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‘Mummy, don’t do the voices!’

Peppa Pig’s school roof needs repairing. Again. And poor Daddy Pig ends up having to buy his chair back at a fundraising fete.

That was the gist of our daughter’s latest bedtime story. I’ve read “Peppa Pig’s Daddy Is Made To Look A Right Idiot Again” or whatever the book’s called  a million times, trying as best as I can to mimic the voices Isla hears on the DVD.

My Mrs Rabbit is close, Madame Gazelle is spot on and I do an uncanny Daddy Pig – basically lots of booming and chuckling. My Peppa Pig is woeful though – wrong pitch and tone. But, hey, there have been umpteen actresses playing the part since it began a decade or so ago. That’s my excuse.

Isla usually asks her Mum to put her to bed so Mum usually throws herself into reading aloud. She has a gentle Scottish accent that strikes the right rhythm and pace. Well, I think so. Isla too – so much so that whenever Mum starts to put on a voice and do an impersonation she is immediately silenced. Either by a hard Paddington Bear stare or the words, ‘Mummy, don’t do the voices!’

Tonight, Mum’s Madame Gazelle was mercilessly shot down in a scene reminiscent of Bambi.

She gamely protested – ‘But you let Daddy do the voices. Is that because he can do them?’

‘Yes,’ Isla shot straight back.

Undeterred, Mum bided her time until the next book. As she opened the first page of ‘Some Dogs Do’ Isla offered some advice.

‘Don’t do the voices!’

Some Mum’s Don’t. Mum obligingly played it straight and got an approving look. Within moments the tired wee girl was asleep and Kate was downstairs pondering the inequality of Life.

‘Is she asleep?’ I ask.
Kate nods then says – ‘I do a really good Madame Gazelle.’

She launches into an accent straight out of  The Sound Of Music – part Austrian, part manic Nun. I am impressed. I tell her so. ‘That’s not what Isla thinks. She thinks you do better voices than me.’

Inwardly I glow, though outwardly I feign a concerned look and mention that sometimes Isla doesn’t like me doing voices. Apart from when I do foppish Captain Hook from Jake & The NeverLand Pirates – ‘Smee, Smee! Where are those pesky pirates?‘ Oh, and my earnest Scooby-Doo always goes down well – ‘Sh-raggy.’ As does my dim Winnie The Pooh – ‘Um, where’s mi hunney?

I mentioned in an earlier blog that I tell Isla Stories. These are stories that have certain rules.

1. They must always began with the words Once Upon A Time There Was A Big Girl Called Isla.

2. Isla must always be the heroine and save the day.

3. The stories must feature her Gang, such as the cast of Scooby Doo interspersed with characters from Jake & The NeverLand Pirates and Fireman Sam. Plus key ‘real’ friends from her Nursery.

Invariably the story involves CrackleNose the Witch who rather disgustingly has a nose that crackles when she picks it. In every story CrackleNose puts everyone in mortal danger but Isla beats her with some clever ruse.

Yesterday CrackleNose was turned into a tin of baked beans by magic and rolled down the hill into the mouth of a hungry shark that Isla had helped earlier. Yes, each story features plot twists and heart wrenching character arcs. Oh, and voices. Plenty of voices. I am allowed to go OTT with my voices in Isla Stories. CrackleNose cackles crazily in a ‘Nha-Ha-Harrr!’ kind of way.

Normally I get asked to tell them at 6.10 am when Isla springs in, all bright and breezy. I am far from my best and I usually wind her up by saying, ‘Once Upon A Time There Was A Big Girl Called Isla who tricked a Witch. The End!’

Isla will protest and ask for a longer version.

I say, ‘Once Upon A Time There Was A Big Girl Called Isla who tricked a Witch and went back home. The End!’

By this point Isla is NOT PLEASED so she bashes me with pillows or pokes me in the ear or tickles my feet or opens the curtain or whines to Mum that Daddy is not saying it right.

I do not want to do voices. It is too early, but She Who Must Be Obeyed Because She Is Four And Nearly A Half persists and I sleepily agree to do them … if Isla will agree to get washed and dressed and brush her teeth and eat breakfast and put her shoes on.

Isla readily agrees.

I tell the story properly. Then we spend the next hour trying to get Isla to get washed and dressed and brush her teeth and eat breakfast and put her shoes on……..

Such is life. You couldn’t make it up.

And if you do… Don’t Do The Voices!

 

Bad things come in threes.

1) Today I woke up with conjunctivitis. Irritating.

2) Yesterday I was diagnosed with chilblains…to match my arthritis. Thus confirming I am officially an old git.

3) The day before that the hard drive in my Mac computer became an ex-hard drive. To paraphrase Monty Python it has kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain and joined the choir invisible!

So there you have it. Three bad things. Wow, this old saying is really accurate. Er…

4) Last week the washing machine broke down. Springs shattered and smashed the insides. It too has kicked the bucket, shuffled off its mortal coil, run down the curtain etc.

