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The middle-aged parent’s guide to getting a tattoo

7 Dec

 

tattoo-2020311_1920

This isn’t me. I rarely wear a flat cap.

In September I got my first tattoo. A small and simple one. “They’re addictive!” I was warned. I doubted it.

But then this week I got my second tattoo. A bigger and more detailed one. I warn you, they’re addictive.

What do you need to know to make the transition from the school run to the tattoo parlour pain-free (relatively)? Is it okay to wear a top from M&S? Do you need to pretend you’ve heard of Stormsky and Jason Dorito? ARE YOU JUST TOO SQUARE?

Start small

If you’re not sure if you can handle the pain, then start small. There are different entry level points and you don’t need to go the full shebang with a complete tattoo bodysuit. This is a luxury that you don’t have with childbirth, where there is only one entry point and two exit points. If you have squeezed out a baby then in all likelihood you’ll be able to manage the discomfort of a tattoo with ease. (If you’re a man who’s had kidney stones and a doctor has told you some b*llocks about that being more painful than childbirth, then there’s your benchmark. Cling to it.)

You don’t need to get a portrait of your children

Let’s rephrase that: Don’t get a portrait of your children. Or indeed their birthdates, initials or any recreation of a stick man drawing they’ve produced. If you’ve got to middle-age and have decided to get a tattoo, then it should only be for you. Get something you like (that may even rule out your kids), something that reminds you that you are more than simply a bum wiper and a nose blower.

Not everyone will like it – get used to it

Rolling up your sleeve and seeing the look on the face of someone who hates tattoos takes some getting used to. People tend not to hide their dislike. (Remember to return the favour next time they show you a photo of their children.) Yes, you will feel judged, but as Ms Swift once wisely said: the haters gonna hate hate hate hate hate. Remember why you got a tattoo – I’m 99.9% sure it wasn’t for other people. My first one was upside down as it was only important for me to see it the right way up. And, hell, you’ve made it this far – it’s time to stop worrying about what other people think.

Show how sensible you are

Waiting until your 40s to get a tattoo is an excellent way to teach your children not to rush into things they might regret. My two now understand that even though Mummy has always wanted a tattoo, she thought for an awfully long time about it. Decades. It’s only now that Mummy is really sure about what she wants, so, no, we won’t be letting you get a tattoo when you’re 18.

Telling your mother

If you anticipate any issues with introducing your mother to your tattoo, don’t tell your child about it and suffix the conversation with “but don’t tell Nanna”. In fact, the sure-fire way to let the whole world know about your inky addition is to tell your children. If you’ve had your tattoo somewhere intimate, be prepared to reassure strangers that, contrary to what your child has said, you’re not going to get it out to show them

Yes, it is a mid-life crisis …

… and, no, don’t be ashamed. It’s not like you’ve bought a sports car and dumped your family. There are far worse things you can do. There are some things you’ll regret because you know you’re too old to achieve them now – winning an Olympic medal – or that responsibilities and mortgages are stopping you from doing, so make the most of the things you can do. Visit places you’ve always wanted to visit, go and see Jedward live if you so wish, get a tattoo (even if it’s just one little one to say “I did it!” and tick off the bucket list).

Tattoos don’t automatically make you cool

If you’re a square (like me), you will still be square – just a square with a tattoo. The tattoo might be a really cool one but, just remember, a Robin Reliant with a spoiler doesn’t suddenly become a Porsche. Donald Trump with an awesome tattoo would still be Donald Trump. Fact.

Don’t expect miracles, but do enjoy the guilty joy of rebellion as you settle down with a sherry to watch Pointless and sew on Brownie badges. You and your tattoo kick ass.

 

Chasing the Sun: book review and giveaway

3 Aug

I’m a bit of a book snob. When I was asked to review Katy Colins’ Chasing the Sun I thought, ooo, ‘fluff’ and quickly filed it under ‘books other people like to read’. But then I stopped and considered what I’d read most recently, or in fact had not read. The Tenant of Wildfell Hall – abandoned. Sorry Brontë (Anne), I’m sure an exciting climax was coming (I’ll never know) but did it require such a preamble? And apologies to E.M. Delafield: your Diary of a Provincial Lady was lovely – very funny – but just didn’t do it for this lady.

