Journalist and novelist Andrew Martin is the author of the 'Jim Stringer' series of novels based around railways. He has written for the Independent on Sunday, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times and the New Statesman among others.
Sunday 13 September 1998
Okay, John, now imagine me lying in the bath (you can imagine a flannel adroitly placed if you must). It's 5pm. I've been working flat out since the crack of noon, and I've earmarked half an hour to have a soak and read Autosport.
I've been in the bath for five seconds when I hear a scuffling at the door. I try ignoring this for a while, but the scuffling turns to pounding, so I climb out of the bath and open the door to admit my four year old son, escaped from his nanny's care. He does a wee (which takes about two seconds), and then sits on the lowered toilet seat in order to expound some of his new ideas about the workings of bicycle bells.
Eventually, he leaves to re-join the children's tea party which is taking place downstairs, and I resume my relaxing soak. A minute later, there's more scuffling at the door. "Bugger off", I shout in my paternalistic way. But again have to open the door with a towel around my waist, and this time I see a three year old girl called Daisy who's one of my son's friends. "Look," I suggest, in a slightly gentler tone, "would you mind using the other loo?"
But now my son is hurtling up the stairs again. "Hey!", he says, "why aren't you letting Daisy use the bathroom?" "Because I don't know Daisy," I reply. "Yes you do," insists my son, "she comes around here all the time." And he plants himself on the laundry basket, taking up her cause like a barrack room lawyer.
John, the foregoing account was all for your benefit. I have just described a standard scene from the life of a father, and I know that really you're very interested in this - well you've got to be with your girlfriend getting broodier every week .
The bottom line is that a dad can't do what he wants to do because he's surrounded by little people who behave as though they're in a Monty Python sketch. I won't start going on about the compensations - the charm of children, the love thing - because I can already see your lip starting to curl.
But consider this: when I'd finally got rid of all those children, I did have my long bath with Autosport, and appreciated it more than I would have done without the aforementioned distractions.
The same is true when I go down to the pub. You'll probably have two hours down the boozer today, John, maybe even longer if your girlfriend's away. I might just be able to snatch a quick pint between the kids going to bed and the onset of exhaustion.
But I'll get more pleasure out of that pint than I used to from a whole evening on the tiles because when leisure is curtailed by childcare, believe me, it has more savour.
Think about it, John, and if you don't do so now, you'll probably have to later because your girlfriend's going to cut this article out and stick it right under your nose again.
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