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?

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Bad photographs of western Canada

Recently, my wife and I were fortunate enough to take a 2-week holiday to western Canada, starting in Calgary and ending up in Vancouver, driving through Banff, Jasper, Whistler and Victoria along the way .It was beautiful, full of stunning scenery, interesting wildlife and friendly people. As a result, I thought that I might share some photographs on this blog.

Now, there are some fantastic blogs and posts about photography on WordPress. This, unfortunately, is not one of them.

The reasons for this come down to two things. Firstly, I don’t have a new or high-specification camera. Instead, my photos come from a combination of my iPhone 4 and my wife’s old camera that has been in use for about ten years and is now missing a few screws. Secondly, I come from the school of ‘click first and ask questions later’, which means that my pictures tend to be a bit hit and miss.

Anyway, as per the post title, the photos you are about to see are not my best efforts (I’m keeping those ones for Facebook in a vague attempt to show off) but are probably better for comedic effect. This is therefore an ‘alternative’ photography post, one that pokes fun at the lesser photos that most of us take whilst on holiday but never actually show to people. So, here you go…

1) We flew into Calgary and this was the first picture I took after arriving and heading out into the city. It’s Calgary tower and very nice it is too. You’ll notice the strange angle as an indication that I was tired, jet-lagged and therefore couldn’t be bothered to take the few steps back in order to fit the whole thing in.

2) The Olympic plaza in Calgary, where the medal ceremonies were held for the 1988 Winter Olympics. I wanted to get a picture that focused primarily on the Olympic rings, but this time didn’t move forward enough. I do, however, have a nice snap of some steps and railings.

3) Minnewanka Lake near Banff. Absolutely beautiful if you can get past the schoolboy humour of the name. In this photo, I’ve somehow gone for a slightly wonky angle and some prominent overhanging branches.

4) Being a bit of a sports geek, I like taking photos of golf courses. It appears that I like it even better when the photo is dominated by a massive shadow. I somehow doubt this one will trouble the promotional brochures for Banff Springs.

5) Taken on my phone through the rental car windscreen, this is a picture of a coyote’s arse. You’re welcome.

6) This is a deer in Banff eating a bush outside a hotel. Oh, and some random people who wouldn’t get out of the way of my shot. Very inconsiderate.

7) Er, some rocks. Oh, and there’s a squirrel in there somewhere too.

8)  This was a very pretty waterfall. You’ll have to take my word for that as I haven’t got the whole waterfall in the shot, instead focusing on a lovely dead branch in the foreground.

9) Moraine Lake near Banff is stunning with it’s turquoise water and the ice on the mountains in the background. Apparently, I also liked this tree in the foreground as well…

10) I thought it was ‘arty’…

11) Note to self: When taking photos of the Athabasca glacier from the car – roll the window down first…

12 & 13) Pictures of a totem pole in Jasper. An unfortunate case of way too near and then way too far.

14) Along with that earlier shot of the coyote, this picture of a bear will be included in my upcoming book ‘Animal arses I have seen through a car windscreen’.

15) This one was taken on the ‘Peak 2 Peak’ gondola in Whistler. It holds world records for the longest free span between ropeway towers (3.03 kilometres) and highest point above the ground (1,430 feet). Sadly, this is not reflected in the photo because I’m terrified of heights and it was the best I could manage when I finally summoned the courage to stand up from a cowering, near-foetal position.

16) Mrs.D: Why don’t you move to the left so you don’t get that tree in the shot?  Me: I think it might actually come out alright…

17) Childish humour alert in Victoria.

18) The nearest I got to killer whales. I’m particularly proud of the way that it shows humans and nature co-exisiting on the open waters (translation: I was being thrown round on our boat and therefore included that dinghy in the shot by mistake).

19) Nothing depicts the power and meaning of a statue more than a photo that cuts off its head.  I have, however, included the head of that man in the blue shirt instead – will that suffice?

20) For some reason I decided to take a picture of the intersection between Georgia street and Hornby street in Vancouver city centre. This is great if you have a fetish for scaffolding though.

21) View from our hotel room in Vancouver. After all, who doesn’t love a good car park?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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