All because I love Milk Tray

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There’s a commonly-held belief that, once you become a parent, you have to make certain sacrifices and that time spent on your hobbies and chasing your goals tends to get scaled back somewhat – the sad sight of my golf clubs gathering dust and spider-webs in my garage is testament to this.  Yet, although I’m a father of two, my dreams were – if anything –reignited recently with the news that Cadburys are searching for a new ‘Milk Tray’ Man.

That’s right – like many forgotten heroes, our favourite black-clad purple box-wielding delivery boy is getting a reboot – andI’ve applied for the role.

Yes, I’m only 5 foot 7 (5 foot 8 if I don’t slouch), look permanently exhausted and am getting increasingly squidgy round the edges.  But, if you look closely, aren’t many screen heroes really just flawed human beings rather than perfect specimens?  After all, take off the mask and Spider-man is really a gawky teenager, Batman is a recluse in desperate need of a Strepsil and don’t get me started on how many hours of therapy James Bond clearly needs.

So, with that in mind, here are some reasons why I believe that I should get the part:

  • I’m adventurous and daring. For instance, I once used a fake name in Starbucks and I sometimes stay in a supermarket car-park for longer than my allocated time.
  • As long as it’s not 100% acrylic, I’m almost certain that the black polo neck jumper won’t make me itch.
  • I can almost guarantee that the box of Milk Tray would be delivered to the lady in question with at least half of the chocolates still present and correct.
  • Ok, so I’ve never dodged sharks, jumped bridges or flown a helicopter (the latter two because I’m scared of heights, the former because I’d prefer not be torn limb from limb). However, I have safely carried a bunch of flowers for my wife from central London to Surrey via two tube lines and the 17:54 from Waterloo to Dorking – which is pretty much the same when you think about it.
  • Rather than terrify the lady who loves Milk Tray by abseiling into her bedroom window (and running the risk of a restraining order and pepper spray ruining the chocolates), I would be very British and knock politely yet apologetically.
  • I’m REAL (didn’t that whole ‘real’ schtick work for Zoella and her YouTube channel..?
  • I’m mature and yet still down with the kids (see above point).
  • Just like ridiculously skinny female models, I don’t think we should be giving young men an impossible vision of masculinity to live up to. Be more like me, an alternative and easily obtainable style of man without too much effort.
  • I believe in the product (especially the caramel fudge ones).
  • Modern cameras and lighting can hide your blocked pores these days.
  • My dodgy knee doesn’t give me grief ALL the time.
  • I’m happy to be paid in Milk Tray.

So, I want to do this. I want to strike a blow for short, mousey and tired over tall, dark and handsome. I want to show the world that modern heroes need not be hopeless visions of enhanced masculinity. I want to claim a victory for the simple man . Because, dear readers of this blog, I am a simple man. A simple man who just wants the chance to hold a box of chocolates whilst being filmed doing so.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I need to visit asos.com for some black trousers with that stretchy material…

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…

Soft play politics

Just before my daughter turned 1, I came home from work one evening to find her clambering all over the littered sofa cushions as if it were her own personal soft play area. As well as being one of those “she’s not a baby anymore” moments, it also made me realise that she now needs more exercise if there’s to be any hope of getting her to sleep at anything approaching a reasonable hour.

So, the following weekend, my wife and I decided to take M to an actual soft play area. This was to be my first time experiencing this (my wife was a veteran of four visits), so I was initially a little apprehensive at the thought of somehow making a huge faux pas.

“Don’t worry, there are rules written on the wall”, my wife said, which was part witty remark and part instruction.

But, I figured that I was just being silly. After all, I was pretty sure that I could restrain myself from performing a running jump into the ball pit or re-enacting ‘The Hunger Games’ in the climbing area.

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Not an actual soft play safety notice

Despite the fact that we had to book a session first, we arrived to find that there were only a handful of other parents and children there. It started well enough, we found a table that would function as our base and proceeded into the ball pit. M was a bit apprehensive about this, but my wife and I joined her as reassurance, all the while trying not to think about all the dirt and encrusted bogeys that might be hidden at the bottom. We then went guided M up the mini steps next to the ball pit and down the adjoining slide. She absolutely loved this, but started to get a bit stroppy that she couldn’t climb back up the slide itself.

There’ll be more on that later.

We then noticed that, behind the ball pit and steps, there was a play area that was currently empty. In this particular section, there was a notice stating that it was ‘recommended’ that children under the age of 5 did not go in. This was presumably because it was a bit darker, there were a couple of large, exercise-style bouncy balls within and the steps were slightly bigger. However, being the determined little individual that she is, M wanted to go in and my wife seemed happy with this: “It’s fine, you’ll be with her”, she said.

