Reflections

An appropriate heading for this, the final day of this year. How was yours? What was good? What happened that you would you like to change? What is worth persevering with? What would you like to do that is new? And what would you like to stop doing altogether? These are age old questions at a time of reflection. All of that aside, today’s diary entry is all about (and I’m being selfish here), this is about what I am proud of and what’s been accomplished for me in 2018!

This time last year, my life was very much more, a private affair. Who would have thought that by the end of the year, I would be three months in to writing an online diary, pretty much showing openly, a little slice of my family life, here in The Shires. Back then my (historical) memoir was written and I was organising the timeline into a readable novel. But the book was something that I was reflecting on. My present day life seemed to be separate to what the history was of how two guys set about making a family and about the choices they made and how they were committed to seeing things through, even when the ending or endings came with a certain toll. I realise now, that like all books and stories, the life I am living comes with a beginning, a middle and an end. The novel is merely the beginning of ‘This Story’. I completed the novel in August, so for me, this year has been fruitful. Rather than eighteen months of memories spanning three and a half years, I had something tangible, a chronological order to the things that had happened over that period of time. At the present moment, having moved on, I am just considering the last twelve months. Only three of these months recorded in this diary, but I can assure you that I am proud of each and every single month over the last year. The end of my story will always be tomorrow – thankfully another day, one yet to come. I realise that it’s the middle of a story where you find the real backbone. As a family, these last twelve months have had their accomplishments and setbacks, but we have all moved forward. And moving forward is achievement. So tonight at midnight, I will raise my glass to moving forward… will you toast the same with me?

A Small update

Okay, it’s been a long holiday and quite honestly, exhausting, yet invigorating. Today we had another late night invasion of the living room (5 nights running now), but the reason was not Caleb removing his nappy and smearing the contents over his bed, rather Thor had removed his and rubbed his little smear of poo over the ‘Paw Patroller’ (you need to have little ones who watch paw patrol to understand what that is)! I went up and managed to clear up a little of the mayhem (with baby wipes), that had kept them up until after 9pm. But I had to scorn them when Aaliyah simply threw her empty nappy at me and marched off to her bed! Well there’s gratitude. Tara and Amritsar should also know better at their age.

Enough said, all is quite upstairs now. I will now recount last night and why they were justified in staying up late. We had our babysitter Nikki booked in for 8pm and though we were going to watch fireworks over the neighbours hedge from 8pm. Our table at our relatively local, favourite Michelin started restaurant was booked for 8.45pm. Nikki arrived, as did one of our neighbours, back from Christmas in France, as we all stood, all five children in their Jim Jams, slippers and dressing gowns at the front door, a mass of hysteria happened on the lawn in front of the house and our not so famous five ended up covered in mud, well dressing gowns and slippers at least. The fireworks didn’t happen and we had to flee in order to get to the restaurant for our allotted time. Thank you Nikki for getting them up to bed. The meal was great, though yet again I chose the rib eye steak and triple cooked chips. I always frown at a menu when you end up ordering the steak option. Their menu certainly deserves the Michelin star, but the butternut squash risotto simply didn’t appeal. You know what it’s like!

Talking of food – WOW! Tonight’s dinner of spaghetti and meatballs using 50% pork and 50% finely diced brown turkey meat was sublime. Only breadcrumbs, fresh herbs and seasoning added. Please reassess turkey leftovers and consider meatballs (or meatloaf) as a real option? Maybe next year at least. On Christmas Day I immediately froze the two turkey legs, simply because that way, you get to choose what to do with them considerately at a later date. And today my regular meatball recipe just slightly tweaked, as I realised the perfect ‘turkey leftovers’ dilemma we are all faced with year after year. Just make sure you roll the meatballs as small as a chocolate truffle? Time well spent and practice makes perfect. The taste (opposed to using pork alone) was amplified and I didn’t even think I was consuming turkey leftovers as the texture was soft and tender. Job well done. Off to bed now, signing off.

