Beauty editors: What are you on? And can I have some?

Two weeks ago my moisturiser ran out and I’ve yet to buy a replacement. Thus over the past fortnight I’ve noticed the following things: an increase in the “appearance of visible fine lines”; a decrease in “radiance”; the terrifying onslaught of the “seven signs of ageing”. Actually, none of that’s true. All I’ve noticed is that I have fewer spots, presumably because I’m no longer clogging my pores to treat a moisture deficiency that doesn’t exist. Perhaps I’ll never buy moisturiser again.

Now, obviously, you may be thinking “that sounds a bit rash. What about the long-term signs of ageing – the ones she can’t see yet? Shouldn’t she be protecting her skin so that the damage that is inevitable doesn’t become even worse than it will inevitably be, or at least we assume it will inevitably be, not that there’s any way of proving this unless she has an identical twin to use as a test control, and even then we’d have to make sure they were both smoking, drinking, exercising, breathing in exactly the same way, all the time…” Hey! Just chill! I’m on the case. My foundation still has SPF. And besides, the weather’s shit so the sun’s never out anyhow.

Of course, there’s another reason I’m feeling a bit more relaxed about tackling the onslaught of time. I’ve just finished reading Caitlin Moran’s How to be a Woman. Her chapter on ageing – called “Interventions” – is fucking ace. You read it and think “hey! I want to be a wise wrinkly sage, not some insecure girl-woman! Saggy jowls? Bring ’em on! It’s a sign of having finally made it!”. Alas, for me at least, this effect hasn’t lasted. I look at pictures of Caitlin Moran and think “yeah, it’s okay for you. You have great hair and superior eyeliner skills. When you are old you WILL look like a wise woman not to be messed with. Me, I’ll just look like some old biddy to whom no one listens. And I won’t even be able to complain because no one will be listening”. So that’s not the reason I’m more relaxed, not directly. The thing is, though, in the absence of How to be a Woman, I’ve started flicking through that June issue of Marie Claire in bed (i.e. the one I go on about so much on this blog they’ll probably start demanding some copyright fee [lawyers, that’s a joke]). And perhaps it’s reading it in a different context (in bed, that is, rather than in the bath or on the loo, which is the normal place for magazine-reading), but for some reason, it’s like a lightbulb has gone on. Yes, women’s magazines are offensive. Yes, the beauty advice is unrealistic, bullying and inconsistent. The one thing I never realised quite so much until today, though, is that it’s also absolutely fucking insane!

It’s not that you can’t afford these over-priced serums and moisturisers. It’s not that even if you can, and use them religiously, you’ll never look like these models. It’s that, at its most basic level, what you are being told doesn’t make sense! It’s practically another language! Once you start looking at it with fresh eyes, it really is quite remarkable how far they’ll push complete and utter bollocks. Here, for instance, are just a few of the Rules of Insanity that all beauty editors must learn (all taken from June’s Marie Claire – see, lawyers, I’m acknowledging my sources):

1. Throw in some real science to try to mask the completely made-up science

… the tuning forks are activated at different pressure points to stimulate the waters that make up 80 percent of our bodies. This is called Sonopuncture and I’m told it will be as relaxing as an hour’s meditation.

Extreme Beauty, p. 246

Our bodies are 80 percent water? Don’t they cover that at Key Stage 3? And also on the Lucozade adverts? Well, I’ve always believed that to be true. Must mean that the rest is. Even though it’s obviously total crap.

2. Don’t answer basic questions – just say something completely unrelated

Q. I have only two weeks to lose 7lbs. Do you think that’s possible?

Susie, 36, on p. 232

To which they answer is “yes, Susie. Get your head amputated, that should do the trick”. Or, perhaps better, “yes, Susie. But it is a ridiculous idea. Unless this is a legal requirement and you’re facing the death penalty, please don’t do it”. The answer most definitely is not “The antioxidant-rich Radiance Cleanse Juice Diet – £395 for a five-day plan – packs vitamins and minerals into a tasty five-a-day menu. The Pure Package is a bespoke menu and delivery service designed to address personal goals such as weight loss and detox, while the Beach Goddess Programme  – £399.50 for ten days – is a vitamin-rich diet to give you a holiday glow” (and no this, wasn’t taken from an acknowledged “promotional feature”. This is a genuine “Ask the beauty editors” response. To which this is a genuine “me” response: what the fucking fuck? You didn’t even mention the 7lb!).

3. For every social problem, remember there’s a beauty product to be recommended

Or several, in fact. On pp. 249-250, you are asked which type of boozer you are – “Whinge Drinker, Oversharer, Dancing Queen” – and given advice on how to deal with this. This clearly disregards the fact that if you’re pissed, you don’t have the self-awareness to note and later reflect on what drinking “type” you’ve just represented. The only reasonable advice to give is either drink less or stop giving a fuck (the latter is always easiest when you’re off your face). Rather creatively, Marie Claire have found five different ways to say this, each suited to a particular drinking persona. Even more creatively, they’ve added in an “erase it” feature which tells you which beauty products to purchase in order to lessen the effects of a heavy night. Even more creatively than that, they’ve matched them to the different personas, although without any particular logic. If you tend to overshare when drunk, for instance, you need Dermalogica’s new Overnight Repair Serum, £56, whereas if you get all whingey when drunk you need Nanoblur, £19.99 from Boots (obviously from now on I’ll aspire to be a whingey drunk – it’s much cheaper). I’m wondering what’ll be in July’s issue. Which drug addict type are you? With a special on the best concealers for track marks.

4. Bear in mind that it’s okay to be offensive on several levels if you’re talking “skin science”

There are times we’d all like to take our skin to one side, and, in the words of Michael Winner, tell it to just ‘calm down, dear’. But, stop for a moment and consider that your ‘schizo’ skin might actually be trying to tell you that trying to juggle a work presentation/dinner party for 12 is just way too stressful for your complexion.

Face Savers, p. 242

To be honest, while my skin irritates me at times, I have never wanted to subject it to sexist or ablist abuse. I just haven’t. It’s not just because it’s part of me. It’s because it is wrong.

5. Never challenge celebrities over their complete failure to understand basic words such as ‘lazy’

I’m pretty lazy when it comes to skincare. I’ll start with Aromatherapy Associates Renewing Rose Cleanser (I’ve got one of those Clarisonic things but I think I was going a bit overboard with it) and I love Skin Ceuticals stuff. But my favourite serum is one by Linda Meredith, which I add to my moisturiser. I also take Suqqu’s Lip Essence Cream everywhere I go.

Sienna Miller, p. 239

Quite honestly, I’m appalled at Sienna Miller’s skincare laziness. She should be washing her face in fresh mountain dew collected by elves. And I’m not interested in just the “favourite” serum; I want the full top ten. And as for carrying one lip treatment everywhere she goes; I’m never without at least six lip glosses. Always mistaking them for pens, though, of which I’m always short. Juicy Tubes are rubbish when it comes to taking minutes.

Conclusion

It is rare that I will quote Peter Andre to sum up my view on an issue (perhaps I should do it more often). Anyhow, I’m doing it now: THIS IS INSANIA! :

Take a look around, at what technology is found

Is it what we need or are we killing the scene?

Dictated by the screen, no more following your dreams

The world has become a difficult place to be

Where are we going, does anyone care?

Hold on to real love, there’s so much to share

Thank you, Peter. Never a truer word was composed in a fake jungle and later released as a single. I open Marie Claire and I think “this is insania!”. Especially when there’s so much love to share. And so much money to spend on working out what my drinker type is, now that I’m no longer throwing it down the drain on moisturiser.

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How to find a boyfriend in 1998

In the summer of 1998, my friend Cath and I were bored. Really, really bored. We were in our early twenties and while everyone else we knew appeared to have moved on with their lives, we both found ourselves spending the “school holidays” back home with our respective parents. I remember the two of us in my bedroom one evening, dancing to “Cigarettes and Alcohol” by Oasis. “It’s true, though”, Cath observed, “that is all we’ve found round here. Cigarettes and alcohol.” The only difference was that Liam Gallagher wasn’t still hiding his fags from his mum and dad (whenever Cath’s mum found cigarettes, they were “mine”; whenever my mum found them, they were “Cath’s”. It would be insulting everyone’s intelligence to pretend that anyone believed this shit).

Both being single, we came upon an idea. Let’s just shag each other! Only kidding; this was a small town in the north of England. And yes, we could have livened things up by re-enacting Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, but we just weren’t that way inclined. So we decided on something else. We would find boyfriends! Sod Cigarettes and Alcohol; it was time to find our Wonderwalls (whatever that might mean).

We were both 23 and had each never had a proper boyfriend. This was, naturally, disconcerting, although we responded to it in different ways. Cath was the joker; I was the total slag. Each response was clearly unacceptable; after all, that was why we were still single. Hence we decided to step things up a gear and take some positive action (although, to be fair, the shagging around could be quite positive at times; but it was time to set aside such ladette fripperies once and for all). And thus, allow me to reveal to you our amazing three-step plan, all conceived and executed in the summer of ’98.

Step 1: Visit a fortune teller

Before one embarks on any serious project, it’s a good idea to know in advance whether it’s likely to work. So we ventured out to see Mystic Mary, deep in the wilds of Carlisle town centre, possibly somewhere near The Lanes. With Cath, once she’d established that my friend hadn’t come to discuss concerns about “coming out” to her family (by then we were looking quite couple-y; probably could’ve pulled off the whole Oranges thing after all), Mary talked about meeting “a man” within the next year. With me, she said I’d meet “a man” within the next two years (it was clear I still had a lot of “personal stuff” to work on). As an extra detail, she mentioned that my man would be taller than me (I’m 5′ 1″, so it was a long shot). Utterly elated at these glad tidings, Cath and I went off to treat ourselves to lager and lime and cheesy chips in a tiny pub ‘neath the shadows of Carlisle Cathedral.

