Phantom of the labour ward

26th July 1996 at 01:00
Monday

Gail and I are enjoying the summer holidays enormously. Although our financial position - not to mention Gail's developing pregnancy - has decreed that we spend most of the six-week break at home, we are nevertheless having a grand old time away from the stresses and strains of the classroom, going for a gentle walk one day, sitting in the garden another, or maybe playing soothing music to our developing child through Gail's stomach of a limpid summer's evening. I read somewhere that such techniques are a tremendous aid to aural stimulation in the foetus, although Gail does find it somewhat uncomfortable to have our JVC stereo radio-cassette perched on her tummy for more than ten minutes at a time, so I am thinking of wiring up an extension lightweight speaker.

Also, of course, we are still congratulating each other on our cleverness in organising a pregnancy which allows Gail's maternity leave to commence some three days after her return from the holidays. Of course, it's just the sort of chicanery for which I have chided countless of my female colleagues in the past but I don't see why we shouldn't be allowed to take advantage of the system as well.

Tuesday? My first opportunity to accompany Gail to the maternity hospital for an ultrasonic scan of our eagerly awaited offspring, which was conducted by an extremely severe lady doctor who seemed to have experienced a charm bypass operation. She simply pursed her lips when I looked at the screen flickering into action and then asked whether "this thing can get BBC2 as well" - but then maybe she's heard that one before. However, I thought it completely uncalled for when she dismissed so rudely my eager offer of assistance to smear Gail's distended tummy with the jelly-like substance that was deemed necessary before connecting her up to the whole gubbins.

Gail hissed quietly out of the side of her mouth. "Be quiet, Morris. Dr Phillips needs to concentrate."

I gulped an apology, put my hands together, and stared crestfallen at the floor, as Dr Phillips commenced her electronic search. All was silent, as Dr Phillips gazed sternly at the screen.

"There! There!" she suddenly exclaimed. "Did you see that?" "Ooh yes!" Gail squeaked as I jerked my head to the screen.

"D'you see that, Mr Simpson?" asked Dr Phillips. "Just on the left of the picture?" "What?" I gawped uncertainly.

"There! There!" she pointed impatiently. "Your baby's head!" I couldn't for the life of me see what the woman was talking about. All I could dimly perceive was a large and amorphous fuzzy blob which looked like something out of the X-Files, but I wisely refrained from revealing my misconception.

"Oh - uh - yes," I smiled hesitantly. "Isn't that amazing?" "Yes, isn't it, Morris?" Gail reached out and squeezed my hand tightly. "I wonder, Dr Phillips," she began uncertainly "is it possible to tell whether it's a girl or a boy from that picture?" "Well, a scan's not the most reliable way of telling," the good lady admitted, "but I'd say from looking at that - um - appendage over there that it's pretty certain you've got a son and heir coming along, Mr and Mrs Simpson."

I blinked in sudden emotion and shook my head in amazement. The wonders of modern science . . .

Wednesday

Parentcraft class was this evening. It was my first. And probably my last. First of all, there was the fact that Gail and I seemed positively ancient compared to every other pairing in the class, most of whom appear to have only recently attained a post-pubescent stage of development, were it not for the advanced stages of pregnancy which their female halves were so clearly demonstrating. Consequently, the level of instruction which Dr Phillips found it necessary to maintain was, to say the least, pitched at the lower end of the academic spectrum.

She ranged from giving instruction on the complex issue of measuring three spoonfuls of dried milk accurately (15 minutes' worth, and then there were still questions being asked of her), to how best to read a bath thermometer to ensure that our progeny were neither scalded nor frozen during their nightly ablutions. "Honestly," I hissed to Gail. "There's nothing here that we couldn't read in that manual your mother gave us, for heaven's sake."

But it got worse. Within the next half-hour Dr Phillips had all of the males - myself included - wandering around with three cushions strapped to our stomachs and a hot water bottle tied to our backs in what she described as an 'empathy-raising exercise', designed to give us some idea of how our partners are feeling at this sensitive stage of their respective confinements. It reminded me of some of the more ridiculous in-service courses I have attended in my time, and when the woman insisted I lay myself flat out on the floor next to some pimply youth for some deep-breathing exercises, I'd had just about enough, I can tell you.

And then Rose McShane arrived. I couldn't believe it. Like Banquo's ghost, this former pupil seems destined to haunt my every movement in later life, and on this occasion she arrived bigger and bolder than ever, barging into the class some 25 minutes late, as was her usual wont during her spells under my educational ministrations.

"Soarry, Doactur!" she waved an arm in salutation. Michael wiz down the bevvy, an didny come back till hauf-seven. Anyways, ah've proabably no' missed anythin ah didny ken awready. Eh?" As the mother of three children already, she was probably correct in her assertion, but the aggressive and self-confident manner in which she proceeded to monopolise the rest of the class seemed even to have Dr Phillips in submission, and reminded me of the unusual professorial relationship which had pertained between Rose and myself all those years ago.

I dissolved quietly into the background to escape detection, and had thought to have succeeded until we were leaving the room at the end of class, when Rose suddenly spied us and waddled swiftly across the room.

"Haw, sur. Hullawrerr, sur." Rose bellowed her usual greeting. "Is this yur wife, then, sur? Up the stick like me again, eh?" I shuddered, as all eyes turned towards Gail and myself, and was about to murmur an acknowledgement before Rose continued her rhetorical monologue. "An' you'll be wee Rosie's teacher, eh?" she enquired of my wife's pedagogical duties towards her niece. "She's helluva soarry tae be leavin yur class, Mrs Simpson, but ah've telt her that she'll be fine up at the big school, specially if she's goat Mr Simpson fur a guidie."

"Yes, well nothing's decided about the guidance structure for next term yet, Rose," I informed her quietly, "but I'm sure your niece will be in safe hands whoever she has as her guidance teacher."

