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Agonising over how to be happy? Don’t do it for you. Do it for Don.

How to be happy. Don.

If you’ve been struggling with how to be happy, especially while you’re locked down, here’s something you can do to improve your mental health. Don’t try and make changes for you, do it for someone else. Let’s introduce you to Don, your special friend. He needs you. Don’t ignore him.

So you’re stressed. Work is getting you down. You’ve no time to talk to your friends and on top of that you’re locked indoors trying to escape Coronavirus. You might be having a midlife crisis. Are you happy? Probably not if you’re reading this. However we can help improve your mental health.

Close your eyes (maybe not literally at this point).

Right, imagine inside your head there’s a small figure beavering away. Let’s call him Don.

How to be happy. Focus on Don inside your head.
Don is in your head

Don is a bit like you, except he lives inside your skull and is responsible for guiding the machine that is you through its daily, often boring, life. He pulls the levers, presses the buttons, and turns the knobs that keep you blinking and breathing. It’s a tough job. First up and last to bed, Don opens your eyes in the morning and closes them at night. Plus everything in between. He’s seen the sights you don’t want others to see, unless you’re some sort of dodgy social media exhibitionist.

Unfortunately Don can get a bit sad and lonely. He doesn’t feel appreciated for the effort he puts in. He feels let down as you override his controls to stuff cake after cake into your mouth during the day, and then swap to alcohol as it begins to get dark.

How to be happy. Talk to the awe-inspiring Don.

So if you could speak to Don, what would you say to make him happier?

You’d probably tell him his job is vital. Without him you’d be nothing. You’d be a slob, lying unwashed and generally unwell in bed. If he wasn’t doing his job people wouldn’t get to experience your witty jokes. Those people would be sadder, lonelier and more miserable as a result.

With some serious consideration you might tell him you were taking on board his criticisms of your lifestyle. You are making his job harder after all. It’s not easy to steer a drunk, overweight, unfit body around.

It's the characters inside your head who keep you going

To help Don feel more motivated you could also offer to go out an introduce him to others like him.

You see inside every head there’s a Don or Debbie driving a lumbering machine that is just like you. They are the heroes of this story. Trapped in the dark, unable to feel the sunshine on their faces, these little characters can easily feel sorry for themselves. However, sharing some of the pain with others like them makes their lives more bearable. Your lumbering gait, bad habits and general misdemeanours can become a shared joke that only they can appreciate.

Get out and dance with Don

Not feeling alone is a powerful drug when it comes to happiness. Even making a cup of tea with someone could have a big impact on Don’s health.

If Don could look forward to these checks and balances it would help him keep his issues in perspective, it would give him some motivation for pushing and pulling those levers in your head with a bit more gusto.

He may even dust down the laughter button that’s lain unused at the back of your brain and press it occasionally. As Don starts to smile, you will too. Before you know it you’ll feel more positive, and you may make that breakthrough in how to be happy.

Do it for Don

So next time you’re feeling a little down, wondering how to be happy, just think of Don inside your head. Think of the things that would make him happy. Do those things not for you, as that would be selfish and require effort. Do them for him before it gets too late and he ends up miserable. And you don’t want him to be sat there in your head, looking glum and listlessly driving the machine that is you.

How to be happy. Give Don an adventure. Do it for Don.
Keep Don happy. Take him on an adventure

Keeping Don happy can make you happy too. You and Don. The perfect partnership. Treasure it and make it special.

So if you’re still wondering how to happy, don’t ignore Don. Do it for Don.

Have other issues you need resolving, then feel free to Ask Marvin anything.

Born very prematurely… the brutal early days of a newborn girl.

She came very, very early, she was very small, and it was all very stressful…

Received into the offices at the Bore, the true story behind Baby Jen’s first few days. Penned by her fair self.

Dear Mr Bore,

Now I’m a fit and healthy four-month-old baby, I would like to take this opportunity to correct some of the mistakes you made in your original article about my entry into this world.

I was born on 26/12 at 1923 hrs. My dear old mother had been admitted three days previously with ruptured membranes (whatever they are). Given I was a wee bit early the doctors had to give her two doses of steroid therapy (which apparently helps the lungs of premature babies develop a bit) before she went into labour.

Lucky for her it was a normal delivery, with some rather nice doctors hovering close by, ready to do a crash Caesarean at any moment. Straight after I emerged the ‘retrieval’ team (paediatricians and special care baby unit nurses, not dustmen) who had been hiding in the background now suddenly came to the fore.

Not breathing, I had to have air pumped in to my lungs using a squeezy bag over my mouth. Later (joy of joys) a tube was put rammed down my throat so that oxygen could be puffed directly in to inflate my lungs. My Mum then gave me the briefest of kisses before I was whisked off to the neonatal intensive care unit (at top speed I might add, those porters can really move).

In my notes written at the time, it said ‘baby cold and dusky on admission’ which was indicative of poor oxygen perfusion (nearly dead to you and me). My weight at birth was 911g, which is probably the last time I worry about being too thin.

Anyway I was dumped into an incubator, and started on a ventilator (to get me breathing again). I also sampled my first drugs; starting on an infusion of morphine which kept me sedated and helped me to cope with all the painful procedures I endured (like having blood taken, when there wasn’t that much to give).

I then had special ‘lines’ put in through my tummy button which would later be used to give drugs and food (which did save all that sucking I have to do now). By that night, even though ventilated, my condition was still very unstable, and the doctors tried various techniques such as oscillation therapy in an attempt to keep sufficient oxygen levels in my blood.

My second drug hit was the newish ‘wonder’ drug Surfactant, but I did not respond to the first two doses and things looked pretty bleak. I even had a “proper” condition. The poor lung function was due to ‘respiratory distress syndrome’.

Next morning mum was visited by an exhausted looking consultant who gently informed her that the outlook was pretty poor unless the lungs improved, and that the next 48hrs were crucial. Mum went home that morning convinced that I was going to die. However, the fight continued – and I was given yet another dose of Surfactant (good stuff, although I saw no flying pink elephants). This time hey presto! My lungs started to inflate more and in that area at least there was some improvement.

