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They do say, young man, that leopards don’t change their spots; but they talk rubbish and we all know it. How long has it taken (with your help) to change every part of my life?

You’ve changed so much I barely even recognise some of your baby pictures; I’ve changed completely, because now I’m someone who likes to look at baby pictures.

Let me show you:

Less than a week old

Less than a week before your birthday

The same guy? If I hadn’t seen you grow with my own eyes, I wouldn’t believe it.

When I sat down to write this little note, I had only the haziest idea of what it would look like; I knew I wanted to leave you another little milestone for the future, so that the time around your first birthday would be as accessible for you as the time of your birth, but beyond that I had a blank page.

I finally settled on borrowing a tradition from the office of the US President: please consider this the first annual State of the Next Generation Address.

A grand upheaval

I’m not sure it’s possible to convey just how enormous has been the change to my habits, desires and priorities your arrival prompted; but I’m a game guy, I’ll have a bash.

In the very early weeks of your life, your mother and I had to deal with two major tremors in the fabric of our lives.

  • On the Emotional level, we had to get our heads around just how precious you were to us and how big/scary/downright unwelcoming the world was for a little person. That meant many moments of worry, of dizzying responsibility-related panic, of beating ourselves up over small mistakes in your care… it also meant many moments of quiet communion with you during late night feeds, or soppy tears and husky voices as we read you stories. It’s a big, big love to have drop into one’s lap and it took a while to get used to it. Honestly, there was a time in the hospital when I thought I’d never be able to hold you without tears… a granite-jawed, stoic frontiersman your old man is not.
  • On the Practical level, we had an incredibly complex, time-intensive routine to incorporate into our normal functioning. Speaking only for myself: I’m not good with chores and maintenance-type tasks. Getting on top of the feeds, changes, sleeps, sterilisations, baths et al that you brought with you was pretty challenging. There were a lot of actions and they were required very regularly; it was a thorny process, involving many raised voices from all three of us.

The primary factor in achieving comfort with these changes was a simple one: confidence.

A very good friend (and one of your many uncles) expressed it best to me when talking about bringing his second child home: “Well,” he shrugged, “You know they’re not going to blow up… so it’s fine.”

That’s the truth of the matter. As each day passed and nothing awful happened, we started to become less stressed; at the same time, you began to space out your sleeps and feeds as your own rhythms settled down. We became slicker at doing all the maintenance jobs; at the same time, your level of demand for those jobs began subtly dropping off.

In the months leading up to your half-year, my memory becomes a bit of a blur. I know there was a lot of lying around, combined with a fair amount of hilarious fashion decisions into which you had no input. Luckily, you don’t have to rely on my hazy descriptions, as your mother has a host of photographs:

You appear terrified, but that bear suit is nonetheless one of my fondest memories.

This is from a coffee shop in St Andrews, I believe – part of a long tradition of photos in which we’re largely chopped out. You’ll be used to it by now, I suppose.

At the time of writing, this is the closest you’ve ever been to PJ in your life.

I included this one just for laughs. Sorry, mate.

As you can see, these were some good times. You had moved on from being a tiny, largely unresponsive baby to a bubbly wee guy with recognisable features and an interest in the world.

One of my most treasured memories from this stage is of carrying you around in your baby harness:

I will never get tired of these pictures. If you ever feel like shrinking so I can fit you back in that thing, just let me know.

Once we reached the half-year mark, you really started to up the pace. Firsts arrived with the regularity of Scottish raindrops.

  • You started wriggling around a whole lot more – we’d find you in all sorts of bizarre, sprawling positions when we walked into your bedroom in the morning.
  • You began sitting up of your own accord, which seemed a revelation at the time, but was quickly dwarfed by your other spiralling achievements.
  • Your risk-taking nature started to assert itself (or your Mother’s – a matter of interpretation) as you began taking to swings, ballpits and the garden.

As ever, these moments are preserved in glorious technicolour:

Nap? I thought you said ‘gymnastics’.

Move the bottle, son, it’s undignified.

Faster, faster MUHAHAHAHAHAHA

You were always this good-looking; even my DNA couldn’t hold you back.

