Whether you are a guest, or the host, having kids at a wedding can be stressful. Finding the balance between keeping the kids happy, and turning the wedding into a Kinderfest can be tricky. We’ve all been to weddings where the tender vows of the bride and groom haven’t been heard by the guests because of a bawling baby! And I am guessing a few of you have attended a wedding with young children, chasing after them all day, having no fun, no wine and a pretty miserable time. Here are my top tips on keeping everyone happy.
1. Hire an Entertainer / Set up a Creche
Some venues have a room close to the main function suite that can be used as a creche/playroom/activity room. You can then hire an entertainer , or if you or your friends have a childminder, ask if they would be willing to do this.
2. Hire a Bouncy Castle
You will need to have someone around to supervise (and to ensure that no drunk guests have a bounce later in the day!) but a Bouncy Castle is always a winner with kids. Only downside – we do live in Scotland, so if the weather is bad, then this will be a washout.
3. Origami Kit
For slightly older kids – an Origami Kit will keep them amused during the speeches, and they can delight their relatives by giving them an amazing
grubby crumpled bit of paper piece of art.
3. Hand Puppets
These will keep little ones busy – they can whisper stories and wave to each other. Probably best to keep them away from the bride, with their glue covered fingers!
4. Wedding Activity Bags or Boxes
What kid can resist a goodie bag? You can make these up yourself, or buy them ready made. Fill with a selection of activities – no felt tip pens though, for the sake of all the bonnie frocks!
1. I Spy Conversation Game
This one is better suited for after the meal, and is a great ice breaker for all the guests. Place a card, a disposable camera, and a pencil at each child’s setting, and see which kid can photograph all the items on the list first. You won’t need an incentive to get the kids playing, but a small prize for the winner is a good idea.
From Martha Stewart
While searching for pics for this article, I came across these images of a bride jumping into the water with her kids. That is one way of keeping the kids happy, I suppose!
Updated on January 4, 2016
I interviewed ‘The Yorkshire Shepherdess’, Amanda Owen for Jump! Mag this week. When we started talking about raising children, Amanda had some great thoughts on allowing kids to explore and develop, that I wanted to share here.
Amanda loves the isolation of Ravenseat, the farm in the Yorkshire Dales, but is connected to the rest of the world via a satellite dish that provides the farm with internet connection. She discovered Twitter, and started sharing tales of her life in 140 character chunks, accompanied by stunning photos. Her chatty informal style was a big hit; she has amassed over 7000 followers and recently published a book.
The Yorkshire Shepherdess is reminiscent of the James Herriot stories we all know from our childhood, and brings Amanda full circle. It was the Herriot books that first set her on the way to becoming a shepherdess, inspiring her to want to work with animals. A career as a vet was ‘academically just not going to happen’. Another book, this time a photographic essay called The Hill Shepherd brought clarity, and a concrete aim – Amanda knew she wanted to be a Shepherdess, and not one on a lowland commercial farm.
As we chatted last week, Amanda was multi-tasking – serving cream teas to visitors, making scones and what she later termed a ‘deconstructed pie’, which was left rather too long in the oven! She has managed to transfer that warmth and humour onto the pages of her book, so that one almost feels as if she is sitting on the sofa, telling her story in a gorgeous Yorkshire accent.
Her story is told more or less chronologically, from her childhood far from farming life to her first experiences, and on to meeting her husband and settling into his farm. He too is a first generation farmer, but the love they both feel for their patch of land is apparent. Living on such an isolated farm does bring challenges, such as being so far from medical help when heavily pregnant and facing complications. The book deals with the Owen’s brush with fame on the TV series The Dales, and Amanda’s business ideas such as serving tea and scones to the walkers who pass through the farm, and the Shepherd’s Hut for staying overnight .
The book is definitely worth a read. You can buy it in your local bookstore, or online via Hive Bookstores.
On Being Wonder Woman
The kids all have responsibilities and have jobs to do at home. I think it is important for children, no matter what career you want to do, that you know that you have to do things. They need to know that they are important to us, and to how things are run. It gives me a sense of pride really, to see them doing things.
They play like normal children, but they also have that sense of freedom. Last night I was getting them showered, and I thought they’d all gone to the bedroom, but when I came back downstairs, they’d all gone back outside cause there was a lamb that needed a top up of milk. So they were there, in their dressing gowns in the farmyard, with a lamb!
I am very laid-back, I have to be. I think to myself, perhaps it wasn’t the greatest thing to be outside nursing a pet lamb in their dressing gowns, but does it really matter? Probably not. You know, in the scheme of things? Why sweat the small stuff?
I’m not Wonder Woman. It slightly annoys me, when people say, ‘Oh, you are Wonder Woman! You can do this that and the other’. No, I can’t. Something has to give, and quite often it is fact that I am not that fussed about housework. The house is fine, I am standing here, the washing is drying above the fire, it looks like it could do with a hoover, you know.
In the scheme of things, are the kids ever going to look back and say, ‘God, wasn’t our childhood fantastic? Do you remember how mother used to hoover everyday?’
