Prequel One

July before last. It was a beautiful sunny afternoon, the missus and I were sat in the park with a bottle of Leffe, ruminating on the cricket match yonder; well I was, I was trying to explain the difference between a spin and fast bowler, because I like the sound of my own voice, when I felt compelled, quite suddenly, to question her on matters of a personal nature regarding a specific aspect of female biology that may, or may not, occur cyclically. And right there and then I learnt she might be up the duff. Obviously it was just as possible that this wasn’t the case, but the way in which I was informed, perhaps the way she was brandishing the now empty bottle of Leffe, suggested we should get this checked out as soon as we could. And so it came to pass.

In the early stages of pregnancy, the only difference those rapidly-dividing cells made to us was my having to drink alone. There was no morning sickness or weird cravings, she was fine as well, so until we actually heard its heartbeat, saw a little blob on a monitor, we still weren’t 100% in ‘the zone’, whatever that is. And even after we were in ‘the zone’ (still not sure but had a better idea) it all felt a bit odd. Bizarrely, it was through the act of telling people, three months in, that it sort-of gelled that we were. Going. To. Be. Parents. Or rather, we were already parents. Or something like that anyway. It was confusing.

Fuck, she’s got a bump.

And we live in a one-bedroom flat, we’ll have to move, no. Think. God. Let’s do it after Christmas, we’ll still have four months. Pint? No you can’t can you… Soda water? Alright! It’s not my fault… Well it is. No ice, right. Lime? Only cordial… No thanks, just the soda water, then. Pint?

With the birth date set for early April we decided to, basically, not do anything baby-wise until after Christmas with aim of having it all done (whatever that was) by Easter. This took some fictional pressure off, we went to Italy a couple of times and I took full advantage of the missus’ abstinence by allowing her to drive the hire cars whilst I sat beside her in the passenger seat either hungover or drunk -and all the stages in-between- offering helpful advice on her driving. Christmas came and went, by the end of January the flat was unchanged until, one cold morning, I suddenly I smashed up our behemoth leather sofa.

This bloody sofa had been winched into the flat by the previous owner, I say ‘winched’ because it wouldn’t fit through any normal-sized door and had to be craned to the third floor and stuffed in through the ‘French’ windows over the balcony. We tried to sell it, then give it away on the proviso the new owner paid for the crane… With nothing doing the only option was to break it up and take it downstairs in small chunks. A day’s work later, a busted back and a massive lump on my head, the old sofa was out and the smaller two-seater sat in its place. The desk was dismantled (from now on, I work in the bedroom) and the breakfast-bar-thing shifted into the place where the two-seater used to sit, this meant we now we had enough space to build a small but serviceable child’s room within the open-plan lounge/desk area/s. Bollocks to the planning permission, ‘my mate Jon will have this sorted in a week’ I said and, a week later after much hard work, the room was built, painted and good to go. It looked as if it’d always been there. Soon there was a cot, toys, a buggy, some drawers with nappies and baby clothes… And a freaking man, usually about five times an hour.

I was trying to picture him in there, you see, lying in his cot, doing stuff. Baby stuff? Imagining ones unborn as a newborn is hard. You get snatches of it but nothing seems to settle in. However, your mind is quite happy to vividly flash-up images of a gurgling toddler falling off the balcony, or being snatched by priests… Run over by the car you’ve reluctantly had to buy in order to ferry the little bastard about. Even now with him yelling behind me I can switch to that (quieter) place where he existed in my imagination, whilst not being able to quite ironically conceive a life without him.

 

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Steppin’ Out

Spending quality time in the pub used to be a complicated affair. When the boy was a few months old you could only undertake the short trip to the (very) local, local when he was asleep. The instant his little eyes start to roll in their sockets we were halfway out the door but first he needed strapping into his pram.

The kid is secured into position by a three-point harness, two straps either side of his waist clipping onto a third that rides up between his legs. Placing a sleeping child into a pram without being busted is one thing, trying to surreptitiously drag the third belt between his podgy and usually entwined little legs, and then clip-on the two adjacent straps (which by now have disappeared behind his neck/back/arse) is like trying to diffuse a screaming bomb.

