Press Ollie’s left foot twice

Joshua’s arrival has changed my perspective in lots of ways. For example, I hadn’t realised how exciting it would be just to see him roll from his back to his front. There are plenty of milestones to go before full mobility – but Jen and I discovered that this little step was worth celebrating!

Then there are the new skills needed in looking after a baby. There are the obvious ones – managing wee and poo to name two – but there are others that I hadn’t expected. For example, how do you pick something off the floor with your right hand while holding a baby on your left shoulder? It’s quite tricky! It seems to require either the butt-out, knees forward procedure, or the down-on-one-knee manoeuvre. Success is achieved with picking up the item with baby being largely oblivious.


Our sleep agent, aka Ollie the Owl

Putting baby to sleep seems to be a common problem – and while Joshua doesn’t think much of daytime sleep, he tends to sleep well at night. For this, we have an agent. Like all agents, he looks friendly (a cuddly owl) while concealing some clever electronics. Thus, shortly after Ollie’s arrival, we needed to switch him off, at which point Jen told me to ‘press Ollie’s left foot twice’.

Ollie has a number of tricks up his wings. If I press his left wing once, he emits lullabies; twice provides the sound of rainfall. Pressing his right wing gives access to the white noise – and with this comes an ‘intelligent cry sensor’. The white noise lasts 20 minutes; but if Joshua cries, Ollie starts emitting white noise again. The term ‘intelligent cry sensor’ is slightly inaccurate as Ollie is also triggered by other things, such as a door closing, or one of us sneezing or burping. (Oh alright, that’d be me in each case!)

I’ve also found myself having strong opinions about nursery rhymes. The ‘Three blind mice’ doesn’t set a good example of how to treat animals: “they all ran after the farmer’s wife, who cut off their tails with a carving knife”. The RSPCA clearly should speak to the farmer’s wife about this. I’m also a bit concerned about Old MacDonald’s animal husbandry skills. With a moo-moo here, and a moo-moo there, everywhere a moo-moo – there are clearly cows all over the place. It’s the same with the sheep and goats and everything else: they’re all mixed up together! Worse still, whenever anyone checks there’s a different array of animals and birds every time. It’s clearly chaos on the farm. Meanwhile, I must admit to having a favourite nursery rhyme: “Five little speckled frogs // Sat on a speckled log // Eating some most delicious bugs…” Which one Joshua prefers, though, we have yet to see.


One little speckled frog, with one big speckled frog… not sure about the log but the bugs at Ham Wall seem to be to the liking of these frogs.

Meanwhile, Jen’s had a radical change of hairstyle (at least for the time being)…

Before the chop

After the chop

Jen’s following the example of Rachel Linham in Ashcott, and is sending her hair to be made into wigs for children who have cancer. (here)

Meanwhile, Joshua finds the piano quite fascinating – press a note, and a sound comes out. Press a different note, and a different sound comes out. (That’s about the limit of my musical knowledge; it’s over to Jen from now on…)

No point in delaying development of musical skills…

Cornish present and past

We’ve just come back from a very refreshing week in Cornwall, staying at a cottage near Stithians. It was a great location for easy access to both north and south coasts, as well as Land’s End.

The best weather of the week was on the Tuesday when we went to the Lizard Peninsula. We walked from the Point (after a good brekkie for lunch!) to Kynance Cove, which was a wonderfully scenic route.


Kynance Cove from the Lizard Peninsula

Kynance Cove itself is a sheltered and picturesque bay; unfortunately we didn’t have long there because we needed to get back before sunset.


Kynance Cove


Looking south from Kynance Cove

On our return, a little person didn’t like being in his carrier, so we took a different approach…


Walking back to Lizard Point

As it happens, Dad’s family came from Cornwall, and his father was the rector of St.Mawgan-in-Pydar (along the north coast between Newquay and Padstow) in the 1920s. We decided to visit, and found it to be a very attractive village. The old rectory is huge – as the old Vicarage in Shapwick was before the fire around 1910. It’s a good indication of the change in culture of the UK over the last hundred years: although clergy today are very generously housed, there’s no comparison with the enormous houses of one hundred years ago. Either way, it’s all a bit different from the “Son of Man [who] has no place to lay his head”.


A couple of miles coastwards lies Mawgan Porth, a lovely seaside cove.


Mawgan Porth


Mawgan Porth near sunset

We had less fortune, weather-wise, when we went to Crantock, where Jen’s granmother lived and where her family used to go for summer holidays. It was greyer, windier and rainier, and the tide was in… but still good enough for a nice family photo!


First family visit to Crantock!

