by Jason Manford:
Well I woke this morning to see that lots of you had read my blog about Gary Barlow last night and a few had asked if I’d suffered a similar tragedy. I wouldn’t say it was similiar to then at all, i twas a lnog time ago, I was 17 I think but I did write about it in my book and found it very cathartic. Anyway I thought I’d cut and paste the rlevant chapter here for you if you’ve not already read it.
WHEN STEVE dropped me off at Laura’s, she was upstairs, alone. I couldn’t wait to tell her that this guy thought me and Steve were gay and about the toilet in the room. The one thing me and Laura shared was the same sense of humour; we made each other laugh all the time, it was the centre of our relationship. I went into our room and she was crying. My heart sank.
‘What’s up, sweetheart?’ I asked. ‘I need to talk to you.’ Oh God, I thought, not this again. I’d been broken up with once
already in my life, but I was an adult now, and this was the girl I was planning to spend the rest of my life with. I sat down and prepared to take it like a man. This time I wasn’t going to cry like a girl, or a baby, or a baby girl.
‘Go on then, what is it?’ I asked.
She handed me a Clearblue test. I didn’t even need to look. I knew what was happening.
‘I’m pregnant and it’s not yours.’
When the Rain Starts to Fall
I’M ONLY MESSING, it was mine – I just thought it’d make that chapter end a lot more dramatically. I’d even like you to go back again and imagine the EastEnders drums after she said it.
I was half in shock and half over the moon, to be honest. OK, I might only be nineteen but my mum had had two by that age. If anything I was a late starter. I was never one of these guys who was terrified of fatherhood. I think parenting suits a younger couple, all that running around in the park and staying up till all hours changing nappies. I don’t fancy that when I’m an old man. The only nappy I want to be changing by then will be my own.
We hugged and worked out how to tell our parents. I wasn’t too concerned about mine: for one they wouldn’t have a hypocritical leg to stand on and my mum had just had another baby herself. I was more worried about telling Mary and Laura’s family but we’d been together a few years and we weren’t kids any more.
The plan was I’d finish the year at university and then get a job in an office or a call centre to support them both. We started looking at flats and baby seats and cots; we had everything circled in the Argos catalogue before I’d even told my nana.
We went to the doctor’s and they did all the tests. We were six weeks already. I say ‘we’, I mean Laura obviously. I went on stage a few nights later and just thought, sod it, I’m gonna tell the world.
‘So, I’m going to be a dad, everyone.’ The crowd cheered and it felt fantastic. Our parents were great and everyone was really supportive. They
could see we were in love and I genuinely couldn’t wait. Every day was like Christmas Eve. I put my ear to Laura’s tummy each morning hoping to hear something or feel a kick from my son or daughter, but it was much too early for any of that.
Laura was a bit more cautious and tentative about the whole thing at first. She told me to calm down on countless occasions and I tried, I really tried, but I was in Mothercare weeks before our three-month scan, working out if our student loan would pay for one of those fancy three-wheeler buggies that all the cool dads were pushing around.
Maybe I got carried away. Maybe I just wanted it too bad.
One night we were lying in bed, laughing as usual over something or other. I was planning on turning Mary’s room into a nursery and shipping her off to an old folks’ home – the usual things sons-in-law say behind their mother-in-law’s back. I looked at Laura as she laughed and at that moment I couldn’t have loved anyone any more.
‘Thank you.’ ‘What for?’ she said. ‘You know what for – for this, for giving me this, this baby,’ I said, tears filling my eyes. ‘You daft sod, you won’t be saying that when it’s 3am and you’ve got poo under your fingernails.’ ‘I will, I bloody will, I promise. You will never once hear me complain about baby poo under my fingernails.’ We laughed and fell asleep in each other’s arms. I had a smile so wide I thought my face would rip.
A few mornings later, I woke up to an empty bed. The sun slipped through the gap in the curtain and the dust danced in the beam. I yawned, smiled and stretched my arm to the other side and felt nothing. I rolled over to see where she was. But there was nothing. Her pillow was cold. So was my leg. I could hear crying coming from the bath- room. As I pulled the covers back, I realised what had caused the tears.
