Tonight’s Super Moon

Sadly there is a thick blanket of cloud down here in ‘The Shires’. However, tonight’s picture is not from a free picture archive, rather I have an old friend Andrew Hill to thank for the image, taken this evening all the way up there in Bonny Scotland.

Now, I don’t plug my book too often, do I? But I think that it is fair to say as there is a super moon tonight, that Eighteen Moons is still available through your Amazon account, simply by searching for Eighteen Moons. Or just google Eighteen Moons!

https://www.amazon.co.uk/Eighteen-Moons-Before-Diary-Gay/dp/1794528334/ref=nodl_

This is the synopsis of the story if you are interested in reading any further:

Eighteen Moons is the extraordinary and moving story of Andi and John and how they brought together, against huge odds, the family they had longed for. Today they are loving fathers to five beautiful children including two sets of twins, all of them under the age of six. But the story of how this very special family came together is a tale filled with heartache and frustration, determination and courage. It’s also a story full of humour, human frailty and, above all, love. Their quest for children took them across the world and brought them up against seemingly impossible challenges. But as the whims of officials and government directives thwarted their every move and sent them on a wild adventure which took them from India to Thailand and on to Nepal, Andi and John refused to give up. Extraordinarily, Andi and John’s first twins were the last British surrogate babies to leave India (post new rules), their son was the last to leave Thailand and their second twins were the first British children to be born through surrogacy in Nepal. Happily together for twenty years and the besotted owners of two daft but loveable Dalmatians, Andi and John longed for children to complete their family. Two, they thought, would be perfect, ideally one fathered by each of them. After looking at surrogacy options worldwide, India seemed to offer everything they hoped for and in 2012 they went to India to begin the surrogacy process. A few months later, they heard that their surrogate was expecting twins. Andi went to India for the birth; the plan was that John would join them and together they would bring the babies home. When two gorgeous daughters were born they couldn’t have been happier. But what followed was a nightmare of bureaucracy and obfuscation, as John, the twins’ natural father, was refused a visa and the Indian Government refused to let Andi leave with the babies. For month after month Andi lived in India, caring for the girls, while he and John struggled to find a way to bring them home. At every turn they were thwarted until they became so desperate they considered smuggling the girls out of the country by boat. Their daughters were eight months old when, finally, John was able to go and bring them home. Same-sex surrogacy had been banned in India, so Andi, still longing to father a child, turned next to Thailand. With the news of a successful pregnancy everything looked rosy – until the Thai government also clamped down on surrogacy, the clinic was closed. For several heart-stopping days they didn’t know what had happened to their surrogate, or their baby. Finally they heard that all was well and Andi said goodbye to John and the girls and went to Thailand to be with his child. A son was born and a delighted Andi hoped to take him home within weeks. But what followed was an extraordinary saga of delays, denials and, eventually, Andi’s arrest on trumped up drug charges. Given the option by the arresting officers of waiting three months for a court date and a guaranteed three, month sentence, a second option was put on the table. No criminal record and the chance to be the first westerner to serve in the Royal Thai Army. This would take him to an army barrack’s deep in the Thai jungle, he had just one phone call, to tell John what had happened. On the day he was freed Andi found John, and their son, waiting for him. Days later, after five long months of waiting, they flew home, to introduce the girls to their new baby brother.When the surrogacy clinic in Thailand had closed Andi and John’s remaining embryos had been transferred, with the help of an Israeli agency, to Nepal, where surrogacy was still possible. At that stage, unsure of the outcome in Thailand, they had given the go-ahead for a surrogacy attempt. Now they heard that once again twins were expected, this time on the roof of the world. Andi arrived just after the massive 2015 earthquake in Nepal. The final five full moons of this story would be set in Kathmandu.

Oh dear – maybe too many words for you! Sorry about that and take care, won’t you…

A Change in Season

Gracie has finally finished her season. Ever since we arrived home form our holiday in Cornwall, she and Remus have driven me crazy! Yes, these last 2 weeks have been a nightmare, what with Remus going crazy every so often and Gracie trying to dominate the situation. It’s hard to write this without using the word ‘hump’! All female dogs go through their season perhaps twice a year. We had arranged to have her spade this year given her age and the increased likelihood of ovarian cancer. However the day she was booked in at the vets to get the snip, she started showing the tell tale signs of her season and quite honestly, she has been acting crazy ever since.

