April 2012


Like most women I dread turning into my mum. After all, she’s 29 years older than me, has suffered ill-health and is likely to die sooner than I am. If I woke up one morning and discovered we’d magically swapped bodies, I’d feel a bit cheated, and that’s not even taking into account the fact that she lives in Nantwich.

Of course, there are other reasons why we women are meant to fear turning into our mothers. All such reasons fall back on the general assumption that older women are crap. They’re saggy and wrinkly. They’ve done nothing with their lives. Whenever they express opinions it’s just “nagging”. Worst of all, they’ve been through the menopause. Just the adjective “menopausal” can be used as an insult (hey, what do you expect? Men just love a woman with PMS).

I’m already starting to look more and more like my mum. It stands to reason – it’s the genes. Of course, like most over-privileged pre-teens from boringly standard families, I did go through a phase of hoping I’d actually been adopted. Back in the mid-eighties, every single episode of Eastenders had to have Sharon Watts casually mentioning the fact that Angie and Den weren’t her “real” mum and dad. It all seemed incredibly glamorous, what with Sharon being the blonde seductress driving Kelvin, Lofty and Ian wild. I wanted to be an adopted sex-minx, too! In the end, my mum had to show me my birth certificate to convince me that Thérèse Bazar and David van Day were not my birth parents. Anyhow, now it’s obvious that my mum is my mum. Pretty soon I’ll be mistaken for her mum, but I don’t think we’re quite there yet.

Of course, looking like my mum would not, in itself, be a bad thing. It would just be looking like my mum, and she manages that just fine. But the truth is, overall, I don’t want to be old, not just because of the “being closer to death” thing (although that’s my least fave bit). I don’t want to be looked at in the way that older women are looked at. I want to still be me.

One company who seems to be at least having a go at tackling ageism are Comptoir des Cotonniers. A posh, over-priced French clothing company, they’ve produced a series of adverts featuring mothers and daughters using the slogan “la mère, la fille et la mode“. That’s nice, you might think. But they’re not your usual mother and daughter pairings. Mummy and daughter are always thin and gorgeous, but that’s just what you’d expect for this sort of thing. The really striking thing is that both are also irritating, pretentious tosspots.

To show what passionate, real people mummy and daughter are, each advert requires la mère et la fille to name their loves and hates. Here’s one typical ad:

THE DAUGHTER Julia Gay: I LOVE the bohemian lifestyle I HATE being away from my folks

THE MOTHER Camille Gay: I LOVE travelling the world I HATE looking back at the past

Well, get them and their regret-free, open-road posturing, funded no doubt by precisely the type of rat-race, non-bohemian jobs that would enable one to purchase Comptoir des Cotonniers clothing. And yes, I know it’s just an advert, but this is precisely the type of fake authenticity on which we should be calling time.

Frankly, I think if Comptoir des Cotonniers want something authentic, passionate and real, they should do an add featuring me and my mum. We look properly old and when it comes to telling it like it is, we’d be ace:

THE DAUGHTER Me: I LOVE Glamour, makeup and swearing I HATE Glamour, makeup and swearing

THE MOTHER My mum: I LOVE my kids, kittens and shopping at Morrissons I HATE feminism, nurseries and everything my daughter stands for, come to think of it

Actually, I’m just joking about my mum. She’s a much more complex person than that, although not as complex as the deeply philosophical Camille Gay (we’re middle class, but we’re not THAT middle class). The stuff about me is all true, though. I’m pretty conflicted, and very deep.

To be honest if, in 29 years time, I find myself living in Nantwich it might not be so terrible. Hopefully attitudes to older women might have changed by then, and there might be a decent mid-priced clothes shop in the middle of town. One things for sure, though, I’m not going to model myself on that stupid woman in that “Warning” poem, the one who wears purple and eats pickles and annoys everyone just for the hell of it. I’d rather be Camille Gay. Most of all, I’d rather be just like my mum. Just like my mum, but with everyone still knowing that I’m me.

My four-year-old is currently obsessed with the original Star Wars trilogy. For those of you who haven’t seen it or, more plausibly, were too distracted by the extreme cuteness of Ewoks to follow the plot, allow my son to summarise:

It happened far, far away, which is why you can’t watch it with subtitles. There were baddies and goodies, and also some robots called CP30 and Argentina. The baddies lived in an evil giant football and had better guns than the goodies, but they lost to the goodies because they didn’t concentrate like Mrs Griffiths says you should.

Basically, the ending of The Empire Strikes Back would have been VERY different if Darth Vader had had my son’s reception teacher to guide him. But hey, let’s not dwell on what might have been.

In addition to liking Star Wars, my son likes Lego. Star Wars Lego is, of course, very expensive and not worth the dent it would make in Mummy’s Shoe Fund. Hence in order to feed our child’s obsession/shut him up without spending any money, my partner and I dug out our old Playstation 2 Lego Star Wars game, and spent the weekend teaching our son how to play it. Anyone interested in the idea that video games promote violence would have a field day with this (btw, what is “a field day”? It sounds a bit like a field trip, only less cold and considerably more smug). There’s our cute little four-year-old, leaping about the front room, controller in hand, yelling “kill! Kill! Kill!” (alas, he has a speech impediment and what he actually yells is “chill! Chill! Chill!” Seems we’re a family of accidental pacifists). To be honest, I have misgivings about all this. But I’m not giving up yet, particularly as I’ve grown rather keen on PS2 Lego Star Wars myself of late.

The fact is, I’ve developed a crush on Han Solo. Not the real, Harrison Ford Han Solo – nose is too big – but the Lego one. He’s really cute, especially when he winks during the animation sequences in-between proper play. It’s unrealistic, I know. I’m not made of Lego and probably never will be (not unless Glamour recommends some new treatment to help with this). But to be honest, I’ve never let the total implausibility of a crush stand in my way before, and hell, I’m not going to start now. Lego Han Solo goes on The List forthwith.

Like many couples, my partner and I have “The List”. We are monogamous, but each maintain a select roll of people whom we’ve given each other permission to shag, should the opportunity arise. Of course, the opportunity never will arise, but it makes us feel a little less boring and vanilla. And in the spirit of general “what the hell-ness” I’ve allowed my own list to get more and more insane. And just so you know how non-boring and non-vanilla I am, at least in my imagination, I’ve decided to share it with you now.

So, in order of increasing implausibility, here’s my top five list of people I will never sleep with but definitely would if I could (and didn’t, like, chicken out when confronted by the sheer weirdness of it all):

  1. Andy off CBeebies We’d lock eyes across a toddler-filled room at some random meet ‘n’ greet. I’d take him away with me, get him a haircut, buy him some new clothes. It would be like Pretty Woman, him as Julia Roberts, me as Richard Gere. This isn’t to say I think CBeebies presenters are just like prostitutes. It’s simply an analogy – no offence intended towards either group.
  2. The whole cast of 10 o’clock live apart from Jimmy Carr Charlie Brooker: faux-angry, vigorous sex. David Mitchell: faux-geeky, righteous sex. Lauren Laverne: lush, pouty, cheeky, geordie sex. I like Lauren the best, having been a moderate fan of Kenickie in the mid-1990s. You and I, Lauren, we’d be on our backs looking up at the stars. We’d dress cheap and we’d dress tacky. We’d dance for thrills and our nights out’d get nasty (see, I can quote your own lyrics right back at you. And not to be harsh or anything, but I don’t think there’s that many people can do that these days. Or indeed could back in the mid-90s). Btw, I think we can all agree that the Jimmy Carr bit doesn’t need further explanation.
  3. Morrissey But only in the 1980s when he was fit. And opened his mouth to sing brilliant songs rather than to make horrendously racist pronouncements. A long time ago, basically. I mean, I accept that apart from the time travel issue, there are other complications, such as him being celibate and possibly asexual. And the fact that songs such as “Pretty girls make graves” might suggest that he actively dislikes women. But that’s okay. Don’t “lose [your] faith in womanhood”, Stephen. I’ll sort you out. I’m not pretty and I don’t “make graves”.
  4. Bernard Sumner from New Order, in one very specific live video recording of “Temptation” from 1984 It’s the lovely, sexy voice. And the shorts. The best bit is when he gets all thrusty with his arse in time to the music. Just that moment alone can go on the list. Not sure what I’d actually do with him at that point, what with the guitar being in the way, but I’m sure we’d think of something.
  5. Adam Ant, but only in the “Prince Charming” video Yes, another insanely specific 1980s crush. Plainly ridiculous. But hey, ridicule is nothing to be scared of.

