Adventures in Croatia

AKA - Meatball!

Lola rocking her holiday mohawk

Lola rocking her holiday mohawk

One of the things that drives me bat-shit mental about Hungarians, especially the more wrinkle clad females of the species, is their willingness to go out of their way to give me parental advice.  They’ll cross roads, pursue me, hound me to the four corners of the globe, just to tell me what I should be doing with my new human.  On numerous occasions in the past, elderly Hungarian women have randomly approached me in the street to urgently tell me things.  Usually I have just smiled, nodded and walked on, oblivious to their ramblings until a little later on when my personal translator, Zsuzsa, has enlightened me.

“Your baby is cold!”

“Your baby needs thicker trousers!”

“You will suffocate your baby if you hang that muslin cloth there!”

“Make sure your child doesn’t run away in a crowd!”

“Where is your daughter’s hat!?”

And my absolute favourite, not really advice but still a bonafide nosey belter, from a complete stranger to my wife...

 

“Do you still have breast milk?”

 

You get the picture yes?  Nosey busy-bodies strewn across these otherwise beautiful, foreign climes.  Well as it transpires, they have rivals for their ‘unwanted advice crown’ within Europe.

 

We’re in Croatia.  It’s a swelteringly hot summer’s day as I meander along the coastline with my three lovely ladies.  Lola, in very uncharacteristic fashion for my chilled out youngest, is going apoplectic.

 

“It’s the heat.” surmises Zsuzsa.  “The poor thing is piping hot.”

 

I gaze upon my baby girl, a red faced, sweaty, ballistic ball of rage.

 

“Do you think it’s because she’s a fat lass?” I ask.

 

Because she is.  She’s a little meatball.  I’m hoping it’s just a phase and that she’ll grow out of her ‘heavy’ period, as I have no plans to wheel her around in a wheelbarrow when she’s older.

 

“Fat people notoriously struggle with heat.” I add.

 

“She’s not fat!” Zsuzsa retorts.

 

“Her legs are like hocks of ham.”

 

“She’s a baby!  Don’t call her fat.”

 

“Anya!  Anya!  Wedding!” interrupts Mila, noticing a wedding party outside a church not too far away.  Then, in the blink of an eye Mila charges off towards the wedding with Zsuzsa in hot pursuit.  Lola screams.

 

“Catch me up yeah?” I bellow after them, before trotting off with my screaming, sweaty baby.

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Five minutes later, having been stopped by three elderly Croatian women of varying degrees of squatness, all who harboured ambitions of telling me that my baby needed water, I’m beginning to get a tad ratty.  As I enter a park, Lola still screaming, I spot a woman sitting on a bench trying to get my attention and my heart sinks.  I try to ignore her, but alas, and she’ll no doubt be delighted to be described as such, the woman is very much like a builder’s bum crack. And what I mean by this is that I do everything I can to avoid making eye-contact, but something peculiar compels me and our eyes meet.  She sees this as an invitation and mimes the action of drinking water and then just to avoid any degrees of ambiguity follows this up by pointing at Lola whilst shouting “WATER!”.  Well that’s it!  Who do these strangers think they are!?  Why do they think they know what’s best for my baby, better than I?  The final straw lands on the camel’s back. 

 

“NO!” I aggressively holler in the woman’s direction.

 

The woman frowns at me as I turn a corner at pace.  Once out of eyesight, I take a look at my red faced, screaming, angry child, hide behind a tree and secretly give her water, whilst desperately attempting to remain secluded from any of my new ‘advisors’ .  Of course Lola immediately loves the water and stops screaming.  The treacherous little shit.

 

Later that day, as we drive back to Budapest, four hours of solid nursery rhymes under our belt, Zsuzsa turns to me and says “Mila was asking me if she can have a wedding.”

 

“What did you say?” I reply.

 

“I said one day.  If she finds someone as good as Daddy, or better.”

 

I wince at the word “better”, and decide to attribute it to a language error.

“Then I explained that they will ask her to marry them and that if she wants to she can say ‘yes’, but only if she wants to.  Then Anya, Mila and Lola will go shopping for a wedding dress.  She punched the air in glee at this point.” continues Zsuzsa.

 

“Maybe we could bring back arranged marriages so that we can have more control in her partner choice.”  I suggest.

 

“Ha!” snorts Zsuzsa.  “She won’t let us choose her clothes for us now.  What makes you think she’d let us choose her partner?“

 

It’s a fair point.

 

“Nevertheless I think we should attempt to pair Lola with the son of footballer Adam Lallana, and Mila with the grandson of the actor Alfred Molina.” I say, undeterred.  “Lola Lallana and Mila Molina.”

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Georgie Porgie begins to play on the car stereo, which after listening to circa ten times within a short space of time, I’ve decided is a tale of a sex pest.

 

“Or maybe they’ll be like their mother and keep their current surname?” suggests Zsuzsa.

 

I nod in approval. 

 

I hope so.  I hope they’ll be just like their mother.  Crazy, beautiful, funny, clever and travel-size.

 

“I wonder if we’ll remember this conversation when they do get married?” I say, before adding “I hope I won’t have to roll Lola down the aisle in a wheelbarrow.”

 

“Fuck off honey” snaps Zsuzsa.


Now I’m sure some would see that response as an overreaction, but luckily I see immediately what’s going on. The poor things obviously thirsty.
 

I pass Zsuzsa the water bottle and we continue our nursery rhyme sound-tracked journey back to Buda.

Her Name is Lola.

AKA She’s Not a Showgirl

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When Mila was born my overriding memory is of being under bombardment by a fleshy little meatball who refused to let us sleep.  A tiny human wrecking ball who entered our world and began to smash.  It was overwhelming.  Like a form of sleep deprivation torture where we spent two weeks confined to our home, hair unkempt, eyes wild and bloodshot, wondering what the fudge nuggets was happening.

