Fish heads 1 Parents 0

I sipped my tea from a safe distance, muttering things like “There’s no need for such a fuss” and “It’s nothing a quick rinse with some soapy water can’t fix” and “It’s just a matter of encouraging their individual interests,” as the children splattered and smeared fish guts all over the kitchen cupboards.

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Flopping a raw dismembered fish head onto a restaurant table is generally considered bad table manners but so is lying on the restaurant floor and you let a lot go when you have a fussy eater. This delightful sprat head, which BUB.1 acquired near a fish market after a day foraging for fossils on the Jurassic Coast, eventually took pride of place in his ‘special things’ box alongside some rotten bird eggs, a mouse head and an empty bird skull. We thought we could exploit this new interest in fish – he gags on fish fingers, so the only way was up – and a few days later took him to the fish counter to pick one out “for lunch.” A seabass, we thought. It was the start of something

That afternoon, fish guts were strewn across our kitchen island and all up my splash backs. BUB.1 sawed through the spine and garotted the poor thing. We had fins drying on paper towels and silver slithers of flesh on all the cupboard door handles. “Can I float its head in water Mummy?” he asked, as we started to clean up.”Pardon?” “Can you get me a bowl so I can see how it moves in the water?”

I filled a long vase and we dropped the head in, watching it slowly sink to the bottom, spinning. It was like that scene in Jaws when they find Ben Gardner’s boat. The meagre remnants of fish flesh that remained were duly baked in foil and picked out with a fork, in 1mm x 1mm sections, while BUB.1 dry retched. When WW got back from work that Saturday, the surfaces had been hosed down and we gushed about how we had filleted our own fish, like something from The Waltons. I felt like a parenting ninja.

A week later, it was WW’s turn, and this time we had a mackerel and a trout. I have never seen WW get so angry, as he produced a box of thin protective white gloves for everyone to wear. I sipped my tea from a safe distance, muttering things like “There’s no need for such a fuss, it’s nothing a quick rinse with some soapy water can’t fix,” “It’s just a matter of encouraging their individual interests,” and “He’s no Bear Grylls is he kids?” as he shouted things like “Don’t TOUCH the shiny knobs! NOT the knobs!”, “Stop dangling that all over the floor” and “It’s dripping on my leg!”

However, being a truly remarkable Dad, he overcame his fury and while staying at the in-laws a few weeks later he promised to take them to Bolton fish market (“the fish mecca of the north west” – his words). We decided to make it a family outing, as we like to do with all bad ideas, and it coincided with bobbing into Clarks for some new shoes.

The view in the fish market was truly breathtaking. I held my scarf over my mouth and tried not to breathe. Mound upon mound of sea creatures. I looked at the floor to kick away a rogue tentacle and I noticed that the  ‘Light Up!’ lights on BUB.2’s shiny new trainers weren’t lighting up. “We’ll have to take them back! Let’s go BACK!” I cried.” “I need a wee!” said BUB.3, her timing, as always, perfect. For once, I was keen to visit a public toilet, in the belief that the horrors within were better than the horrors without. We skated on an ice rink of frozen rancid brine past gaping mouths, bulging eyes, bloodied cavities, fetid fins, purple sinews, black seepage and tiny, tiny killer bones.

Out of the corner of my eye I saw WW looking at me. “You’re turning green. Your face is actually GREEN. Look kids! Mummy is GREEN!” “Can we get a squid beak, Mummy, please?” begged BUB.1. For the love of God, I didn’t even know squids had beaks. I used to spend Saturday afternoons smoothing myself with shimmering body lotions and spritzing myself with wine rather than standing in a swill of sea sludge, coated in a glistening varnish of fish glue. I moved quickly towards the toilets.

One fish I could handle. One normal, sea bass, on MY kitchen counter, under MY terms, I thought as I hoisted BUB.3’s trousers back up. But this was just short of a joke. He’d taken it too far. We made our way back to the market. Where the bloody hell were the kids? I looked around and saw them at quite some distance, heading behind the salmon counter to get a better look. Behind the counter where the fish guts were knee-high. “NEW SHOES” I screeched, sloshing through the rippling tide of fish intestines. Too late. New sparkly silver and blue non-light-up trainers, coated in a veneer of fish gravy. “Can we just take a salmon head please?” WW said to the guy. “20p, what a bargain!” WW beamed as we left the market, head in hands.

Back at Grandma’s, BUB.1 began his precise work, nipping bits off here, peering at teeth, showing us with pride how the jaws worked. When he wanted to inspect the bones more closely, he asked Grandma to boil it up on her stove which she kindly spent her Saturday afternoon doing, without asking the question I’m sure was on her lips: “Does he not enjoy football?”

As the fish heads were boiling to the bone, WW returned with a refund on the fishy, non-flashing trainers.  What a Dad. Oh and BUB.1 wants pet fish now. He’s made a list. We’ve managed to persuade him that a gecko is a better choice. For the fish.

 

 

 

A load of drivel (Working title: "Daddy No Legs")

We all started at each other, mouths open wide. We had kept her for days in that cramped habitat with faux trees. Questions were hanging in the air. “Should we have done that sooner?” and “How long will she last?”.

