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Strange nights spent away from where you normally sleep (usually no beds involved)

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    Originally posted by Sporting View Post
    Start with the ditch please so that I can compare it with my ditch.
    My Grandad was best mates with Albert Stubbins, the only footballer to appear on the Sgt Pepper album cover. They were the same age and both from Wallsend, and they were both in the same cycling club. They'd go out on a Sunday on their bikes, ride to a pub, get absolutely mortal, and try and ride back. They never made it, and instead spent the afternoon sleeping it off in a ditch by the side of the road. I think this was while Stubbins was still at Newcastle. But to quote Michael Corleone, that's my family, Kay. That's not me.

    Me? I just couldn't be arsed walking the two miles uphill home when I'd been out on a weekend night, so I'd fuck it off halfway though for a kip. This was purely a summertime lark, and in winter I'd try and hitch a lift on the back of a milk float, like a cliche in a movie set in the North.

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      Originally posted by treibeis View Post
      A "mince pie and mulled wine" party sounds bloody awful. Did you at least have a couple of bowls of proper food, like nuts and twiglets and that?
      ​​​​
      I saw this post at the time, but knew it would take a while to write the answer.

      The Travis house was owned by an elderly Sicilian man, who had gifted it to his three adult children. The two eldest had proper jobs so they unwisely handed the job of landlording to the youngest son who was unemployed and fancied himself as a rude boy (at some point I will hunt down one of his emails, they are pure comedy).

      Anyway, the house had a long narrow back garden and before we moved in, the elderly Sicilian had planted it out as a massive tomato allotment. The terms of our lease said that we must let him in from time to time to tend for and harvest the tomatoes. Unfortunately for him, he got called back to Sicily for some family disagreement just as the tomatoes were ripening.

      Rude boy couldn't be bothered to harvest the tomatoes himself, so he asked us to do it, in exchange for keeping some of the tomatoes ourselves.

      It was August 2010. I can date it precisely, because I was going through one of my depressive periods and I know that coincided with the Copiapo mining accident where 33 miners were trapped underground in Chile. I had persuaded my company to let me work from home for two weeks, and my daily life looked something like this. Have a lie-in until all my housemates had left for work. Stay in dressing gown all day obsessively reading updates on the Copiapo incident. Middle of the day, stagger out to the back garden and harvest a load of tomatoes to put in a box in the cupboard. Snooze. Hide from housemates when they arrive back home. Order dominoes pizza. Occasionally send an email or two so work knew I was still alive. I got on best with one particular housemate and occasionally watched the Inbetweeners with her around 10pm, then I stayed up most of the night making origami boxes or writing short stories about depressed people and fell asleep around 3am. Repeat for a month.

      Now, the relevant part of this back story is the tomatoes. I didn't know it, but if you harvest all the red tomatoes, it encourages the plant to grow more. The climate must have been particularly good that year, or my diligent harvesting spurred the plants to greater glory, whatever the reason, I harvested kilogrammes of the stuff. When the elderly Sicilian came back, we dutifully handed over two massive trays of beautiful tomatoes and kept schtum about the twenty other trays hidden in the cupboards.

      To start with, we tried to eat them fresh. Tomato salad, tomato quiche, fresh tomato pasta sauces every meal. It rapidly became clear that there was no way the four of us could eat the tomatoes fast enough before they went off. And they were good tomatoes, proper Sicilian varieties, way better than anything you can buy in a UK supermarket. So, we put a full industrial tomato processing operation in place. We dried a load of them in the oven with garlic and put them in jars with olive oil. We made vats of tomato chutney, and arrabiata sauce. Everyone we knew got a jar of something tomato-based as a Christmas present that year.

      Another feature of the back garden, was that there was no fence between it and our next door neighbour. He was a lovely Indian man who was teaching his eight year old son how to grow various plants, and would give us tips on how to care for the tomato plants. When we started making jars of tomato-based stuff we bartered them across the garden divide for fresh pears, pumpkins, green beans and other yummy produce.

      So, the catering at the mince pie party gave a rather false impression of domestic competence. We had trays of home-dried tomatoes with mozzarella, or pear with blue cheese. One of my housemates had spent a long time in Siberia and made tasty little canapés of black bread, beetroot and sour cream. One of the Irish girls lived in Japan for a couple of years, so she made potato cakes, and also silken tofu with spring onions and soy sauce.

      These days, while I am shoving frozen fish fingers and chips into the oven, my husband often reminisces about the house he called 'the house of hotties' (there were approximately 12 different young, female housemates in the 18 months I lived there) and how he feels it was false advertising.

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        Originally posted by NickSTFU View Post
        I could buy you a pint (or whatever) and listen to you until closing time Balderdasha. What a fascinating and exciting life you've led so far.
        This is the allure and the danger of having bipolar. Everyone wants to take manic Balderdasha to the pub and buy her a pint while she tells hilarious stories. Very few people want to, or know how to, handle depressed Balderdasha who has not showered, dressed, or eaten anything other than cereal for the last week.

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          Late 2012: while on holiday in Thailand I found out I was pregnant. I told the full story of that on the stories around the fireplace thread. There endeth a lot of the more extreme sleeping in strange places stories.

