Pretty Much Back to Normal

Aaliyah is fighting Amritsar in the living room, trying to steel her ‘Heeleys’. Thor is hugging a soft ball we brought in Grasse, France, two years ago, purchased from an artisan shop in the old town lanes. Caleb is sat on daddy’s lap, as is Tara! Thirty minutes ago, the latter two were asked to leave the dinner table due to Tara eating her dinner slower than a snail, as was Caleb. I tried to help Caleb by spooning the said food to his mouth. He then took a swig of water and proceeded to spit the ‘lentil bake’ all over my hand. Thor and Aaliyah ate with gusto. Odd really as Thor was the main voice of opposition to the lentil bake and Aaliyah on the other hand simply refused to eat the dish the last time it was had. An early night for her that night due to her sheer indignant behaviour.

Tara and Amritsar are now sat beside the television looking like identical twins in their new matching pyjama sets. As you know they are not identical at all, but do have a blush of similarities and pretty much the same hair style, albeit Tara’s newish fringe. Aaliyah has vanished, Thor still grasping the soft ball and Caleb is clinging to daddy’s head firmly.

Bath time now, to be followed by bedtime. Hopefully they will sleep well as they were all up past 10pm last night playing silly buggers on the stairs for a fourth night. They will certainly find the return to school next week very challenging.

Aaliyah is now screaming ‘Caleb is not my friend, Caleb is not my friend’. Both Aaliyah, Thor and his ball and Caleb are swarming over Daddy’s head. Aaliyah shouts loudly, now Thor has vocally joined her. A relative cats chorus.

I have just implored Daddy to start the bath time duties as I am tiring of the antics in motion. Remus is snuggled on my lap with Gracie beside.

Daddy’s trip to the fridge has just resorted in Caleb going ballistic. He was given some Brie much to my annoyance with his behaviour at dinner time. Caleb spits his dinner at me and now complains that he is hungry!

He is presently squeezing daddy’s legs saying ‘I want you, I want you’ wailing louder and louder. Oops! He has just produced a rather large snot bubble. Sadly not caught on camera as was Thor’s world record breaker of last spring!

My cold on the other hand, after 4 years now, has yet to clear up! Clearly the little ones are still sucking second hand objects at school with their classmates. Odd that the girls stopped doing that once they escaped their old, germ infested preschool…

Family Day Out on Exhibition Road

A big thank you to cousins Jamsey and Theo (Over from Dublin) for entertaining our guys today at the Science Museum in London. Of course we were in the company of Auntie Sara and Uncle Gerry also. Just back home in ‘The Shires’ now and the children up to bed. Some sounds of volatility, but hoping that they will settle soon. The last few nights have seen them coming down the stairs repeatedly, up until past 9pm. Only natural being on their Christmas Holidays. I just cornered them off midway. Somehow they have unearthed their old hairbrush, now missing 6 months. God knows where they have been excavating!

Children can be a bit mental when they are having fun.

I can fully recommend this fun day out. Even at this time of year, the Science Museum was not too busy.

So many fun things to engage with.

Do excuse the portrait angle of my phone! Unlike many, I always shoot in landscape. Obviously I was as carried away as the rest of the crew.

Our Very Merry Christmas

Hopping you all had an amazing time of Christmas Day and Boxing Day. In the end I thought that I would not intrude. This time of year is a very special one and one that is devoted to family – isn’t it.? Well here is our Christmas morning up until the big Christmas dinner. Today seemed an appropriate time to share Christmas morning with you as by this time you are all pretty much Christmas’d out in your own homes, so here is our rendition of the BIG day!

Christmas Eve

Last Christmas I avoided all diary entries for a while. I guess I just thought that everyone had enough on their own plates to deal with, including a turkey, a ham, some sprouts, plus all of the trimmings!

I remember starting an Instagram account on Boxing Day with some footage of our Christmas dinner and then a rendition of the twelve days of Christmas. I only maintained the Instagram account, though it still exists, for 6 months. Damn, that concept of social media is so time consuming. I found that all of my spare time was just being absorbed and nothing really came back as to followers from there migrating to my diary! It was all about capturing a moment in time albeit a photo or a short video. But I do that with words in my diary don’t I? Well that, coupled with an image for the day.

I think that this year I will do a few daily updates with what’s going on here on my blog.

I hope everyone has a stress free time tonight with the preparations for Santa’s Visit.

I remember a couple of years ago, the family from Ireland all chipped in for a flat pack ‘Pirates Castle and boat’. The arguments that John and I went through for the 2 hours to put It together and struggling with the 1000 pieces, the allen keys and obviously, those inevitable missing pieces! Never again I say, never again.

So once again, good luck with tonight everybody…

Two More Sleeps To Go

A crazy enough day, what with our nanny off and John at work. Overall the not so famous five have been well behaved, just the occasional flash point or two from each and every one of them.

Remus has been hiding mostly! He has restarted daytime snoozing on our bed. I think in order to avoid the children and their various antics. He knows he’s not allowed, but I’ve kind of turned a blind eye due to the fact that Christmas is almost upon us.

