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.