Friday 30 March 2007

Mellow Fruitfulness

Weather? As I gaze out on the autumnal mist, spring already seems faraway. Raindrops hang morosely from the railing outside the window and the birdsong sounds low and lamenting. The thermostat, casually flicked down two days ago has been hastily turned up again, but the house stubbornly refuses the radiators' advances.

It wouldn’t surprise me if it is autumn before the roadworks around the corner are completed. The entire road is currently an empty concrete tundra, pockmarked by watery hollows. That’s half a kilometre of prime London street. I wondered why and then saw a notice pinned to the metal fence, which emerges from concrete shoes like a beach windbreak.

“There is no work being carried
out at this time as we are waiting
for the concrete to set. This will take
approximately 5 days depending
on the weather”

So there you are. I’m sure they’ll be along shortly.

Perhaps it’s the newly bad weather that has affected my daughter’s mood. Or maybe it was just my insistence that she is always happy. Yesterday we went over to my sister’s for another family gathering - the baby is very nearly here and we all seem to want to experience the fragile ephemerality of these last moments. My wife was in the car this time with the curly-cornered A-Z (this was were I was going wrong last time I realized – it dates from the 1980s and so doesn’t show half the one way streets in London) and although I didn’t have any major directional problems we did have a few terse exchanges:

“Is it left? Is it left? IS IT LEFT?”
“I don’t know where we are.”
“You’ve got the MAP.”
“Yes but where are we?”
“Look at the map!”
“I don’t know the name of this street.”
“It’s on the MAP!”
“Yes, but WHERE?”
“PAGE 95 G3!”
Silence.
“I’m never coming with you in the car again.”

On second thoughts maybe it was that that did it. Anyway later on, when my daughter was already tired she glimpsed her Easter present from my sister and husband and when we wouldn’t give it to her she started crying uncontrollably until she fell asleep on the journey back.

This morning she was still a bit weepy and not herself. It’s a lesson in the tenuous balance in children's emotions. She suddenly seems sad and frail and vulnerable. She’ll be over it by this afternoon I’m sure, but it reminds me I’m the one in charge, things are down to me, her happiness is not to be depended on.

Wednesday 28 March 2007

Tea for Two

It’s nice, all this weather. Driving through Hyde Park I was hit by the heat haze, and the sparks of sunlight coming off the Serpentine reminded me of midsummer beaches. We were on our way to the Orangery – a café in the middle of Kensington Gardens which is a candidate for the grandest teashop in the country. It’s a little known spot and a favourite destination for West London mums, passed on by word of mouth in hushed tones down the generations. To enter is to enter a pushchair showroom. I was meeting a friend who I hadn’t seen for a while and who now has a two year old and a newborn and a nanny. She had arranged to meet another friend with a young daughter and we all sat down and ordered tea and flapjacks. I had the vague sensation that I was at the wrong table, but I always do when I’m out on trips like this. We chatted. The mum referred to me as “Mr Mom” and laughed, which might have been ironic, or perhaps not. The conversation got round to children. She wanted four and quickly. “So sad just to have two” she said. I smiled indulgently, thinking of our poor dysfunctional family. Were people staring at my daughter and me? “Call the social services. The police. Anyone.” Invariably things like this come to the fore when I’m in groups of mums. It’s never a particularly easy experience. Comments emerge like teabags shaken out of a teapot - eventually and in messy clumps. But then why should it be any different? I didn’t spend time with groups of women before, so why should things have changed now?

We said we really must meet up again, sooner next time. I swung my daughter onto my shoulders and headed in the direction of the car park. I don’t suppose we will. She doesn’t need me for any reason and I can’t say I’d get much out of it either. “Look daddy, I’m reaching out but I can’t touch the sky” said my daughter and I knew what she meant.

Tuesday 27 March 2007

Happy Days

It occurred to my wife and me over the weekend, what a cheerful girl our daughter is. You might think that’s not too much of a surprise. That children are essentially happy until the realities of adult life are foreshadowed by the furious onrush of hormones at puberty. And you might be right. But for us it’s mainly of note because we’re not always – how should I put it - the most happy go lucky of people. And because her birth was accompanied by some hairy times of the post-natal type that they don’t (dare) tell you about in NCT classes. In the midst of the childbirth melee she was all calmness and emerged with little need of tears. And afterwards, through all the difficulties, a faint mewing and a wobbly bottom lip were her main methods of complaint.

“She’s so happy today” my wife remarked as our daughter sat in her little chair amusing herself bending pipecleaners, juggling pom-poms and lustily singing an assortment of nursery rhymes. “She’s always like that” I replied, realizing, suddenly, that she is. She’s always singing some tune or other and keeping herself amused with a game of some sort. And her speciality is leaping out of bed with a smile on her face and an observation about the world which seems inappropriately amusing for that time of the morning. And that’s when she’s not giggling in machine-gun tones as I tickle her on the sofa or lift her upside down. I often start laughing along with her for no good reason. It’s like the effect sun on London brick has on me, or a premium bond cheque, or a cocktail on the beach, or more like all three rolled into one.

In fact it is almost the case that the more miserable I am feeling the more happy and uplifting my daughter is. It’s an extraordinary thing. To me, anyway.

