The home straight

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At the time of writing, my wife is in week 37 of her pregnancy and the due date is looming. I’m not sure if there is an unofficial  ‘home straight’ in pregnancy terms, but it feels like we are in it.

This is probably because the baby has grown so much in the last few weeks and has been visibly kicking for a while now. When my wife sits down at the end of the day, the baby decides to wake up by having some sort of disco – it’s amazing and yet totally bonkers.

Also, we’ve started the antenatal classes, which are another landmark that has made the whole thing seem much closer.  In the session last week, our group leader asked us what we had been doing in preparation for the baby’s arrival…

Birth research:

The book reading has continued in earnest, although there is one book I wish we didn’t have. It’s quite an old journal, given to my wife by her shiatsu practitioner and has one particular picture of a birth that made me instantly regret turning towards it when my wife told me to. I won’t be too descriptive, for fear of traumatising you in the same way that made me wish I could replace my eyeballs.  So, I’ll just describe the picture in two words and then quickly move on. The two words are ‘face first’.

Now let’s never speak of this again.

Thinking about the birth plan:

I was surprised at how detailed the birth plan tends to be, as it incorporates factors that I wouldn’t have thought about other than how to avoid getting the car clamped for being in the hospital car park too long. Anyway, I’m told that it has to consist of a bit more than ‘Go to hospital, lie on bed, push a bit, deliver baby, high-fives all round, go home’.

Releasing ‘Rosie’:

This is not a euphemism, but instead the name of my wife’s childhood doll that has been dragged out of the darkest reaches of hell an old suitcase in order for us to practice cradling, changing etc. Anyone who read my last blog post may have noticed that I have a bit of an issue with dolls, in that they generally terrify me. Rosie is no exception, as she has a flickering lazy eye that suggests she’s plotting some kind of psychotic revenge after being trapped in the attic for 25 years.

Practising nappy-changing:

We used Rosie, a changing mat and a disposable nappy for this process. Mrs.D’s nappy changing was superb – the nappy was fastened securely and looked comfortable. My attempt was pretty poor. Because I was evidently wary of provoking a demonic plastic doll by giving it a ‘wedgie’, I left the nappy way too loose. Apparently, leaving more space for the baby’s poo to be collected is not considered a benefit of this approach.

Using the baby sling:

Our baby sling was kindly given to us by one of my wife’s close friends. Mrs.D forced me into it after about 30 minutes of strap-tweaking and before I knew it, I had the evil doll loosely tied to my chest. I briefly pretended to be a superhero and tried to find a mask to put on Rosie in order to a) pretend she was my sidekick and b) cover up the manic lazy eye, but sadly didn’t have one to hand.

Preparing the hospital bags:

As well as the basics, our group leader suggested comfortable footwear for mums, such as flip-flops and slippers.  However, she accidentally said ‘flippers’ instead of slippers, making me think for a minute that, in order to kill some time, you could have fun by scaring anyone who was hoping to use a birthing pool.

Visiting the hospital:

We have the pre-birth tour this weekend. Is it wrong that I’m excited about the Ben & Jerry’s vending machine near the maternity ward?

Putting the cot together:

My father-in-law and I assembled it (ok, he did the majority of the work but I held the instructions and spare screws).  It now takes up 50% of the room and is so immoveable that I’m convinced it would survive in the event of a nuclear explosion hitting south east England.

Learning about swaddling:

Ok, this is one we learnt in the antenatal group. Swaddling is a technique that I had previously only heard of in biblical terms and involves wrapping the baby up ‘strait jacket’ style in order to keep them warm and hopefully send them to sleep. A lot of babies seem to like this, despite the fact that it tends to make them look like a human burrito.

Attempting to get in shape:

I should point out that his one is just for me. Looking after a baby and carrying around an array of bags, travel systems and general ‘stuff’ is hard work, so I need to get fit again. My wife may be the one carrying the baby, but I’m definitely the one who’s put on the most weight.

Lights, satsumas…baubles!

Christmas!

I’m a big fan of Christmas and am also one of those sad people who has a ‘number of sleeps to Christmas’ app on my phone (24 sleeps at the time of writing, if you didn’t know and were vaguely curious). Anyway, this year I have decided to be proactive – hence why I am writing this on the first day in December – and try to make my Christmas experience even better by following these guidelines (although a good start would probably be to stop using words like ‘proactive’):

1) Stop mocking town Christmas lights:

Ok, so they usually never change and there is always something wrong with them. For instance, in the town where my grandparents lived, the same decorations were wheeled out for about 20 years running and unfortunately, but most memorably, the characters depicted (Santa, a snowman, a choirboy etc) all looked like they were being hanged. Where I live now, the lights have just gone up and the illuminated sprigs of holly and berries have a worryingly phallic shape to them (especially when they move up and down). But we shouldn’t mock. After all, England is a grey and wet old place and anything that goes some way to making a branch of Wilkinsons look pretty should probably be celebrated instead.

