Dear Dave

Wednesday 30 May 2007

I can make you thinner

Dear Dave,

It's that time again.

I've locked away the biscuits, put the crisps out of reach and stopped buying chocolate.

Yep, my belly's going to pot and I need to act now. I've reached that age. The age where I can no longer just shovel any old lump of sugar-coated deep-fried lard into my mouth and hope to get away with it. I need to resist the siren call of the chocolate digestives. I wouldn't be the first man I know to wake up one morning only to discover they were fat and bald.

Having said that, I'm actually quite looking forward to the going bald bit. Obviously there will be some initial comb-over uncertainty. Is it there or isn't it? Then enough will fall out, the trauma will pass and I'll shave off what's left. I'll be able to buy some funky hats. No more shampoo and conditioner each morning - just a quick polish and I'll be away. I could even grow a beard and pretend my head's on upside down.

Yes, bald I can live with. Fat, not really. It's not so much my overall weight it's just the feeling that I'm developing jowls that might quickly grow and merge to become a third chin. It's not worth thinking about. You may even not be thinking about it. You're probably munching away on some deep-fried sugar-enhanced lard as you read this, secure in the knowledge that you're that little bit younger than me. Still, I'm going to give you my top tips for not turning into the dad from Family Guy anyway. One day you will thank me - the day you wake up merely bald.

Essentially, the secret to losing weight is to eat less and exercise more. It's not much of a secret really - it's startlingly obvious. Unfortunately, it's also not much fun. If anyone else reckons they have a better secret, however, then chances are that it's expensive, nonsense or bad for you in the long term. It may even be all three.

I don't know about you, but I'm running round the place constantly already. I don't have time or energy to exercise more. This only leaves eating less.

I can't be bothered to count calories. My theory is to eat the same food as always at meals but have smaller portions, while cutting out the biscuits, chocolate and cake inbetween. (Actually, it's Sarah's theory but it's a good one so I'm stealing it). The major downside to this theory is feeling a bit hungry most of the time. I can't imagine it's possible to lose weight without feeling hungry most of the time, though. Drat.

Cutting out lots of things entirely is much easier to monitor than allowing yourself a little bit of everything. Don't cut out all the treats, however. I know from experience that this just isn't sustainable. Going cold-turkey on chocolate, biscuits, crisps, cake, Sam's left-over sandwiches, doughnuts AND beer at the same time is too much to ask of your body and sanity. Keep something to look forward to. (Hint: Beer). By the way, it's worth cutting out the left-overs even if you're not trying to control your weight. Sam's two-and-a-half. What are the chances of him not having a stomach bug or a minor cold? Anything he's touched or breathed on is a potential biohazard. Incinerate those sandwiches and bury the remains.

Don't go crazy on the dieting. Eating nothing but watermelon for a month is all very well but it's not going to help maintain your new weight once you get there. I know I'd spend the entire month dreaming of the big binge I could have once it was over. Eating the same but a little healthier and a little less is the way to go. It's slow, though. (But even minimal exercise to give some semblance of muscle tone to my sagging stomach can make it look like things are progressing faster).

Oh, and don't drink coffee as a distraction from feeling hungry. That never goes well...

There are, of course, other ways to lose weight. The most effective in my experience is to catch chickenpox. I lost a stone in ten days by that method a couple of years ago. This is, however, a one-shot deal and has the unfortunate side-effect of causing you to shed scabs for a couple of weeks afterwards. The extra hoovering involved is a definite disincentive.

Another alternative is to not sleep. Once the new baby arrives this will almost certainly be your default method for keeping your jeans loose. The extra calories you'll need to stay awake all night will mean you'll be able to eat a steady diet of Mars bars, cake and Sugar Puffs without piling on the pounds. The poor nutrition won't be awfully good for your general health but you'll be too busy hallucinating to care.

Make the most of it.

Yours in a woman's world,


Thursday 24 May 2007

Balamory, plumbing and vomit too!

Dear Dave,

Thanks for your letters of concern wondering where I'd got to. (Your list of poisonous creatures indigenous to South America was a nice touch. As were the instructions on how to rob a bank in Spanish which you cribbed from Butch Cassidy). As it turned it out, Sarah took the news of my meeting with Steve remarkably well and didn't feel the need to harm me. She was just glad he wasn't still here when she got home. As a result, I didn't have to sit on the naughty step for any great length of time. I did, however, get sent to Balamory as penance. This was a bit like being sent to Coventry but involved taking the entire family with me and having to endure much more singing.

No, really.

Tobermory (where Balamory was filmed) is only slightly easier to get to than the dark side of the moon. We spent most of Saturday travelling. We took the train to Glasgow, changed trains there for Oban, got the ferry to Craignure and then rode a fairly scary bus round the island to the land of PC Plum and Miss Hoolie.