Step 2: Visit the “personal development” section of Bluebell Bookshop 

There we hunted down our essential literature, the bible that would tell us, once and for all, how not to stay single. Thus, when we happened upon a book that was in fact called How not to stay single, we thought we’d struck gold. Alas it was not to be. “How not to stay single” might also have been called “How to stalk and freak out the entire human race until it places a restraining order on you and you have to go and live out the rest of your days, alone, on an island at least 10km away from any other inhabited island, in all directions”. Man, it was freaky. The thing I remember most was the insistence that you say “hello” to fifty complete strangers every week (or was it day? Hour?). The book mentioned the example of one woman who hadn’t done her requisite number of greetings and was running out of time, so positioned herself at the end of a marathon yelling a desperate “hello” into the face of every male runner crossing the finish line. And guess what? One of these men became her husband! Presumably he was too knackered to say no. I just couldn’t go for any of this, and nor could Cath. Where we come from, the random “hello” will just lead to no end of trouble (especially as, while you might think you’re greeting a stranger, it’ll turn out to be a friend of your dad’s and the news that you’ve been smoking in town will just reach home all the quicker).

Thus we descended upon another, more established guide: The Rules for Dating, by Ellen Fein and Sherrie Schneider. You’ve probably heard of it; if not, there are lots of rules, a whole book (and desk calendar) of ’em, but these are the essential ones:

  1. Remember you are “a creature unlike any other”. We’re all individuals and you’re no exception.
  2. In spite of your bog-standard individuality, you must act in exactly the same way as any woman following the rules. Otherwise they won’t work.
  3. Play hard to get. That’s the main thing. A man doesn’t like to feel pursued. And he does NOT want to shag a woman who does anything which might indicate she might want to shag him.
  4. Your main objective is not, in fact, “getting a boyfriend”. It’s “getting married”. Always “getting married”. Without that in mind, you’re lost.
  5. Your husband doesn’t have to be “someone nice”. He just has to be “some man”. Don’t worry; it won’t cause conflict. You’ll just fit in around whatever he wants. Still not sure of the point of having a husband if that’s what it all means? Well, don’t be. Just don’t. That’s not one of the rules.

This all sounds like complete crap, doesn’t it? But hey, it all sounded much more doable than what the other book said. So it was time to move on to Step 3.

Step 3: Fuck it all up

So, we were creatures unlike any others. Time to put on some makeup, head off into town and go and sit in the Board and Elbow, looking “mysterious”. As a prop we rented a copy of the Cameron Diaz film The Last Supper from the video shop across the road. It worked! Some boys came over and talked to us! They told us the film was shit! We just smiled mysteriously. After a few more cider and blacks (halfs – a pint is NOT “mysterious” so you just need to get more orders in), we went home “empty handed” (apart from the shit film, which I actually thought was okay), but it was a result!

The next day we ventured further afield – to Pooley Bridge, our nearest Lake District tourist hotspot. And as this was a tourist hotspot, we got even more made-up – short skirts, heels, full-on hair with that extra Sun-in glow. Alas, we had not considered the fact that said tourists were fell walkers. As a feminist I would argue that a woman has the right to dress however she likes without being presumed to be a prostitute. However, if you go to somewhere where everyone else is wearing walking boots, fleeces, waterproofs and rucksacks, and you are wearing a short skirt and heels, you look like a prostitute. Especially if you spend the whole day hanging around in a pub looking “mysterious”. No one came and talked to us. Even if we’d wanted to be prostitutes, we’d have failed miserably. Despite our early success, things were suddenly not going quite so well.

Finally, we decided on having a proper “girls’ night out”. One during which we would look totally independent, to demonstrate that we just didn’t need no man. Of course, lots of men would be attracted to this independence, this not-needing of them. It was genius! We’d start out in the local Italian, then head off to Blues nightclub for Ladies Night, a night in honour of feisty independent women and not, as others might suggest, a total fucking meat market. And indeed, the night started well. Over pizza and copious amounts of chardonnay, we discussed our independence, how much we valued it and how nice it would be to find that special someone who’d value it, too. Then we drank a bit more, and tottered to Blues, fags in hand, buoyed up on cigarettes and alcohol once more but feeling at the top of our game. I’m not sure where it all went wrong. Basically, I was too drunk to remember. I snogged some bloke called Simon (hey! I remember his name!) against the wall of mirrors at the end of the dancefloor, then slurred something along the lines of “no, cantgohomewivoo, amfollowintherools” before Cath pulled me away. It was well classy, but not the behaviour of a Rules girl.

The morning after, through the fog of my hangover, I discovered two things: 1) I’d been accepted to do a masters at Cambridge University, and 2) I wasn’t going to even attempt The Rules ever again. Thus it was that one month later I arrived at Downing College, full of hope and optimism. And thus it was that one month after that, the less “enlightened” of my housemates were already calling me “the college bike” (no mean achievement, when you consider the number of actual, non-metaphorical bikes in a place like Cambridge).

Moral

I did not find a boyfriend in 1998. I finally found one, very briefly, in 1999. He was a computer programmer and he didn’t really like me. His friends didn’t really like me, either. For some reason, I liked him, or a made-up version of him, so it lasted four months before he dumped me. I should’ve known it would never last. Hadn’t Mystic Mary told me I’d have to wait two years, not one?

And then in 2000 I met my partner, who is, just as Mary predicted, taller than me. We met at a Pet Shop Boys themed birthday party. I didn’t even know the person whose birthday it was. I’d only been invited because I’d confessed to a fellow student that I didn’t have any friends, having spent the first four months of my PhD hanging out with computer programmers who didn’t like me. When I got to the party, the girl who’d given me the sympathy invite wasn’t there, so I decided to leave. I’d already opened the front door to go when I spotted her. Five minutes later she introduced me to the man I’m still with today. If I’d decided to leave a minute earlier this might never have happened. I’d still be single now, or I’d be with someone else. Or I might have multiple divorces behind me, or be a serial monogamist, or be in a threesome, or in a polygamous marriage. Who knows? Knowing how desperate I can get at times, I sure don’t.

The one thing I do know is that there’s a lot of chance involved in meeting the right person. You can’t achieve it by following rules, certainly not ones that insist you cease to be yourself for the rest of your entire life. And if all else fails? Well, there’s always cigarettes and alcohol (joke. That’s all really passé, anyhow. Twitter and Newsnight, kids. That, not love, is all you really need).

PS Apart changing the name of my friend (who may wish to deny all knowledge that any of this ever took place), I’ve kept to the truth. Shameful as it is, all of this took place. I didn’t even bother to change Simon’s name. I am assuming he’s forgotten me by now. Although, had I not been vaguely attempting to follow The Rules, perhaps we’d now be married with kids.

Shut up, mummies! It’s all been said before

Yesterday evening I asked my partner if he would mind me taking Saturday “off” from caring for the kids. He said “no, I wouldn’t mind” but in a way that obviously meant “yes, I would” (that’s the thing with men. Say one thing but mean another. Luckily I was able to overcome my stubborn female rationality and use a bit of male intuition to work it all out). So anyhow, I said “you mean you would mind”. and he said “yes”. So that, it seemed, was that, and we went back to watching Russel Howard’s Good News in complete and utter silence.

This morning, however, I was still cross about it so I got all shouty. I mean, really, really shouty. Not at him – he’d already left for his training – but at our kids, just because they were there. And because I am really, really fed up. I just want a day off, that’s all. Who have I become? Shirley sodding Valentine? Well, no, actually. Shirley Valentine, well, she had it easy.

Somehow I have managed to fuck up so spectacularly that I’m in a situation where I’m now the main earner and the main carer in our household. Hooray for me! Of course, it’s more complicated than that. It hasn’t always been like this and it won’t always be in future. But that’s how it is now. It makes for a great anti-feminist morality take: “Ha ha! Look at you with your big ideas! Betcha didn’t realise that having it all meant doing it all!” etc. etc. Yeah, it’s all fucking hilarious. But in terms of personal family decisions, it has nothing to do with gender stereotypes. Even so, on a wider scale the stereotypes really don’t help.

Being female and all, I’m not even meant to say anything about the work-life balance, at least not if I don’t want to be accused of being an archetypal moaning, self-absorbed, middle-class Polly Filla. I’d be accused of this despite the fact that:

  1. no, I don’t believe I’m the first woman ever to have kids
  2. no, I don’t think my situation compares to that of someone who’s terminally ill or who’s children have died or who is, in any other way, having an all-round shitter time than me
  3. no, I am not called Allison Pearson or Rachel Cusk

Indeed, when it comes to point 3, I’m a bit sick of a select number of writers being decreed the authorities on what my experience is and where the boundaries of my “moaning rights” should be set (“you’re fed up? Rachel Cusk was fed up in 2002! Surely that’s the final word in mummies being fed up!”).

It would be different if moaning about other aspects of life were treated in the same way as moaning about motherhood. Can you imagine, for instance, what would happen if a journalist who’d recently gone from being a freelance to working in an office were permitted to write about “office work” in the way that some new parent journalists write about having kids?

Well, it’s been two days since I earned my “office worker” stripes and let me tell you, it’s nothing like they say in the training manuals! It’s about time someone blew the lid on what it’s really like. For instance, office chairs – sometimes they’re swivelly, and some of them have wheels! Yet no one ever tells you that! Then there’s Office Outlook – some offices don’t have the most recent version yet everyone just accepts it. It’s not the “done thing” to complain. And as for the coffee machines, well, that’s one of those things upon which we office workers will never agree  …

etc. etc. etc.

And thereafter, once this column had been published and then made into a book and then serialised as a column again, whenever anyone else who worked in an office fancied discussing their working life – say, to bitch about a colleague, or express concern about an overdue project – they’d be told “oh, for chrissakes! We’ve already read about that shit in Allison Cusk’s “Office Politics” column for The Times. Surely what she says offers the final word on anything and everything to do with your life and that of every other office drone? So shut the fuck up, will ya?” Of course, none of this is going to happen. Alas, for mummies and motherhood, it’s happened already.

As for me, well, I am going to “do a Shirley Valentine”. Tonight, when my partner gets home, I’ll have pinned a photo of that bit in town near Boots and Lush onto the kichen cupboards. And when my partner asks “what’s that?”, I will say, very dramatically and in as good a Liverpudlian accent as I can muster, “it’s a place. A place where I’m goin’ to”. Then he’ll throw his egg and chips across the room but I shall stand strong for the sake of my dream. Except I won’t because I already texted him this morning to say “you’re having the kids on Sat, no questions”. Plus one or two swearwords, cos I was still in a shouty mood. Ah well. Modern motherhood – it’s not all candy floss and cuddles. It’s time someone blew the lid on this.