Let me start this drivel by saying, an Insect Lore butterfly kit is THE most amazing way to spend £20 this summer. The smallest creatures can teach us the biggest lessons. When I was about ten, I was taught a life lesson by a Daddy Long Legs. It was one of those hot, sticky, ever-so-close, summer nights and she was flitting about my bedroom ceiling. I must have spent close to a half an hour chasing her around with a rolled up copy of Smash Hits, trying to coax her out of the window. When I finally got her there and brushed her gently out, she flew straight into a spider’s web hanging from the gutter outside, and was slowly eaten over the next couple of days, leg by leg, until she was just a dot. I once witnessed someone tread on a pregnant spider and laugh as the trillion motherless baby spiders spilled out, only to be trodden on themselves. We’re all made differently. I still think about that Daddy Long Legs. And that spider.

So, back to the butterflies. For the first few days, the little caterpillars you receive eat, spin silk and grow to ten times their size. Then they move up to the ceiling of the cup, hang themselves upside down and slowly harden into chrysalides that sometimes shake frantically. It’s amazing, in the truest sense of the word. Once hard, you gently transfer them to the habitat provided by Insect Lore, which you fill with sticks, leaves, fruit and sugar water, and you wait. And one day, if you’re lucky, you’ll be watching them and a Painted Lady butterfly will suddenly emerge slowly, spread it’s wings to dry and flit around the home you have made it, eating the fruit, and generally looking beautiful. You’ll name them. Once all five have hatched and all of their wings are dry, you set them free.  It’s two weeks of pure magic.

Of course, life is tricky. One of our butterflies got stuck under a piece of fruit as it was emerging and tore its wing. We could see the little triangle of missing wing at the bottom of the cage. The butterfly, who we had named Leia, fluttered but did not fly. When she tried to gain height, she would just fall to the bottom. I contacted Insect Lore and they confirmed what I had already read online, that an injured butterfly is at great risk in the wild, so the best thing to do was let her live out her days in the safety of the home we had made for her and her siblings. We agreed that short of glueing the wing back on (sometimes possible apparently but WELL outside of my YouTube fix-it-yourself comfort zone) it was the right thing to do.

A few days later it was time to set the other four butterflies free. We unzipped the habitat, and one by one they were passed into the BUBs’ little hands and immediately flew up up into the blue sky, our eyes chasing them, to see them one last time. And then there was Leia. Leia came back inside and we tried to make her life as interesting as possible. She got special treatment. Not just apples and oranges, but also strawberries and raspberries. I created a forest of sticks and branches with leaves and flowers within her tiny home.

But we were all counting the days. We knew that Painted Lady butterflies only live for a couple of weeks. One day, one of us broke.

“She can fly a bit,,” said Willy Wonka. “But I don’t want us all to see her being snatched from the ground by a bird,” I said. “We could just try. If she falls, we could just pop her back in quickly,” he said, hopefully.

So we opened the back door, unzipped the cage, and out came Leia onto a little, trembling palm. Our Leia. We all watched, our hearts thumping. Our Leia took one look at that big blue sky and up she went. To our amazement she flew so high into the trees we quickly lost sight of her. She had found her freedom. It must have felt so good. But we looked at each in silence. We had kept her for days in that cramped habitat with faux trees and cut flowers. Questions were hanging in the air. “Should we have done that sooner?”, “Did our special care finally give her the strength to fly?”, “Could she not fly because we didn’t believe she could?” and “How long will she last?”

But as we told the BUBs, none of that really mattered now. Leia was free. You make the decisions you think are right at the time. The important thing was that when Leia was eventually given the chance to do what she was born to do, she took it with both wings.

Which puts me in mind of the lyrics of Radiohead’s ‘Let Down’.

Shell smashed, juices flowing.

Wings twitch, legs are going.

Don’t get sentimental,

it always ends up drivel.

 

The Wife of Bath: the sequel.

Four years ago I wrote a blog called The Wife of Bath in which I explained why I get in the bath with my small kids. BUB.3 was still a twinkle, the first two were 1 and 3. Today they are 3, 5 and 7. Looking through my list of 8 reasons that I used to swill about in the muck of my children, it’s clear why this no longer happens.
1) I don’t always require a complete change of clothes at bath time. Now only my socks get wet.
2) I’m not so dirty anymore. They, on the other hand, just get filthier with each year that passes. Mostly exploded yogurt and marker pen.
3) Bath time without me just sounds a bit sad. It’s still my favourite time with them. Weird, I know.
4) They still love it. But they’re bigger. And sometimes they try to drown each other. Or they’re pretending to smoke.
5) I’ve invested in a Lifeproof iPhone cover. From someone who has dropped previous phones in pineapple juice, prune juice, down several toilets, through a 90 degree washing machine cycle and into a bowl of chicken soup, I’m the ultimate test for this thing and this thing lives on where others have not been so lucky.
6) They would hate me to get into the bath with them now. I would be insulted like the time BUB.1 told me I looked like a gorilla who had lost all of its hair apart from its armpits.
7) I never care about what I’m wearing anymore. I’ve accepted my uniform of shrunken long-sleeved stretchy black top and bulging jeans. I’m OK with it.
8) I no longer have to worry about them weeing in my bath because I tend to now sneak in before them. Invariably the moment my shoulders hit the hot water one of them wants an immediate poo. I don’t know which is worse. The kid who immediately wants me to leave the bathroom (and therefore extract myself from a lovely hot bath I have been in for 5 seconds) or the kid who wants me to stay. THIS is just one of the infinite philosophical “caught between a rock and a hard place” questions that dominate parenthood. You can never really win with kids. There’s always a trade off.
But one thing never changes from the time I wrote this blog post. The last line. That is and always will be so very, very true.