Sunday, March 18, 2012

A bit of a stitch up...

I am sitting in my favourite armchair by the window, reading the paper while sipping tea and grimacing.
The reasons for the grimace are twofold: firstly the newspaper has done its best to assure me that the world in general (and the country in particular) is slipping slowly but inexorably into financial meltdown, and secondly because my tea contains artificial sweeteners instead of sugar, and therefore tastes just like a good cup of tea that has been ruined with a teaspoonful of shite.
I have been trying to wean myself off the good stuff and onto a low-calorie alternative for some time, but I have found it surprisingly difficult - none of the products I have tried have met their manufacturers promise of tasting 'just like the real thing'; instead each has had a peculiar tang which seems to have been custom-designed by scientists to render tea undrinkable. All the sweeteners I have tried have seemed unpleasantly chemical, almost metallic, giving a taste which I have come to mentally associate with drinking from a robots shoe.
In the background I can hear the hum of a sewing machine, accompanied by the low mutter of conversation and the occasional giggle: my wife is clearly doing some craft project or other with the children that has them enthralled. I have just turned to the sport pages, to read of a shocking recent performance by Arsenal FC that does nothing to lift my mood, when Youngest appears at the door with a message for me:
"Daddy, Mummy says do you want her to fix your floppy willy?"
I look at her. She looks back at me. She doesn't appear to be joking.
"Pardon?" I ask, after the longest pause.
"Mummy wants to know if you want her to stop your willy flopping?" she reiterates.
There is another, longer pause. She looks at me expectantly throughout, while I look at her as if she has just landed from Mars.
"I don't think she does..." I say, having mentally worked through as many possible scenarios that could have led to this statement, and still finding none that can explain it.
"She does. She has her sewing machine out. She says she can fix it now."
That sounds both implausible and also quite eye-watering. I put down the paper and rise from the chair to investigate. Youngest takes this as a sign that I am willing to participate in....well, whatever it is that my wife has in mind, and runs off ahead, calling over her shoulder: "Go and fetch your pyjamas..."
This is sounding really ominous now. I enter the dining room with some trepidation.
"Where are they, then?" asks my wife as I enter. I notice that the craft project she has been doing is making bunting, but I am not sure that we have much to celebrate. It all seems very incongruous.
"Where are my what?" I ask
"Your pyjamas. The ones with the big hole in the seam at the crotch" she explains.
"That your willy might flop out of, if you wear them again..." clarifies Eldest.
"Oh..." I say.
"Nobody wants to see that..." adds my Wife.
"No!" chorus both girls in unison.
"Um..." I say, usefully.
"Go and get them, while I have the sewing machine out," says my wife. "And get that other pair as well, they look like they're going in the same place, I've no idea why - what is it that you do that seems to destroy pyjamas from the crotch outward?"
"Er..." I reply, by way of explanation.
"They are upstairs" she says, pointedly, with unmasked impatience.
"Upstairs, Daddy..." echoes Youngest.
"In your drawer," adds Eldest, as if dealing with a simpleton.
I go upstairs and find my pyjamas with the torn crotch, then return them to the cabal huddled around the sewing machine. My wife holds up my pyjamas, thrusts her hand through the hole and 'tuts' noisily. My children look at me as if I have committed some kind of hate crime. I back out of the room, feeling inexplicably diminished by the whole experience.
I sit back down in the armchair, and take another gulp of tea. It really does taste bitter.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

