Monday, April 30, 2007

Having it all?

The Times reports on its front page today that:

' The first evidence of an end to the “have-it-all” generation of women emerges today with thousands of nursery places lying empty because mothers are choosing to care for young children themselves.'

Well, I'm not sure that will surprise many of my friends. Perhaps it is just the little corner of suburbia where we live, but many of the people I know took a career break when their children were born. Although most of us are now working again, our working lives have been transformed. The exhorbitant cost of childcare in London makes it hardly worth working fulltime, so most Mums are working flexibly, perhaps from home or in a school, so that their work can tie in with their children's schooling. Many have made large salary sacrifices.

The notable exceptions to this are those who are lucky enough to have grandparents or other relatives living locally and willing to help out with childcare on a regular basis. But then again, many grandparents themselves are still working or just don't want to be tied down in that way, while some of us just do not have family nearby.

When I gave birth I also took a break from a successful professional career, in what had once been a male dominated environment, simply because the career structure was too patriarchal to be flexible enough. I always intended to return one day, but my children had to come first. They had 'optional extras' and needed security and continuity of care. Yet actually there have only been a very few years when I did no work at all and now, being officially a carer, there are also many other things to consider. Fulltime work is no longer an option. I have plans for a future career change, but life keeps getting in the way.

Ironically, I grew up in the feminist 70's and left university in the very year that Helen Gurley Brown's book 'Having It All' was published. Being a fan back then of Cosmopolitan magazine , I really believed her.

I don't now.

Sunday, April 29, 2007

Musical interlude

Son 2 got up at 6am yesterday. As the morning paper had not yet arrived I switched on the laptop and amused myself by surfing around music videos on YouTube as well as reading other peoples blogs.

A few hours later son 1 emerges. By then I have breakfasted, done some chores and gone back to YouTube. I am listening to the inimitable Tina Turner singing River Deep, Mountain High, a song I have always loved. He looks at me in disgust and tells me to turn it off. I am still not sure which was more embarassing for him, my choice of music or that his middle-aged mother actually visits YouTube.

In the evening I decided to change the song on my MySpace page. I try to do this at least once a month, but it is always a hard decision to know what to add. This time I settled on Jeff Buckley's Hallelujah, so for any of you who visit, I hope you like it. If you haven't visited MySpace do take a look, there are lots of writers and interesting people on there - good for networking and it's not all kids!

Friday, April 27, 2007

We don't need no education....

Thoughts for the day:

How can a teacher who has left a school under a cloud get a job in another school just up the road, in the same local authority, and ruin the lives of more children?

Can it be a coincidence that two teenagers, who have been in the same forms for four years, in two different schools, both have severe mental health problems?

Why do schools never believe that they have a bullying problem?

Why do teachers always blame the family first when things are going wrong, rather than look at what is happening on their own premises?

Answers on a postcard please.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Love and marriage

It seems I may have been unwittingly topical yesterday. Thank you, stay at home dad for leaving this comment last night:

'Strangely, I picked up the ES this evening and it seems Jones is currently divorcing Dhaliwal and he's been chucked out of the marital house.'

This can only be a Good Thing. If you don't know why, read her view of marriage, together with his view of male/female relationships and the view of a (cynical?) outsider.

I suspect any divorce will spawn endless columns which I will yet again be sucked in to reading (because actually Liz Jones can write well) and no doubt another book deal for one or both.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Cartoons and confessions

I have a confession to make. Most weekends I buy and read a copy of the Mail on Sunday. Not for the politics, I should add, as much of the commentary in this particular paper makes me want to roll on the floor laughing or tear my hair out in despair.

I buy the paper for two reasons:

1. It often has a free DVD or CD and son 2 is obsessed with collecting these, even though he never watches or listens to them.

2. The back page of You magazine, which comes with it.

I used to really enjoy You magazine. Along with the frippery and aspirational lifestyle stuff I also found quite a bit of interesting family/society/relationship based journalism which on the whole did not share the political bias of the main paper. I think these articles have been less frequent and less good recently, but the back page of the magazine still grabs me.

