Some of you may have noticed a musical theme running through my writings. I think I am a frustrated musician at heart. I have tried in the past to learn how to play guitar, without success, and I am currently learning how to play ukulele, but there isn’t much call for a permanent ukulele player in a rock band, so I suspect it is a dream that will never be realised. I even joined ukulele club, and I have just broken the first rule of Ukulele Club by even revealing this, so I will leave that there.
In an attempt to pacify the babies in prolonged bouts of howling, which admittedly aren’t all that often, thankfully, I started to rely on my musical prowess and sang to them. I didn’t sing a lullaby or anything quite so sensible, but instead took a well-known tune from the popular hit parade and made up my own lyrics to go to it. The other evening Henry was wearing a baby-grow with rockets all over it, so I started singing something I thought appropriate. “Ground control to Major Henry…” And then I realised the rhyming scheme was awkward and I’d painted myself into a corner because, like the word orange, nothing seems to rhyme with Henry. And thinking about it I couldn’t recall any songs about a Henry, until I remembered the (rather good) one referred to in the title above, by John Cougar Mellonfarm, but as a master song-smith even he realises he shouldn’t attempt to rhyme anything with Henry. So for a short time, this particular form of, erm, entertainment was put on hold.
Eventually it was time to leave the hospital, finally, after six days and five incredibly long nights following the birth of the twins. We were told at 10:30am on D-Day that we were to be released without charge, but we didn’t actually get out of the hospital until 6:30pm. We weren’t allowed to leave until discharge papers had been issued. I don’t know if background investigations went on into me and Mrs Aitchworld with regards to suitability into parenthood. I hope something went on because it is difficult to believe that we are just allowed out of a hospital with two brand new little lives that were totally reliant on us. Without any sort of supervision, we were left to put the boys into their car seats ready for the journey home. I had no idea how tight I should be pulling the straps – no one tells you this sort of thing. And despite all the padding, the head collars and the strapping, the twins looked so tiny and vulnerable in their seats. When I was brought home after being born, all those years ago, I was just slung in a carry cot that was dumped on the back seat of an ageing Austin 1300. That was back in 1971. Different times.
Our boys, strapped into cocoons of polystyrene, foam and deformable plastic would be transported home in a car that was virtually brand new, festooned with many airbags and laden with myriad safety devices, but even so, there was still a feeling of dread. Of course all this was academic – I had to get to the car first first and once we finally had our papers, we were on our way, which involved walking along what seemed like the longest corridor in the world. And walking down it felt like walking the Green Mile – although it is something you have been preparing for, it is also something you really don’t want to do. And with a baby in a car seat in each hand, I was a wider load than usual. Somehow, and I am going to blame nervousness for lack of spatial awareness, I managed to hit every single fire extinguisher that hung off the walls as I made my way out. I got a little close to the left hand side of the corridor without realising and clonked the first one, so I adjusted my position and promptly wacked one on the right hand side. I then seemed to bounce from extinguisher to extinguisher until I reached the lift. Arthur and Henry didn’t seem to notice though, fortunately.
What followed, once the Krypton Factor test of strapping the car seats into place in the back of the car was completed, then checked, checked again and then checked once more for good measure, was the slowest, most cautious drive of my life. The hospital, on any other day, is a 25 minute drive from home at most. This journey took the best part of an hour. Even allowing for a ten minute stop at a Mothercare, which was directly en route, this was caution at the highest.
