The Truth About Vasectomy. Or My Truth Anyway.

When I first thought about a vasectomy I pictured myself wheeled before a physician. The physician is wearing a bloodied butcher’s apron, his lips are moist with sadism and he is waving a rusty pair of garden shears. At that point, I hadn’t discussed it with anyone who’d had the operation so my only means of comparison was a beloved childhood cat who’d been spayed. If she was anything to go by, then I’d be quivering under the coffee table before skittering off upstairs to lie low for a week in the airing cupboard.

None of this happened. There was no hacking or lolloping or scything. Even snipping is slightly overstating the matter. If anything it was more of a mild welding. I had the op around twelve hours ago and I don’t feel any less of a man, although admittedly there were only trace levels of virility to begin with. Nothing has changed at all, save the procreating power of my output (yes, there is still output).

When my wife sold the undertaking to me she explained that the results were easily reversible. This is not true. Things can be disentangled down there but it is a very complex and unreliable process and it is only available privately, so the plumbing will cost you.

I didn’t take me long to weigh it up. I have enough children.

I had a stroke of fortune and was ushered towards the urology clinic of the nearest private hospital, despite remaining at the pleasure of the NHS. This perhaps explains why I was offered a general anaesthetic as opposed to a local one.

I spoke to a few men who had undergone a vasectomy and every one expressed surprise that I was being knocked out for the duration. For them, it was something more like ‘bish-bash-bosh and home for Weetabix”. I got the notion that a few of them thought that I’d requested a GA out of cowardice, but as far as I’m aware you cannot have some kind of elective bollock-caesarean.

It did seem like a waste of anaesthetic gas or serum or juice or whatever it is they sluice around your veins, but in truth I didn’t protest. Fundamentally I was relishing what would be the deepest sleep I’d had in years, however brief. It also avoided all sorts of potentially awkward scenarios. I find having my hair cut a vaguely squirmy experience, so the thought of having the make conversation with someone plugging away at the coalface of my genitals was not a pleasing one. “Going anywhere nice this year?” “How much would you like off the back?”

I was also terrified that the surgeon would take a look at the job in hand and let his assistant know that he’d need a smaller scalpel. Or he’d simply shrug his shoulders and inform me that the microsurgery hadn’t been developed yet to tackle something so minuscule.

Looked at it a different way I also liked the thought of being fussed over, having a team of concerned doctors and nurse gather round my bed and tend to me. I pitched it to myself as a spa day. But in anti-embolism stockings. Which is sort of how it happened. When I came round from the anaesthetic I felt content and relaxed, like I’d fallen asleep during a massage.

Except that my dick was in a sling. The proper name for this is a scrotal support, which sounds like the backing band for an aggressively vulgar punk-rocker. I won’t go into too much detail but it sort of looks like a poorly installed jockstrap. Together with the cricket trousers I’d decided to wear for airiness I flounced out of the hospital looking like Freddie Flintoff. I’m sure there’s a ‘new ball’ joke to be made here but I can’t think of one. Cut me some slack, I was in the operating theatre this morning.

I am not sore now. And I being allowed to do the things that I enjoy the most: sit down, watch old football and write bollocks. Literally in this case. So what began as a selfless venture had turned into a peculiarly selfish one.

The only negative aspect was a few seconds of agony in my wrist as the anaesthetic coursed up it. It was like my sperm were attempting one last act of revenge against my wrist for all the times it had abused them. Having removed their one reason for existing I did feel a slight wistfulness for the little swimmers.

After all, we’d collaborated to great effect. We helped produce the two things that I am most proud of.

For actually non-silly information about vasectomies try here at the NHS

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The First Page of the Book I’ll Probably Never Write

Someone recently told me about a little girl who likes to recite the nursery rhyme ‘Round and Round the Garden’, performing all the actions with her parents. For the first two lines, she circles her fingers around their palm. Then she walks them playfully up their arm during the next. But when you think she’s going to finish off with the traditional ‘tickly under there’ finale…

…she punches you in the throat.

