Gracie is Well

Gracie is back to her old self again, albeit minus one dew claw! The grumpy vets receptionist insisted that they do not take customers without an appointment, but saw the anxiety being suffered by Grace. The vet essentially just snapped the dew claw off, no local anaesthetic at all and charged us £50 for the privilege. Gracie was not happy but seems to have cheered up now, a couple of treats and hugs later! Though having said that, the vet suggested Gracie go on a diet as she is five kilos overweight. Better cut down on the treats I guess, but it seems unfair to give one to Remus (who burns off the calories) and not one to Gracie. Other than that, all is well.

Nut Loaf and Wild Mushrooms

Don’t worry, I used shop purchased mushrooms for the nut loaf, but I believe this variety is more than likely edible. Okay, take no chances when it comes to wild mushrooms. The fungi I picked this morning showed signs of an insect having munched away on one side. That’s promising that it is not poisonous. I also sliced it and smelt it.

The aroma resembled our cultivated mushrooms. Again promising regards being edible. I binned it though as I was not 100% sure. The shop bought mushrooms were good enough for today’s cashew nut roast.

I last made this one two weeks ago when friends Glen, Victoria and daughter Fi came to visit. I did a rundown on the ingredients on my blog, but promised Victoria that I would give her the recipe. I think they’re visiting again in a few weeks. Maybe best I make another one, then she can actually see how it all goes together. Eh Voila!

And I really am going to learn how to photograph food a little better if I am thinking of compiling a recipe book. Maybe Dadda Gets Jammin’ is just the beginning.

Please excuse the chintzy plate – a charity shop purchase to originally be used as a bonbon dish for Dadda’s homemade rum truffles. More of that closer to Christmas.

The last few days

Well what didn’t happen! Just finished bath time and our angels have ascended the stairs to bed with relative compliance. We enjoyed a roast beef dinner tonight and Spaghetti bolognese was had at lunchtime. Okay, one amusing thing happened over dinner and that was Tara piping up to Daddy and myself, both sipping a glass of ‘Chateauneuf du pape’, opposed to the black current squash they were all enjoying. She said ‘you’re drinking the blood of Judas’! Hmmmh – I think a couple of biblical stories may have been merged from story time at their C of E School! I had to smile and put her right on what the red wine signified! I do find it awkward talking about religion with them being so young!

Missed country file due to the inclusion of ‘strictly’ to the Sunday night BBC schedule. Not my thing, but there you go! Talking of countryside, that’s where we inhabit and this week saw the children find a frog stuck in the neck of the watering can, then today saw two newts discovered in the brown grass/moss beneath the now emptied swimming pool. Lots of eggs were also there. A neighbour helped carefully move them to their pond, where I believe there is a small population already surviving the rigours of the British elements.

There were many crazy run arounds the living room and kitchen over the weekend, plus lots of shouts, screams and laughs. The compendium (games cupboard) was emptied en masse and hopefully some of the multiple pieces from those various games and puzzles are back in their correct boxes. My rules – one game at a time was ignored by John today as I was spending time Jammin’ in the kitchen making this years ‘Xmas X-rated’ Jam. A delicious combination of rum soaked raisins, pears, sugar, an extra slug of rum, apple pulp and lemon juice, all this complemented with a combination of fragrant, festive spices. A real indulgence and the aromatics should be well infused in their sterilised jars by the time Xmas arrives. Regular strawberry jam was also made this week plus a well set raspberry jelly, sieved to exclude the pips and the perfect marriage to thickly buttered sour dough toast.

Strictly still on in the background. Damn this show is camper than Christmas! Is this really what the nation dines on? Oh dear – these are interesting times aren’t they!

Our Family Routine

It seems that every family has one, doesn’t it? What with Sindy back from her holidays, things are back to (the new) normal. Yesterday saw me dry fresh figs in the dehydrator as they are well priced this time of year. I cooked down a mass of sweet apples to make ‘Dadda’s Apple Sauce’. I really could not look another apple in the face – all of that peeling, tedious! The jars are now sat in the provisions cupboard along side yesterday’s other creation, the home made ‘Tomato Chutney’ all lined up like an infantry of little soldiers, in their shiny, bright, sterilised jars. This year we had a fair amount of home grown tomatoes that went into the cooking pot. Though I made up the volume to 3kg of tomatoes with strained tinned tomatoes. Don’t tell anyone will you?

I’m still in a quandary as to my next ‘project’! I am seriously considering learning to drive. A few of you sent me their kind support on my Facebook page when I suggested that idea.

My new book, an edit of this diary called ‘Thirteen Moons More’ should be complete within the coming couple of months. ‘Eighteen Moons’ tells the story of how my family came to be, so it is only fitting that ‘Thirteen Moons More’ tells you the story of the family that we have become today!

Don’t worry, I’ll let you know when the Kindle and paperback versions are available through your Amazon account. Do you know what? I recently realised why the children love the ‘Beat Bugs’ rendition of the Beatles ‘Paperback Writer’ so much. Duh! Silly me – I wrote a paperback didn’t I! It is also encouraging as they all want to write a paperback book when they are older. A bit of growing up to do first however.

