There’s been a surprising cold snap in London but thankfully Sienna’s nursery is still open. She trots happily in the snow on the way, making snowballs until her gloves are soaked, her hands red and throbbing. I drop her off and bump into Miss Julie who’s late and can’t find anywhere to park in the winter chaos. Can she park on The Patch? Of course, I say and we load baby Vita and my buggy into her Vauxhall and I direct her to a space at the side of Fiona’s house, where the vicar usually parks.
Miss Julie’s very grateful, she’s had a terrible journey; I then notice her footwear – she’s wearing black boots with heels. What is wrong with these townies, I think? An inch of snow sends the whole city into panic and no-one is wearing appropriate clothing! In the country we pride ourselves on being prepared, so I march her to my house, lend her a pair of thick socks and Wellington boots and send her on her way before realising my own walking boots are in the loft and I only have Uggs that are so down-at-heel, they are like skis.
I have no choice but to skate off behind the buggy because my appointment is a 40-minutes walk away and at this rate of careful flat-footed plodding (any heel down action is an immediate skid) I’m going to be late, but I can’t be, because today I am finally getting to the bottom of my right rib pain and the Rash of Death.
I open the door to the Chinese acupuncture shop and an old fashioned bell ting a lings. It’s a strange set up with a reception desk in front a vast cabinet of Chinese herbs and a waiting area of threadbare chairs and plastic flowers to the side. The receptionist moves her arm to signal I should take a seat. I park the buggy, sit down and as soon as my bottom touches torn upholstery, she is in front of me again silently signalling in one elegant arm movement that the Chinese doctor is ready to see me.
I walk behind the chairs to where a 60 year old man is seated at a formica desk, with a desk lamp and a model of the human body. Posters of the acupressure points and Qi pathways line the walls. He looks at me as I sit, takes my right hand and manipulates it closing his eyes. He takes a deep breath and exhales. He places my right hand down and takes my left hand. I tell him I have a bruising rash on my forehead, stiff fingers and right rib pain. The receptionist translates. He turns the desk lamp on my face as though I am under interrogation, temporarily blinding me. He peers at my face, crushes my left hand and spreads it out. And that’s it. He leaves and I am led back to the ‘waiting area’ by another waft of an arm.
Was that it, for £35? I think. But the receptionist is back directing me and my buggy into a cubicle separated from the rest of the shop by three drab mustard curtains. I wonder if maybe she’s trained as a traffic cop in The People’s Republic of China because she’d have a real talent for it. Then I wonder what hidden talents of mine have been overlooked.
“Clothes off, lay on back.” She says.
I comply musing that this is ‘right up there’ with several other weird spa experiences, including a massage in Morocco where a woman massaged my breasts and I simultaneously lost the power of speech. And the time I was heavily pregnant in Virginia, America and I went for reflexology in a bargain-basement-kinda-place and it slowly dawned on me as feet were steeping in a bucket of tepid yellow water, that the reason I was the only female client in the joint was because local businessmen were coming in for ‘lunchtime relief’ and it was a MASSAGE PARLOUR!
I mount the 1970s flimsy massage table and slip in between two hard grey towels, sporting only my underwear, and stare at another medicine cabinet full of curiosities. A young man walks in this time.
He gently touches my palms and my rib cage. Then he gets out a set of needles and I wonder what the hell I’m doing here because I’ve never had acupuncture in my life and I’m breastfeeding and what if they reuse their needles to save money and I get AIDS or Hep C and give it to the baby all because I decided to go on a medical adventure. Plus, no one even knows I’m here.
I take a deep breath and sit up to check the baby. Thank god she’s still asleep. The man gently pushes me back down onto the table. “Close eyes,” he says as he starts putting fine needles into my face. The first two are okay but three, four, five, six and bloody seven they are not – they feel like, well, knitting needles. Why do I have such pain in my right eyebrow? Hush – you can do this, I think. I’ve had broken bones and babies flying out of my fanny and people do this and Botox as a hobby. He sticks a row of needles up my cheekbone and hits a nerve. Ow! Then he sticks two in the tip of my nose. If I move my head a fraction I can feel they wiggle like trees in an earth tremor.
Like a magician he pulls down the towel to expose my breasts. Great, back in familiar territory, I think. I open my eyes and say I’m breastfeeding. He smiles, puts a small hand towel over my bosom and starts sticking needles into my ribs. Jesus! A few more up my shins and in my arms for good measure and I think I’m done …and then he pops four in my scalp. He leaves and draws the curtains and I am left wondering if he’ll come back and how long I’ll be here because I am slowly getting hypothermia as I swear they don’t have the heating on and it’s -1 outside.
I try to peak at the baby but sitting up squishes the needles in my ribs and the ones in my face jump around making me feel queasy. I lie back down and look at the polystyrene ceiling tiles for what seems an eternity and then Vita wakes up and starts to cry very loudly. At the same moment my nostrils are assaulted with the terrible acrid smell of a teething poo. She screams louder. I know people are being treated in the ‘cubicles’ to the side of me. I need stop her but I know she is screaming because the teething PH has turned her baby bottom into a furnace of liquid fire. Her eyes bulge and she pleads with me to do something. Anything. Now!
