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Monthly Archives: January 2012

Also published on the Golf Monthly website

Over the last couple of years the annual Bisset family “Christmas Quaich” has been badly affected by adverse weather conditions. In fact, it’s now had to be postponed from its usual slot in the week before Christmas for the last three straight years. The 2009 event didn’t take place until July 2010 and the 2010 competition was only re-run in summer of last year.

The participants (me, my dad and my brother Roddy) were feeling a good deal more optimistic last December as we’d enjoyed unusually mild weather through the latter part of the year, and the Old Course at St Andrews (venue for the Quaich) had not been closed due to winter conditions all the way up to the proposed tournament date of 21st December.

But Mother Nature conspired against us. On the 20th it was cold and the course was frozen. Then on the night of the 20th it rained on top of that frozen ground, flooding the courses: game off. We rescheduled for 27th January not feeling overly hopeful because, over the last two years we’ve attempted to reschedule later in the winter with no success.

So we weren’t too surprised to hear upon calling last Friday at 8.30am that the course was closed for frost and due to be inspected at 9.30am. However, we decided to go for it and hope for the best. At 9.30 we’d made it to Dundee – an hour from home but only half an hour from St Andrews – course still closed, next inspection 10.30am. Our time was 11am so it was cutting it a little fine.

The tension was palpable as we headed over the Tay Bridge.

“It’s three degrees here, no now two. The ground isn’t frozen there.. no wait, there’s a white patch… It must surely be opened… The sun’s out, that ought to thaw it…”

We stopped for a bacon roll and coffee at the new Balgove Larder. Just on the way in to town opposite the Strathtyrum Course, it’s an excellent emporium with a café/restaurant and a shop selling all manner of gastronomic delights as well as other nice bits and pieces, ideal for presents I’d say.

Anyway, we scoffed our bacon roll and slurped our coffee in nervous silence, gazing out of the window at the clear blue skies and the motionless trees, we were all just praying that we’d see golfers teeing off when we rounded the corner and approached the R&A clubhouse.

As we made that short drive from Strathtyrum into town, nerves were fraying to breaking point as we discussed other options. “Maybe another of the courses will be opened?”… “We could always head back and play Banchory?” Those who know how seriously the Bisset Family Quaich is taken will recognise that these uncertainties were doing little for the general pressure and strain between the competitors.

But our first sight of the “Grand Old Lady” was a joyous one. The winter sun was beating down on the 1st and 18th fairways and a group of three were marching down over Granny Clarke’s Wynd with bags on their backs. I actually gave a fist pump in celebration.

To say we were rewarded for our perseverance would be a pretty massive understatement. There was barely any wind to speak of, the skies were clear, we were allowed to play off the white tees, there was hardly anyone else on the course, we were round in 3 hours and 20 minutes, we all found the fairway on the 17th and, to top it off, I shot a one-under-par 71 (my best ever round on the Old from the back pegs.) All that for less than half price!

When we went for a celebratory pint in the New Club we all felt pretty smug as we looked back out over the 18th fairway. For those of us who endure winter golf in the worst muddy, frozen, cold, wet and windy conditions, these are the occasional payoffs. Those perfect winter days when it all comes together and you feel like you’ve been let in on a great secret that barely anybody else in the golfing world is aware of. How do people put their clubs away for winter? I don’t know, but I hope they keep on doing it.

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The proud hunter
Our dog goes by two names. The one we originally gave him was Hector – nothing to do with Richard Briers’ character in “Monarch of the Glen,” even though that would have made sense for a West Highland Terrier. Actually it came form “First of the Gang to Die” by Morrissey: “Hector was the first of the gang with a gun in his hand…” Not so appropriate for a slow, soft and generally useless little ball of white fur, although I suppose he was the first member of our little gang and will (with a bit of luck) be the first to die.

