Tuesday, 3 July 2012

"It's political correctness gone mad," gone mad

I am a feminist. A liberal, lefty feminist. I am for LGB equality, trans equality, equality for disabled people. I am for immigration, for the rights of carers to be recognised and enshrined in law. I am for the NHS. I am for home-made cheesecake, Malted Milk biscuits and Ian Hislop.

I am against the Daily Mail, hate-mongering, lazy TV and journalism, jeggings, the use of stale, over-chilled malted bread on pre-packaged supermarket sandwiches, and plain, common-or-garden bad manners. More specifically, I hate the phrase, "political correctness gone mad."

Now, I wouldn't like you to think that I espouse the cause of political correctness just because the Daily Mail regularly bash it, although that would be reason enough for any reasonable, compassionate human being. I like political correctness because it's a good thing. Because it prohibits a person from groping me without my permission. Because it stops some mean-eyed, braying dickhead from yelling, "SPASTIC!" at someone in a wheelchair who passes them in the street, referring to their colleague as a "Paki" or making abhorrent jokes about rape. I happen to think, as do most normal people, that it's better to dislike your neighbour because he or she is an arsehole, and be able to back that up with reasons if required, than huh-huhing like a mouth-breathing Beavis in between shouting "retard" or "black bastard." Political correctness, and its adoption broadly across daily life, has reduced the number of people who think it's all right to behave in this shitty way to the minimum, which can only be a good thing. Our manners as a nation have improved somewhat. We are more courteous to one another. One thinks of the Big Brother "scandal" where Jade Goody and Danielle Lloyd targeted Shilpa Shetty using racist language, which once would have been reasonably unremarkable, and, since times have changed, was no longer so. (Although to be fair, it seemed to be more about "gang up on the pretty, bona fide celebrity" than "gang up on the Indian woman", but regardless, the language was used.)

So, given that political correctness is mainly about shying away from the kind of horrible language that very few people would publicly espouse now (as the Big Brother incident showed), why do so many people seem to shy away from saying that political correctness is A Good Thing? The answer is that political correctness has been integrated so successfully into our everyday interactions now that the only time it ever really comes up is in the form of the right-wing whipping-boy of "political correctness gone mad." This is wheeled out every time a new law, or regulation, or suggested modus operandi comes to the attention of the tabloids, including the Mail. The emphasis here is on "suggested." It doesn't even have to be real.

Read my lips: there has never been a "baa, baa rainbow sheep" (or green sheep, as some versions have it). This is an urban legend. The reason whiteboards have replaced blackboards in schools has nothing to do with race. I mean, listen to yourself. It's ridiculous. Schools, in fact, are a repository for a lot of these made-up stories about "political correctness gone mad." An example: "schools now aren't allowed to put plasters on a child's knee when it falls over in the playground!" Bollocks. My eldest is seven this month and always skinning his knees. The school is constantly putting plasters on him. He is half child, half Elastoplast. They don't even have to ask my permission. What they do have to do is tell me that they've done it, which is why I now have a collection of neat little red and white slips chronicling my son's playground injuries. They might have to ask my permission as he gets older when his illnesses might require, say, aspirin, but - and here's the thing - that would actually make sense, given that aspirin makes some people ill, or aggravates pre-existing conditions.

Again, a lot of these legends are "the health and safety" culture. Now, pretty much everyone has been on eye-poppingly irksome health and safety training when they start a new job. You know the kind of thing: don't pour coffee over your computer, don't set yourself on fire, etc. And you can see why it's such an easy target for the anti-political correctness brigade. That said, isn't it better to have a health and safety culture in workplaces than not? Wouldn't you rather have a bit of tiresome jibber-jabber about proper lifting than risk breaking your spine heaving boxes around the wrong way? Personally I'd rather not be killed or severely disabled by my job, so yeah, I'll laugh at the training, but I'll also pay a LOT of attention. So that I live.

And if life and a bit of common courtesy are the outcome of political correctness, then let it go as mad as it likes. I'll see you in Bedlam. But no straitjackets, please. It's not that sort of place any more.