I love the feminist cartoons 'Demented' by Jacky Fleming. I can so relate to them!

Then there is 'Liz Jones's Diary'.It is compulsive reading as I sit there thinking is this woman for real? I have never known anyone in real life who is so self-obsessed, vain and shallow and prepared to put up with such a seemingly bad relationship just to have a man around. The column is carrying the story on now from where the collected confessional columns in the book end. I don't know how much of the truth is embellished for journalistic effect but the juxtaposition with Jacky Fleming's cartoons can be very funny.

The spoilt whinging of Liz Jones could, if taken too seriously, set back the gains of feminism by years!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007


I was fascinated by this post on plotting on Kate Harrison's blog today. Not least because of the mention of Google Notes, which I actually discovered for myself a few days ago. Is it new, or had I just never noticed its existence before?

Anyway, I can't resist something new to waste time on, so I have set up Google Notes here on my laptop and will no doubt spend time working out how to use it rather than actually working over the next few days.

Oh and did you all notice that Kate won the novel race, knocking out the first draft of her next novel in superhuman time. I am so glad I didn't join in this time, but congratulations, Kate, and thanks for the interesting blog post today!

Monday, April 23, 2007

A day to treasure

Today was one of those days worth noting.

I finally finished my OU essay just in time to catch the deadline. I tidied up and shelved my ever-growing pile of 'books to be read' and 'how to write' books.

Most importantly I watched as son 1, whose confidence has been so badly destroyed by bullying at school, took a courageous step towards reclaiming his life. Then I went to have a coffee with the dear friend whose caring intervention has helped to make that possible.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Virginia Tech again

I was fascinated by this article in the Sunday Times today and by the ongoing and fairly balanced debate on the website.

What is worrying is that in this article, and elsewhere in the media, Cho has been described as having had autism, apparently based solely on an interview with an elderly relative in South Korea. Perhaps time will tell if that is correct, but what is clearer is that Cho Seung-hui had mental illness. Autism is a developmental disability, not a mental illness, though it can co-exist with mental health problems just as mental illness can co-exist with any other condition. It would be very sad if autism were to be prematurely blamed for this tragedy. Read the view of the National Autistic Society here.

Jackie also pointed out in my comments that Lionel Shriver's 'We need to talk about Kevin' is another book about a high school massacre. I have the book but because I know a little about the theme I haven't dared to read it yet.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Meeting time

At 9am we had a multi-professionals meeting for son 1 who has a mental health problem. I find these meetings both very frustrating and sometimes upsetting, simply because the various professionals seem unable to work as a team in terms of setting common goals and sharing information.

Today was a perfect example, where one professional who should have been there had not even been invited. But the lady I had been asked to invite at short notice turned up, on time, and was very nice. The meeting was actually more satisfactory than some and I managed to hold it together for the whole session without getting upset or angry.

One thing that health, education and social services workers never seem to understand is that they often cause parents and carers far more aggravation than the actual caring role itself does. Everything is governed by budget constraints and service availability, by the need to meet government targets and show the best possible result in league tables, rather than by what is best for the individual. To get what you need you not only have to know the system well but to obtain advice and support from others who can be independent and are less emotionally involved than you are. I took an advocate along with me today and I think it was really beneficial. I can't imagine what it must be like to have to face this sort of meeting if you are new to the system or don't have English as a first language.

After that meeting the large weekly shop in Tesco seemed almost relaxing this afternoon!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A sadly topical subject

Jodi Picoult is building a reputation for commercial books which deal with difficult and emotional subjects. She is often considered to have a good sense of the topical issues of the day. Her latest book 'Nineteen Minutes' is just out in hardback in the UK (published today according to Amazon.) Its subject is...a high school massacre. You couldn't get much more topical than that in the week of the terrible shootings at Virginia Tech.

