There are some things all people should experience in a lifetime. I have often wondered what I wish for you, my noble daughter, to experience in your long and interesting life. And if I’m brutally honest with myself, there are some things I wouldn’t want to wish on you at all. Let’s face it, I instinctively want you to have nice things, and to be protected from the nasty things.
But maybe the nice things are not what really builds us. Not all of the things we experience are pleasant. But our lives are made richer by the wide variety of things we encounter. The good gives us pleasure, the bad makes us stronger, wiser, and teaches us what to avoid, and what to endure. You need to have these experiences to know what they feel like. And remember, that if any of the experiences you have in life feel painful or strange or are just too darn confusing, you can always talk to me. I’m here to support you. Always.
So here is a list of the type of experiences both Mummy and I want you to have. Let’s hope you become a wiser, fuller, richer, more deeply depthful person as a result. And yes, depthful is a word.
Lots of love Daddy x
(that’s ‘Daddy’ with a kiss, my name is not Daddy X, but I suppose that would be a cool nickname)
1. Be in a car crash – not a serious car accident, but a minor prang
2. Learn a musical instrument and stick with it. Of course it’s going to be difficult, but work at it and trust me, you will one day make an event brilliant with your musical skills
3. Have an argument
4. Win an argument
5. Learn to argue effectively
6. Hate someone
7. Get totally shitfaced – just do it safely
8. Stay up all night
9. Go on a diet
10. Break the diet
11. Tell someone to fuck off
13. Get punched – Not too hard, and I fervently hope not by someone you love, otherwise I’ll be getting all punchy-punchy as well
14. Get ill – Not too ill, please, and allow yourself time to recover
15. Go to A & E in a city hospital on a Saturday night, preferably accompanying somebody else who has only minor injuries
16. Be badly behaved – Just not with me, OK?
17. Obey rules
18. Break some rules
19. Tell an adult off to the point where they break down
20. Embark on an enterprise or project that has a likelihood to fail
21. Swim in a river or lake – Though please be careful
22. Get properly lost, providing you then find your way back
23. Go on holiday in your native country
24. Do the tourist bus in your local city
25. Be humiliated
26. Recover from being humiliated as quickly as possible
27. Be in charge of something – a project, a job, a creative group, a team – but don’t be an arsehole
28. Have revenge on someone
29. Do nothing for a whole day, and don’t feel guilty about it
30. Be really miserable, but make it brief
31. Fall in love – You’d be amazed how many people have never fallen in love
32. Get dumped and have your heart broken
33. Be honest
34. Have a shit Christmas
35. Go out and look for wildlife
36. Break a bone – restrict it to arms or legs only though. Maybe a rib.
37. Tell your friends some deep personal secrets. Hopefully it will lead to better friends
38. Take a walk in a forest in all seasons
39. Look at a mountain – Fuck, they’re great, aren’t they?
40. Go abroad
41. Get rained on
42. Allow one of your opinions to be changed by an argument
43. Persuade someone else to change their opinion on something fundamental
44. Have a really crap relationship with a complete loser, but make it brief
45. Lose someone close to you, awful though it will be, but learning to cope with grief is an essential lesson. Let’s hope it’s not either Mummy or me, although let’s be honest, I won’t be around for it to bother me all that much
46. Take time off
47. Experience what it’s like to have no money at all, but make it brief
48. Watch a film you previously really liked, but realise and accept that it sucks
49. Have a deep interest or hobby that other people would find baffling
50. Allow yourself to be bored
51. Do something drastic with your hair
52. Have someone insult you to the point where it makes you cry, and never let it happen again
53. Be naked in the open air
54. Be naked with someone else
55. Compromise, but do so without losing your integrity
56. Receive applause
57. Do something that frightens you
58. Go to a religious gathering
59. Get angry
60. Refuse to do something
61. Miss out on one amazing experience that all of your friends take part in
62. Be unemployed, but make it brief
63. Go out at an ungodly hour just to listen to the dawn chorus
64. Allow yourself to be pretentious every so often – Some people make far too much fuss about pretentiousness as though it’s on a par with National Socialism, but these people are idiots: Being pretentious doesn’t hurt anyone
65. Annoy someone
66. Watch music being performed live
67. Enjoy the feeling of coming home
68. Confront a bully
69. Be overwhelmed
70. Leave a good party early
71. Stay at a crap party for longer than you really want to
72. Stand up in front of a crowd of people and talk to them
73. Be willing to apologise
74. Refuse to apologise to someone
75. Tell somebody that they are completely bang out of order
76. Experience loneliness
77. Cry at music
78. Cry at a film
79. Stand your ground
80. Have a massive lie-in and don’t feel guilty about it
81. Perform something in public that you wrote – A song, a play, a poem, a dance routine
82. Do something that is utterly selfish
83. Take responsibility for something that went wrong (or, indeed, went right)
84. Spill something
85. Do a competitive sport
86. Fall out with someone
87. Make a conscious decision to repair a broken friendship
88. Use a washing machine – OK, it’s not the greatest of life’s rich pageant of experiences, but a) I’m glad my daughter lives in an era where washing machines are common and affordable; and b) I’d far rather you experience washing clothes in a machine, than washing clothes by hand
89. Not care about something
90. Make a huge mistake (providing it does not hurt or kill someone)
91. Do something silly
92. Be part of the winning team, either as supporter or player
93. Be part of the losing team, either as supporter or player
94. Stand in a group of at least 200 people all singing together
95. Take part in a political protest
97. Laugh so hard you can hardly breathe
98. Cook a meal for friends
99. Make yourself something that you can use every day
100. Help a stranger for no reason other than the fact that you would want help in their shoes
101. Move out of this house and into your own place
Me, a year ago:
Fuck. It’s Monday, and we need to do the weekly shop. *sigh*
Alice, six months ago:
“AAAOOOOWWWWW!!! Shopping?? But we did shopping last week! I hate shopping! Why do we always have to do it on Mondays??”
Alice, two weeks ago:
“Monday’s my favourite day of the week! You know why? Because SHOPPING!”
I wish I could do a before/after photo of Alice, taken in the doorway of our local Tesco. Even in a photo from January of this year, you would see on her face the resigned expression of a child about to enter into a world of aisles, tin cans, and boredom. Meanwhile, I would be mentally prepared for the longest hour of the week. Sometimes there would be a row. She would frequently be in a bad mood. I don’t blame her. I’m not too enamoured of the weekly shop either.
I’ve always liked taking Alice with me shopping. And, despite her bad mood, I’m grateful for the company. Shopping on my own is a lonely experience. On the occasions where Alice wasn’t whining, complaining, sulking, and grouching, she could be (as she usually is) very good company: Interesting, funny, and conversational. Sometimes, though, it was bloody torture for both of us.
And then, almost suddenly, it all changed.
Like most sudden changes, in hindsight, I realised that over the last few months there were hints of a new development leading up to this Damascene conversion. I would do what I always did on Mondays – pick her up after school, and take her to the supermarket. Same as it ever was. But Alice started to take the opportunity, probably with her head still buzzing from a day’s educational nonsense, to ask me questions. But not little questions, BIG questions. Big, important, lifey questions. Stuff that is, sometimes, too big even for me.
Stuff about the deep meanings of life; about friendship, about love. Questions about how and why boys behave the way they do. Heavy questions about life. Her most challenging question was a real humdinger:
“If bad things happen to you when you’re young, do they affect you later on in life?”
Fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuck. Imagine that hitting you just as you’re picking the Andrex off the shelf.
So Monday became ‘Question Day’, the day when Alice can ask all the big and heavy existential questions. Alice loved it. I also enjoyed it; any excuse to have a good and diverting conversation on the grocery run. Sometimes we would have these discussions in the car park, before going into the shop, thus avoiding the heaviest of conversations whilst trying to remember if we needed sweetcorn. Sometimes Alice could get quite emotional about the subject in hand. You know, if you had told me five years ago that a key moment of Daddy-Daughter bonding would happen in a Tesco car park on a pissy-wet Monday afternoon, I would have told you – to your face – that you were both mad, and to get the fuck away from me, because you’re a creepy weirdo who can predict the future.
And then, maybe unrelated, but possibly in the spirit of Daddy/Daughter co-operation, something magical happened. Something that I thought wasn’t possible yet, and certainly not something I had been working towards. I had always hoped it would happen, but I thought it would involve a lot of fighting to get it done, and certainly would need an amount of training.
We were in the fruit aisles, early on in the shop, when I asked Alice what I was to cook this week. Unfortunately, due to my limited cooking skills, and Alice’s rather conservative palate, the answer is always “Curry! Chilli! Bolognese!” with an occasional and hopeful “and Shawarma too?”, which sometimes I will indulge, even though it is a bit of a faff to make the marinade.
Anyway, this time Alice said, “Shall I get the chilli beans?”.
“I know where they are!”
Do you? Er… Are you sure?
Will you be OK to pick them up and bring them back?
I’m not too sure about…
Well… OK. Two cans of chilli beans. Meet you back here.
And off she ran. Alice in running-mode is quite a sight. There’s a lot of arm-thrashing, and frantic movement below the hips, but she’s not one of nature’s runners. It’s a sort of frantic and breathless enhanced walk. She definitely takes after her mother in this regard. A lot of physical action, sure, but it does not transfer into much rapid forward-motion, despite her enthusiasm. I find Alice’s running completely adorable, and while I would love her to be sprinting along with her classmates, I do find her pursed lips, grim determination, and hunched-shoulder trotting unbearably cute (although I do often worry what will happen in a zombie apocalypse, and she would have to run in order to survive).
I waited some minutes for her to come back. About 30 seconds after she left, a sudden worry crept over me. Oh God. I’ve never allowed her to run off in a supermarket before. This is incredibly irresponsible of me! What if she meets a creepy old man? What if another mother decides she is too young to be on her own and calls security on me? What if I’m being assessed and scored by other parents as I do this? What if she gets lost and cannot find me? I thought I should look for her, but what if she comes back along a different route, and miss each other, and search frantically for each other as we are separated by aisles and aisles of branded produce??
My worries were abated a few moments later when she hurtled (at her usual manic trot) around the corner with two cans of chilli beans held aloft in triumph. I practically heard Vangelis’ Chariots of Fire theme in my head.
Wow, Alice, that’s great!
Uh… yeah. Can you get me two cans of chickpeas from the same aisle?
And off she went.
For the next twenty minutes or so she retrieved items that I didn’t know that she knew the locations of. And then, when she came back empty handed from a mission to get muesli, claiming she didn’t know where cereals were, I showed her to look for the signs in each aisle, listing the produce to be found. And off she went again, and came back with a box of muesli.
