Thursday, 29 December 2011

The Worst Journey In The World

I'm currently reading Apsley Cherry-Garrard's account of Scott's doomed Antarctic expedition of 1909. The slow unfolding of the tragedy and the beautiful writing make it a compelling read.

What Scott never had to do though was to clean up a vomit-sodden child on the hard shoulder of the A1(M) using his pants as a sponge.

This is a tale of hubris. You would do well to heed its lesson (unless of course you actually want to spend time picking partially digested raisins out of your knickers on the kerb of one of the busiest roads in Europe.)

We decided that it would be nice to spend the time between Christmas and New Year taking a trip down south to see my parents. Our thought process went like this:

(You may adopt an annoying smug, self-satisfied tone whilst reading this bit) The girls travel really well. Long car journeys are fine for them. They're sooo good. Never any trouble at all. Driving for seven hours will be fine.

My sister texted from York suggesting we stop off on the way down. Oh no, we said, that's too far out of our way.

We got up at 6.00 and piled into the car. We'd been to the library and got fully tooled up with story CDs. This wouldn't be a chore. This would be an active pleasure.

We make good time. Had a bit of breakfast in the car and after about three hours we stop at Durham services to have a coffee and a snack. The girls share a panettone and drank fruit juice.

We hit the road again and, apart from the questions prompted by the complex social issues raised by the third repetition of a Jacqueline Wilson CD, the journey was unfolding in the painless manner we had predicted.

And then we hit that interminable section to the north of York where they have been doing roadworks over the same 20 mile stretch for what seems like the best part of a decade. You have to drive at 50 and there's no hard shoulder. And no escape.

Suddenly, behind me Sorrel lets out a loud belch. There's a beat of silence and then a liquid gush followed by another. The car fills with cries of alarm and the sweet odour of apple juice, panettone and stomach acid. She is drenched in sick. It's filling her car seat and spilling over into the foot well.

I realise with some surprise that I'm driving along next to actual hard shoulder. I pull over as far as I can without rolling us down the embankment. We get out and gingerly remove her from the car. It's about 6 degrees and blowing a gale. She's crying and shivering and it slowly dawns on us that we have nothing with which to clean her up.

I open the boot and grab the first thing that comes to hand: two pairs of my pants. Helen hastily strips the poor child and wipes her down as the traffic rumbles past in a steady stream. We put her nightly on her and wrap her in Helen's cardigan.

The car seat is a mess. I take the other pair of pants and wipe it up. We take it out of the car and strip the cover off it while I use sparkling water and underwear to valet the sick off the car upholstery. I pull the seat belt to one side and my hand comes away covered in warm slime. Oh God. Through the retching I coo reassuringly to the children. I sound like a werewolf trying to swallow its own tongue. I start to wish I were one of Jacqueline Wilson's feckless absentee fathers.

Eventually we are able to bundle up all the vomity stuff and stick it in the boot. We line the naked car seat with my dressing gown and pull back onto the motorway.

Five minutes pass as Helen and I gaze into the middle distance the horror of what we have just witnessed playing in our heads like the upriver sequence of "Apocalypse Now". There is silence then Sorrel says, "I'm hungry...."

Thursday, 11 August 2011

Sinister Developments

We took the girls camping to Brittany this summer. Despite driving through England on the two hottest days of the year in a car with broken air conditioning we had a wonderful time.

I live in mortal fear of people telling me about their holidays. Equally I dread being made to describe mine so let me share one moment that felt like it defined the whole thing.

We were lucky enough to have camped next to a couple with a daughter whose age fell exactly between L's and S's. A friendship soon developed. As you'll know by now there is a degree of eccentricity in my girl's world view but this little girl was a special and endearing sort of bonkers.

L was enchanted but S seemed to regard it as something of a challenge.

One day we were standing outside the tent talking to her parents whilst the three girls played inside together.

After a while L and her new friend came out of the tent to report that S had called the other girl, "poo poo." Clearly I was expected to act.

"S," I said, weakly, "That's a really nasty thing to say to anyone, say sorry please."

She did not look up. In fact she concentrated very hard on the toy she was playing with and, with an intent look on her face said, very slowly, "I have lots of plans."

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Tattoo Soup

The swimming pool is one of our favourite places. Both girls love to swim even though neither is particularly good at it.

Possibly it's best feature of the pool though is that it is an excellent place to go to reaffirm a positive body image. Oh. And to raise imponderable questions about body art.

