Monday, 14 December 2009

true stories

The other night Snookie needed calming down and I was trying to think of a soothing story to tell him.

He had watched a particularly disturbing episode of In The Night Garden when Mr Pontipine’s moustache had blown off and was being buffeted around the chimneypots by the wind.

I was cooking dinner at the time but heard his voice from down the hallway and immediately noticed the distinctive sound of fear – something rare for Snookie.

Usually if he cries it is in frustration at not being allowed to do or have what he wants at that moment. This is a recurring theme, no doubt for all parents of children this age, and is the usual cause of his distress. I have been given two schools of thought on this – one is to distract him and the other is to validate his feelings. Unfortunately the two schools, as you will notice, are in complete contrast to one another so I bounce rather alarmingly between one and the other hoping that something will eventually stop him howling without causing too much damage to his psyche.

But on this occasion, the sound was different. It started quietly and hesitantly and then built up crescendoing eventually to a full scale ‘Maaaammmmmmyyyy’ as he ran down the hallway and straight into my arms.

The Engineer had been on hand when the moustache scene unfolded and had apparently provided shelter for the first frightening moments but ultimately sanctuary had been sought, and hopefully found, in the arms of mum.

Such was his distress that it took a good few minutes of hair stroking and very tight hugs before he could be persuaded into the high chair for the now overcooked dinner and even then the image of the mysterious moustache flying about the chimney pots was still clearly with him.

So this was how I came to be telling him a story in an attempt to replace the tape with a new soothing one, hopefully erasing the scary picture for good.

Sitting in the semi darkness with the still flushed little boy gazing up at me expectantly I cast around for ideas for a story which was bright and cheerful but sufficiently captivating to ride out the adrenalin rush of the Night Garden drama.

“Well, you know how we have that big tree in the lounge with all the lights and shiny balls on….

“… and you have seen all the lights in the shops and in the streets…

“… well this is called Christmas and it is the time when people get together and sing lovely songs and have some nice food and give each other presents …

“…yes and it is all to celebrate the birth of a Jesus. It is Jesus’ birthday you see, and so we all celebrate for him because he was… he was…”

I found to my amazement I could not say it. In one step I jumped straight out of my life, my schooling, my upbringing, the weekly attendance at Mass, confession, the Easter vigil, transubstantiation – the whole nine yards.

I could not tell my son, who I went to great lengths to have baptised into the Catholic faith so he would not go to Limbo if he died, that Jesus was the Son of God.

‘..a very good man,’ I finished.

By the time he had fallen asleep minutes later, I walked out of his bedroom relieved of my Christianity and consequently my responsibility to pass on all the same rituals and dogma which shaped me.

I am still not sure if this is a Good Thing or not. I will certainly continue to tell him about God and feel I can back up that story with strong evidence and good examples. But despite it being rather awkward, what with the seasonal timing and all, I just don’t think I can sell the Jesus part at this moment.

And it might not stop there.

If the desire to tell my son only true stories has managed to unhinge a lifetime of suspended belief on which my religious faith has until now rather precariously rested, let’s face it, it doesn’t bode well for Santa Claus.

Nevermind. Don’t worry about me. Give me a light sprinkling of snow on Christmas morning and a couple of verses of Adeste Fideles and I’ll be right as rain.

Saturday, 5 December 2009

comfort and joy

I looked out of the window just now and felt a huge wave of joy. I am sitting in a café, about to have the best cappucho in town, it is a beautiful day, my lovely son and husband are together at home about to go out and explore the local sorting office and I just saw a pregnant woman walk by and thought ‘Thank God I don’t have to do that again.’

Did I mention the joy? I should. I should not forget to tell how being a mother, or at least being Snooks’ mother, has brought me such indescribable joy. I assume it is the same for others. People don’t often mention it. Very English. We don’t talk about joy much. But I have seen it on the faces of some of my mumfriends. I didn’t know them before we all had our babies but I am guessing that that face-splitting, skin-flushing, eye-illuminating smile is a new feature.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t say I was never happy before Snooks. I was, certainly so, and would no doubt have continued to be, at times, had he not been given to us.

But this joy – I don’t believe that anything, a book in print, losing three stone, the dream house – that anything else could bring it.

I say ‘given’. I know we did all the necessaries to bring him here, and if you do that sort of thing often enough, nature generally does the rest. But it still all seems very hit and miss somehow and I only ever allowed myself the hope that we would have a baby. I never planned to. That would assume more control than I ever felt I had over the event. So that is why he feels given. He is a gift to us, to me really as I pushed him out of my body, and I just hope that I can look after this gift, this perfect little human, with the care that he deserves.

I called him an angel once, you know like you do when you are canoodling and you have fallen madly in love again. The Engineer happened to hear and corrected me. He is not an angel, he said, and never will be. But he is a perfect human being. It still moves me. It is interesting that I am more moved by the thought of him being a perfect human being, with all the flaws and confusion and conflicts that that involves than by the idea of him as an angel – something I can’t be and can’t imagine being and can’t be with.

It reminds me that we will both fail, but that we can keep trying always to be better. Isn’t that what being a human being is about?

When Snooks was born, a friend counselled me away from playing Saint Mum - always kind and attentive, never angry or impatient or sad.

“If he grows up thinking you are perfect, how will he cope when he is not? And how will he find another woman to match it. Don’t do that to him.”

Did I mention the joy?

In my book, the season of goodwill is upon us. For me, it starts with December. The cards get bought and posted, the decorations go up and the tree is bought and decorated at the first opportunity. None of this saving it all up until Christmas Eve business.(What was that all about? My parents were teachers and I am reliably informed that during the school run up to Christmas, no teacher can bear to go home each night to the same pantomime.)

This will be our first Christmas together when Snooks is able to understand some of that pantomime – at least the present and mince pie part.

He is already very pleased with the daily opening of the advent calendar window and has so far noticed the moon, the sheep and the candles of the emerging nativity scene.

The challenge may be bringing home to him the reason for the festivities – to understand how the birth of a baby brought peace on earth and joy to men and women of goodwill.

Well it took me long enough.

Monday, 30 November 2009

spooky action

They did warn me. They did say that each time you think you have got this thing cracked, a new challenge would present itself.

I kind of assumed that meant something in the realm of ‘once you’ve got solid food sorted you have potty training to tackle’ - that sort of thing.

So riding high with Snookie’s wonderful linguistic developments and now more or less used to his erratic sleeping habits, you could say I was getting the hang of it.

Even his fierce will (which means that when he is happy he is a delight but try to persuade him into something he does not fancy and he will mount a campaign of non-violent protest which includes running away or making like a plank, thus rendering himself impossible to manhandle) has become easier to manage since verbal negotiations became at our disposal.

He is a happy, healthy, adorable child who tolerates my inability to spot when his teeth are hurting, to the point that he has to stand in front of the medicine cupboard and point to the bottle of Calpol before I twig. (The other teething indicator is a refusal to eat any fruit, which at first I mistook for the early onset of puberty.)

So what I was not expecting was what occurred one night when the Engineer was out for the evening and I was putting Snooks to bed early in the hope of a bit of quiet time in front of some trashy TV.

As we snookled quietly in the semi-darkness of his bedroom – the largest and grandest in our home – he leaned back in my arms and informed me that there was a man at the window.

Of course my immediate reaction was calm, dismissive and kind. No there was no man, I assured him. The thick curtains were closed and shutters behind them prevented anyone looking in.

So he turned in my arms and pointed quite specifically to a spot in the bay window just above head height and said, “Man.”

Now I am a fairly practical person, not easily persuaded by theories which lack evidence (homeopathy, Diana’s murder, Facebook) but also not entirely sure that there may not be more to life than meets the eye.

After further investigation it became clear that a) The Man was not a shadow as he remained in place when the lights were turned on and off and that b) Snooks was not afraid of him and in fact seemed rather delighted by his presence.

I, on the other hand, was not and mentally raced through scenes from Poltergeist and The Sixth Sense and had consequently done what any good Catholic would do – I had prayed.

Before you write me off as a hysteric, I should explain that I managed not to convey my terror to Snooks, happily engaged in some kind of silent discourse with his new friend, and instead tried to glean what information I dare from him about the man’s identity.

But by the time the Engineer returned home about an hour later, although I knew there must be some earthly explanation for the apparition, I had been unable to bring myself to move and was still sitting in the same spot, cradling the now wide-awake Snooks in my arms.

After a hastily whispered exchange about unanswered questions behind the paranormal, the probable existence of good ghosts and the desire never again to watch a scary film, we managed to get Snooks to bed and remove to another room to regroup.

Now if you were looking to get spooked - or to sell the film rights - you could add to this story the fact that Snooks has also recently taken to rolling his eyes to one side and spinning round in circles until he keels over, a jest we nervously laugh off, while trying to stop him from crashing into the furniture.

And to mark a recent visit by his uncle, our little son was seen running triumphantly down the hallway bearing aloft a large painted crucifix which had been unearthed by the removal of his cot to our room for the duration.

Telling the story to my brother over dinner that night, rounding off the tale with the punchline '... and that's where you're sleeping', I mentioned that I had learned from Snooks that the man’s name was Green, leading me to suppose he might have made his way in from the many pelican crossings we use on our regular route to the common.

However my brother offered another, more romantic proposal; that he could be The Green Man - you know, the one adorning pubs and churches, the one who is thought to be a symbol of rebirth, a pagan tribute to fertility, the very essence of masculinity.

My brother’s stay with us passed without any nightly visits by any men of any hue and also seems to have seen off our other guest, as Snooks now informs me each night, before dropping off to sleep, ‘Man gone.’

I wish I could be so sure.

