Monday, January 12, 2015

Friday, January 09, 2015

Not Another Trial For Poor Old Ched Evans

As we learn that his signing by Oldham Athletic appears to have fallen through for now at least, the phrase "trial by social media" is being used huffily by supporters of poor old victim-of-rape-law, Ched Evans.

Awful, isn't it, that vast numbers of people are moved to speak out against the crime of which he is convicted and his public failure to express any remorse? This is no way to serve justice, by allowing any old person to comment on the matter...

The thing is, there are parts of this affair that are dealt with by the law and parts that are not. That Evans's actions amount to rape has been decided by a court of law. That he is not legally barred from working as a professional footballer is decided by the law. Whether or not a football club ought to choose to employ this unrepentant offender is not decided by law: that dilemma is a matter of judgement, of responsibility, of morality. Oh and money: like it or not, it's mainly a matter of money, and Evans is reduced in the January football sales.

Oldham Athletic is a business. It's a peculiar type of business in that it relies more than most on the loyalty and goodwill of its customers, the fans, and that those customers feel a deeper connection than most to the business they buy from. I shop loyally at Aldi but I don't take my family there to wave and cheer and worship its employees like minor deities (OK, maybe a little: they are VERY quick on the checkout). Oldham is also a business that relies on a third interested party, its body of sponsors, who are all too aware that returns on their investment rely on the same goodwill of the fans.

Does Nando's really care whether it's right for Oldham to employ Evans? Hard to tell, but Nando's really does care if thousands of fans and millions of internet commenters decide they will never again cough up their hard-earned for that spicy chicken. I'd love to think Nando's wants to lead the way in changing misogynist culture - that would make me feel even better about eating peri peri - but I rather think their expensive PR, legal and accounting departments know all of the above and that is how they decide to stay with Oldham or pull out. It's all about money.

After the Scottish independence referendum this year, a financier invoked the wrath of many by admitting that he'd brought home over £1 million on a bet on the 'no' result. He was called callous and heartless to benefit so from the crushed dreams of 'The Forty-Five'. He explained though: it was a bet, plain and simple, with very short odds and a large stake of his own personal wealth (he bet £900k and his actual profit was just under £200k). While his heart was interested in the result from a political point of view, his head was thinking only about how strongly he could predict the outcome and how much to stake. The information he needed to predict the result, he said, was out there to be gleaned on the internet. Glean he did, and he took a precisely calculated risk and won.

It was all about the money. It was a professional gamble, as is every sponsorship deal, as is every decision by a club to invest in a new player. To pay big money for a figurehead star player who will draw the crowds and their ticket money as well as scoring prize-money-generating goals? To sign the talented unrepentant sex offender for a bargain basement price and save some cash for the coffers, offsetting the lost sponsorship and lost ticket sales when fans are turned off? Where would a club find the information they need to make that decision? Where, but all over the internet where fans of the Oldham and spicy chicken and rainwater solutions are making it clear how they feel about paying Ched Evans's wages.

If Evans has had a "trial by social media" then it wasn't to decide his guilt or innocence: it was to determine his worth as a financial investment and it looks rather like the jury of club and investors have found that to be 'not enough'.

Kate O'Hara

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Five Alternatives To The Claridges Shroud Of Shame

This week in London, a woman made a terrible faux pas. Not only did she bring her awful infant offspring to a posh London hotel* but, when the mewing runt required feeding, like a beast of the field she offered it to suckle from her naughty, rude, sexy breast.

You may scoff in disbelief, reader, but it’s true. In this civilised day and age, when the purpose of the breast as a fashion accessory, billboard of sexual availability or newspaper sales tool is firmly established, this maid exposed her pillows of shame and laid them out** like a bestial buffet to be devoured, not only by the mouth of the babe, but also by the helpless hungry eyes of the gentle people around her.

Luckily, the staff of the hotel was eagle-eyed to the embarrassing incident and, ever watchful of the dignity of its guests, rushed to the scene, producing a white linen shroud with which to shield the delicate gaze of other diners*** from the base bodily function being allowed to occur.

* A hotel which does not have a ‘no babies’ policy and claims to welcome breastfeeding.
** Lifted a corner of her sweater, cradled her baby close and carried on with proceedings so discreetly that most people wouldn’t have noticed what she was doing.
*** To be sure and attract the attention of anyone who hadn’t yet noticed what was happening.

It’s a shocking tale and I know that you, reader, would wish not to shame this poor lady any further, rather to equip her with the tools to preserve her dignity in future. Therefore, I have collated a few better courses of action, a few alternatives to the Claridges Shroud Of Shame, so that you may share them with any mother you know to be similarly disabused of the indecency of breastfeeding in a civilised setting.

