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Kingsley Can't Swim and Other Observations (part 3)

Part Three

i
Three things happened that made me think I was not very good with small children, aka cacophonous plop shops, or, as they are known colloquially in France, les boutiques plop bruyant, and in Germany, laut plopperschmidt ladens. The first incident occurred in the bath, where the boy was playing with an apparently empty bottle of hair conditioner.

The routine of the bath now consisted of me entering the water with the boy and then trying to wash his face before he noticed the bottles. The bottles, containing various vanity products, came in a rainbow of appealing colours and myriad shapes and sizes, mainly, it is thought, to draw the attention of shoppers to their presence on supermarket shelves, but also, I now knew, to excite the curiosity of the boy. There was no point trying to stop him from retrieving these bottles because once he had spied them, which he did within moments of entering the bath, he would not be satisfied until he had one of them, and would whimper and struggle until this end was achieved. And there was no point in moving the bottles from their position along the side of the bath because they were many in number and there was nowhere else to put them. So, it was inevitable that soon after entering the bath, the boy would be in possession of a bottle containing a vanity product. The best I could do was steer him away from the ones with congealed gunk around the lids and towards the one that looked like it was empty. This was the aforementioned bottle of hair conditioner, which, seemingly empty of Pantene's competitively priced product, had been transformed from toiletry to toy.

The boy fumbled with the bottle in his hands, let it drop into the water, picked it up, clamped his jaws around whichever end of it was most forthcoming, and then fumbled with it in his hands again, repeating the series of actions over and over like they were the most interesting and satisfying endeavours known to child. One evening, while this was going on, I noticed a string of bubbles trickling from the boy's mouth and down his chin. At first I discounted them as the product of drool, and assumed the boy was verily frothing at the mouth in excitement at once again being allowed to play with his bottle. After a few moments, however, I decided that the bubbles had a rather soapy sheen to them, they were gathering in number and the rate with which they exited the boy's mouth was increasing. Then he started pulling a face I had not before witnessed – he looked like a very wet cat trying to cough up a fur ball. I collected a cluster of bubbles from the boy's face and popped them onto my tongue, which confirmed my new suspicion that this was not saliva but the dregs of the hair conditioner. The boy was now doing a kind of tutting movement with his mouth, and his face was contorted into such an expression that one did not need an abundance of empathy to realise he was eating something disagreeable. Indeed, for once he did not fight me when I took the bottle from his hand; holding it up to the light, I now saw that it was not empty of hair conditioner, but only half empty. Being a glass-half-full kind of father, I decided not to inform the boy's mother that he had preceded his evening feed with a side order of Pantene.

The second incident concerned the filling in of an application form for the boy's nursery. His mother was reading through the questions, one of which asked us to select the boy's religion from the list provided. The options included Christian, Jewish, Islamic, Buddhist and ‘Other (please specify)’. I suggested that the boy was a Sikh, because he was being Sikh all the time – only a short time ago he was Sikh on the floor after eating too much milk. My belly shook with laughter after I said this as I thought it particularly amusing. Helen confirmed this by also making the bed shake with her stifled mirth. Then the form asked us to select the language spoken in our home, from the list provided. The options included English, French, German, Mandarin and Other (please specify). Barely managing to conceal howls of laughter, I suggested that in our home, we spoke in baby talk, as the boy had yet to begin his studies in Latin and Ancient Greek. Helen filled out the rest of the form without calling for my input. I supposed that the nursery would not have found it funny when, having made arrangements to accommodate the boy's religious beliefs, they discovered that "Sikh" actually referred to his propensity to vomit. They might, for instance, have bought in some turbans especially, and that would be a terrible waste of money, not because the turban lacks intrinsic value, but because the nursery could otherwise have used the budget to buy bouncy balls and wooden toy caterpillars.

The final incident occurred when I agreed, more out of politeness than desire, to not only look after the boy while his mother went to the gym, but another baby too. The latter was the spawn of a friend of the boy's mother, who, in the tradition of women taking part in the most mundane of activities en mass, was accompanying Helen to the gymkhana. Everything was fine for the first forty minutes or so – the extra baby had not yet worked out how to crawl, and for forty minutes had laid on her back like an upturned turtle, distracted by wriggling and chiming things dangling from the play pen. This enabled me to interact with the boy, who was much more demanding of my time: as well as crawling, he had also worked out that no matter how new or exciting the toys in the room, there was more interest to be found in the stereo, magnums of champagne, scattered CDs and the hard corners of antique furniture. Thus the rubber centipede distracted him for only three minutes, before it was discarded in favour of a headbanging session against the sharp-angled legs of the arm chair. The plastic turtle on a string persuaded him to delay his journey to the stereo, where he would retune the dial from Radio 4 to a random number emitting white noise, by only five minutes. The bell chimes held his fascination for one minute, before he made for the champagne. So, when the extra baby decided that forty minutes was quite long enough for lying on one's back beneath second-hand toys sourced on eBay, and made to communicate this sentiment through the medium of crying very loudly, I was presented with a dilemma. There were two babies in my care: the boy and the other one. The other one was appealing to be picked up, but doing so would leave the boy free to compromise David Bowie's back catalogue and, worst-case scenario, tune the stereo to Radio 1. Which was worse – the extra baby screaming with increasing ferocity, or the deejays of the BBC's foremost radio station blathering on about bands with names like The Passion Pizzas? As it happened, I decided to pick up the extra baby and risk the boy embarking on a perilous adventure on all fours; luckily he ignored the stereo and made straight for the magnums of champagne, which was fortunate because I would rather witness his misadventure with sparkling wine than hear a single sentence uttered by Jo Whiley. But then the boy decided that I was coping too well with rearing two children simultaneously and began to protest at being left on the floor to his own devices. This acted as a catalyst for the extra baby to start making free with her lungs. This in turn seemed to encourage the boy to raise his protest to the next level, and he was now not only screaming, but kicking his legs and flailing his arms. Realising that blood is thicker than water, that the early bird catches the worm, that one should never look a gift horse in the mouth, bite the hand that feeds or leave for tomorrow what can be done today, I placed the extra baby back onto the floor and picked up the boy, who thanked me by headbutting me in the chest and trying to scratch out my eye. The extra baby was thoroughly unimpressed with this and changed the pitch and volume of her cry to one resembling a seagull being worried by a fox. Deciding that a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, that one should never a lender nor borrower be, are we nearly there yet and that you should have gone before we left, I strapped the boy into his rocking chair, placed twenty rubbery manifestations of insects on his lap, and retrieved the extra baby. As luck would have it, the boy's mother and her friend chose this moment to return from the gym, and the friend, seeing me holding the extra baby, which to her was The Baby, assumed I was the perfect house husband and had been favouring her child, for which she showed much gratitude in the form of a kiss on my cheek, which made me blush.

