Tuesday, 28 August 2012

Things women are supposed to like but don't really

My son - I'll bet you don't give a hoot
Years ago I had a boyfriend whose mother used to feed me ice cream, gallons of it. I learned to greet each huge bowl of vanilla with convincing enthusiasm as I slurped it down.

I can't remember where it started, but she believed I adored ice cream, so she always got it in specially. It seemed harmless enough at first and I didn't want to hurt her feelings, so I smiled and swallowed.

But as time went on I started to dread the mounds of creamy stuff I was supposed to scoff. Was I forever to be the girl who loved ice cream - never to be offered cake, biscuits or even a salted peanut?

Thankfully for all concerned, except perhaps the local ice cream shop, the relationship collapsed like a choc ice left out in the sun.

Lately, however, I've been reminded of this feeling. You know. Pretending to love stuff you, at best, feel ambivalent about.

Particularly cup cakes. There seems to be some collective be belief that being in possession of a vagina means the inability to think straight in the presence of sponge with icing on it.

Ok they don't answer back and always fit even on fat days. But most of us would struggle to sustain shoe-based enthusiasm for more than about five minutes. You put your feet in them after all. 

50 Shades of Gray.
Badly written not very porny porn. OK, we have all read it but only to see what the fuss is all about - and now we all know it's just a bit rubbish. We're certainly not soft headed enough to be driven to the brink of a sexual revolution by this mince.

Brad Pitt.
Maybe once, in the Fight Club years, but not now, not with the straggly hair and all the weans.

Puppies and kittens. 
Awww cute. Now, back to our interesting conversation. We all know they only stay cute for about five minutes before turning into big animals that scratch furniture and stick their bums in your face, or poo inconsiderately and lick their balls noisily. Grown up pets just aren't interesting. At all. 

Hairless men.
Apparently in 2012 we are supposed to find men with no hair on their bodies sexy. It's fashionable for blokes to exfoliate, unfortunately our libidos don't do fashion. 

Just because we can bear them, doesn't mean we can bear other people's. Clearly there are notable exceptions, but, mostly we just don't care about your kids... ours are much more interesting.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Silent Sunday

Camelot Theme Park

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 25 August 2012

Who teaches children to put carrot in their spag bol?

Strawberries - Scottish, tasty and healthy.
Strawberries - Scottish, tasty and healthy.
We do, is the short answer.

Boy One, who has just started S2, came home on Friday with a plastic tub of, what he called, spaghetti bolognaise.

He made it in HFT - that's new-speak for home economics, stands for health and food technology. One of his favourite subjects.

A useful thing to learn to cook, I suppose. Handy, a spag bol - almost makes mince posh. 

I asked him what the recipe was and he said: "Boil the pasta with salt in a pan."

I nodded.

"Then put the sauce in another pan, with the mince and the carrots."


"The sauce in with the mince, which you have to bash 'cos it's all one big lump, and the grated carrots."

"What sauce? What carrots? And what about onion, garlic and herbs?"

There then followed a very confusing conversation - conducted between Tebay Services and the turn-off for Lancaster en route to Camelot Theme Park to use the tickets we won in the Tots100 competition donkeys ago.

I was under the mistaken impression that what he was making was, in fact, sauce and he was trying to explain that the very bolognesyness came out of a jar - a sauce jar. 

That ironed out, I tackled the carrot issue. Now I know that some chefs like it in their recipes, but it's not really the norm, certainly not the only veg to appear. Mostly, if there's carrot it's in such a crowd of other good things that you barely notice it's there. 

Not so second year HFT students. Their bolognaise is a very carroty affair. Boy One is somewhat lump phobic and largely a veg refusenik, so he had tried to body swerve the orange stuff. 

"I had to put it in. It's in the recipe because of the Scottish Dietary Targets," he said as if that explained it. 

The Scottish Dietary Targets, Google informs me, began life in 1996 when the then Scottish Office decided to do something about the nation's Sick Man of Europe tag. So it set down proscribed amounts of healthy stuff we're supposed to consume and limits for the tasty bad stuff. I couldn't (be bothered to) find many details about exactly what these targets are, although this study showed that in 2005 we were hardly giving cabbages cause for concern and broccoli can rest easy in its bed.

