Chapter Four (part two) - When in Rome
Tasha had leant me her cats for the week while we flatshared with the rat pack: Colour-point Persians who didn’t DO outside. My chocolate brown fake-fur throw has already turned a lighter shade of pale from their long flyaway fur that gets in my eyes and up my nose.
I had managed to feed Josh, bath him and put him to bed, do some washing and dissolve the weeks dishes. I never eat before 8pm these days and invariably the pasta tortellini with cheese and pesto wins hands down in the war of convenience.
Bushed, I sit down to a welcome bowl of pasta and much needed glass of wine when the doorbell goes.
“Who the bloody hell is that?” I bitch to myself while making my way toward the door. Peeking through the side window I see a man outside carrying two massive bags of…...... white? And then I remember, Nancy’s delivery!
I unlock and open the door and am handed one of the bags stuffed full of polystyrene.
“Oh, thanks” I say, working the loaded bag around the corner and into my front room. The man follows me in with the second. “Oh, thanks” I say again, more nervously this time, as I inch the door closed behind him.
“No, there is more!” he says, in a thick Eastern European accent, ever so slightly angry.
“More?” I whimper back, beginning to feel a bit uncomfortable about letting a very strange man into my front room whilst wondering how I am going to fit any more of his bags into my tiny overcrowded live/work/feed space.
The delivery man disappears back up the steps and returns with what looks like a Roman arch, also made out of polystyrene. I signal toward my office space for him to place his load.
“’is more!” he barks once again.
Three more descents and my front room is filled with a polystyrene statue of The Thinker, an obelisk and a large throne. The delivery man hands me a delivery note to sign, then leaves without a word.
Thanking the Greek Gods that I am still intact I return to my, now cold, pasta whilst scoffing under my breath that Rome wasn't built in a day but in half an hour, just long enough to ruin my bloody dinner. Finishing up my bowl of pasta I reach for my gauntlet of Chianti and sup at the bludgeoned grape juice.... well, when in Rome....
The phone rings,
“Hello, Ceaser's Palace, how can I help you?” I giggle whilst surveying my room.
“Oh, sorry must have the wrong number”.
I freeze as a globule of wine rolls off a desert-dry tongue and squeezes down my throat before sinking into the pit of my stomach. A thin layer of sweat settles on my skin as I hear the line go dead. Perhaps this wine has gone to my head a bit, but I feel sure that it is an Australian twang that reverberates around my sorry skull.
In slow motion I rest the receiver back on its perch forgetting to breathe.
The phone squawks again and in shock I snatch it back up and hold it to me ear.
“Err, hello is Zoe there please?”
Gathering myself together I manage to muster a bit of a voice to respond. Like a dehydrated mouse I squeak back, in a rather formal manner,
“Erm yes this is Zoe Plummer”.
“Zo’ it’s Rodge – howareya little mate? Long time no speak!” His voice sounds so close, like he is just around the corner and yet he is almost certainly 20,000 miles away with a late winter sun breaking over the horizon in its early morning salutation.
“Erm, Roger, what a surprise! Yes, it’s...er.... been about ... erm... well... a year…....”
We need to talk about Roger. A long story – about a chapter to be honest (although it kills me to give him one all to himself). So, in Rome we must end this chapter and, roughly speaking about 15 months ago, start the next in a bedsit in South London.
Labels: Australian, Eastern European, Rome
Chapter Four - The Rise of the FBB
“….so anyway, I just said to my sister, ‘you just need to get used to it sweetheart ‘cos you’re a grown up now and I’m a busy Mother!”
Tasha and I had wiled away the long hot days lounging on blankets in the park, indulging our post-natal cravings for cream cheese and sushi,…and the odd bottle of wine or two. As our babies dozed, gurgled or fed, we recounted our last 30 years of family life, loves, loathes and longings. It had been a precious time to spend getting to know the new little man in my life and our life-long friends.
“So, anyway enough of her, she just needs to grow up. Have you heard Davina’s news?” Tasha asks grinning from ear to ear.
“No,” I say now animatedly intrigued.
“She is going to be a contestant on ‘I’m a celebrity get me out of her’!” Tasha can barely contain herself.
“What?” I shriek back making Josh jump, “that jungle programme in Australia?”
“Yes!” Tasha confirms excitedly, “where they have to eat cockroaches and swim with snakes to get food!” She is almost liquid with glee. I sit staring at Tasha who is clearly awaiting my very BIG reaction to such a bombshell…
“I dunno, money, fame, humility?” Tasha laughs, “I can’t wait! We need to get everyone together with pizza, wine and beer to watch it every week. It will be like the World Cup, only much, much more fun!”
I feel less exalted by the concept; there were so many implications, would she become really famous and change? Would she be humiliated by it? Were they so broke that she HAD to do it? What if she lasted until the end – I’m sure it was weeks they were there for, what would happen to Scarlett?
“Come on Zo’ it’s a laugh – don’t you think so?”
I stutter out of my 40 mind questions, Well, does she really want to do it?” I ask timidly under my breath as if we were in a crowded room and I didn’t want anyone to overhear.
“God yeh!” Tasha booms, “Like , obviously! She’s over-the-moon. This is the girl who has her daughter’s birth filmed so she can get in with the Producer! She can’t believe her luck. Apparently, Fiona Bruce dropped out and they needed someone who was a bit uptight!” Tasha pauses and sniggers while I stare at her, eyes like saucers taking it all in.
“Blimey, so when does she go?”
