Honestly, explaining where babies come from is the easy bit..!


I think I have most of the attributes that go towards good parenting. I make up fun bedtime stories, know where we keep the plasters, let them win at board games, fake interest in their PokemonGo progress, drive them to school in the mornings, help with the homework and bounce with them on the trampoline. I am hard when I need to, soft when I should be and always, without fail, up for a cuddle. What I am no good at, and have been dreading since their birth, is explaining where babies come from.

I had hoped the subject would come up when their mother was about and I was in the garage, or away, or out of the house. I had managed to avoid the initial preamble quite well, the standard ‘you came from you mummies belly’ had worked for a number of years. But then forces beyond my control started to up the pace of my son’s questioning. It began when he came to me with ‘Lizzie’, his pet lizard, cupped in his hands, a look of worry on his face. ‘Dad’, he said ‘I am worried about her, she’s all squishy and spongy.’ I felt her abdomen and he was right, something wasn’t right at all. We put her onto the table so we could inspect her some more and she immediately flattened her body, arched her head upwards and started lifting her feet one after the other. We both just stared as one by one, little white eggs started popping out. ‘That isn’t poop for sure’ commented my son before charging off to alert the rest of the family that they should all come quickly to see. The eggs survived a night before Lizzy ate them but this had opened up a whole new world of questioning. How had she gotten pregnant? How long had she been pregnant? And where do babies come from exactly? I was lucky in a way as the sexual antics of a reptile are a fair way off from humans, so explaining things felt easy at this point and thanks to Google we all learned things without me having to draw a willy. But I was to be tested just a few weeks later when the rabbit decided to give birth as well. An egg is one thing but a baby rabbit is an altogether tougher subject. Our rabbits spend most days humping each other and how we laugh at their antics, I’d never considered trying to explain why our furry pets jumped on each other’s backs to the children, the pet shop had told us they’d been sterilised so I never gave much concern that their constant attempts would lead anywhere so we always said they were just playing about having some fun. Now we had a problem. Now it looked like I was going to have to draw a willy after all. I hoped the burden of explaining sex would fall to the school and checked the class syllabus in the hope that it was coming up soon. No luck, it wasn’t due until next term and the lady of the house was firm in her belief that on most jobs, most, if not all things and subjects family related, she has the final say. Vagina’s, semen, where things get stuck, who does the sticking and why, would most definitely be my job and mine alone. Reluctantly I got my pencils out, opened my sketch pad and began my introduction.

I will skip the detail, it’s enough to say I felt my class was a success and not as embarrassing as I had thought, although as an illustrator my willy drawings were pretty rubbish. Job done now let’s go hit the trampoline.

So a month or so passes and my son comes rushing into the lounge urging me to come quickly to see what Snouty, our pet rat, was up to. We have two rats, both male and both incredible pets. Friendly, playful and always doing things that make me realise how clever they are. I can spend ages watching them play, watching them eat and enjoy their fearless curiosity as they explore their world in my office. So I was interested to see what was happening to excite my son so much. I wish now I had been somewhere else, anywhere, but not in the house!

We found Snouty sat like a human, his back legs in front, his bottom on the floor, like he was sat in a chair. Very funny position indeed. But shockingly, looking closer it was clear he had his willy in his hand and was giving it right good tugging. I thought explaining the act of sex was hard work and my basic sex education class had wrapped up any further explanations but I was wrong, my mind was now racing about how to explain masturbation. And what is a rat doing bloody well masturbating anyway! Snouty made the whole thing doubly complicated when his dexterity enabled him to reach down and pop his willy into his mouth. Things went further pear shaped as by now my daughter had joined us and, on witnessing this act of self-fellatio, decided mummy should come and see, we should take a photo and tell everyone else we ever meet what we had witnessed because it was for them, the funniest thing they had ever seen. I failed as a parent at that point, I was overcome by inaction, and from nowhere, out popped their devices to video and photograph our rat having a bit of a self indulgence. The rat was totally unconcerned at all the attention and carried on enjoying himself, only stopping when he reached climax. That gave us all pause for thought and for a moment there was complete silence and we all stared, mouths open at what was going on before the children burst into giggles and began asking me what had just happened.

I had managed to dodge questions about a lizard laying eggs, joke away humping rabbits and stumbled a little when the baby rabbit appeared, but now I feared I had a difficult task ahead of me to explain not only a masturbating, willy sucking rat but one that quite happily ejaculates onto his own stomach! Before they had time to bring up the questions I knew were coming, I declared it was time we hit the trampoline and ran off like a madman!

