Thursday, 26 February 2015

spotting signs of Spring

Whisper it, just in case, but I'm spotting signs of Spring. I've got green leaves appearing in my garden, some flowers are even chancing peeping out. 

Why whisper? Because I don't want the weather gods to notice and punish us again, as they did with the incredible snows of March 22nd 2013, when the snow came so hard and so fast that my husband got to work with nary a worry, but the school was closed a mere hour later. Not that the children played out in it, the wind was so strong that just standing up was a struggle. It took ages for the piles by the road to melt.

Yesterday, the little girl and I went for a walk by the Noddleburn. We saw banks of snowdrops, even the odd crocus, plus, a heron flew past us, which was just magical. It was only a little walk this time, due to wearing the wrong shoes. We're going to explore further with wellies next time. I'm really glad a friend tipped me off about the paths because I love a woodland walk, and I would never have thought of looking behind that gorgeous little house by the bridge, with NETHERHALL written on it in big letters. The little girl thought the house looked like something from Into the Woods. Praise indeed, because that's our new favourite film.

A lovely day for a walk into the woods.

When the temperature went up a bit in mid-February, I decided to plant some seeds to fill the gap left by the departed marigolds in the garden. The tiny seedlings are now beginning to appear, which is bringing me joy, even though the temperature has decidedly gone down again.

I love living in Largs, but towards the end of winter the rain/sleet, and the wind, and the grey sky/sea, and the constantly having to put on gloves and hats and boots (no chore at all until you have to put them on three children as well as yourself), and the horribly soggy garden are really getting me down. We moved here to live near my husband's family, which is great, but I do sometimes wish we all lived somewhere else... like the south of France maybe.

More blue skies are what's needed, and a bit of vitamin D from the sun. Add to that some more colour in the garden. But most of all, I can't wait for more warmth. 

Bring on Spring! But keep it quiet, I really don't want the weather gods stomping on my daffodils again.

Monday, 23 February 2015

not stuffing mushrooms: what is life too short for?

Shirley Conran once said that life is too short to stuff a mushroom. She had a point. But it made me wonder. What else is life too short for?

Here are some suggestions from me. What are yours?

Life is too short to:

  • iron pyjamas (or socks, or pants, or pretty much anything that doesn't REALLY require it)
  • read bad books (they might not be bad for everyone, but there are so many good ones out there, it's best to move on)
  • alphabetise (unless you're compiling a dictionary, in which case, go right ahead)
  • make a roux sauce (seriously - try Delia's all in one white sauce, it cuts right to the chase)
  • dwell on stuff you can do nothing about (OK, so it's hard not to at times, but if there's nowt to be done then move on)
  • stay in a job that makes you miserable (you're going to have to endure it for a while, but get yourself an escape plan, and you'll start feeling better already)
  • worry about failing (even if it's a big deal, like A levels for instance, do the best you can, and if it doesn't work out, go on to plan B; there are many ways up one mountain)
  • do what you feel you should, instead of what you want to (there are parameters to this one though, I feel)
  • miss spending time with the ones you love
  • not try your best (if you're doing it half-heartedly, what's holding you back?)

I'd love to know what you'd add.

I now have two songs vying in my head for supremacy, and I can't decide which one to link to, so I'll do both. Both are about seizing the day. So get up on the desk and sound your barbaric yawp and carpe diem, and hopefully these songs will help you on your way: Eminem and Muse.

Sunday, 22 February 2015

expressing gratitude to three people: week eight of the gratitude challenge

This week on the gratitude challenge, which by the way I'm feeling good about this week - it ebbs and flows, I'm expressing gratitude to three people.

Three people is hard. I mean, I do have three people I am grateful to, but I'd hate to exclude anybody, and there are bound to be people excluded. Hey ho, let's go. I may cheat.

The first person I am grateful to this week is Clare from The Guardian, who accepted my piece about forgetting to pack pants when travelling to France. I am particularly thrilled that I didn't have to make any changes at all. This is my second bit in The Guardian, and it made me grin from ear to ear. You'll find it here, and the blog post that started it, is here (and was suggested by Chantelle of Fat Mum Slim, so thanks to her as well).

