Had a baby and stuff

Friday was a busy day. Opened my birthday presents in the morning and had a baby in the afternoon.

Father is resting peacefully and deriving comfort from icepacks and hydrogel breast discs on his grazed nipples.

Obstetrician and ward staff are seeking compensation for perforated eardrums.

Baby – Holly Nina Hines – is of middling height and weight. May she be kind and cheerful and achieve a PhD in happiness.

Rest of the weekend was uneventful, though I did see a pancake that (in the dark) looked like a slice of ham.

Holly Hines

Mother knows best(ish)

Mother knows best(ish)

With a baby on the way, it’s time to reflect on the wisdom Mother has passed onto me o’er the years. From cooking and fashion, to how to conduct oneself in photographs and the workplace, it’s safe to say that Mother knows how to navigate the jungle of life.

  1. Don’t wear heavy earrings unless you want massive ear lobes.
  2. When you book into a hotel, tell them it’s your wedding anniversary/ honeymoon to increase your chances of an upgrade or complimentary fruit platter. If you are alone, tell them your relationship is going through a rough patch.
  3. BYO herbs to curry laksa restaurants. They never give you enough.
  4. [On a pay rise] If you don’t ask, you don’t get.
  5. Apply eye wrinkle cream all the way to the temples.
  6. If you purchase takeaway, lift the plastic lid off slightly to let the steam out so the contents don’t get soggy.
  7. Leave at least a 40km radius between you and a microwave at all times.
  8. When in doubt ask to speak to the manager.
  9. Men like meat.
  10. Stand with your feet together in photographs and open your eyes wide.
  11. Blondes look good in navy.
  12. Put stale nuts or cookies in a hot oven for a few minutes to ‘refresh’ them. They’ll be good as new!
  13. Wear more red. Wear less black.
  14. Wear more lipstick.
  15. Men – don’t put your mobile phone in your pocket near your testicles.
  16. Bring an empty cardboard box onto long haul flights to use as a foot stool.
  17. The best cream cheese icing recipe is Nigella’s: https://www.nigella.com/recipes/chocolate-guinness-cake
  18. Won tons are ready when they rise to the top of the pot.
  19. Always apply two coats of nail polish.
  20. Expel the air out of an ice cream tub so icicles don’t form.

How to write a birth plan

As we’ve now hit the third and final trimester, I thought it would be a good time to talk about birth plans. Originally I thought they were for women (with overactive imaginations) who want to give birth in a lake with a pod of albino dolphins.

I’ve since learned that birth plans can be more pedestrian. One website describes it as: a document that lets your medical team know your preferences for things like how to manage labour pain. Other sites went on to describe the plan as “extremely important” and of “tremendous significance” and I thought, dang,  better get myself a plan that’s more descriptive than: get it out fast.

When I mentioned a birth plan to Mother, she looked at me with total incomprehension.

fanny give sbirth

Fanny gives birth

Back in her day, there was no plan – women gave birth on dirt floors with apples in their mouths to stop them screaming (a little like the movie Robin Hood Prince of Thieves when ruddy-cheeked Fanny gave birth with Morgan Freeman as chief midwife).

I also brought up the birth plan topic with my usually-sunny obstetrician. As soon as I said birth plan, storm clouds gathered over Flemington Road, a clap of thunder sounded and her response made me realise that she may have witnessed one too many elaborate plan.

Still, just in case anyone asks, please see below.

My Birth Plan.

Where: In order of preference, I would like to give birth in the following locations:

  1. In the hospital – I don’t want to miss a second of this luxurious stay which, given the cost,  I imagine will be akin to a 7 star hotel experience.
  2. In the office – there’s nurses, unlimited WiFi and teabags.
  3. At home, but only on the tiled surfaces.

Getting there: Given my close proximity to the hospital (a mere 700 metres door-to-door), I will row there in my computer chair using chopsticks as ski poles.

