Just Passing Through

There’s a lot of plastic toys in our house at the moment. Occasionally the girls even play with some of them.

But the real fun starts when mum and dad are the toys. When the Witching Hour brings no witches and there’s time for games between supper and milk.  Hide and Seek is the favourite right now. The baby still thinks that covering her head makes her invisible.  And no concealment can hide a fit of the giggles. I love their giggle fits in the evening. It means bedtime will be ok.

Into one of these moments, the phone rings. It’s my Dad.

“Nev, your uncle Donald died about an hour ago. Mum is in London now helping your Auntie Gwen”.

I think about Uncle D for a minute. The old photographs of him in his bespoke-suited youth; the quite awesome collection of Kung Fu movies he once had (until God persuaded him to get rid of them); his fondness for Bulla cake. I think of how my mum adored him, and how dementia hollowed out his last years.

Later on, I look in on my little girls as they sleep. They’re just passing through, really; this time next week, they’ll be taking their exams. Hide and Seek might be a bit passé by then. And in the meantime, countless plastic Christmas toys will be unwrapped, cherished, outgrown, discarded and forgotten. But my memories are for keeps.

I make a silent promise to play with the girls more, while they’re here.


Dear Father Jack: A Poem for my Youngest Daughter

apple babyYou like to sing in your cot.
When you sleep, you sigh
You fall over a lot
you smile with your eyes
You like to wear your wellies even when we’re inside
And you are the apple of my eye

You leaped into my world with a Fosbury flop
caramel skin, loose-curls on top
a moment so magical I laughed as I cried
you are the apple of my eye

You shout mono-syllables; a mini Father Jack
It’s fair to say that patience is the virtue that you lack
yet when we meet new people and you seem a bit shy
I know you’re the apple of my eye

I love to watch you, when you let your heart shine through
like when your sister sneezes and you’re off to get tissues or
when you stand by the stair-gate and wave me bye-bye
You are the apple of my eye

Big sis’ gets attention of a slightly different kind
perhaps because she comes out with all the funny lines
But know I love you equally, a love with no divide
you two, are the apple of my eye

Your sister had to learn how to share us with you
but sharing us is all you’ve known, it’s really nothing new, so
next year, when we hope to be a family of five
You’ll know you’re all the apples of my eye

So sing your heart out in your cot
keep snoozing with a sigh
(maybe don’t trip up so much, I hate to see you cry)
but keep your smile
and know my love is bigger than the sky
And you are the apple of my eye

Don’t Worry; It Gets Harder

June 2012. A pub garden. Warm summer sunshine. Two Deckchairs. Next to them, two pints, untouched.
It’s our first social adventure outside since the three of us became the four of us, and the pandemonium really started.
Our two year old and the newborn have managed to simultaneously crap themselves and we’ve run out of wipes.  “Don’t worry’, says a woman with a toddler, as she hands MsUrbanDaddy a fist-full of Wet Ones, “it gets easier”.

This memory came back to me as MsUrbanDaddy and I walked out of the girls bedroom on Sunday evening, puffing our cheeks and shaking our heads. We’d had what most parents would recognise as ‘a difficult day’.
The eldest really does style herself as ‘The Intransigent’ sometimes. She was antithesis with chubby cheeks, all day long (and on days like Sunday, that’s a long time). The toddler, as her Auntie Rachael notes wryly, spends her days channeling Father Jack from the Father Ted show. To be fair, they were both tired from a late-ish night watching fireworks. But that’s no reason not to shut up and do as you’re bloody told once in a while, now is it?

But what do I know? My brother reports far greater challenges with his twin boys, who are nine. As well as the old favourite troubles, such as getting them to brush their teeth and put their shoes on.
For all the advice on surviving with babies and young children, we know the real challenges start once they’re in their tweens. And later, when they start screaming at you and slamming doors in your face. When you’ve never liked them less, and they’ve never needed you more.

Sometimes, I miss the simplicity of the pandemonium days. Or rather, I laugh ruefully at memories of a time when our parenting ability could be stretched by having to change two nappies at once. There’s no point waiting for things to get easier because this is the easy bit! Next time we’re late for the school run, I’ll try to remember as much.

The Kick-Bollock Scramble Years Pt.2

They're even running on the sign

They’re even rushing on the sign…

The Kick-Bollock Scramble

Professor Brian Cox has yet to get back to me about the time warp. I’m not too bothered. He’d only start banging on about Entropy, and how everything in the Universe moves inexorably towards a state of disorder (if you saw my kitchen after breakfast, you’d have to agree).

But we don’t have time for Thermodynamics. It’s 8:52am and we’re in a Mad Rush. I know it’s 8:52 because the elder has got her shoes on the wrong feet and the younger has gone into her sister’s bedroom for a poo. Same time, same room, every day. It’s a ritual. I have to leave her soiled, even though the smell qualifies her as a bio-hazard. Coats! School bag! Scooter or buggy board? Scooter it is. For 2 minutes.
Then: “My leg hurts!” I load Madam onto the buggy board. Same spot, same street, every day. It’s a ritual.

