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Sky Heating

Caffeine today: 5 coffees and 1 tea

One of my Dad’s best lines was: “I do not pay to heat the sky!” This was usually bellowed above mine and my sister’s adolescent heads as we sat on the sofa swamped in the post-school collapse watching the Simpsons next to a boiling radiator, and an open window. Dad would lean over us to shut the window fuming “You are either hot or cold, which one is it?”

My father’s one-liners and strange disciplinary acts were never really funny or enjoyable at the time but I am now contemplating pinching some of his tag lines and techniques to inflict on my own children when they are old enough to get it. Not because I think they’ll work, they never did in the long run, but for nostalgia’s sake and keeping my family traditions alive.

Over time it has become glaringly obvious that we weren’t the usual sort of family when it came to some things, including traditions. My sister and I had two working parents, Mum worked nights and Dad worked days, so our days were often without routine and a little topsy-turvy. For example we never had a set tea time or many basic daily routines other than; go to school and come home again and sit in a fog watching the Simpsons with the radiator on and the window open. Like all people we did have some set things in the calendar such as birthdays, Christmas and Easter with the all the chocolate and presents and little religious context – it was all lovely and good fun and I am very grateful. However, having two parents on different time zones meant few family traditions became ingrained because there wasn’t the co-ordination, time or space for repetition to develop, even at Christmas. Mum often had to work holidays (someone has to when you work for the NHS), Dad also worked long hours and there wasn’t any other family about to support them. This is not a sob story, I love my parents and I have nothing to sob about. I have never felt like I missed out on anything especially from not having in-family traditions, in fact for a long time I felt quite the opposite, it was my view that not having to do certain things at certain times of the day or year gave me freedom and a beautiful blank canvas for my own family to fill it in our own way. This was all very well until recently when I realised last Christmas we (my husband, children and I) have unconsciously adopted a few of my husband’s family traditions and their little family in-jokes are now our little family in-jokes. This is all genuinely very lovely but if I am completely honest I have to admit I feel my family’s past-times, all be them nonexistent, are being sidelined.

So, in an effort to keep up my side of the team I searched the dusty crevasses of my brain looking for things we did on a regular basis growing up with the intention of integrating it into my own family. To be honest I was struggling, lots of lovely one-offs to think about but nothing we did again and again, and then one day the penny finally dropped when I was telling my son off for purposely squirting Calpol on the carpet – inspiration hit me like the pink goo hit the carpet. It was blindingly obvious really and I don’t know why I didn’t see it before because we had loads of quirky routine events growing up – and that was being disciplined. We had loads of it, repeated time after time. Hurray! I feel I finally have something that qualifies as “traditional family pass-times” to draw from and share with my husband and children. Lucky them.

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As Dad was the king of these in-family quirks, I have decided to draw mostly from him. Oh how I smile warmly to myself when I think back at how Dad would scream “I do not pay to heat the sky!” every autumn and spring when the weather was a bit in-betweeny and Jenny and I would come home cold, stick the heating on and then after an hour or so when we got too hot instead of walking all of 3 seconds to the thermostat and turn the heating back off, we would instead lean up from the squashy sofa and open the window (we couldn’t move off of the sofa, the Simpsons were on.) Ah, the memories.

So here are a few more of my father’s traditional past-times I was thinking of sharing with my children. You may be inspired so I have laid them out as simply as possible so you can gather them up and snuggle them into your own nest as you wish:

  1. Do the “Faulty Towers walk” in public when your children are continuously arguing and ignoring you. (Note: This has the impact of freezing teenagers to the spot.)
  2. When in heavy traffic and have a car filled with screaming, moaning, nasty children, place sunglasses on one’s face, roll down the window (well, we push buttons these days don’t we. God I’m old) and address the man or woman in the car next to you in an American accent with a cocky “Hey baby” whist wiggling sunglasses and eyebrows up and down simultaneously. (Note: This makes children much, much smaller. They really do shrink very swiftly.)
  3. When shopping and have had enough of your children’s awful behaviour and are completely fed up, start an argument with a poor unsuspecting shop assistant – any shop will do; supermarket, Marks and Spencers or local sweet shop. (Note: Not only will they stop arguing with each other, they will bond over what an embarrassment you are. This is also an excellent way to show children how not to communicate with other human beings.)
  4. If children are becoming increasingly spoiled and ungrateful, come home and be surprised to find many children running ragged about your house only to realise it’s actually your own child’s birthday party and you forgot about it… and your child’s birthday. (Note: This makes kids ever so grateful for any present they receive from then on because they know there’s a chance they might not get anything next year if Dad forgets again and Mum wants to prove a point to Dad.)
  5. When at a party and your children are being defiant refusing to leave, bring up your left wing views of how much you think Margaret Thatcher is a nob and doing a bell-end of a job running the country with a right wing Thatcher enthusiast. (Note: A good old fashioned political fight over a plastic cup of Ribena usually swiftly knocks the joy out of any children’s party and your kids will be running out of the door to go home before you can say “nob” again.)
  6. Make children rebuild anything they break. This includes snowmen, refilling half a dozen or more dinner plate size holes in the garden from making mud pies and burnt wooden chests. (Note: This brings a family firmly together to share in the joys of hard work, albeit in gritted silence after a major bollocking.)

As I type my eyes are brimming with nostalgic tears over these happy past-times and I’m pleased to say they happened on many occasion, over and over again.

I now look back at my Dad’s social ineptness (sorry Dad) with warm interest because ultimately I don’t think he really gave a rats-ass about social convention and what other people thought of him. I will endeavour to sew in a little bit of that ballsiness into my life by reigniting the life into one or two of the above past-times… probably only 1 or 2 and perhaps 6 (but it needs a little bit of tweaking). The rest can stay in the 80s and 90s.

Ultimately I pleased to know my children will end up with a balanced view of their family’s traditions and past-times: special home-baked cakes from a recipe passed down the generations, songs and holidays in Cornwall from their father’s side and silly walks and a looming sense of social doom from mine.

Bea x

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