testimony from that era reveals many men didn’t want to be there and many women didn’t want their man to be there too. It was just an entirely different culture. There are other schools of thought though, including the theory that doctors felt quite threatened by another presence in the room, another person who's asking questions about why they are doing what they're doing. We’ve all seen television shows like the current hit drama Call The Midwife where community midwives in vintage costumes arrive on their bicycle to deliver a baby and the father to be is sitting on the doorstep outside waiting for it all to be over. But fast forward a few decades and generations and it’s all changed. News last week revealed that the number of fathers who help their partner through childbirth has risen dramatically and now in the year 2014 only 5% of new dads miss the life changing moment. I witnessed both of my daughters being born, my first at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Cosham and my second a home birth. There is really nothing for a man to do during childbirth except be supportive - whether that is holding a wet flannel on a forehead or offering words of encouragement. The jury is out whether the latter has any positive impact whatsoever but you just really hope that your mere presence will be reassuring. But I think most fathers will admit that they felt a bit like a spare part in a situation that they have no control over whatsoever. In this largely feminine environment you just have to go with the flow, meaning do what you are told. But nothing compares to that euphoric rush of emotion consuming your entire body when your child is born and the relief knowing that mother and baby are well. Then comes the intense instinctive love you feel for that child. You’re on cloud nine. Well I was until the midwife ordered me to go and make toast and tea for mum. I did as I was told and returned quickly to jump back on that cloud.

Tuesday 1st July

Like all children, my three year old daughter Alyssa is fascinated by her surroundings. I’m surprised she doesn’t get dizzy when we’re out for a walk as her head is moving in all directions as she takes in everything she can see. One moment she’ll be looking at the bird flying over our heads, then she’ll be distracted by the big red fire engine zooming past us with its siren sounding, then a bunch of children riding past on their bicycles will grab her attention next. The only problem with these distractions is that Alyssa doesn’t always look where she is walking and this has caused her to take a tumble. Just as one knee recovers from a graze, she’ll fall over and create a brand new one. More hazards lurk in the form of lampposts and bollards. There have been quite a few near misses. Whilst holding hands I’ve had to sharply pull her out the way before she adds to her wounds with a bump on the head. I’ve started calling her Frank, as in Frank Spencer. Some Fathers Do ‘Ave ‘Em.

Ever generation has its fads, you know, that thing that all the kids are into, but usually only for a short period of time. Then that particular thing gets boring, but as one fad dies a brand new one is born. I bet you can think of something that your friends had when you were a child which meant you had to have it too. It was probably novelty and it probably meant hassling your parents for money to keep up with the latest craze. Thinking back to my childhood there were many different fads. Remember POGS from the early nineties? A game that is quite hard to describe but involved small rounds discs that you’d try and flip over with a larger disc called a ‘slammer’. There were two types of slammer, plastic and metal. The metal ones were the best. So popular, I remember walking the entire length of Copnor Road, visiting every shop along the way with a pound coin in my pocket to buy a pack of POGS, but they were all sold out. Eventually my friends and I lost interest in the game, particularly after they got banned from school. Apparently games of POGS were causing arguments amongst the pupils. Later all my friends had their very own pet, in the form of a plastic toy on a key chain with a screen. Remember the Tamagotchi? The virtual pet that would hatch on the screen and from that moment on would require constant attention by pressing the two buttons to care for it in various ways. If you forgot the feed your Tamagotchi it would die and you’d have to start all over again. I don’t think mine ever survived more than a few days and just like POGS, it didn’t take too long for my friends and I to lose interest. Just think how much money was wasted on these short lived crazes by parents all over the country. Well I’m still trying to keep up with the latest fads but this time it’s not me that gets to play with them. Caitlin came home from school and mentioned that many of her friends had been arriving at school with something pretty and colourful around there wrists. It turns out these are called Loom Bands, one of the most popular toys in the world right now. Apparently a plastic device is used to turn rubber bands into jewellery. So popular even the Duchess of Cambridge has been spotted wearing one on her recent trip to New Zealand. In an age where children play with tablet computers and have their heads buried in their mobile phones I think it’s a great thing that the next big fad turned out to be rubber bands.

Tuesday 24th June

It was lovely to see pictures in the newspaper recently of our future king taking his first steps. Although they were only two tiny steps they were enough to earn Prince George of Cambridge the title of ‘Toddler’. It took me back to when my daughter Alyssa took her first steps. I usually missed out on all the ‘first times’ due to work, so I was delighted when right in front of my eyes an eleven month old Alyssa pulled herself up to stand next to the sofa and then walked three tiny steps to the other sofa where I was sitting. It was just Alyssa and I in the house and I was worried I may have imagined it so I encouraged her to do it again, which she did. But as soon as the rest of our family arrived home she refused to get back on her feet and didn’t re-create that magic moment for another few weeks. It looked like I’d made the whole thing up. Unlike Prince George, the world didn’t see her first steps, but I was just pleased that I did.
In all my long thirty years on this great planet Earth I have been a resident of Portsmouth. I was born in this historic city, I took my first steps in the city, I went to school in the city, I passed my driving test in the city and both my daughters were born in the city. If you cut me open I would bleed Portsmouth. So you’d think I would have seen, done and experienced everything here and I thought I had. But recently I was driving along Southsea seafront and I was at the bit where a look to my right will reveal the beautiful Isle of Wight in the distance and a glance to my left will reveal Canoe Lake with its big white swan boats and I saw something I’d never been to before. Southsea Model Village. I’m not sure when it was built but I always remember it being there and have driven past it hundreds of times. With reviews online generally good, a visit with my daughters has been planned soon. I’m sure they’ll enjoy feeling like giants as they peek inside the miniature houses. But recently it was me that felt like the giant. My three year old daughter Alyssa starts pre-school in September and we were invited to a parents evening to have a look around and meet the people who will be looking after and educating our second born for a few hours each day. As soon as we entered it instantly felt like a place where little people spend a lot of time. There were paintings stuck on the walls and hanging from the ceiling, it was hard to work out what each painting was supposed to be, looking like a splodge of colour, but a painting that the parent of the artist would still be incredibly proud of and was destined to be stuck with a magnet on the door of a fridge. Looking around the pre-school there were different sections for the children including a book area, a creative area, an outside area and a construction area. But the part that made it obvious this was a world for little people was the table and chairs. They were tiny and yes, you guessed it, I had to sit my over six foot long body in one of these small, made for a four year old chairs. As we were being spoken to by a member of staff I could feel that my legs, bent in a way I’d never seen before underneath a table not designed for men in their thirties, were losing all feeling. I was sure my joints had fused together and I would require assistance to get back up, but luckily I managed it. We were really impressed with the pre-school but I think next time this giant will stay standing.

Tuesday 17th June

Summer is here which means a number of things for this dad of two. Firstly the smell of sunscreen will be constant for a few months as I try to protect my little ones from the big yellow thing in the sky. Secondly I’ll be spending a lot of time getting kinks out of the garden hose as I try to fill up the paddling pool in the garden. Finally I’ll be spending the summer dodging ice cream cones with a large dollop of dripping Ice cream at its peak held by my daughters. Yes, ice cream is tasty and refreshing on a warm summer’s day but it can also be incredibly messy. When you’re all ready for work getting sticky chocolate ice cream all over your clothes isn’t ideal. Although chocolate Ice cream is now out of fashion with my daughter Caitlin after she tried a new flavour at school. She arrived home requesting vinegar ice cream. My eyebrows rose as I questioned her choice, but she was adamant she’d been tucking into Vinegar ice cream at school. She hadn’t, turned out she meant vanilla.
Apparently “the family who sits together stays together”. But it seems families eating together around the dinner table are going the same way as the Dodo and the Dinosaurs and that is extinction. But does it really matter if dinnertime is spent on the sofa with the television on and our eyes glued on the big screen as we eat the food that took time and effort to make? Well I think yes. What a perfect opportunity to sit down together as a family. Conversations during the meal provide opportunities for the family to bond, plan, connect, and learn from one another. It’s a chance to share information and news of the day, as well as give extra attention to your children. An article I read recently suggested that children who sit down and eat with their parents as a family tend to have a higher academic performance than those who don’t and those children will have better manners because they will imitate their parents when sitting together. Obviously this means that the parents need to set the example and have good manners in the first place. I don’t mind admitting that I occasionally might commit the terrible crime of an elbow on the table but I think on the whole I have good table manners and I can pass this on to my children, not by instructing or criticising but just leading by example.  Obviously, any family with young children will tell you that meal times are never perfect. In an ideal world my call of ‘Dinners ready’ would bellow around the house and my children would instantly stop what they were doing and arrive at the dinner table ready to enjoy some healthy and nutritious food and the family bonding would begin. The mood will feel easy and relaxed and my daughters would leave their plates clean and even request a second helping of vegetables. Yes, I know, I’m asking way too much of a three and four year old. In reality meal times can become a bit of a battleground. First, sometimes my big authoritative announcement of ‘Dinners ready’ doesn’t have the desired effect and getting them to the table takes a bit longer. When I finally get them there may be a squabble over who sits where. Other times it’s the food and drink ending up everywhere except their mouths and sometimes they just want to be roaming around rather than sitting with mummy and daddy. But I’ve come to realise that the more civilised dinner time becomes, the more the family atmosphere is sucked out of the situation, so I’ve learnt to embrace the madness.  Dinner time might sometimes be a bit hectic but at least it brings us all together as a family.

Tuesday 10th June

When night time arrives I’m amazed at how sometimes after a busy day my daughters eyes are still wide open and they appear to have the same amount of energy as when they woke up twelve hours before. Whereas I’m struggling to keep my eyes open and all I want to do is rest my weary bones and collapse onto my bed. But I’ve found an activity to do with the girls during the day that will guarantee two tired children when night time comes. I’ve been getting fit in the gym at Mountbatten Leisure Centre so during half term my daughters came with me for some fun in the pool. Of course disguised behind the fun is lots of exercise and that night the bedroom routine was so easy. As soon as their heads touched the pillow they were off to the land of nod. I was also pleased to find out that with a Portsmouth library card, swimming for the under 16s is free, so we’ll be back for more fun and to help them use up at least some of their endless energy.
At some point in our lives we’ve all stared at someone or something, In fact we all probably do it on a daily basis. You know, when you gaze or look for a prolonged amount of time. Sometimes a stare can be innocent and accidental, like when you’re in a meeting at work but have lost interest and appear to be staring into space. We’ve all done that, right? But a stare can be interpreted in so many different ways. The reason for the stare can range from affection to concentration to hostility. I recently took my daughters to a theme park where we obviously did some queuing for rides. At one point someone jumped the queue but no one, including me, said anything. Instead I noticed the entire queue letting out all their frustration with a big long prolonged stare at the guilty party. It was all very British and the situation actually made me smile. Do you remember when you were a child and you’d play the staring game, otherwise known as the blinking game, I was a pro at this and would always be crowned champion. It’s a game involving two people where you stare into each other’s eyes with your heads almost touching, you must maintain eye contact but the person who blinks or who looks away first loses. I never cheated by blowing air into my opponents eyes, never. When you were a child I bet at some point your parents told you not to stare. Well now I’m the parent saying that to my children. We’ve all had that situation where you’re sitting in a restaurant, your fork has a bit of your meal balancing at its peak and the flavour is making its way to your mouth to tingle your taste buds. But as you glance over to the next table you see a child sitting in the restaurant supplied high chair with a blank expression on his face and with his eyes locked on your head as your fork gets closer to its destination. Now you can’t enjoy that tasty food as the child just won’t stop staring. You don’t want to cause a scene, so you just accept that you are that child’s entertainment for the remainder of the meal. My daughter Alyssa is three years old and loves a good stare whether it’s at the naughty child having a tantrum in the supermarket or the lady with the big bottom in the swimming pool. But of course I stop the stare before the inevitable question like ‘Why has that lady got a big bottom?’ comes out of Alyssa’s mouth.

Tuesday 3rd June

Sometimes when you get up in the morning and look out the window, seeing moody dark grey clouds above you, puddles on the pavement below you and water droplets all over the cars in front of you can make you re-evaluate your plans for the day. As an adult a planned day which includes outdoor activities might not need to be changed if the forecast predicts rain, does it matter if you get a little bit wet? I quite like being out in the rain. But when your plans include children it’s sometimes a completely different matter and the planned day in the great outdoors usually turns into a DVD day with the great big duvet on the comfy sofa. My four year old daughter Caitlin recently had an inset day from school and a few months in advance of the day we’d planned as a family to fill up the picnic bag with sandwiches and snacks, get in the car, join the M27 and make our way to Paultons, the family theme park. We’ve been there a few times before and we’ve been lucky in always picking a day that has turned out to be warm and sunny. Who wants to queue up for rides in the rain? As Caitlin’s inset day drew grew closer it was becoming increasingly clear from every weather app on my phone and every weather forecast on the TV that our planned day at the theme park was going to be a washout and when I woke up that morning moody grey dark clouds, puddles on the pavement and water droplets on all the cars looked back at me. So there was a decision to make, do we get the DVD’s out or do we stick to the plan and jump in the car? No moody clouds were going to get in our way, so we stuck with the plan and jumped in the car. On arrival at Paultons Park I was surprised at how many people had also stuck to their plan, I had a feeling we’d be the only ones there. Nearly all the rides were open as usual and yes we did get a little bit wet when we queued and of course we got wet bums when we sat on the rides that were open to the elements but with their coats zipped up to the top both my daughters didn’t seem to notice the wet weather as they were having too much fun. To our surprise, as the morning turned into afternoon the moody clouds cleared leaving a warm and sunny day and leaving me feeling smug that we’d stuck to our plan. Horrible weather - Nil, Hayden family - One.
If you have young children I bet I can predict an average car journey. The children are safely strapped into their car seats and after clicking your seatbelt in to place all you need to do is get from A to B. But all parents know, it’s not that easy. On the way to our destination the journey will include a series of obstacles given to us by the little people in the back seats. Firstly, just minutes into the journey will come to question ‘are we there yet?’ It’s a classic question, used by every child in every generation which nearly always has the same answer, ‘No’. Then comes the toy dropping, where mummy or daddy is required to contort and bend their body to fetch the much loved toy from underneath the seat before the traffic lights turn green. But that toy won’t be dropped just once but instead at regular two minute intervals. Later comes something no parent wants to hear from their child on a car journey, ‘I need a wee’. Can they wait until we reach our destination? Of course they can’t.

Tuesday 27th May

What did parents do in the days before Google? Sometimes I’m asked a question by my four year old daughter Caitlin which makes me wish I’d listened a little bit harder when I was at school. I don’t want to fob her off with an answer made up in my mind that is probably wrong so I have to pull out my smartphone and ask Google instead. This is exactly what happened recently when Caitlin out of the blue asked me a science related question. Science wasn’t my favourite lesson at school so my mind was probably wondering the day we learnt about blood, which is why I didn’t have an answer for Caitlin when she asked said “Daddy, why is blood red?” An awkward silenced followed when I realised I didn’t have an answer for her. But by the time I found the answer on Google she’d forgotten about the question she posed which was just as well because my answer included the words haemoglobin and oxygenated which would have produced more questions daddy wouldn’t have an answer for.
How well did you sleep last night? I feel lucky to be one of those people who will drift off to the land of nod once my head hits the pillow and that’ll be me catching up on my beauty sleep for the next seven or eight hours. Well, at least on a good day. We all know that sleep is essential for a person’s health and well-being, but for many it isn’t so easy. I recently read an article that suggested that millions of us aren’t getting enough and many suffer from a lack of sleep. There are many reasons for this but for most parents up and down the country it is down to one thing and that is our children. From the moment that child is born most nights for many years to come will a involve broken night’s sleep, early starts and even early nights to try and catch up on the sleep you’ve lost. Obviously the most sleep deprived period comes right at the beginning when they are a helpless new born and require attention around the clock. As a new parent a simple job of finding your keys before you leave the house can feel like climbing Everest when all you want to do is get under that duvet and sleep for as long as you possibly can. Without this all important rest bite for your body you can feel grumpy, snappy, disorientated, emotional and stressed. Of course as the baby grows into a toddler and sleeps through the night things get better but there will always be a reason for the parents to be woken up and called into action whether that be taking your child to the toilet, calming them down after a bad dream or finding their teddy that got lost under the duvet. While it’s important as a parent to try and get as much sleep as possible, I always try to appreciate how important it is for children to get enough sleep. According to the NHS website a lack of sleep can cause a child to become hyperactive and disagreeable and for my daughters aged three and four they advise around eleven hours of slumber a night. With lighter evenings and mornings this isn’t always easy and sometimes getting them to drift off to dream land can be the problem. But I have found a simple and easy way to help my daughters fall asleep. They are tucked into bed with their teddy on one side and my secret weapon, a book on the other. Reading at night has that magic power of making your eyes feel heavy. Half an hour later I’ll check on them and they are usually fast asleep with the book still in their hands. Mission accomplished. Well for a few hours at least.

Tuesday 20th May

We’re over half way through May, summer is on the way and they Sky is less often grey but, do you want to build a snowman? I know, an odd thing to ask at this time of year. In fact wherever I am, in the car, at home or at work, I am asking this question. It gets weirder, it comes out of my mouth in song form. Don’t worry, I haven’t bumped my head, I’ve simply been watching the smash hit Disney movie Frozen. Not just once, in fact in the few weeks since the DVD landed on our doormat the number of views is probably in triple figures. My daughters have forgotten about Peppa Pig and Spongebob Squarepants and it’s all about Olaf the snowman and Anna the Princess of Arendelle and as a result the Frozen soundtrack is on loop in my mind throughout most of the day. So if I ask you to “Let it go, Let it go” I’m not trying to give you advice, I’m just involuntary singing a song from my daughters favourite Disney movie.
We’ve all heard people say that if men rather than women had to give birth to a child the human race would have died out long ago. I wouldn’t go that far but I think if men had to go through that excruciating pain that millions of women go through every year to bring a new life into the world there would be one of three scenarios. Firstly the world’s population would be a lot less than the current seven billion, going through that pain once would be enough. Secondly there would be a lot more of one child families, again going through that pain once would be enough and thirdly there would be a major shortage of pain relief used in labour such as pethidine injections and epidurals, going through that pain even once would be too much. I’d love to brag about how us men would be able to go through labour with ease whilst playing Angry Birds on our smartphones, but that would be a big fat lie. I watched both my daughters being born and as someone whose whole body is consumed with pain when I stub my toe, I know I couldn’t do it. Well not without high doses of every bit of pain relief available. Recently in China, some brave male volunteers were hooked up to machines that would give them that same painful feeling that women get during childbirth and it was all filmed for a television programme. The challenge consisted of ten levels of pain experienced by women ranging from 50 to 500 and whilst electric shocks were being pushed into the abdomen of the male volunteers they could stop the pain at any time. It didn’t take long for one of the men to give up, the level of pain had only reached 100 but that was enough for him. Another did go all the way and took all the pain that was thrown at him. Impressive you might think. Well if I tell you the simulated pain only lasted for a maximum of thirty seconds you might think differently, especially when real childbirth can last for more than twenty four hours. But I’m impressed, I wouldn’t have lasted three seconds, let alone thirty seconds. One thing that all the volunteers did agree on was that they had a new admiration and respect for all mothers, as I do after witnessing both my daughters being born. So whenever I get out of bed and stub my toe on the corner of the door and pain shoots up my leg taking over my entire body I’ll think back to the day my daughters were born and remember what my partner Serena went through. I’ll also close the door before I scream.

Tuesday 13th May

The countdown to Christmas has begun. I know that’s a strange thing to say when we are still in the first half of the year and summer hasn’t even arrived yet, but I saw a word last week that instantly makes me think of the time of year that is full of festive cheer. It also raises a feeling of silly fun and laughter and that word is ‘Panto’. Aladdin comes to the Kings Theatre in Southsea this December and recently the stunning venue announced two of the stars that you’ll see on stage. Antony Costa from the multimillion selling band Blue will play Aladdin and Kings Theatre favourite Marcus Patrick will be the Genie of the Ring. I was a panto cast member last time in Sleeping Beauty and know how much they’ll enjoy being on that famous stage playing in one of the most beautiful theatres in the country. My daughters enjoyed the panto so much they still remember many of the songs and lines from the show and keep asking when they can return so I’m pleased that now the countdown has begun.
Last week the bank holiday gave me and my family a rare day off together from work and school, so with the weather forecast saying it would stay dry with sunny spells we made our way towards the Rural and Seaside show on Castlefield in Southsea. We decided to park away from the action so we could walk to our destination and take in all what Southsea seafront had to offer. Our first stop was one of my favourite parts of the area, Canoe Lake. It was great to see the area so busy as we witnessed laughter coming from the swan pedal boats, concentrated faces trying to get the ball in the hole at the mini golf course and so many children having fun in the play area. A great place especially if you’re a parent with so much to do for the little ones and most of it free. After my daughters used up some of their energy on the swings, slides and climbing frames and a stroll around the lake past the families trying to catch a crab we crossed the road to walk along the seafront promenade. A beautiful sight greeted us and I was asked by four year old Caitlin why the sea was sparkly. I explained it was the sunshine bouncing off the water. With a great view of the beautiful Isle of Wight in the distance it was a shame to come across the eyesore that is the boarded up South Parade Pier. I’m not an expert on its history but I know from readers’ comments on The News website people are rightly passionate about restoring the building to its former glory and it looks like this could now be a possibility. I remember visiting the pier when I was a boy, about twenty years ago and it wasn’t great then with a sticky floored arcade and a shop selling cheap buckets and spades. It’s a big job to take on but I hope the new owner’s ambitious plans do come true. A little bit further up the promenade and after walking past the fenced off Pyramids we arrive at the Seaside show. My wallet became a little bit lighter after my daughters spotted the funfair rides and the large bright coloured bouncy castle and of course we made a visit to the Ice Cream van, which left me in a bit of shock when two Ice Creams didn’t give me any change from a fiver. A great day was had and as someone who has lived in Portsmouth all my life I need to try and not take what Southsea has to offer for granted and I’m sure many more fun days with my children will be had there. Yes it could be a lot better and hopefully soon it will be.

Tuesday 6th May

How tidy was your bedroom when you were a child? Were you the sort of person who had a week old cup of tea growing mould under your bed and was your freshly ironed clothes dumped in a heap in the corner of the room or was your room spotless with all cups taken straight to the kitchen sink after the last sip and all clean washing hung straight up in the wardrobe? I think I was in the middle of those two options and I admit sometimes it would look like a tip before I’d go into tidy up mode and do something about it before environmental health got a sniff of my health hazard bedroom. The worrying thing is I fear my four year old daughter Caitlin may be taking after her daddy. Late at night before I go to bed I’ll go into her room as quietly as possible to check on her and quite often I’ll step on a squeaky toy whose noise fills every corner of our sleeping house, I’ll stub my toe on the toy box left in the middle of the room instead of being tucked away in the corner or I’ll trip over Dream house Barbie and decapitate her in the process. But like when I was young, it’s organised mess, as she seems to still know where everything is. But for some parents this could soon be a thing of the past as a new law is being proposed and is in draft form that will mean children will be legally obliged to help out around the house and keep their bedroom spotlessly clean. But this crazy proposal doesn’t come from the UK, but from the Spanish parliament. It’s not currently clear what will happen if a Spanish child fails to comply with the new law. Can you imagine that phone call to the police? “Hello, I’d like to report a crime; my daughter has dropped her building blocks all over her bedroom floor and refuses to pick them up” and can you imagine the conversation with your child. Instead of “Tidy your room or no play time” it will be “Tidy your room or I’ll call the police”. Ridiculous, the world has officially gone crazy. It’s great to give your children responsibilities and should be encouraged but it should not be law. What’s next? “Eat your vegetables or I’ll call the police”. There is a much easier way to keep your child’s bedroom tidy. Any toys that aren’t tidied away get put in the dark cold attic. You don’t want to look in ours, it’s a Barbie graveyard.

Congratulations to Robbie Williams who announced last week via twitter that his one year old daughter Theodora Rose Williams will soon be a big sister. The singer recently revealed that he was very keen on parenthood and couldn’t wait to add to his brood. Well he won’t have much longer to wait. It can be daunting wondering how you will cope with the responsibility of not just one but two little human life’s, but from experience I know that second time round things will be much more easy and familiar for Robbie and his wife Ayda. Yes, you have the sleepless nights, but you know that they won’t last forever. Yes you have the stinky nappies, but you know they won’t last forever. And when you witness your children interacting with each other it will put a huge smile on your face and melt your heart a little bit. I’m sure Robbie will enjoy having two children, well, until he’s referee in an argument between his two toddlers.

Tuesday 29th April

Did you hear about the little boy making a huge mess of all the play parks in Portsmouth? He is a precocious freckle faced four year old with a mission for mischief. He arrives at the park and walks through the gate like he is a cowboy strutting his way into a bar in an old wild west movie. It is clear to see he is a very naughty boy and his mummy and daddy can only look on and shake their heads in embarrassment as terror is reined by him near the swings and the slides. If you grew up reading about or watching Dennis the Menace, that will give you an idea of what this wayward little boy is like on a daily basis. As soon as he enters the play park the sabotage begins. He’ll take a long run up to kick all of the woodchip onto the slide, if there is a puddle he’ll jump in it causing the climbing frame to get very wet, slippery and unsafe and when his mummy and daddy give him a packet of crisps he’ll chuck the wrapper and the crumbs on the floor to create a big untidy mess. He is just a very naughty boy and for this reason all of the play parks in Portsmouth have been closed until the mess that has been created by him has been cleared and the play park have been deemed clean and safe for all the good boys and girls to use. You just don’t expect this sort of thing to happen on your doorstep do you? Well, is hasn’t because none of what you have just read is true but comes from my creative imagination and it’s what I told my three year old daughter Alyssa recently when she requested a trip to the park on what was already a busy day for us. At first I just said ‘No’, but then came the inevitable reply from Alyssa ‘Why’? This is when the wheels in my brain started turning. I knew from experience that some of my usual answers to this question, like ‘not today’ or ‘the park is closed’ or ‘We’re too busy today’ would get another ‘Why?’ directed at me. This is when I came up with the story about this fictional Dennis the Menace type character and to my surprise, it worked. After I’d finished my stretched out and long winded explanation Alyssa looked at me with a slightly confused and bamboozled look on her face and just accepted my explanation. I felt an overwhelming sense of achievement until five minutes later when Alyssa asked ‘Is the park fixed yet?’.

Last week my daughter Alyssa reached to grand old age of three. In the run up to the big day two very different things went through my mind. Firstly, an overwhelming sense of shock that three years can pass in what seems like the blink of an eye. It’s like one minute I’m changing the nappy of a delicate new-born baby girl then on the sound of thunder in the sky and a strike of bright lightning she has turned into a little girl who sometimes teaches me how to use the iPad. Time really has flown. The second thing to go through my mind was two words that will fill any child (and some adults) with excitement… bouncy castle. On Alyssa’s birthday a whirring sound could be heard in the garden coming from the motor pumping air into the large inflatable structure. I of course had to do some bouncing of my own, just to demonstrate, for health and safety reasons, obviously.

Tuesday 22nd April

There is a quality young children have that is sometimes adorable and sweet and sometimes truly embarrassing and cringeworthy. It is the quality of being free and having no shame. It’s simply because they just don’t understand appropriate behaviour yet. It could be something as simple as picking their nose in public, when their finger is so far up their nose it’s like they’re tickling their brain. Maybe it could be when they learn a new inappropriate word from somewhere and like to repeat it over and over again in public at a volume level a little too high. But worst of all is when they are just way too honest. This is a difficult one because honesty is a trait we all teach our children. But recently whilst walking out of a restaurant in Gunwharf Quays a man was coming towards us who was, shall we say, large. This is when four year old Caitlin blurts out in front of him “that’s what happens when you eat too much”. Ground, swallow me up now please.
More than thirty years ago, long before the iPod or the iPhone, there was something every child and teenager wanted, the iconic Sony cassette Walkman. Back then it was an amazing piece of modern technology that gave you a stereo cassette player that you could listen to on the go. It was a revolution at the time, being able to listen to your favourite music on the bus taking you to school or during that long car journey with your parents. Apparently the name ‘Walkman’ was chosen due to the popularity at the time of Superman and by 1992 one hundred million units were sold around the world. I remember getting one for Christmas and thinking I was the coolest kid around. As soon as the shops re-opened after Christmas I hopped on the bus from Copnor to Commercial Road and walked straight in the direction of Woolworths to buy some cassettes to slot into my new Walkman. Of course another necessary accessory for the music player was a pencil for the times when your favourite compilation had been chewed up and could be dead forever. Usually the heartbreak wouldn’t last long when a pencil would be used to wind the tape back in and you’d breathe a sigh of relief when you put the cassette back in the Walkman and it would play the music as it should. Back to the modern day and technology has moved on considerably and this is shown by a new video that has been posted on the internet. I’ll warn you, it will either make you laugh or make you feel incredibly old but you really should watch this video. If you go onto YouTube and type in ‘Kids react to Walkman’ you’ll watch today’s children aged between six and twelve years old handed a Cassette Walkman, their confused reactions are interesting and very funny. When asked if they know what the device is used for, one boy aged seven years old thought it was a walky talky and a nine year old girl thought on first glance it was a phone, but quickly realised she was wrong. Just twenty five years ago a child would have been begging their parents to get hold of one of these, so it’s interesting to see the children look at it like it has dropped down from Mars. Sadly we no longer have a cassette Walkman in our house, but thanks to Google I found a photo of one and showed it to my four year old daughter Caitlin and asked her what it was. “A box with music in” she replied. I was impressed, but I think the headphones next to it maybe gave her a clue. I then showed her a photo of a cassette which she told me was an iPad with holes in.

Tuesday 15th April

Disney’s Frozen was a huge hit last year and went on to win two academy awards. It tells the story of a magical Princess who possesses the ability to create ice and snow with her hands. As soon as I saw the trailer I knew my daughters would enjoy the film, especially as it contains a princess. Our house is full of books and DVDs featuring famous Disney Princesses such as Ariel from the Little Mermaid and Belle from Beauty and The Beast. But with my daughter Alyssa being just two years old we decided to wait for the DVD. I didn’t think the movie would hold her attention for an hour and a half. So last week the DVD was finally released and with a big bag of sweets we created our own mini cinema in our living room. I don’t mind admitting I loved the movie and it held my attention throughout. Alyssa, on the other hand, lost interest and chose to play with her toys instead. I’d like to take her to see new movie Rio 2 at the cinema, but I think once again, we’ll wait for the DVD.

We all know how much better it feels to be in a tidy, clean and organised space, don’t we? I think I remember what that feels like. Of course being a dad to two daughters aged four and under, having a home that is tidy, clean and organised isn’t a reality most of the time and when it is looking clean and smelling fresh, the 'show home look' doesn’t last very long. Sometimes I have flashbacks of a time when I would get up in the morning and I wouldn’t trip over a dolly that makes a weird horror movie like laugh every time it is touched, a time when I’d find the television remote control hidden down the side of the sofa instead of a half-eaten custard cream biscuit and a time when colouring in pens would not lose their lids. If you are a parent you’ll know that shortly after looking at your reflection in that nicely clean and polished surface, you’ll see a few child sized fingerprints looking back at you. And when you’ve vacuumed that carpet and got it looking like it’s brand new and has just been laid, it won’t be long before something, maybe a crayon or a quaver, is crushed into a small mound and the whirring sound of the vacuum must be heard again. I like a tidy house but I have learnt to embrace to messiness that comes with bringing up two children. When they ask to get the paint out along with the large pieces of A3 paper, it’s so easy to say no. I know that once they are let loose on the multi coloured gloop, the A3 paper won’t be the only thing that is turned into a work of art. But of course I’m embracing the mess, so I said yes. Similarly, my girls recently asked if they could play in the garden. Although the sun was shining, I knew that earlier in the day it had been raining so the grass would be muddy and sludgy. Once again, it would have been so easy for me to say no, knowing the mess that would be created, but embracing the mess means I said yes and my daughters went into the garden to play in the mud and yes, some of that mud came back into the house with them. One thing I’ve noticed, when my daughters are making mess a strange rare occurrence happens, they are quiet. They are so engrossed in the activity they are enjoying; they are not making any noise. The only time my house is usually quiet is when we are all asleep. So I’ve turned into the dad that says yes, which I’ve realised is a win win situation. They get to be messy and have fun in the process and I get to have some peace and quiet, for a little while at least.

Tuesday 8th April

There is one thing that is sure to put a smile on my face and give me that warm glowing proud parent feeling and that is when my daughter Caitlin comes home from school with a gift for daddy. For example, the other day, after opening her school book bag, I pulled out an A4 piece of paper with dry multi coloured paint splattered all over it. I couldn’t quite work out what I was looking at so I asked the artist, my daughter Caitlin, what it was. “It’s you daddy, I made it for you” she replied. This is just one of the many things Caitlin brings home in the book back as a gift for me and her mum. Another time a shiny sticker dropped out of the bag in the shape of a star which Caitlin presented to me. “Where did you get that from” I asked. “I found it on my shoe” she replied. Not a welcome gift but still put a smile on my face.

If you asked a child whether they want to go to school or stay at home, I think most children would choose the latter option. The truth is most children would rather not go to school if they had the choice, but unless you choose the option of home schooling, there is no other choice and they’ve got to go and it’s up to us parents to make sure they get up at an appropriate time so they get to school before the bell rings. In contrast I would love to go back in time and experience a school day at my infant and junior school St Johns and secondary school St Edmund’s in Arundel Street just one more time. I didn’t appreciate at the time what good schools they were. Let’s be honest, when we were younger we all heard a grown up say “These are the best days of your lives” and you’d look at them with a frown on your face like they were on another planet. But for most of us, that statement turned out to be very true. I’m sure at some point soon I’ll repeat those words to my daughters and have blank faces looking back at me, but it got me wondering why most children would prefer to stay at home rather then set off for a day of learning with their school friends. One reason is their young minds don’t see the point of school and trying to explain a ‘Better future’ or ‘job prospects’ will once again produce a blank looking face. Or maybe it’s just because they’d rather be at home with their own familiar comforts. But recently I have had the complete opposite problem; I’ve had to tell my daughter who wants to go to school that she can’t. I’m talking about my two year old Alyssa. At my daughter Caitlin’s Portsmouth school, the day begins with the ‘All aboard club’. This is fifteen minutes where the parents take part in an activity with their child such as colouring in and arts and craft. Myself and Caitlin are often joined by Alyssa who will join in with the activities too. The thing is when the teacher shakes the tambourine to signal that it is time for the parents and siblings to go home, I’m having trouble getting two year old Alyssa to leave the school and I sometimes have to use my best persuasion and bribery techniques to get her to follow me out of the classroom. She just wants to stay and play and learn. I shouldn’t complain, this is a good thing and I’m sure when she does actually go to nursery then onto infant school it won’t always be this way. But of course I’ll remind her of when it was.

