Tuesday, 19 May 2015

Babies: The Consolations of Maternity Leave


To ease into my new era of domestico-political ramblings - some notes on babies and maternity leave:

To those who have never been on it, maternity leave is a glorious, self-indulgent holiday. To those who have, (I am on my third bout) it is an intense period of extremely hard home-working which seems to involve a large amount of exhausting lolling around.
Yes, I am in a cafe reading the i newspaper - but my little 14-week-old timb bomb will go off any second, demanding me to perform a mini-striptease in a public place.
Yes, I am lying on my back on the rug working on my abs, but with every leg-lift I have to remember the next verse of the Sleeping Bunnies song.
And yes, that is me going for a pleasant suburban stroll in the evening crepuscule. But if I stop to look at a house or tree, or to marvel at the squirrels as they leap across the top of the wheeleybins, I will have 30 decibels of baby fed directly into my ear.
A large amount of time seems to be spent on the sofa, which is slowly becoming encrusted with breastmilk. She snorts and sucks wildly as I stare at the TV remote, so far across the other side of the room. I gaze into the walls for inspiration as the oxytocin washes over me and I forget which way is up, which way is down, and why we are here at all.
So, this period of intense child-rearing - a mere prelude to the reality of ‘going back to work’ and THE REST OF YOUR LIFE- is both a wonderful gift and a hideous prison. Irritations drip one by one onto my forehead until I beg for mercy.
But, as I am clearly a glutton for this glorious form of punishment, there are clearly upsides. For me, it is all in the little details, that keep you going through the sleepless nights and frustrating days, where minutes last an hour and months last a second.
Here are my 10 consolations of early motherhood:

1. The way the baby’s nose-breath cools your hot, gnawed nipple after it slips from her mouth - a much underrated design feature.
2. Wearing your favourite slippers on the school run.
3. The chance to marvel at the multi-purpose nature of one’s body parts.
4. Incredible bicep and deltoid development.
5. Popping into the office seems like a short holiday.
6. Looking into the poppet’s dark, black eyes - which remind me of a baby seal as it looks up at a hunter with a club - and sensing she might love me as much as I love her.
7. The three weeks after the birth, when you feel you are wheeling a miniature celebrity around the neighbourhood.
8. Seeing the sun is out and going outside immediately.
9. Admiring a washing line covered in clean drying nappies (I don’t like admitting this one...)
10. Spending an hour staring out across the garden, hoping for the robin to drop in.




Sunday, 14 April 2013

Burying the Thatchet?

The deaths of the elderly, however expected, always seem to come as a bit of a surprise. So when I heard Baroness Thatcher had finally dropped from her perch, I put down my copy of Socialist Worker and took a while to look into my soul.
I was only young when she was in power, so sucked up my views about her from my family.
I was brought up in a Thatcher-despising household. The conversation as I grew up in the eighties was as anti-Thatch as it was possible to get. "That awful woman" was the common refrain. My dad put a massive "Vote Labour" banner around the end of the house once. Hating Thatcher, I knew, was in my blood, and I believed everything I was told.
In the intervening years, I haven't given much time to analysing her. Perhaps I developed a glimmer of admiration for a woman lording it over so many Tory old duffers.
But while I have carved out a pretty directionless career for the last 10 years and most carelessly popped out a couple of kids, it seems I should have been reading Thatcher biographies.
It was only when she slipped off the radar in the Ritz and it was beamed to the nation on Sky News, I actually realised what an icon she was.
Ok, ok, so there were the miners, the Irish hunger strikers, the Falklands, the selfish individualism, the raping of British industry and the creation of far too many energy providers.
But putting all that aside - she was incredible. My jaw hangs open in awe when I see her at work in all the documentary footage. The level of sheer power and influence she achieved as a woman, a person, a mother, is just beyond what seems possible even now. She has been criticised for not being feminist enough and didn't promote enough women. She didn't feel it was her task, she just wanted to get on with the job.
We need more real women coming through, doing real things, without taking the short-list ladder or blathering constantly about feminism and such (although I think feminism is great, obviously, and have the body hair to prove it.)
"Lean in", as Facebook woman Sheryl Sandberg would say. Thatch leaned in so much she threw herself across the table, pushed a couple of blokes in the face with her steely hands and another couple with her court shoe heels. Rock on, Iron Lady.
Personally, I fail to lean in at all times. I'm timid, although self-assured in a couple of limited areas and environments. But I know that ambition isn't enough. But Thatcher wasn't just a steamroller from Grantham. She clearly had a mind like a blooming sponge that mere mortals can only dream of. She qualified as a research chemist then a short while later with two kids became a barrister for Geoffrey Howe's sake.
Although I'm reluctant to reduce a female politician to her looks, I should at least say something on her style. Her self-presentation put us all to shame. The hair, the suits, the little scarves, the slightly larger scarves. All amazing.
There are many who will argue that we can't bury Thatcher-hate with her death - that we must remember the destruction she wrought. But I think we must.
Let's remember her as the impressive, aggressive, frightening, stylish political icon she was. No matter what the truth is, we have to stop blaming her for the country's current problems and set about solving some of them. Even if she caused them.
So on at her funeral on Wednesday, let's bury the Thatchet, so to speak.