Suddenly Chasing the Sun (Colins’ fourth novel featuring the character Georgia Green) seemed really appealing. Well, slap it with a label and call it Chick Lit, but it was the start of the school holidays and did I really want something heavy to offset a day of sibling warfare?

Chasing the Sun was everything I wanted it to be: absorbing, funny, a book to forgo sleep for. Says the publisher’s blurb:

“Georgia Green is on the conveyor belt to happiness. Live-in boyfriend, perfect career and great friends, it seems like Georgia is only a Tiffany box away from her happily ever after. But when she arrives in Australia for her best friend’s wedding and is faced with the bridezilla from hell, she starts to realise that she might not want the cookie-cutter ending she thought.”

If you enjoy Bridget Jones then you’ll love this book, complete with its awkward moments (“I’m not pregnant!” I shouted, wishing that he would stop that. “I’m just fat!” I wailed). Katy Colins is also a travel blogger (www.notwedordead.com) and, if you so dared, I reckon you could even use the book as a travel guide to Australia. (I googled the ‘Big Things of Australia’ but sadly couldn’t find the home of the ‘well-known willie’. Snigger.) The author’s eye for locations adds the extra something that makes the book stand out from standard girl/boy/do they/don’t they fare. Chasing the Sun is most definitely a page turner and it’s always a rare pleasure to find a book like that. Proper indulgence. Dive into this rather than the paddling pool and you may just make it through the school holidays.

Chasing the Sun by Katy Colins, HQ (an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers), paperback, £7.99, published 27th July 2017.

WIN!

If you fancy ditching your Dostoevsky and hurling your Hemingway this summer, I have just the giveaway for you. For your chance to win a copy of Chasing the Sun please just leave a comment below telling me where your ideal holiday destination is. Easy as that. One lucky winner will be chosen at random at 5pm on Tuesday 22nd August 2017. Entries from the UK only. Good luck!

A newbie’s guide to being owned by a cat

8 Jun

black and white cat

After finally relenting to the kids’ pleas, our cat arrived 6 weeks ago (2 weeks before the kids lost interest in it). I’m not a cat or dog person or indeed an any kind of animal person (with the exception of sloths perhaps, I like them) so it has been quite a learning curve. As I blow yet another cat hair off my keyboard – it might have been the one that was stuck between my front teeth earlier but it’s definitely the one I’ll find in my lunch later – here’s what the past 6 weeks have taught me …

Mad cat lady = inevitable

You may snigger at ‘cat people’, those singletons who share their lives and beds with their feline fur babies. You may yawn and wonder how many variations of a cat looking cute whilst licking its genitals someone could possibly post on social media without finding their friend list empty. Believe me, I was the same. Then you get a cat and suddenly you find some stranger has been posting photos of your pet on your Instagram and Facebook accounts and that stranger is YOU.

Really, it happens that quickly. One day you’re a normal person, the next day you’re a cat person (or, as a proper aficionado would say, a cat’s person). You know that such activity will pigeonhole you as someone to avoid, but you just can’t help yourself. You can barely remember how much you used to hate next door’s cat for sh*tting in your garden, the darling little ball of fuzz. Stroking your pussy becomes something you talk about shamelessly, suffixing the conversation with “Gosh, I’ve turned into a mad cat lady already” just in case it stops the other person from backing away from you slowly.

With cats, the parallels with parenting a human being are endless (and not just their fascination with watching you on the toilet) …

Poo

Cat poo in the garden used to make me want to gag. But your own cat’s poo? Smells like roses. Remember how wiping your own children’s bums is completely acceptable but you’d still never touch the faeces of a stranger?

If you get a moggy, I thoroughly recommend clumping litter. For those not in the know, the fine gravel basically sticks to poo and wee enabling you to conveniently lift it out with a scoop in neat little chunks. At its most satisfying it equates to panning for gold. Dig your scoop in, pull it out and give it a little shake to get rid of the loose litter and then see if you’ve got treasure!

By mistakenly feeding our cat squirty cream, I’ve discovered clumping litter works a treat on cat diarrhoea too. When my 6-year-old ‘mistakenly’ fed our cat squirty cream for a second chuffing time, I also discovered that Vanish stain remover can remove a one-and-a-half-foot long cat skid mark from a white duvet cover. And from beige carpet. Fortunately, a white leather Eames lounger is wipe clean.