ANNOYING POSTSCRIPT: My partner rang me late this afternoon. On our land line. Turns out he’s lost his phone so hasn’t yet seen my text. Also turns out he’s spoken to his training supervisor, re-arranged his responsibilities and will be working like mad this week so that I can have a day off. After all, he wants me to know just how much he appreciates me. Bugger. Bugger, bugger, bugger. Unless I can find that phone, I’ll be in the wrong. And that’s hardly fair, is it?

Gratuitous ‘Mumsnet blogpost’

Response to Alice Vincent, who, as Liz Jarvis discusses on The Mum Blog,  insulted Giles Coren on Twitter with the comment: “Columnists basing their opinions around their children. So yawn. Your column today is one step up from a mumsnet blogpost”

Hi, Alice Vincent! Are you reading this? I’d assume so, since you’re the expert in what constitutes a ‘mumsnet blogpost’. Not your favourite genre, I understand? Still, you’ve gotta keep track of all the literary trends, even the shit ones.

That spat with Giles Coren – don’t mind him. He’s just a sexist tosspot with a more famous, funnier dad (now sadly deceased) and a more intelligent sister (now marrying the lovely David Mitchell, the bitch). I wouldn’t bother with the runt of the Coren litter, poor Giles. Stick with us, the mumsnet bloggers. We’ll cater for all your boredom needs without ever telling you to fuck off while throwing misogynist insults into the ether.

Btw, have I told you about my kids? It’s obviously all I ever blog, nay, think about, but you might have been so busy getting bored reading blogs about other people’s children that you’ve forgotten to be bored about mine. Anyhow, blah blah blah nappies blah blah blah blah cute blah blah blah blah yummy mummy blah blah blah blah blah blah blah blah on her high horse blah blah blah blah don’t get all offended and uppity little mummy blah blah blah blah cupcakes gin and tears before bedtime blah blah blah blah blah.

Sorry, are you still awake? Course you are. You’re used to Mumsnet posts like this. Hardened to it, one might say.

Thanks for being there for us, Alice. In the plain, boring, jam-smeared wasteland that is Mummy Central, it’s good to know people like you are still listening out for our aimless babble.

POSTSCRIPT Alice Vincent did in fact respond to this on Twitter. She seemed very nice, for a barren old hag. Only kidding. She seemed very nice. Giles Coren, you’re a real tosser. But I’m not going to tweet you regarding this.

Good abortion / Bad abortion: The rules have changed!

Hey, anyone up for a game of “judge the abortion”? Excellent! Let’s go!

Which of the following women should not really have been allowed to exercise her fundamental “right” to choose:

  1. a rape victim
  2. an educated, middle-class woman in a stable marriage who already has one child

So, which of these did you go for? If you chose neither, then congratulations: you are in possession of some basic human empathy! If you chose 2, then don’t worry; we just need to work on your understanding of the word “choice”. And possibly also “person”. If you chose 1, then you are Bel Mooney. Hey, hiya Bel! Been writing any cold-hearted diatribes for the Daily Mail of late? What’s that? You did one only yesterday? Hey, can I have a look?

It turns out that in yesterday’s Mail, Bel wrote a corker of an article, and I missed it (I was too busy ranting about Marie Claire and being fat – it’s an important life I lead). In it, Bel reveals herself to be that very middle-class married woman who has an abortion. And what’s more, she has “no regrets”. Shocking! Can you imagine reading that in the Mail? Shouldn’t we be burning her alive or something? Well, actually, it would appear not. Contrary to all preliminary appearances, Bel’s abortion was in fact a “good” one.

The thing is, Bel wasn’t one of those feckless women who doesn’t use contraception. She simply forgot to take her pill “in the chaos of moving house” (i.e. she’s a probably homeowner – how can you be cross at a homeowner?). Plus she’d had scepticaemia and her first baby “needed specialist nursing skills” (which is of course fair enough). And then her GP told her “if you were my daughter I’d counsel a termination” (who says the medical profession is paternalistic?). Anyhow, the fact is, you’ve got to see a termination such as Bel’s within a very specific human context. There are so many factors to take into account within one woman’s life. The trouble is, Bel, the same is true for every woman. Even those you dismiss of being “grown-up women” who “are just too sloppy to take proper control of their own bodies” (give them a chance, Bel. They might be moving house).

But alas, Bel is angry. Angry because “countless unborn babies are being sacrificed because women [presumably the ones who aren’t exchanging contracts with the estate agent] are too irresponsible and/or indifferent to treat sex and fertility with the seriousness it deserves”. Which poses an interesting philosophical conundrum. If these women are only getting pregnant due to their irresponsibility, then surely if they were more responsible, said unborn babies wouldn’t even exist? And surely some women who’ve been irresponsible go on to have their babies anyhow? Look, can you see where I’m going with this? The thing we all need to ask ourselves is HOW MANY POOR UNBORN BABIES NEVER EVEN COME INTO EXISTENCE DUE TO WOMEN ACTING “RESPONSIBLY”? It’s a fucking tragedy. Perhaps I’d have given birth to the next Einstein if I hadn’t been so sodding responsible all these years.

It’s not that I think a very small proportion of women having repeat abortions is a good idea. It seems a remarkably painful and faffy way of avoiding motherhood, if you ask me. But the sheer numbers involved – as babies “lost” – doesn’t bother me at all. I just can’t see the value in worrying about the never-born. Considering how common both miscarriage and abortion are, I wouldn’t be surprised if most women have had a pregnancy which didn’t lead to a live birth. I’ve had one. The baby, if it had ever become a baby, would have been due on 14th March 2007. Thinking about this doesn’t make me sad. It creates a kind of parallel life, one in which other people wouldn’t exist and other choices would have been made. But it doesn’t really matter. I value the children I have.

Of course, other women suffer as a result of the choices they’ve made and the regret they feel. Just to reiterate this point, Bel publishes a selection of their letters from her “postbag” (I’m presuming she means email inbox and/or letter in-tray; perhaps she just enjoys pretending she’s on Blue Peter). Having established the sheer, incontravertible “rightness” of her own abortion, she dwells in painful detail on the feelings of women who lack the same confidence and have become absorbed in lives that never were. It’s really kind and empathetic of her. I’ll definitely be adding my missive to the “postbag” next time I think I’ve fucked up.

Oh, and the rape victim thing? That comes in the penultimate line:

The old feminist battle cry of “right to choose” certainly never meant getting caught out because you were too drunk to say no.

Erm, I think you’ll find it did, Bel. I think you’ll find what you’re alluding to here is rape. And I think, to be honest, feminists such as myself will be breathing a strange sigh of relief on reading statements such as this. At one time I thought I was weird in believing that a society that doesn’t fully recognise a woman’s bodily autonomy through abortion law is also one which is more likely to condone rape. Thank you, Bel, for making my point for me.

I feel fat!

Hey everyone! I feel fat today! Isn’t that just a terribly pathetic, boring, self-absorbed thing to write? I mean, even more than the stuff I usually write. But anyhow, it’s true. Today, folks, I feel fat.

There’s no point saying it to my partner; he thinks I look fine and besides, he’s still jobless and has proper shit to worry about. No point saying it to my sons; they’re too little to understand and if they were old enough, it’s hardly a message I’d want to share. No point saying it to my friends; they’ll just point out that I’m smaller than them (even if I’m not) and that by saying I feel fat, I’m making them feel fat. So I have to shut up about it, and I will, apart from here. Here I’m fat fat fat fat fat.

It’s not as though I haven’t had genuinely crap things happen to be. With some very selective editing, I could cobble together a properly tragic life story. Hey, if I were more successful in life, I could make it into a real “overcoming the odds” drama-fest. But I’m not. And sad things aside, today I’m more sad about feeling fat.

There may be lots of reasons why I feel fat. I’m stressed at work. I worry about being a good enough mum. I worry about money. I worry about my partner. I worry about my extended family. An experty-type person would say “ah, when you worry about your weight, you’re transferring your worries over into something you can control”. But that’s not even true, or it doesn’t feel true. I feel fat and it’s not a feeling I believe I can control.

To feel at odds with your own body is horrible. It creates a low-level, buzzing anger at yourself that’s with you all day, an anger that flares up every time you pass a mirror or rest your hand on your fat, stupid stomach. Or now, as I write, I pause and rest my hand on my chin and it’s a double chin and it’s wrong and it shouldn’t be on me. I feel infested with a moral weakness that everyone can see. And, quite obviously, this makes me want another bag of crisps. Or possibly a doughnut.

At the moment, I feel like I’m not really me. I’m occupying flesh, too much flesh. What a ridiculous way to think and feel. If I’d been told I had six months to live, would I still feel this way? Or if my children were sick, would I then? Actually, I know the answer to that one. I would still feel this way. I have a picture of me, in hospital with my youngest when he was five weeks old, hooked up on tubes with a then-undiagnosed illness. I was scared that he might die. I was also, albeit to a lesser extent, scared that my arms might look fat in the photo. What a complete and utter tosser!

So now I’m annoyed at myself for being fat, and I’m annoyed at myself for feeling fat. And that of course will mean I need to eat another bag of crisps. Jesus. Call myself a feminist? Is it just me? Do other people get like this? Well, all I can say is, what a stupid way to be.

Glossy magazines: Not dead yet

Last night my partner and I were in the bathroom, watching our children in the bath but also managing to flick through this June’s copy of Glamour. This was done in a manner that was in no way neglectful or dangerous. We’d even got to the feature on “best dressed celebrities” when the following insightful conversation arose:

ME If you squint and don’t read the actual words, it looks like a “most thin people” countdown. Excluding Kim Kardashian, who is a bit less thin and therefore “curvy”.

PARTNER What does Kim Kardashian do?

ME Dunno. Let’s make a pact never to find out. It’ll be like never watching The Matrix. There are some cultural phenomena about which we’ll comment without ever knowing the truth.

HIM Yeah, let’s. It’s weird, though. Kim Kardashian’s in the best and worst dressed lists.

