Thursday, 23 December 2010

17. Pesto & Pain Killers

Answers on a postcard please: What's the connection between a pet passport, a pot of pesto, playing cards and a packet of Cuprofen plus?  And isn't it Christmas?  

If the girls could have at least organised the cards into a royal flush, I would have been impressed

The only drug that works with a toddler-inflamed brain

I have been very remiss this month.  This is my first post of December.  And it isn't even a festive one.  Terrible.  Amazing what happens when you focus on earning money and little else.  Well that has been one of those months.  And my brainpowers being supposedly directed elsewhere, I've had little 'head time' for blogging.  It feels like I've been standing up a good friend.

I am dipping my toe back into the waters of feature film development, working freelance as a script reader and editor.  It's nice to be using the brain again (what's left of it), despite being paid a fraction of what I actually need to earn.   I will give myself two years of being in the chilly freelance backwaters before I get  a proper job.  Hmm.  But what if the figures don't add up?  Not forgetting The Childcare Dilemma and all that.  Anyway, I've always preferred being freelance.  That's probably why we are in a home that's too small, and consequently why we have the problem that I am about to describe.

Big Daddy and I have a way of describing things to our children as either 'legal' or 'illegal.'  Of course, this has nothing to do with the obvious things like drinking alcohol (legal over a certain age) or smoking crack (illegal at any age).  It has to do with things that we class as legal or illegal in relation to our children touching them / playing with them / eating them / drinking them etc.

The problem with the legality or illegality of objects, is that as our girls get taller, many illegal things suddenly come into close reach and are thus deemed legal by little people even though they are entirely illegal.

Illegal items that our children have destroyed / played with / eaten / or made a god-awful mess with:
  • A pot of pesto was somehow taken out of the fridge or off the sideboard - exact location of pesto pot unknown.  (Said pot was spread liberally over floor by girls while their grandmother was doing I know not what).
  •  A pack of playing cards was taken on tiptoe from a kitchen shelf and shuffled with pesto fingers on the floor
  • A fondue toasting-fork was taken from the back (yes the back) of a kitchen cupboard and brandished dangerously
  • A packet of Cuprofen Plus was secreted from a bedroom draw formerly too hard to open (but swiped away just in time)
  • Pet passports, worming tablets and a barely-used 'golden egg' sex-aid were taken from a drawer formerly too high to reach, and were brought to me after breakfast (at least the tablets reminded me to worm the dogs). 
  •  A sewing kit was reached by climbing on a chair and grabbing the potentially offensive weapon from a sitting room sideboard
  • A telephone answer machine was pulled down off a table and de-programmed at Ga's house (Ga is Grandmother).

In fact, the list of of devilish deeds is endless.  I'm guessing we need better storage of our belongings.  Our sitting room / dining room is also the girl's playroom which makes that slightly tricky.

I feel a Zen de-cluttering (and disposal of the golden-egg sex aid) is about to take place.

I'll keep you posted.

Wednesday, 1 December 2010

16. Slummy not Yummy

The Tank (centre) entertains her mini-hosts
Good, bad or ugly.  A playdate can be any of these.  I went to one this week that really worked, despite an inauspicious beginning when

1.  It was pouring with rain

2.  Magpie was screaming her head off (I thought she was cold, but later discovered she hates the top button of her coat being done up)

2.  I couldn't remember my host's house number

3.  My host wasn't answering her mobile

4.  I didn't have her landline number

So a miracle, really.  Oh and both the host and I have twins.  I have come to the conclusion that there is a recipe for a stress-free playdate, which has nothing to do with the quantity of toddlers present.

You and your host share the same attitude towards order (or lack thereof)

You and your host share the same standards of hygeine (or lack thereof)

You and your host share the same attidude towards water beaker/spoon-sharing (see above) 

You and your host share the same sense of humour when your child bashes one of hers, or vice versa

Let me explain. 

When you have a puppy, for those of you who haven't brought up both man and beast, you give them a rubber Kong (like a rugby ball with a small hole at either end), stuff an unretrievable treat inside and get hours of peace while they lick the thing to death.

At the playdate, My host and I worked out the toddler equivalent (see fig 1. below).  And it's important that I say 'we' worked it out.  As sometimes a host and guest might not be in sync on the game itself or the manner in which it's played (by that I mean the social acceptability of a game which involves scattering snacks on the kitchen floor).  The game is very simple.  All you need is:

A railed room divider (ideal) or a stairgate will do.

High-saliency snacks - saliency is used in dog training, in simple terms it means a delicious treat for which the subject salivates and thereby works hard to retrieve.

Toddlers.  The more, the merrier, creating a competitive edge.

Fig 1.Hours (ok, minutes) of toddler fun.  Magpie and The Tank are bookended by their little hosts; the snacks are just discernable, looking like faded yellow maggots

And that's it.  Now the rules of the game are simply put toddlers on one side of the room divider, and put the snacks on the other side, scattered liberally, but just out of reach.

Fig 2. the snacks are slighter more discernable at the bottom of the photo
Haven't finished preparing lunch?  Now you've bought yourself another ten minutes before feeding time at the zoo really begins.  See what I mean about host and guest having to be in sync, hygeine-wise?  No Howard Hughes types allowed!

Having bonded over the snack retreival game, the two sets of twins behaved impeccably (except for the Tank bashing one of her mini-hosts with a vintage handbag) and the rest of the playdate was a breeze.  Even lunch itself around the table was civilised, when the most adventurous thing the children did was to check out how water tasted in somebody else's beaker......

Monday, 15 November 2010

15. Love and the Lexicon of Little People

Magpie calls Big Daddy 'Andu,' possibly because I'm such a nag it's the most easily imitable word she knows.  (Ok, I might be giving his Christian name away).  The Tank calls me 'Ma!!!' and the punctuation I have just used is entirely appropriate.  If she gets a toy stuck, drops some food while strapped in her buggy or is being annoyed by her sister, I am supposed to be there within milliseconds, sorting out the problem.

Rearing children can be tiring, it can be hard, but it can also be intoxicating.  I learnt this on two occasions, all in one week. 

First, witnessing the Tank's face crumpling when Big Daddy tickled me.  Tickling reduces me to a squirming victim, and on seeing her 'Ma' as a helpless girl must have ellicted filial devotion.  The Tank wanted - or so her expression said -  to defend me from my 'aggressor.'  Klefti, our dear departed Greek dog (for those who have been following my blog for a while), would have done the same.  Children and dogs are very loyal creatures.

