Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Smile Train Dinner

As I mentioned yesterday we have received a very nicely put together invite package to the Smile Train 10th year celebration dinner. Personally signed by Brian, the invite explains that the organisation doesn't have much time for parties on account of how busy they are fixing the world's smiles, one at a time. And the stats prove it's true. I've mentioned on here how the Smile Train have made over half a million cleft repair operations possible in just 10 years but the most interesting fact, I believe, is this one;

"This year the Smile Train will be able to fix more clefts in India and China than the amount of babies born with one"

I had to read that a couple of times because it's hard to believe, especially when you consider than nearly 1 Chinese household in 10 is affected by a birth defect. Granted not all, or even the majority will be clefts but it's a huge number all the same. And that's just China, India will have similarly alarming figures. Plus, don't forget, the Smile Train won't just be working in these two countries; they'll be helping thousands of others in more than 75 of the world's poorest countries as well.

Anyway, back to the point, which is that in China and India, the Smile Train, after only ten years will actually be helping now to reduce the overall number of children born with clefts and people who have suffered with them all of their lives. That really is incredible in the true sense of the word. Has ever a charity after such a short period of time achieved such a massive turnaround, achieved a level of success which matches its original goals so closely? I don't know but I can't think many would have.

I don't have any hard facts to hand but can you imagine where we might be in another 10 years? There is obviously still a huge worldwide backlog but talk about 'we're getting there'. That used to be British Rail's slogan which was rightly mocked and ridiculed but here's an organisation that could absolutely claim it.

I'm sure if you talked to anyone at Smile Train and especially Brian, they'd tell you that this is still the beginning, the surface is only just scratched but in terms of stage one we must surely be approaching job done? Conceivably there could come a situation actually in our life time when globally the number of unrepaired clefts could be dwindling and when the problem becomes 'contained'. A time even when there are no unrepaired clefts left and where the only operations left to do are those we don't need yet i.e for babies yet to be born. Perhaps I'm being naive with enormous rose tinted glasses on but this is surely the original driving force and motivation behind the doctrine of the Smile Train's philosophy. This would actually mean that fewer surgeons would be needed. Ironically the more successful the Smile Train is, the smaller it could become, the polar opposite of every other aspirational, ambitious enterprise. And that must be the overall goal for every charity, to no longer be needed. The difference is this charity could achieve it, or something very close to it. I admit this is pretty flippant, to suggest that such an important organisation which has and will have done so much to no longer be needed to be around but it is a point worth making.

The final thought I have is that, whilst the stats on the 500,000 ops to date are impressive the effects must reach so much further. For every family who benefits directly by having a cleft-affected member fixed, there will be those around that family who learn and share with others. Those other people will know others affected and can pass on the word of this organisation doing good things. That will give hope and understanding. Imagine that for every operation one community learns that a) pregnant mothers ought to take follic acid where before they'd have no clue b) there's a possibility that child / adult b,c, and d in their midst may be operated on free of charge and soon, and that most importantly c) a cleft is not something to be ashamed of, it is what it is, get over it.

So when you add it all up, 500,000 is really the tip of an enormous worldwide iceberg.

Monday, 21 September 2009

Just like the old days. Sort of...

So we got back from Spain on Friday and had a really nice time. Our friends, Sarah and Hamish, along with Sadie, their beautiful seven month old baby and Sarah's dad (sorry don't know his age) had been at the villa for a week beforehand and then Sarah's father went home and we joined the three remaining Tullochs. We've been to the villa a few times with them and there are a few special moments of each day that we all remember fondly. These include the morning breakfast followed by sunbathing session, Hamish and me playing table tennis in the garage or kerbie (where you have to bounce a ball off the opposite side of the pool so you can catch the rebound, ideally without having to jump in to do so), eating at the beach and most of all, watching the sun go down with a glass or two whilst the bbq is getting up to temperature.

For the most part we got to do all of that so it felt just like the good old days. Holidaying with kids isn't so much hassle at all when you're with friends and the space to get on with it. Having the villa makes like so much easier, I think a hotel holiday is some years off for us just because of the logistics of it all. In a villa you're at home...make as much mess and noise as you want and spread out without worrying about the other guests and how pissed off they're getting.

