Make Your World Bigger in 2016 #mywbpledge

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‘And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.’ – Kurt Vonnegut Jr

Those of you who follow me on Twitter (You don’t? Seriously? Why not? Find me here: @ThatPaulCoxon) will know I have been talking about Discovery Channel’s Make Your World Bigger pledges (#mywbpledge) for 2016 quite a bit over the last month.

This is the second year for the Discovery campaign, having already inspired lots of people in 2015 to get outside and out of their comfort zones to do something incredible, something they would not normally do and something that they have always wanted to do. In short, people made their world’s bigger and, in 2016, the pledges are back, better than ever…

Here’s what Discovery Channel has to say about the campaign:

At Discovery we think there’s always more to know, explore and experience: life is about collecting moments, not things. Because every moment, insight and experience makes us grow.

Not just the big stuff, like exploring the limits of outer space, or the depths of the ocean. (Though we do that too.) But everyday stuff, like taking an alternative route to work. Talking to someone different in the office. Trying a new dish at lunchtime.

To try, succeed, fail. And move on, all the better for it.

Every day we go in search of surprise and wonder. It’s not just our job. It lies at the heart of what we believe and how we live our lives. It’s in our DNA.
And to the millions who share our view, come and join us. Make Your World Bigger. – Source

There’s probably something sitting unfulfilled at the back of your mind, something you have wanted to do for as long as you can remember, but haven’t been able to either because of time or money. If this sounds like you, why not make your pledge today, simply go on Twitter and tweet your pledge along with the Hashtag #mywbpledge.

Discovery will be taking the top 15 pledges and opening them up to a public vote with the top 3 pledges after voting set to receive £5000 to make their world bigger in 2016. You’ll need to be relatively quick though as the competition closes on Sunday 31 January.
Find out more about the 2016 campaign here: Make Your World Bigger in 2016.

The ever-increasing borders of our world

One of the things I am most grateful to my parents for is showing me, by inspiring me to read and travel, that the world is a huge place and that, if I wanted to, there would be opportunity a-plenty to explore it. They dearly wanted their son’s world to be bigger than theirs had been growing up and I’ll always be thankful for that. One of the many things my wife, Lara, and I have in common is a shared desire to see new sights and experience new things, which has meant we have been able to pursue experiences our parents could only dream about.

This desire to expand our horizons is a big part of how I see myself, truly an integral part of my DNA and has led us to some truly wonderful places and experiences all over the world, from volunteering to re-build medieval castles in the South of France to tours of the ancient temples on Bali, to the Mayan ruins of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula and, most recently, the middle of a Manta Ray feeding frenzy in the Maldives. These are the stories, with associated pictures and video, that I hope one day will inspire our own children to make their worlds bigger and to be positive advocates for nature and the environment.

Even though we have seen so many far flung places, met so many wonderful people and done so many things that never cease to cause spontaneous smiling just by their thought, I too have a list of things that I have always wanted to do but so far have not managed to get round to, which brings me nicely on to my pledge:

My #MYWBPledge

My pledge is this:

In 2016, I’d like to find the opportunity to spend a few days swimming, free diving and filming up close with a pod of wild Orca.

This is something I have wanted to do for as long as I can remember. I’ve had more the a few dreams involving being in crystal clear waters surrounded by a pod of Orca swimming all around and beneath me. These are my flying dreams.

I’ll be honest, swimming with Orca is something that I’ve always thought about in the same vein as a desire to visit the moon ie something that would be fantastic but astronomically unlikely (excuse pun) to ever happen to me. I thought it so unlikely when I recently penned my ‘Big Fish Bucket List’ I left it off, assuming it impossible. Space is the proserve of astronauts, swimming with Orca that of the marine scientist (infrequently) or so I thought, until recently.

Two documentaries, The Cove and Blackfish, blew the lid off the practice of keeping cetaceans (whales and dolphins) in captivity. Venues such as Seaworld went from being viewed as harmless forms of entertainment to being seen as cruel (often grotesque) circus shows discarding animal wellfare in return for a quick buck. Consumers became more aware of opportunities to swim in the wild with cetaceans and eco-tour operators began to spring up in many locations to meet this need.

In the years after the release of The Cove, there have been thousands of eco-tour operators springing up to offer tourists and adventurers opportunity to swim with dolphins in the wild and on the animal’s own terms. Similarly, since the release of Blackfish a small number of the marine scientists who previously held the monopoly on swimming with Orca have begun to open their research trips up to small numbers of paying tourists affording them opportunity to swim in close proximity with the animal’s whilst helping to fund vital research. It is one of these trips I hope to join.

The questions everyone has asked

Everyone I have spoken to about my pledge has asked me the same question: isn’t this a bit dangerous? Won’t you be scared?

You’ll have probably noticed I’ve been careful to use the term Orca rather than Killer Whale, which comes loaded with some pretty heavy meaning. There is no escaping that Orca are a top Apex Predator, huge, fast and incredibly powerful. There are well documented accounts of Orca hunting and killing large sharks, but the staple of the Orca diet is much smaller prey such as Salmon and the like. There have been no attacks on humans by wild Orca and 99% of Orca aggression towards humans comes from captivity situations where there are likely extenuating circumstances.

While I would be cautious and respectful around such powerful animals I do not imagine being afraid and my pulse quickens a little just thinking about it.

The other question I’ve been asked is: Why now? That one is simple, last year losing Tristan and almost losing Lara made me realise how precious and short life is. Added to this, is the very real fact that Orca are critically endangered as a species, by the time we have children and raise them to the age where they might seek out their own Orca experience, there may not be Orca left in our oceans.

Some of you will be reading this and thinking: I could never do that, not brave enough. You’re wrong, we can each do a lot more than we think when we give ourselves permission to dream. My Mum used to say, you only regret the things you don’t do. Let’s make our world’s bigger and foster fewer regrets in 2016.

Can you help?

If you are a marine scientist working with Orca and think you might be able to accommodate me on one of your trips and help me to realise my dream of swimming with them, I would love to hear from you. Likewise, if you have had this experience and can give me some tips, get in touch.

Check out the pledges

Please take some time to have a look at some of the many pledges that people have already been making on Twitter, who knows it might inspire you to pledge to do something incredible this year. I have been really impressed by both the scope of challenges that people have set themselves and the reasons that have inspired them to do so. Read the pledges.

Okay, so you know the drill, if you don’t like these thoughts, maybe stick around, I have others.

We have a plastic problem Or let’s start with 1 thing #startwith1thing

24 Jan

By 2050, the volume of plastic in our oceans will have surpassed the volume of fish…(USA TODAY Article)

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I’ll say that again: In 35 years time, there will be more plastic (that is definitely not supposed to be there) in our oceans than there will be fish (who definitely are supposed to be there).