So, in we went. I held M’s hand as she looked around and I helped her up one of the steps. It was at that moment we were seen by a fellow parent, with a son about the same age as M, on the other side of the netting. The little boy stared in the direction of M and I. His mum glanced over as well. “No, Callum, you can’t go in there as you’re not old enough”, she said, giving me an extremely disapproving look in the process.

With that one sentence, I had been firmly put in my place and told, in no uncertain terms, that she did not approve of my parenting. My soft play experience was only 15 minutes old.

I whisked M away to the car area (the soft play cars, that is, I didn’t take her outside and just leave her by the front wheel of a Nissan). We played there for a little while, whilst I tried to shake the feeling that my soft play ‘parenting card’ had been well and truly marked, probably with red biro.

A short while later, my wife came over and we decided to head back to the slide. One of us would escort M up the steps and place her on the slide, whilst the other would wait to catch her at the bottom. It was good fun and the smile on M’s little face as she came sliding down was lovely. However, as I mentioned before, there was a slight snag as M wanted to climb right back up the slide, clearly oblivious to the older children who were about to hurtle down towards her. So, every time I went to escort her away, she was not best pleased and made her feelings known. Sitting in the area next to the slide was the same mum as before, along with two others. As M cried, they looked over, fixing their collective gaze on my unhappy daughter and I. Feeling rather uncomfortable, I handed M over to my wife and took a bit of a breather.

Now, I can be overly sensitive sometimes and more emotionally robust people might have just ignored the other mums and got on with things, which is why I passed the baton quickly over to my wife. She’s a teacher and used to interacting with parents, therefore I figured she wouldn’t take any perceived slight as personally as me. So, she took M to play with some soft cubes and soft animals before heading back to the slide. But again, each time, M took exception to being removed from the slide once she’d reached the bottom (her mum had come down with her). A few minutes later, my wife brought M over and sat next to me, with a slightly embarrassed look on her face. “They are really judgmental, aren’t they?” she said, subtly gesturing over to the trio of seated mums, who appeared to be glancing disdainfully in our direction.

So, we just sat there for a while, looking rather awkward, like a couple of naughty schoolchildren who’d arrived late for class and neglected to do their homework.

For the remainder of our allotted time, we accompanied M around the soft play area almost apologetically. We left before the other mums had the chance to bring out the pitchforks and burning torches, although I assume that these are probably on an extensive list of items ‘not recommended’ for soft play.

Over-sensitivity and exaggerations for comic effect aside, I appreciate that my fatherly experience is limited (this blog isn’t called ‘The Experienced Dad’s Diary’), but I do know that this parenting business is hard enough without fellow parents making you feel like you are doing it all wrong. After all, each child is different and, as we all know, there is sadly no ‘one-size-fits-all’ manual.

Still, it wasn’t necessarily a bad experience. Slide removals aside, M seemed to enjoy herself and, as my wife put it when we were sat down: “There’s a blog post in this, isn’t there?”

How right she was. As our daughter gets older, it probably won’t be the last of its type either. In terms of soft play though, I might just stick to re-arranging the sofa cushions for the time being.

Don’t hold it upside down and start swinging it around

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Since the turn of the year, our plans for becoming ‘baby-ready’ have really kicked into gear. In the last couple of weeks, we have put wallpaper on the remaining wall of the nursery, ordered enough equipment and supplies from Amazon to single-handedly keep them afloat for the next year (they might even be able to pay their taxes this time) and have even started looking at offers on nappies. I bought a couple of packs of nappies the other day after having a brief, but concise discussion with my wife about what type we should buy. It went like this:

Me: Do you think we should buy cloth nappies or disposable ones?

Mrs.D: Definitely disposable. I’m not washing shit.

Another part of the planning process was to learn how to cope in an emergency. So, last week I finally attended the baby first aid course that I had scrambled to get a place on.  I say scrambled, because these courses seem to get booked up very quickly and, given that our child is due in 3 months, I figured it best to get a place as soon as possible because I knew absolutely nothing about first aid – or babies, for that matter. My wife, being a teacher, is qualified in first aid so I was doing this on my own.

The course was held one evening in a local nursery (or ‘active learning centre’). I was the first person to arrive and was promptly led through a vast array of corridors that made me wonder whether I was going to somehow stray into a snowy forest and find myself talking to a eunuch. However, I instead ended up in a tiny classroom with the heating cranked up to its maximum – it felt somewhat appropriate that dealing with a raised temperature was going to be one of the topics.