The kids spent a lot of the journey arguing over whether we were going to Tobermory or Balamory. Fraser was for Tobermory, Marie was for Balamory and Lewis is at an age inbetween where he wasn't quite sure. He understood that they made Balamory in Tobermory but couldn't quite grasp why we didn't bump into Spencer during our stay. I think the whole trip messed with his head. Fraser struggled to recall the name of the island on which Tobermory is situated until be came up with a handy memory aid: Mull as in Mull-ti-player. (He's not addicted. No. No...)

There is a point an hour or so north of Glasgow on the train where the world ends. Houses become scattered, mobile phones give up and the sheep start walking around on their hind-legs because they think there's no one around to see them. The scenery is beautiful but sometimes desolate. The track becomes winding, hilly and overhung with trees. We were surprised when some branches caught the side of the train and sent wet leaves raining in through the open window. Marie looked on the bright side. "Salad!"

When we reached Oban I realised the low level of my expectation when I said with genuine excitement, "Look! There's a Woolworth's!" To be fair, there was also bowling next to the station but we didn't have time and went for a quick tour of the shops instead. Fraser scored a small stack of Pokemon books in Oxfam. In Blockbuster I noticed that they rent out entire DVD box-sets for between £5 and £7 for a week. I thought, 'Wow! Wish we had a Blockbuster near us.' Then I looked at an entire season of 24 sitting on the shelf. Twenty-four episodes in a week. That's more than three a day. That can't be healthy. Maybe it's a good thing there isn't a Blockbuster close by...

The short ferry trip across to Mull was fun and brought back memories of childhood. In particular, I was reminded of a sight-seeing ferry in Spain I went on with my family when I was about seven. On that occasion we were sitting on the top deck and it started to rain. Everyone else ran for cover. We, however, being British (or just hopelessly optimistic) put on our waterproofs and got steadily soaked. The captain took pity on us, invited us into his little control booth and played us Max Bygraves tapes. (I didn't say fond memories...)

The ferry to Mull had soft-play. It was more a padded cell with squishy shapes, really, but it was sufficient to keep the kids amused for half an hour. A couple of mums were having a conversation and, in a Twilight Zone moment, one of them mentioned how she'd rented an entire season of 24 for a week and gone slightly mad. Spooky.

Near the gangway of the ferry was a stack of leaflets giving advise on how to drive on single track roads. I should maybe have taken one for our bus driver. We had some 'entertaining' moments on the forty-five minute drive to Tobermory as we whizzed along the narrow, twisty, up-and-down road which frequently ran along beside water. At least we've found travel sickness pills which work on the boys, though. (They're called Joy-Rides).

As for Tobermory itself, it's pretty and there are plenty of restaurants but there's not much else to it. The whole place is built on an incredibly steep hill which made exploration difficult. We did find a small swing-park but we had to leave in search of plasters after Fraser went down the slide using his brother's head as a mat. There's a children's farm but that was too far out of town to be realistically walkable. Buses are few and far between. Even half the Balamory houses have changed colour.

We stayed three nights and any longer would have been stretching things. Waiting to catch the bus home, an old man chatted to us. In the middle of his life story he said, "What do you think of the place. Bit of a dump, eh?"

This was somewhat off-message compared with the official tourist leaflets which advertise a child-friendly town. Considering there's very little for children to do and there's a frequent lack of pavements, I'm not entirely sure what they were getting at. I guess 'Tobermory - child-friendly' sounds more appealing than 'Tobermory - usually free of ogres, witches, bear traps and Super Nanny'. Apparently, in the height of Balamory fever, the town was swamped with toddlers. Goodness knows what they all did. Tobermory certainly isn't a dump but it's more a place for wildlife spotters and hard-core OAP hillwalkers. It's not really somewhere you'd find yourself passing through, either. The locals must have been pretty bemused by a sudden influx of under-fives hoping to stalk Josie Jump. The toddlers' parents were probably equally bemused by the lack of locals. Our first meal was served by an Eastern European, there was a South African behind the till when we bought groceries and the Indian restaurant, although good, was somewhat surreal. Not what we'd expected.

After we'd discussed Tobermory, I told the old man at the bus stop that we'd taken the ferry across to Kilchoan for a day out.

"Did you go to the place where they sell teas?" he said. "It's quite nice."

This is akin to asking someone who has just come back from Niagra if they went to see the waterfall. In Kilchoan there are views, a few houses and the place that sells teas. It is, indeed, quite nice.

We returned to the gleaming metropolis of Oban - a place where it is possible to order three glasses of milk at the same the time without a waitress looking shifty and making excuses about the boat/bus/airdrop not arriving until four.