If you ever encounter anyone who says humans haven’t really had too detrimental an impact on this planet, write them this fact down on a piece of paper, wrap it lovingly around a housebrick and beat them around the head with it until they fully appreciate the error of their ways.

It gets better, this estimate comes with the staggering qualification that it is based on humans not increasing the amount of plastic pumped into the oceans yearly. Already, there is a concentrated patch of plastic waste in the Pacific that covers at least (at least!) 700 000 square kilometres (Km) and that many researchers claim covers a space closer to 15 000 000 square Km. In short, we have a plastic problem in our oceans.

It’s quite easy to glaze over when big issues like the environment are discussed. More times than I could count, I’ve heard the reasoning: ‘what can I do? If big corporations and governments won’t curb their polluting, what impact can I have?’

While I have a little sympathy for this thinking and while it’s certainly a fact that big industry, corporations and governments need to act (and act quickly) to address the dire issues facing our environment, there remain things that we can do as individuals to help.

The recent documentary, Racing Extinction, showcased how by ‘starting with 1 thing’ individuals can make a huge difference to our environments. Check out the site here: Racing Extinction

One of the big plastic problems in our oceans comes from plastic microbeads, the tiny globes found in a range of products from tooth pastes, to detergents and face washes. Very few sewage plants were designed to filter these beads from waste water meaning about 95% will eventually reach our oceans. Once in the oceans, these microbeads are eaten by unsuspecting fish and, ultimately, end up entering our food chain. Although we already know this plastic is having a huge impact on marine life we can only guess at what effect it might have on us with increased exposure through the fish we eat.

Many countries (and some States in the US) have already moved to ban all products containing plastic microbeads and it is thankfully likely that a worldwide ban will be forthcoming over the next 5 years as many more wake up to the damage they cause. Until this ban comes in, why not start with 1 thing today and go through your products to see if you have any thst contain plastic microbeads and throw them out. In future, you could try and avoid products that contain them as there will always be alternatives.

Find out more about plastic in our oceans: The Story of Stuff – Ban the beads

I’ve also written this related post on: Why balloon releases are dumb

And this one: On why you should boycott captive Dolphin swims

Part of the reason the oceans matter to me are incredible experiences like this: On swimming with Manta Rays in the Maldives

It’s better to light a single candle than to stand and curse the darkness.

Be still my beating (Twitter) heart

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So Twitter is outraged this week…okay, I will definitely need to be more specific than that as Twitter is always outraged about something, but this week Twitter is outraged about Twitter. Specifically, the company’s decision to replace the favourite function, previously represented by a star icon with a like function, now represented by a heart icon. I know, right? Shit just got serious, I’m struggling to write these words through the sheer weight of my unbridled rage and hatred.

It was no secret that this change was coming. Twitter have spoken about it frequently for months and even tested the new functionality with a number of selected users but this still hasn’t stopped an outpouring of anger normally reserved for sex offenders and war criminals.

I’ve been watching the outpouring of anger and it seems to be emanating from three distinct groups, which I find interesting enough to warrent this post.

The Lads

Firstly, the lads – the Bros for my American and Australian readers – they object to the new hearts because a heart is just too effeminate.

I mean, Stars, now stars are manly, all that burning hydrogen and potential for vast supernova explosions, few things more manly than a star and they’ve been happily throwing stars around, like kebab meat at pub closing time on a Friday night, for years.

The lads don’t want to send other men hearts on Twitter, bit namby-pamby, innit? They largely only talk to other lads on Twitter and now they are stoically refusing to even consider the vast threat to their masculinity posed by a blood-red heart.

I have followers that I often engage with who have frequently favourited my tweets who I’m almost certain won’t now because a heart is involved even though the only thing to have changed is the icon. The mind boggles.

The Fauxmenists

If you are wondering how to spot a Fauxmenist, they have the word ‘feminist’ in their Twitter Bio but nowhere in their timeline will you find a single mention of female genital mutilation or any of the stunning injustices inflicted upon women around the world. Instead, you will find them shouting ‘don’t you f***ing #notallmen me’ ad infinitum at any men trying to engage them in reasoned discussions; or trying not to drown under the sheer weight of their Daddy issues; or misrepresenting the joke of Nobel prize winner Sir Tim Hunt; or getting astrophysicists sacked for having lousy dress sense.

The Fauxmenists are outraged because the evil people at Twitter – who are obviously all men even though they absolutely are not, but hey, let’s not let facts get in the way now – have formulated a way for men, evil, evil men, to harrass them and invade their safe spaces with sexually loaded hearts. It’s basically tantamount to rape, is it not? (It. Is. Not)

The Fauxmenists think Twitter is already designed with the sole intention of facilitating sexism and the harrassment of women and the hearts are the straw that broke the camels back. They’ll now definitely be finding another social platform where they feel safer…but maybe tomorrow. Today they’ll be ignoring the fact Twitter has built in block and report functionality and screaming ‘don’t you f***ing #notallmen me’ ad infinitum.

The minority

The minority of dissenting voices on Twitter are those suggesting that the company have not really given thought to the way the previous favourite functionality and associated star was being used by them and many others.

They argue that they used the favourite function to bookmark tweets that they might want to come back to in the future and that it did not mean they necessarily ‘liked’ the content of the tweet. The fact that this neutrality of bookmarking with a favourite has been replaced with a more Facebook-esque like is, for them, a retrograde step. Fair enough.

Twitter is free

As none of us have ever paid to use Twitter as personal or business users (unless paying to promote tweets) I’m not terribly sure how useful it is to shout about Twitter not listening to our views about the product we use. If you genuinely don’t like it, then vote with your feet.

It strikes me as somewhat disingenuous to moan incessantly how terrible the environment is while you’re tweeting 100s of times each day and coming back every day. It’s basically like repeatedly punching yourself in the face and complaining about headaches as you go.

I just can’t find it in myself to be angry about stuff like this. I used to pay to play World of Warcraft, trust me if you ever want to see a company not really care about their userbase, check out the psychotic disregard that Blizzard have always had for their users. I didn’t complain much then either even though my grounds for doing so were fairly sizeable.

Paul’s guide to hearts

Still worried about the intention behind a heart, I’ve collated a few of my tweets on the topic into a handy guide. Hope it helps:

IF you wake up to find yourself unable to move while someone is knelt on you, brandishing a handsaw and trying to access your heart through your chest, this is sinister and reasonable to object to.

IF someone leaves a scrawled heart in their own blood (or any other bodily fluid, for that matter) on your windscreen this is also sinister and it is perfectly reasonable to worry about that person’s intentions.

IF someone sends you a family member or beloved pet’s heart in a box on Valentine’s Day, definitely bad and cause for concern.

