The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 5 – Drinking for Two

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After initial disappointment of first scan we’d been advised to schedule another scan before Christmas. As our doc only works from the clinic we attend on Thursdays we had to schedule the appointment for the same day we were due to fly back to the UK, timings were tight but just about do-able.

Initially we had intended that I go to the appointment alone and the bearded man would meet me at airport with all the bags, but as we got closer to the day of our appointment, I was becoming increasingly more nervous and couldn’t stand the thought of potentially hearing that the potato had gone away without him by my side. The beard offered to take bags to the airport, store them in lockers (as would be too early to check in) so he could join me for the Doctor’s rendezvous.

This time the black smudge we’d barely seen last time had evolved into something that contained a definable blob resembling a mushy kidney bean. Complete with a racing heartbeat. We received a hearty congratulations from the doc. The potato was real.

Had the results been otherwise there is a serious chance we’d have cancelled Christmas and decided to stay home instead, but as it was we left the clinic in a bit of a rush, conscious of the plane we had to catch.

The sense of relief we both felt was palpable but unspoken and we reached the airport in a blur of luggage checking, security and boarding before either of us said anything. It wasn’t until we sat on the plane, seatbelts fastened that we finally asked ‘so what now?’

At only eight weeks pregnant we weren’t ready to widely share our news (we wanted to wait until after the 12 week scan when the risks of miscarriage and serious complications dramatically decrease), however, we also didn’t want to keep this from the families when we’d be spending the holidays with.

We decided on only telling immediate family and close friends, those that we felt we could handle it if we had to ‘untell’ them about the pregnancy if the potato went away. We thought there was a pretty high chance certain people would fail to keep schtum but reckoned that if there was any ‘untelling’ to be done that additional burden would fall to those officially in the know and we could minimize the amount of people we’d have to deal with in the event of bad news.

To decrease the temptation of anyone letting the news slip we decided to time our announcement well. Bearded man’s family we’d tell on Christmas day (after arriving on 22nd December) and my family we’d tell after the extended family Boxing Day event.

The plan was sound but there was one issue, which was how to hide the obvious signs of pregnancy until we were ready to share? Morning sickness and fatigue was still a burden but I could plausibly hide these symptoms behind having picked up some kind of office bug and having worked too hard at the end of the year. The more obvious red flag would be my not drinking, particularly as I’m well known to be partial to a nice glass of wine or several.

There was nothing for it, I was going to have to do some stealthy non-drinking and the bearded man was going to have to drink for two. On the 22nd and 23rd we weren’t around the family home much to have to enact our plan. The first challenge was Christmas Eve, the entire family was at home all day, plus Granny, and there was a big family lunch.

We planned that if we sat next to each other at the table and strategically placed our glasses next to each other the man could sneakily drink from both our glasses without anyone being the wiser.

The bearded man’s first mistake was to attempt to polish off my glass of wine as quickly as possible so that he could then enjoy his at a more leisurely pace. His second mistake was in marrying someone a little bit evil.

When mother in law noted my glass was empty she very kindly offered to fill it up. A nice person would have politely declined or at least stalled. I am many things, but ‘a nice person’ is probably not one of them. As I gladly accepted a second refill and then a third the bearded one did manage not to visibly flinch or express his growing discomfort as it dawned on him his wife was throwing him under the alcoholic bus.

After lunch it got worse for the poor fellow as I offered to prepare drinks for everyone to maintain the illusion I had nothing to hide. I planned to make a round of Gin and Tonics for everyone (but without the gin for me) but then father in law brightly offered us pre-mixed G&Ts in a can, no way of separating the booze from the mixer and the bearded man had to once again drink my drink.

Another bright idea of mine, when discussing the family Christmas with brother and sister-in-law long before realizing I was pregnant, was to suggest a Christmas Eve trip to the pub (an annual tradition from my neck of the woods). To my credit I did quietly hope that this suggestion, so enthusiastically greeted many months before, might quietly be forgotten, but the hope was in vain and it was off to the pub for several rounds instead.

I did try to have a soft drink, claiming ‘I’d’ drunk too much earlier, but after the first round of mockery this wasn’t sustainable so I had to resort to more booze for the bearded man to surreptitiously consume. At least when his brother bought out shots, I steadfastly declined. Shortly after midnight we made our way home, with the bearded man only slightly wobbling, and headed for bed.

