Being at the birth

ouchMy second son was born last week, a healthy, whopping laddie of 8 pounds and twelve-and-a-half ounces. It goes without saying that I’m pleased as punch, happy as a sandboy, and a billion other over-used cliches besides, but I’m not here to discuss those feelings. Little Christopher deserves his own blog-post, which he’ll get in due course. For now, I’d like to talk to you about my experiences of witnessing and assisting in live births.

I’ve been at the births of both of my boys, which I guess technically makes me a birthing partner, although I think the term ‘partner’ somewhat oversells my usefulness during proceedings. I gather that in days gone by the majority of men holed themselves up in the pub as their wives gave birth, blind drunk and desperately trying to decipher a gambling Da Vinci Code within the pages of the Racing Post. They’d then hurry home – usually two to three days later – still melted out of their soot-blackened faces and reeking of a thousand filterless rollies, mildly startled to find a human baby clamped to their wife’s tit. “Shit, the baby was this week? Sorry, love… you got the tea on yet?”

But, hell folks, this is a different world, and my cock-and-ball-owning contemporaries and I are sons of a new age. We want to be there. We need to be there. All the tea in China couldn’t keep us away (unless it was stacked up against the front door of the hospital: then we might have problems). It’s just that… Well. I really don’t know who is the most helpless in that delivery room: the fathers, or their freshly-born offspring. Women – quite rightly so – have the monopoly on the pain, respect and wonder of birth. Men are there to… well, men are there, certainly.

My duties can be broken down under the following sub-headings:

Words of encouragement: Mid-wives, and women in general, tend to excel at saying the right thing, in the right way, during labour, and the woman giving birth – in my experience anyway – tends to respond to their words with gratitude and deference. For all the positive effects my words had over the two births, I may as well have been hollering abuse from the other side of the room. “You call that a push?” “I’m on the clock here, can you hurry it along, please?” “Hey, I can see its head, can you believe that it’s actually fucking uglier than you!”

During the second birth, I got locked into a bit of one-man-up-manship with the midwife.

She’d say: “You’re doing well, you’re doing good.”

I’d say: “You’re doing well, you’re doing GREAT.”

She’d say: “You’re being brave, you’re doing okay.”

I’d say: “You’re being SO brave, you’re doing absolutely bloody BRILLIANTLY.”

She’d say: “Come on, you can do it.”

I’d say: “Can?? You ARE doing it, you ARE doing it.”

At one point, my partner opened her eyes through her fog of agony and locked me with a stare seldom seen this side of Hades. I shut up for a bit, and silently resolved to settle the matter with a fight in the hospital car-park later in the day.

My main issue is, what the hell are you supposed to say to your partner? And how the hell are you supposed to keep saying it for hours upon hours? There are only so many generic phrases of encouragement you can utter before you start to feel like a jockey whispering in the ear of a prize racehorse. I caught myself a few times during the first birth stroking the bridge of her nose and saying things like, ‘Shhhhh, girl, shhhhh, calm, calm, shhhh, you’re doing great, that’s my girl, I’ve never seen your coat looking so shiny.”

Going for a shit at inappropriate times: Whoops, right? I gather my partner cursed my name to the midwife as I disappeared out of the room with a newspaper tucked under my arm. I missed the opening salvos of her most painful pre-birth contractions. I was along the corridor, pushing out an entity of my own. Luckily, I returned in time. I don’t think our repertoire of family memories would’ve been enriched by the tale of, ‘You remember that time you missed the birth of your second child cause you went for a shit?’

birth3Reading the paper: At one point during birth two, my partner’s sister was holding one of her hands, and the mid-wife was holding the other, which left me sitting a few feet away in a comfy armchair with nothing to contribute. My partner was in a great deal of pain, which I caught a glimpse of from time to time as I bobbed my head up from behind the newspaper to say encouraging things like, ‘Oh, you’re doing well, SO well. Fancy giving me a hand with this crossword?’

This is a wo-man’s world…

A childbirth simulator? Come on, men, did we really need that? "We've spent millions on this thing, and what do you know? It really IS fucking sore."

A childbirth simulator? Come on, men, did we really need that? “We’ve spent millions on this thing, and what do you know? It really IS fucking sore.”

In most women’s eyes, men are a gaggle of pussies who would never be able to bear the pain of childbirth should medical science ever make that process available to them. I think they’re on to something. I know we men tend to jokingly underplay the agony of childbirth, comparing it to a toe-stubbing or the pushing out of a particularly gnarly poo, but, really, I defy any man to watch a woman grunting and screaming a human being out of her nether-regions, and feel anything other than admiration, empathy and a great, burning sense of relief that they were lucky enough to be born with a cock.

bbbGiven the enormity of birth, it’s surprising that women don’t talk about it more often than they do. Can you imagine if men gave birth? We’d never shut the fuck up about it. You see what we’re like after we’ve lifted a reasonably heavy box, or recovered from a bad head-cold. Childbirth would be incorporated into our testosterone-tastic rituals of puff-chested dick-swinging; our conversations with other men would become like tweaked versions of the scene in Jaws where the guys sit around on a boat and compare war-wounds. Or the Yorkshiremen sketch from Monty Python.

You think that’s bad? I was in labour for eight weeks without sleeping or eating, gave birth to a baby the size of a rhino, in fact it was a rhino, pushed so hard that it ripped my arse and balls off, lost fifty litres of blood, three of my limbs actually exploded, and just prior to delivery a squad of terrorists broke into the room and started stabbing me with kitchen knives. And I never felt one bit of pain.”

And you try telling the women of today that… they won’t believe you.”

The two questions most often levelled at a man who has attended the birth of his child are ‘Did you cry?’ and ‘Did you puke?’, the latter because women don’t merely think that men would be incapable of handling childbirth: they deem them incapable of handling even the sight. I understand why some men find childbirth unpalatable; why it might engage their gag reflexes. It’s gross. It really is. The word ‘beautiful’ is banded about a lot in this context, but I’d just like to disavow any prospective fathers out there of that notion. A sunset is beautiful; a rainbow is beautiful; morning dew glistening on the grass as birds chirp from the trees is beautiful. But a roar of feral agony and an explosive squelch of blood and human tissue? That’s resolutely not beautiful. Unless you happen to be Ted Bundy with a cricket bat.

birth2In the run-up to birth number 1, my partner gorged herself on episodes of One Born Every Minute (or Jeremy Kyle for Slightly More Respectable Poor People, as I like to call it), an activity from which I abstained on the grounds that I only want to bear witness to pain and horror if I absolutely have to. Because of this, I went into the birth ignorant of its mechanics and intricacies. In particular, I was woefully unprepared for the first glimpse of my son’s blue, gunk-covered cone-head as it pushed through my partner’s vagina like something out of HR Geiger’s nightmares. I remember expressing concern that I appeared to have sired one of the X Men.

I couldn’t watch heart surgery without reaching for the barf bag or a big bag of valium, but live birth doesn’t seem to revolt or frighten me. It may not be beautiful, but the process is undeniably fascinating and filled with wonder (an easier sentiment to express if you happen to be watching it instead of doing it, I’m sure!). That being said, our second child was born in a birthing pool, and I did describe the moment of birth as looking like someone had thrown the mattress from Hellraiser II into the bathtub at the end of Fatal Attraction.

Mere minutes after Christopher’s birth, my partner was poised to receive an injection that would hasten the appearance of the afterbirth. It wasn’t required. As she stepped down from the birthing pool, the placenta performed a spectacular dive for freedom, only halted by her quick reflexes, and the help of the midwife, who grappled with the umbilical cord like a magician doing a difficult trick. I got to look at the placenta, long and hard, as it sat wholly intact on a table. I always imagined it to be some sort of thin, almost-ephemeral, jelly-fish-like substance. It isn’t. It’s like a T-Bone steak, almost as big as some babies. Fred Flintstone’s dinner. Women, I salute you again. You have to give birth twice, you brave sons of bitches. And a shout out to my partner in particular: just gas and air the second time? Hardcore. I’m sure you’ll never throw that fact in my face the next time I’m a wee bit tired or feeling under the weather…

The tears of a clown

gazzaBirths are one of the few times in a man’s life when he’s permitted to cry (football being the other) without being judged an insufferable weakling or some sort of emotionally-unstable, nascent spree killer. Having a good sob at a birth is now mandatory; indeed, my partner considers my lack of post-partum tears a weird, almost unforgivable omission, and possibly evidence that I’m a psychopathic half-Vulcan robot. This judgement has left me feeling a little like the protagonist in Camus’s The Stranger, whose inability to cry at his own mother’s funeral indirectly leads him to the gallows (apologies for the slightly pretentious literary reference; at least I didn’t use its French title, L’Estranger). To make matters worse, I feel like I’ve sold my sons short, given that I didn’t cry at their births, but I did cry at Ghost and Watership Down.

I did cry that day, though. My toddler, Jack, was brought to the hospital in the afternoon by his grandpa and grandma to see his newly born little brother. Afterwards, as I was staying with mum and baby for the next few hours and didn’t know exactly when I’d be home, Jack was going back to Grandma and Grandpa’s house for a sleep-over. As he was being carried down the corridor in his Grandpa’s arms on their way out of the ward, I locked eyes with him, and he seemed to give me a sad, wistful little smile that doubtless I imbued with my own feelings of separation anxiety. My eyes started to glaze over with a thin film of tears. I’d never slept under a different roof from him since his birth.

I still haven’t. When I got home he was in the house with his grandma and grandpa, in the process of having a story read to him. He just couldn’t settle without his Dad. Well, he name-checked the cat, too, but I’d like to think I was the greater part of his motivation… he does love that bloody cat though. When I heard his little voice drifting down from the top of the stairs, I actually punched the air with happiness. And even though his unexpected presence in the house deprived me of the rare treat of pornography with the sound turned up, I couldn’t have been more glad. See? I do have a heart.

MORE PARENTING/PARENTHOOD ARTICLES

Co-sleeping kids: banished from the bed

Happy Father’s Day… to me?

On the horror of taking your child to hospital

A Celebration of Public Breastfeeding

Existential Nightmare at the Soft-play Warehouse

Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

When people take pictures of your kids

Reflections on school days, bullying and the bad bus

seatbeltsIt’s going to be a while before either of my children (one a toddler, the other yet to be born) go to school, but given how quickly time has whizzed by since little Jack first emerged gunky and cone-headed into the world, I wouldn’t be surprised to look up to discover him bedecked in a blazer and sporting an incredibly ill-advised side-parting the second I’m finished writing this article.

The thought of sending my children to school terrifies me. For all that school is a place of forced captivity where lessons are learned and friendships forged, so is fucking prison. School’s a place where we’re bundled off to be indoctrinated into a work-a-day routine that’ll help keep the wheels of capitalism spinning, whether we’re destined to become the spinners or the spun. They’re living-flesh factories, sorting children by aptitude and ability and then spitting them along the conveyer belt – or down the garbage chute – of life. Teachers seem to be so over-worked and under-resourced that even the most inspirational of them are too busy being crushed under a ton-weight of bureaucracy to break out any Dead Poets Society-style shit. While it’s true that school has the power to teach you a lot about yourself and the wider world, that doesn’t prove that the experience is ultimately a worthwhile one. After all, even in war people still find time to play a quick game of five-asides against the foreign exchange students.

In some ways, things are even more war-like than they were in my day. Schools now have their own cops, for Christ’s sake! How did that happen? This development in community policing indicates either that schools are now fundamentally unsafe places to send our children, or else the government is conducting a grand experiment to save time and money by identifying and labelling future offenders early: a choice between The Hunger Games and Minority Report, if you like. Bullying, which has always been a constant of school-life, has now entered The Matrix thanks to the oppressive, omnipresent connectivity of social media. 2016’s bullies have the access and power of the fucking Lawnmower Man, meaning that my kids can now be bullied in the comfort of their own bedrooms, 24/7. In my day (there’s that fuddy duddy refrain again), a bedroom was a sanctuary that only homework and mothers had to power to penetrate.

media

I’m perhaps over-accentuating the doom and gloom element of school life in general and my own school days in particular. My schools were hardly the stuff of The Wire, or Dangerous Minds; they were rather pleasant places, actually, and I do have a lot of fond memories to look back upon. As I still live in the same general area I’ve no reason to expect that my sons will experience a radically different school-life from mine. Even still, whichever school they attend is going to have a ‘Lord of the Flies’ flavour that I dearly wish they didn’t have to taste: regardless of any culturally-shared notions of school ‘preparing them for the real world’ or ‘building their characters’. Simply put, my partner and I can’t afford to send them to private school.

The good news is, though, that because we can’t send them to private school, my paper-thin socialist sensibilities get to remain untested and intact. Thank God for that. (clears throat and raises fist aloft) Education for all! Down with the two-tier system! Private school kids are all snobby bastards… (checks bank balance again, just in case)

Of course, Private school wouldn’t eliminate psychopathic bullies from my children’s school life, but it would probably buy them a better breed of psychopathic bully. Instead of being stuck in a class alongside kids who listed among their hobbies eating stringy bogies, setting fire to bins and taking steaming shits in the teacher’s supply cupboard, they could be rubbing shoulders with the crème de la creme of cold-hearted monsters, the sort of rich boys who will inevitably grow up to destroy the world’s economy with one solitary sniff of Bolivian and a single thump of an ENTER key (We’ve considered home-schooling, but my partner’s worried we’d make them weird. They share fifty per cent of my DNA, love. That ship’s already sailed).

Thinking about my kids’ future school days has got me thinking about my own behaviour at high school. While – broadly speaking – I was a good, unobjectionable and unremarkable young lad: never quite top of the class; never quite on the teachers’ shit lists; liked – or at least tolerated – by a wide-ish spectrum of the school continuum – I could still be an absolute cuntbag. As all teenage boys, I’m certain, have the potential to be, a potential that most of them fulfil at one point or another.

school

My cuntbaggery always shone brightest when I was sitting up the back seats of the Wallacestone bus on the journey home from school, alongside a merry band of chanting dick-bags who – when we weren’t cruelly impersonating teachers or singing bawdy football songs (which even I joined in with, despite my hatred of football) – took great delight in providing really quite horrible intro music for the bus’s regular cast of characters. We revelled in the supreme power our size, seniority and prime seating afforded us, believing ourselves to be banter-maestros extraordinaire, when in reality we were a bunch of boorish, bullying bastards in the iron grip of mob rule.

