We're Jamie and Tom - also known as Daddy and Dad, blogging gay dads of two boys via adoption. Our aim is to enlight prospective adopters about the adoption process, in particular the stuff that happens after the kids are placed with their adoptive parents (or ‘move in’ as our boys affectionately call it).
Today is an exciting day for nostalgic brand-geeks like Daddy (me!).
That's because consumer group 'Superbrands' revealed their 2018 top 20 UK brands earlier today. According to Superbrands' website, the shortlisted brands were selected by an impartial expert council of senior industry figures - participating brands are unable to apply to be considered, so it's completely unbiased. Then a sample of 2,500 ordinary folk voted on their favourite brands.
But before I reveal the top 20, I first want to explain why, as a dad and as a self-proclaimed brand-nerd I have been a little less enthusiastic about brands recently.
Do brands target mums and exclude dads?
I was talking to my friend Penny yesterday about brands on the telly. What began as a rant about adverts that talk directly to our children became a discussion about gender representation in television adverts.
We have both noticed that adverts are predominantly targeting women at the moment and in particular, mums. Penny's husband John pointed out that while she's becoming more and more exasperated about the content of TV adverts, he wasn't even noticing them at all and neither am I, unless they are especially dreadful.
It's wound Penny up to the extent that she's completely shunned all TV advertising and commercial channels.
Penny's annoyed because brands are relentlessly and explicitly targeting women (with a focus on mums) with a warped, 'Pinteresty' (current favourite noun), filtered presentation of ordinary life and that contributes to a generation of girls and women who aspire to something false and unobtainable.
In her own words, "Adverts are making me unhappy!".
A case in point, here's the new Diet Coke advert, featuring a beautiful but extremely false walking stock-image of a woman. You could have paid my eight year old son to come up with something less cliched.
Here's another one, with a beautiful mum in a perfect Pinteresty house. Congratulations, Ariel on your superb representation of the modern working woman. Penny is not represented very well by this one either. Where's Dad? Where the clutter? Why isn't this woman at work? Tut.
As a father and especially as a gay father I feel completely excluded from brands' portrayal of their ideal customer-base.
With the very rare exception, gay families like ours, or gay people aged 30+ only seem to appear in a calculated, contentious way, presumably as a PR exercise to deliberately attract negative headlines from conservative media. Any kind of publicity is publicity, after all.
I'm also frustrated because brands are portraying dads in a negative, clumsy way. We're either slapstick DIY bums or boring businessmen in suits sitting around a table. As a modern, gay SAHD I find it impossible to identify with almost anybody on television, and anybody at all in television adverts.
To conclude our discussion (during which Penny and I scoffed a whole tin of bourbon biscuits and three coffees) our expert advice to brands is that they should rethink their presentation of men, women, gay people, families and homes - they should meet some real-life families and represent people correctly.
The Consumer Top 20 Superbrands
You can imagine my relief when today's top 20 was revealed. To my surprise, the list includes at least 15 what I would describe as 'Dad friendly' brands - that is brands which in my opinion do a fairly good job at making dads feel included and valuable.
More to my surprise though, all but one or two the brands in the top 20 offer something tangible - there's a distinct lack of emerging entertainment streaming brands... where's Spotify, for instance or Amazon?
I haven't analysed each of their TV advertising campaigns (that's something I'll do next time I see Penny over a packet of custard creams) but, at a glance the winning brands don't strike me as particularly 'mummy-focused' or exclusive, which is fantastic for us dads and gays.
"Does this list of consumer favourite brands suggest a shift in direction for advertisers? I do hope so."
So without further ado... here's the official top 20 UK 'Superbrands' (with a few thoughts from me on the top 10 brands).
"A developed, gender neutral brand, a great toy for dads and kids to play together and in my opinion the deserving winner. But are LEGO 'selling-out' to movie franchises and losing their wholesome 'building bricks' appeal?"2. Gillette
"A brand for the dads? I think so. I would usually go for a cheaper brand but there's no denying that their distinctive branding stands out on the shelf"3. Apple
"The worst TV advert ever made (even worse than Diet Coke) is the one with the spoiled little girl who wanders about unsupervised and then back-chats her lovely neighbour who asks a friendly question about her iPad."4. Andrex
"Andrex seem to have nailed the 'wholesome' brand image. The puppy is a genius mascot, appealing to everybody"
"I despise their pretentious adverts and it's too expensive, but I'm still to find an alternative brand that tastes as nice"6. Disney
"While we don't describe ourselves as 'Disney people', we probably have at least ten Disney branded items in our home. Is Wreck it Ralph the most underrated Disney movie (nay animated film) ever made?"7. Marks & Spencer
"The M&S brand appeals across generations - the kids love Percy Pigs, we love their red wine, my parents like M&S beauty products and underwear and my Grandma loves their pre-prepared food"
"A good, old-fashioned reputation as experts in their field. But I find that the lighting in Boots gives me an instant headache"9. Heinz
"Quality, tasty, reliable. Not sure I can think of anything negative to say about Heinz!"
