Everything is uncertain.

The people we’re buying our new house from are in the process of having a baby. This complicates matters, to say the least; they’ve got a caesarean scheduled for the end of June, and they’re unwilling to move for another six weeks after that, which is fair enough. However, we’re selling our house this week, so we’re having to rent a flat for a few months until our new house is ready… plus, we don’t know the situation their chain is in. So everything is a bit uncertain. Meanwhile, Mrs Astronomer is packing things in boxes this week, prior to leaving the house this weekend. I’m absent from all this: I’m staying with my aunt and her brood until our new flat is sorted; this keeps me a sensible distance from work, and a huge distance from putting things in boxes. This is being done rather than trying to commute from Oxfordshire to Hampshire every morning (for non-Brits reading this, it’s about an hour and a half’s drive). They’re a lovely bunch (all three cousins are between the ages of thirteen and eighteen, and hockey mad) but I would rather like to spend some time with my wife, have a bit more privacy, and generally be able to get on with life a bit. Consequently, any small delay is frustrating.

We’ve put IVF on hold for a short while, until we can get onto the waiting list for the necessary surgery Mrs Astro needs. There’s no point implanting our frozen embryos if her womb is just going to spit them back out again. In the meantime, it’s just a waiting game. (Another) aunt of mine recently gave birth, and I got to meet my latest cousin a few weeks ago at a family party – she was only a few days old, and tiny. Naturally, she was doing the rounds, being passed from cooing relative to cooing relative. I’m a bit cool about holding babies – I like them, but I always feel uneasy, as if I’m holding a rare, precious china doll, which may either kick and scream its way out of my arms, or crap on me. Neither outcome really appeals; I think you have to actually be a parent to appreciate having a tiny person poop on you, and even then, it has to be your tiny person. Mrs Astro, of course, dived right in, holding her, cooing, beaming like a Cheshire cat and generally being wonderful. After a few hours, the proud new mother asked me if I wanted to hold her:

“Oh, no, it’s okay, I’m all right”

“Oh, okay. Grandma Astro, would you like another ho-“

At this point, my mother, on her third glass of wine, helpfully pipes up:

“Go on, hold her!”

I look over at Mrs Astro, who’s engaged in conversation with one of my vast multitudes of cousins.

“Well… All right.”

I’m passed the small sleeping bundle of blankets, a tiny pink hand poking out. Cradling her in my arms and I’m struck by how far I am from achieving one of my life’s goals. Being a father is something I’ve wanted my whole life. My wife looks round to see me holding a newborn baby, at exactly the same time my mother pipes up again:

“See? Piece of cake. Hold her, babies are catching, you know.”

I shoot my mother a foul look. Mrs Astro quietly gets up, puts her wine down, and disappears indoors. My mother is a nurse and is aware that we’ve had IVF; I know she was only joking but it still hurt, and she really ought to know better – babies are nothing to joke over around either of us. At this point, Mrs Astro was in the downstairs loo, bawling her eyes out. After a while, she reappeared; I was the only one who knew where she’d been. It’s little things like that which knock you for six at unexpected moments, from the least expected direction.

In other news, my open university exams are complete – they’ve been taking up a huge amount of my life recently; I’m not taking 90 credits in one academic year again! We’ll see how it goes; I’m fairly certain I’ve passed my mathematical modelling module (although finding out the exam was non-calculator when I was sitting down to it was a rude shock!). I’m less confident about the Astrophysics, because although I got firsts in nearly all the pieces of coursework I did, and I think I did reasonably well in the exam, there were a couple of computer based assessments I flunked due to computer issues. If I have to re-take the module it won’t be the end of the world because I now have a good idea of all the subject matter the second time round, and I will be able to do even better next time.

Suddenly, with the competition of my exams, I find myself at a loose end. I can read for pleasure now! I’m still trying to shake the feeling that I really should be doing something with my time in the evenings; I’m currently reading an excellent biography of Scott of the Antarctic by Sir Ranulph Finnes (probably the greatest living explorer – google him, he’s barking mad), and noting the similarities between polar exploration and future missions planned to the Moon and Mars – both long duration missions into the unknown, dangerous with nearly no hope of rescue should things go wrong. Living in cramped confined spaces in high stress conditions, where death can come with little or no warning – leadership is hugely important in these conditions, and Fiennes understands the demands better than most authors, having trekked across the polar wastelands himself. He’s very diligent in ensuring fair treatment of Scott, who has come into bad press over the past century for being a glorious failure – he reached the South Pole, but everyone froze to death in the process, including him. Consequently, he’s far better known than many of his fellow explorers, who stubbornly remained alive. The leadership lessons which can be extracted are very interesting and may be directly applied to space exploration; I may write a more in – depth post about them at some point.

In the meantime, however, there’s one way to deal with all the uncertainty – it’s time to enjoy the glorious weather with a good book!

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