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Posts Tagged ‘baby’

People in Manchester tend to make certain assumptions about those who live in the People’s Republic of Chorlton. Like, they’re all middle class, Guardian reading, veggie-munching, yogurt-weaving hippies. Oh yes, and the mothers have those massive prams with massive wheels, and when you ask them to move, they open their massive mouths and argue the toss.

So, to set the record straight, I’d just like to state that I’m middle class and proud. I like a good broadsheet. And yes, I’m vegetarian, do my recycling and generally use public transport rather than private.

But that’s where the similarity between me and the Chorlton stereotype ends. Because (whisper it) I only take the bus because I can’t drive and (whisper it again) I really, really like Top Gear and if I could have my pick of any car in the world it’d be a Lotus Elise and I’d absolutely bloody rag it and not care one jot for the environment or the poor kiddies by the side of the road in their Bugaboos forced to breathe in the noxious fumes I leave in my wake.

There. I’ve said it.

And so Simon, Milo and I find ourselves on the M6, on the way to Scotland. We’ve decided to take the car not the train, and I am singing along to some mournful indie at the top of my voice, delighting in the fact that here we are, in our own petrol pod, whizzing along a road that would have made the Romans proud.

A little hungry, and needing a break, we reluctantly pull into the next service station. I fear limp mayo-sodden sarnies and overpriced Walkers but clearly haven’t banked on the fact that this is no ordinary service station. This is Tebay service station.

Inside, a family-run farm shop is stocked with local cheese, meat, homemade pies and hampers. The cooked food is all sustainable this and Fairtrade that. The kiddies menu is a revelation – not a chicken nugget in sight. And there is a children’s play area and ‘family lounge’ that isn’t just a bunch of tired-looking plastic toys but is decked out with a farmland-themed climbing frame, tunnel and slide. (There’s also a range of child-friendly seating, a small kitchen and wash basins, all located inside the lounge.)

As Milo races from one end of the play area to the other, I sit back. In one hand is my freshly-printed copy of the Guardian; in the other, a forkful of sustainable, organic veggie breakfast with wholemeal toast and Fairtrade juice.

Hmmm, I think. You can take the girl out of Chorlton…

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: Yes. Buggy-friendly? Yes. Cost: Free, though clearly you have to pay for the food, which isn’t cheap but on a par with the usual service station price range. Worth it? Yes, it beats any other service station I’ve ever been to, hands down. It’s also the only family-run motorway services in England. If you’re heading north, plan your stop-off here.

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Everyone is entitled to an off day, right? Even Milo, usually the star of the show thanks to his tendency to make like a giddy kipper. And the day starts well: we throw ourselves around a bouncy castle for a bit before Milo slips into a blissful snooze.

He wakes to find himself being trundled along Upper Brook Street.

‘Dar!’ he shouts.

When I don’t reply, he shouts louder, ‘Dar! DAR!’

Milo is pointing to the cars. This being the middle of Manchester, there are lots. When I don’t give praise for each utterance, he gets cross. By the time we reach our destination, which takes a while as I manage to get lost, Milo is practically exploding with unappreciated ‘dars’.

‘DAR! DAR!’ he says as I bounce the buggy in through the doors of Gabriel’s Kitchen.

‘Dar. DAR DAR DAR!’ he shouts as I attempt to release him from both coat and harness.

Everyone turns to stare. I try not to turn red and sweaty. As Milo races up and down the formerly peaceful café-cum-restaurant, my cheeks prickle with pinky-purple shame. I used to be terribly, terribly shy and sometimes I get flashbacks, a physical reminder of what it was like to be a ruddy and round-faced teenager growing up in the Midlands. It’s made all the worse by the fact that the man who runs the place, Peter Booth, recognises me. I’m writing a review and thought it might be fun to bring Milo.

And Milo is having fun. He refuses to get in his high chair, so I let him sit on my lap. He smashes a glass. We read a book while the nice lady clears up the splintered shards. Milo throws the book on the floor, wriggles off my lap and makes a run for it. When his food arrives, he throws that all over the floor, too, followed shortly afterwards by his spoon and, then, my fork.

Peter Booth ambles over. I read somewhere that his Scouse accent is so thick it could peel potatoes but I disagree: having spent 10 years in Liverpool, it’s wonderfully reassuring. And the fact that the café is named after his young son, and the fact that he really doesn’t seem to mind Milo’s complete lack of interest in his lovingly crafted food, is also quite comforting.