"A reliable brand, but I'm not an enormous fan of people driving proverbially up my bum on the school run. Back off, BMW customers"
11. Cadbury 12. Rolex 13. BP
14. Shell 15. John Lewis 16. Heathrow 17. Jaguar 18. Kleenex 19. Visa 20. Häagen-Dazs
Just a quick note - to produce this blog article I referred to the Superbrands website - take an impartial look at their top 20 brandsby clicking here.
As an adoptive parent, one enthusiastically takes on every quandary and issue, however insignificant or extreme, that our adoring off-spring arrive with in their proverbial suitcase. Is it any wonder that we are occasionally caught off guard; smiling through gritted teeth at the school gates, rolling our eyes as we are invited to our fortieth children’s party in as many weeks or sighing an enormous breath of relief after an early kids’ bedtime? (sneaked the clocks forward twenty minutes again.) I think not. We are stretched within a centimetre of snapping, just like my Stretch Armstrong toy back in early 1980s.
Relaxing is an art-form. Without the money or inclination (or time, come to mention it) to spend my hard earned money in a spa hotel, I’ve asked around and gathered my five top cheap unwinding ideas. Pop the kids in front of a really long movie (The Wizard of Oz or Sound of Music will do nicely) and relax. In no particular order…
5. Factory reset.
Hands-up whose had to search high-and-low for a safety pin to push that (bloody microscopic) reset button on their mobile phone? Me too. It’s such a marvellous relief when your little phone returns to life minus the dreadful lag and three years worth of text messages. Why not do the same? Remove the clutter (literally) by having a good old clean and tidy. Then, with the new found space in your living room, it’s time to get nostalgic. Sitting on the living room floor like a care-free teenager, return to your favourite old stuff; dig out your favourite old CDs (I had a huge enjoy of Eternal’s first album) and sort through your old photographs.
Then, pop on your favourite 1980s movie and eat your favourite biscuits off a plate.
4. Ready, set… Bake.
This one’s a little more subjective, as I imagine that some of you could think of nothing worse than baking up a great big mess in the kitchen. But, give it a go; whether or not you’re any good at it, baking is truly therapeutic (however dreadful the outcome).
This is the current trending bake: Salted caramel brownies – it’s surprisingly easy and one of our most marvellous unwinding ideas. Can’t be arsed? Watch The Great British Bake-off on the iPlayer with a nice big cup of tea.
3. Go outside.
It might look grey and horrible out there, but get a jumper and coat on and go outside anyway. You don’t need a destination, just wander around and have a butchers at things around you. I like to rate all of our neighbours’ front gardens (not a euphemism, tut). In my opinion, a front garden says a lot about its owner, don’t you think? I like to think that our front garden is good looking but a little too busy.
2. Get organised.
If you’re anything like me, and I like to think that I’m fairly orderly, you probably feel as though school and work are throwing an awful lot your way. Last week (the dreaded Book Week), for instance, I was expected to deliver to school, on time, one boy dressed as a home-made Room on a Broom witch and another as an Alien Loves Underpants complete with pants on head. Lyall had lines to learn for a play about Fairtrade and Richard had a children’s party after school on Monday. Swimming on Monday and Tuesday at school and a play-date on Tuesday. There were two letters each to sign and return promptly to school and two sponsorship forms with which to pester people for money for a sponsored walk with the boys’ football club on Saturday. Work were expecting delivery of a big project by Friday and just to top it all off, Tom was away all week with work.
In response to above mayhem, I decided to get organised. Starting with a new, blank, what WHSmith call a family organiser (it’s a calendar), in my neatest handwriting, I popped school stuff in one column, work stuff in another and fun stuff in another. I must say it was thoroughly satisfying and a big weight removed from shoulders and onto said calendar, not to mention I realised that it’s mother’s day this Sunday. Gagh! (*Frantically searches Amazon for suitable prezzy for Grandma Jenny)
Sitting at the throne of our unwinding ideas. I mean. Need I say more? Start by getting a wine-rack and filling it up. With every intention of keeping the rack full and treating it like a float, only ever consuming the bottom bottle, I challenge you not to polish off the whole delicious collection by the end of the month. We haven’t managed to maintain any kind of ‘float’ yet (although we could probably float a P&O ferry in the amount of wine we manage to get through).
