Chapter 24

Saturday 2nd October

Wedding balloon: slight loss in altitude, marked deflation and loss of heart-shape.

Today we go to North London to posh Highgate, home of Karl Marx and assorted media types. We dine with friends John and Sumiko, plus their five-year old ball of energy: Hana-chan, who I bonded with a few weeks ago. Hana seems to have pre-empted my visit and has set up a Childrens' Monopoly board in the middle of living room floor. Firstly let me say that the childrens' version of this game is far more preferable to the adult version because at least you can finish a game. Every adult game of Monopoly that I have competed in, has inevitably disintegrated through boredom, excessive alcohol, tantrums and the realization that the end has no end. The children's version is quick, simple and reaches a denouement without having to spend three weeks at your mate's house going round in circles. I make no allowances for my five-year competitor and adopt an aggressive strategy that sees me monopolize the expensive (i.e. £5) properties. Hana-chan soon realises that I am not following the script of throwing the game to allow cute toddlers in pig-tails to win and she storms off half way through. Our bond that crossed a generation snaps in two and she refuses to meet my eye for at least half an hour. Her new best friend is Tomoko, with whom she confides that life is hard, because she has no chance of becoming a fairy.

The meal in splendid, accompanied by a surprisingly pleasent Croizet-Bages 1988. After we get home, I stay up and watch the late-night repeat of The X-Factor which finishes at 1:30am. That means I am a sad, sad individual.

Sunday 3rd October

Wedding balloon: slight loss in altitude, significant loss of shape in whole balloon.

Second dinner of the weekend, this time chez Jude in Fulham. She has cooked a allotment of vegetables and some delicious turkey joints coated in rosemary. We discuss last week's nuptials and our forthcoming child that has recently taken up aerobics inside Tomoko's womb. By all accounts the baby seems eager to spring forth into the world without delay and is hatching plans to tunnel her way out through her naval. Preparations for the child have been virtually nil, save for the removal of a few books from the spare room/nursery. At the moment, our first born will be snoozing in between the fax-machine and the Dell computer monitor. Her toys will include a superannuated bottle of Cutty Sark whisky, a packet of unopened Memorex CD-R's, two melted candles and a yellow highlighter.

Monday 4th October

Wedding balloon: balloon collapse, marriage on the rocks.

I am currently absorbed in Bill Bryson's wonderful "A Short History of Nearly Everything" in a futile effort to enlighten myself about the small matters of the Universe, life and Mankind. There are so many fascinating facts that you strenuously try to burn onto your grey matter that ten pages of information tends to overload the whole system and you remember nothing. About three-quarters of the way through, Bill reminds me that as human beings we dispense with 500 brain cells per day. Therefore, even if I had absorbed every single factoid in this book, I would still be coping with a net loss in intelligence. I guess I am trying to turn back the tide.

Tuesday 5th October

Wedding balloon: bobbing along the floor of the bedroom.

Tonight we go to Purley Way to buy a few items for the forthcoming tot, coming to a diary near you in early January. First stop Ikea, which even though it is comparitively empty, still manages to induce mild paranoia by the time we reach the check-out. Upon departing Sweden's finest export since ABBA, I usually devour half a dozen hot dogs at 35p a go, but tonight I am belatedly visiting the feted Chinese restaurant in "Wing Yip". Wing Yip is an enormous Oriental supermarket in South Croydon, but different from your average Tesco's. I spot a silver-haired Chinese grandmother aged 359 stuff a live lobster into her carrier bag, the lobster desparately trying to claw its way to freedom and avoid its destiny as "Number 54" on the specials. You just don't get that in Asda.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds album cover

I have vowed to dine here for many years and it fulfils my expectations, but then again I could eat crispy duck for the rest of my life and never get bored. On the journey back I listen to the fabulous Nick Cave album in the car, one of those occasions when the music is so immediately impressive that I remain reticent, focusing upon each song and analyzing its virtues. When music piques my interest I tend to break the whole thing down into its component parts. How does the bassline interplay with the guitar, how do the vocals interact with the rhythm section and so on. I kind of shut down, go into a trance and loath being disturbed. Therefore I spend the rest of the evening comatose on the sofa with the headphones on and drift off to sleep during the mellow second side. Good-night.

Wednesday 6th October

Wedding balloon: crippled.

I have weakness. I am incapable of winnowing out psychotic women, hence my inglorious career of dating most of them. At the moment, I am pyscho-analyzing Ms. Fruit Loop who walks in front of me each morning on the way to the station. There are the obvious signs: unkempt, matted grey hair, a misguided penchant for clothes that are two decades too young for her age, a nervous disposition and a habit of carrying a loaf that she sprinkles in middle of the road to feed the entire population of South London's pigeons, who are also cognizant of her insanity and doubtless discuss her current psychosis on gutters and under bridges for the remainder of their day. I make a mental note never to fall for her charms should Tomoko dump me.

Saturday 9th October

Clean out detritus from the bottom drawer of the bureau, trying to clear out crap to make way for the baby. I am in a dilemma what to do with my porn collection secreted under the moribund Sony Playstation. This small, but precious library has not been deployed for a while. I will compile of list of single friends who might have call for such lubricious entertainment and loan them out on a long-term basis.

Sunday 10th October

Drive down to Leigh-on-Sea to see the folks and upholding a 30-year tradition, Sunday roast is on the menu. This week: pork with perfectly formed hillocks of stuffing that ensure that I will be passing wind for the rest of the day. On the way back we pop into Vik and Martin's new abode, the first couple to take that giant leap from twenty-something flat to thirty-something semi-detached. Even as we pull up outside I am seething with envy...all that space, all that room to play with. My present flat would barely house a pygmy and is presently a hazardous mess since we are rearranging the furniture like some giant jigsaw to accommodate our impending unborn. At the moment, the baby will be nesting amongst a library of moldy 1980s twelve-inch vinyl because I cannot find anywhere to relocate them and I am loath to part with my priceless (at least in sentimental terms) collection for the sake of a child. I drive home resolving to become rich and purchase my manor without delay.

