Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Holiday doublethink

Ah! The Summer holidays!

They start tomorrow.

I'll repeat that for those of you in England (or probably elsewhere) who may be reeling in disbelief.  Yup, the Summer holidays, in this particular corner of Scotland, start at 3.15 tomorrow afternoon and don't end until Tuesday 21 August.

And, despite the fact that the weather is being accommodatingly very Summer-holiday-ish (although not swimsuits-outside-worthy quite yet), I am reminded of Nineteen Eighty-four.

No, not because that was (although it was, I'm sure) a particularly fine Summer holiday (we probably went to Frinton), nor because Summer holidays are my personal room 101 (far from it), but because of doublethink.

I find myself, as I contemplate the next six weeks, simultaneously thinking both:

Oh, hooray! The Summer holidays!  Less than 24 hours to go! No  alarm, no routine, no uniform, no dragging tired children out of bed or forcing them to do homework in a snatched hurry between bites of breakfast.  Long lazy days of doing nothing and enjoying it.  Hooray for the Summer holidays!


Oh help! That makes it 53 days. Or 1,272 hours.  Or 76,320 minutes before I get five seconds of peace.

Can't wait.

Thursday, 20 June 2013

Could this be the world's most patronising email?

A little while ago I read a post over at Muddling Along Mummy (whose lovely news is still making me smile).

Anyway, her post (about the contradictory, non-specific and generally unhelpful advice given to pregnant women) reminded me of a book I was given when pregnant with L.  Called something like How safe is my baby? (or possibly How safe is your baby?) it simply set out the actual statistics for the various risks and let you make your own mind up. 

I'll allow you a little gasp of astonishment at such a horrifyingly trusting idea.

I found it rather helpful, as books go, and when I'd finished with it, I posted it to a friend, who never received it.

Some years later, Hannah's post reminded me about it and I thought I'd get another copy to send to a pregnant friend.  Only I can't find it.  Nothing on Amazon, nothing on google, nothing on the second hand and out of print books sites I frequent.

After a bit of detective work, I identified two likely publishers and sent them both polite emails wondering if it ever had been on their lists, and apologising for the fact that I wasn't absolutely 100% certain of the title.

I got the following (names changed to protect the innocent) in reply:

     Dear Ms...

      I'm sorry to report that the title is not ours, so I can't help you.
      The best way to find it, is to get onto the Internet and go to Once on the site find and Click on BOOKS.

      Once inside Books, type Your title into the Search Box and you
      should have a good chance of finding the title you can't actually

      Good Luck



Tuesday, 18 June 2013

A nest of (uniformed) vipers

Remember Gulliver's Travels?

I don't, not really. Don't tell anyone but I haven't ever read the actual book, although I did have a highly excellent (probably ladybird) illustrated version. 

As I say, I don't remember much about it, but I do recall the Big-endians and the Little-endians. Two separate factions of Lilliputians (technically, I now learn from wikipedia, some were Blefuscans, but we'll gloss over that bit, as I suspect my source text did) caught in vicious internecine squabbles about which end of an egg is up.

Personally I'm a little-endian, but I can cope with the alternative, if I must.

Anyway, I digress.  The point is that this has nothing on what's going on at school at the moment.

We have a new(ish) head.  She has arrived with a lovely, equally new, broom, with which she intends to sweep clean any corners she's not so keen on. 

One of those corners is uniform.

As it happens, I think she's right.  Bearing in mind I went to a school that required me to have (and my parents to invest large sums of money in), in addition to my every day uniform, a full length cloak (with lined hood), as well as a blazer, a boater and a suit for Sundays, asking everyone to look reasonably neat in matching sweatshirts and polo shirts (secretly I'd rather they were wearing proper shirts but you can't have it all) doesn't seem to me too much.  And, if the truth be told, lots of the children, particularly the older ones (whose parents, I suspect, have wearied of that particular battle) were beginning to get rather scruffy.  I also happen (and I realise it makes me sound a bit Daily youknowwhat) to think uniform makes a difference.  We dress up for things that are important and we make an effort for people we respect, so I think asking children to dress smartly encourages them to think of school and what they do there as something that matters.

And most of the other parents agree.   There is universal approval for the idea that the children should be neatened up a bit.

There is no agreement on how.

The playground is full of secretive huddles of whispering parents you are frightened to approach for fear they'll ask you what you think.  Are you a Little-Endian or a Big-Endian?  Should jerseys be red or black?  Trousers be black or grey?   Have they realised that the local supermarket doesn't stock black?  (Though that particular problem seems rather chicken and egg (whichever way up) to me.)  Can girls wear trousers? Or cardigans?  What if it's cold?  And where do you stand on the irresolvable problem of gingham dresses?

