2

The Chronicles of Larnia

Our story begins, as stories often do, with a long journey.

The travellers are in good spirits. That lasts until they reach the end of the driveway and the youngest asks for the first time ‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Daddy grips the steering wheel a little tighter. To ease the tension mummy puts on CD of CS Lewis stories. They tell of mystical lands, fantastic creatures and magic. Daddy’s mind begins to cast its own spell.

Some time later we come to a strange place. The road signs tell us it is known as Larne.

‘I don’t like it here,’ the son whimpers quietly in the back of the car.

‘Aha,’ retorts daddy. ‘But this is merely the gateway, the passage into our world of adventure. We are now entering the Antrim coastal route, a magical place of sweeping glens, rugged landscapes and settlements with strange names – Waterfoot, Ballintoy, Lisnagonugue. At the very far end of the kingdom is the mythical place known as Barry’s Amusements where legend has it that the deep magic casts a spell so that currency loses all value.

‘We are now entering,’ daddy exclaims proudly, ‘the kingdom of Larnia.’

A hard edge comes into his son’s voice.

‘Seriously daddy?’

Mummy rolls her eyes and watches the raindrops on the car window.

The Chronicles of Larnia encompass seven stories which cover all of our heroes’ adventures in the enchanted land.

THE MAGICIAN’S SON

The party reach the pretty ancient village of Glenarm and find the small glamping pod on the edge of a hill which is to be their home for the next two nights. It emerges that the kingdom of Larnia exists under a strange curse where it is always raining, but never summer.

Mummy and daddy concur that the views of the coast are majestic. Son prefers to play on daddy’s phone. Then son expresses alarm as he explores their quarters and finds only a small bunk bed. Daddy, however, has knowledge of the deep magic and transforms the sofa into a pullout double bed. Son gazes upon daddy with newfound respect.

THE DADDY, THE SOCKS AND THE UNDERPANTS

Daddy neglected to begin packing until two minutes before our heroes left their home. Thus, when they arrive at their quarters in Larnia he finds that he is bereft of spare socks and pants. Daddy enters a sombre introspective mood.

Rather than spend currency on replacing his garments he decides to wash and reuse what he is already wearing. Unfortunately Larnia’s harsh climate forbids the drying of clothes. Daddy has to wear wet pants and socks throughout the adventures. It brings merriment to all at first until he goes to a public toilet and realises his pants have stuck to his skin like velcro.

On the second night, during high winds, the socks and pants mysteriously disappear from the fence where daddy left them. Daddy returns home closer to nature than he left.

THE BALL AND HIS BOY

At the end of a tiring day as the party return to quarters son demands a toy is purchased for his leisure.

Daddy’s explanation that they are many miles from civilisation and that there are no toy shops or Amazon here is met with a threatening silence.

Eventually daddy finds a roadside garage, refuels and returns to the car triumphantly with a brightly-coloured plastic set containing two sticky mitts and a ball.

‘Seriously daddy?’ son says waspishly. ‘That’s the worst toy I’ve ever seen.’

Daddy is wounded.

Back at quarters mummy and daddy attempt to rouse some enthusiasm for the decrepit toy by wearing the mitts and throwing the ball between them in the drizzle.

Son is unimpressed.

Eventually he relents and agrees to take a turn with the ball. He draws his arm back….

And hurls the ball off the edge of the cliff.

There is a stunned silence.

And then he begins to wail.

‘That was my favourite toy….that was my favourite toy!’

Mummy’s attempt to bring comfort falter and son pleads with daddy.

‘You can get it back for me can’t you daddy?’

Daddy climbs over the fence and peers over the edge of the mountain and down the steep muddy slope with a lack of certainty.

‘Uh….ok son.’

He begins to slowly walk down the sheer verge. He falls on his arse and slides down the sheer verge. He feels his shoes and shorts fill with mud. The ball is located and recovered. Daddy hurls it back to the top triumphantly.

It emerges that son has already lost interest and is now playing a game on mummy’s phone. Daddy is left alone to scale the dangerous ascent back to quarters.

