Things not to say to your wife when she’s in labour

Picture the scene: It’s 6am on a cool autumnal morning one month ago. My wife and I are at the hospital, having received notice a few hours earlier that our son was beginning his journey into the world. After previously indicating that she would prefer a water birth, my wife is now duly sitting in a large bathtub in one the rooms inside the hospital’s birthing unit. The lights are dim, it’s a calming atmosphere and there is a large mural painted on the main wall depicting a wood adorned with bluebells.  The contractions have begun. Those of us not immersed in water (myself, my mother in law and two midwives), wait by the side of the tub. A high-pitched wail comes from an adjoining room. We all pretend not to hear it.

For my part, I am poised. Kneeling beside the tub/pool/massive container of water that also holds my wife, I am gripping the ‘gas n air’ contraption in one hand, whilst my other hand rests on a 2-litre bottle of Evian water. I have been administering both at fairly frequent intervals, along with a pack of Bassett’s Jelly Babies that are within arm’s reach. There hasn’t been a contraction for a couple of minutes so I briefly allow my mind to wander. There is a song playing on Heart radio in the background that I quite like, so I momentarily tune in. I’m more of a rock fan but this song has a pleasant pop vibe that seems to fit well with the current atmosphere. I think to myself that it sounds a bit like Taylor Swift and that I’d ‘Shazam’ it if it weren’t for the fact that both my hands were otherwise engaged and, frankly, using a music app on my phone at this moment in time would probably be frowned upon anyway…

“OOOOOH!” comes the cry from the bathtub.

“Are you ok?” I turn to my wife and ask – a split-second reaction with nothing but concern and helpful intentions in mind.

Snatching the ‘gas n air’ from my grasp, my wife inhales deeply before responding to my innocent question in much more detail than I was anticipating, peppering her answer with more industrial language than I should probably type here and leaving me in no doubt that no, she was not ok, that I should simply be saying more encouraging phrases instead and that the baby really needs to get a jolly old move on.

I mutter that it was just a momentary reaction but, in hindsight, I don’t think I had been told off like that since I shattered one of my parents’ light fittings having decided – at age 14 or thereabouts – to practice my golf swing indoors.

Fortunately, for me at least, more inappropriate ramblings from the aforementioned Heart radio would soon eclipse my innocent question. My wife’s contractions were getting more frequent and it was fair to say that she wasn’t really in the mood for light-hearted radio ‘banter’, especially when said banter consisted of one of the presenters repeatedly saying how much she was struggling with a cold and eliciting as much sympathy from her co-workers as she could. Under normal circumstances, this would probably be unfortunate timing and nothing more, but to my wife – rather competitive at the best of times – this was like prodding a (heavily pregnant) bear with a stick. Needless to say, I doubt there has ever been a more impassioned request to change stations in the entire history of radio broadcasting.

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Within two hours, our son had been born. I will spare you all the details but it all got a bit dramatic towards the end. In a nutshell: a shoulder got stuck, an emergency cord got pulled and around a dozen people rushed into the room to assist with the final seconds of delivery, most of whom weren’t dressed in medical clothing and appeared to be a conference delegation who had taken a wrong turn. It all happened in a flash. The hospital staff were amazing, my wife was amazing, brave, brilliant and so many other glowing adjectives.

Meanwhile, I was still holding the ‘gas n air’.

In the end, H (an abbreviation, we honestly didn’t choose to name him after a favourite member of Steps) weighed 9lb 8oz and, at the time of typing, seems generally happy and healthy, aside from a couple of niggling issues which should hopefully sort themselves out over time.

For instance, we’ve had to consult a cranial osteopath due to an arching back of his neck that makes him look like he’s being overly dramatic and his leg is also bent in a little which, to be honest I hadn’t actually noticed despite the vast array of nappies that we’ve had to change in the last four weeks or so (quite how much babies poo is one of those things that is now vividly coming back to me). He also grunts A LOT. I realise most babies do this but between the hours of 2am-5am most days, it sounds like we have a constipated herd of buffalo in the room with us.

But, he’s finally here and he makes our little family seem complete.

So, it was with a great deal of excitement (or as excited as I could be with only two hours sleep) that I prepared to introduce H to his big sister the following morning. We had been allowed home from the hospital the previous evening and had taken shifts in sitting up with H in our living room. I had the early morning shift and, when M came downstairs around 6am (again), I prepared myself for this wonderful ‘Kodak moment’.

“This is your brother”, I proudly proclaimed, presenting him like some sort of biblical offering.

M paused for a second, gave him a quick cursory glance, then turned back to me and said, “I want to watch Topsy and Tim”.

It was the second time in 24 hours that I’d apparently said the wrong thing.

Other notes:

–          A few weeks on, M has now really warmed up to the idea of a little brother. “He’s lovely” and “I love him,” she proudly states when giving him kisses and cuddles, of which there are plenty. It’s really adorable, except when her cuddles become a little over-zealous and start to resemble chokeholds.

–          I called my mother to ask if she could come over and baby-sit M at 1am on the morning we went to the hospital. I have a feeling that phone call may well hold the record for the largest number of apologies ever recorded within a 60-second conversation.

–          The song that I liked on the radio was indeed by Taylor Swift (‘Wildest Dreams’) so I at least got something right in that moment.

–          The new neighbours were still renovating their kitchen in the days immediately after H’s birth, which was not exactly ideal for catching up on sleep in the day. Both my wife and I very nicely asked them again how much longer it would take following the realisation that ‘2 days’ in their timeline actually means ‘2 weeks’. It’s almost over now (we hope) and they have since brought over a box of Guylian chocolates and a card by way of apology. So, there has fortunately been no need for a dirty nappy through their letterbox…

Revisiting the due date

This Tuesday (9th April) marks the anniversary of our daughter’s estimated due date. Of course, she would eventually keep us waiting for some time after that date, but it’s amazing how quickly a year goes when you’ve been living in a whirlwind of nappies, feeding, disturbed nights, first smiles/giggles/walks and enough snot to irrigate a small country.

