Tales from Lockdown Part 3


In previous weeks I have discussed how online quizzes and jigsaws have helped me and my family (Aaron 10, Lochlan 8, Oscar 7 and Ella 3, not forgetting my ageless wife Niki) get through this incredibly strange period of our lifetime. This week I want to explore an area of modern culture which had completely escaped me before March 13th, that is tik tok dance routines. As bit of background for the uninitiated, tik tok is a social media app which originated in China and is ideal for short-form mobile videos. It seems to have filled the void that was created by the fall of Vine (I miss those 6 second tidbits of fun) and run with it in a big way! Of course the fact that it comes from China has led to some concerns about data privacy but hey, ain’t that just a fact of life these days! I first came across tik tok when people started to post various tik tok challenges on twitter, which is where I pick up most of my pop culture these days. These challenges were typically short choreographed dance routines to a popular piece of music (although quite often the piece of music would become popular because of the tik tok routine), and so began my brief obsession with young folk dancing to “My hips don’t lie” while going down escalators in shopping malls (check it out). All too quickly, I found myself down the rabbit-hole of YouTube compilations of the best tik tok dance routines of 2020 parts 1 through 10. Then I began to wonder how to turn this craze that appeared to be sweeping the youngsters of the planet to my own benefit?

I have always loved to dance, I remember fondly my days on the dance-floors of my youth, Peg Woffingtons, Hollywood Nights and Club USI seems to stand out, but there were so many other places where I would get caught up by the late night flow of a thumping base-beat. Happy as Larry, I’d flail my arms around, bite my lower lip and try to keep my legs going in time to the rhythm of Children by Robert Miles or some other Euro-dance classic. Happily I seem to have passed this affinity for dance to my kids because when I floated the idea of synchronised tik tok dancing, they didn’t give me their usual response to my suggestions i.e. a gasp of exasperation, eyes to heaven and bodies thrown to the floor as if they have been shot (can be used on their own or more commonly, as combinations of two or all three elements). Choosing a tik tok routine is fraught with danger, they come in all shapes and sizes and can vary from the very basic to the extremely complicated (not quite sure if the boys can handle a back flip to splits just yet). There is also the added danger that a number of them have content which could not be considered “child appropriate”. Bearing this in mind I put together a medley of “Blinding Lights”, “Say So (clean version)” and “Toosie Slide (also clean version)”. To be honest, it was Say So that got the kids hooked on it, in particular the line which allowed them to throw fake punches at or near their brothers!

The training was a slow process, I began to see myself as that dance teacher from “Fame”, the one who says that you have to pay for fame with sweat! The boys quickly told me to put my dance stick away! After repeated viewings of the routines and the multiple variants on YouTube, we learned that perfection was never going to be achievable and that putting an individual spin on things was vital. Importantly for yours truly the constant working and re-working of the routines kept the boys busy yet physically active at the same time! I hope you enjoy the fruits of our labours and hopefully it will display correctly!

So apart from endlessly practicing dance routines we have also had some other significant changes to our daily routine. Gone from our lives are the usual maddening rush of the school run and the multiple drops to after-school activities. Instead our days are measured by Joe Wicks’ PE routines and the arrival of the post man usually around 11am and the DHL guy usually around noon. Every day we hope that there is something new and exciting for us but we are nearly always disappointed when it is another package for mommy! More recently our exasperation has grown as we are awaiting series 5 of Survivor in dvd format. These dvds are only available for shipment from the US and seem to have fallen foul of restrictions around Covid-19 so can take months to reach our shores. We started to watch Survivor pre-lockdown as I bought myself season 1 as a Christmas present for myself. I had never seen the original “you’ve been voted off the island” series and given that it was something involving a screen, my boys were drawn to it. They quickly became engrossed, they were impressed by the regular back-stabbing and in particular the highly competitive elimination challenges. This definitely appeals to their sense of sibling rivalry and I think that each one secretly hopes that one day they will have the opportunity to vote one of their brothers out of the family! The only problem with watching dvds of Survivor is that the ultimate winner is always placed front and centre on the dvd box cover, based on the assumption that everybody had watched it already back in 2005! This does tend to take away some of the suspense as good old Jeff reads out the results of the elimination votes, particularly from the later episodes. This time round I’ve promised to intercept the box and hide it away before the boys can see it so they can have a genuine first-time watcher experience!

