It’s Not Christmas Till Somebody Cries

A special announcement, a new Christmas song means a new addition to my Christmas Jukebox series.

The song is an absolute belter of a track and captures Christmas in a way reminiscent of the second verse of ‘Christmas in Hollis’ by Run-DMC – it’s a song which focuses on the real side of Christmas. The fights with family members over politics and the differences between generations. The happy tears of someone showing they care as well as the sadder tears of expectations sorely dashed.

I’ve been the cause of that last one at least once. 16 years ago I was almost killed by a Ford Transit van, escaping only by a combination of the skills of the various healthcare workers, sheer luck, and the unfailing love of my family.

This event shaped the lives of us all. It was a painful reminder of the fragility of the world. You can’t expect to know what will happen every second of the day. Every now and then the universe throws something you could’ve never anticipated your way. You shouldn’t go through life always expecting horrors to occur, but that’s an understandable mindset when occasionally they do happen.

The accident shaped me in this way, too. I often expect everything could come crashing down at any second. I’m most terrified of the plot line you find in certain TV shows where something is All a Dream. It’s a persistent worry that things are going too well. Fun fact above the type of brain damage I sustained, it’s believed to have given me a bit of a mood alteration where I act like I’m 2 glasses of wine in.

That feeling was never more serious than this year. Like everyone, I spent most of this year inside for fear of a virus. Unlike most people, I had some very legitimate reasons to be extra particularly careful (rather than just moderately careful). My Exquisite Wife discovered she was pregnant in January so this entire year has been about keeping her safe. Keeping her safe while also not revealing that she was pregnant for much of it as we didn’t want lots of fuss. This did make it a bit hard to explain to some people why I was taking the pandemic seriously (seriously though, it’s a pandemic, you should be taking it pretty damn seriously, right?). It also made it harder to explain why I was so critical of the government’s overall mismanagement and bungling of almost every step this year. There were times this year I was sure I must be in some extended coma dream. The world does not feel real. Everything was falling to pieces yet with my oddly elevated mood it felt kind of… fine?

I was sure bad times and sadness would befall me at any second this year. A pregnancy is an additional risk factor and especially tricky during a mass sickness. As well as that, I’m quite into finding out statistics and it chills me to the soul that 20% of pregnancies fail. This year I’ve been so worried that we might end up in that 20%. I was so worried I didn’t fully accept I was having a baby as a kind of coping mechanism.

There was a palpable moment of dread when she first came out and didn’t make a sound, cord around her neck. But the midwife moved it, with the gentle firmness of an experienced angel, and my girl screamed the place down.

I was sweaty. In a mask, my exhalations bursting out the sides, partially fogging my glasses but I saw all that and shouted out “YAS” at the top of my lungs, as the cry of grief instantly flipped into an exaltation that maybe there is some more justice in this universe than I thought.

At that moment, I became a daddy. I instantly bonded with this little girl. She’s so chatty, just like her mother.

So, I’m pleased to announce it’s Christmas as writing all that out – the first time I’ve done so – has got me reliving those feelings. This Christmas will be a quiet one with my parents, who may have prematurely aged from the accident but have recovered well thereafter and look incredibly good for it. Also present will of course My Exquisite Wife, the New True Queen B, and Our President, Augie Peanutbutter.

From all of me here at Pastures Fresh, I’d like to wish you a very merry Christmas.

The writer of this piece encourages you to look both ways when crossing streets.

Fatherhood Fills Like a Glove

Forgive me, father, for I have sinned and not written a word in almost two months. In my defense, I’ve been busy planning my next big project in besides taking care of the results of my last big project – my baby, the True Queen B. She needs a lot of effort but that’s just what all parents tell you. Glad to tell you as a recent parent that it is no joke and children add so much to your life while taking a lot in terms of time.

Pictured, some other baby as we’re studiously avoiding giving ours an online presence at this early stage. Got to love a good stock image. Photo by Cemal Taskiran on Pexels.com

For a while I was saying how fatherhood fits like a glove, but I’ve since modified this – Fatherhood fills me like a glove. A slight moderation of the normal idiom because I feel like becoming a dad has dramatically changed me inside. I am the glove and fatherhood is the hand. I have not just fit into a role, the role has fit into me.

The world is entirely different. My daughter was born and the world got instantly better. It’s a bit like the Pathetic Fallacy where you attribute shifts in the world to emotional shifts in yourself. Well, regardless of whether it’s a fallacy, my daughter was born two months ago and now America has a better president (it took her a couple months to topple her first authoritarian but not bad for her first quarter and it puts her handily in the top centile). I must make sure my little girl uses thsi power for good.

It’s now my role to steward this little world-improving spirit and channel her personality to good end. She’s a smiley baby and, much to our chagrin occasionally, she’s full of energy. On the upper end of how often she’s awake, highly alert for at least half an hour a day longer than any of the books mentioned, and I might suck at measuring but it appears she’s 97 centile for height (which means only 3% of same aged babies are taller). She’s fairly well-behaved and patient for a baby. I recorded this podcast episode by myself while she was in the room and she hardly made a peep.