I need to change her but I can’t do it on the floor because of the rib needles. I take her out and decide to do a quick change on the grey towel on the table. If I act quickly no one will ever know. I lift her out and start peeling back the winter layers – thank god it’s not come through. I arm myself with wet wipes, a nappy sack and a clean nappy. Vita looks at me unblinking – the mother she loves and relies on is looking down at her like the 1980s horror freak, Hellraiser.
I wipe this way and that cleaning her bottom, rolling the soiled wipes into the nappy and no! It spatters on the floor just missing my legs and now I have to bend down to clear up the poo but I can’t leave the baby on the bed and the man is coming back! God! 1) Do I leave the baby on the bed, risk head injury but successfully hide the splattered s***? 2) Or do I get the infant dressed, place her safely back in the buggy and then tackle the scheissen?
Number 1 of course, I need to get the poo cleaned up pronto before the acupuncturist draws back the curtain to discover our crime. I tear out the rib needles, throw them in the nappy bag, put the nappy in and use the wipes to clean the floor (the whole pack) whilst tying to keep my rolling seven month old on the bed with one hand. BUT I have made a stupid schoolgirl error – and this is my bloody second baby – because I haven’t put a nappy on her first and now she is kicking her legs back and widdling with joy and it’s dripping down through the massage table onto the floor and I have run out of wipes!
I take the towel from under Vita and shove it on the floor to soak up the wee and take the one from around me to to dry the massage table. I get a nappy on the baby, dress her, bung her in the pram, shove a rice cake in her face and jump back on the slab. The curtain opens and I squeeze my eyes shut. I take a deep breath and realise he’ll think I’ve farted. A fart to rival the sulphuric lakes of hell. I demurely fan the air around my nose and say ‘I’m so sorry I think it’s the baby’. Which is perfectly true but if only he knew what lurked in a sack under her pram.
I open my eyes as he picks up the wet towel from under the bed looking confused. He places a clean one over my boobs and another over my legs. He then starts looking for things on the floor – he is looking for the missing rib needles. I shut my eyes and hold my breath. He opens another pack of needles on my tummy and replaces the missing ones back. “10 more minutes.”
As he leaves I imagine him drinking coffee at the back of the shop saying in Mandarin: “Do you know what, Ying Yue, I put eight needles in that lady’s ribs, left her for 15 minutes and when I went back they’d disappeared and there was a wet towel under bed. And Ying Yue might roll her eyes and wonder whether Zhang was back on the smack and homemade rice wine.
The curtain opens dramatically and this time the old doctor and Zhang come in together. Ying Yue follows. They don’t flinch at the odour in the cubicle, which shows how in control of their emotions they are because I’d have walked in and gone “Eugh!” The old doctor says several sentences in Chinese and Ying Yue translates. “The doctors thinks your are in good health but he thinks you have some congestion in the liver area which will cause the redness because the forehead is a mirror to your liver health”.
Wow. I knew it.
The doctor continues in Chinese as I look at him still a with a full face of needles. I wonder if any of the baby faecal matter sprayed on to my shin needles because that could cause sepsis. I take a deep breath.
Ying Yue: “He thinks you have liver wind. Liver wind can stagnate the Liver Qi, which is vital energy, and can lead to anger and resentment. Full-blooded people with red, flushed faces are more prone to fits of rage.”
OMG – I have Rosacea making me flush easily, I drink too much and have never felt more rage and seething resentment since getting married and having children. He’s right. It’s all caused by liver wind.
“Hello I’m Vanessa and I have a tornado in my liver.”
The doctor and Ying Yue leave and Zhang starts to remove the needles. Thank god it’s all over. But it’s not. Because I am now having an unexpected massage from Zhang. The baby starts to grizzle and groan and my massage in this cold shop is feeling more like torture as Vita is soon screaming in my right ear and a man who has stuck needles in my head is now pulling me around as I breathe in the ambient aroma of poo dust.
I pay at the reception desk. It’s only £35 which considering the length of the ordeal is incredibly good value and I have a diagnosis: LIVER WIND. They have made up some herbs for me, which are another £35 – the doctor feels I should take them to help my liver and I just want to leave so I pay for them knowing I’m at my overdraft limit and I really don’t want them but I need to get this crying baby and her detritus out of the shop and home.
It’s been snowing again, the streets are even more slippery and it’s now almost time to pick up Sienna. I rush there and make it with minutes to spare when my phone pings with a Facebook message. It’s on The Patch page from Fiona.
FIONA SMITH: If the Vauxhall Astra is not identified by noon action will be taken. It is a security risk and burglars can climb onto the roof of this vehicle and break into my bathroom.
She never cares when it’s the vicar’s car but then he’s one of the Holy St. James’s Chelsea Gang so she needs him to hob nob with Bear Grylls and other C of E nobility.
I start typing a reply to say it’s nursery assistant Miss Julie’s car and then I think, no, sod Fiona. I’m not going to explain my actions or be riled by that woman because I’m under doctor’s orders to manage my LIVER WIND.