Tag Archives: Play

The firemen and the helicopter and the foam

VWS is a volunteer organization that holds an indispensable position in the protection and rescue of the Cape Peninsula from wildfires. The men and women of this organization put life and limb on the line and do it all on a shoestring budget that they work tirelessly in the background to supplement via fundraisers like the one I attended recently.

The volunteer firefighters were in full attendance running all the stalls and activities and posing for pictures with hundreds of star-struck little people. It must be said that the day these guys put together was brilliant and they do it every year with just as much enthusiasm. There was a Huey helicopter collecting and then dropping water payloads on open flames. There were all manner of fire engines, old and new with sirens blaring and onboard visits aplenty. There were snakes too, that don’t have anything at all to do with volunteer firefighting but were very cool nonetheless and my little guys got to handle them – albeit a little tentatively. There were activities like tree climbing, zip-lining and firehose wrangling which I have to say was a big hit for my boys. The eldest took it upon himself to put out the imaginary fire on his mom with a real firehose, to the great amusement of the VWS team member helping him hold the hose.

It must be a genetic thing that boys of any age, who find themselves in charge of a hosepipe or indeed a water pistol or even a cup of water, will immediately turn it on their mothers, sisters, girlfriends, wives and friends. It’s right there on the first page of the ‘being a boy’ manual.

The main event for the day was a Huey putting out a fire while a ground crew contained it. Hay bales were laid out and set alight. The Huey flew in and dropped off a team of ten or so firefighters to contain the fire while it then swooped over the small dam adjacent to the field where the fire had been set and filled it’s basket with five thousand liters of water. It circled the field once giving everyone reason enough to to readjust their hairdos and block their ears and then strafed the fire with the contents of the bucket with the accuracy of a blue brushstroke on a fiery red canvas. The Huey helicopter itself incidentally, was a veteran of the Vietnam War, commissioned and built in 1969 and deployed to Vietnam. After the war it was refurbished and has now ended up in active duty as a workhorse for the VWS, having I’m sure served in many other capacities between 1969 and now.

The day was rounded off perfectly for about a hundred and fifty children with a foam party on the field where the fires were started and then quenched. The sun was still high in the sky and it was warm so chattering of teeth was kept to a minimum. The foam erupted from the back of a VWS support vehicle and quickly engulfed the little people clambering around the truck, literally blanketing them in a deep foam.

Children immediately vanished under the whiteout only to reemerge several minutes later looking for all the world like snowmen, spluttering foam and stumbling zombie-like from a mosh. As an aside, I’ve been to a foam party in a nightclub (in another life) and while it is possible to breathe the foam, it’s not an especially pleasant thing to have to do. The little guys on the field didn’t seem to mind a whit though and scattered from and surged towards the source of the foam in waves and shrieks of joy. Every so often a nondescript child would pop out of the foam and request a face wipe with their respective parent. The parents, for their part could just as easily have been wiping the faces of primates from Borneo as their own children since there really was very little to distinguish your child from another after a while.

Cleanup time was a ten out of ten on the fun scale too. The children were all hosed down with a real firehose, operated by a real fireman. The water was arguably a little cold but that really didn’t seem to bother anyone. My boys had an absolute ball and were so played out at the end of the day that the little guy nodded off in the car on the way home. Proof positive of a good time.

I think next year I might bring a speedo with and dive right into the foam with the little guys. In so doing I will of course embarrass my wife and possibly even get hold of the firehose and do what I’m genetically programmed to do and spray her down with it.



The big race

My eldest boy and I recently spent an afternoon playing with his scale electric set. There were a few stumbling blocks to overcome first though, most notably the fact that the thing didn’t work.

That is not at all surprising though given that the set has been, for a considerable length of time, subject to the heavy handed attentions of my youngest boy who is car besotted and not exactly gentle on flimsy toys made in ‘the east’ intended for children twice his age. I had on occasion witnessed him driving the delicate little cars over obstacles like shoes, fireman helmets and the cat. All of which subtracted from the longevity of the toy.

The first stumbling block was the fact that the plugs that connect the controls and the power supply to the track had all been snapped off in situ. A notty problem to say the least. To resolve it, there was a tweezer operation followed by the splicing of wires, the installation of copper pins harvested from other toys and my trusty magic toolbox and the use of electrical tape and chewing gum mashed together to get power restored to the track and controls. I felt a little like MacGyver at the end if I’m honest.

The cars themselves had also seen better days but we managed to breathe new life into them too, though the red car I think is very nearly beyond its sell by date.

The track itself had several dead pieces which were, I can only assume, as a direct result of toddler drool. You know the kind I mean, where your child is so transfixed on something they’re playing with that they simply can’t keep their mouths closed and prevent drool from collecting in and tumbling from said mouth. The stuff looks a little like a mountaineers safety line anchored at the lip and touching the ground in a long strand, fastening itself at various points on its journey downwards against the toddlers shirt. Yes, some of that stuff was definitely a part of the problem and the rusty pieces of track were quarantined.

