Friday, 30 March 2012

30/03/12 - JuicyBaby

Do you want to hear a dramatic birth story? No, probably not, but it’s the best story I have at the moment, so you’ll have to either scroll down to the funnies or grit your teeth and power through. (Incidentally, if you find yourself near a woman in labour, try not to use the phrase ‘grit your teeth and power through’ if you can possibly help it – birthing women can draw upon unprecedented wells of malice and physical strength.)

So, our baby was due on Thursday 8th March. Sure enough, bang on time, the contractions started at 1am on the 8th; when my alarm sounded in the morning and I sleepily donned the dressing-gown, my wife cheerily sang out ‘Good morning! I’ve been having contractions for five hours’. Well, what an efficient and organised baby. How many women actually give birth on their due date? People had been telling us for weeks that it was hugely unlikely, that the first baby is always late, and here we were about to prove them all wrong! I let the office know that I wouldn’t be coming in, made my wife a nice cup of raspberry leaf tea, and we sat and waited.
…and waited. And waited. All day.
We had some spicy chilli for dinner - y’know, to get things moving – and went for a long walk to shake the little ‘un down.
And we waited some more.

Early Friday morning we had a scheduled appointment with the midwife; an appointment we’d hoped wouldn’t happen because we’d have had the baby by then. But there was no nipper to be seen, so we drove down to the health centre and let the midwife have a poke around. ‘Ooh, you’re two centimetres dilated,’ she said (to my wife, obviously, not to me, although the tension may have caused a little dilation on my part as well – I didn’t have the wherewithal to check while she was looking), ‘you’ll be having this baby in a few hours, I imagine’. We went home, I made some more raspberry leaf tea, and distracted my wife with magazines and telly through the increasingly frequent and uncomfortable contractions. By 5pm they were long enough and sufficiently close together to do something about it, so we called the hospital to let them know we were coming in. I loaded our bags into the car – you need a surprising amount of stuff, it’s like going on holiday; changes of clothes, toiletries, things to eat and drink, things to read, things to watch… we had two suitcases and a baby changing bag as well as the car seat and the stroller – and we drove to St. George’s, Tooting. Now, if you’ve never had kids, you’ll just have to take my word for it that driving your wife to the labour ward is one of the most exciting journeys you’ll ever make in your car. You feel like you’re in a movie. My missus is normally an excellent passenger, never making comments on my speed, technique or choice of route, but this journey did have her cocking a quizzical eyebrow: ‘Are you aware that the speed limit is approximately half the speed you’re actually doing…?’ Well, no-one wants amniotic fluid on their upholstery, do they?
We arrived at the maternity ward around 5:30pm, and another midwife donned the rubber gloves and dove in. ‘You’re still at two centimetres,’ she said. ‘Take this co-dydramol, go home and wait.’

