Moving house and freaking out

“How do you cope with change?” is one of those stock questions you tend to get asked in job interviews and a good answer usually goes along the lines of “Change is part of everyday life and you have to embrace the positives and the challenges” etc. etc.

I’ve given those answers in interviews before and, on the whole, I generally believe in them. However, if someone had stopped me in the street and asked me the same thing during the last week in October, the first thing I’d have said (apart from “Sorry, who are you and why are you asking me random questions?” or “Please let go of my coat”) would have been “Well, I’m currently handling change VERY, VERY BADLY”.

We moved house just over a month ago.

I had lived in Dorking for over ten years and – with my old family home long since sold – it had become my adopted home in more ways than one, ever since I moved there in the spring of 2006. I had a one-bedroom flat near the centre of town for those first five years and I met my wife just over a year afterwards. We got married in 2009 and then we moved into what is now our old house in the summer of 2011. In all honesty, for most of the time I was never really that fond of the house and I kept telling myself that it was just a stepping stone to somewhere else once we had (hopefully) started a family.

By the end of our time there though, I had genuinely come to see it as home and had even embraced its little quirks. For instance, there was something strangely comforting in the winter about the smell of the dehumidifier that we needed in the bedroom because of the slight damp problem, whilst decorating the place for Halloween became less of a job because the vast numbers of spiders that lived in the roof of the conservatory did a pretty good job of it themselves. Even the cracked bathtub casing that had been there since before we moved in became less of an annoyance and more of a routine topic of conversation (“we’ll replace the whole thing eventually”). We never did.

Mainly though, I came to warm to it because of the memories it will always hold. It was the first place we bought both of our children home to. It was the place where they had their first birthdays, first Christmases and where they grew up to become the lovely little people that we have now. On the week that we moved out, I thought about the fact that the person buying our house would probably, as one of their first jobs, take down the wallpaper that had adorned Millie’s bedroom since just before she was born and my heart broke a little.

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But the truth was, we needed to move. There were now four of us and we’d outgrown the house. We’d simply run out of space and it didn’t seem fair for Millie to have to share a room with Henry’s grumpiness every single morning (she once tried to sing him back to sleep with the angriest version of ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’ that I’m ever likely to hear). On the flipside, Henry probably didn’t appreciate Millie’s lack of spatial awareness and blatant disregard of what constitutes speaking in a ‘little voice’ on those occasions when he was actually trying to sleep.

Another consideration was that our new neighbours for the final year of us living there were pretty rude and inconsiderate – I’m actually being diplomatic here, partly because I don’t want to come across as intolerant and partly because both of my parents read this and don’t like me swearing. Essentially, they’d moved in an starting renovating their kitchen the very same week we bought Henry home from the hospital, not letting us know when they were planning to do the work, which always coincided with those precious few moments of sleep that my wife was desperately hoping to have. The neighbourly relations deteriorated over the next few months. Key moments included their bathroom renovation (maybe they had a cracked bathtub casing as well) which we only found out about when they started hammering on the walls one Saturday morning, which also placed their new ‘power shower’ on the adjoining wall next to Millie’s room and subsequently reverberated loudly every time they turned it on. Then there were the late, loud drunken parties and the obligatory parking issues…but I digress.

Having made the decision, it was easy to be swept up in the initial excitement about finding a new house. We didn’t look at many but there was one house that we both agreed on and I can’t emphasise in writing how much of a surprise this was to me at the time. We accepted an offer on our house in June and put in a successful bid for our new place shortly after. Then, as is often the case with these things, the process dragged on and on. Henry was too young to be aware of anything going on – he was just happy smearing pieces of soggy biscuit over everything we were trying to pack – but Millie was understandably unsettled about it all. She had a pretty good idea about what was happening, having watched the (seemingly countless) episodes of Topsy and Tim that involved the family moving to a new house one street away, without any hitches or problems whatsoever. For realism, I would have preferred at least one scene where the Dad gesticulates loudly because he can’t find the packing tape and bubble wrap.

So, we were worried about how Millie would transition. One of the first things we did once we were in was to make sure that her bedroom was set up for her, so that she would at least have her bed, toys and clothes in her new room as her ‘constants’ in order to make it all seem less scary.

As it turns out, it wasn’t her that struggled with the change, it was me.

After the adrenaline rush of moving day itself, I can’t really describe what happened other than to say I pretty much froze. I was hit by the panic that I’d moved far away from everybody and everything that I knew. In many ways, it was irrational as my mum was only 15-20 minutes further away than she had been, whilst at least three or four of my closest friends are slightly nearer (in terms of travel time, if not distance). Even so, for the first few days I couldn’t even bring myself to walk the length of the new garden, let alone summon the energy to unpack and move furniture. I felt totally lost and adrift, I couldn’t eat and was unable to think clearly or focus on even the simplest of tasks. Prior to the move, I hadn’t even considered the possibility that I’d feel remotely this way (other than getting sad when I ordered our final takeaway from Red Chilli on our last night in Dorking).

