Day 178 – The Birthday Party: Social distancing has been relaxed and we no longer have the excuse of not being able to gather in groups of more than two people. Daddy and I are driving to a birthday dinner party at an exclusive gated community in Po Toi O. We haven’t slept for 10 weeks. Our baby twins have only just got off. As Daddy attempts to manoeuvre our grotesque BMW X5 people-mover through the ornate iron gates, he accidentally reverses into one of the gates, causing it to topple and collapse into the drive. The clash of metal reverberates around the car like the drum roll to a fatal circus stunt, forcing us to relive the moment endlessly. Then, the air holds its breath. Daddy and I slowly crane our necks to peer anxiously behind us, but the twins are still sleeping soundly. We exhale in ragged unison. Another s***storm miraculously averted. My wits returning like long-lost friends, I side-eye Daddy suspiciously. “Did you do that on purpose?” “Do what?” “Smash the gate off its hinges!” Daddy stares at me as if I’ve become as unhinged as the gate. “Course not! It’s my brother’s gated community. You’re the one who made me sell my beloved Jag and buy this stupid tank.” “Keep your voice down, Daddy!” I bellow hoarsely. “The twins have only just got off!” “Tell me about it,” Daddy shudders. “Think this has been the worst birthday of my life.” Daddy bitterly cuts off the engine. The harmonious atmosphere inside the car is immediately sucked out of the exhaust pipe as the twins begin preparing their dinosaur lungs for another almighty bawl-fest. “Turn the engine back on,” I hiss. With a heavy sigh, Daddy restarts the engine. The twins gurgle appreciatively, before nodding off. “How long do we have to sit here?” Daddy fidgets restlessly. “As long as it takes. It’s soothing.” Daddy’s brother and his wife emerge from their pristine house. They are child-free, chiselled, radiant, and immaculate. I glance at Daddy, then at my own reflection in the wing mirror and sigh. As parents, we are ageing in dog years. “How do I look?” Daddy reads my mind. I study his complexion. “Like a bucket of smashed crabs,” I want to reply. But it’s his birthday, so I say nothing and just gawp. “That good, huh?” Daddy raises an eyebrow, nearly blinding me as his latest single three-inch pure-white monobrow hair, grown overnight, catches a ray of evening sun. “Ooh, look, Daddy! They’re coming out to greet us.” I heroically change the subject and try to muster some enthusiasm for the occasion. I plaster a fake smile on my face and lower my side window to greet our smiling hosts. “Hiya!” “Hey guys!” Daddy’s brother greets us effusively. “Happy Birthday, Bro. Food’s nearly ready. Champagne’s on ice. Come on in and have a drink.” Daddy beams. “That sounds great!” He unbuckles his seat belt and is poised to leap out when I point at the twins and remind him: “We can’t just leave them here, with the engine still running!” “Scared they’re going to drive off?” Daddy’s brother quips. “Want us to bring it out?” Daddy’s sister-in-law giggles, while the men guffaw heartily. I resist the urge to waterboard all three of them with a gallon of pumped breast milk. “Umm? Yeah, actually, that would be great,” I respond gratefully. “If it’s no problem?” They pause mid-guffaw, like gargoyles, before Daddy trances back to reality. “Yeah, sorry. It’s just the twins have only just this minute got off. We can’t risk it.” “Why don’t you bring the twins inside? We can put them in our room,” our perfect hostess diplomatically suggests. I try to keep my voice calm and level. “They’ve only just got off! We can’t move them! That’s INSANE!” “Well, don’t worry,” she soothes. “The food will be another few minutes yet. I’ve done us a sardine soup starter.” “Ooh, sounds yummy,” I gush guiltily, while my tummy gurgles in revolt, like a digestive lie detector test. How a little sadness is vital to make your children more happy As Daddy’s brother and his wife go back inside to fetch our starters, Daddy turns to me. “I think I’ll just pop in and use their loo. Shall I see you inside?” “Umm? I think … not. Because you remember those twins I had, Daddy? Well, for the first time in God knows how many weeks, they appear to be asleep at the same time. If we move them, they’ll probably just wake up. And if they wake up, I will most likely KILL you and then KILL myself. So, no, I don’t think I will see you inside.” A short while later, Daddy and I are eating soup in the car. Daddy is slurping. “Are you doing that on purpose?” I snipe. “Doing what?” “Slurping! God, soup’s noisy. They wouldn’t make soup if they had a baby of their own.” We both startle as our smiling hosts tap my side window. “Yuck! I spilt soup all over me,” Daddy groans. “Serves you right for slurping,” I