Secondly, as I write it is hailing. I would like to say that I have had enough of Winter already. Didn't it warm up for a bit there? Before the snow came back, and I was de-icing again. I am so sick of lots of things being shut, and the darkness (although that's getting better), and the freaking cold. What does this have to do with gratitude? Well, I want to say thank you to some of my favourite bloggers for talking about this very issue in recent posts. They made me feel better, just knowing someone else was feeling the same way (although I have no room to moan about the cold, compared to Alex from North Story). So big thanks go to:

  • Alex from North Story, for yesterday's post entitled That's Enough Snow Now.
  • Betty Pamper from Pamper and Curves, for yesterday's post entitled You Have The Key To My Heart, which is about a rather fabulous dress, but also sticks a tongue out at Winter and hails the coming of Spring.
  • Last but not least, my thanks go to Foz Meadows of Shattersnipe, for her beautifully articulate and honest account of her Seasonal Affective Disorder. I want to try a light. The title is Light, Breath, Time, and it came out on Thursday.
Daffodills bring me joy - Spring is on it's way.
But I didn't buy any today because my husband has
hayfever. Polishing my halo over here.
The third lot of thanks goes to my husband, who has been a star today, picking up the slack and then some, with recalcitrant children who wouldn't do homework, or go to bed, while I have not been feeling well. It is true that he has given me the lurgy, but I still really do appreciate the time he's given me to go away and rest quietly, and the patience he has demonstrated while I've been whining about being cold and aching. Thanks chuck.

So many thanks to all, and do you like the way I managed to fit six people into thanking three? 

Saturday, 14 February 2015

benignly neglectful: rising above the madness of modern parenting

Zoe Williams has been promoting her new book: The Madness of Modern Parenting, of late. Have you come across anything? It sounds really interesting. If you've missed it, you can find her Guardian article here.

She discusses two big kyriarchical issues, which I'm going to talk about a bit here, before talking about my attempts at 'benign neglect'.

So the first thing that Zoe talks about which interests me, is the rise in patriarchal control of pregnant women, much of it based on little or no research, indeed, a lack of research is often given as the reason for the control. When I was first pregnant and learning the rules of what I was allowed to eat, I asked my midwife if yoghurt was allowed? "Well," she said, "I don't like yoghurt, so I'd say no." I therefore did some research of my own and ate yoghurt. I also ate peanut butter, despite being instructed not to, because all the evidence showed that eating peanut butter would reduce the risk of peanut allergy, and I didn't want to have that. Happily, the Dept of Health have now changed that advice, but it's always worth remembering that they continued to advise women not to eat peanut butter in pregnancy after the evidence showed that that was bad advice.

I didn't eat soft cheese, although a friend did, because the risks were really very low. I also didn't drink at all, because when I tried a glass of wine it went straight to my head. There is no evidence to show that small quantities of alcohol are bad for a foetus, and recent tightening of advice on this is just another aspect of the way women's bodies are being policed during pregnancy.

Of course, women's bodies are always policed - we are supposed to be slim, and tidy, and manicured, but during pregnancy this gets really out of hand, with all and sundry advising you on what you can drink, what you can eat, and commenting on the size of you.

The next issue Zoe raises, which I'm going to talk about is the demonising of poor people as 'bad parents'. I don't quite agree with Zoe on the lack of research about how good breastfeeding is (because I spent a few years in breastfeeding research, and really it is amazing for mum and baby, and we are finding out more good stuff all the time), but I do agree that middle class women are more likely to breastfeed than working class women, and that health issues which affect more working class babies are not all about how they are fed. I think that there are also likely to be issues around working class women having to work difficult hours, and living in overcrowded housing, which will impact on their babies health, and on their ability to breastfeed. Also, working class women's bodies are even more heavily policed than middle class women's bodies, because of currently popular dialogues about undeserving poor, and it just isn't appropriate for all women to breastfeed in all situations. Zoe argues that poor women who go out to work when their child is very young are demonised as bad parents, and are also blamed as bad for not breastfeeding. This is part of the way in which poor people are made to be responsible for their own fate, and the constant cutting of benefits etc. is justified by the rich. Although I'm not sure how this fits with the 'hard working families' rhetoric.

Zoe also talks about the middle class mother's like me, who are able to look after their own children, being expected to be over-protective. My mother certainly thinks that's true, and we are more protective of our children than her generation was. I would never leave my children home alone, however briefly, but we were regularly left at home while a parent went to the shop, or to the pub. It didn't do me any harm, but I still wouldn't do it.

My mother is a great believer in benign neglect. She reckons that my son would never have squirted household cleaner in my daughter's face (because of the bubbles), if we hadn't kept the cleaning cupboard locked. There's an article here from Rowan Pelling about her brand of benign neglect, and why she feels it's worked for her.

I don't agree with my Mum about the cupboard, and I wouldn't have been without my child gates on the stairs, because I think you've got to fit your parenting to the children you've got. Some need more protection from harm than others, some are more curious. You know, children are people, and you have to deal with the people you've got.

