Olly Mann: Walking On Sunshine

BY Olly Mann

7th Aug 2023 Life

Olly Mann: Walking On Sunshine

A natural night owl, Olly Mann has found things to cherish about the mornings, which give him unmatched quality time with his sons

My mate Nick, a busy lawyer for a tech company, recently talked me through his schedule. He works late three days per week, and some nights doesn’t see his children at bedtime.

“Ah, that’s a shame,” I said. “But at least you have the mornings.”

He frowned at me. “Why would you want the mornings?” he scowled, as if espousing a profound truth. “Mornings are hell.”

In defence of screen time

Child watching TV on sofa with remote in handOlly Mann embraces children's TV to help keep the peace in the mornings

Now, I’m instinctively a night owl, so being woken at 6am by kids was hardly a welcome addition to my life when it came, but I’m pleased to say my perspective on mornings is sunnier than Nick’s.

I suspect our differing views arise partly from our opposing positions on television: he and his wife simply don’t own a TV, preferring instead to dip into prestige dramas while balancing iPads on their bedsheets, whereas in my house we have four TVs. Our lounge, if you squint a bit, resembles the IMAX at the Planetarium.

I don’t see the harm in letting my kids watch a bit of telly before school, so long as they still make time to get dressed, eat breakfast and brush their teeth.

"We had just enjoyed our first lie-in for seven years"

This balance took years to achieve: a routine steadily drilled into them via a daily regime of pausing CBeebies—amid tantrums and screams—to fulfil each mundane activity; but, now they’ve observed that the quicker they perform their essential tasks, the quicker their entertainment will resume, the morning necessities are ticked off with speed and proficiency.

In fact, the proudest moment of my parenting life might just have been last Saturday morning, when I turned round to check the clock on my bedside table and realised, with shock, that it was 8:40am.

Panic pulsed through me as I came to terms with the fact that both boys had surely been abducted, and the rest of my weekend would be spent pleading with the police and howling at reporters on my lawn…

But then I heard the muted theme from Blaze and the Monster Machines emanating from our Devialet soundbar, and realised with sheer ecstasy that what had actually happened was my older son had worked out how to pick up the remote control, open up Paramount+, and select an age-appropriate entertainment all by himself.

We had just enjoyed our first lie-in for seven years.

Fun and games on the school run

Dad and two sons on school runSpending quality time with his sons on the school run is one of Olly Mann's favourite times of the day

Another difference between me and Nick is that he employs an au pair, who as part of her responsibilities takes the sprogs to school. But, in our family, it’s me and the dog who do the school run, and—don’t tell my wife—but it’s actually one of my favourite times of the day.

It’s a 15-minute straight trek down a main road, with little of visual interest, so I have been forced to invent little games to keep us occupied.

"Count the Slugs" is a typical example (around a dozen can be anticipated on a wet winter’s morning). On Wednesdays, in a novel twist on the format, we do "Count the Bins" (Wednesday is bin collection day. The jeopardy arises from the variable number of residents who recall this is the case).

"Guess the Colour" is a more intense affair, in which each participant (the dog excluded) must predict the colour of the next vehicle to whizz past us on the verge.

The victor tends to be whoever plumps for muted palettes (there are simply more silver, black and grey cars than bright ones), but the man who bravely gambles for yellow or pink and is actually proven correct receives a thrilling cheer from all the other contestants playing.

"This quarter of an hour provides me privileged access to my kids when they’re at their freshest"

Obviously, life isn’t all Bluey-style hijinks. Some days, we are lashed with sideways rain, or fall into puddles.

Sometimes, Toby (the three-year-old) declares that he needs a wee at the mid-way point, then whines for the rest of the walk that I won’t allow him to urinate in the road.

A little too often, one of their water bottles spills in my backpack, slowly moistening my lower spine without me realising; then, with grim inevitability, it dribbles down into my underpants.

And I feel slight shame that the boys have learned to obediently parrot the abuse I shout out at cars doing 50mph+: “Slow down, you idiot!"

But, on other days, this quarter of an hour provides me privileged access to my kids when they’re at their freshest; rather than at the end of the day, when they’re tired, hungry, and irritable.

They ask stimulating questions (although usually can’t hear my answers over the drowning noise of the traffic): “How is ice cream made?”, “How many days is it until we next go to Legoland?”, “How long would it take to drive to Mars?”.

Best of all, there’s the walk back: just me and the dog, enjoying the silence; pausing to post a letter (me), or take a c**p on the driveway at number 53 (him).

A moment to recharge and reset, ahead of a day’s work, and feel gratitude for the joy of my family, and perhaps more grateful still that someone has just taken them off my hands for the day. Oh, what a beautiful morning!

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