Tag Archives: Parenting

Number 20- Je suis un rock star

Number 20- Je suis en rock star

Neal tiptoes into the bathroom, neatly sidesteps the Hans Solo action figure and the my little pony on sentry duty outside the bathroom. He pushes the door open with one finger, winces at the creak as the it opens and pauses, waiting for a sound, any sound.
But, there’s nothing, he breathes out a sigh of relief and pings on the light.

The bathroom is surprisingly large, big enough to house a book case, a battered Victorian nursing chair and the box of plastic bath toys.

Neal turns on the shower and stands for a minute looking at himself in the mirror, morning hair, morning face, everything a little out of focus, a little vague around the edges.
He steps out of his boxers and stands naked in front of the mirror, taking stock and if he remembers to breathe in, suck his belly in, well it’s actually ok.
He’s still got a bit of a tan from their two weeks in the sun, his hair is greying, but in a good way, makes him look classy and his gym going might be a bit hit and miss now, but he’s not too wobbly, too middle aged.
On the beach with the kids this summer, he could felt the odd appraising, approving glance from the yummy mummies and he liked it, liked the attention.
It made him feel as if things weren’t completely over for him, made him feel as if he still had options, other lives, other possibilities.
The shower is steaming now, water pounding against the glass. The power shower was his only contribution to the whole bathroom refit. He wanted a real shower, a mans shower, a shower that disgorged water with such force that his whole body tingles afterwards.
The kids don’t like the shower, they are bath babies, one each end of the bath, a flotilla of ducks and dinosaurs and Lego bricks floating between them, their hair twisted up into mad bathroom Mohicans and quiffs, ready for his wife to rinse off carefully, avoiding any risk of shampoo in the eyes.
He remembers the time BC, before children, when he and his wife would share a bath on a Sunday afternoon, cups of tea or sometimes Mexican beer and his soaping of her back and her shoulders and that special curve of the nape of her neck and then his fingers running down her spine and sometimes bed and sex and sometimes just talking and pyjamas and onto the sofa and rubbishy TV.

Neal stands in the shower, the water is hot and he keeps his head under the stream for a few moments and then he shakes his head, water drops everywhere, he can feel his jowls wobbling, this is what his kids call the dog shake and Neal starts to sing, shower gel in hand and today, he’s feeling a bit nostalgic, is remembering the big tunes from back in the day

I can’t seem to face up to the facts
I’m tense and nervous and I
Can’t relax
I can’t sleep ’cause my bed’s on fire
Don’t touch me I’m a real live wire

Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away
Psycho Killer
Qu’est-ce que c’est
fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa fa far better
Run run run run run run run away

Neal even manages a micro rock star strut in the shower cubicle, two micro steps each way, and he’s belting out the lyrics. Voice sometimes distorted by a mouthful of soapy water, but compensated for by the acoustics of the shower and the tiled bathroom.
He sounds like a god, he feels like a god.
Sometimes, he actually thinks that this is the best moment of the day, that everything is pretty much downhill after his seven minute ( two songs, with a couple of repeat choruses) of water and steam and rock stardom.
He is a legend in his own shower cubicle.

As he starts to dry himself with a Disney princess bath towel, he hears the first stirring from the kids bedrooms.
His daughter is not a morning person, takes time to surface. He can hear her talking to the cat who has at some point snuck into her bedroom and taken up residence amongst the cuddle toy mountain. Leah, will, if allowed to, stay in bed for at least another hour, arranging plastic animals on the duvet, singing songs to the cat and choosing her own outfit for the day.
Max is something else, he wakes,more erupts into the morning, leaps out of bed and grabs the day by the throat.
Neal can hear him, a whoop as he grabs his Darth Vader toy and heads towards his dad and the bathroom.
They stand together at the sink. Neal shaves. Max watching intently. They both have a dab of aftershave, Max always get to choose the morning aroma and sometimes he will decide that he’s going to be the one who moisturises Neals face and that goes as well as a three year old and a tub of Nivea for men could possibly go.

Neal can feel Sara stirring, but it’s Saturday and Saturday has a routine, he and Max have a routine and off they go. The cat weaving in and out of their legs as they head downstairs.

And later, the tray placed carefully out of reach, everyone back in bed together, Leah spooned against her mother, eating a piece of toast, eyes still half closed, a discarded pair of glittery wings just about to slide off the bed.
Max is desperate for the day to start, is bouncing between his parents, and then suddenly sidetracked, grabs the fairy wings and demands that his father fits them.

