Friday, 25 October 2013

Mind the gap!

On Monday my youngest daughter, Maggie will turn 6. She wants Playmobil pirates and penguins and a mermaid birthday cake. The following weekend she's having a party with the usual Pass the Parcel and Musical Statues games, with her whole class invited.
Talking of parties, tomorrow night my eldest daughter, Lorna is going to the party of a sixth form boy. She is fourteen. There will be drink there and sixteen, seventeen and eighteen year old boys. I am taking deep breaths! She is going with friends and I know I have to trust her to make the right decisions.
This is what life is often like when you have children with a larger age gap between them. I can spend my evenings swapping between listening to Maggie read an Oxford Reading Tree book to helping 11year old Connie remember her lines for a Year 7 Drama lesson, to assisting Lorna with revision before an assessment. It's a house with the giggles and tears of a small child, the door slamming and craziness of a preteen and the sarcasm and wit of a teenager.
Days out aren't always easy, the rosy view I had of being out with my family together turns out not to be as straightforward as I'd imagined. One of them is almost always bored. We have realised it's often better for everybody if one or two are left behind (with grandparents in the case of the younger two).  Maggie really doesn't enjoy shopping and Lorna hates tagging along on day trips meant for younger children. Enforced togetherness just for the sake of it doesn't work. That said when they are all out together it can be wonderful, I was watching them on the beach in France earlier this year. They'd marked out a long jump track and were taking it in turns to see how far they could jump but were mostly just laughing with each other.
When Lorna is taking her A levels, Connie will be in her first GCSE year and Maggie will still be at primary school in Y4 and I will probably be asked to organise a Victorian Day costume with two days notice again.
I've been reading The Gruffalo and Monkey Puzzle before bed for years, have seen infant TV crazes go from the Teletubbies to the Tweenies to Balamory to In The Night Garden to Mike the Knight. I know the words to all the songs from Tangled, can name every member of One Direction and know who Tyler Oakley and Zalfie are.
And I wouldn't have it any other way.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

Out There

I've just watched the second part of Stephen Fry's series on what it means to be gay in different parts of the world. It is a hugely important series, we're living in a world where on the one hand we're celebrating as more and more countries pass equal marriage laws whilst at the other end of the scale laws exist criminalising homosexuality or outlawing "homosexual propaganda." In too many parts of the world it's a frightening and dangerous time to be LGBT. Homosexuality is illegal in 78 countries, it's illegal to be a lesbian in  49 countries. In 5 countries same sex activity is a crime punishable by death.
I am straight, laws passed giving LGBT people more rights or taking them away do not directly affect me. I am not victimised by homophobia. This doesn't mean I nor any of us should sit back and pretend we're not affected at all. What sort of world do we want to live in? We cannot and should not accept that somebody is treated differently, as a threat to our children, as somebody to be feared, despised or ridiculed just because of their sexuality.
I do not "tolerate" gay people, neither do I "accept" them. I don't say I tolerate or accept straight people so why would I need to for non-heterosexuals? People just are and if I'm going to judge somebody it certainly won't be because of who they are attracted to.
I'm more minded to say what I won't tolerate and what I won't accept. I won't accept homophobia, not the laws being used to threaten LGBT people in places like Russia and Uganda, not the "therapies" used to supposedly cure gayness and not the casual use of the word gay as an insult.
 Today is Spirit Day when people are asked to either wear purple or go purple online to support the stand against the bullying of LGBT youth. I've just taken these statistics from Stonewall's website from their School Report 2012 looking at the experience of gay young people in Britain's schools:
  • Homophobic bullying continues to be widespread in Britain’s schools. More than half(55 per cent) of lesbian, gay and bisexual pupils have experienced direct bullying
  • The use of homophobic language is endemic. Almost all (99 per cent) gay young people hear the phrases  ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘you’re so gay’ in school and ninety six per cent of gay pupils hear homophobic language such as ‘poof’ or ‘lezza’
  • Three in five gay pupils who experience homophobic bullying say that teachers who witness the bullying never intervene
  • Only half of gay pupils report that their schools say homophobic bullying is wrong, even fewer do in faith schools (37 per cent)
  • Homophobic bullying has a profoundly damaging impact on young people’s school experience. One in three (32 per cent) gay pupils experiencing bullying change their future educational plans because of it and three in five say it impacts directly on their school work
  • Gay people who are bullied are at a higher risk of suicide, self-harm and depression. Two in five (41 per cent) have attempted or thought about taking their own life directly because of bullying and the same number say that they deliberately self-harm directly because of bullying.
To quote Edmund Burke, "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing." Perhaps there is little I can really do here, I'm aware I'm an armchair warrior but I don't think that's enough of an excuse to just sit here and accept what happens with a rueful shake of the head. At the very least the more of us straight allies who stand shoulder to shoulder with the LGBT community the stronger the message sent out to homophobes across the globe.

