Christmas Day

This was G's second Christmas. She's grown up a lot since last year, and was able to investigate her sack of presents for herself. She's also got the hang of the idea of taking the paper off her presents, but still needed a bit of help from me to fully get at all of her new toys.

In fact, because she still doesn't have much idea of what Christmas is and why it's incredibly exciting, G actually let me and Mrs J have a lie-in until 9am. That's something that I can't imagine we'll be able to do on Christmas Day for an awfully long time to come.

G also didn't complain as we soon dragged her away from her presents to go into our local village of Dobcross at lunchtime to check out the brass band's carol concert. As it has been for most of the last month, it was well below freezing even in the middle of the day. But under all her winter clothes, G didn't seem to mind too much.

There were quite a lot of families with young kids at the band club, many of them clutching various gadgets and other things they'd clearly unwrapped that morning. G was in the mood for showing off, and crawled all over the room smiling and gurgling. She even bumped into some of her little friends from one of the parent and baby groups I take her to. There was still no proper walking from her though.

G started to get tired so we took her back home for a nap while Mrs J cooked up Christmas dinner. Once G got up later we all sat down to eat. G had a bit of everything on her plate, and happily munched through just about all of it.

The only exception, predictably enough, were the sprouts. As soon as she put one of the little green things in her mouth she made a disgusted face and spat it out. Seeing as me and Mrs J both quite like sprouts, her dislike of them can't be genetic. Maybe we'll try them out on her again next year.

She Agrees With Nick

Today, an important political figure at the centre of intense media scrutiny met... the Deputy Prime Minister. Nick Clegg was in our area to campaign in the by-election, and I was granted an interview for Saddleworth News. Of course, G came along too.

Mr Clegg looks happy and relaxed in the photos, and he certainly seemed it in the flesh too, despite the headlines of the last couple of days. I suspect there were three reasons for this. First, unlike everyone else he met today, I didn't ask him about Vince Cable's unguarded remarks, the current strife affecting the government not having all that much to do directly with Saddleworth.

Then there's the fact that Mr Clegg has three young children of his own, the littlest not much older than G. He was clearly at ease around her, and told me he'd spent some time at home himself looking after his eldest child, adding that the experience has had a long-lasting effect on him.

If that all sounds a bit grown up, the final factor contributing to Mr Clegg's good mood was definitely G herself. She'd been a bit miserable earlier in the afternoon as I pushed her around Oldham in the cold for an interview with the Conservative Chairman (yes, G racked up two Cabinet ministers in one day). But back in the warmth she was on top form as she smiled, gurgled and pointed at the visiting dignitary, then, as the pictures show, looked expectantly at a sandwich he was eating until she got one herself.

After that it was almost a shame to actually have to do an interview. It crossed my mind that, given the impending rise in tuition fees, the man sitting next to me was as responsible as anyone for adding several thousand pounds to the cost of G's future education. But G isn't old enough to mind about that yet. And besides, he gave her one of his sandwiches, so fair's fair I suppose.

Looking at the photos later, it occurred to me that Mr Clegg might simply have been so pleased to see us because he'd seen the drool G had left on my shoulder. If he spotted it, he didn't say anything. I'm sure that's the sort of discretion he'll be urging some of his colleagues to show in future.

It'll Make Your Hair Curl

I took G to my mum's in the north east yesterday to drop off Christmas presents and show my little girl off a bit more. Sadly, her walking still hasn't improved much, so the main thing she ended up showing off was her incredible appetite.

This photo demonstrates G having breakfast. She'd already had her morning Weetabix (other cereals are available) and was agitating for a bit more, so I cut off a bit of toast for her and went back into the kitchen for a few seconds. When I returned I found that G had left the cut-off bits and just gone for the rest of the slice. She finished it all too.

As G chomped her way through the crusts, my mum said: "It'll make your hair curl." Somehow I don't think it's likely though. Her blonde hair is still as straight as can be, but then she's clearly stubborn like that.

Her extra-large breakfast probably contributed to what happened later in day. Back at home and back on the by-election campaign trail, I found myself interviewing Labour leader Ed Miliband for Saddleworth News. I managed it while holding G in one arm with my dictaphone in the other. Mr Miliband, who has a couple of children himself, seemed rather more interested in discussing G than talking about whether he would apologise for the campaign conduct of ex-local MP Phil Woolas, but then I don't suppose you can blame him for that.

As she usually does, G gurgled winningly throughout the interview. But then filled her nappy ten minutes later. She's clearly still an undecided voter.

