Chronology of an illness

w/c 24th February – extremely heavy cold, extraordinary amount of mucus, extreme fatigue, headaches. Never had a cold like this. Worked the full week and then spent weekend of 29th Feb / 1st March in bed recovering, (quite unusual for me). I haven’t really felt well since this week. (NB some doctors I have spoken to assume that this was the start of Covid)

w/c 9th March – continuing to feel unwell, but with new symptoms – really unusual fatigue on exercise, background headache, general feeling of being under the weather. (NB Most doctors I have spoken to assume that 9th March is the beginning of my Covid-like symptoms, so I am counting from here)

15th March – undertook 15K walk with friends. Was feeling unwell enough to consider cancelling the walk. Didn’t cancel, went ahead with walk. Background fatigue, washed out, irritation in throat, slight cough, slight pressure in chest. No fever, no persistent cough. No suspicion of Covid at this stage, based upon NHS111 e-assessment and medical advice from NHS111 website which lists fever, cough and traveling back from Covid zone (Italy / China) as key indicators (which are all NO for me)

w/c 16th March – felt well enough to do some moderate HIIT exercise but unusually fatigued afterwards. Felt unwell a couple of days in this week. Working from home by now.

DAY 15 – 23rd March – national “lockdown begins”. Still feeling unwell, but no real specific symptoms other than fatigue, irritation in throat and slight cough, and low-level headache. Continuing to work from home.

24th March – commented to work colleague about taking a turn for the worse – noted shortness of breath, fatigue, chest pain / pressure and nightmares. Concerning, but not at a level to require sick leave.

w/c 30th March – symptoms continue to gradually worsen, very slow descent though.

2nd April – Symptoms severe enough throughout this week to take sick leave today. Shortness of breath, insomnia, bad chest / sternum pain, pressure in chest, headaches, anxiety, inability to concentrate, or speak for long periods without getting breathless. Speak to NHS 111 doctor who advises monitoring the situation. Suspects Covid-19. Instructed to isolate. Now resting in bed.

4th April – Symptoms severe enough to request SATS monitor from friend. Insomnia kicking in, headaches worsen, chest pain, claustrophobia, anxiety, tightening band around chest, shortness of breath / breathlessness. Horrible chills and uncontrollable shaking at night. No fever, no cough. Resting in bed.

5th April – SATs unit received, first readings are encouraging. SpO2 consistently around 97 / 98 resting heart rate around 60 – 70. Symptoms persist. While I feel awful and the symptoms are gradually worsening, knowing that there is enough oxygen in my body is a HUGE relief.

DAY 29: 6th April – Woke out of a suffocating nightmare around 01:00hrs realising I couldn’t actually breathe properly. Decide to call NHS 111 again, and symptoms worsen on call. NHS doctor suspects worsening Covid-19 so ambulance is called due to worsening chest pain and shortness of breath. Paramedic arrives at 02:30hrs and carries out seven-point assessment;

    • ECG OK (NB revealed very benign incomplete right block branch)
    • glucose of 5.9 – OK
    • stethoscope – no indication of lung infection or heart murmurs,
    • SATs 98, – OK
    • Temperature 36.5C, – OK
    • HR within normal range,
    • Blood Pressure 109/77 sitting and 131/78 standing – OK

Paramedic concludes moderate to severe Covid-19 (NB but no actual swab test carried out). Advised a 6 – 8 week recovery likely. Advised to contact NHS111 if symptoms deteriorate (I feel foolish having called out an ambulance, but the paramedic is very reassuring and supportive, and tells me I did the right thing). Symptoms persist throughout following week but day on day improvements noted. Mild night sweats begin, mild insomnia persists, but sleeping improving and overall well-being improves.

15th April – feeling well enough to do a light 10K walk with family. Symptoms lightening a little. Condition improving slowly.

DAY 42: 19th April – still feel unwell, but well enough to do a light 10K bike ride with the family. No repercussions. Chest pain very mild, breathing improved, claustrophobia and anxiety reduced, headaches reduced. Sleeping well. Decide to go back to work

20th April – return to work

21st April – by afternoon, all symptoms have returned at a severe level.

22nd April – take sick leave from work. Chest / Sternum pain sharper, breathing restricted, heavy headache at back of head, insomnia, anxiety, claustrophobia, extreme fatigue, pins and needles and weird joint pain in fingers (new symptoms). SATS and temperature normal – 97 / 98 and 36.5C respectively. Resting in bed.

DAY 50: 27th April – symptoms persist, breathing becoming harder, still off work, call local GP surgery for advice. Chest pain predominantly on sternum and left side. Request X-Ray, ECG and blood tests. Declined. Prescribed Salbutamol inhaler, ibuprofen (gel rub) and amoxicillin through telephone appointment. Advised again by GP that recovery will likely be 6 – 8 weeks from first wave of severe symptoms (which were assumed to be at the beginning of April). Begin course of Amoxicillin in case of secondary bacterial infection. Take inhaler, little impact, other than making me feel shaky and weird. Resting in bed. Ibuprofen gel rub seems to have little impact. Begin taking Vitamin D (25mcg) for immune system (not suggested by doctor, but a friend who is an A&E doctor). Signed off work for May.

28th April – symptoms persist, chest pain easing slightly by end of day, all vitals normal SATs of 97 / 98. Resting in bed.

29th April – symptoms easing a little, chest pain easing off, breathing clearer, irritation in throat and chest relieving, headache reducing. Claustrophobia and anxiety reducing, still suffering extreme fatigue and insomnia. All vitals within acceptable range (SATs 97 – 98, temperature 36.5 – 37). Is Amoxicillin working? (surprised at this as Doctor said this would only work if there was a secondary bacterial infection, which she strongly doubted due to the continued absence of fever)

30th April – night chills and sweats, some awakening in the night, but a decent night sleep for once. Feel washed out today, extreme fatigue, some minor chest pain, although this is improving. Breathing not as clear as yesterday but still better than it has been – claustrophobia and anxiety reducing as a result. Headache reducing. Direction of travel is reasonable, hope this continues. Discussion with GP, feeding back on progress with Amoxicillin. Doctor warned to look out for chest pain that gets worse on breathing (clots / Pulmonary Embolism), worsening cough / fever and breathlessness (plus descent in SATs readings)

01 May – heavy night sweats, but relatively unbroken nights sleep, woke up feeling slightly better. Chest pain reduced, breathing slightly clearer, anxiety and claustrophobia are lessening. Headache has gone (first headache free day since late Feb). Direction of travel is reasonable.