Here’s some wine-related humour to end on. (PS I stole these off the internet - huge giggles and credit to the original owner)
This is the first in a series of fortnightly blog posts that I produce for the HuffingtonPost. The original article can be found by clicking here.
There’s no denying the fact that being a parent is hard work, right?
On one hand, you have the enormous responsibility of raising your children into moral, hardworking, healthy, content people. That is despite the fact that most of the time they’re either pestering you for something that they’re not allowed or making a tremendous mess somewhere that you’ve only just cleaned up a moment ago.
On the other hand, you have the more pressing issues of the management of a Pinterest worthy home (yeah, right) or at least a tidy, functioning home. You’re also negotiating a jam-packed routine from the very moment your little offspring wake you up with a high pitched “Can I play on the PlayStation Daddy?” at 6am, with school uniforms to iron and sandwiches to make.
It is hard work, agreed!
Let me introduce myself. I’m Jamie, one half of ‘Daddy and Dad’ with my fiancé, Tom. We have two adopted handsome little boys, Lyall who’s nine and Richard who’s eight (and eleven days, yes Richard I’ll put that in, babe).
Here’s Lyall and Richard, on a double decker bus in London (the most exciting mode of transport, obviously).
The boys were placed with us, or ‘moved in’ as they endearingly describe it, four years ago and we’ve been a very happy, proud family of boys ever since.
When you adopt a child, as a new parent you invariably take on all of the daily, repetitious business as mentioned above. But, in addition to all of that, you also have to account for the dreadful trauma that adopted children have experienced.
“Every adopted child, however fine their mental health appears on face value, will have been removed from their birth family. And that doesn’t happen without good reason.”
Most of these adorable, clever little kids have seen, heard and felt things that no person should ever see, hear or feel. It’s heart-breaking.
Every adoptive parent has to adopt (excuse the pun) a therapeutic parenting technique to suit the needs of their child.
So, with that in mind, you’re probably thinking that adoptive parenting sounds like very hard work. Moreover, considering the challenges ahead, why on earth would you choose to adopt more than one child at the same time?
Well, in celebration of our fourth family birthday and LGBT Adoption Week coming up in a few weeks, I will fly the flag for sibling groups and explain the advantages of adopting two (or more) siblings at the same time.
As mentioned, adopted children have been through a very rough time before they find their forever parents. Even the least traumatised children in the care system have been taken away from familiar surroundings and placed in the care of strangers. Our boys had a very turbulent start to life, several disrupted* foster placements (*that’s social worker lingo for ‘failed’) and that’s after seeing some very disturbing things as toddlers. Needless-to-say, when they first moved in, the boys were incredibly disorientated, homesick and nervous.
When siblings are adopted together they provide a reassuring sense of familiarity and comfort in a new unfamiliar environment. This presents itself in a number of subtle ways; for instance our little’un Richard would occasionally put a reassuring arm around his big brother and sometimes Lyall would encourage Richard to speak for himself, that kind of thing. That’s not to say that they didn’t squabble and bicker like other siblings but it was lovely to observe them settling in together with each other for comfort.
When you adopt two children, it brings a fantastic family dynamic.
Our boys look alike, there’s no denying that. But their personalities and interests are completely different, and that presents a remarkable formula for family life.
Lyall, on one hand absolutely lives for football. He’s in the local team, he has football calendars, posters, watches football on telly and plays Fifa like the best of ’em. Richard, on the other hand absolutely loves drinking tea, drawing giraffes and baking. And football, too. They both love to sing and dance, dress up in trendy outfits and have their hair styled. A great mix.
Tom and I are equally different (I mean, sometimes it amazes me that we function as a couple, but opposites attract, as they say) and so the four of us together provide each other with myriad new experiences and activities. There’s never a dull or boring moment.
Twice the cuddles
Forget ‘double trouble’. That was just a catchy headline. Don’t get me wrong, when the boys are in trouble (which is probably at least 50% of the time that they’re awake) they’re usually in trouble together so you only need to get angry once and Tom and I take turns to be the angry one.
Instead, think twice the cuddles. Lyall and Rich are very loving, cuddly and affectionate. In the evenings, while Tom and I are on our sofas watching the One Show or catching up with social media, the boys in their fluffy dressing gowns will each choose one of us to snuggle up with on the sofa. Then, every ten minutes or so they’ll swap to the other sofa for a cuddle with their other dad. It’s adorable and we never want it to end.
