We were an hour away from home when we discovered we had left without Conor's 'cuddly'.
Conor's two. His cuddly consists of three of my wife's old silk nightdresses, one red, one black and one cream. Three silk nightdresses sounds a bit excessive but, believe you and me, if it took an exclusive Vivienne Westwood number to get him to sleep, I would happily toss it in the cot.
But now we have no cuddlies. So we stop at the next town and, while my wife breastfeeds the baby in the car, I go off in search of a silk nightdress. This shouldn't be an occasion for embarrassment, I tell myself, as I make my way up the escalators of the only department store in town. But I keep thinking of Father Ted getting lost in the lingerie section. So I find a shop girl, who's about 18, and ask her in a confident voice where she keeps her nightdresses. After about half a century, she says. "This is homeware. Menswear is on the ground floor."
My face is now red. "No no no," I say, "I'm looking for a woman's . . . oh forget it, thanks." I turn round and walk away. On the escalator back down, I spot the womenswear section. Grand. But looking over my shoulder, there's the girl from homeware pointing at me as she talks to a burly chap in a cheap suit. Brilliant. I'm about to be tossed out of a department store for being a perv. So I save him the bother, scoot down the escalator and out the door.
The next place is a small, old-fashioned sort of shop and there's quite an elderly woman behind the counter. She's deep in conversation with one of her customers. When the customer eventually clears off, the woman turns to me. "What can I do for you, son?"
"Could you direct me to the railway station please?"
She tells me there hasn't been a train through the town in 35 years.
"In that case, do you have any silk nightdresses?"
She doesn't bat an eyelid. "Is it for yourself, son?"
"No actually, it's for my wife, well really it's for my son." So I blurt out the story about Conor and the nightdresses. She listens patiently, then says: "I'll see if I have something in the back."
When she eventually returns, she's got an armful of silk nightdresses in various shades of pink. She holds one up and I begin to get the picture. The thing is huge. And it's got frills, lacy bits, ruffles, feathers and sequins.
I look over my shoulder at the door. Any minute now, the shop is going to fill up with middle-aged women. I just know it. "No no no no," I say. "Honestly, it's for my son. He just likes the feel of it, you know? It helps him get to sleep."
"Oh yes, it's very good quality." She nods. "We have shoes in the back too. High heels, sizes eight and up."
I hear the door open behind me. "Okay, I'll take it, I'll take it."