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Looking back, it was this time last year that I was making sure I was never more than 5ft away from my car keys, downloading a ‘contraction timer’ app onto my phone and shopping in Tesco for multiple bottles of hand sanitizer and one of those inflatable travel pillows that only seem to be effective if you can somehow crane your neck to a 90-degree angle.

So, whilst thinking of those currently in a similar position (it doesn’t have to involve Tesco – other supermarkets are available), I thought I’d share this brilliant and very amusing article from Buzzfeed about the 26 stages of childbirth from a man’s perspective. Yes, 26.

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Plus, here’s my post from March last year, when I was immersed in a lot of planning, a fair bit of panicking and also wondering whether it would be acceptable for me to go looking for ice cream once we’d arrived at the maternity ward.

Best wishes to all parents-to-be 🙂

Of mice and many

Life is hard. As Benjamin Franklin once said: “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”.

On second thoughts, it may actually have been Brad Pitt in ‘Meet Joe Black’..?

Anyway, it’s tough out there and all parents want to protect their children as best they can from the grim reality that is the modern world and the heartache and upset that it brings with it. It’s an impossible task though and there is one early trauma that many of us will have gone through as children – the gut-wrenching heartbreak that is the loss of a favourite toy, whether it’s only a temporary loss or something sadly more permanent.

Most people have a story to tell along these lines. My mother, for example, lost her beloved pink rabbit in Scotland when she was little and still hates being reminded about it (sorry, Mum).

My own particular experience did not involve a rabbit, or another stuffed companion such as a bear or even my prized Garfield, but ‘Benny the beetle’. Benny was a small rubber beetle (naturally), who was included inside a party bag following a friend’s birthday. I’m not entirely sure what it was that made me connect with this tiny insect toy, but a bond was formed and I ended up taking Benny with me everywhere I went. He even accompanied me during a family holiday to France a couple of years later. On one lovely sunny day during this trip, my parents and I had been out for a picnic. However, when we got back to the holiday home where we were staying, I realised that Benny was nowhere to be found. Panicked and upset, I forced my parents to join me in a frantic search mission that took in the entire house, surrounding grounds and eventually involved us going back to the picnic area, despite (I think) it being at least an hour away. I’m sure one of my parents can verify this, as it obviously wasn’t me doing the driving.

Having painstakingly combed the area, Benny was still missing. With the light fading, and with me feeling tired and dejected, we headed back to our temporary home. However, shortly after arrival, my mood changed completely when I realised that I had actually left Benny wedged between the pages of the ‘Asterix’ book next to my bed.

In this instance, mine was a temporary loss, however this is tempered by the sad fact that I don’t actually know where Benny is these days. Due to his small frame, he got lost again years later, this time for good. Despite the fact that I am now 35 years of age, I’m like my mother in that this genuinely makes me feel rather sad every time I think about it.

Fast-forward to the present day and I am aware that the day may soon come when my daughter loses one of her cherished toys. With this in mind, my wife and I were given some wise words of advice from my mother-in-law, who said we should always have a duplicate in reserve should anything happen to whichever one ended up as the favourite.

Being very young and fickle, M has only recently developed an interest in soft toys, previously preferring to play with objects that made more of an impact when they were whacked against her high chair or dropped down the toilet. But there has always been one constant presence, which has been especially useful at bedtime as it has become her comforter. When you hand it to her, she automatically grabs it with one hand and sticks her other thumb in her mouth. It’s like flicking on a rather loveable switch.

The toy in question is a little stuffed animal called a ‘Chimboo Mouse’ made by Jellycat, a company that makes really cute little toys. I don’t wish to cast aspersions, but if you don’t make at least one ‘awww’ noise when looking at their website, then frankly you have no soul.

So, given the level of attachment that M has to her mouse, we decided to follow my mother-in-law’s advice and buy a spare in case of accidental loss or even potential damage as a result of it being chewed beyond recognition. The problem is that Jellycat have since amended the range. The new mice on the block are still the same size, colour, fabric, dimension etc. and the only difference is that the face is more rounded, less narrow. This is presumably to make them look even cuter but it also makes them look strangely less mouse-like. It is a noticeable difference though and one that I’d guess would not get past most children if you were to try and replace their favourite toy with an imposter.

So, after a lengthy deliberation, we decided not to purchase the not-quite lookalike mouse from Jellycat directly, but instead search for a true duplicate elsewhere. In such circumstances, all roads lead to eBay.

The good news was that we did indeed find two of the older Chimboo mice for sale, both unused and with tags. The bad news (and I don’t think I’m overstating this) was that the people aiming to sell these mice were pure evil and clearly trying to exploit desperate parents in a bid to make a large profit.

I don’t like naming and shaming, but the worst offender was (and still is) an eBay business known as ‘cheddargorgetoyshop’. Despite the fact that you can buy the new Chimboo mouse for £9 from the Jellycat website, they have listed one of the original range for £24.99. They’ve even described it as a ‘rare piece’. Now, you can argue whether that’s technically true or not, but I personally think they’ve got more cheek than Beyonce.

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(By the way, I’m sorry if I appear to have gone all ‘Daily Mail’ on you, be assured that I’ll be having a shower after writing this in order to try and scrub off all of the middle-class rage).

Meanwhile, the other seller was a fellow parent with a spare mouse that had never been used. Again, this seller had described their mouse as ‘rare’. The starting price was £0.99, so my wife swooped in, contacting the seller to say that she would be happy to pay £10 (£1 above the standard Jellycat price). The seller refused, clearly believing that that she could get even more by sticking with the auction format. With my wife refusing to join the auction on principal, I formed the other half of our tag-team and entered the bidding. Six days later, the final hours and minutes of this auction turned out to be more tense than ‘Gravity’, ‘Apollo 13’ and a World Cup final penalty shootout put together. But, I’m proud to say that I prevailed and the mouse was won for a price of £6.80. Victory was ours.

