2014

A year of starting over, his father died, the teenager became a tyrant and there were many rants and coming to terms with the troll-like.

January

Happy New Year

Bright & sunny outside. Still huddling under the duvet trying to recover from the coldest night ever over New Year. The temperature outside was balmy. Indoors was an ice box thanks to the frugality of our hosts. Why a couple with so much money feel a need to economise on the gas bill when they have friends over, I will never understand.

A steady stream of New Year texts is arriving wishing us all well, wittier and wiser for 2014.

I’d settle for warmer.

Weather Warnings:

The Uk is covered with extreme weather warnings – we are promised floods and worse. At the same time various States in the US, including NY where BF1 is living have declared national emergencies.

But dig beneath the UK story and essentially the problem seems to be high tides and rivers overflowing their banks.

Is it just me or is there a pretty obvious reason why they’re called floodplains? And isn’t it normal for snow to fall in the US in Winter.

We seem to be desperately searching for evidence of global warming To be clear, I do believe that the world is actually warming slightly at least in part because of man made interference. But normal weather, however horrid, doesn’t qualify as evidence that the world is coming to an end.

2013: The Verdict

The Rowntree Foundation published an analysis of 2013 via Twitter: nothing new but still depressing reading for a liberal  NW3 houseowner.

Yet we continue to demonise benefit claimnants in a way that is shamefully selective. The largest group of people claiming benefits in this country is pensioners and they never get mentioned. The Government cancelled the Child Trust Fund to save “us” £320m a year but made no attempt to rake back the £500m spent each year providing over-75s with free tv licences.

The working poor live with us and around us and yet we are blind to their existence.

  • Deprived areas across England and Scotland are experiencing larger cuts to local government budgets than affluent ones, with a difference of about £100 per head between the richest and poorest areas. The North-South difference in England is £69 per head.

The recession is happening to other people in other places. Whilst the working poor are hidden from us in North London, there are whole tranches of the country that are suffering and we are made blind to it by our isolation and the silence of both government and media.

Even the Northlondon Housewife cannot escape noticing the increases to the daily grocery bill (Waitrose foodstuffs deleivered by Ocada, natch) and let’s not talk about the cost of petrol. A recent investigation into the costs of our fuel bills sent us apoplectic. Now I’m wondering how much all my gadgets cost to keep charged and the girls are learning to switch lights off.

Sort of.

  • Attitudes to people on welfare are hardening.

We don’t live in gated streets – whole towns are effectively gated by house pricing differentials. We neither see nor hear about the reality of living on benefits. We are sold an entirely unworthy story about the undeserving poor ripping off society.

And yet the story over dinner is all about children returning home to live after university and whether they’ll ever be able to afford their own homes. Do we think this is really a story about marital breakdown, about women divorcing their husbands or never marrying in the first place?

This idea worries me somewhat being not that great at solitude. On a personal level, involvement with a church mitigates the fear quite a lot. Apparently we are all happier and healthier if we are sociable members of a community. Religion provides for that need.

This is the real reason the SNP can suggest with some credibility that an independent Sctoland will end up providing a higher state pension: people die younger so can be paid more for a shorter time. Of course the relatively poor state of health of people in Scotland will also increase the cost of providing health care up to the point at which they pop their clogs.

We favour the voting elderly over the young at every stage of the political process.

  • Without a step change in our attitude towards fixing the housing crisis we’ll stay locked into a boom and bust housing market, increasingly crowding out young, poor and vulnerable people.

Anyone on the housing ladder has an incentive to maintain the status quo. Changes will favour the young, poor and vulnerable and therefore logically will harm the interests of the exisiting house owner. The only way to improve things would seem to be to increase supply – build more houses, force the building industry to stop sitting on land with planning permission and actually build houses on their land banks (make permissions time limited perhaps?).

If we have more houses then the pressure for prices to increase falls though potentially the price of existing houses as well as new houses will fall causing voter panic. The whole idea of rising house prices as a barometer of voter confidence is too well established for anything to be done about this.

Don’t, can’t and won’t understand the ego involvement in house prices. There is an almost pornographic interest at the dinner table in how much houses in the street sell for. Why? We all need somewhere to live. The number of zeroes at the end of the number have no value at all if you can’t sell and downsize or move to Outer Mongolia.

The number of people living alone highlights our total unwillingness to move somewhere else.

 Dog Days:

I’m a chihuahua. According to Facebook, if I was a dog I’d be a chihuahua. How to react?

I am ofcourse, incredibly pleased to be known as the dog most difficult to spell especially in a blog with no spellcheck. Moreover it’s a very suitable dog for the NorthLondon stereotype even if not actually seen around here very much.

Chihuahuas are really abit more upmarket than NW11, a bit more Knightsbridge in a handbag, dahling.

Around here we seem to specialise in CockerPoos or Labradoos, even plain poodles, dressed up in little jackets. Since poodles are one of the smartest dogs around (often trained as sight and sound dogs for the blind and deaf) it has always seemed beyond cruel to make them have such ridiculous haircuts.

A friend has just acquired a lovely cockerdoo and is starting to look like it already.

We don’t do dogs in this house. Two elderly cats provide enough cross species interaction for anyone. Bizarrely, the “no dog ever” house rule is the only line ever drawn by my lover. It’s not like he was bitten as a child (I was) or otherwise traumatised. And he isn’t very convincing with his reasons against – they’re too easy, too indiscriminate with their affections.  Maybe there’s some truth to the treat ’em mean to keep them keen idea if it  works for cats.

It’s the size of a chihuahua that offends me. The description if quite sweet: We are different, we’re special and we’re always the life of the party. It’s better to split opinion than to go unnoticed. Who wants to blend in?

I seem to have an awful lot of spaniels as friends: great friends who live to work. Committed and hard working, often easily bored.

But in my family, there is a labrador, a bulldog and a border collie.

Diversity!

PS If a chihuahua grows up does it become a rottweiler?

 Community Policing:

An investigation has come to a conclusion that Mark Duggan was lawfully shot by the police even though at the time he did not have a gun in his hand. Social media is outraged – how could it be lawful if he was unarmed? The family stand on the steps of the court saying: “no justice, no peace” Is this a call for further riots?

The police statement was impossible to hear over the shouts of the crowds. He offers his condolences to the family but is clear that the police shoot only as a last resort and only if they believe there is a real and clear danger.

The police at the time believed that Mark Duggan had a gun. They were terribly wrong but the jury agreed (by majority) that the police belief was reasonable, that on balance, the most likely scenario was that Mark Duggan had collected a gun but on being stopped by the police had thrown the gun away to the side of the mini-van in which he was shot

What the police have not done, was to say outright that they made a terrible though honest mistake. I don’t know why it is so difficult to say those words to the family. Does it allow for some kind of redress, some liability that the police will prove expensive? The reported and repeated comments that the armed police are well-trained and handle the most dangerous situations provides little comfort when it is clear that he was shot by mistake.

Aside from the disastrously poor management of the situation at the time and especially the seemingly poor treatment of the bereft family (criticised in some report by an official examination of the police behaviour, PCC?) this is not the time for statements supporting the police officer who shot Mark Duggan.

Surely it must be dreadful to know that you have shot someone unnecessarily but cannot compare to the horror of having your child killed.

His mother seems to be saying that the police “executed” her son. “No justice, no peace” They will continue to campaign. But what are they campaigning for exactly? I have sympathy but no outrage.

Does she want an apology? Is she looking for the man who shot her son to be named and shamed? Does she want the police to put aside the stereotypes that have undoubtedly blighted race relations in this country in the past and still do with the much abused “stop and search” powers. What does she want?

Does she want to clear her son’s name? Does she disagree with the image of her son as a “bad boy” a man involved in gangs, likely to be carrying a gun, likely to shoot someone?

The riots that broke out just after the shooting were terrifying and unfathomable to me. How much was due to outrage at his shooting versus an opportunistic “smash and grab”? No one wants to go back there again.

February

Bored Housewife

Tennis is cancelled and I’m bored.

According to Asimov, boredom is going to be the major “sickness” of the future world, the cause of endless misery, pychological and social breakdown. I was hoping it would stop with a small, manageable mid-life crisis, possibly even spur me on to new interests and a fresh bright lease on life in my coming of age. It seems I was unusually hopeful in my outlook.

The newspapers are currently full of stories about internet trolling and one in particular highlights the impact of boredom on the lives of trolls. It isn’t simply an issue of inadequate people struggling to fill their time. Modern boredom seems to involve a sense of vindictive entitlement. It isn’t a lack of things to do so much as a lack of worthwhile things to do. Activities that are worthy of “me”

I am worth more than this.

I am bored and it’s your fault.

You look purposeful, interesting and interested.

Why should you have all of that energy, that focus in life and not me?

I will take it away from you, make you small and fearful (like me)

When my girls were little, they would (quite) often complain about being bored, usually in an attempt to get the tv switched on outside of the usual afternoon slot. They were told that there is no such thing as bored only boring people, to go and find some way of entertaining themselves that didn’t involve whining around their mother.

Now I’m trying to work out whether I’ve doomed them or saved them – the usual mother dilemma.

Subject TBD:
My youngest daughter is choosing her GCSEs though perhaps choice is overstating the matter.

She is obliged by her school to take 7 subjects: Maths, English Lit, English Lang, Physics, Chemistry, Biology and one modern language (Spanish or French).

She is left with three subjects to choose out of: History, Geography, Latin, a second language, Business Communications (WTF?) Ancient Civilisation, Music, Art and Drama.

There are a couple of extra hours options (Greek, RE) but these are ruled out pretty sharpish.

Music is too much like hard work, involving not only proficiency on a musical instrument (she plays piano & drums) but also composing and performing a new piece.

Drama requires too much extra time out of hours (theatre visits twice every half term) and is already identified as her sister’s “thing”

Art should be a possibility but she finds the teacher and course work too prescriptive. Not only is she told what to create but how, in great detail. I’m assuming this is to ensure she covers all the technical side of things but for her it seems a great turn off.

What are we left with?

History, Geography, Latin

Exciting or what?

Namibia

Very excited. The trip to Namibia is now planned for July having been hugely simplified after playing around with GoogleMaps (useless for real life but excellent for planning) and realising just how vast the distances we were proposing to drive might turn out to be.

As always, things have had to be cut from the itinerary. The planned hoemstay with either the San Bushmen or going North to stay with the Himba was written out as just adding too much time and distance, essentially a trade off against flying south to see the vast dunes. The  small hopper flight was added to take the pain out of the journey (5 hours each way by car) though we haven’t broken it to Beloved yet.

We’ve also decided on a two and a half week trip rather than just two, flying out overnight on a Saturday and back overnight on a Tuesday. Spending more time doing less seems to be the answer. as we get older. I’m not yet convinced by BF1’s idea that we should perhaps revisit more places to gain a deeper rather than broader view. There are just too many places in the world that I am still keen to see.

The flights to Namibia are  long (and expensive)  via Johannaesburg but hopefully not too impossible. At least we come back and have a whole day to recover.

In the end we’ve purchased flights through Trailfinders (ABTA guarranteed and very reliable) who have strongly advised using BA and their linked airline COMMAIR for the J’burg-Windhoek link. We’ve used a local agent in Namibia, though one recommended by I-Escape. I imagine we’ll pay by credit card so that if anything does go wrong, we can reclaim against Mastercard.

The basic trip is a clockwise circuit north of the capital Windhoek for just short of two weeks followed by a fly down to the dunes in the south (Sossusvlei, Namin-Naukluft) where we’ll stay for 4 nights. the last piece of accomodation (Wolwedans) is the most expensive. The family will either love or hate it.

Deserts are like that.

Alice-Herz-Sommers

” … because I have had such a beautiful life. And life is beautiful, love is beautiful, nature and music are beautiful. Everything we experience is a gift, a present we should cherish and pass on to those we love” Alice Herz-Sommer.

Mrs Herz-Sommer died on Sunday aged 110, the oldest know concentration camp survivor. She survived through playing the piano in the camp orchestra at Theresienstadt. Her husband died after being moved to Auschwitz and then Dachau in 1944.

March

4th March : Twitter Blitz

There are three topics on twitter: Russia invading the Crimea, Oscar Pistorious trial in SA and the Oscars. It makes me incredibly superficial but the only stories I can bear to read are about long glamorous dresses, actors, directors and truly trivial media.

Russia invading the Ukraine (let’s hope they stop at annexing the Crimea) is too deadly, too reminiscent of the whole cold war shit I was brought up with to listen to with any equanimity.Sometimes I moan at my girls about the Cold War, “back in the days…” type reminiscing but ofcourse they’ve been brought up with the whole, terrorist threat, jihadi nonsense and who is to decide which is worst?

Apparently any economic sanctions would cost the UK more than Russia – we’re net exporters – go figure.

& knowing where the Crimea actually is located, courtesy of history lessons, Florence NIghtingale etc, makes the whole thing much worse than these prospective wars in a far flung place no one has ever heard of. Apparently Putin is betting on the West’s reluctance to sacrifice it’s very shaky financial recovery for any moral, political cause.

The Pistorious trial with it’s overtones of white privilege, domestic violence and flawed hero is just too much to bear. Assuming his innocence, it just points out the unbearable violence underlying SA society, the constant threat to the haves from the have-nots, the threat to “whites” from “blacks”.

Above all, it highlights the total failure of the rainbow nation to live up to Mandela’s dream. The abnegation of responsibility by black leaders to deal honestly with the reality of political power.

So I’m sticking with the Oscars, with a truly elegant speech from Lupita Nyongo and the rather awesome success of Steve McQueen, first black winner of the Best Director Oscar for “12 years a slave” the film everyone thinks they should go see but doesn’t want to see at all.

I’m making bread – Maple Syrup & Pecan to make the world a better place.

Trivial. That’s me.

14th March : Land of the Dragon

What would life be like if our prophet, our messiah was known for his sense of humour? Suppose your patron saint was famous as the man who drank and fucked his way around the country? When we talk about the greatest commandment, “Love your God… love your neighbour as yourself” let’s try to imagine it being said in a more literal fashion.

Would it offend you most to imagine your holy man with a sense of humour or a libido? And looking around at the state of humanity, are we not certain that God must spend a fair amount of time both laughing and crying?

Bhutan, Druk-yul, the Land of the Dragon is a small Himalyan kingdom and possibly the most beautiful place on earth. Officially it’s a buddhist kingdom but far from the stereotype expectations of meek, passive buddhist traditions.

Life there is dominated by Drukpa Kunley, the Divine Madman, their patron saint, a man who really did drink and screw his way around the mountains. He was a wandering ascetic, combining religion with sex and drink.

He was described as carrying his “divine thunderbolt” his penis with him wherever he went, penetrating the mysteries of life and many willing virgins as well as using it to subdue a number of demonesses into submission, into becoming powerful protectresses. His rude fables and extreme drunkeness were interspersed with words of wisdom,  how to escape the vicious circle of samsara (birth, death, rebirth). For the God-fearing but life loving Drukpa Kunley, “The best chung wine lies at the bottom of the pail / And happiness lies below the navel” Kushwant Singh

His outrageous behaviour and ribald humour was purposeful, as he sought to free the people from their conventional morality, their self-obsession. He travelled with his female friends and disciples, taking them along the path of self-desire striving to free them from the  illusory world, to free the buddha within.

Maybe gorging oneself to excess would gift us with a better sense of perspective, whether food, sex or other material possessions. We’ve all heard the saying “Money doesn’t bring happiness” but how many of us believe it? How many of us are caught in this race for material success?

Life as a Christian is full of failure. We fail to follow the moral path, the best, the easiest way to happiness and heaven. We sin. Perhaps the Butanese saint was simply a realist, accepting that we live in a world of sin, a place where people are drawn to excessive consumption like moths to a flame. Perhaps he just thought if this is the way things are, let’s explore exactly what it  means whether an excess of drink. drugs, sex, whatever.

The physical life is not the most important life we lead. The important things in life cannot be bought. Neither can they be exhausted. The happiest people in the world are the most connected, the most purposeful, the ones with the closest most intimate of friendships.

And the people of Bhutan still love their saint. Houses in Bhutan are painted with huge, glorious phallusses, erect, ejaculating penises everywhere you look.

18th March: Third World Women

Some things never change, wherever you  live in the world:

Bhutanese Song about pleasure

A young woman finds pleasure in love. A young man finds pleasure in sex. An old man finds pleasure in his memoirs.

This is the doctrine of the three pleasures.

But some things are surprisingly different:

Bhutanese women have traditionally had more rights than would be expected in the rest of the world. The property of each extended Bhutanese family is controlled by an “anchor mother” who is assisted by the other women of the family in running affairs. As she becomes unable to manage the property, the position of anchor mother passes on to a sister, daughter or niece.

Men and women work together in the fields, and both may own small shops or businesses. Men take a full part in household management, often cook, and are traditionally the makers and repairers of clothing (but do not weave the fabric).

The practice of polyandry was not uncommon with one woman having two husbands. In some ways this could be seen as a very practical response to a way of life where yak herds would spend Winter in the valley near the farmstead but be taken up into the mountains for six months of the year. One husband would travel with the herd and the other would help farm the land.

Traditionally the groom moves to the bride’s family home (matrilocality), but newlyweds may decide to live with either family depending on which household is most in need of labour.

In the towns, a more “western” pattern of family structure is beginning to emerge, with the husband as breadwinner and the wife as home-maker. Both genders may be monks, although in practice the number of female monks is relatively small.

Marriages are at the will of either party and divorce is not uncommon. Neither marriage nor divorce/separation is regarded as an especially important rite of passage. Blessings etc from the priests are not essential. The ceremony itself consists of an exchange of white scarves and the sharing of a cup though marriages can only be officially registered when the couple has lived together for more than six months.

The concept of “living in sin” is entirely unkown and unexplainable – the idea causes bafflement

20th March: Stereotypes

I’m the third daughter of a woman I have never liked very much. There’s a Fran Landesmere poem that sums up our relationship pretty well – MOTHER, The woman who fucked up my head. It’s a relationship that I thought I’d left long behind, the only issue how to explain it to strangers when family came up in awkward conversation.

But then I had daughters of my own.

And perhaps the only good thing about having any bad relationship is that it gives you a model of what not to do, how not to behave. The difficulty with mother-daughter relationships is recognising that the default you’ve grown up with is faulty in the first place. We internalise the problem the persistent belief that if only “I” was a better daughter, then we would be living the dream family life that  can be seen in all the story books.

Thank God for loving grandmothers and alternative visions of family  life. Being beaten as a child is not normal, is so far from picture book normal that providing there is one sane grown up in your life to point out the difference, you can work out that being the “problem child” isn’t the problem. So having a clear idea of how I didn’t want to parent my daughters surely this whole mothering thing should be straight forward?

And some things are very straight forward indeed.

I was and will always remain convinced that violence has no place in my relationship with my girls. Aside from being entirely wrongheaded in it’s message “I’m bigger than you so behave or else” looking around  it seems clear that it doesn’t actually work. But have I ever slapped my children? Yes – to my shame in panic and passion when my youngest tried to open the door in the moving car. I apologised and still feel guilty, still wonder how I could have stayed calmer and behaved better. Not so straightforward but not the equivalent of the regular beatings I had as a child.

I remain convinced that children need to be told that they are loved by people who love them. They need hugs and smiles and affection. I remember none of this. At the same time, children need to be able to say no to hugs and kisses when they want to, no obligation to kiss aunty or uncle in our house. The girls own their own bodies and their own affections. They need to be polite but there are boundaries.

But it is incredibly confounding to find myself living a life so similar to the life I despised my mother for living. The stereotype lives and breathes in NLondon. I am a stay-at-home mum with a working husband. I take my kids to school and am around when they come home. I am responsible for the home, the house and holidays.

I really dislike the stereotype but it seems to work so well: every working woman should have a wife, someone to get through the admin of life.

Ofcourse there are differences. I left home, worked hard and made money; earned it, saved it and still have it – enough money to walk away if I want to. I just don’t want to. My girls got more interesting, the job got less interesting and the finances worked so I retired.

Now I worry that I’m giving the wrong message to my daughters. The dependency I was so determined to avoid growing up seems to be quite a desirable state to them. But then society is still so busy selling the idea of a two parent hetero normative married family, maybe it’s inevitable. Without the model of how it can go wrong, how financial dependency breeds a vile sense of control maybe you can’t see the downside.

But with the example of a father who loves and respects them, maybe they’ll make better choices than their grandmother. Maybe they’ll find partners who value them, whatever their career paths.

Because the thing I never really understood as a child is that parenting is a two person job.

 21st March : Plague

There’s an article in the NYTimes describing a measles epidemic in North Manhattan. Some 30 or so cases have occurred in a very short period of time. The theory espoused is that a failure to recognise measles by hospital staff resulted in the infection spreading through the broader community. Most of the infected are young children, pre-vaccination jabs. No one has died. And the article ends with the comment that one of the possible originating cases was a young (17) year old orthodox jewish boy returning from London.

Three things about this story amaze me:

The hysteria generated on the various websites is astonishing and so weird given how highly vaccinated the US community seems to be. No one has died. No one is likely to die. Vaccination certificates were a requirement before my BFs child could attend school or any kind of children’s camp or club in NY so why the panic sounding posts on-line?

And the truth is that vaccination has a strong socio-economic componenent in America. Furthermore once you catch the disease, your socio-economic background plays a big part in how severely you get ill and whether it might (unlikely but possible) kill you. Vitamin A deficiency is strongly correlated with bad outcomes in measles. So is poor healthcare. The poorer and less educated you are, the less likely you are to be vaccinated, the less likely you are to go or be taken to a doctor for diagnosis and of course, the less likely you to be well cared for once diagnosed. The poor cannot afford the time away from work to attend clinics, for themselves or their children.

The hysteria in NY seems in part to be a result of how close to the well-to-do enclaves the disease appears to have crept.

The spite vented on non-vaccinators (Vacc-deniers?) on various websites is astonishing ranging from “how can they be so stupid, just believe in the science already” to “these people are child abusers, remove their children” Whilst my children are now fully vaccinated against most things,  they weren’t given shots as babies. As a science graduate (first degree: Pure Chemistry & Maths) I certainly can’t be described as scientifically ill-educated so why was I slow to vaccinate?

The big argument in favour of vaccination is that of “herd immunity” There will be side effects to any course of vaccinations. There will be a small but real risk to every child who is vaccinated. The side effects can be mild but on rare occasions dreadful. We are told to vaccinate because the very small but very real risk to our child is offset by the reduced risk to the community. If everyone is vaccinated, because the risks from the vaccination are lower than the risks of the disease (by an order of magnitude), then on average society is better off.

I don’t care enough about other people’s children to risk my own. I would not sacrifice my child’s well being for another child, for another 10 children’s well-being or indeed another 1000 children’s well-being. I might sacrifice myself, but not my girl.

So not being a very nice person, not at all self-sacrificing in nature, why did I eventually arrange vaccinations for my children?

Vaccinations probably work, most of the time. They don’t work all of the time on all people. Even good vaccinations, and measles is a good vaccination, are not 100 % effective forever. Pertussis is rubbish, working at most 50% of the time and for at most 5 years. So people who have had vaccines can be overly complacent pointing fingers at the non-vaccinated among the community. Disease spreads through a break-down in basic hygeine mostly. Wash your hands people! Cover your mouth with a disposable tissue when you sneeze – and remember to put your tissues in a bin afterwards, don’t litter them about.

Ironically the best protection from  many vaccinated diseases is catching and surviving the disease itself.

But vaccinations do mostly work and they’re considerably better than catching most diseases, but not all.

For some diseases, I would not choose to vaccinate ever. I would not vaccinate against chicken pox even after catching it from my two year old and having to cope with the “pox” in my thirties. The disease isn’t serious enough.

I would prefer my girls to catch rubella as children and have life long immunity, than vaccinate as a baby that may or may not take, may or may not last their lifetime. Rubella is dangerous only to unborn babies and a vaccination at 13 years of age before there’s a risk of pregancy would seem sufficient. Mumps seems a disease that the mothers of boys should be more concerned about.

Tetanus is a disease caused by unclean wounds, In a first world setting, with adequate healthcare, routine vaccination rather than vaccination after injury seems pointless. The only time I could possibly have developed tetanus ( a dog bite) I was routinely given the jab even though I was up-to-date with my own vaccinations “just in case”

Diptheria and polio are almost unheard of in the world in which I live – as soon as we travelled to areas in the world where they occur, we vaccinated. They come combined with tetanus and pertussis jabs so we ticked that off the list as well. Measles is also endemic in  some of these places so we vaccinated for that as well and the latter came with the (to my mind) pointless rubella and mumps.

We also vaccinated against hepatitus A and if recommended would get the jabs for TB and cholera.

We take prophylactis for malaria but more to the point, we take precautions about when we travel, use DEET and wear long sleeved clothing to keep the bugs away.

My girls both had the HPV vaccine against cervical cancer (STD transmission) offered in the UK in their early teens. I’m unconvinced by the meningitis jab which seems to have a limited range (Men C only)  and varying reports of efficacy. Vigilance, prompt diagnosis and good treatment seems a better life choice since the causes of meningities are endemic in society and mostly the symptoms of Men C are negligible.

Rather obviously but still worth saying again, the medical guidance on prevention is focused on good hygiene! If you’re sick stay home and get well. Don’t spread your germs about.

Was delaying vaccination until my children had a real risk of catching the disease selfish – yes. Was it uneducated – no.

There was a recent outbreak of measles in Wales (a year or so ago). The newspapers were full of horror stories, of blame-mongering and fingers pointed at people very like me. Yet the main reaction from parents when the risk became real to them, was to rush to the clinic and vaccinate. Instead of making the herd immunity argument, maybe we’d be better off with a real risk assessment.

And finally, the idea that London is a breeding ground for measles. Surely as a bona fide NLondon housewife, I’d know if the Orthodox community were falling like nine-pins in a measles epidemic?

24th March: Whores
Q. If I go to a sex-worker am I demeaning women?

www.dodsonandross.com is an excellent website. The tagline “liberating women one orgasm at a time” says it all. But there are some topics that are very challenging for me. Prostitution is one of them.

I do not want my daughters to grow up to be whores. I don’t want them to marry men who use whores. If I had sons, I would not want my sons to use whores. Why am I so certain? I don’t think it’s just society shaming. So Betty’s answer to go ahead “You are honoring her and her profession when you are willing to pay for her services” just doesn’t feel right.

There are three main problems with prostitution:

Structural abuses within the prostitution business ie. abusive pimps/madams, trafficking of young women and underage women.

The half hidden nature of the business lends itself too easily to abusive, criminal acts. There is a real problem with young girls being trafficked from non-EU countries and forced into prostitution, some of these are underage, all are vulnerable. Men who pay for sex with these women and children are abusers and should be prosecuted along with the men who set them up in the first place.

Even when not trafficked and of age, there has to be a question of consent. At the “lower” end of the market, a high proportion of the women involved in prostitution are there because they have an addiction to feed. Consent isn’t truly consent if the woman involved is desperate to get a fix. There is no real choice involved at this end of the spectrum, just desperately sad women (occasionally men) being exploited. Needless to say in the UK at least, street walking and running brothels are illegal.

Prostitution reinforces the hiearachy where men are in control (the buyers) and women are controlled (the suppliers).

This might be a huge over-simplification. It’s assuming a degree of vanilla that may be hopelessly naive. Some women campaigners describe feelings of empowerment, of being more valued because a price has been put upon their bodies. Interestingly the price has fallen over the years as sex has become easier to come by. It would be interesting to know whether there’s been a corresponding move towards less vanilla prostitution.

On a recent documentary a woman made (legally) £80,000 web-camming sex on-line, paid her taxes and everything. That’s a lot of money. She didn’t seem to feel anything other than content with her job though she made the comment that it wouldn’t suit a lot of people. What proportion of women in the business are operating at the “top-end” as escorts versus the lower-end street-walkers or brothels?

It is possible to see prostitution as an extension of the original world view of marriage where a woman was most definitely a chattel, where rights to her body were formally exchanged from father to husband on her marriage. It’s an anaethema to the modern western view of marriage as a mutual exchange of support and intimacy, a vehicle for love. Maybe prostitution elicits such an extreme reaction because it so undermines this more equal view of relationships. Marriage used to be all about control, title and ownership. Prostitution still is.

Paying for sex demeans sex

Paying for sex may or may not demean women – only the women involved can decide whether demean is the “right” word – but it is most certainly demeaning to sex. What is sex supposed to be in a relationship? Doesn’t making it into a cash transaction change the nature of sex itself, both for the individual paying and buying?

At some basic biological level, sex is for making babies and some puritans will still hold that this is it’s real and perhaps only purpose. Not being catholic, let’s leave that behind.  People are sociable. We strive for intimacy in our relationships. We build friendships, families and communities. Relationships are for mutual support, for intimacy and sharing. Often they lead to children, sometimes they don’t. The shape of the family, shapes our community and our world.

Realtionships are built through intimacy and for most of us, sex is part of that intimacy. We find ourselves drawn to share ourselves with each other whilst simultaneously being terrified of just that. Sex is fun and pleasurable, sometimes dark and risky. Partner sex, sharing that vulnerability, the strange absurdness of two bodies touching is an extraordinary thing.

Betty Dodson likens paid sex to therapy, a paid listener, possibly one with special skills and qualifications. I can understand the comparison at an intellectual level, but can’t make it feel right emotionally. Maybe because therapists are used by people who acknowledge they have a problem, they’re broken. Men using prostitutes seem to believe they’re healthy.

And for me that is the basic problem. The relationship between a man and a whore is broken at some level. It is so very far from what I want the relationship between partners to be that I can’t comprehend it. People who can accept that type of paid for relationship are broken.

I want my daughters to regard themselves as priceless. I want their intimate realtionships to be an equal exchange, a sharing rather than a price per fuck. Any man who uses prostitutes is not looking for an equality of relationship, not looking for intimacy at all. In many ways, the use of prostitutes speaks to an avoidance of emotional intimacy. Why would I want someone like that as a partner to my daughter?

April

2nd April: Killing Cats

Is it ever ok to kill a pet? I could use the word euthanase or “put down” but we’re talking about killing. It will feel like killing. Sad and horrid.

I have two elderly (19 years old) ginger queens. One is thin and nervy whilst the other is fat and happy. The former has been on a DNR list ever since the last trip to the vets headed south of £2000. Her latest illness involves thyroid problems for whihc she now has tablets (in the past it’s been mainly respiratory issues).

Perhaps because of the thyroid impact on her kidneys, she’s now incontinent. I’ve seen her pee without noticing (or at least caring) whilst just standing waiting to be fed at night. It’s clear that she pees her bed when sleeping. As she’s eating her dinner or leaving through the cat flap she sometimes involuntarily poops as well. If we leave her alone in the house, we inevitably come back to puddles on the floor or (possibly worse) no puddles but the unmistakeable stench of cat urine now dried somewhere in the room.

Then someone has to begin the thankless task of sniffing their way around the room trying to work out where the cat pee has dried. The only way to get rid of the stench is with biological solvents applied to the patch of cat pee but you have to find it first. Even if the surface pee has disappeared, everytime the atmosphere gets damp through rain etc. the uric acid crystals become liquid once more and the smell returns.

So increasingly I live in a house that stinks of cat pee. is that enough of a reason to kill my cat? At the moment she’s living mainly outside. Is that sufficient? Even when she’s only allowed into the house with someone in the room (mostly) she still has accidents and the smell recurs. My partner would say that living outside is better for her than being dead, at least from her perspective. He’s probably right.

I have an appointment at the vets on Tuesday. Maybe we just wait and see with her living outside until something changes.

What are we going to do when it gets to Winter?

4th April: Model Child

A couple of months ago, a total stranger stopped my baby in the street and told her she was beautiful. She told my beloved that she was amazing and pressed a card into her hand. “Get your mum to give me a call and come into the agency!”  And after thinking it through for a week or so, that’s what I did.

One day after school we went over to the modelling agency to have a chat with the owner. The agency is respectable, probably not first league but close enough and with a twenty six year history safe. I have never felt so old, or so very very short.

And they kept telling me how very very stunning she is as they measured her, all 5ft 6 inches aged 15. By modelling standards she’s a midget. They looked me up and down, all 5ft 6inches of me and their faces stiffened. Come back for a photo shoot in July after her GCSEs and also, when it’s legal for her to work. If she’s grown an inch maybe we will.

At the moment I feel we’ve had the best of the situation. She’s been told how gorgeous she is by someone other than her mother. There’s been no rejection, no pressure, no downside at all. Being told you’re inhumanly beautiful but a normal height isn’t a bad place to stop. She’s a clever girl with an academic future. Modelling isn’t really part of the plan.

But looking through the website it’s clear that beautiful isn’t the same as pretty. Not at all. The young women and girls pictured all had something about their faces to make you stop and stare but I’m not sure any of them would be described as pretty. Perhaps pretty just sounds too approachable, too normal for me. But then what does that make my daughter?