We’ve started listening to Christmas songs early. And this is going to be one of the best ever.

The writer of this piece is going to force himself to write more but the issue is he feels too content to worry about impressing people with his considerable skills of expression.

My First Week as a Daddy

A week ago I became a father of the first time. It was a magical moment seeing this tiny baby come into the world. The True Queen B was covered in a substance that looked like butter and with a fair bit of blood on her as well. My first job was to clean her up a bit then take care of changing her first nappy. Which is said to be the worst one.

Turns out this is just a bit of a popular misconception. Her nappies for the first few days were terrible. It’s this horrid black stuff, with a consistency like tar. It gets everywhere and it introduced me to the joys of having to care for the cleanliness of another life. An especial growing curve when dealing with a girl as I’ve not really had to think too much about hygiene for that particular undercarriage.

What’s really interesting is what has followed. My Exquisite Wife and I have had to reanalyse our priorities and figure out a way we can both get sufficient rest and nutrition while dealing with a barking baby and a crying dog (more on him in another post). The good news is the baby sleeps for about 20 hours a day so there’s only 4 real hours where we’ve got to be that lively to deal with her.

Sounds easy when you put it like that but then you found out those 4 hours are spread out as 15 minute increments over the course of the day. At least half an hour of it in the late night and early morning. Suffices to say, I’m falling asleep just writing this.

See, I was an English teacher in Prague. I never used to understand how some of my students made simple grammar errors even when they were perfectly fluent in their emails an in most of their speech. It now occurs to me that many of them were tired. Several of them were parents to young children and even parents to older children I assume get tired at greater rates than the childless. It’s like a whole other part of your brain has got to constantly fire and it’s hard for me, as a native speaker, to stay grammatically perfect at a time like this. It’s only fairly arbitrary rules at the end of the day.

It feels as though slow-cooked meat, slowly falling off the bone. Chewy and delicious. That’s where I’m at at the moment.

Photo by Chevanon Photography on Pexels.com

That picture might not be as slow-cooked as I meant it to be but who really cares at the end of the day. I’ve run out of the heavily glucose inspired energy of a litre bottle of Lucozade (why does that exist by the way? It’s got hundreds of times more energy than anyone needs). The adrenaline of caring for My Exquisite Wife in hospital has worn thin. Now it’s time for that mystical power I’ve read so much about to come through – dad-strength.

The writer of this piece almost pulled a “You’re tired? Try having a one week old” today but stopped himself last minute.

The Best Thing I’ve Ever Done

”What’s your greatest achievement?” – there’s a question that always tripped me up. Mostly I’ve got a hard time boasting about anything and talking myself up, minus the occasional bit of bluster about unimportant accomplishments just because I find it funny.

“Oh, you can brush your teeth in two minutes? I can brush mine in one minute!”

“Fraser, I keep telling you this, that’s not how brushing your teeth works.”

Away from that, I do have some achievements. Published poet, historian, and journalist, Good degree from a good university, all while having a touch of the ol’ brain damage presumably making me a bit less productive than I maybe could be.

Also maybe a bit worse at being socially appropriate, I’m amazed I have the friends I’ve got.

The other great achievement is of course this blog, I know, right? I have an email address and a bit of spare time, that’s literally all it takes besides any level of literacy. But the way I do it, weeks or months between posts then constant activity for a month or more, that’s really cool to me and I’m very proud of the stuff I have written here. Perhaps it hasn’t found the millions of adoring fans I’d like but I’m past caring about that kind of attention. It still feels like an achievement to have this thing that started out with no posts, no pictures, and no idea, and grow it over time to hundreds of posts and pictures and even less idea than when I started.

Possibly I’d point to My Exquisite Wife, and my journey to win her heart. Now there a story worth briefly recounting: I booked a flight to Prague and accidentally set the time on the online calendar wrong so I stayed for 3 months and 5 days instead of 5 days. I was due to leave on 23rd February 2016, a day which I instead went to a bar where ladies got free sangria to see a friend and meet her pals. There at the edge of the group I saw an interesting person who was observing a lot but was only lightly interested in proceedings – clearly she was new. I struck up conversation, found out where she was from and what she was about. Expecting I was being very subtle before this, I’ve been misinterpreted before, about half an hour into proceedings I leant over and said “You’re gorgeous, by the way”. Couple weeks later I told her I loved her and she freaked out, as one might be expected when you met a guy two weeks ago.

At least I was emotionally mature enough not to propose then.

Anyway, My Exquisite Wife is brave and stuck with it. No idea why, really, but I suppose she saw something or felt something. I’m so glad she did. With time, I was able to prove I’m not just some plastic bag caught in the wind succumbing to the throes of nature, my love for her is stable and strong. Finding my way into her affections after I was sure for a minute I’d ruined it numbers amongst my greatest accomplishments.