BUT

IF someone hearts your last tweet it probably just means they enjoyed it and/or are bookmarking it to read later.

Still not convinced?

If you genuinely can’t abide the new Twitter hearts, they are causing you deep and enduring pain and you don’t mind a bit of code wrangling, well Gizmodo have a solution just for you, my sensitive friend. Here it is: How to replace Twitter’s dumb heart with an emoji of your choice

Eerie as the dreams of ghosts: Swimming with Manta Rays in the Maldives

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A boat tentatively works its way through the shallow reef system of the Maldivian archipelago. Two hours earlier, the same boat had been awash with the excited voices of its passengers. Now, no one is speaking, everyone is huddled beneath thick beach towels lost in their own thoughts or in the digital displays of a variety of underwater cameras. Every now-and-then someone gasps, but no one looks up, there’s no need, we know what they have seen, we saw it too and it’s still reflected in the wonder of our eyes.

Two hours earlier we had jumped off the boat into the deeper waters fringing the Maldives reef system. No more than 6 meters of water, this would still be the deepest piece of ocean I had ever swam in. Looking down through my mask I was immediately struck by the clarity of the water and how much I could see below: huge living coral gardens and shoals of fish of more species than I could name. The same fish had provoked wonder the first times I encountered them on our resort’s reef, here they barely register with me, I’m looking for something else. I’m looking for something…bigger.

We have been in the water for about 15 minutes before she materialized out of the dark blue distance, eerie as the dreams of ghosts. Mottled in a way that allowed her to blend well with sea water shimmering with ribbons of gold from the bright overhead Sun; she is quite close to where I am swimming before I realise what I am looking at: Manta Alfredi – The Reef Manta Ray.

The Reef Manta is the second largest of all Rays with wingspans approaching five meters when fully grown it is only just smaller than Manta Birostris, the Giant Oceanic Manta, whose wingspans can reach in excess of seven meters. History first recorded Manta Rays as ‘Devil Fish’ due to their colossal size, physical power and truly alien appearance, however such a fearful moniker could not be less well deserved. All the Manta family are filter feeders, spending their lives grazing on tiny plankton and they possess a natural curiosity of swimmers, often seeking-out limited human interaction especially at feeding spots.

I have wanted to swim with Manta Rays for as long as I can remember and as the giant animal passed me for the first time, though a cliche, I had to remind myself to breath. Just as she was in-line with me in the water column, she turned on her side and curved back around, like a skilled sailor tacking on a stiff breeze, her turning circle was impossibly tight and she soon passed me on my other side. I truly have not seen a animal so graceful nor one that has left me so truly moved by allowing me to share her space.

People have asked me if I was afraid, being in such close proximity to such a big creature. Whilst it was unsettling, the first time I saw a Manta swimming directly at me with its mouth so wide open, I was not afraid. From my first encounter, I was overcome with a sense of calm that I rarely experience in waking life, something at once meditative and elating. My eyes had been welling for a while and had begun to fill the inside of my mask with tears. Even underwater, a smile so spontaneous spread across my face and water began to gush around the new gaps between my lips and snorkel, forcing me to surface, briefly.

Moments after this first encounter, having cleared my mask of tears, I slipped back beneath the surface and immediately saw the first Manta had been joined by four more. I watched as they formed into a near perfect circle about midway down the water column. Each animal maintained a distance of a couple of feet from the tail of the one in front and they swim in this strange pattern for a few minutes and then they dispersed, disappearing back into the dark blue; all except one. She stayed around to dance for us for a further 20 minutes.

The behaviour we had witnessed, research has shown, is a Manta feeding frenzy. The space in the centre of their circle was likely full of highly concentrated plankton, which the Manta were mercilessly devouring. When the prey was consumed, that was the point that they broke their formation to find better grazing elsewhere.

The remaining Manta treated our group to some startling aquatic manoeuvres. Sometimes she would hanging close to motionless in the water whilst at other times perform fast, impossibly-tight turns and barrel rolls showing both her grey back and her white, eight-gilled, tummy with black spots in the lower quadrants. These black spots are unique to each fish and used by scientists for identification purposes.

Eventually, she too swam away marking the end of my first swim with these stunning creatures as our tour guide began the near impossible task of getting a large group of dispersed snorkellers and free divers back to the boat.

Back on the boat, dripping wet and huddled beneath a resort beach towel My smile had lost none of its shine and I was crying again. This time my tears were for Tristan. Trivial as it may seem, the thought of never being able to have this experience with him immediately felt like hot steel through my heart. It still does.

Back at the resort, I got off the tour boat convinced that if it was possible I would make the trip again before returning to the UK. At the back of my mind I was wondering if doing it for a second time would turn out not to be as magical as the first time, I would be in for a very pleasant surprise…

Here is some footage from my first swim:

Two days later I was back at our resorts dive school, mask, snorkel and flippers in hand and my excitement bubbling, barely contained, beneath the surface. While the first tour had been hugely over subscribed, only six of us were booked to go on the second and I was the only proficient swimmer armed with an underwater camera. My excitement peaked realising that, if there were Mantas present, the chances of getting decent footage, something which had been difficult on the first trip, would be pretty good.

While our first tour had taken us to a more open water location due to the absence of Manta in the much shallower Hanifaru Bay, this time Hanifaru Bay was teeming both with plankton and giant, hungry, Manta. Even before stepping from the boat into the beautifully warm and crystal clear waters of the Indian Ocean, we could see manta wings breaching the surface everywhere we looked. What would follow would be the two of the most remarkable hours of my life.

As soon as I entered the water of Hanifaru Bay I was aware what made the day so remarkable. Everywhere I looked the ocean was teeming with just visible black specks of plankton, like a cloud of suspended underwater dust and the primary food source of Manta Rays. I soon became less aware of the plankton and more aware of the Manta Rays.

Everywhere I looked were Reef Manta, at least 20 animals, swimming in every possible direction and all specimens at the upper limit of their size range. Each animal that passed me was approaching five meters across from wing tip to wing tip. I didn’t know where to point the borrowed Go-Pro, that had been attached to my arm for the vast majority of our Maldives adventure, next.

For two hours each tableaux unfolded into the next and each more stunning that the one it proceded. Reef Manta swam within inches of me, sometimes taking me totally by surprise, passing directly underneath me so that their huge mass filled my entire field of view. Manta swam directly at me, mouths wide then at the very last second, when collision seemed an inevitability, they peeled off left or right, up or down showing almost unnatural control over their hulking body’s position in the water column so that, although close, we never came into actual contact.

I’m not sure how long I had been in the water enjoying the giant grace of the Reef Manta before I noticed something even bigger in the depths. A Manta had just passed under me and I was still looking directly down when I saw a fish with a wing span that must have been close to 7 meters, unmistakable as Manta Birostris, the Giant Oceanic Manta Ray.

