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Welcome to my website: part vanity project, part unwarranted self-promotion, part ‘stops me drifting towards my natural inclination for murder’. I hope you’ll find something in these pages that makes you laugh, or leak some description of bodily fluids. I write about a broad range of nonsense, but most often find myself drawn to the absurdity of existence, parenting, and TV & film.

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Men’s Guide to Pooing Away From Home

If a man’s home is his castle, then it follows that his toilet is his throne. It’s hard to leave the kingdom, to try out other toilets in places you don’t trust, or among people who may mean you harm. But sometimes, out there in the big bad world, a King’s gotta do, what a King’s gotta do: a King’s gotta poo.

Here’s a quick and handy guide to some of the bathrooms you might find yourself having to poo in over the course of your life, with an honest appraisal of the risks and dangers, and the obstacles you might have to overcome.

It all starts in primary school…

Dropping the kids off at School

Like a cat forced to use a litter tray inside a kennel of angry Jack Russells, the boy who poos at school is quite correct to feel scared. Nothing in this world excites the same level of primal violence in a group of primary school boys than one of their number going for a shit. Something about the spiritual nakedness and vulnerability of that act triggers their blood-lust, and the mere suggestion of it happening somewhere in their vicinity sends them howling off round the school like chimps on a hunt. They sniff the air. They beat their chests. A Mexican wave of excitement clatters through the playground. Roll up, roll up, ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, come see the amazing… shitting… boy! It feels like VE Day. The kids erect stalls, arrange a tombola, they sing, they dance, and before you know it Doris Day’s up on top of a bin belting out ‘The White Shits of Rover’. It’s literally the best thing that’s ever happened to the school, with the possible exception of that day a dog got into the playground.

“Quick! Davey’s doing a shhiiiiiiiiiiiiiitttttttt!”

This certainly isn’t the best thing that’s ever happened to the boy foolish enough to answer nature’s call away from the safety and sanctity of his family bathroom. The hunters lock in on his location, and swoop in to the main building; they track, surround and mount his flimsy cubicle, laying siege to it with shrieks and roars as the frightened little shitter inside begs for them to stop, and perhaps even tries to subdue them with the toilet brush. It’s like the Wicker Man with noise instead of fire. This boy’s crime? First degree turd-er. He’s paying for the collective bodily shame of the whole class.

He’ll never shit at school again, and if he’s ever tempted he’ll have his new, life-long nickname to dissuade him: he’ll never be known by any other name than ‘Jobby Boy’ until he’s at least 17.

For some reason you could take a piss at school without attracting much heat or ridicule; unless, of course, you made the mistake of going for a piss in the cubicle. Oh dear. If you did that could expect to be handed the hereditary title of ‘gay for life’, and hounded for the rest of your days. Gay was a more prevalent insult back then, you see, because Central Scotland in the early-to-mid 1980s wasn’t the, ah… enlightened… cosmopolitan…em, paradise… it is today? Hysterical parents everywhere wanted to protect their boys from the would-be gays in their midst, and knew of no better way to do it than to steer them towards the more wholesome things in life, like tits in their dad’s newspaper, drinking until you pass out, and Jimmy Savile.

Such was the impeccable logic of Scottish schoolboys in the 1980s that the boy they’d hold up as the gayest was the one who not only got himself as far away as possible from all other penises while in the bathroom, but actually sealed himself inside a giant penis-proof box. ‘Hey!’ a boy would shout as he pounded on the cubicle door from outside, ‘I can hear you pissing in there! If you don’t want to be called gay, you’ll bloody well come out of that cubicle and show me your cock… and then you’ll have a fucking good look at my cock, by God!’

Chod on the Road

(PS: FYI if you’re not Scottish: ‘Chod’ means ‘jobby’)

(PPS: ‘Jobby’ means ‘shite’)

Let’s do some quick maths. In your average public lavatory consisting of three cubicles, approximately three-out-of-every-three seats in those cubicles will be covered in drips, crescents, loops and lakes of the very yellowest of piss. The piss will often be accompanied by a bold, bristly sprinkling of pubes and arse-hairs. Mmmmm. Delicious. Would sir care for some herpes with his defecation? And the bowl beneath your arse will usually be beskidded with the kind of splatter patterns only Dexter could decipher. Or it’ll have a jobby bobbing in it, like a brown olive in the world’s most disgusting cocktail.

If you do happen to stumble upon an immaculately clean seat, you’re more wary of it than you would be a piss-stained one. The other two are filthy, says a suspicious little voice inside your head. So why is this one gleaming? What foul secrets hide behind the invisible barrier around this bog that can only be exposed with the aid of a UV lamp and plenty of luminol? Your brain imagines the worst. Did a tramp piss everywhere and then have his trusty dog lick up the evidence? Or vice versa? Did an old man wipe down the seat with one of his socks after his largest hemorrhoid burst open like a firework during a particularly gnarly shit?

Public shitting is the most dangerous activity this side of running along the banks of the Nile baiting crocodiles with your blood-basted bollocks. Most people would rather crap in a bush, take a ten-mile taxi-ride home, hold it in until they’re half crippled, or simply shit themselves, than risk sitting on a public toilet-seat. Only those with nothing left to lose would ever contemplate letting their bare thighs thunk down onto a public pan. The sanest option, if pushed, is for a man to hover above the water like a Lancaster Bomber, dropping payloads from up high, and taking the shitty splash-back like a man.

Possibly the worst breed of public toilet is the one you’ll find inside a nightclub toilet. The lavvies in your average nightclub play host to more cum, cocaine and fecal matter than an evangelical preacher’s cock. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the locks on the cubicle doors are usually bust, so you have to shit like you’re playing Twister – one foot held out, both hands ready – in case some drunk asshole barges into your space when you’ve got a mitt-full of shitty toilet-paper.

The Toilet on a Train

Enough said.

Plop, Plop. Who’s There?

Provided you can find a pube-and-piss-free throne to perch your ass upon, nothing beats a good shit at work. The toilets are a lot more sanitary owing to a regular cleaning schedule, and the finite, measurable number of bum-cheeks on site that could potentially occupy them. Plus, there’s no phone in there. No emails. No bosses. No command structure. No pressure. For five or so blessed, blissful minutes of your hectic day, there’s nothing but you and the poo.

But never let yourself be lulled into a false sense of security. You know as well as I do that  one creak of that bathroom door, one flurry of footsteps, and you’re locked inside that cubicle like a rat in a trap, possibly until the end of time.

When we step out of that cubicle immediately post-poo we want the bathroom to be empty. It doesn’t matter if somebody walks in as we’re washing our hands – even if our stink is hanging in the air like mustard gas, we can still chat away with whoever walks in, even reference our own ungodly stench with a smile and a shrug of the shoulders. But being seen exiting that stall? Unthinkable. The equivalent of being snapped by the paparazzi on your way out of court for an animal sex-crime.

Everybody shits. We know that; it’s one of life’s great levellers. There’s certainly no shame in defecation. We should be bolshy, proud. After a shit we should be bursting the door open from the inside like an FBI agent raiding a drug den and greeting whoever’s out there with steely resolve, or strolling through the door like we’re emerging from the smoke on an episode of Stars in Their Eyes dressed like Johnny fucking Cash. We do a shit: we don’t take shit. In reality, though, when faced with intrusion in the bathroom we hold back. We clam up. Maybe we’re still haunted by the nickname we were given in primary school…

Anyway, you know the drill. One hint of the outside door creaking open while you’re inside that cubicle, and all plopping, wiping and polishing ceases immediately. You become like Tom Cruise in the first Mission Impossible movie, held in suspended animation, frightened to breathe. ‘Just fuck off,’ you plead under your breath. But another person comes in. And another. And another. And another. It’s a convention. A stampede.

And then the unthinkable happens: ‘You going to be long in there?’ comes a voice from outside. An answer is demanded. Your identity is demanded. What can you do?

There’s only one thing you can do. You shrink to the size of a vole and swim down the U-bend to safety, dragging your jobbies behind you.

New You, New Poo

It’s great to spend the night with a girl at her place; sharing a bed and each other’s bodies, then waking up naked and sated in the half-light of the next morning. What isn’t great is waking up in that half-light absolutely bursting on a shite. If your relationship is very new then that bouncing blurble in your stomach, if allowed to evolve into a monstrous doo-doo, could sound the death knell for your union.

It’s probably a smart idea to avoid creating a mental connection in the mind of your good lady between you number one, the sexual harpsichord that’s fun to play, and you number two (literally), the man who’s devastated her living area with the gagging stench of egg in the wake of a particularly oily shit. Take it from me: best not to shit in the same post-code area, much less the same house or flat. Only a German would consider that an aphrodisiac.

When I was a student in Aberdeen I dated a girl who lived in student accommodation ten minutes down the hill from mine’s. Most nights when I stayed over I’d wake up very early the next morning a sweating, shaking, bagged-up mess, and would have to spend long, dark hours gritting my teeth to dust as I willed a jobby back up my intestinal tract like a priest conducting a violent reverse exorcism of his bowels. I couldn’t let her smell my splatter. Worse still, she shared a flat with three other girls, any one of whom could have emerged from the shadows at any given moment to inhale my heady anal perfume – Eau de Dead Dog’s Colon. I’d have to find excuses to leave her flat at half five in the morning, which isn’t an easy thing to do without coming across like some love rat who’s sneaking out early so he can get the kids he hasn’t told you about ready for school. I think I started scraping the bottom of the barrel before long:

“Where are you going at this time of the morning?”

“I’VE GOT A BIG TABLE-TENNIS MATCH LATER!”

“But you’ve never even talked about table-tennis once in all of th…”

“I’M A WORLD CHAMPION, BYE.”

I’d stagger up that hill like the world’s angriest Parkinson’s sufferer, shouting and cursing as I went, kicking bins, telling squirrels to fuck off. Then I’d arrive home and do a poo that would trigger such an exquisite feeling of relief that I’d write poems about it – in one case an award-winning three-act play that was a huge smash on Broadway.

After that first giddy year, and especially once you’ve moved in with a girl, all restraint goes down the pan. It becomes perfectly normal to catch a waft of each other’s botty parcels, to hear the plips and plops of a poo in progress, even to bloody well shit in front of each other. It’s best just to embrace this when it happens, have fun with it. My partner and I regularly play a game called ‘But Who Can Shit the Fastest?’, and have side-by-side contests, with one of us using the bath. Now THAT’S sexy.

Giving Trump the Clap: Harder Than You Think

Here’s a question for you.

Who has the toughest job in the world?

OJ Simpson’s PR team? Mine-sweeping dogs in the Congo? Scottish dentists?

Wrong.

I’ll tell you who has the toughest job in the world: the person who’s trying to decide at what points to clap during one of Trump’s speeches. Now that’s a tough call. When exactly do you do it?

When he makes a cogent point? He doesn’t. When he says something witty? He hasn’t. When he finishes a sentence? He barely starts one. Well, you’d better go off and get strategising, my friend, else that’s one pair of thoroughly unclapped hands you’re going to … have on your… hands… there.

The reason it’s tough to gauge when to clap is because Trump gives speeches like he’s: a) battling a powerful stroke, b) conducting an orchestra as he comes up on a huge dunt of speed, c) patronisingly enunciating dinner choices to a half-deaf nontegenarian relative, d) trying to break his jaw to better swallow a rat, and e) a cunt. Usually all five at once. Trying to determine when to clap is like trying to find the best time to jump through a jet engine propeller: there just isn’t one. I guess you’d have to listen out for certain keywords and phrases – like ‘wall’ and ‘bad dudes’ and ‘shit-holes’, and generally anything a little bit racist – and start clapping in the hope that Trump will cease speaking long enough to allow a dead-eyed smile of self-congratulation to seep out across his sickening toad face.

I think it might help with clap-timings if a gargantuan screen could be installed at every Trump rally, with a live interpreter in the bottom-right corner; like they have for deaf people, only tailored for a different kind of impairment (that impairment being an unshakable admiration for Donald Trump). I’m thinking the interpreter could be a figure in a white hood who keeps the crowd stimulated by smashing a tiny Mexican vihuela every eight seconds.

Jesus, Trump’s recently started applauding himself during his speeches, which admittedly makes the whole business of judging applause breaks much easier, but does seem to be taking a job away from other people. Tsk tsk. I thought you were trying to make America great, Donald.

Maybe I’m wrong to criticise the cadence and content of the guy’s speeches. I’m no linguist. Maybe he’s a genius. He might be a genius, right? Let’s examine some evidence, in the form of the Trump-propelled sentence that follows, in which Trump speculates about whether or not Obama ever called the relatives of fallen marines while in office (Spoiler alert: he did): “I don’t know if he did. I was told that he didn’t often, and a lot of presidents don’t – they write letters… President Obama, I think, probably did and maybe he didn’t. I don’t know, that’s what I’m told.”

Whatever you think of Trump, you’ve got to admit that It’s a real talent to come up with a sentence that’s also its own opposite. When Trump speaks it’s like a dog vomitting a scrabble set into a wind tunnel, as a blind man with seven missing fingers tries to catch the letters.

Narcissism features heavily in his repertoire. Indeed, most of his scattergun diatribes seem to boil down to one catchy slogan: “Tough on people who aren’t me, tough on the causes of people who aren’t me.” His answer for every question is ‘I’m the best’, even if the question isn’t really a question, and it’s just somebody nearby coughing. He’ll tell that cough he’s the best just to avoid doubt. Plus he’s the best at coughing. Believe him. Believe him.

A steadfast opposition to truth is another favourite pick from his oratorical trick-bag. He’s like Bart Simpson when he became the I-Didn’t-Do-It-Boy, except Trump really believes that he didn’t do it, or believes that he did do it and doesn’t really care that he did it, but he’ll be damned if you think that he did it. Because he didn’t. Did he? I don’t know anymore. Probably best to assume he did, even if he didn’t. All hail the Lie Lord of the Multiverse. Behold: Schrodinger’s President! Until you open the door of the Oval Office to peek inside, two wholly separate certainties exist simultaneously: that he’s a liar, and that he’s a f***ing liar. That’s underselling it somewhat. Trump doesn’t just lie: he picks up words like they’re lead pipes and bashes reality in the face with them.

Trump’s such a good snake-oil salesman that he’s managed to become the greatest Scientologist who ever lived who isn’t actually a Scientologist. I’ll bet David Miscaviage would give his eye-teeth (and they probably appear in one of Hubbard’s books) to get Trump off a cloud and into his spaceship. Trump could be the Scientologists’ Messianic Hulk; their pie-faced space Jesus of lies. I’d like to hope that if Trump ever even looked in the general direction of an E-meter that Lady Universe would almost immediately crunch herself, and every single one of us, into oblivion. Trump definitely sings from the same song sheet as Hubbard’s church when it comes to fighting dirty against facts, and knowing how best to smear and marginalise your opponents.

Trump regularly declares his critics and opponents ‘sick’, with ‘critics and opponents’ defined as anyone who dares challenge his world-view or loose relationship to facts. Really, though, imagine being condemned as ‘sick’ by the man who’s spent years making boastful allusions to pronging his own daughter, albeit in a Back to the Future-style alternate timeline. Except up-for-it instead of scared and revolted. Great Clot! Trump’s like a bolt of lightening: you never know where or when he’s going to strike next . Do you remember how scornful the Doc was when Marty told him that Ronald Reagan was president? Fuck, if he ever finds out that ‘Biff Tannen’ is now our president he’ll travel back in time to the Big Bang and take a shit on it.

Anyway, I’m finished. You can clap now.


MORE TRUMP-RELATED NONSENSE BELOW. CLICK FOR THE ARTICLES

Donald Trump: The Apocalypse’s Casus Bellend

Santa Trump’s Xmas Eve Tweets

I Have the Answers to All of Your Questions

Ask a silly question, get a silly answer.

In fact, ask a perfectly reasonable question, get a silly answer.

That’s my motto. It’s probably also the reason my ‘expert advice’ wasn’t particularly sought after over on AnswerBag.

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Jamie’s Digest (4): Cool bits from books – KILLER EDITION

Welcome to an all-crime-and-murder edition of Jamie’s digest.

Over the years I’ve read rather a lot of books on crooks, killers and their catchers; biographies of serial killers; books on policing, profiling and criminology; texts about psychopathy and abnormal psychology. I know that the presence of these sorts of interests in someone’s life, in the proper context, can be taken as a red flag, but I absolutely promise that I’m not a serial-killer-in-waiting. And I swear that I haven’t got my fingers crossed right now (the whole bunch of them are still loose and bobbing around inside the little pouch tied to my waist that I’ve always kept them in). I’m simply fascinated by the extremes of violent, murderous and ritualistic behaviour, of which the human being (most typically the male) is capable. What makes one man a killer and the other a mild-mannered bank clerk? Is there such a thing as good and evil (is there such a thing as a mild-mannered bank clerk)? Are killers mad or bad, born or made? How do you catch them? Is it dangerous to walk in their shoes, a la Will Graham? The whole sprawling subject  is exciting, horrifying, exhilarating, nauseating, absorbing, chilling, repugnant, repulsive and compulsive all at once.

Here are excerpts from some books on killing and killers I’ve read recently.

“The guy you’re looking for will have a limp, and a dog called Daniel.”

Netflix’s Mindhunter was one of the best TV shows of 2017, a fictional adaptation of real-life FBI profiler John Douglas’s first forays into researching and cataloguing the behaviour of rapists and serial killers with a view to helping police focus their investigations on the most likely suspects in live cases, or helping to convict suspects at trial. The events that unfold in the show all more-or-less happened, in some form; certainly all of the killers, rapists and assorted criminals depicted in the series all existed. Where the TV adaptation differs significantly from its source text is through the characters and histories of the main FBI-based antagonists, who are only loosely based upon their real-life counterparts, and even have different names. This affords the TV show more of an element of surprise, and a greater capacity to shock. We know what happens to Ed Kemper, Ted Bundy et al, but we now have no idea how exactly the work they do will affect the FBI profilers, or their families. Smart move.

The book is fascinating and informative. The first third or so focuses on John Douglas himself, and how he came to pursue (and essentially create!) the field of profiling. It’s illuminating, not least because the young, rebellious, academically-underachieving John Douglas doesn’t appear to fit the profile of a future profiler. He certainly did a lot of slacking and engaged in a bit of borderline criminal behaviour before he found his calling.