Monday 26 March 2007

Altogether Now

It looks like another of my fantasies is on the way to being fulfilled. I came across a UK dads’ group - HomeDad UK - while I was researching stay at home dad topics the other day. (I’m getting quite passionate about all this : “Rights for dads!” “What do we want? Equality! Equality! Equality!”). I joined up and tapped a tentative post into the electronic buzz. “Hi, we all go to the Model Village and are regulars at Bunny World “ the answer came back. In fact there’s even an upcoming day out at the Model Village in the diary. I only wish I’d found this two years ago, but I guess I was distracted by changing nappies. (It’s God’s way of emptying your mind – have you ever noticed how this period coincides with having no useful thoughts of your own?) It’s a great idea - there are a million sites like this in the USA – but this is the first I’ve found in this country. The founders, Nick Cavender and Simon Windisch, started it up in 2000 and it has over 500 members and a huge amount of information and support.

By popular request, here are a couple of weekend jokes from my daughter: “Why does the t-shirt go in the bath? Because it thinks it’s a shoe.” “Why does a necklace stick on the wall? Because it gets all gluey.”

Saturday 24 March 2007

Must Try Harder

It always happens, doesn’t it. Self-congratulation is to be avoided at all costs. I may have made it to nursery in good time after a 50 mile trip, but with one mile to travel I found myself well behind schedule yesterday. And as a result a magnet for the slowest drivers on the road: wobbling bike riders, never-ending bendy buses, stalled eighty year old learners.

Finally I arrived at the nursery, leapt out of the car and pressed the buzzer of shame. "Ah yes, good afternoon, your daughter is downstairs in the older children’s class." came the polite but unimpressed response.

In the middle of the classroom sat the teacher and a large group of young children, all of whom turned to stare at me as I entered. My daughter was sitting in the corner unhappily sucking her thumb, surrounded by her belongings: backpack, cuddly toy, drawing. "I made this for you daddy!" She said, brightening.

The teacher looked on disapprovingly. I expected her to say: "Well you’ve let your daughter down and you’ve let us down. But more importantly you’ve let YOURSELF down…"
Instead she just said "Best get her home." and looked at me pityingly.

I gathered up my daughter and her belongings and exited behind a barrage of thank yous, determined to arrive half an hour early on Monday. I can't escape the feeling that I have let down stay at home dads everywhere when that sort of thing happens. I really must try harder.

Friday 23 March 2007

Daytrip

I went to the Oxford Literary Festival for the day. I grew up there and find it strange yet vaguely comforting. It’s all honey-coloured stone and leering gargoyles and it looks like the 21st century has elbowed its way in, only to find a forgotten tribe of 14th century architecture ganging up on it. Only in Oxford would I find that a curry house I knew has been converted into a bookshop, reversing a countrywide trend. Only there would I wander up a slender alleyway I had forgotten and discover a pub I had forgotten, which, on further inspection hasn’t changed a bit since I was last there in 1983.

Talking of change, is the move to calibrating petrol in litres some kind of trick perpetrated by the people in charge of the country? I suspect that it is. Yes I know we are going metric, but if so, why is mpg used for fuel consumption when you buy your petrol in litres? Easy, mpg is a bigger number, price per litre lower. The price of unleaded petrol is now around £4.00 per gallon. I discovered that when I was working out that the cost of the journey in the Prius for the 100 mile roundtrip (2 gallons, or 9.1 litres of fuel = £7.90 - I’d bought cheap petrol at Waitrose). Plus wear and tear of course. Which got me thinking. My journey was carefully planned. I’d allowed no time for delays. What if broke down on my way back? Who would pick my daughter up? What if my wife were uncontactable? I’d probably be arrested as I stepped down from the cab of the AA lorry. “We’re usually quite understanding when a mother does that sir, but seeing as you’re a man it clearly demonstrates that you are incapable of childcare. So it’s straight down to the slammer with you.”

On my way through a typical cobbled and leafy Oxford street I saw a whisky shop (only in Oxford etc) and thought “Oh my father would like something from there”. I do this all the time. I’m always wanting to point things out to my daughter while I’m driving along and she’s asleep in the car or not even in it.

Anyway, the journey back went well and I arrived at nursery early. “You were quick” said my daughter as she tripped down the steps.

Thursday 22 March 2007

Pretty Ballerina

Well on the bright side (thank you for your messages of support and medical advice), the pub refurbishment is over. And it looks great. So now I have a nicer view when I hobble round the corner to buy my milk. Sadly I am no closer to actually going inside, although I want to be in there more than ever. It’s a constant torture and an unlikely but nevertheless very real reason for not living next door to a pub. The foot is much better too, although my daughter doesn’t appear to understand the arrangement whereby I am the one relaxing on the sofa demanding food and drink.

Anyway it’s probably time to mention another side-effect of blogging. What with all this blogging about childcare I have found myself doing less of the actual childcare itself. “Daddy can we play?” my daughter asked the other day. “Not now, I’m writing about what we did yesterday.” I found myself replying. “Why?” Why indeed. Thus chastened I immediately dropped onto all fours as instructed and pretended to be a cat eating a bowl of polystyrene chips. What had I been thinking?