With who: A wise man once said (Robbie Williams), “watching your wife give birth is like seeing your favourite pub burn down”. With this in mind, if my partner, obstetrician and Morgan Freeman could kindly cheer me on at head level, I’ll do the rest at the business end.

Drugs: Yes please, all of them. And some for him too. Given he’s about to witness something that will make The Exorcist look mild, it’s only fair that he has something stronger than Gatorade and a ham sandwich.


Me in labour

Lighting: Dim (I look better in the dark).

Music: I’d like to request Salt N Pepa ‘Push it’ (P-push it real good) and Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ (And it burns, burns burrrrns!). Please note I’ve only selected two songs as I imagine the whole ordeal will be over in four minutes.

Catering: Bring me your finest, listeria-covered unpasteurised foods, from the funkiest blue vein cheese that’s been festering for centuries to beef tartare so fresh it’s still mooing and capering about the fields.

Witness protection clause: I have heard that during labour it’s not uncommon  to defecate. *Sigh* Should this occur,  please allow me to enter into a witness protection scheme.

Labour props: Lip balm. For the love of God do not let me give birth with dry lips.

Dennis Wongbert, my imaginary dog, is now on mat leave. For Dennis, this involves lying on his mat for the remaining months.

5ish things I didn’t know about being pregnant

Pregnancy is a strange thing. I thought it would be like the movies where BAM! I’d feel instantly pregnant and I’d be urging my partner to make me abalone and gum leaf smoothies in the middle of the night and crying at petunias and crescent moons and things.

None of these things has happened; I am as brutish as ever, unmoved by double rainbows and The Notebook. But I have been intrigued by the following phenomena.


1.Beware the iguana
The list of things to avoid during pregnancy is long. Ham, soft iguanacheeses, bloody meats, bloody marys… However, one item has surprised me. Iguanas. Yes! Iguanas.  Specifically their turds, which can give you salmonella. For the baby’s launch date, I’ve arranged for an unhygenic iguana to roll a wheel of camembert into the delivery room. Stay tuned.


2.Giant nipples
I did know that pregnancy makes your chest expand. This is a strange sensation for someone who is used to getting around like a concaved greyhound. What I didn’t realise is the startling metamorphis your nipples undergo. Once mine nipples in the nnightwere modest, milky-latte coloured things. Coy, even. Now they’re so large and dark they could, via high-frequency radio waves, guide distressed ships to safety. I know the reason behind their Jekyll and Hyde transformation is so that babies can home in on them. But I fear that once they are unfurled, baby may actually be more inclined to call Crime Stoppers than latch on.


3.Speaking of nipples
So I may be jumping the gun by a few months talking about labour, but it pays to be prepared. I did know about some labour-inducing techniques – rogan josh for breakfast, walks round the block, driving on bumpy roads, star jumps, using a shoe horn, begging etc. But apparently the only proven technique is nipple tweaking and stimulation. For three hours. If you are available to help in early September, please email me your CV and relevant experience.


4.Sore bits
Mysterious pains seem to spring from all directions. First there was this nervey-pain in my arms.  I’d be rubbing my forearms on any available surface for relief: steering wheels, fences, my colleagues, my partner’s ankle bone… A diagnosis came in: carpal tunnel syndrome. Not just for office workers who go too hard at the keyboard, carpal tunnel syndrome is a joy also reserved for pregnant women. Who knew? Then there’s the foot cramps that seem to surpass anything I’ve experienced after hours of tennis on asphalt. These pain comets come in hard, then, when you think you can take no more, they kick up 14 notches. Good practice, I suppose, for D day.


5.Does my peeing know no bounds?
It seems I spend the majority of my days weeing. Not short trickly ones either – long, luscious, noisy, I-cannot-believe-it’s-still-going-type pees. Horse-style. At the other end of the spectrum, pregnant ladies can also experience the most gill-greening constipation. Apparently. So I’ve heard. Ahem. *reaches for lentil juice *


6.The magic zipper line
I have developed a strange and magical line down the front ofequator my belly (called linea nigra in fancy Latin). Apparently we all have it, but pregnancy brings it out. It’s like a faded zipper scar and impressively straight!