BLAM. Welcome to the surprising, confusing, sometimes violent world of parenting.

This is not a guide. I cannot tell you how to parent your children. It’s probably more of a companion. A dishevelled companion wandering aimlessly about, smelling of musty old piss. The sort of companion that you keep just so you can feel better about yourself.

There are guides. Some are vague and holistic. And some favour more direct advice, advocating oddly specific routines like waking your baby at 3.49am while eating a lightly-seared crumpet and doing the Highland Fling. Whatever the content, people swear by these books. You will not swear by this book. You might swear at it.

Some books presume to know what is going on inside on your child’s head. I do not know what is inside your child’s head. I don’t know what’s inside my children’s heads, although if I had to guess, possibly a million overtired tigers hopped up on Fruit Shoots.

But there is one thing that I do know. And this is it:

We brought our children into the world and immediately I took them in my arms, held them close and delivered soft, sweet kisses onto their cherubic noses. I treasured them and protected them like they were an actual part of me, a beloved foot maybe.

And in return, they have quickly revealed squalid levels of personal hygiene, a robust indifference to our regular timetables and an insistence on all-night milk raves.

At first, we did everything for them that they couldn’t do for themselves. Which was everything. We set up cheerleading squads to encourage them on at each developmental increment.  We gave them a standing ovation when they belched tiny creamy burps.

Spurred on they got up and began to walk, roaming around the house defacing walls with their crayons and their jammy hands. Parenting became an exhausting game of pursuit. We installed an around-the-clock security detail to guard the boys against the dangers that they couldn’t see for themselves. They clambered, they scrambled, they used our kidneys as trampolines.

Soon my older son spied my weakest point: the pathetic need for his love and approval. And obviously, he has withheld this for long periods. Now he has mastered speech he is more forthright: “Get out of this room and get out of my life, Daddy”. I remember that one. My younger one preferred a more physical approach. A baseball bat directed to the crotch. The bat is inflatable, but the intention is clear.

We filled our home with their stuff, lined the corridors with tote-boxes of toys and hills of laundry. The bits of floor that were still visible were pelted with unwanted bits of lunch so it looked like a mosaic of squashed peas and Play-doh shards. They turned our home into a Victorian slum.

Our bank accounts now resemble vast empty caverns. The weekly shop at Sainsbury’s has become as decadent as a splurge at Fortnum and Mason. Funds are now directed to the seemingly weekly requirement for new shoes.

But there is one thing that sustains us through the unending drain on resources, one source of joy to offset the destruction of our social lives, one ray of sunlight to compensate the death of ‘a good night’s sleep’ as a viable concept.

And that is our children.

I told you it was confusing.

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Making ‘Hide and Seek’ Work For You

I am increasingly convinced that the inventor of Hide and Seek was an enterprising parent of small children. It is a game that is played in near silence, requires no mess to be created and most of all offers unique opportunities for respite from the habitual grind of childcare.

To maximise me-time the traditional wisdom states the parent should nominate themselves as the seeker and send their children out to source suitable hiding-places. This should allow them a short time at leisure, which in my case would involve just sitting and scratching.

But I have found that my sons don’t have the necessary patience. They deem it unnatural to remain in one place for any longer than a few seconds. Either that or they haven’t grasped the basics of the game because inevitably they’ve reported back to me before I’ve counted to ten.

Even if I go through the motions of looking for them, both boys are awful at hiding. Normally I’m presented with a pair of feet extending from under the coffee table or a sniggering bulge in the living room curtains.

I did hear of one child whose commitment to the game was so absolute he managed to stay hidden for an hour. He ignored his parents’ frantic pleas to turn himself in, presumably believing they were just a ruse to flush him out. Eventually, the couple came to the conclusion that he’d somehow escaped the house and was roaming the world at large. It was only once they’d called the police that he stepped out from a tiny space behind the television.