I got my due reward later that evening. When my wife came home from work my daughter disappeared upstairs, returning shortly afterwards with her musical box. She opened it, placed it on the coffee table in front of us and as we all watched the pink plastic ballerina rotate regally, reflected in the backlit mirror, she sat between us, linked her arms in ours, pulled us close and said “This is nice isn’t it.” It was.

Wednesday 21 March 2007

Crocked

I’m suffering from Blogger’s Foot. I was blogging on my laptop with, it would seem, intense concentration, resting my foot sideways as I wrote. After a while I got up to make a cup of tea, or get a chocolate toffee finger, or both, still thinking about some topic or other. I took a stride, but when I planted my right foot I suddenly realized it had gone numb. It gave way onto its side, accompanied by a sickening ripping sound. Hopping around on my left foot I waited for the pain. It didn’t come straight away of course, due to the numbing, but it arrived soon afterwards. There is some bruising, but actually it’s not as bad as I feared and I can limp around and do most things, including blogging.

I’m reckoning on my daughter keeping my spirits up during my convalescence. She has recently started telling jokes: “Where does the chicken go for an ice cream? Because it eats all the ice cream.” “Why does a rabbit go to dance? Because it gets to dance.” “Why does an elephant go? Because it is!”

Yes, I have great hopes for her on the comedy circuit too.

Tuesday 20 March 2007

Roadtrip

I don’t know about you, but all this weather reminds me of a Hollywood disaster movie. Hailstones like golf balls, searing heat, angry cloud formations that creep up on you as soon as you nip out for a newspaper. Still, as long as I don’t end up like Kevin Costner on an upturned boat it’ll be ok.

We braved the weather and the cross London journey to visit my heavily pregnant sister. It was a salutary reminder that while inside the congestion zone a Prius might nip around looking vaguely sensible, as soon as you leave this enclave you look like you are driving around in an orthopaedic armchair or something on hire from Shopmobility to fetch the groceries. You might as well be displaying a bumper sticker that says “Can you tell me where Waitrose is?”. Still, we got there in the end, surviving a trip up a one way street in Brixton (suddenly BMWs were approaching me on both sides of the road. I was either contravening a road traffic regulation or I had stumbled into a covert Police operation.)
“What’s wrong daddy?” asked my daughter, picking up on a squeaked expletive. “Just, er, going up the wrong road” I hissed, doing a U-Turn (surprisingly good turning circle the Prius) and bumping my way over the pavement, pursued by a bunch of irate locals. We also survived the severe climate change, with the coats required in arctic West London proving too much in the South London heatwave. My daughter fell asleep in the high temperatures, I just overheated.

We arrived in a tizz and a sweat, and I turfed my daughter out of the car, barely awake. “What’s wrong, are you a bit grumpy?” I asked as she looked at me with obvious disgust.

This is by way of an apology. I grab her from the school gates, strap her in the car, drive jerkily for hours across the capital in stuffy conditions, rudely awake her and expect her to be in a good mood? Sometimes parents expect nothing short of miracles from their children. I think she’s just about forgiven me now.

Love

Over pizza yesterday my daughter announced "I love you daddy; I love you mummy..." And then, as we sat there beaming "...and I love handbags."

She's three and a half. My wife has the normal amount of handbags for a woman (one on the go, a portion of the wardrobe dedicated to rejects). I have the usual amount for a man (zero). How has this happened?

Sunday 18 March 2007

Room with a view

My favourite part of the weekend papers is the ‘Writer’s rooms’ feature in the Guardian on Saturday. You actually get to see inside the house of one of your literary heroes. It’s priceless information. No matter if they all talk about their ergonomic office chair, or their tilting desk, or how they transfer work from page to PC and then back again 50 times. It’s the room itself that’s the thing

From the window in my room I look out on a petrified forest of rooftops, chimeys and defunct television aerials. Generally I have to keep the blind jammed down so I can see my laptop screen. But sometimes on grey days I look across the still urban vista, fix on a point in the distance and float away. It is recommended practice that a writing desk be positioned at right angles to any window to prevent just that kind of diversion. But I find it reassuring looking at all the chimney pots and back windows that nobody else ever sees.

There are books all around me. A dartboard with a dart still embedded in a double-missing position. A lot of papers. A printer. Laptop. Various family photographs. On the shelf next to me is one of my wife when she was half the age she is now (we met a long time ago). Beside that lies my late father’s razor, an old-fashioned brass model covered in verdigris. (It was always old fashioned and covered in verdigris as far as I can remember). It’s the sort that has a twisty bottom which turns to open the jaws, so that a new blade can be inserted. (These come in little plastic boxes.) I pause and take it off the shelf to look at it, as I often do. It reminds me of a small bathroom in a small Victorian terraced house. Of damp towels. Pears soap. I can see the razor lying on the shelf under the mirror, a film of Palmolive shaving cream adhering to it. And here it is now. Where is my father to use it? I constantly expect him to come by and claim it. And demand to know what I thought I was doing when I took it. When he lay in his coffin I kissed him as I had seen people do on television. He was cold and clammy and it wasn’t the experience I had hoped for. He looked peaceful, as they tell you people do. But it wasn’t peace. He just wasn’t there. Like someone who’s asleep and having a nightmare. That’s not peaceful, really, is it? I remember as I put my lips to his cheek I felt the faint brush of stubble. He needed his razor then.