Holiday pics

One sign of a changed life is less time for blogs! I wonder why that might be…? Although a certain little baby is feeding on my left as I type…

Jen and I had a good holiday around the end of August. We spent the first week with Jen’s mum in Kenilworth, which meant we also saw lots of Andrew, Rachael, Sophie and George. Mat and Claire also came up from Devon with their younger two, Austin and Louie.

Despite having been to Kenilworth quite a few times, I’d never been to the castle before. It’s an impressive set of ruins, part of the charm of which is that it hasn’t been extensively renovated. Its most famous association is with Queen Elizabeth I, who visited three times when she was consorting with Robert Dudley, the earl of Leicester. It had also been the site of the longest siege in English history in 1266.

Kenilworth Castle

Sophie is very excited about her little cousin; Joshua has a way to go with reciprocating…

Sunday lunch on a large scale… Clockwise from left: Louie, Claire, Sophie, Jen, Andrew, Margaret, Austin, Mat, George, Rachael

We then spent a few days with my Mum, almost literally on the Welsh border on the bank of the River Teme, which flowed at the bottom of the garden of the cottage we had rented.

View of the River Teme near where we stayed

The cottage was an idyllic location for wildlife – highlights being the nuthatches that regularly visited the bird feeders, and the grey wagtail that flitted around the river by the garden on one of the days.

One of the nuthatches which wwre frequent visitors.

Grey wagtail flitting along the Teme at the bottom of the garden.

On our final morning we went in search of the source of the river Teme – or at least, according to the map there’s an obvious stream which is the furthest of several at the upper end of the valley.

That’s the source of the river Teme – with Jen and Joshua.

Before heading back home late afternoon, we also managed a walk along Offa’s Dyke. Unlike Hadrian’s Wall, very little is known about it, other than that it was built during the time of Offa, king of Mercia in the second half of the eighth century. It’s just possible this has something to do with Mercia being less significant than the Roman empire, a point which Offa himself might not have fully grasped.

A late lunch on Offa’s Dyke. (If you look closely, you’ll see two very small feet.)

Sleeping soundly and feeding prolifically: Joshua’s first month

It’s usually not considered good form to sleep soundly while people visit you – except when you’re just a few weeks’ old, and the whole ‘being alive’ thing seems only slightly more comprehensible than it was on day one.

Jen and I are learning loads – such as, making sure the frills on a nappy lie outwards, or there will be another leakage and another soiled babygrow. We’ve also learned that arriving somewhere doesn’t mean we’ll actually get to see much of where we’ve arrived: we’ve twice been to National Trust properties and spent two or three hours oscillating between the cafe and baby change faciliity. Despite these little challenges, we’re finding that the whole learning experience is very enjoyablzzzzz…

We’ve had a few guests, which has also been a privilege and joy. Both Margarets have stayed twice, and agreed with each other that my mum would be Grandma and Jen’s mum would be Grandmama (which she is to George and Sophie). While they were both here we went to viist Montacute House, near Yeovil. Andrew and Rachael have also visited a few times with Sophie and George: Sophie’s a little excited about her new cousin!

With the Grandmargarets on the clothes peg at Montacute House

In Yeovil with Rachael, Sophie, Andrew and George.

We were especially grateful to two sets of guests who insisted on cooking for us: firstly Sharon and Jon Whitmarsh who came with Harrison (why we didn’t take a photo when they were here I don’t know), and Charlotte and Jeffrey Bardell, who came with Mary and Katie (Jeffrey being one of Jen’s cousins).

Charlotte, Mary and Katie with Joshua. Photo by Jeff

Jen with Joshua in a sling

We bought an Ergobaby carrier as a must-have for taking Joshua on walks through the countryside… but then discovered that, in the hot weather, he overheated very easily. So we got hold of a sling as well. The sales assistant was astonished when I willingly tried on the sling – every other bloke she’d suggested this to had shied away. I said that I’d been softened up for this by my sister-in-law (Rachael) who’d first persuaded me to carry George in hers for a while.

I’d joked to Jen that we should get a sling in camouflage colours so that I could take Joshua birdwatching, so I was amused when the assistant said she had only black or khaki in stock – even Jen thought khaki was the better option given that choice!

We’ve even had guests over from the USA, though we can’t possibly claim that they travelled over just to see Joshua! First of all Alison Teply arrived with her youger daughters Lydia and Clara: Alison went to the same school as Jen in Warwick, and they both did research in Cambridge at the same time, before Alison got married and went to live across the pond.

Lydia, Clara and Alison Teply, Jen, Joshua yawning, and grandmama.