This is amazing. I was expecting her to start helping me with the shop when she was about ten. She’s beaten my schedule by two years! Shopping is now not only easy, but fun. She is memorising the entire layout of the shop. She knows that we have certain staples every week – bread, milk, fruit, onions, carrots, pulses, meat, fish, soft drinks – and she knows where they are. She knows to ask someone in uniform to help her get stuff down from the high shelves, or to ask an employee for directions when she’s not sure where something is. She’s learned that if I’m not in the aisle she left me in, to walk along the central spine of the shop, looking left and right in each aisle until she spots me. She’s learned to say “excuse me please!” if she is blocked by people and needs to get by, and to say sorry if she bumps into someone.
I also don’t worry about her vanishing from sight, because it is her habit to keep up a stream of chatter to herself as she runs off (for once, I’m glad she’s that sort of weird kid who has stream-of-consciousness conversations with herself), and her return journey is her high-pitched foghorn voice yelling “Daaaaaaaaaaaaaddddddeeeeeeeeeeeee-*pauseforbreath*-eeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” with a slow Doppler-effect, until she finds me. It’s massively embarrassing, and people do stare at her, but at least I know she’s safe. She’s like those footballs for blind people that let out a stream of bleeps when you throw it into the distance. She is her own tracking device.
And she has made me incredibly proud. Two weeks ago, I got the ultimate compliment from a woman who was wrestling with a trolley and two recalcitrant children, saying, “Can I borrow her when you’re done? I’ve got quite a list here.”
Alice has been rewarded for this in the ultimate way. Not only does she have my loving pride at her initiative, and her willingness to help (not to mention her diligence and efficiency at procuring items), but she also gets extra treats. For the first couple of weeks, I let her off the unpacking when we got home (but reinstated it when I realised that she might start taking this for granted… and when she demanded to assist me unpacking because – and I quote – she “really likes helping!!”), but also because we’ve cut the shopping time by almost half, she can have early Playstation. Normally, there is an embargo on PS4/TV activities before 5pm, but now she gets an early turn on the dazzle-console because… well, fuck it. My girl done me proud. Half an hour’s extra pixellated mayhem won’t kill her.
And the best bit is: I haven’t trained her. She started doing this all by herself. And yesterday, she said she loves helping me with the shopping. She really enjoys it. She now looks forward to it.
Why?, I asked.
“Because it makes me feel like a grown-up!”
So last Tuesday morning, I woke up, put the alarm on snooze mode a total of 3 times, sneaked a look at my wife putting on her bra, got out of bed, had my regular piss and shit (went to the bathroom to do that, obvs), came downstairs, turned on the news, and saw that a deranged, revolting, shit-sucking arsehole had just killed 22 people and injured dozens more at a pop concert attended by thousands of teenagers.
It was in Manchester, which is just up the motorway from us. Not in some country far away. Not in continental Europe, across a sea, affecting people we can’t speak the language of. This was done to teenagers, kids at their first concert, to parents of those children. People who were never involved in an almost imaginary conflict that they had little understanding of. And yet they were deemed to be a target.
It was a shocking, unnecessary, awful, and ultimately pointless act of barbarity; and that’s all the attention I can bear to give to the absolute cunt who carried out the attack.
I grew up in Britain during the 1980s and ’90s. Terrorism was a common fixture on the news, thanks to the IRA and the Loyalist Paramilitaries in Northern Ireland. Living on mainland Britain, I didn’t really get affected by these actions directly, but it cast a shadow over public life. Occasionally, the bombs would go off somewhere on the mainland, in London or Birmingham, or some other supposedly ‘strategic’ target – the only strategy I could ever see was that it just caused ordinary people unnecessary misery and fear, which, duurrrr, was the point of such action. It was something that I remember from my watching of the news back then, along with miner’s strikes, the tensions and fear of the Cold War, and the two horribly iconic figures of Thatcher and Reagan.
So terrorism is nothing new to me. But it’s new to my daughter. Alice has not really encountered terrorism on British soil in her lifetime. She’s only 8.
An 8-year-old girl was among the first reported victims of last week. What an unspeakable act: To destroy the life of a girl, who could very well be my daughter. What pain for her parents. I could be that father, kissing his little girl goodbye for the last time, and now embarking on a road of pain that lasts from this act until his death. The mother… oh dear God…
I’ve tried imagining what the impact of losing a child in this way would be like, and I cannot bear it. I just do not have the courage, or the capacity of emotion to think of it. The pain. The rage. The loss.
The knowledge that children of her age were killed has hit Alice very hard. After just two minutes of watching the news in silence, she begged for the channel to be changed, for the news to be switched off.
I refused. I made her watch it. This kind of news is horrible. It is a living nightmare. And it is overwhelming. But to switch it off is a form of denial. I don’t believe in denying the pain of the world, or hiding it away. It is almost wilful ignorance to turn from such horror. It would be easier, less painful, if we didn’t see these things… but the downside is we allow ourselves to pretend these things don’t happen, and in my opinion, that is living a lie.
Just the day before, I had a conversation with one of the other mums. We discussed the upcoming election, and she said that she was voting for the very first time. I tried not to be shocked at this, and I hope I wasn’t too patronising (probably was, though), but when I asked why she hadn’t voted before, she said it was because politics is too complicated, and she didn’t fully understand it.
But it’s easy to understand, I said. All you have to do is watch the news.
“I don’t watch the news, it’s too depressing,” she said. “All the horrible things that go on…”. Well, less than 24 hours later, she had a point.
I can’t ignore the news. I mean, I do sympathise, but I’ve always wanted to be aware of the day’s news. I am a news junkie. I find coming back from a holiday, for example, to find a world-shattering event has taken place to be most disorientating.
I’ve always watched the news. As a child, we watched the news as a family over the dinner table, and often discussed it. I believe that knowing the news events, helps to explain the world and how it works. It’s true that the news sometimes feels like the world’s biggest soap opera, with no beginning or end, and with storylines that suddenly erupt with no context, and sometimes have no resolution. And yet, watching the news unfold can help to explain so many things: Politics, popular culture, science, history, technology, geography, and society, in a way that schooling and study cannot.
And I’m increasingly of the opinion that the reason why people don’t want to understand politics, or think there are too many immigrants, or think that voting for certain people and policies would be a good idea (*cough* mumblemumblemumbldonaldtrumpmumblemumblenigelfaragemumblemumble mumbleBrexitmumblemumblebloodyToriesmumblemumble), or who have a fear of new technology, or want to deny climate change, or have no empathy for people in foreign countries, or who are alarmed by homosexuals getting married, or fail to understand basic scientific concepts, or think the fucking government controls us through air exhaust fumes, is because there are increasing numbers of people who absolutely refuse to watch the news.
I don’t want my daughter to grow up ignorant, even if that means exposing her to the horrors of the modern world. I want her to know that this world has problems. I also want her to know that solutions are possible, but that those solutions are not pie-in-sky, soundbites that will solve everything in an instant. That’s just wish-fulfilment. That leads to people like Donald Trump getting elected, or being mired in the fairy-tale politics of an unobtainable utopia. That’s how politics on the far right or far left prey on the politically ignorant. She needs to know that workable solutions are difficult and long-term.
I also want her to have an opinion that is informed. I know some of this means she will be informed by mine or Sarah’s opinion, but I’m a parent. I can’t protect her from this forever. She needs to know. I have to make her understand somehow.
So I made Alice watch, despite her pleas not to, but not for long. As soon as the news started to repeat itself, we switched over. She was upset, and openly discussed her feelings about it, which was good. She also noticed the news reported that people rushed to the victims’ aid, and she loudly proclaimed that, if she was caught up in a disaster, she would be the sort of person who would do that. This seemed to cheer her up, and it slowly dawned on me that I had never really seriously considered the psychological importance for a child to know that people responded to such events with compassion before. I’ve only ever taken to heart the event, and the chaos that surrounds it.
Over the last few days I’ve found myself explaining terrorism, the politics of fear, and the way the media works to my sweet, innocent, and naїve 8-year-old daughter. It has not been an easy task for either of us, but I hope she understands.
How do you explain these things to a child? Even after a few days of doing so, I’m still none the wiser. And in a horrible way, I feel as though I have brought terrorism into my daughter’s life. I am The Parent of Terrorism now, and I am responsible for making her aware of the ills of human nature.
What’s more, I’ve successfully confused the hell out of her. I’ve over-explained some things, and skimped on others. I have to get it right. She has Muslim friends, for God’s sake. I don’t want her to fear them, or think all Muslims hate westerners.
So when I find myself embroiled in yet another pointless Facebook argument with a 22-year-old prick who thinks the only solution to terrorism is to eliminate all Muslims (and then he has the nerve to deny that he is racist for thinking this), I find myself theorising that this fuckwit and their fuckwit opinion is the net result of a news-free upbringing.
I dunno, I’m probably wrong. Maybe they’re just stupid. Maybe they watch the same amount of news, and just draw their own conclusions that happen to differ with mine. Or maybe I really am a patronising, middle-class twat, who is out of touch with the real world, and is a fucking libtard snowflake scum of the Earth. It’s what they say I am. There is every possibility that they have a point. To be fair, they are not 100% wrong.
But I can’t raise my daughter to be like that. That’s why I make my daughter watch the news, even though it disturbs her. I cannot have her being that sort of ignorant, intolerant fucking moron in years to come. That, to me, is as bad and irresponsible as letting her smoke when she’s 12.
Being a parent has changed my outlook on the news, I won’t lie. The shock of the Manchester bombing was profound, but I felt it most keenly when I realised the victims were young girls. Hey, I know a young girl. She’s my everything. How could this happen to her? How could this happen to anyone like her?
15 years ago, I would have been just as shocked, but the tragedy of the event would not have struck such a raw nerve in me. Becoming a parent changed that. I learned this when, just a few months after Alice was born, I read a newspaper article about the appalling Baby Peter case. The news of the final verdicts of his mother and stepfather came out, and the article went into great detail about the depraved cruelty that poor child suffered. I read the news on a lunch break, and then went back to work. Over 30 minutes then passed before I realised my hands were tightly clenched into fists. I was so angered, in a way I could never be prior to Alice being born. As a child and teenager, I was always privately embarrassed by the outpouring of grief and sympathy for child murder victims that grown-ups would indulge in. Now, as a parent, I recognise why such empathetic grief exists.
One of the positives – if there ever could be such a thing – that has emerged out of the chaos of the Manchester bombing has been the thought and care that the reporting has taken. There has been a notable sea-change. This is the first major news story where, following a devastating catastrophe, a sense of empathy has been in the news reporting, particularly towards children. Because this is a tragedy that has affected young children, there has been a real emphasis on engagement and understanding, and also, awareness that such stories can have a triggering effect.