His second name is “Wiggins.” That moniker evolved over the first couple of years of his life. When he was a puppy I came home from the pub one night and stumbled over him in the dark hall. From upstairs Jessie (wife) heard me doing a crude impression of Scoobie Doo. Allegedly I was saying to him, “Hullo Mr Roggie, who’s a good roggie?” So that was apparently quite funny and for a time he was Mr Roggie (said in Scoobie Doo voice,) the silly voice remained but his name later changed to Mr Puppins, then Mr Wiggins then just Wiggins.

Anyway Hector is a love/hate figure in the Bisset household. He provides us with a remarkable amount of entertainment but, despite the fact we’ve had two children since acquiring Hector, he remains by far the most problematic family member.

Let’s start with his physical failings. Even for a Westie he’s pretty tiny. We still laugh at the memory of the vet’s reaction when we took him in to get some jabs, aged two or three. He looked at Hector as if he’d been presented with a new species and said, “My goodness, this terrier is abnormally small.”

He has rubbishy short legs and can’t even run as fast as me. He can’t jump up into the boot of the car and can’t go out in snow more than four inches deep. If confronted by either he just sits looking helpless until someone picks him up. He’s scared of spiders and when we had a problem with mice a couple of winters ago, we’re pretty sure he just used to lie in bed watching them running around the kitchen. His ancestors were ratters on the Spanish Armada for god’s sake!

We wonder if he’s a dog at all. I once found an animal in an old encyclopedia that I thought fitted the bill more accurately – Nyctereutes procyonoides or Raccoon Dog. The description of it said something like: A squat, extremely furry animal that lives in abandoned burrows and hibernates for long periods. Owing to its unusually short legs, even the smallest amount of snow can cause it problems. Yup, that’s him. I can just imagine Hector in the wild. “Oh no, where am I going to live? Ah, here’s a nice hole someone has kindly dug for me. I’ll just go to sleep in here.”

Then there are his psychological issues. Possibly the most annoying thing about Wiggins is his flat refusal to empty his bowels unless he’s more than a quarter mile away from our house. It’s actually pretty shrewd of him as it means we have to take him for a relatively long walk at least once a day. And you can’t break him on this one. We had our garden completely fenced in thinking we’d be able to let him out to do his business when we couldn’t be bothered to walk him. But no, Hector just roams around outside barking incessantly at passing cars, falling leaves and bumblebees.

Even if he’s desperate to go, he won’t cave in. He’ll start howling in discomfort, scratching at the back door expectantly and won’t stop until you’ve put him on his lead and walked him a suitable distance from the front door.

Like most dogs he doesn’t like loud, high or unexpected noises. So, he’s terrified of the hoover, he loses the plot if you blow up a balloon and he has a strange aversion to the owl noises I make for the girls by cupping my hands and blowing into the cavity. But, the noise that distresses him most is a crying baby. I don’t think it’s because he’s compassionate, it’s just because it’s shrill and irritating. So this has been a problem for the last few years with two babies in our house.

Hector’s reaction to hearing a baby crying during the night is to pee wherever he’s lying. As he’s quite naughty and tends not to stay in his designated bed all night, in the past he’s peed on pretty much every item of soft furniture in our house.

To prevent this we now have an infuriating routine to go through every evening: We lift stools, baskets and occasional tables onto the sofas and chairs to prevent him lying/urinating on them. We let him out just before we go to bed but it’s a token gesture. Each night we watch him wander around for a few minutes, resolutely refusing to cock a leg and barking every third step until we call him back in.

Despite the fact he couldn’t catch a cold, Hector does consider himself a hunter. The problem is, he’s delusional about his potential. Although he doesn’t fancy his chances against a mouse or sizeable spider, he’s confident he could take a large stag, a horse or a bull – he’s chased all three in the past and, with the last two, was very lucky not to be kicked in the head.

A couple of years ago we were walking through the woods when an impressive looking fox crossed the path ahead of us. Hector gave chase (very slowly) and disappeared into the trees. We called him and searched for ages but couldn’t find him and eventually had to head home. We were thinking if the fox bothered to look round and saw the hapless looking critter chasing him it would have been all over for Wiggins. But a few hours later Hector came trotting back up to the back door, scratched to come in and walked past us to his bed as if nothing had happened.