Monday, 16 November 2009

say the word

Snooks is 20 months old. A lot of people have been asking recently how old he is, people in the street and other mums who don’t know him.

“How old is he?” they ask in that tone which implies advance incredulity at the answer, which once given, is met with raised eyebrow polite silence.

I am not sure what this is about. Is it that he is quite small for his age – not perversely small – just cute, neat? He has little or no spare fat and is perfectly proportioned. He can still fit into some 12-month-old sized clothes.

Or it could be his hair? His hair has always aroused comment on account of its rather adult qualities. It is thick and poker straight and during the summer looked as if he has been treated to a half head of highlights. (A few people did actually ask if it was natural).

Or it could be his language, which at the risk of sounding like every other proud parent, is really very good. He has taken to following the Engineer around shouting “laptop” after a lengthy dinner table explanation about a problem with the one at work. He also, to my delight, shouts “cup-a-tea” in a perfect Asian/Yorkshire accent in honour of Ajay, the trusty driver of the Greendale Rocket for whom he reserves a particular fondness.

He can now sing along to Twinkle Twinkle and Wind the Bobbin with accompanying actions and can identify The Beatles after a few bars, whether it’s a song he knows or not.

Inevitably he has also mastered some of the less attractive language he hears yelling “Oh God!” and “Blast!” when things go awry. Mercifully, nothing worse seems to have stuck so far. The child has some standards after all.

And my heart twanged the other morning as I overheard him utter in low serious tones “mess” while watching a CBeebies programme link in which the children were happily painting and gluing. No wonder my attempts to interest him in such arts have fallen on barren soil; I have already crushed his creative spirit with my tidying. Blast!

To be fair (to myself) I have tried to combat my terror of this form of expression, encouraging him with crayons and felt pens to let rip on blank sheets, taking care the while to protect the furniture and carpet with yards of plastic sheeting. I even forced myself to take part in a Pumpkin Painting Party hosted by an American friend who is one of those with a natural born talent for these things.

Snooks and I acquitted ourselves in much the same fashion I recall enduring activities of this nature during my own childhood – over-excitement and high expectation followed by bitter demoralisation and eventually remonstration for disrupting others better endowed with the required talent for the job in hand. While I frantically glued googly eyes and pipe cleaner hair to my less than nimble fingers, I overheard Snooks being removed from someone else’s space and resort to banging the kitchen cupboard doors in bored protest. Oh God!

However, I don’t give up that easily and continue to lovingly display his work in time-honoured tradition on the fridge door, seeing, as only a mother can, the “firework display” in his orange and yellow squiggles. (In fact he produced this particular piece the day after we celebrated Bonfire Night in the back garden with a few fiery fountains and sparklers of our own. No bangs or rockets or anything so gruesome as a Guy, mind. In any case, when anyone got thrown on any of our childhood bonfires, it was usually Cromwell, as a means of evening up the score.)

Of course, his rapidly growing 20-month-old brain is bringing new trials too; toy throwing has just begun; early mornings (like 4.30am) continue; and a new phase of super-hugging smaller babies is proving less endearing to their mothers than it is to his own.

But a friend once told me, back when I was pregnant and wondering how it would all turn out, that just as I reached the point when I was ready to hand him over to social services and say ‘I give up, you do it’ - a point she had reached after unexpectedly giving birth to twins only for the overwhelmed father to abscond for three months - he would finally say the word and all would be healed.

And so he has. Sitting up at the dinner table one evening Snooks looked from one parent to the other. “Daddy!” he announced as he often does, with a combination of surprise and delight. Then he turned to me, the giver of milk and discipline, and finally, at last, put a name to the face.

“Mama,” he said.

Sunday, 1 November 2009

things you thought you would never do: part 1

I have called this “part 1” because I have the feeling that this may be a lifelong theme. For instance if I am still breastfeeding when I am 85, we can put that top of the list.

Ok let’s start there. Breastfeeding.

Well ok it’s no surprise that I chose to breastfeed Snooks when he was born, 20 months ago. I mean, you would have to be pretty scary to refuse to breastfeed your own newborn baby when it crawls up your belly and latches on right there, as mine did, all on his lonesome.

But to be honest I would not have had myself down as card-carrying TFW (Toddler Feeding Weirdo) in the years before Snooks’ arrival. I think if someone had asked me I would probably have said what most people now say to me – “It’s good to breastfeed for a bit but not once they are talking” or “Yes it’s lovely and natural but best done behind closed doors” or “I wonder if the mother is really getting more from that than the child?” (To that, I just have to say, ha ha, ha ha ha, ha ha and ha!).

To this particular shift in thinking I can only attribute sheer maternal instinct combined with the wealth of scientific evidence about the benefits of extended breastfeeding. Asking why I still breastfeed is a bit like asking why I don’t smoke anymore; in the light of all that I know, to do otherwise would be just plain stupid. And you can call me a TFW, call me a tree-hugger, call me a milky mama but don’t call me stupid. I don’t like that.

So next.

The other day I was out with a friend, her giggly boy, her dad, our Snooks, a bottle of bubbles and a kite.

We were soaking up one of the glorious autumn afternoons we have been enjoying this week and had brought together all the elements of a walk with our boys; stuff to eat, stuff to drink, stuff to put on, stuff to clean up, stuff to chase after and stuff to coax back into the buggy for the journey home. We have long since given up trying to meet for coffee in cafes. We now gather in the dog free zone of the common and let the boys run wild until they conk out.

The bubbles had provided a spectacular show as the low sun illuminated their prismatic effect against the cold blue sky, but the boys were in need of more action, if nothing else, to keep them warm.

And so this is how I ended up running hell for leather across the sodden grass – the only way to keep a kite aloft on a perfectly still afternoon - with the two littl’uns tumbling after me in pursuit of the kite’s zig-zaggily elusive tail.

“I bet you never thought you would do that,” my friend remarked as I returned, gasping for breath, to our buggy-bench base and attempted to resume my former life as a grown woman with a home, a car and a husband.

It reminded me of something the chief midwife said during the ante-natal classes we attended leading up to Snooks’ birth – classes which incidentally told me little I needed to know but instead filled me with such terror that the Engineer had to talk me down from the ledge each week over the tear-filled lunch which followed.

The midwife was talking about something very specific, but used a phrase which could easily be applied to much of the experience of being pregnant, of giving birth, of having a new born baby – and then, indeed, of being a mother.

She was talking about the moment when, you think your waters might have broken during the night but you are not really sure because for some, it is a bit of a non event (mine, to this day, have never been found) and you sniff the bed sheets after finding a strange wet patch on your side, which you can’t attribute to anything else.

“Yes, you will do this,” the midwife said with undisguised glee as we all looked at her in horror.

She need not have stopped there.

Monday, 26 October 2009

separation anxiety

This week marked another landmark.

We left Snookie with a babysitter.

Nothing happened - well nothing much bar my running out into the Chelsea night to shout breathlessly down the phone to the babysitter:

“What’s happened? Is everything all right? You called me twice and I missed the calls. I was talking to someone and it was really loud in there and I just happened to look at my phone – he asked to see a photo of Snookie so I looked at my phone but it had not occurred to me until then to look so I did not know you had phoned – is everything all right? What’s up?”

“Nothing. He is asleep. Why are you calling?”

I like her, the babysitter. She is Portuguese. She is a friend – actually the nanny of one of Snooks little friends. (Why are so many of the people I like not English?) Anyway, she tells it how it is.

“I didn’t call you. Go back inside and enjoy yourself.”

In fact what I had glimpsed in the fleeting two seconds that I looked at the phone was the missed call from hours earlier when she was outside the house and had the good sense to ring my mobile once to let me know that she was there rather than ring the doorbell, anticipating correctly that I had put Snooks to bed early and would lose the plot if he was woken just as we were about to leave. She’s good.
The other missed call was actually an earlier one from the Engineer on his way home from work, which I had missed in the midst of my pandering to Snooks’ demands for Chocolate Buttons and repeat episodes of Postman Pat – demands I was meeting unerringly in a bid to win his love should he ever, ever find out that I left the house without him one night.

Yes, 19 months. It has taken 19 months for The Engineer and I to get out of the house together, childless, and for me to feel confident enough in someone that they would take proper care of him and not leave him to cry while they smoked joints and fooled around on the settee with their boyfriend.

(Look I never did that when I was a babysitter, let’s just get that straight. However I did lose my one babysitting gig when my hilarious friends decided to play a Hallowe’en joke on me – in honour of the film of that name, you know, the one with the babysitter and the psychopath inside the house – by tapping on the windows and other such spooky activity that I rang my mum and asked her to come and sit with me. By the time the parents returned to their quiet, immaculate, middle class semi, myself, my mum and my two renegade friends were all sitting playing cards with the babysittees who had woken, terrified by all the commotion.)

All my Portuguese friend did was iron the shirts. Snooks slept the whole night through and didn’t even know we had gone.

The next day, I happened to get talking to a mumfriend who is due to have her second any day and is trying to install her first for a couple of mornings at nursery so that she will have one-to-one time with number two, when it turns up.

She thoughtfully decided to try it now, before number two arrives so that number one does not associate the two events – new sibling arrives, I get packed off somewhere else.

However it had not gone well. The first morning, her little boy, who is technically exactly the same age as Snooks, though he arrived two weeks early, had bought it though was a bit out of sorts when she came to collect him. By the second day he was distraught, and had been crying all morning. He has since refused to let go of her hand, day or night.

My friend looked exhausted. She had thought that her happy, confident, secure little boy – very like our Snooks in fact - would glide easily into someone else’s care, loving the chance to play with other children, as people are so often telling me is the main wish of a child that age.

