The ‘mum guilt’ is a wily mistress; she creeps up on you when you least expect it. You think you’ve got over the fact you’ve moved from boob to bottle (feeding, I must add) and then the furrowed brow emerges once again. From not pureeing enough carrots to sticking your kid in front of Paw Patrol when an urgent work email lands, it’s a slippery, never-ending slope of maternal concern and wanting to bag the prize for excellence, not just effort.
While I’ve ditched all the vegetable-related concern, perhaps the worst guilty displeasure I’ve encountered since growing a human is feeling like I’ve let my troop of mates down. Pre-splashdown I was ricocheting from Nandos dinner date to post-breakup hugs with the dedicated enthusiasm of an E-colour-fuelled toddler. I rarely let anyone down; I was a friend with vodka benefits. I prided myself on creating bespoke photo albums for my clan and being the last one to leave a mate’s birthday to ensure she hooked up with the right squeeze.
At the moment one thing has been on my to-do-list for too long is, ‘buy Melissa present’. Melissa is one of my closest friends; we met in Amsterdam five years ago and I have heady memories of us cycling hand-in-hand (it took some balance and a lot of hash cake) through those cobbled streets. She was there for me when I miscarried, she was there for me (fizzy sweets in hand) when I had a horrific day at work that left me snot bubbling into her cashmere jumper. She was (and is) a top notch mate.
Melissa had her baby in December last year. I still haven’t managed to meet that little extension of this wonderful woman. For numerous reasons we’ve both been unable to make timings it work. The last time I was struck with cystitis and literally had to choose the toilet over my mate – dark friendship times.
I think it was at that point that I just went ‘feck it’. I might not be there in person but that doesn’t mean I can’t offer up the same heartfelt love on par with those fizzy cola bottles she proffered up in Amsterdam. As a former Horticulture Week reporter (it followed on from a successful stint on Practical Caravan), I do love a bloom. Even if the rest of my life or house is a shambles, a knock-out perennial can lift a mood/room in a flash.
So I pressed the button on Bloom & Wild’s flower delivery service and off they went. Straight to her door, through her letterbox (yep, they are flat-packed and land in top nick) and into her hands with the message ‘I love you. That is all.’ (Ironically I saw her the following day so could deliver a bosomy hug; the flowers were like a conciliatory amuse bouche in many ways.)
While it might not be a Nandos dinner date or a massive mash-up in town, it was me reaching out to her so that we were once again wobbling along on those old Dutch bikes totally out of our minds but undeniably happy.
It’s time to truly knock guilt on the head – power to the flower, indeed.
This blog post was written in partnership with Bloom & Wild.
This is no brown-nosing exercise, nor is it fan girling. At a push it’s fan nosing.
But I’ve watched the meteoric rise of Giovanna Fletcher through the pixels and rooted for her success like I would that of my own daughter in future egg and spoon races. It’s a primal maternal support she ignites that filters into everything she does; from brilliantly normal everyday Instagram posts about blustery walks with her two sons Buzz and Buddy to infectious hyperventilating laughter with her husband Tom (of McFly acclaim) in the back of a cab. (Like, you can’t stop smiling when they’re on camera together; it’s not sickly or saccaharine, it’s simply real and snort-tea-through-nose-funny).
But that’s really at the heart of where Giovanna’s (I’ll roll with the more familiar ‘Gi’ until the restraining order lands) coming from – she’s not just a poster girl for womanhood, motherhood or rainhoods (in times of moist weather). She’s a bringer-together-of-the-people – men and women. For every post about a small independent brand she’s supporting, there’s a raw, unfiltered photo of her up close and personal with the caption ‘this is who I am. It’s just who I am and that’s OK’. All of this is peppered with clear support and a genuine ‘I dig you regardless of your odd socks’ love for Tom.
It’s inclusive, endearing, supportive and ultimately honest – much like her new book Happy Mum, Happy Baby.
In this brilliantly (at times eye-moistening) account of motherhood, she charts her maternal journey from the beginning (trying to get knocked up through the shitness of PCOS) to the end (splash down) with good, bad and ugly weaved throughout.
Reading about her fears of conception and all the medical implications around that seemingly simple process helps you see a woman who is – despite the hollering McFly crowds – just like us. Reading about her experience of miscarriage hit a few personal notes and, yet, somehow she delivers the experience in an inclusive way. If anything it’s like receiving a bosomy maternal hug through the medium of prose.
And that’s what the whole book is to me. It’s a maternal hug for those dark mastitis-addled 3am feeds. It’s a smile at the end of one of those days where you’ve found a cheerio embedded in your hair and you cried for no reason at all at the merrcat in the Compare The Market.com ads. It’s a non-preachy tome to accompany a rare hot cup of tea (and requisite Jammy Dodger) and it’s a heartfelt account of one woman – a woman just like us – who has laughed as much as she’s cried on this mad, meandering road through parenthood.
One thing’s for sure, Giovanna is certainly not just with the band. (And I will continue to fan nose.)
Happy Mum, Happy Baby is available to buy now here. Giovanna’s husband Tom’s new digital book There’s a monster in your book is available here. Here the pair are supporting our #parentfail campaign for charity @righttoplayintl:
I was walking through the baby food aisle at Tesco when I felt the blood between my thighs. I was convinced it was happening – that I was miscarrying. We’d recently started trying for our second child, and somewhere between the gummy smiles of the babies on the Pampers packs and the Tommee Tippy sippy cups, I lost any sense of reality and left a laden shopping basket to run to the toilets. There was no blood – I wasn’t even pregnant – but I found myself uncontrollably sobbing.
One in four pregnancies is believed to end in a miscarriage – loss of a pregnancy during the first 23 weeks – yet so little is said about this lurking elephant in the room.
The very fact that it’s so common gives way to a sense that we should just soldier on into the reproductive unknown. “At least you can get pregnant,” is something that has been offered up to me by well-meaning friends and doctors alike, in the hope of offering solace, but it often has the opposite, almost isolating effect.
There is no silver lining, miscarriage is deeply traumatic. If you know what it is to love someone, you know what it is to lose someone.
Last week, doctors at Imperial College London reported that four in ten women who have a miscarriage go on to develop post traumatic stress disorder, characterised by flashbacks and nightmares. These may not start for months or even years after the event, the researchers said.
Those findings struck me deeply.
I had three miscarriages – at 7, 9 and 11 weeks – before having our daughter, Mae, now three. Each time, I went for the routine check-up afterwards to make sure all foetal matter had come away. It was clinical, it was purely biological and there was limited room for the emotional. Was it that stress-fuelled moment I ran to catch that Southwestern train? The glasses of wine I drank before realising I was pregnant? The post-miscarriage questioning is relentless, the guilt overwhelming. Yet I boxed this all up – other people seemed to navigate it without any public displays, I thought, and so should I.
My partner, Matt, was also faced with his own layers of grief and the broken fragments of a wife who was distant, irrational and ultimately distraught. Everyone in the family has at some point imagined that foetus as a sibling, nephew, niece, grandchild – a vision of the future that gives you all something huge to lose.
Having Mae seemed to fill the gaping hole of the three children I’d lost. I threw myself into motherhood with the gusto of an E colour-fuelled toddler, and any pain I’d felt before was lost in a world of Fisher Price and toothless grins – or so I assumed.
It was only when we began trying again for a sibling for her this year, that I realised I had merely Sellotaped over the cracks. The damage of those previous losses was simply lurking beneath the surface.
I began dreaming about leaving Mae behind in a car park, and frantically trying to find her to no avail. I’d dream of giving birth to nothing; it was all simply a figment of my imagination and the hospital were frustrated with me wasting their time, despite the fact I had a physical bump. I dreamt of giving birth to another child, and to wake up to that empty disappointment was galling.
The physicality of passing the embryo sack, housing that lifeless foetus, is something I had never dwelled upon in our first three miscarriages. Now that unmistakeable feeling came flooding back, vividly, at seemingly random moments, like that day in the supermarket. I couldn’t see that a visual trigger such as a pack of nappies had sparked an irrational, deeply traumatised response.
We’d been told that our risk of miscarriage remained high, and so I was fearing the loss at every corner.
And when we did miscarry again – for a fourth and fifth time – the original trauma was compounded.
“At least you already have a child,” said a particularly stoic auntie over Easter as we had to explain we’d lost another baby. But I couldn’t adopt that approach anymore.
Giving birth to our fifth ‘inviable form’ in the toilets of my daughter’s daycare was something that pushed me into PTSD terrain.
“Mama, why are you crying?” my three-year-old asked, as the cries of babies echoed around those primary-hued walls. I was crumpled on the toilet, weeping ‘black tears’ – as Mae calls mascara-laden sadness.
As we walked home, I explained to Mae that I’d lost a baby. She asked in a rather matter-of-fact manner, “Why did the baby fall out?”. It was perhaps one of the first questions that helped my route to some form of recovery or, at least, acceptance. Facing the trauma that you have gone through verbally – even if with a toddler – is the first step to understanding this is not simply ‘common’ and it is OK to grieve.
“Sometimes through no fault of your own, a baby doesn’t stay in,” I responded.
“Can the doctor put a new one in? Can the next one be black?” Mae earnestly queried. It was the first time I’d laughed in a week.
Some close friends and family were concerned we’d told Mae about our losses. But I realised this time that if I was going to accept what had happened, I needed to be honest with everyone – including the three-year-old who I spent most waking moments around.
I sought out private grief counselling soon after that. I knew if I didn’t take the steps to talk to someone outside of my family, I might start to drive us apart. My breezy approach to having a second child masked a deep pain beneath.
Last week’s findings reflect a need for better support for couples who experience a miscarriage.
“We have checks in place for postnatal depression, but we don’t have anything in place for the trauma and depression following pregnancy loss,” says Jessica Farren, lead author of the study. “Yet the symptoms that may be triggered can have a profound effect on a woman’s everyday life, from her work to her relationships with friends and family.”
Last weekend, I peed on the blue stick once more. The positive line was equally familiar, yet unfamiliar, filling me once more with that potent cocktail of dread and beaming happiness.
It’s early days and I don’t know if this one will stick around, but I’ve realized that it is OK to take a break before you actually break. That speaking to someone, anyone – even if it is your own three-year-old daughter – can help you navigate that heart-wrenching time ‘the baby fell out’.
I am disappointed to reveal that there hasn’t been much excitement for me in the toilet arena over the years. I never had a fumble in a pub bog and I never took a Dip Dab lolly from the skanky wicker basket in Northampton’s Ritzy. (Just couldn’t get my head around scoffing something after having a wazz; my loss, perhaps).
But today all my toilet dreams came true in Marks & Spencer, Stratford. No fumbles, no free Wham bars and no revolutionary advances to the humble crapper. Just a sign – a sign that had a man holding a baby. A sign that indicated that a man could wipe infant arse as well as a woman. Thank the shitting gods.
I risked seeing a few hairy pickles in the name of investigative journalism to ensure this man/dad-friendly effluence station delivered the goods. There it was – a baby changing table beaming down triumphantly next to the urinals. Two very simple additions: a sign (guestimate: £30) and a hunk of baby-facilitating plastic that retails at £69.99 on eBay. Not much to ask, really and yet, this was, indeed A Moment – even more exciting than if I’d taken Dean from Abbey National up on his fruity offer in the Red Lion.
I’ve lost count of the times Matt (@papa_pukka) has headed off stridently to a restaurant toilet with a soiled squawker only to return defeated (or, perhaps, relieved; we must not get above our station, wiping arse is shit). And we’re not talking small independent organic hipster gafs – the full gamut from monolithic supermarket chain to family-friendly restaurants, complete with colouring-in packs, has turned a blind eye to the wanger-bearing contingent.
It’s just a sign, it’s just a bit of light DIY to tack on the side of plans for the intricate, brand-addled serviette dispenser that shows your restaurant/ festival/ pub/ shopping centre/ surgery/ maternity ward understands that most Dads don’t just scarper post-spunk.
More than anything it’s a basic nod to a world that has moved on from women being left holding the baby. The minute I had Mae, I was so physically and mentally mangled, Matt had no choice but to cradle her in his hairy man pit. He changed her first mustard-hued nappy, he gave this 6lb mewling infant her first dunk. He had an eye-wateringly hilarious meltdown when her belly button scab fell off. (“What the fuck do I do with it? Do people keep it? God, who are those people?”)
He’s taken 2,457 photos of her surreptitiously (I only saw his Dropbox last year and it reduced me to a weeping mess) to my 1,456. He’s, furrow-browed, questioned her broccoli intake more than me and ordered her educational toy after educational toy in the vain hope that it will break through my natural penchant for a stuffed Disney stalwart.
He’s a primary, not secondary carer. Like a relentless basketball game, if he drops the ball, I pick it up and if he slam dunks, we high five. Like, we actually high fived when we seamlessly managed to clean up a basinet of chunder on an Emirates flight to our mate’s wedding in Dubai.
