Category Archives: ill children

Vaulting a guide rope in my harems

These harems weren’t meant for vaulting, but that’s just what they did…

Sunday, August 1st 2021, approx. 1am: I am lying half off a semi-inflated camping mat next to my sleeping two-year-old son, our bodies gently vibrating with the beat coming from the neighbouring field, contemplating my past experiences with music festivals. The highs. The lows. The bands. The toilets. So far this weekend we’ve been dealt an interesting mixture: broken tent poles followed by tent-battering storms, a sleepless night, one of our party’s tent collapsing on him and his two-year-old in the middle of the night, hat competition success, kids rocking their little socks off to live music for the first time (that they can remember), a tummy bug making its sinister circulation through our group, a *really nice* falafel wrap, excellent company, great atmosphere, decent music… All things considered, if you write off the first night it’s all been quite succe-

The high-pitched wail comes with an insistent thread of panic from the tent’s other compartment. I scramble to my feet, untangling and fumbling through sleeping bags, zips, a crowded middle compartment and into the small enclosure shared by my daughters just in time to see a plume of vomit splatter all over my four-year-old’s sleeping bag. Ah, I think to myself. Yes. That seems about right.

Farm Fest 2021: all that went on in the showground was bloody marvellous. Everything else shall never be spoken of again (it shall).

I think it’s safe to say that, like so many things, my festival experiences have been most memorable for the things that went not-so-well. And the things that went not-so-well tend to refer to weather, toilets, Drunk Twats, camping, weather, inappropriate footwear, weather and, more often than one would hope, vomit. On the other hand, it’s thanks to festivals that I can say I’ve seen live performances by the likes of Oasis, The Killers, Ed Sheeran, The Prodigy, Tim Minchin, Tom Jones, David Guetta, Maroon 5, Tinie Tempah, Labrinth to name but a few. I can’t actually remember seeing half of them, but what I do recall is brilliant, if a little fleeting… Far stronger memories include the surprisingly heavy addition the dozen or so bottles of WKD rolled into my tent and sleeping bag made to my camping rucksack as we traipsed across a really long field from the car-park to the campsite of NASS in 2004. My friend and I at V-Festival 2005 getting completely freaked out while camping alone in a field of Drunk Twats and calling her boyfriend and his mates who drove for five hours to stage a heroic gate-crash rescue for the remainder of the weekend. Rocking up to V-Festival 2012 in my newly-purchased boho maxi dress and feeling the hideous realisation that I’d completely missed the dress-code of arse-grazing denim hotpants and wellies (the latter despite it remaining a stubborn 30 degrees all weekend without a scrap of mud in sight). Hard to say whether the lowest point of that particular weekend was the affect of the heat on the already-rancid festival toilets, the subsequent discovery on one such visit that I had started my period or the unfortunate vomiting-in-shared-tent incident. To top it all off, I had to work on the Monday afternoon (probably a press week) and my flat was having plumbing work so I couldn’t even nip home for a shower first. Still, The Killers were good. I think?

Why a bikini, you may ask. Why indeed.

In any case here I was, nine years later and at an entirely different kettle of festival. Farm Fest, a light-hearted, family-friendly affair in the rolling hills of Somerset; small, unpretentious and perfect for one’s re-introduction to the festival scene after an absence of almost a decade and the addition of several extra people. And, actually, I couldn’t fault the festival itself. The atmosphere was wonderful, we never felt threatened or unsafe, the music was good, the staff were plentiful and seemed on top of things. Even the toilets were nowhere near the level of gross that I’d come to expect thanks to the sawdust-scoop-when-you-poop thing they had going on (though I did get to the point where I brought a sanitiser spray every time I went and stopped letting the kids use them at all in favour of the travel potty midway through day two).