Neal leans back for a second and smiles, he manages to fit the wings and hold onto his mug of tea, only spilling a few drops.

This, he thinks, might be the best part of the day.

NANOWRIMO 2014- day . A neon pink hair slide in the shape of a Minnie Mouse bow – circa

NANOWRIMO…day 12. A neon pink plastic hair clip in the shape of a Minnie Mouse bow circa 1993

She can remember exactly when and why they bought the bow
A tantrum brewing in the Disney store
Feet starting to drag on the princess pink carpet
The wail like a klaxon cutting across the small world tune which plays over and over again
” its a small world after all, it’s a small world …..”

Voice drowning out the other, the nicer children, thE children who stand entranced by the larger than life-size Bella and the Beast, hands reaching out to touch the primrose yellow dress, the wooden fangs, caught in a permanent grimace of pain and loss

” I wanna Princess, I wanna princess, I wanna princess”

And all around the nicer type of parents, mothers of Emily and Poppy and Hugo and James and Beatrice, smile a secret shared smile, but still she feel the judgement.
” why can’t people control their children any more”
” my child would never do that ”
“If she was mine, I’d give her a good sharp slap”
” I hate working with horrible bratty children and their horrible, horrible parents ”

The noise is getting louder, the child has taken to the carpet, like a very angry snow angel she lies on her back, kicks her arms and legs about and screams
” I wanna princess, I wanna it now”

And of course her husband has moved away, distanced himself from the reality of parenting, not his cosy pre christmas vision, admiring the Santa Claus, hands wrapped around mugs of steaming hot chocolate, a bag of holly and mistletoe to finish their traditional Christmas tree. This is not what he ordered and he simply stands, a careful 4 feet away, expecting his wife to make this better, to restore the Xmas status quo.

Her daughter arrived in a hurry, 2 weeks early and ever since has put energy, focus, a level of determination into getting away from her mother.
Creating herself
Dressed in blue, greens, reds, supplied with garages and wooden cars and teeny tiny real metal tools, she quickly turned her back on this egalitarian, gender less world and demanded only clothes that were pink or at a push a delicate lilac, acquired Barbies and Sindys and their minuscule plastic shoes , the ones that always made the Hoover emit that strange smell of burning, even when she swears to herself there are no pink, doll sized stilettos to be seen.
She doesn’t like to think how, examine the actual,mechanics of how her daughter has collected her sizeable clutch of posing, pouting, super-breasted bonsai women.
She suspects toddler terrorism, cat burglary. An extortion ring, but doesn’t ask and her daughter doesn’t tell.

The child runs a guerrilla campaign, sneaking bows and ribbons, tiny neon teddies, t shirts ablaze with sequins and glitter into a nest of girlyness she hides under her bed. Presents come from grandparents, absent aunts and of course her own mother, under the guise of kindness, being a “good grandparent”. She has provided the pink plastic wand, the fairy wings, the sleeping beauty dress and the most special, the most iconic, the very best, at least in the eyes of the tiny embryo wanna be Barbie standing, twirling and spinning while she keep one careful eye on her reflection in the mirror, preparing, even though she doesn’t know it, her selfie face, her social media persons.
As the mother stands in the Disney Store, while her daughters’ gets louder, impossibly louder, she has at least a micro happy thought, a realisation that it could be even worse, her daughter could be wearing those bloody awful pink shoes.

She looks around for her husband, for some moral and in fact physical back up, but he has moved further away, turned his back, hunched his shoulders to distance himself from the scene in front of them.

The noise is not stopping and the glances are less conspiratorial now, more openly critical.
The other customers really want this to stop.

She cannot, will not buy the desperately desired princess dress up costume, but some compromise Needs to be made, before and she has to admit that this would not be the worst thing that could happen, they are asked to leave, put on some Disney list that will bar them from any entry to any element of the Magic Kingdom and then she sees it
A large neon pink plastic bow, a barrette she thinks, remembering the neater girls at primary school, the girls whose socks matched their hair ribbons, who kept pink flavoured lip balm in their pencil cases. They wore these , it was one of the many marks of difference, but now is not the time to revisit that old tale.

She takes A deep breath and grabs the bow and then, in the same tentative way one might offer a biscuit to an unknown, uncertain dog.

The child stops crying and the mother can feel the collective out breath of relief from all the other customers.

The child looks at the bow and then at the parent, calculating, making a decision, weighing up the possibility of being able to continue crying and screaming and the likelihood of actually getting the pink and white nylon ball gown and then decides.

