Book One: Chapter 25

Monday 17th January

It is warm and cosy here. Dark but for intermittent traces of light and rumble of thunder upstairs. I don't know how I got here or how I came in, but I sense my tenancy is only temporary. In fact, something tells me that I am outstaying my welcome, that I was due to leave a couple of weeks ago. But for the record, let it be known that I extended my stay simply so that an existential being, someone who exists in a different world to my own, could attend the Burgundy 2003 tastings. I would not like to get off on the wrong foot.

This evening we are back at the hospital and a couple of Spanish nurses have got that television out again. I don't know why they bother? The only program they pick up is some amorphous black and white blob. Surely there must be something better on Channel 4? Isn't Celebrity Big Brother on?

Oh, here it comes...that cold gel again. Oi! Don't go overboard senorita! It's bloody freezing. There is that image on screen again, looking vaguely familiar for some reason. Now they are in animated discussion and the Spanish lass seems to be smiling. Hold on a moment...that's something hitherto unseen. Some magic wand or something? Oi! Stop poking me! That constitutes invasion of privacy. I'll give a quick kick to the lower abdomen to register my displeasure.

We're out of the hospital now. They are talking about an undisclosed "imminent arrival". It must be the new washing machine or preferably an extension to my abode because you couldn't swing a cat in here. We are rounding off this evening at one of those spicy restaurants. Let's see now, let me just put my eye to the naval. "The Red Rose Indian". Looks empty but they are entering anyway. I hear "lull before thestorm" mentioned. Here comes the victuals: one Biryani, one chicken Balti. Delicious, though I still cannot fathom exactly where they insert their umbilical cords to eat?

Well, that curry was truly scrumptious. I wonder if I should finally make my grand entrance tomorrow and get some of this stuff for myself? Second hand food is so bland and tasteless. Just to my left is that red button that says one word: EJECT. I've been tempted on previous occasions since here there is no in-house entertainment system to keep me amused. So I spent my days in deep Karmic contemplation during which I solved most of Mankinds' great imponderables...the chicken and the egg, is there a God?, the Creation of the Universe and of course, the Meaning of Life (and it is not 42).
I cannot wait to get out of here and tell everyone. The world will be so impressed.

I will spend the night mulling things over.

Tuesday 18th January

Two in the morning.
Decision time.
I have made my decision
Nothing ventured, nothing gained.
I have spent the last two hours packing: placenta - check; umbilical cord - check; amniotic fluid - check. Electricity and gas off. Right, let's rock and roll. Now where is that button?
Here it is.
3,2,1
Geronimo!

Well, nothing is happening yet. I thought this was a Japanese model? I thought they never malfunctioned? A few vibrations here and there; an ebb and flow of fluid but nothing else. I was anticipating an audience with Kofi Anan by now in order to explain my foolproof solution to the current Middle East crisis. Looks like it will have to wait a couple of hours...

Two hours gone and there has been a discernable increase in muscular contractions. There is a lot of breathing going on, a lot of soothing talk and encouragement. If I knew it was going to take this long I wouldn't have packed so early. I seem to have adopted a dive position. Better hang on to the umbilical, lest I want to fall flat on my face onto the floor. That is not a way to make one's entry.

Four hours and the wheels and cogs of birth are grinding into action. I seem to be in an amniotic maelstrom, but how the hell is that going to help me break on through to the other side? Oh, seems like someone else has packed her bags, although she seems to be unable to walk to the car. Better make a dash between the seismic tremors luv.

She seems to have made it to the vehicle and now we are driving at breakneck speed. Whoops! Rush hour traffic through Dulwich Village. I reckon it will take us at least ninety minutes to reach the hospital, so it would seem I will be making an ignominous entrance in the front seat of a Renault Clio. That'll make a mess of the dashboard. Hold on a minute...we are driving on the right-hand side of the road. Where are we? France? Wa-hey! It's Wacky Races meets Bullit. Jesus. Look at all these irate, gesticulating drivers hooting their horns. Yeah, and up yours darling. We've got a deadline to meet.