However my dreams of nappies, baby grows and vomiting over relatives were short lived. Blood tests revealed that I had septicaemia (blood poisoning), itself a life threatening condition. Having conditions was becoming a bore. My hands and feet were blue, and almost transparent, but thankfully the doctors had already made an educated guess that if there was another condition going I would have it, and started me on the correct antibiotic. At one point I had a white cell count of 84,000 (normal range up to about 10,000) and a platelet level of 9,000 (normal level about 150-450,000) which meant I could have bled to death at any moment. You have to laugh…well, maybe not.

Over the next two weeks the struggle continued, and I was given blood transfusions, regular antibiotics and a special type of food called TPN, straight into a vein. On the 4th of January they took the breathing tube out of my throat and I was put onto CPAP (Continuous Positive Airway Pressure). This meant having a really tight mask on my face so my nose was squashed up somewhere between my eyebrows. Boy, was I attractive at that point. That said, at least my lungs continued to gain strength and over the next couple of weeks I breathed more and more on my own.

Food at last

On the 8th of January I was given my first real food. This came by a tube up my nose and into my tummy and consisted of ½ ml of expressed breast milk over 4 hours (an even smaller amount than in your average McDonalds). This was a big deal as it was the first time my digestive system had had to work independently. Fortunately I didn’t end up with the complication of NEC (Necrotising Entero-Colitis), which is a shame since that would have almost completed the “condition” collection.

I needn’t have worried about missing out on too many conditions though, because on 28th of January – more doom and gloom. I had caught RSV (Respiratory Syncytial Virus). This could have been fatal to a baby of my size, but luckily I had been vaccinated and managed to combat the infection after a week of rest and care (although I couldn’t do much else being strapped into an incubator. Night clubbing was certainly a no-no).

Premature baby first bath

Things finally began to look up. By the 1st of February I was no longer on CPAP and the only help to my lungs now was a dribble of oxygen given to me by two prongs up my nose. On the 7th Feb I tested RSV negative and was moved from the ‘hot’ nursery to the ‘cold’ nursery (and boy was that a shock).

For the next 5 weeks I was fattened up with mum’s breast milk and Nutriprem, helped occasionally by some oxygen. I put on about an ounce a day and began to take on the appearance of a normal cuddly baby.

On the 12th March – on a fine and sunny day – I was finally allowed home. I weighed 5lb 11oz, all my clothes were too big. Dad said I looked like Kenny out of South Park! But everybody was pleased to have me home . However sometimes I do miss the peace and quiet of the ward, not having to scream for my food or a nappy change, and as for those doctors…

Anyway, I hope this has helped you understand a bit more of what I went through Mr Bore. I had better go now as my Mum doesn’t realise I know how to use the computer, or walk or talk for that matter, so I wouldn’t want her to catch me typing.

Yours truly,


See here for a more traditional birth story

Desperately resorting to chemical enhancements to excite midlife romance…

Growing old can be fraught with problems. As marriages stretch beyond what used to be a lifetime, the differences between partners can often become more pronounced, and nowhere is that more apparent than in the bedroom. So what does it mean for midlife romance?

With differing sex drives, men and women have often struggled to come to terms with the ask, deny, frustration, grumpiness cycle. The grumpiness of the man becomes the reason for the denial, which increases the grumpiness to levels that can lead to affairs and / or divorce.

A friend of mine was in this exact situation. Barren months had led to calloused hands. Buying a bigger laptop hadn’t helped, nor had leaving his search history open for all to see. His wife had decided he was a boar and a bore, plus with the onset of early evening tiredness, her desire to roll naked around the room had become more of a fear.

In an attempt to break the cycle, my friend found himself inside a Boots store buying over the counter Viagra. In a slightly male way, he had decided that the problem was his ability to last. Nervously he filled out the required form, recollecting the early days of condom buying when you struggled to meet the pharmacist’s eyes as he sized you up for a night of passion.

Popping the pill with excitement

On arriving home, said friend popped his pill early, recognising his wife would soon be heading up the stairs. He followed her, complimenting her on how she looked, and sympathising with how hard she’d worked. He quoted an old song line, to which she replied “amazing” (in retrospect this could have been sarcasm) but at the time he took to be at least a thawing of the ice maiden if not quite a come on.

In other departments, either the anticipation or blue pill was doing its stuff. As he climbed into bed he felt warm, excited and up for the fight. Gently (but quite quickly as he knew it was only a small pre-sleep window) he reached out and wrapped his arms around his wife.

“You’re being very affectionate tonight,” she said suspiciously.

“I just thought how nice you looked,” he answered provocatively.

She turned over. “I think I have a serious bowel issue,” she said.

A lot went through his mind at this point, and sympathy was only one of those thoughts. His first was it was like the nuclear “no sex” escalation – I’m tired, have a headache, am sick, have bowel problem. Then, and somewhat guiltily, he enquired after the symptoms and diagnosis (google has a lot to answer for).

Sadly romantic chemicals don’t last forever in midlife romance

By the time both the symptoms and treatments had been discussed, the power of the pill was well and truly broken, proving that desire and chemicals are still no match for a determined woman.

Fortunately the diagnosis was favourable, and following a more roughage friendly diet, the wife’s health returned. My friend has four pills left from his original five, but with a new big pc and powerful video card he doesn’t see any imminent use for a midlife romance.

And that’s acceptance of middle age and the mid-life crisis. You struggle with the fact that thirty years ago you had the world at your feet, so you should be telling your middle-age self it’s like starting again from your youth.

But then as you get up to start the race your back twinges, knees hurt and hip stabs you again and again with reminders of your decline. Your addictions are harder to shake. Alcohol, tobacco, cake all become a daily battle of wills, with your body reminding you that to carry on as you are means you’ll soon be excited by daytime tv and that vision of an older person’s Ibiza is just a mirage.

So what can you do before you join the bowls club?

Work meetings a disaster? 6 simple things you could do to avoid wasting your life.

Work meetings disaster

Work meetings were the bane of my life before I was made redundant. They usually involved people sitting around grey tables either trying to score points off each other, or doing other things while the point scorers argued. “Other things” ranged from checking email and social media, to ordering on Amazon, or playing games on their phones.

Work meeting involving lots of people. Perfect.
Post-its, flip charts and lots of people. Typical.

One of the later crazes was pretending to type meeting notes whilst actually sending messages over Skype to others in the room. You could tell who was messaging whom from coinciding smirks or giggles, and non-discreet nods, head shakes or eye rolls. There was also alternate typing, whereby as soon as one person paused, someone else looked up, winked and banged away on their keyboard. The message streams tended to be at the schoolboy or schoolgirl level, ranging from comments like “f***ing boring” through to “he doesn’t know what he’s doing” or “ooo, mr angry”.

