I am a 6ft man, 44 years old, strong, physically capable. But it’s Saturday morning and I am hiding in the toilets of the Science Museum in London.
This is not usual behaviour for a 44 year old father of two, but trying times call for radical solutions.
I have my head in my hands and I am wondering what on earth I was thinking; why did I think that a family outing to one of London’s busiest attractions during the school holidays was a good idea?
And what the hell was I thinking going above my three pint policy the night before? I know, through years of tried and tested experience, that anything more than three pints results in a hangover the following day.
I screw my eyes up and push my knuckles further into my pounding temples.
What the fuck was I thinking?
Half a day has passed and I can summarise these precious five hours of family time in two words – queuing and shouting. Lots of loud, fruity shouting.
In fact those two words would probably summarise most summer holiday outings with the children these days.
The idea for the trip to the Science Museum cames from a place of well meaning. As a parent I am bombarded by messages from experts and the media telling me to expand my children’s minds, feed their curiosity.
“Your children need Sciencing” the experts shout.
Well this morning, there has been no sciencing going on.
My daughter, the eldest, has been a devil child since breakfast, a mood prompted by the fact that we wouldn’t let her wear her Wellington boots to London
“But Daddy! Paddington Bear wears wellington boots and he lives in London!” she claims
“But darling it’s 26C outside and it hasn’t rained in three weeks. You don’t need boots on!” comes my exasperated response
And so it goes on. All effing morning.
And the youngest, my son is adopting a position of oppositional defiance to everything, since we stopped him from pouring the entire contents of the sugar bowl onto his breakfast Cheerios.
“Ah cool, look at this, it’s how electricity is conducted” I say, pointing at a wired up circuit board
“It’s boring, I don’t want to be a Sciencer dad!”
I find this funny. The funniest thing I’ve heard today at least. But my barely stifled laugh at this cute word play makes him even more furious and entrenched.
He refuses to move from the Wonderlab and screams until I consider bribing him with chocolate.
I raise my eyes to the heavens, let out a big sigh and mentally cross “parent of the year” off the award list.
I have learnt two things already this morning. Never go on a family outing to London on a hangover; and the kids really don’t give two shits about Science.
They would rather be at home playing with the dead flies that gather in the corner of the rooms and tormenting the neighbour’s cat. I suppose it’s a kind of science.
The whinging and wailing carries on all morning. “I’m bored. This is boring. This museum is stupid and boring. Daddy, you are stupid and boring”
I try to shrug the personal insults off, the kids are still only young, they don’t really know what they are saying, but these tirades sting a little.
Despite the fact that we have been shovelling thousands of calories into their tiny little faces all morning, the kids start complaining that they are hungry around about 11:30.
Maybe that’s what we all need, I think, some sustenance.
My hangover is still there, niggly, a bastard behind the eyes, but the idea of some comfort food lifts my spirits.
Except that there is a fourteen mile queue for anything vaguely resembling sustenance.
My wife volunteers to walk a few blocks to find a food shop that is a little less crowded, and so the kids and I sit outside the museum and wait.
My children entertain themselves by terrorising the grotty pigeons that congregate in the grey concrete square, the first time they have enjoyed themselves all morning.
I note that this is pretty typical. Behind them lies a building of wonder that holds the secrets to the laws of the universe, but they are happiest running around a piece of concrete chasing flying rats.
I settle back and watch them. I begin to enjoy the fresh air, the space and the fact that the children are finally out of my face and out of my hair for a few minutes.
Maybe this day trip thing can work
My wife returns with some croissants, coffee and various sandwiches and the children come running, laughing and giggling. Things are looking up.
But no sooner has my wife put the bags down and starts searching for hand wash, then the children start grabbing at the bags, and fighting over who gets what. I try to intervene, and I am quick, but I realise I am not quick enough.
My son grabs the croissant bag and like a slippery little eel runs away with it. My daughter follows screaming like a banshee, clutching some sandwiches. My son trips and spills the croissants all over the floor, right into the pigeon poo, grazing his knee badly and letting out a piercing howl.
My daughter, bereft that the croissants are gone, throws the sandwiches at him, the egg and cress exploding as they make contact with concrete and forehead. They too are now gone.
And so, at this point, is my sanity.
I calmly make my excuses, I need the loo I say, but really I don’t. I just need some peace and quiet.
I make my way, slowly, to the toilets, enjoying every child free step. There is another bastard queue this time for the toilets, but I don’t mind, because it is all child free.
Eventually I get in and lock the cubicle door. I am free, for five minutes I am free.
And so this is how it came to be. A grown man, holding his head in his hands and hiding, from his own children, in the public toilets of London’s Science Museum.
I am not proud of this situation, you understand, but sometimes you have just got to do what you gotta do.
And sitting here in the relative still and calmness of the Science Museum toilets, I come to terms with the fact that my children are probably never going to discover cures to illnesses or make life changing scientific breakthroughs.
But if we can all make it through the day still speaking to each other, still alive, still breathing, then that’s something to be proud of.
I laugh to myself, as I reflect how I have had to re-adjust my expectations since becoming a father. Some days we are lucky if we leave the house without 47 arguments.
I also reflect on the fact that I have spent more time hiding from my children in toilets than I have hiding in toilets from anyone else.
I sigh, and stand up. I flush the toilet even though it doesn’t need flushing (after all, I need to be able to justify to the queue outside why I have occupied a stall for close to ten minutes), unlock the door, take a deep breath and steel myself for re-entry back into family life.