Her hand grabs the bow and in a single split second, her face splits, not with the tears and noise that has filled the shop with sound that seems to have gone on forever, but with a smile that lights up everything around them and says, sweetly, nicely
” thank you mummy, it’s beautiful”

There are shoulders, backs stiff with disapproval as they join the queue to pay, she has, she knows,been marked out as weak mother, a pushover, but the silence is so wonderful that she really doesn’t care.

Outside the shop,her husband is waiting, looking away from them , his attention on the line of other children waiting patiently to see Santa and his elves.

The child skips, clutching the red and yellow carrier bag, occasionally stopping to look inside and stroke the pink barrette.

Nanowrimo day 11. A silver clarinet and a grade 8 certificate circa 1978.

Many students who enter these exams have taken a course of music lessons with a private tutor, although some are self-taught. Often this is a way for children to receive music training over and above what is provided at their usual place of learning, although private lessons are also popular with adults who turn to music later in life.


Music exams are set in both theory and practical aspects. The theory examinations are taken by pupils of all instruments and typically cover areas such as musical notation, construction of scales and composition.


The practical exams concentrate on the particular instrument favoured by the pupil, for example piano, guitar or flute. They cover elements such as playing set pieces, technical work including scales, sight reading, aural, musical knowledge and improvisation.


In the United Kingdom the music exams are graded from 1 to 8, with Grade 1 being the entry level, and Grade 8 being the standard required for entry to higher study in a music college. Additionally, Trinity College London offers an Initial level qualification at Entry Level 3 of the UK Qualifications and Credit Framework, and ABRSM offer a Prep Test qualification as a useful preparation before the Grade 1 exam. LCM offers two Step exams at this level and VCM offers four Introductory grades aimed at those in the first 18 months of learning.


The clarinet used to live in its little leather case on a shelf in her teenage years bedroom, nestled next to her unabridged Oxford English Dictionary, Her thesaurus and from age 15 onwards a beautifully colour coded revision guide, which often took so long to execute that there was little time left actual revision, but the ritual of preparation was all, stood in for actual revision, made her feel as if she was taking some control.

But the clarinet was different, there was no need to put rules of practise up, no need to set a timetable, playing the clarinet was itself enough reward.

She could and would play for hours, her body twisting around the notes, moving at one with the sounds, lost in the music.


And of course, with this level of commitment came exam success, lots of success, grade 1,2,3 on so on and so on. The certificates carefully framed, climbing up the wall, notes and scales nailed, techniques captured, a personal history of skill, of practise, of achievement.

On occasions, she found her mother simply standing there, a duster in hand, looking up at the framed music grades, her lips moving while she read the words, her fingers pressed against the glass.

They would smile, a little awkwardly and then her mother would go for cliché 27

” well, this isn’t getting anything done ”

Cliche 35

” here I am wool gathering away”

Cliche 58

” heavens, I really need to get on”

Sometimes the girl wonders what would happen if she put out a hand, stopped her mother leaving, halted the constant cycle of cleaning and cooking and clichés and asked her what she was actually thinking about when she stood looking up the proof of her daughters’ unexpected, unasked for musical prowess.


Over their evening meal she feels their eyes on her, her mum and dad, watching her carefully, hardly daring to breathe, the very look she will wear herself in the future, in her future as she stares at baby elephants and Komodo dragons and rare, rare butterflies on expensive, glossy as the brochure holidays.

She knows her parents are confused by her, not the intelligence, they are, after all, perfectly smart people themselves with drive and ambition to see her better than them, more successful, a fuller life, but, it’s the music that puzzles them, not the music itself, they are children of the 50s and 60s, have bought LPs, been to concerts, have favourite musicians, it is the actual making of music, the idea that someone, their daughter, could learn to make tunes, string notes together, look at a page of dots and dashes and decode them into the music they hear on TV adverts. This is what puzzles them, this is what seems so hard to understand, this is what makes them shakes their heads, wonder out loud where the talent came from.


She remembers her first music lessons, a 5-year-old who chose the clarinet on the basis that it had such a neat little case and was at a scale for her to manage and not feel dwarfed by.

Her mother was pleased, she had dreaded the violin, the screeching of strings in pain or a piano, a trombone or God forbid,  a harp. Items that would fill the house, not with sound but their very physicality, a harp would take over the sitting room,ma trombone would only be playable on the upstairs landing.


