Yesterday, Baby A and I went to work with Mr Oh. Work consisted of getting up at 6am and boarding a bus to a Chinese tourist water town with a group of 20 other people. Half of the group were students of Chinese literature from Fudan - one of China’s top universities - with the other half comprising the world’s leading Joycean scholars.
Baby A and I could pass for neither. We were too old and too young, respectively, to pass for Chinese literature students or, indeed, students of any kind unless one of us is remarkably prodigious and the other is *gasp* mature. Although, physically we may have blended passably with the other group, the fear there would be that someone might start a conversation with us. “Have you read much Joyce?”, they might ask. “No” we would reply (or I would reply because Baby A would be busy rubbing bean paste from the cake that one of the students slipped to him along the seam of the Joycean scholar’s trouser leg). “Have you read any Joyce?” they might continue, deflated. “No”, I would reply. They would be disappointed. This would be before they noticed what Baby A had been up to. Disappointment would turn to barely concealed rage. I would apologize profusely and reach for tissues. Baby A would cackle and then, as I was trying to wipe bean paste from the fabric, Baby A would grab the loose skin on their face, just below their eye, and gouge tightly with his unkempt claws. It would be ugly - people would cry.
I thought if I were, however, to deflect all talk to Joyce - Baby A and I might be in with a chance. I could go in on the offensive. “So, have you read Incy Wincy the hard back wipe-clean tab version?…Sublime”. Baby A and I would then break into a round of Incy Wincy Spider. I would do the hand movements and Baby A would bounce up and down in his pram like the conductor of the New York philharmonic. The scholars would be confused and, later perhaps, moved by our touching rendition. No one would cry, unless they were tears of joy. Ok, Baby A might cry but it would have been unrelated to Incy and possibly related to the unexpected loss of the bean paste cake which I would have grabbed out of his sticky hand in the preceding moments.
The reality about Joyceans though is that they’re really, really into Joyce and not that much into Incy Wincy. Joyceans are intense and focussed and random. I say random because they’re not who you expect them to be i.e. they’re not all David Norris. We met a very nice Korean lady who was a Joycean scholar. I wanted to know how and why she decided that that was what she wanted to do with her life and career. Does she read it in Korean? Maybe Joyce is more appealing in Korean than it seems to be in English. I didn’t ask her, I was terrified of mentioning Joyce in case someone thought this was an invitation to start a Joycean-type conversation.
One of the Chinese professors on this unusual outing had recently translated Finnegan’s Wake into Chinese and apparently it shot to number 2 on some Shanghai bestsellers list. I secretly wonder if it was the Chinese Joycean Scholars bestsellers list. Not having read it, I’m in a weak position when it comes to criticism or sarcasm, I admit.
I decided to hang out with the students mostly and let them fawn over Baby A and feed him cake. It seemed like the better option. At one stage as we wandered about in the sweltering mid morning heat looking at an ancient Chinese building, I looked over to see two young, very intelligent, serious, Chinese literature students fanning my 12 month old son from either side of his pram as if he were Tutankhamun himself. I made a mental note that the child needs to be socialized in a normal environment before he comes to believe that he’s immortal.
Mr Oh, during this excursion, was taking a different and not altogether unsuccessful approach. Having actually read some Joyce (albeit not a whole lot) he was taking the little nuggets of knowledge available to him and wringing ever single nano drop of conversational kudos out of them, with gusto. As he wandered around the alleys of Zhujiajiao discussing the merits of The Dubliners (and not much else) he did seem vaguely convincing as a Joycean scholar.
As to why an international band of Joycean scholars, a handful of Chinese literature students, a diplomat, a hausfrau and a baby were meandering the streets of ‘Shanghai’s Venice’ together early one hot August morning, I’m still not sure, but it was a good way to spend a few hours.
I’m still recovering from the fact that this town, Zhujiajiao, is considered a suburb of Shanghai and yet we drove for over an hour on the motorway to get to it. That’s a story for another day. The mind-melting giantness of China is not an issue I’m ready to tackle before lunch but I would like you, my faithful reader i.e. Mom, to think about that for a minute. An hour - on the motorway - still in the suburbs - not even left the city. Bonkers.
I spent weeks researching how to manage jet lag in babies. I asked people, I made schedules, I had a system. Turns out, babies cope with jet lag pretty well. There was one night of wanting to party at 3am and then, last night, he slept through like a clockwork orange. Sadly, the same can’t be said for adults.