Rose looked dubious. "Aw dunno, sur. Some of them are crap, an' that Mr Booth's a real perrvert, if y'ask me."

Declining to comment upon the professional expertise, not to mention sexual predilections, of my colleagues, I took Gail by the arm and made a hurried exit, stage left pursued by McShane.

I don't think I'll go to the next Parentcraft class . . .

Thursday

Our wedding anniversary. And what should have been a day of joyous celebration turned, alas, into an evening of bitter recrimination. It had all started off well enough, because I had prepared our favourite evening meal of stir-fry chicken with an oriental sauce, followed by a tin of Tesco fruit cocktail with squirty cream and chocolate flake. Relaxing by the fireside afterwards, with Gail knitting blue cardigans at a frantic pace, we fell into discussion about the future of our son.

"I suppose we'll have to start thinking about getting his name down for Abbotsgrange Junior School," Gail lobbed in a hand-grenade for starters. "Can you do that before they're born, or do we need to wait?" "What?" I spluttered in confusion. "What on earth would you want to put his name down for a private school for?" I gasped with huge amazement, and less grammatical certitude.

Gail looked equally amazed, to be honest. "But I wouldn't think of doing anything else, Morris. Would you?" "But of course I would, Gail! How can either of us hold true to our convictions if we're both teaching in the state sector, both drawing our weekly wages from the state sector, both telling parents that we're providing the best education possible for their children and then not submitting our own child for it?" "But Morris," her eyes opened wide, "I'm not having any son of mine going to Parkland primary and that's where he'd be going if we continue living here, isn't it?" "Well, yes, but - " "And mixing with the likes of Rosie McShane and Kevin Elliott, and Roddy Stansfield and Peter Fraser, and - " she reeled off a litany of appalling pupils, past and present, who have passed through the academic portals of the aforementioned school, but I held my hands up to stop her.

"OK, OK," I admitted: "But we could use the Parents' Charter, and - " "Ach, Morris. Parents' Charter, Parents' Farter. We could send him to any one of the state grotbags around here and he'd still end up not being able to read, write or count properly before the age of 12 and you know it."

I countered to the effect that I certainly did not know it, then announced an utter contempt of my wife's educational betrayal of every premise which I hold dear, and in an unusual fit of temper indicated that I would spend the rest of our anniversary evening in the Rockston Arms, where she was welcome to join me if she so wished, although I was confident that she wouldn't.

In this supposition I was proved correct, but I was delighted to find an alternative drinking partner for the evening in David Pickup, down at the pub to watch a session of topless darts on the big-screen satellite TV. Unfortunately, he was little inclined to give attention to the source of my marital discord in favour of leering in the direction of a particularly well-endowed participant in the darts match, but when the commercial break arrived, he was at last enabled to hear my tale of woe.

Unfortunately, he agreed with every word which Gail had said. So much for male bonding.

Friday

A traumatic day at Parkland Maternity Hospital, whither Gail was rushed at 3am this morning. She was in a desperate state of temper when I returned home - somewhat the worse for wear, it has to be admitted - and I can only assume that the emotional turmoil of yesterday's events were in part responsible for the labour pains which commenced in the middle of the night. "Morris," Gail nudged me sharply in the ribs, and out of a deep, Guinness-induced somnolence.

"Whassamatter. Bwaarrp." I belched loudly.

"Something's happening, Morris. Phone the hospital quickly and tell them we're on our way."

I'm not always at my best in matters of crisis, plus it didn't help matters that I was completely incapable of driving anyone anywhere after such a heavy drinking session, let alone a wife who seemed in imminent danger of going into premature labour. Thus it was with mortal embarrassment that I slurred a request for a taxi down the 'phone and had to endure the suspicious glares of an extremely hostile taxi driver who took us into the hospital - all subservience and servility to Gail, all antipathy and arrogance to me.

Anyway, to cut a long story short, it all turned out to be a phantom labour, and it was with some relief that the excitement died down around 6 o'clock, after which the hospital announced that they would keep Gail in over the weekend for observation. By now, of course, I was practically dead on my feet, so I requested permission to nip home for a snooze, after which I promised to return for this afternoon's visiting time. Gail accepted the suggestion with reasonable equanimity. She almost seemed to have forgiven me over last night's little disagreement, and I wisely kept the conversation well clear of future schooling opportunities throughout her entire spell on the obstetrics bed and she merely asked that I accompany her to the two-bedded ward in which she is to spend the weekend before setting off for home.

"No trouble at all, darling," I assured her as the ward orderlies wheeled her along the corridor. "Let's just hope you get some nice company." She nodded weakly, smiled up at me, and blinked her eyes in forgiveness as we entered the antiseptic atmosphere of Room 14.

"HULLAWRERR, SUR," came an all too familiar voice from the other bed, and my heart sank in despair. "Whitchya dain in here, Mrs Simpson?" Rose McShane enquired, and did not wait for answer. "Me? Ah've hud some trouble wi ma tubes, so thur dain a quick explo-joab. Shouldny be here loang. Jist the weekend, like. 'S a bit boarin, like, bit at least ye get yur chuck made an ah've goat ma Walkman an some decent tapes."

Gail shut her eyes tightly, squeezed my hand in despair and croaked quietly, "Just go, Morris."

In the circumstances, there was little else I could do. I squeezed her hand in sympathetic return and left the room. After the events of last night, not to mention the embarrassment of this afternoon's visiting time, during which period Rose embarked upon a three-way conversation of dubious gynaecological content, it'll almost be a relief to get back to school next month. And that's saying something . . .

* Next month: The new councils begin to make their presence felt in education and at Greenfield Academy Mr Pickup's very upset about the loss of early closures at the end of term.

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