Hit Me Baby One More Rhyme

Maternity leave. One day you’re a fully-functioning member of society, heading up meetings at work and studying Stylist magazine for your next fashion splurge; the next you’re watching Homes Under The Hammer in crumpled pyjamas with two-day-old baby sick in your hair. It’s frightening how quickly the descent can happen.

Fortunately, there’s no end to the amount of baby-orientated pursuits your days can be filled with: baby bonding, baby sensory, baby rap, baby massage, baby yoga, baby bungee.

Okay, so I made the last one up. But it’s got ‘baby’ in front of it so mums would probably pay good money to come anyway.

And if the tag line said something along the lines of: ‘Baby bungee has been proven to strengthen your little one’s core muscles; the increased blood flow to their head created by dangling upside down encourages accelerated brain development, while providing a unique mother and baby bonding experience…’, well, they’d be queuing out the door.


But first up, how about something just for the moms…

Baby cinema

My first thought on hearing about ‘baby cinema’ was that it sounded horrendous. Why would I want to watch a film with hordes of rugrats crying in the background?

So it was with some trepidation that I headed down to Everyman cinema on Tuesday morning.

However, it wasn’t half as hellish as I’d thought. Everyman, in case you haven’t been, is a great cinema – all fancy furnishings and sink-into sofas (perfect for clandestine nappy changes). Coffee and cake is brought to your seat (Yep, more cake. I take issue with the fact that people feel the need to constantly feed women on maternity leave cake. It’s incredibly patronising, as if they’ve thought, ‘hmm, what can we give these frumpy mums? Yes, let’s feed them cake – that’ll keep ’em happy’. But still, I’m not one to pass up a slice of lemon drizzle…).

The only slightly unnerving part of baby cinema is the amount of interest the baby takes in the film. My own little pudding is absolutely transfixed and sometimes I feel like I should be shielding her eyes from certain Cert. 18. scenes. Forget Peppa Pig… She’s far more interested in seeing Leonardo DiCaprio get mauled by a bear in The Revenant and Tilda Swinton’s legs akimbo in The Bigger Splash.


It’s the stuff of nightmares. But boy does she love it.

Then I figured that as our daughter had spent her early days being raised on back-to-back episodes of Game of Thrones, what’s a bit more gratuitous sex and violence during her formative months.

Baby sensory

I’ve yet to be convinced by baby sensory. Like all of these structured classes, the baby has to be actually in the mood for said sensory experience. This is tricky. If you sign up for a regular class like this, there’s a high chance the baby will be otherwise engaged in one of their main activities, namely feeding, sleeping or pooing. In the early days, the window of opportunity for any level of entertainment is preposterously small.

Baby sensory starts with a cheesy ‘Say Hello to the Sun’ song. It’s the kind of event that if – as a non-parent – you happened to stumble across it you’d probably run for the hills. I feel like fleeing the minute we sing, ‘I love the flowers because they gladden me’. Then I remember I’m actually here of my own free will. And not only that, I actually parted with money. I must have lost my mind. I probably HAVE lost my mind.

But there’s no time to dwell on that now. The pace is fast; the activities relentless. One minute you’re attempting to keep up with ‘Tommy Thumb, Tommy Thumb, where are you…’, the next you could be crinkling foil, blowing bubbles and learning the sign language for ‘milk’ – all at the same time.

Despite the baby lying on a mat right in front of you (part of the bonding experience), the reality is they’re always far more interested in the person next to you. Otherwise, they spend most of the session gazing gormlessly out of the window or strangely fascinated by the ceiling lights. Basically, doing anything that does not involve participating in whatever activity your £6.50 has paid for.

Still, I shouldn’t complain. Since our six-week sensory course, the baby has really excelled at chewing on her own foot.


Baby rhymetime

Not set foot in your local library in the last decade? Nope, I hadn’t either. Now I’m in there several times a week. I’m pleased to report the slightly musty smell remains, the librarians are still largely sporting beards and Birkenstocks, and there’s the usual strange, greasy-haired people surfing the Internet for hours at a time.

The reason for my frequent visits is the library’s free ‘rhymetime’ sessions. Yes, note the ‘free’. You’ll be pleased to know your taxes are providing half an hour of light relief for frazzled mums across the country.

