In October 2008 we went to Blackpool for the illuminations. The hotel we stayed in was nice, but the room - with an under-size bed and views of a shed through a small, bird poo-covered window - was terrible. So I wrote them a letter of complaint and was offered a free two night stay in one of the upgraded rooms at the hotel.
We returned to Blackpool over the February half term period. The room was much nicer – with a spa bath – but that’s not really important for the story.

In February Blackpool can be very, very cold. And windy. And a bit rainy.

And during half term 2009 Blackpool was indeed very, very cold. And windy. And a bit rainy.

We wanted shelter from the weather so went into the arcade at the bottom top part of the pier attached to the land. We played on the Donkey Derby, rolling our balls into little holes to make our donkeys move. I won the first race (it was a cold day in February, there wasn’t much competition) and was awarded a cheap, slightly odd-looking teddy bear.
Emma won the second race and was awarded a cheap, slightly odd-looking teddy bear. Emma won the third race and was awarded a cheap, slightly odd-looking teddy bear.

Then, the man running the stall – I like to think of him as The Donkey Master - asked if we wanted to swap our three cheap, slightly odd-looking teddy bears for a Remy from the Ratatouille film.

This was the first time we had been away since owning a digital camera. So Emma was taking a picture of the Tower. I held Remy up in front of the camera so that Remy would appear, unexpectedly in the picture. I believe that the kids these days call that ‘photo-bombing’.

That was a significant moment. The next place we sought shelter from the weather was in a pub. The longer we stayed in the pub the more we thought it was a good idea to take pictures of Remy. So we took a lot.

Then Remy started coming everywhere with us. And he appeared in all of our photos. At first this was a bit embarrassing, especially in what are considered child friendly places. I was worried about being thought of as ‘the strange man in the zoo with a teddy bear’ so we tried to be discreet.

As we took more and more photos, though, it became normal.

I created a facebook group for Remy to upload his photos to. But then Facebook changed the was groups work so I had to set him up with his own account.

I made a video with a lot of Remy’s early pictures on.

When we went to San Francisco we were the only people taking pictures of a stuffed rat with the Golden Gate Bridge in the background (We were the only people full stop taking pictures of the Oakland Bay Bridge that we confused with Golden Gate).

Ahead of a trip to Dublin we got to Prestatyn and thought we had left him in Daventry. We considered rushing back to get him before our ferry, and thought about ways of photo-shopping pictures when we got home. But then he turned up in a bag.

In Tenerife we got so drunk one night we couldn’t remember how we had got back to the hotel from the bar we were in. We traced our steps the next morning by following the landmarks in Remy’s pictures on the camera.

Remy was in most of our wedding pictures and was at the births of both of our children, but didn’t see any of the yucky bits. 

That’s when things started to change for poor Remy. We went to fewer different places once we had a child. That meant fewer photo opportunities for Remy. So I’ve been thinking of some new things for him to do. The first of these is re-making some of the great works of liteRATure, such as “The Curious Incident of the Rat in the Nightime” and  “The Lion The Rat and The Wardrobe”.

The pictures taken whilst Remy was on a tour of the libra(t)ry are here.

Baby 2

I got an unusual Christmas present this year. 

We were booked in on Christmas Eve for a Caesarean. My parents came down a couple of days beforehand because they were babysitting Sparrow for us.

Emma was told that she wasn’t allowed to eat anything after 10pm the night before

We were still hoping that things would happen earlier, even as Emma was eating her last meal. But nothing happened. So, we got ourselves ready and arrived in the maternity ward before 7:30 on Christmas Eve morning. Then the waiting started.

There were four people booked in for sections that day. Whenever we asked we were told that the order of the operations hadn’t been finalised. It became apparent  - when everyone else went in – that that was just because no one wanted to tell us we were last.

I had to get dressed in Surgical Scrubs. The blue pants were very comfortable. And I had a hair net to wear. Which stuck like Velcro to the stubble on the small area of my head where hair grows.

A lot of emergencies came in too, so they had to go before us. By 1pm Emma was very hungry. And impatient. Whenever we’re waiting for food to arrive I find that if I go to the toilet the waitress will arrive at the table with my burger while I’m gone. I decided it was worth trying this trick in hospital. And while I was in the toilet the nurse arrived to say they were ready for us. But then they obviously had to wait for me.

I had to wait outside the theatre while the anaesthetic was administered. This brought back painful memories of the panic and distress last time I was waiting in that room. The resuscitation machine was equally intimidating, and the plastic chair equally uncomfortable. But there was laughing and joking coming from inside the theatre this time, which there wasn’t last time.

The local anaesthetic worked this time, meaning that there was no need for general anaesthetic and I could stay in the room.

