…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 :-)

Of mice and many

Life is hard. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

On second thoughts, it may actually have been Brad Pitt in ‘Meet Joe Black’..?

Anyway, it’s tough out there and all parents want to protect their children as best they can from the grim reality that is the modern world and the heartache and upset that it brings with it. It’s an impossible task though and there is one early trauma that many of us will have gone through as children – the gut-wrenching heartbreak that is the loss of a favourite toy, whether it’s only a temporary loss or something sadly more permanent.

Most people have a story to tell along these lines. My mother, for example, lost her beloved pink rabbit in Scotland when she was little and still hates being reminded about it (sorry, Mum).

My own particular experience did not involve a rabbit, or another stuffed companion such as a bear or even my prized Garfield, but ‘Benny the beetle’. Benny was a small rubber beetle (naturally), who was included inside a party bag following a friend’s birthday. I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me connect with this tiny insect toy, but a bond was formed and I ended up taking Benny with me everywhere I went. He even accompanied me during a family holiday to France a couple of years later. On one lovely sunny day during this trip, my parents and I had been out for a picnic. However, when we got back to the holiday home where we were staying, I realised that Benny was nowhere to be found. Panicked and upset, I forced my parents to join me in a frantic search mission that took in the entire house, surrounding grounds and eventually involved us going back to the picnic area, despite (I think) it being at least an hour away. I’m sure one of my parents can verify this, as it obviously wasn’t me doing the driving.

Having painstakingly combed the area, Benny was still missing. With the light fading, and with me feeling tired and dejected, we headed back to our temporary home. However, shortly after arrival, my mood changed completely when I realised that I had actually left Benny wedged between the pages of the ‘Asterix’ book next to my bed.

In this instance, mine was a temporary loss, however this is tempered by the sad fact that I don’t actually know where Benny is these days. Due to his small frame, he got lost again years later, this time for good. Despite the fact that I am now 35 years of age, I’m like my mother in that this genuinely makes me feel rather sad every time I think about it.

Fast-forward to the present day and I am aware that the day may soon come when my daughter loses one of her cherished toys. With this in mind, my wife and I were given some wise words of advice from my mother-in-law, who said we should always have a duplicate in reserve should anything happen to whichever one ended up as the favourite.

Being very young and fickle, M has only recently developed an interest in soft toys, previously preferring to play with objects that made more of an impact when they were whacked against her high chair or dropped down the toilet. But there has always been one constant presence, which has been especially useful at bedtime as it has become her comforter. When you hand it to her, she automatically grabs it with one hand and sticks her other thumb in her mouth. It’s like flicking on a rather loveable switch.

The toy in question is a little stuffed animal called a ‘Chimboo Mouse’ made by Jellycat, a company that makes really cute little toys. I don’t wish to cast aspersions, but if you don’t make at least one ‘awww’ noise when looking at their website, then frankly you have no soul.

So, given the level of attachment that M has to her mouse, we decided to follow my mother-in-law’s advice and buy a spare in case of accidental loss or even potential damage as a result of it being chewed beyond recognition. The problem is that Jellycat have since amended the range. The new mice on the block are still the same size, colour, fabric, dimension etc. and the only difference is that the face is more rounded, less narrow. This is presumably to make them look even cuter but it also makes them look strangely less mouse-like. It is a noticeable difference though and one that I’d guess would not get past most children if you were to try and replace their favourite toy with an imposter.

So, after a lengthy deliberation, we decided not to purchase the not-quite lookalike mouse from Jellycat directly, but instead search for a true duplicate elsewhere. In such circumstances, all roads lead to eBay.

The good news was that we did indeed find two of the older Chimboo mice for sale, both unused and with tags. The bad news (and I don’t think I’m overstating this) was that the people aiming to sell these mice were pure evil and clearly trying to exploit desperate parents in a bid to make a large profit.

I don’t like naming and shaming, but the worst offender was (and still is) an eBay business known as ‘cheddargorgetoyshop’. Despite the fact that you can buy the new Chimboo mouse for £9 from the Jellycat website, they have listed one of the original range for £24.99. They’ve even described it as a ‘rare piece’. Now, you can argue whether that’s technically true or not, but I personally think they’ve got more cheek than Beyonce.

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(By the way, I’m sorry if I appear to have gone all ‘Daily Mail’ on you, be assured that I’ll be having a shower after writing this in order to try and scrub off all of the middle-class rage).

