Sunday, 31 March 2013

A blog post of two halves - just like an Easter egg :o)

At the start of this week I went along to a peaceful protest outside parliament to support independent midwives in their campaign to continue working in the UK. Their work is under threat due to the requirement that they have indemnity insurance in order to practise which comes into effect in October. As most independent midwives are self employed and there is currently no insurance product suitable for them this would mean they could no longer offer their services to expectant mothers. I stood in the cold on Monday morning with these wonderful women because it was my good fortune to have the personal care of independent midwives and I feel I've been spoiled.

Banners supporting birth choices for women in independent midwife march banners on the steps outside parliament - independent midwife march

I did attend a few NHS appointments so I can make some comparison. To be able to see the same midwife every time and to have the continuity of care made all the difference to me, especially when things did not go to plan with the birth - do they ever ? I interviewed Kay Hardie on my radio show about this campaign so you can hear her talk passionately about why it is important to allow midwives to offer women the choice of how and where they give birth. The reason we are doing this now is to find a solution rather than wake up in October and mourn the loss. It would be so tragic if the only recognition independent midwives were to get was because they were no longer there.

Peppa Pig bowl and spoon with pieces of chocolate egg in it. I'm testing this theory that you only notice it when it's gone with my boys. I've decided to take the day off. I'm not going anywhere or doing anything special, but from this evening until Tuesday morning (when Hubbie goes back to work) I'm also not doing anything for Hubbie or son. The result of this could be that they have chocolate eggs and weetabix for breakfast and go to football tomorrow in their pyjamas, but if so that's in Hubbie's hands. To be honest, that might be their preference anyway.

My plan is to:

  • get up early and practise yoga before they wake up
  • eat whatever I want for breakfast, rather than my son's partially eaten toast, his leftover fruit pancake or a spotty banana while rushing out of the door
  • clean the house while listening to Radio 4 
  • eat my lunch at lunchtime and not 4 o'clock as usual
  • settle on the sofa to watch a movie with a big cup of tea by my side

They should be at football so it's just me and the cat having some bank holiday fun together. Yes cleaning the house (mine, no one else's) is my idea of a good time - don't judge :o)
At the end of this little experiment one of two things will have happened:

1. The world will come crashing to a halt and kingdoms will crumble (ok the pyjamas and breakfast thing is more likely)
2. Hubbie will manage to parent perfectly well without my interference

I suspect it'll be the latter, but either way I get a day off so I win :o)

Friday, 29 March 2013

Foodie Friday: Chocolate on prescription

the answer is chocolate... whatever the question - signage at airport duty free shop
This post is necessarily short as my little boy is poorly. Even the masses of chocolate he has been given by kindly family and friends for Easter have not shifted his tearful and whiny demeanour. I hope he feels better soon as we have planned an Easter Egg hunt for Sunday morning and as he is an only child he gets to eat all of them himself ! 

I've never truly understood the whole chocolate egg thing at Easter. I mean, I know what hot cross buns are about and now they seem to be in weird and wonderful new flavours so I already have apple and cinnamon, orange and cranberry and - the ultimate treat - chocolate ones from M & S. The link between hot cross buns and Easter I get, the Simnel cake I get, it's just the entire genre of ovoid chocolate that I seem to have missed the relevance of. 

Not that I'm complaining you understand. With my genetic predisposition to sweet foods and chocolate in particular this is my perfect celebration. Of course with my family predisposition to diabetes it probably isn't all that good for me either. 

I have decided this year to embrace the whole Easter theme and we are having an 'Easter afternoon tea' on Sunday with lemon cakes of various varieties to counteract all the chocolate craziness. My son already has enough chocolate to last the remainder of this year and we haven't even given him our gifts yet. I only give him a little bit of chocolate occasionally so he appreciates that it is special. 

After this weekend he might actually think it's one of his five a day ! 

Monday, 25 March 2013

Let's stop celebrating stupidity, please.

