Discrimination in Pregnancy: No pay-rise for you, you’re bound to get pregnant…

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Maternity leave was in the news last week because of the way in which women can be discriminated against for having babies.

As a mother, I’ve had direct experience of one side of the maternity coin and can confirm that it’s tough giving up your career, even temporarily, and knowing that you may not be able to jump back aboard the work band-wagon where you left it.

However, I can also appreciate how incredibly irritating it is for employers, to have found somebody that they believe can do the job, only for that somebody to announce that actually, before they even get to grips with said job, they’ll be off for a year having a baby.

There’s no way around it – it’s annoying – but, on the other hand, it’s your right as a woman to return to your same job and your same hours, depending on your contract and so on. This does mean though that your employer doesn’t have to offer you part-time hours if you refuse the full-time that you may previously have worked.

I was pregnant with my youngest daughter within a short time of starting a new job, and the pregnancy was extremely difficult, thereby requiring time off. I’ll never forget how awkward I felt or the sense of having let people down. But nor will I ever forget when my head of faculty recommended me for a pay-rise, before I was pregnant, because I’d done such a good job – and the male head of another department had received a pay-rise for doing similar. When the pay proposal was put forward to the male boss, he said that it wouldn’t happen for me, because I was a ‘woman and bound to get pregnant again’.

Pregnancy isn’t always planned, and even when it is, it doesn’t often go according to that plan. It’s such a thorny issue because nor is it always a case of having worked somewhere for a substantial period proving your worth, giving due warning or expectation that you’ll try for a child, and then surprising nobody and letting no-one down once you are pregnant. As with all forms of discrimination, you can never fully eradicate it – but you should certainly keep trying, at the very least.

Don’t rock the boat…

My husband is naturally sporty and is accustomed to success in whatever endeavor he turns his hand to.

Imagine our surprise therefore, and terror, when it transpired, once we were adrift, that he can’t row for toffee.

The sight of my husband waggling a pair of oars ineffectually, whilst the children gripped the swaying boat white-knuckled for dear life, and the bemusement (or amusement) of the families waiting on shore for their turn, will stay with me for some time.

It took us 6 minutes to make it approx 10 yards from the jetty, as a mother in another boat flew by like Steve Redgrave, and another 20 minutes to return to terra firma.

It couldn’t come soon enough.

Paralympics

By the time this goes to print, the Paralympics will have commenced. I only know this because my husband and I have been keeping an eye out for when they start, as we have been looking forward to watching. (Especially the rowing eh, Mr Lush? Ha.)

After an Internet search, I learnt not only the start date but that also very few tickets have been sold, with very little publicity. This seems shameful yet unsurprising because, as we know, most of the seating was woefully empty at this summer’s Olympics, so the Paralympics will most likely follow suit.

A campaign, #filltheseats, has been launched with seats going for as little as £2.30. Let’s hope the last minute publicity push is successful.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 10th September 2016

Peter and Jane: A Whole New Kind of Mummy-Blog

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Mummy-blogging has been a big thing for years now. You can find mummy-blogs everywhere. There are mums who try to be unmumsy, mums who try to encourage healthy lifestyles for kids, and mums who write simply so that others can empathise with them.

Being a mother, it’s inevitable that I’ve written about my children, but I’ve done so in a way that illustrates something about my life, not theirs.

I read an article recently in the New York Times by a mother who had realized that her incessant documenting of her children’s lives was, without doubt, an invasion of their privacy, and that when they are older, they are most likely going to be less than happy that most of America went through the intimate details of their puberty with them.

These days, mummy-blogs are a bit passé, they’ve been done and, sometimes, done well, but generally we’ve all been there, read it, and moved on. However, I have discovered a page on Facebook that is a delight to read.

The author of the page is anonymous and she states that the experiences are fictional, although I am willing to stake my salary on it that 80% is her experience of motherhood to a tee, with some hyperbole thrown in for dramatic and humorous effect. Or, it’s at least a metaphor for the kind of days that we all have. The kind where we are jumping up and down, mouthing out every expletive we can think of, hidden behind the kitchen wall, praying to the goddess of parenting that we be beamed up to a land of wine and oblivion, and that the hours between 3 and 6pm would not pass so excruciatingly slowly.

‘Peter and Jane’, as it is called, is more than worth a read whether you are a parent or not, though I would advise that you at least be an adult. I would also advise it as a pre-requisite for parents-to-be, because although you’ll read it and scoff and giggle to one another in smug union that this will never be you, one day, it will.

Well worth a ‘like’, you’ll feel better for it! … – https://www.facebook.com/peterandjaneandmummytoo

Grubby Pompey…

My husband and I have been wandering around the city (with purpose, not aimlessly) this summer, instead of always using the car.

I am normally a staunch defender of Portsmouth, and maybe it is simply because we have returned from a week in Cornwall, but, has it always been so filthy?