2) Don’t get ‘affected’ by the John Lewis advert.

They do it every year and we all know the formula, but it still works every time: Classic 80s song given a slow, piano-based makeover and sung in a cutesy female voice. A sad/happy storyline that involves a family growing up together or a cute child revelling in the joy of Christmas. This year, we have the surreal (and slightly pagan) tale of a snowman somehow travelling up and down the country to buy the perfect gift for Mrs. Snowman, sound-tracked to a mellow version of ‘The Power of Love’. That lump in my throat was just a large piece of toast, honestly…you’re a bunch of bastards, John Lewis marketing department.

3) Learn to wrap presents:

I am very envious of my wife. Creative sort that she is, the presents that she wraps are always beautifully symmetrical, decorated with ribbons and bows and they look so good that it is almost a shame to open them. Mine, on the other hand, usually consist of a 50/50 ratio between wrapping paper and sticky tape, whilst even the simplest shapes are so ineptly packaged that it looks like I have been involved in a fight to the death with whatever happens to be inside.

4) Take ownership (or at least 50%) of tree-decorating:

My involvement in the Christmas tree process typically extends to buying it, carrying it home and plonking it in the designated place in our living room. Decorating, however, has become the sole domain of Mrs.D. It’s not that I don’t want to do it, in fact it was one of my favourite Christmas activities in years gone by. Recently though, I’ve found that the fun goes out of it when you are being relentlessly project-managed and all your decorations are removed and repositioned (“there are too many baubles in that corner!”) This year though, I am determined that I will not be relegated to just putting Slade on in the background (I probably will).

5) Buy a Christmas jumper:

Yes, a PROPER Christmas jumper. One that contains 75% of all the colours known to man, has at least 4 reindeer on it and a couple of flashing lights (usually positioned around the nipple areas). I know they used to be tacky and the stuff of nightmares that would be knitted by your gran, but last year they appeared to make a surprising comeback in the fashion stakes. Of course, as it was last year, I may well have missed that particular bandwagon and will instead look like a gormless idiot, given that I am 34 years old and not a skinny hipster from Shoreditch. But hey, it’s Christmas.

6) Make Eggnog:

Truthfully, I don’t actually know what this is and, given the fact that it looks like it belongs in a fertility clinic, I’m not 100% convinced I want to drink it either. However, it appears to be a Christmas institution and is supposed to be incredibly potent, which is good enough for me. Besides, this is the only time of year where you can consume things that are utterly revolting in the name of tradition (Brussels Sprouts, anyone?)

7) Stop trying to do the Irish accent whilst singing along to ‘Fairytale of New York’:

This is self-explanatory, really. I love this song but my warbling is dreadful enough without also adopting an inconsistent blend of Irish, Scottish and Welsh with a hint of Jamaican thrown in.

8) Be more imaginative with buying Christmas presents.

This is to any members of my family who end up receiving a Christmas candle/ basket of bath soaps/condiments for cheese/anything from Millets: I AM VERY SORRY.

9) Remember what Christingle is:

Every year I have to ask my wife to tell me what it actually symbolises and I seem to forget pretty much straight away. The only thing I can recall is that it has something to do with a candle and an orange (will a satsuma do?) This probably sounds laughably pathetic, but at least it’s an improvement from last year, when I still thought it was a character from ‘Emmerdale’.

10) Be thankful:

I am usually a pessimistic person and tend to focus on and worry about the negatives, rather than concentrate on all the positives. This year though, I will try my hardest to do the opposite. After all, I have a lovely wife (when she’s not decorating the tree, anyway), a loving family and a fantastic group of friends. I am a lucky man and it’s only right that I remember that as we head into December. Happy holidays, everyone 🙂

10 things: I learned from watching ‘Location, Location, Location’

Ah, ‘Location, Location, Location’ (plus its upstart younger sibling, ‘Relocation, Relocation’). A show that suddenly becomes addictive for people on (or hoping to get on) the ‘property ladder’ – that fabled area where irritating phrases such as ‘kerb appeal’, ‘character features’ and ‘adding value’ suddenly become VERY important. Whilst the housing market itself may be predictable – you can put your mortgage on these things happening in the show:

1) If a couple have the sheer nerve to dislike the houses that Kirstie Allsopp and Phil Spencer put forward, then Kirstie will barely disguise her contempt and tell the camera that ‘they don’t know what they want’. Phil, meanwhile, will endeavour to be diplomatic whilst looking as if he is crying on the inside.