And of course, it is the era of James Galway, he of the golden flute, the catchy tunes, a clarinet isn’t  a flute, but it’s close enough and seems quiet ,containable, another tick in the box labelled ” stuff we do that our parents didn’t do with us”, alongside, ballet, swimming and Brownies.


At first she approached the clarinet, the weekly music lesson in the same slightly distracted but compliant way that she met every new activity her parents presented her with.

It’s not as if she actively disliked anything, but really she was perfectly happy drawing, painting, inventing complex social stories for her large box of plastic jungle and farm animals.


But, the clarinet is different, she quickly understands that this is a solitary skill, something she will always be able to turn to. It is not a secret, not really, but practise, repetition, scales played up and down hour after hour create a space which no one tries to fill with anything else and its only when she creates this space that she realised how desperately she wanted this secret, almost secret time.


And, it’s easy, the clarinet is not difficult. Something she would never admit to her parents or even the procession of music teachers she worked with over the years, making music, moving her fingers in the prescribed ways to create the notes is not hard.

Compared to her painting which never really feels under her control, even when she does exactly the same, day after day, there is no guarantee that the work will be the same, no guarantee that today she will be able to create what she managed to create yesterday.


She works her way through the grades, the music becomes more challenging, practise takes up more time, other children drop by the wayside, worn out by school and music and guides and fencing and drama club and….and…..and.


But she stayed with it, sailed through grades 6 and 7 and then she is facing grade 8, the final music exam, after this there is only real music, college, possibly a professional career.

Other people, parents, teachers, music teachers, youth orchestra leaders are keen, suggest several colleges that she could audition at, only she knew that she wouldn’t , couldn’t, shouldn’t.


Even at 17 or 18 she knew herself, knew that her nature was not completest, that in adult life she would drift, easily distracted, perennially enthusiast but often falling away.

But this, this solid achievement, grade 8 in the clarinet,  is proof that she can, in fact has, stuck with something, seen it out.


The clarinet stays with her, is sometimes played, but as an adult she has less need to create secret     and safe places to hide in and besides that, she knows that this achievement doesn’t really count, doesn’t really signify. It’s nothing compared to heroic and often failed battles to control paint, shade and line.


Music is simply about following rules and practicing until the rule becomes second nature, a collection of lucky genes, the right shaped fingers and lungs have allowed this to happen.


The clarinet mostly lives under her bed now, occasionally taken out when a guest remembers that she has musical talent, but generally it gathers dust, but cannot be thrown out.


The certificates, on the other hand, are filed carefully in the grey box of important stuff, the box she will rescue in the case of a sudden house fire.


She’s really not quite sure what this says about her and has decided that it’s simply part of her internal mapping, as little worth questioning as the geography of her home town.


Sometimes, some nights, her hands fumble, she drops the matches and then she has to stand for a moment, regroup and then, slowly, carefully open the box, grip the new match tightly and light the candles, until they are all glowing inside the coloured glass jars.

And then she feel the children, her children, feels their presence, feels their breaths, warm on this cold night and for the first time that day, she is calm, able herself to breathe without feeling that there is not enough oxygen in the air.

She knows now, that if she is very still, very quiet, that she will, if she concentrates, be able to see them both, just out of the corner of her eyes and so, she stands and waits, willing them to come to her.

Her son is the first, his hair sticking up at impossible angles, face grubby, in need of a good scrub, a soak in the bath and afterwards wrapped in a towel, carried, a bundle of warm, still slightly damp small boy, to bed, his head, suddenly to heavy for him to hold, lolling against her shoulder….she pushes the thought away and instead feel his hand, almost holding hers.

She knows now, not to grab, sudden movements frighten them, send them away, but extends her fingers, one by one, feels almost the touch of his hand in hers and she sighs, risks a look down.

He is not looking at her, his eyes are fixed on the candle light, mouth open, his face glowing in the soft light and they stand together in silence, waiting.

Her daughter is still louder, still more, more drama, more presence, just as she was….before.
The candles flicker and then she is here too, standing next to her mother, face turned away, staring at the flickering night lights.

The pink t-shirt, new that day, seems too thin, inadequate for the chill of this autumn evening.
She wants to gather her up, warm her from her own body, but knows that this will send them away, will leave her here alone, with just the candles for company.

” look” she says into the night air ” I have brought you something” and she reaches, slowly, carefully into the carrier bag hanging on her wrist and brings out a small pink bear, glitter in its’ fur, sparkling in the candle light.

She places it on the ground and reaching into the bag again, she pulls out an impossibly large black plastic spider.