Tuesday 1st April

The clocks have now jumped forward an hour signalling the start of British summer time. Before you know it you’ll be hearing the sound of the Ice Cream van arriving with delicious treats to cool you down on a warm day, You’ll witness people playing rounder’s and having barbecues when driving along Southsea common and you’ll be getting annoyed at the wasp trying to have a swig of your refreshing fizzy drink. But as a parent to young children, this time of year brings one big problem. When the sun is still shining outside and it’s light is flooding through every window in the house how do you convince a two year old that it is bedtime, especially when you’ve told them for the last six months that “Dark means sleep”? But there is something that worries me more, as the mornings start getting lighter I know that the one spec of sunshine that manages to push its way past the curtains will make my daughters eyes ping open. Oh well. It will be nice to see the sun rise at 4:30am, wont it?
When I think back to last summer, it seems the majority of my time was spent tying the laces on my running trainers, strapping my GPS watch to my wrist, doing a few stretches and then setting off to run through the streets of Portsmouth. It was all in preparation for my second go at completing the ten mile Great South Run around Southsea. I got the running bug all over again and would get anxious if my schedule meant there was no time for a run. I also got fit and could easily pop out for an eight mile jog without getting out of breathe. But since that windy day in October when I completed the course quicker than I did before, I’m ashamed to say my running trainers have not seen much action. In fact, if you asked me to tell you the location of said trainers I wouldn’t be able to. With Spring here and the weather improving, I hope to hunt my trainers down, re-charge my GPS watch and get back out there soon and when I do I don’t think it will take long to get back into the swing of thing as I have something else in my life that keeps my fitness levels high and they are called Caitlin and Alyssa, my daughters. It starts in the morning when two year old Alyssa will ask me to pick her up to the level of the breakfast cereal on top of the kitchen cupboard, sometimes she’ll have a little think before she makes her decision, all whilst my arm muscles are taking the strain. Then there is the walk to Caitlins school, only a short walk but every little helps and of course there is then the walk home again. Later in the day I think I have a few minutes to sit down whilst my daughters are playing in their bedrooms, but of course I’m wrong when a request comes from Caitlin to put new batteries in one of her toys and up the stairs I go. And just recently I feel I have done the equivalent of the Great South Run in my own home whilst chasing two year old Alyssa who has a cold. You see, a bug has entered our house and we all have the usual symptoms of a cold. Four year old Caitlin is well trained in how to blow ones nose but Alyssa on the other hand hasn’t grasped this technique yet and I need to get to her before the snot running from her nose makes its way south and enters her mouth. As soon as she sees me ready to pounce with tissue in hand she makes a run for it. I’m not going to complain, as it means I’ve earned that piece of chocolate cake for dessert. To keep my energy levels up of course.

Tuesday 25th March

A few weeks ago I wrote in this column about my hope for more dry weather so I can take my daughters to the play park to release all that energy they’ve stored up whilst the clouds were grey and the garden was muddy. Let’s be honest, no one wants to get to the bottom of the slide to be greeted by a puddle of water giving one a wet bottom. Well my wish has been granted and the recent spell of rainless weather meant I could strap Caitlin and Alyssa into their car seats and make our way to the place where fun is completely free. In the past we’ve visited most of the parks in the Portsmouth area so I asked them to choose which one we would go to and a very rare thing happened, they agreed with each other. From both of their mouths came the words “The one with the big slide” meaning the park next to Baffins Pond. A beautiful part of the City especially on a warm day with the sunshine bouncing off the large natural pond. An area where you’ll be greeted by a diverse community of wildlife including ducks and swans and apparently it is home to the protected Brent Geese. Of course none of this my daughters were interested in, and you guessed it, as soon as we arrived they headed straight for the big slide. On the day we visited the park was very busy, mostly with mums, I as a dad was in the minority, I counted just two of us compared to over twenty of the opposite sex and the big slide was very popular. My daughters climbed to the top, took up their position and after shouting “Look dad” propelled themselves forward. My role was, with the other parents, to stand at the bottom of the slide and cheer them on and share in their delight. Good practice for Sports day I thought. Obviously one go was not enough, neither was two, nor was three. I spent a lot of time at the foot of that slide but it was time for me to do some climbing of my own. “Daddy can you come on with us” came from my four year old daughter Caitlin. I broadcast to thousands of listeners every week on heart and I’ve performed to a full Kings Theatre in the pantomime but now I was being asked to join the queue of under 5’s and propel myself down a slide with an audience of mothers waiting at the bottom. Did I do it? Of course I did and what fun. It was like being a child again and my daughters found it hilarious. Of course one go was enough for me, I prefer the swings. I told Caitlin not to push me too high.

Have you heard of the game Hide and Seek? Of course you have, everyone has, haven’t they? Whilst scrolling through a parenting website recently I found a page called ‘How to play Hide and seek’. It had an eight step guide on what you need to do for a successful game. It includes advice on finding a suitable location, apparently outdoor locations work the best but you need to set boundaries before you play and if playing indoors you need to let the players know which areas are safe to hide. It also gives advice on deciding who is ‘it’, aka the seeker. The guide suggests picking the person whose birthday it is next or even picking a name out of the hat. It also gives advice to the hiders, sitting ‘silent and still’ so you don’t give away your location. I’m stunned, I’ve never given hide and seek this much thought. But I will give the ‘Silent and still’ advice to my two year old daughter Alyssa who when she finds her hiding place will announce where it is “Dad, I’m under the bed”.

Tuesday 18th March

‘Peppa Pig in swearing storm’ was a headline I didn’t think I’d ever see. Apparently the TV show aimed at the pre-school market and enjoyed by my two year old daughter Alyssa has been accused by a mum of including a word in one of its five minutes episodes beginning with an F, obviously not deemed suitable for its audience. Apparently her toddler daughter started saying a swear word after copying what she had heard in her favourite television show. It occurs in an episode where Daddy Rabbit refers to a band called ‘The Rocking Gazelles’. It’s the word ‘Rocking’ that is accused of sounding like something it shouldn’t. As my daughters enjoy watching Peppa Pig we have a few DVD’s of the show, and we do have the one with the alleged offending word. I watched it and personally don’t think it sounds like a swear word, more like a case of a word being misheard just like the word “fork” or “Sheet” could be misheard as a swear work. But it does make for a good headline that did its job by grabbing my attention.
Have you noticed that wherever you go now, you see people looking down in the direction of their hand which is clutching their mobile phone? I was having lunch in a restaurant recently and glanced across to the table next to me where a couple, instead of being in deep conversation whilst enjoying the tasty food in front of them, were both each tapping away in silence on their mobile phone. Not too long ago when driving I had to hit my brakes pretty sharpish when a man decided tweeting or texting was more important than looking out for cars when crossing the road. Next time you walk or drive past a bus stop, take a look at what the people are doing whilst waiting for their transport to arrive, they won’t be looking in the direction of the oncoming traffic, instead they’ll be looking down at their mobile phone. I wonder how many buses have been missed because of this. The thing is, I am guilty of checking my phone more than I should and if I was waiting for that bus I’d probably be scrolling down my twitter timeline or checking my email to pass the time until I glanced up and saw my bus approaching. I hate to say it, but once I’d paid my fare and found a spare seat on that bus, I’d probably get my phone back out of my pocket and continue what I was doing on it until I reached  my destination. I recently got chatting to a friend about this very subject, he has two children and has now banned mobile phones during family time. He said that on a Sunday when they would all sit down to watch a film together, twenty minutes in he would look over and realise he was the only one engrossed in the storyline as his children had lost interest and were instead tapping away on their mobile phone. The So now, before a film starts, all mobile phones are turned off and put out of the room, taking away the distraction. The same rule applies before the family sit down at the dinner table. My daughters are aged just two and four years old so obviously do not have their own mobile phone, but I do allow them to play some educational games on mine for a limited time. But right now, they don’t know what Facebook or Twitter is and I actually hope it’s a long time before they do. But I know at some point, as their friends get introduced to modern technology and social media they will want to too. When that time comes, some new rules will have to be introduced and of course daddy will have to lead by example. To get a head start I’ll begin now and might from time to time press that button on my phone that never gets used, the off button.

Tuesday 11th March

What makes a good teacher? The answer to that question could probably fill up this entire newspaper. I’m no expert but I think a great teacher has to have a long list of qualities. These include an engaging personality and teaching style, high expectations for their students, passion for their job and for their students, have effective discipline skills and the ability to promote positive behaviour, a good rapport with student and a way to make the most boring of subject matter interesting, algebra anyone? I could really go on and on and as I type I realise that it takes a special and talented kind of person to be an effective teacher. I’ll ask you a slightly different question that is probably easier and quicker to answer. Who was your favourite teacher? I bet you can answer that question instantly without much thought. I certainly can. I think the best teachers leave their mark on us long after we leave the classroom and you never forget a good teacher. I went to St Edmund’s secondary school in Portsmouth and two teachers spring to mind that left a positive mark on me. Firstly, my history teacher Miss Dyke. Do any children actually enjoy learning about the World War or Henry the eighth? Well I did. She had an amazing talent to convert what could be a boring and tedious hour of the school day into a fun, interactive, interesting lesson and most importantly I learnt a lot in those lessons and still have an interest in those subjects today. Then there was Mrs Jackson my English teacher, who had high expectations and taught me that hard work and persistence will get results. At the time I complained I was getting too much homework, now I realise it helped me bump my coursework mark up from a D to a B. My daughter Caitlin is in her first year of school and I wonder in years to come which teachers will make an impression on her but it seems her teacher has already made a big mark on her. After just six months at school her reading skills have improved considerably and she now sometimes corrects me if I pronounce a word wrong. She recently reminded me that the word ‘Water’ includes the letter T. I blame my Portsmouth accent. But I think the way you know you have a great teacher is when you get a great feeling after they give you praise and you feel disappointed when you’ve let them down. When Caitlin sometimes misbehaves she’ll say “please don’t tell my teacher” which I think speaks volumes.
I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve been in the car with two year old Alyssa sitting behind me in her child car seat and as she sees a brightly painted swing and a slide in the distance she’s asked me if we can go to the park. I’ve also lost count of the amount of times I’ve had to say “no” as the rain has been pelting down on the windscreen. I admit I’m a bit bored of winter now and I’m pleased we are coming to the end of this season with the first day of Spring arriving next week. As a parent I’m grateful to live in a city that caters for children very well. When the weather is dry you’ll find me pushing my daughters on the swing or waiting at the bottom of the slide to catch them in many of the parks in the city. The park near Baffins Pond is popular with Caitlin and Alyssa thanks to its big slide and you might find me guiding them on the climbing frame at Milton Park. More sunny dry weather please.

Tuesday 4th March

Last month I said goodbye to my twenties and begun life as a thirty year old. But as I reached this milestone I wondered if we ever really become a grown up or are we always children at heart. For example, when you’re in the supermarket and you’re pushing the trolley, do you, from time to time lift your feet off the floor and whizz down the aisle when nobody is looking whilst using your voice to make the sound you might hear on the grand prix circuit? When you’re in the bathroom and the mirror steams up, are you tempted to draw a smiley face? And do you still race to do things first, like pressing the button at the crossing before that person on the other side of the road or being the first person to get into the lift. I of course do all of these things, but only when I’m in the company of my daughters. I would never ever do them if I was on my own, never. Honest.

There are many national days that come and go without much notice. For example, did you know that last Saturday was World thinking day? No I didn’t either, but luckily we all took part without even knowing it. On the 21st November last year did you take part in World Hello day? Apparently observed by people in 180 countries with the aim of greeting ten people during the day. Once again, I was unaware, but probably took part without knowing it. There are other days that pass that probably fall into the ‘silly’ category, for example on the 13th February it was National Blame someone else day. In my house this is celebrated all year round by my two daughters, “Who spilt their juice all over the floor” I ask and they both point at each other. But there is one day that seems to pass us by unaware that I will be observing and that is World Book Day which takes place this Thursday 6th March. A quick search on Google revealed that this day is more recognised than I thought, it even has its own website. The day is a celebration of authors, illustrators, books and (most importantly) it’s a celebration of reading. According to the website, the main aim of World book day, which is now in its seventeenth year, is to encourage children to explore the pleasures of books and reading by providing them with the opportunity to have a book of their own. I really enjoy reading and my four year old daughter Caitlin does too. I was recently asked by a friend of Caitlin why she didn’t have a television in her room, I explained that before Caitlin goes to bed she prefers to read. A blank confused face looked back at me. I may be in the minority these days but I think a child’s bedroom should be used for play, reading and winding down before bedtime. I don’t think that a television, probably used as a babysitter, has a place in there. If I asked Caitlin if she wants a television in her room, she’d probably say “yes please”, but it’s not going to happen and where a television might sit is instead a shelf packed full of books for Caitlin to read. There are so many good books out there for children. We are currently enjoying the ‘See inside’ series of books by Usborne which gives your child the chance to explore and learn different subjects such as The Sea, the Human Body and Space. For young children I highly recommend them and you might find, like I have, you’ll learn something new too. In advance I’ll wish you a happy world book day.

Tuesday 25th February

Living with three females, my partner Serena and my two daughters, it’s inevitable that our house will sometimes feel more feminine than masculine. As I walk into the living room I suddenly get that feeling that I am being watched, then I turn towards the sofa and see three of my daughters dollies staring at me. Then I take a step forward and trip over the small dolly’s pram in front of me. Later I’m sitting watching television and my four year old daughter Caitlin tries to put lipstick on my lips, when I question what she is doing with makeup she assures me it’s just pretend lipstick. Then when I turn over in bed during the night I wonder what is jabbing me in my side, of course it’s Princess Mermaid Barbie. Recently I bought some socks and each pair had a different colour stripe at the top, including one in pink. That’s OK, I thought. Nothing wrong with men wearing pink. Until my two year old daughter Alyssa asked me why I was wearing mummy’s socks.  
Simon Cowell has a pretty impressive CV, not that he’ll require one ever again. But just imagine if he did have to sit in front of a laptop typing out his previous employment and life experience to give to a potential employer, he’d have a lot to brag about. He is known all over the world as a judge on TV shows such as Pop Idol, Britains Got Talent, American Idol and X Factor. The latter is shown in more than forty countries and Got Talent is the biggest selling television format in the world. He is also a record company executive, television producer, movie producer and all round wealthy man with an estimated fortune of £200 million. Who can put on their CV that they have voiced a character in the Simpsons, Family Guy and Shrek 2? Who can put under Achievements that they have been voted one of the most influential people on the entire planet? What would you say if you were a potential employer of the high trousered music man? Yes, probably over qualified. Simon is a powerful man who can probably get a yes from any request he makes. But now the King of shiny floor television shows who gave us One Direction, Leona Lewis and Robson and Jerome now has a new job and this is the most important one he has ever had. Congratulations to Simon Cowell who is now a dad to a baby boy called Eric, named after his late father. I’m pleased to see fatherhood has started well for Mr Cowell and his first job of carrying Eric in his car seat from hospital to car went well. It sounds like an easy job but it’s one every new dad really wants to get right and I’m sure “I hope I don’t drop the baby” went through his mind like it did with me. Clutching the car seat with a firm grip as he exited the hospital with a smile on his face, even with fans and photographers around him, his first job as a parent was completed with ease. Apparently Simon recently revealed that he will not be changing any nappies, saying that he has never done it before and won’t be able to do it. Yes it is a stinky job that isn’t always pleasant, but although the smell of a dirty nappy will always be horrid, you do kind of get used to it and it’s a great way to impress the in-laws. Just make sure the nappy doesn’t fall off when you lift baby Eric up Simon. I’m sure he will enjoy being dad and I hope he takes in every moment, as any parent will tell you, they grow up way too fast. I also hope he enjoys a smiling, belly laughing, adorable baby because before he knows it the terrible two’s will arrive and baby Eric wont always say “Yes”.

Tuesday 18th February

What is the difference between a bribe and a reward for your child’s good behaviour? In both of these situations they are getting something for doing what you want them to do, so aren’t they really just the same thing? Here’s an example, a child has a very untidy room and you can’t see the carpet for all the toys sprawled across the floor, it really is a mess, so parent asks the child to tidy up their room but the child is not keen on the idea. So the parent offers the child a large slice of her favourite chocolate cake on completion of a tidy room. Do you see this as a bribe or a reward? In the dictionary a bribe is defined as a promise or offer to give something to a person the get them to do something you want them to do. A reward is defined as something given or received for services rendered. As a parent both rewards and bribes can become very confused and sometimes when you mean to offer a reward it is really a bribe. I see the difference as this, a reward is something that happens after the event, so the child doesn’t know that they will get something good at the end but a bribe is something that is offered before or during the event to encourage the child to do what you want them to do. I’m all for rewarding positive behaviour and strongly believe that more attention should be given to it and less attention should be given to bad and negative behaviour. In fact I’ve realised over the almost five years that I have been a parent that most of the time completely ignoring the bad behaviour is the best option and will create harmony quicker. But Ignoring is not always as easy as it sounds especially if the behaviour is disruptive, irritating and worst of all, in public with an audience. So this is where the art of bribery comes into the equation, something I’d bet most parents are guilty of, including me. Just the other day when dropping my eldest daughter off at school, my two year old daughter Alyssa wanted to stay and play with her sister and I was struggling to get her to leave the classroom, that was until I whispered in her ear “Come with Daddy and we’ll get some sweeties”, in an instant I had her full cooperation. But then I must not make a habit of this as it could create a sense of entitlement and a child that always asks themselves “What’s in it for me” when a job needs to be done. So from now on I will try to reward rather than bribe and I’ve promised myself a large slice of chocolate cake if I get it right.
Last week MP’s backed calls for a ban on smoking in cars with children present. I have mixed views on this. On one hand I think it is stupid, disgusting and cruel to light up a cigarette in a car with children present especially with the knowledge we have about the effects of cigarette smoke on our bodies but on the other hand it is a law brought in to stop a minority of silly people and if they are stupid enough to smoke in the car with their children present, then they will probably be smoking in their house with their child present, so unless a law is brought in to ban smoking in our homes with children present will it make much difference?  Hopefully this new law will benefit young people who are subjected to second hand smoke through no choice of their own, but I think education is more important, to teach inconsiderate smokers that blowing their cancer causing smoke in the vicinity of anyone else, adult of child, is simply not acceptable.

Tuesday 11th February

You may have recently heard retro week on Heart Breakfast with Rich and Zoe. Favourite children television shows, classic TV adverts and iconic theme tunes were all discussed. But my favourite part was when our listeners were telling us what kids today will never know. Such as how frustrating it was to miss your page on teletext. If your attention was diverted you’d have to wait eight pages until the football result you wanted to see was back on your screen. Another was wearing your pants and vest for PE in school. One unfortunate day I forgot my PE kit, so there I was in the playground of St Johns in Arundel Street in nothing but my underwear. Wouldn’t happen today, thanks goodness. Then there was the price of sweets, kids today will never know the joy of getting ten sweets for 10p. My daughter Caitlin recently asked for a packet of starburst and I was shocked at the price. I told Caitlin they were once called Opal Fruits, she looked at me confused. I didn’t bother telling her that a Snickers bar used to be called a Marathon.
Here comes a Marmite question, what were school dinners like when you were at school? There seems to be no middle ground with this question. Like the sticky brown food paste, you either liked it or hated it. In my infant and junior school I loved school dinners, I have no big reason why, but I remember enjoying eating what was sitting on the plate in front of me. Then when I went to secondary school it all changed. Pizza came with a puddle of grease in the middle, curry had chicken that took the whole lunch break to chew and the egg sandwiches included a complimentary portion of egg shell to crunch on.  I’m aware that since then, thanks to a campaign by television chef Jamie Oliver, things have changed for the better and school dinners on the whole are now fresher and more nutritious. But the good thing is if you don’t want your child to eat food cooked by the school you can opt to provide them with a packed lunch. This would traditionally contain a sandwich, a packet of crisps and a piece of fruit. But it appears this option is now under attack and could soon be extinct. You may have read recently that a school in slough excluded a boy from school for four days. So what was his crime? Was he a bully? Did he damage school property? Did he break the law? No. The reason he has to miss out on almost a week of education according to reports is that his lunch box contained an item banned from the school, a packet of mini cheddars. Yes you read that right. His parents were called in after he was caught on several occasions flouting the schools healthy eating policy. The schools head teacher said that the policy had been met with a “wonderful response” and “If the policy is not being abided by then that potentially harms pupils”. Although there may be more to this story than is being told, I know what I think, as long as part of a balanced diet then surely a small packet of mini cheddars won’t do any harm. But do others agree with me? Well on Facebook and Twitter I asked the question Should schools ban crisps, sweets, chocolates etc from lunch boxes? Here is some of the answers… “Children look forward to lunch so a little treat wont do any harm”,  “No. Let the parents choose a balanced diet for their children. No big deal including some crisps or a biscuit if there's other healthy options there too” and “Depends on if they have the facts there to prove the snacks cause a distraction to education. If not, then no.” I just hope that whoever is enforcing these rules are leading by example , I wonder if Mini Cheddars are banned in the staff room?

Tuesday 4th February

No one really knows the exact cost of raising children, but everyone knows it doesn’t come cheap. With the help of Google I found various research items that looked into the cost of a child until they reach twenty one years old and it appears the price tag is around the £200,000 mark.  Most of this will be spent on obvious things like food, clothing, hobbies, toys, childcare etc. But in the modern world there is a new cost to parents that is unexpected and it comes from your mobile phone. You may have read recently that Apple, the makers of the iPhone and the iPad, will be refunding over £19 million to customers whose children made in app purchases. This is where, for example, a game is downloaded to your smartphone and whilst you are playing the game it allows you to purchase extra levels. Many parents have been caught out, letting their child play games, which are usually free and being shocked when a big bill comes through. Not me though, in app purchases are now de-activated on my phone, just in case.
Eighteen years ago, when I was twelve years old, almost every Saturday had the same routine. First I’d wake up after a lie in, enjoying not being woken for school and I’d watch a bit of Saturday morning Kids TV, usually Live and Kicking. Then I’d pack some swimming shorts, a towel and my Lynx Africa into a bag and head with my friends to the Pyramids in Southsea. We’d spend all day in there racing on the blue and green slide and the snake slide, which I think had the official name of ‘The Sidewinder flume’, then we’d head over to the big pool where you’d wait to hear the loud klaxon which would signal the wave machine was about to kick in. After a few hours we’d jump out of the pool and head to the food section to tuck into burger and chips. Ignoring the sign that said you should wait at least twenty minutes after eating before swimming we’d jump straight back in. We’d be there until closing time and get home just in time to see Pamela Anderson running in slow motion on a beach in Baywatch followed by someone getting gunged on Noels House Party. That was almost every Saturday during my early teens. But of course things change and Saturday morning children’s television has been replaced by cookery programmes with celebrity chefs and Saturday night television has been taken over by Simon Cowell with shows like The X Factor. But one thing hasn’t changed and that is the Pyramids in Southsea. My partner Serena and I recently took our two daughters there, hoping they’d have as much fun as we did when we were children. Apart from a new entrance, you now walk down the stairs instead of up to get into the place, it was like I’d stepped into a time machine and gone back to being twelve years old again. Almost nothing has changed, the klaxon still sounds before the waves appear and you’ll always win the race if you choose the blue slide over the green. We went on a weekday straight after my daughter finished school and it felt a little bit deserted, but it was nice to have the whole big pool to ourselves for fifteen minutes before more families arrived. It was a shame the snake slide and the pool underneath it was closed the day we were there, but that didn’t stop my daughters Caitlin and Alyssa enjoying themselves and they’ve asked if we can go back. I know over the last few years the Pyramids has been a controversial topic and has been subject to a lot of debate and it’s obvious from my visit the place needs updating, but I hope it does stay open and is refreshed to provide fun for a new generation of children.

Tuesday 28th January

My car used to be clean and tidy. There was never any loose dirt, dust or grime. There were no stains on the seats and certainly never any biscuit crumbs clogging up the bit you plug your seatbelt into. Then something happened to change all of that… I had kids. I recently lifted out the car seats that belong to my two year old Alyssa and my four year old Caitlin and what greeted me deserved some sort of horror movie sound effect. As I looked at the sticky gooey mess that attached itself to the upholstery of my car I’m sure the blue skies turned grey and I heard a strike of lightning through the sky. Imagine mixing orange juice, chocolate buttons, a custard cream, a two pence piece, a ten pence piece, some mud and a couple of ice lolly sticks in a bowl. That’s what it looked like. I now have a new rule, no eating or drinking in the car. My no children in the car rule didn’t work, it's far too cold and I'm too lazy to walk.
Among my family and friends there have been a few announcements recently that a baby will be arriving soon.  Whilst everyone around them is sending them good wishes, I want to tell them to really enjoy the last few months of being without child. You see, there are moments in your life you won’t fully appreciate until you have children, but by then those moments are well and truly gone. So here I give you what no parenting manual, midwife, man or woman will tell you. Well they didn’t tell me. So to any pregnant ladies out there or any fathers to be my first bit of advice is to enjoy eating. I’m not insinuating that you won’t get to eat, but those nice calm moments when you sit down with a plate of food in front of you ready to enjoy your favourite meal and take in every mouthful will be very different. Soon you will be like a waiter or waitress but with very annoying and dissatisfied customers who will spill things, break things and won’t want to eat what you give them. By the time you get to eat your food it will probably be cold, so you will be using the microwave more than you do now. Secondly, Enjoy talking on the phone. Don’t worry, you still get to use the phone and talk to your friends and family, but like the eating thing, the experience will be quite different to how it is now. Right now, you have nobody screaming in the background, no one requesting you wipe their bottom or no one spilling a cup of milk on your new jeans, soon this will all happen in the space of one phone call. Then there is the big one, enjoy your sleep. When you have a few hours extra in bed on Sunday, don’t feel guilty, soon you’ll be woken up by crying and you’ll have the smell of a pooey nappy wafting up your nose. So this Sunday enjoy that silence in bed, enjoy having nothing to get up for and enjoy taking as long as you like to drink that tea and eat that breakfast. There is lots more advice I could give you but I don’t want to overload you, and I predict in a years’ time you may be passing on this advice to another parent to be. Of course at the same time as dishing out this advice I’d also tell them that they are about to be an employee of the best and most rewarding job in the world. You’ll once again get to see the world through a childs eyes, you’ll feel needed and have a purpose every single day and you’ll have a bond with your child like no other. Welcome to the club and good luck.

Tuesday 21st January

There are many films that I loved as a child that I now enjoy watching with my two daughters Caitlin and Alyssa. But as I sit there on the sofa with one daughter on my left and one daughter on my right I realise that inserted into the fun and uplifting storyline are some bits that are bizarre, creepy and sometimes downright scary. Take Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory, a film that I have enjoyed since I can remember. A story of Charlie, living with his poor family but he finds a Golden ticket to the Chocolate Factory. We see Wonka’s amazing candy room where everything is edible, a stunning chocolate river complete with waterfall but then all of a sudden it all gets scary with the arrival of Wonkas boat. We see a flying monster, a dead man with a centipede on his face and a bird getting its head chopped off. All in a movie rated Universal, suitable for all. Then you’ve got the major classic Snow White and The Seven Dwarfs. The story where Snow White must escape the evil witch and moves in with seven dwarfs. But then the magical fairytale takes a sinister turn when Snow White goes into the forest where every tree trunk is a monster, the floating logs turn into human eating alligators and there is a huntsman wanting to cut her heart out and put it into a box. Again, a movie rated Universal, Suitable for all. Then there is the story of Pinocchio, the wooden puppet who wishes he could become a real boy. The theme of the movie is honesty and knowing right from wrong and sometimes Pinocchio does choose the wrong path as we see him gambling, smoking a cigar, drinking alcohol and vandalising. Although I worry more that a boy made of wood felt it acceptable to hold a lit flame that close to his face. Again this classic childrens movie is rated as Universal, suitable for all. I think back to when I watched these as a child myself and these scenes didn’t particularly disturb me or make me hide underneath my duvet for the rest of the day.  In Willy Wonka, I remember wondering what the boat scene was all about and what it had to do with the storyline, but that was it. I remember watching Snow White and to me as a child there was a goody and a baddy and that’s what baddies did, horrible things. I know I watched Pinocchio as a child but I’d forgotten about the smoking scene, but as a non-smoker it didn’t influence me. Or maybe it did, to make the right choice?  I’ve not mentioned the horror of Augustus Gloop falling into the chocolate river and being sucked into a pipe, but I feel that’s how he would have wanted to go.

Tuesday 14th January

It’s January, which means wherever you turn there is someone or something encouraging you to eat healthier and be fitter. On TV celebrities are selling their new fitness DVD, magazines are talking about the latest fad diet and I was even stopped whilst out shopping by a man in a tracksuit trying to encourage me to sign up to a gym. I will not be taking part in any of these things but there has been a big change in the Hayden house this month. We’ve gone green. I don’t mean we’ve installed solar panels or I’ve ditched the car for a bicycle, but our kitchen cupboards and fridge have gone from containing chocolates, snacks and fizzy drinks in December to looking like a forest in January full of fruit and vegetables. To be honest I’m not sure how long it will last as I’m now responsible for making meal time fun for my daughters to encourage them to eat their daily dose of veg. Todays it’s ‘who can eat all their peas without one falling off your fork’. Wish me luck.

Sometimes I wish Facebook had a 'dislike' button as well as it’s famous 'like' button. It seems that the social networking site is becoming less about keeping in contact with friends and family and more about wasting my time. Is there a way I can stop those annoying game requests? Thank you very much for the invite but I do not wish to play Farmville, Dogville, Catville or any other Ville. I don’t want to build a virtual farm and I don’t want to send you lives on Candy Crush so please stop asking. Requests for sponsorship money and requests to sign a petition also seem to be a regular feature on my timeline. But recently there was one request on my Facebook timeline that did grab my attention before I skipped past it. It was asking for my signature on a petition demanding the government reverse a ban on school children in England taking holidays during term time. Campaigners say many families cannot afford the higher cost of a holiday during the school holidays. Until September last year, headteachers could grant up to 10 days leave a year for family holidays in "special circumstances". Since 1 September 2013, head teachers have no longer been able to grant any absence outside school holidays except under "exceptional circumstances" and the reference to the 10-day limit has been removed from the regulations. I think it struck a chord with me because I had just been looking into a holiday with my family this year and was struck at the difference in price. For example, seven nights at a popular UK holiday village costs six hundred and ten pounds more if you choose to go during the school Easter Holiday than of you go two weeks earlier during term time. The department for Education say that if children aren't in school they lose out on valuable learning time and have to waste more time catching up and children shouldn't be taken out of school during term time unless absolutely necessary. I can understand both sides of the argument. I really don’t want to pull my daughter out of school during term time, meaning she’ll miss out on important education but the result of this will mean going on away during the school holidays and paying a higher price. But then I wonder why holiday companies charge more for their breaks when children aren’t at school. Is it just an easy way to make more money or does it cost more to provide these holidays when demand is greater during the school holidays? Is a cheap holiday worth more than education? Does one week away from a whole year really matter? Are we being ripped off by the holiday companies? I think Facebook need to add another button labelled ‘not sure’.

Tuesday 7th January

Over the last few months I’ve been in a place I call ‘Happy Land’, otherwise known as the pantomime at the Kings Theatre in Southsea. I previously thought that panto looked easy and was more fun than hard work, but being part of the cast for Sleeping Beauty I realised I was wrong. New Pantomime Productions and the Kings Theatre work tirelessly to make the very best show possible and it was an honour to be part of. I was also welcomed into the fold and took advice from talented panto veterans including Christopher Marlowe and Tony Adams. One thing I was right about, was how much fun it was to be on that historic stage with such a talented cast including Matt Dallen who played Chester the Jester. An experience I will always remember and one my daughter will too after meeting a princess backstage, Helen Kent also known as Sleeping Beauty. Next years panto at the Kings will be Aladdin. If I’m not part of the cast I will certainly be part of the audience and will enjoy being in Happy Land once again.
Ever since Christmas day and now it feels like I have been building things. At this point I have to say I’m not good at building things and I don’t enjoy building things. In fact if I see the words “self-assembly” my whole body fills with dread and I know a headache won’t be too far away. In an ideal world anything that needs building will arrive at my house already built with no instructions and no need to search the house for the Allen Key that should have been supplied but wasn’t. If I was shipwrecked on an island somewhere far far away and I was all alone, I would hope there would be a cave to live in until I was found because building my own house out of sticks and leaves would be completely out of the question. Well one that would keep out rain, wouldn’t fall over with the slightest gust of wind and would protect me from a human eating animal certainly would be. I admit that Bear Grylls I am not. Being part of a large family, my two daughters were the lucky recipients of many Christmas presents that myself and their mum decided to space out over the following weeks. Of course, you’ve guessed it, not all presents came already assembled and ready to play. My first job was to put together Caitlin's first ever bicycle. The stress is coming back to me just thinking about it. I thought I was prepared, I’d searched the house for an allen key and found one. But the bike did not require an allen key, no, just a spanner. Did I have a spanner, you guessed it, no I did not have a spanner. I had some pliers though that would have to double up as a spanner. I nearly gave up on several occasions but two and a half hours later the job was done. I can honestly say I never want to assemble a bicycle of any kind ever again. Next on my job list was to put together a toy kitchen. Easy you’d think? No, it was not. If you’ve ever put something together, everything screwed in, then realised that one of the pieces is the wrong way round you’ll know how I felt. Yes, I had to take it all apart and start all over again. Strangely though, the most challenging bit wasn’t putting the toys together but actually getting the toys out of their packaging. Some toys just simply refuse to get out of their plastic packaging. But luckily after fighting with untwisting wires, rubber bands, stubborn tape and hard plastic I freed the toys and it fulfilled it’s destiny to be played with. I’m going to start saving now, so next year I can pay someone to do all this for me.