I recently considered a business manoeuvre regarding ‘Dadda’s Jam’ and seeing if a third party (bigger company) might be interested in licensing ‘Dadda’s Jam’ as a brand and sexing up the Jam industry a little. You know, get away from the frumpy, old lady image of it! But sadly the concept fell on deaf ears. With so many funky combos, I’ve decided that my next project may have to be another book. Not just any book, but a recipe book containing all of Dadda’s ‘Jammy Combos’. Mind you, I know nothing of compiling a glossy, commercial recipe book for Jams, pickles and chutneys. But once my new book is out there, I am going to get working on Dadda Gets Jammin’ – I can’t wait!

That’s it for now – I hope you like the pic of me in today’s entry, as today, it’s all about me I guess. thank you to photographer and friend @michellemartinoli

Hot Air Balloon Collage

For the reception year induction, our little ones were asked to talk to their teachers and classmates about their summer holidays. On our meeting with three of the teaching staff last month, we were given three sparkly, refractive cut outs of hot air balloons. Today I chopped up photographs as the printer at home is still not working and pritt sticked the hell out of a few of our summertime memories.

The collages are going into school tomorrow and I believe that when all thirteen children in the class have finished the project (or rather their parents have found the time), they will be talking about their summer holidays to the rest of their class.

Definitely something for the memory box’s ‘additional items box’. Tara and Amritsar’s balloons are somewhere in the wardrobe! Just thinking how big the ‘additions! Box might end up being!

Just a thought – maybe we should attach the balloons to the tops of the baby Boxes now that they are sealed for the next fifteen years? There’s an idea! These memory balloons will be stuck to the wall at school for the next few months, but when they return home – we will have a small piece of time standing still to include in their future historical reminders of childhood. I have to smile xx

Goodbye to the Summer

With today being the ‘Autumn Equinox’, it is fitting to say goodbye to the Summer and thank you to it for so many happy memories. Excuse the pictures, I think this weekends picnic saw just these taken at the West Berkshire County Show. I hope you liked my ‘Fun Fair Frolics’ video yesterday?

Our nanny Sindy was also back from her travels today and resumed the school run, allowing Daddy to return to work and Dadda to once again get Jammin’! Today saw the damson crop pulped and fused with lemon juice and sugar, making this years offering of delicious damson Jam. No pectin needed as damsons, like plums are naturally very high in pectin. I also dried the crop of mint in the microwave instead of my dehydrator, making a speedy process of it! Fused with apple pulp and sugar and boiled until a firm set was inevitable, there now sits 6 jars of Dadda’s mint jelly. Not for buttery toast, rather a roast (leg of lamb) that is sat in the freezer. You know you can’t beat ‘homemade anything’, can you? In addition to this, last years crabapple juice was thawed from the freezer and boiled up with sugar to make the most amazing crabapple jelly, set to perfection and pinky purple in colour – amazing with roast pork and crackling.

The fitness trainer is back in the morning, so I had better refrain from overdoing the calories, but I believe tonight’s spaghetti puttanesca (cooked today) is an extremely healthy overindulgence. So why not go for it?

Aaliyah and Caleb are presently playing catch, running around the new living room coffee table. Now Tara and Amritzy are fighting for lappy privileges.

Sindy has just said to all of the children, just how much they were missed. Nite nite all.

Mega Breakdown at the School Gate!

And just who would you imagine had the breakdown? To be honest, there were a number of mini meltdowns by both Thor and Caleb after they had exited from their classroom. The emotional traumas were mostly associated with the PTFA selling ice cream and lollies in the school yard. I knew it would lead to trouble. I said to John ‘This will lead to trouble’ and guess what? It lead to trouble – complete screamy tantrums from both Caleb (having dropped his ice cream within minutes), then Thor, mostly venting his unjustified anger, running around like a thunderstorm, preparing his little bolts of lightening and energised screams of thunder for all the waiting mums and dads to endure.

Daddy had to pick him up in the end and put him under his arm in order to get him to the car, but his tantrum continued, if anything he was getting louder and louder and so very angry. Legs were kicking and his high pitched screaming was his very vocal contribution to this afternoons school pickup. Caleb had settled once his ice cream had been replaced.

I do not believe that Caleb could have conceived possible competition to Thor’s starring roll in what can only be explained as hellish, a moment that was extremely upsetting for both Daddy and Dadda.

Not a good end to his second week at ‘Big School’. I only hope that with our nanny Sindy’s return on Monday, his behaviour settles. There’s no going back. Thor will adapt, in time…

As parents, come on – you don’t like your child to be unhappy, but you also have to note when a child decides to bring you down a peg or two (usually with an audience). It is upsetting.

Well, there’s no ‘screen time’ thanks to the ‘scream time’ on the horizon for the foreseeable – I’m looking for a little more ‘Harmony in the Home’ before Thor enjoys his ‘Crossy Road’ again.

It is a big day out with a picnic tomorrow, finishing off with a barbecue on our terrace. An update on that tomorrow perhaps. But just for now I am enjoying the peace and quiet of the evening, some grown up time to cleanse away those little traumas from ones mind and looking forward with the inherent optimism we parents rely on for a happy home. So fingers crossed for tomorrow’s big day out X

Our Week So Far

The school gate has been, well, ‘The school gate’ really. Every day the children have come down stairs at around 6am, all have shouted quite a bit over the week, and getting them into their school uniforms has had its moments.

