FLASH! Ah-ah, he’ll save every one of us! Or how my child ruined all music for me, except Queen

One of the most unexpectedly upsetting consequences of having a baby is that I can no longer listen to music without bursting into tears. I was relieved to find Stuart Heritage documenting the phenomenon in The Guardian, otherwise I’d have to assume it was just me (again) being mad (again). Certainly, parents I know in real life are always telling me how their baby loves The White Stripes or Kraftwerk or whatever, so I suppose it doesn’t happen to everyone.

But yeah. Ballads, obviously, but even stuff like Shake It Off and All The Single Ladies and literally every song ever included in a Disney movie. Worse, Ben Folds Five makes me cry AND vomit due to a strange Pavlovian commuting/morning sickness scenario. Awful.

So I was sadly resigned to a music-free existence until Chris started playing those cute Rockabye albums on Spotify and suddenly I found that QUEEN was fine – hardly any tears. HOORAY! Thank you Freddie and Brian and the other two! Ooh, you make me live! Etc!

I don’t know why Queen doesn’t make me cry (much). I learned all the words as a weird 90s teenager, so maybe they’ve lost all power. Maybe the mental image of Freddie Mercury doing the Hoovering in a wig is enough to short-circuit my brain. Maybe the alternating of poignant stuff with Fat Bottomed Girls and Flash is emotionally confusing. But I don’t care!

Here’s a guide to the best Queen tunes for fragile parents and the ones you shouldn’t listen to unless your contact lens is stuck on your eyeball.

5 Queen tunes you can (probably) listen to in public (Spotify)

Under Pressure

I listen to this when I’m having a bad day because I like how matter-of-factly David Bowie observes ‘This is ourselves… undah presh-ah.’ Yes, it is, David, and we are all handling it very well. Let’s have a coffee and five KitKats. BONUS: If you feel emotional, you can think of Vanilla Ice.

Somebody To Love

Somebody to love – she’s right there! On the changing table, weeing all over my jeans and trying to shove cotton wool down her gullet! Useful if you’re momentarily wondering why you had children, or if you ‘Take a look at yourself in the mirror/And cry’ most weekday evenings.

You’re My Best Friend

Okay, this one is borderline. Maybe listen to this when you’re safely on a train and can discreetly wipe away mascara rather than, say, in the Post Office queue or buying your husband’s martini vodka in a Tesco Extra close to your former workplace.

Barcelona

BARCELONA! What were you doing in 1992? I was enjoying a lovely Highland summer – Eldorado, culottes and this song at the start of every Olympic broadcast. Ahh, happy days. LIKE A JEWEL IN THE SUN! Etc. Will make you wonder if it’s too late to get into opera.

NOTE: Pedants may point out that this is a Freddie song rather than a Queen song. To those people I would say you care less about these things when you have an unknown number of stitches in your hoo-ha.

Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy

Yes there is a bit of a rent boy vibe, but you can still sing along and enjoy the innocent pleasure of daydreaming about a glamorous, diaper-free evening out. ‘You pay the bill/I’ll taste the wine’ indeed.

And three you really mustn’t listen to until your child is at least five (Spotify)

Play The Game

Excuse me madam, may I clutch you and weep uncontrollably while we wait for the bus? No? Okay.

These Are The Days of Our Lives

Did you know that the final lines of the video were Freddie Mercury’s last spoken words on camera? Are you going to cry now too? Are you? Did you know he’s wearing his favourite waistcoat with cats on it especially? Oh god stop, I’m sorry.

Save Me

Save me/I’m naked and I’m far from home/Each night I cry…You know this is the camp pop rock anthem of newborns everywhere. I’ll save you, baby! Sob.

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Six months! And six things that aren’t as bad as I thought they’d be

Changing nappies

A dirty nappy is my favourite thing in the day. There’s no second-guessing or Googling or disagreeing or wondering if you’re doing the right thing. It’s simple – get the nappy off, clean the bum, put a new nappy on. Ahhh, relaxing poo pants.

