RIP Prince

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It’s not often that something outside of my own life makes it on to these pages, but the tragic news this afternoon about the passing of Prince compelled me to put fingers to keyboard.

It has been an unbelievable few months as far as celebrity deaths go. I was gutted to see Alan Rickman go, I felt the sadness of David Bowie’s loss through my friends (I have to admit to never having had much interest in Bowie while he was alive, so his death didn’t affect me personally), and just yesterday the news of Victoria Wood’s passing brought a rueful tear to my eye as I remembered fondly watching Acorn Antiques with my grandparents. But Prince, in your own immortal words, Nothing Compares 2 U.

As yet, I know nothing about the circumstances of his death – I haven’t followed him or his music closely in recent years – but even so, hearing that he’s gone feels like a part of me has died too.

You see, Prince was an enormous part of my adolescence. If you’d asked me to identify myself at 16, I would probably have said Prince Fan before son, brother, student, boyfriend, Jew. I lived and breathed Prince for many years. Most teenagers have their obsessions, with football, girls, games, whatever it may be. My obsession was with Prince.

I had been aware of Prince and his music for as long as I can remember. My first clear memory of him was seeing the video for Little Red Corvette on Top of the Pops when I was 7 or 8 years old. But weirdly, my epiphany happened with the Batman soundtrack, a very odd choice of route into Prince’s music, I’m sure you’ll agree. I was given that album on cassette by my girlfriend for my 14th birthday, and I just fell in love with the music.

From that moment on, I was hooked. I quickly acquired his entire back catalogue of albums, and was very proud to have my cassette rack populated with everything from For You up to Lovesexy (the CD versions followed later). I listened to virtually nothing else. I knew every filthy, perverted word, every obscure album track that no one else had heard of.

I was fortunate to have a handful of friends at school who were as enthusiastic as I was (Aaron, Andrew) and we sat around at break times, discussing our favourite songs, marvelling at this enigmatic character and the fact that all his early albums had been “produced, composed, arranged and performed” by him alone. I was also fortunate enough to be introduced to a friend of a friend who was even more of a Prince nerd than me (hi Andy!) who kept me supplied with a constant stream of new tapes of bootleg recordings, long lost B-sides, unreleased material and much more. We used to trawl through the stalls at Camden market most weekends, looking for concert recordings and rare vinyl.

But most importantly, it was the concerts that I will never forget. Wembley Arena in the hot summer of 1990, the Nude tour, was one of the most memorable nights of my life. The highlight, a 16 minute continuous jam which started with I Could Never Take The Place of Your Man, and took in a bunch of other famous and not so famous songs en route to some pure, unimaginable funk.

Another highlight was after a concert at Wembley Stadium in, I’d guess, ’92 or ’93. Andy was friends with the head of the Prince fan club, and managed to score a ticket to a secret aftershow party in an abandoned warehouse in King’s Cross. I was gutted that there had only been one ticket left, but went down to the venue anyway, just in case. I had some scary encounters with touts around those grimy north London streets, some asking for up to £300 for a ticket  – somewhat more than this teenage student could stretch to – but I eventually managed to blag my way in for a more reasonable sum. After hours and hours waiting in a hot, sweaty room, we were eventually treated to a mind-blowing concert, standing just feet away from the stage. Some time later, the show was released on VHS tape, and I was delighted to discover that if you watched it frame by frame, at some points you could see the back of my head on screen.

I stuck with Prince through the Symbol and TAFKAP years. I forgave him for Graffiti Bridge. I regularly visited his shop in Camden Town. I drew pictures of his album art to stick on my wall. I had all the t-shirts, all the posters. He WAS my teenage.

As I got older, my musical taste changed and I eventually grew out of my Prince phase. His songs occasionally pop up on my iTunes playlist today, and I smile a wistful smile as I remember that Sometimes It Snows In April, or that She’s Always In My Hair.

