New Year & Tom Jones the Satsuma

Whenever a new baby is part of the equation, New Year’s Eve is always going to be something of a non-event. It is impossible to go out as getting baby-sitter is unlikely for starters and unfair for all concerned even if one is found. This one therefore, had all the hallmarks of being a quiet one.

Ultimately, the evening was spent by whimpering pathetically on the sofa after being struck down by a severe case of man-flu which maybe something to scoff at as far as the ladies are concerned but to us men, it’s a matter of life or death. So the question of what to do for New Year turned out to be academic anyway and I rang in the New Year with a Lemsip and a few Night Nurse chasers rather than going out and spreading plague across the land like a pestilent serf from the Middle Ages.

Since there is little else to do, I lit a huge fire that tested the limits of the wood-burner to the extent that it soon resembled something normally seen in a cautionary public information film next to a disapproving fire-safety officer. Mercifully it didn’t ‘go nova’ and engulf the entire street which meant that I could just lay there feeling rubbish and watching Jools Holland who over the last couple of years, has really started to resemble a prohibition-era Chicago mobster. Subsequently, I was guessing that it would only be a matter of time until one of his guests said something to which he took unnecessary umbrage and they ended up being found dead after the cameras stop rolling, garrotted in an alley outside the back of BBC Television Centre.

The most surprising thing about the ‘Hootenanny’ show was Tom Jones, who lately has started to take on the appearance of a three-week old Satsuma that someone has etched a crude face onto before dipping it in creosote and inartistically sticking bits of cotton wool onto the top. It’s got to the point now that he actually looks like something that Jim Henson may have had a hand in creating and might otherwise be seen springing out of a dustbin on Sesame Street.

The upside to having a very young baby at New Year is that you don’t find yourself in the dilemma of trying to decide whether or not to wake them up for midnight and therefore struggling to get them to go back to sleep shortly afterwards. If they’re awake then great, but if not, then the likelihood of not being able to get them back to sleep afterwards should be more than enough to put you off waking them up. As it stands, the end of the late feed coincides quite nicely with ‘Auld Lang Syne’ so Ethan is already awake for midnight, not that he cared in the slightest.

As a result of the previous night’s comparative wholesomeness, it is the first New Year’s Day for years that I wake up and am not incapacitated by an all-encompassing apocalyptic hangover which is great news for Ethan in that his Dad is able to play with him as opposed to terrifying him by staggering about the house like a zombie, banging into things and groaning.

Despite being crippled by Man-Flu, I spent the day attempting to play with Ethan on his activity mat, desperately trying not to sneeze over his head whilst hoping he wouldn’t confuse my bright-red nose for one of his light-up interactive toys and start frantically swatting it in a bid to make it play ‘Old MacDonald Had a Farm’. My fragile state makes me a thoroughly unsuitable playmate but I think he managed to enjoy the day on the whole, bar an unpleasant five minute episode later in the day when he decided to besmirch his own bath water in the worst way imaginable.

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Boxing Day

As a result of the cheese-board overindulgence, I spend the entire night having the strangest dreams, including one in which I am being pursued through a wood by hordes of ravenous zombies. It is not the most restful night of sleep that I could have wished for.

There have been studies conducted, presumably by experts, which indicates that even from birth a baby has the capacity to dream. If this is the case then presumably it follows that they must dream within the limited scope of their experience to date which suggests they will be unlikely to have any sort of obscure dream in which they inexplicably leave the house wearing a pair of trousers made entirely out of Findus Crispy Pancakes and end up getting chased around Leicester City Centre by a rabid King Charles Spaniel carrying a hand-grenade in its teeth.

Even one of the cats seems to dream. After around thirty minutes of sleep, she starts making obscure shrill noises which makes me wonder whether or not she’s dreaming that she’s Joe Pasquale which can be disconcerting to say the least.

As a new parent, you tend to spend an awful lot of time watching your baby sleep and although it is obviously impossible to tell what they are dreaming about specifically, I get the distinct impression that most dreams involve trying to escape from the confines of a particularly tight sleeping-bag given the amount of wriggling about and grunting that goes on. Ethan seems to enjoy them though judging by the look on his face.

