No escape from the garden

Night Terrors...

Sadly, the time has come to admit defeat. I fought long and hard against the overwhelming inevitability of it all, but to no avail. My daughter has become besotted with ‘In the Night Garden’. Iggle Piggle has won.

As per many a story about a classic struggle, this all started in a branch of Homebase one Sunday afternoon. The three of us had finally arrived at the checkout after probably the most protracted discussion in history about a new bathroom mirror, when M suddenly pointed at the obligatory stack of discounted DVDs placed nearby and excitedly exclaimed “Piggle!” in reference to the ubiquitous blanket-carrying creature whose features adorned one of the disc covers.

“How on earth does she know that?” asked my wife.

Our surprise was because, at the time, M’s range of vocabulary was only just starting to take off, so it seemed amazing to us that she knew the name of a character from a TV show that we had proactively tried to avoid on the grounds that we thought it was, well, a bit weird.

And so the seeds of obsession had started. In all honesty, the finger of blame points squarely at my mother. She owns an Iggle Piggle doll from her teaching days and therefore must have introduced her granddaughter to the blue tyrant at some point.

We tried a number of diverting tactics and it seemed, for a short time at least, as though Peter Rabbit (albeit the new televised version of Peter Rabbit) had saved the day – despite it being aimed at children slightly older than 18 months. After each brief episode had finished, M would point at the TV and turn to us with a forlorn look on her face, exclaiming “Bunny…”. Truth be told though, I don’t think she had ever watched a full episode, instead she would get most excited about the cheesy, over-earnest theme tune which sounds like it is being sung by a man straining against the effects of a hernia:

Despite the adventures and hi-jinks of Peter and his friends, In the Night Garden eventually wormed its way to the forefront of M’s conscience by virtue of the fact that it is cleverly scheduled on the CBeebies channel just before she goes to sleep each weeknight. Much to my chagrin, its calming and otherworldly vibe seems to strike just the right tone before bedtime.

But it is this otherworldly feel that, frankly, creeps me out a bit. According to Wikipedia, In the Night Garden consists of ‘ a mix of actors in costume, puppetry and computer animation’. In print, this combination might sound perfectly normal for a children’s TV programme but, when you watch the show, it just doesn’t seem quite ‘right’.

Which comes to my – and my wife’s – main gripe about the show: The normal laws of the universe just don’t seem to apply in the garden.

For instance, let’s take the Ninky Nonk and the Pinky Ponk. The former is a living, breathing train seemingly without eyes and ears but which still needs to sleep at the end of the day and can travel up trees. The Pinky-Ponk is also without facial features and is an airship with various fins, propellers and which emits weird noises. But the most unsettling thing about these colourful contraptions is the fact that they seem to be able to bend the rules of physics. Usually, they appear smaller than the main characters – Iggle Piggle, Upsy Daisy and Makka Pakka. Yet, these three are still able to fit normally inside Ninky Nonk/Pinky Ponk, subsequently being dragged up trees and spun around in circles in the air, all the while appearing considerably more comfortable than any commuter travelling on South-West Trains.

In fact, Pinky Ponk’s tendency for manic spinning around actually made me feel slightly nauseous whilst watching one episode, so I’m amazed that Makka Pakka hasn’t yet pukey puked.

There is also the weirdness of the characters themselves. Aside from the random noises and whistles that make up the language of the night garden, each inhabitant displays some pretty odd characteristics:

Makka Pakka’s obsession with cleaning other people’s faces and collecting stones is, to put it mildly, a bit of a worry. Frankly, it’s the sort of behaviour you would expect to hear about in a news report covering a serial killer in the American midwest.

Upsy Daisy likes to sing loudly through a megaphone like some sort of crazy bag-lady and carries her bed around with her in what may be some sort of Tracey Emin-inspired piece of performance art.

The Pontipines and the Wottingers sound like something out of West Side Story and, unfortunately for them, are neighbours in a miniature semi-detached house at the foot of a tree. Despite the outward pleasantries that comes with them being tiny wooden toys, I fear that there might be a feud silently raging within those walls. The Haahoos, meanwhile, have this slow, creepy floating vibe that remind me of Reeves and Mortimer’s sketch about Masterchef in the Lloyd Grossman era (the friendlier days – before it got all arrogant and shouty).