In bed with Mrs. Bricket

Sunday morning. I am dozing fitfully in bed, numb with sleep. It is my day of the weekend for a lie-in, having been up early doing 'Daddy Duty' yesterday, and I am determined to wring every last precious second of rest out of the morning. Sadly, others in my household have decided that my allotted time is up.
The door crashes open. A diminutive figure, all curly hair and determined jawline, struts into the room as if she owns the place. It is the Youngest, and she has the 'There will be no nonsense from you' demeanour of a nineteenth century land baron dealing with a tenant who has fallen behind with the rent.
"Wake up Daddy,"she announces."It is time for you to go to school."
This seems unlikely: I have not been to school for well over twenty years. I turn my head to the bedside clock, which reveals that the time is exactly 9.30 a.m, almost to the second. This is significant, as it the time my wife and I have agreed is the earliest point we will let the children disturb the slumber of whichever parent has a lie-in. My wife often generously lets me sleep longer, and the fact that she has allowed Youngest to wake me at the first possible opportunity is not a good sign: it suggests that the children have already worn down her defences this morning and she can no longer cope without reinforcements. This suggests that what is about to follow is likely to be trying...
It is. Youngest drags open the curtains, and pale November daylight limps lazily into the room. I notice that the the air is full of soft drizzle and on the horizon are dark ominous clouds: it looks as if the sky is made of old bruises and fresh tears.
"Ugh" I say.
"Yes," says Youngest, as if agreeing, then adds: "Daddy, this is Mrs. Bricket."
I gaze blearily at 'Mrs. Bricket'. She looks familiar.
"That is your rag doll." I say. "I thought it was called 'Lollopy'."
"No," she says firmly. "It is Mrs. Bricket. She is your teacher."
"Oh. I see."
"It is time for school now."
She sits 'Mrs. Bricket' in the bed next to me. This seems somewhat inappropriate behaviour for most teaching staff. At this point I can't help but notice that 'Mrs. Bricket' appears to have come to school this morning dressed only in pair of knickers and a vest. Perhaps she is a P.E teacher.
"And this," Youngest continues, "is Peppa Pig. She is the school nurse."
I look at the object that has been thrust into my face. It is a plush toy pig doll, dressed in medical gear. It looks uncannily like something I once had a nightmare about. She squeezes it, and it makes two short muffled 'oinks', like a quick succession of partially-stifled farts.
"And what is she for?" I ask.
"She is for when you fall down," she explains, in a tone of voice that somehow intimates that me 'falling down' at some point is an iron-clad certainty. In fact, she make it sound like when I 'fall down' it will not be an accident. With its scantily-clad teachers, porcine medical staff and the ever-present threat of violence, it sounds like Mrs. Bricket's educational establishment would keep the Daily Mail in headlines for months.
"School is starting in a minute," she says, "but we need to check you first."
This sounds ominous. I instinctively flinch as she reaches up and rubs the pig doll on my head.
There is a short pause while I work out what to say next.
"What is she doing?" I ask.
"Checking for nits."
I look back at the clock. It is 9.31. It is clearly going to be a very long day.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Samurai Tiger Flu