The rest of the book, as you would hope and expect, offers insights into profiling and behavioural analysis, and discusses many famous cases from throughout John Douglas’ career.

For instance, here’s his take on (a then very much still alive) Charles Manson:

Manson: Complete and Total Cult

“After listening to Manson, I believe that he did not plan or intend the murders of Sharon Tate and her friends; that, in fact, he lost control of the situation and his followers. The choice of the site and victims was apparently arbitrary. One of the Manson girls had been there and thought there was money around. Tex Watson, the good-looking, all-American honor student from Texas, sought to rise in the hierarchy and rival Charlie for influence and authority. Zoned out ike the others on LDS and having bought into the leader’s new tomorrow. Watson was the primary killer and led the mission to the Tate-Polanski house and encouraged the others to the ultimate depravities.

Then, when these inadequate nobodies came back and told Charlie what they had done, that helter-skelter had begun, he couldn’t very well back down and tell them they had taken him too seriously. That would have destroyed his power and authority. So he had to do them one better, as if he had intended the crime and its aftermath, leading them to the LaBianca home to do it again. But significantly, when I asked Manson why he hadn’t gone in and participated in the killings, he explained, as if we were dense, that he was on parole at the time and couldn’t risk his freedom by violating that.

So I believe from the background information and the interviews we did with Manson that while he made his followers into what he needed, they, in turn, made him into what they needed and forced him to fulfill it.

Every couple of years, Manson comes up for parole and has been turned down every time. His crimes were too politicised and too brutal for the parole board to take a chance on him. I don’t want him let out either. But if he were released at some point, knowing what I do about him, I wouldn’t expect him to be a serious violent threat like a lot of these guys [other high-profile killers] are. I think he’d go off into the desert and live out there, or else try to cash in on his celebrity for money. The biggest threat would be from the misguided losers who would gravitate to him and proclaim him their god and leader.”

And now helping to make the distinction between a killer’s MO and signature:

MO vs signature

“Modus operandi – MO – is learned behaviour. It’s what the perpetrator does to commit the crime. It is dynamic – that is, it can change. Signature, a term I coined to distinguish it from MO, is what the perpetrator has to do to fulfill himself. It is static; it does not change.

For example, you wouldn’t expect a juvenile to keep committing crimes the same way as he grows up unless he gets it perfect the first time. But if he gets away with one, he’ll learn from it and get better and better at it. That’s why we say MO is dynamic. On the other hand, if this guy is committing crimes so that, say, he can dominate or inflict pain on or provoke begging and pleading from a victim, that’s his signature. It’s something that expresses the killer’s personality. It’s something he needs to do.”

Most interesting of all is John Douglas’ thoughts on what makes a killer, and the power best deployed proactively to stop it:

All you need is…?

“In all my years of research and dealing with violent offenders, I’ve never yet come across one who came from what I would consider a good background and functional, supportive family unit. I believe that the vast majority of violent offenders are responsible for their conduct, made their choices, and should face the consequences of what they do. It’s ridiculous to say that someone doesn’t appreciate the seriousness of what he’s done because he’s only fourteen or fifteen. At eight, my son, Jed, has already known for years what’s right and what’s wrong.

But twenty-five years of observation has also told me that criminals are more ‘made’ than ‘born,’ which means that somewhere along the line, someone who provided a profound negative influence could have provided a profound positive one instead. So what I truly believe is that along with more money and police and prisons, what we most need more of is love. This is not being simplistic; it’s at the very heart of the issue.”

It’s refreshing that after decades of talking to and hunting people who slit throats, strangle women, kill kids, mutilate corpses, and dump bodies in rivers, John Douglas still believes in love.

Amazon link: Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John Douglas and Mark Olshaker

I – The Creation of a Serial Killer, by Jack Olsen

This book splits its time between following the life of angry giant Keith Hunter Jesperson in the third person, and living through his life and crimes in the first person, the latter device powerful but rather disquieting, as it forces you into the mind of a killer as he kills and prepares to kill. While both gruesome and shocking, the book does try to answer the question of how Jesperson was ‘made’, but certainly isn’t interested in exonerating Jesperson or excusing his behaviour. This book’s never an easy read, but it’s very illuminating and, boy, Jack Olsen could write.

The excerpt below comes after the end of Jesperson’s killing-career, as he indulges his narcissism as he awaits his fate in prison. We’re not inside Jesperson’s thoughts here.

“His [Jesperson’s] first attempt to establish contact with a marquee murderer had taken place early in 1996, while he was still juggling legal problems in Oregon, Washington and Wyoming. He’d written a friendly letter to Danny Rolling, facing execution in Florida for the massacre of five college students. Jesperson’s letter to “the Gainesville Slasher” congratulated Rolling on finding a new girlfriend – “she sounds like a neat and great person.” The letter had a whiff of sycophancy. “Hope all will go well with you, my friend in Christ,” wrote the lifelong agnostic. “God bless you. No response is needed.”

None was received. While Keith was awaiting a reply, the fastidious Rolling was telling a third party that he found the Self-start Serial Killer Kit and Keith’s other attempts at Internet gallows humour in atrocious taste. “That kind of humour doesn’t impress me,” said the man who’d slashed four victims to death and decapitated a fifth. “There is NOTHING, absolutely nothing about KILLING that is humourous.” ”

I find it incredible that a man who’s murdered many women and chopped off heads can demonstrate such prudishness in other spheres of his life. Or maybe he hates – to use Dexter-talk – his ‘dark passenger’ and sees his incarcerated self as somehow separate from it.

Jesperson was more successful in striking up dialogue with an imprisoned cannibal, who was keen to talk death and recipes.

A letter from Nicolas Claux, the Vampire of Paris:

“I personally think that any kind of spiced sauce will spoil the naturally sweet taste of human flesh and blood – human meat is a gift from the Gods, and it is a shame to ruin its delightful taste with seasonings and spices… Bon appetit!”

Amazon link: I: The Creation of a Serial Killer by Jack Olsen

The Killing Season

The Killing Season chronicles a year in the life of real-life LA cop duo Razanskas and Winn, a grizzled veteran detective and his rookie partner. He’s a jaded, wise-cracking old white guy; she’s a driven, no-nonsense young black woman. Together they’re going to shovel shit against the tide of blood that’s flowing over the lost, sprawling, poverty-stricken, violent neighbourhoods of south central Los Angeles. I love these guys. They face so much, and work so hard, against almost insurmountable odds, in a hellish environment, and with the worst resources imaginable at their disposal.

Well, I loved these guys. I did some googling on them after finishing the book and found that on one of the first cases they worked on they’d essentially fitted up an innocent guy. Took the sheen off it all, somewhat. Still, a great book. A real eye-opener. A tragedy from start to finish. There but for the Grace of… whatever you happen to believe in, go you and I.

He was shot… where? 

“Razanskas gives Winn and another detective a few details about Masuayama and Reyes’ body dump case and mentions that the victim was shot in the ear. The detective tells him he once had a case where his victim was found lying in a carport, naked. The coroner investigator could not find an entry wound, an exit wound, blood, or any sign of trauma. At the autopsy, the fluoroscope, a type of X-ray machine, solved the mystery and revealed a .22 slug. The man, who had crossed a Jamaican drug dealer, had been shot in the anus.”

Death, loss and unspeakable tragedy feature almost constantly throughout the book, but this next excerpt stung me quite hard.

On murder and its consequences:

“Erick’s friends were stunned when they heard he was killed in a drive-by. He was not the type who would hang out on the street corners with the gangbangers. He lived with his girlfriend and two young children in Ontario, a suburb 40 miles east of Los Angeles. They did not want to raise their children in the city. He had been laid off from his job as a security guard and was spending a few days a week during the summer at his mother’s South-Central house. She has diabetes and failing eyesight and Erick had been caring for her.

When he returned to his old neighbourhood, he liked to play dominoes with his friends and water the roses in his mother’s yard. He landscaped the yeard years ago and won a gardening award from the city. His mother still has the trophy on her mantel. He took pride in the lush lawn he put in, the red, yellow, pink and violet rosebushes he tended, the thick stands of philodendron he planted to shade the yard.

He was so well liked, more than 300 people came to his funeral, including a few teachers from elementary and high school. At his wake, his 3-year-old son, Erick, Jr, who now wears his father’s gold earring, tried to climb into the coffin. He could not comprehend that his father was gone. Later that night, he picked up the telephone and tried to call his father so he could tell him to come home.

Erick’s 5-year-old daughter, Danielle, who is missing her front teeth and has pigtails, lingered by her father’s open casket. She kissed him and held his hand. Finally, she told her mother, “I want to die, so I can be with my daddy in heaven.”

Now Danielle’s mother often finds her crying in her bed, the blankets pulled over her head. When her mother pulls the covers back, Danielle tells her that she tries to muffle her cries. She does not want to upset her.

Every day, Erick, Jr., talks about his father. And every day he tells his mother, “I want to find the man who shot my daddy. I want to kill him.” “

Amazon Link: The Killing Season by Miles Corwin

Until next time: keep reading, mother-bookers.

Recommendations for some excellent books related to this edition’s theme

Lost Girls: an Unsolved American Mystery by Robert Kolker

People Who Eat Darkness: Love, Grief and a Journey into Japan’s Shadows by Richard Lloyd Parry

Blind Faith by Joe McGinniss

Son: A Psychopath and his Victims by Jack Olsen

Blind Eye: The Terrifying Story of a Doctor Who Got Away with Murder by James B. Stewart

Without Conscience: The Disturbing World of the Psychopaths Among Us by Robert D. Hare

The 5 Worst TV Shows of 2017

I watched a lot of TV shows in 2017, a fair dollop of them crap, but none so utterly, irredeemably crap as the five failures below.

PRISON BREAK

The first season of Prison Break was truly great TV: fun, funny, shocking, silly, suspenseful, tense, exciting and beautifully, insanely ridiculous. But it never should’ve lasted beyond those first 22 episodes, much less another 4 seasons, a mini-movie and a revival season.

Was there anyone in the entire world who was actually looking forward to this revival, or who expected it to be anything other than a giant bowl of sick-whisked dog shit? I can understand wanting to watch this new ‘mini-event series’ out of morbid curiosity, or because you relish the prospect of picking it to pieces as you sort of half-watch-it, half-browse-for-stuff-on-Ebay, but surely only a die-hard fanatic of the first order, or a victim of failed brain surgery, would anticipate new Prison Break with any sense of relish.

My expectations started low – we’re talking sub-basement-level flat in Hell’s deepest underground multi-storey – and still they were unmet. Prison Break is a show where anything can, and does, happen, so ultimately nothing matters.This is a show where being electrocuted to death and having your head chopped off is no barrier to a return. It just requires waiting for the right preposterous, credibility-stretching conspiracy to come along.

Don’t get me wrong: the show’s bat-shit crazy, devil-may-care, fast-moving, twisty-turny-ness was one of its greatest and most entertaining assets in the beginning, but now it just feels tired and forced and lazy and formulaic. Plus, it’s more painfully obvious than ever before that the two brothers can’t really act for shit. Lincoln spends this season lumbering around the Middle East with all the grace and charisma of a zombie oak tree, while Ed Kemper is probably more effective at emoting than Michael (and I mean Ed Kemper as he is now). The prison break is boring and short-lived; the secondary characters hollow and unconvincing; the villains one step below panto; the Yemeni setting poorly realised and possibly border-line racist; and the various twists even more maddeningly preposterous than usual.

From the moment Lincoln survived being smashed through a windshield at top speed, to T-Bag’s unemotional ’emotional’ moment with his dying son, I sat completely and utterly spellbound – by my own fingernails. I kept wondering how long it would take to scratch my own eyes out with them.

Oh, and on a closing note, writing and production team: good work on the big showdown and shoot-out at a Yemeni train station: you know, Yemen?… The country that DOESN’T HAVE ANY FUCKING TRAINS.

Read my article about Prison Break seasons 1-4 HERE that was published by Den of Geek in 2013.

POWERLESS

Powerless boasted strong production values, a talented cast (most notably Danny Pudi of Community-fame) and an absolutely on-point, almost perfect title sequence – all of which was ultimately completely useless, because whatever else Powerless had or was, it simply wasn’t funny. And ‘funny’ is a pretty essential component when you’re making a comedy series. It was cancelled after only 9 episodes of the first season had aired.

I guess there have been a lot worse shows than Powerless, but it’s a tragedy that what could’ve been a zany, fresh and inventive comedy looking at life through the lens of a bunch of regular Joes in a WayneTech subsidiary working to protect the little guy from the constant battles between superheroes and supervillains became instead a lacklustre, generic workplace comedy that struggled to conjure up more than a handful laughs (tiny, breathy ones at that) and a smattering of smiles (flat, joyless ones, too).

Still, while the 9 episodes I watched were undoubtedly shite, maybe the show could’ve grown into something special given more of a chance. Shame on you, Powerless. But shame on you, too, American network television.

RED DWARF

The twelve-year-old me who spent his days regurgitating Red Dwarf’s catch-phrases and impersonating its characters would be very angry with fat, hairy thirty-seven-year-old me for placing Red Dwarf on this list, but never mind: I’m reasonably sure I could take twelve-year-old-me in a fight.

It’s fair to say that Red Dwarf has had a wildly uneven hit-rate in recent years; from the mild disappointment of its sheeny-shiny, oh-so-cinematic seventh season, to the post-lobotomy lock-down of its lads-and-lager eighth season; from the abominable Back to Earth, to the show’s present incarnation as a darling of Dave, the show has never quite made the case for its own cancellation, but neither has it given much cause for unbridled celebration.

That’s not to say that latter-day Dwarf has lacked classic episodes – there have been some triumphantly funny episodes, even in the midst of the most middling of seasons – but that still only adds up to 6 truly great episodes out of 31. You wouldn’t be happy to get a score of 6 out of 31 in a test, unless it was a test to see how attractive Kevin Spacey found you on a scale of one to 31. Still, despite the show’s somewhat scatter-gun run since the late 90s I felt weirdly, unfathomably optimistic about season XII. I should’ve known better, or at least lowered my expectations.

While the first episode and the last two episodes of the season were pretty good (or at least ‘good enough’), the third episode – Timewave – was so embarrassingly, blood-curdlingly awful that it made me want to remove all traces of Red Dwarf from my memories with a rusty axe.

Rob Grant’s pointless and puerile attempt to reflect the current political climate by placing the crew on a ship where all criticism was outlawed was the unfunniest thing since… well, since nothing. It’s literally the unfunniest thing that’s ever been produced, and that includes genocide and Mrs Brown’s Boys. It’s the single worst episode of any show I’ve watched this year, and quite possibly the worst thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life, and that includes granny porn.

Timewave effortlessly earns Red Dwarf its slot in the top five. It’s so bad it’ll keep Red Dwarf on this list every year for the next ten years, even if it never returns to air.

Read my honest and optimistic look-ahead to Red Dwarf series XII HERE that was published by Den of Geek in 2017.

THE WALKING DEAD

Never before has all-out warfare been so mercilessly, miserably, unforgivably dull. The Walking Dead has been shedding healthy flesh at an alarming rate since the beginning of its sixth season, and now shambles twice-yearly into our schedules a rotted husk of its former reassuringly-gory glory. While even in its younger, better days it was never in the same league as shows like The Sopranos, Mad Men, or The Wire, The Walking Dead was at least exciting and emotionally resonant, and capable of turning out some truly powerful, haunting or barn-storming episodes. Season 8, thus far, has been full of action, but devoid of feeling and substance.

Rick is an infuriatingly inconsistent protagonist at the helm of an infuriatingly inconsistent show. Well, perhaps it’s not infuriatingly inconsistent anymore, because use of the word ‘infuriating’ would signify that I still cared about the content or direction of the show. And I don’t. I really, really don’t. Negan is a crushing bore of a bad guy (mishandled and miscast); the Saviours/war narrative continues to unfold without any concessions to logic, sense, physics or geography; the (Poor Man’s Mad Max) People of the Trash Pile are too dull to be kitsch, and too fucking ridiculous to be a credible threat; and there are too many characters on the show, especially when they’re all so thinly-sketched and bent so easily to the will of the plot. Game of Thrones gets away with having eight billion characters, because it’s a very well-written show and as a consequence its characters are deep, well-rounded and interesting.

I used to care about the show, I really did, but now I wouldn’t care if Carol and Daryl formed a Romeo-and-Juliet-style death pact and shot each other through the head, at the same time as Negan sewed Rick’s severed zombie head onto the neck of Ezekiel’s dead tiger. I didn’t even care about Ezekiel’s tiger, and I’m usually a sucker for animals in on-screen peril. And I certainly didn’t care when it was revealed that Karl had been bitten. Actually, that’s not strictly true. I did care, but only because I’m pretty sure he isn’t going to die, and I really, really wanted him to. In summary, then, let the tiger die. Let them all die. Let the zombies come back to life so they can all die again, too. The Walking Dead’s a dead show walking, and I wish they’d pull the plug so I wouldn’t have to keep watching the bloody thing, masochist that I am.

Read my own blog posts about a) Negan himself HERE, and b) season 7 of The Walking Dead HERE.

And my article about the decline of the show HERE published by Den of Geek in 2017.

THE MIST

Hey, it’s the beautiful, elven-looking woman from Vikings, and Clay Davis from The Wire; you know, the one who says ‘shhheeeeeeiiiiiiiittttttttt’ all the time. And Frances Conroy, of Six Feet Under and American Horror Story fame! Oh, and it’s a Stephen King adaptation; an adaptation of an adaptation, I may add, of a film of which I’m rather fond. Mist, monsters, madness, religious mania, a good old-fashioned struggle for survival: what could possibly go wrong?