I felt like we cried for weeks, just the two of us in that room, mourning a child that we never knew, would never know. People offered their condolences but with the occasional moment of clarity it seemed so ridiculous.
‘I’m sorry for your loss.’
What loss? We never saw them, or held them, or heard them cry. The only person that had died was someone I’d created in my head. It was the strangest, most upsetting feeling of my life. I can’t even describe it properly, but my immediate feeling was that this was all my fault. I’d built it up so much and not even considered Laura’s feelings. I didn’t know if she was worried or excited about having a child. I self- ishly just couldn’t wait to be a dad.
We hardly left the house for weeks, I just held Laura on our bed – and when we did I would get sick of hearing the same things from people.
‘You can always get pregnant again.’ That’s hardly the point, is it? You wouldn’t say that if your kid was ten, would you? I know I’m being silly comparing a foetus to an actual child, but honestly that’s how it felt. Maybe I’m not being silly, maybe that’s how you should feel. It would be a pretty cold heart that said, the day after, ‘OK, love, let’s have another try then.’
A few weeks later and I felt like I couldn’t cry in front of Laura, even though every time I saw her I was reminded of what I’d put her through, what I’d caused. I felt like I had to be strong for her so I didn’t cry when I was with her, and soon, I stopped crying altogether.
Laura’s friends rallied round her and took her out every night to take her mind off things, but I didn’t have anyone. I’d only just met Steve so I couldn’t lumber him with this. Lucy was in Newcastle at university, ironically doing midwifery, and anyway I’d not spoken to her properly for months. My parents were great but they had two babies in the house and I couldn’t bear to see any kids at that time. It’s crazy now when I look at my little brother Niall to think I could have a son or daughter that age. It’s also terrifying to think how differ- ent my life would’ve been.
While Laura was out getting drunk with her university friends, I was trying my best to get on with things. I had a few gigs in the diary but I wasn’t in the mood for making people laugh; I don’t think I even smiled during those dark months.
I did a gig for my family, which was not a good idea. Don’t ever do a gig in front of people that have changed your nappy and don’t mind telling you about it. It was a charity gig for a hospital ward that had looked after my nana.
As my uncle introduced me on to the stage, I knew my heart wasn’t in it. There’s nothing worse than seeing a comedian on stage who doesn’t want to be there. An audience can sense it. My jokes felt hollow and pointless. Of course most comedians’ jokes are hollow and pointless, but there was no magic spark, and it just felt mechanical. I didn’t want people to laugh, I didn’t care if they laughed or not. I did about three minutes and no one was listening anyway so I put the mike down on the floor and just left.
It’s not something people think about, I suppose. How is a comedian supposed to make people feel good when he doesn’t feel good himself? Well, some comedians can channel it and still create gold. Tony Hancock was a manic depressive and created some of the funniest comedy I’ve ever heard, but he ended up drunk and alone, eventually committing suicide. His suicide note read: ‘Things just seem to go too wrong too many times.’ I think we can all relate to that.
I’m not saying I was anywhere near suicide, of course. God, no, I don’t even know how to work the oven. But I was in a dark place and couldn’t see a way out. I thought after I’d got mugged I’d felt bad, but it didn’t compare to this. I was angry with the world, every- thing annoyed me. Laura came in drunk one night at 4am and I was just sitting up in the darkness, wide awake, waiting for her, like a bloody weirdo.
‘What fucking time do you call this?’ I was fuming. I’d created a world in my head where this girl who I loved with all my heart had lost our baby and now didn’t care. I blamed myself and I blamed her, I blamed everybody and everything, I couldn’t make sense of it. Why would anyone take this off me? Why couldn’t I have what a million people have by accident every day?
But Laura did care. She cared more than she was letting on. We stopped spending time with each other and, for a while, stopped sleeping in the same bed. When we did see each other it was fleeting, as if we thought that if we avoided each other the inevitable wouldn’t happen.