I wonder what my daughter will remember of our time together. Then I gaze at a distant chimney pot and float away.

Saturday 17 March 2007

Playdate #2

My daughter declared herself fit for nursery the next morning, an assertion born out by the thermometer. And it turned out that her playdate had the class cold as well. So I strapped the spare child seat into the back of the car and headed in to collect both of them at lunchtime.

I wasn’t looking forward to it. I hadn’t been looking forward to it for a while in fact. For someone with one child, the idea of two to look after holds a great deal of uncertainty. And one of them genetically unrelated and therefore presumably immune to the usual cajolings. I arrived at school and feeling like a kidnapper collected both of them. “Where’s my mummy?” asked the playdate. I felt this wasn’t a good start, but he was easily placated and spouting reassurances I whisked them both off for lunch at home.

It was all very sweet. They are like a little married couple. My daughter tells him what to do and he (mostly) obeys. She showed him round the house and he sprayed toys around like a New York fire hydrant. I’ve almost forgotten the wonder I felt when my daughter first started having conversations with other children. But I still enjoy eavesdropping on these poignant little exchanges. She wanted to pretend they were at school and he wanted to take all his clothes off, but, hey, as long as they weren’t crying...

Lunchtime came along. In desperation to provide him with vegetables he would like (I believe that to be one of the toughest challenges involved in childcare) I had cooked up a great assortment. The tactic somewhat backfired though, as he made me pick out all those he didn’t like. It’s hard making other children eat. You can bully your own child into it but it doesn’t feel right with someone else’s somehow. Anyway, after the usual "If you...", "Just one, then..." dealmaking we departed for the park. The ball was a stroke of genius (to the extent that taking a boy to the park and providing a football can be genius) - he set off after it immediately like a golden retriever. We went to the playground. He fell off a slide, cried. I bought biscuits. And then - after looking at my watch only a very few times – it was soon time to deliver him home again. As we all said goodbye his beaming face told me he it had all been ok. Or was it that he was overjoyed to be home again.

Friday 16 March 2007

'Flu

Yesterday I did what I always do when I’m in poor spirits. I went to browse in the local charity bookshop. (Peaceful; nice décor; bargains galore.) And then onto Woolworth’s for some Quality Street pick-and-mix. It seemed to do the trick and I wandered home in appreciably higher spirits, chewing a chocolate toffee finger. It was another of those indeterminate days when the weather still wasn’t sure of itself. If anything, the winter chill was ahead on points against the spring sunshine and I was a little uncomfortable in my thin corduroy jacket. But the weak sunlight was pleasant on the eye and enjoying the look of it bouncing around Portobello market I very nearly tripped over a man crouching on the pavement doing something with telephone wires.

It seems at the moment as if the whole area is in the grip of one huge refurbishment. There’s the pub and the closed main road of course. Then there are the basement conversions conveying clods of foul-smelling earth into skips, and the numerous localized utility jobs in progress. I negotiated the excavations and crossed the closed road to my house. When it was closed last year for the first time and before it was dug up, residents traversed to and fro smiling and chatting about the exciting development. There were children on bikes, impromptu games of football. It was a street-party; a mini urban circus. This time they’ve already dug it up and there has been no chance of a repeat. Ah, the good old days.

When I collected my daughter from nursery I knew all was not well as soon as she appeared at the gate. Eyes downcast, she showed no interest in the fact that we were going home on the tube, which she usually loves. I felt her forehead and while not burning it was certainly hot. “I’m tired daddy” she said, quietly, and miserably. I packed her into a taxi and we headed home. Puffy-eyed and downcast she sat watching CBeebies while I fed her Calpol. Through the pain the vital question occurred to her - was she still going to have her playdate tomorrow?

Thursday 15 March 2007

Springtime

“Is it spring yet?” my daughter asks urgently from the back of the car. It’s the second time she has asked this question on this one journey already. Multiply that by the number of minutes in the day and you can imagine how often the query comes up. “Erm ... nearly.” is my stock response. “Why?” she asks. “Because it’s getting warmer.” “Why?” It’s a pantomime. She has had a fascination for the seasons since I started trying to explain the weather some time ago. Initially spring came about a day after winter, which in turn followed autumn by about two minutes. Now her appreciation is becoming more subtle and she seems to be on her way to grasping the concept. Not as quickly as I am losing my sanity though.

But is it spring yet? Some say nowadays that it starts on March 1st, and it certainly feels like it has. But I am sticking to the old-fashioned March 20th, the date of the vernal equinox. I want it to be spring for her sake, but I don’t want to mislead her. I hardly dare dream of the joyful day when spring finally arrives. Mind you, then she’ll start asking about summer.

Bad Vibrations

The scaffolding outside the pub has come down. That meant plenty of tattooed yelping and clanging and more peering through our windows. “Look they’re coming into our house” said my daughter of the forest of poles outside, as we attempted to exit. It did look that way, but when I got back from the school run it had all gone. And with it some of the noise - the daytime banging had turned into 24 hour banging – which has now diminished somewhat to an insistent grinding.