We had a while to wait for the train so we went and had lunch. There was no one else in the restaurant so they put us on display in the window to attract other customers. Unfortunately, Marie took one bite of her food and was promptly violently sick. This was probably not the kind of advertisement they were looking for. The manager didn't look impressed. I decided to distract him with a Spanish bank robbery. "Donde esta la caja?" I demanded. He didn't seem to want to tell us where the safe was, however. Sarah pointed a loaded toddler at him. "Manos arriba!" I said, raising my own hands in the air and making for the door. He was suitably confused. We beat a hasty retreat (and left a big tip).

We got home exhausted, only to discover water welling up from beneath the floor. Two days later and we still don't know where it's coming from. Marie is still ill as well and having very disturbed sleep which means I'm having disturbed sleep. I think it's some kind of test of parenthood. Correspondence may be intermittent for a few days.

Yours in a woman's world,


Friday 18 May 2007

Worlds collide

Dear Dave,

I'm a dead man.

Sarah is going to kill me. I'm surprised she hasn't left work early and come home to do it already. Maybe she's just stopped off at B&Q to buy some bladed garden equipment... Or a nailgun... Seriously, once I've finished writing this I'm throwing a change of underwear and all the gadgets I can carry into a suitcase and heading for Bolivia. She'll never find me there.

The day started well. I was at parent and toddler and everything was going fine but then I ended up sitting next to Useless Dad at biscuit time again. Scary Karen was sitting across from us and I waved but she was too busy telling Stefania the details of her colonoscopy to notice.

Useless Dad looked up from his newspaper. "Your wife sent you here again as well?" His baby son was lying at his feet, a rattle having rolled just out of reach. I picked it up and gave it back. The baby smiled and giggled in a transparent attempt to get himself adopted. I could see his three-year-old sister in the distance filling her shoes with Play-Doh.

I played dumb. "Yeah, you could say that."

"Deborah threatened to pour away my whisky collection if I didn't take the kids out of the house."

"Really?" I said. I'd met his wife a few times. She'd seemed calm and confident. I was suddenly concerned that having to do pretty much all the child-raising herself had caused her to lose it.

"Yes. This is getting totally out of hand. I'm going to have no end of work to make up. I might only be able to play golf twice this week."

"Really..." She wasn't losing anything. She was taking back what was hers.

Then my day took a rapid down-turn.

"My God, what is that woman doing?" said Useless Dad rather loudly. I glanced across to see Karen wapping out one of her enormous bosoms in order to feed her baby.

"Er, that's Sca... er, Karen," I said in a low voice. "She's just giving the baby some milk."

No one else seemed to have heard him. I think we would have gotten away with it if Karen's toddler hadn't wandered over to her just then looking peckish.

"Is that even legal?" squealed Useless Dad as the other undulating meal was wrestled into view and shoved into the waiting boy's mouth.

The conversation around us died. Other parents glared at us. And when I say other parents, I of course mean mums. We were the only men in the room and we were staring goggle-eyed at a breast-feeding woman. Useless Dad was even pointing. This was not the sensitive, enlightened image of fatherhood I have worked hard to cultivate over the years. I reached over and lowered his outstretched finger.

Karen was looking at us with a visage normally reserved for Norse gods who are about to do some smiting. I edged as far away from Useless Dad as I could without falling off my seat. Grinning nervously, I whispered out of the corner of my mouth. "Shouldn't you be leaving? Aren't you going to try working from home this week?"

He shook his head. "My laptop is still having the vomit removed after last week."

"Oh." I grinned harder and gave Karen a friendly wave. Her countenance only darkened further. Little lightning bolts sparked around her. Everyone was now watching us closely, waiting to see whether we would run or die. Some of them were obviously looking forward to a good smiting.

It was every parent for themselves.

I surreptitiously waved the remaining half of my biscuit at Marie and then gestured extravagantly towards Useless Dad. "New guy, everyone." I still couldn't remember his name but it wouldn't have made an impact anyway. I told them what they needed to know. "This is Deborah's husband."

Eyes widened, realisation dawned and understanding swept the hall. Those mums in the know turned to those next to them and began recounting their favourite tales of Useless Dad. Only a few continued to eye me with suspicion.

Marie ran over and grabbed my half-eaten chocolate digestive. "Thanks. I eat biscuit."

"Good, girl. I love you," I whispered so that only she could hear.

"I love you, daddy!" She shouted back and gave me a big hug.

After that, I was safe. I had an endearing guardian angel sitting on my lap (or a human shield dressed entirely in garish pink, depending on how you want to look at it). There were audible, "Aaawws!" from around the room. The storm passed. Karen finally returned my wave and went back to talking to her Polish friend.