You may of course be wondering who is on my partner’s list. He wanted to have the actress Thora Birch, but got mixed up and actually requested Thora Hird, who died in 2003 (some incident involving a tin bath and a cream cracker behind the sofa). Unfortunately, once you’ve asked for someone to be put on the list, you can’t go back on it. So Last of the Summer Wine-themed necrophilia it is, then.

Yesterday afternoon I was in Asda with my kids, who were driving me completely and utterly mental.

Having written an opening line like that, I would now like to describe a series of suitably extreme activities – setting fire to the cheese aisle, disputing the Asda price promise, even deliberately not choosing items from the “chosen by you” range – such as would merit the high levels of distress and frustration I was experiencing. Of course, there was none of that. It was just the usual crap – pushing the trolley in the wrong direction, running off down the booze aisle, spending too long pressing the button on Daisy the Cow.* On a good day I would have responded to it all with self-congratulatory liberal-parent nonchalance. Alas, yesterday was not a good day.

So there I was at the checkout, the mad shouty lady yelling her head off, when it suddenly crossed my mind that I ought to apologise to the rather startled man working on the checkout. So I said sorry and he just smiled and said “they’re just typical boys being boisterous”. And of course, my first thought on hearing that was “hmm, that’s a bit sexist”. But then I had a second thought, which was “actually, it’s quite good if he assumes all this is down to my kids having penises rather than, say, my complete and utter inability to organise a simple trip out to purchase cistern blocks and wine” (oh yeah, we had a wild evening planned).

This was, of course, yet another instance of me being confronted by the feminist headfuck that is “useful” sexism. Someone’s being sexist, but it benefits me and I can’t see it immediately harming anyone else (for instance, my sons didn’t give a toss. They were too busy dismantling the sun cream display). So shouldn’t I just let it go? After all, I’m a woman and I’m normally on the losing side. So don’t I deserve a break every now and then? Does this stuff really matter?

I decided that in this instance it didn’t matter. I was too stressed and the man had been on the till for god knows how many hours so I hardly wanted to have a go at him. Still, it got me thinking. Surely there are instances where it does matter. What should we do about them?

The most obvious example of this is, I think, provided by breast cancer campaigning. Usually focusing unduly on a woman’s tits is just sexist and bad, as is suggesting that all things associated with women should be pink, overpriced and superfluous. And yet both of these things have provided a focus for campaigning and made a lot of money for cancer charities, not just those looking at breast cancer alone. So how bad is it really? Is it just churlish and blinkered to ask questions?

Questions have of course already been asked, first from “what about teh menz?” whingers, who use discrepancies in cancer funding to suggest that the pendulum’s swung too far (don’t we all just love the pendulum of misogynist-misandrist doom?). This is to completely ignore that a) extra funding into breast cancer is based on the successful exploitation of anti-feminist stereotypes, b) other “female” cancers do not receive the same special treatment and c) male-focused funding drives, such as Movember, can also be successful (if still really bloody irritating). More interestingly, criticism has also come from female cancer sufferers themselves, who feel that, on top of dealing with horrendous symptoms, treatments and a potentially curtailed lifespan, they’ve been co-opted into some Barbie pink smile-a-thon without their consent. Strong protests against the “pinkification” of cancer have come from the performance artist Tutu with her Punk Cancer campaign, and the American journalist Barbara Ehrenreich, who wrote Smile or Die in rebellion against the “positive thinking” foisted on those who have little to be positive about. It’s incredibly important to listen to these voices, as it can show how, far from easing suffering, the well-meaning “positive” exploitation of stereotypes can still make people’s lives a misery. But what about those of us who can’t speak from immediate experience? How should we respond?

The next time someone asks me to sponsor them in this year’s Race for Life in memory of their Great-Aunt Mabel, what should I say?

“I’m sorry, but I won’t be complicit in the potentially damaging reinforcement of sugar-coated stereotypes. Haven’t you read Barbara Ehrenreich’s book? I mean, neither have I, but I read a review of it in the Guardian, and it sounded good, so that’s why I won’t give you any money.”

Should I go for the middle ground?

“Okay, I’ll give you a fiver, but only if you don’t wear that pink wig. The pink wig’s just trivialising the whole thing, and yes, I know you’re the one with the dead auntie, but I’m a feminist intellectual and that’s my final offer.”

Or should I just do what I usually do i.e. mumble something incomprehensible even to myself, then scan the sponsorship list and offer what appears to be the going rate?

I think I’ll take the last option. I believe in choosing my battles, or rather, I believe in it as a principle, I just haven’t a sodding clue which ones to pick. And as for Asda, maybe the sheer triviality of it means I should have done more. Perhaps, rather than have a go at the poor bloke, I should have pushed the boat out and gone along with him. “Yeah, boys are a total fucking pain. I think I’ll get mine chemically castrated.” Do you think that would have challenged his preconceptions?

* For some reason, our local Asda keeps a life-sized plastic cow next to the dairy produce section, along with a button you can press to make it moo. My boys have somehow assumed that Daisy the Cow does in fact own Asda. I have not disillusioned them. One day they will have to learn of the existence of Wal-Mart, but not yet. They are innocent and it is too soon.

This April, the UK edition of Glamour featured the Hunger Games‘ Jennifer Lawrence on the cover, looking suitably youthful and unattainably beautiful in a bejeweled designer body-type-thingy. I’ve just received June’s edition (I subscribe, y’see, so I’m ahead of the game) and it includes the following reader’s letter on its Mailbag page:

Hips? Check! Boobs? Check! Thighs that don’t look scrawny? Check! Thank you for putting Jennifer Lawrence on the cover – so refreshing to see a gorgeous, curvy woman.

Yes, thank you, Glamour (although the Good Men Project’s “small-breasted women” man may still want to have words with you). As for the rest of us, we are all eternally grateful that 0.1% of women featured in your magazine are not frighteningly thin.

Of course, the Glamour editors are not afraid to give themselves that much-deserved pat on the back, too. The Mailbag subheading sets the tone:

Love yourself (we do!) April’s issue made you realise that you’re gorgeous inside, outside, and just the way you are.

(btw, they didn’t credit Billy Joel for that last bit. They should have.)

Obviously, while it’s nice for your readership to get a little Real Woman ™ boost, you don’t want them getting too cocky. That’s why “LOSE 10lbs” remains in massive bold print on June’s cover, right next to JLo’s perfect head. 10lbs seems to me to be a strangely exact number. If I were to lose 10lbs, I’d actually look quite ill (mind you, I weighed 10lbs less than I do now at the end of breastfeeding my second child, and the jury was out on this. Some colleagues thought I was at death’s door and others thought I looked brilliant. The main thing is everyone felt happy to deliver their personal view right to my face, so I could collate the various opinions and decide on my next steps in my “how to please everyone by being the right weight” strategy. It’s always good when you don’t even have to ask for consumer feedback).

Alas, I digress. The main thing here is Glamour, and the importance of feeling good as a Real Woman ™ while also being conscious that you’re still too fat, regardless of what weight you actually are. It’s vital that, as women, we’re all able to do this. So thank you, Glamour. Thank you so, so much.