I will always remember the evening after Remus was neutered! He just moped around, looking up at me with sad eyes. All I could hear in my mind was ‘What have you done to me dad’? The fact that we had kept Gracie meant that we had to have poor old Remus done all of those years ago. Although Gracie is his daughter, he still goes crazy, crazy whenever those hormones are present. It’s never an easy time. Hopefully this will be the last time for Gracies coming into season. We must now wait 3 more months for the vet to carry out the operation.

I used to joke to John about Gracie having a litter of puppies. She herself was from a litter of 15 and Remus was from a litter of 12. Can you imagine the complete madness of doing that? Anyhow, let’s look forward to a slightly more sedate time with the dogs, if that is at all possible…

Happy Holi Everyone

With an early Full moon this month, the Indian festival of Holi (the festival of light) is also an early one! And to celebrate this event, I am blogging the chapter of my book ‘Eighteen Moons’ that included my experience of the festival when I first lived in India in 2013. It was a couple of days after the births of Amritsar and Tara. This month’s Equinox also falls early on 19th March, seemingly the earliest astronomical start to spring in 124 years! So, here is Chapter Four of Eighteen Moons, entitled Happy Holi

As I walked along Juhu Beach the night was warm and still, the city murmurings suddenly distant and overhead the full moon was crystal clear and luminous. It seemed auspicious, full of the promise of good things to come. Surely, I told myself, all would be well, John would arrive soon and we would take our girls home together.
I took off my shoes and held them in one hand as I walked on, the sand cool between my toes and the water lapping at the shore beside me. It was good to feel the sea breeze, and to have space to reflect on another unpredictable day in this extraordinary land.
That morning I had planned to set off for the hospital, as usual, to see the girls. I had visited them the previous morning and once again I had only been allowed a brief time with them during which, garbed as always head-to- toe pink, I held each tiny hand for a couple of minutes and gazed at their perfect faces; their minute noses, barely discernible eyebrows, rosebud mouths and delicate caramel cheeks, framed by tufts of jet-black hair. I hadn’t been able to send John a photograph yet – no cameras in the ward, nurse Ratched had admonished sternly when she spotted my phone – so all I could do was describe the babies to him.

After a few minutes I was hustled out by the nurses, who told me that the following day I could stay longer and perhaps even feed the babies. But what no-one had mentioned was that the following day was also the spring festival of Holi – when all of India would erupt in a riot of colour, celebration and excitement – and going anywhere would prove impossible.
When I came down to the hotel reception in the morning I had been greeted by the receptionist with a beaming smile.
‘Good morning Sir, Happy Holi, have a very good day,’ he said. 

‘Thank-you, you have a good day too.’
What had he said? Happy Holi? What was that, I wondered. I stepped outside the hotel and looked around for a taxi. Strangely the usual ranks weren’t lined up and waiting. Puzzled, I walked down the road towards the beach, hoping to hail one as I went.
Suddenly I felt a slap on the back of my leg and I looked down to see a splatter of purple liquid dripping down the back of my calf. What on earth? I turned around. Behind me were three young men, armed with water guns and shoulder bags. As they drew level with me one of them reached into his bag and brought out a handful of yellow powder. He lunged towards me and smacked his hand onto the back of my head.

I yelled and put my hand up to my head, where I could feel the powder. The three of them were falling about laughing and reaching into their bags. Out came red, green and more yellow.
‘Happy Holi,’ they called, before hurling the powder at me and spraying me with their water guns which, it turned out, contained the purple dye.

They ran off and I stood looking after them, aghast and dripping a rainbow of colours that must have looked ridiculously comical.
I headed back towards the hotel. Whatever this was – some kind of bizarre tourist-mugging ritual? – I’d had enough. I only had a couple of meters to go to the hotel entrance, but my route was barred by another excited group of young men, also carrying bags and water guns and covered from head to toe in every colour of the rainbow. As they aimed their guns at me – pink and orange this time – I turned and ran towards the beach. But I soon realised there would be no escape. More and more people, all patchworks of colour themselves, were splattering one another and everyone else within reach.

