Image for post
Image for post

‘Look into the Colossians, the third and the fifteenth.’

(A crow, quoted in a 1694 Hertfordshire pamphlet. The bird made this gnomic statement three times before, presumably, flying off.)

I was ill. In the dark hours of Tuesday morning, I’d vomited into, across, and past the toilet. I took Tuesday off work. I couldn’t do the same for fatherhood. My wife walked D- to school. As she left, she said she was only a phone call away if I couldn’t manage with J-, nine months old, driven to crawling towards every hazard in our house and crying violently when prevented from doing so. The sick day was spent lying on the sofa/rolling from the sofa to stop J- fingering a plug socket. When it came time to pick D- up from school, I lifted J- into his buggy. There are plenty of nearby bushes into which I could vomit if need be. It was cold out, south-east London had come to terms with October. As I checked J-’s straps, I heard the familiar caw-caw of a crow. I looked to the clump of trees at the end of the road. I could see no black wings. The leaves were turning and soon the trees would be skeletal. J- started crying as I pushed the buggy forwards. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Patricia Prudente on Unsplash

How a gang of cats saved my son from a summer of screens

Lockdown has obliterated the little control I had over my kids’ viewing habits. We once had mutually-agreed rationed hours. Now? All bets are off and the screens are forever on. I’ve forgotten what my boys look like without the white wash of tech light.

“Do you want to play chess?” I might ask.

My eldest son, D, will look at me with the same pitying smile that I’d offer my own dad when he asked the same question.

The family calls any device an iPad now, following an embarrassing conversation at a birthday party. Someone was explaining that the only way they could calm their four-year-old from a temper tantrum was to give her a tablet. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Evan Gebhart on Unsplash

A review, of sorts, of the Intel-killing/relationship-ending new laptop

“If I were a ballerina, you’d not complain if I bought a new tutu. If I were a rock star, there’d be no problem with me owning a nice guitar. I’m a writer, so I could do with a decent computer.”

This conversation took place in the summer of 2020, back when the UK lockdown meant we were saving loads of money by not going out. (A further bullet point in my PowerPoint of reasons why I should be allowed to get a new computer.)

I’d shown her articles about the nightmarish butterfly keyboard, reminded her of the time when the sticky spacebar had caused me to cry, the tears clearing the keys of dust and temporarily solving the problem. …


Image for post
Image for post
Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

Fatherhood, Masculinity, and Tears

I didn’t cry when my son was born. He did, but I didn’t. It was a shrill sound, more a broken toy than a human. Me, I was too stunned to cry. Later, as his mother recovered in the ward, I looked down at this tiny, helpless form. I didn’t know how I’d cope, what I’d do, if this new future could possibly work. After months of waiting, his arrival came suddenly, a summer shower. Standing there, I felt a strange emptiness. ‘What now?’ I remember thinking, and the size of the question frightened me.

Our car, abandoned outside of the hospital in the rush of emergency, needed moving. My son slept in a tiny crib, dressed in white, and we both were helpless. …


Fiction

When 14-year-old Jacob wins a flight to Hollywood, every grown-up (including Nicolas Cage) gets in his way

Cloudscape and stratosphere shot out of an airplane window.
Cloudscape and stratosphere shot out of an airplane window.
Photo: Yaorusheng/Getty Images

Fourteen-year-old Jacob has won the prize of a lifetime: an all-expenses paid trip from his home in England to Hollywood, to appear as an extra in the latest Marvel movie. All that stands between him and his prize is a connecting flight in Chicago, something his father made very clear that he shouldn’t miss.

A woman who looked like she sold make-up walked the aisle before the plane landed and wrote out what I had to do. It was all very straightforward, she said. She spoke with a British accent, which steadied my trembling. A bit.

(I’d like to have the power not to get worked up about stuff like this. Maybe “power” is not the right word. Maybe I mean “confidence”?) …


Image for post
Image for post

On March 20, 1995, members of the Aum cult released sarin in five Tokyo subway trains. They transported a liquid form of the nerve gas in plastic pouches, disguising the packages by wrapping them in newspaper. Boarding underground trains, cult members placed the poison on the carriage floor and used the sharpened tips of umbrellas to split the plastic, releasing the toxin, a colorless liquid with a smell like fresh paint.

In his 1997 account of the attack, Haruki Murakami describes the actions of cult member Ikuo Hayashi on a Chiyoda line train that morning:

As the subway approached Shin-ochanomizu Station, he dropped the bags of sarin by his right foot, steeled his nerves, and poked one of them with the end of his umbrella. It was resilient and gave a “springy gush.” He poked it again a few times — exactly how many times he doesn’t remember. In the end, only one of the two bags was found to have been punctured, the other was untouched.


In Florence, there’s a building called the Ospedale degli Innocenti. Operating as an orphanage from 1445 until 1875, it was designed by the big dog of medieval architecture, Filippo Brunelleschi. One of its features was a rotating door, similar to the out-of-hours deposit boxes banks once had, which allowed parents to drop off their children without being seen.

The exterior of the building features 12 images of a child in various stages of swaddling. No single image is the same. It’s a Renaissance “Diapers for Idiots.”

Image for post
Image for post

I visited Florence before I had a child. I remember staring at these kids in the same way I gawp at pictures in galleries. That is to say, I only look to say I’ve looked. Yet even then — young, thin, childless — I could see the appeal in tying up your infant so tightly that it can’t move. …


Image for post
Image for post

It’s easy. You need a can of tomatoes, some onion and garlic, beans (I like black), a bell pepper (hated by Mexicans), and a chili pepper of your choice. You’ll need minced beef, too. For seasoning, I go for chili powder, obviously, some paprika, and cumin.

I don’t know if these spices actively enhance the taste of my homemade chile con carne, because my homemade chile con carne always tastes hot. Hotter than the sun, in fact.

‘Hotter than the sun.’

These ingredients are available at my local supermarket — a place I was once laughed out of for asking if they stocked craft beer — so they’ll be at yours, too. …


Image for post
Image for post

The horror, the horror

I woke at a quarter to six, alarmed.

From downstairs: a smash. But this wasn’t the only sound. Someone was singing the Ghostbusters theme, while someone else cried.

I nudged my wife but she didn’t respond. Sighing, I rolled out of bed. It probably wasn’t burglars (spare a thought for that profession during lockdown), unless they were experiencing an 80s-movie-themed breakdown of some sort.

No.

Downstairs, my eldest son wore a backpack (where he’d got this from, I had no idea), held a Hoover attachment, and chased my sobbing youngest — whom he claimed to be a ghost — around the tiny kitchen. …


Image for post
Image for post

Forced conversation, windows, and lots of meat.

Day One

It was the World Series. Los Angeles’ Union Station heaved with blue-shirted supporters. Nobody knew where to head, unless they headed for the bar. I thought to head there too, until seeing the queue for service. Instead, I went to the information desk, where two uniformed police officers leant. Hollywood has taught me to approach the LAPD with extreme caution.

“You got any questions?” asked one, moustache, friendly. “These two can answer them.”

He nodded to a pair of grey-haired volunteers, a man and a woman, sitting behind the desk. …

About

Tom Mitchell

Dad, Writer, Teacher

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store