We’re ebbing and flowing – often huffily in the face of procreation-fuelled exhaustion – around this kid. And sure I think he could offer up more in the waking-up-when-she-cries-in-the-night department, while I’m sure he’s concerned by my baby gro draw admin. But we’re parenting. Not dadding or mumming. A parental unit. We’ve been fighting hard to get to a place where women are equal in the workplace, so why not offer up an even more common denominator on the side – make us equal in the humble crapper.
Marks & Sparks (not sure if anyone who isn’t a parent from the 80s still calls it that), thank god for thinking outside the cubicle. Bog standards, indeed.
While Ashton Kutcher got hacked off on behalf of US Dads (“I’ll give a shout out on all my channels to the first restaurant that installs baby changing facilities in the Dad’s restroom”), the UK has Al Ferguson, founder of The Dad Network here to flush this shit away. His #dadsforchange campaign names and shames the places that are letting the paternal side down.
Here’s Matt Farquharson’s (@papa_pukka) guide to swatting away resistance to flexible working
‘If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone’.
‘How would I know you were doing any work?’
‘I need to know where you are’.
And on it goes.
Employers are legally required to consider one flexible working request a year from anyone who has worked for them for more than six months. But they’re not obliged to accept it. So I asked for the most common reasons why your requests for flexible working were turned down, then asked the experts how to handle those objections.
Here are some options, split into the quietly human (the As), the stat-tastic (Bs), and the outright bolshie (Cs). The Cs came from me.
If you’re at home, how will we know what you’re doing?
A: By seeing what I do. I can take the time to report in more, I can suggest measurable objectives. Whatever it takes to make this work.
B: Perhaps you don’t need to, and could focus on what I produce. One recent Stanford University study found that home-workers in China did 13.5% more work than those in the office – that’s almost a whole extra day’s work each week – and were happier in their jobs.
C: The same way you do when I’m shackled to my laminated-MDF-desk/factory-line/headset – but seeing how many spreadheets/widgets/sales I’ve produced, you binary-thinking progress-obstacle.
It’s too expensive
A: It shouldn’t mean more expense. I can suggest the hours in a way that works for both of us and it’ll mean I’m happier and more loyal as a result.
B: Actually, it can save money. It costs on average £5,000 to hire a new employee in the UK. When you add the time costs of getting the newbie up to speed it hits £30,000, according to Acas. But 76% of employers saw staff retention improve when they offered flexible working.
C: It’ll cost you more to replace me. Now shuffle your tuckus over here and sign it off.
If we did it for you, we’d have to do it for everyone
A: The business case is different each time and you’re under no obligation to give it to everyone. In my case, I want flexible working to succeed enough to make sure it does.
B: Great, you’ll become a much more attractive employer. Some 30% of the UK’s working population (8.7 million people) wants flexible working but doesn’t have it, yet only 6% of advertised jobs with a salary above £20,000 actually offer it.
C: Good. You’ll have a happier workforce and earn more money. Now fetch your diary.
It’s too difficult to manage
A: I believe in two-way flexibility, and will do all I can to manage this myself. So trust me and at least let’s have a go.
B: It can lead to management efficiencies, effectively keeping the business open for longer each day. There is lots of free advice and software online. And it’s a lot easier to manage a company with great staff retention. In the US, for example, 46% of companies that allow remote working say it has reduced attrition and 95% of employers say it has a high impact on employee retention.
C: Not for anyone who can be trusted to operate a stapler it isn’t. It isn’t hard, is what I’m saying.
We have a shift system
A: I’m asking to change my shift pattern, not end it. Why don’t we explore with the whole team what is possible? I’ve already spoken to some of them and think we can come up with a rota that works. Why don’t we have a trial period and review it.
B: Perhaps that is something that should be addressed. It is widely accepted that shift work reduces sleep quality, increases fatigue, anxiety, depression, neuroticism, adverse cardiovascular effects, gastrointestinal disorders and can be harmful t pregnant women.
C: Then shift it.
You’ll be less productive
A: I think the reverse is true. I want this to work, so will make sure that my productivity doesn’t suffer.
B: In a survey of 2,200 businesses in the UK, 81% of senior managers said flexible working improves productivity. A global survey of 20,000 business found that 72% of businesses reported increased productivity as a direct result of flexible working.
C: You know what makes me unproductive? Not seeing my kid. Why not see what I can do when my mind’s really on the job.
We have lots of impromptu meetings and need you here for those
A: We can agree core hours when I’d be here, like 10am to 4pm. I’m not going to just hole up at home, and perhaps we’d be more productive with more scheduled meetings, so everyone can manage their time.
B: Remote meetings are more productive, because everyone gets to the point. They are greener, as they involve less travel. Remote working is incredibly popular: a recent US survey found that 36% of staff would choose it over a pay rise. And if you roll this out across the firm, you can save on rent, too. Lambeth Council will save £4.5 million per year in property costs by having no more than 60% of its staff in at one time.
C: Can you spell ‘Skype’? Would you like me to explain what telephones are?
I had vague memories of sandy, baking hot campsites in the South of France growing up where you’d have nothing but a deflated football for entertainment. They were good days and while there wasn’t much in terms of polish (or even Coca Cola; disappointing to a five-year-old), it was somewhere to cut loose from all the pressures of learning the alphabet and wondering how Old McDonald kept on top of everything.
So when I heard of the family-friendly Sani Resort, an hour south of Thessaloniki in Greece, I was a little skeptical. Even though the recommendation came through my mate Jane in Amsterdam (70% of their bookings are repeat business), I wasn’t sure it would have the same Great Escape vibes as those shoddy campsites.
Sure, they’d have all the gear. And when I say gear, you guys know what I’m talking about – travel cots, high chairs, inflatables, plastic beakers, multi-hued straws that need to be presented for colour selection at every meal. (Lord forbid the resort runs out of the much-coveted green ones). Oh and staff that actually speak to the kids instead of dismissing them as toe rags. All this Sani has in abundance. But might a dedicated resort with it’s own marina have a little too much ‘don’t touch this kids’ to it?
After the seamless three-hour flight, we landed at what has been referred to as family mecca. My initial feeling was it’s more parent-friendly than anything – the kids are fully catered for but there’s a distinct Ibiza cool vibe to the whole place with the infinity pool overlooking Bousoulas Beach and the wicker chairs dotted about the place.
While I was doing a weekend recce alone and sans enfant (it felt like a blimmin’ sabbatical), I was scouting it out for a longer jaunt with the full fam – granny and granndad included for that handy extra pair of eyes/hands. But to be honest I barely got beyond the sun loungers. An often overlooked item at any hotel or resort, these aren’t your average limp sponge-swathed rickety structures that everyone’s elbowing for. We’re talking rows of flumpy cloud-like pillowy beds that’ll have you snoozing well into sunburn territory.
While the main pool is packed with offspring of the well-heeled parents dotted about the loungers, it’s not overwhelming or elitist. Noone is packed in like a frazzled sardine and even the piercing screams of a newborn get swallowed into the ripple of a nearby water feature.
So, yes, parent-friendly is where it’s at. That’s not to say the kids aren’t all right. With a dedicated on-site crèche rammed with the newest toys on the block, the staff greet us with genuine coat hanger smiles and the kids look like they’re having a ball. Its handily located next to the luxe spa, so mama and baby can have a little mini break. There was a sign on the nearby beach to the spa that read “Fancy a bit of sun and sex? We’ll look after the kids for 30 minutes.” I thought that was bold but brilliant facility until I was told the chalkboard said ‘sea not sex’. “Ah, fancy a bit of sun and sea?”
(They should probably consider the former as a legitimate part of the package, though.)
The marina is very much the heart of Sani life with a whopping 17 restaurants and bars that won’t leave you wishing you had a Swiss bank account or getting bored of the same fare. Traditional Greek restaurant Ergon serves up meze dishes such as Ntolmadakia vine leaves in herbs, fava beans purée with cured pork with caramelised onions and chicken souvlaki in yoghurt and cumin on Cretan wild rice. Despite my reservations about resort restaurants and Greek food itself, it was top notch fodder and I left fully sated, although resembling a jacket potato. Must learn my limits.
The aptly-named Macaroni Italian restaurant, and highly rated Tomata tends to be where families radiate but because of the vast space it doesn’t feel like you’re involved in every toddler tantrum – this is a resort that’s been constructed around parental calm. In short, they understand the stuff that drives families apart in a cramped Pizza gaf at an M25 service station.
Perhaps the best spot for a room with some phew is Porto Sani (known as the ‘well-being’ hotel due to its Zen-like Spa Suite). Rooms are in garden and junior suites that line the pools, all swathed in pink fuchsia bougainvillea and shaded by lush palms that make Greece seem more exotic than it perhaps is.
Some of the junior suites have enough room to accommodate two small children on sofa beds in the lounge, which makes a bit of a cash saving. There’s all the usual trimmings you’d expect from this sort of place – Nespresso machines, Bose iPod deck and Anne Semonin products in the bathroom.
But polish aside and regardless of how parent-friendly the whole resort is, it’s all about the kids. If the kids are happy, the parents can ease into those pillowy sun loungers with gusto and start ordering the crudites and negronis. With heated pools, a balmy 25 degrees and beaches galore for sand castle constructing, there was a sense of kids being able to fully run riot – regardless of the staff wafting about in immaculate white uniforms.
While it’s not a ramshackle, dusty campsite with a deflated neon football for entertainment, one kid galloping past me, knocking me sideways with his younger brother in tow hollered, ‘race you to the big blue yacht’. More polished, yes, but they also serve Coca Cola so perhaps I’ve grown up?
Seven nights half-board at Porto Sani from £1,057 from April 10, 2017, sani-resort.com. easyJet flies to Thessaloniki from London Gatwick five times a week, from £87 return. easyjet.com
About a year ago, the urchin joined a new daycare where they have a large box of dinosaurs, and a large box of dolls.
At home, the urchin has dinosaur toys, a dinosaur outfit, and does an impressive dinosaur roar, complete with clawing action.
On her first morning at this daycare, as she wailed and clung on, I tried to stop her tears by goofily waving about a stegosaurus. But her key worker, a quick-to-smile 20-something (who, disconcertingly, calls me ‘dad’), immediately resorted to the pink stuff. ‘Shall we change the dolly’s nappy?’, she asked. ‘Do you want to push the pram?’
And I wanted to say, ‘don’t do that’. But being English, I gave an awkward smile and left her to it. A Monday morning, with work waiting, didn’t seem the best time to launch into a half-considered speech on gender roles.
I’ve been quiet on this before. When relatives hand over ulcer-pink dolly sets or frilly princess outfits that would shame a young Barbara Cartland, I smile, say thanks, and quietly shunt them to the back of the cupboard.
It’s not an effort to deny her a girlhood, but more an attempt to offer her options. If she likes dolls, she can have dolls, but I’ll be offering her a toy truck as well. I want her to be as quick to pick up a ball as a Barbie, as confident at a lectern as in a kitchen. I want her to hit back if struck.
And it occurred to me that I might have accidentally become a feminist. So I looked the word up for the first time. I was half expecting to see a picture of a hairy-pitted harridan, or a definition that ran along the lines, ‘make-up-averse man-hater, wild-eyed castrator, gender bigot’.
Without thinking about it too much, I’d assumed the meaning that’s hinted at by most media portrayals: someone who believes in the primacy of women over men, a pro-female discriminator.
But it said, simply, ‘a person who supports women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes’.
And so, I thought, I guess I’m one of those then. Should I tell my mates? What will people think? Do I need to ‘come out’ or should I just keep it to myself? It’s a socially awkward thing to say, and the ‘ist’ words are rarely positive: facist, racist, fantasist. Cist.
But then I thought, well, how could you not be? If feminists believe in gender equality, then not being one means you actively believe in inequality: that blue is better than pink, so let’s keep the boys in charge. And that’s thinking to be challenged, particularly now that one of those guys is the most powerful person on earth.
Because words make a difference, and it seems to me that in 2017, it’s up to reasonable folk to call out the unreasonable at every step. Because if left unchecked, unreasonableness becomes normal, and in playgrounds and offices and bars, ‘grab ’em by the pussy’ slowly becomes an acceptable way to think, then to talk and then to act. It becomes normal to dismiss a woman who disagrees with you at work as having, ‘blood coming out of her wherever’.
So on 21 January, I’m going to the Women’s March on London, to quietly say: let’s be reasonable.
“What do the kids actually do on Instagram?” – a query to a former colleague last week who has an 11-year-old daughter. My question came from a genuine anthropological place, but also a primitive maternal one: I wanted to know what sort of pixelated gauntlet we’d be running as parents when Mae gets her hands on the iPhone 32. I wanted all the awareness and understanding of this like/comment/follow-centric tech in my arsenal.
So, like two school kids (with an abundance of wrinkles and skirts at a reasonable non-bum-skimming length) we stumbled into her daughter’s worryingly-accessible profile. I queried why it wasn’t on private setting and got a ‘oh, she’s only friends with children’. I emailed her later that evening about the benefits of putting that account on a sort of Alcatraz-worthy lock-down. (Ironic, I realise after looking at my own ‘let it all hang out’ approach to Instagram.)
