Here’s what happens to your neighbourhood when you’re trying to get your baby to nap

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A fine dad friend of mine muttered darkly over the internets the other day about trying to get his daughter to sleep. ‘Whoever is revving their hairdryer moped outside our house,’ he wrote, ‘is going on the list.’ Boy, I understood that one.

His neighbourhood is residential, leafy, pretty quiet. I’ve never once heard a moped symphony there, but there’s a reason for that: every time I’ve been there, no-one has been trying to get a little human to sleep. Because as soon as you try to do that, all manner of small hells break loose.

You know those times you’ve tried to creep home and into bed when you’ve been out later and had more beers than you said you would? And how in those moments the volume on your otherwise whisper-quiet house gets turned all the way up? So instead of stairs, they’re STAIRS. The door is a PORTAL OF CREAKING TERROR. Your toilet declaims “RELEASE THE KRAKEN!” when you flush. It’s like that, only the volume effect gets spread into the surrounding area.

Basically, if you’re attempting to get the child to nap it’s The Upside Down in your ‘hood, especially if – like me, most days – you’re trying to do it alfresco, with them in a sling. Everything becomes dark, and loud, and hideous.

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Strolling through the ‘hood on nap duty, yesterday

Here are some obstacles to expect during daytime nap manoeuvres:

Infinite dogs*

Your otherwise dog-free neighbourhood will ring to the jangle of collars and the clack of claws. A polyphonic spree of hitherto unknown bastard Alsatians will bark from six houses at once. ‘Woof! Woof!’ will go the little voice from inside the sling. It won’t sleep.

Home improvement

The good tradespeople of the locality will burst into a coordinated version of the anvil chorus, played out above a simmering sonic wave of power tools and hollering. I fucking know where Jeff is. He’s on the roof. Stop bellowing for him. ‘Jeff!’ shouts little voice.

Other goddamn kids

There’s nothing like the particular frequency of other small humans to keep your small human awake and alert. Particularly when they’re hooting ‘Jeff!’ and ‘Woof!’ as they zoom by on their murderously loud tricycles. ‘Baby! Bike!’ shouts little voice.

Your frickin’ phone

The one you always set to silent but didn’t this time and now an unknown number is calling and it’s almost certainly Satan coming to get payback for All Those Things You Did. Or it’s grandpa. ‘Grandpa!’ shouts little voice.

Traffic, traffic, oh god traffic

Sure, 90% of the time the background hummmm of traffic lulls the child, or you don’t even notice it. But as they reach the cusp of sleep and could tip either way, that godforsaken Prius will be the loudest noise the planet has ever known and sure enough, little voice will struggle awake. ‘Car! Car!’

Little Old Ladies

The sweetest and most innocuous denizens of the hood will become harridans from the very depths of raging Hades when you’re in the danger zone of Nearly Asleep. They’ll insist on cooing over your drooping child. Or – and this really happened to me – they’ll reach inside your baby carrier and pluck your child’s dummy out of its mouth ‘to see their little smile’. There’s no smile. They’re furious at being awake and will remain so for THE NEXT SEVEN MONTHS, you charmingly cardiganed witchbit. Yeah, I still shouldn’t have kicked her into a hedge. Your honour. ‘This! This!’ mutters little voice, straining to retrieve her dummy from the thieving wrinkled claw.

I could go on and on. Plastic bags. Coffee machines (just when you need them most). Gates. A solitary robin. The motherfucking summer breeze. I could try it at home, of course, but then – well, see the volume effect above.

And then of course they’ll drift off, looking serene as they randomly snooze through a pneumatic drill knocking a hole in reality two feet away. So who knows what goes on in their sleep control centre? Just enjoy the peace while you can, your neighbourhood is clearing its throat…

Got weird things that stop your small human napping? I’d love to hear them. Share below!

*Or whatever it is that your own little voice is into at the moment. Cats, balloons, trees, Gozer the Gozerian…you can expect them all to rock up.

Females are strong as hell: a love letter to Wonder Woman


So, after the general election I tottered off, bleary-eyed, to watch Wonder Woman. I wanted it to be good, especially after the sludgy slog of Man of Steel and Batman vs Superman. I wanted just to be entertained, after a busy night yelling at the TV. What I wasn’t expecting was to be tearful most of the way through. 