Overconfidence strikes him when he gets to the top and tries to leap over the fence with a single bound and ends up painfully trapped on top of the wire, with one testicle on either side.

PRINCE JAMES: THE RETURN TO LARNIA

A combination of excitement and tiredness is bringing out the worst in son and he rows constantly with mummy and daddy.

When daddy tries to reason with him he whines incessantly ‘Daddy’s not being nice to me!’ Sleeping arrangements at quarters are a vexed issue.

Daddy’s initial suggestion that he and mummy should take the double bed while son takes the bunk bed is not well received.

A compromise is reached that mummy will share the bunk with son until he falls asleep and then return to the double where daddy is resting.

Instead it is mummy who falls asleep on the bunk bed first and moments later son wanders into the room with the double and crawls in beside daddy.

Then he sprawls out across the mattress.

‘Move over daddy! No room, move over!’

Eventually daddy is forced from the double and has to go and join mummy huddled in the bunk bed while son sleeps serenely in the double.

Daddy endures a miserable troubled sleep. He eventually drops off sometime after 4:50am.

At 5am son roughly shakes him awake.

‘Time to get up daddy! Time for more adventures!’

THE VOYAGE OF THE SEAT ALTEA

The journey through the magical lands of Larnia is undertaken in daddy’s faithful old trusty vehicle. Unfortunately the car proves unequal to the task of navigating the narrow winding roads which stretch across the landscape.

During one adventure mummy notices a foul odour and smoke coming from the engine. It is agreed that engine oil and water are required.

At the nearby garage mummy instructs daddy to open the bonnet. He scratches his chin and looks puzzled.

Mummy opens the bonnet and tells daddy to insert the oil and water. He peers round the side.

‘Do you know where they’re supposed to go?’

Later on, with the noble vehicle restored to health, the party stop for dinner in the coastal village of Carnlough.

When they return to the car daddy tries to open it with the key fob.

Nothing happens.

‘Now the darned key’s not working,’ he complains bitterly. ‘I’m cursed I tell you.’

He tries to open the car door by inserting the key into the lock. The car alarm goes off. He realises this is not his car.

Our heroes flee on foot.

THE SILVER TOKENS

Eventually the mythic land of Barry’s Amusements is reached and stormed.

The legends turn out to be true. Currency has no meaning here. Notes are given over and little bags of silver tokens are handed out in return.

‘That should keep us going for the rest of the day’, daddy says hopefully.

Fifteen minutes later he is sent back to the booth to secure more of the magic silver tokens.

THE LAST BATTLE

It is still raining. In truth it never really stopped.

It is three in the morning. Mummy and son are sleeping in the double. Daddy is wide awake on the bunk writing The Chronicles of Larnia because….well because that’s just what he’s like.

We’ll be going home in a few hours.

A lot seems to have happened, much time seems to have slipped away. But when we get back it will be like not a second has passed and the world will carry on as before with work, school and routine.

Perhaps after a while, when hard logic surrounds us again, we’ll not quite believe Larnia ever existed at all.

But then some evening when we’re all together we’ll talk about it, we’ll recall the fun we had. The time daddy forgot his pants, the time son threw the ball over the cliff and daddy had to get it, the time daddy tried to get into the wrong car. We’ll remember the laughs and then all of the magic will come flooding back again.

1

Minding your bap

It starts with a message from a man who I don’t know.

He says he likes my blog and asks would I be interested in taking part in a podcast.

The problem is I don’t know what a podcast is.

But then, a couple of years ago I didn’t know what a blog was.

I send him a message asking for more information and he sends me some links. I start to watch the first episode.

I watch two men in a studio talking about mental health. In truth it’s a little robotic. But it’s also funny, direct and incredibly well-intentioned.

I watch a few more episodes. I see the two men begin to relax, to find their comfort zone and their true voices. They tackle difficult subjects in an accessible and positive way.

The podcast is called Mind Your Bap. I send a message back to this man.

