I endured a very sobering experience while on a shopping expedition to town the other day.
Mrs Canavan asked me to accompany her so I could help look after our six-month-old, Mary, while she (Mrs Canavan, not Mary) spent the entire content of our savings account on completely unnecessary items. I agreed to accompany her, less out of kindness, more because I’d arranged to play golf the following day and hadn’t yet told her. This would soften the blow.
I asked why she wanted to go shopping.
“Because I need hair-dye,” she replied.
‘You can get that from the local shops,’ I pointed out, ‘why do we need to go all the way to town’.
“Because I’ve not been to town for ages,” she said sharply, as if I’d asked a daft question, then added, “and besides I might have a look at some baby clothes while we’re there.”
I groaned inwardly. The one thing our house does not need any more of is baby clothes.
Not only have we been bought a shed-load by relatives (some of it absolutely horrific - we’ve used the dress my Aunty Barbara gave us as curtains in the lounge) but because Mrs Canavan - so bored out of her skull during the long days of maternity leave - has developed an addiction to ordering baby things off the internet.
Every single day some kind of parcel or package is delivered to the door, so much so that she’s on first name terms with the Amazon delivery driver: Ged, nice chap, dark hair, 5’6, receding around the temples, one leg - lost the other in a freak canoeing accident in 2007.
Each evening on my return from work, there will be an empty cardboard box by the back door and Mrs Canavan will be standing in the centre of the kitchen holding aloft five cardigans, saying ‘what do you think of these, they were on special offer, won’t she look cute in them?’
“Well, yes, daring, she might,” I’ll reply gently, “but she already has 47 cardigans. Do you not think, you know, bearing in mind she grows out of clothes every three months, that we might already have the cardigan department covered?”
At which point Mrs Canavan will stare at me like a sniper about to pull the trigger and remind me how she is looking after a baby all day and that if it wasn’t for her, the baby wouldn’t have any outfits at all. She’ll address Mary at this point and say ‘mummy buys all your clothes doesn’t she’. And slightly annoyed, I’ll reply something like, ‘well actually Mary, technically mummy doesn’t buy them because she’s using daddy’s money’. And thus we begin doing that weird thing that every new parents do - argue via the baby. (‘Daddy’s been very stupid forgetting the car keys hasn’t he’ ‘Well, Mummy shouldn’t have put them in the fruit bowl while she was tidying up should she’, ‘At least Mummy tidies up’, etc).
Anyhow the upshot is that we trekked into town to go shopping, where Mrs Canavan proceeded to buy six more cardigans (‘look at the pattern, so cute - we can’t not buy those, can we?’).
The day was actually going okay, brightened considerably by the moment I passed a well-to-do-looking couple in their 50s, just as the wife said ‘you need to exercise, everybody’s saying you look fat, even Ethel’. Alas I caught no more but still, I enjoyed the snippet I heard.
Then, as I alluded to at the start of this column, a most disturbing event happened.
As Mrs Canavan announced she was nipping into the 56th shop of the day, ‘just for a quick look at the nursing bras’, I slumped on a bench outside to wait and plucked Mary from her pram to give her a cuddle. (She’d started to get a bit whingey - even she was sick of waiting for her mother).
Two woman approached, saw Mary, and said ‘aw, look at that cutie,’. I smiled, and thought ‘what lovely ladies’.
Then one of them added, ‘you must be a very proud granddad’.
“I beg your pardon?” I stuttered, assuming I’d misheard.
‘Your granddaughter, she’s lovely,’ one of the women repeated, a little louder, presumably under the impression I was hard of hearing
Now I know I’d had a bad night’s sleep and that I’d not put on my L’oreal Advanced Revitalift Eye Cream that morning, but granddaughter? I’m only 41 for God’s sake. And, worryingly, these women weren’t even wearing glasses. I was affronted.
‘She’s my daughter, actually,’ I responded, trying not to sound too annoyed.
“Really?” the woman asked, as if genuinely amazed. “Well, she’s very nice all the same” - and then walked away.
When Mrs Canavan emerged from the shop moments later - holding a carrier bag containing a couple more cardigans for Mary - I was indignant with rage and announced we were leaving immediately.‘You’ll never believe what’s just happened,’ I said, and recounted the story.
She looked at me closely and remarked, ‘well, I can understand why she made that mistake. Now, we’ll need to stop at Tesco on the way home - they’ve got a special offer on babygrows and I want to buy a couple.’
The perils of a typo
Commiserations to Asda, who printed 10,000 plastic bags to celebrate the opening of its Isle of Wight store, but spelt it Isle of White - which was close but not close enough.
It reminded me of an occasion at the first newspaper I worked for, in the North West in the late 90s, when a prominent factory in the town - Mernfields - made some redundancies. The editor, who always insisted on doing the front page, wrote the headline, in huge letters, MENFIELDS AXES 200 JOBS, thus missing out the R, kind of crucial.
Now our editor was in his late 60s and absolutely, utterly bonkers, one minute lovely, the next out of control. How he was in charge of running a local newspaper I have no idea.
One thing he could not take was making a mistake. When the paper came out all the staff immediately spotted the error. You couldn’t miss it. It hit you like a punch in the face. Our editor, sitting yards away, didn’t see it, which perhaps explains how it happened in the first place, and turned onto page two.
We all looked at each other nervously. Who would dare tell him? We knew he’d be furious. The tension was unbearable. Eventually the deputy editor decided he had to do it, so nervously said ‘erm, Terry, erm, I think there might be a mistake in the front page headline.’
The editor looked at the page for a good minute, went slightly ashen-faced, then, without saying a word, walked into his glass-fronted office where he sat motionless with his head in his hands. About 20 minutes later, a reader - a man on a disability scooter - knocked at the office door to point out the error. Without a word of a lie, the editor leapt from his chair, took off his jacket, and said to the startled chap ‘outside, now’. We had to physically restrain him.
Ah, those were the days.