Finally, of course, there is Iggle Piggle himself. Looking like the product of an illicit relationship between the Pilsbury Doughboy and one of the Smurfs, Iggle Piggle magically arrives via boat in the garden every episode before leaving the same way at the end, sailing across the sea back to – well, who knows? It is safe to assume that his journey doesn’t take him across the English channel, as there is no P&O ferry in sight and barely a hint of an English celebrity doing a charity swim. Wherever he lives though, Iggle Piggle clearly has very poor healthcare coverage, as he unfortunately still has bells, squeakers and rattles embedded in his body. Ideally, he should also see someone about the loss of balance he also seems to frequently experience. I’ve had labyrinthitis before – it’s not fun.

But, before I get too carried away and in case you think I am alone in my mistrust of the programme, I received the following comments on Facebook when I posted the simple sentence:  “In the Night Garden freaks me out”:

“Don’t ever watch it!”

“Me too – weird as hell!”

“If you listen rather than just watch, Upsy Daisy sounds like she’s having a permanent orgasm!”

“Wildly inappropriate…Iggle Piggle trying to get into Upsy Daisy’s bed!”

And, more worryingly: “Just wait; Give it 6 months and you too could be booking ‘In the Night Garden Live’!”

The show’s popularity is there for all to see. Not just in the DVD stands by the tills at Homebase, but also in books, toys, puzzles, games and various other forms of merchandise. It’s quite surprising, considering that only 100 or so episodes were made before the BBC pulled the plug in 2010, possibly because it became too expensive to make.

These 100 episodes are seemingly played on a loop on CBeebies, much like the episodes of that other ubiquitous show, Peppa Pig, which always seems to be on every other children’s TV channel and somehow happens to be playing the same episode every time I happen to watch it (the one where Daddy Pig drops his keys down the drain at the beauty spot and they have to dig up the road – in case you were wondering).

Given this enduring popularity, maybe the issue is actually with me (and possibly the other people I’ve quoted in this post as well). Maybe I’m too cynical? Maybe the creative youthful imagination and acceptance of the weird and wonderful has simply deserted me over time? Maybe I’m simply old-fashioned and I like my television shows to generally make sense or at least have some kind of rational explanation for any weirdness? After all, this would explain why I was so annoyed by the endings of Lost and Quantum Leap.

Whatever the reason, In the Night Garden has become part of our daily lives and appears to be here to stay, despite my misgivings.

In fact, I’m sure that there will be times where I’ll actually welcome it’s catchy little theme tune as it diverts M’s attention away from trying to draw on the walls or pour her milk on the carpet. I’ll be thankful for its soothing presence as it calms her down in time for bed.

But I guess that’s how it wins over the parents as well – meaning that once it’s got you, there’s just no escape from the night garden.

Darn you, Iggle Piggle. Even though you always leave…we know that you’ll be back.

You had one job

I’ve sometimes struggled with this blog in that I get periods of writers block and can often go weeks – even months – without being able to think of anything new to put down on screen. This lack of inspiration can also spill over into my parenting as, during periods when I’m in charge of entertaining our daughter, I sometimes draw a complete blank – spending so much time trying to think about new, fun methods of entertainment when I could be actually interacting with her instead.  Fortunately, my wife is brilliantly creative like this, so I’ve often survived Daddy-and-daughter time by basically copying her ideas. For instance, I used to love building dens when I was younger but had never even thought about it as a way of keeping M entertained until my wife built a blanket-and-garden chair construction in the garden a few Saturdays ago. The following day, I tried to replicate this concept in the living room, although my effort was not quite as good…

Bad Den

Bad Den

On another occasion, I thought I was being slightly more creative by turning a simple game of ‘Peepo’ into ‘Hide-and-seek’, using a couple of M’s toys as participants. In theory, it could have worked. In practice, it worryingly turned into ‘The Blair Witch Project’…

*Shudder*

*Shudder*

I was again stuck for inspiration a couple of Sundays ago, when my wife was due to attend a spa day. Having foregone the idea of any forward planning whatsoever, I decided to go with one of my default measures, a trip to the local park. After all, there were swings, slides and lots of ducks to be pointed at, all sure-fire winners in the eyes of my daughter. As the weather was nice and I’d decided to go over lunchtime, a decision that had everything absolutely nothing to do with my hope of M’s afternoon nap coinciding with the football, I’d gone into the kitchen to make a packed lunch, safe in the knowledge that M was quite happy playing with a jigsaw. Or so I thought. Turning around to put the lunch ingredients back into the fridge, I noticed that my fish-oil capsule pot had been knocked on the floor, opened and with its contents littered on the floor next to my daughter. That horrible sinking moment of dread kicked in as I panicked, tried to recall my first-aid training and reached over to her, lifted her up and slapped her on the back, before realising that she wasn’t actually choking.