‘I’d be delighted to take part.’

A few days later I’m in a studio. It’s a different studio than they had used before because people had been telling them that the sound quality on their podcasts wasn’t great. This is a radio studio from where Lisburn’s 98FM is broadcast and it is full of microphones.

There are four other people here. Robbie is a small bearded man and Marty is a large bearded man. I’m a medium bearded man so I feel immediately at home.

Sarah completes the Mind Your Bap team, doing all the camera and production work and holding the whole thing together. Michael runs the studio and quietly asks Marty not to break anything.

Michael asks Marty to tap the microphone to ensure it’s working. Then he has to show him which part of the microphone to tap.

Robbie and Marty are the unlikely duo who are the faces of Mind Your Bap. A local politician and a businessman who have come together to try and start a positive conversation about mental health.

They tell me they are Liverpool supporters. I think of great partnerships in history. Keegan and Toshack. Dalglish and Rush. Torvill and Dean. Little and Large.

We take our seats. There’s no real rehearsals or discussion about what we’ll talk about. Marty has scratched a few questions on a notebook which he shows to me. Robbie asks him if he can have a page from the book.

Then they practise the fist bump. The fist bump is a big thing on Mind Your Bap, the signature move which starts and ends every podcast. But in the new studio Robbie is at the other side of the desk. It’s agreed that Marty and I will do the fist bump.

The fist bump is is important. It’s their signature, their calling card, what they’re known for.

We start filming. We forget to do the fist bump.

The format is simple. The guys ask me to tell them about my experiences, about a life spent battling depression and anxiety.

I nod my head. Then I begin to talk.

As I said I’ve watched a few of the earlier blogs. They are often about 12 minutes long. Some of them are 20 minutes.

When I stop to take a breath Robbie tells me that we’ve been going for more than 40 minutes. And I’ve still got loads more to say. The truth is it’s been easy, comfortable and natural. Robbie and Marty let the conversation assume its own dynamic, gently nudging it in the right direction. The camaraderie is the strength of the format.

We take a break and have coffees. Marty and Robbie film a shorter piece, a promo for upcoming episodes. They agree that they will start talking after one claps his hands. Then the camera begins and they both clap their hands at the same time. Then they laugh and row gently as each claims that the hand clap was their designated task.

Then they record the promo. Robbie talks about my upcoming appearance. He mentions one of my recent blogs, the one I wrote about getting lost in a small village called Corbet. He talks about how Corbet is a metaphor for feeling lost in life. How we all have our own versions of Corbet, a place of uncertainty and fear.

I’m impressed. He’s found a depth in my writing that I didn’t know existed. I nod along sagely.

Then I’m back behind the microphone to record some more. I talk about launching my blog and writing about mental health problems. It’s honest and raw and I’m on the edge of tears a few times.

It feels like we could probably talk all day but Sarah is waving her arms frantically. We’ve gone on for so long that the batteries in the cameras are starting to fail. We have to wrap it now.

I finish the podcast by reading one of my blogs. It’s the one I wrote as a letter to myself when I was a younger man, a letter that seemed to touch a lot of people (https://whatsadaddyfor.blog/2019/05/17/letter-to-my-pre-parent-self/).

There’s no sound in the studio as I read other than my thick country bumpkin accent. My words are always intended to be read, I never expected to be reading them aloud. A few times I have to fight to hold my composure as I feel the emotion washing over me.

Then I finish and the silence stretches on for just a couple of seconds. I think in that silence there is a shared recognition that we have achieved something together. Out of all of the messiness and the laughter we have created something bigger than its own parts.

Then we do the fist bump.

And it’s over.

We hang around chatting for a bit, perhaps unwilling to let go of the feeling that’s been created.

But then handshakes are exchanged because we all have to go back to our own lives.

As we leave we tell each other that we’d like to meet another time, to do something together again.

I hope we do.