In fact, in my view, his worst nightmare had come true. His mum had left him and he did not know if she was ever coming back.

I feel for my friend, I do. She had wanted to do the right thing for both of her children. Perhaps number two will just have to muddle along with getting a bit less of mum and a lot of older sibling instead.

As number four of four, I can say, it definitely has its pros as well as its cons.

Saturday, 17 October 2009

baby bard

Our son is showing poetic tendencies.

It all started when we popped into the children’s section of our new town library.

It was nice - a lot smaller than the lovely children’s section of the old library just round the corner, the one which is being closed down, the one which cannot contain all the mums and babies who turn up for the weekly singing and reading slots, the one which is situated in the middle of a grid of residential streets which makes it a lovely local focal point away from the hubbub of the town centre.

Still. At least we still have a library and it will provide a quiet refuge from the maelstrom of the high street, not to mention a good pee-and-nappy stop.

So we popped in, clocked the children’s reading area and the loos, picked up our recycling bags from the counter (maybe they used all our old bean cans to make their new chairs) and were on our way out when I noticed the poster announcing that is was National Poetry Day. I am not sure what made me stop and say: “Oh look” to Snooks, as if he would know what the poster meant and as if it held any significance for either of us.

It just marked a pleasant change from National (Terminal Illness) Day notices. Also, I have a friend who is a poet and it felt like her name up on the wall there in library. It is just good to be reminded that there is poetry in the world still. Sometimes we forget.

Actually I remember the same event last year when Snooks was just a seven month old bumble and an actor employed by a local café to mark the day, read to him so beautifully, it made me cry.

Anyway I had drawn the attention of the assistant there who told us that by the time we returned we should be talking in rhyming couplets.

So it has been since then, with the library lady’s challenge locked in my soul, that I have started to hear poetry in my son’s wonderful babbling. I say babbling in the most complimentary sense. This is how the experts describe the speech of children his age, but in fact Snooks does not so much babble as assert, in short, very punchy sentences.

He has now started to link adjectives and nouns and even throws in the odd verb, making perfectly respectable conversation, the sparkle of which is only tarnished by the rather too frequent repetition of recurring themes; the crane at the end of our street; the tractor in the local park which the council workers use to ride around the grounds; the bin men and the street cleaners who pass by in sync at around 7am on a Wednesday morning.

So we have: “Crane skip lift high,” and “Tractor man leaves lights” and “Bin truck clean. See!”

I must say I rather enjoy this form of communication and as a jobbing journalist of many years am quite envious of his ability to nail it in so few words. I also find my tolerance for long windy dialogue, which was never great, has diminished considerably since I have been conversing, for at least half of my time, in this way.

Then he seemed to grasp the notion of rhyme, of sorts, experimenting with the words he knew to produce the legends, “Big pig” and a somewhat Shakespearean “Double bubble.”

But it is the gems of his accidental metaphors, which should be stolen and set in poetry.

This thought first occurred to me when he insisted that the geese on the local pond were bears. It got me thinking. Water bears. They are rather like bears – grumpy, lumbering, fast and powerful

And then last weekend the Engineer and I took him to the London Aquarium , a trip inspired by a bath book he was given which has introduced him to the existence of sea weed, sharks and crabs.

There, the spectacular larger tank included many creatures he recognised - a turtle which swam right towards us and caused him to spin in my arms with fright, a number of really menacing looking sharks and a giant graceful ray which dipped and swooped like a… like a…

“Kite!” shouted Snooks.

A kite. Of course. Has anyone every written a poem about kites and thought to compare them to stingrays? Pass me the pen. I’m going in.

Monday, 12 October 2009

growing up pain

Well I said I would keep you posted and the absence of a post last week says it all.

As Snooks recovered from his bout of whatever it was – we are never fully sure what he is suffering from; parenting involves an awful lot of guesswork - the Engineer went down with the cold he had had and I got the sore throat. Snooks kept the teething pain just for himself.

Considering the misery these inflicted on each of his parents I can only commend Snooks for his courage on having suffered all three at the same time. And indeed this powerlessness to do much about any of his suffering is probably the most painful part of it all for me.

The agony of watching him gag every time he ate, washing sheets stained with blood from his mouth where he had chewed ulcers during the night, bathing him standing with his arms around my neck because immersion in water had become unbearable for him, all surpassed any discomfort caused by my inflamed tonsils.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not good with pain. I don’t suffer in silence and I certainly am not a willing subscriber to the theory that pain is good for you, though I have reluctantly come to believe that some pain in life is necessary.

I remember one mumfriend jokingly telling her six month old, “No pain, no gain” as she yanked a rather tight but very stylish dress over her daughter’s big baby head. She is Italian. The dress mattered.

No. The only venture The Engineer and I made outside last weekend was to buy more paracetamol having crunched our way through all our supplies. We had to make separate trips as supermarkets restrict the number you can buy in one go (as if this is really going to stop anyone taking the lot if they really had that in mind) and we wanted to be really stocked up. This one looked like it was going to last.

Meanwhile, having finally cottoned on to how grim poor Snooks must have been feeling, I was regularly dosing him with Calpol (sometimes interspersed with Nurofen) backed up with Cadbury’s Buttons and breastmilk.

As Snooks appeared to be on the mend by Monday I decided to make our regular trip to the Toddler Gym where he loves to witness the bouncy castle go flat – an event he recounts for days afterwards - only to find the torrential rain I have been waiting for all summer had finally arrived. (I have a soft spot for rain, which I put down to my origins in the north.)

Suddenly filled with a sense of responsibility for all our health (an illusion brought on by lack of sleep) I opted to drive there, believing this to be the grown up thing to do. My natural instinct was to walk, as I always do and as people in Manchester always do when it rains, because it rains there all the time.

However here in London I was right. It was the grown up thing to do and all the grown ups had done it, filling the leisure centre car park to overflowing with SUVs and forcing me to park two streets away, carrying Snooks, coatless, through the driving rain.

At home, as I undressed a howling Snooks, furious at being woken from his rain-soaked slumber in the warm car, I was about to admit defeat and would have burst into tears had my lovely niece not arrived just at that moment with her almost equally lovely boyfriend .

I was expecting them, and had also been expecting to be dressed (nope), dry (nope) with Snooks either asleep (nope) or dressed (nope) and ready to go for a nice walk on the common, kicking the football all the way to a lovely café which serves excellent food and the best coffee in London (nope, nope and nope). I was going for Effortlessly Elegant Mother and Cool Aunt, with a hint of Edgy Londoner thrown in.

Instead, lovely niece found a teapot and tea and put the kettle on our 1950s (not retro, just ancient) stove and lovely boyfriend (he had qualified within seconds of our meeting at the front door) read The Tiger Who Came to Tea to a mesmerised Snooks, while I got dry and dressed.

Later, as we trawled across the common – we did the walk, rain notwithstanding – I told them about the night, when my niece was a very little girl, that I was bunked down in her bedroom and she got out of bed and put a blanket over me because I kept sneezing.

I wonder what they are up to this weekend?

Monday, 28 September 2009

corporal punishment

The week started badly.

On Monday I pulled a muscle in my calf chasing Snooks across the fields. My embarrassment was doubled by the fact that it was in the company of two other mums who are both currently, serenely pregnant with their seconds.

Their firsts were girls. They don’t know…yet. So my sprint to reach Snooks before he reached the path where the commuter cyclists belt along regardless was comically and very suddenly halted and replaced with an agonising hop as I continued the race against disaster.

And it has continued like that ever since.

The injury was actually a recurrence of a recurrence. The original tear was made years ago playing tennis, only in those days, the friend drove me home, found an ice pack to put on my leg, elevated on a cushion and brought me dinner.

The first recurrence happened in the privacy of our own hallway where, in the guise of the Cuddle Monster I took off in pursuit of Snooks rather too suddenly for my old calves to cope.

Having hopped around for a couple of days at home the leg was sort of on the mend when the second incident happened, this time at my mortification in front of an audience.

On neither occasion was I driven anywhere or given any cushions of any sort. I just did the usual stuff, only on one leg.

Tuesday morning was worse. Snooks had been referred by a kind but rather zealous GP to an ENT consultant after having a couple of nasty ear infections. I had learned that my family does a strong line in very narrow ear canals, which can cause complications resulting in slight but temporary loss of hearing. This revelation had helped with a number of unanswered questions about my own childhood, not least why I, and both my brothers spent time in hospital in our pre school years. It also means we all have quite cute ears.

We had already paid the consultant one visit, scorched into my brain with the memory of Snooks throwing up in the back of the car just as we swung into the hospital entrance, causing me to swerve and almost take out a woman just leaving the hospital grounds who glared at me with the understandable fury of someone who has just been given a clean bill of health only to be totalled by some idiot careering about in the car park.

He had suggested a ‘wait and see’ policy, and this was the ‘see’ bit. Whether Snooks remembered the previous visit or was simply demonstrating a family loathing of all things medical (his birth is the only good thing I have ever known happen in a hospital) he took against the whole plan the minute he spotted the place and had to be cajoled, ordered and finally bribed with chocolate buttons into the building.

Now I don’t know about you, but I would have expected that any medic who has ever treated any child before for any condition would have some idea that they may be a) frightened and b) not keen on having things poked in their ears.

But unfortunately both the technician who attempted to carry out the pressure test on Snooks’ ears and the consultant who wanted to look in them were aghast to find Snooks howling like a banshee.

Nevertheless I reluctantly went along with the plan to hold him firmly while things were poked in his ears, right up to the point that the specialist (not a doctor actually; he was a Mr therefore a surgeon. Not the same thing at all) suggested that his frantic behaviour was caused by frustration due to a loss of hearing and therefore was evidence that he needed an operation to cure it.