It’s not going to happen, is it? They are going to look back, and they going to remember the laughs we had. I don’t want to be smugmum and say ‘You have to do it like this’, because you don’t. You just have to do your best, don’t you? As long as everyone is happy, and everyone is smiling.
On Town vs Country Kids
I did an book launch talk in Richmond recently and the manager of the bookstore asked if I was bringing the kids. He probably thought it would be complete pandemonium, with seven really bored kids, and he said ‘I’ve got you free tickets to go and see the LEGO film’. You’d have thought the kids had won the lottery. They were so excited. They hadn’t been to the cinema before. So that makes it special, it is more of a treat. Things are more special if you don’t have access to them all of the time.
Here, they have the savvy to know their patch. They know which horses are the risky ones, they know about the river. They go and look at the river, but it holds no intrigue at all, because it is just there. There is plenty of opportunities of places they could go and drown! There is a cliff right outside the back where they could fall off. There is a multitude of dangerous things, that they could kill themselves on, but you see, they don’t. Because they’ve always been there.
But if I take them into a town, it is a total nightmare! They have no traffic sense at all. I really stress about that. I watch little kids cycle down the pavement on one of those little tricycles, and I will think, ‘Oh, my God. That child is going to get run over!’How irresponsible to let that little child do that’, but it is just the other way around, isn’t it? My son spends many happy hours sitting down by the river, setting little bits of hay on fire. I’m absolutely sure he is never going to become an arsonist! It is learning; they learn common sense, they learn about nature.
On Imparting Local Knowledge
Nowadays you get sent a map of your farm, but they have none of the old names of the places. I spend a lot of the time speaking to the kids, and teaching them these names, saying ‘Right, we are going to take the sheep up to Round Hill’. Quite often these place names relate to things and people who have gone before, and I think it is good to remember them. It would be a shame if that knowledge was lost.
It is that nice feeling, that you are doing exactly the same thing that people have always done. On a farm like ours, we don’t have boundaries, so the sheep have a kind of homing instinct, that keeps them on the right patch of the hills. You breed the sheep, and when you die, or when you leave, the sheep stay. The sheep don’t belong to you really, you have them for a little while, you are looking after them for the next generation.
Disclaimer – I was sent a copy of Amanda’s book to review on this blog.
Photographs copyright of Amanda Owen.
For many, Bonfire night is eagerly anticipated and thoroughly enjoyed. Some younger or more noise sensitive children find it overwhelming, loud and downright scary. In the run up to the 5th November, start to prepare your child for the big bangs and whistles.
Talk about Noise – and Make some Noise
Talk about animals that are loud, and those which are quiet. Play at being quiet as a mouse, and loud as a DINOSAUR. Get your child to ROAAAAAAAAAAR like a lion, and roar back. Let the child bang on some pots with a wooden spoon, and band the pot lids together.
Think about getting the child some ear protectors, and let him or her try them out, while banging on pots. Does that make a difference? Is it less noisy, less scary?
Explain How Fireworks are Made
Here are a couple of good videos about explosions and fireworks (remember to put the volume down!)
Talk about Safety
For a lot of kids, it is the worry that something will go wrong that is scary, so talk about all the safety features that you have in place. If you planning to attend a community fireworks display, try and go a few hours earlier so that you can point out how far away the spectators have to stand, and what safety precautions are already in place.
If you are having a party at home, get your child involved in the preparations. Read the Safety Tips here and discuss how to make your display safe.
Have Fun on a Small Scale
You don’t have to go to a big display. Stay home, get a couple of packets of sparklers, light the BBQ and toast some marshmallows. If the fireworks being let off in the neighbourhood are scary, get the ear defenders on.
Be Prepared Call it Off
It is not the end of the world if you don’t go to the Firework display, or if you spend Bonfire Night at home. Download or rent a film that your child would really like to see (or go to the cinema!), get the popcorn, close the curtains and have a cuddle on the sofa. Your child may well feel more confident next year, especially you let them know that their fears and worries are being taken seriously.
Updated on January 4, 2016
When I linked to an article on Jump! Mag about why Americans wash and refrigerate eggs, a follower on Twitter asked if I was referring to the story about Apple’s egg freezing offer. It seems that Apple and Facebook are offering a perk to women employees. The companies will pay for ‘ocyte-cryptopreservation’, so that their employees can delay having children until later in their careers. According to the Telegraph, the process “typically costs between $10,000 and $15,000, plus an additional $1,000-a-year to keep the harvested eggs on ice.”
What surprised me is that this story is being sold as an amazing way of encouraging women into tech companies. According to a study by the Anita Borg Institute, women received only 18.2% of all computer science and 18.4% engineering bachelors degrees in 2010. In recent months many top tech companies have released data on diversity in their workplaces, and it does not look good.
Women make up just 31% of Facebook’s workforce, and only 15% of them work in technical positions.
Even the presence of the celebrated COO Sheryl Sandberg can’t disguise that 77% of the senior-level jobs are held by men, and a majority of them are white. Just 2% of Facebook employees are black, in a country where 12% of the population is African American. It’s clear that diversity is a long way off.