The baby was healthy and was allowed to stay with us – which meant no traipsing up to the neo-natal ward where the sick babies are kept.

They dressed her in a red and white woolly hat because it was Christmas.

As it was a section Emma had to stay in hospital for a couple of days. That meant that we couldn’t give Sparrow the Christmas that we would have liked to. But she woke up just after 5 on Christmas morning so there was plenty of time for me to open most of her presents with her before I went to the hospital.

Emma had a Christmas dinner (without sprouts) at the hospital. I had turkey sandwiches (well, it was Bernard Matthews meat, but it said "turkey" on the packet).

Emma was in a lot of pain on Christmas night, but she and Seahorse were allowed home on Boxing Day.
Sparrow was very excited to see her new sister. She came running into the hallway when we arrived home and then called for her Grandad to come and look at her sister. She’s taken to the changes really well. If anything she’s been a little over-enthusiastic: poking her sister a little too hard and running towards the Moses basket too quickly.

I’d forgotten how small a newborn baby is. And how delicate they feel next to a toddler.

And I’d forgotten how hard the sleepless nights are.

There's a
poem about the whole thing here


The last time I blogged we were about to go for a scan to discover whether Seahorse, the new baby, is a boy or a girl.

She’s a girl.

This means that we don’t have to pick from the list of uninspiring boys’ names that we had drafted.
It also means that I won a bet that meant I had breakfast bought for me after the scan.

I don’t remember much of Sparrow’s 20 week scan – just that they measured the thigh bone and head and they and prodded a bit until the baby moved to a better position. This time the radiologist was really good and talked us through all the things she could see, pointing them all out on the screen so that all the white smudges vaguely came to resemble bits of human.

Knowing that everything was OK with the scan means that we can now start making proper plans for her arrival. Primarily, this means trying to remember what we did last time.

It also means that I can start looking for toys to buy. Or at least, the toys that I would like to buy if we didn’t have so much other stuff to buy.

We’ve already bought a double pushchair, which I’m sure is bigger than some cars that I’ve owned. We needed one where they sit one behind the other so it can be manoeuvred through narrow shop aisles, but where the older child sits at the front, because it wouldn’t be worth the argument of trying to get her in a back seat where she can’t see anything. We found a second hand one on Facebook that is ideal.

Next up we need a new Moses basket, because the last one was eaten by the squirrels, and a new cot-bed.

Dad's What I'm Talking About...Again

It's very nearly two years since I wrote this. And, somehow, it's happened again.

We've got a scan tomorrow morning when, hopefully, we will get to find out whether the devil child is going to have a new brother or sister.

The new baby is due in December, on the 28th. But because Emma had an emergency Caesarean section last time we have to have lots of meetings with doctors to decide whether it's better to have another (non-emergency (hopefully)) one, so it might be delivered at a more predictable date.

We haven't even trained the first one to sleep through the night reliably yet, but she's going to be expected to learn how to change someone else's nappy pretty quickly.


Korma Chameleon

Back in April I was staying at my parents’ house in Prestatyn. Emma and I had been to Llandudno. After we got back we put the baby to bed and my ordered a take away from the local Indian takeaway.

Being a real mans’ man I ordered a Chicken Korma, a dish I have pretty much every time I go for a curry.

(Except when they have offers on where you get rice or naan bread free with a meal, in which case I always find it’s better to get a Biriyani, which comes with rice, and get free bread)

It was a very nice Korma, but something didn’t feel right - it was making me cough and I was struggling to breathe. I took large mouthful of my wine (rose, naturally, being a real mans’ man), but it made no difference so I tried water and that didn’t work either. Then I went outside to get some fresh air, and started to feel worse.

The next thing I knew I was waking up, face down in my Dad’s hosepipe. That’s not a euphemism.

My mum called a paramedic, who gave me some oxygen and an antihistamine before taking me and Emma to the hospital in his nice Land Rover Freelander.

In the waiting room at A&E my chest and stomach started itching. My body started to change colour, going red and blotchy. Then my arms started itching. Then my legs. Then my feet started itching so much I had to take my shoes off to cool them down. I had to go to the toilet to scratch places that I couldn’t scratch in a public waiting room.

When the doctor saw me he confirmed that it was an allergic reaction, explained that I needed an injection in my arm (I think this was adrenaline) and that I would need to hang around for an hour to check it was working. At some point he gave me some Cortizone and told me I’d be able to win the Tour de France now.

This was a Friday night and the Casualty department was starting to get busy with drunk people and people with sports injuries so a nurse decided that the best place for me to wait would be the ‘Swine Flu Room’. It turned out that this wasn’t as scary as it sounded – no sneezing pigs, no people with porcine based illnesses – just a room that they’d used in the past to isolate people with swine flu.