I need to find myself a time-machine.

time machine

It was my son’s 10th birthday, him reaching double digits, him really coming of age, him just being him and us loving him more and more for it. Don’t you just love those times that you know are memories being made that you’ll cherish and hold forever. We had a great party. Go-karting with some of his mates followed by a massive water-pistol fight by the pool followed by two hours non-stop mayhem in the water. It was a great afternoon and a great evening with the other mums and dads who’ve grown close over the years. It was as near perfect as perfect could get. If the day were a pole dancer, after her first shift wiggling and wobbling, her thong would be full of crisp fifties. If it were a golfer it would be his second hole and the second hole-in-one of the day. Then the ducks died.

I’ve lost pets in my childhood and I can say that I don’t really handle death very well. The fact it was so sudden, the fact it was both of them and the fact that it was during a party all just made it the more unbearably sad for me and totally heartbreaking for the children. Tears flowed, questions with no possible answers were raised and in the first real moment of utter sadness my son experiences, all I can do is hug him and try to stop him seeing I too am crying, crying not only because our little ducks touched us in a special way, but because his sadness is just too much for me. I tried to think how my parents coped with my tears when we lost the dog or the guinea pig climbed those steps up to the pearly gates. But I just couldn’t remember. Just 10 years into parenthood and I am feeling out of my depth and unable to support him like a father should. I know we are only talking about a couple of ducks, but they weren’t just ducks, they were our couple of ducks, they were family. This then makes me worried for when the rabbit meets her maker or dare I think, when we end up with the dog they all so constantly hassle me for… How will I ever deal with that popping its clogs? He slept with us that night. I slept little, still trying to come up with answers that may help what was going to be a difficult Sunday. I failed in that as well and all day it was tears, hugs, more tears and more hugs. I felt crap, helpless and so completely useless.

Later that day we began digging the grave at the bottom of the garden and to help distract from the gloom of our task, we began discussing what tree or shrub we should buy to mark and remember them. As it happens, the spot where we were digging was near the road and passing cars can be seen and heard a ways off, so having decided we would look for a yellow flowering bush, we began seeing if we could guess what car was coming by just listening to the exhaust notes. I reckoned I could spot any BMW 3 series manufactured between 2002 and 2010, he boasted of a pitch perfect ear for Volvo 4×4’s and any Ferrari. The next car he correctly guessed was a Volvo, my guess proved wrong, the Ford Focus most obviously had a blown exhaust as on any other day, I would not have made such a mistake. The hole was a good size when a throaty roar filled the still afternoon, it grew louder and went higher up the scale as the driver began accelerating. “That’s a Ferrari” he shouted as he ran to the fence. And sure enough, around the bend came a lovely Ferrari, trademark red, it passed us, crested the hill and turned into our road. “It’s coming here!” he screamed with excitement. And indeed it was. Earlier, a friend who owns a Ferrari had suggested that taking our son out for a spin in the car would be a super thrill and a treat to really finish off the celebrations. We also knew it would help lift his spirit. Boy did it work. The tears dried up, the smile came back and his face lit up in anticipation of a chance to go for a ride in such a stunning looking and sounding car. Roof down, engine singing, off he went with me capturing the moment on film.

I decided to wander up the road, I wanted to get some footage of the car coming back. So, with a cup of coffee I settled myself down on the verge and waited. And waited. I’ll add at this point that the car had only just come into the country, it wasn’t registered, was uninsured and had no tax, so it could only be driven around the estate. It’s certainly not a small estate but after twenty minutes, I was getting a little concerned. Twenty five minutes later a car pulls up, the window rolls down and out pops my sons head with a big grin on his face. “We crashed!” he shouts out the window. In disbelief I hear how the rear wheel spun up on a corner causing it to oversteer, which was overcorrected causing the whole car to spin into the golf club fence, knocking that all over and coming to a halt in the ditch. I went to their house later to look at the damage. Every panel was scratched, dented and needing some kind of repair, the wing mirrors were damaged, light clusters broken, runners buckled and I’d have guessed you’d be looking at a complete respray. An expensive car to buy, but a real expensive car to fix. I felt the pain. My son though, with a grasp of economics based on the market price of fizzy sweets, saw not a financial nightmare but a wild adventure park ride where they didn’t check your height and you got the front seat. The accident had made the ride quite simply the best thing ever and if he could do it again, he would.

It didn’t end there. Stupidity and his mates clouded my mind that day for sure as I had the most daft idea that it would be a good idea to nip over to the security office at the estate entrance and ask them if we could have a copy of the CCTV footage. Both my son and I thought that having the crash on film would give everyone hours of laughter, not right now maybe, but certainly in a few years. After all, how often can you say you’ve been in a prang in a Ferrari and have a copy on film to show everyone. See where my mind was going on this..? Well security said they couldn’t give us the footage, they said the cameras weren’t on. Yet as we drove off we could see the security guards hunching over the computers searching and scanning the footage to see for themselves a Ferrari being binned.