Right. That was all exciting. We seem to be back at Kings College hospital and he's rushed in to find someone to help us. And now he's rushing out again in a panic with no paramedic in tow.
Is everybody out?
We are struggling up to the fourth floor to the "William Gilliat Maternity Ward". Nice room: TV and stereo - all mod cons. I wonder what room service is like?

It's eleven in the morning and it's all kicking off big time. Looks like someone is in a bit of pain. Take some gas love, take an epidural with your cheese and ham sandwich for lunch. She has vowed to have, and I quote "as natural birth as possible". Looks far too much agony for me. Glad I am not involved.

She seems to be taking a bath now. What a time to have a wash! A-hem...what about me? Let me just put my eye back to the naval and see what's going on. Hmm...she is crushing that bloke's hand and the pain quotient has been ratcheted up a few notches. There is a very nice Irish lady called "Siobhan Midwife" and "Ms Midwife" seems to be doing a magnificent job encouraging us to breathe through. It is pandemonium in my pod. The walls are trembling like mad and the "EJECT" button is flashing faster and faster. Ladies and gentlemen, let the show begin...

Two in the afternoon. Bloody hell...my home is collapsing around me. That does it, I'm going back in. Where is the CANCEL button. Shit, there isn't a CANCEL button.
Whoo-ah. Steady on. You pushed me down then.
Bugger...forgot my keys...where did I leave them?
What the...! There's an opening, a light. I can't seem to go back now and the only way is forwards. Perhaps I'll just stick my head out and see what all the commotion is about and then go back in.

What the hell is going on here? The manual specifically said: "You must breathe air".
Well this ain't air...this is water and not very clean water at that. You just cannot trust anyone these days.
What am I?
A trout?
Christ it's roomy out here.
I'm half in, half out. Does that make me pre-natal or post-natal? I guess just natal.

Here we go...the final push...a quick swim through the water and:

Ta-da!
Here I am.
Time=zero.
The reproductive "Big Bang" at the infitessimal nanosecond of infinite possibilities. I am the newest human being in the world. Nice to meet you, and you too.

What an entrance...I only got my umbilical cord wrapped round my neck. Ms Midwife is unwrapping it.
Thanks love.
Now I had better take my first breath. Open mouth. Fill lungs. Exhale. Sorted. Better tell them about the "Meaning of Life" while it is still at the front of my mind.
Shit. That just came out as a meaningless wail.
Don't tell me I can't speak. Now look...I've gone and forgotten it. Oh well, I'm sure it will all come back to me. Bloody hell it's cold. Someone get me a coat and scarf. Good, daddy is holding me and making soppy comments...that I'm beautiful and all that balloney. Yeah mate, but what time is Celebrity Big Brother on?

Let's have a look round here. Jesus, what a mess. It looks like a cut scene from The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.
Oi, that's my bloody placenta you're almost treading on...I need that.
Allo allo. Now she's crying and hugging Mrs Midwife, saying that she couldn't do it without her. He seems a bit lost for words. My vision and focus are not fully operational yet and my graceful prenatal synchronized swimming has degenerated into limbs flapping like a flightless bird.

I appear to be a "Lily". I thought that was a flower or something? Pah...nice of them to consider my opinion on the matter. At least it is not "Britney" or "Kylie". Looking around the maternity ward I can see that my fellow inmates have made their own glorious grand entrance into this world; bleary eyed, flayling limbs, blotched skin and eyes welded shut.

So here I am, aged 126 minutes and counting; a happy but hapless bundle of flesh and bone. Well, 3,007 grams to be exact. All my solutions to those great imponderables that have vexed mankind since time immemorial are inexorably fading, deleted one by one. Before my intellectual capacity is reduced to that of a newborn baby I will spend my final seconds wondering who I will become and what I will do with my life. I imagine the places my tiny feet will visit, all the family I will embrace, the friends and lovers I will meet and lose during my lifetime.
Everything is future. Before I lose the power of cognitive thought, I would just like to say that I am looking forward to everything predestined for me: Lily Miyu Martin...but now, ladies and gentlemen, I only know how to breath and cry and breath and cry and breath...