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            Originally posted by Balderdasha View Post

            This is the allure and the danger of having bipolar. Everyone wants to take manic Balderdasha to the pub and buy her a pint while she tells hilarious stories. Very few people want to, or know how to, handle depressed Balderdasha who has not showered, dressed, or eaten anything other than cereal for the last week.
            I have a very dear and close friend who has bi-polar. I hope that I am a good friend to her when she's in a depressive episode. It's hard to tell. But, that's on me.

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              Ach, I wasn't trying to suggest that you're a bad friend, sorry. I'm sure your friend appreciates you.

              Things that friends do that I find helpful when I'm in a depressive phase:
              - keep ringing or messaging me with gentle reminders when I'm not responding
              - visit me rather than asking me to go out somewhere
              - suggesting low key activities like watching TV or going for a walk
              - bring food

              But everyone is different. It may be that your friend needs totally different things.

              ​​​​​

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                2013: went on another hillwalking holiday with my friends. I'd been slightly concerned that I might have jumped the gun and got accidentally pregnant before the lesbian couple who were actively trying. Fortunately, they'd conceived a month ahead of me. I remember soberly dancing around the rented lounge, listening to the songs we used to play at teenage parties 'we are young, we are free, keep our teeth nice and clean', and bumping bumps with my friend's wife.

                Me and my fiancé planned and implemented a beautiful wedding in four months flat. Friends who got last minute invitations assumed it would be a ramshackle affair, and were quite surprised by the finished article. Lots of places were giving discounts because it was 2013 and superstitious types were postponing for a year. My mum's army of retired primary school teachers, who all remember me helping out at the school when I was a young teenager, swung into gear and revealed their super-power hobbies. One woman grew all our flowers in her back garden and made amazing table displays. Another woman made the cake. Another designed laminated name labels for the tables. My mum made activity packs for the kids. Also, I wasn't working full time so could do a lot of research. We married outside on the lawn, on the first sunny day of the year, in a lovely ex-priory where all our closest friends and family could stay the night. I got use of an on-site cottage the night before which me, my sister and my nieces were going to stay in. My sister turned up very late in the evening to collect me and drove us there in the dark going far too fast down country lanes listening to trance music. All my nieces helped to finish popping out the origami boxes that I had pre-made to put sugared almonds in.

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                  2013, a little later: we had spent so much time, energy and money planning the wedding, that we didn't have anything left to plan a honeymoon. Also, at five months pregnant I was already big. Because I am short and a small build, there was nowhere for the baby to go but out, so I had already endured about a month of random strangers stopping me in the street, winking and saying 'not long now, eh?'

                  At the time, my dad's main topic of conversation was how much money he had managed to save on his various holidays and cruises with the lady he 'went to the gym' with. So, I decided to see if he could be put to use and asked him to find us a nice hotel not too far from the wedding venue, with a swimming pool, for a three day mini moon (we assumed that after the baby was born we'd be able to have a proper honeymoon some time later, ahahahahaha, hollow laugh).

                  The hotel that my dad found was nice enough. He drove us there the day after our wedding after we'd all had breakfast. We walked around the grounds, we tried to play tennis but I was waddling too much for that to really work, we swam, we ate. I was finding it hard to sleep because of pregnancy heartburn, so my husband propped me up in a nest of cushions and I half-slept half-upright. He would chat to me in the middle of the night when I couldn't doze off.

                  Two weeks after our mini moon, the hotel was splashed all across the papers because two hotel guests, who were likely having an affair, had drowned in the pool. It sent shivers down my spine, not least because while we were swimming, we had remarked on how unusual it was for a hotel pool to have no lifeguards or attendants.

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                    Here's a brief account of a holiday we had a couple of so years ago:

                    We flew from Barcelona to Geneva. The flight was fine though we had some stress on the way due to long queues for the airport car park which had me worried. Vueling is one of the better low-cost airlines, with nice cabin crew and few of the hassles you get with Ryanair or Easyjet.

                    We were staying with people who I had last seen in Sudan 34 years ago. A., Swiss national, and her husband R., originally from Cairo but living in Geneva since he went to university there. With them, a dog, and their two young sons, K and R we travelled around the Jebel Marra mountain range in western Sudan and then in their Land Rover across the desert to the capital, Khartoum. These two weeks took in loads of adventures, including getting stuck in the sand, multiple punctures, camels appearing out of nowhere, eating goat, killing scorpions, an encounter with a madman who ate the dog's food direct from its bowl, staying in a room in an empty airport and so on and so on.

                    We all got on well. R could be a bit sexist when his wife was taking her turn at driving and I remember one conversation where he claimed that men were more disadvantaged than women. This was in 1984. I guess I reckoned that as he was extremely hospitable and generous to us (there was another Englishman with us as well) then these were the empty words of someone still influenced by the society he grew up in.

                    I didn't recognise A when we arrived. We hadn't exchanged photos or anything. But she looked good, despite her now 72 years. R had put on weight, but looked otherwise healthy. We were all very excited, especially me. They drove us to their apartment in Geneva, not far from the centre of the city. My first time there (my partner had been there several years earlier, our son not at all). Their apartment was open-plan, very well furnished, with lots of artifacts from all over the world, shelves of books, a kitchen to die for with all the appliances any chef would need. Not poor people, these. We had brought some simple gifts from Spain (a small ham, for example) but when R brought out the huge ham to carve as a welcoming tapa for us, along with the first of several bottles of very good white wine I thought of maybe not giving them our ham...it seemed so paltry in comparison.