One night I came in from another terrible gig where I’d called a completely undeserving audience member a ‘fat fucker’ because he’d got up to go to the bar while I was talking, and had lost the audience again. The club owner told me to leave and said he wouldn’t be book- ing me again, but I couldn’t have cared less. Comedy was by wankers, for wankers. It was for people who had nothing to say beyond spouting their stupid jokes. There’s more to life than telling a room full of people a stupid story with no consequence or point. And who the hell were these people who didn’t have enough imagination of their own to come up with some funny ideas themselves that they had to pay someone to do it for them? I began to hate it.
My last gig, and at the time I really felt like it was my last gig, was a Christmas show for the Daily Sport. I mean, already you’re thinking, wow, Jason, that sounds like a classy do. Well, it gets worse: I was the comic booked to do twenty minutes of stand-up to a group of pissed- up journalists who spend their day writing daft news stories to belie the fact that their paper was essentially little more than a porn mag.
I wasn’t the only act on the bill, although I was the only comedian. I was to follow a well-known ‘variety act’ called Mr Methane. Now if you’ve never heard of this guy, then put this book down for two minutes, log on to YouTube and type in his name, then come back.
OK, what did you think? Yeah, dog shit? Well, this audience thought he was hilarious. He stood on stage in his green superhero outfit and farted the National Anthem into the microphone for twenty minutes. To this crowd, it was up there with Tommy Cooper and Bob Monkhouse; they were crying with laughter. I was standing at the back of the room, looking on in horror. I knew two things: one, this was the worst thing I’d ever seen on stage (and I’ve seen Phil Collins live), and two, I was definitely not using the same microphone as that dirty bastard.
I was nineteen and felt too good to be there: not a good character- istic in a comedian. I was rude and obnoxious and I hated every person in the room and hated every second I was on stage. I actually tell a story in my show now about a heckle that happened on this night.
Because I was so young, this one guy shouted, ‘Where’s your pubic hair?’ and his mates fell about laughing as if it was the funniest thing they’d ever seen since a man trumped ‘Don’t Cry for Me Argentina’ about five minutes earlier.
Now, in my stage show I say, ‘So I said, “In your wife’s teeth,”’ which is a brilliant response. But it never happened. It’s one of those responses the French call l’esprit de l’escalier, or ‘the wit of the stair- case’, a smart response you only think of on the way out when it’s too late to be of any use. We’ve all done it: someone says something, you can’t think of anything to say back, but an hour later in the car you’re replaying the scene in your head and it comes to you, the perfect retort. Well, the good thing about being a comedian is that when we retell the story we can get rid of the hour in between and make it all seem like one moment.
What actually happened was he heckled, they laughed at me, I got angry, threw the stinking mike on the floor and walked off. It would be the last gig I did for almost two years. Now I knew what it was like to die on stage.
I got home to Laura and felt like a walking ball of rage, that at any moment I could snap and say or do something I’d regret. Stinking of smoke and curly fries, I got into bed.
‘It’s changed me,’ she whispered. ‘What has?’ I said. ‘This thing, this thing that happened to us, it’s changed me.’ I could tell she’d been crying for hours. In all the anger and depression and the feeling sorry for myself, I’d not even thought that she would still be upset. She’d seemed so care- free, like it was a burden lifted and she could go back to enjoying the last few months of her teenage years. But of course, that was her mech- anism for dealing with it. We’d not spoken about it for months. I thought I was being there for her, by holding her when she cried, but I realised I was never there at all, neither of us were. We’d gone some- where else to protect ourselves.
I turned the light on and looked at her and my heart was empty. I loved her more than anything in the world but just looking at her made me remember. She was looking at me in exactly the same way. I held her again and we fell asleep, silently sobbing in each other’s arms. It would be the last time.
The next day I left. Laura had cornered me in the kitchen while I was washing up. ‘It’s not working, Jace.’ ‘I know.’ ‘I think we keep reminding each other of it.’ And she was right. Every time I looked at her I pictured myself in a park with a faceless child running and laughing in the warm breeze. But that wasn’t going to happen now. I would never have left if she hadn’t have told me to; I knew I didn’t have it in me. But the rela- tionship had collapsed under the weight of itself and Laura had done the hard part and set us both free.