Friday, November 6, 2015

How to be a lady

I read the Country Life article 39 rules on how to be a lady earlier. 

Maybe I'm defensive because I can only do about two thirds of the list myself, don't know the difference between Bentley and  Skinner and Baddiel and Skinner (or whatever they are), and have barely ever seen a pheasant, let alone plucked one. Although I do have a little black dress from pre-children days, so it would probably only fit on one limb now. That still counts, right? At least it's little. Who cares if it's too little? 

Regardless, I would have thought there was only one thing that defined what being a lady was - having lady bits.  Everything else is subjective, surely? Or have we skipped back to some 1950s time-warp where the lingerie you wear is more important than who you are? A time where pretending to like sport and letting men pretend that they had your ideas in the first place is admirable? 

This leads to the question: is this even a real list, or just something written to make women like me see red then write about their list online, while linking to their website? If so, does that make me a giant sucker by writing this story at all? Probably. 

Oh well. At least I meet my own definition of a lady, little black dress fitting me or not. 

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Are Mummy blogs too negative?

The other day,  I was chatting to someone about motherhood. The subject of Mummy blogs came up. "Ug," she said. "I can't stand Mummy blogs, They're all so negative." Asking around, it seems that while there are plenty of parents who enjoy the blogging community and read them frequently, outside of that community there are also many who find the entire genre of blogging far too negative. Common comments are "aren't they worried their kids will read it one day and feel bad?", "it isn't funny to make fun of your children", and "it's boring to read about other people's kids". 

Being a Mummy blogger myself, I dismissed most of that with a shrug. Whatever. Different strokes for different folks and all that. There are plenty of things other people read online that I find as interesting as watching especially slow-growing grass grow. Life would be boring if we were all the same, and so on and so forth. 

But then I remembered some of the blog entries I've read of the 'in the trenches' variety: entries about people who haven't wanted their children, who have said online that they don't always love them, ones that talk about their children's private parts and private thoughts or simply make fun of them, Some of these were pretty negative, and not what you'd want to read that your own mum had written about you. A lot of the genre is, I suppose, quite negative. I don't want to link to any specific examples here, but I'm sure you know what sort of entries I mean. We've all read them: the ones that are probably meant to be funny but stray into the mocking, negative and slightly awkward. 

On the other hand, though, those are the stories that can be the most interesting to read. Reading about other parents' trials and tribulations is helpful as well; it makes us feel less alone. Blogs about parents who never struggle with anything or about other people's perfect children wouldn't be very interesting either. Besides, who wants to read a smug-fest? Not only would that be boring, but deeply irritating. Those sort of blogs would make me want to slap the computer. And, again, different people find different things funny - what I might find mocking, negative and slightly awkward might be a comedy fest to someone else. As I said above, different strokes for different folks and all that. 

I like Mummy blogs: I like reading about other parents and the challenges they face. But, I do suppose we need to remain aware that our children will grow up to be able to use Google. And, in remembering that, be careful about the posts we write. The best blogs and columns I read manage to do this well, and I try my best. 

And if you don't like the genre - fine, no need to read it. There is always that slow-growing grass to watch grow. 

Friday, October 23, 2015

The worst advice I've ever received

Advice from other people: one of those things that can either help you, or make you want to throw things at the dispenser of said advice. Good advice is like gold, but misplaced advice is like a giant, coloured piece of plastic that vaguely resembles part of a toy you last saw in 2012 - not good for anything at all. 

I was thinking recently about the worst advice I've ever been given, and was wondering what bad advice other people had received over the years. What are yours? Here are some of mine:

1. If you can't exercise for at least 30 minutes at a time, there's no point. 

A personal trainer told me this when I was new to exercise and quite impressionable, and I followed this advice for years and - in doing so - didn't try to incorporate exercise incidentally into my routine at all. And, due to what the trainer had said, if I couldn't carve out 30 minutes for exercise, I'd do nothing at all. Needless to say, doing nothing often won out.  It took me a while to wake up to the fact that 5 minutes here and 15 minutes there of exercise was, in fact, better than nothing. 

