Sunday, 4 September 2016

What exactly is a 'lovely age'?

Since the day my daughter was born, people have continued to remark that she is at “a lovely age”.
But what exactly is a ‘lovely age’?

My best age was probably 19..having the most fun with my uni pals, where the biggest worry was what you were going to wear to a fancy dress party at the weekend.

I reckon 65 is also a good age - hopefully the mortgage (and student loan!) has been paid off, the kids have grown up and now pay for your meals out, and you might be in alright nick to do a few weeks of travelling in style.

But I was always sceptical when strangers constantly told me my tiny baby/restless one-year-old/tantrum-prone toddler, was the 'ideal age'.

I mean, everyone wants to wipe their own arse, right? And it must be so frustrating not being able to get your own food, walk by yourself, communicate with others etc.

In those early days, passerbys cooed over her sleepy angelic face (which nicely detracted from the humungous bags under my eyes). The cheeky grin of a 10-month-old across a packed Costa Coffee hid the underlying battles of feeding/weaning/sleep disruption. Those tentative first steps through the parks drew smiles from onlookers (but they weren't around moments later when this turned into a full-scale meltdown).

But now she is on the cusp of turning three, I finally get it.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s still hard. She’s pretty stubborn, demands attention for about 13 hours a day and is a snack monster. But the talking is in full flow and she is hilarious. She also finds me hilarious which is a) pleasing and b) a sign of good judgement.
She is happy (and wants) to hold my hand when we’re out,  she thinks my ideas are amazing, she clings to me in unfamiliar situations and doesn’t want to let go…yet.

I now know why people say she is at a lovely age because in her world, we are lucky enough that…

  • death does not exist
  • cancer hasn’t come into her vocabulary
  • illness is cured by a kiss and a hug
  • evil is contained to Disney films
  • she’s wary of strangers yet she has no clue the harm they could inflict
  • she’s unaware of what challenges she will face as a woman
  • she doesn’t see race or colour or sexuality…and she has no idea who Donald Trump is. How great would that world be?!
  • she eats without guilt and kisses her reflection with a fervour I wish we all kept
  • money is immaterial in her life

In the not too distant future, her social skills and peer relationships will develop. I won’t be her world. She’ll find out what rejection feels like, she’ll experience envy and she’ll be hurt.
She’ll soon get sucked into the school system and be bogged down by homework, consumed by thoughts from tests to make up.

She’ll eventually be embarrassed to kiss me in public, she’ll become aware of time and its precious commodity.
Adult emotions that we could all do without (like guilt and envy) will inevitably filter into her every day life.

As parents we can try to protect her from these things, but you can only do so much.
She’ll learn about loss in all senses. She’ll learn that people she loves will go.

For now though, she’s at a lovely age.

Monday, 16 May 2016

Booby Trapped

Breasts. Pretty much half the world have got them so what’s the big deal about getting them out?

I’m not talking Hugh Hefner parties or Page 3. I mean breastfeeding.

I’ve written a post on this subject before (The Great Boob Debate) but it’s an issue that keeps attracting the column inches.

Women are lambasted in the press for feeding too long (“check out this freak show with a 3-year-old hanging off her nips”), too publicly (“how dare you feed anywhere to suit the needs of your baby. Shame on you”) or too brazenly (“tsk…posting brelfies on Facebook - like you’re proud you’re feeding your baby or something”).

The comedian, Adam Hills’ sketch on this very subject is brilliant. 

With breasts now so incredibly sexualised in our society, it’s little wonder some people have difficulty separating seeing cleavage on the page to actual tits out serving their purpose in Costa.

Photographer and writer Laura Dodsworth set about to create a project exploring the dichotomy between how women feel about their breasts privately and how they are presented for public consumption through the media. 

Bare Reality’ is a fascinating book featuring the chests of 100 women, aged between 19 and 101, each revealing their stories, from breast cancer to breastfeeding.

Yesterday I went to a BooksEast event in Ipswich, featuring Laura in conversation with Rebecca Smithers, consumer affairs editor at the Guardian, where she explained her passion for the work and how she hopes it inspires others.

During the Q&A with a small (women-only) audience, the topic of society's views towards breastfeeding in public was raised. 

One woman said she breastfed 15 years ago and faced no disapproval, whereas now it seemed to her that feeding in public is littered with problems. Another said she thought times have moved on and it is fairly widely acceptable.

From my own experience two years ago, I would side with the latter view.  Thankfully I never personally faced any ejection from public spaces and although I heard about some cases locally, the majority of people just seemed to turn a blind eye and let me get on with it.

Despite the varying opinions on breasts and what they represent, the great thing about Laura’s project is that it reopens the debate. It invites us to reassess our own views, challenge our personal prejudices and reminds us that we need to fight against harmful attitudes.

As a woman, a mother, a father, a man, a feminist, we all have responsibility to educate so that the next generation don't have to shamefully cover up while giving their baby the most basic need.