The next morning as my unlucky lad felt the force of the hangover he was bearing for both (all three) of us, I couldn’t help but feel a smug satisfaction as I’d been feeling permanently hungover for weeks now. Unsurprisingly he was keen to share our news as early as possible the next day!

The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 4 – Pregnant in Venice

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I must have been about 6 weeks into my pregnancy when the first symptoms of morning sickness kicked in and I met these with a mixture of welcome relief and regret. I’d read online that the symptoms were a good indicator that the pregnancy was progressing well (although morning sickness doesn’t affect everyone). The downside is having to deal with an unprecedented fatigue and constant nausea (although fortunately not actual sickness), the combination of which I can only equate to constantly feeling hungover and sensing that everything would be okay if you could just be left alone to lie very still in a cool dark room.

Dealing with these unpleasant early symptoms of pregnancy when you can’t tell anyone definitely makes for a challenge in the work environment. I know a lot of women have it a lot worse than me, but I cannot emphasise enough the hell that is trying to pretend everything is business as usual when all you want to do is curl up in a ball and wish everyone and everything would just go away.

I was fortunate at least that I could somewhat disguise my symptoms as being generally run down at a time of year when the combination of bad weather and end of year exhaustion makes lingering colds commonplace. But I felt this way for the entirety of December. Every time my officemate would leave the room I would allow myself a visible grimace as I let fall the mask of pretending I’m just mildly under the weather.

I have spent many years vocally berating the lack of acceptability of afternoon naps, so colleagues in my immediate vicinity were already aware that I tend to flag a bit mid-afternoons but the exhaustion of growing a life-force sucking potato inside me was a whole new level of fatigue.

From 3pm onwards, with nowhere to nap, I could barely keep my eyes open and by 5pm I was resembling a zombie whose shambling stumbly purpose was a quest for energy rather than brains. Except sources of energy were pretty limited. I’ve never been a massive coffee drinker and I know from personal experience that energy drinks are the devil incarbonated.

Normally I’d revert to tea but I had discovered an inexplicable absence of desire for tea, which might not seem entirely odd if you didn’t know that even by British people standards I’m a tea addict and would routinely drink anywhere between 6-10 cups a day. I recall opening the cupboard at work where the tea supplies are stored and staring at them for a good five minutes, thinking I desperately want something but also I can’t drink any of these. I’d occasionally settle for just getting a cup of hot water with a slice of lemon and surreptitious trying to rest it on my aching belly without anyone noticing.

Just to keep me going until I could get home and have a nap before dinner, I’d resort to one of two options: either gulping down a strong black coffee with too much sugar or sneaking off to the office of an absence colleague and settling in for a 20 minute power nap, hoping a) no-one would notice I wasn’t at my desk and b) no-one would find me drooling on the floor of someone else’s office.

Another challenge was trying to hide my less than impeccable diet of salted tortilla chips, dried fruit and nuts and occasional yoghurt from co-workers. And yes, I know this isn’t the most wholesome combination, but diet options when you feel completely hungover all the time are somewhat limited. I would try to eat something more nutritious in the evenings but this was a challenge I just couldn’t face during the working day.

I am lucky in that I can occasionally work from home and during that time, as my boss was working from abroad, I could take a day or two a week to work in the comfort of my PJs, with a hot water bottle clutched to my stomach and no need to hide my misery face except for the odd Skype call.

About seven weeks into the pregnancy we took a trip to Venice. We had planned the trip long before the pregnancy drama, in an exuberant splurge on easyjet sale flights a few months previously. The sale coincided with the happy realisation that since crossing the border to live in France as Frontaliers our finances had improved to the extent we could finally benefit from one of the main selling points of Geneva: the ease of which you could leave it to go to other places for a weekend away!

We had been to Venice before as part of a day trip from a Lake Garda holiday many moons ago (our first actual holiday away together). We had been looking forward to the opportunity for a more leisurely sampling of Venetian delights, but as the trip approached, in my new condition, the enthusiasm we’d initially had was definitely waning. Had we not already paid for everything we wouldn’t have gone. Even having paid for everything I was in two minds about going.