5) Just after that a lump of hard core rock flew from the back of a highway maintenance lorry and bounced on my car as I was driving in the fast lane. Left a nasty dent in the bonnet and an even nastier dent in the wallet.

6) The car key snapped in the ignition. Needs to be repaired. £170, I kid you not.

7) My wife has a really bad back at the moment.

8) Daughter has a cold.

9) This damn ipad turns the numeral eight into a smily face.

10) Dog now has arthritis too.

11) It snowed so much the builders could not work on our house for three days.

12) A recent storm caused two big leaks…the Nationwide Building Society sent an assessor in high heels who would not climb a ladder to check the roof or even climb up into our loft because of Health and Safety regs. She said to get a roofer out (at our cost) and she would study his report with a trained eye to see if it was wind damage or poor workmanship. Judging from a bit of paper rather than going up and seeing for herself. Bonkers.

13) Oh I can’t be bowhere’d writing anymore because this ipad is correcting everything I say with women kind of devilishly inaccurate autocorrect software that I have to go back ancharacter every two minutes…see what I mean? Unreadable.

Okay then. Bad news indeed comes in threes…or fours, fives, sixes, hundreds, thousands, all eternity… You name it.

Bad news actually, and very obviously, comes from the point you want to start remembering it. I could go on but the bad news is in have to go to the Mother In Law’s house today…and she can’t walk after knee surgery. Bless.

Have a good day, y’all.

Useful free websites for writers and authors – compiled by Alan Dapré

Need a website or a place to promote your work? I read a post recently where a writer was struggling to get a web presence, and had no money to pay for a website. What to do? There are some things that are easy to set up and cost nothing except time. I found these sites are useful but I am sure there are plenty more.

Jacketflap
– you can create a profile, add your own books with ISBNs, add a blog feed, join a community, etc. Be selective about friends or you will be inundated.

LinkedIn
– add your profile and writing history – then link up to like-minded individuals and groups. You can see who views your page. A downside is you can get unwanted hangers on who ask to link just to get their own profile up. I like to connect with those I share an interest, or have worked with at some time. Not easy to attract the attention of the real movers and shakers. Be polite. I think that’s essential to be nice to people as you go on the way up, as you may meet them on the way down!

WordPress.org/Wordpress.com
– great free sites to create your own blog, upload pics of your book, add feeds etc.

Alltop.com
– an inventive search directory which will check out your blog if you request that it goes in a particular category, and then list it if approved. My site is in the ‘Children’s Literature’ category.

Pinterest
– click on its home page for an invite. When accepted you pin ‘found images’ from the internet onto your own boards. These images are also placed on the main bulletin board so you get to see them displayed alongside other pinners.

Amazon.co.uk or Amazon.com
– obvious really but check out their Author Central section where you can add a profile and self-promote. The info will appear on your author page, e.g,

Alan Dapré’s Author Page On Amazon Uk

Goodreads
– allows authors to put up a profile, chat, list and promote work – even to sell their books. That said, I will not sell on there as I would be required to always keep a version there once a book has been bought. I want to reserve the right to pull any book at any time. Goodreads also don’t pay out until the royalties have built up. Check it out for yourself though.

Shelfari
– I have only just popped by this site. It displays my book without me putting it up there but I assume this is due to it being linked to Amazon.com. Discovered that if I clicked on my ebook ‘Cuddle Muddle’ that the first six pages can be read. Odd that, as it can’t be sample previewed by the ‘Look Inside’ software on the actual Amazon site.

OpenLibrary
– holds catalogue records from several different libraries around the world. You can add a book on the site.

Freebase
– database containing many subjects, but they do allow for an author listing and catalogue of books.

Facebook.com
– Facebook has swamped the internet and I have had my fill of it, but as a tool for self-promotion it is excellent. Set up a page and make it public. Simple, but I shy away from inviting all my friends – it comes across as very pushy and could get annoying. Why? FB do not make it easy to limit what everyone sees … and not everyone you know wants to know everything about you. Feel free to click LIKE on my page 🙂

LibraryThing
– is a kind of listing site for all your work. You can upload details for an Author Page and give info about your books.

Here are some more specialised sites for when you are published/broadcast in a so-called traditional manner.

Scottish Book Trust
– when you have been published by a traditional bricks and mortar publisher (i.e. not simply as an ebook) then the SBT may consider your application for inclusion on their site. They are rightfully picky about who and what they accept so it is best to plan ahead and choose what you submit quite carefully.

Books From Scotland
– I applied to be on their site as they will indicate to readers your location, and it was nice to be on the same page as Robert Burns! Obviously if you have no link to Scotland then see if there is a similar thing where you are.

IMDb
– The Internet Movie Database will include you if you have had something on TV or made a movie. It is not really a place to promote your work but there is a community to join. I have not updated my details as yet so what you see there is what others have put on. Didn’t cost me anything though and it is another useful bit of promotion.