The second occasion of parental intoxication was when the Tank said 'Mummy' for the first time.  Not 'Ma!' her appellation since the end of August, but Mummy.  The proper word.  The word that one day may be preceded by 'I love you,' Mummy.  It hit me right in the gut.  Yes, I am a Mummy.  The Tank's Mummy.  It is only when one's children confirm the fact, I realise, that it feels really, truly real.  Of course I am also Magpie's Mummy, but she is yet to say it and thus confirm this fact in all its metaphysical glory.

On the birth of my girls, when a childless friend asked me over dinner with slight disdain 'so have you fallen in love, then?'  I answered the question with awkward dismay.  'No, it's love, but it's a different love.  It's not being 'in' love. 

Everyone hears the myth that this is what happens as soon as you give birth but of course it's not comparable.  It's a huge, irrepressible love that makes you want to be a knight in shining armour for your children, always there to save and protect them.   For many, myself included, it gives your life meaning you never thought possible. 


I didn't get butterflies and lose my appetite (quite the reverse)

I didn't suddenly feel horny all the time  (quite the reverse)

I didn't dash out to buy underwear and take a fresh interest in my appearance (quite the reverse)

The same childless friend who asked me about being 'in' love also asked me if I pined for my babies whenever I left the house, and was it all I could think about.  No, no, no, I didn't and it wasn't!  I wanted to think and talk grown-up stuff with grown-ups.  Playdates with 'mummy friends' are for talking breast v bottle and swaddling v sleeping bags, not evenings out with old schoolfriends, for God's sake.

I love the hell out of my children, but I also love, nay, relish a bit of grown-up time now and then.  I'm sure there must be some poetry out there that encapsulates the true sentiment of parental love, but it isn't like a spell that is cast on you and that lifts you onto a magic carpet.  Yes, of course there is magic involved in watching your babies turn into toddlers, toddlers into children and children....into....teenagers (ok scrap the last bit).  But ultimately it's an often tough, occasionally exasperating but mostly rewarding reality. 

Sunday, 31 October 2010

14. Halloween: One Toddler's Heaven is another's Hell

Magpie is cheered up by a hot dog bun at her first Halloween party

.....and she takes in the finer details of her Halloween monster plate
...while The Tank holds on to her plate like an avant-garde clutch bag
Halloween.  Hmm.  Never really been my thing.  And my father died on Halloween.  Four years ago today.  Four years?  Hard to believe he never met the divine (but often devilish) creatures that are his grandchildren.

I took the girls to their first Halloween party this week.

My friend and host has 3 year-old twins (a girl and a boy) and a 20 month-old toddler who has more hair than Cindy Crawford.  My friend is the most chilled mother on earth; she just does her own thing.  She doesn't do rice cakes (how does a mother survive without the Organix snack, whether plain, apple or bluberry-favoured?) but instead makes her own dried snacks.  Her 20 month-old still drinks milk out of a teat and bottle.

I was so worried about my girls looking liked big babies, I whisked their milk bottles away from them around their first birthday (but don't have the heart to ban them sleeping with dummies, as nobody sees that).  Perhaps that's the difference between me and my friend - I care what people think (because I don't really know what I'm doing) and mothering to her is just instinctive, and that's probably why she's trying for numero quattro and quite relaxed about the prospect of Four Under Four.  And yes, so far, she's done it all by herself (unless you count a smelly German au pair who lasted a couple of weeks, then forgot to hold my hostess's children's hands near the edge of a cliff). 

But I digress.

The Halloween Party.   The Tank shook off her coat, grabbed her witch's hat, nicked somebody else's toy broom and settled in the middle of the toddler throng as if she was hooking up with old friends.  Meanwhile, Magpie hung onto me like a baby chimp.  If I so much as moved her face crumpled.  It was like playing that game Grandmother's footsteps, with me trying to creep away, but of course Magpie's eyes weren't shut!

The Tank holds court whille looking thoughtful.  My host's divine daughter with an insane amount of dark hair is at the back, with pink sleeves held up to her face
 When food arrived (hot dogs, egg sandwiches, smoothies), The Tank grabbed everything in sight while Magpie remained firmly on my lap (I'd given up trying to escape).  Fortunately, a hot dog soon provided Magpie with enough comfort to give up on me, at least for a bit.  A toddler who had moved around too much and eaten too much was violently sick.  Another toddler pressed a few buttons on a stereo and hey presto the host's guilty secret: Abba. Magpie knows Abba.  I used to play it.  She started dancing in her satsuma-coloured witch's dress (her dance involves turning clockwise endlessly, until she falls over).  You'd think puking would be a great way of clearing a toddler dance floor.  But Magpie kept turning in circles.  Until I scooped her up and away from the puke bomb lying on the floor like a curdled eggy-bread mess.

'Who wants to go Trick or Treating?' said our hostess with complete calm, amidst the kiddie chaos and fumes of puke-banishing Dettol.

'Not me!' I groaned (to myself).

Now going Trick or Treating with two seventeen-month-olds is an interesting, nay, amibtious experience.

The Tank, blonde but in navy, is on the left in my host's arms; Magpie is on my lap in red (far right)
I gave The Tank to my hostess to drag along the road, while I carried Magpie.  Catering to the girls' different emotional needs (The Tank - independence, Magpie - safety) worked well.

The Tank joined our trick or treating gang at several shiny front doors (but inappropriately wearing a smart navy coat that disguised her lilac witch costume) and was clever enough to choose an Oreo over a Milky Way (the Oreo doesn't have a wrapper, so she could take a bite before I cruelly confiscated it).

The Tank (front right), loses ground climbing the step with less speed than the 2-3 year olds
When I put Magpie down, instead of walking up front gardens, she moaned and went on all fours (no, she wasn't immitating a werewolf).  Admitting defeat (it was past her bedtime), I strapped her in the car and continued to shadow The Tank, saving her from the sugary spell of another Oreo or three (there were lots of Americans on this street).

The Tank (front left) clutches her second-choice booty close to her mouth (the Oreo had already been confiscated)
If you have read my previous post Magpie, Bugs and the Basement of Doom, you will know that Magpie is not, I repeat not, short of bravery.  She will handle a big hairy spider with one hand but clearly is not so keen on the fakery and crazy commercialisation of Halloween.

Monday, 25 October 2010

13. Magpie, Bugs and the Basement of Doom

Woodlice, the unwanted companions of all basement flat-dwellers
Last Sunday I was cooking breakfast (one of the few meals I can actually cook), when Big Daddy turned to Magpie, who - as far as I could see without my glasses on - had a look on her face that was both sheepish and triumphant.