Anyone who didn't predict that my post about grammar and punctuation was leading up to a big rant about education must be new here. If you are new, welcome, make a brew, pull up a chair and thank you for coming :o)

Bill Hicks Relentless
That post was partly meant to be tongue in cheek, but was only really warming up for the real issue. It's something I'm uncharitably referring to as the celebration of stupidity that we seem to have come to accept as normal. There was a time when being daft was considered charming. In his stand up routine Eddie Izzard used to complain that he was 'thinly read.' Chris Rock mocked the simpletons who boasted that they "didn't know shit." Bill Hicks had an attitude that reviled the stupid and unquestioning and encouraged freedom of thought (and a liberal approach to drugs that I didn't strictly agree with).

We appear to have moved far away from that approach now and it is not only acceptable to boast about being stupid, but it is also revered by reality TV shows to know very little. As though it's charming and somehow cutesy rather than pathetic to have no general knowledge whatsoever. When questioned further these were the kids at school who used to say smart things like "I speak English, why do I need to learn it ?" I suspect these are the same genii who don't see the point of English literature or algebra because, "when am I gonna need that in real life ?" Well in your case probably never if I'm honest, but that may be more self-fulfilling prophecy than anything else.

I didn't go to a private or even particularly good school. Most of my teachers were borderline illiterate, one was a suspected paedophile and at one point there were some pretty racist ones. I learned in spite of them, rather than because of them. School didn't teach me to swim, to cross the road, cook food or how to drive but I can do all of these things. I didn't expect my school to do everything for me and frankly if you care about something that much you'll probably find a way to do it.

I'm not making a judgement about people who missed out on schooling or who have struggled with learning. I mean those who use more words than they need to try and sound clever, but whose vocabulary is still smaller than my 2 year old's. The kind who bullied the bookish kids at school for being too interested in learning. So my question now is why are we still apologising for knowing how to spell, or caring about grammar and punctuation ? Being picked on for being a 'spod' (please insert age appropriate equivalent insult here instead as you wish) must be out of fashion by now surely ?
Paralympic athletes
Didn't we just spend 2012 cheering along sporting achievement ? It wasn't a celebration of 'the kids who didn't have a running track at school so never go to be good at sport so it's not their fault' did we ? Or did I miss the celebration of stupid Olympics ? Where you get a medal for the 'unspelling bee' or the Nobel prize for 'not knowing your times tables 'cos what's the point ?'

Before we rush to blame our adult underachievement on the education system let's remember that Caitlin Moran didn't go to school at all. She went to her local library and read lots of books. When she decided to become a writer she realised pretty early on that you have to read in order to write well. It meant enough to her to learn to do it well despite having no formal learning at all.

So here is the message:

It's ok to be smart.

It's ok to aspire to something better than winning a TV show

It's ok to know stuff (and comes in handy at pub quizzes).

Friday, 22 March 2013

Foodie Friday: the highchair gastronome

I'm on a new crusade. I wish it was as worthy as finding a cure for a serious illness or saving the Earth's precious resources. Instead it's something that I took for granted would be simple. Feeding my son decent food.

In the beginning it was simple enough, I breastfed until he chose to stop. That way he ate when he was hungry and as much as he needed. Then when it came to weaning I always took food with us wherever we went so I knew the provenance of what he ate and there was a pretty good chance that he'd eat it. At nursery he is encouraged to try new things and has developed a taste for foods that I haven't tried to give him so it has widened my repertoire of what to offer at mealtimes.

Son in high chair at St Pancras champagne bar When we are out and about - which is most days as he is a very energetic child - I always carry fresh fruit for him and if we are passing a shop or a market I know I can get him an apple or a banana as an instant snack. We've taken our son out to eat with us since he was born so he is used to the formality of dining out. He has been to the Champagne bar at St Pancras Station, Pont De La Tour by Tower Bridge and is a regular at our favourite local haunt Apatura where he has his own table and they even let him wander around between courses. All of these are restaurants for adults and he eats what we eat only smaller portions. Except at the last one where he gets the biggest plate of pudding I've ever seen so I often have to 'help.'

Establishments that offer a menu specifically for children baffle me. If I want to feed him lunch the children's choices appear to be: pasta smothered in melted cheese, breadcrumbed everything & chips, chips, chips. Of course my son loves chips - he is my son after all - however, he also loves risottos, biryanis, spicy curries, minestrone and vegetable soups, toasted bagels, chapattis and singapore noodles.
I get that pasta and chips are cheap and easy foods to prepare so that is why they are prevalent on all menus, but the dishes my son eats are all simple to prepare too. Additionally they can be made with low cost ingredients and can be made in bulk thus creating economies of scale. Yet they just don't appear on the children's menus I see.