In The Comfort Zone

I can’t believe it has been a year since I took the momentous decision to leave my nine to five (more often six and quite often seven) to focus on the kids. Now that the September (or rather late August) return to school has been successfully negotiated, I have had some time to ponder what effect this change in tack has had on myself and those around me.

The first thing I have noticed about myself is that my tendency to turn towards, let’s call it indulgent (others may call it slob-like) behaviour is strong. I mean how could I have forgotten that tracksuit bottoms were so pleasant on the skin and that elasticated waistbands are so forgiving. These last 12 months have brought me back to a phase in my early teens when I totally rebelled against denim for some reason which seems hard to place now. My early morning decisions have gone from blue or white shirt to black or navy tracksuit and I don’t mean any of those lycra based efforts either, it has to be some form of natural fabric and preferably with a hood, yes I know that “convention” has it that I’m too old for a hoodie but begrudgers be damned, if I want to look like a hooligan out for a morning stroll, well that’s my prerogative. Although in my defense I haven’t gone full northsider and started doing the school run in my pyjamas or even gone full Homer and tried a mumu (not yet anyway). Shaving has become optional and at 7am in the morning with four kids running around me, the option is pretty much always no. Although in an effort to demonstrate to everyone that I haven’t gotten any hipster notions, I do tend to set aside five minutes of mid-morning shaving two or three times a week.

The ease of access to media is a constant temptation. I mean if I’m doing the ironing or folding clothes or preparing food, I might as well do it in front of the television, sure what harm am I doing (as he nearly chops off his finger while watching the second Ashes test match and dicing some carrots). I have also over indulged myself and probably traumatised my children in the process, with my dictator like control of music during the past year. The advent of wifi and the emergence of music streaming has given me so much greater access to so many more banging tunes than I could have dreamt of in my formative music loving years (teens and 20s). And in all honesty, who does not love 90’s dance classics being played 24/7 at high volume. When Ella (2) can pretty much recite the chorus of Mr Vain verbatim I know that I may have overdone it “I know what I want and I want it now!”.

I have definitely become more shouty than when I was in Bank of Ireland (open plan and loud voices were never a good match). For some reason, it seems that unless the decibel level has been increased to above 100 the boys will simply ignore what I am saying, they also seem to have developed a system where my first two requests are deemed irrelevant (like that character in the Austin Powers movie). I find that this means I have become completely immune to the effect that high volumes have on third parties around me. Quite frequently I will find myself shouting at the top of my voice “Oscar (6) be careful on that climbing frame” from 20 yards away while the whole playground turns to stare it me. Oscar will of course ignore me as he knows my powers of parenting are severely weakened when I am out in the open, but other kids generally seem to act with less abandon around me! At least I think that’s why the other parents tolerate me.

Being in control of my own food intake means that I have been able to further explore my affinity for savoury pancakes. I’m not sure exactly where this fondness began but I think it can probably be traced back to a Bank of Ireland “Enterprise week” which saw an actual farmer’s market set up outside the old head office on Baggot Street. One of the many stalls on offer was an artisan creperie which provided pancakes with ham, cheese, rocket and red pesto. Well I was hooked and now I am a regular at Drumcondra’s finest creperie, Le Petit Breton (the owner hails from Brest). Myself and Ella are always welcomed with a broad smile and while I have yet to convert her to the savoury pancake (she prefers a croissant with jam), I know that the seeds have been sown.

Not that I have constrained myself to pancake-only based fodder, I have learnt that Glasnevin, Drumcondra, Finglas, Santry and Phibsboro have many delightful places to spend time with my little lady. And that brings me to my favourite indulgence, spending time with Ella. Maybe it’s her age, maybe it’s because she is a girl or maybe it’s because I was working while the other three were in their pre-school phase, but I have to say that any moment spent with her has been the most rewarding part of the last year. So perhaps I’ll walk a bit slower on the way home so that we can chat about the ducks in the park or I’ll take a bit longer in the treat aisle of the shop so that she can tell me which are her favourites or perhaps I’ll read her another story when I know that the hoovering needs to be done (sorry Niki). The terrible twos are supposed to be hitting about now but so far we seem to have avoided it. The highlight of the week is invariably water babies class on a Friday where I get to splash / swim / play with Ella for half an hour in a lovely heated pool. This week after another excellent session I told her “Ella I love swimming with you” to which she responded “I love swimming with you Daddy”, I will forever be wrapped around her little finger!


