Smokey the Magnificent

Failing the Turing Test since 1986

I had a moment of great vindication last night.

You know how sometimes you have memories of childhood you’re not entirely sure are real? Well, there’s been one that’s bugged me for years. I was small – it was in Australia, so I would have been six at the outside, but I think smaller. And our family went with another family to a… place.

Not a park, or a theme park, or a fair. Mostly I remember it as a place of surreal but not entirely unappealing terror. There was a huge totem-pole-type thing that spat water at you if you stood on a hidden panel, and (though I’m not clear on this) spoke to you in booming tones. There was a wall of strange human forms with holes in their stomachs, through which you could crawl and wriggle-climb between layered platforms. There was a strange, creepy forest walk festooned with huge, manky concrete toadstools, and you could push a button, whereupon a diorama inside the toadstool would light up and move around a bit.

My memories of this place are quite vivid – I remember Mum pushing a pram around the forest walk, and running in terror from the totem-pole. But then, that doesn’t mean much – I have pretty vivid memories of hiding out terrified among lianas on Isla Sorna, while my native guides are slowly lowered down one by one behind my back on the lianas and replaced by raptors. And I’m, like, 94% certain that one’s a dream. So.

Last night my excellent mother came over, and as we were mucking about on Google Maps (poor man’s tourism) I suddenly thought to ask her about my mysterious dream-park. After some cross-examination and Googling: it’s a thing.

It’s called Fairy Park, it exists in the delightfully horror-movie-named town of Anakie near Geelong, and it’s worse than I remembered.

To wit:

Giant gnome of greeting. Don’t remember that. But OK.

Holey wall!

Guillotine! Which I’d forgotten about until now, but yes, there was totally a guillotine. Except… wait, those are stocks, aren’t they? A pillory. So why the blood? Did the park creator have a very fundamental misunderstanding of how the stocks worked? And if he did mean it to be a guillotine, why would the hands be chopped off as well as the head? That’s not… that’s never been… I have questions.

Manky concrete toadstool!



One review on TripAdvisor, titled “Creepy, disturbing relic from another era”, stated:

“I visited Fairy Park with grandchildren & ended up feeling that I had subjected them to an extremely damaging experience.
The majority of characters are super-sized and with grotesque, hideous faces and expressions.”

I’m sure I don’t know what she means. This doesn’t look like bad taxidermy at all… for example.


And then… there’s this.

Fairy park 1

This photo is not, like most of the others, from TripAdvisor. It is from a blog, and documents a child’s visit to the park in 1988. I was two in 1988. I can only assume that by the time of our visit – say, 1990 – these Jersey Devil/hominid/hellspawn beasts had been removed from the park by order of the Children’s Rights Commission. Because those are not the sort of thing you can forget.


I turned thirty. Actually it was in June, meaning that while I’m still trying to come to terms with turning thirty I’m hurling inexorably towards thirty-one. And death.

Anyway. In honour of my newfound venerability, I hereby bequeath you the cumulative wisdom of my thirty years. You may feel this post is shorter than it oughta. Let’s not dwell.

1. If you, as a woman, ever find yourself in a situation in which you must inform your significant other that you are pregnant and you suspect he will react negatively, do not say “I’m pregnant.” Say “You got me pregnant”. This establishes firmly at the outset that your situation was mutually created, and not something he is allowed to weasel out of on the grounds that it ain’t his problem. The desired reaction is “I did what?”, not “You’re what?” – you see the distinction?

(No, I have never personally had to do this thing. Someone once said it on a message board; and while it conveys a sad cynicism about the world, it’s undeniably stellar advice. Anyway I’m thirty now, so a certain amount of jaded misanthropy is appropriate, no?)

2. On a related note: never buy pregnancy tests off the shelf. Those things are absurdly expensive. Like, two for $30. Go to a midwife or a birthing centre and you can get ’em for free. I mention this as a public service because I once mentioned it at a baby shower, and a friend who’d been trying to get pregnant for, like, eight years said “WHAT?” in tones of horror and betrayal. (She’s had a baby since, incidentally.)