We were back six hours later. Contractions smart a bit, I gather, and as we approached midnight my wife was rather insistent that we go to the place where the drugs and nurses were. She was also quite keen for me not to get air over the speedbumps this time… On arrival we were hustled up to the Carmen Suite, in which the labouring couple is given a big fancy room with a bed, a birthing pool, an en-suite bathroom, a number of large bouncy balls and a variety of equipment upon which agonised women can drape themselves to relieve discomfort. (All of this was free, of course. I bloody love the NHS.) Contrary to the birth plan we’d drawn up – which stipulated that under no circumstances was my wife to be given pethidine on the grounds that it’s too harsh an opioid – we immediately jumped at the chance to try the pethidine. It was the fastest, strongest pain relief available at the time, and there’s no feeling more helpless than that of seeing a loved one in the sort of physical trauma that makes them emit sounds you’ve never heard before, knowing that you can’t do a whole lot about it. Bring in the pethidine, nurse, with all haste!
Pethidine is basically medical-grade heroin. As it was being administered, I scurried down to the car park to retrieve our baggage; when I got back to the Carmen Suite fifteen minutes later, my wife was absolutely smashed. That stuff is strong.
…but it doesn’t last that long. Around four hours, maybe. By about 5am my wife was in agony and begging for further relief. The gas & air was proving ineffective (pro-tip: do it the other way around – if you have pethidine before gas & air, the latter’s comparative weakness will make it feel like it’s having no effect whatsoever. She thought it was broken; I had a go on it and had to have a little sit down…), and we requested an epidural. The midwife talked us out of it for some reason – I forget why and how, I was a bit tired by then, it’s all a bit of a blur – and administered more pethidine. Then we were back to the waiting game.
I set up a laptop next to the bed and we worked through a few DVDs – the entire fourth series of The IT Crowd, the first series of Gavin & Stacey, the first series of Coupling. The hospital staff brought along some breakfast, which my good lady was unable to eat because she was vomiting violently and relentlessly. The midwife insisted that my wife stood during the contractions to try and ease the baby down; I held her up with one arm and administered the gas & air with the other. She looked so helpless and sad.
By 2pm on Saturday we’d convinced them that we’d really like an epidural – right now, please – so they took us down to the regular delivery suite, which didn’t have en-suite bathrooms and birthing pools but did have much stronger drugs. The epidural was administered at 3pm and, as if by magic, all of the agony was washed away. Epidurals really are brilliant. For the uninitiated, it’s basically a spinal implant with a catheter, so that anaesthetics and analgesics can be pumped directly into the cerebrospinal fluid. This works very well indeed. So well, in fact, that you have to observe the muscle movement on a monitor to tell the recipient when they’re having contractions. It’s miraculous.
An hour or so later they hooked my wife up to a Syntocinon drip, which is a synthetic form of oxytocin – the hormone that floods the uterus and cervix to facilitate childbirth. After 63-odd hours we were still only at five centimetres, you see, so this was a little chemical helping hand.

In her right arm was a cannula feeding in the Syntocinon, as well as a saline drip. Resting on the right shoulder was the gas & air feed. Over the left shoulder was the epidural top-up. On the left arm was a blood pressure monitor. Screwed into the baby’s head (I’m not making this up) was a cable to monitor vital signs, which displayed on the screen beside the bed along with the readouts of the contraction monitor strapped to my wife’s stomach. Despite all of this chaos and machinery, the epidural afforded m’lady sufficient comfort to sip gingerly at some orange squash and flick through Heat magazine for a bit, so I took the opportunity to get a couple of hours sleep on the floor beside the bed.
At about 7:30pm a midwife came in to tell us that it would be time to start pushing soon. Sure enough, at 9:30pm the midwife and her student apprentice arrived, keen as mustard to get the nipper out.
Now, here’s a challenge for you: stay awake for seventy hours. Endure pain like you’ve never experienced before. Eat almost nothing, and drink only what you’re able to keep down. Then see how you react when somebody repeatedly tells you to push as hard as you can…
A lot of people scream. Most swear and shout. My wife, fucking saint that she is, handled the agonising pushing scenario with dignified aplomb. She didn’t scream. She barely made a sound, despite the fact that the epidural was clearly wearing off and she was in unimaginable pain. She didn’t do the Hollywood thing of growling ‘you did this to me’ or ‘never touch me again’. It was very obvious that it was the most desperately painful thing, and her eventually begging the midwives to ‘make it stop!’ after almost two hours of pushing is the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever heard. But what can you do in that situation? You just have to trust the professionals. And accept the fact that your hand is going to get crushed to buggery as she squeezes.

Bless her little heart, that baby just didn’t want to come out. To be honest, if I’d spent the last nine months in a warm bath being fed through a tube, I’d be reluctant to climb out as well. Sometime after 11pm a doctor arrived with a bag of shiny tools, rolled her sleeves up and got stuck in. My wife won’t thank me for mentioning the episiotomy but it’s an important part of the story, as are the forceps, medieval barbecue tongs that they are. After much wrangling, struggling, and one particularly memorable moment when the doctor had the forceps wrapped around the baby’s head and actually leaned back on her heels to put all her weight behind the effort, our baby was born at 11:25pm on Saturday 10th March, a full seventy hours after she first started knocking on the door. We had no idea she’d be a girl – in fact we’d kind of convinced ourselves that we’d be having a boy – and the look on my wife’s face as our newborn daughter was handed to her will stay with me for life; wide Disney eyes that seemed to be saying ‘this is mine now? I get to keep this?’ The agony, the stress, the worry – it all melted away in the gorgeous grip of this tiny person’s miniature fingers.