empathise – with the soup. Daddy attempts to dial up the sparkle for the benefit of our gracious hosts. “Heyyyy! Great soup! What did you say the magic ingredient was again?” “Tinned sardines.” My tummy gurgles violently. If you live in Clear Water Bay, you probably heard it and assumed it was an earthquake. “Excuse me, I had prawns for lunch,” I offer as a plausible explanation. “The soup was really yummy. Really, really, really yummy, wasn’t it, Daddy?” “Yep, you really must give Mummy the recipe,” Daddy grins at me maliciously. “I just remember how much Sadie loves them,” she gushes. I startle, both at her assumption that my penchant for tinned sardines was anything but a depraved pregnancy craving and at her casual use of my real name. It’s been years since Daddy and I called each other anything except Mummy and Daddy. Even before we had the twins, even when we were still trying, we’d cast the terms as witchcraft to manifest our deepest desire into our lives. Daddy’s brother passes Daddy an exquisitely wrapped gift. “Here you go, bro. Happy birthday!” “Ooh, lovely,” I coo. “Will you be joining us inside for the main course?” our hostess reticently inquires. “Of your birthday dinner?” Daddy’s brother tempts Daddy with a devilish smile, leaving him conflicted. “Ummmmm?” I jump in and rescue him. “That depends. Is it noisy?” “Sorry?” “The main course. Is it very loud?” “Well, it’s sardines … but they’re dead.” I pass our bowls over. “Thank you!” “It’s all right. The coast is clear,” Daddy wheezes, the moment our hosts disappear to fetch dessert. I softly open the car door a crack and throw up tinned sardine dauphinoise sotto voce. “Are you doing that on purpose?” Daddy teases me. “I’d better open the present.” The gift is wrapped in crinkly paper, which rustles as he attempts to open it as quietly as possible. “Don’t you DARE! Don’t you DARE!” I defy Daddy hoarsely. “But it’s rude not to open it,” Daddy protests. “Just open the card then, if you must,” I snarl. Marriage is all about compromise. Daddy opens the card. It plays Congratulations and Celebrations. The twins gurgle rancorously – and I am suddenly skydiving without a parachute. I can feel my hysteria rising, like a noxious bubble, choking me, wreaking havoc on all my vital organs, blurring my vision, crippling my limbs, cramping me with nausea. Flashbacks of the storm before bedtime torture my mind. Two livid wriggling uvulas hell-bent on escaping tunnels of pink slime. My impending asphyxiation as four tiny fists refuse to relinquish their grasp of my St Christopher necklace. The sight of blood on white lace as four tiny feet smash Daddy’s sunglasses into the bridge of his nose. Demonic bawling emanating from all four of us. But still, the twins do not wake. More listening and less talking will help raise broad-minded children Just as I start to relax, another s***storm miraculously averted, I hear the car’s back hatch open and slam. Our hearts performing daredevil acrobatic stunts in our ribcages, Daddy and I both slowly turn to face the carjackers. “We thought it was probably best if we joined you for sardines and biscuits,” the female carjacker cheerfully explains. “Ooh, this is yummy,” I fib, nibbling half a sardine on a rice cracker. “Yes, it’s …” “Sorry, do you mind keeping it down a teensy bit?” I politely interrupt her. “It’s just that we’ve only just got the twins off,” Daddy reiterates. “Thanks for reminding us,” Daddy’s brother drawls, raising a sardonic eyebrow. “Here, you better open this. I don’t think we can risk it.” He leans over the twins and passes Daddy a bottle of champagne. Twenty minutes later, Daddy is still attempting to silently uncork the bottle of champagne with the furrowed concentration of a bomb disposal expert. It squeaks with every subtle machination between his sweaty thighs. “Are you doing that on purpose?” I hiss. “What am I supposed to do?” Daddy hoarsely gripes. “It’s a bottle of champagne!” “Well, maybe you could slap the twins in the face a few times, take one of their eyes out with the cork and wake them up properly,” I explode, under my breath. A tumbleweed pause envelops us, before Daddy’s brother valiantly changes the subject. “Oh, did you like the card? Crap, isn’t it? Bookazine’s finest.” He reaches over the twins to grab and open it. The card plays its annoying jingle until I finally snap, snatch it off him and rip it up into a thousand tiny pieces. “Sorry,” I apologise. “I … I don’t know what came over me.” Another awkward tumbleweed pause, before our hostess attempts to wrap up the dinner party. “Well, thanks for a lovely evening.” “Yeah. Next time you should come over to our car,” Daddy’s brother deadpans and rolls his eyes at his wife. “Sounds lovely,” I coo appreciatively. As our