 

* Subscribe to Mind Your Bap on YouTube (I’ve no idea how, but I’m sure you can work it out).
* Next episode (the first one with me) is available on Thursday evening, August 15
* Follow the guys on Twitter @mindyourbap
* Follow Mind Your Bap on Facebook
0

Welcome to Corbet

As summer days go this one is pretty close to perfect. The sun is bringing out the pale freckles on my son’s skin and it’s an afternoon of fun. We’re in a large playground in Banbridge and the jollity of the children playing here seems infectious.

There’s a new spirit of adventure within my boy which enables him to go on the big slides and tall climbing frames which previously he would only have gazed at longingly. Even better, he’s playing happily with his two cousins and not insisting that I follow him around every moment, climbing with him and descending the slides with him on my lap.

He’s so relaxed that I’m able to leave him happily in the care of his aunt while I go to Tesco’s and buy something for mummy’s dinner. Usually this is an agonised procession with him following me up and down the aisles, moaning about how bored he is.

Even the act of departing the park passes without complaint as I buy him an ice cream and we chat happily while walking back to the car. The amiable conversation continues as I drive from the car park, discussing what I’m going to make for dinner for when mummy gets back from work.

Getting home should be no problem. I’ve driven this route many times before, straight through Banbridge and then up the A1 towards Hillsborough. But perhaps today I’m just a little bit too relaxed, chatting so much that I’m not thinking about the journey.

Whatever it is, I drive for about ten minutes before I turn to my son and say: ‘Buddy, do you have any idea where the hell we are?’

To give some context I am famously bad at navigating. I’ve lived close to Lisburn for many years but still am unable to drive through the town centre without getting lost. Worse, I often get confused in my house in the dark at night when I wake up and have to go for a midnight pee.

Once, in a hotel, I mistakenly stumbled into a walk-in wardrobe and had difficultly finding my way out.

So here I am, I’ve clearly taken a wrong turn and now I’m driving along a rural road in Co Down trying to find anything that I recognise or a sign that will guide me to where I need to go.

Then, just as I’m beginning to lose hope, we spot a settlement. A small village.

‘Here we are buddy, here’s a little town. We’ll be able to work out where we are now.’

We pass a sign. It reads ‘Welcome to Corbet.’

I read it aloud. My son begins to laugh. There is something onomatopoeically comic and pleasing about the name. Don’t be a Corbet! You’ve dropped a Corbet! Stuck in Corbet! I don’t give a Corbet!

I’ve lived in this area for a few years but I’ve never heard of Corbet.

I look for a sign to tell me how to get home. There aren’t any. There are no people in the street. Corbet seems to be a strange, ghostly place and we pass quickly through it.

I turn off onto a smaller road and drive some more. Then I make another turn, and another. My (admittedly flawed) logic is that if I drive for long enough I’m bound to spot something I recognise.

Then we pull out onto a larger road, after another minute I see a settlement and a sign.

It reads ‘Welcome to Corbet’.

‘Fecking hell’ I whisper, but my son can’t hear me anyway because he’s laughing again. We drive through Corbet again. Still there are no people. I wonder if anyone lives here.

This time I go off in another direction. The road I’m driving on now is very narrow, just one lane and no room for passing. It’s when I notice that there is grass growing in the middle of the road that I realise I may have made a terrible mistake.

I speak to my son.

‘You know buddy, I really hope we don’t run into another vehicle on this road.’

No sooner have the words escaped my lips that a huge tractor pulling an even bigger trailer appears on the road in front of me, blocking out the sun. Both vehicles stop. The young farmer driving the tractor meets my eye.

I begin to reverse along the narrow country lane.

Which is hard.

Which probably explains why I drive the rear wheels of my car straight into a ditch.

I pull the car forward, the wheels spinning as they bump out of the trough. Then I reverse again. After what seems like several miles of retreating with my car engine squealing in protest I come to a farm entrance and am able to pull my car in so the tractor can pass.

I look at my son. He looks at me. His role model.

We drive on. A couple of miles later I see a man in a field. I stop the car and get out, waving him over. I ask if he knows the way to Hillsborough.