At 2am, Mr Oh was reading the imaginatively titled A Short History of China which he reckoned would help him nod off but which, despite its lack of titular titilation, he was still reading at 4am. I was tossing and turning for hours until insanity seemed to take hold and I started mumbling in my best faux-Confucius impression “Body ti-yard, mind wi-yard”. On occasion, I would leap out of bed to look something up on the internet and return half an hour later for another futile attempt at falling asleep.
I tried to count slowly in my head but what started out as “One…two…three…” became “Twenty four - I wonder if I can buy sweet potato here - twenty five - stop thinking about sweet potato - twenty six - focus on the numbers - twenty seven - twenty eight - mmmm, sweet potato salad - twenty nine - no more sweet potato - thirty - thirty one - thirty two - I should google where to get sweet potato”.
I think it was almost 5am before I finally fell asleep. Baby A had, at this stage already been asleep for six hours. Four hours later he was up again, bright as a button and ready to play. I groggily picked him up and was wandering about our serviced apartment looking for the iPad with which to amuse him when the doorbell rang. This was surprising because a) it was 9am on a Saturday morning and b) we don’t know anyone in China. With Baby A slung across my hip, I opened the door and was confronted by three small middle aged Chinese ladies. On seeing Baby A they let out a chorus of ‘Waah, oooh’s and Baby A, feeling the love, gave them a wave along with a general shout of welcome and the three of them toddled right past me into the apart.
The three unknown women all split in different directions - one into the kitchen - one to the bathroom and the third started heading down the corridor to where Mr Oh lay in a sleep-deprived haze. I shouted that he should get up and a few moment later he emerged in a stumbly fashion from bedroom and collapsed back onto the sofa for several minutes before enquiring as to why there was a Chinese woman making his bed at 9am on a Saturday.
While Mr Oh was unsure about the whole thing, Baby A was totally invigorated by the sudden arrival of company. He scurried on hands and knees down to the bedroom and was quickly swept up in the arms of two of the ladies who poked and pinched him merrily as he giggled away. They chattered away to him in Chinese and he, in return, shouted and them loudly in a Maoist fashion. Eventually, Mr Oh and I, sensing that we were getting in the way plucked Baby A from his coterie of admirers and hauled him (still shouting away) out of the apartment in search of breakfast. By the time we returned, an hour later, the ladies were gone, the apartment was spotless and Baby A was ready for a nap. A successful Saturday morning in Shanghai.
When Mr Oh was in college, he spent one summer in America working in a furniture moving company. In his more wistful moments, he often reminisces about these days and has, as a result, developed a deep-seated love of moving furniture. When the professional movers came to Stoneybatter to pack up our stuff, Mr Oh could be found trotting around the house after them like a love-sick puppy handing them tape and unfolding boxes.
With the same passion that he loves moving furniture, he also hates the furniture in our rented apartment. It’s black and square and ugly - even I’ll admit that - but it’s functional so it doesn’t really bother me. Mr Oh is always thinking of ways to get rid of it and has hidden quite a lot of it in the small cave in the basement. Every now and again he will try to convince me that the side-table, or the TV table or the dining room table would be better off out on the balcony. On Sunday, he tried to make the point that the standing lamp in the living room should be taken away.
“But it’s useless” he argues.
“It’s a lamp” I say, I use it to see.”
He’s not convinced so I have to launch an impassioned stand in defense of the lamp. He eventually backs off but not before he’s managed to magic the coffee table out of the apartment without me noticing. Where am I supposed to put my computer now? Or my tea? The ground, apparently.
So last Sunday, the day I had ear-marked for decadent lounging, he tells me that we need to reorganize the apartment. I thought he just meant rearranging the presses or something but he had already done that last weekend (see photo above). He tells me that the Feng Shui in the living/dining room is bad. I’ll Feng Shui him.
His new plan involves moving the sofa 90 degrees, the dining room table 45 degrees, rearranging all the ugly furniture, spiriting away the TV table (which I suspect is the ultimate goal of this endeavor) and lugging the fridge to the other side of the apartment. I point out that the fridge door won’t open if he moves it to the other side of the apartment. He says “I will remove the fridge door and re-hinge it on the other side”. The upshot of this is that I spent much of my afternoon holding a fridge door while he tried to unscrew it from the fridge with his new bendy screwdriver. So much for decadent lounging.
When my holding-fridge-door services were no longer required, I disappeared into the bedroom to put Baby A down for a nap (that’s a whole other story). An hour later I emerged to find everything changed. He told me to be careful of the fridge door and something about needing to buy a drill.
Half an hour later, there was a deafening clatter as the fridge door fell off. Baby A, who had been napping, thought the world was ending and started screaming accordingly. A jar of peanut butter rolled over and tapped me on the foot as if to say “Hello, where do I go now?”. Luckily I have a back-up fridge…formerly known as the dairy fridge (or the kosher fridge as Sabrina calls it).