  1. Stay at home in your place, female. You have chosen to allow the seed of a male past your natural defences and to conceive of young, so now accept the responsibility to keep the rotten fruits of your labour to yourself. A short, local walk, in between feeds, is an appropriate outing for one with an unfortunate appendage such as yours.
  2. Consider formula feeding. A plastic bottle is so much more palatable to the eye and milk wrangled from the muck-spattered teat of a farm animal will cause offence to no-one.
  3. Have the baby wait. Children must learn patience and, unlike your lewd interactions with the lips of your infant, your fellow diners will patiently, nay blithely, endure the cries of a hungry child for the sake of the moral fibre of the generation to come.
  4. Take yourself to the toilet. Far better you perch yourself on a porcelain milking stool and enjoy the animal stenches of others, than your fellow inhabitants be coerced to exercise their choice of where to orient their gaze.
  5. Finally, if you really do feel you must move in polite society whilst so encumbered, take on staff. A wet nurse can be retained within the means of most moderate estates. If this is not the case for you then perhaps, notwithstanding your ability to pay the bill, Claridges is not the place for you. Have you thought of Tillings Cafe in Surrey?


If you enjoyed this much-needed dose of common sense into the muscle of politically correct madness, then I would recommend you stay well clear of Deborah Orr’s piece on this case. You may find it uncomfortably difficult to argue against.

Kate O’Hara

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Cactus Growing For Beginners (or How To Undermine Breastfeeding)

Imagine you woke up tomorrow and everybody was growing little cactuses. The world had realised that growing cactuses was a very, very important pursuit. You decide to grow a little cactus too and you want to get it right so, like a good citizen, you read the latest advice.

The government says that the best way to nurture your tiny cactus is to keep it in your earhole. People used to grow them this way but it fell out of fashion. However, the research is all there and it’s clear this is best for the cactus and best for you. It sounds a bit odd if it’s new to you, but you see more and more people everywhere, nurturing their tiny spiky succulents in their lugholes. You worry it might be sore trying to put a jaggy plant in there. You know people who tried and gave up because it hurt. You also know people who found it a cakewalk from day one. You decide to give it a go.

It’s very important to get the technique right. If you don’t get the position just right, get the cactus at the right angle, you can end up with a very sore ear. Worse, your cactus might not get the best out of your ear and may not grow fast enough. People who have been ear-rearing cactuses for a long time know that most problems can be solved with patience and the help of an experienced eye, but a lot of the population at large have forgotten how to grow them this way.

The government provides advisers but, while they’ve all been to compulsory training sessions, most don’t have much experience of ear-growing. The government used to say it was best to grow cactuses in special incubators and provided these for free. Most of your parents’ generation grew their cactuses that way, and most of the advisers too. You can still buy the incubators but they are expensive and the government advice is strong and clear: ear is best.

Growing in an incubator is pretty straightforward and the cactuses tend to grow in a uniform way, while ear-reared plants grow at more varied rates, but healthily nonetheless. Despite this the old standard of 2mm growth per day is expected and so a government adviser will visit you in the first few weeks of life to make sure your cactus is growing at the correct rate; if it’s not, you will be advised to break all of the advice you’ve been given so far and buy an incubator.

If this happens you can expect the most awful crisis of confidence as you are faced with a Hobson’s choice: give up on what you were told so unequivocally was right and you believed was best, or carry on but with the feeling that you have been caught starving your cactus and the Horticultural Services are waiting around the corner to take it away at any minute. To make matters even trickier, there's a good chance you will now start to hear well-meaning voices from every direction saying, “Just put it in the incubator; mine turned out alright.”

If you’re very lucky you might get access to a real cactus ear-growing expert or have people in your life who know how to do it, people who can reassure you, support your choice and help you work through the rough patch. But there is a good chance you won’t and you don’t because they are few and far between.

Growing cactuses in your earhole is nonsense, but this strange tale is for many the sad reality of breastfeeding in the UK today. Lots and lots of people want to do it, lots and lots of people try to do it, and lots and lots of people are let down by the crazy system that’s in place in the offically pro-breastfeeding NHS.

There is some excellent support available but the provision is sketchy and it seems to be a matter of luck whether there is specialist support in your area and whether you somehow find out about it. Some professionals have obviously had training and try their best but don’t really have enough experience and miss subtle problems. Some are obviously toeing the party line but desperate to push formula feeding at the first sign of trouble. Some are wonderful and experienced and calm and patient and brilliantly informed, but their hands are tied by arbitrary numbers which require them to instigate certain courses of action. The system repeatedly undermines itself in promoting and supporting breastfeeding.