In hindsight I wouldn’t have booked the trip knowing I’d be pregnant but actually Venice was a good destination to not feel great in. Our hotel was fairly centrally located which meant we could foray out in one direction for an hour or so, scope out the sights of that little neighbourhood and then be back in time for me to enjoy waves of nausea or just a nap that the small amount of exertion would in no way warrant if it weren’t for the tiny energy vampire dwelling within. Having seen the main tourist sites on our previous visit we also didn’t feel pressured to do anything in particular so the exploratory forays suited us quite well.

We were definitely glad we’d gone though when the realisation dawned on us that such random adventuring would no longer be an easy option when the potato finally makes its appearance. That in fact all life’s previously easy options would become a memory as hazy as the fog that engulfed Venice that December weekend.

The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 3 – The Potato File

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I’ve never been much of an obvious baby person, if there is such a thing, but by that I mean I have never found myself cooing over random children and marveling at the babies of people I barely know.

Show me a kitten or full grown cat for that matter and it’s a different story, I feel an instant desire to win it’s friendship and shower it with whatever affection that particular creature will allow me to bestow. I might even say hello to its owner.

Animal babies are adorable, human babies are a bit, well, meh.

My thinking has always been that most babies, particularly the really new ones, tend to resemble badly carved potatoes and I’ve had as much desire to get to know them as I would want to pick up and cradle your average root vegetable, which suffice to say isn’t much, unless said veggie has been baked and topped with tuna mayo and cheese.

Although if someone said to me ‘ooh look at my marvellous potato, don’t you want to hold it?’ I would think it a bid odd, but would probably look at it and maybe even pick it up out of politeness. This has, on the whole, been my experience with babies. Although to be very clear no-one has ever offered me a baked baby topped with tuna mayo and cheese. I hope if they did that my first instinct would not be to eat it.

In defence to my lack of naturally-occurring baby-loving genes I haven’t been around babies a lot and still don’t know that many people with tiny living replicas of themselves. Where my friends have had children, they’ll no doubt be pleased to know, I do hold them in higher regard than a potato, and can marvel at them as much as if said friends had got a new pet. These babies are wonderful and exciting and interesting because they are the product of people I love. Other babies continue to resemble badly carved potatoes.

Since our quest for a spud of our own has been on the agenda the bearded one and I have found other people’s babies to be much more interesting. It’s just that years of the vegetable comparison has stuck and we still have a tendency to refer to other people’s mini-them’s as ‘taters. Except now if we see someone with a stroller we tend to nudge each other excitedly and point out the ‘little potato’ in a definite gesture of good will rather than the perhaps less flattering way we used to apply the term previously.

At first we were referring to our own minion brewing within by the size of it as compared to some kind of edible substance (as our baby app updated us on a weekly basis): e.g. it’s a mustard seed, now it’s a kidney bean and now a small lime, etc.. However that got quite confusing because when speaking with my parents they’d ask me how the blueberry was, etc., but it kept outgrowing these references and we’d have so many conversations about poppy seeds, lentils and kidney beans I wasn’t sure if we were talking about the pregnancy or if I was supposed to be noting down a recipe.

So it became ‘the potato’. This has also been good size comparison-wise as these root veggies come in all shapes so it has probably been the proportion of some sort of spud for several weeks now.

Our doctor told us to keep a file with all the scans, test results and any other pregnancy related paraphernalia that we have collected and will continue to collect from our various appointments. I drew a picture of a pomme-de-terre on the front and the potato file was born.

It’s also a lot easier to refer to our own abstract ‘baby’ (I use the quotation marks to make it less real) as something decidedly less demanding. Thinking of it as an actual child has just been too hard (and thinking of it as a kitten is definitely too weird).

In those worrying early stages when the thought it might go away was all too prevalent, making it seem a little less human was a way to try to insulate ourselves against potential loss. However, even when I got past that stage I still find myself uncomfortable with the thought of an actual ‘baby’ (note the redeployment of the quotation marks there). Probably because I’m too busy trying to focus on the whole getting through the pregnancy malarkey that I don’t want to think about what comes after these 40 weeks are up, i.e. actually having to deal with a kid.

A potato is so much less threatening: I am definitely capable of looking after a potato, but a baby? Well that’s another story. For one thing I’m not sure I have a big enough baking tray.

