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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Wednesday 3rd September 2003

Lad Dad

Why can't babies be treated more like hamsters? I'm serious. Think how much easier they'd be to cope with. Instead of turning the house into a giant rat run, with little gates blocking all the stairways, you could simply stick them in a giant hamster wheel and let them crawl round and round to their hearts' content. Similarly, instead of waking them up every three hours to stuff them full of milk, wouldn't it be simpler to attach a giant bottle of formula to the side of the cot and let them feed whenever they felt like it?

I suggested rigging up just such a device to my wife and she vetoed it on the grounds that Sasha isn't old enough to manoeuvre herself into the feeding position. I'm not so sure. Admittedly, Sasha is only five-weeks old, but if you deposit a newborn on its mother's stomach it will instinctively wriggle its way towards her breasts. Couldn't we trick Sasha into thinking that Caroline was lying beside her in the cot?

"Why don't we get hold of a blow-up doll, attach the teet of the giant bottle to one of her nipples, and --"

"Darling," groaned Caroline. "I don't want my baby sharing her cot with any of your old sex toys."

This is an issue particularly close to my heart since I'm responsible for Sasha's middle-of-the-night feed. At first, cradling her in my arms as she methodically worked her way through her bottle was rather moving. I experienced a distant echo of what Caroline must feel when she's feeding her. Father and baby were one.

However, now that I've been doing it for over a month, I don't find the experience quite so charming. For one thing, it takes half-an-hour--and Sasha has to be burped afterwards, which means throwing her over my shoulder and rubbing her back until she pukes. Sometimes her baby sick trickles down my shirt and finds its way into my trousers, which isn't a pleasant sensation, let me tell you.

My one consolation is that I've been able to rig up the baby-feeding equivalent of a hands-free kit. I lie her on her side, stick the bottle in her mouth, and then prop it up on a pile of cushions so it's at just the right angle. Provided she doesn't make any sudden movements, I can sit beside her and read a book while she gets on with draining the bottle. The essential thing is to keep quiet since if I make any noise at all she's liable to jerk her head in my direction, bringing the whole Heath-Robinson contraption down on top of her.

This arrangement worked quite well until I started reading Yellow Dog. Say what you like about Martin Amis--and I've said some pretty horrible things in the past--he's still capable of being very funny. I managed to hold it down until I got to a scene set in a tabloid called The Morning Lark. Amis introduces us to a journalist called Clint Smoker who's labouring over a lurid description of a Royal scandal involving a Chinese meal. After quoting Clint's purple prose at length--over 100 words involving one excruciating pun after another--Amis has another character ask Clint what he's up to. "Photocaption," he replies.

It was that word that did it. Involuntarily, I let out a loud guffaw of laughter and all hell broke loose. Sasha swivelled round to look at me, the bottle fell to the floor and milk ended up spilling all over everything.

Funnily enough, one of the characters in Yellow Dog has a baby daughter and the book ends with her standing up for the first time. It's a pivotal moment in which the child's father becomes acutely aware of his responsibilities. Amis clearly believes that men like me--men who read lad mags and like looking at pictures of naked women--can be redeemed by the experience of fatherhood. The question is: How quickly is it supposed to happen? I'm still waiting.

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