And when I look at her, I don’t see beautiful or stunning or gorgeous. I see my beloved. I have never been able to see the outside of her without knowing who she is and the latter dominates. Is that what it means to be indifferent to the appearance, the trivial externals?

I’m glad she’s beautiful. It will make her life easier for the most part, broaden her choices. But I love her, love who she is and am gradually coming to terms with her being her own person.

 

 7th April: Everyday Abuse

In a recent interview Jimmy Carter, ex US president was quoted as saying:

“The most serious and unaddressed worldwide challenge is the deprivation and abuse of women and girls . . . largely caused by a false interpretation of carefully selected religious texts and a growing tolerance of violence and warfare, unfortunately following the example set during my lifetime in the United States.”

This has been reported as saying that the more religious a society is, inevitably the more unequal that society will be but this seems to be a false conclusion.

Poorer countries are more religious. They are also more unequal, across gender but also in many other ways. Religion can become a tool of abuse like any other political organisation.

Abusers abuse. Bullies bully. They use whatever tools there are to hand.

Bhutan is an example of an incredibly poor, incredibly religious country which is relatively equal in terms of gender status.

And whilst I count my blessings to have been born in the UK, a tolerant modern society, I can’t help thinking that we’re a long way from where we want to be.

More than two women are killed by their partner (+former) each week in this “lucky” country (source womensaid.org).

More than 1600 women living in Britain are raped each week (source rapecrisis.org)

90% of the victims of the most serious violence knew the perpetrator (source rapecrisis.org)

But then there is the ordinary, everyday abuse that women receive just going about their business, the jokes that aren’t quite funny, the undermining and undercutting that’s designed to put us back in our place, our lower place.

I added @everydaysexism  to my twitter feed a week ago. It makes my eyes bleed and my blood boil to read the shit that happens everyday – see the sample below from just 12 hours.

Don’t tell me to get a sense of humour – it really isn’t funny. This is the way women are made to feel weak and men make themselves feel strong. It is so habitual, so normal that it is only when the tables are turned (see http://gu.com/p/3z6b9/tw ) that we can see how grindingly depressive, how creepy it all is.

Simply being stared at in public, as if “men” own the view, is shown to be incredibly disturbing and nasty.

And clearly the men to whom this is happening agree that this is abuse. It isn’t funny to any of the men being objectified, vilified, harassed. It seems odd, strange, threatening. Exactly the same experience for women and men. No sense of humour required.

If we are being treated like this in public space then how can we be surprised when worse happend in the privacy of our own homes. If men feel entitled to abuse total strangers in public without fear of comment or interference, then how much more entitled do they feel  out of sight, out of hearing?

And I have married a lovely man, a gentle kind human being but I worry about my daughters.

Twitter Feed Sample:

Maddie@HollinsMaddie : Whilst eating dinner with some male friends, “maddie’s used to having stuff in her mouth, generally cock

Holly L@InHollysKitchen : 2 men 50+ staring at me as I walk past, one says morning, other days Slut. Nice.

Naye@IdrissNaye : My teacher:” I don’t know why she’s doing engineering…she’s a girl! It dsnt suit her!”

According to @SkySports, the Australian “girls” have won the Women’s World T20. Amazing they beat the England adult team.

Hannah Malcolm@hannahmmalcolm : I exercise for my mental health, not for your car horn.

Weddings by KARA@weddingsbykara : Isn’t it fab when at a trade show in a pro capacity & a man tells you that since you have a pretty face he’ll do you a deal?

Jo Fisher@joannefisher I really resent the fact that, at 23 years old, I don’t feel safe walking home from work alone at 5.30, in daylight

10th April: Ans – No

Turns out there is never a right time to kill your cat.

She went to sleep today and won’t wake up, won’t come home, won’t ever sneak upstairs for a cuddle. Never, ever again.

I’ve gone back to bed, curled up with her sister.

 

20th April: Porngraphy and Prudery

There are two separate things going on here : prudery and porn. If you object to porn, or indeed any public image of women, you run the risk of being called a prude as if that were suddenly the worst thing in the world, maybe second only to the accusations of being old or ugly.

The increasing sexualisation of images aimed at young girls has a  direct impact on girls and their own self-imaging. Advertising is all about selling, and along with the chocolate bar it sells the idea of a young, sexually available girl, a matronly mother and an old crone. Such cliches. Haven’t we grown tired of this already?

The impact of pornography upon young women is mainly experienced  through the attitudes of the boys and young men who have watched it and how it informs their behaviour and their expectations.

The two issues feed off each other but are not the same: one impacts how girls police themselves, the other how men police the women in their lives. Both are about control, control of women. Both tell young girls and women how they should appear how they should behave and in societal reactions, both seem to reinforce the virgin/whore dichotomy, the catch-22 every woman finds herself in at some time.

With regard to porn, a quick search of Telegraph/Guardian/BBC etc suggests the average age for first watching porn is young.  There are a couple of outliers in terms of surveys and some where the questions haven’t quite caught up with the technology.

But realistically don’t we all agree that most 15 year old boys have visited porn sites and probably that they start looking at porn sometime around 10/11?

Of those kids (mostly boys) watching porn it seems generally agreed that they move past vanilla to hardcore easily and quickly.There is a UK study used as part of an excellent sex-ed series in the UK called The Sex Education Show
see http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-sex-education-show/4od

This series really is worth looking at for anyone wanting a framework to discuss sex with kids and young adults.

The increasing availability and use of porn by young boys and men wouldn’t matter much if there was an alternative view of sex being communicated, if we had adequate sex-ed in schools and homes. But we don’t.  Similarly, if all parents talked to their kids or simply used parental controls to reduce or slow the transfer to hardcore sites, it would be less of an issue. But they don’t.

Boys learn about sex through porn sites on-line through their phones etc.  Girls are already having to deal with the implications of this “education”

Issues reported back home range from boys recoiling in horror from a hairy vulva (like teenagers don’t have enough body image worries) boys asuming instant orgasms or the girls are clearly not “normal”,  total confusion over the issue of consent,  one boy expecting anal sex on a second date… My oldest daughter is just 16. The youngest is 14. Their friends are dating boys aged 16-18

There’s nothing new about boys watching porn  but the  content is more extreme these days and so is the impact. You are never more than 5 clicks away from an illegality.

And it’s a problem because porn isn’t setting out to educate but rather to entertain. And in the same way that news is entertainment, only the exciting, the different and the extreme can make it into the show. The quality of porn is poor in terms of representing healthy, caring, loving relationships.

Perhaps as women move more into the marketplace as consumers the quality and diversity of porn will improve – there are some small signs of this happening in the Japanese market. But ultimately it’s the job of families to educate and government to intervene through education where necessary.

In an attempt to control access to porn by children (and probably still allow parents to avoid that conversation) there has been a debate taking place as to whether parental controls on computers should be set on as the default option.

It’s often framed in terms of balancing the need to protect kids versus the objection to “big brother” censoring the rights of consenting adults.

But having the computer arrive in the box with the default set to avoid adult content seems  simple enough. It isn’t difficult to change the settings if you want to find porn, just makes it a positive choice rather than an accident. It does avoid the scenario a friend had when her 8 year old  googled “Barbie has fun with doggie” and ended up in a very bad place.

Believe me, there are objectionable images that no parent wants to discuss with her 8 year old.

Clearly the answer is to work towards children who are well-informed about what caring, consensual sex is all about and responsibility for this resides both within the family and with society through formal education (to pick up the slack for families who can’t or won’t inform their kids).

And that brings us back to the real issue of prudery because parents can’t or won’t have that conversation with their children possibly because they lack the framework, they lack the language to start the conversation. They don’t know when and how to talk about intimacy and because of that nervousness, they brush it to one side believing that schools will cover the topic or that their child will somehow muddle through just as they probably did many years earlier.

Maybe they will.

There are valid concerns about the sexualisation of young children and the impact of pornography on kids and young adults. I’m interested in what  your wish list look like to address those concerns.
Mine would would read something like:

  • Better sex positive education.
  • Make parental controls a default setting rather than an afterthought.
  • Probably leave the censorship laws as they are – maybe implement them better.

25th April: The Cult of Science

Just as the priests used to interpret the latin texts, popular science has it’s own language that must be interpreted for the people by it’s own priests.

We are  constantly being told that we must follow the rules, eat our 5 a day, enjoy the latest super-food, drink 2 litres of water a day. exercise for at least 30 minutes a day. Don’t watch too much tv. Don’t hold our mobile phones too close to our ears. Wear loose pants not budgy smugglers.

We are constantly told how only science can protect us.  The horsemen of the apocalypse are knocking at the gate and only science can keep us safe. The god of science will provide better weapons (our science is better than our enemies science) It will provide better food to save us from famine (GM crops, genetic engineering) It will provide vaccines to protect us from the plagues descending. Through science death itself can be defeated, or at least delayed, maybe only the signs of aging to start with, but at least it’s a start.

And clearly there is truth to the claims.

But the rules change and there are a plethora of counter-claims and prophets compete for our allegiance. We are told better agriculture is good but then an alternative scientist prophet tells us that  GM crops may run amok and threaten the environment. Pesticides are great for food production but possibly bad for biodiversity.

Advice is constantly revised requiring a constant stream of “experts” explaining the world to us in words of one syllable.

Cars, household gadgets and gizmos are sold to us on the basis of the latest technology. Technology is good. We will be bigger, faster, stronger, quicker. And yet fewer and fewer people actually understand the technology. Who could take a vacuum cleaner apart and put it back together again? How many of us understand the basic combustion engine in a car, nerver mind the new green technology.

We are all unreasonably impressed by science and technology whilst at the same time (because?) we understand less and less of it.

Half of the chemicals mentioned in the advertising of beauty products are meaningless brand names, dressed up to sound sort-off technical. A bit a pseudoscience is thrown into the mix to impress us. We know that anti-aging creams will not make us look like 20 year olds so we increasingly move towards botox and surgery. The science, the interventions get heavier and heavier.

Fundamentally,  advertising relies on us being impressed by science because we don’t understand it. If doctors are the everyday priesthood of science, then advertisers are the false prophets. Advertising seems to rely on the fact that people can’t do maths. It uses meaningless statistical samples to explain why something might work (it might not). How comforted should I feel if 90% of people tested feel better after using a moisturiser? Well, not very comforted if they’ve been paid to take part. Less comforted if only 10 women were asked in the first place. Small sample size, biased samples, no negative results reported.

The issues are worse when applied to food. 80% fat free = 20%fat That’s high! Fat reduced foods are often hideously high in sugar to make them palatable. With the notable exception of porridge/oatmeal, most breakfast cereal would taste like and have the nutritional content of cardboard if not for all of the added fat and sugar topped up with vitamin/mineral additives.

But the truth is that most people can’t do maths, can’t actually be bothered to look at the contents of a ready-made meal and work out that it’s high in fat or low in fat but high in sugar. Most people want to believe in the miracle that they can eat all they want and not get fat. When it doesn’t quite work out that way, they can always resort to the harder edged science of the operating surgery.

30th April: Reasons to be Faithful

When it comes to monogamy there is a huge contrast between what we say and what we do.

The number of people strongly disapproving of adultery in the US has risen from around 51% in the 1970s to more than 60% (and these figures relate to “liberal” college graduates so other socio-economic groups are much more disapproving).

At the same time the number of people who admit to infidelity in a relationship is high (men:57%, women: 54%) and would be even higher if people believed they would never be caught (men: 74%, women 68%). There is surprisingly little difference in the level of infidelity between men and women.

Society in the UK and Europe is probably much the same. Apparently, attitutdes towards adultery have hardened as other socio-sexual attitudes have become more liberal ( toward gay marriage, trans-gender acceptance etc).

So why do most of us have (or want to have) an affair if we think it’s the wrong thing to do?

Clearly, if you are in a bad relationship, affairs can be used as a way to move on to the next one in a serial semi-monogamous fashion. And for some people, affairs alongside a long term relationship are simply a way of life – living the male stereotype. There are also the late bloomers. Those of us who love our partners for the long term but…

Everyone my age, who has been in a committed relationship for a length of time must end up questioning monogamy.

Why? Men and women have affairs because they’re bored. We are social animals, clever and curious. We want to be interested, to be entertained and that applies to sex as well as the rest of our lives.

At the same time, most of us are searching for an emotional intimacy that comes from shared relationships, from commitment, from time spent together and experiences shared. We need partners who are with us for the journey, who continue to explore and excite us physically whilst sharing our thoughts, emotions and feelings. Sometimes partners synchronise. We find ourselves in the same place emotionally and physically but sometimes we don’t.

Love and sex are not the same thing at all. As time goes by and we build our families, we invest a lot of ourselves in the relationship, physical years and experiences, emotional and financial capital. Having worked at the relationship, we can still find ourselves in an unexpected place, wanting more.

Talking about affairs is difficult. People disapprove, strongly, vocally. They are quick to warn of the damage, to accuse people of dishonesty. Once the discussion begins, the criticism is overwhelming. People cannot bear the idea of infidelity. They are offended, threatened.

It is typically a very negative discussion. No one lists positive reasons to stay monogamous, which seems a bit telling. People are quick to say why affairs are dangerous or scary or nasty but slow to say how great faithfulness feels. Maybe it doesn’t.

“Make your relationship work, or move on”

How is that in anyway practical advice for a long established couple with children, a mortgage etc.  How do we decide at what point we write off the relationship? How high do we set the bar?

And if we truly can’t think of any benefits to long-term monogamy, why do we insist on setting out down this road?

Family life is easier with a stable partnership as it’s base. We can make it work with a pattern of serial monogamy, where we all move on from our partners once it stops working perfectly, but it’s more difficult. Single mothers are heroes of the highest order.

In some primitive societies, children are reared communally by the women who can also live in one large dwelling or hut. We visited tribes in N Thailand which still had the vestiges of this tradition. Our Thai guide was not impressed by the idea. He was positively offended by the idea that the men of the tribe never married the women. The women were beyond control he believed, might as well be prostitutes.

In my own family experience, my grandmother lived in our house and was responsible for all the good parenting I ever received. Maybe the idea of extended families rearing children collaberatively is one we need to work towards, since monogamy is seemingly so hard to succeed with over the long term. And it is worth remembering that monogamy was probably a lot easier when people died younger.

Surely there must be something positive to say about monogamy.

It is easier to be emotionally intimate with our partners of many years. Choose the right mate and we balance each other, we bring out the best in each other. The pull to share ourselves, to validate who we are and what we want and do with our lives is immense. Long term relationships satisfy our emotional and spiritual needs. Our partner should also be our friend, respecting, liking, loving each other.

But sex is also better with people we know and care about and by better I simply mean more intimate. If you can improve the sexual relationship with your husband, seeing it as a journey, then life with him can be exciting. There can be a lot of fun can have on  the journey to better sex. The danger lies in thinking that we have arrived at the destination.

After  years together we get stuck in our roles, and it can be difficult to step out of our bounderies. Maybe outside help from a therapist can be useful in these situations, ideally a sex therapist but maybe building up to it by starting with a more conventional marriage counsellor to kick-start the change process.

But what if your partneris happy in his comfort zone even if you’re not. What if, aside from sexual intimacy, it’s all great. He’s your best friend but not your lover.  Then there is quite a different problem to work on and some difficult decisions ahead.

So the question becomes whether you can have an affair without feeling guilty? Will having an affair trash the rest of your life? Is it even an affair if your partner understands the trade-off they’re making however implied, when they refuse to move along the path with you?

And the only person who can answer either question is you.

Having an affair doesn’t have to be a disaster. I believe people who say it’s been cathartic, a life changing or affirming event.

But for me, it always seemed like too much hard work to balance the needs of another man in my life, another ego. & I doubt that I’d have the discipline to segregate my home life from a series of affairs with temporary lovers – too lazy. I never wanted to risk what I already have though maybe I just haven’t been bored enough. I don’t think that I’m not sexual enough, possibly risk averse, certainly conflicted but life is complicated.

So I’m still working on my existing relationship, trying to be more open to try new directions with my lover and grow old with him. It’s a balancing act.

Sources:
http://themonkeycage.org/2011/07/27/americans-have-become-more-opposed-t…
http://www.statisticbrain.com/infidelity-statistics/

May

1st May: Gender Roles – An Attitude in Progress

My daughter laughs when I describe myself as liberal. And it’s true that “benign dicatator” is closer to the mark when it comes to describing my parenting style. I’m having to work hard at letting go of my teenage girls, learning to accept boundaries that they have set.

But when it comes to economics, politics, to social ideas and aspirations, I’m liberal. People have the right to live their lives as they choose providing they harm no one else. It is the job of government to balance conflicting needs and desires in the best interest of society. Smaller government and less interference is a good thing.

Before I had children, I would have said that gender was essentially a social construct, that there really wasn’t much difference between boys and girls. So much of who my children are, came with them. As a parent I feel that the most I can do is polish the corners, insist on good manners and do least damage.

They were born female.

There are clear differences between boys and girls. Boys need to be walked like puppy dogs. They bounce around the room on a wet day. Girls really will spend hours colouring in pictures, playing role play games, personalising their toys.

Still much of the behavioural differences that I have seen, take a very small difference and amplify it beyond belief.

Society has always valued not being female and consequently every difference is stressed. Girls are heavily socialised and censored from day one. Good manners are insisted upon. Sharing and caring are conditioned into them. Boys are allowed much more freedom from rules and regulations. Mother’s don’t say “no” to their sons in the way they do to their daughters. They are allowed to be rude and rough, to take, to push to the front and insist on being first in line.

I have never really understood the idea of trans women, never mind the reality. Although I am immensely glad to have been born female and to be the mother of two daughters, I could never quite get my head around the idea of someone choosing to belong to the underclass. And that ofcourse is the problem, the fundamental  misunderstanding.

Trans women do not choose to be women.

My daughter does not choose to be passionate, she just is. She does not choose to be curious, or quick tempered. This is just the way she is. She was born with this character. It would be pointless and incredibly hurtful to try and change who she is, to require her to be someone that she is not. And gender feels so much more fundamental than temperament.

Only now am I starting to hear the story of trans women  and I’m wondering whether this is because the stories are only now being told or my ears have only just been opened.

Trans women are not born boys, they are born girls trapped in a boys body. Trans women do not make a journey from being a boy to being a girl, they make a journey to reconcile their outside body with the truth of who they really are.

And I’m conscious that my language is inadequate and maybe even insensitive to some – apologies if I get this wrong.

There is a wonderful TED talk by Geena Rocero telling some of her story.

http://www.ted.com/talks/geena_rocero_why_i_must_come_out

It is still difficult for me to distinguish clearly in my mind between sex and gender. It’s something that I’ll have to work on, just as I try to work on recognising and being sensitive to race as a privileged white person. Being a cis-woman, I have never felt any conflict between my sex and my gender. I am privileged in this arena also.

Reading through the media, I’m not the only one with difficulties in this area. There are many examples of trans women being denied status within the world of women, being considered somehow fake, different or other.

How does the male socialisation that trans women experience as children, impact the life they lead? Does the male privilege they are gifted as children, stay them through their lives?

It’s seems clear that the experience of trans women is not the same as that of cis women growing up but the similarities exist. Trans women are more similar to cis women. They are strongly dissimilar to cis men. An article on-line by Kat Callahan (Jezebel: Trans Women, Male Privilege, Socialisation and Feminism) nails this idea.

The lived experience of trans women, is vastly different to that of cis men as children because they know that their assigned gender is wrong. They know that any privilege they accrue is falsely acquired and will be taken away one their truth is known. Moreover, trans women soak up all of the socialisation messages in society assigned to women as thier own, as real to them and who they know themselves to be.

Above all, trans women are defined as “other” just as society defines women as “other” Only cis men are free to define themselves as “normal” The oppression of trans women is just a variation on a theme: the constant oppression of women, of not being a man.

And how ironic that sexuality should turn out to be such  a spectrum or sliding scale, heterosexual – homosexual – heterosexual, whereas gender is seemingly innate.

6th May: Mature. Not

My lover has grown a wart in the middle of his back, just where my hands find themselves when I hold him.

It is small.

But crusty.

8th May: Examination

My daughter’s gcse’s start today, the first exams of a long journey to independence and choices in life. For the first time in her school career, there is little I can do to impact the outcome.

Terrifying.

9th May: A Day in my Life

Weekday, school term

6:25am Alarm goes off. Roll over & snuggle for 5 mins

6:30am Second alarm. He bounces & I roll out of bed. Wake up the girls. Shower

6:45am Shower call for the girls. Brush & plait hair for youngest. Go downstairs & start making breakfast. Fruit juice, cereal/toast and a cup of coffee/tea. Sometimes pancakes or crumpets.

7:00am Call everyone downstairs for breakfast.

7:25am Lock up & head out on the school run. Drop two at the tube station. Drive the youngest over to school.

7:45am Carry on driving over to the gym.

9:00am Coffee & newspapers.

10:00am Tennis/gardening

12:00pm Admin shopping – school supplies etc

1.00pm Lunch with friends

3:00pm Check on-line social media. Complete on-line grocery shopping etc.

4:00pm Basic clean & tidy up. Check diary for upcoming dates & make sure any presents/cards sorted. Get dinner prepared.

5:00pm Girls arrive home for milk & biscuits

5:30pm Drive girls to art/tennis/piano/spanish lessons & bring home an hour later.

6:30pm Make tea. Check girls are working through homework.

7:30pm Dinner eg. pasta with broccoli, fruit such as melon/strawberries, and a piece of cake or pudding

8:00pm TV with girls for an hour.

9:00pm Upstairs to bed for the girls. Lights out at 9:30pm

10:00pm He heads up to bed to read/suduko (in reality will be asleep within 10 mins)

11:00pm I make myself head off to bed.

11th May: What happens when God Dies?

When religion fades, it leaves a gap. Around the developed world, people seem to be busily throwing away the God of their parents, ditching the rites and rituals with a huge sense of relief. We seem to be rushing to an entirely secular brave, new world.

The failings of organised religion are manifold: corruption, abuse of money, of people, of children. Organised religions are propping up bad government around the world. There are plenty of reasons for leaving a discredited church.

Religion provides a simple set of rules, a shortcut towards a moral compass but a sense of  faith is not necessary to lead a moral life. A sense of right and wrong is intrinsic to the human condition. Children are overwhelmingly aware of fairness, of what they consider to be good, bad, fair and unfair. Man is a moral animal.

Society overlays that basic instinct with rules and laws the majority find acceptable.

People are lazy. We like stereotypes. We like shortcuts. We follow the rules authority lays down for us. We like the comfort of fitting in with the crowd. Religion suits the conformist amongst us. Some religion suits those of us looking for certainty in an uncertain world.

Sometimes society’s rules, reasonable at the time of writing become outdated or outmoded as times change and then the society needs to decide whether the rules may be re-written. Kosher rules for food make perfect sense for a desert life where food often spoils with disastrous health consequences. Reform Judaism has revised the law. Orthodox Judaism has stayed with them.

Similarly rules about gender roles, about sexual orientation homo/hetero, cis/trans gender have been re-assessed as countries become wealthier and more liberal. The basic familial contract of  a marriage, essentially a property contract between two families for most of history, has been rapidly revised. It’s very purpose (reproduction, guarranteeing the paternity of heirs to property) has been redrafted toward a personal commitment of sharing and caring intimacy between two people.

Once reproduction becomes secondary, then marriage becomes open to non-gender normative variations. If it is valid for a childess couple to remain married, then what is marriage for? Love, support, intimacy? How can we deny this validity to homosexual relationships?

But as well as the mundane rules, our faith provides a sense of the transcendant. Faith fills a part of us, satisfies the human soul and completes our searching for the numinous.

The search for answers can be sublimated into a search for scientific facts. The two are not the same. Both reflect a desperate need for certainty. One lacks joy.

We also forget that religion organises us into communities and that community is essential if we are to remain a society that cares for our young, our elderly and infirm. It must be possible to build communities without faith to bind them together but I’m mindful of the failures of the kibbutsim in Israel and communes in the USSR

Fewer than 10% UK population are reported as  regularly attending religious services. We are described as one of the most secular nations in the world. We don’t go to church, we go shopping.

We also are facing a crisis in caring for our elderly and infirm. Care in the community only works if there is an existent community and increasingly in modern Britain it feels as if there is no such thing.

How do we build a community, a series of communities upon which our society can stand firm, without religion. What happens when God dies?

13th May: Living on the Edge

Since adding everyday sexism to my twitter feed I’ve been getting increasingly angry, sad sometimes but mainly furious. Reading the book, more than a chapter at a time is impossible for the same reasons.

Each and everyday I read of some child being catcalled or abused or simply told they’re rubbish. Why do men think cutting a woman down will make them feel taller? Does it ever really work for them? Do they really buy into the illusion that beating up a child makes them powerful? What kind of world do my babies have to live in when they leave the safety of my home?

I’ve started to reply to the tweets. I’m not at all sure what I’ll do if I come across any of this crap in the real world but am pretty sure it won’t be a safe situation for anyone involved. So very very angry.

I read this morning of a woman who stormed out of her house and gave chase to the men who had just mugged her daughter on Mother’s Day. Shots were fired but no one hurt. I understand why she ran after them. So very very angry.

And my partner rather mildy suggests I save my energy for the more eggregious behaviour not realising that it is all eggregious, all simply a way of cutting up my girl’s freedom into pieces too small to bear.

Caroline Criado-Perez writes about the devastating impact of living with online abuse month after month, of being called a whinger and whiny because the threats were so vile they couldn’t be repeated in the media.

.@Twitter: Optimised For Abuse

Reading through just a few of the comments made my blood boil. This isn’t funny. It isn’t trivial or harmless. This is a campaign designed to terrorise, to put us down, to hurt and harm us, to limit our choices and our expectations.

Misogyny is an escalating behaviour. It needs to be pointed out and shamed.

 17th May: Good Partners

We lost our first tennis match of the season this week. It won’t be the last.

The captain rather selflessly decided she wasn’t good enough to play “Not consistent enough, haven’t played regularly through the winter….” It might be true but if I were her I wouldn’t care. Being captain of a small women’s tennis team is the job from hell, like herding cats but with more miaow. The only possible reason for volunteering for all of the hassle would be a guarranteed place on the team.

Even if I were totally crap. She’s not.

But it did leave a difficult dilemma. A team consists of six players, three pairs 1 – 3 who each play 4 sets. Pairs are ranked and in theory play 2 of their sets against the opposition pair of equal rank ( in theory because some teams clearly try to finesse the result.s by playing out of order)

We are never going to play at Wimbledon. We are competent county players who occasionally screw up.  There are about 9-10 women who are willing to play. Some people could play but can’t stand the competitive nature of playing matches – too much stress. There are 3 players who are very slightly better and maybe 2-3 players who are very slightly worse.

And there is Passive Aggressive (PA) who is slap bang in the middle in terms of competency. She plays a solid game of tennis from the back of the court and is willing to have a go at the net. She isn’t especially quick around the court and can’t read the game very well so often gets herself and her partner out of shape.

Her real problem though is that no one wants to play with her, with the possible exception of the captain. When the captain took herself out of the team, she also took PA out of the team.

And you can tell a child that unless they learn to lose with grace, no one will want to play with them anymore. How do you tell a grown woman the same story?

Every time she wins, it is because of her own excellent play. Everytime she loses it is only because her partner played dreadfully. I have had her turn to me at the end of the second game in the first set and say ” You lost that for us” Even if true, how can that ever be helpful.

Every time I have played a match with her, somewhere between the first and last game I start to lose the will to live, nevermind play tennis. Worse still, I start to want to lose to get the damn thing over with.

She’s also the tightest call imaginable and incredibly aggressive when the opposition make dubious calls. In one game, she turned to me after a rather doubtful line call and said very loudly “That fat one’s cheating”  We went from 4:2 ahead to lose that set as the pair opposite just decided to slam every ball at PA at the net. It worked and I couldn’t feel sorry for her.

In the first team practice after losing the match, she was second calling the members of the team and in a way she’s right. One of the third pair is not as strong a player as PA. Unfortunately, the other member of that pair has said loud and clear to the captain that she will never, ever play with PA, as has one of the second pair.

PA will only ever play if the captain puts herself back onto the team. But then again, PA has been the first to agree that the captain can’t play well enough, certainly not as well as herself. She doesn’t realise they’re not in competition.

And who is going to tell her?

17th May: An Easy Life

On twitter I was told that I must have an easy life if the saddest thing to happen was reading about a girl too scared to jog after being grabbed by some men on the street when she was 16.

And I do have the most amazing life, full of happiness and privilege. I’m still sad though. Being happy myself, doesn’t make it any less horrid that a young woman feels herself unable to walk freely in her own country. in my country.

Being happy, and content and privileged, doesn’t make me feel less for the 2 women who are killed ever week by their partners current & ex. It doesn’t make me feel less for the more than 1600 women raped each week. & all this in my own green and pleasant land.

Why should a happy life make us care less, make us feel less sympathy for people who have a harder time? Shouldn’t we feel more not less?

I am not young. I have seen and heard many dreadful things. But to have someone write to me, expecting me to care less because of this, to care less as if there were a limited supply of empathy, as if one could only love so much or care so little for other people and their troubles is astonishing to me.

And perhaps this idea of a limited love, a limited life is even sadder than that of the girl who is scared to run the streets in daylight.

19th May: Probably

I’ve been re-reading sci-fi classics, just catching up on books read in my teens and in some cases missed in my teens. Some of the ideas written down in the 1950s were amazingly prescient, some less so.

What is interesting is how little we understand why things work. We have a good understanding of how things work through everyday observation but are not really so good on the why. Even where we have theories as to why things happen, few of us actually take the time to understand, almost as if we prefer to take it on trust, to believe the experts.

We have a theory as to why airplanes fly, the Bernouille theorem. The air travels further over the top of the wing than the bottom, because of it’s shape. Since the spearated flows must meet up at the far end of the wing, the air flowing above the wing must flow faster and this creates a lift.

Like many theories, it remains a best guess but since it seems to work, we have all come to trust in it as a “truth” It is also possible that the will of all those people in the plane keeps it flying straight and true, that all successful flights are simply mind over matter. Ofcourse, it requires the very first flight to be peopled by mad men, but that’s not impossible. Scientists are more often wrong than right, despite being totally convinced of their own version of truth.

Cutting edge “science” is often simply a matter of faith.

There are lots of things that we have no theories for at all, despite being basic building blocks of our everyday lives. We live with the reality of gravity. We understand that the apple will fall from the tree. We can even predict how fast it will fall and when it will hit the ground (or our head).

We do not understand why.

Bodies having mass, attract each other. Larger bodies with greater mass are more attractive to each other.

Imagine a quilt spread across your bed. This is the universe limited to just two of the dimensions, length and breadth, no depth. Limited by time still. Roll a ball onto the quilt and it will sink slightly creating a well. The higher the mass of the ball, the deeper the well. If you roll a ball with smaller mass across the bed, it may “fall” into the well created by the first ball. Depending onthe path it takes and the velocity at which it travels, it may simply orbit the original ball, circling around the two dimensions we have permitted it. This is a description (possibly inadequate and flawed) of what does happen, not why it happens.

This idea of space as bendable is interesting. If the mass was sufficiently high it might pull the universe so far that it creates a pocket, the sides of the well could become so close together one could step across the divide, effectively travelling great distances with a single stride.

So with the ability to manipulate mass (or energy since the two are interchangeable) we might be able to pinch together space and travel from one end of the universe to the other. If we understood the “why” of gravity, we might well be able to impact. influence or control it. We might well travel the universe.

But I still prefer the idea of probablity as a means of travel. My vote for the best invention would be the probability drive. I like the idea of a mode of transport that will probably work, may not but probably will.

Schrodingers cat is both alive and dead, until we open the box. Only with observation of the result does the puzzle resolve itself.

We can shine light through the grille, photon by photon. We cannot know where the light will end up until we look . We predict the splatter pattern based on probability alone. Mostly, the light will land “x” but there are always outliers. The outliers will build up the “shape” of a wave. Again we are describing what happens not “why”. Probability and the wave function work well as a predictor of results but say nothing as to the cause or reason. If we understood the why, then we may be able to influence the outcome with more subtlety.

There is a small but finite chance that I will step out of my door tomorrow and end up on the other side of the universe. Small but finite.

Suppose we could not only measure the odds at a given time but  suppose we could both measure and manipulate the odds, making it 95% certain that if I started the step now I would end it on some far away, hopefully habitable and friendly planet.

Suppose instead of catching an airplane, we all caught probability planes. We arrived at a port and settled into our seats in a closed metal box, maybe screens instead of windows. We might have to wait about a bit for the conditions to be just right. The transport itself would be instant. We close the door in Heathrow but open it in Ganymede, mostly, always assuming Ganymede is a place we want to be.

How high would the odds be to persuade people to take the step, to open the door :99%, 95%, 50%?