This is how the next (horrifc) few seconds unfolded:

Big Daddy:  'Magpie, darling, what have you got in your hand?  Oh my God!  Drop! Drop it now!  (giving our daughter the same instruction as he would our labrador chewing another dog's tennis ball)

Me:  ' Christ, what is it, what has she got? What HAS she got?!'

Big Daddy:  A HUGE spider!  It's ginormous!  She was just holding it, legs dangling out of the side of her hand, and now it's done a complete runner!  It was THE, yes THE biggest spider I have EVER seen in London!'

He should know.  He grew up in Africa.  Big Daddy has seen some of the biggest spiders EVER!  Just talking about spiders reduces my lexicon to the capital letters, exclamation marks and general panic of an arachnophobic childhood (or a tabloid journalist).

Big Daddy caught the spider, saving possibly my day, but not Magpie's - she looked a little confused by the kerfuffle.  'Dere!' she said, (meaning 'There') pointing to the front door.  She already missed the spider, whereas I'd rather kill myself than set eyes on the thing.

Oh the joys of living in a basement.  We seem to live with more bugs than a target of MI5.

Unlike the tomboy Tank, who might be expected to dabble in a love of creepy crawlies, Magpie is a mistress of contradiction.  Her first love is of all things shiny.  I've never looked at a spider closely enough to notice if I can see my reflection in its body (urgh the very thought) but Magpie's bug-love appears to be growing, and overtaking her love of bright beads, jewells and earrings.

A few months ago she mistook a woodlouse (or pillball, if you are American) for a blueberry: when curled up, the bugs are disturbingly similar.

A frightened woodlouse curls up in scary situations (e.g. at the approach of an exhuberant toddler)
I have also caught her trying to eat a vacated snail shell and an earth worm which she was waving from her thumb and forefinger like a dangly earring.

 I could cope with the bugs...just not the SPIDERS.

What if Magpie is showing burgeoning interest in becoming an entomologist, and I manage to give her my phobia so she will choose to work with jewellery instead?  Not that there's anything wrong with working with jewellery ***SNOBBISHNESS SPOILER ALERT*** unless she ends up being one of those perm-haired, gum-chewing dimwits in H.M. Samuel who wears rings on every finger, including a soverign ring on her thumb.

The idea of me, the World's Greatest Arachnaphobe, nurting a daughter's interest in insects and arachnids would carry extraordinary irony.  Would I become the greatest sacrifical parent ever?  Letting go of my greatest fear for my child's greater good?

Does anyone know a short-cut to becoming an arachnophile?  Or has anyone had hypnotherapy / phobia treatment that is short, sweet and tremendously effective?

PS You may have noticed I have the acute sensitivity of a real arachnaphobe: I have not uploaded a scary image.

Thursday, 7 October 2010

12. Harvest Hell

Magpie dancing in the rain outside Church, looking suspiciously ginger (she's not)

The Tank enjoys slipping on damp tiles
Outcasts: The Tank and the Border Terrier puppy

The Harvest Festival display (spot the bite mark)

We decided to brave Church on Sunday.  BIG mistake.  I'm not sure if I am a good Christian, or if I just want to get the girls into the local church school, but when several weeks pass and I realise we haven't put in an appearance, guilt sets in.  In hindsight, I've no idea why.

It was Harvest Festival, and apparently children were to be on best behaviour.  Usually it's a bit of a free-for-all, with over-fives careering down isles with toy cars, toddlers crumbling and babies puking.  Anyway, the girls weren't in the mood for best behaviour, and still have no sense of occasion.  It seems a long time ago that the girls were babes in arms,and beautifully behaved ones at that, milk guzzling with cherubic hands waving.

I now realise that toddlers sitting still is really an oxymoron.  Especially in Church.  I had dressed the girls in their Sunday best, The Tank looking Grace Kelly-esque with uber blonde hair and cream cowl-necked dress and Magpie looking sugar-pie sweet with a cowlick fringe, beige and white spotty cord dress with co-ordinated pink tights and cardi.  My children's elegance was sartorial, but most definitely not behavioural.

During the first hymn, The Tank decided to bite the service sheet, moan, and raise her arms and squirm out of my embrace in split-second speed.  Food was offered, but bribary was deemed out of the question.  I tried to entertain her at the back of the church, but there's only so many marble urns a toddler can slap and only so many benches they can climb before boredness sets in.

Big Daddy (always smug when holding the better-behaved Magpie) soon joined me.  I grinned.  But I was the idiot who suggested we go to Church in the first place.  I  took my eye off the blonde ball for a moment and the Tank tried to do a sprint down the main aisle during prayers.  Meanwhile Big Daddy scooped up a fractious Magpie and took her outside....and scurried over to a tree to shelter from the rain.

Self-exiled but loathe to give up completely, we hung out in the hallway/entrance with only a wimpering boarder terrier for company.  The puppy offered the girls timely distraction.  Then The Tank reached up to a Harvest Festival display and took a bite out of an apple.  Big Daddy tip-toed back in to retrive the buggy and that was the end of our church service.

I daresay putting in an appearance in church with terrorising toddlers in tow isn't as important as getting involved in the parish.  That's (harvest festival) food for thought.

Monday, 27 September 2010

11. Conception or Contraception?

I went to the chemist today to buy toothpaste and tights.  I nearly came out with a conception predictor kit.  I've no idea why.  No, we are not trying for number three. I think Big Daddy would like another critter.  But I've been saying that two is enough and that we should count our blessings, etc, etc.  I've also reminded him that I'm forty, growing a moustache and that anyway, we can't afford it.

Meanwhile, I have been looking at dog rescue websites and getting exactly the same reaction.  No, I am not one of those women who has her hair in a wispy bun, wears dangly earrings, long skirts and sandals.  I just feel our household is somewhat depleted.  I know Klefti cannot be replaced, but a pair if dogs is not a pack. Purdey and Tatty don't let me know when the postman arrives, or more importantly, they don't announce the arrival of my mother (she has a key). 

In any case, another dog would definitely be less work than another baby. 

Pros of getting another dog (aka 'cons' of having another baby)

Cheaper than an Banham alarm
It wouldn't disturb my sleep
It wouldn't need me to personally feed it
It won't need me to change its nappy
It wouldn't need me to wind it
It wouldn't need me to bath it
It wouldn't need me to dress it
It wouldn't need a sterliser
It wouldn't need a baby bouncer
It wouldn't need 250 muslins
It wouldn't need 125 baby grows
It wouldn't need dummies
It wouldn't need school uniform

You get the idea.