There has been much discussion in the past months on how to persuade more young women into careers in technology. [Side note – Right now, looking at the horrors of #GamerGate, where prominent women in tech have been hounded out of their homes by abusive men, I am not sure if I would advise my daughter to seek a career in this field]
Groups like Stemmettes and ScienceGrrl are doing great work, getting into schools, and encouraging young girls to look at a career in STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Mathematics), and on Jump! Mag, I’ve been keen to promote initiatives that have this aim. We’ve featured a range of women in STEM careers, eg interviews with a structural engineer and a biologist. What happens to these young women though, when they do pursue a career in these fields?
56% of women in technical positions leave tech companies within 10 years – more than double the drop out rate of men
According to research by the National Centre for Women and IT, if current trends continue, by 2018 the information technology industry will only be able to fill half of its available jobs. Added to this, research shows that companies with women in leading roles, outperform less diverse companies. In the coming years, encouraging women into tech careers will be essential for the further development of this field, and keeping women is proving to be even more tricky.
Kieren Snyder, interviewed over 700 women who’ve left technology jobs – do read her article with the personal stories like this one
I negotiated 12 unpaid weeks off when my son was born. Only it wasn’t really time off. I didn’t have to go to the office every day, but I was expected to maintain regular beeper duties and respond within 15 minutes any time there was a problem. I’d be nursing my screaming baby and freaking out that I was going to get fired if I didn’t answer the beeping thing right away.
Kieren explains, ‘lack of flexible work arrangements, the unsupportive work environment, or a salary that was inadequate to pay for childcare’ were the main reasons given for leaving their jobs. Few of them intended going back.
The solution to the lack of women in tech isn’t freezing their eggs. For one thing, there is no guarantee that even with IVF treatment, a women in her late 30s will get pregnant – research suggests that the chances of a live birth after egg freezing for women 30 and older are less than 25%. Who wants to face those odds?
And more importantly, Apple and Facebook are looking at this from the wrong side of the bassinet. Getting pregnant and having a baby is only the beginning – whether that happens when the employee is 27 or 37 years old, she will need support of a different kind.
The idea that we should be grateful, and see this as a marvellous perk is completely nuts. What these companies are basically saying is ‘give up your private life for the good of your career’. Traditionally the primary care-givers are women, so they are more or less forced to quit their jobs, when they can’t combine family life with a career, and men don’t fare much better. How many men don’t get home till after their kids have gone to bed? How many men are distracted at the dinner table, because they are just writing ‘one quick email’. How many men take their smartphone with them at the weekend and on holiday because they don’t dare not be available 24/7?
The relentless pursuit of the next rung on the career ladder means missing out on important milestones of your kids’ lives. How many people can say ‘Sorry, but I promised to take my daughter to the cinema this weekend, I will do the proposal you need on Monday’?
If companies want to encourage women into their workforce, and to keep them there, they need to develop policies that are more FAMILY FRIENDLY. This could include:
– an end to the expectation of 24/7 availability of employees
– decent maternity and paternity leave
– flexible working hours
– being able to ‘buy’ more leave, or take unpaid leave during school holidays
– affordable childcare
I am sure there are many more ideas that could be implemented, such as turning off email servers after an employee has left work, as VW did in Germany in 2011. This one has the advantage that it makes life more pleasant for ALL employees, not just those with children.
As a follower on Twitter remarked yesterday, ‘See also City firms who have gyms, swimming pools & beds for the night available on site. Hmmm, what’s the message there?’. Staff are sold these things as ‘perks’, but what the company is actually doing is keeping their employees working longer, or encroaching on more of their personal time.
The announcement ‘Apple and Facebook Pay for Egg Freezing to Keep Women Employees’, is being sold to us as positive, but a closer look reveals the reality is rotten.
Updated on January 4, 2016
I didn’t intend to write about this topic, but over the past few weeks I have become increasingly annoyed and disappointed at the direction the debate has taken. It seems to have descended to name-calling and point-scoring, which only serves to discourage engagement. I’m not singling out either side, as both have been guilty of this. The schadenfreude shown when pointing out mistakes of the other side, the glee when one of their own scores a point… it is all very unedifying and off-putting.
I should state at this point that I shall be voting ‘No’, so if you are only here to find arguments in favour of Scottish independence, you can click to close the tab on your browser and go about your way. Don’t feel obliged to try and convert me. I welcome comments and debate, but I am not going to change my mind. I am also not looking to change minds; this late in the game, I don’t think there are many undecided. Perhaps I am not the only one who has been hiding behind ‘Oh, I haven’t made up my mind yet’, to avoid confrontation.
In the past weeks, I have become irritated by comments on Social Media about ‘No Voters’ who are not intelligent enough to see the truth, or who are having the wool drawn over their eyes, or who haven’t done enough research. I’ve read many articles, both for and against, I’ve watched the debates, I’ve followed conversations both on and offline. Paul Cairney gives some great advice on how to decide how to vote, including not getting annoyed with a particular person – it isn’t about an individual, or a comment on Twitter.
These are my concerns, and the reasons that I will be voting ‘No’ next week.