Meanwhile, the other seller was a fellow parent with a spare mouse that had never been used. Again, this seller had described their mouse as ‘rare’. The starting price was £0.99, so my wife swooped in, contacting the seller to say that she would be happy to pay £10 (£1 above the standard Jellycat price). The seller refused, clearly believing that that she could get even more by sticking with the auction format. With my wife refusing to join the auction on principal, I formed the other half of our tag-team and entered the bidding. Six days later, the final hours and minutes of this auction turned out to be more tense than ‘Gravity’, ‘Apollo 13’ and a World Cup final penalty shootout put together. But, I’m proud to say that I prevailed and the mouse was won for a price of £6.80. Victory was ours.

There’s a slight twist to this winning tale though, as we accidentally introduced both mice to M at the same time, so she’s now used to having two of them. So, it’s back to the search we go, this time for a third mouse…

Scrambling to buy a replacement need not be the only course of action though, as social media has provided a platform for potential child/toy reunions. In December, my sister-in-law shared a link on Facebook in which somebody had found an old teddy bear on a train to Kings Cross and posted a picture of it in the hope that the bear might find its way back to its owner in time for Christmas. I duly shared it as well and, in the coming days, there would be a number of times where I would wonder whether the bear did make it back home. Similarly, this week I saw another shared plea, this time for the safe return of a stuffed toy lion who had been separated from its owner in a local branch of Tesco.

So, in the event of a lost toy, the modern world does actually give us hope.

Now, I can’t offer any solutions to bigger problems such as the global economy or how to make Piers Morgan disappear, but what I can do is to reach out to you good people on behalf of the lost toy cause. People of the blogosphere and the wider world: If you come across a lost toy, look after it, share its details and do what you can to get it back to its rightful owner.

However, If a toy is tragically lost, I hope all sellers and vendors will consider the greater good and offer potential replacement toys at a reasonable price, instead of trying to squeeze as much excess profit as possible from frantic parents (I’m looking at you in particular, ‘cheddargorgetoyshop’).

If we all come together in this, both parents and children will sleep easier at night in the knowledge that childhood companions are safe and sound.  We can do this, so let’s try and make the world a better place, one small soft toy at a time.

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(Almost) a year on: snot, steps and stairs

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Our little daughter is now only a few weeks away from turning 1. Being possibly influenced by the fact that I’m married to a teacher (and also because I decided upon the lazy idea of another list-based blog post), I thought that it was time for her first report card.

Etiquette:

One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the sofa watching M happily play with her toys, when she crawled over, grabbed my knee to hold on as she stood up before vigorously wiping her snotty nose across my leg. As if that wasn’t enough, she then proceeded to break out in a big, cheesy grin as if she’d never been more proud of herself. Clearly, there’s room for improvement here. E-

Sporting Prowess:

A+ for persistence. D- for awareness. The reason I include this second mark is because M’s current sporting event of choice involves the stairs, a part of our home that she is developing something of an obsession with. Now, before I say any more, I’d just like to clarify that my wife and I have a gate at the top of the stairs, but not the bottom. We also like to let her explore in general, but always keep an eye on her and stay very close whenever she heads towards the stairs during those times when we haven’t used her toy basket to block her passage to them. What I’m trying to say is that there’s no need to call social services.

Anyway, her event goes as follows:

Clamber quickly up the first two steps. Slowly climb the third. Tentatively navigate the fourth. Realise that it’s actually quite high. Stand up. Turn around whilst holding the bannisters for balance. Grin through the bannisters. Face away from the stairs. Grin again. Do some weird squat-thrust-type movements whilst making “ooo” “ooo” noises (presumably for extra technical points). Hold arms out. Fall into daddy’s arms and make an “ahrarr” noise that may either be a laugh or a baby-talk version of R Kelly’s ‘I believe I can fly’. Repeat ad nauseum.

Although I’m obviously making sure she is safe, I realise that I am also inadvertently encouraging this game at the same time. This must be one of those ‘Catch-22’ moments of parenthood.

Sporting Prowess Module 2 – Teamwork:

I attempted to share the excitement of team sports with her by setting up a mini rugby game whilst the 6 nations was on, with M and myself playing against the intimidating opposition in the picture below.