(Warning – there is some awful bad language in this blog update, if you’re of an easily offended persuasion, skip the first bit)
Here I am again, coming to you from my familiar plastic garden chair at Play Hard soft-play centre. As usual, I’m sat strategically towards the back of the room, tablet computer in one hand, rather nice coffee (in an actual ceramic mug) in the other. Richard and Lyall are performing front somersaults dangerously fast on the bouncy castle, their little heads whizzing towards the floor and beneath their legs at quite an astonishing speed. Every so often I put down my tablet and give them an enthusiastic wave along with a slightly camp ‘Oooo’ expression.
It’s lovely and quiet after school at Play Hard, just three or four families and about fifteen children here this afternoon. A young looking woman, probably about twenty years old, along with her gaggle of five little girls have decided to sit right next to me. I mean, there’s probably about forty available tables, yet she’s parked up right next to my favourite table, sitting within a foot of my chair. Every time she swishes her long hair it goes dangerously close to my coffee, which I’ve now moved right to the far edge of the table. A few minutes ago, one of her girls, about five years old, dashed over, clutching what I thought was a sanitary towel. “Mommeh!”, “Mommeh” she shouted as she ran over towards our tables.
On arrival she grabbed a chair from my table and sat sideways on it, in-between me and her mother. The girl shook her long sweaty brown hair, swishing it against my shoulder. I tutted and moved away a little. Snatching the pad thing out of her daughter’s hand, the woman peeled off the back of the pad and slapped it onto her daughter’s upper arm. Ah, I thought, it must be one of those temporary tattoos. In the knowledge that I will also be presented with one of these dreadful tattoos by Richard or Lyall at some point, I decided to give said harassed looking mother the benefit of the doubt.
What happened next unfortunately is something I cannot un-see. I looked on in astonishment as the woman took a deep breath and then spat onto the pad on her daughter’s arm, bent forward and began to lick frantically (yes, with her tongue) at the pad on the young girl’s upper arm as though it were an inside-out empty crisp packet (something else I’ve witnessed a few times at Play Hard). Naturally I attempted to record a video on my phone but the girl’s arm and licking mother were hidden by the angle of the girl’s chair. After a couple of minutes, the woman carefully peeled back the paper pad, looking extremely proud of herself, and said (out loud) “Awwww, Britneh, it’s a lickle devil. Tha’ is absolute-leh stunnin.”.
Britney dashed back into the huge soft-play, scratching compulsively at her arm, her mother screaming at the top of her lungs “Leave your fuckin’ arm alone, Britneh!”. My boys heard the swearing and looked over to see what the commotion was about. I slowly shook my head at them disapprovingly with frowned eyebrows – a gesture that any careful parent will know to universally mean ‘ignore the bad language’. The woman turned to look at me, rolled her eyes and said, “Fuckin’ kids, eh?”. She then produced a cigarette from behind her ear and wandered off towards the entrance.
Anyway, that was a huge digression from what I intended to be a blog installment about a marvellous event in the adoption process that we were lucky enough to experience last week; the Celebratory Hearing.
The legal adoption process is lengthy; our adoption process was delayed by objections and legal appeals by the children’s birth family and all manner of other unexpected obstacles. So, once the Judge recommended during the final hearing that we are perfectly matched to spend the rest of our lives together, there was a phenomenal feeling of relief; an Adoption Order was placed and our happy new family was offered a Celebratory Hearing in the local Court.
We weren’t really sure what to expect from a Celebratory Hearing. In our imagination, like a big budget legal drama, we would be ushered into a large old-fashioned wooden magistrates courtroom where there would be some kind of registration process; signing of paperwork and perhaps a series of questions from a serious looking judge who eventually would bash his gavel (I Googled ‘Judge’s hammer’) and deliver the sentence of a happy life-time together.
In reality, the hearing turned out to be fantastically fun.
Looking absolutely adorable in their new dapper little designer waistcoats and bow ties, Lyall and Richard were invited to sit at the front row of a small modern court room, which fundamentally resembled a lecture theatre, with three rows of long office tables, facing a raised wooden desk, a coat of arms on the wall. Tom and I along with our parents (the boys’ proud grandparents), our social worker Michelle and some close family friends sat alongside and behind the boys. Between us we filled all the seats in the room so essentially it appeared as though the two little boys were on trial, like a pair of miniature grinning little crims. We were instructed to sit-put for five minutes while the judge prepared his papers. During the wait, Lyall discovered that his enormous chair could spin around, so he spun around in his chair like a whirling dervish for the full five minutes. I sat a few chairs away, attempting to catch his glance, furiously shaking my head at him each time his little grinning face whizzed past. Meanwhile, Richard grabbed hold of the large metal microphone on the desk in front of him and was happily miming the words to Whitney Houston’s One Moment In Time (the current favourite) with a huge smile on his face.
