Monthly Archives: April 2010

Learning to be a grown-up

I’m proud to say that The Special One treats me like an adult. It comes as a shock sometimes, given that internally I still feel like the 10 year old putting penny sweets in a paper bag in the local sweetshopcandy store. But for some reason she still insists on talking to me like a 36 year old.

Of course, the problem with that is that she expects me to act like an adult. And so, when she asked me to read some passages of a book on birth to prepare me for the arrival of The Little One, she didn’t bother chasing me up like a kid with their homework to make sure that it had been done. She trusted me.

Of course, that was her big mistake. Well, my big mistake, but you know what I mean. Like all big mistakes, it eventually gets found out. Now, it would be embarrassing enough for any father to be caught out like this. It’s particularly embarrassing for me, given that The Special One actually wrote the book in question.

I guess the problem for me (apart from surviving the slings and arrows of an outraged wife) is that the best lessons I’ve ever learned have not come from books or classrooms, but through experience. You learn not to put your hand on the side of a hot oven by putting the aforementioned hand on the side of the aforementioned oven. You learn not to go all-in on a pair of threes by going all-in on a pair of threes. Life is a great teacher.

Now, learning through mistake and misadventure is all fine when it’s your own life you’re messing up. It’s a whole different matter when it’s a defenceless child you’re dealing with. And the problem is that there are some childraising issues that no book is ever going to be able to help you with.

Take fecal matter, for instance. No, please, take it. I have no idea why The Little One’s nappydiaper will one day contain half a litre of deep yellow Coleman’s mustard, and the next day resemble the aftermath left behind by a small group of partying rabbits. And unless a book contains a comprehensive colour chart vaguely reminiscent of a paint catalogue to help me identify the likely cause of today’s particular hue, it’s going to be of no use whatsoever.

Similarly, for years I’ve watched friends expertly turn a bottle upside down and dab a little bit of milk on the inside of the wrist before feeding their baby. So when The Special One left me with a bottle of breast milk to feed our daughter, I instinctively put a droplet on my wrist, as if I was a young ingenue applying Chanel No 5 ahead of a secret assignation. And then I realised that I had no frame of reference to tell me what I was looking for. I was guessing that it was for heat, but was it too little or too much, or was I actually testing for some skin-based poison, or to make sure that I hadn’t inadvertently filled the bottle with Sprite?

The fact is that mums either have innate knowledge that dads are not born with, or they read a hell of lot more about this childraising lark, or they make full use of their network of fellow mums to get their questions answered. My money’s on the latter (unless The Special One is reading this, in which case it’s clearly innate knowledge, darling).

If I’m right, then why is it that there aren’t some more ‘dads groups’ so that I can ask the unaskable among a group of my peers? A gathering of fathers would allow me determine whether purple trousers go with yellow tops, without being given the look usually reserved for the moments when I’ve accidentally stepped in cat vomit and trailed it through the house. Or to ascertain whether a particular type of crying is caused by actual pain, or an intense disappointment at my recent haircut.

Of course, the problem is that if you put a group of men in a room together, the closest you’re likely to get to baby talk is whether it’s possible to put day old pizza into a food grinder and serve it to your child. In the absence of any other foodstuffs, obviously – we’re men, not animals. And while I have every interest in a full and frank exchange on the weekend’s sports, it’s not going to help me work out where to insert that thermometer…

Frankly, I think it’s time for The Special One to write a book on childraising. I will definitely read it this time, I promise. I’m an adult, after all.

Preparing for a Chinese future

The school bully is always scared of someone, whatever they tell you. And if you think of the United States as the one time big kid in the playground, then China is the 6ft 7in guy from the neighboring school that deep down has Johnny America quaking in his boots.

Personally, I’ve got no problem with a Chinese takeover. I mean, what’s not to like about literacy rates in the 90% range, pandas, and all the General Tso’s chicken you can eat. OK, the picky amongst you might have some kind of issue with their human rights policies and prevalence of female infanticide, but these are all details that we can work out in the surrender agreement.

Anyway, in readiness for the US transition to Chinese rule, I thought I’d take a look at a few Chinese proverbs and translate them for use in New York life. After all, you can never be too prepared.

1. The fish that nibbles at every bait will be caught
New York version – The attorney general who enjoys sleeping with prostitutes will eventually find himself on the wrong end of a wire tap.

2. He who asks is a fool for five minutes. But he who does not ask remains a fool forever.
New York version – He who asks a question of his server at a sandwich shop will be sneered at forever. But he who does not ask will end up with peanut butter and sundried tomatoes on focaccia.

3. A bird does not sing because it has an answer. It sings because it has a song.
New York version – The crazy lady in the diner is not crazy because she is clinically insane. She is crazy because she hopes to be spotted for a new reality TV show on Bravo.

4. Be not afraid of growing slowly, be afraid only of standing still.
New York version – Be not afraid of walking slowly, be afraid only of impatient New Yorkers trampling you to death in a bid to get past you.

5. When you have only two pennies left in the world, buy a loaf of bread with one and a lily with the other.
New York version – When you only have two dollars left in the world, get on the subway and start asking for spare change.

6. Virtue is never left to stand alone. He who has it will have neighbors.
New York version – A person with an iPad, iPhone or other expensive device is never left to stand alone in a public place. He who has it will have neighbors, with snatchy hands and an ability to run quickly.

7. Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.
New York version – Our greatest glory is not in never being pushed over by impatient commuters as the subway door closes, but in ensuring that your scarf doesn’t get caught in the door in the process.