Farfalle pasta with meatballs and tomato sauce
The last straw was this week at a local kids' cafe with soft play. I've never been before, but heard it was good and all the signs around the counter promised 'freshly made on the premises' food. What we got was a scalding hot plate of microwaved pasta with a smattering of insipid tomato sauce and watery meatballs. He proclaimed it was "too hot" then when he tried the meatball spat it out in disgust. He NEVER spits out food. It was appalling. My own lunch was as bad and it inspired me to try something.

Can we use our collective wisdom and experience to create a good food guide for kids ? I remember the places that take care of my son and tell everyone how good they are. Hence my glowing recommendations for Apatura in South Croydon - they treat us well and we love eating there.

If you are disappointed with the food you are served for your child tell the owner (nicely) and give them the chance to improve. The places that are no good I just refuse to eat at again. I don't want to badmouth them on a forum - that achieves nothing. The power we have as parents and carers is immense. Let's use it wisely.

Our children deserve much better food.

If you know where it can be found please share below.

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Words don't come easy (apparently)

Grammar police step away from the keyboard now image

My favourite misunderstanding this week was heard on Radio 4's Today programme when a reporter said, "cocaine growers say police make bad neighbours." Now had he used the correct intonation it would have sounded like, "cocaine growers, say police, make bad neighbours." Alternatively he could just have used better syntax and there would have been no confusion. It may be just me, but this kind of thing does stick in my mind.

I find it interesting that with the popularity of social media people are using the written word more visibly and I am now judging people I know on their use of grammar and punctuation. I appreciate that the brevity required to make a point in 140 characters can lead to some contracted words, but the paucity of some people's language really shocks me.

Now, I'm not expecting high literature, but some basics would be great. So as a rough guide please spare me the following:

"could of" - I will hit you - hard

"definately" - I will hit you and then hit you again - hard

"first world problems" - honestly, you're making this easy aren't you ? just stand still so I can hit you repeatedly

"epic fail" - used ironically just about ok, otherwise - this is hitting with a large spade material

"as of yet" - "yet" is fine - you don't need to say any more than that - enough !

"you can talk to myself" - no I can't, really, because I have already judged you to be a dunce and this will not end well.
comic strip about grammatical errors

That's a start. Just work on these for now and we'll get to the more complicated ones later.

Thank you :o)

Monday, 18 March 2013

Project parent: the sequel.

pile of scrunched up paper on a desk and a sign saying "help"
I've mentioned before that sometimes Hubbie knows me better than I know myself. He diagnosed I was having a migraine (and not dying as I thought I was) and he often tells me to drink water when I'm feeling a bit flat. He is also able to pinpoint more serious concerns in a way that previously only my friend Neil could. It was Neil who pointed out that I was so discombobulated in my new flat because I was surrounded by boxes and this disorganisation offended my sense of order. He knew this because we had lived in shared accommodation at university so he is familiar with my insane OCD tendencies. Also, his housewarming gift to me was a step stool for my kitchen and a can of flea spray - before you wonder why we are still friends I'd asked for both of those things. 

Anyway, I digress. Recently I asked Hubbie - yet again - if he minded me not having a 'proper job' (my words not his) and he said he didn't. Then he had a genius idea. Our new house (of over a year now) has a garage that is riddled with asbestos so he suggested that I project manage the rebuild. I have no experience of building projects so I looked at him sideways. Then I realised that actually what I need is something to keep me busy - other than a toddler and a cat that is. 

Having a project keeps me out of trouble and stops me from pondering and falling into depressive moods. Since we've been together my projects have included; training to be a yoga teacher, moving house, (twice), planning our wedding and the assessment process for our first adoption application. As you probably know I became pregnant with our beloved son so that adoption process came to a halt while we celebrated our new family member. 

