Forget Lake Titicaca – this is my new most uncomfortable experience | Steve Canavan

Many years ago, when I was single, child-free and happy, myself and a friend went trekking round Peru.

Friday, 16th April 2021, 4:53 pm
The Uros islands of Lake Titicaca, Peru. Picture by PA Photo/Renato Granieri.

As part of the trip, for a couple of nights we stayed with a local family at their house by Lake Titicaca (which is, in case it comes up at your next online quiz, the world’s highest navigable lake – 12,000 feet above sea level).

The house belonged to a very poor but very lovely Peruvian family and there were two groups staying there – myself and my friend, and three Spanish girls.

That evening, following the meal cooked by the family hosting us, the very humble father stood and announced that it was time for the present-giving.

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Myself and my pal looked quizzically at each other, before slowly recalling – with some distress – that we had been instructed to bring a gift to show our appreciation for staying over.

The three Spanish girls immediately jumped to their feet and from a bag produced the most beautiful piece of pottery, along with a huge bouquet of flowers and several bars of chocolate for the children.

The family were overjoyed and, with tears of gratitude in their eyes, hugged each of the Spanish girls in turn.

Then they turned to my companion and I.

Horrified and acutely embarrassed, and with our hosts staring expectantly at us, we desperately fumbled in our rucksacks to see if there was anything, literally anything, we could pass off as a gift.

All I had in my bag was a vast stinking array of dirty socks and underpants – which, even though one pair was Calvin Klein, probably wouldn’t have been appreciated as a present – before, right at the bottom, I found a baguette we’d bought on a train journey the day prior.

With our host family waiting patiently, and completely out of other ideas, I took the baguette out of the rucksack, attempting to do it with a slight flourish as if producing something very special.

As I did so it broke in two.

I handed it across to the father who, for a brief moment, looked as if he might punch me in the face, then, graciously and way too generously, took it off me and thanked us, albeit slightly curtly.

As if things couldn’t get worse, about an hour later my friend went to have a shower and pulled the entire door off as he got in.

I still recall the look on his face as he walked into the bedroom, holding a seven-foot shower door in his hands, and saying: ‘We might have a problem’.

It’s fair to say that for the remainder of our stay at that house, the Spaniards got preferential treatment.

The reason for telling that story is because for a long, long time it has remained the most uncomfortable moment of my life.

Until this week.

Because parenting young children is, generally, deathly dull and you have to try and liven it up where you can, I have invented a series of secret codes which only my four-year-old daughter Mary and I know.

So, for example, if we click our fingers it means chocolate.

If she tweaks her nose and makes a beeping sound that stands for let’s play with the doll’s house.

And if she scratches her ear and I scratch mine it means that when I’m putting her to bed she’s allowed to watch a cartoon on my phone.

(I’ve just re-read that last paragraph and shuddered at how tragic my life has become).

Anyway, at the weekend we were meeting friends and having a catch up when Mary – with me at a nearby café buying coffee – told everyone in a big loud voice that ‘me and daddy have a secret code for something we do in bed together’.

As I, blissfully unaware of this, returned with the drinks I found the other adults in the group strangely silent and looking at me as if Doctor Crippen had just walked into their ranks.

‘Cappuccino, John?’ I said, casually handing my friend’s drink across.

John, who before I’d gone to the café had been stood happily chatting to me about West Ham’s chances of making the top four, gingerly reached out and without taking his eyes off me, carefully took his drink, as if handling a container filled with sulphuric acid.

When I was told what Mary had said, I was, of course, able to explain it but, as my sister later put it, it probably wouldn’t look great if Mary marched into nursery and told the staff when she scratched her nose it meant she and daddy did something in bed late at night.

Good point.

Maybe I’ll phase out the secret codes.

They seemed a good idea at the time, but…

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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