Rhymetime is like baby sensory but without the surcharge and none of the fanfare. Actually, what am I saying… it’s not like baby sensory at all. But the free part means scores of parents descend on the library every Thursday morning.

You’d think with this level of interest, the library would pull out all the stops – perhaps getting their best and most entertaining employee to lead the sing-along.

I’m afraid this isn’t the case. What we do get is a rather weary librarian, clutching a sad-looking teddy bear. She leads a few mono-tonal renditions of ‘Alice the Camel’ and ‘Incy Wincy Spider’ and then she looks in desperation at the assembled throng of mums and babies and feebly asks for requests. Someone usually pipes up with ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ and then off we go again.

Now don’t get me wrong: I like a hearty rendition of The Wheels On The Bus at the best of times. And I’m not suggesting for one minute that the librarians are in any way trained in children’s entertainment but the half an hour rhyme time can often be a little, well, unimaginative.

That is until the Gruffalo came to town.

The Gruffalo made a guest appearance at the library three weeks ago and he was absolutely brilliant. He’s a theatrical 40-something year old with boundless energy and bags of songs up his sleeve. I have no idea where the city council found him.

He charged around the room booming out, ‘Twinkle Twinkle, Chocolate Bar’, occasionally tooting on his orange trumpet, and releasing bubbles from his special bubble machine.

Next up, he donned bunny ears and bounced on one leg for a round of, ‘Hop Little Bunny, hop hop hop…’

And at the end of all this giddy fun, he announced he would be coming back again next week. Hurray!

Who needs baby sensory when the Gruffalo’s in town?!

The following week he had a lot to live up to but he didn’t disappoint. Week 2 saw him lose his Gruffalo disguise and pad around in giant panda slippers, singing, ‘I’m being swallowed by a boa constrictor’. Out of his special prop bag appeared a furry pink and yellow puppet called Rhubarb And Custard, which occasionally pecked people, à la Emu.

This was supposed to be his last week covering for his weary predecessor but then he announced he was coming back again for a third time… (goodness knows what’s happened to the original librarian – maybe the boa constrictor ate her!).

By week 3, news of the best library rhymetime in the country had begun to spread across Leeds.

The library was full to the rafters as the artist formerly known as the Gruffalo bounded around in a tiger onesie, complete with oversized spectacles.


We sang ‘Wind The Bobbin Up’ really, really fast and then again but this time really s-l-o-w-l-y. He pranced around in a floppy hat for ‘Dingle Dangle Scarecrow’, led an uplifting rendition of ‘The Woman Who Swallowed A Fly’. before he announced he’s going to be back for one final hurrah next week (the final week again? Talk about dangling the carrot!).

Talking of carrots, he’s actually coming dressed as a carrot for the next session. No, really. It’s going to be the highlight of my week.

Now pass me some cake.

She’s Got A Ticket To Ride

I took a trip back home on Thursday to spend the day with my mum. I miss hanging out with her and enjoying her everyday idiosyncrasies. She’s a lot of fun.

Isn’t it funny how you still refer to the family homestead as ‘home’? Even though I haven’t lived at my parents’ home for 16 years and they’ve since moved house from our childhood domicile, I still have their number programmed in my phone as ‘Home’. I suppose it always will be home to me.

Pulling up on the driveway, I ventured round to the back garden to find 67-year-old mother slide-tackling her grandson in a competitive game of football. When I said I was spending the day with my mum, I actually meant my mother and her little partner in crime aka my four-year-old nephew Max. As my mum loves to say, there’s no show without Punch.

‘You’re back!’ cried my mother, clutching hold of the garden bench to regain her breath. ‘We’re just having a quick kick around.’

My mother is the most virile 67-year-old you’ll meet. Having never learnt to drive (despite a top qualification in backseat driving), she still cycles everywhere on her trusty bicycle; her day is just one long list of energetic escapades.

In fact, nephew Max complained to my sister that after a day with my mother, he is absolutely exhausted. His favourite phrase at bed time is, ‘I’m so tired. Nanny’s worn me out – again!’

Inside the house, my father’s original inflatable boat ‘Chrismick’ was laid on the floor of the kitchen, sad and deflated.

