Thursday, November 30, 2006

Going away

We're off to Southwold on the Suffolk coast for a few days, staying at the rather splendid looking Seaview House. Some friends are joining us for part of the time and I'll post a selection of birthday photos on my return.

On this day 50 years ago

I came into the world in a Liverpool hospital, born to a danish mother and an english father.

Among the many lovely things I've received this morning is this photograph, taken about 35 years ago of me (on the right) with two of my danish cousins.

What can I capture in a short blog entry to give a flavour of all that's happened in those 50 years? I thought about setting myself the challenge of summarising 50 years in 50 words, but it would probably have been meaningless to anyone else.

What are the things that have mattered to me most over those years? Family and friends, special places and special people. As you get older your life is increasingly punctuated by significant events - weddings, funerals, births, journeys, some shocks and surprises.

Most painful among the memories is the loss of two special friends, each of whom committed suicide before reaching 40. While I was no longer particularly close to either of them when it happened, both had been very important to me at different times in my life - such a tragic end.

I could equally write about many happy times with many special people, but they know who they are and those stories won't mean much to you if you weren't there.

So, I'll finish by recalling some special places and special experiences, which you could choose to share if you haven't already...
- travelling along the Bosphorus by ferry from Istanbul
- walking in the Lakes and north Wales
- dawn on the Ganges at Varanassi
- evenings in downtown Havana
- trekking the Langtang valley in Nepal
- dinner at sunset in Gumusluk, with the sea lapping your feet
- a summer selling oriental rugs to tourists in Istanbul's grand bazaar
- cheering on Shankly's Liverpool from the Kop
- cycling in heavy snow through the mountains in Majorca
- close encounters with eagles and otters on the Isle of Mull
- dinner with Clint Eastwood
- strolling along the sand at Holkham
- the interior of Rustem Pasha
- camel trekking in the Sahara
- dusk in the Djemma el Fnaa
- watching whales and albatrosses off Monterey and Kaikoura
- the bar at the Infante Sagres hotel in Porto

I could go on...

I very much hope that by the time Daniel reaches the age of fifty he'll have experienced at least as rich a range of special places and special people. And that he will have his own family to share them with.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Your baby needs feedback

Successful relationships are built upon effective feedback.

At work and at home we need to feel, valued, respected, listened to and loved. We all enjoy getting encouragement, praise and rewards. Whether it's in the boardroom or the bedroom, we can all benefit from constructive advice about where and how we can do things better.

The Gordon Ramsay school of feedback, with his constant effing and blinding is somewhat extreme. He knocks people down, then builds them up. His feedback style is always blunt and often brutal. He makes the X Factor's Simon Cowell look like a pussycat. Yet he leaves people in no doubt where they are going wrong and what they need to change to get the results they want. Judging by last night's Kitchen Nightmare, this can be a recipe for success.

Babies need feedback too, although not of the Gordon Ramsay variety. They need to feel that the world is a happy and safe place where all their needs will be met. They're constantly getting signals from you and others around them. How you speak to them, look at them and hold them. How you respond when they cry, when they pooh and when they feed - it all shapes how they feel about the world, which in turn must influence their psychological development.

With babies of Daniel's age it's pretty simple. They need unconditional praise and unconditional love. Get this right and you'll be rewarded by the greatest feedback of all - your baby's smiling face.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Let's hear it for the sound of silence

I'm not sure you can fully appreciate just how glorious the sound of silence is, until you've endured a baby screaming uncontrollably for half an hour.

I write this having just listened to Daniel do this for the first time. This was no ordinary crying fit, but a deep, guttural and gut wrenching succession of screams, punctuated with occasional, all too brief seconds of respite.

I found myself desperately flicking through the pages of Penelope Leach's Your Baby & Child, looking for a swift and miraculous cure. Could this be colic? Is there something seriously wrong with him? Is my baby about to explode?

And then - just as we were contemplating going for a drive as a last resort - he stopped. Actually he seemed to respond to us turning the main light on, suggesting he got panicked by being put down on his own in the near dark.

Managing your baby's performance

Spent most of today in a training course about performance management.

Lots of useful advice about how to ensure you get the performance and behaviour you want out of the people around you.

It did start me thinking about 'managing' Daniel, but Liz assures me he's still a little too young for written objectives and appraisals.

Mothers and babies

We've just been watching a BBC programme about incredible animal journeys. Apparently a female gray whale swims with her calf all the way from Mexico to Alaska.

Puts a rather different perspective on the trip to the local supermarket.

Not that I'd try to compare Liz and Daniel with a whale and her calf.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

All dressed up and ready to go

Water baby

Elusive smile

Over the last few days Daniel has begun smiling, with occasional longer 'chuckles'. And no, it's definitely not wind.

