November 2012


Picture the scene: a greasy spoon café on a dark winter’s evening, crowded with people wrapped up against the cold. On a table for four a man sits alone, cradling a cold cup of coffee. He’s wearing a pink wig, an oversized pink dress and a slick of garish pink lipstick. No one around him seems to notice he’s there. The whole thing looks like a photograph straight out of a weekend colour supplement, part of an series of shots depicting the British being  “eccentric” and/or “tolerant”. I say as much to the man at the table. He tells me I should take the photo, then. But I can’t because one of our children has started climbing all over his lap and the moment for pictures has gone.

My partner does not usually wear dresses or make-up. He hasn’t worn them for years. This evening when he put them on it made him feel old and wistful: (more…)

So it’s almost December and as expected, I’ve totally out-Christmas-ed myself already. It may be only two weeks since I was claiming to love all Christmas songs (with the sole exception of O Come All Ye Faithful) but all that’s a distant, mulled wine-soaked memory. I’ve come to realise there are LOADS festive tunes that I completely loathe. So much so I’ve decided to write a whole blog post about it (not a very original idea, I know, but the whole thing’s been going round my head for so long it’s become necessary for the sake of catharsis).

So here is my Christmas Top Ten Of Hate (honestly, Chris de Burgh, I just don’t know where I’d be without you). (more…)

When the brilliant @therealsgm mentioned she was organising a bloghop as part of 16 Days of Action on Violence against Women, my almost-instant reaction was “I know! I’ll write something on VAW at Christmas!” Not because I’ve experienced it myself or because I’m an expert on the subject, you understand. Merely because I love Christmas almost as much as I hate violence against women, therefore … Well, anyhow, I didn’t think the general ignorance would be a problem. I assumed it would just be easy to look up stuff on the internet. Turns out it is, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to write about it.

To begin with I was obviously going to adopt a smug, pseudo-saintly position, from which I would inform everyone that actually, abusing others IS BAD and surely at this time of year – AT CHRISTMAS, of all times! – we should all be nice and love one another. For the fact is, Christmas is a time for families and children and … well, that’s the whole problem. Violence really rains on the whole Christmas parade. (more…)

During her speech at last week’s Girls’ School Association conference, GSA president Louise Robinson criticised the government’s policy of encouraging independent schools to sponsor academies.  To her it was “beyond the pale” that those middle-class parents struggling to pay ever-increasing fees should have to witness “[her] school offer its expertise and experience to parents who could have sent their children to [her] school, but chose not to”. I find her choice of words fascinating. Isn’t it odd to view specific educational benefits as USPs sold to parents rather than ways to enrich children’s lives?  Nowhere are learners – neither Robinson’s own charges nor those in the hands of what she describes as “the local competition” – so much as mentioned. Whatever happened to at least pretending to care about the greater good? Isn’t that also a USP, and one which has served the private sector well? And yes, Robinson didn’t just come right out and say “we’re a business, not a charity”, but that’s what it sounds like. (more…)

In the Guardian’s Saturday interview, Aida Edemariam puts the following question to Maria Miller, who has both spoken and voted in favour of reducing the abortion time limit to 20 weeks:

Let’s say that a woman goes for a routine anomalies scan at 20 weeks. And let’s say, because of timing, or because maternity units are often so oversubscribed, this turns into 21 weeks. And at that point this woman discovers that the foetus she’s carrying has a terrible anomaly and will either die  in the womb or have a terrible quality of life, for both baby and mother – what would you say to her?

I think it’s a good question. I’d probably ask it, too. Except I wouldn’t because I’m not a journalist, hence I’m not trained in asking politicians the right questions, those questions which are relevant and pointed and put them on the spot. It’s only people such as Edemariam who are able to do this. This may be why Miller notes that  “the only people who ever ask me about this issue are journalists”. Too bloody right, Maria. The rest of us, well, we’d only fluff our lines. That’s if we got to interview you at all, which we won’t. It’s not our job. This doesn’t mean you don’t owe us answers all the same. (more…)

So the Queen told Kate Winslet that motherhood is “the best job”. Why do I find this so annoying? I am a mother. I do think mothers are undervalued. All the same, I’d rather not be told I have “the best job”. Particularly not if Hollywood actresses and heads of state are claiming it’s their dream job, too.