2) If these asides to camera take place in a garden with a trampoline, Kirstie will always sit on it.

3) Over-the-phone negotiations with estate agents must always take place in the pub, whilst surrounded by half-empty drinks and the strong whiff of desperation.

4) Estate agents must never give a positive answer immediately – because the dramatic wait before the delight (or crushing disappointment) also needs to be present, albeit shorter than the ‘X-Factor’ standard length.

5) If anyone under the age of 35 can afford a house worth over £400,000 then I will automatically assume that a) their parents are rich and have helped them out or b) someone has died and left them a lot of money – anything to disguise the fact that they more successful than me. I also resent any couple that brazenly go on the show looking for a ‘crash-pad in the city’ as well as this expensive house. Why are these second properties always ‘crash-pads’? Just once I would like to see someone go on the show looking for a squalid bed-sit that is only marginally better than sleeping on a park bench during the week.

6) If anyone on the show is described as a  ‘professional’ – they must be filmed walking down a busy street with a look of intense purpose in their eyes.

7) Kirstie has a huge destructive streak. If she were to visit the Taj Mahal, Sistine Chapel or the Leaning Tower of Pisa – she would undoubtedly suggest that two walls are knocked down in order to put in an extra bathroom.

8) Phil should not wear polo-neck jumpers. They make him look like a PEZ dispenser or, even worse, that bloke from Grand Designs.

9) Going on the show is the most powerful aid to fertility in the UK. Even if Kirstie herself is not pregnant, a baby or two will have inevitably appeared on the scene for any couple that she and Phil revisit a few months later.

10) By this time of a revisit, the female in the couple must look slightly different (usually a new hairstyle will do the trick). However, the man will still be wearing the same jumper he had on when they looked round the house in the first place.

10 Things: Modern grumbles

I have to apologise in advance – because what started out as a light-hearted look at modern irritations turned into a bit of a rant. Sorry about that and thanks to my lovely wife and proof-reader for pointing it out…

1)   Kindles: Call me old-fashioned but, when I read a book, I like to have an actual copy, not a download on some device. I prefer the feeling of stretching the back of the book a bit when you start –in the knowledge that this will hopefully be the start of a satisfying  (albeit short-lived) relationship with the words on the page. But truthfully, if you replace a shelf-full of books with a Kindle, you can’t show off as much. Yes, that’s one of the main reasons I think we all keep books – to show off when people come round. I can honestly admit that I disliked ‘On the Road’ by Jack Kerouac and have only kept my copy so that people will see it on the bookshelf and hopefully jump to the conclusion that I am a hip, edgy beatnik-type. A Kindle would rob me of that utter delusion.

2)   Self-service checkouts: “Would you like to purchase any of our promotion items?” “Do you have an advantage card?” “Please scan your first item”. “Verification needed – please wait for assistance”. “Do you have your own bags?” “Please place bag in bagging area”. “ Bag not recognized – please remove bag from bagging area”. “Unidentified item in bagging area”. “Please replace bag”. “Item not recognized – please try again”. “Please stop trying to destroy bagging area or I will call security”…

3)   The Nike running app: For always, ALWAYS deciding to stop working when I have think I have actually made a time that I am proud of, despite the fact I am wheezing like an asthmatic 80-year old carrying his shopping.

4)   Gastro-pubs: I don’t object to the fact that they exist, just the fact they seem to have taken over every single pub in Britain. I mean, sometimes I just want to be able to walk into a pub, get served at the bar and not be forced to sit at a table (due to ‘policy’) where a disinterested waitress will get stroppy because I just want a beer and, therefore, am unlikely to tip her. If I am actually eating, sometimes I’ll want something other than pork belly – maybe just a greasy burger or a piece of steak that looks like it’s been on the floor and was definitely NOT subject to ‘the 10-second rule’. Sometimes I want to feel I have lived dangerously by eating that steak and drinking out of a pint glass that looks like it hasn’t been washed since the most recent ‘change of ownership’.

5)   Gourmet cat food: I don’t have a cat and my feline-based gripes have already been documented on these pages, so the reason for including this is down to the fact that I saw an advert for it on the TV the other night. “You should put that in your blog”, said Mrs.D. So here we go…Why on earth would you want to pay more money for ‘gourmet cat food’ to show how much you ‘love’ your cat? Surely the very fact that you put up with its evil antics is enough to show that you at least tolerate the furry beast in the first place? Besides, is the cat really going to turn around and tell you that it really appreciated its latest meal with the hint of flaked salmon as opposed to the usual, congealed lumps it happily scoffs? No, because it’s a sodding cat! This is an animal that will happily lick its own genitals, so I can be pretty sure its taste buds won’t care whether the food is ‘gourmet’ or not.