That aside, this extra free time has seen me doing general chores, Jammin’ of course, a workout with the fitness guy Adam and a fair bit of baking and cooking. Our usual fare – all tasty of course. Another curry on Monday, Italian on Tuesday, all a bit ‘samey’ really.

Oh! we made chocolate rice crispy cakes and I’ve just pulled another peach cobbler from the oven! Last weeks rendition was a traditional British one with milk bread scones on top, but this weeks was the Americanised version where you melt butter in the baking dish, add the milk, flour, sugar batter – then finally pour over your peeled and pulled peach flesh with all the juices. Do not stir. Looks amazing.

Still getting used to Aaliyah’s ‘mullet’. I think we will have to have the hairdresser have a look in at some point. Tara and Amritsar might just get away with it, let it slowly grow out over time.

Preparing for bedtime. They all had a bath last night, so a bit more relaxed tonight. Happy Days…

Dadda Gets Jammin’

Not amazing lookers – but these cookers make the best pectin. Full of vitamins and once boiled down, these apples from the orchard make the smoothest apple pulp. Just quarter them and immerse in boiling water (no peeling). 15 minutes later, strain, mash and pass through a sieve.

I’ve plenty of frozen fruits in the freezer, so just for now I am bagging up and placing alongside the pulped plums, peaches, strawberries, black currents and frozen raspberries for later pursuits.

Midnight Haircuts

It is with some (obvious) dismay that I write my diary entry tonight! I had lined up several possible titles! How about lunatic fringe, hair raising, or indeed, on the fringe of things – the possibilities are endless! Okay, somehow Tara had smuggled up to their bedrooms, a pair of child safe scissors.

I am absolutely devastated with what she has created in the aftermath of Tara’s idea of ‘a quick trim’. I wouldn’t mind so much, but they have all seen the hairdresser in the last few weeks, giving them all the perfect haircut.

It began yesterday morning with my putting the girls hair up into ponytails for school. Something seemed odd! I just couldn’t put my finger on it – but all five children seemed to have more of a fringe than I remembered! However, tonight the penny had dropped and I realised that something was indeed, very out of kilter.

Now, a parents power of deduction, coupled with question time for them all soon led to finding out who the culprit was.

I really do hate telling Tara off as she is usually the most perfect angel, just how do you teach an angle to be good and to scrutinise when they have done something that is wrong?

She is certainly no fallen angel, she accepts when she has done wrong, and will certainly never reoffend after her lessons have been learnt.

I am just so unhappy that all of our children’s fringes will all take several months to grow out.

Caleb, Aaliyah and Thor were happy participants. Amritsar said however that Tara sneaked up on her whilst she was reading a book in bed.

Tara cut part of her own fringe to one centimetre. Maybe two years to realign her beautiful wavey locks. Her job on Amritsar, might just take one year (she cut her fringe by several inches). Thor would benefit from a number two crew cut to even up the length. Caleb had the least damage inflicted, but poor Aaliyah, her hair was the slowest to grow of all of our children. Yet she is now going to have to wait, at least another year to return to her beautiful long blonde ringlets, that were her hair and certainly added to her outward beauty.

I do so hate being upset with Tara. She is a ‘Big Sister’ and should know better. I really am very upset with the situation…

Fab Weekend

Thank you to friends Victoria and Glen and daughter Fi for making last weekend such a great one. This Brighton duo (3 children) are an absolute pleasure to see. Just Fi was in tow as the other guys had their own stuff going on, but I think she got on with our girls pretty well – you know, they all coordinated well and didn’t scream too loudly whilst running around like crazies. It was to Brighton John and I ventured earlier in the year for the wedding of Glen and Victoria. Saturday night was another excuse to cook curry for Dadda (5 in number) and on Sunday Daddy insisted on cooking the leg of lamb dinner (I cant remember the last time). It was well executed, thank you John, though I had to lend a hand to magic up a nut-roast as both Victoria and Fi are Vegetarians.

Easy recipe for you now and one I hope Victoria will have a go at as she seemed to enjoy! I used cashew nuts, but peanuts are fine. Also I chose dried mushrooms from my provisions cupboard as they absorb liquid well when it comes to cooking in combination with ingredients that are better left with a dry consistency, such as nut-loaf or rissoles (nut balls). Just mince 2 or 3 onions in the food processor, leave aside. Do the same with the cashew nuts, then the mushrooms (fresh are fine). You don’t need measurements, just play it by ear. A little more or less of this or that is fine! I would only add that you shouldn’t overdo the breadcrumbs. I toasted 2 pieces of sliced bread and left to cool, then blitzed the two slices into oblivion, that was ample for a medium sized loaf for four. Mix all of the dry ingredients together with a little salt and pepper, a little water or stock and pack into an oiled loaf tin and cook at about 160 degrees for 35 minutes. Come to think of it – walnuts really rock in this recipe too.

Okay, we drank way too much on Saturday night, but you have to do that when you see old friends and the children are snuggled up in bed don’t you?