Well… everything, in fact. Everything. Not even the massive foghorning beasts that lumber from the mist in the cinematic The Mist could rival the horror of this now-mercifully-cancelled misfire (and I mean ‘horror’ in its most pejorative sense here; I’ve just realised that ‘horror’ can serve as a compliment when discussing actual works of horror. There’s no compliment here, believe me). Most of what emerges from the mist in this adaptation comes in the form of hallucinatory supernatural visions , which – a few notably bat-shit moments aside – get incredibly boring almost instantly. Whilst a great deal of the action unfolds in the local mall (the short story and the movie were set almost entirely in a mid-sized supermarket) the series loses vital focus and tension by spreading its characters out across the town. I understand that having a bunch of characters rushing to a focal point for a big, meaty finale, especially when some of those separated characters hold different pieces of an explosive secret, can be thrilling to watch, but not if the writing and the acting has never moved you to care about any of the characters.

The ‘plot’, such as it is, is redolent of those post-watershed, too-hot-for-TV episodes that British soap operas occasionally indulge in, complete with sketchy characters you can’t seem to bring yourself to give a fuck about, heaped servings of am-dram histrionics, and narrative contrivances powerful enough to make your eyes roll back in your head like jackpotted Vegas slot machines. In the end, The Mist is just a bunch of people chasing each other down smoky corridors with spades, or being pursued by duff CGI, as you check the clock every 90 seconds, wondering why you aren’t doing something more worthwhile with your free time, like cheese-grating all the skin off of your face and feeding it to your cat.

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Kids, and the poor timing of their poo-poos

Our eldest son Jack, who’s three-and-a-bit, gets a small cup of fruit juice first thing in the morning with his breakfast, and pretty much drinks water the rest of the time, give or take the odd swig of diluting juice as a treat. In Scotland, where teeth and hearts have a significantly lower life-span than their host bodies, it makes sense to encourage as many healthy habits as possible, as early as possible. While our pro-H20 stance is certainly commendable it has had the unfortunate side-effect of making juice something of a taboo, and we all know how children swarm to taboos like wasps to open cans of Cola. If we’re ever lax enough to leave our own flagons of diluting juice within his reach – and we are that lax, painfully often – he’ll stand there with his fingers twitching at his side like a gunslinger’s, before grabbing for that juice as if his life depended upon it. He might manage to glug a small cup’s worth, he might manage to glug a litre. One thing’s for sure: we’re rarely quick enough to stop him.

One morning between Christmas and New Year I took him and his little brother Christopher (who’s not long turned 1) to the historic village of Culross – a favourite family haunt of ours. In the rush to get all of us ready to go I neglected to notice a big bottle of pre-mixed Ribena sitting unattended on a table-top. Jack managed to down an indeterminate volume of juice before I clocked on and managed to snatch the bottle away from him.

Even though I bade him piss before we left the house we still had to pull over on a dual carriageway minutes into the journey so he could relieve himself. We stopped again just over the bridge in the village of Kincardine, where he had to piss against one of our car’s front wheels. I caught a bit of friendly fire splash-back on my hand, so took baby-wipes out of little Chrissy’s travel-bag, spilling some of the bag’s contents on to the floor of the car in the process. We eventually reached Culross, and I hoped that Jack’s tank was now empty. It had to be, I told myself, else his bladder’s a bloody TARDIS. The three of us larked in the play-park as the winter wind threw handfuls of invisible ice at us. I ran between two swings at opposite ends of the small park – little safety-swing for Chris, big half-moon wrecking-ball swing for Jack – pushing the kids for a few seconds each time, to warm myself up as much as to amuse the boys. I soon realised that it was too cold to linger long at the unsheltered shore, so we started walking, Jack jumping along by my side, little Christopher warmly ensconced in his wind-proof buggy as I pushed and puffed him along the street.

We normally head up the hill – up the narrow, cobbled streets with their tiny hobbit doors, to the old, cold church that overlooks the town – but today I decided, in no uncertain terms, ‘fuck that’. Let’s go sideways. Let’s buck the trend and spend the entirety of our trip today going ‘along’ instead of ‘up’. Fuck ‘up’. My bones creaked with gratitude; my heart even gave a little double-thump salute. Unbeknownst to us all, horror lay along that long, flat road. I’d been so focused on dealing with the pee-pee situation that I hadn’t even considered the possibility of emergent poo-poo. I was going to pay for my poo-bris. We were about to move to Defcon BUM.

I was glad we’d gone ‘along’, as before long we discovered a community garden we hadn’t known existed. There was a large, decorated Christmas Tree just inside the entrance gate, something that wouldn’t have lasted intact for a single evening had it been erected in my urban shithole of a town; there was a pagoda, various little potting sheds, and as the garden sloped up it sent steps up past clumps of wild flowers, herbs and mini-thickets of trees, and back down again, with benches dotted at strategic points around the loop. It’s beautiful: obviously well-used and well-maintained; a real labour of love by the locals.

And we shat in it.

I’d taken Christopher out of his buggy, and left it at the main gate (again, that buggy would’ve been on bricks and on E-Bay along with the Christmas tree if this had been Grangemouth!). Jack wanted to walk up and around, and back down the garden, again and again, again and again, and we accompanied him, Jack light and spry on his feet, me beginning to feel the strain of the inert boulder of my second-born against my biceps. We’d done about four or five loops, and I just wanted it to end, and for the journey into the unknown ‘along’ to continue. But be careful what you wish for, right?

‘Daddy, I need a poo-poo! I need a poo-poo!’ cried Jack, beginning to waddle like a cowboy penguin, a hand reaching down to cup his bum.

I scanned the area. There was nowhere for him to defecate that wouldn’t be plainly visible to the whole of creation. The public toilets were a ten-minute walk away. I had to help him, but I had Christopher in my arms, and we were far away from the buggy, too far away for me to have run back to it, strapped Christopher in and wheeled him back to Jack before the klaxxon sounded for Code Brown. Shit, shit, shit, I thought – rather appositely, I suppose.

‘Daddy!’ Jack wailed.

‘OK,’ I said, beginning to pull myself together, ‘OK, down over there, behind that shed, there are a couple of trees, can you make it?’

He added a little quick-step dance to his waddle.

‘JACK, CAN YOU MAKE IT?’

This was turning into an episode of 24. DAMN IT!

‘Yes, Daddy.’

‘You can do this, son, come on, hold it in, you’re almost there.’

I bent down to help him pull down his trousers, as Christopher dangled limply over the precipice of my shoulder. There was nothing for Jack to steady himself against, so he was forced to squat. In the haste and panic I’d spared no thought for the position of his pecker relative to his trousers; in any case, he’d surely pissed every centilitre of liquid from his body over the past forty-five minutes, so additional pee-pee was severely unlikely, right? Wrong. His bum may have been poised over a wet mound of leaves, but his wee willy was aimed straight at the back of his jogging bottoms, and there was definitely still juice in the tank.

‘SON OF A BITCH!’ I snarled in frustration, as the piss skooshed out.

‘Son of a bitch!’ came the parroted reply from the little shitting – and pissing – figure below me.

‘NOOOOOOOOooooooooooooooooo!’ I yelled, my trademark grace-under-fire, calm-under-pressure portion of personality really kicking in. I opened Christopher’s travel-bag to take out some nappy sacks and baby wipes, but… oh no. They were all on the floor of the car. And there, at my feet, was my piss-covered, dirty bum-med child, squatting over a big, brown, highly visible poop. There were two paper hankies in my pocket, which I had to use to wipe the worst of the poo from Jack’s bum. With nowhere to put them, they fluttered to the ground like feathers. Horrible, shit-stained feathers. I tried to kick some leaves over them.

‘What have we done?’ I asked my boys, and perhaps even the Gods themselves. There was no answer.

We headed back to the car, taking the coastal path. I watched the dark circle on the back of Jack’s slacks as he happily bobbed along just in-front of us, a stark reminder of my woeful lack of parental preparedness. I put Jack in his car seat sans trousers and tucked a blanket over him.

In the long hours that followed I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d caused my son to have to make a ten-minute journey covered in his own piss. The fact that he didn’t seem to give a shit (if you’ll excuse the word choice) did nothing to salve my guilt. Neither could I stop thinking about how we’d desecrated and defiled a beautiful garden. Inside my thoughts and conscience I’d cast myself as some horrible X-rated panto villain. ‘OH, YOU’VE DONE SUCH A LOVELY JOB, BUT DO YOU KNOW WHAT WOULD BE A NICE ADDITION TO YOUR PRECIOUS SANCTUARY, CHILDREN AND OLD PEOPLE OF CULROSS? A BIG HUMAN SHIT! HA HA HA HA HA! AND SOME SHITTY HANKIES MUHAHAHAHAHA!!’

The next day I was haunted. Should I drive back to the scene of the crime to dispose of the evidence? What if some sweet old lady slips in it, or bashes it with her hoe and gets some hunks of it in her mouth? What if a kid finds one of the brown-tinged hankies and tries to blow their nose with it? I couldn’t bear it. It was like The Tell-Tale Heart, but with a jobby. Edgar Allan Poo! I wanted to confess. I needed to confess. Email the community association and say: ‘I admit the deed! Look behind the shed! Here, here! It is the steaming of my son’s hideous shit!’

But I didn’t.

People of Culross, if you’re reading this, rest assured that karma got me in the end. Literally. I’ve just recovered from a sickness and diarrhoea bug.

Head hung in shame, it’ll be a long time before I return to your Garden of Peed-in (I know my son shat in it, but there’s no such thing as the Garden of Shat-in, so I hope you’ll allow me some creative license).

A Very Scottish New Year’s Day 2018 – The Loony Dook

South Queensferry – New Year’s Day 2018

The Loony Dook – or the Baptism of the Bams, if you prefer – is a charity event that’s been held in South Queensferry every New Year’s Day since 1986. From a starting point of three local nutcases, the event has grown in size, scope and stature to the point where it is now considered an official part of Edinburgh’s Hogmanay/New Year’s celebrations, and attracts many thousands of participants and spectators, from the local to the international. Up to a thousand brave souls don fancy dress – or shed as many layers of clothing as sanity and decency permit – and dive, paddle, shriek and waddle into the freezing winter waters of the Firth of Forth. The Scottish participants are the bravest: a nation of people with bad hearts plunging into sub-zero temperatures after a night of heavy drinking. It takes balls – something the male participants will no longer possess after 15 seconds in the water.

My partner and I took our two kids along to see the Loony Dook this year. It’s always a good policy to expose your offspring to as many unconventional events, places and rituals as possible, to get their burgeoning, ever-stitching brains accustomed to variety, possibility and diversity. For instance, we’d love to take them to the Stonehaven Fireball Festival; to Shetland’s Up Helly Aa; to the Cooper’s Hill Cheese-Rolling and Wake in Gloucester; to East Renfrewshire, to point out all the vile fucking reprobates who voted Tory. But the Dook is on our doorstep, and I thought a bracing trip to the sort-of-sea-side would be better than just sitting in our jammies watching movies on the couch, even if my partner didn’t necessarily agree (actually, there’s no necessarily about it – she just didn’t agree).

Loony Dook 2018

We stood along the stone pier and watched the dookers dooking. There were life-boats in the water, camera crews all around, drones and seagulls in the sky, and a succession of people dressed as hot-air-balloonists, bears and bath-tubs sploshing into the water, but still my eldest son, Jack (who is 3 and a wee bit), said: ‘This is boring. Let’s go somewhere else.’ My partner gave me a look as if to say, ‘If you wanted to see balloonists, we could’ve just stayed on the couch and watched ‘Up’, you arsehole. No matter. Jack and I had great fun skating on the film of sludgey moss and sea-weed that covered the ground at our feet. I guess it was strange and out-of-the-ordinary watching people get dried, undressed and dressed again in broad daylight on a busy high-street (“Daddy… why are all of these people naked?”) and it must’ve given him a kick to see these two chirpy alcoholics:

Not to mention people dressed as bananas. Check out the picture below this short paragrarph. It looks like two banana lovers re-uniting on the first armistice day after the Great Banana War (but don’t ever ask Daddy Banana to talk about what he did at the Battle of Fyffes).

If not for the Loony Dook South Queensferry would be a ghost town on New Year’s Day, but what shop, café or restaurant owner would be foolish enough to keep the shutters down when an unseasonable swarm of thousands of people is moving up and down the high street, especially when a high percentage of the swarm’s members are cold and wet, and in dire need of piping hot sustenance. That’s just basic supply and demand, but where The Loony Dook provides capitalism with the confidence to bolt out of the New Year starting gate with its head – and boot – held high is through the wonder of greed.

The eatery owners are more than happy to charge prices so disgustingly exorbitant that they’d make a Mafioso blush with shame. I know they’re open and working on a public holiday, and quite possibly having to pay their staff holiday rates, but they’re taking advantage of a lucrative business opportunity that wouldn’t otherwise have been afforded to them, not being forced at gunpoint to throw open their doors. Why punish the pockets of the people who’ve assembled to celebrate the twin pillars of charity and insanity? Maybe I’m just being a miserable bastard; maybe this is a sign that I’ll never be ruthless enough to run a successful business. I’ll let you decide. Guess how much one café was charging for a cup of coffee and a bacon roll?

(Drum roll) Have you guessed how much that bacon roll and coffee cost yet?

SIX POUNDS!

If I’m paying six pounds for a coffee and a bacon roll I want documented proof that I’m eating the dough-swaddled flesh of Babe, Peppa and Miss Piggy, and drinking coffee that’s been filtered through Pablo Escobar’s string-vest. If the event organisers ever decide to change tack, but still retain the shock value of the dook, they’d do well simply to lead thousands of Scots into that café to show them the menu. They’d probably need a lot more ambulance crews on stand-by.

Most terrifying of all, that’s probably just the price of a bacon roll and a coffee in South Queensferry all year round. It’s a small town with cobbled streets, bistros and a book shop. Of course a drink and a snack is six quid. I’m used to living in the Grangemouth and Falkirk area where three quid will buy you a full breakfast and an evening with a prostitute.

Anyway, how delightfully Scottish of me. I’m describing attendance at a popular fringe event where a thousand people dress in outlandish costumes and hurl themselves into the sea, and I’ve spent a significant portion of the word-count moaning about how expensive everything is.

As we were exiting the high street on our way back to the car, a half-naked husky-voiced man stood on the top tier of the walkway above us, raised his towel aloft and shouted a gravelly-voiced HAPPY NEW YEAR! If this were America, he’d have just kicked off a firework display and a ‘wooooooooooooooooooooooooo’ that lasted twelve days. Because this is Central Scotland he merely elicited the sort of half-hearted response you usually get from kids forced to say ‘Amen’ at the end of school assembly. He zoomed off down some steps, behind the church, and into a bookstore, which I presume he owned, else he was just really into reading, and wanted to get the most out of Moby Dick.

We went to the local chippie and sat on a bench overlooking the water as we ate fried-food smothered in brown sauce. We’d probably have been safer jumping head-first into the Firth.

Happy New Year.

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Fancy a whistle-stop tour round some of Scotland’s other hot-spots? Click HERE

How about checking out my 2018 resolutions HERE

Suck my resolutions, 2018!

It’s almost time to make your annual declaration of intent to modify your behaviour. Just after midnight on the 1st of January. How very arbitrary. Why not six minutes past three on the afternoon of June the 16th? Or every second Saturday on which at least eighty-five hedgehogs succumb to heart disease? The timing of our celebrations is based upon a calendar that isn’t even universally embraced by all creeds and faiths; a calendar that over the past few thousand years has been tweaked, overhauled, altered and re-branded more times than a dodgy double-glazing company trying to avoid paying its creditors.

Still, it’s rather too easy – and ultimately pointless – to get bogged down nit-picking the existential minutiae of our lives; to go down the route of ‘but grass isn’t green, because ‘green’ is just a word we invented that can never speak to the real truth of greenness, whatever that is, and, anyway, what IS truth?’. That way madness (not to mention never being invited to parties) lies.

Arbitrary or not, the intersection of the 31st of December and the 1st of January has been selected as our period of rebirth and reinvention. And we always, without exception, half-arse the shit out of it. Some of us no-arse it. Still, rebirth is a lofty ambition; no wonder the fail rate is so high. We’re so bad at it that it actually has a severely negative impact on our health. We decide in September that we’re going to give up smoking fags and eating takeaway in the New Year. So what do we do? We spend four months smoking like beagles in an illegal research lab, and treating every meal like it’s been ordered by a death-row inmate on the eve of their execution. We eat, we smoke, we eat, we smoke. Sometimes we eat and smoke at the same time, or smoke bacon and eat cigarettes. Who cares, right? We’re quitting on the 1st of January. Right?

Wrong. All you’ve succeeded in doing is shave another six months off of your already short lifespan.  And converted six healthy months into six months of black-legged, chest-scrunching agony.

In spite of that, here are my resolutions for 2018:

  • Become a tiger. This is not a metaphor. I’m going to become an actual tiger. I just need to find the money for the surgery. Then I need to learn how to play golf. Which will be difficult with four paws, but that’s part of the challenge.
  • Pose nude for page 3. Any amateur can do that in the Daily Sport. I’m going to do it in Angler’s Monthly. Catch THAT, JR Hartley.
  • Become nationally famous for the catchprase: ‘WOAH! WHO ORDERED THE SPANISH FRITTATA OVER HERE, AM I RIGHT?’
  • Reduce The Krankies by three-quarters.
  • Get Pixar to commission your sequel to ‘Up’. In ‘Under’, a grief-stricken Russel will take to the clouds for one final adventure atop Mr Frederickson’s balloon-powered coffin, with only the stuffed corpse of his talking dog and 600 paracetemol for company.
  • Steal money and then invest it ironically. I’m especially looking forward to funding a golden archway for Peta’s headquarters using McDonalds’ billions, and launching the Vatican’s new condom: ‘Pope one on, Pope it up.’ The slogan: ‘The Pope says: always wear a hat.’
  • Become a Scientologist. And then escape from them, and get my own TV show about it. Which will be co-hosted by a quarter of a Krankie.
  • Become a celebrity medium, and then wait long years for Les Dennis and Beyonce to die so you can use your fucking brilliant jokes (‘If he’s up there, I’ll give you the money me’self’ and ‘Are y’all here for the Seyonce?’) and then retire.
  • Try to get chocolate coins accepted as Scotland’s new currency unit, to see if we Scots are the unhealthy wrecks the world thinks we are; for instance, would I use twenty coins to buy twenty pounds worth of chocolate in a shop, or would I tear the foil off those twenty coins in my pocket and eat the equivalent of £1.50 worth of chocolate because I’m a greedy, impatient fat bastard?
  • Run for parliament. And then at the last minute veer off so you don’t break your nose or get shot by armed police.
  • Not die. I’ve been pretty good at this one thus far.