‘Would he like some fruit?’

Peter brings over a baby-sized portion of fruit salad. Milo throws it on the floor, grape by apple slice. And then rubs the sticky juice in his hair. And then, finally, eats something: half a grape.

It’s at this point I decide to leave. Milo and I head down Hathersage Road, leg it around Whitworth Park and then head for the art gallery. Inside, Milo becomes inconsolable, which may have something to do with the fact that he’s had no lunch, and I find myself becoming pink and sweaty again as disapproving glances are cast my way. Blushing, I reason, is like the Number 86. You can stand about for ages, all pale-cheeked and calm, and then, all of a sudden, several blushes bear down on you, one after the other in quick succession.

Just before we head home, I spot Milo and me in a mirror. There we are, a mother and son double act, and both of us with bright pink cheeks.

‘At least I don’t dribble like you,’ I say to Milo as he reaches up and smacks me heartily in the face. ‘Come on, time to go home.’

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Not yet but they should have within weeks. Cafe: It’s a restaurant with a very good kids’ menu, plus the chefs will adapt the adult’s menu if your little one fancies anything specific. All local, organic and sustainable produce where possible. Buggy-friendly? Yes, though a little small. Cost: Mid-price menu, £5 for a main, dessert and drink for kiddies. Worth it? Yes, excellent food and nice, friendly staff, plus colouring-in kits for older kiddies.

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I like to talk about Milo. I can’t help it; I have become one of those dreadfully dull parents, the ones who, in a former life, would make me want to sandpaper my eyeballs just to relieve the boredom.

Here’s Alyson and I in her restaurant. It’s just before Christmas. Outside, the rain pelts down. The pavement reflects, black and glossy, as car headlights dip and shine.

‘It’s Black Friday,’ she says. I look puzzled, so she elaborates: ‘The last Friday before Christmas – it’s always mental in town. It took me an hour just to park the car, with D in the back screaming his head off. I wouldn’t mind, but I’m going to have to take him home again in 15 minutes.’

Alyson and I trade tales of parental torture, me going on (and on) about the 12 months of night wakings we endured. I have told everyone I know about this, several times. I don’t care if they’ve heard it before. I want them to experience my pain.

Here’s Imogen and I, on the phone, me lying on my bed, talking in a low voice so I don’t wake Milo. I am surrounded by piles of washing and I pick up pants and tops as I talk, idly wondering what’s clean and what’s not.

‘He was banging on an old tin, screaming at the top of his voice and then jumping on the sofa,’ I say. ‘There was this woman was looking at me like children should be seen and definitely not heard.’

‘You don’t think he’s got, you know, a problem?’ I continue.

Imogen, herself the mother of a boisterous 4 year-old, patiently explains that all little boys are loud, noisy and a little bit violent. It’s normal, she says.

‘Really?’

Part of me is disappointed. Imogen changes tack, and we explore the possibility of setting up a café on Thomas Street, next to the Mr. Scruff-owned Cup. We’re going to call it Owt On Toast, and it’ll serve very British food, with a twist. The twist being that everything will be served on toast.

Here’s me on the phone again, this time to Claire. I am in my office, surrounded by piles of paper, and I flick through them as I talk, idly wondering what I can bin or not.

‘But he doesn’t bloody sleep,’ I say. ‘He was fine for a bit and now he’s gone back and I’m just so fed up.’

Claire tells me, with her usual Geordie candour, to have a word with myself. And then to see what happens if I leave Milo for five minutes. I take her advice. When Milo starts mumbling and grumbling that night, I wait. Three minutes in and he’s back asleep.

These are the things that occupy my mind. Is Milo normal? Is he better than normal – is he special? Am I walking the tightrope between indulgence and discipline, or have I fallen off: am I plummeting towards the ground, the words ‘bad parent’ looming closer and closer, about to smack me full in the face?

‘Have a glass of wine and chill out,’ says Alyson, back in her restaurant, after I complete my rant about sleep deprivation.

She pushes a glass towards me. She’s right, of course.

