28th June 2020

Darling Paloma

Something told me it was not going to be straight forward. Why? I’m still not sure but maybe because everything leading up to the day had gone so well.
So what can I tell you, my beautiful daughter? That the day you were born was the warmest day of the year? That there wasn’t a cloud in the sky, and the blinding sunlight woke us up very early?

We got to the hospital at 9:30 am, not before stopping off to pick up a cup of coffee. Sorry but you will learn, I need a coffee to get me going even on a day like this.

When we arrived at the Lindo Wing, they were waiting for us. There had been no emergency cases, so we were first up. ‘ We may call you early,’ we were warned by one of the nurses. She sounded surprised as if usually there are long delays. How happy we were at the moment – Joking and laughing about how I looked in my blue gown and hat. I thought I looked like a star from the show ER; your mother thought differently.

We took the elevator down to the theatre. I could hear your mother’s breath. It was calm and ready to meet what was about to happen. The theatre had ten people in there each with a specific role; it felt like a movie set. They were all individually introduced, but if you asked me to name any of them, I would find it difficult. It is a shame as they were about to become far more critical in our lives than we could ever imagine.


Alex, Dr Digesu, our obstetrician, was the star and director. He exudes confidence. I may have spoken of him before, but he has this sort of laid-back attitude that appealed to us when we all first met. I remember saying to your mother that if we were ever in trouble during the pregnancy, he’s someone we could trust.


At first, everything was straight forward, according to plan. It could not have been more than fifteen minutes before you made your introduction. How extraordinary it was. There you were, covered in blood and immediately handed over to your mother; the skin of a new life clinging to her mother’s breast. I was handed a pair of rounded scissors to cut the umbilical cord. Everything calm and everything overwhelmingly moving until I noticed the doctor rummaging in your mother’s stomach. I wish I hadn’t seen it, but I did, I could see he was struggling and the sheet that divided us was becoming splattered in blood. It was apparent something was wrong. And then without warning, twenty faces who were not originally in the theatre suddenly appeared. I noticed one because it was the only face looking around nervously, the single pair of eyes not looking down at your mother. Like when a whole gaggle of geese are busy at the corn stubble and the only one looking up, alert, keeping watch. His look began to frighten me. And just when I was about to ask what was happening, a nurse approached me and said that it was best to leave the theatre and wait upstairs.

‘Can I take my baby?’ I asked. The nurse didn’t have time to answer other than shake her head. I didn’t argue. I walked out of the theatre only to turn back briefly to see your mother losing so much blood that the horror of what I witnessed was so overwhelming that I’m not sure today if I witnessed it in the first place. So five minutes after you were born, I am standing alone in a room I hadn’t been in before without you and your mother, in a semi-state of shock.

You were brought up maybe five minutes later, but I’m not sure as I was beginning to lose track of time. Poor you! You did look grey, and it was apparent you needed help; I was not wrong. You were having trouble breathing, and your body temperature was low. But even with everything else going on I was not worried. I knew you’d recover quickly. You seemed even in the first minutes to have an inner strength. You were put under a warm lamp and given oxygen. The tone of your skin quickly turned from grey to a light red, and you let out an almighty scream. Your lungs were letting out the first scream.

‘ Would you like to feed her?’ The nurse asked.

The simplicity of the question made everything else that was going on momentarily fade. You sat on my knee and took your first sips; another remarkable moment. A few minutes before you weren’t here and now you were drinking from a bottle as if you had done it many times before. Once the feed was finished, another nurse walked towards me, and in a billionth of a second, her expression changed everything. ‘ Your wife is gravely ill and losing a lot of blood,’ I am told, ‘ you need to prepare yourself.’ My heart started to spin out of control, and a thousand of the most terrible thoughts raced through my mind like cattle in a stampede. I immediately rang your brother, and he dashed over to the hospital. He couldn’t come in because of COVID, so when he arrived, I met him outside. The heat was stifling. He didn’t ask how I was; there was no need. He merely put his hand on my shoulder, offering strength. We walked together along the dipsomaniac pavements of Paddington. Around the station it remains a run-down part of London which attracts the type that looks as if they have escaped the asylum – I swore I saw the same man I had seen the day your brother was born, passing us with a pram full of empty gin bottles.

I began to pray silently. I was getting to the point in my life that I felt nearly incapable of praying but not any longer. Oh, God, what is happening I asked myself ? What have I done to deserve this? And then regrets. Why didn’t I tell your mother more often and more forcefully how much I cared? Why did I not hug her more frequently and more forcefully? Why go to all the trouble of bringing the miraculous structure that is you into this world…so delicate and complex, actuated by so many different motives, controlled by such unusual circumstances, without your mother by your side?