Now this isn’t because Wonder Woman is a perfect film. Far from it: some supporting characters are gossamer thin, the final act suffers from the same everything-louder-than-everything-else zoomy CGI bullshit that dogged the previous DC offerings, and Captain America: The First Avenger would like big chunks of its plot back, please.

And yet, and yet…

Within minutes – and I do mean minutes – of things starting, I was suddenly in this strange state of quietly euphoric, lip wobbling tearfulness. It took me a while to work out what was going on, but it was this: I’d never seen women portrayed on film (certainly this kind of film) in this way before. Athletic and impressive in slo-mo with no side-order of slyly lascivious camera work dribbling over them. Powerful women because that’s simply who they are, not because men taught them not to be feeble (because only men can be strong, y’know). Clear-eyed about and amused by the male gaze, but able to flick it aside with one bulletproof bracelet. Vaguely curious about Chris Pine’s nether regions, but much more impressed by his watch. Not strong and sexualised – just strong. 

It reminded me of  the way I’ve always felt about Richard Donner’s 1978 Superman movie: when Supes first appears, with his unflinching moral code and deep affection for humanity, I have an overwhelming sense of irrational longing, wondering on behalf of the real world, ‘where are you? We need you so desperately.’ As with Superman, so with Wonder Woman, only this time it was brilliantly cathartic. Over a couple of breezy hours in her company (Gadot and Pine are ace), I watched her be revealed as the strongest, most empathetic hero figure of our current age. She has the greatest capacity for love, exposes the ballyhoo nonsense of the patriarchy with the quizzical raise of a single eyebrow and is simply the ultimate badass on the block. With a frickin’ lasso.

What made me tear up was the avalanche of relief as all this became clear. The film isn’t perfect, but she is. There you are, at last. The onscreen hero our times, our girls, my daughter, really need. It walloped me right in the feminist dad feels.

In short, I’m in awe of this vision of Diana of Themyscira. It’s not that she’s a badass demi-god, it’s that she’s a badass woman. Her greatest strength is love – not romcom gloop but actual, difficult, fucked-up grief-stricken defiant compassionate love – but she could also kick you through a wall as soon as look at you. Poor Kitty is going to be assailed by repeat viewings while her father weeps quietly for joy. Because unlike another DC stalwart haunting the alleys of Gotham, she’s probably not the hero we deserve; but she’s sure as hell the one we need. Wonder Woman, I love you. 

An update from the dog about the baby

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We call this the ‘look of extreme reproachfulness’

So, the dog has – to our miserable horror – managed to get hold of a Starwriter from somewhere (1997, I guess) and hammered out another letter. She’s still not fully on board with the baby.

Sorry about the language.

Butler, scullery maid,

What in the shitbarnacled name of almighty holy fuck? It MOVES? It fucking MOVES?

This is beyond a joke now. At first I thought your bizarre naked puppy was defective because it didn’t move, but it turns out that was one of its saving graces. Sure, it was an unrelenting squealing catastrofuck, but at least I knew where it was.

But then you went and taught it to fucking crawl.

Oh, sure, it was all laughs and smiles for you as it woke up crying every hour through the night, trying to inch forwards and possessed by a feverish St Vitus rocking motion. I can only assume they were tears of mirth and joy for all those weeks, because I couldn’t be sure over the puppy’s wailing, and besides, I had my own whimpering to take care of.

Now, a word about that. I’ve taken great pains to develop a new half-whine half-howl in response to the incessant caterwauling. You’re always bleating on about the puppy’s new achievements (I’m still reeling from the fact that you gave it a round of applause yesterday because it managed a sip of fucking water), but what’s my reward for carefully crafting a fresh vocalisation that I can crank out in sync with the puppy’s crying – at high volume – even when I’m to all intents and purposes asleep? Some claps and goofy smiles? Nope. You locked me in the kitchen, you titbiscuits.

Anyway. Now you’re all giddy because it moves and you’re encouraging it to roam all over the place without so much as harness or collar on. Can I just point out that the single biggest investment of time you’ve ever made with me is in insisting that I learn to fucking ‘stay’? Hours, we spent, as I patiently walked back over to you to explain that I’m a hunting terrier and not interested in sitting still, until you finally went out and bought treats of an acceptable level; and now you’re praising that thing for moving?

