Last minute Father’s Day gifts

With the girls still being a bit young to buy their own gifts when it comes to birthdays, Christmas etc, it’s still up to Gem and I to do the honours. When it comes to Mother’s Day, I seem to have attracted a reputation for being a bit rubbish at it, which is entirely unjustified. I’m pretty sure this comes from Gem’s first couple of Mother’s Days, which were spent travelling back from Dubai and Lincolnshire respectively.

Not exactly the luxury pampering experience you might want, but it’s not my fault our travel plans coincided with such an important day, or that my wonderful idea of picking up gifts in Dubai duty free backfired a little because we didn’t have as much time to kill in the airport as I’d thought. Still, though, I’ve not forgotten one yet, so that’s good, right?

There have, however, been one or two last minute purchases over the years – the sort of “oh, that date is this Sunday? Really???” last minute purchase we’ve all done on occasion.

Or maybe that’s just me.

Anyway, Father’s Day is this Sunday coming, and I’m sure Gem has things well in hand. The girls have certainly let slip enough information to let me know that there are plans afoot, although I have no idea what. I thought I’d jot a few ideas down here anyway, though, just in case they’re required. You never know…

Beer/Whisky

WhiskyI was into craft beer before it was fashionable, but it’s good of everyone else to catch up because it means more choice for me. My only complaint is that all the good shops in Glasgow have been on the other side of the city, but that’s now changed with the opening of Drygate in the East End. I’ve yet to visit, but the range of beers behind the bar and in the shop looks impressive, as does the food. In fact, I wonder if we have any lunch plans on Sunday…

Whisky is something my father-in-law got me into, and I’m very glad he did. Like him, I tend to go for the Islay whiskies like Laphroaig and Lagavulin, but more recently I’ve developed a fondness for the Highland region too, with Macallan Gold and Ardmore being two of my most recent discoveries. Whisky stocks are quite low at the moment, but to be honest a nice bottle never goes amiss!

Cycling gear

Trek hybrid bike

If I’ve learned one thing in the last year, it’s that cycling requires lots of stuff. Most of mine has been picked up on the cheap, and with summer now on its way, I’m realising I could do with some extra tops/shorts to throw into the rotation – the current crop are starting to smell a bit, no matter how many times they’ve been washed. Sports Direct have a decent range of cycling tops and shorts, and I’ve been happy with previous purchases from their Muddy Fox range, so would have no qualms acquiring more.

Failing that, some running socks wouldn’t go amiss either!

Music

Gemma’s one failing when it comes to Father’s Day came in 2010, when part of my present was an IOU for Slash’s first album, which four years later I’m still waiting on. These days I’m more likely to stream something on Spotify, or download it from iTunes though, so some kind of voucher is probably the way to go

So there you have it – some last minute gift ideas that would make me (and I’m sure many other dads) happy. Although to be honest, I’ll be delighted just getting a lie-in followed by a day with my three favourite girls. :)

School’s out for summer (almost!)

Heather on her first day of school

First day of primary one- hard to believe we’re now almost at the end!

It’s hard to believe Heather’s first year at school – which started last August – is almost complete. In just over 3 weeks, she breaks up for the summer, and I honestly have no idea where the time has gone. None.

And yet, it’s not hard to see the changes in her that have happened in that time. She’s got taller, of course, and her hair is now rivaling Rapunzel’s, but it’s the things she’s learned, and what they allow her to now do, that are far more dramatic.

I don’t think Heather believed me at the start of the year, when I told her by summer she’d be able to read and write, but that’s exactly what’s happened. And I love how much of a buzz she gets out of it all – she’s even got herself a “secret” diary that every so often she records an event in… and then proudly shows us what she’s just written! Not so secret after all…

She’s been learning about numbers too, of course, and can now do adding and subtracting, sometimes without using her fingers. :) I’m guessing it will be next year (at least) before they move on to anything beyond two digits, though. At the moment, Heather seems to think that the bigger the numbers, the harder the sum, which is true to an extent, but “what’s a million add a million?” is nowhere near as complicated as she seems to think it is!

The school had a special assembly on Friday, to celebrate the end of Primary One, and to show us parents – and those whose kids will be starting school after the summer - what the year has been all about. Following a similar format to the end of nursery show, we were presented with a series of musical numbers covering the various topics the kids have covered. We got “Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to school we go”, “Chick-chick-chick-chick chicken” (in honour of the chickens that were hatched in the school back in autumn) and “The Stable Ho-down” (from the p1/p2 nativity). Megan knew all the words and dance moves for that last one, and had fun joining in.