I know that much will be written about his talent, his genius, his impact on the worlds of music, fashion, technology and so much more over the coming days. And rightly so. But to me, the death of Prince is not about all those tangible things. It’s about his impact on me. About a fundamental part of my identity that today left this planet forever.

RIP.

Pride

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The main inspiration for this post was the immense sense of pride I felt at our first ever parents evening at a secondary school last night. Son number 1 has been at his new school for just over a term, and it has absolutely been the making of him.

Where at primary school, he struggled with social situations, he now has a close group of friends who are really important to him. And while he has always excelled academically, we worried that he would struggle to find his place at a selective school where everyone else was really bright too. But oh no, if anything it has driven him on even further. Every single teacher we talked to last night spoke of how well he’s doing, what a joy he is to teach, what a great contribution he makes to the class, and so on and so on.

The highlight of the evening was when one of his teachers (I won’t say which, just in case!) leaned over and whispered, “I know you’re not supposed to have favourites, but, well, he’s my favourite.” I’m sure our cheeks went slightly pink at that point. Our little superstar.

But he’s not the only source of pride among the Fourboding troupe. At 3am the other morning, I was awoken to the sound of a crying child. Now I’m happy to say that this is not something that happens at all often in the Fourboding household: it’s usually a sign that someone is ill. So I descended the stairs with huge trepidation, expecting to find a large pool of vomit in someone’s bed, or something else similarly gruesome.

But instead I was greeted by the sight of son number 2 sitting on twin 1’s bedroom floor, telling him a made up bedtime story. Apparently the little one had woken up in the dark and was scared that he wasn’t going to get back to sleep, so his big brother came to the rescue long before I could drag myself out of bed. Within minutes peace had been restored and everyone went back to sleep. What a lovely thing to see.

The twin in question happened to mention during this little night time adventure that at some point during the night, his first tooth had come out. Perhaps not much to be proud of, but it felt like a big moment, realising that everyone in the Fourboding household is now a member of the big teeth club. He also made me proud with the beautifully written note he left under his pillow for the tooth fairy, having realised that at some time before morning the tiny little tooth had been knocked on to the floor and disappeared. You’ll be glad to know that the tooth fairy showed her customary compassion by forgiving this little mishap, and he got his £1 anyway.

Twin number 2, meanwhile, couldn’t wait to show me, when he got home last night, the medal and certificate he had earned for passing his ballet exam. Even better was the beaming smile on his face to accompany the presentation of these awards.

And last but by no means least, is Mrs Fourboding herself, whose achievements in recent weeks have certainly not gone unnoticed. The fact that, within weeks of starting her job hunt, she was able to land an extremely prestigious job with an extremely prestigious company was a source of massive pride. The fact that, despite the enormous struggles she has faced in adapting to working life having spent the last 12 years as a part time freelancer and full time mum, she has stuck it out and made the very best of a very hard situation, fills me with admiration and gratitude.

And to top it all, last night she showed me an email that had been sent round her company, singling her out for special praise for the work she did that enabled them to win an important new client. She doesn’t do things by halves, my wife. Well done U.

Now all I need to do is figure out a way to earning a living, and then maybe one day I can be proud of me too.

 

Aegrotantophobia

Aegrotantophobia (noun) An irrational fear of sick children (I just made that word up, by the way, but it sounds good, doesn’t it?)

So twin 2 has spent the day at home today, thanks to the rash I mentioned in my earlier post. No skin off my nose – I am superdad. I can be perfectly productive while nursing a sick a child thank you very much. Well at least I can for a day. We don’t need to focus on the fact that he spent the day binge watching Spongebob Squarepants and eating pizza. He was happy. I was happy. Everyone was happy.

But following car journey number 9 this evening, this one to the doctor’s surgery, twin 2 was diagnosed with Slapped Check Disease, a horrific-sounding condition that brings to mind images of Victorian urchins being beaten about the face for not having swept the chimney properly, but is in fact almost entirely benign. Aside from an unpleasant looking and slightly itchy rash, and a very mild fever, he is in rude health.