We were delighted also to welcome Ed and Nan McCallum, who are on their first trip to the UK. Ed was my pastor for a year-and-a-half when I lived in Tucson, Arizona, in the mid-90s. I loved being part of New Covenant church because for me it was the first time that I felt part of a church family, and I greatly valued the friendships that grew there. It was great to be able to catch up with them about what’s happened in the 23 years since I left. After leaving Tucson, Ed served in Chicago at the headquarters of the Evangelical Presbyterian church (of which New Covenant Church was a part). He left recently to become part of ITEN, a mission agency dedicated to empowering and educating church leaders in the developing world.

Ed and Nan McCallum with Jen and Joshua

We were also delighted to meet with Richard and Catherine East, and their daughters Marianne and Amy, at Montacute House. They’re serving in Japan with OMF, working with students.

On the clothes peg at Montacute House with Amy, Marianne, Richard and Catherine East

We also did a barbecue for some local families who have recently had babies themselves: Lizzie came with Ewan and her older son Ollie, Rob and Rachel with Hugo, and Adam and Heather with Alice.

Rachael, Ollie, Lizzie, Adam, Rich, Jen, Heather – with Hugo (very alert), Joshua and Alice (not very alert).

Let me finish with a few other photos that we like.

Joshua with Jen

Dad time

Mum time


Joshua’s arrival

We’re delighted to announce the arrival of Joshua into our lives! It happened the following way.

Jen with Joshua, just after they arrived in the delivery suite.

Jen went into hospital on Monday morning to be induced. Over the next couple of days she underwent the full course of drugs and underwent some rather uncomfortable contractions, but the drugs didn’t have enough of an effect. On Wednesday morning we were asked what we thought about a C-section because it was felt that at this stage, it would be the safest option. I said, “I have two criteria: healthy baby, healthy wife. I want what’s going to give the best guarantee of that”. We were both in agreement, so it was arranged for that afternoon.

Family portrait, about an hour after Joshua’s arrival

We went into the operating theatre – it felt slightly surreal being able to walk in, the last time I went in one of those I was being wheeled in for an operation on a broken nose. Jen was placed on the bed and I was given a chair by her head. A screen was erected between us and the operation “just so dad’s not tempted to take part”!

Mummy time

Our baby soon annouced his arrival with some loud screams, and a few minutes later (when he was freed!) he was presented to us – when we discovered that he was a boy! He was weighed at 3.46kg or 7lb 10oz.

Aw, mate, what’s up with the excessive fluffy language?

It took a while for the surgeon to sew Jen back up again – apparently this is the longest part of the procedure. At the end, the notes were re-assuringly terse! (I wouldn’t have noticed this if the nurses hadn’t laughed about it first!)

Dad time

Since then we’ve been getting to know our little son. Jen’s also been learning how to breastfeed, and the staff here have been excellent with their support. Apparently, it’s all about the latch…

Joshua kept Jen awake most of last night – which is apparently quite normal at this stage, with Jen providing colostrum with the milk yet to come through. Eventually at 5am a midwife took pity on her, swaddled Joshua (a technique we might want to learn), put him to sleep, and told Jen to get some rest. A few hours later Jen awoke to find Joshua sleeping peacfully beside her and a nice little handwritten note placed on him…

Joshua’s writing skillls are amazing for one so young…

It was lovely also that Lizzie from Shapwick was also having a baby at the same time – they were born less than eight hours apart. Jen greatly appreciated Lizzie’s friendly face at midnight after Rich had gone back to the Vicarage to throw out some z’s.

Lizzie with Ewan, born a few hours later

It’s probably not surprising that we’ve learned a whole heap of stuff that we didn’t expect to. Take swaddling. I’d read about it in a well-known baby book by Harvey Karp and thought it was a new-fangled, old-fangled notion that we wouldn’t be using. Until a midwife quietened a fractious Joshua at 5am by swaddling him… so we decided we had to learn how to do it.

Being taught how to swaddle Joshua

Our departure from the maternity ward was a ‘welcome to parenting’ experience. Let me summarise why it took three hours: last feed before departing, big poo, nappy change, big wee (which we were really excited about because we weren’t quite sure he was doing this), another last feed before departing, fetch car, extract car seat, discover that the car seat is set up all wrong and neither of us have a clue how to fix it, faff around for an hour before realising the secret lay in lifting the cushioning, really the last feed before departing, place Joshua in car seat, then realise we don’t know how to attach the car seat, more faffing, success and departure. Jen remained calm throughout.

We arrive back home, smiling as if we haven’t just survived a three-hour trauma half an hour previously

We really feel blessed by God in all of this – even if we do have some sleepless nights!

Joshua doing what he often does…

What to do when Jen’s 40 weeks preggers?