Not having a project has left me feeling a bit empty and pointless. While I was pregnant I watched the entire box set of the West Wing and when my son was taking his time to be born I was getting a bit bored so we went out shopping for a car - which we were going to do anyway, but later. Of course having a baby kept me occupied and since then we've also been trying for another with little success and more than a little failure. 

sillhouette of a child and mother with butterflies It has left me feeling like my body isn't good enough or that my temperament isn't positive enough to make a baby or that I just don't deserve it enough. All of which is self-defeating. Now that Hubbie has given me a project it's injected some fresh enthusiasm into my well planned routine days. The new routine includes waking up earlier than I have in months to practise yoga - helped by the lighter mornings. This means I'm cheerier when the boy wakes up rather than being as tired and grumpy as he is. 

Being able to take on one new thing means feeling strong enough to take on more. Hence the biggest decision that we've made to get through this phase. We're going back to adoption to complete our family. This means we can look forward to an initial assessment to check we meet the criteria, hopefully further interviews and then the long process of preparing our F1 form for the adoption panel.

woman wearing a t shirt with the message - adoption is the new pregnantWe have been here before. It won't be quick and it won't be simple. It will, however, be very different this time. This time we have a young son and he will be part of the assessment process and his interests will be taken into account. This time we have experience of parenting and of preparing for an adoption panel - although not at the same time admittedly. 

So here we go again. 

It's back, it's Adoption: the sequel.  

Friday, 15 March 2013

Red Nose Day - Sweet Charity

It's that night again - the one when the BBC is taken over by Richard Curtis and Lenny Henry and their comedy pals all doing stuff to raise awareness and money for various charities in the UK and overseas. For weeks we have seen red noses in the shops and heard about various fundraising efforts by friends and celebrities. Miranda Hart has been doing various crazy things this past week and in previous years Eddie Izzard has run multiple marathons and David Walliams has been swimming. 

posing before the moonwalk a few years ago
Now, I know a bit about fundraising having been a professional fundraiser for over ten years so I have a special appreciation of how people do so much to support good causes. I've even baked cakes for Bliss, run for Cancer research and walked through London in my bra at night for Breast Cancer. In my working life I've written direct mail and radio appeals to persuade the public to part with their cash. It's heartening how kind people really are and how little they ask in return for their generosity. 

I visited refugee camps in Sierra Leone, met children who had been child soldiers and was moved to tears by the scars one young man had suffered from machete wounds to his back. He had been left for dead having witnessed the vicious murder of his entire family. It's these stories that move us to give money to good causes and that provide the personal touch that bridges the gap between us here and them over there. 

At the time I worked in the charity sector I wasn't a parent and when addressing a Rotary conference I mentioned how heartwarming it was that they were so committed to supporting children all over the world with their charitable efforts. The president of that region told me that the 'Rotary family' considered all children to be their responsibility and that giving to others was a key element of being a Rotarian. 

When I spent time in Romania with children in state institutions who had been neglected and mistreated I felt a pain and anger at their treatment that I could not adequately express. I understood the deep pain that a parent feels when they cannot help their own child as I wanted to scoop up every child and take them away from their imprisonment. 
red nose day symbol

It isn't practical to try and do it all yourself which is why Comic Relief give grants to organisations working in the UK and abroad to support people in need. I have seen first-hand some of the projects they support and can vouch for them being worthwhile. 

I know things are not easy for many of us right now and that giving to others many not be possible. It is still, however, very reassuring that so many of us are still donating to causes that vaccinate children overseas, or combat cyberbullying in this country or help women start small businesses to support themselves and their families. 

It shows that even in the toughest of times we still remember that our humanity is in what we do for others. I didn't need to become a parent to learn that lesson. Having my beloved son just reminds me every day why it's something I should never forget. 

Tuesday, 12 March 2013

The Seven Year Stitch

Hubbie and I present a radio show together that we joke is the only time we actually talk to each other. While that's not strictly true it has reminded us how much we enjoy each other's company. Today he made me laugh so much I had to turn my mic down and let him carry on introducing my song. It was a ridiculous comment about a horse called Hoof Hearted and it had me in stitches and crying with laughter, silly I know.

