The Greatest Gift Of All: A Metal Detector

I can’t give advice on Christmas gifts. I once gave my sister a rape alarm. In mitigation the alarm was attached to a stopwatch, she was well into jogging at the time. The alarm was a secondary feature, but for some reason that was the bit she dwelt on.

I also once got a rubbish present, a metal detector. In fairness to my parents I had asked for a metal detector. I grew up close to a Roman road and it was near here that one of my neighbours excavated a coin that year. Knowing what I know about myself now I was entirely motivated by greed and the tantalising thought of uncovering some treasure. But at the time I persuaded myself it was an interest in local history that had fired me.

As soon as I unwrapped the metal detector I was suspicious. It was smaller than any that I had seen on the television. There were no giant headphones included with it. I assumed that these were essential. It was also assembled with bright orange fittings and big bulbous handles that made it look like a Fisher Price toy, a sort of My First Metal Detector.

Once I whirred it into action a fundamental flaw was revealed. The metal detector could detect metal, but only metal that you could see. I placed a two pence piece under the rug in the sitting room as a test. But the carpet was obviously impenetrable to the detector’s feeble glare. This may have proved an impediment when looking for antique hoards buried under centuries of earth.

In its defence the detector was brilliant at finding doorknobs. If you were ever approaching a door and weren’t exactly sure where the doorknob was, then you’d simply move the detector slowly around the frame of the door until a buzzing sound could be heard – and there, you’ve found the knob and could pass through the door safely.

In desperation I headed to an antiquarian shop in Cambridge which specialized in peddling spurious historical items to the many tourists in the city. I bought some fake Roman coins. I went back to the Roman road and scattered the coins by the pathway. And then “detected” them.

Perversely of all the brilliant presents that my mum and dad bought me over the years, the BMXs and the table football tables, the metal detector is the one that has given me the most sustained pleasure, simply through the amusing memory of how crap it was. It’s the best and worst Christmas present I ever got – put that in your Christmas gift guide.

The metal detector itself was shoved into a cobwebbed crack next to the tumble-dryer, left to fester in an open grave. Maybe one day in the far-off future it will be discovered by inquisitive archaeologists. Perhaps they will ponder what its use was. Definitely not metal-detecting.

Any good?

I Think About Rudolph The Red-Nosed Reindeer Way Too Much

There is little more dispiriting feeling as a parent to turn on a television programme for your child and realise that you’ve watched it before. My sons know what they like when it comes to the television we view, the stories we read and the songs we sing. So naturally there is a level of repetition. Which means I have begun to connect with them on a completely different level; reading subtexts into plots that aren’t there or rounding out characters with non-existent philosophical dilemmas.

For instance I have dwelt for a long time now on the issues surrounding the Fat Controller from Thomas the Tank Engine. Is he okay with being called fat? Does he just regard as it friendly joshing, banter originating from the lads working down Tidmouth Sheds. Perhaps he deserves more respect, he is a captain of industry and a knight of the realm after all. I worry that this harsh nickname hurts him more than it appears. It may compel him to eat even more. Maybe the Fat Controller, with tremendous dark irony, has lost control of his calorie-counting.

What was the thinking behind the littlest Billy Goat Gruff crossing the bridge first? How would the biggest Billy Goat Gruff have felt if he had watched on as his tiny brother is gored to death by a starving troll, knowing that he could have saved all the silly bother by fronting up and dealing with the troll beforehand?

What happened earlier in their lives which lead to Soo the Panda being able to speak fluently but Sweep only being able squeak and Sooty as a complete mute? Do Jake and the Neverland Pirates’ parents know they’re out? Who is Norman Price from Fireman Sam’s dad? Is his absence why he’s so naughty? Why do the Highway Rat and all his little animal victims possess human faculties, but his horse is still just a horse? If the majority of the emotions living inside the girl’s head in Inside Out are negative ones how come she isn’t completely embittered and paranoid? What the fuck are Bubble Guppies?