Taking over from the pub refurb is the road resurfacing. It’s a long story. (Still, I’ve got a blog for that.) The houses in our road don’t have foundations and what with the double-decker buses grinding their way up and down all the time, they were gradually being shaken apart. With the likely result a pile of some of the country’s more expensive rubble, the council acted. The re-surfacing was done at great length and expense and disruption, but it seems a crucial layer was left out or the materials were faulty and the cracks are starting to widen once more. So they’ve all come back for a second go.

Maybe it’s just the incessant tearing apart and putting together going on around me, but I have been feeling a bit dispirited recently. Of course for every Bunny World up there is a down. Days when you just can’t take the screeching children, the desperate inanity of it all. Days when life becomes a mobius strip of chicken goujons and Numberjacks and playgrounds and games involving crawling around on the floor. I felt in need of a boost so I searched the internet for succour. I logged hungrily onto stay at home dads’ websites and read about their experiences. It made me feel worse. I’m not a subscriber to the theory that reading about others’ misfortunes is any aid to happiness. In my experience it tends to have the reverse effect. Perhaps I just need a good talking to from Supernanny.

Tuesday 13 March 2007

Spidergirl

As if to make up for her absence over the weekend my daughter reverted to her old dependency yesterday. She hung onto my back pockets (a bungee sort of experience in my stretch jeans), wrapped her arms around my leg and called upon me to carry out the usual amount of menial tasks, which I completed with more than the usual enjoyment. “It’s a pleasure to serve you” was on the tip of my tongue. However it wasn’t all fun and games.

She’s taken to irrational outbursts of petulance. Ostentatious crossing of the arms and huffing into a corner: “I won’t do that”. If she gets no joy the list soon escalates into “No, I won’t listen to you”; ”No I won’t do what you tell me”; “No I won’t live here any more” etc etc. She was at it in the playground yesterday. Frustrated by her inability to scale the spiderweb rope arrangement she stormed into a corner, huffing and wobbling her shoulders up and down.

It was the sort of situation tailormade for Supernanny. She would have created some naughty corner or anger step and sent the cowering child there while the parent lay weeping uncontrollably from a mixture of embarrassment, rage and general parent overload. Personally, I find the best thing to do in these situations is to ignore her. Supernanny would probably have fixed me with her gimlet gaze and done that tutting she does, while adjusting her skin tight shirt and secretarial glasses. “Fill up these plastic boxes with her toys and for goodness sake buy a wallchart.”

Eventually my daughter came back for another go, succeeded in scaling the ropes and declared “I’m very proud of myself.” I was proud too. It’s good to have her back.

Monday 12 March 2007

Growing Up

My daughter saw her cousins this weekend. She has two: sisters - one a couple of years older and one a few years older. She sees them from time to time and when she does, we don’t see her. Suddenly, we, her parents, who still do everything for her: who dress her, because she won’t yet dress herself, and take her to the toilet, because she feels more comfortable there in our company and on whose shoulders she lays her fraying chestnut curls when she is tired; suddenly we are no longer the most important people in her life.

It is a window into a future time, when she has gone (or we have gone) and she no longer idly strokes our faces or bounces on our laps or gorges herself on a bedtime story with thumb in mouth and head hard against us.

The window shuts with the end of the weekend. But a faint chill remains. I’m ready, although it’s a skill that is not yet needed.

Saturday 10 March 2007

Bunny Girl

There was really no contest for our Friday afternoon out this week. It had to be Bunny World. Or Mummy World, as I discovered it is in early March. I’ve never seen so many mums in the same place at once. We walked into the play barn and as I reeled back from the hot gust of oestrogen the entire place went silent and hundreds of mums turned in my direction. (I may be exaggerating.) There were mums there from 16 to 60. Mums with babies, mums with twins, mums with triplets. (I saw my first 3-abreast pushchair there: a knot of mums had formed around it like a group of men around a sportscar.) Fortunately my daughter seemed to feel the same way
“There are too many peeeeple daddy” she complained. So we fled through the nearest exit and went to find bunnies.

The bunny experience took a little longer then usual on this occasion, since my daughter had grazed her knee earlier in the day and was affecting a limp. So she limped from bunny to bunny offering them bunny food (it was nothing, really; in the league of grazes strictly Championship level), and twizzling their long ears (yes I had washed, Savloned and plastered it thoroughly).

Afterwards we visited the gift shop (a bunny mask, in case you are interested – and at 50p quite a bargain.) Then we ate triple chocolate shortbread in the cafe. Finally we returned to the play barn, now a lot less busy.

As we loitered, a friendly four year old came and introduced herself to us and invited my daughter to slide down the Astra Slide with her.
Taking full advantage of my unthreatening beardlessness I started chatting to her mum, who was standing nearby holding her one year old. All very pleasant.

