Helen Purves All you need to know about Helen Purves. And, indeed, much more.

19May/160

On miscarriage: A response from my husband

This is James's side of the story (here's his Twitter account - he's funny and weird and I love him). For context, see my last post

It's weird that I don't actually remember the details of that day as strongly as perhaps I should. I have a vivid memory of the day before, as I'd been to see banger racing with one of my best friends.

I think the reason I remember it so well is that on the way home I told my friend that Helen and I were expecting, and of course he was over the moon for us.

The next day, the very next day, we had bad news.

I don't remember much after getting the phone call and leaving work, I don't remember getting lost in the hospital (I will not deny that it happened, such is my lot in life that I frequently get lost in heavily sign-posted places), I don't remember what I said to Helen and I don't remember what the doctors said to me. All I can really remember is the simple denial that this couldn't be happening to Helen and I. I just refused to believe it.

There was no finger-pointing of blame. I seem to recall one medical professional, be it doctor or nurse, saying that these things do happen a lot more often than we'd have thought, and even a mild cold or infection could be enough to cause a miscarriage.

I still didn't really believe it. We spent a few days together. Helen was very weak with the emotional and physical damage that had been done, and again I can't remember lots about what happened or what we talked about or even what we did. I just know that seemingly days later I was back in work, still shell shocked and still very much in denial that something like this could happen to us.

It seems trite, but bad things happen to good people. I try to be a good person but I know in my heart of hearts I'm just an okay person, but bad things happen to okay people as well as good things. I'd only just gotten round to the idea of being a dad and at once it was ripped from me, my fiancée was in a terrible place emotionally and I had to keep normality because that is how I cope (or keep myself from coping - that is a whole other story) and so I threw myself back into my two hour commute to and from work, and tried to give Helen a sturdy emotional platform to balance herself from.

All seemed well...

For about 12 days.

Baby conversations come up at work when you reach that certain age, and one arrived fully-formed right in front of my face.

"What would you call your first baby?"

I didn't burst out in tears or fly off in a rage, that's very much not who I am in any shade of mood. I did have to leave immediately though, and I spent 20 minutes sat on a toilet lid wondering why I hadn't properly cried or exorcized my feelings. I still don't know, but when I got home I broke down a little. We'd lost our baby and I finally felt it.

One of the thoughts that went round my head is - how sad should I be?

Looking at the facts and stats, Baby G wasn't thinking or feeling yet, we'd not had chance to really get invested in the pregnancy but we were so excited about it. Time doesn't really count here. I'm not saying it's the same as going full term, but it was about the most devasting news I'd ever had.

I wasn't even the main victim!

Helen took the brunt of this, and I could only imagine the thoughts going round her head. What right did I have to mope and feel sorry for myself? How dare I? Helen was suffering here, she needed me to be there, and I had to help first and foremost.

This point has come up time and time again. It is horrible for the guy here, but I know it's worse for the mother. It doesn't diminish your suffering to know this though, and I found that this thought weighed very heavy on my shoulders for a long time and there are a lot of conflicting things I've been told about it (ranging from "MTFU" to the expectation I would sit there sobbing), but I just tried to take it all on the chin and carry on. It was hard.

Helen wrote in her post about how she's dealt with it moving forward, and I think she's actually had a much more mature response to it than I have.

For those who aren't aware, Helen has a form of epilepsy that is almost manageable with medication, but not quite 100%. It means I'm generally on the alert when we're not together, especially if she's overly tired, stressed, hungry or on any other medication. Once or twice I've even had to leave work to take her home.

The amount of times her epilepsy has been a BIG serious issue I can count on one hand, but it's always there at the back of my mind. Since we lost Baby G and gained a Nutlet, the fear... no, that doesn't cover it, the terror I had of that happening again prevented me from fully getting around to pregnancy straight away, and until about four months down the line I was very wary of something going wrong.

Helen as well felt the concern. If we thought the baby wasn't kicking enough we'd go to the walk in. I'm not joking when I say we did this at least eight times during the course of the pregnancy before we bought ourselves a hand held heart beat monitor we could use to listen to Nutlet's heartbeat. That was a huge help for me.

Even at the point of birth, I was terrified. What if something went wrong? Could I go through this again? I couldn't stand to lose my wife and my child. Why is the baby taking so long to come out? Why are they needing to use forceps? Why isn't she crying?!

When she finally came out and started wailing, I actually broke down and wept. The feeling of joy I had goes beyond anything I've ever experienced: it was pure ecstasy, a moment of true joy.

I won't go into details of the next few months, but I will colour in around the edges.

I used to get up at night to make sure Nutlet was still breathing.