We've been married for seven years this year - having both had starter marriages as practice - which in celebrity marriage terms is a lifetime. I always forget the date we got married, but I remember birthdays and other celebration days so I don't feel too bad. In fact we kid around that we have reversed the traditional roles as he irons his own shirts and I refuse to read instructions. It works for us.

Highway 101 in California
In our early dating days we went on holiday to California and took a road trip from San Francisco to Las Vegas (via Los Angeles). We spent 24 hours a day together and a lot of time in a car driving. Well he drove, I mostly handed him sweets and pointed at the ocean. At no point did we argue or fall out and we always managed to agree on where to eat and what to do with a minimum of fuss. I put this down to him being easy going more than any positive qualities on my part.

When we were told it was unlikely that we would be able to have a baby we sat and cried for what felt like hours on chairs in the fertility clinic feeling bereft and empty. Every day after that I would phone him at work with some new plan I'd concocted to enable us to have the family we so desperately wanted. One day I called him while I was sitting under a dryer at the hairdressers to tell him I wanted to adopt one of the 11 million abandoned baby girls from India that I'd just read about. He said "Ok."

I asked him if we could go ahead and adopt in this country and he said "yes." We were assessed and verbally prodded and poked for months until we were approved by a panel of 13 strangers as suitable to be parents. Then we waited, and waited, and waited a bit more. It occurred to me that we had given up trying to get pregnant and it had to be worth a try. I suggested that in addition to all the dietary changes we'd made and the weight loss and the yoga we should also try acupuncture or reflexology. He is terrified of needles, but he said "Yes."

Juno & Bleeker kissing with a caption of dialogue overlaidOn a plane to India I watched Juno and cried and cried and cried. Then he watched it and he cried too. We watched Gavin & Stacey struggle to have a family and cried and cried and cried. We tried to get used to the idea that we would neither adopt, nor have a baby of our own. We went on holiday and remembered why we were together in the first place. Then on the day that I found out I was pregnant he responded joyfully "My balls work !"

As I type this Hubbie is out watching My Bloody Valentine with a friend. He loves their music, I don't. On Sunday I will be taking a flying lesson that he bought me as a present - I am terrified, but you have to love the thought. The other day he told me I looked hot in my skinny jeans - unprompted !

So for all the times that Hubbie has said, "yes" or "ok" or "if you like" to make me happy I am posting this as I know it will make him happy.
Opening of Lost in translation with Scarlett Johanssen in her pink underwear

Sunday, 10 March 2013

All you need is love, love...

A good friend of ours lost his mother last weekend under very sudden and tragic circumstances. Today must be terribly poignant and upsetting for him and his entire family and for so many other people. I have been thinking of them today and hoping that they have found peace on a day that can be difficult for so many. 

I've been very lucky to be spoiled by Hubbie and family today and am now flumped after a blissful day at a spa while the boy was spending time with my Mum. As a result I've been terribly lazy with this post and have compiled some random thoughts on being a Mum.

Red heart shaped dish with waffles, strawberries and sliced banana White cat, bouquet of cherry blossom and lillies in bed
  • I didn't put off having a baby to concentrate on my career. I concentrated on my career because I didn't have a baby 
  • I feel guilty about the three children we were asked to consider for adoption that we felt would be too overwhelming to take on. I still cry when I think they might have been split up 
  • I don't regret staying home with my son. I do, however, worry that I'm now 'unemployable' and useless
  • Being told on New Year's Day that I'm no good as a person has sent me into a spiral of self-loathing that I can't find a way out of 
  • I tell my boy every day that he is handsome and that I love him. I hope that he always believes me 
  • I give thanks for my loved ones every day. I don't know if they realise that, but I do
  • Being a parent is a gift me and Hubbie thought we'd never have - we are so very, very grateful  
Boy and Hubbie walking on the beach

Friday, 8 March 2013

Foodie Friday: Give us this day our daily bread

Focaccia, Wholemeal rolls, ciabatta & Cobb loaves laid out on a wooden chest I am grateful to Penny Smith for a few things:

1. The yoga dvd she made with Howard Napper that I do when I can't get to a class with him
2. Her lovely, supportive tone when I called her radio show to talk about adoption
3. She dropped out of a bread class with Daniel Stevens last weekend which meant I got to go instead 

teacups and saucers, water jugs and plastic drinking cups
Now aside from my Penny love I now have total Daniel love. I did have a moment there where I expected Matthew from Downton Abbey to be teaching us, until I realised that it wasn't *that* Dan Stevens. This one is a chef and his pedigree is from River Cottage and he is now based in South London.