                    So the couple gave up their main bedroom to my partner and me, our son was put up in K's room (he has an apartment in the same building) and we spent a couple of days eating fantastic food (R is a very good cook): oysters, pizza, chicken, horsemeat, Mongolian fondue. All washed down with excellent wine (from a cellar of more than 500 bottles), whisky, Guinness even. Cheese and ham and homemade bread for breakfast. A first tour of Geneva. Life was fine: we chatted about old times, about politics, languages, books etc.

                    Two days after arriving we went to their second home in a small village called Soulalex in the Swiss Alps. A lovely old house with three floors, again with a incredibly well-stocked cellar, and again we ate like kings. One day they all went skiing. I went but not skiing. The family lent us warm jackets and long johns and helmet; we just had to rent skis and ski boots. R gave our son a few tips on how to ski (my partner has some experience) and by the end of the day he was able to move down the nursery slope with some aplomb, considering that it was his first ever time. I stayed in the terrace bar, after taking a few photos and videos, reading a book and drinking expensive lager.

                    I suppose I should have paid more attention to what was happening between R and my partner and also to how R talked at times to his wife (remember they've been together for nearly 50 years). My partner was reluctant to tell me about the times he subtly, or not so subtly, put her down, or corrected her, as she figured that I had organised the trip with a lot of enthusiasm, given the long gap in seeing each other, and perhaps she also thought that she was making mountains out of molehills and that as they were being very kind and taking us places and as A was simply a lovely, lovely woman...then it wasn't worth making a fuss about nothing.

                    On the way back from Soulalex we stopped in Martigny and visited a museum where there was a Toulouse-Lautrec exhibition on. We enjoyed it and there was also a vintage car museum to keep our son happy for a while.

                    My partner knew that a friend of hers, who she hadn't seen for 20 years, was working in a theatre in the city. She tried to get in touch, by phone, text message and going to the actual theatre itself. R told me that she was wasting her time; that if her friend hadn't replied it was because she didn't want to reply, or was no longer available (later it transpired that her friend was in Africa and couldn't respond to these messages). The area where the theatre was is in the red-light district of the city. You got cheaper beer here and the vibe was obviously different to downtown Geneva where people paid for their drinks with 200-Swiss franc notes without batting an eyelid. Across the lake was where the "rich people" lived. A million euros wouldn't even buy you a garage in some areas.

                    So our flight was on the Saturday, and now we are on the Thursday. We went out by ourselves to give our hosts some breathing space, walked around the city, took a boat trip, had some grub, and then went back home. My partner stayed out to go around the shops on her own. Back in the apartment, looking up from my book, I saw that some milk that A was heating up had overflowed onto the stove. I alerted her to it and she thanked me. R saw what had happened and from my little French I understood that his sudden diatribe included stuff such as "this isn't the first time you've done such a thing". Such a fuss over spilt milk, I thought.

                    Later, however, over dinner, it all kicked off. We were talking about learning languages. My partner said that she wanted our son to perfect his German, saying something like "I want him to have the discipline of German". R misinterpreted this as meaning that she was saying that German was a more disciplined language than others. He accused her of using racist language. My partner had used "discipline" to mean a subject, as in a school subject. As so often, things come to a boil on the slightest pretext, the most unlikely misunderstanding, my partner suddenly flipped and stormed off to our room. Silence all round. Our son very sensibly took himself off to the room as well. Then we heard the front door close and my partner had gone out. A was subdued and looked shell-shocked. Then R started telling me that I had to keep my "wife" in order and that he wanted us out of the apartment that night. If we didn't have money for a hotel then we could stay in the Salvation Army place down the road, which was for "poor people". We had five minutes to leave.

                    Time passed. My partner came back. She was visibly shaking and very upset. She tried to explain and even, god bless her, apologise, but R was having none of it. Suddenly he snapped at our son as well for momentarily mislaying the key for the apartment downstairs. He called us "a sick family". Our son responded with verve and anger through his tears. I'm proud of him. Then R gave us an hour to pack our bags and get the hell out. I tried to reason. He told me that our son and me could stay but that my "wife" had to leave. Obviously no dice there. We packed and left (I hugged A on the way out; I don't think this went down too well with R but I didn't give a fuck) and the last words I heard from him were "go to hell". I don't think he was particularly drunk, by the way. We'd had a few beers but he was perfectly in control, if control is the word to use.

                    So there we are in the street at about 10.30 in the evening, pulling our suitcases along in the direction of the train station where we hoped to find a hotel. Which we did, 175 euros a night for the three of us, sleeping in two fairly large beds joined together. Just as we had done when our son was a baby! My partner was super-apologetic but I told her that nothing had been her fault and that she had reacted exactly as any normal human being would have done.

                    We had a good night in that hotel. The buffet breakfast was excellent. The next day we transferred to a cheaper place the other side of town. We spent time together as a family, drank a few beers, visited a musuem or two, took lots of photos, spoke some Spanish to the hotel receptionist in the second hotel.

                    Hotel stays in Geneva include free public transport so we took a good few trips, raided a Lidl for cheapish food and on the Saturday went to the airport where our flight was delayed for a couple of hours due to a strike by the French air traffic controller, among other sectors striking in that country.

                    And then we arrived back in Barcelona and drove back to Valencia. We were none the worse for our experience and if you weigh the good and the bad then the former wins. Please note, though: be careful when renewing friendships inactive for 34 years.