Suppose at the budget end of the market, the ticket price varied with the probablity. Would we pay more for greater certainty – of course. Would we allow people to risk their lives by paying less?

 22nd May: Ungodly

The UK was recently described as post-Christian by the ex Archbishop and there is some truth and perhaps benefit to belonging to a much more secular society especially in a modern diverse city like London. There is considerable evidence that living in a diverse community makes a person more liberal in their attitudes to the people around them. Maybe it also means that our churches have to treat their congregations with more respect.

Some of the letters from people writing into Betty Dodson on her American website describe shameful and dreadful life stories. People describe guilt tripping, shaming and straightforward threats and bullying in order to punish people into a cis straight gender/sexuality model. I find the total heartlessness, the lack of love, in these churches entirely shocking. Their stories sound like something out of the dark ages.

It is so very different to my own experience that I wonder where such churches come from. I am used to thinking of the US Episcopal church as a liberal welcoming place (& that has been my experience when we’ve visited).

The apalling way some churches treat their members, pushing them away from the spiritual/God is offensive to me on many levels. Bad churches cut people off from a big part of what it means to be human. They destroy that sense of wonder we all share, a leave a gap in people’s lives

A lot of people feel a need to search for the numinous, are looking for a spiritual element that they feel is missing from their life whether this is through an established church or temple. Bad religion leaves a wound an emptiness in people’s lives. It leaves people angry and hurt.

Bad churches are far from godly.

 

June

1st June: A very bad man

Father-in-law. Funeral. Friday.

I never really knew my father-in-law. I arrived relatively late in his life, around 18 years ago when he was about 65 and newly retired. His relationships with all of his five oldest children was fraught. That will happen when you walk out on their mother, leaving her with five kids under the age of 13 and no money to feed them.

But somehow a relationship had been maintained.

Their mother felt it right that they should know their father. His second wife, who arrived a year later had children of her own and also seemed committed to keeping the relationship going.

We sat in the church, through the service and there was a clear ambivalence in the eyes of all of the children from that first marriage and in the eyes of the second wife’s children. The only people genuinely sad within that family were the second wife and the child they’d had together.

When I die, I do not want ambivalence. I want my children to be sad. I want tears.

After the funeral, we stopped off for some tea and sandwiches before heading to see his mother. That was when it got really messy.

His father was a bad man.  A very bad man.

2nd June: The First Wife’s Story

His mother is in her late 80s. She had five children with him over seven years, three boys and two girls. He left when the oldest, my lover, was twleve years old. And then he met and married his second wife, who was married to him for over 40 years, had a son and daughter of her own and another daughter with him.

A blended family.

And despite echoes of earlier traumas, every Christmas we would get together in the village hall, stopping off to visit his first wife either on the way there or on the way back. Playing happy families.

He worked hard as a music teacher and then head teacher working with special needs children. One of the tributes at his funeral was from an Education Officer working for local government who was glowing in his praise of his intellect and enthusiasm. He described a camping trip with some very difficult children – a baptism of fire. The church was full of people from the parish lauding his community spirit, his volunteering to sweep up leaves, to create a new park for them all to enjoy from a piece of scrub land.

He was given an MBE, an award from the Crown for work done for the community, a life lived well for the benefit of others, with a ceremony at the palace where he was presented with his medla by the Queen.

We listened to the plaudits, his children from the first marriage all a little tight lipped and shadowed eyes. And then we went to visit their mother.

Her story is a quieter one. She met him when she was very young and he was handsome and dashing. He gradually took over her life. She wasn’t allowed other friends or occupations – a courtship story that sounds remarkably like grooming in today’s terms. They married and she fell pregnant and essentially stayed pregnant for the next seven years, her body becoming more and more trashed, resulting in a colostomy bag after a botched delivery. She grew tireder and tireder.

And as every year passed, she came to realise that he would never be there for her and her children, that the people down at the pub would always come first. Impressing strangers with his generosity and kindness would always be more important than feeding her babies.

Moving to the countryside left her even more dependent. He drove a car and she did not. He might take her to the local town to buy shoes for the kids but then disappear off to the pub or for a walk,  leaving her and five babies waiting, unable to pay for the shoes or leave to go home.

And he lied.

He told people lies to make himself sound grand, or interesting or important. When he was found out, he just moved onto the next person, reinventing himself each time. She was not allowed to have her own friends or her own money. She had to steal back her welfare book for the children and hand it in at the post office in order to have any money she could rely upon each week to feed and clothe the babies.

He became depressed and started to threaten to kill himself. Perhaps more worryingly, he also threatened to kill the kids. He would drink and everything became even more difficult. At one stage he woke having slept too heavily, wet the bed and then turned to his wife and said “Well that didn’t work then” She realised he’d tried to overdose on her sleeping pills.

She was relieved when he left and didn’t come back.

Until they threatened to take the children away.

He refused to pay her the full amount of maintenance to keep his children fed and clothed. He refused to allow her to have their family home – it had to be endowed upon the children.

She was left waiting for welfare benefits with no way to feed herself or the children, no way to clothe them or to pay the heating bills. It became clear that he had run up bills with all of the local shops and tradesman, and then run away. She was terrified they would start to chase her for their money.

But people are kinder than we think they will be. The headmaster at the local school he had worked at organised a whip around and brought both money and tins of food with him when he visited. The local shopkeepers recognised that she couldn’t be blamed. Those who didn’t write off the debt, chased him for their money (to no avail of course). The local church collected donations and brought food parcels. Because of the kindness of the community, they survived.

A year or two passed. He met his second wife. The children start to visit him. He visited them.

The social worker stressed that the children are visiting him and his male friends on their own. The wife describes an anxious weekend waiting for her children to come home safe and unharmed. She does not feel that she can or should interfere with the children visiting their father but she worries.

They were pleased when he married the second wife. My lover was not invited to his dad’s second wedding. His siblings were instructed not to tell him about it and he was left home with his mum that weekend.

And suddenly the conversation shifts. One of her daughters, her father’s favourite from the first family has a difficult relationship with her mother. She blames her mother for the marriage breaking down. She blames her mother for not being there when she was needed.

She describes when her daughter told her about the camping trip with her dad and his special needs school, how she was sharing a tent with her dad and he came back and pressured her to have full sex with him.

Her father pressured her to have full sex with him. And she cried.

And much later, recalling this conversation the daughter blames the mother. “You didn’t hold me. You didn’t comfort me. You weren’t there for me”

And the mother recalls a stunned feeling of total inadequacy when faced with this reality. A total inability to breathe nevermind speak or act.

And the daughter recalls another time when she was upstairs at home with her dad in the bedroom, longing and desperately wishing for her mother to come and rescue her.

She was no more than 8 when her father left home.

And the mother recalls hints of similar behaviour from her other daughter who won’t talk about it still. Whispered conversations heard much too late in adulthood. Blank shock. Inadequacy.

And the mother wonders outloud about the treatment of the second wife’s daughter who lived with this man full time.

We know that he used to beat the boys. My own lover’s trauma from his father results from beatings taken as a boy, recurring exclusions from events, trips and treats. Only when he was grown up and succesful did his father show any interest in his oldest son. The second wife has complained about how he treated her son from her first marriage. She blames alcohol.

But there was always the edge of violence. By the time we had our children, he was old and they were well behaved. The children of his youngest child were boistrous and not so civilised. He would shout at them but not hit them, perhaps they simply moved too fast. The Christmas gatherings always had an edge of nervousness, as his second wife “managed” him and his temper

He worked with kids with special needs, the children excluded from mainstream education. But he always struck me as someone who didn’t like kids very much. He was a bully, an abuser. We don’t know how far the abuse ran, whether it stopped with his own children or not.

He was a very very bad man.

6th June: Young men

Two young men died recently. I’m sorry for the families of both. & that is where the similarities between the two end.

Stephen Sutton was a young British man dying of cancer who decided to use his bucket list of last wishes as a fundraising opportunity. He died May 14th after raising more than £4million for other teenage cancer sufferers. He had a direct and positive impact on the lives of millions and will continue to do so for many years to come.

Elliot Rodger was a 22year old man who after posting a mysogynistic rant manifesto on social media, went on a killing spree that left 6 young people dead – Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper, Chris Martinez, Cheng Yuan Hong, George Chen and Weihan Wang.

Elliot Rogers was a misogynist. He explicitly claimed that description for himself, describing how he hated women in his “manifesto” to his friends. He also sets out on his shooting spree with the explicit intention of killing women because he hated them. The only puzzling thing about this crime is how many people seem to be determined to deny the truth of his own testimony.

If a man set out on a killing spree after writing a long note about how he hated black people, would we deny he was racist, would we deny it was a racist crime?

Elliot Rogers was also a deeply unhappy and inadequate man. He was not mentally well, receiving psychiatric care and advice and the subject of considerable concern for his parents.

People struggling with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of crime than the perpetrators. He had other issues. He hated women and the world told him that he was entitled to that rage, entitled to act out that anger.

It is his misogyny that gave a focus to his behaviour, his hatred of women and his sense of male entitlement drove him. & denying misogyny as a cause, suggests that his murderous rampage was inevitable, that something other than his hatred of women would have triggered his killing spree. There is no evidence to suggest this might be true. None.

If we must talk about being sick, let’s talk about the sick society that  we live in. Misogyny is not inevitable, or natural or right. Women spend their lives negotiating a battlefield, hoping to be lucky as they walk home from school, from work, deciding whether or not to trust the man they’re chatting with as far as the doorstop, or into their living space.

Elliot Rodgers was a misogynist and he is not alone.

We like to “other” killers. We like to deny that they are like us. They have to be mentally ill, or crazy, not normal like you and me.

Men killing women is not unusual. & all women live with that reality, the threat of violence from men.In the UK, a small country without guns, more than 2 women are killed by their male partners (or ex) every week. During that same week, more than 1600 women will report being raped.

Elliot Rogers was a member of a misogynist group on-line. Those guys went on to admire & validate his behaviour (described in a Jez article). They’re still out there.

Stephen Sutton & Elliot Rodgers. Two lives lost but only one life wasted.

16th June: Twitter Tweets

Adding to my twitter feed has proved a roller coaster ride. There is the obvious anger and frustration that there should be so much blatant unfairness, bias and prejudice  There is the shock of realising how much physical abuse women are faced with every day, the unwanted touching, groping and worse.

But there is also the the feeling of solidarity with these women.

It seems important to me that there should be a reply to these stories that re-affirms the humanity of the women involved, that validates their right to respect.

But then you come across the strangest of men who seem to set out to be as rude and mean as possible on line.

May 12

 If I had daughters who dressed like that,Id disown them!!

This man was responding to a tweet from a woman catcalled for walking along the street in shorts. How odd to set the bar so low for disowning a child, Outrage seems remarkably easy for this person – I’m assuming a very young man, but assumptions are all I have to go on. He seems to be following an extraordinary number of female British priests on-line which leads to some odd thoughts about who he might be. & yes, I do usually go and take a look at the profile of the people I’m chatting with – I would look at the people I talk to in real-life so why not on-line.

You must have had an easy life if that is the saddest thing you tend to see.

I had responded to a woman describing how she was grabbed by some men passing by in a car whilst out jogging so she had decided not to run anymore. Thoughtler decided not to comment on the general hassling off women on the streets but to crticise someone (me) offering symapthy. This astonishes me. If people are upset or harmed, we should all be saddened

He disappeared when challenged on his total lack of empathy:

  no sarcasm at all. do you not think it is sad that someone is scared to jog?

His twitter feed is currently showing cartoons of men kicking and grabbing women supposedly to defend against male rape. He seems to miss  the point that male rape is essentially male-male rape and a serious issue. In fact the whole issue of misogyny is underpinned by societal acceptance (encouragement?) of male violence whether against other men or women. It establishes a hierarchy of victims, women and children being the easiest targets.

May 25

PMSL

This man is responding by saying “pissed my self laughing”  to a tweet by a woman describing how she was catcalled by a car load of boys when out jogging. When called out on his rudeness, his response was to accuse me of ” bitterness and morbid extrapolations” He disappeared after replying:

sure he loves his mother lots – just a bit mean to strangers. hope she won’t come across same on-line

And surely one of the truths about these people is that their family and friends would be hugely embarrassed by their rudeness on-line, by the sheer meaness and lack of grace these men exhibit towards women. Piers Dupont describes himself as “I am a man. Furnish me with a mission, forthwith” His twitter account currently shows 5 pornagraphic images of lesbian sex, all air-brushed into unreality.

I keep imagining his mother’s face when she looks through his twitter account, open to the world and she sees all those arses staring back out at her.

20h

Or at least showed *him* your b****ts. Haha!

This is a man living inFinchley, North London responding to a tweet from a trans man,  about some boys hassling him in the changing room at a local charity shop. The reaction from the shop managers was “boys will be boys” Given how difficult and dangerous gendered space can be for trans people this is just rude and unhelpful at best. He seems an upstanding memberof the local history group and I’m left wondering what his fellow members would think of his on-line persona. I’m assuming his daughter would be horrified.

But I imagine that part of the issue is the anonymity we all feel posting comments on-line, myself included, totally ignoring how easy people are to find if someone sets their mind to it. These men seem to be posting rude and mean things on-line because they can, because it’s a game to be as mean and rude as possible.

But if they’re mean and nasty when anonymous, how can they possibly be anything but mean and nasty in “real life” I’m sure they can put on a facade of civility, but perhaps the reason these men have problems with women is because they’re just not very kind people.

And  troll-like please note: women value kindness. Women value respect.

 17th June: Chubby Feelings

Like most women of a certain age, I am dysfunctional about food. For a while now, I’ve been at that avoiding getting on the scales stage of denial.

Feeling chubby. Not wanting to do anything about it. Pass the chips, please.

This morning the spell broke and I made myself step on.

We all know that the “secret” to weight loss isn’t in fact very secret at all. Energy in must be less than energy out. You have to eat fewer calories than you expend. Ideally take it slow and let your body adjust over a few months rather than a few weeks.

So why do we find it so daunting when faced with an extra few kilos?

I’ve done this before and I can do it again.  Let’s step back into a food routine and make it food functional again.

If I have to be dysfunctional about food, and after all these years there isn’t much chance of recovery, then let’s be OCD with a few less pounds and thighs that definitely don’t rub and  an arse that doesn’t wobble

Good luck. me.

24th June: Kittens

My elderly cat died. One day she was running around the garden, hiding away on top of thepergola and then suddenly a stroke and time to say goodbye – very sad.

Unlike her sister, she had never had any serious health problems and had always seemed a happy (rather fat) cat, content with her life. She was a lovely ginger teddy bear girl.

And then suddenly she was gone and the house seemed terribly empty.

I hadn’t realised how much I’d come to expect someone coming to say hello to me as I came into the house. It didn’t feel very homelike any more.

So my first mistake was starting to browse the animal welfare sites thinking that I might find a cat looking for a home. I couldn’t quite believe the number of kittens that seemed to be available. Given that the RSPCA have offered free neutering of cats (and dogs I think) for at least 20 years, it seems perverse that there shoul dbe any uneutered cats around producing babies. I’m slack but not that slack.

My eldest daughter and I headed off to a home to look at my husband’s prefered choice, a pair of black and white kittens. Unfortunately they weren’t the first set of kittens we were shown.

Later came the phone call to my husband. “We’ve seen some lovely kittens. The only problem is that there are three of them.”

“Oh dear”

But honestly, who could you leave behind?

The family headed off on Saturday to check them out. Three kittens later, we made arrangements to bring them home.

And suddenly the house feels full, feels like a home again.

July

3rd July 2014: Holiday Countdown

Counting down the days until the trip to Namibia and just trying to finalise things. We’re at that inbetween stage where I start to worry but he hasn’t yet started to write panic  lists.

Mostly everything is prebooked and paid for, after arranging the transfer via my credit card this morning. Payment via credit cards in the UK means that the card company is also jointly and severally liable if anything goes wrong so is just a sensible extra level of insurance. Since I’m using Trailfinders to book the flights (ABTA registered in the UK so also guarranteed) the main financial risk with this trip is that the local Namibian company goes bankrupt or defaults in some way. If they do, the trip is probably screwed but most money should be repaid.

Not the most cheery of thoughts just before a holiday.

Essentially I’ve planned a road trip around the north and ending with a flight south to detour to the desert for 3 nights. There will be some “safari” trips to see the animals in Etosha but mainly it’s a holiday about the place, the scenery and history in the form of various prehistoric rock painting sites.

And in the background there are a couple of queries out to cruise companies because BF1 has suggested a Baltic cruise as a holiday option for Summer 2015.

 15th July 2014 : Dud Balls

Played tennis in a match last night and hated every minute of it. Worse still, I knew that I’d hate it the minute that the team was announced. The first pair was split up and I was condemned to playing second pair with PassiveAggressive. Two days of dreading it and then two hours spent hating it and, ofcourse, losing.

She didn’t do anything too dreadful this time. She didn’t tell me that I was losing the match or playing ridiculous shots. She didn’t tell me my serve wasn’t working so could I just get it over and in for a change.

She did decide pretty early on the she wanted to play both pairs back on the baseline, which I hate. After each set she analysed the games in a way I found impossible to comprehend. One of us had clearly played in a totally different match that night.

Everyone we lost to was brilliant (they weren’t) or cheating (not really – some dodgy line calls but hers weren’t exactly clean).

Truthfully it’s all about personailities rather than tennis. For me and my game, she’s a jinx.

Jinx. Bad luck.

This has stopped being fun and since I’m not exactly Wimbledon standard, then it’s probably time to stop.

I don’t want to play competitively next year. Ofcourse it might change after a good holiday but right now, I want to play weekly with friends and that’s about it.

I’ve had enough.

19th July 2014: Time=Zero

Iron the last of the clothes

Pack the suitcases

Remember stuff that hasn’t been packed – panic

Run around like a headless chicken looking for essential but strangely unavailable stuff

Panic!!!

Children note stuff safety tooked away inside something else, in the middle of the biggest heaviest suitcase.

Retrieve essential stuff for handluggage

Write various notes:

  1. Instructions for cats (they can’t read but the vet nurse feeding them can, hopefully)
  2. Instructions for cleaner (and cash, don’t forget cash)

Throw out all the food you were supposed to eat this week and instead got takeaway

Check in on-line. Worry that you can’t check in all the way through to the final destination.

Suggest children should stop screaming now.

Thank God you’ve got the oldest child for the plane journey.

Fight with oldest child.

Decide you’re ok with sulky silence on an overnight flight and do not make amends/bribe your way to a smile.

Worry where the cab might be. Realise no one has booked the cab.

Enter into a brief and pointless “you said/i did not” debate.

Book cab

Wait

Wait

Still waiting.

Cab arrives.

Mad somali driver makes you very sorry you chose the front seat but does get you to Heathrow in time.

Queue

Queue

Queue

Smile. We’re on holiday!

August

7th August: Namibia First Cut

Just back and amazed by how quickly the time has flown. Trying to hold onto the excitement and the thrill of the trip before building the narrative that always comes later, the album, the mixing together of ideas from everyone else on the trip.

So my initial highlights would have to be:

Staying at Erongo Wilderness Lodge (http://www.erongowilderness-namibia.com/)

Just a couple of hours drive outside Windhoek, this lodge was our favourite over the trip despite the lack of big animals and adventures.

What it does have is excellent relaxation capacity with walking trails and excellent guides. It also has some wonderful bushmen cave paintings (Paula’s Cave) which is a great site for a sundowner. It also has lovely tents, great food and service at the restaurant, a pool (too cold in Winter even if you are a hardy European). We took a couple of days here to really chill out and settle into the rhythyms of Namibia before getting on with the rest of our tour.

In Southern Damaraland we enjoyed both hunting for desert adapted animals, especially elephant, and the ancient Bushman engravings site at Twfelfontain.

Desert Elephant Trekking

We thought our lodge was rather lacking in charm, but the trip to find desert adapted elephant was wonderful and not to be missed. In Winter, they are relatively easy to find (we found Rosie’s family of around 20 elephants within the hour) but there are other animals to track and wonderful scenery to enjoy. It is cold in Winter so take a fresh hot water bottle with you to stuff under the blanket on your lap as you drive along!

Twfelfontain Bushmen Engravings

This is the only Namibian World Heritage Site and with engravings of over 6000 years old, well worth a visit. Self drive is best as the guides at the site are very well informed and good at their job. If possible view some of the paintings located along your trip (we saw Paula’s Cave at Erorngo) to add comparative value.

We headed north to Etosha and stayed at camps just outside the West and East gates.

Etosha National Park

Unbelievably good for viewing animals on a self-drive, especially if you’re willing to sit and wait at some of the better waterholes. We found Rietfontain and Chudop especially good, with  a cascade of animals following on from each other, families of elephants, giraffe, herds of zebra, springbok etc. It just went on and on. Get your lodge to pack a lunch and just settle down for some entertainment.

We did not find a guide necessary in Etosha, nor did there seem to be any great advantage to an early start in terms of seeing animals though obviously the light is better for scenic photography over the pan.

We headed south towards Windhoek, stopping off at Okonjima the lodge that helps fund the Africat Rescue and Education Centre on the way.

Leopard & Cheetah Tracking, Okonjima

The cats have electronic collars and yet remain incredibly difficult to find and spot even when within a couple of metres of the jeep, in Winter when foliage is low. Their camouflage is just that good, as is their ability to outwait impatient tourists.

Despite all of this, and accepting that it isn’t “real” Africa, this was one of the highlights of our visits to Namibia.

Finally we loved staying at Wolwedans Dunes Camp (http://www.wolwedans.com/lodges-camps/dune-camp/) at the end of our trip even if it did involve a death defying flight in a tiny aircraft there and back.

This is the oldest and smallest of the Wolwedans Camps and (very relatively speaking) the most basic ie. you will get sand in your shoes.

Opinion split between whether this should be at the beginning or end of a tour of Namibia but we decided that a relaxing end to our trip was right for us. We flew down (6 seater plane – not for the nervous) to avoid the 5-6 hour drive required otherwise. The desert is beautiful but you need to really chill out to enjoy it. There is big game around but it isn’t the point of the place. Relax and enjoy the view.

Reasonably close by are the famous dunes at Sossusvlei.

Sossusvlei Dunes & Dead Vlei

 

This experience is well-worth the journey south although we did fly in a very small 6 seater aircraft so my daughter might disagree.

The desert at Sossusvlei is a “proper” sand desert with beautiful red dunes rising high to the sky. The desert is the world’s oldest and the dunes are the world’s highest! We climbed dune 45which takes 30 minutes but you could also go up Big Daddy (2 hours to climb the whole thing or 1 hour taking the short cut) Dead Vlei lies at the foot of the latter, taller dune and you can run down the side in minutes to experience the very surreal Dead Vlei.

Our (separate) lodge here was the biggest we stayed at and too much of a culture shock for us to enjoy (a bit too package holiday). As always in Namibia, the personal service was good and the welcome warm. Doing it another time, I might stay at Wolwedans and make the transfer there and back by small aircraft.

But mainly in the South we just enjoyed the local desert in the Namib-Naukluft Reserve bordering Sossusvlei before flying back to Windhoek, to Johannesburg and on the London, Heathrow.

Namib-Naukluft Desert Drives

It’s difficult to explain why the desert drives were so wonderful. You either love deserts or you don’t.

The scenery is stark and beautiful, with colours changing with the light so quickly you can blink and miss them. This was the only place that I really enjoyed the ubiquitous sundowner drink, because sun set really did feel like something worth watching here.

There are no big animals to spot though you can get lucky. We saw 5 cheetahs ambling along the main C road north to Swapkopmund, caught up with them and had great sightings of the mother and younger cubs as they ran off road before stopping to check us out.

12th August: Another Financial Crisis

My husband’s job has disappeared. Again.

This time it’s being split into two roles, London and the rest of the world. This would be bad enough since clearly he’s too expensive for the company to pay him to do half of his current job. But he’s been told that he’s expected to cover the “rest of the world”.

Constructive dismissal?

He’s a mid-50s executive working in a highly stressed, over-paid, young white man’s bank.

For years he has struggled to balance the needs of his family against the financial rewards of selling his soul.

So although this is traumatic, and he’s very much waiting to see how the situation develops, redundancy would feel good right now to at least one half of the marriage. Me.

We’ve done the sums. There is enough money saved to see our girls through their (expensive) private educations and university. There is enough money for us to live on in retirement to a much higher than average standard of living.

Change is always difficult, always a crisis but…

His job is miserable.

13th August: A walk on the Wild Side

We went for a walk in the Erongo Mountains, Namibia. There isn’t much dangerous by way of animal life but they send you out with a guide, mainly to make sure you don’t get lost. It is surprisingly easy to get lost in the kopjies.

Our guide Glassius was easy going, probably in his 40s with a wife and family. The discussion was supposed to be focused on the surrounding natue, on traditional uses and abuses of the flora and fauna around us. Even so it is the implications of the conversation that resonate, especially when we asked about his family.

Glassius identified himself as Kavango, one of the people living to the north of the country, but not the dominant Ovambo people.He used the description “tribe” though the literature makes clear that this is a largely white, western usage. The social groupings in Africa have always been more inter-connected and more fluid than the word tribe implies, more like extended families.

He had been brought up fairly traditionally and taught to build with dry stone by his grandfather. His wife was also Kavango – an arranged marriage, by his grandfather – who had stayed “home” while he travelled looking for work. He had ended up at the lodge building the main reception and then stayed on as a guide when it became clear how much he new about the flora/fauna. It probably helped that he had such an easy going open personality, “great people skills”

“What would your grandfather have said if you’d come home with a local Erongo wife?”

“My mother would have said she was too lazy to be my wife”

“A Kavango woman works all day in the fields growing crops, maize and greens. The man just watches some cattle. Then they go home. She carries the crops she has harvested on her head. He walks beside her. While she cleans and cooks the food, he heads to the “chabine” the bar, and only returns home when dinner is ready to eat. He sits and smokes while she cleans up. A local woman would say that is not a life, but being a slave. She would not work hard enough”.

And then he said: ” An Ovambo woman works hard. She would make her husband succesful. But it would all be for her family. She would not care for my mother. We would not visit my mother so much as hers. Family is important, but not to the Ovambo, only her family would be important”

Yet it became clear as the conversation moved on, that living apart from his wife for three months at a time was stressful. He describes how one has to be careful not to become too attached to ones local girlfriend. Many of the herbs and plants along the way were described as useful for purging, to allow a man to eat two meals if necessary, one at the girlfriends and one at the wife’s house.

And it also became clear that modernity was intruding upon family life. He had two daughters and a son and was committed to educating all three. His eldest daughter had been foolish and fell pregnant with a boy in year 12 (a year’s extra education paid for, but unable to finish year 13 when she woud have had a useful qualification to get an office job. The boy ran off and since there was no family arrangement, there were no social constraints upon his behaviour, only hers.

His worry about the moral state of his family was such, that Glassius brought them to Erongo to live in the nearest town. All but his oldest, disgraced daughter who was left with her grandmother and child (not even a boy). After some time to adjust, they both seemed to be settling into school once more.

Glassius cared about his children. He wanted them all to be educated, to have a chance at a good job in a country with 50% unemployment. He was stressed about his oldest girl and unable to see a way forward for her other than looking after her grandmother and child. He couldn’t see past her lack of status as an unmarried mother.

And I have been given so many second chances in life that this is difficult to understand. This is a culture changing rapidly and maybe not all for the best.

Namibia has only been independent for 20 years with the ghost of Angola to the north to show them just how badly things can go with infighting and Zimbabwe to the east to show what happens when politicians become divisive and corrupt.

Time and time again, the people we met would stress the positive aspects of their country, there is lots of land and not many people, lots of resources, a government they clearly trust that is working hard to develop the infrastructure they need. Good roads and a functional education system. People are having fewer children, that are living longer.

There are so many examples of what can go wrong in Africa. It’s difficult to stay cheerful. Still hopeful though.

 

15th August: Small cats

The kittens have grown: still chasing their tails and climbing curtains but they’re now just a little bit bigger, just a little bit more self-aware.

Not that the Calico cat gives a damn.

Ginger Tom and Stripes are people cats. When they get tired, they want a lap to sit on and a hand or two to stroke them. Calico is different; not exactly stand-offish but definitely independent. When she comes and sits on you, it’s on your face, reluctantly adjusted to a neck. She needs skin contact or none at all. It’s determinedly contact on her terms, not human terms.

And she purrs sooo loudly.

We met cheetahs in Namibia. Three had just brought down a kudu about the size of a cow. And when they stopped sticking their jaws into it’s body, under the ribcage looking for the best bits, they started to groom each other, licking off the blood and gore from each other’s faces. They purred

When I die, carry my body out in good time or Calico might well eat me.

18th August: Pause, no thought

Having told my lover that his working life is over, all the “stakeholders” involved have now disappeared off for a nice long August holiday.

The casual, thoughtless cruelty in the workplace (and life generally) is the hardest to understand. Since nothing is to happen, what exactly is the point of ruining someone’s happiness two weeks early?

My BF has just returned from NY after two years. She was expecting to be out there for around three years but her boss in the UK changed and the new guy seems to have preferred to put his own friend into that role. The friend is male obviously. And there would be nothing new or surprising or even unpleasant about the story if he had been a good enough boss to make sure she had a job to come back to in this country.

But he couldn’t be arsed.

At some level it just wasn’t worth his time to actually manage this woman he didn’t know or like especially well, even though he’s paid to do exactly that job – manage people. I’m sure he just expected her to cope with having her career sidelined for a time, shunted into a series of tasks, waiting for a chance that may or may not arrive to do a decent job again.

But she doesn’t want or need to be especially easy going.

At some level she would be ok with a year long sabbatical, especially if it came with redundancy funds. She could take some time to find a real job outside of the company she currently works for, as well as having a couple of months downtime.

Unlike her boss, she has read the company policy notes for people transferring from one country to another. She knows that she has a month to find a new role within the company of a similar or better level of seniority. She knows that if they can’t find her a “proper” job then she has in effect been made redundant and can take that claim to court. And we all know that no company really wants to go to court, no company with any serious overseas business wants to be known as an employer who can’t competently relocate staff back home.

And she also  knows the story of the whistleblower who having highlighted the affair of the boss with the young star performer, the one he was giving huge salary bonuses and career promotions to, sponsoring for “entrepreneur of the year awards” etc only to be told there wasn’t a problem. Yes, clearly he had broken company policy by not disclosing the relationship, but he had givn his word that there was nothing biased in his treatment of her at work.

And they chose to believe him.

Furthermore, when this man returned home, divorced his wife and married the young woman he travelled back to the NY office to “audit” the whistleblower’s performance in her job. The guy interviewing her conceded that the questions she was being asked were above and beyond those asked of other staff members at her level because he had been told to ask them of her, only her.

She failed the audit. She wasn’t promoted. She felt persecuted.

She was also married to an international barrister working in NY. She became pregnant. Work wasn’t very appealing. Staying home with a new child and pursuing litigation against the company has started to seem much more appealing.

And when my BF informed her boss that there was a legal risk developing, and why, she was told to persuade this woman not to pursue the case, not to take up her legal right to challenge the company. BF refused.

At each stage, it must have seemed easier to let things slide. The moronic adultrer was probably doing a good job and no one really wanted to sack him or disclipline him in any way. His lover was probably well liked and good enough at her job for the preferment not to be too shocking. No one wanted to create a scandal. Who was to know that he would turn out to have such a vindictive long memory?

But his divorce was probably messier and costlier because of the whistleblower and I’m guessing he felt pissed. He probably thought that having been protected once, he was sure to get away with it again, just a small amount of bullying, providing he could wrap it up in clean corproate linen.

And I’m sure that asking a woman executive to try and silence the whistleblower quietly on the side, seemed like the easiest way out of an embarrasment to my BF’s boss.

Let’s try and make this problem go away.

So it looks like he’s going to have some expensive trade-offs to make. When he totally fails to find a proper job, my BF will ask for redundancy. If he manages to find a job, if she doesn’t like it she will ask for redundancy. When he says no to redundancy on the basis of cost, she will mention the ethical and moral dilemma she has been placed in vis a vis the whistleblower, and ask that it be resolved before she returns to work.

And yet again, instead of dealing with the real issue, the company will roll over and try to make it go away by agreeing to redundancy.

At each stage, there has been casual carelessness and a blatant disregard for reasonable behaviour (documented in seemingly worthless company policy) with a big dose of entitlement and “rules don’t apply to me” so shut the fuck up.

Men don’t set out to be bastards in the workplace, they just drift that way.

20th August: Kittens

Because kittens make the world go around   Sharing a house with three cats turns it into a home. Teenagers just aren’t the same.

21st August: Proud

So proud of my baby girl. 3As and 7A*s in her GCSE results. Yes she’s academic, but she worked hard and has been rewarded.

Out tonight to celebrate.

28th August: Big Cats, Namibia

Okinjima, Namibia Watching cheetahs go about their lives in the bush was engaging. Watching leopard felt like an entirely different experience – they would definitely eat us given a chance.

