Wednesday, July 27, 2005

Books for Children

The British government has announced that it's going to spend £27 million giving books to children under five:,,1535331,00.html

This is good, I guess. I don't know what the books in the packs are going to be, but here's my recommended reading list for the under fives, based on Jack's favourites:

That's Not My... Tractor / Kitten / Train / Fairy / Car

Colourful touchy feely books with a good repetitive element.

Where's Boo? At The Farm

A lift-the-flap book, one of several in this series about Boo and his rather odd friends - laughing duck, growling tiger and sleeping bear. A TV show of the same name has Jack transfixed. Good for expanding vocabulary from nouns to adjectives.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar

Just great. I loved it. Now he loves it.

Ten Little Ladybirds

Another book with holes. A great way to learn insects, animals and counting.

Winnie The Pooh And The Ten Busy Bees

The first Pooh book - more holes. A good way to learn AA Milne's characters before embarking on the proper stories.

The Gruffalo

A magical story about a mouse and a monster. Brilliant.

We're Going On A Bear Hunt

One of those stories kids just love to learn by heart. Very exciting.

Each Peach Pear Plum

Plays around with nursery rhyme characters in a delightful new rhyming story. Bit girly, but good fun guessing where the next character will be.

I Will Not Ever Never Eat A Tomato

The ultimate book for fussy eaters. Very funny for adults too.

Maisy Goes Camping

Maisy mouse and her unlikely group of friends go camping. The page where they go "pop" out of the tent is probably Jack's favourite page in any book.

Bites and Bombs

Jack’s second birthday is fast approaching. As an August boy, he’ll always be one of the youngest in his school year. He’s bright enough and doesn’t exactly lack self confidence, so I’m sure he’ll hold his own. But he is small.

The other day he was knocked over by a friend’s much bulkier two year old boy at one of the playgroups he attends. They were both holding the same toy at the same time, as often happens with two year olds. Jack gave a cry of pain and the bigger boy, who was on top of him, was pulled off by his mum. We dusted Jack down and dried his tears and forgot all about it. Only later at bath time did we discover that Jack had been bitten. A neat oval of pink tooth marks scarred his little shoulder.

I guess the marks will go. Jack probably won’t remember anything about it and it probably won’t happen again. I’m sure the boy’s mum was mortified to hear that her son had bitten ours. I don’t blame her. I don’t even blame the boy who did the biting. It’s just a thing children do. Jack nipped my shoulder once; he got a telling off and he hasn’t done it since. Children are no different from little tiger cubs or chimps, testing the boundaries, seeing what happens, seeing what they can get away with.

But the bite does make me feel very sorry for Jack. I guess it’s the start of a long process for him of discovering that not everyone in the world cares about you and wants you to be happy.

As a dad, it makes me feel very protective and at the same time very powerless. I can’t wrap my son up in cotton wool. How will I feel if he’s bullied at school? Or gets involved in a fight? Or gets caught up in some other random act of violence?

Maybe I’m just feeling a bit vulnerable. After the recent bomb attacks in London, I’ve had a couple of worried calls from my mum, wanting to hear that I’m OK. Although I work in central London, I’ve been nowhere near the blasts. The worst I’ve suffered is the inconvenience of having to walk across town.

I know that the chances of me being caught up in anything are remote. Millions of people use the tube every day. But the randomness of the attacks and the prospect of instant death does make you think. What would happen to my family if I got wiped out? What makes people want to die like that, and take other people with them? What kind of a world have I brought my children into?

I can understand why my mum wanted hear that I was OK. Because, at the end of the day, as a parent that’s all you can do.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Don't Write A Blog

Not strictly an entry about being a dad, this.

Find out why you shouldn't write a blog:,,2103-1631577_1,00.html

Having ignored the golden rule already, it comes a bit late for me!

Wise words, though.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

Washing Krakatoa

It’s truly incredible how much washing two small people generate. More than their own bodyweight in washing every single week, I reckon, and twice that if they’re ill and puking up regularly.

My wife and I feel like Mr and Mrs Twanky or Mickey and Minnie mouse in laundry based version of Fantasia. Every time we do a load, there’s another two loads to do.

The washing line in constantly full; the ironing pile grows like Krakatoa; and on those rare occasions when our lives aren’t accompanied by the thump thump slurp slurp wheeeeeeeeeeee soundtrack of the washing machine in action, we feel like we’ve gone deaf.

The cracks are beginning to show.

The plastic pegs on the line have started becoming brittle and snapping. They weren’t designed for industrial use.

I spent several hours of last weekend ironing. Ironing! This from a man who did no ironing ever before he got married.

Most worryingly of all, the washing machine is making a bid for freedom. It has broken free from its moorings and is heading across the kitchen floor at the rate of about 1cm a week. I think it’s hoping we won’t notice.