On the beach music was playing, paint-spattered people were dancing and the colour-spraying was in full-flow. Intoxicated by the joy and craziness of it all, everyone was singing and shouting. Even the sea, normally a polluted, dull grey at Juhu, was a riot of colour.

I wondered whether to join in the dancing, but being a tourist, I was a key target. As more and more paint and dye came my way I turned and ran for the hotel.
I had left the lobby half an hour earlier, clean and freshly-dressed. I arrived back, gasping for breath as I hurled myself through the revolving door, looking like some kind of crazed hippy living out his psychedelic fantasies. I dropped to my knees and placed the palms of my hands onto the floor. My friend at reception smiled politely.

‘I see you have been joining in the Holi celebrations Sir.’ Diplomatically put.
‘Er, yes, well, something like that.’
I headed for my room and a very long shower. After which, unable to leave the hotel without risking another rainbow dousing, I settled myself in the bar.
Holi, I discovered, chatting to a friendly member of staff, is the Hindu festival that marks the arrival of spring. Known as the Festival of Colour (I think I got that part) it is a celebration of fertility and love as well as the triumph of good versus evil.

How could I object to a festival that was about such optimism and joy? Even if it did prevent me from seeing my new daughters for a day. I just had to hole up and wait it out. It wasn’t until the evening that things calmed down and I was able to venture down to the beach to walk under the glorious full moon as I described the day’s events to John.
The following morning everything was back to normal. Taxis lined up across the road and only the odd splash of colour on the road remained to mark the events of the day before.
I reached the hospital and headed for NICU reception, where the duty nurse confirmed that I could feed the babies.

Wonderful news, but I was a bit nervous. What did feeding the babies entail, exactly? I wasn’t completely sure.

Gowned up I was shown into the feeding room, where there were a lot of soft furnishings and some rather grubby chairs. The room was very hot and didn’t smell all that good. I took a seat between two women, both happily feeding babies and a moment later I was handed one of the girls and a bottle.
I had no idea what to do. I knew the contents of the bottle had to be emptied into the baby, but how?

Looking at the others in the room, I did my best to follow what they were doing. I tentatively nudged the baby’s small mouth with the teat of the bottle. She opened her lips and I put the tip of the teat against them and then waited. Nothing happened. Why wasn’t she drinking the milk?

I looked around for help, but the maternity nurses across the room were smirking. They clearly saw me as a source of entertainment. I guessed that not many new fathers spent time in this room. The nurses clearly thought that feeding was women’s business and I had no place being there.

I tried again. I was growing more and more tense and the baby – I was so nervous that I wasn’t sure whether it was Tara or Amritsar at that stage – was picking up on that. I nudged the teat into her mouth. She spat it back out again. We’d reached stalemate.
There had to be a knack to this, but they weren’t about to show me what it was. I was told to, ‘just give the baby the bottle’ and that was it.

Relegated to the failure ranks, I handed over both baby and bottle to a nurse and fled, under the scornful eyes of the assembled mothers and nurses. Standing outside I felt indignant. I wasn’t going to be beaten by this. How hard could feeding a baby be? I just needed to get the hang of it. I took a break, cooled down and then went back and asked to feed the other baby, who turned out to be Tara. They brought her and I tried again. I watched a
mother across the room. Her baby was sucking noisily at the teat. I pushed the teat more firmly into Tara’s mouth, and voila, she sucked. Only for a minute, but she did take some milk, before appearing to lose interest and go to sleep.

I handed her back and left. I would crack the feeding thing – I had to, I reminded myself. Soon the babies would be discharged, after which I would have sole responsibility for making sure they didn’t starve.
Galvanised by this prospect I went to look for Doctor Anita Soni, the paediatrician who had delivered the girls. I’d already spoken to her a couple of times and I liked her, she was I found her just coming through the ward doors.
‘Doctor, when will the babies be able to leave the hospital?’
‘Another week or so,’ she said. ‘They are doing well.’
She hesitated and then placed a hand on my arm and looked into my eyes.
‘I just heard you are here all alone. This will be difficult with two new born babies. I think you must consider the assistance of a nanny while you are here in Bombay.’

