Frequently asked questions

I realise that I am letting the cat out of the bag a bit early but, at the time of writing, my wife and I have just one week until our second child is due.

As we’ve gradually told people over the last few months, the reaction has been lovely, supportive and sometimes rather amusing in its own way. So, I’ve compiled all the reaction in the form of some FAQs, plus the answers I have given – or would love to give…

“Was it planned?”

Well…as much as you can plan these things. There was no spreadsheet or PRINCE2 project flow chart because the laptop would have just got in the way.

“How has M reacted to the fact that she’ll be a big sister?”

I don’t think she’s quite clocked on to the full reality of the situation yet. Then again, she’s two and a half, so I’m not expecting her to help out her mum with breathing exercises or to know the symptoms of a Braxton Hicks contraction. She does know (and likes repeating) the fact that “Mummy has a baby in her tummy” but also asks if she and I also have babies in our tummies. I’ve explained to her that I don’t want to have this discussion with her for at least another 25 years and that any ‘baby’ I have is largely made up of Oreo cookies.

“How are you going to manage with a lack of sleep?”

I guess we’ll just have to sleep when we can and manage as we go along. The situation is going to be more complicated by the fact that our new neighbours have decided to fit a new kitchen the week after the baby is due. I’m hoping it doesn’t get to the stage where, in a sleep-deprived state of delirium, I believe that a dirty nappy through their letterbox is a perfectly sane and rational response to the noise.

“Are you having a home birth?”

No. In all seriousness, we weren’t without worry when M was born, so we are definitely sticking with the local hospital this time as well. The staff in the maternity ward were absolutely fantastic and made us feel incredibly grateful for the NHS. In less seriousness, I never managed to get to the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream vending machine on the adjacent wing last time around, so that remains a goal.

“It’ll be a breeze. After all, you know what you’re doing now, right?”

*nervous laughter*  I actually feel as though I have forgotten a lot more than I learned first time round and I’m now needing to frantically remember how to put up a crib, swaddle a small baby effectively and know what a TENS machine is (disappointingly, it is not a form of hospital-based bingo). The flipside is that there is almost a level of complacency that comes with a second child. Hence this attempt at writing a birth plan for my wife…

A plan...

“Can you afford a second child?”

It will be fine once we start sending M out for coal.

“What are you going to do with M if the baby comes in the middle of the night”

In all honesty, this is the question that is mainly playing on my mind as well. Being something of a worrier, I have now convinced myself that baby will commence his/her journey in the early hours of the morning. If, in the timeless words of Will Smith, it was ‘just the two of us’, this wouldn’t be so much of an issue but, as that’s not the case, I’m therefore fretting about what we do with M. My wife thinks it would be quite traumatic for her if we were to take her, but with my mother – at a good 30 minutes away – being our closest babysitter and no neighbours that we know well enough to call upon, I’m not sure we have much choice other than to bring her with us. The flipside is that M has a doctor’s coat and toy stethoscope/thermometer in her dressing-up box, so we could just turn the situation into a really realistic role-play scenario…

“I bet you’ll be pleased if it’s a boy?”

No, actually more scared. To be honest, but I’ve found it a bit strange (not in an unkind way) that people would assume I am more excited about the prospect of a boy. I know this is entirely my issue, but I feel as though there would be a certain pressure on me to teach my son the ways of the world etc. Those who know me know that I’m not really the alpha-male type, am terrible at DIY and never really got round to properly learning how to ride a bike. In other words, I don’t think any son of mine would turn out to be the next Chris Hoy or Bear Grylls. Having said that, I did once help to bury a dead sheep. I should probably just stop there…

“So, with two of them,  you understand everything there is to know about Isofix bases by now?

See above – hell, no.

“Where will the baby sleep?”

We have a two-bedroom terraced house so space is already a bit tight (although some space will be freed up once my wife’s planet-sized birthing ball gets deflated). The baby will sleep in our room initially so we’ll probably end up creeping around our own bedroom in scenes reminiscent of Mission: Impossible.

“What names have you decided upon?”