There’s a slight twist to this winning tale though, as we accidentally introduced both mice to M at the same time, so she’s now used to having two of them. So, it’s back to the search we go, this time for a third mouse…

Scrambling to buy a replacement need not be the only course of action though, as social media has provided a platform for potential child/toy reunions. In December, my sister-in-law shared a link on Facebook in which somebody had found an old teddy bear on a train to Kings Cross and posted a picture of it in the hope that the bear might find its way back to its owner in time for Christmas. I duly shared it as well and, in the coming days, there would be a number of times where I would wonder whether the bear did make it back home. Similarly, this week I saw another shared plea, this time for the safe return of a stuffed toy lion who had been separated from its owner in a local branch of Tesco.

So, in the event of a lost toy, the modern world does actually give us hope.

Now, I can’t offer any solutions to bigger problems such as the global economy or how to make Piers Morgan disappear, but what I can do is to reach out to you good people on behalf of the lost toy cause. People of the blogosphere and the wider world: If you come across a lost toy, look after it, share its details and do what you can to get it back to its rightful owner.

However, If a toy is tragically lost, I hope all sellers and vendors will consider the greater good and offer potential replacement toys at a reasonable price, instead of trying to squeeze as much excess profit as possible from frantic parents (I’m looking at you in particular, ‘cheddargorgetoyshop’).

If we all come together in this, both parents and children will sleep easier at night in the knowledge that childhood companions are safe and sound.  We can do this, so let’s try and make the world a better place, one small soft toy at a time.

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(Almost) a year on: snot, steps and stairs

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Our little daughter is now only a few weeks away from turning 1. Being possibly influenced by the fact that I’m married to a teacher (and also because I decided upon the lazy idea of another list-based blog post), I thought that it was time for her first report card.

Etiquette:

One Sunday morning a couple of weeks ago, I was sitting on the sofa watching M happily play with her toys, when she crawled over, grabbed my knee to hold on as she stood up before vigorously wiping her snotty nose across my leg. As if that wasn’t enough, she then proceeded to break out in a big, cheesy grin as if she’d never been more proud of herself. Clearly, there’s room for improvement here. E-

Sporting Prowess:

A+ for persistence. D- for awareness. The reason I include this second mark is because M’s current sporting event of choice involves the stairs, a part of our home that she is developing something of an obsession with. Now, before I say any more, I’d just like to clarify that my wife and I have a gate at the top of the stairs, but not the bottom. We also like to let her explore in general, but always keep an eye on her and stay very close whenever she heads towards the stairs during those times when we haven’t used her toy basket to block her passage to them. What I’m trying to say is that there’s no need to call social services.

Anyway, her event goes as follows:

Clamber quickly up the first two steps. Slowly climb the third. Tentatively navigate the fourth. Realise that it’s actually quite high. Stand up. Turn around whilst holding the bannisters for balance. Grin through the bannisters. Face away from the stairs. Grin again. Do some weird squat-thrust-type movements whilst making “ooo” “ooo” noises (presumably for extra technical points). Hold arms out. Fall into daddy’s arms and make an “ahrarr” noise that may either be a laugh or a baby-talk version of R Kelly’s ‘I believe I can fly’. Repeat ad nauseum.

Although I’m obviously making sure she is safe, I realise that I am also inadvertently encouraging this game at the same time. This must be one of those ‘Catch-22’ moments of parenthood.

Sporting Prowess Module 2 – Teamwork:

I attempted to share the excitement of team sports with her by setting up a mini rugby game whilst the 6 nations was on, with M and myself playing against the intimidating opposition in the picture below.

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It didn’t quite work, as the picture was taken in the 10-second window before the goalposts were knocked down by my team-mate. She didn’t even take the ball with her. And yes, I know that Twickenham doesn’t have a radiator behind the try-line. D-

Motor Skills:

Pretty good for her age, although she has trouble reaching the clutch pedal and doesn’t tend to indicate when approaching a roundabout. B+

Talking:

She’s usually very chatty, unless she is in an unfamiliar situation or meets someone she doesn’t know, in which case she just performs the obligatory ‘child stare’. When she’s comfortable and happy though, the sounds and non-words are many, ranging from “wawawawa”, “shzrrrrr” and “ahoooo” to an occasional disturbing throaty gargle that makes her sound like a gremlin. Even though it’s far too early for a first word, sounds that are similar to words sometimes take us aback. Given her unbridled enthusiasm when given one, I’m convinced that her eventual first word will be “banana”. A-

Physical Development:

Her crawling is surprisingly quick, especially when It comes to making a beeline for the aforementioned stairs, or random parts of the floor that may still hold some dropped banana from earlier.

Standing is pretty much conquered, although she does tend to hold on to something in order to steady herself, mostly my or my wife’s legs. As adorable as this is, it’s also rather inconvenient should you want to, you know, move. She’s making good progress with the walking too and, for some reason; she saves her best efforts for when out in public. It’s quite amusing to watch the slight panic in other people’s faces when she starts tottering towards them like a drunk in high winds. B+

Emotional Development:

She’s started to have her first few tantrums. Most of the time, this can be quite maddening as, so far, they’ve tended to be due to the fact that we’ve blocked her path to the stairs or that it’s time for her to go to bed but she would much prefer to stay up and stick her fingers in our food before going over to wipe them on the television. On the odd occasion however, it can actually be quite amusing. A couple of days ago, she was having fun with her baby-walker before the wall brought an abrupt end to her journey across the living room. Upset that she couldn’t go any further, she proceeded to look cross, babble loudly in frustration and throw her arms down in disgust. Whilst this instance may have been quite funny, I doubt I’ll find the majority of tantrums over the next 18 years quite as comical. C+

Sleeping:

Much like a football manager who is only as good as their last result, M’s sleeping pattern only seems as good or as bad as the previous night.  On the whole, she is actually quite good, but the one consistent is that she saves her most unsettled nights for Sundays. As this is right before the start of the working week, the disruption is about as welcome as a fart in a crowded lift. C+

Teeth:

B+. Eight of them so far, all causing considerable pain when you get them clamped round your finger whilst trying to administer her teething granules, which I suppose is rather ironic.