The BBC’s Newsround, who have for 40 years pioneered the reporting of the news to children, have been exemplary. I’d go so far as to say they have been heroic in their reporting, both in approach, detail, and sensitivity. Fuck Game of Thrones, or the new series of Twin Peaks, or whatever boxset you’re urged to bingewatch; this is possibly the best and most important television-related thing of this year, and I firmly and genuinely believe it needs to be taught in all schools:
And this past week, I have learned to change my attitude to explaining the positives in the news, thanks to one small idea that has been repeated over and over again that, like an idiot, I have never considered before:
Don’t think about the bastard who did it. They don’t deserve our attention. People like that try to make the World worse. They will fail. Instead, think about the helpers. They are what makes this world great.
That is what I’ll tell Alice from now on. And this is what I’ll carry with me from this horrific, senseless attack. It’s a shame I didn’t learn this 30+ years ago.
And then the incredible, courageous, dignified and inspiring response and resilience of the people of Manchester made her realise that recovery is swift, normality will resume, and that the inherent goodness of the decent, civilised, majority of people will always prevail over the unconscionably evil. Alice turned to me at the weekend, after watching the news, “what’s the point of terrorism if people just bounce right back? Terrorists are so stupid”. Exactly, kid.
Here’s an interesting fact about me: I work in retail, in a gigantic ultra-store. It’s pretty good, actually. I get to help nice people with some very specific problems, which is a good way to spend a day. I also work alongside decent sorts, and the company isn’t a rank bastard. My day is generally full of lovely people.
I also get to people-watch, which is tremendous fun. Sometimes I see people being adorable, which goes against my instinctive opinions about the general public. Sometimes I see people being parents, and that’s always inspiring to me as a fellow breeder, because some parents are brilliant, and I can always do with picking up tips on how to be better. Most parents are average, and that’s cool too. Average is fine. I’m totally average.
But occasionally – very occasionally – I see parents being less than stellar, and this is fun too (though not for their families). Because that’s when I get to be judgmental.
Oh, come on. Don’t judge me for being judgmental (even though that is somewhat hypocritical of me to demand this). I like being judgmental. I can look upon people and decide whether they deserve to exist. Being judgmental is FUN! On the whole – and this surprised me – most parents I see in shops are pretty good. They engage with their kids, they all look like they’re having a fun day out (even though shopping is not always a fun activity), and they show respect for one another. I aspire to be like that. Sometimes the kids misbehave, and some parents deal with it pretty well. Sometimes the parents say to the kids, “If you don’t behave, the man over there will come and tell you off”, to which I long to say: Hey, don’t drag me into your shit. I’m not the head of discipline here. Kid, go nuts.
And then there are the parents who misbehave – and believe me, when parents misbehave, it’s worse than the kids. Sometimes it’s a snarky giggle to observe.
Occasionally it’s disturbing.
Before we go any further, I’d just like to point out that I am totally capable of being an absolute arse-cleft when shopping. I don’t always measure up. I’ve had all the classic bad-father-in-shopping-centre-stupidity moments. I have whined. I have slumped and sulked in frustration like a teenager. I’ve urged Sarah to get a bloody move on. I’ve had choices presented to me, and I’ve shrugged and said “whatever…” because I actually want to go home. I have had rows. I’ve stomped off angrily in the opposite direction when I didn’t get my way. I’ve got irritable when shopping has gone on for far too long. I’ve had grown-man tantrums in public. I’ve lost my temper. I’ve snapped at my beloveds.
Here’s a specific moment of crap shop-parenting so that you can judge me for a bit: I once got fed up of Alice (aged 5 at the time) running around screaming in a large shop and refusing to calm down. So I grabbed her by the arm to try and arrest her momentum. Unfortunately, the thing I grabbed was the hood of her anorak, which was fastened up to the neck. Alice stopped all right, with a “hw’erk!” of strangulation, and she fell hard onto her coccyx.
Oh God. Throttling your child is apparently a big parenting no-no. So there I was, in a busy shop, trying to comfort my now-weeping child (and, rather despicably, doing that thing where one apologises for bad behaviour, and simultaneously attempts to justify that poor behaviour like a complete prick) in front of dozens of witnesses. I heard at least one tut. Not my finest moment ever.
So now we’ve got my poor parenting out of the way, let me assuage my guilt by telling you all about some of the shite families I have witnessed as both a shopper and a shop worker.
The Red Bull Incident:
I once witnessed a parent with a small child in tow. The child couldn’t have been older than seven years old, and was drinking from a 350ml can of Red Bull with a straw. Now, I’m a drinker of Red Bull when I need to be, but it is foul and disgusting. Also, I really don’t think a small child should be drinking that much caffeine and taurine, particularly through the direct-injection of a straw. I currently have an empty can of the stuff on my desk in front of me (which I really should put in the bin) and it very clearly says ‘not recommended for children‘ in bold writing.
Anyhoo, the parent had clearly not read this instruction, or didn’t care, and had given the rather massive can to the kid in order to shut them up with sugary chemicals, and was blithely unaware of the shitstorm that I was sure was about to be unleashed. To my immense schadenfreude, my prophecy came true half an hour later. I was walking through a further bit of the store and witnessed what could only be described as a screaming blur dressed in the same clothes as the child I had seen earlier. That same Red Bull-sucking child had gone feral, and was thrashing around, screaming his head off. The parent was remonstrating with the poor kid, and actually had the nerve to wail “Why are you being like this??”
It’s because you’ve given your child their entire pre-teen allowance of caffeine in just 20 minutes, and now they’re so wired you need to strap them down. You halfwit.
I once saw a family walking through a store. The parents were a little way ahead. The kids (a brother and sister, approx 11 and 9 years old) were behind. The brother was pushing the trolley, and the sister was hanging on to the front of the trolley, her feet on the frame. There was a sibling argument going on, and the parents were dealing with this by telling them to pack it in by snarling over their shoulders without turning round. The children then escalated their war. The brother attempted to dislodge his sister by shoving the trolley back and forth very hard. The sister held on admirably, and tried to work her way up the side of the trolley to clout him. I was on her side; he was being a whiny little twat.
He then went up to a protruding corner wall and tried to use it to scrape his sister off the side of the trolley. She yelled in pain as she was crushed against the point of the corner. At that point, the father wheeled round, marched up to them both and castigated his daughter for being noisy, while the son smirked in victory. The look of disbelief on her face and her vocal outrage at the injustice of it all still haunts me two years on.
“If you don’t shut up NOW, I’ll SMASH YOUR FUCKING FACE IN” – Man to his female partner in front of their children, leaving her looking shocked and afraid, presumably because she had the nerve to take him shopping on a Saturday. Lovely chap, I’m sure.
Shoving Kids in Trollies:
As a parent, and a trained first-aider, what really gets my goat is other parents putting their kids in the trolley. I’m not talking about the little fold-out seat designed for under-fives, but actually standing up in the basket of the trolley itself. The potential for an accident is massive. All sorts of things could happen, but typically, the trolley would collide into something and the unrestrained kid then smashes into the wire basket.
I attended an incident just like this two days ago. You do not want to see a two-year-old with a lump the size of an egg on their forehead. It’s horrible. And enough of my fellow in-store first-aiders have plenty of jolly anecdotes about smashed teeth and gushing bloody noses, all because some parents would rather their child not undergo the inconvenience of walking.
I’ve never let Alice stand in the basket of a trolley, despite her asking. Her legs are fine, and it wouldn’t hurt her to use them. I’d rather she was complaining of sore feet than complaining about being in A&E.
Incidentally, first-aiding is something I’ve always wanted to do, and I recently did the course. It’s worth doing, if only to scare yourself rigid, to hear the most horrific first-hand accounts of dreadful incidents, and to have a responsibility that weighs heavily on your shoulders every time you arrive at work for an 8-hour shift. But it does give yourself a skill you might need in a bad situation. Nearly all of my calls have been for children caught up in some misadventure or other, usually because they’re running around. Minor head injuries, mostly.
The worst so far was when I was less than ten feet away from one kid who wriggled from his mother’s grasp and fell backwards onto his skull. I didn’t see it – I was on the other side of a partition wall, but Oh God, I heard it. There was a sickening noise. I thought it was a plastic shelf smacking onto the floor, until I heard the awful, blood-curdling, guttural screaming. I don’t know which was worse, the child’s scream, the mother’s distress at her child’s accident and potential head injury, or her guilt at her child falling from her arms. And while I was helping to assess the child’s injury and calming the poor mother, a crowd gathered. One absolute fucknut, who was passing-by, whipped out his mobile phone to capture the moment for posterity.
Just look after your kids in a big store, OK?
Shoving Kids In Trollies and Expecting Them To Stand Still:
OK, you’ve put your kid to stand upright in the trolley, despite my advice not to. Well done. I already hate you. Then, you pile loads of things all around the kid, and wheel them around a large shop with many obstacles. A trolley is not a stable thing, and a child would need to adjust their stance in order not to smash their soft and fragile face on the wire frame. Children can do this, although their sense of balance is not as acute as an adult. So the child stabilises themselves against the motion of the trolley by getting strong foot-purchase on the contents of the trolley.
Just literally a few weeks ago, I saw a child standing in a trolley, on top of some large picture frames. The frames could not fit in the trolley, so were at an angle against the wires of the basket. The child, aged about four, had nowhere to put their feet, other than on the picture frames themselves. There was an ominous crack, and both parents yelled – properly yelled at full volume – at the kid for the cardinal sin of trying to stand upright on top of picture frames whilst being pushed in a trolley.
What sort of clattering thicko buys expensive frames, and then plonks a kid to stand on top of them, and then blames the kid for trying to remain standing up? The father, no doubt blinded by his own brilliance, then yanked the kid out of the trolley by the arm on one massive heave, and gave her a thorough bollocking. The poor child was furious and humiliated. Again, I was on the kids’ side.
All my life, not just in my job, I’ve seen parents smack, clip round the ear, shake, shove, and bully their kids in shops. It’s horrid to watch. By contrast, I’m one of those parents who gets down on one knee and very quietly utters a threat of punishment to my child because I don’t want other people to think I’m a shouty monster. You may call it cowardice, I call it not being a bullying twat in public. I prefer to wait until I get home before behaving like a monster. That’s reasonable, isn’t it?