Thursday 20th January

Tomoko has been in the maternity ward for two nights now and she is yearning to return home. She shares a room with four recuperating women, each accompanied by an open-top aquaria housing a tiny, wrinkled babies trying to make sense of what has befallen them. The woman opposite is transgressing the two visitor only policy and seems to have invited half the population of Barbados for an audience with the newest member of the dynasty.

newborn Lily

The bootylicious midwives are permanently on hand to offer advice for struggling parents such as us. I volunteer my services for the first nappy change, forgetting that the newborn discharges a glutinous black muconium in the first few hours (think warm Marmite with similar taste - not that I tried of course). Naturally I flounder with the unexpected mess and end up staining several blankets, baby grows and my own white tee shirt. The midwife looks on in bemusement and offers a few tips to avoid spending the rest of 2005 knee-deep in Lily's excretory souvenirs. (For the record, I am now able to change a nappy within sixty seconds.)

We are discharged from the maternity ward at 11.00 a.m., although we spend several minutes in the car-park vainly trying to squeeze an increasingly agitated Lily into the car-seat. I knew I should have read the instruction manual beforehand. Finally I have to drive home with Lily perched on Tomoko's lap, a journey filled with trepidation, conscious of my priceless passenger on board, swaddled in layers of pastel-coloured blankets. I take the scenic routeback through Dulwich Village, offering Lily a guided tour of her neighbourhood, pointing out various scenes where I had to break a dozen rules of the Highway Code in my kamikaze drive to hospital. She takes no notice and remains in a deep sleep.

Friday 21st January

Like most fathers and mothers thrust into parenthood, I would opine that the first 48-hours after arriving home from hospital are the most emotionally exhausting. Life is turned upside down and both physically and mentally one is yet to become inured to the pressures. It is a shock to the system. Fate has stolen your carefully constructed life and returned it without form and order. Order is dictated by the chaos of a newborn, thus days become nights and nights become days, units of time divided into "feeds"; your waking hours a mixture of euphoria and bewilderment. There is no going back, no escape option, this is it.

It is a cliché, but Lily is a certifiable cute baby, surprisingly Caucasian rather than Japanese. The cherub is lying on the duvet like an upturned beetle, swatting invisible flies with her hands and riding an invisible bicycle with her pudgy legs. She has fine, silky strawberry blonde hair, deep blue Oriental-shaped eyes with very long eye-lashes and a button nose. Her dappled face is extraordinarily expressive: a wail of unhappiness wells up from the belly and the mouth downturns a few seconds before cry emits. She hates to be away from the breast of her mother or myself. I cannot offer sustenance but simply allows her leaden head to rest just below my neck. She has that intoxicating 'baby' smell of warm milk and cream, unpolluted by years of living in the modern world. She is gorgeous.

My mother will melt when she arrives at lunchtime.

When the new grandparents arrive, we promptly seize the opportunity to get some sleep. After three hours I awake and give Lily her first bath, expecting her to blithely splash in the aquatic enviroment she was born in, perhaps even do a few lengths of the tub? Unfortunately, she cries as soon as water wets skin and she simply flails around in a panic as we sponge her clean. She gives me a: "What have you done to me?" expression as she is hauled out like a freshly caught lobster. I would take it seriously if she did not have a withering umbilical cord sprouting from her belly.

Monday 24th January

Whilst on my "paternity leave" (and I use that in the loosest sense of the word since my employer denies me any meaningful leave) I wallow in the trough of daytime TV such as "Trisha" and "The Afternoon Play". My favourite program is a daily reality TV series entitled "Come Dine With Me", which is ostensibly a dog-fight between the classes and speaks more about the sociological/pathological make up of this country than volumes of doctorate research. The program is perfect but as expected pays scant regard for the vinous fare to accompany their Manchurian Banquets, even though one panjandrum boasts about his unparalleled wine knowledge and freely disparages other's comical mismatch. Unfortunately the producers have edited out any mention of the wine that caused offence. As usual, according to the media, wine does not exist.