Wikipedia
– it’s not a site that will just let you write your own biography  – best beware, as it will probably be removed. To appear they require a certain level of author prominence. The fact I worked in TV on some well known programmes has probably helped, and that I have 50 plus books to my name.

ReviewsHere’s one about Cuddle Muddle from Celina Grace.

Why not also write reviews and maybe people will start to notice your work and review your writing too.

Also join a bloggers Network. I have linked to Mumsnet who have promoted me alongside other children’s authors. They might feature you on their sidebar for a month and that creates many more hits from their blog readers.

Or join a writers’ network. I belong to the SAS – impressed? Actually it’s the Scattered Authors Society with members all across the UK. Once accepted (and you really need to have had a book published) they will list your website and you can join in with a fab message board group, full of supportive writers. The SAS includes well established authors as well as new ones.

There are loads of sites out there but I hope this gives you a flavour of the websites that writers can use for free to promote themselves and their work.

Good luck!

 

We love books

Well there you have it. My wife is an avid reader, I love books and it seems our daughter has reached the same conclusion.

First thing every morning she drags a book onto the bed or, more usually, an armful. Then a wee hand shakes Dad awake and she says – ‘Can you read with me. Can you read with me. Can you read with me?’ My pleadings along the lines of ‘Daddy’s tired’ or ‘Why not ask Mummy’ are brushed aside by my shrill three year old alarm clock.

I start off slowly, sleep in my eyes and glasses under the bed. But after a few pages I get up to the required speed. If not, a voice pipes up. ‘Too quiet!’ or  ‘You’re not reading it properly.’ When the last page is read I am wide awake.

So what do we read? For a while it has been ‘Angry Arthur’, the surreal sequel ‘Arthur’s Attic.’ Lots of Maisy Mouse books – but usually ‘Where is Maisy Going?’ – which tells the gripping tale of Maisy going to the Park, the Beach, the Football Pitch, the  …. well, everywhere except Mars. ‘Maisy Goes to Mars’ – now that would be a good read.

Downstairs, there is often a book in the front room – at the moment it’s ‘Cuddle Muddle’ on my iPad! We have downloaded a few ebooks from Amazon but I have not been impressed with the quality of some. Glossy images but poor storytelling. When/if I get some good ones I’ll list them here.

Reading goes out of the window when ‘Jake & The NeverLand Pirates’ is on the telly. Trusty old CBeebies has been unceremoniously relegated  – and Disney rules our house. A few weeks ago, when the fabled pink castle came up in the credits of The Aristocats (great film!)  I rashly promised that when she was eight we would go and see it for real.

Now  every time that capitalistic castle appears my daughter bellows ‘When I am eight I will see the real Mickey Mouse!’

Night time is when we all snuggle up with books – The wee one  has to have her bedtime story – currently she is into Oliver Jeffers and his beautiful, thoughtful, almost serene illustrations. My current favourite kids’  book is by Werner Holzwarth ‘The Story Of The Little Mole Who Knew It Was None Of His Business’ which tells the tale of a mole who receives a poo on his head and he studies the droppings of lots of animals until he finds the culprit and exacts his own tiny toilety revenge. All good fun.

Today my daughter came home with a bag of books from the Scottish Book Trust – including ones by Nick Sharratt and Julia Donaldson. I would have liked to see some in there from lesser known authors to give some fresh talent a hand. That said, the SBT work hard to encourage parent and child reading, which is commendable. The pack included advice booklets for families on how to share books and encourage reading. Apparently 3 in 10 children own no books. Probably because we’ve got them all!

 

 

 

Authors I’ve NOT seen – Oliver Jeffers.

I popped over to Oliver Jeffers’ website which is full of his fantastic illustrations. He is a master illustrator with a deft touch and writer of surreal, yet captivating stories.

So it was rather surreal to see on his site that he was in NZ and Australia when I was about to see him in Edinburgh. Looking again, I realised that the post was dated May which meant he was probably back by now. Checking his blog I could see he was in London and therefore much closer to home. My home.

Happy to get out of the house and get to see a proper writer for a change (rather than seeing myself in the mirror) I handed my daughter over to my wife at work – after getting lost in Glasgow again – and set off for the train station. People are really friendly and helpful in Glasgow and a passerby saw me wheeling in circles, dithering away, and showed me where to go. Finally I jumped on a train to Waverley station.

One hour later I arrived with half an hour to spare. I sauntered towards the National Galleries and admired the posters of past Olympic sporting greats. After twenty minutes of pottering about I headed for the Garden entrance – which was closed. At six o’clock I took a walk round the whole stone edifice and discovered it was shut for the night.

Taking out my invitation e-mail I found the organiser’s telephone number and gave it a bell. Someone answered who wasn’t too sure of the event and he seemed to think it was taking place elsewhere. That explained the problem of the missing Oliver.