On our way back from Gunwharf, we took in the derelict building opposite the Hard, the grim-as-ever Tricorn area, and the dilapidation next to what was once the Air Balloon, and wondered if we are simply seeing it through different eyes. I can only imagine what holiday-makers think as they depart the ferry and find themselves on the flyover. “I’m a tourist, get me out of here,” springs to mind.

Religion…

For the first time last week, I read the various News’ columnists’ work online, and some of the comments left by readers.

One of my pieces, that dealt with the concept of faith, had a polite enquiry as to whether or not I was able to discuss various religions in this paper, such as Islam.

In response to that reader, I’d like to say that yes, absolutely, and that I have written long pieces about Islamophobia and media generalisations regarding Muslims, especially in light of global affairs. This is of particular importance to me, given my teaching specialism, and I’d like to state, as I always do, that the central message of Islam, real Islam, is always that of peace.

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 27th August 2016

 

 

Bullying and Bystanders

 

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We urge children who are being bullied, to tell someone. Tell a parent, tell a teacher, tell who ever cares for you. We also tell children to stand up for their friends if they are being bullied, to have their back, and to tell the truth. All of these are easier said than done, but are crucial life lessons to learn. The concept of ‘bystanders’, who stand to the side and do nothing but allow the bullying to occur, is one that has had catastrophic consequences in world history. We need only learn about the Holocaust to acknowledge this.

But what about when we are adults? Is bullying any less of an issue, or is it just as rife but under different guises, and never discussed?

A definition of bullying is intending to hurt someone, repeatedly, and it can be emotional or physical. Kids often keep quiet for fear that it will simply aggravate the aggressor, and because they believe that they will therefore suffer further for it. But is it any different for adults? Do we ever really practise what we preach?

A new term begins in a couple of weeks, and I expect that there are children out there who are dreading the return to school. Children who know that there is a group of peers, or perhaps just one in particular, with a whole bunch of negligent bystanders, waiting for them in the playground. These children will be on edge, simply waiting for the bully to hurt them, whether with insults, or by lying about them, laughing at them, or hurting them physically.

And I am willing to bet that there are adults too in that exact same position. Fully grown adults who are keeping their heads down, keeping their mouths shut, and trying not to aggravate the aggressor.

Schools always quote bullying statistics but, for the people being bullied, it constitutes 100% of their life. If you are being bullied, then try to speak out. If you are the negligent bystander, then try to be braver. And if you are the bully, then shame on you.

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Local Parking Charges

I popped into Southsea last week for the first time in a while and parked, as I usually would, in Waitrose. For as long as I can remember, it’s been £1 for a minimum stay, or free if you shopped in the store.

Much as it makes me sound like a total tightwad, I was shocked to be charged £2.50 after a 40 min stay, because I’d only spent £8. It transpires that you now need to spend over a tenner to get free parking – otherwise, according to John Lewis, it’s not worth their operating the car-park. Even the person operating the barrier looked embarrassed to impart this obvious twaddle. After all, it’s operated just fine for the past two decades so I suspect the honest response is rather more simple: they’d like to make more cash from it. End of.

 

Small World

I’d like to thank everyone who contacted me about the coincidences column that I wrote. Several people emailed with fascinating tales of complex coincidence, following my piece about the Jungian concept of synchronicity.

I had my own experience of coincidence on holiday this year when we bumped into good friends whilst in deepest, darkest Cornwall, which had me thinking about ‘small world’ clichés.

I remember once, a long time ago, bumping into my English teacher whilst I was at a restaurant in Rouen, France, and also being stood behind two girls from my school in the queue for Space Mountain in Florida. If you have an example of small world coincidence then please do contact me, I’d be fascinated to hear.

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First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 20th August 2016

 

That certain something that bonds us as Friends…

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There are people we meet in life with whom we click. Firm friends who see us through the great times, the fun times, and the times when all we do is sob and snot on each other. But what is it that connects us? What it is that whispers to some unknown part of ourselves, and enables us to establish those bonds that make us not friends, but Friends?

I have been buddies with Jodi Webb, nee Simmonds, for 31 years now, and I know that whatever happens, she will be there for me. We have seen one another through some tough times and some incredible life adventures, the bonkers (or sometimes tragic), nature of which many people don’t encounter until they’ve lived a lifetime. We have certainly not led uneventful lives. But here we are, 3 decades later, and I know that no matter what, she has my back, and vice versa.

Clearly there was something about she and I that just clicked on the day that we met, all those years ago. When Jodi and her husband, Dave, come round for a meal, it is simply a given that she and I will spend most of it laughing until we cry and, best of all, our husbands get along extremely well, too. We are all completely at ease with one another – no pretences, no lines that can’t be crossed, free and open to speak about anything that is on our minds. And that level of total liberty is rare in life, isn’t it? To feel that you can discuss anything, raise any opinions, and truly be seen by other people for who you are.