Now, one of the clearest lessons my role is teaching me is not to share my childcare theories with mums. It’s tempting: my views are in no way controversial and God knows I’m sure mums spend half their time swapping ideas on the subject. I just don’t think they really want some beardy guy, no matter who he is or what he does, telling them how he thinks the world of children works. For me it’s just chat, for them I suspect it’s like listening to their husband coming home in the evening and telling them exactly where he feels they are getting it all wrong.

Many, many slides later, when both girls have finally had enough, they run off towards the gift shop.
“Come on, let’s get some sweets” says friendly girl.
“No, that’s not a good idea” my daughter replies in a schoolmistressy tone.
"Very impressive" friendly girl’s mum exclaims, looking impressed.
“Well, you know – I just refuse point blank to buy her sweets” I half joke. (In fact my daughter prefers chocolate.)
Friendly girl’s mum’s face drops. She suddenly looks crestfallen and utterly miserable.
“Well, you know, sometimes you just have to give in, don’t you?” she responds, pleadingly.
“Yes, absolutely, of course, definitely, completely” I gush.
After an uncomfortable pause and sensing it is time to go we head off smartly for the car park. As we near the Prius I look over my shoulder and see friendly girl dragging a harried-looking mum towards the extensive sweet display.
I ruffle my daughter’s hair ruefully and strap her in her car seat.

Friday 9 March 2007

You know how to wiggle don't you?

After my shave and what with the sunshine and everything I’m in a good mood as I gambol upstairs with my daughter to her classroom. Then, as I walk through the door, I see playdate mum. She’s nice and all, but I felt in need of a couple more days before seeing her again.
“Hi.” I say.
“Well, hello!” She beams. “Thank you for the thank you card!”
“Thank you for the thank you!” I parrot, horribly.
She laughs gaily. It may be that she just doesn’t notice or care about my solecisms. Or perhaps it’s the lack of beard.
We fuss around our children for a while and then troop downstairs together.
Outside in the limpid pre-Spring sunshine we circle around each other on the pavement in readiness for our appropriate departure trajectories. Then suddenly I say it. “We really should arrange a return playdate.”
“Great”, she beams.
“But you’re having a baby soon” I say, “So, er, obviously…”
“No, that’s fine, I’m not going to let the baby affect the children”.
I squeak with laughter. She sees me laughing and laughs too, but I'm not sure we're laughing at the same thing.
“Right well, er …”
“How about next week?” she suggests.
NO! I expected it to be a constantly postponed, always–a-few-weeks-off type arrangement. Not this.
“Of course. I’ve got nothing on.”(I haven’t … ever.)
“Sounds great. How about Friday?”
“Friday. Great.”
So that’s it. All arranged.

In the car on the way home I wonder what I’m going to do. There’s no room in our house for running along corridors. No boys’ toys. No Wiggles videos. In fact unless you like running up and down stairs it’s not a whole heap of fun. Then suddenly, while swerving around yet another road-crosser unaware of the silent menace of the Prius, it occurs to me what to do. I can give them both lunch. He likes football. I’ll buy a football and take them to the park and have a kick around and then onto the playground and then back for biscuits and hope that he doesn’t notice the lack of Wiggles. Easy. I don’t know what I was worrying about.

Thursday 8 March 2007

Close Shave

Obviously this whole blogging malarkey is an interactive opinion exchange sort of thing, and some of the feedback I’ve already had has been very useful. Yesterday’s advice on playdates in particular was extremely enlightening.

So the beard has gone. I’d been considering it for a while. I mean you don’t really want to be the guy with a beard do you? A short-lived fashion statement is one thing. John Virgo or Dave Lee Travis is something completely different. The other day I was in the bathroom standing in front of the mirror. Was I washing my face? I may have been putting on some moisturizer. Or perhaps I was just looking at something. Anyway, my daughter strolled in, as kids do. She looked at me for a moment, her expression denoting some interest, and asked eventually “Are you making yourself beautiful daddy?” I looked at the jumble of hair and the unruly beard in which flecks of grey had started to set up base camp. I felt somehow I was letting her down. So it’s gone and in its place is a light covering of stubble. I may go smooth, but it’s a big step all at once. Needless to say, when I presented my daughter with the new me she merely asked if there were any biscuits going.

Wednesday 7 March 2007

Playdate

The building seems to be starting earlier every day. Today we’re woken by what sounds like machine-gunfire next door, punctuated by shrieking. I wonder if they’re using the work as a cover to reduce the pub’s staffing levels.

Life has taken an exciting turn: today we’ve been invited over for a ‘playdate’ by one of my daughter’s classmates. (Why playdate? I hadn’t heard of the word until a few months ago. Who felt it necessary to invent a description of two children playing together that included the word date? I mean it’s not as if I don’t already have enough difficulties camouflaging myself in a female world. I have to keep reminding myself not to call it a date by mistake. I can see it now. Police called. Husbands rung. Ignominy. Graffiti on my door.) The boy’s mum is the sort of eminently capable, cool and calm type that many mothers at nursery seem to be. Certainly not the flary-haired, beard-nested Worzel Gummidge that I am.