Monday, July 18, 2005

Gentlemen Prefer Blondes

Jack has a penchant for blondes. Not just any blondes, but attractive, yummy mummy blondes. I guess it’s not that surprising. After all, the Mrs is blonde (well, was. She’s now blonde with red streaks) and she’s obviously his ideal of yumminess. Freud, Oedipus and all that jazz.

But what’s interesting is his uncanny ability to seek out the most attractive blonde woman in the room and chat her up.

This has happened too many times to be a coincidence. Women at family parties, teachers at nursery groups, mums in playgrounds, hairdressers, shop assistants, waitresses. He’s the James Bond of toddlerdom.

Within two minutes he’s scoped out the room, made for the foxiest chick available and seduced her with his natural charisma and witty repartee. When he scores, as he invariably does, he scores big time. Within five minutes he’s being dandled on her knee, having his photo taken with her or being introduced to her daughter.

I have to say his taste is impeccable. If I’d thought of training Jack to go up to the prettiest blonde woman in the room so I could start a conversation with her, it would have been genius. But I didn’t. I wouldn’t have had the nerve. Nor would Jack have done what I wanted. He does it because he can’t help himself. He has a natural enthusiasm for the fairest of the fairer sex.

So, on a fairly regular basis, I find myself having to reclaim my son from the embrace of a stunningly attractive woman, apologise for his brazenness and take him back to the buggy. It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it.

Of course there’s really no need to apologise. The blonde is swooning, captivated, unconcerned. She’s forgotten what she was meant to be doing. She calls him “gorgeous” or something similar and tells me he can come and see her anytime.

Clearly Dad is no longer in the pulling game. But when I was, was I ever this good? Emphatically no. The kid has talent.

For those still interested in seduction techniques, here’s what I have learnt from Jack:

Look cute. She won’t mind if you’re dribbling or holding a teddy bear as long as you’re basically clean and have shiny hair and (ideally) big blue eyes. Being short seems to be an advantage.

Don’t worry about your size, weight or age. Many women prefer the younger man. A smaller man may be unthreatening. And a little puppy fat just makes you look cuter.

Be direct. Just walk up, look at the woman with your big blue eyes, smile and say “Hello”. If she doesn’t notice you at first, keep saying it until she does.

Don’t bother with small talk. Ask them about themselves. “Who’s that?”, “What’s that?” and “What are you doing?” seem to do the trick. After this, laugh at anything they say.

Make physical contact early. Try to brush against her knee or lean against her. It helps if you are two foot tall and a little unsteady on your feet. If she offers you more, like a cuddle or hand to hold, go with it. Let her take the lead.

After a first encounter say goodbye properly and leave her with a kiss. Leave her wanting more.

And that’s all there is to it, apparently. The rest is down to charm, or pheremones or something. Jack appeal. If I could bottle it, I’d make millions.

Friday, July 15, 2005

We're Having Another Baby

The first time the Mrs told me she was pregnant I literally jumped for joy.

She’d planned the surprise carefully. She handed me a book wrapped in Christmas paper, and told me it was an early Christmas present. I opened it up and saw a copy of The Expectant Father. It took a few seconds for the message to sink in, then I leapt off my chair, jumped in the air, span round 360 degrees and hollered.

The second time my response was much more muted. When the Mrs told me we were going to have another baby only fourteen months after our son was born, I was very happy and very surprised, but not ecstatic. I was worried about what this meant. Why didn't I feel the same rush of emotion I'd felt the first time round? Did it mean I didn't want to be a dad again?

I think now that my reaction was different because my life had already been changed so much. The prospect of creating a new life and bringing a baby into the world is so utterly incredible the first time; the second time it's something you know can happen. Also, you know this time round what it actually means to have a tiny baby: hard work, sleepless nights and all the rest.

I think I was also worried that I couldn’t possibly love a second child as much as Jack. He was such a gorgeous little baby boy, bright, independent, funny – he meant the world to me. How could there be room in my heart for another person? How could I love Jack as much with another child around? Later I discovered that my wife shared the same worry with me.

I'm not sure when we started loving baby number two. It was a gradual process and it happened almost without us noticing. As we'd decided that we'd only have two children, we began to realise that this was our last chance to experience some of the amazing things that happen in pregnancy: ultra sound scans, feeling the baby kicking and, of course, the birth.

By the time our daughter was about to be born, we were just as excited at the thought of seeing her as our first baby. The birth itself was an incredibly emotional experience and as soon as we saw Nancy we both fell in love with her.

Jack is two years old next month, Nancy will be eight months.

Last night I arrived home early and I could hear them laughing upstairs. They were in the bath together, both smiling up at me when I walked in. I hadn't seen them for a couple of days and seeing them again was just fantastic.

It seems as though there's no limit to how much love you can give or feel for your children. You can love your first baby with your whole heart, and your second with your whole heart too. They will both mean the world to you.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

Tortoise's Dinner

We went to visit my Mum and Dad the other day. They live in rural Somerset and when we were growing up they had quite a menagerie of goats, dogs, cats, rabbits, ducks and a tortoise.