He’s currently sitting on the step outside the French doors in my office. He’s making an incredibly irritating whining noise and rubbing his little wet nose on the glass, there’s an awful streaky mess at roughly mid-shin height. I guess I better go walk him.

Also published on the Golf Monthly website

I’ve just splurted tea all over my keyboard and spent the last five minutes trying to dry it off. The number pad keys are now a bit sticky and the six isn’t working at all.

The trigger for my aromatic emission was something I read on Darren Clarke’s website. I’m just reading it again to be sure. Yes, that’s what it says. Apparently he’s given up alcohol.

The Ulsterman is trying to get in better shape for the 2012 season and has hired a Belfast-based personal trainer called Jonny Bloomfield. He has (for the time being) reduced his alcohol consumption to zero. “It’s a long road but I will give it my best shot,” he wrote on his blog.

Clarke hasn’t been afraid to display his fondness for a bevvie in the past – downing a Guinness on the roof of the K Club after the 2006 Ryder Cup with the aptitude of a man who’d clearly done it a few times before; celebrating his Open victory last year by going on, what some of the tabloids described as, “a bender.”

Fair play to him if he can cut out the sauce completely but, from one man who enjoys a pint to another, I know how tough it’s going to be. Like Darren I’m trying to get into some sort of shape at the moment, with a vague thought it might help my golf in 2012. I’ve found taking the odd jog pretty straightforward, getting out on my bike has been fine, doing stretches and lifting weights – no problem, more muesli and less bacon sarnies – not impossible. But the psychological challenge of eliminating booze would be a step too far. I haven’t even thought about attempting it. Cutting back rather than cutting out has to be the way forward.

I just don’t think it would be good for my well-being to totally remove alcohol. Crotchety wouldn’t come close to covering it. Insomnia, irritability, resentfulness, yearning… It certainly wouldn’t put me in the right frame of mind for golf.

Can you imagine? Always sipping on an orange juice as your playing partners enjoy a post-round pint, early evening elderflower cordials and never a gin & tonic, Ribena rather than red wine to accompany a nice steak. It would drive me to distraction. With so little to look forward to, how would I remain positive on the golf course? No, moderation rather than abolition is the key. Life’s pleasures are few and far between enough without removing one of the finest.

Clarke is midway through his second round at the Volvo Champions in South Africa. He’s three-under and four-under for the day. Maybe he enjoyed a couple of glasses of wine with dinner last night…

It’s just one thing after another for Tiger Woods. The latest issue to rile the former World Number 1 is the announcement of a forthcoming book by his former coach Hank Haney called, “The Big Miss, My Years Coaching Tiger Woods.”

Due to be released just prior to this year’s US Masters, it will document the six years the pair worked together. Tiger has described it as, “unprofessional and very disappointing… especially because it’s someone I worked with and trusted as a friend.”

Haney is obviously in it for the money although I can’t believe he needs it after six years in the pay of Woods and all the ancillary benefits he will have earned from that role. But, then again, why shouldn’t he write a book like this? He dedicated a huge amount of time to Woods and got a unique insight into his life. Tiger fired him (which must have hurt) and he’s now decided to share his experiences. What’s wrong with that? I’m sure the book will be pretty interesting and Haney has said there are plenty of positives in there.

It’s tough for Tiger but he ought to be able to accept and ignore this sort of thing. After all that’s happened to him in the last couple of years he should know there will always be people out to make a buck or two from their association to him. Reacting as he has is exactly what Haney will have been hoping for – maximum publicity.

Having said this Haney’s timings are provocative. He didn’t even tell Tiger he was writing the book then announced its publication just before Woods makes his 2012 season debut in Abu Dhabi – once again taking the attention away from Tiger’s golf. Then, announcing the book will be released just before the first Major of the year. It does seem a little vindictive.

Let’s hope Woods can keep his focus on his game, get back to winning-ways in 2012 and stop us writing about this sort of petty squabbling rather than his sublime sporting talent.

