Monday, January 30, 2012

Bringing up Bébé

The whole question of children and child rearing has been very much on the agenda in the past weeks. Firstly, the press has leaped on the new book 'French Children Don't Throw Food' by Pamela Druckerman, a middle class American living in a middle class suburb of Paris, whose limited experience of French children seems to have made her some sort of childcare expert.  Of course, anyone who has actually brought their children up in France, i.e. outside Paris, knows that French children do throw food, and quite regularly, as long as maman isn't looking.

The pertinent points of the book are don't breastfeed as formula will help bébé sleep through the night, ignore your children and let them amuse themselves, that way they learn to be patient, don't bother to teach them to read, that's what school is for, stick them in a creche from birth and give them a good slap if they misbehave. There, I've saved you £15!  For a very amusing précis of the book read this. Of course, it all sounds deliciously 1950s but then, that's what most British expats say they love about the country. It's like Britain in the 1950s - racist, intolerant, sexist, polio-ridden? Oh, apparently that's not what they mean.

Strangely enough, Ms Druckerman chose a different title for the book in the US. It's called Bringing Up Bébé probably because The Satanic Seed of Cheese-Eating Surrender Monkeys Don't Throw Food wouldn't fit on the front cover. And strangely enough, the book doesn't seem to have been released in French. I wonder why?  It's interesting how book titles get changed. That other tome which has been widely used to batter British women over the head, French Women Don't Get Fat, is actually called Those French Women Who Don't Get Fat. Puts a slightly different angle on the whole premise doesn't it.

To be honest, having lived in France for 5 years, and seen that French children are, sadly, exactly the same as any other and they do throw food, I'd say don't waste your money on Ms Druckerman or her book. There's a reason why on Air France flights, the seats around people with babies and toddlers are designated 'low comfort' and are allocated last. And as someone wryly observed, 'the only trouble with French children is that they grow up into French adults'.

Earlier on in the week, ex-Apprentice, Katie Hopkins, caused outrage among the mummy mafia in a debate with Katie O'Donovan from Mumsnet on BBC breakfast. The subject was whether or not babies should have to pay for tickets to the Olympics.  What they were saying aside, it was hilarious. Katie Hopkins is always controversial, it's how she's made her name, and, although I don't often agree with her, she does make me laugh. She argued that babies shouldn't be at the Olympics anyway and that why should her Olympic experience be ruined by someone else's screaming baby? Sadly for Mumsnet, I can't actually remember what the other Katie did - or said. So does Katie Hopkins have a point?

To me, the idea of sitting in a crowded stadium somewhere in the a**e end of Old London town would be as much pleasure as a root canal filling without anaesthetic.  I hate crowds, hate public transport and have a very low tolerance threshold for the public in general so the whole discussion was a bit moot anyway. Looking at what was being said on Twitter, people were generally split 50:50 between those who felt that babies, and indeed small children, shouldn't be allowed at the Olympics anyway and those who encouraged every mother and breastfeeding mother in particular to go and grab the seat next to Katie Hopkins.  An athlete made an interesting point. Some of the events rely on complete silence for the start and a crying baby or stroppy toddler could be very distracting. As this athlete said, when they've trained for years to get to the Olympics, should they have to risk all their hard work because someone's child misbehaves.

Very few made the point that perhaps an Olympic event is not the best place for a baby or a toddler anyway. I would certainly never have taken mine. They'd have been bored rigid sitting watching people swim up and down a pool or run round and round a track and I would enjoy it far more without constantly fretting over a cranky child.

I don't subscribe to the idea that children should be seen and not heard but I do believe they should know how to behave in public. It's not society's job to fit round my children, it's my children's job to fit into society, to know what is and isn't acceptable and to understand that the world doesn't revolve around them and they must respect other people's feelings. I never subscribed to the 'enfant roi' school of child-rearing and I think, by and large, mine have turned out pretty well. They never had tantrums, were never allowed to scream and carry on in supermarkets, had to sit at the table at restaurants and went to bed at set times so that my evening was child-free. I'm not saying it's the right way, just that it was the right way for me. I'm not particularly maternal and have a very low threshold for misbehaving children, my own included, so if the whole motherhood thing was going to work for me and they were going to make their next birthdays, then they had to learn to fit into my life rather than the other way round.