ii
One afternoon I regained consciousness to discover my tongue feeling like it had been cut out and replaced with a slice of warm Spam and my head devoid of any thought other than this one. In other words, the night before I had been as drunk as a deep-fried otter, and my body had yet to return to its former state of man. I raised myself from the bed, draped a dressing gown mostly over my body, and stumbled downstairs into the lounge. There is no point in recording Helen's reaction to my appearance and animal-like grunting. It would be a waste of ink to reproduce her assessment of my glowing head, increasingly foul smell and evolutionary reversion to the most basic biological function of simply ingesting oxygen. The boy was there, I was aware of that, but I had managed to turn an almost literally blind eye to this. He was in his mother's arms, that was all I needed to know. So I had reduced his essence to a handbag slung over Helen's shoulder. I had seen the handbag, I knew Helen had the handbag, nothing wrong with that, women often carry handbags, it was in the periphery of my vision and I had no need to look at it for any length of time, why would I? My only concern was that the bag should not be transferred to me, for no man likes to be seen standing with his wife's handbag. There was no need for her to give me her bag. Then the bag started making noises, and again, although I was faintly aware of them, I blanked them out, like the time when the barbecue party next door was getting rowdy and I valiantly ignored it because I didn't want the disturbance to spoil my day. I felt like I was under water, things moving slowly, sounds muffled – one part water to two parts vodka. Then it registered that Helen had left the room and not taken her handbag with her, and it wasn't just sitting there in the corner, waiting to be picked up again, but moving with impossible speed across the floor to all the places it wasn't supposed to go to if only for its own safety. My heart, which had gained access to my mouth by rising up through my throat, nearly fell out onto the carpet when I stood up from the sofa. I sat back down again. Helen returned, picked up the bag and was wearing it again. Everything was OK. "Are you alright?" she asked. Some vowels fell out of my mouth and she left the room. As she did so, I noticed the bag smiling at me, and I realised I was not only tasting Spam, but also a generous helping of guilt. Then the bag was on the floor again, and the noise from next door's barbecue was getting louder. I thought with horror that the handbag was inviting me to next door's barbecue. The idea of eating charred sausages almost made me sick. I hate the summer, I thought. All of a sudden there was a bowl of hot tomato soup in my lap, and the bag could have shouted "Daddy, I love you" and run up to me holding an intricate reproduction of a B-29 Superfortress he had fashioned from ten-thousand matchsticks and I would not have cared. Nothing mattered but the tasty, reviving soup.

That evening, Helen suggested that beer and wine were not an ideal combination, and beer and wine and the boy were an even worse one, and that next time we went out with our friends, we should return home right after dinner.

iii
One evening Helen told me a horror story, which I later entitled The Baby That Helped Itself. It concerned a woman who sometimes popped into the local mother and baby group, and who was known by Helen and her friends as Weird Wendy. Among the oddities attributed to Weird Wendy, one stood out more than the others: that her baby, about the same age as the boy, did not sleep in a nursery but in a kind of hammock attached to the side of the parental bed. This in itself was weird, and I told Helen so, but she informed me to wait because there was more weirdness to come. The reason the baby slept in a hammock attached to the parental bed was not to assuage any fears the mother might have had about leaving the baby on its own. No, the sleeping arrangement was so devised that the baby, by turning itself towards the mother who laid beside him, could “help himself” in the middle of the night. The mother, apparently, did not wake when this feeding ceremony took place, for the baby did not call out to express his hunger; and because the mother slept with the breast closest to the hammock exposed, she did not have to perform any conscious action. The baby simply turned onto the appropriate side, leaned forward, engaged the waiting nipple and sucked until it was sated. Thus concluded the tale of The Baby That Helped Itself.

My only footnote, based on pure speculation, was that The Baby That Helped Itself was bound to grow into That Weirdo Who Used To Live Next Door And Is Now Doing Time For You Know What, based on the fact that his mother, Weird Wendy, allowed her infant to gobble upon her willy-nilly. It is well known that psychopathic killers often have troubled relationships with their mothers, and when I say well known I mean that I have seen Alfred Hitchcock's Psycho. It is inevitable, therefore, that in a couple of years, The Baby That Helped Itself will be running the wendy house at the end of his garden as a motel, where horrible things happen in the shower, and where Weird Wendy's skeleton hangs from the rafters, draped in a 1950s dressing gown.

I was pleased that we had removed the boy from our room to the nursery after only a few weeks, and glad that his mother slept with both breasts covered up, and thankful that the milk within them was only available to the boy if he used the proper appeal process – that is to holler and cry, which was better than murdering us both in our beds.

iv
I found myself in a predicament while taking the boy for a stroll in his chair. Passing Ladbrokes, I decided that I would quite like to place a small bet on the day's football fixtures, a practice known in my bachelor days as placing a coupon; the odds were long, I never won, but it seemed a more intellectual pursuit than simply buying a lottery ticket for a pound. I had been inside this particular branch of Ladbrokes before, and eyed warily the heavy swing door with the stiff opening action. Opening the door required a strong pull on its vertical metal bar, and there was no prospect of keeping it either ajar or agape if one were weak of arm. In a nutshell, the door to Ladbrokes was not pushchair-friendly, and noting this I determined that only a fool would try to negotiate the entrance with a pushchair. So the dilemma was that I found myself outside the betting shop and desiring to place a coupon, but I neither wanted to try to enter the shop with the pushchair and risk a humiliating encounter with the door, nor leave the boy outside unattended as I went about my business within.