We’ve been given lots of advice about how to usher things along – some ideas very congenial, other ideas more fun for me than for Jen…

1. Drive along lots of bumpy roads.

Lots of people have told us about this one… Our midwife, Kerry, enthusiastically told us about a bumpy road in the Quantocks… but when we got there we found it was quite smooth compared to the roads floating on peat in the Levels! So a couple of times we’ve gone from Shapwick to Burtle, then down along the Edington road to a potholed drove, which we went along as bumpily as possible, then back into Burtle, along Green Drove, before turning round and returning to Shapwick.

A drove road between Burtle and Edington – lots of nice potholes!

2. Take lots of walks

Kerry also thinks going for long walks is really good – and we don’t need much persuasion of this one! Over the last few weeks we’ve had a few trips to the south coast on days off – and have been able to enjoy the exceptional weather.

Jen on Doghouse Hill near Golden Cap a couple of weeks ago.

Jen om Cothelstone Hill on Tuesday after an appointment with the midwife

3. Eat Fry’s Chocolate Cream

At a babycare store in Bridport, the shop owner told us about one time she was pregnant and several days overdue. Her husband bought her a Fry’s chocolate cream – and two hours later she went into labour. Ever since, she’s been convinced the two events are linked and has been recommending it since then. Does Jen need any more excuse to eat chocolate?

Well if it worked for the lady in Bridport, why not try it?

4. Eat curry!

Apparently a hot curry is a great way to bring labour forward. Clearly I agree with this wholeheartedly – but we had to keep it reasonably cool for Jen to eat it at all! We had a curry from Sainsburys one night; I cooked a curry one last night, and we went to a curry house in Taunton tonight. (I think she enjoyed the bumpy drives more though!)

Can’t go wrong with a good curry – especially if it brings labour forward!

Yup, it’s a pineapple

5. Eat pineapple

There’s actually some medical evidence for this one in that one of the chemicals in pineapple really does bring labour on… except that Jen would need to eat 8 pineapples in succession to get the desired effect! But we might have a curry laced with pineapple tonight…

6. Watch England beat Colombia and Sweden

Well it was worth a try, wasn’t it? Except that I got more excited about it than Jen did. We might have to miss the semi-final though…

Let me finish this post with a few scenics…

View in Ladram Bay

Kestrel on the way up Doghouse Hill.

The colours from the beach at Branscombe were impressive…

The search for sainfoin with a long lost cousin

Jen and I recently spent the day with a long-lost cousin, Sue Whiteley… ok, she’s a second cousin… ok, she wasn’t technically ‘lost’ but in Australia… but it was really great to meet a family member whom I’d not not met before. She’s the grand-daughter of my maternal grandfather’s brother Sam (did you follow that ok?!).

Sue with the sainfoin seed and some hay that includes sainfoin.

Sue was on her first trip to the UK. One of her aims was to find some sainfoin seed, a legume that is good fodder for horses, but which is difficult to obtain in Australia. It’s not that common in the UK either but is sold by Cotswold Seeds, a grain merchant in Moreton-in-Marsh. They market sainfoin as one of the plants used for their herbal leys, which offer a much more biodiverse set of plants than the average grassy field, and much greater health benefits for livestock. Reading their page on sainfoin, it seems like it’s a ruminant’s superfood.

We then went in search of a research farm owned by Cotswold Seeds which is growing sainfoin with Timothy, a type of grass which is a companion plant.

Sainfoin growing

On our way back through Chipping Norton we came across a meadow full of buttercups, which is somehow a more natural yellow than the rather garish oilseed rape. I was sufficiently impressed with this sight to want to focus exclusively on the buttercups… so I did…

Jen and Sue in a field in Chipping Norton.

Buttercup meadow in Chipping Norton

Since then I’ve noticed large numbers of fields with similar arrays of buttercups – so I wonder whether this is an unusually good year for them – or whether this is a common sight which I’ve not noticed before?

A couple of weeks ago three of Jen’s students arrived from London – Laura and Waruj (from Thailand), who are first year PhD students, and Mengke, an MRes student from China. It was great to be able to get to know them – having heard about them from Jen! – and to be able to show them around rural Somerset. On the Saturday afternoon we went to Kilve, where we enjoyed the cream teas of the Chantry Tea Gardens, before walking along the cliff-top above the impressive rocky beach that characterises the area.

Laura, Mengke, Waruj and Jen at East Quantoxhead

Lunch at the Vicarage with Jen, Mengke, Laura and Waruj

About a month ago Jen and I went with our good friends Jack and Alison and Brandon to the Haynes Motor Museum near Yeovil. We were both much more absorbed by the exhibits than we’d expected!

Is it the speed or the yellowness?

The Motor Museum this year, Silverstone next? Maybe not…