Hello, tiny.

Well hello, whoever you are. I can’t say you’re expected, but I suppose you were not unexpected, either. Nonetheless, apologies the weird face and uncharacteristic silence from me when I heard about you. I was just in shock. The good kind.

I already had one thing to stick in the diary as The Thing That Happened Today. Your mum – that warm, cosy thing you’ll be swimming around in for the next few months – had an audition for Pointless. We don’t often work together, we definitely don’t work in the same room together, so being close to her for ages was a good experience. We were a unit, a couple. I then went downstairs to make a cup of tea – you’ll be tasting a lot of that soon, albeit via your mum- and she told me about you. My world met yours, and a new orbit began.

That was a few hours ago and I’ve since had it settle into my mind and since I’m at a laptop, writing up some interviews about Covid – you don’t need to worry about this yet-  I thought I’d write a little hello. I did the same for your older brother – he’s great, and I can’t wait until you meet him- when I heard he was on the way, so  it’s only right you have the same. When Leif – that’s your brother, by the way – was your age I remember thinking he was the size of a poppy seed, and subsequently found a poppy seed to look at. I stared at it and couldn’t understand that something so small could hold so much change, so much potential. 

Four years on, and that poppy seed is a funny, kind, silly and thoroughly adorable little boy. While something so small is so seemingly inconsequential, the nurturing, the love we add to it will bring something wonderful. That’ll be you, and from now on every day you’ll be on a journey, growing exponentially, until we can take a photo of you and tell others.

Then you’ll be out in the world, and meeting me and Leif. We’ll try to smile, and I’ll try not to swear when I first set eyes on you. I swore when I saw Leif, you see, and while it was not out of any negative reaction, rather the shock of his existence being tangible rather than abstractly viewed through a bulge, or via various scanners, I still think I could have made more effort to ensure that the first words he heard was something like ‘Oh, my beautiful son!’, and not ‘Oh effing hell it’s a baby”. I promise to try harder when you emerge, ok? I know poets. I’ll get them to draft something suitable.

You’ll be like me, a second child, yet never secondary in any way. Your mum and me will love you completely: that’s hardwired into us anyhow but Leif won’t have such a biological emotional imperative. I don’t think that will be a problem though. Today on the way to nursery, I saw my friend Christian and his little baby boy, John. Leif was smitten, fascinated by this tiny pink pudgy creature. He’ll love you, I guarantee. 

That will make our family then: two adults, two children, two cats, two fire-bellied toads (I’ll explain this later). We bought ourselves a nice new house recently and I think you’ll like it: Leif has already done some important groundwork in turning it into a two-storey playroom.  The cats will be terrified of you at first, but give them time, and do your best not to tug their tails. Soon enough they’ll presenting their coats for stroking, their ears for scritching. Willow – a little grey one -loved to sleep on the bump when your mum last had a baby within; perhaps for the warmth, perhaps for the companionship.

It’s Autumn right now, and while we’re being treated to a fine September, with some warm sunny weather, the pinch of Winter is already in the air: dawn and dusk will close in tighter together, squeezing the day into a pale smudge of light, and the trees are slowly giving up their crowns, the air crisping. It feels time to tuck-in, draw-down, retreat within. Nest.

When you emerge, it will be late Spring, with life in glorious colour, and so much promise and potential. Budding, sprouting, shouting out to the sun and the wide open sky

I don’t know what more to say, which is quite an impediment for a writer (your mum has the proper job in the house) so I’ll wrap up now, and let you know that from this moment on I love you entirely and completely, and simply cannot wait to meet you in person. We’re already having lots of fun. You’ll fit right in. Catch you in a few months, k? Sleep tight ’til then.

Dad.

Ray Darby, RIP.

I spent a decade writing about local politics, and like to think I came away with some insights. While there were politicians who were there to climb a rung on a ladder or to further their own career in some way, most took the plunge into politics as they believed they could contribute. Seeing such characters was a huge relief: while they were there, politics could work for the greater good.

Those who did fit this category – and it was not exclusive to a single party – would often become disillusioned at the processes and aggression of the chamber. Many good people would not make it through a term, or simply not stand once another election rolled around.

Yet one councillor managed to stay the course for near on a decade without compromising his values, and always being a kind polite man, regardless of who he was talking to. So it is with a very heavy heart to announce that Cllr Ray Darby, Stapleford councillor on, has died.

I confess an extended interest: I’d known Ray a long time before he got into politics. His children, Richard and Caroline, are old friends of mine: I’ve been on holiday with both, separately, and Caroline was the Best Man at my wedding (I also attended her hen-do: an evening of fun in Cardiff, dressed in the uniform of the other attendees involving a tu-tu, tights and pink boa. I was on the wagon at the time and if you ever want a tougher test of avoiding booze, you won’t find one). They are both extraordinary people who I’m proud to have as pals.

The family are extremely close to each other, so I cannot imagine the loss of this devoted father and grandfather. He was the type of friend’s dad who had every right not to like the snotty teenage oik his daughter hung around with, but did, and was instead always friendly and tolerant of our excesses. He could be deeply, wryly funny with a fine line in dad jokes. He had that boyish curiosity that lends a youthfulness to the ageing, a spark in his eye.

He loved, and he was loved.

I remember well his face at Caroline’s wedding, 12 or so years ago. The pride, the sheer pride, as his eyes jewelled with tears as he walked her up the aisle. The delight he took in other’s happiness: when I’d see him in later life I’d tell him about things in my life, and he’d be delighted that I hadn’t screwed things up when all the evidence of the early years of knowing him suggested that was inevitable.

He was first deputy Mayor, then Mayor of Stapleford, which gave him great pride. It is rare in politics, where partisanship is baked into the deal, to never hear a bad word about a councillor. But Ray was liked across the board, his quiet dignity and duty winning friends of all political stripes. He served his community with the simple belief that if you love your town, your duty was to serve it as well as you possibly could. That simple ideology remained untarnished during his tenure, and was an example to all.

He died last week after contracting Covid and rapidly becoming very ill. Whisked to hospital in Derby, he initially rallied but then succumbed. He never quite reached his ambition: to serve as Mayor: we are all the poorer for that.

If you live on through the work you did while alive, Ray has two strong cases for some terrestrial afterlife. First, his decency as a councillor will, I hope, motivate others to look upon others with kinder eyes, and put service to their area above tribalism.. And secondly, he will live on through his children, and his grandchildren, who have his smile, his kindness, his caring nature. A modest, quiet man, he didn’t want to change the world. Yet he shone brightly on all he met, and that, to me, is a much finer legacy.

RIP Ray Darby.