Top Tips: Everything else

Last week, I wrote about my top tips for activities following a conversation in a trendy third wave coffee shop. I was going to write more, but the mother of my infant son pointed out that 799 words was probably quite enough and that I should save some of my vast wisdom for a later date.

That date is now.

Get to know imperial.

This will make your life much easier. Your parents are not as enlightened as you and do not understand, nor wish to understand, the metric system of weights and measures. Similarly, the makers of the Perfect Prep machine and infant formula have a fondness for whatever the fuck a fluid ounce is.

Let’s approach this from the parent angle first of all. You will be taking your infant son or daughter to be weighed (which is an experience I will relate at a later date, once I have calmed down) and you will need to proudly report this to your parents. You may also need to explain again what a percentile is. The scales at the clinic will report your child’s weight in kilograms, to the nearest gram. You will need to convert this into pounds and ounces and, once your little one is stacking them on, stones and pounds. Alas, the answer Google will give you is unhelpful. Try it.

Now, in the given example, we asked Google to convert 7.312kg into pounds. It cheerily and correctly comes back with 16.12lb which you might reasonably, sensibly and incorrectly interpret as 16lb 12oz in your sensible metric brain. But it isn’t; it’s 16lb and (.12*16)oz. Google doesn’t give the answer in pounds and ounces, but some bastard lovechild of pounds with a decimal. You need to multiply the decimal by sixteen to get your number of ounces. Quite who thought 16 was a sensible base for naturally moving between one unit and another I have no idea; evidently a different person than decided 14 pounds should make a stone and, once again, a different person who determined you would need 160 stones to make up an imperial ton. What the fuck were that lot on? Seriously.

Forget this crucial little step and you too will be responsible for your mother thinking your infant child has either lost or gained a frightening amount of weight. On my calculations, our son lost 7lb in January – better than the combined new year efforts of the rest of the household, but enough to have your parents racing down the A1 with a boot full of hungry infant formula.

The second angle is that your Perfect Prep machine (and you will end up getting one one, even if you think you have no need for one and that it is simply unnecessary, ugly, plastic clutter in your Bauformat kitchen) deals solely in fluid ounces. The good news, however, is that you don’t really need to worry about it – the number of fluid ounces of water just needs to match the number of scoops of formula and, in turn, that needs to be enough to fill your child. There’s a look-up table on the back of the box. Just think of it as an arbitrary number and you’ll be fine.

Buy moisturiser. Now.

You will be washing your hands:

  • Before each bottle;
  • After each bottle;
  • Before each attempt at solid food;
  • After each attempt at solid food;
  • After each nappy change;
  • After you’ve been to the toilet;
  • Before you make breakfast;
  • Before you make lunch;
  • Before you make dinner.

You will also spend a lot of time at the kitchen sink. Washing your stuff, washing bottles, washing work surfaces. Sterilising bottles, either by steam or chemical bath. Laundry, too, will take its toll – especially as you’ll be applying detergent directly to some bodily stain or other.

Water, soaps, detergents, Dettol wipes, towels. Warm inside, cold outside. Gloves on and off. The dermatological torture test that is the microfibre construction baby wipes and nappies. Your hands will be like a pauper’s emery cloth by the end of day 3 but, like the stupid man you are, you’ll work through the pain, ignore the bleeding knuckles, and only get around to sorting your shit out once you’ve had a bollocking for inadvertently damaging a pair of her 60 deniers while you were putting them away.

Buy some properly comfortable and supportive trainers. Now.

Martin and I were talking about pushchairs the other day. He reckoned his had done well over a thousand miles in the year he’d had it and that it could use a bit of a tune up. Based on those numbers, and what my own Google Fit says, expect to walk anywhere between three and seven miles on a typical day. Opportunistic visits to the park, trips to the shops, attending medical appointments, trying to get your child to nap after all in-home methods have failed, coffee, activities, etc. And sometimes it’s nice to just get out of the house because it smells of poo and despair.

