6 Years Old Today

The girls awoke this morning one year older. They are very happy indeed to be 6 years old. We are having a small celebration today, but ‘The Big Party’ is being held next Saturday in conjunction with a school friend, Pip. Sindy has just headed off to collect then from school and then an hour in the park. I on the other hand am dressing the kitchen table for our ‘6 Today Extravaganza’. Their main gifts from John and I are new tablets, since all four devices we have (the children’s that is), are now broken and will not charge. We just realised that this might be partially down to them having been given headphones and they have tried to plug the jack into the wrong hole. A circular peg does not fit into that of a rectangle.

Anyhow, the ‘bad boys cupboard’ has been raided and the ‘pork products’ are a plenty. Just the finishing touches to add – oh f**k! I have still to decorate their birthday cake. I have been far too busy this afternoon cutting open Tesco 200g bars of dark, milk and plain chocolate for rewrapping in foil and applying our thank you message to give as a going away gift next weekend to the ‘Big Party’ revellers.

The theme is ‘Wild Animal Party’, though I think the entertainer is just bringing a rabbit and a parrot! I don’t really know what they are bringing to be truthful, but it had better be enough to entertain 40 children for at least 2 hours. Phew, more on that next weekend.

Today I am just looking forward to seeing the girls faces as they unceremoniously tear the paper from the pile of gifts in colour coded paper. Hopefully daddy will be here early to see them do this.

An update later perhaps.

The Weekend Update

A meal out was had at a Michelin starred restaurant in Wiltshire named ‘The Harrow’. An absolutely amazing taster menu and extremely friendly staff and management. They do a boiled egg course. I can’t say what they do with it, but it’s a real treat! Nikki babysat and we were home before 11pm. Only one mishap Nikki informed us and that was Thor walking about looking bemused. Not sure what he was bemused about, never mind.

The terrace has had several hours attention over the last couple of days. Getting it ready for the summer has been some considerable work, but it is beginning to look like a place where we can enjoy what the summer has to offer. Lots of warm sunshine I am hoping. It’s a great place for barbecuing and chilling. Fingers crossed on the weather front. Pics to follow when some of those spring buds have blossomed and bloomed.

Craft time was had this afternoon in the kitchen, raiding the recycle bin, Tara became a fairy with a green crown, Amritsar had a complete meltdown as Tara used up her green ink on her five coloured pen. Finally she is settled, but she is still steaming underneath. Thor said loudly in the thicket of it all ‘Amritsar’ he exclaimed, ‘I am getting a head ache, please be a bit quieter’. Daddy lost his temper at one point, she was told to go up to bed but refused and just continued to scream – god when she wants to be a complete madam, Amritsar does it for England.

Caleb is back in a nappy. He has drenched two sets of clothes so far today. Sorry Sindy, but he is back in a nappy until Monday afternoon. I don’t think that he will be ready to start ‘Big School’ in September. I really hope I am proved wrong on this. It would be sad if he had to be held back for a year. But the girls teachers confirmed at the parent teacher meeting earlier in the week that he must be confident using a toilet, plus he needs a basic grasp of things like queuing at lunch time and eating without spilling his food everywhere. At the moment it’s all still too much a struggle for him. He’s only truly happy when he is nestling on daddy’s lap. All day and every day if he had what he wanted. It’ll get better I’m sure – five months to go before September. Let’s wait and see.

Eighteen Moons ‘The Patter of Tiny Paws’

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‘He’s adorable!’

‘He is. Perfect.’

We looked at one another and grinned as a small bundle of white fur crawled steadily towards us. We had both fallen instantly and totally in love.

We were in the large garden of a house in West Sussex and the two of us were peering over the top of an old-fashioned pigsty on stilts. Inside were twelve perfect white puppies, just a couple of weeks old.

We’d asked the breeder, Mrs Bennett, how many boys there were. ‘Just the two,’ she’d said, pulling out one pup after another and turning them upside down. When she’d found the two males, she placed them at the opposite end of the pigsty. One began crawling straight back to his sisters while the other, steady and determined, headed towards us.

