Sunday, February 28, 2010

Life Begins... moves on.

Five years ago with a glint in my eye and seven months in hand before I would become a father, I started to write this blog.

Today I write my last post. Not because I am quitting, but because life has moved on and it's time this blog did the same. I have to say it is a wrench to leave this blog, much more than I was expecting.

I am acknowledging that the beginning is over. Oliver will never again be that 7lb 10oz bundle that  was plopped by the midwife onto Hayley's belly, looking like a string of sausages at 6.19am one Autumn morning. Nor will he be the pre-toddler who used to love bread and refused to throw any to the ducks.. Nor even the toddler who was first on the swings on a Saturday morning because anything Daddy suggested was a great idea.

Likewise, Lucy will never again enter the world one August morning with a mop of black hair and startling blue eyes that dazzled her ecstatic parents. Nor smile at me for the first time in the half-light of dawn as I change her nappy. Nor sit contentedly on my front for as long as I had the strength to carry her in the Baby Bjorn carrier, just watching the world from under my nose, so quiet I could almost forget she was there..

But I will always be able to look back thanks to the more than  a thousand posts in this blog. And for that I am eternally thankful. And if I may say so, I quietly give myself a small pat on the back too.

The new blog will give me the freedom to post the mundane and the trivial for the eyes of my family only while hopefully saving something more interesting for publication. (We'll see!) As I already mentioned, it also means I can start to limit how much the general public reads about my children as they grow up, deserving and demanding their own privacy.

But it also allows me to open up a few more posts to contacts across the world who have taken an interest in our story so far. Of course you can choose not to bother - you may be glad not to hear for the gazillionth time how Lucy melts my heart and Oliver lights up my world - but just in case, here's what I'm going to do.

If you register on the new site (hopefully being identifiable to me!) it  will allow me to make more posts available to you should you so wish. In other words, you'll continue to see the sort of stuff on the new site that you see today on Life Begins. There's a "Register" link (under "Wordpress Waffle") in the sidebar of the new site which takes you to a registration page here.

So now, as I type, all posts but this one have been imported to their new home for continuity, and also all comments (bar the most recent as it couldn't cope with IntenseDebate).

I hesitate at the door, agonizing over this last goodbye. The first five years have been the most amazing I have experienced.. When Oliver was born, life went from good to glorious. Lucy's arrival, the icing on the cake. So I look to the future with eager anticipation and a continued sense of wonder. I hope to see you all again soon where the story will be continued.. This is, after all, only the end of the beginning. Of the opening chapter, where Life Begins...

If you would like to continue the story, vist the new site at

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Thunderbirds are Go!


I'm not sure when I first told Oliver about the joys of Thunderbirds. Thanks to the benefits of digital photography, I know he had this costume 16 months ago. I know he heard and liked the theme music around the same time. I also know he had never actually seen an episode... until last weekend.

I had been promising to get him the first series for several days and his excitement when I told him I'd finally got it was priceless. An excited, almost nervous, chuckle and huge smile. And so it was he finally saw tis classic opening sequence.

After this exciting start, the show settled into what was a rather slow pace for a 4 year old, particularly compared to modern offerings. The puppets look so dated now, but the concepts are still awesome in the true sense of the word. Ideas like the swimming pool retracting are still futuristic even 40 years on (well, to me anyway). The anticipation of what Thunderbird 2 will be carrying in each episode still holds a spell. And the villain was so scary to Oliver that he asked me to stay in the room while he was on screen!

Sometimes there's no fathoming what scares kids.  I previously noted that I once found Lucy crying because she was scared by Jack Black's guest appearance on Yo Gabba Gabba. Admittedly, he did look kinda freaky dressed as DJ Lance Rocks.

In contrast, excerpts of Spiderman 3 featuring Toby Maguire strike the whole family as cartoon-like in their storyline and drama while never once leaving any of us feeling frightened.