Obviously someone has had the genius idea of solving the eating-ourselves-to-death conundrum by teaching our children how to eat healthily. OK, admittedly, this sounds like a good idea. I have a fleeting vision of introducing our kids to fresh fruit and veg that is cooked beautifully and served alongside some other delicious and nutritious treat. We could take a leaf out of the book of the people who live on the Mediterranean - like the Italians. 

Of course we could, but no. Instead, we're teaching our children that opening a jar, bashing mince in goopy red sauce and adding grated carrots is a good thing to do to food. It is not. It tastes horrible - much like mince and carrots in goop - and will do nothing to educate our youngsters about either good food or healthy eating. 

Tomorrow will largely be spent teaching Boy One how bolognese is really made.


Friday, 24 August 2012

A cure for blogstipation

Loch Lomond from Balloch
Calm reflection
Yeah, yeah, I know, we're not supposed to talk about actual blogging on our blogs. But what're you gonna do? Oi.... come back.

But then again, if you don't know what to blog about, usually thing that is taking up the most space in your mind is the best place to start.

Normally, my head is full of ideas for posts and they just plop out as easily as if five-a-day have been diligently consumed. But sometimes they don't.

Don't know why, but there are times they won't come no matter how hard I squeeze. Or how long I sit.

It's been a bit that way this week. So I thought I'd come up with a few suggestions to get things moving, senna for your social media if you like. 

See what's already there. 
I always have a few half-finished posts floating around. When I say a few I currently have 109 in draft! So it might be time for a clear out. It's always worth a little look through to see if there's something that inspires. It might only need a little work and it'll be ready to go. 

Let a picture do the talking.
Is there a photo you could share? What's on your phone? Here's what I concluded when I looked at the images on my mobile the other day. 

C'mon and join the blog-hop.
There are numerous memes, linkys and blog-hops all over the internet. Love All Blogs is full of inspiration as is Britmums

Read all about it. 

Find your favourite bloggers, or follow your nose through their blog rolls. Just read and before you know it you'll find something that sparks an idea. No one will mind, particularly if you mention on your post where you got the inspiration. 

Start typing. 
I don't mean to be fatuous, but, especially if there's something on your mind that is blocking your blogs, then writing it down is one of the best ways of shifting it. You don't have to publish it. 

Ask Twitter. 
If I'm in the unusual situation of having some time but nothing on my mind to blog about, I ask Twitter. Like Ready Steady Cook, take the ingredients they give you and create something tasty. #readysteadyblog.

Make a list. 
10 things that annoy me,
9 reasons for buying chocolate,
8 hot people on CBeebies,
7 reasons we need to see Prince Harry naked,
6 songs I love and why,
5 things to do with an old pair of socks,
4 terms you've googled but wish you hadn't, 
3 types of schoolgate mum,
2 people who inspired you 
1 more so you get the idea...

Spill the beans
Is there an aspect of your life that you don't really think about but that we, out here on the internet, might be interested in? A weird experience, rare medical condition, odd coincidence. 

Log off and go to bed. 
Might you just be too knackered? Stop trying and do something else. Come back to it in the morning. Honest, it works. When I was a reporter I often found I couldn't make any sense of my shorthand in the evening, but if I looked at it first thing it all became clear. 

Meantime, keep taking your five a day, drinking lots of water and you'll get the result you want.

Tuesday, 21 August 2012

Who would want pants like these? Cycling for happiness

There are some new knickers in my wardrobe. They are possibly the biggest bloomers I've ever owned and the competition is tough.

Have you ever noticed how the quantity of fabric in one's pants increases in proportion with the passing years. As an octogenarian I expect to be able keep my chin warm by pulling up my not-so-scanties.

But they aren't just any old tummy button huggers, these have a padded crotch to keep my tender bits from too much harm. The need for such a garment has come about since I've been spending more time on a bike. 