2nd May – relapse overnight, chest pain returned quite severely, shortness of breath acute again. All stats (temp, HR, SpO2) are OK. Requested telephone appointment with doctor. Got a clinic appointment at local Covid clinic (did not know there is one? Why have I not been previously advised of this?). Doctor carried out variety of tests including stethoscope for heart and lungs, heart rate, SATs, BP and other physical checks. All seemed to be OK (although SATs unusually low around 94% – 95%, which is strange given every reading I have taken at home is 96% – 99%). Advice from Doctor is that this is recovering Covid-19 and to readjust recovery expectations from weeks to months. Frustrating, but very pleased that we are talking about recovery now (even though it does not feel like I am recovering).

6th May – significant improvements in symptoms following an incredibly deep sleep (one of the deepest nights sleep I have had in years, like being under anaesthetic)

Day 60: 7th May – continued recovery, send a message to a friend that this sudden reduction in symptoms is “like coming out from underneath a heavy, dusty, suffocating old rug, blinking into glorious fresh air and bright sunlight”

8th May – relapse; burning sensation returns to sternum and lungs, pain in chest, shortness of breath and breathlessness. Extreme fatigue. Pain in chest is predominantly left side, seems to move around, plus weird cramps in chest. New symptoms with stomach cramps, stomach pain. Not had this before. No clear catalyst for relapse. Incredibly frustrating and concerning. I read a fascinating article by Professor Garner from the Liverpool school of Tropical Health (For the past 7 weeks I have been through a roller-coaster) and discover that there are a significant minority of people going through exactly the same experience as me. I find at least two facebook groups with thousands of people sharing their stories. This is weirdly reassuring. 

9th May – symptoms continue. Determined to get some fresh air and exercise, able to walk about 5K with family but feel giddy throughout and very tired.

11th May – symptoms persist. Stomach cramps reducing slightly. Use Voltarol gel rub on chest / sternum to see if there is an impact on chest pain. Insomnia returns at night, difficult to fall asleep, despite feeling exhausted.

Day 65: 12th May – woken up and chest pain has reduced, but breathing is still difficult. Feeling of claustrophobia has lessened. Is this as a result of using Voltarol? Still feel groggy, unwell, tired, claustrophobic. Have tried taking over the counter anti-histamine to see if that helps. Still taking Vitamin D. At a loss for what to do next.

13th May – woke up feeling really awful. Chest pain returned, new symptom of very loud tinnitus, shortness of breath, claustrophobic. Another new symptom appears, a very concerning pain, like lung cramps that get worse on breathing, only very short lived but quite frightening. I contact GP who refers me to GP surgery who refers me to the COVID Clinic who refers me to hospital. Clots / Pulmonary Embolism are the main concern. By 13:00 I am sitting in a hospital ward. The ward I am in is full of people with respiratory problems. I realise I am in relatively good shape. I spend a full half day from 13:00 to 19:00 at the hospital with the following tests and results

  • Full blood (red and white) – all within normal range
  • Renal / Liver function – all normal
  • Troponin – 2 (Good)
  • D-Dimer – 131 (Good)
  • C-Reactive Protein (CRP) – 0.5 (Good)
  • X-Ray – Clear
  • ECG – Good
  • COVID Swab test (nasal and throat) – negative (strange test to conduct this one, given time that has elapsed since onset of symptoms. Would have thought anti-body test would have been more appropriate) 
  • BP – 111/71 (ideal)
  • SATs – 99% (good)
  • Temperature – 36.6C (normal)

The consultant concludes that I have probably had Covid and that I am now in a Post Viral Syndrome phase (like ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome). Told to go home, be reassured and rest. Told to expect long haul recovery.

15th May: feeling slightly better today. Called GP to discuss test outcomes. Looking at test results he also concurred with hospital conclusion. He also diagnosed chest pain as severe Costochondritis, apparently a common secondary infection following Covid-19 or other viruses. Never heard of this. Doctor also advised rest, recovery and advised to expect long recovery period.

DAY 69 – 16th May: Woke up today feeling slightly better.

19th May – Shortness of breath persists, decide to do postural drainage, steam inhalation and percussion therapy, morning and evening.

20th May – After a few days of improvement, the insomnia is creeping back again. Waking at 03:00hrs due to shortness of breath and then unable to get back to sleep due to adrenaline surge. Received confirmation in the post of negative Covid-19 test. Was expecting nothing else. 

21st May – Bad relapse, pain in chest is back along with compression feeling. Shortness of breath is back to April levels. Fatigue is bad, unable to do much, other than simple tasks around house.

22nd May – Shortness of breath is much worse, probably the worst it has been, chest pain has eased slightly, but I now feel completely whacked. Attempt a short walk to get some sunshine but it wipes me out. By evening headache and tinnitus are very disruptive and shortness of breath is making me feel anxious and claustrophobic. My heart is pounding fast and I feel dizzy on standing. SATs are quite low around 94% but also going down to 90% – 91% which is a concern as this is the first time they have dropped below 95% (could be the new monitor?). Temperature is normal and blood pressure is in the ideal range. By night time I feel a mixture of extreme jet lag, altitude sickness and glandular fever. I am really concerned about what is happening.

23rd May – Sleep the whole night in an almost unconscious state and awake feeling incredibly well. Breathing is clearer, energy has returned, no headache, minor chest pain. Only tinnitus and pins and needles remains. Breathing deteriorates later in the day, but not as bad as yesterday.

24th May – Feeling much better again. Breathing is clearer. Compression and pain in chest is only minor. Still only tinnitus and pins and needles remain. Headaches gone. 

Day 80 – 27th May – Now on fourth day of feeling better. So much more energy, able to complete normal tasks around house, and tolerating short bike rides, short walks and mild to moderate gardening. Able to notice when my body wants me to stop and taking regular rests is helping loads. Have started drinking Lucozade to see if electrolytes help. Still taking Vit E, Cod Liver Oil, Vit D and Evening Primrose supplements. Shortness of breath and chest pain is still there but so much more in the background than previously. Some arthritic pain in the fingers. This could be the last mile. Have received antibody test in the post, but UKs MHRA has just ordered suspension of private testing due to question marks about claims on accuracy and finger prick methodology. Have binned test and will wait for NHS mass roll out.