ME So are Kristen Stewart and Emma Watson. Although if you compare the two lists, Watson and Stewart are dressed more badly than people whom they’re also better dressed than. How does that work?

HIM Dunno. It’s like –

[sudden interruption from furious, Matey-covered four-year old]

ELDEST SON Mummy and Daddy! Will you stop talking such SILLINESS!

As you might have gathered, Mummy and Daddy “talking silliness” is a common feature in our household. Nevertheless, never before has it been challenged with so much passion. From the mouth of babes, eh? (Or possibly not. I have a terrible suspicion that “from the mouth of babes” has been tainted forever as a phrase due to its use in some lads’ mag for a “women say the funniest things” feature.)

Eldest is clearly in keeping with the public “mood”. The knives are out for glossy mags. Okay, maybe not the knives, but the cocktail sticks at least. In yesterday’s Observer, Eva Wiseman wrote about how time stands still in women’s magazines. It’s a good article. Mind you, the magazine she mentions, and even the first quote she uses, are things I already identified as crap in a post last week (so, yeah, Eva, quit copying!). Although for some reason Eva doesn’t actually name names (either it’s unprofessional or, what’s obviously more likely, she doesn’t want people to trace her piece back to my extremely famous post). So anyhow, I will reveal the true identities for you: the magazine’s Marie Claire and the Carrie Bradshaw wannabe tosspot is called Lindsey Kelk. So now you know.

Wiseman asserts that reading a glossy magazine “is like entering a time machine. You look down at a page and lose a decade”. I’d go much further than that. I don’t think they’ve changed since at least the late 1980s, which is when I first became aware of them. Oh, alright then, two things have changed:

  1. advice on sun tanning (now it’s all about getting a St Tropez spray tan, whereas it used to be Week 1 in Malaga on Factor 4, Week 2 on Factor 2 and final day on chip fat for that ultimate holiday glow)
  2. advice on tackling cellulite (cellulite was invented in an editorial meeting in 1988 and it’s taken the beauty industry a while to catch up)

Other than that, it’s all the same. Isn’t that depressing?

Well, not for Wiseman. She thinks the situation’s getting better because women are losing interest:

Along with many publications (yeah, hi), their sales continue to drop, but I wonder if this is in part because they ignore the growing awareness not only that women are choosing to opt out of the life they draw for us, with the weddings, the diets and the sexual attraction to shoes, but that lots of us have found alternative places to chatter about it. On Twitter. On blogs like The Vagenda, which hits such nerves that the writer of their post about body hair was invited to show off her armpits on This Morning.

Hmm. I have to admit, I’m not so sure about all this. Surely part of the reason why sales are dropping is not because we’re all turning to The Vagenda (which, let’s face it, is just having a moment because some woman who doesn’t shave her armits is considered a national freak show), but because there are lots of places on the internet where we can find the same old shit the glossies used to give us.* With blogging, for instance, surely one of the most pernicious trends of recent years is the rise of the style blogger, the woman who claims she’s encouraging us to be “individual” but is actually telling us that every day – every sodding day – you’re on a fucking catwalk? And there’s no escape.

So what’s the way forward? Well, look. My son is four. HE can see it’s all nothing but “silliness”. Shouldn’t we be catching the kids while they know, innately, that it’s just ALL WRONG? Let’s harness this feeling of “it’s shit” and run with it. Ladies and gentlemen, when it comes to glossy magazines, we need some education!

To get us started, here is a summary of our leading glossies, what they are and what they do. Pay attention. There will be a short quiz to follow:

Marie Claire “Think smart, look amazing.” That is what they tell us. No, Marie Claire. “Think critically, wear clean pants.” That is the way forward.

Glamour The essence of Glamour is best captured by the regular “Hey, it’s okay..” feature near the start, in which readers are “humorously” given permission to do things which they always assumed were okay but now of course don’t. Often it’s “okay” to do things that Glamour tells you aren’t “okay” a few pages later (eating’s often one of these). Glamour is your evil, manipulative “best friend” who “only wants what’s best for you”. She can fuck right off.

Cosmo Older than Glamour, yet has somehow ended up being Glamour’s trashy younger sister. Intermittently does vaguely feminist things, like supporting pro-choice campaigns and being cross about domestic violence. Intermittently allows Irma Kurz to tell rape victims they were probably asking for it due to their suggestive behaviour. Very confused. It’s probably the hormones.

Company One long advertisement for River Island.

In Style Like Company, but for older women, therefore with more expensive brands. Works on the curious assumption that when you hit your thirties (i.e. when you have kids and your career stalls and all the men are whizzing off to the boardroom) you suddenly have money to spend on designer labels. Are you going to tell them, or shall I?

Grazia “Britain’s best-selling weekly glossy”, because no one else can be arsed to produce a weekly glossy. Once ran a TV advert in which a posh woman reading Grazia floated down a shoe production line, much to the puzzlement of some old, scummy, poor woman working the line. It was confusing, and also reminiscent of that Two Ronnies/John Cleese class sketch, but without the irony.

Good Housekeeping/Woman and Home You’re older, the kids are about to fly the coop, now’s the time to sit down and reflect on how you’re still a fat minger who hasn’t found her “own style”. And acquire some additional worries, such as not yet owning an Aga.

Those, I believe, are our main culprits (I’ll be running a catch-up course on Red and Elle later). I haven’t yet written the quiz I promised. I’m sorry. I’m too depressed (and fat and my clothes are shit. I can’t possibly do thinking when I’m like this!). Perhaps I’ll hand the running of this course over to my son. Please allow him to stand before you, covered in bubble bath, proudly proclaiming “STOP TALKING SILLINESS. NOW!”

* Since writing this post (and on the advice of someone I had a go at in another post) I have now started following Vagenda Magazine. It is good. I underestimated it (but lest we forget: Marie Claire still exists).

The Second Sexism: A posting hat-trick

I have never ranted about the same thing three times in one day. Okay, that’s not true; I’ve just never done it on a blog before (and each blog post tends to be the outcome of a million in-my-head rants, so perhaps you could call the posts “concentrated” rants. A bit like smoothies. How many should one have in a day?). Anyhow, I am STILL fuming about the sodding Second Sexism book discussed in the Observer. So here goes:

I am now starting to wonder what the actual intent and effect of the coverage given to these books could be. Is it to encourage harmony between the “two” sexes? To permit women to see the error of their feminist ways? Or could it be that most people will ignore it, feminists like me will be pissed off, but a small minority of men will use it to feed the growing resentment they feel against women, women they blame for whatever their lot is in life? Which of these do you think it could be?

I’m wondering, too, if it could feed the most extreme type of resentment, the type that leads you to gouge a woman’s eyes out and imprison her for 12 hours without calling for help, while you dwell on your own fate and what she “made you do”? Obviously I’m referring to what happened to Tina Nash. Do you think this has nothing to do with a wider cultural trend towards believing that if men suffer, women must therefore have the upper hand? A belief that if men lash out, it’s in part because they’re oppressed and manipulated by the women in their life? Of course, it has been universally decreed that Tina Nash’s ex was “a monster”. But what about Raoul Moatt? Ched Evans? These men have, for some, become folk heroes, brought down by evil slags. I don’t see a huge leap between this type of thinking and the assertions made by men’s rights activists and writers. Men suffer, therefore men are victims of women, or at least of a system that apparently favours women over men.

This morning I was listening to The Killers while getting dressed. The album Sawdust features a cover of the Kenny Rogers classic “Ruby, Don’t Take Your Love to Town”, the lyrics of which are from the perspective of a Vietnam War vet who’s been seriously injured and is now confined to his home awaiting death (so, trauma-wise, it’s way beyond being piqued at a Jo Brand joke). His woman, Ruby, wants to get dressed up and “take [her] love to town”. This seriously pisses off our ‘Nam vet, as you’d expect. So much so that, by the end of the song, he tells us “if I could move I’d get my gun and put her in the ground”. Nice. But trauma does that to a person. The trouble is, the trauma isn’t all Ruby’s fault.

“It wasn’t me who started this whole crazy Asian war” sings Kenny/Brandon Flowers, plaintively. True. But it wasn’t Ruby, either. Nor was it Mrs Eisenhower (or maybe it was. You know what Lady Macbeths we all are “behind the scenes”). But anyhow, the world is shit, and there’s Ruby painting her lips and rolling her tinted hair like none of it matters. Stupid bitch. Wouldn’t you want to kill her? Not the people who sent you to war, not the politicians, not the generals, but her. The stupid bitch with her lipstick and curls who’s leavin’ now cos you just heard her slammin’ out the door (after a day that may or may not have been spent emptying bedpans and being shouted at. We don’t know. Anyhow, she’s a stupid tart and deserves to die).

We attack those closest to us, because they’re there. I don’t even dislike this song; I actually find the lyrics quite beautiful in the way they depict someone who’s totally trapped, aware of what he can see and hear but unable to play an active role in the world any longer. But one thing I do think it shows is how broader male suffering gets set against a perceived absence of suffering in women – because we’re silly, because we’re frivolous, because we’re too busy putting on makeup to think – and creates the sense that women are the privileged ones. And, perhaps, that women deserve to suffer, even violently.

I can’t help thinking books such as The Second Sexism, or at least the reporting of them, stir up these feelings of resentment. I can’t see whom it helps. By contrast, I don’t think it’s at all difficult to see whom it might hurt.

There’s a reason why they’re called “jokes”

Well, I’m back, still posting about that sodding Observer article regarding men’s rights. But there was one thing I forgot to mention and I think it deserves a post all of its own (not just by way of recompense for having been forgotten; but issue, please forgive me).

Anyhow, it’s this bit:

Men are also increasingly the butt of jokes. In a recent article for Grazia magazine, one male writer took exception to comedian Jo Brand claiming that her favourite man was “a dead one” and an advertisement for oven cleaner with the tagline: “So easy, even a man can do it.”

Sigh. Do we really need to explain? One of these is Jo Brand parodying the stereotype of what a feminist is, and the other is a parody of a genuine advert for Oven Pride, except that originally it was “even a woman can do it” and it was meant seriously. Got that? Jesus, men, this has fuck all to do with what anyone thinks of you!

