Diary entry of a Working Mum

platformI have been looking forward to Saturday morning all week.

There is a game I sometimes catch us playing, where both parents of the screaming child pretend to be asleep and wait to see if the other one gets up.

I find that it is over faster (ergo far more welfare-friendly for Tiddler)  if I kick hubby vey hard.  But there was never going to be any kicking this Saturday.  No cries for milk from Tiddler were going to pierce my dawn.  No: Toddler, Tiddler and Daddy were away for the week.  Camping in Ludlow (why choose Ludlow?) with some friends.  I was going to lie in before catching a lunch-time train to join them.

Did I mention that I had been looking forward to this all week?  To not having to go to work?  To sleeping through six and seven O’clock without Toddler turning up at my bedside, demanding to go ‘in the tent’ (by which she means, ‘under the duvet’).

‘Toddler, I’m asleep.’

‘No you’re not, Mummy.  Don’t you want to play tents with me?’

‘Not now Toddler.  I’m sleeping.  Hubby!  Could you and Toddler play ‘tents’ in the lounge, please?

(Short pause here while Hubby extracts Toddler from the bedroom; she argues for a moment but I am not listening.  I am drifting back to guilt-tinged snoozeville.  So naughty but so, so nice……)

This Saturday I wasn’t going to feel guilty about my lie-in.  I had been looking forward to this prospect all week.  Tiddler wouldn’t try to climb into bed with me part-way-through because Daddy and Toddler had briefly forgotten to include him in their game of ‘tents’.  Tiddler can’t talk yet; once it becomes clear that he still can’t quite mantle up by himself, he just stretches his arms out towards me and screams.  It’s not ignorable.  I unstick my eyes and pull him into bed with me, wearily.

‘Cuddles, Tiddler.’  Happy cooing.

Tiddler doesn’t really like cuddles though.  Not unless he’s ill.  And he isn’t ill very often.  Within about three minutes the novelty has worn off and he is sitting firmly on my head, exploring my mouth and eye-sockets with his fingers.  I try to ignore him, but I tire of the situation before he does, so I gently expel him onto the bedroom carpet.  It feels as cruel as putting the cat out of the window, but Tiddler is a surprisingly tolerant chappie.  He toddles back to find his Dad.

But not this Saturday.  I had been looking forward to this Saturday all week.  This Saturday, I was going to sleep through.  Eight O’clock would go by without Daddy coming through looking drained, ‘I’m absolutely knackered.  If you play with them for a bit, can I have twenty minutes’ nap?’

I do my best and biggest sigh, but hubby’s eyes are still hopeful and I realise that I’ve had all the priviledges that my working life is going to buy me.  I wake up.  There is no milk left for coffee (‘Tiddler was very hungry last night,’ says hubby) and when i open a packet of breakfast biscuits, there immediately appear two sticky upturned hands.  Little beggars.  I given them half a biscuit each.

I hope they sell breakfast biscuits in Ludlow.  Why go to Ludlow, anyway?  What is there to do there?  I asked hubby before he went, but he didn’t really know.  There might be some good castles, he said.

I’ve known what I was going to do on Saturday all week long: I was going to listen to some Saturday morning Radio, and it wasn’t going to be Radio 2.  It’s not that I don’t enjoy ‘dancing, Mummy!  Dancing’ on Saturday mornings to Radio 2, but surely what every working person really wants is to put their feet up and listen to Radio 4s Inheritance Tracks or From our own Correspondant after an absurdly long lie-in?

Anyway; I am at the station.  The pillars are painted burgandy.  They are about the right width for playing ‘peek-a-boo!’ around, or maybe leaping out and surprising some pigeons.  I do think it’s sad that nobody is chasing the pigeons: they’re wobbling up and down, pumping their little necks in and out for all they are worth.  Such a waste.

I have treated myself to a luxoriously thick weekend Guardian. I have already skim-read all the articles I wanted to read and the train is still over half an hour away.  That’s how I read newspapers nowadays:  quickly, before somebody wants their nappy changed. Normally, I do so thinking that it would be nice to read it slowly; digest every word.  Turns out, I’m not in a word-digesting mood.

I look around the station in outrage that there isn’t anything else to do.  I buy a chocolate bar and an overpriced coffee to dip it in.  And what’s this? – the coffee has milk in!  What a novel idea.  Of course, the same thing happens with the breakfast as with the newspaper:  it has gone before I notice.  When I have finished, my top is still spotless; where are the mini-chocolate finger-prints?  I blink and look round.  I have been working very hard this week:  I am very, very tired.  The station clock says seven-something in the morning.