29th May – Direction of travel is still good. Some insomnia at night, generally waking around 04:00 due to shortness of breath, adrenaline surge kicks in. Sometimes able to fall back to sleep again around 06:30. Pain in chest has returned following light activity in the park yesterday. SATs OK around 94% – 95% (on the new monitor). Still a little light headed on movement and bending over, and tinnitus is at annoying levels. Still shortness of breath persists, struggle to get a decent breath, but without the horrendous chest compression of previous weeks this doesn’t seem quite as terrifying. Some arthritic pain in fingers. Hold a conversation with Occupational Health at work. We agree a phased return to work plan – 4 hours a day for the first week, with Wednesday’s off as a buffer, with gradual hourly increases over the month of June each week. I am a little nervous as I am walking straight back into a change process, and 50% job losses. I know that cognitive as well as physical exertion can cause relapses.

3rd June – really positive progress, 11 full days of minor symptoms. I am taking this as a victory. Minor chest pain, minor shortness of breath, some dizziness, and annoying tinnitus plus fatigue, but all in all really positive. Energy and mood is generally good. New symptoms are appearing on the Corona Carousel – Gastro issues are now coming in. Nausea, bloating, heartburn and stomach cramps. Fairly mild but noticeable on a day to day basis. Insomnia persists, but getting around 4hrs of sleep per night which is just about enough. Some arthritic pain in fingers. Have noticed a few Covid Brain Fog moments at work, but colleagues are thankfully understanding.

5th June – minor relapse, with return of chest pain and shortness of breath / difficulty breathing. This is not unsurprising given the return to work and heavy lifting carried out on Wednesday 3rd. Nothing too major though, and by the evening I am starting to feel OK again. Relapses appear to be getting spread further apart, and when they do occur, the symptoms are relatively mild. This is all very positive and I am taking this as a victory. Gastro issues are problematic. Have started taking Magnesium and Turmeric drinks to see if this has an impact on symptoms. I cannot find potassium on the shelves which is frustrating as this is meant to help with breathing. Had an excellent conversation with a supportive doctor today who has prescribed Zolpidem for the insomnia for 7 days (although I won’t be taking it unless necessary), plus Gaviscon liquid for the gastro issues. He has also booked me in for an antibody test (June 15th) plus loads of follow up bloodwork. Depending on the results of the bloodwork he may also ask for a follow up X-Ray. Spoke to a work colleague who suffered ME/CFS following bouts of malaria and then dengue whilst working in Sierra Leone. His symptoms are scarily similar, including patterns of relapse and post exercise malaise and he has been left with chronic arthritis in his hands and feet. It has taken him three years to recover.

DAY 90, week 14 – 6th June – Woken feeling good today. Annoying gastro issues persists, but Gaviscon seems to be working reasonably well and I have plenty of energy and mood is positive. Quick 15min bike ride this morning, HR reached 120BPM which is relatively high for the distance and speed, but no repercussions yet. Followed this with sourdough bread and pancake baking. Energy remains high. Tinnitus is at annoying levels and arthritic pain in fingers persists. Overall I am pleased with progress. The 30th June goal – a 10K bike ride followed by a pint of beer (which will be my first since 08 March) – is still looking very doable.

Day 95 11th June – pretty decent progress over this week. Have been able to get rid of GI issues through mainlining of Gaviscon Dual Action and Rennies, which is a great relief. Annoying pins and needles and tinnitus remain, as does some insomnia and the usual bedfellows of difficulty breathing and chest pain. These are largely in the background though. Have been able to apply a couple of coats of paint to the shed and had long work days and some physical activity, without much in the way of relapse so very pleased

13th June – woken in the night with chest pain, difficulty breathing, night sweats and general feeling of being unwell, including some pretty severe dizziness. This fits into the pattern of 8 – 10 good days followed by a relapse. Based on previous experience I expect this to resolve by tomorrow evening.

14th June – relapse reducing by evening as predicted. Have been pretty active throughout the day despite feeling very unwell, and by evening I am feeling better again.

Day 100 – week 15 – 16 June; This feels like a major milestone, to reach 100 days. Chest pain and difficulty breathing have been permanent features since the beginning and I am reflecting that this is having an impact on my mental health. Living in fear for so many months may have some repercussions, whether now or further down the line and I will need to look out for that. More positively I was pleased to have blood and antibody tests yesterday and will await the results tomorrow. I am hoping I can take vitamin supplements which will resolve the breathing, pins and needles and tinnitus. Failing that I will push for a CT scan to get more granularity on what is happening in the lungs. Otherwise I have learnt this is just going to be about time. I am hugely grateful that I am in a relatively positive situation. I am back to work, I can do everything I did before (except the HIIT exercise, weights and sports) the OK days outnumber the relapse days, I am back on my bike, I have energy to converse with friends and colleagues. And I don’t know whether this is because I have learnt to live with this or not, but the symptoms no longer dominate my every third thought. The symptoms are there, as a separate part of me, and they just need to be dealt with, but they no longer define or limit me in the way they have done previously. I can see recovery, it will take time, but I am grateful for that.

17th June: Antibody test back negative, bloods all within acceptable range except potassium (3.1 (range of 3.5 – 5) so doctor has suggested eating lots of bananas and oranges to help with that. The antibody result was not surprising, and I was quite ready for it. It’s been harder telling everyone else (thankfully I limited the amount of people I told for this very reason) as testing vagaries related to CV19 are still not well understood. Doctor also prescribed olive oil drops to see if that has an impact on the tinnitus that has become really annoying. Most importantly she also agrees to refer me on for a CT scan and further blood work, including minerals, vitamins and thyroid. This is great, and will represent the final set of tests that I will pursue. General health pretty good this week.

22nd June: Felt really good all weekend and decided to cycle to the hospital for the CT scan. This involved a pretty steep ascent on the way home. I managed it fine and it felt great to get the heart rate elevated. Unfortunately, I felt this in my lungs for a couple of days after, and it triggered a small relapse in the form of chest tightness and difficulty breathing for 24hrs. The relapses are much more manageable when they come though.

24th June; Still feeling groggy, not helped by return of insomnia and hot weather, but still well enough to paint an outside wall, the remainder of the shed and do some pretty heavy duty lifting of flagstones and re-turfing. Felt good at the end of the day having done some manual labour and getting the body moving

Day 110 – end of week 16 – 26th June: Tinnitus still with me, but my breathing has improved (although I still have difficulty catching that deep breath) and there is a definite reduction in chest pain so that it is barely noticeable on a day to day basis. Pins and needles only with me when I sit in one position for long periods and even then only in the fingers and hands. Insomnia now every third night. I am back to work full time. The extreme fatigue has gone, I only get tired now when I would expect to get tired. All of this is really positive. Will receive blood test results and CT scan results in the next 7 – 10 days. This will mark the end of my journey with investigative tests. Feeling good, going for a bike ride now.