The Latest Lie In Ever

The time is now 9.45am and the children are still in their rooms! Not so silent as Tara and Amritsar are shouting and the magnitude of Thor’s mighty thunder can be heard from all the way down here in the living room. I guess they will be down soon enough, to toasted raisin and cinnamon bagels, but this I have noted is the latest time ever that they have remained, self amusing in their bedrooms. Remus is besides himself whimpering and whining, in preparation for their arrival and Gracie is sitting beside me looking very chilled out. I promised John a toasted cheese sandwich, butter side out and toasted on a hot skillet. He’s getting more insistent that we forget about their arrival and I just make the promised Cheese toasties without them. I’ll fill you in on why they are no doubt up so late a little later and get ‘Toasting in the Kitchen’.

9.55 and the girls have arrived, Amritsar saying ‘oooh oooh aaah aaah’, clutching her soft toy monkey from babyhood and Tara clutching Kit Koala, her favourite soft toy who sleeps with her every night. A gift also from babyhood from her Auntie Kylie and Uncle Paul, who live in Australia. Aaliyah has dropped her new soft Dalmatian toy in favour of hugging Gracie, the real McCoy, who is lying down bedside them.

Kimmah Ligh

This years cutest moment has to be last Friday as we drove home from Wimbledon, after dinner with Liz. Every house that was externally adorned with Christmas lights, was duly commented on from the back seat by Caleb. A softly spoken ‘Kimmah Ligh’ would resonate every time we passed a festively Illuminated building. Every few minutes that passed, ‘Kimmah Ligh’, ’Kimmah Ligh’, ‘Kimmah Ligh’. In the end we were all playing the game, not just Caleb. So now I think of ‘Kimmah Ligh’ and smile to myself.

Xmas Rated

Along side the homemade Xmas rated (pear, rum and raisin) Jam (a neighbour Sandra grabbed the last three jars before heading to be with family in France for the holidays), a few of these festive, visual or gastronomic delights seem to be a bit naughty as well! The slurry of Christmas movies we have subjected ourselves to, let alone the slightly boozy puds and exotic meats, well I will say again, I am truly Christmassed out. Mind you, Laura Linney’s looking good in ‘Love Actually’! Remember ‘The tales of the City’? A classic from channel fours past, best not forgotten… This year our pigs in blankets were actually chickens in blankets – don’t tell anyone. Our turkey actually had a name, Kelly (bronze) and the bird arrived with exact cooking instructions plus a thermometer and a box of maldon sea salt. I shared a video of Xmas lunch, so you might remember that it was in the whole, a straightforward affair. However we continued to feast on Kelly and the large joint of ham with a second ‘Mock Roasty’ on Boxing Day. Why go with the cold cuts and pickles when for the sake of deep frying some cooked, peeled potatoes (microwaved) and as I always do, heat pre blanched vegetables, glaze the pre cooked carrots in sugar, a splash of water, butter and a pinch of salt and microwave blanched green beans, cauliflower or whatever. Peas easily cooked from frozen. A second ‘Mock Roasty’ is so easy at this point. Slice the meat cold and reheat in the gravy. Save the cold cuts for the 27th as we did. Turkey breast, gammon ham, cheddar, Stilton, branston (or home made pickle), cornichons / gherkins, baby beets and buttered baguette, the only word for it is ‘Wow’. Okay the slurry comes in the choices of Xmas movies, certainly not the food. We’ve had chitty chitty bang bang, which the children loved (hated it last year), Charlie and the chocolate factory, The Wizard of Oz and for us grown ups we’ve entertained ‘The Holiday’, ‘New Years Eve’, ‘It’s a Wonderful Life’ and most recently, ‘Love Actually’. At this very moment we are enjoying the BBC’s new rendition of ‘Poirot’ – isn’t John Malcovich a rare talent?

One small ‘Q and A’. What did I do with the rest of Kelly the turkey and the ham joint? The freezer of course, as it won’t last until New Year’s Day. Nestling besides the frozen turkey gravy and the last of the blanched sprouts! Carrots don’t freeze well, so we’ll steam and glaze them on the day.