Cats’ a*ses in places and faces

Cats are supposedly regal, dignified animals, yet they parade their behinds as proudly as a Bulbous Big Butted Baboon. Our feline friends do not deign to use their tail to preserve their modesty. (It doesn’t even help that my cat’s butt looks like a little sleeping baby owl.) Get used to butts waved in your face, butts on your head while you’re sleeping, butts on the worktop, butts on your Lucienne Day cushions. “Remember meeee?” whines the pack of Dettol wipes, just when you thought you’d passed through that stage of parenting.

Mind you, if our cat hadn’t presented his a*se to me I wouldn’t have noticed his issue with follow-through during the most recent squirty cream-gate. I wouldn’t have been able to chase him with a tissue and – casting aside any dignity I had left – wipe his bottom before he found some pale-coloured home furnishings to s(h)it on.

Should you get a cat?

If the quantity of social media likes and shares you get are no longer sufficient to boost your self-esteem, then a cat can fix that. There’s nothing quite like the ongoing battle to win the love of a cat and all hopes being dashed when it farts in your face as it jumps off your lap.

Why questioning Trump’s mental health has set us back years

17 Feb

Trump mental health

Psychiatrists in the US are questioning Donald Trump’s mental and emotional stability. By doing so they have broken a long-standing rule that experts shouldn’t ‘diagnose’ someone – including a public figure – unless they have evaluated them in person. They certainly shouldn’t announce it in public. It’s the latest big gun to be rolled out to attack a controversial president, but it is in danger of setting perceptions of mental health back several years.

Campaigners have long been trying to break the taboo surrounding mental health issues. Most people suffer problems with varying degrees at some point in their lives. After all, who and what is ‘normal’? In reality, struggles with mental health are the norm and the challenge has been to stop it being defined as ‘sick’, ‘peculiar’ or ‘mad’. We seemed to be getting there and then along came Trump.

A clown. A madman. A DANGEROUS madman. A power-crazed narcissist unfit to run a country. It’s very easy to call someone you don’t like names. But with this latest onslaught on Trump comes the label of ‘mental illness’. Labels are very neat and stick easily. They’re also very convenient for applying not just to one person but to a large group of people – the process of tarring with the same unsubtle brush. If you suffer from mental health issues then you’re now as ‘bonkers’ as Trump. You shouldn’t be trusted because you are unhinged. You might not be President of the United States but are you sure you can handle the responsibility of your desk job? Should your employers be worried? Maybe you should be sacked.

The trouble is that Trump has never had the world’s sympathy or affection. If Barack Obama had been perceived as displaying signs of mental illness then would it have been treated sensitively? I suspect so. If a man like Obama could suffer then anyone could – it’s normal and we could all have opened up about our own struggles without fear of judgement. But if Trump is now the poster boy of poor mental health then for god’s sake keep your mouth shut or you’ll be carted off with him.

I have no sympathy for Trump. He’s a disaster as a President because he’s not a politician. This is not about feeling sorry for him. What this is about is witnessing the giant leap backwards as psychiatrists and the media sling mental illness at someone as an insult, as a way to bring them down.

The worst thing US psychiatrists have done is not to break with their principles – it’s to forget their responsibility to everyone who suffers from mental issues to not perpetuate the stigma. And that is far more unethical.

So long hygge, hello lagom!

10 Jan

Hygge

Hold on to your woolly hats, there’s another trend on its way from our friends in Scandinavia. Conveniently, it arrives to coincide with everyone worrying about how to carry off cosy hygge when the weather warms up. Now there’s no need to sweat out the summer in furry blankets with your hands wrapped around a mug of steaming hot chocolate. Out with the (c)old, in with the new. Say hello to lagom.

Translated from the Swedish, lagom means ‘just the right amount’. Not too much, not too little. It’s all about balance, self-restraint and living simply and sustainably. Clever people in the know describe it as a way of living, compared to hygge which is about creating and feeling moments in time. Lagom may be an easier, more universal concept to grasp than its snuggly, subjective counterpart. One person’s experience of hygge as they pull on woolly socks might be another person’s itchy, rash-inducing nightmare.

If you’ve bought into hygge (and I mean literally bought into – Scandi chic adds pounds to the price of any product), then how can you embrace lagom without breaking the bank? Here are some straightforward steps to help bring lagom into your life simply by de-hyggering the sh*t out of it.

