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U3A Writing: Almost A Christmas Baby

…“Oh, hallo , Mr. Ricketts. Good News! A boy born yesterday at a few minutes to twelve. Yes your wife is fine though I’m not pleased with her at all. When I gave her the baby she burst out laughing. When I asked why, she said he was the funniest baby she’d ever seen; that he was all nose.”…

John Ricketts tells of a mad Christmas-time dash along bumpy African roads.

“When is it due “” Joanna asked, as we completed our Christmas shopping at six thirty on Christmas Eve 1959.

“A week ago.” Replied Elizabeth ruefully. “I should have been there and back by now.” ‘There’ was Choma Hospital some forty miles away.

Back home I stuffed the turkey which had been delivered a week before, on the hoof, and then we settled down to have a quiet evening. Mark who was nineteen months old had been put to bed Elizabeth got out her knitting and I fiddled with the wireless. A neighbour, John White, came round to put a present under the tree for Mark and stayed for a pre Christmas drink. After he had gone, Elizabeth started to look uncomfortable.

“I think we had better think about going,” she said.

In a flash I was up, getting things sorted: Mark still asleep into his carrycot and on to the back seat. The bag packed for weeks followed him and then Elizabeth. It was just after nine o’clock and it was raining. I eased he car out of the drive and on to the main road. So far so good. Half a mile out of the village the tarmac stopped and we were on a dirt road.

Anyone who has driven on such a road knows that traffic causes corrugations. Every thirty inches or so there is a ridge. Driving slower than about thirty miles an hour you hit every one and get shaken to bits. At about forty you tend to jump from one ridge to the next and have a much smoother though more dangerous ride. Rain made matter much worse.

After several hairy moments we arrived at Choma Hospital just after ten o’clock. The hospital was staffed by nuns and we were greeted with “Why did you pick just now? I wanted to go to Midnight Mass.”

“I think it’s a false alarm” said Elizabeth.

The nun examined her and said “It’s on it’s way but it might be hours yet.”

Mark had woken up and was bawling his head off, not used to being woken at night and finding himself in a strange place.

Finally the nun in charge said, “You’re wasting your time here. Go home and I’ll call you when anything happens.” Elizabeth nodded her agreement and so with Mark in the carrycot in the back seat I drove back home to Kalomo. I phoned the hospital when I got there but couldn’t get through. Later I heard that the storm had brought down wires and that we were cut off. So off I went to bed. I woke at about seven and tried the hospital again. This time I got through and asked the news.

“Oh, hallo , Mr. Ricketts. Good News! A boy born yesterday at a few minutes to twelve. Yes your wife is fine though I’m not pleased with her at all. When I gave her the baby she burst out laughing. When I asked why, she said he was the funniest baby she’d ever seen; that he was all nose.”

It seemed that in the birth, the head had been squashed into a point like a fox.

“She’s sleeping now. Better not to disturb her. Come at about ten o’clock.”

At the Christmas morning mass it was difficult to convince people that Elizabeth had given birth the day before because everyone had seen her shopping in the evening.

So Tom was ten hours old and had been born the day before when I saw him for the first time.

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