Moral dilemma tonight as we had veal escalopes. I last enjoyed veal many years ago when minced veal was just £1.00 per lb. the purchase was mostly based on price back then, the ethics of cost I guess, not about the age of animal at slaughter. But tonight’s indulgence was just shy of £30 per kilo. Wow – have we stopped selling the entire male population of male calf births (in the U.K. and Ireland) to our French cousins? I hope that Veal is back on the menu here at home, as so many livestock farmers benefit from the less discounted sales price with a real market lead by demand. We try and be honest and open with the children about why farm animals exist, it is all a diplomatic consideration, just enough info to warrant why things are so…

Okay it’s getting late and almost time to say goodbye to Xmas and welcome in the New Year. A few words from me, maybe over the weekend, but for now, ‘Au Revoir’.

The Festive Holiday

A week long weekend, that’s how this time of year feels. And to imagine, another five days of it, I’m yawning as I write. I’ve just snuck off to the bedroom and left them all downstairs, now running amuck! They were settled with ‘Team Umizoomi’ on Netflix, but with attention spans of newts, they are now terrorising daddy, who is trying to play candy crush on his iPad. We started watching ‘Team Umizoomi’ on Nick Jr whilst the girls were babies and we lived in an apartment in Jogeshwari, Mumbai. Of course as babies, Amritsar and Tara would just look up at the screen and smile. They would be tightly swaddled and were the best behaved babies ever. We watch the program now, on occasion as a family and they join in with all the bits that there was once only silence. When the characters (Millie, Geo and Bott) ask questions or are looking for answers, they ask the audience. It’s so much better that a year or two back when all five would just look up and remain silent. They shout back to the TV as if they are all personally involved. It’s good to have them all figuring things out and interacting together. As you can imagine with five, it was hard work when they all needed maximum nurture and they just looked up at you and smiled or ran around, completely mindlessly. Now, although still loud and screamy, they are at least their own persons. Many outbreaks from Thor and Aaliyah over the last days. Even Mrs Snodgrass was called on the telephone last night as Aaliyah was so badly behaved. Her school for ‘Naughty Girls’ was threatened and Aaliyah has promised she really wants to be a good girl. She now has a few days to prove that she can be a good girl. Naughty schools new term starts on Monday and Aaliyah was told that she would have to pack a bag as the school is a boarding school. Aaliyah is trying hard to be good now. Naughty school is just a fiction and used every now and then to steer Aaliyah on the right path. Thor on the other hand is still a bit too ballistic to comprehend ‘Naughty School’ and it’s implications. We just have to rely on the threat of the ‘Thinking Chair’ or bed as the the ultimate threat. The dogs are now sat in front of me, looking up silently. The occasional whine from Remus. I never really get any time to myself, except the time I spend in London every fortnight. I should be grateful, I’m never alone. Better rejoin the masses now and head downstairs. I might blog again later and tell you a bit more about how our Christmas has been.

The Aftermath

Far too busy to blog yesterday, so a little catch up on the latest, in today’s diary addition. Yes, Thor’s Birthday way yesterday and the day flew by, much as a station does on a fast train, not stopping there. So remembering yesterday’s events is a bit of a blur, partially down to the mulled wine, but primarily due to constant din of not just five children, but rather twenty five. Sindy and her sister Sally were great! From midday til two o’clock, they made sandwiches and stuffed yellow cardboard lunch boxes with ham and jam sandwiches, pombears, mini sausages, miniature tomatoes and a Cadbury’s chocolate roll. whilst I made the mulled wine to offer to the parents attending the party. The village Hall was a decked with minion balloons and table cloths. The theme, Thor’s favourite ever, was crowned off with a minion Birthday cake. He was wearing his new minion jacket and is at present, looking on as Daddy, Amritsar and Tara piece together his minion 3D puzzle globe. Back to the party, there was a great magician who entertained the mass of both child and adult alike. Within a flash it was over, the hall empty and Sindy and Sally were waving us goodbye in the car park outside, car filled with five very tired children, two exhausted dads, two large bags of gifts that have been scattered to the winds in the living room throughout the day today and four bin liners of non recyclable leftovers. A very large full moon was blooming in the semi lit skies to the left hand side of the car as we drove home. The day a success and only one or two little ‘outbursts’ from our not so famous five. I have just been invited in to see the completed minion globe, they are all jubilant.