“Can you fix it?”, I ask Mr Oh.
“Ah yeah”, he says confidently, “shouldn’t be a problem”.
This would have been reassuring were it not for the fact that he was, at that exact moment, holding the door against the fridge and securing it in place with packaging tape while balancing the freezer door on the top of his shoe.
24-hours later the fridge is fixed, the living room has Feng Shui, Mr Oh has a shiny new Black & Decker drill and everyone is happy. The TV table has gone missing in the move and I suspect it is unlikely to turn up again, thus following in the tragic footsteps of many a doomed piece of furniture that had the misfortune to offend Mr Oh’s aesthetic sensibilities. I will think of it fondly (although not so fondly that I would bother going down to the basement to haul it back up).
When Baby A was born I looked forward to his toddler years, his childhood, cuddles and games, cartoons and adventures. But alas, Baby A has decided to skip all that and become a teenager at the tender age of four months. I know this because:
1. He wants to party all night and sleep all day.
Once I made the mistake of gloating, “My baby sleeps through the night at only three weeks”. I should have known that kind of bad karma was just going to come back and bite me on my smug new-mamma ass (which, incidentally, is bigger than it used to be). I really thought that I had the sleeping thing cracked…but Baby A had different plans. Where once he slept for a full 8/9 hours at night plus a few good long naps at either end, he has now taken to waking every three hours and demanding booze…I mean, milk. Then it takes me two hours to get him back to sleep because he wants to play, sing songs and lick my face. This is apparently called the Four Month Sleep Regression but I’m pretty sure I did something similar when I was 16.
2. He has an eating disorder.
Baby A has recently discovered his hands. He likes to jam them into his mouth and stick his fingers down this throat. Inevitably this results in his last meal exorcising itself from his stomach and splattering itself all over the nearest newly-showered human. This is deeply shocking to Baby A who thinks that someone has stolen the food right out of his stomach (he suspects the squeaky donkey). After he has finished expressing a suitable degree of outrage at this unwittingly self-inflicted indignity, he emerges from his cocoon of rage to flash me the ‘feed me’ eyes. And thus the cycle of binging and purging continues.
3. He doesn’t speak to me. Mr Oh when he comes home from work, at which point he lights up like a glow worm. All I get through the day are a series of demands (“Milk…now…I want miiiiiiilk…right now…why don’t I have milk…I hate you”), protests (“I will not sleep…I don’t care if you think I’m tired…I’m not…and I’m going to wail for the next 45 minutes to prove it”) and sulks (“If you won’t feed me I’m just going to close my eyes and silently moan until my daddy comes home”).
4. He thinks he’s a grown-up.
He has started trying to eat things that are unsuitable for a baby i.e. things other than milk. I’ve had to increase the levels of vigilance when holding him on my lap at the dinner table. I look away for one minute and the next thing I know he has a piece of salmon hanging out of his mouth and a smear of chill-miso sauce on his forehead. He looks at me innocently, as if perhaps I hadn’t noticed that his left hand is buried deep in a bowl of basmati.
5. He deliberately tries to thwart me at every turn.
“If I arch my back just so, grab my left foot with my right hand and throw my head over the back of the changing table…let’s see how you get me into the babygrow then.”
6. He likes things that are bad for him.
Knives want to be hugged, glass wants to be head butted and carpets want to be licked. I haven’t caught him drinking jagermeister in a field yet, but it’s only a matter of time.
7. He wants to run away.
If only he knew how to crawl.
99% of Twitter is painful - a mass exposé of the boringness of other people’s thoughts…in bite-sized form. Blogs, other other hand, are an exposé of the boringness of other people’s thoughts…ad nauseum. I apologize for that.
No-one writes anything interesting on Twitter, not even Stephen Fry who is surprisingly not funny in mini. It’s a tricky medium for comedy. The one person who has it nailed though is Honest Toddler. Sometimes I wonder if I find it funny because Baby A will one day be a toddler or because I have the undeveloped sense of humor of a toddler…but I think that it’s just f’hilarious.
Some examples of Honest Toddler tweets:
▪ "If you love someone let them go." What kind of nonsense if that. If you love someone pick them up.
▪ How would you go about fixing a house plant if someone accidentally removed all of the leaves? No judgement please.
▪ How am I supposed to learn my numbers when she keeps using 1, 2 and 3 as threats?
▪ How many times does a grown up need to yawn in the morning before they have enough oxygen. Drama.
▪ If I were meant to wear pants I would've been born with them on. Science.