Where is the consistency? All the training books I got you stress consistency above all else. That’s why I so consistently place my chew toy – you know, the rolling one with the sharp gnawed edges – right under your feet when your back is turned.

Look, a case in point: because you love it when the puppy moves, I figured you didn’t need me to ‘stay’ any more. But when the butler was collapsing the stroller outside the front door in the rain and I didn’t ‘stay’ in the hall like he asked and wandered out onto the main road for a look around, he got all shouty and shaky and had to do that thing where he takes deep breaths, once his hands had stopped quivering. See my problem? Consistency.

So, I’ve tried a few disciplinary actions of late to remind you that the puppy needs to remain still at all times, instead of clambering over the bed to poke me in the eye as it shrieks “BOG!”:

  • First, there was the protest wee on the playmat, but you only went and washed it once you’d both taken your heads out of your hands and stopped making that low moaning sound. On a related note, what does ‘rehoming’ mean?

  • Then I faked that illness where I pretended to be all listless and off my food. I thought taking me to the vet and spending hundreds of pounds on needless blood tests would snap you out of it, but you’re obviously as thick as labradors (and Jesus, those guys are simpletons). You didn’t even twig when I perked up the second the vet had seen me and the nice receptionist gave me the fancy vet treats. I’m doing this for your own good, you know.

  • I’ll admit that the expensive new dog pillow that takes up the entirety of one of the sofas is cosy, but you needn’t think I’m snoozing on that while the puppy crawls. I need to know where it is at all times, and the best vantage point is directly under your feet, which is where I’m going to stay until you make it sit on its own pillow, or at least buy it its own puppy crate. Yes, that includes when you’re frantically sterilising bottles while the puppy wails.

Have any of these done the trick so far? Have they bollocks. So I’ve had to resort to writing again with a simple demand: teach it to stay. It needs to be still, be silent, and get its hellish little hand out of my ear.

However, I’m nothing if not merciful, so there is one thing you can do to make your lives better. If you will agree to keep offering it solid food, I will agree not to chew its fingers the next time it crawls over and pokes me. While it’s strapped into that tall chair thing throwing delicious pasta at me, we can have a truce. No, I don’t care if I get fat. Pasta. Fucking NOW.

Now that I’ve got my Starwriter you can expect more regular updates from me. You clearly need all the help you can get. Up next: how not to fuck up my walks, you utter tossclumps.

Incandescently,

Mistress Dog

ps./ I’ll have some of those rice cakes, too.

The Distracted Dad

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It’s been a few weeks since I posted anything, and this is why…

When you’re about to become a parent, friends and relatives offer well-meaning thoughts and advice. Stuff about the amount of sleep you can expect (“None! AHAHAHAHAHA,” was a common cackle), the time you’ll have together as a couple (“None! AHAHAHAHAHA), the help with nappies they might offer (“None! AHAHA-” you get the idea).

Now, some of those predictions came to pass when Kitty arrived, and some didn’t. But the thing I’ve been grappling with for the last few weeks is one that no-one mentioned, yet it’s something that everyone I speak to seems to recognise, and it’s this:

When a baby enters your life, you enter a permanent state of distraction.

Before Kitty arrived, at any given point my brain could be relied upon to be thinking about one of these things:

  • Should I drink one more coffee?

  • How ace would it be if I was Batman?

  • What would I do if I met Bruce Springsteen?

It didn’t matter that I’ve known the answers for years. (They go: of course, I don’t feel nearly worriedconfident enough; really ace; cry and cry and cry.) The mulling of them was part of my circadian rhythm. That, and a lingering regret about the ad-libs I made in the school play in 1987 (thanks, brain).

Post-Kitty, it goes like this:

  • Should I drink one more laundry?

  • How ace would it be if horsey horsey don’t you stop?

  • What would I do if I met Bruce Wayne? No, wait, Banner. No, Dickinson. Ah, crap.

Remember when you used to play Lemmings / Worms back in the day, and occasionally you’d forget to stop one of them tunnelling, and when you looked back the screen was a mess of tumbling, stumbling critters and gaps? That’s the inside of my head. I flit from half-completed thought to the next one, barely alighting on them as I go. My accounts are a hilarious shambles (lucky I’m not self-empl…dammit). I keep shifting our as-yet unpacked boxes from the house move round and round and round in a vain attempt to impose order.