Blankets

You won’t need faux reindeer skins in the summer and, let’s face it, hygge will have made a Brexit by next winter so don’t even bother storing them. Embrace sustainable lagom living and limit your impact on the environment. If you can’t turn your unwanted blankets into costumes for school Viking history days then – fleas permitting – your local cats’ home willingly accept them. (Forget the Danes, we all know that cats really invented hygge – let’s give it back to them.)

Nordic deer / moose / reindeer

Put anything with antlers out to pasture. If you can’t manage that then at least take the fairy lights off their horns. Think simple – these magnificent beasts were not created to bear the weight of the Blackpool illuminations. And remember, Christmas decorations are for Christmas, not just for life.

Quality time with friends

Ah, hygge, the ‘art of creating intimacy’. Throughout 2016 you have welcomed your friends into your home to sit on your white-washed wooden bench and share your expensive hot chocolate. If they’re not as middle class as you or tend to follow their own path rather than buy into expensive trends then they may not have returned the favour. Now’s the time to get your own back. Lagom is about moderation, so if your guests outstay their welcome then go ahead, tell them that you’ve had ‘just enough’ of them. It may mean setting aside your self-restraint but it will make everyone happy.

Candles

Burn them! Burn them all! When every candle is gone they will no longer drain precious oxygen and the equilibrium of the atmosphere in your home will be restored.

Be comforted – some things won’t change

Whether you go Swedish with lagom or Danish with hygge, you are without doubt destined for great happiness (although where was hygge when Hamlet needed it?). It seems that all our troubles can be solved with a dash of Scandi. Thankfully, lagom presents precisely the same opportunities to be smug as hygge did. You’re just doing it in a less wintery way.

Of course, as with hygge inspired products, you can also expect to pay over the odds for anything giving off a mere hint of lagom. Warning: following a trend of moderation can be expensive and involve a lot of indulgent props if you want to do it right and really impress your friends. There’s just about the right amount of irony in that.

Period policies : a woman’s friend or foe?

3 Mar

Period policy at work

It seems that a forward-thinking company in Bristol is planning to put in place a ‘period policy’. It would to allow women to take time off work during their period, thus boosting  overall productivity and efficiency. The director of the company claims it will help synchronise work with the body’s natural cycles.

*splutters tea over laptop*

It’s all very admirable. Unless you think it’s just plain balls.

Whatever next? Paid leave for bouts of hysteria? Pregnant women being turned away from the office and forced into confinement until their child is delivered into the arms of a wet nurse? Tying underperforming female colleagues to a ducking stool? Well goodbye 21st century and hello Dark Ages.

I have several problems with something that proposes “a radically new model of the menstrual cycle as an asset for your entire organisation”. (Just imagine if that popped up as the title of a Powerpoint presentation at work!)

1. Yawn, another stigmatising nod to de-stigmatisation

Yes, periods can bloody hurt. They can leave you doubled up, nauseous and feeling like you’re at death’s door. Of course they’re not an illness and we all know how women can still roller skate, swim, ride bikes and dance in tight-fitting white lycra when the decorators are in, don’t we? Far from de-stigmatising periods, the special treatment proposed by the ‘period policy’ is just that: special treatment – and not in the positive sense. It seems to be yet another way to demarcate women and highlight their ‘difference’ in the workplace.

Please let’s not lumber women with another ‘weakness’ that sets them one step behind their non-menstruating, non-child-bearing colleagues. But, I hear you cry, the article says that the “spring section of the cycle immediately after a period is a time when women are actually three times as productive as usual” – surely we can harness that? In reality, would a business really wait for your period to pass?

“Oh, don’t talk to Beryl – she’s got her period. Give that important client to someone else. Beryl’s just not that creative when she’s on the blob … No, the client won’t wait. But don’t worry, there will be another less important client for Beryl when she’s back to her normal self. Bless her.”

2. Isn’t this unfair on men and anyone else who regularly feels a bit yucky?

Most men don’t do the period thing (and obviously not in the literal sense). I can clear my husband from a room by tossing an unused, wrapped tampon at him – they’re like kryptonite to his Spider-Man. Integrating menstruation into the workplace (another Powerpoint title for you there) isn’t going to happen. Why expect men to suddenly start feeling comfortable talking about menstruation around the water cooler? From a woman’s perspective, I wouldn’t want everyone knowing or assuming I’d got my period. Not because of any stigma but because it’s personal. In the same way I wouldn’t want the whole office knowing if my bowel movements had been a bit loose that morning. Most importantly, I’d hate for people to feel they had to treat me differently.