Yes, I know.  I had been looking forward to this morning’s lie-in all week.  But when it arrived, I just wanted to be camping with the kids.  So I Zombied down to the station, changed at Stockport and am hoping that the Ludlow train is going to show up soon.

Salmon

 

salmon2

Film buffs will probably despair, but I love Salmon Fishing in the Yemen.

I love the metaphor of a shoal of salmon ‘turning.’  A vast shoal of fish move downstream together, racing towards some unspecified destination.  But suddenly, one salmon changes its mind and flips; starts swimming in the other direction, against the tide of the others.  Then another quite fancies the opposite direction, too.  And another.  And another.  Until the whole shoal has turned around and is heading back upstream.

I love that sequence.  It might represent the journey made by Ewan Macgregor’s character, but it can be applied to so many other things.

Attitudes towards homosexuality, for example.  Only a century ago homosexuality was illegal and nearly everybody you asked called it ‘wrong’.

Attitudes to women; a century ago, female doctors were virtually unheard of.

Have women, or the physcial act of gay sex changed very much since then?  No they have not.  But our attitudes have.  Now we are swimming upstream.

Of course, the situation for homosexuals in Russia might be another kettle of fish (or another shoal of salmon).  And after this, the metaphor breaks down because human social changes are not so easy as the shoal’s directional ones. The very first people to leap out of the water and land the other way with a splash, probably failed to make it; were knocked back downstream by the sheer numbers of other fish; or swam sideways for a bit and then sank.  The turning has taken generations and not everyone is swimming in the right direction yet.  Some unlucky salmon still find themselves being forced downstream by others who refuse to flip.

It happens to me all the time.  There are lots of examples of me wanting to swim in one particular direction, but of society’s flow making it difficult.

Take fashion.  The other day I was in specsavers, hoping to purchase my preferred dark-rims-at-the-top, no-rim-at-the-bottom style frames.  But the salesgirl said they were out of fashion: nobody’s wearing them now.  And didn’t I think that they made me look a little bit – well – mature?

I could have punched her.  But instead I took her guidance and ordered some bold coloured-rims-all-the-way-round glasses. Sad.

And what about shell-suits? I got one for my ninth birthday; they were popular then.  Colourful, casual, comfortable and cool they were, but mention them now and folk will tell you that they’re impractical, gaudy and ill-advised, not to mention a fire hazard.  Dammit.

shellsuit

There are bigger things, too: like caring for the environment. I currently sit in traffic twice a day in my little car.  The cars in front and behind me also contain a single person each, looking hacked off and chugging fossil fuels into the environment.

We all ‘know’ about pollution; ‘know’ that there is too much traffic to make it sensible. But work times vary massively; we are all time-pressured; car-sharing would be ‘hastle’, waiting for busses is cold and the nice places to live are a long way from our workplace. So everyone drives.

Well, nearly everyone.  Meet my friend Jo.  Jo is a medical student, working stints in Hospitals all over South Yorkshire. Jo always leaves her car at home and gets to work on her bike, sometimes using trains.  This must be at great personal inconvenience; some nights she works late; often it rains. It must add hours to her day and seems fiendishly impractical.  But ‘it’s all about the carbon footprint,’ says Jo.

Cycling has had activists for years; perhaps their cries for better cycle lanes and more vigilant drivers will eventually be heard. The easier cycling gets, the more people will join in.  But I don’t think we’ll all be riding bikes tomorrow.

Shopping in supermarkets.  I hate it. I hate the extra sugar they put into bread. I hate packaging (did the toilet brush I bought today really need to be wrapped in cellophane?  Or in a box?)  I hate knowing that there is palm oil in a lot of the products that I buy.  Knowing what goes on on the inside of most chicken farms.  Buying milk at three pints for a pound:  how’s a dairy farmer supposed to make any profit from that?  Is it any wonder that seventy per cent of the national dairy herd are lame?

And yet I am in a hurry trying to live my life, so to the supermarket I go.  Blogging about it might get it off my chest a bit, but welfare campaigner Professor John Webster (an animal welfare researcher) raises a good point:

It’s not what we think or say that matters.  It’s what we do.