That’s just internally. Externally, in group conversations I’m only ever partly there. If Kitty is within earshot, or just the same building, I’m focusing about nine percent of my attention on other people, and that’s when I’m really, really trying. My sentences sometimes grind to a halt because the thing I was aiming for at the end of them got lost somewhere along the way when I heard her cry, or when the dog tried to lick her face for the 873rd time. If she’s not there, I still barely get above 50 percent.

It’s not that I don’t want to be present. I do. I want to talk about the state of the world, keep the house and my business affairs in order, have discussions. Do some work. I really, really want to think about meeting Springsteen. But thoughts just get shunted aside with no chance for completion. Actually thinking about, planning and getting the shopping done online felt like a Herculean achievement.

It’s not tiredness, because we do OK with that side of things. It’s bandwidth. My boy brain simply can’t process the added baby info, so it gives up on other stuff in order to accommodate it. That’s why Kitty is clean, fed, has sweet-smelling laundry and sterilised dummies, and why I can tell you about eight month milestones, yet I can barely finish conversations, have emails left unanswered from the Spring and keep looking at the thing in the box in the fridge and never do anything about it. There’s no mental processing capacity left since so much of it is running the ‘Holy shit we need to keep this tiny human alive’ program.

Of course, I have solution to this distraction, and it’s to simply

Five fatherhood lessons from The Beatles

green_apple_fragranceTo my profound delight, Kitty seems to love music. A lot. So recently I’ve been playing her some musical touchstones: Dylan, the Stones, the Beatles. She likes the loping groove of Let It Bleed, the amphetamine folk rhythms of Highway 61 Revisited, the swooping psychedelia of Rubber Soul and Revolver. We’ve had a tiny living room boogie to each one. (Amazingly, she is somehow already looking embarrassed by my dancing. Kid, you ain’t seen nothing yet.)

While we’ve been listening, I’ve noticed that a few tracks really chime with my current experiences of dadhood. Of course, some twentysomething hairdevils writing 50 years ago weren’t trying to speak about parenting, but nonetheless, the songs capture either a mood or a part of the family-building process that I’m grappling with.

So: the Stones’ drawl of ‘we all need somebody we can lean on’ felt suddenly, urgently relevant when I recently hit a patch of “I can’t do this and will instead be living in a cave, eating moss, from this day forth,” and needed some emotional first aid from Dr T.

Equally, Dylan’s sardonic assertion that ‘there’s something happening here but you don’t know what it is’ has never felt more accurate during Kitty’s recent period of needing to scream like the original crew of the Event Horizon before she could sleep.

But it’s the Fab Four who have – mostly accidentally – illuminated things. They’re also the ones Kitty likes the most so far. So here are five tracks / lyrics that have reminded me of some helpful truths:

With a little help from my friends

There’s nothing like a baby screaming with maximum effort in an enclosed space to make you want to send the Reaper a ‘Wish you were here’ postcard. So on the way to a party, alone with Kitty’s unhappy wails in the car, I very much lost my shit. She screamed. I screamed. We all screamed. Then my friends got in and one spoke lightly and cheerfully to me while the other sat in the back and soothed Kitty. It’s something I would do well to remember more often: that we’re not doing this in isolation, and our friends don’t just want to be there for the easy bits. (Right, friends?)

Eight Days a Week

Easy: a lesson in the amount of time a six month old takes up. But also, it highlights an aspect of love that’s new to me. I’m greedy for signs of affection from Kitty, not as a reward for somehow not leaving her next to any leopards (yet), but because those signs – when they come – are like the sun on my heart for a thousand frickin’ years. Ooh I need your love, babe, yes you know it’s true.

Helter Skelter

The most common question I’ve been asked so far is ‘what is it like, having a baby? How are you finding it?’ I’ve asked the same thing of many parents in the past. The problem is, that’s like asking ‘what is being alive like?’. The answer shifts, moment to moment, like trying to grab dust in the wind. But the feeling of it is like this track from the White Album: something clattering and barely-controlled that’s energising and thrilling to experience on most days; but then some days it’s a grating wall of bloody awful noise. And then you get to the bottom and go back to the top of the slide.

