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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.

0

Tales of the unexpected

This week I met a woman who had a large and prominent tattoo on her forearm. She showed it to me. The text said ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’.

When I asked her about it she told me she had it done because when she was younger it was the the name of her favourite Bob Marley song.

Then I pointed out gently that ‘Don’t Worry, Be Happy’ is actually a Bobby McFerrin song and she replied bitterly: ‘Yes, I know that now!’

For a moment she looked not at all happy, perhaps even a little worried. She looked at her tattoo sadly, then back at me and we both began to laugh.

The point, I suppose, is that things don’t always work out the way you expect. And that a lack of planning and research can lead to unexpected results later on.

Which made me think of my honeymoon a decade ago. My wife organised most of the locations and bookings, and everything ran smoothly. I organised two parts, which didn’t.

My first input was organising a night in a five star hotel on the Calabrian coast in Italy. 

The building and its surroundings, perched high on the edge of a cliff rising from the sea, were stunning. It was easily the most luxurious place where I had ever stayed and we expected to slip easily into its opulence like it was a warm, soapy bath.

But it didn’t quite turn out that way. The hotel, although architecturally magnificent, was close to empty and desperately soulless. The staff were stiff to the point of being comic. The dinner in its restaurant, which we had been anticipating for days, was the worst of our whole honeymoon, a series of plates of mess and confusion.

The following morning we arrived on the sunny patio at the edge of the mountain where they served breakfast. I ordered an omelette, perhaps thinking that at least that was one dish the kitchen could not foul up.

The omelette quickly arrived and, not having had a good dinner the evening before, I attacked it keenly. At this moment a wasp descended onto my plate. I waved it away. Then another wasp appeared. And another. Soon a whole swarm of wasps were buzzing around my golden omelette and I had risen from my chair, aiming a series of swings at empty air in growing agitation.

It now became clear to me why the few other guests staying at the hotel were breakfasting inside. 

Eventually, having given up on breakfast, but unwilling to admit defeat with dignity, I lifted my plate and hurled the omelette off the edge of the cliff, yelling ‘If you want it that bad, just fecking take it!’ as it plummeted towards the Tyrrhenian Sea with a hoarde of angry bees in pursuit.

As we packed later that day to move onto the next location my wife quizzed me on how much research I had done into the hotel. The answer, of course, was none.

As I said there were two parts of the honeymoon which I organised. That was the good part.

A week later we were due to fly from Sicily to Athens to continue our break. I organised the flights and was able to save some money by making a booking which included changing flights in Naples.

I had already made a serious error by failing to realise that there were two airports on Sicily. And the one where we had to get an early morning flight was 120 miles away from our hotel. This meant having to rise almost before we’d gone to bed to get a hugely expensive car transfer while my wife scowled at me between yawns.

When we reached the airport our bags were checked in all the way to Athens and we began to relax. I think it was only when the small plane was on the runway that I considered how little time there would be between us landing in Naples and the next flight to Athens taking off.

Of course once the time conundrum was in my head I couldn’t shift it and fretted the whole way through the flight that we were going to miss our connection.

At the time our plane arrived in Naples it was already past the hour when check-in for our next flight was supposed to close. We rushed past a surprised Italian air stewardess in a red uniform at the top of the steps and headed for the terminal.

There was a long queue at arrivals and we had to elbow and push our way past several grumpy tourists just to get into the main body of the airport.

We went to the check-in desk. It had closed. I pleaded and argued with the receptionist to let us through. Eventually she did unwillingly.

Then there was a long queue at security. Taking my wife by the hand we forced our way through it, mumbling apologies and half-explanations. When we got to the front of the queue they didn’t want to let us go any further because the flight had already closed. I argued and pleaded with the staff and they eventually relented.

This brought us to the departure gate which was deserted. I found an attendant and told her we needed to get through. She told us the bus to the flight had gone 15 minutes ago and it was already fully boarded. Once more I argued and pleaded and, astonishingly, she finally agreed to summon another bus just to take my wife and I to the plane.

It was only as we were being driven across the tarmac that I remembered about our luggage. I had to accept if we made the flight to Athens then the luggage would be left behind and we’d have to make some later arrangement to get it sent on. This was not how I had imagined our dream honeymoon.

Then the bus pulled up at the plane, which was about to close its doors. It was a small plane and seemed familiar. Then I saw the surprised Italian air stewardess in a red uniform at the top of the steps and realisation began to dawn.

It was exactly the same plane I had dragged my wife off less than half an hour ago to take her on a crazed and panicked journey through Naples airport. The surprise of the air stewardess was probably explained by the fact that we were never meant to get off the plane. Our luggage was safely stowed in the hold below, destined for Athens.

