I Didn’t Put the Baby in There

One of my best friends is growing a baby and I am so proud. I don’t know exactly why I’m proud. She’s not done much yet except lie on a table a couple of times and buy some new bras. All the magic is going on inside her while she gets on with normal things like work and trying to keep her dinner down. She’s not in control of operations; it’s not as though she’s conducting it all like a grand opus of biology. It’s pretty automatic that gestation stuff. If we tried to interfere it would all go horribly wrong. If all the buns in all the ovens needed our help we would be running around in a tiz with burnt oven gloves before the first trimester was even out.

I don’t have any right to this pride I feel in her. It’s nothing to do with me. I didn’t put the baby in there.


I can’t wait to go visit her soon. I want to watch her shuffling around being bloated and grumpy and cute. I’ll probably want to lie on her belly and talk to it. It’ll be a cosy little scene, there in her Kent country cottage with the fire blazing before October’s even over, me dutifully drinking the wine she can’t crack open for months and talking at her vagina while she and the dog stare at each other and wonder when might be a wise time to shove me off and send me home.

It’s a beautiful thing to be kept abreast of her internal development. “It has teeth and fingerprints and is the size of a peach”, she informed me on the phone less than an hour ago. It’s eleven weeks old for goodness sake. How on earth has it got fingerprints? They are some of the most delicate almost imperceptibly tiny bits on our outer form. Unique as snowflakes. At this rate, in the time I’ve taken to write this, the foetus has probably moved out of home to do an architecture degree in Durham or something. Precocious little nugget.

Yes. In the time it takes me to think about throwing out a dead basil plant, this creature has made itself a fully functioning heart with chambers and ventricles and everything. Is my friend’s child better than me already? Will it overtake me? Am I intimidated by a fist-sized baby alien? It all seems disgustingly sorted in there, all protected and miraculous and over-achieving. Am I going to hate my friend’s baby?

I may now be in awe of her and ‘it’ – Little Mr/Miss Show-Off – but I know that when she is up to her elbows in green poo and her baby can’t even find a nipple without help, I will be back to feeling slightly less inferior. When she has sick in her hair and her baby doesn’t even know why it’s crying, I might even feel smug. I haven’t had sick in my hair for over a year and I almost always know exactly why I am crying.

Why is our development in the womb so advanced, so precociously lightning quick, all fully formed by eleven weeks with only size left to muster, yet when we burst outside into the cold light, the rude air of real life, why then do we slow down? Why does it take humans months to learn how to walk, when gazelles are galloping the plains by the time their amniotic gloop has been licked off? Humans start off so well and then spend the rest of our lives slowly slowing down – learning less, being less magical – so unlike our fine beginnings in the womb.

Writing this, I think I have figured out why I am proud though. Because my beautiful friend is doing all this alone. Single Mumdom. She is a superlative grumpy pregnant lady with a stoic appreciation of the wonder going on within, and when she is a mother she will be all these brilliant things, and so much more to Little Mr/Miss Waily Stinkypants. And I will love her as half of a double-act even more.



The Only Dear Dad in 13 Years

Dear Dad,

I haven’t written to you since about 1999. I suspect this is largely to do with the fact you have been dead since 2003 and I don’t know if dead people can read. I have written lots of things about you, plays, columns, a book, countless dreary thoughts while drunk on trains. All covertly or overtly about you. You’re in everything. Parents always are in the things we are and do I guess. Especially when they go and bloody die. Quite a defining thing. Their absence becomes a colossus in your life. But I have never written to you, Dad.

You have been dead for thirteen years this week. That’s the amount of time that passed between me being born and me starting my period. I don’t know why that sprung to mind. Sorry. I’m sure there have been other thirteen years expanses, like between the time I moved to Southend as a tot and the time I went to university. Other times. A lot can happen in thirteen years. Lots has. But it has all been tied to you. You are like a May-pole, Dad. Not matter how bright the ribbons, how merry the dance might become – the central point, the sturdy construct, the undeniable dwarfing fact over every other fact, is you. The man you were, your death, and your absence.

I went to stand by your bedroom window the other day. The window the police had to smash in to find you, there. As you were. In the doorway with blue rope around your neck like a cheap tie. Not alive anymore. I go to stand there from time to time. I don’t know what I think I will see or will feel that’s different. Time doesn’t colour itself in the wind to let us know it’s moving. I think for all our bluster about moving on and being happy, humans are singularly drawn to reconnecting with their pain. It is how we know we’ve loved. If I could leave yellow flowers there like posies at a roadside smash without confusing or saddening the current occupant I would. I would go there all the time if I thought parts of you were there, and if I wasn’t beset by this obligation to move on. We all have to move on, don’t we? We’re not shrapnel at the roadside. We’re human beings, with lives, and the confines of time, and so many constant possibilities coursing through our tiny frames.

I want to ask you so many things, Dad. Not about your death, though those questions are unquantifiable and endless and senseless and crippling, but about life. There’s so much we didn’t talk about. I would ask you what your real griefs were. What were your heart’s real regrets, the moments when you knew in a cataclysmic inner explosion what love really was. I’d ask you so many questions, down the pub. Not because I believe you have the answers. But because musing this stuff out with people you love is the most intimate way of figuring out the universe. The complicity in knowing nothing, but being there beside someone while you¬†question everything.

You were so good at talking, Dad. I find that so strange and sad, given what you did.

I feel sad I’ll never feel that strange tipping point where children go over the line and start patronising their parents for being a bit slow or a bit dim or a bit forgetful of the way the world worked, or how it works now, different as it is. As it always becomes, with time. You would be seventy next year, I last knew you at 57. I am 35 now. Time is funny, isn’t it, Dad. Can you see me, what I’ve become? Are you proud? I think you’d wish I would sturdy up and leave you behind a bit. I think. I’m sorry I’m not better at that. I don’t know what I believe, Dad. Science and faith and romance and hope and time and space and the human ability to dream and imagine is a mind-boggling juggle of things, isn’t it, at the best of times not to mention the worst.

And so I write this to myself, mostly,

But with that unsnuffable hope in all I cannot know,

Your daughter,