Screen time!
That said, I am trying to be more benignly neglectful:

  • To ease off a bit on the screen time limits (because minecrafting is great collaborative stuff, which can give my kids a sense of flow, and a creative challenge), although I can't ease off completely, because then they would remain in their jammies all day, playing computer games, and I've tried that and it's ugly. My children are like puppies. They need to be walked each day.
  • I am trying to stay out of arguments. I want the children to resolve their disagreements themselves, so when I hear the fighting start, I try really hard to leave them to it. I generally get a visitor soon after to report what their sibling did (often two visitors), and then I try to say "what do you think you should do about that?" However, often fights are because someone's over-tired, or grumpy about something else, and in those situations, especially with the youngest (4), it's kinder, I feel, to distract them with something else. Get them something else to play with, so they don't have to bug their sibling.
  • I am trying to ignore minor bumps. You know if it's anything serious pretty rapidly. All those tumbles while running along generally seem to be ignored by the child themselves if I don't give them much attention. So I don't go running over, I just walk, and as I get to them I say "up you get", and I carry on walking. Usually it works. The other day it worked, and it was only later we realised my daughter had cut her knee. With no fuss whatever.
If you're a parent, what do you do to be benignly neglectful? And what do you think you should chill out about?

Friday, 13 February 2015

patronised by Labour: what women want is not in a pink bus

Did you hear Harriet Harman on Woman's Hour the other day?

She was talking about the controversial 'pink' bus, which the Labour party is using to encourage women to vote, and, of course, to vote Labour. I've put 'pink' in inverted commas because Harriet says it's not pink. It's magenta.

So that's cleared that up then. Magenta is completely different to pink. How could we have been so silly?

The Labour party have got a good research team, and they have been conducting focus groups with core groups of women which the Labour party are trying to reach out to. Women like the supermarket workers Harriet went to meet, who were very concerned about the length of the summer holidays. According to Harriet, summer holidays are the length they are to best facilitate education; but they are problematic for working women, because of childcare issues, and because of expensive holidays, so we need to look at changing them to make it more convenient for employers.

NOOOO! I mean, maybe we need to change them, or just allow parents to take their children on holiday within the school year, or something, but why prioritise the needs of employers above the needs of families? Britain is increasingly woeful at prioritising the people, and helping businesses to run with people working, rather than flesh covered drones who need to accept zero hours contracts on appallingly low wages, have their benefits cut if they refuse to work any hours the employer fancies. Work isn't working with school, but that doesn't mean that we need to send kids to school more. School is not a holding facility for children. It's a place where children learn and grow, and they also do that outwith school, with the support of their families, when their families can afford to see them.

Sorry, where was I?

Labour's pink bus is designed to talk 'Woman to Woman' about politics, because apparently most women think politics is irrelevant to them, and that politicians have no idea how they live (I suspect that this view is not limited to women).

So, what are the key issues that the pink bus is designed to talk woman to woman about?

  • Domestic violence.
  • Child care, and 
  • Equal pay
Why these issues? Harriet says it's because they disproportionately affect women.

She has a point there. Most survivors of domestic violence are women. Most childcare is done by women, and women do not get equal pay with men.

However, is painting a bus pink the way to discuss these issues? The way to get these issues taken seriously? Is constantly talking about getting more child care the right way to increase the value of this useful work?

I would argue that while Labour insist that they must pander to the whims of employers, undermining the rights and security of paid workers and their families, and while they continue to harp on about child care, constantly undermining the value of caring work carried out in families, then women's role will continue to be undervalued. The caring, and organising role that women tend to play in families will remain taken for granted, and women will continue to be underpaid.

When women are out of the paid workforce for a while, they often take a pay cut on their return, while they get back up to speed. All the wonderful experience they have gained in those years should be taken into account. Similarly, men should be encouraged to take part more in family life, so that they value it more, and so that the playing field is somewhat levelled.

Employers don't like the concept of 4 weeks paternity leave and might not take on men of childbearing age for fear of it? Sounds familiar to me.

Other countries do paid/home work better. Let's learn from them instead of patronising women.

And while I'm ranting, domestic violence, childcare, and equal pay are not my top priorities.