I didn't want to push my luck, however. "We should probably go now," I said.

"Where to?"

"Er... home?"

"Deborah told me not to come back until lunchtime."

"Why not?"

"She wouldn't say but she'd looked out a leotard, a box of chocolates, the soundtrack to Pretty Woman, two cans of paint and some dust covers."

"That doesn't sound good." I would have suggested a trip to the swing-park but it was raining. I didn't fancy his chances of surviving a trip to the shops, the library was closed and I didn't want his kids loitering in a damp bus shelter for over an hour. "Er... Want to come round to ours for a bit?"

"Can I check my email?"

"I guess."

"Great. Let's go," he said, suddenly very keen.

"The girls should get on well."

"What? Oh, yeah... Yeah... How fast is your broadband, did you say?"

We wrapped up our various offspring, emptied out their footwear and headed back to our house. Marie led her new friend off to destroy some toys together, Useless Dad logged on and I looked out an old baby-seat for his sleeping son.

After I'd provided half an hour of free childcare, Useless Dad came through and said, "Your internet connection has stopped working."

"It does that sometimes," I said, kicking the cable I'd just yanked from the wireless router out of sight. "It might be down for a while. Cup of coffee?"

Grudgingly, he followed me through to the kitchen and was somewhat thrown by the confusion of colour. I've put off redecorating by covering all the available wallspace with the kids' artwork. He raised his eyebrows at our Nintendo-themed calendar. He perhaps realised that an infestation of children only becomes harder to ignore as they get older.

"What is it you do again?" he asked.

"I look after the children."

"When you're not looking after the children."

There are many tempting things to say in this kind of situation, such as, 'I'm not telling you my secret identity', 'Sleep' or 'Shh! When they can't see me, they think I don't exist'. All are true but usually take more explaining than is really worthwhile. "No, that is my job," I said.

"Oh..." said Useless Dad. "What does your wife do then?"

"She's a marketing analyst."


"LBO." He looked confused and didn't respond. To fill in the awkward silence, I asked, "What is it you do?"

"I'm head of marketing at LBO."

"Oh..." I suddenly recalled Useless Dad's name. It was Steve. Sarah's manager is also called Steve. He's quite useless as well. For there to be two useless managers called Steve in LBO's relatively small marketing department was really quite a coincidence. I mean what are the chances of...

My eye developed a spontaneous twitch. I inhaled sharply as if someone had stood on my toe. I stifled a whimper. On the list of people not to invite into your home, the wife's evil, misguided boss is pretty near the top, just above Dracula and Jabba the Hutt.

"What was your wife's name again?"

"Er..." I decided to lie and said the first name that popped into my head. "Brian?"

I remembered the two reasons why I normally don't lie: a) It's bad and wrong. b) I'm rubbish at it.

"Pardon? Your wife's name is Brian?"

"Erm, it's a pet name I use sometimes. You know, like 'dear' or 'hen' or, erm..." I glanced around the room for inspiration. It was not my day. "Er, or 'Donkey Kong'... Erm, actually her name's Sarah. You probably know her."

He gave the impression of having to think about it but eventually he managed to put all his ducks in a row. He looked around the room with new eyes. Narrowed eyes.

"So Sarah has children then?"

"Yes," I said, biting my tongue. Useless Dad/Manager had made the presentation on two of the three occasions she had gone on maternity leave. On the third occasion he had simply forgotten and phoned up after a couple of days to see where she'd got to.

"How many?" he asked.


"Three!?" He said it like we were some kind of subversive breeders intent on taking over the world. "Are you sure?"

"Pretty much certain," I said. I took some deep breaths and sat on my hands to stop myself slapping him.

He pumped me for all kinds of further information to do with such things as the kids' ages, schools, holidays and health. I might have thought he was just showing an interest but I was fairly sure he didn't know some of the answers for his own children. It was also possible he was trying to gain some understanding of our situation in order to help Sarah maintain her work-life balance. I suspect, though, he has more sinister plans...

I tried not to say anything career damaging and stated several times that I'm the one responsible for looking after the children even when they're ill. I'm not sure what registered, though. Then, at last, it was lunchtime and he hurried off to dump his children with his wife and then go and play squash. I've been chain-eating chocolate bars ever since. Sarah's not going to be happy. I don't know whether to phone her and warn her or wait to see if Steve mentions it to her. Or maybe I should just text - that might be safer. Or...

Is Bolivia nice this time of year?

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 16 May 2007

Marie update

Dear Dave,

Just a quick note to give you an update on Marie:

The potty training is going pretty well now. We haven't had any major disasters in a while. Her sleeping's back to normal as well, apart from the need to 'argue' with Lewis every night before nodding off. Strangely, they lie there counting loudly at each other until one of them needs the toilet.