A short time later we get a call from the Ferrari owner. He was concerned and worried, he’d just driven past the scene of the crash and security were there snapping pictures of the damage. He wanted to know if he should just pretend it hadn’t happened or face up to things, go speak to security and admit fault. Obviously I said ignore it. Which, it turns out, was not only morally wrong but stupidly wrong as entry into the estate is through numberplate recognition cameras, meaning all residents have their cars registered at security. Finding the offending Ferrari would be a piece of ‘birthday’ cake if you’ll excuse the pun. If I had not gone to the security office, they may not have noticed the damaged fence until Monday or maybe later and by then they may have overwritten the CCTV tapes. But like I said, stupidity and his mates seem to visit my head far to often. There is no escape, the cameras I hope make for a more secure life, have him bang to rights, on top of having to fork out the full cost of the repair and respray of the car due to no insurance, he’s certainly going to be landed with a bill to fix all the fence he ripped apart. I can’t let a mate carry the full burden of the fence. Being fairly close to, but not completely devoid of morals, I will have to help in some way.

So happy 10th birthday my most amazing little boy. It’s one we’ll all certainly remember with a mixed bag of feelings and many conflicting emotions. Watching you put the little cardboard coffin in the hole with such care, listening to you say a tearful, final, ‘good-bye’ was both lovely and so incredibly painful. If I could ever have just one wish in life, It wouldn’t be to win the lottery or have a fancy yacht, it would be to go back in time so the ducks wouldn’t have died. But you know, I wouldn’t stop the car accident. Nope, armed with some wire cutters, I’d ‘take out’ the CCTV cameras at the scene, hide myself in the bushes and capture that one particular moment on video.

Never listen to anyone’s financial advice but take it from me, mushrooms could be the next big thing.

financial advice small

We must be going back close to 20 years ago, possibly more. Business was doing well and I had managed to pull a decent profit. The year had been good and I’d treated myself to a sporty car, spent a few pennies on new clothes, furniture for the house, a big TV, the toys you surround yourself with when you’ve cash to spare. Thinking I was now the head honcho, the top dog, I decided that the remaining cash in the bank should now be put to work and earn its keep. Time to invest and join what at the time seemed like a mad rush by everyone to keep up with the Joneses and jump on the stock market bandwagon. All the national businesses were being privatised, building societies were turning into banks. It seemed like everyone but me was making effortless and large profits seemingly overnight from the Governments desire to sell off all its assets. I hadn’t been able to join in before, but with some cash now burning a hole in my pocket, I wanted a piece of the action. The Financial Times and the business section of the Guardian became my read of choice.

That led to my first mistake. You see what I then did, along with many others I am sure, was to read what the ‘experts’ were saying, do what the ‘experts’ were suggesting, then sit and wait the profits like the ‘experts’ said would come. They were in the most part totally wrong. Some bigwig guru suggested that the currency markets were going to explode, another said the oil market was where the action would be happening. Instead of accepting this is a world I do not inhabit, I fell for the glamour of having funds in these exotic markets. I could imagine myself in Monte Carlo sharply suited with a large expensive watch, casually rolling the casino chips between my fingers.

What I should have been doing, what my gut feelings were telling me was that the lure of this was really a silly pipe dream and investment, if any, should be going into the things I understood, enjoyed and knew a little bit about. I’ll take you back a few years now, just to draw a more complete picture for you. A typesetter I often used had the Tax Office breathing down his neck. I’d done a few pieces of work for him and he owed me some money which he told me he would not be able to pay. Instead he offered me a computer which he said was loaded with some great software. I took it but had no real idea what I was going to do with it as I had never used a computer before. I bought numerous guide books and magazines and settled down for the Christmas holiday, reading, learning and practising. By the end of the month I had a good command of a vector drawing programme called Freehand, a photo editing thing called Photoshop and some page layout software called QuarkXpress. The computer itself turned out to be easier to use than I had imagined. An Apple II. It changed everything. I was in total control of my workflow. I could set the typeface, modify it, change the colours, change the image or change the size…No longer did I need a typesetter or finished artworker, I was complete. The computer, the Apple Macintosh gave me a new start, the opportunity and freedom to create what was in my head. Friends who were using PC’s and Microsoft pitied me, they had games. All mine had was software and peripherals that supported my business. True I envied them the ability to play fun games, buy steering wheels and joysticks, but every time I sat with them at their machines I was amazed at how complicated things were to do anything when compared to my easy to use, child’s play beige box.