On Friday I arrived home to find a leaflet slipped through my door, advertising a new women-only gym. Nothing remarkable, you might think, only said gym goes by the name of Ladyzone. Now, I don’t know about you, but my first thought on seeing that was “Jesus, so now I’m expected to lose weight from down there as well!”. And the fact is, I’m not letting any personal trainer get his or her hands on my ladyzone.

It’s not like this has never been a concern. When I was at my thinnest, I had real issues with the size of the ol’ ladyzone. Because the rest of me was so thin my mons pubis really stuck out if I wore anything clingy. I wasn’t particularly hairy, which was neither here nor there, but the minge-bulge was a genuine concern. To be honest, I’m surprised this kind of thing never appears in the Circle of Shame, what with how thin and under never-ending scrutiny everyone there is.

This all reminds me of a piece I found in Company magazine a few months ago. The magazine was offering serious advice on how to shave your pubes to make yourself look thinner. I am genuinely not kidding – I don’t think I’d have the capacity to make this up. Unfortunately I’ve thrown the magazine away so I can’t remember how you’re meant to do it. Any suggestions? I know vertical lines are meant to work for clothes, but I’m not so sure about the pubic region. A bit of me’s thinking that actually, if your bush is covering a wide surface area, this might actually make your hips look smaller by comparison. Hence it might even be an idea to sod the Brazilian and get a pubic wig (I haven’t copyrighted this idea or anything – just can’t be arsed to go through all the patenting and concept development, but if you can, I’d be happy to model it on Dragon’s Den).

So anyhow, I’m not going to join Ladyzone. I’m happy with the size of my bits and if by any chance this isn’t all about ladybit-toning, I’m not joining a normal gym, either. It’s not that I’m lazy, I just don’t see the point. I’m sure if you try hard enough, everything can be achieved by pubic hair-based optical illusion.

POSTSCRIPT Just been reading How to be a woman and Caitlin Moran backs me up on this, claiming that Brazilians make your thighs look bigger. By this she means the treatments, not the people. Mind you, if actual Brazilians had skinny thighs, they’d do that too. (BTW, anyone read the rest of what Moran says about pubic hair? Is she serious? I mean, have attitudes towards a young woman’s pubic hair REALLY become so extreme and unforgiving today? If so, well, FUCKING HELL. That is, I think, the only appropriate response.)

When I was expecting my first child, there’s one thing I promised myself I’d never do. Yes, I’d try not to swear, and I’d do my very best to keep the Raspberry Smirnoffs to a minimum (my failure to do the latter requires a whole separate post). But the one thing I would never do is twat around indulging in mummy guilt.

I  really, really hate mummy guilt. It drives me up the wall. Oh, I feel so awful, am I making the right decision, am I a good enough mother, am I letting them down, blah blah blah. I just want to jump up and shake the guilty mummy, yelling as loudly as I possibly can right into her guilty face:

SHUT THE FUCK UP! All this twatting about with mea culpas, it’s helping your children HOW, exactly?

And then, while I’m being done for common assault, guilty mummy will of course take a long hard look at herself and see the error of her guilty ways.

Mummy guilt isn’t just self-indulgent, it’s also self-aggrandising. Hey, get a load of my guilt. Bet I’m the guiltiest, shittiest mum. Bet I’m more scummy than you. It’s competitive slummy-mummy-ness. Alison Pearson’s I don’t know how she does it may be yet another thing I reference without having read, but I, like everyone else, have heard the story of Kate Reddy “distressing” shop-bought pies for the school bake sale. Have you ever “distressed” shop-bought pies? If not, don’t you think you might be getting a bit up yourself, a bit too comfortable in your perfect mummy-ness? And ironically, that in itself means you’re not as good a mummy as the rest of us, the pie-distressers. Get back down here with us. Feel the guilt. That’s what makes you a mum.

Of course, as you have no doubt already guessed, I have totally failed to avoid the mummy guilt trap myself. I’m always wallowing in it, me. Part of the reason I have this blog is to draw attention to how rubbish I am. Look at me, everyone! Look at me being shit! This isn’t mere posturing. I really do feel shit, an awful lot of the time. But I guess I think that by writing it down I’m at least acknowledging the shitness. I’m taking it on board, and allowing everyone else to acknowledge it too. And if I am the shittest mum ever then, hey, at least I’m excelling at something mummy-related.

As anyone who’s read other posts here might have guessed, I also exaggerate, a lot. I don’t really wish my youngest hated books and would just stare at the television so I could be left alone (okay, I do a bit. But not all the time). But then I think if I exaggerate, and you think I’m worse than I am but still don’t call social services, then that means I’m still above the line. I’m shit but I’m not actively abusive. Hey, kudos to me! Alternatively, this could of course also mean that you would report me to social services but just can’t be arsed because you don’t have an altruistic bone in your body. I just don’t know, but I’ll take the interpretation that flatters me the most (it also flatters you the most, but that’s obviously a secondary concern).

So, if you are a mummy reading this, do you feel this way too? Do you reckon you’re guiltier than me? What I’m asking, really, is do you fancy a guilt-off? The shittest person wins.

Do you know what really annoys me? (Apart, that is, from all the other things that really annoy me?) Go on, have a guess… Finished trying? Well, today, Matthew, it’s twee maternity T-shirts with rubbish slogans.

You know the sort I mean: Does my bump look big in this?, Under construction and, of course, the classic Baby on board. God, I feel furious just thinking about them. I hate, hate, hate them. Whose idea was this? Hey, let’s make a joke about the whole idea of “pregnant woman as mere vessel”! Hey, let’s not. Let’s just not.

Back when I was pregnant I never wore T-shirts with slogans on. I wore nice, plain stuff I’d bought in a bundle off Ebay, which allowed me to concentrate my efforts, not on amusing others with comedy misogynist leisure wear, but on the serious business of daydreaming. I daydream a lot but I did it even more when I was expecting. The daydreams were sometimes about my future child but more often than not it was the usual crap about being famous. In my daydreams I’m always famous (no idea what for, but it’s none of this z-list bollocks. I have an as-yet undefined talent that everyone is in awe of, so they hang on my every word. I have masses of influence and never once appear in the Circle of Shame…).

Anyhow, where was I? I’m famous, see, and everyone takes loads of pictures of me. Now that I’m famous and pregnant, they take even more. And one day I decide to go out with my pregnant belly on show and on it I’ve written, in black eyeliner, “Pro-choice and proud”.* And everyone who sees it thinks “wow! That’s bold! That’s different! You can be pregnant AND pro-choice! She’s up the duff and still thinks of herself as a whole autonomous human being!” And this changes the mind of every anti-choicer on earth (yes, I know this is totally ridiculous. But it IS a daydream, remember).

Of course, this hasn’t happened in real life. At least, most of it hasn’t. I did in fact write “pro-choice” on my heavily pregnant belly and take a photograph, just for myself (actually, I took the photo in the mirror, so what I actually wrote was “eciohc-orp”, but it’s the thought that counts). The reason I did this was partly just because I’m a prat and always do stupid things with eyeliner when left to my own devices. But the other reason was that I never felt more pro-choice than when I was pregnant.

If anything, pregnancy radicalized my position on abortion. I have never had a pregnancy that wasn’t wanted, but I genuinely struggle to understand how anyone can go through a wanted pregnancy without thinking about what it must be like to go through this experience without the same desire. It must be a nightmare. Pregnancy is so extreme. It takes over your whole body. You need to preserve your sense of self and make your own choices. How must it feel to have someone tell you you can’t?