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But note the word “almost” in the sentence about being benign. Apparently the single noteworthy thing about slapped cheek is that you should avoid contact with pregnant women. Now it so happens that one of our favourite teachers at the twins’ school is expecting twins in about four months time, and the doctor advised staying away from her, or indeed any of the other hordes of expectant mothers that he expected to find wandering the halls of the local primary school. When I asked how long I needed to keep twin 2 at home for, he offhandishly responded, “Oh, probably for the rest of the week.”

Excuse me? A week? One day of wall-to-wall Nickelodeon and dodgy junk food we can handle. But five days? Five days during which I’m going to have to, you know, do some work and stuff, go to meetings, not be tied to the house 24/7. You cannot be serious.

It was then that the wonders of modern medicine were demonstrated. Back in the day, you expected the doctor to know (a) what was wrong with you; and (b) how to treat it. But apparently these days, those would be lofty expectations indeed.

No, nowadays, thanks to the wonders of the Internet, the doctor can come up with an idea of what he thinks the problem might be, then do a Google image search to check whether his diagnosis matches the symptoms, and then read a web guide about treatment, prognosis, and so on. Piece of cake, this doctoring lark. Apparently.

The important part of the story was that, upon reading said web guide a little more thoroughly, the doctor duly discovered that once slapped cheek is at the visible rash stage, it’s no longer contagious, so there’s no point in avoiding contact with vulnerable innocent bystanders. Thank Christ for that. Although quite how you would know you had slapped cheek before the visible rash stage is far beyond my newly acquired medical expertise.

So the good news is, touch wood, that I will not have a permanent house guest for the next week, so I can get on with the much more important task of worrying about what I’m going to do with my life.

Taxi Driver

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Are you talking to me?

Are you talking to me?

Well no, I’m not actually talking to you. I’m just expecting you to do my bidding 24 hours a day and drive me around the streets of London to my heart’s content.

When I was I teenager I used to roll my eyes at my dad’s constant snarky comments about being my taxi driver. What was the big deal? How else did he expect me to get about?

Well here I am a generation later, and ok – I’ll say it – I’m sorry dad. You were right. And my kids are still young, so my journeys tend to be restricted to local hops, usually no more than 15 minutes, whereas my parents would often do two or more journeys right the way across London throughout the late 80s and early 90s.

But what has come as a complete shock to me is the sheer quantity of journeys I’m having to do on a daily basis. I guess it’s my own damn fault for having 4 children, but it doesn’t make it any easier to cope with.

So far today I have:

  1. Driven son number 1 to the bus stop because he forgot to set his alarm this morning and was therefore running too late to walk.
  2. Driven MrsH to the tube station on account of the fact that my car is still parked outside our friends’ house a couple of miles away after a particularly boozy party on Saturday night resulting in requiring a lift home, and the family being down a vehicle until such time as we can work out the complicated logistics of getting the other car back.
  3. Driven twin 1 to school for the ridiculously ill-planned dance class that happens at 8am on a Monday morning. Seriously?
  4. Driven back to our local well known high street pharmacist, which is much closer to our house than it is to the school we had dropped twin 1 at 10 minutes earlier, with a rash-covered twin 2, in the hopes of getting him some suitable medicine.
  5. Driven back to school with son number 2, keeping twin 2 in the car with me after being told by the pharmacist that I shouldn’t send him to school today.
  6. Done a short trip out in the middle of the day to post some parcels thanks to my hugely successful new business venture, an eBay store which has sold a grand total of £50 worth of stuff in the last week – I’m considering retiring on the proceeds.
  7. Returned to school to collect son number 2, and brought him home.

I am writing this in the moments before leaving the house for

  1. 8. Returning to school yet again to collect twin 1 after his football class, and bringing him home.
  2. 9. Leaving immediately thereafter to take twin 2 to the doctors (which is about halfway between school and home) as his rash has got considerably worse as the day has gone on.
  3. 10. Awaiting a phone call from MrsH demanding collection from the tube station, as she STILL doesn’t have a car.