Daniel's Cookhouse runs a classic bread class that is a full day and begins with coffee / tea in the most amazing kitchen in Wandsworth and ends with a delicious meal and lots of wine and teeny tiny doughnuts that we filled with jam ourselves. If you like food and you enjoy preparing it this is a great day for you.

During the day we made Ciabatta (harder than I thought), focaccia (easier than I thought), wholemeal seeded rolls (a faff, but delicious) and a cobb loaf (still in the freezer, can't comment yet). The morning was spent kneading which takes longer than I realised and explains why my homemade bread has a tendency to be a bit on the stodgy side. We took it in turns and when we got tired Daniel took over and showed us how to do it properly. We learned how to check it was ready, the answer is always "not yet, keep going."

yellow bowl with flour, yeast and bottle of olive oil on counteryoghurt dip and homemade houmous in gorgeous plates

Daniel showed us how to turn some of the dough into crispy and delicious flatbreads, we made some houmous and mint yoghurt and had a snack break with a glass of wine before making our cobb loaves. The last thing we made was the doughnuts I mentioned before and I don't even like jam doughnuts, but I was all over these sugar coated little beauties !!. It's a pretty full day with a lot to do, but it's very well organised and the learning is balanced out with some good old fashioned graft. 

mini jam doughnuts in a fish shaped dish fish stew on a table laid with pink napkins

At the start of the day Daniel told us we'd fall in love with the dough scraper and all want to get one and I have to admit I had no idea how useful that small bit of blue plastic was going to prove to be. I did indeed get one to take home as well as a kilo of flour and more bread than the three of us could eat so I filled the freezer and we've been working our way through it all week. 

me and Daniel Stevens posing I've never done a 'cookery course' before and this was a gift from Hubbie which I'd basically told him I wanted. We looked at the Waitrose cookery school classes before Christmas, but didn't book anything as they are in North London, are very expensive and as far as I can tell you don't get a fabulous meal (with wine) at the end.

I left early on Sunday morning leaving Hubbie and the boy to their own devices and returned in the evening with a bag full of bread and a very full tummy.

If you fancy learning about bread and having a fun day with some delicious food this is definitely worth a go. If you can get it as a present, even better !!

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Google Royal Mail and Daily Mail and you'll find my sister !!

WARNING: There is strong and potentially offensive language used in this post. 

In the latest episode of Call the midwife they tackled the thorny issue of racism against a pregnant new immigrant who another mum-to-be referred to as the 'coloured' woman. Of course by the end of the episode they were the best of friends and all was well as it is in these heartwarming Sunday evening dramas. That was set in the fifties in the East End of London so you'd be forgiven for thinking those kind of casual shocking attitudes don't still exist.

Unless you are in my family that is. In which case it's not that unusual or indeed uncommon to face some kind of ridiculous comment or treatment from a muttering under the breath to a full blown insult to my face - from a lad who I swear looked Korean - when I was on a bus.

Recent events surpass any of this though. You may have seen a story about an asian woman whose post was intercepted and a racist comment was written on the letter and resealed and delivered to her. Well that woman is my sister and this is what was scrawled onto her letter - without the pixelation over the 'offensive words.' Underneath the article are a lot of comments ranging from those correcting the inaccuracy of the use of the word 'Paki' and some suggesting that this culprit isn't that well-educated.

Let me say first up that I am tired of this now. The reason I didn't blank out the offensive words is because if we have to put up with this you can put up with seeing it too. They are words on a page. They are hurtful words, yes. They are inaccurate, yes. However, that is missing the point - it's not the inaccurate geography or poor grammar is the most hurtful thing. Oh the irony that it's the Daily Mail who ran this story when that is the very paper that encourages this 'send 'em all back' attitude, but shows moral outrage when someone responds to this incitement by doing something hideous.

