It is a sad truth of modern fatherhood that, once your first child arrives, your partner's social circle expands massively. Yours, however, contracts down to the one or two close friends who are prepared to spend a very occasional evening watching over you as you sleep draped over a table in the pub, a soft drink loosely gripped in your slack hand.
A few years down the line, though, if you play your cards right, you'll discover like-minded dads amongst the parents of your children's friends and you can all go to the pub together and curl up in one corner like a litter of puppies and sleep until closing time.
I enjoyed one such evening last night when a bunch of dads from Lulu's primary school met up for a drink. It was my intention to have a couple of pints but the couple turned swiftly into six or so and my better judgement only really kicked in when the others moved onto shorts.
The pub closed at 1am and we rolled up the hill together. I got in and began my post-pub ritual of drinking at least three pints of squash and eating half a loaf of toast in an attempt to offset the effects of the booze in the morning.
As I start in on my third slice of toast I hear a wail from upstairs and, assuming it to be Sorrel (who suffers from poor sleep and night terrors) I trudge wearily up the stairs. But it's not Sorrel. She's fast asleep in the bottom bunk whilst her sister is sat bolt upright on the top a look of absolute terror on her face, her body wracked by deep sobs.
"I had a nightmare," she declares. "And it was really scary." She bursts into tears.
I lift her down and hold her tightly. Maybe I can get her back to sleep if I can calm her down.
"What was it, sweetie?" I ask. In the past telling her dream has helped to clear it from her mind.
"There was a whale shark with yellow checkerboard eyes and black pins for teeth. He wanted to eat me and he was swimming through the floorboards," she reveals between sobs.
There's no way she's going back into her own bed I decide so, as I'm still eating toast, I take her down stairs and make her a mug of warm milk. Soon it's 2am and we're sat chatting and giggling. It's then that I remember that Helen is starting a run of overnight shifts the following night and she'll need to lie in as late as possible in order to get some sleep in the bank. I'm going to be getting up with the girls in about four hours time.
I carry her back upstairs and slide her into my bed with her mother. And then I go and check on her sister. Sorrel too is sitting bolt upright in bed. But she's not crying. She's looking at me impishly and smiling. She knows it's the middle of the night and here I am not just awake but dressed. It's so exciting.
"I had a nightmare?" she offers.
"No you didn't," I tell her.
"Can I sleep in your bed?" she asks. I can't allow this. She's perfectly capable of ripping Helen out of her deep sleep to ask something like, "Why are legs?" or "What colour is toast?"
"No lovely. You can't. You'll wake up mummy and it's important that she gets enough sleep tonight."
I try to think quickly but I'm still pretty pissed. "Do you want me to come in with you?" I hear myself say.
I should say at this point that, like many parents we often play musical beds in the middle of the night. So if both girls come into our bed I usually decamp to the bottom bunk. This would be fine except the bunks are 6 foot long and I'm 6'5" so every time I roll over I bang my head or painfully jam my feet between the bars at the other end of the bed. But sharing with a restless four year old? This is a stunningly poor idea.
And I'm right. Four hours later I finally give up the uneven struggle and get up. I've been poked, jabbed, kicked, shouted at, and made to get up and go and fetch a drink. At one point I was awakened by a searing pain as she skillfully back-heeled my gonads in an unsophisticated attempt at a DIY castration.
Amazingly I feel ok. Clearly in an attic somewhere there's a hideous Dorian Grey style portrait of me.
Downstairs the girls help me make scones for breakfast and then - thank God - go off and play beautifully together (an increasingly rare occurrence) whilst I stare vacantly at the tablecloth. When Helen gets up four hours later she stumbles into the kitchen, groans and says, "I've had too much sleep. I'm knackered."