And then there was the whole "Where the Wild Things Are" debacle. Oliver loves the book and despite the PG certificate the trailer made it look like rather uplifting and exciting. When we got to the cinema, we found it was a much more dark movie than suggested. One review basically described it as too old for kids and too young for adults. I described it as a kind of "'Lost' for 10 year olds". Anyway, Oliver got scared after about 15 minutes so we left and watched "Up" instead. An excellent move..

So should I be taking myself to task over letting my children watch bits of Spiderman 3 when the certificate says 12A, which is deemed OK for 12 years old and above but below that is up to the parents?

I recall watching endless World War 2 films as a kid. I recall playing at being soldiers and shooting each other. And I remember walking through a field not wanting to step on a single flower. So how much harm is being done and by what?

I don't have the answer. Only a feeling that ultimately it's my responsibility and that my parental instincts will be good enough to guide me most of the time. I know my children and I watch carefully how they react to what they watch. I'm always open to advice (Comments welcome!) and I do look for guidance. I've found the BBFC website for parents very useful on that score.

But right now I believe my gut. And my gut tells me to watch with them if in doubt about the content and how they will react.

So today Thunderbirds are definitely go. But there are going to be plenty of other movies out there that I'll be happy to leave on pause.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Good day at the office dear?

It's fair to say I have written a few posts down the years about sleep and the lack of it.

This one is different.

This is the post that may end my posting about lack of sleep forever.

We have a friend who works in marketing for a worldwide sports brand. Consequently, from time time she works with some of the world's greatest football players.

Last month it was England striker Wayne Rooney, arguably the best player England has produced in years and who is in a rich vein of form for his club Manchester United.

A potted bio: A Premier League footballer from the age of 16, he shot to stardom when he became the youngest ever scorer of a Premier League goal.

He appears on the front and back pages of the tabloids and has a wife whose celebrity status (born of being his wife) means her books sometimes out-sell his. Married for several years, they recently had a baby boy. They are, in the UK at least, one of sport's golden couples.

So far, so what.

Here's where it got interesting for me. Our friend spoke to him less than 48 hours after he had scored all four goals in United's 4-0 defeat of Hull City. He told her that on the day of that match he was absolutely shattered. Why? Because he had been up in the night with their baby.

Up in the night? The night before a Premier League game?! I had assumed that some distant wing of Rooney Towers would have been lovingly prepared and set aside for this sporting superstar to make sure he was fully rested before the game.

It turns out, he has a life, much like the rest of us. He had been suffering the same deprivations as I had so often complained about and then went out and scored four goals in a game of football at the highest level.

One other thing woirth mentioning about Mr Rooney. By anyones estimation, a few years ago he was an aggressive, ill-tempered youth who could at best be described as a rough diamond. Our friend commented that on this latest meeting he was the most laid back, helpful and professional individual you could imagine. And it shines through on the pitch too. He is still ultra competitive, but things that would have made him explode in the past, now seem to wash over him.

Did fatherhood do that to him? I would love to know.

So the next time I feel tired at work after a semi-sleepless night spent shuttling to and from my offsprng, I shall think of Mr Rooney's 4-goal haul, do my best to forget my lethargy, and try to be grateful that the sort of goals I have to achieve don't require me to charge around for 90 minutes avoiding flying boots while under the scrutiny of 75000 cheering fans and the spotlight of the world media. Well, most days anyway.

P.S. Have a look at this video he shot for Nike. Fake? I suspect not.

Wayne Rooney's Accuracy For Nike - Watch today’s top amazing videos here

Monday, February 15, 2010

Nursery parent-teacher chat

Last Monday morning Hayley rang me at 9.05 to remind me that we had a ten-minute appointment with Oliver's teacher at 9.10.
In the words of Hugh Grant, "Bugger".

Fortunately I hadn't left for work and was there in 5 minutes flat.

Here are the salient points of our ten minute chat.