Bathtime:

Hates her hair being washed, repeatedly tries to stand up in the tub, grabs and chews the sponge, hates the sponge being taken off her, hits me in the face with the sponge and squeezes the water from it outside the tub, making me arguably wetter than her. All of which is much to her delight. Rubber ducks and her own toothbrush are only an occasionally effective distraction technique. D+

Social Interaction:

Very sociable once she’s figured people out. Possibly a little too sociable with other babies and children especially, as she gets rather ‘hands-on’ with them. Which reminds me that we need to clip her nails even more regularly. She’s like Wolverine. B+

Eating and drinking:

Breakfast tends to be messy. Many years from now, when we’ve long-since moved, the next owners of our house will still be finding mysterious pieces of encrusted, flung porridge in random parts of the kitchen.

On the plus side, we’ve been combining milk with weaning onto solids for a while now and M doesn’t seem to be at all picky. She even loves cauliflower cheese, which proves that there must be something wrong with her taste buds. Trying to give her water after meals is a struggle though, as she just uses it as mouthwash before spitting it out and wearing a look that can only be described as ‘contemptuous’. B+

Inquisition:

Seemingly wants to know about EVERYTHING. Current objects of fascination include mobile phones, the stairs, the TV remote, any toggles on an item of clothing, the stairs, anything stacked up on shelves that can be knocked down (books, DVDs etc.), the washing machine, the stairs, the door stop holding open the kitchen door, any food that you happen to be eating, any drink that you happen to be drinking, the stairs, the tumble dryer, anything that happens to be between her and the stairs, her own socks (still). As lovely as her curiosity is, it’s also incredibly exhausting when you have to pick her up and direct her away from the bin for the umpteenth time that afternoon. A-

Musicality:

C+. She’s obviously not writing her first concerto or breaking out the MC Hammer-style moves yet, but M does enjoy music and watching people dance and sing. This is surprising, given that I have a singing voice that sounds like a seal being clubbed to death. In fact, it’s even worse than this:

Storytelling:

C+. Enjoys being read to, providing she’s not wriggling away and trying to get to the stairs again. She also seems to enjoy telling the odd story herself as well. A couple of weeks ago, I picked her up from the child-minder for the first time. On the way home, she was babbling away in the back of the car as if telling me all about her day. It was strangely emotional.

Her thesis on the industrial revolution:

Ungraded. She’s still working on the introduction. It’s very shoddy work, if I’m honest.

Travels with our daughter

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The first few months with a new baby are constantly filled with firsts, new adventures and exciting experiences. However, being a natural worrier, there was one particular ‘first’ that I was in fear of until we tackled it head-on a couple of weeks ago: Our first trip abroad as a family.

Having not had a proper holiday since I beautifully photographed our adventure in Canada last summer, my wife and I needed a break. But it’s also fair to say that, given that we’d never gone away with Baby M before, I ‘may’ have got myself a little worked up with worry about travelling with her and keeping her safe in an unknown place, where I didn’t know if teething gel, wet wipes and Calpol would be sold by the bucket-load.

There were so many things to consider: the ridiculous amount of luggage we would have to carry, how M would react to being on an airplane, what would happen if she were ill, how we would get around, whether her routine would be so disrupted that we – not to mention the other people staying in the apartment building we were booked into – would be able to get any sleep whatsoever. Would this disturbance involve us being unceremoniously ejected from the apartment and onto the streets of Seville, with nowhere to go with a crying baby to try and soothe? Like I said, I may have got a little worked up.

Waking up at an intrusively early hour to begin with didn’t help. Having been getting up for work at 6am during the preceding weeks, I was somewhat disappointed to discover that this was also the time that we ideally needed to be at the airport, which would mean having to get up at 4.45am in order to get ourselves and M ready, making sure we had everything we needed and loading the car. All of this was soundtracked by my grumbling about the fact I wished that I was still in bed, before Mrs.D pointed out that the reason we were up so early was that an 8am flight was the best option with regards to M’s routine, therefore giving better odds on a calmer journey. Having no further argument, I shut up.

The transfer to the airport once we’d parked the car was fine, except for some fellow travellers who were quite content to barge past us, despite the fact that we were carrying a baby, a pushchair, five pieces of luggage and my already strained nerves. We muttered in their vague direction but were gushingly grateful towards the kind Japanese man who helped us move our heavy luggage off the bus. This was a great example of when you’re tired, stressed and with a baby, other people tend to fall into either the ‘wonderfully good’ or ‘pure evil’ category. There is no middle ground.

Surprisingly though, the rest of the pre-flight build up was a breeze. We had already checked in online (it was actually Mrs.D who’d done this, I’d been too busy getting irrationally stressed) so, despite the fact that we had packed enough nappies to survive the end of days, our main suitcase was amazingly within the weight restrictions when we got to the bag drop. Thanks to the ‘family lane’ we were quickly through security as well. In my opinion, all airport security metal detector doorways should be in the shape of a castle turret (nice touch, Gatwick airport). Who knows, maybe this would have stopped Diana Ross getting quite so stroppy?

Having got through the gate and left our pushchair to be put in the hold, we were on the plane. Amazingly, M was absolutely fine. She didn’t complain about the pressure in her ears, slept for most of the 2.5 hours and only got a bit fidgety and wriggly towards the end of the flight (my apologies to the kind Spanish lady sitting next to me, who had a small plastic duck smack her on the nose from close range).

Despite being tired, I was considerably calmer. That was until we reached our home for the next week, unloaded our bags from the taxi and reached for the pushchair to pop M in and wheel her up the cobbled streets to the apartment entrance. That was when we realised that this had happened:

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I’ll take my cue from Rhod Gilbert’s brilliant luggage sketch and not specifically name the airline that trashed our pushchair, so I’ll just say that their logo is bright orange, making it look as though you are flying inside a giant Duplo toy. Rather than be placed with care and love inside the plane’s hold, the pushchair had clearly had a close-to-20kg suitcase (perhaps one including a decade’s supply of Pampers?) thrown onto it with enough force to snap one of the arms. The worst part was that the pushchair wasn’t even our own. A very good friend of ours had kindly loaned us the use of hers for the week.

