Several people have commented favourably on what one described, apparently knowledgeably, as my “avatar” – to me, just that little image of myself and The Boy that appears alongside my profile. So here is a more up-to-date shot from the same sofa of the child with his mother, which provides a welcome reminder that he does sleep occasionally.
|Why can't they spend more time like this?|
Naturally it all started on the day that we embarked on a little tour around the South of England, to introduce him to some of our friends. And so on 21 October I found myself sharing a remarkably small bedroom in a rather ill-favoured country hotel in Buckinghamshire (which had looked a hell of a lot nicer on its website than it did in reality) with a hysterically screaming child. This was all the more of a shock to my system because he has occupied his own bedroom from birth, and has slept soundly in it for the best part of 12 hours from around 7.30 p.m. for months now.
I have a stock phrase that I always use to Mrs H on these occasions: “This is all your fault.” I had already used it extensively as I carted a scarcely credible mountain of luggage from the car, through no less than three key-operated security doors and along the unbelievably narrow corridors of the hotel. (My old friend Fat Ted would have been wedged tight for weeks until his waistline contracted.) To be fair, Mrs H had only booked the place as a last resort when the converted railway station B&B up the road, where she had stayed before and which she rightly thought would appeal to the train nerd in me, proved to be no longer available because the owners had decided to retire at the end of September. There followed a series of increasingly desperate phone calls to appealing farmhouse B&Bs in the same area, some recommended by the friends of Mrs H’s with whom we were having supper that evening, all of whom Mrs H got on with like a house on fire until she asked “Is there room for a travel cot?” and they coldly announced that they could not accept children under 8, or 10, or 12, or 42.
Quite frankly, at around 4 o’clock that morning I could really see their point. And so, I imagine, could anyone else within earshot of our room. It was the noisiest stay in a hotel I have ever endured, apart perhaps from the time I was kept awake pretty much all night in a hotel in Ulster many years ago by the loudest love-making I have ever heard. Everyone at breakfast the next morning looked like zombies. Jealous zombies at that. We tried to work out who had been responsible for the racket but there wasn’t a bloke in the dining room with an ear-to-ear grin and a cage down his trousers to stop his worn-out parts chafing. I enquired at reception when we checked out and they duly apologized and said that the couple concerned had made an early departure. “Use the back entrance, did they?” I enquired, meaning that I expected they were trying to keep a low profile, but I think I was comprehensively misunderstood.
Things did not get much better for us when we decamped to Lewes to stay with some kind but unfortunate friends of mine, with whom we spent three nights (though I’m sure it seemed much longer). Though at least we made an enjoyable visit to something billed as a “petting farm”. I had high hopes of this, only ever having previously encountered the word “petting” in notices announcing that it was strictly forbidden in municipal swimming pools, and strangely it did not disappoint.
|The Boy braced for a spot of petting|
|Trying to feed the goats|
|Admiring the alpacas (or whatever they are)|
|Mrs H takes a break from the cute animals|
|An old man tries out an air pillow|
|The Boy's morning goes with a swing ...|
|... and a drive ...|
|... and a go in the sandpit ...|
|... before meeting a push-me-pull-you guinea pig ...|
|... and a disappointingly small cock|
Then we took The Boy to Brighton to collect his long-awaited christening present from his godfather, and he distinguished himself by smashing (a) a cheap and cheerful IKEA vase on a coffee table or (b) a priceless Ming vase that had been in the family for generations, depending on whether you are (a) a casual reader or (b) the person who processed the subsequent insurance claim.
|Hold it: crash, bang, wallop, what a picture (as they said in the Alma tunnel)|
The next day my Lewes chum took me for a bracing walk across the Downs past a newly built windmill, to a pub called The Juggs Arms. In Juggs Lane. Naturally I pissed myself laughing at the obvious connotations. My friend advised me that he had only ever encountered one other person who found this vaguely amusing: his daughter when she was aged about 15. Apparently she has now grown out of it. Young at heart, that’s me.
|Why can't all wind turbines look like this?|
The Boy clearly believed himself to be in the doghouse after the vase episode because he kept clambering into the cage of our friends’ Border collie and shutting himself in.
|The Boy in the doghouse|
|Facing some competition|
|Anyone at home? Another victim quakes before the onslaught|
|Playing with matches at his age? Surely not|
After an hour or so’s delay while we reloaded the car with enough luggage for one of the Viceroy of India’s grander tiger hunts, we sauntered off towards north London – well, I say “sauntered” but in fact my sat nav went mad and concluded that the quickest route from Lewes to Islington lay via Piccadilly Circus and Regent Street, so it was about as long and painful as our night in that Buckinghamshire hotel, albeit slightly less noisy. When we finally arrived we had lunch with some friends who have an eight-month-old and therefore still largely immobile daughter. They looked on in increasingly horrified anticipation as The Boy rampaged around their house, sustaining a cut lip and a nosebleed in the course of two quite spectacular falls.
Then it was off to Twickenham, wisely ignoring the sat nav’s injunctions to retrace our morning route, for supper with another luckless old friend.
Wednesday saw us having coffee in Islington, lunch in Smithfield and supper near Doncaster, with a gigantic and complicated set of time-consuming roadworks neatly planted shortly before each eating opportunity to guarantee that The Boy reached it in a desperately bad mood. Special thanks to the staff and customers of Carluccio’s for their understanding.
|If it's not messy they're not making it right|
From South Yorkshire we drove up to Northumberland so that I could attend a business launch party in Newcastle and remind The Boy of his real roots, whatever it may say on his birth certificate. I also went for a haircut and took the opportunity to have The Boy’s curls lopped off.
|Regrettably missing the traditional pudding basin|
|That's more like it|
Finally we returned to Cheshire where The Boy has continued teething for more than a week now, screaming loudly in the early hours and with his shirt permanently drenched in drool. The happiest days of his life? I think not. Still at least Mrs H informed me last night that he now has eight teeth, and only 12 more to go. This came as news to me because I thought that humans had 28 teeth, or 32 if they are blessed with wisdom teeth (I only have 29, though an X-ray at my dentist’s last month showed that a 30th is on its way, at age 56). Mrs H assured me that there are only 20 milk teeth, so that’s a result: a saving of £8 on the money I had set aside on behalf of the tooth fairy, which I can now safely spend on drink. The way things are going, I feel that I am going to need it.