What do girls want?

I have an admission to make.

I have no ideas what little girls like.

“So what?” I hear you ask and Miles Davis play.

Well, I’m a new father to a little girl called Hannah Violet Blewer. She’s going to grow up with a Dad who knows nothing about little girls or bigger girls.

It was a genuine fear when it became obvious that we had daughter. My first thought was “Aidan will be narked”, as he had wanted a brother. My second thought was “Kirsty and all my family will be delighted”. My final emotion was less singular.

“Wow it’s a girl. What do they like? I haven’t known a little girl since I was a little boy! How the hell am I going to do this?”

Since my initial seconds of panic, I’ve fallen into the rhythms of fatherhood to a baby whilst working long days. Kirsty does all the work, and my fears for the future are put to the back of my mind. Most of the time.

Funnily enough it’s Aidan that brings my fears back to the front of my mind. I sort of instinctively know that he’ll like running around in the park, playing sport, bit of rough and tumble. Standard boy stuff. Stuff I still like doing.

He loves going to Rugbytots. He loves soft play. He wants to learn how to play cricket, because his dad and grandad did.

My fear is of the unknown. Of little girls.

It’s great that there are girls at Rugbytots. Of course girls like playing on swings and climbing frames as well. Let’s be honest, it’s not now of the next year or two I’m really scared of.

It’s me I’m scared of. The scary protective dad whose first reaction is fear. “You can’t wear that. You can’t go there. You can’t do that. You can’t see him”

I’m going to do what we did with Aidan. Try as many things as possible and see what Hannah likes. If she likes it, no matter what it is, that’s the main thing.”

So what do girls like.

Any ideas?

Reasons to love Croydon part 1: Beanies

It’s been a little while since I blogged, as nothing’s really grabbed me. I blogged about Scottish independence when I was monged out of my face on morphine in hospital, and the whole Ukraine issue is a little close to home.

There hasn’t been much excitement in capital markets the last few months and I haven’t been anywhere new for an eating out blog. So this is a blog about part of my routine, a blog about the ordinary, but about a place that is far from ordinary.

Beanies is a cafe and soft play area on Croydon. It is run / owned by three Croydon women in their 30s and they are assisted by a great selection of younger staff. There have been (literally) ups and downs as the management team tried to make the most of their 3 storey property, but the core offering has remained constant;

  • a great soft play set of claiming frames
  • lots of toys and dressing up clothes
  • Good coffee and food far better than it has to be, with a hint of spice here and there. Sometimes more than a hint
  • Staff who are happy to see you, engage in easy conversation, and understand that less is more

This should seem like a simple equation. The reality is very different. The fact that the team is still there and running the business is an exceptional achievement in the current business environment where cash is short across most of Croydon’s sociological sectors.

Aidan and I, normally with Kirsty, have spent many hours in Beanies and I remain amazed how much Aidan loves it and how happy the rest of the kids are there. This in turn meant the parents are all chilled, as their kids are happy and there’s enough space and variety for them not to get bored.

Basically, it’s a lovely place to spend an hour or two if you have young kids. It’s not expensive, as can be seen by the wide range of Croydon families in residence. You can hear multiple languages whenever you’re there, and a lot of laughter, often from the parents enjoying things as much as their kids.

I love this place and I wish the team every bit of luck and a long and successful business. If only because it’s one of the very few places in croydon where when it’s raining I can go with Aidan, he can run around and have fun and I can chill out with an decent espresso.

Long live beanies. Probably the main reason you might find me in croydon on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

The Lions, and the story of how rugby marks steps on a father / son relationship

Some of my favorite memories involve the Lions. I’m not talking sporting memories, but all time good memories.

Before I go into specifics, and at the risk of the curse of the Spanish Inquisition, I think there’s two main reasons: Rarity and Ethnicity.

1- Rarity: The Lions tours only come round every four years and I reckon that its this rarity that in part makes them so special. You savour the experience and the memory because there won’t be another one just around the corner.

The world athletics champs used to be special, then they dropped the frequency and now its just another tournament. Whilst its still a great achievement to win a world championship belt in boxing, the proliferation of sanctioning bodies has devalued one of the most valuable titles in sport “World Heavyweight Champion”.

Coming back to the lions its the fact that the four year cycle breeds a narrative of their own is something special. Speculation over teams starts fully a year before. The team that was picked at the end of last year’s 6 nations would have been quite different to this one. It all builds the excitement towards the first kick off – and just as important in Rugby that first big hit that defines the match and the physical confrontation.

Shit. The Spanish Inquisition’s got me. There’s another one.