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                      You are likely to find New York boring

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                        I would struggle to renew a friendship that's been inactive for 34 years. I'd have to find someone who knew me when I was 2. Not convinced we'd have a lot to talk about!

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                          Maybe fight over toys?

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                            Originally posted by Balderdasha View Post
                            I would struggle to renew a friendship that's been inactive for 34 years. I'd have to find someone who knew me when I was 2. Not convinced we'd have a lot to talk about!
                            I did, successfully, renew a friendship after 45 years. It's quite wonderful. We hadn't seen each other since we were sixteen, and back then hung out together for less than a year, but conversation was comfortable and easy, possibly because we both talk for living (I'm a teacher he's an MP.) The oddest thing was how much, unknowingly, our tastes tracked each other in the intervening years, in music (particularly) books, films etc. Quite unexpected.

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                              2006. Some old stories I forgot. I was back teaching in Yudong, South of Chongqing, but I'd managed to arrange so that I taught four days a week at the school, and then I was doing a one day a week internship at the British Council in the centre of Chongqing on Fridays.

                              The year before, when I was teaching at the school, a group of British teenagers had come on an exchange trip, and I had been given the week off teaching to show them around the city. One girl, let's call her Sally, was keen on teaching English during her gap year. I had wanted to come back, but hated the winter in Chongqing (as it's South of the Yangtze, apparently the central government has decreed that it doesn't need central heating, but it gets down to 4 degrees C and it's damp and horrible). I was honest with Sally about why I didn't want to teach again in the winter, but she was young and determined, so we arranged with the school that she would teach the autumn / winter term and I would return for the spring / summer.

                              By the time I arrived back, Sally had decided to stay in Chongqing for the spring / summer, and had bagged herself a five-day-a-week internship at the British Council. Her Chinese exchange partner had helped set her up in a flat in the centre of the city, near the British Council office, and Sally agreed that I could stay with her from Thursday to Sunday for minimal rent.

                              My weeks started to look like this:
                              - Monday to Thursday, teach English in the morning. Learn Mandarin and calligraphy in the afternoon (it took me six months to persuade the art teacher that I spoke decent enough Mandarin for her to teach me). Fairly quiet evenings. Sometimes I played ping pong with my Chinese friend who was a geography teacher. Sometimes I tutored the daughter of the Chongqing head of police (they took me out to dinner and made an offer I couldn't refuse, I was terrified of offending her). Sometimes I just took myself out for dinner and fended off the various old ladies who wanted to set me up with their sons.
                              - Thursday evening, I got the bus into the centre of Chongqing and met Sally. Usually we had a quiet evening as we had work the next day.
                              - Friday morning, we got up early, went to the Marriott hotel which assumed we were guests because we were white, had a swim in the pool and used their showers because Sally's shower was broken. Then got breakfast from an amazing street food stall which sold crispy tofu wrapped in sugar, black sesame seeds and sticky rice. What I wouldn't give to eat another one of those.
                              - Friday at our internship we worked on various projects. One involved taking school kids around to record the sounds of Chongqing and comparing them with sounds from cities around the world. One was an art project based around rivers. One was on climate change. We had to watch An Inconvenient Truth to see if it was suitable for a public screening. It was fine up until the end where Al Gore tries to rally Americans by listing accomplishments, including 'we fought communism and won'. We had to edit that bit out. That project steered my career path for the next five years.
                              - Friday evening was party time.

                              Chongqing had two main areas for bars and nightlife at the time. The city centre and foreigner's street. In China, various sites have become popular with tourists and have started catering for the backpacking crowd. So a street will spring up with hiking shops, internet cafes and cafes that sell banana pancakes. These are known as 'foreigner's streets' and Chinese tourists like to visit them to get a glimpse of these weird foreigners and what they spend their money on. Chongqing never had enough tourists to grow its own foreigner's street organically. What it did have, was a local millionaire who made his fortune by selling steel doors all around China. He decided that he would help rejuvenate his home town by building a foreigner's street. He bought an enormous plot of wasteland on the outskirts of the city, then went on a tour of the world drawing sketches of things that he wanted replicas of. When we started going to foreigner's street it featured:
                              - a four storey glass house
                              - a replica of a San Francisco hill with wonky colourful houses and a tiny chapel on the top
                              - an upside down house
                              - a windmill
                              - the 'world's largest outdoor public toilet' with a model of the sphinx on top, painted in neon colours
                              - a replica of some of the Venetian canals with transparent zorb balls you could climb inside
                              - robotic pandas you could ride
                              - taxis in the shape of red stiletto shoes
                              - a large wedding and banqueting hall with stretch Jeeps outside

                              To get foreigners to come to this street, the door millionaire had advertised for foreigners who wanted to run a bar for two years, rent free, with accommodation on-site, and a Chinese bar manager thrown in for free. The only thing they had to do was get more foreigners to visit the street. Naturally, this attracted a lot of alcoholics. In 2006, they were giving flyers out in every bar in the centre of Chongqing, offering 'all you can drink for 50 yuan' nights. That was approximately £3.50.

                              We could drink a lot for £3.50, so a lot of very surreal nights ensued. We didn't have any incentive to even remain in a sober enough state to get home, because at the end of the night, we were all collected by a yellow American school bus and delivered home.