For the record, Snooks’ hearing is fine. His language is excellent for his age and he has lately been heard to hum Ally Bally Bee reasonably accurately.

Fuelled with tear-filled indignation that Snooks’ distress should be interpreted as a special need and horrified that a doctor should recommend surgery on such flimsy evidence I rejected the advice and left.

By Thursday I had discovered that if I wore high heels I could walk on both legs, which was good because it meant I could finally leave the house (hopping will only get you so far), but bad as it made for some unorthodox wardrobe choices for my weekly Pilates class. However I simply had to go as by now I was in desperate need of realignment, in more ways than one.

Things could have got very complicated at this point as a friend who suddenly needed someone to look after her daughter asked if I could help. Through a rather impressive mums-jungle-telegraph, her little girl was delivered to us that afternoon, fed, changed and tired which meant, mercifully, she fell asleep almost instantly, leaving me to entertain Snooks for two hours without letting him know that someone was sleeping in baby bear’s bed.

By Friday, Fortune seemed at last to be smiling as I was fit enough to take Snooks out to a playgroup where we met up by chance with the same little girl now in the care of another jungle mum and her son whom we joined for lunch.

It did not last. Snooks began to drool ominously, developed a lovely crop of ulcers around his mouth and embarked on a coughing and gagging campaign, which continued pretty much unbroken for the rest of the day.

Many spoons of Calpol and not many hours of sleep later I can confirm that his canines are well on the way. As I write, both he and the Engineer have come in and fallen asleep on the bed where I am holed up with my laptop. I’ll keep you posted.

Sunday, 20 September 2009


I have got nostalgiaitis.

I think it is the changing season.

My sister and I once agreed that New Year ought to be celebrated in September not January. It just feels right, especially if your childhood revolved, as ours did, around the academic year.

Last Tuesday was a stormy day. In the morning, the sky was dark grey, threatening rain and a strong noreaster was blowing.

So filled with that odd coupling of hope and longing, I decided to take Snooks out to play on the common.

With not another soul in sight, we weathered it for about an hour, watching the trees bow like heavenly courtiers in the gale and amusing ourselves by chasing a plastic bag across the common. At this point, those purveyors of nursery school for all children between the ages of six months and four years will be crying: “ See what she subjects that poor child to! See how unstimulated and lacking in social skills he is (Let’s not even get started on her)!”

Actually Snooks loved it and tells the bag story to everyone he meets. He tells the story of how the strong wind caught the bag as I emptied its contents (the football) onto the ground, and whipped it out of my hand, how it blew all the way across the common and how we chased it and were only able to retrieve it when got struck against the fence by the road. Only he says: “Oh no. Bag. Blew. Stuck. Road.” The boy has a future in copywriting.

Anyway when eventually our ardour for the blustery outdoors waned, we took refuge at a friend’s place where we were restored with mountains of toast and wonderful strong coffee.

It was while our two giggly boys were jumping up and down on a bean-bag to look out of the window that my friend happened to show me a photograph of herself with her late mother. It was taken a few years ago - a head and shoulders shot of the two of them together. It looked nice.

At home later that day, I remembered that another friend of ours has a similar framed photo of herself with her late mother. It is a perhaps no coincidence that we three became friends when our babies were born within a week of each other, all feeling that aching loss so keenly, but rarely mentioning it.

Casting around I realised that there is no evidence on show of my life before Snooks and the Engineer, for which I can only blame myself. Years ago I imposed a ban on family photos on the wall, which the kind Engineer accepted without much resistance. (An exception was made for his older children who remain in our hallway, captured on a beach as their prepubescent selves). I had two reasons: first, photos of the ones who had passed simply failed to replace them and second, photos of the living paradoxically, and spookily, always bring to my mind a line from a Doors song “I won’t need your picture, until we say goodbye”.

Slowly, over the years, one or two have made their way onto our shelves as the Engineer has cunningly made presents of framed photos for birthdays and anniversaries, easing me in with happy holiday snaps of the two of us.

And while I can spend a good few hours gazing at the digital images of Snooks on screen – an activity which keeps me happy during the evenings when I am missing him because he is asleep – it took until he was one year old before I was prepared to have a framed photograph of him on show.

The other day Snooks was snookling on my knee and playing with the pendant around my neck. Then he sat up, studied it for a moment and pronounced: ‘A lady’. He had managed to open the old locket I was wearing which contains a photo of my mother, half my age, about to take on the world. It is a black and white professional portrait in which she wears a classy silk scarf and her trademark enigmatic smile. It is how I like to remember her.

I tried explaining to Snookie who she was but none of the words seemed to fit. She was never made for ‘grandmother’; ‘gran’ sounds a bit Eastenders and ‘granny’ is just a joke. She was known to the grandchildren she met as ‘Nanna’, ‘Nonna’ and ‘Bubbles’. But without the intimacy of that acquaintance, these did not seem to describe the woman in the locket.

‘Lady,’ Snooks repeated.

Lady it is.

Monday, 14 September 2009

smells like golden syrup

People go on a lot about the smell of babies.

I used to wonder what the fuss was about. So far as I could tell they smelt pretty average.

Their lives, as observed by me from a safe distance, also seemed to emit some real stinkers – obviously, the dirty nappies, but also the foul smelling stuff in jars that they live on, or so I thought.

(Snooks steadfastly refuses to eat anything from a jar unless its name contains the word ‘pudding’ or ‘dessert’. He makes an exception for William Christ Pears, which of course have become known as ‘Jesus Pears’. But there is more chance of getting him to eat his own slippers than consume any unappetising gunk dubiously dubbed “broccoli bake”).

There was also that milky smell you notice when you walk into the house of a newborn baby, where an exhausted mother has usually resigned herself to wearing milk-encrusted clothing (I once heard of a new mum going on her first big night out, without realising that she had baby puke all down the back of her black Prada coat) and dabs half-heartedly at the sofa when bubs delivers curdled lunch back up onto it. I remember, in the early days, holding Snooks at arms length as hot milk jetted like a geyzer from his little screaming mouth right into my face.

And then there is that lovely, recently-bathed-and-regularly-laundered smell which only small children seem to be able to carry off; in adults it just smacks of weird Howard Hughesy type germ obsession.

Since having Snooks I have found that a whole range of olfactory experiences come as part of the very primal role of motherhood.

On more than one occasion, for instance, a doctor has been consulted on the subject our Snooks’ fishy smelling breath after a waiter told the Engineer that it was a sure sign of infection. That time it did turn out that poor little Snooks had tonsillitis but subsequent similar investigations have only thrown up the probable explanation that he had fish for tea and has indigestion.

I also notice that while I have little trouble tolerating the smell of my own offspring’s nappies, I still cannot stand the smell of other babies’ offerings and have to resist the urge to gag when they come a bit too close.

While once the universal use of Johnson’s Baby Powder might have explained that special baby smell everyone is after, its banishment as a suspected cause of some ailment (which escapes me now, and anyway I don’t want to get sued so should not be too specific) means it cannot be the source.

And anyway, in an effort to retain Snooks’ inherent sweet scent, not to mention his remarkably good skin, I have avoided using any fragranced products on him and until recently resisted the common practice of a daily bath. Until he was running around outside every day, it really seemed unnecessary to me, though this omission did raise a few eyebrows.

So just the other day, when, as I was nuzzling into the back of his head while we watched telly (this is the only time he allows me to do this) and I suddenly noticed this magic smell, this potent potion, I knew for certain it was not the result of any manufactured product but must have been that elusive baby essence.

“That’s it!” I shouted to no one in particular. “He smells like Golden Syrup.”

If it is the case that I have identified That Baby Smell that sends broody women into orbit and reduces grown men to tears, then Tate and Lyle should start cashing in.

However I like to think that maybe this is just Snooks’ very own delicious aroma.

If only old Kurt were here to sing about it.

Monday, 7 September 2009

who's counting?

Snooks is eighteen months old today.

It is a landmark, which for those readers without children may seem like cheating. Who marks months? (A quick mental calculation just made me 535).

Before I got pregnant, I met a second time pregnant friend for lunch. The conversation went like this:

“Hi, how are you doing? How far gone are you?”

That was me, trying to sound interested but not really and not knowing what the correct terminology was for a grown married woman happily with child, as opposed to a teenage school friend who had still not told her parents.

“72 weeks.”

Of course she did not really say that but she might as well have done. Her answer was given in weeks, which I then visibly struggled to calculate into real money.

“You are going to have to get used to this if you are going to have a baby,” she sighed, and filled me in about the whole 40 week deal.

Then once they are out and about, one segues from week counting to month counting at about 12 weeks when they have reached an age worth mentioning in months.

This continues until the big ONE when everyone shifts to years for about a month and then back to months again for the foreseeable. (Two is not foreseeable at this stage, believe me. It seems like a century away).

Once you have mastered this spectacular shift of bases you have the school years to count, which bewilderingly do not begin with one. What kind of mean trick is that to play on us all?

Just as our clever little offspring are starting to grasp the Hindu-Arabic basics, we launch them into a system, which defies it.

‘Year One’ is actually the second year. They start in ‘Reception’, which could more accurately be called ‘Year Zero’ and in my day was simply, and logically, ‘Infant One’.

A nice man at the council explained it all to me over the phone the other day.

“Ah no we don’t call them infants anymore and there are no juniors either, well actually there are a couple of junior schools but not many so perhaps easier if we just don’t count those…” etc

“So when they reach year six, they have actually been at school for seven years?”



So although I know it’s unhelpful when someone asks, as a kind stranger did yesterday, how old Snookie is and I reply ‘Seventeen months and three weeks’, but he just isn’t one any more.