Happy New Year, you filthy animals.

PS: My real resolution is to surround myself with moments like the one my family and I witnessed and was lucky enough to capture (below) in a playpark in Culross earlier this year, when an elderly husband and wife took to the swings and enjoyed a few moments of fun, light and laughter. I asked their permission to take the picture. I should’ve asked their permission to hug the shit out of them, too. Not like me to end on a smile, is it? Maybe I’m about to turn over a new leaf.

They’re probably both dead now, right?

(maybe we can forget the new leaf)

Jamie’s Digest (3): Cool Bits From Books – FESTIVE EDITION

Whenever I’m reading I always like to highlight phrases and passages that strike a chord with me, either because they’re emotionally or intellectually resonant, or because they’re exceptionally relevant to something that’s happening in the world today. I’d like to continue to share some of the these excerpts with you.

Santa Claus: A Biography

What a well-researched, interesting, funny and insightful book, charting Santa’s evolution from the swamps of myth into the ubiquitous character we know and love today. He’s terrified little children the world over, helped to advertise everything from soap to guns, and if he hadn’t ‘existed’ we would never have been able to read absolutely tremendous news stories like this. I had a great time reading this book, and I’d like to share a few bits and pieces from it.

“The ideal Santa for department-store grottoes or work-shops is described as middle-aged, plump, red-faced, and possessing his own beard with an ability to charm children and pass a police background check. Such candidates are scarce and becoming more so, according to those responsible for recruiting them. Modern healthy lifestyles have apparently reduced the number of suitably obese men, and head-hunting firms are paid handsomely, and advertise far afield, to produce the proper candidates.”

Isn’t that great? A dearth of Santas owing to an overall reduction in obesity levels and generally improved health: have you any idea how hard I, as a Scotsman, laughed at that paragraph. Honestly, we should just change the name of our country to The North Pole and be done with it. It’s the jolly part we’d struggle with.

I like that, though. Scotland becoming a Jurassic Park for Santas. Anyway, elsewhere in that same chapter we learn a little more about why there appear to be so few new Santas:

“Why should there be a shortage of imitation Santas for malls and department stores? Many veteran Santas complain of a new miasma of suspicion surrounding anyone dealing professionally with small children. Shopping centres fearful of litigation have imposed new rules or, in some cases, even forbidden Santas to hold children on their laps, preferring that they merely extend a handshake to the children who are brought to stand by them. Other stores have discouraged a jolly attitude, lest it be interpreted in an inappropriate fashion, and have insisted their Saint Nicks be more business-like in their approach to kids. Santas are told to keep both hands visible at all times, wear white gloves to heighten that visibility , and have to undergo criminal background checks, and in some cases even drug testing. In the United States, they have become targets of bomb threats and irate parents and have asked for police protection; in tropical countries they have had to go on strike to protest the suits they are forced to wear.”

A few things spring to mind after reading this paragraph:

  1. Yes, it’s a shame that we live in a world where we have to doubt the intentions of those who wish to spend time with our children, but, equally, these past fifty years have taught us that an overwhelmingly large number of clowns, teachers, Santas and kids TV presenters have tried to fuck our kids.
  2. I now know why this year’s Santa at our grotto was quite thin, and came across more like a headteacher desperately trying to tamp down his stress as he stares into the precipice of another violent emotional breakdown than an avuncular chuckle-head with a sackful of hohoho. Or maybe the Santa that was originally hired went down with a heart attack, and this miserable son of a bitch had to fill in last minute.
  3. White gloves for visibility? Man, Michael Jackson’s stylist was definitely trying to signal us from the inside, like Dwight shooting arrows for Daryl. I’m also going to be keeping a very close eye on snooker referees from now on.

Amazon link: Santa Claus – A Biography by Gerry Bowler

Insidious as Fuck

I was reading a chapter of The Christmasaurus to my 3-year-old son, when my eyes skimmed a sentence or so ahead and sent back a message to my mouth to shut down mid-sentence. I’d seen some dangerous, insidious shit; a passage that seemed to come straight from a book of religious short stories. Through these same pernicious paragraphs the book also – perhaps paradoxically – threw a wink to those who would support our burgeoning mono-culture, and tipped its hat to the ‘But it’s NICE’ crowd. Sorry to go full Dawkins on y’all, but I’d rather my son was encouraged to follow the dictates of reason than bid to glug from the shit-filled chalice of superstition.

The titular magic dinosaur was fine, of course, as was Santa himself. I don’t have a problem with them. It’s a work of fantasy, after all. Also, I admire the way the author treats the main character’s disability, and was happy to have my son absorb the sentiments… but… the section below where William’s Dad tries to reignite his son’s belief in Santa  (even though, in the context of this book, Santa is supposed to be real, anyway)? Fuck, no.

“‘I believe this story is true. Therefore it is true,’ he [William’s Dad] said.

‘But… how does that work?’ questioned William, desperate to know more. ‘If I’ve never seen something, how do I know it’s real?’

‘Ah, William! You’ve got it the wrong way round!’ said Mr Trundle, smiling. ‘Believing has to come first. People who don’t believe in things will never see those things. Believing is seeing.’

But William still looked uncertain.

‘But, Dad, some kids at school don’t believe in Santa. What if I believe he’s real and someone else doesn’t? If we both believe different things, then we can’t both be right, can we?’ asked William.”

[Mr Trundle then introduces William to the ‘Glass half-full/glass half-empty’ dichotomy, and uses this as a hammer to bash the sense of reason out of him.]

“William looked at the half-empty mug of milk in front of him for a moment before realising that his dad might actually be right too. Even though he and his dad believed different things, they were both right.

‘You see, William, we both believe completely opposite things, but it doesn’t mean that either of us is wrong. This mug is both half empty AND half full at the same time,’ said Mr Trundle, as William sat there with the expression of a young boy whose mind is in the process of being completely blown. ‘People believe all sorts of wild, wacky, weird and wonderful things, but it doesn’t mean that anyone is wrong or that anyone is right. What is important isn’t what is wrong, right, real, fake, true or false. What matters is that whatever you believe makes you a happier, better person.'”

I’m beginning to think that Trundle’s a Scientologist, the disingenuous c***.

Amazon link: The Christmasaurus by Tom Fletcher

WHATEVER YOU DO: READ. AND READ LOTS. IT’S GOOD FOR YOU.

Why the Santa myth is bad for your children’s elf

We live in a time of great freedom, however illusory or temporary that freedom might yet prove.

For instance, I could sit in a circle of peers and announce that I don’t believe in Yahweh, God, Vishnu, Allah or a giant turtle that holds the known world atop its back as it crawls through the cosmos, and most of them would probably accept this declaration with a silent nod or a shrug of the shoulders. Never mind that in certain countries, among certain people and cultures, such a vow would earn me a spell in prison, a steak knife to the stomach or death. Here in the modern, secular west, I can profess belief or its lack in whatsoever I choose and be almost certain of a tolerant reception. But try to tell people that I don’t want to play along with the Santa myth we force upon our kids, and I’m treated like a scar-faced leper with a vest of grenades and a public masturbation problem.

The sprawling Santa conspiracy, global in its reach, in which we entangle our children raises a multitude of uncomfortable questions, and comes at a terrible price: not least of which is the spirit of shattered trust in which it’s perpetuated.

It seems that all other western cultural norms are fluid, except for this one. Never this one. The only things powerful enough to grant you a Santa exemption are deeply-held fundamentalist Christian beliefs or adherence to a non-Christian faith, and even then there’s a chance you’ll be regarded as a destroyer of children’s dreams.

I baulk at the presumptuousness, the unthinkingness of it all. Really, would a Christian parent ever in a month of Sundays approach a Muslim family and knowingly ask them if they’re looking forward to the birthday of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ? A religious person might very well try to preach to or proselytise my children, but I’d be well within my rights to do everything possible to counter their supernaturally-motivated manoeuvrings, from taking expert advice to punching them in the teeth, and I’d enjoy broad moral – if not exactly legal – support. Santa’s commercialist cult, however, has carte blanche, and few would ever support me in a bid to tear it down.

It’s clear that there’s something about this little red-and-white lie that’s seen as integral to and inextricable from a hearty and wholesome childhood. There’s a concomitant notion that somehow the act of debunking Santa holds the potential to obliterate a child’s capacity for innocence and imagination, and quite possibly leave them with the dull, jaded outlook of a middle-aged chartered accountant on the eve of his second divorce. Or else turn them into a fleet of joyless androids each wearing the face of Richard Dawkins. As if in the pre-Santa days of Shakespeare and Dumas the kids of the world were witless dullards, and every visionary, artist and poet worth their salt only emerged post-Pole.

Santa began as a folk-tale that may have morphed out of the legends of a Saint. He was a quite different, certainly less sanguine, figure in his early days, and one that children were more inclined to fear than to keenly anticipate. The Santa we know and love today – the darling of TV adverts, movies and billboards – has only existed in his current form – big-bearded, red-jacketed and jolly – for a comparatively short time (the same is true for his retinue: Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer only arrived in 1939); but yet we are encouraged to believe that something as malleable and arbitrary as the historical idea of Santa should be considered unchallengeable, unchangeable and eternal.

Santa is but one fictional character in a cast of thousands. Why does he get special dispensation when it comes to the laws of reality? I regularly read my eldest son stories about alien encounters, magical beanstalks, sentient robots and talking horses, without ever feeling the need to perpetuate the entertaining fallacies inherent in the source material. No-one would consider it heresy for me to explain to my son that horses can’t really talk; knowing this fact doesn’t in any way limit his imagination or detract from his very real enjoyment of the story. Penguins don’t have jobs, dogs can’t moonlight as policemen, aliens can’t travel through time in a physics-defying police box, there’s no such thing as ghosts, and people can’t turn green and smash buildings when they’re angry. He knows that, or at least these things have been explained to him. He doesn’t care. He still mimics these characters and scenarios, and riffs on them in his own unique, imaginative way when he’s running about the house lost in make-believe or play-acting with his toys.

Strange old ladies don’t stop him in the street to ask if he’s excited about a visit from the talking horse. He doesn’t see a million adverts on TV featuring a talking horse trying to convince him to buy things. He isn’t taken to The Talking Horse’s Grotto every year. In no other sphere of life are children’s fantastical notions so systematically cemented into fact.

Perhaps in the past the Santa fantasy was more innocent and fleeting in nature: a little tale or poem wheeled out every Christmas Eve; a single evening of merry make-believe. These days Santa is everywhere. Literally everywhere; he’s like a God who’s tired of enigma. You can write to him, email him, watch him, read him, visit him, Skype him, tag him. He appears every year at the stroke of November, and doesn’t stop assailing kids with his maniacal mirth-making until the last slice of turkey’s been fed to the dog.

Your motivations may be pure. You may only wish to indulge in a little heart-warming festive fantasy. But you don’t have the luxury of raising your children unplugged from the Matrix. Santa is perpetuated by businesses, not by you.

Money. It’s all about money. Just like everything else.

The power of Santa compels him… to do very little

Here’s a question for you: why does Santa deliver unequal amounts of toys to the children of the world? Why does he deliver more toys to affluent families than he does to poor families? Clearly, on the great sliding scale of political ideology, the red-jacketed sleigh-racer is more tightly aligned to conservative notions of capitalism than he is to communism, or socialism. If your kid goes back to school after the winter break with a new pair of cheap shoes and a toy laser gun, and has to listen to another kid bragging about his £1000 home entertainment system and surprise trip to Disneyland, what is he to infer about his worth in Santa’s eyes? Should he castigate himself for being too naughty, placing the blame for his poor festive haul upon his own tiny shoulders? Or should he just conclude that Santa doesn’t really like him all that much?

Remove Santa from this equation, and you’ve still got a problem with unequal distribution of wealth and resources in society, married to an unslakable thirst for goods and gadgets that’s only heightened and reinforced by our media, but that’s an argument for another time (besides, there are more learned, original and eloquent thinkers out there with better and more important things to say on the topic than little old me).

Consider also this point: Santa is an omniscient being who has mastered time itself, can travel around the globe and back in one evening, and can apparently conjure an endless supply of toys from thin air, much as another bearded magician once did with water, wine, loaves and fish. Santa uses these powers not to alleviate suffering, lift people out of hunger and poverty, cure the sick and the lame or to usher in a new era of world peace, but to drop toy robots down chimneys. What a role model. He’s no better than Sooty. Or Jesus.

You can emphasise the magical, imagination-stretching benefits of a child’s belief in Santa as a rationale for deceiving your children, but when I hear Santa’s name mentioned by parents, more often than not his name is evoked as a correctional tool rather than as an instrument of wonder. Be nice, behave, go to bed, tidy your room, eat your dinner or Santa will cross you off his list, and you won’t get any toys. By weaponising Santa in this way, parents have created a bearded boogeyman to scare or bribe their children into behaving the way they want them to. This may be an instantly effective, no-nonsense behavioural control technique, but then so is smashing them in the face with a cricket bat.

The sad truth is that parents are conditioning their children to be good not for goodness’ sake – as the old snowman song goes – but to be good so they can get a new TV. They’re being encouraged to equate virtue with financial reward. Part of being a happy, successful and fully-socialised human being necessitates a degree of sacrifice, negotiation, humility and deference. These are qualities – and modes of conflict resolution – that shouldn’t need a chuckling demigod, or the dangled carrot of a PlayStation 4, to be fully realised.

My family and I were in a shopping mall last year, and passed by a Santa’s grotto. I couldn’t help feeling that there was something deeply sinister and ritualistic about the line of dead-eyed kids shuffling up to receive their gifts. They were like a cult. Here’s your new church, kids, here’s your new Jesus: roll up, roll up, as we inculcate you into the wholesale religion of consumer greed. Ho ho ho.

We experience rather enough problems with the religions we already have, thank you very much, without adding Santaism to the list. While belief in Santa may be the ‘Temporary Profile Picture’ of quasi-religious micro-faiths, it worries me tremendously that a belief in the supernaturalness of Santa might serve as a gateway drug to harder fictional beings, like Jesus or Moroni.

Imagine the scene in a household where a child who has been raised in a pro-Santa Christian family finally discovers that Santa isn’t real.

CHILD: “Ah, so Santa was all a big lie, was he? That’s hilarious. You had me, you did, you really had me, you got me hook, line and sinker with that one. So, come on, put me out of my misery. Jesus, right? Come on, the cat’s out of the bag. You made him up too, right? Miracles, walking on water, rising from the dead. I knew there was something iffy about that. I’ve got to hand it to you, though, you’ve created a genius fictional character there.”

PARENT: “Em… nope. Nope. That’s all true. Em… Jesus is real.”

CHILD: “…”

(Actually, the more I think about it, the more I’m convinced that Santa – employed properly – could be the antidote to Jesus: the great flicking wrist to bring down the whole house of cards.)

Nothing should be done to inhibit a child’s burgeoning critical faculties, or to corrupt their very sense of the world as an observable, rational and comprehensible place. Don’t get me wrong. I myself used to believe wholeheartedly in Santa Claus. I used to get letters from him, in this very ornate handwriting. I thought, this could only be the work of a magical being, he writes like a bloody pro. This guy’s the real deal. I also used to get plenty of Valentine’s cards. I don’t think I can properly express the horror I felt on the day I was old enough to realise that the letters from Santa and the Valentine’s cards were all in the same handwriting. That was a shock to me. “Well, Santa. I see last year’s presents have come with a few strings attached. I’m not that sort of boy. But maybe throw in a few Easter eggs and we’ll talk.”

The truth was even more horrible. I cross-referenced the Santa letters and the valentine’s cards with the handwriting on my birthday cards. They were from my gran. “Roses are red, I’m your mum’s mummy, I am going to put you, back up in my tummy.” I know she was just trying to boost my fragile little-boy ego, but I really bought in to the whole romantic fantasy. And all that time the unrequited love of my young life was a bloated septuagenarian who smelled of cabbage. I was cat-fished by own gran before it was even a thing.

“See?” people will say. “You believed in Santa, and YOU weren’t traumatised.”

You could put forward exactly the same argument for religion. Come on, you sang songs, you listened to some nice little stories, you went on coach trips. What’s your problem? I’ll tell you what my problem is: consent.

Believe me, I’ve analysed my opposition to Santa endlessly. Was I lied to as a child? Did I have promises broken? Is this what’s driving my dissection: are my trust issues bleeding on to Santa’s coat? I’m pretty sure that isn’t the case. I just have a hard time accepting that This is the way things are. This is the way things have always been. I can’t stop questioning. I have to ask why do we do it? When did we first do it? How has this ritual evolved? What did we do before it? What might we do in the future? What do they do in other countries? What are the consequences of us doing this? What are the consequences of us not doing this? How can the answers to either of those last two questions be measured to any degree of satisfaction?

Whose interest does Santa really serve?

I’m conscious that I’m probably coming across as even more of a misery guts and world-class humbug than Scrooge himself. Nothing could be further from the truth. I love the ceremony and expectation of Christmas. I love the tree, the twinkling lights, the cosy mugs of cocoa on the cold and bitter nights. I’m probably more excited about my kids opening their presents than they are (especially in the case of my youngest, who doesn’t yet know what the hell Christmas is). My partner and I have chosen presents perfectly suited to their personalities, presents that will help them play and learn and laugh and grow.

Maybe I just don’t want Santa to muscle in on that. But, more than that, I find it almost impossible to lie to my kids. Santa is a secret I’ve had no say in, that I have no need for. You don’t need Santa to make Christmas magical, but you do require his absence to maintain an honest and healthy stance on both society and the universe itself. My silence is being demanded not to preserve the mystery and magic of the festive season, but to stop me from blowing the whistle on the millions of other families who have chosen to deceive their children. Families who want to keep using Santa as a four-month-long carrot-and-stick combo. This only makes me want to blow the whistle all the more; to send my sons into their schools with information bombs strapped to their brains, ready to blast your children in their faces with the bright light of truth.