I'd love to post a photo of him smiling. However, whenever I point the camera at his face he puts on his rather serious 'fascinated by camera' expression and his smile remains elusive.

In the meantime I hope you enjoy this photo of some smiling kids having fun.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Piling on the pounds

Breast milk is clearly powerful stuff. Dan has gone from a modest 7lbs 3oz to a chunky 9lbs 2oz in a fortnight. That's a pound a week, which is not inconsiderable if you started out only a few weeks ago at just over 5lbs.

All that guzzling is paying dividends. So much so that he needs to ease off the bodybuilding a bit within a couple of weeks. I'm sure Liz won't object - feeding a baby on breast milk must feel a bit like having a ball and chain.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Just how long is five years?

Yes I know this sounds like a stupid question, but do bear with me.

Yesterday I was in a meeting of senior managers discussing the RSPB's next corporate strategy, which looks ahead for five years. When you're talking about an organisation that has been around for nearly 120 years, five years is a relatively short timescale. Which isn't to suggest that a lot can't happen in that time, but at the end of it the organisation is unlikely to be radically different.

When you're talking about a six week old baby, five weeks is plenty long enough to experience radical change. At this stage of their development no two weeks are the same, which is all part of the fun. Every single day young babies experience something new and do something different.

In five years' time Dan will certainly be radically different from how he is now - he'll be walking, talking and going to school. His personality will have emerged and we'll have some strong indicators of what his future might hold.

Of course as adults we have much more control over lives - five weeks, five days, five years or five minutes - they can be as long or short, as radical or predictable as you choose to make them.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Here's to reaching 50

Yes, in ten days time - at the end of the month I'll turn 50 - on St Andrew's Day no less.

It feels both exciting and scary, rather like becoming a parent. I guess both of them are signs that I may finally be growing up, which arguably is a 'good thing'. So, I'm older, fatter, greyer and slower than I used to be. Each day I destroy more of my brain cells and my arteries get harder.

Last week my boss Mike said he could barely remember what it was like when his children, who are now twenty somethings, were babies. I retorted that by the time Dan is twenty something I'll be lucky if I can remember anything at all.

And yet, despite being older, fatter, greyer and slower than I used to be - with fewer brain cells and narrower arteries - I am also happier than I can remember being before.

So, here's to being fifty - bring it on! (But please, no photographs...)

Five things that get up my nose.

How honest is your blog? I ask because you may feel there are limits to what you can and can't say.

If like me you flatter yourself that your partner, mother, mother-in-law, colleagues and friends read your blog - at least occasionally - then you're probably going to take care about what you say about them. The thing is that - wonderful as they all are - most of them get up my nose from time to time.

And of course if I say what it is that's getting up my nose, then whoever I'm referring to is probably going to work it out. Should I worry about that? I'm not sure, but I do. So, here's a reasonably generic list of things that get up my nose - and my readers can work out which if any apply to them.
- unnecessary mess
- sloppy work
- lousy spelling and grammar
- whingeing on about the same old things
- lack of consideration for others

Looking at that list again, I can see I'm guilty of all of them - except number three I hope - myself at times. Still, it's been a long day - time to chill out with another glass of wine.

So, that's what gets up my nose - what gets up yours?

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Do psychotherapists think we're all barmy?

I was reading a leaflet this morning about newborns' crying and sleeping habits. According to psychotherapists it is important to meet all of your baby's needs in order to help his or her emotional development.

So, should we accept this at face value as sensible and objective advice based on years of experience and detailed research? I always imagined that psychotherapists - however well balanced they may be themselves - would prefer us to pay them to fix our emotional problems, rather than helping us to fix them for ourselves without their expert intervention.

I'm sure I do them a disservice. What's more I recommend the work of the Child Psychotherapy Trust for providing clear, well-presented guidance about the everyday problems that beset parents everywhere. You can find their excellent Understanding Childhood leaflets here.

Friday, November 17, 2006

What is it about Children in Need?

Here we go again - Pudsey bear, Terry Wogan, naff soap stars, ancient actors, egotistical newsreaders, the Sound of Music and artificially-enhanced 'models'.

Yes it's Children in Need, the BBC's annual fundraising extravaganza. Yet there are some bright spots among the dross. Right now I'm listening to Westlife singing 'Easy'. Ok, it may not rate as cool, but it is one of those songs that puts a smile on my face.

Coming later...Emma Bunton. She's not exactly Petula Clark, but hey here's to 'Downtown' - it doesn't get much better than that! Rather uncharitably the Daily Record suggests this year's event would be more appropriately entitled Unemployed-Spice-Girl-In-Need.