Heather’s big moment was in the section about their Scottish topic, where she had a line to say – “we even learned a Scottish song” – which she delivered with gusto before the kids all sang “Bonnie Wee Jeannie McCall” with appropriate actions.

Now, this is one I’ve sort of known most of my life, but it was entirely new to Gem. She could at least understand the words, having lived up here for 14 years… unlike her poor mum, who needed a translation!

It was a great show though, and a great summary of what the kids have got up to all year. I have no idea if this will be an annual event, or if it is specific to P1, but I know that if we are back in 12 months time I’ll be every bit as proud as I was on Friday. Even if the rate time is passing scares the bejeezus out of me!

I can see clearly now

Trying my glasses on for size

Trying Daddy’s glasses on for size

When I was 3 or 4 years old – I’m not entirely sure, but I know I was at nursery – something exciting happened. A plastic bag had blown into a tree, and the teachers were lifting us kids up, one by one, so that we could see it. When it was my turn, I tried and tried, but I just couldn’t see what the fuss was about. It’s not that I didn’t find the idea of a bag caught in a tree exciting – after all, who wouldn’t? - I literally couldn’t see the focus of everyone’s attention.

At home time, someone had a word with my mum and suggested I might need to have my eyes tested. Which I did. And have been wearing glassed ever since, which is definitely a good thing, because it turns out I’m blind as a bat.

Gem and I always knew there was a chance our kids would end up with bad eyes. Leaving me aside, the rest of Gem’s family are spec-wearers, and my lot all have glasses too, albeit none of them have eyes as bad as mine. But we’ve never noticed either of the girls having any problems, and when Heather’s eyes were checked out last year at nursery, although she needed a follow-up appointment at the hospital, they told us her eyes were near enough perfect.

So on Sunday, when almost on a whim we took Megan for an eye test (she’d been complaining of a sore eye), we weren’t expecting any different. But we got more than we’d bargained for, as did the poor optician who examined her!

You see, being three, and all this being a brand new experience, Megan wasn’t too keen on sitting still while they looked in her eyes. So the optician gave her some drops to slow her eyes down, and sent us away for 40 minutes while they worked their magic. A cake and a drink later (virtually untouched by Megs, it has to be said) we were back, and the difference in her was very noticeable.

Apparently these drops can cause drowsiness, and in Megan’s case that was certainly true – she was almost sleeping in the examination room. Which made it all the more surprising when she threw up all over herself, Gem, the optician and the floor. It was quite the spectacular expulsion by all accounts!

I (perhaps fortunately) missed it though, as I was in the waiting area with Heather. The first I knew that anything was amiss was overhearing Gem apologising repeatedly before I was despatched to procure some baby wipes, to help with the cleanup.

Look at my new dress!

Look at my new dress!

The staff in Specsavers managed to find Megs a promotional t-shirt to wear in place of her sicky clothes, and it was dressed like this that she picked out her first pairs of glasses. I say “she picked out”… truth is she was (understandably) so traumatised by the whole experience that she just wanted to go home, and it was under much duress that she agreed to go for some pinky/purpley Hello Kitty glasses, and some similarly coloured sunglasses, which we’ll pick up next week.

It turns out Megan’s eyes are about as bad as mine are – we’re both very long-sighted, with very similar prescriptions, and both suffer from astigmatism. The fact that our prescriptions are so similar (Megan is +5.0 in both eyes, I’m +5.0 in one and +4.25 in the other) has meant I’ve been able to let her try out my glasses, which she has done a few times since the weekend. Last night she told me things look “more pointy”, which I’m taking to mean “more in focus”, which is encouraging in terms of getting her to keep them on.

In the meantime, both Gem and I are feeling a bit guilty. I’ve already apologised for giving her my rubbish eyes, while Gem somehow feels responsible for a) not noticing anything was wrong and b) not building her properly in the first place, both of which are ludicrous. Things are what they are, and having to wear glasses is nothing like it was when I was a kid – there’s so much choice now, where in my day we had a choice of blue or brown plastic frames (for the boys, girls got pink or, em, pink).

We have, however, struggled a bit to come up with positive glasses-wearing role models that Megan can relate to, which surprised me a lot. The entertainment industry still seems to view specs as being for old people or geeks, and mainly boy geeks at that. Pretty much the only girl we’ve come up with is Margo from Despicable Me, which is definitely pretty poor. Millions of kids wear glasses, it would be nice to see this reflected a bit more in movies and on TV. Something to keep an eye on (keep an eye on, geddit?)