Monday 11th October

In the afternoon I participate in an enlightening tasting of Barossa boutique wines courtesy of Bordeaux Index. The wines are of suitably high quality, particularly "Spinifex". Following a quick jar with their aptly named managing-director, Gary Boom at the Saint John abattoir/restaurant in Clerkenwell and downing a wee measure of Chateau Talbot 1964, I race over to Swiss Cottage to dine with wine-writer and doyen of UK internet writers, Tom Cannavan of www.wine-pages.com, slimline David Pearce (back from Channel Five's "Fit Farm"), and wine aficionados Nick Alabaster and Phil Wilkins. We are remarkably restrained in our libation, polishing off just a bottle of Chateau Montrose 1975 and an intriguing Petaluma Coonawarra Shiraz 1980. I congratulate myself for leaving the restaurant sober, the first time I have exited "The Arches" in this hitherto unfamiliar state of mind.

Tuesday 12th October

New Japanese girl starts at our company. Bizarrely she emigrated from Japan to spend six months at the end of the world, a.k.a. Shoeburyness, the fag-end of Southend-on-Sea, infamous for its beachside verdure whose remoteness makes it ideal for libidinous teenagers to pop their cherry in the back or their G-reg Fiesta. Go there after dusk and you will chance upon of field of dispirately spaced motors, rocking to the rhythm of copulating couples inside.

I cannot work out why this girl has foresaken the electrifying metropolis of Tokyo for the perennially drizzly grimness that is Shoeburyness? Perchance the lack of space and privacy in her homeland forced her into this extreme measure in order to show her affection? Long way to go for a shag though. I won't interrogate her on her first morning. I'll wait until tomorrow.

Wednesday 13th October

Tonight we commence our ten-week NCT antenatal classes. We had assumed that it would take place in a church hall, so we are taken aback when the venue turns out to be a shadowy doorway to a stranger's flat in Brixton. We arrive early and wait in the car in order to spy upon our fellow student couples. Good, no mentalists, so we ring the bell and are greeted by our Hungarian teacher Maria: guide to the womb and beyond. There are six couples in the class so it is an intimate affair. Every face has that "Bloody hell, how did we end up here?" expression of trepidation and bewilderment. Maria seems to have an artistic lean, her walls adorned with a gigantic Woody Allen poster surrounded by richly textured oil-paintings by Maria herself. Hippy-chic pervades the furnishings: scattered plump bean-bags and huge, blue inflatable balls to perch ourselves on.

We introduce ourselves and reveal where we will give birth and when it is due. One couple are interested in water-births. I have given Tomoko this option by offering to run the bath when her waters break, but she politely declined, even when I promised to clean it out first. Reassuringly, my fellow procreators have done similar levels of bugger-all preparation. I was anticipating couples effusing about their pristine nurseries ready to go, but like us they seem to be leaving it to the last minute. Psycho-analyzing the mums-to-be, I conjecture upon the parents they are destined to become. She will be the matriarch, she will be the liberal mum whilst she will be Mrs. Eminently Practical.

The dads are cut from the same cloth. We are all useless; useless accessories who vainly attempt to comprehend and sympathize with the predicament of our partners whilst a little voice in the back of our mind tells us that our rightful position at the epicentre of our lover's attention has already been usurped by our unborn. We might as well be folded up and put under the stairs now, brought out only when required, such as putting out the rubbish out and fixing light bulbs.

Maria is an adept teacher and by the end our trepidation has turned into optimism and excitement in the sense of venturing into the unknown. She finishes with a relaxation exercise. Couples squat on the floor, wives with their backs turned towards us, sitting between their husbands' splayed legs. In her exotic Hungarian dialect, Maria asks us to close our eyes and drift away. She then tells then men to put our hands our partners' chest. My hand drifts towards my partners left breast and rests there until I hear Maria say: "That's just below the neck." Well...you must take every opportunity you get these days. I hear another couple giggle, so I assume I was not the only man who intentionally "misheard".

Thursday 14th October

Morning spent tasting thirty Bordeaux wines at Farr Vintners new office in Battersea: some Bordeaux 2000 Second labels, 1997 Classed Growths and a couple of stickies to finish off with. The sommelier from Gordon Ramsay is there with his small badge of golden grapes proudly pinned to his lapel. I speculate whether the size of the bunch indicates the competence of the sommelier? So far I have never seen a badge affected by millerandage. Perhaps a Sauternes sommelier should have a badge made of slime to indicate pourriture noble? I think I should stop now and write about tomorrow.

Friday 15th October

Spend lunchtime wandering around the eternally litter-strewn Tottenham Court Road looking at laptop's. There is a bewildering array on offer and the more I learn, the less I know. My brain is bogged down with RAM, gigabytes, Wi-fi and Ethernet. Each electronic outlet is swarming with salesmen desperate to reach their daily sales target, guiding me around various models before they find a suitable and conveniently, most expensive machine. I leave the umpteenth store baffled and console myself with a Burgerking Rodeo Burger. See, that's why I like fast-food, there is no painstaking decision process to endure. You just get your burger, shove it in your gob and get out as quick as possible. The problem is that Burgerking has not invented a burger that can run a website, but if they do, I would be interested.

The evening is spend chilling out and analysing Tom Waits "Swordfishtrombones".