Thanks for taking the time to speak to me. Will you just shut up and leave me alone.

Well that was fun. Knowing that I’ve got some pretty important correspondence and phone conversations to deal with at the moment, the first thing I said when we got in from the school run was “Daddy’s got some work to do. I’m going into my office. I don’t want to be disturbed”.

You can probably guess the rest, but I’ll illustrate anyway. I was in the middle of typing an email to my insolvency practitioner when I heard a knocking at the door, accompanied by a loud whispering. Apparently in twin 1’s mind, talking quietly is as close as dammit to not disturbing someone. I often wonder about him, I really do. Apparently the thing that was so important that it couldn’t wait was that he needed a pencil with which to do his spellings. And of course my office is the only room in the house with any pencils.

Five minutes later, I was on the phone to a solicitor regarding complicated insolvency matters. While putting on my most business-like voice and trying my hardest to sound like I knew what I was talking about, I couldn’t concentrate at all on what the nice lady on the other end of the phone was saying. Because all I could hear was three voices screaming at each other. I’m not quite sure what about but I definitely heard snippets of “I told you to do it in pencil not pen” and “stopping touching me”.

While typing this blog post, I have been interrupted twice. Once to ask if TV watching was permitted (to which the answer was only if your homework is finished and your bedroom is tidy), and once again five minutes later to ask for a bedroom inspection, oh and by the way, can we have chocolate. Part of the problem is the plain glass-paned door that serves as the barrier between the office and the rest of the house, so while they may not be directly in the room, they may as well be for all the privacy and quiet you get while you’re in it. Our builder has an awful lot to answer for – he put up that door without even asking for our approval. Damn you Ismaili.

Did I say twice? It’s now three times. The latest is to complain that son number two’s phone isn’t working properly and do I mind if he restarts the router. Yes of course I bloody mind! Grrr….

IMG_1898

 

Hello world…

It’s the 12th of January 2016. Four years to the day since I sold my first home fitness product. And one month to the day since the business I ran selling those products ceased trading. The last four years have been a hell of a roller coaster ride, and to draw out the metaphor, the last few weeks have reminded me a bit of Oblivion at Alton Towers, the sole purpose of which is to plunge you vertically downwards as fast possible, not just to ground level, but below it. But shortly thereafter, you resurface above ground and are delivered back to the station, where you can get off and go and do something entirely different.

So here I am, seven years after originally starting this blog, resurrecting it with a whole new purpose. My first post in August 2008 was about the almost unimaginable fear running through my entire body at the prospect of becoming a father to two additional boys, and how my wife and I would cope with four children. As we approach the twins’ 7th birthday, I think I’ve just about managed get my head round the whole father of four thing, but now I’m struck with a whole new catalogue of fears, primarily the fear of how I’m going to earn a living now that I don’t have a business any more. So while the “four” part of the name of this blog is perhaps less central than it once was, the “foreboding” part most definitely still holds true.

It’s amusing (to me at least) that all this should be happening in the months immediately following my fortieth birthday. (Sadly “Fortyboding” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it). It’s as if there was a midlife crisis switch just waiting to be thrown, as if all it took to activate it was the heady cocktail of champagne and karaoke. Sadly the midlife crisis of a man with a failing business isn’t as exciting as those you read about in the Sunday newspapers. Not for me the fast cars, the extreme sports, the piercings and tattoos. No, in my case it’s the traditional soul-searching, introspection, self-flagellation. What have I achieved in my no-longer short life? What do I actually do? What can I do? How have I got through 40% of a century without knowing the answers to these questions?

I’ll keep the really miserable stuff for my therapist. Instead, my intention is to use the blog to document the journey I’m about to embark upon, which I keep telling myself is going to be an exciting and invigorating one. It’s about new beginnings, and the search for happiness and fulfilment in a new way of life. I’m sure it’s going to be tough at times, but I know that nobody wants to read a blog about how awful life is. Instead I plan to write about the challenges, the opportunities, the frustrations and hopefully the funny side of a man in his 40s who has suddenly been plunged into a whole new world. A world combining the sometimes rewarding, sometimes infuriating life of a stay-at-home dad with the hunt for a new stream of income and a new purpose in life.