Your brother was talking about his lost credit card when my phone rang—the clatter of a ringing cell phone inside my pocket. I had given my number to a nurse in case they needed to reach me. I resisted picking it up at first. I knew this call was going to change my life. When I answered it, I heard a man with a high pitched voice, ‘ your wife is stable and is about to wake up.’ I switched off my phone. ‘I’d better get back,’ I said.

Your mother was in a side room to the operating theatre. She was shivering caused by the trauma she had just experienced. ‘ Hello,’ she said. She spoke weakly, but her voice lit up the room then disappeared in delicious diphthongs; the last two hours of misery forgotten.

‘ Where’s our daughter?’ Your mother asked

‘ Safely upstairs ,’ someone said, and I wondered if you could be brought down.

When you came in, you lay with your mother once again but this time until both your eyelids fell.

As you slept, Dr Digesu told me that your mother had lost over 8 litres of blood. He was clear that your mother would have died if we hadn’t been at the Lindo Wing. The clinic’s connection to St. Mary’s helped provide the blood that other private maternity clinics don’t have. He spoke about what had happened and why and how it had become so dangerous. In short, your mum’s placenta could not be released from her stomach and filtered into scars from a previous operation.

I will write again in the next couple of days with more news, but the joy I have had this weekend seeing you and your mother both growing strong is blissful.

Welcome to the world, my darling girl. We have all been waiting for you.

With love,

Daddy


22nd June 2020

Darling Paloma,

What news can I tell you today? Well, let’s start that it is all set for you to join us on Thursday at around lunchtime. I have to admit, though with the date looming, it makes me nervous to just write that down.

The scan at the end of last week was perfectly average, which of course is good news. The obstetrician was in a cheerful mood. He first talked about his family’s new arrival, a Maltese puppy, before turning to your mother. He complained that the puppy had overtaken his household. ‘ I want my wife back,’ he pleaded; I wasn’t sure I could help him.

We heard your heartbeat sound like a big bass drum. ‘ It has been a perfect pregnancy’, the doctor said when I asked him how he thought things had gone.’ But we still have the biggest hurdle to clear,’ which made me nervous, but he spoke with a calm assurance. It gave us the impression that we had chosen the right man to bring you into this world.

You mum has to go into hospital on Tuesday for a short visit to have her Covid19 check. I would be shocked if she was carrying the virus. As I write, she continues to have no symptoms and looks radiantly well. The other piece of good news is that the rules are changing “today”. I am now allowed to return to the hospital the following day from 12:00 to 7 pm. So it looks as if you will be spending your first days in this world with both your parents.

Yesterday was father’s day. Your brother called in the morning, and we decided to meet in the afternoon for a short walk in Holland Park. It was one of the parks we spent time together when he was young. I used to buy him ice cream from the store near to the playground. Then we would sit down and talk about so many things—your beautiful brother, who was and is so beautiful because he is kind. Don’t forget, and this may sound like a cliche but, “beauty and kindness go hand in hand.”

Looking back the moments we spent in London parks were times of bonding—your brother still of an age to listen to what his father had to say, and perhaps he always does, and I am harsh on myself.

Holland Park on a quieter day

The park was full of people enjoying their Sunday outing. The memory of a pandemic retreating even further into the background. People now free from isolation were all of a sudden transfused with new energy. It was as if an alarm clock had gone off in a monastery. Most were not wearing masks, and many paid little attention to give each other safe space. I waited for your brother to leave so as not to embarrass him before asking someone why he thought so many people were behaving with such lack of care. I approached a man who I thought would give me a sound answer; he didn’t disappoint. He at first tutted in the way some people do at the start of a sentence. The type that spends their life driving people into the ground, tutting at their every infringement of their own petty parochial rules.

He looked at me inquisitively and gave me a quote which I had heard before. I had to look up who it was from – an 18th Century politician whose name again escapes me: ‘ He that leaveth nothing to chance will do few things ill, but he will do very few things.’ He then marched off with his Pekinese without another word.

I looked at your mother today as she slept. She looked adorable, positively pre-Raphaelite. Seraphic. I sometimes hear her laughter coming from the top of the house when she is talking to her Spanish friends. I know they are so happy for her. It seems everyone is. It has always been her wish to meet you, and yet there was a time not so long ago when it didn’t seem possible. But now you are finally getting here and for that alone, making your mother so wonderfully happy, I will be forever grateful to you.

Sorry, I am being sentimental but if you can’t be sentimental on a week like this when can you?