Less than an hour later most of the itching had stopped and the doctor sent home with some tablets, telling me I had to book an allergy test through my GP.

Then the fun of booking a doctor’s appointment started. The receptionist I spoke to didn’t know the procedure for booking one, so had to consult he A4 manual. I first had to speak to a triage nurse on the phone, but there wasn’t an appointment for three days. The nurse phoned me, I explained what happened and she told me that I’d need to speak to my doctor on the phone, suggesting that I avoid curry in the meantime. The doctor was due to phone me the next day (Friday), but didn’t, even after I called the surgery to check that I was on the list of people to be phoned. So I called back on the Monday and the doctor phoned me later that day. I told him exactly what I had told the triage nurse and he told me to book an appointment for an allergy test at the hospital through his secretary.

Having avoided any curry for three months. I had my allergy test appointment this week. I told the Immunologist what I had told my GP and the triage nurse. He asked questions like ‘what kind of chocolate bars do you eat?’ and ‘do you ever blow balloons up?’ before deciding that it looks like a peanut allergy. It seems that the price of almonds has risen in recent years so some restaurants are using peanut oil rather than almonds in dishes such as korma. Despite explaining to me that a peanut isn’t really nut he’s advised that I avoid all nuts from now on.

They’ve taken a blood sample to confirm the diagnosis and I’ve been prescribed an adrenaline pen to inject myself with if it happens again.

The doctor said that a diagnosis such as this can lead to huge lifestyle changes for people, but  I’ve never trusted or liked peanuts anyway, so it shouldn’t make too much difference to me, except not eating Korma and  missing out on the Green Triangles in Quality Street.


Give it Some Telly (Part Two)

In my last blog post I talked about how I had been invited to film an episode of the gameshow “Common Denominator”.

Filming was on the 8th December at BBC Television Centre. I had to be there for 10:30am.  I was asked to take three or four outfits, all in bright colours, but with no logos and no stripey patterns.

A lady from the production company phoned me to say that they had booked train tickets for me to get there; I just had to pick them up from the station.

I picked the tickets up, got on a train from Northampton to Euston, made my down to Oxford Street amongst the early-morning Christmas shoppers and the got on the Underground (again, fortunately, no arm pits) and headed over to the big shopping centre at Westfield to use the toilet.

Then I headed over to the BBC. There was a crowd of people outside. As I hadn’t even been on TV yet I assumed that it wasn’t me that they were waiting to catch a glimpse of, but wondered if there was a discrete rear entrance, just in case. Having not found another entrance I decided to risk the main doorway. The crowd, who it turned out were waiting to see some people off Strictly Come Dancing, didn’t even notice me.

I waited in reception with the other contestants that were filming the show. I had met one of them at the audition. As it was a new show that none of us had seen before the production staff talked us through the format and what would happen during each round. We weren’t allowed to wander off to the toilet unsupervised in case we went looking for the people off Strictly Come Dancing.

A lady from wardrobe came round and looked at all of the outfits that I’d brought. She picked the two that she liked most and took them away to check that they didn’t clash with the set or with the clothes that the presenter (Phil Spencer off the house-buying programmes) was wearing.

Then I was asked to go off to make-up. I was led through some dark corridors into the backstage area of the set where I could see Phil Spencer off the house-buying programmes rehearsing some of his parts. The female contestant (who I’m not naming because I can’t remember how to spell her name) that was on the show spent a long time with the make artist having lots of things done to her face and hair. The make-up artist took one look at me and decided that it was only worth putting some powder on my face, some on my chin to cover a shaving rash and a load on my bald head to stop it shining.

All of this seemed to fly by, and the call to make our way to the set at 1:30pm came really quickly.

We were shown to our places on the set and told what would happen next: what Phil Spencer off the house buying programmes would say, what the cameras would do and when we had to speak. Then I had to look at the camera and do my introduction: “Hello, I’m Adam, I’m from Daventry and I’m a transport planner”.

Then there was a break and the make up lady put more powder on my head.

Then the first round began. The idea behind the programme is to find a (sometimes tenuous) link between two things that appear un-related. For example, the common denominator between “Paris” and “Hotel” would be “Hilton”. In the first round contestants play individually and have four questions, with the player with the fewest correct answers being eliminated at the end of the round.

The female contestant went first and got all four of her questions correct. I went second and got all of my answers correct. That meant that the other male contestant had to get all of his right to take it to tie break. His first question was to find the common denominator between “Fist” and “Maiden”. Quite understandably he thought “hand” straight away, but that wasn’t the answer the producers were looking for so he ran out of time going along that train of thought. That meant he was out after just one question. The answer was “Iron”.

Then there was a break and the make up lady put more powder on my head.