What I hadn’t realised up until that moment was that M could now reach up to the kitchen work surface and pick up/knock off small objects, such as, oh I don’t know, a pot of fish oil capsules. But, in all honesty I’d had warning. For a while now, M has been able to reach up to the top of the freezer (which sits just below the counter for those of you who like detailed information about kitchen layouts) and has used a fair chunk of her time continually pressing and un-pressing the temperature button. It’s happened so often that I’ve now completely forgotten what this button *actually* does and whether having it either pressed or un-pressed is the default setting. My theory is that I’ll know which one is wrong when the kitchen floor gets a lot wetter. Still, at least that would mean we could finally get rid of the huge tub of ‘Fruits of the forest’ that has taken up around 1/3 of our freezer space for what seems like a decade. Anyway, it was only a matter of time before she reached even higher.

But, back to the panic: I rang my wife, despite knowing that a potential swallowing incident isn’t exactly conducive to a relaxing day at the spa. I say potential, because there was no evidence, apart from some burping/hiccupping that may have been unrelated. “It’s only been half an hour” said my wife, in part humour/part exasperation, upon being relayed the drama. “Have you looked it up? She sounds happy enough,” she continued, obviously hearing M babbling away at the other end. It was true – she did seem happy enough and in fact, was actually quite amused by her own burping. “If she seems happy, then I’m not worried”, said my wife, “but keep an eye on her”. This was then followed by the more obvious question “Does her breath smell of fish?”

It didn’t.

Having got off the phone and sat with my daughter whilst she belched over the small plastic streets of her ‘Happy Land’ set, I took the opportunity to Google (other search engines are available) what could happen if a child swallows a fish-oil capsule. I wasn’t expecting complete piece of mind because, personally, I’ve never searched for any kind of symptom on the internet without subsequently picking up on the worst possible scenario and running with it. Of course, this being the wonderful World Wide Web, various pieces of advice cropped up, mainly along these lines:

“THE CAPSULES ARE A CHOKING HAZARD” (True, but as any swallowed capsule/s appeared to have fully worked their way down, even I figured it was safe to cross that one off).

“One capsule won’t cause them any harm, other than the possibility of an upset stomach”  (I’d happily take a dose of Nappygeddon as the only side-effect of my mistake, it would be the least I’d deserve).

“It could actually be good for your child” (Hmm…the pot says ‘unsuitable for children under the age of 5’).

“EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT SURE, GET THEM SEEN BY YOUR LOCAL GP IMMEDIATELY” (This was the one that made me panic again as well as wonder what sort of magic land this person lives in – where they can just walk in and get a GP appointment straight away).

Having fretted some more, I thought the best thing to do was to take my wife’s advice and just watch her closely. So, we did go to the park, went on the swings, went on the slide, watched and pointed at a lot of ducks, ate lunch in the sunshine and had a little run around. M seemed completely fine, the burping had long since stopped and there was no sign either that day or the next of any after-effects from any capsules that may or may not have been swallowed in the first place. These were the thoughts going through my head as I kept trying to re-assure myself, as well as get rid of the horrendous guilt that follows incidents such as this. It could have been far worse, of course, and I tried to switch my mind away when I thought about the potentially more catastrophic consequences that could have ensued for my precious little girl and that I’d be solely responsible for.

But, upon reflection, and after a couple of days of no side-effects whatsoever (not even an explosive nappy incident), it has taught me not to sometimes just go with the flow and not worry too much about entertaining her, but instead to make sure that I’ve at least got the basics of child care right first. Now, I didn’t leave my Wellman tablets in the den, did I?

…versus the car park

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Since becoming a father, I admit that there have been occasions when I’ve found the dramatic reduction in my ‘free time’ a bit frustrating. Whilst this is just one downside in a field full of positives during parenthood, I’ve realised in the last 24 hours that less time to yourself can actually be a good thing.

Let me explain: This week, my wife and daughter are away for a couple of nights, so my time in the evenings is my own. Last night was the first night that they were away, but I had a dentist appointment after work. After this appointment, I came back to find a parking ticket on my car. I was so annoyed by this (technically justified) ticket that I subsequently spent the remainder of the evening – including 10 minutes eating microwaveable noodles – thinking about it. Needless to say, if my wife and daughter were at home, I would have been preoccupied and therefore not given more than a passing thought to this annoyance, let alone spent time and effort writing a lengthy note to the offending council. This is how it went:

Customer Services, Epsom & Ewell Borough Council

12th August 2014

Dear Sir/Madam,

Earlier this evening, I was the lucky recipient of one of your parking charges, which was stuck onto my car windscreen at Hope Lodge car park because I was parked ‘without clearly displaying a valid pay and display ticket or voucher or parking clock’ (whatever the hell that last option is).