                              Meanwhile, in the city centre, our favourite nightclub was throwing theme evenings to compete. One 'hospital' themed night involved all the bar staff dressed as doctors and nurses and saline packs full of alcohol hanging from the ceiling with long tubes dangling down that you could drink from. There, all we needed to do at the end of the night was make it as far as the lift because Sally's flat was on the 13th floor above the nightclub.

                              I think those six months were the drunkest I've ever been. One night I was standing on top of a car singing something dreadful and I only decided to get down when I heard someone below yelling 'I can't believe that woman is in charge of what school I get allocated next year'. One night I had to turn away a naked Danish diplomat from the door of our flat. One night the peace corps volunteers fell through the top of a cardboard cake at the embassy.

                              ​​​​​​​Whenever I woke up on Sally's sofabed, invariably hungover sometime on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon, we would phone the takeaway downstairs and they would bring up amazing spicy fried rices. We'd eat those, watch Sex in the City on pirate DVDs to drown out the lady next door who was either a sex worker or just really enjoying her twenties, and all was good in the world.

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                                Hmm, I chose that story because I thought it would be shorter to write than the one I have lined up from summer 2013. I think I miscalculated.

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                                  Originally posted by Balderdasha View Post
                                  Ach, I wasn't trying to suggest that you're a bad friend, sorry. I'm sure your friend appreciates you.

                                  ​​​​​
                                  I know you weren't.

                                  And we take food and just let her know we are there for her.

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                                    Summer 2013: Heatwave. I was extremely pregnant. 6 days overdue in fact. I'd spent the last few weeks sitting with my swollen feet in buckets of ice water and sleeping draped in cold wet flannels. Clapham common had a paddling pool next to an ice cream shop and that had become my Mecca.

                                    2am, I woke up and went to the loo, and realised my waters had broken. Having been a diligent student at our NCT classes, I stuck a pad in my knickers to check the waters, and discovered the baby was passing meconium. I woke my husband up, we grabbed our hospital bag and called a taxi. The driver went to the wrong hospital first, but we weren't hugely concerned. I was having mild contractions but clearly not about to give birth immediately.

                                    After a couple of hours wait at the hospital, the doctor confirmed the presence of meconium which stymied our aim to be on the 'home from home' midwife-led birthing unit and we were sent straight to the consultant-led side. Some very nice midwives explained that meconium indicated the baby may be in distress, so the aim was to get the baby out within the day, preferably by natural birth. Because I was only having mild contractions I was hooked up to a syntocinon drip (synthetic oxytocin, triggers stronger contractions) and began labouring in earnest.

                                    I spent 16 hours on syntocinon, having intense contractions every couple of minutes, using only gas and air, a yoga ball, and lots of Bob Marley songs as pain relief. Every so often, a consultant would walk in, look at the contraction charts, look at me calmly breathing and bouncing, and assume I'd already had an epidural. When the midwives corrected them, they would look at me again, with a mixture of awe and disbelief.

                                    The scariest part of the day was when my daughter's heart beat dropped. The midwife asked my husband to pull the emergency cord and warned that the room would suddenly be a lot busier. He pulled the cord and ten plus people rushed into the room ready to declare an emergency and slice me open there and then. Fortunately, my daughter's heart rate recovered and the midwives supported me to continue trying for a natural birth.

                                    Sadly, after the 16 hours, I still had not dilated, and all the medical staff agreed that at that point the safest route forward was a caesarian. 24 hours after waters break increases the risk of infection for the baby, and my daughter had been passing meconium all day, she needed to come out. We signed all the necessary paperwork and went for a slightly more controlled caesarian.

                                    I am slightly a control freak with medical treatments. I like to be told exactly what is going to happen next, what precisely is being injected into me, etc. I explained this to the anaesthetist who was going to give me a spinal injection. I had to be taken off gas and air to be taken through to the operating room, and was hit with the full back-arching pain of my contractions. The anaesthetist added something innocuous to my drip, probably antibiotics, without telling me first and I lost my shit. Inbetween excruciating contractions, I gave her a massive lecture on patient consultation and informed consent. Baffled, she asked if I really wanted her to tell me the exact name of everything she was putting in me. Yes, I yelled through gritted teeth, the full latin name whether I know what it means or not.

                                    Eventually, she told me the names of the anaesthetics and antibiotics and anti-clotting agents and whatever else they were putting in me. I managed to hold my back still enough for the injection and I lay back ready for the operation.

                                    Trying to describe the experience of having a caesarian is weird. The drugs they give you knock out your pain sensation and your temperature sensation, but not all sensation. They spray you with a cold spray so you can pinpoint which areas of your abdomen have been successfully anaesthetised. If you had never been pregnant, the feeling of someone cutting and pulling layers aside and rummaging around would no doubt be very weird. But if you're having a caesarian, then by definition you have just experienced pregnancy where for the last five or so months you've been able to feel an alien parasite somersaulting and kicking inside you.

                                    My husband sat near my head, distracting me with lovely memories of our holidays in Barbados and Thailand and holding my hand and reassuring me. All we wanted was for our daughter to be ok. I was acutely aware that meconium can cause brain damage if inhaled. As our daughter came out, she cried immediately, it was a beautiful sound. Even better, the surgeon laughed with relief and said 'would you like to see her?' as he lifted her above the curtain that had screened us from the surgery. She was fat and red and filthy, thrashing her legs and crying in anger, wonderfully alive and well.