Everyone has their preferred choice and everyone has a (invariably contradictory) story about some child hauled before the head for wearing it.

And no-one, but no-one (and yes, I include myself), is saying anything about the new literacy programme she's also introduced.

Sunday, 16 June 2013

On effective delegation

It is supper time.  S and I are in the kitchen.

I say:  S, can you run upstairs and tell the others that supper's ready?.
S doesn't move, other than to turn slightly towards the door

 L!  A! Supper's ready!!!!

She's a helpful child, is S.

Wednesday, 5 June 2013

The Gallery: Two

Almost exactly two years ago, on 31 May 2011, I took part in the Gallery.

The subject, then, was I am grateful for...

 And, that day,  I was grateful for this:

Now here we are.  Two years later.  And on 31 May 2013 Tara set a new Gallery theme.  It is Two:

And so is my boy:


I am still grateful.

PS: He got two cakes, too:

Now click this link to see other people's take on two....

Sunday, 2 June 2013

It's not women who need to change, it's the world.

It wasn't an enormously exciting news day today.

The front page of the Observer featured Maria Miller (you know, the women's minister and culture secretary - she replaced Jeremy (ahem) Hunt in the latter job, as it happens, so she's got a lot to live up to), who is, we are told, planning to send information packs to parents of daughters to encourage said daughters to become captains of industry, entrepreneurs and chief executives of FTSE100 companies (possibly not all at the same time).

She says, does Ms Miller:
"Making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy.  Encouraging women to fulfil their potential... ".
What does that mean?  How do you measure someone's potential anyway?  And are you really only fulfilling it if you do so in a way that contributes to the economic benefit of the country?

Because that's what this is all about.  She says so.   A report from the Women's Business Council says that equalising the numbers of women and men in the workplace (which means increasing the women) could increase economic growth by 10% of GDP by 2030.

So to do this, we need more women working, and that means more women at the top, because Ms Miller also believes that the lack of women at the top of whatever industry is a deterrent to other women entering at the bottom.

I don't disagree with that, although I happen to have more faith in women - I think we have sufficient imagination to be able to see something as a possibility (a female chief executive, for instance) whether it exists already or not - but I think Ms Miller, and indeed the report is missing something else.

I don't think women need to change.  I don't think they need to become more thrusting, more driven, more ambitious, more like men, if you will.

I suspect, though maybe it's just me and I'm making the ego-centric mistake of assuming I'm not alone, that lots of women (and probably some men too) look at the magnates and bigwigs held up for our aspiration and think:  "Eh? They want me to do what?  Well actually, no.  He (or indeed she) doesn't look that happy, despite the yacht".

I am (or was) ambitious.  I have probably excessive pride in myself and my abilities.  I have great difficulty doing anything if I don't think I'm doing it well or successfully (one of the reasons I haven't been blogging so much recently).  My parents gave me a genuine belief that I could do or be anything I wanted.

Despite all that I don't have, and have never had, any desire whatsoever to work 23 hours a day, never to see my family and friends, never to have any free time or always to have a blackberry surgically attached to my hand, all for the pleasure of a (very) large pay cheque and the prestige of running Europe's largest manufacturer of widgets, chemicals or financial derivatives.  I don't look at Sheryl Sandberg asking me to Lean In, with her high-profile job and full-time nannies and think "I want that".

I am a child of the late 20th Century and I want, and have been taught to want, other, more nebulous things.  Things which my grandparents wouldn't have dreamed of demanding:  happiness, self-confidence and the ability and space to express who I am.

And I think many people of both genders look at the demands made on top-level executives, and the greater demands made on those who aspire to being top-level executives, and turn away.  If you can earn a comfortable living half-way up the career ladder, and still have time to do the other things you enjoy, why continue the agonising push for the top?  What is there at the top apart from a view?

The world has changed.  We want different things, but we are still going about it in the same way.  We want freedom to express who we are and time to do the things we enjoy, yet we still expect the people who are most successful in their line of work to do it to the exclusion of everything else.

To get Maria Miller's (and my) dream of equality in the workplace, we don't need to change women, we need to change workplace culture.  We need to make it possible to succeed and to contribute economically, for both genders, without being omni-present, without giving up the other parts of your life.  We need to change attitudes to part-time working, so that both genders can do it with pride, and still rise through the ranks of whatever job they do.  We need to be (and we need our bosses to be) like the entrepreneur Martin Bjergegaard,  whose book I haven't read yet, but who seems to understand that we are all most successful, most dedicated, when we are enjoying ourselves, both at work and outside it, and that being at the top of one thing in your life need not necessarily mean that everything else has to fall to the bottom.

I don't think Maria Miller gets that though, however much she contributes to the country.  I wonder if she's happy.