Tuesday 29 September 2015

Don't ask

When Emily Bingham of Michigan went on to Facebook urging people not to pester women about their plans for children, she had no idea it would strike such a chord that her plea has been shared some 40,000 times.

She said that endless probing about babies-to-be, without any knowledge of the woman's personal circumstances, can be hugely upsetting and intrusive.

She wrote: "This is just a friendly PSA that people's reproductive and procreative plans and decisions are none of your business. NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS. You don't know who is struggling with infertility or grieving a miscarriage or dealing with health issues. You don't know who is having relationship problems or is under a lot of stress or the timing just isn't right. You don't know who is on the fence about having kids or having more kids. You don't know who has decided it's not for them right now, or not for them ever."

But mothers in particular are often so keen to have grandchildren that they raise the subject constantly. Or a couple is told their lives are "incomplete" without a child or two. Or if they have a son or daughter they're asked when they're having a complementary daughter or son. Or they're told an only child must be lonely and needs a sibling.

As someone without children, it simply never occurs to me to ask a woman about her plans for children, or more children. I wouldn't assume she even wants any, unless she says so. As Emily Bingham says, such questions can open a massive can of worms that's best left unopened.

Surprisingly enough, I can't recall my parents ever asking me if Jenny and I were planning a family. I'm not sure if it was indifference or tact, but either way it was a relief not fielding those awkward questions.

Apart from anything else, it puts a childless couple on the defensive. They're forced to justify what others see as an abnormal situation. But why should they have to defend their personal behaviour?

Some questions are best left unspoken.

Pic: Emily Bingham

Tuesday 22 September 2015

Bedroom secrets

Okay, I know you're all dying to hear my bedroom secrets. I know your curiosity is killing you. But beware, you might be shocked to the depths of your being. You might be horrified beyond belief. You might even pass out or sob uncontrollably. Very well, if you think you can handle it, here goes:

1) I seldom sleep in, I seldom nap
2) I'm invariably asleep within ten minutes
3) I'm usually up and about by 7.30 am
4) I always have bad dreams
5) I sleep on my left side or my right side, never on my back or front
6) I find it easy to get out of bed in the morning
7) I prefer a nightshirt to pyjamas
8) I sleep naked if it's warm enough
9) I read books in bed but never newspapers
10) My bedside cabinet contains my watch, my alarm clock, my glasses and a book
11) I find it hard to sleep on planes
12) I slept for 13 hours straight after arriving in Vancouver Island, Canada
13) I never take sleeping pills - they don't work and just make me feel weird
14) There are no teddy bears in our bed
15) Our hotel room in San Francisco had the creakiest bed of all time
16) We slept on a futon for several years
17) We have single duvets, which avoids duvet-hogging
18) We have breakfast in bed every Sunday morning - toast and marmalade and a cup of tea
19) We change the bed linen every....so often
20) I can have a completely coherent conversation while I'm asleep
21) My sex life is none of your business

Er, that's it. You can doze off now. Or just have some toast and marmalade.

Friday 18 September 2015

Safety first

It's a strange paradox that although we all want to feel safe and secure and protected, at the same time we do things that are absurdly reckless and dangerous.

We want to feel safe. We want to know that whatever life throws at us, whatever misfortunes we run into, we'll survive the challenges and our lives won't be ruined or ripped apart.

We seek dependable partners, we accumulate money, we buy houses, we surround ourselves with friends, we live somewhere peaceful and civilised, we look for secure long-term jobs, we avoid people we find difficult or disturbing.

At the same time though, we constantly do things that threaten our safety, put our lives at risk, and jeopardise everything we hold dear. There's a part of us that chafes at the endless safety-first approach and yearns for a bit of adventure and excitement and throwing all caution to the winds.

So we find ourselves getting hopelessly drunk, driving at crazy speeds (or both), chain smoking, jaywalking, getting into fights (well, the guys anyway), climbing wobbly ladders, not to mention bungee-jumping, sky-diving, rock-climbing and snorkelling.