Assuming you’ve made it out of the door and into the boozer you need to work fast. First you have to run the gauntlet of cooing locals and find seating that will accommodate two adults and a pram away from other, possibly less hygienic, punters. The location of the pram is particularly important; it needs to be clear of gangways and you have to be able to see the contents of it without the contents seeing you and kicking off. This is best dealt with by clipping a muslin over the hood and leaving a viewing-crack at one side. It also doubles as a rudimentary ‘germ’ screen, which acts as additional protection from the aforementioned LHP’s.

All that done, drinks in, and you’d an hour, if lucky, before the kid kicked off. The first pint would slip down easy but the second was more fraught, on occasion you’ll have to down it quick-smart and leave in a fug of howling infant. Even if this didn’t happen the pressure of it happening was ever-present. It was just the same at home when it came to food, though it’s one thing to find oneself cramming a hastily-concocted pile of veg and wotnot into your face at your own dining table and another entirely to be sat in an eatery, in public, next to a hair-trigger.

We had our first meal out with the little fella when he was three months old. Getting him to sleep in the pram before we arrived was nail biting stuff. Once seated we were impatient to order, the sheer pressure to eat all of my crispy fried-noodles before he woke was something I’d never actually considered, despite having a watered down experience of it in the local and to a lesser degree, home.

Even now its very difficult to eat out. It’s not just a question of manhandling a pram into a restaurant and riding the largely hostile vibes from the other diners -I mean, who wants a pram parked next to you when you’re trying to eat? I don’t for a start- it’s the ongoing aspect of getting in and out the place before he starts screaming the place down. Not only is the pleasure of eating ones carefully selected dish offset by the potential of it being ruined by a baby, one finds oneself getting overly anxious waiting for food to arrive and then the bill, even for the better half to come back from the loo.

Whilst eating out may be a bit tricky he’s much better at dealing with being out and sleeping through noise than ever before, this means that extended visits to pubs/bars are less fraught. At the end of the summer he attended a wedding in Soho and survived the lively reception until 1.30am, even sleeping on the night bus home. A few weeks ago he almost repeated this sterling feat at a wedding reception not physically dissimilar to the previous venue (though I don’t believe the Groucho Club is a sex club during the week) but much to our regret we were forced to leave at 11pm because he had a cold and wasn’t really up for socialising.

Of course, one has to be particularly careful that one doesn’t go too crazy during these cheery, convivial events. One has to be responsible, one is in charge of a tiny, helpless infant… Though I’d imagine ‘responsible’ was the last thing on the minds of the people stood outside the pub the other evening.

It was the missus’ birthday so we arranged to meet friends at 3pm, intending to leave at 8pm in time for his Lordship to have his tea. At the appropriate hour I decided that I’d take charge of the boy and leave the missus to enjoy the evening unencumbered by a small child. Now, despite being in the pub for a while and having enjoyed a few beers, I most certainly wasn’t pissed (and even if I had been the following still would’ve been forgivable).

There are two steep steps leading to the door of the pub; the rise on the initial is about a foot high, the tread just about broad enough to bear a pram, with the second step slightly shorter than the first. To gain access inside you need to tip the pram back, place the front two wheels onto the tread, pick up the back of the pram so all four wheels are level, before pushing the whole unit against the rise of step two, and repeating the process to the bar. Reversing the process isn’t as straightforward, it takes two people to physically pick-up the whole pram and carry it down.

So, good evening etc., and its time to go, the boy is now crying with gusto so we elect to strap him into his pram properly outside the pub. The priority was to get him out the immediate vicinity asap and start moving homewards in the hope he’d sleep en route. The better half offered to help me take the pram down the stairs. Of course I agreed, so I took the front and she was in charge of the rear. We negotiated the smaller step (down from the pub door) without incident, from the second step I dropped down the foot-high rise to ground level, assuming the better half would lower her end accordingly. But she didn’t.

The baby-related gear usually packed into the space under the pram slowly spilled out onto the pavement, and on top of that, still cocooned in his blanket, a small baby. Mercifully he’d not flopped out face-forward, instead he’d slid down the side of the pram and out the end, but it still wasn’t good. The people smoking outside were looking at me as if I was the devil, eyes full of barely concealed hatred at the sight of a pissed-up* hooligan scraping a baby off the pavement whilst castigating his wife for lacking psychic powers.