Before, before, she knows her son would have laughed, grabbed the toy, chased his screaming sister around the house, waving the spider in her face.

But now, the children stare straight ahead, all their attention focused on the lights, the movement of flame in glass.

She places the toys in the little pile on the ground.

Somedays, some evenings when she comes, a toy or two is missing and she needs to believe that the children have taken, to where ever it is they are now, have taken some comfort from them.

She shivers, her skin cold, knows she cannot stay much longer, knows that her husband, waiting for her in the car park, head resting on the dashboard, hands at exactly ten to two on the steering wheel, will, soon, appear on the other side of the street, no nearer, a mute presence and that it will be time to leave.

He has started talking about taking the candles, the toys, the coloured night light holders down, stopping this nightly vigil, but she allows the words to wash over her, floats through her days, waiting for darkness.

She looks down again at her children, their faces rapt, eyes shining, but not on her, never on her.
Carefully, she fans the fingers of both hands, almost, but not, touching theirs and then she leans forward and starts to blow out the candles.

She feels their howls of protest
“Not yet, not yet, we’re not ready”
And so she waits, leaves one candle burning,as she does every night and empty carrier bag flapping on her wrist, she crosses the road to join her husband.

The children do not acknowledge her leaving, they stand, close together, hand in hand, all their attention on the final, remaining flicker of candle light in the dark.



He wonders if the metaphor is too obvious, too clumsy, somehow too weighty. He shakes his head, hoping to dislodge a more original thought and when that fails, he lights another cigarette and stares at the screen, waiting.

He is meant to be writing 500 words on visiting an owl sanctuary, something, light, but literary, a combination of recognition and original thought.

He should be able to reference Ted Hughes, Edward Lear, maybe even use an illustration from Harry Potter to break up the text, but the visit has not gone as planned. He expected his daughter to provide a full collection of emoticons, from rolling eyes, her favorite, to cross face, bored face and finally plugged into i-pod face, but she has, yet again, wrong footed him.

At 9am she was downstairs, dressed in an extra-ordinary 80s jumper, but a jumper non the less and wellies, he knows her well enough to make no comment and they set off. Even in the car, she remained un-plugged, present and although she re-tuned the radio to something very far from Classic FM, she keept the volume below teeth chattering and announced that she had brought her i-pad to photograph the owls.

The owl sanctuary was not National Trust, there was no sign of a tea shop, chutney or hand crafted soap, instead there was a dirt track, a muddy car park with no other cars and a woman with so many facial piercings that even his daughter did a second take. The hand the woman extended to take the very modest entrance fee was filthy, every line on her palm was ingrained with mud or possibly something else.

She mumbled that the owls were “over there” and they were.

Owls on stands, owls in jerry built enclosures, owls staring out of the windows of small wooden sheds, small, almost silent feathered glove puppets.

His daughter walked on ahead, taking photographs and occasionally pointing out a particularly freakish looking one. It was if they have gone back in time, as if she was 9 or 10 or 11 again. He was almost scared to say anything, to break this spell of communication. He found himself tip-toeing behind her, trying almost to levitate, to keep everything, even his footsteps light, silent.

They came out of the owlery and found the hawks, he didn’t know there were hawks there, they were in rows, tethered by their legs to wooden stands. A hand written sign said that they were tethered all day but allowed to fly freely in their enclosures at night.

As he and his daughter watched, one, huge, brown winged, launched itself off the stand and managed to flap its wings for a second or two before the tethers pulled it back in to its’ stand.
None of the other hawks paid any attention.

Driving home, his daughter stared mostly out of the window, as they run out of motorway, she turned to face him
” I wonder if they keep on doing it”
She shrugged
” You know,the pulling at the tethers, trying to get away”
It was his turn shrug now
“Don’t know”
Her face was pressed against the window, her voice slightly muffled
“Maybe they forget or maybe they believe that this is the day that the tethers will break, this is the day that they will get away……perhaps the ones who don’t try have given up”

And now, he sits, staring at the laptop screen and all he can see, is no the hawks who keeps trying to fly, the ranks of the others, tethered, not moving, not even noticing the frantic attempts of the biggest hawk to get away.


Chapter 18 – Toyota Carolla

Maybe if my mum had read me more fairy stories as a kid, well this would make a bit more sense, but she wasn’t really that kind of mum, not big on baking or reading aloud or doing our homework with us. Don’t get me wrong, she did her best, their was always food on the table, presents at Christmas, money for school trips, all that sort of thing, but it always felt like a of a struggle. She got a bit tight lipped at the end of the month and as we got older we knew better than to ask for stuff, would cuss out the little ones if they demanded sweets on the weekly shop.
My dad wasn’t around much, didn’t really help out, like lots of the men on our estate he just expected the women to get on with it while they talked about going home to the islands, horses that were going to make their fortunes and as the years went past gradually joined the older men playing dominoes in the social club.