No matter how many times I’m shown the clip of Darling admitting that Scotland could retain Sterling, there remains doubt in my mind about the consequences of such an action. I’m not an economist, so I have to rely on those who know more about these things.
Francis Coppola states, ‘ the economic case for Scottish independence is not made, and the currency issue appears fatal’, and Mark Thoma agrees with her comparison to the Euro (I was particularly interested in Mark’s opinion, as he has no affiliation to either side, and I’ve found his writing to be fair and considered). Ed Conway takes a look at the wider economic situation, and compares the future Scotland with the current Greece economy.
Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman advises Scots, ‘Be afraid, be very afraid. The risks of going it alone are huge. You may think that Scotland can become another Canada, but it’s all too likely that it would end up becoming Spain without the sunshine’.
Over the past few days, we’ve heard from numerous large businesses who’ve stated their intention to pull out of Scotland, remove their money from Scottish banks, and/or warned of price rises. All this is denounced as ‘scaremongering’ by YES supporters, but surely we need to think these things through.
If we are an independent country, with our own tax system, customs, employment laws etc, then it will cost companies more to do business here. Will postal and transport costs be increased? Will employers have to pay their staff higher wages? What about National Insurance contributions? They will either pass these extra costs to consumers, or decline to do business in Scotland.
It isn’t scaremongering to ask about interest rates, and what will happen to our mortgages. Not all of us have mortgages with Scottish banks (and even if they did remain in Scotland, the decisions on interest rates will be made in London). How will the lack of Scottish central bank affect this?
The case for Independence seems to start and end with oil. How much money we can expect to raise in taxes, how big the reserves are… but I am worried that we are putting all our eggs in the one basket. I’ve read the statements and theories from both sides, and since no one can say for sure, I am going to have to stick a very big pin in this one.
Westminster, Tories and Ukip
I disagree with many of the policies of the current government, and I am comforted by the fact that the blows are softened here in Scotland. I find the coalition to be detached from the issues and concerns of their constituents, and seriously out of touch. Their attitude towards Europe, and the anti-immigration, anti-foreigner atmosphere that they inflame to placate their right-wing, plays right into the hands of Ukip. I worry that we will be forced into a EU referendum, that would see us exiting Europe – which would be a massive mistake.
However, I cannot make this decision based on animosity towards politicians or parties. Who knows how the political landscape will look in a year or two. The decision we make on independence will be long-lasting and irrevocable. We can’t say, ‘Whoops, we made a mistake, can we come back?’ in ten years time. In this, I agree with JK Rowling
It places higher importance on ‘sticking it’ to David Cameron, who will be long gone before the full consequences of independence are felt, than to looking after your own. It prefers the grand ‘up yours’ gesture to considering what you might be doing to the prospects of future generations.
Institutions, Embassies and the Forces
This is one of my biggest concerns, and it has hardly been mentioned. What about the many institutions needed to run a country?
While some organisations and ministries have already been devolved (Thank GOD, Scotland has it’s own school system!), others have not. What happens with DEFRA, the BBC and the Post Office, Passport Offices, Department for International Development, Department for Work and Pensions, energy companies, DVLA… the list goes on.
As an aside, the Scottish Government’s White Paper asserts that BBC services would still be available to those north of the border as they are in countries such as Holland and Switzerland. I’ve lived in Switzerland, and I can tell you that the overseas package is neither free, nor anything like as comprehensive as in UK.
“An analysis by the Institute of Government last month showed that around 27,000 civil servants work in Scotland on issues that affect the whole of the UK”
How do you split up these organisations, and more importantly, how does an independent Scotland pay for this in the future?
What happens to the embassies around the world? Maintaining consulate services around the world doesn’t come cheap, and it is clear that the UK government will be able to bring stronger pressure to bear on foreign governments, than the much smaller and less consequential Scottish government would.
100 embassies instead of 270 British embassies leaves citizens significantly disadvantaged, should we need an embassy. “The cost of running such a service could range from £100 million to £200m, but “set-up” costs could be significantly higher”, we are told.
The annual cost of the MI5 equivalent, according to Scottish Government White Paper, is estimated to be £206m. Whitehall has suggested that this doesn’t include start up costs.
The Department of Defense has warned that the SNP has seriously underestimated the cost of setting up a Scottish Defense Force, and again, this does not take the start-up costs into account. On a more personal level – how do the suggest splitting the troops? The linked article suggests that Scottish troops would automatically be transferred to the new force, but that is ridiculous and offensive. Our troops aren’t chess figures to be moved around the board at the whim of our politicians. They are men and women, with families – does a Scottish-born serviceman whose lived his entire life in England, and is married to an Englishwoman get forcibly repatriated? How do you decide who is Scottish – do they have to be born in Scotland, or descendant of a Scot?
Reading these reports leaves me with a feeling of deep unease that we haven’t been given the whole truth. How can the Scottish Government claim that our country will be better off, when major costs have not been taken into account? I am of course aware that the criticism of these figures comes from the UK Government, so are not impartial, but the basic issue remains. Can Scotland afford to run the country, in the way that we wish to it to be run?