“August the 13th I can’t wait!” Tasha prospects relishing the future entertainment possiblities.
The park is full of people despite it being a work day, people of all ages drink lattes and frappes and lounge about on blankets, kick footballs around and sunbathe wearing next-to-nothing in the glorious sunshine. It’s been a magnificent summer with the sun beating down daily and a shower in the evening to freshen everything up a bit ready for a baking the following day. Tasha and I have nailed the packing of picnic fodder so it lasts the long lazy day but doesn't overload the pram so much that you feel like you are pushing a wheelbarrow uphill. I rip off some more of the baguette we have been sharing and scoop up some pink homous (sun-dried tomatoes).
Without drama I offer my own piece of news. Casually I reach forward for some parma ham and say, “well, I have some news too,” My tone is laconic and oh so throw away. Tasha takes the bait.
“Oh yeh, what?”
“I’m moving” I say offering no more detail.
“What do you mean moving? When, where, why?” Tasha’s startled look amuses me so I decide to continue the ambiguity for a couple more minutes at least.
“Rats” I say
“Wahdya mean, Rats?” she says getting agitated.
“I have rats. There are rats in my flat!”
“What!!??!!” Tasha very nearly jumps out of her skin as Avril slides off her breast and begins to wail.
While she settles Avril back on I explain that I have seen rats in my flat at night and called the landlord to get them moved out.
“Christ, that’s bloody horrible. We are going straight back to mine and collecting my cats to take to yours,” Tasha asserts, “that’ll keep the little bastards away. So what happened, what did you see?”
I shudder with recall, “yeh well, the night before last I was lying in bed asleep - Josh was in his cot – when I woke up to something damp at my feet, and moving.”
“Oh my God you are joking” Tasha says with a hand up to her mouth like she is going to be sick.
“No. I flicked my foot and it jumped off the bed and scampered across the floor and out of the room! I lay there for about five minutes trying to work out what had happened and praying it was the cheeky squirrel.”
“The cheeky squirrel” I concur, “There’s a squirrel that lives in the garden and knocks at my window sometimes for nuts.”
“Jesus, who are you, Mr Magoo?” Tasha explodes incredulous.
Laughing I continue with my account, “Anyway, despite doing my best to convince myself otherwise, I knew it had to be a rat so I closed my window, locked my door and went back to sleep.”
“What?” Tasha sqwarks”You went to sleep? I would have been out of there man. No way would I have been able to sleep. Not until the thing had been bludgeoned then hung, drawn and quartered so I knew it was dead, along with it’s friends and relatives. Why didn’t you call – Will could have come round and got you!”
“It was 3 in the morning!”
“So, you had a rat in your bed!” she said rat like you might have said ‘horses head’, but then I guess a rat is bad enough…
“Anyway, hang on a minute, the night before last!” Tasha catches up with the details “and you’re still there! Mad, crazy fool.”
“Yehh, well I had to make sure it was a rat – which didn’t take long… last night after I had put Josh to bed, and sealed the door, I sat down to watch Cutting It. After it had finished I got up to make a coffee…”
“…and the bastard was in your sugar!” Tasha guesses.
“haha, no, I thought I would nip to the loo for a wee, and when I opened the door…”
“It leapt up at your throat like Michael Jackson’s Ben!”
“What?...ttut, no! broad as day the big brown rat saunters across the floor, shimmies along the back of the bath and then disappears out of sight. God knows what he was doing in there before I caught him out but he’s not shy about it anyway.”
“Taking a piss, that’s what he was doing most likely, and you my friend are his stoog!”
“Great, thanks! I tell you I’ve got rats and then find out it’s Roland rat’s unsavoury brother!”
Tasha laughs but shudders off the heebies at the same time.
“So, this morning I called my landlord and told him all about it. He came round to have a look for himself and while he was there I mentioned to him my idea of how to convert the flat from one bedroom to two bedrooms. Remember I told you, by moving the bathroom to the centre of the flat between the front room and my bedroom and then making the bathroom a second bedroom..?”
“yeh, vaguely” Tasha recalls
“Well, he thought it was a great idea and has offered me one of his big 5 bedroom houses to stay in, that are currently up for sale, while he renovates my flat. That way he can do all the work and sort the rat problem and add £25k to the value of the flat while he does so.”
“Wow, that’s amazing, so you will have a two bedroom flat at the end of it! I’m really surprised he’s sorting it out so quickly ‘cos from what you’ve said about him before he sounded like a right git.”
“Yeh he has been, threatening to kick me out if I didn’t sign a contract for another 6 month period the day I was due to give birth, but I guess this is mutually beneficial. He has been really nice about it all and is sending two of his workmen around in a van next week to help me move my stuff. The five bedroom house is still being decorated but he said it will be finished in a week.”
“Where is this house?” Tasha demands, “you’re not moving away from Stokey are you?”
“God no! You and the others are my lifeline. No it’s only around the corner, two streets away.” My phone rings.
Looking at my mobile phone screen I mouth to Tasha ‘ it’s Nancy, better take it” Tasha shrugs and starts her compulsive rooting around her bag which she feels she must do when she is not directly in conversation with anyone. She never seems to find what she is looking for – only something she forgot she was looking for earlier.
“Nancy! How are you.” I say older sister tone.