                                    My husband followed her to where she was being checked over (we'd agreed in advance that I didn't want him to let her out of our sight) and then she was brought back to me to lie on my chest while I was sewn up.

                                    My daughter was born just before midnight, we were moved into a recovery room in the early hours of the morning. I was still paralysed from the ribs down to my knees, but my husband managed to help position our daughter onto my chest so she could latch on and breastfeed. I wanted to do that as soon as possible. It was a pretty amazing feeling that both my body and my daughter knew how to do this totally bizarre new interaction.

                                    Around dawn we were moved onto a general mother and baby ward. Before the birth, we had looked into the costs of private rooms at St. Thomas's hospital. It was £850 a night, not something we could really countenance, especially as after a caesarian you're usually in for two or three nights. If I was living that time again though, I'd pay for the private room.

                                    The ward I was on had four mothers and babies. I was right next to the window, and the warmth and excess sunshine meant I got a heat rash. Next to me was a woman whose baby was struggling to breastfeed properly. She'd previously been discharged, then readmitted because the baby was losing weight. The midwives were trying to re-establish breastfeeding, but the mother kept panicking and secretly feeding the baby from a bottle. The midwives were frustrated that the mother wasn't following their advice. The mother was distraught and thought they were trying to starve her baby. There were lots of very emotional arguments all through the night. Opposite from me, a mother had a baby with jaundice who had to be under a special light for most of the day. The mother had had a caesarian only a few hours before me and the midwives kept refusing to help her pick up her baby or change its nappy. I couldn't understand why they were so mean to her. They kept saying 'what will you do when you're at home on your own?' Meanwhile, they were helping me pick up my baby because I hadn't yet been able to get out of bed. I had to conclude racism. The other mother was Indian and I eventually offered to act as a witness for her if she wanted to put in a formal complaint.

                                    At that time, fathers were not allowed to stay on the ward overnight, so the night after our daughter was born, my husband went home to get some sleep and I began the longest night of my life. My daughter needed breastfeeding at least every hour or two hours. I physically couldn't lift her in or out of the cot next to the bed, I still had a catheter in, I still couldn't stand (I had tried to earlier in the day and nearly passed out). So, when I needed to move my daughter I had to call for the midwives. They were overworked, so I was often left in a situation where either, I had just finished feeding my daughter and had to try not to fall asleep with her in my arms before the midwives got there, or my daughter woke up crying in her cot and the only thing I could do was sing nursery rhymes to her while waiting for the midwives to bring her to me. I felt helpless, and like a terrible mother. I barely slept that night so I was running on 3 days with almost no sleep.

                                    The next day, my husband came back, I could nap a bit, a midwife finally removed my catheter after noticing it was full to bursting point, I managed to stagger out of bed and have a shower. I had another long night but it wasn't as bad as the first one.

                                    On day three, we were working to be discharged, but it took a long time. I found myself saying, oh well, if we have to stay another night, at least I'll get dinner provided, and we realised I was becoming institutionalised. We insisted that we would be leaving within the hour whether we had signed the paperwork or not, and that hurried things up.

                                    Back home, we closed the door to the flat, our daughter was asleep in the car seat. I looked around desperately and realised I was looking for where the responsible adults were. There were none. It was just us. 'What do we do now?' I asked my husband. 'Go and have a nice bubble bath' he said. So I did.
                                    Last edited by Balderdasha; 19-07-2019, 10:04.

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                                      Christ that is almost identical to our experience in Brighton, post caesarian. The emergency-style care was fucking magnificent, but when you moved down and became something of a cog in the system, you realised the system stank.

                                      I remember coming back the day afterward, similarly full of beans and seeing my wife looking like a Vietnam vet who's been rescued from deep up-river. She'd basically been left in a bed holding our daughter (who was a very hefty 10lbs) but couldn't adjust her position any, and couldn't reach the call button, and so had to hold onto the baby to stop her falling off the bed, and she didn't have the energy to do much more than croak. She'd been in labour for all the previous night and hadn't slept* and was by now hallucinating, and given the screams and wails of labouring women, basically imagined herself to be in some living Hieronymous Bosch painting.

                                      Then, in the middle of this, they finally came around at about 3am to check the baby, found some respiratory issues they were concerned about and wanted her admitted to ICU, and so she couldn't sleep then, either. She finally got back from ICU when the baby was given the all-clear and I found them both fast asleep when I came back the next day. That day was dominated by attempts to get the baby to feed, and the nurses were spectacularly useless, imagining that the issue was somehow a failure of will on my wife's part, rather than a basic engineering problem driven by a large baby, a small mouth and a complete lack of core muscular control because of the c-section (NCT support was equally useless, imagining the problem was somehow a failure to 'connect' with the baby. Fucking wasters).

                                      They gave us the all-clear to be discarged the next morning, but we needed to be issued a prescription fot the various anti-biotics and painkillers for the c-section, which took 10 hours to get hold of. I kept saying to the nurses about wanting to go home, and offering to do something, anything to speed things up, but the system was the system, and the system's fundamental shitness was something everyone who had to experience it daily had come to a zen-like acceptance of, leaving everyone of us who were experiencing it for the first time to feel like we were in some kind of weird sci-fi movie where the 'normal' people who are actually aliens gaslight the only remaining human protagonists.