We’d found our boy.

We’d agreed on a name before we met him. Remus. And it suited him.

‘Come on Remus,’ I whispered, as he reached my outstretched hand and was rewarded with a gentle scratch behind his tiny ear.

‘By the time you collect him he’ll have his spots,’ Mrs B said.

Yes, our ‘first-born’ was a Dalmatian. Known for being a lively and intelligent breed. Also, as we were soon to discover, hyperactive and ferociously needy.

Tearing ourselves away we arranged to pick Remus up in six weeks’ time and set off on the two-hour drive home. I was beside myself with excitement, already planning my trip to buy a bed, blankets, toys and treats for the new addition to our family. John, at the wheel, was quiet, focussing on the road. But I knew he was as happy as I was. We’d waited a long time to make this commitment but now the time felt right and we both felt good about it.

Both in our mid-thirties, we’d been a couple for eight years. Buying our London flat after three years had been part of our decision to settle down together, although I think we both knew from the moment we met that we’d stay together. Creating a ‘nest’ for the two of us was the next step as we made the inevitable transition from being young men partying about town to a couple who preferred quiet dinners a deux or curling up on the sofa and watching a film.

That had been five years earlier. And not long after we put the finishing touches to our flat, we had begun to hanker for the patter of tiny feet or, in our case, paws. We’d put it off because we were both out all day; I was working in clothing design, with a small workshop of my own while John was an accountant. We both worked long hours and we didn’t want to leave a dog cooped up at home.

But as time passed, we began to feel seriously broody. This was only made worse when a friend gave us a Disney Dalmatian toy one Christmas. She did say it was probably as close to a real dog as we should get. And we did listen to her, for a bit, but in the end our longing for a real canine to cuddle won over all practical considerations. The flat just didn’t feel right without a dog.

Fast forward and here we were, delighted with our boy and counting the days until we could bring him home.

Little did we know that those weeks up to his arrival were the last moments of peace and quiet we would share for quite some time. And that the flat, with its carefully chosen oak floors and antique tables, would soon be a battered shadow of its former self. From the moment we picked him up, Remus, a non-stop whirlwind of high-velocity energy, launched himself into our lives with such face-licking, tail-wagging exuberance that we were both left reeling. He never stopped racing around apart from when he was chewing the furniture, books, CDs, shoes – in fact anything that was chewable and quite a few things that weren’t.

He was constantly hungry and constantly demanding attention, co-opting both the sofa and the bed and insisting on endless cuddles, inserting himself between us whenever he felt he wasn’t getting his fair dues.

He cost us a fortune in damage, food and vet bills but despite all of it we adored him. He was lean, strong, glistening white with inky black spots and a handsome head – a showstopper of a dog who got compliments wherever he went. But most of all he was our boy; he had a way of looking up at us with such innocent cheerfulness that we could never stay angry with him for long.

We hired a dog walker to come and take him out for long walks while we were at work. But after a couple of months she told us she was spending so much on headache tablets because of the stress of managing him that she couldn’t walk him any longer. After that we paid a friend to dog sit him, but she didn’t even last a month. She couldn’t get anything done when he was around, he was all over her, constantly.

Our next dog walkers were a couple. We hoped two people might manage him better than one. But a couple of months on they told us, ‘We’ve just changed our catchment area and you’re no longer in it – sorry.’

The lengths people went to in order to avoid having Remus were quite funny. Except that it left us needing to find a way to manage him ourselves. He couldn’t go to work with John in the corporate accountancy firm where he worked, so we decided he’d have to come with me to my small studio in Southwark. Each morning we set off for the tube, where Remus entertained fellow passengers by tearing up any newspapers left on seats and spinning in dizzying circles on the platform – earning himself regular applause from laughing tourists.

Needless to say, I didn’t get a lot of work done, since I ended up taking him to the park about four times a day to try to tire him out. I met another dog-owner there one day who told me he’d given up on his Dalmatian and given it away. ‘Just too needy and energetic mate,’ he said, shaking his head at Remus, who was trying to badger a sedate old spaniel into playing with him.