As for her imagination:

Sarah asked her the other day what little girls grow up to be. She was hoping for the answer, "Ladies." Quick as a flash, Marie answered, "Cats." Intrigued, Sarah asked her what little boys grow up to be. Marie thought about it for a moment and then, with great satisfaction, answered, "Lemons."

And clothing:

Last week Marie wanted to wear her bicycle helmet the entire time. It was frustrating.

Now, however, let's just say I look back on those days and remember them fondly:

Marie wearing Dipsy's hat and pink swimming goggles.

Yours in a woman's world,


Friday 11 May 2007

Bubblewrap attack!

Dear Dave,

Help! I'm trapped in my kitchen.

I ordered six hula-hoops over the internet from a major high street retailer and now I'm in trouble. I should have been warned when these guys previously bubble-wrapped cottonwool but this time they've gone insane. Each hula-hoop arrived in a separate box. According to the labels, each box was originally the packaging for TWO TRAMPOLINES. Any of the boxes on its own could have easily housed all six hoops. But no. All six boxes were stuffed full of padding with a single ring of plastic encased in the centre.

This level of packaging would have seemed excessive if I lived in the desert and the things were being shoved out of the back of a low-flying plane. Considering they turned up by courier van, my mind boggles. What were they thinking? If there's a fire, I'm toast - my escape route is blocked by a mountain of cardboard and bubblewrap. It's not even the fun, poppable bubblewrap; it's like rolls of armbands.

It's just crazy... Or maybe I'm missing something, maybe it's a free game! Let's see, what have I got:

  • A near endless supply of identical enemies to hack at and deflate.
  • Half a dozen larger foes requiring disassembly.
  • A tedious block puzzle consisting of trying to sort and squeeze the folded remains into the appropriate waste receptacles.
  • A hidden exit which can only be revealed by collecting up a whole load of useless tat.

Heck, throw in some dull cut-scenes and I could be playing Primal. Forget about the potential fun contained in the hoops and it would be Starfox Adventures...

Of course, the really crazy thing is that someone somewhere thinks they've done me a favour here. They probably have a warm glow about the care and attention they've shown my purchases. It's the same kind of misplaced zeal that makes computer game designers add value-for-money by forcing us to return to past levels and complete them in the opposite direction while wearing a different coloured hat. It's the same unfortunate delusion which means DVDs are infested with interactive menus, scenes that were deleted because they were rubbish and lengthy documentaries explaining why Tom Cruise is such a great guy. Wake up people! Less really can be more (especially if it's cheaper and/or doesn't create a fire hazard in my hallway).

I shouldn't get too judgmental, however. I'm not immune to the madness. Our house is stuffed full of educational toys and games, and I'm beginning to suspect that they're cancelling each other out. There's a tub of toys in the lounge that Marie hasn't really looked in since January. It's just sitting in a corner, taking up space. Any one of those toys left in the same location on its own would probably get played with but the current jumble of colours and shapes is simply too easy to ignore. Truth be told, if I tipped the entire contents out the window and left just the tub in the middle of the room, the kids would play with it all afternoon.

In fact, I'll go do that just now. Less stimulation might truly be more...

My kitchen door blocked by a mountain of packaging.

Er, still trapped... Help?

Yours in a woman's world,


Wednesday 9 May 2007

Games night

Dear Dave,

I don't get out much. It's partly because it's an effort getting a babysitter and partly because by the time the kids are in bed I'm too tired to go out. Then again, it's not like I went out much before we had kids. I'd rather settle down in front of the TV anyway. Having kids is merely a handy excuse to surround the TV with gadgets.

This being the case, my social life is somewhat limited, but every so often a couple of friends, Mike and Rob, come round to play computer games and we blast each other to pieces while failing to talk about anything very significant. Mike's the minister at our church. He's around fifty and has two kids but they've left home. Rob lives round the corner. He works in the IT department at LBO. I did some of his training and he now has my old job, meaning I feel both sorry for him and somewhat responsible. He's not quite thirty yet.

Sarah has been having to work late again so I organised something for the other night. Rob arrived just after the kids were in bed and made straight for the beer. I asked him how his week was going and he launched into the details of a technical problem he was having trouble with. Vaguely familiar acronyms and jargon spewed forth from his mouth for several minutes. I nodded and smiled. It was like listening to Fraser witter on about Pokemon but I cared slightly less. I drank my own beer and then suggested to Rob that he replace the flux capacitor and then reverse the polarity of the neutron flow. He wasn't impressed.

Mike arrived. I asked him how his week was going. He shook his head. "Three funerals and a finance meeting," he said gruffly. "Let's shoot things."