3. If you want to deeply impress dinner guests without expending much money or basically any effort, make garlic and herb butter. Seriously. A small, smooshed clove of garlic, some softened butter, a bit of chopped parsley or chives or thyme or whatever you have around. People go cuckoo for it. My mother-in-law likes it. I honestly don’t quite get it myself – I mean, it’s nice, obviously, but it gets more compliments than I feel it should, by rights. Maybe a lot of my friends are margarine-eaters in daily life and find butter more sumptuous than someone like myself, who eats it all the time? Which brings me to a further piece of advice: don’t eat margarine. It’s nasty, people.

4. I cannot guarantee the legal applicability of this outside New Zealand, but feel free to let it scare you enough into looking into your own country’s situation, because it is chilling.

Say when it comes time to make a will and you cannot decide on a guardian for your children – because, say, your sister collects death-masks and your shiftless, no-good father lives on a houseboat on the Danube – it is tempting to just leave it, figuring they can live with your mother for a bit until she decides whether she’d rather spend her declining years packing school lunches or ship the chillun off to Aunty Judith in Newfoundland. You realise this is a craven method of passing the buck, but at least it prevents you plumping irrevocably for Aunt Judith when she’s recently started flirting with Scientology.

Acceptable? No. Because in New Zealand, at any rate, newly-orphaned pigs cannot stay with their grandmother at all; unless their grandmother happens to be a licensed foster-parent, which let’s face it, she isn’t. Because without a will, as far as the courts know, their grandmother is a vicious, sadistic harpy you’ve been keeping out of the children’s lives deliberately ever since she tried to microwave them.

So not only have your children lost both parents in one fell swoop (Haast’s Eagle attack, probably); they now have to go and live in some foster-home of dubious quality and definite non-relatedness for a couple of months while their grandmother scrambles around trying to get custody – or not, as the winsomeness of your children dictates.

Make a will.

5. If you want to learn a language, use Duolingo. It’s awesome.

6. Should your town’s library be somewhat pitiful, you are likely to do better on its non-fiction side.

7. In parenting, there is no moral imperative whatsoever to indulge in media or activities specifically targeted at children, especially if you dislike them. Your children will be just as happy singing along to the Beatles as Hi 5. Seriously. If you hate Barbie dolls or Dora the Explorer DVDs or Disney Princess T-shirts with rhinestones on them or aggressively-coloured cheap kiddie furniture, why the heck would you allow them within your sphere of influence where you will trip over them fourteen times a day and stub your calm?

8. Relax into contractions. Easier said than done, I know, but it vastly helps. The limper and more like a puppet with its strings cut off you are, the less it’ll hurt.

9. Do not fool yourself into believing that a dishwasher is ‘just as much work’ as washing the dishes by hand because you have to load and unload it. A dishwasher is a godsend. Get one.

10. Accept calmly when your husband dings the car. You will ding it next time. (In my case, total it, but again: let’s not dwell.) Also, it’s just a car. Who cares? If you’re rich enough to own a car which is such a classic work of art that a ding is a loss to the net value of the world, you’re rich enough to rise above such things. And if you’re not… meh. It’s a car.

It’s possible that this is less ‘detached, Buddha-like wisdom’ and more ‘I’m not really a car person’. I might be less forgiving if my husband crashed the sewing machine. But still.

11. Do not assume that popular culture is worthless. Titanic is actually an impeccably-researched and crackingly entertaining movie. Taylor Swift has some genuinely good songs. Superman is less of a meathead than he looks. Disneyland is sublime. Intellectual snobbery and hipsterism will only make you miss out, and then look behind the times years later when you finally discover that despite the name, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is brilliant.

12. If you’re a geek, male friends are a great blessing. Males are not better geeks, but there are statistically more of them. However, if you have babies (and possibly otherwise, though I cannot speak to that), the female of the species will become highly worthwhile.

13. One should never use tears as a manipulative tool, except in a doctor’s office, when it is frequently the only way to get anything done.

14. Never ask a public institution for permission to do anything with your own children. You want to pull them out of school for three months to tour Lithuania, or only do kindy three days a week because your three-year-old turns feral otherwise, or allow them play hookey on inter-school sports days because inter-school sports days are cruel and unusual punishment for the crime of being a child? Don’t ask the authorities; inform them. Whose children are they anyway?

