Like most children probably, my sons are inquisitive by nature. They ask a lot of questions. Normally I can field these satisfactorily but sometimes they happen upon a gap in my knowledge. This is always a concern to me because I’d rather the boys regard me as wise and all-knowing so later in life when important decisions need to be made they’ll seek my advice and in this way I’ll exert some sinister form of mind-control. Continue reading “It’s One Small Step In Gazing Up At The Stars”
Children don’t remember anything before the age of two. Their brains are too tiny to retain all the memories. It does make me wonder why we bother doing anything nice with them while they’re small, they’re not going to remember anyway.
It also occurs to me that this memory deletion also works as a coping mechanism for the trauma of teething. I’ve now witnessed both my sons go through this ordeal and I’m glad I’ve forgotten my own experiences. It’s saved me thousands of pounds’ worth of therapy bills.
I can’t really imagine what it must be like to live your entire life in benign gummy innocence only to find yourself attacked from within by rude stabby rectangles bursting through into your mouth. Added to this is uncontrollable drooling, ruddiness, insomnia and a fierce desire to chew off your own hand.
For some curious reason my sons also suffered sore bottoms during the process, possibly because the hands they’d just eaten hadn’t agreed with them. It’s chaos theory in one miniature body. There’s no sugar-coating it: teething turned each of my children into a tiny sad shambles.
I’ve tried to picture as an adult what this pain and confusion must feel like. Perhaps discovering that your spine has started poking through the skin on your back and you’ve got a cold and the same digestive issues as the last time you ate a lamb vindaloo.
We’ve only found one thing that has come close to resolving these teething problems: mounds of pure uncut powder delivered straight to the tongue. We went straight for the good stuff. The teething powder my wife chose is made by a company called Ashton & Parsons, a name I found comforting because it sounded solid and old-fashioned.
I felt like they weren’t manufacturers, but purveyors of teething powder. Perhaps they were official suppliers of teething powder to the Queen, in case the Queen suffered from random new teeth and a poorly bum.
I later discovered that they have been operating for 150 years. Of course back in Victorian times, teething powder was even more important than it is now as it got the child workforce healthy and back down the mine or up mill.
At the beginning I imagine that they sold teething powder in shops down Burlington Arcade, where men in tall hats browsed while Dickensian waifs pressed their noses against the window, coveting lovingly-merchandised pyramids of powder.
Having seen what I’ve seen, if the plot of A Christmas Carol had Tiny Tim suffering from teething issues, then he’d have been probably been saying instead: “God help us, everyone!”
This tangent was not sponsored by Ashton & Parsons.
It had just turned midnight. 2017 was minutes old. The crowd was full of expectation. Both for what the New Year would bring but also because I had just moved towards the decks, ready to take them to a higher level with my triumphant selection of tunes. A writhing mass of bodies on the dancefloor hanging on every knob-twiddle, awaiting the first monumental track…
…and then my kids woke up and I had to go and deal with them.
In truth the writhing mass was a couple of slightly pissed neighbours and the dancefloor was a small space created when we pushed the table against the kitchen wall. The atmosphere was mainly being provided by a peculiarly funky cheeseboard. The decks were in fact the Spotify app on wife’s phone connected to a puny Bluetooth speaker, my DJ skills limited to operating the keyboard function.
The record I had lined up was ‘Kiss Me’ by seminal artist Olly Murs. Perhaps a man approaching his forties shouldn’t be dabbling with popular music of the teeny-bop persuasion but I’m always seduced by a guitar bit that sounds like the incidental music from an erotic thriller in 1987.
Olly Murs’ guitar had to be put on ice because both my sons were awake and calling for their mother. But their mother had already been up there for an hour before midnight and because of an unspoken rota system between mum and dad the boys had to settle for me.
Earlier in the evening various party-goers had brought their children and put them into temporary storage in vacant bedrooms, turning the first floor of our house into a toddler doss-house. We knew that if the boys became aware that like-minded small people were close then they would be electrified to the point of insomnia and we’d end up mainly spending the New Year cajoling and lulling and shushing. We deployed an energetic aunt and uncle to exhaust them with a robust itinerary of activities in the day, and both boys sparked out long before the hoard arrived.
But I was uneasy. I knew a prompt turn-in was probably part of a long game that they had concocted to ruin our fun. I’ve seen it before. They can sniff out when we’re planning some festivity that doesn’t involve them and they’ll sabotage it. It’s not just house parties.
I’ve had to live off scraps of football-watching since fatherhood, a bit like sleep. But there are some games which are sacrosanct. The boys know this and when mum is out and there’s an important evening kick-off, they will stage a bed-boycott. And I will miss out on most of watching England lose.
So I was up there for an hour until mum was obliged to return. I could hear the party escalating downstairs, perhaps a third person had hit the dancefloor. All three of us were in my bed, and for different reasons all of us were fighting off sleep. The boys because they wanted me to stay with them, and me because I wanted to leave them.
