NOVEMBER 5 2001
M’s getting an epidural and I’ve been booted out. It all kicked off yesterday afternoon, yesterday having blurred into today via a few short hours of sleep, no sleep, dozing and lots of walking around. We counted contractions, timed them and she was pretty insistent that the moment was not actually nigh – until it was, its announcement being unmistakable and evidenced by what is apparently called the Bloody Show. Sounds to me like the promise of a good time at some sort of medieval carnival at the Tower of London. This Bloody Show was actually a big lump of mucus that fell out of M’s vagina into her pants. We called the hospital and they said we’d better come in since the contractions were full on and not so far apart and better safe than sorry. We don’t want sorry and we do like safe, so here we are. And in good time by the sound of things because she’s six centimetres dilated. I called her mom and gave her the news, even though it’s five am. She was doggedly insistent that she wanted to know when it’s all happening, whatever time it is. She was mystified by the centimetres and said they didn’t have them in her day, when she gave birth to M. I dare say they didn’t.
I can hear the heart monitors banging away from the wombs of all the pregnant ladies on this floor. It’s very quiet, very clean and nobody is stressed about anything apart from me and I’m freaking out just a little bit. This business of sticking a needle in between the vertebrae is a daring feat, and they seem to undertake it with a confidence I find baffling. They have to stop just short of the spinal cord for fuck’s sake and what if they miss? Crippled for life is what.
The doctor who does these things just came out (Russian, I think, a bit severe and didn’t look at me), followed by Mary, our labour nurse who is very kind and has clearly done this a million times which was very reassuring to M, and maybe more so to me, and I’m being ushered in now, so more later.
Rockhampton Star, September 14th, 1956
The light is so beautiful. Muted, misty, you can’t quite see what’s coming. Not like the razor line of the Remutakas, sharp and indelible against the electric blue of the sky. In Upper Hutt you can see everything coming from miles away: another telling off, tearing down or worse from Mum or Dad, another tidal wave of bitter disappointment, another treasured hope about to be cruelly dashed, another town gossip waving in the distance. I gulped hungrily just now at the sea air, and the relief that blew from the deck, for as long as I could. We’ll be docking in a few minutes but I did so want to spend as much time as possible watching the English coast coming into view, which it did, grey and thin through the fog. I suppose I should have started this diary earlier, but apart from the Panama Canal, the journey has been uneventful and dull. I didn’t make friends with anyone except Richardson the cook, who said he saw my father playing in Auckland against South Africa in 1930. But I’m here! Home! Why we call it ‘home’ is not exactly a mystery, but it is rather silly. Mum and Dad use the word in earnest, even though they take tremendous pride in all their civic and national exertions. He loves being New Zealand’s Minister of Education and she loves the association with him and the fawning that goes with it; the recognition while shopping in Halford’s and the tattle in the Upper Hutt Leader. (If only they knew the truth about the local VIPs…) I’m safe now, at least from them, thousands and thousands of miles away and there’s nothing they can do. They can swim around like big fish in their tiny pond for the rest of their lives but I won’t be back there.
Chef Richardson says a taxi from the dock to the station in Southampton will cost about two and nine. I need to be careful with my money and find a job as soon as I get to London because £311 will only keep me going for about six months. I’ll also need to get some good headshots. Edith Campion recommended a man called Hopkins who has a studio in Holborn (she told me to make sure not to pronounce the ‘l’) and said if I mentioned her name he would give me a discount. She was so kind and encouraging. She said, rather insistently, that I should try for the Bristol Old Vic but I want to go straight to London. I can’t wait to see Look Back in Anger. Edith said if my heart is set on London – and it most certainly is, because who could be anywhere but London – I should just go to the Royal Court and barge my way in to see George Devine.
I’m going to need to work on my accent. I’m also going to try to write in this diary every day. I feel it’s important to record the truth of things as they actually happen and not to get caught up in the thoughts as they race and whirl. Dr Wrangham said writing about my days would help to keep me grounded and to know the difference between what is real and what is not quite so real. I’ll miss him and the sound of the bell on his bike. Mum and Dad will be relieved, I’m sure, not to have any more contact with him and of course they won’t have to, now that the troublesome patient has flown the coop.