‘Tell me about it,’ I thought. We knew by this time just how full-on Dalmatians were. Once used as carriage dogs, they are happy to run literally all day long. Sitting about just isn’t their thing. But we never once thought of giving Remus away. He was ours and we loved him, uncontrollable wretch or not.

Then, when Remus was three, we compounded our foolish choice of dog by taking on a second one.

I know.

But in our defence, we thought it might calm him down to have a companion.

At two years old we’d listed him on a dog studding website and when a local couple got in touch, we took him along for his first romantic encounter. Things started off a tad shakily, Remus clearly had no experience in the ways of amour and just wanted to play. But he got there eventually, without the use of the electric prod the couple suggested we insert in his nether regions to prompt ejaculation, which I politely declined. A few weeks later a pregnancy was declared and Remus earned his first wage. ‘We’ll put that towards some of the repairs,’ John muttered to him. ‘Not to mention your food bills’.

His third liaison, with a Dalmatian from Essex, produced a litter of pups. The owner suggested we take the pick of the litter as our fee and, thinking we’d sell her, we agreed and picked a bouncy female puppy. We took her home and called her Gracie.

Big mistake that. Once we’d named her, we just couldn’t bring ourselves to sell her. And once we realised that we were keeping her, it was inevitable that I start working from home. I couldn’t have managed both of them on the commute or in my workshop.

Truth to tell, business wasn’t going well. I’d already downsized from my overpriced premises and small staff team to just me in the workshop. I had trained in the garment industry, learning everything from the conception of a garment to pattern-cutting and I was still designing my own range, but the recession of the late 90s had bitten hard and by this stage I was only just about covering costs. At the same time John’s career was soaring, he’d started his own firm and it was successful from the off. So, I let my workshop go, downsized again to the dining table as my ‘office’ and, while attempting to do a bit of work, became a more or less full-time dog parent.

Clearly our dog-training skills had not improved one iota. Gracie was, if anything, worse than Remus. She chewed absolutely everything and nothing we tried made any difference. Her speciality was phones. She chomped her way through a Blackberry and an iPhone in her first week alone. Not only that, but she was impossible to house-train and our solid oak floors were regularly soaked in dog pee. We were horrified, but being two big softies, we couldn’t get rid of her, Gracie was ours, just as much as Remus was. They got on extremely well and when they did – finally – settle down at the end of each day it was together, curled comfortably side by side on the sofa. Leaving precious little room for us, of course. But we, with paternal indulgence, simply squeezed ourselves into the remaining few inches of space at either end.

Our two hounds did satisfy our longing to be parents, at least for a while but, perhaps inevitably, our thoughts strayed towards babies – the human kind – and we wondered whether children might ever be a possibility for us.

John came from a big, warm Irish family and while my family set-up was a little more complex than his, we both felt that having children was something we would love.

It was also a promise I had made to my father. When I told him, as a teenager, that ‘I might be gay,’ there had been a long pause before he said, ‘Son, what you are and what you are not, you will figure out in the goodness of time. So be gay, as long as you are happy and safe’.  There was another pause and then he had added, ‘I don’t mind what you are, as long as you give me a couple of grandchildren at some point or other’.

A few years later, not long after I met John, Dad was killed in a car crash, along with his third wife, who was also my mother’s sister (I said it was complex). They were coming back from a night out and their deaths came as a terrible shock. By that time my mother was living in Australia with my older half-brother, Paul. When Mum and Dad had got together it had been a second marriage for both. He’d had a son, Brandon and a daughter, Shae, and she had Paul and then together they’d had me. I didn’t know that the other three were only my half-siblings until some rather unkind, or perhaps thoughtless grandparents, pointed out that I wasn’t actually their grandchild.

I was heartbroken when Dad died and what he said to me about grandchildren stayed with me through the years. Perhaps because it was something that had clearly meant a lot to him. And perhaps because it was something I wanted too. I loved the idea of having a child. So did John – both of us felt that we would be good fathers. We’d certainly had a dummy run with the dogs, who required more patience and time than most of the children we knew.