Eventually my wife came to tag me out so I could return to the fray, determined to carry on as before. But as I minced quietly along the landing children began to wake all over the house, cries spreading like a forest fire. In effect it was a call for last orders, as deflated parents accepted their fate and scooped them off into the night.
I was left to wait for dishwasher to finish while mainlining Nutella cheesecake straight from the dish it had been served on. And in the morning I woke suffering a fraction of the hangover that I might have done had the boys not intervened. And down the street, tales of similar relief came through. Perhaps all our children weren’t out to ruin our night. Perhaps they were looking after us.
Or perhaps they don’t think I should be listening to Olly Murs.
Recently when I’ve watched my sons go about their business, I’ve wondered what aspects of their personality and behaviour I have foisted on them. Both through my genes but also the traits they’ve picked up from me hanging together over the last few years. I’m not interested enough to conduct any scholarly research, but what started me ruminating is a physical quirk that the Major exhibits that is an exact replica of something I regularly performed in my younger days.
This extravagant tic happens as a result of a sudden exhilaration, an onrush of adrenaline. It includes some relatively standard jumping on the spot, perhaps a slight bow forward and a furious waggle of both hands effected by a rapid breaking of the wrists. That doesn’t adequately describe the absurd scale of the manoeuvre, so here is some grainy CCTV footage of a little me at the start line of my school sports day.
My mum called it a ‘jiffle’. For a long time I thought that my mum had invented this term. It’s actually an old Norfolk dialect word that refers to rushes swaying in the breeze, but has evolved to a more general meaning of moving restlessly or fidgeting. I was disappointed when I found out that my mum couldn’t lay claim to its creation. A bit like when I discovered she made her sloe gin just by putting sloe berries in some gin. I’d previously thought she’d somehow distilled the gin herself using fermented sloes, perhaps in some secret gin-laboratory under the gazebo.
The sports day footage was from my golden age of jiffling. I was a keen jiffler in this period. I continued to jiffle even through to adulthood. I’ve managed to restrain the loopiest elements of the jiffle now, the excessive hand-waving and the frantic jumping. I can now direct my excited energy into a less conspicuous action: walking. I’ve had friends report their bewilderment as I’ve randomly sped off down the pavement during a stroll together.
So I don’t believe that the Major has inherited the jiffle from observing me. I can only think that I have bequeathed the jiffle biologically. I am aware that there are scores of children who jiggle and twiddle dementedly, but there is something so hauntingly reminiscent about the Major’s execution it sets me speculating.
Is the jiffle embedded in my genetic code? Are the actual strands of my DNA jiffling themselves? Or is the replica jiffle a product of the anatomical similarities between the Major and me? As with all my parenting quandaries, I don’t know the answer. But it’s making me want to jiffle just thinking about it.
The time has come to select our preferred primary school for the Major. I have dreaded this decision for some time and there are three reasons why. Firstly and fundamentally because I have a heavy sense that for the first time we are allowing him out of our grasp a little.
The Spartans of ancient Greece sent their children to military school aged six, where their teachers prepared them for the basic shitness of life by not feeding or clothing them. The children were encouraged instead to steal their essentials, but were also beaten if they were caught.
The Spartan education authority was clearly run by fucking wallies and bears no comparison to today, but I am weighed down by the feeling that we are now lashing the Major to life’s mast to be bashed by the winds and rains of human existence. Left to face real issues like being misunderstood or underestimated by your seniors or being ostracised by your peers.
Secondly because I am nervous that a misstep in our decision-making here has a serious material effect on the Major’s happiness. I have been told that we should listen to our gut when evaluating schools. But my gut has only really contacted me when I’ve put too much rich food in it. We’ve never discussed education. And so I don’t trust it as an advisor.
I have therefore composed my thoughts on our choices based on two factors: proximity and Ofsted findings. We are very fortunate that our closest school has been given the thumbs-up from the Ofsted bods. So in truth I had already made my mind up before we visited, although my wife still wanted her gut to have a look around.
I was impressed immediately, largely by the vivid gallery of art on the walls and the ginormous flat-screen television fixed to the wall of the school-hall. It’s this kind of stupid detail that influences me. My own primary education does not form a satisfactory basis for comparison. The first school I went to consisted of 23 pupils in one room, overseen by a headmaster who later turned out to be a paedophile. The school closed down with a year of me being there.
The third and most feared reason is that our choice may not be a choice at all, given that we are beholden to the swelling and shrinking of the school catchment area. Sometimes it feels like we’re tying the Major’s name to a balloon, releasing it and educating him wherever it drifts off to. We don’t know what will happen. There is no red dotted line on the pavement to denote the catchment area.
We’ve heard the stories. The families that have tried to game the system by renting near the school only to find that the catchment area has ebbed away from them like the tide. The sad people who moved to the road adjoining the back of their preferred school only to find that the centre of the catchment area was measured from the school gates at the front, and they were cast out. Or the bizarre influx of twins in one year that froze anyone else outside of spitting distance of the school.
Oh I don’t know. All we can really do is to be a robust mast and make sure we’ve lashed the Major tightly to us.