It’s fifteen years since I lived there and all the pets have died except for one: the tortoise. Theresa was more than fifty years old she when was given to us to look after, so she must be in her mid-eighties now. A grand old Dame. She was called Terry for years until a visitor who knew about sexing tortoises looked at her shell shape and told us she was female.

Theresa spends her autumn days plodding around her hut on the lawn, bounded by a low fence about a foot high. Occasionally she eats a strawberry, a piece of banana or a salad leaf, or gulps water from a shallow terracotta bowl.

Jack was mesmerised. He’d never seen anything move that slowly before, I suppose. At first he was very wary of going too close, but we lifted Theresa up so he could see her closely several times over the weekend and eventually he became brave enough to touch her shell.

Just before we were leaving I was chatting in the back garden with my Dad. Jack was playing near the tortoise run. I turned away for no more than twenty seconds to point something out to Dad and heard a wump sound, followed by Jack crying.

Jack had been leaning on the fence to try and touch Theresa and pivoted on the fence. He’d tipped forwards and landed right in the tortoise’s water dish. He was dangling upside down, his legs kicking in the air, the top of his head in an inch of water.

I laughed so much I could hardly pick him up. I turned him the right way up and water dripped down his face and mixed with the real tears that were flowing by this time.

I comforted him, dried him off with a towel, changed his top and pretty soon we were on our way home. I told the Mrs what had taken place, and we laughed again. After that, I didn’t think any more about it.

But Jack clearly did. The next day were sat at dinner when the following conversation took place:

Jack: Happened? Happened?

Me: What happened Jack?

Jack: Grandma’s house

Me: What happened at Grandma’s house?

Jack: Oh-oh. Head. (puts hand on his head)

Me: You fell and bumped your head? Where?

Jack: Tortoise's dinner.

Me: You bumped your head into the tortoise's dinner? Then what happened?

Jack: Soggy (looks sad)

Me: Your hair got all soggy. Oh dear.

Jack: Had dry (looks happy)

Me: Yes, we had to dry it didn’t we?

And that’s Jack’s story. For the past two or three weeks, Jack has been telling anyone who will listen about the dreadful incident with the tortoise's dinner. The telling of it gets more melodramatic each time. He loves us to act surprised and thoroughly enjoys communicating the event.

I don’t think Jack is very worried about the accident; he just thinks it’s a story worth telling. Perhaps to illustrate his father’s carelessness, or to let us know that he didn’t think it was that funny.

For the record, Theresa the tortoise didn’t seem to suffer any ill effects. She’s seen it all before.

Friday, July 01, 2005

The Car I Want

I’m having a mid-life crisis. I’ve never been particularly hip. I’m not really into designer brands. I’m not even particularly fussed by the music I listen to or the clothes I wear. But I’m buggered if I’m driving an estate car.

This is the latest wheeze from the Mrs. We’ve been putting money into a savings plan for ten years and it matures in November this year. I agreed ages ago that we’d use this money to get a new car and I’m really looking forward to it. Or I was. Until the Mrs pointed out that it would be really sensible of we got an estate car and did I mind if she went out to test drive a couple next week. She’s thinking a Mondeo maybe. And she saw a Skoda Octavia the other day and was surprised that she quite liked the look of that. Perhaps she’d try that too.

Ye Gods, has it come to this?

She has a point, I suppose. We go away a lot and with two children under the age of two, it would be great to be able to bung everything in a boot the size of Mars.

At the moment we have a family car with four doors, a big boot and a roof box. It’s regularly packed to the gunnels at the weekends and after twenty two months of packing for babies, I’ve got squeezing everything in down to a fine art. Admittedly it takes, on a good day, the best part of an hour to get it all in. But the satisfaction getting so much stuff in so little space is one of life’s small pleasures, like I imagine it must feel completing a Times crossword or one of those omnipresent sudoku grids.

Then there’s just the small challenge of posting Jack and Nancy in through the entry holes I’ve left between the piles of toys, wetwipes, bottles and sterilisers; shutting the passenger door on the Mrs before the nappies, bowls, food bags and books fall out; and pulling away from the drive, the flat suspension creaking under the massive load.

It’s not that I want anything fancy. I know I’ve got responsibilities. I’m not after a Porsche Boxter or a Lotus Elise. Not yet anyway. I just don’t want an estate car. It’s so square, so middle aged, so… dad.

Like singing in public, like the sick badge on my shoulder, like making goo goo phonecalls in the office, I guess this is just another thing I’ll have to embrace with a father’s pride. I’ll learn to love my sleek, new, long, hard-to-park, petrol-guzzling, deeply dull estate car.

I’m not convinced it’s going to work.

Still, it could be worse. At least she doesn’t want a Chelsea tractor.