“I can’t talk for long I’m so busy, tomorrow I fly to Milan for two days, then to Vienna, and then I am off to Frankfurt. I can hardly breathe I’m so busy. I was out last night and got absolutely trollied too so I’m trying to do EVERYTHING, and nurse a major hang-over. God, I mean I don’t know what this company did before they got me on board! Anyway, Drew has got this party launch happening tonight and I need to have some things dropped off to an address at 8 this evening and I thought you’re always in so wouldn’t mind if I got them delivered to yours!” She finshed like she had made a statement cleverly disguising the question and therefore option!
“Ohh, I’m not sure. Will they definitely come at 8? ‘cos I need to bath Josh and get him to bed, and make dinner and do some book-keeping too…”
“…oh come on Zo” Nancy cut in from the other end of the phone line “…It’s not like you’re going to be too busy to open the door and I’m having them collected tomorrow. I need you to do me a favour this time. I’d really appreciate it.” Her spoonful of sugar right at the end wasn’t enough to disguise her tally of favours now due for being birth partner, so I say:
“Er, okay, well, er of course I will, but you’ll have to send a courier tomorrow before 10 am as I’m out at 10.30 for the whole day.”
“Yeh, yeh fine of course.” She assures – not very reassuringly. “Thanks Babe, oh and how are you and Josh, having loads of fun in the park I expect… Oh shit have to go, they need me again. Bye.”
Nancy disconnects and I file my phone away in my bag.
“What was that about?” Nancy pipes up, noticing the weary expression on my face.
“Oh it was just Nancy wanting a favour again. I dunno, she always makes me feel like I am being ridiculous if I infer that I might be busy too and thus don’t fancy stopping whatever it is I am doing to help her out.”
“Whaddya mean? You are a single mother trying to hold a company together, single-handed on very little cash, having had hardly any sleep for three months and facing the prospect of packing up everything you own to move house because your current flat is rat-infested! I think you deserve a night off instead of pandering to an FBB whim!”
I look at her, half in awe at her succinct summary of my life whilst wondering what on earth an FBB was.
“FBB?” I ask.
“Mmm, Friend Before Baby. It’s what Will calls any friends I had before having Avril who can’t understand why I’m no longer up for – or able to – spend all night on the drink and the razz. You know the ones their priorities are social life, career, shoes, and they are always desperate, but oh too busy, to see you.” Tasha ends her description with a supersized bite of her banana muffin and a slurp of organic juice.
She was right of course, my friendships had forked into befores and afters. As delicious as my new friendships were, I couldn’t help mourning the spontaneity and independence enjoyed by those of old.
Chapter Three (part four) - At sea with Gina Ford
Tasha returns from her changing session with another woman carrying a babe-in-arms. I recognise her as one of the women from the yoga class. The one who lived ‘opposite the park’ along with Ms Perfect. I wonder what has become of Ms Perfect and her twin babies....
I imagine her with rollers in her hair, smothered under a headscarf a thousand-mile stare looks out upon a metropolis of concrete as dishes lie scraped but caked in gravy on the draining board next to her awaiting the terminal chore of washing, drying and putting away, only to be smeared with food that evening when the process must be repeated over again and again and....two babies screech in tandem. Their strangled wails stoccatto the bass of the pneumatic drill outside the window as more workmen dig up the path to replace water pipes or gas pipes, who knows...Like white noise, the woman is numb to the incessant cry of her newborn twins, only the clang of the dishes and the tick, tick of the kitchen clock permeate her eardrum in maddening repetition. With an Embassy blue hanging precariously from the corner of her mouth yesterdays make-up smears down her cheek from todays tears. Her fake Coco Chanel T-shirt – a gift from a much travelled brother – clings around her ample buttock and emphasises the loose belly that once served to stifle the cries of her beloveds. Leggings betray her thick thighs and orange peel hind-quarters. Dragging her eyes away from the world outside she idly hangs her tea towel on the plastic handle of the cupboard at her knee and moves, in slow motion, toward the sound of the hungry cries that mingle with the sound of daytime TV. The studio audience gasp as Trisha Goddard announces the love rat who slept with his wife’s mother and sister...
“Zoe, you remember Monica from yoga don’t you!” Tasha’s voice slaps me back to reality. Feeling a little guilty about my Ms Perfect fantasy I look up to see Monica’s hand outstretched awaiting a shake.
“Oh,” I say as I find a place on the table for my coffee cup and offer my hand in return, “Yes, I do remember you, nice to meet you again!” I try not to grimace as she squeezes my hand like a vice.
“I didn’t manage to catch up with you to put you on the list I compiled. I understand Felicity gave it to you though” Monica says with authority.
“Oh yes I say dreamily recalling the security provided me by that list. Full of gratitude to her I say, “It was such a great idea, thank you for doing it for everybody.” Monica blushes slightly and I suspect she values the praise although receives compliments awkwardly.
“Yes, well, here is my card....” she hands me a small business card announcing her name in gold: Monica Florio. Her address and telephone number appear in a victorian style font along the bottom in black reading: ‘The Cottage, 143 Park Road, Stoke Newington, London, N16 9MT.
“....And I need all your details too. Do you have a card?” she enquires of me in a headmistress-like tone. Feeling a bit like I had been ‘pulled-up’ for loitering around the bike sheds, I excuse myself for only having a business card and hand it to her.
“I can write my home address and telephone number on the back” I offer by way of compromise.
Monica handles my card like a dirty tissue, “Yes that will do I suppose” a hint of irritability in her voice as she hands it back to me.
By now Tasha has returned to her seat and is rummaging in the bottom of her pram for a pink muslin whilst chattering away to Davina about her husband Will and how he has been working late and then getting up with her for the night feeds.
