Long Car Journeys and Caravans

After weeks of careful planning, half-term has ended as quickly as it began.

 

Although I tried to stick to the guidelines that I laid out in last week’s post, there were still a couple of occasions where we fell off the rails.

Luckily, Constance was home early on Friday so we could take the kids on a surprise holiday to Bowland Fell Park. The kids were so enamoured with the place that they’ve been hassling both of us to buy them a caravan of their own, which we’re not going to do even though the Park did have a few handsome specimens for sale (https://www.bowlandfellpark.co.uk/buy-a-bowland-holiday-home/static-car avans-yorkshire/).

I discovered a long time ago that correctly gauging and setting kids’ expectations is absolutely key in keeping them quiet on long car trips. If you over hype the destination to your child, then you run into the problem of too much excitement bouncing around the car. On the other end of the spectrum, if you downplay where you’re going, then your kids will begin to question why you’re travelling so far in the first place.

Constance and I have developed the perfect balance of excitement fuelling chat and ambiguity that keeps our boys in a constant state of expectant confusion.

We don’t tell them how long the journey will take – so there’s no clock-watching – we just tell them where we’re going.

Additionally we never tell them how far we have to go and we hide the Sat Nav, just to really throw them off the scent. If you’re wondering how we manage to avoid tantrums, there is a shameful truth hidden behind the apparent idyllic charm of our long drives: frequent stops.

Anyone who has travelled with kids will know how even the most placid of children will become a screaming mess of noise after more than an hour in a car. Our answer to this age old problem is two-fold.

Firstly, pack all your things well in advance and ensure that you leave early. I mean really early. We leave an extra 3 hours earlier ahead on every journey to allow for the second part of our smart solution. With a little luck your kids will have passed out in the car for the first hour or so of your journey – this means you can make good ground in relative peace and quiet.

By the time your charges have rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and started asking questions, that’s when you strike: pull off at the first of your pre-planned stops and yank the sprogs out of the car.

Bleary eyed and confused, you can then distract them from the potential boredom of the remainder of the journey with your current location. As your kids (ideally) won’t be aware of what their final destination looks like, each time you make a little stop (once every hour or so) they’ll be confused as to where they are and whether its the end of the journey or not.

Of course there are a few downsides to utilising this plan; frequent stops usually entail a more expensive trip, you also run the risk of tiring out your kids before you get to where you need to go.

On this particular day though, our strategy worked.

We left at 6am and the boys slept peacefully for the first few hours. When Saul woke up, Constance clocked him first and made an immediate turn for the next service station where we plied him and his brother with donuts, sending them back into another hour of blissful dozing. By the time they’d roused themselves again from their slumber we’d, thankfully, drifted away from the monotony of the motorway into the more interesting countryside of the Forest of Bowland.

Within an hour we’d reached our destination, Constance and I congratulated ourselves that night with a bottle of champers and hoped that the kids would be as eager to sleep in tomorrow morning as they were in the car on the way here.

They weren’t and we wished we hadn’t had the whole bottle…

 …

Middle-Aged Money Traps

Does Age Really Come With Wisdom?

I’m willing to argue that although this may have been the case at the time of this saying’s birth, it was clearly thought of before the Gulf War, the Internet and Donald Trump existed.

Unfortunately, we live in a world where all these things exist and as such you can’t rely on age or wisdom to save you from the biggest enemy to your savings/bank account: yourself. As much as everyone loves to think of themselves as relatively ‘street smart’, there’s no substitute for true wisdom. With middle-age, for many, comes a time when more money is readily available and there are usually more bad ways to spend the money than good.

If you’re anything like this fool then chances are you’ve been drawn into at least one of these ‘Middle-Aged Money Traps’, I know I have, but can you guess which one? 