As a gay couple we couldn’t become parents without intervention from outside. We thought about adoption, but we both felt that we would like a child that was biologically ours. So, although the idea of parenthood was dusted off from time to time, we never got any further with it. Until one night I saw a documentary about surrogacy in India.

John had an early start for work most mornings, so he would often go to bed before me, taking Remus and Gracie with him. One night, channel surfing for something to watch, I came across ‘Made in India’. It was about a Western couple who were able to have children with the help of an Indian surrogate and it said that India was a hub for international surrogacies. I was fascinated. This was an ordinary couple and if it had worked for them, why not us? For the first time I had discovered something that seemed to hold the real possibility of providing us with our own children. I went to bed, squeezing into the small space left on my side by the dogs, and lay wide awake with excitement.

Of course, we knew about the existence of surrogacy, given high profile cases like Elton John and David Furness, singer Ricky Martin and actress Sarah Jessica Parker and her husband Matthew Broderick, all of whom had children using surrogates. But until that documentary I had never thought that it might be a route open to us too.

I decided to do some more research before putting the idea to John. I needed to know what would be involved. I knew it would be costly, but by this time John’s business was doing well, he had new offices in the city and, despite the recession, plenty of clients.

One evening, a week or so after I saw the documentary and had my parenthood epiphany, I decided to broach the subject with John. I had looked into it enough by then to know that it was potentially viable for us. We talked for a while, drank some white wine and talked some more.  It was all positive, but at that stage very contemplative. He was keen, but more cautious than I was; he had a lot of questions. However, we both realised that, give or take a few reservations and concerns, we wanted the same thing – to become fathers. The logistics might take some time to plan and our concerns might not all be identical, but the idea had the green light from both of us.

It was probably the most significant conversation we’d ever had in our lives together.

Since it was important to both of us to have a child that was biologically ours, we agreed that we would like two children, one John’s one mine. We would hope to have them conceived at around the same time by two surrogates so that they would be born at the same time, perhaps even using the same egg donor. That way the children would be both genetically related and genetically ours.

We set out to discover everything we could about surrogate babies. There were a few countries where the surrogacy business was thriving: Ukraine, India, America and, of course, the UK. There were also different kinds of surrogacy. In the UK there was only what was known as altruistic surrogacy in which the surrogate was not allowed any financial gain, only expenses. The danger with this was that the surrogate mother was more likely to feel she had a claim over the child or children and in several cases the surrogate had refused to hand over the child. The law was on the surrogate’s side for the first six weeks, whether or not she was the egg donor. She was the one who had given birth and she could keep the child if she wished to. Even after that, the surrogate could stay involved if she wanted to. This idea might have been perfect for some couples, but we were both worried about possible problems at a later date.  We didn’t want a part time ‘mummy’ calling in every now and then to check on us and we didn’t want any confusion for the children. Our children would have two parents – us. Two daddies who had planned to have them and who would love and support them always. Of course, we would explain how they came into the world, but we would be the ones raising them.

Despite this we did look seriously at the altruistic surrogacy option. John felt that it might work for us, and at one point we had a cleaner who we were pretty sure would gladly have offered to be our surrogate. But before we could ask her, we discovered that she had been stealing from us and we had to fire her. After that the altruistic route seemed just too fraught with danger, which meant that we needed to choose the alternative – compensated surrogacy. More expensive but cleaner and simpler. You paid the surrogate a fee and the child would be legally yours. This was not legal in the UK, so we needed to look abroad.

John told me not to rush into anything, but that was like telling a full-speed express train not to rush, I was already so excited I could barely think about anything else. And I was aware that time was not on our side. We were in our forties and getting on, in new dad terms, so we needed to get going.

We decided that if we went to the Ukraine, we might have language problems, so I started looking into surrogacy in America and in India, where English is widely spoken. After a lot of research, we narrowed things down to the Fertility Clinic of California and the Rotunda Clinic in Mumbai.

I started by calling the Californian clinic. As I dialled, I was rigid with nerves – this was going to be the first time I would tell anyone that we were planning to have a baby. What had, until then, been an idea was about to become very real.