There’s another one called S**t My Dad Says. This guy posts the insights of his old, grumpy, objectionable father e.g. “You can't come...Because it's not a vacation if my family is with me. I could vacation in my fucking house if you people left it.”. Apologies for the crude language but I actually could not find an example that didn’t have a bold word in it.
Anyway, I would never write a blog or Twitter feed mocking my father, mostly because he would likely come over here and beat me with fishing tackle. Plus, a lot of what my dad says is either about economics or ancient Greece - sometimes the two of them together and, forgive me, but S**t That Parmenides Said just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Mr Oh, on the other hand, says all kinds of things…some of them very odd. I feel it is my duty to record some of his out-loud-thoughts so that when he’s old and the doctor suspects he might be suffering from dementia I can say ‘No, he’s always been that way”.
Last night when I tried to give him Baby A:
Baby Hu is late. I blame Mr Oh who is generally late for everything and has a peculiar relationship with time. He has little regard for temporal strictures and the sanctity of scheduling. In contrast, I am paralyzed by anxiety at the very notion of not being unnecessarily early for everything. I wonder if this baby has any of my genes at all.
Even though I’m only one day overdue, the midwife asked me to come back into the hospital this morning for another assessment. She’s scheduled me to see the doctor later this week “on account of the baby’s size”. She chuckles quietly in a way that reminds me of Santa as she wraps measuring tape around my bump and announces “well, it’s a good size baby anyway”. I ask her if she thinks the baby is likely to be over 10lbs. I have to ask twice because she pretends not to hear me the first time and stares blankly at the wall as if singing internally to herself. When I ask again she looks away and busies herself fiddling with folders and pens while muttering ‘oh, I wouldn’t necessarily think so’ in a way that suggests she is evaluating how convincing she sounds and then spins back round to announce ‘but you’re very tall so I’m sure it’ll be no problem’. I’m not sure how being tall is going to help me birth a baby sumo wrestler. I knew I shouldn’t have eaten so much peanut butter ice-cream - this is all Mr Oh’s fault (although I’m not sure how).
The sofa is now too uncomfortable and I have taken to my bed in near perpetuity. I continue to trudge bitterly into work each morning full of simmering resentment at the fact that almost my entire yoga class seems to have wrangled early maternity leave. What I need for this, apparently, is a touch of high blood pressure and a low lying placenta. Instead, I have the blood pressure of a pre-teen marathon runner and an inconveniently nuisance-free placental location.
I also have calves like tree trunks which are accumulating cellulite like it’s a flesh eating disease (I never claimed this was a glamour-blog), fat little fingers (the engagement ring has had to go into temporary storage) and a sharp pain in my pelvis of undetermined origin. None of these things are likely to warrant early maternity leave which is probably a good thing - what my calves need least right now is additional time in proximity to the Percy Pig stash (Mr Oh thought he had hidden it from me but it’s in the casserole dish).
Mr Oh is in the middle of exams at the moment and is studying for more hours a day than most people are awake. I use the opportunity of his short and infrequent breaks to demand cake. He has predicted my future mothering style to be combination of Mary Poppins, Marie Antoinette and Pol Pot.
I’m tired now - it’s time to nap. Tired pregnant woman is much like a grumpy carebear (see image above).
[After posting the above, I caught a glimpse of myself in the mirror and realised that I looked even more like grumpy bear than I had originally thought]
It’s uncanny. I’ll refrain from posting a photo of my enlarged calves.
There is nothing on television! There really isn’t. It’s Friday night and I’ve got a choice between Celebrity Come Dine With Me (if you consider Rory McIlroy’s trampy ex-girlfriend a ‘celebrity’), the news (which I find stressful) and a type of This Is Your Life show hosted by Piers Morgan which is tonight featuring Ken Barlow from Coronation Street. It’s pretty grim.
I get very excited about nights where I have nothing to do and nowhere to go and then when I’m actually right slap bang in the middle of them I realise that I have nothing to do and nowhere to go and Ken Barlow is the best thing on telly. I feel like I should be gainfully relaxing rather than just lolling around the place like this. Lying lopsidedly on the sofa licking a large chocolate easter egg is not, I suspect, relaxation time well spent. [Just to explain myself, I was unable to break the egg open with my hands and it was too big for me to get a grip with my teeth and bite so I had to resort to licking it. The alternative was stabbing it with a pen which I thought might be perceived as uncouth].