One of Thor’s gifts was an art set. And this afternoon they each in turn painted a landscape scene. You might remember that painting is generally banned from the house due to a couple of incidents! The main one being Tara and Thor stripping off and covering their bodies in hand painting. Aaliyah and Caleb were thankfully just face painted.

Thor’s pile of presents is slowly diminishing as things get opened, broken and binned! I don’t know how they manage to accomplish the sheer volume of destruction.

The living room is really looking Christmasy now, though I held off from playing Christmas music today, giving Thor a final feeling of birthday spirit.

This afternoon they all kept singing ‘two more sleeps to go’. That is, until tomorrow, when as you know, it will be ‘one more sleep to go’!

John due home at 6pm. So, I am sure the tempo will be raised for the final witching hour. But they are all settled for now at least.

Happy Winter Solstice (04.19 GMT) Tonight

At present Thor is In the living room screaming. Just a small echo of the astronomy of this moment! Yes, it is the Winter Solstice tonight, here in the Northern Hemisphere, the eve of (our) Thor’s birth!

For me, this astronomical event signifies the true start of Winter. Some imagine that December 1st indicates the beginning of Winter, but hear me out? With Christmas but a few days away – how did the birth of Christ get conveniently moved to that specific date? Wasn’t it the Roman conversation to Christianity (in order to better control their vast population), that turned the pagan festival of the solstice into what is now the Xmas holidays?

So, I would like to get all pre Christ for a moment and wish you all a ‘Happy Winters Solstice’ and as for our son Thor, I’ll save his birthday wishes for tomorrow. FYI – Thor is still in the living room screaming…

Yesterday’s Party

Thor enjoyed his party very much with his school friends plus Charlie from his old preschool. The soft play area was perfect for hosting children’s parties because they are safe areas, the food and the party bag is also included in the set price and all we had to bring was a shop brought birthday cake.

Once we arrived home and the not so famous five had come down a little from their sugar highs, all went up to bed with not too much of a struggle. Tomorrow is the actual birthday (Sunday 22nd December), so another cake, this time the home baked one!

Not a lot to report really. The beginning of the Christmas school holidays and our nanny is off for the next couple of weeks. So just John and I at home to man the ship! Will we sink or swim – that is the question?

All playing nicely at present in the living room. Which is nice due to the fact that daddy gave them their sweetie bags given to them at school as soon as breakfast was finished. He’s gone out for a haircut and believes that they can self monitor the consumption of the sweets! Believe me, I’m not getting involved. They will surely be sweet-less within the hour. Then, your guess is as good as mine! An update for you before bedtime no doubt. You know, I can’t really feel too Christmasy until Thor’s birthday is behind us. But that is just the way it is. On the year of his birth, I actually got to bring him home on Christmas Day as by that time I was experienced enough with feeds etc. Only three days for him on the maternity ward at the hospital. Anyhow, the best Christmas present ever! The word home, maybe that’s the wrong word to use. I was alone and living in a serviced apartment in central Bangkok. It would be five months until we actually returned ‘Home’.

But here we are now, not five months, rather five years later. Doesn’t time fly!

Running on Vapours and Burnt Cakes

Two days ago we ordered heating oil. We were quoted 2nd January for a delivery. But we have 5 children and its Christmas we said, but sadly this fell on deaf ears. Yesterday we called a competitor and were told that they also could not help due to being so busy at this time of year. It was quite cold yesterday, but as soon as the children left for school, I turned off the heating and hot water and on their return at 3pm, I switched the system back on. What were we going to do?

Thankfully our nanny suggested another option and that was to buy the kerosene by the 20ltr jerrycan. So we purchased five and we picked them up. I emptied them into the fuel tank this morning. The first splosh fell flat on the base of the tank. We were indeed running our heating system on vapours.

Another company was called today and they thankfully can deliver on Monday or Tuesday. Drama averted. Christmas would have been a nightmare without heat! On the subject of heat, one of our two ovens is also broken. The engineer came out 2 weeks ago and said he would come back with a part. We heard nothing back. But yesterday Sindy followed him up and thankfully they are able to come on Friday. Though the only time slot they had was 12 – 6pm. I do hope they come early as we are celebrating Thor’s 5th Birthday then. Sindy has very kindly said that she would be more than happy with waiting in if she had to and come to the party when they were done. Thank you Sindy, yet again!

On the subject of ovens, I tried to bake Thor’s Birthday Cake on Monday in the surviving oven and twice it burnt. I have not burnt a cake in many years. The second oven will roast meat, but as for baking, the temperature is not even enough. I do miss the fan assisted one that should hopefully be fixed on Friday.

I finally managed to bake two acceptable layers for the vanilla and strawberry cake and I put them in the freezer. I couldn’t make a third layer due to running out of eggs and not really wanting to chance burning the cake for a third time. Thank you again Sindy for running out and getting more eggs. A personal message to her – we do appreciate you!