I am PowerDad. A man who will be spending the coming weeks and months figuring out how to earn a living between 9:15 and 3pm. Who knows how to prioritise my son’s violin practice over setting up my eBay store. Who can balance keeping on top of the laundry with writing a marketing proposal. Who can make a meal that can be served at multiple times in the evening depending on when everyone gets home while also keeping on top of the book-keeping. Well OK, I’m not actually any of those things just yet, but if I keep telling myself they’re true then maybe one day they will be.

 

 

Christmas for ants

FINALLY GOT A WIFI CONNECTION SO POSTING THIS, WHICH I WROTE LAST WEEK:

I am writing this on the patio of the house we’re renting for two weeks in the South of France. As I type a bank of thick black cloud is heading this way from the small row of mountains to the north, and there’s a slight chill breeze in the air. This is the first sign of potential inclement weather we’ve had in the 8 days we’ve been here, and to be honest it’s not entirely unwelcome. It’s been pretty hot for the last few days, although with our own private pool in the garden, it’s not been too difficult to cool down.

Not too difficult, although still pretty difficult mind you. Because when you’re on holiday with four small children everything is a drama. Back in the good old days of holidays pre children, you’d get back from a hot and sticky day out exploring your environs, and jump straight in the pool to cool off. Now, it takes four days of working up the courage to go out exploring, and when you do finally get around to it you’re reminded why you were so reticent – rural France was not built with double buggies in mind, so there’s an awful lot of carrying involved, as well as trying to remember drinks, change bag, snacks, all while trying to keep track of a hyperactive, accident-prone four-year-old and a hyper-sensitive six-year-old, both of whose primary objective on any day out is to seek out like laser-guided missiles every gift shop and ice cream stall this side of the Seine. When you finally get back, exhausted but gratified from having braved the world outside your villa, all thoughts of washing off the hot sticky day by plunging into a lovely, cool, azure oasis are abruptly put on hold. There are two nappies to change (oops, did we really forget to check what they’d been up to in the knicker department throughout the entirety of the day out), two babies to cook for and then feed, two children to figure out a way to keep entertained while repeatedly telling them it’s only a few more minutes until they can go in the pool, then what seems like an endless round of tidying up and sweeping underneath the chairs where the babies have just greeted the tea you’ve lovingly prepared for them by picking it up by the fistful and determinedly throwing it on the floor, before arriving at the heartbreaking realisation that there’s no way on Earth you can get away with not bathing them tonight after they’ve been crawling around in ochre-coloured sand and sweating in 34 degree heat. Once they’re clean and finally in bed you have no choice but to ignore their plaintiff wails in disgust at the concept of being separated from the rest of the family, as you wonder whether you still have the energy to get into your swimming trunks, and while doing so realise that the novelty of the idea of jumping into the pool at the end of a hot day has entirely worn off and now you’re just doing it because you had decided two hours ago that you really wanted to. Thirty seconds after finally getting into the water, while contemplating the fact that it would have been nice in the late afternoon when you were really hot, but now the sun’s gone down and it’s late evening and actually the water’s a bit bloody parky thank you very much, you then have to engage in a lengthy explanation of why daddy doesn’t have the energy to play the diving game, and yes I did promise but it will have to wait until tomorrow now.

The dark clouds I saw on the horizon as I started writing this have just started depositing little droplets on the screen of my iPad, so I had better continue this inside.

OK, screen dried, me safely deposited in a nice comfy armchair (why don’t I have one of these at home?), now where was I? The impression you’d get from what I’ve written so far is that we’re having a horrific time, but we’re not at all. It’s really quite lovely, just totally exhausting and it keeps hitting me just how incredibly far removed it is from the relaxing summer holidays you dream of, and which we used to be so good at long ago before we had children. Whether it’s mooching round the shops and cafés of a Tuscan hilltop idyll, sipping cocktails on a Caribbean beach, driving directionless around the hills of California, these are all memories that flood back into mind in the few moments of P&Q we manage to steal here, when the babies are having their afternoon nap and the big boys are safely ensconced in front of a DVD. But these moments of fantasy are usually rudely awakened after precious few minutes by a “daaaddy, can you wipe my bottom” or “daddy, watch me jump into the pool for the four hundredth time today in a slightly different way.”