Finding the boy asleep, the street quiet and my desire to place a coupon strong, I applied the brake to the chair, furtively looked around to make sure no one was observing me, and entered the betting shop. Once inside I dashed to where the coupons resided in racks on the far wall, trotting across the worn carpet like a man who has emerged from the sea naked to find his clothes are not where he has left them. I plucked the coupon from its receptacle, ensuring I retrieved the one entitled Strike It Rich, and trotted back to the door, clutching the paper in my hands with anticipation rarely felt since the publication of my GCSE results. The whole manoeuvre took less than thirty seconds, and the boy was oblivious to my fleeting absence. We returned home, where the boy awoke and his mother expressed disapproval of my actions.
A week later, I again found myself outside Ladbrokes with the boy in his chair. Wanting another opportunity to Strike It Rich, but not wanting to bear the lashes of Helen's metaphorical whip, I now decided that the predicament of the door was the lesser of two evils. Prepared to take on any challenge the door presented to me, I yanked the thing open with one hand while maintaining control and position of the pushchair with the other; with a skill that was based more in instinct than training, I guided the vessel through the entrance and into the Ladbrokes lobby – it did not even touch the sides. Pleased with this result, I confidently sauntered across to the far wall, propelling the chair with one hand; the other was in my trouser pocket. There was no need to rush this time; I might even have stayed in the shop and filled out the coupon there, rather than having to take it home and return later. This would have had the added advantage of giving me the opportunity to steal one of Ladbrokes' miniature ball-point pens, which come in useful for the filling in of crosswords and for the retrieval of things that have become lodged in small gaps. However, no sooner had I lifted a Strike It Rich leaflet from its plastic envelope when a woman started to shout at me. Looking across to her, I realised from her red Polyester polo shirt and position behind the counter that she was employed by Ladbrokes, and she was saying: "You can't bring children in here!" I had been caught red-handed, but it had never occurred to me that the boy, as young as he was, would be barred from a gambling establishment. "Right-o," I told her by way of reassurance, and I waved the coupon in the air, remembering Neville Chamberlain with his letter of Peace In Our Time.

I attempted to give off an air of nonchalance as I pushed the chair to the door, an action that was observed by every gambler in the shop. They all sort of leered, and I imagine they are still tutting at me in their local Wetherspoons to this day. I doubted I would ever attempt to take the boy into Ladbrokes again, or leave him outside with the brake on. It was a no-win situation.

v
At seven months the boy began to attempt his first word. Because the noise he made was "da-dad-dad", I informed Helen that I had won. The boy obviously preferred me to her, for his noise must have been his attempt at Dad. It certainly was not an attempt at mummy. My victory was a Pyrrhic one though: very soon Helen was commanding me to change the boy's nappy, "because he prefers you to me"; mop up his sick, "because he prefers you to me"; and bear the burden of his trust-fund contributions, "because he prefers you to me."

This turn of events made me wonder whether "da-dad-dad" did refer to me after all. Perhaps the boy was commenting on Britain's foreign policy, and suggesting that rather than Afghanistan, we should be concentrating our military efforts in Iraq, specifically Baghda-dad-dad. This reminded me of the grandmother formerly known as Osama Bin Laden, and who now went by the name of Omar Sharif. According to Helen's memory of childhood, Sharif once drove a car nicknamed The Ayatollah. This story made me cock an eyebrow in Helen's direction as I mulled over the irony of a woman, who had once named her car The Ayatollah, later being transformed into the CIA's most-wanted man after attempting to disguise herself as a Danish grandmother. It also made me think that I was perhaps including too much global politics, which had so far ranged from Nazi Germany to international terrorism, in the potted history of the boy's first year. Furthermore, it compelled me to ask, What did Helen's mother say when she lost her car, The Ayatollah? The answer: Dude, where's my shah?

Maybe, more interested in interior design than current affairs, the boy was expressing the opinion that the walls of his nursery would be more aesthetically pleasing if decorated in a dado effect, with a strip of wallpaper giving the appearance of a wooden border – da-dad-dado. This made me suspect that Helen had spent a large portion of her maternity leave watching lifestyle TV programmes of the sort presented by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen, and home-improvement shows of the type featuring Tommy Walsh. When questioned about this, she denied everything.

Or perhaps the boy, observing me totter into his room after not enough sleep, was describing my da-dad-daddle style of walking.

Other than something to do with a daddy-long-legs, I could not imagine any other object of his outburst. Incidentally, I ate a daddy-long-legs at the age of about five. The minibeast had flown into the glass I was drinking from, and I had continued drinking, oblivious. My mother spotted half a dozen legs dangling from my lips, but before she could say anything, the insect had been consumed. I have since attributed my irrational fear of crane flies to this incident, and would like to think that I have murdered enough of the buggers to cause a fundamental change to the ecosystem of south-east England.

I also don't have much time for caterpillars, since the hairy one I was permitted to keep as a pet caused me to break out in a nasty rash. And wasps. They are bastards.

vi
The boy had suddenly become remarkably accident prone. He was no longer content to lie beneath the rubber minibeasts within his play pen, and at every opportunity scrambled across the living room on all fours in order to hit his head against the corner of the armchair, or perform a kind of backwards flop, which involved sitting up contentedly before falling backwards and smashing his head against the floor – a manoeuvre which resulted in mild whimpering when rested and sated, but gale-force wailing when slightly tired or a bit peckish. Added to his newfound proclivity for hitting his head against things was my own carelessness and, sometimes, incompetence, and, rarely, neglect.

So there was the time I picked up the boy from his changing mat and carried him into our bedroom. Just inside the door of our bedroom was located a sturdy chest of drawers. Due to his powerful wriggling, writhing and worming about in my arms, the boy was perpendicular to me as I entered the room, with his head sticking out from my left side and his feet protruding from my right. His head thudded against the corner of the chest. Fortunately, it was dinner time, and I had a bottle of milk ready to stop up his protesting mouth.

Another time the boy was scrambling about on the floor, ignoring his toys in favour of the Sky remote, when I heard a loud thud. I looked over and saw him on his back, with his face contorting into the shape most appropriate for issuing a prolonged vocal complaint. While I was not looking, he had evidently gotten himself into at least a sitting position and performed the aforementioned backwards flop into the ground. Of course, I immediately felt guilty at having let my attention wander from the observation of the boy, but I tempered this emotion by asserting the fact that, while momentarily distracted, I had been engaged in signing and dating a copy of the last will and testament sent by my solicitor; as the boy was a stated beneficiary in this document, its timely ratification was in his best interests. I guess that what I am trying to say is, no pain no gain. Anyway, he did not cry for long because it was lunch time and I had a bottle of milk ready to feed to him.

On one occasion the boy was inching himself naughtily towards the table that acted as a beacon to him because on top of it sat the television and beneath it were located the stereo, Sky box and DVD player. "He is going to hit his head," I warned Helen, who was also sat in the room. "I know, I'm watching him," she said. We then both observed in silence as the boy, who was now at the table – a solid, unvarnished oak affair – reached the inevitable tipping point and, in trying to mount the object, slowly but surely thudded his head against a corner. I blamed both Helen and me in equal measure for this oversight. Fortunately, as well as absorbing fifty per cent of the guilt, his mother was there to comfort the boy when he began to cry like there was no tomorrow. Little did he know that tomorrow would be the day that I would carry him length-ways into the bedroom and hit his head against the chest of drawers.