Anyhow Thor’s actual birthday is on Sunday and I think that we can eat the two layer home made cake then. And as for the party! It’s okay to shop buy on occasion, I just won’t make a habit of it. Today’s picture is taken from Tesco dot com. I would also like to thank Tesco for actually not substituting or saying not in stock. I purchased two of them, so I hope the grownups get a slice too. More on Thor’s Big Boy Birthday then…

I could have told you about the drama with the calor gas for the stove, but I won’t bore you with that today! Not being on mains gas has its disadvantages doesn’t it?

It’s Not Easy Understanding Surrogacy

I noted on the BBC’s London news tonight, another Surrogacy story regarding a hospital, compensation and commercial Surrogacy in the US. I am not extending any political view, though Tara and I had another talk today about ‘FAMILY’!

When clearing up last night just before bath-time, I came across a letter scribbled on an envelope, no doubt meant for the ‘Elf Mail’ service leaving from the living room fireplace. Reading the letter did bring a few tears to my eyes. I have now had another chat with all of the children (about Surrogacy) tonight, bar Aaliyah as she was at her Gymnastics class with Sindy.

If you can not make out the writing in tonights photograph, though Tara is a great writer for 6, almost 7 years old, I will express her words now! Remember, we have talked about Surrogacy in the past and all of the children have the knowledge of a baby being blessed into being from three separate elements – an egg, some fertiliser and a tummy. The tummy of course needs to be that of a woman.

Anyhow, this is what she wrote: “Dear Mum – What did you give to me for my birthday. I hope you had fun at my birthday party. Love Tara x❤️o

It wrenched my heart when I read it. There are a few ethical questions to be considered. There are also one or two legal matters and global differences in the written word of the law that should be looked at!

We had such a hard time with our 5 x separate parental orders with the U.K. courts. Our rights to be parents here in the UK were seriously set at a disadvantage. Remember that we chose international commercial (compensated) Surrogacy because the U.K. Law seemed so very behind with its bias for the surrogates rights above that of the genetic (intended) parents rights. Okay, so compensated Surrogacy was our choice and that had me personally thrown to the four winds for Eighteen months of my life spanning 2013, until almost 2016.

Yes, if our surrogate was an altruistic surrogate who used her own egg to help us have a family, she would have every right to be a third parent. That idea cannot be denied… that was not however what we chose when we both decided to become parents. Too many cooks can seriously spoil the broth.

Our route was explored and followed as we realised that an egg donor isn’t generally part of the planned parenting scenarios, much like sperm donation there is an element of something being gifted. This fact is one that is unified within the laws of pretty much all governments and the laws that they abide by. However. In the case of the surrogates (for us), they were also chosen with the idea that they were single women (independently empowered) and any financial betterment would significantly improve theirs and their individual own family lives. We did not want any party being coerced into something that was not 100% their choice.

Well there you go. These choices were part of our family’s story and this is very well documented in my novel Eighteen Moons (available on the Amazon platform).

I have tried to be as open with our family story with the children as possible. I will remind you that we have always maintained the reality that there are three elements to being gifted life – an egg, some fertiliser and a tummy.

I know that Tara is still only six years old (almost seven). But I really hope that knowing that she has two loving parents will be enough for her? There was never any intention that Tara needed a ‘Mum’ and that is the simple truth. In these modern times – one parent families are normal. Be that a single mum or indeed a single dad. Two mums have always existed, though in the past, been generally unreported! Being an openly Gay Dad was a real and obviously open option when this countries laws allowed for gay marriage, wasn’t it?

John and I were the ‘Family Planners’, the progenitors of our family, not our egg donors or the compensated surrogates.

But alas, convention leaves our Tara imagining a third parent, a mother! I know it can’t be easy for her to comprehend, though Amritsar’s more analytical thinking does give her an advantage on understanding the reality of our own family and its origins.

It did upset me that clearly Tara would like a ‘Mummy’. I know that it must be drawn from peer pressure, the norm at the school gate. They go to a ‘Christian’ school however and I really do hope that there is no misguidance from that element of our children’s daily lives! I also must add that I really hope that it is not the children in her class that may have picked on her for the fact that she has two dads, not a mum and a dad! As clearly two dads are not physically able to generate a child. I know this will not be easy for them as they grow and hopefully blossom into the beautiful human beings that they were born to be. They will of course, live and learn as we all must do.

In the case I heard on the news tonight about an NHS trust making a woman infertile and her seeking the help of IVF in the USA – how very dare they (with the UK law in their favour), assert that the financial compensation should not be able to help her and her aspirations regarding family planning in The United States, being assisted with her frozen eggs and the help of a surrogate.

As for Tara – she knows that she is loved very much.

On a final note, British fertility law and that of assisted reproduction really does need a major rethink. The tears from earlier today were not the first tears to be shed regards my legal legitimacy as a parent – the outdated laws in this country (and the general idea of social acceptance) should be reconsidered in the reality of this, the 21st century in modern day Britain.