‘Your dad’s been trying to pump it up but it keeps going down,’ said my mother. (I hope she was referring to the boat!). The parents seem oblivious to the fact that they bought the dinghy in 1976 and it would struggle to stay afloat in a swimming pool, let alone the sea. Even Max looked sceptical.


Despite replacing it with Chrismick II in the early 90s (more on that here), my father seems unable to discard his original Chrismick (pictured in its heyday below), preferring to carry on adding more and more puncture patches, in the hope it will once again make a glorious return to sail the River Fowey (and stalk Dawn French).


Over lunch, I made enquiries as to the welfare of my mother’s best friend Val. Every other Friday, Val and my mother head out to the local bingo hall (they’ve been meeting on alternate Fridays for the last 40 years). Unbelievably, they manage to play two hours of bingo without spending a penny.

I’ve never really got to the bottom of how this is possible but I think it is something to do with bingo hall offering free games of bingo, thinking that they will make money on drinks at the bar.

However, they’ve clearly underestimated my frugal mother, who doesn’t drink and gets by on glasses of tap water. Sometimes, they actually win at bingo so end up coming back in profit. This is my mum and Val having a boogie at my wedding (Val on left; mother on right).


The trips to bingo have been a little few and far between recently after a terrible incident befell Val on her annual holiday to Benidorm. On the second day of the holiday, her husband Laurence took a tumble and took all the skin off his shin. He had to have a skin graft and was admitted to hospital for week.

During Val’s visit, a patient in the bed next to Laurence asked if Val would be so kind as to lift his suitcase down from the cupboard above. Unfortunately for Val, this particular patient appeared to be harbouring several slabs of concrete in his case. As Val struggled under its immense weight, her kind deed ended up giving her a hernia!

Poor Val was instantly admitted to hospital herself and found herself laid up in the hospital bed next to her husband. She went from hospital visitor to fellow patient within an hour. It was the holiday from hell.

Val now does all the driving in the family, my mother went on. But for inexplicable reasons, she is only able to turn left in the vehicle, being too fearful of right turns. This means that every journey she takes has to be meticulously planned so that the car only travels in an anti-clockwise direction.

In other news, the days of riding the Blackpool tram using a pensioner’s bus pass have come to a sad end. My mother, father and Uncle Stephen (pictured) used to regularly ride along the promenade for free, using their bus pass.


They weren’t the only ones; scores of grey-haired pensioners would clamber aboard and ride up and down all day at tax payer’s expense. At the end stop, they were forced to alight the tram for 10 minutes for the driver to take a toilet break, where they would stand grumbling and shivering until the tram re-opened in order for them to repeat the journey all over again.

Naturally, Uncle Stephen drove up to Blackpool the day before the new ‘no bus passes’ rule came into force, and went up and down a few times on his own: one final free hurrah.

After watching one episode too many of Homes Under The Hammer, my family have recently invested in a bungalow and is in the process of doing it up. My mother was keen to show me how it was coming along.

We pulled up outside and my mother and Max tiptoed out of the car in an exaggerated fashion, like two pantomime characters.

‘What are you doing?’ I hissed.

‘Trying not to alert the neighbour that we’re here,’ said my mother in hushed tones. ‘She’s a bit S.I.M.P.L.E.’

Max nodded sagely, in agreement.

As I’ve mentioned before, the number of simple people my mother encounters on a weekly basis is disproportionately high.

‘What do you mean?’ I whispered back.

‘She not quite all there,’ said my mother, reciting another of her favourite phrases. ‘She keep asking me if I’m a farmer!”

Driving home from the bungalow, we hit rush hour traffic and I suddenly realised I was going to be late to meet my friend at Starbucks.

My mother foraged feverishly in her pocket. ‘Don’t worry,’ she cried triumphantly. ‘I’ve got my bus pass!’

‘Just drop us off here and they you can get to Stardrops!’ she continued, leaping out of the car.

‘Stardrops is what you use to clean the carpet with!’ I called out of the window. ‘It’s STARBUCKS!’

But she didn’t hear me; she was already marching purposefully in the direction of the bus stop, Max trotting obediently at her side.

With a free bus pass in her hand and an open road ahead, it was anybody’s guess where she might end up.