One of my earliest childhood memories is of my first day in nursery with glasses. I can remember being on a climbing frame, and one of the boys asking me my name, because he hadn’t recognised me and thought I was new – and I don’t think he was the only one. I’m sure it won’t all be plain sailing, but I doubt Megan will have to deal with anything like that as she adapts to her new life. Glasses will be as much a part of her as they are of me, and it won’t be long before, like me, she can barely remember a time when she didn’t wear them. I guess we’ll just have to wait and see. (ok, I’ll stop it now…)

 

Holding hands and skimming stones

Like many households across the country, today was the dreaded return to normality after the Easter holidays. For Heather it was back to school, for Gemma it was back to work – both after 2 weeks off – and for me it was a return to the office after two weeks mostly spent at home. I don’t know yet how the others have fared, but I had a successful morning, which included my fastest door-to-door cycle to work yet, tantalisingly close to the hour mark I’m aiming for. One day…. one day…

Our break itself was pretty successful too. We started the process of clearing out and overhauling our bedroom, celebrated Gem’s birthday with an impromptu party and a night out in Glasgow, hung out with friends (including a trip to see Muppets Most Wanted, which I highly recommend), had a new front door fitted, and even found some time to relax. Poor Heather spent a good chunk of her first Easter break ill – possibly with scarlet fever – but even she still found time to get out on her bike and play with her friends.

Possibly the highlight, though, was a trip to Millport with the extended family on the Saturday of Easter weekend, in memory of my Grandma who died last August at the age of 95. Three generations of us, seventeen people in total, made the trip over the water to “Scotland’s most accessible island”, a place that Grandma loved. She spent many a holiday there, especially in the years when her mother, my Great Grandma, ran a boarding house overlooking the sea front, which made it a fitting place in which to say our final goodbyes. And I think she was looking out for us too, as the sun split the heavens all day, with barely a cloud to be seen.

Of course, no trip to Millport would be complete without having a picture taken on the Crocodile Rock. Nothing to do with Elton John, I hasten to add, this one is an actual rock, similar in shape to a crocodile and with painted eyes and teeth. First painted around 100 years ago, it’s one of Scotland’s best-known landmarks, and if our photo collections are anything to go by, one of its most photographed as well.

My dad has been scanning old pictures and slides recently, and compiled a set of Crocodile Rock pictures to share with everyone at the weekend. Obviously we took a few more, meaning we now have four generations of Blacks pictured on top of the Croc – a veritable family tradition!

And one which is likely to continue for some time to come – Gem and the girls enjoyed their first trip to Millport (yes, shame on me for not taking them sooner) so I’m sure there will be plenty more trips – and photo opportunities – in the years ahead. Although I don’t expect the sun to be blazing every time we go :)

Grandma and Grandpa, c.1939

Dad and Aunt Eli, 1950s

Paul, Ali, me, Gill, Rachael and Uncle John c.1992

Rach, Matt, Iain, Me, Gem, Ali and Gill, 2014

Me, Megan and Heather, 2014

Review: Shaun the Sheep – Spring Cleaning

Shaun the Sheep - Spring Cleaning

Somewhat unbelievably, it’s 25 years this coming Christmas since Wallace and Gromit were first beamed into our living rooms, in A Grand Day Out. I’ll just let that sink in for a second… 25 years! A quarter of a century! That’ll be another one of those things that make me feel positively ancient then.

That said, it wasn’t until their second adventure, The Wrong Trousers, was broadcast four years later than I became aware of Nick Park’s creations, and I’ve loved them ever since -who doesn’t?

It was the third Wallace and Gromit adventure, A Close Shave (1995), that introduced us to Shaun the Sheep, a character so popular that he was given his own CBBC series in 2007, and has appeared in over 100 episodes since.

Spring Cleaning is the latest collection of Shaun the Sheep episodes to be released on DVD, and it really is fun for all the family – in fact, I think I might even have enjoyed it more than the girls! Each episode features five minutes of farm-based fun, as Shaun and his woolly friends get up to all sorts of antics involving such things as sheepdog trials, pet rabbits, coconuts, skateboarding, home barn improvements and window cleaning.

I must admit I hadn’t seen any of Shaun’s solo adventures prior to receiving this DVD, and I’m not sure the girls had either, but we’ll definitely be looking out for him in the future – especially with a feature-length film due to arrive in cinemas next year!

Shaun the Sheep – Spring Cleaning is available to buy from today. As well as 10 episodes from the TV series, there are extras including behind-the-scenes features, and a tutorial on how to draw Shaun himself. To celebrate the DVD launch, Studio Canal have provided me with some Shaun activity sheets, which will be ideal for keeping the kids amused over the Easter holidays. Click on the links below to download them