The judge finally appeared from a door at the front and took a seat at his wooden desk. He was a smiling version of precisely what we’d imagined; an older gentleman in full robes and judge’s wig. He proceeded to ask the boys a couple of questions about their new family, to which they answered beautifully (thank god!) and managed not to mention any accounts of nosebleeds or running around nude which in our imagination may have alerted some kind of last minute dreadful intervention.
The judge ended his questioning by asking the boys whether they like cuddly toys, to which Lyall proudly announced in his lovely regional accent “I only have one cuddly toy called Father Christmas who’s a rhino because I’m not allowed them because I throw them out windows but Richard’s got two”, at which I just smiled politely at the judge with shrugged shoulders, not really knowing how to respond. Luckily, my momentary turmoil was quickly interrupted as the judge revealed two beautiful white teddy bears from beneath his desk. Asking the boys to make their way up to his desk to receive the teddy bears, up they went, followed by the whole party of grandparents, friends, Michelle and me and Tom for a privileged look down upon the courtroom from the judge’s ‘bench’ (again, Googled that one). Each of us had a go in the judge’s chair and posed for a photograph. I was even lucky enough to try on his wig, much to everyone’s enjoyment.
After a goodbye from the judge, we all made our way back into the lobby. Our wonderful social worker hugged Tom and I and then the boys and said farewell for the final time; an emotional goodbye to someone who’s guided us gracefully through the whole turbulent adoption process. We’ll miss her.
So far, the Celebratory Hearing was collectively one of the best days of our lives.
I dedicate this blog post to Michelle, our fantastic social worker. Michelle, if you’re reading this (I bloody hope you are!), we can’t thank you enough. x
It occurred to Tom and I the other day that Richard has been extraordinarily well behaved at school this year.
Richard is a shy-natured boy, but with gentle encouragement and a little push he finds his place and his confidence gradually starts to shine through (I'm welling up a bit!). He's adorable.
When Richard first starts a new academic year at school, he becomes shy and quiet again, observing things from the sidelines. This usually happens for a couple of weeks, until he finds his feet in his new surroundings.
It's something that we're able to plan for and Rich's wonderful SEN teacher (who just happens to be a great family friend), Miss Cooper keeps an eye on progress with him.
When he has found his place, he has in previous years become a little bit too comfortable with his surroundings. We were beckoned in to chat to his teachers a couple of times about daft behaviour (standing on his chair every time the class is told to stand up, hiding the teacher's glasses, saying a rude word to a year-six girl who tried to force a cuddle, for example). It's all fairly low-level and not something we've worried about; to us it's all an indication that he's happy with his environment. The rude word was 'ambassador', by the way which I can only assume he thinks should be 'b*stard' - needless to say we haven't corrected him.
We're in February now and Richard's behaviour at home has been a tad rocky - nothing too bad, he just has an air of cockiness about him, a kind of nonchalance (nice word, eh?) when he's told to stop licking the mirror, or flicking socks at grandma's expensive Swarovski candle sticks, or eating one baked bean at a time to irritate Dad who's asked him to eat his beans.
Despite this nonchalance at home, Richard's been perfectly fine at school so far this year with his new (and first ever male) teacher Mr Hamley. Ten-out-of-ten in most spellings tests, a small part in the year three play - everything's pointing to 'good' on the Richard scale. Until yesterday. Sigh. I was called over with a beckoning finger by Mr Hamley and the dreaded words, "Could I have a quick word with you in private please, Jamie?". "FFS", I thought. I turned to Richard and over-dramatically rolled my eyes. Richard returned a shrug, raised his cute little eyebrows and muttered "I dunno?".
Anyway, to cut what was going to be a very short but turned out to be a long story short, Richard's been a pain in the arse for the last couple of days, dancing around like Kylie in the classroom.
Here's a beautiful letter he wrote to Mr Hamley to say sorry. Panic over.
It's half term again already (can you believe it?) and so we're off on a kind-of holiday for a few days to my parents down in rural Warwickshire.
As I've probably mentioned before, Lyall and Richard's benchmark of good behaviour drops significantly there, so I usually spend most of my time hiding in the office with a coffee and my tablet while the boys wrestle and throw stuff around in the living room.
Every-so-often I pop downstairs to try to calm the storm a little but my efforts are futile. Earlier on I caught the boys jumping around like nutters and flinging socks at Grandma's mantlepiece, trying to score points by landing their socks on her Swarovski crystal candlesticks and expensive glass snow globe. I confiscated the socks and gave the boys a sinister whispery telling off. But all my excellent parenting effort achieved was two sulking boys sitting with their knees up on opposite settees which meant that my parents thought that I'd completely over-reacted. I retreated to the office rather than causing an atmosphere by telling the boys off out loud for sulking.