And I suppose all of that and the other stuff, the teachers who just assumed they knew how my life would shape up and to be fair, I was following in my brothers’ footsteps – first exclusion from school aged 11, running with a gang, baby buffalo soldier at twelve, the knife incident that pretty much stopped his education at fourteen and so on and so on – he thinks I’m mad – laughs at my car,laughs at me. The odd time he comes up to Leicester, big black SUV, tinted windows, some thin white girl in the back, I know he think I’m a looser. He’s got a couple of kids, maybe more, brings the boy sometimes, expensive trainers, shaved head, little gold earring, gangsta boy.

But the point of all this, all that,is I knew i wanted to be a dad, but I wanted to do it right, decent house, good job, the right woman, make a proper family.

So, I worked hard at school, convinced the teachers, well some of them,that I wasn’t my brother, stayed out of trouble, not as easy as it sounds when you see where I come from and when your big brother has a reputation, standing.There’s always someone who wants to score points, take on the hard man or at least his little brother, so, yeah, I had a few fights, took care of myself, showed them I could be the man, but I studied too, got my exams and went to college.

That’s where I met Janine, she was studying fashion, wanted to be a designer. She was like me, I could see that straight away, I didn’t really know the word for it then, there wasn’t a whole lot of talk about aims and goals in my family, but Janine had ambition, wanted to be someone, properly someone,not like my brother or some looser on reality TV. She wanted to be someone because she was good at something. It didn’t hurt that she was fit too.

We hung out, not really dating for a while, just checking each other out and as the year went on and her friends from school started dropping out, not making it out of bed in the morning. We got tighter, spent a lot of time together and by the end of the first year, we were an established couple.

We knew what we wanted, me,the black man wearing suit, hiring and firing people, her with her own design company, smart flat, sharp car , all the good stuff.

So, fast forward twelve years, still a couple, I work in Human resources – so yeah, I do the hiring and firing and Janine’s working for NEXT, it’s not quite what we dream t of at seventeen, eighteen, but it’s real and it’s good and she’s still fit, so life, yeah, well, its pretty nice .

So,it all made sense, felt right, to do the next thing.The baby thing and by my family’s’ standards, we were leaving it late, but like I said at the start, I wanted to do it properly, make a proper family, be a proper dad.

It was easy, she came off the pill and two months later, she was pregnant and i won’t pretend, I felt like the man, even had a bit of a gangsta swagger going on and then she lost the baby.

Everyone told us it happened sometimes, nothing to worry about, early miscarriage, best just to try again, so we did and she lost that one too.

Third time lucky they said, have another go and I could feel something changing in her,in us.I thought about stopping, we talked about a holiday, getting a dog and then Janine got pregnant.This time I didn’t tell anyone. We stayed in at night, she took some time off work and we waited. She lost this baby at 11 weeks.

And then it all began to go very, very wrong, Janine closed down,started going back to London, a lot, spending time with her aunties, her grandma. Sometimes her phone was switched off for days. I sat in the house, our house and the spare bedroom, the room we had started calling the baby’s’ room, felt bigger and bigger, more and more empty.

Then one day, she was home, bright, bubbly,happy. She said everything would be OK. That we should try again and this time nothing bad would happen.

So, we did. i’m not going to pretend, I wasn’t happy , didn’t know if I , if we, could go through this again, but she seemed so sure, so positive, kept saying that she knew it would be different this time, that everything would be fine.
So, we got into that baby making place again and you know, I’m a man, this is all good stuff. At night, afterwards, we lay in bed, spooning and very very carefully, tentatively, started talking about a baby and us,a baby in our lives, started, for the first time in months to make plans, thought about the future.

She got pregnant and I felt like I was walking on egg shells, creeping over thin ice, tip toeing past the ogres’cave.
But Janine was fine, better than fine,she was good. She kept smiling, floating along, telling me everything would be fine – it was our word – fine and somehow I fell into believing it to and then it was, actually not fine, it was fucking fantastic. We’d got past week 12, she was still pregnant, we were going to have a baby.