15. The remedy to hating your body is not, in fact, loving your body. Depending on the objective quality of your body, loving it may involve a tremendous amount of carefully-cultivated self-delusion, emotional energy and time which could be better spent on basically anything else. Instead of contorting yourself into knots trying to think differently about how you look, think about it less. Because in fact, it’s not every girl’s birthright to look like a Disney princess, and you know what? Some of your friends are funny-looking too, and you don’t think any the less of them as people, or indeed give it a moment’s thought from one year to the next, so… y’know. Get over yourself.

16. It is futile and piffling to desire more of something when one is not already maximising what one has. If you cannot keep a small veggie bed in order, you have no right to pine after a three-acre homestead. If you think of smaller resources as training rather than deprivation you will be a Happier Person, hopefully with fresh basil.

17. Bread baked in a Dutch oven is infinitely superior to bread baked in a regular oven.

18. During some mystery shops, you are required to record the staff member’s name, even if she is not wearing a nametag. To avoid looking like a creep, the best tactic is to adopt a you-look-familiar air and say “Sorry, your name isn’t Miranda, is it?” She will say “No, Anna”, at which point you can beam ditzily and say “Oh, sorry, you looked like a mumble I once mumble” without having raised a single suspicion.

19. If you’re bored and want to be amused on the internet without descending into the mind-numbing tweeness of Buzzfeed, go to the History page on Pinterest. It has everything a moderately thinkin’ person could want: sexist vintage ads, Victorian postmortem photography, serial killers’ last meals, rare snaps of Marilyn Monroe, Titanic conspiracy theories, Navajo code talkers, Faberge eggs. Also a fair number of “You’ll only remember this lip gloss if you’re a 90s kid”, but that’s bearable.

20. There exists a Terry Gilliam movie called ‘Tidelands’. Do not watch this movie.

21. The hardest thing in this world is to live in it. Buffy the Vampire Slayer. See point 11.



Me, I dunno, ten or so, at a school camp talent show, playing on a piano of the kind of quality one would expect in a school camp hall: “Mr Hockin, this key won’t go down.”
Mr Hockin, from far away in the audience: “Just keep going.”
Me, several bars later: “Mr Hockin, this key won’t go down either.”
Mr Hockin: “Just keep going.”
Me: “…That was the last one.”
[Exit with dignity. The applause was surprisingly enthusiastic. They may have thought it was a skit.]


Me, twelveish. A Chinese girl who doesn’t speak much English has come to our school, and a socially-conscious teacher has handpicked me to Be Her Friend, on the grounds that I’m too meek to object and my friends docket isn’t precisely overbooked. So far our terrified, polite exchanges have gone no further than her showing me a photo of her dog on her cellphone.

After school one day, I see the girl hugging her dog. Nobly, I approach her and shout slowly into her ear “What a cute dog!” She smiles politely back, and as the engulfing silence descends upon us both, I cast about frantically for a way to prolong the conversation. “It looks so much cuter than it did in the picture!” I gush.

It is not the same dog.


I have left the school. I am now thirteen and homeschooling. I run into a friend from school at the foodcourt. I am wearing a black turtleneck and a pair of dark blue jeans. I have recently started growing my fringe out, so my forehead is exposed.

Weeks later, I hear she has told everyone at school that I’ve gone Goth. I am simultaneously flattered that anyone would believe I’d do anything so daring, and dimly aware that buying foundation in my shade is going to be a lifelong struggle.


I am in the doctor’s waiting room.

Practice Nurse: “Smokey the Magnificent?”
Me: “Whoa. That was quick.”
Practice Nurse: “Oh, I’m just the practice nurse. Before the doctor sees you I’d just like to weigh and measure you.”
Me: “Huh! That’s a thing now?”
Practice Nurse: “It’s just a screening service we provide, to make sure nobody’s getting too…”
Me: “…”
Practice Nurse: “…”
Me, thinking: Should I help her out by saying ‘Short?’
Practice Nurse, realising there’s no coming back from it now and it’s almost the weekend: “…fat.”
Me: “Excellent.”


I had to get a blood test today. Miles came along. He likes watching me exsanguinate.