The Engineer and I were recalling just last night how changed he is since his first birthday. His face and legs have thinned out a bit; his hair is thicker, blonder and slightly calmer; he can run, quickly and confidently; he can kick the ball the whole length of the hallway; he can jump, sort of (he jumps down which means he jumps from standing to sitting. He is very proud of this); he can open the gate which encloses the no dog area of the common as well as the gate outside the house which he mastered as soon as he could walk; he can dance, combining hand waving, foot stamping and revolving in circles. His favourite dance song is Back in the USSR by the Beatles on account of the jet engine intro; he can climb onto the back of the settee, the dining table and footstool in our bedroom all of which have opened up new worlds of exploration for him and new heights of anxiety and vigilance for me; he can use a fork and a spoon and can hold a knife correctly but at the moment just uses it to whack peas which stray off his plate; he has paddled in the sea at and subsequently slept on four different beaches, two UK two Mediterranean; he voluntarily turns onto his tummy and swims in the bath, which he loves so long as no water passes anywhere near his ears; he hates tomatoes, broccoli, melon, any breakfast cereal (a toast man through and through), milk (other than mine) and rice cakes; he also hates M&S, nappy changes and lullabies.

He loves balls, large and small; cars (including Formula One racing cars which he observed when his father was watching the Grand Prix on television with the comment, “Cars. Fast.”); tractors; diggers; trucks; planes; helicopters; his boy buggy; blueberries; potatoes; cheese; hot cross buns; fish (salmon, tuna, cod - even prawns); peas; Iggle Piggle; kites; the sea.

To date, (though it changes daily) he can say: ball, sun, sky, sea, fish, kite, cat, tiger, light, dark, cold, hot, tap, bread, breast, cheese, cake, biscuit, rusk, blueberry, apple, banana, bear, truck, tractor, car, boat, plane, helicopter, train, phone, drum, buggy, fast, Daddy, Joe and bye bye.

However it is the frequency and force of his newest word – no (accompanied by a vigorous shake of the head) – which mostly marks the change from the cute little dumpling photographed on his first birthday.

While the time seems to have slowed to a crawl since I started spending my days watching our little boy’s every move, paradoxically he is changing faster than I can write.

The days may be long, but every one counts.

Tuesday, 1 September 2009

lost and found II

There is a God.
And in fact there may well be a St Anthony too.

Last week I described the agony over the missing Linus shoe and my pact with the powers that be that I would do the right thing if it were returned to me.( lost and found)

Well get this.

Exactly a week after shoe-gate, a friend came over to visit for the day along with her eight-year-old son. In between games of football and superheroes (which somehow merged so that players could be temporarily frozen and therefore rendered unable to chase the ball, except Snooks of course, who was the Evil Genius Baby whose special powers meant that if he got his hands on the ball, it would be an end to the world as we know it) I told her the sorry tale of the lost shoe and the morally dubious acquisition of the substitute pair found on the wall.

The Engineer, incidentally, refused to take Snooks out in the pair found on the wall. He also (my harshest critic) made me take all the swear words out of last week’s post. “People will think you were in a bad mood when you wrote it,” he said. I bloody well was!

After she had left to make the journey back across London I visited the shop where I bought the original Linus shoes to see if another pair had miraculously appeared in stock since I last checked

I was still carrying the odd remaining shoe around with me, just in case the lost one turned up and I had to prove ownership, and so showed it to the shop assistant, inspiring her to go the extra mile and check if any other stores had them in that size.

There was one pair left, she said, on the other side of London, in Snooks’ size. They would keep them for 24 hours.

Now here was a coincidence, or if you prefer, evidence of the power of god/good, working in the world. The friend who had visited us that day just happened to live in the very place and by another flukey fact, I happened to be driving over there on other business later that night. If she could get to the shop before it closed and buy the shoes, I could pick them up on my way home and order would be restored to the universe.

My dear friend leapt into action, piling her poor young boy back into the car (having just made the one hour drive across the city) texting that she would contact me once the mission was accomplished.

By 10.30pm that night, I returned home with the shoes and waved them under the nose of the sleepy Engineer and the sleeping Snooks.

But hold on. Was St Anthony not supposed to find the old shoe, rather than magic up a new pair? This can hardly be held up as evidence of his existence, let alone his ability to deliver results.

Nevertheless, I decided to keep my side of the deal and replace the stripey foundlings on the wall, accepting that pragmatism sometimes has to fill in for the odd cosmic glitch or that perhaps St Anthony just had shares in a certain popular high street store.

And so it was that I left the house the next day to meet another friend, with the stripey foundlings and the old odd shoe in the bottom of the pram. It being forecast for rain, the precious new pair was safe and dry at home, still unworn.

Back at the site of the previous day’s Superhero Football, this friend and I were engaged in a game of Manic Hokey Cokey, which involved holding our boys by the wrists and flinging them at each other, while they squealed with excitement, when she mentioned that she had read last week’s shoe saga and thought she might have spotted the missing one on the other side of the common.

The only reason she had left it behind was because my post had lead her to believe that it had been lost in the café. Indeed, when writing, I had implied that it had been left behind during the commotion over the superbuggy incident. But as the good Engineer had grimly pointed out, this was really just my attempt to lay blame at the feet of the ubermum. The truth was, it could easily have fallen out of the bottom of the pram on the way home.

Sure enough when we got to it, the diddy shoe dangling from the metal fence was indeed the matching opposite to the one in my pram. A kind soul had tied it so securely that I had to wiggle the knot undone with the corkscrew of my Swiss Army penknife. It had been there for more than a week but was in perfect condition.

Oh the joy! I think there may have even been a tear. The friend, whose son is the same age and size as Snooks, offered to buy the new pair and the circle was complete. Almost.

On the way home I left the foundling stripeys, improved by a spin in the washing machine, at their place on the wall with another prayer to St Anthony that they would be found by the mum who had lost them.

As I continued home, I thought about my latest favourite novel, Vernon God Little which as the title suggests, is about how god isn’t ‘up there’ but amongst us, down here.

And I gratefully thanked the god in my friends, for being my friends, for listening to me, for bothering to read this blog and for going out of their way to help me.

Sunday, 23 August 2009

lost and found

I have an idea.

I am going to trawl the streets every late afternoon collecting all the lost shoes of the day and keep them until an exhausted and distraught mother turns up to collect them. I will publish my phone number so people can ring to inquire if I have the matching opposite in their size. Seriously. I think I will call it Shoes Reunited.

Since Snooks’ birth 17 months ago we have lost the following:

· one white bear - a Christening present
· one white silk shoe – a Christening shoe, later found
· one cardy (mine actually, fell off handle of buggy)
· two cups – plastic Tommee Tippee, green and blue
· one blue bunny hat – birth present from Snooks’ aunt
· two muslin cloths with teddy bear pattern
· one football bearing the legend “Genius Dolphins” (found in Greece. Lost in south London)
· the buggy’s ‘cosy toes’ (later found in Sainsbury toilet. Huge relief)
· two beloved shoes, size 4

There will be more by the time you read this.

Most of these items were dropped or left behind in locations very near our home but had vanished by the time I returned to retrieve them. Where do they go? Who spirited away our blue bunny hat? Why?

You remember the excitement over the new shoes ( shoe love)? Yes well since then there have been another new pair in a larger size, followed by a pair of sandals because the posh new shoes were lovely but too warm for summer, followed by another pair because one of the sandals went missing in Marks and Spencer.

Keeping up?

Well until this week, we were up to shoes number four, an adorable, unfeasibly cute pair of canvas lace up pumps. They were navy with red and green stripes along the side and they had distinctive (and apparently very cool) red soles. They were known as Snooks’ Linus shoes because he bore such a strong resemblance to the Charles M Schulz Peanuts cartoon character of that name when he wore them.

It is almost too painful to retell but here goes.

Snooks and I had stopped off at our favourite café one hot afternoon last week after a long journey to visit the Engineer at his place of work. The day had been a great success. Trains had been caught on time (amazing, considering the variables). Strangers had been found to help carry the buggy up and down the stairs at the station (don’t get me started). The Engineer’s work colleagues had been suitably entertained by Snooks’ astonishing resemblance to his father and fascination for mechanical objects. All was well.

I was enjoying a bracing cup of Earl Grey, while Snooks careered about with a resident tractor, the cafe’s main attraction for him.

Now I distinctly remember removing his shoes and socks during a tantrum (his not mine) brought on by my touching the tractor to try to lure him out of the path of an incoming super-buggy being pushed by the type who often frequent the place – pearls, designer jeans, fall-down up do, subtle but effective make-up, chunky wedding ring.

I have whiled away many an hour since Snooks was born, observing these awesome uber-mums over afternoon tea, noting their universal tendency to speak without revealing their teeth.

Anyway, the superbuggy is heading for Snooks, unaware of his presence on the floor. I swoop in to move him, tantrum ensues and I decide to pack up and leave, covered in confusion and embarrassment.

So you can guess. In the mayhem, I packed everything into the bottom of the pram, while holding a screaming Snooks and somehow left one of the gorgeous shoes behind.

My reaction when I discovered the omission on our arrival home an hour later was such that Snooks stopped what he was doing and stared at me with the expression he reserves for crying newborn babies.

As I returned from a second trip to the café that day, having retraced our steps there and back, having asked in all the shops along the same road if anyone had handed it in, I resorted to the time-honoured method for finding missing objects. I prayed to St Anthony.

Moments later I spotted a child’s shoe on a fence, not our shoe but a similar one, same style, canvas, striped, size four.