Unfortunately all the walking you do won’t have a beneficial impact on your waistline; those bottles of red that got you through the first six months aren’t going anywhere. The reason is simple: you’ll be eating your own weight in snacks every day. Having a coffee in somewhere? You’ll have tried everything on the cake shelf by the end of week four. A particularly vigorous session at the Toy Library taken it out of you? Percy Ingle sausage roll. An insensitively-timed nap caused you to miss lunch and now it’s getting quite close to dinner? Bag of chips from The Fishy Fryer.

The patriarchy sucks.

Helpful reminders of your general position of privilege will mostly come in the form of having to awkwardly stand outside women’s toilets in pubs, church halls and cafes. You will be waiting to ask anyone exiting the aforementioned lavatories whether it is ‘safe’ for you to go in. A surprising number of places, even those that purport to be family friendly, think only women change babies’ nappies and are equipped accordingly.

A man and a baby in a room for a lady
A man and a baby in a room for a lady

You will also be looked at oddly in the parent and baby rooms in shopping centres and your child’s nursery will be surprised to learn it is you, the father, that will be doing the settling in and that the mother has already gone back to work.

Just a little taster of the kind of shit the other half of the population have to put up with every day.


Top Tips: Activities

Fellow inexperienced dad Paddy and I were recently knocking back a couple of drinks in a coffee shop so cool it mostly exists on Instagram. It’s a relatively small space but, in the afternoon, generally a quiet one as well. It’s ideal to turn up, with your Buzz Aldrin Could Have Landed On The Moon With This Buggy buggy, and offer your infant son a variety of foods (cheese, grapes, apple) only for them to end up all over the floor but, crucially, unnoticed until long after you have left. That’s not to say the staff are slovenly or inattentive, of course – quite the opposite (and delightful to boot). If you were working in a cafe that didn’t sell cheese, grapes or apples, would you make looking out for bits of them on the floor one of your top priorities? Be honest.

Anyway, probably as another cube of cheddar fell to the floor, we heard a voice from behind us. Annie, who edits The Early Hour, sounded both surprised and pleased to see two lads and dads out drinking coffee in London’s trendy East London in the middle of a weekday afternoon. Annie was keen to talk to a couple of full time dads for an article – about their experiences and whether they had any top tips to impart to her early morning, intelligent, cosmopolitan audience. Paddy was suitably bashful, as befits a man of his decency and integrity, and I just didn’t want to be the cock that said yes.

The good news for you, however, is that the lovely chat we had with Annie has prompted me to think about my top tips for someone about to take a chunk of time off work to look after their infant son or daughter. My first area of advice is on…


You’ll want to break up your time off by taking your infant off to some activities. There are lots to choose from: Baby Yoga, Baby Disco, Baby Sensory, Baby Swimming, Baby Musical Theatre (yes, really), Baby Rhyme Time, Baby Social, Baby Toy Library. In fact, think of any activity you might reasonably want to do as an adult and then put the word “baby” in front of it. Google it. If it comes up, great. If not, you’ve probably found a profitable niche and should contact some local church halls and hand in your notice in on your next Keep In Touch day.

The truth is that a lot of these sessions are just a variation of sitting in a circle and singing songs at your increasingly fractious child. The main differences between them all are the costs and the types of other parent you will meet. For some of the more popular activities, you will have to join a waiting list and commit to and pay for a whole term of sessions.

Given you’re not earning, not off work for ever, and presumably not wanting to spent the best time of your life surrounded by people you can’t stand, my first top tip would be to book a week off work a month or so before your leave starts. Contact all the (generally slightly weird) people who run the activities and book a taster session for that week. Then, if the price is right, the other parents seem sound, and you get on with the particular manner in which they sing nursery rhymes, get yourself booked on to a course that runs while you’re off.