If I’m honest, it’s easier to say what I don’t do: I don’t always make my own decisions in life. But could you picture it? A shell-suit-wearing Liz: cycling to work; only eating things that she knew had had nice lives and only wearing things made by workers who had had nice lives. Dressing her son in as many pink frills as her daughter.  Already this is what I would consider to be unfeasable (especially the vast amount of ‘nice lives’ research) and I would look like a nutcase. I like to fit into society:  I compromise my ideals, like many others.

I am not one of the radical flipping salmon.  I am not even a sideways salmon like Jo, who is following her beliefs, choosing her own direction through the water, not caring that it puts her at a time disadvantage because many other students on her course drive cars. No, I am the sort who swims with the shoal a lot. But I just wanted to say:

To early uphill salmon in every one of life’s rivers, I salute you.

salmon

 

Our Welfare

As a vet, I am often called upon to give my opinion about an animal’s welfare.  But what constitutes ‘Good Welfare?’

This is a big question, and one of the big answers is known as the ‘Five Freedoms':

freedomsThe Five Freedoms are a cumbersome mix of positives and negatives (one ‘freedom to’ versus four ‘freedom froms’) and are open to subjective interpretation.  But they can be applied to assess welfare across all the species.  Just for fun, I’m going to assess the welfare of Western, Middle-Class Humans.

Freedom from hunger, thirst and malnutrition….. includes freedom from overfeeding.  Imagine that a dog is offered unlimited food, keeps eating and becomes so morbidly obese that its heart and joints can no longer support it.  That dog’s owners can be prosecuted.  Yet we are many of us in the dog’s position ourselves, in that unsuitable food is pushed our way that we wouldn’t otherwise seek. Food manufacturers slip unnecessary sugar into readymeals.  We say ‘thankyou’ with chcocolates and ‘happy birthday’ with cake.  If we buy a newspaper from WH Smiths, we are offered a cut price Galaxy Bar. Unsurprisingly, illnesses linked to poor diet are becoming increasingly common in our society.

chips

Freedom from Discomfort…. may be the easiest.  We can open windows if we feel hot, or we can change our clothes.  We can wriggle if our bums get numb, or we can find a comfortable seat.  Work environments might be problematic but the law will intervene when this is severe.
Yet some people choose to go out wearing stilhettoes; others pluck their eyebows or have tattoos.  Come to think of it, there are hundreds of tiny examples of our cultural values winning over this welfare requirement; some involve less comfort than others.

blade

Freedom from pain, injury and disease…. Good old NHS.  They put a lot of money and effort into keeping me fit to work.  But I do worry for old people in Britain.  Obviously we can’t just put terminal or unhappy geriatric cases to sleep (as is sometimes done for animals), so we need to properly look after our old and terminally ill.

And at the younger end of society, some teenaged girls are undergoing Female Genital Mutilation.  Yes; even in the year 2014.

FGM

Freedom to display natural behaviour…. For example, dairy cows need to lie around chewing the cud with their friends.  It is also natrual behaviour for a cow to breastfeed her young, but the dairy industry works on the basis that she doesn’t (we take the milk instead and the calf later becomes veal). This separation of Mummy and Baby leads to a breach of freedom from distress…..  In order to reduce this, researchers have discovered that separating calf and cow about six hours after the birth (as opposed to immediately or at twenty hours, for example) is the least stressful approach for both parties.

hidenseek
But enough of cows’ natural behaviour: what is ours?  Our bodies have evolved upright skeletons for striding around and haven’t had much time to evolve any differently since the invention of the motor-car.  So I conclude that exercise is our natural behaviour.  Yet our motivation for exercise is often low.  It rarely comes into our daily lives and is hard to fit into a working week.
We have also evolved language: an important natural behaviour is conversation.  More people live alone than ever before.  Does onscreen communication meet their need?

Freedom from fear and distress……. To put this in perspective, I have not been displaced by bombing in Gaza. My baby calf hasn’t just been taken away. Some idiot isn’t walking a predator through my home without a lead.
But work is stressful; I, like many others, have chosen a stressful job. I wasn’t putting my own welfare first when I did that. And not all stressors are selected.  We in our society have to think about tax bills, mortgages, relations with the neighbours, car maintainance, house maintainance, education….  And of course, sometimes we fail to cope.

  vet

Here is Donald Bloom’s definition of animal welfare:

The state of an animal relating to its ability to cope with its environment

I don’t know who Donald Bloom is, but for me, this defines our welfare better than the Big Five.  If one can cope with the small discomfort of a stilhetto, then it should not be a welfare issue.  But surely the rise of Type 2 diabetes is a reflection of our being unable to cope with modern diets and exercise patterns?  The rise of mental illness a sign that our brains are being overstimulated, perhaps?