28th June – lungs have felt raw from the bike ride for two days, fatigue has returned and chest pain is back again. Tinnitus, aching joints and pins and needles are still there. Return of insomnia for the past two nights. It was great to be back on the bike on the Friday, but perhaps it was too much? Am noticing slight brain fog, struggling to find the right words, forgetful. Could be lack of sleep?

31 June – have been doing moderate gardening for a couple of weeks now, with no real payback so decide to undertake a re-turfing, graveling and flagstone laying project that has been pending for months. This requires some heavy lifting. It feels fabulous to spend the day doing this, and the weather is good.

01 July – Severe pain in chest is back and breathing is difficult. All symptoms back with a bang. The previous days manual labour has caused a nasty relapse.

5th July – Insomnia is back for the past three nights, pain in chest is back with a vengeance, predominantly on the left-hand side, but also now noticeable under the rib cage and at the sides. Difficulty breathing is back. I am also feeling extremely fatigued for the past three days and find simple things quite difficult. I feel really unwell, very flu like symptoms, but no fever. Slight improvement in tinnitus come the evening. Perhaps olive oil drops are working? Brain fog is still noticeable.

Day 122 – 8th July – chest pain is reducing slightly, not as bad as previous days but much worse than it has been since mid-May. Insomnia still persists, finding it hard to fall asleep now which has not really been an issue previously (previously it has been waking up around 04:00 and finding it impossible to get back to sleep). Difficulty breathing is still there. Tinnitus is slightly better of an evening, but still persistent in the background. Pins and needles residing a little. Tried doing some light sawing today, to install water butt and connector kit, and this caused me to feel slightly out of breath. Really unusual. Other activities (such as climbing stairs, cooking etc) are all fine, so is this deconditioning after 4 months of inactivity? Pain in back and chest.

Got results back from Doctor today for various tests. All good, including nothing on the CT scan which is a relief (including no PE, no lung clots, no thoracic lymph nodes, normal upper abdomen, no bone lesions, no fibrosis)

  • HBAIC (Diabetes) (34)
  • Vitamin D (86)
  • Folate (10.7)
  • B12 (317)
  • TSH (thyroid) 1.57
  • Kidney Function EGSR (Normal)
  • Calcium (2.25)
  • Sodium (144)
  • Potassium (3.9)
  • Liver function (46)
  • Alkaline Phosphatase (Normal)
  • Albumen Protein (liver) (Normal)
  • Haemoglobin (141)
  • White Blood Cells (5.78)

Have agreed with doctor to undertake another antibody test, and to seek referral for lung function / spirometry test once clinics have this service back up and running. Will also look into referral to new NHS Covid service once up and running at the end of this month. Will also have a follow up conversation in one months-time regarding exploring the connection between exertion and relapse, possible disconnect between increased heart rate and low blood pressure and consider possibility of dysautonomia. Will try Salbutamol inhaler again (previous use made no difference to symptoms). In the meantime, I am going to try and learn to breathe again – doctor has sent through a breathing leaflet.

I feel dreadful and yet medically, on all counts, and in every test I have had done (and there have been a lot), I am fine and healthy. This illness, whatever it is, is like a poltergeist; I can really feel it, and yet it is not there; it is incredibly disruptive and worrisome and yet I cannot see it. And when I tell people about it, there is scepticism in their countenance.

 

 

My Boy

The room is dark, barely lit by the low, amber lighting penetrating from the hallway. The blue curtains are drawn tight and outside the rain lashes down in squally gusts,

But inside it is warm and still and silent, and you are lying there serene, precious, everything I ever wanted.

I am looking at you. You are finally sleeping soundly, curled up in a tangle of super hero emblazoned sheets, cuddly toys and books; the usual detritus of a nightly struggle with sleep.

I am looking at you, my eyes tracing the contours of your nose and chin.

Your skin is soft and clear in this beguiling half-light. My boy, such perfection, such beautiful perfection.

The rain hammers on the window. Through the curtains I see the sulphurous blur of the street light outside, wind rattled tree branches mottling the glow.

It is a reminder of the outside world, and it forces itself into my reverie. The darkness and the light.

What future for you my boy? What legacy for you, my beautiful child?

There will be heartbreak and sorrow and fear and pain to come for you. This darkness lurks on the horizon, for it is a certainty of life.

The savagery of humanity. My boy, do not be fooled by the veneer of civility, for beneath the shine there lies snarling fangs.

And my boy, there will be times when you will need to bare your teeth too. When you do, make sure you do so for truth, for love and that your cause is just and proportionate.

I am breathing in your beauty, a strong emotion somewhere between contentment and euphoria breaking over me. This feeling, almost overwhelming at your birth, hasn’t waned.

It is a connection unlike any other; deep, primal, urgent.

I am moving a lock of hair off your forehead. You stir but don’t wake. I nuzzle in and inhale the sweet earthy smell of you.

My boy, we have made it through the day. It is a filthy night, cold and wet outside.

But in here there is the soft cocoon of profound love, as old as the universe itself, holding back the night, bridging the void.

And, for now, pushing the darkness back to its dank edges.

 

Hiding in the toilets

I am a 6ft man, 44 years old, strong, physically capable. But it’s Saturday morning and I am hiding in the toilets of the Science Museum in London.

This is not usual behaviour for a 44 year old father of two, but trying times call for radical solutions.

I have my head in my hands and I am wondering what on earth I was thinking; why did I think that a family outing to one of London’s busiest attractions during the school holidays was a good idea?

And what the hell was I thinking going above my three pint policy the night before? I know, through years of tried and tested experience, that anything more than three pints results in a hangover the following day.

I screw my eyes up and push my knuckles further into my pounding temples.

What the fuck was I thinking?

Half a day has passed and I can summarise these precious five hours of family time in two words – queuing and shouting. Lots of loud, fruity shouting.

In fact those two words would probably summarise most summer holiday outings with the children these days.

The idea for the trip to the Science Museum cames from a place of well meaning. As a parent I am bombarded by messages from experts and the media telling me to expand my children’s minds, feed their curiosity.

Your children need Sciencing” the experts shout.

Well this morning, there has been no sciencing going on.

My daughter, the eldest, has been a devil child since breakfast, a mood prompted by the fact that we wouldn’t let her wear her Wellington boots to London

But Daddy! Paddington Bear wears wellington boots and he lives in London!” she claims

But darling it’s 26C outside and it hasn’t rained in three weeks. You don’t need boots on!” comes my exasperated response

BUT DAAAAAAADD….”