My lethargy was the polar opposite to my wife, who could have set Olympic records in nesting, so furious was her mindset to get the house looking as much like ‘ours’ as possible. It’s to her immense credit that we’ve made a great deal of progress on the house since moving day and for that, I am very grateful.

In the moments when I’m being kinder to myself, I remember that, in the last few months, I’ve left a job that I loved (one of the ironic downsides of contracting is finding somewhere you really want to stay, but are unable to) as well as having left my adopted home town after over a decade there. Friends and family have spoken to have largely reassured me that it’s normal and all part of being human, all of which has helped make me feel a bit better.

So, it’s been a weird few weeks but, on an upbeat note, the children have settled in surprisingly easily, they have a bigger space to play in and their own bedrooms. Plus, Christmas is coming and we now have an actual fireplace to hang our Christmas stockings on, as opposed to tying them onto the stair bannisters with random pieces of string.

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I’ve also managed to write something on here for the first time in 10 months. It’s going to take me a while, but maybe I can start to embrace the positives of change after all…

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Month of Mondays

I read a tweet today that started with the phrase ‘January is the Monday of months’. It’s a sentiment I can wholeheartedly agree with, not least because I spent most of last month wandering around in a grumpy daze, being generally hap-hazard and wishing that it would be over. Here’s a small selection of reasons why:

I made another child cry at a birthday party: Honestly, I’m terrified at the thought of children’s parties taking over our lives at the weekends in the years to come. This is partly because I know the chances of me doing something stupid and/or awkward are enhanced in such situations. This particular example was (I think) only my third experience of being a parent at another child’s birthday party and on the previous two occasions, I’d managed to hide in the corner by the crisps and dip, so well out of harm’s way. 

 

On this occasion, I tried to be helpful. Big mistake. 

 

When the children sat down for food, I noticed that the little girl sitting next to M was having trouble with her party hat. I went to help and apparently managed to put the hat on her with no problem. Or so I thought as, five seconds later, the girl started to cry. As her mum came over, it became apparent that the girl’s bigger sister was sitting next to her and, if you’ll excuse me for being childish, was a massive tell-tale. “THAT MAN made her cry” said the older girl, pointing to me in the style of a witness in an over-dramatic television courtroom scene. “I’m really sorry” I said to the mum. “I was only trying to help with her hat”. The mum seemed ok about it, but any parenting confidence I had tried to build up disappeared quicker than the cocktail sausages on M’s plate. This was even before I inadvertently parked a sleeping H’s buggy right next to the music speaker…

The hopes of two nights’ uninterrupted sleep were cruelly dashed: I have a confession to make. Last week, I was away Istanbul for two nights on a business trip and a little part of me was looking forward to it. Obviously, I would miss my little family a lot but I couldn’t help but think about two uninterrupted nights of sleep sound-tracked only by the comforting whirr of the air-conditioning unit in my hotel room. Needless to say, it didn’t quite work out like I hoped. The first night was spent trying to work out why the air-con wasn’t working, trying to adjust to the two-hour time difference, trying to log on to the hotel WIFI so that I could ‘face-time’ with my family and, above all, trying and failing to sleep. The second night was spent feeling progressively poorly, panicking that the planned all-seafood menu in the restaurant that my colleagues and I were eating in was going to make me feel even worse, eventually feeling even worse, wondering if I was going to be sick in the taxi and then being VERY sick when I got back to my room. The next morning was spent trying to sleep it off but being continually disturbed by knocks on my room door accompanied by a shout of “HOUSEKEEPING!”

 

Apparently, a scribbled note outside the door saying ‘Please do not disturb’ is not always effective. On a positive note – back in the UK, my wife and children apparently slept soundly on both of those nights.

Potty training: To be fair, this could have been far worse as we started in the week between Christmas and new year. M has picked it up generally quickly, although the process has not been without accidents or desperate purchases of more Dettol wipes than usual (our poor sofa cushions). Going into February, M now seems to be able to sit herself on the toilet/potty without clinging onto our shoulders for the whole time, so I’m hoping that this means I’m spared hearing every detailed squeeze, splat and splash of her bodily functions at close quarters.