 

The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 2 – Accepting (or not) the unreality of being pregnant

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A couple of days after the first test we took another one, just to be sure. I kept waiting for the euphoria to kick in and told myself that it was buried within me somewhere I just hadn’t found it yet!

In reality, the overriding emotion was fear. Mostly fear that the pregnancy that we had wanted would go away (odds of miscarriage being fairly high in first few weeks), but also some fear that it wouldn’t, that we would have to deal with the reality of the situation and accept that our lives would be forever changed. I wasn’t sure I was ready for this.

Coincidentally, my pregnancy rudely kicked off a hormonal party without informing the host, invited an overwhelming number of unwanted guests and nobody bought me any gifts I might actually want.

Instead of the Hollywood promised radiant glow and smug inner pregnantyness I’m left with some weird-ass cramps (feeding into the primary fear) accompanied by a constant feeling of hungoverness! Perhaps it’s hardly surprising that the innate joy of impending motherhood hasn’t exactly made itself known to me.

So there’s all this crazy stuff going on and no-one to talk to beside the bearded man, and even that’s problematic.

On the one hand I want him to suffer all the physical rubbish I’m going through so tell him far too frequently and only half-jokingly that this is all his fault. On the other, I don’t want to rain on what I’m assuming (incorrectly as it turns out) is his blissful parade, by sharing my deep dark fears that this isn’t real, it’s not going to last and having no idea whether I’d actually be all that disappointed if it didn’t.

I assume that my emotional response to the situation is ‘wrong’ and that sharing this would at best earn me disapproving judgment and at worst would justify those American male lawmakers from the deep South in their assumptions that women aren’t too be trusted with reproductive choices.

(For the record there may have been some mixed feelings going on in my brain at this point but experiencing emotions doesn’t render me incapable, inferior, infantile or any other negative ‘in’ connotation that idiotic men would like to apply to my gender…Oh dear, and I was so hoping I’d be able to contain the feminist within for at least a few more posts…)

Anyhoo…I don’t really know what I’m logistically supposed to do now the reality of pregnancy is upon me and there isn’t anyone the bearded one and I can ask right now so we do what any sensible 21st century human with a decent internet connection would do and turn to Google.

We gather I will need to see a gynaecologist so using the powers vested in me by technology I track one down using the criteria of ‘english speaking’ and conveniently located. I’ve no idea what else I’m supposed to look for.

It takes me a few days to build up the courage to call the office and make an appointment. I assume it’ll be too early to make an appointment now, but having never been to see a doctor in Geneva previously I’ve no idea how long the wait is for these sorts of things and I’m keen to try and book an appointment before we go home for Christmas in a few weeks. To my surprise I manage to successfully parlay with the French speaking receptionist and am allowed an appointment for later that week.

A few days later the bearded man and I find ourselves in a medical centre sat outside the gynaecologist’s office waiting for our first appointment. Anxiety sets in.

We’d had discussions about what happens if the pregnancy has gone away and I’ve been having some uncomfortable cramps for much of the preceding week. On top of that I generally get nervous going to see doctors.

The doctor is late. We start to wonder if we are in the wrong place, if I’ve misunderstood the receptionist’s explanations about where to go or otherwise done something wrong. This doesn’t help alleviate the stress.

About 30 minutes late the doctor shows up, we take our seats from the desk across from him and set out what we think is going on. Asked if my periods are regular I answer ‘yes’, which confirms we should be about six weeks. Only later do I remember I’ve no idea what my regular period pattern is having only had one non Pill-controlled period prior to falling pregnant.

I’m asked to go into the back office, take off my clothes, take my weight and prepare for the medical exam. Bearded one is waiting by the desk.

Stripping off in front of a stranger and weighing myself doesn’t do much to calm the nerves so I’m not wholly surprised when my blood pressure reading comes back high. ‘Hmm, we’ll take this again in a little while just to see’ the doctor explains. Great, I think, even my blood pressure is wrong.

Bearded man comes in to join us as the doctor does a vaginal ultrasound. At about six weeks, so the internet says, we should be able to hear a heartbeat and see an undefinable yet nonetheless distinct blob on the screen. What we see is a tiny black smudge that is apparently the egg sack where the embryo probably is.