Only it didn’t – the organiser chipped in to say that Oliver Jeffers was due to start at 6.30 at The National Galleries … on Wednesday the 13th of June.

My heart sank – it was approaching 6.30 … but on Tuesday the 12th of June. I was a day early. I had arranged Gran to come over and babysit, my wife to leave work, and my sister-in-law to put me up for the night. And for what? To wander around a huge stone building and admire the blooming great Olympic rings on the hill beyond.

I shuffled away in embarrassment.

And now, as I write tonight, Oliver Jeffers – illustrator par excellence – is in Edinburgh and I am at home unable to make the event. There was so much I wanted to say, so many books I wanted him to sign.

Another day, perhaps.
Guess when you’re as disorganised as me, it’s always another day…

***

If you wish to have a peek at or download Cuddle Muddle, please click one of the links below
Cuddle Muddle‘ – available on kindle now (UK link)
Cuddle Muddle‘ – interactive iPad version with movies  (UK Link)

Writer Alan Dapré reviews Google+

Over the past few months, I’ve fallen out of love with Social Networks. They have become simply a means to an end – for contacting distant friends and family. I have several gripes with social networking. The first is that site members often have different agendas so one person might be very political and brandish their beliefs, while another just wants to brandish some newly knitted gloves. Can lead to trouble. Secondly, Social Networks are increasingly linked to dubious marketing, data manipulation and generating wealth for the people really in charge (sadly not me or you).

So why try Google + ? Well, those nice people at Mumsnet have asked me to have a go. And I need to diminish the monopoly that Facebook has on my life. That said, Google can be frustrating too. While writing my first ibook – Cuddle Muddle – out June 2012, I googled “pandas” and was annoyingly limited to just a hundred or so images out of 16 million (Most available pics were stock images requiring payment for use).

***

I am hearing good things about Google+ such as the group video chat, so it’s time to get my profile up and running. Not a good start. I type ‘Google+’ into Google but can’t see it. So I type ‘Google plus’ and up comes a link to plus.google.com. I am surprised to see a page pop up with my name already there. This must be because I use gmail. I now click on a blue ‘Upgrade’ button, having unticked a box that offers me personalised ads. No. No. And no. It’s bad enough on Facebook where I frequently get ads targeting my male pattern baldness.

Note: Google+ won’t let me upgrade until I put in my full date of birth.

I am taken to Stage Two – ‘Add People’ – on a page where I have to invite people I know. I already see the name of someone who I don’t want to invite. Google+ seems to be raiding my contacts list from Gmail. I click on ten friends who may want to join then ‘Continue’. I am faced with icons of Groups, People and Pages such as … The Stig, Top Gear and Baftas – all things I have searched for previously on Google or posted about on YouTube, so perhaps that’s why they appear.

I click to Follow ‘Technology’ and add YouTube. I get a popup window explaining that I am adding people to a circle and they can add me if they like. Er. Am I being thick here? What people? I thought I was just adding some interesting iconic image thingies. Somewhat confused, I add ‘Entertainment’.

A cheeky pop up says ‘You might be lonely …’ and invites me to add more people to my Circles. Not now. My real-life daughter needs picking up from actual Nursery soon.

I go back to my profile page and decide to SNAP A PHOTO. I give Google+ permission to use my webcam then I take a dreadful pic where I impersonate a boiled egg with glasses. Time to cancel and snap again. This time everything crashes and I am told my webcam is not detected. After a few tries I give up and upload an old pic of me looking more human and less hard-boiled.

I am now at Stage Three of profile building – where I am encouraged to ‘Be Awesome’. I awesomely type in that I am a self-employed children’s writer and add where I awesomely live.

Now I click finish and get to see a short movie of Google+ features, such as ‘hang out with friends’, ‘see what the world is talking about’, and ‘tell my story’ on my profile page. All very Facebook but much glossier. I am tiring fast and decide to come back later to review my progress.

Later.
This is a bit like being at a surprise party where the surprise is I have no friends. I am able to see what is trending in ‘Technology’ and ‘Entertainment’ and get to read comments by Celebs I do know but don’t actually know. Keen for some action, I click to video chat with a friend but he is offline.

I have to say, the interface and look of Google+ is so much better than Facebook which comes across as dated and clunky. I sit wishing I had active friends on here. I understand the principle of Circles now, and have ones set up for Friends, Family, Acquaintances, Technology and Following … with the option to create more. Google+ is starting to make sense. I play one of its Games, after reading the privacy notes. By playing I am sharing my profile and name with the developer to (cough) help them design better social games. Some games allow me to partner up with another player and all those involved can see and interact with each other. This is fascinating but I am motivated to change my profile to tighten up who can see me.