“Mummy I Want My Phone”:
I just don’t understand why parents, on family days out, shove their kids in the back of the car with a hand-held screeny-thing either, when there’s scenery to look at, daydreams to indulge in, music on the stereo, and family conversations to be had; but I suppose I’m a knee-jerk technophobe who had no option but to tolerate long car journeys as a child. I really don’t understand why parents give their kids an expensive, noisy, flashing gadget on short trips to the shops. I blame both parents and kids for not partaking in the shopping experience in the spirit in which it is intended.
Oh, all right, going shopping is a massive pain in the arse, but is giving your kid a hand-held screen to idle the time away really the answer? Are we really training our kids to be hooked to tiny screens rather than an interest in the world around them? What habits are we forming in their tiny minds? For example, because there was always a book in the bathroom throughout my childhood, I can’t now do a number two in my own home without a good ten minutes’ reading, much to my wife and child’s early morning annoyance. I admit, it’s not a good habit.
So anyway, I was right by the entrance to a nearby supermarket recently, when I noticed a woman coming in. She had a crowd of girls around her, aged roughly between 5 and 13. This woman was posh – sometimes you can just tell, even without hearing them speak. The girls were all pony-tailed and slender and had the same thin face as the woman. An obvious family. And when I eavesdropped on their conversations, their accents were classic English, Radio 4, crystal-decanter, pony club, posho-posh. They had literally just entered the store.
One of the daughters – second eldest, by my reckoning – tapped their mother, who was trying to read a shopping list and read out their plan, on the elbow.
“Mummy, I want my phone” (‘phone’ pronounced as ‘pheaune’)
“In a minute, dear, I’m just trying to…”
“Mummy, I want my phone”
“Let me just get this sorted, lovely”.
“Mummy. I want my phone now.” (this was not shouted, but the emphasis was clearly audible)
“I’ll get you your phone in a minute.”
“Oh, all right poppet, here it is” (produces shiny black monolith from the recesses of a leather handbag).
Child, no word of thanks, instantly puts her head down and starts frantically typing on the phone, no doubt writing on Instayelp to her lacrosse team about how horribly unfair everything is.
I hated both child and mother instantly.
I know we all like our children to have interesting and distinctive names, and we want our children to grow up to be different from all the rest. I don’t want to criticise your choices. Your child’s name is deeply personal, and I respect that your reasons for choosing your child’s name are profound and significant. I also know there are cultural and family reasons for particular names, and I am not fit to pass judgment on your decisions…
…but it has to be said that there are some people who are just white, pretentious, aspirational middle-class wankers who give wanky names to their wanker kids: Cassius. Fabian. Alfonse. Saladin. Thisbe. Orion. Darwin. Blue. Orlando. Clematis. Phoenix. Dante. Ariadne. Persephone. These are all names that have been within my own earshot in shops, and it is almost always said by a pleading woman who is trying ineffectively to control a recalcitrant child. I know am running the risk of offending you if you have given your child a distinctive name that has been bestowed for reasons of tradition, culture, or love, and I get that… but Saladin? Really?
The Couple (with two small children) Who Came Up To Me With A Complaint Who Reeked Of Stale Booze And Swore A Lot:
Fuck me, you people have a serious problem, and I hope your kid does not copy your example.
Oh, and just the other week, I did have somebody be obnoxiously racist to me about the Muslims we get in store, the non-white heritage of one of my colleagues, and anyone from Wales. He didn’t have any kids with him that I could see, so he wasn’t a bad parent, just your average common-or-garden cunt.
Please don’t get me wrong. 99.9999% of the customers I encounter are splendid and polite. They treat their kids with love, and they deal with any frustrations with good humour and reasonable discipline. The kids are usually all right too, they’re just bored surrounded by distractions, and they act out because of it. Sometimes they scream their way around the store, but that’s fine. Kids scream. I don’t mind it, despite some parents thinking I do. I see great parents all day, every day, looking after their kids, singing songs to the tiny ones, involving the older ones in the shopping experience, and doing their best to make their family time in a massive store enjoyable.
Shopping is a chore. It’s a ballache. Maybe all of my examples of poor behaviour were exceptions to their otherwise unimpeachable characters. We can’t be expected to be perfect all the time. So if 99.999% percent of people have one bad shopping trip, who am I to judge? The examples I listed above are rarities, the absolute exception. I don’t see people like that every day, or even every month. So, I’m not exaggerating when I say that 99.999% of my customers – and I usually encounter hundreds on a shift – are superb and I genuinely enjoy helping them.
OK. Maybe on a super-busy day it’s more like 98.7%. A busy store like ours is a bit of an intimidating, overwhelming place, and even though I’ve been there for two years, I have experienced my own share of panic attacks. Yes, I do get people being rude, unreasonable, petulant, whiny, handling disappointment with bad grace, and seemingly hell-bent on being arsey, but that’s part of the job. And maybe I’m the reason why they get annoyed, I dunno. It’s possible I have a manner that enrages and a face that invites punching. What amazes me is how rare these people are, and if they are behaving like pricks, there’s usually an understandable reason why.
But be warned: I do observe people. And so do my colleagues. We’re on to you. Just remember that when you’re out shopping, shop workers such as myself are watching you. If something happens – an incident, a behavioural tick, an overheard remark – you will become an anecdote. We will laugh at you when you’re out of sight. We will repeat what you have just said, and we will snigger about you and your stupid attitude. And you will be judged by your behaviour, and the way you treat your children.
She’s growing up fast
Too fast, in fact
You can hear the moments swoosh by in painful Doppler-effect
I can’t make her stay young
But I’ll miss the 8 year old, like I miss the 6 and the 3
Lives in a world filled with friends
But she’s beginning to get puzzled
At why some people don’t play with her
Someone will tell her she’s not cool enough
And no matter how hard I will try to convince her otherwise
She’ll believe them and not me
Soon she’ll be 10
She’ll want things that are new and expensive
That are essential to helping her to fit in
Right now, she doesn’t care
Thank God for that
May it remain in the future
She can see the World now
She sees the news, and realises it affects her
She sees the faraway country, and feels the connection
I am proud and sad
And she makes me happy
All breathless and giddy and funny and shouting
She’ll still make me happy in five years time
But the giddy and excited will make way
For quiet moments in her room
The wide-eyed wonder will be pushed back
And her instinctive automatic affection will embarrass her
And she name-drops Jaguar
She thinks it’s the best car
Because she knows I want to drive one
And she can spot Led Zeppelin
Doesn’t care if her friends can’t
In five years
They’ll tell her she’s sad
Then she’ll tell me I’m sad
Then I’ll actually be sad
But not teenager-sad
That I’m the embarrassing Dad
She will put empty space between what she likes
And what I love
And I’m still Daddy
I’m not Dad yet
I know it’s coming
I want Dad to be kept at bay
It’s a name that can lengthened
Into a Daaaaaaaaad! of annoyance and frustration
Daddy can be in this house a little longer
Even though the insistent monotone
Follows me around the shops
Soon she’ll be swearing
I’m looking forward to not having to mind my language
But I don’t want that open, sweet face to utter a curse
She’ll soon want to kiss
And whoever she kisses
Had better be good to her
Terrifying the spotty teenager
Who dares to be overly polite on our doorstep
And calls me ‘sir’ on first meeting
Taking pleasure in his angular awkwardness
When I was 8, I rode the town
On a bike across busy roads
Into deserted back lanes
And ran pathways in woods
Encountering hostile bigger kids
And stashes of creased magazines
Full of naughty hair
And bought bright green teeth-gouging sweets
With sweaty coppers
And sometimes crossed the road
Without waiting for David Prowse to bleep at me
Knocked on familiar doors without invitation
Played on wheel-worn tarmac
Watched skin concertina up my knee
I’m still too scared
I can’t bring myself to let her cross the road solo yet
Or walk to school alone
Or buy things in the shop
Or walk round to a friends’ house
Or make a phone call
Or type a word into Google
Because everything leads to porn, you know
Cars don’t stop for pedestrians
And all strangers are terrifying monsters
The world outside these comfortable brick walls
Is full of broken glass and needles
Blade-edged crushing cars and perverts
I’m the one who is scared, not her
She writes and talks and sings and dances
And sticky inept fingers on piano keys
Pick out idiot melodies
Words come out jumbled and charming
Without thinking any of that is wrong
And one day, and it’s a day hurtling towards us
She’ll write properly
Talk politely with a filter
She will be too scared to sing
Because other people are listening
She’ll refrain from sudden public dancing
because other people are watching
And the music will be corrected
And she’ll speak like the rest of us
Just to avoid the tuts and sneers
Just because other people want her to be normal
And she makes me happy
She’s so breathless and giddy
And talking without fader
When we’re both shouting and snarling
She’s usually crying
And I’m towering
I’m usually winning
But she hasn’t hated me yet
Or sworn or slammed doors
Or run out of the castle into the tangled Disney forest
Or scrawled on walls
Or turned up the volume
Of yelping, excoriating words
From paid miserablists
Who in their twenties and thirties
Articulate for teenagers
Or turned inwards and loathing
Writing words on secret paper
Refusing my courtesy
And soon her body will disobey
Bits poke out and make her distinct
Skin will swell
Angry red swarm on cheeks
Clothes feeling tight
New pituitary chemicals
The doorway of womanhood
And then the pointing
Innuendos and slurs
Developments are early or late
And others will be having it better
Whatever she gets, she’ll feel it is wrong
The inevitable exile
From self or army of others
She’s a blank larvae
Teeth the only sign
Of growth and maturity
And height marks on a doorframe
Long hair and dress sense
Inspired by fairy-tale and dream
Her trusting eyes
Blue and open
And she makes me happy
And she makes me so, so happy
All breathless and giddy
We love the same things
She’ll still make me happy in five years time
Will she still love the same things?
Or will she want to lengthen her arms
Keep me and my things at the tips?
Put the blinker-hand to her eyes
And walk a little bit quicker than me?
8 is vanishing
Soon she’ll be 9
Soon she’ll be 12
Soon she’ll be 15
She’s halfway to 16
A decade from voting
Sex and drinking
Driving and smoking
Not daily talking but sometimes calling
The aged parents
Our duty done, her duty to contact
The silent house
Is very distant now
10 years or more
But soon will be close
She’s still golden
While I’m still dark, but snow is forming
And the body will lengthen
She’ll look me in the eye
And ask for freedom
My wife and I
Praise the quiet
At the end of each day
Talk boring adult things
Mortgages and roadworks
But when clocks stop
And lights switch off
On the final closing of doors
The relinquishing of house keys
Her terrifying adventure
Enriching, engorging and full
Will be a solo flight
We’ll be left behind
My wife and I
Clinging to each other
Like shipwrecked beavers on a raft
Wishing for the chatter
And streaming prattle
To return as soundtrack
I write it down
So that I can always hear it
She’s gone, cannot return
She changes, grows, and blossoms
I carve gouges in my face
My hair turns to birch-bark silver
And mother becomes a cheerful apple
Rose-red and comforting
To the new names and beautiful hands
A kitchen and a front room to visit
Pot-pourri walls and confident with nails
Our beloved garden
Books and photos in the attic
…So far away
Return to this room now
And I’m 40
She’s soaring upwards
And I’m sauntering down.
