Friday 27 May 2011

Auntie gobby.

You know that feeling when, very occasionally, you meet someone so brilliant that you’d do almost anything to be their friend, but hold back for fear of coming across all overenthusiastic and stalkery? Well I expect that, if we weren’t already related, that’s how I’d feel about my brother.

I use that analogy as, quite genuinely, my appraisal of his brilliance isn’t seen through sister-tinted shades. That first paragraph just there? You’d write it too, for Jamie is simply one of those all-round Good Blokes that everybody likes. Of course, the law of averages states that there must be someone, somewhere who isn’t a fan of our kid. But my own law of averages can only surmise that that person must be a complete arse.

It makes me happy for more reasons than just the long-awaited piece of good news it’s granted our family, then, to tell you that Jamie and his wife Leanne are expecting a baby. (Even more of an incredible feat when you consider that, in my head, he’s still 12.)

Under normal circumstances, this would already be spectacular stuff. But, when you consider the number of less-than-celebratory revelations the Mac/Lynch family has had to contend with, it’s the Best News In The History Of The Known World. So, quite aside from mine and P’s unending joy at becoming auntie and uncle, consider how wonderful this must be for Jamie and Leanne, celebrating not just an amazing new life, but amazing new lives: for them; for the grandparents-to-be; for all of us. And, given my brother-loving opening paragraph, the fact that Leanne is so head-spinningly sweet that even this overprotective sister can’t help but call her ‘sis’, and mine and P’s closeness with the two of them, we’re fortunate to feel as much a part of their pregnancy as it’s possible to be.

It’s with significant prior discussion between Jamie, Leanne, P and myself, then, that this post is being written. For there are a few things we’d collectively like to say, and given that I’m a) the gobby one, b) the one with arguably the biggest bee in her bonnet, and c) the one with a suitable platform, I’ve taken it upon myself to deliver the message. Not that this is exactly a message as such – more, I suppose, an opportunity to address the elephant standing between us. That bright pink one just there, to your left. The one that looks like this:

Jamie and/or Leanne, to anyone: ‘So, we’ve got some great news… we’re having a baby!’
Anyone: ‘Oh my god, that’s wonderful! Congratulations!’
Jamie and/or Leanne: ‘Thanks! It’s due in November. We’re really pleased.’
Anyone: ‘Great stuff.’ [tilts head] ‘And how are Lisa and P doing with it?’


There are so many places I – no, we – want to go with this, that I’m not sure where to begin. So forgive me if the following is incohesive or ranting or uncontrolled, or even a bit cross.

I’ll ease us all in, then, with our first point: shouldn’t the second statement upon hearing about a person’s long-awaited, well-deserved pregnancy be something along the lines of ‘how are you feeling’, ‘when’s your due date’, or ‘how soon will you be buying it a Derby County season ticket’? Not ‘well that’s nice and all, but how are you dealing with The Infertile Ones?’

Quite aside from the natural/paranoid/unreasonable (delete as you see fit) anger that this stirs in mine and P’s bellies (how do you think we’re doing with it: sprawling ourselves across supermarket floors in front of Bugaboos, wailing out histrionic tantrums while beating our fists on the floor?), there’s the ten-times-larger infuriation of the rain it pours on Jamie and Leanne’s parade. Haven’t they had enough of that already, with the top-trumping of my cancer over their wedding?

‘So what do you say?’ I ask of Jamie and/or Leanne.
‘I tell them that you’re chuffed to bits; that you’re more excited than anyone,’ they say.
‘Good,’ I say.
‘But people seem a bit surprised; like they need to be convinced,’ they say.


I should state that it’s absolutely not my – our – intention to bawl anyone out here. We’re well aware that any concern – whether head-tiltingly expressed or awkwardly avoided – comes from a good and genuine place; one that cares about the feelings of everyone involved. And that’s lovely.

So forgive me, then, for assuming that we’d covered this already; that we’d all made our peace with The Situation. A Situation that would never have been granted title case, had it not been for the realisation that everyone else appears to be much more concerned about The Situation than we are. And if you are, that’s fine! Just do me a lemon, eh, and talk to me or P about it; not Jamie and Leanne. It’s not that they’re not well placed to answer on our behalves – heck, when it comes to each other, we’re verging on the telepathic – just that they shouldn’t be having to.

The situation as it appears to P and I is that too many people seem to be going out of their way not to talk to us about Baby Mac – even those who should be talking about it more than anyone. I mean, we want to talk about it. Why wouldn’t we? This is the biggest thing to happen to us since… hell, ever. Please! Allow us to be excited!

The issue, according to P, is a ‘fundamental misunderstanding of the situation’. But, in fairness, this isn’t the easiest state of affairs to get your head around. So allow me to talk it out, once and for all.