One crazy example stands out from my experience. My son and I struggled to get going with feeding at the start for various reasons mostly to do with the sort of birth he had and in the first week I was recommended to supplement with formula milk. A tenet of breastfeeding is that baby takes and gets exactly the amount he/she needs and there is no way to reliably measure either the volume or composition. You just have to trust the booby (like the rest of the mammal kingdom). Tiny brand new babies drink tiny amounts but doctors have a formula for calculating by weight the exact amount of formula milk an infant would require. In the midwife led unit where I gave birth, in order to stay ‘within the rules’ as midwife informed me apologetically, once I had consented to formula top-ups, the midwives and I were forced to spend hours trying to cup feed the entire regulation amount of formula milk to an exhausted tiny baby who had already had a breast feed. Most went down the sink and most of the rest was promptly regurgitated. You can’t measure the breastmilk mind, so you have to assume nothing went in.

The purpose of this article is not to convince anyone that breast is best.  However, having breastfed my own little non-starter through myriad problems and past the age of 2, I do have a bit of advice for mums who do want to give it a go, and a request for the people around them.

Mums, if you want to breastfeed, you almost certainly can. Most problems can be tackled by ensuring a good latch and position, and doggedly feeding your baby on demand, but you may well need a bit of support. Dig for it. If the first person you see is happy things are fine but you’re not, look for someone else. I had some excellent support from professionals, but I had to pick through some rubbish advice too. You can phone the National Breastfeeding Helpline on 0300 1000 212 to find out what’s available.

Professionals, please say, “I’m not sure” when you’re not and pass on to someone with more experience. When you have to give certain advice because of protocol, please explain that so mum can make an informed choice.

Family and friends of mums who are struggling with breastfeeding, instead of jumping straight in with the old chestnut, “You were bottle fed and you turned out alright!”, please start with the question, “What do you want to do?”. Thinking that your partner or mum thinks you’re starving your baby is even worse than thinking it of the health visitor. Maybe even just start with, “What’s not right? How can I help?” You can ring that helpline too. Mum almost certainly has plenty of milk for her baby, but there’s a good chance her confidence and energy reserves are low: fill that gap instead.

Kate O’Hara

Friday, November 07, 2014

Gamely Tackling Motherhood - A Response To "Happily Embracing Motherhood"