The memories are a catalogue of shame. There was a little boy of wholly Caucasian extraction whom we decided had a curiously Mexican flavour to his heritage, and so, without fail, every time this poor unfortunate boy stepped onto the bus, we stamped our feet in unison and mimicked the vigorous strumming of guitars, belting out a Speedy Gonzales-esque Mexican ditty. You know the one: de de de-de de de-de de de-de, de de-de de de-de de de-de. We may even have shouted Ariba. We really were cunts.

There was another boy called Michael, still not sure of his surname, whose only crime was to have an ear-ring. He also bore a striking resemblance to a young Jimmy Sommerville. When he got on the bus we always chanted, “Micheal Thingmy is a poofter!”, which we repeated and repeated until he’d sat down, each line of the chant punctuated by four loud hand-claps. I don’t know what hit Michael Thingmy the hardest: the taunts about his ear-ring, or the fact that we never considered his surname all that important to the bullying process. Michael’s probably a bank manager with a wife and three kids by now, and it’s my fond hope that the Thingmy family is doing well.

fight

Another poor boy was welcomed daily with a chant of ‘You smell, and you know you do’, again and again until he disappeared up the top deck of the bus. It’s never been confirmed that he actually smelled, and it’s certainly never been confirmed that he knew that he did. He never stuck around to debate the matter with us, quite correctly ascertaining that a gang of idiots with a mixed-back of monosyllabic chants probably wasn’t the best group to engage in rational discussion.

The worst song was reserved for one of our own, a pleasant chap by the name of Craig Muir (*not his real name), and to my eternal shame I must confess to having written it. Craig was a nice, normal lad, peaceful by nature, and never went looking for trouble. He had a close friendship with his brother, and at primary school used to win fights by chewing on his own hand with a terrifying look in his eyes (the tactic being: “If I can do this to myself, think what I’ll do to you!”). From that scant biography grew a song that went a little like this:

The Muiry Song

Verse 1

He lives in a house of tar and bricks,

He’s had the same jacket since primary six,

And when in a fight one must demand,

He opens his mouth and bites his hand.

Chorus

Muiry boy,

Muiry boy,

Went to the shop for a new sex toy,

Stuck it up his bum,

Covered it in cum,

Oh Muiry boy, oh what’s your ploy?

There were a lot of other verses, possibly as many as there are to be found in our own national anthem, which have thankfully been lost to the mists of time: one of which I’m sure was about the Muir brothers fucking each other. It was a very subtle piece of work. The song became so popular that another wee guy in our circle, Karl, typed up the lyrics and handed out song sheets. Song sheets on the bus, for fuck sake. Some of these guys never did their homework, but committed themselves with great zeal to this extra-curricular musical extravaganza. Years later, in my mid-twenties, I was at a function at a hotel, and was served by Craig Muir. One of the first things he said to me, with a scowl on his face, was: ‘That fucking Muiry Boy song.’

The bad news: I was an arsehole. The good news? I’d written a hit song.

NEXT TIME: The scales are re-balanced slightly when I recount my own experiences of being bullied, and of saving someone from bullying. Plus, an introduction to the phenomenon of ‘the shaggy pole’.

(PLEASE NOTE: NEXT TIME could be a long time away. Child number 2 is imminent, and I have to be in the mood to write it. I’m sure you’re on the edges of your seats waiting, right?)

Parent-and-child parking spaces: the dos and don’ts of not being a dick

Tesco has vowed to start fining people who make improper use of disabled, and parent-and-child parking bays (improper in the sense of categorical appropriateness, rather than improper in the sense of setting up tombola stalls in the vacant spaces). Whether or not Tesco has the authority to enforce such fines remains to be seen; however, what I find most interesting about this news story is the reaction to it from certain quarters of the great unwashed via the ever-malevolent medium of the comment threads underneath online articles, especially on Facebook.

To my mind, responsibility for the regulation of car-parking behaviour shouldn’t fall under the auspices of local government or corporate might. We should self-regulate; the impulse should come naturally to us. It certainly seems like a slam-dunk to me: don’t park in a disabled bay if you aren’t disabled; don’t park in a parent-and-child bay if you don’t have children in the car with you, or if the child you have with you is 43 years old. The clear focus of the issue here is basic respect and decency, not some imagined Stalinist nannyism against which we should all be rallying. Even still, in the vacant spaces beneath articles, via the empty spaces between some people’s ears, the bile-bomb has gone off with a bang. Ignorance drips from the fingers of a thousand angry eejits. Drip drip drip. Into our eyes, and into our brains, water-boarding us with a steady flood of selfishness and un-reason.

I’m going to keep my focus on the parent-and-child spaces, because even the worst of the world’s keyboard warriors – troll and non-troll alike – would clearly find it hard to sustain a charge of laziness against the disabled. What follows is a flavour of the comments I’ve witnessed on my journeys through cyberspace. I’m going to be paraphrasing here, but only ever-so-slightly:

“OMG, just because they have children suddenly they can’t walk??? Their r sum lazy good-for-nothing people out there!”

 

“I’m sick of people thinking they deserve special privelle…privvill… treetment just becoz there husband didn’t pull out in time. WALK you scrounging assholes.”

 

“WHY DO THEY NEED WIDER SPACES? IS IT BCOS THEY’RE FAT AS WELL AS LAZY? MAYBE IF YOU AND UR FAT KIDS WALKED FURTHER TO THE DOOR YOU ALL WOULDN’T BE SO FAT AND YOU WOULDN’T NEED WIDER SPACES YOU LAZY FATTIES??!”

 

“Now THIS is why I voted for BREXIT!!!”

You get the idea.

Just to clear some things up: parent-and-child spaces are wider to allow parents extra room to load and unload things like push-chairs and car seats. Where the parent has many children with them – but even if they’ve only got one – the extra space makes said children’s entry and exit from the car a lot less of a logistical nightmare, and a whole hell of a lot safer.

Yes, it’s true, parent-and-child spaces are often – but certainly not always – positioned near the front-door of a store. Where the bays are not located right at the front door, they are always connected to a path or walkway that will lead parents and their children along a safe route to the front door that doesn’t necessitate a mad, dangerous dash through a gauntlet of reversing cars and fast-moving traffic. Safety is the concern here: not proximity.

Now, isn’t that simple? I like simple. And this next bit is even more simple: if you park in a parent-and-child space when you’ve no right to be there, you aren’t some ballsy Robin-Hood-style folk hero sticking it to the man. You are indeed, and without exception, a cunt. And cunts don’t get their own special parking spaces.

Unless you count Waitrose.

Me looking like a total bellend, circa 2005

I used to work for a press and marketing company in Norfolk that produced its own in-house equestrian trade magazine. When the time came for us to review various types of country/equestrian wear, we decided to save money and model them ourselves. With… interesting results in my case. Enjoy… ESPECIALLY the second page, where I look like a right cu…country gentleman. Think of me as a sort-of third-rate Zoolander meets Emmerdale meets the greatest fashion abomination of all time.

201610141730_0001

 

 

no2

Young Jamie: Portrait of the Artist as a Wee Bastard – Part 2: Culloden

Have a read at this very short story I wrote when I was nine-years-old, and then wallow in the pointlessness of it all as my 36-year-old self tries to provide some context.

Part 1

Part 1

Part 2

Part 2

Part 3

Part 3

THE GREAT BATTLE OF CULLODEN

If this little story proves anything, it’s that I was just as bloodthirsty in 1989 as I am today. “We stabbed people who were trying to kill us.” Most nine-year-olds are writing about scoring the winning goal at the World Cup, or meeting Bruce Willis, or being the King or Queen of Lovelyland, yet here I am neck-deep in blood and corpses, gleefully stabbing folk to death with my pals.

I didn’t enjoy my teacher’s smug tone when she pointed out there were no aeroplanes in 1746. How does it feel to attempt to shame a nine-year-old, woman? I’m sure there must have been many more inexcusable gaps in my knowledge that you could’ve exposed, so why stop there?

“Honestly, Jamie, it’s like you’ve got no grasp at all of the wider political and economic turmoil that held Scotland in its grip throughout most of the eighteenth century.”

I know there were no planes, you soulless daughter of a chartered accountant called Alan! You derisory dick-bag of a woman! You Lovejoy-loving, gentle fucking facist! Have you never heard of a little something called, oh I don’t know, IMAGINATION?! You know, the thing that kids are allowed to possess before it’s beaten out of them by the snooker-ball-in-a-sock of the real world?

THIS is why mass death is brill, teach. BECAUSE OF PEOPLE LIKE YOU.

PS: This story in no way reflects my current status as a card-carrying member of the SNP.

Young Jamie: Portrait of the Artist as a Wee Bastard – Part 1: MERLIN

Co-sleeping Kids 2: The Sleepquel

That's a really cute picture, but either those two people have the tallest baby in the world, or that child's going to suffocate!

That’s a really cute picture, but either those two people have the tallest baby in the world, or that child’s going to suffocate!

Baby number two is on its way this November. Many of you may remember that my partner and I were poised to embark on a mission to encourage our two-year-old son, with whom we co-sleep, to sleep in his own room ahead of his brother’s arrival. You can read all about that, and how we felt about it, here.

Well, it’s taken many months of patience, tenacity and tough-love, but I can report – with just over a month to go – that our mission has been… a complete and utter failure. We still wake up, each and every morning, with that smiling, tuft-headed little creature lying right there next to us, smiling over at us and issuing a few foul-breathed good mornings before ordering us out of bed. We tried, people, we really, really tried.

Prior to, and during, the transition, we played it perfectly, doing everything by the unofficial child-rearing handbook: we bought him bedsheets and duvet covers emblazoned with things that he loved (in this case Thomas the Tank Engine), and made a big deal of how awesome his room was, and how lucky he was to be snoozing in his very own big-boy bed. We became like a couple of drug-addled children’s TV presenters – the Krankies on crack, the Chuckle Brothers on ching, the Singing Kettle on ketamine – with eyes as wide as our maniac fixed smiles, a pair of howling lunatics striding and emoting our way around his bedroom.

“OH, THIS IS A BUH-RILL-IANT BEDROOM, MUMMY, I WISH I COULD SLEEP IN A BEDROOM LIKE THIS.”

“OH, YES, DADDY, ISN’T IT FAN-TASTIC? IS THAT… IT CAN’T BE… IS THAT THOMAS THE TANK ENGINE?”

“OH YES, YES I THINK IT IS! THIS IS A-MAZING! THIS IS LITERALLY THE BEST THING THAT’S EVER HAPPENED SINCE THE DAWN OF TIME!”

“I’M SO BLOODY JEALOUS! SHALL WE SING A SONG ABOUT IT NOW, DADDY?” “OH CAN WE, MUMMY? CAN WE?”

I’d just like to add, for the avoidance of doubt, that our son was present at the time.

chuckle

That first night, his mum crammed her pumpkin-esque pregnant belly into that tiny single-bed alongside him, and lay stroking his hair until he drifted off to sleep. Minutes later, she tip-toed through to our bedroom and whispered a cry of victory. I’m certain there was also a high-five involved.

Well that was easy, we thought. Maybe he’s going to be cool with this after all.

Sometime around 1am, the door to our bedroom swung open with the force of a fearsome gunslinger bursting into a wild-west saloon. Our son stood blinking in the beam of light cast from the hallway behind him, his hair standing up in nutty-professorial clumps. He wore a puzzled frown as he surveyed the half-dark around him, sooking sternly on his water cup. We sat up and watched him. He seemed certain there’d been an admin cock-up in the bedtime arrangements. “You surely didn’t mean to leave me behind, mum and dad. I’m not mad, just… disappointed.”

He staggered to the foot of our bed, tossed up his water cup, and quickly clambered after it, shuffling and snuggling himself into the crook of his mum’s arm. What could we do? We knew we should have picked him up and plonked him back down upon Thomas the Tank’s ever-smiling face, repeating the process hour after hour, night after night, for as long as was necessary until he’d adjusted to the new reality. But what the hell. It was a transition. This was only the first night. Let him sleep, dammit. Let him have one more night… Weekend. Just one more weekend. Okay, a week. A fortnight! Just a fortnight, mind. Oh, hell, let’s just let him have a clean month, goddamit.

And so now, every night – any time between the hours of midnight and four – that stern little face, with its crown of bed-head, struts or slinks into our room, and jumps into our bed.

future

The future??

Sometimes we hear him crying from his room, and one of us goes through to console him. Now and again we can placate him with a bonus bed-time story, during which he’ll happily drift back to sleep, but hours later he’ll always be back, creeping into our room like a tiny foggy-eyed ninja.

Sometimes a story just won’t do. More often than not, when I respond to his cries and whimpers in the late evening or dead of night, I’ll extend my arms to give him a comforting cuddle, only to find his little arms locking around my neck like clicked-in seatbelts, his legs propelled upwards by his full strength and weight to perform a similar fastening trick around my torso. “Mumma,” he’ll say, nodding and sniffing back a tear. “Okay, wee guy,” I’ll say, carting him back off to our bedroom – because I’m a big soft shite and I hate being apart from him anyway.

Because we’re enablers of the worst kind, we always leave on a dim night-light in his bedroom, and the light in the hallway; like lights on a runway guiding him to a soft landing on our bed. His stealth tactics have improved to the point where we don’t often realise he’s with us until we wake up in the morning. Either that, or our brains have adjusted to the new reality… which wasn’t really the way this was supposed to work: he was supposed to adjust to our new reality, wasn’t he?

Four weeks to go…

MORE PARENTING/PARENTHOOD ARTICLES

Co-sleeping kids: banished from the bed

Happy Father’s Day… to me?

On the horror of taking your child to hospital

A Celebration of Public Breastfeeding

Existential Nightmare at the Soft-play Warehouse

Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

When people take pictures of your kids

Pandas and Pokemon

zooIt was panda breeding season when we visited the zoo a few weeks ago, so access to the panda enclosure was limited. We could only get a glimpse of the male panda through a big Perspex window as he kicked back in his pad munching down on a carrot.