The Sound of Music

Those of you who know me well will be aware that I love listening to music, so much so that I get anxious if there isn’t a song playing somewhere in the background pretty much at all times whether that be in the car, in the kitchen or just reading a book. I even used to listen to music while studying or doing my homework which I’m not sure is best practice but seemed to work at the time. I know that I can trace this positive association with music back to my early childhood where my dad was constantly singing (badly) as he made his way around the house. Mellow Yellow by Donovan was a consistent favourite and he would try to use it to diffuse contentious situations, although his constantly repeating “they call me mellow yellow” probably had the opposite effect than what was intended. My mum also had a strong affinity for music and managed to brainwash me with Jolene by Dolly Parton in my formative years. To this day I can’t stop a bit of toe-tapping whenever it comes on the radio which thankfully is seldom enough (why did she take her man?) Thankfully she kept her Leonard Cohen sessions until past my bedtime or I might not be the cheerful chap I am today!

Now that I am the parent I have made it my own personal crusade to similarly influence my own children with my incredibly distinguished musical tastes. There is nothing that gives me greater satisfaction than having a massive family dance-off (normally when Niki isn’t around) to a mega-mix of Cotton-Eye Joe, Rhythm is a Dancer and Mr Vain or any other 90s dance classic. This is always great fun until the boys decide to turn the dancing into a massive mosh (usually after Lochlan has given his younger brother a sly elbow) which leads to me reprimanding them severely, “no moshing in the kitchen, well at least until the House of Pain has started on my playlist!”

The odd bit of mild physical violence aside, I have found music to be a great way to bond with the kids. Aaron likes to have a weekly rundown of the Spotify “Top 50 in Ireland” chart to see what the latest tunes are, in the same way that I used to spend Thursday evenings watching Top of the Pops with my parents. Although as an unforeseen spin-off of my censorship policy, Aaron also likes to count the number of songs that are blocked off / prohibited due to explicit language which these days seems to be about 50% of the hits. He also gets quite annoyed if I continuously play my “Big in the 80s” or “Absolutely 90s” playlists which just goes to show that the old adage that “we all eventually turn into our parents” is completely true.

Lochlan, to my amazement (and delight) given his rugged approach to life, is a big fan of show-tunes and in particular The Greatest Showman. He would quite happily have the soundtrack on repeat for hours on end or at least until he is told he can have some screen-time at which point he is gone like a shot! Oscar has yet to find his niche but I feel Nine Inch Nails or some form of death metal could be his sweet spot given his tendency towards teenage-like mood swings at the tender age of six! Ella is probably the most fun member of the brunch (as usual) and just loves any type of music particularly if she is dancing in her daddy’s arms. Particular favourites are “Shallow” (or Gaga as she calls it), “Nina Cries Power” (Nina Power) and the Connacht Gold Milk jingle (fresh cold milk everyday). Although I have noticed that my ability to bounce for more than 30 seconds with child in arms has consistently diminished over the years. I used to be able to keep going for all of Cafe del Mar with Aaron, now I just about get to the first chorus.

As part of my daddy duties I have tried to provide a bit of musical education to my offspring. So when the boys listen to Ariana Grande singing “7 rings” I follow up by playing the song that it samples “Favourite Things” from The Sound of Music and I try to play some Neneh Cherry after a song by Mabel (her daughter) to which the boys normally reply “why does that sound so old?” I even ventured to play some Beatles at one point while trying to explain that basically all modern music can be traced back through these four Liverpudlians, however Aaron and Lochlan just seemed to take this as an affront to their allegiance to Chelsea!

I’ve always been a fan of the saying “dance like nobody’s watching” or with my spin on it “dance with only your kids watching as it would be a bit weird doing dad dancing in a nightclub these days and it’s only a matter of time until your knees give out anyway!” So while the kids will still tolerate me and I reckon I’ve got a good decade left until Ella starts to disown me, I’ll keep my dancing shoes polished and ready for action. I still can’t floss though!