Let it Be

Not my favourite Beatles song, but still a good way of handling frustration when Kitty has been practising crawling for hours and is now face down, legs churning, bellowing with tiredness and attempting to plough furrows in the mattress with her nose but definitely not going to sleep. See her madness, my frustration, our imperfections, and let it all be. Sometimes, you have to simply accept things for how they are (and not summon the leopards). As George went on to say, all things must pass.

Carry that Weight

I’m accompanied by a near-constant sense that really, Kitty is just on loan. At some point some folks will come in, take her away and announce that our trial shift is over, and we may now resume our lives. That’s where my actual favourite Beatles sequence – the three songs that end Abbey Road – comes in: boy, you’re gonna carry that weight a long time. And that’s good, because I sort of feel that carrying this weight is what I was put here for in the first place.

So it just comes down to remembering Abbey Road’s (almost) final words, which are probably good ones for a father to live by. In the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.

Some unexpected side-effects of fatherhood

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Everywhere. These things are literally everywhere.

So Kitty is now six months old, which has prompted me to muse on our experiences with her so far. Much of it has been as we thought it would be: nappies, a bit of sleeplessness, crying, tears, moments of wonder, moments of browsing Siberian boarding school brochures to see how soon she can start; that sort of thing.

However, there have been lots of things that I really didn’t expect, so for those of you embarking on the whole ‘parenting’ thing, or for anyone interested in what happens beyond the headline stuff I mentioned above, here are six examples in honour of Kitty’s first six months…

Oh god the laundry

Seriously, no-one told us about the fact that 97.6% of parenthood in the first six months is doing the goddamn bastard laundry. We are overwhelmed by dunes of sleepsuits, blankets and vests. I’m sure I saw a camel train pass by a few nights ago as I picked mournfully at the ragged edges of the infinite desert of dirty clothes. But! The flipside to this is that I unexpectedly became interested in actually, you know, doing the laundry properly for the first time since my mum stopped doing it. So now we have fabric conditioner and colour separation and tumble drying and our own clothes smell and feel like the fields of all Elysium. When we find them amidst the dunes, that is.

Faulty treat triggers

Kitty’s arrival has apparently damaged my treat trigger, meaning that I mistakenly keep telling myself I ‘deserve’ things simply because coyotes have as yet to kidnap the baby and raise it as their own. Mostly these things are cakes or one extra coffee, but then out of nowhere I’ll go and buy a guitar, to my slight surprise. Dr T is affected too, judging by the subscription boxes full of treats, makeup and random candles that keep arriving. The fact that we are a household supported financially by a freelance writer is singularly failing to register. At least we can sing around the guitar by candlelight when the power goes off.

Road terrors 

Back in the day, the Green Cross man came to my school (played, incidentally, by David Prowse – that’s right, I learned about road safety from DARTH FRICKIN’ VADER). We did the whole ‘Stop, Look, Listen and Think’ thing. I barely thought about it again until Kitty arrived, at which point I began crossing roads like a hyper-caffeinated gazelle crossing cheetah central, twitching left and right, stopping, starting, baulking in fear… I’ve even started reciting ‘Stop, Look, Listen…’ to myself, such is my terror that I’ll simply forget how to cross safely and leave Kitty fatherless.

Cacophony

I expected babies to make sounds. I really didn’t expect a) the huge range of them; or b) their sheer ear-squishing volume. Kitty’s latest efforts include a bizarre hyperventilating ‘heckheckheck’ and a low, stuttering rumble that makes her sound like the Balrog from Lord of the Rings. Weirder still is the blood curdling squeal that she deploys randomly throughout the day and night, unconnected to any mood she might be in. “What the fucking fucking fuck was fucking that?!” I cry, running into the room with blood trickling from my shattered ears, only to find her chuckling away in Dr T’s lap.

People’s reactions

A curious one, this. Some of the people we thought would be the most interested in our life with Kitty have withdrawn slightly, seemingly unsure how to be around us. (Or we may now be dickheads, of course.) Others that we thought might flee at once have been the most involved and supportive. (Or we may now be their kind of dickheads.) Friends and family have revealed hitherto unseen behaviour, and shared previously untold tales. Having a baby doesn’t entitle you to any special treatment, naturally – nonetheless, it’s interesting to see that Kitty’s arrival has produced side effects not just on us, but on our wider circle.