I was thinking of writing about what might lead a young person to commit such a crime, but I am no psychologist. There just seem to be a few possible clues...a lonely young man with no friends and few social skills. Gun laws which allowed him to easily purchase weapons, even though he had allegedly been a mental health service user in the past, and pro-gun comments that there might have been less bloodshed if students and teachers were all able to carry guns on campus to defend themselves. A society in which the South Korean perpetrator, Cho Seung-hui, was described by the police as a 'registered alien', even though he had lived in the USA for most of his life and was fluent in English. His history of disturbed, violent writing, even though the concerns of his teachers seem to have gone unheeded.

I think anyone who has been to university or college will have known of people who seemed alienated in this way, who just didn't fit in. How can anyone predict which might be the one who will prove to be a risk to self or others, or who will have a total breakdown? I remember, as a second year student, listening to the music of the young man in the next door room, who was sitting his final exams. He played one tune over and over, the 'Theme from MASH' (Suicide is painless....). Thankfully he didn't do anything about it.

PS Since I am old, it was actually the original I heard, this TV theme not the Manic Street Preachers, but their version is so much cooler!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Total confusion

So, the day started badly because I had to go to the dentist. At least, I thought I did. After wasting half the morning waiting for my appointment I duly arrived, only to be told that I should be there next week. Oh well, I needed to make an appointment for son 1 anyway, so all was not lost, but I could easily have done that by phone. Came home to double check my appointment reminder and damn it, they were right and I was wrong. That is the second time in a week I have got muddled about a date. I blame my hormones!

Rather belatedly, I rushed off to my voluntary work. I didn't actually DO much there today, but caught up with some colleagues and had some interesting and very informative conversations. After a quick supermarket visit I returned home to send off some courtesy emails prior to an important multi-professionals meeting about son 1 on Friday. I got a reply asking me to arrange for yet another professional to attend. Am feeling rather peeved because a) it is not really my job to invite the professionals and b) it is such short notice that it will probably be impossible to get them along anyway. But no doubt I will do my best to arrange something tomorrow and if I don't succeed then at least I will be able to say I tried.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

All work...

A day of work today, punctuated by answering personal emails, running down to the shops and some forward planning. It must be nearly time to turn off the computer and pick up a book. In the meantime we are watching the rerun of last week's episode of The Apprentice as Hubby was out on Wednesday evening and missed it. I love that show!

The Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction shortlist for 2007 has just been announced. I haven't read any of them!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Shopping confessions and guns

The school holiday is over, the sun is shining, the kids are both doing well and right now life seems quite fun. So what did I do to celebrate...well, some shopping of course!

Firstly a Kipling bag from eBay. Did I tell you I love Kipling bags? They are so light, hold loads and are also very practical, because they can be thrown in the washing machine. But they are expensive. Anyway I saw a vintage (2003) bag, new with tags, and I won it! It is gorgeous, a spacious tote bag in a pastel dot print of blue, green yellow and pink with pink handles. Guaranteed to brighten up my day when I use it.

Then we were sent a book token at Easter, in lieu of eggs for Hubby and I. I offered it to him but he said I could use it, so I took myself off to Waterstone's on Saturday. Our local branch (formerly Hammicks/Ottakars) is small but I had already decided just to look at the 3 for 2 paperback offer. I ended up buying Disobedience by Naomi Alderman, Love Life by Ray Kluun and Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster...quite a variety.

As I write I am watching the BBC news about a horrifying shooting at a university in Virginia, USA. We are currently working hard to convince son 1 that the world is safe, that he doesn't need to feel threatened every time he leaves the house, yet this sort of news, added to the spate of recent gun murders more locally in London, just undermines our efforts. How can we lie to him?

Friday, April 13, 2007

Thoughts on the novel

What with everything else that has been going on here recently, I have rather taken my eye off the ball in respect of the novel. It's mainly a matter of time pressure, but also feeling uncertain about how on earth I can expand my writing style to novel length and wondering which genre the book might fit. How would you categorise Jodi Picoult's books, for example? Just in the catch-all of women's fiction perhaps...