I've always liked the idea of cycling - imagined blue skies, healthy limbs, peddling happily and laughter. Stopping for ginger beer. 

However the reality has never come close. 

Over the years I have grappled with gears, got oily from the chain and gathered bruises in places where I wasn't even sure there were places previously. 

Then Super Gran, a long-time pedalophile, decided to upgrade at the age of 70 and gave me her cast-off vehicle. Excuses were vanishing fast. 

My friend Debbie, has also been bitten by the biking bug and is often to be found on the cycle and towpaths of Glasgow.

Then our book group welcomed a new member who is also a trainer for Cycling Scotland. The thing was closing in. 

The last straw was the Pedal for Scotland Glasgow to Edinburgh bike ride. It seemed do-able and, when I signed up, was far enough away not to scare me. 

Only now it's getting close, so I've had to do something about it. And, having avoided the issue with some essential shopping, the thing seemed to be to get on my bike.

I've had a couple of pleasant enough bike rides, sneaking out before anyone else was up.

But yesterday I finally got it. Boy Two - who is ten and the keenest cyclist in the Palace of Bundance - and I cycled from here to Kilbarchan and back again, a grand total of five miles. But it was lovely, we chatted, looked at stuff and by the time we came back I felt brilliant. 

I had reminded myself - once again - of the beneficial effects of exercise on one's mental health. Plus I realised I might just be able to make it from Glasgow to Edinburgh and enjoy most of the journey. 

Oh, and this new-found two-wheeled fixation has caused me for the first time in 42 years to suffer bike lust. Look at this:

It's a Brooke by Victoria Pendleton for Halfords. And it's a thing of beauty. 

I'm pleased to call myself a cyclist and add pedalling to my list of pass-times, I only hope it doesn't falter the first time I have to fix a puncture. 

Sunday, 19 August 2012

Why would you take a cucumber to work?

Way back at the start of the summer I was in Penrith with my mother and my kids and I saw something I'm still puzzling over. In fact, I can't get it out of my head. 

There we were all set for an outing to Carlisle with Super Gran when Boy One announced he'd forgotten his waterproof jacket... again. Whereupon the skies rumbled and it started to pour. 

So, en route to Tully House, we popped into the shops to buy a cheap waterproof jacket for him. I don't mind buying extra stuff for the oldest as they'll filter down through the sibling ranks in time. I know this is horribly unfair and the others will likely seek therapy for never getting new stuff. However, it might be character building. 

It was Penrith in late June so it didn't take us long to find what we want in red nylon, complete with a little bag to keep it in. 

As we were paying the very nice lady, who smiled indulgently at us and said something appropriately forgettable about the deluge, I spotted something. It was there alongside her till. 

A large cucumber. Not even wrapped in its supermarket plastic sheath, but naked. A naked cucumber.

For a minute my gaze had wandered, bored. Till, phone, thing for security tags, rack of lip balm, display of scarfy-tube things in loud colours, phallic vegetable. 


That's right. Next to her till, like it was supposed to be there lay the vegetable. If it could have whistled with green knobbly arms behind its back, it would have done. I'm sure the woman spotted me noticing, but she just smiled serenely like I'd been staring at her 'special offer lambswool socks' sign. 

Why would you take a cucumber to work then? 

For lunch. Possibly, but there was no sign of bread, tuna, mayo or any of other things that might make a cucumber into a meal. Nor were there Tupperware boxes, chopping boards, cling film or cutlery. So, unless she was preparing to chomp it from the top like a big green banana I'd rule that out as an explanation. (Of course she could be planning to consume it thus, but it would be reasonably unusual, particularly in a public place.)

There's a chance she was simply arming herself. Like having a reasonably ineffective baseball bat you could eat later if the fight made you hungry. Perhaps what brandishing a cucumber as a weapon lacks in actual threat, it makes up for in sheer bonkersness. And I do remember a Roald Dahl Tale of the Unexpected about a woman who offed her hubby with a frozen leg of lamb, only to cook and dish her weapon up to the investigating officers. 