A café in North London, fed up with the poor behaviour of some children while the mothers and nannies sat around swigging on their lattes, recently told them that they would be banned if their offsprings' behaviour didn't improve. They were incensed. But why should other patrons have their quiet enjoyment spoiled by misbehaving children climbing all over the furniture. Why should they have to listen to cranky children whining?  Why do some mothers think it's acceptable to let their child's whining continue unabated just because they are immune to it?  I've even seen women changing babies on the tables of cafés. They may think that little Daisy's s**t doesn't stink, but I can assure you it does! And it's unhygienic to boot. There are baby coupons available for changing pads suited for public restrooms---not public tables

When we moved to France we soon realised what a poor image British children have in France. It was immediately assumed that ours would have no table manners, would expect to be waited on hand and foot and entertained continuously. I'd like to think we put them right a little bit on that.  I don't think their reputation is really deserved but so often I'd see British families on holiday with their children running riot and the parents too lazy to do anything. 

Which brings me back to the Olympics. Should it be a baby-free/toddler-free zone? Is it a suitable environment to take a baby or a toddler to? Should some sports be child-free because of the risk of distracting the athletes who've trained for years to get there? If you had tickets and a baby or toddler would you take them?  What say you?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Please Help Julie Chambers...

'Who's Julie Chambers? ' you're probably asking yourself.  There's a strong chance you don't know who Julie Chambers is but if you are on Facebook or Twitter there's a fair chance you've come across her daughter, Zoe. There's a chance that you may even have donated money on a Facebook page to help Zoe get a heart transplant. The only trouble is that Zoe, sadly, died 3 years ago. In her short life, she suffered 6 major heart attacks and eventually, after being moved to the top of the European transplant list, a new heart was found but a viral infection a year later proved too much for her and she died at the age of 2.

A Jamaican conman by the name of Garen Thoms has taken a photo of Zoe from the newspapers and set up a Facebook page asking people to donate money towards a heart transplant. Needless to say, the money goes straight to him.

Can you imagine how that must feel for Julie Chambers? Not only has she lost her daughter but now her image is being used to con people. Julie can do nothing about it because she, personally, has not been defrauded. 

And it's not the only one. Another one I received recently promised life saving heart surgery for a boy if enough people liked  the Facebook page. Don't people think? Would any medical professional withhold life saving surgery until a social networking page had been viewed enough times? The boy in that photo is a surviver of Chernobyl and is photographed after having had heart surgery paid for by an international charity. The photo has been used without the permission of his family.

So how can you help Julie Chambers?  She has asked Facebook to remove her daughter's photo from the site but they have done nothing (Respect, Mark Zuckerberg!) so she has linked up with Hoax Slayer to publicise her story and asking anyone who has put the photo on their own wall to please delete it. So if you have, or know anyone who has, please make sure you do.

You can find a link to Hoax Slayer's page here and Julie's story here

If you have put any other photos of sick children on your Wall please delete those too. The chances are they are being used without the permission of the family. And don't send on these hoaxes and scams to other people.

One of my pet hates is Facebook hoaxes and those righteously indignant 'Please forward this e-mail to everyone in the known universe to right some terrible social wrong' (which probably hasn't happened in the first place0. You know the sort, 'Hover over my name... blah, blah, blah'. People just pass them on without a second thought. I know I drive my friends mad by always challenging them and posting links to show that it's all a load of rubbish but maybe I'm just more cynical (or less gullible). If someone sends me a 'story' about how some good old British men have been sent to prison for painting a poppy on a mosque wall while some nasty old Muslim defaced a war memorial and only got a slapped wrist I want to know the story behind it.  That particular one turned out to be a story which originated from the English Defence League and the poor old British men turned out to be members of several hardcore racist groups and had a history of sustained attacks on Muslims and their property. Puts a whole different slant on it doesn't it. I'm glad to say it's passed on to at least one of my children.. The Boy's girlfriend sent him a video about a dolphin cull. The first thing he did was check it out online. It turns out the video footage has been largely faked.

One friend recently said 'but it doesn't hurt'. Well maybe not, but equally it lulls people into a false sense of security. They think if they follow the instructions their account is safe from hackers/aliens/Justin Bieber but often these hoaxes are started by scammers and will actually make your account less secure   It takes a few minutes to check them out on,,, better still, join their Facebook pages then you'll get details of all the latest hoaxes and scams before they land on your Wall.  It may stop the sort of heartache and distress that has been caused to Julie Chambers.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The New Years (Dis)Honours List or How to Get a Knighthood Without Really Trying...