Interestingly, an article in the Telegraph last year reported on a study which found than 25% of British men believe they have a monthly ‘man period’. Should they be let in on the ‘period policy’ too then? Whilst we’re at it, I’d also like to put my hand up for a ‘migraine policy’ please. And perhaps a ‘my kids have been up all night puking policy’. It’s only fair.

3. Shouldn’t it be about better workplace policies generally?

This shouldn’t be about new-fangled workplace policies. If someone feels they cannot take some time off when they feel genuinely unable to perform at work, then there is a problem with the culture of their company. If “when women are having their periods they are in a winter state, … they need to regroup, keep warm and nourish their bodies” then sort out flexible working policies and let them work from home beneath a humongous hot water bottle. If employers treat their employees well and meet needs where they can, then they will be rewarded with loyalty, productivity and creativity – it doesn’t matter one jot whether the employee is male or female.

I’m sure some women would say I’ve completely missed the point. Perhaps the article caught me at the wrong time of the month. Maybe my body temperature was 0.5 degrees too high to be able to appreciate how truly bloody brilliant the idea of a ‘period policy’ is. I hope for the sake of that business in Bristol that their female employees aren’t all on the same cycle. As the tumbleweed blows through the office they’ll have time to discuss the wisdom of the policy, if they can make themselves heard over the sound of men rubbing their hands together in glee.

Confessions of a spanking good half term

27 Feb

Chips photo

As I get more and more school holidays under my belt, I feel less of a need to justify why we didn’t conquer Mount Everest or deliver newborn lambs in half term week. Bloggers write an awful lot about their guilt in order to seek reassurance from their peers and be a Better Parent. Mostly it’s self-flagellation. It’s not about the well-being of the kids: it’s about measuring yourself on the yardstick of perfection that is waved in our faces by the internet and social media. It’s time to grab that yardstick and snap it in half.

Let me tell you this: what you’re about to read wasn’t written to make myself feel better. It was written to make you feel better – to let you know that it’s okay. Really, it’s alright if you didn’t take a photo of your kids frolicking in snowdrops and apply Instagram’s Vintage filter with a smidgeon of a vignette. (Vintage because that makes life look retro and kids were so much happier in the olden days when they could race across open fields and only return home for tea, etc, etc, blah blah blah.)

It’s time to stop using other people’s Facebook timelines as a must-do-or-I’ve-failed guide to activities to cram into the school holidays. Your children will not be disadvantaged in their future life if you choose iPad time over roller skating the Inca Trail. Another episode of Paw Patrol will not cast them onto the educational scrapheap. (Many apps are highly educational and played alongside Candy Crush and Panda Pop will balance your child out as comfortably mediocre.)

Here’s a fancy infographic for you. It’s the first time I’ve done one and I can reassure you that no children were harmed in the time it took me to do it. They were not knocking over pans of boiling water or sticking their fingers in plug sockets as they revelled unsupervised.

half-term-infographic-copy

There you have it. I’ve done my little bit to make parents feel moderately better. (And that’s only half term – just think of what you won’t achieve in the summer holidays!) If I were to now fall off the sofa and die, the old Cheerio in the rug that I inhale with my last breath would be utterly worth it.

The Syria crisis: just imagine if it was you – #SaveSyriasChildren

5 Sep

refugee crisis

Surely no one can fail to be affected by recent images in the media of the desperate plight of refugees trying to reach Europe and safety. Terrible as these images are to see, they force the rest of the world to recognise that this isn’t only a political or economic issue – it is about real people. Ordinary people who had homes, families and livelihoods are at the heart of this terrible situation. If you think about it then, yes, it could have been you. And if it was, how would you feel if those who could help hesitated or simply didn’t help?

For me, the crisis in Syria isn’t just about a foreign country. It is about the people I met there. In 2002 I spent two weeks in Syria visiting the major cities and towns and, of course, ancient Palmyra. It is a country I rate as one of my favourites, where the constant refrain of “You must come back when you have children!” led me to believe that one day I would return. Sadly, it is now unlikely that this will be possible in my lifetime and if my children ever get there it will be a very different place.