I have no problem with tattoos. I wouldn't chose to get one but that has more to do with an aversion to even slight discomfort, let alone pain. But also I have a changing set of interests and the things (and people) I was passionate about in my 20s are not the things and people I'm passionate about now. I wore leg warmers and had floppy hair back then. I don't now because I would feel ridiculous. It's the same, for me, with tattoos.

It's hard to imagine that my feelings towards my children would ever change though. And yet the tradition of having your offspring's name tattooed onto your skin confuses me.

What used to baffle me was this: it's always men who have them and, mostly, they get the name of their first born son inked across their back. So
I thought that it was their own name and couldn't understand why they would want to do that. Evidently it is not as an aide memoir as it's it written where they can't see it. Then I settled on the theory that it must be so that they can be identified in the event of a stabbing, say, or some other violent incident. Finally, I saw a guy with a girl's name splayed over his shoulders and realised that it was the names of their kids! Hurrah! And very sweet. But then I started to noticed some unfortunate problems.

Firstly, you have the dilemma of the first-born. Imagine this: you're a tattoo kind of chap. Your partner has just delivered your first child and OMG! It's a boy! A little copy of you! A chip off the old block! My God you're proud! So proud in fact that you remove yourself to the tattoo parlour at the first opportunity to get the little chap's name emblazoned across your back like a pair of nomenclatural wings. Splendid.

But then she gets pregnant again. Great news. Number two arrives and several weeks pass before someone - her, your mate, your Dad - asks when you'll be off to the tattooist again. Uh oh: you have a problem. Little Jagger's name takes up half your upper torso. Where the hell do you fit in newly-arrived Bianca? Or is it Jerri?

You can't use your chest because that's, like, prime position. It's better than the slot you allocated to number one and primogeniture is ingrained into the British like tea-drinking and complaining. You have to go with the small of the back don't you? It's the only space left. The problem is - and you don't know this yet because you're only 25 - is that you're going to get really hairy down there like your Dad and poor little Bianca's name will start to look like a neglected park only without, one would hope, the dog fouling, whilst Jagger's name will merely be adorned with a few silvery whisps. Almost like tinsel. And what message will that give to your little girl, eh?

You have even greater problems if you've given a really creative name to your kid. My personal favourite example of this is the man I saw with the word "chase" written in massive gothic letters across his shoulder blades.

There's research to be done too. It's not good enough when you have access to the internet to assume that your tattooist knows what he's doing in terms of spelling, Chinese or Japanese characters or....Roman numerals. These are popular amongst Jagger's Dad's mates. Sadly the one who's boy has just turned 13 ought to have checked before he had the name etched above the date MDCCCXCVIIIo. Or 1898 to us ordinary folk.

L's take on this sums it up for me. On witnessing a VERY tattooed man at the pool one day she whispered to me, horrified, "Daddy, I think that man must have been sleeping with a felt tip in the bed. With the lid off."

Monday, 13 June 2011

Do Not Read Until August 2025

Dear Girls

Now that S has turned 18 and my legal ability to influence anything you do has lapsed there are some things you need to know.

I lied. I lied about loads of things but here are the most heinous. I'm truly sorry about this. I tried to raise you with integrity and respect but sadly I failed quite early on because, well frankly because it was funny. Ho hum.

So here goes.

1. I am not a really small giant who got thrown out of Giantland for being embarrassingly small. I'm just quite a big human.

2. I do not have magical powers that throw an anti-monster force field around the house. That was just to make you feel less afraid. The business of screwing up my face like I was concentrating and then the elaborate arm-waving culminating in the finger clicks was just for show. Monsters could have got in AT ANY TIME. It was a bit cavalier I'm afraid but at least you believed you were safe.

3. Bees DO make honey. But wasps do NOT make mustard.

4. The Lollipop Lady does not live in the bushes next to her crossing. She has rather a nice big house just off Ferry Road.

5. Remember that vile yellow anti-biotic that the doctor used to prescribe? The one that was meant to taste of banana but actually tasted like a ferret had thrown up in the bottle and it had been allowed to ferment in a slurry pit? That stuff didn't make you invisible. I could see you the whole time.

6. You can eat jelly babies any way you like. The whole thing about it being best to eat the head first so you don't have to listen to the screaming? That's not true. Jelly babies like being eaten. It tickles them.

7. I do not explode if you don't hug me. I'm just a little crestfallen.

8. The tooth fairy never wrote to you. That was me every time. The tooth fairy has much nicer handwriting but is a very poor correspondent.