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Gay Underwater Marriage

It's time to bring this blog up to date. It's time to bring this country up to date. It's time to start rejecting bigotry and old-fashioned prejudice dressed up with so-called "valid political arguments".
Those against gay marriage really do believe that "redefining marriage" will lead to the end of civilisation.
Well, if marriage is as defined by the religios, I managed to do that when I got married in a hotel down the road from my parents.
Marriage has, for some time, already been redefined. Once, it was all meeting the priest and never getting divorced even if your husband was sexually abusing the kids.
But now, divorce abounds. People remarry six times, with a younger groom each time. People get married up the London Eye or hanging from a bungee jump crane over a carpark in Milton Keynes. People get married in wetsuits in the local pool. God doesn't even need to be invoked for marriage to take place.
So, I simply don't accept the arguments against gay marriage.
So teachers "could be sacked" if they refused to "promote" it, whatever that means. I don't believe schools are really in the business of "promoting" any kind of marriage, but even if they were, we'd sort it out with a good old debate.
So there will be legal teething problems. We'll get through it. Democratic and civilized countries do. Let's prove we are a civilized, forward looking country. We are a better place for the smoking ban. We'll be a better place for gay marriage.


Saturday, 15 September 2012

Topless Sunbathing? How Very Eighties...

So what's it to be, Prince Harry's testicles on the front page of The Sun or Princess Kate's blurry breasticulates in a foreign gossip rag? It's a question many of us have surely been asking over recent days. Well, my answer would be neither over breakfast, if you please. As a washed up housefrau, the decadence of it all appalls me. Just put your clothes on, kids, you'll catch a chill.
 "There's a couple of freshly laundered fleeces on top of the radiator and those t-shirts you wore yesterday have got another day left in them," would be my words to them, even before I start worrying about the poor royals' human rights.
But it does strike me these blue-blooded Monarchs-in-waiting are indulging in some terribly old-fashioned hobbies.
I didn't realise anybody played billiards anymore...and since when was it fashionable to do topless sunbathing? I tried it once, aged 19, in the South of France, of course. There's something about baguettes and berets and terraces littered with Pagnol novels that make even the meekest of students throw their TopShop crop top to the four winds. But it is so terribly eighties. Breasts are as milky white as the Elizabethans now, surely? It's all Lily Cole and that pale one from the Sugababes, isn't it?
Anyway, as for the moral outrage, well, Harry was asking for it. It may have been different if a dodgy paparazzo had flogged a picture of him having a crap in a hotel toilet, but he needs to choose his party mates better if he doesn't want to be photographed. Sending him to Afghanistan seems a little bit of a harsh punishment for this lack of judgement, but that's the Clarence House disciplinary for you.
As for Katie, well, of course she could reasonably expect privacy. Where does one draw the line - pictures of her flossing her immaculate teeth through the bathroom window? Shots of her squeezing her spots in her boudoir taken on hidden camera by a treacherous servant? Is it all in the public interest? However, the thought of her basking in the sunshine with her t*ts out, no doubt reading Flowers in the Attic or whatever while I graft my arse off and freak out over my bank balance daily does grate a little. (Ok, so it grates a lot, but I'm still coming out in support for her over all.)
Anyway, so the point is, they may be naff and rich and make me angrily jealous at their gilded lives, but they have to have a chance to let it all hang out (quite literally).
Clarence House regularly tries to keep the press at bay with its approved photocalls and interviews. Skiing, touring an orphanage, relaxing with family at Christmas, etc. In years to come, should we expect to see official shots of Harry in the shower or Kate and Wills in the bath? Perhaps they could do a "Hello" spread and make some additional dosh by having some Molten Brown product placement.
At least they're not politicos. At least they are young and attractive. Certainly, that's part of their problem. The Sun has dozens of shots of prime ministers picking their noses and chancellors eating beefburgers wearing clothes from Cotton Traders. All of them far too unpleasant to publish.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The End of It All

