The Increasingly Freaky Story of a Chocolate Zoo

This morning the Major asked me to create him a book about a chocolate zoo, which is the sort of commission I can get stuck into.

The contents of the book that we eventually produced together probably relates more truth about our relationship than anything that I could write down.

Once I’d been given the brief, I conceived the story as a cautionary tale about the folly of attempting to build a zoo out of chocolate. We never got that far.

The first step was to make the book itself, a botched job of binding with a hole-punch and string. Then the cover. Partly through wanting to live up to the exacting standards of the Major and party through a lack of creativity the book was titled “A Chocolate Zoo”.

Most of our art projects happen in the same way. I become too ensconced in my own activity and the Major and Minor become bored and drift away. I decided to sketch a gorilla eating a Mars Bar on the cover but I fucked up the arm and improvised a meerkat instead. The Major took control and began working on a flamingo instead.

a chocolate zoo



He then asked me to write some words down. I still hadn’t formulated a plot but I sensed an opportunity for us to collaborate on some writing. I tried to teach him using the classic ‘up-and-down-and-round-and-flick’ from the seminal Word and Pictures programme. The Major chose to disregard this, preferring a more freestyle method with the letters above each other in Japanese style. Again we aborted partway through so instead of two exquisitely crafted ‘flamingo’ on top of each other we had some that resembled more ‘flamin’ Koq’.

flaming koq

The Major now seized the pen and began etching out the remainder of “A Chocolate Zoo”. First of all something called a ‘bird-goat’ which I’m pretty sure once visited me during a night terror. Then a ‘bird-Dalmatian’, appended to which I thought was a well-rendered tail with a tasselly bit at the end. The Major set me straight and it turns out it was the bird-Dalmatian’s penis and the tassel was a robust sprinkle of piss (not his words).

bird goat

Things got weirder after that. A surrealist image of his little brother and then a picture of me and him together, which I considered was a fitting end to the book, a symbol of the camaraderie we’d shown in putting it together.

Until he explained that he’d imagined us with our willies out, weeing on the ground. I stress that this was not created from an actual memory. Like much of the Major’s material I find this violently amusing but vaguely disturbing also. The serious point here is at what point does a parent step in with this sort of stuff? I know that lavatorial humour is part of the lifeblood of a small boy (and some larger ones as well) but also don’t want the Major be that child at school. And again ‘the cross that bridge when we come to it’ that underlies so much of my parenting philosophy kicks in again. Besides, he’d been very generous in his depiction of me.


The upshot of all this is that of course that the Major and I have got a publishing deal for ‘A Chocolate Zoo’ so soon it will be available in all good bookshops. And some really fucking weird ones as well.

Any good?

When We Ditched Peter Rabbit For a Pokémon

I had an idea of what I wanted my children to be like before they were born. Cheeky without being naughty, intelligent but not precocious, individual without being weird. And of course, without a hint of paternal partisanship, both my sons have lived up to my expectations.

But now that the Major is approaching pre-school I’m worried that the vague otherworldliness that endears him to me so much will be a source of suspicion among his peers. That he’ll pitch up at the playground quoting his favourite Beatrix Potter book and eventually find himself alone and friendless in book corner.

I read once that the Prime Minister sits down every week to watch a selection of footage gathered by a team of minions. The footage provides a summary of recent happenings in popular culture like celebrity and sport news. It’s designed to prevent the Prime Minister appearing fusty and alien to the electorate, more connected with normal folk.

I wonder if I should create something similar for the Major. He starts at pre-school in September and he may need to be brought up to speed with the modern world. Minecraft and Zlatan Ibrahimović and mansplaining. Which is sort of what I’d be doing actually.

And that is why Pokémon Go seemed especially appealing. It’s sent the rest of the human race into a rabid, foaming frenzy. Even Theresa May has had to have a full day-long debrief.

The Major has had a troubled history with computer games. They seem to affect his wiring and unleash something very cross inside him. But I figured that Pokémon Go at least required some interaction with world at large and therefore marginally more wholesome.

First of all we were directed towards our local green to collect some Pokéballs, basically cutesy man-traps for catching Pokémon. I was mildly uncomfortable scrabbling around at the base of the war memorial looking for virtual sparrows, an echo of some of the more sinister side-effects of the craze.

We came across other Pokémon-hunters and there was a genuine sense of camaraderie out there. We were kindly directed towards the church hall where apparently there was a bunch of Pokeshits hanging out. And in a peculiar reversal of the traditional ‘don’t talk to strangers’ scenario, a young man leant out of his car window to advise us to head to the petrol station to capture some augmented pigeons. I don’t think I’ve ever felt more part of the community. It’s just a shame that it’s a community made up of eight-year-olds.

But that’s Pokémon Go. It’s weird. It sends people a bit loopy. Parents are naming their children after Pokémon. Avid hunters are being warned off venturing into defunct nuclear disaster zones. And Theresa May has been pictured sniffing around the Cenotaph.

So perhaps the Major isn’t so otherworldly after all.

Any good?

When I First Held My Son All I Felt Was Hunger

I had hoped that once I had children a primal dad instinct would kick in, furnishing me with all the skills and knowledge needed to fulfil the dad brief. I thought there might be a higher dad gear that I might smoothly climb into. Essentially operating on dad auto-pilot, confidently tackling all the dad challenges like hosepipe connectors and nanny tax.

