Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Out of the office


The blog has been neglected the past weeks because I have a new project (i.e fatherhood): http://www.thecrevette.blogspot.com

The birth of my new son has led to a new blog that hopefully will not embarrass my son too much once he is at high school (assuming that blogs still exist in 11 years time). 


Paternal self-portrait

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Yangon Days - Home Brew

One of my greatest personal discoveries of 2011 was rhum arrange. Whilst on holiday in Madagascar, at the end of dinner we would often be offered a complementary digestif of a sweetened, cloudy, rum which had been flavoured by whichever fruit or spice had been left to rot in the bottle.

My wife was amused by my enthusiasm. Apparently, everyone knows about rhum arrange in France and they are totally over it. I instead embarked on a personal mission to sample as many flavours as possible in the space of two weeks and succeeded in covering basic flavours (pineapple, banana) to the more complex (carambar, star anise). 

If only I'd  caught that snake the other week...

It looked easy enough to replicate: put some fruit and sugar in a bottle of rum. Put the lid back on and place it in a cupboard, take it out a couple of months later and drink it.

As usual, the plans for self-improvement that one makes whilst on holiday never come to fruition (I also promised myself on that trip to play a weekly game of backgammon and I haven’t played once since). Therefore it was my sister’s own homebrew batch of rhum arrange that inspired me to action, motivating me to come good on my personal promise. Last month I bought some Mandalay rum which was easy enough, though worryingly chemical and overpowering when I opened the bottle, added bananas and mangosteens together with some sugar and vanilla sticks, hid it back in a cupboard, and then told my wife. Already she is over it; I used pure sugar as opposed to preparing a caramel which is apparently the proper way to do it in French colonies.

All the products are natural, so at least it will be hard to poison myself. I’ll find out in two months anyhow.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Pause & Rewind: Gross

I would not  consider myself squeamish. But having my wife's doctor several times over her pregnancy, there is one picture on the wall which is very unsettling. Every time she goes behind the curtain for a five minute physical examination, I'm left alone staring at the following.


I have no idea why it is there? There is no written explanation with the picture. It is just a torrent of black pouring out of something that has ruptured, and is being surgically opened by something else.

Considering that it is a poster in a "women's health" department of a hospital, I don't even want an explanation. Just for the poster to be taken down. Or for my wife to give birth so I don't have to go back. Definitely I don't want my baby to see it.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pause & Rewind: Scared of What? Part III

Already I have posted on my main fear of the type of parent I may become, and on miscarriages.

As D-Day (as my wife likes to call it, and as she will be the main protagonist I will let her do the naming) approaches, I am suddenly struck dumb by a range of fears of decisions that I may have to take over the next five years of my life which are going to directly impact on someone's life.

I was running the other day in between monsoon rain storms (cue: things I like to think about when I go running...) and I suddenly got stuck on the issue of circumcision: what if my wife wanted to have the baby boy circumcised (obviously I am against this)? 

I panicked. First of all, we don't know the sex of the child, so this is going to have to be a quick decision made in a hospital in front of a lot of Thai health workers who I don't particularly want to share the discussion with. Thankfully the BBC then happened to post a very long article on the history and current trends of circumcision, so I discretely forwarded it to my wife. I also felt it helped that they referred to circumcision as "the ultimate parenting dilemma".

Her response was less discrete, along the lines of: why the f$!k (I exaggerate, my wife would never swear) are you sending me articles about circumcision?


Thank God I didn't marry a Nigerian (c) BBC
Like I said, literally struck dumb. It turns out she has absolutely no preference either way and told me to calm down. There are still episodic bursts of fear that spring up, but with three weeks to go there seems little choice but to just "suck it up" and deal with it.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Pause & Rewind: Scared of What? Part II

My last post was about being scared during pregnancy, and basically covered the primary issue of fearing what kind of a parent I will turn out to be.

In terms of fears during the pregnancy itself, as soon as the two lines on the pregnancy test revealed themselves on the little white stick, then the first fears kick in. Of miscarriage.

I didn't realise how much of an issue this is: in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy if you do happen to tell someone you are pregnant (it happens, especially if the expecting mother was a drinker and smoker and then suddenly stopped one day) they almost certainly have a story of miscarriage. It is even worse if the story applies to them. We had dinner with a couple we had only just recently got to know who were pregnant with their second child. My wife had a couple of questions to ask about being pregnant in Yangon, and very quickly the conversation switched to how the other woman had miscarried twice, her sister once and her mother three times. "Don't worry if it happens to you, it's totally normal" she said to my wife. That was one of the most depressing after-dinner taxi journeys home in the past 9 months we have had.