After spotting the first Oceanic Manta I noticed 3 more close by. They performed the same breathtaking maneovuers as their smaller relatives but performed their aquabatics much lower in the water column and much further from the people gathered above. I made several attempts to free dive and have a closer look but my initial spot would be the best view I had – most often, I would arrive at the bottom to see the rear of their vast disk and stubby tail disappearing into the blue. I saw enough to make me appreciate just what an incredible place Hanifaru Bay is. A truly unique location in that it allows for sightings of both species of Manta and often in huge numbers (reports of 200 animals around full moons are often repeated).

Our two hours in Hanifaru Bay flew by and it was with great reluctance, largely due to the presence of so many, still active, Manta, that we swam back to our boat and left the Bay when our guides called time. The next day we would fly back to the UK, it’s been two weeks since I was in the water with these beautiful animals and I still go misty eyed and distance when I think about the experience or watch back my footage.

Here are the Manta in Hanifaru Bay:

Intelligent Ocean Stewardship

Both species of Manta that I encountered in the Maldives are on the list of endangered and monitored species, both listed as vulnerable. Their slow reproductive rate and use in Chinese medicine makes them at particular threat from extinction. Although known about for some time, there is still a limited amount of data on migration and population numbers – especially in relation to the Giant Oceanic Manta – so the exact figures on species number are not known. It is reasonable to assume we may enter the next century without either of these majestic creatures gracing our oceans.

We’re probably at the tipping point right now (some will argue we have already plunged over the edge) where it might not be too late to do something. Our current relationship with our oceans is highly atavistic and is now becoming unsustainable. I believe, to maintain anything like the levels of aquatic biodiversity that we enjoy today we must adopt a model of intelligent ocean stewardship before it’s too late.

If you are in any way inspired by my accounts and videos of swimming with Manta and want to go and swim with them yourself I would highly recommend it, but do it as a Steward for our seas. This means do your homework, look for locations where Manta are protected, not exploited.

One of the reasons I have so much respect for the way the Maldivian People operate access to Hanifaru bay is that they allow swimmers like me access to such incredible creatures while maintaining an environment that Manta have visited for thousands of years and will continue to visit for millennia to come.

One of the big steps that has been taken in Hanifaru Bay is the banning of scuba diving which has been shown to have a negative impact on the migratory habits of both Manta Ray and Whale Sharks. This is a measure that is taken at many of the Manta and Whale Shark hotspots around the world and is intelligent ocean stewardship in action.

I want as many people, not just current generations but subsequent generations, to be able to enjoy the seas in the way that I have. Gone are the times we can pretend it possible to have these experiences and not give thought to how we impact on these, often fragile, ecosystems. It’s up to us. it’s always been up to us, the only difference is now it really is starting to matter that we each act as responsible ocean stewards. The future thanks you.

Learn to swim

It’s something that I have always taken for granted, from an early age, moving in water always felt as natural to me as walking on the ground. I have gone through life so far largely assuming every one I meet will be able to meet the basic requirements of a swimmer ie not drowning.

Being on a resort with predominantly Chinese, Japanese and Korean holidaymakers aged under 30 I was struck by just how many were totally unable to swim. If I had to estimate, I would say 90% of guests from these countries lacked even the basics of swimming proficiency, not sure if this is reflected in wider populations in these countries but stark contrast to the UK where I’d estimate the same number would show 90% with a reasonable level of swimming proficiency.

If you are reading this and you are not able to swim, what are you waiting for? If you are determined you are not going to learn to swim, but have children, please encourage them to learn. The (possibly irrational) fear you have of the water won’t be shared by your children and there is no better time for them to learn than while they are young.

Big Fish Bucket List

As I am getting older and more accurately aware of the fragility of human life I’ve been thinking about the things I want to do before I die. This list includes swimming with a variety of different fish and below is my big fish bucket list:

  • Whale Shark
  • Wild Dolphins (Captive Dolphins don’t count)
  • Reef Manta Ray (Manta alfredi) – October 2015, Hanifaru Bay, Maldives
  • Giant Oceanic Manta Ray (Manta birostris) – October 2015, Hanifaru Bay, Maldives
  • Wild Minke Whales
  • Oceanic Sunfish
  • Barracuda – April 2012, Riviera Maya, Mexico
  • Wild Stingrays (Southern Whiptail) – October 2015, Baa Atoll, Maldives
  • Wild Dugong
  • Great White Shark (caged dive)
  • Basking Shark
  • Wild Orca

Some links

Here are some links that you might find useful either to find out more about Manta Rays and their conservation or to plan your own trip:

Well that’s me done on this one, if you’ve swam with any of the above and have any tips on where and when is best to do the same, let me know and remember, if you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have others…

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If you could go back in time, where would you go (and why) #Backtothefutureday @History_hit

22 Oct "San Lorenzo Monument 3" by Maribel Ponce Ixba (frida27ponce) - Flickr. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons - https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:San_Lorenzo_Monument_3.jpg#/media/File:San_Lorenzo_Monument_3.jpg

This post is inspired by the following #backtothefutureday – what do you mean you haven’t seen Back to the Future? That pinnacle off 1980s film making – by Dan Snow on Twitter (@History_hit):

DanSnow

As soon as I read it, I knew exactly the places and times that I would go. Before I take you on a short tour of the history that I would visit, a quick note on time travel.

A lot of the responses Dan got were along the lines of: ‘I’d warn voters about the oil price crash following the Scottish Independence Referendum’; ‘I’d prevent the Great Wars’ (always amuses me describing them as ‘Great’, my Grandad fought in the Second and it wasn’t that great); ‘I’d kill Pol Pot.’ All tempting prospects, I will grant you, I’ve lost track of the number of times my wife and I have thought ‘If we could go back in time, get to the hospital sooner, would Tristan be with us today?’ Recent theories in theoretical physics have something to say about this.

In the Standard Model of Physics, Time Travel is allowed, at least in theory, if you create enough gravity you can force SpaceTime to bend back on itself and travel backwards in time along a Closed Time Curve (CTC), but inevitably you are going to run a high risk of creating paradoxes: banging your own Mum, killing your Dad etc these paradoxes, it is theorized, would lead to unfortunate things like the unmaking of the very universe, so not cool. For this reason it has always been suggested that Time Travel will always be impossible, even if technically possible. Stephen Hawkings famously threw a welcome party for time travellers on June 28, 2009, no one attended.