6)   Reward cards: Shop at your local supermarket 10 times and you’ll get 5 points on your reward card. 200 points give you 20 tokens – which you have to redeem online. When you collect 1000 tokens, you can then apply via post (including a copy of your passport photo and a print-out of all your tokens) for a gold card, which will save you 47p off your next food shop. Alternatively, you can use it to pay for a night in a 2-star hotel somewhere near Bournemouth (dinner and breakfast not included).

7)   ‘Chuggers’ (those people who try to stop you in the street and get you to donate to any number of charities): Don’t get me wrong – I am a charitable person. I have taken part in a number of charitable events over the years and am more than happy to support friends and family when they do likewise. However, I do object to being accosted by ‘perky’ students who try and prevent me from reaching my destination by blocking my path and trying to get me to part with my hard-earned cash in order to earn them commission from whatever bib they are wearing that day. I also don’t see why they stand so close to each other. If I’m going out my way to avoid one of them, I’m certainly not going to change my mind within 20 yards. I am far from a rude person but, apart from on a football field, one such encounter with a chugger has been the only time I’ve ever sworn at a stranger in public.

8)   Rocket: I don’t think I was even aware of this herby pest five years ago – it was obviously the new leaf on the block at some point. Now it seems to be everywhere – salads, sandwiches, pizzas, burgers – you name it, it’s there and intent on ruining my meals by sneaking into my mouth unannounced and nestling in my teeth whilst I curse it.

9)   Companies that contact you over ‘mis-sold PPI claims’. Like a swarm of midges that just won’t give up, I have lost count of the number of adverts I have seen, as well as the HUGE number of phone calls and texts I have received from various people on the off-chance I have unknowingly taken out payment protection insurance. I fear that, come the apocalypse, all that will remain will be call-centres still trying to ring us about our financial history.

10)   Simon Cowell: I don’t really need to elaborate further on this one.

An apology to Coppertone Sport

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In my previous post, in which I listed 10 American Imports that I wish we had in the UK, I am ashamed to say that I made one glaring omission. So, without further delay, here it is:

11)    Coppertone Sport. Or, as I like to call it, the ‘little tube of genius’. The reason for this is that I’m British and do not tan well, if at all. In fact, my skin’s response when faced with any prolonged exposure to the sun is to go red and then peel. Incredibly attractive, I’m sure you’ll agree. Even the lobsters laugh. That was until I discovered Coppertone Sport in California three years ago. It’s brilliant. Despite it’s size, it seems to have a never-ending supply of sweat-proof, Factor 30 cream that will protect my delicate (but still manly) outer layer from the hottest of elements. It even has ‘replenishing antioxidants’. I have no idea what they are but they sound bloody important and therefore my skin must NEED them. Going back to the US last year, I was so pleased to discover it in Walgreens, I picked up a few tubes and completely forgot what I went in there for in the first place. In fact, I will also give an honourable mention to Walgreens – all your essentials in one handy place – marvellous. But Coppertone Sport saved me on a number of occasions from becoming a member of the sunburnt-Brit club. It’s small, it’s effective and – in my opinion – beats the hell out of anything we have over here. Forget the unpronounceable Piz Buin that doesn’t even go up to Factor 30 for poor saps like me. I’ll stick with the little tube of genius.

10 Things: American imports I wish we had in the UK

Following the news that Britain has successfully *cough* exported the singing embryos of ‘One Direction’ over to the US (you’re welcome, America), I thought I would kick off a semi-regular ‘lists’ feature – starting with a look at some things that our friends across the Atlantic have in their midst that I wish we had over here…

1)     More M&M’s flavours.  Don’t get me wrong, I love the chocolate ones. Mrs.D prefers the peanut ones and I think we both agree that the ‘crispy’ ones are vile. Yet in America, they also have peanut butter, almond, coconut, pretzel, wild cherry, orange chocolate, mint chocolate etc. I know you can get them over here in selected shops but that invariably involves having to pay £1.99 for the smallest bag and then needing to re-mortgage your house for the bigger sizes. Ok, ‘wild cherry’ sounds disgusting but the others (peanut butter and pretzel are my favourites) are damn tasty. But why stop at M&M’s? In the newsagent opposite my old office, there was a period of about a month when they stocked ‘peanut butter and cookie’ flavour Twix bars, direct from the US. I am not ashamed to admit that it made my week when I found that out.