But I won’t. Because I’m as much a sheep as the rest of you. I took them to Santa’s Grotto last week. Me. Wilfully. Accidentally (I didn’t know the garden centre I was taking them to had a grotto), but of my own volition. And stood like a statue next to them both as pseudo-Santa spewed out his lies. I’m a Christmas quisling. A hypocrite. A man who fears the zeal of his festive partner. A man who has more and more respect for apostates and cult-breakers. If I can’t even wriggle my kids free of Santa’s soft grip, what hope would I have had as a doubting Scientologist?

I always want to be truthful with and to my children. But there are always limits. At some point in the future I’ll find myself having the following conversation:

“Daddy… what happens to grandma and grandpa now that they’re dead? Have they just disappeared? Will I ever see them again?”

“…”

“Daddy?”

“TWO MONTHS UNTIL SANTA COMES, WEE GUY, ARE YOU AS EXCITED AS I AM??!!”

Merry Christmas everybody.

Kids’ Birthday Parties: This is Your Life Now

What can I say about birthday parties for the under-5s?

Well, it’s nice for them to get a chance to let their hair down and hang out with their friends. After all, they spend the majority of their time within the bosoms of their families, and what time they don’t is spent trapped within institutions; institutions that will carry them to their graves.

I’m talking about the parents, of course. Poor bastards: walking about with baby puke patches on their best jumpers, sporting big black panda eyes and stress lines like seismographs on their foreheads, and grinning at each other like frightened chimps as they desperately fight to stave off the twin horrors of sleep and full mental breakdown, all while trying to pretend that somehow it was all worth it.I guess the old saying’s true: a moment on the hips, a lifetime of IKEA trips.

Remember when your social calendar was measured in weekly increments rather than bi-annually? Remember when you used to gaze across the horizon of your life and see nothing but unfettered fun and wine-tinged sunsets? Remember when you used to hit the town in a loudly-laughing posse of posers, and then stay out drinking and dancing till dawn, leaping the next day’s hangovers like they were half-foot-high hurdles? If you hit the town with your posse these days,try to herd you into some dingy old men’s pub with a vaguely nautical name, where even the women have anchor tattoos on their biceps. But you don’t have to worry about any of that, because nobody asks you to go ‘out out’ anymore anyway.

They ask you to kids’ birthday parties instead. This multi-coloured nightmare is your social life now: coffee and cake at the soft play surrounded by a thousand screaming kids. You’ve all got so much to talk about and catch up on, you and your friends, but good luck talking about anything other than your kids. Your brain may cycle through a database of potential topics – politics, entertainment, nutrition, religion – but whatever it is you think you’re going to talk about, you can’t open your mouth without saying something like: ‘Apparently Skye’s in the ninetieth centile for weight’ or ‘What Jason lacks in language skills he certainly makes up for in spatial awareness.’

If you do manage to kick-start a non-parenting related conversation it will inevitably be cut short by one of your children running up to you screaming with a blood-covered face (‘Daddy, I tried to put my head through the wall like a ghost but it hurt me!’), or loudly agitating for a shit.

Mind you, I find that kids are handy to have around in these sorts of situations, especially since I discovered just how bad I am at mingling. There’s nothing like quitting drinking to reveal how socially awkward you are at root. I’m really ferociously bad at shooting the breeze or shooting the shit, or whatever shooting-based analogy you care to use. I’m bloody awful at it. After a few minutes dribbling out the kind of small talk an old tramp at a bus-stop would be ashamed to profer, it’s nice to be able to go:

‘WHAT’S THAT, JACK? YOU WANT ME TO GO DOWN THE CHUTE WITH YOU?’

‘Jamie, I don’t think he said anyth…’

‘I’LL BE RIGHT THERE, SON! Hold my miniature box of Smarties, will you.’

I usually swagger into these parties desperately sucking in my stomach muscles (what exists of them) to retract my bulk in case I encounter old acquaintances who haven’t borne witness to my gradual slide into jelly-bellied oblivion, and who might yet still be fooled into thinking that I play squash every now and again, or occasionally eat lettuce. It’s a fragile illusion, usually broken simply because it’s really hard to hold a fat torso in the shape of a capital ‘C’ for more than twenty minutes without getting stomach cramps.

Towards the end of these soft-play parties the kids are typically ushered into a side-compartment of the main hall to have a spot of grub. Invariably, their eating-space is fenced in and cordoned off like the canteen in a maximum-security prison, an association only lent more substance by the fact that they can get tattoos done after their snacks. Seeing my eldest son standing in his vest later that night looking like an old lifer always makes me regret not having asked the resident face-painter to daub a little blue tear-drop beneath one of his eyes. In preparation for the next party I’m teaching him to say: ‘Hey esse! Do we got a fuckin’ problem here?’

Whether the party is held at a soft-play or in a house it always ends with gifts being handed out to the attendees; wee bags of ‘fuck off’ as I like to call them. What an ingeniously polite way to get rid of people. Treat them as you entreat them to leave and it doesn’t seem so harsh. ‘It’s been a fun two hours, but please take your toy helicopters and little whistles, and get the fuck out of my house.’ Adult parties often drag on without any clear or definite end, so I think we would benefit enormously from introducing some sort of gift bag system:

‘So my Sally’s language skills may not be the best, but, I’ll tell you, her spatial awaren… oh, what’s this?’

‘It’s a bag of marshmallows and vodka miniatures. Now fuck off.’

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READ MORE ABOUT THE NIGHTMARE OF SOFT-PLAYS BY CLICKING HERE

Scotland’s Smacking Ban: a Hit?

‘Smacking’ sounds really nice, doesn’t it? The word, I mean. If you’re hungry for a snack, your lips might smack; if your gran comes to visit she might ask you to pucker up and give her a big old smacker on the kisser. Onomatopeiacally, a smack is rather like a crack, but much less forceful: sharper, cleaner, kinder.

It’s the sort of sound that makes you nostalgic for the good old days, when men were men, women were women, and botties were smacked. By golly we miss those halcyon, smoke-hazed days, before the cultural assassins in the Stalinist SNP tried to rob us of our right to smack: a right that is as sacred to us Scots as is the right to bear arms to the Americans, by God! And we will fight to defend that right!

I’ll tell you what we’ll do. We’ll organise a protest outside of the Scottish parliament: six-thousand angry parents and their six-thousand passive, blank-faced children. We’ll march them up to the front door, whip their trousers down, bend them over our knees and show Nicola Sturgeon that we mean business with the world’s biggest six-hour-long, six-thousand-bum synchronised smacking, the sound of which will fill the air like revolutionary gun-fire! Smack, smack, smack! Read our bums, Nicola! We won’t be turning the other cheek on this one. Well, we will be, as a matter of fact, but only so we can bloody well smack it, too!

…Language is a funny old thing, isn’t it? Time and again we bend and smash and smush and twist our words as though they were putty and paste, making paper machier towers that we let ourselves believe are permanent, solid, unbreakable. We build words around us like ramparts, and take up sniper positions behind them; we try on words like we’re shopping for clothes, seeking out dazzling combinations that accentuate our wealth, power, sex appeal, or contrition – does my guilt look thinner in this sentence? – or else use them to reinvent ourselves entirely; sometimes we use words as shields to protect us from the force of the truth: the truth of who we are and what we do: enemy combatant; extraordinary rendition; my honourable friend; friendly fire; constructive dismissal; it’s not you it’s me; McDonalds Happy Meal.

‘Smacking’ isn’t really smacking, you see: it’s hitting. Why don’t you try saying that instead? ‘Smacking’ is hitting a small, defenceless child, and that’s true regardless of the strength of the hit, or whether the point of impact is a bottie, a thigh, an arm, a face or a chest.

If you’re defending what you perceive as your universal human right to smack a child, then at least be honest about it. Rip the mask from the face of that word to reveal its true identity, and lay bare your own sub-Lecter-ish lust for pain and power. Spell out your intentions both to yourself and to the world at large. Shout it from the rooftops: ‘I demand the right to hit and inflict pain on the fruits of my loin without consequence or interference, whenever I see fit and however spurious the reason.’

In terms of self-delusion there’s very little difference between ‘I don’t beat my children, for goodness sake, I just give them a light corrective smack’ and ‘I’m not an alcoholic, for goodness sake, I wait until at least lunchtime before having my first drink!’

‘Yea, yea, yeah, you ponce!’ you might cry. ‘But I got smacked, and it never did me any harm!’

Ah, that familiar cry, countered so many times by the now-equally familiar cry, ‘Yes it did, because you believe that it’s okay to hit children.’ I’ve noticed that the most ardent supporters of ‘smacking’ are usually those upon whose faces you can see the tragic consequences of a life lived through shortcuts in a permanent present tense: crumbling teeth; unkempt hair; blotched and bloodshot eyes that show the world a map of impulse forever left unchecked.

Probably best to eschew parenting advice from someone who’s lazy and blinkered enough to hit first and ask questions later.

Plus, if smacking is your go-to punishment of choice, how do you punish your child for hitting somebody? By hitting them? What message does that send? Especially since they may be hitting other people precisely because you’ve taught them that hitting is permissible.

‘But how else will children learn right from wrong?’

Take violence from our toolbox, and we’re powerless! It’s true. That’s why we still beat children in schools, and our boss is legally entitled to smash us in the face with a tyre iron. That’s why when the judge is about to pronounce sentence in the courtroom he might say something like: ‘The defendant has been found guilty on all counts of his robbery charges. Now bring him here so I can kick the fuck out of him.’

I can understand the impulse to hit. Of course I can, I’m a human being, and I live in a world that contains Piers Morgan. I can even understand the impulse to hit a child. No creature on earth can inspire such anger, and scream-inducing helplessness and frustration as your own child. But I would never – and could never – do it. I don’t think I could ever look my kids in the eye again, and I’d feel like an irredeemable failure as a father.

In no other sphere of life do we condone hitting as a solution. Even savagely violent, hopelessly recidivistic killers are spared violence as a behaviour modification tool. Looking for another reason not to hit your child? Let reason itself be your reason. Behold the maxim below that’s been floating around cyberspace in meme form for quite some time now:

Now that our eldest son, Jack, is approaching the age of reason, we’ve started using a sticker-based behaviour-modification system, through which good behaviour can be recognised, rewarded and reinforced, and bad behaviour can be circumnavigated. It’s not a perfect system, granted, but it seems to achieve its aims without causing major psychological damage. The other week, Jack was trying to pilfer a biscuit before bedtime; he had a hand inside the bag with a biscuit held between his fingers in a vice-like pincer grip. When I calmly advised that his current course of action would result in the immediate loss of a sticker, he couldn’t have dropped that biscuit any quicker if I’d been an armed New York cop shouting ‘Freeze, dirtbag!’

On a few occasions, thanks to the child’s method of learning and evolving through mimicry, he put on his best faux-cross-face and told me he was going to take a sticker away from ME.

Replay that scene again, mimicry and all, but this time imagine that I’d hit him.

‘Kids will run wild if you don’t show them who’s boss.’

It’s hard to believe that we once allowed teachers to belt our children up and down the schoolyard, making our own flesh-and-blood handy scapegoats for everything wrong in a teacher’s life from sexual frustration to really bad hangovers.

But there are still those who would give a wildly disingenuous defence of smacking, both private and corporal. They’ll tell you that there’s a direct correlation between the ban on corporal punishment, and a decline of discipline, order and respect in today’s society. That somehow if we were to take the next logical step and ban smacking entirely then discipline would cease to exist. Instead of there being negative consequences for misbehaviour, kids would instead be disproportionately rewarded for their breaches: “Ah, I see you’ve thrown a television through the window of the old folks’ home, Timmy. What would you say to a lovely new Playstation 4, slugger?” (PS: If anyone should be beaten for their transgressions, it should be me for splitting an infinitive in the previous sentence)

You want to be disingenuous? I can be disingenuous too. My friends, there’s a direct link between corporal punishment and child beatings, and the advent of both world wars. Violence begets violence, you see.

We can’t live in the past. We have to move forward. Learn from our mistakes. As has become abundantly clear in recent months and years, there are many among us content to hark back to the good old days, which weren’t really all that good anyway. They wish they still lived in a world where they could be thirty-thousand feet in the air in an aeroplane piloted by a shit-faced captain, knocking back whiskeys, maniacally chain-smoking, free to punch their child in the face should they have the temerity to cough, and occasionally stopping to hurl sexually-charged racial abuse at one of the stewardesses: ‘Phwoar, you’re alright for a darkie, sweetheart!’

I don’t think the smacking ban has a realistic chance of being properly policed or enforced, but it might just open up the issue to public scrutiny – as it’s doing right now – and perhaps dissuade parents from adding smacking to their parental repertoire. The ban, however symbolic its application, will at least amplify the message, loud and clear, that we don’t live in that world anymore.

Kids say the funniest *@!#ing things

We were all in the living room. My partner, Chelsea, and I were sitting on the couch alongside our eldest son, Jack, 3. Meanwhile, baby Christopher, 1 today (Happy birthday, Chris!), was loping around the floor somewhere, scanning for toys. Yes, he lopes. He can’t walk; he doesn’t crawl: he simply lopes, balancing on one arm and swinging his body around as he weaves and circles towards his target, his movement styles a mix between a disabled French bell-ringer and Golum from Lord of the Rings.

Today’s topic of discussion was language.

‘Jack,’ said his mum. ‘Tell daddy that new word you invented today.’

Kids love to invent words, don’t they? We were on a family holiday earlier this year, in the exotic Scottish seaside resort of Girvan, and while Jack and I were out for a walk Jack we passed two stone lions positioned either side of a set of stairs. I pointed to them and asked, ‘What do you think their names are?’

‘Entie and Fooamie,’ he asserted, without any hesitation.

I nodded. ‘The one on the left is definitely a Fooamie.’

Back on the couch, Jack looked confused.

‘You know, Jack, that word you told me earlier today,’ his mother said again. ‘You remember.’

He thought for a moment, and then his face lit up with the force of his recognition. I smiled. This was going to be adorable. What was he going to say? Flubbalumptious? Labbabbachook? Skoonsh?

‘Arsehole!’ he shouted.

I laughed. Or rather a laugh shot through my lips like a bullet. My laugh emboldened Jack,  spurring him on to fill the room with arseholes. My laughs responded by upgrading into sub-machine-gun fire. This spurred Jack on even more. He was a demon drawing power through an inter-dimensional portal: the power to say ‘arsehole’. By now we were all laughing. Even baby Chris, who’d loped towards the din of our laughter, and hauled himself to his feet at the base of the couch, and proceeded to moo-hah-hah like the world’s tinies evil genius. Chris was just mimicking, of course, like a mini-Predator playing back Billy’s laugh at the end of the original film, but his laugh, our laugh, and the multitude of arseholes, all combined to create a laughter vortex/timeloop from which none of us could escape.

We eventually had to do some damage control.

‘Bet you weren’t expecting him to say that,’ said my partner, rubbing a tear from her eye.

‘Where did he hear that?’ I asked. ‘Neither of us use the word ‘arsehole’.’

‘Arsehole!’ shouted Jack.

‘Jack!’ we both shouted back. But we couldn’t really give him a row. After all, this Pandora’s Box with nothing but arseholes inside had been opened by his mother.

My partner explained that Jack had heard the word weeks ago from, as he described it, a ‘big fat lady’ who was coming out of the toilets in our favourite ice-cream parlor. Chelsea had tried to convince Jack that he’d misheard, and that arsehole wasn’t even a real word: a hard sell in a world that contains Piers Morgan.

‘What are some real words?’, we asked him, in a bid to distract him and lead him away from profanity. The three of us shouted out random words, the only link between them their innocuousness.

‘Paper!’

‘Leg!’

‘Submarine!’

‘Toothbrush!’

‘Goldfish!’

‘Carrot!’

‘Hedgehod!’

I couldn’t resist it.

‘Arsehole!’

‘ARSEHOLE!’ Jack screamed with delight.

We fell about laughing again. Chelsea had no choice but to punish me, banishing me from the room just as we would banish Jack if his behaviour ever crossed the line.

‘Daddy, you go and stand outside in the hall for a couple of minutes and think about what you’ve done,’ she said with a smirk that she hid from Jack.

Off I went, head bowed, feet shuffling.

‘I want to go with Daddy!’ shouted Jack.

‘You can’t, Jack, you’re a good boy, only naughty boys get sent out of the room.’

I opened the living room door just as Jack’s brilliant little brain found a solution to the problem of not being naughty enough to accompany me on my exile.

‘Arsehole!’ I heard him shout.

Fifteen seconds later he was standing next to me in the hall, a proud smile on his face. We high-fived.

He’s a clever wee arsehole.

The Complete: Twelve Things I’ve Learned as a Dad

My partner and I have two kids, one who’s just turned three, the other who’s about to hit his first single-digit milestone. What you’re about to read is a non-exhaustive, arbitrary list of the 12 things I’ve learned as a Dad over the last three years. I hope it’ll strike a chord with you, or at least make you smile.

1.) Buggies suck.

You know the old proverb. “Fold or unfold a buggy for a man, and he’ll be able to push the baby for a day. But teach him how to fold or unfold the buggy, and you’ll pretty much still have to do it for him every day, because he’s a bloody useless, temper tantrum-ing son of a bitch.”

The operation of most modern buggies is remarkably simple. Click, clunk, click, push. Press, pull, fold. So why then do I find myself, every single time – and I do mean every  single time – jumping up and down in a car park, my arms flailing about like I’m a possessed, half-pissed semaphorist trying to marshal an airplane. I’ve been shown how to operate the infernal contraption time and again, on an almost daily basis, and each time I say, ‘Ah, of course, now I remember. Next time will be easy’. But next time isn’t easy. Next time is another angry wrestling match betwixt man and plastic. It’s like Groundhog Day, but by the end of the movie Bill Murray is even worse than he was at the beginning, rampaging around town trying to mow people down with an empty buggy that’s drenched in his own blood.

2.) Never use the ‘Bad Man’ to deter your kids from disobeying, or running off.

The bad man is a demonic boogey-man routinely conjured by lazy parents to strike an easy jolt of fear into their children. Why choose to inspire terror when the same result could easily be achieved through gentler, less traumatising means, namely by employing the twin powers of reason and imagination?