The format of the second round was slightly different: contestants are shown two pictures and have ten seconds to find the common denominator. If they don’t get it right it automatically passes to the other contestant. There are four questions in total, two for each contestant.

We had drawn straws and the female contestant was to go first. There was a picture of David Bowie and one of a cricketer. The female contestant couldn’t get it so it passed to me. I couldn’t get it. The answer was “Ashes”.

I got my question right and she got her next one right, meaning that the score was 1 each with one question to go. I was to go first and got the answer right, meaning that I was through to the final. 

Then there was a break and the make up lady put more powder on my head.

In the final round I had to find the common denominator between a picture and a phrase. Each question was worth more money (£100, £250, £500, £1,000, £2,500 and £10,000) but if I chose to go for the next question I had to sacrifice the money already won, so if I chose to play the £500 question, for example, and couldn’t get the answer I would leave with nothing. I had 45 seconds to win as much as money as I could. To make this slightly easier I was allowed to use one pass.

The first couple of questions were relatively easy, but then I was shown a picture of Arnold Schwarzenegger and the word “Uncivilised”. I didn’t have a clue what the common denominator so shouted out some things I knew about Arnie, and some things that I didn’t know, such as ‘Robocop’, which he wasn’t in.

I used my pass. The answer was “Barbarian” which, apparently, is the name of a film that he’s in. If I’d spent all day guessing I don’t think I’d have got that.

I was then lucky enough to get a couple more questions on things that I knew something about, until I had £2,500 with about 15 seconds left.

I decided that it wasn’t worth risking that amount of money in case I got another question like the Arnie one.

Since the programme has been on people have asked me why I was happy to risk £1,000 with 17 seconds left, but not confident enough to go for £10,000 with 15 seconds left. I think that subconsciously I had decided that while £1,000 would be nice it wouldn’t be the end of the world to lose it, but £2,500 would be very nice and not worth risking if I had any doubts. The Barbarian question had given me enough doubt to know that I shouldn’t take that risk.

I don’t know how long things stay on 4OD for, but I believe the show is available to watch on this link:


Give It Some Telly

In November I filled in an application form to be on a new gameshow called Common Denominator. A couple of days after sending it off I got a phone call inviting me down to the Endemol studios in that London for an audition.

The confirmation email that I was sent gave me directions to the offices and advised me to arrive 15 minutes before the start of my 10am audition. So, having booked the day off work I got on a train and made m y way down there. Deciding that the West London location was a little too far to walk from Euston I used the Underground for the first time since I was a child. As it was slightly after rush hour I avoided having to stand on a crowded train with my nose in someone’s armpit and decided that the tube wasn’t as bad as I suspected it might be.

Not wanting to look too keen, I arrived at the security office at the Endemol office 17 minutes before the audition start time. The fire alarm was going off and everyone was evacuating the building. The security guard told me to go and wait round the corner until everyone was back inside. When people started heading back in I went back to the security office and the guard pointed me in the direction of reception, up four flights of stairs.

In reception there were two other people waiting for the same audition, but the receptionist said that the other auditionees had already gone off with the producers. We sat there for quarter of an hour whilst the receptionist tried to track down the producers. It started to feel like this had been a wasted journey. But then she got hold of the producers and.......

...they asked me to sign a form saying that I wouldn’t reveal any details of the audition process....

..... and then I got back on the tube to Euston (still no armpits) and got a train back to Northampton. Then I got a phone call asking me to go back to that London in December to be on the show.

Apparently the episode that I am on is on Channel 4 at 3:30pm on Wednesday next week (10th April). I am away next week so I will blog more about the show and my first (only) trip to BBC Television Centre when I am back.


Squirrel Update

The squirrels from my last blog post have, officially at least, left the building. The only evidence of their former presence seems to be some bits of chewed wood and some droppings that the Mouse Man missed when he was tidying up after them. So if anyone would like a definitive answer the eternal ‘is squirrel shit nutty?’ question then I know how you can find out.

Since the removal of the squirrel nest (or Doctor Drey as it became known) I have arrived home twice to see one of the little fellas sitting on the drive. He runs off before I can see where he goes, so I don’t know if it’s a friend of one of our squirrels plotting a revenge attack, the ghost of one of our squirrels returning to haunt me and exact his own revenge, or just coincidence.

We’ve also been hearing more unaccounted for noises coming from above in the night. This could be Jesus. It could be the vengeful gnawing of a ghostly squirrel spirit. It could be dripping resulting from snow melt. Or it could be the mice that we initially suspected it could be when it turned out we had squirrels.

Trips into the (until recently) un-conquered corners of the attic, though, have so far produced no further evidence of squirrels, no dead mice in the mouse traps, no evidence of mice, and no evidence of Jesus.