And so it goes on. All effing morning.

And the youngest, my son is adopting a position of oppositional defiance to everything, since we stopped him from pouring the entire contents of the sugar bowl onto his breakfast Cheerios.

Ah cool, look at this, it’s how electricity is conducted” I say, pointing at a wired up circuit board

It’s boring, I don’t want to be a Sciencer dad!” 

I find this funny. The funniest thing I’ve heard today at least. But my barely stifled laugh at this cute word play makes him even more furious and entrenched.

He refuses to move from the Wonderlab and screams until I consider bribing him with chocolate.

I raise my eyes to the heavens, let out a big sigh and mentally cross “parent of the year” off the award list.

I have learnt two things already this morning. Never go on a family outing to London on a hangover; and the kids really don’t give two shits about Science.

They would rather be at home playing with the dead flies that gather in the corner of the rooms and tormenting the neighbour’s cat. I suppose it’s a kind of science.

The whinging and wailing carries on all morning. “I’m bored. This is boring. This museum is stupid and boring. Daddy, you are stupid and boring”

I try to shrug the personal insults off, the kids are still only young, they don’t really know what they are saying, but these tirades sting a little.

Despite the fact that we have been shovelling thousands of calories into their tiny little faces all morning, the kids start complaining that they are hungry around about 11:30.

Maybe that’s what we all need, I think, some sustenance.

My hangover is still there, niggly, a bastard behind the eyes, but the idea of some comfort food lifts my spirits.

Except that there is a fourteen mile queue for anything vaguely resembling sustenance.

My wife volunteers to walk a few blocks to find a food shop that is a little less crowded, and so the kids and I sit outside the museum and wait.

My children entertain themselves by terrorising the grotty pigeons that congregate in the grey concrete square, the first time they have enjoyed themselves all morning.

I note that this is pretty typical. Behind them lies a building of wonder that holds the secrets to the laws of the universe, but they are happiest running around a piece of concrete chasing flying rats.

I settle back and watch them. I begin to enjoy the fresh air, the space and the fact that the children are finally out of my face and out of my hair for a few minutes.

Maybe this day trip thing can work

My wife returns with some croissants, coffee and various sandwiches and the children come running, laughing and giggling. Things are looking up.

But no sooner has my wife put the bags down and starts searching for hand wash, then the children start grabbing at the bags, and fighting over who gets what. I try to intervene, and I am quick, but I realise I am not quick enough.

My son grabs the croissant bag and like a slippery little eel runs away with it. My daughter follows screaming like a banshee, clutching some sandwiches. My son trips and spills the croissants all over the floor, right into the pigeon poo, grazing his knee badly and letting out a piercing howl.

My daughter, bereft that the croissants are gone, throws the sandwiches at him, the egg and cress exploding as they make contact with concrete and forehead. They too are now gone.

And so, at this point, is my sanity.

I calmly make my excuses, I need the loo I say, but really I don’t. I just need some peace and quiet.

I make my way, slowly, to the toilets, enjoying every child free step. There is another bastard queue this time for the toilets, but I don’t mind, because it is all child free.

Eventually I get in and lock the cubicle door. I am free, for five minutes I am free.

And so this is how it came to be. A grown man, holding his head in his hands and hiding, from his own children, in the public toilets of London’s Science Museum.

I am not proud of this situation, you understand, but sometimes you have just got to do what you gotta do.

And sitting here in the relative still and calmness of the Science Museum toilets, I come to terms with the fact that my children are probably never going to discover cures to illnesses or make life changing scientific breakthroughs.

But if we can all make it through the day still speaking to each other, still alive, still breathing, then that’s something to be proud of.

I laugh to myself, as I reflect how I have had to re-adjust my expectations since becoming a father. Some days we are lucky if we leave the house without 47 arguments.

I also reflect on the fact that I have spent more time hiding from my children in toilets than I have hiding in toilets from anyone else.

I sigh, and stand up. I flush the toilet even though it doesn’t need flushing (after all, I need to be able to justify to the queue outside why I have occupied a stall for close to ten minutes), unlock the door, take a deep breath and steel myself for re-entry back into family life.

 

 

Growing Up

The days clatter by, without so much of a pause for breath or space for reflection. The rattle and hum of every day events and the constant manic juggling of priorities leaves little space for anything else.

Which child needs to be where at what time? What should they be wearing? Has he got a temperature? What will they need once they get there? Which mode of transport will we take? Which child have you got today? Does it make sense for me to pick up child A? But wait I have a meeting at that time, and I can’t shift it. Can you pick up child B and take them to X’s house? So who is on dinner then?……

And so it goes. Planning and re-planning. The endless prioritisation. The re-prioritisation. The compromise and servitude and the flying-by-the-seat-of-your-pants from one thing to another. It’s precision on a military level.

This is modern day parenting and it is an incessant, white knuckled ride down life’s turbulent waters. A ride that can finish at the end of the day in one of two ways;

if I’m lucky, the day will finish in the cosy confines of a warm and dimly lit bedroom surrounded by books, cuddly toys, soft furnishings and hushed words.

Or it could finish amongst the waifs and strays of society in the strip lighted waiting room of a local A&E, praying to whatever god that will listen that everything is going to be OK.

It is stressful, and manic, and full on, and brilliant, and boring, and amazing and it can really blow your mind. Parenting should be on a Class A list.

But then a space for reflection opens up. A pause in the mania of everyday life.

Maybe it was that afternoon to myself in the park. Maybe it was that stolen hour in the swimming pool.

It is space that has enabled a bit of perspective. It brings a sense that changes have happened, but that I just haven’t noticed them as I spend another day plummeting down a cliff in a tin dustbin.

And as I walk in to the house I see it immediately.

I see a massive space in the hall.

This is a space that used to be occupied by the hulking, shabby frame of the pram.

A space in which the pram used to sit in its very own puddle of water, leaves and dirt, snagging jumpers and pecking knees and shins on every walk past, like a grumpy buzzard desperate for attention.

Now there is space. Lovely, wide open, pram-free space.

The pram. That universal symbol that tells everyone else that the person pushing it has just had their world turned upside down.

And we sold it. We sold the pram. WE SOLD THE PRAM!

And there is something else too.

I look on the table. There are no longer wet wipes there. There’s none upstairs either. The ones at the bottom of my day bag have gone too. The emergency pack in the bathroom are full, bloated gathering dust. Like the last guest at a party.

There used to be packs of wet wipes everywhere, constantly in use, constantly being replenished. Open any given cupboard on any given day and piles of wet wipes would fall out.