I am British. Yes, I was born in Scotland, and I love my homeland. A postcard bearing the words of Sir Walter Scott travelled with me, when I lived abroad:
Breathes there the man, with soul so dead, Who never to himself hath said, This is my own, my native land! Whose heart hath ne'er within him burn'd, As home his footsteps he hath turn'd, From wandering on a foreign strand!
At the same time, I was so accustomed to being termed ‘English’, that I stopped correcting people. For Germans, the distinction between England, Scotland and Great Britain was often not very clear.
So while I say that I am Scottish, I would also say that I am British and European. Sometimes I say ‘We Germans…’, simply because I lived there so long, and the other three members of my family are German. I read this blog post earlier, and this resonated with me
I daresay there are people in London, who in all but speech and cultural reference are much more akin to those round here, or even further north, than to those who live scant miles away and make the decisions which govern us all. That a farmer in Cornwall has more in common with a shepherd in Cumbria than the townies who summer down the road or moved there permanently for a new life in the country. Increasingly, surely, we’re not where we’re from: we’re what we have, what we do, what we aspire to. That’s not something which can be defined or contained by borders, national or otherwise.
Conclusion – Some Thoughts on DevoMax and Federalism
Last week a friend on Twitter was discussing the referendum, and noted that she’d have preferred if there had been a choice of DevoMax. According to polls, it was the most popular option, so no wonder some of us feel a bit cheated out of not being able to choose this.
The response from an British woman I follow on Twitter gave me food for thought. She replied that she found DevoMax to be unfair to the other regions of UK, some of whom feel closer to Scotland than to Westminster. Why should Scotland get to have it’s cake, eat it, and make trifle out of it?
I have to agree, and that is why the solution for me would be a move towards Federalism, to move political power out of London and into the regions. In this way, all areas of the UK would benefit.
I want to stay part of the UK; it is just as much a part of me, as being Scottish is. My hope is that Scotland votes against independence, and that we can find a way to make the country whole again.
Updated on January 4, 2016
The magazine GirlTalk recently announced that they were ‘going feminist’, and I will admit that my initial reaction was ‘bandwagon jumping, much?!’ Several people have asked me what I thought, and whether this would affect my plans for Jump! Mag.
First, I have to say that this has no bearing on the plans for redevelopment of Jump! Mag. It will never be a print magazine, and is no longer a magazine for girls, but a gender neutral online magazine for kids. We have always been a feminist magazine, and we continue to be ‘girl-positive’. Being feminist is simply part of the site’s ethos, and we don’t have to point it out or justify our decision. We are almost ready to reveal our plans for the future, with amazing new content and a site redesign coming soon.
The reason that Jump! Mag even exists was the frustration I felt at magazines such as GirlTalk, so I wasn’t particularly convinced that their change of heart was genuine. In an article in the Telegraph and a guest blog on Mumsnet, the editor Bea Appleby went some way to changing my mind. They have taken heed of the GirlGuiding research, and run their own survey to look at the way in which young girls view themselves. They have admitted that they are part of the problem, which I think is a great step forward, and are looking at ways to change.
It is much more difficult to change an existing product, when you have to be mindful of the risk of losing readers and profits, so I do understand the necessity to go slow. I was however slightly disappointed to see that the ‘relaunch’ edition of the magazine had a free gift of nail polish. Ms Appleby defended that decision on BBC Woman’s Hour this morning by saying that the ‘covermounts’ are very important sales tools, and that the competition from other magazines is such that they need to have a great cover every single issue. I would have welcomed a slightly less ‘girly’ free gift, at least for this one edition of the magazine – something such as a magnifying glass would have been more appropriate.
I purchased the second edition of the new feminist GirlTalk magazine to have a look. The new ideas are confined to a double page spread near the back of the magazine, with the rest of the magazine looking very much like any other girls’ magazine. I asked my daughter to have a look and tell me what she thought. She is at the upper range of the target market, so perhaps slightly too old for some of the content.
‘There are a lot of celebrities and popstars’, was her first impression. She’s never been particularly interested in celebs, with the exception of Jedward! The free gifts were said to be ‘quite cool’, and she is off to school with one of the erasers. She also noticed that they were trying to sell products, even though there is very little ‘official’ advertising, via articles about shopping and sponsored content. When I pointed out the Girls are Amazing pages, she found them more interesting than the rest of the magazine, but wasn’t sure if she’d have noticed them if I hadn’t pointed them out. I asked if she thought it was a ‘feminist’ magazine, and she said, ‘These pages are, but the rest is all about celebrities and looking pretty’.
My observations were similar. I would have liked to have seen more of the feminist message spread throughout the magazine, and less pink! I understand the point made on Woman’s Hour, that they have to identify as a magazine for preteen girls on the newstand, but does it have to be so pink all the way through? Oh, and lose the patronising ‘kid talk’ such as ‘bezzies’ and ‘LOLZ’.
I hope that the changes will also include more focus on literature and reading – the only fiction in the magazine was a photo story of a group of girls in Stage School (wannabe celebs) and a weird doll photo story of Little Mix (already celebs). For years, children and young adult fiction has been the fastest growing genre in book publishing – kids are reading more, so why not give them some quality fiction to read in a magazine?
