The Unique Challenge Of A Trip To The Cinema

The first time I took the Major to the cinema it was just the two of us. I told him that it was a very special treat. But he demanded some kind of reward as if he was fulfilling some distasteful family obligation, which in a sense he was.

Maybe he was also aware that as far as special treats go this one isn’t that special. The cinema near us offers tickets for selected children’s films on a Sunday for £1.75. That is £1.75 for children and £1.75 for adults.

I’ve not yet established whether the reduced price for an adult is reliant on being accompanied by a child, but if you’re in your thirties and turn up to watch Monsters Inc. on your own then probably prepare yourself for some odd looks and to be put on some kind of register.

The economy of a cinema trip is not the only attraction as it also represents a rare opportunity for me to sit in the same place for an hour. It seems that I am not alone in this. The cinema is always lit up by a galaxy of Smartphone screens, operated by parents enjoying the freedom of an entertained child.

I envisaged our trips as an induction for the Major into the noble filmic arts. But actually he regards the cinema as simply a dark room where he can eat snacks. When the scoffing is over the cinema has outlived its usefulness and the Major wants out immediately. I’ve never watched an entire film at the cinema with the Major.

So if I really want to know what happens at the end of Hotel Transylvania 2 then I need to both provide full snack-catering but also ensure we take our seats at the precise moment the opening credits appear. This is a challenge because of the various factors that have to be weighed up in timing our run.

Of course the advertised start time of the film is actually the start time for an absurd amount of adverts, some of which are weirdly age-inappropriate. I mistimed our journey to Shaun the Sheep: The Movie and watched on in horror as the Major guzzled half his popcorn in front of various ads for women’s hygiene products.

At my cinema the queue for food can stretch out into the car park; columns of exasperated mums and dads waiting for the shuffling staff, who frequently disappear for suspicious lengths of time to retrieve hotdogs from a back office. I am profoundly disconcerted by this. Hotdogs should be visible at all times. I can’t help imagine some kind of aquarium of grease where the frankfurters swim about waiting to be fished out.

Once in the cinema I am comforted by the fact it seems the Major isn’t the only one with a short attention span. There comes a point in every film when the collective fidgeting breaks out into foot-races on the stairs and a wrestling tournament in the aisles. And that is normally our cue to leave.

I always try to initiate some kind of critical review on our way home. What was your favourite bit? Who was the best character? What kind of socio-political message was the director trying to convey with their use of form and light?

But mainly the Major wants to know what a Lilet is. Still. At least I’ve spent only £3.50.

Any good?

The Imaginary Friend Who Came Back From The Dead

I need to talk about Bob again. Bob is the Major’s imaginary friend who breezed into our lives a few months ago. He proceeded to outdo me at every opportunity, turning the Major’s head with his carefree attitude and generosity. Bob was clearly a man of means, there were offers of steak and laptops and pretty much anything that I wouldn’t provide for my son. The Major asked me if we could build a den in the back of our car. I told him that the car wasn’t big enough. Bob’s car was big enough.

We never met Bob even though we invited him to the house on several occasions. Bob moved into a home up the road (and down the road and up a mountain). He opened up a shop selling ‘daddy magazines’. At one point the Major demanded that we go out and find Bob. We headed to the local park where I identified an elderly man with a trolley as Bob. The Major explained that the man wasn’t Bob and threw a strop when I refused to continue our search for Bob in the car. I quickly grew to despise Bob.

So when the Major announced that Bob had in fact died I had to try very hard to suppress an air-punch. The details of Bob’s death are gruesome. It happened at the Sea Life Centre in Brighton where it seems a shark somehow escaped from his tank and bit Bob’s head off. The Major and Bob’s wife Sheila tried in vain to rescue Bob by yanking him from the shark’s jaws.

But Bob is back. Back from the dead. It should have struck me at the time that something didn’t ring true about the shark story, especially when holes began to appear in it. The Major later revealed that Bob’s head had not been removed by a shark after all. It was Kung Fu Panda.

The prodigal Bob has returned and has moved into a new home. This home is built from cakes and sweets and phones – all partially contraband items in our household. I’ve pictured a sort of modernist Hansel-and-Gretel house, an Apple store made of Wham Bars and banana bread.

It is probably senseless to search for reason in the chaotic workings of the Major’s mind, and attempt to rationalise Bob’s various states of dead and undead. I’ve speculated that Bob is less an imaginary friend and more an imaginary government inspector working for a regulatory service – Ofdad perhaps. So if the Major thinks that my standards as a father are not being maintained then Bob is drafted in as an improved dad-figure. Bob provides competition, motivating me to raise my game if I’m not supplying enough sweets or cakes or I’m not allowing the Major to play with my phone enough.

As always I may be overthinking this, but if this is the case then we may need to plan another trip to Brighton. And quickly.



Any good?