Tuesday 31st December

I’ve never much liked Harry Potter movie series. I remember watching the first movie and my mind was wondering throughout the film and I left the cinema wondering what the fuss is all about. Maybe part of the reason for my negative response to the incredibly popular franchise is that I was working in a cinema when the first movie was released, so after a ten hour shift spent talking to customers about the boy wizard maybe I was all Harry Pottered out. But recently all the films have been shown on TV and I’ve been watching them with my daughters Caitlin and Alyssa for the first time. They are really enjoying watching Harry and his adventures at Hogwarts and I’m finding I’m enjoying it too. Maybe it’s because then I was just eighteen and more interested in girls and getting into clubs than wizadry but now I’m approaching my thirties I’m appreciating what a brilliant film series it is. It’s my Birthday in February and I think the box set may be on my list.
As you’ll know if you have young children, a lot can happen in the space of twelve months. So let’s look back at the joys and stress that my two daughters gave me in 2013. The year started with my new mission to be more environmentally friendly and also save money at the same time. Who needs to turn the heating on when extra layers will do? Unfortunately at the time we were in the middle of winter with snow reaching Portsmouth and my mission failed almost instantly as trying to get a one year old to wear a woolly hat indoors was just too much to ask. In February I had a light bulb moment when I realised that being a dad didn’t mean I had to be a round the clock entertainer. When my daughters said those inevitable words “I’m bored” I would usually try and find a way to keep their young minds entertained. But being bored is not such a bad thing, in fact I went on to realise that unstructured time gives them a chance to be creative and find a way themselves to bust their boredom. They will always find something to do and sometimes pleasingly that includes tidying their bedroom. In March I learnt a very valuable lesson and if you have young children I urge you to take note. Sometimes whilst watching TV, Alyssa likes to take a nap in my arms. She did this one day whilst we were watching pre-school channel CBeebies. The remote control was on the other side of the room and I couldn’t move from my position incase I woke up my daughter. I now always keep the remote control at arms length so I’m not stuck watching Teletubbies and the Tweenies for two hours. Spring arrived and Caitlin left me stumped when she asked “Daddy, why are clouds white?” I of course gave her the answer, with a little help from my good friend Mr Google. Then along came summer and hot temperatures and I had to give my daughters a lesson in Ice Cream etiquette. The most important being when you are holding an Ice cream cone with a large dollop of chocolate ice cream, don’t lean in to give your daddy a cuddle, as this will leave a large brown sticky mark on his nicely ironed shirt. Summer turned to Autumn which brought a sad moment. Caitlin was presented with a balloon to take home from a restaurant. Two weeks later the balloon was dead, shrivelled up on the floor in the corner of the room. I’m sad to say I had to put the balloon out of its misery. But a great excuse to visit the restaurant for another meal and another free balloon. I look forward to seeing what 2014 will bring and I wish you a happy new year.

Tuesday 24th December

Being a cast member in this years pantomime at the Kings Theatre in Southsea is producing lots of things I’ve never done before, such as having to learn not only the words but also dance moves to the famous Abba song Waterloo. Having heard the song probably hundreds of times I thought I knew all the words, it became apparent very quickly I didn’t. Also having to wear a pair of white tights, I can see where they got their name from. But the thing I’m finding the most strange is having to wear make up. A few weeks ago if you’d asked me what blusher was, I would have said it was something you do when someone pays you a compliment. I’m getting used to covering my face in the stuff that according to the label brings my natural beauty to the forefront and hides my blemishes. But what I cant get used to is putting on eyeliner and why does my mouth open by itself when applying it?  But not to worry, my daughter Caitlin has offered to help and I think I may take up her offer.

At this time of year, when it’s cold outside, there is no quicker way to get the festive feeling then by getting comfy on the sofa with a big duvet, a few snacks and a Christmas film on the TV. Of course I’m not on my own under that duvet, I’m normally joined by my two daughters who like to share my snacks whilst I introduce them to a movie they’ll probably be watching every December for many years to come. One Christmas film we enjoy watching as a family is Polar Express. It’s about a little boy who doubts the authenticity of Father Christmas when on Christmas Eve a magical train arrives outside his house which taken him to see Santa in the North Pole. It stars the excellent Tom Hanks, one of my favourite actors, and really is something the whole family can enjoy. The story is as Christmassy as it could possibly be and always works as the switch from me not feeling at all in the mood for this time of year to me wanting to roast chestnuts on an open fire whilst listening to Slade Merry Christmas Everybody. If you haven’t seen it, whether you are four years old or ninety four, I highly recommend you give it a go, especially if you have children in the family. Another film we enjoy watching is Home Alone starring Macauley Culkin. I’ve probably watched this every year since I was a child and Christmas wouldn’t be the same without it. Just in case you haven’t seen it, it’s about a boy called Kevin who finds he has been left at home when his large family have gone on holiday. To make matters worse two crooks try to burgle the seemingly empty property and it’s up to Kevin to protect his home. The best thing about this film, apart from it’s funny and highly entertaining storyline, is it is jam packed with Christmas songs and I’ve long wanted to get hold of the soundtrack but never got round to it. I’m pleased to report four year old Caitlin really enjoyed the film, so it still has a place on the DVD shelf. There is one Christmas film that simply must get a mention and that is Santa Claus the Movie starring Dudley Moore. I believe every child should have the opportunity to watch this as it answers all those questions children ask at this time of year such as “How does Santas Reindeer Fly?”, “How does Santa get down the chimney?” and “Where does Santa store all the toys?”. An online review calls it “The best Christmas movie ever” and I agree. If you have any Christmas movie recommendations please contact me on twitter @warrenhayden. From myself and my family I wish you a very Merry Christmas.

Tuesday 17th December

Being a dad to two children under the age of five means that even before lunch time has arrived there can been many showdowns with them. Simple things such as brushing their teeth, persuading them to get out of the warm bubble bath and eating their breakfast. There are many ways to inspire my daughters to behave. Praise is always a good way, sometimes too much attention is given when they have done something wrong, but a bit of praise works wonders and can affect their behaviour for the rest of the day. Another is to give them an offer they can’t refuse, otherwise known as bribe. I admit I’ve been guilty of saying to my daughters “If you are good girls all day, Daddy will buy you sweets at the supermarket”. But there is another method that can only be used for one month of the year and we are in that month right now. You see, I have the mobile phone number of Father Christmas and one sign of bad behaviour I start to dial his number then all of a sudden peace is restored.

In a restaurant if I feel the starter and main course have not sufficiently filled up my belly and I go for a pudding I will always go for something chocolaty. Especially when it has a mouth-watering name such as Chocolate explosion or a Chocolate fudge blizzard – who can resist that? My guilty pleasure is chocolate, but I think I enjoy it more than most people. My favourite would be of the milk chocolate variety containing some sort of crunchy nut, probably hazelnuts. But I will happily tuck into the more bitter dark chocolate and for a change a bar of creamy white chocolate. Recently after going for a jog along Southsea Seafront and calculating that I’d burnt off around 400 calories I rewarded myself with a chocolate bar cold from the fridge, just the way I like it. I just wish I didn’t look on the back of the wrapper which revealed my small treat was full of more calories than I’d just burnt off. Although I enjoyed my self-given reward, I was a bit bemused that I needed to do a lot more jogging just to burn off a small bar of chocolate. This time of the year is when I probably consume way to much chocolate than is probably good for me. It doesn’t help that the supermarkets are full of chocolate, infact they have entire aisles full of the stuff including those big tins of chocolates and I’ve already given in and bought one or two tins (or three), well they were on special offer. We usually have a small section of the fridge where chocolate is stored as a treat for my daughters or to reward good behaviour. But now, at Christmas Time, it feels like our fridge, cupboard and entire kitchen (infact entire house) have turned into the store room of a chocolate factory. Caitlin would eat chocolate all day long if myself and her mum let her, so she’ll have no problem getting through the brown stuff and it seems two year old Alyssa has also inherited her dads love of chocolate. For me, a self confessed chocoholic, it is not a good thing for so much chocolate to be in the house. I worry that if I am left alone with my ravenous appetite for any kind of chocolate I could eat the entire lot and I’d have to reinforce the floor boards to cater for my new weight. I feel the only way to stop temptation is to get the chocolate out of the house. This will of course be via my mouth and I’m sure my daughters will help me… by help I mean unwrapping the chocolates for me. I might let them have one as a reward

Tuesday 10th December

I don’t venture up in the loft too often, but when I do it’s normally just to put something in there that no longer warrants a place in the house but that the sentimental fool in me doesn’t want to throw away. But with the run up to Christmas upon us I had to do more than pop my head into the cold and drafty room at the top of the house. Yes, it’s Christmas decorations time. The boxes always seem heavier than last year, but that could be down to a gathering of dust. But I do believe there are dark forces at work during the year who wants to make my life difficult. Every year after Christmas I fold up the tree lights nice and neat back into their packaging but every year when they come back out they seem to be tangled and in knots. I almost threw them away as untangling seemed a challenge too big, but I got there eventually and our tree is now up complete with flashing lights. My next challenge is to explain to my two year old daughter not to eat all the chocolates hanging on the tree.

The great British tradition of Pantomime is back at the Kings Theatre in Southsea and I’m part of it playing the part of Lord Chamberlain in Sleeping Beauty. This is my first on stage pantomime experience at the Kings and I’m in awe to be surrounded by incredibly talented performers such as Christopher Marlowe who’s playing Queen Gertie the Gorgeous and Tony Adams who plays King Egbert the Oval. Rehearsals have been halted on several occasions with the entire cast in stitches at one of the many funny lines in the script. I’m also in awe to be working in such a beautiful theatre which has its own warm and historic atmosphere and feel honoured to be able to explore not only the public but also the private areas and I’d recommend you attend one of the many tours. But it’s certainly not the first time I’ve been in the stunning theatre in the heart of Southsea watching the traditional family panto. I would go along with my family when I was a boy and vividly remember being thoroughly entertained and not wanting the show to end. Then as a teenager I would be there enjoying the show just as I had always done but secretly hoping none of the girls from school would see me, especially in the audience participation bits where the you would be encouraged to get up and dance, when you’re thirteen doing the actions to the birdy song just aren’t cool. Then just last year I took my daughter Caitlin to her first ever pantomime performance at the Kings, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs. I was worried a two hour show might not hold her attention, but she was mesmerised throughout. She still thinks the theatre is actually a castle where a Princess lives. Little did I know at the time that just one year later it would be me on that stage and part of the show. My opinion may be incredibly biased, but I think whether you are four years old or ninety four years old, you’re going to thoroughly enjoy this years pantomime performance. I can’t wait to see my daughters in the audience, not only to see their reaction when they see daddy on stage but also if I forget my lines they can prompt me, as they have been helping me practice and know them just as well as me.

Tuesday 3rd December

It’s funny how we can’t wait for our children to start talking and being able to express to us what they are thinking and feeling, but when they do reach this major milestone in their life we parents sometimes wish they would just stop talking. Yes I’m talking about the time when you are in a public place and your child says something that makes you want the ground to swallow you up. On a recent trip to the supermarket I had one of those awkward moments. It involved a young girl sitting in the shopping trolley who was in the middle of a major tantrum and her parent who was looking consumed by stress and embarrassed at the situation. I’m pleased to report that this was not my child and I was not that parent. I was with my two year old daughter Alyssa who probably didn’t make the situation better when at the top of her voice she shouted whilst pointing “Look dad, naughty girl”. I ignored the comment, hoping she wouldn’t say it again. But she did. My face may have turned the same colour as the tomatoes I was putting into my trolley.

Over the last month I’ve been set free from the Heart radio studio to help start Christmas for thousands of people across Portsmouth. I was asked to host the Christmas light switch on events across the city and as someone who loves this time of year I jumped at the chance. It all started on the fifteenth of November in Southsea one of my favourite places on the South Coast. I wondered if I would be able to get into the spirit with it being well over a month until the big day, but with Father Christmas making an appearance on stage creating excited and amazed looks on all the children’s faces I was definitely feeling festive. Plus we had Portsmouth singing Shakin’ Stevens "Merry Christmas Everyone", one of my favourite Christmas tracks and it got me and a packed out Palmerston Road in the mood for Christmas. It was the third year in a row I’d hosted the switch on in Southsea and once again I was impressed that the cold weather didn’t keep people away and we had a huge turnout and the great atmosphere. A week later I was joined by Heart Breakfast presenter Zoe Hanson for the Christmas light switch on in Commercial Road and Cascades shopping centre. This was my first time hosting the switch on here and was extra special as when I was a young boy and a teenager I would come along, first with my parents and then with my mates and watch the presenters of the local stations entertain the crowds from the Allders (now Debenhams) balcony. I wondered if the even colder weather would keep people away but once again Commercial road was packed with families who had come to see the lights and the fireworks finale. Highlights for me included The News search for a star winner Jerry Williams who sang for us on her 18th birthday and won’t forget the day after a packed Commercial Road sang Happy Birthday to her. Also the Rock choir who performed the finale were exceptional. Finally, last week the people of Cosham turned out in their hundreds to see their Christmas lights turned on for 2013 and a really impressive firework display. A personal highlight for me came in the Cascades where I was hosting and joined by the Lord Mayor and Actor Christopher Marlowe. I was interviewing the Lord Mayor who was telling me about her charitable work over the Christmas period when I felt something pushing and pulling at my legs. I looked down and my daughter Caitlin decided to join us for the Christmas tree lights countdown. The next time I’ll be on stage will be in the pantomime at the Kings Theatre. I’ll just have to make sure Caitlin knows she must stay in her seat.

Tuesday 26th November

In the age of austerity we’re all looking for ways to save money and not waste our well-earned cash and most of the time the money saving starts at home. But living with two children under the age of five, trying to be a bit more thrifty is easier said than done. I have turned into that person who moans when a light is left on in a room after all people have vacated it. Or when a light is switched on at the same time as sun light flooding into the room. But after a few reminders my daughters have learnt the turning off the lights rule. But there is another thing that the money saver in me is finding frustrating and that is when my daughters flush money down the toilet. Yes I may be turning into that person who rations toilet roll. It seems reams of the stuff is being used in just one visit to the toilet and two year old Alyssa is the main culprit. I need to teach her not to use so much. Oh and not to use any when she takes her dolly to spend a penny.

Imagine starting a new job and being told you can have whatever you want and it will be yours in minutes. What would you choose? This is the enviable life of many celebrities across the globe who simply ask and wait (but not for long) for it to be given. I was recently reading an article about so called A list celebrities whom are so famous they can have whatever they want in the blink of an eye and people will be happy to say yes to their sometimes odd requests. For example one American female singer who has had a string of hit songs apparently demands that each venue she performs at has gym equipment available for whenever she has an urge to so dome exercise. Another Oscar nominated male movie star apparently requested that the manager of a five star hotel clear out all the rooms so he can eat in silence. But my favourite diva demand comes from one of the most successful female singers of all time who, according to the article, demanded a new toilet seat be fitted in her dressing on every night of her world tour. Oh, and a special mention goes to the singer who hired an attendant to dispose of her used chewing gum. It must be the strange culture of being worshipped by thousands of fans, having millions in the bank and having everyone around you so in awe of your presence that they will always answer your demands with a yes, that creates someone with a high level of self importance. But I have some advice for these stars and a way to bring them straight back down from planet celebrity to planet earth and that is to have children. OK, that might be a bit drastic, so maybe borrow a child you have in the family for a few days. The reason for this is they will bring you right back down to earth with an almighty bang. The other day I was feeling a bit special and self important when my daughter Caitlin told me how much she loved me. How things changed though, just a few minutes later when we were about to leave the house for Caitlin's school she announced “Dad I don’t want you to take me to school, I want mummy”. I was shunned, bang, back down to earth. But then that night when her mum was preparing to take her up to bed she declared “Mummy, I don’t want you I want daddy” and in an instant I’m back to feeling loved again. But I know it wont be long before I’m shunned again. So my advice to these celebrities is to spend some time with children, they’ll make you feel normal. Oh and they wont always say “Yes”.

Tuesday 19th November

I consider myself to be a hands on dad and I like to get involved in all aspects of parenting, but there is one area that I consider myself to be a big fat failure. You see, I’ll wash my daughters hair and I’ll dry it for them but you won’t see me brushing it or styling it. In life there are things we are good at and things we are hopeless at and every time I have been let loose on my daughters hair the result sits in the hopeless category. I thought this would be a typical male response to this situation but I recently stumbled across some videos on YouTube from dads aimed at teaching other dads how to style their daughters hair. So hopefully soon I’ll be platting and braiding and transforming my daughters from the bed hair look into a pretty Princess, in the mean time only mummy goes near the brush unless my daughters want the Russell Brand look.

As a parent, there are many times when my children have made me feel proud of them. As a baby it’s all the little milestones like when they smile or laugh for the first time, or when they can sit up on their own and then move on to crawling. Later it might be when you see a tooth emerging from the gums, (although to be honest the upset the tooth creates normally dispels that proud feeling) or when they say “Mum” or “Dad” for the first time, that’s a big proud parent moment. But all these things are natural and are inevitable and are part of nature. You could even say predictable. This is why I get more proud when my daughters do something that involves effort on their part and also shows off their personality and are not so obvious. Things that show them as an individual. Recently when two year old Alyssa went suspiciously quiet I assumed the worst; she’s up to something. But instead of finding crayon scribbles all over her nicely painted bedroom walls or seeing that she had emptied her wardrobe and chest of drawers all over her bedroom floor, she was simply sitting quietly playing with her dolls. I felt proud. Four year old Caitlin has been helping out with the household chores and asked if she could do the washing up after dinner time. So stood on a chair in front of the washing up bowl full of warm water, bubbles and a few cups she got to work. In the end there was more water and bubbles on our kitchen floor than in the washing up bowl but I was still proud especially as she actually did a good job of cleaning the cups. All parents to young children know that getting your child to try something new at dinner time is sometimes easier said than done. They see something alien on their plate, normally a vegetable and refuse to put it anywhere near their mouth. Alyssa surprised us all when she tucked into a stir fry, full of new foods and flavours that she had not experienced before and finished her plate and left me feeling proud. But my favourite is when my daughters show a bit of attitude and individuality. Recently after raising my voice at Caitlin for not doing as she was told she responded calmly but with a cheeky smile on her face by saying “OK, chill out Dad”. I tried not to laugh but couldn’t hold it in and was left wondering where she learnt that phrase from. Also feeling proud at the sarcasm and the glimmer of hope that as she grows up she wont be a pushover.

Tuesday 12th November

As any parent will know, with young children things change fast. For example, one minute you can sit them on the floor as a baby and know they won’t move from that spot and before you know it they are crawling and grabbing everything in sight shortly followed by the big milestone of walking. I look back at photos and video taken from all these stages and wonder how time has gone so fast. The same could be said when I look through the toy box of my four year old daughter Caitlin. It almost feels like that scene from Toy Story with Wheezy the toy penguin. He was once his owner Andy’s favourite toy until his squeaker broke, he was forgotten about and left on the shelf to gather dust. In another scene you see Andy receive the new Buzz Lightyear toy for his birthday which has so many impressive features it replaces Woody the cowboy as his favourite toy. In Caitlin’s toy box there are toys that not so long ago were played with every day and now are left at the bottom of the toy box never to be played with again and usually buried underneath the new favourite toys. I admit I’m starting to lose track of the latest toy fad. When she was a toddler is was all about Barney the purple Dinosaur, then her focus moved onto the popular Peppa Pig, soon after it was Spongebob Squarepants that kept Caitlin entertained and now as a four year old she is into anything that involves a Disney Princess. She loves playing with her Disney princess dolls and she loves watching the movies such as The Little Mermaid, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty. So would it be possible for Caitlin to meet a Princess? My first thought was the royal family, but even if we did go and stand in the crowd when they do a walkaround, with respect, Princess Anne or the Duchess of Cambridge don’t really look like a princess, well a Disney princess anyway. My next thought was Disneyland Paris where Princesses are in plentiful supply, but that will involve way too much money. Then I came up with a plan that wont involve the royal family or a trip on the Eurostar. This year I have a part in the pantomime at the Kings Theatre which just happens to be Sleeping Beauty where I’ll be playing the part of Lord Chamberlain. Caitlin can come along with me, watch the performance and come and meet Sleeping Beauty. Who needs Paris when Southsea will do just fine and who needs the Fairy Tale castle when the Kings Theatre is just as stunning and will be home to a Princess this December.
I recently had the opportunity to visit my daughter Caitlin’s infant school and sit down with her teacher to discuss her development. Approaching the door that leads me into her classroom there is a certain amount of vulnerability felt as you are about to hear how your child is getting on. Is she mixing well with the other children? Is she well behaved? Does she join in with class discussions? I needn’t have worried. The  feedback from Caitlin’s teacher was all good and she has settled in really well. But something did make me feel a little uncomfortable and that was the chair I had to sit whilst discussing my first born. They are designed for four to five year olds and not a man more than six foot tall so trying to hold a serious conversation with my knees level with my head wasn’t the easiest. Most embarrassing was the groan that came out of my mouth when I attempted to stand up and I’m sure I picked up an injury in the process.

Tuesday 5th November

Since becoming a dad four years ago I’ve learnt that when children want something they are often gripped with so much passion for that particular thing that nothing else will do. For example if a young child has their mind focused on having a yellow balloon, that is what they must have and a blue balloon or a pink balloon will not satisfy their trivial needs. The same goes with sharing, if there are two children but only one seat on the shopping trolley, who gets to sit in it? But as a parent, trying to enforce the idea of sharing and taking turns is easier said than done. But thankfully, with time, they finally realise it’s more fun to share and have fun rather than be annoyed and have a tantrum. Recently with just one crumpet left in the cupboard, I popped it in the toaster and then buttered it for my daughter Alyssa. I was really proud when she ripped off a piece and passed it to me. That was until I bit into the buttery crumpet and realised it was the hard bit that the air got to in the cupboard.

As a driver, and I unashamedly consider myself to be a good one, I constantly get annoyed at pedestrians not looking for cars coming their way when they cross the road. Most of the time it is because they are surgically attached to their mobile phone and sending that text message or updating their status on facebook or twitter is far more important than looking out for a motor vehicle that could mow them down. Other times when a mobile phone is not involved I can only put it down to pure stupidity. But many times I have had to slam my foot down on the brakes so as not to hit someone who thought it ok to walk across a busy road without looking. So just like it was drilled into me by my parents when I was a child it is now my turn to teach my children the importance of safety near roads and how they must always stop, look and listen. It really is simple. First you find a safe place to cross where you can see clearly in all directions, look around for traffic coming your way, wait until any cars have passed and when it is safe to do so, cross the road. Surely just common sense? When I walk my daughter Caitlin to school I’m impressed when I see other children, who have ran ahead of their mum or dad, know that they must stop when they get to the road. So if young children know what to do, why can’t some adults get it right? But of course road safety works both ways and as a pedestrian, and I unashamedly consider myself to be a good one, I constantly get annoyed at drivers going way too fast, especially during the school run. My daughter Caitlin’s school sits next to a busy road that is clearly marked as having a twenty miles per hour speed limit. But on the walk to school every morning, at a time when the pavements are full of young children, I’m witnessing cars go at what I estimate to be double the speed limit and I’ve even seen some drivers having a conversation on their mobile phone. Maybe they are running late for work and maybe that phone call was important but is it really worth breaking the law and putting lives at a greater risk, for we’re told that a child being hit at 20mph and 30mph is the difference between life and death. So road safety is not just down to the drivers and not just down to the pedestrians but down to everyone using those roads and pavements and I’ll continue to educate my children on its importance and I urge that you do too.

Tuesday 29th October

Almost every big brand in the world of children’s entertainment now has an app for you to download to your smartphone. Well-known names such as Peppa Pig, Cbeebies , Disney, Spongebob Squarepants and thousands more are all there. The good thing is, apart from most of them being free, they are educational.  For example one Peppa Pig app I’ve downloaded will teach my little one’s about numbers and colours and the Cbeebies app will test their observation skills along with their reading and writing skills. Now that I have forgiven two year old Alyssa for dropping my phone and breaking the screen, I’ve let her and her older sister loose on my phone to play and learn at the same time, this is of course after buying a case that will protect my phone from any more accidental drops. But I feel I’ve failed as after five minutes with my phone they were no longer playing with any of the educational apps but instead laughing at the app that makes fart sounds. You no longer need a whoopee cushion, there’s an app for that
It seems Halloween is getting bigger every year. By that I mean more shops are stocking fancy dress outfits and there seems to have been an increase in the amount of knocks on my front door at night with children shouting “Trick or treat” in the last few years. In the UK we are taking advice from America on the amount of effort put into the so called celebrations and we as a nation are now spending more than three hundred million on Halloween. Halloween has its origins in pagan festivals held at the end of October. It was believed that, at this time of year, the spirits of dead people could come alive and walk amongst the living. They thought that it was important to dress up in costumes when venturing outside, to avoid being harmed by the spirits. So I’m guessing this is where the idea of Halloween costumes comes from? But where does giving out sweets and candy to strangers knocking on your door come from? Well after typing that question into Google I found out the answer. Apparently Trick-or-treat's origins come from the medieval practice of souling, when people would walk door to door at this time of year receiving food in return for prayers for the dead on All Souls Day. I don’t know how true this is as this was one of a few suggestions, another being that after the spirits would rise from the dead, people would leave food and candy outside as a piece offering so the spirits wouldn’t harm. I don’t know about you but I’m not sure which story to plump for? Halloween is like Marmite, you either love it or hate it and I admit I’ve always been in the grumpy category at this time of year. It just doesn’t sit well with me encouraging my children to knock on a front door and ask for sweets from people who they have never met before. But now I’m a dad I wanted to give my children the chance to get involved in Halloween. We won’t be venturing outside and knocking on doors but we thought it would be nice to let them play dress up and buy them some Halloween costumes. You might have read recently about a man who was told by police to take down the Halloween decorations from the exterior of his house as children were finding them too scary, at the time of reading I found this ridiculous. But after taking Caitlin and Alyssa to a Halloween shop to choose an outfit they were more scared than excited and both requested we leave the shop. I suppose dressing up as a Frankenstein is now out of the question.

Tuesday 22nd October

A relaxing soak in a bubble bath is for women; well that’s the stereotype anyway. I blame television for this. Remember the adverts for the Flake chocolate bar that showed women relaxing whilst eating the chocolate. The most famous being the women enjoying a flake in the bath so much that she forgets the taps are running and bath starts to overflow. Imagine if that was a man in that bath, I admit it would have looked a little odd. I think it’s an unfair stereotype and I don’t mind admitting as a father of two young daughters I like to have a relaxing bath. It’s like an escape, the place where daddy can relax. I obviously keep it manly, not too many bubbles, relaxing music is not necessary and I don’t take much notice to the lighting situation. But the lock on the door will be pulled across to give me at least five minutes peace. The thing is, living with three females, that fresh hot steamy bath looks too good and they get to it before me and by the time I get a turn it’s cold. Relaxing baths are for women anyway. I’m installing a shower.
Does any child like it when their school teacher gives them work to do at home? I think not. When you get home from six long hours of learning you want to drop your school bag on the floor as soon as you walk through your front door, ditch the school uniform for something more comfy and then forget the school day ever happened by watching TV, getting all your toys out, play with your friends etc  and anything school related will not need to be worried about until after breakfast the next morning. This was my experience at school anyway, I wasn’t a fan and would rather be out on my BMX bike or infront of the Tv watching Fun House. I’ve heard arguments for and against children being given work to do at home. It is said that it can bring families closer together as children will ask their parents for help and this will not only help children get a better understanding of their work with any parts they are stuck on, it will also allow parents to get more involved in their child's educational life. Doing homework is also a great way to develop responsibilities. Knowing that it has to be done by a particular day will develop a sense of punctuality by giving their work in on time. Ultimately homework is there for parents to support their children’s work. So that all sounds good and worthwhile, so what are the arguments against? Well just like us grown-ups, children need time to relax and take their minds off work. The pressure of having to complete homework every night could be daunting and they need time to refresh their minds and bodies. It also reduces the amount of time that children could be spending with their families and with such busy modern lives family time is important. Homework can also cause conflict between children and their parents when you have to hassle your child to complete their homework but your child would rather be doing anything but. The reality for many families is that homework produces tears, tantrums and arguments. I don’t remember having homework when I was four years old, infact I don’t remember much about being that age, but for my four year old daughter Caitlin, homework has already begun. Once a week she comes home with a list of words to learn and I’ve actually quite enjoyed sitting with her and going through the list. The homework has actually prompted us to turn the TV off and spend some time together. I’m guessing as the years pass the homework will increase and the subjects will get harder, but myself and her mum will be there to assist when needed. Maybe not with algebra though, was never good at that.

Tuesday 15th October

There is so much choice for children when it comes to television channels, sometimes I’m not sure which numbers to press on the remote control when my daughters Caitlin and Alyssa ask to watch “Their programmes”. The problem is when I get used to a type of programme they enjoy watching they have then lost interest in it and have already moved onto something new. For example it seems not so long ago Caitlin would enjoy watching CBeebies programme Balamory which is targeted at pre-schoolers. But recently when I selected this from the on screen TV guide it was rejected by Caitlin. Apparently this show is now “Boring” and “for babies”. Spongebob Squarepants on the other hand was accepted and enjoyed by Caitlin. Alyssa though still hasn’t moved on from Peppa Pig and for her childrens TV has got even better with a brand new channel showing her favourite talking pig non stop all day. Funny thing is even though the channel is called Nick Jnr Peppa with Peppa Pig being shown back to back, at the end of each show they still announce “More Peppa Pig next”.

Apparently the most successful people in life are early risers. One reason why waking up early is correlated with success is that you get more work done in the morning. Problem is, I’ve always been more of a night owl than a morning person and see my alarm clock as the enemy. When I do need to set it for an earlier than usual rise, I dread the time my blissful sleep will be rudely disturbed by that annoying beeping sound and the moment I have to force open my eyes and summon up the energy to lean across and make the annoying beeping sound stop. But how do you get into the habit of waking up early without feeling like your eyelids are attached to weights for the rest of the day? Well apparently you can train yourself to get into morning mode and in return turn yourself into a more successful person. The first tip is to wake up at exactly the same time every day and this will stabilise your circadian rhythm. I wish I could tell you what a circadian rhythm is, but I don’t have the foggiest.  I’m guessing  to stabilise it is a good thing. Secondly comes the obvious, set your alarm every day, but make sure you put it on the other side of the room to you have to get out of bed and this stops the temptation to press the snooze button. Thirdly, you need a reason to get up and get out of bed and use your extra time to do things that need doing, rather than sitting on the internet or doing other tasks that won’t make any long term difference. Apparently if you stick to this for thirty days you will become an early riser. I’m not convinced and believe I will always fit into the night owl category who loves a lie in. But last week I had no choice but to be an early riser when I was asked to be producer on the Heart radio Breakfast show with Michael and Zoe where the working day starts at 5am. This meant my alarm going off an hour earlier at 4am, in other words, the middle of the night. I set my alarm and I went to bed earlier than normal in preparation for my week of super early starts and when my alarm went off I surprisingly jumped out of bed with no problem. That was easy I thought. But the most challenging bit was still to come. I had to creep around the house so as not to wake my two daughters, especially Alyssa who wakes up at the slightest noise. I learnt on day one that crunchy nut cornflakes aren’t the quietest of cereals to eat and I need to swap my noisy can of deodorant for a roll on.

Tuesday 8th October

I’m one of the two hundred million people who use the social networking and microblogging service called Twitter. Under my username @warrenhayden in no more than one hundred and forty characters I tweet about my life, I reply to my followers and friends and I retweet things I think will interest people who follow me. If you don’t know about twitter or what it’s purpose is, none of this will make sense to you, but in short it is just like sending a text message but for the whole world to see. But Twitter has grown into more than that, with Breaking news stories normally found on your twitter feed before any other form of media. But there is a new twitter craze, which is mothers and fathers setting up twitter accounts in their children’s name and tweeting as their child. So for example if I was tweeting on behalf of my two year old daughter Alyssa I might write “I just dropped Daddy's phone, he doesn’t look happy”. I wont be tweeting as my children. #notenoughtimeintheday
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, or so we’re told. But is this statement really true or does it fit in to the category labelled old wives tales? In today’s fast paced world it’s so easy to just simply grab a tea or coffee in the morning and wait until lunch to put some food in your belly, but in doing this are we creating more bad than good? Well it seems the answer is yes. I typed into Google “Why is breakfast important” and I was given so many websites with so many reasons why eating in the morning is beneficial that I’d take up this entire newspaper if I listed them all. The main reasons are the obvious ones, Breakfast gives you energy and twenty five per cent of your daily food intake should be in the morning, breakfast boosts your brain power and helps improve your concentration and memory, breakfast will stop you snacking before lunchtime and therefore is good for your waistline etc. Breakfast literally means ‘break the fast’ as most people would not have eaten for around ten to twelve hours, but for children who tend to eat their evening meal earlier this time can be even longer, making breakfast even more important to give them energy and kick start their day. But as reported in the newspapers recently many children are missing breakfast and going to school on an empty stomach. Research carried out revealed that one on seven children in the UK go to school without having breakfast every single day. There is also a rise in teachers reporting children arriving at school hungry. When I was a child breakfast was so important, even if it was just a small bowl of cornflakes. If I didn’t start the day with some food there would be consequences. I would get tired during the school day and remember on several occasions fighting to keep my eyes open, particularly during history lessons. For this reason I make sure my children start the day with a good breakfast. Not that I have to encourage them with two year old Alyssa requesting porridge from the moment she wakes up and four year old Caitlin preferring some toast and fruit to start her day. My problem isn’t my children not eating their breakfast but the time in which they do so. They seem to like to sit back and relax and really enjoy every mouthful. I’m pleased they don’t take after their fast eating daddy by gobbling down their breakfast and making it disappear like a magic trick but with the clock ticking and having to get Caitlin to school on time I wish they’d eat a bit faster.

Tuesday 1st October

I’ve spoken before in this column about my love for a child friendly restaurant that cater for the little ones. One sure sign that children are welcome is when you are entering the eatery, you see a child leaving with a helium balloon attached to their hand. The same thing happened to us on a recent visit to a local restaurant. Caitlin was delighted when she was presented with a balloon to take home with her and we left happy. But the happiness that balloon brought didn’t last long and it’s something the restaurant don’t tell you about. Two weeks later the balloon is dead, shrivelled up on the floor in the corner of the room. It’s trying to lift itself back up the ceiling but it is weak and has no fight left in it. I’m sad to say I had to put the balloon out of its misery and it has now gone to balloon heaven and we are left mourning its loss. Oh well, we’ll just have to go back to the restaurant for another meal and another free balloon.

