Urban Fathers' Liberation Front

Confused dads working out the city

Hoping for a bit of drizzle

An so the weather in this country lumbers from cold, miserable and dreary to burning heat in a matter of minutes like a shower with a dodgy thermostat.  Or, in fact, a shower.

Now, the hot weather has been greeted across the board with pretty much open arms.  There are pictures all over the media of people on beaches, swimming, having fun, eating ice cream and looking jolly fantastic.  But I want the rain back.

There are lots of crappy things about this country, but by far the worst is the weather.  All I ask for is a chill in the winter, warmth in the summer, but a modicum of rain in the former and a modicum of sun in the latter.  It surely can’t be that hard.  But no, the weather swings from ridiculous extremes.

And I much prefer the stupid rain.  Whilst most people seem to welcome the heat, I hate it for many reasons.  Here are some….sweat, poorly ventilated commuter trains, the smell and discomfort on trains caused by sweat and poorly ventilated commuters, insects/ants, hayfever, the debilitating sapping of energy, sun burn, terrible fashion, sand stuck on sun-creamed arms, bad circulation in hot offices/homes, too many obese people with too much flesh hanging out, too few attractive people with too much flesh hanging out, children that can’t sleep…

So, let’s have some sun without the temperature, or a nice bit of drizzle.


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Reflection on the value of mums

I’ve been tuning into the BBC series on a Wednesday night, Turn Back Time, not least because it’s filmed in my home town of Morecambe.  It’s exploring life for the different classes in the decades of the last century, and doing this through a sort of role play, having converted some houses in the town to represent the housing conditions of the time.

One of the three families left at the end of the last programme, having endured three weeks in the 1920s, then the 30s and 40s.  The father paid tribute, in a very heartfelt way, to the effort that had to be put into the family and the home by the woman in those times. There was a strong sense that he was also paying tribute to his own wife in these times for the effort she was putting into his own family and home.

With the birth of my number two, and due to the fact that I’m now working for myself at home,  I had reason to reflect on this tribute today.  Whilst I work at home on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, both kids are at home only on Friday, and my wife has to entertain them both herself.  She knows that she’s fortunate that I don’t work full time away from the house, but Friday at home is a real insight into mothering for me.  The temptation to help out with the kids and help my wife is sometimes overwhelming, but of course I sacrifice my money making capacities, such as they are, if I do assist.

Last night had been particularly hard.  Even though Bub is just over three months old, his sleeping through the night is not improving and, in fact, at the moment it is worsening.  We were up every 90 minutes last night, and during those times, my wife fed him.  She had an extra hour in bed whilst I took our eldest and Bub for breakfast, but as soon as she emerged, I had to get ready for work.  She was then left to take a well rested three year old, and a poorly rested three month old, on for the day.

From my position in the office upstairs, I could hear the demands made by the eldest – game playing, getting dressed, cleaning teeth, going out, coming in, wanting a drink, in her bedroom, in the lounge – and could also hear Bub blubbing, crying, chuntering and seeking attention in a wholly different way. Whenever I ventured close to Bub and his very loud crying, I’m afraid that all I could do was inwardly cuss his noise and overlook the fact that it is his only means of communication, whatever he needs.

Now, I’m all for men getting a fair stab at parenting, and being remembered by church halls and bookshops that it’s not mother and baby, but parent and baby, but quite frankly mornings like this remind me of the patience, tolerance, love and understanding given between young kids and their mothers and the thankless task that mothers everywhere in this country do every day whilst their partners work or do other stuff.  My wife has unflinching devotion and time for Bub where I would become impatient, and she does a fantastic job in tending to him day in and day out where I would probably flounder and moan.  And this must be replicated across the land. So, a big thanks to mums, and a special thanks to the mum to my two. Sometimes, we men are not worthy.


A London trip with a 3 year old


From the back of a Clipper

Toots and I are often seeking different and absorbing days out in London, and on Tuesday we had a blinder, so I thought I’d share it.

