Have you ever met someone who thought that they were “God’s Gift?” Well, what if that was exactly what they were?
I have always hated the Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. Yes, I know I try to preach a gospel of love and forgiveness, but this guy ruined my life before it had even begun.
On August 2, 1990, considering their overproduction of oil an act tantamount to economic warfare, Saddam had Iraqi forces invade its neighbour Kuwait. Five days later American soldiers were deployed to Saudi Arabia, and a further five weeks after that British troops joined their allies. My father was among them.
As a member of the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers he saw extensive action against the Iraqi Republican Guard, but it was an incident of friendly fire that nearly claimed his life when his combat vehicle was fired upon by a US A-10 fighter jet. He escaped with a shattered kneecap and femur. Nine of his comrades were not so lucky.
Six months after his initial deployment my father returned home an injured war hero, but the medal on his chest was suddenly a minor source of pride when compared to the discovery that my mother was heavily pregnant, a joyful surprise she had kept secret so as to not worry him while he was out in the desert. Had it not been for his injuries he would have jumped for joy.
The celebratory mood lasted a further three months, but turned decidedly sour when more than nine months after the beginning of Operation Desert Storm I was still hesitant to make my debut. Having done the maths, my father left my mother three weeks later calling her all of the slags under the sun.
To this day my mother still denies being unfaithful to my father, despite all evidence to the contrary – while not entirely unheard of, ten month pregnancies tend to be something of a rarity – but despite her protestations, he had made up his mind to have nothing to do with neither her nor her bastard child: me. And so my mother returned with heavy heart to the home that they had happily shared for a scant few months and readied herself for single motherhood.
Having gorged herself on curry for the umpteenth time in the desperate hope of finally evicting the overstaying lodger in her womb, my mother retired to the bedroom one warm late-July evening and heaved her bulk into bed. Downstairs she listened to the now sadly defunct local pub band, The Shepherds, rattle through their set list of golden oldies and current pop hits, when finally her waters broke. She struggled out of bed, but the long awaited contractions came thick and fast and the pain stopped her from getting to the stairs.
She managed to reach for the telephone and call the bar downstairs, but The Shepherds were making such a racket that my grandfather couldn’t hear it ring. She sat through the hits of the year, grimacing through physical pain (contractions), ironical pain (Wonderstuff’s The Size of a Cow), and aural pain (Bryan Adam’s (Everything I Do) I Do It for You) until they broke for the interval following that summer’s smash hit, Holiday, and finally someone picked up the telephone.
“Dad, it’s me. He’s coming.”
“Sorry, you’ll have to speak up love, it’s pretty busy in here tonight.”
“Dad!” she shouted into the mouthpiece. “It’s me, Mary. The baby. He’s coming!”
“Oh Christ!” said my grandfather and dropped the phone. My mother could here him shout “Sandra, it’s Mary. The little one’s coming. When you’ve finished pouring that pint get up to the stable house. I’ll boil towels or something.”
Finally he returned to the phone. My mother could hear the receiver drag up the side of the bar and my grandfather breathily shout down the phone.
“Hang on love, your mum’s coming up. I’ll call the ambulance.”
“No time dad. He’s coming now. See if there’s a doctor in the pub.”
She heard him mutter a word that probably shouldn’t be recorded for posterity and put down the phone, at which point my grandmother came into the room with the easy calm demeanour of one who is late for tea with a vicar for whom she doesn’t particularly care, putting my mother at an instant ease.
“You okay sweetheart?”
“I have to say, I’m a little scared, mum.”
“Don’t be daft, love. It’ll be okay. The doctor will be here soon, he’ll take care of it all. Ah, that’ll be him now,” she added, nodding towards the sound of people huffing and puffing up the steep stairs.
But when the door opened, it wasn’t a doctor, but instead Roger Wysman, the village’s veterinary physician followed by my grandfather mouthing apologies, and the three members of the band, two of whom claimed to be paramedics, but why the third member – a mechanic by trade – felt he needed to be there, my mother didn’t have time to ask as a wave of contractions hit her hard.
“I’ll scrub up,” said Mr Wysman, at which my mother whispered to my grandmother that if the vet put his hand inside her like he would a cow, then she would kick him square in the face.
But fortunately there was no need as the delivery was an uncomplicated one, and within half an hour, out I popped. Big, cheerful, a ring of golden hair on my head, a fatherless son with perhaps the most powerful father of all. But I didn’t know that then. That I would not discover until many, many years later. – Mark Guthrie