There would be no mercy for me if I came back from the supermarket having forgotten the giant value pack of wet wipes.They were new-parent essential kit. Run out at your peril.

Now, nothing. No more wet wipes. Except the emergency pack in the bathroom, gathering dust on the shelf.

And nappies.

Nappies are no longer on our shopping list. How the bloody hell did THAT happen? More importantly, when did that happen?

I remember a time, when both children were in nappies, and it felt like it would never be over. The daily fight to the death over the change mat, the nappies and the wet wipes.

At one stage I thought I was going to die, suffocated by great boxes full of them.

Death by nappy, what a way to go.

And sleep. Oh welcome back beautiful, precious sleep. You were gone for 5 years and I have the permanent eyebags and grey hair to prove it. But when did you return? I missed you so much, but I didn’t even see you come back into my life. I promise to never let you out of my sight again.

No more prams, no more nappies, fewer wet wipes, fewer sleepless nights. We are out of a phase of childhood that will never return.

And I found myself talking over the fence to our neighbour this weekend. She has just had a baby boy. I am listening to everything she is telling me. She has that edgy look of wonder, sleeplessness and panic that all new parents share.

I am nodding in all the right places and making all the right noises. I am listening, not judging, not offering my opinions. I’ve been here myself. The baby is so small that it can still be bathed in the sink. Other people’s opinions are not helpful at this point. The one thing that new parents need is sleep. Not more opinions.

But I am biting my lip. I am trying ever so hard. I am stopping myself from saying something, something I promised myself I would never say to a new parent.

But the urge is so strong, the instinct to say it so powerful.

You should cherish these moments, they grow up so quickly you know

I really want to say it.

And I can hear them all goading me – the space where the pram used to stand, the lone nappy lodged behind the radiator amongst the dust and spiders; the bloated pack of emergency wet wipes in the bathroom. I can hear them all whispering at me, urging me to say it.

But I resist and we part company. I smile to myself because I wanted to say it. They are words of wisdom, delivered from a well-meaning place, after all.

They really DO grow up so quickly.

The Toddler Resistance Movement – A Guide to International Travel

As a member of the Resistance you should know by now that our objective is to create as much fuss, noise and disruption as possible whilst maintaining continuous supply lines of yoghurt, entertainment, snacks and sweets. So follow the guidelines on international travel below and you will be in receipt of a bumper payday of all things good my fellow toddling travellers.

On the way to the airport

  1. Vomiting just as the Ugly Giants are leaving the house is a great way of reminding them who is in control of this family holiday. Extra points will be gained for vomiting on carpet. At the very least it will result in the Ugly Giants cracking the DVD player our early doors, which means hours of Finding Nemo for you, my jet-setting friend.
  2. A couple of well-timed requests for toilet breaks during the car journey is a good way of keeping the pressure on. Refuse to go and then request a toilet break EXACTLY at the point where the Ugly Giants have just passed a service station.
  3. Regardless of the toilet break outcome, go in your pants. ALWAYS go in your pants.

At the airport

  1. Implement the four point plan as follows i) Demand to press the button for the car park ticket. ii) Demand to see the car park ticket. iii) Demand to play with the car park ticket. iv) Lose the car park ticket. The four point plan is just for kicks people.
  2. Refuse to go anywhere in the airport without either a piggyback or a ride on a luggage trolley. You are goddam toddler royalty and walking is for TWATS and LOSERS.

At passport control

  1. Demand passports. Chew passports. Hide passports. Lose passports. Your job here is done.

At the security check

  1. At a high and persistent volume, randomly complain about something i.e. your ears. Demand to have them replaced. This is just for kicks people.
  2. Stick metallic objects in the Ugly Giants pockets. Keep doing this until the scary looking man with the baton has stripped your daddy down to his underwear, and has him bent over the conveyor belt.
  3. When all medicines and liquids are out in the open, mainline the Calpol. You will feel the benefits in 10minutes.
  4. Insist on being last through the X-Ray scanners. Throw a tantrum if you have to. Just be the last through. When you are sure that all the Ugly Giants have gone through, make a break for the bastard car-park. This is not just about snacks, this is also about Freedom, my itinerant friends.

At Duty Free

  1. At a high and persistent volume complain about your shoelaces. Keep the pressure on. The Ugly Giants are weaker under pressure and more prone to cracking open the entertainment and sweets.

On the flight

  1. During boarding it is a good idea to loudly and repeatedly request items of clothing that you know have been left at home. Become inconsolable until the treat jar is cracked open. Boom! Payload!
  2. On the flight, kick the back of the chair in front of you as hard and as frequently as you can. The Ugly Giants love this.
  3. When the seat belt lights come on everyone will sit down. This is a perfect opportunity to get up and go for a stroll. The aisles will be clear of idiots, leaving you to have a gentle and unimpeded walk. Ignore the shouting from the flight crew.
  4. Demand stuff from the painted ladies. They are paid to have more patience than your Ugly Giant. And they have a trolley. A trolley full of salty snacks and fizzy drinks. And they CANT SAY NO! Boom!
  5. Half way through the flight, just as everyone has settled in, run up and down the aisles shouting. This is one way to freak the Ugly Giants. If you can learn to shout the word “BOMB!”, even better.
  6. Stay awake the WHOLE bastard journey. The Ugly Giants will be like putty in your hands by the end.

Before landing

  1. Scream loudly every time the PA breaks into episode 47 of Peppa Pig. Make the pilot adopt a perpetual holding pattern over the Middle East until episode 50 of Peppa Pig is finished. The pilot is your bitch now.
  2. Go for another stroll when the seat belt lights are on. Pull as many levers and press as many buttons as possible. Innocently ask why the engines are on fire. Disrupt and disobey. This is your role, live up to it.
  3. Refuse to hand over the headphones, blanket, in-flight magazine and soft toys. They are YOURS goddamit.
  4. Fall asleep two minutes before landing.

On arrival

  1. React badly to being woken up. This should result in a snack pay-out.
  2. The luggage carousel is your objective now. All roads lead to the luggage carousel. Once at the luggage carousel jump on board. Enjoy the ride! Don’t get off unless there are snacks proffered.
  3. Finally, once through passport control, demand to go back home. Keep this up throughout the duration of your stay. The Ugly Giants love these constant reminders of who is actually in control of this goddam family.

 

If you are reading this, you are the resistance.