‘Hillsborough?’ he repeats, scratching his chin, ‘I don’t think you can get there from here.’

Despairingly I ask him if he knows the way to Dromore. He points me in a certain direction, although without confidence.

I follow his direction. I turn onto another road and see a settlement and a sign.

It reads ‘Welcome to Corbet’.

I’m a bit worried now and my usual faith in reason and logic is rapidly fracturing. I consider the possibility that Corbet doesn’t actually exist other than as an idea in my brain. It’s a Blair Witch type vision of horror that I’m condemned to repeat over and over again, each time my hopes are raised only to be shattered when I see the terrible sign ‘Welcome to Corbet’. I’m cursed to keep driving through Corbet until I’ve got a long, white beard, warning off other foolish young travellers who get lost. The Eagles ‘Hotel California’ is going round and round in my head.

‘You can check out any time you like,

But you can never leave!’

At this point I would probably surrender to the Corbet curse entirely if it wasn’t for the fact that I have my son beside me and he wants his dinner. I gather myself and try again, even though leaving Corbet is evidently harder than leaving the EU.

We set off again, on another road which I’ve never seen before in my life. We drive a few miles until we come to a settlement. The only really good thing I can say about this village is that it is not Corbet.

We come to a little crossroads and I finally see a road sign, causing my heart to leap.

The arrow to the left says ‘Dromore 4’

The arrow to the right says ‘Dromore 4’

I sit there. I look at my son, he shrugs his shoulders.

‘At least it’s not Corbet daddy.’

I pick one of the roads and drive for a bit until I see a sign for Dromara, which I know is close to where I live. I follow it. I find a little thatched cottage. Then I find a deli. Then I find an animal hospital. Then I find a really long wall. None of these I have ever seen before.

Then I turn a corner and somehow I’m in Hillsborough. I’m not sure of the route I took. I’m not sure it even actually exists. It felt like we were away for a long time but when he got back to the village we had not been missed. There were no search parties or police hunts. I conclude that an hour in Corbet is but a second in Hillsborough.

I’m still a touch discombobulated and confused as I pull my car into our driveway. My son gets out and falls to his knees on the tarmac, kissing the ground. Then he hugs our house. It all seems a bit melodramatic to me.

We go inside. I make dinner. Mummy comes home from work. My son tells her about Corbet. She laughs and rolls her eyes. We watch some telly. Then we go to bed.

But I can’t sleep.

At some point in the small hours my son wakes from his bed and crawls in beside us. Soon he’s snoring softly.

And then I think I hear him say something. It’s so low that I have to put my ear close to his mouth to hear the whisper. It chills me.

‘Welcome to Corbet….Welcome to Corbet.’

0

Painting rocks and the true meaning of perspective

Today my son went to his cousin’s house for a play date, which gave me enough respite to get some work done.

While there he took part in a number of fun activities, including painting stones.

Then they went to a nearby park where they hid the stones in various locations before going to play on the swings and slides.

It was here that I came to pick him up. Before we left he excitedly wanted to show me where he had hidden all the rocks.

Except when we hunted for them one of the rocks had already been discovered and removed.

I assumed this was the point of the game but my son had a different analysis and viewed the removal of the stone as treachery.

He was quiet at first, then angry and eventually tearful. I thought he would quickly recover but he seemed to be getting more upset mumbling over and over ‘I really loved that stone’.

Soon I gathered him in my arms to comfort him and whispered consoling words as he sobbed snot and tears onto my shoulder.

Then I thought it would be useful to introduce some perspective into the conversation. I ruffled his golden hair and brought his eyes, heavy with tears, up to meet mine.

‘Buddy’ I began, ‘it’s only a stone.’

He seemed unmoved.

‘Would you rather’ I went on ‘that the stone was back and that mummy or daddy were lost instead?’

His features hardened in concentration.

‘Well’ he responded ‘definitely not mummy….but maybe you.’