As we closed in on your first birthday, every day was a surprise. You’ve never been quiet, sunshine, but your chatterbox nature really started to exert itself:

  • You had favourite words and sounds which you would repeat, over and over. At one point, you said ‘Bob’ so frequently that we assumed he must be a close personal friend; later, you would spout ‘sugoi’ in long, gurgling chains. I’m told it means ‘awesome’ in Japanese, which indicates that you were already an optimistic cosmopolitan even at this early stage.
  • A range of ear-piercing shrieks and deafening bellows were deployed, to indicate your impatience with our failure to feed or amuse you sufficiently well or quickly. If you ever complain about someone else being demanding, forgive me when I laugh blackly in your face.

You weren’t just getting louder, either: you were becoming mobile.

  • At first there was the rolling; you would stretch yourself into a crude spindle and tumble sideways toward nearby objects. This was hilarious to watch, but heralded the end of that precious period during which we could set you down in  one spot, nip to the loo and expect you to still be there when we returned.
  • Then came the commando crawling. Whenever I was called upon to describe the pained, desperate way you would drag yourself forward an inch at a time, I could only compare it to watching Sean Connery’s grim struggle after taking an abdomen full of lead in action classic, The Untouchables. Watch it and see if it brings back any memories.
  • Latest in the developmental line is your full-throttle crawling. As I type, you are perhaps the fastest thing on four legs in our house – and trust me, the cat is no slouch. It is both exhilirating and terrifying to watch you barrelling around the domestic environment, finding specks of dirt to eat, hinges in which to jam your fingers and cat food to decorate the kitchen with; how close I feel to each end of the spectrum is a function of how likely I am to catch up to you before disaster strikes.

Here are a few of your highlights from the run-up to your first birthday. Please note: you spent a lot of time at the swing park!

With your good pal, Music Bunny

With your good pal, Music Bunny

 

BANANA!

BANANA!

Photogenic doesn't really cover it.

Photogenic doesn’t really cover it.

You were no stranger to the Seven Seas, even at an early age. YA-HAAAAAARRR

You were no stranger to the Seven Seas, even at an early age. YA-HAAAAAARRR

In short, you’ve come a long way from eating, sleeping and involuntary muscle movements. You’re a proper little guy – and watching you grow is proving to be more fun than I could ever have imagined.

Lifelong learning

More eloquent people than I have remarked on the double-life a parent is obliged to lead, as both teacher and student. All I can add to their insight is an extra, assenting voice.

You came into this world knowing almost nothing, David, but you weren’t quite the blank slate I had imagined you would be. It wasn’t so much what you had to learn that surprised me, but what you didn’t – the mannerisms and attitudes which were written into your DNA, but which I had always assumed would have been the product of nurture over nature.

I’ll give you the perfect example: when you are tired, you roll your head from side to side. You do this whether sitting up or lying down, wherever you happen to be. When I first saw you doing it, I presumed that you were irritated and struggling to be free of my interference. Your mother corrected me; when I asked her how she knew, she replied that she did the same thing.

“No you don’t,” I retorted, to which she responded by demonstrating her version of the motion. I was immediately struck by a feeling of having seen, but never recognised a fundamental pattern – it was obvious in that second that I had seen her roll her head a thousand times, but had never connected it with tiredness or, latterly, with your behaviour.

It was a wonderful moment. Your mum was demonstrating for me the unbreakable bond that will always exist between you; without words, she was telling me that on a fundamental level, you were made of the same stuff. I knew intellectually that this was true, as I knew it was true for you and me, but this was the first time I felt it. Every time since, when you exhibit a behaviour of yours which reflects one of ours, I get the same little thrill.

Of course there are many things we do need to teach you – and let me be clear, you are a quick learner. Having seen you explode forward from the start line of total helplessness to your current milestone of exuberant exploration, I know just how quickly you can push back your own horizons. I promise you that I will never underestimate your potential having seen the leaps already made.

I can’t round off a section on learning and teaching without stressing how much you have taught me. Thanks to you, I’ve learned:

  • That even a man who hates domestic chores can change nappies and clean bottles like a pro when your welfare is at stake.
  • That it is possible to have more fun sitting on our living room rug with you than cube drafting.
  • That I could love you more today than the day you were born, an idea I would have laughed off at the time.