The Telegraph’s Jemima Lewis is railing against the Queen’s choice of words, too:

A job is a position for which you must compete. [...]  If you’re good at it, you might get promoted up the ranks and become an expert in your field. By contrast, any moron or sociopath can become a mother. There’s no line manager to assess your performance, and no hierarchy to ascend. You might think of yourself as an expert, but other mothers won’t thank you for telling them what to do.

(more…)

So yesterday, 18 months after I decided to go for treatment, I finally attended my first “proper” session at the eating disorders clinic. It went well and I feel positive about it. Therefore, once it was over, I decided I ought to treat myself. Hell, I deserved it. Because obviously, walking into a health centre, sitting down with a black coffee and spending 90 minutes moaning about your messed-up life requires huge amounts of courage (although thankfully not too much in the way of stiff upper lip).

You may be wondering, as was I, what constitutes a suitable post-ED clinic attendance treat. Not food, obviously, because Food Is Not A Reward. But then what? Fags? Booze? Porn? No, because all that would lead to potential cross-addiction (or whatever being into everything bad is called these days). How about a nice, good book? No, because I’ve still not finished my current non-fiction (Delusions of Gender) nor my fiction (The Stranger’s Child) and besides, when I’m allowed something new, it’ll probably have to be something boring like How Not To Have A Totally Ridiculous Attitude Towards Food. (more…)

* Not really. I’m on the sofa at home.

“Women in the workplace” is a strange name for select committee inquiry, isn’t it? Hinting at novelty, it somehow suggests that “the workplace” is a strange place for women to be and that if there’s a problem to be explored, it’s to do with the presence of women, not with gender inequality nor discrimination itself.* Just women, being there. That’s the whole issue. Without them, “the workplace” would be simply “the workplace”. It’s not as though this has anything at all to do with men. (more…)

My memories of Sunday school are generally hazy, but here’s one that stands out: one bright autumn day in the early 1980s, our Sunday school teacher decided to ask us, the children, what we thought our church should be like. I don’t know why she did this. As you’d expect, it was greeted by complete and utter silence, at least until my brother, struck by decidedly non-divine inspiration, decided to raise his hand:

Miss, I think it should be like the Kenny Everett show.

To be fair, I suspect he was thinking of the character Brother Lee Love, so this wasn’t completely out of context. Either way, this proposal was not well-received. Well, Church of England, more fool you. If only you’d listened you’d now be, if not more politically correct, at least more amusing and creative in your use of sexism. (more…)

“If working parents didn’t feel guilty enough about leaving their children at nursery, now new research has found …” starts the 1,00,695th Daily Mail article on the crapness of “working parents” (aka mothers in paid employment). Yes, fellow “working mums”, it’s our turn again. Just when you thought all eyes had been turned on stay-at-home mummy bloggers, it appears we’re back in the firing line. Bring it on! (more…)

Imagine there’s an issue you really, really care about. It’s a serious one, one which causes harm to billions of people the world over. In some cases it leads to death. You attend conferences about it, write articles on it, try desperately hard to raise awareness. And then someone asks you what this issue really is – what are its causes, how does it operate – and you tell them “personally, I don’t really care”. Wouldn’t you find that just a little bit odd?

This is the problem I’m having with Ally Fogg’s Guardian piece on International Men’s Day. As the mother of two boys – and, on a far more basic level, as a human being who at least tries not to be a total tosser – I have no objection to engaging with problems that are more likely to be faced by men than women. I don’t want to have rights that my sons couldn’t also enjoy nor for them to feel afraid of expressing views that hold no stigma when they are voiced by women and girls. All the same, I tend to think that in order to challenge what Fogg describes as the “spider’s web” of “specific social injustices that specifically or disproportionately affect men and boys”, the most obvious port of call would be feminist analyses of gender injustice. If something is happening to men and not to women, it says something about what we think of women as well as men.
(more…)

In my household I am outnumbered. On the pink side there’s only me while on the blue there’s my male partner and our two sons. Obviously this causes no end of troubles when it comes to purchasing food, but thankfully our kitchen has plenty of cupboards. Once the weekly shop is done we tend to use our space wisely to maintain an appropriate level of gender-based food segregation.