It’s true, I was parked without one of those fine objects, but I was really annoyed by the ticket, so I wish to give you some background and also tell you why I’m annoyed. I’m sure you don’t care, but I’ve had a lot of caffeine today and it’s my £50 (or £25 if I pay within 14 days – again, how lucky am I?) that you’re taking from me, so I’m going to tell you anyway.

I’d left work in Weybridge a good 1 hour and 10 minutes before my 6pm appointment in order to make what, outside rush hour, is a 25-minute journey. Having been caught in stop-start traffic on three separate occasions, I eventually arrived at Hope Lodge car park a minute before my appointment. I parked up, went over to the ticket machine and found that the parking charges appeared to have increased yet again since my last visit to Epsom, which, considering how much it costs to stop here, was surprisingly not that long ago. This time around, I apparently needed £1.50 to park as it was after 4pm. As luck would (not) have it, all the cash I had on me amounted to £1.40. I had mistakenly believed that this would have seen me through my appointment quite comfortably – how wrong I was.

“Not to worry”, I thought to myself, as I assumed that Epsom & Ewell Borough Council would have one of those fancy new systems like ‘RingGo’ where, if you don’t happen to have enough cash for a ridiculously-inflated parking cost, then you can instead pay through your mobile phone, either via an ‘app’ or by ringing an automated number. You know, like old times.

Sadly, there was not this facility at Hope Lodge car park (the irony of the name was not lost on me).

Even in Dorking, where I live, these new-fangled systems are commonplace, which is a surprise considering that you’re nearer London and have lots of shiny new infrastructure – but maybe that is just confined to the train station.

So, I was stuck. I had no means to pay for my brief time at Hope Lodge and, now late for my appointment and with a bladder straining against the weight of all of the aforementioned caffeine, I made the decision to just go straight to my appointment.

Whilst in the dental surgery, the hygienist told me that I needed “to relax” my jaw. This was difficult because there was a wasp flying over my head, a Gary Barlow CD playing in the background and the tube that was sending water down my throat made me feel like I was being water-boarded. It was only once the appointment was over and I left the surgery that my jaw, not to mention the rest of me, started to relax. Unfortunately, I clenched up again 30 seconds later, when I saw the ticket slapped on my windscreen.

By the way, my teeth are fine, just in case you were wondering.

Normally, I would be very happy because of this, but I’m instead angry that both unfortunate circumstance and your draconian, inflexible car parking measures have ruined my evening by forcing me to spend my time writing you this letter instead of watching ‘Sharknado 2’, despite the feeling that I’m sure it will be even worse than the first one.

This is not to mention the time I’ll have to spend actually paying your penalty charge. Yes, I’ll pay, despite the gnashing of my newly flossed teeth.

However, the main point of this letter is that I wish to point out that your car parking charges are a complete rip-off, both ridiculously excessive and pointlessly changeable, whilst the methods to pay are archaic, inflexible and show no concession to modern life. But, maybe you don’t want to make it easier for people to pay? No, it’s much better to keep fleecing the general public, avoiding the extra administration of upgrading to a newer, mobile phone-led system and also pocketing the additional revenue that will probably go towards paying for this year’s council Christmas party (seriously – where does the money from these charges go?)

After all, it’s not like I haven’t cumulatively over-paid for actual parking time in the last 15 years or so that I’ve been coming to Epsom (and not just for all the cinema trips). Do I get a refund for that? Of course not.

Sarcasm aside, I do hope that you’ll have had enough complaints about this to revisit both the cost and the method of parking within Epsom & Ewell as, currently, both are ridiculous.

In the meantime, you may take my money, but you won’t take my freedom (unless that actually becomes the overnight parking cost during the next price increase).

Yours sincerely,

Jonathan Dockett

So there we go, I’ll certainly let you know if I get a reply. In the meantime, this was a reminder that time spent with my little family brings out the best in me or, at the very least, dilutes the sarcastic bits.

Eternal sunshine of the toddler’s mind

What could she be hinting at?