As I examined it, wondering if somehow ours could have morphed into this cute little thing, a man came up behind me and said he had seen a similar shoe further down the road.

Without asking more I ran in the direction he pointed until I arrived at the other, identical shoe, also carefully placed on fence.

He caught up, carrying the first shoe in his hand.

“They are not ours,” I said, flat with disappointment. “I did not realise you meant it was the same shoe.”

“Yes but if they fit, why don’t you have them? Noone is going to go looking for a pair of shoes they have lost.”

Could St Anthony come with an eye-patch and a little black pug dog? Or is that the other guy?

Either way I made a pact. If our Linus shoe turns up, I’ll put these back.

Are you listening up there?

Monday, 17 August 2009

blue sky guys

Snooks is talking more and more now. In fact he rarely stops, even when he is asleep.

He is very keen to get across his view of the world and resorts to furious, crescendoing repetition if his insights go unacknowledged.

I suppose I imagined that when he did talk, his observations would be in line with mine: he would notice the weather, what we were wearing, things out of place in the bathroom, that sort of thing.

But the things that alert Snooks’ senses and the sense he makes of them are really, very fabulously, uniquely him.

The Engineer read to me the other night from an article about babies. (It reminds me of a great line from Woody Allen’s masterpiece Hannah and Her Sisters where a character offers to read her film script to him and he replies: “No thanks, I have been doing all my own reading since I was five.”)

The article in the New Scientist explained how babies have more flexible brains than adults – they actually have more neural connections than adults, which they gradually weed out to hang on to the most useful ones – and are therefore more creative thinkers than adults. They are, as the article by Prof Alison Gopnik , University of California, points out ‘the R&D department of the human species, the blue sky guys, while we adults are production and marketing.’

I have to just thank the Engineer here for these nuggets of grown-up information. Most of my mental energy is spent fathoming nap times and what is left by the end of the day I tend to use to dissolve into fiction. Some science to chew on makes a fabulous late night snack.

Plus, this particular nugget has helped to change how I converse with our highly expressive son.

At first it was pretty obvious what was going on. I would point at objects and he would name them, drawing from the words which cropped up most frequently in our lives. ‘Balle’ eventually became ‘ball’, ‘burr’ became ‘bear’ and ‘cake’ has always been embarrassingly clear.

Then he started to volunteer words unprompted. The first happened in a café over afternoon tea where he pointed to a balloon on the table and named it out loud. Balloons are not a feature of our everyday world, nor do they crop up in the books we read together, which meant that he had remembered the word from a party months earlier, where he had purloined a giant helium-filled ‘0’ which was announcing the units of age attained by a friend celebrating his 60th birthday.

Last weekend we visited a relative up north where I was expecting to have to contain him indoors, a prospect I faced with some horror on account of his explosive energy and my 77-year-old aunt’s glass-fronted cabinets.

However Snooks provided a solution himself repeatedly shouting, “Sun!” while pointing out of the window, inspiring two visits to the wonderful beaches of the north east coast and hours of pushing Clairebear around the back yard in his boy buggy.

I was doubtful at first that this could really be what he meant, but resolved to try to see what he sees, instead of telling him what my myopic, ground-level vision tells me.

Back home, as I was putting him to bed the other night he ran through his list of favourite words. "Sight," he announced, pointing at the light, (fair enough). "Ayee," he said, poking himself and then me in the eye (par for the course). "Boat," he said, pointing at the Paul Klee print Der Niesen which hangs above his changing mat and which I have believed, for the last 26 years, to be a painting of houses surrounding a mountain.

"No it’s a…" I stopped myself, just in time.

Who am I to say it is not a boat? I am just production and marketing. He’s the blue sky baby.

Monday, 3 August 2009

puppy love

When I was a toddler I had a dog called Patrick.

Patrick was my loyal companion for some part of my life between being able to walk and going to school.

I have based this estimation on the fact that I cannot have been more than a couple of feet tall when I was taking Patrick for walks. I know this because Patrick was not really a dog, but in truth the bath plug being pulled along on its chain.

I have always assumed that this was an idiosyncrasy all of my own, born out of being the youngest and so in need of someone to master.

The logic behind the plug choice was that the chain reminded me of the dog leads I had seen tethering mutts outside our local shops, while on errands there in the pushchair.

The name, I only understood years later, when my Dad and I visited an old friend of his and heard him call “Paaaaatriiiick” at which an old but very friendly labrador appeared at his side. It all fell into place.

So when I saw Snooks starting to drag around pieces of cloth, bits of string – anything that reached the floor from his hot little hand, I knew exactly what was needed. We soon had Barney in a collar fashioned from an old head-band, with Snooks’ snake belt hooked onto it as a lead.

The likeness to a real lead and collar are the measure of fulfilment derived from the whole dog thing, as I recall.

I was eventually weaned off the bath plug when handed responsibility for the family dog Fido, whose long woolly body, knitted by a friend of my mother’s and stuffed with old tights, was for a while the flesh and blood of my own best friend.

It was a partnership which ended abruptly one night during the 1970 power cuts, when my father, having a quiet cigarette in the pitch dark, tried to pick up the pillar ashtray beside his chair, unaware that Fido, obediently awaiting my return, was tethered to it.

Once the contents of the ashtray had been spilled on the carpet, both the ashtray and Fido were flung out of the lounge window.

It was not long after the incident, that Fido’s thespian career took off as he landed the part of second lamb in the local school’s nativity, which I imagine is still running to this day.

Snooks’ interest in dogs has never faded since he first started shouting out to them as we passed them on the common. And now, pulling Barney around by a lead seems to have awakened a new interest.

This morning, after a long Snookle in bed, I suggested to him that Barney might need a walk and watched as he gently pulled the pet down the hallway looking behind to make sure Barney was following.

Surely he can’t have inherited it. Is Barney following in the prints of Patrick and Fido or is there a more obvious explanation - a need for companionship?

Snooks will not have little brothers and sisters to torment (come on, we all know it is the pay-off to older siblings for having to play second fiddle when the new one arrives) as the Engineer and I figured we had just about snuck under the wire begetting one; A second, at our advancing years, could well be asking for trouble.

Besides it is hard to imagine loving another as much as I love this one. Sharing myself with anyone else feels like a betrayal. Of course the Engineer does not count. That’s different.

Anyway, it was probably no coincidence that, just as a couple of mumfriends are now expecting their second, I found myself shouting “Let’s get a dog!” while watching the birth of nine, outrageously cute labrador pups on telly the other night?

The Engineer, so far, has kept his silence.

Monday, 27 July 2009

future perfect

It is one of those irritating things that people do with babies - to predict their occupation.

These career forecasts are usually based on the flimsiest of evidence – he can hold a crayon; an artist! He likes aeroplanes; a pilot!

But I confess, I am the worst for this. I do it all the time and in that moment, I seriously consider whether this is the right direction for Snooks. At 16 months, I think he should be keeping his options open.

Perhaps it is all part of being a parent – the desire to find the perfect path and steer our young ones along it. But it’s a fool’s errand. Not to mention, deeply unfair on the child.

I try to keep this in mind as the image of Snooks on stage at the Albert Hall, bowing to an ecstatic audience, violin and bow in hand, swims before my eyes.

I mentioned this vision once to a friend who actually plays the violin and her response was “God don’t do that to him – make him into the nerd who carries a violin to school every day.”

Then I worried about the dangers of celebrity – the treatment by the press, the detachment from the real world, the awful come down when the star fades - and decided it would be better to be unsung, quietly excelling at something, out of the public eye.

After watching a programme about some guys who followed some fish around the Pacific Ocean for three months waiting for the right moment to film them, I started leaning towards marine biologist – so long as he came home once in a while to see his mama.

Passing strangers also feel free to tell Snooks’ fortune, a number of whom have taken one look at him and announced he is bound for the silver screen. Glossy golden locks and a well-timed smile seem to qualify him for the role.

Another favourite is professional footballer. This probably tops the poll of vox pop forecasts. One woman even went so far as to remark, “Well that’s your pension sorted,” as she watched Snooks dribble her son’s ball across the park.

Snooks’ Godmother, a teacher of many years standing, often bemoans the fact that the many wannabe Beckhams who pass through her hands year after year, could have made very good foremen, had their expectations been a little more realistically managed.

Lucky for Snooks then, that he has parents barely able to name two members of the England team.

And also lucky for him that if you can inherit a sporty gene, it seems you can also carry a desire to know how everything works in your blood – in other words, be a born engineer.

His father, The Engineer, and I discussed whether he could have inherited such a leaning after watching Snooks examine the wheel-base of every buggy he came across, long before he could walk.

Or could we have inadvertently encouraged his technophilia? He did, after all, watch Megastructures once or twice in the first few weeks of his life, when we had all given up on the idea of sleep during the hours of darkness.

More recently he has developed a fascination for motorbikes, something I can definitely say I have not encouraged, having witnessed my mother’s face when my older brother was out late at night on his.

Our journeys to Snooks’ weekly engagements now involve zigzagging across the road to admire parked vehicles of interest on either side. And no, he does not look at the shiny paintwork or the nice leather seat (which are the bits that interest me). I watch his gaze fall lovingly over the cylinders and gearbox, drinking it all in.

Last week, when we finally made it to the local leisure centre’s Toddler Gym, a fabulous space for wheeling hoops and climbing on foam shapes under the supervision of a lovely lady called Alison, I spent half of the morning retrieving Snooks from behind the bouncy castle where he was examining the machinery used to inflate it.

It got worse at the end of the session when Alison gathered us all round for a sing song - all bar Snooks who now wanted to stand on the deflated castle and be told exactly where it had gone.

“He’s going to be an engineer," Alison muttered as we left.