I’m now in the final year of my twenties and things are a lot different to how they were twenty years ago. These days I have to think about what I eat and make sure I take regular exercise otherwise I’d have to throw away my belt as my belly would be sufficient in keeping my jeans where they should be. But back then I didn’t think twice before stuffing a bit of cake in my mouth and being an active child didn’t feel like a chore. In the year 2013, getting my behind off the comfy sofa and putting my running shoes on isn’t as easy as it sounds especially with two daughters who eat up all my energy. But in 1993 exercise was just playtime. I was a regular at Landport Adventure Playground where I’d get messy in the sandpit, whizz along the exciting zipline, play hide and seek in the castle and help clean the mess created by the playground animals such as the ducks, rabbits and Casper the goat. I’d also ride my BMX around the streets of Fratton, I used to love Sundays when BuyLo (Now ASDA) would be closed and the car park would belong to me and my bike. As a 9 year old, weight management wasn’t something I had to think about but as an adult there is no excuse to ignore the fact that if you consume more calories than you are burning off through exercise and you will put on weight, it is simple. The subject of childhood obesity seems to be in the papers or television on a weekly basis and I don’t mind admitting that I really do not want my children to be fat. But the facts are worrying. The World Health Organisation regards childhood obesity as one of the most serious global public health challenges for the 21st century. Obese children and adolescents are at an increased risk of developing various health problems, and are also more likely to become obese adults. Of children in Reception (aged 4-5), 9.5% are obese and another 13.1% are overweight. This means over a fifth of 4-5 year olds are overweight or obese. Also These days, ’modern life’ means that we’re all a lot less active due to factors such as TV, computer games, convenience and fast food. We just don’t move about as much, or eat as well as we used to. But I agree that this is something our children should not have to worry about at such a young age and the responsibility should always fall on the parents. If I want them to lead a healthy lifestyle I must do so too. Everyone’s a winner.

Tuesday 24th September

There is now no getting away from the fact that Christmas is coming. There is now just thirteen Saturdays until the big day and I know this thanks to twitter updates by friends who have already started their Christmas shopping and have begun the countdown for all their followers to see. On a recent trip to commercial road in Portsmouth to do some shopping I was greeted in almost every shop by some sort of item featuring a Christmas tree or a picture of Father Christmas. Christmas cards, wrapping paper and even those big tins of Christmas chocolates are all there to spend you hard earned money on. After returning home from the shops to my festive free home I asked my daughter Alyssa to choose a DVD for us to watch with some snacks on the sofa. Of all the films she had to choose from she chose Polar Express, the Christmas movie starring Tom Hanks. It’s well and truly begun. Happy Christmas everyone.

I used to think that if I was a contestant on a TV quiz show like Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, my time in the chair would be memorable, but for all the wrong reasons. My appearance would be the one on YouTube that would be viewed millions of times all over the world. Why, because I got the first question wrong and went home with nothing. The pressure of being on live TV mixed with the prospect of become a millionaire would make me so nervous that I would fall at the first hurdle in the most embarrassing way and I wouldn’t get the chance to phone a friend or even ask the audience. But being a dad and having questions fired at me by my daughters from the moment they wake up until the moment they fall asleep I now feel in a better position and am now tempted to apply to be on the big money game show. Research has shown the parents are the most quizzed people in the United Kingdom with subjects far and wide. Surely school teachers are asked more questions in a day with their huge class of children or maybe a doctor seeing patients one after the other, well apparently not. The sentence I am about to write exhausts me just writing it, so I apologise if the following words make you yawn… A parent will on average have to answer a question from their child every one minute and fifty two seconds. That is a lot of questions. I wonder sometimes why I’m so exhausted at the end of the day, especially when the day hasn’t been that eventful, but now I have my answer. Caitlin is four years old and this research has shown that girls aged four are the most curious to find out things and ask a staggering three hundred and ninety questions each day. Speaking from experience I think half of those account for the simple one word question asked by children from the moment they can talk, which is “Why”. “Caitlin, eat your vegetables”, “Why”?, “Because they are good for you”, “Why are they good for you”, “Because they have vitamins in”, “Why are vitamins good for you” etc. I’ve heard that eating your food slower is better for you, but when you’re a parent you’ve got no choice with on average eleven questions being posed by children during meal times. I try to answer all the questions to the best of my ability and if I don’t know the answer I’ll ask my good friend Google. But sometimes my answer is just not excepted. For example, two year old Alyssa was playing with a balloon and it suddenly popped. She asked me to blow it back up for her which left me explaining that a burst balloon cant be fixed. You can guest the next question that came out of her mouth… “Why?”

Tuesday 17th September

So it has now come and gone, that big milestone in every child’s life that is discussed from the moment they are born and only happens once. At first it seems so far away and then it is with you before you know it and you’re left wondering where the last four years have gone. Caitlin has now experienced her first ever day at school. Everything was prepared in advance. Caitlin had visited the school, so she knew what to expect and would be familiar on her first day. She also had a visit from her new teacher who talked her through a typical school day. We also had Caitlin's school uniform all ironed and ready to be worn. So everything was covered and there was nothing that would surprise us on the day. Well almost. One thing I wasn’t expecting was the lump in my throat when I said goodbye to Caitlin on her first day. I might have had a bit of “dust” in my eyes too.

It’s only been thirteen years since I said goodbye to my school days, when I was sixteen. But with my daughter Caitlin starting school I’ve realised how much things have changed since I was a spotty, lanky and awkward schoolboy. Ever since we had a tour of the infant school one thing has been troubling me. Looking round the school all the usual things were there like a school hall with equipment for physical education like those long grey ropes that appear in every school hall, pegs for all the boys and girls to hang their coats and bags on, and a playground with painted games on the concrete floor. But one thing was missing. I couldn’t find the school water fountain. Remember when you were at school and if you were feeling thirsty you’d head to the water fountain, pull the lever, lower your head and quench your thirst. It is nowhere to be seen in Caitlin's school, instead we have to supply a filled water bottle each day. I may be wrong, but I suspect the health and safety brigade found fault with the water fountain and banished it from school forever. Another thing that has changed since my school days is the quality of the school dinners. I remember being presented with a pizza in a paper bag which would have a pool of grease at the bottom and an egg sandwich which would always have a crunch to it thanks to the added egg shell. There also wasn’t much choice in my school with chips on the menu every day which were usually cold by the time they reached my plate. In 2013 school dinners are a whole different story and I feel we have Jamie Oliver to thank for this positive change . There is plenty of healthy food on offer with three main dishes and two vegetable accompaniments to choose from and a salad bar with up to six salad choices daily. There is also be a selection of hot and cold desserts on offer, and the option of cold water or semi-skimmed milk to drink. It sounds more Harvester than school dinner hall, but impressive to see how the days of burgers sitting in a pool of fat with not a piece of lettuce in sight are over. The parents choosing a packed lunch for their child aren’t excused from the healthy and nutritious regime. Crisps, chocolate bars and fizzy sugary drinks are banned and the school provide milk and fruit for all pupils during the day. All positive changes, well maybe except for the school water fountain, that’s where all the good conversations happened. Where are the kids of today going to discuss One Direction?

Tuesday 10th September

I’ve come to realise that just because I enjoy something, it doesn’t necessarily mean my daughters will enjoy it too. Recently we decided to get in the car, with a picnic in the boot and make our way up the A3 to Queen Elizabeth Country Park. Its Hampshire’s biggest country park with over two thousand acres of open woodland and has been called an area of outstanding beauty with more than twenty miles of trails, a paradise of wildlife and beautiful views. But whilst we were walking through the stunning woodland with nothing but trees surrounding us and feeling relaxed all that beauty came to a sudden stop when my daughter Caitlin had a massive tantrum. She was bored because, in her words, “It’s just trees, trees and trees”. It is the one place where a public tantrum didn’t raise my stress levels with no one else in sight or ear shot. Anyway, Caitlin was proved wrong when we stumbled upon a park. I didn’t tell her, but I think the slide and climbing frame were all made out of trees.
Ladies and gentleman, fathers and mothers, nans and granddads and anyone with children in their life, you can now take a huge sigh of relief. Why? Because we have survived summer. It seems like yesterday we were looking ahead to six weeks of juggling busy schedules, keeping children entertained and trying to get them to bed even when the sun is shining and wondering whether we would make it to September. At the same time our little ones were looking forward to a summer of fun, freedom and memory making and hoping September was a long way away. But now it’s all over, well at least for another year. I think we’ll remember summer 2013 for many years to come. We had British number one tennis player Andy Murray win his first Wimbledon title and end Britain’s seventy seven year wait for a men’s champion. I was one of the seventeen million people watching on TV hoping we don’t have another seventy seven year wait. The summer also gave us a new Royal baby as the easel outside Buckingham palace announced that “the Duchess of Cambridge was safely delivered of a son…”. I thought whoever wrote that sentence might have had an alcoholic beverage beforehand, possibly in celebration of the new baby, but apparently that is how the royal family talk. Of course this summer will be remembered for the sunshine and the heat it brought with it. Apparently the UK had it’s warmest, driest and sunniest weather since 2006. I don’t normally tan and my skin usually has the pale winter look all year round, but I think even my skin turned a slightly darker shade due to the sun. But for me this summer will also be remembered for a few other things that didn’t make the front page of the newspapers. Like when four year old Caitlin told me she had a boyfriend for the very first time and left me speechless, of course Isaac was just a friend of Caitlin’s at nursery who happened to be a boy, so she called him her “boyfriend” but I still wanted to quiz him on his intentions with my daughter. It was also the summer that my daughters went on an aeroplane for the very first time. My pockets were full of sweets and my bag had crayons and colouring in books, otherwise known as bribes, but I needn’t had worried, they were both brilliant. Any finally, this summer meant I had to go shopping of a different kind. I wasn’t in the supermarket buying food or in HMV treating myself to an album or DVD, but instead I was in a shop buying Caitlin her school uniform for the very first time, if that doesn’t make you feel old seeing your child wearing that uniform will. A brilliant summer is now over, but not to worry, Christmas is just around the corner.

Tuesday 3rd September

I really enjoyed taking my daughters to the Portsmouth Kite Festival this Summer on Southsea Common. We were there on the Monday, the final day, which luckily had the perfect weather. It made me realise how lucky we are to live by the sea and be able to bring Caitlin and Alyssa to such a beautiful part of our city. Southsea is my favourite part of the island in the summer with a great atmosphere, especially on the common with people enjoying barbecues and games of rounders. After finding a parking space with surprisingly not too much problem we made our way to the kites. I initially thought the day wouldn’t require any money leaving my wallet, except maybe for an ice cream but the route took us right through the pop-up funfair and a teacups ride. With Caitlin and Alyssa I took my seat on the ride and was approached for payment. Six pounds. Yes, you read that right. Two pounds each, for a sixty second ride. Since when did fair rides get so expensive? We didn’t have a second go.

Just four short years ago my daughter Caitlin arrived into the world at the Queen Alexandra hospital in Cosham. If I had a pound for every time a friend, colleague or family member told me to enjoy every moment because before we know it, she’ll be waving goodbye at the gates of her new school, I wouldn’t be a rich man. But I’d probably be about thirty pounds up. Thing is, at the time, I didn’t realise how true that sentence was. It seems like one moment she was a baby who would wake us up every two hours during the night for a feed and the next moment she is a girl who can talk for England and asks me to play her songs from One Direction on YouTube. Time really has flown and tomorrow is that big day that all those people told me would happen in the blink of an eye, Caitlin starts school. Strangely she is fine about and it is me who is a bit anxious about the oncoming milestone. Will she make new friends at school? Will she get on with her teacher? Will she miss her mum, dad and sister? Will she eat her lunch? Etc etc. But according to a recent article in a national newspaper, there is something far more important to think about. Apparently the biggest worry at the start of a new school term is what to wear and it’s not referring to the child, Caitlin already has her school uniform sorted but it’s talking about the parent. Apparently search engine Google has had a forty per cent increase in parents asking “What should I wear on the school run?” Maybe it is because my fashion knowledge is extremely limited, but this has never even entered my mind as something I should think about. According to the article what we wear on the run will tell other parents all about our home life. Wearing a pair of muddy trainers indicates a meltdown is in progress, having a large pair of dark sunglasses covering your eyes means you’re probably not getting enough sleep and don’t want anyone to engage in conversation and arriving at the playground with scruffy unmade bed hair suggests you aren’t holding things together very well. In my opinion, what a load of old tosh. I wonder what my fashion choices, jeans and jumper, will be giving away to the other mums and dads? But surely it is better than wearing pyjamas on the school run, which I have witnessed around Portsmouth. Back to reality and I am excited and a little nervous about Caitlin starting school tomorrow and can’t wait to hear all about her day when I pick her up. I’m also looking forward to seeing which parent has the biggest bunch of keys as apparently that means they own an empire and are rich.

Tuesday 27th August

When you look at the photo of me above, I bet you’re thinking “What a handsome man, with a face like that he probably has a tanned six pack underneath that jumper”. What, you weren’t thinking that? How very rude. Annoyingly I’m one of those people who simply has to walk past a cake shop and take a glance at the attractive looking cream chocolate éclair or the Belgium bun with a shiny cherry on top and it feels like I’m piling on the pounds. I have to be careful what I eat and make sure I take exercise which I do in the form of running around the streets of Portsmouth. But there is good news for us folk who, if we are not careful fit into the chubby and podgy categories. New research has shown that babies and young children prefer ‘cuddly’ male bodies than one of the toned variety. This means someone like James Cordon is likely to get more cuddles from his son than David Beckham. So when I give into temptation and walk into that cake shop, I am of course doing it for my daughters.

I love watching movies and always have.  Sometimes it’ll be on the big screen at the cinema with a big cardboard container of expensive popcorn and what seems like a bucket full of cola and sometimes on the small screen in the comfort of my own home with a beer, or more likely a cup of tea and a packet of custard creams. But why do I love watching movies so much when what I am viewing is just an illusion and isn’t actually real life. I’m basically enjoying a two hour film of people pretending to be someone else. I’ve poked fun at my partner Serena when she’s watching her favourite soaps like Home and Away or EastEnders and she gets emotionally involved with the show and the characters, but I’ve come to realise that I do the same thing when watching the latest blockbuster to come out of Hollywood. I suppose we watch a movie for a variety of reasons and the biggest is to be entertained. But most of the time there is more to it than we might realise. Sometimes we choose to watch a movie to change or complement our mood. It’s a big cliché but one the big movie companies know all about, girl breaks up with boy so girl watches a sad romantic film that has a happy ending, maybe The Notebook. Maybe you need cheering up, well a musical is probably a very good choice, so you might choose the all singing-all dancing Grease and if you’ve been let down by a fellow human being and you need to restore your faith in humanity you’d probably grab your Forest Gump DVD. I’ve got loads of DVD’s that have been collected over the years and also subscribe to a movie streaming website, but sometimes when I’m looking at the shelf about to collapse under the weight of movies or I’m scrolling through the streaming website I can’t decide what to watch. It’s a big first world problem, spoilt for choice. But I have since found a solution to my problem. We have subscribed to a movie channel that only shows films made by Disney. As a family we have entered the realm of happily ever after, where mice talk and carpets fly. It’s really nice to watch movies with my daughters that I used to view as a child and witness them enjoy the happy films just as I did. I do have a confession to make, when we were watching Finding Nemo and Caitlin and Alyssa left the room I may have carried on watching the Disney film all by myself. You’re never too old for Disney, well I’m certainly not.

Tuesday 20th August

One of my favourite films growing up was Big starring Tom Hanks. If you’ve not seen it, it’s all about a twelve year old boy who after queuing up for a carnival ride is told he is too small and cannot get on. This embarrassing moment happens in front of an older girl he is trying to impress. This results in him visiting a fortune telling machine and wishing to be “big” and he is aged into adulthood overnight. Recently I was reminded of this movie when my daughter Caitlin declared “Daddy, I wish I was bigger” after being told she was too small to go inside one of those large balls that allows you to walk on water whilst we were on holiday. But whilst on the flight, the tables had turned. My daughters were sitting next to me with their legs stretched out and plenty of leg room whereas I felt like cattle with my knees pressed hard against the seat in front of me. If I had access to a fortune telling machine on that flight I would have wished to be small again.
Ladies and gentleman I would like to officially announce that I survived a holiday with my two daughters. I was nervous about being in a foreign country with two children under the age of five but I can now enjoy a sigh of relief. Previous to this any holiday booked since I became a dad always took place without having to board any flights, cross any waters or carry any passports as the UK was chosen for a break away from the norm, but this time the Spanish island of Majorca was our destination. At the airport we all strolled through security, all except my two year old daughter Alyssa who must have a suspicious face and look like she could be carrying something illegal in her nappy as she was picked out to be frisked by airport security staff. I think they may have regretted picking her as she wasn’t an easy customer and a full blown tantrum ensued. Understandable as they were very rough with her and I’m sure being prodded by a complete stranger at two years old isn’t a nice experience. After realising Alyssa wasn’t on a drug run they let her go and we made our way to the bit I was most nervous about, the flight. Luckily it was only a short flight at two hours long but I still had my hand luggage packed with sweets, colouring in books and even my tablet computer loaded with episodes of Peppa Pig to keep them entertained and as far away from boredom as possible. Thankfully I walked off the flight feeling happy and proud of my well behaved daughters and pleased we didn’t annoy the other two hundred people on the flight. Interestingly there were other children and babies on the flight and I did hear crying and tantrums with stressed out looking mums and dads trying to appease their little ones. I could see glares from other, mostly older passengers, who looked visibly annoyed at the misbehaving children, but they have obviously forgotten that their children almost definitely acted in the same way at some point. I myself looked on understanding the situation and actually happy in the knowledge that my children aren’t the only ones who sometimes misbehave. On an island where temperatures ranged between thirty one degrees and forty one degrees lots of sun lotion was applied, hats were worn and life was viewed through sunglasses. With two young children there isn’t much time for relaxing so most of the time was spent on the hotel pool and their favourite bit was pushing mum and dad in the pool. It’s odd to think that they probably won’t remember the holiday but loads of photos were taken to remind them of the fun and to remind mummy and daddy they survived their first holiday abroad with two young children.

Tuesday 13th August

Remember the time when if you missed one of your favourite shows on the television, unless a repeat was scheduled, you had actually missed out on that TV show forever. The days when there was no Sky+ or TiVo and there was no opportunity to rewind live television or catch up on the iPlayer. Well to be honest, I miss those days. You’d think I’d be grateful that when I’m watching EastEnders and my phone starts to ring I can just hit the pause button and continue where I left when my conversation is over. But the problem with all this technology is when my daughters ask to watch an episode of Peppa Pig or SpongeBob Squarepants and I say it isn’t on, they know it is. At only two and four years old they already know all about the modern way to watch TV, that we are no longer slave to the television schedulers and we can watch most TV shows whenever we want. Most annoying is when they ask me to rewind something they found incredibly funny, then again and again and again.
There are two kinds of people in this world, those with children and those who have yet to have children. I am of course in the have children camp, with two daughters now aged two and four years of age and they have taught me a lot about young people, mostly understanding them, talking to them and tolerating them when they are not on their best behaviour. I’ve only been a dad for the last four years and I do remember a time before I took on the most important job in the world when I didn’t understand children very well, I would find it difficult to hold a conversation with a child and my tolerance levels of naughty children wasn’t very high. I’ve spoken in this column before about how in my days before being a father I would dread going to a restaurant and being seated at a table next to a family with unruly spoiled children who would be hanging off the table and swinging from their chairs like a couple of monkeys and would drop their fork which would land under my feet meaning the child would be crawling under my table to fetch it.  But now I’m a parent I’m more aware than ever that tolerance levels are different for people who don’t have children, so I can understand both sides. As I type this I have a feeling of nervousness in the pit of my stomach about a situation that will be happening very soon and I’m worried that I could upset over two hundred people. We have booked a holiday and this time we are venturing out of the UK and going abroad and our choice of transport is an aeroplane. Once again, before my daughters were born, if I was on any type of public transport and a young child would be sitting behind or in front of me I would instantly think that my whole journey would include the back of my chair being kicked or listening to the sound of a child crying with boredom. So what I’m most anxious about is when we board that plane, make our way down the aisle and see the look on the faces of our fellow passengers who aren’t parents when they realise they are sitting near or next to two energetic children both under five years of age. On the outside they will be smiling but on the inside they will be hoping there will be a spare seat on the other side of the plane to move to. Luckily both my daughters tend to be well behaved in public and I’m confident that the short plane journey will involve no fuss, but that wont stop my pockets being filled with sweets and my hand luggage being filled with crayons and colouring in books, otherwise known as bribes.

Tuesday 6th August

Being a parent, nothing is more exciting than when your child does something for the very first time. It all starts with the first time your baby does a poo in their nappy, although the only time you’ll ever be excited about this, it is a momentous occasion. Then when she smiles for the first time, although you’re not quite sure if she really has wind, but still a big moment. My favourite milestone is when they start to talk. It starts with a babble, then moves onto to forming single words, and once they can string a sentence together there is no stopping them. My eldest daughter is almost four years old but going on thirty years old and can already talk for England. I love listening to what she has to say, but this week a sentence came out of her mouth I was ill prepared for. After returning from nursery she declared “Daddy, I have a boyfriend and his name is Isaac”. In my mind I wanted to call three year old Isaac up and ask him what his intentions were with my daughter but in reality I just said “that’s nice”.
After watching both my daughters being born and becoming one of the seven billion humans on the earth I felt a real pic n mix of emotions. Firstly the joys of witnessing a new life come into the world and seeing a human life I co-created for the very first time. Secondly, after watching the fascinating but at the same time distressing journey that is labour from the very beginning until the very end, I will filled with a huge amount of gratitude that I would never have to go through what my partner Serena just went through. I openly admit I have an incredibly low pain threshold and a paper cut makes me feel like I am about to meet my maker, so if labour feels as painful as it looks I know that I could not handle the pain and I’m in awe of any women that go through the ordeal, especially with zero pain relief like my partner Serena. In short, thank goodness I’m a man. But according to a recent article by journalist Quentin Letts labour is a real pain, for men. He openly admits in the open and honest piece that he is treading on a minefield with his opinions, especially when he goes on to say that during labour, a man’s pain is no less intense than the women’s on a psychological level. He says this so called pain is brought on by feelings of helplessness, boredom and also a feeling of being neglected. I have witnessed two births, both in the last four years, so do I agree with Quentin? Well of course I’m not him and he’s not me and we do not think the same, but that doesn’t affect my opinion that he needs to man up. Let’s look closer at those feelings that he experienced through the birth of his child. Firstly helplessness, yep I felt like that too. In that situation not knowing what to do to help or what to say to comfort can make you feel lost, but normally the midwife is there and everything is taken care of and the man’s job is to simply be there. Secondly boredom. Normally boredom strikes when you having nothing to do, and yes during labour sometimes you feel like spare part but going through my mind was what was about to happen and how I am about to be in charge of a human life, there wasn’t time to feel bored. Thirdly feeling neglected. You’re not being neglected but the midwife is not there to look after you, but look after the lady who is giving birth to a real life person. Are men going through the same psychological pain? Ask any women who has been through it and you’ll get the same answer.

Tuesday 30th July

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who last week became parents for the very first time. Now that they have had one week of being parents to the future King, the following advice may have been learnt from experience, but here are a few tips from me. Firstly, don’t lie on your back and hold your baby above you. Although babies love this and it might encourage a sound of joy to come from their mouth it may also make them puke, straight onto your head or even worse into your mouth. Secondly, when talking to your new baby you must never use your own voice. Anything high pitched is great and I’m sure Prince George will really appreciate it if you can make your voice sound like Donald duck. Finally one for William, learn how to dismantle a pushchair. Women seem to be able to do this with one flick of the leg but you’ll need to read the instructions. Oh, and one more, take loads of photos. He’ll look completely different next week.

Whoever came up with the idea for the pre-school TV show Peppa Pig must be a multi-millionaire by now and I think we may have contributed in quite a large way to their bank balance. Our house is packed with games, toys, duvet covers, DVDs etc. all bearing the popular pink pig. With the summer holidays here we were looking for somewhere to take my daughters for a fun day out, so of course Paultons Family Theme Park which includes Peppa Pig World was an obvious choice. So off we went down the M27 with a picnic and plenty of sun cream in the boot of the car. After being directed into a parking space by Paultons staff we made our way to the entrance and you can probably guess where my daughters wanted to visit first; Peppa Pig World. First up I joined Caitlin and Alyssa on Grandpa Pig's boat ride. I loved watching all the parents in the line using their best distraction techniques to keep their little ones occupied until they reached the front of the queue. Peppa Pig World has a really happy feel to it and a great atmosphere. It’s obvious a lot of thought went into making this a magical experience for young children. There are plenty of large figurines of the characters dotted around the park and the theme tune is boomed through the air. Peppa Pig and her younger brother George also made an appearance in the form of Paultons Park staff dressed up, which filled my daughters and every child near with a huge amount of excitement. A trip to the Peppa Pig gift shop almost caused my daughters to burst with glee, although it turned out we already own much of the contents, but it was pleasing to see items were not overpriced. After enjoying a few more rides we headed for the main Paultons Park area where the rides are a little faster and Caitlin spotted the Dragon roundabout which is advertised as “The spin of your life”. It seems she didn’t inherit her dads travel sickness and came off the ride wanting another go. Although most rides require queuing, staff seem to be excellent at keeping things moving and getting you on that ride as quick as possible. If you’re going to Paultons Park this summer my tips would be… take a picnic as there are plenty of grassed area in the shade and you’ll avoid any queued in the restaurants and café. Bring your child's swimming costume for the excellent Water Kingdom, the shrieks of excitement from all the children proved this is a must go part of the park. Finally, get there early, with so much to do and so much fun to be had, allow a whole day.

Tuesday 23rd July

There is an unwelcome bug going around and I can you tell its current location. I’m not talking about a lonely rogue cockroach that is making his way around Portsmouth scaring members of the public with its six hairy legs and its ugly little body, but the kind of bug inside your body that makes you feel rotten and it is currently residing inside my house. My daughter Caitlin had the usual symptoms of a bug invasion; high temperature, tiredness, body aches etc. Luckily there was no vomiting, well that was until we had to make a short journey across Portsmouth in my car. I was in the front seat driving and Caitlin was behind me in her child car seat when suddenly I heard that horribly retching sound coming from Caitlin’s direction. I obviously couldn’t turn around straight away as I was driving but the smell that wafted up my nose told me everything I needed to know. Fortunately Caitlin has now recovered and is well again, unfortunately the smell of vomit is still in my car despite several attempts to eradicate it. Any suggestions gratefully received.
There are certain points in your life that make you feel like a grown up. Most of the time this is a nice feeling to have but what about when that feeling stretches a bit further and you not only feel like a grown up but an old grown up? Of course having children instantly makes you feel like you have left the time of your life that is care free and simple, but it’s as my children are growing up, my interactions with them are making me feel  older than I am. Basically, I have a sneaking suspicion that I am turning into my parents. Not that this is a bad thing necessarily, my parents brought me up very well, but I am now repeating sentences to my children that they said to me, it makes me feel old. This happens mostly when I am telling my daughters not to do something and I am transported back more than twenty years to when I was a young lad and my mother or father was reprimanding me for my bad behaviour. I found an article online which suggests that answering five simple questions can determine whether you have the traits that mean you are turning into your parents. The first question asks if you tidy the house before guests arrive. My answer to that is Yes, just like my mum did when I was a boy and just like she still does today. Next question, Do you turn the lights off in your house obsessively? Of course I do, wanting to keep the electricity company’s profits as low as possible and of course do my bit for the planet, just like my dad did when I was a boy. Question number three asks if you find supermarket offers irresistible? Not as much as my mum liked her buy one get one frees or buy two and save, but if it’s half price because it’s best before is today's date, that is what is for dinner tonight. Next, are you happy to spend more on things if you know they’ll last? Without a doubt. Just like my dad taught me, you get what you pay for. The final question asks if you get annoyed when you need to write something down but someone has moved the house biro from it’s usual place. Yes I do, just like my dad did if someone moved the “phone pen”.  One question seems to be missing though, do you say to your children at least once a day Have you tidied your bedroom? Yes, Just like my mum did when she’d bring up my washing and couldn’t see my carpet for all the mess. But I feel safe in the knowledge that one day when my children have children, they’ll answer yes to all these questions too. 

Tuesday 16th July

In a world of austerity, double dip recessions and cuts to pretty much everything, we’re all trying to be careful with our money. It’s never been more important to run your household like a business and count every penny that comes in and goes out. That means my daughters don’t always get what they ask for.  But even though you and I might be cutting costs and putting luxuries to one side it seems there is one group that doesn’t mind keeping the purse strings permanently untied. That group are called the Grandparents. A recent study found that eighty nine per cent of all grandparents acknowledge that they spoil their grandchildren. I fondly remember when I was younger and I would visit my grandparents and a choice of chocolate bars would be waiting for myself and my sister to choose from and a visit to my great grandparents would always result in a pound coin being placed in the palm of my hand as I was leaving their home which would buy me a pretty big bag of penny mix ups from the local corner shop. The same survey also found that grandparents get a great amount of satisfaction in spending not only time but also money on their children’s children. Put simply grandparents spoil their grandchildren because it makes them happy and of course the recipient is also happy too. What child would say no to a trip to the park, followed by some shopping in the city centre to choose a toy followed by a big bag of sweets and chocolate? The answer is no child would say no. One day when I become a grandparent, which I hope is a long time to come, I imagine I’ll be exactly the same. By the time you reach the grandparent role, you’ve done all the heavy lifting, you’ve raised your children, you’ve done the discipline and now it’s time to have some fun and enjoy the good bits of spending time with children without worrying if your actions will affect or mould their personality. But quick look on the internet and you’ll find parenting blogs and websites that pose questions like “How do you tackle grandparents that spoil your child”. In my opinion no tackling is required. Grandparents who spoil their grandchildren are simply a way of life that has been in place forever and I have no intention of getting in the way of the happiness it brings. I’m there to be the tough one, not them. When you’re an adult there is no place like home, but when you are a child there is no place like home, except nanny and granddads.

The last few weeks the rest of the UK were probably jealous of us here on the South Coast, as we’ve had the best weather in the country - Sunshine, warm temperatures and lots of it. After what felt like the longest winter ever it feels like summer has finally arrived. But of course with great power, or great sunshine, comes great responsibility, so you feel like you have to get out and about and enjoy the great weather whilst we have it. Especially with two daughters who seem to get cabin fever with too much time indoors. But on one sunny day last weekend it seemed the traffic was against us. A quick check showed long delays on the M27, A3 and the A27 as people were heading for the sunshine days out like West Witterings beach and New Forest. So we decided to stay closer to home and with a bag containing sun lotion and snacks we headed for Milton Common, a beautiful part of Portsmouth but often underused. A lovely day with no traffic jams, no looking for a parking space and no sitting in a hot car.

Tuesday 9th July

I told you last month how I’d found an app for my smartphone that I recommend be downloaded by every parent with young children. When I was younger a colouring in book and some crayons would keep me occupied but it seems today’s children and in particular my children have higher expectations and technological needs that require satisfying. The app is called Zoodles Kid Mode and it basically lets your children play with your smartphone without the need for supervision as they are locked into the app and cannot access any other part of your phone. It lets them paint on your phone without the need for real life messy paint, they can also play games with well-known TV characters such as Barney the purple dinosaur and Dora the Explorer and they can be read well known kids books too. All without accidentally calling your boss or changing your phones language to French. But there is one thing the app doesn’t do, stop your child dropping your much loved expensive phone on a hard concrete floor. Use of my phone requires supervision again, back to square one.
There is one thing that every new parent eagerly awaits and that is the first word that comes out of your child’s mouth. Every Dad hopes it is something that vaguely resembles the word ‘dada’ and every mum hopes it vaguely resembles the word ‘mamma’. I have two daughters and once words started coming out of their mouth no one could stop them and they both now fit into the category known as chatterbox. It’s interesting how in today’s society a lot of emphasis is put on children and their vocabulary but in reality it’s actually really difficult for them to not learn new words and sentences. They learn by imitation and they are hearing people talk all day every day in almost every situation and their young minds are processing the English language whether it be from their parents, from strangers in the queue at the supermarket or from their favourite shows on the television.  Of course the language we use is English but I’ve noticed that Americanisms have been sneaking in to our vocabulary and are starting to be used by my eldest daughter Caitlin. It’s not just my daughter but as a society we are starting to use words and phrases more commonly used on the other side of the Atlantic. Recently when I was in a well-known coffee shop I noticed the people in front of me in the queue were requesting their chosen beverage in a way more suited to Central Perk coffee house in the TV show Friends. Instead of “please may I have a medium coffee” it was “can I get a regular coffee” which in an American accent sounds quite cool and straight from Hollywood but in an English accent sounds a tad impolite and insincere. Television executives have also started replacing a word used here for decades with the American way of saying it. When the advert comes on promoting the new series of The X factor the word “series” will be omitted for the word “season”. When you watch trailers at the cinema they’ll announce the film is released in the “fall” instead of “Autumn”. But of course languages evolve and shift as time moves on and they are decided on by the people that speak them. Although I might wince when someone says “my bad” instead of “my mistake”, it really doesn’t matter. But for a reason that I have no explanation for, there is one American word that makes me more than wince when my daughter uses it and that is the twenty sixth letter of the alphabet. Not helped by the constant TV adverts for the new Brad Pitt film ‘World War Z’. It’s not pronounced “zee”, it’s pronounced “zed”.