Winter Solstice and a Full Moon in One

On this day, after a small break from my blog (three days), I return on this rather special astrological day. The day that is Winter Solstice and the moon is almost at the peak of its cycle. I think tomorrow is its official full blossom, but it looks big and bright in the relative clear skies above us, here in the Shires. The children went to bed late as we only arrived home at 8.30pm. There were a few very grumpy outbreaks In the car on the return journey, but we are home and things have finally settled down. Another glass of chilled Rose wine in this time of peace and quiet and yes, a memory or two from our month in Provence, throughout August. Whilst there, I actually completed my novel recounting the time we set out to become a family and all of the highs, lows, injustices and sheer bureaucracy of it all. It has been sat in the draw this whole time! Tick, tick, tick, there’s got to be an agent out there who might be interested in bringing it to a publisher, but for now, I await one specific agent who has not replied to my submission. Yes, even here in the U.K. like in India and the world throughout, there is a way that things are actually done. Agents are worth their weight in gold if they deliver well in whatever business they bargain and trade within. I found that in India, most businesses have the allusive ‘Agent’! Come on guys, even Hollywood is constructed on a ‘Middle Man’ or woman taking their cut of a deal. Well I have decided that if my preferred choice of agent is not on board, I will submit the manuscript to the myriad of publishing agents out there on mass and if in eight weeks time, there is no agent on board, self publishing is a very real possibility. Okay, back to the full moon on this, our planets shortest day. In fairness, that does give our almost full moon that little bit longer to shine!

Why were we out all day? Well, John had a ‘bring the children into work day’ as his final working day before the Christmas break. And all of those employees with children came in with their ‘little ones’. Fun was had by all and as you can imagine, not a lot of work was actually done. But everyone enjoyed the party and we were all disbanded by 1pm. We then continued on to Wimbledon for a meal with a friend of the family, Liz. She was in fact the first person I told that we were pregnant with our twins, Amritsar and Tara. That seems such a while back now. We are the proud parents to five small children. Just the thought and hopes for that first pregnancy six years ago seems eons ago. So it was lovely to see her and thank you for going to all the trouble Liz.

Thor’s fourth birthday tomorrow, so lots to include in the next instalment of the ‘Diary of a Gay Dad’.

All Christmassed Out (Already)

Aren’t we all? A non stop whirlwind from dawn until dusk. How do we all cope? And then there’s more ‘chores’ for tomorrow, isn’t there? Well my day started with the children’s breakfast and once on the school run with Sindy, I completed the bauble explosion with the tree. All those memories of the little red glitter balls and spiney, glitter stars brought for John and my first Christmas together, all those years ago. But what did we accumulate along the way. China ones with the children’s hand prints. Baked glitter stars from the girls first year at big school. Papier mache bells and hand painted animal globes, a mass of felt baubles and little rabbits from Nepal. Little Thai Elephants on a string, sea shell wreaths from Hawaii. Each one a memory of a time in our lives. Christmas is such a manic time.

Wreath making this morning with Sindy. This year I don’t have time to collect foliage from the woods to make garlands. At least not at the moment. But we used the lower branches from the tree that actually touches the ceiling to make the two conifer wreaths this morning. Sindy took hers home for her front door and mine is now adorning ours. I might ‘camp it up’ at the weekend, but for now, austerely reigns. That is until you enter the living room. I guess I should attach pics, though it’s a bit late to photograph the home made wreath on the front door.