2 – Tradition / Historical Progression: The “99” call. Barry “King” John in 71. Robert Jones stepping on Farr-Jones. The truly frightening 1989 English policeman pack with the hard edge of scots and welsh. Campo and Ieuan Evans. Iron Mike Teague was just hard. Scott Gibbs twice. An NZ victory stolen by poor refereeing. My hero Dewi Morris. Rory Underwood burning up the All Blacks. The return of the League exiles. Martin Johnson 3 times. Jerry dropping the goal. Daws fooling the worlds 2nd best EVER scrum half with a terrible dummy (1-Edwards 2- Joost 3- daylight). Deadeye Ruprecht kicking SA to death. Jim Telfer’s Everest and Living with the Lions. BOD in the golden moments of youth. Jason Robinson, now you see me, now you don’t. Martin Johnson coming on as a sub after Macrae’s assault on ROG. Macrae leaving the field soon after. The assault on Richard Hill, the man so good they had to elbow drop him to the neck. 5 yard line out, 2 call catch and drive; that bastard plank stole it. Keith Wood, far more than a bald psycho. The abomination of SCW NZ tour. Enough said. Mike Phillips – hateful for Wales, a prince (there’s only one king) for the Lions. BOD and Roberts as the best centre partnership I’ve ever seen. Kearney mixing Gaelic football and Rugby to sublime effect. The Beast tamed by the Raging Bull. And then devastation for ROG, always at his best playing in red, but that’s for Munster, not the Lions.

Seriously, if you love sport, I dare you not to be moved at that list. That’s what the Lions have to live up to.

3 – Ethnicity. I’m half English and half Irish. For Rugby I support, in order, the Lions, Munster, England, London Irish. You can see the mix right there. The Lions are one of the only tribes, along with English Cricket, that I really passionately care for with no ambivalence. It brings together the people of our historically and ethnically complex islands of the NW coast of Europe and turns us into one tribe, with no reservations. I’m not sure there’s anything else that’s ever really done that. Ireland’s been fighting for independence for centuries. The Scots don’t want to do anything that was thought up by the English. The Welsh get screwed over by everyone. England is hated by everyone and on its own would be a Tory paradise that would be anathema to a trot like me.

But these are general issues that are petty much shared by many people in our islands. The millennia of interweaving means that we know each other very well and however much you dislike Westminster, you can come together for the Lions.

For me though, there are a couple of very personal memories that matter a lot to me, and why the Lions are my own personal Everest. The thing I look forward to for four years.

The Lions is one of my earliest vivid sporting memories. Spurs losing to Coventry comes close, as does England’s victorious cricket tour down under, where Botham was world class for the last time. Maybe the ’86 World Cup with Lineker’s bandaged hand and Maradona’s hand of god.

But I didn’t watch any of those in my dressing gown at 0730 in the morning with my Dad, with the volume low so we wouldn’t wake mum up. Dad was primarily a football (Millwall) and cricket (Surrey) supporter and whilst I’d watched a bit of rugby, he’d primarily tried to educate me at these two sports. But the Lions was different. Dad got up early to watch the games, which was strange, as he was a forex broker and was up at 0530 every morning and home late a lot. The man needed his sleep. I wasn’t allowed to get up that early normally so i didn’t wake him up. But he was excited about the series and he cared and he transmitted this to me. An impressionable young boy (I was 9, and what 9 year old boy doesn’t hero worship his Dad?) I lapped it up, loving the sport, and loving sharing it with my Dad.

The sport was brilliant, with some real moments of drama, most of which are mentioned above. Guscott’s blistering pace, the physicality of the England pack. Jones’ pass. Evans and Campese. More than anything however, the Lions pushed the Oz pack off their own ball on a 5 yard scrum. The score was close and the wasn’t much time left. The reason I remember it so clearly was because Dad talked me through why it was so important. The series coming down to a 5 yard scrum.

The ’97 lions is connected. I was obviously a lot older. A 17 year old that wasn’t particularly happy with life at a grammar school sixth form, apart from the sport. The game was on Sky and my Dad hates Murdoch so it wasn’t on in the house. Mum and Dad were away for the first game, so I went down the local and sat quietly in the corner of the public bar, drinking a few pints and loving the game, and most importantly the atmosphere. A quintessentially masculine atmosphere, there was more chat in the bar than I’d ever heard and I was involved. A boy in a man’s world and I loved it.