Bring on Chapter 2

I’m told that children of two are ‘terrible’ – but I’m quite happy to find out for myself. It’s been great fun hanging around with you this last year, so I can’t believe that your company over the next 12 months won’t be worth swallowing a few tantrums for.

I’ll be back, once the dust has settled on this next stretch of our journey, to document it all for you once again. I hope we’ll read this together one day and share some laughs, when you’re taking your first steps into the big bad world, or perhaps even when you have kids of your own. I also like to think that, even when I’m not around to talk to, your childhood will still be here for you to explore and to wonder at as I did first time around.

I love you, bambino. Until next year…

10 reasons why Bane is a great role model for my son

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Polite notice: if you haven’t seen the Dark Knight Rises, not only will this article probably spoil elements of the film for you, it just won’t make any sense. You have been warned.

My partner and I had a slight disagreement about the Dark Knight Rises.

It was the kind of disagreement which sees one of us sitting, rapt, in front of the cinema screen while the other leaves in disgust after 2 hours, with nary a good word to say about the film.

However, the one thing we both agreed on was that Bane, god bless his cotton socks, made a real impact on-screen.

After several weeks of intermittent Bane references and at least one wedding celebration dominated by Bane impressions and an Usher highly reminiscent of the great man, I arrived at a singular realisation: Bane is a fabulous role model for a growing boy.

Here, as succinctly as possible, I’m going to lay out the reasons I think my own beloved son can learn important lessons from “Gotham’s Reckoning”:

1. He promotes physical fitness

Let’s start with the obvious: Bane is a monster. He appears to be about 9 feet tall whenever he’s depicted on screen, but the real impact the man makes is with his incredible physique.

I’d like David not to emulate me in terms of his physical condition – god knows I could use 6 months on a treadmill – but instead take a lead from the B-Dogg. I want him to realise that if he keeps himself in shape, it will be easier to realise many of his ambitions; say, completing a charity triathlon, or “breaking the Bat”.

2. He knows how to handle himself

This is really a two-sided point.

On one hand, Bane illustrates the importance of and advantages conferred by a familiarity with Martial Arts. This is a good thing for David to learn – maybe it’ll encourage a lifelong interest in Judo, or something. That would be nice.

On the other hand, Bane reminds us that the correct course of action when facing a potential confrontation with an 18 stone psychopath is to run like fuck. That’s pretty important, too.

3. He’s focussed on his goals

No one can really accuse “Big B” of pissing around. He isn’t ever depicted sitting on the couch, ignoring calls from Talia, squeezing in ‘just one more game’ of Minesweeper.

When he wants something, like the attention of a full crowd and national TV audience currently watching an American Football game, well… He bloody well goes out and gets it.

4. He inspires loyalty

In some moments of quiet reflection, I like to think that some of the people I work with would gladly plummet to their deaths in the wrecked fuselage of a plane simply because I asked them to.

That said, I’m not convinced.

I think David probably has more to learn from Bane on this front.

5. He recognises the importance of discipline

It will be much easier for me to sell David on the concept of ‘tough love’ if he is already intimately familiar with the phrase, “Your punishment must be more… Severe.”

Granted, I’ll be talking in terms of a week’s grounding rather than existential torture in a geographically indistinct, underground prison. But the point still stands.

6. He shows that losing your hair isn’t the end of the world

I’m not sure whether David is terribly likely to succumb to early male pattern baldness, but if he does, I don’t want it to shake his confidence.

Bane doesn’t have any hair, but by god that didn’t stop him from executing a daring and complex stock market fraud, then dragging an entire city to the brink of self destruction.

I’ve even heard one young lady describe Bane as ‘sexy’ and although that’s a stretch, it still comfortingly reinforces the ‘bald is beautiful’ lobby.

7. He doesn’t stand on ceremony

If there’s one thing I hate, it’s needless formality. Events with stifling dress codes, the insistence of some people that they are addressed by a particular title, etc.

Seriously, what a pain. Luckily, Bane feels the same way, “…Mr Wayne.”

8. He has great spatial awareness

The ability to clearly visualise one’s own surroundings, those depicted on a map or even a complex set of blueprints is invaluable in any number of pastimes and careers.

With a quality like this, David could excel at everything from orienteering on a school trip to the establishment of a career in town planning, or architecture. It would also stand him in great stead if he ever wanted to construct a subterranean stronghold directly beneath the armoury of his mortal enemy.

