Dear Dave

Saturday 14 July 2007

Ninja biohazard in St Andrews

Dear Dave,

You're right - you should go on holiday now. You've got one child who is almost three and another due in a couple of months. IT WILL BE YEARS before you have this much freedom to travel again. Sam can eat normal food, doesn't need nappies and can be reasonably expected to sit still and quiet for a couple of hours. In eight weeks time you'll need to take twice as much stuff with you on a trip to the zoo than you would traveling to Italy tomorrow. It will also be four times as much stress.


Right now.

What are you still doing here?

Well, seeing as you've continued reading, I'll tell you a little more about our trip to St Andrews. (Thanks for asking by the way).

St Andrews is a strange place really (even now that Prince William fever is past). It's a small seaside town of around 18,000 but, unlike most small seaside towns, a third of the population is students. Unexpectedly, however, the town actually gets busier over the summer when most of the students have gone away. Tourists and golfers take over. When the Open is on, hundreds of thousands turn up. It's crazy. It does mean, though, that the place is geared up for visitors.

St Andrews even has plenty of activities for children. Compared with Tobermory it's Disneyland. There's an aquarium, the castle, the cathedral, a small cinema, a theatre, tennis, putting, a couple of decent beaches, a swimming pool and at least a dozen charity shops in which to hunt down bargains. Craigtoun Country Park is on the outskirts of town. It's run by the council and so is cheap and cheerful but in nice weather it's a great day out. For a £12 family ticket we all got unlimited access to a boating lake, miniature railway, adventure playground, trampolines, bouncy castle, crazy golf and a swanky new swing-park. There's also bowls, gardens to explore and plenty of room to run around.

As with everywhere else this summer, it rained a fair amount while we were in St Andrews but in some ways that just gave us a good excuse to lie around in our self-catering accommodation and not do very much. We still managed to get to all the places we wanted to but Fraser and Lewis also had ample opportunity to collect dozens of shines in Super Mario Sunshine. (Yes, we took a console with us. I even had to buy an extra wire to hook the thing up to the hand-me-down-from-the-Flintstones telly but it was soooo worth it - the boys were able to entertain themselves first thing in the morning).

That reminds me of something which happened not long after we arrived. I was getting some food in Tesco and was slightly freaked by the odd look the checkout assistant was giving me. It was only after I left, however, that I realised that when my mobile had rung as I was unloading my shopping, my side of the resulting dialogue had been somewhat unfortunate:

"Hello?... Who's going to get it?... Well, we only brought one nunchuck with us... I'm at the checkout just now. I'll call you back when I'm done."

I was probably lucky SWAT didn't turn up. Not that St Andrews has a SWAT team but there must be something in the back of that police van that drives round town on a Saturday night (besides drunk teenagers, obviously). I certainly don't want to find out. It could be anything. Maybe the A-Team have found a quiet place to hide-out in their twilight years. They could be drinking cocoa in the back of that van, ready to leap out at the first sign of trouble and construct weapons from whatever comes to hand. This being St Andrews, the things which most easily come to hand are golf clubs, pensioners and upper-class arts students. The consequences don't bear thinking about.

Of course, I wasn't actually planning a ninja-style contract killing at the supermarket. Sarah was just phoning to see whether she should follow the kids' suggestion and purchase Mario Party 8. But I can see now where some confusion might have arisen. Mentioning the Wii in the conversation might have made things clearer but, you know, maybe not. There's always the possibility of an unfortunate misunderstanding involving bodily fluids ("Yeah, we've got the wee but we've only brought one nunchuck.") or a bizarre one suggestive of martial arts gnomes ("We've only got one wee nunchuck with us.") Just wait until next year when the gun peripheral will have come out.

The rest of the holiday went more smoothly. We went swimming, we pottered on the beach and we even managed a dry day at Craigtoun. It was just pleasant to get away from the stress at home.

Marie had a little embarrassment one evening, however.

Sarah took the boys out to see an excellent production of George's Marvellous Medicine at the Byre Theatre. I was left with the girl. She wandered off into the bedroom while I was working on my nunchuck skills. She chattered away to herself and seemed happy. Then, suddenly, she sounded distressed, as if she'd wrestled a duvet and lost or a pillowcase had eaten one of her cuddly toys. A few seconds later, she emerged from the bedroom with her trousers round her knees. Her pants were flying slightly low and she was trying desperately to yank them up.

This got my attention.

She didn't appear to be leaving a slimy trail behind her but I was instantly prepared for at least a Level 7 biohazard and I feared a Level 9 or 10. In case you didn't get the memo, here's the current international scale for biohazard alert levels:
  1. Underpants wet but not wet enough to bother changing them.

  2. Underpants wet enough to consider changing them if parent responsible is feeling charitable.

  3. Underpants undeniably wet. Trousers may also require changing.

  4. Trousers sodden. Moisture check required in all recent locations of offspring.

  5. Shoes need drained. Some fumigation required.

  6. Underpants contaminated with poo. Clothes may need soaked.

  7. Underpants filled with poo. Clothes may need flushed in toilet.

  8. Underpants filled with vast amounts of evil poo. Offspring may need flushed in toilet.

  9. Containment breach from underpants. Hope you bought more carpet shampoo.

  10. Underpants missing. (In some ways you'll want to find them; in other ways you won't).
I got Marie to stop where she was and went over to investigate, my eyes scanning the floor, walls and ceiling for any signs of noxious fluids. Then I noticed she was clinking. Not only that, but the sound was coming from her underpants. This is not normal. She looked at me mournfully. I said some soothing words and advanced cautiously. Kneeling down to cuddle her, I gingerly pulled back the elastic and peered down the back of her trousers with trepidation, unsure for once of what I might find. I wasn't really expecting seventeen pence in small change.

No wonder she was upset. I'd be upset if someone put coppers in my underwear. And, yes, I'd probably be even more upset if I'd somehow managed to do it myself and I had to get my dad to help me retrieve them while he stifled laughter... (One to tell her first boyfriend).

Hope you manage to get away and find a chance to relax. Not long to go now...

Yours in a woman's world,


PS That Guardian article is now in what appears to be Polish!

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