Maybe it's something slightly steamier - although if you steamed a cucumber surely it would wilt? There's a bit in 50 Shades of Gray where heroine Anna comes over all unnecessary at the sight, in public, of Christian's tie. Despite the fact that the previous night the tie was subject to an ordeal that would certainly leave it unwearable, our hero had it laundered and wore it.  

Maybe our smiley shop assistant had some sort of vegetable rack-based erotic encounter the previous night and was simply setting out her stall to surprise her swain with a secret message. Maybe. 

So there you have it - dildo, cudgel or badly organised repast? Why would you take a cucumber to work?

Tuesday, 14 August 2012

Buying children's shoes - a special kind of misery.

How can mere footwear be behind - or at the sole of - such highs and lows of female experience?

The symbolism and sexiness of divine heels is beyond doubt. We all know shoes are your friends whatever tricks the treacherous waistband might be up to.

However, at the other end of the road is the shopping for children's shoes on the last day of the holidays ordeal - a trauma in many acts.

It starts before you have even left the house. At first it is oh so calm with a list and a few questions about PE kit and the whereabouts of ties.

Then before you know it you are teetering on the threshold of one of those shops with initials in the name and I don't mean LK Bennett. One so crammed with stuff that baskets of neon sports equipment and horrible music are spilling out.

It is full of chunky plastic shoes, seemingly indistinguishable apart from vulgar colours and price. The aisles - barely wide enough to justify the name - are jammed with parents with murder in their eyes, double buggies and people dressed in sports gear who, apparently, have never troubled a sports facility. The build up of static from the friction and nylon must be a serious hazard. 

Fairly quickly it's apparent that no one in their right mind no matter how much of a bargain might be found eventually can endure this.

Next stop the real shoe shop up the mall. The one where the front half is quiet and full of tempting, tasty new-season footwear and matching bags. The back half, meanwhile, seethes like maggots in a jar. 

Every space is filled with shoe boxes, children and siblings standing, sprawling and whining, parents sighing and shop assistants kneeling while others high step over the mayhem. 

When your deli ticket number gets called you get to enter this hell. There will be no where at all to go, no seat - they are full of not-being-shod children and shopping, and not even anywhere to stand. But you must do this to get a trained fitter to get the right shoe for your child's feet otherwise you will be guilty of neglect by ill-fitting footwear. It will also be too hot. And you will be hungry. 

Finally your child's feet will be scanned and their size declared. 2.5 H, if you care. You will be found lacking if your son or daughter doesn't have their own socks on. After considerable jostling and tutting a pile of shoe boxes will arrive, you will take the first pair that is declared a good fit and not even ask the price. 

Only later at the till - no, I don't need a can of that stuff that costs £5 - you'll realise that for the price of these small shoes that will get probably get trashed before they are outgrown, you could have had a some very satisfying retail therapy and bought a beautiful pair that you will never outgrow. 

There has to be a better way of doing this - if you know, please tell me before we need to do this again with the Boy's rapidly-sprouting brother.

Sunday, 12 August 2012

The Olympics - a golden signpost to change

My adorable nephew shows his colours

I was at the office of a Sunday newspaper yesterday, putting in my occasional appearance as a subeditor when something odd happened. 

We had, as most papers do today, several spreads about the Olympics - about the closing festival high jinks, about glory and courage. So far so uplifting and positive. So unusual for news.

But the paper I was at had a story to go with the other Olympic stuff that wasn't so glowing. It was a whinge and a moan about something not, in one person's opinion, so wonderful. Much, much more typical newspaper fodder. But it felt all wrong as I was subbing it, negativity soaked out of the computer. Bleurgh. 

Minutes later, the editor read the story and felt the same thing. "It's too negative. Doesn't sit with the rest of the stuff. Let's change it," he said, and the ill-tempered story bit the dust. 

Not so remarkable perhaps, until you consider that almost every story has some degree of conflict in it. Things going right isn't generally of interest... until now. News usually Hoovers up unhappiness and misadventure to spit out on its front page. Don't be judgemental, it's just how it is. If you don't believe me, ask yourself why you are interested in the harrowing saga of Tia Sharp. 