I don't see my story as being chick lit, or even hen lit. Some elements of the plot are just too dark and although I am using a first person narrator, I don't write in that light, witty voice of chick lit. Anyway, I am far too old to write chick lit. Heavens I'm old enough to be the mother of a chick lit heroine, and I don't think even Mum lit is supposed to refer to the heroine's mother!!!

I have been told that I do have a distinctive voice in my writing so, since I seem to have found it by accident, I don't want to try to change it just to fit in with current trends. It doesn't really matter to me what genre my novel would fall into as I know what I want to write about and roughly how I want to do it. But should I ever be lucky enough to finish the manuscript and send it out into the big wide world, that is what publishers and agents would be looking at.

To give myself another boost I have subscribed to a magazine called 'The New Writer', which I hadn't even heard of until last week. The first one arrived a couple of days ago and today my copies of Writers' News and Writing Magazine popped through the letter box. With son 2 at home it is too noisy in the house to concentrate on actual writing of any kind, so I think I shall just have to content myself with reading about writing for a few more days.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Playing away and essay writing

Son 2 had a longer day at playscheme today because they all went on an outing to a specialist adventure park for people with disabilities. I think he enjoyed it, though apparently he spent the whole day in the indoor facility playing on a computer and refused to go outside. He is not an outdoors child really ....and to think we paid extra for him to do what he would otherwise have done at home! But actually the whole experience of going somewhere different and the journey on a big coach is good for him, because people with autism find changes to their normal routine very hard to cope with and do need to expand their horizons sometimes.

I made the most of the extra free time by working on my OU assignment and whoo hoo, it is half written! I have a week before I need to post it, so hopefully I will be able to get it in on time. That makes me feel much better!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A short story

You can tell it is still school holidays because I have done nothing interesting to write about. In fact today I haven't even left the house.

I have, however, spent far too much time on the internet. Yet again my eye was caught by something in The Guardian books blog. Apparently the National Short Story Prize shortlist is due to be announced tomorrow on the website Story.

This is a great website if you are interested in short stories, either as a reader or writer. It includes some quality short stories which can be downloaded, by writers such as Jackie Kay, Ian Rankin, Michel Faber and Rose Tremain. I had forgotten that I had previously explored this website and found a story which really made an impression on me.

'But' by Anne Donovan is a moving look at the issues faced by people who care for relatives with disabilities in the community. It is written in Scottish dialect so does take a little more concentration for those of us less familiar wih Scotland, but is well worth the effort. Click here to read the background to the story and download the file.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Back to reality

I hope you all had a wonderful Easter break.

Our relaxing long weekend was quite successful, but today life had to restart. Hubby went back to work, I took son 2 to playscheme and did a Tesco shop, then even tackled some of the ironing mountain.

I'm stressing a bit about my next OU assignment which is nearly due and yet again I am way behind with my reading. I keep saying to myself that I will give up the course, then I stop and think that actually my marks for the first two assignments have been pretty good. Just two more assignments and an exam (argh!) to go, it will all be over by mid July. Having got so far it would be a shame to give up. But then again, I also have lots of paid work to do between now and July. Ho hum.

Monday, April 09, 2007

Books and babies

I finished The Fruit of the Tree yesterday and I absolutely loved it. In a week when plans for maternity services have been in the news, it was fascinating to have a glimpse into how things were in the late 1960's, when women stayed in maternity homes or hospital for days after having a baby, rather than be booted out after a few hours.

I had both my babies in hospital and for medical reasons stayed in several days with both of them. Whilst the experience was far from perfect, I'm not sure I would have wanted a home birth. A friend of mine had her fourth child at home a few years ago and said all she could think about throughout her labour was that because the walls were so thin, her neighbours must be able to hear it all. So much for concentrating on a stress free birth!