9. He believes in thorough planning

When Bane wanted to raze Gotham to the ground, he didn’t just rock up and start asking around the bars for people interested in a spot of casual anarchy.

Instead, he took his time, kidnapped the only nuclear scientist in the world capable of transforming a wholesome, clean energy source into a Neutron weapon, faked deaths, established an army of desperate men and extremists in the tunnels beneath the city, targeted his greatest enemy for an elaborate financial, emotional and physical destruction… etc, etc.

It’s good to think ahead.

10. He reminds us of the importance of good diction

In life, it’s hard to get anywhere if 50% of the people who hear you speak don’t have a scooby what you’re actually saying.

David will have to pass the ‘Bane test’ in our house as he grows up – just one hint of his speech descending into a garbled hybrid of aristocratic pronunciation and a distorted mobile phone call will result in him being packed off to an elocution specialist.

I’m certain that my partner will agree completely with me on this point, if not on some of the others.

Soothing the savage beast (or otherwise)

If I continue to sing in the house, there is every chance that my partner will behead me.

Taken in isolation, this statement could well make the poor woman sound like a shrew of uber-Shakespearean proportions; frankly, that conclusion would be misguided, the result of missing information.

You see, until you have lived in our house, it’s difficult to appreciate just how much time I spend singing.

At any hour of the morning or evening, I am but a chance remark away from breaking into song.

  • You used a phrase which appears in the lyrics of a song I know? I’m singing it.
  • You spoke about a TV programme, a film or a computer game I know? Get ready for the theme music.
  • You – foolishly – mentioned an actual piece of music? Strap yourself in… I’m singing the whole thing, including my verbal approximations of any interesting instrumentals or percussion. WITH ACTIONS.

It takes a person of peculiar patience to tolerate this. Once that patience is exhausted, decapitation is the inevitable consequence. It serves me well to remember this fundamental truth.

There is an argument, of course, which asserts that if my partner has reached the stage of co-habitation and child rearing with me, she has had plenty of opportunity to sever my head already. It follows that, if she hasn’t done so by now, she likely never will – or even that she no longer has any right to complain.

As a fair-minded person, I have to argue in response – and apparently, bafflingly, in favour of my own execution – that the river of domestic song has grown wider in recent days. I lay the blame for this development, predictably, upon my seven month old son.

Why should this poor child carry the can for yet another one of my idiosyncrasies? It’s because the little mischief-maker encourages me, that’s why.

He laughs, you see. His mouth spreads into a crude, half-moon shape, his eyes crinkle up and a primal, half-roaring-half-exhalation sound spills out of him. It doesn’t matter if I’m making up rhymeless nonsense on the spur of the moment, or doing my utmost to precisely recreate a beloved album recording… he laughs. It’s the most rewarding sound I’ve ever heard.

He’s also something of a singer himself. Each morning between 5.00am and 6.30am, as light streams into his room, David begins to serenade us. He emits a lilting chain of vowel sounds as he rolls back and forward, batting at his mobile and closely examining the tiny scratch mitts which prevent him from tearing out his eyes in the night. My partner and I will often lie, giggling quietly to each other, as our heir darts up and down the vocal scale like the needle on a lie detector.

Having observed her reaction to the wee man’s putative warblings, I now have a stratagem to keep my skull affixed to my spine. I’m going to encourage David to sing as loudly and as often as he likes… hopefully, by the time he’s about five, my positively demure spells of crooning will slip by unnoticed in his bellowing backwash.

Keep your fingers (and tonsils) crossed for me.

Follow @daveshed

For your viewing pleasure

How and when should my baby become acquainted with Television?

Few questions are likely to provoke such debate amongst a group of parents as this one.

In my admittedly limited experience, there are always some aspects of child-rearing that a person can’t get too excited about. Although it differs from individual to individual, you can usually assume that not everyone will get really worried about the precise temperature of baby’s bedroom, or how long they should stay, uninterrupted, in their car-seat.

But everyone, everyone, has a position on Television.

Unscientific as it is, my own process of holding numerous conversations about the topic has led me to believe that there is an approximately 80-20 split amongst prospective and new parents about their offspring’s desired viewing habits.

