A Funny Thing Happened
I’ll tell you the funniest thing that ever happened to me. I got trapped underneath a Christmas tree. It was back in the eighties. Emma was a fortnight past her due date and her waters broke in the Co-op while she was buying sausages. With it being our first, we panicked and set off in a mad dash to the hospital. She’d had a bag all packed and ready at the bottom of the stairs for weeks, but in the rush we forgot all about it.
When we got there, the midwife examined her. She laughed and said first babies generally take forever, and Emma had a way to go yet. She kept calling Emma ‘Mum’, which didn’t go down well. She was suspicious about stuff like that; said it was tempting fate until you had the baby in your arms. That was why we hadn’t bought a pram or painted the nursery or anything, even though I’d been itching to make a start.
I could see she was fretting about the bag, and wanting her own bits and pieces around her, so I said I’d nip home and get it. I promised to be as quick as I could, but it was the Friday before Christmas, and town was jam-packed with last minute shoppers and people who’d finished work early. It felt like the whole world had started celebrating already. The taxi crawled along, and every traffic light was red. At one point we had two drunken Santas and a bloke in reindeer antlers sprawled across the bonnet. The driver didn’t see the funny side and, to be honest, neither did I when I saw how the meter was ticking.
We eventually got to the house, and I ended up paying with a handful of loose change. I didn’t even have enough for a proper tip. The driver gave me the evil eye. He was a miserable old sod; didn’t even crack a smile when I told him I was about to be a dad.
I just meant to grab the bag and set off back to the hospital, but I happened to glance into the living room, and saw that the Christmas tree lights had been left on. Emma had this thing about not leaving anything plugged in. She was forever reading me bits out of the local paper about unattended appliances that had burst into flames and reduced people’s lives to ashes.
Our tree that year was a bit on the big side. I’d gone with a mate in his car to buy it as a surprise for Emma, but I’d had to chop a great chunk off just to get it in the house. Emma gave me one of her looks when she saw it.
‘Did you not notice it was two foot taller than you when you were strapping it to the car?’ she said. She loved it, though. I could tell.
It was sort of propped up in the corner, and the cat had already scared the life out of us twice, bringing it down in the middle of the night. It looked great though, with all the lights and bits and pieces on it. I hadn’t told Emma, but I’d gone and got one of those teddies with ‘Baby’s First Christmas’ on a ribbon round its neck to hang up once the baby was here. I was bursting to give it to her. I knew she’d be mad at first, because I’d tempted fate, as she saw it, but the thing with Emma was she never stayed mad at me for long.
I lay full length on the carpet and stretched my arm towards the socket. There was some ominous creaking.
‘Here comes trouble,’ I thought, as seven feet of Christmas tree came crashing down on top of me. I lay there, desperately trying to think of a plan of action. My face was pressed into the carpet, and I had a mouthful of cat hair. I managed to turn my head sideways, so I could breathe a bit better. The tree lights were still shining away. I wondered if anybody had ever been electrocuted like this. It would have been typical of me to be the first. Another fine mess I’d got myself into.
I can’t tell you how long I was stuck there. In the end, it was the old bloke from next door, Neighbourhood Watch, as we used to call him, who came to the rescue. I’d left the front door open, and he came to investigate. I don’t think I’ve ever been more grateful for the services of a nosey parker in my life. He assessed the situation and went to fetch his son. Between the two of them, they managed to lift the tree off me, and prop it back up in the corner. I was too relieved to be embarrassed. I shook both their hands like a madman, and gave them the bottle of whisky that was wrapped up under the tree for the father-in-law. Then I shoved them out of the house in front of me as fast as I could and slammed the door. I still didn’t have the bag, but I didn’t care, I just needed to get back to the hospital as quickly as I could.
I had 50p in my pocket, which wasn’t even enough for the bus, let alone a taxi. So I pointed myself in the direction of the hospital and started running. I was like a madman. My front was covered in cat hair and carpet fluff, and from the back I must have looked like some kind of green hedgehog, with all the pine needles sticking out of me. I smelled like an air freshener. But there’s something soothing about running. I was a cross country runner when I was younger, so I knew how to pace myself. The running calmed me down. I started telling the story about what had happened to myself. I added bits to make it funnier. I chuckled as I ran. I thought about how Emma would laugh when I told her the tale. Emma was always laughing at me. It was what got us together in the first place, and what had kept us together ever since.
I ran and I ran, and the Christmas lights got shinier and shiner Everyone I passed was happy. People had tinsel round their necks like scarves. Nobody looked at me like I was a weirdo, because they were either too drunk or too happy to notice. A green hedgehog is nothing out of the ordinary after a few pints.
By the time I got close to the hospital, I had my story straight. It was the story that would make Emma laugh her head off. It was the story I would tell at my daughter’s wedding – because I was sure the baby would be a girl. Everybody would be on the floor laughing about the day she was born, and how her dad was stuck under a Christmas tree, and only just made it in time. I was so happy at the thought of it that I gave my last 50p to some carol singers in the reception area.
I found my way onto the maternity ward. I stood there with my hands on my knees, puffing and panting, sweat dripping onto the floor. Somebody came and put a hand on my shoulder.
They’d put Emma in a separate room, away from the main ward. The midwife had her arm round her. I’ll never forget that first look she gave me. I knew right away that there’d be no baby, no wedding speech. I knew that something had gone wrong.
So I never did get to tell my funny story. It was never the right time. I said the taxi had got stuck in traffic. Emma was in that much of a state she never noticed the pine needles stuck to me, and the smell of me. She never did forgive me. And after that, we never did much laughing.