What strikes home when I watch the news is that the lives of the Syrians I met have been turned upside down. Sadly, I have no idea if they are alive or dead. Is the hotel where we stayed in Aleppo still standing? Most likely not. But what happened to the hotel owner whose sideline in pharmacy I will be forever grateful for after I fell ill and he supplied the drugs that brought me back from what felt like the brink of death? Or the hotel staff who brought me rice and potatoes for days when I couldn’t get out of bed? These were people who didn’t hesitate to help me when I needed it.

At every stop we encountered people who made our visit special. There was the family in Hama who welcomed us to their table and shared a feast of pomegranates. What happened to them? Hama had already experienced a terrible massacre in 1982 when an uprising against the government was quashed by the then president Hafez al-Assad. Some sources put the death toll at as many as 40,000. It was something no one dared speak of in Hama and there was no evidence or recognition of it ever having happened. Back in 2002, the men in the photograph must have thought that they had already seen their fair share of bloodshed.

Syria crisis

What happened to the amazing guide who showed us around the funerary towers in Palmyra? Was he there to witness the devastation when IS blew them up today?

Syria crisis

Then there are of course the children who in 2002 thought they had their whole life ahead of them. Despite living under a dictatorship it was at least a time of peace with the prospect of a future. It is horrific to consider what these children must have seen in the last few years and the fear they have endured. Are they still there? Have they ended up in the camps in the countries bordering Syria? Are they currently trying to board a train in Budapest?

Syria crisis

As an individual it may feel as if there’s little you can do. However, there is lots that you can do from the comfort of your own home. Please don’t turn a blind eye. Do something to help. Anything. Whatever you decide, don’t choose apathy.

You can donate to Save the Children’s Syria Crisis Appeal online here or to donate £5 simply text SYRIA to 70008. (You can find Save the Children’s terms and conditions here.)

 

 

 

The unbearable heaviness of right and wrong

4 Mar

Clouds

Becoming a parent changes you in funny ways. You become more prone to tears – Christmas adverts always get me – and more susceptible to the cuteness of bunnies, kittens and videos of babies doing funny things. But there is also the other extreme. You can become hardened and more conservative with a lower case C. Wrongdoing and the ills of society become amplified and the overwhelming instinct to protect your offspring kicks in.

I’ve never been a supporter of the death penalty. There can be too much room for error and an eye for an eye isn’t a concept of justice that I feel comfortable with. It is with shock then that I sometimes find myself thinking – totally against my principles but entirely aligned with my instincts as a parent – “If you hurt my children then I will want to kill you”.

Watching the excerpt from film-maker Leslee Udwin’s documentary on the gang rape and murder of Jyoti Singh in Delhi in 2012, my heart literally felt like it was being squeezed. I could hardly breathe. I wanted to cry. This wasn’t just anger and revulsion at what had happened but also despair at the evil humans are capable of. Then there was the lack of remorse from one of perpetrators of the attack. Can the human brain malfunction so fundamentally so as to not be able to recognise basic right from wrong? In the cold chill you’re left with, it makes you wonder what kind of world you have brought your children into.

Who should be blamed? Should it be the perpetrators’ parents? (Perish the thought I could bring up a child who could commit such an act.) Do the skewed views on women in a particular society make such behaviour acceptable or understandable? No. By shifting the blame we gift them a lack of responsibility. When it comes down to it, humans should know right from wrong. Regardless of what beliefs your society has bestowed on you, surely there must be something in every human mind – however small, however buried – that flickers to tell you that you are about to do something vile, something inhumane. To make someone cry for help, to rape, to murder is wrong. There is no way of justifying it and, ultimately, no one to blame other than the perpetrator.

I’ve always thought that the death penalty could potentially do society a huge disservice. What if the condemned person had gone on to do good? What if someone we executed had instead spent their life in prison searching for a cure for cancer and found it? That’s not an eye for an eye – that’s an eye for millions of eyes. Perhaps a far-fetched and unlikely scenario but it’s a valid point worth contemplating. Who are we to take that potential away?

Yet for this scenario to occur, someone needs to make a judgment call on whether a person should and could be rehabilitated. To judge how someone will feel or how much they can give back to society 5, 10, 50 years down the line can only be a guessing game. Sadly, Leslee Udwin’s documentary suggests that Jyoti Singh’s rapists weren’t going to sit in a prison for the rest of their lives feeling repentant, dwelling on how wrong their behaviour was. There is no punishment in that. Why then shouldn’t the death penalty be the most appropriate justice? There is nothing they can contribute to the world other than to fuel anger.