On The Television, Again

Going on TV is becoming a bit of a habit for G. After popping up in the background of news reports about the Phil Woolas case both last month and last week, she finally got a starring role in last night's Party People political programme on Granada. I was being asked about what I thought regarding the forthcoming by-election, and G's role was to sit in my arms and look cute throughout, something she's normally fairly good at.

Unsurprisingly, she got a bit bored while I was droning on, and decided to give a gurgle or two. She then tried to grab my mouth. Presumably she wanted me to shut up. I can only hope the viewers at home weren't thinking something similar.

The show was broadcast on ITV straight after the first repeat of the Coronation Street live episode. So within minutes of all those dramatic deaths, viewers in the Granada region were being treated to the sight of me and G standing around in the cold. I think I know which was more exciting.

On The Television

Imagine my surprise last Friday when, during the lead story about the Phil Woolas judicial review on the local ITV Granada news, a familiar looking man-with-baby popped up in the background. The footage was actually taken a couple of weeks ago in Uppermill during a visit to the area by a leading politician, one of many we're going to experience in the coming weeks as a by-election looms.

Given how long broadcasters usually hang on to archive pictures for, I might find that me and G are illustrating political stories on Granada for some time to come. After all, the same poor woman's suffered years of breast cancer screening on the BBC, and I remember during my days working at Sky when someone phoned up to explain that an elderly person who featured in a report on pensioners had long since died. But that's just the magic of television, I suppose.

A Granada crew came back to film us today, only this time to do an interview for a story on the by-election to be shown on Thursday. The reporter was keen for me to give my opinion while holding G, clearly in the knowledge that would add considerable credibility to what I had to say. Unfortunately, G drooled all the way through the first take, so I had to do it again. She must have either been doing a bit more teething, or expressing her general distaste for all politicians. Sadly she didn't elaborate on which it was.

Through The Windowpane

It's been snowing a lot here in Saddleworth over the last couple of days. It's meant that me and G have been more or less stuck indoors, watching the landscape around gradually becoming whiter and whiter from the snug safety of our living room.

I couldn't resist taking her for a quick walk yesterday afternoon though. I went to the shed to get our off-road pram out, and got back to the front door to find G with her nose pressed against the glass, presumably wondering what I was doing. She seemed happy enough, but that was probably because she had no idea what I had in store for her:

When it snowed last winter and G was still a tiny baby, it was easy enough to cram her into a snowsuit and off we went. Now she's a lot bigger, and lot more fidgety, so making sure she's wrapped up as she should be is considerably trickier. Don't even ask about trying to get the wellies to stay on.

But eventually we made it out into the cold, and my off-road machine did us proud as I pushed G through the snow and down onto the canal towpath for a walk to Uppermill. She seemed happy enough although her face quickly started to glow red. Also glowing was the light of lamps from the odd house, and soon that was just about all that was visible in the murk as the daylight faded:

I imagine that scene hasn't changed all that much since the canal was built more than two centuries ago. In fact, with all the gloom and snow I thought it was all a bit Dickensian, like something out of A Christmas Carol. Although given how her parents and the rest of her family dote on her, I imagine G will have rather more stuff to enjoy this Christmas than poor old Tiny Tim did.

Wikipedia (and who could doubt the veracity of the information contained on that sage website) actually claims that the Tiny Tim character was based on the invalid son of a mill owner that Dickens knew in Manchester of all places. It's probably just a coincidence, but if I start seeing ghosts as we get closer to Christmas, I'll let you know.

First Steps

G finally took her first steps last night. At nearly 14 months she's a bit later than most babies in learning how to put one foot in front of the other. I think it's partly because she has got so good at crawling. She first managed to do that a full six months ago, so by now she's able to zip around the floor quite quickly on all fours. I suppose the desire to walk takes a little longer to kick in when you're already quite mobile.

I wasn't able to catch the actual moment of her first steps for posterity. But at least for me, grabbing a camera isn't the first thing I tend to think of when something magical like that happens. I did get the camera a bit later, but by then G had done enough walking for one day. In this picture she seems to be pondering what to do next. Maybe it'll be running. Or, if I'm really lucky, shovelling the snow off the drive. That's the kind of skill she really needs to learn.

Afternoon Tea

G interrupted a tea party the other day. The Pensions Minister was in our area to speak to local old folks and do a spot of political campaigning, so I went along to interview him for Saddleworth News. G came too, but was less interested in meeting a senior politician, and much more intent on stealing a biscuit or two from the spread which everyone had been enjoying.