Managing to save any amount of money in Prague working as an English teacher is also a great accomplishment. I almost managed to contribute 10%, our family mercifully provided a lot of the rest, which isn’t bad when I was only making like 800 euros a month or something.

None of these accomplishments mean anything.

On September 13th, 2020 at 14:38, a new heart began to pump by its own power. A new brain drummer started to beat and wave hello. In so many words as actually necessary but I can’t just say it simply as it would lack the full emotive power the thing requires, the near divine exaltation at that little cry as the somewhat alien looking creature tested her new lungs – I am now father to a daughter. A new life came out my wife. It’s like a healing knife to the heart. Now, the world is good.

And I recognise it’s a very easy accomplishment for a man. 9 months of essentially waiting around while a woman is in pain. This understanding of the man’s role in pregnancy is probably one of the several reasons why most men feel totally helpless throughout the entire ordeal. I only did for a very brief moment, right as Beatrice met the world. Turns out there’s a lot you can do as a birth partner to make the experience slightly better.

The happy end result is almost certainly my wife’s victory rather than my own. It must be said I found the entire experience awe-inspiring and humbling. The end result is certainly our greatest achievement to date. Now we’ve got to work together to make sure the True Queen B takes her rightful place as saviour of the universe. She’s already saved one man already.

The writer of this piece only cried once while writing it.


The Edinburgh Seven

Amazingly not rugby related. Edinburgh, as well as being a centre of great wizards of maternal health like James Young Simpson, Edinburgh was also the centre of women getting involved in the medical profession. Today, here’s a quick run down on the Edinburgh Seven (btw, my podcast is soon to have a far better episode on this hosted by our very own Roisin Caird, but this is less facts and more emotion).

Sophia Jex-Blake (above from Wikimedia Commons)

Maternal health was formerly almost entirely the domain of women. Women began leaving the field in massive numbers during the witch hunts in the 16th-century, often by violent means were these great minds deposed from their influential positions. Healthcare was increasingly formalised in the 18th and 19th centuries and men took the reins of maternal health. What followed was a lot of mistakes as men didn’t always understand how human bodies and anatomy worked as well as they understood men, mostly since so many more male bodies appeared for dissecting (many more violent male criminals were caught back then). Women increasingly got back into nurse roles in the 19th-century and clever doctors came to respect their expertise when it came to childbirth. They were however prevented from aspiring to practise medicine for themselves.

The University of Edinburgh Medical School was the world’s largest English-speaking medical school for almost two hundred years. Though it was eventually eclipsed by an Ivy League school, who cares? Five out of seven Ivy League medical schools were founded by University of Edinburgh graduates.

Sophia Jex-Blake wanted to get involved as a doctor. This was a massive undertaking for a women at the time as no women doctors existed. Her idea for Edinburgh was based on the idea that a Scottish university would be more liberal than the venerable institutions in England.

This makes a lot of sense as the University of Edinburgh is essentially a baby, compared to Oxford and Cambridge is about 500 years younger.

Sophia Jex-Blake went to the University and tried to matriculate. They let her at first but then they said they’d have to rescind this as they couldn’t provide facilities for one person.

So Sophia got an advert in the paper asking for women who wanted to do medicine and she found 6 takers. They became known as the Edinburgh Seven and became a recognised group in the university. They stuck out as the only student to wear women’s clothes in classes.

On the subject of classes, they had an issue with finding teachers willing to take them in co-ed classes. So the Seven had to fetch their own teachers. They had to individually lobby professors to get them on side.

The Seven performed extremely well on their marks, much to the chagrin of their male classmates. The men had very low opinions of the ability of women to learn things or to handle the rigours of the studies. It must’ve been humiliating for those men to be so soundly proven wrong but at least some of them were good sports about it and decided to help the Seven.

The campaign against them reached its height during an actual riot. The Surgeons Hall riot when the Seven went to sit their exams was so intense the new police service was called in to defuse the situation. Some finds as high as £10 were handed out, hundreds in modern day money. The Seven were protected during the riot by some of the men who they’d so deftly proven themselves to.

The women all passed their exams but were scummed out of their degrees at the last minute by academic politics. Even still, the women went on to have a huge amount of influence on the world and on the development of medicine. Several of them went on to become educators and advocates of women’s health and involvement in medicine. Sophia Jex-Blake herself founded two schools, one in London and one in Edinburgh. Branching off this achievement, a woman called Elsie Inglis was trained at Jex-Blake’s school and disagreed with Sophia so went off to found her own school focusing on women’s health and maternity.

The work of the Edinburgh Seven was absolutely essential in creating the world we have today where women can be doctors on the same level and regard as men. Anything which frees the potential of half the population is a damn fine thing. And what’s especially great is how the Seven specifically encouraged more women to get involved, a development which has only been good for the outcomes of all patients. If you want to find more about the Seven, I’ll link the episode in 2 weeks.

The writer of this piece wrote it on mobile and it shows.