As other parents-to-be turned up, it became clear that everyone else at least knew one other person there, mainly due to them all being members of the same pre-natal class. Having shown a reckless enthusiasm by positioning myself right at the front next to the demonstration tables, I was hoping that I wouldn’t end up getting paper aeroplanes or spit flung at my head by the popular kids, just for trying too hard and making copious amounts of notes all the way through.

Our tutor began by introducing the emergencies that we were going to cover. These were ‘unconscious (breathing and non-breathing)’, ‘choking’, ‘raised temperature’, ‘burns’ and ‘bleeding’. All of these instances have different methods, depending whether or not you are dealing with a baby or a child. I started writing, aware that there were no course handouts. Between the frantic scribbling, listening to the tutor and looking the slides on the wall, I felt like I was conquering the male problem with multi-tasking.

Having first learnt the steps needed to check if a baby/child was breathing and how to then administer CPR if they are not, it was time for us to demonstrate this ourselves. There were three of the demonstration tables in the classroom and on each lay a plastic model of a child’s head and chest, as well as a model of a baby. Our ‘baby’ had a name (Annie), presumably because having a limbless torso lying next to it just wasn’t quite creepy enough.

I was the second one to go forward, having craftily studied the man before me. He was in a suit and looked confident. I was in jeans and looked petrified. Yet, having examined my scribbles and engaged with the other people in the group as if it were a collaborative exercise, I managed to get the steps correct. I looked, felt and listened for breathing. I then open up the airwaves, covered the baby’s mouth and nose with my mouth and provided short, sharp breaths. I then started on the chest compressions, pushing down on the breastplate to the tune of ‘Nellie the Elephant’. This song (as well as ‘Stayin’ Alive’, which has the same tune) helps you get the correct rhythm for the compressions. It also makes you wonder how many other children’s songs that the Bee Gees plagiarised throughout their career.

Anyway, having said goodbye to the circus with a trumpety-trump (trump, trump, trump), I turned to sit back down and breathed a sigh of relief – before realising I had forgotten to put Annie’s head back into position and ‘she’ now had an arched back that wouldn’t have looked out of place in The Exorcist. I quickly amended this before cleaning the doll with the alcohol wipes that were provided.

The lady who was next stood up, examined Annie and then announced that she was “just going to wipe off some of the excess alcohol”. Whilst my resuscitation skills may have been up to scratch, my cleaning afterwards apparently bordered on the excessive. In my defence, the smoky bacon-flavoured crisps I’d eaten that afternoon had been repeating on me, so I figured I was actually doing her a favour by being thorough.

When it came to performing CPR on the torso, a little more force was required that just a short breath and a gentle press. Well I say ‘a little’ because a clicking sound on the torso told us how much pressure to apply and it is a surprisingly large amount. The tutor told me to just use one hand and to straighten my arm, with the end result being that I looked as though I was struggling to unblock a U-bend rather than save a life. By this point, everyone in the room was looking towards me and, for some unfathomable reason, I gave a Wallace and Gromit-style cheesy grin before pressing away and cursing myself.

During the choking section, we learnt the Heimlich manoeuvre, but the process for dealing with a choking baby is quite different due to the delicate nature of their still-developing organs. Despite having said this, the tutor was still at pains to point out that the procedure definitely doesn’t involve holding the infant by the feet and swinging it around, ‘Gangnam Style’.

The different ways of dealing with a raised temperature were quite varied and I learnt that Calpol is the must-have of the child medicine world. By the time we got to burns, I was getting almost a little cocky as I was able to proactively name the three types of burn, largely thanks to having watched 10 seasons of ER.

Surprisingly enough, it was the bleeding section where I came a little unstuck as the tutor pointed out that we should all know how to wash and wipe a small cut or graze. The question in my mind was, which of these comes first?  Having gone through the more complex stuff at the beginning, I felt it was a bit like a qualified engineer asking which way up to hold the spirit level. Rather than potentially embarrass myself in public, I settled for asking Mrs.D when I got home.

So, after 2 hours the course ended. I was a little disappointed in the lack of certificate or even a badge or sticker but the main thing is that I now feel a little bit more confident in my fledgling ability as a parent. Joking aside, I would certainly recommend the course to any parents-to-be as it was really well delivered and the skills that were taught are invaluable. But, as our tutor concluded, I’m just hoping that I never have to use them.

The NCT Baby and Child First Aid course was provided by the British Red Cross. Information on all of the topics covered in the course can be found by clicking here.

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.

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.