The almost nothingness we are looking at suggests to the doctor that we are probably only four weeks pregnant so he suggests we come back again a few weeks from now.

I don’t remember what he told us at the end of the appointment, but I remember the disappointment as an almost physical weight pressing down on both of us.

But there isn’t much we can do aside from attempt to suppress the bitter dismay, try to avoid spending too much time online looking up miscarriage statistics and hold up for another few weeks until the next appointment.

Still no sign of that elusive euphoria.

(Return of the blog) The Pregnancy Diaries: Part 1 – Discovering I’m Pregnant

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About a year ago I decided to abandon this blog. I thought I would take the time saved from the blog commitment and apply this to other projects, but instead I got sucked into the mire of Netflix, Twitter and other time-wasting distractions and I still haven’t gotten around to channeling my liberated time into something more productive.

Alas, the best laid plans of wombat and women and all that…

In short, I’m back to the blog. I’m also about 4 months pregnant so I decided to marry the two and start the pregnancy diaries. Although I reserve the right to right about anything else as the hormonal whims (or should that be winds) take me!


The Pregnancy Diaries: Discovering I’m pregnant

I should start with the disclaimer that the pregnancy was planned and was theoretically something that was hoped for and desired. However, in spite all of this it took me by surprise in a way that I really hadn’t counted on. For the record, I am also very aware of how incredibly fortunate we are not to have encountered any difficulties in becoming pregnant and I wish it could be as simple for others as it has been for us.


It seems that the bearded man and I know more couples that have had difficulties in conceiving than we know couples that have easily (or so it seems) had kids. To be totally honest it never occurred to me that we might have serious problems, although I suppose it probably doesn’t occur to most couples until they find themselves in that situation. However, I had thought that it would take us a good few months of trying and being disappointed every time my period arrived before what I imagined would be that euphoric moment when we finally took the pregnancy test and realised I was pregnant.

This is not what happened.

I came off the Pill I’d been taking for the last 15 years, I had my period the following month but was neither surprised nor particularly disappointed by this as that month I’d been travelling a fair amount and otherwise busy with work. I also assumed it might take a while for my body to readjust to a non regulated routine.

The following month, I was fairly sure my period was on its way. I’d had an over-flow of emotions that I horrifically thought was what it must be like to have a normal period without the drug dependency (trying not burst into tears when my colleague asked me a simple question) and fully expected the monthly joy to kick in that weekend.

Then I realised that I’d miscounted. It wasn’t 4 weeks since my last period, it was 5. I still wasn’t convinced this meant anything of note, I wasn’t sure what my regular pattern was supposed to be since I’d stopped regulating with the daily chemicals I’d been taking for the previous 5,500 days or so. But it at least meant buying a pregnancy test was a sensible option.

Buying the test I found myself subject to the same sense of shame I’d imagined would have enshrouded me had I needed to buy a test when a teenager and clearly not expecting or wanting to be mother material.

Why this was so I’ve no idea, but nonetheless I found myself furtively in the line at the pharmacy trying to surreptitiously had the packet behind a handful of other random items I’d picked up as cover (you know, I’ll have a packet of chewing gum, some shampoo, a multipack of chapsticks and…adoublepackofpregnancytests…and some moisturiser, and some paracetamol…).

I got the tests home and decided to get it over with straight away, I glanced at the instructions got the gist drank two big glasses of water to fuel my bladder and toddled off to the toilet, test in hand.

I waited the two minutes; the bearded man anxiously looking at me waiting for me to flip the stick and view the results. There was a straight line instead of the cross. Not pregnant. Oh well.

Then I noticed there was some other part of the test that hadn’t done anything, the control window next to the results window. Nothing in that either. I reread the instructions which clearly stated that if no line appears in the control window then the test has failed. Alright the control line didn’t show up but the original result still said not pregnant so presumably that was more likely to be the real result?

However, I’d bought a double pack and had the spare test but rather than fuelling the bladder and going again immediately I thought it would be better to wait until the following morning and do the whole thing properly. I decided to get back to the rest of the afternoon and evening. Have some dinner, watch some Netflix, go to bed.