We took our seats. The same ones we had vacated a short time before. Then we flew towards Greece. Not much was said. It might surprise you to learn that I’m still married ten years on.

When we talk about our honeymoon now the bits that I cocked up are always recounted fondly. It is often the case that the memory of things which go wrong lingers around longer than what proceeds as expected.

The most memorable holiday we ever had was backpacking around Eastern Europe and Italy several years before we were married. Everything went wrong on that occasion.

We missed our outwards flight and spent a drunken night in Luton airport.

Our accommodation in Split was an exact replica of Nelson Mandela House from Only Fools and Horses.

We got lost at night in Budapest and spent hours wandering the streets.

I almost drowned in the public baths in the same city.

Our feet swelled up to elephantine proportions through too much walking.

Our bus travelling to Dubrovnik crashed.

I almost fell off the back of the train travelling to Sarajevo.

My feet got soaked multiple times and when I had to remove my shoes at a mosque the smell of my socks disgraced me.

Our Italian accommodation, which was supposed to be in central Rome, was about 50 miles from the city.

The same accommodation turned out to be a metal box with no windows which was crawling with ants.

That night I got so drunk that I missed the bed when I went to lie down.

The hotel we moved to in Rome the next day put us in a room which smelt of dead cat. The hotel only agreed to move us after my wife burst into tears at reception, pleading that she couldn’t take any more.

I couldn’t make the pharmacy assistant understand my ailment so had to present my swollen bare foot for inspection on the chemist counter.

My wife and I had a huge row after I failed to flag down a taxi amid 150,000 delirious Romans who had just attended a free Billy Joel concert in front of the Coliseum.

My wife packed 18 pairs of shoes as well as a hair dryer and straighteners into her backpack which she then asked me to carry.

All that, and more, happened on one single holiday. And that’s the one we most often talk about. And will likely be the one I remember when everything else has faded into fuzziness. The adversity, when resisted, brings us closer together.

As Bob Marley almost said…don’t worry, be happy.

 

1

The night away, the police chase and the hunt for Calpol

Many things change when you have a small child. A simple night away in a hotel involves as much planning as the Persian king Darius’ invasion of Ancient Greece. And has a similar casualty rate. This is my memory of the first time we took our baby son for a night away. Some of it may even be true. 

 

I’m walking in a circle, head down, staring at the carpet. The hotel bedroom carpet, thick and luxurious. The unfamiliar warm strands of the fabric caressing my bare toes. I’m stumbling blindly, somewhere between asleep and awake. Around and around.

‘What on earth are you doing?’ mummy asks, a harsh edge to her voice.

‘I’m looking for my socks.’

As soon as I say it, I know it sounds pathetically weak.

‘Never mind your fecking socks! Just go!’

It’s the first family break we’ve had since our son was born. And it’s been a disaster. We arrived at the hotel several hours earlier. The three of us. We had been planning it for weeks, just to see if we could make it through one evening away from home.

Our boy, now ten months old, was awake and bawled throughout the long drive, exhausting our supplies of stories, songs and patience.

Then, as soon as we reached our room, he fell asleep and we spent an hour sitting on the edge of the bed watching his chest go up and down.

Later, a walk around the rustic hotel grounds was abandoned when a monsoon quickly descended and blew our umbrellas inside out, the dark clouds sending us scurrying back towards reception.

Dinner was supposed to be the highlight of our trip. A proper night out with some adult conversation. When I checked in the guy at reception listed the awards that the restaurant had won and I nodded along seriously. We dressed up for the occasion, a nice frock for my wife and I ironed a shirt.

We went downstairs and were shown to a small, stuffy room, full or porcelain and brass ornaments. A stiff, elderly man invited us to have a drink before dinner and it seemed impossible to refuse.

We had put our baby in his buggy and hoped he would doze there contentedly as my wife sipped her gin and tonic.

He didn’t.

Within minutes he had started to wail and we took turns trying to soothe him. There were a small number of other couples in the room, all older and quiet.

Everything about the room was quiet. Everything except our son who was screaming. Some of the couples looked on and smiled sympathetically. Some looked away and scowled, the strain of their neck muscles visible. 

Mummy lifted him onto her shoulder and talked lovingly into his soft ear. He vomited a small stain onto her dress.

We asked the waiter if we could be fast-tracked. He was helpful without being sympathetic. We were taken to an empty dining room and reluctantly passed over the delights of starters and desserts as our son’s mood deteriorated further.