Unfortunately it was suggested, by me no less, that the boy's verbal regression – after two days of "da-dad-dads", he had ceased speaking – had something to do with his head's frequent contact with the floor and various items of furniture. I wondered if, when he did decide to resume communication with his parents, the boy's next words would be "ouch", "aghh", "yikes", "Christ" and "Childline".

It was also noted around this time that the boy had a short attention span, "like a goldfish", his mother said, which came in useful in a number of ways. First, it meant the boy did not hold a grudge after his head had encountered solid oak furniture or exposed oak floorboards. He immediately looked appalled after such misadventures, but was quickly appeased with tricks such as giving him his dinner, or tickling him in the ribs. Second, he was probably not committing to memory the image of his mother and father smoking, drinking and watching daytime television. Third, he was probably not committing to memory the content being broadcast by our television in the daytime. Fourth, he was surely too young to be aware of any noise of any nature emanating from his parents' bedroom, which, he probably had also forgotten, was where we kept the chest of drawers. Fifth, he had no idea that he had been left at the age of six months to fend for himself outside the local betting shop. Sixth, he was not aware that when taken into the local betting shop, his father had been reprimanded for doing so by an employee keen to point out Ladbrokes' strict stance on gambling children. Seventh, he will never know that his mother dressed him in a vest that made him look like a gay cow (I shall erase all the photos). And eighth, he will never know that his mother once put a sock on his willy so that he "looked like a Red Hot Chili Pepper" (I will keep these photos, they might come in useful one day).

vii
It occurred to me that Omar Sharif, the grandmother formerly known as Oma, might, in the assertion of her new name, which she claimed was Dutch, have been trying in her own unique way to get down with the kids. I wondered whether Oma was an abomination of OMG. So, instead of Oh My God, she was exclaiming Oh My Ayatollah. This gave fresh meaning to the letters she had written to the boy, which could now be interpreted to read, "I hope you like the jumper knitted by Oh My Ayatollah", and "the weather was nice here today so I did some gardening, all my love, Oh My Ayatollah". This, though, made the boy's maternal grandmother sound like a West End musical based on the Iranian revolution of 1979. And what were the X's after her name? Kisses? Or a topographical indication of where Iran was hiding its nuclear weapons facilities? After all, there was the name she gave to her car. Perhaps we should have called her Igran, seeing as she seemed to have an obsession with the former Persia, but Igran, or iGran, sounded like Apple had branched out into virtual retirement homes staffed by Bob Monkhouse and Jamie Oliver holograms.

But this was all nonsense, there was no need for me to become obsessed with the names the boy's grandmother had invented for herself, possibly under the influence of the painkillers prescribed to her in the run-up to an operation on a malfunctioning shoulder. After all, I had no justification for speculating that Jenny was a colloquial form of Jen, or, to be more accurate, Gen, aka The General, other than the fact that she sported a fine set of moustaches and barked out orders to her subordinates (anybody in her presence) with military zeal. I was equally without supporting evidence to suggest that her shoulder was injured by the kick-back delivered from a Palestinian rocket launcher, which she had been using to fire missiles into the Promised Land (although the moustaches atop her mouth were accompanied, if one looked at her in a certain light, by a downy beard hanging from her chin).

Now, though, I felt l had overstepped the mark. Although certain that Oma would never overhear me refer to her by her pseudonyms, Osama Bin Laden, Omar Sharif, Oh My Ayatollah and The General, I was concerned that the boy would one day pick up on the associations himself and provoke his grandmother's terrible wrath and righteous fury. Then I remembered that, because he kept banging his head into things, for him none of this ever happened. Everything was going to be OK.

And ninth, he will not recall that I vowed to hit his grandmother across the face with a Denon stereo speaker, or that she went by many names, only one of which was related to bridge, which is a game old women play.

viii
We had been invited to a wedding and were on the way to the church when the boy made a dirty protest in the back seat of the car. We knew it was going to be bad because before yesterday, when he breached his nappy and soaked his clothes in effluence, the boy had been constipated for five days. I had the good fortune of not being there yesterday, so his mother dealt with the situation and reported back: the brown sludge had not only seeped from the boundaries of the nappy's inner pants-like compartment, but had reached the boy's armpits. The problem we had today was that the bride and her father were only five minutes behind us, and the etiquette of holy matrimony stated that she should not enter the church on her wedding day closely pursued by the third bridesmaid, her plus one and their dirty son.

We pulled up outside the church. If I was Hugh Grant, I would have dashed about saying fuck fuck fuck fuck fuck. As it was, I said "fuck" only once, a pre-emptive expletory as I removed my seatbelt and opened the car door, resigned to the horror that awaited me in the back seat.

I extracted the boy from his car seat. "It's leaked!" I shouted at Helen, who was scrambling in the boot while exchanging flip-flops for high heels. As I surveyed the tell-tale moist patch on the boy's flank, a packet of babywipes appeared beside him. This was my cue to begin.

I undid the poppers to the babygrow and pulled apart the frontage. The crap was everywhere: down both legs to his toes, across his stomach and, yes, into his armpits. A pool of it collected in the crotch of the babygrow, and anyone watching would have seen liquid chocolate spill onto the gravel path leading to the church as I gingerly but shakily removed the soiled clothing from the car.

Any wedding guests lingering before the House of God would then have heard me shout "It's fucking everywhere!", soon followed by "I'm going to need a bag!". I looked at the palms of my hands: both of them were smeared with the sludge. I kept repeating to myself: do not scratch your nose, do not scratch your nose.

It was difficult to ascertain who I should clean first: the boy, who looked, to be honest, beyond help; or me, who was wearing a newly bought suit unbecoming of my soiled hands. I stood there, and he laid there, the two of us looking at each other with expressions that asked, What next? To an onlooker it might have seemed that Willy Wonka had just rescued an oompa-loompa from his Chocolate River. Do not wipe the sweat from your brow, I told myself, do not wipe the sweat from your brow.

Twenty or thirty wipes later, the boy looked more pink than brown, and I held out my hands for Helen to clean. "Nice," she said as she did so, no doubt feeling like the least glamorous of the three bridesmaids. Helen took the box of confetti from the boot, and I filled the vacated space with the bag containing the fallout from the boy's dirty protest. "I'll burn it when we get home," I said. "The bag of crap," I qualified after a silence, "not the boy."