Trying to get past this annoyance, we decided that the first day would be used for settling in and getting used to our surroundings, whilst also searching for Sellotape and superglue in a desperate bid to patch up the pushchair. As nighttime came about though, some of my worries were unfortunately realised.

The building we were staying in had 6 apartments, an incredibly heavy front door and marble floors throughout the building, which meant that even the slightest of sounds reverberated (you can see where this is going, can’t you?) Unfortunately, our hopes of M seamlessly getting to sleep were thwarted by people coming in at all hours of the night and morning, leaving the heavy door to slam behind them whilst having loud conversations in the reception area that was immediately outside our ground floor abode. Every time I heard any of this, the people upstairs apparently dancing to ‘The Macarena’ or the middle base of M’s cot smack against the hard floor (we’d had the cot provided with the apartment, but no mattress to accompany it), I would clench so tightly that I almost gave myself a hernia. Sometimes, our little daughter was oblivious to all this, but most of the time she awoke with a start. On the rare occasions when she ignored these unwelcome interruptions, Mrs.D and I couldn’t.

By Sunday morning, we were tired, grumpy and anxious about the prospect of a full week of no sleep. We clung to the desperate straw that this was due to it being Saturday night and that the rest of our holiday wouldn’t be as bad. Fortunately it did get better, although M still woke up a number of times most nights. Cue rather bizarre scenes commencing around 6pm each evening after we’d put her to bed. She would be lying in her travel cot in the living room, seemingly having the whole place to herself, whilst Mrs.D and I would be huddled in the bedroom with our bowls of pasta, desperately trying not to make the slightest sound.

On a positive note though, Seville is a beautiful and very baby-friendly city, with plenty of people walking around with pushchairs, albeit of the unbroken variety. We were fortunate enough to be staying in the heart of the old town, near to the cathedral, the royal palace and other historical buildings. However, this meant that there were a lot of narrow cobbled streets to manoeuvre M around. The subsequent reverberation from the broken pushchair on M’s more vocal days made her sound like Cher.

Finding places to change and feed M was relatively simple, apart from one awkward moment whereby Mrs.D decided to feed her by a rather picturesque fountain, a minute before a tour party approached to look at it. We tried to look as nonchalant as possible, but I’m pretty sure that there are some people out there who ended up with more than they bargained for in their holiday snaps.

But by the end of the week, we’d found that we had settled into the daily routines despite the broken sleep and that we had been able to plan the days pretty effectively with regards to sightseeing, eating and narrowly getting run over by trams. I’d been able to get to a football match one evening whilst Mrs.D went to a flamenco show on another night (with whoever stayed behind getting further practice with the pasta huddle). We’d been pretty pleased with everything that we’d seen throughout the week, but were looking forward to getting home on the following Saturday afternoon. Before that though, Friday night happened.

It was the start of the weekend. As per the first night, slamming doors, pissed-up and tapas-fuelled tourists and a baby who had clearly decided that she’d had enough of sleeping in the world’s most uncomfortable travel cot interrupted our precious, beautiful slumber. I’ve tried to banish memories of those hideous few hours from my mind, but our night’s sleep was summed up best by my wife at around 7am, after we’d re-opened our eyes for the millionth time: “Well, at least we got an hour”, she said.

In fact, it was such a bad night that, before we left for the airport that morning, I seriously considered going out into the lobby and banging two of the apartment’s saucepans together as a bitter revenge against our inconsiderate fellow apartment guests. I sometimes get a bit petty when I’m tired.

We didn’t say much during the taxi ride, check-in and waiting at the gate, it was all rather a lot of effort. M was quite chatty though and we were fortunate that she was really good on the plane again as well, despite getting rather upset towards the end of the flight because of her ears popping. So, my thanks go to the elderly gentleman sitting behind us who distracted her enough during landing to stop her crying. My apologies as well to the same person who may have been a little uncomfortable when I joked that he’d “have to come home with us now” (please blame my aforementioned lack of sleep).

But, despite the worry, the loud doors, sleepless nights and the broken pushchair, I felt rather sad that we were back in the cold, wet UK. It’s easy to remember the aspects of a holiday that didn’t go so well, but it was certainly a learning experience and the mishaps shouldn’t detract from all the good. In fact, I’m already thinking about the next break, maybe somewhere else in Europe around Easter time. What’s Italian for “how can I fix this pushchair?”

In other news…

– Baby M is really getting this whole crawling lark figured out. Well, at the moment it is more of a speedy shuffle, with some weird thrusting movements beforehand that suggest she’s warming up for a 100m-style sprint out of the blocks. The items that she currently makes a beeline for most include: Her own socks, a small tin of Vaseline ‘lip therapy’, my dinner, the TV remote and (scarily) the front door when it’s open.

– Her vocal stylings sometimes sound like she’s saying “Dadda”. Clearly, I have not been encouraging this. Honest.

– Christmas is approaching, so does anyone know where you can get a reindeer outfit for a 7-month old?

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.

The hardest, but most rewarding thing we’ll ever do

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There are certain things in life that are both exciting and terrifying in equal measure – going off to university, starting a new job, getting married, travelling on the London Underground. However, I’m discovering that nothing swings between these two emotions quite like the realisation that you are going to be a parent for the first time.

Yes, despite being barely able to look after myself, I am going to be a dad.

My wife and I have had the 20-week scan, which actually turned into 2 scans that were 14 days apart as, first time round, our little baby decided to adopt an aircraft-style ‘brace’ position, meaning that not all of its bits and pieces could be measured properly.

So, having hoped that all of the worry and tension that had built up over the past few weeks would be eradicated, we had to wait another 2 weeks for it to be confirmed that everything looked ok and all the parts were in the right places. I was a bit frustrated after the first of these scans because of this emotional compression, but Mrs.D pointed out that we were instead in the fortunate position of being able to see our little baby twice.