31st August: DofE

As well as being the husband of the Queen of this country, the Duke of Edinburgh has carved out a role as a philanthropist.

One of his early and probably most successful ideas was to create the DofE Awards for young people. It was originally intended to challenge young, inner-city disadvantaged youth to “do” better for themselves through completing community/charity work, acquiring a skill and completing a physical challenge in the countryside.

I hate it.

Whilst the intentions were good, it has been colonised by the middle classes. Every child at private school in London is obliged to complete at least the first DofE award, the bronze challenge. If they make it all the way to the gold, they get the medal pinned on by a member of the real royal family but of course that rarely happens. What actually happens is that a challenge intended to develop independence and competence in deprived youths becomes yet one more hurdle in the life of a middle class mother.

Shopping for the various stuff required for a long weekend camping and walking from A to B through some national park is not so bad.

Organising the acquisition of skills and a charitable heart is soul-destroying.

And clearly if the aim was for the child to develop organisational skills then it wouldn’t be my problem but some insane departure from reality has occurred whereby my child bitches at me, and points to all the other “good” mothers who have pulled various rabbits out of hats to prove skills and charity.

Music skills tick the box so drum lessons were duly documented.

Charity could be similarly simple – helping out at the local church, which we happen to attend regularly – but no. Apparently this isn’t fun enough for my Hero. Apparently, for her but not the actual award, religion  isn’t a proper charity.

Forget about the fact that banging drums isn’t really a proper skill (we were already having the lessons so it wasn’t even a new skill).

If it’s really that important to her, she should organise it herself as was the original intent of the DofE scheme. If it isn’t that important to her, but her Daddy is persuaded by her tears and tantrums, then he can organise something more suitable.

I have totally failed my child’s adequacy test when it comes to providing an interesting and worthwhile charity challenge and I really can’t bring myself to give a F**K.

September

9th September: Independence

I’m trying to work out what I think about Scottish independence, with only 10 days or so before the people living in Scotland vote.

And part of me just can’t cope with the fact that they’re so flaky on the whole idea of nationality that they’ve defined the vote, the nationality effectively, by who lives there. People who were born in Scotland but live and work elsewhere (Alan Cummings, Sean Connery et al) don’t get to vote. The children of Scottish people can’t vote, though presumably we could claim nationality if it all goes through.

BF2 who owns a house just north of Edinburgh could vote. As could her middle-Englander husband who claims he will vote “yes” because who wants the Scots, when so many of them seem to dislike the rest of us.

And that attitude is beginning to inform the rest of the debate as polls turn up (they inevitably do) that show devolution is imminent.

Rather unfashionably I believe in the union, for much the same reasons that I believe the UK should be part of the EU. Together we are stronger. We have a bigger voice on the world stage, more influence in world decisions and as an outgoing, exporting nation, we want to be able to influence the laws that affect our trade, our right to roam the world freely. As a fair and forthright democracy we want to be able to campaign for the extension of that freedom around the world.

But also within the Union, Scotland brings something important to the mix. There is something valuable in regional diversity and though the stereotype is limited, there is some truth to the view of a calvinist, well-educated, dour, prudent Scot.

There is also some truth to the steretype of an alcoholic, obese, social-needs Scot.

And the rest of the Union is sufficient to balance both the good and bad. The “yes” campaigners see only the good characteristics of the Scottish stereotype being transposed into the proposed Scottish State. It seems unlikely to be so one-sided.

All of the positive benefits of a union risk being lost forever. Why would the Union ever agree to share a currency with a country, in the process of divorce and after seeing just how well that scenario has played out in Europe?

Why would the Union continue to send work north with military contracts for ship building on the Clyde etc, when there is no longer any self-interest in doing so? The economic benefits/costs of a Union are difficult to calculate but will undoubtedly be felt both sides of the border and each side will have fewr resources left to share the burden falling on it’s people.

How warm a welcome will Scottish people receive after effectively telling the rest of us to “get lost” in a referendum? No doubt the borders will be open and free transfer of people will continue much as with Ireland, but do we really believe there won’t be any tangible emotional fall out?

 

15th September: Stating the Obvious

On food:

Life is too short to make your own pasta or filo/puff pastry

Being able to cook individual dishes is worth nothing if you can’t get them to the table on time in the right order.

A good hostess is not the same as a stressed cook. Buy in the dishes you don’t like cooking. Cheat and enjoy your guests more.

On cats:

They will always choose to sleep in the box brought home from the supermarket, unless you haven’t spent any money on a cat bed in which case, they will sleep on you.

People domesticated dogs. Cats domesticated people. You live to serve.

On tennis:

You can only call the lines on your own side and trust to the honesty of the opposition. Tight calls are answered with tight calls.

If you cheat in a meaningless social game, who wants to be your friend.

On children:

Loving your children does not make you a good parent but it does make you care more when you screw up.

You need to like your partner as well as love him because one day you will see him/her looking back at you from your child’s eyes.

Succesful parenting equals still alive at 18. Talking to each other is optional.

On religion:

My faith is my faith, not yours or anyone elses so don’t tell me what I should think, do or feel.

If you wouldn’t say it to a Jew/Muslim/Hindu/Buddhist/atheist, then don’t say it to me. It’s rude.

On men:

Being heterosexual is not an excuse for being poorly informed – learn the geography boys cos you are a failure in bed if she doesn’t come first. Really.

You may think you can add that social engagement to the family diary. You may be right. Be prepared to take responsibility when it all goes wrong. 90% time it will go wrong.

On the garden:

Nothing you want will grow in dry shade. Ever.

Gardening is a process whereby you spend the first few years putting things in and the next 20 years trying to take them out.

On friends:

Women friends are the best thing that will ever happen to you. Love and cherish them.

 

17th September: Jammy Situations

On a seasonal high I decide it’s time to make “stuff” for the local church fete. It takes about 30 minutes for my best intentions to be swamped with the remembrance of why I really don’t like batch cooking. Making large amounts of jam, sucks.

There is no point making jam at all, unless it tastes much better than the shop bought stuff (strawberry, fresh raspberry) or is a type of jam that can’t be bought (rosehip). It is something that requires your attention and an absence of small children and pets – sugar burns hurt.

It helps if you can collect the jars for free from food you normally buy like olive jars. Although I’m happy to spend £1:50 on a kilner jar that I’ll use and re-use over the years, I begrudge the money on a jar for the local charity fete. Well brought up people, when presented with a jar of home-made preserves will return the jar, washed, when finished. They are much more likely to get another jar-full.

Raspberry Jam (almost makes itself)

Ingredients:

2lb raspberries
2lb sugar
a knob of butter
Place the fruit in a large saucepan and simmer very gentle until the fruit is really soft (10 -20minutes). Remove the pan from the heat and add the sugar, stirring until it is all dissolved. Then add the knob of butter and return to the heat. Boil rapidly.

The jam is ready when it starts to spit, at around 105C when a drop on a cold plate will wrinkle when touched.

Leave to stand for 15 minutes and then pot into sterilised jars.

Rosehip Jam (worth the faff)

Ingredients:

1lb rosehips, washed
1lb cooking apples, chopped
sugar & 1tbsp rosewater if desired
Put the apples and rosehips in a deep saucepan with just enough water to cover. Bring to the boil then simmer gently for upto 45 minutes until the fruit is soft and pulpy. Stir from time to time to stop the fruit sticking.

Sppon the fruit into a muslin cloth and strain into a jug. Discard the pulp and measure the extract. For every pint of extract add 1lb sugar to the cleaned saucepan..

Heat gently until the sugar is dissolved then bring to the boil. Boil rapidly until the setting point is reached (jam spits, 105C, wrinkly jam on a cold saucer).

At this point you can add 1tbsp rosewater if wanted. Pot and cover as usual.

Strawberry Jam

I hate making strawberry jam yet I continue to make it year after year. Why? Strawberries are low in pectin, the natural setting agent, and therefore a begger to make into jam. Use “jam” sugar and/or extra pectin to make it set. If it doesn’t set, then call it a coulis or re-boil and try again.

Ingredients:

2lb strawberries, hulled
2lb jam sugar (with added pectin) or 2lb sugar and 2tbsp lemon juice if you’re feeling brave
a know of butter

Place the fruit in the saucepan with the lemon juice if using and simmer gently for 20-30 minutes until really soft.

Take the pan off the heat and add the sugar. Dissolve, stirring slowly. Add a knob of butter and return to the stove.

Boil rapidly until both a. jam spits b. 105C and it wrinkles on a cool saucer. There are no guarrantees with strawberry jam.

Let it cool slightly, pot it and wait. Leave it 24hours and then turn one of the (closed) jars to see whether it has set. If not, either reboil or decide to call it “preserve” or “coulis” depending on just how far from a set it seems to be.

19th September: Conjoined

“What God hath conjoined let no man separate.”

James VI of Scotland, who became James I of England

The Union remains united, but in some ways the referendum seems to have raised more questions than it has answered. It has certainly been incredibly divisive within Scotland.

55% voted to remain within the Union whilst 45% voted to leave. But look at a map,  and the demographics of the vote are immediately apparent.

The vast majority of the country (by geography) is painted pink for the union. The “yes” vote was concentrated in the populous cities of Dundee (57% “yes”) and Glasgow (53% “yes”)  with North Lanarkshire (51% “yes”) and West Dunbartonshire (54% “yes”) abutting Glasgow also voting to leave the Union.

Before the vote was counted, the Shetland Islands which have always been highly pro-Union were talking of secession from an independent Scotland, somewhat like the status enjoyed currently by the Isle Of Man within the UK. They didn’t want to be ruled from Edinburgh. And given the amount of oil lying within their waters, this would have been a huge headache for any devolved government.

Looking at the BBC map, it’s tempting to imagine Glasgow and its neighbours floating off into some kind of principality. It won’t happen because there’s no oil to fund it. The areas with oil, the Highlands and Islands voted resolutely to stay within the Union.

The argument has been made that the pro-Union or “yes” campaign was too negative, too fearful and that a confident, optimistic Scotland would have to vote for independence. A bright and beautiful picture was painted by the SNP of a life without Conservatives (a political party generally loathed within Scotland)  a life with more money, more State benefits, a better NHS, getting rid of nuclear weapons but staying within the international clubs of the EU, NATO etc.

But banks started to talk about relocating their offices from Scotland to England in order to maintain the support of the Bank of England and the use of sterling. Mortgage costs would rise. House prices might fall. Shops started to to warn that costs would rise in an independent Scotland. There was mutterings about a three-fold increase in the cost of a BBC licence, coupled with a decrease in the media offerred.

The markets fell.

And people suddenly thought that there might actually be a chance that devolution could happen. It became real. Shit. Hits. Fan.

People began to think about what the union brings them, the benefits of sharing costs as well as assets.

Glasgow (and it’s surroundings) is not a wealthy city. How positive was the Glasgow vote really? People who voted “yes” bought the line spun about improved state benefits, which are mostly claimed by the population living in Glasgow. In an area with the lowest life expectancy in the UK, they bought the line spun about an improved NHS.

There is talk of reconciliation within the country, of capitalising on the amazing turn-out for the vote, the revitalisation of democracy itself.

In reality, this is only the start of what could turn out to be a very messy discussion about the consitution of the union. We have no written constitution in the UK but rather the use of historic precedent, essentially trial and errror to build a country. Currently a constituency in Scotland will vote for both an Member of Parliament (UK, based in London) and a Scottish Member of Parliament (Scotland, based in Edinburgh).

If more powers are devolved to the Scottish Parliament as promised in the campaign,  then what is the point of a Scottish MP. If s/he can’t vote to set tax rates or benefit budgets in their own constituency, why should they be able to vote on English/Welsh/Irish etc tax, benefits.

There are always going to be issues that cut-across the union but with more decisions made locally in Scotland, surely the argument for similar local government powers in England, Wales etc becomes unescapable.

How on earth does Cameron think this will be resolved in 3 months?

 

 23rd September: Violence

Violence against women is an issue, a genuine global issue and concern, well-documented and worthy of debate and discussion.

It is not the only issue in the world but it is an issue that I am interested in like finance or British politics. Or maybe it is more like kittens and suduko since I have a clear self-interest in this topic as a woman and the mother of two daughters.

I use twitter to follow topics that I’m interested in. There are a fair few tweets relating to kittens, sudoku. finance, politics as well as feminism.

I use twitter to follow subjects that I’m interested in, to store references to articles that I have found interesting, engaging or amusing. Sometimes, it helps to clarify or work through issues in my own mind. For me, it is a constructive tool for what is an essentially internal process.

As noted before, I follow everydaysexism. I have been horrified by the everyday abuse women, old and young suffer, documented in tweet after tweet, across the world. I decided that I should try to be a constructive, supportive reply to some of these women, to help reinforce the view that no one deserves abuse or discimination. Everyone deserves respect as a human being. Violence and bullying should never be tolerated; it is never acceptable to abuse another person.

I am not evangelical. I have no interest in converting anyone to my viewpoint. I’m not trying to gain followers. I’m interested in the occasional twitter conversation but not so much that I’m willing to fight about it. Life is stressful enough without adding the angst of total strangers to the mix. Constructive engagement is worthwhile but trolls are tiresome.

Do they not have real friends to irritate? I’m guessing not.

25th September: Political

Reading and possible misunderstanding a summary of the proposed policies** for the devolution of political powers by each of the three main (unionist) parties in the UK gave me an accidental answer to the question my daughter has been asking recently.

“But what do they believe in, what are they for?” Which is a question asked whenever the Tories (Conservatives) Labour or Liberals appear on tv, something that happens whether or not they have anything worthwhile to say.

The Tories are all about balancing the books, about taking personal responsibility and living within our means.  They highlight a “fiscal gap” where currently the Scottish parliament is all about giving out or distributing money whilst Westmenister is all about collecting it in through taxes.  They are not looking to change the system for ideological reasons but rather to make it accountable to it’s population. Tax collectors are never popular.

Labour is all about sharing, about redistributing from those who have to those who have not, to make a better, more equitable society throughout the Union. The two areas to vote for leaving the Union were the poorest and most needy. Scotland’s vision of a self-sustaining independent country was predicated on the idea of resdistributing income from the Highlands and Islands oil industry to the deprived urban sprawl of Glasgow. But Labour takes this one step further: with a bigger country with areas of wealth and deprivation, there is more economy of scale, both more wealth and more poverty to share about.

And the Liberals are all about redistributing power back to the lowest level possible rather than simply pushing it back one level to the Scottish parliament, giving communities rights and responsibilites to manage their fate. Federalism is the liberal way forward across the whole Union. In this vision, perhaps the Shetlanders get to keep more of their oil revenues or at least have to be persuaded of the benefits of sharing with the rest of us.

Scotland currently receives an amount of money from Westminster which it then spends, through healthcare, social welfare, education etc. And there seems general agreement that the Scottish parliament should be responsible for raising an increased proportion of it’s own income through setting tax rates in Scotland. This proposed freedom varies from possibly only  varying the base rate of income tax through to the whole range of other taxes (corporate, capital gains, inheritance etc).

The Tories want the individual tax statements to then highlight the amounts collected by the Scottish Parliament as opposed to the Union (interestingly, rights over VAT cannot be devolved because of EU legislation).

Aside from pensions, there seems to be general agrement that the Scottish Parliament should also have the power to vary some social welfare payments.

There was also some noise around the need to formalise relationships between the regional and UK Parliaments, including putting the established Sewell convention (where the UK parliament asks the Scottish Parlaiment before implementing polices pertaining to Scotland) into statute.

Interesting stuff. Sort of.

** http://www.parliament.uk/briefing-papers/SN06987/scotland-devolution-proposals

 

October

6th October: Welfare

I live in a country with a welfare state, something that generally speaking I’m quite proud and pleased about. Speaking from a position of incredible privilege, it seems only right and reasonable to pay taxes towards a safety net for people without my privilege, for children without the clear benefits that my own girls enjoy.

But increasingly it feels as though the big amounts of money aren’t being spent on the poorest and least able to survive the recession. Increasingly money seems to be directed towards people quite like me. Old people.

Of the extraordinary amount being spent on benefits in the UK, the largest single cost is for state pensions £80billion. An extra £12billion is spent on age related benefits such as winter fuel allowances and additional pension credits.

The Conservative Party have recently announced that we are no longer obliged to use our pension savings to buy an annuity (income) for our old age. We are now allowed to blow the whole lot, or not, as we choose. Interestingly this change is expected to raise tax revenues as any money taken out of the pot is taxable at our marginal rate so if we take out larger sums earlier, we are likely to crystallise a higher tax liability.

There were some cries of foul, worries that people would blow their money in one fell swoop on something trivial (sports cars were mentioned) only to then require the State to support them.

But the arguments made were trivial. The average person retires with a private pension of no more than £25,000, enough to generate about £100 a month if they can find a generous annuity and are willing to live with the  average personal debt in the UK of £28,000. Maybe they’ve been lucky enough to pay off their house loan, reducing the debt down to maybe £6000.

Basically “normal” people don’t have any money of their own to rely upon in retirement. After all of the tax inducements to save into pensions, only the wealthy can afford to claim them. Those few people who aren’t obliged to spend all of their money just getting by, who can afford to set aside savings for their old age, are well-rewarded by tax credits.

If I pay £2880 into a pension for my 14 year old daughter, the government will add £720. If we were to build up a pension pot of £50,000 over say 10 years (assuming £2880 from me each year, a pretty poor return and extortionate management charges – very realistic assumptions) roughly £10,000 would be attributable to the government.

Why is the government paying me to further privilege myself or my children?

The big drawback to pensions used to be the fact that when we die, the money dies with us. At the latest Conservative conference, they promise that any untouched pension pot can be left to our children tax-free. Only when they drawdown income will a tax charge be realised.

Inheritance tax is paid out of an estate worth more than £325,000 per person before being distributed to the heirs. Only around 20,000 about 6% people are liable for this tax each year. The vast majority of people just don’t have assets worth diddly.

So my children, having been immensely privileged all of their lives can look forward to inheriting wealth to further bolster that privilege through no efforts of their own, providing no benefit to society but rather just further embedding the existing inequalities.

I’m reliably informed by Walther (ages 84) that my views on this will change as I age further. But I just can’t get my head around the way the government seems determined to reward me for being wealthy and old whilst at the same time punishing  my younger relatives for being young and poor.

The best suggestion I’ve heard involved abandoning inheritance tax entirely. Just tax everything as income tax as an individual’s marginal rate of tax, just as they’re suggesting doing for unused pension pots, with the caveat that all tax must be crystallised immediately.

He tells me that it is unfair for the government to benefit to such and extent from my death without explaining why my children should benefit. Don’t misunderstand me: I love both of my daughters and plan to live a very long life, spending their inheritance liberally.

But in many ways, the State is clearly more deserving of consideration than our children. It will have done considerably more to look after me through my lifetime. The plan is very redistributive from rich to poor but surely that has to be the right way around for this to work.

Better to take money from the rich and give to the poor than the rather perverse alternative we’re living with.

10th October: Credit-ability

Once upon a time, I worked in a bank, not just any bank, but the international giant that invented credit derivatives.  As it happened, life got more interesting just as work got less so having made my money I walked away just before it all hit the fan.

Should I feel guilty?

I was in the room when Credit Derivatives were invented, not because we wanted to make money, but because a client (a German parochial bank) was asking us to do them a “favour”, to lay off the risk on some dodgy credit portfolios, US mortage backed securities. So we took the portfolio, bundled it up and sold off the parts to spread the risk across the market. Essentially we were acting much as an insurance company will act, to share out the risk but also the potential reward.

The fatal flaw with this particular arrangement was the inability to work out precisely what the risk amounted to. The link to the originating mortgage and borrower had been lost. Without knowing the real risk of default, the deal could not be accurately priced. Rather than chase the last penny, we priced it to not make a loss and moved on to cleaner credit portfolios. The market was born.

We never could work out how other banks were managing to price the US mortgage backed securities, though we could see them being traded by other banks. We thought that we’d just missed something, weren’t smart enough. When the market crashed, it became clear that there was no secret. People were trading naked. The Emperor had no clothes.

And it all came crashing down.

The market crashed because people borrowed money they couldn’t repay on houses that weren’t worth much in the first place. It crashed because people who had bundled up these dodgy debts and sold and resold them on realised at the first set of defaults that they had no idea how much money they might lose, upto and including their jobs.

The US Government decided to let Lehman Bothers fail.

Banks decided to stop lending to anyone until they could quantify the risk to the nth degree. Banks around the world started to fail.

Almost all businesses of any value need credit to function, guarrantees that the foreign customer buying their goods will make good on the payment in a reasonable time. Banks act to grease the wheels of business. Without the grease, the wheels stick. Business stops.

The world started to slow down.

World governments blinked. They started to throw money at banks, to bail them out. When not providing funds directly, they pressured solvent banks to buy-out the failures. The spiral downwards slowed.

But at the same time, pressure from the public to punish the wrongdoers mounted. In the US people lost their homes, the homes they couldn’t afford in the first place, but in the UK interest rates were kept artificially low to avoid repossesions. It alo meant that anyone with savings (including little old ladies on their pensions) were effectively paying for the houses of imprudent purchasers and propping up the hugely dysfunctional housing market in the UK.

The US Government decided to investigate the banking sector. Thanks to the the risk averse nature of banks when faced with threats from governments, most have decided to settle out of court for fines. Often huge fines.

But thanks to the forced consolidation of poor performers with their more secure (and presumably cautious) rescuers, the fines fell on banks who hadn’t necessarily been to blame in the first place. And where blame fell squarely, no one was named and shamed beyond the corporate, no one was truly held accountable.  No lessons were learned.

And I look around at the world supposedly coming out of recession and wonder what has really changed.

People still buy stuff they can’t afford, ranging from credit card consumables through to overpriced houses.

Traders still trade without really understanding what it is they’re selling.

Governments still fail to understand and balance the risks between a healthy finance sector and one totally out of control.

Doomed.

20th October: Where have all the men gone?

An article in the weekend newspapers was asking why is misogyny so virulent, so commonplace. When a man’s maculinity is challenged, why is the first reaction of so many men, to beat their wives, or daughters? Why do so many trolls on the internet denounce feminism as a movement that has “ruined their lives”?

The suggested answer was thought provoking.

Masculinity is an artificial construct. In societies across the globe, being male is defined largely in terms of not being a woman, in being “other” in not being human.

Since child rearing is essentially a female occupation, becoming a man requires a boy to deny and reject the feminine role models he is surrounded by as a child. Caring, sharing empathy, sociability, emotional intimacy must all be put aside if a boy is to become a man. No matter how much she dislikes her mother, a daughter is never required to reject her in quite the same way.

He is also required to ignore the fact that in his childhood he experiences very real evidence of the power that women hold over his everyday life, the absolute power to decide what he is allowed to do, where ,when and how. Mothers hold the very literal power of life and death over their children yet the little boy growing to be a man must deny this truth. She is just a woman.

For most men, being successfully male lies in denying their innate humanity because all of the best characteristics of humanity reside within the female stereotype.

T`o make things worse, very few men are able to be successful at being male.  Society creates a pyramidal hierarchy where fewer and fewer men fight it out for positions of power and authority, in commerce, government etc.

So being male is ultimately an experience of failure, failing to succeed in a world where men are pitted against other men relentlessly and often for little lasting reward.

No one died thinking that they should have spent more time at the office.

Masculinity is an artifical construct. It doesn’t work for most men; it damages most men. Man is a social animal with a deep seated need to connect to other human beings. When forced to deny ones humanity, to amputate ones emotions and empathy it becomes impossible to be happy, satisfied or content.

At some level, we all know that the historic definition of being male doesn’t work. At some level we all know that it isn’t real. For men who have had to give up so much of their humanity to become “male” any challenge to their masculinity can be intolerable. Violent.

The emperor has no clothes.

You are not a real man, You have failed.

But only if we continue to define men as “other” to deny men their humanity.

In a nearby article a woman wrote “I am a happy feminist”

Being a feminist is to acknowledge the privilege that men have been afforded in the public arena, to acknowledge the disadvantage of women around the world and to call for a more equal society where neither men nor women are unfairly privileged or disadvantaged.

Where are all the men? Rise up and reject the chains rather than using them to beat up your downtrodden sister/mother/daughter/wife.

The current model isn’t working for anyone outside of a very few elite old white men. You will never be successful, never be accepted on their terms. Allow yourself to redefine the terms of battle, to be happy outside of the stereotype.

25th October: Defeat

In my garden there is a dry shady section, right at the back where nothing I want will ever grow. When we first moved in it was entirely desolate. Even the ivy had given up.

Eventually we decided the dead apple tree would have to come out, cut back the hedges (where allowed – we live in a conservation area) and looked around at the new space.

Underneath the detritus there was a tiled path probably as old as the house (+/- 100 years). There was also the accumulated rubble and york stone slabs from a pond that had been removed by previous owners and dumped in a corner. The holly hedge that runs along the back of all the gardens in our row, had been allowed to become thin.

The neighbours at the back had got used to having an extra level of screening and stopped trimming the holly as a result. They were quite anxious about the new transformation.

The ground was dry as a bone, with all moisture sucked out of it by the yew on one side, the holly on the other and a huge 100year old pear tree still surviving at one end. The neighbours sycamore probably didn’t help much. A hole might be darker but not even the sahara could be dryer.

So what do you grow in dry shade?

 

A whole range of plants were laid out, keeping to the basic framework discovered; a rubble wall topped with an old railway sleeper and a bank to the other side of the path.

This was after clearling endless stones and bits of tiles and bricks dumped into this space over the many years and after diffing in an awful lot of manure topped with bark in a vague attempt to improve the soil and increase water retention.

 

The first year was successful enough. Most of the plants survived, some even semed to thrive and the space started to look green if not exactly lush. It had been quite a wet winter and I had watered through most (not all) of the worst of the summer dry. The yew hedge was still pretty dull on this side of the garden but it was beginning to green up. The larger ferns(dyropteris cristata) were coping rather than thriving. Turns out that euphorbia really will grow anywhere.

Three years on and the shade garden is both moreand less successful than I’d like.

Defeat has set in. Things will grow but not necessarily things that I want to grow. Time for a new plan.

28th October: Warning Do not feed the Trolls

In my own mind, I am a hero. Turns out that it’s true for everyone, maybe especially internet trolls.

 

I try to respond positively to the everydaysexism twitter feed that my daughter introduced me to some months ago. Sometimes it’s quite hard becuase the day to day grind of catcalling and abuse some (often very young) women face is oppressive. If it’s oppressive to me listening at the end of a data feed, how much worse must it be to actually live with that level of hassle?

This isn’t me being a hero so much as me being a mother, a northlondonmother. If there is nothing to be said, and sometimes it’s difficult, then at least let’s all of us aknowledge that the treatment of this woman is wrong, it is shameful and hope that the day gets better for her.

And then there are trolls or troll-like people.

I have a view that misogyny is derived from deep seated insecurity. There are lots of possible reasons for the insecurity, such as:

a) I’m supposed to be a big tough successful man but in reality I’m a small wimpy failure of a man. I know that I don’t fit in. I know that I’m not a proper man. On-line, no one knows that I’m not a real boy so I can pretend. Maybe if  I act like an extreme parody of manhood, if I buy into all of the worst attributes of the stereotype then they will let me into the “man club” anyway; or maybe,

b) I am a big tough succesful man just like I’m supposed to be and life still sucks. No one loves me because I can’t open up emotionally and share who I really am. This might be because I have worked really hard to obliterate or obfuscate all real feelings,  empathy and sense of connection to the wider world. All of this stuff that I have accumulated in my journey towards material chiefdom, doesn’t keep me warm at night. Relationships are either emotionally superficial (he provides the physical goods, she keeps the house and kids clean) or transitory (inital excitement fades with the relaisation that he can’t provide emotionally, just financially and she moves on).

c) I am a big succesful man just like I’m supposed to be but I know at some level that it’s only because the playing feel isn’t level. If I’d had to compete fairly with women, people of colour, people of all kinds, genders and orientation then perhaps I would not be successful.  If everyone had the same opportunities that I’ve had in my life, I would be lessened, I would lose stuff: lose my promotions, my salary, lose my place in the community;I would lose respect. My self-respect depends on other disadvantaged people being less than me so everytime someone who is outside of my privilege achieves something, I need to knock them down, denigrate and dismiss.

or less common but not unheard of: d)  I am supposed to be a small, delicate beautiful woman but really I’m not. I’m really not. And I’m incredibly pissed off about it. I want to make other women feel as badly about themselves as I  feel about myself. When all of the other girls in the playground are crying, then I will be the queen bee after all. Everyone will love me, best.

There are endless reasons for why people can feel insecure, some permanent some temporary, some real and some imaginary.

All of this roughly translates to the idea of

trolls = men with tiny dicks

If being ballsy is a metaphor for having courage, then having a tiny dick means deep-seated insecurity acting out on-line or in the real world.

By my definition, misogyny is definitely all about men with tiny dicks, no brains and manners to make my cat ashamed (and she licks her bottom on a regular basis).

So one of my “go to” responses when someone writes on twitter that they’ve had a really bad or just needlessly unpleasant  experience with cat calling, leering or worse is to say that the git inevitably has a tiny dick, no brain and bad manners and to wish the woman well with the rest of her day.

Of all the comments I could make, casting doubt on the size of a man’s genitalia seems to be the most upsetting to the trolls and troll-like.

It seems that a man can be rude and brainless but still qualify but suggest that he has less than 5 inches and the world might come to an end. It has been described as “shaming” or “hypocrisy”

But shaming to who exactly? The man I’m describing is  not on-line, not known to me personally, not named and shamed in any fashion no matter what  is written on twitter.

On twitter, “he” is entirely anonymous. He is generic, badly behaved misogynistic man.

& it is entirely right and appropriate to shame badly behaved misogynists; they should be ashamed of themselves.

Where is the hypocrisy here? This is entirely consistent with the world-view of a northlondonhousewife.

But the tolls and troll-like trundle deeper and darker into the woods. In their mind they are knights in white armour out to fight those who come to challenge.

They are often extremely upset at the criticism I have levelled at a very badly behaved but anonymous man. They take such criticism personally, they take it to heart. They self-identify to an astonishing extent.

Whilst it’s possible that I have hit upon a hidden truth and all misogyinists really do have tiny genitals **  and are reacting so violently because they’re hurt, it seems a bit far fetched. It seems more likely that they are simply upset because a man, a total stranger,  has been called out and criticised for behaving badly.

What exactly is being challenged here? Individual bad behaviour, the right to behave apallingly, sometimes illegally or the fact that all too many men feel entitled to behave this way, whether they do so or not. They want the right to be misogynistic gits and not to be criticised. Really?

They are knights riding out to defend bullies and braggards, to rescue the reputation of men who perv schoolgirls, who make lewd passes or put downs of women in the workplace. Bravo?

What exactly are they trying to defend here?  Perhaps some people think that the current state of affairs is “natural” or appropriate. It is the way that things are supposed to be. But on that basis we’d still be living in huts on the savannah following the herds from place to place. Society changes all of the time.

And the current state of affairs doesn’t work fairly for men or women.

It doesn’t work for anyone even on it’s own terms, outside of a very narrow white male elite. And for the very, very few white men (or pseudo white men) who can succeed on it’s terms, the model imposes terrible, crippling emotional costs and burdens.

I have known some tremendously successful men but very very few happy tremendously successful men. The staus quo drives people onwards and upwards in a mad rat race leaving little time to build relationships, to make families, no time to be happy.

No one died wishing they’d spent more time at the office, wishing they’d got that last promotion.

Does it make it better or worse to think that these people set out on their quests in support of a system that treats them so badly? Maybe that’s what makes some of them so nasty.

And the accusations these trolls and troll-like throw at challengers seem mainly to identify their own fears and failures. They can only see shame if they feel ashamed, if they identify with the generic badly behaved misogynist.

At the end of the day it is not what is said or claimed but what is actually done that describes people best. A happy man does not set out to belittle women (or anyone else actually)  because he’s too busy getting on with his own life, to busy being happy. Trolls are troll-like, people with deep seated insecurities, no brains and bad manners.

**And to all those men out there who really do have small dicks and are feeling vastly insecure – relax. Women can’t tell without looking and by the time we get to looking, it really doesn’t matter – we don’t care about the size.  All women want is a little bit of skill (or willingness to be shown) some curiosity and a lot of humour. Chill.

November

3rd November: Transparent

The government have announced they will send everyone a tax statement, a breakdown of how much money they give to the State through taxes and how the State spends that money.

Well not everyone. Only the people who pay taxes because…  and then I run out of things to write because:

surely they don’t assume that I’m not interested in how the government spends money;

surely they don’t wish to exclude me from the debate about how best to allocate resources in this country;

surely they still regard me as a full-time citizen, even though the only taxes I pay are indirect;

surely they feel equally accountable to both the poor and unfeasibly wealthy who do not have to pay taxes even if they’re not me; and failing all of this,

surely they don’t wish to exclude the elderly non-tax payers who vote in such large numbers?