You'd normally see that any story, no matter how many dead is on the front pages for four days at the most. Not so the Olympics, interest is growing. This feels very different. Perhaps it's signalling a change inside the invisible mesh that connects us all into the people of a nation. 

Just as I was thinking about writing this, I spotted that Carol Ann Duffy had said the same thing, but better in a poem written for the Daily Mirror.

Translating the British, 2012

A summer of rain, then a gap in the clouds
and The Queen jumped from the sky
to the cheering crowds.
We speak Shakespeare here,
a hundred tongues, one-voiced; the moon bronze or silver,
sun gold, from Cardiff to Edinburgh
by way of London Town,
on the Giant's Causeway;
we say we want to be who we truly are,
now, we roar it. Welcome to us.
We've had our pockets picked,
the soft, white hands of bankers,
bold as brass, filching our gold, our silver;
we want it back.
We are Mo Farah lifting the 10,000 metres gold.
We want new running-tracks in his name.
For Jessica Ennis, the same; for the Brownlee brothers,
Rutherford, Ohuruogu, Whitlock, Tweddle,
for every medal earned,
we want school playing fields returned.
Enough of the soundbite abstract nouns,
austerity, policy, legacy, of tightening metaphorical belts;
we got on our real bikes,
for we are Bradley Wiggins,
side-burned, Mod, god;
we are Sir Chris Hoy,
Laura Trott, Victoria Pendleton, Kenny, Hindes,
Clancy, Burke, Kennaugh and Geraint Thomas,
Olympian names.
We want more cycle lanes.
Or we saddled our steed,
or we paddled our own canoe,
or we rowed in an eight or a four or a two;
our names, Glover and Stanning; Baillie and Stott;
Adlington, Ainslie, Wilson, Murray,
Valegro (Dujardin's horse).
We saw what we did. We are Nicola Adams and Jade Jones,
bring on the fighting kids.
We sense new weather.

Silent Sunday

Silent Sunday

Saturday, 11 August 2012

Where are all the role models for women in newspapers?

I'm rather pleased to be featured on All Media Scotland. I've written about citizen journalism and how 'real' journalists should work with them. 

Ellen Arnison All Media Scotland
(We need a new phrase here - the opposite to citizen journalism. Suggestions: professional journalists, trained journalists or sell-out journalists?)

Anyhow, apart from a little showy off that's not the point of this post. Instead I'm wondering where all the media women are. Where are the woman who are going to blaze a trail from the vantage point of years of journalistic experience? Who are the female role models for newspaper journalism?

When I was asked to write for the website, my first reaction was to be slightly intimidated: Who me? What do I know? Where did I put my gravitas?

As anyone who's been here before knows, I've long since given up any hope of finding gravitas. It may accidental have gone to the charity shop along with the much lamented size 10 leather trousers, but that's another story.

I pondered the reason for these feelings of doubt, after all, I don't have much of a problem with opening my blog dashboard and letting rumble. Then I recognised my feelings - they were what engulfed me when I worked in newspaper offices. I wanted to write something that wouldn't be dismissed as girly and irrelevant, something that would be considered wise and relevant. Oh dear.

Surely after 20 years in the business one way and another in various jobs across several organisations, I must have learned something worth sharing? Of course I have. But what I also have is a lingering sense of being being female in a male-dominated environment.

Do you know how that feels? It's hard to pin down, but something to do with understanding that your gender means that ultimately you are flawed, a creature of urges and moisture. Whatever you do you'll slither from one stereotype to another - from office mom to vamp, from baby to ball breaker. And this will keep you so busy that even if you knew how, you wouldn't find time to join the special chaps' club.

You'd have thought that the days when a female reporter was given the fluffy jobs while her male colleagues got the gritty stuff were long gone. Or that these days women are just as likely to be in the senior editorial team? And that 'female' things such as, ooh, emotions or families are not going to cause problems?