The first indication that this was not the case was in the very early seconds of fatherhood. I had heard men recalling the moment they were first presented their child and talking about experiencing an intense wash of emotion and love. When I pictured this happening to me I imagined the feeling to be like a chemical euphoria, a high basically: a love-numbness in my limbs, the warm pleasant prickle of love-sweat on my skin.

I felt none of these. I remember the disappointment that I was not going through what many of my predecessors seem to have done. I’d clattered into the first dad hurdle.

I only felt peckishness. I’d subsisted off Hula-Hoops for the previous 36 hours. I am reluctant to admit that I was tired also, knowing that the deprivations I suffered are so incomparable to my wife’s they don’t even deserve to be in the same sentence.

As my dad-reflexes weren’t working I decided to copy a tactic from the classic dad playbook. I’d seen on One Born Every Minute that dads like to take their babies to the window of the delivery room to show them the world that they just arrived in. But I’d forgotten that the view from our room overlooked HM Prison Wormwood Scrubs, where a parade of cancerous-looking lags had just loped out for a smoke.

I noticed the first traces of dad-instinct working the next day when we left the hospital and installed the Major into his car-seat. A bizarre paranoia borne of protectiveness swept over me that the road home had become a very long fairground dodgem ride with every fellow road-user hell-bent onto ploughing into us. Fleetingly I even saw the logic in those ‘baby on board’ signs.

In the week after the birth I saw other changes in my behaviour. An inability to remove my gaze from the Major for instance. I had spotted that his toes were tiny replicas of mine, hideous long toes that look like fingers on the end of our feet. It struck me then that the Major was a part of me, a small shard that had splintered off and therefore in need of unconditional love and attention.

I was wrong-footed by my son’s ability to sleep for long periods throughout the night. Assuming that I was required to tend to him in the small hours I’d fish him out of his basket and let him doze on my chest while I watched old golf footage that I had recorded. I had hoped to persuade his mother that the ambient green light of the televised fairways had a soothing effect on him, part of a longer-term strategy to secure golf, cricket and football viewing in the future.

It was watching a golf tournament that I properly clicked into gear as a dad. Some of the victorious players had gathered their families around them to join their celebrations. Their triumph was enriched by the presence of their children. Life was richer.

It had taken a few ill-dressed millionaires to understand, but now I knew what it was to be a dad. I looked at the little form curled up on my sternum. And there was a pleasant prickle on my skin.

Any good?

The Seven Stages of Putting a Reluctant Child to Bed

There is a thought among psychotherapists that people process grief in seven distinct stages. From my experience the same could be said of putting an unwilling child to bed; there are seven steps to achieving closure. Coincidentally putting children down to sleep is also like grief in that you can’t put a time frame on it and it normally involves a lot of tears.

  1. Joy

It sounds counterintuitive but problems are looming if a happy child is smiling back at the parent as it drinks its bedtime milk. Any ambitions of sitting down with a lemon squash in front of The One Show can be put aside if your toddler is gurgling away without a care. A single giggle can spell doom, that the game is going the distance, into extra-time and penalties. For a quick ‘putdown-and-run’ ideally the child should ideally be slightly peeved.

  1. Energy

If the child is not ready for sleep then the milk inside it acts like an espresso martini: it fills it with a new vigour for life and an irresistible compulsion to dance. I’ve watched on baby monitors as friends’ children have boinged across their beds before obediently settling themselves down to sleep but if I left my own sons they’d probably boing until sunrise.

  1. Confusion

The whole bedtime process is like reeling in a large and uncooperative fish. Sometimes the hooked fish should be allowed to swim out to the end of the line, tiring itself out before being coaxed back into the net. So after a protracted session of bouncing I gather my child into my cradling arms to enter the next phase. At this point the child will look up in bafflement as if to say: “What’s happening here? Is this a game? If so, please can you let me know the rules?”

  1. Denial

Before long the child begins to understand what is expected of them and protests against it in violent terms. The toddler may start jostling and scrummaging like a rugger. Often this part of the process can come to resemble an ill-conceived interpretative dance between parent and child.

  1. Acceptance

Eventually the child will start to feel fatigue but will attempt to keep spirits high with a song, a sort of anthem of resistance. This can be conceived as a single drawn-out note or a protest yodel. The parent should feel comforted at this point that progress is being made.

  1. Rage

This is the last thrash of the fish. The child sees the dying of the light and makes one last futile act against it. Normally this involves sustained physical abuse: fist-punches to the throat and gripping of the bottom lip to get traction for their escape. At this time the child’s eyeballs may also be rolling back in its head like it’s been possessed by an Old Testament demon so this bit is simultaneously terrifying and pleasing. The anger needs to be managed carefully as it can lead to puking, which adds clean-up time to the process although at least the parent learns what the child had for tea.

  1. Sleep

A child may finally go out like there’s been a power cut inside it. Literally it can be screaming and snoring within a second of each other. The first time I witnessed this I wondered if I’d broken the toddler. Once established that this is not the case then the child can be installed in the cot and the parent can go watch the News at Ten with a very strong lemon squash.

Any good?