Sunday saw us all maraud the woodlands nearby. The weather was great and the dogs all began to get on well. Did I mention that Remus’s son Fenton is part of Victoria and Glens family. Gracie being a bit of a bully at times, wasn’t the nicest of sisters to poor old Fenton. But I think they ended the weekend on good terms!

Before we knew it – home time! Thank you so much guys. Let’s not leave it too long before another catch-up. Xx

The Full ’Harvest’ Moon

What with another full moon on this Friday 13th September, another instalment of ‘Eighteen Moons’ here is chapter 5 ‘Hands on Dad’. Hope you enjoy the read.

I manoeuvred my two car seats into the lift at the Lakeside and breathed a sigh of relief. Almost there and so far, both babies were still sleeping. Maybe this parenting thing wasn’t going to be so hard after all. 

‘Oh, my goodness they are gorgeous.’

I hadn’t even noticed her; I was so wrapped up in checking on the girls. Standing next to me, a huge smile on her face, was a tall, blonde woman. She was stunning.

‘I’m Rene,’ she said.

‘Nice to meet you. I’m Andi and this is Tara and Amritsar.’

‘Oh, such lovely babies. You must be very proud. They’re beautiful. ‘She bent down to stroke the soft hair on each small head. ‘Are they yours?’

‘Yes, mine and my partner’s. We’re from the UK. I’ll be staying in India with them until he can come over and we can take them home. Not sure how long that will be.’

‘I’ll be here for a while too.’

‘Are you on holiday?’ I asked.

Rene smiled. ‘Not exactly. I come from South Africa and I’m with a group here for work.’

‘Oh right, well I hope you enjoy your stay.’

As I heaved first one and then the other car seat out of the lift on our floor, Rene held the doors open for me.

‘Bye Rene, thanks.’

‘See you later Andi,’ she called as the doors slid shut.

She seemed nice. I wondered what kind of job she was in India to do. It looked as though there were going to be plenty of new friends around and that would be great, as so far I’d felt I was on my own.

First things first, though, right now I had two 10-day old baby girls to care for. And they were just starting to wake up and make the kind of whimpers and mewly noises that I was fairly sure meant, ‘please feed me’.

I still dreaded feeding time. It never seemed easy or straightforward getting each of the girls to engage and take the teats. And now there was just me to manage the two of them, a lot of my time was going to be spent coaxing them to take their bottles.

That afternoon they settled into their new crib surprisingly fast. I’d put it in the corner of the small living room and I put a rolled-up towel between them. They were so tiny that there was plenty of room for both. As they slept, I slipped into the adjoining bedroom and called John to report our successful transition from hospital to hotel. At last I could send him photos of his new daughters, and I did, by the dozen. He was enchanted with them, and desperate to be able to hold them in his arms. Waiting was awful, for both of us. John was still trying for his medical visa and still being told that it was ‘being processed.’ It seemed incredibly heartless. We could only hope that it would be granted soon, and meanwhile all I could do was send him photos and descriptions of his children.

‘I’m going to take their photo in and show them in the visa office,’ he said. ‘Maybe that will guilt them into giving me the visa’.

I think we both knew it probably wouldn’t, given the stony reception he’d had so far. But we needed to clutch at every straw, no matter how unlikely.’

Tara and Amritsar slept peacefully all afternoon. They even slept uninterrupted as I transferred them back into their car seats and took them downstairs and out to the hotel pool, so that I could have a cigarette and a breath of fresh air.

Back in our room Kayla tapped on the door.

‘Can I see them?’ she whispered.

‘Yes, of course, come in. Just don’t wake them up.’

She tip-toed in and stood over the crib.

‘They’re beautiful Andi.’ She paused. ‘You do know that sleeping all day means they’ll probably be awake half the night, don’t you?’

‘Um, no, I didn’t realise that. Don’t babies this young sleep all the time?’

‘No,’ she laughed. ‘They sleep about two-thirds of the time. So, if they’ve been sleeping all day, be prepared.’

She slipped out, suggesting we meet by the pool with all four babies the next day. Jamie had just gone back to England so she was up for some company. I closed the door behind her and gazed at my sleeping girls. I was a bit worried now, but what could I do? Wake them up so that they’d sleep later?

I decided not to do that. They looked so peaceful. I tried to get some rest myself, but as it was early evening, sleep was impossible. I sent for some supper and settled down with a book. It would be fine, I told myself. After all, how bad could the night be? 

If only I had known.

The following morning Kayla called. ‘How are things?’ she said, sounding ridiculously bright and chirpy.

‘Awful,’ I croaked. ‘I don’t think I’ve slept all night. The minute I put one down, the other would wake. It seemed to be a non-stop round of feeding and walking them up and down and humming to them and nothing seemed to work…’

‘Hmmm.’ I could almost hear Kayla resist the urge to say, ‘Told you so’.

‘You need a night nanny,’ she said. ‘I have Riah and she’s wonderful. She manages the babies while I get some sleep.’

It sounded so appealing. But surely things wouldn’t be this tough for long? ‘Thanks, I’ll think about it,’ I said.

‘OK, see you down by the pool in an hour.’