I’m writing this now because earlier today I failed miserably to attend the pro-choice / anti-SPUC protests I wrote about earlier in the week. I didn’t go because I didn’t know anyone attending my local one and would have been on my own with two small children in tow, one of whom was unwell. And I thought about the irony of this: the fact that I couldn’t stand up to anti-choicers for the simple reason that continuing with a pregnancy and having children is not the minor “inconvenience” they so often like to pretend. So then, being my idiotic self, I sent a tweet which came out all wrong:  “Chickened out of going to prochoice protest alone with 2 kids. Wld’ve been doable if I’d aborted them like a ‘real’ prochoicer”. What a wanker, eh? There’s me trying to be all ironic and clever, when actually it looks like I’m saying I don’t think mothers are “real” pro-choicers in quite the way others are. Which obviously I don’t think at all. I’m a “real” pro-choicer, for starters (just one who failed to do her duty today).

Anyhow, this post is an apology. I hope I’ve done suitable penance by revealing what a complete idiot I am, what with my “being famous for some vague reason and hence changing the world” fantasies. Particularly on a day when I’ve done fuck all.

Lots of admiration and appreciation to everyone who showed the SPUCkers that people will stand up to them!

* I got this idea off a poster of Morrissey in the 1980s, looking well fit, with “Initiate me” scribbled on his lower abdomen. I’d link to it if I could find it. Perhaps I dreamt it. If so, that was unusually generous of my subconscious.

What with being an ace parent who has had children for years without them randomly exploding or being abducted by aliens, I’ve often thought that I could write a parenting manual. I’ve just never come across a suitable gimmick. Until now, that is.

Today I am feeling inspired by the work of a fellow parent and author. Neil Sinclair has written The Commando Dad Manual for Fathers, which for reasons not quite clear to me seems to have some extended advertorial in today’s Guardian. It is basically a guide for new dads but it’s DEAD HARD and MANLY!  A bit like that Haynes Baby Manual. But obviously completely different, of course.

So what does the book do?

Commando Dad sets out to offer “a few essential skills, to reduce the stress, and allow you to function”. The tone is cod-military and tongue-in-cheek, referring to a dad’s “mission” and to newborns as BTs (baby troopers).

Hahahahahahaha! Excuse me while I piss myself (it’s the post-natal pelvic floor). All this time I’ve been referring to my kids as “those fuckers”, or alternatively as “children”, but BTs! I love it!

Chapter headings include: Preparing Base Camp (baby’s bedroom); An Army Marches on Its Stomach (feeding); Welcome to the Thunderbox (toilet training); On Manoeuvres (transporting kids) and Dealing with Hostilities.

Well, I think a trick was definitely missed here. “Manoeuvres” should clearly have been linked to potty-training. Perhaps that’s one for the reprint? But anyhow, I still admire anyone who can stretch a ridiculous metaphor to breaking point. So Sinclair, I salute you.

“It’s ‘Right, gentlemen, today’s lesson is … burping baby,'” Sinclair says. “‘For this task, you will need equipment A and B. The core skills you require are X and Y. Here are the key dos and donts. And then: fall out, commando dads.'”

Erm… Actually, is it just me, or WHAT A TOTAL TWAT? Give me a break. I have no idea where a real, live baby fits into this military wordplay extravaganza. Perhaps backup (ie Mummy) is actually looking after him or her.

Anyhow, back to MY book. I’ve bred. I can do metaphors. I can do sexism. So where’s MY book deal? My proposal – The Disney Princess Guide to Motherhood – is fucking ace. Lots of stuff on getting your baby to be a “sleeping beauty”, an “ugly stepsisters” section on sibling rivalry, a chapter on “beauty and the beast” ie when your baby’s, like, a bit annoying (that’ll be cos you’re not serene and feminine enough). Haven’t yet come up with a comedy name for the baby itself but I’m thinking of something along the lines of “which of the seven dwarves is your little one most like?”. Then you call him or her Grumpy, Happy, Dopey etc. for the rest of his or her miserable life.

God, I am REALLY excited about this one. Time to sit back, ignore the actual kids and wait for the advance bidding war to begin.

Let’s face it, we’ve always known Lush were a bit shit. Naomi Klein said as much in No Logo, and that was published in 2001. And we read it and we thought “yeah, she’s got a point. But they do make exceedingly good bath bombs”.

I’m using “we” but I really mean “me”. You probably weren’t even born in 2001. Besides, I need to take full responsibility for my continued use of Lush products. It’s the smell, you see. I just can’t resist the smell. Gets me every time.

I know some people consider Lush stores to be air pollution, pure and simple, but I love it. It’s all vanilla-y and jasmine-y and almost makes you want to puke, but not quite. It still keeps on the right side of brilliant. But Lush, I shall be sniffing your aromas no more.

Since their latest stunt – misogynist torture porn as a consciousness-raising marketing strategy – their bubble bars are history. Yes, Lush, my consciousness was duly raised. It’s through the fucking ceiling. But surely a nice picture of a kitten or a fluffy rabbit would have done the trick?

So I’m saying goodbye to Lush, but before I do, I have some special words to say to my favourite Lush products. You did me proud. But now, my friends, it’s over.

  1. Lush pudding bath bomb - You are a bath bomb in the form of a Christmas pudding. You used to be called Puddy Holly but changed your name. Why was that? I thought it was a good pun. Anyhow, you looked good but you made a right fucking mess of the bath. I won’t be missing that.
  2. Lust gorilla perfume - You smelled nice and sounded rude. But you made my neck go red. What was that all about? I thought we were friends.
  3. Ultrabland cleanser - Apparently 100% of Lush staff use you, you slag of the cleanser world. Which begs the question, why do Lust sell any other type of cleanser? Unless they only employ staff with a certain Ultrabland-suitable skin type. And that’s discrimination.
  4. Sonic Death Monkey Shower Gel - You smelled of coffee, lime and chocolate, and were suitable to use as shampoo. You were ace and then the fuckers retired you so that now you can only be bought as a “retro” product online. I’m sorry they did that to you. You know I wouldn’t ever have done that.
  5. Cupcake face mask - You look like chocolate, smell like mint and hurt my face. So, you know, I always had, like, mixed feelings about us.
  6. Rehab shampoo – Bought for me as a present, I didn’t read your label and thought you were body wash. I’m sorry. I should never have misused you. Still, you got to wash my pubes, which are almost like a full head of hair these days anyhow.
  7. Massage bars, all varieties - My partner would buy these for me to help ease the stress I experienced while writing my thesis. Now I cannot so much as look at you without all that stress coming back. A Pavlovian reaction, but still, please just fuck off now.
  8. Glitter bug - You are a solid body glitter bar. I also have a “glitter bug” which is a vibrator-type thingy from Ann Summers. But I always preferred you. The other one was like having an undersized angry egg motoring inside me. By comparison, you were tops.
  9. Rock star soap - You are pink and smell of bubblegum. I’d use you and I’d hear Courtney Love in my head, singing the fabulous “Rock Star” by Hole. Hole were fucking radical. You, alas, were not (but if Lush had produced a “Teenage Whore” soap, hell, I’d have bought it).
  10. Ladykillers - Hey you with muscles and the long hair / Telling me that women are superior to men / Most guys just don’t appreciate it / You’re just one convincing me you’re better than them … Hang on a minute. I’m thinking of Lush the 1990s indie band. You were okay, indie band Lush. You can stay.

So I guess I’ve said my goodbyes. Didn’t even mention the bubble bars, but they were never that bubbly. Off to get blood on my hands by buying my superfluous cosmetics somewhere else. And no matter how much soap you buy, you can never wash it off.

Right now I’m sitting in a café drinking a short, skinny cappuccino. It’s a favourite drink of mine, but one I’m always embarrassed about ordering because, apart from the tits, I myself am short and skinny. I don’t want people to think I’m some crazy egotist who only drinks things that resemble me. Or that I model myself on my drinks. Or that I’ve got confused and actually want a tall hot chocolate but believe it’s important to provide a brief personal description before ordering. Do you think all this is going through the barista’s head right now or could I perhaps be over-analyzing?

Anyhow, at great risk of sounding like one of those I remember when “gay” meant “happy” tosspots, I can remember when “skinny” was an insult. We didn’t used to describe drinks as “skinny”. At a push we’d say “with skimmed milk, please”, but generally, back in my day, it was full-fat coffee or black. And the people who drank black coffee and as a consequence weren’t fat got made fun of for being too skinny.

