Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Latte Pappa

I've never been a morning person. Ever. For as long as I remember I've embraced the stillness of the late, lonely hours hours of night. When I was a kid I loved the feeling of being awake past midnight whilst the rest of the household slept. There was something so very comforting about it. Even when I got older and school at eight-thirty became work at six did I have a hard time getting my head down before midnight, even if it meant sacrificing a few hours sleep.

I guess the reason I've never been a morning person is that I'm always fucking knackered in the a.m, which is obviously my own fault. That may change in a couple of months time when our baby arrives, and then again it may not. Let me make it clear though, I don't have a problem getting out of bed after a few measly winks, I'm just a grumpy bastard for the first hour or so.

On this particular occasion I had an early rise for my six-forty five train to Heathrow from Corby and all I wanted to do was close my eyes and sleep through the journey. After five days of Christmas eating and boozing with my family and friends in the UK I was fucking beat. I was looking forward to getting home to my wife, her big belly and my dog. The thing is, even though my exchange at St. Pancras was the final stop for the train I was on, I still felt a little nervous about sleeping through so I forced myself to stay awake. I'd have to settle for a nap on the plane later. I sat down in my reserved seat by the window in the empty carriage and dosily gazed at the scenery between Corby and Kettering.

At Kettering it all went wrong...

A guy who looked to be about my age alights the train carrying his baby boy in one of those chest harness things and shifts along the aisle to my table. I shoot him a friendly glance and then return my gaze to the window. Fucking typical! The only other people on this carriage and they're sharing a table with me. The guy makes a bit of a fuss unharnessing his son and sorting his bags out before plonking down in the seat opposite me. The whole while I can feel him trying to make eye contact with me. I shoot him another quick look, give a compulsory smile to his son and then in what turns out to be a mistake, let out a slightly over the top yawn and return my eyes once again to the window.

“Tough morning?” he asks. Fuck. That was not supposed to be a conversation starter. Quite the opposite in fact. “Nah, just a bit early” I reply, “I've got a long journey ahead”.

“I'm going to Norway” he immediately replies, with just a slight tone of competitiveness in his voice. “I'm going to Sweden” I reply with more than a hint of pathetic, one-upmanship about it. “Fair enough, you win”, he says without even a hint of a smile on his face. I know then that the quiet journey I'd longed for is doomed.

If I'd been worried about how I'd manage to churn out small talk for the next hour or so, I needn't have bothered, my fellow passenger, Asa, did most of the talking. I certainly started the ball rolling though, and what a fucking ball it turned out to be. It was more like that boulder in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Note for the future: Don't comment on anyone else's kid if you're not prepared to get into a dialogue about it and don't mention that you are expecting a kid yourself.. If only I'd known then what I know now..

“He seems like a happy little chap” I say, unable to deflect the weight of Asa's gaze any longer. I don't know where that came from, it doesn't even sound like me, although the kid was undeniably cute and he was sat across the table smiling at me, making him nigh on impossible to ignore. I felt I had to say something. “He certainly doesn't get that from his mother” comes Asa's reply, a look of untamed misery on his face. I knew then that things had just gotten a whole lot worse for me...

For the next hour or so I'm battered with an onslaught of Asa's sob story, with tips about how to bring up a small child and advice on how to keep my relationship with Jen together under the duress of parenthood. Asa is brutally bitter about how things have turned out between himself and his girlfriend since he moved to Oslo and they had their kid. Ironically this barrage started with the question, “Can I give you one bit of advice?” cue pause, although he's clearly not expecting an answer from me. “Take ten seconds... Before you react, take ten seconds..” he says it like he's just hit me with some radical new relationship technique he'd discovered whilst trekking through the mystical mountains of life experience... I nod solemnly. “Of course, she never took ten seconds, no no..” And from there it rolled.

He told me that he was joining the Royal Navy and mapped out the plan he had for his life and his son's upbringing for the next ten years. The whole while I keep glancing out the window, praying for the train to hurry along.. Wellingborough...Bedford..forty minutes to go. The verbal dissecting of his ex continued.. He had to work nights, she had no job yet still couldn't manage to take care of the kid in the mornings.. She was supposed to study. Study? Yeah that went well...

And then it was the turn of Norwegian society as a whole to hear what for. People are very closed. They say they're happy to speak English but unless you can speak Norwegian you have no chance of a job. Your education in England counts for fuck all. You have to start from scratch again and you will never, ever be accepted in the long run anyway. His job sucked. He was a bar manager apparently, and yet he was never given any hours.