The Toddler Resistance Movement Guide to the School Run

The Toddler Resistance Movement Guide to the School Run

Latest update from the front lines comrades – it’s September and that means school has started. Now we all know school is great – tonnes of snacks, loads of shouting and running about and the mud pie kitchen. Oh yes, the mud pie kitchen! I mean, what’s not to like?!

But we all know that we can’t let on that we like school too much. We are a Resistance Movement after all, and we can’t resist something if we outwardly show the Ugly Giants that we like it. You feel me? So here’s the deal. Follow these instructions and resist, my schooled chums, resist!

1/. Wake up late and refuse to get out of bed until all your favourite clothes are laid out on the floor for you. Preferably in the shape of Olaf from Frozen.

2/. Swap out your pants / knickers at least sixty seven times. It’s an autumnal underwear palette you are after. Refuse the monochrome look, it’s so last year.

3/. Stuff your school jumper down the back of the sofa. This is an important plant that you can call upon later (see 15 below).

4/. Refuse to wear socks. Hold out for a multi-vitamin. Force the Ugly Giants to play their trump card early.

5/. Once you have the multi-vitamin, demand, in increasing levels of volume, to wear socks. Insist on putting socks on yourself. Scream at anyone who breaches your 5 metre perimeter until you have satisfactorily aligned your socks with your chi, any nearby ley lines and the eight planets of the solar system.

6/. At breakfast scream for Cheerio’s. A resistance movement cannot be sustained on an empty stomach and these little sugary O’s are perfect marching fodder. Half way through your bowl of sugary, salty breakfast cereal, stop and demand a fried egg on toast or anything else that requires the Ugly Giants to break open the cooking gear. Sprinkle Cheerio’s on the floor until you get what you want.

7/. You are holding out for an important Verbal Signal of Weakness (VSoW) from the Ugly Giants so procrastinate as much as you can. Use these precious minutes to discover a brand new hobby (such as dust inspecting or cognitive complexity theory), ask some important questions and demand answers (e.g. “why are big things big?” or a variation “How can big things be so big?”) or if you have a younger brother or sister simply hide him / her in a cupboard until the Ugly Giants are about to call the Police.

8/. If you have done everything right my learned friends you are probably nearing the point of VSoW so adjust your socks. The Toddler Resistance Movement demands sartorial perfection so get it right. Twenty minutes of committed sock fiddling should just about do it. Listen out for the Ugly Giant’s VSoW.

9/. “Come ON, we’re REALLY late”. There it is! BOOM! You’ve done it. The VSoW. The reveal. The Ugly Giants are now putty in your hands. You can hold out for pretty much any type of bribery. Whatever you want from the snack tin, it’s yours my fellow schoolers.

10/. They are weak. They are vulnerable. Now is the time to hit them with the Holy Trinity. Tell them you don’t want to go to school, you want to change your socks and that you are so tired that you need one of the Ugly Giants to give you a piggy back from the breakfast table to the front door. That should get you an oat bar, at the least.

11/. When brushing your teeth, the Ugly Giants will shout “BRUSH, DON’T CHEW”. They don’t really mean it. Chew, like your life depends on it.

12/. Before leaving the house, demand the micro scooter. Demand every single piece of safety kit and clothing to go with it.

13/. Take off the safety kit and clothing. It’s clashing with your autumnal palette.

14/. On the walk to school, stop off and talk to cats, pick flowers and inspect beetles. Feed the flowers to the beetles and feed the beetles to the cats. Try and eat the cats yourself.

15/. At the school gates make one last stand. Ask difficult questions, ask for your jumper (which is stuffed down the back of the sofa. BOOM! Payload!) or adjust your socks. Anything to avoid actual school.

16/. If you have followed all the steps above you should be entering the school just as the gates to your classroom are locked. This will cause the Ugly Giants an embarrassing trip to School Admin to plead their case and get the gates unlocked.
If you have achieved this then congratulations, YOU ARE THE RESISTANCE!

#VSoW
#sockfiddling
#toddlerresistancemovement

Perfect Moment

A vivid but chaotic dream is interrupted by the sound of the bedroom door slowly sweeping across the carpet.

I am bought quickly into the room by the sound.

I open an eye and can see the door opening, but as yet no figure in the doorway.

The adrenalin and dull shock from the rude awakening quickly subside. I see the hazelnut curls on the top of my daughters head bob past the end of the bed, her footfall padding lightly on the carpet.

She rounds the bed post and her full face comes into view. She is full of sleep and there is no emotion on her face.

I don’t want to wake up yet. I don’t want the embrace of sleep to leave.

I hold my hand out to my daughter and close my eyes. I hear her feet pad a few more steps on the carpet and next thing I feel is her grip tighten around my wrist as she pulls herself into bed.

She collapses next to me and snuggles in tight, breathing loudly. She hasn’t quite yet worked out the concept of personal space, and while her head lies awkwardly across my jaw, and I receive a couple of accidental knees and elbows in delicate areas, her final position is comfortable enough for me to draw her in close.

She sighs loudly, contentedly. She appears to be in no immediate rush to go downstairs today.

She shuffles a little bit in the bed and nestles finally and comfortably in the crook of my shoulder. My face is now buried deep in her forest of curls.

I love being in here. It is soft and warm and smells sweet and earthy. I gently run my face through her billowy cloud of curls.

I chance a look at her, and her eyes are shut. Her breathing is soft and rhythmic, her chest rising with every breath, her warm outbreath kissing my shoulder. She is still and content. I close my eyes and my mind starts to wander.

I can hear morning birdsong outside, carried through the open window on a warm summer breeze which gently disturbs the curtains. In the distance there is the bark of a dog and the hum of a car engine. I can feel myself drifting, the warm embers of sleep burning on.

I have no idea how long we lie together, it doesn’t matter. I am snuggled up close to my daughter and we are still and quiet and entwined. She is safe, and warm and loved.

I don’t want this moment to end.

Time flies

WordPress informed me this week that my blog has just turned one.

It took me by surprise to be honest. How time flies.

Sometime back in February 2013, as a stressted out, burnt out father of two under-threes, I decided I had two options.

1. Take up writing 

or

2. Develop an alcohol / crack addiction.

I chose writing.

Because frankly, first and foremost, that is what this blog started out as for me.

Therapy.

Cheap therapy.

And over time I have attracted a small but loyal, and very lovely group of readers who have kept me going with their humour, anecdotes and empathy.

I have enjoyed blogging much more than I could ever have imagined and it has opened me up to a great new community of people, with new opportunities and new possibilities. I love it.

Which is why I have decided to celebrate my first birthday by nominating myself for a MAD Blog award. It’s my birthday present to me!