Their grandparents have extraordinary patience with the kids - they persevere through the squabbles with an envious array of activities and stuff to do, with a smile.
Right now they've borrowed a dog from a nice couple who live up the road, which they've taken for a long explorey walk along the canal towards Warwick. This provides me with a couple of serene hours of peace. Phew!
This morning we played a new board game with Grandpa. Here's our review!
Ticket to ride
Grandma and Grandpa live immediately next-door to a Victorian village railway station, so what better a time to unbox our latest Bloggers' Board Game Club game; Ticket to Ride Europe?
The boys are very excited about this one; they've been waiting patiently until half-term to play this with Grandpa - he's a bit of a closet steam train enthusiast (like me.. shhhh, don't say owt.. I have my super-cool Instagram dad reputation to maintain!).
As you can see, the packaging is beautifully illustrated in a vintage, hand-painted style. This one's going to become a living-room feature I reckon. There's our Ritchie looking very daft and excited.
What's in the box?
This game is full of goodies. Inside the box there is a colourful instructions booklet and a huge playing board which unfolds to become about 100 x 50cm. Just like the design of the box, the playing board is absolutely beautiful - it's a vintage European map with colourful routes between each major city.
There are hundreds of little plastic train carriages in five primary colours, fifteen little plastic train stations, three decks of cards and five chunky wooden discs in the colours of the train carriages.
The 'tan' coloured cards feature a start and destination city (for instance one of mine had London - Bucharest). Each player starts with four of those - three 'short' journeys and one 'long-haul' journey.
The blue cards (train cards) feature different coloured train carriages or a locomotive (that's a wild card). We each get four of those, too.
We each choose a colour and receive 45 little train carriages, 3 train stations and a wooden disc in our chosen colour.
The aim of the game is to score points by completing routes between cities with your little train carriages. The points for each route increase exponentially so you can achieve a much better score by aiming for a longer route.
It's quite a complex game this one, so I'll try to keep the explanation as simple as poss. I won't reveal every rule; I don't want to spoil the whole game for you - there are a few surprise intricacies and twists that I'll let you discover for yourself.
To claim a route between two cities, a player has to collect the correct amount of train cards in the correct colour.
So, one by one, each player takes a turn. In a turn, you can either take two train cards (there are some face up and some face down so you can either take a chance or choose one deliberately). Or, you can exchange the correct number of coloured train cards to claim a route, by discarding the cards and placing your little train carriages along the route between two cities. If you manage to claim a route from one of your tan coloured destination cards, you get some extra points as nominated on the destination card.
It sounds very complex but actually when you get going it does come quite naturally. As with previous games, we started simple, without the train stations or destination cards and then added extra rules in as we went along.
Additional moves include placing a train station on a city, allowing the player to cross through a city that's already been passed through by another player.
You eventually end up with quite an impressive arrangement of colourful trains across the map - see our admirable first attempt above!
How do you win?
When a player runs out of carriages, you each calculate your score and the highest score wins. Lyall won our first game, through pure luck! Subsequent rounds became far more strategic (I won the second round).
It's quite addictive, really. The complexities become familiar very quickly and there are enough strategies to keep the game fresh, even after three or four rounds. It was difficult for the boys to pick up, which is why their scores are a little lower than ours.
Top marks from Lyall and Rich, as always! Grandpa and I agreed that it is an expensive game, however the game's abundant pieces are excellent quality and beautifully designed. It's a lot of game per £.
Our favourite game so far. We'd strongly recommend Ticket to Ride Europe.
Ticket to Ride Europe was provided free of charge by the Blogger Board Game Club in return for our impartial, candid review.
Heavens. (Oo I sound just like Grannie Jean. Hi Jean *waves).
It’s already April 2015 and officially twelve months into our adoption placement with Lyall and Richard. Someone’s proverbially sat their big clumsy bottom down on life’s remote control and we’ve sped through a year of parenthood on fast forward. It’s gone really bloody quickly.
Everything’s fine, thank you, albeit a little turbulent now that the boys are officially into the ‘testing the boundaries’ phase, which incidentally we were warned of during our adoption training.
“Your adopted child(ren) will test your rules and boundaries once they’ve settled in; prepare yourselves for some difficult behaviour.”
I think was the line, which naturally we completely shrugged off and forgot about. Until now.