“Your husband sounds like a mythical godlike creature” Davina says flatly deadpan. “Are you sure he’s not a figment of your imagination?”
“No, I can assure you he has his downfalls too! It’s taken him 8 weeks to finish the bathroom and my Dad did all the plastering! He’s promised to leave work a bit earlier next week so he can get on with it when he gets in before he cooks us tea. I’d expected him to have the bathroom and the spare room done by now so that’s his next job and I want it all done before he starts his new job in three weeks ‘cos you know what it’s like in a new job they expect you to stay late for the first couple of months to show willing, so he needs to get his arse in gear!”
“Well, at least Walter cooks I suppose” Davina grudgingly concedes, “He’s French so it’s all tiny portions with cream and garlic. Some days I just dream of tinned spaghetti and sausages on toast.”
I laugh to myself – Davina just doesn’t look like she eats tinned spaghetti!
“Yeh well I’m really lucky I suppose, Will is a really good cook which is just as well ‘cos I am rubbish. I can burn boiled eggs!”
Meanwhile, Monica has enlisted a member of staff to fetch her a chair which she has placed next to Tasha and myself. I catch a glimpse of her baby whom I assume is a boy, given the sailor suit he is wearing, complete with sailor hat! As she sits him upright in his pram the hat falls off, tumbling to the floor. With a tutt, Monica snatches the hat from the floor, bats off the imaginary dust and places it square on the baby’s head. Her baby seems very serene and stares straight ahead, expressionless. As Tasha and Davina continue their husband comparison Monica butts in and abruptly cuts their conversation dead.
“I wont be able to stay very long as Noah’s sleep is due in 27 minutes and I’ve got to get him back and feed him first.”
Davina looks back at her sideways and a bit cross, I feel. Tasha’s attention though has been redirected and she enthusiastically asks if Monica is following the Gina Ford method.
“Yes I am” says Monica smugly.
“Umm, what’s Gina Ford?” I ask feeling a bit out of the loop.
“She wrote The Contented Baby Book” Tasha explains, “It’s about gettting your baby into a routine. That’s right isn’t it Monica?” Monica gives a stern nod. “It seems to really work for some people” Tasha asserts “I might start trying it this week, I was just waiting for the black-out curtains to arrive.”
I sit looking from one woman to another completely perplexed, “I don’t understand, black-out curtains?”
Davina pitches in with a bored monotone explanation, “The vile woman insists you keep your baby in a pitch black room for exactly 27 minutes whether it wants to sleep or not, and then on the dot of 27 minutes you must fling the curtains open, blind your baby with daylight to ensure it is fully awake before wiping, creaming and wrapping the baby up like a sandwich ready for its 4.5 minutes of ‘play stimulus’” Davina places a full stop at the end of her monolgue with a sip of coffee while I snort mine out of my nose in complete astonishment. I try to suppress my laugh and Monica moves to defend,
“Well it’s not everyone’s preferred method I’m sure, but it suits Noah.”
Davina looks at me expressionless except for one eyebrow that she raises out of Monica’s eyeshot. Acknowledging Davina’s secret look in a nano-second I flick my eyes back to Monica and smile at her warmly with reassurance as she looks a bit crest-fallen, busying herself with her baby and replacing his hat for the fourth time.
“So, do you not have a pram Flea?” Tasha asks.
No not yet.” Flea replies in smile-sigh speak. “I’m following something called the XXXXXXXX technique. It means the baby must be in constant contact with a human body for the first six months of it’s life. It’s very similar to ancient times when a baby was strapped to the woman’s body all day through necessity and everyone slept together anyway”.
“So, Margery sleeps with you does she?” Tasha clarifies.
“Yes, and when I am having a shower or doing my yoga then Tom or my mother will hold her.” Flea smiles as she ends her explanantion.
“Wow!” Tasha exclaims as I try and process the information and decide if there is method in such madness.
“Oh gosh, that reminds me, I have to get back for my mother. She’s been to a jumble sale today and I need to sort through all the clothes she has got for Margery before she heads back home again. It’s been so nice to sit with you all today though and listen to all your stories! I hope we bump into each other again soon.” Flea looks around and at us in earnest.
“Well, I plan to live here now I know they have baby-changing facilities and a decent café” Tasha spouts. Flea smiles at her in agreement and gets up to go.
“Bye Flea,” I say, “See you soon hopefully.”
“Yes, bye.” She repeats to us all then disappears out of the door.
“I’m not being funny,” Monica pipes up, “But I do think my baby is much more attractive than Margery, don’t you think Tasha?”
For the first time since we all sat down there is a complete silence as we all stare at Monica, dumbfounded.
Chapter Three (part three) - Between Wake and Sleep
Tasha stares at me agog and for a moment I revel in my own little miracle before diverting the topic of conversation.
“So, how were your births, were they all okay?” I remembered Davina’s appointment for a C-Section and was itching to hear the gorey details.
“Davina had a TV crew at her birth” Tasha divulges.
“Really?” I reply visibly rapt yet unsure if Tasha should have broadcast the information.
“Yes, I did. I had a call from a Producer friend of mine who wanted to film a birth for a documentary she is doing. I haven’t seen it yet but she says it looks good and they got what they wanted.”
“So did you have the ceasarian then?” I ask tentatively trying to piece the puzzle together.
“Oh no. I decided against that when I found out it would take longer to recover than a vaginal birth and would interfere with my schedule. Luckily Scarlett came up trumps and arrived early so I’ve had a bit longer to concentrate on my lines. It’s restored my faith in fate I can tell you”.