  • 80% feel that television is the devil. It will rot the tiny, perfect brain they’ve spent 9 months gestating so carefully. They visualise a life in which junior watches at most 30 minutes of TV, with exclusively educational or cultural content, per day.
  • 20% feel that television can be fun for kids and useful for parents. They don’t feel that modern TVs will damage their children’s eyes, like the clunky models of the ’80s, or their brains. They visualise a life in which junior watches TV as a leisure pursuit, with no hard and fast limits on the time spent viewing.

It pains me to admit that, for all I like to consider myself a laid back liberal, I fall instinctively into the first category. I imagine David slumped in his chair, pumping a vast, sludgy river of ‘Dancing on Ice’ and ‘The Only Way is Essex’ down his optic nerve and into his vulnerable young consciousness; then, white with terror, I use this nightmare endgame to justify asking pointed questions of my partner about whether he should really be watching an episode of  Waybuloo every couple of days.

While this kind of thinking is popular, I’m beginning to accept that it’s also pretty daft. There are a couple of big problems with the puritanical anti-TV approach:

  • For my own generation, TV formed a huge part of our shared experience. Starting at primary school, where an in-depth knowledge of He-Man and the A-Team was a prerequisite for social interaction, and reaching into adulthood, which in my case has been utterly immersed in pop-culture references, a good chunk of our ability to relate to each other has been defined by the TV we’ve mutually watched. In my experience, this connection has largely been a force for good, building bridges between those who might otherwise have little in common.
  • It’s not terribly pragmatic. Do we, the new-parent TV puritans, really believe that all those mums and dads who allow their kids to watch the box are irresponsible and weak? Do we really think that, as our kids become more demanding, we won’t crave a few minutes of peace to get things done or collect our thoughts? Do we look forward, eagerly, to the clashes that will ensue when our offspring start to compare their privileges with those of their friends? I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’d find it difficult to say ‘yes’ to any of these questions, never mind the full triumverate.

These considerations have started to turn my opinion, like some vast and stubborn supertanker, onto a new course.

Of course, the small matter of my own hypocrisy has lent a rather large helping hand.  Allow me to explain…

This weekend, my partner finally agreed to go on a well-deserved night out and leave David in my sole care until the next day. Presented with an opportunity for us to spend 24 hours uninterrupted together, I realised there was only one appropriate way to spend our time: absorbing the ultimate exploration of Father and Son relationships, Star Wars.

Armed with this tenuous premise, I proceeded to share the original trilogy with my first-born in its entirety – albeit liberally broken up by spells of eating, sleeping, singing, dancing, funny faces and any other device I could think of to make him laugh.

It was everything I thought it could be.

David was wide-eyed as the iconic opening scenes of Episode IV brought an imperial Star Destroyer rumbling over his head; his face spilt into a joyous, gaping smile as I sang along to the theme tune and incidental music; he laughed out loud, unprompted, when he saw his first Ewok in Episode VI. I knew that he was far too young to follow the narrative – he struggles with Goodnight Moon at present – but I wanted him to start absorbing the sheer mythological grandeur of a narrative which, I hope, will become a shared passion of ours in the years ahead.

As I bounced the boy on my knee to the closing score of Return of the Jedi, a little voice asked me why the hell it was OK to watch 6 hours of classic space fantasy in a day, but suspect to catch the occasional 30 minutes of children’s programming?

Hands up, dear reader: I couldn’t give any justification stronger than a sheet of wet tissue paper.

Having accepted that I was operating a chronic double standard, I decided to take a fresh look at one of the iconic points of TV concern in our house: Waybuloo.

I should state upfront that, when I was tutting, shaking my head and worrying about the effect Waybuloo might be having on my child, I hadn’t seen a single episode. In this respect, I’m much like a procession of Tory MPs and Daily Mail headline writers, who have understood for many years that it’s unnecessary to be familiar with material before condemning it as morally abhorrent. I am not reassured by this comparison.

Eager to redeem myself, I decided to watch an episode of Waybuloo, so that I could make an informed judgement. I anticipated an entirely acceptable but tepid children’s programme, which I could grudgingly concede didn’t quite constitute the brain-rotting bollocks I had previously expected.

What I got was something altogether different: a genuinely magical 25 minutes, which dripped with colour, character and mystic wholesomeness.