‘Good morning, Fertility Clinic of California, Tammy speaking, how may I help?’

My heart was pounding as I blurted, ‘Hello, I want, no we want a baby, we’re going to have a baby, I need information, we’re in the UK, can you help us?’

‘Please Sir, slow down, you are sounding rather discombobulated.’

Discombobulated! What on earth did that even mean?

I took a few deep breaths and started again. ‘Please, can you send us some information? We are a gay couple in the UK considering having a baby (or two) via IVF and surrogacy.’

At this point, I barely understood the meaning of phrases like IVF Cycle and Gestational Surrogacy, although I would later get to know them and their connotations inside out.

Tammy said she would send us the catalogue and the price list and moments later they pinged into my email inbox.

We knew that whatever route we took would be expensive. But the Californian clinic’s price list shocked us. It was endless; consultation fees, clinical fees, IVF fees, legal fees, donor fees, surrogate fees, hospital fees… the list went on and on. And every section had perhaps 20 additional sub-categories with even more fees listed. On top of which there were insurance premiums for just about everything.

Reading through it all we could see our nest egg evaporating – and then some. We were looking at $150,000 per pregnancy. It was scary.

India, then.

My next call was to the Rotunda Clinic, where I spoke to Doctor Somya. She sounded very friendly and she reassured me that the cost of the whole procedure would be in the region of $55,000 per pregnancy. A third of the cost in America. She said they were very supportive of same-sex couples and she made it all sound very straightforward. The first step was for us to go over to India to make our sperm deposits which would then be frozen. After that they would inform us when suitable surrogates were found. And in the meantime, we would be sent a choice of egg donors.

By the time I put the phone down I was euphoric – we had lift off!

(Eighteen Moons is available exclusively through Amazon Kindle, just search within Kindle for ‘Eighteen Moons’)

Happy Holi

Well today marks the first day of Spring. The Winter has finally come to an end and as I can see in the garden, life is reasserting itself. I am reminded of my first Holi (the Hindu festival of light), that I celebrated back in 2013 in Mumbai, just before the births of Amritsar and Tara. This year I was reminded of the Spring Equinox this morning by Raj, a friend from my time in Nepal. In return I am wishing he and all of his family a very ‘Happy Holi’.

Now not being in either India or Nepal, this years first day of Spring saw me spend some time in the garden, in awe of some of the budding shrubs, beginning to loosen their tight grip on the new life and growth within, pushing so hard to spring forth.

Last nights dinner was seafood once again. With the boiled potatoes left over from the children’s dinner, John and I enjoyed cod, salmon and shrimp with a very flavoursome lobster bisque, made with the shells of lobster, prawns and tomato purée that I had previously made and placed in the freezer.

Tonight’s dinner was somewhat more frugal. A simple bowl of Dal and 2 chapatti. Just me here tonight as John is visiting his mother Hazel in Dublin. She has not been feeling so well, so sending them both lots of love. It’s funny, when John is not here I either go for simple Indian ‘pur veg’ or a Cornish pasty! Both no no’s for Johns, a good Irish man, loving his ‘meat and two veg’. Though I do tell him that a pasty is just that, but he does not listen.

Everyone was happy here at home today. Caleb is now wearing pants in the afternoons and practicing his potty manoeuvres. Two pees and a poo! Good going Caleb. We also looked at photo prints that arrived today from ‘Snapfish’. You get to print 50 photos a month for free with the snapfish app and so far this year we have printed 150 pictures from my phone for free, just paying the postage. Rock on!

Off to bed soon, an early night. All is quiet upstairs, down here as well, the hounds are both snoozing. I love it when they are finally settled – the dogs that is. Well, come to think of it, everyone really. I am also worried a bit about Gracie coming into season. Given the hormonal intensity, Remus goes even crazier than his normal self, if that’s possible. But she is showing all the signs! Oh well, more tomorrow, though tomorrow’s full moon would mean that I am going to publish chapter one of ‘Eighteen Moons’ (my novel) on here. I hope you enjoy it… that’s all for now.

