In the UK, a child is reported missing every 3 minutes. Some go missing and are never reported, certainly not by the media, and the reason will disgust you. Take 4 year old Binh Ly Cao, for instance. Ever heard of her? There has been no report of her in any newspaper in the country. Not one. No TV report, no radio, not even a mention on the internet. Her parents have yet to even inform the police that their own daughter has been missing for over a month.
I was at Costa Coffee in Lewisham Shopping Centre on the 22nd November. I was just sitting there drinking tea, minding my own business and trolling on Twitter when a young family came along and sat at the table next to me. The little girl was making some noise so one of the parents gave her an iPad to play with. The parents continued to ignore their child and just talked to one another while she played games with the volume on full. Right next to me. In a public place. There I was trying to relax with some peppermint tea while calling @Glinner a boring moral compass for idiots, but all I could hear was crappy kids music and beeps and whistles all loudly pushed through a horribly tinny speaker and yet the parents just kept on talking to each other as if they could hear nothing. I mean, why does this ALWAYS happen? Fine, let your kids have an iPad. There's a mute button on the iPad though, just letting you know in case you give the tiniest flying fuck about anyone else on this planet besides your awful selves. Better yet, why not actually give your kid some attention? I mean, I know that an iPad is an important part of modern parenting, in the same way that beating was an important part of my parents' upbringing, but it doesn't have to be permanent. You can sometimes switch the iPad off and talk to your kid.
I tried to be patient. I even tried getting the parents' attention to ask them to turn the iPad down but they never looked away from their own conversation. They certainly didn't look at me or the other people they were annoying around them and they definitely didn't look at their child. As long as the iPad was making BEEP-BOOP-WHIZZ noises then they didn't have to care about anything. So, I picked their daughter up and left.
I just put my hand around her mouth, lifted her up and walked out of Costa Coffee. The iPad was still on the table making irritating noises and the parents didn't notice a thing. I just abducted a child and walked out.
When I got home with Binh, I got worried. I realised I had done something stupid. I had taken a child away from the iPad that had raised her. She was scared, confused and angry. I only wanted to steal a child to teach two utterly thoughtless cunts a lesson but as soon as she got into my house she just kept screaming for her iPad. "I want my iPad", she screamed. "I WANT MY IPAD!". I told her I didn't have an iPad and she told me to stop being stupid. "Everyone has an iPad", she insisted. But I don't. I have a Wii but I'm not even sure if it works anymore. I have Netflix and a plastic mounted fish that dances when you press a button, but no iPad. This made her scream more. My dog wondered what the fuss was all about and came in from the kitchen. As soon as Binh saw the dog, she stopped screaming. She actually looked happy. Happy like she'd found her iPad. "There we go", I said to her. "This is Jerk. Why don't you go over and pet her and introduce yourself?"
"My name is Binh", she said to Jerk and the pair sat together while Binh patted Jerk gently and Jerk lay her head on Binh's lap. I showed Binh how to get Jerk to sit, stay and lie down. The time flew by and soon Binh was fast asleep on the sofa next to a snoring Jerk. I put a blanket over them both and tip-toed off to bed.
I lay there flicking through every news website on my phone. There was nothing about Binh's disappearance. Maybe they have to wait 24 hours? Is that just for the films though? I couldn't figure it out why there was no mention of an abducted child anywhere. Then I slunk to sleep.
I awoke to screams. "IPAD!", I heard. "IPAD! IPAD! IPAD!" I bolted downstairs to see Binh in tears, shaking. "WHERE IS MY IPAD?", she demanded. Suddenly, I was absolutely terrified of this very small 4 year old girl. Even Jerk had decided to go to the kitchen to hide from her. I calmly reminded Binh that I didn't have an iPad. This made her more furious. "I need my iPad", she howled. "I miss it".
I felt awful. I'd taken a child away from its iPad. What have I done? A child should always be with their own iPad. I mean, parents are probably better for a child but if the parents have absolutely no interest then an iPad is all a child has in this world. Who was I to deny this child that right? "OK", I said. "Let's go get an iPad"...
Look, I know buying an iPad is the coward's way out but after all that screaming, what else could I do? I had to buy Binh an iPad. Just to keep her quiet. Anyway, her parents will be frantic about her and the press will go ballistic trying to find her and I can leave her in Wetherspoons or somewhere and she'll be found and I can sell the iPad. It's only temporary, I thought. I asked her what she did with her iPad. "Play games", she said. "Angry Birds".
"I know where the real angry birds live", I said.
And with that we took a temporary detour to the park so that I could introduce Binh to the parakeets of Lewisham, the loudest, angriest birds anywhere. They're truly amazing. We stood under a tree listening to them screech at everyone who passed by. She loved them. Actual exotic birds living in Lewisham! They're Asian, sometimes African or Central/South American but these ones were let loose in Lewisham and they thought, if we have to live here, we're taking over. When sirens aren't blaring, the parakeets are all you can hear around here. And the closer you get to a tree full of parakeets the more screaming they do. Binh and I discovered this to our amusement and spent far too long tiptoeing up to trees, hearing a billion squawks and running away again. It was fun. And we hung out in the park for so long that the iPad was forgotten about. At least for that day.