Within ten minutes I had to abandon a half-eaten fillet steak. A very good half-eaten fillet steak. Rare. Before 9pm we had fled back to our room with our son now purple with rage. Our main demand on the award winning kitchen was to ask them to warm up his bottle.

Back in the bedroom, with the king-size bed and the thick carpet, I rocked him until he finally succumbed to sleep.

I put him in the little cot and turned to ask my wife if I should order a bottle of wine, but she was also asleep, snoring lightly. I sank into the giant pillows to read my book. Soon I had also dozed off.

But now I’m being roughly shaken. An awakening so abrupt that it feels like the end of the world. Mummy is beside me holding our boy who is crying. Always crying.

‘Wake up Jonny! Wake up!’

‘Uhhhhh.’

He’s not well, wake up!’

I haul myself up, shifting my weight onto one elbow and rubbing my face.

‘What is it? What’s happened?’

‘Feel him, just feel him.’

She holds his screaming little globe of a head towards me and I touch his cheek with the back of my hand. I’m not sure what I’m supposed to be reacting to so I take a guess.

‘He’s a bit warm,’ I offer hesitantly.

‘A bit warm? Jesus, he’s burning up!’

I touch his face again and nod slowly. My very limited experience of parenting has taught me to trust the maternal instinct. Well, I don’t really have much choice as the paternal instinct seems to be still asleep.

‘Get the Calpol,’ she orders, as she starts to loosen his clothing and dab him with a damp cloth. I stumble onto the floor and search the garishly-coloured bag for the medicine bottle.

The baby bag which is bigger than all the rest of the luggage for the trip. I’m rifling through bottles, nappies and jars and soon I realise with a creeping horror that I haven’t packed the Calpol. The magical elixir which reduces a baby’s temperature within minutes. I brace myself.

‘It’s not here. I must have forgotten to pack it.”

There’s a few seconds of silence, much worse than any noise. I can hear myself breathe.

“Well, go and get some then.”

I don’t respond. There’s nothing more to say. It’s at this point we have the conversation about my missing socks.

Then I’m out in the hotel corridor, in my bare feet. Only now do I consider the question of what time it is. I fish my phone from my pocket and check the screen. 12:43AM. I stand there uncertain of how to proceed.

Should I start to knock on random doors asking the confused dwellers if they happen to have Calpol? A drunken couple, holding each other somewhere close to upright, pass me with goofy smiles and I reject the idea. I head for the stairs.

The soles of my feet make a light squeaking sound as I head across the hard, shining black floor of the hotel foyer towards reception.

There’s a young woman in a room behind the desk and she involuntarily winces when she sees me coming. She smooths her skirt as she comes to the counter.

‘Hi, this might sound like an odd question but I don’t suppose you have any Calpol in the hotel?’

‘No we wouldn’t have anything like that,’ she responds shaking her head. Then as an afterthought she adds: ‘But you’d be surprised how many people have asked for it.”

I’m sure there’s a profound response to this but I haven’t the inclination to search for it.

‘Well, is there a shop nearby that I could go to?’

Her face brightens, as if pleased that I’ve asked an easy one.

‘No, no, no,’ she responds almost with jollity. ‘There’s nowhere open at this hour. You’ll probably have to go into the next town. Or the one beyond that.’

I’m left with a choice. Go back to the room and tell my wife I can’t find any Calpol. Or go outside into the screaming wind and rain, in my bare feet, to start driving blindly, in the middle of the night, to try and find a town which just might have a shop which is open late.

I go outside.

Within minutes I’m away from the hotel and the street lights and driving through the black countryside. The rain is attacking the windscreen in such torrents that the wipers struggle to cope and the cold pedals feel alien beneath my feet.

Ten minutes before I had been sleeping contentedly. Now I’m searching desperately in the wet night for a road sign which has any recognisable name.

I try to call my wife on my mobile. Perhaps our baby son is fine now and I can come back. It goes straight to answerphone and I drive on.

After fifteen minutes I come to a village. I drive around until I find a garage. It’s closed. I see a figure walking in the street and I pull the car to the other side of the road and lower the window.

‘Excuse me….’

An older man sticks his red face in the gap where the window had just been. His grey hair is wet and greasy. He smells powerfully of alcohol, a stench I’ve become much more sensitive to because I haven’t been drinking recently. He seems amiable but I worry that the threat of menace could be easily roused.

‘Do you know if there are any shops open nearby?’

‘What’s your name son?’

Inexplicably and without thinking, I tell him. He scratches his chin and looks thoughtful.

‘McCambridge? There’s no McCambridges from round here. Are you from Cushendall? What’s your Da’s first name?’