I still wake in the night in a blind panic that something has happened to her, have to check a video monitor and heart beat scanner to make sure she's okay.

I miss her in the daytime.

I don't want other people to hold her in case they drop or hurt her.

In general, I guard her like a wary dog, and have been incredibly reluctant to let her go away from Helen and I. I know it's silly, but the bleakness and depression that hit me when we lost baby G is always in the corner of my mind.

I would do anything to not feel that again.

Nutlet is a bonny lass, and I can often be overheard saying she looks like a goblin (she doesn't), or she's a trouble maker (she's not) or she stinks (she often does stink), but this is a way I show my affection for a little girl who is basically my whole world now.

I want her to be able to kick ass and make people laugh, like Amy Schumer crossed with Ronda Rousey. I want her to be smart and in control of her sexuality, like Marie Curie crossed with Beyoncé. I want her to be political and engaging, but also whimsical and fun, like Emmeline Pankhurst crossed with one of those kids you see running around with a bubble wand at a festival.

I hope she can be all of these things. I will help her become everything she wants. I would have done this for Baby G, but now Baby G stays in my memory and by my side, along with everyone else I've lost. It's not a big group, I hope it doesn't get much bigger.

You never really get over these things - you just find a way of keeping yourself busy, and hope that someone points out your crazy behaviour to you.

12Jun/147

A very modern love story

I've been thinking a lot lately about family mottoes. Not the heraldic type (mine is Clarior E Tenebris, "The brighter from previous obscurity", which I have handily tattooed onto my arm lest I ever forget it) but the type taught over and over again throughout childhood and passed down through generations without any thought.

Some (most?) parents teach their children not to speak to strangers; many an inquisitive child has learned that ignorance is bliss with the quick words "Because that's just the way it is".  My parents never taught me those things.  Instead, our everyday family mottoes were things like "You were born with common sense: use it" and "If you don't know, ask" (actually embroidered into a chair my mother upholstered for me).

AOL CD-ROM

Remember these? We had so many we used them as coasters

I think it was in part due to the fact my parents held close mottoes like these that, when the internet came to our house in 1996, instead of limiting my access my father quickly got a nearly unheard-of second phone line.  When I made a website to showcase my terrible teenaged poetry to strangers my father was proud of my technological prowess; when I made friends online who taught me to improve it my mother was impressed with my newfound communication skills (how times have changed!).

Never did they monitor me, or worry about my internet use: they trusted me to use my common sense, and my inquisitive mind.  Children today often have their access to the internet severely limited by tools like NetNanny.  I have heard of preteens having consoles, laptops and tablets temporarily and even permanently removed from them for speaking to strangers on the internet. This did not happen to me, even once.  I downloaded music and browsed forums and read and wrote blogs as much as I wanted, for as long as I wanted.

My mother and father never gave me internet-specific advice.  It never occurred to them, I think.  Why would I email naked pictures of myself to someone when I wouldn't think to give them to anyone offline?  Why would I say something hurtful online if I wouldn't say it at a party?  I was taught to use my common sense, and when I occasionally forgot to use it, I was burned by the consequences - as also happened more frequently offline.

Without judging the fear of modern parents - the internet was a different place when I found it - if my parents had not taken the tack they did I would not have my current job in technology and I would certainly not be getting married next month.

Oh yes - if you're wondering why I've neglected this blog, it's because I met a man.  Not just any man, either. The man.

Helen and James

Photo by Spike of Vapour Trail Photography (link in image)

When I heard my job was being relocated to Manchester - ooh, perhaps four years ago - I knew nothing about the place.  I did know, however, that I wanted to escape London - the smog and the smug.  So, channeling my mother's chair, I asked: I took to Twitter and found people.  My friend and colleague Matt had already relocated, and after meeting his internet-acquaintance John from Scotland for lunch a few times I was put in touch with Dan in Manchester and his wonderful wife.  I went to see Dan's band and met, amongst others, his bandmate Alex.  Through Alex I was introduced to James, known only to me as his username @big_poppa_g.

After just over a week and thousands - really, thousands - of text messages we finally met for drinks. Incidentally, we met in a public place and the whole of Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and Foursquare, including my closest friends, knew where we were as we tagged our way down Oxford Road's various bars and pubs.  When I saw his face as he slid into Cafe Nero like Tom Cruise from Risky Business I described it to Twitter while I went to the loo: over toilet breaks and trips to the bar I catalogued his blue eyes, his blonde hair and his taste in cocktails.  When I missed the last bus home ten hours later, the world knew it was because I had drunkenly kissed him in the middle of Piccadilly Gardens.