It had been a long, lonely night. I’d had no idea looking after people so small could be quite so time-consuming and arduous. Or that a baby’s cry could by-pass all logic and cut straight to your heart. I prided myself on being a strategic, analytical thinker, but that went out of the window when the girls cried. I couldn’t bear the idea of leaving either of them in distress, so at the first small cry I would leap up, picked up whichever baby was crying, and set about soothing and comforting.

Cheered by Kayla’s call I had a shower and got the girls fed and changed – I was getting good at the nappies, but getting their arms and legs in and out of vests was definitely a challenge – and with a car seat in each hand and a beach bag over my shoulder – headed downstairs.

By the pool I parked the car seats, placed a towel over the top of each one for shade, and settled down for some breakfast, a cigarette and a nap. I spotted Rene on the other side of the pool, laughing with a group of fellow Amazonian beauties. She waved and I waved back.

In the afternoon I tried to keep the girls awake for a bit. But just as nothing the night before had settled them, now nothing would wake them. The moment they were fed they nodded off again, the heat of the day proving utterly soporific. I tried to take advantage, snoozing while they slept. But any kind of proper sleep was impossible.

That night I put the girls to bed and told them firmly that I needed some sleep and they had better start learning that night was sleep time and day was the time to be awake. Two pairs of eyes looked solemnly up at me and, minutes later, closed.

Success, I told myself. They’re off. I think they got the message.

What foolish optimism. An hour later both babies were awake and bawling. What to do when two are crying at once? I ended up pacing the room with one in each arm. After an hour of walking, rocking, singing and (in desperation) describing the view to them, they finally appeared to be asleep. How to put one down without waking the other? Pretty much impossible, as I discovered. Each time I slid one baby into the crib, the other woke and the whole cycle started again. 

The night wore on and on…and on. By morning I had decided to go the night nanny route. It was that or insanity via lack of sleep.

As soon as the hour was decent, I called Kayla. She told me she’d heard that a nanny called Bharti was available; she had been working for two Israeli men who had just left. Calls were hastily made, arrangements put in place and Bharti started work that evening, arriving promptly at eight.

Small, round faced, middle-aged and exuding competence, I liked her from the moment we met. She promptly swaddled both girls in brightly coloured cotton wraps and laid them down to sleep like two miniature mummies. Bharti stayed with them in the living room while I, torn between guilt and deep relief, slipped away to the bedroom.

After two nights without sleep I sank into a deep, grateful slumber and knew nothing for the next ten hours, until Bharti gently shook me awake to tell me it was seven in the morning. Both babies, freshly changed and fed, were gurgling happily. At that point I personally elevated Bharti into sainthood. She stayed with them until eight, giving me time to go and get some breakfast before beginning the day shift.

From then on things went smoothly, with me on days and Bharti on nights. I learned how to get the girls into a routine with changing, feeding and sleeping. We spent several hours a day by the pool, where I chatted to Kayla and we sneaked a cigarette or two, as all four babies slept in their car seats under artfully draped towels.

Bharti, who arrived every night at eight, always dressed in bright, jewel-coloured saris, not only took care of the nights, sleeping on the floor beside the babies’ crib, she also taught me the knack of bottle-feeding. How to keep the baby upright, keep the milk in the teat so that air didn’t get in and how to remind the baby to feed by tapping the bottle, or turning the teat gently round in her mouth. It all seemed so simple yet these little techniques made a huge difference to feeds. She also taught me how to wind the babies fully after feeds, rubbing their backs while sitting them on my lap or holding them over my shoulder. I was soon a dab hand at all of it.

Tara and Amritsar looked very alike; they were more like identical twins than fraternal, but from the start I always knew who was who. Not only because of small physical differences, like Amritsar’s large almond-shaped eyes, which had been blue at birth, until they turned brown, but because their different personalities were emerging. Tara, always noisier and more excitable, was a bit of a Dadda’s girl, always preferring to be on my lap rather than Bharti’s, while Amritsar was quieter and more docile. I sent John photos every day, so that he could share the small changes in each of the girls that happened almost imperceptibly as they thrived and grew.

With Bharti on duty I was able to go down to the bar in the evenings. After full immersion in the world of babies it was good to spend time with other adults and to meet new people. Kayla had introduced me to a few people by the pool, but it was the evenings when the place came to life, as children were settled and adults came out to play.

The Lakeside was full of ever so slightly eccentric characters. In fact, it sometimes reminded me of the cast of an Agatha Christie novel. There were a number of couples, both hetero and gay, there to collect surrogate babies. But there were plenty of others, there in transit for one reason or another.

The Indian carrier Jet Airways used the Lakeside as a base for many of their pilots. Kayla was very friendly with Caroline, an Irish pilot with a crazy sense of humour. I also met Desi, a Bulgarian who, with her pilot husband, was relocating and waiting for a more permanent address. Desi was friends with Sandra and both of them were a lot of fun.

I actually met Sandra for the first time behind the bike sheds, so to speak, both of us sneaking away for a quick smoke. After that she and I shared the occasional naughty cigarette. Sandra was married to Jaques, a French national who was a chemical company manager; they were resettling in Mumbai after a few years in Rio. She was a big personality and wickedly funny, I enjoyed her painfully accurate observations of all the other guests and we became good friends.