It's certainly a mixed bag, but I don't mind admitting that there was a clip just now that brought a tear to my eye - as a new parent it seems to be hitting a spot that wasn't there previously.

So, whatever you think of some of the performers - and it is all just a bit of harmless fun - just remember that all that money can make a real difference for children who really need and deserve it.
(Emma - whose idea was that ridiculous little hat?)

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Top tips on getting your baby to sleep

As you may have gathered, I have no claims to any great expertise on this subject - in fact quite the opposite.

Fortunately the internet is a wonderful resource and there is no shortage of helpful advice. Take this page of sleep links from The Mother of All Blogs for example. In addition to the practical stuff there is also a link to a Flickr pool of sleeping baby photos.

It has to be said that many of them are extremely cute - almost as cute as Daniel (when he's asleep that is).

And here is a Squidoo lens featuring answers to the top seven baby sleep questions - sweet dreams!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Yes it is all true...

Surprise, surprise, I can confirm that looking after a baby sometimes feels like an endless round of feeding, nappy changing, wiping up sick and not getting enough sleep.

As a first-time parent it's easy to fret about whether or not you're doing the right thing, whether your little darling is unwell, tired, hungry or simply giving you the runaround. At five weeks I don't think he's quite reached that stage, but I suspect he'll be making mischief before too long. And of course I'd be disappointed if he didn't. After all he is his father's son and he's got things to live up to.

His sleeping patterns have been somewhat erratic. Liz looks forward to the time when he starts to make more of a distinction between day and night. He's also being 'sick' quite often. However, a bit of online research suggests this is more 'spitting up' after feeding than anything else.

Apparently the time to really worry is if they start projectile vomiting over distances of three to four feet. Part of me is intrigued by this prospect and part of me most definitely doesn't want to witness it - especially if I'm in the line of fire!

A cat called Fatdust

Poor old Starlight has acquired a rather unfortunate new nickname.

It's not the first time her name has become the subject of some amusement. Latterly Liz's dear old dad got a bit confused and began calling her Skylight. More recently various visitors have commented on the fact that she's become a bit tubby of late.
Then my mother referred to her as Stardust when she was here over the weekend. Being a boy I can't resist a bit of teasing, so I've taken to calling her Fatdust. Luckily she can't understand, but then again she has been giving me some strange looks...

Monday, November 13, 2006

The generation game

I was going to post a photo of my mum, Daniel and myself, but looking at it again I'm sure neither my mum nor I would have thanked me for doing so.

Instead here's another and far more attractive photo of three generations, photographed at Waresley. My mother being danish, prefers to be referred to as 'farmor', which is the danish for 'father's mother'. I guess this helps to avoid any possible confusion that might otherwise arise between sets of grandparents. And there aren't many babies here in England who can claim to have a farmor.

Grannies are a good thing

Here's Liz's mum with Daniel.

In the last few days we've had separate visits from both grandmothers. They are now of course understandably more interested in their grandson than in either of us - he has considerable novelty value whereas they've had to put up with us for years.

I guess Daniel is also something of an unexpected bonus, as probably both mothers - mine especially - had pretty much given up on the likelihood of either of us producing any offspring. Unfortunately neither of them is close enough to see him as often as they might like, but that makes the time they can spend together all the more precious.

So it's lovely to see them enjoying this somewhat belated gift in their lives.
Talking of gifts, here is a photo of Daniel with presents from his auntie Karin - letters for his nursery door and hand-knitted socks to keep his feet warm - I'm sure he'll grow into them before too long.

Friday, November 10, 2006

The price of parenthood

You know how everyone tells you that being a parent is expensive?

You get those jokes about a father being someone who has a photograph where his money used to be. Of course as an expectant/new parent you nervously laugh these off as scare stories, reassuring yourself that for all sorts of reasons your own children are going to be 'cheaper to run' than suggested.

Well, a new report confirms every parent's worst fears - £180,137 is the current cost of raising a child until the age of 21. Although by most accounts it's not as if the bank of mum and dad becomes magically redundant once this milestone has been reached.

"Raising a family requires careful financial planning and regular saving, as well as a great deal of hard work," said Liverpool Victoria's communications director Nigel Snell.
So, my thoughts are already turning to how Daniel might make a fast buck or two.
While he's small enough to go up chimneys quite easily, I don't think it's a particularly lucrative option.
Being adopted by a multi-millionaire pop star is another obvious option.

Or given that he's so cute maybe we'll hang onto him in the hope of landing a well-paid child modelling contract.

You can buy an awful lot for one hundred and eighty grand - two Aston Martins for a start. Though why you'd need two I'm not really sure - his and his maybe?

Or how about that villa on the turkish coast, luxury house, early retirement... Still, I'm sure he's going to prove worth every really, I am.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Is Disneyland taking the micky?