With love,

Daddy

17th June 2020

Darling Paloma,
Many of the shops have reopened. And whom am I to argue with the decision? I have as little idea of what is going as anyone else. The continual mis-messaging has grown. It is all a bit exhausting. Wear masks? Don’t wear masks? Outside is safer than inside?
Even Dr Michael Osterholm, one of the top American infectious disease epidemiologist and someone who has continually been ahead of the curve seemed a little befuddled yesterday. ‘We don’t know exactly what is happening,’ he said of the increase and decrease in individual states,’ this is one of those moments of humility as humans. We are just not sure what the virus is doing…’
When I drove across Oxford street yesterday, I was amazed to see how many people were lined outside the Nike store. There must have been 500 faces stacked together so close they could probably hear the different key of each other’s breath. The site of the crowd moving forward was disturbing. Whatever anyone says, there remains a nervousness out there. It feels as if we are on a steep climb up a mountain. I was once told a way to deal with uncertainty. At the time, it didn’t mean much, but during these days, I am beginning to understand. ‘A photographer on an expedition to climb some of the highest mountains in the world. He found that not being a full-time mountaineer – and therefore not be used to thin air, thick snow, perpendicular rock and all that – the only way for him to survive was to scream an oath each time he took a step forward. That’s how he dealt with the danger.’
We have your final scan set for tomorrow afternoon at four o’clock. I will report back with any news but as I have written before, let’s hope there is nothing new to add and that your due date is firmly set.
Te Quiero mucho,
Papa

June 15th 2020

Darling Paloma,


You may know the news by now, but your due date is delayed by a week. Everything was planned for this coming Friday, but the doctor has thought it better that you stay where you are to help build up your lungs and help avoid the chance of jaundice. Whatever you’re told in the future it had nothing to do with the date clashing with the return of the Premier League season.


The slightly bad news is because of COVID, all I can do is be in the theatre when you make your appearance but can’t follow you and your mum afterwards into your room. So for the first three days of your life, you will be spending it alone with your mum. The next time I will see you is when I pick you up from the hospital. Even then, I will have to wait outside on those famous steps to kiss you again. As I have said before, these are strange times.

I didn’t go in for the scan last week. The obstetrician and I tend to talk too much about football rather than focus on you. That’s not totally true, but true enough for me to advise your mum that it was better for her to go in alone.


Your mum came out a little disappointed. She so wants to hold you in her arms. But we know it is the best for you, and so we should celebrate the decision rather than anything else.

Anyway, the date is now set for next Thursday unless of course, you decide to arrive early.

With love,


Dad

June 9th 2020


Darling Paloma

I returned to my old school the other day. Yes, that’s how desperate things have become. I forgot how close it is to our home. We, of course, drove and with the roads still relatively empty, it took only twenty-five minutes to get there. If only I were able to drive in my school days, it would have made my escape to London at weekends so much easier.


It was to be my first visit in a very long time. When the car turned on to Harrow on the Hill, my stomach turned over in a knot as it always had. The familiar roads and buildings made me uneasy as the memories popped back in my head.

It was a difficult period for the school. The headmaster despite being a major in the war had little idea on how to organize people, and so the school went only one way, and that was down Harrow Hill.

I recently told an old Harrovian friend of my father’s about my time there. He answered that it was not the headmaster’s fault, who was a close friend. ‘ He believed he had been sent from above to save the once-great school, but he found it difficult as the school had ‘ a shortage of boys of the right sort.’

What do you mean?

‘ Harrow boys had lost their identity,’ he said.

‘ To whom?’ I asked.

He ignored my question. ‘ The school wanted to get back to the halcyon days,’ he continued, ‘ when boys knew how to talk proper, have cold showers, compulsory craps, carpentry, cricket and chapel.’

I fixed a smile.

‘ Most of us only go to school to able to prattle on about most subjects without making a fool of oneself and to apologize properly even before wrong has been done.’

He then asked for another drink, and I quickly changed the subject.

As a little footnote, the old boy died a couple of weeks later but not before writing me a letter saying how disappointed my father was by my ‘ shitty’ book about school. I answered that my father wasn’t too wrong about the book, but I was not so sure that he had reacted in the way he described as I don’t think my father ever read it.

I was expecting the school to have got smaller, more compact and bland as things tend to do when you revisit somewhere that has affected your life. But I was wrong. The outside looked stately and rather magnificent. My house, classrooms and local shops were all locked up, so I didn’t get the chance to show your mother the inner sanctums of the place. But I think she enjoyed seeing part of my life from the outside – she has heard certainly enough about it.

Although I have written two books about my years at boarding school, I still manage to hide a remarkable degree from those closest to me of the disasters that occurred there. They still haunt me, and although deep inside I hoped the return would help bury some of them for good, it hasn’t happened. Perhaps when you are much older, I will reveal everything to you, but probably by then, it will all seem rather insignificant.