Finally though, we are ready to race and immediately there was a problem.

As slight as my boy is, he has a particularly heavy thumb. The car on the track in his lane was now operating at two polar opposite speeds; light speed and dead still immediately following a crash. Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for traveling fast, but not at the expense of actually going somewhere. In a perfect world we would have had unlimited track (ala James May) and then we could definitely have used his age appropriate racing style. But on the carpet in his room with a small track cobbled together with perseverance, we needed a little restraint around the corners (all four of them).

Our race became a seemingly endless cycle of fixing the brushes under the car, placing the car on the track, watching it lurch forward and then immediately exit dramatically through the plastic barriers I had attached to each of the track corners to finally end up roof down on the carpet amid squeals of joy.


My boy was beaming. He was so happy he lit up the room and was falling over and doing joyful belly rolls when the crashes were particularly energetic. His enthusiasm was contagious and I found myself completely caught up in it. Eventually though, practicality won out and I put both cars on the same track and handed him the master control. The maximum speed of a single car on the track was now halved across the two slipstreaming cars and together they raced, gratefully, around the track attached front bumper to back with no accidents over a fifty thousand lap marathon. My boy was very well impressed with the newfound handling capabilities of the tandem cars and didn’t seem to miss the speed and calamity of our earlier races at all.

Then, as with anything else, his interest in the toy waned over time to nothing. I was eventually left staring at a track where one car was towing the other to nowhere and my boy was flicking through the children’s programs on the television.

As I left the room I heard the toy let out an audible sigh of relief.


The knight princesses

Without going down the slippery slope of enforcing gender specific toys and roles on children, let it be said that fathers tend to become concerned when they see their little boys dressed in pink, of any kind. It is what I would imagine a father of daughters in their teens feels like when they step out the front door on a night out, less than appropriately dressed or for that matter in a state of comparative undress. That said, I’m fairly certain that my boys were just unwitting accomplices in their own cross-dressing episode.

So it was a few nights ago when our two little guys were surrounded by seven girls between the ages of three and thirteen. There came a point in the evening when the girls started to play dress-up and our boys were included in that activity. The only problem being that there were no astronaut or cowboy or knight outfits on hand to dress them up in. All that was on offer were outfits in varying shades of pink and white with frills and glitter and shiny bits aplenty.

Inevitably, our eldest wondered into the lounge where all the adults were making merry draped in something pink and flashy that you might expect to see a belly-dancer wearing in an eastern bazaar. He was a little nonplussed and pretty soon had removed the offending splinter from his ‘manliness’ and then found something else to amuse himself with. If memory serves it was a stick which he began waving about like a knight brandishing a sword.

Some time later, the little guy appeared wearing a bright pink tutu. He was incredibly proud of his look and spent the balance of the evening in the getup, dancing in the moonlight. It must be said that I think he carried the outfit quite well and only tripped over his pink chiffon a few times. He also made attempts to lift his tutu up when climbing the stairs in the living room which lent him quite a comical air. To top it all off, he started jumping around to this song by Taylor Swift with his little hostess who absolutely loves the song and has an entire dance routine worked out for it. Great merriment and laughter erupted and the evening was rounded off with everyone roasting marshmallows on the open fire.

In their girly outfits.

I am quite sorry to report that several photo’s were taken of the little guy, which I am fairly certain will end up on display at his 21st birthday party in about 18 years or so. In point of fact the images will probably be blown up to life size and and be in three dimensions, pirouetting around the function for all and sundry to see. I am also quite sure that they will make cameo appearances at other significant dates in his adolescence. In all probability when he absolutely would least expect or want them to surface.

Actually I can speak from personal experience on this subject. There used to be a Polaroid of me dressed up like a middle-aged woman with red handbag and makeup. All in red and white if I’m not mistaken. I was probably about six years old. My sister and her friends had plenty of idle time on their hands and I was even given a new name to match the look. A name which I’ll never repeat out loud as long as I live. That photograph was shown to my first serious girlfriend and all of my sisters friends whom I would later have to go to the same school with. I wasn’t emotionally scarred by the existence of the photo, but it was a real drag that it existed, excuse the pun.

It now no longer exists, having been summarily reduced to a pile of ashes which were then methodically washed down a drain. As a result I can discuss it quite freely having cleansed myself of that emotional baggage in a manner of speaking. My little guy will have no such luxury though. The images are digital and are, as you read this, seeping through the ether. They will, in all probability, live forever.

All I can say to this my little boy is that I had nothing whatsoever to do with the photography. I was powerless to stop it. It was all your mom.