There's only three things a dog really needs:


Pros of having another baby

The girls would have a younger sibling
The younger sibling would have older sisters
I would have one more child than most of my friends (ok not a real reason)

The cons of both another dog and a baby are too many to list, although I passed off the pros of having another dog as the cons of having another baby, which was cheeky.

But haven't I got my hands full enough? You may ask. Yes, I have.  So if I'm idly thinking about getting another dog, what was I doing in the chemist hovering our the pregnancy and coneption testing kits?  Was it primal instinct that led me there?  Who knows.  All I know is that the ability to procreate is a wonderful thing, and I have yet to prove I can do it naturally and that niggles me, a little.

But right now, we won't get another dog, and we won't have another baby.  If anything changes, you will of course be the first to know.

Friday, 17 September 2010

10. A Playground Picnic

The Tank and Magpie are looking after Purdey.  They're watching out for him.  Making sure he's all right.  It's really sweet.  It's as if they know he is missing his 'brother'.  They stroke him, and are learning not to yank his tail or pull his ears.

They don't, however, look after Tatty, our ancient Westie.  They stalk her, poor girl.  Luckily, her self-esteem is high enough for her to shrug her shoulders and disappear.  Pronto.

The girls feed Purdey at any opportunity.  Magpie will look at a runner bean and think:

'Hmm, when Mummy's not looking I'll give the doggy a bit of a snack.' 

With her big navy eyes narrowing, she likes to feed Purdey furtively, but when he licks his chops, it gives the game away.

Or The Tank, who has taken an unusual dislike to breadcrumbs, might wonder if a well-excercised dog needs a fish finger or two.  She throws food at Purdey as if laying down a gauntlet, but imagine a Labrador going:

'I'm rather full, actually, but thanks anyway!'

This week I decided to do what mothers with one toddler and one dog do - take them out together to the playground.  Perfectly civilised.  In theory.  With a civilised dog.

While I have often walked Purdey and Klefti and the girls together - one big dog walking either side of my tandem buggy (I only wish I had a photo to share with you), until this week I have never taken the girls to a playground with a canine companion.

Taking the girls and the dogs to the park, where the former are strapped in to their buggy and the latter are taken off lead and are expected to bark and get excited, is one thing.

But letting the children loose, and tying up the dogs - or at least tying up Klefti - would have been another thing all together.

God bless his Greek white socks.  Had I tethered him up outside a playground, there would have been an immediate bark of indignation, causing all mothers and toddlers heads to turn towards the cachophony.

A post-mortal Klefti, looking down on this situation, might have said something like this:

'What?  You are leaving ME out here?  You must be kidding.  I'm not having this. 
 I'm absolutely NOT having this. 
 You can't adopt a beach dog, fly him 3,000 odd miles, give him the Life of Riley (whoever Riley was), and then take it away from him!'  Even for FIVE minutes!  It would be like asking your maid to come upstairs and sit by the fire, having a stiff scotch and a foot massage!  It just doesn't happen!'

Of course, in my anthropomorphic world, this thought amuses me, although Klefti wasn't a snob.

He didn't care how down on your luck you were, how posh or how common, as long as you received a hug with the same affection with which it was given.

Dogs are not prejudiced.  It's one of their greatest character traits.

In the post-Klefti era, being able to walk to a playground with Purdey, tie him up, and play with the children while he looks on dotingly (if a little nervously - 'are you abandoning me?') is a new experience all together.  Purdey can do submissive.  Klefti couldn't.  If you are wondering what I do with Tatty, our ancient but intermittently energetic Westie, she stays at home (a small dog getting tangled in the wheels of a buggy is not a relaxing thought).

We brought a picnic to the playground.  Toddlers are great multi-skillers.  The girls walked around with their fodder, playing on the roundabout and somehow never wanting to sit down, nor getting indigestion.

The Tank climbed unsuitable piece of apparatus after unsuitable piece of apparatus (there should have been a sign saying 'play equipment unsuitable for under threes, even with fierce supervision'), while Magpie collected autumn leaves of every shape, size and texture.  She passed a curled and veiny specimen through the railings to Purdey, who was rather hoping for a bit of sandwhich.

He had to wait for The Tank to do that, who forced it through as if the four-pawed recipient hadn't seen food for days.

So have I finally mastered the art of multi-skilling with a multi-species family which has been sadly diminished?

Probably not.  But it's a good start.

Friday, 3 September 2010

9. Barking with Angels

Klefti left us this week. 

On the last day he couldn't eat.  His bark sounded gargled, his breathing heavy.

People said I'd just know.  When it was time.  They were right.

What is hard, is the speed of the decline - only a month - and now, the silence.  Klefti was a noisy dog and a huge presence.  He could never be ignored.  Now I walk Purdey and Tatty, and expect to hear our Greek stray barking as he plays with a new friend; I hope to see his nose snuffling and his plumy tail wagging. Instead, he is invisible, alive only in my mind.

His ghost is everywhere.  They say that time is the Great Healer, and that ghosts will turn into memories.

Meanwhile I feel hollow, and sad, sad, sad.  I cannot forget that the moment he left us, his large, amber eyes darkened.  So it is true that in death a light is extinguished.

Tuesday, 31 August 2010

8. Two Toddlers and a Wedding

We have just got back from a wedding in Dorset.  We were encouraged to bring the girls with us as the Montessori-trained bride had provided mothers (somewhat unusually) with an on-site crèche.

The only problem was that the people who had set up the room with tables and toys were not the same people who were looking after the children.  So toys for every age group were on display, and The Tank went straight over to taste the Play-Doh (first choice was the green colour), whilst Magpie thought she might swallow some little coloured plastic balls.  When both were confiscated, The Tank went to climb up the unmanned steps to the Portaloo and Magpie thought she would taste a rivet taken from a marquee fastening.  This stage of the proceedings (post child-free church service and pre-sit down dinner) was not exactly relaxing.

But I'm not here to tell you about the wedding (eventually we put the girls to sleep in the car, by which point they were beyond exhausted).  I want to share with you my watery epiphany the next morning.  We were staying in a fancy gastro pub with rooms that were beautifully decorated with colonial-style mahongany furniture.  The bathroom (complete with picture-perfect rural views) sported a rectangular, free-standing bath which was perfect for the girls to cruise around standing up.