Work meetings aren't for gossip
Work meetings are often used for gossip…

Work meetings and bad behaviours

Work meetings were a great way to pretend to be busy. You weren’t important if you had white space in your diary. It was also great to be back-to-back with meetings because when it came to dishing out actions, you could claim to be too busy to do them. Flashing up your diary helped elicit the required sympathy, and you could skip out and on to the next one before anyone looked too closely at the fact that “lunch” featured widely.

Entering the meeting room in the right way was also important. Too early and you looked like you had time on your hands, plus you had to engage in the pre-meeting small talk. Too late and it was too noticeable. Just slightly late was always best, bursting in to disturb the introductions with a brow so furrowed you could plant potatoes in it.

Next step for some was to disrupt. So whilst introductions were underway, important people would say how important they were, and that they could only stay for the first x minutes. ‘X’ as a rule of thumb was the meeting time less about fifteen minutes. Again that way they could avoid any actions, whilst shouting out a couple for others to pick up as they dashed for the door.

The worst offenders were terrorists…

Some of the worst people in the meetings were terrorists. I know it’s probably not politically correct to call them that, but these were people whose soul mission in life was to cause trouble. Nothing made them feel more important than disagreements. It’s not that disagreement is a bad thing, but the terrorists just said “no”. There was no offer of compromise or alternatives, just a damning indictment of the person or topic they’re denying.

Obviously it helped if they had special skills or knowledge that made it hard for people to challenge. They would throw out phrases like “your splodger only works if the clodger is engaged and connected via the UMPv1.0”, When asked to explain, they’d roll their eyes and say “best if we take this offline” before messaging some one in the room – “what a thicko!”. After a while people would give up asking, nod wisely and pretend they understood. They didn’t. Often because it was bullsh*t.

6 tips to improve your work meetings

But meetings could be so much better if a few things were adopted, such as:

  1. Choosing a decent meeting room – not just your standard small and stuffy one. I had my favourites. 211 was one as it was on the top floor and made people hot and sweaty getting there. I felt the exertion was good for the mind.
  2. No jargon. Anyone who denies a course of action because of something the rest of the room can’t understand should do a forfeit, like gargle a tune with water.
  3. Standing up. It would make meetings so much shorter and no one could be on IM. Anyone with hip issues could sit down.
  4. Shooting anyone who says they’re too busy to follow the actions through. Could get messy, but things would soon change.
  5. Going through previous actions first, if nothing else for the entertainment of listening to the 101 ways people say “I couldn’t be bothered…”
  6. Making the room cold. Open the blinds and keep the lights bright. You don’t want people dozing off or doing things they shouldn’t under cover of darkness.
Work meeting rooms need to be chosen carefully
My favourite meeting room. Choose your room with care to maximise the “wow” factor of your sessions.

Work meetings are what fill office workers’ days. For most people they are a form of therapy, as highlighted by the The Daily Mail. Some can be useful, but you could probably halve the number of participants and halve the number of meetings and still be productive.

I guess that’s maybe why I was made redundant.

The dangerous minefield that is male grooming

After my experience in the Turkish barbers, it got me thinking about midlife male grooming. How much should I bother about my appearance? Isn’t midlife the time to sink into comfortable apathy rather than struggle to be trimmed, toned and trendy?

A friend of mine grew a beard. Nothing wrong with that particularly. I just thought he’d moved to shaving apathy, especially as it didn’t stop growing. At one point Santa would have been pleased to have had his bushy face hair. People in the street complimented him on it. He could have been out with a cute puppy instead of a beard, the behaviour and comments were the same.

“Oooh, that’s a gorgeous,” said one man . “Does it take much looking after?”

It may look a mess but takes a lot of work

“Can I stroke it?” asked a woman at the bar.

My friend fields all these questions with the good grace of a bloke not used to being spoken to in public. Occasionally he puts bells or lights in it, especially during the festive season, when he could be placed in the corner as some sort of novelty Christmas toy.

What did surprise me when we went away together was that what I had thought was comfortable apathy, was actually a tough regimen of care. Beard wax, beard oil, beard brush. Before emerging to face the public, that beard had had more loving attention than I had over the last twenty years at home. I was wrong. This was a man a beard grooming masterclass.

So what about me? As I’ve mentioned before, my Turkish barber has branched out into sorting my eyebrows, nasal and ear hair. My dentist is insisting on replacing old silver fillings with white ones (in case someone stares in my open mouth at some point). Bit by bit I’m being pulled into male grooming without even noticing.

I still ask for a haircut that is zero maintenance, and decline all hair products as a matter of course. That used to be because I was always about to play sport and have a shower, now it’s just an aversion reflex before I hit Costa for a cake.

Exclusive male grooming research reveals shocking truths…

I decided to do some research. Admittedly this was using my limited selection of friends, but it threw up some interesting results.

Most were supportive of their men taking more care of themselves, but straying too far from the core areas (nails, hair) suggested a wandering eye and lustful mind. Moisturiser was ranked as a key red flag, due to its connections with a desire to look younger (and hence attractive to younger models). Hair dyeing was for divorcees or soon to be divorcees only. Gym work was fine, as long as it still left a suitably tubby outline and you did it when the pensioners were in.

Not the grooming look you're after
Not the look you want

Anything suggested by a man’s other half was fine. Anything suggested by anyone not their other half – big red flag. One friend described how he bought himself a new floral shirt on the recommendation of a female friend. Each time he wore it he was virtually accused of sleeping with the woman. Suffice to say it doesn’t get many outings.

Midlife male grooming is a minefield. Too little and you end up like Campo from Last of the Summer Wine with people offering you their seat on the train. Too much and you terrify young girls with your bizarre teen-dad look, whilst making your wife think you’re playing away with the woman next door.

Seems like the Turkish barbers might have it right after all. Excess hair trimmed all round. Job done.

Secretly daydreaming in meetings part of evolutionary make-up

Humans have always had meetings. Often dull meetings, but meetings nonetheless. Since cavemen sat around fires discussing wall paintings, people have loved to gather, talk and daydream. In large corporations it is part of the culture. More than that, it’s part of our evolutionary instinct, like over-eating and binge drinking.