Despite being exhausted after a night of trying to avoid being caught and killed by zombies, Boxing Day arrives without an embarrassing woolly jumper in sight, surely the sign of a successful Christmas if ever there was one. That said, Ethan did receive a thoroughly degrading and upsetting cardigan for Christmas but I should be able to ‘accidentally’ drop that into the paper shredder before it causes any trouble.

I have always wondered why Boxing Day was called so. I used to think that it because it was the day on which you packed all your unwanted presents into a big box and put them in the shed or took them to the charity shop but now I’ve come to realise that it’s called ‘Boxing Day’ because traditionally, it’s the day on which everyone runs out of festive cheer and ends up having a huge fight instead.

To honour this tradition, we manage to fall out on the way home after a series of unfortunate events led to Ethan and I being locked, asleep, in my own car on the roughest estate in Bedfordshire. Predictably, I eventually woke up and sneezed at which point the alarm went off and I spent the next fifteen excruciating minutes locked in a wailing car, the lights of which were now flashing in time to the horn repeatedly blaring. I must have looked like the World’s worst car thief. I think the local residents just figured I was a rookie and chose not to call the police out of sympathy. The whole sorry debacle has at least taught me never to let my mobile phone battery go completely flat in future.

We finally made it home without further mishap and our first Christmas as a family has been a tremendous experience. I’m pretty sure that Ethan has not been too badly affected by the high soap content of the past few days although it has to be said that he did seem worryingly transfixed by Zak Dingle’s beard in Emmerdale. I think overall, he has enjoyed his first Christmas and certainly got more presents than the rest of his entire extended family put together. Next year we’ll no doubt need to start buying him presents in massive boxes, primarily so he can disregard the gift within and play with the box like all small children enjoy doing. Maybe we’ll just get him a large box and put it inside an even bigger box to double his fun.

Christmas Day & Harrowing Festive Specials

Christmas Day is a success of considerable magnitude and as is often the case on a baby’s first Christmas, the boy is well and truly spoilt, the most impressive gift being a ‘Rocking Reindeer’ (think a rocking horse but more instantly disposable) the handlebars of which make it look like the aftermath of a gruesome death scene from a festive horror movie in which Rudolph is impaled through the head by a wooden stake.

The generosity of those around your baby at Christmas is once again truly humbling and there are once again a whole heap of thank-you cards to write afterwards. It’s probably because people don’t want to buy obvious gifts that some of them turn out to be truly baffling with some of the more unusual of those including:

A truly gigantic ornamental Christmas fairy which could be tremendously confusing for a male child but will adorn future Christmas trees for years to come and will in all probability, cover the entire top half of them given our current inability to erect a full size Norwegian Spruce tree indoors.

An interactive musical book that sings nursery rhymes and has buttons throughout that make various animal noises when pressed which are ideal for ruining all the nursery rhymes with excessive ad-hoc mooing.

A bleeping, flashing musical bear that sings songs and has arrived just in the nick of time as the bleeping, flashing sunflower toy currently attached to the play mat has just broken and has now started to fart out its tunes in painful, grating bum notes.

A farmyard animal themed stacker toy designed presumably to allow countless girls and boys the opportunity to relive the days of Foot & Mouth Disease by creating their own farmyard mass cull in which they get to pile up assorted farm animals into a large heap.

The Very Hungry Caterpillar – A children’s favourite about a greedy caterpillar that pretty much eats everything in sight. First published in 1969, the caterpillar stays true to the era in which it was conceived by looking wired throughout and ends up in an outlandishly garish psychedelic outfit.

A jungle-based textured story book that contains one particularly surprising page on which a monkey is scratching its back whilst simultaneously appearing to crap onto the back of an elephant.

A big pack of wooden stacking blocks, covered in letters and numbers that I will no doubt use at some opportune moment to compose an obscene message on the nursery shelf, ideally just before we have visitors.

