Tag Archives: The Little One

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.

I’m a lover, not a fighter

When the desire to get into a fight was given out, it’s fair to say that I was probably sitting underneath a table somewhere playing with an Etch-A-Sketch. Given that I never had the punching power of a Ricky Hatton, or the ability to flee from trouble with the pace of Usain Bolt, I used to simply put my head down and hope that nobody would bother battering an awkward looking kid whose biggest interest was collecting football stickers.

That said, though, it’s almost impossible to go 36 years without getting into some sort of fight. Incredibly, I’ve only managed two – and let’s just say that I’ve not shown the kind of talent to worry Manny Pacquiao just yet.

The first one probably came in 1987, in the entrance way to my school. Before school started, kids would throw their bags in a big pile at the side of the hallway, and then head outside to play footballsoccer with a tennis ball, or have a crafty cigarette behind the woodwork studio.

On the day in question, I noticed a kid from the year above me picking up my bag and flinging it across the room. After – erm – politely enquiring as to his purpose (using a succession of choice words from the 1971 edition of The Filthy Sailor’s Dictionary), the two of us squared up to each other.

Now, there are a number of important things to note here. Anti-confrontation though I may be, you have to draw the line somewhere. And for me ‘somewhere’ is just around the point you see your bag (covered in music and football scrawlings) sailing through the air in a perfect high speed arc. That said, I would not have taken matters further with someone a year older than me if it hadn’t been for the fact that he was at least a foot smaller and boasted a body shape that almost certainly made him the original inspiration for the Weebles.

What followed can only be described as ‘handbags at dawn’. Defying the notion that weebles wobble but they don’t fall down, the two of us ended up scrabbling around in the mélange of bags, pulling at each others hair and grappling for holds with all the effectiveness of a partially paralyzed wrestler. Who lost his sight three years ago. Along with a leg.

Finally I managed to hold the kid down with one hand, and pulled my fist back into the air to deliver the coup de grace fist to his irritatingly smarmy face. I took one glance back to admire my fist before it plunged headlong into the sinews and cartilage of my foe’s nose, and shuddered in horror as the face of my Latin teacher filled my vision. Mr Johnson – or “Dickchin” as his student charges so eloquently tagged him – shook his head, separated the two of us, and sent us on our way. I can only assume that he was so piteous of the manner of the fight that he couldn’t quite bring himself to punish us.

My second fight came almost nine years later, after a frankly regrettable evening with one of my longest-standing friends, who now makes his living by offering insightful analysis of the Asian money markets in one of the world’s leading financial newspapers. Back then, he was as easily influenced as me, as became apparent after the two of us headed to the cinema to see the B-movie schlockfest that was “From Dusk Till Dawn.”

For those of you who haven’t seen it (and I’m hoping that there are plenty of you), there’s a scene in the movie where the likes of Juliette Lewis and George Clooney sit around a table at the delightfully named Titty Twister strip club, drinking from a bottle of spiritsliquor. It was probably the one memorable scene from an otherwise forgettable movie, and when my friend and I emerged, we walked straight into the pub next door and ordered double shots of whisky.

Eight double shots and an hour or two later, the two of us found ourselves singing “You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling” on a snowy Cambridge street, in the general direction of the flatapartment occupied by my friend’s then-girlfriend. To be fair, she’s now his wife and mother of his two children, but from the expletives she issued forth when opening her third floor window, it was touch and go for a moment.

Barely able to focus, let alone walk, I zigzagged my way back towards home. For some reason, despite the fact that it was by now about 1am, I decided that it would be good to take a shortcut through a local shopping precinctmall. Strangely the doors failed to give as I pushed them (the fact that there were no lights on inside should have been a clue to me), and as I turned to walk away, a man sitting on the steps of an adjacent restaurant with his girlfriend laughed and swore at me.

Now, admittedly I shouldn’t have flipped him the v’sbird. But as I walked away I thought no more of him. Until he ran after me, that is. To be honest, I didn’t see his fist until it connected with my jaw. The second time he swung, I remember seeing his clenched hand by his side, but the effects of the whisky meant I didn’t see it again before it connected with my eye. At that point, my French side kicked in, and I legged it. My assailant didn’t bother pursuing me, possibly out of pity, which is fortunate given that I had as much ability to run as the aforementioned one legged wrestler.

Anyway, my point is that – one black eye aside – I’ve never had to bear the scars of battle like some fight-hardened individuals.

Until I became a new father, that is.

One thing that nobody ever tells you when you’re about to become a dad is that your newborn’s nails will grow faster than America’s national debt. Or that cutting them without causing injury is the 18th most difficult thing in the world (easier than getting a camel to peel a pomegranate, but more difficult than getting a New Yorker to say thank you).