NOVEMBER 5 2001 - LATER
We have a daughter! There are a few contenders for a name: Hetty is the running favourite and she made her appearance 3.43 am, weighing in at eight pounds fourteen ounces which is big. Big girl! Poor M is wiped out. She pushed for two hours. Dr Leon was yelling like some sort of deranged PE master: “Harderharderharderharder!” I think he thought that saying it as fast as he could would somehow produce the desired effect. Eventually it did. I’ve never felt so alive. I was sort of outside myself, as most of me was consumed with naked fear at God knows what, but I remember focusing intently on M’s vagina as it stretched inconceivably and I saw the head and black hair, plastered to her skull by a thick layer of vernax, and then her face appeared, eyes closed and very peaceful. There was major drama because she had the umbilical cord wrapped around her neck and every time M pushed the heart rate went down, and once or twice there were what looked like conspiratorial glances between Dr L and Mary, but Dr L quickly untangled it and then out she came.
They whisked her over to the other side of the room because she had apparently inhaled a great lungful of meconium, so they shoved some tubes up her nose and sucked it out. And then I saw her little face. From across the room her eyes seemed to lock with mine and the force of her personality was undeniable and vast. It was like she was looking directly at me and fixing me with her infant gaze and all I could think was Who Are You?
The placenta was extraordinary and massive. They dumped it in a big steel basin. What the fuck was M’s friend Angela thinking when she put hers in the fridge? She said she was going to eat it. Er, right. Flash fried in a little olive oil and garlic? Mind you, there’s a nifty little practice whereby they keep a bit of the blood from the placenta, to put in some sort of database in case of emergency.
Anyway, Hetty. If that’s who she is. I rather think she is, you can see it in her face.
M’s sleeping right now, Baby too (I really hope it’s Hetty; won’t push it but will broach when M wakes up), and I’m sitting in the chair that looks suspiciously like a Poang from Ikea. I’d know it a mile away. Every so often I sneak over to the bassinette and peer in at her tiny self. She is beyond exquisite. Her fingernails are so perfect and I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility to take the very best care of her I possibly can. Made such a promise to her when they left her with me in the recovery ward while they patched M up. She needed a couple of stitches, poor love, but apparently this happens. I looked into her eyes and I swore up and down that I would do my best, that I may not do it perfectly but I would try and try and try and always, always, always, be her dad and look after her while she figures out whatever it is she needs to figure out in this world.
I’m going to go home in a minute to have a shower and a nap. Day nurse has just barged in with the blood pressure machine and this is a good as time as any. It’s also time to call England and do some heralding…
September 15th, 1956
Regis and Isla Boone live with their two children James (five) and William (three) in a large terraced house on Frederick Street in the King’s Cross district of London. She is Scottish and has a faint accent. Regis’s father knew mine during the war in some capacity; he wouldn’t say what because it was all so hush hush and terribly special and clever. Between them they made the arrangements for my accommodation months ago after the Big Fight in the kitchen. The Big Fight was very real so I’m writing about it like Dr Wrangham said I should, even though it’s months after the event. I should have written about it at the time, but the search of my bedroom and bureau, the inevitable discovery of this journal and subsequent interrogations would have been just as real so I didn’t. So just briefly, in order to record the real and not leave the important facts out, I will say here that the Big Fight in the kitchen is what confirmed for me the permanence of my move. He was already furious about my O level results, which were dismal: an A in English, a C in English literature, a C in history, a B in French and abject failure at mathematics. The fact that I had been unable to attend school for almost the entirety of the term preceding the exams made no difference to him, and wasn’t even mentioned as he ranted and raged about the shame of the Minister of Education’s own daughter making such an impoverished showing and not even bothering to try for A levels.