How right she was. It was truly amazing to see how the baby had grown since week 20 and to see its little heart pumping away for the first time. Judging by these early images, our offspring has the potential to be an Olympic gymnast due to its energy and dexterity. If there’s a future Olympic event that involves holding your foot near your mouth, I’m placing a bet on our child winning a gold medal.

We also now know the sex of the baby and what name we would like to call him/her, but we are keeping this to ourselves for the time being. After all, nothing potentially spoils a name like someone saying that it’s also the name of their first dog or the person who broke their heart 10 years ago.

Anyway, having been told that everything looked ok so far, we headed out of the hospital, breathed a sigh of relief and then jointly had one of those excitement/terror moments. “It’s just become a bit more real now, hasn’t it?” I said. My wife nodded and gave me a wide-eyed look that projected happiness combined with the realisation of what we are about to take on.

Even though now we are only just entering the third trimester, the planning starts now and there is a lot to consider and become familiar with in a comparatively short space of time.

For instance, we have ordered wallpaper for one wall of the nursery and painted the rest of the room over the Christmas holiday. We have also ordered a travel system. Now, having previously worked for a public transport organisation, I naturally assumed that the phrase ‘transport system’ referred to the infrastructure of a bus or underground train network. Not in baby world, it doesn’t.

Instead, it seems to be the name of any type of buggy/pram/pushchair/jogger hybrid that carries your little angel around. There are numerous options for this and I think we pushed the saleswoman in John Lewis to breaking point by asking every conceivable question for about an hour before finally settling on what we hope is the right model for our child. “Are you an urban couple?” we were asked at one point. “No idea” we replied, slightly baffled, before images of Mrs.D and I as some unconvincing rap duo appeared in my mind.

Anyway, the contraption we have bought should move around effortlessly, carry various accessories as well as the child itself and easily fit into our car boot (once we have removed the wellies, umbrellas and assorted crap currently in there), but still looks like it could turn into Optimus Prime at the flick of a lever.

We also apparently need to start thinking about day care, a full 3 months before the baby arrives and a good year before my wife returns to work after maternity leave. Do we opt for a child-minder or day care centre? We are not nearly posh or wealthy enough to consider a nanny. Again, the options are less than straightforward. Whichever one you turn to though, the cost is mind-boggling. I am already thinking that our child needs to damn well end up as a highly successful career professional, who is able to keep me and Mrs.D in the style in which we deserve after probably having to sell our kidneys on ebay in order to fund his/her early years.

These are just examples of the logistics though, whereas what terrifies me most is the actual ‘care’ of the child. I mean, how does it work? There’s no manual. A lot of parents that we’ve spoken to have said that they just ‘wing it’, but I would feel a lot more confident with some sort of technical handbook that tells you the exact solution for dealing with every little problem that may occur. For instance: When the baby cries, how do I know if it is hungry, tired, needs its nappy changed, is unwell, in pain or just not happy about wearing the Tottenham Hotspur bib that I will inevitably buy once its born?

Despite this inherent human design flaw that neglects to supply a manual with spare parts for your baby, I have been reading various baby books and have bought ‘Parenting for Dummies’ in order to try and pick up as many nuggets of information as possible.

For example, I have learnt that you need ‘muslin squares’ to mop up ‘possets’. From this, I have discovered that possets is a ridiculously cutesie term for small amounts of baby puke and that you really need to learn how to properly pronounce ‘muslin’, just in case you accidentally cause offence.

But, going back to the care aspect; next week, I have a baby first aid class, which I am actually quite scared about. You see, I don’t even know the correct way to hold a baby. My current attempt is somewhere between a fireman’s lift and diffusing a bomb. I have images in my head of me inadvertently removing the head of the plastic practice baby whilst other Dads are successfully performing baby CPR, simultaneously changing a nappy and also wondering who the class psychopath is.

Changing nappies is another thing, as I am not good with poo. According to testimonies and vivid eye-witness accounts from friends who are parents, this stuff goes projectile and gets everywhere. The shit doesn’t necessarily hit the fan as cover every single corner of the room instead, getting in places that you never thought would be susceptible to a faecal invasion. I’m slightly ashamed to say that, when I first heard about this phenomenon, my immediate concerns were for my laptop and Playstation. Combine this with my inability to wrap presents and nappy changes become a recipe for disaster. According to one of the books I’ve read, new-born babies need about 60 nappy changes per week. I think we can all agree, that’s a lot of poo.

But, putting aside quips about travel systems, guidebooks, money and flying faeces, I really hope that I’m going to be a good dad. Like any parent, I just wish for a healthy baby and, later, a happy child. Before that though, there will be countless nappies to be changed, sleepless nights to be had, a fair bit of crying, lots of equipment to be carried around, plenty of badly-sung tunes about animals, a plethora of goofy noises and much, much more.

It’s going to be a long journey, one that will change our lives forever and will be exciting and yet terrifying in equal measure. It will be quite possibly the hardest, yet most rewarding thing that my wife and I will ever do – and you know what? I can’t wait.

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 🙂

Rubbed up the wrong way

There are often events in life that turn out to be the exact opposite of what you’d expect. This can work both ways. A night out that you thought you were too tired for can turn into a fantastic catch-up that lasts until the early hours. On the flipside, an interview for a job that you thought you were perfect for can sometimes turn into a disaster that you can’t escape from soon enough. I think we’ve all been there.

One such occasion occurred a few weekends ago, when my wife and I had booked ourselves onto a massage course in London. At this point, I should probably point out that it was massaging in a ‘sports therapy’ sense rather than anything more erotic. If you were reading this post expecting the latter, then I’m afraid you’ll be sorely disappointed, ’50 Shades of Grey’ this isn’t.