If we were animals, our owners would be being criticised already for the way they keep us.  But we are humans, so we need to realise the need to collectively look after ourselves and each other.

(Running) For the Love

hoy

Sir Chris Hoy is one strong man.

This is not about cycling.  Nor is it about weeping at medal ceremonies, although I have always admired him for being ‘man enough’ to do so and actually, I used to weep along too.

No.  This is about the recent documentary (How to Win Gold, BBC) in which Sir Chris interviewed Andy Murray about the strain on Centre Court.

Murray, face darker and more intense than a brooding thundercloud, smouldered blankly before the camera like the perfect Hollywood psychopath.  And Hoy was asking him about his feelings!  I had to look away; my second favourite cyclist was clearly about to get thumped!

But Andy started talking willingly about his emotions.  Apparently, he found the Wimbledon publicity overwhelming (there were a lot of people watching, suddenly…)

And Lennox Lewis talked, too – over a game of chess that Hoy (very sensibly, if you ask me) lost by miles.  Apparently a good game of chess is useful for keeping you in the right frame of mind to compete.  It also illustrates the mind games involved in boxing.

But Sir Chris’s most startling interviewee was Graeme Obree, who calmly pointed out that if one happened to be an astronaut by profession, then one would have to accept some likelihood of a technical failure resulting in one’s death.  What was the difference, Obree asked, between that and the risk of a cyclist risking pushing himself so hard that his heart failed?  It was just a risk he had accepted.

Madness.  I couldn’t relate to that at all.  Perhaps Sir Chris could, although he doesn’t look insane.  I doubt that my uber-competitive friend Gareth would ever push himself so hard that he risked a coronary.

I could identify with Andy Murray though.  I am also easily distracted from my sport by other people, even though they are not actually watching me or gossiping in the newspapers.  I am distracted by the electronic American woman on my phone who tells me how fast I am running (she always maintains that it is slower than it actually is).  I am distracted by people with dogs (dogwalkers sterotypically dislike joggers).  I am distracted by heckling groups of teenagers.  I am distracted by people walking (are they noticing how slow I am?).

The most distracting people however, are other runners. I am distracted by good looking male runners (obviously); by beautiful woman joggers (how come they look so beautiful, when I just look like me with a red face?)  I am distracted by slow joggers (are they really slower than me, or have they already done thirty miles?) and of course, by the fast ones. (There is a skinny old guy with really, really long legs who passes me sometimes.  He comes up behind me, overtakes and disappears over the horizon all in about three strides.  Damn him).

But most of all, I am distracted by Gareth and Naomi.  Gareth might be injured, but they are still ahead by miles.  They have a training plan!  They have been practising sections of the route!  What’s more, they haven’t spent any time at all working 12-hour days over the other side of Manchester this summer – and even if they had, they’d probably still have found time to train.  They’re the most conscientious people I know; they deserve to do well, where as I don’t.  On one hand, it is only their involvement and my fear of Gareth’s famous ridicule that has kept me running so far.  On the other hand, I am soon to have to buy them a meal (they are set to beat us by at least two hours).  Damn them!  Damn them!  Damn them!

When I went for a run last weekend, all this Damning was making my head hurt.  Well, it was either that or the bitter shandy I’d been unable to resist about two hours previously, having spent the greater part of the day not drinking any water and lounging around under a blistering sun.  At any rate, I now found that I ‘couldn’t run,’ although I knew that Gareth and Naomi would have somehow made themselves.  I limped home feeling cross and scanned i-player for a programme to watch…..which is when I found Sir Chris’s documentary.

For those who didn’t see it (they’ve taken it down now, I’m afraid), Hoy’s story of addressing his own psychological needs began with him getting distracted by the opposition.  He spoke of watching another competitor start off strongly and suddenly worrying about whether to change his own race – to start in a different gear from usual, for instance….

But thanks to sports psychology, by the end of his career, Sir Chris was ignoring his fellow finalists.  He had his race, his game-plan, in his head.  He was simply going to be blinkered to the performances of others and focus on being the very best that he could be.  His best turned out to be very good indeed.