                                      We then had 36 hours for the rest of the weekend to fail to make the breastfeeding work, leaving a screaming hungry baby, and a virtually crippled mother who hadn't properly recovered who basically had red-raw nipples and a baby who treated them rubbing a cheese grater over them. I tried to find a pharmacy only to find there was none open until the next morning anywhere. It felt like one of those schlocky TV movies where someone says that the police can't get to help for a time, and so they'll have to fend off the bears/serial killers themselves until first light.

                                      I ran down to Boots in town which wasn't scheduled to open until 8.30am, but the wonderful kind assistant who saw the look of terror on my face as I knocked on the door at 8 recognised someone in need. I made a special note to remember her name to write to Boots afterwards, and had forgotten it by the time I got home, which I always feel guilty about; she heard me babble incoherently and picked up a basket and walked around picking up a breast pump and other accoutrements which we'd completely forgotten to engage with, so taken in as we were by the NCT mantra of breast always being best to the extent that anything else is Fucking Shit And Will Damage Your Baby For Life Because We Can't Work Out Causation vs Correlation.

                                      By the time our second came around, we knocked the 100% breast thing on the head because it was too punishing for my wife and meant she never got a decent night's sleep so much. Though I do remember with our first when we went up to Wembley for the FA Community Shield and we were in the Royal Box because of my job, and thinking it was probably there can't have been many requests of the FA hospitality people about where was the best place for a woman to go and pump and dump at the new stadium.

                                      * it turned out our daughter was breech, something 2 examinations by midwives in the weeks leading up to the birth had failed to diagnose, so our plans for a home birth very quickly became plans to get in an ambulance with flashing lights all of a sudden when they said they couldn't be sure the cord wasn't around the baby's neck

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                                        February 1989, Paris, on the plinth at the foot of the Statue of Liberty by Pont de Grenelle.

                                        I was the last of the 3 of us to stir, and only then because my friends kicked me awake to announce the arrival of a tourist boat that had sailed up one side of the island in the Seine and pulled up broadside across the river in front of the Statue as all those aboard leaned over the side to take photos which we were now spoiling.

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                                          Autumn 2013. Very little sleeping in a real bed. My daughter breastfed at all hours of the day and night. I was terrified of cot death (my cousin lost a baby to this when I was about 6 years old. I hadn't met him, but I'd seen a photo, and the news hit me hard), so I wouldn't co-sleep. My daughter had zero intention of sleeping in her cot, so we worked in shifts. I sat in a rocking chair in our lounge in the dark, watching Stacey Dooley documentaries or Bollywood movies on silent (the only things that were on at 4am, we hadn't signed up to Netflix yet). I would feed our baby for hours until I found myself unable to stay awake any longer, then I'd wake up my husband and pass her over. He undoubtedly had a hard time as he didn't have anything he could feed the baby with, so he just tried to keep her happy as long as possible before he had to wake me up again. One of his patented techniques was to hold her over his shoulder, stand in the bathroom with the shower on and the lights off chanting 'saunana, saunana, we're having a lovely saunana' (other friends with a young baby had found that omnian chanting on youtube helped, general advice recommended white noise, my husband was using both). During this period my husband was so tired he accidentally shaved off his eyebrows one morning (he was attempting a trim, I responded with hysterical laughter), and once went to work wearing his dad's shoes which were two sizes too small and assumed that the discomfort was due to his feet swelling because of stress.

                                          When I did actually sleep in my own bed, I would wake after an hour or so, frantic with worry and try hunting through the duvet to find my daughter who I was convinced was suffocating (she was not, she was safely asleep in her cot).

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                                            Our youngest was a terrible terrible sleeper. We ended up doing similar shuttles, and I used to sleep in the living room with the baby in a pram wearing an one-in-one winter warming snowsuit (it was the height of summer) and found that if I walked around the living room with the pram doing figure of eights for about 25 minutes with a white noise playing app on my phone in the pram with her, she'd eventually sleep. Other times I'd try and put her in front of the washing machine on a beanbag whilst trying to grab 20 minutes sleep.

                                            Once she was too big for that, she went upstairs in her cot. She used to do what we called 'whumping' - she'd basically be lying on her back and would lift her legs up in the air and then bring them down into the cot. It reverberated around the house like the clanging chimes of doom. She'd not sleep for more than 90 minutes at a time, and was seemingly impervious to the tricks her elder sister had been successfully moved to sleep using. We'd just have to stand over her cot arched in some godforsaken position for 30 minutes holding various limbs down until she settled down.

                                            This went on for 6 months until we were both broken husks who couldn't go on and who were both exhibiting classic signs of a lack of any mental wellbeing - me especially. I took the eldest to see grandparents for a few days whilst my wife did controlled crying. After 30 minutes on her own crying, she promptly fell asleep and slept through the first night, and has been an amazing sleeper ever since.

                                            She still carried on whumping, but eventually, we became inured because it didn't presage anything else at all, other than being a weird noise she made. We never found out what it was and why she did it, and eventually stopped by the time she was 2.

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                                              My wife and our experiences of childbirth are strikingly similar. I'll post when I have some time.

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                                                Originally posted by Balderdasha View Post

                                                I saw this post at the time, but knew it would take a while to write the answer.

                                                The Travis house was owned by an elderly Sicilian man, who had gifted it to his three adult children. The two eldest had proper jobs so they unwisely handed the job of landlording to the youngest son who was unemployed and fancied himself as a rude boy (at some point I will hunt down one of his emails, they are pure comedy).