I smile and wonder what she is on but feel relieved that my ‘trick’ has softened her attitude towards me at least.
Bang on queue Flea sets my coffee on the table alongside her yellow water which is too closely related to my baths at the moment for me to want to drink the stuff too. Flea’s baby sleeps soundly in her sling. She looks remarkably uncluttered compared to all the stuff I have brought out with me. Looking about me I am pleased to see that both Tasha and Davina are accompanied by prams. Tasha’s is a huge Silvercross pram and looks like a burgundy floral cot on wheels lined in a fluffy pink cloud, while Davina’s is a three-wheeler; enormous mountain-bike wheels and a tiny triangular space for the baby. Her pram is black. Funny, I had never guessed that prams, like dogs, can often resemble their owner’s personality.
Taking a glug of her orange-smoothy-type concoction Tasha launches into her tale.
“Well, I nearly died!” She says sensationally. An ER style scenario follows with all the detail and description required for us to relive the moments with her,
“...then finally she came out but with two black eyes and the midwives said she might be BLIND! Can you imagine? Anyway I sent Will off to find the consultant who came back and said she wasn’t blind but they were going to check her for spinabifida! Well I was beside myself and then started losing blood so got stitched up in the other room while they took Avril away for tests. It was all fine in the end and I’ve been to a baby eye specialist to make sure all was fine and it is and Will took Avril to Gt Ormond Street to get her checked again for spinabifida just in case. I couldn’t bare to go, but that’s fine too. But what a nightmare! There’s no way I want to go through all that again.”
She stopped and I felt quite overcome, it sounded terrible.
“Oh how awful for you”. Flea consoles, “You must have been very frightened.”
“Yeh, I was!”. Tasha exclaims.
A moment of contemplation surrounds us.
“I have made something for all the new mums I know”. Flea says whilst reaching for her drawstring bag.
Tasha catches my eye and pulls a worried expression at me. “ooh great!” I gush in Flea’s defense. Davina turns her attention toward the patterned, homemade bag, and, with one eyebrow raised, patiently waits for its contents to be revealed. Flea uncovers little packages wrapped in brown paper. We are given two each. One with brown string and one with white. Tasha rips hers open first.
“Oh great....what is it?” she says flumoxed.
“Oh the solution in the bottle is a lavendar-based mixture for calming. You can rub it on your temples and your middle eye.” She points to a space between her eyebrows. “And the other thing is a tiny windchime I made. They work really well in the bedroom and are meant to aid sleep. The chime works in the space between sleep and wake....”
“What, when your husband walks into it on his way back from the bathroom in the middle of the night just as you’re getting off to sleep!” she snorts. We all laugh, mine slightly less than the others.
“Yes that too.” Flea smiles, “but have it by an open window and it should work as a sleep catcher.”
We all politely handle our gifts and I thank her.
“Yes, thanks Flea.” Says Tasha. “The state of my head at the moment it should work all the time. I’m forever in the in-between sleep stage!” She slots the gifts into her Billy Bag pocket – a stylish nappy bag indeed.
“Right. I’m going to change Avril’s nappy and have a wee and when I get back I’m getting another purple haze smoothy. Does anyone want anything?”
“No” came the chorus from all three of us. She bustles off.
“So Davina, Scarlett seems to be feeding better. Did you try my cabbage leaf suggestion?”
Clearly Davina and Flea were already pretty well acquainted.
“Yes I did and Walter thought it was hilarious. Whenever we sat down to eat he would say ‘Darling, you appear to have some spinach between your breasts’” She mimicked a Spanish accent. “So I gave up, but Zoe here seems to have cured me with a bit of brute force.” She flashes me a wry smile and I blush.
“If you experience any more problems you should try the breastfeeding clinic on Thursday mornings. It’s a bus ride away but well worth it for advice and support.”
“Ooh, I love group therapy sessions.” Davina beams, “What’s the address?” She fishes out a small black notebook from her red leather bag and hurriedly writes the address details as Flea relays them to her.
“Could I take that address too” I ask, still eager to meet more new mums. Davina tears out a page from her book and hands it to me without looking up and then scribbles the address down a second time.
“Thanks,” I say, not quite sure what to make of this woman with the black Bob.
Chapter Three (part two) - The Miracle Worker
Craning my neck so as not to set off the automatic doors I seek out the signature black and white outfit. Yes, there it is again, a dalmation print headscarf atop a black silhouette. It is, it must be, Davina. But hang on, she is with someone else...I...just..can’t...quite...see. It....looks like....
“Hello Zoe, what are you doing?”
Standing stock still for a moment my mind races: Who? How to respond? Shit! I pivot on one foot and come face-to-face with Flea.
“Flea!” She reassures me gently.
“Ah…, I was just….” I wave my hand in the general direction of the organic cafe, and without waiting for me to finish Flea takes me by the arm and marches me inside,
“Come on, let’s go in.” She smiles at me, vaguely conspiratorial.
Sheepishly I steer my pram into the cafe area of the souk and am stunned to discover pram-sized gaps between tables. It is like a pushchair car park. I am in newborn limbo. Everyone seems to have a tiny baby with them; like babies come complementary with your latte or freshly-squeezed juice. I head for the far end of the cafe and the only remaining table. With eyes fixed on my final destination I overhear a familiar deep laconic voice and remember my original pursuant.