In case you're wondering, Ms Harman, my top priorities are:
  • Ending the awful austerity policies, because they are not working, and checking what Keynes had to say on the matter.
  • Sorting out the benefits system to remove penalties, and ensure everyone has enough to get by on.
  • Sorting out the mess which is Curriculum for Excellence.
  • Working with the staff of the NHS to find the best way to make it fit for the world we live in now, and
  • NOT TALKING ABOUT IMMIGRATION ANYMORE because you're just pandering to the eejits in UKIP, and really you shouldn't give them the oxygen.
Let me know how you get on with that.

friends with Deborah: why I'm grateful for an old friend

This week on the gratitude challenge, I'm talking about why I'm grateful for a friend. I can pick any friend I want, and I'm grateful to all of my friends, mainly for putting up with me, but also for fun times, a friendly ear, and sharing the road.

The person I'm going to talk about today came into my life when I was very unhappy, and I felt very lonely. I'd gone through adolescence, the bumpy way, and seemed to lose my friends along the way. No malice was involved, it was just a factor of growing up into different people, at different rates.

I was quietly spending time in the library, trying to work out who I wanted to be (and this involved a confiscated stash of RAW magazines - more on this story here), and keeping my dark thoughts to myself, when Deborah arrived.

She'd moved here from another school, which must have been tough, but I'm so glad she did. Deborah was a rocker, and outside the library one day I heard some kid being mean to her about it. She didn't do as I would have done - kept quiet and got away. She gave them grief. And they backed off. It wasn't that Deborah was rough, or mouthy, she is neither of those things. But she wasn't going to be spoken to like that either.

I immediately respected her and decided to befriend her.

It turned out that Deborah didn't really need any friends, she was close with a nearby cousin, and even had a boyfriend, however, she did want to have someone to go to the church youthclub with. I had walked past the church youthclub many a time, but never had the courage to enter. That was where the rock kids went, and several of them would be smoking outside when I passed. I dreamed of going there.

So I told Deborah I wasn't sure, and she told me not to be ridiculous.

We went that Friday. I spent HOURS getting ready. I probably looked a bit tragic. The tale of what happened that night is told here. But the important thing for today's blog post is that Deborah and I became fast friends. We did everything together for a while, and she gave me the courage to try new things, change my style, and to grow up a little bit. 

I really liked Deborah's style too. She was into Napalm Death (each to their own), but also T Rex, and she went from wearing mainly jeans and ex-army shirts to being very glam. I meanwhile, gothed it up to the max, eventually wearing ballgowns to go to Tesco. It was so much fun to try new things, and I really appreciated Deborah's coming along with me.

Deborah and I also took up smoking, which she would pretend not to do, and blame me for the smell. I assumed my Mum knew I smoked because she'd given me an ashtray for Christmas, but apparently that had been for Deborah to use. She was very disappointed (not disappointed enough to give up herself but).

Deborah was also Christian. She still is. Very. But she's never disaproved of other people believing different things. Not that I took much advantage of this. Rather, I tried to be Christian too. It didn't work out. But I'm happy for Deborah that she has her faith, and is in a rather lovely church.

I don't see much of Deborah now. Time and distance have got in the way, and we don't need that best friend connection any more, but I still really appreciate her attitude, and the fact that she was there at the right time for me. I also still love her style (she's a big fan of layering).

Apologies for the bad picture quality. This is from The Phono in the late 90s. I'm on the left, and Deborah is the one being squashed by a man on the right (the man is Dave, and the two women in the middle are our friends Annabel and Nicki).

Friday, 6 February 2015

10 things I love about Largs: a seaside town on the West Coast of Scotland

This is my sixth week of the gratitude challenge, and I am happy to be talking about my home town: Largs, on the West Coast of Scotland. In fact it's so good that I've talked about it before, here.

So, here are just ten of the things that I love about Largs. Feel free to add your own (or to quibble) in the comments.

Largs, with Fairlie in the distance (it's raining in Fairlie)

1. Largs has a train connection to Glasgow. I'm starting small here, I know, and this may not seem like a big deal to you, but when you've lived without a train line you'll know that it's massive. For a small fee I can sit in relative comfort and read my book while being transported into the centre of my local city. And Glasgow is not just any city. Glasgow's Miles Better. There's lots to do, amazing shopping, and so much going on... but back to Largs.

2. Largs has good schools, and it's not just me that thinks so. Education Scotland agrees. Largs Academy, the secondary school in the town, has consistently appeared in the top 50 schools in Scotland lists. Change is afoot now though, because the school buildings are detriorating, and there are plans to build a new campus incorporating all the existing schools, with some shared facilities. If it goes ahead (please let it go ahead), we'll have brand new, fabby facilities in just two years. Obviously some people are worried about it, but I've experienced an all through school in Moffat, and that was great, so I've got my fingers crossed.

