Monday, 30 April 2012

Mysteries of modern life (1)

Is it just me or is there loads of stuff about modern life that just doesn't make sense?

Like this one:

Why is it, when (as happened to me about ten minutes ago) someone rings you up from a call centre in Bangalore, or Chennai, or, for all I know, Delhi, they always claim to be called Chris (or Sue, or Jim), when clearly they're actually called something entirely different?

Just wondering.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

How green is your nappy?

Let's face it. Children are an environmental menace.

 In an already overpopulated world, the worst thing you can do is to increase that population: more consumers of already scarce resources, more waste which needs to be disposed of, more snotty-nosed brats playing tuneless recorders at 6 am...

And I've got four of them.  Some people would view that as an unjustifiable environmental crime.  Me?  I just feel guilty about it.  It's another thing to add to the long list of things I feel guilty about.

Clearly, I should have just not had a fourth child (Numbers 1 to 3 are apparently excusable, but only because 2 and 3 came as a package), but instead I do various half-hearted things to assuage the guilt and try to minimise our impact.

Which brings me on to nappies.  Because, let's face it, with four children including twins, real nappies just aren't going to happen, even if, the truth be told, we've actually only got one still in nappies.  We did do real nappies for a while, six months in fact, with L, but then we went on holiday, used disposables (sorry, but you've got to be a lot more eco-friendly than me to carry dirty nappies around in your suitcase for two weeks), came back and looked at that nappy bin and just thought:

No more.

Sorry, future generations. It's our fault.

So we do that pitiful woolly liberal thing and throw money at the problem.  We virtuously buy biodegradable wipes, biodegradable nappies and biodegradable plastic bags. 

And then we tie them all up into a big black plastic (recycled) sack, and chuck them into landfill.  Where, even if they weren't in a black plastic sack they probably wouldn't biodegrade, because, it turns out, there's not much oxygen in landfill, so instead they break down anaerobically, producing methane, which is much worse for the environment than carbon dioxide*.

I thought about putting them into the compost bin in the garden, but we produce way more nappies than we do potato peelings and banana skins, and then the compost bin just turns into a pile of nappies. Not to mention the fact that the nappies we use firmly tell us they're suitable only for industrial composting, which our council doesn't do. (Incidentally, and despite my usual tendency to do what I'm told, we did stick a few of the baby ones in the bin at home and they vanished very nicely. They're probably responsible for my lovely new roses). 

I've looked this one up, but the problem with the environmental nappy lobby is that there is only one acceptable solution: real ones, and I've tried, I really did, and if I couldn't do it with one child, there's no way I can with four.  Not to mention the fact that then you've got the washing (waste of water) and the drying (we live in Scotland) and suddenly your environmental impact is arguably worse than if you just chucked the things over your neighbour's fence while sitting smugly under your patio heater with all the lights on.

Which has me wondering why I've been paying for these expensively liberal nappies.  Are they actually any better than Pampers or Huggies? (Although, to be fair, Pampers and Huggies appear to bring my children's bottoms out in nappy rash, which the eco ones don't).  Are Pampers actually, counter-intuitively, more ecologically friendly than eco nappies - ok, they won't biodegrade, but at least in not biodegrading they're not actually making the problem worse.

In fact, can the eco ones even be called eco, if all they're doing is producing noxious gases in an unsightly landfill site?

I know the answer is to use real nappies, but realistically that's a big ask, and one I don't think we can manage.

So if what we're supposed to do is the small thing, in the hope that the accumulation of small things will add up to a big thing, what is the small thing here?  Or isn't there one?

Because it's that or sell one of the children.

*Biodegradable waste is apparently almost the worst possible thing you could put into landfill.  Who knew?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

A murder, a clue(do) and a competition.

Remember those seeds I planted?

The ones for innocent?

The ones you could win?

These ones?

I didn't.

Which is why I appear to have killed half of them.

Sorry innocent, but I appear to be guilty.

But there's good news.  Because there was a competition.  A gardening set, innocent vouchers, and some seeds for you to do your very own murdering with (or not, if you have (Rev) greener fingers and a better memory than I do...

Guess where they are.  Here's another little clue(do):

Here's another look.  Check out my sunflower, at the back.  

Have a guess, leave a comment, roll the dice and play the game, by Friday morning and we'll have a winner.  

Monday, 16 April 2012

Books at blogtime: The Hunger Games

I read The Hunger Games for three reasons:

1.  B wants to see the film and I won't see a film until I've read the book it's based on.
2.  I wanted to see what all the fuss was about
3.  I was expecting it to be utter tosh and I was in the mood for a bit of mindless nonsense.

What I didn't expect was that it would make me think, and that I would be putting it on my list of books I want my children to read*.

Clearly, on some levels, it is utter tosh.  It's not great literature: you don't gasp over the quality of the writing or the perfection of the imagery, but the plot grabs and carries and, more importantly, it surprises and makes you (or at least me) think.