The day is spent playing with these and many of the other toys that were received. Christmas dinner is a massive success and despite a few moments of concern where the crackers are all pulled, threatening to send Ethan into a bout of terrified shrieking, it all goes to plan. We even manage to get a paper hat on his head although he soon removes it and attempts to eat it, calling for it to be swiftly removed from his grasp.

By the evening I am stuffed, having spent much of the afternoon sporadically working my way through a gigantic cheeseboard and am able do little more than lay, bloated on the sofa unable even to muster the energy to protest about the choice of entertainment.

If there’s one truly sad indictment of modern times, it’s that nothing says ‘Christmas’ more than a relentlessly harrowing ‘Eastenders’ plotline that culminates in a popular character being either raped and / or tragically killed on Christmas Day, and not necessarily in that order.

Quite why anyone would want to watch Eastenders in the first place is a mystery to me. It is basically a programme that consists almost entirely of simpletons bickering with each other, with the odd bit of glaringly unfunny market-stall based banter thrown in along with the occasional murder which is exactly the sort of thing that goes on in grotty market towns the length and breadth of the land every single day of the week (perhaps without as much murder). You could go and sit with the tramps on bench in the centre of any one of them and watch this happen, live for hours at a time if you fancied it with the added bonus that the BBC wouldn’t waste your license fee for the privilege. The plotlines are so ridiculously contrived that the whole thing may as well be set on Saturn and most of them just seem to be a means of getting characters from one massive argument to the next anyway. If I wanted to watch two imbeciles staggering from a pub having a drunken, inarticulate stand-up row in the street, I could just walk down the high street at kicking out time. Or I could watch ‘The Jeremy Kyle Show’ which specialises in prole-based bickering. As it stands, the BBC have seen fit to use the license fee to pay Barbara Windsor to shriek like a banshee for half an hour, three times a week. It’s just not on.

Christmas Eve & Overloading the Car

Before I can fully un-Grinch and become Santa however, there is one last obstacle to overcome which is actually driving to the in-laws where we will be spending our first Christmas together as a family and what better way can there be to get in the festive spirit than by driving through the fog and ice of Milton Keynes, home of roundabouts, concrete cows and depression. Actually that’s not entirely true. Depression lists its primary residence as Telford but it also owns a holiday home in Milton Keynes.

The town is notable for its ‘US-style grid-system’ layout which the local council list as one of Milton Keynes’ plus points in its not unsurprisingly thin promotional booklet. What they fail to point out is that from the road, any given part of Milton Keynes looks absolutely identical to every other part, i.e. bleak and non-descript, which makes the grid system absolutely essential as without it, no one would be able to get anywhere at all given the shortage of landmarks as visual reference points. There just isn’t an easy way to give directions to a location within Milton Keynes without providing the grid reference and any attempt to do so would be futile: “Turn left at the seventy-eighth roundabout – If you get to Northampton, you’ve come too far.” The surrounding villages would be full of despairing motorists, parked up and openly weeping at the wheel or hunting for a nearby level-crossing on which to park to await an express train to come thundering along, ending the misery right there.

It’s easy to see why people who are expecting a baby tend to buy a bigger car in anticipation if they have the means. The amount of stuff packed for the trip makes it feel like we are attempting an overambitious world-record attempt for the largest number of household items ever to be crushed into the back of a car. I’m amazed the doors didn’t break off as we went over the first bump. It’s ridiculous just how much extra luggage is required for something so small. Maybe we just haven’t yet become experts in efficient baby-travel but in all honesty, everything that has been brought along will most likely be required at some point.

In fact, the only time that I can recall seeing a car more overloaded was when I worked at a builders’ merchants and a customer bought an entire pallet of bricks which he then asked to be loaded into his car in order to avoid paying the ten pound delivery charge. I thought he was joking until he backed his clapped-out Ford Cortina Estate into the warehouse at which point the manager went deathly pale and pleaded with him unsuccessfully to reconsider before racing back to the office to hurriedly cobble together an inarticulate, misspelled disclaimer for him to sign which couldn’t have been less legally binding if he’d written it out in felt-tip pen on the back of napkin.