If you are the parent of a young child, but haven’t already watched this show, do so as soon as possible. Populated by sunny, child-like, benevolent spirits which partake in a Jedi-esque Yoga session (amongst other pursuits) every episode, this programme is the poster child for the sort of TV I want my son to enjoy. There is enough in the way of socialisation and education to make it helpful in his development, but enough fun and wonder that he will also find his right-brain suitably enriched.

I have never felt such a comprehensive twat as I did when the end credits rolled. If this was what I had given my partner a grilling over… suffice to say, I had mastered the art of overreaction.

What I’ve learned, that I already knew, is not to make sweeping judgements.

What I’ve learned, for the first time, is that TV can actually bring something wonderful to my child – but that I’ll need to do the spadework and assess each programme or film on its own merits, rather than lazily giving everything the thumbs up or thumbs down.

If a little bit of donkey work is all that stands between me and a Father/Son trip to the lightsaber ballet, I guess I can live with that.

Follow @daveshed

Boys on Tour

At first I felt like Batman, donning his utility belt, as I clipped each section into place. Then, as the more robust safety catches and bolts were locked down, I mentally promoted myself to Iron Man. Tooled up, baby. Ready to go.

Of course, I was neither: I was a relatively new dad, attaching my son securely to my chest with a Baby Bjorn, which was even better.

David, for his part, gurned a little as we found the right position. Once he realised that he was being plastered to my manly bosoms, all the fight went out of him – this was essentially a prolonged and artificially reinforced cuddle. What was not to like?

Slightly frosty ground crunched under the soles of my trainers as we took to the road, the boy wrapped up like an arctic explorer and dozing serenely while I alternated between grinning stupidly and awkwardly squinting downward to ensure that I wasn’t somehow smothering him.

This was going to be great.

Ever since the little man was born, I have been looking forward to the experience of carrying him about in a papoose. We were big on hugs in my family and I’m an almost offensively tactile person; I literally can’t think of a nicer way to move him around.

Of course, there are some downsides:

  • It can be hard on the lower back, a region of my body which already absorbs a lot of punishment since the onset of fatherhood.
  • It’s not an all-in-one solution if you’re travelling by car, in the same way as the indispensablecar seat and wheels combo.
  • It’s ghastly to start walking somewhere with your child harnessed under your nose, only for them to shit themselves all but immediately.

Still, I think one would have to be particularly curmudgeonly to write off this fabulous bonding tool entirely on the basis of spinal trauma and vile odours.

David was slightly heavier than I had expected; evidently I had grown too used to thinking of him as a ‘wee baby’. At 9 weeks, his weight had almost doubled. This was cause for celebration in every area of my life except my lumbar curve.

As we reached the main street, heading toward the shopping arcade, a more steady stream of Broxburners passed us on their way. From some, I had nods or smiles, even some cooing. This, I felt, was understandable, given that David was dressed in an all-in-one Bear suit. What I couldn’t understand was the approach of those who strolled by without so much as a glance. I was a man with what looked like an Ewok strapped to his chest… such a thing is worth a double-take.

The Bear suit has become such an iconic part of David’s early life that I’m certain I’ll actively mourn once he outgrows it. It’s a veteran of his first trips out from home, at which point he was unable to fill the arms and legs and simply inhabited the abdomen of the thing, curled up into a fleshy ball like some baby/hedgehog hybrid.

It may well serve some other child in due course, but I’m loathe to part with it. Do not be surprised to hear tell of a madman in Broxburn, who has mounted a tiny bearskin on his wall.

Arriving at Greggs the bakers, I got my proud-papa moment in spades. The ladies behind the till fawned over David, while I used this distraction as cover to buy more iced buns than a man in my shape really should. Of course, this came after the gymnastic performance I put on in order to remove my wallet from my inner-jacket pocket without removing my son from his papoose. A brighter man would have transferred the wallet to his trouser pocket before setting off; but by the same token, a brighter man would not have identified the potential alternative career of strait-jacket escape artist as one for which he had a born talent.

As I made my way back toward the house, the definitive encounter of our trip was sprung upon me. An elderly lady accosted us mere steps from the bakers’ shopfront and, sporting kindly eyes and a manic grin, began to grill me on every detail of my partner’s labour and my heir’s early life.