While I’m not in favour of mocking thin people (and it’s not like we don’t still do this, all the bloody time), I’m really bothered about the current popularity of “skinny” as a word. Drinks are skinny, food is skinny, jeans are skinny. A word which used to mean “too thin” is now a positive attribute. What’s all that about?

It seems to me that we’ve thrown the towel in. We’ve given up the pretence that Wallis Simpson’s “you can never be too rich or too thin” was just a throwaway comment from someone who was both of these things. Wealth gets concentrated at the top because we all want to be at the top, and words that were used to describe the unpleasantly thin are rehabilitated to market clothes and foodstuffs. It’s a bit fucked up, really, isn’t it?

So I don’t call my jeans “skinny” jeans. I haven’t yet thought of an alternative. I don’t like eighties words such as “drainpipe” or “skintight” as they both sound quite uncomfortable. So I guess I’ll just call them “jeans”. That’s what they are, and it works.

Now to work on my coffee. I’m open to suggestion, but my personal fave is “short and skinny, but with big tits”.

You’d be surprised how often I find being at work and feeling like a cheesy end-of-pier comedian overlap. Almost every day someone asks me which days I work or whether I’m “with the kids” on this or that day. So then I always find myself having to tell people not to panic. They can always book more tickets for the show that is me – why not bring the whole family? – because hey, I’m here all week (ker-ching!).

It’s more than two years since I last came off maternity leave and people still make this mistake. I tend to assume it’s because I have young children but hey, I could be wrong. I mean, it might be because I’m remarkably inefficient. People are just amazed that I can be in the office every single day and still not get those projects completed.

Perhaps all this is only even an issue for me because I work in a female-dominated environment, where flexible working patterns are well-embedded and even taken to be the norm for those with small children. This is, of course, a good thing. Even so, I wish “those with small children” who work part-time weren’t always presumed to be female. The male parents I work with never get the “which day are you in?” question (mind you, some of them still talk about “babysitting” their own children, so I know I’m really asking too much here).

When I tell people I work full-time they often say “that must be hard!”. I don’t think it’s any harder, particularly, than staying at home with the kids, but that might be because I’m doing my job wrong. Or looking after my kids wrong. But anyhow, right now the comparison feels pretty balanced, albeit potentially based on me not having a fucking clue about what I’m doing in either sphere.

Of course, sometimes I wonder whether, if I worked part-time, I’d be further ahead on things like housework. I like to wonder this because it gives me an excuse for having such a pigsty of a home. I guess if I had an extra day at home I’d shove the odd additional load of washing in. But if I’m honest, it’s not as though I catch up much at weekends anyhow. The house is in slow decline, and I’m just hoping I can eke it out until the boys leave home without the neighbours reporting me for breaching health and safety regulations.

So anyhow, this is just to let you know that should you have any queries regarding the availability of me, I’m here for the duration. Can’t promise I’ll actually be useful but hey, at least I’m showing willing.

My youngest child is totally into books. Every day he toddles over to me, his story of choice in hand, saying “weed to me, mummy! Weed to me!”. And obviously I wish he were more like his brother, staring gormlessly at CBeebies and allowing me to have a quiet cuppa. Maybe Youngest will grow into that. Still, in the meantime, I generally try to give the old “weeding” a go.

Today Youngest dug out the 2009 Thomas the Tank Engine annual, which I haven’t read since 2010, a year throughout which I read it every fucking day. I know this book off by heart. After the contents and intro (“Hello, I’m Thomas! I like being Really Useful blah blah blah”), there are four pages rehashing the theme song (in case, like, you’ve had major brain damage and don’t therefore have it going round your head ALL THE TIME anyhow). After that there’s a bit on the not-so-useful engines, ie the scummers who don’t get to live in Tidmouth Sheds and aren’t in the song.

First you get the narrow-gauge engines – Duncan, Peter Sam, Mighty Mac and Freddie, and then the cranes from Brendam Docks, Rocky and Cranky (good cop and bad cop, if, um, cranes are like cops, which to be honest they’re not). Then you get two vehicles who, as far as I can see, have nothing in particular in common, as one is a lorry and the other happens to be a tank engine. The caption for this pairing isn’t much help either, telling you only that “Madge and Rosie are Really Useful, too”.

You may well be ahead of me in working out the connection. Madge and Rosie are, of course, girl vehicles. They have no other distinguishing features (well, I suppose strictly speaking that’s not true: Madge, “the green and white snub-nosed lorry”, is matronly and reliable, while Rosie “has purple paintwork and lots of freckles!” but is nonetheless a “tomboy”. So no gender stereotypes there).

In the grand scheme of how much everything about Thomas pisses me off, it may seem petty to get irritated by the tokenistic relegation of Rosie and Madge to some girly holding pen at the end of the double-page spread.* It may seem petty, but hell, I’m going to get irritated nonetheless. Because frankly, this is just introducing children to a trend that will continue for the rest of their lives. Girls! You can be Really Useful, too! As long as you remember it’s within the male domain (and don’t give me “what about Emily?” Emily is one priggish engine out of eight posho Tidmouth engines, the rest of whom are all male, and anyhow she was only brought in to replace Duck, who had a number and Emily still doesn’ t, as far as I can see. So no mention of Emily. She’s like the Margaret Thatcher of tokenistic tank engine politics, and I’m having none of it).

My partner used to be a history lecturer and a couple of years ago, a male student produced an essay for him on the lives of women in the Middle Ages. Being a right-on sort, said student noted that things were much better nowadays, because “we now allow women to help us in the workplace”. My partner wrote “who’s “us”?” in the margin. The student didn’t get it (he may have been the same student who voiced the question “was Queen Matilda really a victim of sexism or was she just a stroppy mare?” He may have been that student, but I’ve a horrible feeling that this was a different one).

Don’t get me wrong: I like being useful. I like supporting men in their manly endeavours, believe me, I do. Just as I also like supporting women in theirs. But this is not because I feel it is my place to provide the back-up while men lead the way. IT IS BECAUSE I AM A LAZY FUCKER. This has nothing to do with me having a uterus or wearing a skirt or whatever. It’s to do with me not wanting to do stuff (or rather, I don’t mind doing stuff. I’m just not that keen on asking others to do stuff, so I let the middle managers get on with that).

So anyhow, I read the sodding book. And I said “Madge and Rosie are Really Useful, too, and the fact that they have not been correctly categorized is the fault of the patriarchy”. And then Eldest looked up from CBeebies and accused me of not reading it properly. Sometimes I just don’t know why I bother.

* Reading through this, I wonder if “girly holding pen” sounds a bit rude. On reflection, I suspect it does, but I’m still going to leave it in.

I read lots of things on the internet which make me feel angry, or amused, or sad, or shocked. I rarely read things which make me feel personally attacked and upset. But this did.

It’s a piece written in response to Nick Clegg, who has recommended a massive expansion in nursery places, and done so in a manner which is offensive to mothers who stay at home to take care of their children, by suggesting that such mothers necessarily conform to a “sepia-tinted 1950s” view that women should not work. Such a suggestion is of course bollocks. Most of us know it’s bollocks. The author of the piece I’ve linked to says (somewhat more politely) that it’s bollocks. Unfortunately, that’s not all that she says. As one of those parents who, as she puts it, “delegate[s] the care of [her] children to paid strangers”, I’m deeply hurt that she failed to attack Nick Clegg’s position and then simply leave it at that.