It took a few hours to clean everything up, during which the lovely nurses brought us plenty of hot, sweet tea, and we were eventually wheeled to the post-natal ward at about 3am. The ward is for mums and babies only so I was sent home, something that I really wasn’t keen on. I did, however, manage to have four of the best hours of sleep I’ve ever had before returning to the hospital at 10am on Sunday (visiting hours for new dads being 10am-midnight). We spent the day just staring, utterly captivated, at our beautiful baby girl while various doctors, nurses, midwives and advisors flitted by with facts, questions, tests, drugs and jugs of water. Post-natal wards are insanely hot. Some family members popped in for a quick visit in the afternoon, and the main focus of the day was to drink as much water as possible; at around 5pm my wife was presented with a challenge: ‘If you can urinate twice before 7pm, you can go home’. The race was on! I spent the next couple of hours rushing to the nurses’ station and back to fetch water, the missus sipping tentatively but tenaciously, trying to take in enough fluid to create some excess on top of that which was pouring from our gaping pores on the sauna-like ward. Twice I helped her down the corridor to the lavatory, and twice, in the nick of time, she fulfilled her urinary obligation. Success! We could go home!
…well, not really. She could still barely walk, they were both exhausted, and there were still so many questions to ask. At 10:30pm I left them on the ward to sleep, and went home to do what any bewildered new dad would do: get a Big Mac meal, pour a hefty slug of whisky into the supersized Coke and snaffle it all down in front of an episode of Top Gear, before falling asleep, fully-clothed, on the sofa.

I returned at 10am on Monday to find that it’s apparently impossible to park at the hospital on Monday mornings, so I had to drive around for what seemed like an unfair amount of time – I should be with my family, not out here parking! - before leaving the car on an adjacent street. Not knowing how long it’d be before we could leave (and baulking at the slightly outrageous £2/hour charge) I threw a few quid in and went to find my girls. We spent the day much as before – staring, cooing, drinking water, although this time with me popping out every couple of hours to feed the meter. We were eventually discharged at around 5pm, and it was incredibly strange to leave the hospital together. Nobody presented us with a bill for all of the expert care and attention we’d received from such a vast array of specialists. There were no assessments or forms to sign to ensure that we weren’t the sort of people who’d leave the baby on the bus or eat it or something. We just strapped her into her buggy and walked out of there. Off into the sunset, as a family. Which was weird.

Before all of this happened, a colleague told me a story about the birth of his child years ago. There was some confusion after the birth about which ward they had to move to, so they asked the midwife, ‘What do we do now?’. Misreading the question as a broad and metaphysical one, the midwife answered ‘Well, for the next twenty years, just raise it and stuff’, before waving a cheery bye-bye and bolting out of the room. Throughout the whole pregnancy/labour/parenthood process, you’re never short of advice – everyone has some nugget or pearl to offer, helpful or otherwise - but I think ‘raise it and stuff’ is probably the best bit of advice I’ve yet heard. As the wise troubadour once sang, ‘All you need is love’.
Oh, and shitloads of nappies. You need them too.

The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore

This beautiful little short won an Oscar. You'll see why when you watch it.

The Buzludzha Monument

JuicyPips loves an abandoned building, and this is a whole other level of gobsmacking: the Buzludzha Monument, which opened in 1981, was built by the Bulgarian Communist regime to commemorate the final battle betwen the Bulgarian rebels and the Turks at Central Stara Planina. It's a staggering 1,441 metres high, and is possibly one of the coolest-looking buildings on the planet. The government abandoned it long ago, and now it exists solely to give the snow somewhere dramatic to settle. Click here for more.