I was startled. I hadn’t thought about a nanny. But she had a point. I’d be on my own with two babies. And we were in a foreign country. There would be no Tesco or Waitrose deliveries in Mumbai. I didn’t even know where the local food store was. And what about baby formula and sterilised water and nappies and – what did babies in India even wear?
I needed to get focussed.
‘Would the hospital be able to recommend a nanny agency?’ I asked her.
‘No, I’m afraid not. I advise you to ask at the hotel you are staying in. If it is one of the hotels recommended by the hospital, they are sure to be able to suggest some options.’
‘Thank you for the advice.’
She smiled and hurried off and I turned towards the stairs. I had a week’s grace and an awful lot to do. She was a rather eccentric, larger than life character who was always laughing and waving her arms around dramatically.

That afternoon I came back at feeding time, prepared to give it another try, only to be told that the nurses had just fed the babies. ‘I’m sorry,’ an unapologetic nurse told me. ‘The babies were very hungry, they could not wait.’
I settled for half an hour watching them sleep and then told the nurse I would be back in the morning at feeding time.
As I left, I ran into Alon and Saul with baby Avi and they invited me for a coffee. We found a coffee shop nearby with a shady back yard and settled down for a chat. It was the first chance I’d had to talk to others in the same situation. They told me they hoped to be back in Israel within four weeks.
‘What? Four weeks!’
‘It is normally four weeks for us in Israel,’ Alon repeated. How long do you expect to have to wait?’
I was stunned to hear it was so easy for Israeli parents. I gave them a rueful grin. ‘To be honest I don’t know. The time on the government website advising on international surrogacy said six weeks when we first began. Then it was eight weeks and now it’s saying four months.
Saul winced. ‘Oh, that’s tough. Imagine if you have to stay here for four months. And you are on your own.’
‘I won’t be for long,’ I said, sounding more confident than I felt. ‘John will be here soon, and hopefully we can get the passports for the girls in less than the stated time.’
‘Really hope so,’ they nodded sympathetically.
Alon looked thoughtful. ‘You know, we met another couple from the UK yesterday on the ward, they also had a twin birth, the day before your daughters, I think. Maybe you should have a talk with them as they will be probably in the same situation, yes?’
‘Absolutely.’ I was very keen indeed to meet another British couple who would be fighting the same battle.

After Alon and Saul said goodbye and headed off to their hotel, I went back to Juhu beach and phoned John.
‘Find the other Brits,’ he said. ‘That could be so useful, and give you some company too.’
The following morning, after another determined – and ultimately doomed – attempt at feeding the girls, I waited in the reception area to see if I could spot the British couple. No sign of them, but ten minutes later I got talking to a couple from Denmark, Tobin and Thomas. Their daughter had been born a few days earlier and they were waiting for her to be discharged.
‘We’re staying at the Marriot Hotel,’ Tobin said. ‘The Lakeside Chalet one. We know the couple you mean, they’re staying there as well. They have a boy and a girl and I think they’re taking them home from the hospital today. Why don’t you nip down to the main reception and see if they’re there?’
I thanked him and shot down the stairs to reception. At the counter stood a couple, each of them holding a car seat with baby in situ. I went over to them.
‘Are you guys from the UK?’
They both turned to me.
‘Yes,’ they exclaimed. ‘You too?’
‘Yes. My girls are upstairs, they won’t be discharged for a few days. But I heard about you guys and wanted to say hello. Seems we might be here for a while so it would be nice to know some fellow Brits. I’m Andi, by the way.’
‘Kayla,’ the woman, blonde, attractive and friendly, held out her hand.
‘And I’m Jamie.’ The man was a little older, his grey hair tinged with pond green.
‘See you’ve been enjoying Holi,’ I grinned.
‘Yes,’ he said ruefully, raking his fingers through his hair. ‘Damn stuff won’t come out. Think I might have permanently green hair now.’
‘Suits you darling,’ Kayla laughed. ‘It’ll soon be all the rage.’