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: It’s a restaurant! With a good kids’ menu. Buggy-friendly? Yes. Cost: Good value, drop-in pizzeria. Worth it? Yes, a child-friendly haven in the midst of the Northern Quarter. Friendly staff, though I would say that…

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‘If you say one more word I’m going to turn the car around, and then me and Milo will spend the day without you.’

We’re on the motorway, heading to Bolton. A red mist hangs low over the dashboard.

‘I’d like to see you do a u-turn on the motorway,’ I say, not a little petulantly.

‘Susie, I mean it.’

‘And anyway, you’d still be spending the day with me even if we did go home. I’d still be there, wouldn’t I? You can’t magic me into thin air.’

To his credit, Simon carries on, although I notice his knuckles turning white as he grips the steering wheel. We continue in silence, the windows steaming up, an industrial landscape hurtling by. Eventually, as we enter the outskirts of Bolton, I decide to lighten the atmosphere.

‘I’m looking forward to seeing the fish.’

Nothing.

‘This is a very well ordered car park, isn’t it? It’s very…’

I search for the right word.

‘… Spacious.’

Simon remains mute. He throws the car into one of the spacious spaces, yanks the pushchair out of the boot and waits.

‘At least I’m trying,’ I whine.

He still says nothing and we stomp silently through Bolton’s freezing town centre. It had seemed like such a good plan: spending the day exploring the northern reaches of Greater Manchester, stopping off at the grandly titled Bolton Aquarium to gawp at the fish, and maybe finding a nice café to shovel down tea and cake for afters. Except on the way I had managed to construct an elaborate argument out of one flimsy throwaway comment, and here we were, lost, cold and just not the ruddy cheeked, laughing family-of-three-on-a-day-trip I had envisaged.

We wheel Milo round the neo-Classic grandeur of the Town Hall. There is something peculiarly impressive about the towns that stud the Greater Manchester map: something to do with the fact that, back in the Industrial Revolution, they had ideas way above their station. The evidence of this lofty ambition is still here in the shape of halls, museums and libraries that wouldn’t look out of place in a sprawling, global metropolis: each one a neo-Classic two fingered salute to London or, even, Manchester.

Simon spots a sign for the museum and aquarium; we’re soon gratefully inside, warming ourselves by a lift that, when it opens, smells of fish.

‘We must be nearly there then,’ I say, as the doors open and a warm marine gust envelops us.

I think Simon smiles but I can’t be sure. We descend to the basement. The smell comes with us. As the doors open, I start to have my doubts about Bolton Aquarium. We appear to be in a small, cramped municipal dungeon. Fluorescent strips flicker overhead; there’s no natural light and not much in the way of signage. We wheel the buggy around a long, lino-covered corridor, heft it up a set of stairs and then, in the next corridor, find a few sad tanks lining the walls.

‘Do you think this is it?’

‘Can’t be,’ I say, forging ahead. ‘Look, there’s another room here.’

In the other room, we find some bigger, sad tanks lining the walls. I walk around, looking in vain for a door that leads to the Aquarium. Years ago, my ex worked at the Blue Planet. In my mind’s eye, I have visions of floor-to-ceiling tanks populated by sharks and enormous puffer fish, of Milo banging on the glass walls with a fat fist, giggling. Instead, I am faced with some rather unhappy looking fish swimming gloomily from one end of their tank to the other.

I catch Simon’s eye. He smiles and then, as Milo runs across the room, oblivious to the fish that swim above his line of sight but still with a giant grin plastered across his face, he laughs.

‘Cake?’ says Simon.

‘Cake,’ says I.

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: No. Buggy-friendly? Yes, although there is an awkward flight of steps right in front of the Aquarium. The museum and art gallery are fully accessible. Cost: Free. Worth it? Actually, yes. The museum and gallery are small but very good, with lots of hands-on stuff for kids (and dinosaurs!). I wouldn’t recommend a trip here solely on the basis of seeing the Aquarium, though.

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‘I’m at the station,’ reads the text message, ‘Where are you?’

I stab a reply. ‘At the station, too. Where are you?’

Simon and I have driven to Formby beach. It’s minus 5 outside but here in the car it’s as steamy as an afternoon in the Malaysian rainforest. The heating has been cranked up so much that a snoozing Milo has red hot cheeks. Candyfloss tufts of blonde hair stick to his sweaty head.