You'd be wrong. OK, it's been a few years since I went to work regularly in a newspaper office, but I put in occasional appearances and the Panther of News reports back from the front. Nothing much has changed. Newspapers, especially further up the greasy ladder (to mix a metaphor or not) are blokey, sexist places, where women either have to be more macho than any man or sexy as hell, or both, if they want to make an impact equal to their male colleagues. And neither will feel particularly comfortable. 

So I'm pleased to have been only the second woman to feature in the Friday column after the indomitable Dorothy-Grace Elder. And maybe they'll ask me back. If they do, I promise to write something for the women. With a little luck I might be able to make a bit of a difference. All Media Scotland, please can I come back?

Friday, 10 August 2012

Review: My First JCB, On Site Charlie Crane Set

My First JCB, On Site Charlie Crane Set
Looking down on the building site

My First JCB, On Site Charlie Crane Set
Charlie Crane picks stuff up

My First JCB, On Site Charlie Crane Set
It kept him busy for ages

It's interesting, how ostensibly destructive children can be so interested by construction? Or not, maybe. 

However, Boy Three - aged three and a bit - was delighted by the arrival of the My First JCB, On Site Charlie Crane set for him to review. So much so that I couldn't put off playtime until one of his big brothers had arrived to put the thing together. 

He recognised the toy from an advert he'd seen on telly. At this point my heart sank, not that there's always a negative correlation between advertising spend and toy quality, but, well you know... Whatever must-have toy is most heavily and alluringly promoted is inevitably a, the most expensive and b, the most disappointing. 

What is it? 
It's a playset that once built contains a talking crane with a grabbing hook, a hopper to drop barrels in, a JCB, a small man, a turntable and a bit of track. There are barrels and bricks. I think the idea is you load and unload the barrels without dislodging the bricks that you ahve built up into a wall. 

What we liked about My First JCB, On Site Charlie Crane playset.

Despite misgivings when presented with a box of bits, instructions and an excitable three year old, this proved quite easy to put together. Even adding the stickers wasn't too bad. 

It feels fairly well-made and not too brittle. Two weeks in and it is still intact. 

The play actions - winding up the grabber, grabbing things and driving around - were easy for Boy Three to do without help. He was happy to play for ages. 

What we liked less. 

Not much to dislike here except the stickers. Why do we have to put our own stickers on toys these days. Honest, it really annoys me. 

Also there's a bits issue - barrels, small man and bricks quickly become separated from toy. As you know, if I were in charged I'd make it law for all toys to come with integral storage. 

The talking. The crane - sounding exactly like Ian from The Archers - says a few inane phrases. Not really a feature that appeals to me or Boy Three. In all the time he played with it he hardly ever pressed the button to make it talk. 

In a nutshell. 

This is a pretty good toy. Most three to six year olds would be pleased to find it under the Christmas tree (or anywhere else for that matter). 

It's made by Golden Bear toys and available for around £30 in lots of toyshops. Reasonable value for money and a toy that will last, if you don't lose all the bits. 

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

MMR and autism, collective hysteria

The October sun swaggered defiantly through the smeared church hall window making the mothers and toddlers squint and sweat.

I drank my coffee and ate my biscuit ration quickly. It was that kind of a toddler group. 

"See you later," I wiped my small son's nose and hoisted him onto my hip. "I'm taking him to get his MMR."

There was a gasp - or maybe I imagined it - and the room, hectic with children, stilled. 

"Are you sure?" Someone said. 

"Erm, yes." They were all watching me now. "Why not?"

"I wouldn't," said one.

"You've heard about the autism," I felt accused.

"Of course," I lied and fled the hall. 

That was 10 years ago and, unbeknown to me then, the child I got vaccinated was on the autism spectrum.

I asked at the clinic and they brushed my fears aside. But I couldn't sleep that night, what if I'd done something awful to my baby?

Even then PM Tony Blair wouldn't say if his baby Leo got the jab or not.

Two and a half years later, my son was on his way to a diagnosis of Asperger's and his younger brother needed vaccinated. 