Last year, University of Queensland physicist Tim Ralph and PHD Student Martin Ringbauer proposed a new theory, that they partially tested suggesting that – as much as I understand it – Time has a built in anti-paradox mechanism born of Quantum Mechanics meaning you could go back in time, irrevocably change the past but return to the present to find nothing has changed. Any changes that you made, any paradoxes you create, may or may not endure in the multiverse but the present you will return to is the present you left. So there’s no killing Hitler (or your Dad), no banging your Mum to create the paradox of fathering yourself and, closer to home for me, no way to save Tristan’s life.

Kinda cool, huh? If you want to read more on that, here’s some further reading:

Nature: Communication – Experimentations in Closed Time Link Curves
Huffpo: New Time Travel Simulation May Resolve ‘Grandfather Paradox’

Anyway that’s not at all what this post is about, I just find it interesting. Here is, in Chronological order, the points of history that I would visit and why:

The Mystery of Potbelly Hill

In my earliest visit, I would take our time machine to the Southeastern Anatolia Region Turkey and the
rough period of 9130 BCE (Pre-pottery Neolithic A). On a mountain ridge rising out of a flat valley a group of Hunter-Gatherers are quarrying stone, huge quantities of stone. Why they are quarrying stone, what they used to quarry and why they began are not clear to us in 2015, but these hunter-gatherers will soon be using this stone to build a series of 20 stone circles consisting of at least 200 megaliths. I will drop in on these pioneers at 100 year intervals and watch the site become the first of religious sanctuary on the planet with successive generations continuing to build upon this site for 1000 years, until it is abandoned quite suddenly.

12 000 years after my first visit, the remains of this once mighty site will be uncovered by Klaus Schmidt and given the name Göbekli Tepe (Potbelly Hill). Since its discovery, the site has totally rewritten our understandings of when humanity moved from a more primitive hunter-gatherer existence towards society in a form that we can understand today. Excavations continue at the site and create far more questions than we have answers about its builders and the purpose of their building. You can read more about Göbekli Tepe here.

A meeting with the rubber people

Having left Turkey and the mysterious ruins of Göbekli Tepe, now buried by the very people who built and inhabited it for 1000 years, I would take our time machine to Central Mexico and the states that are now called Veracruz and Tabasco. Here, we find another culture closely related to the early hunter-gatherers that first established themselves in the region around 5000 BCE. We do not know what they called themselves but history has named them The Olmec, meaning Rubber People.

Often referred to as the mother culture of Pre-Columbian Central American peoples, everything you probably think came from the Maya – the concept of Zero; the Mesoamerican writing system; the Mesoamerican Ball Game; the Long Count Calendar (of 2012 conspiracy theory fame); and even the very building of pyramids – all originated with The Olmec.

It’s the pyramids that I’ve brought our time machine here to see, you see they simply don’t exist anymore, with the notable exception of La Venta in Tabasco. In the early 20th Century, oil was found in both states and our modern hunger for black gold would lead to the destruction of priceless archaeology and forever rob us of a more complete understanding of Olmec Culture.

I would walk the paths betweeen the first pyramids ever to be built in Central and South America and marvel at some of the finest artisans the world has ever known work their wares in precious Jades, Amethysts and Obsidians; take in a match of their insanely violent ballgame in one of the first stadia ever built for sport and follow them as drought and environmental change would force them to move from capital to capital abandoning their previous monuments, often ritually sacrifing the stone back to the earth in the process.

Finally, around 500 BCE, in the last days of the Olmec Culture, I would follow in the wake of their emissaries from the Olmec Heartland along their well trodden trade routes across Central and South America. Here I would bear witness as they continue to teach their advancements to the Maya, the Aztecs and cultures too numerous to name from Southern Mexico all the way through to the Brazilian Amazon.

Paying my respects to ‘Oriens’

Next for our travel through time, I would like to bring our time machine back to the UK and a Villa close to the Roman town of Mancetter about 1600 years ago. This one is different, closer to home, I’ve brought us here to pay my respects. We are here for the funeral of a Roman child.Couirtesy of Archaeology Warwickshire

A little girl, her name lost to history, embalmed using Frankincense and buried with the wealth of a noble lady. Laid to rest in a beautifully worked, lead-lined, coffin with jet bangles on her wrists beside the family villa where she had spent her short life. Her parents grieve beside her graveside, 1600 years separate us, their tears fall from my eyes. Their pain, is now my pain. Her name is Oriens.

I was there when Warwickshire County Council’s in-house Archaeology Team, Archaeology Warwickshire, opened the lead lining of her coffin for the first time in 1600 years. Filled with silt, all that remained of a child so loved: two jet bangles, a few teeth and some bone fragments, everything else lost to the acidic soil she was buried in. I remain very proud to have been involved in giving her the name Oriens and being able to help tell her story to the world.

I wonder if her parents would take some solace knowing that in 1600 years time their daughter would be remembered, that she would have a legacy stretching far beyond their own.

We won’t linger too long by the graveside, we have more to see…

Not all romance with Byron and the Shelleys in Switzerland and Italy

Next, I take our time machine to 1816 and the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. where we are going to hang out with one of my favourite poets, Lord Byron, and some very notable friends.

To say we are joining ‘mad, bad and dangerous to know’ Byron at an interesting time in his life would be an understatement and a half. Having been the darling of English literary scene since the publication of the first two parts of Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage in 1812, Byron’s excessive lifestyle had finally caught up with him.

In the previous 6 months, He left/fled England following the rather public breakdown of his personal life. His wife Annabella had quite openly left him, taking away their daughter and was filing for a formal separation on the grounds that Byron was a lunatic who was involved in an incestuous relationship with his half sister Augusta Leigh with whom he was obsessed and that he had the unfortunate propensity for sticking his cock in anything that moved…all largely true. This is not even mentioning the fact he once tried to buy a 12 year old girl for £500. All these things came to a head, with his life imploding and debtors beating a path to his door, Byron decided a change of scenery was in order.

It was only a few months into his stay at Lake Geneva that Byron would meet and befriend fellow poet Percy Bysshe Shelley – another one of my favorites – and Mary Godwin who would be soon to marry Shelley. At the Villa Diodati by Lake Geneva in June, Byron, the Shelley and Godwin with 2 companions were kept indoors across 3 whole days where they would entertain each other by reading out loud German ghost stories and composed their own. From this literary play, Mary Shelley would form the basis of her magnus opus, Frankenstein – A Modern Prometheus.

Byron rarely stopped still for long and I would follow him from Lake Geneva to Italy, where he would stay until 1823, fall in love with Armenian culture and write prolifically both poetry and none-fiction whilst having numerous affairs with married women in various cities across the country. I would be there when he founded the Liberal Newspaper with Leigh Hunt and Shelley and present at his debauched dinner parties before the dream ended with the death of Shelley in a boating accident in 1822. Two short years later Byron would also die.