                                                Anyway, the house had a long narrow back garden and before we moved in, the elderly Sicilian had planted it out as a massive tomato allotment. The terms of our lease said that we must let him in from time to time to tend for and harvest the tomatoes. Unfortunately for him, he got called back to Sicily for some family disagreement just as the tomatoes were ripening.

                                                Rude boy couldn't be bothered to harvest the tomatoes himself, so he asked us to do it, in exchange for keeping some of the tomatoes ourselves.

                                                It was August 2010. I can date it precisely, because I was going through one of my depressive periods and I know that coincided with the Copiapo mining accident where 33 miners were trapped underground in Chile. I had persuaded my company to let me work from home for two weeks, and my daily life looked something like this. Have a lie-in until all my housemates had left for work. Stay in dressing gown all day obsessively reading updates on the Copiapo incident. Middle of the day, stagger out to the back garden and harvest a load of tomatoes to put in a box in the cupboard. Snooze. Hide from housemates when they arrive back home. Order dominoes pizza. Occasionally send an email or two so work knew I was still alive. I got on best with one particular housemate and occasionally watched the Inbetweeners with her around 10pm, then I stayed up most of the night making origami boxes or writing short stories about depressed people and fell asleep around 3am. Repeat for a month.

                                                Now, the relevant part of this back story is the tomatoes. I didn't know it, but if you harvest all the red tomatoes, it encourages the plant to grow more. The climate must have been particularly good that year, or my diligent harvesting spurred the plants to greater glory, whatever the reason, I harvested kilogrammes of the stuff. When the elderly Sicilian came back, we dutifully handed over two massive trays of beautiful tomatoes and kept schtum about the twenty other trays hidden in the cupboards.

                                                To start with, we tried to eat them fresh. Tomato salad, tomato quiche, fresh tomato pasta sauces every meal. It rapidly became clear that there was no way the four of us could eat the tomatoes fast enough before they went off. And they were good tomatoes, proper Sicilian varieties, way better than anything you can buy in a UK supermarket. So, we put a full industrial tomato processing operation in place. We dried a load of them in the oven with garlic and put them in jars with olive oil. We made vats of tomato chutney, and arrabiata sauce. Everyone we knew got a jar of something tomato-based as a Christmas present that year.

                                                Another feature of the back garden, was that there was no fence between it and our next door neighbour. He was a lovely Indian man who was teaching his eight year old son how to grow various plants, and would give us tips on how to care for the tomato plants. When we started making jars of tomato-based stuff we bartered them across the garden divide for fresh pears, pumpkins, green beans and other yummy produce.

                                                So, the catering at the mince pie party gave a rather false impression of domestic competence. We had trays of home-dried tomatoes with mozzarella, or pear with blue cheese. One of my housemates had spent a long time in Siberia and made tasty little canapés of black bread, beetroot and sour cream. One of the Irish girls lived in Japan for a couple of years, so she made potato cakes, and also silken tofu with spring onions and soy sauce.

                                                These days, while I am shoving frozen fish fingers and chips into the oven, my husband often reminisces about the house he called 'the house of hotties' (there were approximately 12 different young, female housemates in the 18 months I lived there) and how he feels it was false advertising.
                                                I'm attempting to grow tomatoes for the first time in my life. I planted way too many for the size of my planter, but most of them are doing really well. I may need to consult to figure out what to do with them. I vastly underestimated how big the plants would get and how many tomatoes they might produce.

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                                                  Originally posted by Hot Pepsi View Post
                                                  I may need to consult to figure out what to do with them.
                                                  Chutney

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                                                    1988-1991: memory triggered by another thread. My best friend lived on the local council estate and we took it in turns to visit each other's houses each weekend. She loved my house because it never changed. I loved hers for the opposite reason.

                                                    ​​My friend's dad was the son of academics, who rejected the very concept of work, and preferred to spend his time painting, doing carpentry or trying to complete the Times crossword. Her mum was from Colombia and always told me it was a very bad country and I should never visit it. My friend had an older brother, a huge Labrador dog, two cats, two budgies (including one called Ringo because of his haircut), a tortoise and multiple rabbits / guinea pigs.

                                                    Occasionally the family would come into some money (usually because the dad had been persuaded to do a few shifts at the pizza takeaway, or because the mum had got a bit of work teaching Spanish) and they would use it to decorate the house beautifully, fitted kitchen, three piece sofa suite, everything painted and wallpapered. Then, when they ran out of money the furniture would gradually be sold.

                                                    ​​​​I remember one time, my friend had been able to design her own bedroom and she had it all lime-green and zebra print (remember this is the late 80s / early 90s). She'd had a bunk bed / desk thing put in which I was very envious of. She showed it off to me proudly one weekend and then the next weekend she came to stay at mine. When she got home, her dad had sawn the bunk bed in half and sold the desk to raise funds. She was distraught. The next time she came to stay at mine, her dad sawed off the legs and headboard of her bed, turned it into a cupboard and sold that. She didn't come and stay at mine for a while afterward.

                                                    One time, I came round my friend's house and the only furniture left in the lounge was orange crates to sit on, and a ping pong table. The mum and dad were having a weekend long competition to see whose turn it was to have to look for work.

                                                    I loved their house because people were always laughing, it was full of pets and I didn't know what I'd find there each time.

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