No sooner had I begun answering than she stepped right in with #sickbrags: “The smallest baby I ever held was 1lb 2oz,” she informed me in response to my remark that, at 5lb 11oz, David had been a diminutive newborn. “It was one of triplets. It fitted right into the palm of my hand.”

Caught between the divergent approaches of engaging in some kind of Baby Top Trumps (“The midwives said David was the most alert newborn they’d ever seen! What’s the most alertness-related praise you’ve ever heard for a baby, EH??!”) or simply smiling and nodding, I chose the second and more cowardly option.

I was rewarded with a narrative covering every labour and birth which had ever occurred in the female line of the lady’s family. While, at times, I wondered if I would be able to get David home before we both perished of hunger, the experience did make me glad that I hadn’t gone the Top Trumps route – she had me beat on everything from shortest labour to hairiest head, I shit ye not.

A note to new fathers: it’s nice when old ladies take an interest in your bambino, if only because they are the only constituency outside your blood relatives who will unfailingly volunteer gushing praise about them. However, it doesn’t take terribly long for such experiences to start inspiring trepidation; I have been known to cross the street at the mere sight of a pensionable female, stuffing the wee man desperately beneath my jacket and affecting the kind of forced, nonchalant whistling one sees only in old cartoons.

There will only be a small window in which I can carry David around like this, strapped to my chest in an enduring hug. Once he has outgrown it, there will be only a few scant years before he decides that any kind of hug from his father is embarrassing and I’m restricted to stiff, formal handshakes with an awkward tween-to-teenager. For now though, he not only permits such hugging, he is visibly calmed and reassured by it.

I mean to enjoy every minute.

As I approached our driveway, I was flushed by cold air and success. We had done it – our first ‘Boys on Tour’ moment, out by ourselves away from our traditional female authority figures. We’d have many more such moments, I hoped, up to and including my eventual, ill-fated participation in David’s Stag weekend in Magaluf… but this one would take some beating. I allowed myself a brief stop on the doorstep to plant a kiss on the wee man’s head, before bustling inside to make a start on those iced buns.

The Council of Fathers

They raised their eyes as the great oaken door burst open, its clamour echoing throughout the hall; then, as the grizzled warrior strode into view, wolf-pelt cloak flowing behind him, they stood as one. They stood for their King.

“Who has answered my call?” he boomed, climbing the steps to the granite throne flanked on all sides by their own stone seats, throwing himself into its lap with the fierce aspect of the lupine he wore upon his back.

“Usterven, son of Agrevus, Lord of the North!” cried one voice.

“Sulter, White Duke of the Southern plains!” bellowed another. One by one, his lords added their own names and titles to the roll, until all the lands of his kingdom had been listed in the response.

The King allowed his gaze to trace over each of them, stout and steadfast to a man. He had need of all their steel now; their guile, too.

“It heartens me, friends, that you have met the need of your King so faithfully,” he told them, in solemn tones. “I must present to you a challenge so daunting, it has brought my own great house near to its knees. I pray your counsel can aid me, else it may cost me my very sanity.”

The assembled lords and barons absorbed his words with furrowed brows. Eventually, old Laenum Blackblade, the most wizened man of the council, spoke their thoughts aloud: “Put us to the test, My Lord. We stand ready.”

The King closed his eyes, breathed deep and long. When at last he opened them again, he spoke with a heavy heart.

“It’s my son. He’s three weeks old and had been sleeping fine, until last night… I tried to put him down after his 2am feed, but he went bananas. Like, BANANAS.”

Around the shadowy circle of chairs, heads nodded.

“I would pick him up and rock him until he was settled again. Things would be fine. But once I put him down, within a minute he’d be screaming and screaming. It went on like that all night.” He closed his eyes again, gauntleted fingers rising to massage his temples. “Seriously, all fucking night.”

The council considered their options. “Have you tried swaddling him, my liege?” asked Sandor the Red.

The King grimaced. “We have, but he was struggling quite a lot. We thought it might be annoying him, so we stopped doing it last week.”

Sandor shook his head. “It’s not too late to turn back, Sire. Swaddling is a strong option.” Several of his fellows nodded and grunted their assent.

“Have you checked if he is wet, my King? Or if he is hungry?” this voice was Sulter’s.