I love the idea of going on a Mark Warner type holiday when they're older so they can meet other children in kids' clubs but for now, until they'll actually remember I can't really see the point in the extra money. Jake has less than a year of free (still £25) flying left so we need to make the most of it. He's been on six flights in his short life so far and even though he had a few moments on the way home, he was been as good as gold as we could have hoped for.

I used to get so stressed in airports to my lack of patience but now, because I know that things will be more difficult, I've chilled out a lot. Travelling with kids is basically as much hassle as you want to make it; by accepting that there's more stuff and things will take longer you can actually make it a lot easier. Getting wound up and shouting a lot (very much my previous M.O) just winds you up even more. I'm really pleased (smug even) that I've managed to calm down (with the exception of my ridiculous over charging by Ryan Air) whilst going through airports. Maybe I've matured or maybe the bastards have just ground me down.

We took Jake to the beach a couple of times, the second more successful than the first as it wasn't quite so sweltering. He could crawl along - forgot to mention that he learnt to do proper grown up hands and knees crawling while we were on holiday - almost until he was at someone else's sun lounger before we'd have to go get him. He did put his entire face in the sand at one point but this taught him that sand doesn't taste too good and tends also to block the nose.

He had a cold virtually all week but seemed in good spirits as did Sadie. They both slept well on the whole and I think the pair of them got something from spending lots of time together. I think they'll be great friends and I cannot wait to see them wanting to spend all day long on the beach while Hamish and I sit watching them all day from the bar!

I remember writing in this post about how the new Spain, i.e the one with Jake wasn't as much fun as the old Spain, the Peseta one. Well it's still not the same but then neither are any of us. In fact I don't think we'd have wanted to go to the foam party last week anyway. It was nice to wake up without a hangover (or at least with one which only lasted an hour or two) and this is basically because instead of opening bottles three and four and turning in at 3am, we were all sound asleep by midnight. It sounds sad and I do wish we were a bit crazier but when you know you're only ever a scream away from a 5am start to your day, the motivation to stay up all night tends to wane somewhat.

Anyway, it was a great trip and exactly what I needed after the weekend of drunkenness in Ibiza the week before. It's going to be brilliant to go back year after year and see how Jake's take on our favourite part of the world develops.

I'll post some photos when I get a minute.

In other news we got our official invite to the Smile Train evening whilst we were away and we're very much looking forward to it. More about that in the run up to the event.

Yesterday was also the combined NCT babies first birthday party. Time truly has flown, we've know these seven other couples for well over a year now and it feels like a lot longer in some cases. I know I've said it a few times, but it really was the best thing we could have done to find so many decent, like minded people going through the same period of their lives at the same time as us.

Lastly, and by far most importantly, our great friends Rob and Josie had their second boy pop into the world last week. So hello to George Jacobs, (already sounds like a proper, traditional English gent) and congratulations to Rob and Josie but also to Oliver who has a little brother to boss around. It looks, like predicted at their scans, that George has Down's Syndrome. More about that later as I want to learn about it, however the Jacobs' are well ready for this. Their journey, whilst certainly different to that of others at times, will be just as engaging, hard work, wonderful, emotionally draining and ultimately rewarding as any other. Good luck to them.

Tuesday, 8 September 2009

Poo Pants is 1!!!

What a difference a year makes. At 10.40am September 8th 2008, Clare was just an hour away from starting to push. We'd gone into hospital at midnight and she was about 4cm dilated and we were sent straight into the maternity room. The realisation that this was 'it' was a scary and exciting time. As Jake was on his way 2 weeks early, I was in denial right up until the ward sister told us we were in the right place and a baby was happening. I'd been convinced we would be sent on our way to sit it out. I didn't want that so I was pleased with the news.

Clare had an epidural at around 3am and for the next 9 hours we waited, got some sleep, chatted and made a few calls. I think it was midday when the midwife instructed her to start pushing. An hour and a half in I was told to get scrubbed up and into my blues as Clare was busy signing consent forms and being prepared for theatre. The ventouse was an option but they decided she was too far along and needed to conserve energy and went straight for the dreaded forceps.

I'll never forget the emotions I was feeling before Jake was born, quivering with emotion, drained and utterly worried. I hate hospitals and was concerned that things weren't going exactly according to plan. The feeling which will stay strongest with me though, was when he was pulled out and unceremoniously dangled in front of us.