My options of things to do are limited. I could watch another episode of The Tudors but there really is a limit to the amount of gratuitiously starkers Jonathan Rhys Meyers frolicking in a loosely historical context that a person can watch in a week. Everything else (reading, yoga, cooking, finally sorting out my online tax affairs) is too tiring. I’m fully updated on celebrity gossip (Brangelina is engaged - yawn), I’ve no particular desire to talk to anyone and it’s too early to go to sleep. I have no idea what to do. I feel like I’m wasting precious minutes of relaxation by doing nothing. Resting is proving to be stress.ful, I may shortly return to licking the chocolate egg.
I’ve also added ‘talking to unborn baby’ to my pastimes. The benefits of this are multiple. A - baby cannot talk back. B - baby cannot go anywhere. C - baby cannot slam doors or say ‘i hate you’. On the downside, baby can kick. Sometimes I get nice light fluttery kicks around the belly button (usually when baby’s father is around). When baby and I are alone, it likes to kick my bladder.
Despite my increasing suspicion that my baby is hyper-active, willful and unlikely to eat broccoli , I’m very fond of it. Baby (who we have this week nicknamed Hu Jintao) and I spend all day together and I think it’s starting to show signs of a personality. For example, baby likes milk, ice cream and dried mango. Baby does not like fish, loud noises or the bus. Baby likes swimming but finds walking tedious. It likes banjo music but not rap music. One might say that these are obviously things that I like and have nothing to do with the personality of my unborn baby. I’m not so sure. I now drink gallons of milk a day where previously I never drank milk. Even Mr Oh is shocked. He tried to prevent me from buying a 3-litre carton of milk last week on the grounds that ‘there are only two of us, we are not the target market for 3-litre cartons of milk’. It turned out that we needed to go back the next day to get another 3-litre carton of milk once I devoured the first one like a hungry lactose vampire.
It is interesting that the baby seems to react to different types of music. Some make it dance, or thrash about wildly in a type of early onset moshing, classical music seems to calm it down and whenever Mr Oh plays A Tribe Called Quest in a frantic and disturbing attempt to become a tall-white-beardy-rap-connoisseur I can hardly stay in the room so intense is my physical revulsion to the sound. This happens with all kinds of music with heavy beats and only the slight imaginings of a melody. While I wouldn’t exactly call myself a fan of this type of music, I’ve never had such an inability to tolerate it before. My brothers went through a similar phase of loud politically incorrect noise adherence (albeit at a more age appropriate time in their lives) so I’m quite familiar with the genre. I have quite a soft spot for the Wu Tang Clan but these days I can’t play it out loud because I just don’t like it but strangely, I don’t have the same negative reaction when I listen through my headphones. My conclusion....baby does not like the Wu Tang Clan.
Baby Hu Jintao - so named because my bump is now HuJ(inTao) - is now fully formed but still has another three months of practicing his or her step dancing atop my bladder. I am slightly nervous about how much growing there is still left to do. I always knew that I was unlikely to be one of those pregnant women who looks like she woke up one morning and discovered, to her great surprise, someone had implanted a melon behind her belly button, but I really want to avoid the ‘inflated by a tank of helium and about to float off into to the stratosphere if not tethered firmly to earth’ look.
Someone said to me yesterday ‘Are you not due soon? It seems like you’ve been pregnant forever’. I was not offended, I too feel like I’ve been pregnant forever. I always knew that pregnancy lasted 9-months but what I never really considered before was that 9-months is essentially the best part of a year. I have now been unable to eat blue cheese for half a year. I originally thought that this - and a bit of tiredness and maybe some nausea - would be what would define pregnancy for me. No one tells you that it is entirely all-consuming and dominates every second of your life and thought process.
I usually feel ok waking up in the morning. I have to eat straight away, often having my breakfast at 4 or 5 am before going back to sleep because I get light headed and faint if I don’t get my mini-fruity-wheats straight away. I used to be able to run for the bus when we could see it coming down the road but now when Mr Oh turns to me like an impatient puppy wanting to break free from his lead and sprint so he’ll make the bus, I scowl at him and continue plodding forward at what is genuinely my top speed thinking he should be grateful that I’m walking at all and not lying down on the pavement for a nap which is what I would do if the pavement were warm and made of grass. The bus usually makes me feel nauseous and sometimes faint and by the time I get into work I’m ready to go back and would consider it if that didn’t necessitate getting back on a bus. Work itself isn’t too bad but by the end of the day I’m usually limping on account of the fact that one (or both) of my hips is trying to detach itself from the pelvis and fall away from my body entirely (this is normal apparently). Also normal is the heartburn, stomach pains, swollen ankles, lower back pain and constant desire to sleep. I always try to plan a dinner to make when I get home but its a 50/50 chance whether I have enough energy to do anything other than curl onto the sofa. Once on the sofa, it’s hard to get back up, not just mentally but because if Mr Oh is not there to physically ‘wench’ me up I have to perform this kind of scrabbling, rolling type maneuver which thankfully no other living soul has ever seen. When it’s time to sleep, I arrange an impressive collection of pillows like sandbags around and under my body in the hope that it will stop things aching and waking me up in the middle of the night. Mr Oh refers to his small remaining scrap of bed where he has to eek out a solitary and lonely slumber as the Gaza Strip. Sometimes he talks to me through the barricades. Last night, despite being entirely consumed by a mass of pillows, I still woke up at 3am to find that my entire left side from shoulder to ankle had gone numb. Stupid pillow fail.
