“Just hold your nerve for one more night,” the doctor said to me. She heard me pause at the end of the phone, she knew I was on the edge, unable to speak.
“Is there anything else?” she said. “Is there anything else bothering you?”
“My husband’s not here and I’m just… I’m just so tired,” my voice wobbled. But I didn’t want to cry, even on the phone, to this private GP – Dr. Hold Your Nerve – who I didn’t really know, who couldn’t help me. And I didn’t understand what she meant by “anything else”. My 15 month old had a temperature of 103C, was covered in a rash, woke up every 45 mins at night, crying. What MORE do you want? What ELSE did there have to be?
Anyway I was so tired. I was so confused. I could never have imagined that life could be this hard, this unforgiving. (And I have done a daily commute on the Northern Line.) I had never in my life felt such a crushing weight of responsibility.
That was two and a half years ago. Kitty was the baby, my husband was away in America and my mother was away elsewhere. I was desperate for someone to help me, desperate for someone to care about Kitty’s illness, to care about me.
But people seemed so unconcerned. Sympathetic but not nearly as panicked as I thought they ought to be, really. It felt like the room was on fire and everyone was wandering about, carrying on with their lives, while I was screaming “FIRE! FIRE!”
But what can they do? It’s your child. It’s your problem. What everyone else knew was that babies get ill and the smaller they are the worse it is. And when they are ill and scream at night, or scream all night, then you have to be there to look after them. Sometimes it goes on for days.
She wasn’t especially nice, Dr Hold Your Nerve. She had three children, all grown-up and is one of those women, like horsey people, who just isn’t very sympathetic and cannot think back to a time when they, too, were new to this and they, too, were scared.
But she gave me the antibiotics for Kitty that my NHS GP, the stupid c*nty box-ticking drooling moron, had refused to prescribe. The antibiotics worked, like magic, as they can do, in 24 hours. But most of all, Dr Hold Your Nerve’s words have stayed with me.
Since then, of course, I have found the often-mentioned Dr Mike, a private paediatrician who is always on the end of the phone or the end of an email to talk sense, to batter away the confusion brought on by exhaustion. He knows my children. If I look or sound rattled he doesn’t ask me if there’s anything else fucking wrong. He knows.
Yet even with all the private paediatricians in the world, small children are all about holding your nerve. And eventually you are so good at holding your nerve that you just do it all the time, instinctively. You’ve cleared up so much puke and shit, single-handed, in the dark, half-asleep that you ought to qualify for some kind of NVQ.
I can’t say that I don’t still clench my teeth so hard together when Sam is very ill (as he was for all of last week) that I give myself a headache. I can’t say that I don’t still feel close to losing it at the GP when some patronising donk is patronising me. I can’t say that I don’t sometimes feel like walking out of my front door and walking and walking and never coming back.
But I have learnt to hold my nerve. I have learnt to just zoom in on a point in middle distance and just keep rubbing their tummy or patting them on their back, despite it doing no fucking good at all and they just keep yelling on. Because I know that once they turn two, it all gets easier. They can vaguely describe what’s wrong. They don’t just scream. During the day, they can flop in front of the telly a bit (even now Sam loves In The Night Garden), rather than needing to be carried about all day. And how many really awful, zero-sleep nights can Sam dish out between now and when he’s two? Even if it’s one a month, that’s only 8.
That’s the kind of maths I do, in the dark, while being deafened by earache screams. It’s the kind of maths that lets me know, for absolute and complete, total certainty that I cannot have another child. I cannot do this again. Because you can get so good at holding your nerve that it feels like second nature. But nerves fray, don’t they? And after they fray they must, surely, snap! And I don’t want to know what happens next.
I keep forgetting to post here successful recipes from my column in Grazia, which my editor there, Lucy, has really graciously said that I can do once that issue of Grazia is off the stands. But what with lead times and my sieve-brain I forget what I’ve done.
But these Lahmacun (pronounced LAH-MAH-JUUUNE) were a runaway success. Giles is a total expert on them, having been on holiday a lot to Turkey, from whence they originate and also having an office in Archway which is close to a lot of Turkish cafes – and he called these “historic” so there you go.
For the dough
1 tsp caster sugar
2 x 7g sachets fast action dried yeast, dissolved in 4 tbsp warm water
300g strong white bread flour
1 tsp crushed sea salt
150g Greek yoghurt
50ml olive oil plus extra for brushing
lemon wedges, to serve
for the topping
250g minced lamb
2 ripe tomatoes, deseeded and finely diced
1 onion, finely chopped
2 tsp Turkish dried chilli flakes (ul Biber) or 2 red chillies, deeded and finely chopped
handful of finely chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 Add the sugar to the dissolved yeast and stir. Allow it to sit for about 10 minutes until it becomes frothy.
2 Sift the flour into a large bowl, then add the salt. Then mix the yoghurt and the olive oil. Make a well in the centre of the flour and pour in the yoghurt mixture, along with the yeast mixture. Work the flour into the liquid using your hands until a dough forms, then work the dough into a smooth ball – add some extra flour or water if you need to.
3 Knead the dough for 5 minutes, then allow it to rest for 10 minutes before kneading it again for 1 minute. Repeat this process another 3 times, then return the dough to the bowl. What a massive ball ache this is. Just think to yourself how delicious it will be in the end.
4 Stretch some cling film across the top of the bowl to make an airtight seal then rest for a couple of hours until it doubles in size. Knock back the dough and divide it into 8 balls. Roll these out into roughtly 15cm (6in) diameter circles and brush with olive oil.
5 Preheat the oven to 220C. Line 2 large baking sheets with nonstick baking paper.
6 To make the topping, put the lamb, tomatoes, onion, chilli, parsley and a generous amount of salt and pepper into a large mixing bowl and smash it around with your hands a lot. Try not to feel grossed out by it. Turn out the mixture on to a chopping board and, using a large knife, chop it for several minutes until it resembles a paste.
7 Divide the topping into 8 portions and smear over each of the dough bases (you don’t need to cover the dough entirely). Place each on the prepared baking sheets and bake for 10-15 minutes , or until the dough is cooked and the crust begind to turn golden.
Serve with lemon wedges and eat, if you can prise apart your tense, clenched jaws that is.
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