Speaking of nursery rhymes, there is something you need to be aware of. Since you stopped being interested in nursery rhymes the first time around, some pricks have invented some new ones. You will be expected to possess an innate knowledge of all the words and actions to all these songs, otherwise you will feel both awkward and a failure. Songs that have been invented by some prick since the 1980s include I Wake Up In The Morning And This Is What I Do, Wake Up Little Bunnies, and this absolute delight that you will, at some point, find yourself singing and performing the actions to for the entertainment of your child as you push them down a busy street, surrounded by people who statistically aren’t recent parents and are mostly assuming you’ve lost it:

More top tips will follow once I’ve thought of them.

Mothering Sunday

I should have known the moment I mistakenly took the third exit from the roundabout and ended up on the wrong side of George Lane, a railway and a station standing between where we were and where we wanted to be. That’s when I should have realised. That’s when I should have just ordered a bouquet instead.

But instead I pulled over and chose Google Maps to help me around the intricacies of the South Woodford one-way system. The destination was the pottery cafe I’d visited with George a few weeks back. It was on that occasion I’d had the idea: what could be better, I thought, than for my infant son and I to produce a unique and touching ceramic work for Claire’s first Mothering Sunday?

I should probably point out, at this point, that my talents are not well-weighted in the direction of the arts. I would have done well to remember the appraisal a particularly malevolent primary school teacher once made of one of my less meritorious paintings. Somewhat invidiously, and to the entire class, he described it as ‘an explosion in a beetroot factory’ (it was a purple tree). If only I’d pointed out beetroot is grown on farms, not made in factories, and that he should get his own house in order before publicly shaming a nine year old, the callous ginger dickhead.

I found a parking space after four spins around the one-way system, Google Maps increasingly incredulous at us reaching our destination and driving on time and time again. “An hour should be long enough” I thought, cockily, while feeding the meter. “We’re only decorating an item of crockery”.

This was before I had attempted to apply paint to my infant son’s hands and feet and then produce a reasonable image of them on a plate. It takes longer, is harder, creates more mess and generates more reciprocated resentment between you and your child than might one might initially expect. One of the staff at Creative Biscuit saw our trouble and, having probably heard about Beetrootgate, intervened with calm, measured, experience and got the prints made in a matter of some seconds. All that was left to do was for me to paint a few suitably sentimental words, finish off my coffee, pay up and get off.

Painting words on a plate is difficult. Really difficult. Next time I see a proper hand-painted plate, I will take a moment to reflect on the skill and experience of its artisan creator. After seeing my failed attempts at writing the word ‘to’, one of the other staff suggested I might want to write the words in pencil and then just go over them in paint. (Hopefully I’m not giving away too many trade secrets of the fine china industry; sincere apologies if I unwittingly cause a crisis in Stoke-on-Trent.)

All the words set out in pencil. Colours chosen. Paint brush ready. The first letter. Second letter. Third. Totally in the zone. I was half way through an H when the I was alerted to the gentleman newsreader Harvey Cook’s unmistakable delivery playing out over the cafe’s hifi for the second time since my arrival and, for my subconscious, a helpful reminder that I should stick an extra hour on the parking – and, with a be-camera’d Civil Enforcement Officer a matter of meters up the street, at the most fortuitous time.

Lettering successfully complete and, with another 50 minutes of paid-for parking in hand and driving absolutely the right behaviours, there was clearly scope to add some extra words. My infant son’s name and the year, in Roman numerals, on the front. A little motto and the date of the prints, again in Roman numerals, on the back. Because Roman numerals are a bit special, aren’t they? A little club that not everyone’s in, an opportunity to stop and conjure a memory in years to come as the cogs slowly turn and the date is revealed. Either that or the mark of a pretentious elitist, eager to impress upon you their intellectual superiority, such as the person responsible for their perpetual use in the credits of BBC Television programmes up until really very recently.

Our infant son presented his mother with the plate this morning, along with a small card and box of macarons. A question, which initially appeared innocent, came quickly: “What does MMVI mean?”

“It means twenty sixt…oh, bollocks.”

Mother's Day 2015
Mother’s Day 2006

Happy Mother’s Day, Claire.