The point of this rant is not to whine about the discomforts of pregnancy (well, not really). This happens to everyone and I am in no way unique. I only found out about it all though once I started reading about pregnancy and talking to women in my yoga class. I think there’s some oath of silence that women who have had children take, to never speak of it again, or maybe they just forget. I’ve already forgotten morning sickness. What I find amazing though is that despite the fact that I have the silhouette of an oversized pygmy buffalo hunter, the bathroom habits of an incontinent octogenarian and the mobility of a Soviet-era locomotive - I’m really quite pleased with pregnancy. As long as I get to rest a lot and drink my body weight in milk - it’s not too bad. We’ll see if this changes over the next twelve weeks or so...
99% of the time, living with a compulsive tidier is a wonderful thing. Bins are emptied at regular intervals, yoghurt cartons are washed and recycled, the tupperware is stacked in size order, dishes never pile up in the sink and everything is put away in its place (this does often lead to confusion as ‘its place’ is usually the last place I look for something).
It is fascinating to watch Mr Oh function and I am perpetually amazed by his constant zeal for order. I, on the other hand, try really hard to be tidy but, for the life of me, cannot seem to bring myself to put clothes on hangars when there’s a perfectly good floor right beneath my feet. Things remain where I drop them regardless of whether this is a suitable location or not. My headphones often seem to be in the fruitbowl, snaked around a satsuma. My earrings are in the pen drawer. My hairbrush is on the bookshelf. My socks are under a cushion (or at least one of them is). Once every few months, I will ‘deep clean’ my life, put everything back in a logical place, feel redeemed, washed, spiritually at ease and wait until - one by one - my headphones creep back to the fruitbowl, my tweezers into the hall, my teacup into the bathroom.
Mr Oh knows where everything is. His clothes are folded neatly. Actually, mine are folded neatly too because he takes them all off the clothes rack when they’re dry, and folds them into impossibly symmetrical shapes. He knows that I would leave them on the clothes rack for weeks and take each piece off as I needed to wear it, leaving behind random and progressively larger voids until the clothes rack was sufficiently empty to justify another batch of washing. He never gets cross about my lack of tidiness and he never gripes. Occasionally he looks shocked (and perhaps slightly traumatised) by the randomness and completeness of my clutter but he never says anything. He just tidies around me. This morning I watched as he shuffled my haphazard tower of bridal magazines into a neat, size-ordered stack. I would never have bothered doing it, but feel much happier now that it’s done.
When we were travelling in China, I would ask Mr Oh every few days to ‘OCD my life’, which meant he would take everything out of my backpack, organise it and replace it in such a way that I could find things again. It brought me immense joy.
This is not to say that I’m a terribly unclean person. I colour code everything. I put seeds, herbs, nuts and things into tupperware and write the contents on the side with CD-pen. I enjoy removing all the bobbles off my clothes with the little de-fuzzing machine. I have a fundamental appreciation of order - I just have no discipline. I get tired and overwhelmed. I put the headphones in the fruit bowl because I can’t remember where ‘its place’ is. When I fold clothes, they look lopsided.
In general, as I said, it is a wonderful thing to live with someone who enjoys tidying and organising and tilting things slightly to the left to make them look symmetrical. There is only one time, as far as I can tell, when living with a compulsive tidier is bad, and this is when one is baking.
I decided that we were going to make cupcakes for mother’s day. I have never been much into baking but thought that - as an impending mother and wife - it might be something in which I should obtain some degree of competence. (Ok, mostly I just had a craving for cake smothered in buttercream).
I had never made cupcakes before so I really wanted to get this right. I spent a week researching recipes on the internet until I found one the right one. I went to Kitchen Complements and invested in a cupcake tin, cupcake cases, cupcake glitter and little sugar bumblebees and ladybirds. I dragged Mr Oh around Superquinn painstakingly assessing different types of flour, the consistency of yoghurts and the saltiness of butter. I enlisted him as a sous-chef (more successfully this time), made sure he was in bed early the night before and woke him up at the crack of dawn on Mother’s Day to embark upon our inaugural foray into the world of baked goods.