In my cupboard (painted pink) we have: Galaxy bars (for when I’m sad / wistful), Maltesers (for when I’m up for Loose-Women-style japes), Ryvita (for miserable lunches with unfunny friends) and the full range of Special K products (for when I fundamentally hate myself). Meanwhile, in the men’s cupboard (blue), we have: Yorkies and Snickers bars (the only chocolate straight men are permitted to eat), extra thick-cut crisps (since Skips are way too effete) and various Big Soups (since, unlike women, men are presumed to eat because they’re hungry – and to want to consume something genuinely substantial, as opposed to some deceitful “fuller for longer” salad nonsense). We used to have a shared cupboard for things we were both allowed to consume (it was painted yellow, obviously). Alas, it mainly contained carbs, which are now men-only and thus belong in the blue cupboard (although I’m considering creating a neutral shelf in the fridge for cheese and bacon – except I think the new rule is that women can only have these if they have nothing but these. And I’m not giving up my Galaxy – I might get all weepy and need it). (more…)

According to James Dyson the British are turning their backs on the things that once made them wealthy by studying humanities instead of science and technology. I reckon he’s onto something. Take me, for instance. I’m British. I have a BA in languages, an MPhil in European Literature and a PhD in German and I’ve never invented a single piece of useful household equipment in my life. I haven’t even had anything accepted by Take A Break’s Brainwaves Roadshow. And yes, it’s not very scientific to draw conclusions from just one example but I’m not very scientific. That’s the whole problem.

Dyson is worried, not just about getting vacuum cleaners around troublesome corners, but about the whole future of our nation: (more…)

Today at work I’ve been checking Spanish audio CDs. For a little bit, at least. Then I’ve kept my headphones on and completed other tasks, while still pretending to care about Miguel’s views on global warming. All the while I’ve been secretly listening to Now That’s What I Call Xmas, Disk Three. I bloody love Christmas, me.

The best song on the compilation is Chris de Burgh’s A Spaceman Came Travelling. It is totally ridiculous and totally ace, although my partner and I have disagreements on the actual meaning of the song. I think it’s set at the time of Christ’s birth and that “the spaceman” is the angel who appears to the shepherds (is it Gabriel? Or did he appear to Mary then let someone else have a turn?). My partner, however, thinks the lines “when two thousand years of your time has gone by / This song will begin once again, to a baby’s cry” mean the song is about something that happened 2000 years before Christ was born. But I don’t buy that because …. Well, anyhow, the best bit is when “suddenly the sweetest music filled the air”, because contrary to what you’d expect the sweetest music to sound like, it’s actually de Burgh twatting about on an organ wailing “la la la la la la la la la la” (I certainly wasn’t expecting that):

Other Christmas songs I love are Jonah Lewie’s Stop The Cavalry, The Darkness’ Christmas Time (Don’t Let The Bells End) and Greg Lake’s I Believe In Father Christmas (“THE CHRISTMAS WE GET WE DESERVE!!!”). Actually, I pretty much like all of them, even George Cole and Denis Waterman’s Minder-tastic What Are We Gonna Get ‘Er Indoors? (the single of which my dad bought my mum for Christmas in 1983, complete with a gift tag to “”Er Indoors”. How we laughed! And I’ll be honest, comparing a tupperware party to “a telly that only shows Russel Harty” makes me chuckle to this day). I love all Christmas songs, carols included, with the possible exception of O Come All Ye Faithful (“lo! He abhors not a virgin’s womb” has always pissed me off. I know it’s all theological and whatnot, but I take it personally, like my perfect little sons exhibited low standards by occupying a complete slapper’s womb [as in mine] for nine months apiece).

I think it is perfectly reasonable to feel Christmassy by mid November. My eldest has just found out he’ll be a sheep again in this year’s nativity – only this year, it’s a sheep with lines! (“Nothing will happen. Nothing ever happens here. We just sleep and eat grass. It’s what sheep do.” Check out the dramatic irony there!). And they’re setting up the Christmas market in the town where I live (my office also has a Christmas market. I had my own stall last year. Unfortunately, it was there it became obvious that all the stuff my family say about my silk paintings needs to be taken with a massive pinch of salt – but still, this has not crushed my Christmas spirit, nor my willingness to continue palming off all the things that didn’t sell to gushing relatives for another few Christmases to come). On the first weekend of December my partner and I are having a night in Birmingham, just the two of us, where we’ll visit the massive market there and I’ll order mulled wine in German. Then we’ll decorate the house and start wrapping presents and it’ll all be ace (apart from Christmas Day, which has suddenly become a bit too much like hard work now that the relatives come to us. I need to get pregnant or something, then maybe they’ll do the washing up while I have a nap. But then I couldn’t drink. Oh, I’ll think of something).