I raced through the first two, much as I had expected to - grabbed by the story: wanting to know, while already half-knowing (because you do, don't you?), what was going to happen, but also mildly irritated not only by the amazing lack of sensitivity and self-awareness shown by Suzanne Collins' main character, but also that she didn't go further and make more of the reality tv aspect, to show how it impacted on the viewer, to analyse what would make an entire people accept the televising of a fight to the death between children as normal, acceptable, even desirable - and then I was confounded by the third.

Because I didn't know what was going to happen.  Far from it.  I thought I did, and then it never came.  I don't want to go into detail because I do want you to read it but I thought I'd get black and white, victory and defeat, triumphalism and dejection.  Instead I got moral ambiguity, trauma and human suffering. 

If my children will, as I am sure they will, play computer games and watch films in which good is good, and bad is bad, and the end always justifies the means, I am very pleased that they will also have this, just to remind them that life isn't always, or perhaps never is, like that.

*A very lengthy work in progress, starting with Beatrix Potter, A A Milne and Roald Dahl and progressing through Kenneth Grahame, Charles Kingsley, Johanna Spyri, Frances Hodgson Burnett, H Rider Haggard, JJK Rowling, Philip Pullman (and not just the Northern Lights ones), Tolkein, Captain Marryat, Elisabeth Goudge, Noel Streatfeild, E Nesbit,  Ann Holm (I am David), Ian Serrailier (The Silver Sword), T H White, George Macdonald, Anna Sewell, R D Blackmore, Judith Kerr (we've started with Mog and The Tiger who came to Tea and will move on...), Rosemary Sutcliffe, Eleanor Porter (Pollyanna), Susan Coolidge, Louisa May Allcott, Laura Ingalls Wilder, L M Montgomery, Mary O'Hara, Aesop, R M Ballantyne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Mary Mapes Dodge (The Silver Skates), J Meade Faulkner, Arthur Ransome  and on and on through many others that I have read and remembered or that you are going to recommend...

Saturday, 7 April 2012

Nursery rhymes for the country set.


Two little dicky birds sitting on a wall.
One went pop and the other went bang.

I think we can safely say they've assimilated...

Thursday, 5 April 2012

That post

Yup.  It's that post.

You know the one.

The one where I self-deprecatingly tell you how rubbish I am at everything, and then coyly at the end sneak in but there are a load of awards going on, so if you fancied it, I mean you don't have to, but it would be really lovely if you did, I'd be so grateful, but obviously there are lots of other blogs out there so you should probably vote for one of them, but please would you vote for me. Maybe?

Yup, it's that post.

I think these posts are interesting though, don't you?  Kelloggsville doesn't like them, or the awards themselves, and she's very witty and articulate on why (thinking about it, she's generally very witty and articulate, she should probably get an award for that), but I think at base a lot of it, or at least a lot of our discomfort in asking for nominations or votes is because, somehow, it doesn't seem very British.   What we all, really, want is not only to win an award, but also to do so without asking for it, for it to fall into our laps from the gods of blogging so we can blush winsomely and go Gosh! Me?!  I never thought it!

It's like elections, isn't it?  You sort of get the impression, most of the time, that the vast majority of politicians are a bit embarrassed about asking for our votes.  We, and they, have got used to it now, but really what we'd all rather is if they just hid away and did their jobs and we would vote for them if we wanted and not if we didn't, and never have to actually talk to them about it, or listen to them selling themselves.  That's why our election campaigns are so (comparatively) short.  We can't take it for any longer than we already have to.

It all reeks of desperation rather. Desperation and a very British combination of false modesty, disingenuity (is that a word?) and self-deprecation.

But, notwithstanding, that's what I'm doing.  Because the MAD blog awards are up for grabs again.  And I really would love to be nominated.  So if you do like what I do, and you can't think of anyone else, do please think about nominating me (by clicking here) in any of the following (vaguely relevant - I have edited out best pregnancy and best business and most fashionable blog, see how self-deprecating I am - and probably wildlly optimistic) categories.

Best writer (hah!)
Most inspirational (hah!)
Blog of the year (double hah!)
Baby blog (I've got one, you know.  Don't mention him much,  but he does exist).
Family Life (I've got one of them too.)

And the one I'd love to win (and thank you to whoever's already nominated it): Blog post of the year.  Because lots of you said how much you liked this one. And I'm proud of it.

You know what to do. If you want to, of course.

Monday, 2 April 2012

How to be a feminist

Are you a feminist?

I am.

I think.

I think of course I'm a feminist.  I believe, profoundly, that women should not be treated differently because of their gender.  That they should have equal pay for an equal job.  That they should have the right to choose with whom they have sex, when, where, and indeed how.  That they should not be barred from medical care, employment, social activities, sports or anything else purely because of being what they are.


I have never, once, thought of myself, a woman, as less able, less capable, less entitled than a man. Any man*.

Of course I'm a feminist.  Aren't we all?  Women and men?