Back on my profile I add a Tagline to encapsulate my awesomeness in one sentence, and an Introduction which does the same thing in a paragraph. I like the idea of adding Bragging Rights – mine is to say I’ve been to the Teletubby set and eaten plastic Tubby Toast …

I attempt a Hangout – which requires installation of GoogleVoice&Video. I click on the download and it installs, but should I be letting more Google onto my personal computer. After an easy install, I see my baldy head. Basically this is a glorified web chat with multiple users. Unfortunately my multiple users are all offline. Looks good though and I am keen to explore conferencing with up to 9 friends at the same time.

So what now? I go to ‘Explore’ and add image thingies of ‘Sports’ and ‘Politics’. It is good to know that I can get into a robust political debate with strangers without offending anyone online for a gentle chat about the price of Iced Gems. I read three posts shared by major UK politicians but they all come across as awkward propaganda statements … I sense they are not used to these online networking sites yet. Nor am I.

Google+ has potential to reboot Social Networking but it requires a move from the likes of Facebook. Not easy after several years of being locked in there – Facebook’s Timeline is a clever way of bringing past online experiences back to me. Do I want to lose that info or freeze it forever?

Btw, there is a Google+ mobile app that can be downloaded onto a phone – alas mine is as old as Bruce Forsyth’s jokes and tells me the app can’t be supported.

All in all, this Social Networking malarkey boils down to clever manipulation of you and me. A friend, who is a shrewd businessman, once told me to remember that profit is the bottom line of a business. My data is there to be used and sold, and in return I hope to get an engaging online experience. If I don’t want that I don’t have to get involved …

To click or not to click? That is the question.

I am a member of the Mumsnet Blogging Network, a group of parent bloggers picked by Mumsnet to review products, services, events and brands. I have not paid for the product or to attend an event. I have editorial control and retain full editorial integrity.

Pandering to a cold? Not likely.

Two years ago on this day I felt unwell and ended up in hospital on a drip with suspected swine flu and meningitis symptoms. Took me until Feb to recover. Today I have a head cold and I’m ordering myself not to mope as it could be a lot worse. Kate was down with nasty flu symptoms all last week and I’m certainly not in that league. Still, I don’t usually feel like lounging in bed all day. Instead I am lounging in front of this computer while Isla is given free rein of the tv remote – Maisy Mouse, Kipper – who cares as long as I can slob about and not think too hard.

We have just been at the nursery school to watch the two year olds perform – singing three Christmas songs (after an exhausting party session which involved a bouncy castle). For some reason Isla decided to put on a panda mask – actually it makes sense as we were at Edinburgh Zoo on Monday watching pandas lounge about while the penguins rained down poo from their enclosure. The mask went on as she started to sing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star, stayed on for When Santa Got Stuck Up The Chimney and was removed during Jingle Bells. So the video won’t feature that much of her singing. I am impressed however that we are allowed to take video/pics – as long as it doesn’t get onto the net. This is a really sensible approach. Personally, anyone other than Granny, Isla or her parents would probably be bored rigid if they saw what I’d shot. There is only so much pandering to a child one can take.

Isla received a musical toy from Mrs Claus, which freaked Isla out as she looked suspiciously like Isla’s friend John’s nana who she sees regularly. The fact it was her is beside the point. I explained to Isla that Santa is very busy this time of year and enlists the locals to help out. Our wee daughter is not comfortable with adults dressing up – the Easter Bunny sent her screaming from the room. Two years ago she saw another local helper – Mrs Christmas – and Isla burst into tears – Mrs Christmas was however wearing trainers and speaking in a broad Ayrshire accent – ‘I hope all youse wains have been good!’

We were last to leave the hall as Isla decided to have a last bounce on the castle even though it was deflated. One splat later and she was in my arms and only consoled by her teacher giving out some reindeer dust to sprinkle in the garden on Christmas Eve. Now we do get rabbits, the odd fox and lots of squirrels, plus evils crows that have a penchant for scattering our dog’s poos. No reindeer though. Maybe it will work – let’s look on the bright side. Santa will come and give Isla her toys and me a cure for the common cold. We can but hope.

Merry Christmas!

Happy Birthday My Lovely Daddy

Yesterday, Isla bursts into the bedroom, springs onto the bed and whispers, ‘Happy Birthday My Lovely Daddy – Shhh – but it’s a seeeecret – I’ve got you a present. Buuut, I’m not going to say what it is. I can open it for you.’ I am soon the proud owner of a cashmere scarf which Kate describes as the bargain of the century – down from £105 to not very much thanks to lovely TK Maxx. In these times of fiscal belt tightening/long scarf cost cutting we have fun trying to get the most for our cash. For her birthday Kate benefited from a great M&S deal in November – and Isla always has an eye for a bargain toy in the local second hand store.