Tuesday 2nd July

Is it possible to enjoy tasty food at a restaurant, whilst enjoying the ambiance and atmosphere, whilst in the company of young children? You might think yes, if the restaurant is McDonalds. But what if you’re not in the mood for a burger and fries and you’d like to go to an eatery where you don’t have to stand in line for your food and you will actually be served by a waiter or waitress?  Thinking back to before I was a father to my two daughters, when being seated in a restaurant I wouldn’t be too pleased if I was placed next to a table with unruly and loud young children. Every time this happened the common theme was the parents at the table next to me were stressed out by their children who were misbehaving because they were bored and I was trying to hold a conversation with whoever I was eating with whilst anarchy was going on a few feet from my well done steak. A few years on and the fact that I am now a parent, I understand that the situation could have been so different if the restaurant had a more child friendly approach. By this I don’t mean installing a ball pool and a bouncy castle, but just a few small changes can make the experience so much better for both diners with children and those without. In March this year the Harvester chain won the best family restaurant award in the Tommy baby friendly awards 2013. The organisers say that these awards recognise companies that go above and beyond to reduce the stresses for mums and dads.  So with my partner Serena, two year old Alyssa and three year old Caitlin, we made our way to the Harvester at the Great Salterns Mansion to see what all the fuss is about. On arrival we were seated at a table for four and I instantly noticed that we were the only table with young children, although more would arrive later. So the pressure was on, I didn’t want the other diners to leave thinking “It was good until a family with young children arrived”. The girls were presented with the kids menu, supplying smaller portions. On the reverse of the menu were puzzles and pictures to colour in with the pot of crayons the waitress delivered to our table, this kept them busy whilst waiting for the food. I was also impressed when the food arrived and the waitress spoke directly to my daughters explaining that their plate may be hot. The portions size on their plates was just right and they both enjoyed their meal. They left the restaurant happy clutching two helium balloons given to them by the waitress. Little child friendly things that made the experience so much better with no disapproving looks from other diners.

You know when you’ve been meaning to do something for ages, but you just never seem to get round to doing it. Being a father to two young children this situation happens a lot, as every day with a two and a three year old can take unexpected turns and eat up a lot of your time. The thing I’ve been meaning to do for ages is buy some blackout blinds or curtains for my youngest daughter Alyssa’s bedroom. How do you convince them that it’s bedtime when it’s still light outside and sunshine is beaming into their bedroom? To be fair, Alyssa soon gives in as the tiredness gets too much and she drifts off to the land of nod. It’s the mornings that seem to be a problem, 4:30am should never be seen by anyone ever. But with the lighter mornings, as soon as one single ray of sunlight sneaks its way past Alyssa’s curtains her eyes ping open and she is ready for the day to start. But with the longest day of the year having been and gone, the nights and mornings will now get darker, thank goodness.

Tuesday 25th June

There is one word that is often used in a parent and child relationship. It is really quick on the lips and very easy to say. The word will come from both generations, you’ll say it to your child and they will say it back to you. This word can sometimes cause disharmony and create tantrums, upset and anger, mostly with the child but sometimes with the parent too. If you have children you’ve probably said it a thousand times and maybe more. The word I am talking about is ‘No’. There are alternatives to using this overused word such as supplying your child with an explanation why something can’t be done or giving them a choice. For example if they want a chocolate bar but you want them to have a healthy snack, let them feel in control with a choice of a banana or an apple. But recently when Caitlin asked if she could have a pet budgie when we already have a pet dog and a pet rabbit, there was no explanation or choice, just a clear No.
It’s an age old question, are woman better at multitasking than men? When you’re a parent, doing more than one thing at a time is just as important as feeding your children, you have to do it or things will go terribly wrong. I think I’m right in saying that there is a common belief that woman are much better at multitasking then men and can do three tasks at once just as well as if they were just concentrating on one of those tasks. Well new research says that the popular assumption that woman can juggle more jobs at once than men is wrong and both sexes are equal when it comes to dividing their attention. Studies show any differences between men and woman to be small, with women better in some circumstances and men in others. So what do you think? Are woman the ultimate multi-taskers or can men do it just as well as the opposite sex? I’d love to say I’d agree with this new research and that it would be sexist to say that either men or woman have an advantage when it comes to doing more than one thing at once, but I don’t. I actually think woman are the ultimate multi-taskers. When I was a young lad I would witness my mum act as referee when my brother, sister and I would be arguing over the television remote control, whilst at the same time ironing our school uniforms ready for Monday morning intertwined with chopping the vegetables for the Sunday roast dinner and preparing a joint of meat. I fear if that were me doing all of those tasks at once, there would be an iron shaped burnt hole in my favourite shirt and I would be on my way to the local hospitals accident and emergency department after cutting my finger instead of the swede. Oh and upon opening the oven, once the smoke bellowing out of the cooker had cleared I would be greeted by a shrivelled, burnt and pathetic looking joint of beef. Fast forward a few years, I now live with three females, my partner Serena and my two daughters, and I’m now witnessing the same multitasking skills in them that I saw in my mum. Caitlin aged 3 years old can jump on her trampoline whilst eating a lolly whilst telling me about her day at nursery. Alyssa aged two can watch Peppa Pig on TV, whilst having a poo in her nappy whilst drawing pictures with her crayons. I watch in awe as my partner Serena multitasks every waking hour, performing endless combinations of chores and tasks. I admit I am rubbish at multitasking, but living with three woman who do it so well, do I really need to worry?

Tuesday 18th June

One night last week panic struck the Hayden household. It was evening and my two daughters had just changed into their pyjamas and a few drawn out yawns meant they were ready to jump into their beds and get comfy in their duvets for roughly twelve hours of sleep. The bedtime routine seemed to be going smoothly. Off we travelled up the stairs and firstly into Alyssa’s room where she found her monkey teddy which will be her companion until morning and got into bed. One down, one to go. Next Caitlin, as usual jumped into bed and asked to be tucked in, but then she noticed something wasn’t right, something was missing. Her teddy, which she has cuddled in bed since she was a new born, was nowhere to be seen. Let the panic begin. Caitlin wouldn’t settle without her beloved teddy so it had to be found. The house was turned upside down and I was considering calling the missing persons helpline but thankfully the soft toy had mistakenly been out in the toy box with all the others. Panic over.

A study by netmums.com, a parenting website, says that TV dads are giving real life fathers a bad name. When they say TV dads, they mean characters like Daddy Pig from pre-school show Peppa Pig, Homer Simpson from American show The Simpsons and Fred Flintstone from classic kids TV show The Flintstones. Apparently these shows along with how fathers are represented in books and adverts are damaging children’s perceptions of fatherhood by showing them as lazy, childish and stupid. According to this study, almost a third of parents (twenty eight per cent) surveyed see this as a form of subtle discrimination against dads whilst a further eighteen per cent see it as a more serious problem making children think all dads are useless. So let’s look closer at this terrible TV dad who is giving all of us dads a bad name called Homer Simpson. Firstly let me say it has never entered my mind whilst watching The Simpsons that this fictional cartoon character could be influencing what my children think of me as a father. Homer has a confused and complicated relationship with his children. He often reprimands his son Bart but in a lot of episodes the two are seen to be allies and sharing an adventure together. Homers daughter Lisa is a talented girl, often overlooked by Homer, but when it is pointed out to him he makes up for it and shows himself to be a caring father. Like when he gave up his ride on the Duff blimp and used the money to enter Lisa in a beauty pageant just so she could feel better about herself and improve her self-esteem. Homer loves doughnuts and is a slave to his stomach, he also loves beer and can often be seen at Moe’s Tavern. He is often seen as lazy and stupid but ultimately with his heart in the right place and someone who would do anything for his family. My view on Homer Simpson is that he is one of the funniest characters on television and just writing about him makes me want to turn on the TV and watch an episode. Note I used the word Character, he isn’t real. We as adults may look into the character and analyse his traits, good and bad, but I believe that children do not do this. They will see it for what it is, a TV character on a TV show. A child's perception of fatherhood is never ever going to be moulded by the likes of Homer Simpson or Daddy Pig no matter how many times they are seen on TV. It will be moulded by one person only and that is the childs actual father.

Tuesday 11th June

What is the one thing that David Beckham and myself have in common? If you’re looking at my photo at the top of this page you’re probably thinking - a man in his prime, strikingly handsome, other men want to be him and women want to be with him, we obviously have our good looks in common. But I’ll stop you right there as this is not what I’m talking about, although of course you would be absolutely right in your assumption. Maybe you’re wondering if I have world class football skills and I can bend it just as good as Beckham? Well, I did play for Inter Milan. No not the professional Italian football club based in Milan who have spent their entire history in the top flight of Italian football and have won thirty domestic trophies. I was defender for the under elevens Portsmouth football team Inter Milandport, clever name eh? We were never top flight, but I did win a Trophy at the end of the season, engraved with ‘Most Improved player’. I think this meant I was completely rubbish at the start of the season and a bit better but still rubbish by the end. So no, we most definitely do not have our football playing skills in common. Last week the former England Captain and dad revealed that there is a big difference between his three sons and his only daughter. He says that as the boys get older he will allow them to be independent but joked that daughter Harper will be like Rapunzel – up in the tower away from any harm and by harm he meant boys. He is horrified by the thought of his little girl who is still only twenty two months old one day having a boyfriend. I only have two daughters but with I agree with his feelings of over protectiveness when thinking about my daughters one day dating, I fear that even if this boyfriend is intelligent, well presented and likeable I may still blurt out a series of questions on our first meeting such as “Why are you interested in dating my daughter”, “What do you plan to be doing five years from now” and the all-important “Why do you, of all the people in this world, deserve to date my daughter” and then glare at him until I get satisfactory answers. Of course when the times comes, not wanting to embarrass my daughter, I’ll probably just shake his hand and give him a look that means “Treat her nice”. Thinking of my daughters dating one day horrifies me too and that is the one thing that myself and David Beckham have in common, well, two things if you count the handsome good looks.

Being a dad involves doing some disgusting things, things you never knew existed in those days before you were responsible for a human life. Even if you were aware of these things, it was only in an observation capacity with no involvement needed. Of course the first is changing a baby’s nappy, that smell never ever gets easier. Then there is the time your child gets sick and they vomit all over the sofa and it gets into every orifice available and your left cleaning the sofa for weeks to come trying to get rid of that smell. Slightly worse is when the vomit lands on you and you are left picking out what looks like pieces of carrot from your favourite shirt. But I have since found out that there is something else that comes in higher on the disgusting scale. This is when your child, whilst barefoot, stands in dog muck. It is by far the worst smell that can ever waft up your nose, that will make you reach when cleaning it off your child's foot. Well, so I’m told. I was at work when this unfortunate incident happened so it was left to my partner Serena to deal with. I didn’t laugh. Promise.

Tuesday 4th June

Having children opens up a brand new chapter in every new parents life. Once your child becomes a citizen of Planet Earth things will never be the same again. They literally take over everything, from your sleep pattern to the back seat of your car. I’ve also found out recently that they also like to take over your mobile phone. Of course these days it’s more smart than just a phone, it’s a camera, camcorder, it provides internet access, it plays music and more. When I first realised my daughter Caitlin was taking a shine to my precious piece of technology, I bought her a pretend toy phone. This worked for a while but she soon realised that it wasn’t the same as Daddy's. So reluctantly I let her loose on my phone, but not before downloading the educational ‘Zoodles Kids Mode’ which locks her into the app and means she can’t accidentally make a call or text or access any other part of the phone. I just need to teach her not to eat an ice lolly at the same time… is there an app to stop your phone getting sticky?

Last week I went back to school. My eldest daughter Caitlin turns four years old in August which means she is starting school this September. Just a few days after receiving the email which gave confirmation of which Portsmouth infant school she will be attending, we were invited to a parents evening to have a look around Caitlin’s new daytime home for the next few years and to also meet her new teacher. Arriving at the school, my partner Serena and I were told to wander around and explore the school, which we did. Although I’m sure classrooms were given an extra special clean before us parents arrived, I was really impressed at how clean the place was, especially as it is home to over a hundred under seven years olds every day. The school as expected looked just like you would expect it too, tiny tables and chairs where the children sit down to do their work, lots of paintings by the young ones stuck with blu-tac to the walls and boxes containing milk carton lids and crepe paper for arts and crafts. Then we invited into the school gymnasium where chairs were lined up, thankfully adult size, for a presentation from the staff and the head teacher. We were told all about the school, curriculum and of course the all-important school rules. It got me thinking about those unwritten parent/child rules that everyone adheres too but aren’t often talked about. These rules were imposed on my parents by me when I was at school so I should be prepared for when my daughter enforces these. For example, all parents need to know the transportation rule. When arriving you must to park at least a road away from the school, it would be the end of the world if other kids saw you arriving at school with them. Then there is the pet names rule. If you have a pet name for your child, maybe used as a term of endearment, this is for home use only and must never be used in front of his or her friends as this will cause teasing and possible ridicule in the playground. You must also be aware of the clean face rule. If when arriving at school you notice as bit of breakfast remains on the face of your child, don’t try and wipe it off, just make them aware and they can do it themselves. The most important rule that any parent should know is the performing rule. Never ever sing or dance when in the company of your child and their friends, especially if it’s to a current chart song. Parents are too old to know what is in the charts and this will embarrass your child forever. Of course these rules probably wont kick in until the teenage years so until then, whilst I can, I will of course do all these things.

Tuesday 28th May

When was the last time you told a lie? Maybe you didn’t think of it as a lie, more like bending the truth? Well I’m happy to admit that I tell the odd porkpie from time to time and if you, like me, have young children, I bet you do to. Apparently most parents tell lies to their children as a way to change their behaviour. The most common is to threaten to walk away and leave them alone in public if they do not behave. Of course no good parent would follow through with this but it’s a tactic I’ve used when my daughters don’t want to leave the park and it works. Just last week when driving past McDonalds Caitlin requested a Happy Meal for her dinner. I told her that the restaurant was closed, of course it wasn’t. My favourite untruth was recently when my girls didn’t want to eat the sweet corn on their plate... but once I told them both that it was actually yellow baked beans, they ate the lot.
Along with supermarket shelf stacker, cinema popcorn seller and radio station presenter, I now have a new job I can type onto my CV. I haven’t got any qualifications in my new role and I haven’t actually been doing it for long but with it being a round the clock job that starts from the moment my eyes open in the morning and goes on sometimes for the entire day I feel like an expert in the field. My new job is extremely hard work but sadly doesn’t include any perks of a normal job like a pension, holiday allowance and a monthly wage into my bank account. So what is my new job, which sometimes breaks me out into a sweat and leaves me feeling like I need to head straight to the airport for an unplanned relaxing holiday but doesn’t give me a pay slip to open and admire? Well I am now a referee.  My duties in this role include ensuring fair play at all times with a neutral point of view, addressing frustration and intervening early with a calming influence, solving any conflicts that arise and being prepared to show the red card to any behaviour deemed unacceptable. But in my new role of authority I’m not working with two rival football teams, I don’t even own a whistle or a stopwatch anyway, but I am refereeing two opposing teams. They are Team Caitlin and Team Alyssa, both teams consist of one player they have the rivalry similar to that of Pompey and Saints. My daughters aged two and three years old, like most siblings, don’t seem to see eye to eye on many things. The slightest little thing can create a war zone in the Hayden household. Like which chair they sit on at the breakfast table, even though both chairs are exactly the same and both will give exactly the same breakfast experience, it can cause a squabble. Or sometimes a book can be the cause of discontent, with both of them pulling at one side of the book with cries of “I had it first”. This is where I come in to try and restore calm to the situation. Every situation is not the same though, sometimes it’s better to leave them to it and work it out for themselves but sometimes it’s better to sit down and chat to them and sometimes detective work is needed to see who instigated the argument. What I find most interesting when watching them squabble, argue and fight with each other is the fact that as they get older the sibling bond will be the most strongest and will probably outlast all others. So even though it’s a struggle now and might be for a few years to come, one day the squabbling will stop... hopefully.

Tuesday 21st May

My three year old daughter paid me a compliment last week. It was dinner time and after eating her meal and looking full and satisfied she declared “Daddy you are the best cook ever”. You’d think that I’d be happy with this piece of appreciation thrown towards me by Caitlin, especially as in reality her mum is a much better cook than me but to be honest it didn’t fill me with glee because on that particular meal time, minimum effort was put into preparing and making what sat on her Peppa Pig plate. Throwing turkey dinosaurs and potato letters on a baking tray and placing them in the oven didn’t exactly break me out into a sweat. I found that my daughters compliment was very revealing into what type of meal she prefers, as when she receives a plate full of carrots, broccoli and cabbage the appreciation isn’t exactly flowing in my direction, in fact it’s not flowing at all. Interestingly though, the promise of a tasty chocolate ice cream after her meal if she eats her vegetables tends to do the trick.
Have you ever asked someone a question and then regretted asking it in the first place? You know, when the answer has left you even more confused and bamboozled than before you posed the question. That situation happened to me recently. My youngest daughter Alyssa has just turned two years old and reaching that milestone means it’s time to try and get rid of the nappies and introduce that child’s toilet commonly known as the potty into her life. So the potty training has begun. It’s not like it’s the first time we’ve done it. Less than two years ago it was my eldest daughter Caitlin who was the student of potty school and after a small amount of scepticism and reluctance from her to sit on the small white toilet in the middle of the living room she soon took to it like a duck to water and the potty training was complete. Well it appears that my two daughters are very different human beings and Alyssa is turning out to be a very stubborn student indeed. No amount of encouragement and persuasion seems to be doing the trick and it’s almost like she is superman and the potty is kryptonite and the two cannot mix. So I decided to turn to that fountain of all knowledge we all turn to when in need of assistance called Google. I simply typed into the search engine “potty training” and 0.18 seconds later I was given a choice of twenty four million websites. After clicking on the website at the top of the page I started to regret asking the question because this adventure known as potty training seemed to be a bit more complicated than I’d thought. According to the website the first step is to check that your child is actually ready to be potty trained, for example does she tell you when she has messed her nappy? The answer to that is yes, although my nose usually tells me before she does. The second step is to check you have the correct equipment. What? I’m not planning to climb Mount Everest, surely a potty is the only equipment needed? No it seems not, apparently without a potty chair, pull up pants, trainer pants, toilet steps and training seats, I’m hopelessly unprepared. Thirdly, I need to create a ‘relationship’ between Alyssa and her potty and they need to become ‘friends’. The best way to do this is give the potty a name like ‘Polly Potty’. Finally, as children learn by copying it is suggested you demonstrate how it’s done. This is where I hand over the responsibility of potty training to their mum.

Tuesday 14th May

We’ve had a few days of great weather recently and with hopefully more sunshine and warm temperatures on the way I feel I need to sit my two daughters down and teach them Ice cream etiquette. Like most children they love to eat the cold sticky stuff on a hot day but as I’ve learnt recently there is a right and a wrong way to do it. The first big don’t that they need to learn is when you are holding an Ice cream cone with a large dollop of chocolate ice cream at it’s peak, don’t lean in to give your daddy a cuddle, as this will leave a large brown sticky mark on his nicely ironed shirt. Another important thing to keep in mind is a dropped ice cream is a ruined ice cream and should not be eaten, although two year old Alyssa didn’t seem to mind the taste of grass and mud topping. Finally, make sure you lick any melting Ice cream that is escaping down the side of the cone, wasted Ice Cream is the biggest crime.

I was just ten years old when my teacher Mrs Atkins set our class the task to visit a library and research Queen Victoria and the Victorian era. So off I went with my dad to the Portsmouth central library, which I remember thinking was huge and a whole world of its own and I came home holding many books featuring the unprepossessing monarch.  Since that day I have not set foot in another library and the only reason I can put it down to is being part of the internet generation and what I might have used the library for previously I now use my broadband connection, smartphone or EReader. Now, almost two decades later I was back in the library. My daughter Caitlin loves the Roald Dahl film Matilda, in which the little girl visits the library. We’ve watched it so many times I probably now know it word for word. In the film the friendly librarian tells Matilda that she can have a library card and take as many books home as she likes. It was after one viewing of this film Caitlin asked if she could visit the world of books. She loves to read and to be read to so I wondered why I’d never thought of it before. So a few days later we got in the car and drove to the Beddow Library in Milton, a place I had driven past probably hundreds of times but had never thought to enter. Upon entering the library I stereotypically expected to be greeted by a softly spoken female librarian at the reception desk and that’s exactly what happened. In fact there were two of them who made us feel very welcome and issued us both with our very own library cards. I was surprised at how different the atmosphere was compared to my last visit all those years ago. I didn’t feel the need to whisper or keep a check on Caitlin's volume, especially as there was a parent and child group in progress which instantly projected a fun feeling and made Caitlin feel at ease in what I’d expected to be an adult environment.  Also young people are well and truly catered for at the Beddow Library with a large section dedicated to childrens books which Caitlin enjoyed wading through looking for something to read. After choosing which books to take home with us I was also pleasantly surprised at how technologically advanced the place is. No longer do you hand the books over to the librarian to be stamped with the date of return. Instead you just place the books into a scanner which picks up the microchip stuck to each book and prints you out a receipt and you’re done. Caitlin enjoyed her trip the library and is looking forward to returning soon.

Tuesday 7th May

I haven’t attended a schools parents evening for over thirteen years. Then I was sixteen year old schoolboy with teenage spots and a dodgy nineties centre parting haircut and it was me that was the subject of conversation between my teachers and my parents. Last week I attended a new parents evening, the big difference was we weren’t talking about my development or my behaviour but instead it was all about my daughter Caitlin at her nursery. I think I was more anxious this time round wondering what the verdict would be on her behaviour, her ability to mix with other children and her willingness to take part in nursery activities. I entered the world of little people and was directed to a tiny chair that was designed for a small child and certainly not a six foot man. For ten minutes I was told all about Caitlin’s time at nursery. Thank fully it was all good and I was even given some of her artwork to take home. I can’t actually make out what she has painted but it takes pride of place on the fridge.

I don’t really enjoy spending time with my children – certainly not my words but the words of Toby Young who is an author, a TV personality and a journalist. He recently wrote an article in The Telegraph titled “Why Men don’t want it all”. He claims that men's darkest secret is that they want to spend less time with their children, not more. I actually found this an interesting read and a fascinating insight into the mind of another working dad – especially as I have found it’s still not the done thing for dads to share their fatherly experiences with each other, even in the year 2013. To be fair, when going for a pint with a friend I doubt they really want to hear about how the latest round of potty training is going or how I juggle work and being a good dad. In the article Toby Young explains how when he is asked if he worries that his successful career is taking him away from spending more time with his four children , he always answers no. In fact he believes it is the other way around as he worries spending more time with his children means less time concentrating on his career. He openly admits that he would sacrifice some of the pleasures he experiences with his children, like taking them swimming at the weekend and sitting down with them at meal times, for more time at the office - seeing time at work as a refuge and a break from home. He goes on to say that he thinks this is true of most men with young children. Whilst I think it is a very brave thing to not only admit but also write about in a national newspaper, I wonder how much of the article was tongue in cheek and written  to generate a response, like a lot of articles these days – therefore generating publicity for the newspaper (Samantha brick, anyone?). But if there really is truth in his words, I can understand where he is coming from, but cannot agree with him. I understand that great parenting is not only measured in the time we spend with our little ones and there is far more to it. But the first years of our children’s life are, without sounding like a narrator from a Disney movie, truly magical. Don’t get me wrong, when a two year olds temper tantrum lasts all day, getting in the car to go to work can be a well-earned relief, but I want to take in everything my children give to me, the good, the bad and the exhausting, because I know in a blink of an eye they’ll be grown up. It was a great article on the mind-set of working dads, but of course not all working dads think the same.

Tuesday 30th April

In October I will for the second time be taking part in this year’s Great South run. With just six months to go a recent experience showed me I really need to step up my training. Home alone with my youngest daughter Alyssa I decided we would go and visit her great grandparents who live just over two miles from us. As my partner Serena had the car at work I decided to put Alyssa in her pushchair and use my legs to get us there. So after packing up a bag with a few nappies and wipes for Alyssa, she was strapped into to her transport and off we went. Two miles didn’t seem like a lot before we left but as I was walking through Portsmouth breaking out into a sweat and feeling my heart pumping in my chest whilst getting slightly out of breath it certainly felt like a long distance. The method of transport changed on the way home from legs to taxi. If you see a red faced six foot tall English man, wearing a tracksuit and running trainers looking out of breath, show me some support.
A headline in a national newspaper last week, in large bold capital letters shouted “Why your second baby will get second-best of everything: Fifth of mothers spend less on child number two”. There are two reasons why I object to this article, firstly due to the use of the word ‘mother’, I don’t want to be picky but surely this should be swapped for ‘Parents’. For the sake of making a hands on dad feel less annoyed I will swap these words around when referring to the article. Apparently a first born child demands the best of everything and parents will spend a fortune on designer outfits, top of the range dinky shoes and the best toys you can buy. For baby number one the cheapest item will never be purchased, for example when in a store looking for a new cot for the new addition to the family, if your shopping as a new parent you will never go for the cheapest option, even if it meets your needs. With your first child on the way, you will also spend you hard earned cash on unnecessary baby items such as shoes which rarely get worn by new-borns and would just gather dust and toys which a week old baby can only look at. Also essential items will nearly always be the best money can buy with your first child, like brand nappies which can be twice as expensive as other that are available and most wouldn’t even consider getting the supermarkets own brand wet wipes. When it comes to money parents will spend £200 less on their second child and the main reason for this is the sibling to the first born will be wearing and using second hand goods and you realise you don’t have to spend a fortune.  So the other reason I object to this article and it’s attention grabbing headline is because it tells me nothing new. Of course you spend less on your second child. We jokingly call Alyssa, our second child, the hand me down kid, because a lot of her clothes and shoes were previously worn by her big sister Caitlin. Imagine what a waste it would have been to throw all of these clothes away and think of the money we have saved by not having to buy brand new clothes. Also with our youngest daughter Alyssa, we realised we didn’t need to buy the most expensive nappies or the most expensive wipes as the cheaper supermarket own brands do exactly the same job and sometimes better at half the cost. Of course this doesn’t mean we love our second child any less than her older sister. Infact I think I may love her a little more, as the money I’ve saved can buy me that new smartphone I’ve wanted for ages.

Tuesday 23rd April

Last week I told you how I was put on the spot when my three year old daughter Caitlin asked me where clouds come from. This was followed by the question “Why are clouds white”. I’ve always thought I would do well and possibly win a nice amount of money on a TV quiz shows and have always been tempted to apply to take part, but with even more questions being fired at me by my daughter I’m questioning  my general knowledge skills. After being somewhat stumped on the cloud question, my specialist subject is certainly not meteorology and as I’ve since found out nor would it be the human body. “Daddy, why do we have shoulders” was the next question Caitlin fired at me. After some research I found out the main purpose of this body part is movement, it’s the most mobile joint in our body. But when I had Caitlin looking at me expectantly waiting for an answer I just went with “So your coat doesn’t fall off”.

As I still don’t feel brave enough to travel on an aeroplane with a one year old and a three year old just yet, fearing a toddler meltdown forty five thousand feet in the air and being asked by the pilot to leave at the next cloud, a UK holiday was decided for a recent short break away. I haven’t got anything to worry about really, as I’m proud to say my children are on the whole well behaved, but with a UK holiday I can be at my destination in much less time than it takes to travel to the airport, go through airport security all whilst hoping there are no delays to our flight, then once you arrive at the foreign airport there is usually another journey on a coach before the holiday can begin. Not wanting the hassle a foreign holiday brings I started researching potential UK destinations on the internet and after checking review sites we decided to book ourselves some time away at a holiday park in Sussex, not too far away but far enough for it to feel like a holiday. We chose one of those long stretched out caravans, with the brochure promising a comfortable and quality holiday at an affordable price. After being woken up by three year old Caitlin shouting “Happy Holiday day mum and dad”, we packed up the car with probably way to much luggage and food for our 4 night stay and we set off. At the holiday park we were welcomed by staff who I’m guessing double up as the entertainment team because they were very enthusiastic, just like the presenters you see on children’s television programme. After getting settled in our accommodation and realising we had bought enough food to feed the whole holiday park for a month we decided to go and explore. First stop was the amusement arcade with lots of rides for my daughters. Although at one pound a time it got a little expensive. There was also a soft play area which made me want to be little again as it looked like so much fun. There was also one of those unbelievably addictive 2p coin pusher arcade machines. Now I’ve never been a gambler and don’t intend to become one but sitting on top of the hundreds of coins was a shiny pink money box that I was sure would drop down the hole after I’d inserted a handful of 2p’s. I hate to think how much money I put in that machine but Caitlin eventually got her shiny pink money box and my gambling days were over. Next stop was the indoor pool where splashing daddy was thought of as hilarious after which we went to feed the ducks by the lake. A brilliant holiday that, as always, went way too fast but gave us time together as a family, something everyone should make time for.

Tuesday 16th April

Where do clouds come from? That’s the question that was put to me by my three year old daughter, putting me on the spot and testing my general knowledge. In fact questions like this are now incredibly common. Caitlin is at the age where she is fascinated by the world around her and when she’s sees something that grabs her attention she often wants to know what it does, why it’s there and how it got there. Of course it’s up to Caitlin’s mum and me to feed her curious mind and provide her with the information she has requested. I instantly thought back to my school days when my teacher showed us a boiling kettle and told us that the steam coming out of the spout rises up to the sky and produces a cloud. I passed on this information to my daughter who responded with another question; “Why are clouds white?” What did parents do before the days of Google?

When I was at school I used to love the annual sports day. I didn’t have any aspiration to be a sports star and I certainly was not showing any signs of being the next David Beckham or Mo Farah, but it was a great day of being out of the classroom and in the sunshine. Ask any child whether they want to be in a stuffy room on a summers day learning their times tables or if they’d rather be out in the warm air on the school playground watching people running along with an egg on a spoon. The egg will always be the winner. I’ve always been tall and this is probably why my teachers decided to enter me for the hurdles race. So there I was on the start line waiting for the whistle that signalled I should start running. In front of me, to my left and right were a blur of parents who had come to watch their children make them proud. Straight ahead of me I could see the first hurdle I would have to use all my strength to leap over. I say hurdle, it wasn’t what you saw the Olympians jumping over last summer, but actually two traffic cones with a dent made at the peak so a bamboo stick would sit nicely on the top. As a waited, I glanced at my competitors either side of me and felt pretty confident I would be victorious as I was the tallest. The whistle blew and off we went. I didn’t win, I think I came in second place. I would have loved to have won and was probably a bit disappointed but I was happy I’d done it without knocking any bamboo sticks over and was quite pleased with my certificate congratulating me on being the runner up of the hurdle race 1993. Worryingly though, I’m reading that in some schools now there is no runner up, in fact there isn’t even a winner and there are certainly no losers. Apparently many schools are rewarding all pupils who take part and prizes are given to both winners and losers so that no one feels left out and no feelings are hurt. My personal view is that competition is good for children and that it can be a positive thing. We need rivals, if you want to compete with someone else you have to grow and get better and of course for someone to win someone also has to lose. If you have the right attitude you will turn your loss into something positive and gain from it. Competition leads to growth, so in the future I hope my daughters win at sports day, but I also hope sometimes they will lose too.

Tuesday 9th April

Something incredibly rare has been happening in the Hayden house over the last week. In fact so rare I think David Attenborough may want to come and film a documentary on this unlikely development. Why not? He’s put the spotlight on what seems like every species in the animal kingdom over the years so why not turn his attention to human children. The unimaginable occurrence that has taken place, for which I am truly grateful, is we have all had a lie in. I know, shocking isn’t it? Putting the clocks forward one hour as we entered British summer time seems to have had a strange effect on my two young daughters and if it continues I may have to plug in the alarm clock that hasn’t been used since Caitlin was born. For almost four years now, every morning, my daughters have awoken me from the land of nod with their noise and normally in the hour that begins with a six. I was shocked when I woke up recently and the hour began with an eight. I’m not complaining but getting two children bathed, fed and dressed and in their car seats in half an hour is not easy.
We now live in a world of emails, tweets and texts. When you want to invite your friends on a night out or a party, you no longer need to drop by their house and give them a piece of paper with a address or number to RSVP and you don’t even need pick up the phone and dial their number to see if they want to be on the guest list. Now it’s 2013 and we live in a world where you don’t need to talk to anyone ever. Need to invite friends to a party? Simple, just create an event on Facebook and invite all the friends who you want to come. They’ll receive the invite in their inbox and simply need to click whether they will attend or not. On the face of it this seems like a good thing, much simpler with less time consumed, but is it really a good thing? According to a recent article, modern technology is making us lazy in how we deal each other and we are horribly out of practice when it comes to face to face dealings with strangers. Put simply its stealing our manners, our social skills and making us less confident people. The workplace is apparently the biggest culprit with people preferring to send an email rather than talk to their colleague who is within earshot, something I have experienced many times. It was also revealed that people now have no problem having loud conversations on their mobile phone in places such as a normally quiet library, whilst at the checkout at the supermarket or even whilst eating their meal at a restaurant. We all know how annoying it is when you’re enjoying a film at the cinema that you’ve spent your hard earned cash on and you hear a mobile phone starts ringing, even worse when they stay in their seat and proceed to have a conversation, which I witnessed once.  So, as a parent, although I want my children to grow up using all the technology that is available to them I hope that this isn’t at the expense of their day to day social skills. Things like greeting people with a “hello”, making eye contact when having a conversation, answering questions when asked and speaking respectfully. I also hope later in life, if they were in a library they would choose to go outside to have a phone conversation and that they would respect the ‘quiet zone’ on the train – something that is rarely respected in my experience. But of course, as a parent I have to lead by example which includes always remembering to always say please and thank you. If I forget, I have my three year old daughter to remind me which she did recently, “Daddy you didn’t say thank you”. I don’t think I have anything to worry about.

Tuesday 2nd April

Are you sick of eating chocolate yet? I’m not. I love the sugary brown stuff and as a self-confessed chocoholic I could eat it for breakfast, lunch and dinner, which is why I love Easter. But since becoming a dad, this time of year puts me to the ultimate test. Apparently the average child has received one Easter egg from their parents and a further seven from family and friends. Too much chocolate for anyone but with a very large family, it looks like we have enough supply to last until Christmas. We’re in need of some more cupboard space to store the chocolate given to my daughters.  This is where I’m put to the test. When it comes to chocolate, if a craving comes along temptation can get the better of me and off to the fridge I go (cold chocolate is the best). So I have to resist tucking into my daughters Easter eggs when they are tucked up in bed. Or I could use it as the perfect opportunity to teach them how to share.
The 21st of this month will mark two years since my second daughter Alyssa entered this world. It was a sunny spring afternoon in 2011 when I was just about to jump in the car and leave for work when I got a phone call from my partner Serena who was shopping in the city centre. The contractions had started whilst standing in the queue. Less than four hours later Alyssa was born in the bedroom of our Portsmouth home on the bed I still sleep in every night. Then she was a helpless new-born baby who I’d stare at for hours mostly because I was amazed at how perfect and beautiful she was but also like all parents do, I would simply stare to check she was breathing by watching her tiny little chest moving up and down when she was asleep. Now nearly two years on I have a little girl who I still stare at in amazement at how perfect and beautiful she is, even when she has a face full of spaghetti bolognaise at dinner time and is chasing me around the room wanting a kiss. So with her second birthday coming up I want to celebrate the occasion and not let it pass unnoticed, but how? Well we could go to the local toy shop to buy some birthday presents? Like most toddlers she loves anything to do with Peppa Pig, so that is an easy option. A Google search for ‘Peppa Pig merchandise’ gives me 248,000 results, so there is plenty of choice. But does she really need more toys? The answer to this is a simple No. She has far too many as it is taking up room we don’t even have. The other option that has been put forward requires a little more time and effort. Well actually if I’m being a bit more realistic, it requires a lot more time and effort. Yes, send out the invites, blow up the balloons and order the cake, it’s party time in the Hayden house. To be honest, inviting a dozen nappy wearing, toy throwing toddlers into my clean and tidy house doesn’t fill me with a great amount of excitement. Infact, I can feel my stress level rising at just the thought of it. But toddlers are at a great age where they can start to enjoy a birthday party with their little friends so I think I’m going to go with the party idea and see it more as a challenge rather than a chore. So decision one is the food. Do we serve organic carrot and celery batons with a sweet potatoes dip followed by cucumber and humus sandwiches or do we just chuck some crisps in a big bowl and put some hot dogs in the microwave? Hmmmm, what do you think?