We’ve had a jolly old few months of ‘difficult behaviour’ including (but not limited to) spitting swimming pool water into the faces of unsuspecting toddlers, grumpy, huffy sulking, creasing up my brown throw on the settee (the epitome of irritating), crocodile tears, hands up inside jumper sleeves (actually that’s the epitome of irritating), mooning out of the window at innocent elderly passer-by, stuffing so much loo roll into the toilet that it overflowed, scuffing new shoes, calling a lady Mrs Twit at Sainsbury’s, opening the car door with such force onto next-door’s brand new Honda, that its market value took a very rapid plunge and hiding the dreadful new ‘hide and seek’ Scooby Doo toy in Daddy and Dad’s bed – providing the shock of one’s life when getting into bed next to what appears to be a brown horses head beneath the covers.
And it’s been hard work; I am essentially a human nagging machine, pointing, shouting, shaking my head, frowning to the extent that I need another round of Botox and we’re getting very blinkin’ bored of saying no to everything. One valuable piece of advice that’s helped to prevent us from going completely bonkers is to learn the art of leaning in with a quiet whisper as an effective (and really creepy) nagging tool. Consequently we’ve found that a mixture of shouty and whispery seems to work best. I caught one of the boys by surprise yesterday, when expecting a whispery nag, instead startled by a deafening ‘STOP HANGING ON THE DOOR HANDLE!’, immediately turning a door swinging six year old into a trembling, guilty (and perhaps a little gormless) looking dingbat.
So how has the first year gone you might ask? Well. Having given this question some considerable thought, I think I’d break the first twelve months into three phases.
The first phase, which social worker types describe as the ‘honeymoon phase’ I describe as the ‘hypnogogic phase’. (Hypnogogic meaning surreal, by the way – thanks to Google synonyms for making me sound dexterous – meaning clever, thanks again to Google). For the first three months or so, our lives felt like a dream; long days in the garden spent with our new children in the sunshine. No work to worry about, for me anyway, also rather dreamy. Every time Lyall or Richard called us Daddy or Dad we would double-take and we were plunged into bizarre situations like not knowing own sons’ dates of birth when asked by their nursery manager (mortifying for both parties, of course).
Then came the ‘reality phase’, including first days at school, screamy children’s parties, visits to the doctor and dentist accompanied by some very good behaviour for the most part, asides from aforementioned sticks thrown at old men and coerced donkey rides in the toy room. During this phase we realised the huge feeling of responsibility that came with parenthood and we became quite cautious about things like checking seat-belts in the car and keeping the boys in full sight (nobody in Coventry Ikea was prepared for a panicked man screaming “RICHARD! GET HERE NOW!” after loosing sight of him in the queue for a hot-dog, only to realise that he was indeed right next to me, looking understandably baffled).
And now as mentioned we’re slap bang in the middle of the ‘testing the boundaries’ or rather ‘naughty little shits’ phase (sorry Mum), albeit we are actually having a lot of fun and not really too phased by all the shitty outbursts of naughtiness.
What has grown throughout the last year is our true love for the boys. Of course, right from the nerve-racking introduction back in March last year we have loved Lyall and Richard, but it’s evolved, blossomed if you will, into true love, which feels like something remarkable and extraordinary.
After our final assessment visit from Michelle, things went quiet for a couple of weeks. The assessment had been intrusive and demanding, but also emotional and enlightening as we had been encouraged to explore each other's pasts and it brought us closer together. We missed Michelle's visits - she'd become a familiar, regular, positive part of our week.
Anyway (I reach for the tissues). Back at the adoption agency HQ, Michelle was busy, consolidating all the information she had gathered; notes, evidence and observations into a comprehensive report called a PAR - I think PAR translates into Potential Adopter Report (forgive me if I'm wrong - this was almost five years ago now!). Never-the-less it's an enormous important document which discusses the adopters' suitability as adoptive parents.
Meanwhile, Tom and I started to prepare the house for our future offspring. The spare bedroom received a Pinterest inspired makeover including elaborate trees and monkey wall murals and a hand-painted giraffe wardrobe. (Tom, please could you log in and pop a photo of the bedroom here for me when you get a moment). Tom cleared out the garage and fitted a secure new garage door and I moved everything in the kitchen around to ensure that our envious assortment of cleaning products are kept out of reach of little hands. The house was ready. Bring on the next stage!
A couple of weeks later, at 9am on a wet Wednesday morning, Tom and I arrived at the adoption agency HQ for our adoption approval panel. Michelle greeted us at the door and signed us in. "Are you nervous, boys?" she asked. "Yes..." I said, "let's get this over with!".
Michelle ushered us into a small meeting room where we were asked to sit and wait until our appointment at 10am. She took our coats and returned a few minutes later with tea (and biscuits, naturally). Michelle sat down with us to explain the approval process.