Of course, he’d worked on his performance for years.  Perfecting every aspect from his first few pedal-strokes to his diet.  There was a lot of talk about ‘marginal gains’ to improve his overall time; of clawing back a few nanoseconds by taking his own matress to the games rather than using a hotel one; of putting on heated trousers between the warm-up and the race. I don’t think ‘marginal gains’ is anything for me to worry about, given the much-less-marginal things that I will never alter for my running performance (Vets’ hours. Family time. Half a bitter shandy on sleepy July afternoons.  Sleep…).

But the other bit – about ignoring the opposition and using the mental energy I waste on damning them to do something about my own performance – could be very relevant.  I have chosen to misinterpret this lesson to cover the whole business of competing – of looking at the time, of comparing my milage to theirs, of listening to that stupid woman on my phone.  The more of this I have done, the more reluctant I have been to go out for a run.  Rather than seeing my own poor runs as a challenge to overcome, I have been taking them as comfirmation of my own rubishness.  The belief that I should be competitive has been dragging me down; my attitude has been too toxic of late to get me round a twenty-mile run.

So the very next day, I got home from work, stuck some sweets in my pockets and ran out of the door without even glancing at the clock.  I have no idea how far I ran how quickly, but it was great.  I stopped to stroke a staffordshire bull terrier.  I watched a heron in the river.  I saw a kestrel do a shit mid-hover.  I called ‘Good Evening’ to everyone I met and followed some paths just to see where they went.

I remembered my long-distance walking days.  Back then, I don’t think I cared how fast i was going, or how many miles I was going to walk, or how much weight I was going to loose.  I’d just set out, get a little bit fitter every day and by the end of each walk, I used to enjoy my identity as the blonde English waif with an enormously heavy backpack, powering past the proud, fit Frenchmen who carried all the best lightweight gear.  Sure, this made me feel smug but I’d never have gone walking for that.  I used to walk because I loved walking.

And that night, I found that I loved running, too.  My knee did not complain once.  I looked down over the glorious Rivelyn Valley and I felt remarkably free.  It’s sad that I’ll never win a medal, or get so much as a fell-race named after me.  But you know, Sir Chris has a whole velodrome named after him – and he still got turned away from it last week, when he forgot to take his ID.

 

Run Down

rain

I finally made ten miles at the end of May.  It was raining.  Out of pure spite, it had rained every time I’d had a day off work.  The week before had been absolutely Saharan, with no air-conditioning in my little one-man vets.  But by the time I finished work at 10.00am on the Saturday, there were big, cold drops plummetting from the sky.

Never-the-less, I had made plans to meet friends on the moor.  In the six seconds it took to run down our road, I became completely and utterly soaked, but utterly psyched as well.  I was going to do this!  My friends would admire my hardcoreness! – and then a car drove through a puddle in the gutter next to me.  The realisation washed over me extremely quickly that I hadn’t actually been soaked a few seconds previously.  But I was now.  I waved my arms in cartoonworthy anger; lightening flickered overhead.

The riverside path was greased with mud and I had just acquired a brown slimey bottom for the second time when the phone rang.  I stopped, mantled over my backpack to shelter the contents and ferreted through several polythene bags.  Typically, the ringing stopped the second I caught my phone in my hand.  I returned the call.  It was my friends.  Fed up of walking in the rain, they were in a pub and wondered if I could collect them.  Good idea, I thought.  I ran back home for the car.

‘No, No, I’ll get them,’ hubby said generously on seeing me return so soon.  He batted me into the rain again.  ‘Train!’

So I ran. Ignoring the wet clothing rubbing sensitive patches sore, I took my steamy glasses off and was soon alone on a cold, blurry wet field, panting pathetically. I overtook my first people about 8 miles in.

“Nice to get Stanage Edge to yourself on a bank holiday!”   I tried to sound upbeat as I passed them, then started worrying in case I’d been unwelcoming.  And then I realised I’d left the edge in the wrong direction and had to turn round, looking sodden and sheepish, and run uphill past them again.  Worse, they watched me.

By the time I reached the pub, my friends and hubby were long gone.  My trainers had disintegrated and my phone screen had died.  That, friends, was my best ever run.

I vetted very hard throughout June.  I meant to go for an evening run – I meant to! – but work was exhausting.  The first weekend I wasn’t working, I got up early on the Saturday with good intentions. But half-way up the first hill, my knee was very, very sore.  And then, to cap it all, the i-phone had fallen out of my pocket.  The following morning should also have been a lie-in, but I was out at 6.00am looking for my phone.  By now, I was properly lame.