Last Christmas I bought a plush Bob The Builder in there for a pound, because he had a battered boot – obviously Bob had suffered an industrial injury at work, but a quick superglue repair sorted him out. For the past year Bob has been in Isla’s bed every night. But she went to visit Santa a few weeks ago and was given furry Boris the dog. So poor Bob is now abandoned (in her toy tent) aka Toy Story. I am harbouring a tinge of guilt that her recycled pressies from us cost under a fiver last year. Though there were loads new from relatives & friends. I suppose if we added up the cost of toys/comics/clothes we’ve given over the year it would be quite sizeable.

This year, Isla is hankering for something big, wooden and pricy (can you guess?) – I blame this on kids’ tv adverts and the fact that we were playing with one in the Early Learning Centre. She wrote to Santa who has replied that the elves are busy building it and if she is a good girl then he will bring it on Christmas Eve. Maybe he will. Maybe Kate has found another bargain of the century. Heh heh 😉

Back to my birthday – Isla iced a cake first thing with Mum and smothered it in buttons and Jelly Tots (or as she says Jelly Tops). I came into the kitchen to find her catching and eating the drips with her fingers and saying she was busy helping. As Kate and I didn’t fancy chocolate cake for breakfast we all waited for Gran to come over mid-afternoon. Isla was desperate by then to tuck in and after much singing and candle blowing she scoffed it down. So did I. It was light, airy and so delicious I wish I could have homemade birthday cake every day. And the fact it’s made with a sprinkling of love and, er, lovely sprinkles makes it even better.

Wow. I’m forty six.
Nearly half an antique.

Gingerbread House

There is something about gingerbread that makes me smile and gets me thinking of Christmas. I have happy memories of being over in Norway at Christmas time and helping build gingerbread houses for the youngsters. The ready-made gingerbread was out of a packet and the only thing I needed to supply was icing, sweets and some construction know-how. Needless to say I usually resorted to a hairdryer for rapid icing setting effect or worse a glue-gun (necessitating stark warnings that teeth would be lost if the gingerbread house was plundered).

By the time the building was up and habitable I was always suffering from a sugar rush thanks to an overload of chocolate buttons, smarties and jelly tots or whatever the Norwegian equivalents were. A highlight of my stays would be a visit into the Bergen Galleria where the lower floor was given over to a townscape crammed with gingerbread buildings. You name it, someone had built it. They stood straight, were beautifully lit and were just out of reach. The smell was warming if a little overpowering but the scene gave us all a sense of Christmas.

So at the weekend my wife and daughter had a go at building their own house. Kate was determined to create it from scratch, and I was charged with drawing and cutting out stencils. I left the kitchen at that point and left them to it, noting that Kate was already a packet of chocolate buttons down thanks to Isla’s nimble wee fingers. I returned an hour later to find the parts of the gingerbread house baked and laid out to cool, a centimetre or so thick and smelling absolutely heavenly. I was offered some off cuts and scoffed them down before suggesting that Kate might have kept a few aside to make a chimney. She already had.

I came back in a while later to see thick white icing in a huge bowl, over the worktop and on Isla (face, hands, glasses etc). she was having a great time popping on jelly tots in a one for you, one for me manner. Kate, meanwhile, was inserting thick uprights to hold the sides up and was recementing the roof. At this point i rushed for the camera and captured the scene. Isla was happily explaining that she had built a gingerbread house when the sides collapsed and the roof slid onto the floor. This got me some v. good video and some v. v. v. hard stares. I retreated armed with bag of buttons and a grin over to the neighbours.

On my return the gingerbread house was there in all its glory. And I have to say it looks great. A tad wonky with a hint of subsidence but made with heaps of love. Mum and daughter had a fine time and seeing them so close and together made me wish I’d had the same memorable homespun experiences growing up.

A day later and there are suspicious gaps on the roof. Isla is obviously nicking buttons (she has already swiped an iced tree that was supposed to be added decoration) but I have to confess that a few sweets have gone to chocolate button heaven thanks to me.

Now it’s my turn to show Isla how to make something – a paper snowflake perhaps or a cracker? Or maybe I will just make up some tale about Santa coming down the chimney and needed to eat M&S mince pies and drink malt whisky.

Merry Christmas … hic!

Rock On Tommy

Our last concert was The Wiggles.

Last night Motley Crue played at Glasgow along with Spinal tap act-a-likes Steel Panther and a rather slick, bland Def Leppard. Motley Crue came on second but the night was theirs – or rather it belonged to the drummer Tommy Lee and his incredible gravity defying rollercoasting drum kit. Not content with playing drums the right way up he played them a full 360 degrees without missing a beat or dropping a stick. Here was a band back to their best, with a taste of US grunge rock guitar licks. They played to the gallery, asked if Glasgow was ok after the hurricane winds (it was) and got the crowd rocking – all around, greasy hair swished – and my wrinkly bald head winked in the laser beams like a disco ball.