Because these creatures are notoriously devoid of sexual energy zoo staff ordered us to be deathly quiet: one bit of over-exuberant human hoo hah could spoil three months of carefully planned panda foreplay and set back the course of their hanky panky indefinitely. Now that’s performance anxiety. “Sorry, sweetheart, the sound of a human coughing faintly in the distance appears to have killed my dick, so could we just do the Netflix without the chill for the next eighteen months or so?” Get them some earmuffs, for Christ’s sake! Seriously, though, what a squad of true losers comprise this doomed species of fuck-shy, Sooty-faced nuns. Most of us human males would still be able to get it up during an earthquake on a battlefield littered with the half-dead bodies of wailing, dismembered orphan soldiers. A few of us would even insist upon these conditions. You know who you are…

We couldn’t even get a good look at the panda, not only because of the scores of fellow panda-peekers huddled into the viewing area with us, but also because our collective lines of sight were obscured by a mass of trees and foliage that had been planted and positioned to shield the panda from the sight of our disgusting inter-species lechery. So there we both were, my partner and I, craning our necks to get a glimpse of a panda eating a snack through a gap in a thicket of trees the size of a postage stamp, as a crowd of people all shushed each other and swished their phones and cameras in the air above their heads. It was like being at a deaf rock concert in a Chinese monastery. I envied my toddler son, who didn’t even have to pretend to give a shit about the pandas, and was quite content to spin around in circles making helicopter noises.

monalisaThe whole sorry panda extravaganza reminded me of a visit to the Louvre ten years ago, during which I found myself distinctly underwhelmed by the Mona Lisa. There it was – this tiny picture of a long-dead woman wearing a thin smile suggestive of a recently secreted silent fart – encased in Perspex and half-hidden by the heads of a hundred people or more. I’d already seen her enigmatic fizzog hundreds of times throughout my life, as have we all, considering that the Mona Lisa is literally the most famous portrait on earth. Why should I fight through a crowd to get a fuzzy picture of something I could see in any one of a million books or reproductions? Clearly my main – and perhaps only – motivation would be to immortalise my sophistication on Facebook for all the world to see. I don’t need pictures for that. I can just wait ten years and then write an obscure blog post about it that will be read by six Albanians and my second-cousin. Did I mention I visited the Louvre? I may make a lot of jokes about poos and tits, ladies and gentlemen, but by God I’m  sophisticated and urbane.

Watching those people blankly snapping pics and flicks of the panda as it nonchalantly chewed on a carrot brought home to me how ridiculous humans are as a species. Perhaps it’s we who deserve an extinction-level reduction of our libidos. This is fucking madness. Say you recorded footage of the panda on your phone. Who’s going to watch the video? Your friends and family? They’ll be bored shitless. Seriously. They will. Trust me. You? What’s the point? You know you were there. Do you really want to watch that footage again? Of a panda doing ostensibly fuck all? Is your camera a gun-substitute? Are you hunting these creatures and collecting clickable trophies as a testament to your digit-based prowess? By all means take a few snaps at the zoo to act as memory joggers of days gone by for those moments in the years to come when you find yourself frail and insensible and drooling at a window pane, but for God’s sake leave the wildlife programming to David Attenborough.

The only circumstances in which you should be filming pandas are if: a) you come across one unexpectedly whilst doing the weekly shop in Tescos, b) you’re breaking into its zoo cage dressed as another panda and attempting to fuck it.

We left the zoo at closing time, and as we moved down towards the main gate we walked through a huge throng of people of all different stripes. They were all chatting excitedly and immersed in their phones. There was a queue of thousands outside the building, clamouring to join the advanced guard. They were ‘hunting’ Pokemon. The zoo was hosting a private after-hours event. Thousands of people, ignoring the real animals in favour of taking pictures of imaginary ones.

Come on, asteroid. We’re in dire need of our extinction-level event! Make haste!

More zoo-based nonsense: The Hero of Edinburgh Zoo

The Unspeakable Evil of Children’s Television

Whenever I watch contemporary kids’ TV with my young son I find myself yearning for the simplicity and innocence of my own, long-ago youth: back in the halcyon days when there were only four tightly regulated TV channels, and no mobile phones or internet to hold our attentions hostage with a cavalcade of frivolity, violence, and disquieting pictures of strangers’ genitalia.

Back in my day (as I hurtle towards the grave, I suspect that this is a phrase I’ll be uttering with ever more depressing frequency), kids’ shows were good, clean fun. Systems were in place to ensure it. Shows that fell foul of the era’s high standards of morality would answer to the Mean Queen of Clean herself, the ferocious Mary Whitehouse. If Whitehouse thought you were peddling filth to our nation’s kids, she wouldn’t muck about. She’d send hitmen to your door. Naturally, in-keeping with her credo, the severity of the assassinations would be commensurate with the time of day, with more violent murders being saved for after the watershed. Neck-breaking was okay at 9pm, just as long as both hitman and victim remembered that swearing was never permissible. A family-friendly lunch-time kill would typically involve a hitman passing a note to their target which read: “PLEASE DIE OF NATURAL CAUSES, BUT ONLY IF YOU WANT TO. LOVE, YOUR FRIENDLY NEIGHBOURHOOD HITMAN.”

In kids’ shows back then, there were no missiles loaded with sexual references – or clever deconstructions of TV itself – aimed above young heads. Instead, there were only the serene sounds of surf and seagulls down at Cockleshell Bay, the mesmeric chirping of birds in Postman Pat’s sleepy glen, and the gentle tones of Tony Hart as he tried to find nice things to say about the abominable artwork hanging in his gallery. “Oh, this one of a dog is really nice. I love the deep slash mark down one of its cheeks, suggestive of a recent knife fight. And just look at the sexual death threat the artist has scrawled at the bottom of the picture in his own faecal residue. Lovely work there from Harry in Glasgow, aged 4.”

My two-year-old son’s current favourite is the unspeakably hellish In the Night Garden: a garishly bright Nightbreed-ian nightmare that appears to be set in the Hungarian afterlife, as imagined by David Lynch. The show stars David Cameron as Iggle Piggle, a hideous, lop-sided blue peanut with a penchant for sailing on kids’ hands and making weird farting noises. Piggle’s best friends are a little girl with half-Peloquin/half-Predator hydraulic hair; an obsessive-compulsive zombie Teletubby who lives in a rock; tiny beings dressed as the Spanish Inquisition who continually abandon their 8000 children; and a trio of creatures that have crawled straight from a disturbed serial killer’s acid flashbacks. The characters travel around in something called the Ninky Nonk, which sounds like the sort of unhelpful slur once favoured by my racist grandfather. In the Night Garden is bizarre and terrifying, like waking up next to your dead grandmother who’s inexplicably dressed as a clown.

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I resolved to expose my son only to the healthy and wholesome kids’ shows of old, which I tracked down on-line and on DVD for the betterment of his tiny soul.

But then I actually re-watched some of them.  I quickly discovered – to paraphrase Herman Munster – that sometimes dead is better. Certainly my televisual era had been no oasis in the brain-deadening desert.There was horror and betrayal around every corner. He-Man had lied to me: told me that I could remove my clothes and go on a sword rampage without fear of being recognised. Bertha, lovely Bertha, had coaxed me into a life of low-paid drudgery by convincing me that factories were magical places with futuristic robots and vast sentient machines. Uncle Rolf had been exposed as the worst kind of crook. Goodbye wobble-board, goodbye didgeridoo, goodbye Rolf-a-roo. Off to maximum security memory prison with the lot of you (flicks through Rolodex of possible jokes based upon Rolf’s pantheon of catchphrases, and rejects most of them on grounds of obviousness and poor taste). How could the man whose famous catchphrase was a prolonged sexual pant have gone so completely wrong?

God damn you, TV childhood: you were a sham! What follows are the highlights (perhaps lowlights) of my journey through the chilling subtexts and undisguised horror of the shows that formed my youth. It’s certainly easy to see why my adult mind is such a labyrinth of depravity.

Let’s get izzy wizzy busy living, or let’s get izzy wizzy busy dying

sooty1Civil War rages in the Marvel Movieverse. Heroes – humans and Gods, mutants and monsters – clash over issues of moral authority. To whom are these heroes accountable? Does any government have the right to control or command them? Who will protect society from the excesses of our so-called saviours?

Whether you find yourself siding with House Stark or planting your feet firmly in Mr Rogers’ Neighbourhood, there’s one thing on which we all can agree: at least the Marvel lot know how to put a shift in. At least they’re actually doing something about the horrors of the world, unlike some lazy magical bastards I could mention.

Yes, I’m talking about Sooty. Here is a bear more powerful than all of the Avengers combined, and who holds in his tiny, wand-packed paw the power to end world hunger, reverse global warming and bring the dead back to life, but who seems content to spend his days using his magic to splat pies into Matthew Corbett’s face. ‘Screw you, Africa,’ his little bear face seems to say, ‘I’m too busy continually assaulting a beleagured middle-aged man to tackle drought.’

Sooty is so callous he won’t even grant his best friend Sweep the power of intelligible speech, condemning the sad-faced little dog to a lifetime of squeaking like a bloody imbecile. And Matthew, poor Matthew, who is supposed to be Sooty’s closest friend, mentor and confidante, is forced – like his father Harry before him – to act as Sooty’s intermediary on earth, a relationship that’s clearly conducted in the same spirit as the one between Kilgrave and Jessica Jones. The little rat could speak if he wanted to; that Sooty never lowers himself to engage directly with the human race makes his disdain for us – and for Corbett – painfully apparent. Come on, Corbett, stick your hand up my little arse, you slag!

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MATTHEW: “What’s that Sooty? [whisperwhisper] You want to use your magic powers to make me a helpless vessel for your wickedness? I don’t think that’s very nice, Sooty, I… [whisperwhisper] What’s that, Sooty? [whisperwhisper] If I don’t do it the next pie will have hydrofluoric acid in it? [Sooty taps desk with wand].”

Sooty never even used his magic to cure Matthew Corbett’s cancer. Now THAT’S a cunt.

I’d also be interested to know exactly where Sooty was on the day Rod Hull took his tumble. I think it’s time to re-open the case.

The terrible truth about chipmunks

alvin-and-the-chipmunks1In the 1940s, Disney perpetuated the stork myth in its movies. It showed babies arriving by parachute rather than by the more conventional, and ickier, womb-based route. I guess the puritans of the time didn’t want children imagining animals – or, by extension, their own parents – rutting like beasts. In the late 1960s, Hannah Barbera gave Scooby Doo a nephew instead of a son, presumably for similar reasons. Scooby was a friendly, goofy, asexual pal to his young fans. This was no time or place for the birds and the bees. Kids couldn’t be made to imagine our hero hammering away at some horny street-bitch like a four-legged sexual machine-gun.

Unfortunately, by the time the 1990s rolled around it seemed that these varieties of restraint were already a relic of a by-gone era. I recall an episode of Alvin and the Chipmunks that showed one of the chipmunks getting all goggle-eyed over a beautiful blonde woman with a big bust. The chipmunk’s eyebrows jumped up and down in that old-timey hubba-hubba way that cartoons used to sell as cute, but which we now recognise as the unspeakably licentious gesture of a burgeoning sex offender. CHIPMUNK HAS HOTS FOR HUMAN WOMAN. I think I could’ve lived with that headline, had that been the end of it. But it wasn’t. Because the human woman flirted back: giving a saucy little wiggle and blowing a kiss at the sex-struck rodent. Yes, people. You have interpreted the subtext correctly: I had just watched a woman signalling her sexual availability to a chipmunk.

Thanks, Alvin, Simon and Theodore, you depraved little assholes.Every time I wake from a fugue state in the living room with a David Attenborough documentary playing on the TV and my pants round my ankles, I’ll think of you and your terrible sexual guidance.

One more rankle about the chipmunks. This was a show about a dude who lived with a trio of talking animals in a world where there doesn’t appear to be any other talking animals… and at no point did the government bust his door down to take these creatures away to be cut open and studied? What a load of rubbish.

Open Sesame: now please close it again

sesame_1973I ordered a copy of Sesame Street Old School on DVD to introduce my young son to the bygone era of Sesame Street I grew up with, and which I still remember fondly. I was taken aback to find a warning attached to the purchase: “These early Sesame Street episodes are intended for grownups and may not suit the needs of today’s preschool child.” What? But Sesame Street is just The Muppets with an educational remit. Then as now, there are fluffy creatures teaching kids to count, and adults dispensing pearls of wisdom about sharing your toys, not being mean, and loving your neighbour. How could any of that fail to benefit my son, whatever decade of Sesame Street it’s sampled from?

So I watched a few episodes. The title sequence shows a gang of kids making their way through an industrial wasteland that’s bedecked with gang graffiti. Next they bound over an incredibly unsafe construction site. To compound the danger, they take to the streets on their bikes minus safety helmets. Just when I thought I was maybe being a bit woolly and overcautious, the first episode started proper and a grown man took a little girl’s hand he’d never met before and invited her back to his house for milk and cookies. Cookie Monster was up next, eating crockery and… smoking? Cookie Monster’s smoking? He’s actually smoking. And now he’s eaten the pipe too. As if that wasn’t hellish enough, in the next episode The Count takes out a Latino gang with an RPG, and laughs loudly at their delicious screams (OK, maybe that last thing never happened, but you get the point).

It looks like everything that’s ever been said about the 60s, 70s and 80s is true. What a bunch of savages we were (Please also see ‘The Muppet Show’, a viewing of which moved my partner to comment: “Why are you letting our impressionable young son watch a grown woman dressed as a slutty schoolgirl sing a song about kidnapping and murdering people as she locks puppets in cellars?”) Still, at least Sesame Street of old can’t be faulted for its promotion of an inclusive society where kids and grown-ups of all different ethnicities can co-exist naturally, peacefully and happily. That’s something that was sorely lacking in other televisual neighbourhoods of the time…

There’ll be knock, ring, BNP pamphlets through your door

patHow are you enjoying your 1980s Aryan paradise, Obergruppenführer Pat? Why not just fully commit and get yourself a white-and-white cat? Maybe take the kids on a Jew-hunt across field and dale?

I used to watch Postman Pat with my racist grandfather. The show’s hark-back to a less integrated time only served to reinforce his prejudices of white supremacy. Maybe if Pat’s creators had smuggled a little diversity into the mix we could’ve saved my grandfather, or at the very least modified his world-view a little. I wasn’t looking for a miracle. A tiny concession would’ve done. As it stands my grandfather went to his grave without ever uttering the words I had so longed to hear: “I guess Sidney Poitier’s alright.” And that’s on you, Pat.

