August. I was sitting in a taxi. To my left, in the back of the taxi, the Honorary Consul to Arica – a wonderful man called Joaquin Alvarez. Behind me, receding into the distance, was what, until about six weeks earlier, was my father’s favourite bar and pool hall.
In front of me, in terms of time, at least, was a rendezvous with a mariachi band. In another day or so I’d be laying to rest my father in a coffin that was, for no clearly explicable reason, wrapped in fake fur.
To the Hospital
May. Another car. Another black one, for that matter – my Skoda. A couple of hours earlier Romana had announced, with a fair degree of certainty, that labour was starting. What we didn’t know was quite how fast it had got going. It was only because I’m the kind of geek who likes to measure things that we knew that the baby was definitely on its way soon.
Now, on the way to the hospital, Romana in the back (for the extra space to move, really) and myself driving – gently, and trying not to reveal my anxiety. Every two minutes an increasingly anguished yelp as another contraction started. Even the walk from the car park to the maternity unit proved almost too much as we were so close to the birth of our son that had we been as casual as the midwife we called then we’d have been close to a home birth – and not a good one at that, as it turned out given he was going to come into the world half strangled by his own umbilical cord.
An hour later, Conrad popped into our world. A bit purple, bloody, and full of noise and vivacity.
February. Sometimes you get an e-mail in the middle of your working day that just makes you stop in your tracks. This was one of them. After six months of trying to build up the courage to contact my estranged half-sister, she found me. I had the letter ready. And she just got on with a simple email from this website… “I think I’m your half-sister.”
Family is important. It’s easy to lose sight of that. We missed nearly thirty years together, because some people think it’s better to avoid pain than to stand up to it. That’s not true. Always face your pain, your fears. Stand up to them. You can’t beat them by hiding from them – they’re like the worst enemy, one that knows your every weakness.
May. I’m standing outside the hospital on the phone, trying to work out what’s going on with a project. But it’s a sign – because until this point business had, largely, been about just two of us working away on projects. We didn’t need to get stressed about dealing with others.
And in the space of 2010 we went from two members of staff to five, along with a couple of contractors normally working for us at any one time. This is a good thing, but with any sort of success comes new strains. This is always the way. That it came at exactly the same time as baby Conrad was just bad timing, but the advantage is that at least he shouldn’t need to go hungry in the future.
This and That
So I find myself looking back on a year of extraordinary moments. Because my father died I spent an evening with a Mariachi band, eating burgers and laughing at their jokes. I stood on the greatest salt flats on the planet. I met amazing people. And curiously, I probably took the greatest risk with my life that I could have done by travelling hundreds of kilometres on Bolivian dirt tracks. I got trounced at pool by a man who, evidently, made a living doing nothing more than finding people car parking spaces in return for tips.
Conrad being born is, of course, the top moment. That and watching him develop. A baby at 0 months is, to be quite brutal about it, not up to much. It can only communicate in one very simple way and it’s up to you to work out whether that cry means hunger, discomfort, cold, or tired. But just seven and a half months later you have a clear personality – a little human who enjoys laughing, wants to walk (regardless of any actual ability in that area) and is desperate to talk. You can’t imagine how much laughter and joy a baby does bring to your life until it happens to you.
Of course, babies are demanding. It’s a bit like having a very drunk friend that you want to keep alive, but who never ever sobers up. He just lies there, wetting himself, shouting, and demanding regular food and drink. You try to walk him on his wobbly legs, but that soon gets tired. That’s what a baby is like. But unlike alcoholic friends they improve with time. At least, until they become teenagers, but everyone knows that.
My father’s death was in a way closure for me, but full of regret that we couldn’t reconcile our differences whilst he was still alive. But now at least I know what he was doing, that he didn’t die entirely alone, and that he had a life of sorts – even if it was a somewhat poor and ascetic lifestyle. He died far too young, of course, as a result of his malnutrition and lack of personal care – so I’m not saying it was in any way a good life, but up until his last week it wasn’t an awful way for him to live.
So, goodbye 2010. It’s been good knowing you. I won’t forget you. And to everyone, I want to wish you a wonderful 2011. Let’s look out for one another and do what we can. We have the ways, so let’s use them.