So the second game came round. I talked dad into coming to the pub with me to watch the game. I had to bend his arm. I asked, “Want to watch the Lions in the public bar?” He said “of course”. We watched one of the tensest, toughest, most perfect games of sport I’ve ever seen. Add in the beer, the pub where we did a lot of father-son bonding and the great atmosphere in the pub, which was (strangely) full of rugby players (look at the nose, ears and body shape, you can normally tell) we had never seen before. It was such a close game. The South Africans were probably the better side, but Neil Jenkins kicked everything, the Lions pack was heroic and every single Lions player put their bodies on the line. The total physicality and commitment was awe inspiring.

Then Guscott dropped his goal. And the pub rose as one. We cheered, we hugged. For that second we were all sharing a communion to the god of sport. I spilt some Guinness on the old man.

We shared the SA tour four years ago, and drowned our sorrows in Guinness and Light and Bitter, but last year I smiled at the way the dynamic had changed. We’re still father and son, but even four years ago, Dad appeared to have pretty much accepted me as a man. We were two mates down the local talking about a sport and concept (the lions) we both loved. I’d gone through a tough few years, but was turning the corner (meeting Kirsty, new job on the way) and I was in a busy boozer I knew well, drinking a lot of beer with my old man and loving it. So we lost. It was still great.

So the lions for me is a story about two Blewer men and their relationship as father and son, and the development of a friendship. I’ve still got to work out where we watch the game, how to introduce Kirsty into this dynamic (she’d never forgive me) and how long we can persuade Aidan to watch the game. I can’t wait to do the same with him as I did with Dad. Although I might have to get Sky to do that.

looking forward to being somewhere were we can all watch the test series.

looking forward to being somewhere were we can all watch the test series.

St Helier Hospital and the NHS. Thank you

This will be brief, but I want to make a serious point. Today, Kirsty and I had a run of incredible, caring, empathetic and timely service from the NHS.

The boy had a temperature of 104. We phoned 111 and got a call back very quickly. We were booked into see a GP at a walk in. They let us refuse the first offer as I’m never going back to Mayday in Croydon if I can in any way avoid it.

We got to St Helier in Sutton and were swiftly seen by a careful GP, who managed our expectations well. Aidan had a non scary (eg meningitis) virus and we had done everything right. He figured Aidan would be OK, but as we were on hospital grounds, why not check with Paediatrics?

15 mins later we were in the department, being seen by a specialist nurse. 3 hours later following diagnosis and treatment, we were home, our bright eyed, independently minded boy very much back.

Aidan had been so miserable and unlike himself. It would have been very easy to panic. We both almost did.

Except the system worked well and everyone we dealt with was not just professional but very human as well. This was the NHS that Danny Boyle celebrated at the Olympics; the one that has put me back together multiple times following sports injuries and the one that looked after Kirsty in the run up to Aidan’s birth and then both of them afterwards.

We are lucky to have what we do here. I’m very grateful for the professional skill and human kindness shown to my family today.

So enough sniping at the core of the NHS. It will always cost a lot, and it will always be right that it does so. Make it better by all means, but don’t attack it’s heart; health care professionals that rally do care.

When your son equates you with the phrase “bye bye”

I’ve just had to confront one of the challenges of parenthood when you have a job. A few nights ago, I was playing with Aidan and he waved at me and said “bye”.

I was surprised as I’d got home early so I could see him and Kirsty and we were having fun reading a bedtime story. Kirsty suggested that he connects me with “waving bye bye” as I leave in the morning when he’s been up for 20mins, and I don’t always get back to do anything other than put him in his pyjamas and kiss him goodnight.

I thought she was taking the mick and then realised that apart from weekends, I don’t see Aidan for more than am hour a day, if that, outside the weekends.

I was lucky enough to see his first steps, but I missed his first word (“more food”) and on his first day at nursery, I was there, but talking to some journalists and bankers about whether Russia was going to buy Cyprus. For the record, it wasn’t.

At the same time, I love my job and have worked hard to build a career. It’s intellectually rewarding and whilst they can always pay you more, there are worse paid jobs.

So I finally get to understand the sick feeling everyone gets when they wave ‘bye to their kid(s) in the morning, knowing that they’re not as involved as they might want to be. I now understand why Dad tried so hard to make weekends special when I was young and it also makes me a mixture of jealous of but impressed with what a great job Kirsty is doing bringing up our son.

But this is what being an adult is about – constant compromise to come up with the best solution. The best solution is I continue my career, but try and box as clever as I can so that I get to see a bit more of the boy, but still do all the work that is necessary to keep both the clients and my employers happy.

Come one, how hard can this parenting / career deal be? And who wouldn’t want to spend more time with this kid?

Wk 1 pics KSA 004