Because it does look somewhat like a pre-election voting ploy rather than the transparent, good government initiative that it could have been. The devil is in the detail of where and what the government is choosing to be transparent about. Sometimes more information is even less useful than no information; if it misleads.

Most people are going to immediately think, “That’s a lot of money on welfare” from which it is a short hop and a skip to “Greedy scrounging bastards claiming unemployment benefit” which would be vastly unfair and untrue but possibly satisfy  the Tory wishlist of “Let’s vote Conservative, to drive that welfare number down”

Because as always with numbers, the detail doesn’t quite live up to our base expectations.

 

Most welfare spending is for housing benefit, disability allowance , pension credits etc and most social spending is for the sick, the elderly, the disabled and low income families.

And isn’t that where we expect our money to be spent, building a safety net for when we or our loved ones need it the most?

 4th November: Limited Privilege

The vast majority of the positions of power in my country are held by wealthy, white men.

 

But as a twitter friend pointed out “I struggle to see why it matters” I was left wondering why it matters so very much to me. As I get older, the lack of diversity irritates more and more. Why?

The first and simplest reason is my concern for my daughters and their life choices.

It is true that some women will become politicians. leaders of industry, judges, lawyers, media moguls etc. If they can make it, surely my children have a chance?

But of course when making career choices, very few of us choose to be exceptional, very few indeed look to take the hardest road to travel. Most of us look to follow an established pathway where we have a reasonable chance of success. A lack of women in a profession suggests that profession is unwelcoming to women, suggests a difficult career path with lots of sacrifices for possibly little tangible reward.

So one by one, the plausible, realistic career choices for my girls are diminished and reduced.  If they were boys, the sky would be the only limit at this stage. They could easily be the future world powers, the movers and shakers. These would be realistic goals for wealthy, white boys. For my girls, these are stretch targets to be achieved with difficulty and at considerable cost, despite their considerable privilege.

Whilst I might believe the cost of conforming to the patriarchal stereotype costs men as well, the costs are certainly more tangible for my daughters in terms of lost choices.

But there is also a more complicated reason why the status quo makes me feel crosser as the years go by.

Do all of those rich white men really believe that they are just better than the rest of us, that they deserve to lead? Do they totally fail to understand that at every stage of their life, the race has just been a little easier for them? Do they think it is accidental that so many women, so many people of colour, of varying genders and orientations just failed to compete or were found wanting?

And at the end of the day, do they truly believe that they are better placed as a group of wealthy white men to make choices affecting the lives of all of those people they have excluded? Do men really believe that they know what women want, that women en masse choose to exclude themselves, that women volunteer to have much reduced choices and options in life, that we don’t want to earn as much money or make important choices for ourselves because…

Well, why on earth would any rational human being choose to be exlcuded from power and authority? What reason can anyone reasonably believe for women en masse  supposedly  disabling themselves so much? And for those people out there suggesting different priorities  think again.  No one has priorities that don’t include earning a fair wage, allowing them fair choices and freedom of political expression.

 

Motherhood is not an excuse for excluding women from power, anymore than fatherhood ever has been. Parenting is a two person occupation. Caring for people should be more of a reason to become politically involved, not less.

Women are excluded, because men make it difficult. Nothing changes because at some level, men know that in a fair race quite a few of them would come second, not because women are better but because women are equal. If the race was equal, there would be equal representation of men and women in positions of power.

So in a country where only 23% of MPs are women, 1/3rd of the men are there because a woman was excluded from the race. And we can talk about how the environment needs to be made more friendly to diverse people including families, but ultimately nothing will change until men are willing to concede the ground and share the power.

“I struggle to see why it matters”

The world would be a better place if the people in power and with authority were genuinely the best people, not just the “best” wealthy, white men. The decisions made would be better if everyone’s views, history and experiences were represented, not just the wealthy, white men.

My life would be better if a more diverse group of people were making decisions on my behalf.

No taxes without representation? When?

5th November : More Immigration Please

A study is published which argues that immigration of the EU variety is a net-contributor to the UK economy whilst non-EU immigration is a net cost. People are immediately outraged and rush to condemn the study.

Because the worry about immigration isn’t remotely logical or sensible. It has nothing to do with the numbers; nothing to do with facts and even less to do with compassion.

Immigrants may come to the UK for a number of reasons, primarily for work. A very, very small number of people come to the UK seeking asylum, running from terrible situations. My MiL works worth some of those people,  Somalis, Afghans etc now  based in Bristol, teaching them some basic English and UK social skills.

Let’s  think about asylum seekers, people who wish to become refugees living in our country, who see our home as a safe haven in a very troubled world.

We need to separate out the two discussions because we all have a moral and legal obligation when dealing with asylum seekers that does not exist with economic migrants.

And as a starting point, we need to recognise  that the UK accepts a very small proportion of the world’s asylum seekers.

 

With an estimated 109,600 asylum applications, Germany was the largest recipient of new asylum claims in 2013. The USA was second with 84,400 asylum applications, followed by South Africa (70,000), France (60,200), and Sweden (54,300).

By comparison, the UK received only  23,507 new applications for asylum by the end of 2013.

At the end of 2013, the population of refugees, pending asylum cases and stateless persons made up just 0.23% of the UK population. That’s 126,055 refugees, 23,070 pending asylum cases and 205 stateless persons.

My daughter has worked at a local charity supporting asylum claimnants, providing a warm lunch once a month together with legal and medical advice.   All those attending have had their asylum claims rejected and are trying to appeal. My daughter struggled not to stare at the lady with scars from beatings received in her home country, scars that marked her visibly from her scalp down her neck. Claim rejected.

Most asylum seekers are to be found in the developing countries closest to their home country, typically countries bordering the conflict zones. The vast majority of refugees stay in their region of displacement, so that 86% of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing countries. Pakistan hosts the highest number of refugees at 1.6million.

It is also important to note that people do not climb on board a sinking ship and head across the Mediterranean, if they have any other choices. They are fleeing desperate circumstances in conflict zones that our country has often had a hand in creating.

Most of the asylum seekers trying to cross from Calais France into the UK are from Libya, Syria, Afganistan, Iraq, places where UK military intervention has had repercussions.

Within  Europe, the UK accepts far fewer asylum seekers than other EU countries.

 

The Calais mayor, Natacha Bouchart, has recently appeared in front of a parliamentary committee blaming the UK for being too generous to migrants. As a result of our UK social policies  (rather than France’s own immigration policies) she has a large number of migrants (>2000) in Calais, living in  inhumane conditions, struggling to find a home. Mme Bouchart  is a member of the French UMP a rightwing political party and supports her party’s hardline stance on immigration.

If Britain happens to treat migrants marginally more humanely than France and other European countries, politicians in this country should celebrate that fact, instead of moaning about it.

But there seems little room for British complacency: to give a very modest living income (£37 a week for a single adult, so about £5 a day), provide medical support and abide by international conventions for asylum seekers is nothing to brag about. It is simply complying with basic humanitarian standards. When democracies start behaving otherwise, they are no longer democracies.

Asylum is entirely separate from immigration yet always gets rolled into the same debate.

And part of me wonders whether this is because (mostly) asylum seekers are not white, are not agnostic/christian-lite, are not English fluent. Asylum seekers are different from you and me.

 

The only reason for disapproving of asylum seekers rather than welcoming them, is racism. Their life situations are so dreadful, their stories so horrifying that the only appropriate response is to welcome them into our home.

Maybe within the EU it is possible to discuss how they can be allocated fairly across member states (clearly the UK should take more asylum seekers) and within the UK we can talk about allocating asylum seekers within the country to maximise their well-being (placing people within  existing ethnic communities) whilst balancing resource requirements for support services.

But we cannot discuss how people fleeing from a war zone that we helped to create should be allowed to drown in a ricketty boat crossing the Mediterranean. Some things are never acceptable.

6th November: Pretty Please

Yet another speech from the Prime Minister promising immigration controls, both within and without the EU.

Ask people how many immigrants there are in the UK and the number they give is usually vastly inflated. Less than 12% of the UK population is foreign born, of which only a very small number are asylum seekers.

The vast majority of foreign born people living in the UK are economic migrants and there are much fewer of them than people generally believe. Part of this is because of the high profile given it by politicians in speeches. Ask people what are the most important issues of the day, and immigration fades in comparison to the issue of job creation and the economy.

The best way for politicians and pollsters to raise the priority placed on immigration is to to link it to another Britsh bugbear – cutting the welfare state for benefit claimnants, But this is a total spoof because the vast majority of immigrants to the UK are economic immigrants, people who come to work, pay their taxes and leave when the job disappears.

For a long time, migration in and out of the UK not an issue,  in fact prior to the 1980s we were probably a net exporter of our people to other countries. But as our economy improved,  immigration increased with people coming to the UK to work. From 2004, immigration levels rose significantly to coincide with the expansion of the EU to include  Eastern European countries, particularly Poland (we  have a legal obligation within the EU to allow free movement of labour, to allow EU citizens in and out of the country to work).


Because the requirement to allow free movement of labour is a founding principle of the EU, the argument has moved on to the idea of constraining or limiting benefits available to immigrants . It’s an idea that has some appeal to other countries within the EU such as Germany. No one wants benefit tourism. The UK government has moved quickly to restrict welfare payments though as noted previously, economic migrants come to work, to pay taxes and leave once the work disappears.

Economic migrants obviously  come to work not claim benefits, supporting a number of recent studies showing a net positive contribution towards the UK economy. A recent study by CReAm (UCL) estimates that the net benefit to the UK from European immigration between 2000 and 2011 was £20billion.

One response to this report has been that this economic benefit will only remain true for as long as the forign born nationals are young and economically productive. This ignores entirely the tendency for people to go home when the job disappears, to retire to their country of birth, as well as fact that being so young, the most economically productive years of this foreign labour are still to come.

Where the economic benfit argument is accepted at an overall level, the fear mongers will argue that the uneven distribution of foreign born immigrants causes localised problems. And it is true that foriegn born nationals tend to congregate in specific areas within the UK, primarily London.

But the interesting thing about location, is that where foreign nationals settle, they are appreciated. The rise of the anti-immigration UKIP party tends to focus on those areas of the country with very few immigrants, gaining few votes in the areas where people actually come into contact with foreign-born nationals. Anti-immigration politics is largely about the fear of the unknown.

And what about the drain on public services? It’s true that because the foreign-born tend to congregate in specific areas, the burden upon schools and the nhs might be expected to be somewhat heavier in those regions. But remember, these are the areas where UKIP gians little or no traction.

If there is an additional burden to my children sharing a school classroom with 3 kids speaking Polish as a first language, it is more than offset by having competent reasonably priced builders when my roof leaks.

If the nhs hopsital A&E seems full of people not speaking English, this is more than offset by the very competent non-British born staff that appear to be holding the nhs together.

In fact,

In fact it is difficult to imagine how the nhs would survive without immigrant workers to support it.

The statistics, produced by the Health and Social Care Information Centre (HSCIC), show that 11% of all staff for whom data was available and who work for the NHS and in community health services are not British.

The proportion of foreign nationals increases for professionally qualified clinical staff (14%) and even more so for doctors (26%), prompting the British Medical Association (BMA) to observe that without the contribution of non-British staff, “many NHS services would struggle to provide effective care to their patients”. And these are not jobs that we could fill with British born doctors, nurses etc. Under the government’s points system for non-EU migrants, workers would not gain entry unless there was a vacant post they were needed to fill.

So immigration is a net benefit to the UK. Foreign born nationals are propping up the beloved NHS and paying taxes to support Brits making use of the welfare state saftey net. They come here, pay taxes and support our beloved institutions.

More immigrants, please.

10th November: Killer

I’ve just watched the calico cat bring a stick in from the garden through the cat flap. She’s sitting on the rug chewing it as I type and clearly chanelling her “inner dog”.

 

This is the same cat that two days ago answered the question “who would be the terror of the local wildlife” when she brought in a sparrow for “show and tell”. Initially it was quite alive though clearly terrified. When it looked like I’d take it from her, there was a quick shake to break it’s neck and off we went on a madcap chase around the house, feathers flying everywhere. She’s only seven months old. What on earth will the kill rate be when she’s full grown?

“Off with her claws” calls a friend suggesting that declawing would be of benefit. But it’s a little bit like cutting off a child’s fingers for raiding the cookie jar. And yes, I do know that cookies aren’t alive but cats are not vegetarians and neither is the friend calling for de-clawing.

Apparently declawing is a real thing in the States where cats tend to be kept indooors much more often and people don’t like dealing with scratched furniture. In the UK most cats are outdoors cats unless they’re expensive and lkely to be stolen so declawing is much less common.

So I’ve though about it and the answer is clearly no to removing claws, probably no to using a collar with a bell but yes to suggesting our lovely neighbour might move her bird table just a bit further away from the hedge my cats love to sit in.

 15th November: Inequality

IMPACT OF GENDER INEQUALITIES
ON WOMEN AND GIRLS:
A GLOBAL SNAPSHOT

(source: Men, Masculinities, and Changing Power: A Discussion Paper on Engaging Men in Gender Equality From Beijing 1995 to 2015, by MenEngage)
€€
Worldwide, almost one third of all women who have been in a relationship have experienced some form of violence by an intimate partner. Women and girls account for three-quarters of all trafficking victims.
€€
Globally, women and girls continue tolack access to essential health services and information. In low and middle-income countries, complications from pregnancy and childbirth are a leading cause of death among girls aged 15 to 19.
€€
Girls and women represent two-thirds of the world’s illiterate population.  While more girls are attending primary school than ever before, gaps persist between girls’ and boys’ attendance in many regions.
€€
Globally, women devote 1 to 3 more hours per day to housework than men and dedicate 2 to 10 times the amount of time per day to care-work of children, elderly, and the sick compared to men.
€€
On average, women in paid work earn 10 to 30 percent less than men.  Women are also more likely to belong to informal economies, including home and domestic work.
€€
Throughout the world, women are paid less for the same work as men and are less likely to hold leadership positions in companies and businesses. In the United States, women are just 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs and hold only 16.9 percent of Fortune 500 board seats.
€€
Women comprise only 21.8 percent of national parliaments around the globe, despite virtually no legal restrictions on women running for public office.

16th November: Why men should give a f**k

Throughout the world, the power imbalance between men and women is clear to see, even (maybe especially clearly)  in the developed world. Positions of authority and political power are dominated by middle aged white men.

And this system damages men as well as women.

While men usually have more choices, more autonomy than the women in their lives, their decisions and behaviors are profoundly shaped by rigid social and cultural expectations related to masculinity.

Why should men give a f*ck?

1. Because it’s the right thing to do.

Young children are very concerned that the world should be a fair place. And though we grow up to face considerable pressure to compete against each other, to be tough and succesful, our basic humanity remains. The ideas of fairness, of equality and justice remain core human values.

In the face of overwhelming male privilege, the only way to reconcile these core values to our very unequal surroundings is to challenge the system that perpetuates that privilege.

 

2. Because it’s good for men, even cis-gendered heterosexual men (source: International Men and Gender Equality Survey, coordinated by Promundo, involving >20,000 men across 9 countries)

Increasingly it seems clear that gender equality is not a zero sum game, women’s gains do NOT come at the expense of men:

Men who support women’s equality are more likely to say they are satisfied by their lives. They are more likely to communicate openly with their partners, making conflict less likely. They are more likely to report greater sexual satisfaction in their lives.

Improving women’s access to and participation in the workplace as well as ensuring they are paid fairly and equitably with men in similar roles, €€ results in higher household incomes and less pressure on men to be the sole or primary breadwinners. ;
€€

Men who take on greater caregiving roles experience deeper connections with their children and partners and are more likely to report  better physical and mental health. Men’s increased participation in children’s lives also leads to more positive outcomes for their children;

Reducing male violence allows men and women to enjoy more trusting and respectful relationships with women, children and other men;

3. Because it’s good for all of the people who don’t fit into the neat (and probably fictional) binary system of male/female gender identity and that might turn out to include our sons/daughters/grandchildren/oursleves

We all know of  someone who doesn’t fit into the stereotype or someone laid low by the need to “prove” that they belong.

 

We all have both “male” and “female” characteristics. No one should be forced to conform to rigid role models out of fear or desperation, whether heterosexual or homosexual, whether cis gendered or trans gendered. We’re all basically just human beings making our way in the world.

Because gender equality benefits all humanity, it should be the aspiration of all humanity—men and women.

 18th November: Advice for my Daughters

Care less about what other people think, and focus more on living up to your own ideas about who you are and who you want to be.

Ask questions. Explore. Have lots of adventures. Be brave. Take as many risks as you can bear, and add maybe one more just to terrify yourself.

Don’t die. Everything else can be redeemed or rescued. It’s okay, even beneficial to make mistakes.

When things go wrong, allow yourself to feel and understand what has happened. Grieve, work through it rather than hiding away from it. Let it make you stronger, to shine brighter.

Value your friends. Build good friendships that you can value and rely upon through the years.

Be kind.  Appreciate people’s kindesses to you and reciprocate. Remember that the people you meet on the way up, may well be there to catch you on the way down. Be generous wherever and whenever it is possible, generous with your money, your time and resources but remember to include yourself. Be kind and generous with yourself as well.

Be honest with yourself and with others.

Talk to people, all sorts of people because people are interesting. Listen to people because everyone needs to be heard. People have stories to tell, stories to share that can change your world and paint it technicolour.

Enjoy what you have and value it appropriately. Let yourself build on what you have.

Find someone to share your life with, someone who sees you truly, respects you, likes you and loves you just as you are. Without respect, without liking, the love will not survive.

People cannot be fixed from the outside. They can only fix themselves. It is not your job to heal the world, but rather to keep yourself whole and joyous. Shine in the world.

Sex is great. Orgasms are the best bit. If you can’t manage it on your own, you will never really see the point of sex. Find a partner who knows the geography or is willing to be shown.

Love is something we do as well as feel. It is a two way street.

Live life first. Work life second.

Choose how you want to live your life and make work fit into that lifestyle. Do not try to fit your life into your work.

Only you can decide what success means for you and no one gets to judge your life choices but you. Decide what you need. Understand what you want. Learn. Grow. Change because you want to not because you’re told to change.

You are my light shining in the darkness, the miracle I was given to cherish. You are loved. You will always be loved. You will always be special. Nothing will ever make me feel less than proud of you.

19th November: Counting the Cost

Is it possible to balance the books with men and feminism or must female gains be at the expense of male losses?

Certainly the historic road towards a more equitable society has not been straight or smooth but rather a twisting-turning rollercoaster ride.

It’s complicated.

Most men when asked will say categorically that they are in favour of gender equality in the abstract. However, specific changes are often subject to great hostility when men believe that they will have to give something up  (for example, the use of quotas in the workplace). For many men, their motivation and capacity to change are deeply intertwined with their own socio-economic realities.

At an individual level, it can be difficult for men (as well as women) to transform beliefs and practices that have been learned and internalized from childhood.  Often we can’t recognise the prejudices we espouse because they are simply the way things are and have always been. For many men and women, gender is central to their own sense of identity—challenging men’s notions of masculinity may in some ways be akin to challenging their notions of self.

 

Men rarely identify benefits to them of a more equal role for women in society and the workplace. So maybe part of engaging men and boys in the discussion involves building and communicating  compelling arguments about the benefits to men of gender equality.

Some men clearly believe that, on the whole, existing gender dynamics serve them well and have no desire to change the status quo. They are willing to sacrifice the rights of the women in their lives to serve their own interests. This belief system is loathsome.

Equally, men who do not feel like they benefit from the patriarchal dividend may resent programs that they perceive as allocating benefits and entitlements only to women and girls. This is just sad.
Given that men collectively really do  benefit from the patriarchal dividend, it clearly follows that gender equality will necessarily involve  some men losing their unfair privileges.

At the household level, these privileges may include sole decision-making authority over the use of resources. He may no longer be able to decide how much is spent and on what. It may be that his wife also gets to share the financial decision making within the family.

But men clearly benefit when their wives are able to enter into the workplace and are paid a fair and equitable wage for doing so. The household income is increased, financial risk is reduced. With two wage earners, each individual may be allowed more flexible choices about the type of work, the hours spent working etc. Spreading the financial burden allows individuals to take more personal risks in order to be happy.

Male privilege at a personal level may include having girls and women perform all of the care giving and domestic work.

But challenging this privilege will also remove the stigma of men becoming more involved with their families. They are allowed to become caregivers themselves and this has been shown to have considerable benefit to both their own happiness and the well-being of their children. No one died thinking they should have spent more time at the office.

In the context of intimate relationships, male privilege may include a sense of sexual entitlement or not having to take equal responsibility for contraceptive use.

But equality brings with it a greater capacity for respect, improved communication and greater intimacy as a result. The IMAGES* report showed that men who demonstrated a greater commitment to equality also reported being happier with their sexual relationships. Good sex is all about sharing.

At broader levels, male privilege may mean only having to compete with half the population for certain jobs and positions of influence. Opening up the workplace clearly means increasing the competition for men but it also opens up some career paths to them.

It also means that the quality of people exercising power and authority over most of us will be better. I would like the leader of my country to be the best leader, not simply the best white, male leader available because most of the women and POC have been excluded.

Male privileges is  generally only one part of the patriarchal picture. Very often, the same rigid gender norms that may bestow on men certain advantages also create risk and vulnerabilities.

For example cultural and social expectations that uphold men as ‘tough’ and ‘in control’ may also lead men to engage in risk-taking behaviors or to stifle their feelings and emotions. This can have considerable negative implications for their psychological and physical well-being.

Men are significantly more likely than women to die prematurely from unintentional injury, homicide, and suicide. They are significantly less likely to visit the doctor, more likely to drink, to smoke and take other drugs. At every stage of life, across every socio-economic group and across all countries, men are much more likely to die than their female counterparts.

Allowing for more diversity in how we define gender, relaxing the stereotypes to allow men to express their emotions openly, to negotiate rather than fight their way through life, may well lead to longer as well as happier lives for men.

 20th November: Cat Facts

The world is full of things that I don’t know, many significant and important facts as well as trivial ones but my daughter’s googling has highlighted what a totally inadequate cat parent I am.

Cats sleep an average of 16 hours a day, leaving 8 hours for eating and playing. By the age of 9, a cat will only have been awake for 3 years. Clearly in the buddhist cycle of life, death and rebirth, cat is a higher state. From a Christian perspective, maybe this is cat heaven.

Cats are only half way domesticated compared to dogs. We have bred for sociability by choosing cats with larger centres in the brain that react to dopamine released through grooming and stroking. They get high on neck rubs.

There is a brief period of time when people can establish social contact with kittens, from 7 – 12 weeks and if missed, the cats will be feral all of their lives.

One litter of kittens can have a number of fathers.  A cat will release multiple eggs during her heat cycle (5-8 days) and will naturally have sex with as many toms as she wants. We’ve always been a bit dubious about the youngest, the silver tabby.

People have bred cats for any number of coat colours, originally from a dusky grey/brown wildcat fur with spots.

People are allowed to be racist about cats – all sorts of bad things are said about tortoiseshell cats.

A tortoiseshell cat with white is called a calico cat. And mine is the most beautiful, friendly, sweet cat you could imagine. She knows you’re just jealous of her gorgeousness.

Americans call ginger toms and queens orange tabbies. Who knew?

The ginger gene works by switching black markings to orange. There are more ginger toms than queens because the gene is recessive and needs to be expressed on both chromosones for girls. XgingerXginger is much less likely to be inherited than  XgingerY

A tabby cat will have an M marker above their nose whatever their colour.

Because they are not pack animals, they have no respect for authority. They don’t give a flying f*ck for human authority, feel no need to please us unless they get a direct reward. They can be trained, but only through the copious use of cat treats. My cats will sit on voice command but I know that they are just toying with the silly human.

Cats cannot be vegetarian (sort of knew this). Dogs can. They are simply not able to produce all their required amino acids from vegetable matter, so fish is the way forward.

Cats can drink sea water (they filter out the salt) but cannot taste sweetness.

Cats can be right or left pawed. Most queens are right pawed and most toms are left pawed.

Cat meows are essentially cat – human communications ie. “come here slave!”

7% of cats snore. They all seem to dream.

The domestic cat is the only cat that can hold it’s tail vertically while walking which if walking towards you is a sign of friendly greeting.

Cats are colour blind.  However they see over a much greater range, seeing further into the uv spectrum. This is useful because it improves their night vision but also because the urine of their prey animals like mice glows in the uv light.Thier own urine also lights up in the uv spectrum so it also allows them to recognise where other cats are marking territory. They can’t see much closer than 12 inches but see further away in much better detail than we can imagine (x6 better than human eyesight).

Cats hear better in a higher register which is why we all raise our voices automatically, like with babies, if we want them to hear us. They might not listen but at least we are heard.

20% cats do not have the catnip gene so it has no effect on them at all. The rest of them just bliss out.

Happy cats squeeze shut their eyes. Friendly encouraging cats will give you slow blinks to encourage you. Those people who don’t like or get nervous of cats, give out the wrong signals by blinking at the friendly cat approaching. Better to stare directly at them to encourage them away.

Americans (30% households have cats) keep a high number of cats indoors. They also declaw their cats which seems somewhat akin to cutting off the fingers of a child. In the UK respectable vets will not declaw a cat.

 

21st November: Teenage Armageddon

Just as you think that this parenting job is working out alright, it goes seriously pear shaped, each and every time.  Knowing that, having your young teenage daughter tell you to “f*ck off” with proper, self-righteous anger for the first time is still upsetting.  As part of the hour-long teenage armageddon melt-down last night, it felt par for the course.

 

Bedtime in our house is 9pm, early if you don’t take into account the 6 am wake-up call necessary for them to get into school when they want to ie. early enough to get their daily admin sorted and have a good gossip with their mates before rollcall. I hate mornings, love evenings. If either girl was waking up bright and breezy first thing in the morning I would be pushing for later bedtimes. They’re not. They have to be dragged out of bed.

At around 10pm, feeling a bit under the weather I headed upstairs only to find daughter 2 sitting on the floor of her bedroom trying to cram Geography for a test the following morning.

“Time for bed. You need to wrap that up and turn off your light, sweetheart”

“No I need to revise. I’ve a test tomorrow and I need to revise”

Now her Dad and I have disagreed over the boundaries (or lack thereof) and parenting style appropriate for daughter 2. He feels that I’m too harsh, too unsympathetic and unwilling to compromise. I think he’s a mug.

But in the interests of staying sane and avoiding permanent turmoil, I’ve allowed him to take the parenting lead with her on the basis that I couldn’t accomplish anything with him openly disagreeing with me in any disputes with her anyway. And let’s face it, she’s the baby and it’s different, shouldn’t be but it is.

Parenting is a two person occupation. It is also at times a compromise.

So I called him upstairs and handed him the problem.

 

Words were muttered. He disappeared downstairs to wrap up, say goodnight to the cats and set the alarm.

Back upstairs more muttering and the beginnings of a fight could be heard.

“No I need to revise. I’ve a test tomorrow and I need to revise”

“If you’d not spent the entire day in bed on Saturday and lied when I asked you if you had any homework, you wouldn’t be in such a panic”.

“I’ve learned my lesson. But now I need to revise. I’ve a test tomorrow and I need to revise”

“No. It’s late lovey. You need to go to bed. You won’t be any use if you’re tired tomorrow. You need to go to bed now”

“No I’ll fail. I need to revise. I’ve a test tomorrow and I need to revise. I’m going to revise and you can’t make me go to bed”

The voices got louder. The reciminations from both sides got more shrill. I got up out of bed.

I took the geography file from my baby and put it in my room.

“Time for bed. We are done here. You need to turn off your light, and go to sleep”

“F*ck off. You can’t make me. I want my notes back”

A stand-off with her dad and I blocking her exit from her room, at least one of us stark naked. 30 minutes later, eldest daughter awake and numerous expletives down the road passed by.

“Sod this. The notes are going to be locked in the car and we’re off to bed. If you want to ruin your night by staying awake to spite yourself, that’s your problem”

And that’s what I did. Her father tutting away in the background.

She woke this morning entirely unrepentant.

“I want my notes. Give them to me now”

“You need to shower and dress first”

“No. Give me my notes”

Recriminations went backwards and forwards to no avail. She washed. She dressed. She got her notes.

“Breakfast time”

“I’m not hungry”

“You will come and have breakfast or I will come and take those notes away again. Be aware that I am not at all inclined to give you a lift to school today – you can catch the bus. You have been mean and miserable to your father and me and I do not feel any need to do you any favours. I am also very likely to cancel your lesson with M tonight because clearly you can’t be trusted to behave civilly”

“Please mum. Please don’t cancel. I need her help with my homework. Please”

And so we moved on to breakfast. I compromised and dropped her with her father at the station, half way to school. I have not cancelled tonight’s session with M.

 

There is a huge power imbalance between parent and child.

My youngest daughter doesn’t appear to understand that although we can’t make her do anything, neither can she make us do anything for her. And the truth is that we do an awful lot more for her than she realises. It starts with money of course since everything she wants or needs must come from us and we always have the ability to deny her.

We can deny her anything and everything she wants or needs. It is a terrible power imbalance.

Her father feels the inequality too keenly. It makes him loathe to ever say “no”

Besides economic authority, we are asked to do so many small and large services for our children, many more than I was able to ask my mother to carry out when I was a teenager.

By her age I was responsible for getting myself up, awake and off to school. If I didn’t make breakfast then there was nothing for me to eat. Often there was nothing to eat, because no one had shopped for food.

I walked 20 minutes to the bus stop and rode the bus for another 20 minutes to get to school. This was normal for my peers.

I was responsible for washing myself, for washing my clothes and ironing them too. I never went to school dirty because I had seen the bullying treatment of those who didn’t know better. I didn’t have friends over because I could never know what reception they might get from my mother, whether the house would be clean or crawling.

I was self-reliant because there was no one else to rely upon.

If I had told my mother to “F*ck off” I would have been pushed out of the house into the night, half naked until I apologised and begged to come back inside. It didn’t happen twice.

But she was a dreadful woman and I aspire to be a better mother.

 

Makes me think though.

My daughter is rude. She is self-centred and obnoxious when her will is crossed. She puts herself first, always.

This must be dealt with. This is part of the parenting job.

Her father wants to “Play it by ear. Don’t up-the-anti. Don’t exacerbate or antagonise”.

To me this sounds too much like ignoring the problem.

I am not happy with his attitude. We have been slack and permissive. She does not understand the boundaries that all of us must live within. People who use and abuse other people through rudeness, do not end up with many friends.

I do not want my daughter to be a mean girl.

 

22nd November: Boundaries

Apologies.

First she needs to say sorry to me, to her father and to her sister. She needs to talk to each of us and understand why we think she needs to say sorry. There should be no caveats, no compromises, just a straight forward apology. For me, she needs to say sorry for keeping me awake when I wanted to be asleep, for being rude and selfish.

Sanctions

She needs to show me that she can be both polite and respectful to her family. If she can demonstrate both politeness and respect over the next week, then next week I will start to give her a ride to school again but up until then she can catch the bus*

Everything she asks me to do for her or buy for her will be considered but only if it suits me will I actually agree. Until she shows that she can treat me well, I will not feel a need to treat her with any special consideration or kindness. I’m not going to put myself out for someone who is mean to me.

 

Routine

During weekdays she will wake at 6:40 as always, wash and get dressed (clean clothes) and be ready for breakfast at 7:10am. She will come downstairs completely ready to walk out of the door to school after eating breakfast.

I will leave in the car for the station at 7:30. If she is late she will have to walk or catch another bus, with or without her dad.

When she gets home, she will grab a snack and work through her homework in the breakfast room, not tucked away in her bedroom. She must pack her bag ready for the next day before dinner. Dinner is at 7:30 after which the tv can be watched. Bedtime is 9pm.

On the weekend, we will all wake up at around 9am and have breakfast at 10am. We must be washed and dressed and ready to help make breakfast, lay the table etc at around 9:30-9:45am. After breakfast we will agree the shape of the weekend, homework, social engagements, church, volunteering, whatever, and work our way through them. If we have time, we can lie in on Sunday.

 

Parenting is a a two person job but her father’s reaction to the boundaries and sanctions was not entirely as expected.

His focus was very much on the routine rules and boundaries, about how much she seems to appreciate being given these rules to work with after the very laissez way of drifting along to date.

For months I have been told that she needs to find her own way, that I am being too regimented in my approach for such a creative child. Now suddenly all of that is overturned.

But the reality is that the routine isn’t really the main point for me at all but rather a simple methodology to avoid flashpoints around homework and sharing chores in the morning. I had hoped that a simple routine would lead to calmer, easier interactions with the rest of us. For me the key point is to change the interactions with people around her, to become more polite and more respectful of others.

Changing the routine will hopefully allow for a change in manners.