This is one of my favorite Byron poems:

WHEN we two parted

In silence and tears,

Half broken-hearted

To sever for years,

Pale grew thy cheek and cold,

Colder thy kiss;

Truly that hour foretold

Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning

Sunk chill on my brow–

It felt like the warning

Of what I feel now.

Thy vows are all broken,

And light is thy fame:

I hear thy name spoken,

And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,

A knell to mine ear;

A shudder comes o’er me–

Why wert thou so dear?

They know not I knew thee,

Who knew thee too well:

Lond, long shall I rue thee,

Too deeply to tell.

I secret we met–

I silence I grieve,

That thy heart could forget,

Thy spirit deceive.

If I should meet thee

After long years,

How should I greet thee?

With silence and tears.

Sir Richard Francis Burton and the Hajj to Medina

From one legendary 19th Century shagger to another and now we take our time machine just a short jump forward to 1851 to join the company of one of my personal heroes: Sir Richard Francis Burton.

If there is ever want to feel like you haven’t perhaps done quite as much as you could with your life, take a look at what Sir Rich was known for: he was an explorer, geographer, translator, writer, soldier, orientalist, cartographer, ethnologist, spy, linguist, poet, fencer, and diplomat. He was known for his travels and explorations as well as his extraordinary knowledge of languages and cultures. According to some, he spoke 29 European, Asian and African languages. Yep, I definitely need to spend less time on social media.

I would join Burton on his most celebrated expedition, completing the Hajj to Mecca and Medina. Although Burton had spent 7 years in India and possessed a highly evolved and intricate knowledge of Muslim culture, this journey was best described as ‘batshit crazy’ even for him. At the time, few Westerners had ever completed the journey largely because if you were caught attempting to do so, even if by some miracle you could convince your captors that you were a devout Muslim they would, in all likelihood, kill you. Burton was an avowed atheist and despite being attacked by bandits en route, managed to complete the Hajj (affording him the right to bear the title Hajji) using a variety of disguises that would not have seemed out of place in a Baldrick ‘cunning plan’.

It is often noted by his biographers that on return from his Hajj and on rejoining the British Army, Burton took the examination to be an Arab Linguist…and failed.

I can highly recommend reading more about Sir Richard Burton and the wiki page is a decent start: Sir Richard Francis Burton  it reads like someone who just got carried away making things up about themselves, only the vast majority of facts about his life are all 100% verified by contemporaries and if anything Burton was known for understating his achievements – presumably just to avoid all other humans feeling inferior.

So I hope you enjoyed my little jaunt through history.

What about you? Where would you go in history and why?

Remember: If you don’t like these thoughts, stick around, I have others…

Review: MyPRStack 2.0

20 Oct bothbooks

When I was asked if I’d like to write a review of the second edition of MyPRStack – an open source publication aimed at simplifying and explaining the tools and practices that form the basis of modern PR and Marcomms workflows, all lovingly curated by Stephen Waddington (@Wadds) Chief Engagement Officer at Ketchum PR – I honestly did not know where to start. The reason for this is simple: its breadth and depth are as vast as its aspirations and ethos are admirable.

bothbooks

Split over 30 chapters and 120 pages, MyPRStack will introduce the reader to a huge range of digital tools – predominantly tools that practitioners can use totally free of charge (though some have more advanced enterprise versions that do carry costs) – with each tool explained by some of the best and brightest in the PR and Marcomms industry right now.

While on the subject of cost, you can download a digital copy of MyPRStack edition 2 right now and totally for free on the following link (It is also available in hard copy if, like me, you enjoy the owning of books). This is one of the things I most admire about MyPRStack, at its heart beats the aspiration to help make the industry better and more effective because in doing so we become more credible.

Learn from Rich Leigh (@RichLeighPR) on how you can Open Site Explorer to influence media and Blogger engagement; Agharad Welsh (@Welsh_PR) on using Talkwater to Steer through a crisis; Stella Bayles (@stellabayles) on using google trends to prove audience action; Tim Lloyd (Timolloyd) on getting real people to test your digital content…I could go on and this is one of MyPRStacks biggest strengths each and every chapter is a gold mine of practical information. MyPRStack is your guide to the free tools with practical advice that can make you better at how you do the day-to-day tasks involved in delivering brilliant campaigns, managing crises and measuring the effectiveness of what you do. There is not a single publication, that I am aware of, that comes even half-way close to delivering on that.

In the current climate of shrinking budgets for communication teams, especially for those working in-house, it’s unlikely that your manager is going to be able (or willing) to send you on 30 training courses to learn about these tools. MyPRStack exists so you, the practitioner, can take charge of your professional development and learn in a very accessible way from those who have trodden the path before you.

There are a number of tools explained that I was not aware of and/or tools I was aware of being used in ways I had simply not thought of. I’m still processing a lot of the learning from the second edition of MyPRStack, but I’m fairly confident in saying that I will improve as a practitioner from the things I am taking in.

As a practitioner, Wadds is fairly unique in straddling the, often huge, divide between the academic study of the communication disciplines and the practical delivery of PR and Marketing and his curatorship of MyPRStack reflects that. Whether you are a PR student, an academic or practitioner (and I agree with Wadds that the gulf should not be so vast as it is); whether you work in-house or in an agency; whether you work for a large organisation or are a solo-practitioner there will be something within MyPRStack that is for you. Personally I think it will be a long time before MyPRStack will stop feeling relevant and useful to our industry at large, but don’t just take my word for it, download your free copy today.

Also if you are interested in finding out more about how Wadds is trying to bridge the gap between PR academics and practitioners, check out his community of practice of Facebook.

Tristan Paul Coxon – April 5th 2015

27 Jul IMG_0406

Trigger Warning: this post contains information and pictures relating to the neonatal death of our son Tristan; If you are pregnant or any of these issues are a trigger for you please think carefully before continuing.

For Lot’s Wife

This is a story.

It begins: Listen! Paul Coxon has become unstuck in time

And it ends: Mummy and Daddy love you Tristan.

Listen! Paul Coxon has become unstuck in time.

It is said that Hassan al-Sabbāh (1050s-1124) trained his fearsome Ḥashshāshīn (Assassins) from his mountain stronghold of Alamut (now in North-West Iran) by first showing them paradise on Earth through a heady mix of strong Hashish and even stronger sweet wines. Once his devotees had grown a taste for this paradise, Al-Sabbāh withdraw the wine and the dope promising access would be returned if they carried out some small tasks for him. These small tasks usually involved infiltration, sedition or murder of some description, which his devotees jumped at the chance to carry out; thus is the allure of paradise. I have seen paradise, held him in my arms and lost it again almost as quickly. For the first time I understand its allure and would do anything to get it back.