2. There's no point preparing for job interviews, as you don't know what they are going to ask anyway.

Lucky I eventually clued on to that one, i.e. the value of actually trying to think about examples of my skills that match the job's competencies, but I still remember how insistent the dispenser of that gem was. Someone who, it must be said, didn't have a job themselves. 

3. Those brown suede ankle boots look fabulous.

No they didn't. They made my calf muscles look like a chicken drumstick, and were the color of the contents of my daughter's nappy. It may have been the late 90s, but I still don't think that's an excuse. 

4. Eggs eggs eggs! 

I've been told that eggs are a wonder-food that should be eaten daily, and that they are fatty balls of lard that you should never eat more than once a week. To be honest I don't actually know which is true, but figure that one must be wrong. 

5. Never flat with your friends. It will only end badly.

I am sure that it can end badly, but I've lived in a number of house-share situations in my time, and all of the best ones have been with my friends. In fact, it made us even closer.  Even now - 15 years later in the case of one flat in particular - my ex-flatmate buddies are some of my dearest friends, and some of the people in the world that I am most comfortable around. I'm glad I ignored that advice.

6. If you drink a glass of milk and spin around three times the boy you like will ask you out.

Sure, this advice was dispensed in the early 1990s, but it didn't work. Unless you count reminding me that I really dislike milk, and hate getting dizzy. Not that I particularly mind about this one. I'm on Facebook with said boy, who is now a man that isn't terribly appealing at all.

7. If you don't drink people will think you're really boring.

Yeah, nah.

Or maybe I really am so boring I can't even think about a decent response to this one? Not one that doesn't sound sanctimonious and ranty anyway.

8. The Gathering is a fabulous book. If you don't like it, you just don't get it. 

Let's just say, it's the only Booker-winning book that I've owned and willingly given away. And by given away, I mean taken to a charity shop. Reading that book is hours of my life I'll never get back.

What are yours?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Enid Blyton and corporal punishment

Although I blogged about how dated Enid Blyton was last year, my son is now finally of an age to be read those sorts of books. We started on a Roald Dahl, and today moved onto my old favourite, Dame Slap. I loved Dame Slap as a child. The adventures and hi jinks! The elves! The eponymous Dame Slap! What wasn't to like?

It was a shame that I hadn't actually re-read the book myself since the late 1980s. so had forgotten about all of the corporal punishment within the book. Which is daft, really. It's called Dame Slap, not Dame Hugs and Kisses. Or Dame Time Out. I'd forgotten that, not only did Dame Slap slap, but that she used other instruments to hit the children as well. Like a hard-soled slipper. 

Cue some very awkward questions from a perplexed four year old. "Mum, do people hit children?" "Mum, do people hit children WITH STICKS?" "Why?" "Why?" "WHY?" And eventually, "I don't like that hitting book."

I suppose that served me right. I'd still like to read some other Enid Blyton book's to my kids once they are older, but might have to put Dame Slap away for another few years. Or, another thirty. And hope that in thirty years time, the idea of corporal punishment will be even more perplexing and foreign to the reader as it is now, as even more time passes from when such things were commonplace. 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Why use paper when feet will do?

The original  Modern Mothercraft has a lot to say about drawing. "Most children of three have discovered the delights of drawing", it says. "Facilities for drawing and painting encourage self-expression." It even includes a photo of the aforementioned facilities:

I wonder what the 1945 authors would have made of my daughter's recent delight in drawing, especially given how resourceful she was in using her own 'facilities'?

I think that had my daughter been alive in 1945. given her current 'the world is my canvas' philosophy, that nice white bonnet worn by the girl in the photograph above would have been covered in her 'self expression' as well. 

In fact, maybe I should add a nifty white bonnet to my list of things from Ye Olden Days to buy one day. At the very least, it might serve as an effective decoy away from our nice white carpet next time my daughter is unleashing her inner Picasso ...

