There are lots of defining moments in life. Your first proper drinking session; losing your virginity; realising that some of the music your parents liked isn't all that bad; growing your hair before realising that it doesn't suit you, then cutting it off, before growing it again; realising that the only thing love and logic have in common are the first two letters; learning to drive, and then learning to crash; leaving home and getting to grips with laundry, banks and two-minute noodles; sitting in a field in Glastonbury, finding reality a problem; being a best man... and that's just a start. But one of the weirdest is one of the most innocuous: the other day I visited a baby factory, and it blew my mind.
I spent my last few days in Perth at Ron's house (Ron being a friend of Steve, the service manager at ECS, the Acorn dealer where I'd been working). Steve and his wife, Anne, were staying with Ron until their new house was ready, as it was still being built, and I needed somewhere to stay before heading off on the next leg of my trip; Ron, bless him, came up trumps. All three were wonderfully kind to me, I have to say.
Anyway, Anne had about seven weeks of her pregnancy to go, and on Sunday 16th June she realised the baby had stopped kicking, so she went to the hospital. They induced birth straight away, to stop the baby from dying; it hadn't got enough water in the womb, or something along those lines, so Ron and I got a call from Steve on Sunday afternoon to say that he was a Dad. All together now... ahhh!
On Monday we all went to visit, my first visit to a premature baby ward. Bloody hell! It was a stunningly bright white ward, with tiny little creatures dotted around, some in incubators, some in clear plastic cots, all hooked up to beeping machines and oscilloscopes. And there, among this amazing collection of life struggling to gain a foothold in the world, was Steve and Anne's little baby, lying in a glass box with tubes and sensors hooked up to him, pink as a sunset and breathing like an engine. The fingers! They were so tiny. A little sucking mouth, a stubby nose: what a cute little thing he was.
But the atmosphere was what hit me. I don't like hospitals much – not many people do, really – but this one was different. Everyone was there for a purpose, to bring a squealing, chundering package into the world, and the optimism was quite amazing. A room full of newborn babies, with goo-goo eyed mothers clucking around, fussing over the little blighters; it's a sight I'll not forget in a hurry. It almost made me broody.
Still, it didn't take much imagination to take it from a maternity ward to something far scarier, at least as far as I was concerned. A few nights before I'd had a dream about an ex-girlfriend ringing me up in the bush – how, I don't know – and telling me that she'd had my baby and I had to come back to look after it. Obviously my maths isn't too good in dreamland, but whatever the implausibility of the plot, I woke up in a cold sweat...
Not surprising, then, that it was wonderful to be setting off on the road again.