I handed him a beer and ushered them both up to the lounge. "Watch out over there," I said, pointing to a discoloured section of carpet. "There's a damp patch." Rob began edging nervously round it. I rolled my eyes. "Don't worry - it's not radioactive or anything." He didn't seem reassured but found his way to a seat and we launched into a game of TimeSplitters 2. (We can't play Wii Sports anymore because Mike's been banned for breaking light fittings on two separate occasions. He kept taking it all a bit too seriously).

Everything went as normal for some time: we discussed the weather and football, we drank beer, we moaned about the news and every so often someone got shot. We briefly attempted to make sense of the Scottish election results but then turned our attention to inventing plausible explanations as to why Alex Salmond has a pair of slugs where his eyebrows should be. This kept us amused for a while but, when the ideas began to run low, Rob changed the subject in an unexpected direction.

"So what's being a housedad like?" he asked.

For the past seven years, Rob has been doing his best to ignore the fact that I'm a full-time parent. It's like I'm on some kind of indefinite holiday and he's always hopeful I'll be back at work on Monday. The closest he'd previously come to expressing interest was to say, without a hint of irony, "It must be nice to sit at home all day eating biscuits." I looked at him in astonishment.

Showing greater presence of mind, Mike took advantage of the distraction and fragged me at close range with a shotgun before asking, "Blue line, then?"

"Er, yeah," said Rob, turning to him in surprise. "How did you...?"

Mike shot him in the head with a missile-launcher. "Professional hunch," he said. "Are you still playing, Ed?"

"What?" I'd re-spawned and was standing around waiting for ballistic death to come find me. Oddly, I was no longer looking through my character's eyes but I could see him from a third-person perspective and he was getting larger.

Then I realised I was looking at Mike's corner of the screen.

It was my turn to get an explosion between the eyes. "Would you stop that?" I said.

"You can't talk and shoot at the same time?"

"Not when a friend is sharing about how his life has changed forever."

"What?" said Rob. "What do you mean my life has...?" I shoved an enormous gun between his shoulder-blades and pulled the trigger. "Hey!"

"So..." Mike let the pause linger as Rob's character re-appeared close at hand. Sensing what was coming, I charged over to get in range. Nonchalantly, Mike said, "Are you going to get married then?"

Rob stammered. "Er..." Mike and I both let rip at what seemed like the same moment and a hail of bullets turned Rob into sushi. Unfortunately, Mike was credited with the kill.

"That's not fair," I grumbled, banging the controller against my head in frustration. "And neither's that," I added as he shot me as well. "I'm annoyed now. I'm going to hunt you down and batter you to death with that shotgun."

"I want to see you try... What were you saying, Rob?"

"Er... I hadn't really thought about getting married. I'm not sure I'm ready for that."

"What do you mean?" said Mike.

"It's a bit of a commitment."

I snorted. "You've bought a house together, you live together, you sleep together, you're going to have a baby together. You've merged your CD collections! Exactly how much more of a commitment do you think getting married would be?"

"There's a bit more to being married than that," said Rob defensively.

"I don't know..." I said and went postal with a flamethower. "There's a public declaration that you're going to make things last but there's actually quite a lot less denial."

"How do I know it's going to last?" said Rob, turning crispy.

"If the two of you decide that it's going to last and always work to achieve that, then there's a good chance that it will last," said Mike.

"It's got to be worth a shot, hasn't it?" I added. "Let's face it, you're married already, apart from the legal safe-guards in case it doesn't last. What have you got to lose?"

"I don't want to rush into anything," said Rob, running round a corner into proximity with a proximity mine I'd left lying around. He swore. He blew up.

I laughed for at least two good reasons. "At the point you two got a mortgage together, you were still playing Tomb Raider Chronicles - that's six years and an entire console generation ago! Think how long that's been. Glaciers get together and laugh at how slowly you move."

"Well," he muttered, "there's the expense as well."

"I'll waive my fee," said Mike.

"Sarah still has her dress. Wouldn't take much to make it fit Kate."

Mike nodded. "And the Millennium Centre is cheap to hire."

"I'll do the catering," I said. "I've had plenty of practice with birthday parties. Cocktail sausages and Hula Hoops for everyone. Fraser and Lewis can get a production line of cheese sandwiches going. Marie can help decorate the cake. You don't mind bright pink icing peppered with chocolate buttons and fingerprints do you?" Rob scowled at me. "What? It'd be a talking point."

Mike calmly sniped us both. "I think what Ed's trying to say is that the party doesn't have to be expensive and shouldn't stand in the way of the getting married part."

"Maybe... You still haven't answered my question, Ed. What's it like being a housedad?"