It was the defining moment of the summer for me. Tears were welling up in my mother's eyes as we stood for the German national anthem. 'How silly,' I thought as I looked over to her, 'what kind of idiot British person would cry during the German national anthem? Has she forgotten the war?'
But at the same moment I had this slightly xenopobic thought, I was urgently suppressing a tear from my own left eye. The sheer excitement and noise of the Olympic stadium, even during a relatively boring morning athletics session, had moved us to tears. It only took a few strains of the Deutschlandlied to send us over into "ridiculous weeping women" territory. I can't even remember which German had won a medal.
We soon pulled ourselves together and got on with some calmer admiration of Iraqi dwarves throwing javelins. But from that point forth, we knew we had finally cast off any remaining shreds of cynicism towards the "Summer Like No Other" or however the Olympic jamboree was branded.
And of course, it's over now. Already I am looking for the cracks reappearing in the transport networks, the rubbish accumulating on the gleaming streets of Hackney and Newham, a return to misery as usual. So many words have been written, so much over-excited puff consumed, an unsustainable suspension of all criticism must, at some point, end. We are not North Koreans after all.
What we must remember is that London is amazing city. It was before the games, and will be afterwards. Just because the papers aren't telling us what to celebrate every morning doesn't mean we won't find our own reasons for joy. We will just have to find them ourselves. Which is surely more fun.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Multi-Tasking Miller

So, the moneyed elites have returned from holidays to Tuscany and the squeezed middle are scraping the mud off their supermarket camping equipment. And just days into the new school term it is very much business as usual. There was no easing back in to the infuriating statements and pathetic posturing of Government. No hors d’oeuvres to the great stinking dirty political wash-bin that we will witness in the lead up to Christmas. The 24-hour news channels bristled with tanned cabinet ministers spouting off in the gardens around Westminster, bathed in bright autumn sunlight. It was all free schools and Gove and that hotly-anticipated reshuffle.

Yes, the re-shuffle. Who would have thought it – a woman with an annoying voice and moles on her face replaced after ten months by chubby-chops Patrick McLoughlin. Swiftly dispatched to the far flung corners of international development (where, you may remember Blair stuffed that trouble-maker Clare Short) where she will not upset whatever plans young Cammers has for Heathrow.
And then there was the bombshell. This blog’s favourite private-school gimp: Jeremy Hunt, shipped into health, I expect as a salesman for the “nasty” NHS reforms. The populace has generally bought the “all in this together” line on the economy. But the Government now needs a bell-bonging, Murdoch-snogging Charterhouse chap to put a happy face on the privatisation of our beloved NHS.
Maria Miller – who will replace Hunto – is expected to multi-task. As well as culture she will be minister for “women and equalities.” God forbid that women should have a dedicated minister of their own.
A lot has been said about the casting out of some high-profile women, such as Caroline Spelman and Baroness Warsi. The cabinet is now even less representative of the population than ever before. But I have the hunch that Cameron knows this won’t piss off the voters as much as it does The Guardian newspaper.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Chewing on My Shin Pads

And so, after a glorious summer of worshipping tearful lady cyclists, cute blond judo champions, and plucky young female boxers, it is with a sigh that I realise the start of the football season is nigh.
I like the game, don’t get me wrong. It is a sensible, honest sport requiring little equipment, all-round fitness and a pair of feet. Much more equitable than, say “equestrianism” (horses, just call it horses).
But it is the dominance of the game – uniquely the men’s game – in our culture that gets me chewing on my Sondico shin pads in frustration. What are young girls suppose to think about  their potential relationship with sport if the closest they get to a role model is a handful of stunning Sharapovas in designer mini-skirts once a year at Wimbledon?
I know a lot of people who care about the footy – they are clearly desperate for those dreary Sunday Sportsline round ups on the news channels – but a lot of people couldn’t give a flaming referee’s toupee for it. Politicians have to be seen to enjoy it too, remember those pics of Cameron, Merkel and Obama cheering along at the Champions League final. I wonder who invited the photographers along.
The Olympics has been so refreshing – with the nation genuinely obsessed by everything from pingpong to pole vault. And why not? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear about these sports all year round? Wouldn’t it be great to have pictures of lady boxers in the sports pages every week? I’ve had enough of hearing about the exploits of hairy blokes doing a very narrow range of sports. I haven’t got time to decipher a three-day cricket match – give me a short sharp dose of slalom canoe any day.
Click here to see more about Stylist magazine's Fair Game campaign 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Men in Orange Suits

The nation is wonderfully distracted. Many Londoners, at least, are living, eating and breathing the Olympics. Young girls across the country are watching the finest and most inspirational female competitors ever to grace our screens. Obsessed listeners rang BBC Radio London with the strange dreams they had been experiencing: winning a chocolate gold coin in the hurdles, throwing Victoria Pendleton in the javelin, and riding Zara Phillips around the dressage arena. My own dream involved weightlifting several large female weightlifters. Not sure I should reveal that one to a worldwide audience.
Anyway, it's all fabulous for morale, even if the killjoy Socialist Workers outside the tube are trying to put a dampener on things.
So, it's a perfect time for our leaders to entertain some Russian presidents and a controversial media mogul. There was brief outrage at Boris Johnson hanging out with Rupert Murdoch, but then we all just got on with staring at Jessica Ennis' abs. So, all political controversy has been put on hold. Only gripes about ticket sales are allowed.
Below are a couple of photos of the Olympic vibe around our way. We seem to have been over-run with very healthy-looking Dutch people dressed in orange. 
Many seem to be wearing suits. Or orange jumpers around their powerful shoulders. They all seem so bloody nice.