We’re told that humans need to conserve energy by minimising effort, a hangover from our calorie-scarce past. It is so much easier to have a meeting than to think of a new idea, write a document or make something useful. Think of the calories actually doing something might burn, and the fatigue that might set in! Today people gather in offices in the hope that one of the group will make the kill (or sensible decision), so all attendees can agree it was a good use of time without having to expend any effort.

Vital attendees at the meeting

Have a speaker who can lead the daydreamers and messagers to a decision in a dull meeting
Always good to have a Speaker

The key to any good meeting is to have at least one Speaker. Speakers claim to hate meetings as nothing gets decided and other people don’t participate. Speakers are vocal. They can deliver monologues that monopolise the time, getting their decisions agreed through apathy rather than excitement. In the end, it is the fact that Speakers exist that makes businesses move forward. Without them the group would have to expend too much energy, debate too long and conclude without direction. Brexit anyone?

Frequently I have sat in meetings with ten or more people squashed into a room. If the time was divided equally each attendee would get about six minutes air time in your average meeting hour. Only it didn’t work like that. A couple of Speakers would dominate the hour. So what was everyone else doing? Listening? Taking notes? It turns out none of these.

Before I was made redundant, I spoke to a few managers about what they did in a meeting.

“I daydream,” said one honest individual. “I spend my time thinking about my life outside work, sometimes straying on to some fantasy about someone else if the meeting is really dull. It’s surprising who becomes attractive at the end of a long day. As long as I nod occasionally or offer my agreement to a point, no one realises I’ve not been listening at all.”

Another was equally blunt. “Messaging. Sometimes messaging people in the room, sometimes not. Obviously if it was just a phone meeting I’d be on tetris or something, but in the room you have to look busy.”

The technology people bring to meetings is partly to blame. When I started out I used to create beautiful doodles that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Tate Modern. Nowadays laptops and phones mean people can do those low brain-power tasks like typing emojis, without looking as if they’re completely disengaged.

Interestingly it’s in our genes to zone out…

Office bingo
Office bingo

However engaging the disengaged goes against all our genetic make up. Those ice-breakers, post-it sessions, votes which are all part of making people involved, only serve to make them desperate to sit by the window so they can watch the weather pass by. Why do you think buzz-word bingo was invented? Not to add billions to the value of the company that’s for sure.

In nature, hunting pack animals like ourselves often live in groups dominated by one or two individuals (the Speakers). We’re going against that instinct, but it requires energy and effort which many people don’t want to expend. Meetings serve to reinforce the importance and decision making power of the Speaker. They feel encouraged, empowered and energised to drive things forward.

So the question is, when you attend a meeting, what are you actually doing? Speaking? Or simply imagining yourself with a cold beer in a sunspot while someone else makes the decision for you. It’s not your fault though, it’s evolution. Ways to break that cycle require effort and energy. Cake anyone?

Amazing new skills you can develop midlife, including dishwasher stacking

Apparently I need to learn some new skills.

Since I was made redundant I spend more time at home. Now that I have completed the “projects” list I compiled, I am into the day to day running of the house. In the mornings when my wife and kids head out the door, I am left tidying up their mess. I’m not sure who did it before I was home alone, but now it seems to fall into my remit.

I used to have other skills. Socialising, technical guru, handyman and sex god (well, you can but dream). These skills however have fallen into disuse, and apparently I have to learn new ones (or at least improve on the things I have spent the past twenty years developing).

New skills for an old dog

How sharp knives should be stacked in the dishwasher. A new skill.
Which way does a knife go…

First up is dishwashers and loading (or unloading). As I am at home, to be fair, I do it more often than I did. It turns out though that I don’t do it right. Over twenty years of practise and I’m getting it wrong. Plates not pre-rinsed (despite reading somewhere they shouldn’t be), bowls stacked too closely together, and knives point downwards, are among my faults.

I had thought I was saving lives with the knife thing, as I’d read of someone impaling their hand on a knife pointy side up. In our house though it seems as if cleanliness wins out over health and safety. A perfect contradiction to a work environment. I hadn’t realised there are places you can learn these skills – – see point 5 for the knife answer if you’re interested…but my other half knows best.

Another lesson I am being taught is to not use the tumble dryer to dry clothes. This is a cardinal sin. It goes against the environment, our electricity bill and clothes in general. Far better to spend ages putting it onto a strange folding device where it can languish for days as a mess. Obviously it begs the question why we have a tumble dryer if we’re not allowed to use it, but just like the spirits in my drinks cupboard we’re saving it for a special occasion.

Tumble dryer and clothes airer -new skills to be learnt

Folding washing in a way that doesn’t crease it follows on from the drying. How do you crease socks? Anyway ignore the fact I am at least depositing clothes into the correct bedrooms, let’s focus on the re-folding, ironing or in extreme re-washing that goes on. Oh, and if you are doing the washing, woe betide you if you miss the tissue in the pocket. That’s a complete re-wash and twenty minutes in the corner.

Finally (well for a few examples, there are others) I’m left with table wiping. You could argue that people should use their plates to catch the crumbs, but that doesn’t happen in my house. That leaves me with the job of clearing the mess. Crumbs left on the table scores -10 marks, those falling onto the chairs – 5, and the not sweeping the floor effectively is -3.

What’s the reward?

I don’t mind particularly. Actually that’s a lie. I do mind. I mind the fact that once my slapdash approach was endearing not endangering, my poor household skills were compensated elsewhere and I was forgiven for everything (that last bit isn’t strictly true). What is strange is that how being off work means I should now wipe better, fold better, stack better and dry clothes in the optimum way despite many years of practise. Yes I did do these things before, I wasn’t a complete numpty.

So the question is, how to respond when you see the dishwasher restacked, clothes refolded or table re-wiped? I tend to sigh loudly and retreat to somewhere quiet. It’s not great communication I know, but over the years that skill has probably gone the same way as the others.

Perhaps that’s the one that would be worth re-learning…

My body used to fix itself…sadly it doesn’t any more. A story of midlife arthritis.

Last night I cried out in bed. No, it wasn’t what you’re thinking, but because of midlife arthritis. It was loud enough to stop my wife snoring, which was some consolation. But as I lay there trying to get back to sleep, I couldn’t help feeling a stab of regret that now in middle age the injuries, aches and pains stayed with me. Gone was the default “give it a couple of days” recovery process. Now it is more of a “get it checked out” process. My body used to fix itself, but sadly it doesn’t any more.