2)     Good TV shows with more than 6 episodes a season. I love that, when it comes to the start of a new season of a US TV show, there are at least 13 episodes to look forward to – often even more than 20. In the UK, we get 6. It’s barely even worth it. Why is this, TV executives, why??

3)     Friendly customer service. Ok, so a huge generalisation and I am sure I will polarize opinion on this. But, despite being British, I like it when shop assistants and waiting staff in America ask me how I am and say ‘have a great day’ when our brief interaction has finished. The fact that they seem genuinely baffled when you ask how they are adds to the charm. Maybe it’s a bit cheesy or maybe I’m a bit needy (perhaps both), but I would happily choose this approach over the surly attitude that seems to prevail in the UK, where any question or attempt at conversation on my part is usually met with the same look of withering disdain as if I’d just farted.

4)     Sexy politics. Ok, so ‘sexy’ may be pushing it a bit but it’s arguably a lot more interesting than the stuffiness that runs through British politics. In the US, politicians are called Barack, Mitt and Newt. In the UK, we have David, Ed and Nick. They have rallies, banners and television debates. Hollywood makes movies around American politics.  They have primaries, senates, ‘super tuesday’ and something called a ‘tea party’. Now I have no idea what that is, but it sounds bizarrely fascinating. Even the more extreme personalities are not just eccentric but completely bat-shit crazy (yes, Sarah Palin, I’m looking at you). Even the bad guys are more emphatic. There are a number of British politicians I would quite like to punch, but if I had to choose between any one of them and Rick Santorum, I would land one on Santorum every single time.

5)     HUGE landmarks. Buckingham Palace, Stonehenge and Hadrian’s Wall are all impressive; I’m not denying that. But compare them to the Golden Gate Bridge, the Grand Canyon and Niagara Falls, and there is really no contest. Times Square in New York is brilliantly crazy too. It’s like Piccadilly Circus on steroids.

6)     Augusta National Golf Club. Every year, I get misty-eyed as I watch the best golfers in the world head to Augusta, Georgia for the US Masters tournament.  If I had a ‘bucket list’ then playing Augusta National would be right at the top, but realistically it would be impossible due to the exclusive membership criteria. Even if that weren’t an issue, I would never be allowed anywhere near the gorgeous flower-laden surroundings and beautiful fairways for fear of hacking around and leaving massive divots in my wake like some sort of uncoordinated British tornado. So, it shall remain a dream.

7)     The legacy of Americana/Alt.Country Music. A genre I love, from all the way back to the sixties when there was Gram Parsons and the Byrds, via the Eagles in the seventies, through to the nineties revival lead by the Jayhawks and Uncle Tupelo – who were then followed by bands such as Whiskeytown and Drive-by Truckers. I know I sound like a music snob but, if these bands were from Blackpool or Milton Keynes, the music would not have been quite the same.

8)     Trail Mix and Diet Mountain Dew. Yes, I’m going down the sugar route again, although I’m pretty sure Diet Mountain Dew doesn’t have much, if any of it. Anyhow, the combination of this drink and a factory-sized packet of Trail Mix (a combination of peanuts, raisins, chocolate, cashew nuts plus whatever else they decide to throw in at the time) got Mrs.D and I through some very long, and occasionally scary, drives through California, Nevada and Arizona. Whether it was through the searing heat of Death Valley, down narrow roads next to some vertigo-inducing drops in Yosemite, or almost driving the wrong way down the Las Vegas strip (don’t ask), these snacks were always close to hand and mouth.

9)     Sirius Satellite Radio. I perhaps should have included this above as this was also a constant companion during our two-week stint in the west of the US.  There were a number of great stations, but my two favourites were ‘E-Street Radio’ – which was devoted entirely to the music of Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band – and ‘Spectrum Radio’ – which played album tracks from the likes of Whiskeytown, The Wallflowers, The Black Crowes, REM, Counting Crows, Fleet Foxes, Neil Young, Foo Fighters and Pearl Jam.  Coming back to Absolute Radio was something of a disappointment.

10)  The city vibe. This is another potentially contentious one. I was fortunate enough to spend a few days in New York last April and it was magnificent. Such a vibrant, diverse city that had a vibe where anything could happen and anything could be achieved. In comparison, London feels grey and tired, with a sense of disillusionment hanging over it. New Yorkers have great pride in their city whereas Londoners seemingly walk around with apathy. Maybe it’s a generalisation and comes from the fact that New York was new and exciting to me, whilst I commute to London most days, which I guess makes me one of the apathetic.