As a consequence of this memory, and also of the birth (which was not unlike a Hungarian version of the opening twenty minutes of Saving Private Ryan, but for hours and with more gore and no subtitles), I’ve been kind of dreading the arrival of Lola.  Whereas before Mila arrived, the air was filled with the scent of nervous excitement, this time it has been filled with a sense of “Oh for fuck’s sake”.

So when, on Feb 19th evening, Zsuzsa interrupted a Skype conversation that I was having with my Dad, with, “Honey, I think my waters have just broken.” I was mentally preparing for a night of unimaginable horror.

“Oh.  Think I better go Dad.  Zsuzsa’s waters might have just broken.”

“Okay.  Love to both.  Hope it goes well.”

I hang up, and turn to my wife.

“Are you sure?  Are you sure your waters have broken?” I ask.

“Um…I don’t know.” she replies.

“How don’t you know?”

“Well I was mopping the floor, but then I saw a puddle where I’d already mopped, and I was like, didn’t I just mop that up?  So…I think I made the puddle.”

I take these words in, stroke my chin like a living manifestation of Rodin’s The Thinker and contemplate the situation.

“Hmmm.  You haven’t just pissed on the floor have you?” I ask.

“Well…I don’t know.”

I stare at the puddle on the floor.

“You want me to smell it?”

“No!”

“Okay.  I guess you should ring the doctor.”

Zsuzsa picks up the phone and calls the doctor.  An hour, a shower, a bit of hair styling, a sandwich and a lot of packing later and we are in the car, driving through the streets of Budapest preparing to meet our new pup.

I’m deep in thought.  Zsuzsa notices.

“What are you thinking about honey?” she says.

“It’s my Dad’s fault isn’t it?” I reply.

“What is?”

“That you’ve gone in to labour.  If I hadn’t have Skyped him you probably wouldn’t have.”

Zsuzsa frowns.

“I don’t think your Dad’s voice breaks water honey.”

“You don’t think?”

“I’m sure it doesn’t." 

Fast forward a couple of groan filled hours.  My beloved little wife is lying in a bath in the hospital, face contorted in pain.  I’m holding her hand while a midwife and a doctor go about their midewifery/doctory business not too far away.

“She’s coming!” says the wonderfully named Dr Pop.

And then she came, and I tell you what.  Seeing a little purple baby underwater, hair floating, it's fairly unsettling.  Possibly the most unsettling thing I’ve seen since Steve Buscemi.  Her tiny cries fill the air as she breathes oxygen for the first time, Zsuzsa is exhausted but overjoyed and visibly in love all over again.

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So that was a week ago and now we’re back home.  My three little ladies and I.  Mila is of course besotted and, I think, all signs point to her becoming fiercely protective of her little sister.


“You know, I feel sorry for any fool who does anything to upset Lola in the future.” I say.


“Mila will come at them with a brick.” adds Zsuzsa with a nod.

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Bizarrely it’s been a very different experience to when Mila first came home.  Whereas Mila let us know, at every possible moment of the day that she was there and needed attending to, all little Lola Sienna Hutchins seems to do is sleep, only opening her eyes for a couple fo minutes every 24 hours.  I don’t want to tempt fate, but so far, it’s a piece of piss!  It’s a bit like owning a chilled-out pet tortoise that looks a little bit like the actor Wallace Shawn and loves to breastfeed.

The three of us stand over Lola, watching her sleeping peacefully, our mighty quartet finally complete.  I turn to Zsuzsa.

“You think you want another one at some point?”

Zsuzsa growls at me.

I take it as a ‘maybe’.

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Battered, Pregnant, Bruised and Glued

AKA Big Bad Doctor Bacsi

A bit of ballet makes it all better

A bit of ballet makes it all better

I’m currently slumped on a sofa, feeling very sorry for myself as I’ve been fighting a nasty virus for the past four days.  To add spice to the cauldron, the baby is due to arrive any moment now and I’m petrified that I’m going to honour the event by sweating and snotting over the birth. I’ve been attempting to summon my inner Wolverine and heal in record-breaking time, but so far, my tungsten clawed beast is staying away.


So with nothing better to do, I thought I’d tell you a tale.  A tale of last weekend…


It’s Sunday night and I’m driving through the streets of Buda, accompanied by a ready to burst pregnant wife and a toddler covered in blood.  It’s an impromptu drive, a drive that wasn’t at all on the cards until Mila decided to change the course of the evening with a spur of the moment run around the flat in the dark.  A run that led to trip, a head-first dive, a cut to the temple and a lot of blood and crying (mostly from Zsuzsa).


And now here we are, in the car.


“I think I might go in to labour honey.” says Zsuzsa, just to add a little extra spice to the evening.


“Please don’t go in to labour sweetheart.  Remember what you dad said?” I reply.


Zsuzsa’s dad asked for her not to go in to labour until at least Tuesday as the car was being serviced on Monday.  He also asked her to try and give birth in a way that wouldn’t be too painful, so hopefully she’ll be a good girl and do just that.


“I don’t want to go see doctor bacsi (man).” pleads Mila.


“It’s okay Mila.  Doctor bacsi is nice.  Doctor bacsi will make you better okay?” I reply.


“I all better.”


“Let’s see if doctor bacsi agrees, yes?”


“I don’t like doctor bacsi.”


“Should’ve thought of that before cutting your head open darling.”


“Aaaaaawww.” groans Mila.


“Aaaaaaggghhh!” says Zsuzsa, contracting as she often does nowadays.


A few minutes later and we’re sitting in a reception in a creepy, seemingly empty hospital.


A door creaks open and a face peers out through a crack.  It’s a woman and she beckons us in.  I carry my sleepy, bloody little daughter in to the room with Zsuzsa waddling in alongside me like a miniature, red headed John Wayne with water retention issues.  Inside we are greeted by a large white moustache, with a man attachment lurking in the background somewhere.  It gestures for me to bring Mila to the operating table.


Over the course of the next few moments myself and Zsuzsa comfort our teary little girl as she has her wound glued shut by the large white moustache.