I just got irritable at Alice. I properly shouted at her.
It was before heading off to school. I was on the loo, making myself lighter, and she came upstairs and started gabbling at me. Annoyed at having my one moment of isolation interrupted, I snapped through the door to leave me alone. She cried, yelled “Well… leave ME alone!!” and stomped off into her room, sobbing.
“Can’t I have one moment of privacy??” I pleaded with her, after things had cooled down.
“You get privacy at work!” she responded. I work in retail, in a store with hundreds of employees, and with many thousands of customers per week. I am surrounded at all times by many people. She knows this. As comebacks go, it’s one of the most bizarre.
Now at this point, you’re thinking this is a blog entry about my toilet visits being interrupted by my offspring. It’s a classic parent trope, isn’t it? The fact you cannot go to the toilet by yourself anymore? Hilarious! But I fancy wrongfooting you today, and I hope it has worked. On the walk back from school, I started thinking about how this blog doesn’t always express the pride I have in her. And it’s about time I should do something about this. Hopefully, I shall do it in a way that doesn’t make you sick.
Before we go any further, I don’t want you to think that I’m going to gush proudly about Alice in blog format, and then not tell her to her face how much I am proud of her and her achievements. I DO tell her. I tell her a lot.
I’m proud of her for many reasons. Not just that she’s good in school – of course, I’d be bothered if she wasn’t, but I’m more concerned with who she is as a person, not a test score. The fact that she’s doing well in school is a happy coincidence, and I am proud of that, but to me, what really matters is who she is turning into. And I like that person a lot.
When she spontaneously does a lot of tidying without complaint. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, I’m delighted. Just yesterday, she announced that she was going to be “super-helpful!!” with audible exclamation marks. So she helped me with the shopping, helped me pack it away when we got home, and then tidied the living room.
When she talks with confidence to people, especially adults. Sometimes she says too much, or talks out of turn, or gives out too much information, or just babbles. But to just have the ability and willingness to attempt to converse with the adults she meets with me, instead of hiding behind my legs, is something I’m really pleased about.
When she can stand up in front of an audience and not feel any fear. So many adults piss themselves dry at the thought of public speaking. Alice revels in it.
Seeing her interact with other children, when she’s in a strange place or in a strange situation, is always rewarding. She makes friends easily.
The other day, she announced that she hadn’t watched enough news. So she watched some, because she realised she needed to know what was happening in the world. You go, girl!
After three and a half years of primary school, and lots of gentle cajoling from teachers, she just transformed her handwriting. What used to be sentanceswithnospacesorpunctuationwhatsoeverinaspideryhand are now flowing and neat, and written in an elegant and slender gothic script. This is something I’m not just proud of, but slightly jealous about. I still have appalling handwriting.
Alice is good at science and has an interest in the scientific method. I’m not particularly, and neither is Sarah. Recently, she has developed a fascination with the periodic table. Despite me knowing next to nothing about the periodic table, I am keen to foster this interest.
Alice is good at maths. I most definitely am not.
Alice told me she wants to challenge me to a geek trivia quiz. I told her that I would beat her, hands down. She put her hands on her hips instead, and firmly told me I would lose. I said, Oh yeah?, and asked her what Deep Thought calculated was the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything. She didn’t know, and asked me who Deep Thought was. OK, so I proved my point, but I’m really pleased that a) she is interested in geek trivia (and was both confused and amazed at the answer 42, and wanted to know more); b) she actively seeks a quiz on geek trivia; and c) that she thinks she can take me on.
Alice doesn’t take shit from me. She really doesn’t. Much as I would like her to obey every command without question, and follow every instruction, and not be so cheeky as to answer back, I am still really pleased she stands up to me. If she can stand up to me, she can face up to bullies, abusive boyfriends, and crap bosses.
When she stands up for herself, in school, in the face of some quite nasty behaviour from her peers (they’re 8, they do that, even the lovely ones, and most of her classmates truly are lovely, but sometimes they can be horrific to one another), or when someone continually picks on her. She doesn’t realise this, because she gets upset and feels helpless, but I’m really proud that she does the right thing: She doesn’t hide from the confrontation, she calls them out on it, she challenges their attitude towards her, and she tells someone about it – a teacher, a friend, Sarah and I. By contrast, I really wish I had done that so many times in my life, up to and including last week.
Alice wants to watch films. She wants to go to the cinema with me. The other day we saw Beauty and the Beast (the new live-action version with Emma Watson) at our local flickhouse. It was rubbish, but we had a lovely afternoon of me and her, and she loved it, and we did popcorn, and afterwards we held hands and skipped through the cinema foyer. A gang of teenage girls looked aghast at this sight, and one sniggered in a nasty way. Alice didn’t notice and I didn’t care. Even seeing a bad film with Alice is good fun.
Alice likes music, and is happy to be introduced to new sounds. It has to be done the right way. You can’t just play Alice a song, or a band, and expect her to like it. Hearing a song on a film soundtrack is a good way to feed her new songs. Or hype up a band over a couple of weeks until she demands to hear it. Thanks to the teaser trailer for the upcoming Thor Ragnarok which employs effective use of Immigrant Song, Alice has developed an enthusiasm for Led Zeppelin. WIN. Now I’ve been telling her about Stairway to Heaven and – crucially – not playing it to her. Now she really wants to hear it. The other day, I casually mentioned Pink Floyd and her ears noticeably pricked up and she asked me who they were and what they sounded like. Sometimes she does surprise me. Not long ago, I played an old Genesis album in the car, to Sarah’s mild annoyance. From the back seat, a small voice piped up “I’m feeling this, Daddy!”. Now Genesis are one of her favourite bands, even though I’m slightly embarrassed about it.
Alice doesn’t care what other people think of her music taste. I think this is great. With her burgeoning enthusiasm for Zeppelin, and an established love of Bowie, Kate Bush, and AC/DC, I do worry how her peers would react to her tastes, as mine did back in the day.
“What if they tell you that you’re not cool enough, and the music you like is uncool and sad, Alice?”, I asked her.
“I don’t care”, she answered, blithely. “It’s my music, and I like it, and that’s that.”
That got a high five.
Alice cares about other people. She has empathy, particularly when other people are upset. She has signed up to the school program to be a ‘playground buddy’, which means she will be looking after the small kids, or anyone who hasn’t got a friend to play with.
Alice reads. She reads story books, Harry Potter, graphic novels, kid science books, magazines… now while reading is one of those things all kids are expected to do, I did get a bit worried a year or two ago when Alice just didn’t seem to enjoy reading all that much. She could do it quite easily, she just didn’t seem to get a thrill out of it. Now she does it a lot more. Authors are beginning to attract her attention. Obviously JK Rowling gets a mention, and Roald Dahl of course, but she’s heard a few short stories by Terry Pratchett, and is keen to read more. She still won’t read Charlie and the Chocolate Factory though, and still describes it as her worst fear (usually whilst shivering and quaking theatrically). Although, a few weeks ago, she announced she had started reading it, and would probably skip the scary bits.
As previously mentioned on this blog, we recently bought a Playstation 4. Alice loves it, and has enthusiastically started getting into gaming. She has, with Sarah’s help, built her own world on Minecraft, filled with very Alice things. It’s a town called Poppitron, and there’s the mile-high bridge that goes nowhere, a lava fountain, the most opulent railway station in the world made of emerald and gold, a school made of glass, a permanent scrapyard fire-pyramid, a vertical football stadium, a movie studio called Pollywood, a tower of carpet, a giant clock tower, a duck farm.
She sings her own songs, spontaneously, and with gusto. Some of her compositions are charming, and not many of them are about poo or wee, as all of my songs were when I was aged 8.
She wants to be an author (blimey, who doesn’t around here?) and she has started writing her ideas down in a notebook. Some of them have genuine potential. What I’m really proud of is that a) she’s taking it seriously; and b) she’s actually developing good discipline and practice.
She’s good with names and imaginative ideas. She has had, since the age of three, an imaginary country called Mongray, and the citizens of Mongray speak a language called Chiksh. The language, mythology, and geography of Mongray is always evolving. Her various worlds in Minecraft have great names – Floransems and Efammubi for example. By contrast, my latest character name for Call of Duty is Ultra-Dan Megaskillz.
She’s a smart, clever, funny girl, who likes conversation and interesting things. She cares for other people, and is interested in how the world operates. She likes words and numbers and science. She can play imaginative games by herself, and she likes joining in with other people. She loves school. She loves family. She likes doing stuff with Sarah and I, and we have fun together. She doesn’t ask for material things very often, and certainly isn’t interested in current fads, trends, must-have toys, or the latest ‘thing’ very much; and she doesn’t care what other people think of her.
I’m not complacent though, and there is room for improvement. There’s still a lot of parenting by myself and Sarah to do, and Alice has to make the effort as well. But really, it’s on us. For example, she has never made toast. She has never crossed a road all by herself without me or Sarah looking out for her. She can’t swim all that well. She has never ridden a bike. She has never bought anything in a shop all by herself. She still uses her fingers as a piece of cutlery. She sometimes doesn’t know when to stop talking, and sometimes she doesn’t have that filter between brain and mouth.
She is, however, remarkable to me. I never can quite get over that really not that long ago, she was a cluster of cells, and then she was a baby with a formless mind, and then a toddler, and now she’s a proper person. With thoughts, and ideas, and dreams, and opinions. She’s growing up to be more than I could ever wish for, and sometimes more than I can bear. I’m so totally, utterly, properly, ultrally proud of her, that I just make up words sometimes. Rather like she does.
If you’re noticing a spring in my step, and a more zesty attitude to life, you might be forgiven for thinking I’ve won the lottery or had sex. But no, my new vim and vigour has come about due to last Christmas’s family Christmas present: A Sony Playstation 4.
Anybody who says that material things – especially sparkly digital shriekboxes – are ephemera we could all do without is talking absolute bollocks. Having a Playstation 4 really has made my life completely better.