The kid was hastily stuffed into the pram, still howling the place down, and whisked off home. By the time I’d arrived back he was fast asleep and, in case the social services are reading this, only a bit smashed-up. Now let’s just draw a line under the whole thing and move on, please.

*I wasn’t pissed

Nap.

If you’d asked me a year ago if I’d go for recyclable or landfill-filling disposable nappies in the pub, four lovely pints in, I’d have vehemently declared that any child of mine (should I have one) would have the environmental footprint of his little toe before punching the air and asking whose round it is. In the cold reality of another sleepless, screaming-infant night/day the very thought of having to pre-boil a load of soiled towels before stuffing the buggers into the washing machine -and then having to hang the damp contents on those wobbly plastic-coated wire drier things, over and over again- is enough to drive one to the horse.

So its disposable nappies all the way, once you’ve worked out a few things. First and foremost, they’re not hipster jeans, they have to sit as high as grandad’s Woolrich slacks and failure to meet this fundamental requirement will result in all shit/piss outside. Fitting them in the correct position is one thing, ensuring they remain there is down to how tightly you’re prepared to do them up. A few days after the birth of your first child one is paranoid of injurious consequences just by looking at them in a funny way, needless to say, the nappy won’t be nearly tight enough and look, the shit/piss is outside again.

In those heady pre-cauliflower days the poo was lump-free and in the grand scheme of things relatively odourless -I’d have it down as a cross between sour milk and, er, shit. In addition, if you were changing him, it was usually pre-announced downstairs by a quack/bark sort of sound. If you’re fast (and I bloody well am) one would catch the horror by smashing a kitchen towel into the space between him and your clothes/furniture. This meant his heavy business hardly ever come into contact with one’s clothes/furniture or, for that matter, his.

The piss is sneaky, there’s no warning with piss, it just becomes a reality and because it’s unadulterated it’s Alpine clear to the point of invisibility. At the very best it can catch the light and look like a rogue hair. In fact, every time he’s pissed on the changing mat I’ve been in the process of applying a fresh nappy and gone ‘there’s a hair there, I’ll just get that away, oh no, it’s piss’. The rest of the time you simply discover he’s just sitting in a puddle of it without so much as care in the world.

Of course, all that was before he began to eat solid food, these days it’s poo this, turds that, and one is faced with another set of paradoxical preferences. I say ‘preferences’ in the grand scheme of things such options wouldn’t exist; babies would soil into a sealed container that’d compress the contents into an odourless bale (a removable tray lifts out, allowing you to drop the dirt straight into the bin, a bit like a Gtech Air Ram MK2 cordless shit cleaner) and I wouldn’t find my fingers, hands (and arm, yesterday) covered in cack following the simple and ironic act of investigating to see if he has or hasn’t actually cacked… Having said that, it’s worse when he doesn’t evacuate himself. Say we find a little something mid-afternoon, if we’re not gifted by that evening he starts to get a bit anxious, and if he goes to bed ‘full’ you’re in for a bad night’s sleep.

When he was a couple of months old one of the nurses noticed that the little fella was tongue-tied (when the stringy bit of skin (lingual frenulum) between the underside of the tongue and the floor of the mouth is too short) and we were informed, if left untreated, it could cause speech impediments later in life. We were also assured it was effecting the quality of his feeding. A simple operation was arranged and executed a week later, instantly his diet changed.

One week after, all I saw was either the back of his head or a wide-open screaming mouth. He was like a possessed man, hitting the tit like he’d not eaten in a week then yelling himself half to death when he was full. The problem, we soon discovered, was that whilst a vast quantity of matter was going in, not much, if anything, was coming out. For one miserable 48-hour period he didn’t squeeze out so much as a wisp of a fart, until he just exploded. I’ve never been so happy to see shit in my life. This single event became a turning point in our relationship with the contents of his nappy. We’ve learnt to celebrate the shit up his back, laugh at the turds on our hands, pass the wet wipes, dear! O frabjous day! etc. But when there is nothing we mourn like dark-age black-death, waiting in agony with his screams, praying for just the merest, tiniest wind-of-a fart. They don’t tell you stuff like that in antenatal classes.