Monday, 2 July 2012

Spinster TV: Junk Food Mums - Pushy and Proud

We recently got TV in the Spinsterhaus, following many months of begging on the part of Mon Geek, and an unexpected saving a a result of switching one of our household bills which left us an additional £20 per month to the good. As a result, a whole new dimension of tack has opened up in my life. I have recommenced my grapple with popular culture, rather more successfully now that I am pinned to the sofa with a baby surgically attached to my nipple. I have developed low-level addictions to programmes I never watched before, like the inescapably middle-class Bob Larbey sitcom As Time Goes By, which is repeated daily on UK Gold, or Nothing To Declare, Pick TV's documentary about Australian border officials. I'm not ashamed. Honestly.

It was after an episode of Nothing To Declare (some madwoman tried to smuggle in three pounds of roast pork in her luggage; a sniffer dog found some cocaine sewn into a vast soft toy that had been mailed to a misspelt address) that I left the TV on the same channel absent-mindedly, and found myself watching a programme called "Junk Food Mums - Pushy and Proud." The title sat awkwardly on top of the programme, like an ill-fitting and inappropriate hat. It purported to be a serious examination of three women's attitude to junk food in their families: Nadine, a 21-year-old mum of four children under five; Debbie, a single mum desperate to stop her twin teenagers from putting on yet more weight; and Sharon, who weighed 37 stone and promoted a fat-positive view to stepdaughter Kate, herself a size 20. What he programme was had nothing to do with a serious examination. In fact, it was a proper carve-up.

Censorious footage of Nadine's four children stuffing McDonald's into their mouths was piled on top of interview footage with Nadine herself, a guileless young woman with a laissez-faire attitude - "My kids eat when they're hungry. If all they'll eat is McDonald's, I'd rather they eat it, and then I know they've been fed." Her unemployed husband, Ricky, (naturally, the programme had to mention that the family was living on benefits at the time) preferred to cook his own food, possibly because he was a qualified caterer. "But your food tastes like crap," Nadine retorts, which is possibly why they split up after the programme was filmed. The whole tone was of blame for this Bad Mum who forced her kids to eat junk. Umm, hello? The other parent in the house? Wasn't Dad as responsible as Mum for what the children ate? Clearly not on this show. As well as the benefit-bashing, partners were conspicuous by their absence. At least Ricky got an interview segment. Sharon's partner, Andrew, made no appearance at all, a bit like Captain Mainwaring's wife. The nearest we got was a lifesize cardboard cut-out of him that appeared with Sharon when she was interviewed as "Britain's Fattest Bride" on This Morning. So, This Morning - flying the flag for acceptance there, then. But the message here was clear - if these kids ate crap, it was Mum's fault.

Nor was there any exploration of the reasons behind the way people eat. Nadine admitted to being "a fussy eater" who struggled herself with trying new foods, and towards the end of the programme, mentioned that she had eaten a lot of junk food growing up. Sharon - an intelligent, articulate woman who started out saying that she was happy with her weight and believed that it was possible to be healthy despite being very overweight - ended the programme by admitting that she was frightened when she went to sleep in case she didn't wake up. The programme barely spoke to Debbie's daughters, although the head of the fat camp she sent them to explained to her that searching their possessions for chocolate wrappers and constantly banging on at them for being fat probably wouldn't really help them lose weight. There was a bit of bogus"exploring the issues" too, as bride-to-be Debbie and her stepdaughter Kate went shopping for bridesmaid's dresses in Debenhams, struggling to find much in size 20 for Kate to try on. (Which is fairly pathetic for a high-street shop. Get your act together, Debenhams.) People stared after Debbie, and occasionally shouted insults, if they were really small-minded. There was a horribly voyeuristic feeling about all this, sneery and unkind, as though watching people shout insults at a bright, pretty woman because of her weight wasn't really much different from heavy-handed, meaning footage of the same overweight woman sweating after a short walk through a shop. It left a bad taste in my mouth.