Catherine, one of my colleagues has just returned from Florida. Well Disneyland to be more precise - I'm not sure she and her family got beyond the magic kingdom.

Now you can call me a cynic if you must, but it feels to me that if you haven't taken your child to Disney at least twice by the age of ten you're likely to get reported to the NSPCC.

Still, people say the rides and the service are fantastic. But so would you if you were paying all that money....

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Daniel and the albatross

Will Daniel ever see an albatross?

That was one of the questions in my mind at the end of today's premiere of 'Race to Save the Albatross', a documentary made by TVE with support from the RSPB. Prince Charles - a passionate supporter of the save the albatross campaign - kindly hosted the premiere in his newly refurbished private cinema and an accompanying reception at Clarence House.

It was rather entertaining to see inside the royal residence - a surprisingly cosy feeling set of elabrately furnished rooms adorned with paintings by the likes of Monet, Sickert and Lowry, and lots of family portraits and photographs. It's not often you go to someone else's home and can instantly recognise everyone in the family photos!

Sadly the world's albatrosses are threatened with extinction. These are amazing birds and as the Prince said, their demise would be 'an appalling commentary on the way we treat the world.'

Monday, November 06, 2006

Reaching new heights

Daniel was measured today for the first time.

This will please my Danish relatives who couldn't understand why he wasn't measured as soon as he was born. Apparently they don't do that here because of the difficulty and discomfort of stretching babies out straight.

He came in at 50.5cm or just under 20 inches. His head circumference is 36.5cm - compared to 33.2 at birth four weeks ago. And he now weighs 3.3kg or 7lbs 3oz, which means he's put on a kilo in four weeks.

What's more the health visitor said he's in perfect proportion, so he might yet make a world class footballer!

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A tale of a troll

My very dear sister Wicki, who lives in Denmark (in Odense home to the great fairytale storyteller Hans Christian Andersen) , has sent Daniel a very special present, a mobile of a 'puffing troll'.

Legend has it that many, many years ago when trolls were still to be found in Denmark, it was common knowledge that if you fell and hurt yourself, you simply puffed at a troll and the pain stopped immediately.

'Puffing at trolls when feeling sad, lessens pain and makes you glad.'

Today's mobiles - inspired by a stone carving of the original - retain this special ability.
Apparently it is very important that the troll is given a name by the family with whom the troll comes to live. Leroy - one of the names we joked about giving Daniel before he was born - is one possible option .

Daniel in the lion's den

We have our very own two 'lions'.

Here's Daniel pictured with one of them - Charlie, aka the Great Gransden panther. I'm not quite sure what Charlie and Starlight make of our new addition, but I think they've begun to realise that this particular visitor is here to stay.

In any event I'm pleased to report that as in the biblical story our lions seem happy to accept him.

On the march to stop climate chaos

Great day in London yesterday, supporting the I Count rally in Trafalgar Square. We kicked off with a gathering of over 1,000 RSPB members at the Emmanuel Centre and then went on to join an estimated crowd of 25,000.

The noise, the colours, the banners, placards and costumes were tremendous - people of all ages coming together to voice their concerns about the urgent need to tackle this huge threat to our future. We were entertained by Razorlight and KT Tunstall and heard from activists, a bishop and an actress.

If you care about the world we leave to children like Daniel, please sign up to the I count campaign here - together we can make a difference. There are more great pictures from the rally here.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Turning up the emotional volume

'The highs will be higher and the lows will be lower than anything you've experienced before.' Wise words from a colleague and friend, describing the emotional changes involved in becoming a parent. So far it's essentially been highs with the odd dip - plenty of time yet for the full rollercoaster experience.

A few years ago I used to practice shiatsu, which is a bit like acupuncture without the needles. A fellow practitioner said having a child would open up my heart channel - I'm beginning to appreciate what she meant. Acupuncture points can play a useful part in childbirth - for more information see here.

Making connections

Becoming a parent gives you a stronger sense of history and family connection.

I certainly find myself thinking more about both the past and the future. It makes you look at your own parents in a different light - and potentially gives you a better understanding of why they did or didn't do certain things.

One can but try to do one's best - and I daresay it won't always be good enough.

Tired and grumpy

There are many fabulous things about being a dad.

Going without sleep, listening to your baby screaming and having no time to yourself are not among them.

Other than that it's great!

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Cot death research breakthrough

In the news today is a story about US scientists having found a link between Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and brain stem abnormalities. The findings provide hope that future treatment might help babies who are likely to be vulnerable to SIDS because of their reduced ability to control their temperature and breathing.

Daniel's fan club

Daniel's already proving a hit with the girls and here he is with his newest three fans - Farrah, Gemma and Caroline, colleagues from the RSPB.