Of course, the death penalty is murder too – there is absolutely no getting around that. In an ideal world it simply wouldn’t exist as there is so much more wrong with it than there is right. But somewhere inside I still want to protect my children. I want to eradicate the world of people who can commit such acts as that in Delhi and who probably wouldn’t hesitate to do it again. It’s a frightening way to be made to feel and it creates an uneasy conflict in my own beliefs in what is right and wrong. I am unsettled by it and I am certainly not proud.

Take Me Out: a feminist’s dream?

11 Feb

ITV dating show

Take Me Out. It riles me. It grates with all my principles. It makes me feel embarrassed. Most of all, it makes me fear for the giant steps that women are currently making through campaigns such as This Girl Can and No More Page 3 (if you ignore the childish and aggressive behaviour of The Sun with regard to the latter). If I have these concerns then why do I continue to let my 6-year-old daughter watch Take Me Out? It’s all about the lessons she can learn.

“There’s a boy and a girl and if they switch their light off they don’t like him and then there’s one person left and they go on holiday to Fernando’s.” That’s how a child sums up the premise of Take Me Out, ITV’s 21st century (apparently) dating show. Simple, innocent, unquestioning. Of course, it’s great Saturday night entertainment and along with many other forms of entertainment where women aren’t given credit for having anything other than breasts, make-up and a desperate desire to meet Mr Right, many would say that it should just be treated as a bit of light-hearted fun. (Which brings us back to Page 3.) But as with many media portrayals deemed harmless and fun – think back to the racism in British TV shows in the 1970s – the potential for lasting damage, particularly on impressionable minds, is serious.

Why do I let my daughter watch it? Because her cranky mother with her feminist leanings sits next to her and provides a social commentary. Hands up – I enjoy the show. I enjoy it not because it makes me feel good about being a woman in 2015 but because of the constant amused disbelief it generates. It pleasurably raises my hackles and gives me full licence to pontificate to my daughter about everything that is wrong with the programme.

You shouldn’t judge people on their looks alone

In the last episode we watched, the majority of the girls switched off their lights on first sight of the man. What a blast to his self-esteem. We all form an immediate opinion of people based on first impressions – that’s normal – but we have to learn to recognise that shortfalling and then think beyond it.

“Won’t those girls who switched off their lights be really sad when they find out what a nice, interesting man he is?” I venture. Her argument was that the rules say you’re allowed to switch your light off in the first round – “No likey, no lighty, Mummy”. A rule’s a rule and I should probably be proud that she respects that.

It takes some effort to explain to a 6-year-old why it isn’t acceptable to judge someone based on how they look; they are still taking the first steps in developing empathy and mostly they are the centre of their own universe. Yet it doesn’t hurt to prod them in the ribs with a not-so-gentle reminder of how cruel TV ‘entertainment’ can be.

“Look mummy, she’s got trousers on”

As we watched the parade of girls at the beginning of Saturday’s show, I started to tut (quite rightly) about how they’d forgotten to put some of their clothes on. My daughter countered that the studio was probably quite hot. Fair point, but I went on to say how much better they would look dressed a little more … elegantly. My daughter told me that I’m not as stylish as the girls on Take Me Out. And they’re at least 20 years younger than me, dear daughter, and, as they are single and in all likelihood childless, they have a disposable income to deploy on looking ‘stylish’.

All is not lost though. When my daughter pointed out that one of the girls was actually wearing trousers (skin tight but at least no flesh on display) I congratulated myself with unashamed smugness that some of what I’ve preached might just be sinking in.

Fortunately, my 3-year-old son has no interest in Take Me Out. If he did then, yes, I would let him watch it too. And, yes, I would be equally keen to point out its inadequacies to him – perhaps with more vehemence than with my daughter. Part of that is that, whilst inequality continues, women are in dire need of help from men. It’s not up to women to fight alone but it will take more than Ed Miliband and Benedict Cumberbatch wearing t-shirts with slogans to force change from the roots up. Perhaps Take Me Out is another small step to educating the men and women of the future, providing we’re savvy enough to use all that is bad about it to do good.

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