The Odd Journey of a Man Through Miscarriage

I am slightly uneasy writing as a man about my wife’s miscarriage. Because it was exactly that: my wife’s miscarriage. I have always regarded myself as collateral damage in the affair. I did not suffer the bitter physical trauma that my wife did and therefore what I experienced was a kind of grief once removed.

But the truth is the news did strike me a vicious emotional blow. The sting of which was undoubtedly worsened by the utter shock, caused by my ignorance that such an eventuality was so common. So if a few paragraphs of my story even made one person more aware then it is a worthwhile endeavour.

My memory of that morning has faded over the last two years, but I remember that the clinic itself felt oddly reassuring with its oak panelling and fresh flowers. Plush and comfortable, more like the foyer of a country hotel. I also remember the inscrutable look on the specialist’s face as he peered at his monitor, forming his diagnosis. And I remember the very measured way in which he told us that this particular journey was over.

Only an hour before my wife had begun to experience pain. And she knew. But I told her that everything was going to be okay and I meant it. No bluff or bluster or false optimism. I didn’t know. I was unaware of such a possibility. No particular catastrophe had befallen our baby; it was genetically doomed from the outset.

Amid the shock I felt a peculiar sense of embarrassment. Recalling the previous weeks when we’d gathered our families and charged our glasses when the reality was that we were celebrating an already failing collection of cells.

And then as we left the surgery the grief pole-axed me, crumpling me into my wife with big shoulder-heaving tears. It was so unfamiliar it felt like I was watching myself down there on the pavement. I had no words of solace for my wife because very obviously everything wasn’t going to be okay. Through the blubbing I apologised to her, driven by the fear that I’d not met some outdated notion of a stoical impassive husband.

Days later the process had become so dramatic my wife was taken into hospital. She was haemorrhaging badly. We made many journeys to the hospital in those weeks, mostly to the ante-natal clinic. There some of the astonishing statistics surrounding early miscarriage were explained, both by staff and on posters and in leaflets. One in every four pregnancies ends in a miscarriage. One in four.

The perverseness of the situation was that this information would have been helpful before the miscarriage and not after it. But I defy any reasonable-minded person to learn about a loved one’s pregnancy and immediately give them the dampening warning of a potential miscarriage. And that is why campaigns such as #MisCOURAGE run by the Tommy’s Baby charity are so important in encouraging awareness of the fragility of pregnancy.

We were lucky that we were able to conceive as soon as possible after the miscarriage, and I felt armour-plated in those first ten weeks against what misfortune might come to our tiny child. Armour-plated by knowledge.

I am watching that child now. He is nearly two and healthy and bonny and boisterous. And I am comforted by the illogical thought that we would have never have met him without the miscarriage. But that doesn’t stop me thinking about it.

For more information about the Tommy’s #MisCOURAGE campaign click here.

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An Idiot Dad’s Guide to Pass The Parcel

I performed my first ‘pass the parcel’ at the Major’s fourth birthday recently. I never knew it could be so difficult.

My memory of the game as a child is mostly negative. That it brought out the worst in its participants. And that it was a format easily corrupted by acquisitive little shits trying the game the system by lingering on the parcel as it made its journey round the group. I was determined that the Major’s party games wouldn’t descend into acrimony and tantrums so took the necessary steps. I may have overthought it.

To ensure that every attendee at least a minor sense of victory we included a small treat within each layer of wrapping and enough layers so that each child got a treat. The result was a hugely bulbous package. We had in effect turned a light-hearted moment of fun into a test of endurance. There were children suffering repetitive strain injury in their tiny hands, having been forced to the lug the monster parcel around again and again. It was a pass the parcel-athon. Some of the kids were passing around sponsorship forms to raise money from their efforts.

As the package dwindled in size so did the interest. Before long the circle was on the brink of breaking up, attention drifting off to the bouncy castle or a nearby sausage roll or a white-painted wall. We avoided tears of disappointment but replaced them with tears of boredom.

We tried to get clever with the music. Instead of a simple portable CD-player we placed a wireless speaker in the centre of the circle in the hope of creating an immersive sonic experience for the competitors. It actually sounded more like a tiny man singing from the next suburb. No wonder eyes were looking towards the emergency exits. One of the kids called me DJ Fire Alarm. When the music stopped it was almost inaudible; often I had to explain that it had stopped to the baffled circle.

The knack of stopping the music in pass the parcel is to do so when then the package is squarely in one pair of hands. If the stop happens while there are four mitts on the parcel then there’s a real risk of controversy about ownership. I envisaged having to build an elaborate system of mirrors in order to time pressing the pause button without anyone noticing but in actuality I stood in plain sight adjacent to the ring. Nobody was looking at me, too enrapt in sausage rolls.

Much to everyone’s relief after a few exhausting hours the game ended. The prize had landed in the hands of a little boy who immediately donated it to the Major. At first I thought fatigue had scrambled his mind. But it seemed that he was simply observing a protocol unknown to me that the birthday boy should take the spoils. In any case it was a charming gesture. It seems that some kids aren’t acquisitive after all. And I had definitely overthought it.

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