‘How many times have you been running this week?’  Gareth had just made twenty miles.

He sighed.  ‘OK.  Tell me where it hurts.’

‘It’s hard to visualise.  The lateral edge of the patellar ligament, maybe?  Possibly slightly craniolateral to-‘

‘I’m a computer scientist.  Is it on the bumpy bit?’

‘Er – ‘I looked at my leg.  ‘Which is the bumpy bit?  It’s maybe slightly proximal-  I mean, up-leg, of the actual kneecap?’

‘Where you can feel a taut band running up the side of your leg?’

There was a pause. I wondered how to explain to Gareth that there has never been anything taut about the sides of my legs.

‘OK,’ said Gareth.  ‘You’ve got iliotibial band fasciaitis.’

‘Oh.  Right.’

‘You need to do squats.’   He thought of something.  ‘You do know how to do squats, don’t you…?’

pain

Of course Gareth had had, and recovered from, IT band syndrome, weeks ago.  He had diagnosed and treated it based on what he had found on the internet and had no sympathy for me.

It was late July before I next ran any distance.  About two miles in, the now-familiar leg twinges began.  When they became unbearable, I slowed to a walk.  I did go ten miles, but it took nearly four hours.  I’d been aiming to run twenty miles in that time.

The following week, Naomi and Gareth asked us round for a BBQ.  I pretended I hadn’t been running again.  Gareth, however, had his foot up on the table:  he’d sprained his ankle a few days before, and then he’d run six miles on it.

‘Do you think he’s really injured,’ I ask Hubby later, ‘or do you think he thinks we’re better than we are and he’s trying to lull us into a false sense of security?’

Hubby shrugs.

‘What about Naomi?’  I say, hopefully.  ‘I don’t really want to wish an injury on anyone, but you don’t think she might be pregnant, do you?’

‘Why?  She doesn’t look pregnant,’ says hubby.

‘But she could be,’ I say.  ‘If we were really, really lucky.  I mean, she doesn’t look that pregnant even when she is pregnant, does she?’

Hubby sighs.  ‘I don’t think it’d matter if she were’ he says.  ‘Naomi’s already run twenty miles.

Twice.’

My Everyday Sexism

nina

It was October.  We were pushing Tiddler through Hillsborough Park.  Progress was slow: Toddler was dawdling to one side of the path, delightedly kicking through piles of leaves.

There were some ‘big boys’ dribbling footballs up and down a cordoned-off rectangle of field.  A bloke with a whistle shouted encouragement from the side-lines.  As did one of the parents, somewhat too enthusiastically given that this was just the warm-up.  The other parents looked bored rigid.

‘I hope Tiddler doesn’t get into football and need me to stand on the touchline every bloody Saturday morning,’ I said.  ‘But if he did, I’d try to look a little bit happy to be there.’

While we were contemplating this, I glanced over to check Toddler.  She, too, had clocked the football training.  She had abandoned the leaves that had been so fascinating moments before and was legging it towards the ‘pitch’.

‘Or Toddler,’ I added hastily, hurrying after her.   ‘She might get into football, too…..’

*

A friend was at our house.  It was CBeebies O’ clock.  The programme was Nina and the Neurons.

For those who haven’t lived, Nina is a blonde, slim pig-tailed woman with pink lipstick and a Scottish accent.  She does scientific experiments in her TV studio.  She takes kids on field-trips to see how dumper-trucks work, how bridges are built or why tongues are wet.  She also sings a cool song, the main refrain being the words ‘Go Engineering!’

My friend says, ‘I’m sorry, but there is no way she knows anything about science and engineering.’

I don’t contradict.

Later that evening, I start to beat myself up for not contradicting.

So Nina’s pretty and can sing.  But why the hell does that exclude her from being a scientist?  In fact, I feel so strongly that I am going to look up Nina’s credentials and e-mail them over, so that my friend can see them for herself.

But it turns out that Nina is, indeed, NOT a scientist.  Her name isn’t even Nina.  She is Katrina Bryan and although she does have a degree it is not Bsc but BA. She is described as an actress (shouldn’t that be Actor?) known better for her role in Taggart.

I have to admit that my disgust with the BBC for faking (why were neither of the two female engineers I know, both of them excellent with kids, offered the presenter’s job?  They are also blonde with pigtails, if it helps) and pleasure that at least they chose a woman.  I shrug and move on to other things.