As the set exploded into manic rhythms and fire-throwing excess I vowed from now on to play my daughter Isla as much rock music as I could. Kate is the expert but her CDs are all over the house, wedged under cupboards and in skirting boards. Recently I set up a way to stream my mp3 files to our DVD player and TV speakers so there is now no way Isla will miss out on her Rock School Education. As caring and thoughtful parents we have agreed that Isla must go along to a Rock Festival – ie Donnington – before she is ten. Before she sees her parents as an embarrassment. Before she gains a taste in dull music riddled with teenage angst.

We left, feeling that Def Leppard were slick, glossily eighties and dramatic in a cheesy rock ballad way but out of touch. Certainly, filling their huge video screens with a Union Flag was not the best idea as they waited to run out for their encore. The boos were not on though. Interestingly, their lead singer complained when soaked by a pint of beer while Motley Crue actively encouraged such audience participation.

So what next? We have a wish list – I want to see ACDC and Kate hankers after Bon Jovi. At the moment CBeebies Live beckons next year.
Rock On!

Soft Play? – It’s a hard knock life.

The Big Strike is upon us on the day I rashly promised my daughter a session at the local Soft Play centre, based at the municipal swimming pool. Excitement building, I parked outside and realised the lights were off and no one was at home, bit like me really. A bemused security van driver was waiting there too, probably to pick up the day’s takings, and he eventually gave up. I, meanwhile, was trying to interest Isla in the delights of waves crashing over the promenade. I gave up on that too.

Nothing, however, would detract my daughter from the day’s mission. In desperation I phoned Kate who did a quick internet trawl to locate the nearest Soft Play centre – a good thirty minute drive away. Accompanied by wails of ‘I WANT to go to the SOFT PLAY!’ I drove there, ignoring one nearer that had been designed to kill children or at least maim them. I am tempted to name it but better not in case I get bundled up and taken there myself. All I can say is it has two hardboard near vertical death slides, the world’s deepest ball pool that even I nearly drowned in, a toddler play area that is partly a repository for broken plastic cubes and mostly a corridor. Plus assorted corridors that end in a six foot drop or decapitation by low doorways – oh, and a steep staircase that breaks building regs and legs.

By the time I get to the Soft Play, the wee one is asleep. But she springs miraculously into action and dives into the pre-5 toddler area which is full of rampaging eight year olds. Dodging a hail of plastic balls we go to the bouncy castle. Isla vanishes in and is set upon by a two year old (two years and three months to be accurate – I know this because his mum came up to apologise that her child was in a hair pulling stage and my daughter was unlucky because he usually targets girls with clips). I reassured the mum that, yes, it really was no problem and really was just a phase … then got Isla to the relative safety of the ball pool slide. This was where she got a big bruise on her cheek last time she ventured there, thanks to a low arch and some loose padding.

All was well. I settled down to read a battered newspaper in two line bursts, unable to look down for any longer in case I lost track of her in the pile of bodies. Isla, showing great sense, vanished into a wendy house and took a breather, then took charge of a few two year old boys. They allowed her to boss them for a bit then rebelled so Isla ended up on a trike, sadly going nowhere because she couldn’t reach the pedals.

A suspiciously non-5 year old swept through like a hurricane leaving my daughter sprawled in his wake. Isla dusted herself off and vanished into the melee. She ran about for half an hour then came out for her all inclusive tea – which consisted of eight chips, three nuked fish fingers, a juice and haribos. A superbly nutritious meal which would certainly keep her energy levels up. Three minutes later and she was off again. This time the not-5’s were mounting a ground to air assault on the slide section so I managed to get Isla into the bouncy castle. Immediately it was full of somersaulting eight year olds and Isla was swiftly bounced out the door. Where next? Everywhere. The moment I suggested we had to be going towards the exit, Isla sprinted in the opposite direction and hid in some strange towering triangular construction, which had multi-levels, holes and the smell of a sweaty laundry bag.

Two hours after going in, the mission was over. Isla staggered out, leaving her new friend John behind. It amazes me how friendships can be made and lost in such a short space of time. We came back and my daughter had a lie down on the sofa – insisting I join her. Isla started sucking her thumb, a sign of tiredness, then leaned over and gave me an unexpected kiss. I had made her day. Tomorrow she wants to go to the zoo.

But that’s two hours drive away! Perhaps the nice local Soft Play will be open tomorrow. The relaxingly empty one that no one knows about. I can but hope.

Dream themes

‘Justin’s House … Dah Da-da Da-da Da-da daah’
‘When you hear that fire alarm … Sam is always cool and calm’
‘La La La-la-la-la-la Something Something Something The Tweenies’
‘Pah Pa-pa Paaah Pa-pa pa-pa paah pa-pa … etc …’ *

My head is buzzing with theme tunes that pop into it at all hours – usually when I am hoovering, trying to sleep, meant to be writing. Maybe a gate will shut making a particular note and I’m off humming the rest of Bagpuss -‘Dee dee deee de deee dee deee … ‘ Some tunes bear multiple hums but others are downright annoying.