unsmiling hosts exit the car, remnants of Daddy’s birthday card start playing Congratulations and Celebrations , but it’s badly distorted. This time, the twins wake up fully and start squalling. “Quick! Quick! Where’s your phone? Do you have it?” I harass Daddy. Daddy desperately rummages around the car for his iPhone. Eventually, he finds it. “Yuck! It’s got sardine poop all over it.” “Never mind that! Find the playlist! Find the playlist!” I jabber dementedly. In his panic, Daddy accidentally puts on Mary Had a Little Lamb . “No, no, no, not this! They HATE this s***! It reminds them of your mother.” “Give me a sec! I’m finding it! I’m finding it!” Daddy babbles. We both breathe hefty sighs of relief as Daddy locates the playlist. The storm eases. As we drive off, over the toppled gate, serenaded by the twins’ favourite lullaby, Eazy-E’s N*ggaz My Height Don’t Fight , the twins gurgle appreciatively and nod off. I turn to Daddy and whisper, “I thought that went a lot better than I expected, didn’t you?” Daddy shrugs and admits, “I enjoyed myself.” Day 326 – The Speeding Ticket The claustrophobia is growing. Increasingly, I find myself wearing shapeless clothes and staring out of windows for long periods, like a Victorian ghost. I have no idea if this means I’m depressed, or just a Victorian ghost. Perhaps I’m both? In the car, tempers have gone past the frayed stage and now have tassels. Anything can set us off. This morning I gave a silent scream on discovering the label that had been scratching away at my back for weeks was actually a flake of rusk. I’ve learned that my family all deal with stress in different ways and that these coping mechanisms can manifest themselves in all sorts of subtle mannerisms. Right now, I am relieving my stress by speeding along Clear Water Bay Road in the wee hours. Daddy is trying to snooze, having relieved his stress by obliterating his senses with eight tins of Tsingtao. We haven’t slept for three months. Our baby twins have only just got off. Daddy has just spread his duvet across the front passenger seat and gear stick when a flashing red and blue light slices through the vengeful sky and a siren burps behind us. “Oh, s***,” Daddy slurs. “It’s the Fuzzzzzz. Whatever happenssssss, don’t turn the engine orffffffff.” “Do you think I’m stupid?” I berate him. “Course I’m not going to turn the engine off! That’s INSANE! The twins have only just got off!” As the wiry cop gets out of his car and swaggers towards us, Daddy opens his mouth to speak. “Shut up, Daddy!” I pre-empt him. “You shhhhhhhhurrup.” “You hide all these empty beer tins. I’ll handle this.” I push up my bra, pull down my vest top and whip out a burnt crimson Dior lipstick. I’m applying it blindly when Daddy crashes into me, groping for a rogue tin of Tsingtao. I feel the lipstick smear a buttery burnt crimson track-line from my lower lip to my eyebrow. “Did you do that on purpose?” I accuse Daddy. When he ignores me, I thump him on his thigh. How to make holidays abroad a learning experience for your kids The cop raps on my window. As I turn towards him, smiling sexily, I catch sight of my reflection in the rear-view mirror. I look like I belong in an ICU. My sexy smile distorts into a gruesome gargoyle’s mask of eternal suffering. “Hiya!” The cop indicates I must open the window on my side. Still reeling at what Daddy has done to my face, I open first the boot, then the sunroof, then the twins’ windows, then the bonnet, then Daddy’s side window, and finally, my side window. “Madam, can you turn the engine off?” “Love to, but I’m afraid pas possible ,” I purr. “You ssssssee, the twinssssss have only jusssss got orfffffff,” slurs Daddy. I repress the urge to draw Daddy’s genitals on his forehead with what’s left of my burnt crimson Dior lipstick. “It’s soothing,” I explain to the cop. “Then turn the rap music off.” “Sorry again,” I begin. “You ssssssee the twinssssssss have only jussssss got orfffffff.” “So, so soothing to their tiny, psychotic minds.” The cop shoots me a stern warning look. “Oh, all right,” I reluctantly give in and turn down the volume of NWA’s F*** Tha Police . The cop shines his torch around the front seats and notes in order: my Freddy Krueger face, the baby paraphernalia, the empty beer tins, which Daddy has helpfully cleared up from his side to my side, the angelic babies sleeping in the back, Daddy shielding his eyes from the flashlight, pulling his duvet up around his head and moaning, “I’m melting! I’m melting!” “Madam, have you been drinking?” “No, no, that was all Daddy,” I say innocently, lightly brushing a couple of empty tins of Tsingtao off my lap. The cop eyeballs Daddy warily. “Does your father require medical assistance?” “Not yet,” I reassure him. “And he’s not my