Davina sits to my right, deep in conversation, holding a baby at her breast. I can see the baby clearly with its black crop of hair atop a ruby-red velvet bodysuit. I lean over to try and catch Davina’s attention and say hello, only to realise that her companion is Tasha! Her hairstyle has changed and I hardly recognised her. I lean so far over I just about fall off my chair when Tasha catches my eye and belts out a cheery “Hi!”. Davina stops in her tracks and swings around removing her breast from the baby’s mouth. As her full breast lollops in front of me like a space hopper I quickly say “hi” smiling at both women in an animated mouth-smiling-eyes-somewhere-else kind of way.
“Come and sit with us,” Tasha insists,
“Let me get you a chair, how are you? Let me see your baby. Is he in there? Boy or girl?”
Unsure which question to answer first I turn to show both women my new prize.
“Oh my god, he’s gorgeous! He is a boy right?” I nod,
“hhhhuuhh, gorgeous!” she gasps again.
Flea draws up behind me, waits for the baby introductions to subside before asking,
“What drink would you like – I will treat you! I’m having camomile tea.”
“Oh, umm, coffee, latte please. Thanks.”
Flea smiles in acknowledgement to the other women and heads off to the service counter.
While I park my pram out of the way, Tasha gathers up two more chairs. “Thanks” I say timidly and look over to Davina to swap a smile. She looks away and concentrates her attention on her baby who seems to be a fish-out-of-water trying to catch the breast. I can see the baby much more clearly now. Her features are very small giving her a delicate, fragile appearance compared to Josh’s robust little body. She is unmistakably a girl, rose red lips and big brown seal eyes like her mother.
“So,” Tasha launches in, “How long was your labour? When did you give birth? Don’t say last week as I couldn’t leave the house for four weeks after having Avril!” Avril nestles in her pram swaddled in a cloud of pink.
“Oh no," I assure her, "it was three weeks ago now, this is my first outing actually.”
“Well, thank God for that.” Tasha feigns relief. “So, spill the beans, was it awful?” she asks with relish.
“It was fine really. A bit of a hiccup when we got home which meant spending a couple of days at Gt Ormond Street Hospital but nothing major.” I try and sum up my story with as little meladrama as possible not wanting to attract unfounded sympathy.
“God, how awful!” Tasha gasps, eyes wide as saucers, “What happened? How scary!”
“No, no it was fine really.” I assure her, “In fact it was a bit of a blessing in the end because the nurses got me all sorted out with breastfeeding and nappy-changing and everything. I even got a few traditional tips.”
“Really?” Tasha marvels, “What were they?”
“Well, one which worked well was the old wives' tale of squirting a bit of breast milk into sticky eyes to clear them up!”
Davina looks up at me and I’m not sure if I am in trouble. Then startlingly fierce she fires back,
“Good God, that might be alright if you’ve got enough to spare. I can’t even squeeze out enough for a spoonful.”
Taken aback by her sudden outburst I am left feeling a bit stumped for words. Tasha interjects,
“Davina is having a bit of trouble breastfeeding at the moment.”
Summoning up all my courage to address her direct I gesture toward her baby and ask Davina, what her baby's name is.
“Scarlett” Davina she replies fairly non-plussed.
“She’s beautiful,” I say and Davina squeezes out a smile before returning to her nursing. As I sit watching her struggle I decide to take a leap of faith,
“Can I make a suggestion?”
Davina shoots me an enquiring look and I falter a little.
“It’s one of the tricks the nurses showed me.”
Disarmed, Davina leans back and allows me to carry out my work.
Placing a thumb under Scarlett’s rosebud mouth and a forefinger just below her brow I force her mouth open as wide as it will go. Then, bringing her further around Davina’s breast I push her head right into the breast and position Davina’s hand firmly behind it to keep it in place. The baby gobbles up her mother's milk like a starved child and Davina just stares at me eyes and mouth wide open. Releived my imposition paid off I let out a little smile in the knowledge that I have just made a friend – perhaps for life.
Chapter Three - In for a Penny
I have now been a mother for 3 whole weeks. The first 24 hours of motherhood went something like this:
- The doctor is called to practice his cross-stitch on my bits. He has a GCSE in needlework.
- I (along with my newborn whom I have named Joshua), am wheeled to the maternity ward where seal-lions have turned to cattle and we are all penned in side-by-side like dairy cows ready for milking.
- Nancy makes all relevant calls to The List, while I keep peeking under the baby grow marvelling at legs, arms, fingers, knees, finger nails...Nancy goes home for some sleep.
- Parents arrive with flowers, grapes, toys and clothes for the baby.
- Claire returns white as a sheet. A client has called and needs me to quote on a massive job. “She knows I have just given birth but if I don’t quote now it will have to go elsewhere.” It is the chameleon job, of course.
- Parrot-fashion, I paint by numbers. Like filling out a fantasy football coupon, I draw up a quote that throws caution to the wind. If I am to be forced to do this now then it will have to be worth it financially!
- Mercurial Nancy whisks it away and sends it to the stars (for all I care).
- Rumours circulate that a food trolley has made an official visit at the ward gate, but as no-one had gotten out of bed and collected their food the trolley pixie had marched off in a jobs-worth exclamation mark.
- Different shaped medical staff arrive to check if Josh can somersault, back-flip and grasp when dropped from a great height, then leave - apparently satisfied.
- We are discharged.