But so what if it did? If we do make jokes about men that we wouldn’t make about women, what does it actually mean about who holds the advantage? Ladies and gentlemen, I refer you to Marcelle D’Argy Smith, former editor of Cosmopolitan. I wouldn’t normally refer you to her, but she made a brilliant point about this on BBC Breakfast a few years ago. I can’t remember the exact wording but it was essentially that these jokes are like Tom and Jerry cartoons. Tom and Jerry are only funny (okay, not funny, but mildly diverting) because we know that in real life the cat would win. Just as we know that in real life it’s girls who are presumed better off dead and girls who get killed just for being girls, hence leaving some countries with a massive gender imbalance, of the sort we’ve not seen in the other direction since the end of World War Two. There’s nothing funny in stating the truth.

I refer you also to my partner, who made the same point in a different way, back when there was all the hoo-ha about David and Goliath’s rubbish “Boys are stupid, throw rocks at them” T-shirts. My partner merely muttered “nice to see everyone can get het up about these T-shirts, but not rape victims having real rocks thrown at them on the basis that they’re adulteresses and deserve to die”. So it’s probably just as well we don’t have T-shirts saying “Girls are stupid, throw rocks at them”. Chances are too many people would follow the suggestion.

The complete and utter bollocks that dare not speak its name

Apart from, say, every time you open the Daily Mail, visit a men’s rights website, read a “scientific” analysis of gender difference or talk to my dad, have you ever heard it suggested that men are the true victims of prejudice in our society? I have. Either I hang around with deluded self-pitying tossers, or man, my finger’s totally on the pulse.

According to a piece in today’s Observer, men are now the winners in the Battle of the Victims:

In The Second Sexism, shortly to be published in the UK, David Benatar, head of the philosophy department at Cape Town University, argues that “more boys drop out of school, fewer men earn degrees, more men die younger, more are incarcerated” and that the issue is so under-researched it has become the prejudice that dare not speak its name.

It’s interesting (but also idiotic) to think of the quest for gender equality as actually a battle to decide who’s having the crappest time. That’s the really depressing thing about these books; they reinforce precisely the gender stereotyping that leads to mutual disadvantage. But it’s not a sodding competition! It never was! (And Professor Benatar, here’s a clue: more men are incarcerated because they commit more violent crime! It’s not rocket science! Which is good, since men are probably better at that…)

I’ve always felt that men are disadvantaged by gender prejudice. If pushed, I’d say nowhere near as much as women. If women killed male partners at the rate at which men kill female partners, I can’t help thinking we’d have no hesitation in considering it a gender-motivated crime. Moreover, there’s no male equivalent to women being denied abortion or even emergency contraception. That level of discrimination – where what’s beneath your own skin even isn’t your own – is not something I believe men have to come to terms with on the same level. So yeah, I can be dragged into the “who’s suffering the most” debate. I’d still contend that it’s not the sodding point.

Expectations placed on men and women because of the genitals they happen to be born with are unrealistic and cruel. We should be fighting those who seek to normalise and perpetuate this with shitty, selective “science” – including Susan Pinker, also quoted in the Guardian piece. I’d suggest, at its most basic level, our ideas of male and female difference still rest on the idea that women are inferior. Female babies are more likely to be unwanted and even killed; grown women are valued less when they’re no longer capable of producing other, presumably better people. But men can lose out due to this value system. I don’t believe many feminists today dispute that.

But god, this “men are the new victims” shit drives me insane. They only work “longer hours” because so much of the work women do isn’t even counted as work! And where’s THEIR sodding Ann Summers I-Scream van, encouraging them to get their cocks out for the girls? We don’t even acknowledge most of the shit that surrounds women because there’s just far too much. And because instead of getting on with fighting fundamental battles about “essential” difference, we’re now left firefighting against all the men’s rights bollocks that’s coming at us from all sides.

Yet another pretend ice-cream van

Being someone who grew up with all the advantages of being middle class, yet still ended up, through bad choices, poor timing and the economic downturn, living on a shit council estate does, you’d be pleased to know, still have its funny sides. I mean, I still wouldn’t recommend it. But there are comedy moments, such as buying pâté in Waitrose and finding that your green charity token can be used to help build a community centre for scummers such as yourself (if, that is, your son doesn’t decide that talking books are a more worthy cause). Then there’s the Ice Cream Van of Mystery. It looks like a normal ice-cream van and plays the usual tinkly tune, but it comes every, and I mean every, evening round our way. I’m talking about 8pm in the middle of November when it’s freezing and pitch black outside. Being all middle class and suspicious, I’m thinking “can it really be ice-cream they’re selling? What if it’s DRUGS????”. In reality, it’s probably beer or milk or bread or something totally random. I’m too middle class to ask. Still, my sons know never to ask for an ice-cream from it.

Just as they’ll know not to ask for a free ice-cream from the Ann Summers I Scream van of shite. Visit the van and you can get a free ice-cream with lube flavoured topping (while stocks last). Pull your best orgasm face and allow it to be posted on Facebook and you can win more. Turn up in just your bikini and you’ll get some free swimwear. Way-hey! It’s like 1990s ironic sexism never ended (what’s that? You mean to say it didn’t?). Anyhow, I’m wondering what’s in it for me if I turn up just plain nude with a Rampant Rabbit rammed up my arse. Worth a try, isn’t it?

If I’m out with my sons and we see the van obviously I won’t be nude and with the Rabbit. That’s just for when I’m alone. If they ask, I will also tell them that we’re not getting a free ice-cream from the stupid sexist van of misery. I’ll tell them it’s not for little boys but being sold as part of a promotional exercise for that rudey women shop in the Regent Arcade where we live. It’s not like they’ve never seen Ann Summers before. It’s right there in the middle of our town. Our sons see the window display pretty much every time we’re out.

I don’t deliberately take them past Ann Summers. It’s just that it’s right next to the famous “bubble clock” in the town centre. Every half-hour the bubble clock chimes then plays “I’m forever blowing bubbles” while blowing actual bubbles on the merry toddlers below. So you then get the spectacle of cheery little poppets leaping around to burst as many as they can, right in front of some cheesy blow-up image of a woman in a scratchy-looking bra and pants set.

My sons never really ask about Ann Summers. Once, when my eldest was 14 months old, he toddled over to the window, started licking it and refused to budge. He screamed his head off when we carried him away. No idea what that was about. Maybe the sexy lady looked a lot like Mummy (although that’s unlikely).

When they do start to ask, I’d like to be as honest as possible, on a need to know basis. Thus speaks a smug mum who has never, in fact, been asked about Ann Summers (although I have been honest about the basics of sex thus far. This has simply led to my youngest deciding I’m mean because I won’t let him back in the womb, which is some rough-and-tumble waterpark as far as he’s concerned). Anyhow, if they do ask, I’d like them to know two things:

  1. sex is good in the right circumstances
  2. Ann Summers is shit, in every circumstance

To clarify a bit more, this is what I’d want to tell them:

  1. Vibrators are like pretend willies. Not every woman or man likes a pretend willy. Some of us like people attached to willies. Still, most women will pretend they like vibrators for fear of looking prudish if they don’t. Lesson: Don’t succumb to peer pressure. Tell people what you really like and don’t like. Thing I won’t mention: it took Mummy 20 years to admit she hates her “spotted dick”.
  2. Some people like dressing up for sex. Other people don’t, but this may be because they think the only options are waitress, nurse or uncomfortable woman with lace jammed up her crack. There are in fact lots of things you could wear, or not wear. Lesson: It’s up to you and your partner to be imaginative in your own way. Don’t just buy what the sex shops tell you to. Thing I won’t mention: Mummy dressing in biscuits and pulling a bloke in a caveman outfit, then randomly, five years later, in a completely different town, discovering said man working in an office opposite her flat.
  3. Only give blow jobs if you want to, only accept them if you want to. Always, always ensure that genitals are in some way exposed. The “panted blow job”, as shown in the Anna Span videos due to some legal restriction or other, does not, as far as I know, really work.* Although I’ve never tried it. Lesson: Consent is important before the removal of clothes. But don’t take the removal of clothes for consent. Either way, though, the removal of clothes matters. Thing I won’t mention: Mummy’s attempt to shag in a corridor with her tights still on. The less said about that, the better.
  4. If you grow up to fancy women, be aware that woman can be turned on by all sorts of rubbish. Buying “made for women” porn is not necessarily a safe bet. Or rather, it might be too safe (see panted blow job, above). Yes, Anna Span and Candida Royale (awful, awful name) can be funny. But don’t imagine every woman dreams of being taken from behind by a German exchange student for whom she’s just cooked beans on toast. Lesson: Don’t decide what the boundaries of another person’s imagination are. Listen and see if that’s what you want too. Thing I won’t mention: Mummy actually liked the beans on toast film. Especially the bit at the end when, post-shag, the woman suddenly exclaims “but you haven’t finished your beans!”
  5. Small cuddly teddies with erections are not erotic. Frankly we should feel sorry for them. Lesson: Always wear a condom. Otherwise you’ll look like one of those stupid teddies. Thing I won’t mention: Mummy secretly dreams of liberating the erection teddies. They don’t deserve their fate (whatever it is).

Thus ends Mummy’s imaginary sex education lesson. The real-life one will be much messier than this, much more piecemeal, and prone to lots and lots of misunderstanding. I hope we get there in the end. In the meantime, we’re not getting our ice-cream from Ann Summers. Anyhow, I bet the only flavour they have is vanilla.

* The “panted blow job” is a blow job given, literally, through pants so that no cock can be seen. Never witnessed it? You’re just not hardcore enough.

Any mums out there who don’t feel like sodding lionesses?

In How to be a Woman, Caitlin Moran writes the following of her two daughters:

I used to fear their deaths – The car! The dog! The sea! The germ! – until I realised it need never be a problem: on the trolley, on the way to the mortuary, I would put my hands into their ribs and take their hearts and swallow them, and give birth to them again, so that they never, ever end. I’ll do anything for those girls.

I read this and thought ‘crikey, that’s a bit hardcore. And also messy. Not to mention very unlikely to work anyhow. Still, if I did consider it worth a try, I’d use a scalpel rather than my bare hands. I bet they’d have one lying around.’

