March 2003. Tuesday night. Dark, cold, raining. Football on TV.
So like many of the events that change your life, I very nearly didn’t go.
But I hauled myself off the settee, dodged the puddles in a sodden car park and went to a meeting of the local Writers’ Circle.
The speaker was Paul Napier, the editor of the local paper.
Paul was talking about the mechanics of newspaper production. I started to drift away…
Then: “We’d quite like a humorous weekly column. If anyone thinks they could write one.”
Blimey. I could do that. How many times had I read those ‘day in the life’ pieces in the Sunday supplements? How many times had I thought, ‘I could write that?’
There’d been that time Tom had sniffed Lego up his nose. He’d been about four. It had got stuck. I’d taken him to A&E. Surely I could get something funny out of that?
I could. I e-mailed it the next morning. They liked it. I was hired.
“Give it a go for six weeks,” Paul said. “If you can do it for six weeks you can probably do it for a while.”
That was 13 years ago this week. I’ve been writing ever since. Around 650 columns – latterly on the blog as well – and something approaching 400,000 words.
There’ve been a few changes along the way…
Gulp. The little boy who gave me the initial inspiration by so thoughtfully snorting Lego is about to leave university and start a proper job.
My Beloved Daughter – the source of so much early material as she pronounced her party bags inadequate and sank her teeth into her brother to keep him under control – has one more year at uni.
Any visits they make to home these days are fleeting. Their lives are elsewhere.
Which means, gentle reader, that I’m in trouble.
And so is my youngest son…
Ben has to do or say something funny every week to give me a subject to write about.
Either that – or we have another baby.
Not a suggestion I’ll be making to my wife…
When your children are 9, 7 and 4 – as they were when I started – finding something to write about each week is ridiculously easy. The problem is what not to write about.
When they become teenagers it’s completely different. Firstly, rather more subjects are off limits – assuming you want to keep a relationship with your children. The pace of change slows down: they do or say the same thing every week. And they live in a place called ‘Out.’
So as I said, Ben’s under pressure.
“What are you doing?”
“Waiting for you to finish cooking.”
“No you’re not. You want me to drop this egg on the dog. Or say something really funny. You haven’t got anything to write about this week.”
“That’s not strictly true…”
“Yes it is. You told me once. That time you took us conkering. You wanted one of us to fall in the stream so you’d have something to write about.”
“It wasn’t deep…”
“Try telling that to ChildLine. Anyway, I’m done. I’m sorry to disappoint you but my egg is on my toast. Not on the dog.”
He marched off to commandeer the TV. “As if,” I muttered to myself. “As if I’d want one of my children to fall in a stream. Just to get something to write about.”
“Come on, Pepper,” I said to the dog. “I’ll distract him. You steal his toast…”
Thanks for reading this post. If you enjoyed it – and you’d like something light and “very, very funny” to read – you can buy the ‘Best Dad I Can Be’ sample book with 27 of my favourite posts covering all the years I’ve been writing: it’s all of 99p on your Kindle. Alternatively the first chronological book, ‘Half Dad Half Fish’ which covers the time when the children were 9, 7 and 4 is available here.