It started with Toots saying she wanted to go on a boat which, in London, is easy.  We left our north London home at about 10.15, and headed to Pimlico which, for us, is via Finsbury Park and the Victoria Line.  Now Toots is walking, I had no pushchair, and we enjoyed the trains down there, provided we had a window seat.  Toots will demand one as soon as she gets through the train doors.

My plan was to get the’ Tate to Tate’ boat to Bankside and tootle round the Damien Hirst exhibition.  We had a short wait at Millbank, and took in St John’s Church and the riverside to kill our time.  The boat from Millbank was a bit of a disappointment – all covered, low seats, not much chance to see the river and over too quickly, but it did fulfil the demands for a boat ride.  The fare was about £5 (I had a discount as a Tate member).

Toots was very excited by the landing stage at Millbank, and we stayed there to eat our packed lunch, gaze at St. Paul’s and wave at the passing boats.

The Tate Modern acted as our toilet stop, and we whizzed round the Hirst retrospective, particularly enjoying the sharks, the butterflies and the spots (less so the decomposing cow’s head).  After a quick stop at Starbucks Globe for a free babyccino (Toots, not me) it was back to the boats.  We caught a Clipper to North Greenwich, which was fantastic – £4, all the landmarks to look at, Tower Bridge with the rings, the wind in our hair and, wow, it really moves!  We stayed at the back in the open, and it was exhilarating!

Pulling in at north Greenwich, we took in the O2 and the mouth of the Lea, and decided to do the new cable cars from the south bank to the Excel.  Expecting it to be expensive, I was a little cautious.  I also expected Toots to have some fears once up in the cars, but no.  I can report that the cable cars are great, under £5 and offering some superb views of the Thames and beyond – and we had a very grey day.  Toots had her nose pressed to the glass for the whole crossing.

From there, it was the DLR to Stratford and back to the Victoria Line at Highbury via the Overground.  A wonderful, relatively inexpensive day out with Toots, and some great experiences all the way round.

Route: Finsbury Park-Pimlico via Victoria Line; Pimlico-Tate Modern via Tate to Tate boat; Tate Modern-North Greenwich via Thames Clipper; North Greenwich-Royal Victoria/ExCeL via Emirates Air-Line; Royal Victoria-Stratford via DLR; Stratford-Highbury & Islington via Overground.

Damien Hirst’s exhibition is at the Tate until September 9; as a Tate Member, I was free.  Tickets are £14.

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Well over 430

As with most summer days this year, Monday was a challenge with the kids.  Both were at home, and the rain was coming with alarming regularity between the  short stretches of non-rain (I hesitate to use words/phrases like dry, sun or settled weather, which would give the impression that things were ever far away from more rain).  Having meandered through the morning and had lunch, we decided to bite the bullet and head off to the park for some swing time.

Toots has always loved swings, far more than anything else the average playground has to offer.  This obsession began a long time ago, as long as I can remember her being able to smile, and in toddler world, I’m sure she’d hold records for swing endurance.  She always makes a beeline for the swings as soon as she arrives in any park, and always takes an age to move onto anything else – that is if she’s not in a mood in which she just moves onto an adjacent swing until she has completed them all.

I’m not quite sure what she gets from the backwards and forwards, upwards and downwards movement.  She laughs, she smiles, she looks around.  She’ll occasionally shout, ‘More,’ or ‘Faster,’ the latter of which can be tricky, given the constraints of both the swing and the laws of physics.  She’ll also point at distant figures who might be mowing the grass or reading a book around the playground, but most often she’s involved in her own thoughts.    She will go higher than others and, of course, longer.

Whilst on the swing on Monday, I decided to count the pushes involved in me keeping her going at the velocity and height combination which she craved.  I started to count some five or so minutes into her marathon, and stopped counting at the 430th push, by which point my arms were beginning to ache.  Thirty pushes, I calculated, took 100 seconds, which had left me pushing her on the swing for over 25 minutes.