“So how did you get on? How is fatherhood treating you?” My dentist asked in all innocence. She didn’t know, she couldn’t know, but it’s too late. I’m crying uncontrollably, anguished sobs rippling my body, sysmic shocks through jelly as I try to gasp my story before I slip beneath the weight of memory and drift…

As I write this, I am trembling uncontrollably, I have lost count of the times I’ve had to stop, eyes clouded with tears to compose myself before continuing. I need to finish this story, I need to set it free into the world where it will stay. This is not something I can keep inside, I am afraid of the consequences if I do. Sometimes the fire burns white hot, I can’t move, think and barely breath. I fear my core will begin creating iron in ever increasing quantities, then other heavy elements…Yeat’s Falcon in the widening gyre: ‘things fall apart their centres cannot hold’…and I will collapse in onto myself and then, fractions of a second later, explode. Supernovae, my fire will consume the world and I will be no more. So, this is a pressure release, painful as it is to write, this is therapy, strange and clumsy, but therapeutic.

For Kurt Vonnegut Jr, it was witnessing the fire bombing of Dresden as a prisoner of war during the dying days of World War Two that would temporarily sever his connection with time and which would form the basis of his cult classic novella, Slaughterhouse Five. I didn’t witness the collective, largely civilian, population of Dresden being bombed mercilessly by U.S. Warplanes, or walked with the wounded and dying through the remains of a huge city levelled in a few nights of concentrated malice.

No, my Dresden was a much quieter affair, though perhaps no more or less horrific. And it’s that easy, blink my eyes for too long and it’s the 6th April, a nurse with a kind smile advises me, “make sure you take lots of pictures.”

I didn’t hear her at first and so she prompted again. Nesting in the incubator before me, at the centre of a tangle of wires and tubes I am looking at my son for the first time:

image

This is Tristan. Isn’t he beautiful? I feel so proud that he is our son; even now my heart swells with happiness showing him off to you, my friends, though that happiness is followed quickly by deep horror and a sadness that regularly sweeps over me. It is brutal, it takes no prisoners, the Teller in a bank, my dentist, the little boy who tells me my superman trainers are ‘soooo cool’ I have cried at them all.

The neonatal consultant explains that our son is in a protective hypothermic state and what all His wires and tubes are doing. He shows me Tristan’s brain activity, says the next hours will be crucial if he is to make any sort of recovery. Starved of oxygen for close to 20 minutes, he doesn’t have to tell me how low the odds would be of a full recovery.

It’s 1:30am on Sunday 5th April and I have never been so frightened in my entire life. My beautiful wife, Lara, is fighting for her life in a theatre somewhere within the bowels of Coventry Hospital having suffered huge internal bleeding during the final stages of labour, no one is able to tell me this though, everyone who might be able to tell me this is busy with the practicality of saving Her life. I must wait another 5 hours before I find out she is stable and being moved to intensive care.

I spend the time leaning over Tristan’s incubator telling him all the things that I had waited 9 months to say. Swinging between giddy excitement and poorly stifled tears, I gabbled near stream of consciousness, “Your name is Tristan and I’m your Daddy…You need to get strong because when Mummy wakes up she is going to be so excited to meet you…your Granddad is here too to meet you…Until you and Mummy are strong Daddy is here and I’ll be your sword, I’ll be your armour”

Sometimes I would fall silent, simply put my index finger in the centre of his tiny open palm and will for any increase in pressure that would indicate a voluntary response on his part. There is nothing.

I sing to him, quietly and self consciously at first but eventually louder, all the songs my parents sang to me as a child, the songs I loved. I apologised for being tone deaf and told him that if he wanted me to stop he need only wake up and stop me. But there was nothing.

Realising time was passing us by, I watched his brain activity displayed on the monitor above his incubator and willed it to be more than it was. After 4 hours, it was clear that the little hope that entered the neonatal care unit with Tristan had slipped away, there would be no recovery now. It’s 5am and suddenly I know our baby will die and fear my wife will too.

I find myself wondering, If by some miracle she is okay, how do I tell her about Tristan? What if he doesn’t make it long enough to meet her? I am shaking, everything is spinning, I duck out of the neonatal care unit and into the family room, where, sat on the floor in the small gap between a sofa and chest of drawers I break down.

It is here that he finds me, the head of surgery who has been overseeing Lara’s surgery. His name is Mr Kaey and he is my hero. He gives me the first good news that I have had and even that stretches the very definition of good news to near breaking point. He explains in a voice that is tinged with emotion I am seldom used to hearing from medical professionals that my wife had to be cut extensively in order to find the source of her bleeding.

He tells me that having explored most of her internal organs the bleed was located and stopped. He tells me in the process she had received close to 7 litres of transfused blood, a near complete ‘oil change’. He assures me she should make a full recovery but that recovery would be slow. He said he was so sorry that this had happened and how incredibly rare it was (less than 200 cases recorded in medical literature). I thanked him for saving her life, I thank him every day and will continue to thank him until my last days.

After Mr Kaey had gone I went back to the neonatal unit and told Tristan the good news. I told him Mummy was going to be okay and would want to see him as soon as she was awake.

It would be another hour or so before Lara would wake up from the large dose of anaesthetic she had received. I remember seeing her for the first time in Intensive Care, a large tube down her throat attached to almost as many tubes and wires as Tristan and looking as pale and frail as anyone I have seen. There is nothing that can frighten me now, no horror worse than those moments before Lara opened her eyes.

Even coming round from the anaesthetic and unable to talk from the tube still helping her breath, Lara raised her arms above the bed as if cradling and invisible baby and her eyes pleaded with me for answers. I told her Tristan was  very poorly but that she would be able to see him soon.

A few hours later Lara would be moved from intensive care to the maternity ward where she could be close to Tristan and kept under observation every hour. I had a bed next to hers and it is here I would spend the best part of the next week.

With Lara awake, I allowed my hope to be renewed. I reasoned that in actual fact miracles do happen from time-to-time: people many years in comatose states wake up, people starved of oxygen in excess of 10 minutes sometimes make full recoveries. We told each other that if we gave him enough time perhaps we would allow some germ of a miracle to begin to grow and Tristan would be okay.

The wonderful staff at the University Hospital Coventry ensured that we could see Tristan as much as we wanted. This was no mean feat in itself as each visit meant moving Lara, who was still not able to walk, in her hospital bed along with her numerous drips, sensors and machinery to the neonatal ward where Tristan was. This is how the next few days would pan out, back-and-forth between maternity and the neonatal ward, in between times we rested. We took lots of pictures during our visits, some of these are below:

  
  
We didn’t cry too much, I seem to remember, numbness was more the order of those first few days, though we’ve certainly made up for it since. Visitors came and went, for beautiful and precious moments we were normal parents, proud as punch as we show off our new born son to excited family and friends. It seems slightly surreal looking back, like a choreographed act of normality with tragedy, ever-present, just beneath the surface. I kept thinking that if this continued demonstration of love and togetherness from all our friends wasn’t enough to kick start the miracle that we so needed then nothing would be. Tristan’s condition did not change.