Cutting a baby’s nails is like being a trainee bomb disposal specialist. You’ve read the books and seen the videos, but when it comes down to doing it for real, you’re so nervous that you sweat more than Tiger Woods when he’s lost his mobile phone. With each press of the clipper, you’re looking at the baby’s face for any sign that you’ve metaphorically snipped the wrong wire. Because, trust me, when you’ve nicked the skin around a baby’s nail, the resultant nuclear meltdown makes Chernobyl seem like an unfortunate domestic accident with a deep fat fryer.

The upshot of this is that clipping The Little One’s nails is a rarity. As a result, she’s starting to bear a startling resemblance to Edward Scissorhands. And now that she’s discovered reaching and grabbing, she’s single-handedly making me look like someone who’s been twelve rounds with Mike Tyson.

So far I’ve got an inch long scar down my right cheek, a mark on my chin vaguely resembling a knuckle duster, and multiple scratches on my nose. Thankfully her favourite move – inserting one finger into each of my nostrils and pulling as hard as she can – leaves no visible marks.

It’s the emotional scars that last forever though.

The longest day – part 3

1501 Decide that a change of scenery might be a good thing for both of us. The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest has returned from a sleepover, and insists on being taken out so that I can buy her all the things she needs to make me a Christmas present. Try to point out the irony of the situation, but then quickly remember that I am in America.
1515 Baby smiling in stroller, step-daughter animatedly chatting and laughing by my side. Feel certain that I will be the subject of an hour long network TV documentary on parenting perfection.
1517 You always get a meltdown when you least expect it. Attempt to soothe The Little One’s tears by slaloming the stroller with a deftness of touch that would have had Franz Klammer weeping. Send The Artist Formerly Known As The Youngest into the pharmacy to get the liquid glycerin she needs.
1518 TAFKATY comes out of the pharmacy to ask if she should buy the one in the tub or bottle. Distracted by the frenzied crying, I say it doesn’t matter.
1521 Gently try to let my twelve year old stepdaughter know that it’s my fault that she bought the wrong thing, and that it’s probably going to be quite difficult to make soap from glycerin suppositories.
1522 Inwardly pray that she doesn’t ask me what a suppository is for.
1525 Try to pretend that I’ve not heard her, and attempt to distract her with the offer of a slice of pizza for lunch.
1530 It’s amazing how insistent a twelve year old can be. Who said that the youth of today have the concentration spans of a gnat?
1550 Give in.
1551 Being seen in charge of one crying daughter can elicit looks of sympathy from passers by. Having two on your hands makes you look like Herod.
1610 New York City grocery store aisles are not designed to accommodate strollers. Knock around seven cans of canned asparagus on the floor, and ensure that at least two old ladies will be hoping for hip replacement surgery this Christmas. Notice a glint in The Little One’s eyes as I skittle one granny over. Make mental note to watch my back when she gets a little bit older.
1629 Mentally berate myself for not remembering mittens for my daughter. Feel sure that The Special One will notice if she returns home and finds her with fingers turned black through frostbite.
1647 Make it back to the house with all ten digits seemingly intact. Decide to maintain an all-night finger vigil, just in case.
1702 Remember that Americans don’t use the twenty four hour clock. Vow silently to ensure that I translate my timings into the twelve hour system, just in case my ramblings are ever published.
1711 Start to panic that there won’t be enough milk left to last The Little One until her mother gets home. One of us may survive the resultant domestic armageddon, but nobody’s putting any money on it being me.
1722 The tears begin. Grab tissue and hope that I can stop crying by the time The Special One walks in, in just 38 minutes time.
1731 Daughter senses my weakness, and turns on the waterworks. Half expect that she will issue a list of demands to be fulfilled in return for pretending to be asleep when her mother arrives.
1739 Throw my last turn of the dice, by offering her the remaining few millilitreers of milk. Pray that sleep arrives before she can remember that she was supposed to be crying.
1745 Overcome by my subterfuge, The Little One closes her eyes and falls asleep. I look around the living room, and realize that it makes Calcutta look like a bijou area of Kensington by comparison.
1746 Begin running around like a crazed maniac, wiping down surfaces and throwing debris into any available cupboard. Consider sticking a broom up my arseass to speed the process, but don’t have time to find one.
1755 As I pick up the last toys, The Little One suddenly begins to shuffle and squawk, causing me to freeze motionless in panic. Time passes with all the speed of an unstarred McDonalds server.
1759 Out of the corner of my eye, I see The Special One walking up the path. The Little One drops her head. I jump into my chair with the grace of a leaping salmon, grabbing and opening a magazine as I fall. I am relaxation personified.
1800 “Tough day, honey?” asks The Special One. “Not at all – we’ve just been hanging out,” I reply. “So why are you reading Country Living upside down?”
1801 I swear that I see my sleeping daughter smile knowingly at me. We all know who’s boss, and it isn’t me.