But in we went and on first glance there was nothing sinister: just a wealth of selfies and the occasional shoe-fie (assume that’s a thing) peppered with blurry photos of their cat called ‘Banjo’* or on seemingly more affectionate days ‘Banjeroo’.
The comments were generally all emoji-fied or undeciperhable (“LOL SMH”) to the aged eye/mind. But one commenter stood out for his consistent smattering of ‘fit’ under each selfie. Now, I’m down with the kids enough to know he wasn’t referring to her affinity with the local Fitness First gym chain.
We had a quick peruse of his also unlocked profile – it was all harmless stuff to be fair; a group selfie here, a video game Boomerang there – and left it for fear of edging into predatory realms ourselves.
Until two days later when I received a personal Instagram message from him that read: “Why did you like my photo?”
There was that sickening feeling usually reserved for brown Council Tax letters or a police visit during a house party gone rogue. I knew I’d done something horribly wrong; I knew that while an accident and fuelled by innocent intentions, I was in the wrong.
And in going off piste so brazenly and clumsily, I took the well-worn head-in-the-sand approach and hoped it would just go away. But that’s the issue with Instagram – that little ‘seen’ stamp that pops up when you’ve clapped eyes on someone’s message scuppers this approach.
“I know you’ve seen this.”
I considered blocking but my husband said he was ‘just a kid’ and ignoring would suffice. Another day passed and it was then that I received what I had sensed lay behind the relentless ‘fit’ comments that had raised an eyebrow/concern at the beginning of this whole pixelated pickle. What lay on that screen came from the dark depths of YouPorn.
I am not someone who shies away from brash, erotically-charged words or sexual innuendo. I’m au fait with YouPorn having dabbled occasionally myself and while I could ignore the pneumatic tits and tangerine faux tans of the ‘top shelf’ in newsagents, I am delighted they are withering and dying out, one closure at a time – Nuts, Zoo, FHM, the crumbling Penthouse, adios.
But this was an 11-year-old telling a pregnant 35-year-old mother what he wanted to do to her.
I immediately rang my mate Polly, a teacher with the grottiest of laughs and generally swathed in sequins, regardless of the hour or occasion. Her usual upbeat chatter ebbed away as I explained the situation: “Yeah, that’s pretty intense. I’ll be honest I’d lose my job if that was ever unearthed on my account – even though there was no intention, it was something you incited.”
I blocked, I panicked, I wondered how I’d crossed the pixelated line between perusing and then inadvertently inciting pornographic prose. I wondered whether this 11-year-old was alone penning this grot or with a bunch of chums egging him on into MILF-terrorising realms.
I went back to my former colleague and unburdened the whole messy slew of events. After initial black comedic chat that centred around me being a paedophile, it dawned on her that I – her mate who called herself ‘Mother Pukka’ and used the word ‘twunt’ in features meetings – was fumbling around in the dark and, that, perhaps, the graphic ‘banter’ that had flooded my way could have just as easily landed in her daughter’s account.
‘Fit’ was just the peak of this confusing iceberg.
My husband tried to calm the situation by referring to a time him and his mates wanted to do naughty things to Kim Cattrall in the 80s film Mannequin. But what I explained was the line between fantasy and reality here had been crossed. Boys might well be boys but when that highly-sexualised banter or masculine bravado manifests itself as words being directed towards a person – in this case a stranger – that’s when the alarm needs to be raised.
Because despite me potentially losing my fictitious teaching career over this or being deeply, deeply disturbed by the content of that cum-smattered message. Despite genuinely halting for a moment when the word ‘paedophile’ was used misguidedly in jest to lighten the mood. And despite the archaic toss that ‘boys will be boys’, the fact remains that this chat might have landed in an 11-year-old girl’s inbox.
This is not locker room ‘bants’, this is not normal – even in a world that will potentially have us wiping our arses with our smartphones. As a woman and mother, this is a line that has been crossed – a line that I accidentally, yet stupidly crossed into a dark world** that (with the permission of my colleague) needs some light shed on it.
Making sure you are the one that has ‘seen’ what’s actually going on and not someone else’s daughter.
That’s our parental armour in this brave, new and explicit world.
*name changed to protect identity.
**The content of the graphic messages has been brought to the attention of all parents concerned. All parents concerned have given permission for this content to be published in the hope of raising awareness of the potential consequences of phone use to other parents.
On Monday night I got touched up by the film director Sharon Maguire. It was everything I’d hoped for and more as she went in for the full cup of the bump and, then surprisingly, the boob. My kind of woman.
But why were we jiggling about merrily on a Monday night? Well, Sharon is the director of Bridget Jones’s Baby (available now on digital download) and I’m having a baby, so we felt there was some bizarre but wondrous crossover right there. Reason enough for a fumble in public, even.
Alongside talking sprogs and all the banal paraphernalia that comes with them, she was up for telling us about everything from Colin’s peachy buns to her own love of people who ‘aren’t dicks’. (Tick two in the ‘my kind of woman’ books.)
I think, perhaps, my favourite part of the evening was her genuine joy when I revealed my parents had unearthed a ‘latecomers’ deal to watch the film at the Milton Keynes Odeon for £3 (coffee and biscuits included) a person. My folks went to watch this film that their mates Jenny and Les had claimed was ‘the funniest thing they’d seen last year’ the same day I snuggled up with Sharon. I loved that Jenny and Les’s review genuinely raised a proud smile from Sharon – the lady genuinely cares about those who aren’t just wafting up the red carpet.
She also has the sort of twinkle in her eye that nods towards ‘a night that could go anywhere’, making it easy to understand why Bridget Jones has become so mega. The bits that make you laugh until you snort Pepsi out of your nose and scatter the popcorn everywhere (there’s always a rogue kernel in the cleavage) are there because Sharon finds them funny. The entire film is laced with this quintessential British humour that manages to cross over seamlessly to our American friends – rare when it comes to comedy.
While I don’t want to ruin the storyline (our Bridge pops a sprog out with wetting-yourself-laughing moments of procreation/ ‘who’s the daddy’ confusion along the way), this is one of those releases that will transport another manic Monday into what feels like an Aperol spritz-fuelled Friday.
Well, not for me, I’m actually having a baby. I’ll just have to settle for a cheeky cup and squeeze from the director and snorting Pepsi through my snoz laughing.
The DVD is out on Monday January 30th
This is the first chance for Bridget fans to watch the film post cinematic release plus with instant download you can keep the film on up to five different devices. What’s more, fans of Bridget can also watch the download wherever and whenever – be it on your tablet during your commute to and from work, on your phone whilst in bed or in the comfort of your living room via your Smart TV. WHERE YOU CAN PURCHASE BRIDGET JONES’S BABY AS A DIGITAL DOWNLOAD:
Pa Whitehouse imparted some advice when I was a feral youth: “Don’t look up to people and don’t look down on people – treat the Queen as you would the bin man”; “However close you are to someone, don’t call them your ‘best friend’ – it isolates others”. And “Try and talk about ‘things’ not ‘people.”
Now, much like my financial planning and inability to listen to his driving advice (my 1987 Ford Escort – with spoiler – ended up embedded in the front of our house due to my loose acquaintance with the handbrake) none of the above went into the lugholes.
Until, perhaps a year ago when I started trying to build a business (pressing buttons sporadically in the hope The Internet would spunk some dosh).
Those core parental nuggets of advice started slipping in when words like ‘squad’ and ‘gang’ started edging into my subconscious.
What is this squad? Should I be in one? Does one require this athleisure clothing I’ve been hearing good things about? After a mild run-in – I was 100 metres away in the entrance of Poundland – with an actual gang outside Northampton’s Ritzy in 1996, I didn’t want to really be in one of those. I still occasionally hold my keys between my index and middle finger as a weapon in the hope that I can poke someone into submission if trouble descends.
Either way, squad or gang, I realised I had neither. I was a floater, perhaps; a human floater in the friendship pan of Domestos dreams.
I had a bunch of people I knew who definitely didn’t want me to die. I had rock solid friends (some who I had never even met on Facebook; including my ex boyfriend’s wife, who I accidentally friend requested… and she accepted. We’ve been going steady for three years) and I’d never be stuck for a Nandos dining comrade. But they weren’t united in any way, really other than by knowing me. It felt like a ‘squad goal’ was, perhaps to be in the same place, wearing the same Mac Lady Danger lipstick at least once a week swathed in achingly cool Scandi apparel.
I was on my own loitering near the bargain bin in Tesco wearing a faded hoodie that read ‘Whiteho’ (they were sluttier times) with a weird hair prong that refused to be tamed.
As young girls we tend to ‘group’ together in our vulnerability instead of ebbing and flowing with confidence. I was told to ‘get a life’ by a skirt-hoiked-up-to-the-eyeballs girl on our French exchange trip in 1994; I responded, adrenalin-pumping with ‘get a haircut’. (Her barnet needed a coiff; it was factual). Five years later we were put in the same Economics group and became good mates despite being on different sides of the friendship fence.
I was in the ‘vaguely passable’ group of non-geeks and non-mean girls. She was bona-fide ‘cool girl’ elite. I had a brace (with multicoloured bands; the dream) and had worked out how to bleach my barnet with Sun-In, so I was sitting in no (wo)man’s land in many ways.
As a mother you need people, you need bosomy hugs – virtual or real – when the maternal chips are not just down, but bulldozed and crumbling; you need that tribe (that’s a more inclusive, familial term, perhaps) of people who will wipe your baby’s puke off your shoulder as you dash to the bog with the first twinges of the Norovirus.
But geographically and emotionally they don’t have to be lumped together as one all-singing, all-dancing unit. Spice Girls? Nice Girls? The awkward phrase ‘Instamums’? Just People Trying To Keep Small Humans Alive Together, really.
That’s not to say if you’ve got a core crew you’re singing from a different hymn sheet. I’m firmly ensconced in two groups of girls (at 35 are we girls? I got called a ‘lady’ in Boots recently). But neither is my ‘squad’ or ‘gang’ because coming back to Pa Whitehouse’s core principles, that isolates others. There’s always room at the inn for more; no weird passwords and no dodge handshakes.
It’s a ‘support network’: there’s the mate who chats about the grot stories on the Daily Mail bar of shame at the school gates, the one who you’ve known for 25 years and while it’s longevity that keeps you together, she knows about that dishwasher-like snog from Dean from Abbey National in 1995. There’s the mate that’s popped up from NCT because you literally needed somone to go through fanny-gate with. There’s the ones who you’ve met through vague Instagram lurking, who start to feel like total keepers despite, somewhat bizarrely, only having met twice.
Over the years I’d gathered a merry band of eclectic people who don’t want me to cark it; It’s friendship pick ‘n’ mix if anything.
There’s even my Aunty Janet who is still distressed by the moniker ‘Mother Pukka’ but champions our Flex Appeal (a campaign to push for flexible working for people who happen to be parents) at every church meeting she goes to.
Perhaps my favourite is a mate-of-a-mate who came to an event I was talking at a few weeks ago, asked if I fancied lunch (always a yes, regardless of the hour) and said “my best mate has just moved to New York, my other mama mates have moved out of London. I’ve been abandoned and you’re, like, 5 minutes down the road. Will you be my friend?” Two weeks later I’m closer to her than a Gillette Venus razor to an overrun armpit.
That’s not to say there isn’t any negative unburdening in those relationships – sorry Pa, Whitehouse but humans can be bell-ends and that needs to be vented. I can’t handle the ‘tutters’. Who tuts? Just articulate your issue.
But anyone can sit anywhere, really. You can sit with us, them, the woman at Brixton Tube station playing Chumbawumba’s Tubthumping merrily on her Pringle tin. Don’t make the mistake of thinking others have this elusive squad gang thang down because there’s a photo of them with a few other mothers on The Internet – a place that can make you feel inspired but also the loneliest, mammary-leaking mama on the planet.
It’s all just one massive mosh pit of knackered souls holding on to the nearest gurning person in the hope that they, too, found a three-month-old soggy milk-laden breast pad behind the bed.
Then, when passing on Pa Whitehouse’s core principles to Mae, she pipes up: “But Mama, you’re my best friend.”
We’ve flash mobbed, we’ve talked, we’ve emoji-ed, we’ve DM-ed, we’ve hugged it out and we’ve worked out there is a gargantuan problem when it comes to flexible working in the UK. Talent (specifically female) is getting lopped out of the workforce due to an archaic ‘bums on seats’ mentality instead of looking towards productivity. And our Flex Appeal is all about, well, flexing this up.
While 2016 was about proving that issue exists. (Just clap eyes on the government’s Working Forward pledge – 86% of businesses believe they work flexibly, while 77% of women face maternity discrimination or lose their jobs dues to inflexibility). This year is time to look towards solutions – for both employers, employees and those who have ditched the 9-5 in favour of going it alone.