In her opening paragraph she makes the assertion that “decades of psychology and neuroscience […] show quite clearly that the loving and nurturing environment and secure attachment experience provided by a mother cannot be replicated by a childcare worker of any quality”. I’m sure that’s true; I’m not so sure it’s a question of right and wrong in every case. A significant amount of research into childcare has been conducted at times when significant social pressures and prejudices regarding gender roles influenced the questions asked and the answers sought (actually, I’ve no idea why I’m using the past tense here; these pressures still exist today). Yes, different models are not the same. But this doesn’t mean that one is preferable for all (and yes, Nick Clegg may be suggesting precisely that; but why not tell him he’s wrong instead of just telling him he’s attacking the wrong model?)

I am aware that by suggesting one childcare model is in not intrinsically superior to another I might just sound wussy, unwilling to make hard choices or perhaps even just a victim of extreme wishful thinking. But I’d say that on the contrary, a failure to recognize this absence of superiority is a failure to recognize the integrity and value of different family constellations and their needs. A one-size-fits-all model is unforgiving and will always privilege some children over others. And yes, life itself privileges some children over others; but shouldn’t we be allowing families to make their own adaptations to offer each of their children the best chance?

The author’s tone is patronizing at best:

Every choice we make, big and small, accidental or with firm purpose, makes an impact on our children’s rapidly developing psychology. We might like to tell ourselves that small children don’t remember much, and that therefore what happens to them doesn’t really matter, as long as they are fed and warm. This is not the case. Babies are not pot plants, just sitting there growing as long as they get milk and a bit of sunlight. They are subtle and complex human beings, whose brains are developing at an alarming rate.

Well duh! Silly old career mum me sure wishes she hadn’t read that bit. Seriously, I preferred it when I was telling myself my sons were just like pot plants. I mean, come on. You don’t need to make pompous statements about “our children’s rapidly developing psychology”. Most parents recognize this in their children, what with them being human and observant, and possessing natural empathy and lots and lots of love. Those of us who send our children to nursery don’t ever think “what happens to them doesn’t really matter”. But that’s not the point. You make compromises. You make different decisions based on different situations. You make sure your child knows he or she is loved. That’s surely the best any of us can do.

I suppose you could say I’m “lucky” in that I don’t have to be tortured by guilt about “choosing” to work. I don’t have a choice. I’m the only person in our household with a permanent job and I’m sure as hell trying to cling on to it. And it’s not fun being the only woman in my workplace who has small children and also works full-time. Would I make a different decision if I had more money? I don’t know. But while choice is shitty, so is not having a choice at all. I don’t need to be made to feel worse than I already do.

The author of this piece seems confident in her own decisions and actions:

As a mother now, my daily activity with my children is not so far removed from my former working life. I play, I witness, I create safe boundaries, I hold the space, and I help other people make sense of difficult emotions. My work as a therapist taught me first hand the enormous value of ‘just being there’.

Well, good for her! As for me, like many others, I have doubts. I’d have doubts whatever I did. I don’t need them to be reinforced. It’s self-indulgent of me to be sitting with my sons and, instead of paying attention to their play and their stories, be worrying about whether I’m being “good enough”. But that’s what I’ve been doing this evening.

And so, I’ve got very upset. And then I left a stupid snappy comment after the article. And the author got back to me with a non-stupid non-snappy response, in which she argues that “this kind of post is bound to push buttons and make some people feel attacked in their choices”. She may well believe it, but I think it is wrong. I don’t think the feelings and indeed confidence of women such as myself should be collateral damage in her battle to maintain her own self-esteem and status in the face of wankers like Nick Clegg.

Well, perhaps I’ve pushed some buttons, I don’t know. But I have tried not to. I find the “mummy” communities online hugely supportive and don’t want it to look like I’m taking sides. But then when I get up tomorrow and drive to nursery and then to work, will I already have done too much? Is that already “taking sides”? I hope not. What more can any of us do but our best?

Dear State of Alabama

Here are some shit things I have done while pregnant:

  • drunk coffee
  • had a sip of champagne on my graduation day
  • repeatedly picked up a heavy object i.e. my other child
  • eaten peanuts
  • not eaten peanuts
  • eaten cake that might have had raw egg in it
  • taken SSRIs for severe depression
  • taken painkillers during labour
  • tripped and fallen due to wearing stupid on-the-bump trousers that wouldn’t stay up
  • had a wank
  • had an actual, full-on shag
  • possibly strained too much while having a shit

Personally, I think if you’re going to lock up pregnant women for being drug addicts, you should lock me up, too. They’re addicts and genuinely suffering. I’m just some middle-class fuckwit, but I’ve been putting my babies at risk all the same.

If you would like to come and arrest me, please get in touch via the comments box.

Yours

A Totally Shit Mother

PS I have also breastfed my child after drinking coffee and alcohol (but hey, one’s a stimulant, one’s a depressant. They cancel each other out, right?)

Seventeen years ago I knew a woman who was dying of anorexia. I didn’t know she was dying; I don’t think she did, either. Even so, she died. She was 35. At the time I was 19 and I thought 35 was old. I’m now 36. It’s not old. It’s just that this woman looked older than anyone I’ve ever seen before or since.

She had huge yellow eyes, massive teeth on account of her receding gums, and a head that wobbled with nothing to support it. I don’t remember anything else. Just clothes, lots of lots of clothes to cover her nothingness body.

If I’m being honest, this woman really pissed me off. She was childish and stupid, I thought. I had anorexia, yes, but she had stupid, childish anorexia. She ate next to nothing, spent lunchtimes rolling the middles of bread rolls into tiny crumbs which she’d flick on the floor, as though none of us noticed. Then in occupational therapy she drew stupid, childish pictures. A five-year-old could have done better. I hated her pictures and I hated her stupid, whiny voice. And I look back and right now I hate myself.

We were in occupational therapy the last time I saw her. She was copying  Christmas cards even though it was the middle of summer. There was a massive bay window behind her head. The sun was streaming in, burning into her head, and she tried to rest her wobbly head on a wobbly hand as she told us she felt sick. The therapist called an ambulance. I resented all the fuss. The next day the woman had a seizure. Three days later she was gone.

I’m crying as I write this, which is pretty self-indulgent, given what a useless, unsupportive bitch I was at the time. I don’t even know what it is I’m trying to say. Certainly nothing funny or original or different. I’ve just seen the cover of this week’s Heat – “The scary rise of the anorexia poster girls” – and it just makes me despair. Another shitty article full of fake concern for women who are too thin, and for the women who look at pictures of them, albeit an article which shows the same pictures once more, just in case you’ve missed them. And it makes me so tired and so sad. I’ve posted about pro-ana and hypocrisy before, albeit when I was in a better mood. But right now I can’t be arsed. This whole thing is just so fucking miserable.

I don’t know what the last days, or years, of this woman’s life were like. She’d been ill since the age of 15. 20 years of misery, for no reason at all. And she didn’t even have pictures in Heat to help her on her way, not like girls today who have even more options as to how to waste their bodies and lives.

Well. That’s all I have to say. Just what a total fucking waste.

I know I said I’d stop reading the Daily Mail and I will. I could do it any time, honest. But right now I’ve started reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a woman, so for the time being my Mail-reading is cancelled out by blasts of wholesome funky feminist fun (similar to how, if you eat an apple, you gain a “token” to spend on doughnuts later. And no, I don’t need a science degree to know that this does work).

This morning I was scanning through the Mail while munching my way through a bucket of Granny Smiths. I was onto my ninth apple when the following article caught my eye:  I’m childless at 42, and haunted by the baby I aborted at 18. I decided to read it, not just because it looks like precisely the sort of anti-choice anti-“career woman” shit that gets me going, but also because because it’s written by Kate Spicer and I happen to have a broader interest in Ms Spicer’s reproductive system and life choices.