We love you very much Tara – both of us, your parents Xxx

Kimmah Ligh

Yes, it was about this time a year ago when we left a friends house in Wimbledon and Caleb said ‘Kimmah Ligh’ to every House that we passed with festively decked out Xmas lights.

A Christmas party was enjoyed tonight at friends John and Thea’s. The children were invited and I can honestly say that when there are +20 or so children under the age of 10, they kind of self manage! And indeed leave the grownups to get on with the festive drinking! We are just home via 2 x separate taxis and the children are finally in bed (9.30pm).

Thank you guys – this annual event really rocks. They even had a card conjurer with all kinds of tricks and slight of the hand stuff to impress us with. But the truth is, they invited several school gate parents that we always love to see.

There is always a face painter at the party and this year was as great as all of the others! Although Thor washed off his spooky face and started screaming as the face painter had to go home before his second choice face could be applied!!!

John had a moment when he, Caleb and Thor were sat on a sofa. One of them did a bottom burp. Daddy inquired ‘which one of you did that’ and Thor replied ‘not me, it was Caleb’. Then in turn Caleb replied ‘it was not me’. A minute passed and Thor finally whispered in daddy’s ear ‘Daddy, if you say it was you that did the bottom burp – I will love you forever’!

You gotta smile…

Weekend Antics and Ham and Eggs (Chinese) – Oh and a Fly

Yes, my correlations can seem a bit random, can’t they?

Firstly, I have to comment on the time being 11pm and all of the not so famous five are still being very vocal on the top floor! No John tonight as it is his office Christmas party in London.

Tara, Amritsar and Thor were down at around 8pm as there was a fly buzzing around in their rooms. We did have a fly come to stay with us last winter. We called him Barney. Did you know that not all fly species are the same? There is a specific breed that grows large and lives through the winter months. It is unlike those pesky summertime flies that have bacterial issues! This breed of fly is a little more sluggish to the summertime breeds. Well anyhow Barney used to come down at mealtimes and either sit on my shoulder or perhaps the countertop and just look on, a very cute and chilled out fly indeed.

Well, the fly in their room tonight was clearly not Barney, a little too small – he was however keeping the children awake with his constant buzzing and skipping from room to room,

The fly spray was called for and a zap or two later, the children were gifted a quiet time of it. And here we are three hours down the line and they are still rampaging the upper floor.

Okay, the other part of tonight’s story is Dadda’s dinner. No John tonight as I mentioned and to be honest, I just loved the Chinese food I cooked earlier in the week. So tonight I thought ham and eggs!

Chop one onion and a pepper/capsicum and fry until softened. Add a cup or two of cooked basmati rice. Keep turning until rice is hot. Chop up 4 or 5 slices of cooked ham into chunks and add. Meanwhile crack 2 eggs in a bowl and beat, microwave for a minute and a half to two minutes. Cool and then finely shred with a sharp knife. Add to your rice mixture and stir. Finally add a little white pepper and a liberal splashing of light soy sauce. Mix and serve – wow, simply divine,..

Christmas Soup and Tantrums

Okay, so is it too early for preparing the Xmas Brussel Sprouts? Perhaps, but with both cauliflowers and sprouts at 29 pence this week, I thought that I would give it a go. This afternoon I cut the leaves and stalks from 3 cauliflowers. The heads now sit in the fridge awaiting the big day. I also prepared and peeled a countless number of Brussel Sprouts. So, what do you do with all of that green waste? I don’t have a compost heap, so I thought soup was the way forward. Not just any soup I’ll have you know! With the very festive trimmings, we were going to indulge in Christmas Soup! I cut stalks finely, added the sprout trimmings, 2 chopped onions, water and a few stock cubes. Once boiled to a just soft consistency, I used the hand blender to blitz to a smooth consistency. Salt and pepper and voila, we have Christmas Soup. Tasted a bit like asparagus soup! Anyhow, with the children’s dinner, they all had a mug half filled with Dadda’s soup. Tara, a big lover of Sprouts, loved it, as did Amritsar and Aaliyah. The boys on the other hand decided to be a bit difficult. Thor was especially silly, just saying that he didn’t want it. Caleb sipped slowly but steadily. The girls all finished and ate a pear for dessert. Caleb and Thor still pretending to sip, but little was being swallowed.

Moving on, Amritsar’s ‘Rainbows’ club was having a mince pie party – they were all invited! But the boys had to finish their dinner in order to go and eat mince pies. Thor couldn’t bear the thought of not getting his mince pie, so after much ado, he finished his soup, just in time as the guys were leaving. Caleb on the other hand spat a large mouthful of soup over the table, floor and self. We cleaned up and the others left. He was to stay at home given his behaviour. He screamed and then screamed some more, grasping at the door handle. He did calm down after they left and is now sat in front of the television with CBeebies. They are about to return, so I had better dash.

On an unrelated matter – Caleb fell in the playground today in a puddle. He has a plaster on his knee and some very bad scratches on his nose. Poor boy, let’s hope that he gets better soon.