People do not like rudeness. Rude, impolite, selfish people do not have friends.

I want people to love my baby. I want her to have friends. Being able to control her temper, to interact with people respectfully is a necessary  life skill. If only more people had acquired similar skills as children, we’d all have an easier time in the workplace.

 

23rd November: Healthy Families

My partner’s mother is dying. At some level ofcourse, we’re all dying, but for her the endof days seems considerably more imminent than most.

A month or two ago she lost all strength in her legs, couldn’t walk or stand up. Her legs were swollen beyond belief. She was taken to the nearest large hospital where the tests began.

As a result of a botched hospital delivery of one of her 5 children, she has had an ileostomy for decades and has always had to be careful about her food intake. In the last couple of years, her kidneys have stopped processing creatine properly making her diet even more tricky to manage. At one stage she was asked to drink pints of salt water each day.

So life in hospital is difficult because the food is gruesome and not particularly healthy even if a person doesn’t have special dietary requirements. She needs to eat and drink very regularly to manage her condition and it seems surprisingly difficult for a large hospital to stick to an agreed timetable. Plus very few of the doctors she seems to meet (specialists aside) really understand how grim her situation will get if she fails to stay hydrated and fed on time.

Endless scans and blood tests later. They decided to feed her diuretics. Lots of diuretics.

Legs no longer swollen, no reason for the problem identified she was sent home.

A week later and she was re-hospitalised. Slightly diffierent tests and scans followed. A bleed on the brain was identified, followed in quick succession by a stroke and a second bleed.

My MIL can be best described as a passive-aggressive quaker. By now she was quite righteously cross and finally able to demand better care from the staff.

Physical therapy started.

One of the many specialists has told her that the lining to one of the valves in her heart is very worn, probably just as a result of being old. Another helpful soul has told her that she’ll either get better or die.

Whilst true for everyone, one wonders at how useful such a statement is for an eighty year old woman.

She reconciled herself to her demise, decided that she didn’t need to reinvent herself a god (quakers can be agnostic, who knew?) and began to get better.

So today her son has driven down to see her at the closer local hospital where care is less intensive but presumably equally haphazard. There is a strict rota organised between the five kids and today is his day.

And the truth is that in terms of elder care we’re lucky. He has two sisters, one of whom still loves her mother. We have two brothers, one of whom has a very competent senior nurse as a wife. All of them live closer than we do.

Elder care always seems to become the responsibility of daughters, and since mine are already long gone, our responsibilities are quite limited. We could help fund care if necessary but to a certain extent the NHS makes that redundant – as long as she has nothing, all care is free. She doesn’t even own the house as her b**d of a husband insisted on endowing the house on the kids when he left her.

And as the kids grow up and leave, it seems that all of our parents are falling sick. We think of ourselves as such great inidividuals but yet our life choices re: marriage and birth are so consistent. Like most Londoners, we are all from somewhere else so have long-distance elderly relatives to try and support just  as we face up to our children leaving home and venturing out into the brave new world.

And I’m struck by how the medical professionals stop trying to fix people as they get older and instead just patch them together, ready to send them out into the world.

When I get old and fall ill, let it be during the week (no one with a choice works weekends so most specialist are not available)  and let it be near to a good teaching hospital. Send me the strength to  be a tricky old woman, demanding the best care not settling for basic indifference.

And like my friend Margaret, offerred a  colonoscopy at the age of 94 to exam a suspect growth, send me the grit to say “no”

“Bugger off and let me die”

 

24th November: In the Nick of Time

If I had a son, I would not choose to have him circumcised. Being neitherJewish nor Muslim nor American, the decision is easy for me culturally, emotionally, ethically. I do not wish to diminish the pain felt by those men and boys but neither is it reasonable to compare it to the horrors of Female Genital Mutilation.

Apples and oranges are both fruit. Male circumcision is like peeling the fruit. It removes much of the nutrition in search of a uniform, identical appearance. But  FGM is like gouging the fruit away almost to the core of the apple, or squeezing the orange until the membranes rupture and only the pith and skin remain.

A recent report from UNICEF reported in the Economist documents the change in patterns of FGM. The good news is that the overall numbers have declined. The bad news is that it remains frighteningly commonplace.

Worldwide more than 125 million women and girls have been cut in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where FGM is concentrated. Of these, around 20% live in Egypt.

More than 90% women living in Somalia, Guinea, Djibouti, and Egypt have been cut. In terms of numbers, 27.2 million Egyptians, 23.8 million Ethiopians, 19.9 million Nigerians and 12.1 million Sudanese women have been cut.

Female Genital Mutilation does not usually mean  a symbolic nick. The most common forms of FGM, type I and II involve full or partial removal of the clitoris and/or prepuce with or without the excision of the labia.

Let’s compare this with removing maybe a third to all of a penis and cutting the scrotum to tighten up a man’s testicles and make them look “neat” .

Type III FGM is not uncomman and is even more horrific. After cutting the labia minora and/or majora they are brought together to create a type of seal, usually by stitching the cut flesh together. Urine and menstrual blood often collect behind the seal leading to infections. For sex and childbirth the stitches must be cut open and then re-stitched.

More than 20% of daughters have undergone the most horrendous form of FGM in Somalia, Eritrea, Niger, Djibouti and Senegal.

I can’t imagine a male comparison to this atrocity. & just reading about it makes me so very thankful that I don’t live in these countries and am not part of that culture.

Type IV FGM is rare and involves pricking, nicking, incising ,piercing, scraping, burning a girl’s genitals but not removing any tissue. Although highly controversial, type IV has been suggested as an alternative to more severe forms. Maybe this rarer form of FGM is comparable to male circumcision. Maybe – I can’t see the burning of penises catching on any time soon.

Across a majority of the countries surveyed, most daughters have had their genitals cut, with flesh removed (type I, II or III) usually by a traditional practitioner but increasingly by a medical practitioner, a doctor or nurse, especially in Egypt.

Mostly FGM occurs within the home. In Egypt at least 25% of girls underwent the procedure without anaesthetic of any kind and it is plausible to expect this proportion to be significantly higher when carried out by traditional practioners.

interstingly, many of the countries (24/29) surveyed have passed laws banning FGM but the practice continues regardless with the most frequently cited reason being “social acceptance”. Unless legislation is accompanied by measures to influence cultural and social traditions, it seems clear that little will change.

People will continue to cut their daughters if they believe a large number of their social group think that they should and will sanction them if they do not. This social group will include those people that matter most to the individual with repsect to FGM so will include, family and  members of their ethnic or religious grouping.

FGM is strongly associated with ethnicity, which may be a proxy for shared norms concerning marriagability, sexual restraint or control or even personhood. If links to marriageability can be weakened, the practice of FGM is seen to decline. In many West African and East African societies, FGM plays a part in coming-of age rituals. Without FGM, it may be that a woman will always be regarded as a child within her extended family and community.

However, people are less likely to cut their daughters if they understand the harm it causes their child, the problems it may cause with conception, difficulties in childbirth, the fact that there is NO religious mandate from any religion and if they understand that the legal sanctions placed upon FGM will be enforced. Mostlt though people need to believe that an increasing number of people are reconsidering or shunning the practice. Change requires momentum within the societal group.

In countries where FGM has been reduced, a tipping point can be seen to have occurred where a core community re-evaluates the practice, decides to abandon FGM and then sets out to convert more and more of their extended social/ethnic network.

Higher education and wealth are associated with lower incidences of FGM but in many ways this may simply be a proxy for the degree of exposure a family or community may have to new information about the harm of FGM, about communities that have already abandoned FGM.

A wealthy family is more likely to be well-educated, more likely to be urban than rural, more likely to be informed of alternatives through both education and the rising impact of social media.

In a country where 98% women are cut (eg Somalia) people will believe FGM is normal and inevitable in part because they have seen no alternative. Successful programmes seeking the abandonment of FGM focus on bringing the topic into the public sphere, giving visibility to communities that have already abandoned the practice and making an alternative choice known.

Not surprisingly, support for the continuation of FGM is highest in countries where it is most common. Though in most countires where FGM is practised, the majority of girls and women think it should end whether or not they have already been cut themselves.

There are significant vaiations in continued support for FGM across generations but not necessarily gender. A similar level of support for FGM is found among both men and women in specific regions. However, when comparing data by age, there are often striking difference across cohorts. In Egypt and Eritrea almost twice as many older men and women (45-49) think the practice should continue compared to adolescent girls and boys (15-19).

In 9 countries, the majority of men favour stopping the practice altogether and this includes Burkina Faso and Sudan where the practice is widespread. Interestingly, across all countries for which data is available, girls and women consistently over estimate the share of boys and men who want FGM to continue.

So perhaps men can play an important role in abandoning FGM if only couples could be brought to talk about the practice openly.  Surveys in various countries (Eritrea, Nigeria, Sudan, Yemen) suggest that a large proportion of wives do not know their husbands views on FGM having never discussed the topic, even in households where daughters have been cut. It is considered a “woman’s issue”

Attitudes are changing but very slowly. With every generation support for the practice falls. But there is a level of inertia, a reluctance or inability to challenge the social norms and barriers which mean even those who disagree with the practice can become reluctant participators until a societal tipping point is reached.

Understanding the serious and potentially fatal consequences of FGM is primary to the discussion. Engaging religious, political  and societal leaders in taking part in effecting change is important. Shining a light on the reality of the practice and bringing the discourse out into the open, establishing a dialogue across gender and generation, ethnic and religious groups,  to allow alternatives to be recognised is the way forward.

25th November: Not all Men

Not all men hate women, though sometimes it can feel that way. And before we bridle at that comment maybe they  should first ask why for so many women, it feels true.

 

It isn’t difficult to imagine a typical day.

Woke up this morning and found out my husband couldn’t drop my daughter at childcare because of an early morning meeting at work, so, of course, I had to re-arrange my morning so that I could take her instead. More and more days, he’s finding it tricky to stick to his side of the arrangement.

On the way to the bus stop, got cat-called by two men driving past in a van. “Cheer up beautiful! It might never happen” But when I didn’t reply, it got nastier. “Cunt! Who do you think you are?”

On the Tube, got a dirty look from the man spreading his legs across two seats when I asked him to let me sit down. Stood up at the next stop to let a heavily pregnant woman sit down – no one else looked up.

Arrived late at work. Got asked by Bob if I was working part-time now as we headed into the market update meeting.

Thanked John for repeating my point about the Paris sales only to be asked if I was feeling “hormonal”. Why ?

Worked through lunch and finally got the analysis finished.

 

John, Bob and Mack walk past enjoying a bit of banter after lunch when my boss comes out wanting another cut of the data.

“Don’t worry, I’ve got it covered” says Mack, “She has to get home early for the kids”

Knowing that if I didn’t do the extra cut, I’d get no credit for the 90% already completed, I had to insist on taking the extra work.

Started calling around the parents at daycare to see if my daughter could go home with one of them for an hour or so. No point trying the husband. I know that he’s too busy.

 

John leaves early to head home and then out to the big match. No comment from the office.

Finally,  I leave the finished report on my boss’ desk and head over to collect my girl. Their house is in a dodgy bit of town with poor street lighting. I think about catching a cab, but remember the conversation back home last time I spent money on a taxi.

I grit my teeth and walk past the betting shop and pub. There are some kids hanging about on the corner. I get some stares but nothing is said.

Ella’s dad offers to give me a lift to the bus stop and I accept. He seems nice enough but it gets a bit odd in the car. His hand slips just a little when he insists on checking the “dodgy” seatbelt. Probably my imagination but don’t think I’ll call them again if I’m running late.

Home. Made supper and poured a glass of wine. Tired.

And living in the developed world, it is tempting to say that women have it easy. We certainly have more choices that women in the developing world. We certainly have many fewer choices than the men we live with and around.

There is a low level of irritation and intimidation that women have to overcome just to go about their daily lives.

Most men don’t cat-call.

Most men don’t deliberately undermine their female colleagues at work.

Most men don’t threaten women on the streets.

Most men don’t make passes at women with no encouragement.

Most men don’t assume their wives will pick up the slack when their career comes first.

Do they?

Even if the majority of men don’t do any of these things, any of the time, enough of them do so some of the time for women to need to adjust their lives.

I once read an analagy to a bowl of brightly coloured sweets offered to a man at the table. There are about a hundred sweets in the bowl. Five of them are poisonous, only five. Of those five most will just make you seriously ill, maybe one or two might kill you if you’re unlucky.

Not all of the sweets will kill you, only a very small minority. You’d have to be very unlucky.

Who takes the chance?

And all of the decent men in the world benefit from the way women are forced to adjust their lives and expectations by the small hateful minority of men.

All men benefit from women removing themselves from the competition, from women being too worn down by the daily grind of a life led fighting the odds.

And given this privilege men are endowed with, for no good reason, surely it behoves them to behave better, to think a bit more about re-arranging their partner’s lives last minute, to not stand by when a woman is cat-called or leered at in the street or on the bus, to be positive about the contribution their female colleagues make to their work projects. It behoves all of those men to work a little harder at being fair, being kind and generous, helpful even.

There are exceptional women and exceptional circumstances. We live in a world where women have more and more choices, more freedom to accept more and more responsibilities, though seemingly less and less supoort for the choices they make with fragmented family networks struggling to hold it all together.

Wouldn’t it be great if women were able to be just as average as men, and still as averagely succesful, as averagely well-paid.

26th November: The End of the War

Today is the last day of agreed sanctions with the youngest daughter. In global terms, she hasn’t missed out on much, just a ride to school in the morning and a couple of days delay being supplied with the endless “stuff” a girl seems to need to keep her day going.

The routine has helped avoid flashpoints in the morning stress as well as make space in the day for just general conversation. Turns out that she can be great fun when she’s not busy scowling or being cross with one of us.

She’s lovely.

And part of me wonders what on earth is going to happen next, whether things stay on the even keel or spiral back downwards into conflict. Parenting is the best and the worst job in the world.

Critical Success Factors: Alive at 18, basic good health (no addictions, etc) and hopefully still talking to us

26th November: Voting Rights

I vote oddly, against my interests and my socio-economic class. Yet I regard myself as entirely sensible. I vote to increase taxes, remove the charitable status of private schools, reform the upper house which further reduces the influence of the church to which I belong.What are my priorities and what choices are available to me?

First and foremost I am concerned for the welfare of my daughters. It makes me look forward rather than backwards.

My partner is about to retire (or be made redundant – old man in a young man’s job) so we’re about to be moving from earned income to pensions and savings.

So what is most important to me at the moment –  isn’t it always about the economy. I want the country to feel as if it’s coming out of recession rather than just ticking over on the right side of recession. My girls are going to go to university and I’d like there to be jobs available for them when they come out of education.

We want there to a stable economic system to make safe and secure investments that deliver a reasonable return for our retirement.

Who do I trust (politically) to look after the economy ?

And to be honest, neither of the big two political parties is especially convincing when it comes to managing the money. I buy the idea that the recession we’re coming out of has been a world-wide phenomena. Regulation of the banks was clearly too slight but whilst the disaster happened under the Labour watch, the Tories were calling for an even lighter touch on banking so neither party has any historic grace on this topic.

Under the Tories we appear to be finally coming out of recession but it’s been hellishly long. A reluctance to allow foreclosures on homes  bought beyond means has resulted in unreasonably low interest rates for an extraordinary time. It’s not clear to me that society suffering slightly less for so much longer has been a good decision.

The Conservative Party was too badly scarred by the TV headlines and pictures of people kicked out of their houses in the last recesssion. In the States, repossessions have happened much more quickly and though obviously disastrous for the individuals, it means the bank’s bad debt problems have essentially been dealt with.

In the UK the bank’s problems are still dragging out. To avoid raising mortgage rates and allow banks to build up capital, interest rates on deposits have been kept lower than inflation. It has been impossible to achieve a real interest rate of return (after inflation) for years now. Anyone with savings has been paying through the nose to avoid those foreclosures.

On  personal level, we are financially secure, even after retirement, riding the tail end of baby boomer policies, notably the vast expansion of the middle class that allowed my partner and I to escape via free, higher education into middle class professions, the ever- rising house prices in the UK over the last 30 years, the defined benefits pension schemes now-long abolished etc.

None of these will be available to my children’s generation. If anything, a contraction of the middle-classes seems likely.

I don’t believe that either poltical party has a clear vision of where they want the country to be economically in five years time. They seem to lurch from disaster to disaster, just trying to plug the gaps. I’m left wondering just how much power  and authority a local government can have over a global marketplace. Yet another reason to stay firmly within the EU.

Since neither party makes a convincing case for their financial competency or otherwise, then I can’t use this to make a decision even though it’s the most important factor for me.

The UK educational system is going to be a big part of our life for the next five to ten years, so maybe that should be a factor.

I’m going to have to pay for the university fees and support them financially for at least three years worth of an undergraduate degree. Given the premium they should receive, assuming a good university and a good degree, the cost in  he UK (£9,000) compared to the States (£30,000) is amazing good value. But it’s an easy thing to support when you have the money already set-aside.

My problem with the current system of higher education is it’s opacity, the basic lack of transparency and value to people entering into it for the first time. There is a vast difference in the value of a degree from Oxbridge or the Russell Group of Universities than the remainder. The fees cost the same £9,000.

A child with relatively poor A Level grades might be best advised to choose a less popular course from a better university or a more technical course genuinely useful for getting a job.

Having said that, no one should think about taking a law degree if they can fund the conversion course (1 extra year) and please stay away from business administration or accountancy. You may think I’m an old fogey, but old fogey’s like me are the people hiring into large law and accountancy firms.

Choose a degree subject that you love. Achieve the best possible grade. Wake up towards the end of your degree and try to find a profession that will fit into the life you want to live.

But no UK political party has a clear intellectual view of what they want to achive with education so they tinker about, essentially trying to replicate the best bits of their own time at school or college. The idea that 50% population should be educated to university standards sits uneasily with the UK tradition of elitism whilst leaving a large gap in the technical skills required.

I want my children to find jobs when they come out of university.

The UK’s leading revenue generators are; Financial Services (lots of jobs for accountants and lawyers, maths graduates galore, though mainly jobs for the boys still) the aerospace industry and pharmaceutical industry are also big in the UK so lots of jobs for engineers, chemists etc The automotive industry is a major employer and exporter, though again mainly jobs for the boys.

My children are girls. Worse still, one of them looks likely to take an English Lit degree. A job in law or marketing perhaps?

I would like the political system in this country to pay more than lip-service to equality on the workplace.

Since his mother is ill and probably going to require considerable support from the NHS and/or State over the next few years. She will need a high quality local hospital and/or care home to support her as she fades. So maybe my priority should be the maintenance of the NHS.

But the NHS is the third largest employer in the world (after the Chinese Army and the Indian Rail Network) so maintaining it in the face of an aging population is likely to have more to do with redesigning the system than it is to do with spedning more money.

The NHS is a vast money pit.

No government can ever spend enough money. It can choose to make the system more effective, more fit for purpose though that involves some painful choices and hospital closures. The Labour Party has made some moves towards rethinking and redesigning the NHS theoretically to make it more fit for purpose. I see nothing but platitudes from the Tories.

Chronic care wil cost more and more as the population grows ever older. Too often the NHS is expected to pick up the pieces of anti-social behaviour (alcohol fuelled accidents in A&Eetc) and because it’s free at point of delivery, it is often not valued sufficiently by people using it. I would charge for missed appointments with specialists as a minimum and probably charge a minimum fine or levy for alcohol and drug related patch-ups. I can’t imagine this idea flying with the Socialist Left.

Law and Order comes a dim and distant fourth (?) priority politically and then approaching it largely from a liberal perspctive. I would like there to be more accountability for the police force, less stop-and-search of young black boys, a push to make the people working in the police force more representative of the population at large. I would like fewer cctv cameras watching ordinary people go about their lives, less surveillance on-line, roll back some of the terrorist laws that seem to achieve so little, allow telephone tapes to be heard in court but no trials to be heard behind closed doors.

I would enforce the Levinson Enquiry recommendations upon the media.

I would support any political party with the courage to say immigration is a greater good for this country and that we have benefitted and continue to benefit considerably from membership of the EU so could Farage/UKIP please shut up now. Please!

I want a stronger safety net for the socially disadvantaged. I want better educational opportunities for people who can’t afford a private school or the tutors necessary to get into a competitive grammar school. I want both of these things and am willing to pay for them with increased personal taxes.

I want a serious review of the NHS and an idea about where it needs to go over the next 20 years or so. I want an accountable police force and media. I want an end to the hysteria around immigration and this nonsense of a referendum about EU membership.

These are my priorities. What are my choices?

In my constituency we have a conservative MP with a reasonable majority at the last election. The next popular political candidate was Labour. The Liberals came a dim and distant third, enough to reduce the Labour vote last time around.

At the next election, the Liberals will be punished by the electorate probably unfairly. The stereotype liberal voter has been soemwhat shocked and disheartened by the political reality of compromise in a coalition government. Hopefully previous Labour supporters will return to the party. The tiny UKIP vote at the election may rise, hopefully cutting away primarily at the Conservative vote.

So I will almost certainly be voting Labour at the next election. After boundary changes in 2010, this is probably a natural Conservative seat, but voting Labour is a better fit for what I want from a future, more equitable society for my children even if it costs me more money in terms of increased personal taxation.

28th November: Fragment

Though the world’s Gadarene ways astound,

I looked at you and found,

A reason for mankind and an apology.

I woke up with this fragment running around and around in my head and it brought back that feeling of astonishment that we expereince, that feeling of suddenly it all making sense.

I remember looking into my daughter’s eyes and thinking “yes, this is going to be all right” not on the first day or even in the first week but just out of the blue one day.

Panic over.

I can’t remember the poem title or author, but just this fragment has made my morning brighter

December

2 December: Nothing New Under the Sun

Another day. another sex scandal. Seven Somali men were jailed for grooming and raping a number of vulnerable, underage girls in Bristol this week. One of the children was just 13 years old.

This comes after a damming report in August this year which described 16 years of child sex exploitation in Rotherham where upto 1400 children are said to have been abused. The report was commissioned by Rotherham council following the conviction in 2010 of five asian men who were given lengthy jail terms after being found guilty of grooming teenage girls for sex. It lays the blame squarely upon the shoulders of the local police and the local council

So talking to my neighbour, perhaps it’s not unreasoanble for her to add a fear of paedophilia into the toxic anti-immigration debate.

“They come over here and abuse our kids. They don’t know how to behave. It’s in their culture”

But we need to unpick the scare-mongering from the facts.

Most child sex offenders are not from ethnic minorities in this country. Most are middle-aged white men. rather sadly, these people have often put themselves into places which bring them into close contact with vulnerable children who are easier to abuse. They are respectable people carrying out respectable jobs. They are teachers, doctors, social workers, priests etc

Jimmy Saville is the obvious white, middle aged child abusing man.

But there is also the recently convicted John Allen sentanced to life imprisonment yesterday, accused of 40 counts of abuse against 19 boys and 1 girl during the 19602-70s at the childrem’s residential homes he ran near Wrexham

Abuse of children in care homes in Wales has been an on-going scandal for a number of years. Most recently a police investigation named Palliol has set out a total of 140 allegations of abuse made by girls and boys across 18 children’s homes against 84 individuals

These investigations are of historic crimes. Child abuse is clearly not a new crime but neither is it a crime that we have come to terms with.

Reports of gangs grooming disadvantaged vulnerable children for sex abuse are horrific but tthey say more about the lack of regard society pays to poor disadvantaged kids than they do about the prevalance of child sexual abuse.

All charities relating to children are clear that most child abuse is carried out within families by people known to the child. This has always been true and continues to be true.

Child sexual abuse is part of our British culture too.

 3 December: Saving the World

I love  dodsonandross.com website and its motto: saving the world, one orgasm at a time.

Some of the conversation threads are interesting, some terribly sad or upsetting and some are just odd. One of the recurring themes is the perceived benefit versus harm of pornography.

Porn is one of the few topics that I don’t have strong views about. It isn’t something that I’ve ever used or invested in, mainly because it’s never seemed especially sexy. The target audience seems to be clearly defined as white middle aged men, not me.

There does seem to be a lot of anxiety around porn, with letters typically written in to ask whether viewing porn regularly will make it difficult for the men writing in to enjoy sex with a partner. Men worry about about erectile dysfunction (ED) which is  apparently  a big advertiser in the States  and sometimes they worry that even if they get it up, they won’t last. I’m guessing that blue pills advertising will reach the UK shortly as it clearly has an impact

Aside from the weirdness of having so much advertising related to male sexual dysfunction on television screens, lets assume there is a real issue rather than a manufactured one.

Many of the people writing in as heavy porn users do seem to find it harder to relate to real-life sex where the interaction isn’t scripted, doesn’t always go to plan or even work out at all. All of those messy emotions get confusing and real women’s bodies just don’t look “right” with all those wibbly bits and hair.

Frequently letters are written in by women saying they’re worried by their partner’s porn consumption, that they’ve been asked to play out porn fantasies for real and don’t want to or that they feel threatened by the women their partners are fantasizing about when they’re having sex with them. Very occasionally, women write in recommending this piece or that and bemoaning the lack of “good” porn. Apparently the market in Japan is developing somewhat to satisfy the female audience. Where there’s money the business should follow.

There was an interesting comment from one of the regular website community: sex like food requires a balanced diet to be healthy.

Porn seems to be the fast food of the sex world. It requires minimum effort on the part of the consumer, providing  a quick and easy satisfaction but it isn’t something that you’d want to live on forever. It wouldn’t be healthy to try.

Every so often there is a letter extolling the benefits or harm done to society as a whole by the over-abundance or accessibility of porn in society.

I wouldn’t try to make any claim that porn directly harms society. There isn’t any clear causal link between porn and sex crimes around the world, or even attitudes to women and sex itself. But it does seem clear that the prevalence of porn, in the absence of good Sex and Relationship Education (SRE)  creates problems for people now setting out on their sexual journey – young teens and adults.

If all a young boy has seen relating to sex is porn, than clearly his expectations are going to be influenced by the stories porn tells. How can this not be true? Stories brought home from my girls’ friends include a boy almost fainting when he saw an unshaven vulva. “I’m not putting my little man in that!” and a 15 year old boy suggesting they have anal sex on the first date. There seems to be a real confusion about “consent” and a total lack of understanding how women orgasm (clue: it’s all about the clitoris, listen to Betty Dodson and believe!)

The prevalence of the technology means hard core porn is available everywhere young boys take their phones. The technology means that not only do boys feel it is reasonable to ask their young partners for things considered quite extreme when I was a kid, but they’re able to take photographs. Sexual “show and tell” is never a good idea.

Children take intimate pictures of other children. And when they fall out, as they always do, these are children without the self-restraint or self-awareness not to lash out and distribute those pictures as “revenge”

The genie is out of the bottle and there is no putting back the technology. It can only be balanced by adequate education and explanation of some of the pitfalls.

Scary times for the mothers of girls.

 

4 December: Humour

My daughter loves a cartoon in the local newspaper, her father too. They pick up the free newspaper on the Tube every morning just to see what the character is up to. And then they have to tell me about it when they get home.

First one tells the story, then the second repeats and corrects, like a child’s spelling test: Look Cover Spell, Repeat

Endless: Look, Cover, Spell Repeat. Every day, Monday through Friday.

And for the life of me, I can’t see why.

 

4th December: Vegetarian Alert

Warning: I’m a vegetarian, prepare to be annoyed.

I first turned when I was around 12 years old but it was a brief foray. My mother was one of those women brought up in the War who never quite understood vegetables. Or timing. Everything was put on to cook at the same time: meat, potatoes, carrots, peas…

The plate was never pretty.

So at 13 I gave up a life of pureed vegetables and returned to the omnivore fold until finally leaving home at 18 and not looking back.

At university I wasn’t a vegetarian exactly. Having given up to avoid factory farming, I would quite happily have tucked into bunny rabbit, bambi or wild salmon. Turns out that there wasn’t much of that about in inner cities in the 80s. So I found myself vegetarian by default.

And having given up meat, the questions turns around somewhat to become: “why would I ever start eating meat?”

I am a lacto-ovo vegetarian, one who eats eggs and dairy products. Yes, my children (and anyone else I cook meals for) is also vegetarian because life is just too short to cater for multiple meals at one sitting. No, I will not disown them if they decide not to continue when they leave home (so many bigger issues to worry about).

Yes, I wear leather shoes. No it isn’t consistent but to be fair the only “consistent” thing in life is death – everyone has to draw a line somewhere on every issue or accept that they have fundamentalist tendancies.

When the kids were born we started to eat more meat substitutes because children need more protein than adults. Their father likes it. I don’t. It will make for a diversity of meal choices when they leave home and he retires and starts to cook more.

I also don’t like tofu, at least tofu cooked outside of context. A bit of deepfried chilli shockwave tofu from the local Chinese is grand. Inari sushi is our favourite from the Japanese deli. But please don’t ask me to cook it myself.

Lentils are not popular in our house either and the girl’s beans intake is restricted to the type covered in sugary tomato sauce.

In other words, we’re pretty normal.

We just don’t eat stuff with a face.

I’m ok with everyone else eating whatever they want. I have no qualms sitting next to BF1 at a restaurant eating the most bloody steak imaginable, or indeed a plate of barely cooked entrails or offal. I’m not squeamish, judgemental or preachy. You business is not my business. Just don’t help yourself to the veggie option because it’s come first and leave us with nothing when the chicken arrives and you can have seconds.

My cats are obviously not vegetarian, being unable to metabolise all of the required amino acids from vegetable protein (unlike people and dogs). But aside from the wildlife killer calico cat has brought in (a sparrow and most recently a wren, rescued alive and released into the bushes) we don’t seem to have a problem.

Entertaining is easy enough. If we need a centrepiece, then there will be a pie or pastry of some sort. Christmas involves a porcini pie glazed with cranberris and chestnuts with a red wine gravy. All of the trimmings we like are vegetarian anyway.

But mostly when we have people over we go for a selection of mezze, maybe some anti-pasti followed by a pasta or risotto dish. If i’m feeling adventurous, we might try a selection of Indian dishes with daal.

BTW: always ask for the asian vegetarian option on flights because nothing says sad more than manky reheated pasta in cheese sauce which seems to be the fallback vegetarian option if you don’t, and the curries are quite good. Interesting for breakfast though.

We have travelled extensively and had no problems with catering  outside of France where restaurant staff can sometimes get a bit combative “Mais, pourquois?” We’ve also never had food poisoning. Pakchoy in China got a bit monotonous, as did asparagus in Bhutan. The kids got bored of pizza (who thought that was possible?) in Rome.

In fact the only problem that I have with being vegetarian is the recipes in the newspapers at Christmas time. Why do they have to look and sound so dull, so healthy? Why does it have to be called a “Goodwill” Pie instead of a Christmas Pie? Why does it have to be wholemeal flour in the pastry, carrob instead of chocolate. extra lentils on the side just in case we weren’t flatulent enough?

Neither Ottolenghi nor Nige Slater are vegetarian, yet I have found more useful receipes, food that I actually wanted to cook,  with both of these writers than anyvegetarian author.

Living in a global city, where food from around the world is available on my doorstep, where I can see how it should be cooked and know what it should taste like, is a wonderful privilege.

Because good food translates.

7 December: Palestine

A friend sent me this via email and I’m still trying to work out my reaction. Despite feeling that it is essentially true, I am left feeling worse not better.

When a villain behaves badly, we moan and accept it as their “nature” but when one of the good guys commits a crime, we are outraged.

Is it so wrong to hold the guys in white hats to a higher standard?

Question of Palestine Debate: November 24, 2014

Delivered to UN General Assembly at around 4:00 PM today (Nov 24/14)
by Ambassador Ron Prosor

Mr. President,

I stand before the world as a proud representative of the State of
Israel and the Jewish people. I stand tall before you knowing that
truth and morality are on my side.  And yet, I stand here knowing thattoday in this Assembly, truth will be turned on its head and moralitycast aside.

The fact of the matter is that when members of the international
community speak about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, a fog descends to cloud all logic and moral clarity.  The result isn’t realpolitik, its surrealpolitik.

The world’s unrelenting focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is
an injustice to tens of millions of victims of tyranny and terrorism
in the Middle East. As we speak, Yazidis, Bahai, Kurds, Christians and
Muslims are being executed and expelled by radical extremists at a
rate of 1,000 people per month.

How many resolutions did you pass last week to address this crisis?
And how many special sessions did you call for? The answer is zero.
What does this say about international concern for human life?  Not
much, but it speaks volumes about the hypocrisy of the international
community.

I stand before you to speak the truth.  Of the 300 million Arabs in
the Middle East and North Africa, less than half a percent are truly
free – and they are all citizens of Israel.

Israeli Arabs are some of the most educated Arabs in the world. They are our leading physicians and surgeons, they are elected to our parliament, and they serve as judges on our Supreme Court.  Millions of men and women in the Middle East would welcome these opportunities and freedoms.