I let each of the girls have a bath with Big Daddy.

First  it was Magpie's turn.  Now Magpie is a delicate soul with an acute eye for detail (she chases her hands over beaded necklaces and points at light aircraft in the sky), but in the bath she is a splashing banshee, full of the self-confidence that is usually The Tank's trademark.

In contrast, The Tank, so-named for obvious reasons, goes all 'Zen' in water.  She loses her frontline battle carapace and turns into Tai Qi girl, gently making patterns in the air with wet hands, then submerging herself up to her neck and smiling sweetly.

If only water had the ability to change adults' personalities too.  Although  I doubt it would have made Saddam Hussein less of a tyrant, or Madonna more of a Beta female if decisions had been made under the influence of H20 submersion.

But oh, to notice one's toddlers having a complete personality swap (just add warm water) is incredible.  Perhaps another Montessori-trained bride would think of installing a child-friendly Jacuzzi on her Special Day?

7. Twins and a Glass Half Full

Just before the bank holiday, I went to a playgroup in my local park.

It was a warm day and The Tank and Magpie were in good if over-energetic form.  Phoebe was with me, my ad hoc extra pair of hands who I am soon to lose - at least in term-time - as she is going to university.  She appears to be something of a baby whisperer.  My girls, and the other babies she looks after (some twins, some singletons) all adore her.  She never panics, and always has fun in her voice.

There is an outside play area and an indoor pavillion (well, that sounds a bit posher than it is) with two exits, so two pairs of eyes are pretty useful for keeping tag on the girls, as there is an element of a Vaudeville farce involved (one toddler in one door and the other out the other).

Despite having Phoebe's company, I was in a low mood.  Earlier that morning I'd taken Klefti for a check-up at the vet's.  Apparently there was stalemate between the cancer and the steroids.  We popped him on the scales and he was still putting on weight (hurrah, so the fatty food was working), but the tumours had stopped shrinking (so boo! to the steroids).

I imagined that having children would put pet ownership into perspective (oh come on, it's only a dog), but not a bit of it.  I just can't visualise a life without Klefti (nicknames include Roons, a diminuitive of Klefterooney, from our Irish phase, later morphing into Wooney).  For those non-dog owners amongst you, dogs are given very silly nicknames.

In fact, dogs are like children.  If you don't have children, they are your children (look at any pet-owning gay couple for proof).  They certainly were ours until the girls took precedence.  But does having children make losing a dog any easier?  No, it doesn't.  In a way, Klefti was our firstborn, taken in as a stray pup and given a home that he was lucky to find.  Normally, poison is put down in Greek resorts at the end of the holiday season.  So Klefti has already had over eight times the life he would have had in Agios Iannis.  That helps to put things into perspective.  But not just that.

At the playgroup, it was now 'singing time' when toys are put away and a sense of order is restored. We all gathered in a group to sit on small child-friendly chairs.  The Tank got up on her chair backwards,  à la Christine Keeler.  Magpie tried to give a three year-old boy her dropped and half-eaten sandwich.  I noticed that the boy's mother was sitting with her younger son, who was older than my girls.  Or was he?  He was much taller, but had less hair and was uneasy on his feet.  There was something wrong with him.  I've no idea what.

I have a sick dog, but I have healthy children, children I never thought I'd have.  We almost always outlive our dogs, however long we have them.  But to have a damaged child who cannot be mended?  That takes a strength I hope I never need.

Thursday, 19 August 2010

6. A Dog in Toddler's Clothing?

We were late for the Christening, but thank God, nobody minded.  Trying to hold squirming toddlers who are eating the service sheet is not my idea of fun, so we let the girls have a crack around.  But it was like letting wolf cubs loose at a picnic.  The girls released bibles from the safety of shelves; threw sandwiches on the floor, and The Tank ran down the aisle in the hope of pulling the alter cloth down, candles and all. 

The Aftermath was held in our friends' lovely walled garden.  But a peaceful Sunday it was not.  The Tank plunged her hands into soil, causing Big Daddy - who was trying to save his friend's shrub - to rip his trousers on the corner of a metal planter.  Magpie tried to eat gravel (the whole garden was gravel) so I gave her a dummy in the name of safety (being plugged-in is better than choking).

If this wasn't stressful enough, my little 'darlings' emptied two packets of Organix baby snacks - not our own - onto a pristine (Cath Kidson?) picnic rug, and sat on some cheese extracted from a sandwhich just for good measure.

Do I have a point, beyound sharing my children's misbehaviour?  Yes, I do.  I'll get to it in a minute.

Klefti, our eight year-old Greek stray, has returned to being Top Dog in the household.  You know he has lumps.  We hoped it might be a rogue infection.  Benign growths?  No.  He has lymphoma. 

We are a bit choked.  Hard to understand unless you have grown up with dogs and know that a canine personality can be greater than a human's.  I'm no misanthrope, but some people can be very dull.

But not Klefti.  He illuminates a room (or a park) with his big chimp eyes, wide grin, plumy tail and huge humour (like people, some dogs have a sense of humour, and some do not).  But he hasn't been known for his sense of propriety.  I remember when my father was dying, Klefti would put his huge paws on the side of the bed.  Dad would manage a smile, reaching out  to stroke him, the only thing that would cheer him up.

We are keeping Klefti going witth the same steroids that gave Dad a few years.  The drugs shrink the tumours, and special food fattens him up.  So we have him for a bit longer.  But that's not my point.

My point is, the more I get to know the Tank, the more she reminds me of Klefti.  I know I've touched on this before.

Towards the end of the Christening party, I sat down with a glass of Prosecco.  Magpie was having a sensible nap in the buggy.  The Tank was sitting on the picnic rug eating the Organix snack that she'd scattered across it.  Then she got up, and as if she could smell something on the wind, she scurried down the side return with her blonde elfin hair and new pink shoes, wearing a vest but minus a muddy dress, only to forage in a black plastic bag like a creature of dusk; like an adolescent Klefti.

Hands freshly washed, the Tank looked for trouble at the garden table and found it.  She stood on tiptoe and sank her hands - as if making an impression on Hollywood's Walk of Fame - into a homebacked Victoria sponge, delighting in sweet, sticky fingers.  Klefti was once barred from my aunt's house at Christmas for licking the ham and stealing a mince pie. 

That Sunday the Tank, never afraid of anything,  found her nemesis: a Robot vacumm cleaner.  When she pressed the 'on' switch on our  host's gizmo, it 'chased' her and she was dust. 

