Archive by Author

Ten things you really need for your new baby (and ten you don’t – necessarily)

10 Jul Sleeping baby

Are you about to give birth to a baby and plan on raising it? Having seen yet another list of baby must-haves that contains stuff I’ve never even seen in real life, I’m writing a blog that’s been brewing in my head for a while: what you really need for a new baby, and how to get it all for under a grand – or nothing. (more…)

Beloved comedian kidnapped by Harry Potter villains

5 May

Fans of comedian popular left wing comedian Eddie Izzard were stunned yesterday as he appeared to be willingly out in public with a self-confessed neo-Conservative[1]. (more…)

Birthing Dora

3 Jul

Contains graphic detail and images of nudity. Probably NSFW.

An epic tale wherein a scuppered plan needn’t mean loss of control.

What I wanted from my birthing experience

I wanted the birth of my baby to be a pain-free, pain relief-free, non-interventionist birth. I wanted it to be relatively quick, and straightforward, in my own home. It didn’t turn out quite that way.

But beneath wanting that were the reasons I wanted that. It was important to me to keep the motivations topmost in my mind. I basically wanted to avoid experiences I’d seen others have: (more…)

How I Invalidated Anyone Who Isn’t A Mother

4 Apr
    My main problem with the dreadful season finale of HIMYM: its appalling value-setting that only having children makes you a worthwhile person.

    I had many problems with the season finale of How I Met Your Mother, most of which have been well-documented elsewhere. I have no problem with the mother dying per se (a bit cheesy though), but the bizarre fast-forward timeline, after a whole series where time was slowed down, smacked of bad writing, I will never forgive them for breaking up Robin and Barney.

    Alternative ending

    I thought series 8 was the final series. At the end, I marvelled at the beautiful subtlety of that ending – though you haven’t yet seen Ted meet the mother, it’s all laid out throughout the series arc is flash-forwards, and the story has been told. You know how they meet. I will continue to switch off rewatching and declare ‘the end!’ after series 8 a la Phoebe in Friends.

    Lilly giving birthBreed or fail

    But that’s not my main issue. My main issue is that despite a seemingly diverse mix of characters, the show’s finale gives out one message loud and clear: unless you have children, you’re a failure.

    Obviously Ted had kids, that’s kind of the point of the show. Fine. Their mother doesn’t have to stick around long though. The show might have been better titled How I Managed to Have Kids.

    Lilly and Marshall, throughout the process of fastforward, go on to have a further two kids. Lilly is never shown not pregnant, and her career is never discussed again. She’s happy though, of course, and wants everyone to be happy and together and sunshine and daisies. This doesn’t work out because of…

    …Robin. Robin can’t have kids – a genuine tragedy for anyone who wants them, but she didn’t, so it’s not a cause for concern. She does have an internationally fabulous career and enjoys massive success. But she can’t keep friends, because they have children and she doesn’t. She is presented as uptight and miserable, friendless – until she gets her happy ending in the form of getting Ted back – nicely stocked up with a couple of premade children. Then she can have friends again, and be happy. Phew.

    Barney has to be split up from the love of his life, Robin, so the scriptwriters can give him a child, through a drunken end-of-a-chain-of-30 one night stand. It’s fair to assume that he doesn’t know the mother of his child well at all, but still manages a relationship with the child (a girl, of course) that is free of any kind of acrimony. Because he’s a father now, and therefore complete.

    Even fricking Karl, violent bartender of MacLaren’s, is given a kid at the end, so he can finally find happiness. Seriously?

    What’s wrong with having kids?

    I have no problem with children – I’m 8 months’ pregnant with one right now. I expect this to bring me a wonderful sense of joy and satisfaction that is unlike any other. I’m contributing towards the continuation of the human race. But I also expect to maintain a career, and have a whole set of joys and frustrations in my life that spans different parts of it. And I expect anyone who doesn’t want kids to have a different set of joys and frustrations. They’re contributing to the world not being over-populated and to my children having a decent future. It makes me sad that popular shows like HIMYM continue to peddle this misogynist crap.