Six months later, after I went to America for a week, we knew we couldn't live apart.  Precisely a year after we listed our relationship on Facebook (the sign of a modern relationship I suppose) I impulsively asked him to marry me.  I was halfway through a disgraceful meal of sausages, chips and beans and he was doing the washing up.  It had been playing on my mind: I'm not religious but my father is a solicitor and taught me there are no such things as Common Law Marriage and that children of an unmarried couple might as well, legally, be fatherless.  Besides, I had loved the man since not long after I had met and loved his family and he had met and loved mine.

It came to me in a flash: why must I wait for James to gain the courage to ask, when we both know we want to get married?  Why must I wait for a "perfect moment"?  Why must I expect James to buy a ring, when generations of family rings were sitting in a dusty jewellery box somewhere?  I was born with common sense, and I used it.

In just two days we will be married.  My mother, who embroidered that chair for me, is now making my dress.  She's probably embroidering penises on it, because that's the kind of thing she does.  Many, many people I met online and now know as good friends in "real life" will come and eat and drink and dance with us and look at my dress penises.  Although for me, of course, the internet is my real life: life, but catalogued and documented.  Expect photos.

So, fine, teach children not to trust strangers they meet on the internet.  Teach them to be scared of sharing personal information and of giving their phone numbers to people they don't know.  Teach them to differentiate internet life and real life.  The thing is, you and they might never know what they would have gained had you taught them common sense, instead: had you taught them to ask, and to think.

10Jun/134

An open letter to Facebook regarding diversity

It's pretty hard (maybe impossible: I couldn't be bothered looking all that much) to find an email address for Mark Zuckerberg on Facebook.  Plus I have stuff and things to do.  Therefore, this is an open letter.  I imagine Mark is one of the half dozen or so readers I have on here (if you include the US government, which I do), so I have no doubt he'll read it.

Dear Mark Zuckerberg,

First of all, thanks for Facebook.  It may be a superb platform for advertisers to attempt to sell me wedding rings and baby clothes (much to the dismay of my boyfriend) but it's also a superb platform for me to create fatuous events, judge ex-school friends and mouth off about how much I hate Mondays/enjoy pastrami sandwiches/am addicted to Kellogg's cereal.Facebook adverts

However, as a disabled person, I have a major problem with your service.  I have been studying my friends list and am appalled to see that Facebook has major diversity issues.  Out of 291 friends, I found that:

- Only 18 are black, asian or of mixed race
- A mere 11 are disabled
- Only four are ginger
- The vast majority are middle class atheists
- Over half work in the web/broadcast industry, like me
- One friend is in actual fact a 2 year old dachshund
- According to their avatars, several have regressed back to infancy
- Many people are not friends but are in fact family

I find it reprehensible that so many of my Facebook friends are boring, white and comfortably-off - exactly like myself, in fact.  It is almost as though the list of people shown as "Friends" reflects my relatively sheltered upbringing in rural Lincolnshire and subsequent career in the media.  I look forward to the swift resolution of this issue.

Yours,

Helen Purves

10Mar/123

Last night a DJ trolled my life

Everyone can remember their first time.  Me?  It was the summer of the year 2000.  I was 17, he was 18, and it was at my birthday party, in my parents' driveway.  I'll always remember Ewan: his long black hair, his trenchcoat, his squeaky voice.  The first person I met off the internet.  We exchanged greetings, stood around awkwardly, and then he pulled some random girl which meant I didn't have to speak to him.  Which suited me very well indeed, since in real life his voice was even squeakier than it had been over VoIP.

The last guy?  His accent was infinitely better. A DJ, from Detroit no less, and this time we turned it around: we did things back to front, as it were.  We met in a nightclub a few weeks ago, and since then we've become engaged.

Got a dirty mind?  Clean it.  This is all about the internet: because in my life, nearly everything is about the internet.

Back to the beginning.  My whole experience of the world changed as early as 1998, when my father got an AOL CD in the post.  It wasn't long afterwards that he got a second phone line, as I discovered Tripod, Geocities
and then, for two beautiful years, Napster.

In sixth form, I met a group of nerd-boys who showed me how to code my own websites using various free hosting and domain registration services.  I learned the web as it evolved: I coded frames, and then tables - and when the older ones inevitably left to study maths and science at Cambridge, they helpfully continued to teach me the beginnings of CSS over instant messaging service ICQ. One of them was friends with Ewan, and brought him to my parents' legendary summer party after we clicked through our shared love of heavy metal (oh, the shame).  At the party, we distinctly un-clicked, and I thought that would be that.

Of course, the world is a different place now.  Some of my oldest friends are now people I have come to know via the internet - and most of my newest friends too, through Twitter.  It's strange to think how lonely I would have felt, moving to Manchester, without the knowledge that I could occasionally go and impose myself upon Mof Gimmers and chums.