Waitrose

Its a rare occasion that Waitrose will be the only Supermarket in a town or city, there is almost always a cheaper alternative. I know what you’re going to say: ‘But you can’t put a price on quality Harry.’ You’re right. can’t. Neither can you. The retailers do that and they also know full well that they can stick a huge markup on any imported brand or ‘Extra Special’ product and excitable ‘foodies‘ (like me) will throw money at them until they hand them over.

Instead of needlessly tossing your money away on marginally better products, why not cut back and save the money for something really fancy…like caviar – that’s definitely not a waste of money.


The Forex Market (or any other form of gambling)

There’s something very alluring about dipping your toes into the Forex Market. Much like online gambling, it requires no formal education. As long as you’ve got some money in a bank account somewhere then the good men and women of the Market will always be happy to take it from you. It is, of course, a completely feasible way of making money, thousands of people do it every day. But for most, it simply amounts to an excuse to look very smart with a load of graphs in front of you, whilst getting a slight buzz from risking your money.

So you’re a gambling man? Fantastic – create a cooperative, buy a lottery ticket, separate yourself a fund each month to do it. Gamble responsibly, don’t pretend to be a Wall Street pro and lose your savings.


Your Very ‘Own’ Website

I know it’s not been long since I was ripping into the aggressively pervasive nature of the Internet, but there’s something so perniciously greedy about it that its always worth reminding people that there is an option to simply not get involved. Prime time television, which is watched by mostly middle-aged people now, is chocked full of opportunities for hungry middle-aged people to ‘create-your-own-website’. The hyphens are the important thing to note there.

If you need a website built, talk to a teenager or find a programmer online. They’ll make you a good looking site, like this one, and you’ll be in complete control – don’t give your money to the charlatans at Wix.


Awful Electronics

There is an argument that the majority of electronics products are not ‘built to last’. Conspiracy theorists attest to Apple’s faulty design of the iPhone, claiming that the hugely popular £700 handset is only built to last two years at most, whereas less reputable companies have been accused of building their budget items to last even less time than that. I love iPhones so I’m not about to slate them here, what I will say is that, if you’re in your forties and you think buying a bread maker is a sounder option than simply buying a loaf of bread or baking one from scratch, then you need to take a long hard look at yourself.

If its a piece of consumer electronics and you’ve seen it advertised on a shopping channel, or the box proudly states ‘As Seen On TV’, then avoid like the plague.…

My Children Can’t Wait To Be Advertised To

It’s been a tiring week.

Davey Teller, the rich kid at my boys’ school has just got the new iPhone 7.

Of course they’re jealous. I’m even a little bit jealous. When the new handset came out last September, I was still working in London. I remember the hubbub and excitement that ensued in the office. A load of men in their 40s and 50s spending the morning excitedly swiping and thumbing their new phones, trying to ascertain what makes them different from the last model.

New technology used to be something that only overweight schmucks and Trekkies had the time to get distracted by. But now, a new phone hits the market and the world stops moving so everyone can either queue up and buy it or watch enviously from the sidelines. If you’re wondering where my boys (and myself for that matter) ended up on this rather binary spectrum then I’ll save you the calculations and tell you now that we weren’t all basking in the omniscient glow of Apple’s new phone last September, nor shall we be in the near future.

My boys are 10 and 11. I’m not completely insensitive to their ‘needs’.

I understand kids of their generation have grown up watching their parents incessantly tapping on electronic devices of progressively slimmer stature, they see it as the gateway to their adulthood.

Through their first smartphone, they’ll have access to thousands of servers all around the globe. With this information they will be armed to cheat their way through every essay and piece of homework. The friends they make using it could well be people that they know for the rest of their lives – if only through various simulacrums of online communications.

However, this first phone, given to them from their parents (because how else would they be able to afford it?), could also expose them to the kind of human truths that they may well have avoided for another few years.

As much as the internet spotlights all that is wonderful about human ingenuity, it also shines a light on the less admirable portions of our existence – with the same unerring beam.