As it happens both my children were born early and popped out easily without medical intervention or pain relief. But I was glad that we were in a hospital when son 1 had to be rushed to intensive care straight after birth. I can't imagine how it must feel to be at home if something goes wrong and sadly it can, even in full term babies.

Whilst I think it is wonderful that home birth might be offered to all those who want it, the NHS should also be looking very carefully at greatly improving staff levels and facilities in hospitals for those who want or need to give birth there. Even thirteen years ago, when I had son 2, there was a shortage of midwives. Experienced Mums were helping out the first-timers and on my ward a patient, who happened to be a nurse as well as a new Mum, helped the staff by taking round the drinks trolley!

I also read my Mslexia magazine yesterday and now am moving on to What Was Lost. I can't wait!

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Lazy day

We are having a lazy day at home. I've got a dodgy stomach anyway (too much chocolate?) so I am quite happy to relax with the Sunday papers and a book.

I went shopping yesterday and despite going into three charity shops and three booksellers I managed to come home without buying even one book. How is that for self discipline?

I did, however, go to Debenhams to exchange an item of clothing. Whilst there I had a free cup of Earl Grey tea in the Gold Card lounge (one of the ownership perks of that particular piece of plastic.) As soon I sank into one of the leather armchairs I regretted, of course, that I had nothing with me to read...

Friday, April 06, 2007

Weekend plans

No more targets, I fear. I have decided I can only do what I can do and I have to put myself and my health first, for once, and make use of the fact that Hubby is at home for four days to help with the boys.

A quiet weekend beckons, I think. I have lots of things I could (or should) do, such as bookkeeping work, an Open University essay and a pile of ironing. But the weather is warm and sunny, I have books to read, future writing to plan and lots of other things I actually want to do.

That will suffice for now.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Today I'm reading...

I was going to write yesterday about what I have been reading but another topic caught my eye that I just had to write about!

This week I finished A Dangerous Man by Anne Brooke. Although a little darker and more graphic than much of what I read, I really enjoyed it and read it very quickly, despite having to put it away to study for a couple of weeks. Anne is a talented writer of both poetry and prose who deserves a bigger audience.

I was just about to start What Was Lost by Catherine O'Flynn which has been getting some great blog reviews AND has been long listed for the Orange prize, when a parcel arrived in the post yesterday. It contained The Fruit of the Tree by another of my blog friends, Jacquelynn Luben and I couldn't resist starting it right away.

It is an intensely personal memoir of the early years of Jackie's marriage, including her experiences of miscarriage and cot death. I've never experienced either, but we could so easily have lost son 1 as a sick, premature newborn and I have friends who have suffered miscarriages, so I have some understanding of the emotions involved. Above all the period covered in the book is the late 1960's through to the early 70's, a time when I was still a child but old enough to remember, so I am really enjoying the period details. I'm already about half way through the book.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Jane Austen and autism

An interesting post by Shirley Dent on the Guardian books blog today has drawn my attention to the fact that a book is soon to be published which tries to explain the behaviours of Darcy and some other characters in Pride and Prejudice, by claiming that they must have been on the autistic spectrum. Darcy? An autistic sex symbol?!

Of course being a fan of Jane Austen's work and having lots of experience of autism, I had to explore this further. The author, Phyllis Ferguson Bottomer appears to have a respectable professional pedigree as a speech and language therapist. The book is being published by Jessica Kingsley Publishers, a reputable firm which publishes many books on matters relating to autism. The credentials of the book seem to be good.

However, without having read the book, I have to say it makes me feel uneasy. Yes, people in Jane Austen's time probably showed some of the characteristics of autism, even though it was not recognised as a diagnosis until the mid 20th century. But lots of people show aspects of autism, particularly men. In fact most of us probably have some features of autism in our make up. It is only when a person shows many of these features that an autistic spectrum disorder would now be diagnosed. The awkward characters described could equally have had social anxiety disorder, plain shyness or a merely an inadequate upbringing which imbued them with unattractive personal characteristics. Doesn't the title of Pride and Prejudice give something away?

