Monday, September 29, 2014

Head over heels

'Look – Izzy is head over heels!'

I followed my friend’s gaze to where my daughter’s feet could be seen waving in the air. Shortly after, they were replaced by her beaming face.  I put my thumbs in the air and silently cheered . 

As a milestone on the hazardous highway of life it’s scarcely on a par with walking, talking, reading, or eating broccoli, but it’s been so painful for both of us, this swimming lesson thing, it’s huge to have her finally break through her fear barrier. Izzy, who for two years has refused to go out of her depth or even lie on her back, this morning did her first backwards somersault in the deep end. Result.

'Wow! I wish Annabella could do that, said Armand.' 

'She will soon,' I said reassuringly, making a weak attempt to disguise my smugness. 

There are three of us regulars, or rather seven if you count our daughters, for Sam has twins. We men sit side by side on a little bench at the edge of the Marriott’s swimming pool, watching our daughters testing their teachers’ patience. Three men playing at fatherhood for an hour. 

We used to alternate with our wives until, about a month ago, we spotted Billie Piper in the pool, at which point all three men generously offered to give their spouses a couple of hours off every Sunday morning while we undertook the arduous job of daughter-watching. Since then Ms Piper hasn’t returned, but we wait in hope, and meanwhile observe our reluctant daughters being cajoled by their inexhaustible instructors. 

How different from when I learnt to swim. That was in Tynemouth, in the old open-air seawater pool. It was proudly described as the only Olympic-sized swimming pool in the North, and had light blue paint, through which rivers of rust would stream from metal railings, flagpoles, and anything else that saltwater could penetrate. 

We were made to swim in all weathers, except when the odds on drowning were shortened by giant waves breaking straight into the shallow end, or when the water temperature fell below 40 degrees. I have never been so cold in my life and I still have the certificate to prove it. 

It was 85 degrees in the Marriott. We were dripping with sweat as we chatted. We reckon the hotel should put in a pool bar; that would make daughter-watching fly by. They are bankers, a subject I knew absolutely nothing about a few weeks ago. It’s a subject I still know absolutely nothing about, but I quite enjoy listening to their talk of swaps and derivatives and credit somethingorothers. Meanwhile they think it’s glamorous that I’m in television. Did I actually know Billie Piper?

Afterwards, we take the girls down to the changing room for showers and hairdressing. Whereas Armand, who’s French, spends ages grooming Annabelle, arranging her hair in neat little ringlets, this is usually a simple process for me and Izzy – a quick towel dry and a scoop of hair into a bungee thing and the rest of her into teeshirt and jeans. 

But today was different. For the first time, she demanded to have her hair properly blown out. She’d brought a brush and said she wanted a plait “high up and on the side, like in Frozen”. It took us three grown men half an hour to work out how to do it, and then Izzy changed her mind and I had to blow it all out again and put in little pink hair clips.

'What’s up, Iz?' I asked, surprised by her sudden conversion to fashion victim. She looked at the floor and blushed, and then I remembered. 

'You have a play date!' 

'Ben,' she said quietly, and smiled. 

Oh no, it’s happened. My 5-year-old has discovered boys. 

When the lad arrived, sheepishly smiling in smart tee-shirt and new sweatpants, I realised it was mutual. Izzy took him up to her room and shut the door. I could hear the sound of Lego being emptied onto the floor. Not dolls, Lego. This was love. 

Later we took them into the park for a picnic.  After they'd politely shared each other's pizzas, the boy came over to me and asked, ever so confidentially: 'Please can you tell my Daddy to pick me up in exactly six hours?' 

Yes, Izzy is finally head over heels. And his name is Ben.

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