The very first time I left the girls it was with Sandra. I needed to go grocery shopping and Sandra offered to look after them while I nipped to the shops.

Grateful for her help, I settled them both into one car seat and left them sleeping beside Sandra in the corner of the Crimson restaurant, the focal point where we’d all gather to eat and chat. Sandra, lying back, book one hand and the other giving the car seat an occasional rock, waved me off.

I left the compound, through the security gates and walked down the driveway to the main road to hail a rickshaw.  I was in the back of the rickshaw, halfway around the lake on my way to Heiko, the supermarket in Powai, when I started to worry. I had only known Sandra for a week, why had I not asked Kayla? Just how well did I know Sandra and Jaques, I wondered.  As we sped towards the supermarket, I worked myself into a frenzy, visualising my new friend and her husband checking out in a hurry, bundling the girls into the back of the company car and heading into the darkest depths of India.

Fellow parents might recognise my wild fantasies for the separation anxiety I was feeling at leaving my two new born babies, as I screamed at the rickshaw driver to turn around and go back to the Lakeside.

Fifteen minutes later I arrived back, half-crazed by imagined disasters, and hurled myself through the doors…to find Sandra as I had left her, enjoying her book and gently rocking the car seat where the babies were fast asleep.

She looked up, no doubt started by my feverish appearance.

‘That was quick.’

What could I say?

‘I forgot my wallet,’ I muttered, slumping onto a seat beside her. ‘I’ll try again tomorrow.’

Sandra and I went on to become good friends. Eventually she moved out of the hotel and into a glamorous apartment and I missed her. We stayed in touch and a year later we met in London, where she dragged me into a sex aids shop in Kensington High Street, insisting she was buying a gift for a friend.

Then there was Catherine, a solicitor, Ivanna who was in human resources, Josh and Todd, American riggers on contract to India Oil and famously fond of a drink or two. As was John, who was there with his wife Maria and their son Gordon, who John informed us had been named after a certain green bottle of gin. Gordon, a teenager who was used to following his parents about as they lived their expat lifestyle, took this in his stride and informed me that he was off to China soon to go to ‘Kung Fu school’. Right.

For several evenings a chap known only as Fred entertained us with his guitar in the hotel restaurant. He managed to get just about everyone singing Beatles songs. He even got me going on an Elvis number – and I don’t do a lot of singing.  Rene and her group were there, sounding like a heavenly choir as they all joined in. There was a lot of laughter and warmth between the guests; in some ways it felt as though we were one big, hugely dysfunctional family.

The following day by the pool Kayla nudged me when Rene and her group settled onto some loungers not far away.

I’ve worked out what they do,’ she hissed.

‘Really?’ I was curious. I had tried and failed to work out what 20 or so stunning South African women were doing in Mumbai.

‘They’re egg donors,’ Kayla said triumphantly.

‘What!’ I was incredulous. ‘How do you know?’

‘Well,’ Kayla glanced around. ‘You see that woman over there…Lauren. She’s their mother hen, she shepherds them around and organises things for them. Her friend is Sophie who works with Doran.’ I had already met Doran, an Israeli working for a surrogate agency called Tammuz Fertility. He was facilitating surrogate babies for a number of Israeli couples.

‘I think Sophie runs the donor side of things,’ Kayla went on. ‘I’m pretty sure that all those girls are donating eggs for Israeli couples.’

I was amazed. ‘Blimey, you’ve been keeping a close eye on things! I’m impressed by your investigative skills.’

Kayla laughed. ‘I just keep my eyes open Andi, it’s not that hard to work out.’

By this time my brain was buzzing. Rene, I realised, might just be the answer to my dreams. I still longed to be the biological father of a child. Perhaps, with Rene or one of the others from her agency as donor, it might be possible. Not here in India, since that was illegal now, but somewhere where surrogacy for gay parents was still allowed. I filed the idea away in the back of my mind to look into later.

The next time Rene and I stopped to chat I asked her for the agency’s details. I had liked Rene from the moment we met in the lift and I had a good feeling about her and the part she might play in giving us another child. I talked to John about it and he agreed that I should try again, but the question was, where? Researching potential surrogacy destinations, Thailand seemed like a good option. I could travel there from India for a brief visit to make the deposit. Maybe, just maybe, I would still be able to father a child.

With this in the back of my mind it was time to focus on the immediate issues – like how long our passport application for the girls would actually take,

Kayla and I looked on enviously as people of other nationalities got their passports and exit visas for their children and went home. Top marks went to the USA. Their embassy sorted DNA tests soon after the birth and then processed the babies’ passports within two weeks. Job done and the Yanks could hop on a plane home. The Israelis were a close second, coming in at four weeks (later we heard this was down to two weeks). Canada and Australia were also around four weeks and the Scandinavian countries took six weeks. How could it be that the UK nationals had to wait several months? Ridiculous and shameful. But Kayla and I could rant and rave all we liked, nothing was budging.

Doran sympathised with us, and told us that Israel welcomed all new citizens, surrogate babies included, and so had a very positive and helpful attitude. It was good to know that the UK’s obstinate and somewhat disapproving attitude was not universally shared – in fact it made the UK seem backward and perhaps even prejudiced.