I should explain why I’m so giddy about this. You see, I’ve never had a cutting-edge games console before (I know, I know, #FirstWorldProblems and all that). I am not what you might call an early adopter of technology. I do not own an MP3 player. I haven’t got a sat-nav in my car. I sneer at Apple things, and baulk at their prices. My smart phone is cheap, low-cost, and only used for text messages and phone calls, and that’s it. Good tech is wasted on me.
I’ve been conditioned to be like this. Growing up in the 1980s, my father was afflicted by that strange delusion that middle-aged men with young families had back then, and bought a home computer on the basis that it would help my brother and I do better homework than anyone else, and that he could control the family finances in a much more comprehensive way. Of course, that was bullshit, and we used it as a home arcade-game machine. I don’t think I ever saw him use it for compiling a spreadsheet, and I certainly never did homework on it.
It was a BBC Model B Microcomputer, with a 5″ floppy disk drive and 32kb of memory, and it was brilliant. He managed to get a few games for it, and that was enough, end of story. At the same time, the games console market was taking off, but he figured that a computer with games on it was enough for us, end of story, no argument.
Typically of our family (we also had a Betamax video recorder) The BBC Model B was not a machine my contemporaries had (most of my peers had a ZX Spectrum 48k), so games were hard to come by (apart from the original Elite, which was fucking brill, and I now play the new updated online version, Elite: Deadly Turbo Zone). Over subsequent years, we’d get various underpowered PCs, thanks to my Dad’s insistence on computers over consoles, and to his complete lack of knowledge about computers.
This parsimonious attitude rubbed off on me. As a student in the 1990s, when my chums were all blowing grants and student loans on the original Playstation, I thought I was being sensible by not getting one. Fool. I therefore missed out on staying up until 5am with a spliff in my hand, playing Tomb Raider. This was an essential experiential part of the cultural zeitgeist in the 1990s, and I missed out on it, and as a result my life has never really recovered.
A few years ago, I caved in and bought a Wii, some years after everyone else had bought one. It’s OK, but games were hardly being churned out for it, even in 2010. We now use it for the fitness thing, except it can be quite judgmental. But this Christmas, both Sarah and I agreed to get a new console.
We reasoned that as Alice was getting older, that she should have some sort of Super Megathing 3000. For one thing, most of her friends have got tablets, Nintendo DS’s, Xboxes and so on, and we didn’t want her to feel left out. For another, we wanted her to have something that had a current supply of decent games coming out every so often. And finally, and most importantly, Sarah and I wanted all of those things for ourselves.
Sarah, ever the clever budgeter, thought we could get a PS3 second-hand, and that would do the job. For once, I didn’t agree. I felt that Alice would be better served by having new games. It’s not that I wanted her to have better, flashier stuff than her chums (nor do I want to rub it into the faces of our fellow parents), but that she could have something she could be proud of, and that she could have something where the games were relevant and current. I said all this, knowing full well that, deep down, my real reason for wanting a PS4 over a PS3 was that I wanted something spanking new for once, dammit!
After 30 years of console culture, I finally wanted to have something where, if a new game came out, I didn’t watch the adverts, wistfully hoping that I could one day have something as snazzy. I wanted to have a game and a console that all the other kids in the neighbourhood had. I wanted the shiny bullshit for once, and I wanted to have the bestest graphics, and the dopest games, yo. I wanted to play games when they came out. I wanted to play violent games online, and get my own back on teenagers from Ohio who call me a “faggot” and a “n00b” by blasting them repeatedly in the face (in the game, of course. Duh).
Besides, I’m an adult now, and what’s the point of actually working for a living if I can’t buy whatever the fuck I want?
I also reasoned with Sarah that Alice could have child-friendly games of her own, and that Sarah could play her beloved Minecraft in glorious, plasma-screen HD (up until now played on a creaking laptop). I reasoned that the PS4 would be current for a good few years yet, and it would be fine for a few years after any successor came out.
And lo, my wheedling paid off. The PS4 is now the newest member of the family. Fuck, it’s great. OK, so I can’t stay up until 5am with a spliff in my hand, sitting on a beanbag making Lara Croft jiggle around with guns – the time in my life where I could do that has now passed. Instead, Sarah and I can sit together and chat while we play our games. It’s quality husband/wife time together. Alice has also enjoyed playing various Lego games and Minecraft herself. And it has brought a new disciplinary tool to the family dynamic: The old “If-you-don’t-do-your-homework-now-you-won’t-play-the-PS4-this-weekend” thing, which works a treat. The threat of which means that Alice will quickly do whatever she’s asked to do with minimum fuss. The threat of having her Lego Avengers game withdrawn is too much for her to bear. I mean, what else will she do without the PS4 to sustain her? Actually play with real Lego?? HA!
OK, so all I’ve done is bought a racing game, Twatty Car Vroomfest, and a shooty game in the form of Star Wars Battlegasm, and they’re all very shiny and lovely. I haven’t played Call of Duty Black Ops II online yet. In fact, I haven’t played any online games yet (and thus my waste of good tech continues), but I do feel like I’ve been a provider. I’ve finally become a good modern father after all my self-absorbed, liberal, non-bling, non-acquisitional pontificating and posturing, right? I’ve provided for my family. I haven’t denied my child some gaudy thing just because I didn’t have it as a lad, or out of being miserly. I’ve bought something aspirational and current, and it didn’t hurt. In fact, I feel better for it. I’m having fun, and so is my family! They’re downstairs right now playing on Minecraft as I type this. We’re all happy! You know, I think I may be becoming shallow and materially obsessed as everyone else. Hooray!
It’s Parents’ Evening soon. I hate it. I hated it as a child (and would dread my returning parents wearing their “we need to have a talk” faces), and now I hate it as an adult. I’m sure that if I were a teacher, I’d hate it too.
I’m not saying that it should be abolished. Parents’ Evening is one of the most important elements in the school system. It is imperative that a teacher can have a sit-down conversation with their students’ parents at least once a year. It is vital that parents converse with their child’s teacher on an annual basis at the very least. Of course, some parents like to do this on a daily basis, but that’s modern interfering parents for you.
This is an encounter where feelings can run high, criticisms can be made, and offence can be taken. Therefore the language used by teachers is sometimes not quite as direct and honest as it could be. In order to avoid a severe beating from psychotically insecure parents who project themselves onto their children and whose self-esteem is wrapped up in their child’s success, teachers now use very diplomatic and nuanced language at Parents’ Evening.
Because this is often a very awkward scenario for all concerned, the true meaning of a teacher’s comments can be obfuscated in order to avoid offence. We now enter a very vague world, where the subtle uses of the English language, and classic British understatement can be observed. Here is a translation of some of the common phrases a teacher might use:
“Your child is doing well” Your child is very average.
“Your child is very bright” Clap hands in front of face, call child’s name, snap fingers either side of the head… nope, off with the fairies again.
“Your child is a delight to teach” I’ve forgotten who your child is. Are we talking about the kid who eats crayons, or the one who laughs too loud?
“Your child has a unique perspective on the world” Your child lives on an alien planet that orbits a strange star, many light years from our own, judging by the gibberish that pours from their mouth.
“Your child has a very mature outlook on things” What the fuck have you been letting your child watch on TV??
“Your child contributes to the atmosphere of the classroom” I offer a sacrifice of thanks to the Influenza-God every time your child is absent due to sickness, thus protecting the classroom from your child’s near-constant screeching and prattling.
“Your child is quite a character!” Your child is a royal pain in the bum, constantly demanding attention, mucking about, cheeky, disruptive, annoying, and fidgety in the worst possible sense. I’m not allowed to use gags or restraints to strap children down and make them shut up, but in your twat-brat’s case, I will make an exception.
“Your child is making good progress!” Your child is making the same amount of progress as everyone else in the class.
“I’m really pleased with your child’s writing this term. It has come on leaps and bounds!” If you can make head or tail of your kid’s illegible scrawl, I will give you a medal.
“Your child is ahead of the curve!” Your child IS a fucking curve.
“Your child has a vivid imagination” Your child’s stories involve blood, guts, animal torture, and sexual depravity, and I have called Social Services.
“It’s the art subjects where your child excels” Your child draws pictures of your heavy drinking.
“I’m glad that you, as a family, work together to complete homework” No eight-year-old child can make a working model of a volcano, and I recognise parental handiwork when I see it. You did it all yourself, you bloody cheat.
“It’s great that your child enjoys reading so much…” If your kid mentions Harry fucking Potter one more time, I’m going to scream. Simple as.
“We’re all pleased that your child is interested in learning the violin” It’s twenty minutes, every Tuesday morning, where your child is guaranteed to leave the classroom. I see no bad in this.
“Your child makes valuable contributions to lessons” Your child repeats your bullshit UKIP opinions at any given opportunity, and the Polish kid on the same table is getting increasingly upset about it.
“Your child has a very strong friendship with _____. They’re quite a team!” I prefer to keep them apart, to be honest. I don’t like the way they’re always whispering to each other and glaring at me in a meaningful way. I’ve seen Heavenly Creatures. I know how it ends.
“Your child is kind and thoughtful to the younger children in school” We had to cut Olivia from Caterpillar Class down from the chain-link fence again this week.
“Your child has an independent spirit” Your child is an argumentative little shitbag.
“Your child is very emotional” Whenever a thunderstorm is forecast, I do not trust your child to hand out scissors.
“Your child’s interests lie more towards PE and games than academic interests… no, this is a good thing, and I encourage it” Your kid is an inarticulate thug, but we need them for the school football team because your child is, single-handedly, a one-person terror machine who bulldozes their way through the other school teams in the local area, and usually wins the game for us. Go Bulldogs!!
“Your child is less physical, and more interested in academic pursuits” Your child is so crap at PE that whenever we give them a ball to kick or throw or catch, the rest of the class (me included) just fall about laughing at their uncoordinated legs and flapping arms.
“Your child is very popular amongst their classmates” Did you know your kid’s nickname is ‘The Bum-arse’?
“Occasionally your child’s focus will wander off-topic…” If your kid mentions Harry fucking Potter ONE MORE TIME, I swear to God there will be carnage, and innocent people will get hurt.
“Your child is an aggressive bully, who is a nightmare to teach, who doesn’t listen to instruction, who is disruptive and badly-behaved. They are rude, violent, impossible to control thanks to your lack of enforcing discipline at home, they do not do any work, they are lazy and uncooperative, I have to exclude them from lessons on a regular basis, and they eat their lunch away from other students. They are banned from the playground at lunchtimes, they are not allowed on any more school trips, and the Head has been required to intervene on a number of occasions.” It’s 8pm, I’ve had a long day, and you are the last parents I’m seeing this evening. Fuck diplomacy.
“I’m very grateful for all the support you give your child at home” Please stop harassing me in the playground when you come to collect your kid. I know how to do my job.