About three quarters of the pallet were loaded into his car before all conventional storage space was eventually used up at which point the remaining bricks were put simply put wherever space existed, either being shoved into the foot-wells or stacked up on the passenger seat with a couple even ending up in the glove-box. Wherever there was room, bricks were put until the pallet had finally been emptied and the lunatic who bought it was able to finally climb awkwardly into his creaking death-trap ready for departure.

Despite it being made crystal clear to him that this would be the last time his car ever worked and, in the event of an emergency stop, would equally be the last time his spine ever worked, he shrugged off all concerns and started it up.

Amazingly he far exceeded the expectation that he wouldn’t make it out of the warehouse and almost managed ten feet from the warehouse door before there was an almighty bang as the suspension broke which in turn caused the rear axle to give way with the engine following suit a few seconds later. Had he looked in his rear view mirror at that point, he would no doubt have seen a crowd of gathered onlookers rolling about on the floor in fits of hysterics but since there was probably a brick hanging in front of it, there was no chance of that happening. As such I’m guessing that the whole fiasco was the most expensive ten pounds that he ever saved.

Happily we finally arrive at the in-laws without a similar mishap befalling the car and a short while later, are unpacked and ready for Christmas. All I need to do now is prepare for Santa by putting out a glass of sherry next to the mince pie on the hearth and prime the giant, iron mantrap in front of the fire.

Spending quality time with your other half is essential but having a baby tends to limit the ability to do this somewhat in the early days of parenthood, so having in-house babysitters offers a rare opportunity to do something as a couple again. Whether that is going out for meal or just a drink down the local pub, it is an opportunity not to be missed.

We opt to go down the pub, literally within sprinting distance of the front door of the house but contrary to our expectation that we will guzzle down our drinks in two minutes flat before hurrying back home, we manage to stay out for ninety minutes before caving in and leaving, fully expecting a scene of wanton baby-based destruction to greet us upon entering the house. Thankfully this turns out not to be the case.

The Grinch – Festive Miseryguts

Historically I am something of a Grinch and hate Christmas. For years now, everything about it has got on my nerves. To some extent this is probably because since from about the age of eighteen, I associate every day of the festive break (especially Christmas Day itself) with being horrendously hung over in the morning, horrendously bloated in the afternoon and horrendously drunk in the evening. Actually the evenings have tended not to be so bad but overall it’s near enough a week of overindulging to the extent that by the second day in January my blood has become ninety-percent proof and I have to be ‘made safe’ by a military bomb-disposal unit.

Even more than this however, I think that the main reason that I hate Christmas is because I become sick of it before it has even arrived. The first distant refrains of Christmas can usually be heard in late September / early October when the supermarkets take out last year’s unsold Christmas crackers from the stock room and put them out on the shelves along with the atom-thin discount wrapping paper that costs a pound for six miles and is completely unusable since the slightest tug will tear it. After this happens it’s only a week or two until their tedious TV ad-campaigns begin in earnest, featuring the likes of Richard Hammond inexplicably pushing an empty shopping trolley across a bleak moor in the pouring rain before announcing that he’ll “hunt high and low for a good price on great meat” which sounds less like the start of a Christmas advert and very much more like the opening gambit to the kind of furtive conversation you might expect to take place between a high-court judge and the madam of a particularly seedy brothel that caters for clients with unusual tastes. They could have just kept the script and filmed him drunkenly kerb-crawling through an Amsterdam red-light district instead. It would have worked equally effectively for both.

All of this festive over-exposure means that by the time December rolls around and Coca-Cola starts the annual run of their “Holidays are coming. Holidays are coming” commercial, I have become so annoyed by it all that if the opportunity presented itself, I would quite happily arm myself to the teeth and take the next flight to Lapland with the firm intention of gunning down Santa and every last elf in a grisly toy-workshop massacre. After all, he sold out in 1931 when he hired Coca Cola to manage his image. He’s got it coming, frankly.

