24/09/2021

Having children

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By this I mean the circumstances of the birth of our two children.

Sarah, Plymouth – 1969

Baby Sarah and us, outside Aunt Flo’s
home in Plymouth

I was playing rugby for one of the Plymouth combination teams, Prince Rock, and late in March I attended their end-of-season do, despite our first child being due in a fortnight.

There was a particularly evil brew called Plymouth Heavy, which was fine provided you could suspend your olfactory capabilities, not easy. It smelt bad but tasted good and was heavily alcoholic. I had despatched ‘several’.

The next morning I woke early to a horrendous sensation, the bed was wet. My immediate fear was that I’d wet the bed. It took me perhaps five minutes’ contemplation of the horror of this before I ‘fessed up. Actually, it was Jane’s waters having broken – what a relief!

We rushed to Devonport Maternity Hospital and Sarah arrived within a few hours. In those days they did not encourage husbands to be in the delivery room. I was ushered in after the event, given some minutes with mother and child and then ushered out again.

I left the hospital and found that Union Street (matelot central) still had some cafes and bars open so wandered into one to find it populated with a few of the ‘living dead’. It was unclear if they were still on an overnighter or if they were dossers keeping warm. No-one raised any enthusiasm when I told the barman I’d just had a baby. I sunk my drink and skulked back to the flat to phone our parents.

Over the next few days I met with another father-to-be in the waiting room. His wife endured a protracted labour culminating in a forceps delivery. I took him off to a pub as often as he dared. With your first child, you are footloose and fancy free, wandering about with a silly grin on your face.

ASIDE: One firm memory of Sarah as a baby was sitting up with her, just a few months old, to watch the Eagle, the Apollo 11’ Lunar Landing Module, landing on the moon and Neil Armstrong making his ‘one small step…’ speech.

Matt, Thornbury, 1971

 

Me holding baby Matt

When our second child Matt was born I was no longer the footloose father-to-be. I had Sarah as a toddler to look after. While Jane was still in hospital, I set about painting the new baby’s bedroom a sludgy green colour – very popular back then!

I’ve always done my own decorating but back then was a bit sparing with the set up. Just a few pages of newspaper sat directly beneath where I was working. I balanced the large pot of paint on the narrow window sill – and inevitably it fell off. Fortunately, much of it landed on my cursory pages of newspaper but it had tipped over and somehow the air got sucked into the pot and propelled the paint out with some momentum. It was thrown across the carpet (fortunately also green), it sploshed onto the opposite wall and up the painted door which was open. It carried on along the upper hall landing, also carpeted and green. It managed to reach another two bedroom doors (fortunately closed) and the stairs’ balustrade. The only good bit of news was that it was emulsion not gloss.

I set about washing it all down and the frantic activity attracted toddler Sarah to come and investigate. I broke off long enough to acknowledge her and point her away from the rapidly-drying paint. I then realised she had a stinky nappy (in those days terry-towelling ones). I changed her and rushed back to the scene of my crime. When I had done my best to rescue my situation, I looked down the stairs and realised Sarah had taken the big pack of Johnson’s Baby Powder that I had failed to flick-close, and tipped quantities on every tread and riser of the carpeted stairs (also green!). Within the hour I had delivered Sarah to her Grandma Vi’s and went off somewhere to imbibe lots of alcohol. Parenting wasn’t looking quite as straightforward as it had seemed.

Early family days

   

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