Seeing as she was being so good, I let her have this Bourbon and then a Custard Cream, which at least helped keep her quiet during the interview too. As the photo shows, she seemed to really savour the Bourbon in particular, which suggests she might have inherited Mrs J's love of chocolate.

I probably should have saved the treat for yesterday. It was time for G to get another couple of injections, including the MMR jab. Even though the controversy about the MMR's purported link to autism has now faded away, it's still fairly notorious for leaving little ones feeling under the weather for a while. I had the Calpol at the ready, but I didn't need it, because after just a few seconds of post-jab tears G had forgotten all about the injections, and has been fine ever since.

She even managed a smile and a wave at the nurse before we left the surgery. G is definitely daddy's little soldier.

37 To One

I felt a bit outnumbered at G's singalong group this lunchtime. There were 38 babies, 37 mums and me. Usually there are one or two dads around, but not today.

I've clearly gone native since becoming a stay-at-home dad, as I took in some chocolate brownies to share around. The fact that none of the 37 mums had done any homebaking only made me stand out even more. I think this was probably in a good way, because everyone who had a piece said it tasted great. "It's all about substituting half the caster sugar for some soft dark brown sugar," I heard myself saying. At that moment, as I looked around the room, it occurred to me that I'd never really expected my life to turn out quite like this.

After the singing, G was playing on the floor with a boy of about her age. The boy had been stroking G's hair, but then picked up a drum and accidentally hit G in the face with it. This led to lots of tears. I tried to explain to G that the only way to deal with boys who do that sort of thing is to punch them back, but to no avail. Maybe that's a skill we can work on for the future.

Turning Cold

Things have turned decidedly cold around here in the last few weeks. You wouldn't know it from this picture of G attempting to climb onto my lap in our lovely warm home, but all the going out in the wintry Saddleworth weather has taken it out on both of us. Either I've give her a cold or she's given me one. The end result is the same though, and when it comes to looking after G, we're suddenly spending a lot more on baby wipes and those plug-in things which give off a sinus-clearing vapour.

G is clearly not bothered by the fact we still live in a political vacuum and are without an MP, while Phil Woolas continues to try to regain his seat. Everyone else expects there to be a by-election soon though, including the Liberal Democrats. I walked G along into the next village the other day to interview that party's new President, Tim Farron. It was a bit chilly out though, and he was running a bit late, so G was getting a bit miserable by the time I got to speak to him. The Lib Dem candidate did his bit by pulling faces at G to keep her quiet during the interview. I didn't get either of them to kiss her though, that would have been a cliche too far.

The Thick Of It

G found herself in the midst of political history on Friday. She was there with me as I covered the verdict in the Phil Woolas election court case for one of my other websites, Saddleworth News.
The picture shows G enjoying her milk from a cup as we all waited for Mr Woolas to give a news conference, just after the judges had announced they were declaring his election victory void because he'd used campaign leaflets to spread lies about one of his opponents. The journalists in the room, many of whom were from the big national news organisations, were both amused and surprised to see a baby there with them. I don't think little ones are usually allowed into Downing Street or the High Court. One of the security staff even asked if I was covering it for CBeebies. Obviously that was impossible, because the BBC were on strike on Friday.
The verdict itself had proved to be a bit of a balancing act. Obviously I couldn't go in the main hall where the action was because I was looking after G, but the council press team generously let me into a side room so I could hear what was happening. As the judges delivered their historic verdict, I was trying to peek through a gap in the door, listen to what they were saying, write updates for the Saddleworth News Twitter feed, and keep G quiet with the help of a toy car all at the same time. Who says dads can't multi-task eh?
In the past I've often criticised Sky, where I used to work, for generally buggering up important live events for viewers and listeners by having their news helicopter hovering overhead, making it impossible to hear what the person is actually saying. I now take it all back, because my daughter managed to gurgle away during the statements by Mr Woolas and his solicitor, which they delivered shortly after this photo was taken. I didn't actually notice at the time (I was crouched down at the front taking photos), but when I heard it back on the news later, there was an unmistakeable "gagagaga" in the background. Sorry, everyone.
It actually got worse a bit later, when the candidate who brought the legal challenge, Elwyn Watkins, emerged to give his own address to the media. As he began his speech by talking about what a historic moment it was, there was that "gagagaga" again. Oh dear. If you want to hear the evidence for yourself, check out this video report of the day.
G didn't just settle for making an audio contribution to these dramatic events though. She was visible on all the main news bulletins that night, sitting contentedly in her pram as Mr Woolas walked past her at the end of his news conference, to the sound of journalists shouting, "Are you a cheat Mr Woolas?" and suchlike. Next time, maybe it'll be G asking the questions. It might be a bit early to think about career choices, but she's already had plenty of media training.

