(This was written before my wife gave birth to Leif, after a three day labour where she went through some incredibly tough times as he was a lot larger then expected. I must pay tribute to the NHS: the care was beyond belief, the compassion life-affirming. I am forever in their debt, and it has driven my desire to do something positive more than ever. Plus, I’m besotted by my boy, presently contentedly gurgling beside me from his snug moses basket).
By the time I publish this, Leif Richard Isaac Turpin will be born. His name? The ‘Richard’ is his grandad (yes, his name is Dick Turpin: my father in-law is an out-law). ‘Issac’ is my grandfather’s name: he died when I was very young, but I have fond memories of the little time I spent with him, sitting in front of the TV football, eating our roast dinner, with him slipping a little beer into my lemonade when my gran wasn’t looking.
Leif? We just like the name, and the phonetic autumnal reference. There are no Scandinavian roots to call back on here, other than the amount of time I spent during his gestation fighting over IKEA instructions.
The boy will be born in a rich country, and have a higher chance of surviving the birth than at any other time in the whole of history. He will be born at the pin-point of centuries of scientific progress, where every aspect of his arrival will be monitored. He has no idea yet just how lucky he is.
He will be born into a family who will love him completely. I loved him from the moment I heard he was there; just a poppy seed sized bundle of cells. Despite the lack of tangibility – yes, I’ve seen the scans, where shapes can be barely discerned; I’ve heard the heartbeat, much faster than our own, propelling growth. I’ve even felt his foot; kicking through my wife’s side into my ribs while we lay together in bed. Yet he is still somehow intangible. Nevertheless, he is loved, and I’m almost terrified what that will turn into when he is there, when I meet him. I’ll know by the time you read this.
He will be born into wealth. Relative wealth. I have a decent job, which pays ok, and Ellie is a professional scientist; so while we’re not exactly dripping with gold, when compared to the world as a whole we are alright. The baffling chance of birth: to be born into a stable, wealthy country that still just about believes in care from cradle to grave.
He will not want for anything. He already has all the clothes we need for him to wear for a year, and beyond. He has toys, ready for when he wants to begin exploring. He has two beds; a moses basket for the first few months and a cot for when he’s a bit older. He has blankets, nappies, muslin squares and parents who spent three Saturday afternoons in 5 hour NCT classes learning how babies work and how to keep them happy. He has everything he needs. He will not want for anything.
Not all children are so lucky. Across the world. there are 8 million children who are fleeing from countries hit hard by war, poverty, famine. There are a further 50 million displaced children, who have had to flee to another country: while they might be judged ‘safe’ they are still in a serious situation: subject to greatly reduced life chances; xenophobia; discrimination; incarceration. It’s a global problem that is accelerating in its seriousness: over the last five years, the numbers have jumped a staggering 75%. With no resolution to conflict in the Middle East, and more pressure on resources as climate change wreaks havoc. It is easy to feel helpless.
Yet we can do things. We can help: not solve the crisis single-handedly, but show some humanity and do what we can. I saw this in action when Beeston came together in response to the horrific scenes of Alan Kurdi’s body washing up on a Greek beach. The response was incredible, hundreds of people queuing to donate items to refugees trapped in refugee camp limbo. Sergio, the landlord of the White Lion pub which acted as a drop-off point, and a former refugee himself, set up a fund to raise money to get a warm meal to those trapped. He travelled down, at this own expense, several times, returning each time more determined to help. Peter Bone, a Beestonian I’m lucky to count as a friend, also visited to help.
I lately read another account of selflessness in the face of what seems an insurmountable problem. Brendan Woodhouse is a firefighter originally from Durham, who has worked in Nottingham for 14 years and lives in Derbyshire. Just before Christmas last year, he travelled to the Greek island of Lesbos. On the final day of a two-week stint, an inflatable mistook the Korakos lighthouse for safety, rather than danger, and capsized rapidly, throwing the 35 occupants – mostly children – into the dark waters, 70 metres from shore.
Brendan was driven to go to Lesbos after seeing the photos of drowned children washed up on shores, and determined to help. He began by delivering aid, then, thanks to a local charity, East Midlands Solidarity, flew to the Greek islands to help in a more direct way. This dark night, as the occupants struggled to keep afloat, this was put to the test.
Brendan ushering boats to safety
He rescued a family first, including a terrified two-year old boy. After dragging them to shore, he was straight back into the waters, where he found a baby girl, seemingly dead, face down in the water. Risking his life, he scooped the baby onto his chest, and swam, backstroke, to shore, kicking hard under the stars. A former medic in Afghanistan, he knew that time was vital, so finding a rock he could balance on quickly gave the lifeless baby and gave rescue breaths. The first had no effect, and Brendan realised he might be too late. Yet after a second rescue breath, the child spewed up a large amount of seawater, and let out a lung-clearing scream. He had saved the baby: but now had a long swim back to shore
I remember lying on my back and was looking at the stars saying ‘Come on God, help me’.
“I don’t go to church any more, I am not a religious guy and there’s me praying up to Him as I am swimming backwards.”
He made it, collapsed onto the shore badly cramping and exhausted. A Dutch colleague, Joost, took the baby and stabilised her. He would later find she had made a safe recovery, and be reunited with a family. Her name is Sewin. While facing the challenges that life will throw at her as a displaced person, at least she has life. Without Brendan Woodhouse, she would be another notch on the appalling statistics of children killed trying to find sanctuary.
I have since been in contact with Brendan, and confirm that he is very much the hero. Humble, thoughtful, and driven by a strong sense of humanity, I could never do what he did. But I could do something. Yes, it might seem futile. But if it helps save a life, just one life, then I will be able to say that my child; Leif; a child born into every comfort imaginable, will have inspired something wonderful.
That is why I have, after chatting to both Brendan and Medecines sans Frontieres, to raise some funds – I’m hoping £500 – to mark Leif’s arrival. We would like anyone reading this to not send gifts to us for the arrival of the child – it needs nothing – but instead donate directly to the fund. If you want to buy me a pint to celebrate my new fatherhood, please, please stick the cash into the fund. My chosen pint is usually about £3, as a guide. A celebratory cigar is about the same (and as I kicked the ciggie habit 4 years ago, I wouldn’t be able to have the actual thing).
Please give what you can. I want my child to grown up to see the essential humanity and goodness of people. We are incredibly lucky that he is born right here, right now, and we will never forget those who are not so fortunate. To see others as humans, as people, with as much right to life as them. This is much more important than any gift you could give my son. Give here: https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/LeifTurpin
I’ll leave the final few words to Brendan Woodhouse, who is an example to us all.
“I have an absolute mix of emotions. Yes I made a difference and was really proud that I was able to go and do that and really relieved that I was successful.
“I am really proud of the team and of the international community for individual people’s responses to what is a global catastrophe.
“But I but I am also deeply ashamed that these people are put in such a perilous situation where they are essentially exploited at every turn.
“And I am angry there are people that would look at these poor refugees from war-torn countries and question why they would want to leave a war zone.
“I get angry that some people cannot open their hearts to these people .”