I’ve always been active. Football, squash, rugby, golf… in fact any sport was my thing. I was never great, but I was a trier. Of course that was a recipe for injuries, and I’ve had a few. Broken arm, hand, collar bone, nose. Dislocated finger (twice). Add to that torn cartilage (both knees), stitches in my head and chin (multiple times) and many others and you get the idea. I over tried.

However when I reached middle age I noticed things change. I couldn’t recover as fast and gradually the sports started to drop off. It all finally hit the buffers with a visit to a specialist about hip pain that was not going away. I was still playing squash as the time, along with other overweight middle aged blokes (who liked playing inside in the warm too). It was my thing. And unusually for me I was quite good.

Midlife arthritis. At my age? Really?

“You’ve got grade 4 arthritis,” said the consultant jovially. “Worst you can have. Both hips but the left is particularly bad hence the pain.”

I smiled back. “So how long before it’s better?”

“Ah. That’s the point. This doesn’t get better until you have a hip replacement.”

I was staggered. A hip replacement was for old people, not 40 somethings. It turned out I had been playing the “wrong” sports. With my funny shaped hip joints, the twisting and turning had worn away pretty much everything. Apparently I was unlucky. Midlife arthritis is uncommon but not unheard of. A different sport, or less sport, and there would be no issue.

In actual fact Andy Murray had the same problem, so I guess I was at least on a level with other sporting pantheons. Albeit he is younger, fitter and has a wealth of healthcare support alongside him.

“Does that mean I won’t be able to play squash any more?” I asked nervously.

Then came the killer blow. “Well, not really. I mean, you have to look at yourself. You’re not a young man any more.”

So there it was. Old. No recovery without some serious medical intervention and even then if I had a replacement hip now, I’d need another later on (assuming I lived into my seventies).

For me this was a hammer blow on many levels. Something I’d once said was more fun than sex was now denied to me because of my age (a bit like sex, but that’s another story).

Operation and recovery. Of sorts.

I sulked for a few weeks. I tried all the treatments – a steroid injection, pain killers including CBD, but to no avail. My body which had used to fix itself now couldn’t even be fixed.

I ended up having a hip arthroscopy where they tried to reshape my hip joint to remove the spur that was causing the pain. Aside from some time off work, sympathy and the chance to watch a box set or two it didn’t really help.

Eventually I roused myself to consider alternatives to keep me sane. I invested in some lycra and started cycling. I went swimming. I even became a gym bunny. Well, if you can call a middle aged bloke in saggy shorts and t-shirt a gym bunny. It all helped, after all exercise is good for the mind and soul.

Exercises you can do with midlife arthritis
Be proud of being middle-aged in lycra

However it has taken me a long time to come to terms with the finality. No more squash, football, or rugby. They’re lost to me now unless I try for the hip replacement. Midlife, for all the self help guides and encouragement, is the beginning of a decline. It hasn’t helped being made redundant.

Keeping yourself sane is key, so alternatives must be found. The positive is that no one cares what you look like anymore, so you can invest in the lycra and reveal all, or sweat like a pig in dodgy t-shirts. Failing that just grow a belly in the pub.

The terrifying journey to fatherhood


A tale of the birth of a child, from the father’s perspective. It’s a frightening thing, that journey into fatherhood.

April , it all begins

Good news on the baby front! Apparently we’re in the blue – at least that’s what the tester from Boots is telling us, which means in 9 months from now I’m going to enter fatherhood (fingers crossed). Feel slightly sad this could mean the end of an active sex life (before middle age), but who knows what might happen when the hormones kick in.

In the short term this meant an alcohol-free holiday to the States. Still W got to fly business class whilst I sat in the main cabin fighting over the TV channels with a seven year old from Germany.

The only impact so far on our lives is that W can’t stand the smell of tuna. Had a few sandwiches to test this out and she’s right, it does make her feel sick.

May – scan 1

Had the first scan at 13 weeks, and much to our relief everything seems to be in order. That said, all you really get to see is a fish shaped blur blowing bubbles, which they assure us is a healthy baby.

Told the Mums and Dads, plus close friends. Everyone seems pretty pleased, if only if it means they can suck their teeth and go “it’s all going to change now”.

July – scan 2

Had the 22 week scan and the baby is growing fast. They can’t tell us the sex, which means either a girl, or a modest (or modestly endowed) boy. Can’t take after his father then, woof!

Only down side is W’s placenta may be low lying. Not sure what this means but we have to have a scan nearer the due date to see if it’s moved. Not sure quite where it’s headed, but obviously away from where it currently is.

October – start of antenatal hell

W comes back from her first NHS antenatal class somewhat bemused. She’s obviously been mixing with the wrong crowd as she describes the problems you can experience when breast feeding with pierced nipples (apparently it sprays everywhere), how to cope as your belly button disappears taking your piercing with it, and the pain involved in a two hour tattoo in a sensitive place. One story was about a girl who had never been swimming due to worries that chlorine could infect her baby, but then what stroke should she do if she took up swimming for the first time over the coming months. When W starts calling them “The Goth”, “Fat Sharon” (and husband “Badger” – his real name) and “The Sane One” you know it’s not something you’re going to volunteer to attend.

I can only hope NCT attracts a better class of person. Anyway, I’m off to sip some brandy and discuss Middle Eastern politics with Archie (my invisible friend).

7th October – boys and NCT traumas

Good NCT session this evening, Teacher sent the boys off to discuss why they wanted to be present at the birth (to make sure it was for all the right reasons, not due to social pressure). However she hadn’t banked on the old hand who had been through it all before with a previous wife describing it as one of the most disgusting things he had witnessed. Given he was a policeman and had seen some pretty horrible things in his time, he certainly started to raise some questions in all our minds. Just in time though teacher came back in to save the day – with another cup of tea and a biscuit she’d convinced us it was actually a beautiful thing to witness. I don’t think PC Plod will be allowed to come again.

October 20th – the exciting labour ward tour

Toured the labour ward in the hospital this morning. It’s a bit of a bombsite because of building work, but it didn’t seem to deter ten other couples wandering around with us trying to look interested. Hopefully things will be better by the time we arrive, although the workmen are using the birthing pool area as a rest room, which rather puts me off having a baby in one. What happens if, as the baby gasps its first breath, it swallows some old dog-end. Hardly an auspicious start.