Small girl in waiting room: “I don’t want to play with your boy.”
Me: “Oh! Why?”
Small girl: “He’s biting at me.”
Me: “Oh. He’s just being a cheetah. He does that. Miles! Can you stop being a cheetah? You’re scaring this girl.” To girl: “It’s OK, he won’t really bite you.”
Miles, kindly but firmly: “I will, though. ‘Cause I’m a cheetah.”


Miles: “Ooh Mummy, there’s a scales here! I can see how heavy I am.”
Me: “Oh, cool! Let’s see if you’ve attained a pood. …Wow, you’re 17 kilos!”
Miles: “Does that mean I’m a pood now?”
Me: “It does!”
Miles: “YAY! I’m a pood!”
Me, thinking: “Should I explain to the phlebotomist that a pood is a Russian unit of weight, namely sixteen kilos or the weight of a smallish kettle-bell, and that we as a family are so enamoured of this unit that we promised Miles, a runty wee thing, a celebratory Pood Cake when he tipped the scales? Ehh. She’s over there. She probably didn’t notice. Let’s just pretend it didn’t happen.”
Miles: “I’m a pood! I’M A POOD!”


Miles, watching me wince as I am drained of lifeblood: “Do you know, Mum, when I had my constipoops it hurt even worse than having blood taken out. I weeped and WEEPED.”
Phlebotomist: [no reaction whatsoever]

[On the way out, after Miles spotted an exciting loo and felt a consequent need]

Me: “That took a long time. Did you wash your hands?”
Miles: “Yep! I washed them.”
Me: “Excellent.”
Miles: “They had yellow soap.”
Me: “Awesome.”
Miles: “It smelled nasty.”
Me: “Oh ar?”
Miles: “And it tasted HORRIBLE.”

Overheard While Demolishing a Brick BBQ Surround With the Back of an Axe

Miles: “Rowan! Let me get past!”
Rowan: “I’ll let you get past if you can answer three riddles. If not… I will SHOOT you dead.”
Miles, cheerfully: “OK!”
Rowan: “First riddle! …Who was the first Israelite?”
Miles, with enthusiasm: “I don’t know!”
Rowan: “Abraham! That’s one dead. Now. Second riddle. Why did the chicken cross the road?”
Miles, venomously: “Because it was dumb and it got squished, and it wanted to get squished.”
Rowan: “I don’t know. That’s probably right. Now. Third riddle. What colour do you get if you mix yellow and green?”
Miles: “Red!”
Rowan: “No. Purple. That’s it, you’re dead. Pkew!”
Me: “Um, Rowan, you don’t get purple from yellow and green.”
Rowan: “What do you get?”
Me: “Sort of a yellowy green.”
Rowan: “Oh, well. Never mind.”

Miles: “Now it’s my turn!”
Rowan: “OK!”
Miles: “I’m gonna do five riddles. OK. Who was an Israelite?”
Rowan: “Abraham!”
Miles: “No! Judas.”
Rowan: “Miles, you can’t do that! Anyway, Judas wasn’t an Israelite. He was a Jew.”
Me: “It’s the same thing!”
Rowan: “No it isn’t.”
Me: “It is.”
Miles: “OK. Now. You have five colours. No. Three.” *long pause* “No, two.”
Rowan: “What are they?”
Miles: “Purple and red and blue.”
Rowan: “I’m gonna ask a question now.”
Miles: “No! It’s my turn!”
Rowan: “What do you get if you’re a polecat, and you’re hunting a beast, but when you get really close it suddenly STENCHES, what is it?”
Miles: “Um. A spider!”
Rowan: “No. A skunk.”
Miles: “You have to ask me an easy one now. One that I’ll know.”
Rowan: “OK. …What do you call it if you twist Batman into a hat?”
Miles, after an interminable pause: “HATMAN!”

So, homeschooling’s going well.


I am building a chicken hutch. With power tools. It is tremendously ensmuggening. If Rambo and Wonder Woman had a baby, that baby would grow up and be me building a chicken hutch.

The best part? It impresses Rowan greatly. When I began she was following me around saying in escalating tones of worry “Um, Mummy? Not to be rude at all, but don’t you think you should wait until Daddy gets home? Are you serious about building a chicken hutch? You’re a twenty-nine-year-old woman! This isn’t going to end well! Won’t Daddy be mad if you wreck his wood? Are you allowed to use his tools?”