The whole world had visited my little boy since then. Proud Grandparents, excited uncles and aunts, wonderstruck friends and their boyfriends, even a dog. I had braved the outside world only once, to buy some milk and stretch my legs, leaving my tiny, fragile, vulnerable, precious baby with my dearest friend for ten minutes. MY GOD WHAT WAS I THINKING?
Aside from the utter impractability of squeezing a whole days worth of chores into a mere 24 hours, I also had to work! Oh yes, as I played ‘fantasy football’ quoting outlandish figures for models, flights, hotels, producers, casting directors and, oh what the hell, throw in a helicopter too...I didn’t think for a moment they would actually go for it, let alone get ‘sign-off’ within the hour and send a purchase order so we could start production straight away – that kind of decision-making and action was unheard of in advertising. Unless of course, you are me; here, now. Of course.
So, in-between breastfeeding (every thirty minutes each breast), boil washing anything that could be worn (Ode to the vintage top days..), bathing my sore bits in camomile tea, oh yes and eating: note to self, must remember to eat – I was also booking models, co-ordinating flights to Dublin, discussing appropriate shades of grey tie for the ‘businessman’ model, and promising...everyone, that we were all on schedule, honest.
It was a wonder I was able to produce any milk at all over the past week, but indeed I could – by the bucket load. As hungry a baby as Josh is it would require Dumbo to empty these milkmaid jugs, and they hurt! Like two balls of iron itching to burst forth from the Mothership and capsize an Armada or two. I am impelled to massage along the milk ducts to keep the milk flowing and avoid painful blockages but this has the not-so-charming effect of squirting a thin white line of milk ten feet across the room. My beautiful ibook now no longer the chic notebook of the professional, but more the defecated Nelson’s column of my front room.
Despite being unable to walk with knees any closer than 30 cms, cabin fever has finally got the better of me. I need to get out. It takes an hour and fifty three minutes to leave the house. It is an expedition. Muslin, nappies, wipes, toy thing, little pots of olive oil rub, cotton wool, distilled water, eye drops, nasal drops, blanket, hat, socks, shoes. Oh God, and then there is my stuff. Oh bugger, sunnies, hat, industrial strength sanitary towels...Right. Pram:baby carrier. Pram:baby carrier? I um and ah for too long. Both. Now, where did I put my keys...
I had underestimated my injuries. Walking any distance at all equals pain and a very real risk of my insides falling out. I praise myself for bringing the pram along – the zimmer-frame of the new mother. Edging along Church Street I sneak looks at little Josh sleeping snuggled in my chest. His tiny snub nose is so edible and cupid’s bow mouth so perfectly red like a rose bud. With his golden skin and blonde fur-like hair he could be mistaken for the son of Ariadne. I just can’t believe he’s mine, that I get to keep him! I feel like the lucky girl at school chosen to look after the classroom rabbit over the holidays, but all the while knowing I must return him back to his rightful owners when term time begins. But I don’t, he is for keeps! I grin broadly.
Acutely aware of my finite down time while Josh sleeps I fervently look around for a small cafe to scurry into in the vain hope that I might read a page or two of my book, have a coffee and remember a former life-before-sleep-deprivation. Suddenly as if in a mirage the organic supermarket looms up from across the street beckoning me in. I had not yet mustered the courage to enter the temple of wholesome food. All that unwrapped fruit and loose lentils scared me somehow causing me to run along to the familiar bright lights of Costcutter to buy my white sugar and plastic-wrapped apples. But, NO! my inner-self shouts, I am a grown-up now and my child needs uncontaminated food. As I loiter on the brink of a pesticide revolution the plate-glass doors of Planet Organic swing open like outstretched arms and I catch a glimpse of a dalmation print figure passing by the door in a less than organic fashion. Curiosity nips at my heels and I decide to cross over the road to get a better look.
Chapter Two (part six) - From Second to Third
As we head out of the park I try and drag my eyes away from the foreign land of swings and slides that sits fenced-off, like a ghetto, at the edge of the park.
Strolling along Church Street I decide to own up, “Actually Nancy, these Branston Pickles seem to be getting stronger.”
“Really?” she gasps, her eyes wide as saucers, “Well, are they regular?”
“I’m not sure. Maybe.”
“Shit! What did they say at NCT again?......” Nancy thinks. “If you can speak then you’re not in labour. You’re speaking so you can’t be.” satisfied she relaxes back into her normal state of unpanic.
“No" I wince, "wasn’t that about one of the 'stages' of labour?”
“Oh.......yeh, maybe you’re right.” We both stare at each other looking a bit puzzled. In the face of adversity I opt for a practical approach.
“Let’s just go into this shop. I need to get a few supplies like coffee and sugar for my Mum and Dad, just in case I am in labour and they need to come and stay at mine.”
“Cool!” Nancy replies, happy to be a given a simple task..., for the time being.
We walk into the Turkish supermarket and head for aisle two. Just then a searing pain splits me in half and takes my breath away. I am unable to stand straight.
“Actually Nance, would you mind......just..........stretching.........up.........there, phew! And getting that sugar down for me?” The pain subsides a little.
“Sure!” Grinning, Nancy stretches up to reach the groceries; enjoying the adventure we are both on.
Taking my purse she pays for our groceries while I deal with the pack of dogs around my stomach who are about to move in for a second attack.
Walking through the front door of my flat Nancy heads straight for the kitchen and begins unloading the food and groceries into my cupboards.
“I’ll put the kettle on. Tea or Coffee?” she calls out.
“Ummm......either......not sure...........tea....please.” I manage to tell her.
