The Magic Number

The last month or so has been somewhat of a daze.

I haven’t ever gotten around to watching ‘The Walking Dead’ yet, but I’m holding daily auditions for a starring role in a fresh season.

The zombie apocalypse has returned with a vengeance and this sequel packs one heck of a punch.

But let’s rewind a few weeks first, back to the start of this terrifyingly beautiful new adventure – matchsticks at the ready?

After cooking for 38 weeks our surprise pink package was finally ready to make her grand entrance, dutifully booked in for a planned C-section first thing on a Monday morning.

The previous weekend had seen mummy in hospital for her pre-op steroid injections thanks to an infuriating and rather annoying bout of gestational diabetes.

Fully prepped and ready for launch however, we were checked into the labour ward, bushy-eyed and bleary-tailed, first on the list in theatre and raring to go.

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Ready for launch

The care was second to none as we were introduced to midwife, doctor and anaesthetist and talked expertly through the whole shebang. I even got a cup of tea to calm my nerves.

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Tea for one

As zero hour approached we were ushered into theatre for the main feature, professionals as far as the eye could see, a slick operation it certainly was.

With screens suitably positioned and spinal block administered, it wasn’t long before I was cradling my third born.

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Ruby Ana

The miraculous and much anticipated Ruby Ana was here at last – the wait was over and she was just as perfect as her brothers of course.

After a few hours in recovery, and another cheeky cup of tea, we were transferred down to the postnatal ward just in time for the night shifters to clock on, another dream team to soon become in awe of.

But not before a visit from the original dynamic duo – who’d been champing at the bit to get their hands on their baby sister for months.

In a similarly heart-shattering moment to when my eldest met his younger brother for the very first time, the world seemed to stand still for a few seconds as the proud ruffians cradled their new precious cargo with bewildered expressions.

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The Dynamic Duo + 1

There are some moments that will last a lifetime and that was most definitely another.

With the brothers in arms off back to the grandparents’ it was time to go officially postnatal.

It had been just short of eight years since we’d been on this ward and my how times have changed.

I was allowed to bed down next to my girlies for the night so it was off to the car to grab the camp bed and set up a makeshift ward den – Bear Grylls would have been proud.

A night on the wards is certainly no picnic, however top notch the care, so I was certainly glad of my little rectangle of foam, which looked like sheer luxury next to the NHS issue hospital visitor chair in the corner.

The next couple of days saw us monitored marvellously – hearing screening, paediatrician check and breastfeeding advice all duly despatched.

All of a sudden it was discharge time, after a thorough debrief from the midwife in charge, a trusty checklist worked through to ensure we had all the info required.

Our NHS care had been all but exemplary, no complaints to the heroes in blue who put the interests of their precious little patients before everything else, 100% of the time.  A thank you just never seems enough.

Ruby was coming home and the zombies would soon be on the prowl – our own nightshift duties about to kick in big time.

Our family of four, well eight if you count the cat, two dogs and the guinea pig, had now become five (nine), and as Rubes lay slumbering in her hand-me-down carrycot, reality finally hit home.

However desperate this dad may get from time to time, he lucked out beyond belief for sure.

Yes the nights are long, the sick is smelly and the nappies are nefarious.

But a family to treasure is a gift beyond measure and if two is better than one, three is without question the most magical number of them all.

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Pink Is The Colour

I have a small announcement to make.  Don’t fear, unfortunately for you I’m not retiring the blog, or moving to some sun-kissed shores to while away my days – if only.

This announcement is much more exciting, much more life changing and even more tiring than ever before.

You see ladies and gentlemen, our very own dynamic duo are about to be transformed into a tumultuous trio – we’ve another little arrival on its way – and she doesn’t know what’s about to hit her.

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There’s going to be two big brothers to look out for a little sister and the clocks are about to be wound back to those heady days of nappies, teething, bottle sterilisation and sleep deprivation. Oh the pure unbridled joy.

‘Utter lunacy’, I hear you cry. And you might well have a point.  With a 10-year-old and seven-year-old to constantly humour, how on earth is a newborn baby a sensible plan?

Well here’s the thing, and I’m happy to put it out there (again!).  She wasn’t planned. In fact we have no idea how it happened. Not literally obvs – but you know what I mean!

This was an entirely ‘happy’ accident, but one that was extremely enjoyable to make – I’m almost certain.