And the rage I felt at other road-users was incredible. Anyone driving a little too close, like nearer than a mile away, overtaking like (in my eyes) some sort of lunatic, or crazily pulling out at speed in front of us as we travelled at a heady 25mph along a national speed limit dual carriageway, was subject to a torrent of verbal abuse. My boys learned a lot of new words on that journey home. I got to the point where I wanted to just stop the car in the middle at that road, stand on the roof of it, stamp my feet and scream at the other drivers for endangering the lives of the two new vulnerable beings that Mrs Aitchworld had worked so hard to nurture inside her and for whom we were now jointly responsible. I am not a violent person, at all. Beyond a couple of playground scraps about thirty years ago when I was still at school, I have never had a fight in my life. But on that journey home I was ready to fight with all-comers; anyone sharing those particular roads with me was fair game. I wanted to invite anyone who thought they were hard enough to come and disagree with me, if they wanted some. And if they did, I would have made it abundantly clear, in no uncertain terms, punctuating the words by rhythmically punching them, a punch per word, into peoples’ faces if necessary, that they were all driving like utter bell ends. I’ve never known a feeling of protection quite like it. And then, just as quickly as the anger had reached those apoplectic levels, it subsided and dissipated. I remembered I drive a BMW, and I quite often drove it in exactly the same manner as I was raging against, and probably worse. Sometimes, and this is the first time I have admitted this, I even neglect to use the indicators on purpose, just to live up to the stereotypical image. I was a hypocrite. I sunk uncomfortably into my seat and accelerated briskly to a more reasonable 35mph.
We made it home without any incident or fighting, either in or out of the car. We decanted the boys from it and into the house and, having subsequently talked to a number of parents about this, experienced that feeling that every new parent has, when arriving home, of “Well, what now? What are we supposed to do with them? Are we really allowed to have them here without round the clock supervision?” During our stay in hospital we were offered a lot of conflicting advice, something I will come onto at a later date, but in the cold light of a dark wintery evening, all of it had been forgotten. How much were we supposed to feed them? How often? Do we use baby wipes or cotton wool? How many times a week did they say to bath them? Are you sure they are ours? Can we feed them after midnight? Are we supposed to bring them into contact with water?
The fear was palpable. My heart was palpating. We took them out of their car seats and gave them a feed. Our time in hospital was split between feeding, changing nappies and short dozes, so it seemed like the logical thing to do. We changed them and made sure they were clean. And then we went to put them to bed in their lovingly prepared cot and tucked them in with their beautiful new bedding…
And then it happened – no sooner had we put them into their cot and wrapped them up all hell broke loose and Arthur and Henry began howling. Even though we live in a detached house I was worried about the noise and waking up the neighbours. Until now, they had hardly cried at all. Due to Fat Badger (™) feeding, we woke them to give them food, rather than the other way around. This was unprecedented. We didn’t know what to do. Mrs Aitchworld tried to feed them some more, but they weren’t having any of it and still they kept crying. We changed them again, despite their nappies not being soiled. More wailing and gnashing of teeth. And that was just me joining in with them. For once I am not exaggerating when I say this went on for hours and we tried a combination of everything we knew; every trick we thought we had up our sleeve was employed. They wouldn’t take the breast and their nappies weren’t full. We tried pretending we weren’t there or couldn’t hear them, but they knew. They had us sussed.
One thing we hadn’t tried is bottle feeding. In hospital we were largely advised against it; breast is best and all that. We were told that babies found teats easy to use and got lazy, and would refuse to go back on the breast if they thought there was an easy way out. On the day of release, we were told of a revolutionary new teat which pretty much perfectly mimicked a nipple and didn’t encourage slacking, hence the stopover at Mothercare on the way home in order to pick one up. We didn’t know what we were doing but one thing we weren’t short of was equipment (more about which I will go into at a later juncture) so we cracked open a steriliser box, removed the contents and grabbing the boys from their cot, headed downstairs to the kitchen to get set up.
The car seats were still in the kitchen so we placed Henry and Arthur in one of them each and started to read the steriliser instructions. Miraculously, the howling stopped immediately. It was 3am. Silence, finally. Not a peep. Bliss. We carried the car seats up the stairs and just plonked them in their cot, where they stayed, silently for the next three hours until their next feed. Just for good measure though, I started to sing a lullaby… “Ground control to Major Henry; soon this will be just a mem’ry; Drink your protein milk and put your nappy on…” Have that, Mellonfarm – in your face!