Billy

6 Mar

A short story, written to be performed at Illicit Ink on 3 March 2013.

I had a boy in my class called Billy. He was a thin wee thing, a bit smaller than the others, and liked dancing. This, it seems inevitably, led to accusations of ‘gay’. I recognised that tune – no-one trusts a man who wants to teach primary school, either. They bullied him something terrible, but it was hard to know what to do. I never saw anything, I never heard anything; I could just tell from the way he was with them: terrified all the time – particularly of Ross Jones, who we all knew as a terrible bully. Ross had been suspended twice. I’d tried to understand why he behaved that way, but I was coming up against a brick wall. I had to concentrate on helping Billy instead. I desperately hoped that one day he’d talk to me, and I could help him. But it was always ‘I left my lunch at home, sir’; ‘I didn’t like those trainers, sir’; ‘I just fell over, sir.’

I was quiet kid myself at school – and I’d have been bullied a lot more if it weren’t that I always got picked for the football team. I didn’t particularly like football, but I’m right for it because I have very long legs. I found out in later life that this is actually down to a genetic condition: Klinefelter’s Syndrome. It causes me all sorts of problems and I have to inject testosterone every day. It also means that I’ll never be a father.

My own father never came to see my football matches. He’d take me out to MacDonald’s, and make all sorts of promises, but they soon fizzled out. The promises and the burgers.

One man came to almost every match, though, and that was the local community policeman. When we won a match he’d ruffle my hair and tell me I’d done well, and I’d feel proud of myself. It’s a memory that’s always stuck with me.

It’s what made it all the worse when I was brought in for questioning.

***

One day, I was headed to the car park when I spied Billy hiding behind the toilet block. He was crying.

“What’s up, Billy?”

The fight had gone out of him. “They called me a pouf, sir.”

“Oh.” I sat down next to him, letting him talk at his own pace. I noticed a cut on his knee, bleeding quite badly.

“Am I a pouf, sir?”

I told him that he was probably too young to know that, but that even if he was, that was ok. I told him there was nothing wrong with it. I told him that just because he was small and didn’t like football, that didn’t mean anything at all. I told him he could be or do whatever he wanted to, and that he shouldn’t let people like Ross tell him otherwise. I told him that he was brave and strong for not wanting to be like everyone else. I promised him that we’d do something about this, that we didn’t stand for anyone behaving that way at St Margaret’s. I put a plaster on his knee, and I told him that everything was going to be ok. I was proud of him for telling me, and wanted to ruffle his hair, but of course we’re not allowed to touch the kids.

But then he put his arms around my waist and hugged me. I felt so bad for him, but rules are rules, so I gently pushed him away.

That’s what happened.

But when Ross, hiding round the corner, posted the picture on his brother’s Facebook page, even I’ll admit that’s not how it looked.

The policeman did not look proud.

But even then I figured it would be ok. The photo looked bad, but everyone knew Ross as a troublemaker, and once they spoke to Billy they’d see they’d got it all wrong.

But of course. They had spoken to Billy.

I don’t know what Ross had done to him; stuck his head down the toilet, stolen his bus money – maybe just threatened to tell everyone what a pouf he was, if he didn’t back up what was already all over the internet.

Whatever it was, that was Billy’s story now.

The press, typically, put two and five together and made a juicy scandal. The parents turned on me in a heartbeat. ‘Never trusted him – a single man teaching kids. Not right. No kids of his own, you know.’

I didn’t leave the house for days.

A friend who I have to kindly assume was trying to be helpful told the press about the Klinefelter’s. Then the more ‘sympathetic’ pieces in the local paper tried to excuse me. ‘An excess of testosterone, who knows what effect that might have?’ Well, do you know, a doctor might, for one, I thought. It certainly doesn’t list ‘accidental child abuse’ as a side effect on the packet.

It all came to nothing in the end; Billy’s story didn’t add up. (I always told them that lies will come back to get you.) ‘Cleared of all charges,’ said the policeman, never meeting my eye.