Tantrums: I’m really hoping that the current strops that M seems to be throwing with alarming regularity are as a result of her own January slump. She seems to be arguing and cross about everything at the moment, especially when my wife has the nerve to start feeding H approximately five seconds before M demands her attention (funny, that). We’ve had an apocalyptic screaming fit about being denied a packet of Mini Cheddars whilst in the car(“MUMMY, WHY WON’T YOU LOOK AT ME?!) We’ve had a thrashing, yelling tantrum about the fact she wanted her miniature princess toys in bed with her and we’ve had all manner of kicking, drink-throwing and stamping hissy-fits about…well…I don’t really know. Also, when you don’t do EXACTLY what she wants during a game or activity, she tells you in no uncertain terms that it’s wrong (“No, no, no, no, NO!”)

 

Coughs and colds: Maybe part of the reason we’ve had the tantrums is because M is coming down with something. We’ve found that, at this time of year, she tends to have a cough equivalent to a 40-a-day smoker. H has been congested for what seems like weeks as well. All the vapour plugs and tummy rubs don’t seem to do anything about the fact that his blocked sinuses make him sound like a pig trying to play the trombone.

Logistics: There’s a great Michael McIntyre sketch about him trying to leave the house with his two sons. Now, with two young children, my wife and I can totally relate to how you have to start planning to leave the house an hour before you were scheduled to. This gets even worse in January with the extra coats, jumper, wellies, gloves, packets of Mini Cheddars  (we’ve learnt our lesson now) on top of the usual drinks, bags, baby wraps, spare pants, portable potties…this is even before we get to the protracted negotiations with M about what toys are being taken along with us, why it’s not really necessary to set the iPad up for ‘Topsy and Tim’ episodes when we’ve only got a 15-minute journey, why we are even going out in the first place and exhausted parental cries of “can you PLEASE put your socks back on!”

 

So, January, I’m not sorry to see you go. I know you’ve tried to win me over by bringing Crème Eggs back to the shops early (a crafty move), but I won’t miss you for these next 11 months. See you again in 2017…

All because I love Milk Tray

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There’s a commonly-held belief that, once you become a parent, you have to make certain sacrifices and that time spent on your hobbies and chasing your goals tends to get scaled back somewhat – the sad sight of my golf clubs gathering dust and spider-webs in my garage is testament to this.  Yet, although I’m a father of two, my dreams were – if anything –reignited recently with the news that Cadburys are searching for a new ‘Milk Tray’ Man.

That’s right – like many forgotten heroes, our favourite black-clad purple box-wielding delivery boy is getting a reboot – andI’ve applied for the role.

Yes, I’m only 5 foot 7 (5 foot 8 if I don’t slouch), look permanently exhausted and am getting increasingly squidgy round the edges.  But, if you look closely, aren’t many screen heroes really just flawed human beings rather than perfect specimens?  After all, take off the mask and Spider-man is really a gawky teenager, Batman is a recluse in desperate need of a Strepsil and don’t get me started on how many hours of therapy James Bond clearly needs.

So, with that in mind, here are some reasons why I believe that I should get the part:

  • I’m adventurous and daring. For instance, I once used a fake name in Starbucks and I sometimes stay in a supermarket car-park for longer than my allocated time.
  • As long as it’s not 100% acrylic, I’m almost certain that the black polo neck jumper won’t make me itch.
  • I can almost guarantee that the box of Milk Tray would be delivered to the lady in question with at least half of the chocolates still present and correct.
  • Ok, so I’ve never dodged sharks, jumped bridges or flown a helicopter (the latter two because I’m scared of heights, the former because I’d prefer not be torn limb from limb). However, I have safely carried a bunch of flowers for my wife from central London to Surrey via two tube lines and the 17:54 from Waterloo to Dorking – which is pretty much the same when you think about it.
  • Rather than terrify the lady who loves Milk Tray by abseiling into her bedroom window (and running the risk of a restraining order and pepper spray ruining the chocolates), I would be very British and knock politely yet apologetically.
  • I’m REAL (didn’t that whole ‘real’ schtick work for Zoella and her YouTube channel..?
  • I’m mature and yet still down with the kids (see above point).
  • Just like ridiculously skinny female models, I don’t think we should be giving young men an impossible vision of masculinity to live up to. Be more like me, an alternative and easily obtainable style of man without too much effort.
  • I believe in the product (especially the caramel fudge ones).
  • Modern cameras and lighting can hide your blocked pores these days.
  • My dodgy knee doesn’t give me grief ALL the time.
  • I’m happy to be paid in Milk Tray.

So, I want to do this. I want to strike a blow for short, mousey and tired over tall, dark and handsome. I want to show the world that modern heroes need not be hopeless visions of enhanced masculinity. I want to claim a victory for the simple man . Because, dear readers of this blog, I am a simple man. A simple man who just wants the chance to hold a box of chocolates whilst being filmed doing so.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to visit asos.com for some black trousers with that stretchy material…

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.

Ugh

Ugh

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…

Wallace

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.

Downstairs!

“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.

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.