A Kiss and Hug Later

Since the children arrived home from school, Thor has had his moments, but overall has improved his mood. He ate all of his dinner with gusto! Aaliyah on the other hand refused to even taste the lentil and mushroom au gratin! A dish I actually mastered when working at the Bristol Old Vic Theatre restaurant in my early 20’s. A very tasty and moorish dish simply made with diced onion, sliced carrots (sautéed) with added red lentils and vegetable stock. Once cooked pour the thickened mixture in a baking dish and coat with fried sliced mushrooms and lots of grated mature cheddar cheese. Bake or grill until golden brown. Anyhow, Aaliyah for her screaming and spitting out of the said ‘lentil bake’ – you’ve got to use words like that in order to pacify any possible gastronomic rejection from the children, was sent up to bed early, given her rather unreasonable behaviour. As for Thor, he didn’t even complain about the use of grated cheddar cheese on this dish!

Well, he was chirpy and playing ‘let’s make a den’ with Sindy. Though, when it came to bedtime, he categorically refused to give Dadda a kiss and hug goodnight. Okay, that’s fine I exclaimed.

Minutes passed after Sindy left to go home and then Thor starts to shout for Sindy. I shout up the stairwell ‘she’s gone home Thor’. Some more shouting, then finally his shouting changes to ‘Dadda I want you’ repeatedly.

Fifteen minutes pass and then the onslaught of Tara, Amritsar and Thor, later followed by Caleb. ‘I’m sorry’ Thor explained and proceeds to hug me and say ‘kiss and hug, kiss and hug’. All was well. Tara and Ritzy got lots of kiss and hugs too and finally Caleb arrives for his fair share. ‘All back up to bed’ I exclaimed and they all happily returned to the top floor. Aaliyah was nowhere to be seen! All quiet now.

Planning on doing a ‘Full English’ for dinner tonight. Just for the fact that there are sausages, bacon, eggs, tomatoes and mushrooms in the fridge. Just microwaving some potatoes in order to peel and fry up some of Dadda’s famous torn potatoes to serve with tonight’s fry up – Yummy!

No final words on today’s general election. As you know, I try to avoid a political view within my diary. Who knows what tomorrow will bring for the U.K. I only hope that we remain the U.K.! Oops – that sounded just a little bit political… nite nite

Another Full Moon so Another Chapter of Eighteen Moons

Chapter Nine

Breakthrough

Our apartment was just too expensive. As time went on the costs involved with the two nannies as well as me and the girls was mounting. With no idea when we would be leaving India, we couldn’t stay in the Lalco building for much longer. Manju came to the rescue, by telling me that a friend of hers would rent us a modest flat in central Powai. We moved the following week, much to the disappointment of Faskia, in the Lalco reception, who said she would miss us, hugged me and gave me her email address. I told her we’d miss her too, and thanked her for everything she’d done for us. The small two-bedroom flat Manju took us to was tucked down a narrow side street. Inside it seemed, if not exactly luxurious, then comfortable enough. That is, until a couple of days later the drains flooded. Within a week we realised that this was not a one-off, it was happening all the time. The sanitation system was totally inadequate, the flat smelled awful and to make things worse the young boy who slept on the balcony and did the cleaning actually did very little. He would chat to the nannies and then wander off. Perhaps because he was paid so badly by the landlord. Our side street was off a main road. Traffic was heavy, but at least we were not directly over the road, as we had been in the previous apartment. The trouble was, walking back up the street I kept falling into the potholes, and some of them were deep. Navigating my way down the smelly, hole-filled street, I hoped fervently that we wouldn’t have to be there for too long. In the evenings, before the cleaning boy went to sleep out there, I would step onto the balcony for a cigarette. It overlooked a car park, next to which was a building site with some kind of building which appeared to have been abandoned in the early stages. Perhaps the builders had run out of money. Around the car park and the site there was a pack of street dogs, perhaps 19 or 20 of them, running wild and barking incessantly. These dogs were everywhere in Mumbai, no-one could afford to keep or feed them and with so many people struggling to survive, dog-rescue was hardly anyone’s priority. The dogs just roamed the streets, lean and hungry and noisy. On the building site there was a security guard. One lunchtime as I stood smoking, I saw him drag an old wooden chair from his small hut close to the electric gate and then disappear back inside to emerge with a glass of water. As I watched he purred it on the tarmac in front of the chair and then he sat and stared at the pool of water. I disappeared back inside to play with Amritsar and Tara for a while. When I returned to the balcony the guard was still there, staring at the pool, which had shrunk to maybe half its size. I went back inside and half an hour later I returned for a cigarette. He was still sitting their staring at the pool of water, now very small. By the time I had finished my cigarette the stain of water was all but gone. The guard got up out of his chair and disappeared into his hut, returning moments later with a very large stick. He stomped out of the gate and into the building site and started lashing out at the dogs, which were barking and running everywhere, swinging his stick as he went. He shouted something intelligible and continued to thrash his stick at the dogs for a while. A few minutes later he calmly put his stick down and walked back to his chair on the tarmac, where he sat and looked into space. This sad scene haunted me. I felt the guard, there day after day for what would have been a pittance, ignored, under-valued and with nothing to do, must have felt his soul was destroyed, to the point where all he could find to do was to watch water evaporate. It made me question my own value in the greater scheme of things. I felt pretty broken myself, but watching the guard I realised that there are always those so much worse off. It was on that same balcony that I stood and watched the moon. The monsoon was in retreat by this time and the moon was clear again; luminous and golden. It always comforted me to see it, knowing that at home John could see it too. There had been seven full moons since I arrived in India, and I still had no idea how we were going to get home.