Just nine days to go my darling before your grand entrance into the world although the way you were kicking about over the weekend, we thought you were going to get here early. But for now, why don’t you take it easy. Being patient is a painful lesson to learn but important. I, for one, still haven’t learnt it and it has got me into trouble.

Tomorrow we are heading in for another scan so we will have another chance to see how big you have grown; I can’t wait.

Te Quiero mucho,

Papa

6th June 2020

Darling Paloma,

Since I last wrote to you, so much has happened. I have had a birthday. It was on Wednesday, and it was a lovely day. A picnic at the Oxford University Parks with your mum under a willow tree. Dinner with your brother and his girlfriend back in London. Yes, I am a year older, but the good news is that I feel younger and more prepared than ever for your entrance into the world.

The lockdown is easing and takes on different forms. I immediately recognized the difference between Oxford and London. Everyone seemed much more respectful in Oxford, the majority moving out of the way when they saw your pregnant mother heading towards them. But London is different, most people so engrossed in themselves that they don’t notice her and make no effort to pass by on the other side of the street. It is infuriating and downright bloody rude!

I think people feel they have served their sentence of isolation, and it’s time to get on with their lives. I tend to understand it, but none of us must forget why we isolated in the first place. I still believe this virus has a long way to go, and I dread that the inevitable second wave will more virulent than its introduction.

Over the last week, the pandemic has been thrown off the front pages. On May 25th, George Floyd, a forty-six-year-old black man, was killed by a white police officer. Derek Chauvin knelt on George Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes while Floyd was handcuffed face down in the street. ‘ I can’t breathe,’ he cried in mercy. The horror was caught on video. One day you will watch the film, and you will be as shocked as we all are. This year is stumbling into an age that has been threatening to overcome us for some time. The majority are protesting peacefully in more than seven hundred cities and towns throughout the United States. But at night, part of the cities have been overwhelmed with looters taking advantage of the increasing unease. The scene of rioting looters damaging and stealing from businesses give the impression of the streets overtaken by escalating anarchy.

The lack of unifying leadership is evident. Peaceful protesters unable to retreat to a safe distance were cleared from Lafayette Park with rounds of tear-gas. It drove the protesters away with ruthless efficiency only to allow the President to pose for a photo-op outside St. John’s Church holding a bible. They seemed a certain amount of pride from The White House that not a single shot was fired, not a single US Park Police was wounded while several protesters were dragged down the street by their brothers screaming, some clutching their stomachs, others wiping gas from their eyes. It was undoubtedly an act of callous stupidity. There is nothing more foreign to the modern American to threaten military force within their land as an instrument of change or the use of oppression as a means of regeneration. Still, perhaps some in government view it differently.

The following days, peaceful marches continued. The looting due to imposed curfews subsided. Those marching showed the courage of their oppressors; cut off the tongue of the opposition and spit it back into their face. The old, young and middle-aged have had enough of police brutality. African Americans have known since they were young that they are deprived of being treated as equals. When arrested, they are isolated from justice. They stand little chance with the methods used by the police; there is nothing easier to deprive a man or woman of his or her dignity when locked behind bars.

It isn’t easy to write about this world of prejudice before you even arrive. However hard I describe the goings-on of the last week, it remains impossible for me to understand how persecution affects African Americans. The uneasiness of driving at night, or simply walking down a street. I have promised myself to become much more aware. I also promise you here and now that you will be educated in a home which is respectful of humanity despite the colour of the skin, religion or fundamental belief.

Love,

Papa

29th May 2020

Darling Paloma,

Your mother went for another scan yesterday. You’ll know this, of course, as you were rudely disturbed and grew a little bothered. But who can blame you? There you were, curled up in the warmth of your mother’s tummy, and this contraption (it’s a scanning device by the way!) was being rolled over you. I’m sorry for the irritation, but we have to check that everything is going well. It is so extraordinary to see you. The tantalising sight of our girl growing in front of our eyes. And in my imagination expressing joy, excitement, screaming so loud as yet not heard; the lungful of breath and words still waiting to greet us. It is truly a miracle. I tried to catch a photograph of you, but you curl up before I can capture you properly, and then as you turn, and I see your face, so brief that before I register your beauty you curled again and I’m not sure what I saw in the first place.