This reminds me of lighting a smoky fire on a wet, dark night in Ireland.  Whilst Purdey, our Lab, sat at the hearth like the gundog he thinks he is, suddenly Klefti was nowhere.  If Kryptonite is Superman's weakness, smoke is Klefti's.  It's the only thing he is scared of.

Our friends call The Tank 'spirited,' 'tomboyish' and 'brave.'  My mother says her granddaughter's face is electric and that she will grow up to be an athlete.  Who knows?

I only wish, like the mad Zookeeper that I am, that The Tank could grow up with Klefti.  They would make a formidable pair.

Friday, 6 August 2010

5. Twins and the Art of being an Older Mum

I regularly take the girls to a playgroup in a church hall run by the South West London Twin Club.

It's tremendous fun with the mothers I know well, but tedious with newcomers who are either shy, reticent or plain stand-offish. Of course, the fact that I go into conversation like a dog at a butcher's shop doesn't help. Teachers at school told me to 'think before I speak' but will I ever learn?  Let me give you an example.

I might ask a new attendee if she has help with her little duo, and when she slaps me down with yes, three nannies, two chefs, a housekeeper, a gardener and a full-time masseuse now **** off I really should do just that. 

Just sharing the unique challenge and joy of being a twin mum isn’t enough for a life-long friendship if your economic position isn’t in some way comparable. Sad, but true. Of course this is very different if you meet on a desert island with other fish to fry (literally). But not in the smart suburbs of South West London where I grew up and where it definitely doesn’t sound cool to live in a two-bed basement flat with one man, two babies and three dogs (ok and a big garden).  But still, it sounds like penury. Or madness. Or both.

At a recent gathering I (nearly) embarrassed myself beyond redemption. I ambled over to Play Mat Corner where a New Mum was sitting with her prostrate baby boy/girl twins. Next to her was an older woman whom I presumed was her mother.

This is how it went:

ME: Hi, congratulations! I haven’t seen you here before.

NEW MUM: No, (smiling warmly), we haven’t made it here until now.

ME: (Like an old pro) Oh, it does get so much easier, blah, blah, blah.

NEW MUM: We also have a 22 month year old at home.

ME: (Feeling rather less of a pro). Wow! You got back in the saddle quickly!

Now I look more closely at the rather lined, late forty or fiftysomething American sitting next to her.

ME: And you must be...the Mum (of the New Mum).

AMERICAN: Yes, I’m the Mum.

ME: (To myself) She's the Mum!!!  Oh God oh God oh God, thank God.  The waspish woman I just mistook for Grandma is, I realise with the intelligence of an amoeba, the Real Mum. 

I glance over at the young woman who is obviously the nanny.  She is about 25 and needs IVF like George Clooney needs to pay for sex.

The Real Mum must have been rather streamlined with her IVF treatment.  Even my simple brain can work out that she has produced three or more viable embryos, had one implanted the first time (the 22 month year old), and two the second time (ergo this pair of twins).

Could I be more of an idiot? No.

Not knowing when to back off,  I ask the Real Mum if she had a maternity nurse and yes she did, for four months (that works out at about £16k) and has a second nanny who is with the toddler at home.  The tone of her voice suggests that talking to me is...not very interesting.

This woman is the pro.  She has the cool calm of an alpha mum (barrister? trader? biochemist?) who may not control the lines on her face, but she stage manages everything else to perfection, with her surplus frozen embryos, a house full of staff and three children under the age of two.   Good work, woman.

Many twin mums seem to be wealthier than the average London mums.  This is my theory:

Women undergo IVF and often have two embryos implanted – two for the price of one, and all that (a modern consumer obsession). But if you don’t fit the criteria for your healthcare trust, and get lucky courtesy of the NHS (as I did) you may pay for two, three or four rounds of fertility treatment. And if you spend £20k or so, the chances are you can afford to.

Also, chances are that you may be an older mum, for one of three reasons.

1. As so often expressed by the level-headed Daily Mail, you are a Career Woman who, tut-tut, put Work before Love.

2. You didn’t find The One before you were 35 (or, more commonly, The One that Will Do).

3. Childlessness may have plagued you due to the lack of hospitality offered by your womb. An embryo needs a hospitable environment in which to grow.  It does not mean that champagne and strawberries, as provided in a posh tent at Wimbledon, will help (although the fizz may put you in the mood for a shag, which may get you pregnant).  What it does mean is that holistic treatments such as accupuncture and reflexology could help your womb become more receptive to sperm arriving and pitching its manly tent.

In case you were wondering, my problem was a bit of no.2: Big Daddy was fine with the commitment of dog ownership, but less sure about child creation (until his sperm was tested and it came top in class), and a bit of no.3:  have endometriosis which blocks up one’s fallopian tubes, thereby messing up the Sperm Delivery System).

Whatever the reason for a woman seeking medical help, parts of South West London appear to have as many twin buggies as million pound houses. And it’s no coincidence.

Friday, 30 July 2010

4. For the Love of Dogs

My Goddaughter Minky stayed with us at my mother's this week.

Children seem to find their own amusement. The Tank played endlessly with two upturned flower pots she found on a white metal jardinière while Magpie sat on the lawn with Minky, fat and happy, eating daisies. How can she eat flowers but hate vegetables? I must check if daisies count towards a child's five-a-day.

I hosed off a snorkling mask, and other accoutrements of youth which I found in my mother's gazebo. The water from my cleaning efforts collected in a puddle next to a oval-shaped flowerbed, which Magpie decided was far more interesting than the mask.

She sat, wearing only her nappy and smart purple pants (knickers, as opposed to trousers), in the muddy puddle, patting the wet ground as if she had struck gold.

The Tank, never to be bettered,joined her.

My mother makes a move to rescue the mud-bound girls, and I'm not sure what Minky's mum thinks.

'Leave them,' I say. 'They're happy and they seem to like the mud.'

The fact that the mud gave me five minutes peace was an added bonus. It was far more savoury than eating snails, stones and cigarette butts.

I wonder if I have spent too much time bringing up dogs? Do I treat my babies too much like them? Is that why I do not panic at the sight of chubby toddler hands wrist-deep in good, honest soil? I am far more used to dogs than I am children.

'It's nearly bath time,' I add, as justification. 'Don't worry the girls will scrub up like new.'

I text a photo of a muddied Magpie to Big Daddy. He approves.

Our daughters appear to be unneurotic and happy. Maybe our life as dog owners has served us well?