This interest was first piqued a few weeks ago, when I nicked my mum’s copy of Easy Living magazine. In it, Kate’s written a piece entitled “Have I missed the baby boat?” (btw, if you ask me, “the baby boat” sounds like some nightmarish sequel to “The Love Boat”, so I’d sure as hell miss it if I were you, Kate). Billed on the front cover as “42 and childless: what it really feels like”, Kate’s written a mildly interesting piece (although the specificity of the “42” bit does remind me of Katie Melua’s The closest thing to crazy, with that utterly meaningless line about “feeling 22, acting 17″. Maybe weirdly exact age-association is a trait specific to people whose name start with “Kat”). But as for the rest of it, it’s basically a musing on what might have been, which is quite engaging and sad, albeit in an “if my auntie had balls she’d be my uncle” kinda way (not that I think s/he necessarily would. I’m a liberal and I don’t think people should be defined by their genitals).

The bit in the Easy Living piece that really interests me is the part where Kate mentions the abortion she had as a teenager:

I have been pregnant. I was 17 and had just left school and, as with most middle-class teenage pregnancies, it ended in abortion. My neverborn has haunted me all my life, in a curious way, rather than a morbid one. “What if” is a stupid game, but I often wonder about the parallel universe where my neverborn child would be 24 now. When I think about this I’m impassive; I’m not filled with deep regret.

Now, is it just me, or does that sound NOTHING LIKE the misery and indeed regret suggested by the Daily Mail headline linking the abortion and Kate’s “childlessness” directly. Clearly the Daily Mail editors saw Kate’s original piece, picked up on the verb “haunted” and offered Kate however much money was needed in order to totally milk it. Take this, for example, from the Daily Mail piece:

Yet if someone had told me then: ‘This is your only chance to be a mother — it’s now or never’, I suspect that between us, my mother and I would have made a fair fist of raising the child. Now, at the age of 42, it is the ‘if only I had known’ that haunts me. The idea that I passed up my only chance to have a child. If I dwell on this thought, it is disturbing, so I try to avoid it.

What a difference four weeks and the world’s most misogynist editorial policy make, eh?

To be fair to Kate, her second article is not some massive anti-abortion tract. She conveys in painful detail the sheer difficulty of seeking an abortion as a teenager in the late eighties (at first she is told she has to wait until the second trimester; it is only when her middle-class, “respectable” parents intervene that things get speeded up). Kate does come across as a bit of a snob, making frequent comparisons between her situation and that of girls on “sink estates”. Even so, class, and by extension future life opportunities, are of course significant factors in decisions made about whether to continue with a pregnancy. By all accounts it looks as though Kate has made the most of the freedoms not having children have afforded her, and fair play to her.

I have had three pregnancies, all of them wanted. One of them did not lead to a live birth. My partner and I took to referring to this pregnancy as the one that involved “the rubbish baby” (Jesus, even George Osborne made it to term. What kind of useless fucker would this child have been anyhow?). The black humour helped us to cope at the time, but we don’t really think about it any more, not least because my second pregnancy overlapped with the due date for the first one. If I hadn’t had a miscarriage my son would not exist, which to me doesn’t bear thinking about. I don’t want to say “these things happen for a reason” – do they? I have no idea – but there is no point dwelling on the lives of the neverborn. Kate Spicer knew this when she wrote for Easy Living, and I imagine she still knows it now, even with Daily Mail money in her pocket.

If anything, the thing that really freaks me out about the Daily Mail article is the position of Kate Spicer’s father. Listen to what Daddy Spicer decides to tell his daughter over dinner one day:

‘You have not conceived since your teens, despite not using contraception for some time, which would suggest you are not very fertile,’ he said.
‘Your only choice is to enter what I perceive as the dubious world of  fertility medicine.’

‘More than 40 years in medicine have left me with a disgust for the absurdity of terminating perfectly viable life in  the obstetrics department while down the corridor, in reproductive medicine, life is being forced into the bodies of women who are past their child-bearing prime.’

And I thought my dad was tactless.* Kate Spicer’s dad, could you please piss off, you mean, judgmental idiot? Yes, there may be issues with how women are expected to organize their lives around a male-focused model of career progression AND have babies along the way. But that’s hardly your daughter’s fault! Why not join the Fawcett Society and allow Kate to finish her tea?

Well, anyhow, I’m onto the eleventh apple and there’s more Daily Mail to read. Only a few more days till the next copy of Easy Living’s out. What next? “42 and regretting writing the Daily Mail article where I said I regretted doing the thing I said I didn’t regret doing in the article I wrote before that one”? I tell you, Kate, I really CANNOT wait.

* Like me, my dad is a northerner and he, more than most, loves to use that northern “I speak as I find” stereotype to insult people to their faces (“Remember, lass, tact’s for them posh folks, not for the likes of us”). He’s lovely, my dad, but sometimes I think he forgets he’s now a retired barrister living in Cheshire.

As a mother who is also in paid full-time employment, I’m really grateful to women such as Ann Romney, who have the empathy and generosity of spirit to appreciate “lower-value” women such as myself. In particular, the following comment of hers has made me feel a whole lot better about who I am:

I love the fact that there are women out there who don’t have a choice and they must go to work and they still have to raise the kids. Thank goodness that we value those people too. And sometimes life isn’t easy for any of us.

Too right. I’m going to pin this quote above my desk, right next to the picture of those babies who I’m assuming must be mine.

Look, I’m busy. It’s work, work, work with me. So sometimes I forget the following things:

  • I “don’t have a choice” about going to work. I mean, I don’t – we need the money. But hey, sometimes I even enjoy it and get a sense of achievement! And that’s just selfish, isn’t it?
  • I “still have to raise the kids”. Sometimes I assume that since I have a partner, child-reading isn’t all my responsibility. That’s what paid work does to you. It’s like I’m turning into a man or something. It’s always good to get a reality-check.
  • I ought to be paranoid that stay-at-home mums might not appreciate me. I need to be reminded that people like Ann “value” me. I mean, normally I just assume stay-at-home mums are fellow human beings with varied viewpoints. I think I’m mixing with the wrong sort; they just don’t patronize me enough.
  • I need count my blessings. “Life”, says Ann, “isn’t easy for any of us.” How true. How true, and how profound.

Of course, some liberal fuckwits are being mean and making a big deal about the “I love the fact…” element  of Ann’s comment. And okay, it does sound weird coming from a multi-millionaire who doesn’t have to work and could probably pay for me and thousands of others not to without even noticing the difference (how about it Ann? Okay, ignore the others, what about just me?). But the thing is, it’s just a turn of phrase. She just meant “I think it’s nice”, or rather, not “nice”, but she loves the fact we do it all the same. That we step up to the plate. Basically, she loves us or something.

I love the fact that some people have the time to make judgements about the lives of others, particularly as said others don’t have the time to make the judgements themselves because they’re too busy working. Basically, I love the fact that Ann Romney doesn’t have to work.*

* As in do paid work. Because remember, Ann, staying at home looking after children is working too. For a moment there it sounded like you’d forgotten it.

Over a decade ago, I had a major falling out with someone I’d been friends with for years. We’d argued about stupid things before – state schools vs private schools, the Northern Ireland peace process – but this time the subject was a bit more serious: our respective tit sizes. Looking back, I realize it’s an area we should really have avoided. We’re still not properly reconciled to this day.

Like may such misunderstandings, it started over email. We were having a group discussion and she mentioned a party she’d been to in a strapless dress. Someone else mentioned how nice she’d looked, and she made a comment about how “at least with small breasts you can get away with this without them going down to your ankles”. I happen to have large breasts. They don’t quite reach my ankles yet (or didn’t then), but I still took offence. So I made some quip along the lines of “yeah, but you’ll still always be small”. So then she got similarly offended and asked if there was any other part of her body I’d like to take a shot at. And, being me, and feeling exceptionally annoyed at her failure to recognize that I’d been slighted first, I thought “fuck it” and told her (and everyone else) I didn’t think that much of her thighs, either. It was, I think you’ll agree, all very mature.

She was upset, I was upset. We were both upset because our tits were, and are, in one way or another, the “wrong” size. So we took it out on each other and we’re no longer friends. How fucking stupid is that?

