“Dad! We’ve just found an arm on the beach.” And other things to do in half-term.


It is the first time since my son was born 11 years ago that I find myself alone in the house for an entire week, and now that this blessed moment has finally arrived, I am completely bored. 

I mooch into the TV room, do an awesome dive-bomb onto the couch, and scroll down all the programs that I have saved. I am pleased, and a little horrified, to discover that I have 34 recordings of Magnum PI to watch.

The phone springs into life.

“Oh my God! I’ve think we’ve just found an arm on the beach. What do I do?”

This is my wife’s way of telling me she’s arrived safely in Scotland. She has taken the kids, along with four school-gate mothers and their offspring, to a remote, allegedly signal-free, cottage in the Highlands for the half-term break.

Just tell them it’s a monkey’s arm,” I said, shrugging my shoulders.

I knew I should have called someone else.”

If I ever find a body part, I will, without hesitation, ring up my wife first to gain her counsel. It seems that my wife has a list of people she can ring before she settles on me. God knows what else she’s found that I didn’t make the cut for. When she returns, I need to make her aware that if she ever finds an arm again, I must be the first person she calls, or at the very least, she should ‘cc’ me in on it.

Some time later the phone coughs again.

“Why haven’t you called me back?” asks me wife. “It seems as though you don’t want to know anything about the arm that your children have found.”

“I’ve been busy,” I snapped, with blossoming indignation.

“You’ve been on the internet, haven’t you?” she remarked accusingly. Her tone drenched in the now familiar scent of disappointment. With a family, I think; you’re never totally alone.

I decide to watch Magnum and sporadically stare at the phone in the hope that the thing never rings again. Almost immediately the phone pipes up again, and I treat it with childish indifference, as though it has betrayed our unspoken agreement that I’m the one in charge.

It is my son; he sounds excited. “Dad. We’ve found something amazing on the beach, did Mum tell you?”

Yes, but I don’t think I’ve been fully cleared to talk about this.”

We’ve found… an arm.”

What type of… arm?” I asked, tentatively.

I imagine all five mothers huddled around a large kitchen table, with tempers reaching boiling point, before they eventually concoct the perfect excuse that will make all the kids think that finding an arm is great half-term fun.

There is a slight pause before my son reveals: “Mum said it was… a monkey’s arm.”

It seems that my brain is equal to five women’s brains. I revel in this small victory for a moment, and then I take great pleasure in smothering the treacherous phone beneath a cushion and dive-bombing it.


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