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 "The String & Octopus Guide to Parenthood"
  Copyright Colin Bowles

 Preparation for parenthood is not just a matter of reading books and
 decorating the nursery. Here are 12 simple tests for expectant parents
 to take to prepare themselves for the real-life experience of being a
 mother or father.

 1. Women: to prepare for maternity, put on a dressing gown and stick a
 beanbag down the front. Leave it there for 9 months. After 9 months,
 take out 10% of the beans.  Men: to prepare for paternity, go to the
 local chemist, tip the contents of your wallet on the counter, and tell
 the pharmacist to help himself. Then go to the supermarket. Arrange to
 have your salary paid directly to their head office. Go home. Pick up
 the paper. Read it for the last time.

 2. Before you finally go ahead and have children, find a couple who are
 already parents and berate them about their methods of discipline, lack
 of patience, appallingly low tolerance levels, and how they have allowed
 their children to run riot. Suggest ways in which they might improve
 their child's sleeping habits, toilet training, table manners and
 overall behavior. Enjoy it - it'll be the last time in your life that
 you will have all the answers.

 3. To discover how the nights will feel, walk around the living room
 from 5pm to 10pm carrying a wet bag weighing approximately 8-12 lbs. At
 10pm put the bag down, set the alarm for midnight, and go to sleep. Get
 up at 12 and walk around the living room again, with the bag, till 1am.
 Put the alarm on for 3am. As you can't get back to sleep get up at 2am
 and make a drink. Go to bed at 2.45am. Get up again at 3am when the
 alarm goes off. Sing songs in the dark until 4am. Put the alarm on for
 5am. Get up. Make breakfast. Keep this up for 5 years. Look cheerful.

 4. Can you stand the mess children make? To find out, first smear
 Marmite onto the sofa and jam onto the curtains. Hide a fish finger
behind the stereo and leave it there all summer. Stick your fingers in
the flowerbeds then rub them on the clean walls. Cover the stains with
 crayons. How does that look?

 5. Dressing small children is not as easy as it seems: first buy an
 octopus and a string bag. Attempt to put the octopus into the string bag
 so that none of the arms hang out. Time allowed for this - all morning.

 6. Take an egg carton. Using a pair of scissors and a pot of paint turn
it into an alligator. Now take a toilet tube. Using only sellotape and a
 piece of foil, turn it into a Christmas cracker. Last, take a milk
 container, a ping pong ball, and an empty packet of Coco Pops and make
 an exact replica of the Eiffel Tower. Congratulations. You have just
 qualified for a place on the playgroup committee.

 7. Forget the Peugeot 205 and buy a Sierra. And don't think you can
 leave it out in the driveway spotless and shining. Family cars don't
look like that. Buy a choc ice and put it in the glove compartment.
 Leave it there. Get a 20p piece. Stick it in the cassette player. Take a
family-size packet of chocolate biscuits. Mash them down the back seats.
Run a garden rake along both sides of the car. There. Perfect.

8. Get ready to go out. Wait outside the loo for half an hour. Go out
 the front door. Come in again. Go out. Come back in.  Go out again. Walk
down the front path. Walk back up it. Walk down it again. Walk very
 slowly down the road for 5 minutes. Stop to inspect minutely every
cigarette end, piece of used chewing gum, dirty tissue and dead insect
 along the way. Retrace your steps. Scream that you've had as much as you
can stand, until the neighbors come out and stare at you. Give up and
 go back into the house. You are now just about ready to try taking a
small child for a walk.

 9. Always repeat everything you say at least five times.

 10. Go to your local supermarket. Take with you the nearest thing you
 can find to a pre-school child - a fully grown goat is excellent. If you
 intend to have more than one child, take more than one goat. Buy your
week's groceries without letting the goats out of your sight. Pay for
 everything the goats eat or destroy. Until you can easily accomplish
this do not even contemplate having children.

 11. Hollow out a melon. Make a small hole in the side. Suspend it from
 the ceiling and swing it from side to side. Now get a bowl of soggy
 Weetabix and attempt to spoon it into the swaying melon by pretending to
 be an aeroplane. Continue until half the Weetabix is gone. Tip the rest
 into your lap, making sure that a lot of it falls on the floor. You are
 now ready to feed a 12-month old baby.

 12. Learn the names of every character from Postman Pat, Fireman Sam and
 Tennage Mutant Ninja Turtles. When you find yourself singing "Postman
 Pat" at work, you finally qualify as a parent.