*

Last time I was at the opticians, I’d barely been in the waiting room ten minutes before a technician called me through to have my retinas photographed.  He pressed a button and the image appeared on a screen.  Being diabetic, I squinted at my own retinal vessels with interest.  They looked OK to me.  Unless that was a – but then the screen blanked out again and I was asked to sit back down in the waiting room.

‘The optician will show me those pictures, won’t he, when it’s my turn….?’

The tecnician nodded, impatiently.  Of course.

And actually, my optician was a man, but I noticed that none of the other opticians consulting that day were male.  Why had I automatically assumed the male pronoun?

And it’s not just opticians.  ‘A man’s coming to look at out boiler today,’ I heard myself tell Toddler in preparation.

And a few weeks ago, I arrived at a veterinary surgery and my first job was to discharge an in-patient.  I said I’d heard that the girls had enjoyed giving Rover lots of fuss while he’d been in hospital over the weekend.  This was mostly true – except that the name of the nurse who had been predominantly looking after that patient, turned out to be ‘Johnny.’

*

The Tour De France made a fantastic weekend for Sheffield.  The City was buzzing; the centre was full of art, street food and morris men (morris women, too).  Excitement rippled;  suddenly, you had something in common with everyone else in the bus queue, whether you knew them or not:   ‘Where did you watch it from, then….?’

But there was another of those things that I didn’t talk (or even think) about until Becky pointed it out.  She was pictured on Facebook, by the roadside, placard in hand: ‘Let Women Compete Next Time.’

How come I had never even wondered about the absence of women in the Tour?  Obviously I wouldn’t even have followed the men’s event had it not randomly gone through my home city.  Had a women’s race been advertised, had Team Sky Women’s stories been in our press, Toddler and Hubby and I would have been keen to watch female cyclists too. Surely it would make sense to make full use of the inconveniently closed roads?

But if you owned a TV channel, why would you want to show women’s road-cycling, if nobody wrote in demanding it?  And it we didn’t grow up watching women’s cycling, why would we think to ask?  And with no-one showing an interest in women cyclists, why would girls aspire to be one…..?

Viscious circle.

*

A man’s t-shirt read:  You can only Date my Daughter if……  and the bullet points that followed included: ‘you hold doors open for her.  You tell her that she is beautiful……’  and so on.

The man had two children with him:  the other was a boy.  Did the boy, I wondered, deserve respect and admiration from his partner, too?  And would the man assume to police his son’s dating in the same way, as though he ‘owned’ him?  Excactly whose permission does someone need in order to date a person, female or male…..?

The guy obviously clocked me staring at his chest because he caught my eye.  ‘Nice t-shirt,’ I said, automatically.

I let him take a false compliment.

*

I always used the phrase ‘like a girl’ frequently, mindlessly, and admit that the recent Always campaign (http://www.always.com/en-us/likeagirl.asp) made me think.  Another phrase I use is ‘man up,’ whether I am speaking to a woman or man.  You don’t Always think about it, do you…..?

*

Two days after the PM reshuffled his cabinet to include some women (there is an election coming up, after all), the Daily Mail ran an article about it.  Normally an article about the incomers would focus on their history, their policies, their ideas.  But the Daily Mail chose to discuss their relative fashion senses, the clothing that they wore to parliament and the sizes of their handbags.

Worse, I clicked on this article.  The Daily Mail think I actually wanted to read it.  I didn’t even write in to complain about the spread.  On one hand I am angry with myself.  On the other hand, why bother…..?

*

Which brings me to the problem.  The problem is:  people like me.  Sexism is commonplace, I engage in it and do not challenge it as much as I ought to from others.

I am disappointed in myself.  I call myself a feminist, but women’s equality is an ideal I beleive in rather than something I expect to encounter:  I perpetuated stereotypes and let inequality go uncommented on.

For all the good that it will do, I am commenting now.  Be alert; keep your minds open.  It doesn’t seem like much, not compared with some of our battles in the past, but it’s something that definitely shouldn’t exist.

 

 

Birthday on a Campsite

I am slowly moving up the pecking order of campsite stereotypes.

I have been the child galloping innocently over the grass.  I have been one of the teenages huddled in the toilets to chat where they won’t disturb people (these days, they can plug their electronic devices into the hairdryer sockets, too). I have been a student on a long walk with a backpack and one of a romantic duo watching the sunset.  I have been one of a rowdy group of climbers, walkers, drinkers.