8. There are many paths to the top of the mountain, but the view is always the same
New York version – There are many ways to the same subway station, but none of them go express at the weekend.

9. One mouse dropping ruins the whole pot of rice porridge
New York version – one mouse dropping is a sign of cleanliness at your local Taco Bell

10. When your horse is on the brink of a precipice it is too late to pull the reins.
New York version – When your taxi is doing 90mph on the FDR, it’s your own damn fault that you accepted that dodgy cab at La Guardia in the first place.

Losing track

Sometimes I long for simplicity. You know, the days when the only thing you had to worry about was how you were going to get away with hiding that pile of liver (with accompanying ventricles) on your plate, so that your mum would let you get down from the table. Or for the Saturday mornings that involved nothing more taxing than reading Whizzer and Chips, and idly pondering whether Bucks Fizz’s Cheryl Baker was prettier than her slightly grubbier cohort Jay Aston.

What you don’t realise when you’re 12 years old is that these truly are the salad days – times to be enjoyed and savoured before you have to start making weightier decisions than ‘should I drop this pile of clothes on my bedroom floor, or is there somewhere more annoying I can leave them?’

When you move countries well into your adult life, it’s not just friends and family you leave behind; you’re also abandoning all the shortcuts through life that makes everything that little bit easier. Like where to locate that difficult-to-find essential ingredient for your world-beating fish pie, or where to get a haircut that doesn’t make you look like Yahoo Serious. On a bad day. Put simply, moving abroad generally robs you of you comforts and your go-to people. You may establish a new set after a while, but it’s never quite the same.

Of course, losing your geographical shortcuts is particularly difficult, especially when you’re in a car with a screaming small person who knows no better. And if driving with The Special One wasn’t tough enough, we now have a baby daughter to travel with as well. Every saved metremeter is a leap forward in averting Crymaggedon*, so knowing that you can avoid traffic meltdown by taking a quick right turn is invaluable knowledge. Or rather it would be, but for the fact I have as much spatial awareness in New York as a half-blind cockroach with an alcohol problem.

Nowhere is my lack of locational understanding more telling than on the New York subway. In London, I knew every shortcut, every sign to ignore, and every tactic in the book for navigating around the inevitable engineering overruns or closed stations. In New York, even after two and a half years of daily commuting, I’m often lucky to get home.

I used to think that the issue was my rank idiocy. But now, my dear friend New York, I’ve come to the conclusion that the problem’s not me – it’s you.

See, the good thing about the London Underground is that the tunnels are essentially separate. I mean, sure, there are occasional spurs off the main line if for some inexplicable reason, say, you want to go to Totteridge & Whetstone. But basically any given train can go down one tunnel, and come back up the other side. You know where you are. Even if ‘where you are’ is ‘on the way to Totteridge & Sodding Whetstone’.

In New York, it seems that every train has access to every tunnel. And while that’s great for avoiding the results of some unfortunate driver’s latest magic trick (“Roll up, roll up, watch the incredible Martino turn one body into 872 largely unrecognizable parts with just one leap!”), it’s less good when you don’t have an encyclopedic knowledge of the train system. Three times this week I’ve got on a train only to be told that it’s actually running on another line. Intense discussion raged between various passengers each time about the ramifications for various journeys, and the tortuous alternative routes that could be used instead. And I just sat there like a wide-eyed mole who’s just been electrocuted, wondering if The Special One would lose respect for me if I went above ground and phoned her for help.

Simple is as simple does, it would appear.

* Coincidentally, Crymageddon is a small town in South Wales. The Little One’s version is less welcoming to coachloads of tourists though.

Extra! Extra! Read all about it!

I love America. No, that’s really not a day-late April Fool’s joke, for the doubting thomases amongst you. This summer will mark the 16th anniversary of me first coming to the States, and from that first trip to the present day, I’ve had an endless fascination with all things American. Marrying one of them may seem like an excessive demonstration of that; playing a part in creating a whole new one, even more so. But each to their own, huh?

However, there are two things that I fear I will never come to terms with – the obsession with college sports, and tabloid newspapers.

It’s fitting that I should mention the American obsession with college sports ahead of a weekend in which a crew from my old university will row four or so miles up a British river against a crew from another university 65 miles away, with millions of people watching on television. The irony is not lost on me, fear not. But the frenzy that accompanies March Madness (a basketball competition between various US universities, I believe) or the start of the college football season makes the Boat Race look like the non-event it almost certainly is.

Similarly, for a man who hails from a country boasting The Sun, The Mirror and the Daily Mail, some might say that it would be hard for a Brit to complain about the quality of the American tabloid. But I’ve been in The Sun’s newsroom, and for every “Freddie Starr Ate My Hamster”, there’s a hard-hitting news story that brings about true change. The same cannot be said about, say, the National Enquirer.

Anyway, every so often, these two worlds collide, as they did this week with this stunning frontpage headline from the New York Daily News.

Now, my journalist days are long behind me, but last time I looked, “New Local College Basketball Coach Has Hot Wife” is not listed in the ‘no brainer’ section of the Dummies Guide To Front Page News. Nor does it suggest that the “stunning starlet” ((c) New York Daily News) need to be still taking up valuable column inches three days later. I’ve heard of slow news days, but come on people…

By the way, the coach himself is set to earn $9 million over the course of his six month contract. For teaching college kids. I’m clearly in the wrong business. And Mary Ann Jarou knows a good thing when she sees it.