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It didn’t quite work, as the picture was taken in the 10-second window before the goalposts were knocked down by my team-mate. She didn’t even take the ball with her. And yes, I know that Twickenham doesn’t have a radiator behind the try-line. D-

Motor Skills:

Pretty good for her age, although she has trouble reaching the clutch pedal and doesn’t tend to indicate when approaching a roundabout. B+

Talking:

She’s usually very chatty, unless she is in an unfamiliar situation or meets someone she doesn’t know, in which case she just performs the obligatory ‘child stare’. When she’s comfortable and happy though, the sounds and non-words are many, ranging from “wawawawa”, “shzrrrrr” and “ahoooo” to an occasional disturbing throaty gargle that makes her sound like a gremlin. Even though it’s far too early for a first word, sounds that are similar to words sometimes take us aback. Given her unbridled enthusiasm when given one, I’m convinced that her eventual first word will be “banana”. A-

Physical Development:

Her crawling is surprisingly quick, especially when It comes to making a beeline for the aforementioned stairs, or random parts of the floor that may still hold some dropped banana from earlier.

Standing is pretty much conquered, although she does tend to hold on to something in order to steady herself, mostly my or my wife’s legs. As adorable as this is, it’s also rather inconvenient should you want to, you know, move. She’s making good progress with the walking too and, for some reason; she saves her best efforts for when out in public. It’s quite amusing to watch the slight panic in other people’s faces when she starts tottering towards them like a drunk in high winds. B+

Emotional Development:

She’s started to have her first few tantrums. Most of the time, this can be quite maddening as, so far, they’ve tended to be due to the fact that we’ve blocked her path to the stairs or that it’s time for her to go to bed but she would much prefer to stay up and stick her fingers in our food before going over to wipe them on the television. On the odd occasion however, it can actually be quite amusing. A couple of days ago, she was having fun with her baby-walker before the wall brought an abrupt end to her journey across the living room. Upset that she couldn’t go any further, she proceeded to look cross, babble loudly in frustration and throw her arms down in disgust. Whilst this instance may have been quite funny, I doubt I’ll find the majority of tantrums over the next 18 years quite as comical. C+

Sleeping:

Much like a football manager who is only as good as their last result, M’s sleeping pattern only seems as good or as bad as the previous night.  On the whole, she is actually quite good, but the one consistent is that she saves her most unsettled nights for Sundays. As this is right before the start of the working week, the disruption is about as welcome as a fart in a crowded lift. C+

Teeth:

B+. Eight of them so far, all causing considerable pain when you get them clamped round your finger whilst trying to administer her teething granules, which I suppose is rather ironic.

Bathtime:

Hates her hair being washed, repeatedly tries to stand up in the tub, grabs and chews the sponge, hates the sponge being taken off her, hits me in the face with the sponge and squeezes the water from it outside the tub, making me arguably wetter than her. All of which is much to her delight. Rubber ducks and her own toothbrush are only an occasionally effective distraction technique. D+

Social Interaction:

Very sociable once she’s figured people out. Possibly a little too sociable with other babies and children especially, as she gets rather ‘hands-on’ with them. Which reminds me that we need to clip her nails even more regularly. She’s like Wolverine. B+

Eating and drinking:

Breakfast tends to be messy. Many years from now, when we’ve long-since moved, the next owners of our house will still be finding mysterious pieces of encrusted, flung porridge in random parts of the kitchen.

On the plus side, we’ve been combining milk with weaning onto solids for a while now and M doesn’t seem to be at all picky. She even loves cauliflower cheese, which proves that there must be something wrong with her taste buds. Trying to give her water after meals is a struggle though, as she just uses it as mouthwash before spitting it out and wearing a look that can only be described as ‘contemptuous’. B+

Inquisition:

Seemingly wants to know about EVERYTHING. Current objects of fascination include mobile phones, the stairs, the TV remote, any toggles on an item of clothing, the stairs, anything stacked up on shelves that can be knocked down (books, DVDs etc.), the washing machine, the stairs, the door stop holding open the kitchen door, any food that you happen to be eating, any drink that you happen to be drinking, the stairs, the tumble dryer, anything that happens to be between her and the stairs, her own socks (still). As lovely as her curiosity is, it’s also incredibly exhausting when you have to pick her up and direct her away from the bin for the umpteenth time that afternoon. A-

Musicality:

C+. She’s obviously not writing her first concerto or breaking out the MC Hammer-style moves yet, but M does enjoy music and watching people dance and sing. This is surprising, given that I have a singing voice that sounds like a seal being clubbed to death. In fact, it’s even worse than this:

Storytelling:

C+. Enjoys being read to, providing she’s not wriggling away and trying to get to the stairs again. She also seems to enjoy telling the odd story herself as well. A couple of weeks ago, I picked her up from the child-minder for the first time. On the way home, she was babbling away in the back of the car as if telling me all about her day. It was strangely emotional.

Her thesis on the industrial revolution:

Ungraded. She’s still working on the introduction. It’s very shoddy work, if I’m honest.