As my daughter has got more independent, mobile and interactive, I’ve often found myself wondering exactly what is going on inside her head. For instance, she spends a lot of time just wandering around holding random objects with such a determined sense of purpose, but her motives appear amusingly unfathomable. Given that she can’t verbally express herself in the way she would like (and the fact that she’s not allowed to play with pens ever since the whole ‘drawing on her own face’ incident), I’ve had a guess at what her various thought processes might have been over the last couple of weeks:

Wednesday 30th April. Woke up, had breakfast, pointed at lots of stuff, walked around picking up objects, dropped them, repeatedly attempted to climb the stairs, pulled down various books and DVDs from low shelving, ate most of my lunch but threw the rest on the floor, had a nap, ATE A BANANA, drank some milk, went to the park, toddled around in random directions, came home, tried to clamber into the recycling bin, had dinner, had more milk, had a bath, used a sponge to soak the bathroom floor, had a book about owl babies read to me, kicked up a fuss when it was time for bed. Standard.

Thursday 1st May. WORST. DAY. EVER. I should have realised something was up because the parents had been nervously talking about something called the ‘Emmemmaarrjab’ and Daddy was working from home today. At lunchtime, they took me to a brightly lit place that smelt vaguely of TCP, where they lulled me into a false sense of security by letting me play with different toys to the ones I have at home, whilst they sat around reading magazines about property and gardens. However, I was then taken into a room to be held tightly by the parents whilst two people I’ve never met before put injections into my legs. They hurt, so I screamed, wriggled and sweated A LOT. Post-injections, one of the people I’d never met tried to put my discarded sock back on me, so I shouted and kicked out at them. Telling me that I was “stronger than a lot of boys” didn’t help. Afterwards, the parents looked rather upset and kept saying to each other how hard they found the whole experience, whilst cuddling me and telling me it will be ok. So, THEY found it hard? Well, TRY HAVING THREE SHARP OBJECTS STABBED INTO YOUR LIMBS IN QUICK SUCCESSION AND SEE HOW YOU LIKE IT.

Friday 2nd May. I’m still not over the trauma of yesterday, so I refuse to engage happily with the parents or even make eye contact, let alone give them a smile or a cudd…wait, is that their breakfast? Hi!

Saturday 3rd May. Went to a big party today with the parents and my auntie. The birthday boy was 5 and there were lots of older children in bright items of clothing called ‘superhero costumes’. Not to be deterred by this, I announced my presence by repeatedly walking right into the middle of the fun and games, often dragging a large plastic chair with me (just to emphasise the point that I was there to be entertained). It was great fun and the food was good, especially the cheese-based stuff. For some reason, Daddy seemed very excited about colourful, edible objects called ‘party rings’. I can’t take him anywhere.

After food, we went outside where there was a large play area with swings and slides. I love these things, but the parents still won’t let me climb back up the slide. They’ve been funny about that ever since we went to soft play.

Sunday 4th May. Today’s goal: Pull out every possible item of my clothing from the box next to my cot, chew the sock-ons, drop the bibs through the gaps in the stair gate, put some leggings over my head and leave the rest lying at random intervals upstairs. Whilst I’m at it, I’ll also remove the plug-in air freshener, spilling the liquid over myself as well as everything I come into contact with. Nobody will want to go within a mile of anything that smells like ‘Evening Primrose’ ever again.

Monday 5th May. Today was a bank holiday, which appears to be an excuse for a massive skive. Anyway, I went for a long walk with the parents today and had a picnic in a large field. They let me have a run around as well. I thought I’d have a bit of fun by toddling towards piles of sheep poo, waiting for them to quickly try and catch up with me before veering away from the poo at the last second. I also kept pointing at the sky on random occasions. Fools – they looked every time.

Tuesday 6th May. I’ve got the sniffles AGAIN. It’s very uncomfortable and apparently I need to have drops put into my nose to relieve the snot. I hate those drops and I assumed that stuff was supposed to be coming out of my nose, not going back in? Anyway, I’m making my displeasure known by coughing loudly into the face of anyone who picks me up.

Wednesday 7th May. Still feeling poorly, although the viscous blackcurrant-flavoured liquid that the parents have been giving me has soothed the cough a fair bit. Memo to self: when older, develop a banana-flavoured cough remedy and, after I’m rich, use the proceeds to buy tonnes of actual bananas.

I did feel well enough to play with my wooden ‘Noah’s Ark’ toy, though. The parents like to keep all the pieces together, but I find it much more interesting to put Mrs.Noah and at least one of the giraffes on top of the radiator. I think they enjoy it there; it’s nice and warm.

Thursday 8th May. Today’s goal: Try and reach the remaining parts of the television screen that I haven’t yet managed to smear with my fingerprints. Problem: I can’t reach. The parents say that I’m due a growth spurt, so I hope that this happens before bedtime.

Update: No growth spurt before bedtime. The clean part of the television screen remains un-smeared. This is my Everest.