Well, another Honours List is published and yet again, amazingly I know, my name hasn't appeared on it. According to the website, the majority of honours went to 'ordinary' people which may explain it. I'm obviously not ordinary enough.

Clearly having too much time on my hands, I've actually read through the full list and it does, indeed, contain the names of many ordinary people who have done extraordinary things but equally, it seems the quickest way to a knighthood these days is to be a civil servant, party lackey or donor or work in the city.  David Cameron's idea of  The Big Society, you know, the one where we all work for nothing to ensure the continuation of public services that the government should be paying for, seems to mean Big Wallets and Big Bungs.  Of course, any suggestion that our Dear Leader(s) has used the Honours List to scratch the backs of the party faithful would be horribly disingenuous, but since the Coalition came to power, the number of w bankers and city boys who have been honoured has risen to about a third from just handful previously.

So here is my own personal list of the Undeservingly Honoured:

Andrew Witty - The Chief Executive of GlaxoSmithKline, which agreed last year to pay a record $53bn fine in the US. This was in relation to charges that GSK have defrauded the US health system, Medicaid, by overcharging, paying doctors 'advisory fees' to ensure they recommended GSK drugs, tried to persuade doctors to prescribe drugs that were not approved by the regulators for certain conditions such as anti-depressants as  slimming aids and marketed drugs which had known, dangerous side effects. 

Paul Ruddock - wait a minute, I hear you say, Mr Ruddock is an expert on medieval art, chairman of the V&A and on the board of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Surely he should be honoured for his services to the art world?  But this same Mr Ruddock made his money from hedge funds and short selling and he personally profited from the collapse of Northern Rock, which you and me, but probably not him, have had to pay to bail out. Oh, and he also donated $500,000 to the Conservative Party but that's probably just a coincidence right?

John Buchanan - Chairman of Vodafone and the man who has overseen the disappearance of billions of pounds of profit, money that belonged by rights to the country, into a tangled network of offshore avoidance schemes. A rough estimate of the amount lost to the nation's coffers is £25 million but that doesn't include the lastest 'scam' uncovered by Private Eye (simply the best £1.50 you can spend) which looks to be every bit as big.  Fortunately for 'Sir' John, his very cosy relationship with Dave Hartnett, who sounds like a secondary school history teacher but really is Britain's top tax man (honoured with a CB in 2003), meant that he could persuade HMRC, over a very expensive lunch or two, to look the other way. If you're with Vodafone, leave now, vote with your feet, don't let Vodafone get away with it again

James Lupton - one of the elite group of Conservatives who got to have dinner with Dave in return for a £50,000 donation to Tory funds. He liked it so much that he donated £105,000 and got a CBE for his troubles.  He could have had lunch with me for a fraction of that and I'd have been a damn sight more entertaining!

Ruby Macgregor-Smith - never heard of her? Me neither, but as the boss of Mitie, an outsourcing company, she signed a business leaders' letter backing Herr Chancellor George Osbourne's austerity programme. The letter promised that the private sector could provide employment for all the redundant public sector workers, a claim that has subsequently proved to resemble the contents of my septic tank. A DBE for you, my girl!

Jamie Bowden - one of the 'extraordinary people' in the public sector who were honoured, Mr Bowden, our man in Bahrain,  became and apologist for the Bahraini government's brutal crackdown on dissidents during the Arab Spring uprising.  In a newletter to local businessmen he commented that 'It was a great relief to all of us when the government was able to re-establish order on the streets', scant relief to the families of the hundreds of protestors who were killed or arrested and tortured by the state.  Mr Bowden also welcomed the use of Saudi tanks against protesters in order to stop those naughty little A-rabs getting above themselves.  Don't they know that Western democracy is the only way forward? How about a CMG for your troubles?

Andrew Tyler - Chief Operating Officer at the MoD's purchasing organistion and the MoD's second highest earner, he was responsible for procuring the kit for our boys in Afghanistan between 2006 and 2011. His procurement skills were such that he was brought in front of the public accounts committee to answer questions on some of his more 'inspired' procurement decision.... like refuelling planes which can't fly in combat zones and the multi-billion pound delay to aircraft carriers. As he quietly slipped off back into the private sector with a CBE in his back pocket to try out his exemplary procurement skills there, he commented that the MoD procurement unit was ''the most efficient and effective defence acquisition organisation in the world'. Oh really!