(Starts with a snicker, which builds to a convulsing laugh, and ends with me in violent hysterics, hardly able to breathe and slapping my thigh like a coke-fueled cowboy) Who am I kidding? The ‘Bad Man’ practically has his own room in our house, en-suite and everything. He gets breakfast in bed every morning; he even gets to leave the toilet seat up after a piss. At first we used him sparingly. ‘Don’t run off round that corner. The bad man might be there.’ Then we set up a hot-line. We started pretend-calling him on our phones for the most minor of infractions. ‘Hello, is that the bad man? Yeah, he won’t blow his nose. You’ll what? You’ll skin him alive?’ (lowering phone and whispering to son) ‘I can’t negotiate with this guy, he’s a fucking lunatic, you’d better just do what he says.’

We whiled away our evenings riffing on the bad man’s skills and temperament like a pair of sadistic session musicians, using our eldest child’s amygdala as an instrument:

‘The bad man’s got an electrified glove that will burn you like toast,’

‘He’s got a time-grenade that’ll blow you back to the prehistoric era and your head will be crunched off by a T-Rex,’

‘He likes to melt children down and make them into candles, and then he pees on the candles.’

Reason doesn’t work on young children. That’s why you need to get yourself your very own on-call behavioural terrorist.

Long live the bad man.

3.) A bacon sandwich tastes so much sweeter after you’ve suffered through 3,000 episodes of Peppa Pig.

Not 3000 new episodes of Peppa Pig. The same episode 3000 times. Each staccato plink of that theme song starts to feel like a knife to the spine. I hate that my three-year-old loves it so much. It’s horrible. Not only does it make you feel like you’re watching TV through a spy-hole, but the pig-kids are insolent, disobedient little shits and the father is a marginalised moron who’d be more useful to the world on the inside of a soggy BLT. I’ve largely cut meat from my diet, and don’t eat pork anymore, but I’d happily make an exception for Daddy, that snorting, bumbling bloody imbecile.

Don’t let your kids watch Peppa Pig, if not for the reasons above, then surely because the pigs themselves have clearly been drawn to look like walking, talking big balls-and-cocks. It’s obscene. Peppa Pig? Peppa BIG Nutsack more like.

4.) Toilets will never be the same again.

A week or so ago I had to make a hurried journey to the bathroom, with just enough time to forage for a book before the main event. I perched in comfort, readying myself to begin the expulsion not just of my internal waste, but also of the day’s worries and frustrations. I was happy. I was safe. Nothing out there in that noisy, calamitous universe could touch me, at least for five minutes… or so I hoped.

The screams of my second-born son, Christopher, reached me from downstairs. He’d been placed atop a soft blanket of toys by his mother as she made a brave attempt to cook dinner. Christopher’s not usually prone to screaming, but when he feels the need he makes sure to broadcast those screams at just the right frequency to pierce steel, skull and concrete. ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ came the sudden cries from my eldest boy, Jack, who had decided to accompany his baby brother’s fervent WAH WAH WAHs with a din of his own.

Jack staggered and trudged up the stairs like a mustard-gassed soldier: ‘DADDY, DADDY, MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!’

‘WAH WAH WAH!’

‘MY EYES, DADDY, MY EYES!’

Jack had found a bottle of his mother’s perfume, and naturally had decided to spray himself directly in the eyes with it, the bold little scientist. ‘MY EYEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!’ he cried.

That’s what most trips to the toilet are like these days. Remember that old Dad-centric cliché about a bathroom being a man’s last bastion of peace in a chaotic household? It’s full of shit. The bathroom door may as well be spun from spider-silk or constructed by a mime artist. If your kid needs to get through that door – locked or not, and no matter what you’re doing in there – then you’re opening up. They’ll rap and they’ll tap and they’ll chap and they’ll bang on that door until you’re forced to waddle towards it like an all-penguin John Wayne. They’ll then make you stand there by the sink in hellish, bowed-leg silence, like a naughty dog – squidgy poo-parcel half-nipped and glistening – as they proceed to take the longest piss in the world. They might even plump for a particularly savage shit, just to rub some salt into the wound.

It’s toilet Top Trumps, and your kid will always win, principally because it reflects rather badly on you as a parent if you force your kid to stand outside in the hall and shit themselves.

5.) TV is your friend

Don’t listen to the snobs: your TV is as much a part of the family as the grandparents, or that funny uncle with the twitch. My partner and I vowed never to use the TV as a live-in babysitter or motivational tool, and largely we’ve observed this vow. We’re careful to offset time spent in front of the TV with oodles of outdoor larks, jigsaws, puzzles, pretend play, books and tickle-fights. But sometimes… Just sometimes. Some days. TV may very well rot your children’s brains, but the brain-rotting skills of children themselves are unmatched and exemplary, so in this dirty war no weapon is out of bounds. I’ll be honest: if it wasn’t for the TV I’d probably have immolated myself by now.

6.) Don’t sweat the swearing

I don’t care what the Preachy McTutters of this world say: a swearing kid is a fucking hilarious kid. Naturally we don’t deliberately teach our three-year-old swear words. We don’t create Venn diagrams to show him the full galaxy of obscenities at his disposal, or give formal lessons every weekday morning. ‘Now, Jack, I want you to say it again, but this time I want to hear you enunciate the consonants like we practised. Ki…ki… ki… Ku… ku… ku… kun…kun…kun…. That’s it, you can do it!’

You simply don’t realise how much you profane as a matter of course until you’re sharing your home with a kid or two. Don’t get me wrong, over the years we’ve tried to shrink our pool of bad words (removing an em eff here, a cee there) and reduce the frequency of our swearing, but a 100 per cent standard is impossible to attain: as long as there are frights, stubbed toes, dropped plates, inconsiderate drivers and sudden swirls of anger there will always be ‘bloody bastards’, ‘shitting buggers’ and ‘Are you fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckkking kiiiidddddddddding meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees’.

A friend of mine recently told me that she and her husband had been aghast to hear their three-year-old daughter saying ‘Oh my God!’ As I listened, I had a flashback to all of the times our Jack has blasphemed, bee’d, essed and effed, all of which were entirely and inescapably my fault. I’ve heard him affectionately refer to a playmate as ‘a wee bugger’; I’ve watched him dancing around the toilet chanting ‘Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!’ like some demented shaman; I’ve seen him sneering a swear through one side of his mouth in the same manner and voice as a 1950s Italian-American Godfather, even shaking his little fist: ‘Sunnnnnn of a bitch!’; I’ve watched him lightly slap his own forehead and cry out ‘Oh fuck’. It’s like some horrendous version of Blankety Blank sometimes. He knows where the bad words go just from the context given by the first few words of a rant. “OK, here’s your next one, little Jack. The guy tailgating me is a blanking blank?” “He’s a f….”

In saying all of that, he’s seldom swore the same swear twice, largely because we react to each utterance with calm neutrality, gently re-directing his words down a different path without giving the no-no words any sense of power by confirming their taboo status.

Some examples:

“Yes, you can say (x), but it would be better to say (y) instead. Yes, maybe next time we’ll just say (y)”

or

“No, I didn’t say that, darling, you must’ve misheard. I said ‘rubber trucking other cuffer‘. What does it mean?… I’ve no fucking idea, son.”

7.) People lie about their kids.

Nobody talks up the beautiful, life-affirming aspects of parenthood. All parents-to-be are given the same bleak and nightmarish pep-talk by existing parents: “You’re having a baby? Oh, you poor bastard! Forget sleep. Forget sex. You’ll be up to your knees in shit and piss. You’ll be so tired you’ll start hallucinating sentient raisins. You’ll be stressed out. You’ll probably start serial killing frogs, and using your head as a hammer to smash down play-parks. Your left leg will turn into an eighteenth century courtesan and you’ll marry it off to a viscount. Your right leg will fall off, but not before exploding and taking out a municipal park. You’ll shrink by five feet.You’ll think you’re an owl. Seriously, I’m not kidding around here, my cousin was a dad for one day and he set fire to himself and tried to ram-raid a church. With a bison. I’m telling you; you might as well just kill yourself now, save the trouble. That’s how awful kids are.”

And then once your kids are a bouncing, bawling reality, and you’re asked the same old questions: ‘How are things at home?/How’s life as a parent?/how is/are the kid(s)?’ you lie then, too.

Maybe you’ve just spent the day at home cuddling your kids while watching a movie, or joyously laughing at their inspired silliness, or moved to tears by their innocence and sense of wonder, but you’ll always shake your head and say: “Those fucking kids will be the death of me!”

8.) Bye, bye, sex life

Scheduling amorous activity with your partner when you’ve got children is difficult; scheduling it when you share a bed with your kids (our youngest, baby Christopher, sleeps in an adjoined extension, and our toddler usually sneaks in beside us at some point through the night) is nigh on impossible. The very fact that you have to ‘schedule’ at all is a bitter pill to swallow (a pill to swallow? Christ, there’s a Freudian slip). Sex isn’t an activity that lends itself well to scheduling or good time management skills, although as I’m writing this sentence I’m remembering a little something called ‘the entire sex industry’ that rather depends upon both of those things for its growth and survival, so I guess I’ll rephrase and refocus my argument somewhat: good time management and awesome scheduling skills may be useful, but they sure as shit never made anything sexier. Sex in the home between two partners should be sexy, urgent, primal, spontaneous, and not boring and clinical like making an appointment to see your bank manager (if you’re currently banging your bank manager, please feel free to imagine a different analogy).

The ideal scenario is for both kids to be fast asleep, and for us to slink silently from the bed and into the hall downstairs, to commence the world’s quietest bout of passion, like two mime artists make-believing a normal sex-life. If we make it to the living room we’re in for a riot of locked-knees, cold bums, burnt bums and stiff necks. We still have to be savagely quiet, but if there’s an accidental scream at this point it’s usually because we’ve stained the couch we’re still bloody paying for.

Wherever the venue, time is very much of the essence; because we’re both aware that we could be interrupted at any second, our coupling becomes less like a spontaneous act of love and more like two people desperately trying to beat their record on the mechanical bull. Never matter. I’ve always excelled at getting it done quickly.

9.) Dinner time will never be the same again.

Dinner time used to be a time for… well, eating dinner? I think that’s what I used to do at the dinner table, anyway; I might even have regarded it as a sacred space; a place for joyous reflection, vigorous discussion or occasionally just silent bliss. A bit like the toilet, but slightly more sanitary. I’m wiser now. I know that mealtimes shared with young children at the dinner table have the same grim uncertainty as urban warfare; the mess, the thuds, the shouts; the hunks of chicken strewn over the floor like innards; the Dexter-style ketchup splatter.

The more kids you have, the worse it is; the more it becomes like some almost impossible late-80s video game. You have to work fast to plug the correct mouth with the correct piece of food at exactly the right moment, or else it’s screamdemonium. To achieve this near-impossible feat you have to ignore your fallible human brain-body-interface, and turn yourself into either some sort of psychopathic, epileptic octopus; a Hindu God on fast-forward; or a demonic incarnation of one of those big shaky tube things that flails around outside American car dealerships.

It’s Hell. As you slither and dart around the dinner table, plugging half-escaped screams with chicken nuggets, and begging older children to eat something, God damn it, ANYTHING AT ALL, your own dinner will grow cold as the grave; cold enough to attract polar bears to the table, who’ll burrow their weary bulks into the uneaten snow-dune that your mashed potatoes have become. You’ll spend long minutes shouting terrifying proclamations at your children through a megaphone: “Stop trying to knock your little brother unconscious with hunks of lamb! Eat that bloody sausage, don’t just push it around your plate! Eat a pea at least? One measly pea?! You won’t eat a pea?? Do you hate me? You must really hate me if you won’t eat a pea. Maybe I’ll just choke myself to death on those peas, would you like that?? Don’t care about that, do you? Well maybe you’ll care about the fact that your stomach is so hungry it’s gained sentience, and is in the process of trying to escape through your mouth so it can eat your face off. SCREAM MORE QUIETLY, WILL YOU, YOU’RE WAKING UP THE BLOODY POLAR BEARS!!!”

10.) Discipline is like its own science

When we were assembling our parental toolkit we decided not to include vicious punishment beatings; after a fierce debate, we also ruled out the construction of a medieval torture dungeon in the cupboard under the stairs. This left us with rather limited options. How were we going to civilise our eldest son?

We couldn’t use reason, because reason doesn’t work on toddlers and very young children, the absolute fucking psychopaths that they are. Seriously, you’d have better luck teaching pigeons to do maths.

We couldn’t ignore his behaviour or use undiluted bribery to subvert it, because unless you’re born into a disgustingly rich family dynasty whose destiny it is to rule the world through golf and evil, it’s probably best not to turn your kid into a fat, scheming, morally-vacant sex maniac.

So we used stickers. Not to cover his mouth or eyes or anything: no, to build a reward system that would encourage positive behaviour and discourage negative behaviour. Jack has to hit five stickers to get a reward, which could be anything from a mini-adventure to a small toy he plucks raffle-like from a cardboard bucket we keep hanging from the wall. He gains stickers for doing things like being polite and well-mannered for long periods of time, listening well, being kind to other kids and to his little brother, and helping out with chores. He loses them for things like smashing his baby brother in the face with a toy helicopter.

I had a few reservations about the system initially. I worried that we were teaching him to jump through hoops to get trinkets, rather than encouraging him to be good for goodness’ sake. I quickly moved past that when I remembered my realisation from a few paragraphs ago that all kids are psychos, and if you aren’t going to hit them, then you’re sure as shit going to have to bribe them. I guess, as well, that it’s a good idea to erect a moral framework around your kids as early as possible, despite the fact that they might not appreciate the point and deeper meaning behind the framework for many years to come: stabilisers for the soul, if you like.

My other fear was that the justice underpinning the system would be dispensed arbitrarily, based more upon what mood we happened to be in at any given moment than on solid ethical principles. For instance: ‘I TOLD YOU I DIDN’T WANT TO HEAR ANY PROLONGED VOWEL SOUNDS TODAY! YOU JUST LOST A STICKER!’ or ‘WILL YOU SHUT UP? I’M TRYING TO WRITE THIS BLOG ABOUT WHAT AN AWESOME DAD I AM. THAT INTERRUPTION WILL COST YOU TWO STICKERS, MY FRIEND.’

But, once we’d ironed out the kinks, we discovered that the sticker system works well, both as a deterrent for naughtiness and as a skill-and-confidence builder.

I must confess, however, that there’s a dark, ceremonial joy to be harvested from de-stickering a child. I find myself adopting the tone, voice and poise of t Pinhead on those rare occasions when I have to take one away. “Ah, human goodness, so delicate and ephemeral, so easily lost or moulded. Did you feel pride when you earned this sticker? Pride is a sin of which I’m happy to divest you. There are no stickers in Hell, boy. Only pain.”

By this point in the speech, he’s usually smashed his little brother in the face with a helicopter again.

11.) Being a stay-at-home parent is not easy – especially if you’ve got more than one child.

Stay-at-home parents shouldn’t be devalued or denigrated. I’m jealous that my partner gets to spend every day with our kids, but at the same time I’m absolutely fucking relieved that I don’t have to, because giving your mind, body and soul to your kids 24/7 is exhausting. Beautiful, enriching, incomparable, yes. But absolutely draining. I love and respect my partner immeasurably for what she does.

The only people who think that looking after babies and kids at home during the day is a piece of piss, and not as challenging or important as a ‘proper job’, are a) people who have had their amygdala surgically removed and replaced by a bag of morphine; b) the dead; c) super-advanced Japanese butler robots; d) the sort of loud-mouthed, blathering troglodyte who still says the word ‘Phwoar’ out loud when he sees a set of breasts, and who spends his days doling out sage nuggets of wisdom like, ‘Birds love it when you whistle at them from up high, makes their fucking day it does’ and ‘Course, I don’t know what the world’s coming to when those poofs in the courts won’t even let you call them darkies anymore,’ and e) blinkered, bitter or judgemental working mothers who subscribe to the ‘I’m not doing that so it must be wrong’ mentality.

Unfortunately c) doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately d) and e) do.

12.) Being a Dad is amazing.

I originally planned to go down the cop-out route for thing number 12. I was going to  entitle it, ‘Having kids means not having the time to write the twelfth entry on a list of twelve things’, but upon reflection I think I’m going to take my tongue out of my cheek, temporarily remove my scatological-hat (I was going to shorten that to ‘scat-hat’ in the interests of snappiness, but I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea and picture me in the closing minutes of some ungodly German porn flick taking off a hat that only minutes before had been squatted over by two dead-eyed, loose-stooled lunkers, and then proceeding to wipe a waterfall of effluent from my stinging eyes.So rest assured there won’t be any scatology anywhere in this entry, none at all: and if there is, I’ll eat my hat) and show some honest-to-goodness heartfelt humanity.

Being a Dad has handed me happiness and focus in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined possible. Every sentimental and groan-worthy cliche about parenthood is true. Though each member of my nuclear family may occasionally irritate every atom and fiber of my being, they – individually and collectively – are everything to me. And without them I’d be nothing.

Nothing else matters.


MORE PARENTING ARTICLES

A celebration of public breastfeeding

The nightmare of the soft-play area

Being at the birth

Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 3)

Thank you for returning to read the rest of my far from comprehensive, barely instructional list of twelve things I’ve learned so far as a parent. May it strike a chord, or make you feel smug and superior, you hubris-filled wanker. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. You can read PART 1 here and PART 2 here.

9.) Dinner time ‘aint what it used to be.

Dinner time used to be a time for… well, eating dinner? I think that’s what I used to do at the dinner table, anyway; I might even have regarded it as a sacred space; a place for joyous reflection, vigorous discussion or occasionally just silent bliss. A bit like the toilet, but slightly more sanitary. I’m wiser now. I know that mealtimes shared with young children at the dinner table have the same grim uncertainty as urban warfare; the mess, the thuds, the shouts; the hunks of chicken strewn over the floor like innards; the Dexter-style ketchup splatter.