The days are rushing by. A cliche for sure but it is true. We are heading for another weekend just when I thought the last one had just passed. Time is playing games with us. You will, of course, know that you have turned from your breech position to head down and ready to make your entrance. Your timing is impeccable although there is a problem with your choice of the month. The Lindo Wing sent us a letter warning us that I can be in the room for the birth, but directly afterwards I will have to leave the hospital and not return until you and your mother are ready to come home. Even then I won’t be allowed back into the hospital and will have to wait on the famous steps until we meet again.

It is no one’s fault, and I refuse to get upset; I suppose we can share some face time, and you will meet your brother in surreal circumstances, but I know he will understand.

This morning at breakfast, two magpies sat next to me – so close I could have touched them without reaching. I’ve always been superstitious of magpies—one for sorrow, two for joy, three for a girl, four for a boy… I have this habit of saluting the one magpie’ good morning’ to ward off bad news. So I took the proximity of the two magpies as good luck!
It is peculiar how, in such subtle ways, our superstitions are born. There are many I now thankfully ignore: keeping my footsteps exactly on the cracks of the pavement, when the last of the contents of a bottle fit to just below the rim of the glass, opening an umbrella inside; yes, we all have signs! They help us to have faith when we have no hope, to quasi believe a little when we can’t believe a lot; they serve as private if nebulous links between today and those delicious ages of yesteryear.

Luck is definitely with us, and by the time our day arrives, I think a new set of rules will be in place and everything I’ve written today of being sent out of the hospital will be a short and distant memory.

With much love

Papa


.

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25th May 2020

Darling Paloma,

Paula, who makes my morning coffee and greets me every day with the kindest of smiles, handed me the recipe to a cocktail called Paloma. It is a tequila-based mixed with lime juice and pink grapefruit soda:

Sounds delicious. And perhaps there’s a clue to your personality in its formula.

Paloma

My favourite bar in the Bay Area or should I say favourite barman was George. He had a reputation for mixing the best drinks in town. He took a great deal of care over the mixing and shaking, each drink of particular importance.

Someone once said that planned merriment never works, but my visits to George prove the proverb wrong. The bar had a series of alcoves. They were occupied by the solitary and the seducers. The solitary would slink away with their resentments, while the seducers conjured casuistry. George made good drinks but was not the happiest man. I listened as he wallowed about lost love, his lost children and baseball. He spoke in between serving customers and taking sips from his reddish-black cocktail on the sideboard. After a couple of visits, he insisted I get into the bar through the back door. More welcoming, he said which I wasn’t sure about but thanked him for the gesture. It’s happened a few times in my life. Perhaps it’s my definition of success; being allowed in the back doors of bars throughout the world.

Aunt Roberta

‘ You sure about that?’ he asked.

How dare you! I thought. It looked pretty harmless to me. I gulped it down rather than take a moderate sip. There’s a lesson for you to learn, never try to compete with a seasoned bartender. Wow! It was a clap of thunder that pulled me off my barstool as I tried to catch my breath back.

“What the hell was that!?”

‘ Aunt Roberta,” George laughed, ‘ gin, vodka, brandy, blackberry liqueur and absinthe. A prostitute called Roberta concocted it to help her clients drown their sorrows.’

When I returned to San Francisco a couple of years later, the bar had changed. Although still dark, it felt lighter. George’s sorrow had disappeared. He had found true love and was going to be a dad again; thirty years after his first child! I remember being so happy for him. He was a changed man.

George ( where in the world are you ?) once said Aunt Roberta suited me. Was never sure what he quite meant? I was not obviously depressed, was I? I hadn’t thought of the dark cocktail for a while, well not since yesterday when the recipe for Paloma was handed over. So if you are to have characteristics similar to the Paloma cocktail and I have peculiarities like George’s clap of thunder, I wonder what drinks describe best some of my close friends or even our present leaders. It is a good question that may just reveal something.

I’m heading out to the park now and will spend my walk on this last bank holiday before you arrive, thinking about it.

Three weeks to go now.

Love,

Papa

21st May 2020

Darling Paloma,

‘What lies ahead?

I was full of questions yesterday. Questions like as an older man, will I have the strength and calmness to be a good father? What type of world are we bringing you into, my sweet daughter? Was it always planned for you to be born during these days? A wise friend once told me, the soul has no age, the age of a human being shouldn’t necessarily be calculated from the moment of birth but from the time at which the human starts to live honestly. I have a sense you will do that from day one.

I remember the morning your brother was born. I must have told you, but like me, he was born in the same building even floor that you are going to be. Milo’s mother went into the Lindo Wing at about 3 am and was there all day. The Lindo Wing was a sort of posh hotel. The service is excellent, but the food was awful. So I walked to the local Marks and Spencer on Edgware Road to buy some sandwiches for lunch; it’s still there.