Helena Bonham-Carter - she's a bloody actress, for God's sake!

and finally...

Peter Bazalgette - From his early days at Auntie Beeb, 'Baz' as he's known to his friends, rose through the ranks to the heady heights of Chairman of Endemol UK. Sir Peter was knighted for his 'services to broadcasting'. These 'services' include bringing into our homes such pinnacles of broadcasting achievement as Big Brother, which gave us the universal delights of Jade Goody and Deal or No Deal, possibly the most pointless show on television. Although we can't actually blame him for creating them; we have the Dutch (BB) and the French (Deal or No Deal) to blame for that, he was instrumental in turning them into the global formats they now are. Baz is a scion of Sir Joseph Bazalgette, the man who invented sewers in Victorian times and who was knighted for his system that removed sewage from every home in the capital. How ironic is it then, that two generations later, his great grandson is honoured for bringing a pile of shit right back into our homes!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The one in which I take up Zumba

Well, you know what they say, New Year, new you, so in the spirit of things I decided that now was the right time to start a new exercise routine.  I'm not really one for the gym.  I don't get the point of pounding the rubber on a running machine - all that sweat and you don't even get anywhere - and spinning just mystifies me. Why on earth does anyone want to sit on a static bike, pedal like buggery and pay someone for the privilege. Why not just get on a real, moving bike and pedal through the countryside for free?  Likewise rowing machines. Just get down to a rowing club and do the real thing.

As a former student of the Legat School of Russian Ballet until just shy of my 23rd birthday, I do like to have a bit of a dance so zumba classes seemed like a good bet.  I looked into classes for months but they were always on days or evening when I have other commitments so I was delighted (sort of) to discover almost by accident that the mother of one the The Girl's friends does zumba classes in the next village - and on a night when I am free. (Damn!)   I mentioned it to my friend, neighbour and fellow blogger, A Modern Military Mother, whose brain is so addled by her New Year detox regime that she agreed straight away to be my fellow-in-public-humiliation.

So the allotted evening came and clad in suitable sporty attire (her) and a pair of  'Chav Mum' sweatpants, as my dear children so charmingly call them,  a totally unsuitable top, The Boy's size 11 sports socks and trainers that are a size too small (me) we set off for the Social Club in the next village.

Once we had eventually found the class, I discovered to my horror that it was full of people I knew. That really wasn't in the plan at all.  I don't mind making a tit of myself in front of strangers but shaking my booty in front of people I knew was not what I had planned.  Still, it was too late to back out now.

The warm up started, so far so good.  AMMM and I kept pace quite well, managed not to stand on anyone's toes or knock them off their feet with our exuberant moves and were only slightly out of breath. But then we moved onto the real thing.

The Teacher showed us the moves, which were fine in semi-slow motion but as soon as the music went on and we realised the pace of the dances, all was pretty much lost.  If we finished a sequence of moves facing the right way it was a bonus.  At the end of the first dance AMMM sidled over to me and asked if it was nearly over. We'd managed 15 minutes.  'I need water', she croaked. We looked at each other. Neither of us had even thought to bring any. Fortunately a friend came to the rescue and offered me some of hers. The urge to drain the bottle was nearly overpowering but I sipped it delicately to take the edge off my thirst.

The Teacher showed us the next routine, exhorting us to be 'sexy'. OK to say if you have a pert bum and a body where nothing wobbles, but when shaking your booty looks like a tsunami in slow motion, sexy it isn't!

As the class progressed, so did the complication level of the routines. By now my main concern was not causing anyone else a serious injury and I thanked god that we were in a social club and not an exercise studio with, horror, mirrors.  I could imagine I looked like Beyonce even if the reality was more James Corden.  At one point I caught sight of myself in one of the windows. It wasn't pretty!

To say I checked my watch every few minutes was no exaggeration but we made it to the end.  The Teacher had worked up a slight sheen. I was leaking from every pore and my face was a mottled scarlet colour but, oh my goodness, was it fun! So much fun that we'll be back next week, a bit more prepared but ready to Zumba - and with a good supply of water

This is how I imagine I look....

This is probably nearer the reality!

Friday, January 6, 2012

The one in which I cock up Communion and invade a private space

Happy New Year everybody! I hope it brings to you and yours everything that you deserve and a bit more besides.  Well, since we last spoke my blog and I have both celebrated a birthday. Bloggie is a year old and I am somewhat older, but that's all you'll get out of me!