Wednesday, 16 October 2013


Firstly you may have noticed the title of my blog has changed. Hair Past a Freckle still exists but will now be just for book related posts. This blog will be for my general bletherings about whatever I feel like writing about. The title was inspired by Charles Dickens' quote, "Procrastination is the thief of time".
Welcome to my not really new as I've moved old posts here blog!

It was my birthday on Sunday, I was 41. I spent much of the day reading and writing. As a young child through to my teenage years I wrote all the time, poems mostly, but stories too. At some point though I stopped for some reason, even though still wrote in my head. I just never put anything down on paper. After my brother died last year however, I started another blog, After Simon as I felt my head was going to explode unless I wrote the words down. It was as if I had no choice, I didn't so much want to write as needed to. Since then it feels like the door I closed on my writing has been opened, firstly through blog posts but eventually I ignored that niggling critic and started writing a book. It's very early stages and may only ever be for my eyes, I don't yet know how I'll feel when it's finished. It doesn't matter though, it just feels good finally admitting to myself that I need to write and that there doesn't need to be a reason other than that.
In the meantime I've been reading tips from other writers which mostly seem to boil down to eating toast and spending too long on Twitter - both of which I'm already very good at!
And on that note, the toaster has just popped...

Thursday, 3 October 2013

Mum, the Milibands and the Mail

It's my mum's birthday today. She should have been 61, instead she is frozen in my memory at 42, the age she was when bronchopneumonia secondary to metastatic breast cancer stole her from us. She was diagnosed with cancer just a month after her 40th birthday, I was 20 and my brothers 17 and 16 respectively. We watched her undergo gruelling chemotherapy, cried with her when we learned her treatment was palliative, tried to become used to seeing her without hair, listened to her vomiting day after day in the bathroom, saw the cancer cruelly invade her bones. And finally we sat with her in that hospital cubicle as she ceased to recognise us and then thanks to the morphine drifted into a sleep that we watched over holding our breaths as we waited for her to take her last.
This November she will have been dead for 19 years, I have spent most of my adult life motherless. She knew I was engaged but missed my wedding, has never known her grand-daughters, hasn't grieved with me as I've mourned the death of aunts and uncles, my grandad and my brother (would my brother still be alive if she was?) She hasn't seen the woman I've become.
Yet she shaped me. We frequently disagreed and had she been alive I know we'd have engaged in some strong discussions. Our political views were different and I wonder what she would have made of my parenting. I suspect she may not have agreed with all my decisions and probably would have said as much, but she raised me to believe in my choices. I always knew I was unconditionally loved by her and my dad and between them they gave me the confidence and self-belief to be who I choose to be. And that's what being a parent is all about really isn't it? No matter how you choose to raise a child your ultimate aim is for that child to grow into an adult secure enough in your love and respect to make their own choices in life.
So it is that as I remember Mum I'm struck by the thought that Ralph Miliband's sons are adults raised in a loving family and given the self-belief to make decisions based on their own consciousness. The Daily Mail has been roundly and rightly criticised  this week for its disgusting slur on a dead man based on a diary entry of a 17 year old. There can be no defence for this sort of gutter journalism. Ultimately though would it really have mattered if Ralph had hated Britain? Ed is not Ralph and whilst he may have been influenced by his father it's clear he's chosen a different political path. Are we all to be judged by the beliefs of our parents? We don't have to go back very far to a time when institutionalised racism and homophobia were commonplace. How many of our parents or grandparents would have supported equal marriage back in the 50s, 60s or 70s? How many casually referred to "going for a chinky", watched Love Thy Neighbour or referred to children with Down's Syndrome as mongols? We are not the same. Our parents made mistakes, we have learned from them. We should not be judged by their beliefs but by our own. Because despite their mistakes they gave us the confidence to make up our own minds.
So yes the Mail's lies are sickening and shame the free Press and I understand Ed's disgust and admire him for standing up to Dacre. Were the story true though would it have influenced my vote? Not a bit.