9

Another year of What’s a Daddy For? 12 more momentous moments

It is now two years since I launched What’s a Daddy For? Despite predictions to the contrary the blog is still going. Granted nobody reads it anymore but it can’t be denied that it still exists. A fitting time to reflect on another year in the life of the world’s least likely blogger…….

 

AUGUST: The summer holidays are beginning to drag, I’m running out of things to do with my son and we are watching too much TV. I reach my low point during a prolonged bout of insomnia when I realise I know all the words to the ‘Let it Go’ song out of Frozen off by heart.

 

SEPTEMBER: My son begins P2. I leave him at the school gates on the first day and watch him walk away. I stand there for a moment. Then I go home and watch Frozen.

 

OCTOBER: I take on some journalism work in an effort to restart my stalled career. At a press conference I meet a politician I’ve not seen in years. He approaches, shakes my hand, leans close and whispers ‘Is it true you went mad?’

 

NOVEMBER: I’m delighted to receive a call asking me to appear as a commentator on local radio. It’s the first time I’ve been asked on air in many months. My early excitement is slightly bleared when the producer tells me they contacted me because Jamie Bryson was not available.

 

DECEMBER: Marks and Spencer are left to rue their decision to run a free Santa’s grotto in my local store. During our sixth visit I’m almost sure I can hear Santa whispering to an elf as we approach ‘Fecking hell, not them again.’

 

JANUARY: My son loses his first tooth. Then the next day he loses his second. My attempt to claim that the Tooth Fairy is running a two teeth for the price of one offer is met with stony silence.

 

FEBRUARY: In an effort to arrest the alarming decline in views for What’s a Daddy For? I devote a week to my blog, producing new material every day. What’s a Daddy For secures its lowest average weekly readership since it was launched.

 

MARCH: In a bid to teach my son some fiscal responsibility I start giving him pocket money each week. He looks unimpressed and asks: ‘Can I have one of the plastic cards instead daddy?’

 

APRIL: Inspired by a nasty bout of food poisoning, my idea for a weight loss book for middle-aged men ‘Shite Your Way To A Leaner Figure’ fails to find a publisher.

 

MAY: I take part in the Belfast Marathon. My blog about nipple chafing is a surprise hit.

 

JUNE: My son wins an unexpected medal for the relay race at sports day. I’m ejected from the field when I open a celebratory can of Carlsberg. My appeal that the organisers had failed to erect any ‘No alcohol’ signs falls on deaf ears.

 

JULY:  My son suggests starting the summer holidays by doing a complete inventory of all of his toys. I begin work on a new book idea for parents. Working title ‘I used to be able to see the carpet’.

 

Happy birthday to my wee blog. Here’s to another 12 months of fun…..

2

10 things I’ve done to pass the time on a wet day

It’s July and it’s raining. My son is at the age where he demands the maximum amount of stimulation and entertainment. Because I carelessly neglected to produce any siblings for him to play with the burden falls on me during these long summer days…..these long, long summer days.

Here are ten ways I have tried to fill some time today. This is just from one day.

1 Dawn jigsaw. My son wakes early and doesn’t believe in easing himself into the day. Therefore I’m in my pyjamas and doing a Pokemon jigsaw before the morning birds have found their voice. I don’t like jigsaws at the best of times. At 6am, even less.

2 Lego. I’ve been meaning to write about the sadism of Lego toys for some time. My son has an abundance of Lego sets left over from his birthday awaiting my desperate attention. The utter desolation of having to build something which has 120 pages of instructions. The torture of reaching step 97 only to realise you put a tiny bit on back to front several hours ago on stage 16 and it now all has to be taken apart. I know I might be missing the point Lego manufacturers but how about selling some toys which come already completed? Just a thought.

3 Ryan’s Toy Review. My feelings on this particular YouTube sensation are already well rehearsed. But as I’m coerced into sitting on the sofa watching my son who is watching Ryan who is watching Combo Panda playing a video game, I’m forced to consider if mankind has lost its way.

4 Role-playing. A daily occurrence but endlessly unpredictable. My son leads me by the hand into the larger room and announces he has invented a new game called ‘Zombies vs Monkeys’.

