Wednesday 17 June 2009

The pregnant lady falls over

14st 10lb, 4.5 units. This was scheduled to be my last day on Earth as a non-parent; or more likely the penultimate day, if the popular assessments of the efficacy of inducing childbirth turned out to be correct. I woke at 6.30, feeling refreshed (will I ever know that sensation again?) and got up intending to write, but instead spent 20 minutes reading the last two editions of The Journal online. Yesterday’s included a letter from one Bill Heron of Throckley which read: “In the thousands of words written about what will happen if Gordon Brown stands down as Prime Minister, one important aspect has been overlooked. If Mr Brown is no longer in office, what will Keith Hann write about in his tedious column?” I felt somewhat disheartened, and also betrayed. I have always been particularly fond of herons.

After a morning tying up loose ends at what passes for work, I began my self-granted paternity leave at lunchtime. As soon as I had forced down a sandwich, I fulfilled Mrs H’s last wish (well not literally, I hoped) and drove her to the Trafford Centre in Manchester to do a spot of shopping. Our destination turned out to be a sort of more grandiose version of the Metro Centre in Gateshead, apparently constructed to plans left over by the architect to some particularly well-funded Indian railway company. The exterior was adorned with domes that seemed more than vaguely reminiscent of a mosque, and must have been a red rag to the Pakistani students who were allegedly plotting to blow the place up a while ago (though curiously, after the immense publicity surrounding their arrests, there was found to be no evidence against them and they were quietly deported). As I walked along the long, curved glass mall, roofed exactly like an unusually clean train shed, I could not help reflecting that it might have been no bad idea to allow them to demolish it, if an arrangement could have been made to do so out of hours when there would have been no loss of life (except, if they absolutely insisted, of their own).

We waddled first to John Lewis, with the aim of replacing the defective nursery lamp that we had bought at their Oxford Street store when we were last in London. Naturally Mrs H had taken the elementary precaution of ringing them up before we set off, and establishing that they had ample numbers of the thing in stock. So we were not unduly disheartened when we went to the lighting department and found that they had none on the shelves, and no staff available to serve us. We simply waddled to the customer services desk, where a woman was kind enough to look the item up on a computer and confirm that they definitely DID have lots of it in the stockroom. She then led us gently back to the lighting department and secured us the services of a pair of evident simpletons, one of whom promptly went into the same computer system and announced that they did not have any in stock after all. Now, why did that not surprise me in the slightest?

However, what did surprise me was their announcement that they were willing to let us take away the one lamp like ours that they had out on display. Which had the advantage, Mrs H pointed out, that we knew that it actually worked. I could safely predict that the bulb would blow as soon as I plugged it in again at home, but I covered myself against that by buying a couple of spare ones while I was there.

We then traipsed around a number of other shops, taking the opportunity to buy a present for The Baby at the Early Learning Centre. Predictably enough, this proved to be almost the only item in the store not included in their “50% Off Closing Down Sale”. We then went to Boots, pointlessly as it turned out since Mrs H had only wanted to go there because the Trafford Centre guide on the Internet listed it as a retailer of maternity clothing, which they proved no longer to stock. Perhaps because no-one in their right mind would ever think “I need a maternity dress: got to get down to Boots!” However, I did spot a large section full of sun cream, which I actually needed. I picked up a few bottles, to take maximum advantage of their inevitable BOGOF offer, and was heading for the till with them when I heard a screech from behind me and turned around to find a shocked-looking Mrs H scrabbling on her hands and knees on the floor. My first thought was “Oh no! Please God don’t her let have smashed that f***ing lamp from John Lewis, which she was carrying at the time!” Followed some time afterwards by a faint concern that she might have caused some harm to herself or The Baby.

A woman left her till to look into the cause of this mild commotion, and underwent a sea change in her attitude when she spotted (a) that the victim was about nine months pregnant, and that (b) her fall had been caused by a pool of something left unmopped on the floor. This proved, ironically, to be Baby Apple Juice discarded by some passing scratter, who had simply dumped the almost finished carton on the nearest available shelf. A Major Incident Plan immediately swung into action: a chair for the victim was found, followed by the inevitable glass of water and then by a qualified first-aider (who proved to be the fattest woman in the store). Mrs H took up her offer of making an entry in the store’s accident book just in case we didn’t like the look of The Baby when he came out, so that we could blame Boots and sue them for massive damages. Another supervisor came along and cheered Mrs H by telling her that she looked ten years younger when she gave her age; this bucked me up a bit, too, until I realized that a 27 year age gap between us would probably be considered excessive everywhere outside showbiz circles and paedophile chat rooms.

When we finally escaped we went to a shop that really did sell maternity clothes, then made our way back to Chester laden with booty. In the evening I was indulged with a pint of Thwaites and packet of pork scratchings in my favourite canal-side pub, which will always have a special place in my heart as the scene of my second date with Mrs H, or the LTCB as she then was. Then we walked hand-in-hand across the road to a curry house to get on with the serious business of “bringing on the baby”. The only table they had on offer was in a booth, into which we were so firmly wedged by a combination of Mrs H’s advanced pregnancy and my portliness that I feared it might require the attendance of the emergency services to release us after our meal. But we managed to escape somehow, without disturbing other diners with the sound of splintering timber.

I left with the strong feeling that I would be much troubled by indigestion during the night, and not at all by cries of “My God, my waters have broken!” and I was in no way disappointed.

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