Cue our brilliant partner for the Flex Appeal campaign, Regus – the global flexible office space to suit every business need. I ditched the 9-5 last year and while working for yourself is great in so many ways, there are times when you find yourself stagnating in a onesie, wondering why the line between home and work has become so blurred. (A low point was finding a soggy cheerio embedded in my keyboard).
One week working at Regus London Bridge (think cool, modern, fresh non-business-ey surrounds) and I was back on track, humming Dolly Parton’s 9-5 ironically and getting stuff done in a way that my familial abode just wouldn’t allow. (When I’m about to settle down to work, I suddenly start to see ‘all the things’ I haven’t done – overflowing laundry baskets, wonky fridge magnets… anything, really to dodge those tax returns.)
To be honest, when Regus first approached me, I felt like it might not be a perfect fit – surely office space was a huge overhead? I’m just a one-(wo)man band with a chirping toddler to feed and a sketchy business plan. But bulldoze down those misconceptions – this is a proper space, bricks, mortar ‘n’ all that can adjust itself to your business – however large or small.
My all-singing, all-dancing solo show was catered for with a flexible pay-as-you-go rate (from £9* a day). Something as simple as having a business address can change someone’s opinion of what you do – transporting it from kitchen-run mummy blog to potential digital empire with employees swathed in neon Lycra at all times. (There would also be a Skittle dispenser in the corner – one must dream). More importantly, it made me take it more seriously and structure my day in a way that allowed me to be a mother, founder and occasional pan scrubber without them all melding together in one unproductive mess.
But what does this partnership mean for you? Other than showing you there’s a flexible working home/ bosomy hug for those of us who have taken the leap away from the 9-5 into the freelancing or start-up unknown?
Regus will be supporting us through the first quarter of 2017 to offer space for flexible working talks we’ll be running, provide free trials of their services to new start-ups (keep an eye on our Instagram for how to get involved) that might be struggling with using their home as an office and helping us with relevant research into the issue of flexible working in the UK and the ways to offer solutions. They’ll also be our partner for all Flex Appeal flash mobs we run across the UK this quarter.
Other than providing flexible office space, they’re also one of the most flexible employers we’ve come across. Despite getting requests from companies wanting to be part of our Flex Appeal (and promising they offer up the goods), we’ve only championed three businesses so far: Digital Mums, Deloitte and now Regus. The reason? When you dig deeper (Matt, @papa_pukka, and I interviewed 25 mothers and fathers at all three companies off-record to get the lay of the land, along with detailed HR input), the reality doesn’t always match up.
Through Regus, we will be showing other companies how flexible working actually works. What it practically means to offer up flexibility to your employees – the peaks and the troughs. To do that we’ll be bringing you practical case studies from Regus’ employees highlighting the vast reasons people need flex in their working life and how employers can match those needs – and, most importantly make more dosh.
Whether mother, father, carer, stamp collector or pug breeder, this is a human issue and Regus, along with Deloitte and Digital Mums is leading the charge. We’re delighted to have their support for the Lycra-swathed ride.
More than anything, no mama is an island.
Working it out
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, Regus’ 3,000 centres across 120 countries will have a space that can let your business grow without edging into your kitchen.
*day prices vary across each Regus location. Check your nearest location out for exact rates.
I posted an Instagram story before Christmas showing us post-baby scan. The news was good, the tears were of relief and, yet, they held something else that I couldn’t talk about at the time. An hour before the scan I’d found out one of my closest friends had lost her surviving twin at ten weeks. She was a first-time mother who had been trying for years and had pinned the pain and frustration of that fruitless period to those two embryo sacks – one that had sadly slipped away a few weeks earlier.
Riddled with fear after our previous experience of baby loss, I had the unspeakable thought before edging into that scan that we’d, perhaps, go through miscarriage together – a sort of morbid, upturned version of being excited when you find out your mate is also pregnant. I was swamped by the dark, yet comforting sense that we could help each other navigate the heartbreaking moment you lose a baby; when you lose a part of yourself. The moment you flush that limp lifeless embryo down the toilet along with your last shred of maternal hope.
Woman and woman, friend and friend holding hands in our perilous, teary, snot-smattered journey to motherhood.
And then I got wrenched out of those familiar depths by the time-stopping thud of an infant heartbeat. My relentless tears were undoubtedly for that life; for this one ‘sticking’. But they were also for the void I knew this would, without any malice or bad feeling, creep between my friend and I.
I knew my own desperation to continue as normal and not be affected by friends having what seemed like an easy road to procreation. (The reality was probably worlds away from my self-consumed assumptions). But I knew I struggled to be the bigger person when we went through miscarriage. I struggled to be around bumps, I struggled with baby scans on Facebook, I struggled with Pampers ads, I struggled with BabyCentre updates (“Your baby is the size of an avocado!”) that I’d forgotten to turn off and I struggled with what all that said about me as a person.
And then I got a poignant, heartfelt email of congratulations from my friend – the bigger person. An email that was weighted with raw, messy, pain-smattered love and had a passage attached to it that reduced me to a sobbing heap. She wanted me to publish these words as a friend because for her, as was the case with me, sharing the heartache of infertility, miscarriage and losing a part of yourself – losing a part of your mind at times – was one character, one word closer to feeling less alone. In her words: ‘together has to be better than alone’.
The post below is by my friend Rebecca, a woman I am very lucky to have by my side despite her inability to share a packet of dry roasted.
F*ck Mother Nature
I spent the last 3 years treating my body as some type of sacred temple in the hope to fall pregnant. Multi-vitamins. Strict diets. Exercise. 8:30pm bed times. No alcohol. No coffee. Move back home from overseas. A corporate job with limited travel and regular hours. Blood tests weekly. Ultrasounds. New Doctors. Specialists. IVF clinics. Meditation. New meds. Old meds. It was hard. I honestly believe unexplained fertility is the most heartbreaking beast in Mother Nature; it really can be a thief of joy. Once I had the courage to talk to my closest friends about it; I found I was in good company. Some women don’t fall pregnant easily; some people never do.
On a Thursday in December I’m delivered amazing news, I’m pregnant, not just pregnant but likely 6 weeks. I feel fantastic. I feel elated. I feel privileged that I can grow a human. I tell my close family and my best friends who have lived with my same hope and dreams. I download the apps, my husband buys the “dad” books. I ask the doctor about risks, he says only 1 in 6 end in miscarriage. He has patients who drink and smoke in pregnancy and deliver healthy babies 9 months later. I know I will be in the 5 in 6. Those odds are on my side.
Four days later I start to feel cramping. There is blood on the toilet. My routine blood work causes my doctor to panic and compassionately, but gravely tell me I need to go to Emergency Maternity Care. I spend overnight in pain, not sleeping and very fearful that I’m losing my baby. The cramps and blood are bad; I can feel that something is very wrong.
If Hell exists, a version of it is at the Emergency Department for Women & Babies. You have to present at 7:30am. You join 20 other sleep deprived and scared women.
They take you through rooms and scans. The sonographer shows me our passenger. I’m excited. She says I’m pregnant – but to talk to the doctor about the results. Then the doctor delivers me the news. Expectant miscarriage. I’m in shock. I don’t believe her. She says 100% that I will bleed out in next 2 weeks based on the results. And then I cry. I cannot stop crying. She needs to see the next patient. I’m left in a maternity ward full of babies and pregnant women “bleeding out” and in pain. Fucking undignified. I want to leave; but because of my blood type I have to stay for an ROHGM injection. The injection takes a long time. It was 45 minutes – but it felt like 10 hours. The same 20 women are watching me cry my eyes out. I feel so humiliated.
I’m sad. I’m mad. To be pregnant, full of positive hopes for the future and then not; is a numbing type of grief that is unexplainable.
Time heals. I know it does. What doesn’t kill you does make you stronger. However, we live in this age of carefully curated social media – where bad news is compartmentalized, folded away, filtered out. Unexpected bad shit needs to be rationalized – so we can march on in confidence it won’t happen to us. People don’t Instagram from the emergency department about miscarriage. Pregnancy loss happens; but it’s squirreled away; in hushed tones.
Right now, I am reminded of the poem “Stop the clocks” by W.H. Auden about grief. That’s how I feel. I want to cancel Christmas. My heart hurts. The cramping is bad. I cannot face the people I told. I have cried so much my eyes actually hurt. We are raised on a Disney diet of Happy endings and Fairy tales. Life can be good and life can also be bad.
Other babies and pregnant women are bringing me to tears; I can’t go outside. A pregnant woman at the supermarket triggers this visceral reaction I did not know was possible. In parallel, friends are delivering me news of their own healthy pregnancies, not knowing what’s happening to me. It is the most isolating experience. I would not wish this on my worst enemy, but 1 in 3 women miscarry over their lifetimes.
The following two weeks are a rollercoaster of scans with definite foetal heartbeats and dropping HCG levels. At the first trimester scan the sonographer delicately tells me that I’m no longer pregnant.
I ask all my Doctors the same question, “Why?” They say they don’t know, my vitals are perfect but the baby was likely never going to make it. It’s Mother Nature’s way of naturally terminating the ones that never would have made it.
“Why am I in the 30% and not the 70%?” “All my friends had healthy pregnancies first time – why not me?” My doctor just responds, “Well, it has to happen to someone.”
‘Tis the season to be jolly? In theory yes, it is. In reality it tends to be a season of loose threats ‘to phone Father Christmas’ every time Mae goes off piste. (I’ve actually had a two-way faux conversation with him in front of her so mangled and unruly is my mind this time of year. “Yes, Father Christmas, she won’t put her socks on again. OK, I’ll tell her she’s close to losing the red bike. Thanks sir, strength to you.”
Or it’s a season of writing lists of things to do. A list that I then lose and have a mild breakdown over because – much like a fairground goldfish – my mind can’t hold more than one item at a time. It’s a cavewoman-like approach: need sandwich, eat sandwich.
But last week when I’d phoned Father Christmas for the 245th time, I wondered why I was in such a mad rush to ricochet between Sainsburys for the weekly shop and Oxford Street for some gift my sister NEEDED. Why does a time that’s all about family become so, well, unfamiliar at times. You’re seeing all the merriment pass by but as a parent you’re so focused on it all being perfect that you somehow miss the party.
So yesterday we stepped out of the frazzled zone; we put down the lists and turned off the phones. We even slipped into a onesie for that all-encompassing comfort and joy. But what to do that doesn’t involve a screen? Watching films together is ace but it doesn’t give you that sense of actually being together as a communicating unit.
We went to the other side of actually creating the cartoon with an animation kit (available at Sainsbury’s when you do the festive shop) and the Story App. Yep, there are few activities that truly engage both adult and child mind but this is the winner – forget Twister, this is where it’s at in terms of longer-lasting familial entertainment that doesn’t end in tears ‘n’ tantrums. Imagine saying this to your kid: “Do you want to MAKE a cartoon?”
I know I’m knocked up and a bit hormonal at the moment but when she said ‘can we make a film for gaddad [granddad]?” I was a little moist in the eye. Yes, Squidge, yes we can you little festive giver.
So we set the scene with one of the beautifully-illustrated backdrops. Ours was a homely scene but instead of a human, Mae wanted a dog called ‘Banshee’ (no idea where it came from) as the protagonist – we had creative differences, but they were quickly resolved with a biscuit (her) and a cuppa (me). Banshee was not allowed much time centre stage, though, because a giant gingerbread man (“he’s not allowed a name because he’s food”) crashed through the roof for no apparent reason. The storyline needed a bit of light tweaking but when there’s a toddler at the creative helm, it’s tricky to make those suggestions without being shut down. “No mama, the gingerbread man is nice and he likes the dog and he can’t fit in the door.” Fair enough, she’s got something there.
While I won’t lie that there was a general sense of ‘stuff to do’ hanging over my head (we are parents, it’s our natural place), this was probably one of the first times I’ve found an activity that keeps both Mae and I shtum for more than an hour. But, most importantly, shtum looking at each other instead of a screen.
Let’s hope Gaddad likes ‘The adventures of a small dog who doesn’t say anything, really, before a giant gingerbread man crashes through the roof for no apparent reason.’ Scorsese should watch his back.
The Sainsbury’s 2016 Christmas advertising campaign tells the story of Dave, a hard-working and devoted Dad, who comes up with an ingenious plan to make sure he can be with his family for Christmas – inspired by a Christmas treat created by his children. Beautifully animated using a stop-motion modelling technique and featuring an original, joyous and humorous song ‘The Greatest Gift For Christmas Is Me’ (penned by Bret McKenzie, a comedian, actor, musician and producer who wrote the Oscar winning soundtrack to The Muppets, and voiced by James Corden). The animation kits allow you to make your own film and have fun with the family by downloading the Sainsbury’s Story App. This content was created in association woth Sainsbury’s. AD
It’s such a relief that you can finally succumb to screen time over Christmas. We’re not talking a light bit of iPad here or there; it’s about becoming fully at ‘one’ with your sofa with a relentless slew of Quality Street peppering your festive enjoyment. But when the sitting gets too tough, just edge your (and your families) derrières to your nearest Vue cinema, load up the popcorn (arguably a health food; possibly one of your five a day) and go full screen. Here’s our guide to the festive films that make the cut at Pukka HQ:
It’s a Wonderful Life
It’s obvious, sure, but anyone who doesn’t unburden a year’s worth of emotion/tears in this film is made of stone. Deep life lessons about being satisfied with your lot? Done. Winter wonderland-sequel scenes that have you almost whiffing the pine and clementine in the air? This is the hog roast of Christmas films – loved by all and there’s enough substance for everybody. I am weeping this very minute thinking of watching this with Mae for the first time; Heartwarming familial times.