Anyhow, these massage courses are not cheap and we had booked ours at a discount through Groupon. For anyone not familiar with Groupon, it basically sells a vast number of deals at a heavily discounted price. These deals can be anything from beauty treatments and short breaks to meals and days out. I’ve bought a few things from Groupon in the past and it is, one the whole, a pretty good website, providing you don’t object to receiving 2-3 emails every single day, usually sent around 3am.

The course was to be held at one of the city’s universities and so, armed with our 75% discount, Mrs.D and I headed towards North London.

However, the alarm bells went off initially when we arrived at the venue. The tutor was nowhere to be seen and there appeared to be a lot of people waiting around, all looking vaguely bemused and somewhat uncomfortable. The security guard at the front desk was unhelpful and had the look of a man who was badly hung-over and in desperate need of a bacon sandwich and some Alka-Seltzer.

When the tutor did arrive, 20 minutes late, we were ushered to an upstairs room that was part gymnasium and part hospital ward, where we all sat down for a further 10 minutes whilst the tutor rummaged in his bag in silence. The feeling of discomfort increased further as it slowly dawned on everyone that there were only 6 massage benches and surrounding curtains, but a good 30 or so people had turned up for the course which was roughly double the number that was expected. The slight panic was emphasised by the first words that our tutor spoke to us. ‘Are you all supposed to be here’, he said. It was a great start and it quickly dawned on us that our tutor (let’s call him Joe) hadn’t been doing this for long. He was in his early twenties and quite shy for a man built like a professional athlete. As he explained to us, he was only trained at a basic level and was still a student. This did not bode well and already I could see people looking around as if to say ‘would it be rude if we left now?’

However, nobody had the bravery to do so. So there we were all sat round the room, waiting for Joe to begin. He proceeded to the door, head down, turned around and proceeded to ask everyone why they were here, what they wanted to learn and how experienced they were. This would have been much more effective with a smaller group. Whilst initially amused at the schoolboy humour of people saying ‘I’ve received but I’m not good at giving’, any cheap laughs were firmly gone by the time everyone in the room basically repeated what had been said before.

Having got these ‘pleasantries’ out of the way, Joe then started to read, very slowly, out of a massage guidebook. He talked about eight different techniques, repeating them constantly as it became apparent he was also trying to teach himself as he went on. It was like Jackanory with essential oils. Even if some of this was potentially useful, there was no handout or accompaniment, so people typed away on phones and scribbled notes on random bits of paper they’d stolen from the room’s printer tray.

After the painful dictation, it was now time for the demonstration. This was always going to ramp up the awkwardness to epic levels, especially as Joe asked for a volunteer. Eyes were raised to the ceiling, down to the floor and anywhere that wasn’t near the bench he was gesturing towards. Eventually, a voice from the side of the room piped up and our volunteer turned out to be a rather ‘heavy-set’ gentleman of a certain age. Everyone seemed relieved but also rather embarrassed, mainly because the volunteer was happy to whip his shirt off without the aid of a curtain and then lay down on the bench like a beached whale.

Anyhow, the towel went on the whale and Joe proceeded to work his magic. Of course, by ‘magic’ I mean he repeated himself numerous times, kept stopping and starting to ask for help from the group to remember the key phrases he had tried to drum into us in the first place and general looked rather dismayed that he was rubbing a old bloke. This went on for a good 90 minutes, during which time somebody actually fell asleep (not the volunteer) and a few others secretly checked their phones for the nearest train times. Truth be told, I did feel a bit sorry for Joe, as the poor devil was out of his depth and this had clearly been dumped on him by bad organisation somewhere between Groupon and the university.

Fortunately, lunchtime arrived and just before we were dismissed for 30 minutes, Joe promised us that the afternoon would feature a colleague of his who was a specialist in Indian massaging techniques. This proved to be crucial as some people who were initially ready to rush out of the door, individually decided they would hang around. After all, everyone else appeared to be leaving so that would mean that onset of chronic boredom and the limited number of beds wouldn’t be a problem, right?

Wrong. Lunchtime came and went, but nobody left. People were hanging their hopes on Joe’s colleague who, relative to Joe at least, had to be an expert.

I shall call the expert Marco.

Marco was a small, Mediterranean gentleman with facial hair straight out of a Victorian novel and the cold, dead eyes of a serial killer. Fortunately for the group’s second volunteer, who was thankfully not the same person as before, Marco had been a massage therapist for about 30 years, which is a lot of time spent in the company of lavender. Despite his outward appearance, he was a skilled man of the oil.

So, to another 90 minutes, but this time it was a lot better. Even so, Joe would pipe up every so often with phrases like ‘remember I told you this before’, as if he was somehow the brains behind the whole thing, except more in the manner of a man who had just been prodded awake at the end of a long train journey.

Anyhow, after Marco’s demonstration, we were collectively re-invigorated and ready to try out some Indian massaging techniques. Or so we would have been had Joe not walked towards the bench to demonstrate again. This time, it was even more stilted, with him basically trying to copy Marco’s moves without success, relying again on participation from the group in the manner of a really bad pantomime.

Any energy had been sapped from the group by the time it eventually came for us to try the techniques out ourselves. Of course, the limited number of beds was still a major problem. Joe ‘solved’ this by suggesting that couples combined to make groups of four, thus each having use of a bench. At this point, if awkwardness had an alert, there would have been a huge red light flashing in the corner of the room, telling us to evacuate the building. Sadly there wasn’t. So, in a bid to escape the awkwardness, Mrs.D and I told our designated other couple that they could have the bench first and we would have our turn afterwards.

Joe was circling the room like a vaguely depressed shark and appeared strangely perplexed that Mrs.D and I chose to wait our turn rather than join in massaging random people we had only briefly met that morning. It made me wonder what he does with his weekends.

Anyway, half and hour later, our ‘turn’ arrived and we walked behind the curtain whereby my wife said that I should be the masseur first.

So, it began. I grabbed her foot and started trying to remember the sequence the Marco had talked us through. What I ended up doing was not as Marco had demonstrated but, in all honesty, I was pretty confused as I attempted to pick out the relevant bits from watching hours of massaging, tried to remember the order of the hand movements as well as decipher the auto-corrected notes that Mrs.D had made on her iPhone. What I needed to do was just take some time and work through it. Unfortunately, this wasn’t going to happen.