Now, there was one benefit to being in charge of the stinker on such an occasion. As I was of the opinion that all church weddings in England were essentially the same – if not exactly the same, then pretty much the same – I was not disappointed to effectively miss the entire proceeding. The usher directed me to the hindmost pew, where mothers and fathers before me had already been sent, as far away from the altar and the meat of the affair as it was possible to be without actually being barred entry. From this distance, all I could see were the backs of the heads of the nineteen rows of people before me, and all I could hear were the whimpers and gurgles of the boy and his peers. As I had seen it all and heard it all before, I do, I do, et cetera, I really did not give a monkeys. At least I didn't have to look like I was having a good time.

Another advantage was that I got to avoid singing the hymns and reading the prayers. Most important of the two was the avoidance of the singing, and the boy, as if knowledgeable of my plight, immediately snatched the hymn sheet from my hand and began to eat it on the opening lines of All Things Bright And Beautiful. I let him chew it through the entire song and the Lord's Prayer. I did not even bother to try and mime the words. I stood up with the rest of the congregation, but that was as far as I went – after all, I was holding up the boy so he could get a better view of the backs of the heads of the nineteen rows of people before him. If anyone noticed me not singing – and the only people close to the back were the usher and a sleeping toddler in a pushchair – they would have dismissed the transgression with the thought, "Well, of course he's not singing, he's holding a baby and look, it's eating his hymn sheet. How sweet."

I had the foresight and decorum necessary to ensure that while the vows were being read the boy was sucking at his bottle, thus ensuring that rather than interrupt the service with an attempt to say "Blair got it all wrong by following the Yanks into Baghda-dad-dad", he merely emitted the occasional stomach rumble and belch, both of which I was prepared, if questioned later, to blame on the old duffer in front of us with the bad comb-over, and who kept shouting to his neighbour, "I can't hear anything!"

Best of all, though, was the opportunity the boy afforded us, not too late into the evening reception, to make good our escape on the ground of it being well past his bed time. Thus we missed the woman in the black dress with the pot belly who squatted on the ground to urinate ("With all her bits hanging out on show," according to the usher) and the spectacle of everyone else dancing to Black Elvis.

I ended the day by forgiving the boy for his dirty protest, even though I knew he could not understand a word I was saying.

ix
If I were to shoot the boy's maternal grandmother and then sing about my crime under the influence of Bob Marley, the world would hear how “I shot the Sharif”. One afternoon, Sharif revealed to us, while reminiscing about her breastfeeding days, that she wished "my milk would come in again", and wondered out lout whether "my milk will come in if I tried to feed him [the boy]". The comments were harmless, except that they conjured up the image of the sixty-year-old waving her whoppers in the boy's face and saying to him, "Here you are, lad, have some of this." And what, at her age, would 'this' be exactly, but a kind of rancid curd. I had a vision of flakes of cheese falling from the nipples of Omar Sharif, like cheddar from a grater. Cheese made me squirm at the best of times, but now even a dish as inoffensive as Welsh rarebit inspired the thought that rather than hailing from a village in Somerset, the cheese had originated from that sexagenarian's antiquititties.

Thus I felt distinctly uncomfortable, having heard the above, and thought the above, when the following incident occurred. We had taken the boy to Sharif's bridge club near the Welsh border, where we spent much of the weekend wondering why the frying pans in her kitchen cupboards numbered fourteen in total and one corner of the house had become an immense shrine to Tupperware. Helen had gone into town on an errand, leaving me with the boy in the house, the inner recesses of which hid Sharif, who was engaged in the toil of quiltmaking. While his mother was out, and with no sign of her imminent return, the boy began to appeal for food. I put up with this as best as possible within my powers, which did not grant me the ability to lactate at will. However, the boy's cries had evidently reached every nook and cranny of the house, for eventually Sharif appeared and expressed her desire to take him off my hands. As he had been screaming in my ears for some time, I gladly gave him up, and off they went into the garden. I took this opportunity to make myself a cup of tea and look for the biscuits. Ten minutes passed, during which time I consumed the Shropshire Star, which informed me of the important news that a local woman had had some food gone missing from her freezer. I wondered where the boy had got up to, and gave a look around. I could not find them in any room of the house, or any corner of the garden. Thinking of the cheese, I began to worry. She wouldn't, would she?

I had mixed feelings when Sharif finally returned with the boy. On the one hand, he was no longer crying, which was a relief, until it occurred to me that when famished, nothing would calm him but the presentation of milk. While Sharif explained that they had been for a walk along a nearby lane, I inspected the boy's mouth for signs of foul play. As I saw nothing untoward, I had no choice but to assume that it was in fact the walk which had done him good, and not a generous helping of curds and whey.

During her recollection of breastfeeding, Sharif also reported that the thing she missed most was being stroked by the baby as it suckled. I thought of this when, one evening with Helen not home, I found myself performing the duty of giving the boy his bedtime feed. As we had just had a bath, I was wearing nothing but a towel around my waist. The boy took this opportunity, while sucking furiously at the teat of the bottle, to stroke my exposed nipple. Readers may remember that when wet, my nipples resembled Terry Nutkins on a windy beach, but thankfully I had had time to dry my torso before feeding began, saving the boy from this further embarrassment. Nonetheless, his fingers glided over my teat repeatedly, an action that was accompanied by his satisfactory grunts and hums. My mind travelled to Sharif's mammaries, and, like her, I wondered – unlike her, to myself and not aloud – whether my milk would come in. I remembered watching a wildlife documentary in which some bovine creature licked the bottom of its newborn young to stimulate it to defecate. Suspecting that his stroking might have a similar effect on my Terry Nutkinses, I calmly moved the boy's hand to a less titular area of my torso, where he found the going rough, but was soon munching on the baps of Morpheus.

x
The parental clichés began to fly out thick and fast. On one occasion, as the boy writhed about while I attempted to change his undergarments, I scolded him with the words, "The more you wriggle, the longer it will take" (despite him not being able to understand a word I said). At other times, I simply sounded like a parrot, churning out "Who's a clever boy?" and "Who's a big boy?" and "Who's a strong boy?" depending on whether the boy had performed an action that proved his cleverness (by, say, pushing over a tower of blocks), bigness (just existing, really) or strength (hitting me in the eye). It would not be long before I would be informing him that if the wind changed, his face would stay like that, that lies make baby Jesus cry, that only good children receive presents at Christmas, and that watching too much television would make his legs fall off. As disabled children are always the target for the worst abuse at school, the latter would definitely make him want to watch less television.