The more kids you have, the worse it is; the more it becomes like some almost impossible late-80s video game. You have to work fast to plug the correct mouth with the correct piece of food at exactly the right moment, or else it’s screamdemonium. To achieve this near-impossible feat you have to ignore your fallible human brain-body-interface, and turn yourself into either some sort of psychopathic, epileptic octopus; a Hindu God on fast-forward; or a demonic incarnation of one of those big shaky tube things that flails around outside American car dealerships.

It’s Hell. As you slither and dart around the dinner table, plugging half-escaped screams with chicken nuggets, and begging older children to eat something, God damn it, ANYTHING AT ALL, your own dinner will grow cold as the grave; cold enough to attract polar bears to the table, who’ll burrow their weary bulks into the uneaten snow-dune that your mashed potatoes have become. You’ll spend long minutes shouting terrifying proclamations at your children through a megaphone: “Stop trying to knock your little brother unconscious with hunks of lamb! Eat that bloody sausage, don’t just push it around your plate! Eat a pea at least? One measly pea?! You won’t eat a pea?? Do you hate me? You must really hate me if you won’t eat a pea. Maybe I’ll just choke myself to death on those peas, would you like that?? Don’t care about that, do you? Well maybe you’ll care about the fact that your stomach is so hungry it’s gained sentience, and is in the process of trying to escape through your mouth so it can eat your face off. SCREAM MORE QUIETLY, WILL YOU, YOU’RE WAKING UP THE BLOODY POLAR BEARS!!!”

10.) Discipline is like its own science

When we were assembling our parental toolkit we decided not to include vicious punishment beatings; after a fierce debate, we also ruled out the construction of a medieval dungeon in the cupboard under the stairs. This left us with rather limited options for our stratagem to civilise our eldest son.

We couldn’t use reason, because reason doesn’t work on toddlers and very young children, the absolute fucking psychopaths that they are. Seriously, you’d have better luck teaching a pigeon to do maths.

We couldn’t ignore his behaviour or use undiluted bribery to subvert it, because unless you’re born into a disgustingly rich family dynasty whose destiny it is to rule the world through golf and evil, it’s probably best not to turn your kid into a fat, scheming, morally-vacant sex maniac.

So we used stickers. Not to cover his mouth or eyes or anything: no, to build a reward system that would encourage positive behaviour and discourage negative behaviour. I say ‘we’. I wasn’t allowed an opinion on the new discipline system, on the grounds that I hadn’t accrued enough good behaviour stickers. She’ll train me to put the toilet seat down, and open packets of cold meat without tearing them into eighty different pieces yet.

Jack has to hit five stickers to get a reward, which could be anything from a mini-adventure to a small toy he plucks raffle-like from a cardboard bucket we keep hanging from the wall. He gains stickers for doing things like being polite and well-mannered for long periods of time, listening well, being kind to other kids and to his little brother, and helping out with chores. He loses them for things like smashing his baby brother in the face with a toy helicopter.

I had a few reservations with the system initially. I worried that we were teaching him to jump through hoops to get trinkets, rather than encouraging him to be good for goodness’ sake. I quickly moved past that when I remembered my realisation from a few paragraphs ago that all kids are psychos, and if you aren’t going to hit them, then you’re sure as shit going to have to bribe them. I guess it’s a good idea to erect a moral framework around your kids as early as possible, one that will hopefully make deeper sense to them once they get older and start thinking beyond rituals and commands: stabilisers for the soul, if you like.

My other fear was that the justice underpinning the system would be dispensed arbitrarily, based more upon what mood we happened to be in at any given moment than on solid ethical principles. For instance: ‘I DON’T WANT TO HEAR ANY PROLONGED VOWEL SOUNDS TODAY! YOU LOSE A STICKER!’ or ‘WILL YOU SHUT UP? I’M TRYING TO WRITE THIS BLOG ABOUT WHAT AN AWESOME DAD I AM. THAT’LL COST YOU TWO STICKERS, MY FRIEND.’ 

But, we found a groove, ironed out the kinks, and discovered rather quickly that the sticker system works well, both as a deterrent for naughtiness and as a skill-and-confidence builder. There’s a dark, ceremonial joy to be harvested from de-stickering a child. I find myself adopting the tone, voice and poise of the horror character Pinhead on those rare occasions when I have to take one away. “Ah, human goodness, so delicate and ephemeral, so easily lost or moulded. Did you feel pride when you earned this sticker, boy? Pride is a sin of which I’m happy to divest you even as yet blacker sin pours from you like a faucet. There are no stickers in Hell. Only pain.”

By this point in the speech, he’s usually smashed his little brother in the face with a helicopter again.

11.) Being a stay-at-home parent is not easy – especially if you’ve got more than one child.

Stay-at-home parents shouldn’t be devalued or denigrated. I’m jealous that my partner gets to spend every day with our kids, but at the same time I’m absolutely fucking relieved that I don’t have to, because giving your mind, body and soul to your kids 24/7 is exhausting. Beautiful, enriching, incomparable, yes. But absolutely draining. I love and respect my partner immeasurably for what she does.

The only people who think that looking after babies and kids at home during the day is a piece of piss, and not as challenging or important as a ‘proper job’, are a) people who have had their amygdala surgically removed and replaced by a bag of morphine; b) the dead; c) super-advanced Japanese butler robots; d) the sort of loud-mouthed, blathering troglodyte who still says the word ‘Phwoar’ out loud when he sees a set of breasts, and who spends his days doling out sage nuggets of wisdom like, ‘Birds love it when you whistle at them from up high, makes their fucking day it does’ and ‘Course, I don’t know what the world’s coming to when those poofs in the courts won’t even let you call them darkies anymore,’ and e) blinkered, bitter or judgemental working mothers who subscribe to the ‘I’m not doing that so it must be wrong’ mentality.

Unfortunately c) doesn’t exist.

Unfortunately d) and e) do.

12.) Being a Dad is amazing.

I originally planned to go down the cop-out route for thing number 12. I was going to  entitle it, ‘Having kids means not having the time to write the twelfth entry on a list of twelve things’, but upon reflection I think I’m going to take my tongue out of my cheek, temporarily remove my scatological-hat (I was going to shorten that to ‘scat-hat’ in the interests of snappiness, but I didn’t want people to get the wrong idea and picture me in the closing minutes of some ungodly German porn flick taking off a hat that only minutes before had been squatted over by two dead-eyed, loose-stooled lunkers, and then proceeding to wipe a waterfall of effluent from my stinging eyes.So rest assured there won’t be any scatology anywhere in this entry, none at all: and if there is, I’ll eat my hat) and show some honest-to-goodness heartfelt humanity.

Being a Dad has handed me happiness and focus in a way that I wouldn’t have imagined possible. Every sentimental and groan-worthy cliche about parenthood is true. Though each member of my nuclear family may occasionally irritate every atom and fiber of my being, they – individually and collectively – are everything to me. And without them I’d be nothing.

Nothing else matters.

TV Review: Red Dwarf, Star Trek Discovery, The Orville

Red Dwarf is like that uncle who used to make you laugh to the point of pant-wetting when you were a child. You hailed him as a comedy genius, and constantly recited his routines to all who would listen, and to all who refused to listen, too. His visits brought light and laughter into your life, and you anticipated them with levels of excitement usually only reserved for Christmas.

Years passed. You got older. Your uncle’s visits became less and less frequent. One day, completely out of the blue, when you were busy doing something excruciatingly banal and thoroughly adult, probably putting up a shelf or something, there was a knock at the door. ‘It’s your uncle!’ came the cry. You ran to the door, almost injuring yourself in the process. ‘He’s back!’ you cried, grabbing the door handle and yanking it open… ‘My hilarious uncle!’… and there he was, standing in-front of you, dressed in a Hawaiian shirt with a light-up neon bowtie spinning around on his collar. He pulled his face into a gurn, and then brought his face a few short inches from yours. “BOOOOOOBIIIIIEEEEESSSSS!” he screamed, before loping off and around your house like a maniac, occasionally farting as he went. You later found him slumped in an armchair, staring out of the window.

A little part of you died that day.

After he left, you had a good, hard think about it. Maybe he was never funny; maybe you only thought he was funny because you were a kid and, well, everything’s funny when you’re a kid. Someone saying ‘socks’ is funny when you’re a kid. You prepared to jettison every fond memory of his visits and the laughter they brought; a time to put away childish things, and all that. But then you dug out some old home movies; watched him at work in his prime. And he was funny. God, he was funny, just as funny as you always remembered him being. So what the hell happened to him? Did he have a full mental breakdown?

You later hear that he was checked into a sanatorium, possibly never to re-emerge.

But he came back, your well-loved wonky uncle, like you always hoped he would, and you felt eager and hopeful again, despite all evidence pointing to more pain, disappointment and heartache on your part. And do you know what? He was better. He wasn’t quite the uncle you remembered, but neither was he the goofy, slavering imbecile who’d cast a worryingly unfunny shadow across your soul and doorstep. He kept coming back after that, each time stronger, more coherent, funnier. Last week, a near miraculous thing happened. Your uncle, despite his age and the trauma he’s been through, was almost – not entirely, but very, very, very nearly almost – indistinguishable from the man you remembered.

What I’m trying to say, as I wrestle with this rather tortured and over-long analogy about a mentally-ill uncle, is that the opening episode of Red Dwarf’s twelfth season, Cured, in which the boys from the Dwarf encounter the frozen figures of Hitler and Stalin in a disused moon-base, was something of a relief and a delight. The cast seemed to be back in the full swing of their characters, there weren’t too many laboured puns or clichés, the sci-fi premise behind the episode was interesting without over-shadowing the jokes, and the episode made me laugh out very loud a hearty handful of times. Sure, some of the sequences in Cured – particularly the threat montage and the overlong guitar jam – felt a little rushed and perhaps fell a little flat, but overall I don’t think the episode would’ve felt out of place in the show’s fourth of fifth seasons. Red Dwarf may never recapture the thrill of its heyday, but each time it returns it builds a stronger and stronger case for its continued existence.

I’ve been boldly watching Star Trek since I was a teenager: I started by gorging myself on cassettes of the Next Generation lent to me by a friend, which led me to seek out the seminal exploits of Kirk and Spock. Later, I fell in love with the rag-tag, war-torn crew of Deep Space 9. Janeway was next, whose adventures I really rather enjoyed, give or take a few Kes’s and de-evolved lizard people along the way and … next there was… em, you know, Enterprise… and stuff. It was… well. I guess Captain Archer’s dog was sort of okay?

Maybe it’s an inevitable consequence of getting older and becoming less passionate in general, but when news broke of Star Trek Discovery’s imminent arrival I never found myself getting particularly excited. When the trailer was released, and it seemed to suggest that Discovery would be another Star-Trek-for-People-Who-Don’t-Like-Star-Trek generic space romp in the vein of the recent ‘reboot’ movies, even less so.

But, expectations be damned, it’s bloody good.

It’s different, of course: bigger, slicker, grittier and glossier, but every Trek series – whilst remaining true to the central Roddenberryian vision and ethos – has been drastically different from those preceding it, and always a product of the time in which it was made. Star Trek is about the future of humanity, sure, but that future is always given shape and voice by contemporary concerns. Discovery is about tough choices, moral relativism, a clash of cultures and the ethics of war. Shades of grey abound. In fact, there are enough shades of grey in Discovery’s opening few episodes to make Captain Picard’s hot tea and the entire canon of Deep Space 9 seem positively technicoloured in comparison. That’s one inevitable consequence, I suppose, of making your lead character a mutineer and a war criminal who’s sentenced to life imprisonment at the end of the first episode.

Sonequa Martin-Green is terrific as the aforementioned mutineer, former Starfleet officer and Vulcan-raised orphan Michael Burnham. The Walking Dead never really afforded Martin-Green the opportunity to showcase her full range and talents; here she’s mesmerising, compelling, tackling with aplomb the tricky task of playing someone who’s both human and Vulcan, and all at once both more and less than either.

Having Burnham front and centre allows Star Trek to do something it’s never done before: have a captain who’s something of an asshole. Captain Lorca (Jason Isaacs) may be the Doctor Who Number 6 of Star Trek, but Burnham ‘aint no Peri. (Incidentally, though it places me in a minority, I really like Colin Baker as the Doctor, so my comparison isn’t intended as an insult to Jason Isaacs or his character).

Discovery also gets top marks for its reinvention/retconning of the Klingons. Like this new incarnation of Star Trek itself, its Klingons share a through-line with the past, but are for all intents and purposes shiny and new. They look more like Cenobites than the 80s/90s-era Klingons we’ve come to accept as the official standard of the species. And they’re other-worldly, and eerie, and menacing, and interesting, something they haven’t been for a long time. Throughout the life-span of The Next Generation and Deep Space 9 the Klingons – with their stiffness, pomposity, laddish bragging and love of drinking – came to possess all the terror and nuance of an obnoxious drunk uncle at a party to celebrate grandma and grandpa’s fiftieth wedding anniversary. My apologies to uncles, who appear to be getting something of a rough ride today.

If Star Trek Discovery isn’t Star Trekky enough for you, then you can always seek out The Orville, Seth MacFarlane’s new sci-fi doesn’t-really-know-what-it-is-edy. Despite the show’s mind-bending ideas, improved CGI and novel blend of sci-fi tropes and dick jokes it looks and feels exactly like early-90s Star Trek – which of course is no accident, given that the show’s creator and captain Seth MacFarlane is a life-long fan of the show, and forged his vision for The Orville through collaboration and consultation with such heavy-hitting Trek luminaries as Rick Berman and Jonathan Frakes.

And do you know what? I like it. It combines two of my favourite things: nostalgia and puerility. I’m still not convinced about Seth MacFarlane’s ability to carry a live-action show, but his Captain Mercer is growing on me with every episode, and the characters of Bortus (Peter Macon) and Isaac (Mark Jackson) have already proven themselves to be deep wells of dramatic and comedic possiblity. Keep making it so, Seth.

You can read a piece I wrote about Red Dwarf series X and XI for the lovely people at Den of Geek here.

Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 2)

Thank you for returning to read the rest of my far from comprehensive, barely instructional list of twelve things I’ve learned so far as a parent. May it strike a chord, or make you feel smug and superior, you hubris-filled wanker. Either way, I hope you enjoy it. You can read PART 1 here.

5.) TV is your friend

Don’t listen to the snobs: your TV is as much a part of the family as the grandparents, or that funny uncle with the twitch. My partner and I vowed never to use the TV as a live-in babysitter or a motivational tool, and largely we’ve observed this vow. We’re careful to offset time spent in front of the TV with oodles of outdoor larks, jigsaws, puzzles, pretend play, books and tickle-fights. But sometimes… Just sometimes. Some days. TV may very well rot your children’s brains, but the brain-rotting skills of children themselves are unmatched and exemplary, so in this dirty war no weapon is out of bounds. I’ll be honest, if it wasn’t for the TV I’d probably have immolated myself by now.

6.) Don’t sweat the swearing

I don’t care what the Preachy McTutters of this world say: a swearing kid is a fucking hilarious kid. Naturally we don’t deliberately teach our three-year-old swear words. We don’t create Venn diagrams to show him the full galaxy of obscenities at his disposal, or give formal lessons every weekday morning. ‘Now, Jack, I want you to say it again, but this time I want to hear you enunciate the consonants like we practised. Ki…ki… ki… Ku… ku… ku… kun…kun…kun…. That’s it, you can do it!’

You simply don’t realise how much you profane as a matter of course until you’re sharing your home with a kid or two. Don’t get me wrong, over the years we’ve tried to shrink our pool of bad words (removing an em eff here, a cee there) and reduce the frequency of our swearing, and on the whole we’ve been successful in our efforts, but a one hundred per cent standard is impossible to attain: as long as there are frights, stubbed toes, dropped plates, inconsiderate drivers and sudden swirls of anger there will always be ‘bloody bastards’, ‘shitting buggers’ and ‘Are you fuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuckkking kiiiidddddddddding meeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeees’.

A friend of mine recently told me that she and her husband had been aghast to hear their three-year-old daughter saying ‘Oh my God!’ As I listened, I had a flashback to all of the times our Jack has blasphemed, bee’d, essed and effed, all of which were entirely and inescapably my fault. I’ve heard him affectionately refer to a playmate as ‘a wee bugger’; I’ve watched him dancing around the toilet chanting ‘Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit! Shit!’ like some demented shaman; I’ve seen him sneering a swear through one side of his mouth in the same manner and voice as a 1950s Italian-American Godfather, even shaking his little fist: ‘Sunnnnnn of a bitch!’; I’ve watched him lightly slap his own forehead and cry out ‘Oh fuck’. It’s like some horrendous version of Blankety Blank sometimes. “OK, here’s your next one. The guy tailgating me is a blanking blank?” “He’s a f….” “Nooooooooooo!”

In saying that, he’s seldom swore the same swear twice, largely because we react to each utterance with calm neutrality, gently re-directing his words down a different path without giving the no-no words any sense of power by confirming their taboo status.

Some examples:

“Yes, you can say (x), but it would be better to say (y) instead. Yes, maybe next time we’ll just say (y)”

or

“No, I didn’t say that, darling, you must’ve misheard. I said ‘rubber trucking other cuffer‘. What does it mean?… I’ve no fucking idea, son.”

7.) People lie about their kids.

Nobody talks up the beautiful, life-affirming aspects of parenthood. All parents-to-be are given the same bleak and nightmarish pep-talk: “You’re having a baby? Oh, you poor bastard! Forget sleep. Forget sex. You’ll be up to your knees in shit and piss. You’ll be so tired you’ll start hallucinating sentient raisins. You’ll be stressed out. You’ll probably start serial killing frogs, and using your head as a hammer to smash down play-parks. Your left leg will turn into an eighteenth century courtesan and start trying to marry people. Your right leg will fall off. You’ll shrink by five feet. Your eyes will explode. You’ll think you’re an owl. Seriously, I’m not kidding around here, my cousin was a dad for one day and he set fire to himself and tried to ram-raid a church. With a bison. I’m telling you; you might as well just kill yourself now, save the trouble. That’s how awful kids are.”

And then once your kids are a bouncing, bawling reality, and you’re asked the questions: ‘How are things at home?/How’s life as a parent?/how is/are the kid(s)?’ you lie then, too. Maybe you’ve just been sat at home cuddling your kids while watching a movie, or joyously laughing at their inspired silliness, or moved to tears by their innocence and sense of wonder, but you’ll always say something like: “Those bloody kids will be the death of me!”