His Asperger's (or difference, as she put it) was spotted by a very experience nursery teacher, the kind who has seen it all. Then it took she and I both quite a significant effort to get him referred for assessment. He's just quiet, he's tidy, he likes to line cars up all kids do. Hmmm.

I'd done the reading, asked as many members of the medical profession as I could find what they'd do, and arrived at a decision. 

The MMR wasn't dangerous, even then the evidence linking it to autism was dodgy to say the least, and millions of children across the world had had this injection. No state would risk a class damages action, I reasoned.  

So while the practice nurse busied herself preparing to give my second son his MMR, I brought her up to date about my eldest boy and the extra help he was getting in a specialist speech and language unit. 

Then she stopped, looked at me, syringe in hand and said: "Because they think he's on the spectrum, are you sure you want to give this one the MMR?" She pointed at my sons with the needle. 


"Yes thanks, I would rather he was protected against measles, mumps and rubella."

To me, it's obvious, there are more autistic diagnoses because more people are aware of it and know what it looks like and because we can actually do things to help. Just look at how attitudes have changed since autism entered my vocabulary more than a decade ago. 

Once I saw what was going on, as the mother of an Aspie, I became incensed by the notion that a child dying of measles was somehow preferable to a live one with autism. 

This was brought to mind today by the news that a website that sells baby vaccines has been forced to remove claims about the MMR causing autism

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

If Louise Mensch can't have it all, what chance do the rest of us have?

Louise Mensch
Louise Mensch
Tory MP for Corby, Louise Mensch is beautiful, wealthy and successful. She has three kids, a husband and several best selling novels.

She also, whatever you think of her politics, was carving out an impressive place for herself at the Palace of Westminster.

Until yesterday that is, when she announced she was packing it all in to spend more time with her family.

Oooh. Ok then. What do we make of that?

A woman letting the sisterhood down because she didn't keep on matching down a road that might, possibly, perhaps make things better for the rest of us?

A guilt-wracked mother buckling under the weight of the cliches? Someone with a soon to be exposed and scandelous secret?

Or a wife who knows a transatlantic marriage would be a short one. 

Perhaps simply another exhausted woman who said: "Bugger it, I can't do this any longer - it's impossible to keep everyone happy and be true to myself."

Who knows?

Unless we were there at the Mensch kitchen table while they debated whose job was most important, we have no way of being sure.

He is a New Yorker who manages rock bands including Metallica. Perhaps, at first, they thought they could manage on opposite sides of the Atlantic, or maybe Louise believed she could persuade her hubby to move east. 

However, it's depressing that a woman who is fortunate enough to be able to afford all the advantages of money and class still can't find away through the job, love, motherhood maze. Especially as we all thought that financial independence was one of the keys to the solution. 

Having made a very similar decision more than five years ago, I've watched with interest, and a nod of recognition. I was going to say that when I decided to step away from the full-time work world the stakes weren't so high, but that's not true. My family, marriage, mental health and well-being are just as valuable as Ms Mensch's.

It's less of another role model chucking in the towel and more of a recognition that Having It All is not possible and, furthermore, the whole deal just isn't fair. 

So, Louise, one final plea before you go - talk about it. Loudly and in public; you're good at that. I know you keep your family life private, but this is bigger than that. Let's discuss the pressures, the expectations, and how we're going to resolve it all.

Surely there is a way to be successful and fulfilled without betraying our loved ones.

Louise, you've got a voice, please use it for the other women who understand how you feel.

Monday, 6 August 2012

Newsroom dramas - what they really need

Will McAvoy ponders his future behind The Newsroom desk.
Have you seen The Newsroom? It's an American drama where a news anchor decides he's going to make the transformation from Ron Burgundy to, well, someone brimming with integrity and with a fixation on The Truth. But the truth is a notoriously flexible thing, so clearly he's on a hiding to nothing. 

The fact that the anchor and his brilliant producer/ex girlfriend-with-whom-he-is-still-in-love have been dropped into the televisual bastard lovechild of The Office and Ally McBeal is somewhat distracting. However, it creates a interesting collection of personalities that one might suppose represent the cast of any real news organisation.

