On our recent trip abroad, I noticed, with some amazement, how much friendlier people are when you have a baby in tow.
At the Eurostar terminal, the passport control bloke – normally a breed of folk for whom a smile is as rare as a flicker of movement inside Donald Trump’s brain – looked at Mary and not only beamed but then made small-talk.
“My, she is beautiful”, he said cheerily as he stamped our passports. He then said, “takes after her mother for her looks though, doesn’t she?”
‘Well I sincerely hope your children don’t get their looks from you sir,’ I bantered back, though I’m not sure he took the remark in the spirit in which it was intended for he shot me a funny look and sent me to a small side-room for a full body-search.
Not everyone was as jovial though. On arriving in Paris, we caught the Metro - the city’s underground train - and it was refreshing to note that, like London’s tube, or any other underground transport system in the world, everyone on board looked sullen and fed-up and absolutely no one made eye contact or, god forbid, friendly conversation with anyone else. Instead every single person in the carriage wore little headphones and sat staring at their phones with a look on their face that screamed, ‘look buddy, I don’t want anything to do with the outside world - try talking to me and you’ll regret it’.
Mrs Canavan and I staggered on board with three cases, two large rucksacks, four plastic carrier bags, a pushchair and a baby. Both seats nearest us were taken. In one sat a trendy-looking fella sporting sunglasses, despite the fact we were in a dark tunnel 300 feet below the ground - idiot; while in the other perched a man in his 20s dressed in a suit, reading the business page of a broadsheet newspaper and with a briefcase tucked between his legs. He surveyed Mrs Canavan and I and all our baggage at length and remarked, ’yes I can see you really need to sit down but I’m ignorant, selfish and rude and besides I can tell you’re English and I hate the English - no, despise them - so there’s no way on God’s earth I’m going to move’. Actually he didn’t say that but I could tell he was thinking it. He continued to lazily leaf through his paper while we had to stand for the full 25-minute journey, annoying as I really wanted to sit - and if a second person had given up their seat, Mrs Canavan could’ve sat down too.
We finally located our hotel which, it turned out by happy coincidence, was also being used as the official base for the World Wrestling Championships, which were taking place in the city.
The hotel was the place where all the competitors were relaxing between bouts, which made it an interesting place to be. After we’d checked in, for instance, we pressed the button on the lift and when the doors opened, stood there were two large fellas wearing leotards, who smelt faintly of something medical that I couldn’t quite put my finger on. One was wearing a mask. I said hello, casually, he said hello back. I thought about continuing the conversation but I didn’t want to risk upsetting him in case he put me in a headlock and grappled me to the floor.
After we’d reached our room an amusing thing happened. I was stood completely naked - ladies, calm down - preparing to have a shower following our long journey, when there was a knock at the door and, without us having any time to react, it swung open and two ladies walked in. I threw down my left hand to preserve my modesty – one finger would have done to be honest but I didn’t want to take any chances – but the ladies were not at all perturbed and simply said a cheery ‘bonjour’.
They were carrying several bags and, confused, I thought at first they were planning to spend the night with us, presumably some sort of weird French custom. ‘Well, better than two blokes,’ I thought.
Then Mrs Canavan and I realised they were carrying a travel cot for Mary, which we had requested when we’d booked online months earlier.
The pair traipsed into the centre of the room and began erecting it (despite my state of undress I’ll resist any temptation to insert a crude joke here), while I hastily nipped into the bathroom and put on the first thing I could find, which happened to be Mrs C’s pink satin pyjama bottoms.
When we checked out the next morning to catch a train to Spain, I noticed the two travel cot ladies pointing in my direction to fellow staff members and giggling. Can’t think why...
Lucky I had my sturdy y-fronts
I did my first Parkrun at the weekend. These, if you’re not au fait with them, are 5km runs that take place at various places throughout the country every Saturday morning at 9am (the start time, by the way, is the reason why I hadn’t previously done one).
They began in London more than 10 years ago, the brainchild of a fella called Paul Sinton-Hewitt (now an OBE), and attract thousands of participants every weekend throughout not just the UK but the world. One even takes place at Camp Bastion in Afghanistan.
So there I was on Saturday, at my local Parkrun event at Lytham Hall, all because Mrs Canavan had casually remarked a few days before ‘do you know you’ve got a band of fat around your middle?’ - a remark which I thanked her profusely for by not speaking to her for the remainder of the evening.
The run – which is brilliantly organised, with terrific volunteers – began and, within minutes, don’t you know it, it started absolutely pouring down.
I was wearing the one pair of shorts I own, which are now 13-years-old, having been purchased in a half-price sale at Debenhams in 2003. I’ve stuck with them because, one, they’re comfy, and, two, they are plain black. (It is impossible to buy plain black shorts any more – these days manufacturers seem to be unable to resist sticking garish luminous stripes on everything they design).
But soaked and made heavy by the rain, as I ran the shorts began sliding down my backside, the end result being that I had to stagger the last mile with one hand by my side keeping them in place.
Further embarrassment ensued when, as I crossed the finish line, a steward leant across and said, ‘well done on your time – but you might want to do your fly up’.
I had run the whole thing with my zip undone. Thank goodness I was wearing a sturdy pair of underpants.