Camping, on the other hand… We haven’t been camping since 2018. We knew the tent had a couple of glitches. We ended up wrapping two of the poles in electrical tape after they shattered during assembly, tying guide lines back on, sewing up holes… Still, it went up and up it stayed. We went to bed on the first night tipsy and optimistic, all three kids asleep in varying degrees of tangled sleeping bags and limbs in the tent’s second compartment. Then the wind started, and I don’t just mean Hub’s ale farts. I mean a >50mph battering courtesy of Storm Evert which had crept onto the weather radar just that morning, promising high winds mostly around Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly. Miles away from Somerset, we chuckled. No one was bloody chuckling by midnight. By midnight I had an utterly freaked out B3 clinging to my neck in our compartment as we tried to comfort him (while entirely unsure if our buckling tent was about to collapse on us at any minute). Next pitch over, our friend’s air tent did collapse on him and his two-year-old daughter, who woke up in a puddle… After rescuing her and battening the tent as best he could, he then promptly came down with a tummy bug. Our other friends took me and B3 into their van for the rest of the night after his screaming showed no signs of abating… Suffice to say, none of us got a lot of sleep but there was certainly a spirit of Dunkirk type thing going on.

The next morning brought no respite from the winds as well as the unwelcome news that the festival itself was postponed due to health and safety concerns brought on by the weather, which meant no breakfast other than dry Weetabix, bananas, cucumber and crisps (kids loving life at this point). At this point, sitting in the car as it was the only non-windy place, we wondered whether we should just give up and go home. We decided to stick it out (mostly because I’d spent most of the week before going a bit extra on my hat competition entry) and Hub came up with the idea of unloading the entire back of the car into the tent, folding the seats down and turning it into a play area. We got out the colouring books, restaurant-toy-bags, charged one of the tablets and well, actually, they bloody loved it and spent most of the rest of the weekend asking if they could go back to the ‘fun-zone.’ Ten points to the Citroen MPV.

Also pictured: ominous clouds of doom and what my weather app described as a “brisk breeze”

Eventually, of course, the storm abated, the festival opened, we donned our tie-dye and had a pretty good first day. The second night brought tranquil weather, we all slept well (we put B3 in with me and Hub turned the ‘fun-zone’ into a single bed) and the next day (Saturday) was great. Our friends got over the tummy bug and won best group in the hat competition, the kids enjoyed a mini rave in the kids’ tent, we donned glitter, temporary tattoos, hair chalk and face paint and joined others dressed in a multitude of festival gear from patchwork to tie-dye, butterfly wings and even a tribe of bees… With nary a hotpant in sight, I did not feel even the slightest bit self-conscious in my wellies, harem pants and ancient crochet top with a rainbow painted on my face. We managed to pull all three kids along in the festival trolley. B3 got in a decent nap in the tent. We even got a “parenting goals” compliment from a bright-eyed young couple who clearly had no idea what they were looking at.

It wasn’t all sunshine and flowery headbands, though. Gone are the days of casual day-drinking in a sunny field whilst lazily watching parents running after their grubby-faced urchins and thinking, mistily, maybe I’ll do that one day. There are still nappies to change and snacks to fetch. It’s not so easy to vault a guide rope to prevent a small boy mounting a display tractor whilst wearing harem pants and wellies. We lost shoes, we lost mood rings, we dropped a £3 artisanal ice cream on the grass 30 seconds after it was handed over, we found shoes, we took t h r e e  h u n d r e d  y e a r s to choose a (already forgotten about) selection of cheap souvenirs from the gift stalls. We kept losing the rest of our party as we all tried to keep up with whatever time schedule whichever kid was dictating at any given time… But, overall, we had a good time. I mean, we could have done without the storms and the vomit but… well, how would I ever remember it all?

Bloody nice to be home though.

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Positive

I’d known it was coming. The symptoms were all there, after all. I’d thought we’d been so careful, we always were… But clearly something had slipped through. Someone. I should have known it was too good to last. I should have known it would happen, sooner or later. Still, when the result flashed up in its little window, I was shocked. How were we going to cope? What were we going to do? I looked again. Yep, no denying it. Positive. I reached for my glass of wine, because I may have had fucking Covid but at least I wasn’t pregnant.

Fortunately, I’ve been one of the lucky ones. I’ve had symptoms for just over a week and the worst thing has been the loss of taste and smell, mostly because I’ve no idea how long it will last. The first few days, back when I thought I just had the kids’ cold – the viral wheeze aforementioned here – I mostly had a bit of a headache I ascribed to several evenings spent partaking end-of-December measures of gin and a slight cough that was so pathetically infrequent I didn’t give it a second thought. I didn’t feel great but I certainly didn’t feel pandemic-level poorly. Then, on New Year’s Eve, the oven wasn’t broken. I’d cooked a slow-roast pork shoulder and realised, around 4pm, that the oven must be broken because the house wasn’t suffused with the usual scents of slow-roasting crackling and succulent, fall-apart meat… But, of course, it was. I just couldn’t smell it. And suddenly this insidious virus which had ravaged across the entire planet had made its way to my home, my family, my lungs.