On Woman’s Hour this morning, the mother of a young girl hit the nail on the head when she said that ‘selling a magazine to kids is all about selling to the parents’. Any publication that can bridge the gap between parental expectation and what the kids want to read will be a winner. I hope that GirlTalk is the first of many magazine to take this step, to listen more closely to the concerns of parents. Changing the focus of a successful magazine can’t and won’t happen overnight. The proof, as ever, will be in the pudding. Will this be a short-lived experiment or a permanent change for the kids’ magazine market? We shall have to wait and see.
Updated on March 13, 2015
If you want to order flowers online for Mother’s Day on March 30th, then I have a great tip for you.
I discovered Bloom and Wild Online flower service just before Christmas and have been using them since. With Mother’s Day coming up, I thought it would be a good time to review the company.
I love having flowers in the house, and regularly pick up a bunch of blooms at the supermarket. When I lived in Germany, I would shop at the little flower shop on the corner of our road but here in UK, I find the shops expensive and the flowers never seem to last as long. Supermarket flowers are slightly better, but often our local Tesco has really garish colours – who on earth wants bright blue flowers? And why dye flowers, when they are beautiful as nature created them?
When we lived abroad, I would sometimes send my mum flowers for Mothers’ Day. This got easier after the internet started giving Interflora competition – I remember my first year in Germany, I was quoted a huge sum of money to send just a single rose!
This year, I will be ordering a Gift Subscription from Bloom and Wild.
What is Different about Bloom and Wild?
‘What? Flowers through the letter box?’ I hear you cry. My first reaction was the same. How is that possible? In my case, it is a bit tricky as I don’t have a letter box – when we had the door replaced last year we chose an Austrian company. Brilliant quality, but no letterbox!
We have a gorgeous steel letter box on the wall, but the box won’t fit in it. Luckily I work from home, and so it hasn’t been an issue so far. Bloom and Wild suggest having them delivered to your workplace if you don’t have a letterbox, or paying a small surcharge to use Royal Mail Tracked Option.
Why A Subscription Service?
What I really like is that Bloom and Wild offer a subscription service. You can order a one off gift, starting at £16.95, or a subscription bundle gift, starting at £40 for three boxes. I find this great value for money – instead of spending £40 on a bunch of flowers for your mum, she receives three bunches of flowers! Or you can choose a different time frame, depending on how much you have to spend and how often you want her to receive the flowers.
I treated myself to a fortnightly subscription – if you’d like flowers in more than one room of the house, then a weekly subscription might suit you better. I’ve found that the flowers last around 14 days – sometimes they’ve still been ok when the next flowers arrives, or I could salvage a few of the blooms for a small vase elsewhere in the house.
Why Do Bloom and Wild’s Flowers Last Longer?
It is pretty simple – instead of going through the hands of warehouse, delivery and depot workers until they reach a shelf and the customers, Bloom and Wild flowers are cut, packed and delivered within three days. That gives you at on average five extra days of fresh flowers.
In practice, I have found that most of the flowers have lasted around 10 days – some even longer. Often the first to give up are the roses – I throw them out and put what is left over on the windowsill in the kitchen – these flowers were full 14 days old, and didn’t need discarded till they were almost 20 days old!
Customer Service from Bloom and Wild
When I review a company, I like to wait until I have been using the product or services for some time. Only then do I feel that I can give a really balanced review, when the initial enthusiasm has worn off. I also find that reviewing a service such as this requires more than just one box of flowers – what happens if you have grounds for a complaint? How does the company react to unhappy customers?
After a few weeks of receiving fortnightly flowers, the delivery didn’t arrive one Thursday. It was the week before Christmas, so I assumed that the delivery was suspended over the busy festive season. Almost two weeks later, a delivery arrived – on Tuesday instead of Thursday. On opening the flowers, I discovered that they were dead. It seems that the Royal Mail had misplaced them over the Xmas period, and these were the ones that should have been delivered weeks before!
I emailed Bloom and Wild, and they were extremely helpful. They offered a discount on a flower gift and refunded the payment of the original delivery.
On a second occasion, there was a problem with the delivery and I received a phone call from the owner of the business to apologise personally. I should reiterate that the issues I’ve had were due to the postal service, which is of course out of the control of Bloom and Wild. I was very impressed with the customer service shown by the company. This was why I decided to review them officially on the blog – I’ve been recommending them on Twitter for a while now.
I approached Bloom and Wild with the intention of writing a review about their company. The opinion expressed in this review is honest and independent, as my readers expect it to be.
Updated on January 4, 2016
This is the first of a more in-depth look at various
Social Media channels,
first – what parents need to know about facebook.
Remember when you got that first car seat for your baby, and you struggled to fit it into the car correctly? Perhaps you were like me and couldn’t work out where the seat belt straps were supposed to go. If you had said, ‘Oh, I can’t work these new-fangled car seats; back in my day we all just piled into the car’, and suggested that your baby travels without one, your friends and family would have reacted with incomprehension. Why would you not learn how to keep your child safe in the car?
