There’s a nature trail near where we live that we visited recently. There’s more than a hint of asphalt to the trail itself, so it’s more like following a dirt-bike track than a nature trail. The owners of the trail have decided to install scarecrows into various bits of foliage along the pathway. We’ve been there previously and the effect is a bit creepy, particularly as they often cut out pictures of celebrities’ faces and pin them to the bulbous heads of each scarecrow.
They’ve also used a lot of reclaimed industrial unitary like rusted iron girders and old ladders to create bridges, dens and forts. One section features a tunnel system created out of ginormous concrete cylinders, which is reminiscent of the serial-killer’s hideout at the end of the first series of True Detective, which seems particularly grim when the lifeless bodies of Ant and Dec are swinging from a nearby tree.
Still the trail includes a quiz, the question sheet for which is distributed at the farm shop over the road along with a free little pencil, so obviously we were bang up for it. Or I was bang up for it and the boys didn’t have a choice. There’s also a very nice café in the garden centre adjacent to the start of the trail, so we headed over for ciabattas and Penguins to discuss quiz tactics, motivate ourselves for the upcoming challenge and bond as a team. To foster team spirit, the Major donated a tiny shard of Cheddar from his sandwich to me.
The café was unusually busy. It seemed we had inadvertently walked into some jazz. A live band was playing. The quartet was led by a saxophonist with an industry-standard ponytail who parped away at his instrument with great intensity like he was in a smoky, seedy Harlem jazz club and not in a garden centre in Surrey. He was further undermined by his keyboardist who was struggling with putting on a grubby fleece during the bass solo to Fly Me to the Moon.
Towards the end of lunch, the Major was keen to leave. He wanted to inspect the playground facilities and perhaps go through some warm-ups to prepare for the quiz trail. I was still balls deep in a bowl of chips, so we agreed that his mum will accompany him outside and the Minor and I will follow on later. All I needed to do was to pack up the changing bag, put the Minor in his padded romper and then into the sling.
Chips completed I first of all packed up the bag, which I absolutely nailed. I was buzzing after this so I set about cleaning up the detritus underneath the Minor’s high-chair which is resembling a derelict Roman mosaic made of cheese. Having successfully achieved this, I then made my one critical error. In my jubilation I picked up Minor from his high-chair and gave him a triumphant cuddle. A sensible parent always think three moves ahead.
When I went to put him back in his chair he began to perform a sort of suspended Riverdance in protest. He was clearly enjoying his cuddle. So I fetched him back up and bob up and down a bit like we’re jiggling along to the jazz while I ponder my next move. Eventually I spotted that my wife had left a lone chip in her bowl and I was able to entice him back down into position using the chip as bait.
I now had put on the sling. Putting on a sling is probably like humping a squid, I’m never sure what goes in what hole and it’s ultimately frustrating. It took me about five minutes to achieve this after a tiring amount of twisting and flailing. I was stood stage-left of the jazz band so the sling-struggle in combination with the music probably came across as the world’s least sexy burlesque revue.
The Minor is one year old and probably old enough to be embarrassed by the inadequacies of his dad. But he’d been distracted by another father, an ostentatiously wacky dad in a knitted Gruffalo hat pulling funny faces at him. I wasn’t sure if this was a show of dad-solidarity but I found it uncomfortable.
The next stage of the process is to set up Minor in his snowsuit. By now it felt like the eyes of the entire café were on me, but of course no-one is interested in a malcoordinated man and his son: they have toasted sourdough sandwiches and jazz.
It’s a good job because I had to practise some extreme chiropractic manoeuvres to inveigle Minor into his suit. The booties detached themselves and one of them had fallen in a dollop of mayo that I had failed to clean up. It had all gone to shit. Even the Gruffalo’s Man-Child looked away. Eventually the Minor had been installed. I was a little harassed and perspiring. But we were ready. Ready to enter the lair of a deranged psycho with a penchant for killing light entertainers.