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No Sacred Cows  
Toby Young
Wednesday 17th September 2003

Lad Dad


Stop the presses. Hold the front page. I've discovered a great new method of procrastination for freelance journalists. It's called playing with the baby.

I'm currently holed up in a garret in Provence, ostensibly so I can get cracking on my next book. Since having the baby, Caroline has decided she doesn't want to go back to work so the onus is on me to start bringing home the bacon. She wakes me up at eight thirty every morning and if I'm not at my writing desk by nine thirty she starts looking at her watch and making aggressive, throat-clearing noises.

To begin with I had absolutely no excuse. There's no daily paper to read, no daytime TV to watch--I can't even connect to the Internet. So for a couple of days I actually had to drag myself away from the breakfast table and sit down in front of my laptop. Not that I actually wrote anything, of course. I did what most writers do in this situation--I stared at the screen until I thought a sufficient amount of time had elapsed, then I poked my head round the kitchen door and asked what we were having for lunch.

Fortunately, on day three I hit upon a perfect time-wasting opportunity. At around nine forty-five, by which time Caroline's throat clearing was beginning to sound like someone trying to start a tractor on a cold morning in Reykjavik, I dropped down on all fours and started making googly noises at Sasha on her play mat. Now I should point out that on every previous occasion when I've tried to "communicate" with our daughter she hasn't paid me the slightest bit of notice. She's spent the first seven weeks of her life in a world of her own.

But this time she actually responded--sort of. For about a nanosecond, she turned her attention away from the yellow-and-orange striped giraffe hanging a couple of inches above her head and vaguely looked in my direction.

It may not sound like much, but to parents of a newborn every sign of cognitive development is regarded as a major breakthrough. In my eyes, it was as if Sasha had suddenly leapt out of her cot and performed a tap dance while singing 'Yankee Doodle Dandy'.

"Did you see that?" I asked Caroline. "Did you see that?!?"

As luck would have it, Caroline had witnessed this miracle and, as a result, she was happy for me to remain on all fours, repeating the word "goo", for the next 90 minutes. Needless to say, Sasha's eyes didn't stray from her giraffe once, but it didn't matter. I had the excuse I'd been looking for.

The following day, when Caroline whipped away my just-finished bowl of All-Bran, I announced that it was time for Sasha's "story". I took her into the sitting room, propped her up on the sofa, and began reading aloud from Service with a Smile by PG Wodehouse.

"Wait a minute," said Caroline, standing in the doorway. "Couldn't you at least find a fairy story? Why does it have to be the book you just happen to be half-way through?"

She had a point, but fortunately Sasha gave every indication that she was actually enjoying herself. "Gaa," she said, when I told her about Lord Emsworth's prize-winning pig. Clearly, my seven-week old daughter is an excellent judge of literary merit. For a second, I began to fantasise that Sasha might grow up to be a writer, just like her old dad. Who knows, in 39 years time she, too, might be reading PG Wodehouse to her baby as an excuse not to start work on her next book.

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