Mr Rodriguez, it seemed, had a general dislike of the British and an acute loathing for me in particular. He had warned every agent who did business with the FRRO that I was to be avoided at all costs. So now that I finally understood I needed an agent, I could not find one. An agent, I now knew, could by-pass the long queues that formed daily at the reception desk in the FRRO by going straight to the other side of reception. Here there was another corridor and a couple of rooms where the agents and the FRRO staff would do ‘business’. And then, lo and behold, you would find your paperwork processed. Kayla told me that it had cost her £150 for an agent to speed up her children’s visa application. Plus, the agent’s fee. She had gone to the FRRO with the agent and voila, all the boxes had been ticked and she was free to go – and to take her children home. All this I learned too late. And meanwhile Mr Rodriguez still wanted the elusive document, tying me and John together. But with the British Consulate doors firmly closed to us, we had no way of getting it. I was, by this stage, barely eating, and I was beginning to lose a lot of weight. Most days I was having little more than a chapatti and a small portion of channa (chickpeas) or dal (lentils). In my state of distress, the effort of cooking and eating had become too much. I had been looking for ways to publicise my plight – father trapped in India with two babies.

In an effort to get things moving. When I went to see her for some documents, Maria the social worker at Hiranandani Hospital where the girls had been born, had been shocked by my appearance. I had actually been quite beefy when she first met me, but by this time I was skinny. She told me she knew a CNN correspondent and that they might do a news
story on my situation. I decided to go on hunger strike, hoping it might help. For the next week I ate nothing, and took only water. In the event CNN did not do the story, and when I went back to see the lawyer Pratik, I told him what I was doing, he shook his head sadly. ‘I am sorry you are doing this Andi, but remember that here in India many people go without food – what makes you more special than them?’ He was right. Why did I think refusing food would make a difference to anything? Besides which the nannies, seriously worried about what was going on, had threatened to walk out if I didn’t eat. I stopped the hunger strike and began eating again, although I still had very little appetite. In a last-ditch bid to get things moving, John spoke to Anne-Marie Hutchinson, a lawyer in London who was helping us with a parental order for the girls, making us both equal legal parents to Tara and Amritsar. Anne-Marie was a noted human rights lawyer with a lot of clout. John had got to know her when he applied for the Parental Order, which had to happen within six months of the births. The Parental Order would make us full, equal parents to the girls, as opposed to parent and step-parent, and it would allow the girls to have British birth certificates. John explained to Anne-Marie the difficulties we were having and she spoke to the man at the Foreign Office who had so far been no help at all. This time he got his team to speak to the British Consulate in Mumbai and ask them to give us the document we needed. ‘Go back there tomorrow,’ John said. ‘I think they’ll help now.’ I was not at all keen to see Daisy or Zubin again, having been unceremoniously packed off and told not to come back. But needs must.

The following day I got Ram to drive me to the Consulate. Inside I asked for Daisy. She was not available. But then Zubin appeared. He, with evident reluctance, led me off to a side room. He then made a note of what we needed, disappeared and came back with the
necessary document. Stuffing it into my bag before he could change his mind, I shot out of the door and into Ram’s waiting taxi. ‘Success, Mr Andi?’ he asked cautiously. ‘Success Ram, I have the document. Let’s have a celebratory samosa.’ Ram chuckled and head-wobbled. ‘This is very good news Mr Andi. I think this is possibly a two-samosa moment. From the very best samosa maker in Mumbai. I am very happy, very happy indeed.’ After a detour to visit the ‘best samosa maker in Mumbai’ a claim validated by a couple of excellent samosas, Ram took me home. ‘We’re on our way, girls,’ I said, picking up first Amritsar and then Tara and dancing round with them, much to Nikki’s amusement. I called John and told him the good news. ‘Thank goodness the FO man came through,’ he said. ‘I was beginning to wonder if those people at the FO actually did anything at all to help stranded British subjects.’ ‘I’ll take the document to the FRRO as soon as I can,’ I told him. ‘Surely Mr Rodriguez has got to give me the visas now.’ That evening when Manju arrived, I told her the good news. ‘This is good Mr Andi,’ she said, nodding sagely. ‘But as you have had a lot of difficulties getting your visas, you will need to give an extra payment. Do you know what I mean? I think you would need to give 70,000 rupees.’ I looked a bit stunned. She meant a bribe, I understood that. But the sum she mentioned was the equivalent of over £700 and was more than three times the usual 20,000 rupees. ‘Are you sure?’ I asked her. Manju nodded firmly. She always seemed to know what was going on. In fact, I was fairly sure there was some kind of network going on between the nannies, the agents and the FRRO. I duly organised for John to transfer the 70,000 rupees, which I went and cashed. It came in 1000 and 500 rupee bills, so I ended up with a very big wad of cash. How was I going to ‘slip’ that to the FRRO staff without their security cameras picking it up? Manju had told me she would let me know when it was the right day to go back to the FRRO. Any day that Mr Rodriguez was not around would have suited me, but I kept quiet, took Manju’s advice and on the appointed day Ram and I set off, the cash stuffed into my bag along with the vital document. It was only four days after my last visit to get my own visa extension renewed. By this time, I had visited the FRRO at least 15 times and I was becoming uncomfortably familiar with its bleak corridors and blank-faced officials.