New perspectives

Becoming a dad has given me no profound insight into the world, nor any additional moral authority on anything. At all. What it has done, though, is offer an additional perspective on things: I can’t hear about anything happening on the news now without musing on the fact that everyone involved was as helpless as Kitty once, for example; or thinking how I might feel in the place of a family struck by tragedy.

It’s prompted some inner-reflection, too: having a daughter makes me feel mortified about all the times I treated people with less respect than I would want her to receive. This mainly means I now want to apologise to every single girl I was ever a rascal to. I’m really sorry. You deserved better. Please don’t set your dad on me.

Thanks for reading, as always, and do share your own unexpected side-effects in the comments!

A letter from the dog about the new baby

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A complex being of rage and love, driven solely by the need to eat, sleep and play. Sat next to a baby.

Found this on the mat the other day, along with an invoice from a neighbourhood cat for typing and proofreading. We may not have adequately prepared the dog for Kitty’s arrival.

Caution: strong language ahead. She’s a rescue dog and a Jack Russell so can be, well, a bitch.

The letter in full:

Butler, scullery maid,

First of all: what the actual blistering holy fuck? Are you kidding me?

We have some problems. As no-one has paid attention at my previous staff meetings, despite my sitting and staring at you at the allocated hour, I haven’t been able to debrief you. (Or give you your annual reviews, which, let me assure you, you’re not going to enjoy.) So this is a written warning.

I can only assume that the weird naked puppy is your idea of a joke. But it’s gone on for five titting months now. I’ve had enough. The interruptions to my walk time, game time, snooze time, sitting on you when I want time and scattering infinite hairs over your lives time are unsustainable.

Not only do you disappear for a few days (although that guy who looked after me gave me more treats than you ever have, do you have his number?), you then return with this blotchy hairless puppy that does nothing but croak and squeal and keep me awake all bastard night long. Yet you never bellow “In your bed!” at it like you do when I prowl around growling in the dark – which I do for your listening pleasure, you godless philistines.

I tried to express my dissatisfaction at the start by weeing on the carpet, the bed, and one secret location that you’ve yet to uncover, every day for two weeks, but you just got upset. I still don’t see why you needed to sob as you mopped it up for the tenth time, or why you curled up in a ball and moaned when I knocked all the drinks off the coffee table a few minutes later. You should recognise constructive criticism and accept it with good grace.

So let me spell it out: the puppy is defective. It still can’t move, there’s no sign of a tail and it can’t communicate properly. I’ve tried to help with this by sitting next to you and howling every single time it ‘cries’, to teach it the proper sounds, but you’ve been most ungrateful. I don’t see how you “losing the will to live” is my fault. Go fetch it, as you always tell me. Maybe it’s behind the sofa, like my bone was that time.

Worse, you are not letting the puppy develop properly. If you don’t let me bite it every time it pulls my ears, how will it learn its position in the pack (which is right smack at the fucking bottom, I might add)? And how is it to stay clean or learn to play and fight if you go all high pitched and lose your shit every time I try to jump on it, lick its face or steal its toys?

I’ll admit that getting to sit in the front of the car now is pretty sweet, and you do seem to care less about stopping me sitting on the sofa, eating your yoghurts or getting into bed in the morning and lying with my head on your pillow. This relaxed attitude is a timely innovation and can stay.

HOWEVER. The music. Those songs about teddy bears, quacking ducks and the one about ‘horsey horsey don’t you stop’? The ones you sing all day? What an absolute clusterfuck. Have you been dropped on your heads or something? And how has it suckered you into wiping its bottom? You never, ever let me clean mine by dragging it along the carpet, but do I detect an aloe-vera softened wipe in my future? No I fucking don’t. This kind of inconsistency drives a dog to madness, or at the very least to attacking a pair of Great Danes. I could have taken them, you know, if you hadn’t dragged me away. Pacifist wankers.

Get it together, staff. I don’t sit silently behind you when you’re changing nappies, waiting to trip you up, for the good of my health. It’s to wake you up to reality: the puppy needs to know its place. It needs to be on a lead, not in a sling. It needs biting and sitting on, not rocking gently. Most of all it should share those lovely squeaky Sophie the giraffe toys. No, I don’t care how special or expensive they are.

Don’t make me write again.

Indignantly,

Mistress Dog

ps./ Say ‘Gruffalo’ one more time, motherfuckers. I dare you.