Why are there so many wrongs about Rainbow?

rainbowitvLet’s talk about Geoffrey, a grown man who lives with a menagerie of bizarre and terrifying creatures in a house that’s been decorated like a children’s nursery. Geoffrey’s bunk-mates are Bungle, a seven-foot ursine version of Norman Bates; George, a sexually precocious passive-aggressive pink hippo; and Zippy, the kind of ‘whatever’ that even Gonzo would shun. How did Geoffrey come to live with these creatures? Did he abduct them? Did he create them with a needle and thread, a bucket of DNA and a set of jump leads? Doesn’t he have a wife, or an ex-wife? A family? Someone in his life to raise an eyebrow at this rather unorthodox living arrangement? Doesn’t the gas man ever come round to read the meter?

“Hello, sir, I’m just here to check your… AARRGGHH, WHAT THE FUCK IS THAT THING WITH THE ZIP FACE?!! HELP ME! OH GOD HELP ME! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU! THE POWER OF CHRIST COMPELS YOU!”

I’d be very interested to see how Geoffrey fills out his census.

Anyway, let’s talk Zippy. What is he? Was he born with that zip across his mouth, or was he cruelly disfigured in the course of some vile experiment? At this point, I’m imagining a Human Centizippy-style origin story, in which the poor creature was forced to spend long, hideous weeks with his mouth secured by zip to Big Bird’s quaking bumhole. Perhaps as Mopatop sobbed into Zippy’s back-end through a wet strap of velcro.

However it was that Zippy’s zip came to be, why would any sane and compassionate man ever use it to silence him? Hey, Geoffrey, why not just break a chair over Zippy’s head or shoot him in the shoulder if he starts mouthing off, you total psycho? And if somebody did that to Zippy – if some sick, pseudo-Nazi surgeon added a zip to his face without his consent – why would you compound his misery by continuing to call him Zippy? Surely you’d change his name at the earliest opportunity, call him James or Timothy or Geoffrey Junior or something. If I adopted a mute kid who’d been rendered paraplegic following a hit and run incident, I wouldn’t greet him each morning with a cheery: “Hey Chairy, what do you want for breakfast?” before wheeling him down a hill for not answering quickly enough.

zipNever mind just changing his name; we have one of the greatest healthcare systems in the world. Why has Geoffrey never referred Zippy to the hospital for surgery? That, I’m sure, is what any one of us would do if Zippy ever landed in our care. We’d help him. We’d fix his face and help him to reclaim his dignity. We probably wouldn’t look at him and say: “Cool zip you’ve got stitched through your face there, Zippy. That’ll be great for the times when I want you to shut the fuck up.”

The only scenario that makes sense is that the world of Rainbow exists only inside the mind of Geoffrey, who is in reality an unemployed alcoholic and heavy drug-user. He sits all day long in a dowdy, ply-panelled bedsit, with lank, greasy hair and no teeth, waiting for his social workers Rod, Jane and Freddy to visit, rubbing his arms raw and rocking and crying in the corner chanting: “Naughty Geoffrey, going to zip you up. Don’t zip me up momma, don’t zip ol’ Geoffrey up. Oh, I’m gonna zip you up, Geoffrey, no son of mine be lisping like some pink hippo. Gonna speak proper or momma gonna skin you like a bear and zip you up, zip you right up in the mouth. OH NO, MOMMA, DON’T ZIP OL’ GEOFFREY UP, I LOVES YOU MORE’N THE RAINBOW, MOMMA! MORE’N THE RAINBOW!”

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And with that, I’m off to buy the complete box-set of In the Night Garden.

When people take pictures of your kids

snapWe went on a family trip to Glasgow last week to visit the Glasgow Transport Museum (now housed within the Riverside Museum at Pointhouse Quay) and the Tall Ship (which is moored behind the museum).

The Transport Museum is great if you love having exactly sixteen seconds to admire each display before being surrounded by a crowd of feral, elbowing families, who envelop you like something out of World War Z. Probably best to avoid the museum unless you happen to be a nostalgic, history-loving giraffe. Especially since a large proportion of the exhibits are displayed on shelves fifty feet in the air (I mean, I know Glasgow has a few issues with car theft, but surely that’s excessive).

car3The Transport Museum has a penny-pressing machine. We can never pass one without taking home a souvenir. You place a pound coin and a penny into the slot, and turn a wheel to press the penny into a flat oval embossed with a little picture, and description, of the place you’re visiting. Yes, they’re tacky little pier-side trinkets, but time’s fast march will transform them into priceless treasures, especially once my partner and I are in the ground being pressed into flat ovals of dust and gloop by the inescapable might of bio-chemistry. Depending on how good a job we do raising our children to be sensitive, sentimental beings, there’s every chance they might try to flog them on Ebay the second we’re dead.

I sat in an old tram with my young son as my partner busied off to the machine. As she stood fishing in her purse for coins, a jolly German giant approached her and asked if he could trouble her for a penny. He was a stout, rotund fella with a perma-smile and a big beard, whose giganticness was more horizontal than vertical. Imagine a Tolkein dwarf who’s red-cheeked and merry after his first four vodkas of the night.

I didn’t know the gent was German at the time, you understand. He wasn’t kitted out in lederhosen and loudly apologising for the war or anything like that. I inferred his nationality later in the timeline of this story, information I could’ve imparted to you in a more natural and fluid manner, but doing so would’ve robbed me of the use of the deliciously alliterative phrase ‘jolly German giant’.

tramsThe jolly German giant took the wheel of the machine straight after my partner had picked up her flattened knickknack. Before placing his money in the slot he spent a full two minutes staring into the mechanism with wide-eyed wonder, spinning the wheel around and around, and acting for all the world like a child who’d been turned into a man by a haunted speak-your-future machine at a Coney Island fairground.

“What the hell is wrong with that guy?” I asked my partner as she joined us on the old tram.

“He’s happy.”

I shook my head. “Fucking lunatic.”

I noticed he had a high-tech camera fastened to a strap around his neck. He lifted it up and snapped a picture of the machine, before peppering the wall-of-high-shelved cars with a barrage of clicks.

maxresdefaultWe walked outside and boarded the tall ship. On the decks there were four little barrels filled with water, each with a tiny brush sticking out of them. As my son seems to have inherited my partner’s mild OCD and love of cleaning, he was more than happy to lift out a brush and start swabbing the decks pirate-style, a task he would’ve doubtless spent the whole day engaged in had we let him. I could feel my partner’s eyes boring into me and sending me a stern, unspoken message: ‘See? That’s how you pick up a brush, you big swine.’

The wee guy looked adorable in his shorts, sandals and jaunty bunnet, as he attacked the grime of the deck with a single-minded zeal. I was felled by his cuteness. “We’ve got to get a picture of this,” I said. I wasn’t the only one who thought so. The jolly German giant appeared at our side, his camera raised like a rifle. Before we knew what was happening he’d snipered off a shot. Click! He gave us a wide, beaming grin. “He looks like a little sailor,” he said, shaking his head at the adorableness of it all before bounding off down the deck. He wasn’t whistling, but he was walking like he should have been.

I stood frozen to the spot, certain that something awful had happened but unable for the moment to articulate it.

“Did he…?”

My partner nodded.

“I mean, should we be bothered by that?” I asked.

“I don’t know…” she said.

“He should’ve asked our permission,” I said, the sound of my son’s swishing adding a staccato rhythm to my thoughts. “Which we wouldn’t have given.”

My partner winced. Then tilted her head back and forth. Then shrugged. “I guess it’s okay. I mean, I don’t think he meant any harm.”

I felt uneasy. At worst, I’d failed to act to protect my son’s safety and interests. At best, I’d allowed my authority as a parent to be usurped by a stranger. My own social conditioning had rendered me static and mute: wanting to preserve the status quo, not wanting to cause a fuss, always aiming to be cordial and polite.  Irritation twitched in my toes, sparking a chain-reaction of nerve-signals that rocketed up my leg and culminated in a controlled explosion of anger in my belly. My chest tightened. A lump formed in my throat. My brain had bees dancing across it. My lip curled into a snarl, and before I could make a rational and considered assessment of the situation and calmly decide my next course of action, I was already striding down the ship in the direction of the departed German.

“I’m going to find that guy,” I called back.

“Oh, Christ, Jamie, not again!”

“Keep the wee guy safe,” I said, suddenly wishing I’d had a pair of shades to hand. It felt somehow very cinematic, despite the fact that I was a red-faced, disgruntled, pot-bellied lanky-pants, and not Arnold Schwarzenegger.

decksWe don’t put pictures of our son on-line. Obviously, there’s a stranger-danger element. Once a photo hits cyberspace, even if it’s only shared with people you know on Facebook, you lose custody of it. Facebook is like a many-tentacled space octopus, its connections and degrees-of-separation almost impossible to chart or quantify. You never really know who’s watching, or why.

And then there’s the old-fashioned argument: that if tens, hundreds or thousands of people have ready access to your memories then those memories cease to feel as special. Better to have complete ownership of, and the exclusive distribution rights to, the unfolding storybook of your children’s lives. Better to have sets of physical photobooks to flick through as a family in the years to come, in the knowledge that only the people closest to you have been privileged enough to see them (‘But wait, Jamie, aren’t you ceaselessly blogging about your son’s life as it unfolds, I mean, isn’t that even more of an intimate thing to share than a set of photographs; don’t you think that makes you a bit of a hypocr…[imaginary opponent struggles against the onset of a chloroform knock-out, as I press the soaked rag to their mouth]’ “Shhhhh, shhhhh. Sleep now, shhhhhhh.”).

Lastly, look at how celebrity impacts on celebrities: the paparazzi, the flash photography, the front-page scoops and four-page spreads. It turns a lot of them into arrogant, conceited assholes. Facebook is doing a good job of donating a big box of celebrity-lite crowns to the masses; it’s like an on-line Hello magazine for the less significant, allowing people to become pseudo-stars in their own social circles, if not society at large. Look how narcissistic we’ve become. CHALLENGE ACCEPTED! What challenge? The challenge to post even more pictures of yourself on-line than you did yesterday? Yeah, but SOCIAL ISSUES, SOCIAL AWARENESS, SOCIAL JUSTICE, stop pooing on our parades, you meanie, we’re trying to save the world with these pictures of ourselves… and if we happen to look kind and successful – and smoking hot, incidentally, if we do say so ourselves – while doing it, then all the better!

trumanThere’s no way to know exactly what effect being displayed to the world from the moment of birth will have on our kids. In any case, I’m pretty sure The Truman Show was meant as a cautionary tale. We’re out. When he’s old enough to consent to having his picture disseminated to the world at large, then he can make that decision for himself. Although if some movie producer were to offer us £1m for our son to have a starring role in a Hollywood blockbuster, we might have to re-evaluate our stance on the matter.

Back to the boat.

I scoured every inch of it: my nostrils flared out, my swagger in full swing. Up stairs, down stairs, through dark and noisy lower decks, behind this, in front of that, here, there and everywhere.

Just as I was about to give up and resign myself to failure, I spied the jolly German giant sitting upon a bench on the shore, just about to tuck into a sandwich. I crossed the gang-plank and strode towards him, all of the possible scenarios of our imminent meeting playing out in my mind: me calling the police, me punching him, me throwing his expensive camera into the sea, me throwing the German into the sea.

imagesI sat down next to him, and stared ahead, like a spymaster about to pass details of a top-secret mission to his agent.

“I know you’re an amateur photographer, and you didn’t mean any harm, but I’m going to have to ask you to delete the picture you took of my son.”

I turned and looked him in the eyes. His jolly grin was gone. “Of course, of course,” he said, setting down his sandwich and groping for his camera. My anger was gone. I was reasonably certain that the sandwich-gobbling snapper wasn’t a nonce, but at this point it didn’t matter. Still, even with right on my side, it was an immensely awkward conversation. I had to reassure this guy that I didn’t think he was a paedophile while at the same time making it clear that I thought he might just be a paedophile. Schrodinger’s paedophile?

“You understand, we don’t even post pictures of our own son on Facebook.”

“It’s your choice, I’m sorry, I should have asked you first. I did not mean to cause distress. I will of course delete it,” he said, fiddling with the buttons on the camera.

He was cordial, sincere and deferent. All the same…

“I don’t want to sound like an asshole here, but could I watch you do it? Could you show me?”

He showed me. I had sounded like an asshole. Buto nly because I was a Scottish guy using the word ‘asshole’ and not the more colloquially appropriate ‘arsehole’ or even ‘bawbag’.

“Thank you,” I said as I got up and walked off towards the boat again. I patted my pockets. Still no shades.

As I re-boarded the boat, I realised something important: I’d spent so long scouring the decks for the jolly German giant that I had no idea where my partner and young son were.

What a fine job I did of protecting them.

PS: The picture the German took wasn’t very good. It was snapped at a weird diagonal angle. That proves one of two things: 1) he really was a paedophile, or 2) he was just a really shite photographer.

Or both I suppose.

MORE ARTICLES ON PARENTHOOD

Co-sleeping kids: banished from the bed

Happy Father’s Day… to me?

On the horror of taking your child to hospital

A Celebration of Public Breastfeeding

Existential Nightmare at the Soft-play Warehouse

Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

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Quiver, Mortals, for I am the Hero of Edinburgh Zoo

100_3490We took our son to the zoo as a birthday treat last week. As I was holding him in my arms above the red river hog enclosure (African piggy things that look like the warthog from The Lion King), his Captain America cap tumbled from his head and fell twenty feet to the ground below. One of the pigs was snouting and snuffling its way across the enclosure, on a direct course to intercept the cap with its hungry jaws. It had already half-devoured a large paper packet that contained the remnants of its latest meal, and we had no reason to doubt, as it drew closer and closer to my son’s favoured headwear, that we’d be saying bye bye to the Cap cap once and for all. The pig nudged and drooled at the cap with its wet snout, before pushing it aside like a hockey puck and continuing on its slobbery way. We breathed a sigh of relief. There was still hope.

I took the wee guy down the steps at the side of the enclosure, handed him to his momma and strolled down the hill, a strong sense of purpose propelling my limbs. I stood with the palms of my hands pressed against the top of the first of the two fences that marked the perimeter of the pigs’ domain. What sort of a father would leave his son’s favourite cap – a superhero cap, no less – to rot in a piggy prison when it was within his power to put things right? What sort of a father would leave an injustice-shaped hole in the fabric of his son’s burgeoning universe, and turn a blind eye to the hot tears of frustration coursing down his cherubic little cheeks? Not on my watch, universe. Not for this pot-bellied father!