“Your child is doing fine. There’s nothing to worry about.” Your child is doing fine. There’s nothing to worry about.
If you’re a parent, and you are experiencing Parents’ Evening at the moment, then I wish you good luck. But if you hear bad news about your kid, don’t blame the teacher. They’re doing a difficult job as it is, without you getting pissy at them for telling the truth about your blessed offspring.
If you’re a teacher, and you are experiencing Parents’ Evening, then I wish you good luck, and plenty of restorative cups of tea to get you through the ordeal.
So here is a step-by-step guide on painting the living room. Hopefully, after reading this, you too can have the confidence to slap paint around and wonder why pros charge a fucking fortune.
1. Buy house. It is an ex-rental property. Some of the people who have lived there have not been the most naturally clean of folk. Decide, before the move is complete, that the living room needs redecorating, and the carpet is awful. It was originally green, but years of students and young professionals have rendered it beer-stained and filthy. No amount of carpet shampooing will work on this. It has to go.
2. After ten years (including a marriage, the birth of your child, and a career change for both of you), the carpet has taken a further hammering. You have contributed spillages to the carpet that leave stains that will never truly disappear (wine, coffee, Bolognese sauce, overturned ashtrays, dropped pizzas, mud, and then there was the incident when your child was potty training and… yeah, didn’t quite get there in time), and the carpet is now a sort of marbled green-and-brown-and-grey-and-foul. It’s disgusting. The walls are scuffed, marked, and permanently scarred, with chips and dents in the plasterwork. The paint on the woodwork is yellowing, cracked, and peeling. If an estate agent valued the house, he or she would say that the house is in (dire) need of updating.
3.You choose a Monday evening (while watching Masterchef) to announce loudly to your wife that you have decided to start on decorating the front room in the next six months, and that you both need to have a conversation about ideas.
4. Your wife looks up from her laptop, stares at you blankly, presses a few keys and twiddles her mousepad, and then swivels the laptop around for you to see a folder on her desktop saying ‘Living Room Ideas’. Within it is ten years’ worth of sketches, photos from the internet, several links to Pinterest boards, photographs of your living room with Photoshop edits to try out different colours on the walls and floor, several articles from the internet about interior design ideas, and links to various DIY and home furnishing sites. She then directs you to hours of recorded TV programmes about DIY decorating and house interiors, some of which you realise you have watched over the last few years, and that your wife has dropped massive hints about how the front room should look.
5.Your wife also reminds you that she has always hated the carpet, she is chronically embarrassed about having people round to visit, especially other mums, because she hates having to apologise for the state of the carpet, and she has been waiting for this to happen for a decade. She starts talking about it, and you realise some of the things she is saying are sounding like she’s said many times before. She starts talking about colour co-ordination (not for the first time, either) and you start to feel stressy about it, so you agree to talk about it another time.
6. You spend the next three months discussing how the room should look. You bat about ideas about furniture, rearrangement, storage, and colour of the walls. By the time you get round to discussing the colour, your head hurts, so you agree to talk about it another time.
7. You look at websites together, your wife suggests various different ideas about colour, but you’re confused by all the choices (and being male, don’t admit it), so you just grunt approval of her ideas. They sound good to you anyway. She’s got this sorted.
8. You decide that you’re not going to pay someone to do the work. You’re capable of painting and decorating anyway, you’ve done it before, and it will save spending £FUCKME on some bozo to invade your house and listen to horrible commercial radio stations, while you skulk upstairs feeling awkward. Besides, if you do the work, you will earn literally hundreds of Awesome Husband/Father Points from your family. You also hope that being all manly and paint-spattered will be sexy to your wife. Your wife agrees about the awesome points (and probably about the sexiness of it, but she laughs that suggestion off with bogus firmness, even though she so totally is already thinking about sexy painty you), and you start going to DIY stores to pick up colour swatches. Your wife encourages you to picture the room in each of the colours you’re looking at, but you can’t imagine it somehow. Besides, your wife has very clear ideas on the subject, and every time she talks to you about it, it all seems fine, so you voice some vague approval without looking away from the TV.
9. In the weeks leading up to the redecorating, you lie awake at night thinking about the logistics of painting the room – how to protect the furniture, about undercoats, about how to paint around the edges, about putting tape around the wall fixtures. Strangely, you don’t think about the colour of the room, and when you do, you become confused. Anyway, your wife has already thought about it, and she’s got this sorted.
10. One week before painting, you notice the ceiling and realise it could do with a fresh coat of paint. You announce to your wife this realisation. She asks what colour should it be, you shrug and say that white emulsion should be fine. She ponders this, and agrees because it will go well with the colours you have been choosing together. You’re happy with this, especially because it seems your wife has got this sorted.
11. The Saturday before painting starts, you go to the DIY MegaReich and buy enough white paint to coat France. You’re a bit surprised. White paint is more expensive than you imagined. Your wife points out the colour you have both chosen for the walls, and you nod in agreement. It looks fine. Good choice. Your child suddenly and unreasonably wants to choose the colour for the living room, and you fob her off, telling her that it is already chosen, and that Mummy has it sorted. Child sulks. You’re not impressed because, after all, you’ve been discussing this as a family for bloody ages.
PAINTING THE UNDERCOAT AND THE CEILING
1. You have got the overalls, the Polyfilla, the dustsheets, the brushes, sandpaper for smoothing out rough bits of Polyfilla, the paint trays, rollers, and the masking tape ready. The day before you start painting, you go out and buy more overalls, Polyfilla, dustsheets, brushes, sandpaper, paint trays, rollers, and masking tape just to be sure.
2. Paint? Check. Overalls on? Check. Cracks Polyfilla’d and sanded down? Check. Roller ready? Check. Paint in paint tray? Check. Radio tuned to either BBC 6Music, BBC Radio 2, or Planet Rock? Check. BEGIN.
3. Ten minutes in realise you haven’t taped around the edges. Fucksocks. Spend over an hour taping around the edges.
4. BEGIN AGAIN after this cup of tea.
5. Ten minutes later, pause painting because the radio is playing Golden Years by David Bowie. Tuuuuuune!
6. Ack! White paint on the bit of carpet that is not covered by dustsheet. You try to sponge it up. White drop turns into white smudge. The carpet is fucked anyway.
7. Pause painting because radio is playing We Built This City by Starship.
8. Realise painting the ceiling is hard. It hurts your back and your arms ache. Ah, fuck it. The ceiling is white already. Resort to just painting the crappy bits.
9. Walls done!
10. Ceiling done in parts!
11. Wife and child impressed at all the work you have done. Decide not to tell the wife you left off painting most of the ceiling. White is white, after all.
12. At 8pm, your wife glances at the ceiling and says, “I see you still have most of the ceiling to do”. You look at her incredulously, and then look up. Old white paint that endured several years of you smoking cigarettes in here before child was conceived and you quit, and new white paint that went on today look very different. Fucksocks.
13. Finish painting the ceiling the following day. Have to squint at the ceiling to see which bits look fresh and which bits look very slightly yellow. It’s hard to do this in daylight. The walls look good. Here and there are dark patches showing through the undercoat, but it’ll be fine with a layer of the final colour is put on. Hang on, what is the final colour going to be? Wife seems to have it sorted though.
14. You get white paint spattered on your glasses in tiny droplets. No one will notice, you think. They’re only tiny weeny spots of paint.
15. People subsequently ask you if you’ve been painting the house.
16. You notice that there is more white spots on the carpet. You sponge them into white smudges. The carpet is fucked anyway.
17. So far, so good. Well done. Take the day off.
18. AARGH MY BACK AND ARMS REALLY FUCKING HUUUUURT!! Hot bath, and a backrub from the wife. Hey, these Awesome Husband/Father Points can be cashed in for benefits, you know!
PAINTING THE ROOM THE FINAL COLOUR
1. The night before painting the room the final colour, you suddenly have a panicky and recalcitrant brainfart, and whine to your wife that you haven’t been consulted properly on colour choices, and that decisions have been made by her seemingly without your approval. Your wife, who incidentally manages to do this without once rolling her eyes or getting pissy with you, patiently explains that she has attempted to discuss this with you many times over the last ten years, and that each time she has brought the subject up, you have avoided making any decisions due to tiredness, headache, feeling nagged, stress, and busyness at work. This is bullshit. In reality you have the attention span of a child, and a complete lack of interest in interior design and colour co-ordination.
2. Wife then once again explains her ideas, and how she has gone through various colour choices based on furniture, carpet, storage, curtains, cushions, and whether or not the final result means a complete change of upholstery in the entire room. You then present your ideas, which means you bung every colour of the rainbow at your wife, and she (through gritted teeth) explains why she has previously done this with you while you were more interested in watching old episodes of Top Gear for the umpteenth time, and received grunts of assent in response. You wail that the colour has been chosen as a fait accompli. Your wife says that she assumed your prior grunts of approval signified agreement and consent.
3. “What’s more”, she says, “I spent several hours showing you my Pinterest wall, and you kept saying “That’s great!” in the tone you use when you don’t understand a single word of the concept that’s being presented to you.”
4. You then have a slightly tense conversation where you go through each colour swatch again, with you imagining the room in each colour (which is hard for your to do, as you lack the ability to visualise the room in a potential colour in the first place), and conclude that while you would be prepared to live in either a) a deep red Edwardian brothel; b) a tropical blue frigidarium; c) a psychedelic nightmare, your wife and child will probably not be. In the end (at around 11pm) you see wisdom in compromise, and you accept that painting the room in some random colour would result in changing all of the furnishings, otherwise the room would look like a frazzled, colour-blind disaster. You eventually choose a colour which your wife accepts on the basis that it was the colour she had planned all along.
5. You suddenly realise later with great shock, at 2am, that your wife has spent three hours of her Monday evening in order to successfully convince you that her idea was really your idea, and that thinking about it, quite a lot of family decisions have come about this way. Wife is evil and cunning genius. You try to complain about the unfairness of this and your wife snarls at you to shut up and get some sleep because you have a fuckload of money to spend on new paint, and a good deal of painting to get on with tomorrow morning.
6. Go to DIY MegaReich first thing in the morning in your paint-spattered clothes. Feel like a proper grown-up man buying paint and stuff. You see other men in paint-spattered clothes who have clearly just come from their own sites. You nod at each other as paint-spattered clan brothers. Spend a fortune on the chosen colour that you totally chose with your wife’s help.