Oliver will talk to anyone. Other kids, teachers, secretarial staff, whoever... he will talk to any of them without hesitation. That was great to hear.

Oliver loves books. He will get a book, sit down and read it, oblivious to the world around him, absorbed in its pages. She even showed us a picture of him sitting in the middle of a thoroughfare reading a huge book. The rest of the nursery just had to circumnavigate him.

She said that once he is interested in an activity he becomes totally absorbed. I asked whether this was also true of doing things like puzzles and writing that he is reluctant to do at home. She said he is not absorbed in activities he is asked to do but still does them. I also asked whether he acts out aggressive behaviour, as sometimes at home he becomes quite angry and animated (without ever becoming violent) when he can't get his own way (in stark contrast to the boisterous but sensitive and gentle little boy we usually see). She said no. At most he might pull a face. So it seems that behaviour is reserved for home, which in a way is reassuring as it suggests some sort of social awareness. Maybe. Anyway that seems to have got better recently (touch wood).

She also commented that he has made a very good friendship with another boy there who also happens to be the son of a colleague of mine. Currently they don't see each other much outside of nursery so we're going to try to put that right.

Finally I mentioned that Oliver still seems to have some hearing problems and asked whether she had noticed anything. She had. Sometimes he clearly hasn't heard what she is saying to him even though she is stiing next to him and he otherwise seemed to be paying attention. So that's something we will check out again with the doctors.

It was a very short visit, our first since he started last September, and I wish there could be more, perhaps one a term. But it was reassuring and worthwhile for what we learned.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Reading between the imaginary lines



We want our pre-school kids to like them. We want our pre-school kids to enjoy them. We want our pre-school kids to like and enjoy them without taking an hour of bedtime to read three pages.

Oliver sometimes "reads" his chosen bedtime story to me. He combines a mixture of the words he recalls me reading with his own interpretation of the pictures. Despite this sometimes being employed as a tactic to delay the moment he has to go to bed, it is always a revealing little insight into how his mind works. The dialog often reflects some of that I hear when he is playing with action figures (where my definition of "action figure" includes anything he chooses: have you ever seen Peppa Pig take on Ben 10?).

Yesterday Hayley bought Oliver a Power Rangers notebook which came with a Power Rangers rubber eraser and pen. He sat down next to me on the sofa and said he was going to read it to me. As I started to mention that it had no words he ignored me and went straight to the first page, which was, like every other page in the notebook, blank.

No matter. He proceeded to tell me the story and to provide a picture he placed onto the page the rubber with the face of a Power Ranger on it. He continued to do this for several pages before we were interrupted by dinner being ready.

The power of kids' imaginations never ceases to amaze me and I do my best to keep in check the adult tendency to direct his thoughts towards any commonly perceived "right" way of interpreting the world. He's going to have years of doing things someone else's "right" way later in school life, so it's a joy to see him discover and describe the world with such untainted wonder.

Art was once described to me as something to challenge our normal way of seeing the world. Unconstrained by years of mental and social manipulation, our children's descriptions of the world around them are themselves works of art.

So my recommendation when buying books for pre-schoolers is not to worry too much about what they can take out of them, because they'll be putting a whole lot more into them as well.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

How not to get kids into sport

Here in Blighty we are in the midst of the good old four nations rugby tournament, where England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland compete for bragging rights in the game named after an English public school and whose origins are attributed to one of its pupils.

Oh OK, I admit it then, it's actually FIVE nations, since we late those Johnny-come-lately French in, despite the fact they tend to be rather good and beat us with typical French panache.

What's that you say? Are you kidding? Now we've let Italy in too?!

So, as I was saying, we are in the midst of the SIX nations rugby union tournament. And as Hayley and I get sucked into this level of the game (despite never once dragging our arses a mile down the road to support our local club), I thought it might be nice to get shirts for me and Oliver if not the whole family.

Obviously I didn't expect this to be a case of handing over a twenty pound note and leaving with a smile and some loose change, but a brief consultation with Google and some retail websites left me loose jawed and bewildered.

