Tuesday 9 December 2014

Remembering his birthday

"The past is a foreign country,
they do things differently there
. . . the opening lines of LP Hartley's The Go-Between, a story about coming of age and betrayal of innocence looking back 50 years to the antics of a younger self. It's not surprising that it should come to mind as I think back to 0130hrs on 9th December 1975. We lived in a tiny garden flat which turned its back on the sea at the end of Dun Laoghaire's East Pier. I was woken from sleep by The Beloved reporting that she had a frightening pain in the small of her back. I mobilised the tiny amount of book learning that I'd acquired in a year and a half of Biology 101 at college and decided that she might have ruptured a kidney.  Accordingly we got dressed and walked along beside the silent railway to the nearest hospital for a second opinion. I think the night porter had a clearer idea of what was going on than me, but the nurse and then the doctor told us that such back pain was a common enough indication of labour, which in its turn was a not altogether unexpected situation after 36+ weeks of pregnancy.  We I had booted it by leaving home, because we could no longer call an ambulance to deliver Herself to her chosen maternity hospital 8 miles away to the NorthWest.

The hospital where we had washed up had no maternity ward, not even a qualified midwife and so an "inter-hospital transfer ambulance" had to be located and mobilised from a third also distant hospital. When it finally arrived and we inched the incipient mother aboard, it was nearly 5am.  But as I stepped boldly up after her, the para-medic told me firmly that IHTAs were strictly for patients and I should make my way after them as best I could. 
We were about three years from owning a car and I didn't even have a bicycle at the time, so I went home, scooped up a wash-bag and nightie, inhaled a cup of tea and walked up the street to wait for the first bus into town.  It was full of bus-drivers and -conductors on their way to work: jolly and joshing and ignoring the scruffy student at the back of the bus. That was the first of 11 bus-journeys that I took that day.  When I arrived at the maternity ward, I handed over the over-night bag but the meaty hand of the matron on my chest prevented my getting any closer to the seat of the action.  Accordingly, I phoned The Beloved's mother and set off on the rounds of what seemed at the time to be necessary visits.  The different country of that past had no e-mail and no mobile-phones; indeed telephones were rare enough in those old times. What could nowadays be sorted with a tweet or a calling-all-cars txt had to be done in person.

First I went and hunted down The Beloved's BF and broke the news between her classes in UCD Medical School, which was then still in Earlsford Terrace where the National Concert Hall now stands. Then I took the #10 bus out to the main campus of UCD to report to TB's English teacher that, because of her prior engagement, she would not be leading the small-group discussion on the Metaphysical Poets as scheduled for that morning.  By the time I got back to the edge of the maternity ward at 11am, I was told that The Boy had been delivered about half-an-hour before and that mother and baby were doing well but still unvisitable. I stumbled out into the fresh air again feeling like a million dollars . . . and a really hot cup of tea. Maybe that's what I did next - I can't remember.  I know I was back to the hospital in the mid-afternoon when The Boy was pretty much dried out, his grandmother had arrived and we all took turns passing the wee scrap around [7lb13oz; 18 inches stretched] and feeling just delighted in his presence. After hours of acting the go-between, I could for a short while just be.  The next 18 years are another story.

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