But I also wax my legs (not as often as I should), wear make up and bras (I've breast-fed four children, of course I wear bras), take the primary role in caring for those children,  map-read rather than driving, cook the majority of the meals, accept that sometimes employing a woman (me) who goes off on maternity leave three times in five years is less than convenient or ideal and realise that there are some things that men and women do, and will always do, differently.

Am I a feminist?

I've been thinking recently that what I really am, above anything else, is a chronic relativist. I find it very easy to see the other side and, as a result, very difficult to come down on one side or the other.  There is very little I'm certain about.  Very little on which I have a hard, unshakeable opinion.  Very little on which I cannot see that perhaps the others may have a point.

I'm sure it makes me very irritating.  But I'm also sure it doesn't stop me being a feminist.  Whatever those others may think.

Wikipedia (of course) says  
Feminism is a collection of movements aimed at defining, establishing, and defending equal political, economic, and social rights for women. In addition, feminism seeks to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment.

And I find myself thinking: Well, yes.  Naturally.  But what does "equal" mean?

Caitlin Moran's a feminist. She's written a whole book about it: How to be a womanA (her words) funny, but polemic book about feminism.

And I wanted to love it. I wanted to agree with everything she says.  I wanted to shout about it, and make every woman, and man, I know, read it.  But I couldn't.  She made me laugh, lots. She made me nod my head in agreement, lots.  But somehow she didn't quite convince me.

There's the premise for a start.  She would have me believe that she doesn't know how to be a woman. That she was an ugly, ungainly teenager desperately wondering how to be a woman.  That works as an idea.  It even works with her self-deprecating stories.  It just doesn't work if, like me, you spent most of your teenage years wondering not, how to be a woman, but how to be Caitlin Moran.  Terrifyingly clever, terrifyingly cool, undeniably a woman.

More importantly, I'm not sure her arguments work.  She's very keen on flirting, for instance.   She describes herself as a natural flirt. (Another reason, incidentally, I find it hard to believe she ever struggled with being a woman:  in my experience, natural flirts sail through life on a sea of half-raised eyelashes, coy glances and witty asides.  Life for them is much easier than it is for the rest of us).  And she says, I heartily believe that, should they wish to, strident feminists are allowed to flirt their way to the top.  Her logic is that it's just the same as male bonding, and if it gets you where you want to go, then you should do it.

But I'm just not sure.  She approves of flirting your way to the top, but she loathes, loathes with a passion, lap-dancing clubs.  And I can't help but feel that one is the top of the very large slippery slope that leads to the other.  Not that I'm saying that flirting is the same as lap-dancing, but I am saying that it seems to me that if you flirt your way to the top you are using your femininity to exploit men's weakness for that femininity to your advantage.

Is that really that different from using your nice bottom and pretty breasts to convince men to stick £50 notes in your pants, if you are not being coerced or forced into it and if that is what you actively want to do?

I also think she misses a big, glaring, probably pink, elephant in the room.  She covers pants (should be bigger), bikini "grooming" (not necessary and actually probably rather damaging in more ways than just the obvious), weight (doesn't really matter as long as you're healthy and happy - and oh, isn't she missing something with that innocuous "happy" at the end there?),  how to cope with your body and what it does and men's bodies and what they do, pregnancy, motherhood and abortion, sexism, feminism and it-bags and she's very shouty on all of it, very funny on much of it, and terrifyingly accurate on most of it.  But she doesn't deal with the one issue which for me hits right at feminism in the West in the 21st century.

How do we combine our hard-won right to work, to fulfill ourselves, to get to the top of whatever it is we do, to be the best, be paid the best and enjoy all of the privileges that brings with the fact that, however you cut it, we're still the ones that have the babies.  What does feminism say about that fight? About that argument? About the juggling act that is what got me blogging in the first place?

And when will we stop being judged for it?

She doesn't say.  And I'd really have liked to know.

And maybe it's my chronic relativism, or maybe it's just my experience, but I think that that one fact:  the fact that we have the babies, means that after we've done that (and, as she says, it doesn't really matter whether you do have babies or not, you will be asked about it and judged on it), life is always, to some degree, a compromise, and a compromise that men will never have to make.   Because even if you model yourself on Rachida Dati and go straight back to work from the maternity unit, you will be making compromises one way or another and, perhaps more importantly for feminists, you will be judged for doing so.  No-one, but no-one will sit back and say "Oh well, it's her choice, I'm sure she knows what she's doing".

Not a chance.  They'll analyze, and criticise.  And comment on how quickly (or otherwise) you've got your figure back while doing so.

And they'd never (they'll never have to) do that to a man.  Especially the figure bit.

So sorry, Caitlin.  I enjoyed your book, I really did.  But it hasn't taught me how to be a woman.  Or a feminist.

I guess I must have been both already.


I should mention that the book was, very kindly, sent to me by Emily O.  A million thanks. 

*Caveat, because, as I say, I'm a relativist too: I'm clearly not as fast as Usain Bolt, or as witty as Stephen Fry, or as beautiful as Andrej Pejic.  But that's not just because I'm a woman. Honest.