Talking of television, every time I switch on the gogglebox, no matter what time of day, I am confronted by someone undergoing plastic surgery. Tune in after the watershed and practically every channel has some poor woman halfway through liposuction (and it is nearly always a woman.) Can we not have a "Plastic Surgery Channel", a dispositary where the voyeurs can satiate their appetite for deconstructed noses and ironed-out skin?

Tuesday 25th January

Lily is now one week old. Already she is developing new skills: her eyes less cross-eyed and calibrating their focus/x-ray vision; limbs are strengthening and enhancing their traction control. She has inherited her mother's tensile-strength hands and I fear that in years to come they will be ganging upon me, taking it in turns to practice their Vulcan death grip. Her hair is still strawberry blond, beginning to grow in length and cover that strange "666" birthmark behind her ear.

Bath time has become fun-time, although I am certain that is due to atavistic sensation of being back to the womb or perhaps her first few seconds of life as she swam into this world. So far, I have resisted the temptation of moulding her damp hair into stupid designs such as mohicans or the "Phil Oakey". But it will not last long and she will suffer the ignominy of having them plastered on a website viewed by over one-thousand people per day.

At the moment she is reluctant to sleep in the crib that I spent hours putting together. Having bawled her lungs out for an hour, we capitulate and offer her a place in the bed, her head a pink grapefruit sprouting from the snow-white expanse of the duvet. After a few minutes the she begins to snore and her eyelids flicker as she dreams of milk.

Thursday 26th January

First full day back at work. I have to wrench myself from somnolent Lily who is coccooned in layer upon layer of blanket, ready to emerge with kaleidoscopic wings to flutter away out the window.

Today I have a private tasting of Rusden along with the proprietors who are on a whirlwind tour of Europe. Afterwards I have a long lunch with a colleague at a local gastropub where a curvaceous waitress with spray-on jeans and diaphanous eyes flirts outrageously during the course of the meal. Every approach to our table comes replete with a birdseye view of her cleavage, although she scuppers her chances with two oenophiles when she announces that the best wine in the world is Jacob's Creek. Her coup de grace arrives as we settle the bill and mention the wobbly table (a prerequisite for any self-respecting London restaurant).
The hussy's response is: "Oh, just like my arse."
Classy.

How come I never met girls as freely available as this when I was desperately sowing my seed in my youth (make that up until 2002)? The general rule of life is that the older, balder and more pot-bellied men become; the less available we are; the more women seem to fatally fall for our charms. We exit the restaurant, the libido of our waitress unassauged.

Friday 27th January

Commence Lily's music education since one cannot start too early. We listen to Kate Bush's magnum opus "Hounds of Love", paying special attention to the Celtic-themed second side and then race through the 80s with New Order's "Substance". I ask her for a critical appraisal but all she does is blow bubbles and gurgle. Does that mean she approves or not? Well, she didn't cry so I interpret that as a positive response. Next lesson: The Smiths (1983-1984) and Dusty Springfield (the Memphis years.)

Sunday 29th January
Tomoko taking Lily out

Today Lily ventures into the outside world, the one that lies beyond the confines of our maisonette. Our destination for this momentous occasion? Some grand Victorian park or perhaps a trip on the London Eye? No, her first outing is to Tesco Metro to buy some bread and margarine. This is the first time she has been afforded to see the sky, clouds, houses and exotic animals such as cats and dogs. She responds by remaining comatose throughout the brief expedition. Sky can wait another day.

Tuesday 1st February

Attend the Australian Tasting at the Guildhall in the City of London along with 3 million others. It is an expertly organized event within Guildhall's vaulted ceilings and stained-glass windows, sufficiently spacious so that the popular stands do not descend into a rugby scrum, plenty of winemakers crossing the world to show their wines and a decent lunch. I cherry-pick the interesting wineries, including Two Hands, Domaine A, Parker Coonawarra, several that Ben Glaetzer has a hand in (present in lurid striped shirt) and Penfolds. Full report is brewing in my brain at the moment.