At least that’s how it used to be. This year the Grinch will be finally put to rest because having a baby has definitely altered my perception of Christmas to the extent that I am actually looking forward to it for the first time in years. It’s not even that I have undergone some kind of Scroogesque rehabilitation, receiving repeated nocturnal phantom bollockings until I promised to become less of a miserable bastard. Besides, I think Living TV have already got exclusive rights to that and plan to broadcast a festive special in which Derek Acorah channels the energies of the Ghosts of Past, Present and Future, all of whom will doubtlessly come across as camp scousers as a direct result. It certainly wouldn’t be the greatest re-imagining of ‘A Christmas Carol’ that there has ever been.

It’s not that Ethan is even going to realise what it’s all about at present anyway. As far as he’s concerned, it will just be another day, albeit one in which his grandparents have chosen to dress him like an extra from ‘The Lord of the Rings’ (see: Elf Costumes, crappy). Overall I think that it’s the realisation that Christmas will be one of the only times of the year when we get to spend quality together as a family for an extended period and for a child, at least for a few years, it is a genuinely magical time. A jolly, fat man in a red suit who climbs down your chimney to deliver free toys?  What could be better than that?

There is a quote that I think sums this up perfectly:

“There Are Three Stages of a Man’s Life. He believes in Santa. He doesn’t believe in Santa. He is Santa.”

Christmas Turkey – The Hell of a Nativity Playsuit

Passing through a supermarket today, I spy a rack of costumes for small children. For the boys there are Transformers costumes, Power Rangers outfits and various pieces of comic-book hero attire. For the girls the choices consist of Barbie outfits, a truly fabulous ‘Fame’ costume and a selection of fairy / angel type offerings. Hanging next to them in the corner however, is what can only be described as a ‘wretched brown habit, and itchy-looking shawl, complete with an unforgivably cheap plastic crook and miserable, blow-up sheep’.

The label describes it as a ‘Nativity Playsuit’ and features an unlikely promise of ‘Guaranteed Fun’, but the costume itself gives the distinct impression that only thing that is truly guaranteed if you are dumb enough to buy it for a child, is tears and huge sobs of disappointment when they open the packaging to find this wretched piece of shit folded within.

This is surely one of those things designed to test you as a parent. The selection of a suitable outfit is not a particularly difficult choice to make but one which could haunt you for the rest of your life if you screw it up. Get the costume right and your child will love you; at least for as long as it takes for them to get fed up with it and skid holes into the knees. Get it wrong and it’ll most likely result in your child being upended and fed into the nursery-school toilet head-first by a collection of small superheroes who have absolutely no interest in associating themselves with a stunted shepherd from Bethlehem who insists on dragging around with them a crap, blow-up sheep.

As you might expect, supermarket has tried to make the shepherd monstrosity appealing in some way as it is a fraction of the price of the good costumes but the money saved isn’t going to be worth the hassle caused. You might as well throw three pounds down the drain and then kick your child up the backside every day for the next ten years. The resulting effect will be very much the same as buying the costume and then letting them wear it in the first place.

Has anyone ever met a child that wanted to be down-at-heel shepherd over a superhero anyway? Surely the only time a child should even be seen dressed as a shepherd is if they pull the short straw and end up as an extra in the school nativity play. Having said that though, I was ‘The Star of Bethlehem’ in my primary school nativity play and for some reason was made to dress as a fancy New York rent boy circa 1975, so in retrospect I think pulling the shepherd card may have been preferable.

Christmas Shopping

Christmas shopping is not something that tends to be at the forefront of a new parent’s mind. I have already managed to do a little over the past few weeks but not nearly enough to prevent wholesale disappointment from rearing its head on Christmas morning when the in-laws open their presents to discover that I’ve been forced to go rifling through their cutlery drawer during the night, selecting items to gift-wrap and give back to them.

It’s not only my own gift ideas that I need to come up with this year either. Despite not having a bank account of his own as yet or possessing any of the prerequisite skills in order to shop successfully, Ethan must also buy gifts for people with the current priority being to get something for his Grandparents to open on Christmas morning. After all he can’t even reach the cutlery drawer yet. I’m normally pretty disorganised when it comes to Christmas shopping anyway and struggle enough as it is to come up with suitable gift ideas but the prospect of having to do it on behalf of someone else in addition to myself now fills me with dread.