“Literally the first thing we checked,” the King snapped. Did they think him a fool?

After a tense silence, Usterven stood. “Sire, what I have to say may not please you. But say it, I must.”

The King nodded to him. “We have borne swords against overwhelming odds, Usterven; fought back to back and triumphed against the hordes of the Dark Pope himself. You have earned the right.”

“Very well,” Usterven assented. “Have you considered… giving him a dummy?”

“She’s REALLY not keen on it,” the King sighed, shaking his head. “When I suggest it, she’s like: he’ll be going to school before you know it, still wanting his dummy.”

“There is a stigma, to be sure,” Usterven agreed. “But it worked wonders for us, with both daughters. I counsel you not to rule it out.” He took his seat once more.

It was at this moment, that Cassinius of Amber chose to share his thoughts. The King had quarrelled often with Cassinius in their younger days, before ascending the throne – but although they would never be brotherly with one another, the slim-built man had wits as quick as a fox and a cool head. He had earned the king’s respect.

“Sometimes, My Lord, single actions will not prove enough,” Cassinius stated firmly. “What babes need is a routine, a tapestry of actions which begin to weave consistency throughout their young lives. If I may ask, have you kept similar practices and hours since your heir’s arrival?”

Stroking his beard, the King recalled the last three weeks. Eventually, he conceded: “No. For the first few nights, she was still in hospital… then when we got him home, I was keeping him downstairs and sleeping on the sofa so she could catch up on her rest… then we started moving him up to the bedroom when we were going to bed, but that actually unsettled him last night…”

Cassinius seized on the King’s words. “It is as I suspected, my lord: you have no routine, so you are adrift upon the sea rather than setting your own course. I recommend this, Sire – start to create a familiar pattern each night for your son. Perhaps bath him, then give him a feed, read him a story… and once these things are done, swaddle him as Sandor has suggested and lay him in his bed. Not downstairs with you, to be moved later, but in his true resting place from the very start; your baby-monitor will allow you to keep close tabs on him nonetheless. Make sure the room is only dimly lit, speak in soft voices; you must not rouse or excite him. And keep a dummy to hand, if he will not settle. Despite the stigma, a dummy is often your best friend!”

This speech met the council’s approval and as it progressed, men nodded and shouts of ‘Aye!’ became more frequent.

“In short, my King,” Cassinius concluded, “Create a relaxing, familiar pattern and you will treble your chances of success. More than this, you will strengthen yourself and our lady Queen, for the routine is more valuable for you than even for the child. It will give you structure and confidence; it will allow you to feel relaxed and in control, rather than as if you are at the beck and call of a child born less than a moon hence!”

As the chorus of assent grew amongst the council, old Blackblade leaned in close and whispered to the King: “Your old rival he may be, but Cassinius has given you today a greater gift than many a friend could provide. Heed his wise words – and you may yet reclaim your Kingdom from this troubled boy of yours!”

The King looked at his ancient counsellor and saw the merry glint in his eye. He began to smile, filling once more with the confidence of old.

“Men of this council, Lords of this land, I called upon you in my hour of need – and you have not failed me!” the King called out to them, raising his hand in salute. “I go now to the Queen, armed with your wisdom!” In a din of cheers, of fists thumping on breastplates and helms thrown, whooping, in the air he departed the chamber.

It seemed as if the torchlit halls and cold flagstones flew past him like the wind, so lost was he in triumph. All at once, the door was before him and he burst through it, startling his Queen as she sat upon a bench at her bedside, taking lunch from a fine rosewood table before her.

“What’s all this?” She asked incredulously.

“Silence, woman!” The King cried. “I bear the solution to all our problems – a veritable manifesto for pacifying that knave of a child we wrought together.” In quick sentences, he laid out the plan as it had been proposed to him, gesturing enthusiastically and growing increasingly red-faced. Eventually, breathing heavily, he was finished – and beheld a wry look upon her face.

“Is that really what you’ve spent all morning doing?” The Queen asked. “I just googled it after you stormed off earlier. Actually, I found a great video coaching thing on YouTube, where this guy from the US – ”

“YouTube be DAMNED!” roared the King, crashing his ironclad fist down upon the table with such force that it seemed all the room jumped an inch from the floor. “THE COUNCIL OF FATHERS HAS SPOKEN!”