Still Teething

G started getting teeth around last Christmas when she was still just three months old. Ever since, she's often looked much as she does in the photo above, with a stream of drool trickling slowly down onto a soggy bib. Given that I took this picture today, you can see that she's quite clearly still teething. The ever-reliable Wikipedia tells us that teething normally takes place over a timeframe of six to nine months. G has now been at it for ten, and there's no sign of her stopping yet.

Teething involves teeth actually forcing their way through a baby's gums, and it looks very painful indeed. I'm actually amazed that, beyond the odd grumble treated with a dose of Calpol, G has managed to put up with it so far without crying. Thinking back to how I managed the last time I had trouble with my teeth, I'd have spent most of the last ten months on the sofa weeping bitter tears if I'd had to go through the same thing.

G can't have long to go now though. She doesn't actually let me anywhere near her mouth if she can help it, so I can only check on the progress of her teeth by dangling her upside down over my knees and peering into her gob. As best I can tell, all her teeth are now either fully formed or about to poke through. One day soon, I'll be able to actually show off all of the tops G has to wear, without having to cover them up with slobber-catchers.

Messy Eater

Here's G enjoying her tea earlier this evening. It was meatballs and spaghetti. She seemed to enjoy it, although I think most of the food ended up on her face, in her hair and on the floor, instead of in her belly.

Having been on solids for a good eight months or so, she now much prefers feeding herself instead of letting me do it with a spoon. But my early experiments with giving her the cutlery have shown she doesn't have much idea what to do with a spoon yet. So hands it is.

The other change in G's eating habits is that she now wants whatever I'm eating, regardless of what it is. My usual tactic of giving her old favourites like breadsticks to keep her occupied while I get my own food sorted is wearing a bit thin, because G has learned she usually gets something more interesting later. So now she just sits and waits expectantly, and as soon as I sit down starts pointing at my plate, a hopeful look on her face.

Now we've established she's clearly not lactose intolerant, there's actually no problem with G eating whatever I've got. I only have to remember not to add any seasoning while cooking so she can have some too. So I usually put a little bit onto her plate, which she then attempts to tackle with varying degrees of success. She always goes back to the breadsticks once I take her plate away though. G may have grown out of being spoon-fed, but she hasn't grown out of being greedy.

Clap Your Hands Say Yeah

Here's G knocking into her lunchtime milk today. These days she's down to just two helpings a day of cow's milk which she drinks herself out of beakers, instead of the old daily regime of five bottles of formula. There's no sign she's inherited her mum's lactose intolerance, although it means we've now got up to three bottles of milk open at any one time in the fridge. Semi-skimmed for me, lacto-free for Mrs J, and whole milk for G who needs the extra fat. At this point we may be keeping the British dairy industry going on our own.
Meanwhile, G has learned another new skill, clapping. I'd tried to teach it to her periodically over the last few months, but she never showed much interest. Until Saturday that is. Mrs J had Strictly Come Dancing on, and G had stood up and propped herself against the front of the telly, just as lots of people were shown applauding. She then turned round and started clapping herself.
The delighted reaction she got from us means G thinks she's very clever indeed, and has done little else since. I suppose it's slightly embarrassing when TV teaches your child something you probably should have taught her yourself. Good to see the BBC can still educate as well as entertain, though.


G is blonde. There's really no getting around it. She's a fair-haired Viking baby, albeit with her dad's hazel eyes instead of Norse blue ones. This wouldn't be anything to comment about, except I've got dark hair. And Mrs J has very dark hair. Between you and me, if we still got milk delivered I'd be looking suspiciously in the direction of the milkman.

Apparently this is the sort of thing that babies often grow out of. Just because G is blonde now doesn't mean she won't have thick jet-black locks by the time she's 5 or 10, which will in turn probably be replaced by an alarming shock of bright red hair during her inevitable difficult teenage phase. Best enjoy it while it lasts then. Although sadly she's too young to get any of the blonde jokes I keep telling her.