Everything had been going so well. Despite a late start, due, in the main, to having to put on several hundred vests, tops, jumpers, fleeces, hats, scarves and extra socks, we’d managed to get to Formby just in time. The plan was to pick up Zoe at the station and then whisk us all up the short, straight road that leads to the beach. Except I can’t see Zoe anywhere.

I call her. As we both tell each other that yes, we really are at the station and no, I can’t see you, something occurs to me.

‘Which station are you at?’

‘Formby.’

I look up at the station platform. It says ‘Freshfield’. I’ve told Zoe to get off at the wrong station, blithely assuming that the station I remember – from years ago, when as a Liverpool student I used to bring my dog here – was Formby. I tell her to stay put, and then we drive around Formby, trying to find the world’s shyest station. There’s not a sign in sight; in the end, we follow the direction of the train tracks and, eventually, stumble across it.

‘We are here,’ I text. ‘Where are you?’

‘At the car park.’

We drive over the humpback bridge to the car park. There’s no sign of Zoe.

‘There must be another car park,’ I mutter.

The car is now so sauna-like that Milo has woken up, as hot and grumpy as his mother. We turn the car around and drive back over the bridge. Suddenly, to our left, I spot another car park and yelp, ‘there it is!’ as Simon calmly drives on. We turn left. There’s no car park.

‘But I saw it,’ I whine, and Simon gives me a look which I suspect says something along the lines of oh for god’s sake, this is bad enough without you starting on me.

Simon pulls over and I run out of the car and down a road that must, I think, lead to the station. It’s a dead end. I run back, and Simon turns the car around. We drive back over the humpback bridge. We still can’t see Zoe.

‘Are you sure she meant this station?’ asks Simon.

I count to ten. We turn the car around the drive back over the bridge. This time, Simon turns right, parks and tells me to walk to the station and sod the car park. I take his advice and, just by the platform, find Zoe. I vow never, ever again to drive to Formby Station.

Later, we all pile out of the car and go for the coldest walk in Milo’s living memory. He doesn’t care, and neither do I: we are so well wrapped up that the frozen sand dunes, icy white in the bright winter sun, seem as sweet as ice cream. In fact, when Milo falls head first into the sand, he just lies there, apparently happy to be face down among the dunes. When I roll him over, the damp grains stick to his cheeks. They are a worrying shade of purple – like corned beef, only darker.

It’s at that point we decide to head back to the car, crank up the heating and drive to the station. As we wave goodbye to Zoe, I repeat to myself, like a naughty schoolgirl writing out lines: the station nearest Formby beach is called Freshfield, the station nearest Formby beach is called Freshfied. I might have it tattooed on my person as an aide memoire, somewhere painful perhaps.

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: No. Cafe: No. Buggy-friendly? No. Cost: Free to National Trust members, small fee for the car park for non-members. Worth it? Yes, Formby has it all: sand dunes, a wood, red squirrels and then the vast, flat expanse of beach and sea.

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I’ve timed things perfectly. As we arrived at Manchester Museum, Milo dropped off, taking full advantage of his swanky new pushchair to drift into a long sleep. I peer down at him and smile: his nap means I have a precious hour or so to have a coffee, read and eat. Heck, I might even have a moment to contemplate life.

Sitting in the empty Play & Learn Centre, I bask in the peaceful quiet. I do love Milo, but, god, it’s great when he’s asleep.

Just then, I hear a clattering of feet. The floor protests at the unexpected weight of several dozen pairs of school shoes, creaking and squeaking as they jumble along. I look up and sigh. I’d forgotten it was term time. Draining my coffee, I pack up and wheel Milo away.

I’m not having a bunch of noisy bag swinging kids wake him up, I think.

I breathe a sigh of relief as the lift doors shut, sealing out the chattering children, and then wince as a ‘BING BONG’ is followed by a very loud ‘LEVEL 2. DOORS OPENING.’

‘Why does everything have to be so bloody loud?’ I grumble to myself.

I peer out of the lift and, spotting a crocodile of primary school pupils by the Egyptian mummies, head instead towards the Mammals Gallery. I’m stopped in my tracks when I hear the unmistakable squeals of a party of toddlers. None so noisy as the under threes, I reason, and instead wheel Milo straight ahead.