For the most part, my wife and I make a really good team. However, in occasional moments of uncertainty and awkwardness, it is fair to say that we are not always at our best. In a nutshell, Mrs.D tends to get controlling and bossy, whereas I tend to get flustered and stubborn. It’s a not a good combination. So, what followed was not 15 minutes of massaging brilliance, but 15 minutes of hushed arguing behind a curtain. Imagine, if you will, that I am shaking my wife’s ankle as if I am trying to remove the last bit of ketchup from a bottle. The accompanying conversation went something like this:

Mrs.D: You’re doing it wrong.
Me: I’m just trying to remember what he said. Hang on a second.
Mrs.D (gesturing): It was supposed to be like this.
Me: I know. Can you just let me get on with it?
Mrs.D: But it’s wrong. I knew you couldn’t see during the demonstration. You should have moved.
Me: I could see perfectly fine, but there was a lot to take in and I’m also trying to look at your notes. I’m working my way through it.
Mrs.D You obviously can’t remember and couldn’t see.
Me: I could see, just let me get on with it.
Mrs.D: If you were interested, you should have moved so that you could see.
Me: For the last time, I COULD see. Just keep quiet and let me concentrate!
Mrs.D: But you’re doing it WRONG!
Me: Look, we’ve been here long enough already and this isn’t working. Can we just go?

This exchange was repeated, on loop, a number of times before my flustered stubbornness took hold. When it came to my turn to be massaged, I refused and decided it was time to leave. Needless to say, there was not a great deal of talking on the train home except for the odd repeat of the conversation above.

So, having parted with a decent amount of cash (despite the discount) to get up at the crack of dawn in order to travel to North London, we had spent virtually an entire Saturday feeling very awkward and uncomfortable – and then had an argument to top it off.

Despite all this, I still maintain that Groupon deals are still very good value (unless they are over-subscribed). A massage course is still a nice idea as something for a couple to do together. Plus, I realised that despite what your expectations are at the start, certain things tend to work better when you relax and don’t think about it too much. Unfortunately though, I still haven’t got a clue what essential oils are.

Don’t bet on it

There’s a reason I’m not much of a betting man. That reason being that I’m crap at it, despite my instincts telling me otherwise. Every so often, my theories about sporting events come true and, afterwards, I usually curse myself for not placing just a small amount of money on the outcome.

The most recent example of this came at the end of February. One of my oldest and closest friends invited me along to watch the Arsenal vs Tottenham game. He supports the home side, whereas I am a Tottenham fan. Before, the game, we sat down for a bite to eat and noticed that, laid out before us, were the strategically placed betting sheets for the match. Checking out the odds (and pretending I was seasoned at this sort of thing), I noticed that the Tottenham striker, Louis Saha, was 7/1 to score the first goal. I was pretty confident going into the game about my side’s chances and Saha had been in decent scoring form since he joined, so I was very tempted. However, in between mouthfuls of roast pork (the food at the Emirates Stadium is very good by the way), I missed my chance but convinced myself that I had saved myself the princely sum of £5 in the process.

So, the inevitable happened and, after just four minutes after kick-off, Saha turned in the Arsenal penalty area and his deflected shot went into the back of the net. The emotions were overwhelmingly contradictory. I was delighted that my side had scored but couldn’t celebrate as I was surrounded by Arsenal fans – so I stayed in my seat, happy but wearing a rueful smile that comes from the knowledge I could have been £40 to the good. In the end, Arsenal came back to rout Tottenham 5-2 so my team and I had both lost out.

For the remainder of this story, I lay the blame squarely at my iPhone (and Rupert Murdoch). One of the apps I look at most regularly is the Sky Sports app and, a couple of weeks ago, they had a banner over the home page advertising a free £10 bet with Sky Bet, the betting site linked to Sky Sports. I pondered this and decided that by signing up and receiving a £10 free bet, I had nothing to lose. So, when the next Tottenham game came around – against our other London rivals Chelsea – I went for a ‘scorecast’ bet, with Tottenham striker Emmanuel Adebayor to score first and the game to end 2-2. The odds on this were 250/1 so I looked forward to the considerable winnings that my free £10 bet would provide. Needless to say, the match didn’t turn out that way. It was a draw, but 0-0. Adebayor didn’t play too well either.

You’d think that would be the end of it, but with a bit of time on my hands in the evenings last week when I was away on business, I decided to have a bit of a flutter on the US Masters golf tournament. I had previous in golf predictions, correctly predicting Phil Mickleson to win the Masters in 2004, and Greg Norman to win the Open Championship in 1993. Of course, I hadn’t bet on either of these possibilities – but I was just 15 in 1993 so you’d be concerned if I had.

Anyhow, this time out I sacrificed the princely sum of £5 again (you’ll have gathered I’m not a huge risk-taker) and, having been an avid follower of the Masters, split my £5 on two bets: £2.50 on K.J.Choi to win and £2.50 on Jason Day to win. Choi has a good record in the Masters and Day is a good young golfer who was runner-up in 2011. So, what happened? Choi missed the cut (9 over par after 36 holes) whilst Day withdrew after the first round.

I should have heeded the warning signs before even downloading the Sky Bet app. A couple of weeks beforehand, my wife and I had been out to Wimbledon greyhound stadium with another good friend of mine. Mrs.D and I studied the form book for each race, looking at previous results, class, running type and all the other information – in the hope that our £2 bets each time would at least pay for the admission, beer and questionable burgers. We both struck out completely, winning not a penny.  My friend, however, won some money on most of the races that she put money on. Her secret? “I just picked the names I liked”, she said.

So, I shall be deleting the Sky Bet app and not put my precious £5 sums of cash at risk. When my instincts kick in when the next Tottenham match or golf tournament comes around, I shall just keep my predictions quiet. And then kick myself afterwards when they come true.