Not even teenagers yet, is it too early to show them all of this? Or is the development of the internet simply another ‘talk’ that the parents need to have with their children?

Beyond the waking nightmares that all parents have, when considering the psychological ramifications of unintentionally exposing their children to unsuitable material, there is also the insidious power of the Internet to think of as well.

From the moment we all connect to the internet, whether its through our phones or a computer, we are being advertised to. Whereas 10 years or so ago, this advertising was restricted to obvious ‘banner ads’ and ‘pop-ups’, the bidding of multi-national corporations and powerhouse brands is now done by the most unassuming agents. Thousands of contributors to the internet, from prominent YouTubers to the legions of writers working for BuzzFeed, now create content with an agenda.

They know how best to market to college students and they know how to transform your child into the perfect consumer of tomorrow. The only question is, do you let them?

I’ve decided to attack the problem pragmatically.

Should my children, not even teenagers yet, have the latest iPhone in their grubby mitts? No. If I don’t get one, then they don’t.

Should they at least be given a chance to dip their toes into the virtual pool of information? Yes. That’s why they’ll both be receiving budget smart phones for their Christmas presents this year. For the time being, they’ll just have to cope with living a life untethered to electronic devices.

They won’t understand me when I tell them to enjoy it whilst they can.

From TV Abuser to Internet Bruiser

There’s a certain guilty pleasure that I derive from roaring myself hoarse at the television.

I understand that the very act of doing it is the perfect example of ‘wasted breath’ but if all the yelling and cursing results in my sleeping better at night (regular glasses of Whiskey do help in that regard too…) then is it really wasted?

My wife would definitely say so. When she invariably wakes me from the armchair, the TV still blaring and a fine web of saliva slowly drying to my stubble, she makes a resigned sigh and asks me if I wouldn’t be happier simply reading a book each night, to which my reply is usually: ‘Blarglshmar-bloody-UKIPpers.’

Last night was a typical one for me. The boys barrelled into the house at 4pm, out of breath from their usual foot race home from school. They run back everyday, but somehow don’t seem to be getting faster or fitter – perhaps this is something that I should take up with their PE teacher…After throwing biscuits at them until they ceased their yammering, they disappeared upstairs to either do their homework or murder their classmates in a virtual war. Dinner was a simple pasta affair, made ready for my darling Wife upon her return to the homestead and we ate at the table, as is our wont.

Whilst Constance patiently pried precious pieces of information from our boys, I slyly kept one ear open to the World Service playing in the kitchen. The News has been particularly fantastic recently. Admittedly, the World may be collectively holding its breath for the the first sign of a Nuclear Holocaust and Racial Tensions have arguably never been more fraught, but its made for some of the best news that I’ve seen in a decade.

In the last two years there have been more shock resignations, blindingly odd referendum results and confusing press releases than I’ve ever seen before. Firing up and exaggerating every political oddity is the full force of the internet. From irate individuals sharing their opinions via Facebook, to the ‘unbiased journalists’ of Buzzfeed; from all corners of the web, opinions are flaunted and shared prolifically to thunderous acclaim and equal amounts of disdain. Now the internet has one more angry voice to join the baying mob: mine.

Since leaving my job in Investment, some 7 years ago or so now, I’ve been struggling in vain to still feel a part of the world at large. In my days, pre-Fatherhood, I would be meeting bankers and businessmen on a daily basis. Titans of industry would know me by name and I felt like the decisions that I made, from the pattern of my tie to the choice of my words, had a significant effect on the World.

Now, the main thrust of my work involves feeding hungry mouths, keeping kitchen surfaces clean and sucking the endless reams of cat hair out of the thick carpet that we never should have bought. My sons could well grow up to be important men with the weight of the world on their shoulders, but that’s an investment in time and effort that is a long way off returning.

For now, I’m going to see if I can spend less time drunkenly yelling at the oblivious faces on television and more time writing my thoughts down here…like a rational person.