I've not been well this week. It started mid-afternoon on Saturday, when I first gave a little sneeze, and within 30 minutes my head was pounding, my breathing was tight and a hideous colourless liquid was pouring liberally out of my nose.
"You should go to bed," said my wife after a short while.
"I don't want to go to bed. It's boring."
"You don't understand. I want you to go to bed. In fact, I'm begging you to go to bed. You are just sitting there like a great depressing lump, with a blanket over your legs like an old woman, shouting at your children if they make a noise above a whisper, and radiating germs around the living room. Go to bed."
"Well, OK. But it's just further for you to have to walk when I need you to bring me things..."
"Just go to bed. Now!"
I go to bed. It is not as restful as I might have liked.
Within a few minutes, the Youngest arrives at my bedside, her arrival heralded by the customary crashing of the door back on its hinges. She looks at me curiously.
"Mummy says you are ill"
"Yes. Yes, that's right. I am."
"Poor Daddy..."
"Yes. Indeed. Poor Daddy. Poor, sad, tired Daddy..."
"Mummy says it is juzmanflu."
I ponder this for a second. As is the case with much of what my youngest daughter says, it makes no sense unless you mentally play it back slowly, syllable by syllable. I realise she means "just man 'flu", which suggests that my wife has been discussing my illness in disparaging terms with my daughters. I can all too readily imagine it to be something along the lines of "Daddy is such a wuss, he thinks he is really ill but it is just man 'flu..."
I am quietly enraged by this. "It is not man 'flu" I tell her. "It is much worse. Tell your mother it, tiger 'flu. Tell her it is Samurai tiger 'flu..."
"OK" she says readily enough, and scampers off.
She is not going to go and tell her mother that, I think despondently. Not only can she not say 'samurai' properly, but I heard her go into her bedroom rather than downstairs...
Sure enough, she reappears a second later.
"Here is a picture of an angel" she announces.
"Ah, that's nice." I say. "Is that to make me feel better?
"No," she says, confused. "I am just showing you. I drew it at playschool".
"We all had to draw around our hands to make the wings and around our foots to make the bodies..."
"Very nice..." I manage.
"Do you like it?"
"Yes, yes, it's very good."
She snatches it back. "I am just showing you," she repeats. "You can't have it."
"Why don't you go and show Mummy?" I suggest, through gritted teeth.
"She has seen it already."
"Well, why don't you go and show her again?"
"OK" she says, and scampers off. This time I can hear her scrambling footfall down the stairs. I breathe a sigh of relief and settle back on the cool soft pillow, closing my eyes.
Minutes later my wife enters the room. She bangs a cup down on the bedside table, and sits down much too heavily on the edge of the bed, given the delicacy of my condition. (My wife is a lovely woman, who is a better person than me in almost every respect and who has a myriad of excellent qualities, but frankly she is never going to be renowned for her cat-like stealth).
"I brought you a hot blackcurrant drink" she announces.
She gazes at my face with a peculiar mix of concern and frustration that is easy to interpret: it is the look a person gives to someone they love, but nonetheless whose illness is a matter of immense irritation and inconvenience to them. It is clear she is weighing up my condition carefully.
"You don't look ill..." she says.
"My head feels like it is being twisted off" I say.
"And my throat hurts and is all gunky. It feels like a fox shat in it."
"It hurts when I look at bright lights. It hurts when I talk to you."
It is clear she is not convinced about the severity of my condition, and that currently her annoyance is winning over her sympathy. It is time to wheel out the big guns.
"And the snot - you would not believe the amount of snot I'm producing right now..."
(My wife hates snot. She can cope with almost everything in the world, except for the common-or-garden bogey. She wipes our children's noses at arm's length, while looking away and retching. The very thought, even the word itself, can make her dry-heave. To her it's Kryptonite, only much runnier.)
"I don't want to know!" she says quickly, rising. "I will take care of the kids today and leave you alone...."
Oh, that's good, I think.
She pauses at the door. "...but I want you to know: you will owe me. Big time."
Oh, that's bad, I think.
She closes the door. Peace, I think. Just me and my agonising headache and the tiny rivers of vileness streaming from each nostril.
I drift off, feeling sorry for myself. I am not asleep for long, when the door crashes open again. Both daughter stand framed in the doorway, holding what looks worryingly like musical instruments.
"We have come to play you a 'get well' song!" announces the Youngest.
"You can join in, if you like!" adds the Eldest enthusiastically. She begins blowing discordantly into a plastic mouth organ, producing random notes and screeches at a volume that the guards at Guantanamo would probably consider a bit much, even for a psychological torture session. Youngest plays a single maraca by bouncing it alternately against her head and the bed frame. The noise is indescribable, so I won't bother trying.
"Get well!" screech my children. "Get well sooo-oon! Get well, Da-deeee! We hope you feee-eeel better! We hope you get up out of your bed sooooon!"
I am certain that the plates in my skull are beginning to vibrate against each other in a way that suggests imminent stress fractures. Fortunately, Britain's first musical torture squad stop performing before any parts of my head actually start popping open.
"Do you feel better?" asks Youngest.
"No.." I say, honestly. "No, not really..."
They immediately begin again, only louder.
"Feeling much better now!" I shout, frantically. "Much better now!"
Sadly, they can't hear me over the noise. I resolve I will go back to work at the earliest opportunity, just for the rest...