5 Indoor football. If my wife asks what happened to the good wine glasses, say nothing.

6 Surfing the web. Today we watched on Youtube an old wrestling match between Giant Haystacks and Big Daddy and a Japanese B movie that my son wanted to see because it had a battle between Godzilla and King Kong. Worth checking out just for the scene where they transfer King Kong to the battle scene by tying balloons to his arms.

7 Wrestling on the bed. Recreating the bout between Big Daddy and Giant Haystacks (see six).

8 Afternoon jigsaw. I think I may enjoy the second Pokemon jigsaw more because I’m wide awake this time. I don’t.

9. Drawing. My son seems to have an aptitude for this but grows bored quickly. He goes back to playing on the iPad while I finish the series of 12 monster drawings that he has planned. I feel cheated when he passes the work off to his grandparents as his own.

10. Downloading a game. My son can already do this more efficiently than me. My sole job here is to insert the password which gives parental approval on the iPad. My son is less than impressed when I admit I’ve forgotten the password. I’ve never felt less valued.

0

The last day of school

The touch of the sun nudges me awake. I check my watch. It’s not yet 5am.

The first surprise is that I’m alone in the bed. I would have expected one, or possibly two others, to be beside me.

I suspect immediately that mummy has gone to check on our son in his room last night, disturbed him and ended up in his bed. I have a hazy memory of an old horror movie where, if the characters sat too close to the television, they got dragged into the screen. It’s sort of like that.

I sit upright and force the tiredness out of my muscles. Because of the complications of balancing domestic and employment existences, I know this is my best time to get some work done. Two or three hours in front of the computer before the rest of the house stirs takes the pressure off me for the rest of the day.

My mind is fresh and I work productively. It’s close to seven before I hear my son shuffling into my little office. He’s still sleepy and climbs into my lap and rests his head against my chest.

‘Do you remember what today is buddy?’ I enquire gently.

‘It’s the last day of school daddy.’

I take him downstairs and prepare breakfast. Then I bring a cup of tea up to mummy, who is stretching after a night spent hunched in a child’s bunk bed.

The sun burns powerfully already, despite the early hour. It’s Friday and it’s the beginning of the summer holidays. I consider that we’ve all earned the right to be a bit more relaxed this morning.

I consider that thought. Then reality crashes around me.

Summer means hay fever season and my son is particularly prone to the condition. Without constant medication his eyes itch and swell and he sneezes uncontrollably.

The potential misery would be enough to make anyone comply with the medicinal routine, one might think. My son is not that one.

I struggle, just like every other morning to get the medicine into him. He holds his jawbone determinedly shut and no amount of persuasion, temptation, coercion or physical intervention can prise it open.

The eye drops application is even worse. I have to restrain him in a wrestling-style hold while mummy aims the drops from a height and hopes they land somewhere in the general direction of his eyes.

Eyes, which, of course, are tightly closed.

While this is being done his screams seem to come from the depths of hell itself. The notice reminds me of the wails of the Nazi soldiers at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark when the ark is open and the spirits within enact their terrible revenge.

And then we move on to dressing.

My boy is six-years-old and perfectly capable of dressing himself. Indeed that’s what he does on most occasions. It’s just that, like most other things in his life, dressing has become elevated to a ritual and an adventure. We have to go through a series of steps, and it all takes time. It has to have circumstance.

It begins with mummy at the top of the stairs and me at the bottom. I then have to shout up to her, announcing that our son is coming up to get dressed and she has to react ecstatically. If either of us get a single word wrong on the script then we’re sternly told off and the procession must begin again from the start.

Then he goes upstairs and eludes mummy for as long as he can while she chases after him with a hairbrush, socks and a pair of pants.

During this all I remain downstairs. This is not borne of cowardice or lethargy. I know, from painful experience, that if I interfere and try to hurry the process it leads to a huge tantrum and more delay.

So I wait. And after fifteen minutes he descends the stairs in his little uniform.

Then I get a text message on my phone.