No doubt he would return the favour by asking, "Are we there yet?", which would provoke the assurance that a watched kettle never boils, a watched phone never rings and a watched clock never tells the time. I was already prepared to be asked why they killed Christ – because he didn't eat all his vegetables; and what happens when you die – everyone goes to Hell, except children who remember not to swear in front of their grandparents. I was determined, though, not to accuse the boy of being a dirty little Arab, although this appellation would likely be agreeable to both his grandmothers.

xi
We were in Boots queuing at the prescription counter for the boy's bath cream. An elderly gentleman came into the shop and joined the line behind us. The boy, who had become bored of his current circumstances, began to protest. The gentleman, who had hitherto been silent, took this opportunity to engage the boy's mother and I in conversation. "I know how to keep him quiet," he said. We both looked at him, neither of us interested in how the old man thought he could keep a baby quiet. Undeterred by the blank expressions that met him, the man continued: "Put a pillow over his head." To emphasise his point, the man then mimed the action of smothering a child with a pillow. He showed no evident pleasure in doing so, but rather gave the impression that he was performing a great service for us, and that it cost him no small effort. Seeing that our blank expressions had turned to mild horror, the man ended his mime, and returned to his monologue. "That would shut 'em up," he said. "Pillow on the head, yes." Helen laughed nervously, and I regretted that she did so, as I suspected that even this basic utterance would encourage the potential child murderer to dispense further pearls of wisdom. "Not that I don't condone having 'em," he continued, morosely, again as if he had been called upon, against his will, to engage strangers in a public forum on the art of childrearing. "Got two of 'em myself," he said. Then, seeing we were unconvinced of his parenthood, based on what he had said previously, the man added: "Got two grandchildren, too." I, who had maintained a bemused silence throughout this encounter, continued to hold my tongue, preferring to appear rude than goad the man into further revelations on his thoughts and private life. Thankfully, Helen had also realised the merits of keeping her lips sealed. To which the man concluded, as we collected our package from the counter: "Yes, pillow's the best way. Not that I don't condone the having of them though, got two of them myself."

Remarkably, a short time later I bumped into a sometime work colleague on a train station platform. He asked me how things were going with the boy. I told him the boy had started waking in the middle of the night, and subsequently his mother and I were quite tired. This man, who had no children himself, advised in a tone of voice that left it far from clear whether he was joking or being sincere: "Put a bag over his head." Not sure how to respond to meeting a second potential child choker in less than a week, I wondered aloud whether the train we were waiting for was on time. Undeterred, he returned to his theme. "Yes, a bag over the head. He won't make much noise when he's dead." Fortunately, whatever he was about to add was interrupted by an announcement over the public-address system, and we were both distracted from saying things we were bound to regret by the inanities of London's transport network.

xii
I was in the bath with the boy when something terrible happened. Within minutes of his entering the tub, his face went a peculiar red colour, a visual phenomenon which was accompanied by an odd guttural noise. "Helen!" I shouted from my watery prison, suspicious of what was occurring within the boy's body. "I think he's trying to do a poo!" When it sounded as if Helen was making a less than speedy approach to the bathroom, I added for emphasis: "He is definitely about to do a poo!" Goaded by my desperate plea for help, Helen rushed into the bathroom and lifted the miscreant from my lap. "Has he done one?" she asked, noticing that the boy looked rather relaxed, and not at all like a person engaged in the act of defecation. "I don't think so," I said, surveying the surface of the water, and my lap, for evidence.

Helen took the boy away to prepare him for dinner. It was now that the most awful flotsam presented itself in the water – a floating turd, about half a foot in length and with the thickness of a standard sausage, was riding the current and making its way at speed towards my half-submerged face. I was at eye level with the thing, and I jumped from the water like my life depended on it. "Helen!" I shouted from the safety of the bath mat as the turd disappeared beneath the surface. "He did do one!" And then, stressing the need for her to attend to me immediately: "I've seen it!"

She returned to the bathroom with the boy, looked at the bath and asked what all the fuss was about. "It has sunk," I told her. Noticing that she remained unconvinced, I instructed her to "give me the boy", and, when she enquired why, told her that doing so would enable her to locate, and then retrieve, the missing turd. Amazingly, she agreed to this strategy, and I watched on with the boy in my arms as his mother fished about in the water. "How big is it?" she asked. "Massive," I told her, "a foot long at least. And just as wide." Helen decided that the job would require additional apparatus. Subsequently, it was with a hand wrapped in a plastic bag that she retrieved the turd, which had become lodged, upright, in the plug hole. Luckily for her, the item had broken only into two pieces, and not much more delving was required for its emigration to the toilet bowl. The boy had observed the whole of the proceedings nonchalantly, as if unaware of the part he had played in them.

The following day, despite having had a fresh bath in the wake of the incident described above, I regularly became paranoid that the smell of the boy’s turds was wafting out from within my clothing. It was little comfort to think that such feelings were natural in a person whose ablutions the previous evening had been interrupted by the bobbing to the surface of a miscellaneous man-sausage.

xiii
It was someone's thirtieth birthday party and we had been invited to the pub. Obviously we brought the boy with us as we could hardly leave him at home on his own, but that did not seem to matter, it was evidently a child-friendly establishment, if the continuous stream of screaming kids running in and out of the garden area was anything to go by. The small people in our party were not old enough to make a nuisance of themselves by running around like retarded chickens, but they did make their presence keenly felt through a general but loud whinging, which, as they could not verbalise their disquiet, consisted mainly of "AAHHHHHHHH"s, "RRRRRRRRRRRRRRR"s, "WAHHHHHHHH"s and "MAAAAAAAHHH"s.

I was not having a good time. I could not see the point of going to the pub with people whose ages ranged from eight months to ten months. Surely it was the equivalent of inviting one’s friends (the cool ones, the ones with iPhones and albums by the Kings of Leon) over to watch SpongeBob SquarePants on the TV. Indeed, I felt great sympathy for the gentleman who appeared at the entrance of the pub and commented "It's like a bloody wendy house in here". He actually said this to the cigarette he had come outside to smoke, as if none of the people present were worthy of being engaged in discourse. These people were, after all, parents who had ruined the last bastion of enjoyment in his life, the public house, by bringing their children there. The bastards. I considered telling this man that it could be worse – he could spend all afternoon in his favourite pub, having his pleasure tainted by the presence of screaming children, only to go home in the evening to be shat on in the bath. But I thought better of it. The way he said "wendy house" had a remarkably bitter tone to it, like when a Holocaust survivor remembers the "death camps".