The following morning I found myself more awake than usual on a Sunday (can’t imagine why) so when the cats wake me just before 7, rather than doing what I usually do which is to shake the bearded one awake and demand he feed them, I got my lazy bottom up to to distribute the morning biscuits myself and then headed to the bathroom.

I took the test properly, held the stick at the right angle for the precise amount of time. I waited the two minutes and looked to see a very strong cross in the results window and a line in the control window appear. No mistaking this result: I’m pregnant.

I thought I don’t really want to deal with this right now so I’ll just go back to sleep and pretend this isn’t really happening. Safely ensconced back under the duvet, bearded man responding to my re-entry into bed by rolling over and throwing an arm around me, I lay wide-eyed in the dark staring at nothing.

After a few moments of realising sleep was not forthcoming I thought this probably isn’t something I should keep to myself so I sort of angrily muttered ‘Well, I’m pregnant’ to the half dreaming man beside me. ‘What?’ he murmurs back at me. ‘I took the test and I’m pregnant’. He’s fully alert now. ‘We’re having a baby?’ ‘Yup’ I respond. Neither of us says anything. I suspect both of us are now wide-eyed in the dark and staring.

Waiting for the euphoria to kick in.

To be continued…

Bigging it up for Belgium

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I met someone recently with a French name and I was trying to guess where he came from, I went with the obvious Switzerland (obvious as I met him in Geneva I then tried France, with equal failure. At this point he looked a bit exasperated that I wasn’t going to remember which other European country speaks French when the answer came to me: Belgium. We spoke for a while about how annoying it was when no-one remembered his country.

Granted Belgium is bilingual with the two national languages of Flemish and French so that doesn’t make for an easy linguistic classification but I recalled that Belgium gets overlooked on a regular basis. And by a regular basis I mean I can think of one example, albeit a glaringly obvious one, which is that fries around the world tend to be known as French fries, when in fact they originated in Belgium.

Who else recalls with fond patronising mockery when a number of high-ranking and therefore headline-grabbing Americans decided to rename ‘french fries’ as freedom fries’ because the US was upset that France wouldn’t agree to join military intervention in Iraq without international support?

This may have never happened but I imagine indignant Americans refusing to grant recognition to the tasty potato fry, I imagine French people probably ridiculing the gesture and lastly I imagine Belgians angrily stomping their feet and saying ‘mon dieu! Les frites sont belgique pas français!’

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Coming from the UK/England (for better or for worse) I’ve never really had the problem of national or linguistic non-recognition but I’ve seen the frustration of Welsh friends trying to explain that Wales wasn’t England and I imagine there must be a lot of inhabitants from less renowned countries sighing and rolling their eyes as they try to explain that ‘no Suriname is not in Africa’ (it’s in South America – I checked), ‘yes, I’m sure Luxembourg is in fact a country and not a province of Germany’, or ‘no, I don’t speak Polish because I’m from Hungary’.

Where you are from is actually a pretty big part of your identity so to have someone fail to recognize your nationality, or even worse to question it’s existence once you tell them, must be immensely annoying. I’m definitely not a geographical expert and I often get mixed up about where places are but I hope I’d have the sense to accept the answer of the person that’s actually from that place. I presume, and hope, that non-national recognition is only a problem for people when meeting others outside of their country, if you go to a country and don’t know that country exists then I cast a whole heap of judgment upon you!

So with Belgium on my mind (plus I was going anyway), last weekend I headed off to Brussels to meet a good friend who relocated there from London. I had been to Brussels before but quite a few years ago, so I had forgotten what it was like. I was imagining it would be much like Geneva, i.e. small, so was surprised on arriving at the airport to discover it was an airport of substantial size that actually takes a little time to navigate and that Brussels is in fact a pretty decent sized city, i.e. bigger than Geneva but not as big as London.

I had a great few days, it was awesome to catch up with a friend I hadn’t seen for about two years and to discover we had one of those friendships that is like an old comfy trainer. You might forget it exists from time to time and definitely don’t give it the attention you should but when you finally put it back on you remember just how comfortable it is. (A, if you are reading, sorry for the old shoe comparison).