We’re on the wrong side of the school bell as we reach the gate. I can live with that. As long as we get through before the stern-looking woman with the clipboard comes out. Once she guards the entrance, there’s no getting away with it.
So obviously, with mere seconds dividing sneaky success from clipboard humiliation, we run into the biggest obstacle. The Kick Bollock Scramble. There is only one gate into and out of my daughter’s school. and at 9:04 am, the  stragglers going in collide with the punctuals coming out. Imagine the Severn Bore going both ways. And made out of people. It’s like that.

Of course, it’s not complete bedlam. It’s mostly a case of forcing your way through whilst trying to look like you are waiting for a gap. But the pressure of the clipboard gets to everyone, eventually. Sometimes you’ve just got to put your head down and make a lunge for it.

Late again, UrbanDaddy?

Late again, UrbanDaddy?

The Kick-Bollock-Scramble Years

And so it begins...

And so it begins…

Part 1: The School-Run Time-Warp

Every morning, Monday to Friday, between 8:20am and ten-to nine, time speeds up. It’s quite inconvenient, really.

It goes like this: At 8:12  breakfast is proceeding as normal, ie. being thrown all over the kitchen. Then a kind of haze descends. I can’t state with accuracy what happens during The Haze. I do know that I hear my own ever-more-exasperated voice, repeating demands to brush teeth or put school shoes on. There’s the high-pitched wailing of pre-schooler rebellion. And everything seems to move at about a million miles per hour, presumably in little tiny circles, because we never get anywhere. After what seems like ten minutes of this, the haze lifts. Somehow, it’s always ten minutes to. What bizarre fractal of space and time have we uncovered?  It’s one for Prof. Brian Cox to answer, preferably by text, as I can’t stop and chat. We’re late again, you see.

"There's no time-warp, urbanDaddy. You're just disorganised".

“There’s no time-warp, UrbanDaddy. You’re just disorganised”.

Festival with the Bumbo

The Big Chill, August 2006.

We stuffed a couple of rucksacks with clothes and left, mid-afternoon. No tent! We’d hired a teepee, along with some friends, so the four-hour drive up the A40 was the hardest work of the weekend. Arrived on camp as the sun was going down, saddled with bags. Most of the cargo is booze.

The festival lives up to its name. Three days of lazing like sunbathing sealions; our tempo quickened only by frequent laughter and occasional trips to the bar. I wasn’t entirely unoccupied; I had a new stills camera, an expense I justified by recording even the most mundane moments for hard-drive posterity. Generally though, energy was saved for deciding what to eat and which acts to see.

What did we see? I have only fragments now… St. Etienne taking it back to 1992; Nighmares on Wax getting upset with a crowd that had left its dancing shoes back at camp;  a surprisingly saucy performance at the theatre venue; the reflected sparkle from a thousand lights suspended above a lake; a little boy with his parents’ phone number marker-penned all the way up his bare arm; a father dancing with his daughter on his shoulders, while Norman Jay DJ’ed everything better. Imagine bringing a child to a festival, I thought. Waaaay too stressful.

End of the Road Festival, August 2013

We stuff four rucksacks, a travel cot and a double buggy into the car and leave, mid-afternoon, stopping at a Sainsbury’s to buy more stuff to stuff into the car. Normally, MsUrbanDaddy handles crowd control while I drive, so I get to concentrate, more or less, on one thing all afternoon. Bliss! Somewhere in WIltshire, a huge yurt is waiting for us, along with the same group of friends we shared with in 2006.

And their kids. Eight of them. Plus our two. That’s big, certainly – but chilled? Hmmm…

We arrive at camp just before sunset, me laden with bags like a human pack horse, MsUrbanDaddy with the girls. We have one box of red wine.  The buggy has been pressed into service as an emergency wheelbarrow. Once unloaded, I take it straight back to the car for the rest of our things.

The next three days involve absolutely no lazing at all. Just the constant carrying, cleaning, monitoring, feeding and entertaining of ten under-5s. They’re a pretty demanding crowd…

But it is brilliant. The sunbathing sealions of 2006 seem to have become human meerkats, by turns foragers, jesters and sentinels. The kids just stick to giggling, spilling drinks and getting lost. Somehow, it all works. Conversations are still easy,  if rarely finished. With ten small children around, we can’t seem to finish anything.

Maybe that’s why my memories are nearly as fragmented as they were 7 years ago. Sigur Ros seem to quite like their non-dancing crowd; some of the best lights are attached to buggies, to prevent drunk people tripping over them in the dusk. And, this time, the dad dancing with his daughter on his shoulders is me. In some ways, this festival lived up to its name, too. But this is not 2006. And we’re on a new road. And I don’t mind.

On my second trip from the car-park, I fall into step with another man. He carries wine under one arm and a Bumbo baby seat under the other. I have a buggy, filled with stuff. We both laugh, saying nothing. Sometimes, circumstance is all the commentary you need.