It's been a strange week for canine and human comparison.

Klefti, our wonderful hairy, fat-pawed, naughty, willful dog, who looks like a bearded man in a dinner jacket with his black coat and and white chest, has a lump on his throat. Several lumps in fact. I don't know how we missed them.

It seems mad to write about him in this context, when as readers you don't even know him. He is a clown. He was a clown when we first met him in the car park at Ios Iannis in the Greek Pelion region, what, eight years ago? He was our holiday romance. We were waiting for a bus to take us somewhere and there he was. This silly puppy with huge white-tipped paws, a wise man's beard, a plumy tail and glistening chimp eyes, playing with a pack of fellow strays. He oozed charisma. We were transfixed. He tried to get on our bus. He stayed with us in our hotel annexe where we smuggled in bacon butties. On a beach he stole a woman's sandal, and ran off with a man's money belt. That's why we gave him his name, Klefti: the Thief.

He lived with us on the West coast of Ireland, when he was at his naughtiest, running at a sprint down to the gates to bark at passing cars, or chasing gulls on a wide, tideless beach. He has lived with us in Gloucestershire at a famous writer's gatehouse and in South West London, making himself comfortable wherever we let him, rearranging cushions with his teeth to suit his needs.

A world without Klefti would be a strange one. He has been family for nearly a decade. He is a loving animal, with a mischievous sense of humour. The Tank reminds me of him. She has the same sense of mischief. Is that why she loves him so, leaning on him as if he were a giant teddy bear, looking at us for approval?

Klefti is an excellent guard dog, but with sleeping babies his warnings are not always welcome. Today, having picked him up from the vets for more tests, I do welcome them. Tatty, our Westie, likes to join in the chorus, while Purdey the ever-hopeful lab has no ear for intruders, only a nose for food.

Long live Klefti. We love him.

Tuesday, 20 July 2010

3. Toddler Tasting Panel

How can I be so lucky/unlucky to have one toddler who will eat anything - blackberries, butternut squash, broad beans, you name it - and another who is suspicious of anything bright-coloured? The Tank appears to have her father's hearty appetite, whilst Magpie thinks new foods are part of some cruel maternal conspiracy.

She will eat most meat, fish and types of bread, and will happily munch her way through a medley of fruit as long as I taste each piece first (if the watermelon/pineapple/mango doesn't posion me, it won't poison her). This reminds me of having to taste my own breast milk at an airport (if I drink it, I can't be smuggling it onto a plane to blow people up). This was an awkward scenario. Especially as the security guard asked my hired help to drink it before I told him it was mine.

But I digress. So while Magpie is fine with fruit, vegetables are another matter. Occasionally she will eat a few peas laid out in front of her, but only if they are full-sized and not petit pois which would be my preference. If they are the diminutive version, Magpie will 'ping' them across the room like bogies stuck to fingers. Having one twin who will eat tenderstem broccoli in all its floral glory is pointless if the other one won't. I am not, I repeat, I am not, a short-order cook and will not serve different meals at two minutes’ notice.

If it's a 'cleaner day,' I will allow one of our dogs to come in and hoover up Magpie's vegetable rejects. This is because every time I offer her something suspiciously green, it usually ends up on the floor. I get tired of being on my hands and knees, and anyway the dogs can do the job standing. But while I remind myself that dogs are omnivores, I would rather that my daughter improve her five-a-day intake. The dogs get quite enough greens in the shape of Big Daddy’s ornamental grasses.

I have a finger food book that includes a recipe for lentil croquettes. I would rather pay somebody than make them myself and, shock horror, often do. This delegation of culinary responsibility is unaffordable (my lentil croquette creator, who does a few hours a week, is a brilliant ad hoc nanny who just happens to be a trained chef). Aren't I doing what's best for my girls? After all, the nanny/chef is creating something delicious that would otherwise be inedible.

Why oh why am I so lazy about cooking? My mother is the same.


1. She doesn't eat during the day.


2. She can afford to eat out every night.

We manage this about once a month.

I probably don’t cook because Big Daddy does, simple as that. And he likes it. Now he just needs to enjoy cooking for toddlers.

Any advice on Extreme Vegetable Aversion welcome.

Friday, 9 July 2010

2. Feeding Time at the Zoo

I had two playdates this week. Days can whizz by without any excitement in the ‘mother and daughters’ social calendar, then it all happens at once.

Playdate #1 was with an old school friend who met her husband online and who has been living in wrecks for ten years and has now reached the top of the property ladder. She has a boy the same age as my girls and another who is a rather tantrum-prone four year-old. She speaks to him as if he were a surly teenager:

‘Well, if you don’t want to play your game, just do something else!’

This is a refreshing change from some mothers who give their milk-moustached children more options than their developing brains can process. Once the four year-old had crashed on the sofa after his chocolate sundae sugar rush, it was a surprisingly relaxed and fun afternoon. My friend is too nice and has worked too hard for me to feel like a Lilliput in her ginormous kitchen which boasts the biggest marble island I have ever seen.

Playdate #2 was a rather different affair. Gemima, an old work colleague who was always punctual, organised, groomed and had no rough edges (to her personality or her fingernails), re-found me on Facebook when she discovered we both had babies. She was prettier than I was and earned more money. Now she was married, living in Surrey. She took me through her short courtship which was followed by her boyfriend getting down on one knee at dusk on the Orient Express, just as it pulled into Venice.

In contrast, I gave Big Daddy an ultimatum, so he bought me a ring. A very good ring, I must add, but no dusk and no Venice and we still haven’t bothered to tie the knot.

Facebook reunions are paved with broken glass, and different to those made in The Real World. Idle online banter does not have the barbed undertones of face-to-face meetings. If you bumped into each other in Starbucks just seeing the silly cow would make you remember why you never kept in touch in the first place.

On meeting my girls, Gemima said:

‘Oh doesn’t Magpie look lovely, she is sooo dinky! (real observation: does she have growth restriction?)

‘God, your girls’ nails must grow fast! (you don’t cut them enough: you are probably a slummy mummy)

‘Oh, right. The dogs sleep on the sofa, that’s cosy! (you are a slummy mummy!)

Score:      Me: 0       Gemima: 3

We have our playdate in the garden, as the weather is glorious. Gemima’s daughter Bella, 9 months old, is beautifully dressed in Petit Bateau this and Little White Company that. Her pale blue and beige flower-print blouse has tiny buttons all the way down the back. I don’t do buttons, unless they’re the size a dog’s nose.