“Jamie, it’s okay, he doesn’t really care. Look, he’s happy, let’s just go see the flamingos, he’s perfectly fine.”

But I could tell that he was dying inside, the poor little bastard. We all knew what was about to happen…

“Don’t you even think about it,” she said, as my fingers started twitching, and my arms started flexing. “Don’t you bloody embarrass me, Jamie.”

Huh! And I guess Iron Man was embarrassing, was he? When he was SAVING THE WORLD? Oooh, don’t save the world, Iron Man, you’ll give me a red neck. I’ll never be able to show my face at the lunch club for ladies, let’s just forget this silly baddy fighting malarkey and go out for some tapas?!

“Honestly, we’ll find a zoo keeper and they can fetch the hat later. It’s okay: you don’t need to do this.”

Huh! And come back to the remnants of a half-devoured hero’s hat, and see the sickening smiles of satisfaction under the snouts of those wicked beasts? Tell you what, why don’t we just throw our son over the fence and be done with it. No, that hat is coming back to us, by God, or I’ll be gored to death trying. AVENGER ASSEMBLE!!

hogWith all of my might, I hurtled myself over the imposing three-foot fence, bounded forward two feet and then mustered all of my remaining reserves of strength – both physical and mental – to clear the hellish bulk of the second three-foot fence barring my way. I may even have beat my chest like a gorilla, I can’t honestly recall, the adrenaline was running too high.

I trailed a gaggle of pigs behind me like the Pied Piper of Ham-lin (I just high-fived myself) as I strode across the enclosure. I bent down and heroically scooped up the cap and held it aloft in my fingers of justice. Snuffle, snuffle, gobble, ruffle, snort. The pigs advanced on me like a rash of hairy asthmatic tumours, their tusks trained on me like spears. I could almost hear the Indiana Jones music playing in my ears as I vaulted the two fences to the safety of the main thoroughfare.

“Well,” I said with a Ferris Buellerian smirk as I handed the cap back to my adoring son. “What do you think about that?”

“Oh, Jamie,” my partner said, as she struggled not to faint with relief and admiration. “I really, really, really want to check our boy into a crèche and have you sex the fuck out of me right here against the very fence that was the site of your greatest act of raw, almost over-powering machismo. Give me that noble, selfless penis, give me it right here and now, you bloody warrior.”

Well, perhaps I’m paraphrasing ever-so-slightly. What she actually said was:

“You fucking idiot.”

292457_421261067939971_1651654860_nI just smiled. Because that’s when you know you’re a real hero. When you’re not hero-ing for the praise. You’re just hero-ing because… well, because you don’t know how to be anything God damned else. It was at that precise moment I realised that Nickelback had probably penned their song with me in mind.

“Now let’s go,” I said, puffing out my chest, “before a zoo keeper comes along and gives me a telling off.”

We hot-footed it out of there.

Just as Captain America himself would have done.

My good lady was still shaking her head. “You do realise those pigs are about as dangerous as the ones at Muiravonside Country park?”

I scoffed. “That’s the sort of talk that got Steve Irwin killed.”

Hero status: intact.

PS: If he’d dropped his hat in the chimp or tiger enclosure, I’d’ve taken the £8 hit.


MORE ZOO-RELATED TOMFOOLERY IN MY NEXT PIECE ON PANDAS AND POKEMON

Additional animal mayhem from the archives

The time I killed a snake in Turkey…

2012 trip to the safari park: Part 1

2012 trip to the safari park: Part 2

Dealing with grief:the death of three rats and a dog

Why I’d love to live under a dictatorship

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I sometimes watch the news and find myself unable to process and interpret the dizzying, conflicting array of agendas, voices, wants, desires, schemes, half-truths, un-truths, exaggerations and lies. How I long for a simpler existence. Unless you’re in the 1 per cent – or one of those lizard people that David Icke’s always banging on about – nothing you say, think or do matters anyway. Free thought and moral relativism are exhausting. So I’ve been dreaming about a different world. A better world… Imagine it with me.

Instead of humming and hawing, and deliberating, and debating, and compensating, and weighing consequences, and wondering who’s telling the truth, and trying to work out whose image is being manipulated by which media outlet and why, and reading articles, and journals, and manifestos, and pamphlets by the library-load in a vain, ever-futile attempt to work out why you should care, what you should do, how you should think, who you should trust, and why, why, why, a thousand times why… wouldn’t it be refreshing just to wake up in a world where a man went on television, stood on a flag-draped podium and shouted, ‘DO WHAT I SAY OR I’LL FUCKING KILL YOU.’

Yes, of course it would be horrible. But wouldn’t it also be, you know, awesome?

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The more I think about it, the more I’m certain that I would have thrived under a dictatorship. School would’ve been an absolute doddle. When you live in a totalitarian state you usually find that the most important book in the school syllabus is a book of poetry that the dictator has written to commemorate Squiggles, his dead guinea pig. I would’ve been an A+ student.

“When our dear leader wrote that he ‘loved ickle wittle Squiggles little face’, and then went on to say that ‘he missed that fuwwy, fwuffy, cuddwee wittle face’ I cried for six days. And rhyming ‘face’ with ‘face’? Such a strikingly bold choice, but then our dear leader is nothing if not strikingly bold, may he reign for another ten million years, and may his enemies drown in hot gallons of their own blood. PS: On that note, Little Jimmy Graham in class 2B said that guinea pigs are vermin and eat their own poo, so I wonder if perhaps he needs a spell of ‘mandatory re-education’ in the Airdrie gulag? PPS: I wonder if he’ll be needing his new Nike Airs in the gulag. I’d be more than happy to look after them.”

And there’s another awesome aspect of living life under the iron fist: the ability to have your rivals – or even just people who happen to blow their nose in a rather irritating way – carted off to prison or the afterlife with the minimum of effort.

“Dear State Bureau of Citizen Improvement for the Glory of Our Mighty Leader,

Last night, just after my Dad confiscated the Xbox controllers from me for giving him cheek, he went into his bedroom and said to my mum, ‘Dictator? Dick…taker more like!’ He also quite clearly and audibly insinuated that he had a bigger penis than our great leader.

PS: any chance you could ask him where he’s stashed the controllers as you lead him crying and screaming from the house? ”

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REPORT CARD SUMMARY – Jamie Andrew

School: The Merciful and Munificent Leader’s Institution for the Inculcation and Responsibilisation of Our Great Republic’s Pre-Citizens Junior High

MATHS – A+

  1. 2 + 2 = whatever our Dear Leader tells me it equals.
  2. If x + y(2) – c(a) / 245.76 X yy2(cos24), is it the fault of the Jews? = Yes.
  3. Describe Pythagoras’ theorem = No. Pythagoras was a reactionary intellectual separatist whose belief in angles is a threat to the mighty secular perfection of the Great republic. Also, almost definitely a black Jewish homosexual.

ENGLISH – A+

“Animal Farm, by the treacherous bastard Eric Blair, is a piece of pernicious capitalist propaganda that says more about the author’s barely concealed sexual attraction to pigs than it does about life in our glorious republic. All copies of this book should be burned, and its author’s bones disinterred and pooed upon. Besides, if it’s a good book about pigs you’re after, you can’t beat ‘Without Rhyme or Reason: The Tragic Death of Squiggles.’”

MUSIC – A+

Essay: “Our Dear Leader’s fingers do not stretch over the fret of a guitar, therefore guitars are flawed, and possibly a plot by our enemies to humiliate our Dear Leader, which is why I spent a semester confiscating 7000 guitars from the local community, recording the noise of me smashing each of them to pieces with a hammer, and releasing the finished edit as the number 1 hit single, ‘Guitar Ownership is a Capital Offence by Decree of our Benevolent and Magnificent Leader, May All his Wanks be Uninterrupted and Unhurried.’”

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With school finished – and aced – I’d be straight on to a long, successful career in the Ministry of Propaganda where I’d be writing school text books, newspaper reports and government missives. Like:

“Americans: do they really bathe their young in Coca Cola, and have sex with hawks? Yes. Yes they do.”

“The French speak of freedom and revolution. They also use cheese as a deodarant and play with their uncles’ dicks. Don’t listen to them.”

“Why the Spanish are almost certainly a nation of transsexuals who enjoy sex with dead whales that they dress up like giant flamenco dancers.”

“Forcing the Germans to build a wall to help us keep the Germans out of our country: the importance of sniper turrets.”

Work is often a place of stagnation, a repetitive, soul-sucking dirge that booms in your brain until you shuffle off to the grave with a carriage clock tucked under your oxster. Imagine how much more exciting it would be if your working week was a hot-bed of attempted assassinations and high-stakes mud-slinging, where Friday would quickly inherit the acronym TFISA (Thank fuck I’m still alive). Retirement wouldn’t just be a relief. It would be a real achievement. Like completing Halo on Legendary without getting shot once.

At this point, please feel free to imagine me letting out a wistful sigh. (pause for wistful sigh) Ah, those were… well, not those were the days, I suppose, because they never happened. But those should’ve been the days. Those could still be the days.

Do they advertise dictator vacancies at the Job Centre?

A few words on death

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I think about death. A lot. I was thinking about it today. Thinking about how all of us, no matter our views on nudity, modesty or the sanctity of the body, will inevitably find ourselves lying dead and naked on a slab with some poe-faced mortuary attendant hunched over us with a clip-board. That’s the best case scenario. Worst case, some psychopathic medical student will be playing keepy-uppy with our severed balls or tits. On the bright side, we’ll be dead and we won’t give a shit either way. Regardless, I want them to know, these ghouls. I want them to know that I’ve lived my life accepting the allignment of my destiny with theirs. I want to communicate with them from beyond the grave. I was thinking a stomach tattoo. I’m torn between I KNOW A NECROPHILIAC WHEN I SEE ONE and YOU’RE NEXT. I’m open to suggestions.

That led me to thinking about people who work in funeral parlours. Do undertakers and mortuary assistants have appraisals at work? What form do they take?

Funeral director: probably the most hilarious of all the professions

Funeral director: probably the most hilarious of all the professions

Well, Colin, thank you for attending your annual review today. For starters, can you tell me anything that you think you’ve done well in the mortuary over the last twelve months, anything you’re particularly proud of?”

Hmmmm… well, of all the bodies I’ve tended to this year, less than thirty per cent of them ended up looking like Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight.”

A real improvement on last year, Colin. Now, can you think of any way that you could make your processes more efficient?”

We could… put the make-up on people while they’re still alive in the hospice, get them in and out faster on the day?”

“Oh, that’s brilliant, I’ll make a note of that.”

Face-painting?”

I’m not sure I follow…”

Well, I’m always at a loose-end during the funeral itself, but if people brought their kids I could set up in a side-room and do their faces up like cats and wizards and that. Charge five pound a face.”

(nodding vigorously) And then, if any of the adults are particularly upset as they file out of the service, they’ll come out, turn a corner and…”

BAM. Wee guy with a tiger face.”

Wee guy with a tiger face!”

I know a tiger face would cheer me up.”

Oh, me too, Colin, that’s….BRILLIANT! You’d just have to make sure to wash the brushes out before you used them on the kids’ faces.”

I could just use different brushes.”

(claps hands together, frantically scrawls in notepad) This must be how Mr Miagi felt in the Karate Kid! Any other initiatives?”

(ponders) You know, when people think funeral procession, they think sssllllow. But why does it have to be slow? If the drivers absolutely caned it, we could squeeze in a few extra funerals every day, plus the mourners would be too distracted to be depressed.”

Make it more fun!”

Make it more fun. Give the hearses a siren like Ecto-1 from the Ghostbusters. People would go crazy for that shit. Give the guy with the big top hat who traditionally walks in front of the procession a quad bike.”

Jesus Christ, Colin, you’re taking me to funeral director school today, son!”

Maybe this is a little too radical, but how do you feel about group discounts for bonfires?”

hearse

I would hate to be a mortician or an undertaker. Imagine coming home frisky and angling for sex. I imagine there’d be an insistent, unshooshable voice in my partner’s head saying to her: “How the hell can he be horny after looking at dead bodies all day? Unless… oh God, he isn’t horny BECAUSE of the dead bodies, is he? I swear to Christ, if he tells me to stop moving around so much I’ll snip his dick off…”

How could you ever feel horny ever again? I know there are some strange aphrodisiacs in this world, but recently-deceased 87-year-old Gladys McLintoch surely isn’t one of them. Sex and death are inextricably linked, and sometimes proximity to death, and fear of mortality, can trigger the reproductive instinct; that being said, most normal guys wouldn’t gaze down at the face of a dearly departed old granny, allow a lop-sided leer to slip across their lips, and think to themselves: ‘The wife’s going to be walking like John Wayne when I’m done with her tonight.’ 

One final thought: do hearse drivers get to take their work vehicles home and use them recreationally, like taxi drivers do? “Well, it’s an absolute bastard to reverse park the thing, but it’s so good for the weekly shop. I can fit in the bog paper, washing powder, everything.” 

When your kid goes from angel… to Hell’s Angel

behaveangelImagine the scene. Your kid is on the cusp of becoming a toddler. They spend their days teetering around, swishing behind them a rainbow of babbles, innocence and light. They seem to tip-toe across rooms like a lady at an etiquette school balancing books on her bonce, their little head wobbling gently in the manner of an acquiescent Indian’s, but holding firm and steady, their gaze fixed on some far-off and unseen horizon.

There are, however, no books resting atop that diminutive dome, only a single, solitary halo, round and bright and smooth and solid, a perfect crown for a perfect kid. The halo will stay, of that you’re certain, permanent proof of your supremacy as parents. The concept of sharing? Tick. A sweet, happy and loving disposition? Tick. Absence of tantrums? Tick. You’ve done everything right, in fact you’ve re-written the rule book, and made right look positively, prehistorically left. Hundreds of thousands of years of child-rearing distilled and crystalised into the body of that zen-like little creature you’ve gifted to the world. If you had a mic you’d drop it, walk past a billion-strong crowd of parents with a sneer on your lips and a swagger in your step: “Suck our block-rocking cocks, Doctor Spock! Mum and dad out! ”

I remember the days well. When our little boy was very small, my partner and I would find ourselves in restaurants, or soft-plays, or attending children’s parties, surveying the raft of shrieking, wailing, kicking, screaming, biting, slapping demon spawn around us; we’d observe the scarlet-faced, coarse-voiced frustration of their parents, and we’d each raise a silent furry eyebrow in the other’s direction. Our eyebrows would receive such regular and herculian workouts that it’s a wonder the juts of our brows weren’t rendered cro-magnan with the extra layers of muscle.

