Tuesday, 24 May 2016

AIPL: Aquababy

If you have not had the privilege of looking after a baby on a full time basis, you may wonder how you fill the endless hours of leisure between wakey-wakey and beddy-byes. I too fondly imagined time stretching to infinity between little strolls around the park and long naps as I perfected my guitar technique or wrote the great American novel.

The awful truth is that there is time to achieve perhaps one goal during the day that is not directly related to your baby's survival, and only then if you're quick about it. Not only that but there is no time to think about what the goal should be. Thankfully there are a staggering number of pre-organised activities to build your day around, and the only thought required is how to get to them taking into account naps, meals, badly-timed nappy disasters, &c.

Baby activities can be divided into two broad groups, namely swimming and not swimming. I was thrown straight into the shallow end on day one of my leave as it happened to coincide with swimming day. E had already been swimming for some time with Mrs Tomsk, who had left us detailed instructions for how to get to the special baby pool somewhere in the depths of Sale and what to do when we got there, involving complex door codes, clothes baskets, special swim nappies and post-swim milk. Somehow I managed to navigate all of these requirements while maintaining an unshakeable air of knowing what I was doing (I don't think E fell for it).

The other mums in the class had been warned that I would be taking over and were very welcoming, as was the friendly teacher who quickly brought me up to speed with what they were doing (a feat as we were almost at the end of the term). E of course was a veteran and took it all in her stride, except for changing which she is never too keen on.

One perk of being a dad is having a whole changing room to yourself, though this is a double-edged sword as it also means having no-one to hand over E to at any of the ten thousand awkward points in the changing process. This makes showering a bit like one of those logic puzzles involving transporting a load of animals and vegetables across a body of water intact. Acknowledging this there's a recommended order of showering pinned to wall to help you out, with best practice guidelines for the adjacent playpen and the use of many towels. All of this in a searing heat which at least E appreciated.

In fact there were two periods when I was not the only dad in the place. In the first lesson of the following term another guy with an older daughter turned up, but he switched soon after as she was better suited to a beginner's class. The first time he showed up was a little disconcerting as his wife followed him in to the male changing room to help out; I guess I was not the only one expecting to have the changing room to myself. Dad Three came a few times during our last term and like me had taken over from his wife, who was going back to work. He owned his own business which meant he was able to nip out for a couple of hours to go swimming on a regular basis. His daughter and Elspedoodle were going through a clingy phase at the same time so we could commiserate with each other about our traumatic changing and swimming experiences.

I wasn't sure how I would get on with the swimming lessons as I barely tolerate being in an a pool myself, but I soon learnt that I could stand around enjoying the pleasantly warm water while E did all the hard work. It became a firm favourite before long as it felt like a proper expedition out, so much so that I was really disappointed when E was too ill to go, or the car refused to start, or on one memorable occasion she decided to eat and choke on a small piece of silvered paper just before we were meant to leave.

When we did manage to get there E was happy to try most things providing she was in the mood. She already knew how to swim underwater from earlier lessons and was usually tolerant of me dunking her in.  Most of the time I guided her standing up although occasionally we would swim together holding a float, which ended badly the first time when my back cramped up and I inadvertently submerged  both of us.She didn't care much for being pushed off a float face-first by the teacher either (we were assured this was essential safety training). On one occasion we were invited to put on goggles and go underwater together with her, but not only do I have no clue how to stay underwater but she was really scared of me wearing goggles for some reason. Thankfully we didn't do it again. We always rounded off the lessons with singing which we all enjoyed especially the Little Green Frog and jumping off the side to Humpty Dumpty.

By the end of my leave E was doing all sorts of advanced stuff like turns under the water and swimming on her own. She did go through phases of not enjoying it, especially after missing a lesson, and in the final term we were put together with a more experienced class which was not ideal. So it was a good time to take a break. We finally got our act together recently to go swimming in the new public pool down the road and after a hesitant start she is enjoying it a lot (especially with her wet suit to make up for the non-baby friendly temperature). So much so that the mere mention of the word 'swimming' has her dancing round the house in excitement demanding to get changed. It'll be a while before we're brave enough to do more than a quick dunk underwater though.

Next time: not swimming.

Saturday, 7 May 2016

The Scottish experiment

Before Corbyn was elected I noted that the results of the Scottish election would be a fascinating natural test of his leadership and some assumptions often made about the Scottish electorate, namely:

1. Scotland is more left-wing than the rest of the UK (look how they don't vote for Tories!)
2. Labour is losing support because it isn't left wing enough (unlike those lovable lefty nationalists)

The alternative hypothesis - that since the referendum Scottish voting preferences have been determined mainly by attitude towards independence - was fiercely disputed by some people, predominantly ex-Labour voters north of the border, safe in the knowledge that there was no easy way of determining which explanation was correct.

With Corbyn at the helm, however, there is no longer any ambiguity. Labour could hardly have chosen a more left-wing leader, and this year Scottish Labour ran on an overtly more left-wing platform than the SNP. For their pains they have been reduced to third place in the Scottish parliament, for the first time behind the Tories who gained 11% in the list vote and are now the main opposition to the SNP.

The results of the experiment could not be clearer. 46% voted SNP in constituencies, almost exactly the same as voted for independence. In the regional vote 48% voted for the SNP and pro-independence Greens. The remainder voted Conservative, Labour and Lib Dem in similar proportions to the projected vote share in England. There can be no doubt that Scottish elections are divided along nationalist lines and will be for years to come.

This election was in the end not a test on Corbyn; we now know that no other Labour leader could have made a significant difference, because Labour's stance in the independence referendum will not be forgotten or forgiven by a huge proportion of its electorate. It was a test of Scotland, and it has forever killed the myth of Scotland's left-wing exceptionalism.