Looking back, there were clues, but I never thought, it would have been too mental to even consider,
The interest in Disney, the shiny dust that seemed to always be floating around the baby’s’ room, even the names she came up with – tangleweed, briarpatch, willowherb – if I’m being honest, I just though she was going a bit pregnancy doolally and I was excited, looking forward to being a dad, maybe I took my eye off the ball, but I could never have worked this one out
I mean who the Fuck……………….

Nah, I’m getting ahead of myself, need to tell this in the right order, cos this story, it’s unreal and I don’t even mean that to sound street, this is me, Mr Human Resources talking, not my big brother, I havn’t started chanelling Gangsta boy. No. This story is actually unreal.

The pregnancy continued , Janine got bigger, we bought baby stuff, painted the baby’s’ room and actually that should have alarmed me, I mean, who wants to paint a baby’s’ room dark brown? She was insistent, said it would be warm, cosy, cave like and when I looked doubtful, changed tack, told me it was on trend, that dark colors were all over the magazines for celebrity babies and anyway what would I know.

We went for the scan and I saw my baby, my son, for the first time. Yeah, it was a boy and i couldnt stop grinning, this big fool grin on my face. it was one of the best days of my life.

Janine changed, but I thought it was just the pregnancy, thought she might be worried about stuff going wrong. She seemed wrapped up in herself, spent hours just sitting, stroking her stomach, seemed away with the faeries. The only thing she seemed to care about was decorating the baby’s’ room, but it was weird, the stuff she was getting, wrong. One day i got home and found her putting big, ugly bare branches in vases all round the room and then another time it was fairy lights, miles and miles of fairy lights, wrapped round the cot, the window frames, draped over the bare branches. She looked up at me, smiled and said that the baby would need lots of fairy lights.

I shrugged, smiled too, i just wanted to meet my son, start being a proper family. i could cope with a bit of weirdness and the other guys in the office, well, they all said that pregnancy made women a bit strange, told me stories about their wives, their girl friends and to be honest, fairy lights sounded pretty mild compared to some of the stories they told me.

Janine’s’ waters broke at 2 in the morning, a freezing cold February morning, I had to scrape the ice off the windscreen before we could make it to the hospital. i wanted to drive fast, get there but the roads were slippy, so i drove carefully, stopping at all the lights, keeping to the speed limits and because it was the middle of the night, the traffic lights took ages to change and Janine was doing her breathing and i was trying to stay calm. There was a big coach parked next to me, the interior lights dimmed, most of the passengers seemed to be dozing, their faces pressed against the windows. i was drumming my fingers against the steering wheel, just waiting for the lights to change and i felt, you know the way you do, someone looking at me, looking down at me and there was a woman, the only person awake on the coach and she was staring at me, her face pale, pressed against the glass and then, thank you god, the lights changed and I moved off, headed towards the hospital.

The birth was easy, even the midwives were impressed, said Janine was a natural, four hours start to finish and then, there he was, my son. Troy Zander Scott, 7 lbs 6 ozs and perfect, just perfect. I sat on the edge of the bed, Janine dozing, exhausted, leaning into me and our son lying between us. I couldn’t stop looking at him, dark hair, dark eyes, soft perfect skin.
My son, i tried the words out loud
“my son” and I felt better, bigger, stronger than at any time in my life.

I left them both sleeping and i went home.

I didn’t remember either of us being in the nursery before we went to the hospital, but Janine must have been up there, before we went to the hospital because all the fairy lights were switched on. They looked good and I sat on the floor, teddy bear on my lap and felt like a man.

Janine rang and I woke up, bit dazed, crashed out on the sofa. Everything was good, they were fine, the doctor said they could come home.
My son could come home.

Janine sounded happy, tired and something else, but I was tired too, brain dead and I just said I’d be there in ten, well maybe twenty.

Actually, it was more like an hour because I suddenly remembered that I needed to fit the car seat and it took a while, so I was a bit twitchy, didn’t want to be late, but of course there wasn’t a parking space and there i was driving round and round the car park, looking for a space. There was a taxi, dropping someone off, a woman, she looked really ill, balding, walking slowly, her face grey, tired and i had this moment and yeah it sounds corny, but I had this moment of complete happiness, a count your blessings moment.

I knew I shouldn’t, but i needed to park, i needed to collect my son, so I pulled up in the taxi parking spaces and legged it into the hospital.

Janine was ready, bag packed, baby bundled up against the cold and I picked him up and looked down at him and felt that warm glow again.

And then, because I was anxious, worried that we might get a ticket, get clamped, I told Janine that I’d take the bags and she could meet me with the baby and yeah i haven’t stopped regretting that, not for a single second, but I need to get this finished, tell the story.