The price of the official England first team replica shirt is £88. Yes, eighty eight pounds. (That's currently about 138 US Dollars.) And I also found it sold for more than that!

There is another, presumably less authentic, though still official replica shirt for a mere £50 (about $79). Kids shirts aren't much cheaper and don't seem to go down to sizes that might fit my son.

Now, compare this to the giant money-grabbing machine that is Manchester United Football Club and you'll find that their shirts retail consistently below £40 but can be found much cheaper. They also do kids sizes.

I did go into town today to try to find these sacred cloths of Albion at a price that wouldn't have made Dick Turpin blush, but to no avail. I did find one shop selling stained rejects at £40 but decided that turning up at Twickers looking like I'd spilled curry down my front wouldn't make the right impression.

So why am I reflecting on all this?

Class struggle brother, that's why.

You see in this country football (soccer to the linguistically challenged) has always been the sport of the working classes, while rugby has been for the elite. In fact there is even a second code (rugby league) which working class towns in the north of England took to their hearts and which eventually became big business while rugby union struggled to break the shackles of amateurism.

And a struggle it was, not least because some in the game saw the introduction of money as "dirty" while others just didn't want the wrong sorts involved in their old boys club.

But eventually rugby union did become professional and now it is becoming as familiar a fixture in the Sky Sports schedules as rugby league.

So why is it that I can buy a Manchester United shirt to indoctrinate encourage my son to take an interest in football without breaking the bank, but need to take out a second mortgage to buy an England rugby union shirt for myself and can't even find one for my boy?!

The RFU need a kick up the arse. If they want to get boys like mine into rugby, boys from homes where there aren't two Mercedes on the drive with this year's plates and where rugby will have to be accessible to get a look-in alongside football, then they are going to have to try a bit harder with their marketing and their pricing.

But seeing £88 replica shirts makes me wonder whether they care.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


I'll let you in on a secret: I'm planning my escape.

You see, I've loved my time over here on Blogger, but you know how it is. All the cool kids are blogging on Wordpress and I'm feeling all left out!

Actually it's not that at all.

The problem with this blog is that it is neither fish nor fowl. It is too public to be able to write everything I would like, yet most of the content is too personal and everyday to be of interest to most readers.

This blog was always intended to journal my time with my wife and son (and latterly my daughter), so it was never going to be as consistently interesting to your average Joe Public as those blogs written for writing's sake. If I were only to blog when I thought I had "a good idea for a post", then I would be neglecting my main job of capturing as much as possible for posterity.

And to be honest, I have fallen into that trap, just a little. There are so many tiny little moments I would like to capture but don't, either due to lack of time or the fact that it doesn't seem worth a post in its own right, so I save it for later... then forget it.

But there's a much bigger problem. My son is going to school this year. And I decided some time ago that starting primary school would be the point when I would start to limit what I published about him. He is no longer a baby. He is increasingly a little person with his own boundaries. I have to start to learn to respect his privacy.

I mean, what could be more embarrassing than your Dad cooing about you online when you're trying to be a cool ten year old. OK, I'm getting ahead of myself, but it's better to start early with this, given that Google chaching means going offline won't save him from my scribblings.

So I figured that moving to Wordpress would be my best chance of setting the privacy level such that I could churn out lots of private posts and less frequently write something public (and hopefully interesting!).


...Wordpress is not half as easy and flexible as I had thought. I badly need a Wordpress plug-in that will allow me to make posts public only to selected groups of readers designated as Family, Friends, Members, Subscribers, etc.

My new home is running Wordpress 2.9.1 but none of the plugins I've found are guaranteed to run with that version and I'm feeling a bit too new to Wordpress to start blindly experimenting. But there's no point moving til I sort this out as I'd rather wreck an empty blog than a full one.