The musical statue game

My boys were playing a game a few nights ago that seemed to be two or three games all mashed together like different colours of play-dough after a day or so in a nursery school.

First, the two of them had six chairs clumped together in the living room with the backs facing inward, four little plastic kiddie chairs and two dining room ones. My wife was playing music from iTunes and the boys were dancing around the row of chairs with all the freedom of people dancing who aren’t being watched, so I’m guessing this game was a numerically challenged version of musical chairs. Second, when the music stopped, the boys froze in their tracks until it restarted again, they didn’t sit down, which means they were also playing some kind of statue game with a discipline they don’t actually display in real life in any way, shape or form. Third, they were trying to sing along to the words of the song bleating from the iPad’s diminutive speaker, so I’m thinking a karaoke game of sorts was underway as well. It was all really rather entertaining except for the fact that they were only listening to one particular song over and over; Wrecking Ball by Miley Cyrus.

Now, I don’t want to rain on the Cyrus parade in any way and I’m sure under all the hype she’s a lovely girl but let’s face it, she’s just as talented as her father. There, I said it, it’s out there now.

I grew up on U2, Depeche Mode, Nirvana, The Thompson Twins, UB40 and the like, so how on earth did my boys latch onto the alter ego of Hannah Montana after she’s been minced through a grinder with a tattoo, a bottle of peroxide and a smidgeon of cannabis? I mean, have my apples really fallen that far from the tree? Is there no gene for taste in music that has passed down to my children? There ought to be.

To expand a little on the music gene idea; I enjoy Elvis’ music and Elvis was my father’s favourite performer. Genetic, right? I will add that most of the music I enjoy now is from my era but I think Kurt Kobain was closer to Elvis than Miley is to Kurt on the evolutionary ladder of music. I’m not even sure it’s safe to say that what Kurt and Miley do are in the same ball-park, in fact it’s really not even the same sport. Surely my father couldn’t have disliked things like Kurt’s hairstyle and Slash’s top-hat with the same fervor as I dislike Miley’s tongue and twerk display, could he? As an aside, I’m rather surprised Gene Simmons hasn’t been approached for a paternity test since there could definitely be some fire under all that tongue smoke.

I’m hoping my boys will grow out of this phase and will perhaps let me introduce them to rock, reggae, alternative or even metal over time. I want it on the record now that I will never personally take them to a Miley concert, or anything like it for that matter, nor will I let my wife take them to one. As for Bieber, well I shudder to let my thoughts wonder alone down that dark path.

The whole situation is causing me no small measure of anxiety and there are no support groups out there for this sort of thing though there really should be; something along the lines of “Parents of children listening to awful music.”

It would seem that history repeats itself.

The cleanup or sell

Allowing children to engage in unstructured play or not is a question right up there with going green or not and iOS versus Android. It’s really quite a tough call.

Basically this is when you leave your children up to their own devices and let them play in whichever way they want to. There are a few things about this type of play you should be aware of if you ever decide to let it happen in your home. This type of play usually involves furniture being moved around and actually could involve the moving of the contents of an entire cupboard or two as well, it takes time to execute and you have to let it run its course naturally or there will probably be tears when you end it (ok so there will probably be tears anyway) and finally when the children are done playing you’ll have to make a call about whether to clean up the mess or simply sell the house as is and move somewhere tidy.

On the plus side though, you probably wouldn’t let it happen more than once if there wasn’t a huge plus side, your children will literally be out of sight for an extended period of time. You could use that time to have a nap, to watch a television program that doesn’t include any themed protagonists like Dinosaurs with wheels instead of legs or colorful characters with televisions where abdomens should be, to entertain a guest or even to make a dent in the contents of the liquor cabinet if you so desired. Basically all the stuff people without children do, just for a limited period of time.

Still, there have been many nights when we’ve put our eldest to bed only by first using the snow-plough method to move toys, clothes, blankets and furniture aside to make a path from the door to his bed. Also, somehow there is always a biscuit or half-eaten piece of fruit hiding under or inside a toy (the favorite for this sort of thing at the moment is the green garbage truck). Every now and again we’ve found the energy to make a stab at cleanup before we put him to bed but by the time he goes down for sleep we’re too tired to read him a story which inevitably results in a discussion about why a story was not forthcoming. I suspect it would probably be easier to convince honey bees to start producing low G.I honey than to convince our son that tonight, just tonight, we don’t need to have a story.

So basically it’s swings and roundabouts as far as unstructured play goes. You win a little time (and the child gets to run amok for a bit) and you lose a little sanity when you have to clean up. You may also find yourself wishing you could glue everything in the house to the floor so that it cannot be moved around, including the children – if you go down this road though I suggest you use something a little less permanent than superglue unless you want to wake up one morning with your child’s hand glued to the cat.