October 25th – name choosing begins

A wedding of a close friend. Passed the time travelling to Nottingham trying to choose a name. Sadly, none of our choices coincided, but I do seem to have won a small victory with Delilah, as it seems to have dropped off the list. Current W favourites include Lilly (as in ‘fag ash lil’), Mia (as in Mamma), Leah (as in the jet) and Daphne (as in old woman/ Scooby Doo). Unfortunately all my choices are apparently either too traditional or too common, so we’re probably going to end up with Doreen. If it’s boy we’re pretty settled on Matthew.

Had another scan before we set off. Apparently the placenta has moved, which means that the birth should be “natural”, or as natural as it can be to excrete something over 6lb from a 10cm hole. See what going to NCT has done for me! I now know all the technical terms – the three stages of labour, when, and more importantly how, to pant, and what the placenta should look like if I’m down that end on the day. Still, seems all this is good news, although I’m not sure W would have complained about the pain free birth thing if she had the chance.

November 2nd – changing minds

Don’t like Matthew any more. Went to friends and they put me off by spitting over me every time they tried to get their tongues around the name. I shouldn’t be swayed by them really – they were going to scar a child with the name Harvey. Lucky for them they had a girl or they could have spent months with psychiatrists.

November 4th – unpleasant facts

NCT class tonight. The usual bizarre collection of good advice and unpleasant warnings. Tonight for example we were made to peruse pictures of strangely shaped new-borns with all manner of disfigurements, rashes and deformities. I guess it beat the video of the placenta emerging from the woman, but I can’t help thinking some things should be left as a surprise. After 24hrs of labour I’m sure you wouldn’t really care if your baby had stork rash. More interesting was the relaxation techniques, although the teacher’s belief that we all spend our evenings massaging each other in scented oils is sadly misguided. Well it is from our perspective, I can’t guarantee what goes on behind the doors of some of those other middle class households. It was all one way traffic anyway, with the men massaging the women. What about our stress?

November 6th – the in-law name game challenge

W heads off to bed as darkness falls once again. The stairs appear to be becoming a bit of a struggle, but I guess when you’re carrying a small person inside your stomach you’re entitled to a moan or groan. Not that she’s done too much of that, although given we normally only have a two hour waking slot together during the day it’s hardly surprising. Even less so when you think we have to squeeze food, Eastenders and a brief work update into the two hours, plus a trip to the gym for me, food shopping and any other chores we’ve neglected over the preceding days.

Yesterday W made the big trip back home for her Mum’s birthday. No news from there, aside from family shock that I own eighteen work shirts (necessary given our washing and ironing turnaround time).

Oh and the names apparently didn’t win universal approval in the in-laws household. Paige was thought to be a boy’s name (which it’s not in case you’re wondering). I reckon we’re now down to Elena/Grace or Luke, which means it will probably be Daphne. No, be strong! Must remember to write myself a post-it not to succumb on the day. Perhaps I should pack that in my birthing bag, along with crossword book, novel, Mars bar and water. I wonder what W’s putting in hers….

The only concern we’ve got now is that the pram has yet to arrive. Dad did a sterling job of ringing all the shops in Kent to try and find an alternative shop to supply our much delayed purchase but to no avail. If baby S. arrives early W will just have to stay in hospital until the car seat arrives. Apparently it’s coming from Italy, so we could be waiting until Christmas…must be stylish though.

November 7th – raided funds lead to fatherhood stress

No real news. W raided my hospital car parking fund to pay for her lunch – little does she know the chaos she causes! I’ll have to save another four pound coins now to get that 24hr parking (hope the labour isn’t any not longer, I’ll be really buggered then). She put it down to hormonal effects, which pretty much explains all sorts of irrational behaviour at the moment.

November 11th – beginning of the end

Final NCT class – this was the nasty one about pain relief, cutting, tears and stitching. A really cheery thing to end on. W got busy organising her social life however, with plans to meet some of the girls for lunch and a fitting for a nursing bra. Thought about asking to come along, but then the idea of the bra fitting rather put me off. None of the other men seemed that interested anyway.

Overall quite impressed with NCT. Thought it was going to be crap, but instead found it quite interesting (possibly more for all the medical terminology being thrown around than for actual birth planning). Teacher wished us all luck, and it was with a slightly nervous gait (well slightly more rolling waddle from W’s perspective) that we made our way back to the car.

Noticed the difference with W being off work – still awake at gone 10pm, loads done around the house and an altogether more relaxed feeling about everything.

November 13th – the noisy nursery tour

Worked from home today so we could assess our first nursery for when W goes back to work afterwards. It seemed fine to me – lots of shouting, queuing and singing, and that was just the child minders. I wasn’t quite sure what I was supposed to be looking for. In fact I found it hard to distinguish some of the helpers from the kids, they were all so young.

I’m not sure whether it’s a good or a bad thing to leave a child in nursery for a long time. Maybe I will become a house-husband yet as apparently some children “just aren’t ready” for a nursery according to the manager. Certainly W seems pretty keen on getting back into work, so I need to sort myself out! She certainly knew all the questions to ask. It was quite cute seeing the diddy toilets – with my aim and a few lagers I’m sure I would turn one of their cubicles into a swimming pool.

W’s Mum and Dad are planning on coming down on Sunday to preview an empty nursery. Hope it meets with the professionals’ approval. Put a cuddly toy on display just in case.

November 17th – final countdown

What a weekend! My family came on Saturday for a walk in the park, to collect a computer and generally see the decorating we had done.

W’s foot is getting pretty swollen, but Dr In-law seemed to think it was nothing and that W was doing remarkably well. My sister was a bit concerned the walk might bring on labour – although with three people from the medical profession there I would have thought W would have been pleased!

W’s Mum, Dad and sister down on Sunday for a very similar day to the Saturday. However everyone had disappeared by the time I had to do some work for a big presentation on Tuesday.

November 18th – fatherhood begins, oh, and a baby is born

Was woken up at 6:05am by W, cup of tea in hand saying she thought “it” was starting. Apparently she had been having pains since 4am (which I had passed off as the weak bladder that had blighted my beauty sleep over the last few weeks). Anyway she left me with my tea and went to have a bath (good NCT technique apparently). Anyway, in her wisdom she sat on the toilet – with the lid down – so that when her waters broke ten minutes later they all went over the floor. At this point I did jump out of bed and start shouting “call the hospital, call the hospital, don’t panic!”, before heading to the bathroom to scrub the “waters” out of the carpet.