Don’t get me wrong. If my kids died, I’d be devastated. I wouldn’t be me ever again, and I don’t want to make light of this happening to anyone else. It’s just, I haven’t come up with a suitably full-on metaphor for this and I’m starting to think this makes me a worse mum.

It’s one of the hidden requirements of motherhood. Love, patience and a serious line in warrior metaphors. I am Mummy, hear me roar (but not in a cross way because we’re late for school and your underpants are still on your head. In a fierce, protective, “don’t mess with us” way. You are my son and hence I’m Grant Mitchell and Simba rolled into one).

It’s not just the metaphors (I am presuming that heart thing is a metaphor). It’s also the ostentatious claims, such  “no man gets in the way of me and my kids, or I’d bloody well kill him”. Usually uttered when no man is in fact in the way of you and your kids. Once said man appears you tend to reach the usual messily human compromise, with everyone feeling suitably undervalued but no such killing ensuing.

Then there’s “I’d lay down my life for them”. Which is probably true, but you can say it safe in the knowledge that such an either/or situation is unlikely to arise. Should a psycho murderer enter your house, you’re probably all going to die anyhow. And yes, if your child fell onto a railway track, you probably would jump down after them, but only because there’d be no time to think. You couldn’t just stand there explaining to the horrified commuters “look, if I go too, we’ll probably both die and then who’d look after my other children and my partner, who incidentally will probably dump me anyhow for leaving our child to die alone, so actually, fuck it, I’ll jump… damn, too late”.

It’s not just the metaphors and the grandiose claims. There are also the animal similes. “With those kids I’m like a tigress / lioness / something really fucking fierce but not a mama grizzly cos that now means something else”. I don’t know a lot about animal behaviour. I imagine mummy animals are quite defensive of their offspring, for a while at least, unless said offspring happens to be a bit crap and runtish. Nonetheless, I’ve a feeling (gathered from half-hearted viewings of animal documentaries) that said defensiveness doesn’t last forever. As soon as a new cub comes along, marginally older cub is history. I don’t believe that’s a good role model for any of us.

I guess my real problem is that all this feels a bit self-aggrandising, a form of “one-upmumship”, if you will (which you probably won’t, but I was quite pleased with that). “Me, I’d tear the eyes out of any fucker who came near to my child.” “You’d only do that? I’d eat the eyes and the reproductive organs raw, then roast the rest of them with garlic and herbs on a spit.” “You’d only do that? I’d…” etc. etc. Anyhow, there’s no point going through all this. Caitlin Moran’s already won. But to be honest, if I told anyone that should my children die, I’d eat their hearts, they wouldn’t see me as wondermum. They’d think I’d turned into an exaggerated version of the baddie in “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”. All told, the safest thing, probably, is just to say “I love them”.

Your blogger persona: Is he or she, like, a complete bitch?

Anyone remember Meredith Brooks? She had a solitary hit in the late 90s with the song “Bitch”. In case your memory needs jogging further, this is the chorus, rendered phonetically to provide some extra help:

Ahm a bitch, ahm a lover
Ahm a child, ahm a mother
Ahm a sinner, ahm a saint
Ah do not feel ashamed
Ahm your hell, ahm your dream
Ahm nothin’ in between
You know you wouldn’t want it any other way

For those of you who don’t have a masters in literature, I think what Meredith’s saying is that a woman is not a mere cardboard cut-out stereotype; she’s lots of cardboard cut-out stereotypes. And men, apparently, “wouldn’t want it any other way”.

I am pondering this as I start to examine which stereotypes I exemplify in this blog (yeah, it’s one of those up-its-own-arse posts. You’re welcome to look away now). The fact is, a few days ago I mentioned the sex positive parenting blog to some friends I know from “real life”, and I’m now freaked out they may have looked at some of my blog posts there or, worse, here, and be thinking “what the fuck? She’s nothing like that!” (btw, if you are one of my “real life” friends reading this, you’re confused and this is written by someone else. If you’re not, well I am like that in real life. Don’t believe my so-called friends; as noted above, they’re confusing me with someone else).

To be honest, I am terrified that the disjuncture between who I am in “real life” and who I am on this blog will be exposed in a way that makes me look like a complete and utter twat. It won’t be like with Brooke Magnanti/Belle de Jour, with everyone going “wow! She’s a prostitute and a scientist! That makes her a nice prostitute! And a sexy scientist!”. It’ll be more “she doesn’t even wear that much makeup and her tits aren’t even that big. What kind of tell-it-like-it-is blogger is she?” (although I’m not even sure I’d fall into the category of “tell-it-like-it-is blogger”. Probably more “tell-it-like-her-bizarre-imagination-says-it-is”, but I suppose at least no one can challenge me on that).

In addition to this, though, I’m also terrified that my blogger persona will infiltrate my “real life” self and start taking over, making me rather like Anakin Skywalker going over to the Dark Side (with both of us doing it for much the same reason: it’s just way cooler). Obviously on a blog I’m much more uninhibited; I write what pops into my head (I say “obviously”; I am aware other bloggers value and use a thing called restraint, in order to make their blogs more meaningful and readable. I am a bit lazy on that score. And my head is very persistent with its “poppings”). I now worry that since I started blogging I’m more uninhibited at work, but not in a good way. A good way would be if I were more confident in telling others what to do. My not-good way involves making more puns and innuendos than are strictly necessary when updating the asset management system (ooh, assets!). And sadly, it gets worse.

This week I bought a tub of M&S mini teacakes to share with my colleagues. Once a sufficient number of people (i.e. one) had toddled over to get theirs, I went to get my share, taking two because hey, they’re only little. As I walked back to my desk, I was taken by the powerful urge to place a mini teacake on each tit, like a chocolatey nipple tassle, and do a comedy “sexy” dance. I fought this urge, and thank god, I won, but man, it was powerful. And I totally blame the Glosswitch persona for this. That, and the Good Men Project small-breasts article. I mean, I’d like to think this blog isn’t just the verbal equivalent of me dancing with teacakes on my tits but let’s face it, I’m too close to the whole thing to know.

I imagine lots of bloggers are tormented by the thought “shit! What if my colleagues found out?”. Because we’re not sure quite who we are on the blog, and we’re not quite sure who we are in “real life” either. Probably, in some metaphorical way, as Brooks observes, we’re each and every one of us a bitch, a lover, a child, a mother, a sinner and a saint. And we’re probably all those identities listed at the end of The Breakfast Club as well (the jock, the princess, the basket case, the criminal, and the one who made something in technology class that didn’t work and had a cry about it but he came in useful in the end because they got him to do all the written work). That’s us, in both environments, real and virtual, but in different ways. How do we manage it? Well, here’s my first top tip: don’t, whatever you do, do the “teacake dance”.*

* Unless you work at a fetish club and are paid to do this. Or it’s something your partner really likes. Then go ahead and do it. I recommend also branching out into Jammie Dodgers – they give good strawberry-flavoured nipple.

This is what my children have to put up with

It is bedtime. Youngest has just had his milk and he’s lying snuggled up with Monkey while I stroke his fluffy little head. At times like this we sometimes chat, mother and child together. And that is what we did this evening, when he asked me about the circumstances of his birth.

HIM     Mummy?

ME      Yes?

HIM     Where was I born?

ME      You were born in a car park in Cheltenham.

HIM      Oh.

[Pause]

HIM     But we now live on Earth?

ME       Yes, but … Cheltenham is a place on Earth.

HIM     Cheltenham is a place on Earth?

ME       Yes, Cheltenham is a place on Earth

[Longer pause]

ME       And actually that sounds really funny, because there’s a song called “Heaven is a Place on Earth” by a lady called Belinda Carlisle.

HIM     Oh.

ME      And in fact, it’s even more funny than that, because Mummy was actually born in Carlisle. So if there’s a song called “Cheltenham is a Place on Earth” – which, okay, there isn’t – there should also be a song called “Carlisle is a Place on Earth”.

HIM     Oh.

ME        And if there is such a song, it ought to be performed by eighties pop group Heaven 17.

[Even longer pause]

HIM     Mummy, can I go to sleep now?

ME        Um, alright.

And so I switched off the light and kissed his little button nose, all the while musing on the fact that “Carlisle is a Place on Earth” performed by Heaven 17 just would be brilliant. Anyone know if they’re still together?

Breastfeeding and attachment parenting: Ooh, controversial!

The cover of Time magazine currently features a photo of an attractive young woman breastfeeding her three-year old son. Ooh, controversial! (I love using that adjective with no further qualification – it drives my partner insane. Apparently the students he used to work with used it constantly, mainly to describe things which were not in any way controversial e.g. “You’re having a rich tea with your coffee? Ooh, controversial”. Hence I now do this all the time.)

The Time magazine cover provokes the same reaction in me as that stupid Oreo breastfeeding advert i.e. I think “that doesn’t look like breastfeeding as I know it”. The woman is upright, wearing a strappy top with no bra, baring one pert breast for her son to drink from while standing on a chair. As you do. There is not even the slightest milk stain on the top, which is the kind of top I couldn’t wear before I’d ever been pregnant, let alone now. I mean, where’s she hiding her breast pads? (This is, in fact, a question I’d like to ask of all women. Whenever I used breast pads, it looked like I’d stuffed two Wagon Wheels up my jumper. I’ve never seen this on anyone else, yet there are loads of companies making breast pads. I can’t be their sole target market. It just wouldn’t make business sense.) The really, really annoying thing, though, is that this isn’t just some model. It really is a breastfeeding mother, called Jamie Lynne Grumet. Hmph. Ladies, the bar has now been truly raised.

Of course, all women should be able to breastfeed in public (I was about to start this sentence with “I think” but how stupid would that be? They just should!). With my first child I was horrendously self-conscious and this made things difficult for both me and him (but evidently easier for some bigots who don’t want to be put off their Starbucks coffee or something). I’d get to the park, he’d start crying and rather than just feed him in front of the swings, I’d walk all the way back home again with him sobbing all the way. Just writing this makes me feel terrible. It wasn’t like that with his brother. Having two children under two just made me think “fuck it”. It tends to have that effect. I fed youngest anywhere and everywhere, and it worked just fine.