'It's a boy'.

In all it's cliched glory, that phrase spouted triumphantly from me and the pair of us burst into tears while the maternity staff cleaned him up. He was given to me whilst Clare was being seen to and I sat there, Jake - even before he was Jake - cradled in my arms, staring at me and me staring back with utter wonder, exhilaration, relief and love. I remember looking right past the cleft, no longer worrying about what had been worrying us for so long, just concentrating on his beautiful little face.

UPDATE: In the last few weeks I have learned that my darling wife felt my emotional outpouring at the birth of our first child made me sound like, and I quote, 'a pansy'! I'll admit to being overwhelmed and was indeed rather tearful but I am still puzzled at this. I could have been a typical alpha male, defined by my stoicism and simply expected (and therefore got) my son and heir to pop into the world. We'd have all had a cup of tea and been home in time for bed. But, no, I cried tears of joy and relief when my son was born, yet 'er indoors thinks this makes me less of a man. Well boo to her! Women eh?

It's a real rite of passage being present at the birth of your first child. Something which changes you irreversibly forever. It'd been patronising to say it's what changes you from boy to man - many things do that - but becoming a father, for me at least, changed me in a heartbeat. I definitely recommend it, even it is the single most scary thing one can endure.

Since then a wee bit has happened. After all the sleepless nights, crying for hours on end, Clare having to endure the breast pump, the consultations, the horrible operations, I can say it's all been worth it 110% and I'd it again tomorrow.

Over the last few weeks, days even, Jake has transformed. He's like a greased weasel cruising around the lounge, he's making new babbling noises, he's had his first day at nursery and today is 1.

I went to Ibiza at the weekend for a stag do and it's the longest I've been away since he was born. I really missed him, it sounds dramatic but it almost hurt and to get back and see him and Clare yesterday was awesome, felt like a real family home coming. I was very jaded after a weekend of partying though!

So, Jake, Happy Birthday son and thanks for an incredible year - even the sleepless nights - and here's to all the exciting times ahead.

Love Daddy

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Interview with Brian Mullaney

I've always thought of myself as an ideas man with something of an entrepreneurial mindset. However the more things I try which don't come to fruition only serve to weaken my motivation, undermine my resolve. That said, real entrepreneurs need failure.

In the States, a failed business is almost a prerequisite for future success. It's worn like a badge of honour, stripes earned in the hard battle of business. In the UK, people who start a business which fails are seen by some as fools, yet those who enjoy even a modicum of success are revered by the same people. Many of the wealthiest self-starters have been bust, dusted themselves down and succeeded at the next attempt, or third or fourth. The desire or need to succeed is the driving force and what sets them apart from those happy in employment and especially those unhappy in employment whilst wishing they had the gumption to break free.

The UK and especially the UK press, loves a failure; easier to mock having never tried than to try, fail and risk being mocked. It's pretty negative when you consider how many people think or believe they have a business in them. Americans get a bad wrap when it comes to their patriotism, jocks chanting 'U.S.A, U.S.A...' don't help, but the American Dream and all it stands for drives many regular Joes to become pretty special Joes. A lack of formal class system may help; every man is born equal. Of course all men are not born equal but the belief of a level playing field is a great motivator when the gun goes off.

It bothers me, having had a small business (which didn't necessarily fail insofar as I got a reasonable price for it) that didn't set the world alight, my motivation to do it all again is waning. I remember when setting up Studley's how pumped up I was that I was doing something I enjoyed and that I was in charge and that it was all my own work and what the future might hold. It ran for just under 18 months and I had the most stressful but fulfilling time. Not financially fulfilling I might add but I did get a lot of satisfaction. I sold because I lost my nerve and needed the money; a proper entrepreneur would have remortgaged and cracked on. Who knows where he'd have got - the guy I sold it to shut up shop 6 months after I assigned the lease and he was selling all the types of stuff my doubters were encouraging me to sell.