‘Where are you planning to spend the next few months, while we wait for the passports,’ Kayla asked me as we lay by the pool one afternoon.

I groaned. ‘I’m not sure. I was hoping for a miracle that would speed things up, I guess.’

‘Not likely to happen,’ she said, sipping an iced water. ‘And this place is too expensive. I’ve been thinking about going down to Goa to wait it out. It’s much cheaper, and it’s quiet at this time of year, while it’s out of season. Why don’t you come too?’

It sounded like a good idea. The Lakeside was costing an arm and a leg, so we couldn’t stay there much longer. That afternoon I started researching apartments in Goa on my laptop. Kayla was right, they were much cheaper, and I liked the look of the area. 

I lived in hope that John would suddenly appear. I missed him and I felt desperately sad that he was missing the girls’ early days. It seemed so heartless. Clearly the change of legislation in India, outlawing surrogate births for gay couples and for those heterosexual couples not married for two years (Kayla and Jamie fell foul of this, as they weren’t married) had caused the entire system to jam. It seemed cruel, as our babies were already well underway when the law changed. 

Before we moved to Goa, I needed to send John all the necessary documents for their British passport applications, most of which had to be supplied by the fertility clinic. Leaving the girls with Bharti, who agreed to stay on one morning, I got a taxi over to the Rotunda Clinic. Somya came out of her office to greet me, smiling broadly. I showed her pictures of the babies and told her I needed the girls’ prenatal scans, Rehanna, the surrogate’s identity card and her divorce papers, which had to be originals.

Somya waved her arms and assured me that she would get all these documents together and send them over to me.

‘There is no hurry,’ she insisted. ‘Besides, the notarised document can only be signed six weeks after the birth.’

This was true. We also needed a signed and notarised document stating that Rehanna did not want to be a mother to the surrogate children. This wasn’t just for the babies’ passports though, it was also for a Parental Order, which John and I would need to apply for in the UK, once we were all home. It had to be signed by Rehanna after a six-week cooling off period in which she was, legally, entitled to change her mind.

‘You can send me the notarised document later,’ I told Somya. ‘But I need the rest as soon as possible. We’re going to Goa in three days’ time and I need everything before we go.’

Somya insisted that her admin people were dealing with it all and would send it to me but I didn’t trust her. I said I would be back in two days and asked her please to have everything ready.

It was Sandra who borrowed her husband’s official car and drove me back to the Rotunda Clinic to collect my documents.

Needless to say, the documents were not ready. Without them the passport applications couldn’t even be started, so Somya’s nonchalant attitude was infuriating. I couldn’t afford to alienate her though, so I remained patient and polite, while insisting she express them to me in Goa as soon as possible. She promised that she would and I could only hope that she understood how important they were.

I had found a small apartment in Goa, and persuaded the indispensable Bharti to come with me. She was even bringing her friend, Geeta, who would share nanny duties with her. With the cost of renting and living in Goa so much lower, we could afford the extra help.

Two days later, bags packed and entourage in tow, I said goodbye to my Lakeside friends and checked out.

‘See you down there in a couple of weeks,’ Kayla said, kissing us all.

As the doors closed behind us and we climbed into our taxi I tucked one car seat under each arm.

‘Come on girls, ‘I said. ‘We’re off to the seaside.

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Or just search Andi Webb ‘EighteenMoons’ for your link to Amazon publishing in your territory.

Memories and Mixed Emotions Unearthed from the Cupboard

Well, what with me scuttling around, trying to complete the contents of our not so famous five’s ‘Baby Boxes’, today saw me clearing out the shelf of one of our wardrobes. My mission was to thin out all of the physical items that were part of our family’s early experiences.

It seems that from both India and Thailand, I kept every single receipt, invoice, airline boarding pass and document. The important documents that we needed in order to gain British passports and Exit Visas are already filed away for all of our children, but all of those little incidentals, passport photos, bits of stationery, you name it, were surveyed and sorted by myself today!

All of those monthly accommodation invoices – bin. All of those small trinkets – priceless. I had hotel keycards for the Novotel in Juhu Beach, where I started this journey. Then on to the Marriott Executive Apartments in Powai, Bombay (there were other unmentionable accommodations) and then onto the Marriott apartments in Bangkok, Thailand. Nothing on that score from Nepal however as we stayed in pretty regular apartments, dare I say at relatively overinflated prices! Indian, Thai and Nepalese mobile Sim Cards were all there, Bangkok sky train tickets, in fact So many small reminders and memories of those ‘Eighteen Moons’ spent far away from home had certainly mounted up over that time.

There were also documents reminding me of the bizarre and not so happy moments. I felt really emotional when I uncovered the doctors prescription and the diagnosis letter that he wrote, in order to help my plea aimed at the Indian authorities in order to return home with Tara and Amritsar, stating that I was suffering from a deep depression! It did not help. Then there was the invoice and covering letter from the ‘Hiranandani Hospital’ (where the girls were born) at around 7 months into our prolonged stay in Mumbai, I had a breakdown due to the extreme circumstances that were holding us in stasis. Nothing to worry about I was told, just anxiety – a form of panic attack. It was a completely distressing and upsetting time. I was so grateful as to their diagnosis as I could not have imagined being side lined from the girls for a single moment in those, our darkest hours!