Also published on the Golf Monthly Website

Earlier this week Andrew Coltart announced his retirement from competitive golf at the age of 41. As courses have become longer and a greater emphasis placed on the requirement to send the ball huge distances from the tee, Coltart has found it increasingly difficult to compete – he’s never been a “bomber.” So he’s decided to call it a day to focus on off-course projects.

Coltart played 491 events in 19 seasons on the European Tour. He finished in the top-10 on 61 occasions and scored two victories on the circuit. He also played in the 1999 Ryder Cup at Brookline. Coltart earned €5,733,120 during his time on Tour – that’s an average of €301,743 per year!

I know a number of young players who are hoping to forge a playing career in golf over the next few years. Most of them would bite my hand off if I offered them a 19-year European Tour career with 61 top-10 finishes, earnings of almost €6 million and a Ryder Cup appearance.

Coltart deserves recognition for his playing career but in recent years the Scot has become better known for his work as a commentator/pundit on Radio Five Live and Sky (where he does and excellent job) than for his prowess on the fairways. As a player, Coltart is something of a forgotten man.

I think it’s largely because of the sheer number of talented golfers Britain and Ireland has produced over the last 20 years. Compared to the achievements of Montgomerie, Faldo, Westwood, Harrington, Donald, McDowell, McIlroy et al. Coltart’s accomplishments are fairly significantly overshadowed.

So Coltart’s announcement has received little press coverage. In fact I can’t even find it mentioned on the BBC. I guess it displays how, when blessed with an embarrassment of riches, Britain’s golfing public has the luxury of being a little fickle. If one player fails to meet our exacting standards, it’s no problem because there are many others waiting in the wings.

It made me think of some other British players whose form has dipped in recent years and how rapidly they’ve faded into the background as others have stepped in to steal the limelight.

Nick Dougherty – In 2005, he won the Caltex Masters in Singapore aged just 23. Through the middle part of the last decade he was one of Britain’s brightest young stars, winning three more tournaments and twice finishing inside the top-20 on the money list. His name was often mentioned in the same sentence as Donald, Casey and McDowell as the future of British golf. As recently as 2009 he was in the winner’s circle after claiming the BMW International Open.

But over the last two years, Dougherty has totally lost his form. Last season he played 34 events on the European Tour and made only one cut, earning just €10,600. His exemptions have run out for 2012 and he failed to earn his card at last December’s Q-School. In my clubhouse he’s now referred to as “Mr Di Dougherty” when a couple of years ago she would have been “Mrs Nick Dougherty”… So damned fickle.

Oliver Wilson – He turned pro in 2003 and made steady progress over the next few seasons. In 2008 he posted four second place finishes on the European Tour and made Nick Faldo’s Ryder Cup side that narrowly lost out at Valhalla. In the 2009 season he earned more than €2 million, lost a playoff for the HSBC Champions to Sergio Garcia and was seventh in the Race to Dubai.

But last year Wilson was a lowly 130th on the Race to Dubai, his best finish a 12th place in Qatar. He’s dropped to 341st on the Official World Golf Ranking and largely out of the golfing public’s conscience.

David Howell – Through the mid part of the 00’s, Howell was one of Britain’s very best players. In June 2006 he broke into the top-10 on the Official World Ranking, the best placed Brit at the time. That season he won both the HSBC Champions and the BMW PGA Championship. Regarded by many as the world’s best putter, he twice played on the winning side in the Ryder Cup – 2004 and 2006.

Unfortunately, a succession of injuries hampered his career over the proceeding seasons. Most golf fans now picture him sitting opposite David Livingstone on the Sky TV couch rather than striding the fairways.

It should be pointed out that Howell has showed signs of returning to form over the last couple of seasons and, with full playing privileges again in 2012, here’s hoping we see him lofting trophies before the year is out.