For the record, the wood in question was salvaged by me from a building-site dumpster (while wearing circle skirt, no less); and while the tools (a DeWalt multitool on heavy discount) were indeed bought by Daddy, they were bought on my advice because I knew I’d want to cut drywall at some point. Not to mention that Daddy’s experience with hutch-building is as null as my own. So, y’know. There’s legitimate acknowledgment of broad gender differences, and then there’s just being a git, pig.

Three days later, she stares at me in frank admiration while I wield the screwdriver and says “Wow, I didn’t know you had such skills!”

To be clear: I’m not saying her awe is entirely justified by results. At one point she and Miles were helping carry the half-completed hutch into the carport and a vital component fell off… for instance. And the lines have a sort of casual, hand-drawn quality, due to my cutting out hardboard with a tiny hand-held oscillating drywall-cutter instead of, say, a table saw. And the mitring on the A-frame has a certain ventilated, let’s-all-give-each-other-some-personal space aesthetic which doesn’t bode well for longevity. Plus I almost gave myself a C-section in a moment of slippage because I don’t have any clamps.

But still. As far as Rowan is concerned, I am Rosie the Riveter, mallet-twirling lumberjill who don’t need no man. I am now basking in the ill-defined but gratifying expectation that she will grow up changing her own tyres, kung-fuing muggers and pursuing a profitable STEM career. All because of me.


1. We moved house. Oof. I’d forgotten what a horrific experience it is. Specifically, revealing one’s filthy underfridge to a room full of one’s nearest and dearest. I realise that most people’s underfridges aren’t exactly pristine, but I doubt they have ecosystems of such breathtaking complexity. Speaking of which, there was a dead mouse under my desk. And a lovely older woman from church did the vacuuming for me and kept coming up to me with small bits of smeg held gingerly in her fingers, asking politely “Do you want to pack this?” So, y’know, that was fun.

On the bright side: we have a house. We are Legitimate Adult Homeowners. We could rip out walls, if we wanted. Only of course we can’t, because we’re paralysed with fear that whatever we do will introduce dry rot, constitute a fire hazard, short out the electrical work, collapse something load-bearing or melt the drywall. Which, indeed, it might. We’re not what you’d call DIY wizards. We’re not what you’d call DIY barely-competent. So for now, the rashest thing we’ve done is plant a lime tree; and even then, I’m not entirely confident we put it in the right place.

Actually I’ve planted quite a few things. The previous owners left the garden in a barren but impeccably tidy condition with a bare raised veggie bed, which are the sort of conditions which suit a Smokey, gardening-wise. I’ve put in beetroot, broad bean and cauliflower seedlings, sown dwarf peas, replaced a collection of octogenarian succulents with dwarf snapdragons in a rather attractive trug, and made a sort of potagery herb garden with rosemary, parsley, thyme, alyssum and chrysanthemums. I even bark-mulched the herb garden, which is, like, Level 4 Adulthood.

Good for the soul, gardening. Especially if it gets you out of the kitchen, which is, shall we say, quirky. Like in the fact that the pantry, which makes you go “Oh well, not much storage, but at least there’s a pantry”, is actually the water heater. And how the oven turns itself off when the timer goes off, in a spiteful “Well, if you’re not cooked by now you’ve lost your chance” sort of way. It’s not even broken – the manual states it, unemotionally, as if this is a perfectly rational thing for an oven to do. And the fact that the dishwasher now resides on the back porch. I like to think the neighbors are soothed by the nightly sloshing. Like living in their very own bilge.

2. You could write a tragic tale about a giant who tried to get the attention of his human lady-love by throwing pebbles at her window, only misjudged the scale and ended up throwing a rock *through* her window and being charged with a hate crime. I don’t plan to; but you could.

3. Sometimes I feel my children need more socialisation. Today Rowan climbed a tree to watch people playing cricket in the park next door. She watched them like they were zoo animals. She didn’t even need to climb the tree. It’s a chain-link fence. On the bright side, I think she unnerved them and they went away.