Basically, the message is, don’t be a tit about it.


Monday, 2 May 2016

A New Chapter

I’ve always loved stories.

I love telling them, I love writing them and I love reading them.

Some of my earliest memories are of my dad reading to me (sorry mum, I know you probably did more than your fair share but memory is a selective sod).

It was at primary school that I really discovered books and began to invent my own tales (which resulted in several ‘meetings’ after school where my embarrassed parents were summoned to discuss my ‘overactive imagination’-read lies). And no, for the record, Fergie and Andrew did not come to our house to watch fireworks. 

As my years sprinted on, I enjoyed getting into series - much like the Netflix generation now. From the Worst Witch and Judy Blume, to Sweet Valley High and Point Horror. It offered escapism and excitement.

 When I went travelling around the world years later (after 3 years of prescribed book lists for an English Lit degree), my choice went eclectic. I broke free. My love of novels was reignited and a constant companion on my journey (I even kept a book review log, sadly-pictured below).

Since entering the latest chapter in my life (motherhood), reading has become a luxury. Bleary-eyed mornings are spent with one eye on Facebook while breakfast is prepared with the dulcet snorts of Peppa Pig in the background.

I get the majority of my news in 140 characters from Twitter. After a day of playing hide and seek and playdough (both of which, I’m frankly too old for), I’m pretty whacked. I usually manage about 15 minutes of reading before sleep overpowers me.

But, when you get into a good book, there is nothing quite like it. You find the energy. I’ve had holidays where I can scare remember the accommodation or sights, but you remember the book you were reading.

A good book forces you to switch off mindless TV, it lures you to a quiet corner of the house and urges you to just 'be'. Housework waits, family and friends are shunned. Nothing comes between you and the book. 

Having recently experienced this again, I’m now reinvigorated, so that’s why I was so excited to hear about Ipswich’s inaugural book festival, Books East, launching later this month.

There are loads of events on, covering all genres, and some big names are signed up, including Sir Ranulph Fiennes.

I’ll be blogging about a couple of talks so keep an eye out.

Til then, happy reading!

Books East runs from May 9th to May 15th. Visit the website for all the events

Tuesday, 29 March 2016

Madness and Jellybabies

You’ve got to have an element of madness to be an ultramarathon runner.

My buddy Tom is one of them. In a few weeks’ time, he’ll be attempting to run from Land’s End to John O’Groats (that’s 816 miles) in 2 weeks.

Let’s break that down; he’ll be running 60 miles a day-more than a marathon A DAY- for 14 days.

Eat your heart out Eddie Izzard.

That’s not offbeat- that’s sheer lunacy.

The more I heard about this challenge, the more I drew parallels with parenting. Stay with me here.
Firstly it’s jumping into the unknown. 

Sure, a few people you know might have done it. They seem fairly well adjusted and functioning as a normal human being from the outside but you have no idea how you’ll fare. Whether this will be a challenge too far- the thing that breaks you. You wonder if you’ll fall at the first hurdle (in the case of accident-prone Tom, this is likely, given the fact he once dislocated his finger and needed stitches in his knee after tripping over a jellybaby. Yup).

Tom's nemesis

Once you begin the ‘race’, you know there’s no turning back. When asked what Tom’s biggest fear is about his epic run, it was “getting lost”, followed by “not completing it”. I think most parents could relate to this too.

We all feel lost at times. As for not finishing, it is hard to see beyond the next day a lot of the time, let alone the next year. Look at the whole scene ahead of you and it’s just too damn scary to contemplate.

I once found myself stressing about having to help my daughter with homework and make packed lunches every day. She was less than six months old at the time.

Like a new mum, Tom’s diet on route sounds similarly sugar-driven. Porridge to start, followed by a can of coke every 10 miles, supplemented with jellybabies (careful there) and fig rolls, before consuming two evening meals once it’s over for the day. All that’s missing is that crucial huge glass of wine (but then with 60 miles to run the next day, I don’t think that’d be such a good idea).

So why put ourselves through such an endurance test?

Tom’s answer for his challenge was “excitement.” Personally, I can think of much more exciting things to do for 10 hours a day but I know what he means really.

It may not be a laugh a minute on his journey, excitement around every corner, delight in every pothole, but when he gets to the end of each day and nurses his wounds, he can look back knowing how far he has come.  He may even silently congratulate himself before taping up his feet and getting some shut-eye in preparation for what lies ahead. And I guess that’s what we’re all doing really.

I’ve been on this particular road for two and half years now and even looking back through these blog posts, I can see how far I’ve come. I’m not sure I’m at John O’Groats yet- or even where that is, but for now, I’m focusing on enjoying the journey, building up the miles, and best of all, I get to spend it with this little chum.


*Oh and by the way, Tom is doing his run in aid of two great charities, East Anglia's Children’s Hospices, and Great Ormond Street Hospital. If you want to find out more and donate, see his website here. Thanks!