I was recently ensconced with a coffee and a chocolate bar and enjoying my daily dose of Standard Issue magazine when for the first time, instead of nodding sagely and chuckling wryly in agreement, I found myself getting a bit het up and annoyed. (No bad thing.) The culprit was Kate Fox in her excellent article “Happily Embracing Otherhood”. Her crime was reducing parenting to dirty nappies, sleepless nights and tantrums in the supermarket.
Of course she didn’t do that. What she did, in an article about the frustration felt in having to constantly defend a lifestyle that doesn’t involve parenting children, was to identify three parenting experiences she was content to miss out on. And I truly couldn’t agree more with Kate. While I’m a babymaker, I have plenty of friends who are not interested and when I try to explain that to other people it is nigh on impossible. If it was my own preference I was trying to defend, I’d go insane and harm someone.
Having thought it through rationally, however, I was still prickling. What gives? I had a bit more chocolate and a think (while my three-year-old next door, sensing mum’s level of distraction, systematically siphoned all the raisins and apricots out of a bag of trail mix while performing an exploratory reinstall of my laptop) and I think it’s this:
It is now against the law to parent a child without trauma and pain.
Certainly all over the internet it is, and certainly in the area where I live, Middleclasshavingbabiesville, where everyone signs up to the parenting support group on the date of conception to get the worrying and untenable principle-forming started nice and early. Round here, All-The-Other-Mothers-And-Equally-Participating-Fathers-Of-Course, will make sure you know in plenty time:
  1. You will never sleep again until your child leaves home.
  2. Mealtimes will be a battle and a trauma, always, forever.
  3. You and your partner will never again have sex or even like each other.
  4. If you choose to breastfeed you will never be able to leave your child for more than two hours until they are six years old.
  5. Your child will tantrum and scream all day and you will duly suffer nervous collapse.
  6. You will have no money ever again and you will never have another night out.
  7. You will henceforth experience constant guilt and uncertainty about everything you do, say or feed to your child.
Those are the laws. Make sure you know them. Is there any truth in them? Yes. Of course. There is a grain of truth in every one and, depending on the individual nature of your little darling and depending on how dutifully you embrace number 7, you may well have (long) periods of one or more of the situations described above.
But my goodness, you’d be pretty unlucky to get a full set, forever, and the guilt and nervous collapse are not compulsory. And you are a functioning and resourceful adult: you can actually solve problems and work through a lot of mire and come out the other side. I’m not going to go on about how wonderful children are and how that makes up for everything: parenting takes effort but it’s also enjoyable and rewarding most of the time - enough said for now - but that list up there does not constitute reality or the norm.
The thing is there seems now to be a parenting code of trying to get everyone else to be as miserable as you are. Dare I say, to validate your own perceived failure by getting everyone else to ‘fail’ the same way and painting it as the norm.
What’s behind this? Why are we even miserable and thinking we’re failing? I reckon if we are managing to muddle through and the infant is still extant then we're succeeding. I think there are a few issues at play but they all contribute to one big issue: that perfectly capable and high functioning adults no longer recognise the amazing superpowers they possess for raising babies: instinct and common sense. As I said before, with these tools and time you can solve most problems and work through the rest without driving yourself to distraction.
There are a few trends/phenomena nowadays that I think contribute a lot to this:
  • Living far from our relatives. We don’t tend to have our mum or our grandpa on hand when faced with the blood-pressure-spiking sound of our overtired baby crying to say, “He’s just having a wee moan. He’s tired. Wrap him up and let him moan for a minute and he’ll sleep.” Older people are the best resource and reference point for common sense and sanity. When you tell older people you have a baby on the way,  they tend to say, “That’s lovely. They’ll keep you fit.” When you tell your peers, especially those who already have children, they are wont to rub their hands and cackle, "Oh ho ho! It's all about to change!"
  • Overinformation and undereducation. In the absence of people we trust to ask we turn to books and manuals. Books and manuals tend to give one side of an argument. If you don’t feel confident, you have to pick one and stick to it. It might work. Great news until it stops working (babies are fickle and they stop working all the time). You won’t trust yourself by then and you’ll find that your critical skills in reading can’t bubble through the soup of guilt and uncertainty. “She’s always cried for a minute before she sleeps, but tonight I’m sure there is something else wrong. It’s not in the book though…”
  • The Bloody Internet. I’ll be the first to say there is a lot of support to be found out there on the web when you feel alone and lost with your baby, but my goodness, pity help you when you run into someone feeling self-righteous (probably to make up for something or other they don’t feel so good about) about the issue you’re considering. You ask your honest question - “My boy always has a wee cry before he sleeps, but I wonder if he has sore ears tonight. If I cuddle him tonight will he learn how to settle again or will I ruin his routine?” - and you won’t believe the takedown you get from someone who is 100% certain, forever, no deviation, that letting your baby cry for a second will damage him irreparably.
  • Marketing. I never felt the pressure of advertising and marketing like a goblin on my shoulder beating on my skull until I fell pregnant and had a baby. The message could not be clearer, stronger or more constant: if your baby is broken it’s because you’re not buying her the right thing. You've already bought it? Must have been the wrong brand, not organic, synthetic fibres, etc. I’d like to pretend I can see past these things but I once stood in a baby shop for 40 minutes swithering over whether I could buy a baby sleeping bag that was not of the one approved brand. And I genuinely wondered whether I ought to stop happily breastfeeding my thriving baby at 7 months because a formula milk advert used a certain tone when they said, “Should you choose to move on…”
No wonder it’s tough. No wonder we embrace the guilt and sense of failure so readily, even the guilt and sense of failure of others. There’s another unwritten rule but you’ll soon pick it up: if it’s working and you’re happy, you keep that to yourself. Don’t let on that you got that baby to sleep by sleep training him and you’re fine with it. Or that you never got him to sleep so he’s now in your bed every night but you’re fine with that. Just make sure everyone else knows that babies never sleep so they will ‘fail’ too and make you feel OK that you did (didn’t).
Isn’t this very strange? Why on earth do we do it to one another? Because, I suppose, all those things above take power away from us and this is one way to claw a bit back. We should do better. We should be the older relative. We should tell the rooky parents and our peers how great it is, tell them about a problem we solved or a habit we broke with a bit of work, tell them the things that aren’t as bad as you think, tell them when we conquered the guilt, tell them when we’re still unsure but we know we’ll work it out. We should tell them to use their instinct, shake off the guilt and have a go.
Kate Fox, none of this vexation of mine is your fault, but here you are. Dirty nappies? Can’t be any worse than bagging Norbert poo. Sleepless nights? They come and go. Tantrums in Tesco? Worse things happen at sea. The truly crap bits of parenting that you truly are winning by missing out on are the enforced guilt and sense of failure and, worst of all, the other bloody parents.
Kate O’Hara @1meanhousewife
Kate Fox’s article is here.