Friday, August 21, 2015

Ashley Madison hack and the new scarlet letter

In the liberal West, an adulterer wouldn't be paraded through the streets in front of a jeering crowd and made to wear a scarlet 'A'. Scarlet letters and public stocks have been relegated to where they should stay: firmly in the past.

This then raises the question: how have we regressed to a place when it's OK to publicly shame people for these actions again?

I recently read the fabulous book So You've Been Publicly Shamed, so these thoughts were front of mind for me while reading about the Ashley Madison hack. The author of the book, Jon Ronson, discusses the real-life implications for people shamed online, and his conclusions left me feeling deeply uncomfortable about the mob-mentality and en-masse schadenfreude that can occur when someone transgresses online, or is caught on camera doing something shameful.  

The idea of public shaming makes me think about the couple in Christchurch caught on camera at work.  I wonder: would those involved have preferred to be paraded up and down the street, or the media and online buzz around their actions? If paraded in front of a jeering crowd, only the people who lined the street that day would have witnessed their shame. Things are much more permanent when they're online, and the potential audience wider. A scarlet letter sewn onto your clothes can be physically removed with more ease than your Google results, especially when your name is linked to something shameful.

Sure, the Ashley Madison website looks seedy and icky, and I wouldn't be terribly impressed if anyone close to me was a member. But, before making the names public, we still need to ask ourselves what is to be gained from naming and shaming. If no laws were broken and the people involved - including previously unsuspecting partners and children - are likely to be more hurt and humiliated by the details being shared in the public domain (like this woman in Australia), why do people share such information? Some people share with malicious intent, but I think that more often it's just people enjoying a laugh at someone else's expense.  We like and share and comment about things that happen online all the time, and forget that it's real people that we're talking about. 

Before we share such information about people caught cheating, we have to ask ourselves: if this person was being paraded down the street for their transgression, would we go and jeer at them? Would we insist that they wear an "A" on their chest? Throw rotten fruit at them? I haven't spoken to anyone who uploaded videos of the Christchurch couple online or shared it on Facebook, but would be interested in their answer. I suspect that most of the people would say 'no'. They just shared the information because they thought it was funny. 

And if your answer to either of these questions is 'no' regarding the Ashley Madison names, then you really shouldn't be shaming the individuals via likes and shares either. Because, after all, it really is the same thing.  

Mindfulness - 6 days of trying

I've tried to be mindful for a week. And the result? I have decided that mindfulness is like eating veggies and exercise - you know it's good for you, but it still takes willpower to pick up a carrot instead of a giant slice of chocolate cake. 

If my mindfulness experiment were an exam, the paper would be covered in thick red pen, and "see me after class" would be scribbled in the corner. It would have been an exam more reminiscent of the algebra tests of doom I took in High School rather than the history exams I took at university when I actually loved what I was learning. 

BUT, I am still glad I tried. Firstly, the times I succeeded in only doing one thing at a time, living in the present and disentangling myself from gadgets were very satisfying. My lack of blogging about it this week hasn't been down to mindfulness failure either - rather, I have chosen to do other things in the evening apart from leaping online without thinking about it. I picked up Sudoku for the first time in years, and remembered how thoroughly pleasant and relaxing it can be to use your brain in such a way. My husband and I have had lovely conversations while drinking herbal tea, rather than disappearing behind our respective screens. Most importantly, I have given my children more quality time. None of my initial goals were met consistently or well, but it was better than nothing. 

So, if my mindfulness experiment were an exam, it would have been a bad mark, but not an absolute fail. A solid D+, rather than an F.  I have also learned that while my application is poor, I do get why mindfulness is a good thing. So, I have decided to keep working on it. The giant slice of chocolate cake might look delicious, but the carrot will leave me feeling better in the end. I'll keep trying to be more mindful, then maybe next time I'll be in better habits and be able to drag that D+ up to at least a C-.