When someone shouts out 'paki' in the street I'm not considering if I should respond with "well actually my parents were born in pre-partition India, but I was born in Perivale." The sick and knotted feeling in my gut is not just about the wrongness of what they have done, it's about the shame, the humiliation, the unfairness. It is also about the fear that they might not stop at words.

Dismissing racists as 'thick' or 'un-educated' is to underestimate their ability to use this to their advantage. Of course they'd be better educated if they had a chance. If there weren't so many foreigners they could have lived in a nicer council house or gone to a better school or had a better job. If all those immigrants didn't come over and take all the jobs and qualifications that is.

Indian women wearing saris walking down the road alongside a white man
How long do you have to be a resident before it's no longer appropriate to tell you to 'go home' ? I was born in England - Perivale maternity unit since you ask - so does that make my home the Hoover building ? It is no longer the case that indians are 'coming over' in droves so where exactly are they thinking we should 'go back' to ?

It is so disappointing when people post facebook statuses that contain racism. In the last few days I've read a 'genuine' letter to the passport office that becomes increasingly ranty then ends with 'my doctor is a bleeding pakistani' - ok yes that's hilarious. He or she probably isn't, the were probably born and trained in England, but the joke isn't funny if it's not a bit racist is it ? Or the posts that go on about how the island is full already and there's no more room. The story of a white person who can't get cancer treatment because of all the foreigners who keep coming here and using the NHS. It goes on and on.

When I say I'm tired I mean I'm tired of arguing, explaining and making the point. It is tiresome and boring:
  • I don't know why a man spat in my face through the car window while I was having a driving lesson - I don't want to know. 
  • I don't know why Samantha Peacock came into school one day and said, "my mum says tell me when your dad's head gets better." (He is a turban-wearing Sikh). 
  • I don't know why my father-in-law thought making a joke about Enoch Powell being right was funny, it isn't. 
  • I don't know why a man I dated for a while thought it was perfectly ok to use the term 'coloured' to describe the drummer in a band - this was in 2004, not 1954 !!  
I don't ever want anyone to hurt the ones I love for any reason. I don't ever want to have to explain to my son why someone might use the word 'paki.' How it's not the word that hurts, it's the intention.

For now all I can say is: I don't know, I don't know, I don't know. 
woman in read sitting with head on knees

Monday, 4 March 2013

Does the boy eat chicken ? or My Big Fat Punjabi Family

my boy in an indian outfit and me in a headscarf
I'm sure there are some films you watch repeatedly, either because they have meaning for you or they star someone you love watching or they just make you laugh. My Big Fat Greek Wedding was on the other day and it's a film that I missed on cinema release that I never really appreciated at first. It's grown on me since and it's only now I realise this is because I see it as an instructional film for anyone considering a cross-cultural relationship / marriage. In fact it could almost be about my own family the similarities are so startling.

There's the character of the father who is convinced everything is Greek (or in my Dad's case indian) and his constant sobbing refrain "why is she doing this to me ?" The enormous family that are noisy, in your face and inappropriate. I have aunties who used to say "it's good to have a long nose, it suits you," genuinely believing I needed to hear that. This appears to be an inbuilt need to 'advise' on appearance which is also evident in the scene where on the morning of her wedding Tula is surrounded by noisy female cousins and aunties bleaching and plucking facial hair while fussing around the sudden appearance of a spot.

I was spared the one cliche from the film that is also a truism of cross-cultural marriages, the poor new lad being tricked into saying inappropriate words to his new family. As I'm the one sibling who is fluent in punjabi it was unlikely Hubbie would learn any swear words from me. Now he is learning from our son who uses some incredibly cute crossover language that is 'Pinglish' or an amalgamation of punjabi and english.

Of course I've mentioned before how there are always mountains of food when we visit my parents or other family and my husband's first visit to my Mum's home for lunch was a lesson in why indian women outlive their husbands. Mum hovered over Hubbie ensuring his plate was always full (while simultaneously cooking chappatis) so he learned to always go to their house on an empty stomach in the future. The first time my Dad met Hubbie he asked (in Punjabi) "does the boy eat chicken ?" (I don't so it was a fair question) and when it was established that he did I think he passed. 