It’s strange isn’t it, these connections that human beings are lucky enough to stumble upon as we go through life? Some of my closest friends are those whom I have known for years, often from school, but others were met later in life, through uni and work. People come and go, acquaintances are made and lost, but every so often you are so firmly on one another’s wavelength that bonds deepen, trust and loyalty are built, and you know that you are real Friends.

According to Aristotle there are 3 kinds of friends. Those with whom we enjoy socialising or carrying out our hobbies with, those to whom we have a civic duty such as colleagues or neighbours, and then those with whom we are real Friends (obviously some of these may cross over). He suggested that the latter are mirrors to one another, a soul inhabiting two bodies, hence the incredible bond that you can sometimes have. Within this category, it goes without saying, we should also be able to include our partner. These Friends are the people to whom you can say absolutely anything, for whom you don’t put a spin on a story so that you come out best, to whom you don’t exaggerate or underplay,  or care about creating an impression in front of. These are the people we can speak to when we are at our lowest – when we may feel ashamed of our behaviour or to whom we may admit things we’d never tell to another. A rarity.

Another person you may have heard of once or twice, Charles Darwin, said that a person’s friendships are the true measure of their worth, and if that is true, then I count myself as rolling in it. If my mates see something in me, when I am at my barest self with them, all my faults and fuck ups and fears, but also all of my love and compassion and care, then how incredibly lucky am I?  Thank you, Friends, you know who you are.

 

Cleaning the house when your kids are broken up from school…

I can’t be the only person who is currently, thanks to the summer holidays, watching their home being destroyed around them.

I am sitting at night on the edge of the sofa, unable to relax upon spotting the toys, pens, pencils, tiny scraps of chopped-up paper, bin-bag-dresses, and glue, that are the natural accompaniments to every movement of a 7 and 10 year old who have broken up from school.

This morning I caved and whizzed through with a speedy version of a deep clean. This will have been wasted – by tomorrow they will have cycloned back through the house undoing my good work – but for the sake of my own sanity, and simple hygiene, I had to do it.

 

Home Coffee comes to Cosham… Three cheers!

If you live at the north end of the city, then lucky you. Home Coffee (who have been thriving in Albert Road for over 18 months now), have come to Cosham, and the décor, the staff, and the food, is fabulous.

It’s refreshing to see somewhere, the likes of which is, for unknown reasons, usually confined to Southsea, opening at the forgotten end of the city. Greasy Spoons are ten a penny (and who doesn’t like a fry up once in while?), but it’s lovely to finally have an establishment that recognises it’s not only the inhabitants of Southsea who eat avocado et al, and would like to do so within walking distance of their own homes.

I fully recommend it.

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Some of the wonderful guys from Home Coffee, image courtesy of aboutmyarea.co.uk

 

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 13th August 2016

 

Coincidence … Or more mysterious?

I’m experimenting this week by posting direct to my column at The News. I’d be grateful if you can post a comment directly on it or, as the newspaper suggests, email the editor.

Ever heard about the incredible coincidence on The Wizard of Oz set? Ever experienced a coincidence so incredible that it led you to question whether psychic abilities exist? Read on… And please do comment if you have!

 

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/opinion/coincidences-happen-but-some-leave-us-astounded-1-7479139

 

 

Friendship circles and when loyalty lies.

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There is a general sentiment in life that, when the going gets tough, you find out who your real friends are.

I’m not sure that’s entirely true, as a ‘friend’ will be there through all times, whereas those who crawl out during a drama (whether it’s yours or theirs) are not always to be trusted.

Part of this depends I suppose on your definition of ‘friend’ and, in particular, your need of them. We tend to have circles of friends. The outer circle is that of acquaintance, the inner circle denotes deeper friendship, and the centre is comprised of our dearest, real friends. The ones whom you wholly trust, and who can wholly trust you.

We all have bickerings from time to time and fallings out, or disagreements, but if you ever meet someone who is willing to be disloyal about those who take centre court in their own friendship circle, then of course you know you’re onto a losing thing. I remember once speaking to someone who told me, within 48 hours of finding out themselves, that their oldest friend was having an affair. I heard the intimate details, the snide comments, and then immediately decided that I would never share anything beyond the superficial with them myself. After all, this was not simply a minor moan. This was the imparting of life-wrecking material, highly confidential, not gossip fodder. Loyalty that lies is no loyalty at all.

The most basic fact of human life, aside from our mortality, is probably our diversity. Each of us is complex in our own ways, nobody knows what goes on inside your mind (imagine if they did…) and we all have moments of ‘aargh’ with one another, we say things we regret and things that are not kind. There’s simply no way around this, but if someone is at the very centre of our friendship circle, then hopefully they generate true loyalty within us.