It took rather a while to sink in to be honest, to get our heads around and to fathom. Could three really be the magic number, I guess we’re about to find out?

Of course a third baby is something we’d previously discussed, and discussed at length.  But the upshot was always the same, we were happy with our blessed lot – two boys who keep us on our toes more than enough than not.

New adventures and experiences were beckoning and although those long lost ‘nappy days’ were often mourned, we’d kind of set our sights on the horizon.

So imagine my surprise when Mrs Dad started to get those all too familiar feelings, the hormones coursing and the blood pressure rising.

And imagine my greater surprise when that infamous little tick appeared blue and the bun was confirmed as fully in the oven.

Now imagine my even greater surprise when the 20-week scan and extra nailed-on blood test confirmed without doubt that we were expecting a female dynamo to boot.  Cue heads and hearts exploding.

A girl.  Yes correct. A girl. After two boys too – thrust into the great unknown once more without so much as a by your leave – whatever was I going to do?

But as the fairy dust settled and the excitement calmed down, came a real sense of renewed energy, of purpose, of hope and optimism.

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Let’s not beat around the bush, I’m absolutely prepared for my little madam to run me ragged, and if I’m completely honest, haven’t got a clue what to really expect.

Neither have the ‘bruise brothers’ or the manic menagerie of four-legged friends we foster I’ll wager.

Girls just seem like a completely different species to me – all light, fluffy, unicorn-obsessed and with 101 ways to tie hair that I’m sure I’m never going to master.

It’s footie shirts and joggy bottoms most days here. Tights and tiaras scare the bejesus out of me.

There’s also that nagging fear that this world is not what it once was, however we like to dress it up or skirt around.

Thirty years ago life was very different. My boys’ experience of childhood is in complete contrast to mine, so in 20 years’ time, what on earth will the world be like for my little madam?

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I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see, and try not to drive ourselves mad thinking about the endless scenarios that we might or might not end up with.

All we can do is welcome her into this wondrous world with open arms and give her all the love and support we can muster.  Somehow I don’t think that’s going to be much of problem.

We’ve still got quite a while to wait, baby girl’s not due until mid-Feb, but one thing’s certain. Girl or boy, crier or sleeper (please sleeper!), footballer or ballerina, unicorn or racing car lover – it doesn’t really matter in the end.

To my darling ‘Ruby Ana Teixeira Wood’ we can’t wait to meet you and let you enchant our lives with the beauty and wonder we’re certain you’ll bless us all with.

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The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

The clocks have rewound and the air is slightly chillier, the nights are darker and the days a little bit shorter, it can only mean that Halloween is upon us once again.

Costumes have been dusted off and props and decorations dutifully carted down from the loft, silly season has really taken hold – there are pumpkin-shaped things everywhere I seem to look.

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It was never like this when I was a kid. Trick or treating wasn’t really a ‘thing’, there might have been the odd end of term disco or apple to bob, but that was about it.

These days it’s wall-to-wall rubber bats and witches hats from early October – fancy dress obligatory and don’t forget the green slime cupcakes.

It’s all jolly good fun and an industry in itself and there’s one little happy chappy who wouldn’t have it any other way.

My youngest has been completely smitten by the ‘night of the dead’ ever since he was old enough to say boo to a goose. It’s always his go to holiday, giving Santa a good run for his money every year.

It’s a shame it’s just one night really, but we certainly make up for it in this (haunted) house.

We also play by the rules. We know it’s not for everyone and respect that celebrating devilry might not appeal to all and sundry, so only suitably decorated dwellings are knocked upon.

Indeed, our slightly ‘older’ side of the village doesn’t get a look in, so we tend to head over to the edgier side of town, where the houses are decked out like an American horror film set and there’s more candy than a Willy Wonka factory.

It’s a thoroughly enjoyable, if not slightly brass monkeys couple of hours, before bangers and mash at Nana’s house and another course of that aforementioned candy.

In fact the stash of loot acquired, usually keeps my little nightmares going until Christmas – the real trick is trying to persuade them both that ‘one more house’ doesn’t really need visiting after all.

So whatever your stance on Halloween, celebrated in moderation and with appropriate adult supervision, it can be an enjoyable and extremely fun bit of family escapism.

Just try getting them up for school the next day after all that excitement and sugar – absolute horror every time.