I would have breastfed for longer if I could. I had some issues with milk supply which made Youngest lose interest in the breast. Thereafter I couldn’t get him back on. That was quite sad, but not the end of the world. At least not as far as I saw it. I was working as a breastfeeding peer supporter and my “peers” were less than “supportive” regarding my decision to throw in the towel. The breastfeeding counselor suggested that every evening, the minute I got in from work, I should strip off and just lie there, bare-breasted, all evening, bonding with my son, until he felt prompted to try again (my partner could deal with our other child and all the other shit that needed doing). I listened to this and once again thought “fuck it”. Whatever magic properties there are in breastmilk compared to formula, they didn’t seem worth sacrificing our family life indefinitely.

A strong believer in the virtues of breastfeeding, I have sometimes found breastfeeding circles to be a little, well, unforgiving. In our group we were all expected to read Gabrielle Palmer’s The Politics of Breastfeeding; I borrowed it, but I was just too tired. CSI and Take a Break were all I could manage of an evening. We were all expected to be furious about the very existence of formula milk; personally, while I found the marketing tactics of certain companies dishonest and immoral, I found a bit of SMA was often preferable to pumping myself dry. Of course, expressing milk was another thing; even THAT was bad because it would cause “nipple confusion”. But face it, nipples just are confusing – my son only liked my left one anyhow, so that tit was massive while the other shriveled with shame – and there are times when you’ve got to express milk, otherwise how will you ever get to go on the piss?  (Sorry, meant to write “how will you ever allow your partner to take part in the wonderful bonding experience that is feeding your baby?”) Breastfeeding is good; all the politics that go alongside it, well, I just can’t always be doing with it.

According to the Guardian, the Time magazine article is to illustrate an article about Bill Sears, “co-author of the Baby Book, which encourages mothers to breastfeed into toddlerhood, co-sleep, and “wear” their babies in an effort to limit their time away from their child”. So basically some man who recommends women bring up their children with complete disregard for any broader social setting and/or emotional relationships i.e. basically some man who can piss right off, as far as I’m concerned. It’s not that I disagree with the specific practices on their own. Hell, I’ve ended up co-sleeping with both of mine (not by choice, mind; can’t get the buggers out, especially since we got the four-poster). But these practices are being proposed in a setting that is in no way conducive to them being widely practicable, and even if that were not the case, they risk diminishing the status of mother to that of mere accessory. “Attachment parenting” doesn’t reduce the child to mere attachment, but it sure as hell risks doing so with the mother.

So in essence, what I’m wondering is, why do we have to link breastfeeding to all these broader political and cultural movements? Breastfeeding IS political, insofar as only women can do it, and Western cultures are wholly failing to make it easy and acceptable for women to nourish their babies (btw I’ve no idea what Eastern cultures are doing; should’ve read the Palmer book instead of the Take a Break Brainwaves Roadshow).  But this should be as far as it goes. Let’s not co-opt all breastfeeding women into some wider drive for hardcore mothering. After all, some of us are good at lactating, but just shit at “wearing” their child.

PS I once tried to peg out the washing with my three-week old in a sling. He was screaming his head off and I got us both all tangled up in a damp duvet cover. Believe me, it was not the way forward.

Guess the weight of Miley Cyrus

Is Miley Cyrus a singer or an actress or both or crap at both things but somehow coasting along out of sheer luck and a good publicist? I have no idea. I know only two things: her dad is Billy-Ray Cyrus, and she weighs something stone something. I do know the exact figures for this; I’m just not telling you. It’s in this week’s Star magazine. Actually, it’s not even in it; it’s on the cover, along with the weights of Nikki Grahame, Abbey Crouch and Nadine Coyle.

I saw this while shopping in Sainsbury’s. It put me right off my food, and my body, and myself. There are, apparently, even more facts and figures regarding underweight celebrities if you look inside. I didn’t look inside. The cover was enough.

So, why give the (assumed) weights of underweight celebrities? Is it because Star magazine is worried about them? Well, no, I’m not a complete idiot. It’s because it sells. Women and girls with eating disorders love this shit. But you’re not allowed to actually write “this is what you should look like, fatso” next to a picture of an emaciated celebrity. Or rather, you probably are allowed but it’s not considered good form. So you couch it in fake concern.

10% of women with anorexia will die. It shouldn’t be this socially acceptable to display anorexia porn at eye level to people buying their Guatemalan coffee.* It just shouldn’t. So I have decided to write to my local MP.

Is this a ridiculous idea? Writing to your local LibDem (yes, I know! Hangin’ on in there!) to point out that, actually, you find the cover of celebrity magazines a bit offensive, and didn’t want to know the body mass of someone who may or may not still be in Girls Aloud, and could this please be mentioned at the next PMQs? Or could they even table a motion, whatever that means? Or motion a table, if that’s easier? But the thing is, MPs have made a fuss about pro-ana sites before, so why not this? It’s worse; attacking pro-ana sites strikes me as victim-blaming. Anorexics do whatever they need to do to make the long days with fuck all to eat and a brain being driven round the twist slightly more bearable. With Star magazine, it’s just the strong preying on the weak, for money. Should this really go unchallenged?

I don’t necessarily want it to be banned. For starters, it would be a legislative nightmare, and might even descend into just attacking thin women for being thin and thus encouraging others to be thin (sorry, I forgot; we do that already). I just want some loud, formal acknowledgement that what magazines like Star are doing IS BAD. And that NO ONE GIVES A SHIT ABOUT WHAT A CELEBRITY SHE HAS NEVER MET WEIGHS UNLESS THIS PERSON HAS AN EATING DISORDER HERSELF, IN WHICH CASE KNOWING THE CELEBRITY’S WEIGHT CAN ONLY DO HARM.** This strikes me as self-explanatory. Shouldn’t there at least be some degree of shame? And if not my MP, whom do I contact? The shit magazine police?

Anyhow, this is my email:

Dear [name of plucky hanging-on-in-there LibDem]

I am writing to you to express my concern about the proliferation of what I can only term “anorexia porn” in celebrity magazines such as Heat and Star. A recovered anorexic, I am genuinely disturbed that it has become acceptable for such publications to display emaciated, clearly ill women on their covers and inside their pages out of some fake concern for these women’s well-being.

I cannot see what would motivate a person to buy magazines with such features unless it was to fuel an existing or developing eating disorder. The current issue of Star, for instance, includes actual weights of underweight women on the cover. Generally, another person’s weight is of no interest; if you are anorexic or bulimic, it’s fascinating. It might make a person buy the magazine and it might also cause a deterioration in this person’s condition.

Since MPs have previously drawn attention to “pro-ana” sites and the use of underweight models in magazines and on the catwalk, I really think this is an issue that should be made more public. Thin catwalk models are not, I believe, promoting anorexia in quite the same, direct yet entirely hypocritical way that Star is doing. Obviously if the headlines were “this is what you should weigh!” it would be a lot easier. But I think you would find any eating disorders counselor would support me in saying that this active promotion of magazines on the basis that you will be told exactly how low another person’s weight is is damaging and requires far greater public condemnation. I would be extremely grateful if you could use your position to play a part in highlighting this.

Yours sincerely

[me, but the pompous, serious version, including the “Dr” title]

Yeah. This’ll make ALL the difference.

* My partner insists on having Guatemalan coffee. He quite liked it, then read somewhere that only the true connoisseur likes Guatemalan coffee, so then he totally loved it. I humour him. It’s drinkable, and the Percol version has a photo of a monkey on the bag.

** I used a female pronoun here but do acknowledge men have EDs too. It’s just “him- or herself” messes up the flow of full-on ranting to which I aspire.

POSTSCRIPT: I have since remembered that part of my confusion about Miley Cyrus comes from the fact that I always confuse her with Hilary Duff. Didn’t they both used to do similar things? Mind you, it’s all changed now. I’ve finally got the respective roles straight: Cyrus = “being too thin”, Duff = “needs to lose baby weight”.

Wear makeup! Don’t wear makeup! Either way you’re screwed

Every morning in our household it’s a rush to get ready (yes, I realise this sounds like the start of a Nutella advert, but bear with me). My sons, being little, are just so needy. Always wanting food, clothing, that sort of shit. And, like, I’m just too busy! Can’t they see I’ve got to smear beige emulsion on my face in order to make it more beige, and to curl my eyelashes so that the blackest black crust in which I’m about to encase them ends up looking dead seductive? What’s with them and all this wanting stuff? And then of course, next thing I know and they’re in my makeup drawer (see blog header – that’s it, folks). And they’re pulling out this and that, asking what it is, and I can’t possibly answer because I’m patting in my Benefit Lip Plump in order to ensure my lips are sufficiently “primed” for the next five minutes, at least until the black coffee washes it all away again. So then my partner, providing he hasn’t buggered off to his training already, tends to step in:

These are things Mummy uses to make herself even more beautiful.

What a charmer, eh? Wouldn’t you like a partner who said that? Well, the thing is, it might sound nice the first time, but honestly, this is starting to really piss me off.

I don’t know what he’s thinking when he says this. Probably something nice and reasonable along these lines:

Don’t want her to feel I’m accusing her of wasting time, but also want her to know I don’t expect her to wear makeup, either, and she looks fine without it.

That’s probably what he thinks. But this is what I hear:

Women, eh? Always faffing about with makeup, even though we men don’t give a shit and it doesn’t make much difference either. Tch! I ask you! etc etc.

All this is going through my head, so I end up feeling really grumpy, get lipstain on my teeth and have to start all over again.

This could of course be used as an example of how sodding unreasonable women are, and how men just can’t do anything to please them. Face it, blokes, you just can’t win! Women, they’re a total mystery etc. etc. But thing is, I don’t think this would be strictly fair. First because it’s me I’m talking about and I’m obviously not unreasonable or mysterious. Second because even if my partner’s damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t, then unfortunately so am I and indeed the rest of womankind. I’m damned because I need to wear makeup and I’m damned because I need not to.

Makeup makes me frivolous and idiotic. It makes me into a woman Boots can ridicule in countless adverts while ordering me to buy their lipgloss. It makes me into a woman who believes pseudo-scientific nonsense, or worse still, doesn’t believe it but buys new products anyhow. It makes me laughable to anyone who isn’t under the same social pressure to wear it ie men.