Wednesday 2nd February

"Broaders" calls (or "Michael Broadband" as my Japanese assistant notifies me.) He mentions the indiscretion, though I am momentarily surprised that he actually knows what broadband is. Whenever he telephones, I feel some reflexive response to stand to attention, perhaps as a result of the ritual being drilled into me at grammar school, whenever the headmaster entered the classroom. His nom de plume was "The Boot", a congenial fellow with baggy jowels and demeanour of Marlon Brando in "Apocolypse Now". However as far as I am aware, the principal of Westcliff High School For Boys never spent part of his career as a demented megalomaniac inhabiting the depths of the Congo.

Thursday 3rd February

I would like to thank Lily Miyu Martin for wee-ing all over me as I hoist her into the bath. I take revenge upon the micturating maestro by sculpting her damp hair into a Viennese Whirl.

Friday 4th February

Today, Lily smells of mocha and root ginger. She is feeding well now, in fact she is feeding constantly, coming up for air once every hour. After her feed the bones fall out of her body; she becomes a lifeless ragdoll, a wilted tulip; a sagging bag of bones slumped upon my lap as she is being winded. After several burps she is sound asleep and I gently carry her into her crib (currently sublet to Jemima Puddleduck and an avant garde creature of unidentifiable taxonomy that was knitted by my over-imaginative mother). Here she can continue her slumber but of course within thirty seconds of exiting the bedroom there comes a wail beckoning me to return. Bugger.

Saturday 5th February

How I yearn to write in an enviroment conducive to creativity, or at least one that does not leave my paralysed from the naval down. Take last night for example, around midnight whilst struggling over the introduction to an article on Chateau Ausone. I am perched upon the most uncomfortable futon in the world with two precious items on my lap. The first is an Apple iBook with whom I am still trying to strike up a meaningful relationship. At the moment we are at the holding hands stage. She switches on but will only go so far. The second is Lily who is snoozing upon my chest, her hair tousled from her late night bath, peach cheeks and mouth wide open, catching flies.

Both items severely restrict my mobility, my hands locked into a stationary posture with my fingers straining across the keyboard as if playing piano. To make matters worse I am distracted by a disturbing/absorbing late-night gross-out television program about men obsessed with severely obese women. I manage to type one paragraph before Lily awakens for her one o'clock feed. Expect the article to appear around 2007.

Saturday 5th February

Having terminated my relationship with my previous cable TV provider when I demanded broadband (their curt response that they served the entire metropolis except for my road) I have changed to Homechoice, who offer hundreds of films to download for a couple of quid. To my pleasant surprise, someone at Homechoice HQ has commendable taste, for the selection on offer includes some esoteric gems, the less celebrated Hitchcock thrillers, foreign directors' early work, black and white classics and so on. I make a mental list of the films that I should watch: "The Man With the Golden Arm", Pacino in "Cruising" or maybe some "Jules et Jim"? Confronted with such a pot pourri of celluloid, I naturally become confused and make the foolish selection of "Catpeople", whose synopsis included the word "erotic", which swayed my decision in the wrong direction. I have only myself to blame.

Catpeople

Catpeople is the 1982 remake of a Jacques Tourneurs' 1942 horror classic and stars Natasha Kinsky as a shoulder-padded woman hose lover, scary-eyed Malcolm MacDowell, has the annoying habit of transforming into a black panther and mauling prostitutes to death. I endure the entire shambles as a form of atonement: Malcolm MacDowell overacting, the black panther over-acting, Natasha Kinsky as wooden as a Giant Redwood and a story-line that you could write on a postage stamp. I give two whole pounds, one and a half hours of my life to Catpeople and no doubt someone at Homechoice HQ chortled as the light above "Catpeople" began flashing for the one and only time. To add insult to injury, David Bowie begins whining the soundtrack over the closing credits (if my music knowledge serves me correctly the title track can be found on the fag-end of "Lets Dance".)

This has been a public service announcement. Avoid Cat People...at least the remake.