All the pregnancy books have a whole chapter dedicated to the subject, and if you want to really be disturbed then obviously go online where there are enough statistics available to run a full episode of Sportscentre on ESPN. For example, in the US:

  • Approximately 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage; some estimates are as high as 1 in 3. If you include loss that occurs before a positive pregnancy test, some estimate that 40% of all conceptions result in loss.
  • Approximately 75% of all miscarriages occur in the first trimester.
  • An estimated 80% of all miscarriages are single miscarriages.  The vast majority of women suffering one miscarriage can expect to have a normal pregnancy next time. 
  • An estimated 19% of the adult population has experienced the death of a child (this includes miscarriages through adult-aged children).
So there are a whole list of new statistics by nationality, and for the true statisticians out there, also applying to a second child. I even just found a miscarriage calculator which awarded me a miscarriage probability of 75%. Go figure.

This is not me trying to make light of a situation which must be emotionally devastating for many people around the world (those who realised they were pregnant and miscarried), nor being smug in that we made it past week 12. For the last 3 weeks of the first trimester I counted down day-by-day. And then I switched to fearing something else.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Pause & Rewind: Scared of What?

One common question throughout the pregnancy has been: aren't you scared?

The answer has evolved over the 35 weeks that we've experienced so far, and can be broken down most simply into: yes (up to 12 weeks), no (13 - 26 weeks), I want to go on holiday (27 weeks), when is it coming (31 - 35 weeks), yes (now)...

Of course I am scared. Things that I have worried about have included:

The baby will be beautiful, so that is not a worry.

But these are all fears that if they come true, we can work through (except for the not being able to read). The genuine fear is about the father that I will become, as contained in the Philip Larkin poem “This Be the Verse”:

This Be the Verse

BY PHILIP LARKIN
They fuck you up, your mum and dad.   
    They may not mean to, but they do.   
They fill you with the faults they had
    And add some extra, just for you.


But they were fucked up in their turn
    By fools in old-style hats and coats,   
Who half the time were soppy-stern
    And half at one another’s throats.


Man hands on misery to man.
    It deepens like a coastal shelf.
Get out as early as you can,
    And don’t have any kids yourself.



This is the only poem I know by heart. One reason for that is I agree fully with the premise (except for the don't-have-your-own-kids bit). Having had divorced parents, even if they didn’t wear “old style hats and coats”, did allow for me to isolate specifically which parent fucked you up and in which way (Dear dad and mama, obviously I used the f-word relatively and with the same poetic licence as Philip Larkin himself. Serves you right for buying me poetry books as an adolescent. Love from, Max) . So my fear is how will I do it, and what are the extra faults that I am going to create?

Already there are mitigation measures being put in place: we’ve decided that we will move back to Europe once the child is of high school age to avoid them becoming an international school brat. It will provide them with the opportunity to grow up in a community that they can be a part of over the long-term, and will at least help to prevent them automatically becoming an aidworker, or even worse a UN staff member. But I never lived abroad, so this is not a fault I’m giving them. Looks like I’m buggered and need to refine my coastal shelf.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Yangon Days: Back to the Future

When I was 15 I was given a bicycle for my birthday (how original!). I rode on it everywhere, and mastered the art of not falling off whilst drunk (which I used as recently as yesterday). 

The day after my 15th birthday I fell off it (not drunk) at a big traffic intersection close to my house and had to wheel it home whilst wheezing with my bruised ribs. So we've had our ups and downs together and it has gone through different set-ups and incarnations, including time-trial supreme (I added some Cinelli drop down bars and SPDs, though it was frankly a waste of time in suburban Manchester when noone cared about cycling in the UK and I kept on falling over at traffic lights).

It's so beautiful that you could even get a tattoo of it on your leg

15 years later, my dad asked me what did I want for my birthday and it seemed fitting to haul this out of the garage, put some new wheels on it (i.e. the birthday present), bring it over to Yangon, and do it up for its 3rd re-incarnation (the 2nd reincarnation was in London when I switched it to a single speed and fell off it even more painfully than when I was 15, leaving half of my left knee on Fleet Street).

15 years is also about the amount of time required for me to forget how often the bike punctures and so I've forgotten how much of my youth was waster changing inner tubes.