“Finished!” says the moustache.


Mila sits bolt upright.


“Where is my present?” demands Mila.


“Oh. Uh. All the shops are closed darling.  I’ll get you something in…”


I’m stopped in my tracks as a woman appears from nowhere and hands Mila a balloon animal.  Then, just as suddenly the woman wanders off. Mila grasps it triumphantly.


“My present.” she says with a grin.


I turn to Zsuzsa.


“Is that normal?”


Zsuzsa just shrugs. I guess it’s a Hungarian thing. Maybe all Hungarian hospitals, as a matter of course, employee circus folk to craft balloon animals for patients. The NHS need to up their bloody game!


We make our way back towards our chariot, and off we head, back in to the night, back towards our latest Buda nest.  Battered, tired, pregnant, bruised and glued.  The three and a bit amigos.


“Aaaaaaaaaarrrrrgggghhhh!” says Zsuzsa.



“Remember what your dad said honey.  Not until the car has been serviced.”

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I'm a Creep. I'm a Weirdo.

AKA What the hell am I doing here?

“Look daddy! Thousands of moustaches!”

“Look daddy! Thousands of moustaches!”

I’m in a building in Budapest, face down, sliding across a laminated floor, dragging my arms behind me, surrounded by toddlers.  As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I’m pretending to be a snail.  I’m also having one of those ‘How did I get here?’ moments.

To add a bit of context, I’m at a musical class for toddlers, and to ease any concerns that you may currently be harbouring about my choice of leisure activities, Mila is here as well.  It’s her first time here, so naturally she’s feeling a bit unsure about being told to be a snail, and as a consequence, only moments earlier the most terrifying words in the English language were uttered towards me by a Hungarian toddler teacher.

“Maybe daddy will be a snail with you?”

As I slide across the floor, arms behind me, face millimetres from laminate flooring, I catch a glimpse of another dad watching me from the side-lines, smirking.  It’s one of those, ‘Look at me, I’m not a snail smirks’.  You know the ones. I instantly earmark him as an utter bastard.

This is actually the second ‘How did I get here?’ moment I’ve had today, as only this morning I was sitting by my desk, by our patio windows, watching the snowflakes fall on a white Budapest, when a Will Young song began to play on the radio.  For some reason I was reminded of the last time I’d heard that song, many, many moons ago. 

I was living in Kent at the time, having just split up with what many would consider to be a mentally unhinged gobshite.  It was Friday night and I was doing what all new singletons do.  Play online poker until the early hours, clad in just my underpants, whilst eating twice my bodyweight in Matchmakers (mint flavour, obviously, as I’m not a barbarian).

If only someone had told me then, “Don’t worry mate, she’s a colossal cockgoblin!  Give it a decade or so and you’ll be freelancing, living in snowy Budapest, married to a heavily pregnant Hungarian, father of a two and a half year old nutter and sliding around on the floor pretending to be a fucking snail!”

To be fair, if they had, I’d probably have just stared at them blankly and then carried on eating Matchmakers.

Anyway, what on earth am I gibbering on about?

(Focus).

A stroll in the snow with my favourite ginger female

A stroll in the snow with my favourite ginger female

We’ve now been living back in Budapest for a couple of weeks, and despite the unfamiliar new digs, in many ways it’s like we’ve never been away.  My sausage, cabbage and breaded meat consumption have already increased by circa four hundred percent, I’m getting in to awkward language barrier conversations on a daily basis and the urge to blend in by growing a moustache is overwhelming (but I’m fighting it valiantly as I just know I’d look like Gary Neville when he grew a moustache).

Three highlights of life in Budapest 2019 so far...

 1. A conversation that I had with an indigenous Hungarian man about the merits of Budapest vs the countryside.

“Countryside is good for rest…and for killing pig.” he’d said while miming the action of repeatedly stabbing a pig to death, whilst never breaking eye-contact.

2. Discovering that the doctor who will deliver my next cub is called Doctor Pop.

3. Going for a meal and sitting next to cuddly Hungarian despot Viktor Orbán.

Tricky Vicky Orbán’s dining companion giving me the side-eye, the dirty flirt.

Tricky Vicky Orbán’s dining companion giving me the side-eye, the dirty flirt.

Anyway, approximately four weeks until we are four.

Shit.

Back to Buda

Aka - Brexit is Silly

Stonehenge. Probably one of my top three favourite ‘henges’.

Stonehenge. Probably one of my top three favourite ‘henges’.

We’re on our way to Center Parks for my brother’s surprise fortieth birthday.  I’m driving, Zsuzsa and her belly full of baby are sitting in the passenger seat, and Mila is stubbornly refusing to sleep in the back.  I glance at my wife and catch her gazing out of the window, deep in thought, miles away.  No doubt contemplating the future and likely plotting intricate ways to mend this broken planet of ours.


“What are you thinking about?” I ask.


There’s a pause as Zsuzsa attempts to articulate her complex thoughts as best she can, and in a manner that mere mortals such as I could easily comprehend.


“I was just thinking that…honey roast carrots are delicious.”


“Oh.”

“Why?  What were you thinking about?”


Now it’s my turn to gaze out of the window, towards the horizon, in to the distant future, although, in reality I am staring at a roadside Londis.

“I’m just wondering, are we crazy?”


“Why would we be crazy?” replies Zsuzsa with furrowed brow.


“Moving back to Budapest, packing up our lives yet again, ripping Mila out of nursery.  And all just before Brexit.”


“We’ll be back before you know it.”


“But just before Brexit!  What if I get kicked out just after the baby is born?  What if I get forcibly removed!  What if I end up in one of those immigrant camps in Calais?  What if you see me on the news with Lily Allen feeding me bread or something.”


Zsuzsa takes a moment to formulate her comforting words.

“It’s strange how honey goes with carrots.” she eventually says.


“What?  Why are you still banging on about carrots?  I’m pouring out my heart and soul to you here!”


