My son was delivered by a Green Goddess

'I've had babies all over London, and one in Guildford, for which my son has not forgiven me'
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The Independent Online

Queueing for the showers after my early morning swim at the sports centre yesterday, I overheard the following conversation. Woman in pink bobbled bathing cap: "Chelsea Bridge is seething with army tanks, it's just like the war." Woman in green bobbled bathing cap: "Don't you mean tankers, fuel tankers?" Pink cap: "What's the difference, it's all the army."

Queueing for the showers after my early morning swim at the sports centre yesterday, I overheard the following conversation. Woman in pink bobbled bathing cap: "Chelsea Bridge is seething with army tanks, it's just like the war." Woman in green bobbled bathing cap: "Don't you mean tankers, fuel tankers?" Pink cap: "What's the difference, it's all the army."

I know what she means. Army for me is a generic term, like pasta. It has gunners and sappers and brigadiers and majors and tanks and tankers, just as pasta has spaghetti and macaroni and vermicelli, but somehow I never think of its individual components. "The army" is what I think, followed swiftly by the vivid recollection of a date in November 11 years ago, when the army came to my rescue.

Remember the ambulance strike? Unless you were savaged by a rabid dog on Salisbury Plain or had a heart attack in a traffic jam in the Hangar Lane Gyratory System (millions do), you probably don't. I do, because I was pregnant.

So what, you say, your husband, who would have been present at the birth, would have driven you to hospital. Wrong. This particular husband, unlike his predecessor, had told me categorically that he had absolutely no desire to participate in the birth. He was, in fact, planning to be away the weekend it was due. Fine, I said, and I genuinely meant it. This may have been a reaction to my first husband's attitude to labour wards, which was whole-hearted, blow-by-blow participation.

"It might be easier, Mr Arnold," said one midwife, " if you stood at the other end, beside your wife's head, and finished off your fish and chips." I once offered summer pudding to a dinner guest who refused, saying he had never felt quite the same about summer pudding since his wife insisted he sat in on their first child's birth.

For reasons which now escape me, I was booked into Queen Charlotte's hospital. I've had babies all over London, and one unexpectedly in Guildford, for which my son has never forgiven me. He says his friends fall about when he has to fill in the box marked "place of birth". No wonder mothers feel permanently guilty. We're blamed for everything, including Guildford.

Eleven years ago, I had a plan. My friend said she would take me to hospital - I just had to ring her. Just after 11pm, when I started to feel queasy, I telephoned her. "They're out to dinner," said a child's voice. So I dialled 999 and 20 minutes later one of the army's famous Green Goddesses arrived at my door. "Quick," I said to the soldier in the back, "I think it's all happening. In fact, I think I'd better lie down." The soldier driving said to the soldier sitting beside him in the front: "Which way now?" At which point, I realised that the soldier beside him had an A-Z on his lap. They were all from Lancashire. They'd never been to London. Hammersmith was as alien to them as Hyderabad. Could I please give them directions?

Theoretically, yes. I had been to Queen Charlotte's many times for ante-natal sessions, but always on the tube. From my prostrate position at the back, I shouted directions. We took wrong turnings, we reversed out of cul de sacs - a Green Goddess is not an easy vehicle to reverse.

You may like summer pudding, so I'll spare you the details. We couldn't find the entrance. Round and round we went over the traffic-calming ramps. "It must be here somewhere," said the driver. "Don't worry love, Jim at the back knows all about deliveries - his dad's a postman," quipped the map reader. "Now there's a thought, lads," shouted Jim - he had to shout, or they wouldn't have heard him above my shrieks - "if you're born on an aeroplane, you get free air miles for the rest of your life. Reckon you get free transport with the army if you're born in a Goddess?"

I'll never know, because we arrived with six minutes to spare. There's probably no connection, but my son says when he grows up, he wants to join the SAS. I'd better buy him an A-Z.

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