That was almost a week ago. I’m OK. Most of the time I feel perfectly normal. If this were any other year, I would count myself as fully recovered from a bit of a non-starter and no longer contagious, though I’d have thought the lack of smell and taste a bit odd. Still, if I were working in an office I’d have gone in every day, merrily passing round the germs.

I’m not trying to be blasé with this post. I’m aware that I am extremely lucky to be so relatively unaffected by this virus (touch wood). I know lots aren’t. There is a lot of fear out there. I don’t want to bluster out a trite, “Don’t be afraid!” because there’s plenty on the other side of the coin, and some of them are the 30-somethings on ventilators in ICU. My own kids, if they did indeed have Covid over Christmas (and at this point, it’s looking likely that they did) had it worst than most kids are ‘supposed’ to. There are no definites, it’s just a game of likelihoods. It’s only been around a year or so, after all. I was likely to be OK, and I am. My kids were likely to be less ill than me, and they weren’t. I can’t criticize the government for locking us all down again (the management and the timing of it, well, that’s another story) over something I wouldn’t even bother to use a sick day on, because my mild non-starter is another person’s death sentence. That’s why we’re all so scared, I guess. That’s why we’re all still so scared.

But I have Covid. And I am OK. I’m also a journalist, however lapsed, and I will say this: there is a far bigger market for stories of healthy people getting Covid and not being OK than there is for people getting it and mostly being absolutely fine except not being able to taste chocolate or smell nappy poonamis. Make of that what you will. And, in the meantime, I will continue to stockpile the Christmas treats for when my palate recovers and tackle the stinkiest of household jobs while I can’t smell them. Yesterday I cleared away the ill-fated sourdough starter I made last lockdown. Tomorrow I’ll give the kitchen bin a scrub. Home schooling has been re-established, the kids have been taking their exercise from the garden and Go Noodle (sorry Joe Wicks, we will never be PE people) and next week we will be allowed outside to walk among the fearful once again. In the meantime, we will stay home, recover and try to stay positive. In every other sense of the word, that is.


The NHS that saved Christmas

Not having lived under a rock for the past billion months, we always knew that Christmas 2020 would be departure from the norm (being the hosting, feeding and general merriment/mayhem of the masses over several days). We decided to embrace it for what it was: a chance to have a quieter Christmas, a break from the usual chaos, an opportunity to see how it compared. We delivered our various gifts at safe distances, saw most of the relatives if only briefly from doorsteps and, by the time our area had been headbutted into Tier 4, we had stocked up and settled in to have the ultimate Quiet One At Home. Never did it occur that any of us might not actually be home for it.

B2 started the week with the snots. NBD, we thought. She soon perked up after a day or two, just as the inevitable mucus began to sprout from the nostrils of Bs 1 and 3… No one had a persistent cough, no one had a temperature, and no one’s taste or smell had been affected as far as we could tell, so we mopped noses, Calpoled and Carried On. December 23rd found B1 rendered quite limp and lacklustre on the sofa, pale and bleating of a sore throat. B3, meanwhile, already the cuddliest of the three, became progressively cuddlier as the day went on, his breathing becoming if not laboured but a little huskier than usual as the torrents of snot continued to flow.

It was around 5am the next morning, Christmas Eve, when alarm bells started to stir, if not immediately clang to life. B1 was up, groaning and generally being rather over-dramatic about needing to pee whilst not feeling well and AAARGH there was a SPIDER less than TWO METRES away from her and it MOVED! Roused by these nonsensical, nocturnal caperings, B3 croaked his displeasure from his bedroom as I shepherded B1 back to bed with a dose of Calpol 6+ and firm instructions to go back to sleep as quietly as possible. I brought B3 into bed with me and H, at which point I noticed his breathing had become quite loud and panty, which I thought was down to the effort of bellowing whilst full of cold. A few hours later, once we were all up for the day, the panting had turned into strange grunting noises. Cue – via a bit of dithering, two ultimately redundant calls placed to 111 and the local surgery and, finally, some plainly-worded advice from my various medical relatives all over the space of about 20 minutes – a parenting first, the panic-wrought drive to A&E.