9. If you chew with your mouth open you won't lose your hair. Just all your friends.

10. And finally Rudolph never ate the carrot you carefully peeled and left out for him. That was Mummy. Nothing filled her with more pleasure than spitting crumbs of half-chewed carrot over the hearth on Chrismas Eve for the sake of authenticity.

So there you are: the tissue of lies I spun around your childhoods. Please forgive me the dishonesty. As you both know, lying is wrong and if you tell too many lies your legs fall off.

All my love

Dad xxx

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Pop Will Eat Himself: The Origins

In an ideal world I would have been bitten by a radioactive babywipe as a teenager - suddenly finding myself imbued with awesome, superhuman arse-cleaning Dad abilities. Sadly thats not how I became a Dad for the first time. No. It happened like this.

H informed me, with her usual delicacy, that as I was 40 and clearly not getting any younger, it was time we started a family. This made me happy because it meant that we could do a lot of sex and, as we all know, men are driven by a desire for three things: proper sausages, a really good shiraz and some sex.

I shan't bore you with the sex. There was some juddering, and possibly panting and afterwards, when I asked her if she wanted to talk about her feelings she told me that she was really, really ANGRY and if we wanted to get pregnant we needed to do it properly.

Anyway, we managed to conceived and 9 months later we found ourselves in a cycle that went like this:

1. Labour starts.

2. H calls the hospital and they tell us to come in

3. We get into the car and drive to the hospital

4. Labour stops in the car

5. We arrive at the hospital and, because H is no longer in labour, they send us home

6. Repeat until fatigued

Finally, to prove a point we decided to stay at the hospital and walk round and endlessly round until labour started in the actual place we needed it to.

Allow me a short digression to discuss the National Childbirth Trust. The NCT is a terror network committed to bringing about the downfall of all hospital birth and healthcare professionals. They bring together white-knuckled newbies for a brief period of training in which they laugh at the fathers-to-be for not knowing which end of the cot to put your baby for nap; and scare the new mums shitless about how formula milk will result in the new baby being unable to form meaningful friendships in later life. Their main weapon, apart from the guns and high explosives, is the birth plan. The idea being that as you writhe around on the floor experiencing the sort of agony that feels as though it will tear you apart your birth partner (who is merely a bit bloated from having scarfed all the trail mix) can wave the plan in the air and say, "she doesn't want any drugs!"

So we made a birthplan. Our plan was that we would start off in a birthing pool with no pain relief whatsoever (with the exception of gas and air) and then we would see what happened. But ideally we wanted the whole thing to happen drug-free, in the pool. However, we, unlike many others and unbeknownst to our NCT handler, had a secret plan that went like this: if at any point it starts to get difficult to bear then H will have all the drugs that medical science has yet invented and also any that are on trial please too.

I'm assuming that , if you are reading this then you've either been through labour or you've been with someone whilst they've been going through it. If not then let me tell you, the latter is easier. Labour is sore. A birthing pool - a huge deep, warm-water filled paddling pool of the sort you would NEVER allow your children anywhere near lest they drown - is supposed to help alleviate some of the discomfort. Maybe it does but H had been in labour on and off for three days and was not at her perkiest and it was not long before she requested a toot of gas and air. I had been advised to try some myself for it's benign narcotic properties.

I gave her a quick blast and instantly realised that this was not going to be the route we would take. H did not misspend her youth in the traditional ways and consequently has had very little experience with inhaled drugs. She had a monster whitey. She was beyond tired, in pain, up to her neck in a warm bath and, now, stoned. She was on all fours in the pool and kept dozing off between contractions. As her head drooped towards the surface I had to place my hand on her forehead and raise it up only for it to begin it's slow descent again. Once I let her dip her nose in the water just to see if it would wake her up. It didn't.

Every so often the midwife would come in to check her. H would attempt to perk herself up and give coherent replies to the questions asked but she was not remotely with it. After one visit H looked up and blearily asked, "Was that Morgan Spurlock from 'Supersize Me'?"

"No," I replied gently, "It was the midwife."

A few seconds passed. H started to laugh. "D'you remember when I thought the midwife was Morgan Spurlock from 'Supersize Me'? That was funny."

"Really funny," I told her, "And only ten seconds ago."

The birthing pool was not helping. Apart from the growing risk of drowning, H was beginning to really crave a lie down. We got her out. No mean feat considering she was massively pregnant, off her face and really slippery. It was suggested that, as she was so very tired; was not yet sufficiently dilated; and was in the sort of pain that the entonox wouldn't touch, we should consider a epidural. This would remove the pain which would allow her to rest and possibly sleep which in turn would relax her and allow labour to progress more normally.