My head is seriously being done in by this point. He seems to be completely undeterred by my lack of interaction. The boy starts to shift around and fuss, now waking from the sleep that his dad's ranting had no doubt induced. He really is cute, I have to say. Blond hair, huge blue eyes. Scando prototype. Asa stands up and starts to bounce on his heels a little, to settle the boy down. He then tells me that he'll need to walk up and down the aisle for a while, which by the way is something I'll have to get used to in the future. Taking a train and reading a book, fucking forget it! Won't be doing that again until I've retired apparently.. “At last!” I gasp inwardly, as Asa starts up the aisle. “If I'm talking too much, just let me know” he says. Why? Why can't I just fucking say to him, “You know what mate, you really are. Can you please just shut the fuck up for a while?”

“No mate, it's fine”. I hate myself...

He continues to ramble on as he walks up and down the aisle. There are other passengers in the carriage now, but it seems it's only me that's aware of them. Up and down, up and down, all the while giving me tips on how to get my kid to sleep whilst in transit. The funny thing is, the kid seems to be having none of it. He's attached to Asa's chest in that harness thing, pawing him in the face and gargling in that cute way they do. Eventually Asa stops back at our table. There is a woman sat directly behind him, opposite me, looking on with the slightest of smirks on her face. She can obviously see the torture that's being set upon me. “Gareth, do you have any friends back home that you can talk to? I mean, really talk to?”

“Err, yeah I guess I do..” Asa nods his head, his eyes closing as he does so, as if he's genuinely relieved to hear me say so. “Good, because you should warn them that there are going to be times when you need to talk to them. And you know what? There are going to be times when you need to cry, and when that happens, you just have to let it out.” His eyes are actually welling up as he says this to me. I'm actually starting to wonder if some fucker is filming me. I wouldn't be surprised if Beadle pops up with a ticket collector's uniform on and prods a microphone in my face announcing I'm on Candid Camera!

But Beadle never arrives, and Asa is seemingly on the verge of emotional collapse.

I hurriedly change tack. I ask him how long he'd been in the UK for Christmas and if he'd had a nice time. “A week. It was ok..” Ok, next question. I realise now that it's up to me to steer this sinking ship. I ask him how often his parents come to visit. “Once! They came when the boy was born and that's it. And they have the nerve to say that I don't stay in touch! I mean, my sister moved to Australia and yet I'm the one who has turned my back on the family?!” Balls...

We were nearing Luton now. Only another twenty minutes to go. Thankfully Asa is travelling to Gatwick, so I'm nearing the end of this agony. But Asa is still not quite done.. He asks me if we've thought of any names yet. I give him the standard answer, that we have a few ideas but you never know do you? I mean, until the baby actually arrives. “We had agreed that she would get to choose the name if it was a girl, and I would get to choose if it was a boy. Well, that didn't happen!” Asa, you are killing me here! I can't actually remember what the boy's first name was, so numb was my head by this point, but I do remember that his middle name was Attila. “Yeah, I got that one in at least. She hates it!”.

The train finally pulls in to London St. Pancras. I shake Asa's hand and wish him good luck for the future. I wonder how on earth he's going to stand the Royal Navy, or how indeed they're going to stand him. I can just imagine the fucker cracking one day and walking around the ship at night stabbing his fellow sailors in their sleep.

It's about six weeks until our baby arrives. I have no idea how it's going to feel to hold my kid in my arms for the first time, how overwhelming it's going to be to bring it home from the hospital and realise that for the rest of my life I'm going to be a dad. Adulthood has finally arrived. It's scary as fuck, but it's also unbelievably exciting. It's going to be weird doing all those parent/kid things again, this time with me taking on the parent roll. I do know one thing. If I can do half the job my parents did for me, then we'll be ok. I hope Asa will be as well. He was a boring bastard no doubt, but I did feel sorry for him. Thankfully though, instead of being scared to death by his tales of parenting woe, I find myself reassured that we're good.

A couple of days earlier I'd met my old friend Mike and his new baby boy, Colt. Mike hasn't had the easiest life, but despite being dealt a shit hand a lot of the time, he's remained incredibly strong. Not many would have coped with the shite he's had to go through. When I knocked on the door, it was the first time I'd met him since Colt arrived. I've never seen Mike so happy, he literally had tears of pride and joy welling up in his eyes. His pride in his new baby son filled me with a feeling of comfort because I knew I'd be feeling exactly the same way in about six weeks time...

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