This is how I feel when I hear people say that they don’t understand Social Media, and they don’t want to.
I am not saying that everyone should sign up to Twitter and start yakking on about their breakfast (we actually don’t do that much, but that is a whole other story), but you should know the basics about the various Social Media platforms – the reasons why your child why your child wants an account, what the advantages and dangers are, and how to protect your child.
Some of the warnings and dangers might make you want to shout NO NO NO, and forbid your child from ever having a Social Media account, but this is not the best way to go about it. Accompany your children on their first journey on Social Media. Stay beside them, and keep them safe, so that they learn how to use it sensibly.
I will include the legal age requirements as they stand at the time of writing, and will endeavor to update if and when there are changes. Do be aware though that I am not a lawyer, and the laws may be different in your country, or might change without me noticing.
More information can be found on this blog, which gives legal age requirments for Social Media.
First we have to look at COPPA. The Child Online Privacy Protection Act is a US law passed in 1998 to protect the privacy of children under the age of 13 years old. The Act specifies that websites must require parental consent for the collection or use of any personal information of children using the site. As you can imagine, and law that was written in 1998 is already quite dated, so we can expect to see updates and changes at some point in the coming years.
In the European Union, plans are afoot to introduce similar regulation – the adoption of the General Data Protection Regulation is aimed for in 2014 and the regulation is planned to take effect in 2016 after a transition period of 2 years.
A lot of sites state that children under 13 years are legally banned from using Facebook and Twitter, but this is misleading. The truth is that companies would have to introduce extra checks and measures to ensure that their users are complying with COPPA, and for most of them it is simpler to say ‘No kids allowed’.
If you haven’t already – do read my article on Keeping Kids Safe Online – dealing with parental controls and blocks.
Rules and Regulations of Facebook
Facebook has a lower age limit of 13 years, in line with COPPA regulations, but circumventing this is (excuse the pun) child’s play. When signing up to Facebook, the user has to enter a date of birth, and many children simply alter their birth year.
When you sign up for a FB account, you are asked to confirm that you agree to their terms and conditions – this includes the age restriction. Contravening this part of their T&C can result in FB closing the account, if they are made aware that the person using the account is underage. As I said, I am not a lawyer, but I can’t see that a parent could be taken to account by the authorities for allowing their child to have a FB account. You may however face uncomfortable questions from the school or other authorities if your child uses FB to bully or intimidate other children, or to share illegal content.
This year Facebook changed from limiting teens to only being able to share with friends, to being able to share publicly. This is an opt-in step, so if your child had a FB account prior to October 2013, check to see if they are still only sharing with friends.
Why Your Child Wants to Use Facebook
If the latest headlines are to be believed, they don’t any more, as kids move onto more edgy and cooler sites because their parents and grannies have signed up for a FB account.
Still, there is a good chance that the first Social Media account that you child will ask to sign up for will be Facebook. Parents have to decide for themselves when they allow their kids to sign up – my daughter told me that just 4 kids in her class of 28 don’t have FB accounts (she is one of them).
The stories about teens leaving Facebook seem to be slightly exaggerated. There is a feeling that teens are drifting towards messaging apps such as Kik and Snapchat, which is why Facebook have redeveloped the messaging app. (An app is a self contained computer programme or application, generally designed for use on smartphone or tablet). The FB Messenger app enables kids to send private messages to their friends, either individually or as a group.
With 1.19bn monthly active users, there is a lot going on. 81% of teens use Social Media, and 94% of those teens have a Facebook account. The average number of friends (contacts) teens have is 425, and many of them use the site daily. This can be chatting about homework and school, gossip about friends, sharing jokes, music and funny ‘memes’, playing games or arranging to meet.
It can also be a great way of keeping touch with loved ones and friends far away. My daughter uses Instagram to message friends from Geneva, some of whom she’d lost touch with.
Each user has a Timeline, where the status updates (messages) of the people they follow are listed. This could be photos, text, videos or links to articles from around the world. The FB user can then express approval by pressing the [like] button, comment on the status update and/or share with their friends. Depending on the privacy setting of their account, and of their friends, they might see comments from other people to whom they are not connected (friends of friends). This enables them to widen their circle of friends. They are also encouraged by FB to do this, who send messages to say that the user’s friend is friends with X, do they want to be friends with them too.
Your child is on Facebook to be part of this community. ‘All my friends are on Facebook’, might be something that you hear a lot. Being the only one not on Facebook can mean that they miss out. It is also a good starting point for learning how to use the internet safely. You might not see the need for Social Media, but it is part of our lives and looks likely to stay part of our lives.
So what are the dangers? Not the exaggerated ones that you might read about in the tabloids, but the real dangers?
What You Should Warn Your Child About Facebook
Facebook is great for communicating with friends, but there are some areas of concern for parents. One of these is ‘cyberbullying’ and is the one that is most often discussed in the media or at school. Bullying of any sort is unacceptable, and your children should be encouraged to report any bullying or nastiness they see online, even if they are not directly affected. Facebook has ways of protecting users from bullying, such as the option to block and report. They can also hide updates from anyone who is annoying or being mean – sometimes this can be a good option as the other person doesn’t know that they are being ignored.