It’s Tuesday 7th April 2015 and early in the morning. I pay Tristan a visit in the neonatal ward and propped in front of his incubator is a picture of his big feet with the caption: ‘Even the smallest footprints have the power to leave everlasting imprints on this earth.” It is perfect and it lifts my spirits. I do not know it yet but today I will need all the strength I can get:

  

In the night, Lara had taken a turn for the worst. If you move someone’s bowel it will often freeze causing dangerous amounts of bile to build up leading to any number of serious complications. They had to insert a tube down Lara’s throat and into her bowel in order to drain it, this would be the start of my favourite story from the whole ordeal:

To say Lara was unhappy about having the tube down her throat would be an understatement, she complained about being uncomfortable and feeling worse-off as a result. The surgeons who had inserted the tube insisted that it was a necessity that couldn’t be removed until it has done its job. When they had left, I warned the nurse observing Lara that if left alone that tube was going to get pulled out. Seeing an opportunity while an X-ray on her bowels was being performed – which incidentally revealed that the tube had become twisted against the bowel wall – and just as I said she would, Lara  removed the tube herself. I confess I am proud of her for that, I’ll-advised and reckless as it was, it makes me smile thinking about it.

The surgeons returned and agreed to not reinsert the tube at that time but advised that it would need to be put back in sooner or later if Lara was to get better. “We’ll see.” Was all my she said to that and the same day we would overhear the surgeons puzzling over how Lara was making leaps and bounds towards recovery without them reinserting the tube into her bowel, the one thing they had been certain would not happen. I am reminded there is a lot to be said for will-power, determination and sheer bloody-mindedness, three things that my beautiful wife has in endless supply.

As Lara was making giant leaps towards a recovery, Tristan had taken a turn for the worst. We had been advised already that the little hope our Son had was gone and we needed to give serious thought to turning off his ventilator and allowing him to die. Tuesday morning, we were still not ready to make that call, but Tristan made it for us when the tube that was providing oxygen to his lungs had become dislodged. We were advised that the tube could be reinserted but that the procedure would be invasive.

Together, we made the decision that we must let our beautiful son go and not have his breathing tube reinserted. Though I know it was a humane, medically and ethically sound decision to make at that point I feel the crushing weight of it on me every day. We definitely did the right thing, it is not that I have doubt of that, it’s just sometimes the right thing really sucks.

For the first time Tristan would be brought to us free of wires and medical technology and we would do the things that we had craved for days, the hallmarks of parental normality. We got to give him a bath, change his nappy and dress him in some of the beautiful clothes that we had got for him to wear:

  
  
At about 5:30pm on Tuesday 7th of April Tristan’s heart had stopped and our son died, peacefully in our arms. He would stay with us for the remainder of the day with the great support of hospital staff and the next morning we would give our consent for his body to be moved to the chapel of rest.

I remember putting our son in bed next to his Mummy while I went to the toilet and on coming back was presented with the below scene:

  

I don’t think I’ll ever take a better picture than this, it was like capturing the exact moment a star turns supernova. Everything exists in duality, it is at once the most beautiful and most deeply horrific thing that I have ever seen. Life and death as they exist, on a knife edge, and it is here that we walk.

Over the next few days, Lara would continue to make huge steps towards recovery, surprising all the medical staff who would visit her. On Thursday 9th April we would be moved to one of the hospitals lovely family rooms and the next day we would have to attend the hospitals registration office where we would register Tristan’s birth and death at the same time.

Though purely administrative, signing those certificates would be one of the most painful experiences that we would endure. Having things spelled out on official paper makes them seem so much more real and final. The same day we registered Tristan’s life and death, Lara would be discharged from hospital and we would return home to a nursery that was waiting expectantly for our son. I don’t have adequate words to explain the sadness of an empty nursery without a child to fill it, but you get used to it. I say that a lot: you get used to it. Nothing is anywhere near the things we expected when Lara went into labour, this is not normal but a new type of normal that you get used to because there are no other options.

We arranged and held a funeral for Tristan on 24th April, which was attended by all our friends and family. I wrote the below poem which I was able to read on the day:

You will be loved

Sweet darling boy, our beautiful Son,
You will never get to see the wonderful world that we have built for you
And Mummy and Daddy, their hearts are broken
That your first words will forever go unspoken
That your first steps will never tentatively be taken
But you will be loved little baby Tristan, you will be loved.

We’ll never get to teach you to tie shoe-laces
Never take you to the dentist who will never say you need braces.
But you will be loved, you will be loved.

You will never know the simple pleasure
Of trailing a hand in still water at leisure
Watching the ripples as they expand
Though your life was short, your ripple travels far
I look up, watch for our newest star
And you are loved.

– End –

Since then, we have been supported by so many people, I’ll be forever grateful to those who have lent us their time, shoulders and ears when we have needed them, I’ll be writing more on this later. 

it’s not been easy. There have been days where simply getting out of bed has seemed like climbing a mountain, but we’ve got up and faced each new day together. I am in awe of how well Lara has dealt with everything the universe has thrown at us over the past few months, her strength and courage is inspirational.

It’s been difficult watching friends, who were pregnant around the same time as Lara, give birth to perfectly healthy children while all we have is a teddy bear that contains our son’s ashes and a deep, enduring, pain. I don’t begrudge them their happiness, easy as it would be to succumb to such base emotions, but their joy at the wonder of new life throws stark relief on our sorrow.

So here we are, it’s Monday 27th July and today I begin a phased return to work after a 4 month absence. I am looking forward to it, slowly we are allowing normality and routine to root us back into time. It is painful and at times brutal but life must go on.

Those of you who know me will know that I have an interest in coincidence and synchronicity, so how’s this: Tristan was born on the same date as my Brother’s son, Josh (5th April) and died on the same day as my Mum (7th April).

Kurt Vonnegut Jr ended the brilliant introduction to Slaughterhouse 5 with the following half-apology:

People aren’t supposed to look back. I’m certainly not going to do it anymore. I’ve finished my war book now. The next one I write is going to be fun. This one is a failure, and had to be, since it was written by a pillar of salt.

I’ve always liked that and it sums up how I feel about this post. I promise, dearest reader, that the next one will be more fun. All that remains to be said is:

Mummy and Daddy love you Tristan.

Give Blood

Lara received a lot of donated blood and Tristan was also treated with blood products to help his blood clot. The UK blood service are always crying out for doners, find out more about giving blood here: Giving Blood in the UK

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