Here's G during a walk along our local canal earlier. As the cover on the pushchair suggests, it was raining, and typically G had managed to poke her feet out of the bottom. Even though G doesn't seem to mind getting her feet a bit damp, I should really work out a better way of making sure the cover actually stays where it's supposed to.

Yesterday I took her to interview the manager of the new local supermarket for one of my other websites, Saddleworth News. I left one of the manager's colleagues looking after G in the next room while I started the interview. During the first question I could see the door move slightly out of the corner of my eye, and then I heard the familiar and unsubtle noise of G of crawling gradually towards where I was sitting. By the end of the first answer, G had managed to stand herself up against my chair, and was listening intently to what the manager was saying.
Although it was sweet that she wanted to see what I was doing, I picked her up and put her back outside with the door shut for the rest of the interview. Sometimes that's all that will keep my nosey little girl in check.

Busy Baby

G can't read yet, but she does have a few cardboard books, and she likes to sit and turn the pages. I caught her earlier staring intently at her Winnie the Pooh story about Kanga and Roo, particularly the page saying that wherever Kanga goes, Roo goes too. That could just as easily apply to us, because wherever I go, G has to come along as well.

And the two of us have been pretty busy this week, particularly yesterday. We went into Manchester for the day, and first I treated G to a trip to the Aquatics Centre so she could splash around in the toddlers' pool. Then we met Mrs J for lunch. And after that I pushed her up to the hotel where the In The City music conference has been taking place, so I could meet some friends.

I'd put G in her little Converse shoes so she could fit in a bit more easily with all the hipster music industry types. On the way she managed to be sick over them. As it turned out this actually helped her fit in even better, because there were quite a few hungover people still wearing the previous night's clothes strewn around the hotel bar. At least they were all old enough to know better.

G crawled around happily, playing peek-a-boo with random strangers and generally enjoying being the youngest person there by at least 20 years. I wondered whether the industry people thought she was some kind of music baby, such as Mick Jagger's latest love child. Or, as one of my friends suggested, the more likely option for a Manchester music event of a niece of a member of Doves. She was far too well-behaved to be a rock star baby though. Maybe if I take her again next year she'll have worked out how to throw a proper tantrum.


G can talk, a bit. She can say dog and duck and mama and dada. Much to Mrs J's irritation, it's the last one she usually says when she opens her mouth. The daily scene when Mrs J comes in from work every evening now goes something like this.:

Mrs J: "Hello my little girl!"

G: "Dada!"

Mrs J: "No, that's dada over there, I'm mama. Can you say mama?"

G: "Dada!"

Mrs J (getting slightly exasperated): "No darling, I know you've been having fun with dada all day but mama's been working hard and she wants you to say mama."

G: "Dadadadadadadadada!"

I don't think G is doing it to annoy her mum. In fact I'm sure she doesn't really know what she's saying. I think the delighted reaction she gets from me whenever she says dada means she now produces it whenever she gets excited and wants some attention. Which, as anyone who has ever spent time with a one-year-old baby will know, happens quite a lot.

I'm sure she'll extend her vocabulary soon. I certainly hope she does, if only to persuade Mrs J I'm not spending my days secretly training G to say dada and nothing else.

On The Swings

This morning me and G were stuck in the house. Mrs J had gone off to work with both her keys and mine, which meant the two of us were locked in. It was like a particularly dull episode of The Crystal Maze, only without Richard O'Brien, but with the a baby who has been coughing and snuffling all week with the first of doubtless many colds she'll get this winter.

After a while Mrs J drove back to let us out (no crystal required), and I put G in her new trike and took her down to the park in our local village for a go on the swings. That made her forget her cold for a while, and her spluttering was replaced by a broad smile as she swung back and forward. Every time we go she seems to want to swing higher. I can see it ending in tears one day soon, but at least the park has got a nice soft landing area.

At The Zoo

G's birthday last week fell on a Wednesday. Mrs J took the day off work, and we all went for a trip to Chester Zoo. G gets very excited when she sees dogs, cats and even sheep, so we thought she might like to see some bigger animals.
They don't come much bigger than elephants, and G enjoyed pointing and gurgling at them. There was even a baby elephant born in July, so a full ten months younger than G, although even the little one would have towered over her had she managed to get anywhere near him. But the barriers of the enclosure were far too tall even for an intrepid and determined explorer like G.
G also enjoyed the giraffes, the flamingos and the penguins, although she was less impressed by the smaller animals which I think she found it much harder to see. So we only ended up staying for a couple of hours, and took her home before she got too bored of trying and failing to make out reclusive reptiles. Although when she's a bit older the zoo is definitely a great place for a whole day out.