Ross Fisher – OK, he’s not totally disappeared off the radar, but as other Brits have stepped up their games, Fisher has gone in the wrong direction – just 52nd on the 2011 Race to Duabi. In 2008 and 2009 he finished 6th then 4th on the European Tour money list. In 2009 he won the Volvo Matchplay and looked incredibly impressive in so doing. With prodigious length off the tee and a supreme iron game he looked a world-beater.

I think Fisher will come back to the top of the game and could well be a future Major champion, but I use him as an example here because of how quickly he has become a little forgotten. Donald, McIlroy and Clarke were the stories of 2011 and Fisher is down to 100th on the Official World Golf Ranking – he’s only the 16th placed Brit. To put that in perspective, in tennis the 16th placed Brit on the world ranking is Alexander Slabinsky at 640th… Quite.

And that’s the thing. In golf we have 16 players in the top-100 in the World: that’s incredible. Are there any other truly international sports where the UK can boast such representation at the very top level?

With such a plethora of successful British players for the media to focus on, I guess it’s little wonder that those who lose form tend to drop off the back pages and face being consigned to the dustbin of sporting history.

I think we should try and remember those men. The players who’ve contributed so much to professional golf’s rich tapestry, but whose names are now seldom heard. Here’s to Andrew Coltart, to Paul Way, to Steven Richardson, to Ronan Rafferty, David Gilford, Jamie Spence, Mark Mouland, Raymond Russell, Russell Claydon, Jim Payne and to all those others I can’t remember.

I love to discover new sports and sporting spectacles to become engrossed in. This past weekend an event that thoroughly captivated me reached its conclusion: cross country skiing’s “Tour de Ski.”

I’ve always been a fan of cycling’s big tours: the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. I love the tactics, the unbelievable stamina and willpower displayed by the competitors. I love seeing the huge number of fans lining the routes, the countryside they traverse and the differing terrain they cross.

Well, the Tour de Ski is a winter equivalent. Nine cross country races in 11 days at five different venues in Germany and Italy. Like the Tour de France, the winners are the man and woman (there are races for both) with the lowest total time. So, it’s not necessarily about winning the individual events but conserving strength, choosing your battles and getting the strategy just right to be the overall champion.

It’s superbly gritty, competitive stuff and, like cycling, there’s so much more to it than meets the eye. Each of the nine races demands something different. Some are sprints, and there are specialists who focus on these contests (much like Mark Cavendish does on his bike,) some are distance events (up to 35km for the men,) some are completed in classic technique (with straight skis and a sort or running style,) others in free technique (more like skating.)

The athletes are supremely fit and they give it absolutely everything over the 11 days of competition. There are few events where you’ll see such exhaustion at the end – bodies strewn over the snow in a tangled, heaving mess of skis and poles.

There were great rivalries in both men’s and women’s events that added to the spice this year. In the men’s competition it was between Switzerland’s Dario Cologna and Petter Northug of Norway. For the women, the battle was between Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland and Norway’s Marit Bjoergen.

In both contests the key protagonists attempted to steal a march on their adversary through the early stages in order to have the best possible chance on the last, killer, stage.

After eight races, the leader goes off first on that closing stage with those closest behind setting off at the relevant time intervals. That means the man and woman over the line first on the final stage win.

The last stage, held at Val di Fiemme in Italy, starts off relatively innocuously on the flats leading to the base of the Alpe Cermis, but then it turns up the hill and the competitors must ascend for some 3km straight up a downhill ski run. It’s pretty brutal and truly sorts the wheat from the chaff.

There’s a great thrill as the pursuers attempt to chase down the leader and that leader has to judge his/her efforts precisely so they don’t blow out on the final climb. In the end it was Cologna and Kowalczyk who came out on top – both for the third time in their careers.

It’s a fantastic event and one I will certainly be tuning into again next year. If you like endurance sport with skill and tactics thrown into the mix then you’ll love this.