"In the adjoining room there are no less than ten parenting experts and adoptive parents who have each been provided with your full PAR for their perusal over the weekend. They are your approval panel, and they will (hopefully) be recommending you both as prospective adoptive parents, ideally suitable for a group of two or more siblings."
"Wow." was Tom's response. We smiled at each other and took a deep breath. The concept of a jury examining our past filled us with dread, but we maintained a brave facade (for lack of a better word).
"In a few moments, I will be called in to face the panel as your social worker." continued Michelle. "They will each ask questions, probing for sufficient evidence in which to make their recommendation."
"Okay," I said, relieved by the idea that Michelle would go in first, "What happens then, Michelle?".
"I won't be able to see you after my interview as it might present an unfair advantage if I were able to prepare you for the questions. Somebody else will come and get you when it's your turn."
A few minutes later, Michelle was called into the panel room. We waited for about 30 minutes, fingers tapping on knees and nervously sipping tea. After what felt like an inordinate amount of time had passed, a smiley looking lady in a suit popped her head around the door. "The panel are ready to see you now, Jamie and Tom." Gaaahhh! So nervous. In fact, it's making me nervous just thinking about this!
In the panel room were four large rectangular desks, arranged in a large square. Sure enough, ten very important older faces were looking upon us from behind the desks. In classic interview mode, Tom and I smiled, said "It's lovely to meet you." and introduced ourselves.
Then, one by one, each esteemed panellist introduced themselves with a smile, albeit a very professional, noble smile. There was a local MP, two adoptive parents with grown-up adopted children, a senior social worker, a junior social worker, a doctor and I forget who the other four were. They seemed nice. They each had a copy of our PAR in front of them on their desk.
The panellists' questions were hypothetical and aimed at either Tom or me, not at both of us. Questions included "If one of your children were bullied at school because they had gay parents, how would you approach the situation?" and "As 'equal' income earners, how will you cope with becoming either the chief income earner, with all the associated stress and responsibility, or the homemaker, with less expendable income?". We managed to answer each question pretty eloquently, despite the nerves.
The panel interview lasted about 25 minutes I think and when the final panellist had asked their question, they said, "That's all finished, well done both of you and good luck.", leaving us feeling pretty optimistic.
Back in the meeting room next door we joined Michelle again, who greeted us both with a group hug and an encouraging smile. "I'm going to be called back into the panel room again in a minute," said Michelle "to hear their recommendation." We gulped and crossed our fingers. "If it's a unanimous 'yes', the recommendation will be reviewed by our Panel Manager before you receive written approval."
"Blimey." said Tom.
"If it's a mixed result, it will be up to the Panel Manager to decide whether or not you will be approved as adoptive parents, but I have a good feeling about this so fingers crossed!". We loved Michelle's optimism but we were nervous.
A few minutes later, Michelle was called back into the panel room. This time though, she was only in the room for a matter of minutes. Tom and I were standing in the middle of the waiting room, arms folded nervously. Michelle returned to the room, her head peeping around the door with an brilliant smile. As she approached us she threw open her arms and said "It's a unanimous yes boys!". Another lovely group hug and we exhaled an mighty sigh of relief.
Coming soon, part 4, in which we navigate through the 'family finding' stage. I'll pop a message out on social media when it's ready.
It’s nice and bright this morning, so the boys have been delivered to school in their vibrant bright red polo shirts, no need for sweatshirts or coats, thank you very much. Realised half-way across the park between the library car park and school that Lyall’s trousers were on backwards. Absolutely no embarrassment or shame what-so-ever from Lyall, who proudly swaggered along with his hands awkwardly in his back-to-front pockets. To make it even more obvious, he stuffed his back pockets (around the front where his zip should be) with grubby conkers that he picked up from the path.
Conker collecting itself is getting close to the No list, triggered by an incident last night which concluded in a very sorry looking Richard apologising to an elderly man who’d been the unlucky recipient of a huge stick flying towards him, just missing his head by a couple of inches.
“I’m weally sorry” said Richard
“I was just twying to get them conkernuts down off that twee”
“THOSE” I shouted, “FROM THAT TREE”, somewhat spoiling the heartfelt apology.
Must sort out this ‘them’ habit; it makes Richard sound like Oliver Twist. Elderly man isn’t pressing charges.
Only five minutes until bell-time so decided to persevere with the backwards trouser conker collecting walk to school rather than risk adding being late to the stress.
If you’re late, the Caretaker locks the gates, so disgraced parents are forced to take their children through the school’s main entrance, with a walk of shame right through the middle of the school to the reception block at the far end. It’s shameful.
Just arrived home to the news that the Met Office has just issued a severe weather warning for heavy rain and hail. I can therefore expect a drenched, freezing Lyall with backwards trousers on after school.
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