3. Largs has good shops too. It's a small town so don't expect miracles, but it's got a supermarket (Morrisons - which has really upped it's game of late), two good toy shops, which are competitively priced and friendly, glorious gift shops in the shape of Largo and Bluestone, and a plethora of shoe shops - having not lived in a place with a shoe shop since 2004, that's fabulous. We've also got a proper high street, with independent jewellers, butchers, fishmongers and green grocers (no independent bakers though - we could do with a good baker).

4. Largs is also well stocked with cafes, including the marvellous Nardini's. We are all big fans of Nardini's ice cream, but their sandwiches (watch out - they're enormous) are a treat too. Not that we get to eat out much at the moment, but just you wait until I start getting paid for stuff!

5. Largs is well connected for ferry trips to nearby islands. There's one from Largs to Cumbrae, and just up the road at Wemyss Bay you can catch the Bute ferry, and down the road at Ardrossan, there's the Arran ferry. There are lots of things to do on the islands, and lovely views from the ferries.

Largs, seen from the Cumbrae ferry

6. Just outside of Largs is the gloriously colourful Kelburn Castle. I've never been in the castle itself because there's so much to do outside, with adventure courses, an enchanted forest, a fort, and lots more. Kelburn is well worth a visit.

Kelburn Castle
7. There is lots of historical stuff of interest around Largs. And there's a lovely little museum where you can find out about stuff (when it's open). Many families have lived here for generations, and it's interesting to see some of the same names coming up in different places.

8. Also on a historical theme, there are three sets of graves of historical import around Largs. Firstly, there's the graveyard, Skelmorlie Aisle (which is in Largs, not Skelmorlie, a nearby village). There you'll find the crypt of the Brisbane family. Near to Douglas park you'll find the ancient burial mound, and if you head the other way, up Brisbane Glen Road and past the current cemetry, you'll find the path to the prophet's grave.

9. The latest historical factoid that I've come across is that there used to be a Roman Fort on the hill behind Cock-ma-lane (although in some places I've seen it described as an iron age fort. I'd love to know more about that.

10. And to top everything off, Largs has stupendous sunsets and amazing views. You should visit.

Largs: The view from Cock-ma-lane
I'd love to know about your town. What's great about where you live?

Thursday, 5 February 2015

playing KLANG: the road home

Today saw the launch of a new kids game, for the tablet, or your smart 'phone.

Unusually for a game, it was lauched by Scotland's Transport Minister, Derek Mackay. He said:  
“In recent years we have seen real improvements in road safety but more can be done, that is why we aim to build on this by looking at new and innovative ways of educating our young people on how to stay safe.
“This app is a great way of delivering important road safety messages that will keep users engaged with the technology while linking to the curriculum, offering added benefits for pupils, teachers and parents alike.”

It doesn't sound promising does it? But we thought we'd give it a go.

The  app, called KLANG: The Road Home, was developed by Road Safety Scotland and the Scottish Government, and is aimed at 8-11 year olds.

The new game sees alien robot Klang crash land on earth from a nearby galaxy. To fix his ship and make his way home, he needs help to safely navigate our busy streets to find the missing parts - all the while avoiding discovery from rogue detection officers.

With more and more cars on the roads, pedestrian accidents continue to be a serious problem. Children aged 8 -11 are one of the most vulnerable groups with injuries commonly resulting from crossing the road close to home or school. This is the age at which a lot of kids start walking to school by themselves, and yet the capacity to make judgements regarding speed and distance are not yet fully developed.

Crossing the road: 2015 style
So, I downloaded this game and gave it to my 9 year old son to play. I have to say, he was pretty chuffed to be playing something so very new.  His sisters (4 and 7) were curious, so they watched him playing, which sparked them talking about where was safe to cross the road, which was good in my book.

The boy played the game for about half an hour. He said that he thought it looked good, it was easy to work out how to do things (he was showing his four year old sister how to do it too, but she wasn't accurate enough). He said it was fun to play, but it wasn't something he'd want to play again and again. He did have problems with a couple of the mini games - one was annoyingly fiddly to work, and one didn't seem to work at all, but this is the first day, hopefully these minor glitches will be ironed out.

He noticed that the app was trying to teach him about crossing the road, and said that that was good. He thought he probably would think a bit more about where to cross next time.

So it's a pretty good game, for a one off play, but you wouldn't want to do it all the time. We did think it would be good to have on school tablets, to use as a teaching tool when talking about road safety.

KLANG: The Road Home is available to download from the app store and Google Play for iOS and Android (although I couldn't find it on Google Play, so got it here).