This is a fairly typical day, with the exception of the two journeys necessitated by an ill child. But with the amount of time I have spent in the car since taking on this stay-at-home dad lark, I am seriously starting to consider whether becoming a taxi driver might not be my best option after all.

Sock Monster

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Please can somebody explain to me how this happens. I was doing one of my favourite jobs  in my new domestic role [insert sarcastic eyebrow raise here], sorting out a basket of laundry, and there was a massive clump of socks jumbled together. I laid them out on the worktop to match them up, and to my dismay discovered that there was not a single pair among the lot of them.

So I thought, “Right, this has gone on long enough. PowerDad is going to get this problem sorted once and for all.” So I proceeded to lay out every sock from the odd sock box, assuming that between the two batches of socks, I would get the majority of them paired up. Oh how wrong I was. I did manage to create 4 pairs, but the end result was that the odd sock box now has about 8 more socks in it than it did to start with. So my question is this:

WHERE THE HELL DO THEY GO?

The sock monster seems to follow us wherever we go, and he’s a very hungry chap. The current collection in the odd sock box only started just over a year ago, while we were lodging with my parents during renovations on our new house. The previous collection hadn’t survived the move.

But the point of the odd sock box is to enable you to pair up socks that get separated during the laundry process. How is it possible that it’s generally a pretty safe assumption that every sock that ever enters the whirling vortex that is the odd sock box will live there in eternal solitude, never again to be reunited with its mate?

It’s like the tragic scenes in southern Manhattan after 9/11 – notes pinned to walls desperately seeking lost loved ones, but secretly knowing they would never return. (Credit for that analogy goes to the lovely MrsH, who would probably have done a much more eloquent job of painting the picture had she been writing about it over at Four Down, Mum To Go.)

I even went to the extreme lengths this week of buying the twins a new pack of socks (I know, a dad doing something practical like buying underwear for his children. Almost unimaginable, right?)

I nearly went for the plain grey ones, but then I put them back on the hanger, realising that this was just too much temptation for the sock monster. Instead I opted for the days of the week socks, which at least are easy enough to pair up.

Of course I hadn’t factored in the massive row this would cause the next morning when two boys had absolutely no intention of being the one wearing Wednesday socks on a Thursday. In hindsight, I really should have bought two packs. But I wonder how long it will be before the sock monster gets his fearsome jaws around these new additions, leaving at least one the boys forced to have his right foot in Tuesday while his left is already on the weekend. The trials of domesticity continue…

Up and down

Today has been a generally shitty day. It started off pretty miserable but I had solid plans to spend a good chunk of time during the school day feeling more positive by getting firmly stuck into work. But that wasn’t to be as just as I was about to start, I got a shitty phone call about a really shitty problem to do with the even shittier situation that is my former business. I then proceeded to spend the next 3 hours making calls, sending emails and doing paperwork, which took me right up to shitty school pickup time. 

I am currently sitting in the waiting area at twin 2’s ballet class (yes he’s a proper metrosexual, about which I will write more another time), castigating twin 1 for his customary inability to turn his volume knob any lower than 11, while desperately trying to avoid making eye contact with any of the yummy mummies to whom I chatted so enthusiastically last week when I was feeling more positive about my role as Mr Mum. 

During last week’s ballet lesson, I took great pleasure in showing my children around the building where I spent so many hours of my own toddlerhood – this is where I went to nursery – and made some amazing friends, some of whom I’m still in contact with today, 38 years later. I wonder if any of them are having midlife crises too?

I’m now contemplating the possibility of doing the work this evening that I was planning to do during the day, wondering how I will find the motivation after getting home from ballet, supervising homework and violin practice, feeding four hungry mouths, and so on and so on. 