The sausage (duxelle) stuffing for Christmas Day and New Year’s Day was cooked and is now frozen, to be defrosted as needed. Beef fore ribs were slow cooked in stock and frozen for an ‘easy meal option’, plus I cooked Moroccan chicken and cous cous for the grown ups dinner tonight. The children had a pasta salad with steak sandwiches. Cooked burgers from Saturday, just sliced thinly and refried, served with salad, Dadda’s home made tomato chutney and mayonnaise. I packed up four trios of Dadda’s Jam for the girls teachers presents earlier and the Head mistress has a hand made chocolate box containing twelve chocolate dipped orangettes, as she requested a few freebies when she purchased the Xrated Xmas Jams at the Christmas Fayre. Sitting down now with a glass of rose wine thinking about bed. Memories of Provence coming back, as all we drank was rose, as they do in the south of France. A few stories I might reminisce on at a later date, but for now, just bed as I am shattered.

Rain, Rain, Rain

A late in the day blog today. I’m sat here in the car with everyone, John is at the wheel. It’s six thirty now and it’s dark outside. We left home this morning after feeding the dogs early. Spent the afternoon with friends who have three little ones, much the same ages as our guys. So as you can imagine that today was a fairly loud one and some great food thrown in, (it was roast lamb heaven). So after a great, pretty well behaved day, here we are, driving through the torrential rain, rain, rain. Turned off the Christmas music of earlier and playing some classical piano. The not so famous five all quiet, feeling sleepy now after a long day. John concentrating on the road and little bleats from Caleb saying that he was hungry as he didn’t finish the feast of earlier today. Half a piece of toast matey, on your way up to sleeping bye byes me thinks… the dogs are going to be desperate for a pee but they won’t go outside in the rain. A couple of big cowards when it comes to the rain, rain, rain… nite, nite

Half Moon

Nine o’clock at night and our ‘not so famous five’ have only just been marched up to bed. The reason being a drinks party that we were all invited to and after an afternoon of festivities and merriment, we came in to two very excited hounds and a quick Jim Jam frenzy and ultimately, the ascending of the stairs to ‘High ho, high ho’, but not before my entire rendition of the twelve days of Christmas sung in perfect pitch by myself. I always seem to loose it after nine pipers piping (that’s wrong, you know what I’m saying) so I hum the bits that don’t know in words, but I got to the twelfth day and T and A (Tara and Amritsar) seemed to enjoy the Christmasness of it all, joining in where they could (sounding more and more able to throw a few harmonies). Like many of you today, we bedecked our living room with several Christmas wreaths, just wreaking of Yuletide and a twelve foot conifer that still needs a sprinkle of the fairy dust (the lights and baubles are a chore for tomorrow morning). Thank you Thea and John if you are reading this! The party was great. The only sound to be heard after the bedtime ascent was Thor screaming down that he wanted a ‘kiss and hug’ – not fair as he had many. All is quite now however and we can finally relax. The home made wreaths will have to wait until Monday, as will the garland of woodland evergreens, as tomorrow lunchtime we’re visiting friends in London, I’m so looking forward to ‘Lees Peas’! The little ones are very excited about going to London as they know that a day out in town is always fun. I am intrigued to see how our friends three little ones are progressing. They are around the same ages as ours and as like today with all of the children running riot, it’s totally interesting to see the ‘group dynamics in action’!

Now onward to tonights half moon. There it was as we pulled up in the driveway. Sparkling through the neighbours eucalyptus tree, I always think of my brother Paul and wife Kylie and family when I see the eucalyptus tree. But whenever I see the moon, it comforts me and I think of home and our little family.