Friday 9th May. Today was the first day in ages that I’ve not had a single banana – disgraceful. The pear replacement service simply doesn’t cut it. I might call Esther Rantzen.

Saturday 10th May. Mummy had to work today, so Daddy put me in the baby carrier and took me for a walk in the countryside. It would have been lovely if he had managed to put my shoes on properly so that they didn’t keep slipping off. I’d also have preferred it if he had looked at the weather forecast and put our raincoats on before we left, so that we didn’t get drenched on the way back. Plus, the clambering over that gate (twice) was rather uncoordinated and awkward. At least the view either side of his head was nice.

Sunday 11th May. The parents were watching something called ‘The Eurovision Song Contest’ last night. According to the news this morning, this contest was won by a lady with a beard. So many questions…

In other (much less competent) singing news, the parents have been adding their own verses to ‘Wheels on the bus’ by using different noises and voices. As fun as this is, I can’t imagine a scenario whereby Elvis, a pack of seagulls and any number of elephants would be on the same bus all at once.

Monday 12th May. Why does society dictate that both feet should either have socks on or socks off? I find it much better to walk around with just the one sock on and I therefore laugh in the face of your draconian sartorial principles.

Tuesday 13th May. Daddy didn’t get home until well after midnight as he was out at a concert. Despite his pitiful efforts to keep quiet, my peaceful slumber was briefly disturbed, so I decided to wake up at 5.30am this morning. That’ll teach him.

Soft play politics

Just before my daughter turned 1, I came home from work one evening to find her clambering all over the littered sofa cushions as if it were her own personal soft play area. As well as being one of those “she’s not a baby anymore” moments, it also made me realise that she now needs more exercise if there’s to be any hope of getting her to sleep at anything approaching a reasonable hour.

So, the following weekend, my wife and I decided to take M to an actual soft play area. This was to be my first time experiencing this (my wife was a veteran of four visits), so I was initially a little apprehensive at the thought of somehow making a huge faux pas.

“Don’t worry, there are rules written on the wall”, my wife said, which was part witty remark and part instruction.

But, I figured that I was just being silly. After all, I was pretty sure that I could restrain myself from performing a running jump into the ball pit or re-enacting ‘The Hunger Games’ in the climbing area.

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Not an actual soft play safety notice

Despite the fact that we had to book a session first, we arrived to find that there were only a handful of other parents and children there. It started well enough, we found a table that would function as our base and proceeded into the ball pit. M was a bit apprehensive about this, but my wife and I joined her as reassurance, all the while trying not to think about all the dirt and encrusted bogeys that might be hidden at the bottom. We then went guided M up the mini steps next to the ball pit and down the adjoining slide. She absolutely loved this, but started to get a bit stroppy that she couldn’t climb back up the slide itself.

There’ll be more on that later.

We then noticed that, behind the ball pit and steps, there was a play area that was currently empty. In this particular section, there was a notice stating that it was ‘recommended’ that children under the age of 5 did not go in. This was presumably because it was a bit darker, there were a couple of large, exercise-style bouncy balls within and the steps were slightly bigger. However, being the determined little individual that she is, M wanted to go in and my wife seemed happy with this: “It’s fine, you’ll be with her”, she said.

So, in we went. I held M’s hand as she looked around and I helped her up one of the steps. It was at that moment we were seen by a fellow parent, with a son about the same age as M, on the other side of the netting. The little boy stared in the direction of M and I. His mum glanced over as well. “No, Callum, you can’t go in there as you’re not old enough”, she said, giving me an extremely disapproving look in the process.

With that one sentence, I had been firmly put in my place and told, in no uncertain terms, that she did not approve of my parenting. My soft play experience was only 15 minutes old.

I whisked M away to the car area (the soft play cars, that is, I didn’t take her outside and just leave her by the front wheel of a Nissan). We played there for a little while, whilst I tried to shake the feeling that my soft play ‘parenting card’ had been well and truly marked, probably with red biro.

A short while later, my wife came over and we decided to head back to the slide. One of us would escort M up the steps and place her on the slide, whilst the other would wait to catch her at the bottom. It was good fun and the smile on M’s little face as she came sliding down was lovely. However, as I mentioned before, there was a slight snag as M wanted to climb right back up the slide, clearly oblivious to the older children who were about to hurtle down towards her. So, every time I went to escort her away, she was not best pleased and made her feelings known. Sitting in the area next to the slide was the same mum as before, along with two others. As M cried, they looked over, fixing their collective gaze on my unhappy daughter and I. Feeling rather uncomfortable, I handed M over to my wife and took a bit of a breather.

