It’s been a busy couple of weeks, culminating in a long weekend away at Center Parcs. Just Claire and me, our infant son, and ten of our friends-who-don’t-have-children. All of us, along with four and a half litres of gin, eight bottles of Prosecco, a case of red wine, two crates of Peroni, a selection of bottled real ale, a box of infant formula and a selection box of Ella’s. All tastes catered for.

At this point, it’s important for you to know that Claire comes from something of a ‘planny’ family. Lunches are agreed at least ten clear working days in advance, weekend visits scheduled months ahead, holidays planned years in advance. Sometimes I’m genuinely surprised there’s not a series of allocated time slots pinned on door to their lavatory. I don’t come from a family of planners; my lot are more likely to decide to make the 180-mile trip only to find we’ve gone out.

Anyway. The good thing about one of us being a plan fan is that we usually have an enviable set of gigs to look forward to, a Saturday night table at one of London’s better eateries, at least one reasonably priced flight to somewhere new and interesting, etc. That was back when we did things like go to concerts, eat in restaurants other than Giraffe and holiday in places that aren’t just an hour up the M1. But did we manage to secure any baby activities at Center Parcs? Or did we spectacularly fail to secure the boy a single minute of creche, baby sensory or messy club? And, with the infant swimming session scheduled at 9am on a Saturday, the boy’s swimming shorts were destined to remain untainted by chlorine.

He was stuck with us, our ten friends, and the largest cache of alcohol that’s ever been driven away from Tesco Bedford in a small family hatchback. Thankfully, there is a mutual love and respect between drunk people and babies, probably borne out of the similarities between the two: undulating emotions, an insatiable appetite for snoozing, tearful wake-ups, and a love of MC Hammer.

Not being completely irresponsible, we made a pact. Claire would swap Captain Calamari for Captain Morgan on the Friday and I’d get to decide which particular red wine most looked like Ella’s Prunes Prunes Prunes on the Saturday. Everyone else would be all even on both nights. Except we’re all well into our thirties now and, never the fan of drinking alone, I’m sadly unable to report any findings.

The simple things

You might think that counting to seven is a simple and straightforward task, something which you’d be capable of in almost any situation and most, if not all, circumstances. I, once, was like you.

In the last week, I’ve needed to count to seven on around thirty or forty occasions – while adding scoops of formula into a bottle – and think I’ve managed to do it, and being absolutely sure I’ve got it right, about half the time. The rest is anyone’s guess. I’d be pretty sure they were all one either side of seven. Given that he’s both a little chubby chops and a bottomless pit, I can only assume it’s ending up about right. Either that or I’m managing to feed him both too much and too little at the same time.

A number of other useful life skills have packed up and pissed off in the last week, presumably thanks to the heady combination of sleep depravation and spending my days with someone who communicates solely in grunts, cries, chuckles, and using his fingernails to lacerate your face:

  • various bruises attest to my latent ability to walk down our hallway while avoiding static hazards (e.g. the thermostat, door frames);
  • I have forgotten the process of ‘making a cup of tea’ beyond putting a tea bag and some hot water in a mug (for the record, this is: stir it a bit, add some milk, leave it a bit, stir it a bit more, remove tea bag, stir it a bit more, leave for a while, drink (NB this is definitely the correct way to make a cup of tea));
  • knowing that it is not possible to reason with a six month old as they generally don’t understand what you’re saying (“if you stop kicking your heels in your dirty nappy I will make extra sure I put the right amount of powder in your next bottle”) or why you’re crying (it’s 3am, your infant son is engaging in a dirty protest in your white-walled living room, you know full well you stand zero chance of being able to count to seven);
  • how to work Sky+ (“make sure you delete the one we’ve just watched, not the one that’s recording now.” (Did anyone tape this week’s Deutschland 83? Asking for a friend.));
  • knowing that you probably shouldn’t make wisecracks in a big WhatsApp group where you only know about half the people (I’m no longer going to a birthday party this Friday).

They’re just the day-to-day faculties I’ve lost. In terms of actual possessions, I’ve actually lost my actual wallet, containing all my actual bank cards, my actual driving licence, my actual Nectar card, my actual Tesco Clubcard, my actual My Waitrose card, my actual AA membership card (Relay, Home-Start and Stay Mobile cover – a small price to pay for a great big piece of mind when you drive a ten year old Italian hatchback), and two slightly used books of actual Royal Mail stamps. Plus some receipts for some stuff. And an EE SIM card I use at Glastonbury.

I last had my actual wallet on Thursday afternoon at Big Tesco in Edmonton (the one next to Ikea) where I stocked up on a wide range of groceries (formula, some Ella’s, nappies, nappy bags, baby wipes, Calpol, some bottle teats, a bottle scrubbing brush, a pack of muslins, a bunch of bananas) and then, buoyed by my success, decided it would be a good idea to take my infant son to soft play. I took a photo of my infant son looking unimpressed at being in a ball pool (while trying to work out how to eat one of the balls) and another of him crying in a Little Tikes fire engine. Dad of the year.