At lunchtime we walk from school together to their house, all holding hands (well the kids are holding hands and we’re either side holding our child’s hand - anything else would be weird, obviously) and eventually we get to their place overlooking one of London’s more exclusive garden squares. All very nice.
“A drink?” I’m asked. “Tea, coffee…?” “Err…” I usually find the longer you err, the more exciting the list gets. But in this case it stops after coffee. “...Tea please” I answer, finally, a gin & tonic suddenly appearing in my mind's eye. The mum is nine months pregnant with her third child and the hormones are really sluicing around - it takes her three attempts to make me a cuppa, what with putting coffee in first by mistake and then forgetting what I wanted and then asking about milk twice. I can’t help laughing (but sympathetically).

I never really know what to say in these situations. I feel like I have to reassure every mum I meet that I am actually doing it for love, I do know the basics of childcare and no, it’s not a ruse to go round to women’s houses when their husbands are out. I really need a certificate I can show them or something. Then the nanny comes in and it transpires that she’s pregnant too. They’re both grinning. Do they know something I don’t? I begin to feel slightly uncomfortable. I can handle my daughter, I can even handle her and my wife. But two pregnant women. At the same time.
I’m holding it together until the mum announces she needs her 40 minute pregnancy nap. I wonder how to respond “Would you like some help?” WRONG! “Have you got cable TV?” Mmm, perhaps. In the event it becomes obvious that she’d really rather I left, so I leave the kids chasing each other along the many corridors and dive home to do a bit of work.

When I get back they’re sitting happily watching the Wiggles, scoffing gingerbread. It’s been a lovely playdate, apparently. It was certainly good for me. But I feel guilty, and expect the kiddie police to be arriving any minute in a frenetic squeal of ABS, before leaping out and giving me a caution for lazy childcare. “End doo yoo mind telling us hixactly wot yoo ev been dooin for the larst hower… sir?”

We make our exit in a blitz of gratitude and head for home. My step is light on the pavement, until the terrible truth dawns. We’re going to have to have a return playdate.

Tuesday 6 March 2007

Back to Reality

The pub next door is being refurbished. You know the sort. Gastropub. (I used to say that without wincing). Open kitchen in stainless steel, leaping flames, sizzling meat on beds of veg being ferried to and fro. Always packed with young people with bags and big coats and without children.

Anyway, noone told us, but suddenly there was scaffolding outside and planks positioned cleverly over our front door so that emerging in the morning gave rise to a sort of Laurel and Hardy moment. “Hey Stanley, careful with that scaffolding pole… Doooohh!” So there we are with builders peering into our front window (why do they need to be there, the pub is next door after all) looking surprised to see me sitting on the sofa playing aeroplanes with my daughter. I could of course go round and ask them not to plank us inside our own home and get angry about them staring in through our window like baboons. And I can. Because I’m a bloke they might actually listen. (Or maybe look concerned for a moment and then laugh once I’ve vanished round the corner). But I’m not angry like I used to be. Plus they know where we live. Plus I’ll be able to do it in person soon when the constant banging away at our hallway ends in one of them bursting through the wall like Rutger Hauer in that scene in Blade Runner where he sticks his head through the plaster upstairs in the wet old hotel where doves are getting ready to flap poetically into the bright night sky. (It’s a famous cinematic continuity error, but I guess it’s difficult to film doves flying into a dark night sky.)

It sounds like someone’s got a pneumatic drill and they’re ramming it straight into the other side of the wall. I mean what do they think is going to happen? Isn’t it obvious that it’ll come out the other side? It’s like a nightclub for demented builders around here - dull thudding mostly, then manic bursts of staccato banging. Don’t they know I’ve got a bloody blog to write?

Monday 5 March 2007

Fantasy World #2

Since one of my fantasies has now been fulfilled, let me tell you about another. (By the way, it was every bit as good as I had dreamed – I drearily log on and suddenly the comments digit has miraculously morphed into an 8. Or did the moderator box reveal itself first, with its treasure of 8 unread messages? I can’t remember. It’s all an Oscar Night-type blur. If there had been a hidden camera - like on one of those shows where for the purposes of popular humiliation they surprise an unknowing, blank-faced victim, slumped open-legged on his sofa - my face would have been a picture.)

Anyway, back to the fantasy. I get up in the morning and while I’m sleepily transferring chocolate covered cereal into a cracked plastic bowl, the phone rings. It’s Bob. “Hi Bob”, I say, unsurprised to hear his voice on the phone at this time of the morning. “Hi Stay at home dad” he replies. “What say we get the kids off to school and then round to mine to watch the cricket?” (It’s quite a timely fantasy, this one.) “Great.” I say, “Then we can meet Tom down at the Cow and Bottle for lunch and a couple of beers.” “Perfect”, says Tom “And we can all collect the kids together, get them home and settle in for a session.” We agree that it sounds an excellent plan and ring off.

It could happen. No? No, probably not. Back to chipping off encrusted Coco-pops then…

Sunday 4 March 2007

Fantasy World

Recently I’ve been having these recurring fantasies. They involve people actually reading my blog. I know it’s ridiculous. You’ve got better things to do. Other things to read. Your own lives to document. But, still the fantasies come unbidden. In one I log on and instead of the usual 0 comments, the digit has changed to 1. I feverishly click the button and the comment reads “Beautifully written and crafted, this really hits the spot. I congratulate you on your courage and inner strength.” In other fantasies I feverishly click, but then discover all manner of abuse, blackening my character so darkly that I have to call a lawyer.