When I went to pay, I said to the woman taking my money that today was going to be the best day of my life. ‘I’m going to be a father.’

The woman was angelic. I saw it immediately. ‘Wait a minute,’ she said and pressed a button to alert her manager. I watched the two of them have a quiet conversation, and when she returned, she said. ‘We want to gift you these sandwiches and a token for a bottle MandS champagne .’

‘Please no,’ I said, feeling embarrassed, ‘I only told you because I am feeling proud.’

‘But this is indeed a special day, and you won’t have many days like this in your life.’

‘That is certainly true,’ I said and thanked her.

‘She smiled, and I saw her face change shape exuding kindness and light. It was like the continual stir of the ocean; it was not off-putting; it was remarkable.

I returned to the Lindo Wing with that delicious tingling in the head that usually comes from the perfect blend of peace of mind, a slight current of air or as what I had just experienced an unexpected small act of kindness on the part of someone else.
I ate the sandwiches and kept the token for a long time. Sadly I lost it in one of my home moves a few years later.

Today was a better day. I didn’t keep asking so many questions. Before I met your mother, I knew I needed to change the side of my life. I wanted to try to experience the moment and not dismiss my feelings in an instant. What happened during those days was like a cloud that, like the moment itself, soon changed, passed by and was never to be repeated. I suppose I was longing for stability. And now I’ve found it. And the questions I asked only yesterday are promptly being answered.

I will always try to keep you safe, I just said out loud – I want to do more of that, call out to the world and not keep it inside. I want to care for you, keep you warm and be always patient even though being a little older I’m sure it could be more difficult.

Perhaps these aren’t the hours to wallow in self-examination. We should love these warm May days and help create that chance so that everywhere is somewhere to reach. To be happy knowing that the only thing of which we can be sure is the next heartbeat. The only real question we can ask ourselves is just how many times will we breathe this breath, step this spot, and write this word?

Love,

Papa

17th May 2020

Darling Paloma,

Well, the news on the pregnancy front, which of course you would know is that you are rotating from the breech position. It means that you were positioned heads up in your mother’s uterus with your feet pointing towards the birth canal. Now you have turned halfway. So in layman’s terms, your head is poking halfway in your mother’s stomach. From your mother’s continual moans, this isn’t the most pleasant place to be, so if you can move further down, it will be appreciated. Although because of your chosen position, I can see the shape of your foot when you decide to kick. The wonder of it all. At times it is so overwhelming that I can’t believe that we are actually going to get to know each other in just a few weeks.

I met your brother yesterday for a walk in an Oxford park. It was so good to see him again. I have missed him so. There was no deep hug, no kiss hello or goodbye, just an awkward wave.

We talked about these times and how we’re both feeling. We tend to be able to know what we are thinking—an unspoken understanding of mood. We talked about how neither of us missed football; in fact, for me, it is a relief. At this time of the year, I would usually be grieving my team’s missed opportunities. Tottenham is a painful side to support. Hardly any glory in the years I have supported them. Last season was different though; the team gave us some of our greatest memories. Like the time we scored three goals in the second half in Amsterdam to get through to the Champions League Final.

We watched the game in a small bar off St. Marks Square in Venice; an ex-footballer owned it. He played for Inter Milan in 1950s, and although he did not speak English, when he opened his mouth wide and long, you did not need to understand the language to understand his story. Shoulders up to the ears, eyebrows raised, palms up, a weary smile following each move

Heading to a bar to watch the football.

We watched the opposition go 2-0 up in the first half; it was a predictable disaster. But then a small Brazilian was chosen from above to play his greatest game. He played so beautifully, shrugging his shoulders, full of irrational surprises that he left the Dutch side standing motionless like a bunch of dummies.

Lucas Moura scores.

In the end, we watched our winning goal late in added time looking through the window from an alleyway. We had already given up. We had left the bar and given a sad goodbye to our new friends. But when we scored, I screamed and rushed back in to grab the owner. What a goal! We had achieved what we never achieve – salvation- a football miracle – an answer to all our problems. We celebrated together with another drink. When we finally left the bar, I turned once again to catch the owner lean over to someone with the right hand over his heart as if taking a vow and then leaning back in exaggerated dismay. I had no idea what it meant other than probably we didn’t have much hope in the final. He was right; we lost one-nill.

The park was open and more beautiful than ever. The green grass of the cricket field brilliant to the eyes. The cricket field! The very place that all through my youth was the epitome of joy, of the occasional naughtiness. The air along the boundary which sprung of sponge cake, lashings of lemon mousse and Earl Grey tea.