The Biggest Morels I Ever Did See

These little beauties, I picked from the bottom of the garden this morning. The largest morel came in at 14cm. Very large specimens that will prove themselves to being a gastronomic pleasure when it comes to the actual consumption. So, after a couple of hours in the dehydrator, these fungi, now dried, are residing in a Kilner jar at the bottom of the provisions cupboard.

Talking of the dehydrator, I have to add that recent weeks have given me time to concentrate on the production of candied fruits. My latest assertions are a long, long way from my earlier attempts, late last year. I am now producing world class confectionery using just pure fruit and sugar. Dadda’s Jams have truly extended the concept to include the most pure and elevated sweet treats on the planet.

I have just decided that ‘Dadda’s Jams’ will take a stall at the local village ‘Easter Egg Hunt’, so onwards and upwards!

Totally unrelated – but Caleb had a ‘Big Boy’ moment earlier and wore pants for the last hour or two before bedtime. When asked if he wanted to use the potty, he replied yes and progressed on to have a pee and a poo! Well done Caleb. Thor and Aaliyah have gone without an accident in months. The only way is UP…

The Week Begins Again

What with no sickness on Sunday, it was a return to normal this morning. Though the only outstanding casualty it seems is the screen of the television pictured above. On Sunday evening we enjoyed a roast pork dinner before bath time and bed. Aaliyah, pictured below, looks as if butter wouldn’t melt in her mouth. But I fear we will have to keep a close eye on her mischievous misguiding’s.

Moving on, there was a parent teacher meeting at school for the girls today, so we had a picnic in the kitchen at 4pm, waiting on daddy’s early return at 4.30pm before a trip to the school to meet the girls teachers and see this years work books. Overall we are very pleased with their progress, well obviously! One of the fellow mums asked if ‘Dadda’s Jams’ was up for a stall at the ‘Big Easter Egg Hunt’ at one of the local villages, I said perhaps, so I will have to get back to her in the next couple of days and make a commitment (or not)!

I spent part of the day candying melon and kiwi fruit for later confectionery assertions. I will fill you in on that at a later date. But all is quiet now, John has drifted off to sleep on the sofa after a dinner of Argentinian Red Shrimp Thermidor with French fries and fresh fruit salad for dessert, consisting of, you guessed it, fresh melon and kiwi fruit. We go to bed contented and happy the quarantine of these last few days is over and our lives have returned to normal.

Happy Days!

The Lock Down Continues

7.30am here and most sensible households are just waking up on this sunny Sunday morning. On the other hand, everyone here have been dressed or dressed themselves twice already in their new clothing purchased yesterday. Breakfast has been had (dry toast for Aaliyah), John has hoovered the living room floor and he has taken the bin / recycling up to the bin area and finally, Aaliyah’s bed has been stripped and remade, due to another outbreak of ‘The Tummy Bug’. The pile of stinky bedding awaits its turn in the already full washing machine. Caleb is yet again attached firmly to Daddy’s lap. He’s holding on tightly.

I have just been reminded that it is St Patrick’s Day! SO ‘HAPPY ST PATRICKS DAY’ TO EVERYONE.

The television is on and the sun is reflecting off of the screen. I am reminded of Aaliyah’s destructive behaviour of yesterday. The entire top third of the screen was scratched deeply with a blunt pencil. It’s almost unwatchable and the deeply set scratches are really off putting. Tara wants a new TV. Aaliyah had a very good talking to once she was ratted out by Thor. I pulled up a chair and had a really stern talking to her when she spent the 20 minutes on ‘The Thinking Chair’ yesterday just after the incident. She has done the same to the Aga fridge and the Aga label on the cooker itself was broken and snapped in half by her mischievous hands. She knows when she is being naughty and always says that she wants to be good, but there is never any true remorse, the cycle just repeats itself. Anyhow, 8.00am now and a full load of washing to put out. Lets hope there are no more gushes, only dry toast for Aaliyah today. She does look sorry for herself now, but that’s just the tummy bug. Updates to follow.