I don’t mind what he does so long as he is happy.

And I finally realise that my parents really did mean that when they said it, all those years ago.

Monday, 20 July 2009

tv or not tv?

It is not exactly a matter of life and death, I know, but the question of what to do about the telly seems to be gaining significance in my world.

You see, I was brought up on a diet of strict BBC, permitted only to fill the gap between my return from school and my mother’s return from work, though this would technically not count as ‘permitted’ as there was simply noone there to object.

Less controversially, telly was allowed after tea (which is dinner for those readers in the south of England) provided any homework had already been done. Never, ever EVER was the television on during a meal.

My mother’s inverted watershed meant no daytime television was allowed at all, which neatly ruled out all the stuff broadcast early on a Saturday morning to give parents a lie in while the kids are in the care of the square baby-sitter.

I can’t complain about that really. I spent most of those mornings on some frozen forgotten sports field anyway, so I would not have been around to tune in, even if the television had not been deemed the cause of the country’s gradual slide into sloppy table manners and creeping mispronunciation of the word ‘controversy.’

It simply meant I had to busk my way through playground chat about Tiswas and Swap Shop both of which I have yet to see, and try to keep calm when, the morning after a sleepover at a friend’s house, we ate breakfast on our knees in front of something called Shang-A-Lang.

Before Snooks was born, I read a newspaper article about a new children’s programme, which was exceptional in its ability to soothe very young children, rather than excite or try to educate them.

The article quoted lots of intelligent, respected voices in praise of the programme for its colour, music, humour and gentleness. It was suitable, they said, even for little babies.

It got me thinking about whether the gogglebox might not deserve its attention-sucking, conversation-killing reputation, but could be quite a useful tool in bringing up a child.

I gave In the Night Garden a trial run before allowing Snooks to see it, recording it and holding a clandestine viewing one night when the Engineer was out. I noticed that the slow pace, the repetition and the retelling of the story at the end meant it was very like reading a story from a book, only with moving pictures. And a proper orchestra playing the music, already. And Derek Jacobi doing the voices. Come on, this is classy.

So, I introduced Snooks to Iggle Piggle when he was around three months old, letting him absorb the colour and music and switching off when he started to turn away.

The programme goes out at 6pm, meant to be the Bedtime Hour but in our house is the Getting the Dinner Ready hour, which provides a perfect wind down at the end of the day for both of us.

These days Snooks sits on the rocking chair I once occupied (wearing my Magic Roundabout t-shirt) for such activities and reels backwards and forwards, yelping and pointing as the action unfolds.

I cook the dinner and follow the story sufficiently to know when Snooks is going to need me to join him in a celebratory whoop that Iggle Piggle has finally got his ball back.

And the Engineer usually returns from work about half way through and accompanies Snooks for the rest of the programme, so that we are all up to speed on the plotlines.

What can be the harm in that?

Well I suppose it is a bit like that other box; knowing it contains something as lovely as In The Night Garden, Snooks now wants to know what else is in there. Mostly, when he gestures to the blank screen, I reach for one of his books on the shelf above it, pretending to misunderstand. But it won’t work for much longer.

Perhaps Pandora’s mum should have just hidden the remote.

Saturday, 11 July 2009

nature nurture

Snooks arrived at one of his regular social slots this week proudly brandishing his latest love – a boy buggy.

Yes I have crossed the toy gender line in spite of the quiet reservation of the Engineer, who blanched when I triumphantly waved the object at him in the Early Learning Centre last week. A sudden run on toy pushchairs in the area had meant that my previous efforts to track one down had failed.

“Do boys have pushchairs?” he whispered, perhaps afraid that the Right-On Mums Brigade were hiding inside the Wendy House and might spring out at any moment.

I had to suppress a smile. This was a serious business. I love how protective he is of Snooks’ masculinity, even at 16 months old. To me it is a given. Snooks could wear pink pompoms and carry a Barbie Doll and he would still be the fiercely raucous little boy that he is.

But it seems that it’s different for Dads.

“Oh yes, very much so. That is why they make them in blue,” I answered, trying to make this sound less silly than it actually is.

I get it, though, and I have bowed to the Engineer’s judgement on previous occasions where he felt our son’s dignity was at stake and where I just saw a little boy being cute.

Aware as I am of the impact of my own upbringing,(see Oh Boy!) I also get that my barometer might not work so well in this climate.

However I am confident that the boy buggy is a Good Thing having watched Snooks hoon about with one in the church halls where they are provided by the many playgroups he attends.

I was also influenced by Steve Biddulph’s observation that boys often miss out on the chance to learn to be caring to others, while girls are automatically handed this role with their first dolly. It may well be that nature provides girls with the instinct to nurture, but maybe we fail to encourage it in our boys.

So, I explain all this to the Engineer, sotto voce for fear of being dragged into the Wendy House by the Right-On Mum’s Brigade myself, and we buy the thing.

Nodding to his father’s fears, I stop short of mentioning the need for the required dolly on whom Snooks could dote, mentally assigning Clairebear, who is currently residing unemployed on our bedding chest, to the job.

At home, Snooks watched attentively as I put his old sunhat on the bear's head explaining how we needed to protect her from the hot sun before he take her for a walk outside. At first, he took a step away to observe from a distance, little hands clasped together, before grabbing the buggy handles and taking off down the hallway. I catch up with him just in time to see him drive the wheels over the bear’s head and race outside.

Other mums have reported mixed results from similar attempts to follow Steve’s advice. After seeing Snooks proudly parading his buggy this week, one friend hurried off to buy a dolly for her son of a similar age. She later told me how, on the way home, she inadvertently dropped it under a truck and then, having retraced her steps and rescued it from the roadside, she proceeded to poke her finger into its eye socket to retrieve a dislocated eyeball, while her curious little boy looked on.

I doubt Steve would be impressed with either of us (though I am not sure he is a big fan of women at all, to be honest) but then I don’t think Snooks will learn everything he needs to know about love from a buggy, any more than I learn all I need to know about motherhood from a book.

My decisions about how to raise Snooks arise out of what I read, what I hear from talking to other parents and what I know from mine and the Engineer’s own experience.

And from this, I know that his ability to love another person depends on his attachment to me now. And for that attachment to be secure he needs to trust me to meet his needs. No toys required.

Saturday, 4 July 2009


A slim magazine published by a major nappy manufacturer plopped through our letterbox this week, addressed to me.

‘Dear Mum’, it began, ‘You are probably getting used to being called mummy now.’

Wrong. Snooks resolutely refuses to name me. I am simply there, at the end of his outstretched arms. He does say quite a few other words though – ball (or balle - see say quoi), boat, bear, cheese, helicopter (actually perkeperkopter – very onomatopoeic) and car.

However, having binned the first 14 months’ of unsolicited mail from this company, including, I gather, quite a few handy coupons which I know it is the destiny of all mothers to collect, this time I read on

Perhaps tiredness had weakened my resolve. A 5.30am to 8.30pm working day can do that to ya. And it is not that I don’t think the nappy makers might have something useful to say, I just hate being forced to read it.

So anyway I started to flick through the pages, noting the subheads – Terrible Tantrums, Do Dads Have Different Rules? – and was hooked.

After tearing out the coupons, I settled down in front of the Wimbledon women’s doubles final, holding Snooks with one hand as he stood atop the coffee table about to step off into thin air and clasping the mag in the other.

(Anyone who doubts women’s ability to multi-task should watch a mother at home with children. Now that’s a transferable skill worth noting.)

It tells me that at 16 months old our Snooks is learning a sense of self, of his own distinct identity. For a long time, Snooks has enjoyed long sessions in front of our full-length bedroom mirror, smiling, crying, walking away and turning round to see himself and cuddling Clairebear. But it would appear only now is he able to understand that the image is himself.

Along with this realisation, I read, comes self-will and the need to express it. Wanting things his way is part of asserting his newfound identity. The fury at being denied therefore (i.e. a tantrum) is understandable. It all makes sense and comes as a relief.

Watching Snooks run from one end of the room to the other to bang both fists on the toy box lid because I would not let him play with the scissors was becoming a rather alarming daily event.

Frustration at not being understood also accounts for the outbursts, the booklet says. Once he can communicate better, this will ease.

Snooks and I already manage some kind of communication though it often arises from a lot of pointing (him) and holding up objects saying ‘this’ (me) until peace is restored. But I do cherish the thought that soon he will be able to talk to me and say what he needs. I am curious to know what is going on inside that lively little brain of his.

Even when we do fight (of course I bring my personality to the party too), we usually manage to reconcile pretty quickly.

I read, with some degree of smugness, that I have already instinctively instituted the recommended hug after a barney, which soothes me just as much as it does the boy. Long before Snooks was born, I vowed to myself that this would be a family which would know how to apologise to each other; there would be no fighting to the death in this house.

Also I was told by one of the many wise women of my acquaintance, when I tearfully confided to her that I had shouted at Snooks, to remember that this was a relationship, like any other. It ebbs and flows. And it grows.

Although signs of Snooks’ very individual personality have long been evident, it is only in recent months that I have begun to fully grasp that he is an entirely separate person from me.

I know this sounds odd but it has been hard to comprehend that he may be quite different to me: he may like beetroot and soft-centred chocolates; he may be more confident than I am; he may be more intelligent, or who knows, he may even be good at art.

Obviously I know objectively that he is his own man and let us not forget the fact that he is at least half Engineer.

But the truth is that this sense, this feeling of separation of self may be a little slower coming for me.

I wonder if the nappy makers have got anything useful to say about that.

Monday, 29 June 2009

say quoi?

