It wasn’t a good Bank Holiday weekend.
Mrs Canavan was away on what seems like her 16th hen do of the year. At least twice a month, she leaves on a Saturday morning with a small suitcase and returns Sunday in wonderful spirits and looking incredibly happy. I once checked the contents of the case and found massage oil, new underwear and a note saying ‘looking forward to seeing you babe, yours forever, Tristan x’. I questioned her, and she told me that because of a back injury sustained at run club she’d booked a massage from a guy called Tristan – lovely but a little forward - and the underwear was a present for the bride. Thank goodness there was a simple explanation.
Because of her absence, I had the children and – wanting to do something different (because quite frankly staying in the house with a five and three-year-old is as enjoyable as sitting next to Greta Thunberg at a party to celebrate climate change) – I decided to take them to the family caravan in the Lakes.
But when you take kids somewhere new they are as over-excited as Neil Parish on his phone in the House of Commons, and thus bedtime is always tricky.
Kids don’t like sleeping at the best of times, and my daughter Mary takes this to a whole new level. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve crept into her room hours after I’ve left her, to check she’s ok, and, as I’m tiptoeing towards the bed, a voice will say, ‘dad, if you add seven to five what does it come to?’
At the caravan, with my mother selfishly hogging the main bedroom, my plan was to put my lad, Wilf, 3, in the small room, and I would sleep on a fold-down bed in the lounge with Mary.
Initially things went better than hoped. Mary insisted on coming with me to read Wilf his book and lie with him while he fell asleep – and, unbelievably, she nodded off as well. Before 8pm I had two sleeping children. Hallelujah and praise be (that’s a phrase, not the names of my children).
I crept back into the body of the caravan and told my mum, almost tearfully such was my joy, they were both down.
I got in bed at about 11 and realised, quite swiftly, it wasn’t the finest money can buy, in that the aim of the manufacturer appears to have been to make it as uncomfortable as possible. And I must congratulate them for they’ve absolutely nailed it. Their cunning tactic was to position the metal poles supporting the bed in the most inconvenient position, so that the user has to fold their body into the shape of the letter Z to avoid a pole digging into them. Alas lying in that position isn’t conducive to sleep but, eventually, sometime around 2am, I dropped off.
An hour later I heard a voice shout, ‘daddy I’m thirsty’. It was Wilf, so – desperate for him not to wake his sleeping sister - I jumped up at the speed of light (or about as close to the speed of light as a 46-year-old man with an arthritic hip can manage) and gabbed a cup of water, but all went quiet so I didn’t take it in.
I lay in bed – alert and tense and listening for further noise – but was finally about to achieve a state of sleep when he stirred again.
I leapt from the covers and entered his room. He was sat up so I took him into bed with me, so at least Mary would stay asleep.
Wilf had just started snoring when, 15 minutes later, a bloodcurdling scream erupted from the bedroom, where Mary, or so one might assume from the noise, was being bludgeoned to death with a mallet.
Eager she didn’t disturb my ageing mother, I ran to her room at the speed of Linford Christie circa the 1992 Olympics and began comforting my hysterical daughter.
My dash from the bed, though, had woken Wilf, so now he was shouting for me too.
With the clock reading 3.50am, I carried Mary back to my small fold-up bed held together by the back-breaking metal poles and put her on one side, stuck Wilf on the other, and cuddled them until they both calmed down.
There was a moment, a brief one I concede, where with us all snuggled together, I actually thought ‘this is lovely’.
This thought disintegrated around 45 seconds later when, with both children wide awake and rather excited to be in bed with their dad, I realised this was going to be a very long night.
They chatted and laughed for the next 45 minutes, appearing to mistake 4.30am for four thirty in the afternoon, with the situation not aided by the fact it gets light remarkably early in May and the curtains in the caravan are so thin we may as well put tissue paper up instead.
‘Is it morning?’ Mary asked repeatedly.
“No, it’s not,” I answered repeatedly, my voice getting slightly sharper with each reply.
To cut a long story – and an even longer night – short, they finally dropped off at about six, as did I, only for Mary to rise again at 6.54am, ready to start the day.
To make matters worse, my mum appeared just before 9 announcing she’d had her best night’s sleep in years. ‘10 hours straight,’ she said. ‘Could you make me some toast while I go in the shower love?’