Afterwards, in the car or safely back home, we’d dissect the scenes, two Glasgow tenament women gossiping over a fence, arrogance and self-righteousness flooding from our mouths like bile-flavoured milkshakes: “Did you see it when that kid hit that other kid? Oh, I know, and then when he… yeah, and then that little girl, you know the one, the one with the messy big face, when she kicked that boy in the… oh, I know, I know. And when that kid stole that sandwich from the smaller kid and shoved it in his mouth, and the mother just… well, she just sat there… I mean, our kid would never do that, never, and even if he did, well, I mean, we simply wouldn’t stand for it, would we?” No, of course that wouldn’t happen to us. Impossible. I mean, that’s a halo on his head, not a hoopla. It’s fixed. It’s everlasting. We’ve won at parenting, that’s what that halo means.

It’s the age-old tale. Just as you’re busy awarding yourself with a machine-gun volley of self-congratulatory slaps on the back, a funny thing happens…

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Your kid turns into a fucking asshole.

That’s right, people. A beautiful, wonderful, magnificent asshole, sure, but an asshole none-the-less. They push kids. They snatch toys. They hurtle down the aisles of the supermarket whooping and laughing, their ears closed to your hollers of protestation. They lob their dinner at the cat. They lob the cat at their dinner. They start ritually sacrificing goats and glugging the blood like wine.

The transformation doesn’t happen overnight. At least it didn’t for us. I still remember the day when the bubble of our hubris was loudly and decisively popped, in public, during a trip to the safari park. The lion’s share of the day (forgive me) had passed without incident; our darling boy had cooed at the elephants, stood enthralled by the giraffes, and laughed his little ass off at the meerkats. It was a time of great joy, and peace, just like all the rest of our times. Why should this day be any different? In retrospect, it was the most apposite time for the universe to send this particular piano of truth crashing down atop our heads.

My son, as we learned that day – and have never forgotten – is highly skilled at perfectly timing his tantrums and manic episodes to coincide with those moments where we find ourselves trapped and unable to pull free from the orbit of his naughtiness. Like, for example, when we’re crammed into a small boat with twenty-five strangers en route to Chimp Island.

chimp boat

I had been excited. “I wonder what those chimps are going to get up to,” I said to my partner. “The reason these boats have cages around them isn’t simply to protect us from an audacious chimp attack or prevent us from falling overboard. They’re there to protect us from the rocks and sticks the chimps like to hurl at the boats. Not to mention clumps of their own shite. God, I’ll bet they’re going to go absolutely mental, and jump around and throw shite at us. Oh please say that they’ll do all that, please, I can’t wait to see them go crazy!”

Disappointingly, and perhaps unsurprisingly, they did nothing. They just stood there on the shore, staring mutely at us, bored and weary looks weighing down their ancient hairy faces. My son instantly siezed the opportunity to show his lesser cousins how boisterousness was done, homo sapien-style, claiming centre stage for himself. He writhed and flailed in my arms, shrieking like a banshee in a house-fire, his little limbs pumping like pistons oiled by evil. He occasionally ceased his shrieks to sink his tiny little teeth into the soft flesh of my shoulder. I had to hold him back, and aloft, like he was some psychopathically recalcitrant zombie Scrappy Doo. All eyes on the boat turned to us: the hairless missing links that were infinitely more interesting to behold than the sluggish, half-arsed primates across the water.

Water, I thought. I’ll give him a drink of his water; that’ll distract him. Well, it did, and it didn’t. He started loading it into his mouth like liquid ammunition and spitting it everywhere, raining down globs of watery child saliva upon the shoulders of those poor souls  unfortunate enough to find themselves in our immediate vicinity. Never have so many sorries been uttered in such a short a space of time to so many by so few. I could already hear the judgements and condemnations forming in their minds, as they prepared to engage in the same sorts of conversations that we’d always enjoyed having about other people’s naughty children. It’s funny how you find yourself playing to the gallery during those moments, loudly spelling out the extenuating circumstances behind your child’s behaviour for all to hear. “He’s not normally like this… I SAID HE’S NOT NORMALLY LIKE THIS, CAN YOU HEAR ME AT THE BACK UP THERE?! I’LL SAY IT MORE LOUDLY, I SAID HE’S NOT NORMALLY LIKE THIS!”

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A few weeks ago we attended an American friend’s fourth of July barbecue. Naturally, we dressed Jack in a Captain America costume, complete with superhero shield. I had been very close to ordering my partner and I Uncle Sam hats and Obama masks for the occasion. Thank Christ I didn’t, because when we arrived there was nothing identifiably American about the occasion, save for the host herself. I blame my misconceptions on Rocky IV, which I’ve obviously interpreted as some sort of cultural documentary. I dread to think how we would have dressed our kid had we been invited to a Hindu celebration.

Anyway, our wee guy was five to eight months older than most of the kids at the barbecue, and was long overdue a nap. As a consequence, his ‘well-developed concept of sharing’ was buried deep within a fog of pissiness. He snatched books and toys from the smaller kids, and knocked them over like pins at a bowling arcade. You feel paralysed at times like this. People who have no frame of reference for your kid’s behaviour will naturally assume that you’ve raised an asshole. You want to chide your kid, to show that you’re not a passive parent who tolerates unruly behaviour, but at the same time you feel you have to hold back your sterner inclinations because you also don’t want to come across as the boom-voiced, authoritarian dick you are at home. I just ended up sounding like Hooks from Police Academy, with an apologetic, wobbly whisper escaping from my mouth in the mould of ‘Don’t move… dirtbag,’ followed by a muttered string of, ‘He’s not normally like this-es’ and ‘He’s a wee sweetheart at home-s.’

Don’t misunderstand. Our boy isn’t the devil. He’s still a sweet, bright, caring and loving little person, and thoroughly well-behaved the vast majority of the time, which is one way of saying that the beatings are working. He’s never surly or aggressive or violent, he just occasionally likes to flaunt his moxy, and wear a look on his face that says: ‘There hasn’t been a naughty step built that can hold me, motherfuckers.’

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I guess the occasional bout of bad behaviour is par for the course at certain stages of a child’s development. And sometimes what we class as bad behaviour is a by-product of limits being tested or the flexing some new found muscle of freedom or experience. It’s our job to introduce him to consequences and responsiblity, certainly, and to socialise him, and protect him from the unfiltered excesses of his own ego and the punishments he might face from those outside the family with a less forgiving eye, but it’s also our job to understand what he’s thinking and how he’s feeling, and ask ourselves why he might be behaving in a certain way. We owe him that. Sometimes he’s hungry, sometimes he’s tired, sometimes he lacks the language skills to convey his feelings and communicate his desires, which can lead to frustration. Sometimes, when we make an effort to trace the genesis of a particular action or behaviour, we’ll discover that we, the parents, are the unwitting Kaiser Szozes.

For instance, we’ll chase him around the house telling him we’re going to eat his legs off, and then react with shock and anger when he later runs up to us and sinks his teeth into our leg. Or we’ll make the experience of teeth-brushing more fun by preceding it with a round-the-house, laughter-filled chase, and then lose our shit when he decides it would be funny to replicate the chase in a busy supermarket when we’re lugging heavy baskets of fresh produce. This is one reason we’ll never smack or strike him. What will you then do if your child hits someone? Hit them harder? To teach them about the abuse of power and hypocrisy?

We’re learning that the toddler years, especially as we prepare to enter the infamous ‘terrible twos’, are a period of constant adjustment and correction, of our behaviour as much as his.

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It’s reasonably easy to predict what a baby will do. But as a baby becomes a toddler becomes a child becomes a teenager becomes an adult, the range of possibilities stretched before them – of thought, of action, of mood, of mind, of experience – increases a million-fold, transforming the relationship between cause and effect into a dizzying, ever-multiplying web of connections. They’re exposed to other kids, other family members, other adults in your friend circle, strangers, the TV, a multitude of new sounds and smells and toys and concepts. Life is complex, and complicated, and so’s your kid.

What I’m saying is, should ever see our little boy dashing around a supermarket with a mischevious glint in his eye as we lumber after him like angry dog-catchers, or hear me roaring in pain because my darling son has just sprinted towards me and sunk his teeth into my crotch, please reserve your judgement. I promise to do the same for you. And keep your eyes trained on the empty space above his skull. If you screw up your eyes and strain really hard, you’ll still be able to see the faint outline of a halo. Not quite as bright as it once was. Maybe not as perfectly round. But it’s there.

I promise you it’s still there.

MORE ARTICLES ON PARENTHOOD

Co-sleeping kids: banished from the bed

Happy Father’s Day… to me?

On the horror of taking your child to hospital

A Celebration of Public Breastfeeding

Existential Nightmare at the Soft-play Warehouse

Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

The CW’s Arrow: one in the eye for logic

arrow1Enjoyment of the superhero series Arrow requires a steel-reinforced suspension of disbelief. Don’t come to Arrow expecting the gritty, heightened reality of a Christopher Nolan project, or the air-tight, all-bases-covered, intricate plotting of the likes of your Wires and Breaking Bads, and especially don’t come to it expecting rich and subtle dialogue a la Better Call Saul, Transparent or The Sopranos. Your only choice is to wholeheartedly embrace Arrow’s two-fingered salute to sense, logic and reality, and simply revel in its slick ridiculousness. Switch off your reason-circuits and enjoy the glamorous, steroidal throat-punches that punctuate its cartoonish narrative.

This is a CW show, after all (apologies to the hyper-popular Supernatural and the exquisitely compulsive iZombie for the derogatory sneer). You know the basic template. All of the characters are ‘beautiful’, chiselled and dazzle-toothed, even those supposedly from the wrong side of the tracks, and living on the proceeds of crime and welfare in the unforgiving murk of the ghetto. People seem to spend their days trading clumsy snippets of exposition with each other. That’s when they’re not busy spelling out exactly how they’re feeling and why they’re feeling that way, at all times. Themes are hammered into your eyes like nails. Plots are always wrapped up with healthy helpings of coincidence, contrivance or deux ex machina. Or sex. If someone dies, you can bet your bottom dollar they’ll be back in an episode or five with a barely believable explanation for their survival.  

Furthermore, Oliver Queen is a ‘superhero’ who is rendered wholly invisible by a baggy hood pulled loosely over his face. No one ever tries to whip the hood off, even when they’re standing a half a centimetre away from him. And John Barrowman’s… a bad ass?

John Barrowman as 'The Black Arrow' in the CW's 'Arrow'.

John Barrowman as ‘The Black Arrow’ in the CW’s ‘Arrow’.

You see? That little voice – the one that watches TV and delights in shouting out, ‘Wait a minute, that could never happen, because x, y, z’ – must be silenced when watching Arrow. I’ve always done a pretty good job of suppressing that little voice. Until this week, when the fourth episode of season two turned my little voice into a crazed drill sergeant turned auctioneer.

I’ll set the scene. A black gangland boss calling himself ‘The Mayor’ rolls up to an army of cops in an armored personnel carrier. Flanked by a series of machine-gun-toting goons, The Mayor proceeds to give an angry and impassioned speech about guns, and how he’s going to use them to rule the city, ostensibly by killing lots of people with them. The violence is heavily sign-posted, to the other characters as well as to the audience. In fact, The Mayor couldn’t have less subtly foreshadowed the violence had he ended his speech by saying, ‘And now, without any further ado, and thanking you for your patience during my angry waffle about killing you, I am very pleased to announce the beginning of our bloodbath.’

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All the while the cops hunch uncertainly behind their squad cars, their guns drawn, just waiting for a cue to act, a cue to say something, a cue to do something, a concrete cue, an indisputable, cast-iron cue, but blast it, they can’t, because that cunning gang hasn’t done anything out of the ordinary, other than stand on a public street armed with automatic weapons threatening to kill everyone. Then The Mayor and his guys open fire. People dive for cover. Bullets pepper the squad cars. The cops wait a full six seconds before half-heartedly returning fire. By which point a significant proportion of the cops are dead.

Hmmm. Arrow expertly somersaulting through a horde of bullets and emerging unscathed? Women always having perfect hair even when imprisoned on a nightmarish island? John Barrowman being tougher than Chuck Norris? I can just about buy all of that. But to believe that American cops would hesitate to respond when faced with a heavily armed gang of black males in a deprived urban area – and not just hesitate, but allow themselves to be picked off like teen sluts in a 90s slasher flick? I’m sorry. In a world – in an all too real world – in which a well-heeled, unarmed black boy brandishing a hotdog is liable to end his day on a mortuary slab with fifty-six bullets ploughed into his chest, that’s just too much unreality for me.

I’m off to watch something a little more authentic, like Ben McKenzie’s acting on Gotham…

PS: I still love Arrow, even though every fibre of my being tells me that I shouldn’t.

Co-sleeping kids: banished from the bed

cosleep1A benchmark is looming in our lives, one I’d guess most parents have already reached by this stage in their children’s development. My little boy is nearly two, and since birth he’s shared our bedroom with us. For the first couple of months he slept in a Moses basket by our bed. After that, he graduated to a special stilted extension that clamps on to our double-bed on his mother’s side. Most nights he’s to be found spread-eagled across three-quarters of the total available area, forsaking his own little jutted corner and pushing his mum and me to the outer fringes of bed-space and beyond. Often my knees dangle over the spongy precipice of my side of the mattress, a faint sliver of duvet tugged sparingly to my body, an arrangement that brings warmth to a mere one shoulder and half a leg.

And I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Except now we have to.

Baby number two is arriving this November, and the bright torch of cosy snuggledom will have to be passed down from the eldest sibling to the newest. This makes it sound like a noble act in which my son is a willing participant. My language masks the fact that our son will probably interpret his relocation to his actual bedroom – or ‘the toy room’ as he surely thinks of it – as banishment; his position at the maternal breast usurped by a shrieking, snivelling little upstart with nothing in the way of special skills beyond the amazing ability to shit, sneeze, piss and cry all at the same time.

A random toddler, somewhere in the world, exhibiting that famous toddler scowl.

A random toddler, somewhere in the world, exhibiting that famous toddler scowl.