It’s also worth mentioning that I used to be a geriatric nurse, a person paid to clean old ladies arses. Putting it all into some sort of horrific context, I’d rather deal with a thousand of his nappies than just one of those post Sunday-lunch monsters courtesy of Mrs. Shone. The fact I remember her name after thirty years should tell you something, or should that be smell you something, yeah.

Bring on the turds!

For God’s sake don’t look round

From the second the boy arrived on the planet in full human form he had nails like razors. Deceptively small, these little digit enhancers had the propensity to draw blood at the merest of gestures. In the early days this was the zone on, or around, the missus’ pardons when his little hand would occasionally open to grab at local unmentionables when feeding. Sometimes he’d cut his face, my hand, an arm (and tits) so regular trimming of the offending horns was essential, but this was much easier said than done.

Ideally this task has to be undertaken when he’s asleep, but in reality it’s more of a case of ‘ouch, I need to cut his bloody nails again’ when he is very much awake. In either case you have to prise his little fists open before peeling each finger apart, attaching the blades of the clippers either side of the tiny, minuscule nail, before gingerly snipping… Usually this operation is complicated by his violent resistance to having his hand pinned down, once successfully secured you then have to contend with him wriggling his fingers away from the clippers, though nine times out of ten he’ll throw a fit and you simply have to give up and lock him back up in his cage under the stairs.

More recently, what with his hands a tad bigger and more of his palms on permanent display, it’s less like keyhole surgery, but he’s also much stronger so unless he’s docile you’re not going to be cutting his nails anytime soon. I have to say practice has helped too, in the early days nail-cutting was so traumatic I needed a stiff drink and rub-down afterwards. I wouldn’t say I was laissez-faire about it now but perhaps a little more care would’ve prevented me from snipping off the end of his finger last week.

I’d just cut his thumbnail when, turning my attention to the forefinger, he jerked his finger just as I squeezed down on the clipper. I knew instantly what I’d done, the little ‘snip’ sound was replaced by silence as the clippers cheerfully freed their grip. I watched in horror as the tip of his finger began to fill with blood and waited for torrent of relentless screaming… But nothing happened, indeed, the only person that was yelling was me -I was going apeshit- he was just carrying on as if nothing was doing as bright red drops of unadulterated baby blood appeared on his hands, clothes and face. I freaked out some more until the better half told me to fuck-off and calm down. We dressed his little finger in a plaster, and then had to ensure he didn’t put his hand in mouth for the rest of the day in case the plaster turned out to be a choking hazard.

I like to remind myself he’s not even crawling yet, let alone walking, so we’re not even open on page one in terms of the potential for serious injury. I’d been busy securing shelves, bookcases, doors etc., some weeks before he was born… That was after I’d decided that it was okay to tempt fate -I was worried he wouldn’t actually be born if I did stuff for him in advance. In the cold light of day, however, I can see that I’ve not even scratched the surface. Virtually everything in sight has the potential to maim/kill so now I’m prowling about the flat day and night with a hammer and a screwdriver, seeking out danger like a thoughtful Peter Sutcliffe. Consider those hinges, they could actually become unhinged if I don’t pop a grub screw over that plate… That cupboard door under the sink, he could lift that off easily, the whole lot would’ve come crashing down on that little duck-egg skull of his… Before all that bleach and Flash poured down his throat. OH JESUS CHRIST HE’S EATEN FOUR BOLD 2 IN 1 LAVENDER AND CAMOMILE LIQUITABS etc.

It’s not just imminent danger, I’ve already envisaged a whole variety of mishaps, misfortunes and disasters for just about every month of every year of his life up until, at least, his mid-seventies. The worst are the ones that are as a direct result of myself, most obviously things relating to motorcycles -though I suppose he could get a brain aneurism head banging to thrash -I’d never even thought of that one until now. That’d be horrific… But motorcycles do bother me, if I’m ironically honest, because I know that they can be a tad on the dangerous side. Now, it’s one thing to deny this to myself and another entirely to do it behalf of someone else, what’s more is that I can’t help myself but to line his bedroom wall with motorbikes, point at them loudly on the street and insist he watch the MotoGP which is achievable by locking him into my lap and gripping his little head -actually I do nothing of the sort, he’s mesmerised by it already. What have I done?

But all of that is for the future, for now the fact he simply wakes up is enough.