Despite being fully paid up, balaclava wearing members of the Leith cell of the NCT we thought this sounded like a Really Good Plan and so we were wheeled into a delivery room and an anaesthetist arrived.

He arranged H, sitting up on a bed so he could get the gigantic needle into her spine. I was asked to stand in front of her and hold her hands. Now I tend to dispense very little advice to other parents-to-be but I'm going to do so now. Gentlemen: if you ever find yourself in this situation do NOT under any circumstances stand legs akimbo with your partner's legs dangling between yours. That man is not an anaesthetist: he is a puppet master and your beloved is a giant meat marionette whom he will force to dance to his own wicked tunes.

I was holding her hands and trying to not look at the massively long needle he was waving around behind her back. I was just worrying that it might go straight through her and skewer me too when H's right leg shot up between mine and hoofed me right in the testicles. "Sorry!" called the anaesthetist, cheerfully whilst making energetic stirring motions with the needle behind H's back. I was in unspeakable agonies but this is not something that you can complain about when your wife is in labour. No one will give you any sympathy. As I ruminated on this ironic state of affairs, H's leg shot up again and, with unerring accuracy caught me a full volley in the plums.

"Ha ha! Got you again? Sorry about that," called the man with the joystick in my wife's spine, "I think I've got it now."

And indeed he had. He turned a tiny plastic tap and industrial quantities of drugs were administered directly into her central nervous system. H looked suddenly relaxed. She lay on her side and went immediately to sleep. I sat and held her hand for a minute until my eyes, too, closed.

A few hours later the midwife woke us up. H was fully dilated and it was time. Never let anyone tell you that the day their children were born was the happiest day of their lives. Firstly, it doesn't leave much for the poor kid to do in later life in the making-you-happy department and secondly I don't associate bleeding and screaming and throwing up into a cardboard cowboy hat with being the happiest I've ever seen my wife.

As a man witnessing your beloved giving birth you feel utterly useless. I was expecting to feel this way, we'd discussed it to the point that I'd suggested I sing whale song to H at critical moments. At the time this had seemed like a hilarious idea. Not so much anymore. I had also suggested that at the moment the baby's head crowned I should cry out, "What about me? What about MY needs." I wasn't really up for that either.

Everything happened too fast for any of that. They attempted to help the baby out by use of a Ventouse Cap - basically a medical toilet plunger. The suction cup is fitted to the top of the baby's head and the Obstetrician pulls as hard as she can. What is supposed to happen is that the baby comes out. What isn't supposed to happen is that there is a loud comedy pop, the Ventouse cap shoots across the room and the Obstetrician falls on her arse. They tried forceps next - all a bit panicky now, you don't want to leave a kid hanging about in the birth canal for too long, they might try to breathe. In order to gain ingress they needed to make a cut. Yes. That's right. There. I'm willing to bet that all of those men who secretly think women make a bit of a fuss about birth would rapidly change their minds if offered a quick slit administered to their perineum.

We were in the final stages now. All NCT ideals shoved roughly out of the way like a thin man in a chip shop after closing time. H was in classic hospital birth position: on her back, propped up, feet in stirrups. Midwife along side saying, "Well done, good girl, you're doing fine, aaaaaannnnddddd PUSH."

I was stood on the other side, one aching arm supporting her back the other being crushed to a bloodless pulp of skin and splintered bone by her mighty grip. On every push she leaned forward and gave it her all. For my part I tried to help by pulling her up into a sitting position as she pushed. This provided me with an excellent but intermittent view of the emerging baby and the part of my wife from which it was emerging. Let me share this one detail with you (and look away now if you are at all squeamish): remember I mentioned cutting? Well there are not supposed to be any places on the human body where neat right angles occur but I was seeing one with every push that was made. There was no point at which I felt like I might faint but this small detail truly shocked me.

Many women become unfeasibly sweary during birth. H avoided this. Her greatest profanity at this time was, "Jeez Louise." I am inexplicably proud of her for this.

And then suddenly a small wrinkled, curled up person is there except that it's not a person; it's a monochrome photograph of a person projected somehow onto the surface of a squishy purple balloon. This lasts a split second, the ballon bursts and the image falls onto the object inside it and it becomes a baby. It is lifted, face-down away from me, trailing it's cord and then it disappears into a huddle of nurses and doctors. As it rises over their heads I see it's rear end. I spot a plump vulva and think, "Testicles! It's a boy." I turn back to H and say, "It's a boy!"