father.” God forbid he actually thought we were related by blood. “He’s my husband,” I clarify. A pleasing thought occurs to me. Daddy is only six years older than me. “Although it’s very kind of you to say that, officer.” I bat my eyelids, then moan, as a blob of burnt crimson lipstick plops off my lashes and embeds itself, like grout, into my eye. “Licence.” “Daddy, if you could just … get that?” I say, blindly poking my grubby finger around in my eye. When Daddy doesn’t respond, I thump him again on his thigh, accidentally missing and thumping him in the groin. Daddy and the cop wince in pain and empathy. “Are you doing that on purpose?” I hiss. The cop looks up. “Me or him?” I consider this carefully. “Both of you actually.” Daddy looks around the Hiroshima of our car. The scale of the disaster is even more cataclysmic for him, as he’s seeing quadruple of everything. Clutching his groin in one hand, Daddy opens the glove compartment with the other. An empty litre bottle of Gordon’s gin topples out onto his lap, as that’s usually my side. Daddy picks it up and stares at it, as if he’s located the Holy Grail. Unable to find what he’s rummaging for in the glove compartment, he gropes around under the seats, banging his head and yelping. The twins grumble and seem poised to wake. The cop and I gasp in horrified unison, before breathing enormous sighs of relief as the twins continue to sleep. Daddy re-emerges from under the seat covered in Jaffa cake skid marks and Capri-Sun bin juice. “Fffffffound it!” He waves my licence triumphantly. For a moment, he looks as happy as Donald Trump reincarnated as a Russian urinal. Puzzlement spreads across his haunted features. “Yuck, it’ssssss got sssshhhticky puke all over it.” I give a dismissive snort and murmur, “You should be so lucky.” Daddy reels away from me in horror, before leaning in, “You mean … ?” I nod sagely. “The rear passage.” Then I turn back to the cop and brightly exclaim, “Here you go, officer. My driving licence.” The cop reaches for the licence. It’s covered in suspicious brown stains. Trapped in a moral dilemma, he hesitates, before rejecting it. “Forget the damned licence! Forget the speeding ticket! Forget everything! Just go!” “You mean … ?” “I mean GO!” “He meansssssss go!” Daddy clarifies. The cop hurries back to his car, slams his door and speeds off, leaving me hoarsely shouting after him, “Stay safe!” “Stay safe” is the new catchphrase. It has insidiously taken the place of “see you soon” because, frankly, you won’t. At least, in this case, I hope not. “Hasssss he gone?” Daddy slurs. “Yes, no thanks to you.” “Pity. I wasssss hoping we’d get the chance for at least one decent night’sssss kip in a police cell or failing that, a maxxxxximum ssssssecurity prisssssson.” “Yeah, well, that’s the Hong Kong Police Force for you.” “They ssssssure know how to kick a couple of beat dogssssss when they’re down.” Day 502 – Turbulence Daddy and I are nearing the end of a torturous 12-hour flight back to Hong Kong from London. We haven’t slept for seven months. Our baby twins have only just got off. I am playing sudoku on my iPhone and listening to music. Daddy is watching Basic Instinct (1992) on the plane’s in-flight entertainment system. Sharon Stone is about to do her famous flash when it’s paused for a never-ending announcement by a middle-aged air stewardess from Hull. Daddy turns to me, his bloodshot eyes blazing like Sauron’s. I try to reel away from his stale dog-biscuit breath, but I’m too tightly strapped in. “Did you hear that?” Daddy silently mouths at me. I’ve seen abandoned Gothic castles that look less haunted than Daddy’s face. Alarmed and irritated, I remove my headphones. “Hear what?” “We’re descending into Hong Kong!” “No, no, no, no, no, no!” I jabber deliriously. “We can’t be! We’ve only just taken off!” “That was 12 hours ago.” “But, but, but, but, but the twins have only just got off!” “Tell me about it!” Daddy wipes his beaten monobrow. “Think that must have been the worst 12-hour flight of my life.” “Worse than when your brother prank-planted that fake bomb in your hand baggage just as we arrived at JFK?” I probe. Daddy squirms squeakily in his airline seat. “Much worse.” “Worse than when your Dad died on the toilet and rigor mortis set in before we could pull his pants up?” Daddy shudders. “Much worse.” “Worse than when your Mum did a forward roll down the inflatable slide, breaking all her arms and legs, and had to move in with us for 11 years?” “It was 11 months.” “Was it? Felt like 11 years.” “You’re the one who pushed her!” “We’ve been over this, Daddy. My hands slipped.” “Well, this was even worse than that.” ‘Sharenting’ concerns, and why moms and dads do it The captain’s voice crackles over the plane’s tannoy. As