OVER the years, I’ve undergone lots of transformations in the name of parenthood and grandparenthood – but undergoing a sex change was more than I’d bargained for.

I’ve been cowboys and Indians, I’ve been cops and robbers, I’ve been pirates and superheroes, and I’ve even a bucking bronco. It comes with the territory.

But the invitation that came from America last week pushed the boundaries further than ever. My eight-year-old niece, Isabella, who lives in Los Angeles, had requested the company of her English relatives on a trans-Atlantic Zoom call for a ‘unicorn party’.

The idea was that everyone in attendance – aunties, uncles, cousins, second cousins, and grandma – would be asked questions about their personality traits and, based on their answers, they would be assigned special unicorn names.

But there was a catch. A big catch. Isabella insisted on it being a ‘girls only party’ on the basis that The Magical Unicorn Society is a very secret organisation indeed and – wait for it – “everyone knows only girls can keep secrets”.

How dare she? For the record, I take great exception to this scurrilous allegation, although I guess Isabella could argue that the very fact that I’m writing about it proves her point.

Anyway, to get round the outrageous ban on male attendees, Isabella’s doting dad – my brother Paul – declared that any male relatives would have to go undercover as women.

And, so, it came to pass that I logged in, wearing my mother’s headscarf and a fetching shade of lipstick. There are those in the family who might suggest that I resembled Les Dawson as Cissie Braithwaite, but I can assure you I was far more glamorous than that.

As far as Isabella was concerned, I was a distant relative called Petra, and I duly answered all the questions that were thrown at me about my character.

Would my perfect birthday party be a disco with pretty balloons or a rugged outdoor adventure? (Obviously, I opted for the disco because of my well-known prowess as a dad dancer.) Would I prefer to canoe down a river alone or with a group of friends? (With friends because I’m not a great swimmer and might need rescuing in the event of capsizing.) Would I be the first up a scary climbing wall or be happy for others to take the lead? (Well, I’m scared of heights, so I’d prefer to shout encouragement from the ground.) And, so, it went on.

Isabella entered my answers into the formula in her unicorn book, and I’m thrilled to reveal that I came out as Desert Flame. As you can see from the picture, he’s dark, handsome, mysterious and ‘the fastest unicorn alive’, with a flaming golden mane and tail.

I think it’s enough to restore my credibility.


MY three-year-old granddaughter, Chloe, was telling my wife about all the things she’s going to do when she visits Auntie Hannah in London.

“We’re going to go to the museum and see mummies,” she told ‘Ganma’.

There was a pause before she added: “Not like my Mummy – the ones wrapped in toilet paper.”

JACOB, from Cockfield, in County Durham, asked his grandad Steve: “Grandad? How long have you been alive?”

“Well I’ve been around a very long time,” came the reply, “In fact, I’ve been around for 68 years.”

Jacob thought about this for a minute, then said: “Well, Grandad, you must be really fed-up by now!”