Archive for September, 2011

The Pre-Natal Little Monkey

The Little Monkey celebrates 3 months on the face of the planet today; which means that a year ago (± 2 days) a tiny clump of cells had popped into existence that would develop into our lovely little baby. As a scientist I suppose I had an intellectual conception of life’s commonplace miracles, but when it’s (partly) your own DNA that is swirling around to create a new life, the realisation that one has an unbroken connection stretching back 3 billion years to the very origin of life is rather striking… Anyway, I thought this was as good an excuse as any to post some pre-natal pictures.

A poppyseed-sized Little Monkey at two weeks.

A plum-sized Little Monkey, at twelve weeks.

A cantaloupe-sized Little Monkey, at twenty weeks.

The War-and-Peace-O-Meter: Week Fourteen

Previous weeks: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12, 13

As one nears the end of an epic piece of literature, I think there’s often a small sadness, that your time in another world, with its cast of wonderful characters, is coming to an end. Certainly, a book can be re-read, but with so many books in the world, it’s hard to justify reading War and Peace many times over; and while there is a different sort of pleasure to be had in becoming very familiar with a text, it’s not the same experience.

This sort of feeling is not confined to books, of course; I think The Wire, and perhaps The West Wing, have the necessary ambition, grandeur and epicality* to prompt mildly melancholic thoughts at their completion. And epics do tend to make one feel like rather a small cog in humanity’s colossal machine; but as Tolstoy highlights when recognising the crucial contributions of overlooked generals, it’s the small cogs that keep the world turning…

*Epicality is clearly a more epic adjectival form than epicness.

Psychedelic, Baby

The vividly coloured walls and animals start to close in on the Little Monkey

"The horror... the horror..."

"Just kidding! I'm having a lovely time, the music and colours are really rather stimulating!"

The War-and-Peace-O-Meter: Week Thirteen

Previous weeks: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 12

The pagination-odometer ticked round into four figures this week, which doesn’t happen often. In fact, I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book that long; I read all three Lord of the Rings books in a single tome, but I don’t think that counts. Moby Dick has suitably leviathan-like dimensions, but I don’t think it’s quite 1000+ pages (and anyway, I skimmed through the middle bit where Melville is just describing different whale species). One day I might read Clarissa, but perhaps not for a while yet, eh?…

A Week of Firsts

Imagine being so new to the world that you can do three quite ordinary things for the first time in one week. Or, at least, things whose familiarity has made them seem ordinary, even though they are rather amazing.

A Cold

The Little Monkey went to storytime at the local library, and although he is a bit young to appreciate literature, he enjoyed watching the slightly older children hare around and have fun. However, one of the snotty little brats gave him a cold. His immune response kicked in, and he’s spent the week spraying us with sneezes, and grizzling when we try to wipe his nose, although he’s generally been rather stoic about the whole affair. Our adaptive immune system is, I think, one of the most remarkable aspects of human physiology; presented with the ability of viruses and bacteria to very rapidly evolve an attack mechanism, we have a crazily intricate system of defence that can respond on the same timescale. OK, it can sometimes get over-zealous, but it is incredible that it mostly just works, while we pootle along with our lives.

A Swimming Lesson

The Little Monkey had his first dip in the pool, and rather enjoyed it, I think. I got to go in with him, as by this point Mrs. Monkeyshines had caught his cold, but she made an excellent cheerleader on the sidelines. We had a nice splash around, and did some good floating; he’ll be replicating that Nirvana album cover in no time… It is curious that we humans like the water quite as much as we do. My heart says that we must once have been aquatic apes, but I just can’t bring myself to believe it.

A Giggle

We’ve had smiles before, but, despite his sniffles, Toby did some hearty, throaty giggles this week, prompted by some maternal kisses on his tummy. I think it was his best noise yet. In evolutionary terms, laughter is an extremely strange phenomenon; I’ve yet to read an explanation where I’ve thought, “Yes, that’s nailed it”; although inspired by writing this blog post, I did find a recent review (Leavens 2009) that suggests the science has moved on since I last looked into it, so I’ll have to do some more digging around at some point. But really, I’m not sure there will ever be an adequate explanation for me laughing so hard at some slapstick on Everybody Loves Raymond yesterday morning that I almost startled the baby to tears…

The War-and-Peace-O-Meter: Week Twelve

Previous weeks: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11

Up to page 909 (of 1358) this week, roughly two-thirds through the book, and at the end of Part II of Volume III. I think this volume has already taught me more history than three years-worth of secondary school History education. (I wasn’t fool enough to commit myself to the GCSE, and two more years of it – I did Economics instead, which I was disappointed to find had little to do with maths, and rather more to do with a) spinning dull stories about past events, b) divination about future events, and c) endless fictional supply-and-demand plots. I don’t remember much economics, other than that the teacher constantly referred to “CD discs”, and that the price of salt is inelastic.) Tolstoy’s evocation of the battle of Borodino, and his accompanying critique of historical analyses, is eminently memorable, and I could discourse confidently (although not necessarily competently) on the significance of the loss of the Shevardino redoubt. And I didn’t even need to check the spellings of those placenames.