I left Ram outside and went to stand in the queue. When I got to the front, I asked how Tara and Amritsar’s visas were progressing. I spoke to a pleasant girl, Praju, who said that their files were all in order. I handed over the final document, the piece of paper that had taken so much time and effort to get. Praju looked at it, then looked up at me and nodded. I took this as a signal. There were security cameras everywhere, so I slipped the wad of notes out of my pocket and into one of the two files that were on my lap. ‘The money is there,’ I whispered conspiratorially. Praju’s eyes widened in horror. ‘No, this is not a good time,’ she said, hastily passing back the folders. ‘Go outside to the hall and sort this!’ Heart pounding, I grabbed the folder and backed out of the door to the hallway, where I sat on one of the metal benches and tried not to hyperventilate. I would make a terrible spy, I thought ruefully. I couldn’t spot an agent to save my life and now I couldn’t even manage to slip Praju a bribe without messing it up. Sitting in the hall I put my hand into the folder to take the cash out, intending to put it back into my pocket. I looked up – there was a camera at the end of the corridor, but I hoped it was too far away to pick up what I was doing. I wrapped my hand around the stack of notes, pulled them out – and dropped them all over the floor. It felt like a slow-motion disaster scene as notes flew everywhere. After a brief, horrified moment of paralysis, I fell to my knees and began trying to scoop them up, ignoring the puzzled and curious stares I was attracting. I was so nervous that I grabbed notes and, unable to stack them neatly, scrunched them into a ball in my hand. Except that the ball got too big and notes started falling out of it, so that I was dropping them as fast as I was scooping them up. Praying that the camera at the end of the hall hadn’t recorded this fiasco in full-colour detail, I finally managed to get all the notes into my pocket where they formed a large, awkward-looking bulge. I went back into the office and over to Praju, gave her the folders and said, ‘I think I had better go now’. She nodded, clearly lost for words, and I turned and left. That evening when Manju arrived, she looked at me, hands on hips. ‘Mr Andi, the deal is off.’ ‘What do you mean?’ I tried not to look embarrassed. Had she heard that I’d botched trying to bribe an FRRO official and then made things even worse by scattered wads of cash all over the floor? ‘I do not know what happened, but I am hearing that Mr Rodriguez is not happy with you. All he wants is to make you uncomfortable. He wants to see you…what is it when the fish is on the hook?’ ‘Squirm?’ ‘Yes,’ she nodded vigorously. ‘He wants to see you squirm.’ My heart sank. ‘So, you’re saying there’s nothing I can do? I got the document he wanted, and I’m offering money too, and none of that is enough?’ Manju nodded again. ‘Yes, that is what I am hearing. Mr Rodriguez does not like it that your Embassy phoned to ask about someone who does not work there.’ I could hardly believe what I was hearing. We were completely trapped – John his end and me mine. No-one was budging, either end, to help us.