She sat silently in her chair at the table next to the radio (a lifeline to the outside world I shall no longer need) in full knowledge of the reason I was absent during that time. My elbow still clicks when I stretch my arm in a certain way, like when I’m trying to put it through the sleeve of my coat. I will never forgive her. Ever. He said that I could consider his securing of room and board with ‘decent people’ the last assistance he would ever offer.
And since we’re recording the real events here, it is also important to say now that to me those examinations, those pieces of paper which declare to all that I listened, read, regurgitated, recycled, rehashed and performed like a circus animal (or in my case, made an impoverished showing) are worthless. If pieces of paper are to be held as reliable accounts of one’s achievements then they could have looked elsewhere. They hadn’t even read the review in the Leader. Nor did they bother to see the play. The last night was standing room only, which is not saying much since the Druid’s Hall Theatre is rather small, but they could have come. They just didn’t care because they don’t think it’s important. I snipped it out and left it in an envelope on his desk the day I took the train to Wellington and boarded the Rockhampton Star. My favourite line is in the description of the final scene with Professor Higgins. Thank God for Freddie Barnes who gave me the space and stood silent and still, as according to the person writing the review, I “impressed with her sweet sincerity when she pleads for ‘a little kindness’ and, receiving only ridicule, becomes indignant and defiant and stands up for herself in excellent style.” I might have pleaded for something similar from them that day in the kitchen.
My room is in the attic and looks out on to the street. There’s another (empty) bedroom on this floor, and a tiny kitchenette with a sink and an electric stove called a Baby Belling that has one ring and an oven the size of a shoebox. I shan’t be using it because I’m paying for full board with the Boones and this kitchenette is for whomever has the other bedroom, but tomorrow I’ll buy an electric kettle and a teapot. There’s one of each here, but the kettle is full of lime scale and the teapot has a chip in the spout and dribbles hopelessly.
My bed is next to a window and has a rather nice striped bedspread. Isla said it’s Indian, but I wouldn’t know. Maybe it is. Maybe I don’t care. This is my own room, and I love it. From my window I can see all the way down into the gaping hole in the terrace opposite where one of the houses took a direct hit. I saw several such ‘bomb sites’ as they are called on the taxi ride from Victoria station. There are massive gaps in the architecture, with giant wooden beams propping up the buildings. One would have thought perhaps they might have rebuilt, and you can see they’re making a start, with cranes towering here and there, but the old saying about Rome doubtless applies here too. St. Paul’s looms in and out of the fog and smoke in the distance and looks very grand indeed.
The journey from Southampton was longer than I expected and the train was packed with school parties returning from France. They were very noisy and I saw several boys smoking in the corridor outside the compartments. As I walked past with my suitcase they stopped talking and one of them proffered his cigarette, asking whether I would like a drag. Very sweet. By the time we pulled into Victoria I was desperate for a cup of tea so I walked into a café in the station, which is bigger than any building I’ve ever seen. The noise was deafening and the smell of diesel fumes and cigarette smoke overpowering. Pigeons flew and fluttered under the great glass canopy and some of them walked as boldly as you please among the passengers and porters on the platforms. I liked their cooing, it sounded soothing, friendly and slightly solicitous.
In the café was a gleaming stainless steel machine that billowed clouds of steam and the noise it made was loud and abrasive. I had no idea what it actually did. The ladies working there had heavy china cups lined up by the dozen and hefted a huge steel teapot above them, walking as they went and pouring tea in a ceaseless stream over the tops of the cups. There were no empty tables so I sat at one occupied by a young man with a beard and a beret, buried in a book. He looked up at me and nodded but we didn’t speak. He was reading On the Road. Edith had told me about this book – a friend of hers in New York said it has caused quite the stir and was (apparently) originally written on a long roll of tracing paper all taped together and with no breaks of any kind, not even for paragraphs. I’ll have to investigate when I have time. It is time now for supper – Isla just rang on the telephone from downstairs. It’s called an extension and doesn’t actually cost anything when used from room to room like they do here. They asked me to pay for my own phone calls but since I don’t know anybody here I can’t imagine I’ll be making very many.