Nonetheless, nation after nation, will stand at this podium today and
criticize Israel – the small island of democracy in a region plagued
by tyranny and oppression.

Mr. President,

Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian
state.  It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state.

Sixty seven years ago this week, on November 29, 1947, the United
Nations voted to partition the land into a Jewish state and an Arab
state. Simple. The Jews said yes.  The Arabs said no. But they didn’t
just say no.  Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and Lebanon
launched a war of annihilation against our newborn state.

This is the historical truth that the Arabs are trying to distort. The
Arabs’ historic mistake continues to be felt – in lives lost in war,
lives lost to terrorism, and lives scarred by the Arab’s narrow
political interests.
According to the United Nations, about 700,000 Palestinians were
displaced in the war initiated by the Arabs themselves.  At the same
time, some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries.

Why is it, that 67 years later, the displacement of the Jews has been
completely forgotten by this institution while the displacement of the Palestinians is the subject of an annual debate?

The difference is that Israel did its utmost to integrate the Jewish
refugees into society. The Arabs did just the opposite.

The worst oppression of the Palestinian people takes place in Arab
nations.  In most of the Arab world, Palestinians are denied
citizenship and are aggressively discriminated against.  They are
barred from owning land and prevented from entering certain
professions.

And yet none – not one – of these crimes are mentioned in the
resolutions before you.

If you were truly concerned about the plight of the Palestinian people there would be one, just one, resolution to address the thousands of Palestinians killed in Syria.  And if you were so truly concerned about the Palestinians there would be at least one resolution to denounce the treatment of Palestinians in Lebanese refugee camps.

But there isn’t.  The reason is that today’s debate is not about
speaking for peace or speaking for the Palestinian people – it is
about speaking against Israel.  It is nothing but a hate and bashing
festival against Israel.

Mr. President,

The European nations claim to stand for Liberté, Égalité, Fraternité –
freedom, equality, and brotherhood – but nothing could be farther from the truth.

I often hear European leaders proclaim that Israel has the right to
exist in secure borders.   That’s very nice.  But I have to say – it
makes about as much sense as me standing here and proclaiming Sweden’s right to exist in secure borders.

When it comes to matters of security, Israel learned the hard way that we cannot rely on others – certainly not Europe.

 

In 1973, on Yom Kippur – the holiest day on the Jewish calendar – the surrounding Arab nations launched an attack against Israel. In the hours before the war began, Golda Meir, our Prime Minister then, made the difficult decision not to launch a preemptive strike.  The Israeli Government understood that if we launched a preemptive strike, we would lose the support of the international community.

As the Arab armies advanced on every front, the situation in Israel
grew dire. Our casualty count was growing and we were running
dangerously low on weapons and ammunition.  In this, our hour of need, President Nixon and Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, agreed to send Galaxy planes loaded with tanks and ammunition to resupply our troops.
The only problem was that the Galaxy planes needed to refuel on route to Israel.

The Arab States were closing in and our very existence was threatened
– and yet, Europe was not even willing to let the planes refuel.  The
U.S. stepped in once again and negotiated that the planes be allowed
to refuel in the Azores.

The government and people of Israel will never forget that when our
very existence was at stake, only one country came to our aid – the
United States of America.

Israel is tired of hollow promises from European leaders.  The Jewish
people have a long memory.  We will never ever forget that you failed us in the 1940s.  You failed us in 1973.  And you are failing us again today.

Every European parliament that voted to prematurely and unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state is giving the Palestinians exactly what they want – statehood without peace.  By handing them a state on a silver platter, you are rewarding unilateral actions and taking away any incentive for the Palestinians to negotiate or compromise or renounce violence.  You are sending the message that the Palestinian Authority can sit in a government with terrorists and incite violence against Israel without paying any price.
The first E.U. member to officially recognize a Palestinian state was
Sweden. One has to wonder why the Swedish Government was so anxious to take this step.  When it comes to other conflicts in our region, the Swedish Government calls for direct negotiations between the parties –but for the Palestinians, surprise, surprise, they roll out the red carpet.

State Secretary Söder may think she is here to celebrate her
government’s so-called historic recognition, when in reality it’s
nothing more than an historic mistake.

The Swedish Government may host the Nobel Prize ceremony, but there is nothing noble about their cynical political campaign to appease the Arabs in order to get a seat on the Security Council.  Nations on the Security Council should have sense, sensitivity, and sensibility. Well, the Swedish Government has shown no sense, no sensitivity and no sensibility.  Just nonsense.

Israel learned the hard way that listening to the international
community can bring about devastating consequences.  In 2005, we
unilaterally dismantled every settlement and removed every citizen
from the Gaza Strip. Did this bring us any closer to peace?  Not at
all. It paved the way for Iran to send its terrorist proxies to
establish a terror stronghold on our doorstep.

I can assure you that we won’t make the same mistake again.  When itcomes to our security, we cannot and will not rely on others – Israel must be able to defend itself by itself.

Mr. President,

The State of Israel is the land of our forefathers – Abraham, Isaac,
and Jacob.  It is the land where Moses led the Jewish people, where
David built his palace, where Solomon built the Jewish Temple, and
where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace.

For thousands of years, Jews have lived continuously in the land of
Israel.  We endured through the rise and fall of the Assyrian,
Babylonian, Greek and Roman Empires.  And we endured through thousands of years of persecution, expulsions and crusades.  The bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land is unbreakable.
Nothing can change one simple truth – Israel is our home and Jerusalem is our eternal capital.

At the same time, we recognize that Jerusalem has special meaning for other faiths.  Under Israeli sovereignty, all people – and I will
repeat that, all people – regardless of religion and nationality can
visit the city’s holy sites.  And we intend to keep it this way.  The
only ones trying to change the status quo on the Temple Mount are
Palestinian leaders.

President Abbas is telling his people that Jews are contaminating the Temple Mount.  He has called for days of rage and urged Palestinians to prevent Jews from visiting the Temple Mount using (quote) “all means” necessary.  These words are as irresponsible as they are unacceptable.

You don’t have to be Catholic to visit the Vatican, you don’t have to
be Jewish to visit the Western Wall, but some Palestinians would like to see the day when only Muslims can visit the Temple Mount.

You, the international community, are lending a hand to extremists and fanatics. You, who preach tolerance and religious freedom, should be ashamed.  Israel will never let this happen.  We will make sure that the holy places remain open to all people of all faiths for all time.

Mr. President,

No one wants peace more than Israel.  No one needs to explain the
importance of peace to parents who have sent their child to defend our homeland.  No one knows the stakes of success or failure better than we Israelis do. The people of Israel have shed too many tears and buried too many sons and daughters.

We are ready for peace, but we are not naïve. Israel’s security is
paramount. Only a strong and secure Israel can achieve a comprehensive peace.
The past month should make it clear to anyone that Israel has
immediate and pressing security needs. In recent weeks, Palestinian
terrorists have shot and stabbed our citizens and twice driven their
cars into crowds of pedestrians.  Just a few days ago, terrorists
armed with axes and a gun savagely attacked Jewish worshipers during morning prayers.  We have reached the point when Israelis can’t even find sanctuary from terrorism in the sanctuary of a synagogue.

These attacks didn’t emerge out of a vacuum.  They are the results of
years of indoctrination and incitement.  A Jewish proverb teaches:
“The instruments of both death and life are in the power of the
tongue.”

As a Jew and as an Israeli, I know with utter certainly that when our
enemies say they want to attack us, they mean it.

Hamas’s genocidal charter calls for the destruction of Israel and the
murder of Jews worldwide.  For years, Hamas and other terrorist groups have sent suicide bombers into our cities, launched rockets into our towns, and sent terrorists to kidnap and murder our citizens.

And what about the Palestinian Authority?  It is leading a systemic
campaign of incitement.  In schools, children are being taught that
‘Palestine’ will stretch from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean
Sea.  In mosques, religious leaders are spreading vicious libels
accusing Jews of destroying Muslim holy sites.  In sports stadiums,
teams are named after terrorists.  And in newspapers, cartoons urge
Palestinians to commit terror attacks against Israelis.

Children in most of the world grow up watching cartoons of Mickey
Mouse singing and dancing.  Palestinian children also grow up watching Mickey Mouse, but on Palestinians national television, a twisted figure dressed as Mickey Mouse dances in an explosive belt and chants “Death to America and death to the Jews.”

I challenge you to stand up here today and do something constructive for a change.  Publically denounce the violence, denounce the incitement, and denounce the culture of hate.

Most people believe that at its core, the conflict is a battle between
Jews and Arabs or Israelis and Palestinians.  They are wrong.  The
battle that we are witnessing is a battle between those who sanctify
life and those who celebrate death.

Following the savage attack in a Jerusalem synagogue, celebrations
erupted in Palestinian towns and villages.  People were dancing in the street and distributing candy.  Young men posed with axes,
loudspeakers at mosques called out congratulations, and the terrorists were hailed as “martyrs” and “heroes.”

This isn’t the first time that we saw the Palestinians celebrate the
murder of innocent civilians.  We saw them rejoice after every
terrorist attack on Israeli civilians and they even took to the
streets to celebrate the September 11 attack on the World Trade Center right here in New York City.

Imagine the type of state this society would produce.  Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy?  Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation.
Mr. President,

As we came into the United Nations, we passed the flags of all 193
member States. If you take the time to count, you will discover that
there are 15 flags with a crescent and 25 flags with a cross.  And
then there is one flag with a Jewish Star of David.  Amidst all the
nations of the world there is one state – just one small nation state
for the Jewish people.

And for some people, that is one too many.

As I stand before you today I am reminded of all the years when Jewish people paid for the world’s ignorance and indifference in blood. Those days are no more.

We will never apologize for being a free and independent people in our sovereign state.  And we will never apologize for defending ourselves.

To the nations that continue to allow prejudice to prevail over truth,
I say “J’accuse.”

I accuse you of hypocrisy. I accuse you of duplicity.

I accuse you of lending legitimacy to those who seek to destroy our State.

I accuse you of speaking about Israel’s right of self-defense in
theory, but denying it in practice.

And I accuse you of demanding concessions from Israel, but asking
nothing of the Palestinians.

In the face of these offenses, the verdict is clear.  You are not for
peace and you are not for the Palestinian people.  You are simply
against Israel.

Members of the international community have a choice to make.

You can recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people, or
permit the Palestinian leadership to deny our history without
consequence.

You can publically proclaim that the so-called “claim of return” is a
non-starter, or you can allow this claim to remain the major obstacle
to any peace agreement.

You can work to end Palestinian incitement, or stand by as hatred and extremism take root for generations to come.

You can prematurely recognize a Palestinian state, or you can
encourage the Palestinian Authority to break its pact with Hamas and return to direct negotiations.

The choice is yours. You can continue to steer the Palestinians off
course or pave the way to real and lasting peace.

Thank you, Mr. President.

 

8 December: Still Thinking

It was a good speech by the Israeli ambassador, thought provoking, stirring and technically accurate. But it said more about the people speaking than it did about those it was meant to address. And it failed to move the discussion forwards at all. What was it meant to achieve?

The world’s unrelenting focus on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is
an injustice to tens of millions of victims of tyranny and terrorism
in the Middle East. As we speak, Yazidis, Bahai, Kurds, Christians and
Muslims are being executed and expelled by radical extremists at a
rate of 1,000 people per month.How many resolutions did you pass last week to address this crisis?

Clearly this statement is factually accurate. The Civil War in Syria and Iraq has led to an extraordianry and terrible loss of life and injustice. Even before these conflicts, the treatment of arabs by arabs has often been apalling.

But does this mean that Israel should not be censured for it’s own behaviour? Would it be reasonable for America to refute criticism of the shooting of black Americans by the (largely) white police force on the basis that worse things happen in Africa?

Of the 300 million Arabs inthe Middle East and North Africa, less than half a percent are truly free – and they are all citizens of Israel.

Again this is largely true, and yet isn’t it telling that an Arab Israeli is never the person standing up in front of the world defending Arab rights within Israel. Israeli Arabs quite reasonably compare their lot with Jewish Israelis, fellow citizens of the same country, and they find their plight wanting.

Our conflict has never been about the establishment of a Palestinian
state.  It has always been about the existence of the Jewish state. Sixty seven years ago. … about 700,000 Palestinians were …displaced … some 850,000 Jews were forced to flee from Arab countries. The difference is that Israel did its utmost to integrate the Jewish refugees into society. The Arabs did just the opposite. The worst oppression of the Palestinian people takes place in Arab nations. 

True. But who does Israel wish to be compared with as a country? Does it not claim to be better, to be a beacon of democracy within the Middle East? It cannot claim to be one of the heroes and then bemoan the fact that it is held to higher standards than the villains of the piece.

When it comes to matters of security, Israel learned the hard way that we cannot rely on others – certainly not Europe. The government and people of Israel will never forget that when our very existence was at stake, only one country came to our aid – the United States of America.

And? As long as old grievances are held so tightly, there will be no progress, no movement forwards towards peace.

Every European parliament that voted to prematurely and unilaterally recognize a Palestinian state is giving the Palestinians exactly what they want – statehood without peace. 

There is merit to the idea that a country cannot negotiate with terrorists unless they are willing to renounce violence but it is clear from the situation in Northern Ireland, that there must be discussions. Dialogue must be maintained if only to keep hope of a settlement alive. And discussion must be straightforward and honest. One cannot talk peace whilst escalating the violence. One cannot talk peace while bulldozing Arab villages to make way for illegal Jewish settlements. And ofcourse, the recognition by Europe is merely words without actions. Only the Israelis can create a true two state solution.

Israel learned the hard way that listening to the international
community can bring about devastating consequences.  In 2005, we
unilaterally dismantled every settlement and removed every citizen
from the Gaza Strip. … It paved the way for Iran to send its terrorist proxies to establish a terror stronghold on our doorstep.

Israel gave up the Gaza strip because it was too expensive and difficult to defend. It was a tactical military and political decision. At the same time it reserves itself the right to send in the troops should Gaza create problems for Israel. It’s response to provocations from terrorists in Gaza has been disproportionate, with many civilians killed as a result.

The State of Israel is the land of our forefathers …For thousands of years, Jews have lived continuously in the land of Israel…  The bond between the Jewish people and the Jewish land is unbreakable.

Is this not also true for Muslims and Christians?

At the same time, we recognize that Jerusalem has special meaning for other faiths.  Under Israeli sovereignty, all people – and I will
repeat that, all people – regardless of religion and nationality can
visit the city’s holy sites.

But the Jewish prescence in Jerusalem is being expanded and the Muslim Quarter increasingly encroached upon.

No one wants peace more than Israel.  No one needs to explain the
importance of peace to parents who have sent their child to defend our homeland.  

Yet many of the religious hardliners do not send their chldren for military service and perhaps because of this do not truly appreciate the cost in bloodshed of this conflict.

The past month should make it clear to anyone that Israel has
immediate and pressing security needs. In recent weeks, Palestinian
terrorists have shot and stabbed our citizens and twice driven their
cars into crowds of pedestrians.  Just a few days ago, terrorists
armed with axes and a gun savagely attacked Jewish worshipers during morning prayers.  We have reached the point when Israelis can’t even find sanctuary from terrorism in the sanctuary of a synagogue. These attacks didn’t emerge out of a vacuum.  They are the results of years of indoctrination and incitement. 

And the conflict in Gaza where thousands of arabs were killed, including civilians, including children probably contributed to the hatred and violence expressed by these horrific terrorist acts.

I challenge you to stand up here today and do something constructive for a change.  Publically denounce the violence, denounce the incitement, and denounce the culture of hate. Imagine the type of state this society would produce.  Does the Middle East really need another terror-ocracy?  Some members of the international community are aiding and abetting its creation.

Israel fails to recognise any responsibility for the continuation of this conflict. It describes only a negative outcome for the creation of a Palistinian State.

And I accuse you of demanding concessions from Israel, but asking
nothing of the Palestinians. Members of the international community have a choice to make. You can recognize Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people

Is Israel now to regard itself as a theocracy, a Jewish state for the Jewish people only? The Israeli founding fathers set out to create a secular state and would not recognise this rhetoric. What of the fine words at the start of the speech about the rights of Israeli Arabs. Those words are sounding a little hollow now.

You can publically proclaim that the so-called “claim of return” is a
non-starter, or you can allow this claim to remain the major obstacle
to any peace agreement.

And yet all Jews regardless of nationality or need are guarranteed a right of residence in Israel. That’s more than 7 million Jews currently living outside of Israel who are entitled to live there whilst around 9 million Palestinians may not claim residence under any circumstance.

The choice is yours. You can continue to steer the Palestinians off
course or pave the way to real and lasting peace.

Israel does not recognise it’s own primary responsibility for righting it’s own wrongs and setting it’s affairs in order? One thing has become very clear over the decades : the world can do very little to resolve this situation if neither party truly wishes to work towards a resolution.

What was this speech supposed to achieve? It was eloquent and rousing. It highlighted the higher standards that we hold Israel to, higher standards that are expected of a modern democracy.

It repeated the age-old reasons for fighting and none for settling the conflict. It pointed the finger at the wrong-doings of the enemy with no acknowledgement of their own fault. It accused the world of favouritism, of both meddling and doing nothing to great effect.

I have heard similar, less eloquent calls from my daughter. Every so often, in the middle of a fight, my child might shout this speech at me  “It’s not fair! look at what she’s done! She’s your favourite. Why don’t you do something? ”

 

9 December: Sudden Silence

What happens to all of that anger and frustration when the story stops being written?  How do the parents of a boy shot dead cope with the sudden silence in their lives?

10 December: Unnatural Selection

Sooner or later in any discussion about gender or sexuality the question of whether or not something is natural crops up.

The last time this happened in a discussion thread, someone claimed that monogamy is unnatural. Bonobo monkeys are swingers and therefore we should be too. But the argument has swung both ways itself, liberal and illiberal. Homosexuality is apparently “unnatural” to some people and should therefore be shunned. Whilst promiscuous male sexuality is often claimed to be defined by the “harem” model of lions or indeed household mice.

The latter argument always makes me laugh a little. Back in my early days at university I remember it being raised by a biology professor. He said “Ofcourse people really don’t understand the underlying dynamics of a harem of mice. The male mice fight to establish a territory and will defend that space against all other males. The females wander around, trying out the territory, the living space to determine it’s suitablity, but they also try out the sexual prowess of the male mice.

When the female finds a space that she is satisfied with and a male she can enjoy/tolerate, then she chooses to settle”

And as always, paternity is far from obvious.

This isn’t quite the chauvinistic paradise the people belive they’re describing when they use the word “harem”  but it does highlight quite neatly the dangers of anthromorphizing animals.

People pick and choose their animal and specific behaviour of that animal to reinforce their own world view. The lion’s harem will be used as an example of how male animals can be viewed as highly sexual, requiring multiple female partners, The same people will rarely acknowledge the homosexual mating of male lions which happens quite frequently whilst wandering the savannah before settling with a pride of females.

The rampant pan-sexuality of bonobos may be used by liberal as an example of how we all need to chill out but the higher status of females within the troop is seldom mentioned. Neither is the fact that they’re known to eat their dead young, and their faeces.

Whatever we wish to hold out as an ideal social structure can be found within the mammal kingdom if we look hard enough, from the matriarchal family groups of elephants and wild boar, to the solitary lifestyles of polar bears or most big cats.

But it is all rendered entirely meanginless.

We do not live “natural” lives. If we were living as nature intended, most of us would be dead from the entirely natural onslaught of bacteria, viruses and parasitic infections. We would be living in caves or skin tents, with barely cooked food and teeth worn down by all of that grinding.

I have three domestic cats living with me, Their lives are immeasurably removed from the lives of wild cats despite being effectively identical from a DNA perspective. Meeting up with cheetahs in the wild, we were struck at how similar their behaviour was to our own dometic tabbies, the grooming, the purring, the endless naps.

My cats are predators, barely domesticated to living with humans. And yet they are still not the same as their wild cousins and we don’t want them to be the same. They are cross-species social. And probably won’t try to eat me until I’m long dead.

Instead of harking back to nature, shouldn’t we be working out what  type of society we want to be living in and building for our children? As thinking, social animals isn’t that what we’re supposed to be doing?

 

11 December: Totalitarian

Someone recently accused me of being a “lock-em up totalitarian” on twitter which is a bit odd for a left-leaning liberal. It could have been a joke, but since they don’t know me it was probably intended as a jibe.

Why are some people so needlessly nasty on twitter. It takes effort and energy to be rude repeatedly to total strangers. Why bother being a troll or troll-like?

I try to be kind. Sometimes I fail but I’m confident enough that someone looking through my history of tweets would find enough kindness, sufficient attempts to be constructive and supportive that not all would write off my character.

Some people out there seem to be very lonely, very sad and angry about life. Why else would anyone invest time in being hateful? All of the trolls unmasked in court rooms in the UK have turned out to be socially inadequate, inept people looking for quick and cheap interactions, always working towards the lowest common denominator from bedsits or bedrooms in their mother’s house. They do not look happy.

Are all trolls just sad people looking for attention?

Even using an anonymous name or identifier, what we write matters. While we write, however pseudonymous, the persona becomes who we are. It is both damaging and damning when we are rude and nasty. How can an on-line troll be regarded as a decent person offline? Where does all of that bile come from?

We all have faults. I am hot tempered, occasionally foul mouthed, impatient, uncomfortable with quick changes to my comfortable routine and as likely to be smug as any other privileged white person. I am not a sad person.

RexGr88’s  accusation could not be wider from the mark, which ofcourse renders it pretty painless though curious. If totalitarianism describes a situation where the state holds total authority over society and seeks to control all aspects of public and private life wherever possible, it is possibly the opposite of my belief system as an old fashioned liberal. I’m also far too lazy.

Politically, I would like a smaller state with devolution of powers as close to the population as possible. I believe that the role of the State is to organise a society where the maximum number of people enjoy the maximum number of rights, without infringing upon the rights of others unless absolutely necessary.

In order to achieve that kind of society, we have to accept responsibities that go along with those rights.

But ofcourse a person’s comments are always best applied back to the person making the tweet. Women are often called names when they call men out on bad behaviour, ranging from just sexist rudeness to criminal behaviour. It is the refusal to play the stereotype game, the refusal to remain passive in the face of male abuse, mild or horrendous, that gives rise to the totalitarian accusation.

Some men seem to require control over all aspects of women’s public and private lives. They are outraged when women question or complain about the forms that this control takes, the cat-calling, low level abuse, escalating rapidly to violence. What exactly does the totalitarian concept mean here? Who is trying to enforce it if not the “outraged trolls of Tunbridge Wells”?

No one can reasonably argue that a person should accept routine abuse and threats as they walk about the world minding their own business.

And I have absolutely no interest in telling anyone else what they should do or think or believe but I reserve the right to live my own life in the way I choose within the broad laws that govern our society.

I believe in following the spirit as well as the letter of the law, in being reasonably polite and considerate, careful of the needs of people around me.

Low level anti-social behaviour needs to be acknowledged, recognised and dealt with before it becomes a high-level problem. Where possible there should be early intervention to avoid problem behaviours escalating into crimes. A right to free speech does not include the right to bully, abuse or shame a person just because they disagree with you or you don’t like the colour of their skin, religion or gender.

But having said all of that, in general I would like to see fewer prisons and shorter sentences. I believe in rehabilitation where possible rather than punishment. Early intervention should reduce criminality not increase it.

So turn my life upside down and call me a lock-em up totalitarian  if you will. It is a good reminder of how little we know of each other on-line. I’m beginning to think RexGr88 might be a rather sad or lonely person. I hope he’s ok.

 

12 December: Middle Class

We’re all middle-class now, no matter what we do or how much money we take home at the end of the week. And the definition isn’t simply related to how much money we earn, but rather a complicated interaction between income, assets, education, occupation and culture.

None of us wants to pay more tax.

Last year a BBC survey defined 7 sub-divisions or classes within society:

  • Elite – the most privileged group in the UK, distinct from the other six classes through its wealth. This group has the highest levels of all three capital and comprises 6% of the total populations. Their income exceeds £89,000 pa and they usually have assets including a house worth more then £325,000 and cash reserves of at least £140,000. I imagine most of them live in London and the South-East. The elite group will already be paying higher rate taxes (the wealthiest 1% pay nearly 30% of all income tax collected in absolute terms).
  • Established middle class – the second wealthiest, scoring highly on all three capitals. The largest (25% population) and most gregarious group, scoring second highest for cultural capital The established middle classes have earnings around £38,000, with household savings of £66,000 and houses worth an average of £163,000. This group is either paying higher rate tax or on the edge of paying it. The median income in the UK for a couple with two children is £44,200, which may take them into the 40% tax bracket. The established middle class  are likely to be highly resistant to tax raises, and are also very likely to vote in elections.
  • Technical middle class – a small, distinctive new class group which is prosperous but scores low for social and cultural capital. Distinguished by its social isolation and cultural apathy. They may or may not vote. If motivated, they will resist tax increases.
  • New affluent workers – a young class group which is socially and culturally active, with middling levels of economic capital. Usually the children of the middle-classes, the members of this group will claim to be middle class and will resist tax increases as they aspire to and identify with  higher income.
  • Traditional working class – scores low on all forms of capital, but is not completely deprived. Its members have reasonably high house values, explained by this group having the oldest average age at 66. This group comprises about 14% of the population.
  • Emergent service workers – a new, young, urban group which is relatively poor but has high social and cultural capital. Another group likely to claim to belong to the middle classes. As with new affluent workers,
  • Precariat, or precarious proletariat – the poorest, most deprived class, scoring low for social and cultural capital and a growing group at 15% of the population. They survive on less than £8,000 a year.

Of these groups, only the traditional working class and the precariat are likely to self-categorise outside of the middle classes. Even the elite social group, unless totally risible ie. millionaires by inheritance will inevitably describe themselves as middle-classes.

Most people believe that the wealthiest elite pay significantly more in terms of tax than the other groups. In absolute terms this is clearly true but in terms of the proportion of their income contributed, the poorest 10% pay more, not because of income tax or national insurance but because of the regressive nature of consumption taxes and council tax.

According to the Equality Trust, whilst income tax and national insurance are broadly progressive, the poorest 10% households pay roughly 23% of their gross household income in indirect taxes, on consumption eg.VAT and pay more than four times as much of their income as the wealthiest people in  council tax.

In the UK, 236,000 people pay higher rate income tax currently set at 45% levied on income greater than £150,000. Ed Balls’ (Shadow Chancellor) commitment to raise this rate to 50% is therefore unlikely to raise much money for the government – there are simply not enough people liable to pay it versus those who will avoid it by leaving the country.

Lowering or freezing the threshold at which people pay 40% tax (currently £32,000) would generate significantly more income becasue it would impact many more people but since most of those people vote, it is regarded as political suicide.

A more progressive change would be to lower VAT and change Council Tax to make it more fairly reflect the value of property, a potential mansion tax maybe.

Obviously cuts to VAT will reduce tax income so will not occur in a recession or near recession. Changes to Council Tax will impact Local Government rather than Westminster and are dogged by the memory of Poll Tax Riots. The idea of a mansion tax has some appeal if you live outside of London (where most people will be liable to pay it)  but the policy will fall the first time an aged granny is forced to sell her home to pay it.

There are a surprising number of elderly widows living in London  in property bought cheap decades ago and now worth lots.

Whether a semi-detached 3-4 bedroom house can be fairly described as a mansion is a question that’s about to gain  a lot of traction in my part of the world.

 13 December: St Davids

St Davids is the smallest UK city, sitting on the most westerly point of Wales in Pembrokeshire. For years we’ve stayed at an old ever-decaying cottage at the back of the dunes to a small beach.

There is very little to do. No wifi. No telephone signal. It rains lots.

And is one of the most beautiful places in the world.

 14 December: Art

We often go to galleries. I’m a member of a couple which means I get to see a lot of exhibitions and enjoy their good cafes for lunch. London is full of museums and galleries worth visiting and the main collections are mostly free.

This makes a strange contrast to the museums visited in NY where you have to go through a turnstile and make a very large “donation” to get to see the artowrks. But even in London visiting exhibitions are inevitably ticketed and being a member means we can walk in at any time.

If you find yourself in London, visit the National Gallery at Trafalgar Square or take a boat ride between the Tate Galleries. The best time to see an exhibition is early – 10am – with no one else between you and the pictures. All of them have collections so vast that you will find something to love, whoever you are and whatever you like.

Art is the unceasing effort to compete with the beauty of flowers – and never succeeding. – Marc Chagall (1887–1985)

But why are museums and galleries so popular? What is art for?

Peopl can get a bit sniffy about popular artworks because on the whole, they tend to be very pretty. The best selling postcard worldwide, is one featuring Monet’s waterlilies. It is very beautiful and not at all contentious to modern audiences. Most people enjoy looking at beauty. Whilst it’s easy to moan about people’s trivial viewing habits, beauty provides an antidote to our everyday mundane lives, full of the dull, the dire and disastrous.

Beautiful, pretty pictures provide reassurance to us that the world is not all bad.

What is art? Art grows out of grief and joy, but mainly grief. It is born of people’s lives. – Edvard Munch (1863–1944)

Like famous pieces of music, some of the most famous paintings can seem tremendously sad or traumatic. They cover the whole gamut of human experiences from birth to war, death and beyond.

The many works of art driven by faith and religion attempt to express our hopes and fears of the one certain life experience – death.

They reassure us that our lives are normal, our experiences common to humanity and no matter how dreadful the circumstances of our lives may be, others have survived them. Edvard Munch’s Scream is reassuring in it’s rawness. Ultimately art provides hope.

 

I don’t think art is elite or mysterious. I don’t think anybody can separate art from politics. The intention to separate art from politics is itself a very political intention. – Ai Weiwei (1957-)

Art holds up a mirror to our world and allows us to look long and hard at the society we find ourselves living within. Art is inevitably political because it is made within a political system – it is impossible to stand outside the society and times from which it is created.

Whilst sometimes this makes art seem more of a historic record than a transforming experiences, great art transcends it’s time precisely because some messages are universal despite their origins.Picasso’s Guernica remains trancsendant and powerful, even as time passes.

Art  can take the form of direct propaganda during wars and conflicts or it can be counter-revolutionary like the modern works of Banksy. It can be reactionary in a directly political fashion or in a more overt fashion such as the rise of romantic, bucolic pre-raphaelite scenes so popular in industrial Victorian Britain.

Art does not reproduce the visible; rather, it makes visible. – Paul Klee (1879–1940)

As well as looking at the broader politics, art makes us look again at everyday objects and epxeriences. It can make us appreciate life more. Still life painting throughout time, from the Dutch masters through the impressionists, as far and further than Warhol’s Campbell Soup cans in the modern era, all challenge the viewer to view everyday objects with fresh eyes.

Art has to move you and design does not, unless it’s a good design for a bus. – David Hockney (1937–)

Above all else, art is personal. It brings meaning to an individual satisfying that person’s need for something, filling a gap or emptiness that perhaps the person was unaware they felt. Two people looking at the same painting may experience vastly different emotions. Some will have very intense reactions to a piece of art that leaves their companion entirely unmoved.

Great art changes people.

nb. My  best galleries and museums in London will be listed on the recommendations page.

 

 15 December: Battles Lost

It had been brewing for a while, maybe a year or so but when the oldest finally said “no” and meant it, I was still caught unaware. She is the first born, easy-going, self-described “golden child” though the latter is mainly said to wind up her younger sister.

But send your child to study Philosophy and Religion and she will come home an agnostic.

We go to Church, some of the supposed rare practising Anglicans still found living in the UK. My church is inclusive, old-fashioned and not at all evangelical unless you come looking. High church with bells ‘n smells and lots of tolerance. Over the years, many of our family rites and rituals have been marked by services here. Our year moves to the rhythym of high and holy days as well as the community events, the shared meals, the annual fete.

And if we were a different family, maybe it would be a disagreement about her political beliefs or a decision to become vegan. Every child redefines themself for themself as they grow into adulthood.

My oldest child has lost her faith in God. It seems ridiculous to her.

For the last year we have compromised, reducing attendance required to every other Sunday, plus high and holies. Every other week has become a battlefield.

And I sat in the service this week, looking up at the murals of Christ and thought through what I was doing, what I wanted to achieve.

I am sad that my daughter does not share my faith, sad for lots of different complicated reasons. My faith has always been a strength to me, a comfort as well as a challenge to be a better person. It shapes a community that has been good to me, that holds my family in a larger framework, a connection within society.

I’m sad because I’m left wondering whether I’ve failed as a parent, whether there was something else that I could have done, or said or shared that might have helped her develop her belief in God rather than losing it.

I am sad because this sense and acts of faith is something that we have shared as a family, something that pulled us together and now we seem to have lost that commonality.

But whatever the reason, I feel sad. Not cross or angry or disappointed. Just sad. And they are my feelings, something that only I can be responsible for working through..