This taking of one's children to the pub business struck me as rather symptomatic of our have-it-all society. After all, these days we not only want our cake (personally, I prefer cheesecake) but to eat it, too. So, people want to pay less tax but receive improved public services, sexy career women in their forties want to start a family, and parents take their children to the pub. This phenomenon has, of course, contributed to the lamentable decline of the old man's pub, where the landlord is rude, his television made of wood and his female staff grubby but attainable, if possibly underage. The last old man's pub I frequented had, as one might expect from such an establishment, an old man who sat at the bar from eleven in the morning to eleven in the evening, mumbling nonsense and stinking. The brewery must have decided he was putting off the other customers, because they upped their prices, stuck a flat-screen telly to the wall and upgraded the salted peanuts to roasted meats with butternut squash and potato dauphinoise. Now the place is frequented by babies (a young man's pub, if you like) who mumble nonsense and stink. They must be putting off the other customers, one of whom just came out of the pub and described it as a wendy house.

xiv
The instructions on the side of the box of formula milk were written to strike fear into the hearts of unconfident parents. It warned that not measuring the correct dose of powder exactly "might cause harm to your baby", and suggested that even a little too much, or a little too less, of the powder would be a disaster, although it did not specify what form this disaster might take. To reinforce this theme, the box included not only a scooper to dig out the powder (very useful), but also an inbuilt "scraper", as it was referred to in the instructions, for the levelling off of the powder once excavated. The commandments on the box said this feature was essential, and its use ensured that rather than heaped scooperfuls of powder being plonked into the milk bottle, aesthetically pleasing, spirit-levelled scoops would instead be deposited. This scraper was a piece of plastic wedged into one of the corners of the top of the box.

I was flummoxed by the sentiment behind these instructions and the scraper. Of course, one would be foolish to tip up the box and randomly fill the milk bottle with powder in the same way as one might prepare a nice bowl of piping hot Ready Brek on a winter's morning. But it did not take me long to discover (about three seconds) that simply shaking the scooper, once loaded with powder, had the pleasing effect of depositing the excess stuff back into the box, leaving the scooper with a finely levelled burden of foodstuff. I considered drawing a diagram of myself shaking my wrist with the scooper in my fingers, so I could send it to the formula milk company for consideration as a replacement form of instructions on the side of their boxes. However, my drawing skills were nothing to write home about, and I knew before I started on such an endeavour that the result would be crude. Worse, it might look like I was accusing the formula milk company of onanism. As the boy seemed to enjoy their foodstuff, this was the last thing I wanted to happen.

So, I was grateful not to be a paranoid parent who measured everything by pipette and magnifying glass, and who insisted on using the elbow to test the temperature of the bath water. However, I did check my nonchalance after becoming convinced that I had poisoned the boy with old water. This occurred when, having arrived home with him from his child minder, later than his bed time and after a long day at work, he began to crave food in a manner that suggested he wanted his request fulfilled either immediately, or very soon indeed. His mother was not home, and there were no bottles of formula milk prepared in the fridge. Due to the pressing nature of the boy's request, there was no time to defrost the breast milk in the freezer; nor was there time to prepare a fresh bottle of formula milk to the letter, which stated that first the kettle, having been filled with fresh water from the tap, must be boiled and then set to rest for half an hour, before one should go about the nonsense with the scooper and the scraper and the spirit level. The boy had no concept of what half an hour would feel like to endure, but I was fully aware of the experience that awaited me if I were to go down that road. Hence I decided that the water already in the kettle, of which there was little, and which had been sitting in it for at least twelve hours, would be fine, give or take the occasional presence of flakes of limescale. This, then, was the old water I used to mix with the powder, giving more skilful flicks of the wrist to toss off the excess granules than ever before. If the BBC replaced Strictly Come Dancing with Strictly Come Scooping, I could have been a contender.
The boy took this concoction like he had done all the others before it, and soon he was asleep in his cot. I turned a blind eye to the presence of gooey-looking globules stuck to the inside of the bottle after he had finished his meal, and put this down to the water being cold, rather than old. Yet when, a short time later, the boy developed a nasty, hacking cough, I assumed I had been too laissez faire with my milk-making, and had done him harm. So sure was I that I was the cause of his ailment that I chose to hide my guilt from his mother, who did not seem worried about it at all. Many a moment I laid awake at night, cursing myself for not having boiled the kettle afresh and waited for the prescribed thirty minutes.

It was a great relief to me when, a week or so into the boy's throaty malady, Helen announced that two of the little man's contemporaries also had the disease. I was glad that these two small people had also been struck down with it, but I hid my pleasure behind vocal concern for their welfare. Importantly, I was in the clear: there was evidently a cold going around the baby community (that would teach the critters to frequent social occasions such as Baby Boogie), and it was this from which the boy was suffering. From this moment on, I shook that scooper with even greater flourish than before, as if my fingers were wearing tights and my hand was performing a shadow mime of Michael Flatley's River Dance.

xv
The sleep deprivation began when the boy decided to renege on eight good months of sound unconsciousness at night time and awake at four-hour intervals. He did this to demonstrate the persistence of his cough, which at first I had thought was my fault but then concluded was the result of his interaction with other small people. Although I let Helen bear the brunt of this situation, and lay in bed pretending to be asleep while she collected the boy to soothe and feed him, it soon became clear that this brought little benefit to me, as pretending to be asleep was not as revitalising as actually being asleep. Furthermore, I was more tired than usual because I had started working overtime in anticipation of the mounting costs of childrearing, which would soon include the remuneration of an au pair, whom Helen stipulated should be French and I that she should be aged between seventeen and eighteen.

This new strain manifested itself in midnight mutterings from my drooling mouth, when my brain, off guard, spilled its innermost beans – rotten beans that usually lay festering deep within the cauldron of my mind. Thus I would awake to find myself making statements such as "Yoko Ono's fanny", "Will the au pair change my nappy?", and, more worryingly, "Michael Barrymore's bleeding anus". I was so startled at the latter sentence that it stuck in my head more than the others, the effect being that I ended up thinking it almost constantly. Sometimes, for instance, during extended moments of dullness, it became a kind of upbeat ditty. So I would be on the train, which was sitting at a failed signal outside East Croydon. While my fellow commuters read their newspapers or the latest Dan Brown novel, I hummed to myself, jauntily, "Tum te tum te tum, Michael Barrymore's bleeding anus…" By the end of one such delay on the train, which had lasted more than half an hour, the song had gained a cockney feel, and the lyrics were pronounced as Dick Van Dyke would have performed them. So, as my fellow commuters tapped their feet in time to their iPods and gazed wistfully out the window, I sat among them, nearly singing out loud, "Chim-chim-eny, chim-chim-eny, Barry-more's bleedin' an-us!"