“Come on honey.  You’re being silly.”


“Brexit is silly!” says Mila.  A phrase that Zsuzsa taught her a couple of weeks ago.  Although to be fair, I’m not sure if Mila truly believes this sentiment.  Sometimes I just think she’s repeating words for the sake of it.  She better not be a closet Brexiter!


Zsuzsa places her hand on my knee reassuringly.


“You’re not going to be kicked out of Hungary honey.  We’re married.  You can stay.  Lily Allen is not going to feed you bread.”


“You promise?”


“I promise.”

I smile.

“Because I’m trying to cut back on bread you see?  It sticks more since I turned forty.  Need to make more of an effort to keep trim.”

Zsuzsa aka The Beastmaster, in action at Center Parcs

Zsuzsa aka The Beastmaster, in action at Center Parcs

We drive on in comfortable silence for a few minutes.  After a while I steal another glance at my beautiful, pregnant Hungarian vixen.  She’s smiling intently at her mobile phone.  My curiosity is piqued.

“What are you doing?” I ask.


“Oh, just buying myself a surprise.” replies Zsuzsa.


I ponder that sentence for a moment.  Something doesn’t seem right.


“How can you buy yourself a surprise?  You know what it is.”


“It is a surprise, because I am surprised that I am buying it for myself.”


“Er”, I say before trailing off.


I decide to leave it.  If my wife wants to surprise herself, who am I to stop her.

And on we go.  Forever forward.  Just myself and my ever expanding band of tiny females.  Back where it all began.  Back into the unknown.  Back to the land where every word seems to contain the letter ‘z’.  Back to where sour cream is king.  Back to immigrant life.  Back to being a foreigner in a foreign land.  Back to Budapest, via Center Parcs.


Let the adventure never end.  

“Brexit is silly!” bellows Mila.

Yes it is my little cub.  Yes it is.

Drive Me Crazy

AKA - Papa Don’t Let Mila Drive

Foux du fa fa.

Foux du fa fa.

I’m currently on route to London from Wales with Mila.  Mila is crying her eyes out as I won’t let her drive our car down the M4.

“Sweetheart, Daddy needs to drive.  You’re too little to drive.”

But Mila is having none of it.  The iron toddler is not for turning.

“Milaaaaaa drive carrrrrrrr!” she wails.

“But even if you knew how to drive, and had somehow fluked your driving test, you couldn’t reach the peddles with those little legs of yours.  Not even if I strapped some cans to your feet like that kid in Temple of Doom.”

“Milaaaaaaa driiiiiiiiveeeee caaaaaaaaaarrrrrr!”

Mila has been staying with family to enable Zsuzsa and I to attend a wedding in Dijon, France.  Over the last four days I’ve spent around thirty two hours driving from London to Wales, from Wales to London, from London to Dijon, from Dijon to London, from London to Wales, and now from Wales back to London.  I’ve basically spent almost a day and a half driving for the sake of a decent night’s sleep.  And you know what?  I’d do it all again tomorrow.  In a heartbeat.  Oh how I’ve miss you my old friend, Proper Nights Sleep.  How I miss those lazy Sunday lie-ins together.

The wailing continues.  Mila is taking the fact that I won’t buckle, and let her drive our car down the motorway personally.  Selfish daddy.  

I need a distraction.

“Should we listen to the radio?” I ask.

“NOOO!  MILA DRIVE!”

I decide to take this as a ‘yes’ and turn the radio on.  A tune begins to play and Mila stops wailing.

HUZZAH!

“Twinkle Twinkle Little Star?” asks Mila.

“Nearly darling.  But this is actually ‘Lucky Star’ by Madonna.”

Wrong answer.

“Mila don’t like Madonna!”  wails Mila, tears beginning to stream down her little face.

“Come on darling.  Some of her later stuff isn’t great, and I don’t like her leotards, but some of her earlier stuff is pretty good.  What about Papa Don’t Preach?  You must like Papa Don’t Preach?”

“Don’t like it!” sobs Mila.  “Don’t like Madonna!”

I sigh, turn the radio off, and with great sadness in my heart, I activate Code Red.   Peppa Pig The Album.

“PIG!” squeals Mila.

“Yes.”  I sigh.  “Pig”.

The album begins to play, seamlessly moving from one cacophonous atrocity to the next.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  DADDY!  LOOK!” bellows Mila.

I take my eyes off the road and point them at Mila for a moment.  Her beaming face smiles back at me as she proudly shows off a Peppa Pig fuelled dance routine from the comfort of her child seat.

“Very good darling.” I reply and look back at the road.

“No daddy!  No!  Look!”

“I can’t darling.  I’m driving.”

“DADDYYYYYYYY!  LOOK!”

I spin around quickly.

“Yes darling.  Lovely dancing.”

Back to the road.

“No daddy!  Naughty daddy!  Look daddy!”

“Daddy can’t look darling.  Daddy’s driving.”

A pause.

“MILAAAAAAA DRIIIIIIIVE!” 

The wailing is back.  I glance at the map.  Only another one hundred and fifty miles to go.

Never mind.  At least we only have one child to endure.

Oh shit.

The Tricky Second Album

Aka - We're Gonna Need A Bigger Boat

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It’s several weeks ago and I’m making a cheese and marmite sandwich.  I’ve woken up on the right side of the bed, which is actually the left side, and I’m feeling positive about the world.  For some reason I just know that everything will be alright in the end.

“I’m feeling very positive today.” I say to my itsy-bitsy wife who has just scuttled in to view.

“Do you?” replies Zsuzsa.

“Why yes I do.” I fire back.  

“So you’re feeling positive?”

“Yes I am.”  

“Why?”

“I just am.”

One thing is for certain.  This conversation is dynamite.

A pause.

“Then maybe this is the right moment to tell you that I think you’ve scored again.” says Zsuzsa.