I was thinking of this yesterday because for some idiotic reason I decided to read “In praise of small-breasted women“, that piece from The Good Men Project that’s already gaining cult status amongst those of us who like reading stuff that’s completely and utterly mental. I’m not going to tear the article to pieces here; I can’t do that as well as it’s done here, for starters. In fairness, or to show that The Good Men Project has no idea when to stop, there has been a follow-up piece, “In praise of large-breasted women“. I’ve not read it yet, but I think we should push for the “medium-breasted women” and “women with one breast bigger than the other (and the smaller one has an inverted nipple)” pieces forthwith, just for the hell of it.

Still, all this “aren’t women’s characters and their breasts just one and the same thing?” crap did get me onto another topic, and one which I think is much-neglected in tit-debating circles. And that’s gamine beauties. You know the ones I mean: Audrey Hepburn, Audrey Tatou – essentially, anyone called Audrey (apart from Audrey off Coronation Street). Gamine beauties are thin, fit women drooled over by men who don’t normally drool over thin, fit women. Part of the reason this is permitted is because gamine beauties are classy, that is, they have short hair and small breasts (okay, I’m exagerrating. It’s also because they’re not American and get to act in pretentious films. But believe me, I’m sure small tits play a significant part in all this). Gamine beauties are “the thinking man’s bimbo”. So men get to letch over them and flatter themselves that they’re only doing so because their own IQs are so high. Rather like the nice “thinking” man in the original Good Men Project article.

When I first moved in with my partner, he tried to put up a poster of Audrey Hepburn in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. I said no; I found it hard enough not to get stressed about eating my own breakfast without having a gorgeous anorexia icon staring down at me (btw, I’ve never actually seen “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”; I’m guessing here, but I reckon Holly Golightly chose Special K). This may all sound petty, but he’d never have suggested putting up a poster of Jordan (and yes, I know arty cinema is not the same as “I’m a celebrity get me out of here”, but perhaps the issue is not the natural bimbo-esqueness of the large-breasted, but the under-representation of the large-breasted in arty cinema, so there). Anyhow, we’ve agreed that Katy off CBeebies’ “I can cook” is a reasonable compromise (you can’t generally estimate her breast size due to the apron).

I have nothing personally aganist “gamines”. I am just sick of breast size being associated with intellect, not only in the letched-over but in the letcher himself. I will however admit, there is ONE way in which having large breasts has hindered my intellectual development. When I was at university, the computers in the library were positioned in such a way that when I was standing up to search for resources, my tits just happened to rest on the space bar. This would send the page scrolling down super-quick, and clearly limited my ability to hunt down the vital journals I needed. If it hadn’t been for my ample bosoms, I’d have been a bloody genius. Am I bitter? Just a little. But still, with a rack like mine you learn to get by.

I recently overheard the following conversation at a children’s birthday party:

Mum 1 [to heavily pregnant Mum 2]: It’s so great that you’re having another boy. Boys are so much easier than girls.

Mum 2: Yes, I know. Girls are such hard work!

At this point my gender-bullshit detector was beeping loudly, but I decided to say nothing. After all, I only have boy children. What do I know? Mind you, both of the women speaking only had boy children, too. So what the fuck did they know either?

We’ve all heard this conversation a million times before. Boys are so much easier, so easy-going, so calm. Girls are so fussy, so moody, so spiteful. Girl babies cry too much. Girls in the playground bitch about each other. Boys might kick the shit out of each other, but hey, that’s just them being boisterous. Basically, compared to boys, girls are crap.

Maybe it’s true. I mean, I have boys and I think they’re pretty ace. Perhaps if I’d had girls I’d be kicking myself for not having that abortion when I’d had the chance. But to be honest, I have no idea. Because I only have two children and there are billions of people in the world. How can I possibly use my two to make sweeping statements about what “girls” and “boys” are like? I know everyone else seems to, but I don’t want to join in.

My children are quite different from each other. The eldest is serious, studious, good at maths. The youngest is sociable, pretty, good at making friends. Or, to put it another way, the eldest is gentle, caring, good at looking after others. The youngest is boisterous, aggressive, good at winning fights. Do you see what I did there? It’s piss-easy to do this with any boy-boy, girl-girl or boy-girl pairing. The stereotypes will do whatever you want them to.

When it comes to sex and gender, it’s amazing the extent to which people will use a tiny sample to make massive generalizations. In Simon Baron-Cohen’s The Essential Difference, a whole chapter – called “Boy meets girl” – is devoted to allowing a mother to describe her one son and her one daughter. Because that’s what serious scientific research is all about, splitting a chapter up into two headings (Alex: cars, football, music and computers, then Hannah (Alex’s sister): dolls, cuddlies, animals and people), and allowing a mother to give various opinions on her own children who are not the whole world. It’s complete bollocks (okay, I’m not a scientist. But I have a scientist friend who says it’s complete bollocks and he has a dick, so that’s gotta be good enough for me).

I’m particularly pissed off about the degree to which gender stereotypes about children work against girls. This makes me feel a bit of a traitor as a mother. After all, I have boys. Shouldn’t I be fighting their corner? But then I’d like to feel in some way I am. I want them to grow up in a fairer world. I don’t want other people twisting what they say and do just because of the gender identity they have (and may not choose to have in future).

Anyhow, if I were to work from my own experience alone, this is how it would be:

  • Boys are ace
  • Girls are ace
  • My boys are the most ace, but they are also the hardest to look after, which suggests that I’m the best mum, too

Got that, everyone? Next time I’m at a party, that’s what I’m going to say.

In addition to subscribing to Glamour, I often read Private Eye. I like Pseud’s Corner, and the book reviews, and the impossible crossword with gratuitous rude words. Whereas I hate Glamour (since I’ve started a blog, I pompously tell myself I read it for “my material”), I’m quite fond of Private Eye. Or rather I would be if it wasn’t so ridiculously, pointlessly sexist.

This fortnight’s edition is advertising a set of “exclusive” cartoon cards. One of the cards in the set – the one that’s enlarged to promote the rest of them – includes a picture of a woman ironing with a toddler sitting at her feet. The caption is as follows:

Mummy said her first word to me today, Nanny.

It’s okay, I’ll allow you a few minutes in which to piss yourself laughing.

***

Finished? Okay, so that’s proven we’re not all humourless feminists here. But still, I think we can all be agreed that that’s still a pretty shit excuse for a joke. Women who employ nannies not knowing their own children! How totally un-fucking-hilarious! Or maybe it’s not meant to be funny. Maybe it’s just social commentary. A comment on how shit working mothers are (btw, by “working mothers”, I don’t mean to imply that stay-at-home mothers don’t work. I mean “working mother” as an insult aimed at those in paid employment. Don’t worry if you’re a stay-at-home mum; I’m sure Private Eye thinks you’re shit, too).

I don’t actually employ a nanny. I send my youngest to nursery. Does that make me better or worse? I suppose it makes me a bit less like Polly Filla (you could argue that Polly, who’s always being a stupid, insensitive bitch towards her immigrant au pairs, was created to highlight the racism and snobbery of the upper middle-classes. You could, but it’d be a crap argument. Polly is just another ludicrous misogynist stereotype, and she can fuck right off).

It does bother me that I don’t see my children as much as I would were I not in the office (I was about to write “were I not earning money for food and shelter”, like I have to justify what I do in the most basic terms. If I were a man I’d just write “supporting my family”, but it sounds as meaningless as it actually is coming from me). It bothers me more that people seek to make a joke of this, as though we’re all entirely oblivious to the hours and experiences lost and it takes some shitty cartoonist to open our eyes to it. I wonder who will buy this card, and who they’ll send it to. Hopefully not to mums like me.

Dear You

You’re a shit mum and your child doesn’t know you. Still, nice shoes – did the “job” pay for that?

Love,

Some post twat who’s probably never changed a nappy in his whole fucking life.

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