In preparation for the launch date, Dennis Wongbert (imaginary dog) is making a papier-mâché egg to crouch inside. At the very moment baby launches out of me, he will thrust both paws above his head for a double-pronged punch and burst out of the egg! A bit like how Monkey Magic was born.

dennis born from egg


Having lain back and thought of Glen Waverley…

We’d had our 13 week scan, everything was looking swell (especially me) and so it was time to tell Mum and Dad that I was not just portly but also pregnant.

I wasn’t quite sure how the scene would play out. None of us are really into grand public displays of affection and my preferred method of expressing filial piety is through sarcasm, mockery and standoffishness.

We had a few ideas on how to tell my parents (each less subtle than the last), from taking them out for a pizza at Baby to hiring a big band to play the Lion King’s ‘Circle of Life’.

In the end we got really imaginative and decided to just tell them, with me wearing a minibaby-on-board[1] ‘baby on board’ badge pinned to my t-shirt.

I was slightly nervous. Our baby news was a tacit admission that I had not kept myself nice. That the Englishman next to me had had his wicked way with me. And so what if he did?! We only did it once and neither of us enjoyed it. I lay back and thought of Glen Waverley while my partner tried to convince me that ‘tantric’ was a synonym for ‘premature’.

Maybe Mother would accuse me of skulking. Or Dad Eng would reach for his shot gun and stare us off the back patio. Or perhaps the worst of all possible scenarios would occur: tears and sentimentality.

We approached the back door and did the whole long-drawn-out-Mother-loves-her-beige-carpet shoe removal bit. As we sat on the couch, I shimmied my ‘baby on board’ badge in their line of sight. While Mother rattled on about lamb curry, cruise ships and dried billy button flowers, my peculiar upper body wriggling went unnoticed.

Finally we resorted to pointing at the badge. Mother came in for a closer look and did a Grandmother-again!-type squeal, while Dad squinted at the badge (he’s a touch short sighted, you see), wondering what all the noise was about.

When the news finally sunk in to all parties, Mother lumbered toward me for a full frontal hug. I did the mature thing where I plaster my arms to my side and pretend to go all rigid like a plank of wood.

hug me

Hug me…

Dad ‘poker face’ Eng even raised his arms up five centimetres away from his body and it looked like a hug was imminent. I went in for a high five instead.

After this excessive outpouring of emotion, everyone went back to normal. I assumed my usual position in front of the pantry, the Englishman nervously cleared his throat (looking about as sexually predatory as a cow), Mother made tea and Father went off to wash my car for half an hour.

When we left, Mum insisted we take 24 rolls of toilet paper.

Postscript: Quite a few people have asked how (our imaginary dog) Dennis Wongbert is coping with the news. He couldn’t be more delighted! In fact, he believes the human baby is his twin. When the baby catapults into the world, he is going to run up the hill at the local park and howl at the moon!







Keep your eyes on the pies – how to survive and thrive at a buffet

All you can eat. These four words can inspire some truly primitive behaviour in human beings. Never mind that we’ve eaten breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch and afternoon tea, as soon as we step into a buffet for dinner it’s like we’ve never seen food before. Something about the oysters huddled together, the platters of glistening prawns, the mini condiment jars and a bain marie full of hasselback potatoes sends us into a frenzy.

Oh dear.

Here’s an article I wrote for Gourmet Traveller that describes how crazed we get around buffets. Just remember peoples: it’s not the last supper.


The most attractive aspect of a buffet – that of indulging unparalleled greed – often blinds people to the numerous threats. Heartburn, humiliation and injury are just the tip of the iceberg. Yet, with some simple preparation, it’s possible to emerge from a buffet suave and sated. Here’s my game plan, wrought from many a year in the all-you-can-eat trencherman trenches.