Tuesday 26th March

An empty plastic bottle and a toilet roll tube are just some of the things that my daughters have used as toys whilst their actual toys that cost time and money are sitting there unused. Last week I told you about how an empty box gave them hours of entertainment. Actually it’s quite nice to see that fun can be had without a decrease in my bank account. Well my daughters now have something new they like to play with that doesn’t cost the earth, but to be honest I’m not as happy about this one. They love to play with balloons, the perfect toy as it’s fun, portable and inexpensive. But balloons sometimes go pop and this is where the problem lies. Alyssa decided to use her balloon as a chair and you can guess what happened next. How do you explain to a one year old that a burst balloon can’t be put back together? Of course I blew a new one up for her which she was happy with, until that one popped. I must remember to buy a balloon pump, I’m feeling faint.
I’ve lost something and I’d appreciate it if you could help me find it. I’m even thinking of making a sign, you know the one you see taped to a lamp post with the word ‘lost’ written at the top in big bold letters to catch your attention. Normally below this is a photo of a dog or a cat with a phone number to call so if you spot the much loved missing pet you can reunite it with the owner. Although my sign will be slightly different to what you might usually see as my dog Ralph thankfully is not missing at all. On my sign in place of a dog or cat will be a photo of me. I’d probably be wearing my favourite going out shirt and the new pair of shoes I got for Christmas that have not yet made contact with my feet. In my hand will be a pint glass containing some ice cold lager and after taking a satisfying gulp some foam from the lager head will leave a comedy foam moustache on my top lip. For the thing that I seem to have lost is my social life. A few years ago the biggest decision of the day was which genre of film to watch at the local cinema and Sunday night used to be pub night with my mates. In one particular pub I felt like a character in EastEnders walking into the Queen Vic when I’d arrive at the bar and declare “usual please” and they’d know which drink I’d be talking about. But as the years have passed since becoming a dad socialising has slowly ground to a halt. Maybe it’s because my friends have finally got tired of my not funny jokes (surely not true) but I’m leaning towards another reason; children. It’s very true that before they arrived I didn’t understand how much time and energy they take from you. From the very moment they wake up with bags of energy right up until the moment they go to bed. Of course I don’t mean this in a negative way, they are amazing and fun to be around and becoming a dad is the best thing to ever happen to me but I feel things are only going to get busier. Caitlin starts school in September, which I’m sure will include after school clubs and invitations to many birthday parties and of course this is where the daddy taxi service comes in. I’m quite happy with the way fatherhood has changed my life but I am looking forward to my next night out, in 2027, when Caitlin will be eighteen.

Tuesday 19th March

Last week I ordered a book for my daughter Caitlin. She’s really into the Winnie the Witch series of books so it was another one to add to her collection. After a few days a delivery man arrived with a huge box, way too big for a thin children’s book surely, I thought. When I tore the cello tape from the box and opened the flaps, sure enough sitting there underneath what seems like way too much polystyrene was Caitlin’s new book. Maybe the store had run out of small boxes on that day? I presented my pleased looking daughter with the book and for the next few minutes she was sat in silence turning the pages engrossed in her gift. The irony was that after those few minutes the book was no longer the subject of Caitlin’s attention, instead the huge box was and it remained her toy for the rest of the day. Her imagination turned the boring looking box into amongst other things a car and a house. I’m still picking up polystyrene.
Apparently internet shopping is more popular in the UK than any other country. According to research you and I spend about £1000 a year buying items on the World Wide Web. I’m not quite sure how much I spend online in a year, maybe its best that I don’t find out, but I admit that when it comes to shopping, the internet is always my first choice. Of course the main reason for choosing to shop online is the convenience. I can shop whenever I want, twenty four hours a day, seven days a week at a time that suits me and I’m not limited by any opening and closing times. Another major advantage is the pure amount of online retailers, which means when I find the product I want I can easily and quickly compares the prices and make sure I am getting the best deal. Even better is to type the product into one of those handy comparison websites which will find the cheapest price for me. To compare shopping in the same way on the high street would take hours if not days and would probably leave me exhausted. Another advantage is shopping in comfort; I can search for a bargain on my smartphone whilst lying in bed or even on my tablet computer during the ads on television. Obviously online shopping also has it’s disadvantages, like having to buy a product purely on its photo and description and not being able to touch it or try it out before parting with your money. Another disadvantage is when you need to return a product, instead of simply taking it back to a store you have to spend time repacking it and then taking it to the post office to send it back. For me the major disadvantage of online shopping is it doesn’t give you satisfaction in the same way going to a store does. I realised this recently when I visited a large toy store with my daughter Caitlin. It seemed to give her the same excitement as visiting Paultons Park last year. Her face lit up with a huge smile when we entered this children’s paradise and she saw more brightly coloured toys than she had ever seen in her life. All her favourite children’s television characters were there in toy form like Spongebob Squarepants and Elmo from Sesame Street and at every turn in every aisle there was another toy featuring a magical Disney character. Of course it was busy with lots of other parents with their children but this only added to the feel-good atmosphere. Having such a good time looking at the toys with Caitlin I lost track of time but I’m sure we were in there for more than an hour and of course there was a trip to the checkout before we made our exit. I’ll still be shopping online but when it comes to toy shopping nothing beats going to the store and seeing the look on my daughters face.

Tuesday 12th March

Last week whilst wasting five minutes and scrolling down my Facebook timeline, I noticed one of my friends had commented that she was annoyed at the amount of people who don’t have children with them but who still use the parent and child parking spaces at the supermarket. I have to admit this is something that has slightly irritated me in the past too. Many a times I’ve entered the car park with my two children sitting in their car seats and a pushchair in the boot trying to get to that one remaining parent and child space near the entrance before the car in front of me does. Annoying when it does take the last space, especially when I see them leave the car with their 15 year old babies or even worse invisible children. To be fair it can be confusing. Some signs state that the spaces are for parent and toddler, so I’d say that was up until four years of age. Some say parent and child, up until sixteen? And will I get a ticket if I risk parking in the mother and child space?

Life with young children is amazing, full of fun and laughter. But of course there are times when you feel like you could pull your hair out or more likely feel your hair falling out with the stress brought on by this little person you created being defiant. With my eldest daughter Caitlin turning four years old this year, I can confidently say that she is now out of that most stressful stage called the terrible twos. It’s that time of your young child’s life when a lot of their time is spent moaning, whining, crying and saying no to simple requests. Don’t get me wrong, she still has a tantrum now and then but now she is that bit older they don’t normally last long and she has realised that bad behaviour means that certain treats and privileges will be withdrawn. To be completely honest, although I think my first born is growing up way too fast and I already miss the days when she was smaller than she is now, I am really happy the terrible two days are over for her. It seems like only yesterday when the slightest little thing would set off a full blown temper tantrum and it could happen at any moment in any place. I remember when we were shopping in the supermarket in Farlington, it started off as a regular visit to get the weeks groceries much like any other visit to the supermarket. That soon changed. Caitlin sitting in the child seat of the trolley was holding the six pack of crisps we were buying, when I took this off her so the checkout lady could scan it’s barcode Caitlin suddenly had the mother of all tantrums. All control of her body seemed to be lost with her arms and legs flapping all over the place and a screaming sound that I’m sure could be heard in Scotland. All of a sudden I could feel that eyes were on us. For all the people queuing at the checkout we were suddenly the entertainment. Not an experience I enjoyed or wished to repeat, although these situations did crop up again I learnt that ignoring the bad behaviour and not giving in to my daughters demands was the quickest way to get situations back to a pleasant state. But as I say, these days are over I can’t see Caitlin having anymore supermarket meltdowns. Her sister Alyssa on the other hand turns two next month and it is now obvious the terrible twos have started early. Recently when her request for some chocolate was denied she proceeded to throw herself on the floor and flap around like a fish whilst crying loudly (but with no tears). Here we go again, it’s time for round two.

Tuesday 5th March

As no baby is born holding a set of instructions on how to look after them, it is of course up to the parents to learn about being mummy and daddy as they go along. Since I became a dad I’ve learnt so many things about babies and children I could probably fill up this newspaper with the information. Of course friends and family are always there to offer advice but most of the stuff is learning from experience. For example, with children the colour white should always be avoided. Carpets, sofas, cushions should always be a colour that will not show up stains created by little hands. Something else parenthood has taught me is that when I am sitting with one of my daughters watching children’s television always keep the remote control within arm’s length. I recently learnt this when 1 year old Alyssa fell asleep on me and the remote control was on the other side of the room, not wanting to move and wake her up I was trapped. Yes, that’s right, a twenty nine year old man watching CBeebies all by himself.

I recently had a flashback to when I was a child. I must have been about eight or nine years old and I was in the living room of our house in Fratton. I was sitting watching television, probably something like Fun House or the Power Rangers. I suddenly turned around and noticed my sister, who then would have been around three years old, had drawn the most amazing picture. To be honest I couldn’t quite make out what the picture was supposed to be, it was just a colourful mess of lines, shapes and scribbles but even though she wasn't showing signs of being the next Vincent Van Gogh or Pablo Picasso, she looked quite proud of her creation. Problem was, this drawing was not on a piece of A4 paper or in one of her many colouring in books, instead she had chosen the newly painted living room wall for her colourful creation. As it was summer the warm sunshine flooded into the room and made the walls look brighter than they normally do therefore making the drawing noticeable as soon as anyone entered the room. And shortly after our dad arrived home from work he spotted it straight away. To ensure she knew that crayons and walls were not supposed to make contact, dad told her in a stern and authoritative way not to do it again and as far as I’m aware she never did. This flashback occurred last week when I was presented with the exact same situation with my youngest daughter, it seems history is repeating itself. Alyssa, who turns two years old in April, loves to draw. She has many colouring in books which are full of various pictures such as an elephant, a tree and a mermaid and she sits quietly with her crayons colouring them in. Even though the she used the colour pink for the elephant and the colour blue for the tree, it’s lovely to watch her being creative. But it seems Alyssa has outgrown the faithful colouring in book that has entertained children for generations and wants to move onto the next level. Maybe she thought our living room could do with a new look or a splash of colour, who knows, but her next project took place on our living room walls. Just like my sister, more than twenty years earlier, I couldn’t make out what the picture was supposed to be, another colourful mess of lines, shapes and scribbles. Just like my dad did with my sister I made it clear to her that walls weren’t the place for her drawings. One thing I can’t recall from all those years ago is what my dad used to remove the crayon marks from the painted wall. So far wet wipes and kitchen cleaner haven’t worked.

Tuesday 26th February

Last week the world got to see the Duchess of Cambridge and her baby bump for the first time. Of course speculation is already high over what the new royal baby will be called but these photos of Kate has apparently caused many more people to head to the bookies to place a bet on the name. Obviously traditional royal names like Victoria and Charles are getting good odds and of course the name Diana will probably appear on quite a few betting slips as it was recently voted the people’s choice for the new-born. If the royal couple are anything like we were when we were expecting our daughters, choosing the name won’t be easy. Apparently half of all expectant parents will have an argument or disagreement whilst discussing baby names and then when you finally do agree a spanner is put in the works when you remember your friend has a dog with that name and so you’re back to square one. One things sure, with the whole world putting forward suggestions, they can’t be short of ideas.

Until recently, in my daughter Caitlin’s three and a half years on this planet there has been no reason to explain to her that human beings come in all shapes and sizes, we are all unique and we all deserve respect and recognition no matter what we look like. But I have always wondered when that inevitable point would arrive. I have heard stories about children who in a supermarket queue have asked their parent why the man in front has a large belly or why that lady is sitting in a moving chair with big round wheels on. These situations sometimes cause an awkward moment. Of course these questions are inevitable because children have very curious minds. I’m hoping the way my daughters are brought up will open up their minds to see everybody as equal, although it does concern me that as they grow older they might read magazines or watch TV programmes that encourage them be a certain way. There have been many arguments about the influence of children/teens magazines and how they promote the idea that all women should be slim with immaculate skin, perfect hair and flawless makeup. Of course I’ve got quite a while to go before my daughters are reading these sorts of magazines and hopefully when the time comes, the way they have been brought up will ensure they are comfortable in their own skin. But Caitlin is now at an age where she is noticing the differences between herself and others around her and the inevitable questions have now started. No questions at the checkout about the person in front of us in the queue but instead at home when watching the pre-school TV channel Cbeebies. There is a presenter on the channel called Cerrie Burnel who was born with one hand. Of course I have noticed this before but never felt the need to point this out to Caitlin and Caitlin has never pointed it out to me. Well, until recently. After seeing this presenter on TV many times, last week she suddenly noticed and asked “Daddy where has that ladies hand gone”? I felt a weight of responsibility as my response there and then would shape how Caitlin thought of disability and possibly how she would treat and react to people with a disability in the future. I simply, in a matter of fact kind of way, explained to her that some people have two hands and some people have one hand. She accepted my answer and continued to watch the television programme. Disability groups have applauded the BBC for employing Cerri and I agree. As a parent it creates the perfect opportunity to teach my children about diversity and for them to grow up knowing that everyone is different.

Tuesday 19th February

Having two daughters I’ve lost count of how many times someone has asked if we will be having more children in the hope we would have a son. Infact shortly after my second daughter was born someone shockingly said to me “I bet you’re disappointed as it would have been nice to have one of each”. I can honestly say I wasn't disappointed and don’t understand how anyone could be by their baby’s gender. But I do sometimes wonder how different life would be if we’d had two sons instead of two daughters. Is there a big difference between boys and girls? Recently our house that sometimes feels overrun by females felt a bit more equal when the girls male cousins made a visit to our house. They weren’t naughty, just very hectic and incredibly boisterous with bags of energy and slightly destructive when it came to playing with toys and each other. Completely different to what I’m used to as a father of two girls. I was exhausted just watching them play. Shortly after they went home Caitlin declared “daddy I don’t like boys”. That’s fine by me.
So it’s that time of the year again when it’s freezing cold outside, the roads and pavements are often icy, it gets dark really early in the afternoon and many people are suffering from that condition called seasonal affective disorder, otherwise known as winter depression. It’s brought on by the gloomy weather and a long period of time with no sunlight. Apparently the symptoms of this condition, which include feeling stressed, anxious and feeling irritable, are most common in January and February. Until recently my experience of winter has been the complete opposite of this, as it’s always been my favourite season out of the four and as soon as the outside temperature reached below ten degrees I couldn’t have been happier. There are so many things to like about winter. A Google search for “Why winter is great” will produce websites that talk about winter in a poetic style describing the beautiful sound of a bunch of leaves crunching underneath your shoes, the view of snowflakes floating and falling from the sky and the crackle of a burning fire in your living room.  That’s great and I’m sure if I had a fire that made a crackle noise I’d enjoy it but for me the fire is more about the toasty warm feeling it gives you when you’ve just got in from the winter cold and your hands feel like they are going to fall off from frostbite. But I suppose when talking about winter in a poetic style ‘Toasty Warm’ wouldn’t quite fit. Well now my view of winter has slightly changed and it’s since I became a dad. I wouldn’t say I’ve got the winter depression disorder but I do admit that I’m longing for the warmer weather. After months of cold weather boredom sets in and we all get that feeling of cabin fever. All the ideas for entertaining the children have been exhausted and we’re all now bored of being bored. A few weeks ago when feeling brave it was decided we’d get out of the house and take a walk along Milton Common, so with plenty of layers off we went. Being the middle of winter we spent the whole time dodging gigantic puddles and walking very carefully to avoid slipping on the muddy grass. When we returned my two daughters looked like what can only be described as mud monsters, they were covered. As soon as they were dunked in the bath the water turned brown. So now I’m really looking forward to spring and summer and the days when the slide at the local park won’t have a puddle of water waiting for you at the bottom and Milton Common will no longer be one big mud bath. 

Tuesday 12th February

It’s no surprise that many big companies see children as a big target for their advertisements with research suggesting that 75% of family’s budgets are being spent on their children. Apparently by the time children reach the age of ten years old they will be able to recognise at least four hundred brands. I suppose this should be expected when the average child will view an astonishing ten thousand TV adverts in just one year. Just hearing that makes me want to throw our television out the window, cancel our television license and go and buy some board games to fill the void left by no television. Big companies are spending millions targeting our children, but do these adverts really work? In my experience the answer to that is a big fat yes and I’d put money on you agreeing with me if you have children. Our children are an important demographic when it comes to companies marketing their product and the main reason for this is children considerably influence their parents and grandparents buying decisions. Advertisers rely on the powerful force they call ‘pester power’. This is when a child nags their parent into purchasing something they wouldn’t have otherwise purchased.  Now I’d like to think that this is not true and I don’t succumb to this so called pester power. In an ideal world my three year old daughters pestering has no influence on anything my hard earned cash will be spent on, but when I look back to last December some of the presents on my daughter Caitlin’s Christmas list were as a result of her seeing the adverts for that toy on TV and she is already making suggestions for her birthday later this year. The advert is always nicely sandwiched in between episodes of her favourite children’s TV shows such as Peppa Pig and SpongeBob Squarepants. The adverts are always fast paced and brightly coloured and give the image that this toy is the answer to every parents prayers and your child will want to play with it all day. I can say with experience this is absolutely not true. The toys are never as exciting as they look on television and they certainly do not get used all day, more like fifteen minutes. I don’t want to take away TV from my children, especially as it can be a fantastic educational tool but how can I stop them being bombarded with advertisements which in turns makes them pester me. Well I thought that would be BBC channel CBeebies, with no adverts. That was until Caitlin was watching a show called Wooly and Tig about a little girl who has a toy spider. “Daddy can you buy me a toy spider” she asked… back to the drawing board.
Do you remember the excitement you felt when you were a child and your birthday was approaching? I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that the enthusiasm for the day wasn’t so much about being one year older but more about the presents I’d receive and the money that would fall out of the birthday cards.  As you get older the enthusiasm drops and that eagerness for the big day just isn’t there anymore, especially when you know money won’t be dropping out of birthday cards anymore. Well last week I celebrated the anniversary of my birth and for the first time in a few years that childlike excitement was back, purely through my two daughters. I can’t remember the last time I was sung Happy Birthday to, but that’s how I was awoken on my birthday by Caitlin and Alyssa. They were eager to help me tear open my presents and they even convinced me to have a huge slice of chocolate cake for lunch. Of course I enjoyed every moment as this will be the last birthday I will celebrate, then I’ll be twenty nine forever and my birthday will never begin with a three.

Tuesday 5th February

Apparently reading in children has dropped significantly over the last few years and now only three in every ten children will read in their own time. Personally, I love to get lost in a book and it seems my children do to. In fact we have so many books in our house I could run my own library specialising in books for the under fours. My three year old daughter Caitlin loves story time before she goes to bed and now prefers to read the stories to me, not using the words but her memory from when I read the story to her. With one year old Alyssa it’s all about the picture books and she’ll give me the sounds of the animals she sees on the page, although I need to teach her the difference between a cow and a horse as she does a “Mooooo” for both of them at the moment. With a busy life it’s quite nice to sit down with my children and read together, even when it’s a Peppa Pig book and it’s the hundredth time I’ve read it.

If it was possible for a man to experience labour and the excruciating contractions that come with it, how long would he be able to put up with the pain before enough was enough and he requested the pain come to an end? I’m guessing the answer to that question will differ whether you are a man or a woman. When I asked some of my female friends what would be different if a man had to go through pregnancy, labour and give birth, some of the comments that came back included “Natural childbirth would become obsolete” and “There would be morning sickness wards in hospitals”. In my unscientific poll it seems woman don’t think us men would cope too well. But what if we could put it to the test and see if a man could really handle the same pain a woman feels? Well this question has finally been answered. Two brave male Dutch TV presenters volunteered to be hooked up to electrodes that when attached to their bodies will replicate the same pain felt by woman during childbirth and the ordeal was filmed for their TV show. Of course the big difference here was, unlike a woman in labour, they could stop the pain whenever they wanted. After doing a bit of research I found out the shortest ever labour recorded was just eight minutes, although not long I’m sure it was just as painful. But maybe not as exhausting as the longest ever labour recorded at 75 days. So how long did the two male Dutch TV presenters last with labour pains shooting through their bodies. Well after just two hours they’d had enough and begged for the pain to stop and for the electrodes to be taken off. You might be laughing at that but I think that is amazing. I watched both of my daughters being born and witnessed the pain my partner Serena was experiencing during the labour and it amazed me that a human body can endure so much pain and stress. I think if that was me I wouldn’t have lasted five minutes. I admit I have an incredibly low pain threshold. I stub my toe and feel like I need a visit to A&E for pain relief. Of course if a woman wants a baby then she will have to go through labour and the pain that comes with it. If it were the other way around and it was men who had to go through childbirth then of course we would, it’s the only way the human race would continue. But I think the hospital would need to add a significant amount of extra storage space to stock all the extra pain relief needed.

Tuesday 29th January

Remember when you were a young child and life was care free?  The days when you weren’t bothered about any problems that cropped up around you. There was no job to think about, no bills to pay and simply no responsibility. Well actually thinking back to when I was a child, there was one thing that caused me a slight amount of distress and I can see history is repeating itself with my two daughters. When I was younger, like most children the only thing that that would create worry in my young mind was boredom. That emotional state when you are left with nothing in particular to do and your surroundings could easily be described at that moment in time as the doldrums. When I was a young boy I would regularly annoy my mum and dad by using those two words that when put together would put them right on the spot, “I’m bored” I would declare. I would look at them expectantly waiting for them to solve my one and only problem in life with a list of ideas that were high in entertainment value for my eager mind. Sometimes they would offer up something for me to do, but understandably sometimes they wouldn’t. Being a dad to two children I’ve learned that it’s just not possible to keep children entertained all the time. Now I have my children expecting the same sort of response from me when they declare they are bored and like my parents it really does put you on the spot feeling like you need to take their mind out of this state of stagnation and give them some instant entertainment. Especially now three year old Caitlin is at nursery where for her five hour session her mind is constantly kept busy. Whether she’s singing along to nursery rhymes with her friends or getting mucky with paint or having go after go on the slide there is no chance of her getting bored. This is great but that means the pressure is now on the make her time at home just as stimulating. Well that’s what I thought, but apparently boredom is not such a bad thing for a child. I’ve always thought that boredom in a child can lead to mischief but an Oxford University professor has claimed that bored children, if left to their own devises are more likely to pick up a book or write a story. Apparently unstructured time will give them a chance to be creative and use their own minds to relieve their boredom. But I do fear that when Caitlin declares that she is bored and I respond with “No you’re being creative” I’ll get a blank face looking back at me.

Last week I was feeling in a money saving kind of mood, brought on by an email from our gas supplier saying we’re using more gas than was predicted and our direct debit would have to increase to cover the cost. I must admit, the central heating has been on a lot recently. But with freezing temperatures outside and snow reaching Portsmouth it’s important to keep myself and my family warm.  So, I set my self a challenge last week. I wondered if it would be possible to go a whole day without the radiators throughout the house getting hot and using other methods to stay warm. The start of the day was fine, we all had a hot bath which warmed us up and then it was all about layers. Wearing two jumpers at the same time is great but toasty warm it isn’t and after just two hours my mission had failed miserably. Anyway, the layers thing would never have worked as I found trying to keep a warm woolly hat on a one year old is impossible.

Tuesday 22nd January

Every person who is in a loving relationship has a disagreement from time to time, conflict is normal and it is highly likely that a fall out will take place at some point, its human nature. Recently this has been apparent between my two daughters. It’s obvious that they love one another when they’re seen holding hands in the car or when they share a kiss and cuddle, but sometimes I think they must just get bored with being nice. One minute they adore each other and the next minute they can detest each other. It’s seems the biggest cause of disharmony is jealousy which is what starts the squabble and bickering. It can simply be that they both want to play with the dolly and whoever gets it first is running around the living room trying to avoid it being snatched out of her hand from her sister. But like all siblings and one of the most fascinating parts of a sibling relationship is that as they get older they’ll probably still get on each others nerves behind closed doors but when they’re out and about they’ll be each others biggest supporter.

Did you have a good sleep last night? If you had at least eight hours in the land of nod then the answer is most probably yes. Apparently that is the right amount needed for an adult to keep our body and mind healthy and focused for the day ahead. As someone who loves sleep, when I’m having a particularly busy or hectic day I always look forward to that moment when I can collapse into my bed with my head landing perfectly on my pillow. When doing a bit of research into the importance of sleep I found out that it carries the same amount of value to our bodies as eating, drinking and breathing does. Put simply if you want to live a healthy and long life you must make time for a good amount of sleep each night. I know what you’re thinking, If only it were that simple? As of course, a good night’s sleep is not always an easy thing to accomplish. Apparently the most common things that wake us up during the night are either our pets or our children. We used to have problems with our dog Ralph waking us (and possibly our neighbours) with his noise at night. When he is lying asleep, all of sudden he’ll appear to be dreaming with his legs and paws twitching which is followed by what I can only describe and a series of loud yelpy barks. Now though his dog bed is placed as far away from our bedrooms as possible and his dreaming noises cannot be heard. So if the dog isn’t keeping me up at night what is? Well let’s move onto that other common thing that likes to disturb the nations sleep, children. An article I read revealed that half of all parents lie about their child’s sleeping patterns in fear that it will make them look like a bad parent. Well here is the truth from me. Sometimes I have a great sleep and my two young daughters will go to bed and not be heard from until they wake up in the morning and I feel like kissing them a million times as a thank you for my beautiful undisturbed night. But other nights just aren’t so blissful and will involve one year old Alyssa calling out “mum, dad, mum, dad” non-stop until she gets bored and falls back asleep or three year old Caitlin crying because she has awoken and can’t find the teddy she cuddles in bed. If you’re a parent I’m sure you’ll agree that after a night of disturbed sleep, the most annoying thing is seeing your children yawning whilst eating their breakfast. But of course, one day they’ll be teenagers, wanting a lie in and that’s when I get my revenge.

Tuesday 15th January

Ever since my daughter Caitlin was born I’ve wondered when it would be the right time to take her to the see a movie at the cinema or a show at the theatre. Through her baby and toddler years I didn’t see much point but now she is that bit older and can sit through a whole Disney movie at home I thought now would be a good time to attempt some away from the house entertainment. What could be more perfect than the local pantomime at the Kings Theatre in Southsea? I guessed that there would be lots of children and any noise Caitlin might make during the performance would blend in with everyone else so tickets were ordered online and off we went with some snacks in my pocket to keep her happy in the interval. During a quiet bit in the performance the whole theatre might have heard Caitlin declare “daddy I need a wee” but apart from that she loved it and joined in with the audience participation. After seeing a leaflet for another child friendly show, she’s looking forward to going back.

Nostalgia and the way it makes us feel fascinates me. You know, when our minds think back to a happy time in the past with a large dose of sentimentality and always whilst wearing our rose tinted glasses. Whatever the subject from history that is going through our minds it seems to create a positive mood. This feeling can be triggered by many different things. Like when you hear a song on the radio and it reminds you of your school days, the nostalgia starts and you can remember all the people you knew, the places you visited and the fun times you had when you heard that song for the very first time. Whenever I hear any version of the song unchained melody it reminds me when I starred in my junior school variety show at St Johns in Arundel Street. I was one half of Robson and Jerome. I’m not sure which one I was but I’m sure the audience were pretty impressed with my miming skills. But nostalgia can be brought on in other ways, like when I smell coconut rum which always reminds me of my first holiday with my mates to Tenerife when I was eighteen. I think it was the cheapest drink out there so it was all we drank throughout the whole week. If you, like me, grew up in the late eighties and nineties you might have enjoyed the recent ‘Classics weekend’ being shown on one of the children’s TV channels. It was showing many of the kids shows I watched as a child and as I tuned in I could remember exactly where I was when I watched them first time round, mostly sitting on the living room floor right in front of the TV. A whole weekend of classic children’s TV shows gave me the perfect opportunity to show my children a time when, in my opinion, kids TV was at its best. And if you’ll pardon me from using the all too often used nostalgic phrase which will make me sound much older than my twenty eight years, they don’t make them like they used to. With confidence I put on the TV channel expecting Caitlin and Alyssa to enjoy what they were watching just as I did twenty years earlier. After five minutes of viewing a favourite of mine, Woof, about the adventures of a boy that could turn into a dog they became restless and lost interest. Next came Fun House with Pat Sharp and his famous mullet. It was a dream of mine to visit the fun house, so surely they would be interested, sadly no. Not even the brilliant Count Duckula could hold their attention. I enjoyed a weekend of nostalgia but for my daughters nothing beats Peppa Pig and Spongebob Squarepants.

Tuesday 8th January

Two weeks ago today was Christmas day. In one way it seems like only yesterday I was sitting at the dinner table tucking into my Turkey Christmas dinner but in another way as we’re now in a brand new year it feels like a distant memory. But you’d think as the big day was only a fortnight ago, my two daughters would still be enjoying all the toys brought to them by father Christmas. If you opened our front door and walked into our house I’d like to think you’d see Alyssa attempting to ride her new red and yellow trike or Caitlin showing us she could be a future Leonardo Da Vinci with an impressive drawing on her new easel. But no, as I sit here and write Alyssa is sat on the floor ignoring the trike and is instead playing with my car keys and Caitlin is showing no aspirations of being a great artist whilst using a toilet roll tube as a trumpet. I have a feeling next Christmas won’t be as expensive.
We’re only eight days into January and already I’m being bombarded with adverts telling me it’s time to get fit and healthy. I have a feeling the universe is trying to tell me something as in just one morning last week I had multiple messages thrown in my direction telling me how I should kick-start my “new me” lifestyle for 2013. Firstly there was an advert on the television telling me I should eat their dieting product twice a day, first for breakfast and then again for lunch followed by a normal healthy dinner and in weeks I would lose a dress size. I wouldn’t even know what my dress size was and it sounds a bit sexist to me so I don’t think I’ll be signing up to that one. Then a few minutes later a pile of junk mail was pushed through my letterbox, one of which was a leaflet advising me to join the local gym. Apparently I can sign up to a weight loss programme that will make me flab free in no time. Of course meeting my needs means thirty pounds exiting my bank account every month for at least a year after signing the compulsory twelve month contract. I think I’ll give this one a miss and anyway, I don’t like the word flab I prefer to call it insulation. After putting the junk mail in the bin an advert on the radio from a celebrity I’d never heard of was telling me I should buy her new fitness DVD to make my abs, bum and tum look just like hers. I have decided to get fit and healthy for this new year as looking after my energetic daughters requires a decent fitness level especially after a recent game of tag left me slightly out of breath, but it certainly won’t involve diet foods, gym memberships or celebrity fitness DVD’s. I’ve took the plunge and signed up for the Great south Run. I last did it in 2008 and at the time got the running bug which meant I got anxious if I didn’t go out for my daily run. Fast forward five years and I still have the bug, but this time it’s a pretend tummy bug used as an excuse not to get my running trainers on. But now as I have the Great South Run as a target I’m hoping the training will not only give me the running bug again but also raise my fitness level so that I can play with my daughters without needing a break to catch my breath. So the new year means a new healthier me, of course that’s after I’ve finished off the tub of chocolates, the large bag of dry roasted peanuts and pack of cheesy nibbles leftover from Christmas.

Tuesday 1st January

So it’s now been twelve months since I started writing this column. I was a bit worried at first that I wouldn’t be able to fill this page with enough interesting tales of fatherhood and I’d have to request the editor use a much larger font but I needn’t had worried as my experience has been the complete opposite. With young children there is never a dull moment. Although I admit that sometimes a dull moment would be quite nice. So I thought this would be a good time to look back at some of the more interesting moments of the last year. 2012 started with Caitlin melting my heart by saying those four magic words “I love you daddy” for the very first time. For a few hours I felt like the luckiest dad in the world, that was until she directed her affection towards a white waist container when discarding her empty yoghurt pot, “I love you bin” she declared. In February Alyssa started to crawl which meant I had to get down on my hands and knees and pretend to be a nine month old to see what could pose danger. Electrical cords were put out of reach and sockets were covered up. Sadly we forgot about the nappy rash cream that Alyssa managed to not only open but also smear all over herself and the carpet. Later in the year I managed to turn Caitlin into a Worzel Gummidge lookalike when her mum was called into work early and I had the job of not only brushing her hair but also arranging it into a ponytail. With an unimpressed look on Caitlin’s face I learnt that from then on dad must stay away from the hairbrush. Springtime brought an embarrassing moment after a day out when I was trying to fold up the pushchair to put into the car. I pushed and pulled every leaver and it just wouldn’t fold down. Luckily I wasn’t the only one as my father in law had a go and couldn’t do it either, but then my partner Serena managed to do it with just one flick of her foot. Annoying. Later on in the year Alyssa walked for the first time and I was the only person who witnessed this milestone that she would not re-enact for weeks after making it look like I’d made the whole thing up. When summer arrived I spent hours blowing up the paddling pool after I stupidly forgot to buy a pump. Then more hours were spent filling it up with water. Let’s just say I was slightly annoyed after all my effort when the water turned brown after Alyssa decided to use the pool as a toilet. Hopefully 2013 will be just as interesting. Happy new year to you.