In the style of a true television chef, I decided to make sure that all my required ingredients were prepared in advance in the correct amounts. I put on an apron. I cut things and weighed them and put them into tiny glass bowls. When everything was set out and I had welcomed my imaginary audience to my Sunday morning baking show, I began - with the help of my sous-chef - to make cupcakes. This went very well and within minutes, the cupcakes were goldening nicely in the oven.
I turned my attention to the white chocolate buttercream icing. I had chocolate. I had icing sugar. I had soft room-temperature butter...except that I didn’t because in a compulsive tidying fit, my sous-chef had put the butter back in the fridge. I took it out again and turned my attention to melting the chocolate. When this was finished I looked around to find the butter once again missing. He had put it back it the fridge again! He had to be distracted with chocolate and tea long enough for the butter to reach room temperature - luckily he is also easily distracted.
I have learned that when hosting a dinner party for eight people while five months pregnant, there are a number of factors critical for making sure that you are the very best hostess that you can possibly be. Allow me to share some of these with you.
Prepare your menu a few days beforehand and work out exactly what ingredients and equipment you will need.
Choose a one-pot dish that will easily feed your mountains of hungry guests and can be prepared a few hours in advance so as to avoid last minute panics.
Ask for help from friends in bringing other courses. Note: when your lovely friend Eimear jokingly offers to make a giant swan-shaped meringue, best to laugh and thank her for the kind offer and suggest something a bit more low maintenance. Do not dare her to do it.
Go shopping the day before the party and stock up on everything you’ll need.
Make sure you have enough wine. A good tip is to estimate the number of bottles you think your friends will drink....then triple it.
Enlist a sous-chef to help you on the day. Perhaps someone you live with or to whom you are engaged.
Ensure that your sous-chef does not go on an all night bender the night before the dinner party with the result that he (or she, because this could happen to anyone) is hungover, unconscious and useless the next day when the cooking is taking place.
Ensure that your sous-chef does not continue drinking on the night of the dinner party with the result that he or she is hungover, unconscious and useless the day after that when the cleaning up is taking place.
I totally rocked the first six points but sadly fell down on points 6 & 7. In my sous-chef’s defence, it was not his intention to be in an alcohol induced mini-coma when all the serious work was taking place. He didn’t even go out until after I was safely tucked up in bed at 10pm. The next thing I knew, it was 3am and a homicidal maniac with one arm had broken into the house and was trying to kill me with a kitchen knife, or at least this is what I thought when I woke up in terror before realising it was just one of those incredibly vivid dreams that you’re supposed to get during pregnancy. The last crazy pregnancy dream I had was about skiing down a mountain made of soft-whip ice-cream with rainbow sprinkles which was infinitely more appealing (although slightly stickier).
I decided not to risk going back to sleep in case the next dream finished me off so I rang my absentee sous-chef and pretended not to sound like the insane, terrified, emotional wreck I was and calmly asked him when I might expect his return. He indicated that this might be shortly but it ended up being 5.15 am. I know this because I was propped up awake peering through the back window every two minutes for signs of homicidal maniacs.
On his return, the sous-chef was both profound, profoundly uncoordinated and within a very short space of time, profoundly dead to the world. Relieved that I was now safe to continue sleeping, I drifted gratefully back into slumber but, alas, it was not to be. It seems that people who have been drinking until 5.15 tend to snore and don’t wake up when you poke them (or when you kick them, pull their hair or pull back their eyelids and touch their eyeballs). I tossed and turned until 7 when I finally succumbed to sleep. At 7.30am the slumbering sous-chef’s phone alarm went off and he did not wake up to turn it off. I let it go to see how long it would take him to turn it off but after five minutes I gave up and turned it off myself. There was no more sleep and at 9am I hauled myself out of bed to begin the process of preparing a dinner party for eight people, sans sous chef.
Five hours later, a lovely boeuf bourguignon and two types of salad were prepared and my sous chef appeared in time to make me sandwiches and send me babbling and semi-hysterical back to bed for a few hours of rest before the dinner party which went splendidly in the end even though the sous-chef was incredibly hungover and the beautiful meringue swan was decapitated at some point on its journey from Eimear’s house to ours. Giant meringue swans do not travel well (but they taste just as good headless).
I could not stay cross with the sous-chef-who-wasn’t. The pain and misery of his three day hangover was enough punishment (plus I also told his mother on him).