As the credits rolled, a defensive message screened, stating that all the individuals shown had been given access to healthcare professionals to help them with their eating choices, as though that was enough to make it all OK. It wasn't. This lazy snide type of programming is a disgrace to the schedules. If this is modern TV, bring back the freakshow. At least it didn't try to pretend it was anything other than what it was.

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Bringing up baby: what I remember of it

I'm now in a strange limbo time. A week ago, I started maternity leave. I'm too huge to do stuff, apart from napping and eating, both of which I am proud to say I am now practising at Olympic level. Even if I wasn't, my partner, family and friends greet any sign of activity in me with cries of, "Think of your womb!" so I'm more or less forcibly confined to quarters. (Not as much fun as it sounds.)
The result is that I've cast about for ways I can consider that I'm productively using this time, and one of them is to cast my mind back to the early days of bringing up Eldest, the existing small person (now aged six), to make a list of useful baby stuff to remember. And in the spirit of sharing, here they are. (This is about as far as the spirit of sharing goes with me, I'm afraid. It's not like you're getting any of my Easter eggs.)

A musical cot mobile is a brilliant thing
I bought a hideously bright circus-themed mobile for Eldest that played a tune. This was indispensable for the first year. It stopped him crying, gave him something to look at when he was awake and something to soothe him at night. I won't exaggerate, but I heard that tune at least twenty times a day, right up to the point when, aged fifteen months, he pulled it down off his cot and broke it. In the spirit of scientific enquiry, I presume.

A change of scene can stop a baby crying.
The first thing that stopped Eldest crying was to be taken to look at the trees outside the front window. Outside is even better, or just going into another room. I was a big fan of walking round with Eldest in my arms when he was feeling grumpy. Must remember to try that this time.

Don't buy any toys that make a noise
The abovementioned cot mobile is exempt from this, but generally, toys that make a noise or play a tune are A Bad Idea. Eldest was given an Activity Baby Walker push-along toy with a panel of buttons to press at the front. He loved this so much that I still have nightmares about it. From this helltoy I learnt that a) a six-month-old can work out easily how to turn a toy back on when you've turned it off and b) that toys that encourage babies to push buttons and turn dials are a bad idea when your gas cooker has a row of shiny brass dials on the front within the reach of the newly toddling twenty-month-old. I have never moved so fast IN MY LIFE.

The more you talk, the more they talk back
Common sense, but still a surprise when they greet the morning nappy change with a pained cry of "Oh my Goddddddddd...." (That doesn't go down well with grandparents either.) So be careful what you say. The flip side of this is that it's seriously awesome to say, "Today we're going to feed the ducks," and hear your tiny toddler say, "That'll be fun, won't it?"

You need to put the muslin over your shoulder *before* you pick them up
You have sicky babies, or you have pooey babies. Eldest was sicky, a born posseter. I had no clean clothes for approximately two years, firstly due to posseting, and once posseting stopped, due to sticky banana handprints at knee level. Muslins save a lot of washing, and also stop your entire wardrobe smelling faintly of Roquefort ever after.

I can't remember a lot else. Sleep deprivation was not severe, but it was enough to stop me setting down a lot of memories for the future. Hence why I'm writing down what I *do* remember now, while I still have a working memory, and while I can still look at the healthy, boisterous, functioning result of these lessons and remember that I haven't completely bombed as a parent yet. And before I end up lying on the floor of my mucky house, surrounded by dirty dishes and with a boob falling out of my top, like I will do in about six weeks' time.

Oh yeah. One more thing I do remember about the baby years. They're awesome.

Monday, 19 March 2012

Unhelpful things to say

In every situation in life, there are helpful things to say, and unhelpful things to say. In pregnancy, the latter seem to outweigh the former by quite a lot. So, if you want to find out how to be less of an unwitting pain in the vulva to someone who soon will be getting more than enough pain in their vulva without your help, read on.

