I was at a hotel the other day watching my daughter swim. It’s my favourite parent-child activity because it takes place at a reasonable hour – 4pm, meaning I can stay in bed till 3 – and while Mary, my two-year-old, is in the pool, I spend an incredibly pleasant half-hour sipping a cappuccino.
When I say I watch Mary swim by the way, I’m being misleading.
Mary cannot swim. In fact she’s so bad the other parents make sympathetic pained faces, like they’re witnessing a dog getting run over then shot, and whisper to each other, ‘have you seen that little girl? I’ve never seen anyone quite as awful, is there something wrong with her?’
When the teacher recently tried to get Mary to do front crawl, the lifeguard thought she was having a seizure and jumped in to drag her out.
While the other children get badges week in-week out for things like completing 10 metres unaided, diving to the bottom of the pool, and a reverse 4½ somersault dive in the pike position, Mary has only one badge – that she got 17 weeks ago on her first lesson – and which is for ‘Getting in the Water’. I know it’s early days but I’m already concerned she might not make the British team at the 2036 Olympics.
What happens in the pool is that the teacher puts her hand either side of Mary’s head and tells her to move her arms and legs and stare straight ahead. Mary completely ignores this and instead looks over to where I’m sitting and grins and waves at me (which is really annoying as it means I have to put down my coffee and briefly interact with my child).
So essentially Mary is pulled along by the teacher and then has the audacity, after the lesson, to emerge from the changing room, beam at me, and proudly say, ‘I’ve been swimming daddy’.
I look her in the eye and say sternly, ‘no Mary, you haven’t. In order to swim you need to move your arms and legs – what you do is just lie there and get pulled along, like a knackered car being towed’.
She furrows her brow for a moment, then completely disregards my comments, and says, ‘can I have a chocolate bar?’
I find that’s the problem with children – you just can’t have a serious conversation with them.
The other night, for instance, I sat down with her to watch the Conservative Leadership debate on the BBC and barely 10 minutes in, just as Rory Stewart – a man I’m convinced is an alien species remote-controlled by beings from another planet – was making a very interesting point about sheep-farming in Wales, Mary said she was bored and asked to watch Peppa Pig instead. I’d have thought now she’s 25 months old she would be starting to take an interest in politics and the important matters in society, yet no, she’s still obsessed with a family of animated porkers.
Anyhow, back to swimming.
I realised halfway through the lesson I needed to get on the internet to attend to an important work matter and check if Manchester United had signed anybody. Because of the wonders of technology, nowadays you can access the internet on your phone wherever you may be, but you need to be connected to something called Wifi.
I’d like to explain what this is – as I’m aware some senior readers may not be familiar with it (indeed when I mentioned it to my mum, she replied, ‘this whiffy thing, can you see it?) - but I have no real idea myself what Wifi actually is. All I know is that it is some sort of code that needs to be entered into your phone.
Different buildings have different codes – usually these are a complicated combination of letters and numbers - so I looked around for a member of staff at the hotel, and saw a man behind the reception.
I wandered over and waited till he had finished dealing with a woman complaining about the temperature of water in her room (’and this morning when I went to wash my face and turned the hot tap on, the water was freezing cold. I turned and said to Derek, ‘Derek, have you felt how cold this water is?’ and he came over and put his hands underneath the tap and he couldn’t believe how cold it was. I mean we’re not usually ones to complain or cause a scene but…’)
Around seven minutes later when the woman finally stopped rambling on about her tap and departed the scene, I smiled reassuringly at the man – as if to say, ‘don’t worry, I’m not going to make a complaint’ – and said, ‘excuse me, can you tell me the Wi-fi code please?’
He looked at me with what felt like pure hatred, as if I’d asked a really difficult question like ‘could you nip outside and fix the carburettor on my Ford Fiesta?’, and replied sharply, ‘the Wifi code?’
“Erm, yes,” I responded, slightly puzzled at why he was repeating the question I had just asked him.
He sighed – it was either a sigh or he had wind - then flung open a little door at the side of reception, like a bad-tempered cowboy entering a saloon bar, barked ‘follow me’ and marched off.
We walked at speed all the way through the reception area, through the lounge, across a function room, up some stairs – at which point I was beginning to suspect he was kidnapping rather than helping me - and then into another lounge bar where he stopped at a table, picked up a small piece of card and thrust it in my direction.
On it were the words ‘Wi-fi code: 1234’.
I looked at him to see if this was a joke and he was smiling. He wasn’t.
We had walked just shy of three-and-a-half miles and burned around 300 calories to get a code which would have taken him less than a second to tell me.
I turned to thank him but he had already gone, at which point I realised I had no idea where I was. It took me another 10 minutes to find my way back to the pool area by which time Mary had finished her lesson and there wasn’t time to send my email anyway.
Ooo, life is such a trial.