Finally a film that puts those loveable 80s characters back on the map, instead of people assuming it’s someone lurking with bad intent on Twitter. Having grown up in the 80s with a sole purpose of owning an entire clan of these knobbly neon-haired characters, this is a big one to tick off the list before 2017 hits. In many ways I see this as an education for Mae. “When Mama was a headbraced girl…”. Bonus ball: adults pay kiddie prices at all Vue Cinemas until 6 Jan. Win-win. Let’s redefine ‘trolling’, team.
Home Alone 2
I’ll be honest, I’ve ruined the original Home Alone for myself by watching it 9,456 times. It’s like Groundhog Day watching it now and so I’ve had to edge towards it’s equally brilliant follow-up. This was just before MacCaulay Culkin started going a little off piste and a reminder to hold your family close and, like get on the right plane. It’s also a divine journey through New York at Christmas. We’re on viewing 1,345, so hopefully this one can stay on the list for another year.
Literally anything Disney
Whether you have a penchant for the cantankerous warthog Pumba or can’t wait to see Aladdin’s Whole New World, if it’s Disney, it’s going on the box at Christmas. But if you’re getting cabin fever with the clan (and they’ve got bored of their presents; standard), stretch the pins and check out Moana at Vue Cinemas over the festive period. An adventure about a spirited teenager? Who meets a Demi-God Maui? Together they traverse the open ocean? What’s not to love? Oh and adults pay kiddie prices until January 6th. Y’are welcome.
I know not one strictly for ‘all’ the family (Billy Bob Thornton is a sex-crazed, alcoholic Santa). But sometimes you just need a lil downtime when the E-colour-fuelled toddlers have finally hit the sack and the sherry is merrily chirping to you from the decanter. Bad Santa is so bad it’s genuinely really good and offers perfect respite from all the festive jazz hands required of the season (and the Great Aunty Janet’s you need to tend to). Have a good one team and see you on the other side.
This content was written in association with Vue Cinemas. Until January 6th, adults pay kid prices if you ask for the family ticket at the kiosk. Visit www.myvue.com for more information. AD.
Miscarriage is often spoken about by women. Of course, women endure the physical pain of passing an ‘inviable foetus’. But the mental pain is shared by both mother and father. Here, Papa Pukka speaks of miscarriage from a male perspective
Do not say, ‘at least we can get pregnant’. What you’re really saying is ‘I did my bit,’ even if you don’t realise it.
Do not suggest that, ‘it’s kind of like a heavy period’ because it happened in the first trimester and the internet told you it was no bigger than a peanut or a poppy seed or an avocado pip.
Do not say, ‘it’ll work next time,’ because those are empty words and you don’t know if they’re true, and this isn’t the same as trying to start a 2002 Ford Fiesta.
Do not say, ‘at least it happened early’ when she is curled under your arm on the sofa and you have paused Netflix because she started crying. Because it doesn’t matter that it was early, it matters that it was there, and no amputee was ever made to feel better by being told they should be grateful for a clean cut.
Do not think that everything is fine because a week has passed and she only took a day off work.
Do not fail to be ‘the strong one’ when she weeps, weeks later, at coffee spilt on a rug. Or when she stands in the kitchen and with red eyes demands that you get more involved or give her more space, that you cook more or fuss less, that you talk about it properly or stop talking about it entirely.
Do not be ‘the strong one’ so much that you forget to tell her what you feel, whatever that might be. It might just be that she needs to see you cry to know that it matters to you too.
Do not rush to change channels whenever an infant appears on screen, like you are protecting a child from a horror film.
Do not say, when you discover that you are pregnant for a third time, that this one will ‘hang in there,’ because this is not a half-time pep talk for a struggling under-9s football team.
Do not fix your features to be blankly supportive whenever she talks to you, because in the end you’ll just end up looking like you’re talking to an elderly relative.
Do not feel ashamed that you are – on some unspeakable level – a little relieved that you have longer to save money or find a bigger place to live. But do not share that thought, either.
Do not forget about the moments when each pregnancy ended. Like the first time, when she wasn’t supposed to be pregnant at all because you’d only been seeing each other for a few weeks, but in that first flush you’d both failed to realise that antibiotics stopped the pill from working. When you spent four hours sitting in a strip-lit corridor in the Hammersmith Hospital, waiting for a female doctor (who looked like she might be about your age) and who confirmed that, ‘yes, it looks like you’re miscarrying’. The time when the West African nurse said ‘I’m afraid it’s just about waiting now, dear’ and gave you a thin mattress and wool blanket so you could sleep on the floor by her bedside. Until the next night, of course, when she was moved to a ward and you had to leave because, it ‘looks like everything has passed.’ Which you knew, of course, because in the wee hours when the nurse came to give more pain relief and clean up, you’d seen the butter-bean-sized amniotic sack in the grey cardboard kidney dish that they took away.
Or the second time, years later, when you were drunkenly singing Christmas carols and all wearing novelty jumpers over at a friend’s place and she, very sober, came out of the bathroom and said, ‘Can we get a taxi home?’ even though it was only 9.30pm and you immediately knew and became very sober yourself too but had to keep your big stupid Christmas grin on so you didn’t deflate anyone’s evening, and just said, ‘yeah sorry, we’re off, Anna’s tired’ and went home to lay next to each other and wait because you couldn’t do it in a hospital again.
Or the fifth time, when she was at daycare picking up your three-year-old daughter and was late because there was a signal failure on the Tube, and she had to ask to use the staff toilets (even though the staff were reminding her that pick-up was strictly 6pm at the latest and it’s ‘an extra pound a minute after that’), and she went in to the cubical and knew what was happening but still wasn’t ready for the sound of the little splash, like a penny falling in to a wishing well.
Do not let trying stop you from living.
Do not fail to tell trusted friends.
Do not stop talking.
And do not give up on each other.
One in six
One in six known pregnancies ends in miscarriage, with about 75% of those coming in the first trimester.
According to pregnancy research organisation Tommy’s, one in five UK women who miscarry have anxiety levels similar to people using psychiatric outpatient services. A third of women in the UK who receive specialist miscarriage aftercare are clinically depressed.
Recent research by Imperial College London suggests that four in ten women who miscarry suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder as a result.
There’s been plenty of chat and a fair bit of flash dancing action. (See our Lycra-swathed Flex Appeal flash mob in Trafalgar Square for more of that.)
But in the push/shove for flexible working, how can you get stuck in?
We need you
If you don’t read any further than this please ask your/ your husband’s/ your best mate’s/ aunties HR departments to sign up to the government’s Working Forward pledge. The whole drive is based on this one stat: 86% of companies believe they offer flexible working, while 77% of women in the workforce have faced discrimination or lost their job on maternity leave. A bit of light maths and you can work out there’s summat up there, sparky. This is the core focus of our Flex Appeal – to get companies to sign up. We’ve already seen John Lewis, BT, BP, Virgin Money signed up (plus 70 more since launching this appeal), so who’s next?
Fight for your right
My previous post about hard, cold cash and the hair loss associated with going it alone was not meant to scare off budding entrepreneurs. It was more to stress that having sat on both sides of the fence, there’s no easy way out. If you like (love is a strong word) your job then fight for it – show ‘em what you’ve got and pave the way for others below you to work flexibly. How to do this? Talk numbers and offer solutions: see ‘The business case for flexible working’, below, for the former and the latter is up to you. ‘I’d like flexible working and this is how it can happen’ is much stronger than, ‘can I have some flexible working please?’. For more on your rights, head here.
This isn’t a revolution, it’s about evolution.
Working life has pulled a massive U-turn with The Internet and other pixelated goods that mean we can sit in the tinned goods aisle of Tesco if we choose and still make shit happen.
We’re pushing for someone being judged on their ability to produce good work not sit on a chair past 6pm. That’s a win-win for employee and employer: in most cases, flexible working means happier staff, lower costs and greater productivity.
Suggest a trial period of flexible working and measure the results. Hard facts can’t be argued with. If you’re delivering the same, or more, then it’s working. If it doesn’t work out and you can’t hack it any longer, take a look at flexible and parttime jobsite Timewise or the flexible courses offered by Digital Mums.
It’s a people issue, not a ‘mummy wanting to see more of her little one’ sitch
The words ‘flexible working’ have been tacked to parents. Life is messy and whether you’re a (single) mum, dad, carer or someone who just needs Friday mornings off to slap some paint on a canvas, flexible working is about getting the best from each individual – ‘individual’ here is key. The one rule for everyone has to go – salaries and skills aren’t the same across the board, and how you work shouldn’t be either.
The business case for flexible working
For most businesses, the two main costs are people and property. Flexible working lets employers lower the latter.Lambeth Councilclaims it will save £4.5 million per year in property running costs by making sure that no more than 60% of its staff are in at one time.
Some 30% of the UK’s working population (8.7 million people) wants flexible working but doesn’t have it, yet only6% of advertised jobswith a salary above £20,000 actually offer it.
It costs more than £5,000 to hire anew employeein the UK. When you add costs associated with getting the newbie up to speed that cost exceeds£30,000, arbitration serviceAcasrecently reported, and more than £35,000, according to analystsCEBR. In it’s 2012 study, HR institute the CIPD found that 76% of employers saw staff retention improve when they offeredflexible working.
This argument has become as undeniable as the case for climate change:81% of senior managersbelieve flexible working improves productivity. Three in five people whowork flexiblyput in more hours as a result of being allowed to do so. Another report found that 72% of businesses reported increased productivity as a direct result offlexible working.
This is not a movement, we’re simply about moving. It’s about keeping the conversation going. If you have experience in HR you could bring to the table or are a business struggling to make flexible working actually work, then please get in touch. We want to hear from both sides of the PAYE coin.
Flexible working? Think ‘agile’ working, according to Emma Codd, Deloitte’s managing partner for talent. Here Emma talks us through what ‘agility’ in the workforce means for one of the biggest global auditing and finance companies. For case studies on how this new approach practically works for employees click here
The last two years have marked a huge change for my firm. Two years ago staff were telling us they wanted better work-life balance; despite us providing all the standard flexible working options you would expect from an employer of 17,000+. Our working mothers in particular were struggling to believe they could have a successful career and be the parent they wanted to be – and some were leaving us as a result. I understood – as a mother of twins (now seven), I have always believed my career does not have to be to the detriment of my children.
Today the story is very different – we have a reputation for providing our people with the means to balance a great career with commitments outside work. Work life balance is no longer the main reason people choose to leave our firm, women actually choose to join us because of our approach to agile working, and our people tell us they feel trusted to decide when, where and how they work. We have achieved this change by focusing on what really mattered: our culture and offering people options that really work for them.
To start with, we banned the word flexible. Agile is much more positive. We came up with three principles underpinning our entire approach – trust and respect; open and honest communication and judge solely on output. We secured the support of our leaders by showing them that agile working is good for our business. Then we made a few things clear. Firstly, agile working doesn’t necessarily mean formal approaches like reduced presence – it can mean just flexing hours or working from home when needed. Secondly, being out of sight doesn’t mean you aren’t delivering – my working from home day each week is when I typically achieve the most. It’s also the day I get to do the school pick-up, which I love. Finally, but importantly, we are a business – successful agile working arrangements must always reflect both the needs of the person and the team/business.
We also came up with something different – a way for people to take a month’s unpaid leave, each year, at a time that suits them and the business. This simple idea came to me in my back garden one afternoon when I was with my then four-year-old daughters. Having time out made me feel great, so why not enable all our people to do it? The rest is history – over 400 of our people have enjoyed a Time Out and many more are in the process of organising one. Our people tell us it is one of the things they most value.
It’s a long journey and we have more to do. But we have shown that by focusing on culture and providing options that people really want it is possible to start getting it right.
Whoever you are on the t’Internet (@wanktank or @princesskindheartunicorn), you sometimes see a flicker of #AD or #SPON on Instagram from one of your stalwarts and think, ‘Here we go, they’ve sold out, now it’s going to be a slew of protein powder shizzle and flogging sausages – and while I love a pork product, I’m outta here’.
Chances are, we follow our favourite pixel pushers because their posts entertain us, or inform us, or make us feel a bit less alone through the 3am feed and, at first, didn’t have them slipping a sausage into their posts willy nilly.
But there’s been change afoot these last few years. The reality is regular people, not celebrities, are better placed to flog the goods. It’s basic consumer behaviour: I see Cara Delevingne trotting around in a velveteen catsuit and admire her, while quietly weeping into my soggy Weetabix.