I mean, "I want my iPad" soon became the sentence I heard most every single day. But that hasn't been the only change in my life. Food has been the most difficult thing, really. She eats meat and I'm not going to argue with her over that one. She's been through enough. There's plenty of time to give her animal rights leaflets when she's reunited with her iPad and I'm writing to her from jail. Now isn't the time. So I've been cooking bacon and sausages and chicken or whatever for her and then a separate meal for me. I've only been a child abductor for a few days and I'm already turning into my mother! I thought clothes were going to be hard but it was easy. Binh and I have been shopping a lot and she picks her own things to wear. I only say no when it's too stupid (I had to buy her shoes for walking in the park and she picked out ballet slippers). She's great with her clothes. She's got style. I mean, it's a crazy style but it's definitely a style. Sometimes she dresses like a 4 year old Diane Keaton but mainly she dresses like Paddington. I'm not sure she was allowed to pick her own clothes before and I can totally understand why but, she's not my kid, so I just let her. She loves hats.
It took me a while to figure it out but, anytime she would cry for an iPad, what she really meant was that she wanted to be entertained. Amused. So when the tantrums started, we'd play with Jerk or watch Frozen (I have seen that film 18 times now. Seriously) or go out and play or stay in and play games. My house is full of games now.
Also, Binh saw a parakeet in the garden so has been trying to lure one into the house by leaving bread trails from the garden into the house. So far, it has only resulted in Jerk eating a trail to the garden. But I was so impressed with her ingenuity that I got bird feeders that actually stick to the windows. Now we can watch parakeets and hear them scream while I'm washing the dishes and she dries them, something she surprisingly loves.
Recently, we've got into talking. Big conversations. Mainly about things I don't know anything about. Like, "Why is there a moon?" and "What is Ireland?". All sorts of questions. And we try to figure them out together. Or make up stories based on what we think the answer might be. I love talking to Binh. It's better than talking to anyone else I know, that's for sure. Like everyone I know, Binh knows nothing. But unlike them, she wants to know everything. There are four bags of astronaut poo on the moon. Neil Armstrong and his friends left them there. I know that because Binh and I found it out together.
Of course, Binh needs more company than just me. She needs other 4 year olds. So I've been taking her to pre-school day nursery. Three days a week, we get up early, I check the news for any mention of Binh and we go off to nursery. At first, I was really nervous leaving her there. In case she said something. But now, I hate dropping her off because I miss her. Two weeks ago, the nursery had a Christmas Tea Party. Parents turned up and hung out with each other while the kids played. It was very cute. Soon some of the kids got restless and started looking for their parents' attention. All they got was an iPad that they played with loudly while their mums and dads talked. I saw Binh roll her eyes and I think I felt, for the very first time in my life, pride.
The whole change in me has left me with this incredible love of kids making noise. Not iPad noise or loud noise. Just noise. Last week, Binh and I went to see The Peanuts Movie and I was a total dick about it. I told her how you had to be quiet during the film (which is right) and not talk. Sit quietly, I said. Then I worried that she wouldn't like the film. It wasn't that funny. Every joke was a bit dull. And yet she laughed at every single one. Not just her, but every child in the cinema. I heard kids cheering and laughing and asking so many questions and it was lovely. Made it more communal. Like we were all watching together. I saw Carol the other day and no one wanted to talk to me during it. Carol isn't the same without Binh.
I counted the days since she last said "I want my iPad". For a full week before Christmas Day, she didn't say it once. The iPad stopped but the questions continued. The day before Christmas Eve, I cooked her chicken and veg for dinner and a tofu-based stir-fry for me. For the first time, she asked me why we eat different food. I told her I didn't eat meat. She asked why. I didn't want to answer. She's only 4. So I said "I'll show you why tomorrow".
On Christmas Eve, Binh and I went to Surrey Docks Farm, an urban farm in London. We petted piglets, fed chickens and mooed back at cows. It was a completely brilliant day. The piglets were our favourites. But Binh still had questions. "But why don't you eat meat?" Oh, boy.
"See the pigs and cows and chickens? They're meat".
It was a much quieter trip home. It's a lot to take in when you're 4. It's hard to love pigs and pork sausages. You have to make a choice and choices aren't really what being 4 is all about.
When we got home, Binh was happier than ever to see Jerk. She promised to look after Jerk forever. While they hugged, I went upstairs to wrap Binh's Christmas presents. Silly things. And an iPad. It was Christmas Eve and not a word about her on the news. She deserved her iPad back.
We sang carols as we walked up to my spare room (now Binh's bedroom). She picked a book to read and I read to her while she settled into bed. Even though she was falling asleep, she still had questions. "Can we go back and see the piglets?" I told her we could go back as often as she wanted. She told me that she didn't want any meat for a while. I acted like that was fine but really I was so happy I could have yodelled. "I don't want turkey tomorrow".
"Good", I said. "I haven't got any". I had to promise three more times that we would go back and see that the piglets were OK. I told her that I thought she was really clever and I was so proud of her. "What would you like from Santa?", I asked.
"Not an iPad", she said.
I kissed her on the forehead and said merry Christmas and then, just as she was falling asleep, she changed my life. "Merry Christmas", she said. "I love you".
I left her room, closed the door and I felt... I felt Christmas. In every part of my body. Especially my heart. I felt Christmas.
Luckily, I got other presents for her too. If she feels she doesn't need an iPad, then there's no point giving her an iPad. She's completely amazing. I wish her parents could see Binh the way I do. Funny, clever, sweet, dresses like a brilliant idiot. Surely they can't face 2016 without her. It's only a few days until New Year and I hope they get in contact. I'm sure they will get in contact. I'm sure they will. Because I sent them one of her toes this morning. She's nice and all but, at the end of the day, she's the child of two cunts and I won't have THAT in my house.