7. BEGIN PAINTING after cup of tea… ooh, and then after they finish playing The Kinks’ Village Green Preservation Society on the radio
9. Not finished. When the paint dries, you notice dark patches still showing through.
10. Wife and child impressed by first coat. More Awesome Points (and more back rubs? “Don’t push it, you’re not done yet”. Damnity-damn.)
11. Wife not that impressed by spots of colour on the carpet. You point out that the carpet is fucked anyway. As long as she doesn’t notice the smudge on the back of the sofa from where you didn’t cover it properly with the dustsheet, you should be fine.
12. Second coat applied.
13. Dark patch remains.
14. Third coat applied on the wall with the dark patch.
15. Dark patch appears intermittently depending on lighting conditions.
16. Thick splodge of paint directly onto the roller, and applied liberally and angrily to dark patches. More paint on carpet due to careless paint application. You really do not care anymore, not even enough to sponge it into a smudge.
17. FINALLY!!! (I think)
PAINTING THE WOODWORK
1. Now to the woodwork. Fuck. This means getting primer and gloss paint. Hate gloss paint. Hate gloss paint smell, hate gloss paint stains, and hate gloss paint stickyness.
2. Remove masking tape from woodwork. Apply masking tape to edges of wall instead. Putting on masking tape is fiddly and sticky and horribad and u is hating it and want 2 di now plskthxbye.
3. Should you sand down the door before repainting it?
*sigh* OK then…
Should you put on an undercoat of primer before repainting it? Naaaahh….
4. Gloss paint, ugh. Gloss paint, yuk. Gloss paint not really covering the door in one coat, and streaky bits of old paint still showing through.
5. Wife and child home. Impressed by results, so YAY for that. They are not impressed by gloss paint getting on the carpet that cannot be sponged up. Carpet now looking like Jackson Pollock has taken a shit on it, spilled wine and Bolognese on it, walked on it in muddy shoes, knocked an ashtray or two over, and not painted it. If he had, carpet would be worth millions. Hate carpet.
6. Can’t paint today, you have to go into work. Come home to find child on Playstation and wife painting the second coat onto the door and skirting boards. Feel love for wife, despite her robbing you of Awesome Points. Following morning, you pull masking tape off the wall, and successfully peel off layers of paint right down to plasterwork. Cry slightly, and carefully repaint the walls with tiny splotches of the final colour whilst trying (and mostly succeeding) to not get paint onto the newly coated skirting boards.
7. Woodwork done. It then takes more than two weeks for the painty smell to vanish, and that’s with liberal uses of incense, smelly candles, curries, open windows, air freshener, pungent farting, etc.
THE FINISHING TOUCHES
1. Wife hangs pictures. Asks what you think. Realise she has totally co-ordinated the colour of your pictures, sofas, cushions, walls, fixtures and fittings. It’s like she has been planning this carefully for years. You put the painting you inherited from your grandmother on the wall – the properly old painting that looks suspiciously expensive (really must get it valued if I ever go on The Antiques Roadshow, and perfect the ‘OMG KERCHINGGG!!!’ face), and has a gilded frame that is camper than a boat full of gay pantomime sailors doing a dance routine about Judy Garland. It also makes the room look well posh, like a slightly tatty National Trust property. Wife is brilliant. Feel love for wife.
2. Go to Carpet MegaEmpire to choose a new carpet. Wife says this is the day she has spent a decade waiting for. She says this quietly and looks out of the car window. Decide that a green carpet would suit the colour of the room. Get to Carpet MegaEmpire only find sweaty carpet salesman regretfully informing you that green is not a fashionable colour right now, and that beige and brown is more de rigueur. Wife doesn’t so much as twitch an eyelid, just turns on her heel and leaves sweaty salesman to watching his commission go strollin’ away like a boss. You search through every carpet retailer in town. You find a green carpet eventually, and your wife gets a new carpet that she will love for years to come. She even says, “We might have to take our shoes off in the front room”. Fuck that, you think. You plan to swim on the carpet when it arrives. Carpet swimming on newly-installed carpet fucking rules!
3. Room done. Walls painted. Carpet chosen. You need shelves put up, but that’s another job for another time. For now, behold the majesty of your new room, bask in the glow of a job well done, enjoy the well-earned Awesome Husband/Father Points and all the benefits that can be accrued, and admire your brilliant wife. Wife points out the dining room needs doing.
Oh dear. I’m officially stumped as a parent. I thought I’ve come across most things by now, but we’ve entered into uncharted territory, and I haven’t got a map. I should be used to this by now, the eleventh rule of parenting being: Never Get Complacent (next to #10: Expect The Unexpected; and #12: Get Used To The Smell).
Alice is nearly eight years old now, and in common with many eight-year-olds, she’s having issues with friends. Without going into too much detail, Alice is discovering that friends are not always consistently friendly, which is rich coming from a girl who likes engaging with other people, and then sods off unexpectedly to go and talk to flowers by herself. She is, however, very sensitive to people being mean to her, and she and her classmates are getting to the age where random acts of deliberate spite are creeping more and more into everyday life.
Of course, Alice tells me this, and I’m buggered if I know what to do. Look, I know friendships. I do have friends, of course. I’ve made many friends over the years, and lost a few, but I’m lucky enough to have a bunch of mates I can always call on for matey business. However, I’m really not good with people. I don’t understand people. I like to think I do, but I really don’t, and I’m frequently bothered by this. People are weird, aren’t they? Strange little sacks of meat and bone and guts, held together with skin, and driven by unfathomable emotions and selfish desires. On one hand, I’m capable of causing anger and misery with just four poorly-chosen words. On the other, good-natured people have been known to cause me sleepless nights with jocular banter that I have taken far too literally. I am prone to wildly misunderstand people, even the best people at the best of times, because of something that was said that caused my circuits to fuse. So I’m at a loss how to give advice to Alice.
Unfortunately, a few months ago, Alice’s BFF told her she didn’t want Alice to hang around with her so much. Alice’s heartbreak at this has been considerable, and sad to witness. Poor kid took it well at first, but as the reality sunk in, she has become despondent. And it’s bothering me, because Alice is not being her usual type of upset. Traditionally, Alice being upset would involve copious tears, theatrical soliloquies about loss and friends and woe, and hand-to-brow flinging herself onto carefully-positioned sofa cushions. This time, it’s different. Alice is displaying a quiet melancholy about the end of the friendship. She isn’t talking about it much, which is very unusual. She is sombre and thoughtful, and I believe the loss of her friend has caused something a lot more profound and fundamental, and may well leave a permanent scar on Alice’s psyche. BFF has moved on, and Alice has learned that BF’s are not necessarily F. It’s a hard, difficult, painful, but necessary lesson to learn.
Above all, I’m loathe to involve myself in any of Alice’s friendships. I don’t think it’s a great idea for parents to interfere with their child’s relationships with other people in any way. I’d even go so far as to say it’s not a good idea to go to the lengths of forbidding your child from hanging round with another child, even if the friend is something of a malignant influence, but then, Alice hasn’t made friends with anyone I’ve disapproved of and I’ve not been in that situation, so how I would react is anyone’s guess (though I’m really looking forward, in a decade or so, to all the future spotty and awkward teenage boyfriends I’m going to thoroughly disapprove of and bully. Hee-hee!).
C.S. Lewis once said that “Friendship is born at that moment where one person says to another: ‘What? You too? I thought I was the only one!’ “. Childhood friendships are strange things. I am of an age where I struggle to remember how my own childhood friendships worked. Being a boy, I generally bonded with people over topics such as Star Wars and the humourous potential of bums. Also being a boy, a lot of childhood games sometimes erupted into fights, most of them jolly, some of them not. I didn’t really have girls who were friends of mine until much later, because as we all know, Girls Have Diseases.
And those girls who were friendly towards me in my pre-pubescent years were treated with a degree of meanness, because I was that kind of little turd. As such, I’m not very good on the friendships that young girls have. Even now, girl friendships are sometimes a complete mystery to me. A lot of them seem to be a bonding of two people who need comfort against a hostile world. The boy friendships in Alice’s class appear to be shouty and involve punching and yelling. The girl friendships seem to be a seething mass of resentments, hierarchy, snobbery and bitching, interspersed with breathless joy at shared imaginary scenarios.
Alice’s own friendship issues possibly lie with her being an only child. She is very particular about what games to play, how to play them, and how to get other people involved. If other people join in, Alice can be quite reluctant to accept that the game becomes a collaborative effort. Alice demands that people play the game according to Alice’s often-changing rules, and strict adherence to the ongoing narrative of the game, neither of which gets explained by Alice beforehand. Thus a chum might often bring their own element to the improv, which will exasperate our girl to the point of irritation. Alice then takes off and starts talking to the chain-link fencing, leaving chum somewhat bewildered.
Of course it works the other way: Alice will join in on someone’s game, be unclear about the rules, doesn’t ask how the game is played and instead makes up her own rules, and then is outraged when people tell her to play the game properly. She doesn’t yet have a sense of irony, poor kid.
So there I am, yesterday afternoon, with an uncharacteristically sombre Alice slowly explaining to me her friendship issues. I could only respond as an adult, which probably wasn’t helpful to her as a child. Alice told me all of this in a very quiet voice, because she didn’t want people to know, and she didn’t want people to get the wrong idea. And then she told me, without being aware that she was inconsistent, that she had already explained her predicament to a dozen or so of her friends, and her teacher.
“I thought you didn’t want people to know about this?”, I said.
“You’ve told half the class!”
She looked furtively around the room in case anyone was listening. There were only two of us, and it was our living room. “Yes, but I’ve told them to keep it quiet”, she whispered.
Oh boy. Let’s hope they don’t behave like twats about this (no, that’s not fair; they’re not twats, just kids, and they’re generally nice kids, but they may turn out to be typical kids and be a bit horrid to her for a bit. Let’s hope not).
In essence, Alice actually seems to have sorted this out by herself by going to her teacher who brokered a compromise between all parties. I’m really proud of her. Of course, she told me about this friendship problem after she had sorted it, which is brilliant, but also leaves me as being just the bozo at the end of the day to whom she explains the day’s narrative. Yes, I’m irrelevant.
Let’s hope she can still sit down and talk with me in this way when she’s 14, and there’s a whole Brave New World of hormones, boys, spots, fashion, body image, and miserable music to contend with. I haven’t even thought about cyberbullying and sexting yet! Oh crap…
In a way, I’m sort of jealous that she has told about a dozen people before coming to me (including her class teacher, who incidentally has handled it pretty well), but I’m also really pleased that she has handled a difficult problem, by herself, in possibly the best and most mature way possible. Long may it continue.
But then again, I shouldn’t be all that surprised or bothered that she hasn’t consulted me on friendships. I’m not her friend. I’m her Daddy.