Then I clap eyes on Zoe from Dress Like a Mum (@dresslikeamum) who has every bit as much pizzazz as the Delevingne and she speaks to me about whacking a boob out to breastfeed and the right dungarees for that life-giving easy-access. That’s my girl. (For the velveteen catsuit, I’d go to Natalie from Style Me Sunday.)
Keeping four daughters fed/watered/alive, writing a book (How to Grow a Baby and push it out) and being a fanny-tastic midwife, there’s Clemmie and her husband Simon (@mother_of_daughters MOD, @father_of_daughters FOD) who make me laugh whether it’s a sponsored post or not.
I’d far rather see FOD in his dressing gown, slipperless and loitering outside a bin for Fat Face than Jennifer Aniston wafting her locks on the tele for L’Oreal. I’m wondering where his slippers are, I’m willing a slipper company to invest in his trotters.
And then on my side of the fence, I’ve flogged/vlogged the shit out stuff, including bog roll. I was asked if I felt I’d sold out? No, not at all, I’ve got 33 years of experience on the crapper and if I can, I’m gonna use it to pay the mortgage. My hashtag is ‘parenting the shit out of life’ – what could be more befitting than wiping arse for comedic effect? It was my most-watched vlog to date and one of the reasons there was limited backlash (or splashback?) was, I think, because flogging 4-ply is, perhaps, better left with an everyday human than a cartoon koala or former soap star. (I won’t lie, asking the marketing manager if ‘I need to back onto the pan’ was a small low.)
This is a shift across the media landscape as traditional magazines and newspapers tumble. We’ve lost The Independent print edition, InStyle, FHM, Zoo, Loaded, All You Magazine, Company, Bliss, Motor Boats Monthly… the publishing graveyard is littered with titles that once prospered.
My own work as a journalist saw me earning not much more at 33 than I was almost a decade earlier and I’m now swimming upstream to keep pulling in the dime as a blogging, vlogging, pixel-pusher. (Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…)
These closures are the reason budgets are coming towards The Real People on the Internet. (And while Instagram is an occasional curated wonderland of filtered unicorn reality, these are Real People, trying to put their experiences to good use).
But you shell out hard dollar for magazines. There’s a clear contract right there as you reach for Take a Break to check out H from Steps’ hopeful return to the limelight. And there are ads; stacks of them. I get digit strain just flicking through Vogue to get to the actual editor’s letter (often lurking around page 46).
This is no magazine-bashing exercise – long may those ads reign if they mean good writers get to tell me about interesting things – but the process is: pay dollar, flick through ads and read content that tickles your fancy. There’s no furore around the process because it’s all clear for the eye to see. And while people and their families are not magazines, the principle is the same: Instagrammers put words and pictures together, just like magazine editors. I started blogging for the same reason most writers do: I like writing and think I’ve got something to say (though many have disagreed).
The issue is that the transition from magazine ads to ‘influencer’ ads has been murky. If I’m going to invest in a sausage, I want to know it’s not because Wall’s has told me it will sate my porky cravings. As a consumer, I need to know whether it’s Wall’s or @loveagoodsausage’s choice of banger. (Sometimes it can be both – but the flogger needs to have set the scene before the ad, otherwise it just doesn’t cut the mustard.)
“Whether it’s a vlog, blog or Instagram post, it needs to be clearly signposted,” explains Sarah Mawson of PR firm Celebrity Intelligence. “Consumers are generally understanding of these types of posts – they know bloggers are just doing their job and it builds trust as they know exactly what’s going on.”
And that’s the crux here. Bloggers aren’t just wafting about with fizz in their hands, casually posing/posting here and there to cash in. Running a blog is on par with running a magazine but without the other bums on seats. You are word monkey, picture researcher, editor, tea maker, ‘Bob in IT’ and occasionally a quiet crier when someone feels the need to tell you you look like a jacket potato.
Building a career on the Internet is not for the faint hearted. A magazine writer can edge behind the editor when the shit hits the fan, an influencer has to face the music – often very personal music about their kid’s ‘rubbish hair’ or like @samfaires (after posting a pic of her breastfeeding): ‘That’s one baby’s lips away from wankable’.
And while some Instagrammers have bigger followings than those magazines, their readers don’t pay a dime. It doesn’t even cost to download the app. So what’s a little ad? What’s a quick scroll, instead of a quick troll?
I started Mother Pukka because I was angry about how hard it is to raise a family and have a job. Now it has become my job, I use it to parp on about flexible working, so that it might be a little less hard by the time my kids go to work. I use it to try and make people laugh, because I think that’s best way to get through the travails of parenting. I use it to give some publicity to small, parent-run brands for free to try and help them earn a fish-finger crust. And occasionally I use it to get paid by brands (trying to keep it to less than one #AD per five or six posts). I only do it for products I like, and I only do it in a way that feels natural to me and won’t – I don’t think – leave any lasting mental scars on my kids (because, you know, we’re probably all doing that a bit anyway without realising it: ‘They fuck you up, your mum and dad,’ as some poet once said). And I always stick an #AD on it, so everyone knows what’s what.
Because the truth is, noone wants a rogue sausage sneakily slipped down their throat.
“Papa, can you put that on?” [Mae pointing to my bra on the floor of the bathroom]. “No, Mae, Papa doesn’t have boobies, Mama does,” says my husband Matt.
“No, Papa has one big boobie.” [Mae pointing to Matt’s stomach]
I started laughing uncontrollably only to be hushed by Mae: “Mama don’t laugh at Papa’s one big boobie, it’s not fair.”
And she is right. After having had to endure ‘beach body-ready’ guff from magazines throughout my vulnerable teenage years and beyond, it’s time to properly hang up any lurking body anxieties. (And, of course to respect my husband’s right to a beer belly).
I have a bottom that’s less curvy, more ripply and boobs that resemble spaniel’s ears after having made a human. It’s not even a case of being proud of the goods, it’s more I’m just delighted it all works.
Ears? Good. Arms? Good. Whether they’re ready for a beach or the Tesco weekly shop is neither here nor there. I’m a walking talking human keeping another smaller human alive – what could be greater?
It’s a shame I couldn’t see that light when I was a head-braced teen carrying what stoic relatives kept calling ‘puppy fat’ with a mild lisp and an obsession for Woolworths pick ‘n’mix.
But why am I bringing any of this up at all? I suppose it’s because Mae made it clear to me in that damp bath time moment that she’s immune to all the braying perfection I’ve, perhaps unknowingly, been sucked into.
She’s still wondering if the Teletubbies are real and I want to do everything I possibly can to steer her away from those glossy, Photo Shopped images of women that do little other than sap the self esteem of anyone (including the models themselves; imagine having bits chopped off you because you’re not ‘quite right’) who isn’t a lithe gazelle.
That’s why I’m not only behind, I’m positively charging forward with the Be Real Body Image Pledge supported by Dove.
There’s no witch-hunt here, there’s no preaching, it’s just a simple drive to help our kids see beauty as confidence, not just an ability to follow ’10 hot tips to get a beach body’. It’s about who you are, not what you look like – a relief as I sit here in Hob Nob crumb-embellished pyjamas.
I think the Dove stat (love a stat) that hit me hardest was that 9 in 10 UK women and girls with low body-esteem stopped hanging out with mates, playing in teams and joining clubs because they feel, well, a bit rubbish.*
Aged 13 I had crippling body confidence issues that centered around ‘muscly thighs’ and a ‘general feeling of lumpiness’ but my Mum drove me to play hockey every Tuesday night – even when I was hyperventilating crying. I knew no one there and I truly felt like nobody.
She knew my strengths – an ability to peg it up the right wing – and she knew once I started running, instead of reading about what I wasn’t in More Magazine, I’d find my groove.
She was right. The hardest girl on the team – the one who had the seemingly perfect teeth/ hair and everyone slightly feared – soon became a firm comrade. Not because I looked like her but because I had proved myself silently on the pitch. I was made captain of the team; I went on to play for Northants county and I finally stopped thinking about what I looked like and started focusing on what I could do.
My grandfather cemented it: “Darling, no one looks at anything but your eyes; make sure they’re always sparkling and you don’t have to worry about getting old.”
Beauty in the eye of the beholder, indeed and I’m determined to keep Mae from thinking otherwise. Especially when presented with Papa’s ‘one big boobie’.
“Where shall we go next?” – I remember hearing that from a bunch of carefree girls (we shall call them youths) at 3.14am outside my Amsterdam flat as I was desperately trying to get Mae, my daughter to latch through her relentless squawking.
It was a dark maternal moment; one that offered a stark breezy contrast to the life I had left behind and the one mewling in front of me. It was a sense of claustrophobia mixed with paranoia and an overwhelming sense that ‘this is it’ – this is how it’s going to be now I’ve hoofed a kid out.
The four walls I’d tended to with utmost care – subtext: pre-baby when time was abundant – pre-project procreation soon felt prison-like. Needless to say my Zara Home embellished abode didn’t feel very homely and my relationship with those bricks and mortar was on a par with Robbie leaving Take That; confusing and left us all feeling a bit lost.
Fast-forward three years with a move to London under our belts, we’ve finally found our happy place. Sure, it’s in a slightly stabby (‘up-and-coming’) part of East London but it’s ours and if you squint a little it could pass as ‘rather lovely’ – my mother’s words, not mine. Think Victorian terrace-meets-East-end-boozer with a hint of granny flat to it. All in all, it’s perfectly imperfect.
What changed? How did I wriggle free from the shackles of the restrictive homestead? Well, I think there’s a period of acceptance you need to undergo once you have a kid. Somewhere lingering beneath the mammoth sanitary pads and Medela breast pumps there’s a belief that you’ll still be ‘you’.
The reality was I believed I was defined by a couple of things: who I was with, what I was doing and where I was going. The person I’m with has remained a stalwart; an unwavering marital pillar and someone who has seen me crying, clutching a pineapple in Tesco with one solitary tear running down my face. The person I’m with hasn’t changed – quite the relief.
But what I’m doing (who knows? My Dad calls vlogging ‘flogging’) and the where I’m going have not only shifted, they’ve been left in a crumbled, dusty heap on the floor, barely decipherable to the human eye. It’s been like watching a building being demolished in slow-mo with no understanding why you’ve been left with a gaping space on the horizon.
But for every building that’s bulldozed to the ground, there’s room for something else to pop up. It might not be the structure you imagined, but it’s yours and for me, it’s been about throwing caution to the wind and decorating our pad with the gusto of a toddler discovering felt tips for the first time.
My first port of call was investing in some art. Having only just accepted club flyers Blu Tacked to the wall doesn’t count, I went all in. If you’ve taken a look at our blog, you’ll have seen us posing against Camille Walala’s brightly-hued walls in Old Street, so it was an obvious port of call to bring a splash of that immense colour into the homestead. I chose two of the same prints and separated them into the lounge and dining room to jazz things up a bit.
In keeping with Camille’s aesthetic, we went bold on the walls – moving away from greige (beige or grey hues) and painting with wild abandon – thanks to Dulux’s knowledgable creative director Marianne who we were lucky enough to work with. With her guiding hand and keen eye, we ended up painting our lounge a mixture of Dulux peacock blue and my Grandad’s favourite summer blazer – I couldn’t tell you the exact colour but it’s got gravitas.
Having someone at Dulux to visualize how your room will look definitely helps you take the leap from greige to deep blue. Seeing truly is believing here and the moodboards Marianne created for us helped us make the splash.
Instead of throwing cash at expensive soft furnishings, we whacked some masking tape on the stairs and created a ‘feature’ stairwell. It was a simple manoeuvre but one that gets folk talking the minute they step into our gaff. It’s just a case of Googling and you’ll find all kinds of cheap and cheerful things you can do to inject some character into your humble abode.
Perhaps the biggest interior triumph is the bathroom where we went for a rustic brown that my best mate has rebranded ‘aubergine’. Any paint colour that resembles a bulbous root vegetable has my vote. Contrasted with some Bath Company Victorian floor tiles and a free-standing bath, it’s a stellar mix of old and new, which seamlessly fits with the Victorian stabby vibe of our hood.
We’d gathered a few old pieces of furniture from my Grandma over the years and they’d definitely seen better times so we just sanded everything down and slapped on some white paint to jazz things up. (There are still scribbles from my sister when she was Mae’s age lurking under the kitchen table – I’ve made sure to keep those still visible.)
The biggest revelation was the repurposing of the seemingly naff old leather sofas and chairs that I grew up with in the 80s. My parents threatened that these colossal eye sores would be ours one day so kept them in storage, as my sister and I quietly willed the other to make a house purchase first.
But with a Donna Wilson cushion thrown into the mix, they have come back to life. The moment Mae stepped up on the same chair that I did when I was three – peering out of the window for my Dad to come home – was the moment. That was when I realised I’d built something much bigger than any night out could ever offer.
That was when I finally felt at home.