But now I am a mother: it is my turn to entertain the teenagers lurking in the toilet block with the conversations that come out of our cubicle:

‘What are you doing, Mummy?  Is it a poo or a wee?’

‘What was that lady doing in front of the mirror?’

and

‘Mummy, Can I wipe your bottom for you?’

looroll

Away from the toilets, I can often be seen breaking into a run,

‘Don’t prod / eat / play with that, Tiddler’  or

‘I hope you two are asleep in there!’  or

‘Leave Mummy’s beer alone, please!’

I remember being the child that Toddler (3) is now, sitting on my red potty outside, unselfconsciously watching the world go by.  I’d ponder questions that are now obvious to me:  why do children have to go to bed so early?  What’s with all the fuss about suncream?  And hats?  And why do people insist that you need cutlery for jelly?

It was about that time that I first remember seeing pictures of ‘Mummie and Daddy getting Married.’  Those pictures wouldn’t have been ten years old, but Mummie looked like a whole different person:  beautiful, fresh and young.  As for the stranger next to her with a seventies moustache, he couldn’t have been my Daddy because Daddy had a beard.

I experimentally showed our wedding photo to Toddler and her response was the same, beard and all. Never have I been more aware of my place on life’s conveyor belt. I have changed from being my mother’s daughter, friend and sharpest critic, to standing in her shoes.

For example, my definition of a successful day’s camping has shifted: it is when the kids have had a great time and are in bed, leaving time for hubby and I to say ‘isn’t this nice?’ and maybe pour some alcoholic beverage before the sun goes down.

The admiring glances I used to give myself in the mirror have been replaced with friendly, tolerant ones.  I am becoming used to that ‘flabby muscle’ which so shocked me a year ago.

And it isn’t just my opinion of myself that has changed. My friend Becky and I found ourselves discussing the ‘Everyday Sexism’ website, in particular the bits about facing sexual suggestions from strangers.

‘Am I minger?’

‘Well if you’re a minger, so and I.’

While I agree that women shouldn’t get harrassed in the street, take it from us that not being wolf-whistled every time one walks past building sites can be a bit uncomfortable too.

When I saw an old friend who had been reading my blog, she was clearly disappointed:

‘You don’t look fitter or anything.’

The friend didn’t surprise me:  she has always been shockingly honest.  What surprised me was that I wasn’t offended.  Perhaps it’s about feeling better in your body, not looking better. I might be blogging like crazy about self-improvement, but the biggest improvement is my accepting my skin.

Aging has other signs, too.  Surely postmen will never look young but my Diabetic Consultant doesn’t look ten years older than me. I have always been tempted to ask shop assistants why they are not at school, but when I look closely now at these kids, they often display a badge marked ‘Manager.’

At the other end of the spectrum, I don’t find it hard to believe that the old men I meet in pubs were once teenagers.  In the latest cycle of World War One reporting, I felt something I have never felt before:  the scale and the loss of young lives actually meant something to me.  These were not musty photographs of people who lived so long ago that I can’t remember: they were people younger, much younger than me with their lives ahead of them.  People who, in another life, might have been my children.

Yes: I am becoming the sort of person who cries over war documentaries.  Just like my Dad.

Which brings me to this:

older

It was my birthday while we were away.  Thirty-two is inconceivable to my daughter, who can’t count that high yet.  But she sang to me quite spontaneously and got so excited about the cake that I found myself enjoying it.  Why the hell not? – it’s not something I can change.  And in all honesty, when I look back, I might want the body from my twenty-fourth year but I wouldn’t want the arrogant, ignorant mind or the weak backbone I had just then.  I might envy myself the freedom, but I wouldn’t want either of the two boyfriends and I wouldn’t be without my kids.

It would have been my mother’s birthday two days before mine.  In a parallel universe where she did not get cancer, I’m sure she would have been celebrating on the campsite too.  Making friends with people from all the stereotype groups whether they welcomed it or not, because she’d have strongly identified with most of them, ‘I used to do that’.

She and I would have been doing the same things: playing football with her grandchildren; putting candles in empty wine bottles outside the tent; eating birthday cake with gusto.  She would occasionally have got a bit fed up because her joints creaked or her back was sore, or because she was not so slim or good-looking as when she was my age.

But it wouldn’t have got my mother down.