I nod and continue with my cheese and marmite sandwich, which as I’m sure you are aware, is a very precise and fastidious process, requiring just the right amount of marmite and cheese.  Luckily I’m a seasoned cheese and marmite sandwich maker so we're...

Wait.  What?

I look at Zsuzsa with a quizzical look.

“I’m pregnant.”

I re-wrap the cheese and put it back in the fridge, because as I’m sure you are aware, no matter what the severity of the situation, stale cheese is a criminal offence.  I close the fridge door and Zsuzsa now has my full attention.

“Are you sure?” I say.

“Well, I haven’t done a test yet, but I’m pretty sure.”

“So you haven’t done a test!  How do you know then?” I say, dialling up The Paxman to eleven.

“I just know.  I feel it.”

My mind is racing.

“But you’re not one hundred percent sure?”

“I know I’m pregnant.”

“It’s just that my old dog, Sandy.  She used to have phantom pregnancies all the time.”

“I’m pregnant.”

“She used to make herself little nests and everything.  Have you felt the need to make a little nest?”

“Honey, I’m pregnant.  I’m sure.”

“But are you?  Because sometimes you’re ‘sure’ that you’ve lost your keys and then you find them at the bottom of your bag.”

“Honey.  Stop.”

“You’re not just a bit constipated are you?  I mean you had that stomach bug a while back so…”

“Honey.  Stop.  I’m pregnant.”

A few mornings later and Zsuzsa presents me with a positive pregnancy test.  All I’d asked for was a coffee, but never mind.  It turns out she’s pregnant.

Fourteen weeks, and several gallons of vomit later, and here we are, sitting in a coffee shop in Camberwell following a successful scan.  The same coffee shop that we visited to let the news of Mila’s imminent arrival sink in.

“This is it baby.” I say.  “Our tricky second album.”

Zsuzsa just frowns at me.

“We now have to follow up the rip-roaring success of Mila.  Will we reach those same heights again?  Will she be The Godfather 2 or will she be The Matrix Reloaded?”

Because, yes, she’s probably a ‘she’.  Seventy percent probably according to the doctor.

“We need to ensure we treat them equally.” says Zsuzsa.

“Will she be a What’s The Story Morning Glory or a Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts?”

“Eh?”

“Kula Shaker’s follow up album.  ‘Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts.’  A crushing disappointment.  Whereas ‘What’s The Story Morning Glory’, bonafide Oasis classic.”

“She’ll be another masterpiece honey.” says my Lilliputian wife, reassuringly.

“I know.” I say, take a sip of coffee and smile.

Zsuzsa studies me as I do so, reaching down deep in to my soul.

“Are you disappointed that she won’t be a boy?” she eventually asks.

“No!  Of course not!” I retort.

“But you’ll be surrounded by ladies?”

“I can’t wait to be surrounded by ladies!”

“But wouldn’t you have preferred a boy so that you could play football in the park with him?”

I ponder this for a moment.

“Maybe we should raise her as a boy.”

We pay up and begin wandering to the bus stop.  Something occurs to me.

“Honey.  We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

Zsuzsa looks at me blankly.

“What the hell are you talking about?” she asks with bemusement.

“Jaws?”

“What about Jaws?”

“It’s a famous saying from Jaws.  They needed a bigger boat.  I was just thinking we need a bigger boat.”

Zsuzsa shakes her head.

“I don’t think we should be buying boats of any size.  We need to save our money for a bigger home.”    

I just nod, take her hand, give her a little kiss and we walk on head first towards the next exciting, terrifying, wonderful chapter in our lives.  Naturally it’s all a bit overwhelming, a little bit scary, but it’s okay as I just know that everything will be alright in the end.

 

The Shaggy Dog Story

AKA The Dog's Proverbials

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I’m currently sitting in my London flat tackling the freakish British heat head on by wearing just underpants and a vest, newly purchased fan pointed at my face, Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine blaring from my speakers (her music famously repels heat).  But I wasn’t always sitting in my London flat, wearing just underpants and a vest, fan pointed at my face listening to Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine (as that would be a novel life choice).  In fact, only a few weeks ago I was back in Hungary, where this whole crazy fatherhood adventure began.  

Rewind please. 

I’m walking through a small village in Hungary, near Lake Balaton with my microscopic wife.  The sun is shining and all is well as I gaze upon her majestic face, smile and take her hand.  She smiles back and I’m suddenly comforted by the fact that all is well with the world.  Everything is going to be alright in the end.  I’m with the woman I love.  The woman who knows me inside out and who I would take a bullet in the eye for (although hopefully not today as England are playing Croatia this evening and I’d quite like to watch it).

I know what she thinks, I know her deepest dreams, I know that she once sold pyjamas door to door as a child. I know that she once slept in a splits position for six months to help achieve her ambition of becoming a professional gymnast (mentalist); I know that she was once chased through the streets of Santander by a crazy man with a gun; I know that, like every other Hungarian, she finds Mr Bean hilarious; I know that she has a photo of herself as a child with a waxwork Benny Hill, and I know what she is about to say before she says it.

“I’m not a big fan of dogs with testicles.” says Zsuzsa.

Okay, maybe I spoke too soon.  Who is this woman and what on Earth is going on inside that skull?

“What?” I reply.

“Dogs that have testicles.  I’m not a big fan.”

That’s what I thought she said.

I scan the vista and see a small, shaggy hound, the source of Zsuzsa’s gonad revulsion and ire.  As you may have gathered, the dog has testicles.  A mighty fine pair if I may say so too.

I consider this maverick comment for a moment and formulate a response.

“Eh?”

“Dog’s that have testicles.  I’m not a big fan.”

“So male dogs?  You don’t like male dogs?  Bit sexist.”

“I don’t mind male dogs.  Just not the ones with testicles.”

This is not the first time that she has stopped me in my tracks with a bollock infused comment.  A few years ago we were on a beach in the Dominican Republic, lying beneath the palm trees, glasses of rum in hand, when Zsuzsa, from absolutely nowhere said “(I’m afraid this part has been censored by Zsuzsa.  It’s just like living in an Orwellian future).”