There has always been a calm surrounding the university park, but today it was more serene than ever. When we marched by the ‘cricket’ square, I found a fallen bail(one of the two smaller sticks placed on top of the three stumps to form a wicket.) It was strange as there has been no university cricket this season; not even parents playing with their children. I put the bail in my pocket and promised to keep it as a memory of this day.

Sometimes it’s the smallest things that have the greatest significance.

I was given an alternative last year. To keep watching movies and in return, stop watching all forms of sport or the other way round. It wasn’t difficult. I chose without hesitation to keep watching my football, my baseball, my cricket, my tennis and movies could disappear forever. But over these last few weeks in isolation, I think my choice has changed. Sports aren’t so important to me after all. Perhaps the easiness of the selection is because I know one day sport will return like it was before and we will once again enjoy the weekly excuse for a carnival with all the excitement we delighted in before.

At present, though, that seems a long way away.

Love

Papa

May 13th 2020

Darling Paloma,

How strange it is to be walking on the streets which you know so well but now seems so unfamiliar.


It was good to see the vagrant again. If I don’t see familiar faces after a few days, I begin to worry. I haven’t seen the gentleman in the tweed suit for over a week now and I am getting a little concerned. The vagrant was wearing a mask. He stood across the street and when he shouted ‘ good morning,’ he was unable to hide from his eyes a particular pride that while most in the city still refused to wear one, he had, what looked like, one of the better styles.

How are you?’ I asked.

‘ Not good,’ he shouted back and then rather oddly started to play a game of charades. I may have my guesses wrong, but his gestures suggested he had got up too early. His head throbbed. The room he had been sleeping in had turned in circles. He went white. His stomach came up to his throat.

‘ Is there anything I can do?’ I asked, rather pathetically.

He shook his head. I pretended not to understand. I left him a note under a plant beside one of the closed stores. If you’re not generous on days like these, you’ll never be generous at all. I’m sure I heard someone tut as they were passing, but I could have imagined it; my senses are heightened at the moment.

It was a colleague who worked in my first office who used to moan about beggars on the street. ‘ It comes from my time in India,’ he said. ‘ At first, I gave and gave but then each time I walked out of my home, the children were waiting and would swarm around me like flies round a piece of meat. After a while, the meat started to rot, and the flies multiplied. I never gave again. I began to notice their cute smiles and wily wailing! Most of those on the streets are experts. ‘

A child at a Kolkata railway station in India.

The image stayed with me for a long time. I went to the extreme and gave nothing. This was my finest hour. I ignored the ‘ big issue ‘ sellers by patting my pockets and apologizing that I had no loose change on me. I rushed by sometimes even crossing the road from anyone I saw approaching with their hand out. That was until I was passing a beggar, and your five-year brother pulled on my sleeve and asked me for some money. He wanted to give something to a man who was making music with a mouth organ. I tried to ignore him but quickly gave in. I watched him walk over and let the man finish his tune. I remember he was playing Danny Boy and beautifully. And then in the sweetest way your brother handed him the money with such grace that all the years I had refused to give made me feel ashamed.

‘ That was a beautiful thing to to do, ‘ I said to your brother as he returned to my side.

‘ I loved the music,’ he said simply.

I smiled and leant down to kiss him on his cheek.
From that moment on, I swore that I would give to a beggar who played some sort of music, be it with the voice, mouth organ, guitar, drum, paper and comb.

My friend, the vagrant, is an exception. I gave it because he clearly is a good guy.

Tomorrow your mother heads in for another scan. They want to be careful over these last weeks. As you probably know, you are your mother’s first child and being a little older than the average woman who gives birth, they are overly cautious. This is good.

Te Quiero mucho,

Papa.

11th May 2020

Darling Paloma,

I am not sure I understood what the Prime Minister was telling us yesterday.

He addressed the nation early evening. It was not live, as expected, but pre-recorded. The afternoon light was still glinting through the windows in the background. A live performance would have given it more focus or perhaps intensity. Instead, he ended up looking into the camera with the suspicion of the lion tamer with too many lions in his cage.

I had been looking forward to the announcement all day. But my dear girl what an anticlimax it was.

The Prime Minister spoke indiscriminately. It was an absolute mess – a perplexing message. When it was over, I swear I could hear a unanimous groan coming from the neighbourhood which sounded like a kick in the shins.

Reactions and interpretations buzzed over the networks. The BBC tried to give clarity – hastened journalists in a flash trying to put two and two together and most getting five. Members of the public lined up for an interview. One hotelier in Weston Super Mare could not disguise her dismay. Her business was drowning in the sea behind her and nothing she heard gave confidence that it could be saved. It was terrible to watch.

