OUR THIRD son, William Alexander Dowling, was born on 27 May. According to the strict rules governing couples with two or more children, the birth of a third is a routine matter, a scheduling detail. In keeping with these rules, my wife and I dropped by the hospital at two in the afternoon, she gave birth at four and when I returned to pick her up six hours later she was dressed and ready. Among women on their second and third babies, staying the night in hospital is considered malingering. Afterwards she describes the birth to friends as easy, though I saw plenty of evidence to the contrary.

Much of the routine is familiar, especially the reassuring hum of the baby monitor. It took me three days to find it, and when I did I discovered the components are from different baby monitors accidentally switched during various group holidays. The listening end and speaker end don't match, and the recharging units for both belong to some other appliance. After some experimentation I found a configuration in which the whole set-up operates more or less normally, although I worry it may interfere with local air traffic.

We don't really need a baby monitor to hear if the baby is crying because we know he is. But it is a central part of our breastfeeding-on-demand system, as it enables my wife to issue orders from her bed. The kitchen TV goes up into the bedroom with her and the baby, and the baby monitor sits where the telly used to be. I sit in the kitchen, making out a shopping list for one of my twice-daily excursions to the supermarket.

Over the monitor I can hear Jerry Springer: "OK, let's bring out Brad". Brad's fiancee has a surprise for him. Without the pictures I can't tell what it is, but Brad is very angry. Above the whooping of the audience I hear my wife's voice - "Bin liners" - and I add bin liners to the list. After the break, my wife says, "Twiglets". The monitor is one-way, so she cannot hear my reply (just as well). I bring her the Twiglets and return to the kitchen. I hear the afternoon film start. "If you're just sitting there, you could unload the dishwasher," says the baby monitor.

Baby monitors often broadcast the embarrassing comments and illicit canoodling of dinner party guests to friends and colleagues downstairs. Over the years I have heard many shocking things over our baby monitor, but most of them were from EastEnders. Eavesdroppers on our soap opera would find little of interest, just background noise, crying and stupefyingly mundane conversations. It would probably sound like The Archers. This is ironic, because the au pair told me yesterday the neighbours two doors down are picking us up on Radio 4 longwave.