is the custom for all airline pilots, he has a soporific drawl that’s carefully constructed to keep passengers in a vegetative state until the unfasten seat belts sign has been activated and leaves weird gaps that place emphasis on all the wrong words: “Ladies and … Gentlemen, this is your … captain speaking. We are … now making our … descent into … Hong … Kong, where the … weather is stiflingly … hot and two hundred … thousand per cent humid …” “We CAN’T land!” I protest, panic flooding through my veins. “Not with the twins asleep! You’ve got to DO something, Daddy!” “We’re landing! That’s it! It’s OVER! The holiday. Our lives! What can I do? Any second now, their ears will pop and they’ll both be bawling. We’re DOOMED!” “Break into the cockpit,” I plead, grappling for a weapon in the debris of our flight. “Hold this plastic drink-stirrer to the captain’s throat and reason with him by force. Tell him that he’s not in any immediate danger providing he circles until the twins wake up naturally. Do it! Do it NOW!” “OK, OK. But … ?” “Just IMPROVISE!” I hoarsely howl. Daddy knocks back a miniature bottle of Gordon’s gin that I’d been saving for baggage reclaim, before unfastening his seat belt. As his seat bongs and he turns in the direction of the cockpit, I call out, “And Daddy?” “Yes, Mummy?” “May the Force be with you,” I double-entendre. A middle-aged air stewardess from Hull accosts Daddy in the aisle. “Sir, you can’t walk around the plane. The captain has turned on the fasten seat belt sign and …” “Step back, b****! This is a hijacking!” snarls Daddy, waving the plastic drink-stirrer in her face like a lightsabre, while simultaneously abiding by the plane’s strict 1.5-metre social distancing law. “Marshal, Marshal!” the air stewardess retaliates. Sitting across the aisle, a man I had assumed was an off-duty cage fighter stands and strides menacingly towards Daddy. I can see Daddy’s Adam’s apple nearly bob out of his throat in horror. There’s a scuffle, during which the airline’s social-distancing measures are clearly breached, as the marshal easily disarms Daddy, snapping his weapon into a thousand tiny shards of plastic. As he grabs Daddy in a headlock, Daddy moans in pain, but he doesn’t give up. He wriggles free and heroically rips off a sleeping pensioner’s stowed folding tray, before smashing it over the air marshal’s head. The marshal barely registers mild surprise before flashing Daddy a sinister “that all you got?” leer. But that’s not all Daddy’s got. Daddy has the superpower of HUGE UGLY FEET! What size are they? Well, in European sizes they are “Boris Johnson Wearing Clown Shoes” and in US sizes they are “The Rock Wearing Skis”. Chinese people who notice Daddy’s feet often ask me if he sleeps hanging upside down from a branch. If only! Daddy’s feet come complete with enormous BIG TOE FOOT CLAWS! Daddy goes through socks like a unicorn goes through berets. He can scarify the lawn without equipment. If Daddy played footsie with me, there’s every chance I would bleed out. He’s also NOT WEARING SHOES and although it’s only been 12 hours since the airline issued him a pair of regulation socks, there’s already a MASSIVE HOLE where his big toe foot claws have burrowed their way out so that they may breathe freely. As Daddy lightly taps the marshal’s shin with his toe, the marshal releases a blood-curdling scream and crashes to the floor. He’s writhing in agony, utterly incapacitated: Goliath felled in one nifty toe-tap by David. Daddy is staggering towards the cockpit. As he staggers, he apologises profusely to the passengers whose knees he accidentally knocks into. Daddy’s own knees are clicking away like cheap castanets. He sounds like Fred Astaire knitting. He could be communicating with dolphins, the odd rattlesnake. As he clicks his way through Economy, the Indiana Jones theme music blasts inside my head. In spite of, or maybe because of all his flaws and claws, for the first time in years I realise I’m still in love with him. “YES, Daddy! You can do it!” I yell in solidarity and with renewed adulation, like a demented Alaskan hockey mom. I want to rip off my T-shirt and bra and stand bare breasted in the aisle singing Shania Twain songs. Twenty-four hours later, you may have caught this RTHK news report: “And tonight in Hong Kong, a couple were arrested at Hong Kong International Airport after hijacking a 777 aeroplane and forcing the pilot to circle for four hours, so their baby twins, who had only just got off, could continue to sleep. Detective Chief Inspector Wong, a mother of triplets, controversially released the couple without charge, stating that the couple’s actions were entirely understandable and justified in the circumstances. The couple hadn’t slept for seven months.