Now, I can be overly sensitive sometimes and more emotionally robust people might have just ignored the other mums and got on with things, which is why I passed the baton quickly over to my wife. She’s a teacher and used to interacting with parents, therefore I figured she wouldn’t take any perceived slight as personally as me. So, she took M to play with some soft cubes and soft animals before heading back to the slide. But again, each time, M took exception to being removed from the slide once she’d reached the bottom (her mum had come down with her). A few minutes later, my wife brought M over and sat next to me, with a slightly embarrassed look on her face. “They are really judgmental, aren’t they?” she said, subtly gesturing over to the trio of seated mums, who appeared to be glancing disdainfully in our direction.

So, we just sat there for a while, looking rather awkward, like a couple of naughty schoolchildren who’d arrived late for class and neglected to do their homework.

For the remainder of our allotted time, we accompanied M around the soft play area almost apologetically. We left before the other mums had the chance to bring out the pitchforks and burning torches, although I assume that these are probably on an extensive list of items ‘not recommended’ for soft play.

Over-sensitivity and exaggerations for comic effect aside, I appreciate that my fatherly experience is limited (this blog isn’t called ‘The Experienced Dad’s Diary’), but I do know that this parenting business is hard enough without fellow parents making you feel like you are doing it all wrong. After all, each child is different and, as we all know, there is sadly no ‘one-size-fits-all’ manual.

Still, it wasn’t necessarily a bad experience. Slide removals aside, M seemed to enjoy herself and, as my wife put it when we were sat down: “There’s a blog post in this, isn’t there?”

How right she was. As our daughter gets older, it probably won’t be the last of its type either. In terms of soft play though, I might just stick to re-arranging the sofa cushions for the time being.

The Novice Dad’s Diary Awards

 

IMG_2103Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pride that I bring to you the first annual Novice Dad’s Diary Awards. The awards have come a long way from their origin as an over-caffeinated idea on the 17:54 train from Waterloo, so I am delighted that they are now a reality (of sorts). It is an especially satisfying moment following the bitter and protracted legal battle that occurred between this blog and a well-known brand of sauce, simply because I initially wanted to call them the ‘Daddies’.

Anyway, despite the lack of an esteemed celebrity host (Stacey Solomon wouldn’t return my calls), it’s time to grab a glass of follow-on milk and congratulate the winners.

Best Song or Rhyme: Old MacDonald had a farm.

An undisputed classic. Simple melody, great fun and you can make it up as you go along, especially if you have a plethora of cuddly toys at your disposal. Plus, who needs one of those brain ‘workout’ puzzles when you have to simultaneously sing and remember what noises a rabbit makes.

Most Depressing Song or Rhyme: Puff the magic dragon.

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I used to love this, until I looked up the lyrics again a few months ago. Putting aside the rumoured and rather unsubtle drug references, Puff was very happy living by the sea in a land called Honah Lee, roaring and frolicking in the autumn mist with his friend. Then, one day, his friend just stopped coming to see him, apparently because painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys. From then on, the remainder of Puff’s long life was spent living in a cave, sad and lonely. Stay happy, kids!

Also nominated: Three Blind Mice, Rock-a-Bye Baby, Five Little Ducks (nominated before I learnt that all of the ducks did eventually come back).

Worst Place to Change a Nappy: Train toilets.

More specifically, a dirty toilet on a speeding, jerky train, which also has one of those cubicle doors that just decides to slide open whenever it feels like it. Hand sanitizer gel may kill 99.9% of bacteria, but it won’t erase the trauma from your mind. Nor does it relieve the travel sickness.

Also nominated: Box Hill car park.

Best Product: Nappy bins

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I’ll be honest. Before our daughter was born, I practically bristled at the very idea of having a large poo receptacle in our house. Now, I can’t even begin to imagine the alternative horror of endless plastic bags, used baby wipes stuck to my clothes and searching on the internet for the cost of regularly fumigating the house.

Also Nominated: ‘Sock-ons’, teething granules.

Worst Product: Swaddling wraps.

I’m sure they’re great if being used to contain a plastic baby Jesus for the entirety of a nativity play but, in my experience, they’re not so great if you are trying to swaddle a real-life baby who would like to move her legs more than a few millimetres.

Also Nominated: Variable-flow teats, babygros with too many buttons (unless you happen to work as part of a Formula 1 pit crew).

Most Terrifying Potential Companion: Rosie.