‘I’m sorry but I’m just trying to find a shop that’s open.’

He stands up and puts a hand at the base of his back, as if to support himself.

‘You’ll not be able to get any drink at this hour. You should have bought your carry-out earlier son.’

I give up on this and drive off with a quick thank you and a wave. I leave the village, aware that I’m putting yet more distance between myself and the hotel and wondering at what point I should give this search up. I try to call my wife again but there’s no signal on my phone.

I come to another town, it’s a larger settlement and this gives me fresh hope. I drive through all of the main streets until I find a garage. My spirits are initially lifted when I see the lights are on. Then they are dashed when I notice the door is locked, before they are finally restored by the existence of a night hatch.

There’s a small queue of people at the hatch. I pull over the car and join the back of the line. I can feel small damp stones sticking to the soles of my feet.  

It’s well after 1AM now and the shoppers are all younger people leaving bars and buying cigarettes, crisps and sweets. The woman in front of me buys twenty Marlboro Lights and a packet of condoms.

Then it’s my turn. A short, dark-haired man with spectacles peers out at me from behind a screen, like a priest in a confessional. I get the feeling he doesn’t enjoy his job.

‘Would you have any Calpol?’

He holds my gaze for a moment, his face betraying no emotion.

‘Infant or Sixplus?’

‘Infant please.’

I thrust some money into a metal shelf which is then slid through to his slide of the glass. The shelf slides back with the Calpol bottle in a little purple box. I grab it and head back to my car, limping slightly.

The whole journey, which felt traumatic just moments before, is now tinged with triumph. It all makes sense at last. Now I can return to the hotel room like the conquering hero with the Calpol, the enabler who will restore my ailing son to health.

My restored enthusiasm and anticipation means that I’m now driving much faster than before. I try to phone my wife again, to share in my glory, but I still can’t get a signal on the mobile.

Then I drive past a car with dark windows. I think immediately that it’s probably the police. My next thought is that I’m driving too fast. Then that I’ve got my phone wedged against my ear. And it’s the middle of the night. The car begins to follow me.

What happens next is hard to explain in any reasonable way. I’ve always been a careful driver and have never knowingly broken any traffic laws. I’ve had two parking tickets in my life and once had to do a speed awareness course when I was detected driving at 46mph in a 40 zone.

Perhaps it is just the panic of being in my first ever police car chase that makes me do it. There’s a little roundabout in the road ahead, with a traffic island in the middle. I go around it the wrong way, passing the island on the right-hand-side and clipping the edge of it with my back tyre. The car closes in behind me and I hear the sound of a siren.

And just for a little part of one second, just for the tiniest moment that it takes to formulate a thought, I consider not stopping.

It’s more a feeling than a thought. I’ve gone through too much shit tonight to get this Calpol to stop now.

I’ve a vision of hordes of police cars, sirens blaring, a task force pursuing me to the hotel. I’ll just manage to spoon the liquid into my sick, infant son before I’m rugby tackled, cuffed and led away.

Instead I pull over.

One officer examines the back of my car while another approaches me. I smile warmly at him as I lower the window. He doesn’t smile back.

‘What speed do you think you were doing there son?’

‘I know I was going too fast officer, but I’ve got a sick child who needs medicine.’

I hold up the bottle of Calpol. He jumps back slightly, as if concerned that I might be producing a hand grenade. Then he settles and tells me what I was doing wrong.

He checks all my documents and asks me to blow in a tube. He studies the little black device before informing me that I haven’t drunk any alcohol tonight. I consider telling him that I already knew that, but decide to hold my tongue.

I’m worrying about what I’m going to say if he asks me to get out of the car and notices that I’m not wearing any shoes or socks. But then he tells me that he is a father too and lets me go on with advice to be a bit more careful in the future.

‘When you have children,’ he says, ‘you never ever stop worrying about them.’

I continue on until I see the hotel lights and I park in the same space I vacated an hour earlier. 

The same woman is at the reception desk and I smile and wave the Calpol bottle as I walk past. She stares at me without any sign of recognition or comprehension.

I let myself back into the room, which is mostly dark apart from the dim glare of a bedside lamp. 

Mummy is sleeping at the very edge of the bed and the cot is pulled right beside her. One of her arms is snaking through the white wooden bars.

I check on our son. He is lying asleep on his back, his little head turned slightly to the side. I touch his face. As usual I can’t discern whether it is too hot or too cold. He seems settled so I leave him alone.

I set the Calpol on the bedside table. Then I go to the bathroom to wash my feet. Then I go back to bed.