connection speeds

For the past three years, approaching Christmas Day I’ve done a job at a children’s hospice. They arrange for an excellent Father Christmas to visit the place in an exciting way through some local emergency services and I take pictures of it.

This year the whole thing was marked by the absence of a huge character. In previous years this kid, aged 9 or 10, had been the biggest character by far. He was the boss kid, organised everyone into place, set the agenda, demanded people sing Christmas carols louder – although he was always the loudest. He was the first to run over and leap into Santa’s arms, improbably confident for any kid, endlessly energetic, he just did not stop.

A few weeks ago this kid died. Before Santa arrived I was chatting with a couple of staff and one of them mentioned it. Oh, HIM?!? Really? No…

My brain struggled to process the information. There are all sorts of children at the hospice. They span across boundaries of social class, race, nationality. These horrific life-limiting conditions can happen to anyone. We are all at their mercy. A number of the kids look sick, wheelchair-bound, disfigured in some kind of way, as if they are suffering. This kid did not. This kid did not look sick in any way. Part of you wondered if he was an imposter, a fraud. He was clearly fine! Look at the chopsy git!

Light Googling revealed local news articles saying the kid had an extremely obscure medical condition of the type only a handful of people suffer in the world. His parents had a number of his organs donated when he died. How must that itself affect you? Knowing your dearly beloved kid is being sliced up for his organs?  Perhaps the knowledge that parts of him are living on, helping other people live on, perhaps that outweighs it. It must.

Here was a kid infused with a life-force and energy so vivid and animated and in-your-face loud. In certain moods it wouldn’t have been unreasonable to find him an annoying little gobshite. Then you found out he died. It affected me more than I might have expected, because I dumbly hadn’t expected it. But if you keep going back to a children’s hospice for a few years running you are likely to encounter sad stuff.

But still… not him. Not THAT kid.

It hit hard because of where I am at personally right now, how we are thinking about babies a lot, attempting to conceive. You don’t know where this path might lead you. Awful stuff like this can happen to anyone. Much is down to dumb luck.

It can fundamentally change your life more than having healthy kids. The practicalities of the day-to-day might be wildly complex and cumbersome. You can be caring for them for much longer, until they are adults and you are nearly dead. It might feel like they have stolen your life and you resent them for it – as explored in Graham Swift’s 1996 novel and its film adaptation Last Orders. As with stupid random death, there’s no reason or rational explanation for any of it, which can be the most difficult thing to fathom. That lingering unanswerable question: why us?

Over the following hours and days my brain kept circling back to this kid. I shared some not especially good pictures of the kid to a memorial page I found on Facebook. It felt like an obvious thing to do.


Last night, Christmas Eve Eve, we went to a drinks and nibbles evening at the house of some friends on the other side of town. It was an unusual thing for us to socialise like this. We don’t have many friends as a couple or go out that much generally. I can’t remember the last party or social gathering I or we went to at somebody’s home.

The evening was pleasant and the people were nice. It was fun chatting to the really young kids and the not so young kids. On leaving in the middle of the evening to get back to the dog, an elderly lady called out to us from next door. She was leaving after posting Christmas cards, feeling a little wobbly. I held her hand and walked her back to her front door, a few houses away, listening to her talk. In such situations you are always unsure how weird or strange it might get. Had this been orchestrated a little more than it seemed? Had this lonely old lady been waiting on the doorstep for someone to leave the party next door? Might she invite us in? (The week’s new mini-series of The League of Gentlemen was fresh in my mind). But it didn’t get weird at all. It was fine.

Such stuff gives me a gratifying sense of connectedness, which I suffer a marked deficit in. I work largely alone, don’t have many hobbies or socialise with anyone. I chat with dog walkers and plenty of them are quite odd. Now and then I feel this is something I should get up off my arse, be brave and address somehow. Yet I shy from it because people often irritate me, or so I tell myself. And because I don’t know quite what to do. A book club?  Football? Evening classes? Nothing really appeals.

People my age tend to have their social circle expanded through children, other parents. As of now, we have none. You see documentaries and news stories about old people who say the secret of their longevity is as much social interaction and keeping the neurons sparking, as it is exercise or diet. Basic human connectedness is important, but today it is worryingly easy to relegate, ignore, forget.

weak jizz

Don’t tell anyone, right? It’s doubtful you exist, dear human reader, so I’m fairly sure you won’t. But if you do, don’t.