As a sport lover in the UK, it’s very easy to have a narrow focus on the few sports that the media obsess about – in the main it’s football with a bit of tennis, cricket, rugby, motor racing and golf thrown in. But there are so many other great sports to become interested in and a great number can be seen on Eurosport – All the cycling, the Monte Carlo rally, the Dakar rally, triathlons, alpine skiing, cross country skiing, freestyle skiing, ski-jumping – the latter is another fantastically skilled and highly tactical sport that just gets more and more exciting the more you understand it.

I must confess I’ve become a little bored of the commercialisation and childishness of football, also of the repetitive nature of tennis (the same men/women playing each other for ludicrous sums of money in different cities that could be anywhere because all you see are the painted white lines and a net,) I even find golf a bit of a yawn sometimes when it’s not one of the more significant tournaments and you can tell the top players are just in it for the cash. So, I often go to Eurosport as my first port of call when looking for a sporting fix. Invariably, there you’ll find an event where the participants are involved, not just for money, but for the sheer love of what they’re doing and a burning passion to win… That’s what sport used to, and should still, be all about.

Also published on the Golf Monthly website

After a couple of seasons playing very mediocre golf, I’m determined that 2012 will bring improved results. I’ve just glanced at howdidido and seen my handicap is the highest it’s been in five years. That simply won’t do. How am I supposed to be happy knowing that? I’m going to have to do something to rectify the situation, but what?

I don’t think I’m technically less proficient than I was three or four years ago when I was regularly firing decent scores. I can still hit the ball a similar distance, strike my irons well and hole some good putts. I don’t think looking at my swing is going to provide the solution.

I reckon the answer lies with psychology. I need to adopt a different mental approach to the one I’ve taken into rounds of competitive golf over the last couple of seasons.

That approach has been:

How quickly is this going to go wrong? At least let me make it through the first few holes without a disaster… Should I hit a driver off the first tee? Probably better not risk it… God, my putting is so bad, when am I going to miss my first tiddler?… Please don’t go out of bounds here… If I can just score a few pars in a row I might make buffer.

Generally I’ll walk off the 18th green considerably more stressed than when I teed off, whether I’ve had a good round or not. That’s just not right. I was skimming through Harvey Penick’s “Little Green Golf Book” this morning and a short story made me stop and think.

It was about a significant women’s amateur tournament in the US where Mr Penick was acting as starter. A girl he knew, and had coached, came to speak to him before the round seeking re-assurance. He talked to her for a while before she said. “Thank you Mr Penick but I have to go play golf now.” He replied, “Wait a minute, you don’t have to go and play golf, you get to go and play golf. There’s a big difference.”

That’s something I, and I’m sure many others reading this, often forget to remember. Golf is supposed to be fun. We do it for fun. We don’t do it to torture ourselves and if that’s how it is then perhaps we shouldn’t do it anymore.

For this season I’m going to try and approach every round, whether it’s the Club Championship or the Monday roll-up, with the same thought: “This is going to be fun!”

Yup, when I’m five off the tee on the sixth with my score already at five-over, I’m going to be internally chanting, “Isn’t this fun? Boy, am I having fun!” … Oh my god. I can’t even write a positive game of golf, let alone play one. For Christmas dad gave me a CD containing subliminal messages to make you a more relaxed, and better, golfer. I think I better give it a listen.

Another thing I can easily work on is my fitness. There’s undoubtedly a correlation between physical fitness and golfing performance. OK, it’s not a sport that demands participants to be at the peak of conditioning but, for me, I know I feel stronger, more stable and just more able to play well, when I’m fit.

I’m currently on a bit of a fitness kick to prepare for a ski holiday at the start of March. I’ve been running, cycling and lifting a few weights – pretty half-hearted if I’m honest, but it’s a start. I’ve read that the key to fitness for golf is strengthening the core muscles – “A stronger core to lower your score.” So, more sit-ups it is then. I’ve just got down on the floor and can currently only manage 10. I clearly need to work on it. Doesn’t Gary Player do something like 1,000 a day? Not sure where he finds the time for that. I’ll aim at 40.

Will I put any of this into practice? Probably not, but I can’t actually put it into practice until I’ve thought about putting it into practice and at least I’ve got that far.

