I was on my way home from work the other day when Mrs Canavan phoned. I assumed it was bad news, for she only ever phones when there is bad news.
On Saturday, for instance, she interrupted my weekly badminton session – annoying as I was on sensational form and had just executed a quite superb backhand cross-court drop-shot to go 13-8 up – to inform me we’d run out of milk.
I pointed out there was a shop around the corner and that unless they’d introduced a controversial no-dairy product ban since I was last in, you could very probably pick up milk there.
‘I would,’ she said, ‘but I’m in my pyjamas and Midsomer Murders is on. Could you get some on your way home?’
Annoying, but she is rushed off her feet at the moment, what with being off work for a year on maternity leave and all that…
Anyway, this particular phone call wasn’t bad news – a fact I could detect from her voice, which was like that of a child who has just consumed two litres of extra-fizzy Tizer.
In tones so loud I had to hold the phone around a foot from my ear, she screamed: ‘You’ll never guess what’s happened.'
I’ve always disliked people who use this phrase for it’s unlikely that anyone can second guess what another human is thinking.
But I played along. 'Erm, have we won the lottery?' I replied. 'Has the cat died? Has your mother taken up naked hang-gliding?'
‘No,' she cried, voice trembling with emotion. ‘Mary has just rolled over!’
Mary is our five-month-old baby. As monumental news goes, this wasn’t what I’d been hoping for.
‘Oh,’ I said, unable to keep the disinterest out of my voice – a fact that didn’t go undetected by Mrs Canavan.
'What do you mean ‘oh’?’ she said tersely. 'Your daughter has just rolled over. From front to back.'
Learning from my previous mistake, this time I attempted to sound enthusiastic and responded: 'Oh darling, how wonderful. Front to back too, wow.'
However, I think she saw through this as she replied: ‘Don’t you get it? This is amazing, she’s never rolled over before. She’s so clever.’
I made a mistake then. I was honest. 'Well she’s not really clever, is she?' I said and pointed out that she had simply moved a bit, not explained Pythagoras' theorem or come up with a new vaccine for meningitis.
'It’s kind of normal really, isn’t it?' I added. 'In fact, it’d only be interesting or noteworthy if she didn’t, at some point, roll over. Say, if she got to the age of 39 and still hadn’t done it, then I’d be interested.'
There was a long silence on the other end of the line and I was just about to hang up, thinking we’d been cut off, when Mrs Canavan said icily: 'Don’t rush home – your tea won’t be on the table', and the line went dead.
Aware I was in the doghouse, I did the right thing when I got back to the house and rushed to the lounge, where Mrs Canavan was perched with a camera in hand, pointing it intently at our daughter.
‘I want to capture her doing it again,’ she said, then began imploring Mary to roll over. ‘Go on, roll for mummy and daddy, you can do it.’
I looked at her and, with teary eyes, reminisced about the days when we used to do normal things, like go to the cinema, or a restaurant, or to wife-swapping parties.
This went on for about 35 minutes. ‘Go on, you can do it,’ said Mrs C, like the most boring of broken records. All the while Mary steadfastly refused to repeat her rolling-over trick and instead lay on her back playing with a small plastic toy cow which, when pressed, flashes red and yellow and a little girl’s shrill voice repeatedly sings the refrain: ‘I’m the happy cow, hug me, love me all day long’.
She didn’t roll over again that evening but she did the next day and I must admit that it was mildly interesting.
Then I realised the only reason it was interesting is because previously she has done absolutely nothing.
My child has quite literally spent the last five months lying on her back screaming, while we rush around attempting to keep her alive and apologising profusely to the next-door neighbours on a daily basis about the noise.
Babies are so monumentally, mind-numbingly dull and uninteresting, that when they do actually do something – when they actually make some small kind of physical advancement, like rolling over, or a first step, or a word – it’s no wonder we get so incredibly excited.
According to the internet, the next milestone will be sitting up, which most babies can do for several minutes without support by the time they’re eight months old.
Mrs Canavan already has her camera ready. I can barely wait.