Alex in a ball pool
Anyway. It is all very well larking about in a ball pool with your infant, occasionally tearful, son on a Thursday afternoon when you and your mate Lynne have got the place to yourselves. It is quite another thing to return on a very busy Friday morning, without your infant son (who I needed to guard the car because, you know, traffic wardens) or mate Lynne, and start feeling every square inch of the ball pool floor as part of the eternal search for something that’s forever out of reach. Top tip: if you are a lone adult male who has legitimate reason to enter a children’s soft play area for a good rummage, you might want to explain yourself to at least one of the mums. On the upside, I did find a bit of a Tracker bar and the centre manager was, eventually, most understanding. Then we went home (no parking ticket, well done son) and I rang all the banks and supermarkets and asked them to send me new cards, please. “Certainly, Mr. Jeffery. Can I just take the second and seventh letters from your telephone banking password?”

Nothing’s simple.

The stuff of nightmares

As anyone who is a BBC Studio Manager (which I maintain is one of the best jobs in the world) will be able to tell you, the job comes with nightmares (in as many metaphorical and literal forms as you might want). Anyone who has been a BBC Studio Manager will tell you the rather vivid nightmares keep coming long after you last walked through the revolving doors at Broadcasting House. I’ve been out of the game for very nearly five years, but my last shift meant getting up at 4:20am, making my way to Television Centre, grabbing the Radio 4 bull by its early morning horns and riding it all the way to Droitwich. I later held some leaving drinks at The Eagle on Goldhawk Road. It has since closed.

And so back to that ominous time, twenty past four, on this Monday morning. The lad’s got a bit of a bit a sniffle and those teeth are just about to break through (still). Also he’d not eaten for eight hours and had done a massive shit. Up we get – change, feed, paracetamol suspension. But then no sleep, not for another hour and a half. As we pace the hallway for the thirtieth or fortieth time, me battling to keep the muslin over his eyes, I curse the Nest. That it lights up each time we pass is a reason for him to remain up and at ’em, that it doesn’t show highlights of the day’s various cricket matches is a disappointment to me. I break out some Radio 4. My faith in humanity is restored when I hear the mellifluous tones of Street Crime UK’s Susan Rae.

He falls asleep not long after Farming Today starts (read into that what you will). I put him to bed. I go back to bed. I fall asleep. I am transported back to the always-familiar surroundings of S2 Cubicle, one time home of early morning Radio 4 Continuity. Senior Announcer Chris Aldridge is the other side of the glass. The early morning sun is beginning to break through the blinds at the back of the room.

Chris hands to the sports presenter, who I fade up on time, and things take a strange turn. BBC Radio Sport The Musical is unexpectedly initiated during a cricket match report by Colin Croft. A liniment of 5 Live Sport producers immediately descends upon the studio, wheeling a powerless (but smiling) Chris Aldridge out down the corridor, probably locking him in the studio local radio use to interview people who have been fired from The Apprentice. He is supplanted by Mark Saggers and a trombone. The rest of the BBC Sport Brass Band Society cram in there alongside him; Pat Murphy on the tuba, Jason Mohammad on flugelhorn, the late, great, John Myers on the trumpet. Obviously. They crack on with the song from the Hovis advert.

It’s not long before former professional sportsman, football pundit and night club DJ Pat Nevin turns up and politely requests my attention. He’s brought a box of records, some maracas, and Hazel Irvine off of the snooker. I rig some turntables in a corner of the cubicle and tell him how much I enjoyed his set at the Moustache Bar that time. Pat’s all set and, for the first time, the Radio 4 audience gets to hear the unlikely combination of brass band improvising over a selection of Stoke Newington’s favourite northern soul records. I forget to fade up Hazel’s maracas and start to fill in a log.

Two men in blue overalls turn up. “It’s the Steinway for Mr. Inverdale’s performance.” Of course it is. We move the main mixing desk from its usual place, the middle of the room, to one the back corners. Invers must be able to make eye contact with everyone, preferably all at once, and so must be able to sit in the prime position. Silence soon descends. The solo flugelhorn of Jason Mohammad announces the arrival of Sir John.  The producer opens the door for him. We’re all expectant and just about ready, only for Alan Green to abruptly arrive (“I was stuck in traffic, can you believe it?”) and demand to play The Entertainer.

I sit in the Studio Managers’ Common Room with a cup of tea afterwards. We all agree I did very well in the circumstances and that it was an awful thing to happen to someone on a one-off freelance shift to break up nine weeks of parental leave. Nobody knows what happened to Chris.


I think my subconscious might have planted a metaphor or two in there.