They say that one of the secrets to a successful long term marriage is the ability to surprise the other in the partnership, and I suppose, even though sometimes I can finish Zsuzsa’s sentences for her, as long as she keeps coming out with these bizarre off the cuff comments, we’re in it for the long haul.  Comments like…

“I think Mila might be a bit like an Arab…because she likes drinking hot tea in hot weather”

or

“Why don’t you try and contact Ashton Kutcher to see if he wants to go and watch Blade Runner 2049 with you.”

or

“I feel sorry for chickens.  How unlucky that they’re so delicious?”

“DOGGY!” screams Mila, who’s been alongside us all the way through this beautiful tale, but whose presence I’ve elected to omit until now as, well, she’s always hogging the limelight, isn’t she?

I pick Mila up to prevent her kissing the dog on the lips (or somewhere worse) and place her in a nearby field of wheat, where I will spend the next five minutes desperately trying to position her so that I can take some “natural” photographs of her, running through the wheat, just like Theresa May, but significantly less disturbing.  Mila, doesn’t play ball.  Of course she doesn’t.  Just like her mother she’s a bit of a rebel, but I wouldn’t have either of them any other way.

 

The Tiny Dictator

AKA - More Milk Daddy

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I’m sat on a sofa with my wife, who’s very much like a typical wife, only smaller.  We’re trying to watch an episode of Peaky Blinders, but are being distracted by a distant noise, emanating from the other side of our flat.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!”

I’m trying my best to block the noise out, but very much like water torture, having your finger nails removed, or an open packet of pickled onion monster much, it’s proving to be impossible to ignore.

I can feel Zsuzsa looking at me.

“What?” I ask.

“Are you going to go?” asks Zsuzsa.

“Why me?”

“She’s hasn’t called my name.”

That old chestnut.  I press pause and groan.

“She’s incessant.  She never quits.  Her stamina is insane!” I say.

“She’s determined.  She’ll go far.”  replies Zsuzsa.

“Determined!?  She’s like a tiny dictator!  It’s like living with Kim Jong Un!  We’re constantly running around like lunatics, frantically trying to keep her happy!”

“That’s not entirely true.  We don’t let her get away with everything” replies Zsuzsa.

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!”

“Kim Jong wants milk, Daddy.” says Zsuzsa without a whiff of sympathy for my plight.

I stare at the remote controls.  What a dilemma?  Do I press play and continue to watch Brummies beat the shit out of each other, or do I bite the bullet and proceed, head first in to the heart of North Korea?

“Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!  Daddy!”

“I cleaned up three massive poohs today.” says Zsuzsa, canvasing for her right to remain.

“So did I.” I retort

“Your own don’t count.”

I sigh, heave myself out of my sofa imprint and head towards the miniature despot who has ordered me from my sofa, towards certain anguish.  I open the door and peer in to the darkness.  Two eyes blink back at me through the darkness.

“DADDY!” bleats Mila, joyously.

“Hey honey.  What’s up?” I whisper.

Mila holds out an empty bottle, her expression suddenly serious, as if to demonstrate the magnitude of her words.

“More milk!” she demands.

“More milk?” I reply.

“Yes!”

I look at her and I melt a little.  She’s so adorable, standing there in her pink Peppa Pig pyjamas, her bed-headed blonde locks all over the place.  Peaky Blinders can wait.  I need to savour this precious moment that I’m having right now with my daughter.  My beautiful little daughter who will be the grand old age of two in just under two months time.

I smile sweetly and take the bottle from my tiny lady’s hand.  She giggles with glee.

I reflect on the fact that it only seems like yesterday when Mila was simply a lump of flesh, who after having obliterated my wife in a Hungarian hospital on a barmy summer’s day, had nothing but instincts and sleep deprived humans to keep her alive.  Now look at her.  She’s growing up so fast.  Sometimes I look at her and I no longer see a baby, but a young lady.  It’s freakish.

I kneel down.

“Kiss for Daddy?” I whisper to my gorgeous infant child, feeling sentimental.

I lean in for a little kiss.  Mila stares back at me with her big blue eyes.  She blinks.

Abruptly and without warning, she then thrusts the palm of her hand in to my face, stopping me in my puckered-up tracks.

“More milk!  Go!”

She points towards the door.

I get up and scurry off as fast as I can, determined to appease my tiny, pink Peppa Pig pyjama wearing overlord.

What's up arseholes?

AKA - Three Colours Red

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The best thing about travelling with a baby?  The extra luggage allowance and being able to jump to the front of the queue.

The worst thing about travelling with a baby?  You have to travel with a baby.

We’re on a plane half way across the Atlantic Ocean, pointed towards Antigua.  I have a spare second, so naturally I’m downing a large glass of red wine.  Zsuzsa is somewhere on the other side of the plane, chasing an insanely excited Mila as she toddles down the aisle at full pelt.  I can hear Mila chuckling to herself maniacally as a red-faced, flustered looking Zsuzsa hurtles after her.  This routine has been going on for the best part of three hours with myself and Zsuzsa seamlessly swapping roles on a regular basis.  In our possession we have an iPad full of Peppa Pig and Hey Duggee, but as it stands, the temptation to slap strangers on the thigh, scream and then run the gauntlet in to the business class lounge is proving too great for Mila to resist.

Sigh.

I used to love the idea of long-haul flights.  Settling down for several hours, a string of unexplored movies to watch, people bringing me alcoholic beverages and pretzels whenever I press the alcoholic beverage or pretzel button.

I glance up and see Zsuzsa grimacing and apologetic as she drags a rabid toddler away from the business class curtain.

Sigh.

It’s now several days later.  We’ve successfully made it across the pond, the sun is shining, the beaches are sandy, the sea is wet and the rum is rummy.  This is more like it.