The story of 'Keep Calm & Carry On'

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QR codes really are shit, aren't they? Not so much the codes themselves, but the cretins who try to implement them. Click here for a cavalcade of digital woe.

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The manifesto of 1,000 pledges

Well, if people will insist on making a mockery of the Mayoral elections by continuing to suggest that Boris is a serious candidate, let's do it properly shall we? Click here and lend your support to Sir Ian Bowler, MP.

London's 66,000 Guns

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Fresh Guacamole

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The sound of crazy

You've probably seen or heard this already, but it's worth another squirt. If you haven't... insanity lies within.

Celebs reading tweets about themselves

Inception Park

Friday, 2 March 2012

02/03/12 - Awkwardness

Life in Britain can be rather awkward. Whether or not you’re an awkward person by nature, your existence will always be punctuated by little moments of discomfort and unease, and it’s usually your own bloody fault.
I have a kind of politeness reflex whenever I’m near a door; my brain commands my arms to hold it open for whomsoever may be soon to negotiate the same orifice - it’s just common decency, isn’t it? This can, however, lead to moments of awkwardness. There are few things in life that boil the piss more than holding a door open for someone who doesn’t say ‘thank you’, or – the horror – doesn’t even acknowledge you or your benevolent act at all. The politeness quickly turns to blind fury. I’m not your fucking doorman. I make a mental list of people who do this and plot unpleasant ways to ruin them in the future. But this isn’t awkwardness per se, it’s just rage. No, the really awkward thing is when I go for a wee at work. You see, there aren’t that many toilets in the office, because whoever designed the building went to great lengths to ensure that there’s a mathematically determined 70-80% chance that it’ll be occupied when you go to relieve yourself, leading to a 100% chance that at least one person will try the door when you do manage to get in there. The logical extension of this is that it won’t be a totally uncommon thing for more than one person to arrive at the lavatory at the same time. And it’s from this bladder-synchronised juxtaposition that the embarrassment stems: if I’m going into the loo and someone else approaches the door as I pass through, it’s a natural reflex to hold the door open for them, and perhaps flex an eyebrow in the international face-symbol of ‘I’m holding this door open for you’. We both know there’s only one bog in there. What I’m inadvertently doing is inviting a fellow male colleague to join me in the toilet. I’ve done this several times – there’s no coming back from it. You just have to avoid that person forevermore. I’m rapidly running out of male colleagues that I can actually look in the eye.

…and the unpleasantness of the shared water-closet doesn’t end there. There’s something even more awkward that can happen in that little room, something that’s far more common: the misattributed smell.
You know what it’s like when you go for a widdle to find that the lavvy has very recently been vacated by somebody who’s made a spectacular stench? It’s nasty, but you can’t wholly blame them – that is, after all, what that room is for. But when they’ve made a horrific, nose-clenching reek and haven’t bothered with the air freshener (or have sprayed far too much air freshener, which can be even worse), then it’s mortifying to leave the room having drained your urinary system just as someone else is entering. They’ll think you made the smell! What are you supposed to do in that situation? Do you say ‘phwoar, that wasn’t me!’, waving your hand in front of your nose in a pantomime fashion, or does that make it look like you’re just covering your tracks like some kind of unstoppably dishonest guff-merchant?
Or what if there’s piss all over the floor? It’s tricky to convey the message ‘I know how to operate my own genitals with minimal mess’ without coming across as a lunatic. They don’t teach you these things in school.