‘These two are Millie and Max, by the way,’ Jamie said, indicating the babies sitting serenely in their car seats like two mini-Buddhas.
‘Hello guys,’ I waved down at them.
‘We’re staying in the Lakeside Chalet hotel,’ Kayla said. ‘Where are you?’
Over on Juhu Beach, but I think perhaps I ought to move to your hotel,’ I said. ‘Everyone seems to be there.’
‘Oh! do come,’ Kayla said. ‘Jamie will have to go home soon and I could do with some company. And the Lakeside gives a 15 percent discount to surrogate families.’
‘Why don’t you come over this evening and join us for a beer,’ Jamie said. ‘We’ve got a nanny booked so we’ll have a babysitter and we can head to the bar for an hour or two.’
‘That sounds great,’ I said.
That afternoon I went for a stroll around Mumbai. I was going to be there for a while, so I wanted to get a sense of the place. I hadn’t had a lot of time for sightseeing, which was a shame since I was in such a vibrant and exotic city. As I walked through a street market selling every kind of spice and vegetable under the sun, I thought about Kayla and Jamie. I felt hugely relieved to have met them, they were friendly and would be good company and they were also relying on the British government to give their children passports and allow them to come home with their parents. It didn’t seem so much to ask, but it could apparently take months to achieve.
I walked into the bar of the Lakeside that evening and saw Kayla chatting to another couple. I went over.
‘Andi, hi,’ she smiled. ‘This is Sophie and Pete. He’s just been posted here and they’re waiting to find a house to rent. Jamie’s at the bar, I’ll go and tell him to get you a drink.’
As I watched her head over to Jamie she stopped twice to speak to other people on the way.

Clearly Kayla, outgoing, sociable and high-energy, knew everyone in the hotel. Jamie was quieter, more reserved, but equally warm.
‘I’m glad you’re going to be about,’ he confided. ‘Kayla will need a friend when I go. It won’t be easy managing here on her own.’
‘I’ll be happy to help her,’ I said. ‘But to be honest I think I’ll probably need her more than she needs me.’
‘Either way it’s a good deal,’ he laughed. ‘You’d better move over here tomorrow.’
I agreed. The next day I checked out of my hotel and moved into a room at the Lakeside Apartments, as it was known by its residents. It had five floors, each with some 20 one-bedroom suits, a couple of two and even three bed apartments and a laundry.
It overlooked the Powai Lake, right in the middle of Mumbai. The lake was created when the British dammed a tributary of the Mithi River in the 1890s to create an extra source of drinking water for the city. Sadly, the water was now too polluted to drink, but I was glad of the lake, every now and then it sent a cool breeze wafting through my windows.
Over the next few days, in between hospital visits and feeding sessions, I went out and bought the baby things I would need; formula, nappies, vests and baby grows, baby shampoo and lotion, bouncy chairs and a cot. In fact, the list, compiled under Kaylas’ direction, was so extensive that I was amazed. How could two very tiny people need so much stuff?
‘You’ll be surprised what they get through,’ Kayla said darkly, when I questioned the need for quite so much infant clothing.’
‘I haven’t stopped being surprised since I got here,’ I replied.
By the time the girls were ten days old I was longing to take them back to the hotel with me. Visiting them in hospital for half an hour at a time, with nurses constantly hovering about, was frustrating. I want to get to know them properly and that would only happen when I had them in my care. So, I was pleased when Doctor Soni told me the girls were doing well and could go home the following day.
I arrived at the hospital bright and early the following morning with two car seats.
Before we could leave there were documents to be sorted and, inevitably, bills to be paid.
 I also needed the girls’ state-registered birth
 certificates. I spent at least two hours going between the registrar’s office in the hospital, the accounts office and the ward, where I needed Dr Soni’s signature for a form before the certificates could be issued. She couldn’t be found, and I was beginning to think that I wouldn’t be taking the girls home that day after all, when the registrar’s office said they would get the signature and then send an ‘agent’ to the hotel with the birth certificates, for a fee of 300 US dollars. Reluctantly, I agreed, knowing that I could spend many more
hours in the hospital and still not have the certificates.
 This was the first time an agent was mentioned to me, but certainly not the last. As I was to discover in the coming weeks and months, there was an ‘agent’, for which read middleman (or woman) for just about every step of every transaction, all eager for their ‘fee’ for something that should have been
 totally straightforward.
 Once this arrangement had been put in place, I paid the fees for the babies’ care and for Rehanna’s caesarean and her hospital stay. It was £1200 for each baby and £600 for the caesarean a total bill of £3000. All these ‘extras’ had not been mentioned by Somya when she outlined what it would cost us. I winced at the thought of telling John just how fast the bills were piling up, but there was no choice.
Finally, I was done and the babies were brought out by two nurses and tucked gently into the car seats.
‘You need two people, one to carry each baby’ Nurse Ratched said stiffly. ‘We insist on this.’
‘Well I have only me, so I’ll just have to take one in each hand,’ I replied.

