We were having a clear out of baby things, things we would never need again. My wife looked at me with shining eyes and whispered,
"Another tiny precious chapter in our lives, gone forever"
"Actually I was just thinking the same thing" I whispered back.
Although, actually, this was bollocks, actually I was thinking I cannot wait to get rid of all this brightly coloured plastic shit; the orange puke stained babygrows, those teething rings that looked like they'd been attacked by piranha and those "lift the flap" books with no flaps left. And I would especially not miss all those toys that play nursery rhymes at a really creepy speed because the batteries are dying and when they turn themselves on at night for no apparent reason you actually shit your pants.
Burn it, I thought to myself. BURN IT ALL!
My wife looked at me and said, "You're so sentimental".
I shrugged modestly and pictured the nice flames.
"And what shall we do with the baby carrier?"
In case you don't know, a baby carrier is a bit like a back pack or a rucksack that you put your children in. This particular one had the seat at the front with straps going over the shoulders and around the waist - you see a lot of dads wearing these. They probably think it makes them look cute and metrosexual. I know I did. But that was before the incident.
I thought back to that day and cringed...
I knew I'd burnt myself. A bit. You know that tingle when you get out of the shower, that pleasant tightness of the skin? Well that's what I felt - a perfectly normal reaction to my "Irish" complexion. We'd spent the first day of our holiday walking along the coast, I'd put my young daughter into the baby carrier and had enjoyed the day smelling the sweaty sea air and her newborn head (that slightly sour baby-head smell? Unbeatable). Occasionally I'd smell something else and we would stop to change her nappy under the watchful glare of hungry seagulls. After disposing of the nappy we would hurry away as the seagulls keenly salvaged the hot package from the bin. I don't know what seagulls usually eat, but babyshit seems popular in Cornwall. In fairness, it can't be much worse than their usual diet - at least it's warm and organic.
As the day heated up I'd taken off my t-shirt and used it to shield my daughter's head. I remember thinking how good it felt to feel the sun on my back and shoulders as we hiked the coastal paths and it was only now, just before bed, that I thought I probably should've put on some sun lotion.
The next morning we woke early and prepared to spend the day at the nearby beach, it was one of those cool beaches where everyone is slim and beautiful, everywhere you looked there were the sort of young good looking bastards that probably tweet as they surf and are capable of summoning dolphins by farting on their boogie boards. You know the type. We'd set up our area on the beach and were busy applying SPF 15,000 to every inch of visible skin on our children. We'd steeled ourselves for the average age of this beach but still it was a little daunting, revealing our white 35 year old bodies to the assembled teens. Showing them their fat, hairy future. Don't get me wrong we're not really fat at all but when the average age is 18 and everyone is the colour of honey it tends to keep the old gut sucked in. A couple of physically perfect angels floated past us and I overheard them say "surf till noon, then some chow at Savannah's yah?" I caught the eye of the girl and she smiled at me sadly, making me feel like a pig who'd wandered into a Timotei advert.
"Just you wait!" I wanted to shout. "Just you wait you elfin bastards! Wait until you have dependents and a mortgage and hair growing in strange places! It's only a decade away you smug fucks! Soon you'll be me mwahahaha!"
Perhaps this is not the most beneficent attitude but that morning I'd gone to pull a loose white thread from my "Young at Heart" t-shirt and realised, painfully, it was actually a chest hair. That's the sort of random doom-mongering irony I hate - my happiness hanging by an albino pubic thread. I stood staring at it, a single white hair, like pulling the pin on a hand grenade made of self-esteem, and then it was time to go to the beach.
You see some strange things at the beach, people digging holes for no apparent reason, black people sunbathing, that inferior tennis game with the wooden bats that's really noisy? Often you'll see a man so hairy that it looks like he's just taken off the head of a gorilla costume. But that morning the beach was about to see something new. Something shocking.
I'd gone to get some bottles of water from the little shop at the end of the beach and on the way back had thought
"Ok the top is coming off, if I can't be 19 again at least I can be tanned."
But immediately I began to draw a fair amount of attention, I could see people sniggering, actually sniggering at me. I tried to act normal whilst flexing biceps and breathing in. People looked up from books and stared, a group of young girls looked at me then hid their mouths behind conspiring palms. A sunbathing black man looked at me like I was crazy whilst nearby a Scotsman stopped digging a big hole in the sand to stare at me in horror. I stalked back to my wife and hissed,
"What the hell is wrong with these people? I've just been stared at by half the beach! What's so damn funny?"
My wife smiled at me, she took her phone out and took a picture of me from the front and the back and wordlessly passed it across. I put down the water and stared. Oh shit. I was a lot more burnt than I'd realised but even worse were the white bits. The fucking baby carrier had left me with strap marks!
It looked as if I'd been wearing some kind of complicated bikini!
I am suddenly a man with strap marks! A suntan transvestite!
How the merry fuck has this happened?
"Where is the baby carrier now? I NEED to put it on and walk the length of this beach again so that people understand! They need to know I don't own a bikini, I will make those bastards understand that I am a real man! A manly man!"
"We didn't bring it, you whinged all morning remember? I know you are a manly man but you said it hurt your burnt shoulders"
"Right that's it!"
"Where are you going?"
"There is a man over there digging a hole, I am going to throw myself into it!"
I spent the rest of the holiday defiantly stalking the beach wearing the baby carrier - trying to make people understand. Sadly, this made the strap marks a lot worse. I had white bits where the rest of me was brown.
Now, I'm a sucker for tan lines on women, show us your white bits I say, but it appears bikini tan lines do not work on the opposite sex nearly so well. Especially bikini-esque tan lines on a mildly hairy man. Didn't get much sex as I recall. Not the greatest holiday overall.
Back in the present day I look at my wife and smile.
"Do you want me to put it on one last time?" I say huskily.
"No" she says in a faraway voice, "No I don't".
James' Book 'Shut Up Brain!' is now available on Kindle and in Paperback.