As I’d done the touristy trail in Brussels on my first visit we also went for a day trip beyond the city and visited Ghent. Belgium impressed me by the convenient travel distance between big cities and by the fact it didn’t cost me a small fortune (try rocking up at a Swiss station on the day to get a ticket to a nearby city without crying as an unbelievable amount of swiss francs are vacuumed out of your account)!

Brussels was nice but Ghent was just laid-back cool. It was cold, it was foggy but it was awesome and also provided some nice Ghent specific beer. There is more to Belgium than beer (there are also fries, waffles and chocolate) but culturally it is a fairly important component and it would have been pretty insulting of me not to sample the local produce. Not wanting to risk initiating any diplomatic incidents I obviously felt obliged to try a few whilst I was there.

Screen Shot 2016-01-29 at 14.04.46 What’s particularly cool about beer (because yes, beer is cool or at least as cool as I am for continuing to use the word cool) is that every beer has it’s own specific glass, which makes the whole drinking experience so much more than just get trollied. It is a world away from rocking up to an English pub requesting a pint and being provided said pint in whatever generic glass happens to come to hand. Drinking a beer in Belgium is a traditional practice, imbibed with a rich national and social heritage (which could also be said of getting bladdered on the weekend in the UK, but it’s probably less frequently mentioned be the Minister of Sport and Culture).

I’m doing my best here to sell Belgium to the world but it will always be a winner in my eyes because in one week it gave me both a new friend and renewed my acquaintance with an old friend. And of course, more importantly than forging or rekindling human relationships, there was beer!

Resting bike face

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You may be familiar with the phenomenon that is resting bitch face, whereby a certain number of females and males too (let’s not discriminate) are prone to the condition of a face that, when left to it’s own devices, expresses the wrath of an inner demon that thrives on kicking kittens, making their friends pay for everything and insulting disabled people.

This is no reflection on the owner of said face, as more often than not they are unaware of this portentous façade, which is why the evidence is only ever seen when the person is at rest and is not responding to the people around them.

Some say this may be a survival tactic that has evolved over hundreds of years to send a clear signal to anyone, that might want to engage in some light hearted chit-chat with a stranger, that this stranger would actually rather be left alone with their own thoughts/book/electronic gizmo/etc.

Some say this condition is actually symptomatic of those inner demons that reside within all of us and are merely pretending to be human whilst waiting for the moment to exorcise themselves of their host and take over the world.

Some say that as it takes more muscles to frown than to smile then resting bitch face is just a subconscious facial workout.

Whatever the reason behind the act, at least the condition has gained worldwide recognition. What may be less commonly known to you is the phenomenon that is resting bike face. It has come to my awareness that this is something that afflicts me.

From a distance on my bicycle I probably look like any other cyclist, well possibly slightly slower, more out of breath and marginally sweatier than other cyclists but you get the idea. However, if you were to take a nice photo of me cycling past and then zoom in on my precise facial expression you would notice that in fact my resting bike face is no laughing condition.

Unlike resting bitch face my facial expression whilst cycling does not so much suggest to the world that I am better left alone, so much as ‘if you don’t get out of my way I may actually bite off a limb and pick my teeth with your bones.’

Even though I am now conscious of the fact that my face has a tendency to scrunch up into something resembling a snarling paper ball I am still unable to stop the problem.

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I am probably more conscious of the issue since my Cambodian bike helmet, complete with snazzy visor, broke, thus leaving much more of my face exposed to the world than previously. Perhaps my face is just reacting badly to the removal of that flimsy plastic piece of social distance that used to be affixed to my head?

I have noticed that my resting bike grimace is intensified with the addition of the vacant gaze a dead fish would be proud of when cycling uphill becomes even less enjoyable than normal, with, say, the addition of a light snowy breeze blowing into my face or leg muscles that are valiantly trying not to crumble after I’ve overdone it at the gym and then decided to cycle home (in my head it makes a lot more sense).

Although at least under these conditions that zombie dead-eyed ravenous expression would probably make more sense to the average passer by than under pleasanter cycling conditions.

Whilst I am unable to control my two wheeled riding expression I am reasonably sure I don’t actually want to tear your head off with my teeth, but as this theory is untested it maybe best to stay out of my way if you see me pootling toward your, just to be on the safe side.

This wont be a problem as I tend to pedal at the pace of a sloth who has already put in their day’s work just by waking up in the morning, but you have been warned!