My favourite similarity from the film is when Tula's father presents the bride and groom with a wedding gift of a house. These grand gestures are very indian and I still cringe when I recall being a guest at a wedding where the father of the bride presented his terribly embarrassed daughter and son in law with a comedically big cheque like they'd just won the pools or something.

attending a wedding at Lords cricket club  I admire the bravery of the men who've married into my family. Some didn't make it, but the ones who did have hallowed status. Hubbie is no. 1 son in law - especially since he is also Daddy to their first grandchild. When we visit Mum always makes his favourite chicken. These days she spends less time watching his plate as my son gets lavished with all the attention, but Hubbie still leaves feeling stuffed.

The one line in the movie that sums it up for me is when Tula's auntie looks at Ian and says proudly, 'he looks Greek.' When we stayed in India with my beloved late grandmother she was so taken with Hubbie she said, 'of course he's Punjabi.'

It was the most I could have asked for and made me so proud.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Foodie Friday: Life is all about Chocolate, Chips and Cake.

sign showing no food and drink
I met a friend for dinner last week and she reached into her bag before eating so she could check what she was allowed to eat. I asked the obvious questions, 'on a diet ?' 'Pregnant ?' Turns out she has IBS and has been advised to avoid certain foods. Now I am way ahead at this particular party as I had severe problems with food around ten years ago and it took the GP two years of testing to conclude I had stress related IBS. Frustrated by the medical advice to eat charcoal (for real !) I decided to have a food allergy test at a health store to see if there was anything I should be aware of.

Now I know I brought this on myself really and if you have seen a 'nutritionist' or a 'holistic therapist' or spoken to anyone from the world of food health you won't be surprised by what the nice man told me after a highly unscientific test undertaken in the shop. I was advised to avoid: bread, caffeine, chocolate, onions, peppers, cabbage, red wine and red meat. In fact the only cliche he managed to avoid was that he didn't tell me to stop eating dairy.

The world of 'healthy eating' seems to be all about exclusion. We are advised to cut out wheat, sugar, dairy and caffeine. It's supposed to 'detox' the body. Now I don't know about you, but I don't feel toxic when I have a cup of tea. I feel pretty horrific at the thought of custard, but that's a preference thing. I used to feel a bit poorly if I overdid it with the wheat and I haven't drunk real coffee in ten years, but give up sugar and tea ? Give me a break. What's the point of living a long and essentially crappy life ? No cake - no tea - no hot buttered toast ? I realise that some people have genuine allergies to foods and I get that, what I'm talking about here is the self-imposed misery of food exclusion either to lose weight or to stay well.

I tried being a vegan for a few months in my first year at University. It struck me that as I already didn't eat meat I could easily be a vegan if I skipped butter on chappatis, left out the raita with my food and denied myself my beloved boiled egg and soldiers. However, I did struggle with tiredness, terrible skin and I was the most miserable I've ever been. I can see why Morrissey is such a grump most of the time -- hence it was only a shortlived experiment.
My son eating two ice cream cones at once wearing a blue beanie hat
If life is about anything surely it is about enjoyment and experiencing and trying new things ? If I didn't eat sugar I'd never have tasted the exquisite chocolates from Rococo in Chelsea (also available online).

If I gave up dairy I'd never enjoy Ben & Jerry's ice cream on a hot day in Clapham Common watching live music and seeing the sheer bliss on my son's face as he scoffs two cones at once.

If I stopped eating wheat I would deny myself the pleasure of eating toast or pancakes or chappatis or cake. Personally I don't see wheat as the enemy, I love it. Most cultures in the world have a wheat based diet be it pasta or chapattis or bread and who am I to fight against those odds ?

This week I've made peanut butter cookies (a bit crumbly, but taste great), chocolate chip cookies (the boy loves these) and honey cookies (wanted to use up a jar of honey, they smell incredible and taste very sweet, but the boys both devour these for breakfast !). The simplicity of these and the happiness they create in my home cannot be overstated. 

All of which is a very long-winded way of saying that I'm going on a bread-making course this weekend. It's with Daniel Stevens who wrote the River Cottage bread handbook and promises 'all the bread you can eat' as well as lunch and wine - sold !!! 

It's a very early birthday present from Hubbie and I'm ridiculously excited about it. I will take photos and tell you all about it next week.