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I’m at our resort’s reception trying to find activities to fill in the gaps between beach fun and rum drinking.  The man behind the counter is trying to convince me that an ideal activity to do with a twenty month old young lady is to jump in a speed-boat, head out to sea, dive in the water and swim with wild stingrays.  I’m dubious.

“Are you absolutely sure this is okay for a toddler?” I ask.

“Oh yes sir.  Very appropriate.  Great family fun.” he replies with a beaming smile.

“And she’d get in to the ocean with us and swim with stingrays?”

“Oh yes sir.  Stingray’s very friendly fellows.  Your little lady would have much fun.”

I ignore the fact that he is referring to wild fish as ‘fellows’ and glance over at the two women in my life.  At this precise moment Zsuzsa is attempting to wrestle Mila in to submission to prevent Mila from throwing rocks at a tortoise.  This man does not know Mila.  This man does not know that it’s often a challenge to put Mila in a bath of luke warm water with a rubber ducky.  This man wants us to put Mila in the ocean with wild stingrays.  This man is a fool.

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A few days later and we are now all a luminous shade of rouge.  It transpires that the Antiguan sun, being so close to the equator, is more powerful than the Pontypridd sun.  We’re sitting outside a beachfront bar.  My blood is running dangerously low on rum.  Now is the time to act.  I get up and flip-flop over towards the bar.  As I approach I notice that the lady and man behind the bar are talking in a strange language.  I remember the previous day when we took a tour around the island, the driver was explaining to us how the Antiguans speak a dialect of English that they developed many, many years ago, for the Antiguans to speak amongst themselves without their British slave owners understanding.  It’s a language that I’ve actually heard spoken around Brixton from time to time.  I decide to delight the Antiguans behind the bar.  I will speak to them in their native tongue.  They’ll love this.

“Whagwan bombaclart?” I say, before adding “Two rum and gingers, er, mon.”

They both stop what they’re doing and stare at me.  The strange thing is that they don’t seem delighted.  In fact, the man seems visibly riled.  I smile nervously.

“Um, two rum and gingers please?” I repeat.

The man looks like he’s about to growl. 

“Two rum and ginger?” the lady tries to clarify.

“Er, yeah…mon.” I say.

The man still looks a bit growly.

A few minutes later and I’m back with my wife and child.  Zsuzsa looks at me.

“What’s up honey?” she asks.

“Not very friendly those people.”

“Really?”

“A real attitude!  It’s almost like they were blaming me personally for my country’s hidious colonial past.”

Zsuzsa’s eyes narrow.

“You didn’t say anything odd did you?”

“No!  Of course not!  Just ‘Whagwan bombaclart’ and asked for the drinks.”

“Whagwan bombaclart?”

“Antiguan for ‘What’s up mate?’”

But now I have a nagging doubt.  I decide to ask my good friend Google if he knows what ‘Whagwan bombaclart’ means.  He does.  I go white.  Well, as white as you can go when you are luminous rouge.  Bombaclart doesn’t mean ‘mate’.  It mean’s ‘arsehole’.

“Oh.  My.  God!” I exclaim.

“What?”

“I just went to the bar and said ‘What’s up arseholes?’!”

“Oh.  That’s not so friendly.”

It’s time to make a sharp exit.  We down our drinks and scarper towards the beach to work on our shades of red.  Maybe travelling with a baby is not the worst thing about travelling with a baby after all.

La Familia and Other Animals

Day 649

Mila and abuelo

Mila and abuelo

We’re in a little Spanish village in Andalusia visiting my dad and step-mum for some much needed sun and relaxation.  

It’s pissing down.

“I thought it never rained here?” I say to my father as I gaze sullenly out of the window.

My father’s Facebook feed is rammed full of status updates about the glorious Spanish blue skies and screenshots of weather apps.

“It usually doesn’t.” he replies.

Hmmm.

Can I trust a word that this man ever says again?  He promised me sun, but there is none.  Maybe it often rains where he lives.  Maybe this little olive farming village in the mountains actually has a similar climate to Merthyr Tydfil.  Maybe my father’s life is really a wet, soggy miserable mess, but to save face he stubbornly spouts an endless amount of ‘fake news’ via social media.  “Oh look at me, sitting on a terrace in my pants supping vermouth as the glorious sun beats down upon my olive skin!”  All lies.  He’s probably actually in cahoots with Cambridge Analytica.

“Honey.  Could you watch Mila for a second?” asks Zsuzsa, who’s actually been standing alongside me throughout this rainy tale, but whose presence I’ve elected to omit until now so that I can briefly hog the limelight.

I glance at Mila.  She’s surrounded by cats, dogs and fish, all of which she thinks are the greatest things on Earth.  She’s beyond giddy with glee and jumping up and down like a tiny blonde, snotty-nosed Kris Akabusi.

She attempts to plant a kiss on the lips of one of the dogs, but I’m like a blur as I spring across the room to stop this (probably) unwanted physical advance, using nothing but my hyper-developed super dad reflexes.

The five cats, two dogs and three fish all seem friendly enough, but Zsuzsa is wary, and adamant that we must protect our spawn around them at all times.  I think her concern stems from the fact that as a child she was once attacked by a chicken.  The physical scars have healed, but the mental ones are still red raw.

"Just one little kiss?"

"Just one little kiss?"

It’s now several days later and we’re in Madrid.  The sun did eventually manage to make an appearance (burning my nose just to spite me for my doubt) and we also skilfully managed to avoid any savage dog, cat, fish or chicken attacks.  We’ve also now traded in one set of parents for a more Hungarian variety.  At this precise moment Zsuzsa’s parents are keeping our child alive at our holiday dwellings while Zsuzsa and I enjoy our moment of freedom at a fancy restaurant.

Zsuzsa however is a little preoccupied as her mother had her purse stolen from her bag earlier today.

“She seems so sad.  I just wish there was something we could do.” she says sorrowfully.

“Would you like me to tool up and head out in to Madrid’s streets to bring the city’s underworld to their knees?” I helpfully ask.