My son no longer breastfeeds. I guess his mum’s pregnancy hormones and a concomitant change in the composition of her milk convinced his taste buds that it was time to move on. He still stares at his mum’s breasts from time to time, with the same look on his face that you or I would wear if we spotted someone in the street with whom we were positive we’d once passed an evening, many years ago. Sometimes, when we’re all lying in bed for story time, he slips a hand down his mum’s top, buries it in her cleavage and says, ‘Comfy in there.’ (That’s my boy!) Then he’ll fall asleep, a fond look written across his tender little features somewhere between peace and triumph.

Breastfeeding was the main reason we decided to co-sleep, to make night feeds easier for mother and child (and, let’s face it, for Daddy too). I say ‘we’ decided. That’s not strictly accurate. My partner outlined the kind of mother she wanted to be, and I gladly and wholeheartedly supported it. I’m thankful every day that I was blessed to have children with a woman whose methods, which I’m sure will earn her the label of ‘new age mother’ or ‘hippy chick’ in some people’s eyes, hark back to a more mother-centric time. Had she decided to bottle feed and move our baby to his own room within a few months, I’m sure I would’ve supported that, too, but I’m grateful that she was able to open my eyes to the alternative; an alternative that I fast accepted as the definitive. That being said, I recognise that all mothers and couples have different stresses, commitments and priorities in their lives that don’t always easily accommodate the ways in which we’ve chosen to approach parenthood. I’m just glad we were able to find a way that works for us, and makes us all happy.

Even though my son’s suckling days – for both sustenance and comfort – are over, his continued presence in our room is about so much more than nurturing or convenience. It’s a gift. Each morning I wake up to find a little face smiling at me across his mother’s tummy. He’ll shout ‘Morning time’ and clamber over her legs to nuzzle in between us, cradling my face and giving me a big wet kiss on the lips. More and more frequently, as my fear of rolling over in my sleep and crushing him to death has subsided, I’ve woken to find him nestled in to the crook of my arm, and get to watch his tiny, delicate chest rising and falling, a series of soft little susurrations issuing from his lips. When I wake up, he wakes up, grabbing my hand and telling me, ‘Mon, Daddy, mon, morning time’, before sliding himself off the bed and demanding I follow him. The thought of not seeing his face in the fresh seconds of each new day, of not knowing he’s safe and with us – I mean with us, right with us – fills me with a suffocating sense of dread. I know he’ll only be a few feet away in another room, just along the smallest hallway in the world. I know we’ll all adapt and adjust as a family and nothing will be lost or broken. But still. My boy. My team. We should be together. Always. Even when we’re all snoring and farting in bed.

Whenever I do this, my last thought before drifting off is always 'Please don't let me kill the baby.'

Whenever I do this, my last thought before drifting off is always ‘Please don’t let me kill the baby.’

Because the vast majority of people in the Western world don’t co-sleep with their children – having the luxury of space and surplus bedrooms – our decision to do so is often greeted as if it were some weird new-age aberration. It amuses me when baby boomers and their elders scoff at co-sleeping, or somehow think it’s an unhealthy form of coddling, given that most of them grew up in one-bedroom tenements where they had to share a bed with eighty members of their extended family.

I know what you’re thinking, though. Conjugals, right? I guess there are a lot of husbands and partners who would baulk at the idea of co-sleeping with their kids for that very reason. Isn’t sharing your bed with a tiny human an impediment to sex with your partner? Well of course it is. But so is having kids in the first place. Besides, not having a bed to rely on forces you to make better use of things like walls, tables and washing machines. I’m conscious that the previous sentence makes it sound as though my life is an uninterrupted cavalcade of adventurous humping, when that may be over-egging the pudding somewhat. A child is a living reminder of death: your actual death, and the steady death of your recreational sex life. A lot of the time we’re too tired after long hours absorbing and deflecting the time-hungry hyperactivity of our unbowedly kinetic little human. Or else find that our supplies of sexiness and reservoirs of randiness have been depleted by the wiping up of one too many jobbies, or the fifty-sixth recitation in a row of Jack and the Beanstalk. Now that’s a passion killer. Especially when you later find yourself shouting out ‘Fee Fi Fo Fum’ at the point of ejaculation.

The next few months are going to tough for the three (soon to be four) of us, but we have to do what’s best for Jack and the new baby. We can’t risk the safety of our newest arrival if Jack decides to  object to the sharing of his domain, and we can’t subject Jack to a screaming wake-up call every two to three hours when his little brother or sister wakes up to feed. We’re going to have to help Jack adjust to the new reality in stages; make it seem like the bold, empowering and exciting journey towards independence that I guess, in many ways, it is.

Perhaps I’m worrying in the wrong direction here. For me, the only thing worse than the thought of my son being upset by his impending move is the thought that he won’t really give a shit about it one way or the other. And it’ll be me waking up at four in the morning with a heavy heart and a halted tear, creeping through to his room with a blanket and a pillow, begging to be close to him.

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Flies, Lies and Crime-fighting Dogs

 

Flies, Lies and Crime Fighting Dogs

fliesI hate flies. They repulse me. If there are too many of them occupying a room in which I’m planning to eat, then I can’t eat. Not until I’ve blasted each and every one of them from the sky with a precision towel flick, or taken the fight directly to them on every wall, ceiling and light-shade upon which they’re bold or stupid enough to land.

My 22-month-old son has observed the ritual many times. I settle down to eat, and before I’ve even ingested so much as a morsel one of the poo-eating ninjas whooshes out from behind a curtain and tries to 9/11 my mashed potatoes. I have to kill it. My jaws lock with disgust, my appetite drops dead. Before I can eat another forkful, I have to kill it, else I’ll spend the remainder of my meal-time imagining its filthy little body crunching between my teeth. So I jump and curse and flail and rage, mad-eyed and spitting, demanding that every human eye in the room become part of my fly-detecting CCTV network.

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It’s rubbed off on the wee guy. He’s become my most trusted fly-spotter. “Daddy… FLY!” he’ll shout any time he sees one, lifting a finger aloft to mark its final resting place. Sometimes it’s a spider, or a fleck of paint, but what he lacks in accuracy he makes up for in vigour. If you ask him, “What do we do with flies?”, he’ll smack his palms together in an almighty cymbal motion and start shouting ‘FLY! FLY DIE!’ And my heart will swell, and I’ll think, “That’s my boy!” I’m surely witnessing the first delicate shoots of his first verifiable inter-generational neuroses, handed down from father to son. It’s truly a landmark moment. So he probably won’t be a Buddhist… but if keeping flies alive is the cost of admission to Buddhism, then I’m glad to have priced my son out of that disease-saturated market. Death to Fly-SIS!

You’ve got to really think about the way your kids see the world at this age, and consider the things they’ll cut and paste from you and the world around them to compile their own personalities. We went to a funday at the weekend and watched a police dog display. Hitherto he’s considered dogs to be plodding, docile beasts that put up with his shit and occasionally lick his face. The police dog display taught him that these furry fuckers he looks upon so fondly are also capable of taking down a fully grown man with a bounding gallop and a single arm-snarling leap. As he watched the dog savage the downed policeman’s arm, I had to make it clear to him that this wasn’t the norm. I framed it for him thusly: “This dog is a special dog. It helps the police. It helps the police fight the baddies.” His face bunched up into a frown before breaking out into a smile. “Fight baddies!” he said, nodding to himself, before shouting out “BATMAN!”

batdog

“Yes, that’s right,” we told him, “the dog fights the baddies like Batman.” (He’s a big fan of the cartoon.) He then proceeded to spend the next five minutes pointing at the dog and shouting BATMAN over and over again. BATMAN! BATMAN! BATMAN! Rather than remark on how clever he was, bystanders unaware of the context in which he’d processed the dog’s actions might’ve thought we’d raised a fucking idiot.

I always want my son to see the mechanism behind things. I’ll probably clue him in on the whole Santa Claus cover-up when he’s a little bit older, so he can use the knowledge to hoodwink and manipulate his daft-ass school friends. Perhaps he’ll tell them that Santa’s a ferocious half-rat, half-alien killing machine that’ll kill them in their beds unless they leave a pile of their mum’s panties on the living room floor. Or that unless they all pay him a fiver each Santa won’t be able to afford enough magic dust to fly on Christmas Eve. The possibilities are endless. In my imagination, that is. Something tells me that my missus isn’t going to allow me to take our little boy’s dreams in my fist and crush them like rice cakes. Spoilsport!

badsanta

Just before I left the house last night I slipped a fake rubber hand up the sleeve of my jacket, and held my ‘hand’ out for my son to shake. At the climax of the handshake he found himself holding a disembodied human hand and staring at a bloodless stump on his dad’s arm. His world-shaking shock lasted only a second, before my real hand spat out of the stump accompanied by a happy TA-DA! “Pretend hand!” I smiled. “…tend hand,” he nodded. I then repeated the trick from the beginning a few times, showing him the whole process from start to finish. His mum did it for him too. He’s now cool and happy with the rubber hand, and I fully expect him to be using it to put the shits up his grandparents by Christmas. Unfortunately, I think part of him now believes two contradictory things at once: that I have two real hands, but also that one of my hands is fake. As I left the house and waved him goodbye with my real hand, he shouted: “Bye pretend hand!”

Is it possible to fuck someone up in a good way?

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Where have you been all my lives?

linlithgow

Linlithgow: driving through its heavily congested high street makes you feel like you’re stuck behind the funeral cortege of somebody you’ve always fucking hated.

A few years ago a friend and I visited a shop in Linlithgow that specialised in religious and spiritual bric-a-brac. It was a weird little place: the sort of place where the Bible and the Koran shared space on the bookshelf alongside titles like ‘How to Exorcise Satanic Monopoly Pieces’ and ‘Making Your Cursed Monkey Foot Work For You.’

I wish you could’ve seen it. It’s not there any more. I’d like to think it just vanished in a puff of smoke one day, or that it never actually existed and my whole experience of the place was an hallucination triggered by the proximity of some ancient and evil artefact. But there’s probably a more humdrum explanation: the place was just too bat-shit mental to turn a profit. A Needful Things where none of the things were needful, and the devil running the place wasn’t a very good salesman.

spider-jesus

When you first walked into Needless Things there was a giant Jesus on a crucifix hanging on the wall; a Native American dream-catcher bounced from the ceiling above a wooden statue of an axe-wielding Native American chief in full ceremonial head-dress; Buddha squatted on a little side-table in a corner of the room, and a stone Virgin Mary stood on the floor next to him. It made me smile. I’d seen Night at the Museum. I sincerely hoped that the religious figurines would come to life at night for a scrap and a raucous party, and the shop-keeper would open the shop the next day to find Jesus scalped, and Mary no longer a virgin.

The lady who owned the shop was a tiny, shrivelled raisin with a limp. A quick visual sweep of her wrinkle-etched face convinced me that she was at least 6000 years old. I was surprised she could still walk owing to the tonne of jewellery that bedecked her bird-like frame, the weight of which gave her the gait of a half-wrecked skinless Terminator. I’m sure she was created in a laboratory as part of some weird genetic experiment to splice Yoda with Mr T.

She was also – and I’m struggling to be charitable here – absolutely fucking mental. Pitied the fool, I did.

mrt

The old woman teetered and clinked her way across the shop-floor towards us, fixing us with a calm, predatory stare from her lifeless shark eyes. My friend was suffering from anxiety and panic attacks at the time (a condition  that could only have been exacerbated by the sight of this mystic dinky toy with a waxwork face moving in for the kill), information she shared with the old woman after they entered into a discussion about protective amulets or some such shit. The words ‘panic attack’ appeared to be one of the old woman’s triggers; she adopted a look somewhere between possession and constipation. I guess she was thinking.

‘Panic attacks,’ she said, her ancient lips hardly moving, lending her the appearance of a poorly-painted, haunted ventriloquist’s dummy. ‘Some people think that panic attacks are to do with your brain. Others think they’re to do with bad things in your childhood. But did you ever consider… [wait for it, I thought] that they might be caused by something that happened to you… in a past life?’

Em, no. No, we hadn’t considered that. Mainly because we’re not absolutely insane. I was relieved that this crazy old coot hadn’t entered the medical profession.

“I’ve checked you over, and your panic attacks appear to have been caused by that time you were chased through the garden of Eden by a T-Rex. I’m prescribing an enchanted emerald and a bag of magic frog dicks.”

past-life-regression-therapy

The best was yet to come. She went on to claim that one of her pals – undoubtedly called Mags or Betty – had given her a past-life regression, during which she’d discovered that she’d been a black slave, transported on a galley from Africa to America. I bit my lip so hard I almost ate my face. She stared back at us. This woman was entirely serious. She believed it without question. She further claimed that this revelation finally explained why she had always felt such an affinity with black people. It’s a testament to the entrenched racism of most elderly people in Central Scotland that the only sensible explanation this woman could find for liking black people is that she used to be one two hundred years ago.

I wonder what wee Yoda is doing with herself these days, now that her business has folded. I’d like to think she’s returned to Brooklyn to be with her people. I can just see her now, limping up to a gaggle of guys on a front step somewhere, throwing her arms wide and hollering: “It’s me! It’s Acqwon! I’ve lost a bit of weight since the 18th century, and granted I’m now a tiny white Scottish pensioner, but don’t you recognise me? Come on, homeys, let’s roll up a trouser leg and shoot some hoops!”

FURTHER READING

Jesus Loves You: that’s the problem

Jesus is a jerk

Jesus comes to Stirling

 

Frustration? I can’t be arsed.

cheWhen I worked for the Scottish Court Service I joined the union and became a representative for my office, primarily because I liked the thought of officially sanctioned time away from my desk, and indeed the entire building. It helped that most days out on union business consisted of 5 per cent conferencing to 95 per cent drinking.

Whilst installed as the office representative I became adept at asking meaningless yet persistent questions at conferences in a bid to justify my presence in the union flock. I’d say something like, “A few people in the office were asking if they could get some free pens. Well, can they?” and then nod sagely. I once half-heartedly participated in a strike for better pay conditions. I spent an entire day standing at the picket line limply clutching a sign, chain-smoking and nodding silently at everyone as they walked past me. I think I muttered ‘scab’ under my breath a couple of times, just as my hero Che Guevara would’ve done. A manager eventually brought me out a cup of coffee and a sandwich, which I accepted without hesitation. I think you’ll find that the Communist Manifesto has quite a lot to say about the importance of balancing worker solidarity with the delicious necessity of free cheese sandwiches, even if they do come from the hands of your bastard enemies.