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Autumn Leaves

As Ed Sheeran (who I’ve been known to quote before) once mooned in his poignant track ‘Autumn Leaves’: ‘Another day, another life, passes by just like mine’.

Rather apt as the summer holidays seemed to flash by in the blink of eye, the air slightly chillier and evenings slightly darker all of a sudden.

With everyone now firmly back into routines, it surely won’t be long until fleeces are once more mandatory and wellies are kicking through the gutters again, as the seasons tick on taking no prisoners as usual.

Although summer is often the go to quarter for many, I have to admit to liking autumn as a pretty close second.

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Snug evenings, blustery days, Halloween and Bonfire Night all have their appeal in one way or another.

They certainly help to bridge that gaping chasm to Christmas and make those long, dark nights a little less glummer in the grand scheme of things.

It’s always a shock to the system to get ‘back into the swing of it’ after summer and a double-edged sword when the weather finally takes a permanent turn for the worst.

You think we’d be used to it by now – we know it’s coming every time after all – and yet every year we feel even less prepared for the change, no matter how many times we’ve experienced it before.

It must be something to do with being English and our god given right to chastise the weather people, inherent in us all to hope against hope that summer really will one day extend into late October.

But all miracles aside, there’s also something slightly comforting about this long expected change.

It’s a perplexing paradox, as deep down we know that just as night follows day, September follows August and diets follow holidays, autumn’s intoxicating beauty will seep into our consciousness no sooner than tan lines fade from goose pimpled skin.

If we’re honest I think we’d all admit we wouldn’t really have it any other way. After all, the familiar seasonal shift is another new door opening, another chapter to explore and adventure to write. Shouldn’t we just do up our jackets and embrace the wind of change?

Ed puts it better than I ever could in that haunting autumnal ditty: ‘Another mind, another soul, another body to grow old. It’s not complicated.’

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‘Hi-de-Holidays’ In The Sun

Summer holidays are turning into rather gargantuan European adventures for us.

For the third year in a row, we have bundled most of our earthly possessions into our long suffering Qashqai and made the long trek south to glorious Portugal.

A trip we are now well versed with, and have accomplished via ferry to Spain’s sunny Santander, the last two times in a row.

It adds a little extra excitement to our annual escapades, not that we really need it when visiting the foreign family, who always roll out the red carpet for their vivacious visitors.

Mummy’s Portuguese parents are always eager to lavish their long lost love onto their very own dynamic duo.

So after a good two days’ travel, across land and surprisingly calm sea, we were all pleased to arrive in the quirky little time capsule of Amorosa just a few weeks’ back.

A Butlins cum Center Parcs style seaside resort on the north coast, about an hour’s drive from the outlaws’ normal residence in Vila Nova de Gaia, just outside Porto.

It was here that our week-long beach bum holiday kicked off in earnest and it was trunks on and flip-flops at dawn as we made the most of the sun on our backs and sand between our toes.

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The holiday kicks off

Although previously back home, we’d already enjoyed a good few weeks of #Summer2018, it’s always good to feel that Portuguese sunshine on your skin and experience the thrill of some foreign soil.

When we’re Amorosa side, daily trips to the beach are called for, but only until about 12:30pm when it’s time to retreat back to the holiday flat to dodge the midday sun and scorching 30c plus heat most days.

Our shoreline shenanigans always involve digging, football and plenty of paddling but this time we had a new activity to keep us occupied as well.

A brand new boat (blow up dingy) had been dutifully purchased by the Portuguese grandparents this year, so the boys were dying to give it a maiden voyage on the waves as soon as possible.

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Three men and a boat

After inflating it to within an inch of its life it was duly carted off to the beach and primed for action.

The boys were a little apprehensive at first so daddy and Booboo (grandad) took charge of proceedings, launching headlong into the ice cold surf in typical holiday abandon.

With the waves gently lapping and the cowardly young duo now sure that capsizing was no longer on the cards, it wasn’t long before three men in a boat were being steered carefully towards the horizon by the ever watchful Booboo.

I say horizon but it was more like just a few yards out to sea but it was great fun to ‘mess about’ on the water for a bit nonetheless.

After retiring for lunch before the hottest sun hit, it was usually a sure fire bet that you’d find us languishing in the nearby bar – the cooler that cool Cafe Magma – for a large ice cream and even larger ice cold beer.

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‘Two small beers please!’

This year there was also a brand new addition, with the restaurant branching out and opening an extra craft beer outlet, stocked full of Europe’s finest ales, from Erdinger to Delirium and everything in between.