Anyway, W felt suitably relaxed enough to carry on with the bath, so I went downstairs to have my breakfast (after a shave and shower of course). At this point felt sufficiently confident to text message work saying I wouldn’t be in – a bit of waste of time doing the work on Sunday, but hey, more important things to worry about now.

Came back upstairs to find W calling the hospital. They told us she needed to go in to be given the once over, but would probably be sent home to wait after that. However we thought she ought to take her bag just in case, so between scrunches while the contractions (5 mins apart) kicked in, I packed it under her supervision. We took enough food, drink and reading material to last three weeks, clean nighties and all the good things the NCT told us to. Then it was into the bedroom to wire up the TENS machine onto her back (just as well I watched the video of what to do) and leave her playing with the settings while I went to get her some toast and more tea.

Next thing I know (7:50am) is that W is putting her coat on saying she needs to go to the hospital and can’t face breakfast. Quickly I threw all the bags in the car and sent a message to a friend telling him not to come and stay that evening as we would be otherwise engaged.

Drove at a reasonable speed to the hospital (although round here it’s hard to do otherwise) and managed to park in a good space. Put enough money in the machine to last 5hrs (wishful thinking) and headed up to the maternity ward. To start with we were put into a room with another couple. AsW doubled over in pain the other woman sat reading a book, which suggested she either had a high pain threshold or wasn’t quite “ready”.

Anyway, it wasn’t long until “the woman in labour” was transferred to the very labour room we had toured around a couple of weeks earlier. Once there we had Mary the midwife turn up ask some questions, during which time W had a couple of contractions. This spurred Mary on to do an “internal” examination instead. Off came trousers and knickers, a quick prod round and Mary pronounced W to be 3-4cm dilated and not going anywhere. I wondered whether I would get to read my book soon.

The next hour passed as a bit of a blur as the contractions started to get stronger and the TENS machine got more use. Mary eventually remembered to pull the curtains so that the builders on the scaffolding outside couldn’t watch, although I doubted it would be prime time viewing.

Eventually Mary (or Mary Margaret as she was called, after her grandmother Margaret Mary, which presented us with some interesting naming options thinking of our parents) got the gas and air out for some additional relief. To start with W claimed it wasn’t working, to which Mary told her to suck harder. It was only after I went blue trying she agreed the machine wasn’t actually working and went to get another. Just after she came back W decided to fill one of those cardboard hats with vomit, and I got the feeling I was in for a day of bodily fluids.

Still, apparently W was doing all the right things – swinging her hips in time with her body, although what tune she had in her head I have no idea.

10am and contractions were really kicking in now. It was at this point that I started to worry that my car would be clamped once the ticket ran out. Thinking it was a good idea to sort that out, I dashed out to the car to put more money in the machine. By the time I came back W was 8cm dilated and progressing ahead of NCT schedule. In true NCT style we try the leaning on the bed rocking the hips and I get to try my back massage technique, which surprisingly is pronounced to be beneficial. I noticed my hand getting sore but decide this isn’t the best time to mention it.

11am – W beginning to get a bit more stressed. The TENS machine is up on the high setting, the back massaging has stopped and things are beginning to sound painful.

12pm – W’s all fours position is pronounced to be affecting the baby (which the midwife insists on calling “he”, despite us saying we think she’s a she) so is rolled onto her back. Apparently her cervix hasn’t quite moved out the way, so she has to hold off on the pushing which she finds really difficult to do. It’s at this point she decides to suggest extra pain relief, not having any more children and wanting to go home. I tell her it’s almost all over and get told off by the midwife for making such a suggestion. Instead I tell her we’ll talk additional pain relief after the next four contractions. Luckily the gas and air make her lose count at two and we don’t have to cross that bridge.

Mary, being part-time and out of date, calls in the senior midwife for help. W’s legs go up in stirrups and when she gets cramp, two trainees are drafted in to massage her calves. Ami and Caren do a stirling job to ignore the vomit, and mess that’s emerging from W. I throw a cup of water onto the floor in my excitement. Caren seems to see this as a job for her and spends the next few minutes wiping the floor. Not sure how W’s calves survive this bit.

12:30pm – summoned from my position of safety by W’s head saying “deep breath, deep breath” to go and see a dark head becoming visible at the lower end. Don’t spend too much time there, there’s all sorts of strangely coloured goo emerging and I’m not sure I like it.

1pm – the midwives start to get excited, and even from my position of safety I start to see the top of a little head. In goes a midwife’s hand to sort out the umbilical cord around the neck.

1:15pm – Head still stuck and W has had enough. The midwife suggests an episiotomy as the baby can’t get out. W is disappointed as she’d hoped to avoid this, unsurprisingly as it involves someone cutting you open, only to stitch you up again an hour later. Anyway, the midwife picks up a pair of scissors, and stands ready. At the next contraction down go the scissors, snip, and the head starts to emerge. One more push and its like seeing a calf being born as this strangely coloured, goo covered creature emerges.

1:22pm Baby born. Little girl. Loads of hair. W is asked whether she wants to hold the baby, but decides she wants to have a slightly cleaner version. Seeing the position she’s in, legs in the air, blood everywhere, I’m inclined to agree.

1:24pm – The midwife offers me the chance to tidy up the belly button of our new baby with a pair of scissors, but I decline to cut the remaining bit of the cord (they had already cut the cord to W). I’m handed a vernix (looks like goose fat) covered baby in a yellow hospital blanket. Take her to show W who pronounces her gorgeous (and then later admits not having her glasses on which means I could have shown her a monkey and she would have said exactly the same).

Fatherhood starts,,, day 1 of the rest of my life
A baby is born and fatherhood begins

2pm – I’m still wandering around with a baby in my arms as Mary gets someone to come in and stitch W, as because she’s part time she doesn’t feel able to do it (all a bit worrying really). This takes ages during which time I stand and watch the blood pump on to the bed in a small stream from some cut or other. Hope my daughter isn’t traumatised by this. At least the goose fat is soaking into her skin, which suggests things may look better when I get my camera out. Walking around the room I stumble across the placenta which has been left in what looks like a pie dish near the bed. Can’t really make out the size as its in a pool of blood, but I walk away happy in the knowledge it will probably feature in a nightmare in the not too distant future.