Vouchers and aftershave are always a reliable choice but then there is the issue of what aftershave to buy. Thirty years ago, ‘Old Spice’ was pretty much a guaranteed winner when it came to buying a gift for anyone over the age of sixty-five. If they didn’t like the smell then they could always just get drunk on it. These days there are about five million different varieties of aftershave to choose from, many of which are little more than bottles of noxious, flowery piss, endorsed by second rate celebrities out for a quick buck. There is even a guy from a reality TV show who has released one (‘Dimwit for Men: For the Discerning Imbecile’, presumably) and he’s roughly at the same level of celebrity as the Churchill Insurance dog. As such I’m guessing that it’s only a matter of time before ‘Wogan’ by Wogan hits the shelves.

A good tip would be to buy little things throughout the year and then give them as gifts from your baby for birthdays and Christmas. Sadly my inherent lack of planning and foresight stops me from achieving this but thankfully, some relatives are reliably easier to buy for than others. One for example, has asked for a book of Horoscopes for the following year which she requests each year, despite the whole thing comprising of exactly the same hazy predictions as every previous year albeit in a slightly different order. You know the sort, with predictions like, ‘The alignment of Mercury and Venus may cause a loss of focus and a possible downturn in fortune over the next month. Now might be the time to look for new opportunities’. Insightful stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree. However, if it was less vague and instead read, ‘A moment of carelessly driving your car one morning will result in a huge dent in the bonnet and the local primary school having to advertise for a new lollipop lady’, it would then at least be useful. So as of this moment, Ethan has taken on responsibilities for all future astrology procurement.

Hopefully inspiration will kick in on the day although if the weather stays like this then even getting to the shops is going to be something of a struggle anyway and the grandparents may well just have to settle for a box of After-Eight and twenty Bensons from the twenty-four hour garage down the road. Even more of a bum deal when you consider that neither of them actually smoke.

When a small baby in part of the equation, any shopping trip requires rigorous planning and execution so now imagine hampering operations with a much-denser-than-usual herd of Christmas shoppers with which to contend. For some reason, most shopping centres seems to excel at clogging their aisles with thousands of ‘extras’ at Christmas, most of whom seem to be the equivalent of gormless human cows, trudging from shop to shop, chewing the cud (McDonalds) and generally getting in their own and everyone else’s way, which makes rapidly manoeuvring a buggy around them with any sort of success a virtual impossibility. I suppose I should be just be thankful that they stop short of taking the metaphor to its logical conclusion by mooing and crapping all over the floor of the shopping centre.

Like most shopping centres at this time of year, the one we end up at to do our Christmas shopping is shamelessly cashing in on the Christmas theme and has gone all out and built itself a luxurious grotto in which it has installed a fat man in a red suit, complete with strap-on beard. Judging by his ruddy complexion and boozy hum, he spends much of the time getting blasted on sherry and shovelling mince pies into his trap whilst his mercenary elves charge parents twenty quid to let their offspring sit on his knee and beg him for Christmas presents that they’re most likely not going to get before he sends them away with a present so poor that it makes anything from the pound shop seem extravagant by comparison. It can, at least be said however, that the management have insisted on a Santa in the right proportions for the task unlike Dunstable town council, who by all accounts, have opted to employ a chain-smoking anorexic for Santa duties. Besides being totally unsuitable for the job, this Santa comes with the added risk that his femurs may snap in spectacularly gruesome fashion in the event of an overweight child jumping into his lap, a sight which no one should ever have to witness.

Luckily Ethan is way too young to have any concept of Santa Claus at present and is more than a few years away from wondering how on Earth he would ever get his fat ass down our chimney without becoming trapped and suffocating.

Despite being operationally troublesome however, the trip is a huge success and all required presents are purchased although throughout the course of the day, I see something that makes me think that maybe it’s not always the thoughts that counts when buying a present and that some gifts come with potential repercussions and possible emotional scarring.