Room with a phew
Having recently finished our East London renovation, here’s some top tips for jazzing up your abode:
1) Make storage a feature. We invested in designer Marcel Wanders’ Toy Pig for Mae’s stash of Paw Patrol bits and mountain of Lego – everyone’s a winner. Toy Pig is like one of the family now.
2) Don’t fear the colour. Everyone’s instinctive reaction is to go for ‘greige’ walls but shy away from the norm with a two-tone bolder hue.
3) If you have a fireplace and aren’t going to use it, consider popping your TV in there. We had a custom-made box to pop it on and it’s neatly tucked away there without taking up precious room in the lounge.
4) Pick an artist. You don’t need to be an aficionado, but taking the time to research an artist that fits with the vibe of your home really adds that cool personal touch. We went for Camille Walala’s bold prints to lift the blue walls.
5) Invest in cushions. A stained, limp cushion will automatically bring a place down. It’s like the facial equivalent of putting make-up on in the dark – the eye will be drawn to the mess. Instead choose something durable like Donna Wilson’s wool cushions.
6) if you’re on a budget and want a pop of colour in your home, buy some school chairs (they come in adult and kid size) in any primary hue you wish. Bonus ball: they’re wipe clean, which is a godsend with kids.
7) Download the Dulux Visualizer app to see what the paint actually looks like on the walls – seeing truly is believing!
Got the blues
Marianne Shillingford, Dulux’s creative director offers up her reasons for going into the blue
Deep blue is the perfect colour for creating a peaceful grown up space within busy family environments, all it takes is a bit of bravery to try it out for yourself but I guarantee, this bit of bravery always pays off.
Blue is also the world’s favourite colour. It’s calming and tranquil when we choose to use it in our homes and if you use deep blue on the walls, it instantly creates a sense of the night drawing in and we begin to unwind and relax. For those moments when you can’t see the woods from the parental trees, this is your colour. Never fear going into the blue.
You are loved. By parents and grandparents who believe in equality, by an Aunty who is marrying an incredible woman next year, a Godfather, who is marrying his boyfriend of six years and your best friend Zion whose parents are from Jamaica and whose passport says ‘British’.
You are loved by people.
So I don’t want the events of 2016 to impact how you see people.
I still want you to have hope that the appointment to US president of a man who so openly despises women will not impact how you see the world; how you live in this world; how you treat people.
As a family, we will strive to show you that when Hillary Clinton, speaking about her possible female presidency, said, “One of you is next”, she was directing that at you.
While you can’t officially be US president, you are going to shatter those glass ceilings not with a hammer, but with a bulldozer. Wearing trousers – or an on-trend sequined pencil skirt – whatever you fancy. You are going to live in a world where men and women are paid the same for doing the same job; a world where ‘sexism’ is abandoned to the dusty, historical archives.
My belief in democracy and a basic – almost toddler-level – understanding of right and wrong might have been obliterated with our departure from the EU in June, but I didn’t allow you to see my tears when three men in Manchester spat racist abuse at an African man because they ‘wanted their country back’. When MP Jo Cox was murdered among this upheaval, I didn’t allow you to see my mourning for a woman whose sense and reason shone through in so much guff and lies.
I believe in hope. I believe in the 60 million people who voted against Trump. I believe in the 16,141,241 who voted Remain. I believe that while your future has been decided on an infantile belief in ‘greatness’ at the great cost of inclusion, diversity, equality and the economy, I believe in your generation.
Because, like your favourite character (Mr Potato Head: not Woody or Buzz) you are the good guy. The good guys will make the world a better place.
And when you told me last week that you wanted to marry a girl ‘like Aunty Daz’ and this morning that Trump was a ‘stinky poo’ (after hearing me say far worse), I knew that you were the girl for the job.
Halloween: Out of all 365 days, it’s the pinnacle of my year – even though Matt (@papa_pukka) resists. Last year I went as a blood-thirsty David Cameron zombie while Matt went as, well, Matt.
But pushing the boundaries of scaring (and my relationship) is essential for (my) happiness levels. When days merge into each other, Halloween is truly the time to shine. Cue Hive. In a nutshell, it’s all your home appliances united on your phone. So, like, you can turn up the heating while you are doing the weekly Tesco shop.
Once set-up (and it’s a seamless process involving a quick visit from British Gas, some plugs and pressing a few buttons on your phone), you’re ready to go. To clarify seamless: I struggle working a pencil sharpener and I managed this. You’re all good.
So to up the fear factor, we went with some colourful Hive Active Lights that allow you to deliver all hues of the rainbow with a simple tap of your phone. That, I felt, was a solid place to start in freaking Matt out as he beavered away on his laptop downstairs.
I was upstairs raking through the colours of the rainbow as the poor poppet looked bewildered downstairs. He wasn’t suitably scared, though. So I had to up the ante with the assistance of a Hive Smart Plug that I’d linked up to the TV.
With Horror Film Child’s Play already set-up, I pressed ‘ON’ from my phone and that scene where Chucky comes to life sans batteries and freaks the lady out went full volume. Finally, we had something. Finally, I’d triumphed over last year’s lacklustre David Cameron efforts. Finally Matt has reluctantly succumbed to Halloween.
Get your freak on, indeed.
Other than Halloween, Hive is not just a one-day-wonder. When I’m freezing my norks off in the park with Mae (who is fine because she’s belting around the place), being able to simply press a button and pop the heating on remotely is a happy place. Then there are the can’t-be-arsed-to-stand-up-and-switch-on-lights-moments. Essentially we’re talking calorie-saving here. Finally, we’re having some mates of Mae round next weekend and to be the family that has ‘rainbow lights’ is going to put us into impressive adulating realms. It’s actually all worth it for being down with the kids.
“Cwoowella Dooville?” queried Mae after hearing my Mum (@grandmother_pukka) say I’d been scared of that Disney baddie back in the day. “Who is Cwoowella?”
We wanted to show her the 101 Dalmations instead of explaining it to her. It’s a gotta see it to believe it film. “So there’s, like, 101 dalmation puppies, an angry lady with a penchant for monochrome and she wants to make the puppies into a massive statement coat.”
Better leave it to Disney Life to, well, bring it to life. We’ve been signed up (£9.99 a month) to the app for three months now and it’s the same feeling as having a fully-stocked all-singing, all-dancing fridge. Literally any moment when Mae is on the turn or wants to cash in some one-on-one with Pumba (her No. 1 porcine pal) DisneyLife is mama’s best friend.
But it’s not just about the films; The DisneyLife books are also great for getting them to think outside the box. Mae loves hearing about the story of Buzz Lightyear and co. as much as she loves the film – DisneyLife (especially the new character cards; log in to check ‘em out) gets their grey matter going as much as their lil’ peepers.
But perhaps it’s the nostalgia of seeing your kid enjoying the films you once loved that gets me all emosh. For me, Half term is all about snuggling up with Bourbons (the confection, not the booze) and a stiff builder’s brew with “Cwoowella” et al. chirping away in the background while I potter about like my Ma tends to.
While we’ve been raking through the newer Disney classics of late – that flatulent warthog lingers in my dreams – I’ve got my faves lined up for Mae. I’m still not sure I’m ready for Bambi again; especially now I’m a mother. That scene when Bambi’s Ma carks it early doors has stayed with me over the decades. Tough life lessons right there.
But to have Mae understand why Mama was a bit scared of “Cwoowella” is where it’s at. DisneyLife is about, well, life and there’s nothing like a little trip down memory lane.
I can’t bring myself to say it. It’s a word that has such cringe-worthy, mildly naff connotations.
There she is. There is absolutely no way of bringing up this word without glossy magazine covers spouting ’10 confidence-boosting tips’ or the worse into my lethargic grey matter. It’s been cursed with the female-focused media wand of naffness and subsequently it’s a sad, sorry collection of letters that no one wants to go near – other than ever-patient life coaches who try to freshen it up with a jazzy logo and promises of non-soggy cornflakes in the cereal bowl of your mind.
It’s, in essence, the coffee cream in a brimming box of Quality Street.
But it’s at the heart of everything I’m trying to imprint on my three-year-old daughter, Mae. Confidence is the clunky old Dickensian key that opens up all those doors of possibility – avenues that could lead anywhere; we’re currently on ‘sandwich maker’. Without it, she’s left with a limp, worn piece of sandpaper and the promise of great things on the other side of that heavy oaken door. “Just sand away poppet and you might get through!”
No, confidence needs the mother of all re-brands. It’s the heart of everything I want Mae to hold close as she grows into a wonderful buttoned-up-to-the-eyeballs woman. A woman who will never think about sniffing poppers and will only edge into boyfriend territory aged 21 when she’s fully qualified to sort the keepers from the twats.
(If my teenage years are anything to go by, she’ll have shacked up with Dean from Abbey National at 16 spouting guff like: “sex is just, like, natural. You [Mum] need to chill out about this stuff. It’s nature.”)
But how do you ‘teach’ confidence? It’s not exactly on par with the old ABC’s and where the hell is Sesame Street on all this? Big Bird it’s time to stop flapping and fly my bombastic feathery friend.
I recently gave up on trying to Wind The Bobbin Up and asked Mae if she’d like to sing her own song. She refused the first 18 times (as any sound-of-mind human might) when I requested this bespoke jig; perhaps wondering if, once again, I’d lost my maternal mind and if I even knew what a bobbin was.
But last night we had a musical breakthrough – on par with Susan Boyle chirping up on Britain’s Got Talent. Mae unveiled a song about ‘Stripey Stripes The Angry Stinky Poo Zebra’. It was part rap, part nursery rhyme with a hint of the Paw Patrol theme tune.
The song went wonderfully off-piste. It was pre-bathtime and she abandoned those daycare-ravaged threads with wild abandon and started bouncing about baby butt naked rap rhymin’ away until, of course, she had a catastrophic collision with a rather angular toilet cleaning brush.
This all led to inconsolable wailing and it felt like Stripey Stripes The Angry Stinky Poo Zebra was no more; just another quashed flatulent zebra dream.
But there it is; that’s the juncture where the C word comes into it’s own. When you’ve had a massive run-in with some grim bog cleaning equipment and find yourself alone (hopefully not naked) on the bathroom floor thinking you were, perhaps, stupid for singing from another song sheet.
It’s that shame-drenched moment when you want the bobbin safely wound up; you seek solace in the wheels on the bus going round and round, and you really do want to row row row your boat gently down the stream.
That’s when confidence steps up to the life challenge. It’s not chatting with the bon viveur of Hugh Huntingdon Whittingstall, it’s not wearing a jazzy swan-inspired frock a la Bjork, it’s not standing on a stage delighting the crowds with your surprising package in the stage adaptation of Equus (thanks Daniel Radcliffe, quite the Harry Potter U-turn). It’s certainly not Theresa May’s affinity with a leopard print LK Bennet pump.
It’s popping the toilet cleaning brush back into position, it’s drying yourself (and tears) off, it’s remembering where you were pre-catastrophic slippage and it’s grabbing that song sheet – your song sheet – and continuing to sing horribly out of tune to the beat of your own drum.
It took two hours to get Mae confidently singing that Stripey dit once more; it has taken me weeks to bring myself back from the darkest of brinks. But without a peak there is no trough and without confidence, you are left only with a limp piece of sandpaper and a heavy oaken door.
For me, it’s the key to true girl power. And that’s what I really, really want for Mae.
My card got declined in Tesco Metro yesterday. I’m not sure what was more traumatic: the 17-year-old youth informing me with faux sympathy that I’m out of dosh or the abundance of people behind me collectively wondering if I should be in charge of a small human.
Either way, I was out of mullah and my cheese and pickle sarnie was put back onto the shelf of financial dreams. Mae was fine; I had a lukewarm Babybel in my back pocket.
But as I salivated, watching a lovely lady eating a rosemary-infused focaccia with fresh tomato soup outside Pret, I wondered how the coffers could have come to this; how had I adulted so badly that we were on a street corner (not in the bad sense) with nothing but a globule of processed cheese to our heavily-branded Pukka name.
I’ll say at this point, I realise we are, of course incredibly lucky. This isn’t meant to bemoan our fortunate position of having bricks, mortar and a small potato patch at the bottom of the garden (it makes me happier than any human can). This is no poor little rich girl blather.
It’s more that the pixels (Facebook, Instagram – whatever your social comrade of choice) can offer up a distorted reality. For all the girl power, mum bossing and dancing girl emojis, the one thing that’s not being talked about in this caring, sharing forum is money. Cold, hard cash.
And I get it. I didn’t want to discuss the bottom line. It’s ingrained in the grey matter that money is a personal thing (much like our age – Debrett’s Guide to Etiquette would be distressed for me to reveal I am a sprightly 35 with a face that hints at ‘had a good time in the 90s’.)
But when the personal becomes your lifeline – I make a dime sharing my often droopy nork-related chat on the Internet – then it feels like transparency needs to step up to the plate. One can’t be wafting about in Louis Vuitton (I lie; they won’t let me in) one minute and be slobbering over a stranger’s focaccia without a penny to your name the next.