The main thing that gets us through the day here in booze, in copious quantities. The local plonk is Côtes de Provence rosé, for which you struggle to pay more than 3€ a bottle, and which is significantly more delicious than the vast majority of other wine I’ve ever tasted, not to mention as drinkable as bottle of Evian. As far as I’m concerned, it would be rude not to open a bottle around lunch time, i.e. midday. Given that we’re rarely out of bed much before 10 I guess you could argue that we’re bordering on the alcoholic, but hey, we’re on holiday.

The days are punctuated by mealtimes. Actually punctuated probably isn’t the right word. It’s more like dominated. The babies are generally screaming blue murder by the time we get them up as it’s been 15 hours since they last ate/drank and they are quite frankly appalled by the shockingly poor parenting skills that would leave them in bed a second past 7am in the name of attempting to get some holiday R&R. How dare we. So we rush to give them breakfast, followed by the big boys and finally us. About three hours later we decide it’s time to feed twins again as the only way we can cope with the afternoon is to get them into bed for a hopefully lengthy afternoon nap. They generally flat out refuse to eat any lunch, being firmly of the opinion that they’ve only just finished breakfast and what the hell are you doing trying to feed us again so soon, you rubbish parents. Once they’ve finally screamed themselves to sleep, we feed the rest of us, a process which tends to take up the majority of nap time, so within a few minutes of any planned afternoon rest time, a desperate cry, or two, finds its way down the stairs and it’s time to entertain the little’uns again. Before you know it it’s time to feed them yet again, and it was their tea this evening which prompted the surreal-sounding title of this post. You see the climate here is so lovely that we’re often tempted of an evening to move their highchairs out on to the patio for a little dinner al fresco. And the ants of Provence must think it’s Christmas every day that the Hirschkorn twins are in town, thanks to the aforementioned sport of liberally depositing the majority of the contents of their plates (and often the plates themselves, too) on the floor. There are an awful lot of ants here, and they appear within seconds of even the tiniest droplet of fruit juice hitting the ground. But they haven’t had to make do with tiny droplets. Today alone they’ve been treated to great big hunks of baguette, scrambled egg, ketchup, fruit purée, fish fingers, chips, carrots, barbecue sauce, salmon, and Prince biscuits. I can happily report that salmon is a particular favourite of the provencal ants, with swarms around one chunk that fell from barbecue (my fault this time, not the twins) to rival any gruesome horror flick.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, we are having a lovely time. The highlights so far have been mostly, apart from the wine, getting to spend real quality time with the children, all four of them. I’ve been teaching son number 1 to play chess and I can see that he’s going to have a real gift for it. I’ve been helping son number 2 to get over his fear of being in the water without arm bands and he’s making real progress. Twin 1 has been hard at work on his very recently acquired skill of walking, and spending time with his parents has really brought out the sweet, jolly side of his personality. And twin 2 has just been making us laugh and coo with his limitless bags of charm and good humour. On top of all that, I’ve got to spend real time with my wife, not in front of the television, and it’s been lovely to steal the odd moment in amongst feeding, cleaning and entertaining to remember some of the things that brought us together in the early days.

Well, another day is over, and if we manage to make it out of bed any reasonable distance before midday tomorrow, then another day out exploring Provence beckons, so I’d better call it a night.

I think, therefore iPad

I’ve just discovered that the WordPress app I have on my newly-acquired iPad is actually iPad-optimised, which means it will be a lot nicer to use than the iPhone version, which you can’t really use to type anything meaningful. I’m typing this on the on-screen keyboard and I’m amazed how much it is like typing on a real keyboard.