One thing I noticed was the plaques with the names of all the people who have sponsored the particular animals. By far the most popular seemed to be the meerkats, with several long lists of names around their enclosure. They were too small and well camouflaged for G to get much entertainment from, but they're just about the biggest attraction in the zoo these days. Just shows what a bit of TV marketing can do for you.

First Birthday

G was one year old yesterday. The whole day was a lot more civilised than the same day 12 months ago, which I seem to recall involved a lot of waiting around (me), pushing (Mrs J) and screaming (Mrs J again, and then G once she finally arrived).

Mrs J had the day off so in the morning we sat with G and helped her with her cards and presents. The fact that she got way more of both than either me or Mrs J did on our own birthdays this year wasn't exactly a surprise.

I suppose I should really write something about the sense of pride and achievement I feel at having brought a baby up to be one year old, especially one as happy, fun-loving and easygoing as G. But that would be tempting fate. So I'll just leave you with this picture of G enjoying her new trike, and say no more about it.

Besides, although G doesn't know it yet, I'm taking her for her 12-month injections this afternoon. That'll soon take the smile off her face.

Thinking About Walking

G is one year old later this week. She certainly looks a lot more like a toddler than a baby now. The only thing is, she doesn't actually toddle anywhere, at least not without me holding on to one or both of her hands.
This picture shows a typical scene. She's steady enough on her feet, and is barely holding on to the sofa. But try to edge her away and she'll just plop straight down and start crawling. She's been crawling for so long, and is able to go so quickly, I don't think she really sees the point of toddling yet. No doubt once she starts I'll curse the day she ever learned. But then parenthood is full of these little contradictions.
G's singing group has started up again on Fridays, and last week as I looked around the room I realised G was just about the biggest baby there (toddlers go at a different time). This gave G a significant advantage, and she crawled around stealing toys from the other babies, even making off with one poor boy's sock. In fact, I thought she fitted rather too well into the role of playground bully. Hopefully she'll start walking soon, so she'll be the smallest one in the class again.

A Walk Around Castleshaw Roman Fort

Having been a bit lazy since we got back from our holiday in the Lakes, I decided to take G for a walk this morning. Ever since we moved to Saddleworth I've known there are the remains of a Roman Fort somewhere near Castleshaw, itself an old hamlet now nothing more than a few scattered farms and houses between Delph and the pass at Standedge. So I packed the back carrier, OS map and some nappies, and headed off to find it.

The Castleshaw Valley has a couple of reservoirs in it these days, and I parked up next to one of them. G is now well used to her back carrier, and she didn't mind me getting her into her waterproofs and strapping her in. As I started off up a not-particularly-steep incline in the general direction of the fort, I instantly remembered why our walk up a hill in Cumbria last week was such hard work. Carrying an almost-one-year-old is hard going, especially if the child is rubbing it in by gurgling and laughing as she bobs along on your back.

This being England, you have to look for proper public footpaths if you want to go anywhere in the country. Being Scottish, I still don't understand why this is, as all it seems to do is turn ramblers, normally the most placid of folk, into militant merchants of rage, angrily pointing at ancient rights of way on old maps as they insist on striding through someone's back garden. Thankfully for me, I was spared any confrontations with equally furious landowners, as I found a signposted footpath soon enough, and headed on into a field.

The view back down the valley towards Delph looked lovely. A few years ago there were plans to turn the area into a big windfarm. Even though I like those modern windmills, all stark and sleek and futuristic-looking, I'm not sure they would have really fitted in here.

My OS map was pretty vague about the actual location of the fort, but after wandering around for a few minutes I came across this sign. That's supposed to be a Roman helmet below the arrow. Clearly every expense has been spared in advertising this monument to would-be visitors.

However, once I'd walked uphill a bit further, I came to a load of lumps and bumps in the ground, and a couple of interesting if tatty-looking information boards. It turns out Castleshaw was only occupied by the Romans for 10 or 15 years during their attempts to conquer northern England and Scotland, and it was a stop on the main road from Chester to York. Then as now people used Standedge to get across the Pennines, making Castleshaw something of a Roman military service station. Apparently one of the groups of soldiers garrisoned there may have been from the Yugoslavia area, although I can't imagine the warm-blooded Croatians and Serbs enjoyed swapping the Adriatic for miserable old Saddleworth too much.
This board ambitiously describes Castleshaw as "Frontier of Imperial Rome" which sounds a bit grand to me, when it's basically just some mounds of earth covered with sheep. When Emperors looked at the maps of their domain prepared for them back in Rome, was Castleshaw really marked proudly on them as the furthest outpost? I'd like to think so, but somehow I doubt it.