Birth

Of course, this is different for everyone – and indeed the woman in the room next to mine spent at least an hour screaming bloody murder – but my expectations of birth were low and I was pleasantly surprised. I slept through much of it thanks to drugs*, then when we couldn’t turn the baby from her weird shoulder-first position, they took me into theatre and hauled her out with forceps; I felt nothing. 

Sometimes, when I’m unshowered and lugging my wailing 20lb puke factory around, I remember the lovely feeling of being wheeled into theatre in a sterile nightgown, being lifted by lots of gentle hands and then catheterised so I didn’t even have to wee. Happy days.

*Seriously, get the drugs.

Formula feeding**

When you go to a breastfeeding class, they like to extol the benefits of breastfeeding (fair enough) and make bottle feeding sound like a mug’s game. 

‘All that fuss with bottles and sterilising!’ we all murmured, ‘And measuring out formula in the middle of the night – who could be bothered?’ 

So, with this in mind and because of the magical-unicorn-tears benefits of breastmilk, I worked hard at breastfeeding, even when it hospitalised us twice and I was getting up three times a night to pump milk while the baby slept through.

The week I switched to exclusive formula I realised everything was actually EASY. The baby did not get an ear infection and her bowels did not explode. Sterilising was just putting stuff in a box. If she needed feeding in the middle of the night (she never did), I could just bust out a pre-mixed carton like a spoiled middle class princess. EASY. 

As an added bonus, it’s forced us to find solutions other than ‘Boob?’ to every little fuss she makes.

Also, underwire bras! And beer! And Nurofen! And going out ALL DAY!

Don’t be afraid of formula. It’s science’s gift to your sanity. And your nipples.

** I’ve already had messages from breastfeeding mums explaining that breastfeeding is more convenient than bottlefeeding which YES OF COURSE IT IS. I was just trying to explain that formula feeding isn’t the clusterfuck it’s made out to be. Okay! Let’s move on.

Crying

We’re very lucky not to have a colicky screamer, and frankly if we did I might be typing this from a silent mountaintop retreat in Nepal, but even when Ada does have bad days and nights, I find them easier to cope with than I expected. 

I can usually figure out what’s wrong from the sound of her cry, then it’s just a case of Calpol-ing if needed and hugging it out. Hug and hug and rock and rock. It’s a privilege to rock another person to sleep, and to know that all they want is your arms. I’d hug those chubby chops forever! Unless I want a beer or Nurofen.

Other mothers

I was dreading the constant stream of unsolicited advice from random people or distant acquaintances, but generally I’ve found that I can shrug off the stuff that’s annoying.

Why don’t we just leave her to cry? Because boffins now tell us it’s healthier to comfort her. Also I don’t want to.

Why doesn’t she nap for longer? I don’t know, she just doesn’t.

Can’t you just leave her alone and get on with your chores? Yes, for the fifteen seconds it takes for her to vomit, poke herself in the eye, or get a toy stuck in her mouth. Have you ever MET a baby?

Won’t she sleep for longer in the car? No.

Won’t she sleep for longer in the pram? No. Nor in the sling nor in my arms nor on the roof nor on a Spam, Sam-I-Am. Mmmkay?

Shake it off, parents!

Mummy-Daddy hand off

‘Daddy will be able to help,’ warned one of my friends, ‘But mostly only Mummy will do.’ Which filled me with responsibility and dread.

But, for now, Ada seems to have no preference whatsoever for which one of us looks after her – I’m not sure if she even thinks of us as different people. Part of this is definitely because we share bottle feeding, and maybe part of it is because during those early rocky hospitalisations she was often cared for by Chris, but I don’t really mind why it’s happened. 

I’ve been back to work for a day and out for a couple of dinners knowing that she’s fine and doesn’t even seem to know I’m gone. When I come back, you can see the surprise in her face – ‘Oh, it’s HER!’ 