Okay so a good and well behaved day overall, they are all getting there, and that is in itself a blessing. Home made waffles in the morning, always a big hit with a cascade of maple syrup. Personally I like a smear of butter on mine also. But unlike waffle recipes out there, that are ‘healthy’ yet tasteless, you need the addition of enough salt to bring heightened flavour, a good amount of melted butter and a good glug of vanilla extract. The waffle maker makes four at a time, so I’ve got to get waffling before they’re down the stairs, just so that there is a good stack of them for us all to indulge in…

Last Years Rather Traumatised Snowman

Video to follow…

Well to be frank, the odds of snow tonight, this far south is looking less likely and we’re more likely to repeat last nights frost! Not the ‘exciting forecast of snow’ that I had hoped for. But hey, I promised you our snowman video and here it is. Best listened to with sound as you don’t want to miss out on Thor’s bellowing thunder…

Red Sky in the Morning

It’s bloody freezing out there. I just on’d my wellies and armed myself with a black plastic bag. It was time to do a ‘poo patrol’. I figured that with the frozen frost and all else out there as solid as ice, things would be a lot easier! On with my fur lined trappers hat and white, schott, fleecy hoody and a pair of old gardening gloves, I went out to brave the elements. I glanced myself in the mirror and thoughts of captain Scott’s last expedition flashed through my mind. But twenty minutes later, I returned to the warmth of the living room, greeted by Becky, our cleaner. I’m now staring at the fire hearth, it’s pretty full of ash! I think I should give it a clear out, I’m too embarrassed to expect Becky to tackle it. That just seems far too Dickensian. Back to the title of today’s post, if we get any precipitation later today, it could just well fall as snow. Wahoo! Let’s wait and see shall we. I am a big believer of ‘Red Sky in the Morning, Shepherds Warning’. I remember last winter with the couple of snow showers that happened here in the Shires. Aaliyah and Caleb went back inside as it was much too cold for them, but Tara, Amritsar, Thor and I built our very first snowman together. I’ll treat you to a look at the video I recorded later, it’s very comical…

The Sense of Taste and Smell

These two senses, that us as humans are gifted with, really have the power to transport us back in time, though in the wink of an eye, you revisit a place where you associate that smell or taste! For me today, after we got the children fed and packed into the car for their school runs, I raided the fruit bowl. On this occasion, not to make one of Dadda’s Jams, rather a fruit salad that would transport me back in time. Not to just any single moment, but a plethora of moments and places. I have waited a couple of weeks for the honeydew and Cantaloupe melons to ripen sufficiently, also the large, plump mango has sat there for several days to maximise its sweetness. The already ripe papaya arrived in the Tesco shop yesterday, meaning that today we had lift off! I imagine that you all remember your last tropical holiday and the breakfast buffet you grazed on each and every day! Well it’s the fruit selection I am thinking about today. The sweetness of these four fruits seem to make them firm favourites in hotel, breakfast catering, the world throughout. But when I think of these fruits, when they are fully ripened, I feel the warmth around me and the sun on my face. With closed eyes, I am transported back, to memories of India and Thailand, even the elevated heights of Kathmandu, above the world and at that time, also above the monsoon clouds over the Indian sub continent.

In Kathmandu it was summertime, I had just arrived and it was clearly mango season. You could see old men on bicycles, with large round racks on the rear, piled so high with ripe, yellowing mangos. It was always a matter of haggling, but by that point, I was not naive and always got a good price, so unlike my earlier days in Mumbai, where it seemed that absolutely everybody wanted to make something out of a gullible westerner. Well the hotel I stayed at on my arrival in Kathmandu was quite spacious and built in the traditional Newari style. There was just me staying there really. Most of the aid workers that had arrived, post earthquake had gone home, so just me for breakfast then. Coffee, toast with home made mango jam and a bowl of fresh mango on the side, that was breakfast. Delving back further to the Marriott apartments on Langsuan in Bangkok, I always enjoyed a hearty breakfast of a full English, but preceded by a large bowl of locally grown melons, mango and papaya. There was always pineapple as an option, though I do like it, I found the sweetness of the melon, butteriness of the papaya and the melting texture of the mango, just the right combo. Further back still, my time in India saw a profusion of fresh fruit. Many memories, too many to recount, but from within the fruit bowl I have just enjoyed, I saw my own route and the steps I took towards fatherhood and the moments that both John and I encountered, in order to make our family complete. All that from a bowl of fruit. I should probably stick to cornflakes…