I believe that the best strategy is to hide. My hiding-place of choice is between the folded back halves of the duvet on our bed: making myself the filling in a sort of duvet calzone. The structure forms a cloud in which it is possible to secrete myself without any revealing dad-shaped lumps. It also provides a snuggly almost-foetal comfort, ample chances for scratching and perhaps even a snooze.

The position of our bedroom means that it’s possible to remove myself from the calzone and slip downstairs back to the spot where the boys set off from. There I can brew a pot of coffee, read the paper and pretend that my children’s frantic pleas are just a ruse to flush me out.

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Things To Know About Buying A Fish For Your Kids

We decided to get my son a pet for his birthday. My wife despises animals and I have a lot of quite specific criteria. Nothing with a visible bumhole for instance. Or anything that might look at me with a sad, neglected face. Or anything that needs washing or combing. Which doesn’t leave much. But my son loves animals, so we plumped for a fish. We figured it would create a big impression, but at little cost.

I did no research before we purchased the fish. I had no real experience of fish-keeping. The only goldfish I’ve ever owned was won at a funfair, throwing a ping-pong ball into a jam jar. It lived for a few probably quite unhappy weeks in a glorified bucket, before leaning over and floating to the top. I did not want that existence for my son’s fish.

So today we went to the local garden centre which contains a concession selling tropical fish. I took my son along so he could choose for himself. But we were soon advised that we’d have to prepare the aquarium for at least week before we could move the fish in. The water needs to be treated and filtered first. My son’s birthday is on Monday and essentially we’re getting him an empty fish tank.

The man in the shop really liked fish. I felt like if I’d proceeded with anything other than the welfare of the fish as a priority, cost for instance, he would have thought less of me. I figured the same from my son. There was silent judgement from all sides. So when I was told the fish would need a little heater I bought one. Special healthy water powder? Yes please. Nu-rave pink gravel? Go on then. I’d promised my son a little ornament to entertain his new friends in their home. He opted for a pagoda. Because it reminded him of the local Chinese supermarket. Which will obviously make them feel comfortable.

Suddenly this cost-effective gift wasn’t very effective any more. And my regret swelled when I got it home and began to assemble it. The instructions were testing. A bit like that middle bit in the Bake-Off when the contestants are asked to construct a croquembouche with a recipe that just says “put together some bits of something or other and then bake it”. Once I’d finally assembled the filter, the heater and the aquarium light I connected them all to the mains and lobbed them into the water. I feel as if I should have been fatally electrocuted there and then. It may still happen.

And now it’s in the corner of my son’s bedroom. He fell asleep looking at it. But the light is bouncing off the lumo-pink gravel giving the room a weird seedy glow like a brothel. I’m still regretting it and we haven’t bought the fish yet.

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Yet Another Fine Mess We’ve Got Ourselves Into

I am not what you might call house-proud. I was once fined by my university for the appalling state of my bedroom. But even with my low living standards I find the speed and scale of the mess that my children make overwhelming.

Within seconds of waking in the morning my youngest son will set about his work. Mess is the first thing on his to-do list. Before I’ve even rubbed my eyes and scratched myself he has unleashed the explosive power of the mess on his bedroom. His commitment is admirable, particularly at such an early hour. It is as if he has drawn an imaginary grid on the floor and made sure that every square foot contains a bit of his mess.

Mess grows through the house like a peculiarly fast-spreading fungal infection. In the some areas it pools and establishes itself permanently. There is an end of our kitchen table that I haven’t seen in weeks. It’s swamped under scrap paper and stationery.

Perhaps the most debilitating aspect of my children’s mess is that it is unconquerable. It is relentless. Quite often even as I am tidying away, my sons are acting against me. Removing toys the moment I’ve put them in the cupboard, leading us on an unending hokey-cokey of housework.