Yes, P and I began trying to get pregnant the moment we got married. We even managed it a couple of times, only to miscarry at or before 10 weeks. And yes, that was terribly sad. Though never especially broody or hormonally yearning for kids, we were simply so in love with each other that the thought of creating something that was part P, part me was really pretty wonderful. But then another curveball came; a curveball that I’ve recounted in such detail on this blog that we needn’t go into it again, only to say that my tumour was hormone-exacerbated; that the cancer was too advanced to give us a window in which to freeze eggs; that the ferocity of my chemotherapy later began to push me into menopause; and that, when we later discovered a faulty gene that put my chance of a serious recurrence at upwards of 80%, we chose to switch off the dripping tap that was my fertility by opting for the potentially life-saving surgical procedure of a salping-oophorectomy: the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes.

I’d like to highlight the word ‘chose’ there, lest anyone forget that definitive infertility (though, admittedly, already pushed a fair way along the plank) was our decision. I know plenty of people have chosen a different path, and good luck to them, but for me and P, as was the case even while trying for a child of our own, nothing will ever be more important than – or worth risking the safety of – us. Simple as that.

I appreciate – actually, I probably don’t fully appreciate – how difficult that must have been to swallow for those around us: the parents who wouldn’t become grandparents; the friends whose kids would have played with ours; anyone who simply wanted something wonderful to happen to us. And, to those people, I am so sorry. At crunch-time, we simply couldn’t factor in anyone’s feelings but our own.

Having learned that it’s a dangerous precedent to set, I’m not saying with 100% certainty that we will never bring up children of our ‘own’. I’m just saying that, right now, our ‘might have kids’ is akin to our ‘might get a mohawk’. Because – and perhaps I haven’t made this clear enough – P and I aren’t just perfectly at peace with our decision, but actively planning and discussing and dreaming about and living a wonderful life.

I’d be duping everyone involved by denying that there was – is? – a sadness to the choice that we were rather strongarmed into making. But our biggest worries, to be completely honest with you, are about who the task of putting us in a nursing home will fall to; being unable to make people happy by announcing baby news; whether the distance between us and our child-raising friends will continue to widen; whether my parents will feel they have to act differently with me and P than they do with Jamie and Leanne; and, now, whether folk will look from Jamie and Leanne’s baby to us, and tilt their heads in a pity that’s an utter waste of their energy. But none of those things are reason enough to have children. Hence, our sadness is simply a case of having led such lovely lives that we’d wanted to gift someone with exactly what we’ve had. But actually, when we’re not worrying about what everyone else makes of our decision, we’re having bloody lovely lives of our own, thank you very much. Different lives, yes. But none less lovely than the ones we’ve cherished.

Which is why it’d be a genuinely sad state of affairs if people could only celebrate the exciting arrival of a new family member when we're not around. Because, believe me, I am buggered if I’m going to remove myself from this situation just to make people feel more comfortable. I do not want this to ruin Jamie and Leanne’s enjoyment of imminent parenthood. And I don’t want it to ruin mine and P’s enjoyment of imminent auntie-and-uncle-hood, either.

So, please. Don’t be sad that this is something we’re never going to experience. (Be envious of all the other things we’ll experience!) Don’t feel that you need to check in with Jamie and Leanne about how we might be feeling. Don’t assume that you can’t be open with us about this stuff if you want to be (jeez, we’ve been open about everything else in our lives, haven’t we – why the difference with this?). Don’t avoid talking to us about something we’re so thrilled by. And don’t look on us in pity. It’s really not necessary.

I’ve said before that, through all the Bullshit bullshit, Jamie was the only person who consistently played it right – never shy, never pitying, never anything different to the straight-talking, considerate, piss-taking way he’d always been with me. And, yet again – in a situation so polar opposed to the aforementioned that it’s ludicrous that anyone should even be considering how to act – he’s playing it right. So if you need an example to follow, here’s my advice: do as Jamie and Leanne’s unborn child is going to do, and look to my brother for your role model. Because, as any right-thinking person should know, there ain’t nobody better for the job.

Wednesday 18 May 2011

Leaving Las Vegas.

I think I ought to preface this post with a few home truths about myself. See, despite the general breeziness and smile-plastered face (both of which I assure you are genuine), I suspect the yin to my cheery yang is something of a miserable bastard.

I’m not good in crowds, for example, and cannot abide loud people. In fact, I’m generally not a huge fan of the general public. I loathe new year’s eve. I’m uneasy when meeting new folk. I’m an anxious socialiser. Any supposed writing eloquence is completely at odds with my articulacy in person. I’m useless at small talk. I hate going shopping. I’m tetchy about personal space. I have a low tolerance for the high-opinionated. I’m famously impatient with drunk people. And, when surrounded by a bunch of jovial folk I don’t know, I regularly convince myself that each of them is laughing at me. And yet I took into account none of these things when booking a holiday in Las Vegas.