She huffed and puffed, but in the end, since a second person was not about to materialise, they let me go. I said goodbye to the staff and thanked them. Five minutes later I stepped outside into the heat of the Indian morning, one car seat gripped firmly in each hand.
I was about to become a full-time dad and I had absolutely no idea how I was going to pull it off.

Daddy and Dadda’s Family Dinner

Yes, being Sunday we opted for the family roast! A leg of lamb, none the less, with a myriad of vegetables including mashed swede, garlic and butter green beans, glazed carrots, the usual fayre!

The day has gone well, just one or two flash points! The worst being a half dried up puddle of pee in the spare room, the remnants of a standing up one! Caleb of course, though he squatted down and smelt it saying that it smelt like Ritza’s pee. Naughty Caleb.

All upstairs with daddy at present having a slightly later than usual bath time as the meal overran slightly.

Hey hey, another weekend over and preparations for school in the morning.

I hope you all had a pleasant weekend of it. Thank you for reading.

Melango Jelly

Ingredients:

600g Melon (one small cantaloupe melon)

350g Mango (2 medium sized mangoes)

300g Apple pulp (4 apples)

100ml lemon juice

1kg sugar

Method:

On this occasion I used fresh melon (not frozen), so I used an appropriate amount of apple pulp to account for the extra melon juice.

Deseed and skin your melon. Prepare your mango to free up the flesh from the skin and seed. If you are uncomfortable with this, feel free to use use frozen mango pieces. Place in a saucepan with the lemon juice and boil for 10 minutes. Let it cool a little and blitz with a handheld blender. Add your cooked, pre prepared apple pulp and blitz once more! Of course, you could cook your raw apples first with a little water, on a low heat and cook until tender then add your melon and mango! Either way works just fine!

Once your puree is ready, add your 1 Kg sugar and mix well. Bring to a rolling boil. Be careful your mixture does not overflow once it starts to boil, stir occasionally to stop any sediments from burning on the base of the pan.

Remember, a good jam will gel after a rolling boil of 20 minutes. You will overcook your jam if you pass 30 minutes. That overcooked Jammy taste is not so good. You want a fresh fruity flavour.

This Jammy combo produced a lot of bubbles that need skimming before bottling / jarring up! Rather than put this down the sink, I reserved it in a bowl, in order to use as a pouring syrup on the children’s Greek yoghurt tonight.

The children, when asked for marks out of 10 shouted 12 and then 100! So I guess Melango Jelly is now very much on the family menu.

The 4 full 320ml jars have since been sterilised in my steamer and the half jar sits in the fridge awaiting an earlier consumption. Yum yum yum! Remember that you loose some of the volume in weight due to evaporation! Enjoy…

4 Days and No Diary Entries

Have I been overdoing it a bit? I guess that I have been blogging daily for a while now so I thought that I would take a little time out!

Today’s little video is courtesy of Thor and his attempt at flying this morning! It made me smile.

Well, life continues as it should, one or two moments of drama this week. The most noted would be the cancellation of Amritsar and Tara’s Lego Club. It would seem that there was a fully articulated mannequin in the classroom! And whilst the male teacher was out of the room, one or more of the children put the mannequin on the teachers desk and articulated the middle finger to the up position, leaving the others clenched (the up yours gesture)!!! As you can imagine, the teacher was not impressed. The club is cancelled until he gets a written letter of apology from the guilty party. Tara and Amritsar have promised that it was not them, but will not say who the guilty child was. Oh dear!

Another post to follow shortly with the recipe for Melango Jelly. Wow, we’ve certainly got a winner there…