I’m only ever slightly offended.

And six things that’ve been worse than I expected…

Daytime sleep

All the books told me she’d sleep for a couple of hours during the day. All the books lied.

Vaccinations

I see now why crackpots found an excuse to avoid them – it’d certainly be easier than watching a bored nurse stick your innocent, trusting child with needle after needle. 😢

Feeding strike

No mother, I don’t want any milk right now. Or ever.

Going anywhere

Baby’s awake! Feed, change, wrestle into coat, wrestle into car seat, drive to a place, find a parking space, get out of car, set up pram STOP! TIME UP GO HOME FOR NEXT NAP NO SHE WON’T SLEEP IN THE CAR SMARTARSE OR SHE MIGHT BUT THEN WAKE UP AND SCREAM WHEN THE CAR STOPS ARGH

Staying in is always the more appealing option. Difficult difficult lemon difficult.

Mental health

If you’re baffled when other mums use words like ‘joy’ and ‘thrilled’ and ‘I showered today’

And walk with crazy eye and clenched fist

If neither foes nor loving friends can make you sit down to eat

If you can fill the unforgiving minute

With sixty seconds’ worth of KitKats, weeping

Then you may have a postnatal illness, and you should see your doctor before you go completely bananas, my friend.

(If anyone else is struggling and would like to know more about the treatment for postnatal anxiety, DM or email and I’ll weird you right out! Xxx)

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Writing: It’s not big or clever

(I found this in my drafts folder from 2013 – it’s surprisingly forthright for someone who has no actual relevant qualifications, but I still stand by most of it, so here you go…)

I’m not a particularly good writer, but for the last seven years I’ve paid every one of my bills with money earned by writing things down or by editing words written down by other people. So here are the only pieces of advice I have about writing things down for money:

Don’t turn it into a weird stationery fetish

No, you don’t need that particular pen. Or a Moleskine notebook. You don’t need to sit in a café for hours or have a special hipster desk from a vintage market. Just sit down at your computer, get it written and email it to your editor. Done. Now have a cake. Do you like it when I’m strict? Do you? Yeah.

Don’t be a snob

I’ve written lots of interesting features that required in-depth research and thrilling interviews. I’ve also written articles on craft glue and glitter management. It really doesn’t matter if I’m stimulated by the subject; my job is to make the reader interested. If you get the chance, take commissions that are outside your comfort zone or that just bore the pants off you. They’ll make you a smarter writer, and you’ll be able to buy another one of those goddamn fancy notebooks you love so much. Win-win!

Don’t let them see you writing

Make it look easy, even if it’s not! Use words that everyone knows, or can at least understand in context! For God’s sake don’t make your reader picture you sitting at your desk tapping out every overwrought sentence; it breaks the spell. 

Anyone with half a brain can sit for hours and turn out a flowery, introspective description of a crisp autumn morning – that’s easy. But if you can write something bright and light and readable about, say, optical drives or the advantages of different cast-on techniques? That, my friend, is a marketable skill.

Find your own voice

I write like a complete moron, but that is, apparently, my thing. When I wrote a tech column, it always went down better when I did minimal research and wrote off the top of my head. I can’t honestly recommend this technique, but you might find you have a knack for turning out copy on something odd or unexpected.

I once saw a documentary about David Shrigley, who creates hilarious naive stick drawings and odd sculptures – he’s a celebrated artist despite doing poorly at art school. In the doc, he said, ‘I suddenly realised that my shit drawings were better than my good drawings.’ I always think of that when I’m writing now. Attempting ‘good’ writing always looks try-hard. Go with your shit, half-arsed writing and it’ll often surprise you. You’ve got a great voice in your head already – let’s hear it, lady! Or gentleman!