1. "You just wait till the baby's born, you don't know what knackered is..."
Really. Consider this a plea for common sense. It's perfectly OK for a pregnant woman to say she feels tired. She's up every hour of the night emptying her newly pea-sized bladder. She's growing another head inside her. She has an unaccountable craving for mutton curry served in a wheelbarrow, and she breathes like a dirty phone caller with emphysema. Most women who say they're tired when they're pregnant aren't implying that they're more tired than you, or the person next to them, or anyone else. They're just tired. So don't get defensive, or you're liable to get lassoed with a bump band. And for Christ's sake, I know that babies don't sleep through the night. I know I'll be tired when the baby's born. You really don't need to tell me that.

2. Your birth horror stories
I don't want to hear about the person you know whose baby's shoulders got stuck in her pelvis, the time your wife finished work at 36 weeks planning to put her feet up, meet her mates for a mocha and perhaps paint the nursery, only for her waters to break two hours after she got off the bus home, or your mate who weighed twelve pounds at birth. Why are you such a frigging sadist, exactly?

3. "I managed when I was pregnant."
Further digging reveals some big glaring differences in the two situations, like actually you didn't work while pregnant, or that your mum came round every day and did the laundry and cooking. Or that I've spent the entire nine months throwing up my intestinal lining, while you felt fine the whole time. And maybe you did manage while you were pregnant. So what? It doesn't make you superior, just lucky. So don't be an arsehole.

4. "Haven't you had that baby yet?"
Damn, you've rumbled me. Of course, I dropped it out in a desk drawer and it's having a nap now. I'm only moaning about backache and clutching a bump the size of a planet for the hell of it, really. It's just so much fun, I didn't want to stop.

5. "blah blah breeders blah blah spawn blah womb-brained idiocy"
So, you don't fancy doing it yourself? That's fine, it relieves some of my residual anxiety about contributing an extra person to an already overpopulated Earth. So don't think I'd knock your choice. That said, call me a womb-brain again and I'll aim my waters to break all over your pretty new shoes.

I'm not denying that pregnant women, myself included, can be pretty annoying, but, y'know, have a bit of sympathy. If you can't have sympathy, try to be equally arseholey to the pregnant and non-pregnant alike. Equality's a great thing. And, y'know, we appreciate it.

Tuesday, 28 February 2012

Day in the life of a heavily pregnant working woman

So, here's how the days go.

8:30: Arrive at office clutching half a croissant and a frazzled expression which betrays uncertain memory of whether I should be there. Colleagues unsurprised by arrival; wall chart says I am where I ought to be. Breathe sigh of relief, refuse offers of tea, log on and start work.

9:00: Eat modest pack of seaweed crackers absently while rubbing bump and listening to colleagues' stories of births they have known.

10:00: Coffee. Meeting. Unaccountable loss of memory when asked about response to a query from last week. Delve in notebook and come up with answer. Wistfully recall days when memory worked.

10:30: Orange. Melon. Mango. Pineapple. Mentally run through list of nearest sources of further pineapple, but can't be bothered to walk to Waitrose. Drink smoothie grumpily while wondering what idiot thought a dozen pineapple chunks were "a snack". Explain that I do not plan to watch One Born Every Minute till I have given birth. Smile modestly as colleagues compliment me on healthy food choices.

10:45: Large cappuccino and a Double Decker. Wonder why boobs so searingly painful. Very distracting. Can't even moan about it to colleagues. Go to toilet in order to hoist boobs up without everyone making Les Dawson comments. It hurts.

11:00: Need for pineapple getting desperate. Eat apple. It is no substitute.

11:35: How long till lunch? How long?

12:00: Crack and eat large salad full of basil oil and pine nuts. Wash down with approximately a litre of orange juice. Poke about on Babycentre website, wishing that I didn't come across the word "meconium" quite so often. It's probably the same colour as basil oil.

13:00: Teleconference. Am asked several times how long I have now. Answer to resulting swift mental calculation results in my having to have short lie down. Work frantically all afternoon until realise will miss train. Dash out of office at fastest waddle possible, looking like overfed walrus. Develop heartburn on route, adding to breathlessness. Swear at stupid man driver who nearly runs me over. Inventive vocabulary less effective when huffing like grampus.