Their play room is naturally the messiest place in the house. I have spoken before about how it looks like a scene from Toy Story, if Toy Story was set in a Victorian slum where the inhabitants periodically riot.

We have made several attempts to bring order to the chaos of the room. We bought a job-lot of tote boxes and tried to introduce a filing system, separating little plastic people from little plastic animals and separating them from little plastic dinosaurs. Like a sort of little plastic apartheid.

The theory is that one box can be emptied at a time, its contents played with, before the box is filled up again and put away. But our little Nelson Mandelas have always rejected the segregation and a rainbow nation of toys inevitably appears quickly after. In each square foot obviously.

My sons don’t so much ‘play’ as ‘ransack’. Books in their thousands are strewn urgently across the floor like the boys have broken in to look for a sensitive file or something. It is unfathomable to me that Amazon hasn’t developed some kind of Kindle for picture books. A kid-Kindle would literally change my life.

Like the devil, mess takes on many forms. Book mess. Food mess. Clothes mess. Art mess, which is particularly problematic. Throwing away anything that my sons have created feels insensitive, it flies against everything I stand for as a sappy dad. So we are left with accumulating stacks of paper, some with just the smallest mindless scrawl on them.

And then there is car mess. Put it this way, based on the state of our current car if I’d had one at university they’d have thrown me out.

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Mastering The Art of Art With Children

I have many ideals when it comes to parenting; a sort of fantasy blueprint for how my two sons and I go about our joint business. One of these involves art-time. In my head the three of us sit around the kitchen table, pencils and crayons lovingly laid out in rainbow order, each of us beavering away at a potential masterwork. And perhaps one day when the pair become globally renowned artists, they’ll show some of the pieces created during this early period as part of a retrospective at the Tate.

The reality is that after about five minutes my sons will have become bored and dashed off to some other room probably to graffiti the walls. They will have left me still labouring away at a biro portrait of Kung Fu Panda, essaying careful pen strokes to make sure I’ve got his eyes just right. Once I’ve finished the boys will return to the table to deface whatever I’ve managed with their crude squiggles.

In the time that the two are at work a surprising amount has been achieved. Invariably the manageable pencils and crayons are ignored in favour of what I consider the Four Horseman of the Art Apocalypse: felt-tip pens, stickers, Play-doh and paint. Weapons of mess destruction.

My youngest son has an unusual approach to using felt-tip pens, preferring a sort of jackhammer method of repeatedly smashing the pen down onto the paper. This has two results, a cluster of colourful bullet-holes and an obliterated tip. If I can persuade him to actually draw something, it’s normally a face. On his socks.

The stickers in our house live a nomadic existence, scattering from the kitchen to the darkest corners of the home. There’s a fungal quality to them, a relentless spread, like Dutch elm disease. I swear that they creep about when we are sleeping, dancing around the door frames and gathering in the cupboards. The bravest ones will attach themselves to your person, and seal themselves on the soles of your feet. And eventually, inevitably, you’ll look down and find Chase from Paw Patrol plastered to your bum-cheek.

I have so many issues with Play-doh that it requires an entire post. The tragedy of a tub of Play-doh is that it is never better than when it is opened. Fresh and clean and moist to begin with, it quickly degenerates. Within seconds, my sons will have sourced an alternative shade of Play-doh and jammed the two together. This will first produce an agreeable marbling effect. But this rapidly subsides into a brown lumpy mass soon to be discarded.

Paint has the most potential for catastrophe: even a gloop of children’s water-based paint has the power to ruin soft furnishings. I once allowed my older son to quench his thirst with a slurp of bright red paint. It was from a tester pot of outdoor wood paint, which led to a panicky call to the NHS emergency line. They advised to keep an eye on him to see if there were any after-effects. Gladly there were none, although he did look like Ronald McDonald for a while.

And when I think again of that retrospective, perhaps it would just be a series of Tracy Emin-style installations: a bin full of decapitated felt-tip pens and a hospital bed with a poisoned toddler in it.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?