It was during one of these impositions that my beady eyes first alighted upon my new internet fiance, DJ Meph.  Those of you wishing to stalk him can do so at djmeph.net.  We spoke fairly briefly - just enough for me to work out he was worth following on Twitter.  The rest is history: in short, we are both epic trolls and have hoaxed our friends abominally.

Props to Daniel Pass for setting us up on Leap Day: I proposed while my prey was asleep, and when he awoke to find a stream of tweets about chloroform and canapes he was moved to make it Facebook Official.  I logged on that night, accepted his friend request and was immediately met with a maelstrom of congratulations on my new relationship status as it dawned upon me that I'd finally met someone as mischievous as myself.

His many friends were lured into dozens of comments, but mine (alas) are more experienced in the Ways of Helen.  I fended off streams of text messages with a standard reply, and sat back waiting for the news to spread to my mother.

During this deliciously agonising period I had time to reflect, as I have many times before, on the way we all of us rely so completely upon technology which as children we could never have dreamed of.  I remember the wonder my little brother and I experienced when rescued from a car crash by a business man with a gigantic car phone: nobody imagined that twenty years later I'd be casually using its great, great, great grandphone to announce my digital relationship to a man I was communicating with through a third cousin of the computerised typewriters the legal secretaries at my dad's office were using to type up conveyancing documents.

It's an interesting thought, and not one which can be covered in just one blog post.  It would be like trying to summarise my whole life in one ANSI-formatted TXT file opened in MS Notepad (which is, as it happens, what I am currently typing this into - old habits die hard).  But just imagine: if technology has changed so much about the way we live and communicate now, what will the world look like for our children?

Luckily for DJ Meph, internet babies have yet to be invented: but it can only be a matter of time.  The world saw its first internet marriage way back in 1996, and let's face it, stranger things really have happened: it's just that now they have, they're no longer strange...

While we all ponder this incredibly profound thought (and while DJ Meph gets his legal team together to pen the first official restraining order of what I'm sure will be a long and beautiful relationship) I'll leave you with the bloody awful song all of us have had nagging away at our brains since you read the title of this blog post.  Sorry for that, by the way.

18May/111

George Auckland and The Internet v2.0

Ever seen this sequence from The IT Crowd? It's my favourite:

I've arranged a trip to the pub to celebrate the 56th birthday of Tim Berners-Lee (and because I wanted an excuse to go to the pub with my colleagues/mates one last time before I leave London for Salford Quays), and as we're all geeks/Graham Linehan fans I thought it might be funny to take along my very own internet. When I took a black box, a car security LED and a battery to our brilliant Innovations team to check I wasn't going to break anything, I didn't expect George to be there, because he's recently retired.

A little about George Auckland, in case you don't know about him. He worked for the BBC for over 40 years - latterly in my department, BBC Learning. I feel I can safely assert that at the BBC - and particularly in all things educational at the BBC - George is legendary. Check out some of the members of his Facebook fan page - you'll notice people like Bill Thompson in there. In fact, the joke goes that although Tim Berners-Lee might have invented the world wide web, it was George who hit the Enter button.

George is a busy man. Over the years he's been involved with the original BBC Micro, set up the Beeb's first web production unit and has worked on all sorts of things - including things like Blue Peter, Bitesize, good old WebWise and - well, I can't list everything here, but he's won more awards than it's worth mentioning and far fewer than he deserves. I didn't expect George to help out, but it was jolly nice to see him.

However, I underestimated the sheer awesomeness of George Auckland. Not only did he make me my very own version of the internet, but he added a brand new function that Berners-Lee either never thought of looking for or was never brave enough to make use of when he originally kick-started the world wide web: a switch. However, times have now changed: HTML 5 and CSS 3 are increasingly popular, IE6 is finally being turned off, and the world is ready.

The default position is hibernation (i.e. usual, day-to-day running of the internet - it is of course impossible to turn the internet off without breaking it), but you can activate advanced functions such as a fully semantic web, DSL rings, cold fusion and world peace by lifting the cover and flicking the switch. At this point the red light starts flashing, to indicate that the internet is working at maximum capacity. However, it's not advisable to do this for long, as the battery wears down fairly quickly. Luckily it's replaceable, but you know, batteries can get expensive etc. and it's a bit of a faff, since they're held in with blu-tack.

Here is a picture of George switching on The Internet v2.0 for the first time this very afternoon. Please excuse the fuzziness - it was a very emotional moment:
George Auckland and The Internet v2.0

Thanks George. I shall treasure my internet forever.

P.S. I found this very interesting talk by George on YouTube, in case you're interested in the future of learning/mobile platforms - particularly interesting given that it's from 2007.

   
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