Anyway, I WILL be moving soon - I've paid for it so I'll darn well use it! - and when I do, rest assured that the few but valued regular readers and commentors will get an invite to be the founder "members" at the new blog.

In the meantime, if you've any advice on Wordpress backups or social privacy plugins, please speak after the beep.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

BBC News - Unplanned pregnancy warning to older women over 35

BBC News - Unplanned pregnancy warning to older women over 35

Friday, February 05, 2010

Holding out for a (Super) Hero


Oliver loves super-heroes at the moment.
If he watches TV he asks for a super-hero show.
His games are often about saving people and involve his Power Ranger and Transformer figures (when he's not pretending to be Spiderman climbing the walls).
Every morning he asks to dress in a different super-hero shirt and mostly gets his way. (We prefer him to have clean shirt each day but a new Superman shirt last week made it to Day 4 before we finally drew the line!) Our Flickr account is peppered with photos of him as dressed as Superman, Batman, Spiderman...

Our heroes are people who inspire us. So you could say that the little man was a bit of hero himself this week. After his proud moment at football training the other Saturday, his enthusiasm inspired me to set a Fatherly example to him and start playing 5-a-side football again.

For about 15 years spanning much of my late twenties and thirties, I used to play 5-a-side football and outdoor football on a regular basis. I was no Pele, but I enjoyed it immensely and it helped keep me fit. But like so many things from the days before having kids, it gradually got squeezed off the agenda in the last few years.

I last played about four years ago.

So last night I put that right and turned out for a friendly game with some familiar old faces and a few younger new ones at a local sports hall. I had all the style of Bambi on ice and the stamina of fattened pig. It was heaps of fun!

But my oh my oh MY, am I aching today!

And it's always worse after two nights, so I am envisaging me as a feeble tottering wreck tomorrow morning. The kids may yet have to get ME dressed at this rate.

But it's a small price to pay, because I came home from my game to find Oliver thrilled to see his Daddy in football gear, immediately asking me about the game and grabbing a ball for us to practice in the living room. I don't need more reward than that. And it might just get me through next week's repeat performance of lung-busting heroics.


Thursday, February 04, 2010

Gender disappointment

Tonight I watched a documentary on Channel 4 about women who suffer from "gender disappointment". They have sons but desperately want a daughter. It drew its title from one of the featured cases: "8 Boys and Wanting a Girl".

I was struck by the inequity of the rich woman who could afford the IVF and egg screening treatments and was thrilled by her twin daughters, contrasted alongside a woman from a more typical household who would never be able to afford such treatments. Her story culminated in an ultrasound scan of her fifth child which we saw was to be a fifth son. It was painful to see her distress, for many reasons.

I also had sympathy for the husbands of these women, all of whom complained of the obsessive nature of their wives' longing for a daughter and who found it hard to sympathize with the fact it made them depressed when they had several healthy children, albeit of one gender.

I did find myself asking more than once "How must those boys feel?"

I can only fall into a sweeping generalization and say it's probably different for women (a sentiment echoed in the programme by at least one mother). I know that the decision not to try for a third child was a harder one for Hayley than for me.

And I find it hard to judge these people because I have a son and a daughter. I had expected our first child to be a girl. When he was born and I saw we had a boy I was instantly proud and excited in a way I had never anticpated and there is not a day that goes by when I don't look at my son and re-expereince a little of the joy of those first moments of his life.

And although I was prepared for our second child being either a sister or a brother for Oliver, I could never have been happier than when I saw she was a girl. I just cried. And today, as she grows up, I find myself more and more in awe of her wonderful character. Yes I know she might make up for it in her teen years, but right now she is a daddy-doting bundle of sweetness for whom I feel more grateful every day.

So gender disappointment is something I have been lucky not to experience and I do feel sympathy for the families in its grip. I only hope that for some of them, something will release from their sadness. I do believe change can happen in an instant and can come from within. I hope that instant comes along for them, because to be blessed with such beautiful families and spend your life sad would be a tragedy.