The upshot of all this is that it marginally increases the chances of me reviving this blog, which it seems I have not updated for six months. Only marginally, mind you. I’m not going to write anything of interest now as it’s getting late. We’ll just have to see if I come back in the next few days. I know, I know you can barely contain yourselves.

The first day of the rest of my life

There are not many times in your life when the cliché in the title of this post can be used with any real meaning, but now is one of those times. This week I made one of the biggest decisions of my life and I’m in equal measure excited and terrified about the turn life is about to take. I was about to say “my life” but it’s not just mine. My entire family is affected by this decision: my wife, all four of my children, even my parents.

A bit of history: when I was growing up, I always swore I’d never end up doing the same thing as my dad. Now don’t get me wrong. I have an enormous amount of respect for my dad. He’s been very successful for a lot of his working life, and he’s very good at what he does, which for the sake of simplicity can be summed up as follows – buying clothes, and then selling them for more than he paid for them. This line of work has taken on various guises over the past 35 years, from running a high street shop, to a being in charge of the manufacturing for a major high street brand, from being a wheeler-dealer wholesaler to running a distribution company responsible for the interests of a range of big-name American labels. The trouble for me was that, well, it just wasn’t for me. I have about as much interest in clothes as my wife does in the result of last weekend’s Grand Prix. So it could be argued that it wasn’t exactly my finest hour when, a little over 5 years ago, I totally ignored my own lifetime of advice, and joined the family business. If I’m honest, it was a bit of a heat of the moment decision, having recently entered the world of parenthood and being seduced by the promise of a regular income, which seemed so much more appealing that the daily grind of pitches and rejections that was my freelance career.

Fast-forward five and a half years, and I have been increasingly plagued by thoughts that, at 34, I can no longer claim to be young and have my whole life ahead of me. I’m not quite at the stage of mid-life crisis just yet, but I have been hit by the realisation that if I don’t sort out my career soon, I could suddenly find myself in my mid-to-late 40s, regretting that I wasted my working life doing a job that was neither challenging nor fulfilling.

I’m not sure if “synchronistically” is a word, but I intend to use it in the current context. Synchronistically, the amazingly talented, creative paragon of organisational prowess who is my wife, has defied all logic by having a career that is going from strength to strength, despite having given birth to sons number 3 and 4 less than 10 months ago. As well as regular appearances in national newspapers (not to mention on television and radio) she has launched, edited, and provided swathes of content for various consumer-focused public sector websites. The volume of work she’s had coming in has placed a serious strain on her work-life balance, as it won’t come as any great surprise that finding anyone willing to take on a childcare role for four boys aged 6 and under is quite a challenge, notwithstanding the fact that she’s their mummy and she’s not overly keen on farming them out, when nobody can care for them as well as their parents.

MrsH was getting overwhelmed with work to the point where she was considering jacking it all in to look after the kids. And then it occurred to me: where would be the sense in throwing away the exciting, and increasingly frequent, opportunities that are coming her way, in order for me to pursue my career that didn’t appear to be going anywhere fast? And so it came to pass, on Wednesday 2nd December 2009, that I decided it should be me to give up my job for the sake of redressing our family’s work-life balance.

Now this is, sadly, not a license for me to become a full-time househusband, being kept by my superstar journalist wife. Not at all, in fact. But what it is is an opportunity to get off the road I’ve been going down for the last few years thanks to a questionable career choice, and get back to doing the things I have a passion for, which include writing and being a professional geek, while at the same time having more time for my family. The short-term goal is to relaunch my career as a freelance writer and IT consultant – so if anyone’s reading this with whom I used to work in those sectors, rest assured that I will be in touch soon! In the long term, MrsH and I intend to collaborate on a variety of projects, combining her prodigious writing, researching and organisational skills with my technical knowhow and business experience, so we can share our lives and responsibilities much better than we have been for the last few years.

So for those of you who have been wondering about my cryptic tweets and posts on Facebook of the last few days, now you know. And to all my friends and colleagues in publishing and technology, I look forward to working with you again soon.

Wreck

I don’t know if it’s down to the stress of having four children or whether it’s just because I’m getting old, but I have become a total physical wreck in recent weeks.