This morning’s walk to fetch my now “dreaded” coffee was even more difficult than in previous days. There was already a feeling that the lockdown was coming to an end. I saw a traffic jam for the first time in weeks and heard a deluge of hoots like a cacophonous orchestra tuning up for something they will never play. I hope I’m wrong, but yesterday’s lack of clarity will lead to trouble. It is not time to drop one’s concentration. A builder waiting for his coffee was laughing himself hysterically, a mule coughing in winter. I watched his spittle fly in the air into my direction. Thank God I was wearing a mask. And that was another thing I found startling, the Prime Minister not advising everyone to wear a mask outside or in an enclosed space.

The heat was excruciating this weekend; it could touch the mind. Today, however, did feel like winter. The sun has suddenly changed course and was heading away from our island. Warm weather will return before the weekend. I’m not sure that is such a good thing. Next weekend’s parks will turn into an unshackled celebration of freedom. People will appear like wasps to jam. Picnics, boozing and rousing music! The Police will have strict instructions not to let anything to get out of hand. For now, each side behaves civilly. Let’s hope it continues.

Sorry to moan. It’s not my style. The joy and excitement of meeting you in just five weeks from now! Yes, only five weeks! Gives me a lift when I lose faith in the world we are bringing you into. For that alone, I feel truly blessed.

With much love,

Papa.

8th May 2020

Darling Paloma,

I took out an old radio today and started to fiddle about looking for a station to fit my mood. I hadn’t switched on this radio since my school days when it was my passkey to an outside world.

It was yet another rediscovery during lockdown. I didn’t realise how much I missed the experience of fiddling with the dial and unexpectedly finding a sound that would trigger something that would change me forever: Miles Davis’ Flamenco Sketches, Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On, the Mamas and Papas transporting me to California.

All those voices you come across unexpectedly, can’t tune in properly. You desperately try to hear him or her more clearly and in doing so, you lose the station. And you know you have found something great and imagine what he or she would be like if you could only find the station again and listen to the song in its entirety. But you never do and your imagination fills in the melodies you may have missed.

It is now your brother that sends me songs that make me want to listen from the beginning to the end – those few melodies that can affect you so much that you pull the car to the side of the road so that you can focus on listening rather than concentrate on driving. His taste is exquisite, and I forgive him for not respecting my choices in return.

If I had to choose one album that I would like you to hear from your mother’s tummy it would be Miles Davis, Kind of Blue – in fact, I am going to put it on now – And I can assure you, my darling girl, if you are born to the temperament of that sound you will have not just your mum, dad and brother falling in love with you but the entire world.

Love,

Papa

6th May 2020

Darling Paloma,

It seems most people are ” going spare” waiting for the first phase of the lockdown exit to begin.

As I stepped on to the street, I watched someone angrily putting on her black semi-disposable nitrile grip gloves finger by finger. She spouted that the incompetent British Government didn’t know what the hell they were doing. And as for Trump, she shrieked, ‘ he couldn’t organize a piss up in a brewery.’ It was an excellent British expression to greet my morning.

Before I picked up my coffee, I saw three more monologues going on. All sounding angry, all self-loathing, ‘ I must lose weight!’ a red-faced Englishman bellowed. Oh dear, I thought and crossed the road to avoid spittle coming from his mouth. The weight-loss conversation continued loudly enough for me and everyone else to hear.’ You will look so much better thinner,’ they say while the other side advises just to enjoy myself and stop worrying about what other people think. It was an apparent fight between vanity and greed, and clearly, no side had won. It looked like it has been one long battle like two boxers vowing to fight until death, but neither one can find the knockout punch.

I’m not pointing the finger at anyone because on my way back home, I too was having my own inner dialogue.

What is this virus? I asked. A terrifying secret. An unknown that many of the finest scientists around the world are trying to untangle and develop a vaccine. A team in Oxford seem to be the front runners. They are certainly getting the most publicity. They have started human trials, but they reiterate there is still a long way to go. Six months? A year? Two years? I like everyone does not know but what we have learnt is that the virus is indiscriminate. It’s effective. It hops, skips, jumps and crawls over you. And when you fall sick as someone has just told me, ‘ the uncalled sounds of your breathing surge up like a dying whale coming to the surface to breathe all too frequently.”

I was about to delve more deeply, but was saved again by the vagrant hiding behind his tree. Oh no! I thought. Who is coming more way? I looked from right to left, from left to right, but there was no one. The vagrant gave me the thumbs up and a broad smile. He was only playing with me. His silly game cheered me up- what a sweet man he is. I walked over and left my coffee on the pavement. ‘ For you!’ I said.

It was the kindest thing I had done for months, and naturally, it wiped away the negativity that started my day .

With love,

Papa