Miles is more proactive. The day after we moved in he went for a walk next door and greeted the neighbor with “Hi, I like your lawn mower!” Several minutes (and apparently a long conversation about superpowers) later, the neighbor brought him back saying “I found this”. Cue a long, serious discussion with Miles about how we live in town now and can’t just go wandering around the streets. He agreed solemnly. Two minutes later, I caught him trucking off down the driveway again.

Me: “Where are you going?!”

Miles: “I’m just going back to say hi to the neighbor again and meet his dog.”

Cue a much lengthier discussion, this time with visual aids and complex negotiations about exactly how close to the crack between the driveway and footpath Miles could put his toes, as well as the painful revelation that claiming superpowers isn’t a valid defence of unsupervised street-wandering. This time, so far, it seems to have sunk in. Miles has limited his communication with the neighbors (all three sets) to bellowing cheerfully at them over fences and across roads. Though it does seem a bit suspicious that he reports these conversations as consisting, on their part, of saying solely “I like talking to you, you should keep talking to me, you’re not being pesky.”

4. Miles enjoyed the moving process greatly. We hired a truck and a guy from church volunteered his father, who we don’t know very well, to drive it. Said fellow kindly asked Miles if he wanted to ride with him in the truck, and being a four-year-old boy, he was thrilled. Then when the truck turned up, worryingly later than expected, at the new house, he was perched way up high on the front seat chowing down on a hamburger. Turned out he’d needed to go to the loo halfway there and a McDonald’s was the most convenient. Nice work, Miles. And ten minutes later he spotted a ginger kitty in the front garden and exclaimed in tones of extreme delight “We have a CAT!” I had the sad task of persuading him it didn’t come with the house, like the stove and curtains. (Though of course, being a cat, it kind of does. The pigs have named it Pumpkin.)

5. Morris enjoyed moving also. Morris enjoys most things. We enjoy Morris. It’s a good system.

An Alphabetised Guide to Morris

Axis of Evil – a 45- to 90-degree alignment along which Morris likes to lie at night, for the purpose of minimising parental bedspace

Bedpigs – a chronic infestation, generally most acute in the early morning and along the Axis of Evil.

Continental Drift – when a nappy works its way around the squish so as to expose an entire porcine buttock to the elements

Dactyling – a barbaric, continuous, ear-splitting yawp of Enthuse, named for its resemblance to the cry of a pterodactyl

Enthuse – the overflowing life-force of a Morris, manifesting itself in dactyling, tromping and undirected but intense excitement. Enthuse frequently bursts forth at curtains and ceiling-fans, thus lending credence to the theory that Morris, while fat and pleasing, is a bit of a thicko.

Facial Fats – Morris’ prime export. Self-explanatory, except to note that when consoling a Morris, it is polite to sing this song, to the animated Spider-Man theme tune:

Facial fats, facial fats

Tiny Morris has facial fats

Some like dogs, some like cats

We like babies with facial fats

We doooooo… we likes ’em when they splats!

Fontanelle – Morris’ off-switch. How did I not know about this before? Sleeping through the night rocks!

Helium Bottom – a serious medical condition in which, during milksing, a baby’s posterior rises gently skywards and begins to sway in the breeze. Actually, to date, Morris is not afflicted with Helium Bottom. In this respect he is a better baby than either of his siblings.

Morris – the babe in question. Known aliases: Morris Minor, Señor, Young Sir, Fatty-Boom-Boom, Short Stack, Heffalump, the Exceptional Fatsome-Sausage, Thumb-Sucking Fool, Small Fry, Creature-Beast, Blobfish, Tiny, Fish-Sticks, and basically any other combination of words which comes to hand when one’s brain is temporarily dazzled at the sight of Morris’ mighty thighs.

Neck-cheese – a uniquely piquant superfood formed between chins 3 and 4 from milks deemed surplus to requirements. See Scummy-button.

Odorflowing – a term coined by my small sister to describe the rejection by Morris of perfectly good milks

Saturated fats – Morris on a hot day.

Scummy-button – a baby’s navel between washings (see Neck-cheese)

Spoon of Justice – Morris’ preferred wielding item. Uniquely, and this is deep, man: unlike many magical artefacts – the Lasso of Truth or Mjölnir, for instance – any spoon, correctly wielded, can be the Spoon of Justice.