Simon Baron Cohen, a widely respected professor in the field of autism (and incidentally the cousin of Sasha Baron Cohen of Ali G and Borat fame), has hypothesised that autism is merely the extreme end of the male personality. I can think of so many men (and some women) I know who show some autistic features, yet are not autistic. This might account for the fact that autism is found in approximately a ratio of four males to every female. Jane Austen may well have met men with autistic aspects to their personality, but they would have been very mild. Anyone with moderate to severe autism would back then have been locked away and hidden from view.

I don't read books to analyse characters down to the most basic level. I prefer to read books for enjoyment, which is probably why I gave up formally studying English Literature at the age of 16. However there are many alienated characters in literature, especially tortured artists. Thomas Mann frequently used the art versus life scenario in works such as Tonio Kroeger and Death in Venice. Are such characters also autistic? Where will this retrospective character analysis end and how will affect it future readings of classic works?

Perhaps this book is just jumping on the band wagon of the current media interest in autism and of course Jane Austen. In what way could it possibly help people with autism today? That is what society should really be concentrating on.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007


I'm all for recycling, though I must admit that sometimes it used to seem too much effort when we had to take things to recycling centres. Now, however, the local council is making it easier for us.

Outside our house we have wheelie bins in three different, brown and green. The only difficulty is remembering which bin to put our rubbish in. Blue is for, tin cans, plastic, paper, cardboard etc. Brown is for organic waste waste and food waste (which can only be wrapped in newspaper or special biodegradable bags which are being sold, for some reason, at the local libraries.) Green, despite what you might think, is for everything else which can't be recycled.

Then there is the collection timetable. The bins are emptied fortnightly (weekly for organic in summer), but not all on the same week so there are timetables to follow. The binmen open the bins to check contents and if they happen to spot something in a recycling bin which shouldn't be there then they do not empty the bin.

Of course we are also encouraged to recycle goods to charity shops. Regular readers will know that I am a great fan of buying books in charity shops, then later recycling them back along with our unwanted clothes. The childrens toys are generally sent to a charity shop or donated to one of the local charities which organise activities for children with special needs. I also buy many things second hand on eBay. Our house is overflowing with recycled bargains!

So recycling is easier and secondhand no longer holds the stigma that it did when I was young. Indeed we don't say secondhand, we say vintage and make a fashion statement. Let's all carry on recycling!

Monday, April 02, 2007

Holiday cheer

At the start of the two-week Easter break from school, I decided to do this little quiz to test my parenting skills ( for 'would you be' read 'are you'! ):

You Will Be a Cool Parent

You seem to naturally know a lot about parenting, and you know what kids need.
You can tell when it's time to let kids off the hook, and when it's time to lay down the law.
While your parenting is modern and hip, it's not over the top.
You know that there's nothing cool about a parent who acts like a teenager... or a drill sergeant!

Not sure if my sons would agree, but it makes me feel good!

Sunday, April 01, 2007


No, not spring cleaning. I don't do that (if I can help it!)

I've been rearranging my blog a little, trying to make it prettier. I've put the Jacquie Lawson monthly e-card at the top of the blog as it is such a nice graphic. If you haven't already discovered Jacquie Lawson cards do click on it and take a look. These e-cards are really fab and for a small annual membership you can send as many as you want. I love them.

Thanks to Joanna's blog, I have also discovered Zoomclouds. So I now have a Technorati-style cloud in my side bar which references what I have written recently rather than just my label headings. Some of the content is, um, interesting, but it's a fun addition to my labels listing which will serve as the main index using wide categories.

I've also listed a few more books on LibraryThing so hopefully there may be more variety in the pictures shown. I'm not sure how this random selecting of books works...some of the books I have listed never seem to show up and others seem to outstay their welcome. Never mind, it's only a bit of fun.

School holiday has started so, depending on how much time I have, I might even try to find some more fun things to put on here. Then again perhaps I would be better using that time for reading or writing, rather than procrastinating!