It is Beltane Eve and, every year, the same few things come back to me… There is the battle between the Winter King and the Summer King that I loved as a child, from William Croft Dickinson’s Borrobil, the number 77 bus that took us past a Beltane hill where the fires were once lit, according to my grandad… and a burglary.
I could not believe what I was seeing. The little kitchen window looked across the paths between the houses to my neighbour’s door. Which a hooded figure was busy levering open with a crowbar. Knowing my neighbour to be at work, I needed to call the police. Unfortunately, this was thirty three years ago and the nearest phone was a booth half a mile away. I grabbed my keys, locked the door, wondering how much good that would do… and ran.
The police dispatched a car right away and told me to go home and stay there. By the time I reached my gate, I had little choice about that. Running is not recommended when you are the size of a beached whale.
But, in spite of the pain, I was not too worried. The baby wasn’t due for over five weeks. I breathed through the contractions and waited for them to go away. Which they didn’t. When my husband came home, he called the hospital. They told him to bring me in when the contractions were… well, he said two minutes apart, but being French and panicking, I cannot be sure that communications were accurate at that point.
So, three days later, we headed to the hospital.
“Being so early,” said a disapproving midwife, “you do realise how small this baby is going to be?” I’d heard that one before… my elder son had been just over a month early and weighed in at nine pounds. Still… an easy delivery would be nice. I was already shattered. So making me babysit a nervous student doctor who needed his hand holding was a tad unfair.
Once the epidural was in place, all I wanted to do was sleep. All he wanted to do was talk and take my pulse every few minutes. He’d never delivered a baby before… my confidence was sky-high…
Hours later, my (now ex-) husband had gone home because he was tired… The midwife decided it was time. None of this TV birthing, where you lie there looking glamourous, pull a few faces, while someone mops the beads of sweat from your forehead… oh no. They tried me every way up and then squeezed me like a tube of toothpaste… but the little sod wouldn’t come out.
By the time they realised he was facing the wrong way up, the epidural had worn off and there was no time to top it up. A doctor armed with lethal-looking forceps and a small army of med students crowded around my knees… and several versions of Hell later, my son was born.
Being premature, he was indeed very small… a mere nine and a half pounds.
That, though, is probably the most trouble he ever caused me. Apart from the incident with the wooden Meccano when he set the rug on fire by extending it through the fire guard… and the innumerable times he and his motorbike ended up in ditches and emergency rooms… Curly blond hair and big brown eyes in the face of an angel mitigated the mischief of a demon. But he has grown into a quietly remarkable young man and a wonderful father of whom I am exceedingly proud.
So, while Beltane Eve celebrates the coming of the summer sun, I think back to the arrival of my son.
Although he lives just minutes away, I will not see him today because of the lockdown, so I’ll say it here…
Happy birthday, Alex.