One job at Christmas, annoyingly, always seems to land on the shoulder of dads. As I now have two little humans calling me by the D word that means I can now add this laborious task onto my CV. Since 6am on Christmas day it seems like all I have been doing is putting toys together. I shouldn’t complain as I shirked out of the other boring task of wrapping presents, nicely done by my partner Serena, so it’s my turn to step up and do the job no one wants to do. I’m lucky to still have all my fingers remaining after fighting with unnecessary packaging, especially toys that are vacuum packed with that horrible hard plastic that have left my hands with a few unpleasant grazes. Then I grab the instructions that come with diagrams I’m sure were drawn by a toddler and step by step instructions that leave me even more confused. But persistence pays off and I put all the screws in the right places. All worthwhile when I see my daughter enjoying her new toy, until she hands me another box with another unassembled toy and I start all over again.

Tuesday 18th December

I told you a few weeks ago that my daughter Caitlin seems to come home from nursery with a new illness every week. If one of her friends has a cough, cold or runny nose she is sure to have it a few days later. I threatened to put up a big red cross on our front door to warn people to stay away or risk being infected. Well I think it’s now time to get the paper, pritt stick and red paint out and make a start on my sign as a nasty bug has entered the Hayden household. This time it’s worse than green nose mucus or a tickle in your throat that won’t go away.  My daughters have caught the horrible winter vomiting bug that is “going around”. Apparently it only lasts 24-48 hours and I’m hoping this is true as it’s not at all fun seeing my children ill. It’s also not fun at 1am having to run a bath to get vomit out of tangled hair. I thought pooey nappies were the worst smell in the world… I’ve changed my mind.

I read somewhere once that all the past and current geniuses of this world have one thing in common. Intellectual giants like Albert Einstein, the famous physicist whose surname is now synonymous with the word genius. On a few occasions when my children have done something clever I’ve been known to substitute their actual name for his by blurting out something like “You clever little Einstein”. Well Mr Albert Einstein apparently shared at least one of his personality traits with other incredibly knowledgeable and brainy people. Like Thomas Edison, the American inventor who we have to thank for the light bulb and Tim Berners Lee, the British computer scientist who invented the world wide web. The one trait they all have in common was the desire to learn and know about anything and everything, summed up in one word – curiosity. There is a lot of confusing science behind why this trait is so common in clever people but put in a simple way that my not so Einstein like mind can understand, curious people’s minds are always active and always asking questions and searching for answers. As the mind is like a muscle it becomes stronger through the constant mental exercise. Well in about a hundred years’ time when a child does something clever their mother or father may be substituting their name with another by blurting out “You clever little Hayden”. I’m embarrassed to say this would not be referring to any of my achievements or my cleverness but instead my daughters. I think I may have produced two little geniuses. For they, like most little minds, are incredibly curious. From the moment they wake up at 6am to the moment they go to bed at 6pm their brains are working so hard I’m almost expecting steam to be coming out of their ears. Caitlin, at three years old, is asking a lot of questions and expecting detailed answers. I can’t fob her off with a quick explanation because with every answer given by me produces another question from her. Most subsequent questions are in the form of just one word – “Why?”  With my youngest daughter Alyssa the curiosity comes in the form of wanting to touch and explore everything she sees. A few weeks ago when our Christmas decorations were put up I was incredibly proud of the result with our living room looking very festive. Let’s just say it’s now all looking a bit of a mess and the teddy snowman that stands next to the fireplace needs a visit to accident and emergency as he’s developed a broken arm. Who knows if their curious minds will turn them into worldwide geniuses, but one thing I know for sure is next year I need to put the Christmas tree chocolate decorations up higher away from curious hands.

Tuesday 11th December

At what point do you start feeling that feel-good festive glow inside you? I’ve always been in the “the sooner Christmas starts the better” camp. In fact I’ve been known to get the Christmas songs out in September when the suns warm glow means it is still T-shirt weather, frowned upon by my partner Serena who thought that a bit premature. But you won’t find me moaning about the supermarkets having all their Christmas stock on their shelves a whole three months before the big day or hearing Christmas songs on the radio when we’re still in a month that doesn’t begin with the letter D. If the feel good and magical run up to December 25th can be stretched out a bit longer, then that is good news to me. I’m more than happy to admit I love Christmas and everything that comes with it like driving past a block of flats and seeing one single window packed full of flashing lights and decorations or going to the local garden centre to buy yet another decoration to add to our already too big pile. Now with two daughters Christmas is about to get even more magical. I’m now feeling that festive glow and I’m looking forward to the big day with my family. I’m very lucky as the run up to Christmas for me includes hosting some of the light switch on events across the South Coast as part of my role as a presenter with Heart. I feel really honoured to be part of these events and being amongst thousands of families as they start their Christmas season. A few weeks ago I was on stage in Southsea introducing the entertainment and switching on the lights with a count down from ten to one and last weekend I jumped in my car and drove to Christchurch in Dorset to help light up their town centre. It was at last weekend’s event that I found myself not only feeling festive but also feeling slightly star struck. You see we had some of the stars from the local panto join us on stage. One of these was Hi-De-Hi star Su Pollard who is just as brilliant and flamboyant in real life with that amazing distinctive voice. But I’ve obviously been watching far too much kids TV with my daughters because I was more star struck by one of the other panto stars – Chris Jarvis. He is a presenter on pre-school channel CBeebies and his show is on in our house every day. Not only did I meet him but also Stuffy – a felt toy cube with orange hair from his show. Caitlin wasn’t impressed when I kept interrupting her TV viewing saying I’d met the man from the telly.

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge who announced last week they are expecting their first child. The couple are now at the start of a nine month rollercoaster that as we know hasn’t started well with Kate’s severe morning sickness. But because I’ve been through the rollercoaster twice, I’d like to give the Duke some advice. Firstly at all visits to the midwife, prenatal scans and even during the labour prepare to feel like a spare part. Just do whatever you’re asked to do by Kate and the midwives and you’ll be just fine. Also prepare to be asked your opinions on colours and materials for items such as prams and baby clothing. I found it best just to nod and agree. Finally, use the remaining months of the pregnancy to practice your tea making skills as you’ll be making a lot of the stuff for all the well-wishing visitors. Good news is it’s all worthwhile and once friends and family have gone you’ll get to be daddy. I’ll talk to you about pooey nappies another day.

Tuesday 4th December

There are many advantages to sending my eldest daughter Caitlin to nursery, the main one being the development of her social skills. Something as simple as interacting with other children has so many benefits. Including teaching her patience and the fact that sometimes she will have to wait, sometimes she will have to take turns and sometimes she will have to share. In the short three months she’s attended nursery it’s clear that mixing with other children has been beneficial for her. Sadly there is one disadvantage to mixing with all the other children and that is she seems to catch any illness bug that is going around. She’ll then bring that bug home with her and before we know it we’re all infected and I consider putting a big cross on the front door signalling everyone to stay away. As I type, on my right is a disgusting cold and flu powder drink ready for me to try and consume without the horrible taste touching my tongue. On my left is my youngest daughter Alyssa using me as a climbing frame. I’m not sure if the aches and pains are from the cold and flu or from Alyssa’s feet jabbing my ribs.

Did you have to learn a foreign language when you were at school? I attended St Edmunds School in Portsmouth where French and German were taught. Thinking back I probably would have preferred to learn French which could have been useful over the years when boarding a ferry from Portsmouth to Cherbourg for a day out in France. Although like most Brits, in the past I ignorantly just expected every French person I’d meet to speak back to me in English. Of course I’d still make a small effort by adding in the odd bit of French into the sentence like “bonjour, do you speak English”.  If that failed and I got a puzzled face looking back at me I’d still talk in English but this time round speak slower, louder and with a French accent whilst trying to use sign language to demonstrate what I want. If I took a trip to France tomorrow I would still have to expect the locals to understand me because at school I was put into the group that learnt German. Thing is I got really good at it and by the time I left school aged sixteen I could hold a basic conversation in the language. Sadly in the years that have passed all those words my brilliant German teacher taught me are forgotten and now the best I can do is count to ten and say “My name is Warren”. But I’m pleased to inform you that I have learnt a second language for which I am now fluent. This time though it is not German or even French. I am now an expert in Toddler language. My one year old daughter Alyssa is going through a language explosion at the moment. She’s been saying “Momma” and “Dada” for ages, but now we’re getting a “Thank you”, “here you go” and she even calls her sister by her name and each day brings a new word. Of course sometimes her pronunciation requires a bit of working out, for example “Ow” doesn’t mean she’s hurt herself but means “Cow”. But it’s not just spoken language that requires understanding but also working out what her self designed sign language gestures mean.  Some are easy, like when she drags her High Chair over into the centre of the room, which means she wants to be placed in it and for food to be put on it. Or when she points at the TV which translated means “I’d really like it if you turned on the big rectangle thing and put on the channel that shows Peppa Pig”. It’s really is lovely trying to understand what she wants through her words and actions. Well apart from when she threw her plate complete with baked beans on at me, which translated means “finished”.

Tuesday 27th November

Being a parent is one of the most rewarding jobs on earth. It is also, at times, one of the most exhausting jobs on earth. Thankfully though, any negatives are outweighed a million times (and more) by all the positives that my children give me. But if you’re a parent, you’ll know how important it is to have some wind down time away from the kids. This can be something as simple as putting the lock across on the bathroom door and lying in a steaming hot bath. Of course my ‘bubble bath for men’ makes this experience a bit manlier. But annoyingly my (manly) bath time and chance for a bit of peace and quiet has been hijacked. You see, I live with three females; my partner Serena and my two daughters and the site of a fresh hot bubble bath is just far too tempting for them. By the time I get in the water there are no bubbles left and I’m left fishing out bath toys. Lesson learned; When it comes to the bathroom it is strictly female territory, woman take priority over men.

In an ideal world, my daughters would have a healthy and balanced diet every single day. As night falls I would feel happy knowing they would have consumed just the right amount of vitamins and nutrients for their growing bodies and mind. When I did a bit of research into the importance of a good diet in children I was left more bamboozled than before and wish I never looked in the first place. Some advice websites were telling me how important it is to start their journey of healthiness young otherwise they will grow up overweight and unhealthy and contribute towards a worldwide obesity epidemic. Hold on a minute, I thought, I only wanted a bit of dietary information and now I’m thinking I should empty the biscuit barrel into the bin and replace them with carrot sticks. According to one website it is vital that children eat their vegetables and it is your parental responsibility to make sure it happens. Talk about pressure. Apparently fruits like oranges and apples are rich in vitamin C which will help the boost their immunity. After they’ve polished off the fruit and their bodies are ready to fight off any disease or infection that comes their way it’s time to move onto the green vegetables like broccoli or green beans. These are required for the magnesium inside which will help with help with muscle and bone growth. But it doesn’t stop there. Once the main course of green has disappeared it’s time for desert. This is where we take a leaf out of Popeyes book, literally, with some tasty spinach for iron – important for healthy blood cells to form. Then if they are still hungry they can have a portion of eggplant, full of healthy nutrients. Firstly I don’t think I’ve ever seen, touched or purchased an eggplant and wouldn’t even know what one looked like and secondly, as any parent will tell you, it’s just not that easy. Especially when it has been a tough meal time with food is all over the floor. It would be so easy to give in and feed them turkey drumsticks and chips every night, but of course that would be very wrong. There are some vegetables that my daughters will eat and there are some they won’t even touch. But I’ve also read that it takes more than twelve attempts for a child to know whether they like a food or not, not entirely sure I believe this as it only took one attempt for my girls to realise they like chocolate biscuits. But I’m happy knowing that one night they might eat pizza and chips for their dinner but the next it’ll be a cottage pie packed full of those vitamin and nutrient rich veggies. I just need to tell my youngest Alyssa that munching on grass from the garden doesn’t count as one of her five a day.

Tuesday 20th November

Are you one of the one billion people who have watched the Gangnam Style video on YouTube? It’s a song by a South Korean singer called PSY that has been a huge success all over the world, reaching the top of the charts in more than thirty countries. It’s now the second most watched video ever on YouTube and is catching up with the current number one by teenage pop star Justin Bieber. It has a highly entertaining music video that includes the signature dance move called the ‘Invisible Horse riding dance’. When the track was released this summer I didn’t take much notice of it, thinking it was just some novelty song that wouldn’t be around for very long. But after a few listens I’m now hooked on it’s ridiculously addictive lyrics and comical music video. But it’s also become a great parenting tool. Do you remember when you were younger and your mum or dad would declare that it was bedtime? I’d sit looking at the clock hoping my parents wouldn’t notice I was still in the room as I didn’t even feel tired and felt like I had at least an hour or two left in me to play with my toys or watch more TV before I needed to visit the land of nod. In my mind I never agreed when my parents told me I needed my sleep, especially as they would stay up far later than me, why didn’t they need as much sleep as me, I thought. But I’d always trot off up the stairs and in my bedroom with little protest. Well now the shoe is on the other foot and it’s me declaring to my children that its bedtime and it’s my daughter Caitlin who is replying with the words “I’m not even tired yet”. I now know what my parents knew back then, that a child who has had plenty of sleep is a much happier child to be around. This is where the Gangnam style video comes in. One day last week Caitlin was dancing along to the video, complete with the invisible horse riding dance. Highly amusing and recorded on my smartphone to show at her eighteenth birthday party. She was having so much fun she asked to watch it again and again and again. So if the music video does get more views than Justin Bieber, we may have played a huge part in the achievement as it actually feels like we have watched it about one billion times. That night so exhausted from all the dancing, Caitlin went to bed with no protest and slept through the night and woke up the next day in a jolly mood. Her first words that morning “can we watch the funny dance video”.

There are a few things that signal the Christmas season has arrived. The major one being when in early November you suddenly find yourself in a supermarket aisle that has signs wishing you a merry Christmas and is piled high with everything festive from stocking fillers to a book on how to make the perfect Christmas dinner. One thing that did catch my eye was the large tubs of chocolates that were labelled as being half price. The supermarkets job is to make me spend more in their store than I had originally planned and they had succeeded with my bill being £3 higher due to the tub of tasty looking chocolates. Problem is I’m not good at fighting temptation, I love chocolate and somewhat annoyingly so does my daughter Caitlin. All she had to do was ask me politely if she could have one and the plastic safety seal around the tub was open. I eat the ones I like and she eats the ones I dont. I wonder if they are still half price.


Tuesday 13th November

I just typed the words ‘Parenting manual’ into the internet search engine Google and as soon as I pressed the ENTER button before my eyes were a choice of over 14,000,000 websites. Each one containing advice on raising children and being a great parent. One site that I clicked on declared that “Parenting is the hardest job in the world, but read on to become a great and productive parent”. To be honest sometimes instructions for  something simple as the toaster or the putting together flat pack furniture bamboozles my brain, so I don’t think I’d get on with reading a parenting manual, which I’m guessing would have far too many pages and be too heavy for my small but adequate muscles. So far, I’ve learnt as I’ve gone along and it’s worked just fine. Lessons like patience, when your baby interrupts your much needed sleep every two hours for a feed and nappy change, but not a problem if you have patience. Multitasking is an important quality too and one that every parent must learn without fail. Like when you’re trying to feed yourself and feed your baby and also keep your toddler entertained at the same time. Another important quality is forgiveness. Like when I’m ready to go to work and she flicks baby food onto my shirt. It’s not her fault and she hasn’t done anything wrong. She’s just doesn’t know yet what is right and what is wrong. But my favourite parenting quality that I’ve discovered since my girls were born is the ability to talk to children. Some people find it easy and natural to sit with a child and engage in conversation but before I had my own children I would always find it slightly awkward talking to them. It was almost like I was trying to have a conversation with an alien from a different planet. But in the just over three years since I became a parent I now have the ability to hold a conversation with a child and I’ve found I actually really enjoy chatting to children and watching their imagination through words. I recently hosted a fireworks event as part of my job as a presenter with heart. The venue was packed with families including children who wanted to chat with the man from the radio. No awkwardness and no feeling of talking to an alien. Instead lots of fun conversation with kids telling me about their favourite fireworks and I even indulged in some firework impressions with the kids. I thought my whizzing and whistling noises sounded like a real firework, but one young boy disagreed and proceeded to show me how to do it correctly. He was right, his impression was much better than mine.   

The new Christmas advert for supermarket Asda has been causing some controversy and has been branded sexist by some. The advert shows a pretty blonde lady playing the part of mum who is rushing around at a hectic pace getting everything ready for the perfect Christmas. From choosing and decorating the Christmas tree, to wrapping Christmas presents, to cooking the Christmas dinner, mum is getting it done. The festive ad ends with the slogan “Behind every great Christmas, there’s Mum”. Basically the message is that mum works extremely hard for her family at Christmas time. Complaints that I have seen say the ad is stereotyping to both men and woman. Although I agree it could be viewed as sexist, for the most part it’s true. In my experience Christmas wouldn’t have been the same without mum and her amazing ability to do what seems like a million things at once. But equally dads are just as amazing too and it’s important to remember that the advert is just doing what every advert does; talking to it’s target audience (even though dads do the shopping too).

Tuesday 30th October

When our dog Ralph was a puppy, I loved teaching him new things. Most of the time it was just basic commands like “Stay”, “drop the ball” and “lie down”. Other things would take a bit more time for him to learn, like when I wanted him to take himself to the garden to do his toilet business. But he soon caught on and after I declared “Off you go to the toilet”, he’d wander off to the garden all by himself. Then when we had friends or family round I’d show of my dog teaching skills and Ralph would perform on command. If only my children were the same. One year old Alyssa’s grunts are starting to sound like real words. Last week when I handed her a toy, she replied with the word “thank you” for the first time. She’s obviously picked this up from her big sister. So when friends came to visit I tried to recreate this historic moment. I handed her the same toy and waited expectantly for her to say those two magic words. I’m still waiting.

Now that the clocks have turned back one hour and we now have the darker evenings I’m starting to think more and more about Christmas and more specifically Christmas presents. Especially as I have already driven past several houses in Portsmouth and have seen tinsel, Christmas trees and moving Santa’s waving at me in people’s windows. But this year I have decided to take a new approach to present buying for my two daughters. To be honest it’s about time we had a toy clear out and it needs to happen before the big day in December arrives. Since Caitlin was born in 2009 she’s enjoyed three birthdays and three Christmas days with her little sister having experienced just one of each, and with a big family they have both already accumulated a large set of toys. Of course these toys take up room in our house and I’m slowly running out of cupboard space, behind the sofa space and under the bed space to store them away when they are not being played with. And right now my daughters are only one and three years old, so as time moves on and we get through more birthdays and Christmas days I fear we’ll have to get rid of essential household items like the washing machine or the oven just to free up more storage space for the endless amount of toys. What’s interesting is on the present receiving days, when the toy is first discovered after the wrapping paper has been ripped off, the joy is clear to see on their faces. The look of curiosity turns into a big grin. They then look my way to remove that annoying hard to tear off plastic from around the toy so that they can play with it there and then. But I’ve learnt that this enthusiasm for the toy doesn’t always last very long and sometimes doesn’t last at all. There are some that were well and truly worth the money, like the Jack in the box, that no matter how many times the lid pops open and surprises Alyssa she laughs every single time. And for Caitlin it’s her educational toy laptop, which she will sit at and learn from for hours. But then there are things like the huge, almost larger than me teddy bear that sits in the corner of Caitlin’s bedroom and just gathers dust and the play-doh that makes far too much mess but only seems to keep her interested for 5 minutes. So this year any potential toys will have to pass the simple one question test; will it actually get played with more than once? Obviously most of the time it will be guess work but hopefully will save us a few quid in the process.

Tuesday 23rd October

If you’ve got children there is a good chance you’ve seen the movie Shrek, the movie about the green ogre who rescues the princess from the fire breathing dragon. In fact, thinking back, I watched this movie before my children were even born, so like me you may have seen it even if you don’t have children. Well my eldest daughter Caitlin loves this movie so much so that if the west end production of the show ever needs some stand ins, they could ask either of us as we know the script word for word. But did you know Shrek the green ogre lives here in Portsmouth? Well that’s what Caitlin thinks anyway. You see, in the movie there is a castle, this is where Shrek has to rescue the princess. One morning, when driving through the city with Caitlin sitting behind me in her car seat she shouted “Look Dad, there’s the castle, wave to Shrek”. What she was looking at was St Marys Church in Fratton Road. Now every time we drive past we have to wave to Shrek in his castle.

Do you remember when you were a child and you lived in a world of pretend? That magical time when life was as simple as it will ever be. All you needed to keep yourself occupied and far away from boredom was your very own imagination. The time when no friends were needed, no toys were needed, just you and your wandering mind. It’s quite ironic that when we are children it is the adult world that we look up to and want to connect with but once we become adults it is the wondrous world of being a child that we miss and would like to relive. For me as a shy seven year old dressing up in my new superman outfit I’d been given as a Christmas present made me feel like I could save the world from any disaster. Infact as soon as I put that suit on I thought I was a real superhero just like in the movies, especially when the cape was clipped onto my back and I’d run around the house pretending I could fly. Of course at just seven years old there was no way I’d be of any assistance at any world disaster and I’m pretty certain that to this day no human being has ever managed to defy gravity and take off into the air like a bird, but using my imagination these things were well and truly possible, if only in my own young mind.  These days there are hundreds of activities my children can take part in, like going to the local park and playing on the slides and swings or playing hide and seek around the house or maybe playing catch with the ball in the garden. But I like to watch my two daughters playing and having fun without props and without toys and simply just using their imaginations. Sometimes I’ll be sitting on the sofa in our living room and my daughter Caitlin will declare “Dad, I’m going to shopping”. Although she is only three years old, I agree. This is because I know she is only going there in her mind. She asks me what I would like her to fetch for me from the supermarket shelf. I give her my list and off she goes. She’ll walk towards to the other side of the living room and I watch her reaching up and putting pretend items into her pretend shopping trolley and then wheeling it back to me. Although slightly concerned that none of these pretend items went through a pretend checkout and no pretend money was handed over, I play along and enjoy watching the delightful world of a childs imagination.

Tuesday 16th October

There are so many ways and means to try and get your children to do what you want them to do. Some work great and some don’t. It’s all about trial and error. Often though, the most common method of simply asking them to do something doesn’t always get the result that is wanted instantly. “Tidy your toys away” is a request that is often ignored by my three year old (going on thirty) daughter Caitlin. To try and coax her into doing as she’s told, I could say something like “Once all your toys are in the box you can have some chocolate” or “Once all your toys are tidied away I’ll take you to the park”, which I admit I have used in the past. But I have since learnt that there is one technique that works every time and so far without fail. It’s so easy to do and it doesn’t involve sugary treats or half an hour of pushing Caitlin on the swings. I remember that warm fuzzy confident feeling I got when I was a child and my parents or teachers would give me praise when I had demonstrated good behaviour and now when required I’m passing that on to my child. I simply praise Caitlin when she has shown genuine effort in the hope that she will also get that warm fuzzy proud of herself feeling and want to act in that way again. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean praise for praise sake. I’m not going to tell Caitlin how proud I am of her just for simply eating her dinner or just doing as she is told, There does have to be balance. I want to give Caitlin enough praise that she will feel a sense of self and confidence but not too much that she will become a big headed egomaniac. I believe that, although well intentioned, full on praise for every little move a child makes will become too normal and insincere and not at all special and I believe that there is one thing praise has to make the child feel and that is special. It could also have the effect that the child becomes overconfident and cocky and lets me honest, no one wants to have a brat for a child. But I believe that if praise is always sincere and honest and focuses on a childs effort and willingness to take on something new (whatever the outcome) it will produce good results and a confident child. I’ve also learnt it works both ways. When Caitlin noticed I had eaten all my vegetables on my plate she said “daddy I’m very happy with you for eating your vegetables, well done”. Yes, I felt warm and fuzzy.

Another moment in my life has been reached that made me realise how time is going way too fast and I need to saviour every moment of Caitlin being a little girl, because before I know it she’ll be all grown up. Next September marks a big change in our family life, with Caitlin starting school. Now that Portsmouth Council has opened the school admissions application process I’ve been doing my research into the schools in our area. Firstly, chatting with friends and family about their experiences with schools. It’s amazed me how many rumours and strong opinions there are out there on certain schools in Portsmouth, so I decided to find out the truth myself. After doing my research, which of course included checking many OFSTED reports, our three school choices for Caitlin are now registered. We don’t find out which school Caitlin will attend until April, but I hope the time between now and then slows down a bit because I know as soon as Caitlin puts on her school uniform her little years will be over.


Tuesday 9th October

I’ve been a dad for just over three years now. It was the summer of 2009 when Caitlin was born and my life changed forever. I went from someone who liked the bit when you hand the baby back to someone in charge of a human life twenty four hours a day. Then just 20 months later her little sister Alyssa arrived on the scene to make things a little crazier. Together Caitlin and Alyssa have well and truly taken over my life. From the amount of sleep I get, to the amount of money in my bank account, to the amount of time it takes to get the girls ready and out of the house (it takes an age). But I’ve realised recently that even when I’m away from the girls, at work or out with friends, the conversation is very different to what it was before I had children. I don’t know what myself and my colleagues and friends used to chat about before I became a dad but I’m sure it wasn’t about childbirth, Children’s television or brands of nappies. In fact I’m certain none of those subjects were ever brought up. Recently whilst sitting in the office at work and getting my radio show ready, the subject of childbirth came up as one of my colleagues is pregnant. As I had been present at both of my girls births I joined in with the conversation. Before I knew it I was talking about contractions, pain relief and umbilical cords. There were 4 of us in this conversation and I was only male and weirdly I had the largest amount of knowledge on the subject. I honestly walked away from the conversation feeling like I needed to go and change a car tyre or down a pint of beer in one gulp just to feel manly again. But if talking with a bunch of woman about the final stage of pregnancy made me question my manliness worse was to come. On another occasion I was chatting to a male colleague of mine who also has young children. Quite how the conversation moved onto children’s television I don’t know but we were discussing which kids TV show our children enjoy watching and which we enjoy watching too. If you’re interested, I find myself laughing at SpongeBob Squarepants with Caitlin but yawning when In the Night Garden is on. I walked away from that conversation feeling like I instantly needed to get on the internet and order myself the Top Gear complete series box set and tick the express delivery option. I’d tell you about more of the conversations I’ve had but I have things to do, like start watching my new Top Gear DVD.

Shopping with children can sometimes be a challenge. A trek up Mount Everest sort of challenge. When the fridge is looking more empty then full and there is no one else around to look after the little ones, it’s time to strap them in their car seat and head for the supermarket hoping it will be a stress free experience. From a child’s point of view, the supermarket is an exciting place to be. Lots of bright colours, shelves stacked high with sweets and chocolate bars and a free ride in the trolley. Problem is, their naturally curious minds mean they want to touch everything. To keep their minds focused I give them both a job. Caitlin is tasked with looking for a particular item, so instead of wanting to grab everything she sees she’s looking out for the box of tea bags. For Alyssa, she the likes to carry something like a box of cereal, keeping her hands away from anything delicate. But just incase, there’s an important rule, stay away from the crockery isle. Always puts me on edge.

Tuesday 2nd October
Driving has never been something I’ve particularly enjoyed, especially when traffic is busy. Many times I’ve been stuck in a jam on the M27 or the Eastern Road imagining what life would be like without my big metal friend that gets me from A to B. Thankfully most of the time, with my working hours, I’ve been able to avoid the roads when they are at their most busy but unfortunately a new stage in my eldest daughters life means I can avoid it no more. Caitlin now attend nursery in the morning which has created a new enemy in my life; school run traffic. I remember when I was younger and my dad would drive me to school, he’d avoid the clogged up main roads and use the side roads to get me to school on time. But in 2012 it seems even the side roads are now just as busy. In fact a few of my so called short cuts have ended up adding time onto my journey.  I suppose we could walk. But with the bad weather looming, I’d better go and buy myself a brolly

It’s safe to say that summer is now well and truly over. I realised this when I was taking Caitlin to Nursery and I got soaked on the walk from the car to the nursery door, which is roughly about 10 steps. I remember at the beginning of this year it was reported in some newspapers that we would have a scorching late Indian summer which would last well into October. But as I look out the window, all I’m seeing is lots of dark clouds in the sky and lots of big deep puddles on the road. Looking back at the last few months I can say that I really enjoyed summer this year, even though it was apparently the wettest we’ve had in about one hundred years. I think I spent more time outdoors this year than I ever have done and I put that down to having two children who love the outdoors. If you see any ducks or swans around Milton park that are looking a bit overweight and bloated and are turning down bread as they’ve just started a new low carb diet , that might be our fault with lots of visits to the lakes with a small bag of bread. But although I’ve enjoyed every bit of summer this year I’m really pleased autumn is here and winter is on the way. This is my favourite season and always has been with lots to look forward to and now with two children it will be even better. I’ve never been one for Halloween and it’s always been the annoying part of the year when more people knock on my door in one night than the rest of the year put together but this year I’m really looking forward to it. We wont be knocking on strangers doors trick or treating as I don’t agree with asking someone I’ve never met before for sweets or money but it might be nice to dress them up (which my girls love to do) in some sort of Halloween costume and take them to see our relatives. Then there is bonfire night and watching the girls amazed faces as they look up into the sky at the exploding fireworks. Once the whizzes and bangs are gone it’s on to the best bit of this time of year; Christmas. With still over two months to go until the big Day, my three year old Caitlin has already started asking us to pass on her present requests to Father Christmas. Most of all I’m also looking forward to the darker mornings, with the sun not beaming into the girls bedrooms they’ll sleep for longer and give mum and dad a well-earned lie in.

Tuesday 25th September

Apparently the average IQ in the United Kingdom is 104. To be honest I don’t really know if that is good or bad or what you need to do to achieve that. But at this point in my life, as a dad of a three year old it feels as if my intelligence is being put to the test. Caitlin is asking questions, lots of them. Whilst we were watching The Jungle Book on DVD she asked where elephants came from. I remembered that answer from my school days, India and Africa I answered. I thought the next question would be where is India and Africa?, but instead she was satisfied with my response and the topic changed direction from wildlife to household cosmetics. Where does Talcum Powder come from? she asked. I answered that Talcum powder is made from the mineral talc and it is finely ground down into the powder form. That was of course after I typed the question into Google. I swiftly changed the subject before she could ask me where minerals come from.

As someone who loves his grub, being a parent and staying trim at the same time can sometimes be a challenge. Especially when my girls are feeling full after their dinner and there’s some tasty looking food still sitting on their plastic plates. Not wanting such good and nutritious food to end up wasted in the bin, I sometimes gobble up the leftovers myself. Also when we’re out and about and I buy the girls a treat from the Ice Cream van and of course not wanting to be left out treat myself to a 99 with a flake and sprinkles too. Or when we visit the girls grandparents who not only treat them to large portions of cake but treat me too. Surely by now I should be the size of a bus or at least a few stone heavier than that of my pre-dad days. But since becoming a dad I have actually lost over two stone and feel a lot fitter in myself. This is mostly down to an improved diet and cutting out a lot of rubbish and unhealthy food I used to eat. But I also think it’s because I’ve completed the equivalent of the Great South Run in my own home. Apparently children get between seven and ten colds in a single year so between Alyssa and her big sister Caitlin most of the year includes a constant stream of snot running out of both their nostrils and for the last week I’ve been chasing my one year old daughter Alyssa around our house with a wet wipe in one hand as I try and grab her with the other to wipe the green mucus away. Something no child enjoys, so as soon as she sees me walking towards her she makes a run for it and she is incredibly fast for such a tiny human being. Alyssa also finds it incredibly funny to steal one of my shoes and run off and hide with it when I’m trying to put them on. So once again I’m running (or more like hobbling) after her around the house trying to get it back. But the positive is more calories are being burnt. Then there is the times I roam the house upstairs and down looking for something the girls have inadvertently hidden. Apparently it’s recommended that we each take around 10,000 steps each day and it felt like I did a week’s worth when I was looking for the DVD remote control that Caitlin had misplaced. By the time the children go to bed I am exhausted. I would never recommend having children as a way to lose weight, but it has certainly worked for me.

Tuesday 18th September

Theme Parks and thrill rides have never really been my thing. I think I was put off by an experience at Southsea fun fair when I was a child. A go on the Walzsers ride ended up with my face turning a pure white colour and then I proceeded to be sick all over the floor. I was a travel sick child, many journeys in cars, coaches and trains would involve me carrying several sick bags and it has stayed with me into adulthood. When I was a teenager and I joined my mates on days out to Alton Towers and Chessington world of Adventures I was the one who stood behind the safety bars, holding bags and coats whilst they were being thrown and spun through the air on the latest thrill ride. I was completely happy on the side-lines as I knew how I would feel the moment I stepped off the ride and it wouldn’t be a nice feeling. Last weekend as part of my role as a presenter on Heart radio I was asked to join some competition winners at Paulton's Park and I was able to take my partner Serena and our two girls with me. This would be the girls first time at a theme park and I was looking forward to seeing how willing they would be to go on the rides or if they would want to go on them at all. Our youngest daughter Alyssa enjoyed some of the slower rides designed for young children (to be honest these are my kinds of ride with no travel sickness bags necessary) but our eldest daughter Caitlin was looking for something a bit more fast and she spotted something calling itself the dragon roundabout. As she is under six years old she had to be accompanied by an adult and feeling brave I stepped forward. This is a family theme park after all, so surely a go on this ride would not give me the same sick feeling as the Walzsers did all those years ago? Anyway I’d been on roundabouts in the playground when I was younger and they never made me feel sick so surely I’d be fine, although the word Dragon worried me a bit suggesting it wasn’t the same as the ones on the playground that you could jump of at any time. So we joined the queue and then took our positions on the ride. I was pleased that Caitlin loved every second of being spun around in both directions at a considerable speed and wanted to have a second go and then a third. Let’s just say my face once again turned an embarrassingly pure white colour. I think I’ll stick to holding the coats and bags.

