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Damage limitation

Anyone who believes that it's possible for man to live in a spirit of peace and brotherhood should hang around with a toddler for a few hours.

Looking after Conor upstairs this week, I took advantage of his being absorbed in something and stretched out on the bed for a little rest. The family motto, roughly translated from the Latin, runs like this: "Never stand when you can sit, never sit when you can lie."

Anyway, next thing, I hear him come tottering over towards the bed, gurgling happily. I opened my eyes just in time to dodge the steel candle holder which he was about to smash into my face.

His older brother and sister, who are four and six respectively, usually bear the brunt of his violent tendencies. As far as Conor is concerned, someone else's nostril is a great place to shove your finger, and what are ears for? Only to sink your teeth into.


And if someone is sitting on the floor trying to make something out of Lego, the best thing to do after you've smashed whatever it is they've been building is to drag them backwards by the hair, laughing loudly.

Reassuringly, Conor isn't the only kid like this. I know of one other parent who has ended up in A&E as a result of the exuberance of his angelic little daughter and her pencil. At a recent birthday party for a two-year-old, the young host reacted unenthusiastically to other little kids trying to play with his toys. First, he'd grab the toy from them, then he'd smash them over the head with it. Embarrassed, his poor mother kept saying: "You have to learn to share." She might as well have asked him to come into the kitchen to help her with the couscous.

We built our house before we had kids, so there are all kinds of features that looked great at the time. A large potted plant in the corner, bookshelves and CD holders that reach all the way from floor to ceiling. God help us, at one point there was a bowl on a coffee table filled with water and rose petals. After the ripped covers of books started ending up floating alongside the rose petals, and most of the compost from the yucca plant got eaten, we began to understand that when you have children, there's a design exclusion zone running about three feet from the floor all around the walls.

But we've this built-in CD thing that we're kind of dogged about. It's like that scene in Apocalypse Now. Every day the Americans build the bridge, and every night the Vietnamese blow it up. First thing in the morning, after he's had his Weetabix, a crust of toast and his morning dribble, Conor clears his throat, spits on his hands and sets about methodically flinging any reachable CD over his shoulder until none remain.

Because my wife likes to alphabetise, this means that most of my Frank Zappa and all my Neil Young are now unplayable.

As I write this, she's on the phone to the bank, ordering a new Laser card, because Conor got his hands on hers on Saturday and now it's gone. Once upon a time you could have been patient and said, "It'll turn up," but not anymore. Conor's ability to make things disappear has a secret police thoroughness about it.


There's also quite an imaginative streak to his destructive tendencies. Last weekend, for example, I found him emptying crisps into the tumble dryer, then on the Sunday he found an old Bee Gees cassette and crammed it into a tub of spreadable butter. Yes, okay, it happened on my watch, and yeah, I did see him with the tape in the kitchen . . . What? The butter? I've no idea how it ended up within easy reach of the little pet. Dreadful, I know. Tragedy, you might say . . .