“Are you sure you’re not in labour?” she asks again.
“No, I can’t be I’m early. It’s probably just Braxton Hicks. My Mum said she had ‘contractions’ for two days with all three of us, before she went into labour. Each time my Dad took her to the hospital they would have to send her home because she had stopped!”
Nancy smiled and seemed satisfied that I knew what I was talking about.
The familiar beat of Eastenders drums out from the TV set and I am back on all-fours, leaning on the sofa, with my back to the television. Nancy munches her way through more Maltesers and sips on her glass of red wine. I decide to try some of my own wine, hoping it will take the edge off the pain. The metallic liquid fills and lines my mouth like liquid mercury and I return my glass to the table next to me. The pain is excruciating now and I realise I can’t speak through each wave of pain; only able to concentrate on reaching the other side of the ‘peak’. No sooner has the pain weakened than I feel a new wave of pain coming on.....
“Nancy, do you think you could start timing me. I think I may be having contractions every three minutes.”
“Sure, let me get my phone....”
She disappears into the kitchen, returning with phone in-hand,
“Ok, tell me when.”
As I rise over the crest of the wave and begin my descent, a second wave draws up alongside me.
“Oh shit. Fuck. Really, now? Right.”
Nancy spins on the spot a few times then locates the car keys.
“Right. Ok. I have the car keys.”
She stands and stares at me for a few moments rooted to the spot.
“Right. Um. Right. I’m going to get our hospital bags and put them in the back of the car, and then I’ll come back and get you.”
She goes into the bedroom and comes back out dragging both suitcases behind her. Disappearing out the front door, she returns seconds later puffing and sweating.
“Right. Ok. Come on I’ll help you up the steps.”
My cosy flat is left behind, waiting like an expectant father pacing the corridor for the first cry of his newborn child.
Nancy helps me up the steps and I stop three times en-route to the car unable to move during the peak of each contraction. Crawling onto the back seat of my car on all-fours, Nancy leaps into the driver’s seat and grinds the gears as she hurriedly puts the car into motion. Each tiny bump, jolt or stop magnifies the pain a thousand times over. Weaving through the dark backstreets of Hackney Nancy swerves and speeds, jumping lights to get me to hospital as fast as she can. We are both laughing, albeit mine through clenched teeth as I hold onto my breathing technique like a life-jacket at sea.
Screaming into the Emergency car park, Nancy brings the car to a halt and in one single action, jumps out, opens the door and gets me into a standing position in the hospital car park. The ten metres to the hospital entrance takes us twenty minutes as each contraction comes, one on top of another; an unbroken tsunami wave, allowing only two steps between pauses.
From a distant world, shouts enter my subconsciousness, “You go girl, hang in there you’re doing a great job!” Encouraging words from a couple of Midwives going off-duty and climbing into their cars. I smile despite myself.
Finally in the lift, we travel up to the labour ward and assistance arrives at last in the form of two black angels who soar down and lift me up from under my arms, and in their strong capable arms, carry me into a delivery room as Nancy relays my details a world away.
Sitting pretty astride a birthing ball everything around me fades away like mist as I concentrate solely on my outbreaths and surviving each bout of pain. In moments of lucidity I wonder why I didn’t get one of these balls as they really are the perfect seat for pregnant poses. I snatch a look at Nancy, whose hand is white and bloodless. She grimaces at me, horror in her eyes. Shit, why was she horrified. Did I look that bad? Maybe I sounded that bad! Oh shit here comes another one.....
After hours, or minutes (who knows), I am being escorted along the corridor to the birthing-pool room. It looks like a private members club swimming pool and I lower my pain-wracked naked body into the blood-warm liqiud and release a pleasurable sigh as my body relents to the support of the water.
All too soon the water seems to turn into sticky, gloopy jelly and my instincts push me up the steps and out of the pool again. A Midwife wraps my dignity in a towel and I am escorted back to my room once more.
As I am seated on the bed an overwhelming urge infiltrates my body from within. In exactly the same way as a heave of nausea hauls the whole of your insides up, so this impulse demanded that my entire body was to bear down. With eyes wide and pupils dilated, in true Holby City style, I announce to the world that “I NEED TO PUSH!!”
It is all action-stations. I am checked and confirmed as ready, and with legs astride, back resting on four - maybe five – pillows, I push. Push like it is all that matters. Push for my life. Push for the whole of history. Push for the beginning of the world. Push, like only a mother can...
“He’s coming I can see his head, he’s coming!” I hear a voice ring out.
“Come on now lovely, just a few more times and you have done it! Come on, 1, 2, 3 and PUSH!”
Cheerleaders fill the room dressed in white and red. Flinging pom-poms around their heads, they gyrate in rythmic dance movements. Great leaps into the air end with straight-legged kicks, and as tension mounts the team of perfectly white-teeth, jump up in unison and belt out my teams chant: P.U.S.H What do we get, PUSH!
I am winning, and with only seconds remaining of the match the crowd is on fire. The stadium fills with deafening roars of ecstacy, as cheerleaders reach their climax. The whistle blows and the game is over.
Zoe Plummer is declared the undisputed champion of all time........
.........and then I see him. His eyes, wide and soul-searching, stare adoringly and questioningly into mine. He is tiny, like a little sparrow freshly hatched. He is placed on my chest but holds my eye, and I love him. I love this little alien squirming on my breast without understanding why. A camera flash startles us both 2, 3, 4 times, and then he is whisked away, returned to me swaddled in blankets of love, protection, and belonging.