I had hoped to post earlier on in 2012 but Mr Blogger had other ideas and after spending days (well, hours at least) writing a round of the weird and wacky in 2011, at the very last moment, Mr Blogger suffered an unexplained dose of festive fallout and deleted the whole bloody thing. So much for Auto Save! So I will rewrite it when I have a minute but in the meantime I wanted to post something.

As you will know, dear reader, we recently moved to a lovely little village a bit further down the Wylye Valley from where we were before. It's a great place and rarely a day goes past when I don't wonder if I'm not living in a Harry Enfield sketch, there are so many interesting characters. And for such a tiny village it has a ridiculous number of writers, artists, sculptors and musicians too. It's also unusual as it is quite feudal. One half of the village is pretty much owned by one family who have lived here since the 14th Century while the other end is owned by the nouvelle arrivistes who came with shedloads of money in the 1950s. One family has history, the other has money. 

My mother always told me 'never underestimate how important it is to be seen at church in a village' so come Christmas Day we decided to go, partly because I do like churches (the buildings that is) and partly to offer moral support to a friend, a professional musician, who had been gently press-ganged into playing the organ for the family service.

He's a stauch atheist and not great lover of organised religion but he decided to take one for the team and, providing he didn't have to play any happy clappy modern stuff, he agreed to do it. He had threatened a bit of Van Halen as we arrived but in the end opted for something a little more traditional.

We've never been inside the church although I've visited the graveyard several times. I'm a bit of a graveyard groupie myself. I love wandering around, reading the headstones and seeing who's buried there. I'm particularly curious about a stone that lays just in front of the entrance to the church. Under it reposes the body of one of the servants from 'the Big 'Ouse' who requested that her mortal remains be buried there according to the inscription. I wonder why?  Was it because she felt treated like a doormat in life so she thought she might as well carry it on into the hereafter or was it because she was an awkward old bird and knows how superstitious some people (like me) are of walking over graves, so she had herself put in the most inconvenient spot. Maybe her favourite expression was 'over my dead body' and now we really are.

Anyway, we arrived at the church, which is almost next door, at the same time as 'The Family with History', who are lovely people that we have met socially several times.  We exchanged Christmas greetings and followed them into the church. Having not been inside before we just followed them. To my embarrassment we ended up sitting in a private section of the church which is just reserved for 'The Families of the Village'. In the olden days we'd probably have ended up in the stocks. With other family members pouring in behind us it was impossible to turn round and go out again we had no choice but to slip into a pew at the back, having been told by a member of 'The Family with Money' that he wanted the whole of the pew in front of us for his mother. Probably didn't want to catch rickets from us or something.  I suggested to The Husband that we sneak out but he told me in no uncertain terms that this was a Church and we had every right to be there. He's never been much of a lover of tradition, bless him.  So we brazened it out, even though the sign of peace didn't quite make it to our pew!

As Communion was being offered (and I was feeling a little peckish at the time) I decided to go up and take it.  I have a very mixed religious heritage and although I was baptised by an Anglican Bishop in Iran, my formative years were at a Free Church. I was even a Covenanter, which was a youth group for young Free Church goers although that was mainly because I was shit-hot at the weekly Bible Quiz! Nothing like a bit of Holy Competition.

So I took my place in line and waited..  Eventually my turn came and I knelt down in a space at the altar, head slightly tilted back, eyes cast down waiting for the body of Christ.  Reverend Mary, who was offering Communion looked down at me. 'Just a blessing, dear?' she enquired gently. 'No', I said, 'Communion please', tilting my head back, tongue out slightly. She looked at me and I looked at her. What was I supposed to do?  Point to my mouth and say 'gimme the Body!' 

Eventually she popped the holy wafer in my mouth and I waited for a bit of  'The Blood' to come my way. It was only then that I noticed all the others had their hands cupped in front of them and their heads bowed and she was putting the wafer in their hands. Clearly Communion was handled slightly differently here. As I had my sip of communion wine Reverend Mary leaned down and said kindly, 'Here, we take it in the hand, not in the mouth'. Well the body of Christ was very nearly snorted out of my nose! I'm all for a bit of double entendre but she surely had to realise what she had said. I smiled as best I could and hurried away from the altar, trying desperately not to choke. As the service was just about over I slipped out of the church and waited until The Husband came and found me leaning on a headstone, hysterical with laughter.

There's a fair chance we may not be invited back!