"No it's not," a business like voice declares, "She's a wee girl."

There is no point trying to explain. I am too tired and this is not about me. The little girl is passed to H and she lies on her chest amidst tubes from the drips all pink with blood that has been pushed back up them by the pressure of H's labours.

Both of us held our new daughter. I had a perfect, bloody imprint of her on my tee shirt. Soon the midwife gently took her from me and cleaned and dressed her. I had clothes with me for her. New clothes carefully bought and packed but it didn't occur to either of us to mention them. She was passed back to H and the midwife motioned to me, "come with me, I've something to show you." we left the delivery suite and walked into the waiting room. I looked out onto the hospital car park. It was 7 in the morning on the 1st March 2005 and the whole world was white. Whilst my daughter was struggling into the world it had snowed.

Later, as I drove slowly home, the traffic tearing past me on the M8, too dazed and tired to really do anything but engage auto-pilot I wondered at the terrible smell in the car. I must have left a half eaten pork pie in there for the last three days or something. Whatever it was it was rank. It was only after I got home and pulled my tee shirt over my head that I realised that the bloody image of my new child had not mixed well with my three day old body odour in the overheated environment of the hospital. I stank.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

The Democratic Process.

The recent Scottish Parliamentary elections have figured large in our house. In part because the result was fascinating but mostly because H, as a journalist, was working on it with exceptional focus.

Clearly the girls have been having conversations about this at school and nursery as well as absorbing virtually the only subject of adult conversation for the last month. So it was interesting to hear what they had to say on the subject.

We were walking home from a ceilidh late on Friday night. S was on my shoulders and was interested to see the streetlights coming on.

"Tell me when we see a lamppost, Daddy."


"Because that's voting."

"What's voting?"

"The sign on the lamppost. THAT'S voting."

Looking down the rather smart street we were walking along I could see that all the party logos had been taken down. The only signs on these lampposts were informing us of the fines we would incur were we to allow our non-existent dog to poo on the pavement.

"Do you mean these signs, sweetie?"

"Yes," she said emphatically, "Voting is picking up dog poo in a bag and putting it in the bin."

We were silent a moment whilst we absorbed this pearl. Then L sighed heavily and said in a weary tone, "No it isn't. Voting is when everyone writes down who they want to be in the government on a really big piece of paper and then they post it to the school. The school count up the bits of paper and and whoever gets the most bits gets to be the government."

I was momentarily unsure which version summed up the process best.

Friday, 22 April 2011

When they weren't here...

School holidays are a new thing to us. We are accustomed to having unfettered access to year round childcare in the shape of the excellent nursery both our girls attended. School however seems to run on the principle that it's still 1945 and that Mummy is at home all day polishing the baby and knitting dinner. In the fictitious world of education managers, benign grandparents live around the corner doing nothing that cannot be immediately interrupted for the purposes of tending to their darling grandkids. Sadly, this is not how it is anymore. Houses, which used to cost 3 and 6 now cost more than petrol and so both parents have to go to work. People move around and don't live in the place they grew up in so grandparents and uncles and aunties are spread across the globe in a most unhelpful fashion. This means that modern parents are all accomplished logisticians, able to conjoure endless scenarios involving Breakfast clubs, playdates, close friends, after school clubs and all manner of other desperate measures (once, when I ran a bookshop we found a two children left in the kids section for an entire day whilst their parent went off to work.)

Our Easter holiday has been thrown into disarray by H having to work full time meaning that she is out of the house for about 13 hours a day 4 days a week. Granny has sprung to our aid by coming down for a couple of days but the quid pro quo has been that H had to take the kids up to visit her and Grandad for a weekend. As H's weekend starts on Friday, but mine does not she took the girls up north by herself leaving me with the run of the house for three whole days.

Naturally there was a list of things I had to do. Plus a list of things I wanted to to do. Fortunately, depending on your point of view, most of my friends were also away so there was nothing to distract me.

So, on Friday, I leave work and go home to an empty house. No tired girls crying when I ask them to turn off the telly and come to the table. No having to insist on cutlery being used or that they finish what's on their plate. No bathtime with it's attendant fights and attempted drownings. No bedtime stories with one wanting one thing and the other wanting something else. No wheedling and sulking over "just one more story, pleeeeeeeeeeeease!"

Just a quiet house. A bit of tidying to do. A cupboard full of food and a telly waiting to be watched. I even bought beer.