Dress to ingest. No corsets, shapewear, pencil skirts, belts or any garment that restricts expansion or movement. A tight, structured shirt will prevent nimble and rapid canapé retrieval, while a pencil skirt or, for the gents, a kilt will impede long strides to and around the buffet table.

Follow the smorga sutra. Pace is everything. It’s not a sprint, it’s an ultra-marathon. Whatever you may tell yourself, there’s a finite amount of gastrointestinal tract and, in order to digest enough sashimi to feed a small village, you will need to drip-feed it over the course of up to several hours. To avoid system overload, try the art of tantric gluttony whereby a single olive can be the object of 30 minutes’ contemplative reverie instead of a one-second feeding frenzy: admire the glint of its lustrous skin, its yum-yum curves and almond-stuffed orifice.

Reconnaissance is vital. Adopt a demure expression and casually survey the offerings. Betray no emotion while you identify the buffet’s high-value targets (typically proteins including ocean molluscs and large crustaceans). A dozen oysters cost $12, a dozen bread rolls $2. It doesn’t take Stephen Hawking to work out which to prey upon. Take your priority targets and conduct a rigorous SWOT analysis on the merits of, say, grilled scampi versus sachertorte or lamb rack versus Peking duck. Calculate the net worth (weight of food x quantity of food ÷ actual capacity) and draw your conclusions: sachertorte and lamb rack not feasible. Dang. Grieve. Move on.

Exhibit dominant body language. The buffet line is fraught with potential conflict – people pushing dinner plates into your back and queue jumpers wielding steak knives – the threat of carnage ever close. Exhibiting subtle yet dominant body language will help convey the “don’t mess with me” message. Stand erect with your hands on your hips, legs akimbo and keep your eyes on the pies. Occupy space both horizontally and vertically – consider a top hat, foot stool or shoulder pads for added height and width.

Take a pit stop. Five plates in and you’re flagging. A well-timed trip to the bathroom to refocus (perhaps through a micro-sleep or five minutes’ meditation atop the cistern) may just prompt the internal reshuffle needed for one last selection of your greatest hits.

Takeaway. You’ve come this far – to the victor the spoils. It is your buffet-given right to smuggle out food that you neither need nor want. Study magicians’ misdirection techniques: pulling a white dove from a waiter’s ear can distract them while a whole wheel of brie goes in your pocket.

On Sunday morning you jolt into consciousness. “Please, god, let it have been just a dream.”

Dear god, no it wasn’t. You really did do all that, and at your in-laws’ wedding anniversary bash, too. Oh, the shame. If only you’d followed these six guiding principles. Unfortunately, you had to learn the hard way.

While “Flight of the Bumblebee” blared frenziedly in your head, you kneed your mother-in-law for the last prawn vol-au-vent, brandished a breadstick threateningly at a child and toppled backwards into the chocolate fountain. As security escorted you out, you declared, “Je ne regrette rien!” and shook your chocolate-covered fist at a roomful of traumatised diners. The restaurant issued you with a restraining order. They didn’t appreciate you running back inside to sweep a Cupid statuette into the maw of your sports bag.

If it’s any comfort, you’re far from the first person whose Mr or Mrs Hyde has been unleashed by unlimited self-service.

It is better to have nibbled than to have gnashed. But now you know better: it’s not the last supper.

The impulsive maggot of gluttony has metamorphosed into a buffet-fly.


Year of the Monkey (ooh ooh!)

Unfurl a banana, scratch your armpit and de-louse a loved one: the Chinese Year of the Monkey is upon us!The-Monkees

This is the year to go ape over banana milkshakes; to listen to the collected works of the Monkees; and to enjoy toasting a cheese sandwich on your gorilla (griller).

Here’s a little something I wrote for SBS Food on Chinese New Year. The editor suggested I take out the description of Dad as ‘gibbon-like’. He he.

Happy New Year: may it be a safe and happy one.

chinese new year monkey