It is from my son’s school.

It is reminding us to bring in £2 for charity because it is non-uniform day.

Non-uniform day.

Oh balls.

When I announce the news my son replies brightly: ‘Yes, I knew about that!’

And once more we’re back at the beginning of the process of me announcing his ascension of the stairs for the dressing ritual.

As he gets dressed for a second time I consider how close I came to bringing him to school dressed in his uniform on non-uniform day and the associated disgrace.

The truth is that I live in constant parental dread of missing a memo.

The school used to send a letter home on a Friday containing important information, but they have now discontinued that in favour of electronic communication. But, while the environment has benefited, I now feel constantly like I’m outside the loop.

I fear the day when I turn up at school with him in shorts and t-shirt having missed the important note about his class having a one-day trip to the North Pole.

He descends the stairs again, dressed casually. Now we’re a little late and I’ve got an extra complication. I need to find £2. I check my wallet. I’ve got 13p.

‘Do you have £2?’ I shout up to mummy.

But she’s already in the shower and can’t hear. I search through various compartments of my wallet, among loyalty cards and receipts and uncover a dusty old £5 note. I calculate how long it will take me to stop at the shop on the way to school to get change.

‘Come on buddy, we’re going to have to stop at the shop and we’re already late. Let’s get moving!’

At this point my son emerges from the living room smiling and holding a plastic bag filled with key rings.

‘Daddy, can you attach these key rings to my schoolbag?’

‘What now?’

‘Yes now.”

My has a particular talent for finding the most random objects and pursuing the most unlikely directions of thought at the least appropriate moment. If he was on the battlefield, at the moment his comrades were charging the enemy with swords drawn he’d have stopped and decided it was the exact right time to make an origami swan.

I spend five minutes attaching key rings to his schoolbag.

‘Now, can we go?’

Well, as it turns out, no. Because he has two key rings which look like Captain America’s shield and he decides now is the moment to discuss their relative merit.

‘Which of the two do you think is more like the real Captain America’s shield?’ he asks.

‘Neither because Captain America and his shield don’t fecking well exist!’ I don’t say.

Then, finally we’re in the car and driving towards the village. But I’ve still got it in my mind that I need to produce the £2 for the non-uniform charity donation. I go into the local shop, grab a bag of crisps, and produce my tattered old fiver. The young man with the beard on the other side of the counter stares at me dolefully.

‘I can’t accept that.’

‘What? What d’you mean?’

‘That’s an old five pound note. They’ve been replaced by the plastic ones. That’s not legal tender anymore.’

‘What? When did this happen?’

He strokes his beard and looks wistfully into the distance.

‘Maybe three years ago.’

I’m left holding the note uselessly before I have to retreat. Luckily the shop has an ATM and I’m able to withdraw a £20 note to buy the bag of crisps I don’t want just so I can pay the £2 charity donation.

I present the £20 to the bearded youth.

‘You wouldn’t have anything smaller?’

Minutes later we’re walking towards the school gates. Now my son is excitedly telling me about how he’s a big boy because he’s going into P3 now. He meets one of his little friends on the way, a girl who has been in his class since nursery. He takes comfort in the familiarity and is soon chatting happily. The kids pose for photographs together because it is their last day of school. Then I give him a quick cuddle and he walks through the gates.

 

And, like every other day, I stand there and watch him. I notice how, unlike many of the other children he doesn’t take the most direct route but instead stays close to the large metal fence, as if gaining comfort from it.

He’s gone perhaps ten yards when he turns at looks for me the first time. I meet his eyes, smile and wave. He waves back. I want him to know I’m still here.

He walks a little further before he turns again. He gives me a shy little thumbs up and I blow a kiss towards him. He shakes his head.

He walks further, close to the point where I have to strain my neck to see him. He turns for a final time, waving. He’s about to go off in one direction, an exciting new direction, but he always wants to be sure that the comfort of the old direction remains close behind.

Then he steps around the corner and I can’t see him anymore. I walk back towards my car and head for home.