Obviously this had to stop. It was not appropriate for me to be commenting on Yoko Ono's fanny as the boy contentedly gobbled milk beside me, and I anticipated serious trouble with the guard or the British Transport Police if a fellow passenger were to overhear my new opera, Michael Barrymore's Bleeding Anus.

The best remedy I found was to replace the offending material with more benign alternatives whenever thoughts about Yoko Ono or Michael Barrymore entered my head. I could only perform this action while awake, of course, but the hope was that my unconscious self would be influenced. Thus, I spent much of the following weeks, at home, at work, on the train, and in bed, singing gaily in my head, "Tum te tum te tum, Rupert Heseltine's wendy house." Then, even better, the Polish operator of the office lunch trolley provided me with "sandy witches… please, please… sandy witches". He was referring to the sandwiches within his cart of comestibles, but anyone overhearing me in bed, woman or child, would assume I was reciting a magical fairy tale, and wonder at my special brand of fatherhood.

By concentrating on Rupert Heseltine's wendy house and Polish Boy's sandy witches as I fell asleep at night, I was also able to lessen the chance that I would, in my unconscious state, attempt to engage Helen or the boy in a conversation about the pornographic films I planned to make in the unlikely event that making pornographic films became socially acceptable and all the best porn actresses wanted to star in mine. After all, the woman and the boy did not, I assumed, want to hear, at three in the morning, my scene-by-scene description of Willy Wanker's Chocolate Fetish or, with apologies to the actress Michele Ryan, The Ryan, The Bitch and The Whoredrobe, starring the actress Michele Ryan.

xvi
It was decided that we would need an au pair. Helen had printed off the résumés of some candidates from the local agency, and was reading them out to me in the kitchen. I was staring at the floor, idly wondering whether the recorded voice of South West Trains' automated messages was provided by the same man who narrated the original TV series of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. My appetite for the task at hand was whetted, however, when Helen handed me the documents, which I quickly discovered contained photographs of the potential au pairs. Noticing that one of them looked rather like Charlotte Gainsbourg, the French actress, I decided she would do.
"How about Charlotte?" I asked, handing Helen the résumé.
"Who?" she asked, confused.
"I mean Sylvie… she seems… nice. And experienced. With looking after children. Sensible too. Good references."
Will the au pair change my nappy, I thought to myself.
"Rupert Heseltine's wendy house," I said. Helen, though, was not listening. She had put Charlotte to one side – on the hob, actually, which was quite disrespectful to the boy's future au pair as it had not been cleaned for a few days and carried the stains of last night's spaghetti bolognese – and was leafing through the other candidates. Then she handed me another résumé, saying, "I like this one." I perused the papers: she was fine, eighteen, supple and experienced with children, but she was no Charlotte Gainsbourg. "She's too young," I said, handing her back, like an official at an important checkpoint in the Second World War might hand back a poorly forged passport. "And she hasn't got enough experience with children." Helen replied "Yes she has", before beginning to read out the girl's curriculum vitae. I interjected: "But she's only eighteen. She will be out every night getting drunk and taking drugs with all her French friends." This seemed to hit the mark, and Helen agreed we needed someone older. "Fine," she said, "we'll give Sylvie a go."

Who's Sylvie, I thought. And then I saw the picture. Ah, yes, Charlotte.

Unfortunately, when we phoned the agency, it turned out that Charlotte Gainsbourg had already been placed with another family, so we threw caution to the wind and plumped for the eighteen-year-old instead. She seemed enthusiastic enough, and when she accepted the position of au pair to the boy, she told us in an email: "I think i'm abble to look after your baby ! Now i've got the habbit with the little one." I was not sure to whom "the little one" referred (we assumed it must be a small garcon), or whether the aitch in "habbit" was silent. But she was willing – "I'm very interesting to work in your family" – and observant: "In fact Brighton is very closed by the ferry."

She was due to start in two weeks, which would give me enough time to practise my good moaning and who do you dee, although the door bell was not working and seemed beyond repair, so searching for a chime that played the 'Allo 'Allo theme tune would be pointless.

xvii
Babies and funerals do not mix well, and we were advised not to take the boy to his great-grandmother's send-off. We took this advice, and the advice seemed good, until silence and serious reverie descended upon the pews. The problem was that I had eaten a meagre breakfast and had missed lunch, and now, two rows from the pulpit, my stomach was complaining rudely. As the vicar related the highlights of the life of the deceased, his solemn words were accompanied by grumbles, rumbles and gurgling. There was a short relief during the first hymn, when the sound of moving furniture emanating from within my trousers was drowned out by enthusiastic singing, but soon we were listening to a passage from the book of Revelations, which was not made more portentous by the apocalyptic earthquake rising from my person.

It was now that I lamented the absence of the boy. At the wedding, his babbling and frothing had been accommodated with sympathetic and amorous looks from the congregation. These countenances would have been more stern at the funeral, but the boy would have served the purpose of disguising my personal plumbing malfunction. True, I would not have been able to belt out Row Row Row Your Boat during the Lord's Prayer, but all of my inappropriate noises could instead have been passed off as the boy's. Later, the commiserating "I'm so sorry for your loss" could have been accompanied with the apologetic "I'm so sorry for the bottom noises. It was the boy".
Admittedly, it would have been selfish of me to use the boy to such ends. Being honest, the boy liked to call a box a box, and the wooden coffin up the front would, for him, have been nothing more and nothing less. I pictured him breaking loose and making for it as he did his mother's shoe boxes, and upon reaching it, trying to prise off the lid to worry the contents inside. This, though, would have been less embarrassing than the reverberations of my abdomen, for which the mourner to my right was nudging me in the side and whispering "What is that?" and "Is that you?".

Later, at the wake, the boy was the star of the show. Having been conspicuous by his absence at the funeral itself, he was now being passed around the mourners like a packet of cigarettes in the days when smoking was compulsory, each recipient of the parcel having their fair share of it before proffering it to the next in line. By now, though, the food and drink were abundant and my stomach was soon sate


This post first appeared on This Quintessence Of Dust, please read the originial post: here

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