Annoying:
Zingzillas
Teletubbies
Chuggington
Thomas the Tank Engine
Rastamouse

Okay:
Justin’s House
Show Me Show Me

Timeless:
Bagpuss
The Flumps
Banana Splits
Camberwick Green

Maybe I am showing my age with some of them. The best ever theme is exciting, dramatic and fun. And it can only be (drum roll please) …

Best Ever Theme:
Danger Mouse.

The trouble with current theme tunes is they feel the need to get the name of the show in there and repeat it ad nauseum, brainwashing kids into chanting it every two minutes for the whole of their toodlerhood. Charlie & Lola* is a notable and welcome exception to this. I suppose the only solution is to toss the tv into a skip and play Boggle.

I do have a guilty secret on this – about ten years ago, while Tim Henman was losing yet another Wimbledon semi-final, I was lounging in my back garden, in the sunshine, reworking the words of the Brum Theme tune. So if they ever stick in your mind … er, sorry.

Friends

Earlier this week my daughter was sobbing her wee heart out, and when asked what was wrong she replied, ‘I don’t see anyone…’ After a bit of digging we discovered that she wanted to have her friends round to her house. Isla began to list them and it became clear that, apart from one visit to a friend, she had not had anyone over for three weeks. My wish to stop her arm getting hurt had the effect of stopping her from doing what she usually does, i.e. see her pals.

Usually the dads meet in the local play park during the week and let the kids race about. Or we take them to a soft play area and let them race about. Isla had therefore been under some kind of house arrest and was going stir crazy with only Dad, Mum, Granny and the Neighbours – all grown ups and all no way as exciting as her friends.

Yesterday a four year old who she knows well came round and the house was suddenly bursting with life, drama and excitement. They ate beans on toast, celebrated Mum’s birthday by blowing out candles and scoffing chocolate cake, and turning the front room into a tip. The friend left exhausted as were the grown ups – but what a delight to see the glow in Isla’s eyes.

Today was more of the same and she ventured to a friend who is a bit younger – this visit wasn’t quite so altruistic on my part. The aim was to get Isla close to some chickenpox … I remember having Measles aged 18 and it was unpleasant so I am keen for her to get the childhood illnesses out of the way. This afternoon was spent trampolining, toy sharing(ish), oatcake eating, cuddling and generally having a great time. She got back whacked out, happy & tired, requesting bed … Great result all round. I am enjoying the peace and quiet.

Now if only I could get out to see my friends more often too.

Scrabbling for new words

True story:

My daughter has a biscuit.
I say ‘Can I have a bit?’
‘No Daddy.’
‘Can I have a lick then?’
‘NO Daddy.’
‘Can I have a sniff?’
‘Okay Daddy’. I get a sniff! ….
‘Can I have a bit, go on,’ says Daddy.
‘No Daddy – you’ve already had a sniff.’ So I get a scone and she nicks half!

Maybe my two year old daughter should be a banker when she grows up?

At the moment she is creating her own take on the English language:
‘hicsups’ – hiccups
‘seaweewee’ – seaweed
‘DBD’ – DVD
‘weeweebixs’ – weetabix
‘some goldilocks’ – bowl of porridge
‘swim soup’ – swim suit
‘fishing rock’ – fishing rod
‘glubs’ – gloves

I have been busy writing the first book of a funny series for young readers and inventing humorous words – but it’s obvious that the master is still Roald Dahl (with my daughter hot on his heels).

After all, who can beat snozzcumber, fizzwiggler, whoopsey-splunkers, bugswallop, jabbeling, frobscottle and whizzpoppers? His last book was published more than 20 years ago but this writer is still sparklingly relevant. Simple narratives are entwined with rounded characters that are brought to life in just a few sentences and actions. Few come close to matching Roald Dahl. The nearest I (Alan Dapré) get to him is on a library shelf filed under D!

But we should all keep trying and carving our own paths. As writers we will face supportive editors and publishers but there are some horrors out there who say one thing but then do another. The key is to keep an inner enthusiasm alive so that when knock backs come they are treated with a calm response and a belief that one’s own style and talent will win through. After all, bankers deal with other people’s money and editors deal with other people’s words – it is always easier to work on something that comes from another person’s brain than think it up from scratch.

Which is why I so admire my two year old’s freshness with language and untarnished confidence. For it is that energy that brings out new creative ideas … and words.

The word I’d like to bring into the world is QUIJ and it means ‘to try it on in Scrabble’ – this word was once invented during a game of Scrabble and it sounded so good and so real that it needed a definition and its own life … so there it is QUIJ – unleashed onto an unsuspecting public … and worth loads of points!

Ok – I’ve just read that the word QUIJ is in the Urban Dictionary dated 2007 and the definition is rather unsavoury but we were using that word back in 1990 and so Alan Dapré and a certain Joan Mills are staking prior claim to it!!!