A study has revealed that nearly two million UK grandparents have given up work to look after grandchildren. Three out of four are grannies, like Nikki King of Rochester, Kent, who gave up running a £48 million company to care for her daughter’s one-year-old twin girls Summer and Skye. But there are many grandfathers out there, too, having just as much fun – as former newspaper editor John Nurden discovered on just one day…
The Boy Child was left by his teacher mum just after 7am on her way to work. It came as a shock to my system because, even when I was editing four weekly newspapers, I still deemed that an early start to the day.
“Papa get up,” yelled Samuel, who has just turned two, as he scurried into the bedroom. My wife Linda, who is one of those old-fashioned matrons attempting to run two district hospitals for the NHS, had already left.
My daughter-in-law smiled as she dropped off my charge for the day, thankful there was someone to look after her son and, as I discovered later to my cost, gleefully looking forward to tales of how I coped, or didn’t.
I’m no stranger to putting up with petulant children and changing stinky nappies as I helped bring up two boys of our own. I think I was pretty hands-on. But that was 30 years ago and sometimes the mind plays funny tricks. Mrs Nurden, in fact, likes to tell people I did hardly anything.
Although I have just turned 60, I was ready for what I regarded as a day of delight. I just had to get out of bed pretty quickly. The Boy Child decided to accompany me to the bathroom.
“What doing Papa?” he asked as I started to shave. I let him clamber up onto the toilet seat where he could stroke my whiskers.
“Papa is shaving his whiskers off,” I told him.
“Me try,” demanded Samuel.
So I let him have a go, as granddads are inclined to do. I must point out here before horrified readers call the NSPCC that I use an electric shaver and not one with blades. He clamped the machine to his cheek just like grandpa had done and delightedly let the motor gently massage his jaw. I could tell this was going to be a long day.
Once dressed, I moved to the kitchen for toast. Despite his mum having told me the Boy Child had been fed and watered he demanded some of my breakfast. In fact, he devoured the lot. He was going to eat me out of house and home.
The meal was only disturbed by a mighty crash outside as the refuse collectors arrived to empty our bin. The Boy Child demanded to see what was going on and insisted he be lifted up so he could watch the dustbin men at work. It was obvious he was going to need constant supervision. My secret plans for some light reading during his mid-morning nap were rapidly going out of the window.
We ended up in the garden where he discovered an old green Tonka truck which I had found hiding in the garage the night before. It had been one of the favourite toys of the Boy Child’s dad when he was a nipper. It has seen better days and is a little rusty but it is still capable of holding a spade-full of earth and, to the Boy Child’s delight, tipping it out automatically onto the vegetable patch.
We both spent a long time filling and emptying the dump truck. For him, it was a brand new game. For me, he brought back fond memories of summer days doing exactly the same thing with our own two boys – or Creatures of the Night as I took to calling them during their teenage years.
However, it was clear the pull of Tonka was not going to be sufficient to keep the Boy Child amused for a whole day. He turned to studying the actions of a small snail and then took great delight in pushing Papa out of the hammock.
But even after all that, another diversion was needed. Living on the sun-kissed Isle of Sheppey in Kent could mean only one thing – a trip to the beach.
So I bundled the Boy Child into the car – strapping him into his seat after eventually solving the mysterious black art of buckles – and headed for Leysdown. It may not be the Costa Brava but it has sand, sea and ice cream which are really all a two-year-old and his granddad need. And it’s not far from home in case of unexpected emergencies.
Beaches are brilliant for children, especially young boys. Incredibly, I had packed a bucket and spade although, being a chap, I had forgotten about food. I proudly built a sandcastle and the Boy Child, equally proudly, destroyed it with one well-aimed kick. I was crushed.
We then went for a paddle. Next time I will remember to take a swimming costume. Both of us ended up very wet. During this adventure the Boy Child was startled to discover a dead squid washed up on the beach.
He squatted down and eyed it closely.
“Papa touch it,” he suggested. So I obeyed. Filled with renewed confidence he then started hurling stones at it. I was horrified. My son and daughter-in-law were obviously bringing up a little monster. It was like something out of Lord of the Flies. So I decided it was time for lunch.
There is only one thing to eat at the seaside so I bought fish and chips. The Boy Child ate his and then made a stab at mine. I then deemed it was time for a nap so we drove home and I attempted to put him in a cot. He refused to go to sleep so we both ended up on the sofa watching Mr Tumble.
For those not yet introduced to Mr Tumble, this stars a jolly, tubby chap called Justin Fletcher and is on the BBC’s digital children’s channel Cbeebies. It is brilliant. Mr Tumble is a sort of clown who “signs” everything for the deaf. I was particularly impressed to see him making pancakes for breakfast in a parody of an old Morecambe and Wise sketch, although I noticed the original Stripper theme had been switched to a different piece of music.
As it was approaching 4pm and the Boy Child and I had both been on the go for nearly nine hours, I texted his mum: “I think Samuel is ready for collection now.” I added, hopefully: “Do you have an estimated time of arrival?”
She texted back the wonderful words: “Will be there in 15 minutes.”
Seconds before she arrived, the Boy Child yawned, cuddled up to me and fell asleep. I wanted to do exactly the same thing.
His mum later posted on her Facebook page: “Samuel had a lovely day with his Papa and wants to do it again. We are just waiting for Papa to recover.”
It may be some time…