‘It’ll all blow over soon,’ said The Head.

But she felt it might be best – for my own sake, of course, for me to ‘make a fresh start’. Of course I’d get a good reference.

***

I saw Billy the day I left town; bumped into him and his Mum in the supermarket, as she hurried him along.

I was sorry not to have been able to talk to him. I wanted to tell him I knew he was sorry, and that everything was going to be ok.

I hope he gets over this.

A ssange est dans le Embasssy

20 Aug

This whole Julian Assange thing is confusing me and I have a question for people more knowledgeable than I, and who have more patience reading long long news articles.* It’s quite a long question, and involves my setting out my understanding (which may well be what’s flawed).

Crime one

Leaving aside actual conspiracy theories (which I otherwise give a fair bit of weight to) about why he’s been accused at this ‘convenient’ time, or what the likelihood of his being guilty of rape actually is, the fact remains that he is either:

a)      guilty of rape or

b)      not guilty of rape

If he is accused, for good reason, of a crime, then he should stand trial for that crime within the jurisdiction of that crime. If he is guilty, he should be punished.

Crime two

However, if he is sent to the country where he is accused of this crime, to have a said trial, the worry is that he will also be extradited to stand trial for a different crime in a different jurisdiction (revealing state secrets? I’m not clear on exactly what crime this falls into). He is again either

a)      guilty of that crime

b)      not guilty of that crime

The above still stands: if he is accused, with fair reason, of a crime under a certain jurisdiction, he should stand trial for that crime, and is he is guilty, he is guilty. The mitigation comes in sentencing, where his motives etc should be reviewed.

The sticky wicket

However, what appears to be the problem is that:

  • the jurisdiction under which his accused crime falls is unclear
  • the US, who are claiming it under their jurisdiction, essentially isn’t considered to be a place where he will receive a fair trial. It’s not considered to be a civilised country, basically. The theories about what might happen to him if he goes to the US range from ‘he’ll be shot on sight’ to ‘they’ll throw the book at him’.

The question: why not try him in Ecuador?

Again leaving aside a fairly crucial point ie will Sweden really extradite him (evidence seems that no), what is it that prevents his being tried in Ecuador? (either within the Embassy or in Ecuador itself).

Option one: He is tried in Ecuador under Ecuadorian law

There seem to be two reasons why this is not a good idea:

Ecuador’s sentencing and punishment system is different from Sweden’s, and he may endure a harsher sentence

Frankly, them’s the breaks, kiddo. If he is guilty of rape then he has to face his crimes and if he for whatever reason doesn’t want the first offer of how to do this. Personally, I’d argue that if he’s an international hero but in fact a sexual predator then maybe he deserves a harsher sentence.

He won’t have a fair trial in Ecuador (so will either be found guilty or not guilty where the same result wouldn’t stand in Sweden)

This seems to be more legitimate. So:

Option two: He is tried in Ecuador by a Swedish judiciary

If he’s found guilty, then they get to punish him in the way they see fit, which will probably be incarceration in a Swedish jail. If part of this process also sees him extradited to the US then, again, tough nougies. Don’t rape people. And don’t rape people and then set yourself up as the innocent superhero fighting the power. If you rape people, you are the power, and that makes him a fucking hypocrite.

If he’s found not guilty, then the situation remains as before. Ecuador, UK, Sweden, or the Moon can offer him asylum with total clarity as to what’s he being asylumed from. Sorted.

So, why is this not an option I’m seeing talked about? Have I not read into it enough? Is it just ‘not done’? Is there a legal reason you can’t do this? What’s the score, people?

*I’m happy to read a long long news article if I’m told it will answer my questions. I’ve spent too much time reading long news articles from which I gain nothing more than from reading the standfirst, so have generally given up.