17:00: Land up at station totally knackered. Go home and eat king-size plate of couscous with stuff in it that I made up out of the cupboard, followed by peaches and cream stuffed meringues.

18:00: Tidy things. House must be clean, clean, clean. Wield cloth energetically for forty minutes and collapse in a heap. Whinge about dust on skirting boards. Deny that this is nesting instinct, but remember that actually it never bothered me before I was pregnant. Continue to deny it.

20:00: TOAST.

22:15: Struggle up from sofa, go to bed with book.

3:00: Awake for loo trip. Get back to bed. Grump at overheating. Throw off duvets and remove pyjamas. Shift position like whale beaching itself. Repeat fifteen times. Snooze lightly.

3:10: Awake ravenous. Go in search of food. Milk. Crackers. Consider that roast lamb probably a bit of an ask. Eat further cracker.

3:20: Back to bed. Plan frantically. Organise things in brain. Wonder if valerian safe to take during pregnancy.

4:00: Finally fall asleep. Dreams confused and mainly about work.

7:25: Awake five minutes before alarm goes off, having forgotten all plans made in small hours.

Hmm. Starving.

Monday, 23 January 2012

things happen fast

I am unnerved. Pregnancy goes very slowly, as a general rule. After all, you're pregnant for about three-quarters of a year...and I *did* find out very early on that I was in pig...so I feel like I've been pregnant for ages. Which I have. Except that pregnancy is like tortoises. It seems to move very, very slowly. And then you look up, and it's out of sight. Among the long grass. Right at the other end of the garden. Bloody miles away.

OK, I've slightly overworked my analogy there, but basically, that's how one day I was staring at two blue lines on a less than hygienic stick, and now suddenly I'm the size of a WW2 barrage balloon and my midwife is booking me into antenatal classes and saying things like "practise your breath control for labour." Somehow, five months have passed in the time it took me to drink a hot chocolate, and I'm about to give birth in a matter of weeks. Bloody hell.

I have a bag packed with the most hideous nightdress you ever saw (I chose one that could only be improved by splatting my placenta on it at 30mph), pants I didn't mind throwing away afterwards, isotonic sports drinks, clothes that won't cling, baby clothes, tiny weeny hats, scratch mittens and a whole bunch of stuff I never even thought of, including socks. (Apparently while I am shoving a human head out through my knicker area, yelling, grunting and swearing creatively, I will also be thinking, "Goodness, my feet aren't half cold.") I'm going to need all this stuff soon.

How did this happen so fast? I'm scared, people. Happy, but scared.

Saturday, 31 December 2011

The next great adventure

I suppose it's time for me to do a thoughtful, introspective, old-year-out-new-year-in post. After all, why should I flout internet tradition? But I hesitate. These things can have a tendency to turn into self-indulgent navel-gazing, and I'm Victorian enough to prefer a little emotional restraint once in a while. That said, I don't want to completely break with tradition...so...here goes. But I'll keep it short.

2011 has been a pretty good year on the whole. I changed jobs and now work in a much nicer place. I put out my book BiOlogy in paper and Kindle format, and got reviews from Bi Community News, Diva and Forge. I also got interviewed in Nottingham's fabulous LeftLion magazine. That was pretty amazing. But the most brilliant thing that happened was conceiving and gestating my first biological child. On 02/01/12, I'll be 24 weeks pregnant. Mon Geek, the elder small person, and the rest of my family and friends have been wonderful, welcoming the coming new baby as much as I could have wished for.

Naturally, this leads me on to 2012. In the springtime, I'll give birth for the first time, which is kind of daunting, but not as much as you'd expect. After all, other women do it; I'll be in hospital with doctors and drugs; Mon Geek will be by my side; amd as I've never done it before, I don't know how much it will hurt. So I'm not too worried. Furthermore, I'm writing more stuff to be published. Plus, we are now looking for a new house, with a garden and space to raise our family. So, on the whole, 2012 is looking good so far. Bring on the next great adventure.