It was a desperate dad’s dream and I enjoyed lingering amongst the bottles and perusing the gorgeous glasses, a few euros burned before being dragged away kicking and screaming by mummy.

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As the great Fred Astaire once sang: ‘I’m in heaven’

In the evenings if not too tired, a trip to the ‘within spitting distance’ from the flat cafe was often on the cards. With the new football season now firmly underway, it was wall-to-wall Portuguese Primeira Liga action most nights.

One particular match involved Benfica, a couple of large beers and a few whiskeys. The eventual result I don’t really recall to be honest…

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No recollection

The only slight downside to our time at the coast was the unfortunate ‘all night banging’ we experienced from the neighbouring town. Much more innocent than it sounds I’m afraid, but it appeared we’d forgotten just how much partying the Portuguese like to do, particularly in the summer months.

Our top floor flat seemed a magnet for the ‘boom boom booming’ sound waves of the constant bass emanating from the locality just up the road.

I like a dance as much as the next dad, but not even a Red Bull and a hundred grand of class A drugs could keep me bopping from 6pm to 10am the next morning – literally.

So as our time at the coast drew to a welcome end, Porto beckoned once again and with a wink and a grin we bid a fond farewell to our ‘Hi-de-Hi!’ digs and repackaged the Nissan all bound for our second home.

Vila Nova De Gaia lies just opposite Porto – the country’s second largest city – across from the picturesque Rio Douro, famous for its abundance of port wine cellars and friendly cafes and bars, where you can pick up a cheap beer and enticing pastry for just a few bargain euros.

And although the grandparents now live on the Gaia side, we always enjoy a mooch around Porto itself, perusing the many intriguing gift shops and taking in the spectacular riverside views for a few hours.

This trip was no different and along with the annual cable car ride, walk across the magnificent Ponte Luis I Bridge and regular ice cream pit stops, this year included a visit to the official Portugal FC store.

A footie fan’s dream it certainly turned out to be with FC Porto, Benfica and Sporting Lisbon strips as far as the eyes could see.

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Replica kits R us

At almost €100 a pop however, we decided we were more than happy with the cheaper ‘replica’ kits we’d managed to pick up on the coast during the previous week.

We had a proper treat in store towards the end of the week anyway. As previously mentioned, with the new football season already in its early stages it just so happened that local team Boavista FC were to host rivals Benfica on the penultimate day of our holiday.

It seemed an opportunity too good to be missed and what with Booboo and Boy 1 both fervent Benfica fans themselves, was a no brainer, nailed on boys only outing.

Three golden tickets were duly snapped up, with Boy 2 preferring to visit the cinema with mummy and Bobo (grandma) to watch the latest Mamma Mia film, and it was off to Estadio do Bessa for an experience never to be forgotten.

The Benfica fans seemed to outnumber Boavista’s about two to one and we were treated to an accomplished performance with the away team running out eventual 0-2 winners, the second goal a particular spectacle of slick, tiki-taka style continental football.

The three of us were on our feet at the end to applaud a truly wonderful display, which we all agreed bettered the Champions League qualifying match between Porto and Roma we’d been lucky enough to witness two years previous.

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#fanboys

It was a fitting end to another fantastic vacation and all the was left to do was Tetris-style slot our belongings back into the quivering Qashqai for our return trip to Santander and eventual journey back to Blighty.

This time, in order to break things up a bit, mummy had once again booked us into a more than suitable Novotel just a couple of hours from Santander, to help the onward trek home a little less tortuous for us all.

After a refreshing swim and a few more unnecessary meals, it wasn’t long before we were queuing up in line to board our favoured vessel the Pont-Aven. An overnight sail into Portsmouth ahead of us, which unfortunately wasn’t quite as smooth as our outbound voyage had been.

We were all more than relieved to arrive ‘home sweet home’ around 24 hours’ later, fully Portuguesed and suntan lotioned out for another year.

Before we know it Bobo will be making her annual pilgrimage to the UK once more, but for us, our summer excitement had come to its end.

Obrigado por tudo Portugal, I wonder what next year has in store…

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When Saturdays Come

Usually at this time of year we’re all champing at the bit.

Saturday afternoons seem bereft when the footie season finishes and we’re left feeling like Premier League paupers with cobwebs on our shin pads.