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Dirty talk at bedtime

It is late evening. There is nothing on the TV I feel like watching, I have finished the book I was reading, and I am bored of playing 'Super Smash Brothers' on the Wii. My mind turns, as it always does under similar circumstances, to thoughts of a 'romantic' nature.
I communicate this to my wife by crashing into the living room and announcing, in a voice that I hope is heavy with implication, that: "I am going to bed."
She does not look up from her knitting. "Yes, you should," she says. "You could do with an early night - you look awful at the moment...really tired."
"No," I say, patiently. "I mean that I am bed." I arch my eyebrows in what I hope is a suggestive manner, though the effort is wasted because she still does not look up (which is perhaps just as well, because when I catch sight of myself in the hall mirror I just look confused and angry, which is not the look I was going for at all.)
"Yes, you just said that," she replies, then adds "When you get upstairs, will you check on the girls? You might need to take the little one to the toilet, she had a lot to drink this evening and I'm worried she might wet the bed again..."
I sigh, and decide that subtlety is not getting me anywhere."When I said I was going to bed, what I really meant was that I thought that we could go to bed. Together."
That finally makes her look my way. She realises the full implications of what I am suggesting and wrinkles her nose in faint distaste. I sometimes think my wife considers 'marital relations' in roughly the same way as she thinks about putting the bins out on a Thursday: it's an unwelcome chore to have to do last thing at night and she'd rather she didn't have to do it, but nonetheless she understands that for the smooth running of the household it's necessary that it happens at roughly weekly intervals.
There is a pause while she mulls my suggestion. I lurk in the doorway, feeling faintly stupid..
"But I am watching Mad Men...." she says finally, pointing at the television in case I need corroborative evidence.
"You can record it."
"Well, I suppose it's nearly finished."
"Come up after that, then..."
"Meh..." she says, which I take to mean begrudging acquiescence. Then, nodding at the TV, she adds: "Donald Draper is very sexy..."
"You can pretend I'm him if you think it will help..." I say, stalking off upstairs.
Thirty minutes later, she slides into bed next to me. Sadly, this is not the beginning of the magical experience I had been hoping for.
"Did you take the little one to the toilet?" she asks.
"Did she go?"
"Good. Was it just a wee?"
"Yes. Look, can we talk about something else? This isn't doing much for the mood..."
"Ooh, that reminds me! Did I tell you what I read in a magazine the other day?"
"No, I don't think so."
"The thing about the underwear?"
"Underwear? No, you didn't. That sounds much more promising. What magazine was it?"
"I can't remember. A woman's magazine."
"OK. So, it's about ladies underwear? Tell me about it..."
"I read that every item of underwear that you put in your laundry bin..."
"Stop right there. This is about laundry?"
"Oh, for the love of..."
"Shh, listen, it's interesting...every item of underwear you put in the linen bin has, on average, a tenth of a gram of faecal matter in it..."
There is a pause.
"Can you believe that?" she adds.
"No..." I say. "And I can't believe you're telling me. In fact, why are you telling me? I don't want to know that..."
"A tenth of gram!" she says again, in wonder.
"That....that sounds like a lot of faeces..." I say weakly, noticing the linen bin by the door.
"I know - it does! They even suggested you should wear rubber gloves when you load up the washing machine..."
"Please stop talking..." I say. I can't help but notice that the linen bin looks like it has a full weeks' worth of family washing in it (and thus, if her figures are to be believed, at least two grams of family faeces).
"I put our bedsheets and the girls knickers in the same white wash all the time...they suggested you don't do that..."
"Look, I'm begging you, stop talking..."
She giggles, and puts her hand on my stomach. I recoil as if punched.
"Don't tell me you're squeamish, Mr Draper?" she says.
"Don't touch me! Did you wash those hands before you came to bed?" I shout.