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GIFs that run through my head all day long since I had a baby

Removing the sleeping baby’s pacifier

indy

After 12 hours of wrangling her by myself

penny

When she poos at any point in the day…

snow white

…except bedtime

sam

When I get her to fall asleep

ben

When anyone else gets her to fall asleep

hobbits

When I go out on my own

hills

When I get back home

hero6

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The imagined summaries of films I’ve missed at the cinema

I love the cinema but now have one loud, squirmy reason not to go any more. (The idea of those Big Scream screenings for baby parents are odd – does anyone really have a baby that’ll sit on their lap in a cinema for two hours? Mine would be chewing the seats and yelling to be put down on the sticky floor within five seconds.)

These are the films I’d probably have gone to see if I hadn’t procreated, plus how I imagine the experience would’ve been…

August 

Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation

Tom Cruise is BACK as Ethan Hunt, in a film that is essentially a series of elaborate stunts strung together with drone footage of fancy cars screaming round mountains and braless women in improbable frocks. Everyone wears sunglasses and looks serious, except Simon Pegg, who wears sunglasses and looks like he’s been cast in a feature-length reboot of the Del Monte adverts. I love Simon Pegg and would totally watch that.

September

Inside Out

Inside Out happy meals! Inside Out cornflakes! Inside Out broadband adverts! You’ve been bombarded with the commercial tie-ins, now see the movie! Adorable characters with voices you can’t quite place have an adventure that you expect to be lighthearted but actually makes you question the very nature of your existence, like Toy Story 3. Too upsetting for the recently-pregnant.

October

The Martian

Matt Damon needs rescuing again. Will he be saved? Almost certainly! Now sit back and stick it to The Man by enjoying Flumps, the most lightweight and therefore budget-friendly Pic ‘n’ Mix item.

November 

Spectre

Big chase on some unexpected form of transport, like a hovercraft or self-driving car or pogo stick. Gunfire. Explosion. Fade to… amazing title sequence, these days sadly nipple-free. Meeting in a dark room. Expensive watch. Perfunctory sex encounter. Brandscaping. Bad guy is more likeable than Bond but terrifying in some spooky unexpected way. Funny bit with Q. Bond gets kidnapped! But he escapes. Unexpected twist ending. Aerial shot of a European city. Bosh.

December

The Force Awakens

Han, Chewy, Leia, hairdresser, pedal bin; the gang’s all here, plus some other people you might care about later. Deeply glossy and lovely, although it’ll be hard to tell through your tears of nerdy joy. 

January 

In The Heart of the Sea

Do you like whales and hate boats? Then have I got the film for you! Possible game spinoff – Angry Whales.

Have you seen any of these movies? Or perhaps you’ve just imagined them? Let me know what you thought…

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Bleak midwinter Hugh Jackmanathon

December can, frankly, suck it. All three of us got sick, which for me was just another illness in a year of physical catastrophes, then Christmas was spent wrangling the baby in the usual manner, only slightly more pissed (us) and earachey (her). We couldn’t even be bothered with a turkey and had a – to be fair, magnificent – beef stroganoff. 

The only way I’ve been able to deal with the mucussy, knackered, drizzly slog of it all has been to watch Hugh Jackman films on my iPhone by the crib. Luckily, this is an excellent way to deal with any of life’s crappier episodes.

Film: Australia

Plot: Nicole Kidman is an uptight Englishwoman! Hugh is a burly Aussie cattle drover! Join them and a cast of thousands (of cows) as they embark on a romantic adventure through the 1940s outback! Also, become an armchair ‘expert’ on Aboriginal culture for the next week. Excellent.

Jackmanosity: Horse riding + Fighting + Gratuitous shirtlessness + Rare outing for native accent = PEAK JACKMAN. 10/10.

Cringe moment: Every Hugh movie has him doing or saying something that is slightly beneath his dignity, and this is no exception. Within the first fifteen minutes he’s proffering a pair of silky bloomers and saying ‘Welcome to Australia’. Poor Hugh.

Feelgood factor: HIGH. It’s like three films in one, and they all star Hugh Jackman and a herd of cattle. I’m not really sure what else you could possibly want.