This year, with England’s World Cup heroics, things have been slightly different admittedly, but it won’t be long until the weekends are firmly back on track, with 3pm kick-offs and 5 Live car updates regular features once again.

If we’re not heading down to Sincil Bank, to watch our local now ‘league’ pinup stars, we’re usually looking forward to Super Sundays on the TV as the heavyweight millionaires battle it out for the bragging rights.

I say we, but it’s still really just myself and boy number 1. Boy number 2’s appetite, although partially whet by the recent Russian revolution, is yet to fully develop into full-blown football fanaticism.

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He’s usually quite content to ‘grab a blanket’ with mummy and devour the latest offerings on Netflix, no football widow wallowing in this house.

In amongst all the above, I’m often left chasing around the county taxiing said boy 1 to his own soccer set-tos, as part of his junior football team’s seasonal adventures.

From September to April, every Sunday seems taken, and home or away you’ll find me cheering from the touchline as proud as punch and as vociferous as the rest of the parents, who kick every ball and cheer every goal as they go in.

There’s something quite wonderful about watching your offspring excel at a talent, embracing a passion and putting you to shame with every caress of the ball or pinpoint pass to a team mate.

He is really very good and certainly does not take his twinkle-toe like talent from me, who was no George Best for sure. The only resemblance being a similar passion for the odd pint or two and partiality to Miss Worlds I can see.

And this season, a slightly new adventure beckons. He’s just signed up with a newly promoted rival team. League runaways last season, they took his fancy towards the end of the campaign and after a few plucky trials pre-season, was snapped up forthwith.

A smart new outfit they certainly look, and even though we’ll miss our old comrades from the past, the new challenges this coming season will bring are ones we’re both looking forward to getting stuck into.

I only hope my new parenting pals take my slightly ‘odd’ sense of humour in the way it’s intended – some ice is harder broken than others after all.

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So as we get ready to embrace the great outdoors again, to don double socks, thermal vests and extra thick gloves for the season ahead, I’m sure it seems more trouble than it’s worth to many.

But for me, the numb feet and hoarse voice are a small price to pay, to watch my man of the match shine in his prime position when the weekends come around.

The Patriotic Portu’geezers’

St George’s Day used to be a bit of an event when I was younger.

I’m sure I remember dressing up as dragons or slayers (or both) and charging around the playground without a care in the world of a weekday lunchtime.

Nowadays, it seems to be a bit of a hushed affair, an unspoken celebration in case someone gets the wrong end of the lance somewhere down the line.

It feels like a real shame to me, especially as all the other Patron Saints always get a jolly good toasting on their special days throughout the year.

What’s not to like about celebrating being English? If that’s what you are shouldn’t you be able to shout about and be proud of it? Mark the occasion with a fry-up and a grin?

I guess our family is a little bit different and used to embracing all kinds of cultures – but at the end of the ‘quest’ we have no real choice after all.

With a fiercely passionate Portuguese woman of war for a mummy, my dynamic duo are well versed at bucking the norm.

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Being half foreign has lots of benefits of course, guaranteed sunshine holidays, a choice of international football teams to support, and always being arm’s length away from the mother-in-law.  But more of the dragon later.

Having such a culturally diverse background from day one has been a godsend for all of us and so probably ‘allows’ us to be even more patriotic than most.

These days I feel as Portuguese as I do English, or British I suppose I should say, if we’re being totally PC.

And although I can still only barely order a half-hearted ‘cerveja’ and mutter wrongly accented please and thank yous, I’ve always been welcomed with open arms into my foreign family.

We feel privileged to be party to our Porto compatriots and wouldn’t have it any other way.

All this European eulogising only adds to our own English enthusiasm of course – as however much we enjoy our Portuguese prances, there’s never, ‘no place quite like home’ is there?

England’s green and pleasant land will always draw us back again and even the Mrs agrees that we’re not a bad bunch most of the time.

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If you’re proud of your heritage and as long as you respect that of others, I see nothing wrong with slaying the odd dragon now and then.

As my boys grow older and their horizons inevitably broaden, I hope they’ll take this valuable lesson with them.

And as the years unfold and our young warriors make their own ways in the world, let’s all hope that bigotry, hatred, prejudice and discrimination are the true monsters to be put to the sword.

I’m pretty sure we’d all rather face a horrifying dragon-like mother-in-law than have to battle against any of those true evils in the near future.