Thing is, we’re trying. To conceive, reproduce. We’re actually doing it. We haven’t really told anyone but we’ve been trying for a couple of months. It’s the first scary hurdle of a virtually infinite challenge, and it’s one which we might fall at.

Attempting to conceive unleashes you into a strange mental gymnasium of angst and worry and fear. Thoughts about biology and science and what might work best and what might not. At 37 and 35 we are not quite hitting the panic button, but we are not too far off. You have a sense that this thing might have been much easier 10 years ago.

As a bloke you can have efforts where you feel strong, where you have that control and confidence in your jizz. Maybe when you reach the big moment you feel like you can spurt your jizz a good distance, get it up there in the mixer, where it counts, lump the jizzball up in the box and see if one of your guys can get their head on it, in it. I don’t know. I am not 100% on all the science and biology.

On other occasions, maybe when you’ve been trying the thing (sex) regularly for a while and you do not feel so fresh, you have occasions where the big moment feels floppier. It is like a juddering staggering over the line. You don’t spurt, you dribble. You are just grateful to have made it and you feel relieved it is over.

Although, when that happens you sort of hope none of the guys make it because that thing you just did, that can’t be great quality jizz, can it?  If any tadpoles from that lame show somehow make it, they might create some substandard, weak fusion. This might produce a being which is slow, lazy, backward, or, or disabled somehow. Is it terrible to think that? Have I doomed myself just by thinking that? No kids for me now. But what if bad stuff happens and problems occur and things are not right? Would it all be down to my tepid casual jizz somehow miraculously making it to the payload?

Is that how science works? Surely not.

We are done for another month now anyway, which is sort of a relief. Most of my 20s I furiously bemoaned intense sexual repression. Now, not all that many years later, I feel grateful for the respite.


We had an extended family meet-up at the weekend. Planned around 6 months in advance, it bought together our family with the one discovered 12ish years ago thanks to digging and my grandfather’s roving eye.

Our three generations mixed in an impressive, newly renovated home in an affluent area of outer Birmingham.

Their family have two daughters a little older than me and my brother. This was the stunningly spacious house of the elder daughter, aged around 44, happily married to a partner met at university (as my brother), with two beautiful kids, one boy, one girl (as my brother). Not having children, it’s difficult not to feel an outsider when they are chatting about child things with my brother and his wife.  Kids’ clubs, music lessons, schooling: the stuff of which we know nothing. So we stand there and smile, anxiously stroking the knowledge of our secret efforts and weak jizz.

A short while later the younger daughter arrives. Aged around 41, she lives a distance further away with a partner of only a few years. They are unmarried and have no children. She makes a remark about having a smaller house and you sense a tension, the younger sibling underachiever thing which I am highly knowledgeable about. An enormous amount of time, effort and money has been ploughed into this house – a large part from their retired accountant father. You wonder at the equality of the parental contributions, which is a hard thing to measure for any parents I suppose. But when one side appears to have so much more in property and children, it’s difficult.

It is all kinds of difficult. There are multiple neuroses and resentments. He / she has / had so much more than me. My time has passed. I will never have that, them, this.

The journey to and from Birmingham presents a strange role reversal. I drive, my wife sits alongside me and my parents sit in the back. Dad fell off a bicycle and badly broke his arm a week earlier; my wife suffers occasional travel sickness so likes to sit up front. On the dark return journey back south the rear view mirror shows dark outlines of my parents’ slumping snoozing heads. They sway and bob, zombie-like. It’s dangerously hypnotic and slightly spooky. Inoffensive pop music plays from Radio 2 as we hurtle back south down the motorway. Glancing left, I see my wife’s eyes shut, restful. I feel alone and responsible in my consciousness.

If we are successful at reproducing a small person, that person is unlikely to have the same relationship with their Grandparents (my parents) as the one my niece and nephew have enjoyed for around a decade. We may not be as able to lean so much on my parents for childcare support. (My wife has no living parents or super close family). It is not inconceivable that we will attempt to raise a child and care for dying parents at the same time.

Such stuff, together with ideas of success and charitable family donations – who has more, who has earned more and been given more – it all feeds resentments, needles down, can ultimately divide family.  It never occurred to me until recently, but above everything else I might end up most envying my brother’s potent jizz.