My latest pointless fixation is with Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and the song in which his bizarrely luminescent nose saves Christmas by being employed as a set of fog lights. I find one line of lyrics particularly troubling:

All of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names

It seems that before the night in question that there was systemic bullying in the stables at the North Pole. It slightly sours the magical image of Father Christmas flying across the wintry skies in his sleigh, knowing that he is being propelled by a squad of bigots. While the object of their bigotry sits at home, discriminated against on account of his disability, pondering a formal complaint to the Reindeer Resources department. Even old Santa himself may have been culpable.

But what were these names that the other reindeer were calling him? Given the Rudolph has gone down in history as the Red-Nosed Reindeer, he’s obviously happy with his schnozz being highlighted as unusually red. So what were these names then?

So far I’ve come up with ‘red-nosed prick’.

Happy Christmas everyone x.

Any good?

The Issue of Sharing a Birthday with Jesus

I was born on Christmas Eve. I basically share a birthday with Jesus. As a child I was resentful of Jesus because most people cared more about his birthday than mine. The entire village would gather at the church to celebrate his birthday. Some of them would tell anecdotes about his birth, about how he was born in a stable and got some slightly quirky gifts. No-one wanted to talk about my birth. I was born in a bed in a hospital.

People would sing jolly songs about Jesus and his mum and his mum’s womb. And then local children would fetch tiny effigies of Jesus and his mum and her birthing partners, some of whom were actual cows, and place them carefully together at the front of the church. No-one thought to create a tiny effigy of me.

Afterwards the village would decant to a nearby home where someone would be throwing a party in honour of Jesus’ birthday. Often it would be my own family. On those days, in the heady punchy fug of mulled wine fumes, my mum would make her frantic preparations. She was aware that a neighbourly hoard was about to descend on her and judge her on her interior design choices and her honey-glazed cocktail sausages. Sausages which were glazed because it was Jesus’ birthday.

At the end of these festivities at last Jesus would step aside and the party would sing Happy Birthday to me. There are lots of lovely things that can happen to someone on their birthday, having Happy Birthday sung to them is not one of them. It’s awkward. It raises questions. I’ve never known what expression to wear during it. I’ve never established where to look when there’s no cake to focus on. After Happy Birthday the party would end and everyone would go home. But the celebrations would continue into the next day. Which was Jesus’ birthday.

When people discover now that I was born on Christmas Eve they wince, understanding the tribulations that come with sharing a birthday with a big birthday-hog like Jesus. But the truth is that for all the sense of being sidelined or feeling like the occasional victim of a joint birthday-Christmas present swindle, a Christmas Eve birthday has always been a special day.

I have never been at school on my birthday. I have never been at work on my birthday. I have never had to commute or carry out mundane errands. I have always been surrounded by people who have some kind of affection for me. In the rambunctious days of my late teens and early twenties, Christmas Eve became less about Jesus and more about meeting up with old friends and getting shitfaced.

So if you are a Christmas baby or the parent of a Christmas baby (that doesn’t include you Mary and God/Joseph), then perhaps dwell less on the unfortunate consequences of a festive birthdate and more on the unique potential of it. And at least no-one is going to sing about your mum’s womb.

Any good?

Some Bits of Baby Kit Are More Useful Than Others

I recently said goodbye to my sons’ highchair with a tinge of genuine sadness. Its passing marks the end of an enjoyable era during which it has been a constant dependable presence in our house. It has no decorative features, no cute furnishing and it has offered our family quiet, uncomplaining service like a reserved Edwardian butler. I probably shouldn’t be so maudlin over a plastic item bought for £12 from IKEA, but it has provided a safe haven for my children for the past four years.

In truth by the end it wasn’t a chair at all, more a high-diving platform for the Minor, scrambling out of his seat. And so it was forced into retirement. I wiped off the last of felt-tip graffiti from its back, dismembered it and stored in the loft for use by some unborn niece or nephew. I know that there’ll be other comrades that fall along the way, but not many that I cherish as much as the chair. In fact there are some bits of parenting paraphernalia that I’ll be very glad to be rid of.