On the phone later that day we discussed wild plans to get around the deadlock. It was something we’d been doing with increasing frequency, as the situation became more and more fraught and apparently hopeless. ‘One of the people from the Foreign Office told me that your best option might be to head for the Nepalese border and bribe the border guards,’ John said. ‘Of course, it was unofficial, they’d never admit that they said that. But if that’s the best the FO can come up with, maybe we’ll have to try it. You could take the train to the border and I could fly into Kathmandu and get to the border the other side. I’m sure we would be able to get you over.’ ‘It’s a 24-hour journey to the border this side. And even if I could manage that, if I’m caught, I could be accused of child-trafficking,’ I said. ‘Even though they’re my children. I can’t risk that. The only way I could do it is if Rehanna came along, since she is down as their mother.’ I took a breath. ‘I think I might have to marry her. I know it would be bigamous in the UK, but here our civil partnership is not recognised. I could marry her and we could probably get the girls out of the country.’ Rehanna had been turning up so frequently that I was giving her around £130 a week in handouts, most recently for her ‘sick mama’ who now needed a cataract operation. I had been keeping her onside in case we needed her to help us get the girls out and so far, she’d cost us over £2000 (in addition to the surrogacy fees she received from the clinic). Her mother could have had many dozens of cataract operations and a few spa days too, based on the amount Rehanna was creaming from us. John was silent for a moment, and then I heard a small sob. ‘You can’t do that.’ ‘Oh John, I’m sorry, I don’t want to upset you. I’m just so desperate.’ ‘Not that desperate. You’re not doing that. That woman has been milking us dry and I would never trust her to help us. Imagine what she would charge us if we gave her that kind of power. Besides which, I couldn’t bear to think of you marrying her, even for show.’ He paused. ‘I’ve been thinking that perhaps we could charter a boat and get the girls out that way.’ I was taken aback. I wasn’t the only one resorting to wild fantasies. ‘Er, where would we go?’ ‘Well, what about the Maldives?’ ‘You mean those little islands in the middle of nowhere a few thousand miles away? Are you nuts?’ ‘Actually, they’re only one thousand miles away, a good boat can get there in a couple of days, and from there we could fly home. I know it sounds like a long shot, OK a crazy long shot, but what else are we going to do? I reckon we could give the Harbour Master and the Captain a brown envelope, slip the girls aboard and off we go.’ He was serious. And I had to hand it to him, he had thought of something that just might, failing all else, be possible. But it was fraught with problems, not to mention ridiculously expensive. Chartering a good, sizeable boat plus crew would cost an arm and a leg. ‘Well it beats my other idea,’ I told him. ‘I was thinking of strapping the girls onto my back and swimming to Saudi.’ We laughed. At least bantering like this about near-impossible ways of escaping from our miserable dilemma cheered us up, if only for a few minutes. ‘Let’s wait a bit longer,’ John said. ‘We will get a breakthrough soon, we must.’ ‘I hope so,’ I told him. ‘I’ve got nothing to wear. I sent everything back with Manuela and I’ve only got four t-shirts and two pairs of trousers.’ I knew that we both tried to stay upbeat, for each other more than for ourselves. And we always tried to say goodnight on a positive note. But I suspected that John’s ‘we’ll get a breakthrough soon’ sounded much more confident than either he or I felt.

Diwali, the five-day festival of light was in full flow over the next few days. It marks the Hindu New Year and is a celebration of new beginnings and of good over evil and light over darkness. I hoped it might bring us our own small slice of good fortune. I stood on our balcony at night, looking out over the car park behind us, where there were many people, men, women and children throwing fireworks. Small children gazed on, fascinated by the coloured lights and the bangs as fireworks exploded. Health and safety were notably absent, as small boys picked up the remnants of still-smouldering fireworks and firecrackers popped along the street as people walked past. Nikki told me that she and her husband had been selling fireworks in the days leading up to Diwali. Apparently, they made some good money, and after Diwali she went out to buy many plastic rattles and small toys for Tara and Amritsar which was so generous. She also brought us home-make pakoras, potato and chickpea flour fried snacks. I ate one, and spent the next 24 hours on the loo regretting it. I had learned to be incredibly careful about food, although as the pakora story showed, I still made mistakes from time to time.

I used to shop every few days at the local Haiko supermarket and I often bought chicken to cook for supper. I’ve always been a bit paranoid about food hygiene, having trained as a chef, and never more so than around chicken. So, in the supermarket I always asked for polythene bag in order to pick up their packs of pre-packaged chicken portions from the fridge. I didn’t know who might have been handling them and how much salmonella there might be hanging around. One week I turned up to find that a lady in a sari had been assigned to stand beside the chicken cabinet with a pile of plastic bags. She would then open the door of the cabinet and put the chicken into the plastic bags for the customers. ‘You see,’ the manager said to me. ‘We are seeing you ask for the bags to put the chicken and now we are providing assistance.’ ‘Thank-you,’ I said. ‘That’s very thoughtful.’ In India there was someone for every job, no matter how small. The chicken lady smilingly offered to get my chicken out for me. But I said no, she was picking up the chicken with her hands and goodness knows what else she had touched. I stuck to my own method, although I did appreciate their jobcreation initiative.

It was during Diwali that Rehanna arrived again, with a bag of sweets and a smiling request for more urgent funds ‘for Mama’. Wearily I handed over yet more cash and ushered her out of the door. Almost every night I lay awake for hours, listening to the drone of traffic from the main road and wondering what else I could do. I felt close to despair. Then, tossing and turning through long, hot and noisy night, I made a decision. Early the next morning I got up, packed my few belongings into my rucksack, woke Manju and the girls and told them we were leaving. ‘I’m sorry Manju, thank your friend and tell him I will pay the rent I promised, but I can’t stay here any longer.’ Manju nodded and after we’d fed the girls, she began packing their belongings while I called Ram, who arrived half an hour later. We piled into the taxi and I asked Ram to take us to the Marriott’s Lakeside Apartments. After many weeks of managing in rundown apartments, I’d had enough, I needed cleanliness and I needed drains that worked.