Despite my never having set foot in an A&E with my kids before (or ever, as far as I can recall) there have been some near misses along the way. When B3 was one day shy of four months old, he scared the bejesus out of us when he presented with a non-blanching rash all over his legs which looked horribly reminiscent of every picture of meningitis I’ve ever seen. But, although the timing then was pretty appalling – we had just climbed out of all mobile phone signal/WiFi/4G range down a cliff to a beach in the depths of Cornwall during a family holiday and he’d also done a massive, nappy-defying shit – I think the timing of this occasion ranked worse. A trip to hospital within a Tier 4 epicentre of a rampantly peaking global pandemic on Christmas Eve? Yes. Definitely worse.

August 2019 vs December 2020…

The experience itself, however, was infinitely better, which is weird because he was actually ill this time. I think probably because I knew within 5 minutes of arriving what was wrong and that he was more than likely going to be much better in a matter of hours… Last time it was all stomach-twisting worry about what the hell was causing the strange rash, despite all indicators being that he was absolutely fine (which he was, incidentally, the diagnosis concluding that the marks had been burst blood vessels caused by the carrier I’d used getting down to the beach). The route to that conclusion, though, was traumatic to say the least –desperate driving down country lanes, holding my poor, wriggly boy still so the doctor could try and puncture through his peak four-month-old chub for a vein, wretched attempts to get a urine sample manually (we were on the paeds ward for about 10 hours and he didn’t pee until the ninth) the hints of suspicion when the questions turned to what sort of ‘trauma’ may have caused the marks… All this over the backdrop of increasing hunger, the insistent wedging of a slightly-too-small one piece swimming costume under my very cheap shorts and t-shirt and said garments’ lack of breathability coupled with the warm day leading to a horrible awareness of one’s own increasing malodourous-ity.

This time, however, everything was far more straightforward. We queued for less than a minute and were admitted through to the paediatric A&E before I even had time to text Hub to let him know we’d arrived. The friendly and reassuring nurse took B3’s obs and gave an initial diagnosis of viral wheeze and treatment with a Salbutamol inhaler within a few minutes of us arriving. She also reassured me that I had done the right thing by bringing him in, which made me feel about a million times better because the last thing I wanted to do was burden the NHS unnecessarily during the Covid shitshow when all he needed was a cuddle and some Calpol.

Four hours later, with a far less wheezy B3 and a whole lot of medical gubbins stuffed into my nappy bag, we were heading home. There had been one hairy moment where all B’s symptoms improved except his breathing rate which had stayed high and there had been talk of sending us up to the paediatrics ward for further observation via a Covid swabbing because 2020… But in the end the paeds doctor came down to us and it was concluded that we could carry on his treatment – inhaler, antibiotics in case of pneumonia and a throat spray due to something about mucus indicators – at home. The most stressful part of the whole endeavour was when I realised I’d set off without my wallet and couldn’t make the bloody contactless Samsung Pay app work on the parking machine.

Meanwhile, at home, B1 had taken a turn for the worse. Not to be outdone by her baby brother, she, too, had developed a wheeze and laboured breathing. Worst of all – and always, since the age of 3, a sure sign of illness in B1 – she had taken a nap. Hub had called our GP, updated him on B3’s situation and procured a probable same diagnosis and a prescription for a reliever inhaler of the same ilk. By the time B3 and I got home, she was already receiving her first treatment.

There followed a long night of anxious breathing-monitoring and increasingly adept inhaler-administration and none of us got a terribly great amount of sleep, but Christmas morning dawned all the same and we awoke (B3 starfished in our bed having vocalised the Absolute Unacceptability of being Expected to Sleep in One’s Own Cot after being Rudely Awoken by the Evil Administrations of a Breathing Aid Smooshed over One’s Face) to the excited bellows of our seven-year-old telling the unconscious three-year-old that Santa Had Been. It was not, by a long stretch, the most ideal of Christmases, but it was certainly one we will all remember. The one when we all stayed home and were incredibly happy and grateful – particularly to the fabulous NHS staff of Frimley Park Paediatric A&E unit – to do so.


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