Friday, 27 April 2012

It's all in the genes

15st 13lb, 1.8 units. I cannot swim a stroke. I always argue that this will prove very advantageous if I ever fall into the freezing North Sea, as it will ensure that I do not suffer for any length of time before perishing from hypothermia. The fishermen of the Northumberland coast traditionally did not learn to swim for this very reason.

Lucker churchyard contains the gravestone of my great uncle James, who drowned off Bamburgh beach in 1891 at the age of 26, not long after safely completing an expedition to the furthest reaches of Dutch Guiana. The lesson we clearly absorbed was that swimming was a dangerous business. Neither of my parents could swim at all. Nor can my elder brother. But I had the advantage of a private education (albeit mostly kindly paid for by the ratepayers of Northumberland through the old direct grant school system) which included compulsory weekly swimming lessons. I kept those up for at least six years, until I became totally proficient at forging my mother’s signature on the letters excusing me from the classes. And, as I said, I still can’t swim a stroke.

The Sutherland Swimming Baths. I gave £1,000 to the fund to knock them down, not realising that they meant to build a replacement.

But I concede that I might have had more fun in life if I could. In particular, it has been one of the four serious impediments that have always cropped up at social events whenever anyone has suggested that it would be fun if we all stripped off and leapt into a swimming pool.

The first and most critical of the aforementioned impediments is usually the absence of a swimming pool. Though there have been occasions when there were ladies present that I was so keen to see naked that I would happily have gone out and started digging one there and then. But for impediments two and three: my complete inability to swim and the fact that I possess a body best appreciated when it is completely clothed, and ideally (a) from a considerable distance or (b) through a stained glass window.

The fourth impediment is that I am profoundly antisocial, and so have very rarely attended the sort of social event that tends towards skinny-dipping in its latter stages.

However, I am keen for my young sons to learn from my mistakes, and am accordingly determined that they should be (a) comfortable in water, and (b) not excessively overweight. The Boy, now two and three quarter years old, has been going to weekly swimming lessons for as long as I can remember. As a non-swimmer myself, and a horrible sight in trunks, I naturally refuse to accompany him into the water, but I have twice gone along as an observer. When I could wrench my eyes away from the yummy mummies with their darling offspring, he seemed to me to be enjoying himself. (I also noticed that his mother’s feet never seemed to leave the bottom of the pool, so I probably needed to major on the “horrible sight” excuse if ever invited to stand in for her.)

Yesterday Mrs H took him to his swimming class and asked him at the end whether he had enjoyed it.

“Yes,” he replied.

“And what was your favourite bit?”

“Getting out,” he replied, after careful thought.

That’s my boy. As they say, it’s clearly all in the genes.

As for his weight, there is no sign as yet of him carrying a surplus ounce. And, with nearly every meal seeming to consist of a long battle to persuade him to eat anything at all, I cannot envisage it becoming a problem in the near term. But at least we have clear evidence of normal bodily functions in his twice daily calls: “Mummy! Close your eyes, I’ve got a surprise for you! TA-DAAAA!”

This is potty training as a form of variety show, with the emphasis on magic. I wonder whether I could fund a comfortable retirement by selling the TV rights to Simon Cowell?

Friday, 20 April 2012

A fox not holding its Mummy's hand

16st 2lb, 3.9 units. I started writing this blog again in February, with the aim of providing a vivid “real time” account of the scheduled arrival of my second son. But then said arrival, combined with my principal client signing a £1.5 billion management buyout deal the day after he was born, meant that I did not have time to write a single word.

Though I did, at least, manage to scribble a newspaper column setting out the essential facts of his arrival. On Valentine’s Day. As planned. A choice which I can recommend to any lady who hopes for the undivided attention of her hospital’s obstetrics team, because it is certainly not a date on which she is likely to face a lot of competition for an elective Caesarean slot. Given that it opens up a vista of many years in which 14 February will be associated with kiddies’ birthday parties and unseemly rows over the contents of party bags, rather than romantic candlelit dinners à deux. I must say that getting out of ever buying another Valentine’s Day dinner struck me as one of the major advantages of the arrangement. People kept telling me that there was no reason why I shouldn’t still go out for that after the birthday party was over but trust me: at my age I won’t have the energy.

Anyway, Jamie (a.k.a. The Baby) arrived at 10.44 a.m. on 14 February, and I am happy to report that it was an entirely painless experience. Well, apart from the humiliation of having to get togged up in ludicrous surgical “scrubs”.

Though given a straight choice, I would definitely go for that over Mrs H’s role of having her stomach doused in idione and then cut open by a group of bantering medics in what looked like the store room of a DIY shop, only with rather better lighting. I realised that the bloke in charge was a man after my own heart when he cheerily asked her “Any last requests?” when completing the paperwork before the surgery. Though being the bloke in charge he naturally wasn’t actually present during the operation, leaving that to his subordinates. Who, it is only fair to say, made a perfectly decent fist of it apart from the moment when a trainee made such a hash of putting a line into Mrs H’s arm that blood spurted all over the floor, prompting the anaesthetist to suggest that the lad might like to think about heading back home to New Zealand.

My initial reaction to The Baby was that he looked much more like his mother than The Boy does. She thought he looked exactly like me. I only worked out who he really looks like when I got home and started flicking through my iPhoto folder, and spotted that it is almost impossible to tell the difference between The Baby and his elder brother at that stage of his life.

Peas, pod. Son Number One ...

... Son Number Two

Given that The Boy seems to be universally regarded as a very handsome little chap, this can only be regarded as a promising outcome.

Mrs H was back at home in time for her own birthday three days after The Baby’s (what with that, Valentine’s Day and our wedding anniversary, February, despite its relative brevity, is sure to prove disproportionately expensive for the rest of my life). And then settled into a routine of breastfeeding that seems to occupy the bulk of her time. Much to the occasional annoyance of The Boy, who alternates between affectionately cuddling his younger brother and attempting to “squish” him, or “accidentally” knocking over the Moses basket with the baby inside.

A perfect mix of affection and utter terror

A fortnight’s “holiday” in Northumberland over Easter provided an opportunity to bond with my second son, as well as a further excuse for not blogging. The weather was epically awful, as one might expect of Easter in England, but we still managed to get out for a number of walks, with The Baby in a sling. Number One Son demonstrated his impressive development as a barrack room lawyer by repeatedly refusing to hold hands with an adult while walking down the road, stating pedantically “I’m not walking on the road, I’m walking on the grass.”

The Boy hides his face to avoid the paparazzi

Months ago, Mrs H managed to whip him into line by drawing his attention to the crushed remains of a fox by the side of the road, and pointing out that this had happened because the fox hadn’t been holding its Mummy’s hand, and had got squished as a result.

This lesson seemed to be well absorbed at the time. Then the other night a little voice piped up from the back of the car, “Mummy, let’s find a fox that isn’t holding its Mummy’s hand, and then squish it.”

Mrs H pointed out that that wouldn’t be a very nice thing to do, and received the rejoinder, “No, Mummy. It will be fun.”

We are consoling ourselves with the thought that he does not understand the concept of death, yet. Given that he is obsessed with tractors, agricultural machinery and animals, some sort of career in farming seemed to beckon, but now perhaps we should add Master of Foxhounds to the list of possibilities. It does not look exactly like a growth industry, but at his age I wanted to be the driver of a main line steam locomotive or a trolleybus, and I am prepared to bet that MFHs will be around for rather longer than either of those proved to be.