Twenty four years ago
Wednesday 24th January 1990
“Bugger me, I’m a Dad! I wonder if all these people can tell?” I glanced above my head, but there was no illuminated sign to announce my new fatherhood. The thoughts ricocheted around my head as I drifted along The Rock in Bury. It was a cold, snow-drifted winter day. Freezing wind ran its icy fingers through my hair; back then I still had some. Snow flurries eddied about my feet.
Nine months before, Rotherham United had won at Stockport to clinch promotion (goals by Des Hazel and Raggy Goodwin, fact fans). That evening, in celebration, Mary dressed in naught but a Rotherham shirt, with inevitable consequences, and a new life was sparked.
This baby (‘James’ perhaps, or maybe ‘Grace’) had proven its independence throughout the pregnancy by absolutely refusing to turn the right way round for an easy exit. This tiny bundle of stubbornness insisted on remaining the wrong way, with one foot dangling down the birth canal. A footling, we were told, which necessitated a Caesarean delivery.
The operation had been arranged for ten o’clock in the morning. Mary was already in the hospital, and I made sure that I awoke early. I was a bit surprised by how bright the light in the room was, but I discovered the reason when I threw back the curtains.
Snow. Lots of snow. More snow than you could shake a stick at, if that’s your idea of a good time. Snow which meant problems for anyone like me who had to drive. I quickly threw on clothes and leapt into the car, skidding out of the village. The hospital wasn’t that far, a couple of miles at most, but as I descended the hill to the main road I could see that the short journey wasn’t going to be easy. Traffic heading south into town was at a standstill.
I waited a short while but nope, nothing was moving. Oh bollocky bollocks. All was not lost, however, as I brought my alternative route into play. I headed away from town to join the motorway heading south, relieved to see that the slip road had been gritted. And what did I see as I sailed, relieved, down that slip road? Yes, the motorway was at a standstill too.
It was getting late. I had about ten minutes to get to the hospital. I wasn’t about to miss the birth of my first child however, so I swung onto the hard shoulder and floored the accelerator. I glanced to my right at faces glaring at me from stationary cars as I sped past. I turned my eyes back to the front to see an obstacle in my path. A police-car-shaped obstacle with beautiful flashing lights. Oh BIG bollocky bollocks. I slowed to a halt just behind and a frowning officer with a sad moustache approached crossly.
“What are you playing at, Sunshine?”
“Gibber gibber baby gibber birth gibber gibber ten minutes gibber hospital.”
“Right. Well, don’t drive on the fucking hard shoulder again. Now follow us and concentrate on your driving.”
It was wonderful. I swaggered in my seat (actually, is that possible?) as the queuing drivers watched the patrol car lead me down the hard shoulder to the next exit and up the road to the hospital. At one point he used siren and lights to move a recalcitrant van. We reached the hospital just after ten. I was effusive in my thanks, but PC Moustache just said “Go on, bugger off and good luck. Promise me you WON’T call the baby Bobby after me.”
I legged it inside, delighted to have got there on time, only to find that the snow had delayed the consultant anyway, and we would have to wait until he arrived. Why hadn’t I thought of that?
By the time the consultant was ready we had completed the Times crossword. Mary went off to be prepped, and I was taken to a nearby room by a student nurse named Stuart, who was going to observe. Stuart was quite excited as this would be his first Caesarean. He made me wear baggy trousers, a smock, face mask and clogs. Clogs, FFS! I walked like a Dutch ice-skater in a painting by Brueghel.
Stuart took me into the theatre where Mary lay with a green sheet bunched across her waist so that we wouldn’t see the consultant, one Dr. Wake, rummaging about her insides. He put on our tape of Beethoven’s 6th Symphony and began his work. Mary and I held hands and chatted to Dr. Wake about our choice of music.
You know, it’s funny – I still wasn’t completely certain that there was a real live baby in there. I wasn’t sure what to expect. Maybe Sooty would pop up from behind the bundled sheet and squirt me with his water pistol. But no, Dr. Wake lifted up a squirming purple thing and announced “Here she is!”
A girl! A girl a girl a girl a girl a girl! Whoa, spinnyhead. Our new daughter was rested on her Mum’s breast for a first cuddle, while Dr. Wake began repairing Mary. We both (and Stuart, I noticed) had moist eyes as Ellie was measured and wrapped.
I eventually left Mary to be ‘sorted out’ and clog-skated up to the ward, where I got to hold my new child and gaze in amazement at this fragile wonder. I felt her little breath on my face, and I told her all about Stockport against Rotherham. She gave a little yip when I told her about Raggy’s goal.