We find ourselves in a tiny, dark gallery that’s partitioned off from the main space by paper-thin walls. I wedge us into a corner. A woman wanders in, gives me a strained smile, and walks quickly away. I realise I’m standing in the dark, looking at the wall and scowling. It’s not a good look.

‘OK, nothing for it but the dinosaurs,’ I mutter, braving the BING BONG of the lift to get downstairs.

And there, amongst the metriorhynchids and Triassic coal forests, I find the blissful quiet I’ve been searching for. Milo slumbers on as I wander to the window. There, in the quadrangle beyond, I spot a gothic tower, shuttered and silent. I remember reading about the Museum advertising for a hermit, someone to occupy a tower just like the one I’m looking at. No contact with the outside world, just hours and days stretching ahead, filled only by… well, nothing.

‘Do you think there’s still time to apply?’ I whisper to my sleeping babe.

Just then, a terrible toddler runs the full length of the dinosaur hall, screaming. Milo winces in his sleep, and flicks his head from side to side. Time to move on.

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes. Cafe: Yes, with a decent kids’ menu. Buggy-friendly? Yes. Cost: Free. Worth it? Yes, lots of activities at the weekends for older kids, too.

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What to do on a wet, wintry day with a toddling babe and a getting bored-out-of-her-tiny-mind mother? There’s only one option: Manchester Art Gallery. I packed up the pram and braved the bus into town, me a bit twitchy lest I get heckled again, Milo a bit grumpy for no reason other than he’s a baby and he’s allowed to be grumpy if he feels like it, OK?

Anyway, we arrived at the gallery in time for lunch, sidling into the café where Milo stuffed down a pint sized cheese sarnie and I quietly ate the homemade version I’d smuggled in under cover of Milo’s bib. And then I unleashed Milo in the children’s gallery. He loves it there: he can run about, watch, goggle-eyed, as bigger kids muck about, and manhandle any number of artworks (I’m hoping they’re replicas; if not, we owe Manchester Art Gallery more than the cost of my cheese sandwich).

But there’s always room for new games, and, today, Milo’s favourite was making a mad dash for the fire extinguisher and attempting to wrench it from the wall before I, or an attendant, could reach him. It was quite impressive: he really does have a knack for identifying the one thing he’s not supposed to do. And then doing it.

Somewhere, in a darkened CCTV room in Manchester, there are grainy photos of me and Milo pinned up on the walls. Below them reads the sign: ‘If these two troublemakers are identified, proceed immediately to DEFCON 1.’

Later, Milo and I climb onto the bus on our way home, joined a few moments later by one of our neighbours.

‘Been shopping?’ puffs the neighbour as she drops onto the seat next to us. ‘Mum dragged you round the shops, you poor little mite?’

Milo gives the neighbour a baby death stare, looking her full in the face without smiling and without, apparently, blinking.

‘Er, no, we’ve been to Manchester Art Gallery.’

‘Oooh, the art gallery,’ she mocks. ‘Well, what a place to take a baby.’

She winks at Milo, who is continuing an unimpressed stare. Blink, damn you, I think. You’re starting to scare me.

‘It has an interactive gallery for children.’

‘I don’t know,’ she clucks on, ignoring me. ‘You new parents just can’t help hot-housing your babies, can you?’

I grit my teeth and smile, by now used to this particular neighbour’s delight in criticising my parenting skills. All of a sudden, in my mind’s eye, an image pops into view: Milo playing with his favourite toy, a yellow fireman’s hat. And then I remember Milo’s obsession with the fire extinguisher in the gallery today. Oh my god, I think, maybe the old battleaxe is right: maybe I am hot-housing him, except it’s not art he’s being groomed to like. It’s fire fighting.

‘What do you think about that then, Milo?’ I ask the boy, imagining him, in years to come, cursing his pushy mother as he douses the flames of yet another chip pan fire.

He finally breaks off from his death stare, yawns and looks out of the window.

‘Sheee,’ he says, which is Milo-speak for tree.

I suspect he may be right: both the battleaxe and I are, as usual, barking up the wrong tree.

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Ratings. Babychanging facilities: Yes, the best in Manchester. Cafe: Yes, with a very good kiddie menu. Buggy-friendly? Yes. Cost: Free. Worth it? Yes, the interactive gallery is fantastic and they usually put on a good child-friendly exhibition in the summer holidays.

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