Anyhow, in the meantime I’d like to have it noted that I am a non-religious, generally non-schmalzy person who happens to think Christmas is fantastic. And that is all I have to say on the matter (for now).

This post was brought to you by a vat of mulled wine. It’s okay, I have the afternoon off work (admittedly to take my son to speech therapy. But hey, I’m not the one who’ll be expected to speak clearly, so that’s okay, right?).

Eight years ago my partner and I became addicted to “gritty hospital drama” Bodies. Set in the obstetrics and gynaecology department of a fictional UK hospital, the series tracks the moral descent of registrar Rob Lake, who becomes aware that his superior is bungling procedures and maiming the women he treats. Two years after watching the series I became pregnant for the first time and tried to forget I’d ever seen it. Of course, I knew that real life wasn’t like that. Your average registrar isn’t as fit as Max Beesley, for starters, plus you’d hope your average consultant wasn’t as incompetent as Patrick Baladi’s Mr Hurley. All the same, things can go wrong, just like on TV, and just like on TV, sometimes all you can do is watch. (more…)

Yay! Bridget Jones is back! Finally me and my fellow middle-class mediocrities can breathe a huge sigh of relief. I start to worry when we don’t have enough fictional characters around to legitimise a strictly circumscribed, unimaginative range of female flaws. But now it’s all sorted. All that stuff we worry about – when we’re not worrying about “proper” things, that is – well, we no longer have to worry about worrying about it (we still have to do the primary worrying, mind, but we’ve been let off from extending it into the meta-worries). So from now on, let’s not feel bad about feeling bad about wearing massive pants – let’s just dwell on the pants themselves! And as for not being thin – well, there’s nothing remotely odd about fixating on that. We all do it (unless, unlike Bridget Jones, we are actually fat. Should that be the case, then to all intents and purposes we don’t exist). (more…)

Beneath my sharp, witty, so-damn-cool-you-wouldn’t-believe-I-had-kids exterior, I am a total mummy blogger at heart. Here are just some of the hot topics about which I’ve blogged:

When it comes to immersing oneself in a virtual “cupcake-scented world”, I’ve got it covered. All of which makes me just the kind of woman Daily Mail columnist Liz Jones would pity. (more…)

I was born in 1975. I do not recall a time in my life, ever, during which sexism, racism or homophobia were not considered to be passé. Discrimination always happened yesterday. Then today becomes yesterday and suddenly we realise that today wasn’t too great, either. Apart from “today today”, 2012. Finally, at long last, we’re totally sorted. Prejudice doesn’t exist. It’s not as though thought there’s the remotest possibility that in twenty year’s time we’ll look back and say “actually, I don’t know why we all thought that was acceptable”. (more…)

As a teenager, the actress Celia Imrie suffered from anorexia. Years later, in an interview with the Telegraph, she expresses regret at what she put her mother through:

I’m so angry with myself for putting her through that. Because it was my own fault. I had made myself ill [...] I get very angry now – and quite unsympathetic – because it’s such a terrible waste of time and energy.

Part of me feels sorry for Imrie; it’s sad that she bears this burden of guilt. All the same, another part of me wishes she’d keep her feelings to herself. These might be her personal sentiments, and as such they’re valid, but they also happen to chime in with a broader undercurrent of opinion about anorexia, and it’s one that causes real harm. (more…)

When I had children, it was not an accident. I wanted them. I’ve always wanted them. Two people would not exist were it not for my selfish, hard-to-justify yearning for them. So, world, what are you going to do about this?

The fact that I made the decision to reproduce and did not merely have little people thrust upon me is something of which I’m often reminded, usually by people who don’t like any of the following things to be suggested:

  • mothers should not face discrimination in the workplace
  • public spaces ought to be more child-friendly
  • parenting is hard work

But you CHOSE to have children, they cry. Yes, I did. But is that a reason not to question our treatment of parents and their offspring? Does choosing a particular path in life mean one cannot question the conditions that pertain to it? Is discrimination against mothers justified on the basis that they could have rejected parenthood entirely? And is antipathy towards the young entirely reasonable since it’s down to those who brought them into existence to protect them from it? (more…)

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