I did the tidying. I cleaned up a bit. It was very quiet. I put the radio on and cleaned the oven. I put on some washing. I took the dry washing off the rack. I cooked myself some tea. I finished my meal and washed up the plates. There was absolutely no noise. It was weird, spooky even. Certainly not natural.

The next day I got up planning to go and get my hair cut. I had breakfast and cleaned up again, then I tidied the sitting room and hoovered under all the furniture. I'd never done that before. I thought about leaving the house but it just seemed a bit too hard. Almost.....scary. I tidied the girl's room and put the washing away. The silence was like a hissing in my ears, like someone had left a radio on, tuned between stations, and hidden it somewhere in the house. This is ridiculous, I thought, just GO OUT. I swallowed hard, got my bike and left.

Once outside everything was normal again. I went down to the barbers and got my hair cut like a non-mental person and came back. The house was utterly, frighteningly still. I made some toast and crunched it noisily. I did some more washing, slamming the washing machine door as loudly as I could. I put some more clothes away and tidied up some more but couldn't shake off the oppressive, velvet stillness. Even the plastic racket that you have to create in tidying up the toys couldn't lift it.

Saturday passed and Sunday came but for all my tidying and dithering about I still hadn't got all the things done that I had intended. I worked on through the awful silence like a man possessed and finally, finally I heard the car. I dashed to the front door and there they were: my girls. L threw herself at me and gave me a huge hug and S started talking like she was commentating on the closing stages of a very exciting horse race, giving me a full and detailed description of everything they'd done since they last saw me. We walked into the house chatting and laughing with S declaring, "And do you know what Daddy? I have invisible veins!"

Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Leith Police Dismisseth Us

One of the things you don't expect when cycling with your three year old daughter in the bike seat behind you is that a police man will attempt to squash you with a van.

However, once the squashing attempt has failed - and particularly if the policeman has been considerate enough to attempt the squashing outside a police station - why then the juxtaposition of the scene of the attempted squashing and the proximity of the police station must surely result in the squashee marching smartly in the aforementioned police station to report the squasher.

Having survived to watch the van drive off, it's pilot unaware of the near-squashing he'd just administered, I'd had enough time to take the number plate so I gave it to the duty officer who dutifully trotted off to get the sergeant.

First they couldn't find the right sergeant There are two forces operating out of Leith they told me knowledgeably as I nodded my eager interest. Each one has a sergeant and the one talking to me was not the right one.

Then they had to establish which van it was.

"But I gave you the licence plate !" I said.

"Yeah, but there are two vans," they retorted.

"Not, I hope, with the same licence plate! I mean, I know you're the police and everything but still..."

"Yes," they said patiently, "but we have to make sure it's the right van."

"It's the van that has that licence plate bolted to the back," I said, perhaps a little too sharply.

They rewarded this comment with a level stare and then continued their hunt for the van and the sergeant.

At this point I'd like to set the scene for you - better late than never. All you ever see of the inside of Leith Police Station (unless you have done a crime) is a tiny room with a hard bench and a huge sheet of security glass separating the "customers" from the actual polices. In this tiny room were two big radiators. Despite the fact that it was about 15 degrees outside these radiators were on. I was wearing waterproofs and a bike helmet and was holding onto the bike. S was on the bike seat. Both her and the seat were enveloped in a lurid yellow waterproof cape with a not-very-nice picture of a teddy on the front. We became hot.

40 minutes passed. Lots of people can to the window to do pointless things whilst sneaking a sly look at S and me in full cycling gear busily sweltering in the small room with two radiators. I expect they thought we were going to get bored and go away. They were 50% correct.

I don't know if you've been into a police station recently. They are full of neatly pinned up but dire posters. By which I mean they are both dire in terms of content and from a design point of view. If you are three and bored and they are all you have to look at then they are very interesting. And when things are interesting then questions need to be asked. Questions that require answers.

"Daddy, what's that purple one?" S pointed to a poster with a cartoon of a man cycling in midair whilst another man in a stripy shirt and a mask steals his bike from underneath him. "DON'T LET THEM STEAL YOUR BIKE FROM UNDERNEATH YOU!" it says.

Another showed a picture of a little girl picking up a syringe. The point of this one was to appeal to drug dealers and users not to drop used needles in parks. "DRUG ADDICTS AND DEALERS!" It said, "DON'T DROP YOUR NEEDLES IN THE PARK!!!!"If I was a dealer I would have made sure to pay a visit to the police station so that I could be edified by this striking publication. "What is that one for? What is that girl holding? Why has she picked it up?" I tried to explain about not picking up things you find on the ground.