*tongue placed firmly in cheek* If it’s a girl – ‘Aphrodite’, because she was the Greek goddess of love and there is just SO MUCH love. If it’s a boy – ‘Vernon’, because we used to like watching Family Fortunes.

“How are you going to stop next-door’s cat from climbing into the crib/M’s bed etc?”

Well, my approach is quite unique in this respect as, unlike my wife, it involves NOT FULLY OPENING THE BEDROOM WINDOW SO THAT THE CAT GETS IN. Failing that, I have two words for you: Water pistol.

“Will you have any more children after this one?”

No – and just in case you missed that, NO. Regardless of whether we have a boy or a girl, the thought of being outnumbered by children terrifies me. Mind you, so does a potential visit to the vasectomy clinic.

Oh karma, my karma

“Who so diggeth a pit shall fall therein.” – Proverb

“Like gravity, karma is so basic we often don’t even notice it.” – Sakyong Mipham

“Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma, chameleon.” – Boy George

In all honesty, I can’t remember the year or exactly how old I was when this incident took place, but let’s just say that it was one summer in the early 90s whilst I was still in my early teens, was yet to buy my first Pink Floyd album and it was also during a period in which my acne practically had its own postcode.

My parents and I were on holiday in Argyll, western Scotland. We used to spend a number of holidays there as we all loved the area, it was beautiful, peaceful and relaxing – apart from when the wind really picked up from the sea and started removing the tiles from the roof of the cottage we stayed at as if they were confetti.

Unfortunately, this story involves a moment that rather punctured that peaceful, relaxing vibe. It is at this moment that I should warn you not to read any further if you are just about to eat, still eating, slightly squeamish or just getting a bit bored (I promise that I won’t be offended).

Anyhow, to very briefly set the scene, when we stayed there, I used to sleep in one of those bunk beds with a wooden-slatted base at the bottom. Sometimes, I slept on the top bunk, sometimes I slept at the bottom, I was a crazy, unpredictable child you see. Both bunks were very comfortable and it was a shame that, after this one particular occurrence, they were never quite the same again.

Given that this was over 20 years ago, it’s probably not surprising that I can’t remember the cause of what actually happened. Perhaps I had a migraine (I am occasionally still susceptible to them), maybe I had some other virus or maybe it was just because I had eaten way too many fizzy cola bottles. The bottom line is, one night, I was sick. Not just mildly sick, I mean I was SICK. The sort of sick that made you wonder if you hadn’t accidentally regurgitated a vital organ or whether your belly button had been permanently wrenched a few inches higher.

Whilst the exact details are thankfully sketchy, I definitely know that it was a long time before I was that sick again. In fact, not until an incident involving a bottle of ‘Apple Sourz’ in a unnamed Brighton nightclub many, many years later. But I’m not going to get into that.

So, despite the fact that I felt absolutely rotten, could barely move afterwards and had the sort of complexion normally reserved for one of the Cullen family in the Twilight movies  (I was dragged to see all of them by my wife, ok?) the sympathy in this lovely little story should be completely reserved for my parents who, of course, ended up having to clean the ‘debris’ from the bed, floor and, most trickily of all, from between the corners and joins of a large number of those wooden bed slats. Simply put, it cannot have been pleasant.

Regardless of the horror they experienced and the amount of Dettol they must have used, I simply assumed that, over time, my parents would have largely forgotten about the incident. After all, if my memory is a bit hazy when remembering the details, surely they would have just chalked it up to just another aspect of parenting they had to put up with and moved on, never to mention it again?

"We're going to need a bigger bottle…"

“We’re going to need a bigger bottle…”

Fast-forward at least 20/25 years later to a few weeks ago. M picked up a virus or bug from somewhere and the first thing to mention is that it fortunately went away after a couple of days and was not serious. However, she was really poorly and, one night, woke up around 1am clearly distressed. I got out of bed, went into her room and picked her up, hoping to calm her and soothe her back to sleep. That was when I heard ‘the noise’. You all know it, the noise that is to a bout of vomiting what a flash of lightning is to thunder. Standing there in just my pants (sorry for the visual image), I knew what was coming…and I could do nothing about it. Linda Blair from ‘The Exorcist’ was about to have some serous competition.