The terrible two

The terrible two

When our youngest daughter Beatrice began having a tantrum this morning before we’d even got out of bed, Jessie and I had a couple of joking ideas to solve the problem. I wondered if we could lock her in her bedroom and leave her to get on with it, occasionally throwing tangerines and scraps of bread through. Jessie wondered if it might be more humane to set her free in the woods to begin a life as a feral child with a family of foxes or badgers.

It’s safe to say that Beatrice has entered the realm of the “terrible twos.” Either that or we need to look out some holy water and find a good priest. No, she’s not that bad really. In fact, when we’re feeling strong (like not on New Year’s Day,) it’s pretty funny. For such a little thing, she’s incredibly manipulative.

Rather than giving up or just lying on the floor screaming when she’s told “no” on a particular subject, she’ll have a brief hissy-fit before coming back with an alternative suggestion that will either be very close to the unacceptable suggestion she originally made, or it will be something equally unacceptable.

So for instance, if she comes into the sitting room carrying a cup full of water and sloshing it all over the floor, we’ll tell her “No, you’re making a mess,” and confiscate it. She’ll retreat to her room for a brief shout and a little think before coming back through with a different cup, pointing a knowing finger and saying, “I dust use difflent cup.”

Yesterday at bath time she decided she wanted to dress up as Tinkerbell so she took the costume to mummy. But mummy said, “No darling, it’s bath time.” There was a shout of frustration and she thundered back to her bedroom. Then she re-emerged calling “Daddy,” in her cutest possible voice, “Please I dless up as Tinkabell?” … “No, mummy told you, it’s bath time.” … “AArghh… patter, patter, patter, Thud,” back to her bedroom. Then, after the bath had run, I went back to see where the monster was. She was standing in the hall wearing her Tinkerbell costume, “I dust put it on myself,” she said accompanied by her little finger point.

Of course she does all the usual two-year-old things that infuriate people: eating paint, pulling everything out of the kitchen cupboards, taking a single bite out of every piece of fruit in the fruit bowl before putting them back, pooing on the carpet, puking on the carpet, drawing on the carpet, drawing on the walls, drawing on other people’s walls, drawing on other people’s white bed sheets, eating glue, licking the dog, licking cars, licking the freezer, getting her tongue stuck to the freezer… standard stuff. But it’s her psychological naughtiness that gets to us. She knows when we’re feeling weak and she knows which of us is feeling weak. She’s like a pack of wolves singling out the old, slow bison.

For instance, right now, Jessie is feeling a bit poorly and is lying in bed. I’ve put on “Scoobie Doo” downstairs for the girls so Jessie can rest and I can write this. But Beatrice is too clever to fall for that one. She’s spotted the old, slow bison and has crept back into the bedroom carrying a large book, (those who’ve heard of “Poppy and Sam” will now be feeling our pain.)

She sidles up to the bed and presents the book to Jessie – “You read mummy?” … “No, I’m not feeling well, ask daddy.” … “No.”

Only the slow, struggling bison will do. “Dust one storly mummy, please, please.” … “OK, just one.” … “Yes, dust one.”

But, when she’s got her teeth in there’s no way she’s letting go. When Jessie stops reading for the briefest moment to call something to me, all I can hear is “Read mummy, read! READ MUMMY, READ. MUMMMMYYYY REEEEAAAADDD!!!!”

The only thing that will currently keep her quiet is playing with Jessie’s iPhone. She’s learned to operate it with surprising skill. She can find and watch episodes of “Angelina Ballerina,” and play some of the awful games we’ve downloaded. But her favourite is to delete photos, contacts, diary entries and other useful pieces of information from the phone’s memory. “I dust pless dis button,” … “NO, not that button!” … “Solly mummy, it an accident.”

Jessie’s now gone downstairs and I just heard her offer Bea a drink of water. “No.” … “Well, what would you like?” … “A little picnic, a biscuit, a nanana, olange djuice.”

Oh well, I suppose it was self-inflicted so we’ve got no grounds for complaint.