The Thing Is With Steve Canavan - Thursday, June 3, 2021

‘Dad, my tummy hurts’.These were the words my four-year-old daughter, Mary, had been saying for about 15 minutes, and for 15 minutes I’d ignored her because she was in a whiney mood and I thought she was making it up and wanted attention.

Thursday, 3rd June 2021, 12:30 pm

“I’m sure you’ll be ok,” I said distantly, while listening to an interesting report on the radio about sea otter conservation (a chap called Geoff from Aldershot was explaining how otters – sought after for their fur - almost went extinct in the early 1900s before the UK, America, Russia and Japan signed an international treaty to ban their killing, and how unlike most marine mammals they don’t have blubber to protect them from the cold ocean water but instead possess the thickest coat of any animal … you can see why I was enthralled).

We were on our way to a farm – a standard day out for anyone with children under the age of five - which turned out to be located in the middle of the countryside and so to get there we had to go down a lot of winding one-track lanes, on what was a very hot day.

‘It really hurts now dad,’ complained Mary. I glanced over my shoulder and saw this sorry-looking dejected figure in the back seat, hand placed on her stomach.

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And so naturally I did what any parent would have done and casually remarked, ‘I’m sure you’ll be fine darling’, patted her knee in sympathetic fashion - almost careering through a hedge and into a farmer’s field in the process – and turned back to the road … at which moment I heard the tell-tale sound of someone vomiting with some force.

I span around to witness – and apologies if you’re halfway through a bowl of soup - Mary projectile vomit three times, sending an impressively large volume of sick spiralling upwards though the air, like a fountain unexpectedly switched on.

It was a terrible thing to witness and my first thought was obviously not for my child’s welfare but, ‘oh my god, it’s gone all over the upholstery’.

The one upside of the whole incident was that the vomit – which, curiously, given she’s never eaten it, smelt strongly of macaroni cheese – went forward and up and all over Mrs Canavan’s head, who was sat directly in front of Mary in the passenger seat.

There was a moment of stunned silence, as we all dwelled on what had just happened, then Mary started wailing inconsolably, Mrs Canavan began screaming, and I wondered whether sea otters numbers will ever recover on the west coast of the US.

I sped round a bend and found a grass verge to pull on to, before leaping out of the car and beginning a clean-up operation reminiscent of a major fuel company dealing with an oil leak at sea.

I stripped Mary off and armed only with a packet of cheap wet wipes from Tesco, began scrubbing at my daughter like I was attacking a heavily stained pan with a brillo pad.

‘You’re hurting me daddy,’ said Mary, now crying through genuine pain rather than the shock of being sick.

“I know darling,” I said, midway through attempting to remove a large blob of sick from her forehead, “but we need to try and get you clean because at the moment you stink.”

Despite my kind words, she cried a little harder.

Suddenly, on the quiet countryside road, a car appeared with a couple inside and slowed to a halt. ‘You ok?’ shouted a very cheery bloke in his 40s, as he and his wife – a bookish looking woman with funny teeth – stared at us.

At this point I and Mrs Canavan had a visibly upset, naked child pinned face down on the car bonnet.

“No, everything’s fine,” I shouted back. “Glorious day isn’t it?”

‘Erm, yes. OK, have a nice day,’ he hollered, before driving off and presumably dialling 999 to report the kidnap and torture of a juvenile.

Cleaning Mary was one thing but the inside of the car was trickier. The vomit was everywhere - in the footwells, the car seat, on the gear stick, wedged in the air vents, on the headrests. There was even a blob on the front windscreen. It was like she’d had a good look around just before retching and planned carefully how to cause maximum damage.

Cleaning job done – it took 38 wet wipes – we then had the issue of what to dress Mary in. She is never ill and, being four-years-old, doesn’t tend to have any accidents so we hadn’t bothered bringing a change of outfit.

Fortunately, in the boot, in an old plastic bag, we discovered a pile of clothes that had belonged to Mary when she was aged two and which we’d been meaning to take to the clothes bin at the recycling tip for ages.

We found a jumper and shorts for a child aged 18-24 months and spent several stressful minutes pulling them on her, like a deep sea diver squeezing into a wetsuit.

‘Ooo these are a bit tight,’ Mary wheezed, turning an off-blue colour.

But she was ok and the great thing was that emptying the contents of her stomach instantly cured her of tummy ache and she was right as rain for the remainder of the day, even courageously managing to devour a chocolate ice cream. What a trooper.

Sadly, the car hasn’t recovered as quickly, and four days on the smell of macaroni cheese lingers.

On that note, enjoy your tea.

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