Film: Les Miserables

Plot: Hugh plays Jean Valjean, a petty criminal now reformed but still pursued by Russell Crowe, the anti-Hugh. Valjean’s sister’s child was close to death, and they were starving – he will starve again! Unless he learns the meaning of the law. He knows the meaning of those nineteen years, a slave of the laaaaawwwww. *brassy parp* Look, it’s complicated, okay?

Jackmanosity: Lots of singing but almost no shirtlessness AND only gets soaked to the skin once. 5/10.

Cringe moment: If you don’t like musicals, the whole thing. Thankfully I love them like cake.

Feelgood factor: LOW. I mean, I guess it makes you feel good about not living in revolutionary France and/or having to sell your own teeth to a crone.

Film: X-Men. All the X-Mens.

Plot: Hugh is WOLVERINE, terrifying man-beast of adamantium and rage and hair. That’s really all you need to know. It’s great.

Jackmanosity: Almost always shirtless and angry. Smokes cigars. Rides a motorcycle. Is at one point a lumberjack. 10/10.

Cringe moment: Most of the script. ‘What do you teach?’ ‘Art.’ I still don’t really get that one. All made up for by a two-word cameo in X-Men: First Class.

Feelgood factor: HIGH. They are mutants, by crivvens, led by Jean-Luc Picard. Honestly, just watch them all right now.

These are all the Hugh Jackman films I’ve managed so far, but there are still plenty to enjoy; I shall update you on my progress. One note for anyone attempting a Hugh Jackmanathon in Bad Times – don’t watch The Prestige, it’s very depressing and has ridiculously low Jackmanosity. 😢

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Baby’s First Cold! A Christmas survival guide

Ada’s first cold has been genuinely harrowing to watch at times, I honestly had no idea how awful it is for babies – they can’t easily breathe through their mouths, they can’t blow their noses, they’re stuck on their backs and there’s not a damn thing you can give them. Here’s how we’re getting through it.

See a doctor as often as you need to

It’s not your job to diagnose your baby’s illness; even attempting it will turn you into a gibbering mess of worst-case scenarios. All you can do is gather info to relay down the phone to the nice 111 man; I even put Ada on the phone to him at one point so he could listen to her death rattle. I imagine that’ll come up at the 111 Christmas party.

Revert to newborn mode as required

Babies with bad colds need lots of supervision to make sure they don’t drown on their own snot, and often need to nap propped up in your arms*. But you’ve trained for this, soldier, back at newborn bootcamp! Abandon your sleep training and dinner plans and revert to survival mode – sleep in shifts, double-team the medicine administration and eat your feelings. I found it oddly nostalgic.

Buy all the things

Calpol! Nurofen! Saline drops! Vapour oil! Snot sucker! More Calpol! A massive cake! Hardly any of these products make a difference, but do give you something to do other than cry and ask the 111 man for his home number.

Let her do fun activities

Much as I want to zip her into a darkened oxygen tent for the rest of her childhood, Ada is happiest doing her familiar baby fun things. We’ve kept giving her a daily bath and a walk outside, and both have helped cheer her up a bit.

Get on social media

Now is not the time to be too cool for Twitter or Facebook – get on there and ask for advice, moan into the void, or just chat to friends who aren’t living in a vortex of mucus. This thread made me laugh so hard I cried.

Try to take some useful knowledge away from the experience

I’ve learned:

  • Saline drops are awful but effective
  • Ada’s pain cry actually goes ‘OW!’
  • Doctors won’t tell you off for coming in at 5pm on a Friday with a wheezing baby, even if they’ve got their coats on to go home.
  • Parents of children with actual serious illnesses are GODDAMN HEROES, I salute you all. 

*The enormous cotbed is currently propped up enough that she shimmies down it in the night. I found her this morning grabbing at rattles and muslins and trying on my glasses, usually well out of reach at the foot of the bed.

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