Sometimes, I make big mistakes…..but they’re never my fault: not really. Here’s an example, so you can judge for yourself.
Today, I’m up early. This is because it’s Easter Monday, and we’re taking the kids to Leeds Castle for the day. Leeds Castle is about an hour away, and my wife has agreed to drive if I get the kids breakfast and make us all a packed lunch for our picnic. So….what could possibly go wrong?
So…I’m at the breakfast table, along with Evie (aged 2) and I’m trying to get my head straight over a cup of coffee: I put away a small can of Jack Daniels last night and, as has been noted before, I’m such a lightweight that I once got tipsy sniffing a vodka ice pop.
I feel pretty hungover. Anyway…
I’ve made three bowls of cereal and I’ve taken the lunch boxes down from the top of the kitchen cupboard (since my son has been eating school dinners, we’ve been using his old lunch boxes to store batteries, small tools, medicine, you name it). I’ve emptied the first one, wrapped a rubber band around all the headache pills and thrown half the batteries into the rubbish bin. Having stacked all the little screwdrivers inside a drawer, I’m now making a start on the lunch and I’m carefully buttering some of those scrawny thins when my son, Bast, walks into the room, cradling something in his arms.
At first, I think he has one of his little sister’s dolls, but then I see that he isn’t actually holding anything: he’s just looping his arms and making kissy sounds with his lips.
I frown at him: so does Evie.
‘Morning, Bast!’ I say, giving him the cool dad pat on the back I regularly employ when he’s acting a bit weird. ‘How’s it going? Did you do any more of that game-book? I saw you cracked that detective app on the iPad-‘
‘Shhhhh! Dad, be quiet! You’ll wake Nipple.’
Suddenly, the only sound in the room is Evie chewing her cookie crunch, because Bast isn’t moving and I’m sitting in my seat with the blood draining out of my face. Still, I think I rally pretty fast, considering:
‘Who’s Nipple, son?’
‘Shhh! Firstly, he’s imaginary: secondly, he’s a tiny baby and he’s fast asleep. Please DO NOT WAKE HIM UP.’
I shake my head.
‘Bast, you’re six years old. I’d like you to stop being silly and eat your breakfast.’
He looks at me for a few seconds, mildly annoyed, before carefully depositing his invisible load next to where I’m sitting at the dining room table and taking his seat.
‘You can watch him, then.’
I continue to prepare the breakfast, but I’m glancing sideways at the space next to the table. There’s something a bit odd about it: the sun doesn’t get to us until mid-afternoon, but there’s a bit of a shadow on the wood. I can’t pretend that it’s not freaking me out, but – like Taylor Swift – I just shake it off.
‘Aren’t you a bit old for imaginary friends, mate?’
‘I never said he was my friend, dad. I just said he was imaginary.’
‘But you’re his daddy, right?’
Bast looks at me, rather sadly and sighs. Then he begins to eat his cereal, and I start to feel bad. He is only six, and I love that he’s such an individual: I should be joining in with this stuff, not begrudging it.
I lean over the table and, smiling kindly, I pat the pretend baby gently on its head.
‘Well done, dad: you just poked Nipple right in the eye: now he’s awake, and he isn’t happy.’
‘I was trying to be nice to him.’
‘Why? Because he’s part of the family!’
‘Are you crazy! Dad, you just don’t understand at ALL. Nipple is mean. He’s really, really mean. Shall I tell you something? Nipple is the reason we’re having a tough year. Remember those noises in the car you said were bad? Nipple did that. When you locked us all out of the house that time? That was Nipple.’
When Bast finishes his breakfast, he leaves the room and wanders into the garden. Evie follows him, but I’m just staring at the wall. After a few minutes, I get up and close the garden door behind them.
Then I look at the place on the table where Bast left Nipple.
I think about stuff. You know, just stuff. This year has been a bit sucky: lots of cool people have died, and the world isn’t looking too good…..you know…..overall.
The shadow on the wood suddenly seems to get a bit darker: it might be a Weetabix stain, but I’m not entirely sure that Nipple hasn’t just wet himself….and with good reason.
I punch the table once, really hard, just in case. There’s a loud bang as the flat of my fist connects with the wood.
My wife shouts from upstairs: ‘Is everything okay?’
‘Yeah,’ I call back. ‘No worries: I just hit my knee!’
Checking that the kids are still playing in the garden, I get a big hardback book and slam it down onto the tabletop.
‘I hit my other knee, love! Everything’s fine!’
‘You’re so bloody clumsy!’
‘I know! Thanks!’
I lift the book carefully, and check underneath…but there’s still just more table there. I realise that I’m being ridiculous.
Instead, I focus on tidying the table and getting on with our day. I dump the rest of the batteries in a drawer, stuff all the medicine into a box, finish making the sandwiches and pack up the car.
Then we’re off.
We have a thoroughly brilliant morning at Leeds Castle, and I just know it’s because I gave Nipple a damn good hiding. Sure, I don’t believe in all that malign spirit stuff, but metaphorically laying the ‘smackdown’ on a nasty little shade who may or may not have been screwing with our family has just left me feeling on top of the world.
If there IS a Nipple out there, he’s obviously licking his wounds and it’s going to be a long time before the gurgling snotball darkens our door again.
Leeds Castle is packed at lunchtime, and I’m one step ahead of the game: as hundreds of stressed dads queue up while their wives scream at naughty, impatient children, we’re smugly laying out our picnic blanket and planning the afternoon’s second batch of adventures. My wife sits down and claps her hands, the kids do little high-fives, and I open the lunchbox.
It’s full of ibuprofen.
Imaginary Friends was originally written by Davey Stone in 2015. If you enjoyed ‘Imaginary Friends’ please consider following the blog. Thanks for reading Imaginary Friends! (Incidentally, it’s probably worth pointing out that the best film ever made about Imaginary Friends is probably Drop Dead Fred, starring Phoebe Cates and Rik Mayall: if you haven’t seen it, go check it out!