As for the sheep, well there were plenty of them roaming around the fort. I snapped this one standing on the inner ramparts, chewing away on the grass. G, having shown little interest in my lectures to her about the finer points of Roman military strategy, paid much closer attention to the sheep. She laughed, gurgled, pointed, drooled. All the things baby girls do when they get excited about something.

There was nobody else there. And nobody else in sight in the whole valley either, apart from the odd car going by on the main road up above. So I had to take this picture of G myself, pointing the camera over my right shoulder. As the photo suggests, it was quite blowy. No wonder they wanted to put a windfarm there.

On the way back out of the fort, I spotted this sign. I think this is another way of saying: 'we haven't got any money to do anything with this fort, and to be honest there isn't much there anyway, so we're just going to leave some sheep there so at least the grass stays short.' Hopefully someone will spend a few quid on some new information boards and better signs for Castleshaw Roman Fort though. It's good for Saddleworth folk to know as much as possible about the people who were living here a couple of thousand years ago. Even if they were from Yugoslavia.

Going Uphill

Another thing we did on our holiday in Cumbria was climb a mountain. Or at least a moderately steep hill. Whatever, it was certainly hard work hauling G up in the back carrier. I think I was trying to raise a smile in this photo, but all I could manage was a semi-exhausted half-smile, half-grimace.

Having a baby in a back carrier is a bit like putting a heavy backpack on. The important difference is that if the backpack is getting uncomfortable and you need to stop to rearrange it, you can just chuck it on the ground and sort it out. You can't really do that when it's your firstborn, so I ended up struggling on at various points when I'd really much rather have had a nice sit down and a rest.
Admittedly, having a nice sit down and a rest is usually pretty near the top of my preferred activities wherever I am. But it seemed a lot more appealing than normal as I trudged up the slope trying to keep my balance, as gusts of wind kept on catching the carrier, causing me to totter about and look like an idiot.
When we finally got back down to the road I felt I'd earned my pint in the Kirkstone Pass Inn, which is either the third or fourth highest pub in Britain, depending on which source you consult. As pretty as the Lakes are, I'd rather see them through the bottom of a glass any day.

Way Down In The Hole

The three of us are just back from a week's holiday, sharing a big mansion with a load of friends in Cumbria. In past years this has often been an excuse for drinking lots of booze, eating lots of food and not doing much else. This time, G's presence and our general advancing years helped make it all a lot more civilised. Well, a bit.

One day we went to some nearby caves. They were all right as caves go, even if the guide sounded as if she'd done the tour once too often. I suppose there are only so many times you can explain the difference between stalagmites and stalactites. In fact, doing it once might be once too often.
Mrs J carried G all the way using a sling rather than a back carrier, in case G cracked her head (unlike the rest of us, she didn't get a hard hat). I thought G might get frightened or bored, especially as the tour was billed as the longest of its kind in Britain. As it was she just stared at everything in a slightly baffled sort of way, and made the odd echoing gurgle.
Because we had to double back on ourselves to get out, we actually only got to see half a mile of caves twice, instead of the "one mile" which apparently made the tour the "longest" in the country. But I suppose once you've seen half a mile of dank, dripping rock formations, there's not much left in that whole arena that can really excite you. Next time I forget which are stalagmites and which are stalactites, I'll just look on Wikipedia and save us all the bother.

New Dress

Here's G proudly showing off her new dress. Mrs J produced it last night, after disappearing off into the attic for a couple of hours with a load of fabric and the sewing machine. I don't mind admitting I was quite impressed, from what I remember of home economics at school (not much), I'd probably spend a similar amount of time just getting the thread into a needle.

The weather this month is going to be 'unsettled' according to the forecasters, and 'pretty rubbish' according to the rest of us. Mrs J, who has asked for a fancy new sewing machine for her birthday in a couple of weeks, is keen to run up lots more dresses for G. "This winter is going to be all about dresses and leggings," she said earlier, in the sort of way which made me unsure as to whether she was asking me what I thought or telling me what was going to happen. I'm guessing it was probably the second of those, though.