Vegas was to be the second stop on mine and P’s driving tour of southern California and Nevada; three days of craziness sandwiched between a long-overdue catch-up with our friend Ant in Los Angeles, some sunbathing beside old couples in Palm Springs, a spot of sightseeing in San Diego, and all kinds of four-wheel-drive fun in between (all of which, by the way, was completely brilliant). And, as the insanely neon-tinged Vegas photos currently uploading from our camera demonstrate, that’s exactly what we got. Craziness? Check. 10/10. Gold star. Smiley face. 50 house points. No problem. You got it. Would you like a side of fries with that? And perhaps I can assist you with a restaurant reservation or some theatre tickets?

Pre-trip, the cheery angel on my left shoulder would respond to people’s ‘ohmanyou’regoingtohavesuchanamazingtime!’ enthusiasm with a gracious ‘well, I certainly intend to’ (disguising the ‘oh fuck I’ve made a terrible mistake’ from my right-shouldered devil). But, in fact, everybody was spot on. Las Vegas was amazing. It’s entertaining; it’s frenetic; it’s hilarious. And, when you’ve got a beer inside you, it’s all that and twenty times more. It’s one of the most incredible places in the world. But not in a way that’s easy to explain when you get back.

Allow me to present a few examples.

Las Vegas offers the world’s most gloriously unrivalled people-watching. Much of which includes observing middle-aged tossers hitting on girls young enough to call them Grandpa.

Practically everywhere you turn, there’s a deliriously happy couple who’ve just got married… but always within fifty yards of another couple tearing strips off each other in the street.

You could catch a show by Elton John, Madonna, Andrea Bocelli… or Matt Goss.

It’s a city that can, in the space of 24 hours, make your self-esteem soar (ie, following the comment: ‘So, uh, what’s the royal family’s surname? Like, what does it say on the Queen’s credit card?’), or completely plummet (ie, when looking up from your bust-flattering M&S swimsuit to find the pool-edge being catwalked by a Playboy bunny with ‘Candie’ embroidered in sequins into her gold bikini).

If you’re jammy enough, you’ll get to see an amazing, once-in-a-lifetime event – in our case, the Pacquiao v Mosley fight – after which you’ll find yourself in a testosterone-soaked crush for the exit in which a fiftysomething married man will choose to broadcast his (presumably fictional) account with a ‘29-year-old chick who really knows how to suck a sausage’ (prompting you to look him in the eye and say ‘you, sir, are a wanker’).

It’s the perfect place from which to take a helicopter ride over – and indeed into – the Grand Canyon. Provided, of course, you’re happy doing so to the soundtrack of Katy Perry’s Firework being fed through your headphones.

See, having been to Sin City, one of the first questions you’re likely to field upon arriving home is: ‘So, Vegas… Did you love it?’ To which my answer must be: ‘God, no. What do you think I am? A lunatic?’ But of course nobody wants to hear that. Nor do they want to hear the probably more truthful response of: ‘Well, on one hand I enjoyed it more than anywhere I’ve ever been. And on the other I hated it like an eternity in hell with the Black Eyed Peas’. Which gives you a flavour of my conundrum.

It’s something I asked P on our last night there. ‘Well, babe, we’ve had a bloody good laugh,’ he said, diplomatically. ‘But if you don’t get me the hell out of this place soon, I’m going to kill someone.’
‘Exactly! Spot on,’ I concurred. ‘But how are we going to sell it?’
‘Sell it?’
‘You know, when we get home. Every holiday needs a PR job.’
‘What on earth are you talking about?’
‘Well, people only take the headlines, don’t they? So if you tell anyone what you just told me, they might think that we had a shit time.’
‘Is this really the kind of stuff that goes through your mind?’
‘Uh, yeah,’ I admitted, meekly. ‘Why, does it not go through yours?’

In addition to my list of home truths, then, I perhaps ought to add that I’m perpetually preoccupied with my own PR. Hence, in keeping with my aforementioned yin personality, I always want to be able to appraise any kind of major experience (be it holiday, party or whatever else) with resounding positivity; the kind of breezy, cheery thumbs-up that won’t paint me as an ungrateful git. My issue, therefore, is that Vegas panders to my yang-like miserable bastard every bit as much as its counterpart happy chappy.

As those of you who’ve been there will undoubtedly attest, the usual post-holiday ‘yeah, it was lovely thanks’ doesn’t just not quite cut it, but actually feels like a bit of a fib. Because how do you sum up somewhere that’s both utterly amazing and completely awful? Hence using this post as a means of finally figuring out my answer.

So, Vegas… Did I love it?
Well, let’s put it this way. For me, Las Vegas was a lot like being 17. By ’eck, I had a good time. But there’s no sodding way I’d go back.