"What is she holding in her hand?"

"A jaggy thing"

"Why is she holding the jaggy thing? Where's her Mummy?"

"I expect her Mummy is standing in front of her and we can't see her in the picture."

"Is her Mummy taking the picture?"


Yet another poster advertised a service for alcoholics. It featured a glum, monochrome scene of a bunch of feckless, badly dressed people sitting on wildly-patterned sofas getting drunk. The message was obviously meant to warn you of the awful soft furnishings you will end up with if you allow your drinking to spiral out of control. I regarded the assembled drunks with something approaching envy.

"Are those people drinking lemonade? Why are they drinking lemonade? Is it a party? Why are they sad at the party?"

Then the no smoking sign attracted her attention. I told her that a red circle with a line through it means that you mustn't do the thing on the picture in the middle of the circle. In another part of the room was a tripartite sign indicating that not only mustn't you smoke, but you mustn't eat or drink either. "Don't smoke, don't have a cup of tea, don't have knives and forks," opines S. Then "Daddy, what's that purple one?" and so we circled back to the beginning, repeating in random order for the duration of our wait.

Finally, when they ran out of people to send down to stare at us and they realise that I have staying power brought about by having had to patiently answer asinine questions for the last six years, the right sergeant was located and the van was attributed to the plate.

The sergeant was very nice to both of us and proceeded to ask me all the questions with which even the most minor incident is burdened: where was I born? What is my ethnicity? What is my job title? None of which has any bearing on the incident. I was calm and polite. S flirted. He did his job. Did I want to press charges? No. What did I want to happen? Just tell the driver that he's an idiot and the mirror is not for checking his hair.

Apparently I'll get a letter telling me what's transpired. Delivered by bike I hope.

Friday, 1 April 2011

A Proud Moment

One of the curses of having children is that the process by which you come to remind yourself of one, other or both of your parents is accelerated. It's all to do with context. Kids constantly innovate, finding new and inventive ways to misbehave. Strewing clothes, toys, my stuff, food, books and things I don't even recognise is the current thing in our house. I follow them around, picking up after them and uttering the phrase, "it's the biggest shelf in the house to you two isn't it?" A phrase that used to irritate me beyond measure when I was little. No. It's not a big shelf. IT'S THE FLOOR!!!! I would have thought my Mother would have been able to see that. But apparently not. And now, forty years later neither can I.

The flip side to this is when your kids do something that reminds you of you. Mostly this is good. Sometimes it's excruciating. As a man with two daughters I don't expect it very much but actually I am often surprised. This morning was a perfect example.

L had been told by the school to dress as though she was in Australia. I was somewhat alarmed to hear this as she had been vociferously insisting to me that only Aboriginies lived there and they only wear paint. However she took herself off and dressed not in emulsion but in some perfectly decent summer clothes. So far so good.

S had been told - it being April 1st - that everyone at nursery would be wearing something silly. "I know!" she cried and ran upstairs to return moments later with pants on her head.

She was absolutely committed to this outfit. So much so that she wore the pants throughout breakfast, all the way to nursery; had a bit of a moment of doubt just before she got there; overcame her demons, put the pants back on and was still wearing them when she was collected three hours later.

I was proud. So very, very proud.

As a foot note: L's reaction to all of this was to to laugh so hard that "all my bones have swapped places." She went on to assert that, "if my bones laugh much more they'll change places with my muscles." I know what she meant.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011


Food is a nightmare. There are two approaches: either you take a hard line and insist that everyone eats what's been put in front of them; or you prepare individual meals for everyone, taking into account all the princessy peccadilloes. Of course life isn't that black and white and, inevitably you will end up in some horrible grey area in the middle of the two. And then the little bastards have got you.

The problem in our house is that I'm a fussy eater. Me. I'm the one.

It's like this: anything green that's been cooked (with the honourable exception of peas - I love peas) strikes me as a vile and unpleasant thing to put into your mouth. Along the lines of - oh I don't know - a turd. My secret name for broccoli is "evil trees".

Given this weak-natured state of affairs I'm very much occupying the moral low ground and consequently I have set up a permanent camp in a MASSIVE grey area that hands control to my kids in exactly the way all the parenting manuals tell you you shouldn't.