I was covered, M was covered and so I bolted to the bathroom to clear her up first and try and calm her down, all the time looking like I’d just been ‘gunged’ on Noel’s House Party. Even with my wife gallantly assisting, the whole operation took a while. Getting past it mentally took even longer.

The next day, I sent my mother a text to update her on M’s condition (she was due to look after her a couple of days later). I’d suddenly been reminded of the bed slat incident so mentioned that this was probably karma catching up with me over two decades later. I just expected her to just shrug it off to be honest, if she even remembered it. This was her reply:

“I have to tell you honestly that crossed my mind!!! Hahaha xx

So there we go. Whilst parenting is a wonderful, fulfilling, amazing experience full of love and joy, it also has a habit of bringing up (pun totally intended) your own childhood incidents and exacting revenge for them. The bed slats may be long gone, but they clearly have not been forgotten.  Bon appetit!

The 2nd Annual Novice Dad’s Diary Awards

It’s been rather quiet at Novice Dad Towers in recent times, but is there a better way to blow off the cobwebs than with the 2nd Annual Novice Dad’s Diary Awards?

Come to think of it, it’s probably best that you don’t answer that. Instead, let’s just gather together to celebrate the winners, debate the hot topics from the world of parenting and all try to avoid John Travolta.

Most Ubiquitous TV Show: Topsy & Tim.

Whilst I am glad that her fascination with ‘In the Night Garden’ appears to have passed, ‘Topsy & Tim’ has since replaced Iggle Piggle & co. in my daughter’s consciousness with not so much of a vengeance, more like a desire to stamp out the very existence of every other TV show ever made. Don’t get me wrong, I have no objection to the show itself, despite the somewhat grating theme tune or the fact that adult actors are a bit too simpering for my liking and seem to deliver their lines with more than a hint of self-loathing. It’s just that the intense requests for its viewing are endless, whether at home or in the car. Incidentally, you’ll be able to catch me at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year, where my one-man show will act out (with full, unerring accuracy) the episode in which Topsy & Tim have nits.

Biggest Display of Masochism: Ted the cat.

Not actually Ted…or my garden.

Not actually Ted…or my garden.

People who have reading this blog since it’s pre-parenthood days (Hi, Mum and Dad) will know that I’m not really a fan of cats. However, I have since developed a sort of grudging admiration for Ted, the cat from two doors down. Ted regularly waits patiently in the garden for someone to return home before jumping onto the fence, then onto the slippery conservatory roof, eventually finding his way up to balance precariously on the top before somehow flinging his body onto the ledge of our daughter’s bedroom window, waiting to be eventually let in (it’s seemingly impossible to get back down from that position). He makes this perilous climb, of course, in the futile hope that he might be offered some food. However, this is not just where my admiration for him comes from. Mainly, it’s because he continually does all of this despite the constant harassment from my daughter when he finally makes it inside. There, he is continually chased, meddled with and subjected to the kind of ‘stroking’ that involves his torso being pushed down as if he were a cafetiere. So, this award goes to him. Respect,Ted.

Most irritating piece of marketing: ‘Tantrum’ Coconut Conditioner.



Never have I loathed a bath product more.

Best Horror Movie Re-enactment: The Happyland People.

Less happy, more creepy...

Less happy, more creepy…

The Happyland people are simple, contented folk. But, one evening, I found them placed like this in their little cottage. Why are they all facing out of the window? What are they looking at? What happened to the furniture? Why has it suddenly got colder in here?

The John Lewis Award for Emotionally Manipulative Advertising: Pampers.

Is it wrong to think that if Pampers really do believe in a better night’s sleep, they’d manufacture contraceptives instead?

Worst Bear Mask for a ‘We’re Going on a Bear-Hunt’ Theme Day: Me.

Hello, ladies...

Hello, ladies…

Clearly, Art was never my strongest subject at school and it somehow appears to have given me a double-chin (I swear that was never there before). On the bright side, at least I can also use this when I audition for the part of The Scarecrow in the next Batman movie.

Weirdest Smile: M.