I freely admit to driving too fast (on occasion), to jaywalking, to climbing wobbly ladders. And a few other reckless habits. I mean, they're not really THAT dangerous. I haven't come a cropper yet, have I? So there you are then. No need to worry.

Of course the other paradox is that it's often the thrill-seekers, the ones forever putting themselves in danger, who live to tell the tale, while Cautious Clara is unlucky enough to kill herself in a freak accident involving a faulty safety harness.

We all want to be safe. Except when we don't.

Thursday 10 September 2015

A tight fit

Is it just my impression, or are there more and more disputes over school uniforms and whether certain items of clothing are "appropriate" or not?

A rising number of schools seem to be adopting detailed dress codes that tell pupils what they can or can't wear, and what styles of clothing are banned because they're "indecent", "unacceptable" or "distracting".

This inevitably leads to pupils being told they're wearing something inappropriate and ordered to go home and change. And very often the child's parent complains that the school is being draconian and the clothing singled-out is quite inoffensive. Not only that, they say, but the school is drawing attention to something that would otherwise have gone unremarked-on.

The latest controversy occurred at a high school in Stoke on Trent, where two female pupils were sent home because their trousers were "too tight around the legs and bum". A male pupil was also ticked off for trousers that "made his private parts look indecent".

I have to wonder if anyone would even have noticed their "exceptionally tight" trousers if a member of staff hadn't commented on it. And so what anyway? Are tight trousers really preventing pupils from concentrating properly on their studies? Are they really damaging the school's reputation or encouraging other pupils to break the school rules? It all seems way over the top to me. A case of slightly puritanical staff reading something sexual into quite ordinary clothing.

Personally, I can't remember either of my schools ever admonishing me for "inappropriate" clothing. Either my clothing was always "appropriate" or the staff simply weren't so censorious or strait-laced. I do remember some boys at my secondary school wearing quite tight trousers and longish hair. But then, it was a single-sex school and maybe the staff felt clothing wasn't an issue because there were no girls around to be "distracted".

I guess as long as there are school dress codes, there's going to be endless controversy over whether certain pupils are breaking the code or not. And head teachers endlessly getting hot under the collar about "having to set minimum standards".

This one will run and run.

Pic: Harriet Dale of Trentham High School, Stoke on Trent

PS: There's a superb critique of school dress codes here

Thursday 3 September 2015

Refugee hell

Like many others, I'm acutely aware of the growing global refugee crisis and the terrible images of desperate people being killed and injured in their attempts to reach a safe haven.

The recent picture of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi being washed up on a beach in Turkey - his brother and mother also died - has dramatically emphasised both the crisis and politicians' inability to get a grip on it.

The current British government, apparently oblivious to the country's proud record in absorbing thousands of refugees in previous decades, is being increasingly hostile to the present flood of refugees, seeking to batten down the hatches and turn them away.

Other countries like Germany have been far more sympathetic and welcoming and have taken in much larger numbers. They've recognised that those exhausted souls struggling through one country after another aren't spongers and scroungers but distraught human beings in dire need of help and resettlement.

But politicians aplenty trot out all the usual absurd excuses for giving them the brush-off. The country's already overcrowded. Public services can't cope. They'll be an endless burden. They're just chancers out to exploit us. They're all criminals and sex traffickers. They're a threat to the British way of life. And so on.

The aspiring Labour leadership candidate Yvette Cooper has suggested the UK could take at least 10,000 refugees on the basis of 10 families going to each large town.

We could surely take many more than that if we really wanted to. If there was political will and human compassion - and even the Dunkirk Spirit - rather than sour-faced hostility. Of course public services are severely stretched. They have been for decades. But they could be expanded easily enough with a bit of ingenuity and determination instead of the usual helpless shrugs.

After all, migrants not only work in the public services themselves, they pay taxes that help to finance those services. So why not take a few more?

The "I'm all right, Jack" attitude of those comfortably-off politicians who won't lift a finger to help the less fortunate is quite sickening.

Pic: Aylan Kurdi's body is taken from the sea