I note a not-altogether surprising correlation between my mood and my ability to produce light-hearted (and presumably more entertaining) blog posts. I also suspect that the quality of my copy is not up to quite the same standard when it’s typed on the screen of my iPhone rather than a good old-fashioned computer keyboard. Indeed my thumbs are starting to ache now – I’d make a terrible 21st century teenager. So I guess it’s time to sign off. Hopefully I’ll be back with something a little more upbeat tomorrow. 

Time management

As anyone who knows me well will tell you, I am absolutely useless at multitasking. Say what you want about gender stereotypes, but in this household they hold absolutely true. MrsH is a master at having a thousand things on the go at once and giving each of them the attention they deserve. I, on the other hand, completely fall to pieces if I have more than one thing to think about in any given day.

I have actually observed that MrsH’s skill is not actual multitasking per se. What she does is focus on the matter at hand and miraculously block out all other stimuli, and rapidly switch between matters at hand as the situation requires. It may be that that’s what multitasking really is in all those who can do it, but regardless, I’m constantly in awe of her skills. She can be so deeply engaged in a text conversation on her phone that the house could be literally burning down around her and she would be blissfully ignorant. This is an unbelievably useful skill to have when you have four children constantly after your attention, mostly simultaneously.

My brain couldn’t be further removed from this way of operating. I find myself shouting at the children multiple times a day because more than one of them is trying to talk to me at once, and as a result I can’t hear what either of them is saying. It’s all the more frustrating because usually what they’re saying is something along the lines of “Did you know that General Grievous had a big fight with Count Dooku” or “Can I tell you what my favourite YouTube channel is called” or something else so mind-numbingly dull that I’d have been much better off not trying to listen in the first place. At dinner time you will often find me staring at the ceiling with my fingers in my ears because I’m in so much discomfort from trying to split my attention between 5 different voices. It has made living in a house of 6 people quite a challenge, and seven years into the experiment, I don’t seem to have got any closer to working out any coping strategies.

And that is one of the things that worries me the most about my current situation. My problems with splitting my attention around the dinner table carry through to every aspect of my life, and may be one of the reasons I struggled with running a small business where every day I had to wear an awful lot of different hats (not literally, you understand. That would have been silly, although perhaps more fun.) But now every day is split between: (a) admin jobs relating to my former business; (b) talking to, meeting with and thinking about people with whom I have started having discussions about possible business opportunities; (c) trying to take some time to think about a proper direction and purpose for this new chapter of my life (never going to happen, I should just give up on that one now); (d) trying to get my eBay store up and running so I can flog off some old stuff and start earning even a little bit of money; (e) the school run; (f) the massive catalogue of after school clubs, classes and activities that seem to take up more time (and money) than anything else; (g) laundry. Massive bloody piles of laundry all day every day; (h) feeding my family. Massive bloody piles of food. All day, every day. Have I missed anything? Probably.

The point being that I have to start working out strategies to be able to switch my focus from task to task to task much in the manner of my dear wife. So far today, I have dropped the kids at school, come home to have breakfast, gone to a meeting at my old warehouse (about which I’m planning another post), come home and written a few emails, started up this blog (which I’m justifying to myself as productive because I’m dusting off my old and very rusty writing brain), gone to pick the kids up from school, come home and dealt with the phone calls and emails that I posted about earlier, gone to pick up son number 1 from his cello lesson, come home and dealt with a pile of laundry, and here we are at 6:30pm with nothing really to show for it.

It also occurs to me that, slightly worryingly, my most productive time of day is in the afternoon. Once my lunch has gone down, that’s when my brain is most in gear and able to plough through my workload. That’s a bit of a problem when you’re a school run dad, because come 2:45 every afternoon, everything has to stop, which gives me roughly an hour of being productive. Hmmm. And as evidenced by my earlier post, any attempt at carrying on working once the kids are home tends to be, how should I put it, somewhat staccato.

So to anyone who’s waiting for an email from me, or a form to be filled out, or a letter to be posted, I’m sorry. I’m working on it.