The crux of both platonic and romantic love, and therefore at the absolute core of our friendship circle, can probably be defined by the ability to feel totally at ease with that person or those people. To truly see, and be seen. To have nothing to hide, no front to put on, and no pretense, or airs, or graces. To be up-front, honest about our own situations, our wishes and hopes, and to feel comfortable enough to show who we really are, without fear of condemnation or judgment.

If there is someone in your life with whom you are able to be your utter and honest self, then hold on tight. Out of all the rest, they’re the keeper.

 

Pompey Camaraderie 

My family went to Manor Infant School’s summer fair last weekend, and had a fantastic day in the sunshine, the wind, and the rain.

It was a typical British summer’s day with a plethora of weather fronts, but the thing that stood out the most was that rather than not coming at all, or scarpering at the first rain drop, the families stayed put and enjoyed the day.

The sense of true Pompey community was there for all to see, from the camaraderie of the families, the huge effort from the staff, and the fact that a new nursery is being built so that from September, children can attend the same school from aged 2 – 7. Wonderful to see.

 

Gove. Say no more.

(Thankfully, since I whisked this off to my editors, the little weasel is out of the prime ministerial running… whoop!)

This year’s GCSE results are still more than a month away but many parents, not to mention employers, may not be aware that from next summer, students will no longer be awarded an A*-G grade.

Instead, your grade will come in the form of a number, with 9 as the highest and 1 as the lowest.

The government have not told teachers exactly what these grades will constitute – a 9 for example is around the equivalent of an A**, something that doesn’t even exist at the moment, and is probably as easy to achieve as a glimpse of Brigadoon.

We can thank Michael Gove for this. Worryingly indicative of the chaos that could occur should he become Prime Minister.

First published in The Portsmouth News on Saturday 9th July 2016

Family is the glass ball in the juggling act of life.

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If there is one skill in life that I am constantly trying to hone and prioritise, then it is that of, ironically, prioritising.

It seems that if you want to be successful in just about anything, even a weekly food shop, then you simply have to prioritise, and sometimes the thing that must take top priority is yourself and your own equilibrium.

If we do not prioritise then we simply become bogged down by the minutiae of life and never see the woods for the proverbial. If you are an adult who is running a home, with bills and a job, and perhaps children and their schooling, plus extra-curricular events, then you absolutely cannot survive unless you learn to prioritise. And not sweat the small stuff.

Life is an intricate juggling game, and in a century where we are all working our socks off, and we are all contactable twenty-four seven, it is hard to switch off and spend some time cosseting ourselves and our families. And here’s the lesson we often forget; life is a juggling act, but family is the only ball that’s made of glass.

Family and ourselves are the balls that we cannot afford to drop. The only certainty in life is that one day, we shall cease to be, and when that day comes, few of us will wish we’d spent longer replying to emails that could wait until morning, and less time cuddling our kids, or actually replying to them instead of saying “I’m busy, what now?”

When we are first born into the world, we are the priority. We spend our formative years being answered to, fussed over, watched for almost every second of our infant existence for one reason; survival. Our parents love us and their every instinct is to keep us alive until we can keep ourselves alive.

Once that occurs, and we can be more or less trusted to learn the rest by trying and testing, we often start to slip off our own radars, especially once we begin careers or families. This week, try to make ‘you’ your number one.

 

Brexit: 8 days on.

By the time this reaches print, the Brexit decision will be 8 days old. Still in its newborn phase, and most likely still a point of serious contention.

I found it interesting that, on social media, within an hour of the announcement, many leave voters were wishing that the remainers would ‘shut up’. Odd, given that this is a momentous move on the part of the UK. Why on earth would people not discuss it?

This intolerance of listening to, or allowing, expressions of opinion, seems to be a key feature in some of the leavers. Horribly reminiscent of an early twentieth century leader whose intolerant world-views have been the basis of lessons we appear to have forgotten since.

 

Kanye West: he of the mega ego, and always a favourite contender for Wally of the Week.

Kanye has posted a new video online to accompany his song, Famous. In it, we see West lying in bed, nude bar a sheet for his modesty, with his wife draped to one side.

Remarkably, given the fact that Kim’s bottom is therefore also present, Kanye still found enough room to squeeze 10 other celebrities into the bed with them. Said celebrities are presumed to be courtesy of either CGI or wax. So about as useful as they are real life.

One of the wax/CGI works is Taylor Swift, and she, as with all of the ladies, is starkers with her boobs out (of course, because how else would women be portrayed?), whilst the menfolk have their bits and bobs covered up.

I am looking forward therefore to see what Swift’s retaliation will be. Fingers crossed that for once it’s not a song. If she has an ounce of nous it will be a very tiny, teeny, weeny, depiction of… ‘little’ Kanye.

First published in The Portsmouth News, Saturday 2nd July 2016