I had an awkward moment at the bus stop this morning. There were quite a few people waiting for the C3, and as it belatedly heaved to the kerb with a pneumatic sigh, we all made for the door in a bleary-eyed commuter scrum. I reached the door first; well, first-ish, at the same time as another guy about my age. ‘After you,’ I said. Polite, you see. Now, if this had been anyone other than somebody on the same level of the Universally Acknowledged Public Transport Passenger Strata Scale as myself (an elderly lady, someone with a pushchair, a schoolchild, a nun, a policeman, a man my age who was on crutches) then there wouldn’t have been a problem, they’d have just got straight on in front of me. But because we were at the same commuter level, my gallantry befuddled him. ‘No, after you,’ he said. Well, I wasn’t having that. After-youing had been my idea in the first place. ‘No, seriously, you first,’ I encouraged him. We were stuck in an infinite loop. He was also clearly suspicious about what I might have done to the bus that made me so eager for him to board it first. I just wanted him to fucking hurry up and get this whole awkwardness over with so I could sit down and read my book. The other people at the bus stop were clearly perturbed by the whole time-wasting endeavour. The driver looked defeated, which was unexpected – withering, derisory glances are frequent among the bus-chauffeuring fraternity; apoplectic fury is commonplace. But he just looked like this had already happened several times today, like it was wearing him down.
Thankfully, a fellow C3 patron was rather less well-versed in common British manners and elbowed their way past us onto the bus. The cycle was broken, we all boarded, and nobody looked anyone else in the eye. Order was restored.

We apologise unnecessarily for things, that’s a very British behaviour. If you’re gazing up at the departure board in Waterloo station, or standing in McDonald’s perusing the menu, and somebody bumps into you, it’s second nature for you to say ‘ooh, sorry,’ as if it was your fault for standing in the wrong place. Why do we do this? It’s the same if a tourist asks for directions and you don’t know the way – the common reaction is to pull a pained expression and say ‘I’m really sorry, I’ve never heard of the Itchyscrot Hotel.’ It’s bizarre. We’re not obliged to learn where everything in the country is in case anybody asks. Why should we be so very sorry? Because it slightly quells the awkwardness, that’s why. This person is vexed because they don’t know where they are. If you can both be vexed together then you are, at least, at equal points on the stress/relaxation scale. As long as everyone’s uncomfortable, then nobody can be overly uncomfortable, right?
Well, no, that’s not how it works. But it’s all we know.

Speaking of bumping into people, isn’t it annoying when you’re walking down the street and the person in front of you suddenly stops walking and you clatter into them? That’s totally their fault, it’s a really dumb thing to do; it’s usually because they’re dicking around with their phone and have no idea what’s going on around them - checking Google Maps and realising they’re walking the wrong way, say, or spotting an email that requires an immediate response - or that they’re indulging in that most irritating of pedestrian behaviours: reading a book while walking down the street. (Seriously, they’re two separate activities, you shouldn’t do them both at once. You’re annoying everyone with your vague meandering, you look like a tit and you’re probably trampling through all manner of dog shit.) It’s their fault, yet at the same time it’s your fault for crashing into them rather than swerving around, or also stopping dead so that the person behind can crash into you. So you both apologise to each other. You act like it’s the worst thing that’s happened all day, that you’re both mortified, but the awkwardness is underpinned by simmering resentment. Then you go and get on with your respective days, complaining about it to other people later rather than telling the person at the time that they’re a cretin for stopping, or a klutz for not stopping, depending which side of the incident you were on.

The simmering resentment is what’s really key here, isn’t it? It’s the same emotional wrangling that you’ll experience when trying to get served in the pub, unwillingly but inevitably entering the after-you-no-after-you loop regardless of who got to the bar first or who deserves it more. Your relentless pseudo-helpfulness makes you intensely dislike your sparring partner in politesse.
We experience these little moments of awkwardness all the time, and it’s fed by a rigid adherence to social and behavioural conventions, an unwillingness to make other people feel uncomfortable, and just a good ol’ deep-seated need to behave properly. But the real root of the awkwardness is resentment – how dare these people ruin our day by making us feel bad (or, more specifically, making us make ourselves feel bad) about these petty, inconsequential happenings? Bastards.
That’s the bottom line. Britishness is awkwardness because we all care so much about each other’s feelings and what strangers think of us, much as we may not want to. Basically, in a confusingly benevolent way, we all hate each other.

Rio in tilt-shift

The Daily Torygraph

Well, this is just superb - click here for daily lols.

Movie: The Movie

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The wooden periodic table

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The man who lived on his bike

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February fail compilation

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The Vegetable Song

The Vegetable Song (tweet @totallyeustus) from Si Bennett on Vimeo.