Campbell v Carr: Moral-off

2 Jul

I’m a bit late to the party on this one but it’s a conversation I’ve had a lot in person and it’s a point I haven’t seen elsewhere on the internet so:

Jimmy Carr’s a bit of a twat. I heard a rumour (via a protected source of course) that he doesn’t know where the bin is in his own house. But I don’t get why he acted contrite over his tax avoidance.

Jimmy Carr is self-employed, and has an accountant. I’m self-employed, and don’t have an accountant. However, I’ve been advised I should get one, because although they’re expensive, they can end up saving you money. They know tax law. They know what you can and can’t claim.

They know how to file your taxes in a way which means you have to pay as little tax as necessary. That’s why people have accountants.

Carr’s accountant said “Hey Jimmy, here’s what the government say you can do with your money so you get to keep more of it. David Cameron’s all for it. He likes rich people. You can buy some extra bins.” So he did.

David Cameron then turned around and called Carr morally wrong. Carr’s reaction was to hold up his hands and agree. Why? It’s Cameron’s government who tell him it’s ok to do it. Carr has ended up taking the blame for a government decision and he’s really not bright enough to do that. (Did you see him on the Ten O’Clock show? Embarrassing.)

To be clear, I don’t agree with tax-dodging schemes. This beautiful quote from JK Rowling on why she stays paying taxes in the UK has shot her up immeasurably in my estimation . But don’t leave a steak in your dog’s bowl then scold him when he eats it.

Thinking

9 May

Story first written for Illicit Ink‘s ‘Verbal Medicine’ on 6 May 2012.

What I love about talking to people is that you don’t have to listen to a word they say. There’s just a rhythm to the way they talk.

The mornings were simple stuff of course. I woke up and my husband said ‘Good morning’ to me, and told me that I’m beautiful.

I said ‘Good morning’ too.

It’s not what I was thinking about.

Really it’s just a pointless exchange of noises.

After these preliminaries, we normally had sex. That’s too easy of course – no-one’s supposed to use real words in that situation. It’s more honest in that sense, which is what I like about it. Otherwise, of course, it’s terribly boring. With my husband, I could get into a good rhythm of where the noises happen, and a sense of when it’d be finished. If I got up on time I’d put an egg on to boil beforehand. Whole food.

My husband thought we were trying for a baby, but I got that seen to years back. I suppose I should have mentioned that when we, apparently, agreed to the project, but you can absolutely tell in these situations that a ‘yes’ and a smile is the done thing.

It wasn’t what I was thinking about.

My husband had some kind of job; he wore rather marvellous ties that I occasionally stole for more useful purposes; silk is incredibly durable. If he ever looked a bit confused, I thought he might be asking about them; I’d giggle and tell him it must have been the goblins in the washing machine.

He thinks I do the washing. I don’t.

Thought.

Thought I did the washing.

I’ve not the faintest idea what his job was, but he must have been quite high-powered. I went to some sort of an event with him once and you could tell from the way people laughed at him that they must have wanted him to like them.

There was one woman in particular with the most amazing pair of fuschia stilettos. I still have them.

Laughter’s a big part of not actually having to listen, of course. It’s the skill of the stand-up comedian, you know; not to be funny, but to inculcate the audience into the rhythm of when laughter is expected. It’s why musical comics are such cheats.

And useless at really effective reef knots.

Today, I’m talking to a policeman. He’s asked me what my memories are of the 17th of October.

On that particular day, I had to get the bus to work. This was a bad start for several reasons. There’s a man at my stop who always talks to me. I think he’s having a hard time right now. There’s less laughter expected of me, more frowning. It’s just as easy: mirror the facial expression and throw in a couple of ‘of course’s and ‘Oh dear’s. I’ve no idea if he’s upset about the bus fares (10p increase across the board!) or whether he’s dying. The expressions are much the same.

It’s not what I think about.

Being a doctor gives me a very handy sense of authority that’s got me out of quite a few scrapes, but I was determined to qualify as a GP: no specialism, so it’s all delightfully vague.