For some reason, she has taken to baring her teeth and sticking out her chin when smiling, so it’s not an exaggeration when I say that recent pictures of our beautiful daughter have come out a little bit like this…


Most Awkward Moment at Rhyme Time: Me.

One Saturday morning in May, M and I went to the monthly ‘Dad’s Rhyme Time’ at Dorking library. My previous experience of this was that everyone got involved with the singing and actions. So, you can imagine my embarrassment when I gingerly got up and returned to my seat, to looks of pity, after I found myself to be the only one of 10 dads acting out  ‘Sleeping bunnies’ amongst a group of toddlers.

Most Terrifying Childhood Companion: Rosie.

Don't look directly at her...

Don’t look directly at her…

The prophecy from last year has come true. Rosie, my wife’s bone-chillingly scary doll has become a favourite of our daughter. This is despite the evil flickering eye and air of silent menace. One evening, M pointed out: “Rosie is sleeping”. This, of course, was not true. Rosie doesn’t sleep, she waits.

Biggest Anti-climax: Freddie.

*Excited toddler’s voice from the conservatory*  “Daddy…Daddy…Daddy, come on…come ON. Come and see it, Daddy…COME ON!”

It was a dead fly.

Rest in peace, old friend. rest in peace...

Rest in peace, old friend. rest in peace…

I called him Freddie. It’s what he would have wanted.

Most Unfortunate Book Title:

Such innocent times.

Such innocent times.

I really don’t think I need to elaborate.

Biggest Misuse: This functional blue piece of plastic.

It's also had glitter put in it...

It’s also had glitter put in it…

So far, it has been variously used as a step, a hat or as additional storage space for any number of toys, hair clips or random jigsaw pieces. In case you were wondering, the potty training hasn’t quite gone according to plan so far.

Most Strictly-Enforced House Rule: No mixing…

Other playdoh makes are available.

Other playdoh makes are available.

Always put the recycling in the right bin? No. Don’t eat biscuits on the sofa? No. Don’t let cats in through the bedroom window? Sadly not. Instead, God help you if you ever mix together the different colours of playdoh.

Worst Purchase: The Jumper from Budapest.

It's got a lamb and a rain cloud on the back.

It’s got a lamb and a rain cloud on the back.

I was in Budapest recently and, with encouragement from two of my colleagues, brought this Hungarian-style jumper back for M. The look of “seriously?” on my wife’s face was the most damning assessment of one of my purchases since the whole Tottenham Hotspur Babygro incident. To add further insult, the poor bear has been practically ignored as well.

Saddest Balloons: Istanbul airport.

You’ll have to take my word for this but, just inside the entrance to the terminal at Istanbul Ataturk airport there are approximately a dozen brightly-coloured balloons – all adorned with Mickey Mouse, Minions or the characters from ‘Frozen’, forlornly stuck at the terminal ceiling. As my boss pointed out: “It’s quite upsetting when you think that there was probably a crying child for each one of those”.

Nicest Surprise:

This greeted me when I got back from Turkey. I’m not always cynical, you know :-)

Welcome home

Want more? Really? Take a trip down memory lane by looking back at last year’s awards.

Downstairs…part 2

Sequels are usually disappointing – whether it’s a bold but ultimately futile attempt to move the story in a new direction (the second series of Broadchurch, for example), a lazy re-hashing of the earlier plot in a different setting (The Hangover Part II) or a tired continuation of the previous narrative that you’d hoped would have just finished after the first effort (Hello, ‘Saw’ franchise).

Which leads me to report that, continuing on from my last post, M’s loudly stated preference for sleeping on the sofa downstairs at night – instead of her bed – continues to occur.

Going with the assumption that she felt trapped by her cot – she used to frantically kick off her swaddling blankets when only a few weeks old, so this theory didn’t appear to be totally wide of the mark – we decided to go with the option of detaching one of the sides, in a bid to make it feel less like a wooden-slatted prison.