Sometime during the steely reign of my short stewardship, our national executive issued a memo urging us to boycott Coca Cola. Coca Cola was accused of turning a blind eye to the plight of workers at its many sub-contracted South American bottling plants. Right-wing paramilitary groups – allegedly in collusion with the plants’ owners – were murdering, or otherwise ‘disappearing’, workers for the crime of organising unions. The workers were only trying to ameliorate their poor working conditions and make a better life for themselves and their families.  Coca Cola’s silence and inaction in the face of this horrific systemic homicide was taken as tacit approval of the paramilitaries’ methods. “COCA COLA? …Death-o… Cola… more like,” I’d mutter quietly to myself, before taking another sip of Coca Cola.

coke

My personal boycott lasted less than four hours. 9am until lunchtime. Vive le revolution! I loved Coca Cola back then, you see. Drank it every day. Came to depend upon it. It was my fizzy heroin in a can; my daily hangover cure. “Why can’t they be killing workers at Dr Pepper factories instead?” I lamented. “I fucking hate Dr Pepper.” I was ashamed of my weakness. There were men in the world who would give up blood, freedom, family and oxygen for their principles, and I couldn’t even kick Coca Cola for four fucking hours. Thankfully, I’ve long since abandoned the drink. Not for any ideological reasons. I’ve simply arrived at the conclusion that Coca Cola is a black broth of tooth-taking, penny-polishing, pancreas-punishing arse-juice that leaves your heart flopping about like a fish in a bucket. And that’s a Scotsman saying that.

When something I own breaks, I tend not to fix it, but instead force myself to adapt to the new reality of its brokenness. I once had a TV that could only be switched on if the power button at the front of the unit was pressed in as far as it could go and held there at a constant pressure. Naturally, instead of mending or replacing the TV, I pressed the button in as far as it would go, and then used a rook from my chess set and a roll of masking tape to hold it in place. I then left it like that for three years. Check mate, TV. Check mate!

When the locks in my old Fiesta started to fail one by one, rather than have it mended I simply allowed my method of entering the car to evolve naturally. When the lock on the driver’s side seized, I clambered in to the car through the passenger side. When the passenger side failed, I went in through the back seats. When all of the locks had failed, I climbed in through the boot. Every time I entered my car it looked like I was either a) participating in an all-cripple version of It’s a Knockout, or b) in the process of breaking into it. Thankfully, in the part of town in which I lived, car-jacking wasn’t an unusual occurrence, allowing me to fit in as ‘one of the lads’.

I don’t think I suffer from apathy per se, or at least not all of the time. I have an incredibly low tolerance for frustration that co-exists with a fear of failure, an expectation of failure and a rage at the world for not doing what I want it to do. If I sometimes take the easy route, or hit the button for the ejector seat, it’s less about laziness and more about saving myself an exhausting, four-letter-word-fuelled explosive meltdown.

My mum said I cried and wailed at the age of four because I couldn’t write functional computer programs on the ZX Spectrum. When I was twelve, a faulty dot-matrix printer made me so angry that I snapped a fountain pen in half, leaving me with a big blue face that took an hour to scrub clean. If I hadn’t been wearing specs I probably would’ve been blinded, no doubt learning in the process some biblical lesson about the cost of anger: a pen for a printer makes the wee fanny blind, perhaps.

When my step-sister and I linked our Gameboys together and she beat me at two-player Tetris, I headbutted my Gameboy, smashing the screen to smithereens. I hid the evidence at the bottom of a toy hamper, and waited for the heat to die down. For more on this subject, have a read of this:  http://www.denofgeek.com/games/videogames/31783/frustrating-games-in-videogame-history ).

Don’t ask me to fix finicky things, or build up intricate items of furniture from Ikea. I’ll only end up hurling them out of a window. Or standing around with a big red face promising to murder myself in a series of increasingly ludicrous ways. “If this piece doesn’t fit I swear I’m going to puncture my lung with a toothbrush, and spend my dying minutes cracking my fucking skull open by beating it against my own knee! I MEAN IT, I REALLY MEAN IT, I FUC… oh, it fits. Excellent.” (strides off whistling)

If I’m stuck in traffic, I’ll swing the car around in a cloud of f’s and c’s and take a ten-mile detour in the wrong direction rather than confront the heart-pumping frustration of a very mildly inconvenient traffic jam. The modern world makes a Hulk out of me. I’ve almost ripped worlds apart trying to open tins of corned beef.

corned-beef-fail

In my early twenties my GP referred me to a Stress Management group, which comprised a gaggle of cripplingly shy and shaky-handed people, including one old hippy guy who was in a state of terror because he thought we were all going to invite ourselves en masse to his house after the meeting. I don’t belong here with these fucking mental cases, I thought to myself, rather uncharitably, and wholly unrealistically.

Still, I thought it would be smart to keep going, in a bid to better understand my stinking thinking, and how to counteract it. Week two arrived, and I was cooking some chicken in the oven before group. I was starving, and running late. The chicken had been packaged in some sort of plastic tub, which in retrospect I don’t think should’ve been placed in the oven. The plastic warped with the heat, and when I tried to retrieve it it wobbled and wilted in my hands, sending globs of burning hot sauce all over my hands, and raining chunks of chicken down upon the kitchen floor. I hurled the floppy, half-empty tub across the room and aimed a hard kick at the oven. “THAT’S… IT!” I shouted, standing there with my arms hanging down at my waste, my fists balled in rage. “I’M TOO STRESSED OUT TO GO TO THIS STUPID FUCKING STRESS MANAGEMENT GROUP!” The delicious irony of this angry ejaculation caused me to laugh like a madman, my anger gone as quickly as it had arrived. I never made it back to the group… although I did try to break into the hippy’s house a few times.

asdasd

The independence referendum in 2014 shook me out of my apathy a little. I genuinely cared about the political process again, and desperately wanted to do my bit to bring about change, even if my bit was just talking twaddle with strangers and signing an ‘X’ on a little piece of paper. I have friends who felt moved to canvass and campaign for their parties of choice in the wake of Scotland’s political re-awakening. I thought about it. And then realised I couldn’t be arsed. Oh, there’s a town meeting tonight. Right, I’d really better get along and… actually Monday’s not a good time for me. It’s Game of Thrones night. There’s one on Wednesday, too? Hmmm. I’ll probably be a bit tired by then… OH WHAT’S THE POINT, WE’LL ALL JUST GET CRUSHED UNDER THE WHEELS OF THE MACHINE, FREE WILL IS AN ILLUSION, THE ILLUMINATI CONTROL EVERYTHING ANYWAY. Plus I’ve got to take my missus to the bingo.

Yes, I’m crazy. But I think to campaign for things – to dedicate your life to an ideal – is its own form of craziness. I’m the wrong kind of crazy to change the world. I wish I could harness my rage and frustration and point it in the direction of a worthwhile cause, but I can’t (unless it directly involves my family’s health, happiness or safety, I’m not really interested). Thankfully, there are passionate people out there with the zeal of psychopathic stamp collectors who can fly the flag on my behalf across a whole range of issues. I salute those fucking lunatics, I really do. Half-heartedly, of course.

When I can be bothered raising my arm.

PS: I started writing this in February.

The Killer in our Midst

sahara_desert_0115

From the sky a fist of invisible, infinite fingers presses searing-hot knuckles down upon the sand. Little Mtopo’s cheek thuds onto the dry desert floor, all fight extinguished from his limp and emaciated body. His lips are locked together with the cement of thirst. The rest of him thuds down, too, but he can’t feel it. He can’t  feel the hunger that knifes at his belly; can’t hear the carnival of flies that cavorts above his head. None of it registers. All sensation, all pain, is reduced to a one single uniform scream that rings from every pore and cell in his body: a shrill song of death.

You are dying, Mtopo… dying.

Up he goes, up, up, up, hovering high above his body with its spilled fingers and jellied limbs, looking down and around and over and through, and beyond, surveying the prison of his former life through the panopticon of his soul. His short, miserable life is over. Ten years… ten fast and brutal years. A sorrow engulfs him, but he is flying, soaring, seeing more widely and clearly than he has ever seen before – perhaps than any man has ever seen – and so the feeling finds no purchase. He is dead. At last, he is dead, and all life’s hungers – both literal and metaphorical – are behind him.

For endless miles in every direction the sand shines a dazzling shade of white as blinding daggers of light are hurled between the giant dunes. A faint wind, rinsed by a billion soft grains of grit, is the only thing to disturb the near-sepulchral silence of the desert. Until… shuffling, far below. Something shifts into view below him. Someone. A robed man, padding across the sand towards him – but not towards him, exactly: there is no ‘him’, no ‘me’ any more, just whatever remains of him down on the desert floor – picking up pace as he closes the distance. Mtopo’s soul, from its vantage point, regards the man as a bird would an ant. He watches as the man stops and leans over his body, watches as the man starts to plead, to wail, to throw his arms in the air, to shout. The words drag Mtopo’s soul back into the fading husk of his body with the speed of a lightning strike. He does not want to die! Suddenly, he struggles, he fights, he yearns to connect with the living world, to hear its substance, to be rescued from his flight into eternity.

“Oh, Mtopo, MTOPO! I CAN NOT BELIEVE THIS HAS HAPPENED! OH, MY, OH GOODNESS, OH WHY HAS THIS HAPPENED, MY SWEET MTOPO?” The man cups either side of Mtopo’s face with a pair of big, leathery hands, and scoops his head off the sand like a chalice, staring deep into his vacant eyes. “Price is dead at 57, Mtopo. Can you fucking believe it?”

With every ounce of effort he has left, Mtopo cracks his lips apart, his last words crawling from his mouth to the dust below:

“First… Ronnie… Corbett… and now… this…”

“…Fuck you 2016.”

2016 is the number of dead celebrities so far in 2016

ronnie

Now, I’m not suggesting for a second that we shouldn’t mourn the deaths of Prince, Ronnie Corbett, Victoria Wood, Alan Rickman et al. Of course we should. They were terrifically talented, influential and inspirational people. More importantly, they were human beings. What I’m suggesting is that we should cut this ‘2016 is a serial killer’ shit the fuck out.

“Why are you doing this, 2016?” “Come on, 2016, put a stop to it now, this is beyond a joke!” “Who will you take next, 2016, you calendar-based psychopath?!”

Stop it. Stop. It. 2016 isn’t killing anyone. 2016 isn’t speeding past the houses of middle-aged celebrities spraying them with bullets. When Bruce Forsyth dies we’re unlikely to hear about it on Crimewatch. “Police are appealing for witnesses to come forward who may have seen this man in the vicinity of the elderly entertainer’s home last night.”

2016

It’s probably true to say that the number of ‘celebrities’ has been increasing exponentially year-on-year, to the point where we now have more celebrities than we have ever had at any other point in human history (and a fair few that stretch the definition of celebrity to its limit); and, of course, more celebrities equals more celebrity deaths. Celebrities are dying at the same rate they always did; it’s just that in this internet and social media age we’re hearing about their deaths instantly and incessantly. Remember how your grandparents used to have conversations like this:

“I’ve not seen many movies from (*celebrity) recently.”

“Deid.”

“Deid? Nah. Your arse, they’re deid. Really? No. They can’t be. Are you sure?”

“Deid ten years.”

“TEN years? You’re lying.”

“Deid. Why would I lie?”

“Who told you?”

“Read it somewhere, or it was on This Morning or one of those other bloody things you watch. Telling you, though. Deid. Long deid.”

“We’ll see about this.” (frantically dials the operator) “Hello, operator, could you connect me to Hollywood please?”

Not now. These kinds of conversations have gone the way of the Dodo and the 8-track. They can’t exist in an environment where on-line headlines like this assault us on an almost hourly basis: “MAN WHO ONCE NODDED AT ROGER MOORE IN 1976 AS HE PASSED HIM IN THE CAT-FOOD AISLE IN SAINSBURY’S, AND THEN ROGER MOORE SAID ‘ALRIGHT’ TO HIM AND THEN THEY HAD A BRIEF CONVERSATION TRAGICALLY TAKEN FROM US AGED 104.” People. Die. All. The. Fucking. Time. Celebrities are not being disproportionately targeted by the Grim Reaper.

The internet has amplified our fear of death, and allowed us to join cyber-hands to belt out a much louder, more mournful chorus. The gist of our lyrics is this: if these fascinating, extraordinary, charming, beloved, successful, talented people can pop their clogs and be erased forever from the surface of the earth, then we’re really fucked. We already know that death is an unbeatable opponent. It just sucks to have it rubbed in our faces.

For the sake of our collective sanity, for the sake of the millions of men, women and children snuffed out by war, for the sake of the hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who have to shit outside on a rock, live underneath a strip of corrugated metal and die at the age of 19 from an eye infection, please stop saying that 2016 is murdering celebrities. If anything, it’s trying to murder all of us. It’s a minor miracle we all wake up in the morning.

Read this article from The Telegraph, which is rather good, but please do not ever read anything from The Telegraph ever againhttp://www.telegraph.co.uk/men/thinking-man/why-are-so-many-celebrities-dying-in-2016/

Reflections on the Suicide Bombing in Pakistan

Nobody give a fuck about Pakistan, no? My Facebook newsfeed isn’t exactly overflowing with outrage and Pakistani flags. I refuse to believe we’re all racist. I mean, this is human pain and misery on a grand scale. We’re not monsters. We’re – largely – compassionate people. We must simply view most Western European/North American/antipodean countries and peoples as the closest match to our own, and so when something happens to them, it makes us think, ‘Fuck, that could happen to us’. Thus we desperately try to ward off the demons of our collective fear through exercises of mass solidarity (not suggesting for a second, however, that the expression of solidarity is devoid of human feeling). When we hear about horrible things happening in Pakistan, to fellow human beings, we receive it as we would news about a serial killer picking off prostitutes or homeless people. We feel a momentary pang of compassion, which quickly passes when we convince ourselves that we aren’t in any immediate danger from the threat. They’re not like me. I’m not like them. That wouldn’t happen to me… Even though there’s some suspicion that Christians may have been the target of the attack. Not white Christians though, eh? Maybe we’re a tiny bit racist. Or selfish. Or human. Or all three.

I hereby extend my sympathy to victims of religious and political violence everywhere, regardless of creed, colour, country, race, religion, age, sex or social standing. We’re all human beings.

Louis Armstrong was wrong. This is a pretty shit world (although admittedly his song wouldn’t have been so catchy had he conceded that).