I can generally tell what’s wrong with people before they’ve sat down, and the majority of them are suffering from one of three things:

One:  they’re depressed. Easy one. I look pensive whilst they talk to me for, oh, anything up to four days, I think. Sometimes I get hungry. Normally they smile at the end and tell me something, I think, along the lines of being terribly grateful. If they still seem upset then I prescribe a large amount of SSRIs or, if I’m feeling itchy that day, warfarin.

Two: they’re old. A variety of symptoms might present themselves, but that’s the nub of it. Often these old folk just want to talk at me, too. Laugh in the right places and integrate some ‘isn’t that just the way’s, and they tell me I’m such a personable doctor.

‘Personable’. I roll the word around in my head for a while, then think about something else. Finally, I write a prescription. This prescription will do one of two things:  make them better (I believe that’s what’s generally expected of me, God knows what kind of miracle-worker they think I am), or kill them, in which case few people tend to be surprised.

If I don’t see them again I presume the latter has happened. If I do see them again, it happens eventually all the same. Quiet, out of the way; not at all like the younger ones. They take far more effort to dispose of.

And despite what you might think, I dislike that sort of effort.

Three, they have a cold. I tell them to eat an orange and stop wasting my time.

(Oranges are useless, of course, but they’re such a beautiful shape.)

The annoying little everyday aspects of life taken care of, I have time to think about other things; to really focus, very calm, very Zen. I think about food a lot; what I might have for lunch, or whether I need to buy more eggs. I also like to make lists and plans.

I plan to make things quiet. I like things quiet. That’s all. Surely not too much to ask?

The world is so loud. And asymmetrical. I just need things to be symmetrical and balanced. This is the unfortunate thing about medical practice. You can’t cure people; you can never guarantee to cure people. Sickness is pervasive and dirty and gets in the way of perfect shapes, tidy columns, and even numbers. These people will come into my office time and again until I just want to shoot them through the temples.

Which is terribly messy. It’s so difficult to get a perfect straight line; I can spend all day tracing over it and trying to get it right and it’s worse than when I started.

So I rise above it. I practice yoga and meditation and I try to get beyond the everyday things, to not sweat the small stuff, like healing the sick and tending to the needy. Then I can focus on what matters.

On the 17th of October, for instance – the day this little man is asking about –  I was planning what to do about the car. I really didn’t want to have to keep taking the bus, but the car was starting to smell. Unclean. I was going to have to get someone to sort it, like with the laundry, but I suspected it might lead to conversations I need to be present for, which I’ve successfully avoided since… I was nineteen.

When I was nineteen, things were dirty. Everything was made of off-white crockery – the sort where it looks like it’s covered in tea stains, but it’s actually the pattern and you’ll never get it off. So I covered everything in bleach.

Being suddenly without a family got me free university tuition and an early marriage. It all worked out rather well in that sense, so that’s all I’m going to say about it.

I did like being married, you know.

Anyway this policeman isn’t interested in any of that. He wants to know about the 17th of October. There didn’t seem to be any patients in my office that afternoon, so I ate a Polo, sucking it down until it was terribly thin, but still a perfect circle. Clean. Calm.

I got a text from my husband. Texts irk me; there’s nothing to be done but read the actual words.

‘My car’s broken down. I’ll have to borrow yours. Hope you don’t mind x’

I thought about it. I assessed carefully how likely it was he would open the boot, and I got frustrated because things would be so much easier if it was a Monday. Such strong, bold letters

It was an assessment, you know.  It wasn’t a snap decision. Now I’m single, and I hate odd numbers.

That’s not what I say to the policeman of course.

I stare, I look like I might cry (I‘ve never mastered actual crying) and tell him I don’t remember.

I repeat statements at random:

‘We were trying for a baby.’

‘Oh God, I still have his tie in my handbag.’

‘I can’t believe he killed all those people.’

‘I’m so hungry.’

These statements are delicious because they’re all perfectly true but I know that this little bespectacled man will misinterpret them. I hope so. He has very neat hair and a well-arranged office. He locks up the wrong people, and he makes the world tidy.

I wonder if he’s married?