Major’s Christmas list last year had five items on it, which had been whittled down from a long-list of nominations comprising every single toy advertised on television over the previous three months. We approached Major’s presents like we would a roulette table, preferring to spread out our outlay over a number of different options, hedging our bets as opposed to spending hundreds of pounds on for instance a massive cuddly white elephant which might remain unloved and unused like, er, a massive white elephant.
And so it was that Major’s fickleness came to pass. The singing Olaf, the camp snowman from Frozen spent his early career wedged under the driver’s seat of the car, the piteous drawl of ‘In Summer’ becoming less and less audible. The Shaun the Sheep snakes and ladders is yet to be played, but its dice and counters have migrated to all parts of the house.
I felt very strongly that at least one gift was going to hit its target. I’d spotted a promotional video for a gigantic clownfish balloon online and it looked absolutely amazing. In effect it was a miniature airship, a small motor attached to the underside powered its tail which in turn propelled the fish forward. And in this way the movement of the balloon eerily replicated an actual clownfish. As I say, absolutely amazing.
The balloon arrived necessarily deflated and it wasn’t until the first weekend of the New Year that I drove to the nearest florist to purchase £6 worth of their finest helium to fill it. It was a very blustery day. A ribbon was tied through a loop on the belly. I wrapped this tightly around my fist to secure and then basically embraced the balloon out of the shop and onto the road outside. The fish seemed quite capricious in nature and it did enter my mind that it might take me off into the skies over South London like a crap Mary Poppins.
Before that happened the ribbon snapped. The balloon immediately absconded over a hedge. By the time I’d run around the hedge I was in a park and the clownfish was nowhere to be seen, already up in the atmosphere, up where the air is clear. Perhaps it had gone to find Nemo. That didn’t stop me careering all over that park, slipping across the wet grass, becoming increasingly frantic. Any passer-by who might have seen me might have thought I’d lost a child and not a balloon.
Major was delightful. He understood. I hugged him tightly, putting my head on his shoulder which must have been quite uncomfortable because I have a really big head. So we replaced the fish at once. I went back to the florist two weekends ago but this time I took Major with me, mainly for an extra pair of hands but also to give him the opportunity to see the balloon in all its turgid glory in case it decided to fly off in search of his brother or Nemo. I parked illegally in front of the shop and very briefly left Major in there while the florist brought the fish to the entrance. I gave a balloon priority over my son. I straddled the rear of the fish, essentially riding it to the car and successfully bundling it inside and home.
Then it got difficult. To achieve the optimum cruising height the balloon needed to be extraordinarily finely calibrated. Any extraneous weight and the fish would remain permanently grounded. As such each sticky pad that was provided to attach the working parts was suitably small, which rendered the whole operation of assembling this mini-dirigible exasperatingly difficult. Of course the balloon was hugely uncooperative being that it just wanted to hang out on the ceiling. It was a bit like a dressing a child, albeit a strangely rotund child in outer space.
With the help of his mum and her friend who helped out physically suppressing the balloon, finally the clownfish was done. Except that it needed further calibrating because at that stage it was pointing upwards, again obsessing over the ceiling. The fish was balanced out by loading putty into a niche at the front of the motor. It took a while to find the putty as Major had borrowed it to make Morph. I have no idea where he got Morph from; I thought Morph had died with Tony Hart.
And finally it was done. We loaded up the batteries into the motor and the joypad. The next ten minutes were some of the most exhilarating of my life, piloting that fish on its journey up and down the landing while the Major skipped with glee after it. In truth I wasn’t ready to hand over controls to him, but I did figure it was technically his toy after all.
It was then that the botched job I made of putting the clownfish together became obvious. Dorsal and pectoral fins began floating, falling to the floor. The tape had not been applied properly. Soon the motor itself came loose and inevitably the fish looked to the ceiling again, flouncing up to sulk for a week by the door to the spare room.
And then the following weekend I went to the local garden centre and bought some silver duct tape, which at least had the advantage of looking vaguely like clownfish scales. We began to re-assemble the balloon but it was soon clear that the tape was too bulky. Regrettably we had to take the decision to partially dismember the fish but eventually, five weeks after Christmas, it was operational again. It was now that Major chose to reveal to us that he found the fish weird and didn’t want to play with it.
And then on the Monday, I received a WhatsApp from my wife:
It seemed she had opened the French doors to the garden to let the Major out to jump on his trampoline and the clownfish had spotted his chance to nurture its migratory instincts. By the time I got home from work he had extricated himself from the tree and disappeared, perhaps to re-unite with his long-lost brother. Or Nemo. I’d like to say it was fun while it lasted but that is only true for ten stolen minutes. All I am left with is a roll of silver duct tape to do some dad shit with and two useless joypads. No idea what’s joyous about them.