Very obviously I long for the day that nappies are not required. We flirted for a while with a specially-designed nappy bin. When I say ‘flirted’ I mean we used one for a bit, we didn’t ask it if it had done something different with its hair and buy it a Crunchie. But the bin became a source of great horror to me, knowing the evil that was building up within. When it came to opening it there was always a fear that the wafting fumes would melt my face like the Nazi shits at the end of Indiana Jones. The internal mechanism creates a chain of soiled nappies, the inspiration for which may have been a sausage. A sausage is also full of crap coincidentally.

I’ve also had some run-ins with bottles over the years. There’s a make of bottle with a teat apparently formed like a lady’s nipple, to simulate the mother’s breast and put the baby at ease. Now I’ve seen a lot of nipples in my time (mainly on the internet) and I’ve never seen one shaped like this. I am irritated by this teat because it only works one way up, so when my son and I are flailing about in the pitch black of night then he can waste hours of valuable sleep-time slurping away fruitlessly.

There’s another manufactured by a company called Avent that includes an inner ring sat between the bottle and the teat. I Avent a clue what purpose this ring serves (sorry that should have come with a warning), but without it the bottle is rendered useless, except for creating a vicious milk-tsunami into my son’s face. You wouldn’t get that with an IKEA highchair.

Any good?

I Think My Sons Are Conspiring Against Me With Sick

Fatherhood is a game of fine margins. Things can escalate quickly. One minute I can be dreaming of my Dad of the Year award and the next I am in my underpants and on my knees, scouring pools of puke off the kitchen floor. Which is what happened last Sunday.

As with most of my parenting catastrophes it all began when my wife went out and left me on my own with the boys. She had decided to run a few errands. After having children the errand takes on a new appealing status, almost like a leisure activity. A trip alone to retrieve a package from the postal depot becomes an opportunity to relax and regroup, sourcing cable connectors from Homebase is now the chance for a carefree saunter among the aisles.

So Mum was in a far-off supermarket when the Major let me know that he would like a snack. And because the Minor is currently performing as a tiny tribute act to his older brother, he asked for a snack as well. So I diligently peeled two satsumas, broke them into segments and served them to the boys in individual bowls.

The Major chowed down but the Minor, a keen fruitarian normally, pushed his helping away. With my paternal intuition I deduced that he was tired and he needed a nap. I warmed him up a bottle of milk and ferried him upstairs to his bedroom. While he was slurping away I pondered what bodily science is at work that allows a child to readily go down for a morning snooze having woken from his nightly slumbers a few hours before, yet another six or seven hours after that will always takes a lot more persuasion.

Perhaps the Minor took exception to my assumption that he would immediately drop off because he began to wriggle off my lap, point downstairs and say “downstairs”. Which meant he wanted to go downstairs.

In our absence the Major had finished his satsuma. Unsated, he had clearly been eyeing up his brother’s portion but waited to make his move until the very moment that we re-appeared. My sons have become very territorial about their possessions, like a couple of young dog-foxes spraying on trees. I believe that the Minor didn’t really want that satsuma. Or care that there was a whole pyramid of them in the kitchen. It seemed that the sight of his brother snaffling what was rightfully his sickened him to his core.

His reaction was a fierce protest of screaming and tears. I tried to reason with him. What I should have been doing was urgently sourcing a better alternative to a satsuma, probably a biscuit. But the wailing became more dramatic and eventually, perhaps inevitably, he was sick.

I am becoming paranoid that my sons are conspiring against me. I deal with a lot of sick. It’s as if they’ve evolved a special additional chamber in their gut, permanently filled with sick which can be triggered whenever I’m sole-parenting. Presumably as a strategy to ensure that their mother doesn’t leave them too often.

So I was covered in the stuff and hence down to my pants. To make matters worse the Major had assumed some blame and was guiltily trying to hook out the half-chewed satsuma with his finger. Regurgitation in it all forms was happening around me, in full cinematic Technicolor. It was a vomnishambles. As I say, things can escalate quickly.

Any good?