Surprisingly, given the monumental effort involved in assembling the whole thing in the first place, this task didn’t require the full-scale project plan and regular progress reports that we’d previously assumed. Instead, I just removed the screws and the wooden frame that prohibited M’s desire to go downstairs post-bedtime had come down. Even taking into account my distinct lack of DIY skills, there was no triumphant gaze to the heavens and no fist-pumping gesture of victory. The Scorpions didn’t even bother to write a song about it. It just happened.

So, you might wish to know, were the sleeping problems magically solved and the pleas to be taken downstairs curtailed?

Of course not.

Rather than just happily snooze away in her more accessible bed – which she loves jumping on and playing in during the day – M is now free to get out of bed, use her little fingers to prise the bedroom door open and waddle over to the stair-gate if she so wishes – which she does.

The first night this happened was actually rather scary. Not because of her, but instead because we thought that the house next door might be being burgled whilst the neighbours were away. It subsequently turned out that the mysterious shuffling noises we were hearing were as a result of a small child trying to walk across the landing in her sleeping bag.  On that occasion, I wasn’t too frustrated by her lack of sleep, as it was quite funny looking up the stairs, subsequently being greeted by a cheesy grin and a “Hello Daddy”. It also saved me from going outside to investigate a possible home invasion – although I’m not sure how scared off any potential intruder would have been by the sudden appearance of a man wearing tartan sweatpants and fluffy slippers, wielding a rolled-up copy of ‘World Soccer’ magazine.

So, the hope of making a breakthrough has dissipated and we appear to be back where we started, hoping that this is just a phase that will somehow get to a point where it just works itself out. In the meantime, we are still trying to work out work out ways of accelerating the process of getting to that point, preferably before I end up spending half of my salary on ‘Clarins Men’s Anti-Fatigue Fighter’ (other male skincare products are available).

One potential solution has been to lay a duvet and/or my old sleeping bag on her bedroom floor and sleep adjacent to the bed until she goes to sleep, with the hope that this method will get her used to sleeping soundly in her own space again, rather than waking up and yearning for the sofa. I should point out that the sleeping bag has been washed since my younger, drunker days, when it reeked ever so slightly of poor decision-making, Southern Comfort and Lynx Africa.

At the time of writing, this approach seemed to work last night and, from my viewpoint, was actually a bit like camping. In fact, for the brief period where I had my head by the nappy bin, it was more like festival camping.

So, tonight, we go again. I’m not expecting any sudden upturn in results but I would definitely settle for a gradual return to the good old days when she would, more often than not, sleep through the night in her own bed. Fingers crossed, then – I really hope this doesn’t become a trilogy.

The magic of downstairs

Up until fairly recently, M had always been a pretty good sleeper, more often than not sleeping through the night. My wife and I realise how fortunate we have been compared to a lot of parents with young children, to the extent that it has often felt a bit awkward speaking to fellow parents whose offspring are not necessarily as peaceful during the precious wee hours. We’ve tried to downplay it, worried about inadvertently appearing smug or somehow boastful.

Either way, the peaceful nights have recently come to an abrupt halt as M has, more often than not, decided to wake up around 1am/2am and called out for one or both us. We’ve awoken, rummaged around for our glasses and found her arms aloft – ‘Shawshank Redemption’ style – with her mouse in hand, pleading for us to take her away from the warmth of her bed to the dark, slight drafty land of downstairs.



At first, this seemed to be a curious request but I guess I can see her point – downstairs is so much more fun. After all, it holds all the milk, food and biscuits, the play kitchen and the inhabitants of Happy Land (none of whom – going by the contented, carefree grins on their faces – appear to have experienced the trials of being woken up at 2am). Downstairs also holds the television – gateway to the magical worlds of ‘In the Night Garden’, ‘Peter Rabbit’ and ‘Show Me, Show Me’ plus, for a brief but glorious period of time, the football that M would request after only the tiniest piece of encouragement from me.

Gina Ford would probably berate Mrs.D and I to within an inch of our lives because our response to this plea hasn’t always been consistent. Our first attempt at a solution was to go into her room and attempt to soothe her back to sleep, either via a cuddle, a reassuring hand on the tummy, a quick story or a couple of verses of ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Little Star’ – although quite how soothing that last option is remains highly debatable, given that the only thing that could make my singing voice even worse is the grumpy, half-conscious croak that comes with being woken up abruptly.

