Dare I say it, but I’ve always seen myself as inhabiting the lantern-jawed, testosterone-fuelled bracket of manhood. This is for no other reason than having a chin like a welsh dresser, and possessing a penchant for manly pursuits. If it involves a trekking, camping, lighting fires or using a colossal knife called “The Woodsman” to skin a warm squirrel, then it’s very much my thing. Should there be a light sprinkling of bear wrestling, ideally over the still twitching body of a freshly caught salmon, then I’m up for that too. I hew shelters, grow stubble, and swing my billy. Always have done.
And suddenly this tiny thing appears. And what’s more it’s a girl. But it’s like no other girl you’ve ever met before. For a start you have a vast, all consuming crush, an avalanche of suffocating emotion consuming all in it’s path. And this crush never goes away - you turn into a starry eyed simpleton, looking out of the window and doodling. The first time my daughter reached up and touched my face, I cried. Ridiculous.
This crush shows itself in your manifestly absurd behaviour. Essentially we appear to now share our house with a very short, inebriated Royal Marine. As I’ve got older the idea of a smart home has become more attractive - I have a vision of subtle uplighting, tasteful furniture on wooden floors and all around the whiff of understated good taste. Sadly this ideal of Scandinavian minimalism doesn’t take into account the administrative tornado in it’s midst. It has been said that cleaning your house in the presence of a toddler is like brushing your teeth whilst eating a chocolate bar, which seems spot on to me. As quickly as we tidy and primp, Isla follows cackling in our wake creating a three foot high plimsoll line of bedlam and anarchy. And yet I smile down upon her, smitten, and murmer nonsensical phrases - “Oh Isla, don’t use the dog as a trampet.” or perhaps “Oh Isla, don’t use my soiled pants as a hat”. The tone is plainly so lily livered, so entirely without venom or intent, that it gets the ignoring it so richly deserves. I have fully embraced the John Le Mesurier school of fatherhood.
When Isla was born I was 45, and my (delighted) mum said “It’s about time.” Never has a phrase had such a rich double meaning, with both so entirely apt. What on earth did I do with all that time before she came along? Prior to Isla, the question “Let’s go out” would lead, fairly shortly, to us going out. Now the phrase “Let’s go out” is the start of a logistical exercise akin to a fairly major 1930’s siege style expedition to Annapurna. We eventually stagger out of the door, trembling on the verge of a psychotic incident, not talking to each other, trying to put the dog in the back of the car, strap Isla into her chair, and not the other way round.
I was at my local railway station the other day. The train pulled up, and an attractive girl in her twenties alighted. She was leggy, blonde, and wearing a floral dress. She looked along the platform, and saw her man waiting. He was young, dashing, broad shouldered and looked like a more manly version of Orlando Bloom (mind you, even Graeme Norton is a more manly version of Orlando Bloom). She ran towards him, laughing as she did so, and he swept her up in his arms, twirling her around in the approved manner. They kissed, and at that point I happened to glance at the train window in front of me. What I saw there was revealing, my own reflection staring back at me. Here was a man with a facial expression precisely like Jack Dee in one of his grimmer moods, some dried dribble on his right shoulder, peering myopically ahead through red eyes and stubble. Mind you, there was the tiny, passing moment of genuine satisfaction knowing that the scene of young love I’d just witnessed would transform effortlessly into prams, tantrums and vomit. I was sorely tempted to hang around the platform for a decade to witness stage two, but had a meeting to get to.
Why do we do this? We spend so many years sorting our lives out, fighting our battles, with each skirmish a marker that gets us closer to stability and contentment, and then we introduce a maniac into the midst of it all. Why would anyone do that?
I was walking down the path next to our house the other day, ambling along at 0.000000000000003 mph with Isla, when she asked / instructed me to pick her up. This involves walking round in front of me, head-butting my thigh, and lifting her hands up in an unmistakable “Kind of tired now. You - the big, pointless one that I still haven’t figured out what you do exactly - can carry me for a while.” I lifted her up, and we began to walk back up the track to go home.