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Rosie is my wife’s childhood doll, who has made an appearance on this blog before, due to her sunken eyes, demonic twitch and general demeanour of pure, unadulterated evil. Naturally, I hope that M never takes a liking to her. There was only ever one winner of this award, partly because all of the other nominees either mysteriously vanished or were found chopped into pieces on the patio.

Also nominated: May they rest in peace.

Most Baffling Technology: The CDs that insert your child’s name into each song.

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Genuine question – do they actually record the same song over again, replacing the name each time? How many versions is that? How many ‘takes’ is that? Is it recording studio trickery? Doesn’t it make the singer go insane? I’ve spent far too much time thinking about this.

Best Display of Patience: The lady next to me on our flight to Seville in November. I’ve mentioned this stoic hero before, but this award is well deserved. There can be few things more annoying when you’re trying to sleep on an aircraft than being repeatedly hit on the nose with a small plastic duck. Unfortunately, our winner could not be here this evening, so the duck is accepting the award on her behalf.

IMG_2095The Multiple Essentials Award: Bibs.

I’m not necessarily saying that our daughter dribbles a lot, but there’s more than one reason why the flooding was really bad in Surrey this winter.

Also nominated: Baby wipes, toy mice.

The John Lewis Award for Emotionally Manipulative Advertising. SMA Follow-On Milk.

“We ARE doing great”…

The Occasionally Tasty Baby Food Award: ‘Goodies’ Organic Apple and Orange Soft Oaty Bars.

IMG_2094Whilst only a few steps away from stealing candy from a baby, these are a useful alternative if you’re desperate for pudding on a Sunday night, the local shops are closed and you haven’t got any eggs for an emergency sponge.

Also nominated: Heinz baby porridge (blueberry flavour).

Most Cack-Handed Attempt at Putting on a Baby Backpack: Me.

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After numerous unsuccessful attempts in a Dorking car park, I eventually managed to lift both daughter and backpack onto my shoulders, all the while arching my back as if I was avoiding bullets in ‘The Matrix’. I briefly caught M’s reflection in the car window as she was being hoisted up for the final time. She did not look impressed.

The Matthew McConaughey Award for Pointing: Our daughter.

This award was named in honour of everyone’s favourite Oscar-winning Texan who seems to mark every statement with a jabbing forefinger thrust. M takes herself far less seriously, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuously pointing at everything, anything and sometimes absolutely nothing at all. This one’s for you, Poppet.

The Excessive Competitiveness Award: My wife.

Picture the scene: It’s Christmas and our 8-month old daughter is mastering the basics of crawling. My wife joins her, presumably in order to provide encouragement. Instead, she proceeds to race our daughter across the living room floor and wins comfortably. Mrs. D then raises her hands aloft at the victory. On that most festive of days, a monster was awoken.

Most Aero-Dynamic Breakfast: Porridge

Also nominated: Weetabix.

The Makeshift Chair Award: A shoebox.

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By my side of the bed in the corner of our bedroom lies a shoebox, where M likes to sit and reflect whilst bringing all manner of things with her, as if she were a little blonde magpie. ‘Gifts’ that have been left there in recent weeks include various bibs and socks, a pair of pants, a contact lens container, my glasses, My wife’s watch, a hair clip and, bizarrely, an empty jar of harissa paste from the recycling bin.

So, that’s it for the awards this time around. Thank you for your company, but it’s time for me to head off to Elton John’s after-show party. I just hope he doesn’t get drunk, maudlin and start singing ‘Puff the Magic Dragon’.

Revisiting the due date

This Tuesday (9th April) marks the anniversary of our daughter’s estimated due date. Of course, she would eventually keep us waiting for some time after that date, but it’s amazing how quickly a year goes when you’ve been living in a whirlwind of nappies, feeding, disturbed nights, first smiles/giggles/walks and enough snot to irrigate a small country.

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Looking back, it was this time last year that I was making sure I was never more than 5ft away from my car keys, downloading a ‘contraction timer’ app onto my phone and shopping in Tesco for multiple bottles of hand sanitizer and one of those inflatable travel pillows that only seem to be effective if you can somehow crane your neck to a 90-degree angle.

So, whilst thinking of those currently in a similar position (it doesn’t have to involve Tesco – other supermarkets are available), I thought I’d share this brilliant and very amusing article from Buzzfeed about the 26 stages of childbirth from a man’s perspective. Yes, 26.

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Plus, here’s my post from March last year, when I was immersed in a lot of planning, a fair bit of panicking and also wondering whether it would be acceptable for me to go looking for ice cream once we’d arrived at the maternity ward.

Best wishes to all parents-to-be :-)