PS - the photo above is what a swan meringue look like when it has not been decapitated. We didn’t take photos of our poor headless swan as it would have been in bad taste.
This weekend I learned lots of things about my betrothed. At my uncle Declan’s 50th birthday party in Belfast, I learned that he has no difficulty holding a newborn with one hand and a pint of Guinness with the other. I’m not sure when this will come in handy...but I’m fairly certain that it’s positive. I learned that he can eat three bowls of cereal and still be hungry an hour later (interesting). I learned that he will do anything to put off starting an essay, including the dishes (useful), that children are unafraid of him despite his size (good) and that when he grows his beard and hair too long he looks like a cross between Jesus, a tall monkey and a tennis player circa 1972 (odd).
I also learned that he cannot be allowed to undertake even the simplest of long journeys unsupervised. One would think, looking at any map, that the drive between Dublin and Belfast was relatively straightforward, if not, exceptionally straightforward on account of the fact that it’s essentially (if not entirely) a straight road from point A to point B.
We were driving back down to Dublin early on Saturday afternoon and I had made the fatal mistake of drinking two cups of tea before we left with the result that after about half an hour, I needed to pee again. I was trying to distract myself by putting new words to the Gummi-bears theme song when I noticed that we were not too far from Omagh. Isn’t that nice, I thought, I’ve never been to Omagh.
A few moment later, it occurred to me that I have driven between Dublin and Belfast hundreds of times without ever getting the opportunity to go to Omagh. I looked at the next road sign and realised that I hadn’t ever been to any of the places on it, except Donegal, I had been to Donegal and remember it because of the 7 hour journey from Dublin so I was pretty sure I didn’t want to go there this weekend. I asked Mr Oh calmly, ‘Are you sure we’re on the road to Dublin?’. He shot me a look of what I think might have been contempt and said, ‘Yes’ (I think he was rolling his eyes internally too). I thought, maybe we are on the road to Dublin, Mr Oh tends to know what he’s talking about and the fields outside the window do look vaguely familiar, they’re green and square and I’m fairly sure I’ve seen that cow before somewhere. I relaxed a little bit and then I saw the next sign, ‘The West’. I was very sure I did not want to go to the West. It was then that I started screeching.
Rather than come off the motorway and go back the way we came, Mr Oh thought that we’d take a detour and ‘triangulate’ to Newry to rejoin the Dublin-Belfast road - a decision which launched us on an hour long tour of the heartland of paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland. We drove down the Garvaghy Road which was fun. It was one of those places that I have often heard mentioned on the news but have never been entirely sure where they are on a map...like Srebrenica or Bazra.
Mr Oh seemed quite pleased with his scenic tour of sectarian hot-spots until I pointed out that I really really needed to go to the bathroom so could he please hurry up and get us to Newry. He started to slow down outside a petrol station and said ‘You should just go in there, I’m sure they have a bathroom’. I pointed out that the petrol station was draped in the Union Jack and adjacent to an Orange Lodge which seemed to make his reconsider the wisdom of pulling his southern registered car into the courtyard and idling in it for several minutes looking as he did i.e. bearded, papist and 1970sy.
I resolved to make it to Newry and we whiled away that part of the journey looking at scenes of pastoral hilliness where we reckoned we could afford to buy a rather generously sized house but would have to change our names to Nigel Patterson and Arlene Dobson (which I quite liked).
The rest of the journey was relatively uneventful and we made it back to Dublin before nightfall where we spent the evening watching Charlie & the Chocolate Factory followed by Tallafornia (which we pretend not to like but can’t stop watching).
Today turned out to be the first day of spring and the whole lack of hangover thing opened up to us an entire world of early morning (i.e. pre-noon) possibility. We decided to go running. Well, Mr Oh went running and I cycled alongside, jollying him along with motivational observances like ‘gosh, this is easy’ and ‘you look very pale in the sunlight’. He refrained from pushing me off my bike which I thought was damn decent of him but suspect this would not have been the case were I not pregnant.
As we arrived back to our little house, the woman in the flower shop across the street shouted out ‘Mr Oh, I have your plate and your cutlery’....that’s when I realised that there were some things about my betrothed that I would never learn.
Actually, that’s not true. The flower shop woman had helped Mr Oh with the roses on the day he proposed, even though he hadn’t bought them from her but from another flower seller on Grafton Street - who happened to be her sister in law bizarrely enough. So anyway, she helped him make the roses into a nice bouquet so he - just after we got engaged - ran across the road with breakfast for her which is why we now live in an Irish episode of Coronation Street. They’re great friends.
I don’t mind Mr Oh’s mysterious visits to the florist as he inevitably returns with pretty things for me...see below.