Given the basic desire to try and get back to sleep as soon as possible, the soothing often gets bypassed in favour of bringing her and mouse in to sleep with us (whilst telling her that downstairs itself is ‘asleep’) in the hope that the comforting presence of Mummy and Daddy will send her gently back to the land of nod. Very infrequently, this works. More often than not, none of us end up sleeping as M thrashes around and manages to take up most of the space, leaving her mum and I with our pillows resting on our bedside tables and dangling from the sides of the bed like a doomed Wile E. Coyote.

On the occasions we have managed to reclaim some territory, the flailing limbs and mouse-based facial flogging inevitably force us back out to the sides again.

So, the third solution is to adhere to her request and take M, her mouse and her pillow downstairs. Being too sleepy to sit and wait for her to fall asleep again, attempt to take her back up before she awakes again and discovers the ruse, it’s easier to set up camp for both of us in the living room. Our sofa is L-shaped so, without saying a word, we place her gently on the smaller section, with her head towards the corner, before quietly picking up the spare duvet now permanently parked by the side and hoping for some shut-eye. It doesn’t always work like that, of course. One particular night, I placed her in the usual place but, in the time it took me to gather the duvet, she had wriggled towards the centre of the sofa, leaving me with no option but to adopt a foetal position on the end.

Having not helped ourselves with our lack of a stable approach, we’ve tried to fathom what might be the cause of this change in pattern. Separation anxiety, maybe? Bad dreams? Fear of the dark? Just a normal stage in the growing-up process? We’ve tried other, more preventative methods based on these theories. For instance, I’ve placed some of her cuddly toys in her cot-bed to make it seem less like a wooden prison. Unfortunately, you could argue that this makes it instead seem like a particularly over-zealous job interview.

"Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team"

“Tell me about a time you worked as part of a team”

We’ve tried putting more of her toys upstairs as well – although this hasn’t been enough of a distraction to prevent her from occasionally walking around with her potty on her head just before bath-time.

On the off-chance that a new-found fear of the dark was the cause, I bought one of those gentle night lights – the light from which turned out to be not that gentle, unless your idea of ‘gentle’ light is more akin to the blinding death of a star.

Some forums I’ve looked at have suggested removing the cot bars altogether, so that her bed is more like, well, a bed. However, I’m still not comfortable with the idea of her getting up and wandering around on her own at night. Plus, removing the bars on this particular cot would seemingly require more pairs of hands than a Formula 1 pit crew and a Master’s degree in engineering.

So, with no steady return to the good old times of sleeping through, we just have to assume that this is just part of her being a toddler. Another phase – albeit one that seems to be lasting longer than other phases. In the meantime, we’ll have to wait and hope, whilst pulling over the spare duvet and saying “Goodnight” to the magical land of downstairs.

A Christmas song

On the first day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the second day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the third day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the fourth day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the fifth day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: FIVE POM-BEARS. Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the sixth day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Six squashed bananas, FIVE POM-BEARS. Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the seventh day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Seven scribbled drawings, six squashed bananas, FIVE POM-BEARS. Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the eighth day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Eight blunted crayons, seven scribbled drawings, six squashed bananas, FIVE POM-BEARS. Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the ninth day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Nine snotty tissues, eight blunted crayons, seven scribbled drawings, six squashed bananas, FIVE POM-BEARS. Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the tenth day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Ten cartoon stickers, nine snotty tissues, eight blunted crayons, seven scribbled drawings, six squashed bananas, FIVE POM-BEARS. Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the eleventh day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Eleven fridge magnets, ten cartoon stickers, nine snotty tissues, eight blunted crayons, seven scribbled drawings, six squashed bananas, FIVE POM-BEARS. Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

On the twelfth day of Christmas, my toddler gave to me: Twelve Christmas baubles, eleven fridge magnets, ten cartoon stickers, nine snotty tissues, eight blunted crayons, seven scribbled drawings, six squashed bananas, FIVE POM-BEARS. Four random socks, three dead leaves, two wet wipes and some toe-fluff from between her feet.

Merry Christmas, Everyone :-)


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.