8.) Bye, bye, sex life

Scheduling amorous activity with your partner when you’ve got children is difficult; scheduling it when you share a bed with your kids (the baby sleeps in an adjoined extension, our toddler usually sneaks in beside us at some point through the night) is nigh on impossible. The very fact that you have to ‘schedule’ at all is a bitter pill to swallow (a pill to swallow? Christ, there’s a Freudian slip). Sex isn’t an activity that lends itself well to scheduling or good time management skills, although as I’m writing this sentence I’m remembering a little something called ‘the entire sex industry’ that rather depends upon both of those things for its growth and survival, so I guess I’ll rephrase and refocus my argument somewhat: good time management and awesome scheduling skills may be useful, but they sure as shit never made anything sexier. Sex in the home between two partners should be sexy, urgent, primal, spontaneous, and not boring and clinical like making an appointment to see your bank manager (if you’re currently banging your bank manager, please feel free to imagine a different analogy).

The ideal scenario is for both kids to be fast asleep, and for us to slink silently from the bed and into the hall downstairs, to commence the world’s quietest bout of passion, like two mime artists make-believing a normal sex-life. If we make it to the living room we’re in for a riot of locked-knees, cold bums, burnt bums and stiff necks. We still have to be savagely quiet, but if there’s an accidental scream at this point it’s usually because we’ve stained the couch we’re still bloody paying for.

Wherever the venue, time is very much of the essence; because we’re both aware that we could be interrupted at any second, our coupling becomes less like a spontaneous act of love and more like two people desperately trying to beat their record on the mechanical bull. Never matter. I’ve always excelled at getting it done quickly.


For a longer consideration of the deleterious effects of children on your sex life, click here.

Click on PART 1 for the first four 12 things.

Twelve things I’ve learned being a Dad to two under four (PART 1)

1.) Buggies suck.

You know the old proverb. “Fold or unfold a buggy for a man, and he’ll be able to push the baby for a day. But teach him how to fold or unfold the buggy, and you’ll still have to do it for him every fucking day.”

The operation of most modern buggies is remarkably simple. Click, clunk, push. Press, pull, fold. So why then do I find myself, every single time – and I do mean every  single time – jumping up and down in a car park, my arms flailing like a possessed, pissed semaphorist trying to marshal an airplane, loudly threatening an inanimate hunk of cloth and plastic with death and destruction? I’ve been shown how to operate the infernal contraption time and again, on an almost daily basis, and each time I say, ‘Ah, of course, now I remember. Next time will be easy’. But next time isn’t easy. Next time is another angry wrestling match betwixt man and plastic. It’s like Groundhog Day, but by the end of the movie Phil can’t play the piano and he’s still having eighty doughnuts for breakfast. Why aren’t kids born with wheels?

2.) Never use the ‘Bad Man’ to deter your kids from disobeying, or running off.

He’s a demonic boogey-man routinely conjured by lazy parents to strike an easy jolt of fear into their children, when the same result could easily be achieved through gentler, less traumatising means, namely by employing the twin powers of reason and imagination.

(Starts with a snicker, builds to a convulsing laugh, ends with me in hysterics, hardly able to breathe and slapping my thigh like a coke-fueled cowboy) Yeah, right. Fuck that. The ‘Bad Man’ practically has his own room in our house, en-suite and everything. He gets breakfast in bed, and even gets to leave the toilet seat up after a piss. At first we used him sparingly. ‘Don’t run off round that corner. The bad man might be there.’ Then we started riffing, really having fun fleshing out the character:

‘He’s got an electrified glove that will burn you like toast,’

‘He’s got a time-grenade that’ll blow you back to the prehistoric era and your head will be crunched off by a T-Rex,’

‘He likes to melt children down and make them into candles, and then he farts on the candles, and then he pees them out.’

We started pretend-calling him for the most minor of infractions. ‘Hello, is that the bad man? Yeah, he won’t blow his nose. You’ll what? You’ll skin him alive?’ (lowering phone and whispering to son) ‘I can’t negotiate with this guy, he’s a fucking lunatic, you’d better just do what he says.’

Reason doesn’t work on young children. That’s why you need to get yourself your very own on-call behavioural terrorist. Long live the bad man.

3.) A bacon sandwich tastes so much sweeter after you’ve suffered through 3,000 episodes of Peppa Pig.

Not 3000 new episodes of Peppa Pig. The same episode 3000 times. Each staccato plink of that risible theme song starts to feel like a knife to the spine. I hate that my three-year-old loves it so much. It’s horrible. Not only does it make you feel like you’re watching TV through a spy-hole, but the kids are insolent, disobedient little shits and the father is a marginalised moron who’d be more use to the world inside a BLT. I’ve largely cut meat from my diet and don’t eat pork anymore, but I’d make an exception for Daddy, the snorting imbecile.

Don’t let your kids watch it. If none of that convinces you then never forget that the pigs are clearly walking, talking big balls-and-cocks. Look at them! It’s undeniable. Peppa Pig? Peppa BIG Nutsack more like.

4.) Toilets will never be the same again.

A week or so ago I had to make a hurried journey to the bathroom, with just enough time for a brisk detour to pick up a book. I perched in comfort, readying myself to begin the expulsion not just of my internal waste, but also of the day’s worries and frustrations. I was happy. I was safe. Nothing out there in that noisy, calamitous universe could touch me, at least for the next five minutes.

I was perched on the toilet, enjoying my brief reprieve from life, when from downstairs came the screams of my second-born, Christopher. He’d been placed atop a soft blanket of toys by his mother as she bravely attempted to start cooking dinner. Christopher’s not a kid usually prone to screaming, but when he feels the need he makes sure to broadcast those screams at just the right frequency to pierce steel, skull and concrete. ‘Daddy! Daddy!’ came the cries from my eldest boy, Jack, accompanying his baby brother’s fervent WAH WAH WAHs.

Jack kept wailing as he staggered and trudged up the stairs like a mustard-gassed soldier: ‘DADDY, DADDY, MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!’

He’d found a bottle of his mother’s perfume and naturally had decided to spray himself directly in the eyes with it, the bold little scientist that he is. ‘MY EYEEEEESSSSSSSSSSSS!’

That’s what most trips to the toilet are like these days. Remember that old Dad-centric cliché about a bathroom being a man’s last bastion of peace in a chaotic household? It’s full of shit. The bathroom door may as well be spun from spider-silk or constructed by a mime artist. If your kid needs to get through that door, locked or not, and no matter what you’re doing in there, then you’re opening up. They’ll rap and tap and chap and bang until you’re forced to waddle towards it like an all-penguin John Wayne. They’ll then make you stand there by the sink in hellish, bowed-leg silence, like a naughty dog – squidgy poo-parcel half-nipped and glistening – as they take the longest piss in the world. Or even a particularly savage shit, just to rub some salt into the wound.

It’s toilet Top Trumps, and your kid will always win, principally because it reflects rather badly on you as a parent if you force your kid to stand outside in the hall and shit themselves.

THANK YOU FOR READING, YOU ADORABLE BASTARDS.

ANOTHER FOUR NEXT WEEK.

The Sex Life of Parents

As a teenager I worked very briefly in the tomato department of a fruit-and-veg packing plant. I had to stand at a conveyor belt for eight hours a day placing tomatoes – eight tomatoes at a time – into an infinity of plastic punnets. Tomato, tomato, tomato. Punnet, punnet, punnet. Before taking this job I’d counted myself among the tomato’s greatest fans. I loved everything about those round, red sods: their soup, which was warm and comforting, like a cuddle at a lower-tier relative’s funeral; how the tangy wetness of a single sliced tomato could bring a whole bag of finger-waggin’ sass to a boring old cheddar sandwich (imagine a tomato saying ‘Hmmm mmmm’, ‘you go girl’ and ‘ah don’t THINK so’); how easily a tomato could be transformed into a portable ballistic weapon with a single bite.

After two-and-a-half days of non-stop tomato-packing it’s fair to say that my love for them was waning. As tomatoes dropped through my fingers by the thousand-load they came to assume the consistency and snack-appeal of cricket balls, possessing the sass not of an enormous black woman in the audience of Ricky Lake, but of a recently-deceased Alan Titchmarsh. Tomato, tomato, tomato. Punnet, punnet, punnet. Tomatoes. I was bloody sick of them. Immune to their charms. They were just things now, lifeless, inanimate things, devoid of all joy and use and substance. I never wanted to sink my teeth into one of those round mother-fuckers ever again.

That’s pretty much how witnessing the births of my children made me feel about vaginas.

At least for a while. The forswearance was temporary, dear reader. Once the stitches had healed, and the missus had reclaimed her inclination, and my NAM-style fanny flashbacks had ceased – ‘The head… the head was sticking out, and, and it was blue, man… it was covered in blood and …bent out of shape and… oh CHRIST… (swigs another quart of bourbon)’ – things went back to normal. Attitudinally at least.

Unfortunately, the temporary reframing of my perspective on vaginas was merely the opening salvo in a much wider war upon my sex life; a war that was being waged against me by – in a weird, round-about-way – my own sex life from the past. My enemy: the physical manifestation of fifty per cent of my own sainted DNA.

Having sex with kids Having sex when you’ve got kids

Your baby’s first words to the world, unspoken and unspeakable, consist of a simple resolution never to let you have sex again. ‘Em, hello – you’ve got me? Why would you want to do this again? PUT THOSE THINGS AWAY!’, their wails seem to say. Babies are nature’s most exquisitely evolved biological padlocks and chastity belts. Your new kid on the block is a cock-block; a hex on your sex. How much wood would a rude dad chuck if a rude dad’s son hucked puke? I’m not even sure what that last sentence actually means, but I do know, with clarity and certainty, that y’all ‘aint getting any sex – at least not until after the divorce.

Until then you’ll roam the earth a foggy-eyed sexless husk, splitting your time between cooing and cursing, pooing and nursing. Inclined to be amorous, but too tired to follow through, or else perfectly well-placed physically but too mentally frazzled to get into the swing of things.

Or, worst of all, the planets of your desire will align, and you’ll be in the midst of blissful sexual abandon when a baby’s cry will cut through the air and wilt your willy away to nothing. They know, they just seem to KNOW when you’re at it, those tiny bastards, wherever you are in the house, and whichever stage of the process you’re at, and they’ll move heaven and earth to put a stop to your shenanigans.

Our kids have always seemed unknowingly to favour their mother on such occasions, and many, many times my chivalry has been punished; having selflessly provided pleasure through non-penetrative means I’ve been denied an orgasm of my own by the sounding of a baby’s cock-blocking klaxon, halting us pre-coital, and sending her to soothe the baby back to sleep, and me into the bathroom for a consolatory wank.

So having sex when you’ve got kids is hard. Unless, of course, you happen to be one of those couples who’re to be found in the pub within seven days of the birth, telling people you’re on a well-deserved break from the stress and exhaustion of parenthood, and noisily proclaiming to all who’ll listen that having a baby needn’t affect your social commitments or change your life. Not change your life? It’s a baby, not a slight fucking limp, you vomit-smeared scrotums. Anyway, if you’re one of those couples then you’re probably free to make the beast with two backs as often as your built-in babysitting network will allow, in which case this article isn’t for you, and you should stop reading it immediately. May I suggest you go fuck yourselves? You’ve clearly got the time.

Aural sex: ‘Come ear!’

Every sexual encounter between you and your partner has as its template the fervent spontaneity of the first eighteen months or so of your relationship; the heady, come-to-beddy days where any time, occasion or flat surface (vertical or horizontal) would do; when your hands felt grafted to the skin of the other. It’s the memory of these days that makes the meticulous scheduling of sexual activity seem so off-puttingly antiseptic, despite the absolute necessity of such planning when you’ve got kids in the house. It makes what’s supposed to be five minutes a good solid hour of passion feel about as sexy as a hospital appointment.

Because of this new reality it pays always to be on the lookout for ways to return a little verve and spontaneity to the process. Just last week my partner used her skills of time and resource management, and sexual intuition to exploit a rare opportunity. Both of our kids were asleep before 8pm, and neither of us appeared to be ill or over-tired, so off she slinked upstairs to the bathroom to slip into something a little more comfortable.

Unfortunately, I had no idea this surprise was in the offing – and she in turn had no idea that I was bursting on a shite. As she stood naked in the bathroom, seconds away from togging herself up in a titillating outfit, the sound of my fist banging on the door relayed this information to her swiftly and efficiently. ‘Get out!’ I implored her. ‘Get out quick, I’m literally about to shite myself!’

The door whooshed open. ‘That’s killed it,’ she said, as she brushed past me to go change into some lounge-pants.

Another hard-core sesh as a parent

Despite the existence of a multitude of niche German movies lurking in deeply unhygienic corners of the internet, there are few greater passion killers than an unexpected jobby. So we decided we’d take a rain-check on the cha-cha-cha and snuggle up on the couch and watch TV instead. But still. The gauntlet had been thrown down, and the promise of sex had set my ridey-sense tingling. I made some overtures, seductively wiggling my eyebrows and shuffling up the couch towards her crotch like some brain-starved zombie.

‘Why don’t I do something for you?’ I asked.

She didn’t say ‘no’. She said something much worse. She said: ‘You burst in on me before I had a proper chance to wash myself, and I’m not going back up to that bathroom to inhale the smell of your boufing shite, so I guess we’ll just have to keep watching TV.’

I’m sure I’ve heard that line in a porno somewhere. Wounded and thwarted, I bided my time. We took stock and tried again. I shuffled closer and we went in for a kiss. Our lips softly butted, but as soon as they’d touched she yanked her face away from mine with a violence normally reserved for cases of whiplash in a car-crash. A grimace of displeasure warped her features. This isn’t a particularly encouraging sexual signal, unless you happen to be some sort of sadistic deviant, or have been married for twenty years (the two are by no means mutually exclusive).

‘What is it now?’ I asked.

‘Your ear,’ she said, shuddering. ‘It stinks.’

She was right. I had an infection in my left ear. But like the smell of a man’s own farts, I’d grown used to it, and had little idea it was so repulsive. So I couldn’t fault her disgust, but even still I sulked, my pride wounded, the thin and tenuous bubble of my sexual confidence well and truly popped.

‘Don’t sulk. I’m not rejecting you, I’m rejecting your ear.’

‘Yeah, whatever,’ I said, even sulkier still.

Don’t listen to what these women’s magazines tell you. Sulking is HOT. It really works up a soak.

She tried to be conciliatory. ‘Maybe… maybe if we have to kiss, you could come at me from one side only, keep the bad ear away.’

I shrugged. She sank deep into thought. Seconds later, there was a light-bulb moment, followed by a big grin. She stroked my shoulder, eager to share her epiphany.

‘Or why not just do me from behind?’

I gave a dismissive wave. ‘Nah, it’s finished. I’m vile. I’m a vile and disgusting creature. I stink and I’m horrible.’ I don’t know why I was so gloomy about it; that realisation had never stopped me before.

We watched TV in silence for a few moments.

‘Maybe…’ she began, the words tip-toeing carefully out of her mouth, ‘Maybe if you put your hearing aid in, it’ll plug the smell!’

I shook my head. ‘Maybe I could just f*** you with a walking stick?! Jesus, now I feel disgusting AND old. Brilliant.’

At this point she laughed. I did, too. How bloody ridiculous.

‘Is this what our sex life is going to be like now?’ she asked.

‘No,’ I said. ‘It’ll probably get much worse.’ A third child is very much in the offing for the not-too-distant future, so our offing days are probably numbered.

‘What do you want to do?’ she asked. I smiled.

In defiance of the Gods of Domesticity and Sexual Scheduling, I did her from behind.

And then I ate a tomato.

Why love is more important than sex

I swaggered around the homestead one weekend morning, naked except for a dressing gown, which billowed around my bare arse like a Roman’s cloak – but a Roman’s cloak that was soft and cosy and really rather effeminate, if I’m being honest. I’m a morning person, much to the consternation and occasional fury of my partner, who either isn’t a morning person or simply isn’t a ‘me’ person. I like to greet the day with a series of nonsense songs, daft-dances and urgent finger-clicks, whilst she likes to greet the day by violently murdering me.

Despite my glee I had woken up with a bit of a jumpy tummy, which probably has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that I have the same diet as a bin inside a McDonalds’ restaurant. My stomach issued a rumble here, a grumble there, a Mexican wave of nausea there. But no matter. I still had a song in my heart, and a fart in my… Oh, hello. A fart! Where did you come from, you little tyke? Well, the conditions aren’t ideal, but if you really must insist upon making a life for yourself in the world outside my rectum, then who am I to… let me just feel it out here, and give a little squee…

Oh.

Oh my.

You’ve heard of a shart, right? Well this wasn’t a shart. It was pretty much a full-blown shit.

One doesn’t accept a surprise defecation quietly. My loud regrets, interlaced with hissed staccato swearing, stirred my sweet from her slumber, and led her siren-like to the hallway, where I stood temporarily frozen by fear, regret and disgust. I quickly bolted to the bathroom, grabbing up cloths and cleaning products. I didn’t want her to see this, to learn what had happened! To my horror, a few stray droplets of poo peppered the tiled floor of the bathroom in my wake. I sprayed and wiped and rinsed the tiles at lightning speed, and then hurtled into the hallway to mask or remove the worst of my shame. Why had we carpeted the hall and not kept the laminate, I lamented! Her footsteps drew closer still. It was too late, too late! I bombed back to the bathroom to grab more cloths, and to wash down my legs, but in my haste I slipped on a section of tile I’d just cleaned, flew into the air and just about knocked myself unconscious against the wall.

Even though I genuinely thought I’d have to go to hospital to be treated for a concussion, I don’t think I’ve ever heard a human being laugh as much or as hard as ‘the love of my life’ did that day.

Some people say that love is sticking by someone through thick and thin, being willing to go to the ends of the earth for them, risking life and limb in pursuit of their wellbeing and happiness, being willing to lay down and die for them. I’ve no doubt it is. But love is also still having the desire to fuck someone after you’ve witnessed them shitting the floor.

If our sex life can survive that, kids should be a doddle.