Since G was little she's often been mistaken for a boy as she regularly wears jeans, partly because we've acquired a lot of second-hand unisex clothes from various places, and mostly because I find jeans a lot easier to deal with than tights, leggings or anything else, having not had much training in handling the latter.

I couldn't care less if people think G is a boy. In fact, I get a sort of perverse pleasure from telling people she's actually a girl, even if I occasionally hear the odd bit of under-the-breath muttering about why little girls shouldn't wear blue tops or jeans. But Mrs J doesn't like it much, and she'd far rather people recognised her little girl as being, well, a girl. Even if it means struggling with dresses and tights when my daughter is squirming and needs a nappy change, it looks as if I'm going to have to take this one for the team. Admittedly, the dresses do make her look pretty, so I suppose it'll be worth it.

Sleep Toy

Here's G in her typical early afternoon position, fast asleep in her cot. Her dummy, which she's only allowed when she's going down for a nap, has popped out. And under her left arm is her little sleep toy.

We started giving her the toy to help her get off to sleep when she had a couple of disturbed nights a while back. We kept it in our bed for a couple of nights to make it smell of us (parenthood does strange things to your bedroom habits) before giving it to G, and she's had it with her every night since. Now when she goes down for a snooze, she always opens her mouth for her dummy and lifts up her arm for her toy. And off she drifts, for anything up to 14 hours at a time.

Having such a well-established sleeping procedure really only presents one problem. What happens if we lose the toy? Will G never be able to sleep again? Actually I'm not sure she'd be all that bothered, but babies are nothing if not fickle. Best make sure we buy a cupboard full of them, then.

Elfun Safety

For a while now G has been down to two bottles of milk a day, from the five she used to get when Mrs J went back to work and had to stop breastfeeding her. G has one just before bed, so she only has one bottle during the day. I often take it with us when we're out and about, and give it to her while I have a coffee. Or a cheeky lunchtime pint, if I'm sure nobody from social services is watching.

I usually can't be bothered taking a flask of hot water around with me, so normally ask the person behind the counter in the coffee shop to give me some water along with my coffee so I can warm G's feed up. This never used to be a problem. But recently, more and more coffee shop people (I suppose I should call them baristas, but that's a bit too pretentious, even for me) have told me I'm not allowed any hot water. "It's elfun safety," they say, apologetically.

I've tried asking a few of them what exactly is wrong with giving me a jug of hot water, when most coffee shops and pubs will do it without thinking twice. Nobody seems to know. "It's just elfun safety," they say. They're all happy to put the bottle in a jug of hot water on the counter for me, they just won't actually give me the water.

Why giving me hot water could possibly be considered dangerous when they're also selling me a mug of hot coffee isn't exactly clear. Once, a coffee shop worker muttered something about how that was different, because I was buying the coffee, and they were just giving me the water. I offered to buy the water for 1p. Apparently I couldn't do that either, because the water was free. When I said I didn't really understand why it was all so complicated, the shop worker looked blank: "It's elfun safety, you see," she said. Of course, how silly of me.

Not that any of this bothers G. She's only a month away from her first birthday now, and that's when she's supposed to switch from formula to proper cow's milk. Given that it tastes a lot better than the powdered stuff, I'm sure she won't mind having it cold.

Her First Festival

So, the three of us made it through G's first music festival, the Green Man Festival in south Wales. As this picture suggests, G actually seemed to enjoy it a lot.

She certainly enjoyed it a whole lot more than seemed possible when we turned up on the Friday in the middle of a Biblical downpour. They always say that rain is the enemy of revolutions, but that's equally true for festivals. With mud all over the site and toddlers amsuing themselves by jumping around in alarmingly deep puddles, the early signs for keeping G amused didn't look good. But being the lazy, greedy baby she is, once we'd loaded her up on food and the rain had stopped, she was happy enough to snooze away in the pram while we watched the bands.
On the second night, while the Flaming Lips headlined, G started stirring and woke up. I thought we'd have to take her back to the tent, but instead she was happy to stay and watch, laughing and smiling at all the lights even though it was way past her bedtime. She probably would have preferred it if they'd played something off The Soft Bulletin, but I suppose G has to learn that you can't have everything.
In the end, the rain cleared away and Sunday was a beautiful, sunny day. This gave G the opportunity to crawl about and practice her improving walking skills. She now only needs to have you hold one of her hands at a time while she's walking, which means that by next year's festival she'll be able to go off and watch the bands she wants to. Or she could just splash around in the puddles, whichever she prefers.