Not wearing makeup is even worse. It makes me into someone who “doesn’t make an effort”. Someone who fails to “make the best of herself”. Someone who doesn’t understand that “the natural look” has bugger all to do with looking natural. It makes me into someone who just hasn’t learned the rules.

When I was in my teens I wasn’t that interested in makeup. If we were going anywhere as a family, my father would have to tell me to “put on some slap”, or I’d be letting the side down. Later on, when I was more into makeup, he’d ridicule the amount of time I spent on it. “You can’t make a silk purse from a sow’s ear”, he’d joke. No, quite clearly, you can’t. And you can’t ever win.

In addition to TV make-over programmes, we now have shows like Snog, Marry, Avoid, the “make-under” programme. Where is this all leading? Can we just take a shortcut and tell women “look, you’re ugly and you’re stupid. From now on, rather than getting you to actively purchase makeup, we’ll just take a percentage of your monthly pay packet and give it to L’Oréal. Let’s just cut out the middlewoman, as she’s starting to get on our nerves“?

Well, halfway through writing this I re-applied some L’Occitane hand cream and some Korres pomegranate tinted lip balm. So I’m still sitting grumpily on the fence, with nowhere to go. Except for one thing. I read a piece by Amanda Platell in the Mail today. That woman is such a bitch. Read it (or ideally, don’t), but then let’s all make a pact never to shave our armpits again.

So, why did no one believe the Rochdale abuse victims?

[Trigger warning – it’s the Daily Mail, after all]

Why did it take the police so long to believe the victims of the Rochester rape ring? That’s the question I have to ask myself, even if, like most feminists, I’m not remotely arsed about female victims of sex abuse being believed. Thank god the Daily Mail’s on the case.

You could of course say it’s all down to the entire world being saturated in Political Correctness Gone Mad. No one’s going to believe a white girl’s statement against that of an Asian man. As the Mail suggests, here we have “the horrific consequences of Britain’s “Islamophobia” witch-hunt” (boy, we’ve missed you, Melanie Phillips). The trouble is, to be perfectly honest, I have to say this interpretation DOES sound a little racist to me. Not to mention completely fucking implausible.

I have decided to do some further research into this myself. Only I am lazy and only have my lunch hour in which to do it, so I’ve stuck to the Daily Mail website. Still, it’s all proven quite enlightening. I now present to you my three key findings revealing why the Rochdale victims were not believed. And it’s fuck all to do with race:

  1. Women lie about rape all the time. They lie because they’re jealous. They lie because they’ve cheated. They lie because, basically, they’re scum. We hear far more about women lying than we do about them telling the truth. So what’s a reasonable Mail-reading bobby meant to believe?
  2. Young girls are there for our delectation. Like here, and here, and here. And also, they’re total slags. Hence the Rochdale men’s defence seems perfectly plausible.
  3. It’s only rape if you’re in a dark alley with a total stranger. Otherwise it’s a “grey area“. It’s hard for men to know where the boundares lie. That applies to paedophiles as much as it does to police officers. Jeez, it’s hard being a bloke.

So, there you have it. Worry no longer, Daily Mail. The answer to this moral conundrum was there in your website, all the time, there in all the stories that simply HAVE to be told and which don’t distort our perceptions of men, women and reality in any way whatsoever.

Maternity leave: What is it good for?

So, what do we get out of maternity leave? Here are some initial thoughts:

  • breastfeeding
  • daytime TV
  • an ongoing yet wholly unsustainable justification for the gender pay gap

But hey, that’s not all. It also provides the ideal conditions in which Mummy can learn to talk about herself in the third person. For now and ever more.

As you might have guessed, I’m not perfect “maternity leave” material . The whole “leave” thing got thrust upon me when it became clear that me taking care of the the children in return for SMP seemed a better option than my partner taking care of them for fuck all. It’s okay, I’m only kidding. It was a biological imperative. A woman’s biological imperative to breastfeed and watch daytime TV. And, of course, to justify the gender pay gap.

I’m very much in favour of Britain adopting a more flexible approach to leave once a baby is born (I’m allowed to say this because I am a woman. My partner tried to say it once on a feminist web forum and was hung, drawn and quartered for being a closet member of Fathers4Justice. Must have been the batman costume he used for his avatar).

I would have returned to work earlier but couldn’t afford it (once SMP ran out, it was either have two children at nursery and earn next to nothing, or stay at home earning nothing. I took the first option, given that my partner didn’t have a permanent job so it was a question of long-term security). Another option might have been my partner taking care of the children. We did consider it. We were scared about him getting his foot back in the door, more scared than we’d have been for me. Back then he was an academic. Academia still loves childless men. Childless men who eventually get a permanent job at 45 then marry someone young and fertile, ideally from the student pool.

I was still breastfeeding when I returned to work. From my perspective, that was fine. It was like having lots of fag breaks but without having to feel guilty (oxytocin-tastic!). Unfortunately, not everyone else was as keen. I ended up having to hide my milk in the back of the fridge, double-wrapped in a mini coolbag for “hygeine reasons”. Me, I suspect someone misread “Avent” for “Cravendale” and complained to HR about their extra-creamy coffee.

Obviously I’m interested in the government’s proposal to make parental leave more flexible following the birth of a child. Of course, I’m suspicious of it too. For starters, it seems to be a ploy to dramatically reduce the leave available (see the six months for mums campaign). Moreover, I would expect most women to take any remaining leave instead of their partners, what with women generally earning less than men. And then everyone will say “look, it’s just natural, the women want to be at home with their kids more than the men! It’s nothing to do with the pay gap; on the contrary, it proves the pay gap right!”. And then there’s another thing that gets to me: why is the focus on leave at all and not on life?

“Leave”, “flexible working”, “keep-in-touch days” – doesn’t it always feel like everyone’s doing you a sodding favour? You are doing something completely normal – having children – yet it’s basically suggested to you that any re-entry into the workplace is down to the government having decided to be nice. To give you a bit of a break. The problem isn’t that we have working patterns and structures which are set up for a privileged minority (men who either don’t have children, or who don’t bear an equal load of the work if they do). The problem, apparently, is you. But hey, aren’t you lucky? They’re not about to throw you onto the streets forthwith. Accept the lower pay, hide your milk at the back of the fridge and they might – just might – allow you to help them in their economic endeavours. Great. Sodding great.

Hand me the TV remote and the Widgey cushion. Mummy’s just had enough.

Bedtime stories: What would you write?

Parents! Halfway through reading your child’s bedtime story, do you ever find yourself thinking the following:

“Jeez, it’s hardly War and Peace. I could do this myself. Bet they make loads writing this crap.”

Then you read a little more, and, because you’re tired and you’re getting closer to the end, you start to mellow:

“Actually, that was possibly a bit unfair of me. It’s probably quite hard to write stuff like this, in ways I don’t yet understand. Otherwise I’d have written some cheery bedtime tomes myself. So yes, Julia Donaldson, I am sorry to have slighted you. You are the Tolstoy of the Tots and I salute you.”

Then, having ensured your little pumpkin is out for the count, you saunter off downstairs to wine, Holby City and scraping mashed potato out of the carpet.

Well, listen. This is what I think. You were right with your first instinct. It probably is dead easy to write this shit. The reason why you and I haven’t done it yet? Pride, man. You and I have got too much pride.

I was thinking all of this last night when I found myself reading what I’m sure must have been the inspiration for that all-time parenting classic Go the fuck to sleep. I Love You, Sleepyhead bears nearly all the hallmarks: cutesy illustrations of snuggly animals, plus twee little rhymes that make you want to vomit.* It has everything, really, apart from the swearing. Which is a shame, really, since swearing’s the thing that can really make a bedtime story sing.

I wish I’d written Go the fuck to sleep. Still, it set me thinking. Perhaps I’m not too proud to write a children’s book as long as it’s got an edge. Thus, being a creative type, I’ve thrown some ideas around and seen what I can come up with. Which of these do you think will “fly”?:

  1. Rainbow Fish: The Revenge. Swishing through the ocean, happy as a splash, it suddenly crosses Rainbow Fish’s tiny, fishy mind that actually, it was a bit mean of all his mates to each take one of his special sparkly scales for their own use, leaving him with only one remaining. The fuckers! Thereafter it all becomes like an underwater version of Carrie and everyone’s doomed.
  2. Charlie and Lola: The philosophical headfuck version. In which Soren Lorensen contends that it’s not actually possible for him to be the imaginary friend of Lola, who is already a fictional character. This imaginary doubling does in fact send him back through the looking-glass separating the fictional and the real, meaning that Lorensen is in fact a genuine living person. This is one of those things that sounds mad and totally plausible at one and the same time, meaning that everyone’s brain explodes.
  3. That’s not my feminist. A version of the popular “That’s not my …” series, adapted to show youngsters that feminists come in all shapes and sizes. Featured feminists are rejected because “her legs are too hairy”, “her class is too middle” and “her position on burlesque dancing is just too unsatisfactory”. Because these books nearly always end with something soft and fluffy (e.g.  the monkey’s tummy, the pirate’s beard), the last page features “my feminist” whose “minge is so soft and fluffy”. Throughout the book it is made clear that “my” feminist does not denote ownership, and that a feminist “not being yours” is not the same as said feminist not being a genuine feminist. This clears it all up once and for all (I was considering a different version of the series, based on marital infidelity – e.g. “That’s not my baby, my sperm count’s too low” – but that’s maybe one to keep up my sleeve for later).

This is as far as I’ve got right now. But actually, it’s quite far already, because how long do these books take to write? Five minutes? I mean, I’ve written a whole sodding thesis. I could do this with my eyes shut. Tomorrow.

In the meantime, what are your suggestions? What are you going to write? I know you won’t put anything in the comments box – just to make me feel like I’m the only one who does this – but still, have a ponder. Then write it. Bedtime won’t ever be the same again.

* For instance, Snug with their mummy, the rabbits are all / Tumbled together in one furry ball. Meanwhile, Small panda sleeps as the stars peek-a-boo, / Held by his mother, all the night through. Not having studied zoology, I don’t know much about cute animal bedtime rituals. Still, I have to say, it all sounds a bit suspect to me.

PS For the record, I think Julia Donaldson’s ace. Better than Tolstoy, in fact. “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Anna Karenina). Well, that’s just bollocks, for starters.