Luckily my oldest, L, loves veg and regards my dislike of brassicas as a silly aberration that places me on a lower evolutionary rung to her. S, my youngest, however, is much more of my mind on these matters and that's where the problems come in. It's not that she dislikes what I dislike. It's more that my dislike gives her permission to dislike her own stuff.

She's going through a stage just now which her sister went through at the same age. The stage is the neatly named I-will-only-eat-discrete-foods-that-are-not-touching-and-are-completely-separate-on-the-plate-stage. So it's OK to dip your sausage in tomato ketchup. It's NOT OK if your sausage is already touching your tomato ketchup on the plate. No. Then you have to wail as though someone had torched Flat Teddy in front of your very eyes and then rubbed the ashes in your face.

Incidentally, sausages are the Holy Grail of all foods as far as S is concerned. They are to be grilled or fried in a pan and in this state are referred to as "straight sausages". Present her with anything other than straight sausages - mess about with them in ANY WAY and you will pay the

The other night I had made a sausage and bean casserole with borlotti beans and butter beans and tomatoes and butternut squash and all manner of other goodies in it. Modesty aside, it was delicious. She point-blank turned it down and just ate boiled potatoes. I naively thought that she might eat some of the sausage. Oh foolish man! She hadn't spotted the heresy until I pointed it out. "NO!!!" she yelled " I WANT STRAIGHT SAUSAGE!!! NOT THIS SAUSAGE!!!" She glared at me in the way that I imagine George Osbourne would glare at an actual real person: with a mixture of confusion, fear, anger and incomprehension and began to weep.

S's nickname when she was a baby was Foghorn Leghorn because of the volume of her crying. Ships in the Firth of Forth sail closer to the Fife coast when she is in full flow. The volume is akin to letting out time at the klaxon factory. After I had mopped the blood from my ears and calmed her down I assured her that we would have straight sausages the following day.

The next day at tea time I served her baked potato and straight sausages: her absolute favourite tea. There was still a lot of the beans left over from the casserole so L and I had them. In an attempt to be firm I placed a tiny pile on her plate which she scraped of onto the table declaring, "I am not very keen on beans. Beans are exgusting. I am allergic of beans".

There is no way to win this battle. If you take route one then meal times become a misery of tears, snot and rage and the kids will get upset too. If you take route two, I pity you. More often than not you will find you have started out with the best of intentions and, via some convoluted path ended up with a child that eats pretty well over the course of the week but splits their carb and protein intakes to different days. And that's fine. Better that than they are allegic of anything.

Sunday, 13 March 2011

The Birthday Party

This is what we did wrong in holding L's 6th birthday party at our house:

1. We had it at our house.
2. It went on for two hours. Next time it'll be an hour and a half shorter.
3. We only invited girls. Now I used to be a boy so I know what they're like. It's why I'm never entirely at ease with them. But sometimes girls need to be diluted. 14 girls and no boys is too intense.
4. I had too much dignity. Next year I'm begging some other parents to stay. When L was at nursery her parties were, in part, a chance for all the parents to have a get together. Not so in P1. The minute the hapless parent issues the invitation evil laughter breaks out amongst the parents of the guests as they plan what to do with two whole hours of free childcare.
5. We failed to anticipate the refusal on the part of some guests to participate in party games on the grounds that, "it might mess up my hair."
6. We failed to anticipate the impact this assertion might have on the rest of the guests. Full scale rebellion was only headed off with a liberal sweetie-based bribe.
7. NEVER wrap the pass-the-parcel in as many layers as you have guests. It's a really boring game. Quite incredibly dull in fact.
8. Invite less guests than you think you should. We had 14. One mother, on coming to collect her daughter told us that she was having a party the following day (to which L was not invited...) with only 2 guests. Is that a party? I think not. That's just having some kids round to play. However, semantics aside, she's MUCH cleverer than me.
9. Buy booze. Not for the kids (although that could be entertaining). No. For you. For later. Don't for the love of all that's holy leave yourself in the position of having to leave the house to go and buy drink after they've all gone. Have you any idea how much of a lush that makes you look?
10. Test all blindfolds. A scarf tied round the head like when we were kids works really well. The blindfold that comes with the stick-the-tail-on-the-donkey set you bought in Sainsburys because it was only 50p? That blindfold is shit.
11. REMEMBER! I'm writing this in the vain hope that I'll recall all of the above but it's already beginning to fade. That horrible parenty thing is starting to happen when I forget the unutterable ghastliness and instead a sort of golden syrup is poured into my brain infusing the memories with golden sweetness.

What was I saying? Umm. Oh, never mind it probably wasn't important.