Self nomination is not a very British thing to do, and it is certainly not a very “me” thing to do, but hey, it’s my birthday, so like whatever.

So if you have enjoyed reading anything on my blog over these last twelve months and you so feel inclined, please do nominate me under the “best writing category”.

You can do that by clicking on the “nominate me” badge on my blog page or by clicking the link above and following the instructions – my webpage is https://thesecretfather.wordpress.com

And if not, then no worries, vote for someone else, in one of the many other categories. Competitions like this are all good for the blogging community, of which I am part, so it is a total win-win.

Happy blogging birthday to me!

Calling all dads!

I jumped onto #PNDHour on Twitter tonight (hosted by the fabulous Rosey @PNDandMe) and it got me thinking about how little I know about Pre / Post Natal Depression (PND), and how unprepared I am to be able to support people going through it (www.nhs.uk estimates that about 1 in 7 women experience some level of depression in the first three months after a baby is born)

It also got me thinking about how I could use social media to help raise awareness on PND. 

With the rubbish, gloomy weather outside it felt like an appropriate time of year to be talking about this issue, and particularly now with the excellent initiative #Timetotalk day approaching fast on February 6th (check out the lovely www.mamababybliss.com for more information on #timetotalk)

So as a result,  I am thinking of running a series of posts on PND.

And the angle I want to take is to try and collect a series of articles from dads whose partners have / are suffering from PND. 

I am both looking for dads who can write from the heart with empathy and understanding, and dads who can write from the head to provide insights, tips and ideas on how to provide support to loved ones affected by PND.

If this is you, and you want to get involved, please get in touch; The_Secret_Father@hotmail.com or Twitter; @Secret_Father.

Let’s get talking.

 

PS if you want to write something anonymously then that is fine too

#PND

#PNDHour

#Timetotalk

The forty eight hours of me

Peace. Quiet. Alone

Peace. Quiet. Alone

It’s Friday night, I am 41 years old, I am home alone, and I have temporarily forgotten who I am.

Just a few minutes earlier the front door had closed shut. The muffled sound of small, crackly and excited voices faded. I heard the car door shut. The engine was started up, the car pulled out of the drive

And now here I am, left standing in silence, like a forgotten old sock on a radiator.

Complete silence.

My wife has taken the children away for the weekend and I don’t quite know how I feel, or who I am.

I turn and walk away from the door, a familiar paradox forming in my emotions – those uneasy bedfellows of joy and sadness jostle for primacy in my heart.

As soon as the family are out of the door I breathe a sigh of relief. But it is a sigh tinged too with the vestiges of regret. Regret that I am not going with them. Regret that I will miss all those little moments that have become so important.

That moment after dinner when we have a disco which always ends up with everyone collapsed on the floor in a panting pile of giggles.

That moment when my son puts his arm around his sister as she talks him through a book.

That moments when my daughter will whisper that she loves me in my ear.

That moments when my son fixes me with his gaze, stares into my eyes and somehow connects with my very being.

Moments when all the drudgery of the routine has been completed and we can glow in the precious embers of the day, nestled under the duvet sheets and cuddling close as the much loved and familiar bed time stories are told once again.

Moments when my wife and I look at each other and with one weary but happy expression, count our blessings that we have got them safely through yet another day.

They have been gone for a few seconds and I am already missing all of this and more. The house seems quiet. Too quiet. The toys are strewn across the floor, a multi-coloured legacy of what just was.

Children enter our lives in a whirlwind of noise, energy and emotion and from that moment on, there is no let up. As a father this is like a drug.

But it is moments like this, when the drug is taken away, that I miss it, need it, crave it back again. My personality has become so intrinsically linked to my children that it feels like my identity and character are collapsing without them. Again, I am home alone. I am 41 years old. And I have temporarily forgotten who I am.

But it doesn’t take long before I remember. The sadness begins to make way as a positive realisation dawns on me. I am home alone. I am home alone.

I walk over to the toys and start putting them away, one by one. And as I do so, a wave of nervous excitement passes over me. I start to think who of my friends I can call.

I can go for a pint. In a pub.

I can have dinner. In a restaurant.

I start to recall all the films I want to watch and make a mental note to check the listings of the nearby cinemas. I make a mental note to check the timings of the live football on TV. I start to think about the work that needs to be done in the garden and all the other things I find hard to do with children swarming around my ankles, pulling at my trousers and demanding attention.

I start to excitedly break the next two days down into units of time. Some units are about getting jobs done, but some units – in fact most units – are hedonistically and selfishly dedicated to me.

One and a half units will be spent on getting my hair cut. Two units I am budgeting for a lazy Saturday morning breakfast in our local Cafe and a read of the papers. Another two units will go on televised sport. I start to calculate how many units are left.

The weekend is shaping up. I am home alone. And already I am starting to feel like a man again. I am no longer a husband or a father. I am a man, it is just me, and it is starting to feel really good.

I catch myself and I feel guilty, but not so guilty to rein in the flights of fancy that are now coming in thick and fast. I could get the train to London and take in a show. Why not Liverpool? I’ve always fancied a night at the Cavern Club. Hell, why not get a last minute flight and check out Amsterdam…….?

I decide against these things. I am home alone. I have the weekend to myself and my primary goal is to wake up in my own bed, at my own pace, and to do those things that I don’t normally get a chance to do. This is “me” time with a capital ME. This is my one weekend where I can be selfish and hedonistic.

And I know that come Sunday evening the car will pull up the drive, I will hear the car doors open and the muffled sound of scratchy, excited little voices will get louder. My daughter will reach up and press the doorbell and run off screaming with excitement, my son will be jumping up and down on the spot, shouting unformed words, fingers coming in through the letter box.

Before I open the door and get bowled off my feet by a tidal wave of sticky hugs, noise and unbounded enthusiasm, I will breathe in the silence one last time.

And in that moment I know that there will be a tinge of disappointment. Disappointment that I didn’t get to do everything that I wanted to do during the 48 hours of me. Disappointment that my peace and quiet will be broken. Disappointment that Time will once again no longer be mine.

But there will also be joy as the old, selfish me makes way for the new improved me; the father, the husband, the carer, the anchor, the port in a storm.

I will be euphoric that they are back. I will acknowledge that being just me is great, but that actually my life has far greater meaning when my wife and children are around. They define me in ways that I never could on my own.

I will reflect and acknowledge that the only reason I can properly enjoy time alone, is by knowing that they are coming back. It is that, and ONLY that, which will make the next two days – the 48 hours of me – so precious.