A lot of energised feelings today – and all I was looking for were the two pieces of material swatches that were our nanny Bharti’s old torn saris that swaddled our little babes as they slept in their early months of life. We have seen the girls in swaddling in various photographs and now these relative rags are destined to be a lifetime memory, but just for now, to be hidden away in the children’s ‘Baby Boxes’!

Certainly a day of mixed emotions and memories for me. Even a tear!

The school Gate

Not the best photo of our children, but you might just notice Thor clinging to my leg this morning. Shortly after, it was Daddy’s leg, then mine, then the breakdown happened. Then Caleb joined in, not wanting to enter the cloakroom area where Aaliyah had very happily skipped to a moment before, full of smiles! Amritsar and Tara had very lovingly given us both massive hugs and kisses goodbye, then marched through the door to their welcoming teachers on the opposite side of the yard. By this time both Thor and Caleb were screaming. The other parents looked on, a few with looks of disbelief at the shenanigans that were in action. The reception year teacher and the TA did what they could to calm the situation. I indicated to John for a speedy retreat. Ellie, one of the friendly mums at the gate gave us a few words of support. Just day three of big school so I guess we are lucky that the separation issues waited until now. The boys generally settle after 10 minutes or so. I know they are in very safe hands. Now, I am away for the night and only hope all goes well for John tomorrow morning on the school drop. The children play up for daddy that bit more than me as they don’t see him as often and they bide for his attentions that much more! That coupled with Thor loving an audience. Hmmmm…

Well, I saw the personal trainer Adam again yesterday for a workout on a the terrace and thankfully I don’t ache too much today. Thinking about it, I have packed on a couple of kilos over the summer with all that ice cream and all. So I had better consider cutting down on the calories for a couple of weeks. Thinking of maybe fasting for a few days, but maybe after the weekend as we have friends staying over.

Happy Days…

Little Woodpeckers and Dadda gets Jammin’

I am sat here on the terrace. All is quiet, except for the tap, tap, tapping of the red headed woodpecker, from somewhere within the foliage of the red leafed plum tree. The school drop off done and John off to get a pane of glass cut to replace the broken window of the shed at the bottom of the garden, hidden behind the mass of overgrown rhododendrons. I am reminded of one of our little woodpeckers (the school house/team), Caleb. He was rather shy at the school doorway today. A little girl from one of the older years made it her place to talk to him and reassure him that school was a good thing! Praise to her! Now, Aaliyah on the other hand was straight in the doors and hanging up her coat and P.E. Kit. Thor, like Caleb was reticent, but found his confidence quick enough.

What is in store for me today? Well, the Aga is getting a good clean and I sorted out 2 bags of the random array of broken plastic children’s toys that are destined for the rubbish bin. Remus and Gracie are chilled on the sofa and daytime TV is doing its thing in the background. I leave it on even when I am not in the room to settle the dogs. I think that I have mentioned the way in which Remus strains to hear sounds that he can have a good bark to in response. In A general tidy up around the house. This new chapter in my life might need some fine tuning. It’s very quiet weekdays for me now what with all of the children now at school. It might take a few weeks to find my new direction. Though with not driving – I still feel a little housebound. I think they say ‘do what you know’! But I’m not sure what I do know anymore as the family has been everything these last 6 years..

I’m going to put the Aga back together now and make yet another new combo for ‘Dadda’s Jam’. How does ‘Plum and Calvados’ sound? Drizzled over Haagen Das vanilla ice cream with dark chocolate shavings maybe! Not for the children of course, rather Daddy and Dadda’s dessert tonight. Hmmmh – on that thought I will leave you…

The Big Day for ‘Our Fledglings’

An emotional day today as our three little ones, Thor, Aaliyah and Caleb joined Amritsar and Tara at ‘Big School’. We have been counting down the days for some time now. Both John and I did the school run on this momentous occasion.

Where did the time go? It seems to have been non stop for the last six years and today I find myself at odds with what to do with my new found freedom! Okay, things were busy on the off-go this morning, but as soon as John and I returned home, the house seemed unusually quiet. John is working from home these next two weeks what with Sindy taking 2 weeks leave, so he’s been busy with emails, the telephone and is presently on a conference call, but what about me?

The children have fledged the nest!

This morning I headed down the driveway and gathered blackberries, then I headed up to the orchard to pick apples for making pectin. You got it, Dadda’s Jam played a part of my new found free time. I don’t know if it is something I might start to focus on again as it has always been there these last few years since the little ones started preschool, but six hours daily need to be filled somehow!

The time today has flown by as it’s almost time to do the pickup, then a flood of stories of their first day. I’m really looking forward to that. I am also intrigued as to studying any changes in the little ones behaviour! I will keep you updated on that score in the coming weeks and months.

Back to Dadda and his jammin’. How does ‘Blackberry Cider’ Jam grab you? Alongside the already infamous ‘Blue Cherry Berry’ Jam! Woohoo, I think we have a winner!

Maybe more from me later, but for now I will leave you with a video of the children getting ready for this ‘Big Day’ event.