She did eventually dismount, and begin to enjoy some of the other treats at the playground, not least the roundabout, which needs to be spun VERY fast.  And then, daddy needed to carry Toots home on his shoulders.  I picked her up, thinking momentarily of all the money I needn’t spend on a multi-gym.

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‘Scuse me, sir. Could you direct me to the Father and Baby section?

Wouldn’t Parenting be a better word?

Regular readers – and I’m lead to believe that there are some – will know that our family has recently grown to four with the addition of our now three month old son, and that I do have some sympathy with breastfeeding mums.  But I also have a bit of a battle as a father in a world where I have been the primary carer for our oldest, but where mothers remain the dominant demographic accommodated for in kiddicare and kiddilit.

I chose to ignore this fact most of the time, and pretend for the most part that fathers have an equal status in bringing up their kids.  This is, of course, utter nonsense, but no one dare speak it.  And far be it for me to point fingers, but this is a problem of fathers as much as it is mothers, and society as a whole, but I ain’t seeing any change in the status quo at the moment.

The most recent slap in the face for me about this inequality was a jaunt to Daunt Books on Tuesday of this week.  Daunt’s is a beautiful place and a fine bookshop – do stop off at Marylebone High Street; it is wonderful – but, towards the back of the store they have a ‘mother and baby’ section of books.  I was sorely tempted to ask where the father and baby section was, but a closer look at the books stuffed into a couple of crammed shelving units revealed that, actually, not many of these books are aimed at men.  Not only is the branding, the colouring and the fonts used on these books clearly more feminine – pastel colours, curly lettering – but many of the titles reference mothering and mothers  and seem to channel into an idea that somehow women are less capable of rearing children than they actually are.  Look hard, and there may be a couple of dad’s books, which might appeal to the father who is recently divorced and forced to entertain their estranged offspring once a fortnight, or books appealing to the publishers idea that men will take a spectators view of the nine month pregnancy before forgetting all about raising them and going back to work.

As a chap who has taken time away from work to spend the majority of the week with his kids, I find this a bit galling.  As a writer seeking to write a male perspective into women’s magazines, and finding that there isn’t much of an interest in this on the part of women’s magazines (please, someone, tell me different…), I feel disheartened.  Women seem to want it both ways; the successful career and independent income with the loving family and secure household (combined with swishing hair and firm skin), and a role for bringing up the kids.  For men, perhaps we’re too wrapped up in being employed and earning enough to fund this dream (as well as cars, football and the panacea of a firm stomach) that we don’t turn our attention to how we might take a greater role in both the work and the home life.

But I really don’t see how the rather blinkered view of both sexes might be broken if the world of one sex can’t be a greater part of the world of the other sex.  Poop.

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Right there with you, mothersucker!

There’s a new breed of protester in town, and they’re angry.  All power to the new lactivist, mothersucker!  Welcome, the breastfeeding mum…

But what is it that has got this group riled?  Apparently, 200 women gathered in Bristol this week outside of a cafe that seemingly banned a mother from breastfeeding.  Allegedly, she was told, in no uncertain terms, not to get her tits out again.  Clearly, the shop owner had not counted on the power of this group of people, or heard of the political clout of mumsnet, and before they knew it, a bosom of mums was protesting about the banning of the breast.
And I’m right there with them.  Not only is this the 21st Century, for chrissakes, not only do we not tolerate this sort of discriminatory behaviour against anyone, but breastfeeding is largely considered the best and most beneficial way to prepare our young kids for a long and healthy life.  What could be more progressive and accommodating that allowing mothers to feed their kids wherever they want without fear of some, ahem, tit telling them to stop?.  After all, bringing up baby is challenge enough without accounting for the problems encountered outside the home, like getting them round and about our cities and towns, with their narrow spaces, stairs, escalators, revolving doors, and dealing with people frightened of nipples.
Apparently, the cafe in question has said that it was all a big misunderstanding, which is very convenient and also a bit late.  More power to the lactivist, and may their causes prosper.