Tom and I haven't really considered pets since the boys arrived five years ago. It hasn't been a conscious decision, and it's not because we're not animal people, it's more just a space and logistics thing - plus we're so busy dadding, working, blogging and ferrying the kids back and forth it hasn't really crossed our minds.
This weekend we welcomed two furry guests into our home, Lucy and Eric The Destroyer. Eric's an energetic little poodle and Lucy's a timid shih tzu who loves a cuddle. They're adorable!
During their stay, the furry twosome had the run of the kitchen diner and the conservatory. We gave them loads of cuddles, a couple of long walks around the local woodland and tonnes of attention. Naturally, 'shih tzu' was literally the funniest thing the boys had ever heard, stealing the top spot from previous hilarious words Uranus, pianist and ambassador.
The boys settled into our temporary 'doggy' routine very nicely and took enthusiastically to grooming, feeding times and 'toilet walks' on the village green in front of our house. We practised picking up poo during a dry-run involving picking up dog biscuits from the kitchen floor - picking things up with an inside out sandwich bag is not a natural born skill apparently and took some practice.
Everything dog-related during the weekend went very nicely indeed, except one little moment of pure idiotness from Lyall - he thought it would be an interesting idea, in the dark, to slide around in my favourite designer size 9 trainers on the muddy village green, caking them in mud and dog poo and subsequently treading it all into the beige carpet in our hall-way. Apart from that the weekend with the dogs was excellent and we can't wait to look after Lucy and Eric again and thankfully Eric The Destroyer didn't actually destroy anything!
On Sunday, after a teary goodbye to Eric and Lucy, we treated the boys to a pub lunch in the city and a trip to see Father Christmas. Our home town, Leicester has enjoyed a huge redevelopment since the discovery of Richard III's bones a couple of years ago, including a lovely new public space where once stood an ugly 1970s indoor market, called New Market Square.
For December, the developers have transformed New Market Square into a festive, up-market Christmassy outdoor feature complete with snowy fir trees, twinkly lights and a wooden grotto. Impressively, the Father Christmas grotto experience is free (I mean, hardly anything is free nowadays) and very quiet compared with the expensive but almost identical grotto a few minutes away in the Highcross shopping centre.
Our boys are just young enough to still enjoy this kind of thing, although they're becoming more skeptical as they hear savvy kids from school talking about Santa's unbelievable logistics. Lyall and I had a chat about Father Christmas and beliefs the other evening in which I think I managed to prolong the magic for at least another year.
"Daddy, is Father Christmas real?"
"What do you think, Lyall?"
"I dunno. I think he probably is but there are some rumours going about at school that it's really just parents pretending to get their kids to stop fighting."
"Well, it's up to you to decide what you believe, babe."
"Do you believe in Father Christmas though Daddy?"
"Well, I guess my advice is, at the risk of losing out on Christmas presents, you should probably just carry on believing in Santa, just in case."
"Good plan, Daddy."
As we entered Father Christmas' nice little grotto/sitting room and approached the big man himself, the boys seemed a little apprehensive. While this particular Santa looked the part, with his bright red suit and (unbelievably white) beard, he wasn't fat enough, or especially jolly and had an unsettlingly calm, quiet voice.
As I ushered the kids towards Father Christmas' piano stool next to his big chair, Tom whispered to me a little too loudly "I hope he's been DBS checked" - I slapped Tom's arm with the back of my hand and rolled my eyes, the universal gesture for 'shut the f*** up'.
Santa asked the boys about their behaviour and what they'd like for Christmas, which, and this was news to me, is two dogs. I leaned in and intervened with "not a chance" and the boys changed their minds to a skateboard and a pogo stick. Santa told the boys about his magic key, which apparently glows and allows access to houses containing 'good' children. I might have to quash that particular anecdote, I thought to myself, at the risk of it being a little too intrudery. Meanwhile, Tom wandered around the grotto, inspecting the strength of its wooden walls by knocking against them. After a few minutes with Santa, the boys posed for a photo and made their way out with some colouring in pencils. A very nice festive experience, if a little creepy. To distract the boys from pondering too much on their encounter with ominous Santa, Tom produced two tasty Kitkats from his pocket.
"That definitely wasn't the real Father Christmas, was it Daddy?" asked Richard.
"I don't think so, boyo" I replied, "what do you think?"
"No way." said Richard... "The real Father Christmas doesn't have time to sit in town and give out pencils."