I don’t think that History was taught particularly badly at my school, but it certainly didn’t capture my imagination, focusing as it did on the history of events, rather than ideas. One of the few snippets that I do remember is dulce et decorum est, pro patria mori, and the oppressive nature of Wilfred Owen’s poems. So perhaps for historical events to be palatable to me, I have to have them presented in the form of literature. More theoretical fodder, such as the history of maths, I can swallow without a fictional coating; although it’s a shame that such subjects aren’t on the curricula of scientific education, even at undergraduate level…

Our Velociraptor Baby

[I realise I’m muddying the appellative waters by referring to the Little Monkey as a dinosaur, but normal simian service will be resumed after this post.] I seem to constantly be writing about how surprised I am by some aspect or other of our baby’s growth and development. This week it is the range of noises that Toby makes; at two weeks I commented on sneezes and other ‘human’ noises, but he’s got a whole suite of squawks and cries now. He often does a very cute little sighing noise after sneezes (which typically come in pairs), which Mrs. Monkeyshines and I love. There’s an auditory ensemble of gurgles, some contented, other less so, but which sometimes start to sound a bit like a chuckle. And there are different types of crying that indicate distress or hunger or tiredness, or some combination thereof, which his mother is now getting very good at discriminating.

But sometimes he’ll make a bizarre, ethereal noise that you can’t quite believe has come from a baby; Mrs. Monkeyshines characterised one such noise perfectly, as the squawk of a velociraptor. Another time he woke me in the the middle of the night with a piercing owl’s hoot (he immediately fell asleep again, if indeed he ever woke up – it took me longer to drop off, feeling a strange mixture of spooked and amused). It’ll almost be a shame when he starts talking…

Two footnotes: while searching for a velociraptor audio file (fruitlessly, as it turned out – it’s almost as if they didn’t have recording devices 72 million years ago), I found a saurian soulmate for Toby in New York, and discovered, courtesy of the Oatmeal, that: How long could you survive chained to a bunk bed with a velociraptor?

A Life With, and Within, Cyberspace

It’s difficult to imagine what it will be like for Toby to grow up in a time when the internet is not like some marvellous, twinkly unicorn, but is rather more like a ubiquitous (but still occasionally remarkable) crow. I didn’t even have an e-mail address till I was 18; I was 22 before I had internet access at home. Our Little Monkey has had a chunk of the web dedicated to him, and a (dormant-for-now) email address, since he was a few days old. It’ll just be part of the background noise of everyday life to him, technology as transparently obvious as radio is to us. But I still think that it’s marvellous that we can sit and do the Guardian crossword together on a magic, twinkly light-box.

"Right then Daddy, five across, 'A delicious drink initially
macerated inside little kittens'. Hmmm..."

The War-and-Peace-O-Meter: Week Eleven

Previous weeks: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9

Avid readers of my War-and-Peace-O-Meter will have wondered what happened to Week Ten’s instalment. Had I abandoned my mission, to concentrate on the oeuvre of Maeve Binchy? Had I dropped the book on my foot, broken every phalange and metatarsal, and spent the last fortnight in traction, unable to write rambling blog posts? Well, I can reassure both of you that neither of these, nor any other calamity, have befallen me. I was just on my holibobs last weekend (a somewhat damp but very agreeable few days on the North Wales coast). Normal service is now resumed.

It rather surprises me that, for all that I am enjoying War and Peace, and have previously enjoyed other classics of Russian literature, I don’t really have a yen to visit the country. I don’t dream of going to the place where Nikolay Rostov thundered across the battlefield, or the room where Bolkonsky danced with Natasha. Perhaps because the works that got translated, and have become part of the literary canon, in many ways transcend place (and maybe time), and deal with human life in all its infinite variety. Or, less pretentiously, perhaps it’s because barren steppe is not particularly appealing, and, in fact, many of these classics describe a country that literally no longer exists… which is, after all, part of their fascination.

Smiler McChucklesworth

Our Little Monkey has lately taken to brightening our days with face-splitting grins that have nothing to do with feeling bilious or passing wind, but that indicate his pleasure at seeing our gurning faces. Naturally the smiles are gorgeous, but Mrs. Monkeyshines and I have mostly been too delighted and distracted to get a decent photo. But I did manage to get one snap…

Roll your mouse over the image to play 'Have you got a smile for us, Toby?'

Our favourite game at the minute is “Have you got a smile for Daddy/Mummy*, Toby?”
(*Delete as appropriate.)
I particularly like this game, as I get plenty of smiles, perhaps due to the novelty of my face (his mother’s face is far prettier, but he gets to stare at that all day); or maybe he just thinks my facial hair is amusing. Anyway, roll your mouse over the image to play along in the comfort of your own home.