Caitlin now attends nursery which means a packed lunch has to be made each morning to take with her. When I was at school I preferred the hot school dinners over bringing my own food with me. Mainly because by the time the school bell would ring at midday signalling lunch time, my lovingly made sandwich placed neatly in my lunchbox would have been battered by my bottle of drink and my packet of crisps would often have been squashed too resulting in a bag full of crispy crumbs. I don’t think I ever ate an apple without a big bruise on it. But now battered sandwiches are a thing of the past as lunchboxes have moved on since I was a little nipper. I bought one for Caitlin and was surprised to see they now have their own little compartments. The sandwich and the drink now need never make contact and even the banana has its own banana shaped bit of storage. I’ve thought about getting one of these modern lunchboxes for myself. But maybe I’ll get one without the picture of Minnie Mouse on the front

Tuesday 11th September

Time really is going way too fast. I knew it would happen though as I was warned many times. When Caitlin was born many friends and family told me to enjoy her first few years and take everything in as before I know it she’ll be heading off to Nursery. So that’s what I have done, every single moment with my first born I’ve made sure I enjoyed and I’ve probably taken far too many photos but still time has flown and she has gone from a helpless new-born baby into an independent three year old in what seems like the blink of an eye and now the time has come for a big change in Caitlin’s life; she is starting nursery. Although we prepared her the best we could, it was still a worry how she would react when we left her alone for the first time. All the preparation worked as after a kiss goodbye she wondered off to play with her new friends with no fuss. Seems she had fun as the next morning it was me waking her up instead of her waking me up.

We all tell our children little white lies sometimes and anyone who’s says they don’t are probably stretching the truth a bit. I remember my mum telling me if I kept playing with my ears they would grow bigger and bigger or if the wind changed when I was pulling funny faces I would stay looking like that forever. It seems that I have inherited the art of fibbing as I have to admit that the odd whopper has come out of my mouth too when talking to my children. Things like “the shop has run out of chocolate” when Caitlin has had a sudden craving for the brown stuff and “That’s a brilliant picture of a dinosaur” when what she has actually drawn on the paper is just a squiggly colourful mess. Of course a white lie is usually used for the greater good and is harmless in the long term but according to an article I read recently there is an even bigger lie that we all tell our children and that lie is when we tell our little ones that we don’t have a favourite child. Apparently according to a study all parents with more than one child have a preference for one of them and enjoy their company more than the other. I have to admit when my partner Serena was pregnant with our second girl Alyssa, I wondered how it would be possible to love this new child as much as her big sister Caitlin who I’d fallen in love with the second she was born. I worried that although she would be special to me, she would never be as special as our first born. Of course as soon as Alyssa arrived into the world I instantly had that same overwhelming loving feeling that I had experienced with her older sister and I can honestly say that I do not have a favourite child or feel more love for one of them more than the other. But I do sometimes worry that Alyssa might sometimes live in Caitlin’s shadow. Most of her clothes are hand me downs, she can’t do some activities that her sister can do as she’s not yet capable and she might miss out on privileges - such as staying up later. But of course there are advantages to being the second born, she will always be the baby of the family and can learn from her big sisters mistakes. Also in school any problems that arise she’ll always have Caitlin there to look after her. And of course, when Alyssa starts to get interested in stuff like fashion, music and makeup, instead of popping up the shop I’m sure she’ll instead pop into her big sisters bedroom to do some ‘borrowing’.

Tuesday 4th September

Independence Day has arrived for our youngest daughter Alyssa. At sixteen months old she now wants to do some tasks herself that previously would require help from mum and dad. The days are now gone when she would sit in her high chair and I’d pretend the spoon was an aeroplane with my best aeroplane like sound effects as it was making its way towards her mouth. I preferred my train sound effects but that wouldn’t make her laugh quite as much. Now Alyssa wants to feed herself. But as I learned when she was tucking into a bowl of spaghetti bolognaise, a survival plan needs to be put in place. Firstly if the food is likely to make a permanent mark on her clothes then she has to get changed into something more appropriate. Secondly food can be flung at great distances , so the high chair must be away from things such as the sofa and the dog. His white coat didn’t look so good with pieces of spaghetti dangling from it. And thirdly don’t serve spaghetti bolognaise too often – it gets everywhere.

It was February 1984 when I became a citizen of planet earth as I entered the world at St Marys Hospital in Portsmouth. Since then every major event in my life has happened here.  I have moved around the city a few times, living in various places but have never left it. Of course I’ve been on many journeys across the Portsmouth borders but Whenever I leave the city for whatever reason; to go to work or to see friends or even go on holiday, there is always no place like home and for me Portsmouth has always been that place. I just can’t imagine living anywhere that didn’t have a PO postcode and don’t think I would want to. Especially now that I have two children and want life to be stable for them as nursery and school is looming. But I do think sometimes I take my hometown for granted and forget not only how lucky I am to live here and bring my kids up here but also how many things there are to do and see in this historic waterfront city. Miles of beautiful seafront, plenty of shops and importantly for all parents of young children, lots of parks packed full of slides and swings. On a warm and sunny day I could sit in the garden with an ice cold drink and let my two girls run around releasing their never ending energy and maybe if I’m feeling particularly energetic join them in a game of Tag or Hide and Seek, which we sometimes do but it is great to get out of the house and explore with them. We spend a lot of time on Milton Common, great place to take our dog Ralph and the girls love taking some bread from our kitchen cupboard to feed the ducks and the swans. It’s never busy on Milton Common, but such a beautiful part of Portsmouth I feel it’s one of the city’s best kept secrets. I’d also recommend you take a look at the beautiful people’s memorial if you haven’t already. A walk along Southsea seafront and then around canoe lake is another favourite of ours, sometimes finished off with some cake at the exceptional tenth hole tea rooms, the girls never decline cake. Just recently we made a visit to Staunton Country Park. In such a busy and hectic city it’s hard to believe just around the corner is a place containing all sorts of farm animals. Caitlin and Alyssa loved petting the pigs and goats and who’d have thought Portsmouth had its very own set of Donkeys. Sometimes it is nice to take a trip outside the city, but most of the time with my two daughters in tow; it’s nice to take advantage of what we already have on our doorstep.

Tuesday 28th August 2012

I’ve been getting that odd deja-vu feeling a lot lately. There is nothing out of the ordinary or paranormal going on though. What I’m experiencing has actually happened before, many times. I’ve learnt that children love repetition. If they find something they enjoy doing they want to do it over and over again, and then again after that. For example, Alyssa has got a toy Jack in the box and she likes me to twist round the handle and she laughs when the door pops open. I hand it back to her and she then hands in straight back with a grunt that translates into “More please”. Caitlin also likes me to play Hide and seek with her.  An exhausting game, especially when you’re playing it for twentieth time that day. Both girls have also got many books but they always like to read the same ones over and over again. I know them word for word. My favourite though is when Caitlin says “I Love you daddy”, and then tells me again and again. I never get bored of that.
My two girls give me so much happiness and joy. There are so many times during each day when I get that proud parent feeling running through me. It can be when I see them do something for the first time, or when the girls give me a kiss or cuddle without me asking for it and It can even be when I’m watching them happily playing, sharing and interacting with each other. Although most of the time my girls are kind and happy, there are times when things are the complete opposite. As any parent will know, the smooth and joyous times come hand in hand with something every parent has to deal with – a tantrum. Not one, but many. Something I have noticed since becoming a dad, is that these tantrums are not often talked about. I’m not sure why. Maybe it’s because people want people to think that their child is always an angel or maybe it’s just because people are embarrassed to admit that even the best parents in the world cannot prevent this inevitable behaviour. Why would anyone want to tell their friends how naughty there child can be on occasions? Tantrums must be more common then we think as when I did an internet search for ‘child tantrums’ I had a choice of over seven million websites to choose from.  I have to admit that before I had children I would see a screaming child in the supermarket and vow that my children would never get away with behaviour like that. In my mind I knew exactly how I would handle that situation, that was until I actually did have to deal with that situation and I can reveal I didn’t want to walk into that supermarket for at least another six months. As Caitlin has gone from a two year old into a three year old, she has now moved out of that stage in her life described as the terrible two’s, when the smallest thing can set them off into a crying rage. You might think I’d be pleased that the terrible two’s were over. Well now she’s reached the traumatic three’s and from what I’ve read this will continue until at least the age of five, so we have a long way to go. But whether it is whining, screaming, stamping feet or all at the same time, I’ve learnt through trial and error how to stop this behaviour without having to call in Supernanny. There are many articles, websites and books on how to deal with the tantrum but I can save you time and money. The key is to simply take a big breath and ignore the negative behaviour and they'll soon return to being adorable. It really is that simple.

Tuesday 21st August 2012

When I was a child our dog Bruno wasn’t just a pet, he was part of the family. Unfortunately the happiness of owning a pet always ends with sadness when they pass away. I remember being heartbroken when the dog who I’d known forever wasn’t there anymore. Last week my daughter Caitlin’s Guinea Pig who she named Scruff, because she looked like she could do with a good wash and haircut, went to Guinea Pig Heaven. I have to admit that my first thought wasn’t for the guinea pig but for how I would break the news to Caitlin. I could have rushed to the pet shop to get an equally scruffy one and hope that she didn’t notice the difference or maybe I could have told her that Scruff ran away. After much thought I decided to simply tell her that Scruff had gone to heaven to play in the clouds with her friends. She simply replied “I’m going to miss her and I didn’t even get to give her a kiss goodbye”. That’s when the lump appeared in my throat.

In our house the television is the absolute central and most popular piece of entertainment. We’ve all got our favourite TV channels and TV programmes. I’m into the more factual kind of programme like documentaries or investigations whereas my partner Serena is more into stuff like the soaps or reality TV. I often tease her about littering our TiVo box with recordings of The Only Way is Essex, EastEnders or some show about finding the next top model. Now even my two daughters at just one and three years old have their favourite TV shows. My youngest Alyssa would sit and watch the CBeebies show Baby Jake all day if we let her and Caitlin would probably do the same with Fireman Sam. I wonder sometimes what life would be like without the TV and if we would be better as a family without it. I’ve read and heard arguments that television can unite a family, getting them all in the same room together at the same time. But I’ve also heard arguments that television can isolate a family – yes everyone will be in the same room but all will be glued to the screen absorbed by what they are watching and not taking any notice of each other. As I’ve never been without television in my life I cannot give my opinion either way. But I remember a girl in my class at school telling me she didn’t have a TV set in her home and being puzzled, to me it was like someone having a house without a roof – odd. But now I’m a bit older and wiser I can see the advantages of turning the bright rectangle piece of technology off. Not just saving money on the TV license and TV subscriptions but having more quality time with each other and talking as a family. It may even get us out the house more. A few times over the last year Serena and I have discussed the experiment of turning the TV off for a whole week just to see how we’d cope and what would take its place to keep the whole family entertained. So far it’s never gone further than the discussion and the television has stayed on. But I think that this year’s Olympics have proved that I really couldn’t live without the TV. Not only did I thoroughly enjoy watching it, it was what everyone seemed to be talking about. So if I didn’t have a TV I may have felt like I was missing out. But the Olympics is over, so maybe now is the time to start our no TV for a week experiment. Oh Hold on… the Paralympics start next week. Maybe my non TV week will have to wait a bit longer.

Tuesday 14th August 2012

I’ve always loved gadgets. When I was young it was things like the cassette Walkman and the Sega Mega Drive. I’d get the 21 bus from Copnor down to Commercial Road in Portsmouth to visit Woolworths to buy cassettes for my new Walkman. I’d also buy a pencil whilst I was there to help wind the tape back in when the Walkman would chew it up. When I wasn’t bopping around to some nineties pop music on the go I’d be playing games like Sonic the hedgehog on the mega drive. I’d also have the odd novelty gadget like the keyring that would buzz when you clapped so you could never lose your keys. Obviously things have moved on now and the gadgets I used to play with as a child and teenager now seem prehistoric. These days my favourite gadgets include my iPod and my Sat Nav. But since becoming a father I’ve been introduced to a whole new world of gadgets that I never knew existed. In one shop I saw a pushchair that had it’s very own dashboard with lights, a clock, a temperature gauge, and a strollometer. I didn’t buy one but I have to admit if it didn’t have such a ridiculously high price tag I might have considered it. Most of the gadgets I’ve discovered are of the child safety kind and our house is now fully childproofed. Anything that could pose a danger to my two daughters has a gadget or clever invention of some kind in place to stop their curious minds in its tracks. For example we have safety gates sitting at the top and bottom of the stairs. We have little hooks on the kitchen cupboards that stop them opening so that Caitlin and Alyssa can’t help themselves to the contents. We have plugs to go into the electrical wall sockets to keep little fingers away. But what happens when your children get a bit clever and start to work out ways around the child proofing that has been put in place. The other day I wondered how a packet of crisps got from the secure kitchen cupboard into Caitlin’s hands. Then I heard the clicking sound of the stair gate being unhooked of the wall and realised it was Caitlin doing the unhooking. So now eyes and ears are even more important than ever. But surely in this day and age Stair gates should be impossible to open for even the cleverest child and cupboards should have more than a little hook to keep them away. I’m thinking stair gates and kitchen cupboards with fingerprint recognition so it only opens for mum and dad. I won’t say too much though, I may have to take my idea to the dragons den as I’ve just spent all my money on two new stair gates.

Caitlin has a lovely healthy smile and in the hope to keep it that way, this week she had her first ever visit to the dentist. Of course just like adults, children also have their good and bad days where they can be irritable and grumpy. I was hoping today wasn’t going to be one of those days and Caitlin would be in a good frame of mind when visiting this whole new world that would continue every six months for life. I was curious how she would react to sitting in the dentist’s chair and having a stranger poke around in her mouth. I imagined some sort of screaming tantrum and having to engage in a bit of bribery with a bar of chocolate to get her into position. To my surprise there was no need for any bribery at all as when the dentist started to chat to her she soon relaxed and allowed for her teeth to be inspected. Things haven’t changed since my childhood dentist visits, you still get a sticker from the dentist to wear with pride.

Tuesday 7th August 2012

Like everyone else, I’ve got Olympics fever. I’m really enjoying the non-stop sport after sport on the television. I love seeing the parents of the athletes in the crowd and can now understand how proud they must be to see their son or daughter compete on the world stage. Caitlin and Alyssa are already showing some sporting promise so in the future I may be one of these proud parents sitting on the sidelines. For example at the local swimming pool Caitlin has been showing off her diving skills. Well actually I wouldn’t call it a dive just yet.  I think a bit of training might be needed to turn her ungracious belly flop into something worthy of a gold medal, but she’s on the right lines. Alyssa might possibly be of a standard to compete for a medal in the trampolining. Although at the moment she is using my body to jump up and down on, so like her sister a bit more training is necessary. They’ll only be 5 and 7 years old at the next Olympics, so no rush.

My eldest daughter Caitlin will be celebrating her third birthday on the 13th August. So as she begins her fourth year on the planet we’re organising something I’m slightly dreading – a party. It’s not just the party itself that I’m nervous about but all the preparation. I did an internet search to find out where to start and I couldn’t believe what I was seeing; So much to think about. According to one website, the planning should start six to eight weeks before the big day. Well I’ve already fallen at the first hurdle. But surely it can’t be that difficult, it’s not like I’m organising a wedding, it’s just a nice little party with some fun and games for Caitlin and her friends.  Apparently these days, even nice little parties require some serious thought. I printed off a checklist from this website. First was to decide a theme for the party. Come on, this is a party for a three year old and I don’t think other parents will be happy with having to fork out for some wacky fancy dress outfit that will only be worn once. So I’ve decided, no theme. Next on the list is what sort of entertainer to hire. Well I think games like pass the parcel and musical statues will be sufficient to keep everyone entertained so I have no need to reach for the yellow pages. Then we have to decide on the food. I know the sort of party food Caitlin will like. Pizza, fairy cakes, Crisps etc. but what about the other kids? What if there are some fussy eaters. Well it’s Caitlin’s party, so they’ll have to eat what they are given. Who needs a caterer, as suggested on this list, when a visit to the supermarket to buy some large economy packs of party food will do just fine. Then we move onto decorations. Apparently the days are over when a few balloons could be hung on the walls with some cello tape. Now it’s all about streamers, confetti, banners, hats and masks. Sounds a bit expensive to me. Maybe I could actually have a theme; the 1980’s, when just balloons on a wall would do. Then there is the unnecessary party invitations, surely a text message to the parents would be ok? The most important part of the preparation is sorting out the birthday cake. Not only does it have to look impressive and be tasty but it has to be big enough for everyone to get a piece. Time to get the flour and eggs out the cupboard. The final note on the checklist is to sit back and enjoy yourself. With children running around hyper on sweets and cakes I have a feeling that is not going to happen.

Tuesday 31st July

Something strange is going on in the Hayden household this week. Things just aren’t like they usually are. In fact it’s all a bit unsettling and I’m not sure I like it. For example, Every night before I go to sleep I’ll set my alarm to wake me up in the morning so that I wont be late for work or any meeting I’ve got planned. I should know by now that since becoming a dad I don’t need to set any kind of alarm as I have my very own little human alarm clocks in the form of my two daughters Caitlin and Alyssa. Caitlin will wonder through to our bedroom when she’s decided she’s had a sufficient amount of sleep and Alyssa who seems to wake as soon as the sun rises (not good in summer) will be making a grunting sound which I’ve worked out translates into a request to be lifted out of her cot. But this week things are completely different. The first thing I’m hearing in the morning is not the sound of Caitlin's feet jumping out of her bed and making her way to our bedroom or Alyssa’s cave man like noises but instead the buzzing of my alarm. I finally get to press the ‘Snooze’ button and have five more minutes in bed. If Only the children had a ‘snooze’ button. Then when I clamber out of bed and make my way out of the bedroom and down the stairs the carpet is clear and there aren’t the usual dollies or toys left lying around for me to stub my toe on or trip over. The most unsettling thing is how quiet the house is this week. You could hear a pin drop. The reason for this is Serena and the girls have taken a trip away with their grandparents for a few days. Daddy, who had to work, is left behind at home. Some might say silence is golden, but I’ve got so used to a noisy house that, to be honest I’d much prefer a bit of noise. And I’ve got so used to dodging toys on the carpet, everything looks a bit too neat and tidy. Even though I don’t need to be, I’m still in child and baby mode. Putting my hot cup of coffee up high where little hands can’t reach it and thinking I need to go to bed early because I’ll be up early with the girls. You’d think I’d like having the house to myself and having a break from the madness. But, I’ve surprised myself as I’m quite missing all the noise and mess that comes with having children. I just wont be telling them that when they return and I’m asking them to be quiet or tidy up.

I’ve lived in Portsmouth since the day I was born and think I know the city pretty well. For example when there is busy traffic on the island I’ll know if there are routes that help bypass the jams so I can get to where I want to be without too much delay and if someone stops next to me in their car and asks for directions I’m pretty confident that I could tell them where they needed to go. But this doesn’t stop my two year old daughter giving me directions or giving me a commentary in my car. Sometimes I feel like I’m on one of those open top tour buses for tourists. Caitlin’s got a speciality – parks.  The ones with slides and swings in. She can spot one a mile off. We’ll be driving along Queen Street and she’ll make me aware we are passing the swing park next to Sarah Robinson House or we’ll be driving through Goldsmith Avenue and she’ll let me know that we’re approaching Milton Park. I need to teach her the art of subtlety.

Tuesday 24th July

Next time I want a pay rise from my boss I am taking my little lawyer with me - my daughter Caitlin. She has discovered a new ability that I think may not only get me an increase in my salary but may double my earnings. When I turn down one of her requests, she doesn’t want to take “no” for an answer but wants to negotiate with me. Most of the time it’s just the sad puppy dog eyes look with a long drawn out “Pleeeease”. The easiest way to melt daddy’s heart. But luckily my head rules so I stay firm. But now she’s changed tactics from cute to mean. When I denied her request to raid the biscuit tin she responded with “Daddy you can’t be my best friend anymore”. Then when asking if she could watch some TV she announced “daddy I’ll watch my programmes first then you can watch yours later”. Maybe she’s just trying to see how far she can go before I give in or maybe my little lawyer is showing signs she might one day be a great big lawyer.

You may have heard the phrase “the family who sits together stays together”.  This was the headline in a recent article I read online. It suggested that children who sit down and eat with their parents as a family tend to have a higher academic performance than those who don’t and those children will have better manners because they will imitate their parents when sitting together. Of course not good if the parents have bad table manners. I may be guilty of the odd elbow on the table but I hope my table manners are of a high standard. When I think about the perfect family meal time I imagine us all sitting round the dinner table. After shouting in a loud voice “Dinners ready” the children would instantly stop what they were doing and arrive ready to enjoy some healthy and nutritious food. Whilst tucking into the perfectly cooked food we’d be bonding and connecting as a family. We’d be chatting about the days events and sharing any news we’ve had. The mood would be relaxed and light but loving at the same time. My daughters Caitlin and Alyssa would show perfect table manners and appreciate where their food came from. OK, I know I’m asking far too much from a one and two year old but maybe they will learn these skills as they grow up and be thankful for what they are eating. Now though, it is as far away from the perfect family meal time than what I imagine. In fact sometimes meal times can become a bit of a battleground. First it’s trying to get them to the table. Then sometimes Alyssa and Caitlin will squabble. Other times it’s the food and drink ending up everywhere except their mouths and sometimes they just want to be roaming around rather than sitting with mummy and daddy. Now Caitlin has turned from a child who will eat almost anything into a child who wants to turn her nose up at some of the food in front of her. But the good news is there are ways around this problem. My parents tell me they changed the name of fish fingers to fish toes to get me to eat them and oddly it worked. So when Caitlin didn’t much fancy eating her mash potatoes I explained it was actually squashed up chips. Like most kids, she loves chips. This convinced her to eat it all up. Similarly she didn’t want to eat her carrots until she saw Rebecca Rabbit eat them in the kids TV show Peppa Pig. Hopefully as they get older meal time will be more civilized. In the meantime, if you have found a way to get your kids to eat peas or cabbage, please let me know.


Tuesday 17th July

You’ve probably seen one of those TV documentaries about people who have a wild animal living in their home and treat it like it’s their baby. There was one on recently about a woman who lived with a monkey. In the end she had to give it away because it naturally wanted to climb on the furniture and swing from the lampshades. I think I have a bit of an insight into how it feels to live with a wild monkey. All of a sudden Caitlin wants to climb on everything - The sofas, the kitchen worktops, the dining table. I’m hoping we put a stop to it before she decides to venture up the cabinet or even pull herself up the guttering. Her favourite thing to climb on is me. I’ll be sitting there watching tv and out of nowhere I’ll feel a foot on my shoulder and a hand on my head. It’s about time she found out about those monkeys from the nursery rhyme who jumped on the bed, fell off and banged their heads.

When I was a young lad, I wasn’t the tidiest person in the world. Imagine in your mind a stereotypical teenagers bedroom. That’s what my room looked like. An unmade bed with the duvet crumpled up in one corner revealing the bed sheet that only covered half of the mattress, smelly trainers obviously kicked off my feet as soon as I entered the room as they are about five feet apart and mugs that once contained a steaming hot cup of tea now growing mould. The thing I feel most guilty about is when my mum would give me a pile of my freshly ironed clothes and instead of instantly hanging them up I’d just disrespectfully dump them in the corner of my room. My room was tidy sometimes, mostly when I had girlfriends round as I didn’t want them to think I lived in a cluttered dirty mess but soon after standards would once again slip. I’m happy to report that now, years on, my standards of cleanliness have increased considerably. Sadly I can’t take the credit for this myself. I live with my very own Kim and Aggie and Monica from Friends rolled into one – my other half Serena. I read a recent article that revealed that one in three woman secretly love to clean. Serena is definitely one of these women. She’s not so secret about it, though. Not a day goes by without hearing the clunking and whirring sound of the vacuum cleaner or the waft of some sort of cleaning spray heading up my nose. Thing is, now that I’ve got so used to living in a clean and spotlessly tidy house I now can’t stand to be around mess or untidiness. But now living with a one and two year old it’s just not possible to have tidiness all day long. As I sit here typing these words in our living room, I have mess right in front of my eyes.  I’m looking at the skin from the banana just consumed by Caitlin left on the shelf, shredded up paper from a colouring in book scattered all over the floor and a crayons that have been stood and have shattered into many pieces. To be expected with two young children but I have to admit I’d aching to get it all tidied up and restore the room to how it used to look. But if I do I know within the hour it will be messy again. After finally being converted from someone who doesn’t mind a bit of mess into someone who loves everything to be clean and tidy I now have to accept that young children and a tidy house just don’t go together.

Tuesday 10th July

Alyssa has now enjoyed her first ever holiday. A rare weekend off work meant an opportunity to book a few days away. I didn’t see much point in getting on a plane for just a weekend break and I didn’t want to spend my time off doing lots of driving so after a bit of research it was decided we’d head off to Haven Church Farm holiday park in Pagham. Not too expensive and only 40 minutes’ drive from home but far away and secluded enough for it to feel like a holiday. Although all the reviews I had read online before we set off were generally favourable for our destination, I was still curious and slightly nervous about what might greet us.  I imagined a caravan holiday to be cold, draughty, cramped, and damp. I thought back to the tv comedy show Hi De Hi and wondered if we’d be greeted by entertainment staff who would either be keen and enthusiastic to see us or grumpy and miserable depending on whether working at the park was a step up or step down the career ladder. I’m pleased to report my stereotypical thoughts were all wrong. We did have a very enthusiastic welcome when we arrived, but it was not by any entertainment staff in a bright red or blue outfit. Instead it was Ray the security man who introduced himself and pointed us in the right direction. When we found our caravan (after getting a bit lost)  I was shocked with what we found. It was neither cold, draughty, cramped nor damp. It was warm, spacious and clean and felt homely. I even think I muttered the words “you could live in a place like this”. Once I worked out how to put together the hired ‘Easy to assemble’ travel cot that turned out to be not so easy to assemble we left the caravan to explore and start our holiday. During the evening we set off to enjoy the entertainment. Apparently in the past they’ve had stars including Chico from XFactor and eighties pop star Sonia so I was curious to see who’d be on stage. No celebs but the parks very own blue coated ‘funstars’ who danced to classics such as the Macerena and the cha cha slide. I must admit on occasion I wished I had a Britain’s got talent style buzzer to press to move on to the next act but that’s because most of the entertainment was aimed at the children and Caitlin and Alyssa looked like they were having fun. Overall a fantastic holiday with my batteries now fully recharged and even though I haven’t even reached my thirties yet I’m already thinking about which caravan I’ll buy when I retire. I’d better get saving.

By the time Caitlin reached her first birthday, we’d already weaned her off her dummy. We knew that a dummy stuck in her mouth all day would discourage her from talking. We were right, as soon as we took the dummy away from her; she turned into a little chatterbox.  Alyssa is now three months past her first birthday, so it’s now her turn to get through the day and night without her dummy. You’d think she’d be grateful having had the pleasure of it much longer than her big sister. But the last few days without her dummy have not been easy. Trying to calm and comfort her without it takes much longer and getting her off to sleep is much more difficult. It would be so easy to give in and give it back to her but in a few days she’ll forget she ever had a dummy. And best of all mummy and daddy wont be getting up in the night to put it back in. 

Tuesday 3rd July

When I take a photo of Caitlin and Alyssa to capture a memory forever, I know that in twenty years’ time when we look back at these photos we’ll all be laughing at what we see. They will probably be questioning why we dressed them in such outrageous and embarrassing outfits. Of course, right now there is nothing outrageous or embarrassing about their clothing. In fact I always think my children are very well dressed, even if I do say so myself. But fashion changes fast. Not that I’m an expert, far from it, but it’s clear to see the difference between then and now as I look through old family photo albums. I know this far too well, as when I look at photos from when I was younger I wonder what my mum and dad were thinking. The photos of me as a baby give a clear indication of what decade I was born in. Surely they must have been under the influence of something to dress me the way they did. I know the eighties were a colourful decade for fashion but did they really need to dress me, a boy, in bright blue tights? My mum tells me all children wore them in those days.  I’m not sure whether I believe her. Apparently they kept me warm in the winter. Thankfully the focus is taken away from my choice of leg wear when you look at my mum with her huge eighties hair. I think a lot of hairspray and mousse must have been used in our house. I remember once as a child we were visiting family in their block of flats. We pressed the button in the lift to take us up but it wouldn’t budge. My mum stepped back out and all of a sudden the doors closed and it started going leaving her behind. We blamed mums huge eighties hair for overloading the lift. It wasn’t just her though, all the other female family members looked exactly the same. How did all that hair not get caught in those eighties beaded door curtains everyone seemed to have? Well maybe it did. Any male family members that had their photo taken with me also take away some of the embarrassment of my bright blue tights. They all seemed to have a big thick Freddie Mercury style moustache and an earring in just one ear. It’s funny to look back at what we all used to look like and even funnier to think that back then it was all in fashion. So I wonder now, in the photos I take today, what we’ll all be laughing at in years to come. I just hope I don’t hear the sentence “oh look, there’s dad when he had hair”.

I believe laughter is the best medicine and If I want a dose of the chuckle dust it’s now easier than ever.  I might put on my Ricky Gervais live DVD or maybe one of Lee Evans live shows to tickle my funny bones. Or I could type in ‘Funny dog’ into YouTube to get a quick laugh. There’s even TV channels dedicated to making me laugh 24 hours a day. But now the thing that makes me laugh the most is my daughter Caitlin. The best thing is, she is funny without even knowing it. Like when she asked if we could watch a DVD together and requested we watch ‘Andy’. I looked at her puzzled as I’d never heard of that DVD before. She was adamant she had watched it before. I asked her to tell me a bit more about the film. She said Andy was a baby deer. Turned out she meant ‘Bambi’. And when I asked her where milk came from and she answered “the shop”. Who needs Ricky Gervais when I have Caitlin Hayden.

Tuesday 26th June

In an ideal world any furniture I purchase will arrive at my house already assembled and the delivery driver will carry it to the exact spot where it will live forever. Of course that would be far too easy and anyway most items of furniture like that are usually hand crafted or antique and very expensive. I’m just not a fan of flat pack furniture. I always seem to get the one in the batch that has missing the all-important screw that holds the whole thing together and don’t even get me started on the instructions that always leave me even more confused. Well it was time to upgrade Caitlin from her cot bed to a regular single bed. As expected it arrived flat packed. As the man of the house and now a dad I feel it falls on me to try and fit all the pieces together. Luckily on this occasion it was actually quite easy and nothing was missing. I made sure every screw was fitted tight as Caitlin thinks it is multi-purpose – a bed and bouncy castle in one.

I’ve now been a dad for almost three years. It feels like I have blinked and gone from one extreme to another. A few years ago I was a man living with his girlfriend who could come and go as he pleased. I didn’t need to think about what time the girls might wake up and then count the hours backwards to see how much sleep I would be getting that night. I didn’t need to make sure hot drinks were put up high away from curious little hands and I didn’t need to sing songs in the car on long journeys to keep other people entertained, well maybe I did do that occasionally. But now I’m a dad with two children who does do all those things everyday. Time really has flown.  I have enjoyed every moment of the last three years and it really is the best job in the world. I’d never want to go my back to my life before Caitlin and Alyssa arrived but in the last few years I’ve realised things aren’t always easy for dads. I believe most woman have a natural instinct for looking after children but us men have to learn from scratch. I was someone who had never changed a nappy before Caitlin arrived and now I feel I’ve learnt so much about being a dad that I could write a large book on the subject for new expectant dads who are feeling a bit nervous about being in charge of a little human life. I think one chapter would be titled ‘Listen to mums’. I’ve realised that mums know everything about babies and children. I’ve asked experienced mums in my family and friends circle questions ranging from baby clothing to baby constipation. I’ve always had an instant answer that has always turned out to be the correct one. Another chapter would be about planning. With children there is no opportunity to wing it, planning is essential. Children like a routine and work better with a routine. If you’ve planned the day out correctly you shouldn’t get any nasty surprises. Like the time Alyssa decided to fill her nappy and I had forgot to put some new ones in the baby bag. Although I was quite impressed with the temporary nappy I had created out of a towel. I’d definitely have to include a few pages about the park. It’s a magical place that has multiple uses. Not only does it provide entertainment for children and give them the opportunity to mix with other children, it’s also perfect to make them as exhausted as possible. So when bedtime arrives they’ll happily trot of to the bedroom with no fuss. Maybe I’ll call it Warren’s dad survival guide. I’m afraid it would be priced quite high, another thing I’ve learnt is children are expensive.

Tuesday 19th June

With the rest of the country I’ve been watching England play in Euro 2012.  It was only during one of the games that I realised how much my life has changed in just four years. During the last Euro Championships in 2008 I had no children. It was just me and my partner Serena. She’s not much interested in the football so she’d go and watch TV in the other room and leave me to watch the game in peace. Perfect. Roll forward four years and I now have two very noisy daughters. This time I did exactly the same thing, got comfy on the sofa with snacks and drinks next to me ready for ninety minutes of man time. But different to four years ago, during the game I had to change a nappy, find a lost crayon under the sofa, share my snacks and keep telling the girls to move out the way of the television. I have two choices, try and get the girls interested in the football or finally get round to building that man shed (with TV aerial) at the end of the garden.

When I wake up in the morning, it takes me at least twenty minutes to wake up fully. I’ve never really been a morning person, more of a night owl. My ideal start to the day is pretty boring. On my own, sitting on the sofa with a cup of coffee and maybe the radio or TV on in the background. Of course, that doesn’t happen anymore and probably won’t happen for many years to come. When Caitlin and Alyssa decide to wake up at 5:30am and it’s my turn to get up with them I have to wake up my mind pretty quickly. Unlike me, they start each and every day full of life and energy. Caitlin is the biggest chatterbox around so a quiet start to the day is completely out of the question. At that time of the morning it’s so easy to get annoyed and grumpy with them. In the past I have been guilty of asking them to be quiet or requesting the noisy toys stay in the toy box. I even had to stop myself requesting Caitlin stop being childish. What a silly thing to say, as that’s exactly what she is. Most of the time I’m not grumpy, honest. But when I do feel like I’m getting a bout of grumpiness with the girls I stop myself and remember that it’s important my children are allowed to be children and it’s these moments that I need to treasure and take mental notes of.  My parents tell me that the girls will grown up before I know it, so when that time comes I don’t just want photos to remind me off these times but also lots of memories too. This view has given me the opportunity to once again be a child through my children. I can’t think of any other reason why I would be crawling around my living room, hiding behind the sofa and making a “roar” sound other than when I’m chasing Caitlin and Alyssa as they try and hide from me. A game they would play all day if I had the strength. Likewise, I can’t think of any other situation where I would sit at the coffee table with Caitlin and together make a cake with no ingredients. Yes, a pretend cake. After we’d put all the pretend ingredients in a bowl we’d mix it with a pretend spoon and put it in a pretend oven. Then after the pretend cake had cooked we’d sit together and eat it. Caitlin even kindly makes me a pretend cup of coffee to go with it. I love her imagination. So from now on I will encourage my girls to use their imagination and act their age. And if anyone accuses me of being childish, I’d have to agree with them

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