“No.  That’s okay.”  replies Zsuzsa.

Moments earlier my offer to wander the streets of Madrid with a backpack full of coiled mousetraps or angry cobras was met with a similarly dismissive response.  Sometimes I wonder if she doesn’t rate my skills as a vengeful, super hero vigilante after all.

A spring roll stuffed full of pig mouth, resting on a vinyl record plate substitute is placed in front of me.

Pig mouth spring roll on Italian vinyl.

Pig mouth spring roll on Italian vinyl.

A broad grin suddenly breaks out across Zsuzsa’s tiny Hungarian face.

“You know what would make my mum feel better?” she beams.

“What?” I reply.

“If tomorrow, we go shoe shopping!”

“Yeah?”

“For me.”

“Your mum would feel better if we go shoe shopping to buy you some new shoes?” I ask.

“Yes.”

“Really?”

“YES!”

“New shoes for you?”

“YES!”

“Hmmmm.”

“Honestly, nothing makes my mum happier than buying clothes for me.”

I’m highly dubious about this, but shrug and take a bite of my delicious pig mouth spring roll.

The next day we go shoe shopping for Zsuzsa.  Zsuzsa buys some new shoes.  Her mum doesn’t stop smiling.

The Hungarian mob

The Hungarian mob

The Ferencz Nostril Ratio to Wind Force Theorem.

Day 635

Attempting to hypnotise with an iPad full of Peppa Pig

Attempting to hypnotise with an iPad full of Peppa Pig

I’m in a village in Hungary called Bógacs with my favourite wife.  Mila is a half hour drive away with her grandparents and we are getting to know an old, beloved friend.  A friend who goes by the name “Doing Bugger All.”

It’s funny as I didn’t actually realise how much I’d missed my old friend “Bugger”.  I haven’t seen him for at least nineteen months.  We’d planned to meet a few times during our wilderness period, but things have always got in the way.  Things like paying the bills, life admin, warding off a threatening dad bod, cleaning up baby sick etc.  But here he is, finally.  And you know what?  He looks good!  Better than I ever remembered.  And oh my god, Bugger smells terrific!

We actually nearly had to cancel this long over due rendezvous!  We woke up on Wednesday morning, ready to fly to Budapest only to be confronted by a very spotty child.

“Fuck.” said Zsuzsa.

“Shit.”  I’d replied.

But, after a mental day that involved taking Mila to the doctors, getting a prescription, losing the prescription, scouring the streets until I’d found the prescription, frantically packing, furiously working and aggressively taxi riding, we’d eventually made it on to the plane.

Incidentally, whilst on the plane Mila had forced an old lady next to us to eat a baby biscuit, staring at her and assertively saying “More!  More!” like a tiny dictator until the biscuit was gone.  The woman was reluctant, but powerless under her forceful baby ways.  

“She’ll be running the country one day.” said Zsuzsa.

She’s probably right, although to be fair, I’m not sure which country.  North Korea maybe.  

Also, whilst on the plane Mila managed to skilfully place a snotty tissue on a sleeping man’s head.  Zsuzsa and I both decided to ignore it and pretend it didn’t happen.

The girls

The girls

Anyway, back to Bugger All.

“Maybe it’s because your nostrils are so large.  The wind rushes in too fast.” says Zsuzsa.

We are currently sitting in a Bógacs restaurant and Zsuzsa is attempting to diagnose why I often cough.  It sometimes amazes me that she isn’t yet recognised as one of the greatest medical minds of the century.  I mean she’s just so damn brave!  Such a maverick!  First it was popping a beef tomato on my toe to cure and ingrowing toenail, then it was ironing some cabbage and stuffing it down her bra to combat sore nipples. Now this.  Up there with her most accomplished work.  The Ferencz nostril ratio to wind force theorem.

The waiter brings the menus over.

Zsuzsa is about to ask him for an English menu, but I stop her.

“It’s okay honey.  I can read it.” I say.

I begin reading the menu.  

What is this gibberish!?

Fuck.

A few minutes later and the waiter reappears.

“Igen (yes)?” he says.

I’m panicking a little, but I see a word that I recognise, “marha”.  That’s beef!  I like beef.  Everyone likes beef!  Everyone except maybe vegans, but I’m pretty sure that they also, secretly like beef.

I point at it on the menu and grunt.

“And also uborkasaláta (cucumber salad).” I add, recognising another word from my time in Budapest.

The waiter looks at me like I’ve just shat on his carpet.  He then shakes his head, turns to Zsuzsa and says something to her.

“He says that is not a good choice.  It won’t go well with the beef cheek,”

What!?  Who the hell does this joker think he is?  Telling me what to choose!  What will and won’t go with my beef!  Does he not know that I’ve watched Masterchef several times?  Actually he probably doesn’t.  But anyway, naturally I’m outraged and I must convey this fury.

“Okay.” I say with a warm smile.

Ten minutes later and my meal is put in front of me.

Beef cheek and six donuts in gravy.

I stare at the food and then at Zsuzsa.

“Cow face and donuts.” I say flatly.

“You don’t like?” Zsuzsa replies.

“Um, I like cow face.  I like donuts.  I’ve just never seen them on the same plate before.  And who the hell does this guy think he is that he can pair donuts with beef, but not cucumber salad!?  Clearly insane!”

“Honey.  Let it go.  We’re free!  Eat your cow face.  Eat your donuts.  Relax.  Enjoy.  Live a little,  for tomorrow we will no longer be free.”

I look at my wise, medically challenged wife and I nod.  She is right.  This is our last meal of freedom for quite a while.  Our last meal with our dear friend, Bugger.  Why am I letting a waiter spoil it?  I will eat my cow face and donuts, sip some wine and cherish the moment.

I tuck in, and you know what?

Donuts do not go with cow face.

Meanwhile, at Grandma and Grandpa's house...

Meanwhile, at Grandma and Grandpa's house...