I loved it, I loved the company and all the companies who made stuff for their machine. So why did I listen to some Financial Journalist whose words sold me the glamour and excitement of the unknown, who urged me to move fast, to go in hard and trust him, these markets, he warned, are going to explode. I did it because the fantasy of his world seemed better than mine. Windows was the ruler of the World, Apple were for the few arty types who kept GAP in business by buying their black turtle neck sweaters, not a glamorous investment at all and judging by everyone’s endless gushing about how super Microsoft and Windows were, Apple would be broke before the end of the year. I bought not into Apple, but instead into the currency and oil markets. If it exploded, I didn’t notice or no one told me, a few weeks later the very same journalists were telling us all that the futures market was where the action now was or that any decent carpet bagger would be buying into this or that building society right now! Maybe he’s telling us to do all this because he is looking to bail out and wants to inflate things a little to make a few pennies more.

My investment has grown, but if I had instead laid just half of that hard-earned money at the temple of Apple, I would today be sat on a golden beach with busty, bikini clad ladies massaging my feet and serving me Banana Daiquiri’s before retiring to my yacht for a fancy meal and a romp in my huge circular playboy style water-bed. I’m not. Someone did massage my feet once but then they tried to steal my wallet afterwards and to be honest, it tickled a bit too much. No, I followed some trumped-up blokes who told us that they knew best. It is a tough lesson knowing your lottery numbers have come in when you’d forgotten to buy the ticket but I have learnt.

I’ve learnt that we are all very much alike. That I am not too dissimilar from the rest of you, that we follow each other even though we all deny it. If I stop suddenly and look up, so do lots of other people, what I like tends to be what everyone else tends to like. We all drive the same colour cars, wear similar clothes, enjoy, in general, similar music, similar books and have matching taste in houses. It’s not a perfect assumption but overall it works. I think it’s called The Herd Mentality or something like that. Buy an odd-shaped house whilst your friend buys the standard Georgian inspired box, the market rises and your friend with the more ‘conformist’ home will sell it quicker. Buy a pink car and a year later the very same dealer you bought it from won’t take it off you in part exchange because he knows he’ll never sell the bloody thing. Stick with what we’re told to wear, told to do and importantly, do all this when we’re told to do it. Dare to wear your underpants outside your purple corduroy trousers, even if they are Kalvins or D&G and even if you do find it more comfortable that way, you will certainly stand out as not being part of the herd! And the doormen wont let you into the nightclub either. When those nice people on the telly or in the newspapers or that banker with his graph with arrows all going south tells us Gold is the way forwards, do as they say. They know better than you. They are experts aren’t they..?

There’s a book very few of you may be aware of, ‘The Genera of Fungi’. I haven’t actually read it but I am guessing it will never become a bestseller because in general, most of us are not that interested in it. It sounds incredibly boring and my hunch is that boring it indeed is. Now of course some people are very interested in this sort of thing, we’ll laugh at their knitted tank tops and point out how the veins on their heads seem to pop out as they excitedly tell us that Fungi managed to bugger up a few important pieces of kit on the MIR Space Station a few years back. They’ll be the ones with an App so they and the worlds other 7 Mycology fanatics can ooh and aaah simultaneously at photos of filamentous moulds, but what we wont appreciate, because they are not financial experts, is that their passion and interest means they’ll have invested in the pharmaceutical company that is researching these mushrooms and toadstools, a firm with a stock price hovering at 65p. Then when some fungi, only found on a piece of rock on Tierra del Fuego in August, depending on the weather, turns out to be the key ingredient for the cure to that frightful disease we’re all so scared we’re going to die of, their investment in the tin pot lab turns out to be priceless. Then we’ll all jump aboard in the hope of joining their good fortune, the herd will stampede, but we will be too late. Like Apple, our lack of initial interest in this weird thing and mistrust of their investment advice, because they are not experts right, means when the experts suddenly see what is going on and start telling us to get in quick whilst it’s still a bargain, the price will be hovering around £45.

My tank top knitted friend and his bulging veins invested in what they knew about and liked, no listening to what some fashionable twits have to say. Which is exactly my point. If I had listened to myself, oil and currency would have been left well alone in favour of Adobe, Apple and the other ‘uncool’ companies of the time.

No more polished knobs with newspaper columns or TV slots will I be listening too from now on. Nope, I figure if I like company X, just about everyone else will sooner or later. That I invest before the herds figure things out is my strategy. Until then, the yacht, the bikinis, the water-bed and the Banana Daiquiri’s are on ice, my middle class status is secure for the foreseeable future. That said, I have just ordered The Genera of Fungi’.