They are usually on orange bikes:


Or wearing furry hats or orange welly boots...


Then there's the Chinese: they like to paint their faces:

 


The army like shopping at Primark in Westfield Stratford City, between duties filling up the empty seats in the basketball. The Union Jack fleece jumpsuit might be a little warm for the time of year. Not great camouflage either.


Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Hairy Armpit Revolution?

A certain brand of razor (by that I mean Gillette) has scored a real coup at the Olympics. Enormous tower blocks facing the Docklands Light Railway are adorned with massive hoardings and assault the eyes as you travel between venues. And once you enter the Olympic Park, or switch on your TV, you are confronted with the smooth. A gymnast's armpit, confidently braced without a hint of bristles. A diver's crotch, pink and plucked. Even Tom Daley's chest looks unnaturally lacking in the hair department. Yes, it seems like everyone has been going madly at the Immac. Pubes have been well and truly eradicated from this 21st Century Games.
So it was to my great delight to watch the glorious glorious women's weightlifting, 63kg class. At first, all was conformist: every woman who stepped up to the vast weights gave a triumphant flash of shaven pit as they wrenched it above their heads. Either that, or they covered their pits in a t-shirt. But then on came Seen Lee. The Australian mining engineer stepped onto the floor, took hold of the bar, made a face...and whooop! There they were: The most fabulously hairy armpits I had ever seen in a world television event. Millions of people the world over admired her tumbling curls as the enormous dumbell swayed above her head. If ever an event was designed to show off a person's complete disregard for oppressive norms of armpit maintenance, that was it. Bugger the gymnasts and their brutal bikini lines. Bollocks to the beach volleyball girls with their smooth exfoliated legs.  Stuff you, Gillette and your evil profiteering from body-hair insecurities. Three cheers for Seen Lee, what a wonderful woman. Hoorah. She came seventh. She gets a gold from me though.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Wiggo's Big Bong

If you had commissioned the largest harmonised bell in Western Europe, would you ring it only once, like the Rank Films gong bloke? Or, would you bang at it like a person possessed, surrounding yourself with vigorous echoey chimes? I know what I'd do, but then I'm a kind of "more is more" person, when it comes to bells.
It was probably for the best that Bradley Wiggins only got to bong the big bell once though: tired from the Tour de France victory it was best to save his energy for the road race....
I hope they have plans for the thing once the games are done. Perhaps they could melt it down and make it into NHS beds or braces for children's teeth or perhaps needles for an immunisation programme of Hackney squirrels?
Anyway, that's my oblique way of saying I thought the opening ceremony was all right, as ceremonies goes. Not really a ceremony, more a bonanza. There's been so much breathless stuff written about it, I feel I might be wasting my breath writing more, but then again....Ok, I enjoyed it, up until the bit where Seb Coe started his speech and I nodded off.
Highlights for me were, in no particular order: Evelyn Glennie and her drums, the uprooted tree, street-dancing Victorian industrialists, the Queen, the hairy goblins and Noel Fielding, Mr Bean, the Olympic rings raining sparks etc.
Things I really didn't like were: the enormous freaky baby head. It reminded me of that scene in Trainspotting where Renton is hallucinating about a scary enormous crawling baby. That Danny Boyle, he seems so goddam nice, but such an obsession with freaky babies. Real babies really aren't that bad.
Anyway, it's been quite eventful for the volunteers on the first couple of days of the Olympics. I seemed to spend my first day testing out the Jubilee Line and DLR which were very smooth. I spent the second day in Greenwich with a legend of French equestrianism and Olympic gold medal winner from Mexico '68. He was trying to get in touch with the French delegation but had no pass, no ticket, no accreditation and no English. We fought the authorities tooth and nail, and eventually cracked through the ring of steel by striking a deal with a soldier who delivered a paper (old skool) message. After a tense wait, we got a call from the French team who got us to take him to the house - draped in Tricolores - they had rented in Greenwich. At last, the 80-year-old was safe and welcome, but no thanks to the games organisers. I left thinking perhaps more could be done to afford the legends of the sport perhaps a little more welcome. But anyway - we had a lovely time with Jean-Jacques, who bemoaned how health and safety had taken the fun out of teaching riding to kids.
Nobody seems to be reading my Olympic posts, but that's probably because they are watching the beach volleyball. I met two ball girls today - Muslims in headscarves. God I despise beach volley ball. The men's shorts go down to their bloody knees.