While I love Mother Pukka with an intensity akin to Bouncer and Mrs Mangle’s relationship in Neighbours and am properly chuffed seeing everyone building their businesses one Instagram post at a time, for me, that achievement isn’t always monetary. The number of followers you have doesn’t correlate to cash-in-hand.
To make it alone as a blogger/vlogger/flogger/mum boss (or mum-don’t-give-a-toss) takes the energy of a Red Bulled-up-to-the eyeballs cheerleader with the gusto of a starved mosquito. I did some vague maths the other day and I’ve spent £10,453 on keeping Mother Pukka going over the last 18 months. That’s, like, a really good pony with all the equine trimmings and Zara Philips as your personal stable girl.
I’ve earned £27,678 so far. A light bit of maths and that’s first jobber-worthy.
I’ve seen parents setting up businesses – kid’s clothes, teething necklaces, consultancies, achingly cool nappy bags and even a brilliant sock puppet company – working harder than they ever did in the 9-5. The minute their brood is snoozing and has been read the fast-track (skipping out the fox and snake) Gruffalo, they’re straight onto the Gmail of doom – like a knackered rat out of an aqueduct.
You’re wide-eyed and staring at a list of things to do – most of which won’t translate to paying the mortgage because to have something to sell you must ‘build the brand’. Build and they will come! But stacking up those Instagram bricks takes graft; it involves hair loss, eye twitches, marital discord, peaks, troughs, wearing the same Petit Filou-stained jumper three days in a row because you need to build instead of wash.
The reason I fight like a rabid dog to a bone for flexible working is because setting up your own business (the seemingly obvious and wondrous alternative) is not parental mecca. It’s brilliant in so many ways – mainly control over when you eat a Hula Hoop multipack in one sitting; not office behaviour – but it’s certainly not the easy way out.
There is no easy way out.
When you’re the boss, there’s no stationery cupboard and when your computer crashes there’s no Bob in IT to allay your overwhelming fears that you’ve broken the Internet – in a non-brand building way.
But we are fuelled by a primitive maternal instinct that this will not fail. It can’t. I am a mother and I have mouths to feed. I am a mother and I need to work around my family. I am a mother and I need to show my children that women can make shit happen too. I am a mother and I want you, Squidge, to be proud of me.
There’s an undeniable pride in ‘going it alone’. But for all the brilliance of building something yourself, there’s a period of two to three years (perhaps more) where you might be rifling around in that Asda bargain bin preying for a 12p Hovis loaf. Success certainly doesn’t come overnight, regardless of how it seems through the pixels.
And in sharing my life, transparency is part of the construction process.
If you love your job, fight for it. Make it work for you – push the flexible working boundaries. Be the one who brings the government’s Working Forward pledge to your HR director and pave the way for other women in your company to continue on their chosen career path.
If you choose to stay at home with your kids, don’t feel the pressure to set something up because everyone else on the Internet seems to be doing so; own motherhood, it’s a choice I would give my last Curly Wurly for. The stay-at-home versus work-away debate is as dated as Simon Cowell’s elasticated waistline.
And if you’re thinking of setting something up, know that for all the dancing lady emoji joy it brings, you will go through a significant period of time when your hair falls out a bit and when, starving in central London, you try to buy a cheese and pickle sarnie and your card – and pride – gets declined.
We are currently compiling all flexible working research we have gathered over the last few months to create one blog post that helps you navigate where things stand. This post will be a clear overview of how you can push for flexible working and the official bodies that can support you in doing so. Thanks for being flexible with us.
“So which one of you is going to wear a tux at the wedding?”
It tickles me when people assume that in all lesbian couples one of you is, of course, the bloke. To to be fair, I did once cut my hair too short and ended up looking uncannily like McCauley Culkin (not in the cute Home Alone sense, more akin to his pale-traumatised-by-young-fame teenage breakdown phase). And don’t get me wrong – I would love nothing more than to see my partner Helen sporting a little dickie bow and spats merrily tap dancing her way down the aisle.
Perhaps some people are confused with the fact there is no obvious role, so to deal with this lesbionic (?) mystery there is the assumption that there must be some sort of formula linked to traditional relationships. So I took a moment to reflect upon the activities that in my previous experience belonged to the “man’s” domain and how those are now divided between us two gals.
Spider catching – stereotypically an amazing scenario for any male to flaunt his ability to come to the rescue as your knight in shining armour. Maybe that is a sexist assumption, but truth be told I have always tended to squeal in a corner while my previous boyfriends step-up and take charge of the rogue arachnid. Big problem now I’m dating Helen. It’s the first time in my life where I have been with someone much more wimpy than myself (I had no idea that was even possible). So when it comes to dealing with our 8 legged friends, I have reluctantly had to step up to the web. Well, only after my plan – which was to hold the dog towards the ceiling and use her as a dust spider buster – failed.
DIY – it’s one of my greatest joys seeing my partner Helen in the throes of DIY. She actually bought her own professional angle grinder. That’s the intensity of her toolkit. The mere sight of her with these tools would emasculate Arnold Schwarznegger in a split second. If you were to humanize DIY abilities, she would be the Incredible Hulk beating his chest and roaring while my brother-in-law would be a meek six-year-old girl with bunches picking her nose. You get the picture.
Carving Sunday roasts – Another challenge to which I have risen to nobly. I used to get grossed out by prizing apart the icky little thigh joints on roast chicken, but alas no more. I have conquered that fear, and my partner looks up to me with respect and admiration as I deliver that perfectly-carved bird to the table.
Jam jar lid-opening – That’s one for Helen. My gym instructor unashamedly told me – mid-body pump class – that I had noodle arms. Not even udons; the thin delicate rice noodle sort.
Impressive chat to woo the parents – having dated a stockbroker previously, I always slumped smugly into the sofa (to zone out and focus solely on the nibbles tray) when hearing that the conversation between my Dad and my boyfriend had turned to stocks, shares and the economy. I would tune in every now and again, with crudité or handful of Wotsits in bouche, to nod and agree with the latest point on macro economic policy, thanking the lord that he was dazzling the parents while I could focus on the more important snack tray (and ensuring Mother Pukka wasn’t getting too gung ho on the Skips). Luckily Helen takes this one for the team too. The first meeting with Ma and Pa, and BOOM, like a pro already discussing the future of the EU’s economy. AND football, Helen loves football, and can engage in that classic football ‘bants’ with Dad so he can pretend, if he closes his eyes, that all is normal and his daughter isn’t a lesbian. It’s sometimes a soothing exercise for everyone.
When I set Mother Pukka up 18 months ago, it was with the sole intent of finding parent-friendly places to bring your kids. It was a parent-focused Time Out guide, if you will.
Since then my mind has slowly unravelled all over place – from flashmobbing Trafalgar Square in the name of flexible working to quietly crying into my soggy cornflakes on a bad parental day. But finding places that don’t make you feel like you’ve walked in with an actual orang-utan – you know the looks: A child? Here? Who are these people? – remains essential to my mental wellbeing.
Cue the Haymarket Hotel’s High Tea – the perfect merger of parental happiness and child entertainment. Despite the achingly pristine realms, this is the sort of place that welcomes both mama and life appendage with open arms. If anything, the kid is more the focus, which makes everything easier from the get-go.
Needless to say, Mae took to her adult role with aplomb. After ploughing into a few pillowy soft ham sandwiches, my Mum (Grandmother Pukka) and I were able to string a couple of sentences together over some fizz. Three sentences in a row with Mae there is a life record before she usually elbows some glassware onto the floor, ensuring all eyes nervously dart towards us.
But the waiter kept bringing a slew of kid-friendly apparel – crayons, drawing, Gruffalo-theme cakes. It was the kid version of the Generation Game conveyor belt; We didn’t know what was going to pop-up next.
Now there was, of course a spillage. It was apple juice and it meant a table cloth change but once more we were made to feel no shame. These guys were versed in handling the general catastrophe that surrounds a toddler. With a few more eclairs under our belt and another string of sentences blathered, I can honestly say it was one of the most relaxing times the three of us have had in posh realms.
While I’m no longer hitting the town as much as I used to, this still felt like going out OUT.
Last weekend, while we were flouncing about in a disused pub garden and posing against graffiti walls for pictures, the urchin nabbed my smartphone and recorded a little picture diary of her own. This is what I like to imagine was going through her mind…
‘Today I’m matching bold polka-dotted leggings with a spotted doll’s pram (£7.99, Argos). As Coco Chanel tells us: “In order to be irreplaceable, one must always be different”. She left us too soon. #Wisdom.’
‘How will it affect me in later life, to recall all those times my mother undressed in pub gardens to pose against graffiti walls? Only my therapist will ever truly know.’
‘I mean, look at her. She looks like someone who stalks maternity wards in search of an unguarded newborn to spirit away in an Aldi carrier bag.’
‘Fingers over the lens are a central tenet of my ouvre’.
‘I call this one Glimpses of Existence: the adult humans deny their situation and yet cannot look away, they peek through their fingers at the lives before them. I’ve really thought it through and it’s very clever’.
‘Well aren’t we quite the “art director”? If he starts wearing a monocle, I’m moving out. And what is it with the disco thumbs, you goon?’
‘The loose shirts aren’t fooling anyone, porky. Have some self respect.’
‘This was my experimental phase. A period I called Still Movement. It is over now, as we all will be soon’.
Mother Pukka is crying in the bath. It’s not quite the proper blubs that have accompanied things like childbirth, proposals, and my steadfast inability to properly clean the loo. It’s more a gentle sniffle and solitary tear, on a par with that bit in the Pixar film Up! when the old man’s wife dies.
She’s in a tub full of suds and watching her mobile phone (I’m still not sure if this is dangerous or not, but assume that as there’s not enough juice in an iPhone to power it for a phone call of more than eight minutes, there are limited chances for death by electrocution).
Echoing down the stairs are words that I’ve read and heard a few times in the last 24 hours, as they’ve bounced around my social feeds. And in particular the phrase, ‘the measure of any society is how it treats it’s women and girls’.
It’s 20 minutes of rhetoric that tilts from chill-inducing to heart-warming as it talks about the belittling and demeaning behaviour that women and girls face every day, and the importance of standing strong and calling out such behaviour.
And when the urchin went in to see what the noise was, Anna showed her and said, ‘look, she’s amazing’ (to be met with a shrug). It’s being added to a list of inspirational-women videos that I try and get the urchin to peek at from time to time (other highlights being Kelly Holmes and her 800m, 1,500m double gold, and female astronaut Suni Williams doing a tour of the International Space Station). These too are usually met with shrugs, but I’m hoping the message will get through.
Parenting softens you up and makes you worry about the world in ways you might not have done when you were joyfully child-free. And while this year’s news has been relentlessly bleak, messages like this one are, I think, slowly getting through. People are becoming more aware of misogyny and more willing to point it out.
My social feed fills with links to videos of little girls railing against inane toy and clothing offerings in supermarkets. Companies – cynical and sales-focussed as they may be – are slowly buying in to the idea of promoting strong female images in their advertising. Barbie has been rescaled to slightly more human proportions.
My feeling is that 20 years ago, ‘it was just locker-room banter’, might have been accepted as a reasonable excuse for Trump’s ‘grab em by the pussy’ comments. Today it looks to have ended his hopes of becoming president, and that, at least, is some sign of progress.
So I’m not a competent driver. I passed my test, abandoned the ‘L’ plates and understand the importance of wearing a seatbelt. But after 10 years living in a city (Dubai, then Amsterdam and now London) without a car, I have The Fear. The Fear that I’m going to be the person who confuses green with red, left with right and ends up slowly ploughing into the front of Tesco because I forgot the handbrake.
Then Volvo got in touch and said they’d send us to the ace Festival Number 6… But I had to drive one of their cars there. And we’re not just talking a quick jaunt to the countryside here – it’s a 7-hour drive from London to this festival du jour.
“Er, yes”, I tentatively said. The Festival Number 6 carrot had been dangled; I was going regardless of any inner turmoil.
The day of the car being handed over arrived and I explained to Bob, the amazing Volvo guy that I hadn’t driven in 10 years. If he had The Fear at the point, he didn’t show it. We drove around the block a few times and then went further afield to Stratford so I could work out all the buttons. (I am sure there’s a more technical term, but I’m no Penelope Pitstop).
The Volvo XC90 has two major plus points for the arguably novice driver: it’s high and it’s smooth. Oh and it’s automatic so less to have to worry about as your kid is hollering for ‘Peppa Pig’ because the iPad has clapped out.
When we arrived in Wales, it was torrential rain; we’re talking bullets pounding from the sky. We had to park in a soggy field but it’s such a powerful beast of a car, there were no fear that we wouldn’t get out.
While the festival was all the fun, all three of us (my sister, daughter and I) decided that we preferred being in the sanctuary of the car. So we ended up cutting the festival short and going on a road trip home. As Alanis Morrisette’s Ironic lilted out of the speakers, the sun started peeking through the clouds and I realised that I was on the road once more. Seatbelt on; L plates nowhere to be seen and fully in the driving seat.