As I have posted (probably at great length) previously, I have developed a most upsetting tendency towards coming down with tonsillitis at the drop of a hat. It seems not a sniffle or bug can pass through my house without the bacteria who inhabit my throat thinking this signals party time. I have had confirmed cases at least five times in the last couple of years, three of which have been in the past few months, and two since the twins were born. The last time was particularly horrendous, to the point where I decided it was time to visit an Ear, Nose &  Throat specialist to get something done about it. Not surprisingly, his recommendation was to get a tonsillectomy. As he put it, “No tonsils, no tonsillitis.” So I’m booked in for the big op in about 3 weeks time, and it sounds absolutely horrific. Recovery takes two weeks, which as I’m sure you can imagine MrsH is totally delighted about, as the sous-parent will be out of commission for much longer than is acceptable. I’m lead to believe that the pain will be severe, and if you look at the list of medication I will be receiving post-op, you’d think I was opening my own pharmacy. When my throat isn’t hurting, I often wonder why on earth am I putting myself through this. But within the last few hours my throat has started to twinge again (two days after my last course of antibiotics finished), reminding me that I am living my entire life in fear of the symptoms returning and knocking me out from both my work and parenting duties for days at a time with worrying frequency.

As if this wasn’t enough, I have developed the mother of all bad backs in the last week or two. It started as a little twinge in my lower back, which I put down to the unusual position I keep sitting in, on our increasingly knackered sofa, to feed the babies. But as the days have gone by it has got worse and worse, to the point where I sound (and feel) like an old man every time I sit down, get up, bend over or roll over in bed. I’ve never before experienced so much difficulty at putting on my socks, not to mention the constant desire of at least three of my four children to be carried everywhere (the two smallest ones often need to be carried simultaneously).

MrsH has pointed out that I’ve started to remind her of a certain chronic hypochondriac member of my family (who will remain nameless – we’ll refer to him/her as Relative A). The rest of the family long ago gave up starting conversations with this particular person in the generally accepted, polite way – “How are you?” – for fear of being regaled with hour-long stories about the latest stomach bug, ingrowing toenail or worse. It feels pretty awkward greeting someone with a “Hello” and then launching into the rest of the conversation with the requisite “How are you?”, but needs must…As far as I’m concerned, the principal difference between me and Relative A is that I am actually suffering these problems, whereas Relative A is usually just ill because they believe themselves to be. But maybe I’ve been wrong all along. Maybe Relative A really does have a genetic propensity to suffer from every imaginable condition under the sun, and my own genes that I share with Relative A are starting to exhibit their phenotype as my defenses are weakened by the continual influx of children into my life. I bloody hope not.

To top it all, my smugness about having twin babies under three months old capable of sleeping through the night came back to slap me in the face last night. Because when you have four children, it doesn’t matter if they’re all good sleepers. On any given night, there is a pretty good chance that at least one of them will be ill/have had a big nap in the afternoon meaning they’re not tired/have bad dreams – delete as appropriate. In the early hours of this morning – at about 12:30 in fact – it was son number two’s turn. He woke up screaming, so I rushed downstairs to find he’d had a nightmare, and refused to go back to his own bed. In my semi-comatose state, I was defenseless against his demands to come into our bed. Cue virtually no sleep for the rest of the night as he wriggled, rolled over, continually whacked me in the face with an errant arm, and kneed me in the back. And just as I was thinking that I might get a couple of hours of peace at around half past five, who should awaken but baby number 2/son number 4, the model baby who never wakes up before 7am, who had taken it upon himself to choose this morning from hell to get the munchies an hour and a half ahead of schedule. Incidentally, upon further quizzing this morning, it turns out that the nightmare had involved Elmo and a cat – hardly the most threatening of protagonists, you’d have thought.

If I didn’t have enough excuses to feel like wreck before, I certainly bloody do now. I need a break, which in other circumstances would be an example of extremely fortuitous timing, given that a three-day weekend will be upon us in a matter of hours. But in the chaotic world that is a house with four small children, something tells me this particular May Day break is not going to be all that restful.