I thought for a moment. Mike took the opportunity to batter me to death with a brick. "Well," I said, re-spawning far away. "The hours are long, the holidays are rubbish, the pay's a joke and there's heavy exposure to toxic biological waste. On the plus side, there's plenty of fresh air, exercise and hugs, relatively little stress, strong job satisfaction and an army of amusing minions. You also get to play Hungry Hippos and call it work."

Rob perked up. "Really?"

"Yep," I grinned. "And Mario Kart."

He shot me a sideways glance. "Really!?"


He looked suddenly suspicious. "Is that why you're grinning?"

"No, I'm grinning 'cos I've stuck an explosive mine to your crotch and you haven't noticed."

He had just about enough time to say, "No way!" before his corner of the screen erupted.

I feigned a wince. "That's got to smart."

Time ran out and the game ended. Mike had won by an absolute mile but at least I'd beaten Rob by a point. I did a little dance to celebrate. Unfortunately, I stepped in the wet patch and had to go change my socks.

Rob cheered up a bit at that...

We had some more beer and the conversation returned to normal. It was a good evening. I don't think Rob knows what he's got himself into yet, though. I might let him look through some of these letters, if that's OK with you?

Hope you're well and staying sane. Marie's convinced that you live in this computer. Have you got any photos of you and the family I can show her?

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Slug suggestions welcome.

Friday 4 May 2007


Dear Dave,

Thanks for the sympathy over the lack of sleep. Things have been OK the last couple of days but Marie's kicking up much more of a fuss at bedtime than she used to. I can only assume having me at her beck and call all night gave her a taste for power. Speaking of which, she was wanting me to vote for her in the Scottish elections. She's decided she's in the Pink Party. This is kind of like the Green Party but, rather than pushing for a greener planet, the Pink Party's goal is much, well... pinker. I suspect if they ever came to power then the whole world would resemble the girls' aisle of Toys'R'Us (except maybe with a bit more glitter, if that's possible...)

She's only two-and-a-half and she's inventing political parties! You were asking for more examples of how every child is different and I have to say that if there is one thing which varies wildly between my children it's their level of imagination.

Oddly, this is best exemplified by their attitude towards LEGO.

Everyone knows the entire point of having children is in order to be able to buy cool toys while looking like an ace dad rather than a hopeless loser geek. (Or is that just me?) Anyway, I've been biding my time, waiting to purchase LEGO Mindstorms, for what seems like an age now but it's beginning to look like none of my kids could actually care less about LEGO. All for differing reasons, of course, but all to do with the bounds of their imaginations:

To Fraser, a pile of bricks is just a pile of bricks. He's also a bit lazy so if he wanted a castle, he'd want it ready assembled and to come with lots of interesting levers and stuff. If he got it, he'd play with it for five minutes, check how it all worked and then go off and play a computer game. He doesn't have the imagination to make up stories about some bricks. It's not anything - it's just LEGO. Prospective careers: Engineer, Traffic Warden, Middle Manager.

To Lewis, a pile of bricks is a pile of bricks but he can be persuaded to stick a few together and make believe they're a castle or a pyramid. This is all well and good but he has slightly too much imagination to see the point of LEGO. He can make a car from three small bricks and a wheel. The tiniest semblance of reality will do - he doesn't need a big tub full of weird and wacky specialist parts. (Drat). Prospective careers: Architect, Journalist, Estate Agent.

To Marie, a pile of bricks could be anything from a selection of apples to a washing machine. The problem is, if you can stretch reality that far, who needs bricks? (Apart from to weigh down your pockets to stop you floating away). Prospective careers: Advertising Creative, Public Relations Officer, Space Cadet.

We knew Lewis had a strong imagination from an early age. When he was two he was constantly making us all imaginary cups of tea (no plastic cups or anything). One day Fraser got fed up with the silly make-believe nonsense, however, and decided to play Lewis at his own game. Fraser held out his imaginary cup at arms length and slowly tipped the imaginary contents over the floor. Lewis burst into tears. He was distraught at all the work he'd have to do cleaning up the mess...

That's a slightly scary amount of imagination. Marie has probably surpassed him, though. Sarah asked Marie's opinion on a couple of pairs of trousers she was trying on in a shop the other day. On seeing the first pair, Marie shook her head. "They snakes eating your legs. You not wear them." On viewing the second, she said, "No, they have a chicken in them." On the way home in the buggy, she suddenly commented, "The wind turn me into a cat... I not go miaow."