Squissues – Pronounced ‘squishues’, squissues are simply issues of the squish: a woeful continuum ranging from constipoops through pesto-poops, boips and pootles to squirtles. Squissues are Morris’ leading cause of sadness and require him to be thoroughly wrung out, folded up, twisted, turned upside-down and occasionally balanced on his tum on someone’s head. The Enthuse of a Morris whose squissues have been resolved has to be seen (or, at a greater distance, heard) to be believed.



Yes yes, I know; I do not call, I do not write. It’s not my fault. I was kidnapped by buccaneers and forced to prepare croquembouche in a cave for the wedding of the Pirate King.

1. My children do not get knock-knock jokes. I tried “Knock-knock”, “Who’s there?”, “Interrupting cow” on the pigs this morning, and they thought that was the end of the joke and laughed hysterically.

2. You know what pleases me about babies? Most things, actually, but other than that? I like how they manage to give off a very low impression of helplessness.

Take young Morris, for instance. Being a wee bit gormless and hampered by his fats, he is still more or less immobile. He does not sit, he does not crawl, he rarely rolls; mostly he just lolls about like a sea-slug. If he wants to be taken anywhere, he has to be carried; similarly, he is of course incapable of feeding or changing himself or doing anything remotely useful.

But does this distress him? Does one feel a sense of pity looking down at his stationary self? Not a bit of it. By sheer chutzpah and joie de vivre Morris manages to convey a sense of autonomy. One gets the impression he is doing what he wants. Lying on the floor staring at the ceiling, he acts as if he is exactly where he wishes to be. And should you pick him and take him to a window to see the chickens, well, he wanted to do that too.

It’s impressive. And presumably one would not feel the same way about, say, a quadriplegic. And I realise it isn’t a trait that applies to all babies; there are go-getters in the infant community who register displeasure at their lack of crawling ability, and pitch out of one’s arms trying to reach the curtains.

But Morris does not. He takes life as it comes and finds it goodly. He is secure enough in his place in the cosmos that the thought people might find it tiring to lug him about simply does not occur to him. “Here I am,” he says. “I have joined you now. You’re welcome.”

3. We’re buying a house. Rather, we’re attempting to buy a house. It is a hideous, grinding, demoralising process and I don’t want to talk about it.

4. Few things in muggy weather make me as ambivalent as cosleeping with a fat, loving baby with a low melting point.

5. This baby.


“Can I tell you a story?”

“OK. A short one.”

“How short?”
“As short as your finger.”
“Which finger? This one, or this one, or this one, or this one, or this one?”
“As short as this one here.”
“How about this one?”
“No, I like the one I chose.”
“Morris is so CUUUTE! He’s a wasp!”
“Is he? Don’t pesk his head, I want him to sleep.”
“OK. Now. What animal?”
“Um. How about… well. A wasp?”
“No, wasps have stings.”
“How about a pika.”
“No, you always tell me stories about pikas. How about a snake?”
“No, snakes are scary.”
“How about a manatee?”
“I think I’ll do a bat.”
“Oh, OK.”
“Yes. A bat named Batman.”
“A bat named… OK. Go.”
“Once upon a time there was a bat named Batman, and he could fly and crawl along. And he thought he heard something scary, so he went to see, but it was just Robin, his partner. So they were flying along and then they heard something like this: SSSSSSSSSSSSSSSSS. And it was SSSS-ing along, and they flew down to see it. And they thought it was a snake. But it was just a dragon. So it was Robin’s friend, because Robin liked dragons. And then they thought they heard something spotty, so they went to see, and it was a pika.”
“Goodness. But pikas aren’t spotty.”
“This was a spotty pika, with eyes.”
“Yes. And it was Robin’s friend too, because Robin’s favourite animals are dragons AND pikas. And then – now they’re talking. “Look, Robin! I can go upside down on my head! And I can hop on my head! Bup bup bup!” “Wow, cool, Batman! So can I!””
“This story is getting quite long. I think it’s longer than your finger. Can you finish it up?”
“Yes. ….That was the end.”


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