It all raises that central philosophical blogging question: why are we doing it? Is it for ourselves or for other people? Does it make it any more or less valuable if there is noone out there reading it? Don’t worry, I don’t expect an answer.

Saturday 3 March 2007

Model Behaviour

In the end the Model Village won. I have to admit I was instrumental in the decision. All that tiresome post-petting handwashing at Bunny World (yes, really) and the big draughty barn and the hyper-gift-shop with its legions of pink fluffy toys. Anyway, I picked my daughter up at lunchtime after nursery school, whizzed home (inasmuch as you can whizz in Kensington traffic, which, particularly in the morning rush hour, is reminiscent of the final stage of the Tour de France, or that Sylvester Stallone film where they mow people down for points), and then whizzed back, after realizing we had left her bag at the school gate. I say we, but in my daughter’s eyes it was of course my fault, and an unforgivable lapse at that. It wasn’t so much forgetting a bag as abandoning Dora the Explorer (river!; lake!; MAGIC CASTLE!!), whose pink face gurns from its flap. Anyway, after rescuing Dora, and a light lunch of ham and olive sandwiches, we set out for Beaconsfield and the Model Village.

If there’s anything more pleasant than whirring silently along an empty road (there’s a button on the Prius’s dashboard bearing the ghostly outline of an italic car, which, when depressed, means it does its utmost to travel only on electricity, and which the owner’s manual advises, with typical Japanese benevolence, is ideally to be used in built up areas late at night to avoid annoying the neighbours), warmed by shyly emerging spring sunshine, fragments of nursery rhymes floating forward from the back seat, then I haven’t come across it.

As usual, the Lilliputian splendour that is the Model Village doesn’t disappoint. It is our first visit of the year and while my daughter races round and round following the model railway I complete a leisurely circuit, engrossed in the attention to detail and workmanship. Other groups move around the village at a similar speed. Generally mums on their own with children, or mums in groups with children. Or mums and grandparents with children (“Pleeease don’t give Johnny chocolate grandpa…”). There is never another dad with his children. I’m used to it after nearly two years, but I still wonder where they all are. They exist, I know. There are possibly millions of stay at home dads, judging by all the blogs. But I never meet any. So my childcare is just her and me. No friends to drop by on. No coffee mornings. No girly lunches. Still, I’m mostly happy that way. And my daughter seems to be too.

As we sit munching Wagonwheels together at the end of our tour, I ask her “What’s your favourite thing at the Model Village?” She looks quizzical for a few moments. “Eating”, she replies, straight-faced.

Friday 2 March 2007

Heavy Metal

I’ve had complaints already. Well, one. From my wife. I emailed her to tell her I had a blog and awaited a few vaguely positive comments plus some (constructive?) criticism, as usual. Some minutes later the answer came back “Sorry I’ve never really understood blogs. You’re a massive Metal Head with two kids?”.

The answer, I found, lay in a full stop. I am wwwstayathomedad. The Metal Head is www.stayathomedad. I can see that might cause problems in future. But after that unpromising start I got to thinking about Metal Head. “Well it's Monday and the first day of my first ever Blog.” He starts off breezily. But he posts only once, in June 2003. What happened to his beautiful children? His wife? His smiley son? Was there some horrible accident? It doesn’t bear thinking about.

In a desperate effort to avoid the same fate, I rush to make another entry. I thought a few strengths and weaknesses might be useful to illustrate my life in childcare. What am I good at? Making up bedtime stories that make my daughter cackle and scamper around the bedroom like an excited dog. (They involve an excited dog.) Coming up with afternoon expeditions we can both stomach (the Model Village or Bunny World this Friday?) I’m also quite good at combining unlikely kitchen ingredients to produce a meal apparently quite edible for a three year old. (Tuna and sweetcorn spaghetti anyone?)

My faults could of course fill three blogs. Poor shopping habits, leading to the need to combine unlikely kitchen ingredients (see above). Lack of sympathy for grazes, scratches, bumps etc (“Well you’re alright aren’t you?”) A seemingly limitless capacity for CBeebies, to the extent that sometimes I find myself watching it when I am meant to be watching Sky Sports. Difficulty mixing with mums. Frequent lapses in commitment to the concept of childcare. I could go on. And I will, tomorrow.

Thursday 1 March 2007

My Dark Materials

A while ago I wrote an article about myself for a national newspaper. I was in the first flush of pride after giving up my job in the City to look after my then eighteen month old daughter, while my wife returned to work. The article was well-received: friends and family congratulated me on my journalistic achievement, a literary agent was keen on a book deal, and somewhere I believe children are even reading about my experiences in a school text book.

Sadly though, interest waned, the book fell through and I'm not sure I rival Philip Pullman in many schoolchildren's affections. So, eighteen months later, with no audience for my ramblings - here's my story. If you're interested in how a stay at home dad, at-home father, house husband - there are a lot of names for it considering how many men seem to do it - operates in a mum's world, read on. And if you're a publisher, film producer or newspaper editor, I'm still available...