I had the pleasure of the company of two delightful boys this week, grandsons of a friend of mine, who were on a month’s tour of Europe, visiting relatives in the UK and Ireland before returning to their home in Delhi.

The boys, eight and ten, were charming, beautiful and fluent in French and Hindi. They spoke in their mother tongue, English, with a faint Irish accent.

I met them while Snooks and I were hanging around in the foyer of a church hall where we had retreated as Snooks’ attempts to take part in the discussion inside were not being appreciated.

The boys were waiting for grandma and were instructed by her (an Irish matriarch of the old school) to entertain Snooks. “Tell him a story,” she ordered, before disappearing back into the meeting.

I looked at them in dismay. I didn’t think even I was capable of telling him a story, despite my inside knowledge of his cast of favourite characters (Daddy, Iggle Piggle, Clairebear and Barney the Dog), let alone these sleepy looking youngsters. I expected they would ignore this instruction and go back to the bored lolling they were doing when we arrived, regardless of grandmother’s wishes.

But to their great credit, within minutes, the boys came up with a game, which combined football with a bit of tickling, pulling faces and chasing. Spanning the age difference with gorgeous grace, these lovely lads engaged Snooks in play, which they let him lead but they nevertheless seemed to be enjoying.

It was a relief from the daily clattering Snooks gets from older toddlers at playgroups where anger and frustration are more in evidence than cooperation and tolerance, virtues which maybe these two year olds have not yet had time to learn.

It was also a far cry from the picture of aggression and testosterone-fuelled rebellion painted by Steve Biddulph (see oh boy!) as the natural development of young boys who have not been correctly nurtured.

As I pondered whether moving to Delhi was the key to raising happy boys (actually I asked my brother once how he had produced three such lovely children and he said he told them he loved them, every day. Delhi wasn’t mentioned) the younger of the two came over to talk to me.

"He speaks French," he announced in that marvellous matter-of-fact way children have of informing you of major events.

"Really," I answered, trying not to sound incredulous but with enough doubt in my voice to let this young fry know I was no fool.

A pair of watery green impassive eyes fixed me gently. He was obviously going to have to explain it to this mono-lingual unbeliever. He reminded me of Antoine de Saint-Exupery's Little Prince, perplexed by adults who can’t tell a drawing of a boa constrictor which has swallowed an elephant, from a drawing of a hat.

“He says balle and quoi. That means ball and what," he said, slowly and clearly.

It was true. He does say those things. Green-eyes had asked me earlier, before the games began, if Snooks could talk, assessing how best to approach grandma’s task, and I had said no, he was too young. I had clearly got it wrong.

“Well actually his cousins speak French," I said, throwing in a misleading fact, which only confirmed for him my lack of attention to my son’s linguistic development.

In fact distance in age and geography mean that unless Snooks is communicating with them telepathically, in French, he could not have picked up his cousins’ Gallic tongue.

Anyway the thing was, I wanted green eyes to be right, or at least to think he was right and so the case was closed and he ran off to tickle Snooks while wrestling the ball from him.

I was sorry when it was time to go and I had to break up the game and persuade Snooks back into the buggy for the long walk home.

“We’ll go home via the park so you can get out and run around on the grass for a bit,” I told him as I strapped him in with the aid of a sugar-free elephant-shaped banana-flavoured biscuit.

D’accord,” he replied cheerfully.

Green eyes shrugged and waved bye bye.

Monday, 22 June 2009

domestic bliss

My son is on his way to becoming every girl’s (or boy’s) dream.

As I have mentioned once or twice before he is quite extraordinarily handsome (he just walked in here in his stripy Barnacle Bill t-shirt), has an easy laugh and a good grasp of the basics of kissing.

Most teenage girls settle for far less.

But there’s more. He can add to this fine personal profile a penchant for housework and in particular a keen understanding of the workings of the washing machine and tumble dryer.

Now at first I did not encourage this. I thought it was a fad and just waited for it to pass. But then it dawned on me as I battled to keep him out of the way while I whisked baskets and baskets of washing out of one appliance and into the other, that there could be another way. I should heed that famous pearl once delivered by former Prime Minister John Major, “Better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in.” (I'm guessing he was referring to those pesky party faithfuls who never got over his succession to That Woman - but you get my drift.)

So I changed tack and started to teach little Snooks how to feed dirty washing into the washer drum, how to wait for the conditioner to go into the drawer before shutting it, how to shut the drum door and finally how to press the ‘On’ button, just once.

I see you more experienced parents nodding. Ah yes. She will regret that. Once he knows how to do ‘On’ he will soon move on to ‘Off’ and will employ his new talent to quietly sabotage future washes, secretly halting the programme to leave all our essentials unwashed and forgotten until moments before we need them. Oh yes, I have foreseen it all.

But so far, such rapprochement has brought only domestic harmony. I let him press the button; he does not put the clean washing down the toilet. I let him put it into the dryer; he does not drag the freshly laundered bedding around the garden attached to the back of his Combi.

And it does not stop there.

Just yesterday I found myself partaking in some voluntary Hoovering, partly to pick up the bits of organic-carrot-cake-made-with-oats-and-no-sugar-but-something-very-orange-which-stains-like-nothing-on-earth bar, which Snooks had spread from one room to the next, but mainly to entertain him.

You see, he is now the proud owner of his very own mini Electrolux upright, which is lovingly stored next to his cot each night where he can see it first thing the next morning ready for a new day of busy, busy, busy (if only it actually worked!) cleaning.

However, cute as it was to watch, I had to admit that he could hardly be mirroring me, as the times he has seen me use a vacuum cleaner can be counted on your one free rubber-gloved hand. The Engineer asked me once, when Snooks was about three months old, if he was afraid of the vacuum cleaner. I stumbled over the answer a bit, considered lying, and eventually answered truthfully that I had no idea.

This does not mean we have three months worth of dust on our carpets, I should add. It just means that I run away to the park during the weekly visit by the cleaner, too embarrassed to be here while she cleans around me.

So at the risk of filling Snooks’ head with any silly ideas about women’s role in life (a friend recently said how she regretted asking her three-year-old daughter what she wanted to do when she grew up, to be told “Nothing mummy, like you.”) I rummaged around in the hall cupboard and emerged with the real deal, vrooming up and down alongside him, and actually making some impact on the cake debris.

There may be a danger that Snooks could turn what many consider to be demeaning, domestic drudgery endured by women trapped in their homes with lively toddlers, into fun.

But don’t tell anyone.

Saturday, 13 June 2009

everything I told you yesterday was completely wrong

These were the words once used by a hapless press officer, back when I was a jobbing journo, after I had written several pages of news based on the information she had given me about one of the biggest stories to break in my career.

It was a moment to remember, and was bad, so bad that I burst out laughing.

In the event, the news editor and I re-wrote everything on deadline, using the new, correct information. It was a close call.

Anyway, the point is, the phrase keeps coming into my mind and has actually been quite helpful – a kind of mantra - each day I spend with the 15 month old Snooks whose knack for reinventing himself challenges the chameleon crown of even the great Madonna herself.

Just as I think I have got it – he likes bread but no butter, he can walk up stairs but not down, he has one long nap instead of two short ones – it changes.

It is exhausting and bewildering and at times embarrassing.

So it was that during our holiday these last two weeks, when I was frequently asked by the Engineer, “Does he like this?" or "Does he do that?” I could only mutter the unhelpful response, “Well he might, but then again he might not.”

I was aware that it might have appeared to someone less understanding than the Engineer, that despite spending every waking hour with him, I barely know our son at all.

But it only took a couple of days swinging around the anchor of Snooks’ moving naptime, before the Engineer got it and knew there would be no helpful answers forthcoming any time soon.

It would go something like this.

“So we should set off for the beach?” the Engineer would ask each morning.


“Even though he looks like he might fall asleep?”


“Because he might not, and then we are just sitting here waiting for something which might not happen.’


“With a tired but restless toddler cooped up in an apartment so lacking in baby-proofing we might as well just call an ambulance and have them park outside for the next fortnight?”

OK so he didn’t actually say that last bit but that was what went through my head each time we had the conversation.

Pretty soon the Engineer had rigged up a beach camp, which enabled the whole range of possible outcomes:

a) Snooks falls asleep as soon as we get there so needs a shady bed on the sand

b) Snooks is impossibly wired and so needs to run up and down the beach for hours in the scorching sun

c) Snooks has pooed unexpectedly so needs a change of clothes, a wash, a feed and a nap

d) I need to sleep while being able to see Snooks with that weird I-am-asleep-but-still-know-where-you-are mother thing.

In the evening, dining at our usual restaurant with the sea roaring below, we faced the usual parental quandary – “What will be good and nourishing for him to eat/ what will he actually eat?” settling most of the time for spaghetti Bolognese and ice cream.

In fact Snooks’ passion for grapes and cheese (which he shares with his father – can you inherit food preferences?) means where ever we are, he usually has the main food groups covered.

And then nightfall, instead of rest, brought its own heated deliberations: is he too hot wearing the mosquito repelling night shirt I insist on, can he sleep in the contraption provided by the owner which has a wooden base so hard, even the most devout monk would refuse it and can someone reach in and steal him through those shutters even though we are here in the room?

I recalled, as I lay awake listening for any evidence of the above, that the family holidays of my childhood were clearly not a relaxing experience for my mother, and I silently sympathised with her for the torture which must have been four small children in the rickety and sometimes downright dangerous old places we stayed in.

Despite all the unanswerable questions, we still managed to have a marvellous time and Snooks returned to England a slightly stronger, somewhat blonder boy who runs headlong into crashing waves.

The shifting sands of Snook-time eventually forced us all to do exactly what you should do on holiday, to let go.