Janine took a while and I started to worry, wondered if something had gone wrong, was about to go back in, prayed that the car would be OK and then i saw her walking towards me, baby hugged tight to her chest, bundled in a blanket to keep out the cold. I smiled, but she didn’t smile back.

I tried to take the baby off her, to settle him in the car seat, but she was holding him tight, didn’t seem to want my help and we almost grappled over him and then the blanket fell away and i was looking down and the thing i was looking at was not my son, was not the perfect baby I had walked away from less than 10 minutes before.

This thing was wrinkled, its skin was grey, ears were wrong and suddenly its eyes snapped open, orange, slitted and it was staring straight at me. I nearly dropped it onto the pavement in horror.

Janine was talking, her mouth moving, but I couldn’t hear anything she was saying, she kept patting my hand and I could hear, from a long way away, her voice, saying that she could explain, that everything would be alright and then I was in the car and she was telling me this story and I couldn’t make sense of it, couldn’t take it in.

Her voice was too fast, desperate and the words that were coming out……………
Her auntie, magic, a deal with the faeries….for fucks sake, faeries and how all our babies would miscarry, but the faeries would let the pregnancy continue, magic and we would get their baby and they would take ours………..

I wanted to slap her, I wanted to do anything to make her stop, I wanted to wake up, but I knew that if i turned round that thing would be sitting in the baby seat, my sons’ baby seat staring at me.

Somehow, we got home. I couldn’t even look at her, I grabbed the thing, roughly, and it opened its’ mouth and it hissed at me.

The fairy lights were still on and i wasn’t surprised when i looked down and saw that they weren’t plugged in.

i opened the window and i held it,the thing, by a bony leg and i shouted loudly, told them to come and get their creature because i was coming to get my son.

And then I dug out my mobile and I didn’t even pause, didn’t even think about it. I rang my brother, my big brother and I walked downstairs and got into my car and headed off on my quest.

A mother had her child taken from the cradle by elves. In its place they laid a changeling with a thick head and staring eyes who would do nothing but eat and drink. In distress she went to a neighbor and asked for advice. The neighbor told her to carry the changeling into the kitchen, set it on the hearth, make a fire, and boil water in two eggshells. That should make the changeling laugh, and if he laughs it will be all over with him. The woman did everything just as her neighbor said. When she placed the eggshells filled with water over the fire, the blockhead said:
Now I am as old
As the Wester Wood,
But have never seen anyone cooking in shells!
And he began laughing about it. When he laughed, a band of little elves suddenly appeared. They brought the rightful child, set it on the hearth, and took the changeling away

We all want explanations for happenings that fall outside of our control, especially those that have a direct bearing on our welfare. It is only natural that our forebears wanted to know why some children fail to develop normally, and what our responsibilities are toward these handicapped individuals. The two stories quoted above are part of a vast network of legends and superstitions that give primitive but satisfying answers to these questions. These accounts — which, unlike most fantasy tales, were actually widely believed — suggest that a physically or mentally abnormal child is very likely not the human parents’ offspring at all, but rather a changeling — a creature begotten by some supernatural being and then secretly exchanged for the rightful child. {footnote 3} From pre-Christian until recent times, many people have sincerely and actively believed that supernatural beings can and do exchange their own inferior offspring for human children, making such trades either in order to breed new strength and vitality into their own diminutive races or simply to plague humankind.
These beliefs continued to exert influence well into the nineteenth century, and in some areas even later. Writing in England in 1890, the pioneer folklorist Edwin Sidney Hartland could state: “In dealing with these stories [about changelings] we must always remember that not merely are we concerned with sagas of something long past, but with a yet living superstition.” {footnote 4} In 1911 W. Y. Evans-Wentz, himself a true believer in the reality of fairy life, published an extensive study, The Fairy-Faith in Celtic Countries, which contains numerous accounts of exchanged children. This book, with a new introduction praising the author for his courageous acceptance of “a greater reality beyond the everyday world,” was reissued in 1966. As late as 1924 it was reported that in sections of rural Germany many people were still taking traditional precautions against the demonic exchange of infants. {footnote 5} Finally, writing in 1980, Hasan M. El-Shamy reports: “The belief that the jinn may steal a human infant and put their own infant in its place is widespread in numerous parts of Egypt.” {footnote 6} Views held firmly for a thousand years do not die easily, especially when they appear to answer some of life’s most troublesome questions.