Measurements have been taken – 7lb 1oz, and everything seems to be present and correct.

2:30pm – All finished, although W is still a bit of a mess and needs to go for a shower to get all the goo off. It’s a pity they don’t do the same for Baby – her hair is still matted with blood and all sorts of horrible items I just don’t care to think about.

3:30pm – Take the first photos of my little girl. W has a go at breast feeding and is actually successful first time. Obviously our daughter takes after her Dad on the eating stakes – get some food in quick before the headache kicks in. That said, given the shape of her head, I imagine she already has the headache and the food is for comfort.

5:30pm – Spend a couple of hours trying to settle on the name. It comes down to Abigail or Grace, and after much repeating and asking the nurses we settle on Grace. I like it anyway – hope she does in later years.

W is wheeled down to the ward as I carry our seven bags. For a minute it looks like we might get a private room, but end up in a ward with five other women all of whom have had c-sections. There is room for a cat either side of the bed, but we won’t be holding any swinging competitions.

Went back inside (after a toilet stop – no time before, impressed my bladder held really) and sat holding her for a few more minutes. A midwife came around to do the first nappy change and what a delight that was – black tar filled the whole bottom of the nappy. It was so sticky that the cotton wool buds stuck to the girl’s gloves and she spent ages doing it. Have I really got to do that several times a day? Apparently not as the black stuff disappears after a couple of days to be replaced by the more usual brown and green. Sounds great.

Decided to leave about 9pm – one because by this time I was starving, and secondly because W needed some sleep.

Came home and was on the phone to various people for a couple of hours before cutting myself a huge piece of cake, making a big cup of tea and just leaning back in the chair.

November 19th – post traumatic stress

Woke up after a dreadful night’s sleep full of flashbacks and disturbance. Sent an email to various people I hadn’t rung with the first photos of Grace – the wonders of modern technology!

Was going to go into town to get W an anniversary card for tomorrow, but got as far as the level crossing which was coming down. Not wanting to delay I did a swift u-turn and headed to the hospital to see my little girl.

When I got there the paediatrician was giving a lecture on winding, temperatures and how bendy a baby’s legs are. W had a dreadful night’s sleep. All the other women on the ward had had c-sections which meant they needed drugs throughout the night, and each time they needed to pick up their babies they had to ring for assistance. What’s more, the nurse handing out the drugs had left her torch shining into W’s face which was the last straw – 20 minutes with her glasses off wasn’t the sort of quality recovery time she was after. Consequently when the midwife came round she had made up her mind to come home, and operation homecoming had to swing into action.

Several of the midwives came to admire Grace’s hair – and one even asked if she could come and wash it when we were ready. When we were ready? I thought they should have done it yesterday.

W’s Mum and Dad were called. As we still hadn’t received the pram they had to bring a car seat down so we could bring her home. Luckily W’s Dad had thrown a sickie so he could spare the time, and even her sister took the afternoon off to bring them both.

The family left early enough, as sister in law said she knew what it was like when people outstayed their welcome straight after bringing the baby home.

However it was then that the fun really started.

10pm – W feeds baby and goes to bed.

10pm – 12pm – I walk around trying to calm baby down. She’s fed and watered, and has a clean nappy, what else can she want? Oh, and nappy changing – what a laugh that is. Not as smelly as I’d thought but trying to deal with a wriggling baby just is plain hard work. I think I need to get myself an extra arm from somewhere/

12:15am – Give up and go to get Mum to give her some food. Find out she’s starving.

1am – Finished feeding but now the nappy needs changing. Doesn’t settle at all in her Moses basket so end up hugging for some time.

4am – A couple of hold changeovers, more food and a nappy change. We’ve both seen every hour, if not every ten minutes since midnight. I’m already exhausted.

6am – An hour and half of sleep. Praise be! I believe! If every night turns out to be like this I shall no longer be able to speak. At least the dawn is coming, which is a blessing, as I’m sure Grace’s cries are not as loud in daylight.

9am – Struggled out of bed. How glad were we that no visitors were planned for today. Tried to “top and tail” Grace but she ended up with no more than a quick wipe of the face. I’m sure everything will sort itself out over time.

22nd November – it’s all over

Well, things should be a little more organised by now, but I’m not so sure. Can’t quite believe we’ve already had three nights without any sleep, but it’s true.

Wednesday was a bit of a saviour day. We basically slept when we could and got ourselves organised so that at least nappy changing wouldn’t be such a big ordeal. We did try and wash her but ended up wetting her slightly with cotton wool buds and she fought tooth and nail (well nail anyway as she has no teeth) to stop us from giving her a proper clean. We have yet to pluck up the courage to bath her. When the midwife called round she told us to only do it a couple of times a week to start with – major relief as it meant we could leave it until the weekend when we felt we could at least hold her properly. We also still haven’t managed to work out when she’s hot/cold/tired/awake. All I know is that when she tries to suck on my chest (which I realise isn’t as toned as it could be – how she found a mouthful I just don’t know) it’s probably time to pass her to Mum.

Thursday was my family day, and sure enough they arrived on time to coo and crow over the new arrival. Of course, she was peaceful and quiet all the time they were here, which basically stored up some aggression for the night. Another milestone also passed for me as I wandered around Boots looking for disposable knickers, maternity pads and breast cream. At least an understanding assistant was on hand to help me, as I played the helpless new father card. That said, it’s still not the same as buying books, computer games or electronic gadgets.

Last night saw me watching some crappy late night tv until 2:30am, when I took her upstairs for a feed. W then fed her, and handed her back to me for calming. When that failed she went back to W who then looked after her in the early hours while I slept in. How I’ll cope when I get back to work next week remains to be seen, but at the moment almost all our waking hours involve looking after Grace, as she snatches fitful sleeps.

The midwife came round for a few minutes today and cheered us up by telling us Grace had jaundice. Her advice was to keep her in front of the window, but I’m not 100% convinced that is quality advice. W’s foot is also still pretty swollen, which the now Dr In-law thinks could be a cause for concern, but I think is partly because we have yet to move more then ten yards with baby. Then again, given we don’t have a pram or carry cot or car seat we couldn’t really go that far anyway. Oh the joys of fatherhood…

Other birth stories exist… see here for some on other sites.

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