Along with many journalism dramas there is:

  • The top dog of the newsroom, male, arrogant, yet ultimately tragic.
  • Board room battler. Someone on the top floor prepared to fight for the ordinary hacks, yet ultimately tragic.
  • Girl on the way up. Talented young woman inevitably in a romantic tangle. Ultimately tragic.
  • One of the lads. Beer, tits, sport. Ultimately tragic. 
  • Old school stickler, has a secret. (Likely to be a subeditor) Ultimately tragic. 

But what real news rooms always have that never seem to make it into fiction are:

  • Women with families. Sneaking off to phone the school our throwing a sickie cos the kids have chicken pox do not make good telly apparently. Nor, it seems, does tension between parents and non-parents over, say, the Christmas rota.
  • Sexist old (or not so old) goats. Not tragic ones ripe for redemption by love, no, nasty misogynistic old farts who only tolerate women because the law says they must.
  • Drunks. not tragic ones with a heart breaking back story. Just lushes who smell nasty.
  • People on the autistic spectrum. They have long found comfort and shelter in a newsroom. Do not confuse with fictional geeks redeemed by love.
  • Closet homosexuals. One in every office, inevitably, even now. Probably missed the boat for coming out and now think they'd just look silly.
  • Bullies. Being a promoted journalist does not automatically create access to the skills of a good manager, instead, for some, the new business cards come with carte blanche to shout and throw one's weight about. 
Oh, and while we're on the subject of authenticity, when news breaks - no matter how big - the entire staff doesn't simultaneously grab their phones and start dialling. Even if a few do, there will always be at least one who stands with his or her mouth open, not quite getting it. 

And another thing, anyone as committed to bringing their personal life to work as The Newsroom staff seem to would find themselves sidelined/sacked/whispered about before you can say "good evening, this is the news...".

Sunday, 5 August 2012

Silent Sunday

The Big Man at Glasgow's Merchant City Festival

Silent Sunday

Review: Go Mini Stuntlauncher and car

Go Mini Stuntlauncher
Just rev this handle. 

Go Mini Stuntlauncher
The Mini came out to lunch with us too

Go Mini Stuntlauncher
Go Mini Stuntlauncher
Another day, another favourite toy. Only this time, it's one I like too. 

We were given a Go Mini Stuntlauncher to try out and, for once, my heart didn't sink. 

What does the blurb say? 

The Mini Stuntlauncher lets you rev up your cute Mini and powers it across the floor, doing stunts if that's the mode you've set it in. NO BATTERIES REQUIRED. 

What's in the box?

Once you've wrestled with the packing you have a solid looking launcher with a handle, speedo, lever for revving and release button and a car. 

How easy is it to get going? 

Instant. No instructions needed, stickers to apply or batteries to find. Stick the back wheels of the car into the grips on the launcher and pump the lever. The 'speedo' will tell you when it's ready to go. Push the button and off it goes. There's a setting on the bottom of the car that allows you to change it from normal to stunt mode. 

What's good about it? 

It's very satisfying. Rev up the car and send it shooting across the room under the sofa. The noise is great, but not too irritating. 

There are no bits, just the car and the launcher. 

No batteries required. I know, but it's worth saying again. 

There are cars to collect and several kids with cars and launchers will race against each other quite happily for hours. 

Grown-ups can't resist a go. 

A solid enough toy to withstand everyday playing, ie. no annoying plastic bits that are asking to snap off. 

What's less good about it?
The car won't click into the launcher if the start button is still in - causing frustration among smaller children. 

Ours doesn't go as fast as the revving would suggest (not necessarily a bad thing).

The stunt feature didn't really impress, but then it didn't need to as Boy Three got quite cross when anyone messed with his car so it didn't get a full work out.

Some people might not like the revving noise. A visiting child who has dyspraxia found it upsetting.
How it went down in this house.

Boy Three, aged three, loves it. He 'got' it straight away and has played with it for hours, as have visiting children. I like it because there are few bits to break, no batteries needed and no parts to lose. 


Great toy and at about £20 good value for play time too. 

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