When Marie's a little older, I can just see her and Fraser having big arguments while staring at the sky:

Marie: It's a dragon.
Fraser: It's a cloud.
Marie: It looks like a dragon.
Fraser: But it's a cloud.
Marie: What about that one? It's a deep fat fryer!
Fraser: It's a cloud.
Marie: That one's a spaceship. With aliens. And lobsters.
Fraser: That's a cloud, too.
Marie: Look! A pirate made of sausages!
Fraser: IT'S... A... CLOUD!
Marie: He's playing hop-scotch.
Fraser (finally giving in): Oh all right, and that one's a sheep.
Marie: No, that's a cloud.

I may have to intervene at that point in order to avoid bloodshed...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS I took this photo of Marie following the Eternity of Sleepless Doom. I imagine this is how Britney Spears must look the morning after a really wild night out with Paris and Lindsay:

Marie looking tired wearing dark glasses and a fluffy pink coat.

Wednesday 2 May 2007

I spoke too soon

Dear Dave,

As I sit here, with my eyes propped open with lollipop sticks, I realise that my previous correspondence about sleep was tempting fate. Either that, or Marie's learnt to read and she felt like having a laugh.

I've been awake for thirty-six hours now.

If this turns into gibberish then you'll know why.

Marie has a cough and we gave her some medicine before bed last night but she sicked it up with some phlegm pretty quickly so it probably didn't do much good. She tossed and turned for a while, then came down to sit on the sofa and watch some Little Mermaid before going back to bed. (She thinks of me as King Triton now, by the way, which is a step up from the BFG at least). All was quiet for an hour or so and then she woke up and demanded a cuddle. She got a cuddle. Five minutes later she screamed, "I want cuddle from mummy too!" She got that. Sarah and I went to bed.

Twenty minutes later. "I got cough. You make me better." I hadn't got to sleep so I went through and gave her another cuddle before she woke Lewis in the bed next to her. Then I went back to bed myself.

Fifteen minutes later. "I need my water." I'd almost got to sleep. I went back through and reminded her where her bedside table was (i.e. beside her bed), waited for her to have a drink, tucked her back in and went back to bed.

Ten minutes later. "You fix it. Daddy! You fix it, daddy!" This is code for 'I'm lost in my duvet.' I went through and rescued her.

Another fifteen minutes. "Blow my nose!"

Two minutes. "You blow my nose again!"

Just enough time for me to get back into bed. "I need water."

Seventeen minutes. "I need cuddle!"

Three minutes. "You fix it!"

And so it went on... Bear in mind as well that we had elderly relatives staying over last night. They were in our bed and Sarah and I were on the sofa-bed. On a different floor from Marie. Just getting to her became an effort as the night wore on. I think I might have nearly dozed off at about twenty past four. Nearly.

"I need water!"

Twelve minutes. "I need water!"

Three minutes. "I need water!"

Her shouting had become louder and screechier by this time, to the point where she sounded like a Dalek. As her loyal pig slave, I scurried through, grunting. This had no effect on the volume or pitch of her voice. "I need water," she shrieked in my face. I moved her cup the fourteen and a half inches from her bedside table to her hand. She took the tiniest of sips and then screamed, "You put it back now!"

I put it back but told her she could get it herself from then on. She might have been tired and sick but I suspected she was also taking advantage. I shouted myself. She wimpered and agreed.

Five minutes later. "I need toilet..."

Give her credit - short of being sick, that was the one plea I couldn't ignore. It also took far longer to deal with than any of her previous problems. She's clever, that one.

Ten minutes. "Blow my nose." I was at least glad that she wasn't asking for the toilet again.

Two minutes. "I need toilet again!"


Things never improved. At half past six, I just gave up and had a shower. Of course, even this had a small intermission in which I had to drip into her room and pick a cuddly toy up off the floor. I don't know whether it fell or she threw it there. Either way, I wasn't impressed. I shivered my way back to the bathroom and finished 'getting up'.

Marie promptly stayed asleep for an entire hour and a half.

I sprinkled some Sugar Puffs on top of a bowl full of coffee granules and had my breakfast while quietly reading GameCentral on Teletext. Then the boys got up and it was time for the day to begin...

Somehow Lewis had slept through everything. On the one hand, this was fortunate. On the other, we may need to get a louder smoke alarm.

I'm quite tired now. I got through the day surprisingly well. I wasn't much of a conversationalist but that's true most of the time. I was a bit crotchety but, again, that's not hugely unusual. I wasn't called upon to make any life changing decisions, which was probably lucky. Sarah came home early to help out, which was lovely. We survived.

Now it's time for some sleep. I think Marie's settled tonight. I'm just holding off for a few minutes to make sure before going to bed.

(I hope fate didn't hear that).

Yours in a woman's world,


PS Waited until morning before sending this. We all slept through but I appear to have woken with the mental and physical capabilities of a slug. The DVD player may be doing a large portion of the parenting today...