I have stripped my girls to their nappies after an aborted attempt to give them ‘real fruit’ lollies, which end up everywhere except in their mouths. Bella has her supper in one of my girls’ highchairs, so with one of mine left chairless, I feed both in our large playpen in which babies can crawl and toddlers can walk proper lengths. It’s an Olympic size compared with the average playpen’s paddling pool dimensions. I feel that to some extent, our lack of internal space is thus compensated. At least that was the plan.

Playdate #2 happens to be the occasion on which I make my first attempt at Chairless Dining. Avocado and cheese on toast isn’t the best finger food to pass to one’s offspring in a playpen, as one-year-olds do not have the finesse of seals catching fish.

The Tank ends up with epaulettes of avocado and Magpie has a melted cheese moustache and very greasy fingers. For narrative purposes, I need to add that the toast is made from white bread.

Gemima: ‘I give Bella wholemeal toast every morning for breakfast.’ (Real meaning: you nutritionally neglect your babies by giving them an unwholesome white equivalent).

Me: ‘I was told that brown bread was too fibrous for such young tummies, but what do I know. (Real meaning: Do your homework!)

Score:    Me: 1      Gemima: 3

The dogs playfully patrol the pen. The Tank, my resident blonde tomboy, offers Klefti, our Greek stray, a piece of mushed toast. He accepts. Gemima clocks this but adjust's Bella's bib.  Magpie, my little wide-eyed girly girl, offers Purdey, our stray Labrador, a stringy piece of melted cheese. He takes it delicately, but then ruins things by trotting off and cocking his leg on the pear tree. Tatty, our Westie, who has a fussier palate, noses offerings thrown onto the decking.

I think Gemima puts on a brave face:

‘It’s lovely that you all just muck in together, it’s like a farm in the middle of London!’ (Real meaning: Get some boundaries, Woman!’)

Score:    Me: 1     Gemima:  4

I make excuses (the dogs don’t usually beg) but Gemima isn’t buying them. She isn’t a woman who makes excuses, let alone purchase other people’s. I corral the dogs into the summerhouse at the end of the garden.

I don’t think Gemima and Bella will be coming back, thank God. Surrey can have them. I have to accept things. I am not a mentally neat, tidy and controlled person. I get cross, forget to clean my fridge, need a pedicure and have blurry boundaries between my dogs and my children. Others might say the girls are lucky to grow up with animals and to have a constant source of entertainment. If I posted an advert for a playdate it would say: Must Have Rough Edges.

Friday, 11 June 2010

1. Birthdays

The Tank and Magpie sucked their cards emblazoned with a sparkly ‘1’ and chewed Cadbury-coloured wrapping paper, but had no idea what the fuss was about. I don’t know our dogs’ birthdays, so they are not celebrated.  Klefti is about 8, Purdey is around 7 and Tatty, the only dog actually purchased, is about 14 (we’ve lost her papers).

Human birthdays of one’s own making are harder to forget. Just over a year ago, I looked like a slim-hipped woman from the back, but a juggernaut from the front. I had a fuller face and fat ankles for the final week, but not much ‘non-baby’ weight and no stretch marks (down to genes or a huge amount of Bio Oil, or both). I got off lightly, apparently. I use the word apparently as I am Somebody Who Knew Nothing; I didn’t follow the ups and downs of friends’ expanding waistlines or look at their 4D anomaly scans on Facebook; I thought there was no point in investing in other people’s fears and joys when they were unlikely to be my own.

The girls had the patience to wait until they were wrestled out of me by two men wearing gloves. Or perhaps it had nothing to do with patience. As I never experienced contractions, I presume they were quite happy lying in breech positions and didn’t want to be disturbed.

They certainly seem as keen on their kip post-birth as they did in utero. For that, I thank everybody. If I did an Oscar speech, it would be the longest, dullest, and most gushing one ever.

As we are a family of two adults, (both almost six feet) two babies (about 70cms) and three dogs (two large, one small), living in a two-bed basement flat, it is just as well. There are I believe, surroundings in which sanity should not be found.

In case you think I am truly mad, we do have a large garden, which isn’t bad considering we are half an hour’s drive from Piccadilly. We also have a summer house/office/library/guest bedroom/general dumping ground at the end of the garden which the dogs inhabit whenever they want. Which is often. So I forgot to add 'kennel' to the room's multifunction.

The first year of my life as a mother has been on fast forward. I guess I am the same as every other mother….of twins, that is. In the multiple birth trade, we refer to a one baby haul as a ‘singleton.’ Multiple mothers and their offspring are a lot less portable than the singleton equivalent, and this is contra-indicative to modern life, where everything is portable. There is no lightweight, pack up and carry option. (Baby Bjorns do not count beyond the early months).

Multiple mums are also crazier. It’s just mathematics. One mother with one pair of hands + two babies feeding at same time = hands full + inability to move = (at least I think) damaged brain cells. As for mums of triplets, quads and upwards, it doesn’t bear thinking about.

There is a degree of mental inefficiency which comes with extreme multi-tasking. 'Mumnesia Extra' I call it. I forget the simplest of things (like to look where I am going) or I repeat myself like an octogenarian. Having never crashed my car, I have pranged it twice in a year. ‘Did I tell you the girls have started nursery?’ I ask some happily childless friend, who responds ‘Yes, you did mention it, when you were in the park with the girls and had lost one of your dogs to a football match.’

As you can imagine, living in a multi-species household has made things worse. While at least the dogs are grown-up, the human critters Seek and Destroy, grabbing things like my iPhone or the TV remote while giggling, crawling off to climb into the dog bed, which is an ersatz Wendy House.

This is when they are not sleeping with dog hair-strewn dummies in their mouths. However much I wash the horrid things (which I was supposed to wean them off months ago), there is always a thin ring of black hair around the base of the teat. There are balls of dog hair sneakily stuck in corners, under chairs and tables, ready for babies to grab. It’s a one-woman fight against dog hair, and I’m losing.

Big Daddy doesn’t have much sympathy. And he’s the one who introduced me to pet ownership.

‘The girls are a year old now, aren’t they?’ He asks.

‘Yes, I reply.

‘Well, they’ve survived, haven’t they?’

‘Er, yes,’ I reply again.

He has a point.

'So relax,' he adds.

Relax? (yeah right, at midnight when I fall into a coma). Then I remember those Dark Ages before dogs and children when, although I had a habit of collecting old newspapers, I was definitely house-proud.