Anyway, I'm writing all this because of an interview I just read with Brian Mullaney, the founder of The Smile Train. The Smile Train posted the link on Twitter and, as he will be at the dinner we're invited to in October I thought it would be a good opportunity to find out about the man. To say he's been successful is an understatement. It seems like he's very persuasive and got a lot of very influential people on board. He started an ad agency, ran it for six years, made so much money he could do pretty much whatever he wanted. Instead of buying the boat and joining the golf club he decided to start a charity. He runs it just like a business though, hiring and firing, paying proper rates for good people and ultimately he raises $100m a year and has just 42 staff. To date his organisation has fixed over 500,000 smiles which makes him not just an entrepreneurial businessman, but also something of a philanthropist and inspiration. I'm sure he pays himself well but why the hell not, I think he probably deserves it!

Success isn't defined by starting the next Web 2.0 hit or making a million dollar bonus in the city, it's about believing in what you're doing, acheiving your goals - whatever they are - and then acheiving some more and never giving up.

The full article is here.

Tuesday, 25 August 2009

Now I know

Growing up there were a few stories my folks told me about near death experiences my sister and I went through. There was one where my parents both felt something was wrong upstairs; a sixth sense, intuition, call it what you want but they got to my sister's room and she'd turned blue. My dad picked her up and gave the good old fashioned slap and blue turned back to pink. Horrible stuff.

Then there was the time, as a 3 year old I casually climbed onto the window sill of my first floor bedroom and was happily playing whilst looking out of the open window. Seeing me, my sister quickly went downstairs to fetch my parents, who rushed back upstairs and plucked me from my perch before I plopped out and changed history.

The most told story is one involving a boiled sweet. The kind of sweet you don't give to small children. Happily sucking away, I must have sucked a wee bit too hard just at the time the sweet had sufficiently reduced in size and at its slipperiest and it got stuck. I'm told I started choking and waving frantically. Blinded by panic, my mum screamed for Len, our ageing builder at the time, who promptly turned me upside down and administered an almighty whack which dislodged the sweet and allowed me to start breathing again.

Whilst interested, I guess I always dismissed the stories as moments in my life like the first day at a new school or removing the stabilisers. It wasn't until yesterday, I realised how my parents would have felt or the potential alternative route things may have taken, had the correct action not been taken or worked properly.

I mentioned that Jake had taken his first steps on yesterday's post and now we're encouraging him to try it on his own, get more confidence. I was home at lunchtime yesterday and he was standing next to his cot and holding on to the bars. As a test I got one of his favourite toys (moo cow) and sat on the bed opposite, beckoning. To my amazement, he let go of the bars and walked directly over to me and his bovine prize. I walked him straight away to go to tell mummy who was hovering our bathroom. I propped him up against our bed and was telling her all about this genius she bore when I heard a huge thud.

Jake had started walking along the side of the bed until he got to the bit which is covered with a sort of silk throw thing which covers the duvet. This tends to slide off our bed during the night as it is pretty lightweight, so it's not much surprise that Jake grabbing it would have the same result. Problem was that he was balancing off of it.

Ordinarily when he falls over, there's a split second and the crying and tears start. This time, nothing, I picked him and he made the face I never want to see again. It's the face he pulls when he's about to unleash hell. Mouth open, red face, wide eyes, lungs full and poised. As I held him up it was as if he'd been frozen in time. For what was about 5 seconds, but felt considerably longer, he held the pre-scream look. Didn't blink, breathe or move a muscle. We instantly knew this was a worse than usual bang to the head. I moved him into my arms and he went from bright red to milk white, his eyes rolling back in his head. His breathing was going from not at all to shallow half breaths. We were quickly onto 999 and trying to hold it together. Adrenalin kicked in and we were both shaking.

The operator told us to lie him down and as I put him on the sofa the scream came. To say I was relieved to hear it is a huge understatement. Crying equals breathing and breathing equals, among other things, not dying. The ambulance turned up a few minutes later and by the time the paramedics came in, he was even half smiling. We felt a bit fraudulent but they said we'd done the right thing and they took him to hospital for the relevant checks. After two rounds of eye, blood, oxygen and head massage checks, naturally separated by a three hour wait in a sweaty pediatric A & E unit, he was given the all clear and we went on our way.

Considering how much hospital time we've had, this was the first unplanned 'emergency' visit we've made. I know some people seem to live at A & E just for a bruised knee or a runny nose, but that's what it's there for and you only get to experience how good the system is when you need it most.

So there's the first story we'll be boring Jake with when he gets older. The first of many he won't really appreciate until his first born goes arse over tit and smashes his head on the floor.