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A Child, A Washing Machine and a Gingerbreadman...
by John Peters

I guess it couldn't take it anymore. After all, it had taken a hell of a pounding from load after load of vomit- soaked garments. Finally, after making noises which convinced visitors we kept a hovercraft in the kitchen, it waved a white flag and died.

The washing machine breaking down is a crisis which has me instantly rifling through the Yellow Pages. At one time, pre- Oscar, this wouldn't have been a crisis at all. Heck, I didn't even have a washing machine until I was thirty- four years old. But Oscar's tummy bug over the last week has left him wearing the last choice hand-me-downs, some of which it has to be said are a bit girly, and my wife and I are down to our back-of-the wardrobe gear too. We look like we're having our own in-house eighties revival.

I'm just adjusting the straps on my tartan bondage trousers when the washing machine man arrives, promptly an hour-and-a-half late. Or, to put it in Cornish, dreckly on time. "Sorry I'm late." The washing machine man says, eyeing my attire suspiciously. "The car broke down." Envisioning a train of mishaps involving a cast of hundreds (the car repairer's hydraulic lift broke down, which had to fixed by an engineer whose drill packed up, etc.) I escort him into the kitchen and point him in the general direction of the washing machine, which is buried under a mountain of dirty clothes.

"What's the matter with it?" He says, asking the Most Stupid Question in the World.

"It's broken." I explain.

"What- just stopped working like?" He quizzes, incisively.

"That kind of thing." I reply, and leave him to figure it out while I try and get on with some work in the lounge.

About fifteen minutes later the machine's fixed. Apparently, two bits needed replacing which, although small, are remarkably expensive. "Can you plug your 'phone into that?" Asks the washing machine man pointing at my laptop, in a vain attempt to distract me from the size of the bill.

Oscar returns at the end of the day with a clean bill of health from his Granny so I take him for a swim at a local hotel pool. After a bit of splashing in the toddler zone, we take to the big pool and I sit him in his baby float, which is like a rubber ring with a seat in it. He laughs out loud as we plough up and down the length of the pool, me pushing him along. He cheerfully splashes and waves like royalty at the other bathers as he glides past, but it's getting crowded with older children, some of whom are dive- bombing in dangerously from the side. I weave Oscar around all the bodies until it's far too much hassle, then we change and go for our apres swim refreshments in the hotel bar.

We have the usual- a pint of Stella for me, tomato juice and Quavers for Oscar- and Oscar insists on having his usual go on the fruit machine. He can hardly contain his excitement as I hoist him up to look at the huge bank of flashing multi-coloured lights and buttons, taller than he is. Just at this point, Helen's headmaster walks past, on his way to the pool.

"I hope you don't think he does this all the time." I say, feeling like a naughty schoolboy.

"Well, a man's got to have some vices." He reassures me.

Next day is Saturday, which in the dim and distant past used to mean a lie-in until any time up to midday. A lie-in now is seven rather than six. Still, it gives us plenty of time to discuss what to do with the day. After all, there's not much else we can do with a fifteen month- old toddler wriggling between us.

We decide, given the inclement weather, plus the fact that we've never been there, to visit the Sea Life Centre in Newquay. This turns out to be a success only from the point of view that it has a roof, and we are therefore able to keep dry for an hour.

Oscar enjoys the running around the corridors screaming bit, but completely ignores the fish. He doesn't recognise them as real creatures at all, just blobs on a TV screen. This is a bit disappointing given that watching TV would have been free. As it is, the Sea Life Centre costs us an arm and a leg, despite the absence of man- eating sharks.

Outside, Newquay is blustery and damp and just starting to wake up for the season. It's not nearly as depressing as in winter, when a deathly hush descends on the town, which in summer is a mecca for surfers and a capital of surf culture. From casual surveillance of the facilities, a typical day in Newquay would seem to consist of buying big floppy clothes, getting tattooed and pierced, scoring some herbal highs in the head shop and getting lagered up in an Auzzie theme bar. And surfing, I suppose.

Oscar is by now ravenous after all that charging around the Sea Life Centre and is demanding food. We buy him a gingerbread man and he bites off its head ferociously. Back in the car he's asleep within minutes and we pray that he continues his nap at home so we can spend a bit of quality time together. I carry him into the house, up the stairs and then…an eye blinks open. Oh well, at least it doesn't cost anything to stay at home.


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