Because she has a right to define herself, to decide who and what she is and believes.  And whilst I might, if asked, suggest that the best gift to me would be her company on Sunday in church, it is always in the knowledge that gifts can only be given not required.

So I came out of the service and we sat down to talk. And aged 16, if she does not want to go to church on Sunday then that is her choice. I will try to be clear that my sorrow is my problem not hers and try not to make too obvious my hope that she re-thinks or reconsiders her viewpoint as she gets older.

 

16 December: Names

The names we choose for ourselves say a lot about us, but people’s reactions say even more about them.

don’t u have a husband to fuck? Children to feed and water?

I chose the name northlondonhousewife because, in part, it’s a description of what I do and I’m happy with that. I’m happy with the part of the world I live in, with my house and my family.

But it’s also ironic, because ofcourse, it’s not all of who I am or what I do, not even a large-ish part really. It’s a fun name.

I live in North London. I don’t drive a 4×4 tank and am not especially  married. Does being in a long-term partnership count? What are we supposed to call ourselves? Girlfriend/boyfriend wears a bit thin after the first 20 years together.

Labels are strange things. Does being a housewife mean that I have to be a dependant? Does it imply that I am downtrodden. Do I have to be a mother? Are there no childless housewives in the world?

What if I made my millions trading derivatives in the 1990s? What if I got bored and decided enough was enough? What if I gave up my lucrative career as MD at a large American investment bank because it wasn’t fun anymore and I no longer needed to work?

Maybe the kids were more fun than dealing with the everyday shit that you have to wade through when a bank owns you body and soul.

Does managing a private portfolio worth £millions make the description northlondonhousewife any less accurate?

Do you think my partner’s anxiety about retirement/redundancy should be soothed by the knowledge that I could keep us comfortably.

Should it change people’s reactions, make them more or less polite?

So I moan about the patriarchy on a regular basis. I recognise everyday sexism as it is lived and experienced by women all around the world. I am entirely perplexed by the way men buy into a system that treats almost all of them so badly, that sets them running in a race they’re almost bound to lose, and winning is a bit of a booby prize anyway.

Does it boost or destroy my credibility that I’ve been a great success within a system that I regard as hugely flawed? Successful enough at least to cash in my money and walk away.

What does being a housewife mean if you have staff to do all of the work you don’t want to do? Would you find it acceptable if the housewife had a cleaner, a nanny, a gardener, an odd-job man, maybe a housekeeper to manage all of those staff? At what point does the label housewife stop having meaning?

Does the trivial stereotype fit better if I play tennis (lots) and bridge (badly)? Would my dislike of everyday prejudice feel more comfortable, more authentic if i was poor and deprived or if I had failed to achieve?

Yesterday my daughter described an SRE (Sex & Reltionships) lesson spent learning how to put a  condom on a styrophone dick.  The conversation with her (and resulting art project speculation) was so much more fun than spending time trying to puzzle out why the vega in a position  has bent out of shape, much more fun than trying to isolate the drag, work out why the greeks have freaked out.

Puzzling my way through my family relationships is much more rewarding than office politics and I’m happy with my choices.

None of us should be defined solely by what we do or by what we are called.

17 December: Christmas Projects

It’s Christmas so it must be time for a project or two. The girls’ father struggles with choosing presents for me (or them) so this year I’ve made it doubly simple. Not only will I buy their presents but I’ve given him a list plus the option of having me buy my own gifts from the list. Rather disappointingly he’s decided to exercise all options.

So I’m stocking up on cameras and I can feel a photography project building up in my mind.

The photsensitive paper is about to arrive. The pinhole camera and polaroid are already here (remember the credit card shots with white surrounds?) to be followed by a film “point and click” with black and white as well as colour film. I have the basics of a black room  developers kit with the pinhole so I’m all set.

Now all I have to is choose which project to follow.

There are the obvious topics: family & cats  but I could look at to extend both to the broader community or environment. I’ve never really taken an organised look at North London or at the various groups I belong to: church, tennis, bridge etc.

The photosensitive paper can capture shadows in bright light so maybe can be used for physical objects, leaves, feathers, body parts such as hands and feet. I have some vellum transparencies so maybe I can trace from existing photos and see how that transfers onto the photosensitive paper to capture likenesses of people or environment.

The pinhole camera will suit graphic, high contrast pictures, landscapes probably but maybe portraits if I can get the kids to sit still long enough. They need bright, bright light to work well. Obviously polaroids work well with the kind of selfies that the kids love, quick disposable images of family and friends. Film is adaptable but requires a degree of concentration with regards to composition and lighting that I’ve let go since moving to digital.

At the end of the day if I want to put it all togther in a book, I imagine I’ll transfer it all onto digital images anyway but it’s the journey getting there that should be the most fun.

 

18 December: Sticks and Stones

‘Sticks and stones may break your bones, but names can never hurt you…”

It’s a playground song that I remember from my youth, back in the days when bullying was considered much less damaging than now. In those days I was the sister of the biggest bully in the school so it was never really going to be a direct problem for me but I could clearly see the damage it did to people around me. Children grew smaller and tighter as they were bullied, digging deeper into their own sense of self, withdrawing more and more from the world.

What happens to children to turnaround their need for fairness into a “might-is-right” sense of entitlement? What turns children into bullies?

In a culture that is fascinated with winning, power, and violence, maybe it is unrealistic to expect that people will not be influenced to seek power through violence in their own lives. The high rate of domestic violence may mean that many young people grow up expecting that violence is an acceptable way to get what one wants. Certainly my sister saw a fair amount of violence at home from my mother. A slap or punch was often the answer to a dispute.

Families that are not warm and loving and in which feelings are not shared are more likely to have children who bully. Another home “type” prone to producing bullies is one in which discipline and monitoring are inconsistent and/or a punitive atmosphere exists.

My mother was very authoritarian, very uncomfortable with challenges from her children but equally likely to try and buy affection as to smack a child down. We never knew what would happen.

Jealousy or envy and a lack of personal and social skills to deal with such feelings can also be reasons why people bully.

What becomes very clear when reading about bullying behaviour is that if the institution or environment  does not have high standards for the way people treat each other, then bullying becomes more likely and/or prevalent.

We need to have higher standards.

Insulting words and name-calling do not cause bruises and broken bones, but they are hurtful nonetheless. They are used to shame and control people. Because of the view that this one song encapsulates, the idea that the victim should remain calm and silent in the face of abuse, we often see victims blamed. Victims are accused of being too sensitive.

We blame the victim rather than recognising the aggressor’s intent to cause pain and harm, to control and shame.

Being followed for 15 mins and then onto a train whilst being stared at and catcalled is just frightening. NOT a compliment.

when you conform to how men want women to look I’m afraid this is the result

Whatever a person looks like, no excuse for bullying & catcalling. Criticise the bully not the victim!

Cat-calling is bullying writ large and anonymous on the streets of our “civilised” world. It is a clear attempt to make the victim uneasy, unsafe, threatened and vulnerable. It is an activity largely carried out by men, aimed at women.

And the result of this bullying is to physically limit and control the freedom of women to move freely within our world.

Whilst not all or even most men bully women in this fashion, all  men benefit from the restrictions placed upon women. The world is defined as a male space that women are allowed to move around at men’s discretion only.

We need to have higher standards.

 

19 December: FAT

Obesity has been recognised as a disability within the EU for the first time. The European Court of Justice was asked to consider the case of a male childminder, Karsten Kaltoft, in Denmark who says he was sacked for being too fat.

The court said that if obesity could hinder “full and effective participation” at work then it could count as a disability. The ruling is binding across the EU.

In the UK, Jane Deville Almond, the chairwoman of the British Obesity Society, reacted by saying  obesity should not be classed as a disability.

She told the BBC: “I think the downside would be that if employers suddenly have to start ensuring that they’ve got wider seats, larger tables, more parking spaces for people who are obese, I think then we’re just making the situation worse.

Worse than not being able to sit down at work or  get out of their car?

Obesity is defined as the state of being grossly fat or overweight but that’s a definition you wil never hear  used  by your local health professional. It is a rising epidemic in the developed and developing world.

In the UK around 1 in 4 adults and 1 in 5 children aged 10-11 are obese.More than half are overweight.  Since obesity is usually a one way street, it’s safe to bet the obese children are probably going to become obese adults. On that life journey, they will be joined by people who fall into the fat trap as they get older. The numbers are only expected to rise.

A report by the Lancet in 2014 funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation described an unstoppable rise in obesity.

“Because of the established health risks and substantial increases in prevalence, obesity has become a major global health challenge. Not only is obesity increasing, but no national success stories have been reported in the past 33 years. Urgent global action and leadership is needed to help countries to more effectively intervene.

Yet despite all of this alram, the response to the obese is essentially one of blaming the victim. The advice to the obese is all about changing their individual behaviour, even though when half the population is overweight and a quarter obese, this is demonstrably more than an individual issue.

The cause of obesity is almost always ascribed to an individual  lack of self-control. Unhealthy diets and lack of appropriate physical activity are always listed as leading causes.

Experts increasingly argue that this view is overly simplistic.

Professor Jimmy Bell, obesity specialist at Imperial College London, said that, contrary to popular belief,  people in the UK have not become greedier or less active in recent years. One thing that has changed is the food that they eat, and, more specifically, the sheer amount of sugar they ingest. “We’re being bombarded every day by the food industry to consume more and more food. It’s a war between our bodies and the demands our body makes, and the accessibility that modern society gives us with food. And as a scientist I feel really depressed, because we are losing the war against obesity.”

It’s interesting to compare the rise in obesity with the rise in global warning. At an individual level, the world’s temperature is seen to rise because we each burn far too many fossil fuels. We each have an individual responsibility for both the cause and any potential solution to the problem of global warming.

However no one is suggesting that a valid answer to the problem would include an individual “energy plan” telling 25% people one by one, how to reduce the carbon they consume. No one is suggesting that 1 in 4  houses be fitted with energy “bands” to limit the consumption of gas and electricity to a bare minimum by cutting off the gas supply..

Global warming may kill us all in the end.

Obesity is killing us now through diabetes, heart disease, breast cancer, bowel cancer, strokes etc

We need a more rational response than putting the victims on a diet. Isn’t it time to start controlling the suppliers?

 20 December: Vexatious Venting

Let’s call him Vex. He could be any number of people on twitter following the everyday sexism twitter feed for no good reason.

Vex is a man usually. He’s not very successful at life, certainly not as successful as he thinks he should be. He’s chippy, a loser in the mad competitive race that men seem entered into at birth and doomed to fail. He takes it personally.

He posts pictures of naked women that he’ll never get to meet. And sometimes pictures of the meat he’s just cooked, ready to eat on his sad little tray for a tv dinner. If he’s married, it’s to a woman who doesn’t like him very much. Maybe she’s thinking of leaving.

Vex doesn’t have any real friends.

He finds it difficult to talk to women but doesn’t think that it’s his fault. He believes the problem is a lack of “real” women, feminine women. If women weren’t so uppity, so corrupted by the matriarchy then clearly they’d be only too interested in hearing his long and exciting stories about himself.

He wants to be friends with the big boys, the men who seem to have it all, the ones that make it to the top of the ladder and try their best to keep the “bitches” down so his cohort can make it. It isn’t the old white men who oppress him and the rest of his “crew” ; it’s the stupid women that compete and demand unfair parity.

“What about me?” he cries because, as we all know, the world revolves around him and we shouldn’t be selfishly demanding the world’s attention for us and our own issues.

Women don’t know their place.

They can’t recognise his cleverness when he calls them out on-line because of their own stupidity. It’s nothing to do with the total lack of logic or evidence in his comments, or the sheer nastiness of his bile.

And when they show themselves to be unworthy of his marvellousness, he feels entirely justified in calling them out “cunt!” “bitch” “twat” by reducing them to body parts. Sometimes, and without any evidence that he understands the irony, he tells a woman to “grow a pair” from the safety of his anonyomous hashtag/name.

And he finds on-line friends with similar social inadequacies. Angry and sad people who really would be better advised to get out more, to join a real life club or society that could direct them away from such a self-destructive lifestyle, maybe even help them make contact with real people and make real friends.

Every so often, these sad little people with their huge hang-ups, mob together to attack someone, anyone really, a huge blistering boil of pent-up frustrations and desperation.

Occasionally they’re called-out and caught by the police.

They are unmasked as dreary nonentities, living alone or at home with a very embarrassed mum who will not be accompanying them to court.

There has never been a happy well-adjusted troll on display. They do not smile into cameras and tell stories of loving families, proud mothers/fathers, smiling kids holding their hands bravely. They do not have wives or husbands that look content or sexually satisfied.

Once upon a time I wondered whether in real-life Vex would be a better, more civil person, but there’s a reason he hasn’t got any friends and it isn’t an excess of jollity.

Vex is sad and angry. He needs to learn how to climb out from under the bridge, out into the real-life sunshine. But like all addicts, he’s too busy feeding his on-line habit and running away from his real issues to deal with it.

 

21 December: MOTHER

M is for my masochistic urges

O is for the ordeals I endured

T is for the teardrop that emerges

H is for my line of horse manure

E is for my poor deflated ego

R is for the rotten life I’ve led

Put them all together they spell

MOTHER

The woman who fucked up my head.

by Fran Landesmere

 

22 December: Political Markers

On December 3rd George Osborne, Britain’s chancellor, delivered the autumn statement, the country’s annual mini-budget. There was an excellent article posted by the LSE Dec 10th by Paul Johnson (Institute for Fiscal Studies) largely paraphrased below.

The autumn statement was a significant fiscal event with everyday implications for all of us, and possibly cutting a clear line between the political parties for the next election. Finally.

Originally the Government expected that as the economy began to recover, tax revenues would also rise. It has now become obvious that despite leaving recession behind, government tax receipts are significantly lower than expected. Since March 2014, the Office for Budget Responsibility has cut its projection of tax revenues three years out, by £20billion (1% of national income).

Tax revenues are lower in part because income tax receipts are lower than expected. An improved economy has yet to translate to higher wages. Lower oil prices resulted in lower tax revenues. A slowing housing market led to lower receipts from stamp duty.

Because of lower than predicted tax revenues the UK deficit is now expected to be significantly worse than predicted at more than £90 billion, only slightly lower than the previous year and this despite 2014 being the strongest year for GDP growth.

George Osborne chose to allow  the deficit to remain high in the face first of disappointing growth and then lower than expected receipts. The alternatives available were even deeper spending cuts or higher taxes.

Yet instead of reining in their fiscal plans, it seems to have spurred the Conservative Party onto even greater targets.

Probably most-significant thing we learned from the Statement was  the scale of the Conservative Party’s fiscal ambitions. They wanted to achieve budget balance by 2018-19. But have now added another year of frozen spending  in real terms. If it works, this would lead to a forecast surplus of £23 billion by 2019-20.

But at some cost.

It will have to result in further public service spending cuts, because of some inevitable increased spending on, for example,  pensions and debt interes. This will force lower spending elsewhere.  Following the Conservative trajectory will take total government spending to its lowest level as a proportion of national income since before the last war, per the OBR.

Exactly how big the cuts to departmental spending will be will depend on decisions over welfare spending and taxation.

If all the proposed cuts come from departmental budgets, this could imply total real terms cuts of 40% to unprotected departments (ie, everything other than health, schools and overseas aid), unless the protections are removed. As discussed previously, most of the welfae spend is paid to the elderly and working population. Cuts will hurt significantly more than the unemployed.

To keep the pace of departmental spending cuts to that experienced over this parliament, while still delivering the £23 billion surplus in 2019-20, would require something like a £21 billion tax increase or welfare cut.

This creates a huge gulf between the political parties. The Labour Party are planning on balancing the current budget, making no commitments to reduce the deficit overall so allowing for a deficit upto the size of capital spedning.

The Conservative plan  implies a cut of more than £50 billion in spending after 2015-16. Labour’s plans­-as so far set out-potentially imply no more than a £5 billion cut in spending after 2015-16.

In practice the gap is unlikely to be so vast. Spending cuts will be unpopular and there will inevitably be push-back from the population. George Osborne has shown himself to be pragmatic in the face of reduced tax receipts so maybe he’ll be forced to be more flexible than the Autumn Statement suggests.

However,  it is no exaggeration to say that there is now  greater distance between the two main parties on fiscal policy than at any time since at least 1992.

23 December: It’s not about you, honest

“We are born,” author Siri Hustvedt writes, “with the ability to imitate the expressions of others, but we also become creatures of our culture with its countless images of what is chic and beautiful.”

As the girls have got older, buying presents has become both much easier and much more fraught. If I stick to the list, it’s easy as pie but just a bit dull. If I buy off-piste, there is always the risk of the brave but sad face at present opening time. Back in the days when Santa brought the presents, we couldn’t go wrong. Even (maybe especially) the box was exciting. Nowadays, clothes are especially tricky purchases.

Who do women dress for? Why do they wear make-up? By and large the clear answer to any parent of teenage girls is a)themselves and b) their mates.

Young girls walk a fine line between working out what they like wearing and how much they want to fit in with the crowd.

What they like wearing will be a combination of comfort, colour and “fit” ie. the famous “does my bum look big in this?” stress test. At any given time there will be a look that’s being sold to young women by the fashion industry. At the moment, my not very fashion concious kids are working a look with shorts, thick tights and docmartins. Every so often a jumper with lace appears popular. Skinny jeans and jumpers are the casual fall-back.

The oldest will wear make up,  mascara and eye-liner usually is as far as she goes. It helps to be sixteen and astonishingly beautiful.

She wants to fit in with her crowd of friends. It’s ok to look just a little bit better, but not to be a total outlier. She is entirely uninterested in what boys or men think about the way she looks. It doesn’t enter into the equation when she decides what to wear.

And whilst maybe when she meets someone their opinion will matter, it will never be the only consideration or even the main consideration because by then, she’ll have worked out what she likes for herself.

And thinking about it, most women would say the same. Most of my friends have worn well. They’re smart and sexy women of a certain age. As they’ve grown up they’ve worked out a style that suits them and, with minor tweaks over the years, have stuck with it come thick and thin.

Husbands and lovers have come and gone but BF1 still works a neat missoni a-line skirt with brora cardi. BF2 is still rocking her leather jacket and skinny jeans, three kids later and about to head back to university.

Women give very few f*cks about what total strangers think about their clothes or appearance. It’s not at all clear that men know this to be true.

There was a very interesting article in http://feministing.com  about the sometimes complicated relationship that women can have with fashion and how it interacts with the male gaze and men’s assumption that a woman’s appearance is all about display for him and other men.

Just to repeat the obvious: Women give very few f*cks about what total strangers think about their clothes or appearance.

When you begin to build a relationship, maybe a woman will be concerned that she is physically attractive for her partner specifically and just as at the same time, he’s going to want to impress her in exactly the same way. But hopefully both of them are going to be interested in a few other items as well.

We all know that roughly speaking, people of equal attractiveness end up together, couples “fit” physically, so maybe appearance is one of the least important factors over the long term. Maybe it acts as a “gatekeeper” as if within this similar band of appearance you’re worth a trial, a probationary period whilst we work out if everything else fits together nicely.

But of all the couples I know well, it’s not the woman who has done well out of the bargain, looks-wise. These women haven’t stretched themselves to meet their partner’s expectations looks-wise

Couples that last over time tend to share core values and beliefs. Whilst the physical match-up takes precedence in the first meeting or two or three, it is the rest of the “fit” that determines whether a couple will last.

You need to like and respect your partner as well as love him/her. If you don’t, what will get you through the dark days?

 23 December: Rosie

A rant but not mine this time…

because catherine hicks
from ryan’s hope
the best soap opera ever on television
also starred in itstephen was on my show many times
we spoke often about TM
he introduced me to it in fact
back in 97i practice TM daily
20 mins in the am
20 in the pm
a mantra –i praystephen is an artist
pottery – ceramics
we had a show together
my paintings – his potteryat THE ROCKLAND COUNTY CENTER FOR THE ARTSthe event was a success
stephen sent me a potters wheel
the week after –
so sweeti learned how to throw pots
like him
i liked him
a lotstephen collins
priestly – handsome – artistic – kind
stephen collins
married 29 yearsand now here we all rthey showed me the clip in the morning
20 seconds
thats all i could watch
of his his apology tourkatie couric was r guest
i was sure she was gonna do 2 him
what she did 2 sarah palin
hit him with his truthright between the eyes
expose him for who he was
“what newspapers do u read sarah?”
she saved us all then

this time
she didn’t

================================

in 1973 –
he was 25 years old
i was ten
same age as his first victim

he took the hand of 10 year old girl
and used it to jerk himself off

as a child
who was used in similar ways
by a man i trusted
every cell in me remembered

“we both just sat there – we didn’t move a muscle”

uummmmm –
after u came on the kids hand – u mean?
stephen …
right?

u are not equals
she was an innocent child
a baby girl
u have a daughter for gods sake

were u able to resist the urge to touch her ?
how noble …

congrats

============

in case u wonder
what ur man sized penis –
ur abuse of power
ur lack of impulse control did to that kid

i will tell u a bit about me

sex is not fun
not now
not ever
it is married to a lingering terror

joy evaporated

my body became my enemy
i would not love it
take care of it
treat it well

it had betrayed me
caused such pain and humiliation
i did not want 2 feel
2 know

like many survivors of childhood sexual abuse

i became obese
Obesity Action Coalition » Sexual Abuse and Obesity

i have struggled with severe depression
Effects Of Child Sexual Abuse: Depression And Other Mental Health Conditions

i have anxiety disorders
Effects of CSA on the Victim

shame confines me
Into the Light: sexual abuse – support info and resources

i bet stephen
there is a 52 year old woman – like me
sitting in her house
still frightened

her perspective skewed
by u
ur casual lack of accountability
for her and for me

has wounded us
once again
u –
stephen collins

u

u r an archetype
as is bill cosby
pedophile / rapist
how dare i

how dare i not ?

a hidden narrative none wishes 2 be part of
yet we all participate in

unspoken
rape
incest
race

there is good news
we can heal r selves
RAINN | Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network | RAINN: The nation’s largest anti-sexual assault organization.One of “America’s 100 Best Charities” —Worth magazine

JONI MITCHELL IS ESSENTIAL FOR HEALING
Love Has Many Faces: A Quartet, A Ballet, Waiting to Be Danced

28 December: Bright and Cold

Another good day for a walk…

29 December: Best Present

The best present isn’t always easy to predict.

The cats were quite easy to please, liking the cheapest pop-up cubes to hide and pounce in,loving the tuna lunches and even climbing inside the paper airplane constructed so carefully. But by far their best present was the laser light torch used to tease and chase them  from room to room, along the parquet floor and up the walls.

The girls were harder to impress.

For the youngest, the current title holder is the computer game “Civilisation” which just goes to show that good games don’t age and gender bias in gaming is a total waste of a good marketing opportunity. My baby was born to be a world dictator.

On unwrapping, I would have predicted the urbanears headphones to be a clear winner with the oldest, but they turned out to be a tinny disappointment. There have been complaints to the company and a request for repair or replacement since they are so much worse than the cheaper version she bought as a gift for her sister.

Her best present has also been sedentary – a request for netflix to be added to the media stream and a couple of days spent catching up with “Orange is the new Black”

Their Dad is one of those dreadful “All I want is a hug” kind of guys. His best present was probably a game of tennis with me on Boxing day, accompanied by a key to signifiy his new membership, bought to run for the new year. It came with balls but no guarrantee for the weather.

And as for me, I’m relearning the patience that comes with film cameras and if nothing else, it’s making me very grateful to have a decent digital SLR to work with as well.

The polaroid camera has made us all look as if we’re back living in the 70s and the kids are trying to extract a promise not to take it out and about to try out on other people. I think that I’ll have to ignore them on New Year’s Eve.

Once they’re back at school, I can try out the cyanotype paper and maybe even the pinhole camera. The latter will require either still life or some useful soul sitting still for 4 minutes.

So maybe my best present was actually an updated version of photoshop to play with all of the pictures I’ve started to put together from all of these different cameras and medium.

 

30 December: Inconvenient Truths

It is an inconvenient truth but faith works.

My agnostic daughter cannot bring herself to belive in the existence of a deity. It seems so illogical. There is no proof. And clearly she’s entirely right.

But religion works.

Around the world, people with a faith live longer than those without. When asked, they report significantly higher levels of happiness. They say they are healthier, feel more connected and more useful within their community. The official statistics re: health and mortality agree.

I live in what could be described as a post-Christian country, one of the most secular countries in the world. We have a real problem with loneliness and isolation, especially amongst the evergrowing number of elderly. Families are small and mobile, young people moving to find work and losing touch with their elders.

It isn’t perhaps that surprising to find that members of a faith group (doesn’t really matter which one) live longer or happier lives, because of the connectivity that comes with being part of communities. It might have nothing to do with the existence of a deity at all.

And whilst there have been countless wars fought, many given the gloss of religious approval, much good has also come from organised religions. The educational establishment in the UK was a largely Christian undertaking initially. It’s why there remain so many Anglican primary schools in the country.

It is also perhaps an inconvenient truth to note that many worldwide charities have a religious base, at least in their founding. Many of the first responders to the Ebola outbreaks, for example, were essentially Christian missions in Africa. For many millions of people, the local health clinic was set up. organised, funded and staffed by members of the church.

Charitable giving of money, time and effort, is a basic cornerstone of most religions.

My daughter helps out at a monthly drop-in session at a local synagogue. It’s attended by asylum seekers who have already had their applications rejected and are now looking for legal advice with their appeal. It’s staffed by lawyers and doctors (many of the people have health issues resulting from torture in their home countries). Some will be from the synagogue community but many like my family are just neighbours, friends, part of the extended North London community.

There is a large Sikh temple nearby. Part of their worship involves providing a free meal to all those who come to the Temple, one day a week. It used to be a largely local affair but as times have got harder, more and more of their neighbours have started to drop -in to be fed. The community is looking to extend it’s remit to provide mobile food vans.

Similarly, the Trussell Trust provide foodbanks around the UK. It is non-judgemental and inclusive, providing help to people of all backgrounds and all faiths or none who are found to be in genuine need. It takes as it’s mission statement:

“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me…” Matthew 25:35-36

I subscribe to a number of liberal American websites where Christian bashing is very popular, It seems that poking fun at people with faith is the last socially acceptable form of baiting allowed.

For a country with a supposedly strict segregation between church and state, there does seem to be an awful lot of religion involved in their politics. And people there do seem to be so very religious.

& I can understand people wanting to react against fundamental religion of any kind, wanting to reject their parent’s belief system especially if they’re found it repressive.(I hope my girl hasn’t found mine repressive!)

But I can’t quite buy into the common view of science as a substitute religion or the idea of an absence of religion as  a cure for all societal flaws (didn’t work out so great with Communism).

It seems that most of the people who cling to the idea of science do so from a fundamentally flawed position.

Science never proves anything. By it’s nature, science only ever disproves things. A theory is only good until the next bright young thing comes along to disprove it. Basically there is a small problem with people who mock faith but are quite prepared to get in an airplane without understanding a single thing about how it might work.

People get into airplanes, cars, trains, mri scanners etc without a clue about how they work. They trust that the metal box will lift into the air and carry them safely across the ocean. It’s an act of faith.

And yes, it’s an act of faith backed up by experience, by pictures of flying (rather than crashing) airplanes throughout our media. Just as religious faith is backed up by greater happiness, health and contentment.

Even understanding Bernouilli’s theorem, getting into a jumbo jet remains an act of faith because all that science provides is one possible explanation of how smething works. It says nothing about why.

And maybe that’s enough. Maybe we don’t need to worry about why things happen in life though people inevitably do come to wonder what purpose their life might hold, if any.

Churches are full of old people. They have always been full of old people and probably always will be. When death comes closer, we start to wonder what it has all been for and whether something might come next. And in our post-Christian world, we haven’t managed to find a workable secular alternative to organised religion.

I don’t know why.

There are now more members of Christian organisations in China, than members of the communist party.

It is an inconvenient truth, but faith works on a personal level and for ever-increasing numbers.

 

31 December: Beveridge

The Beveridge Report, which led to the founding of the British welfare state, was published more than 70 years ago.

It  identified five “Giant Evils” in society: squalor, ignorance, want, idleness, and disease, and went on to propose widespread reform to the system of social welfare to address these.

Highly popular with the public, the report formed the basis for the post-war reforms known as the Welfare State, which include the expansion of National Insurance (essentially an income tax) and the creation of the National Health Service.

It recommended a national, compulsory, flat rate insurance scheme which would combine health care, unemployment and retirement benefits. But even at the time, Beveridge himself was careful to emphasize that unemployment benefits should be held to a subsistence level, and after six months would be conditional on work or training, so as not to encourage abuse of the system.

We think of the formation of the Welfare State as an altruistic, moral good created out of the camaderie, the sense of universal community and brotherhood forged in the Second World War.

But whilst there were many reasons leading to the creation of the welfare state:

the post WW altruism and moral outrage at the plight of the disadvantage played it’s part; and,

the political fear of governments which had seen the wave of communist revolts after the First World War were now keen to ensure that deeper reforms reduced the risk of mass social unrest in their own countries.

At it’s heart lies the assumption of universal employment as a universal cure for all societal ills.  Employment is the great good that will defeat the “Great Evil” of idleness.

At the forming of the Welfare State, people were prepared to condemn outright inadequate housing, lack of education, poverty and sickness but only for people prepared to work hard. If you weren’t prepared to work, then you had better be rich enough to afford you’re own idleness. because of course, whilst the poor have always been with us, the same could also be said about the idle rich.

There has always been a general distaste for the very idea of idleness. The poor must be busy. They idle must be made useful by and for the rest of society.

In many ways, the wealthier a person starts in life, the more idle they are allowed to be. Back breaking physical work has always been reserved for the poorest amongst us. The wealthier middle classes have always had more time as well as more money available to enjoy themselves. And no one seriously criticises the very wealthy for how they choose to spend their time.

Wealth remains associated with a state of grace even today.

The Beveridge reforms were all essentially designed to make the British poulation fit for work, fit in terms of their health through the creation of the NHS and fit in terms of their skills through the creation of a standardised educational system.

Benefits were paid to enable people to transition from one job to another, to cope with unexpected life shocks, illnesses etc.

And at the end of their working lives, a very lucky few might be entitled to claim retirement benefits in the form of a state pension (claimable from the age of 65 at a time when the average life expectancy was just 62).

And whilst clearly aspirational in it’s original scope and ideas,  we have all managed to forget the original limitations and caveats inherent within the Beveridge Report aside from the strong disapproval of the unemployed, the “undeserving” poor who remain “other” than ourselves, the one group we refuse to identify with.

Squalor or poor and insufficient housing was initially tackled by slum clearances and the provision of social housing. Under the Thatcher Conservative government the tenant’s “right to buy” social housing was established, greatly reducing the amount of homes available at reasonable cost, in the belief that the private sector could take up the slack.

As a nation we  became obsessed with home ownership rather than adequate standards of accomodation whether owned or rented.
Squalor today is homelessness, families in Bed and Breakfast, overcrowding and homes in public and private sectors below the fitness standard.
The state educational system is continually criticised as not fit for purpose without really defining clearly what that purpose should be. When children fail to achieve academically it is because of poor teaching. When they succeed in too great numbers, it is because the exams are too simple, too dumbed down.
Poverty is defined as a general scarcity or dearth, the state of one who lacks a certain amount of material possessions or money. This is modern day want.

We tend to view poverty in the UK as a relative state. A study  carried out by  Bristol University in 2014,found that the proportion of households lacking three items or activities deemed necessary for life in the UK at that time (defined by a survey of the wider population) has increased from 14% in 1983 to 33% in 2012.

On this basis, one third of modern households may be said to be living in want.

And whilst in the UK we have always comforted ourselves with the idea of no absolute poverty, the idea that “No one truly goes hungry” The rise and rise of charitable Food Banks across the UK (Trussell Trust etc) provides proof enough of real hunger in our midst.

As a people, we demand more and more of the healthcare system, a system originally intended merely to standardise the care we receive across the country not to improve it. It is no longer enough to be vaccinated againts deadly diseases, to have free access to life saving surgery and/or antibiotics.

Nowadays we demand preemptive access to drugs such as statins free of charge. We want miracles. We expect the NHS to patch us up whatever the cause or cost.

The idea that once we were all healthy, the costs of healthcare would fall has proven very far from the mark.

So we expect more and more from our educational system and our health service. We want to own our own houses, not rent property. Shopping has become the social activity, whether buying cheap and easy fast, rich food, the latest fashion or electronic games and devices.

We expect to work for a fair wage and retire relatively young and enjoy a long state funded retirement.

Our expectations are so much higher than the original aspirations of the Beveridge Report, is it surprising that the welfare state falls short?

How do we bridge the gap between what we want, and what we can afford? Does it really have to come at the expense of the unemployed, the dispossessed, the unfortunate, unlucky ones amongst us?

 

Leave a Reply

All about me!