If it goes too far, then they should speak to an adult. It is important to keep the lines of communication open. If you are very reluctant to allow them on FB, then they might be scared to say something in case you ban them. If you react with horror and ‘I KNEW allowing you to use Facebook was a mistake’, then they might not come to you again. You don’t want them to officially close their account and then open a new one in secret.
The general rules of online safety apply on Facebook and should be talked about. Don’t give away too much personal information, don’t share telephone numbers or address, don’t agree to meet with someone you have only talked to online. Also have a chat about how much they are sharing online. We know that colleges, universities and potential employers check Facebook to find out a bit about applicants.
Sit with your child and go through the privacy settings. These change yearly, so keep an eye out for any news stories or blogs that report on changes. This site promises to stay up-to-date, so worth a look. Basically, you are looking to see what content you share with which people – public, friends, friends of friends. According to latest research, 60% of teens have their privacy setting set to ‘private’, and another 25% have it set to ‘partially private’.
Ensure that they know how to hide stories or updates that they don’t want to see, and how to block people. Again, it is important to talk to your child about how to report anything that they find unsettling. Be honest – tell them that some people might share pictures of naked people, or people having sex, and that this might disturb or upset them. If someone shares this kind of content, it is ok to block them, and that they should have a word with an adult.
You should discuss which friend requests you are happy with your child accepting. You might be happier to keep it to people they (and you) already know in real life. Also think about whether your friends and relatives will really want to be friends with your child – it means that they might feel obliged to clean up their language, and curtail their Facebook usage.
Explain that you will be checking their account regularly to ensure that they are safe. This is a tricky one, as they need to feel that they have privacy to chat to their friends, but it is important. If you use Facebook yourself, you might want to friend them – I won’t be doing this as it would seriously limit what I could post but it is a good way of keeping track of them
Don’t rely on the school to teach your kids this. A lot of schools are doing great work on this, but they often don’t start teaching Social Media until secondary school. Many schools give the message ‘Facebook is BAD’, which is understandable in a way, as they often deal with the fall out of cyberbullying.
The Bottom Line
With decent privacy settings in place, and after a open and honest conversations about the dangers of using the internet, Facebook is a fairly good place to start learning about Social Media.
Kids should know how to block content that they don’t like, and people who are abusive towards them. Do have a chat about inappropriate content, and what kind of things that they might see and how to report it.
This past weekend, I was hurrying up Union Street in Dundee on my way into town when I caught a glimpse of snow flakes and glitter in a shop window. Hang on, I thought, I didn’t know there was a shop there. I nipped across the road to take a closer look and discovered the Quirky Coo.
Inside the shop, which I realised used to be a golf shop, I was warmly greeted by the owners David and Viv. Their adventure into the retail trade began about a month ago, after many years of working together in the public sector. The Perth-based friends see great potential in Dundee, and the location of the shop is well placed for visitors to the soon-to-be-built V&A and the Malmaison (which opens next week).
The shop is bright and airy, and filled with wonderful gifts for young and old. I liked that the shop was not too packed with products, so that one doesn’t feel overwhelmed. Do pop in and have a nosy, and tell them that I sent you.
Here are some of my favourite products –
These jars are filled with very cute PJs for little ones – perfect for the Xmas Eve Hamper tradition that is always so popular on Mumsnet. If you haven’t heard of this, it is a lovely tradition.
On Xmas Eve, a box/hamper appears with a few small presents. New PJs, a mug for hot chocolate with marshmallows, a Xmas book … Have a read of the thread for more ideas. It is a good way of spreading the fun out over an extra day, and after the excitement of a couple of little presents, the kids settle down with hot chocolate and a story, then go to bed with little fuss.
The Quirky Coo has a great selection of children’s books, from the Scottish version of Gruffalo’s Child, to the Santa is Coming to Dundee picture book, and many more.
On my way back home, I passed the almost finished Malmaison Dundee. Isn’t it looking AMAZING?
Updated on January 4, 2016
The organisers of Mumsnet Blogfest set the question, ‘Can Feminists be Mummybloggers’ at a rather volatile panel discussion yesterday. I won’t say much about the events of yesterday, as I didn’t attend, but did want to look at the feminism and motherhood issue. If you want to read a bit of the background, you can find a list of blogs on Louise’s post on this matter.
This post is going to be a game of two halves, and if you like football, do follow the shameless plug to find out about Jump! Mag‘s search for an aspiring journalist to cover the UEFA U17 Women’s Championship Finals.
An event such as the Blogfest is an amazing opportunity for women to get together and discuss topics that interest them. This might be how to take better photos for your blog, or how to attract more readers, it might even be a discussion about staying safe online, and dealing with trolls. Widening this discourse to talk about feminism and how it relates to the blogging community was a great idea, and despite the upset, I am glad that Mumsnet opened this particular can of worms.
Something that occurred to me when reading Louise’s post, and in particular the comments on her blog, was the way in which women were engaging with this issue. While the feminist bloggers were discussing this in relation to feminist theory, the mummybloggers were relating it to their personal lives, and taking offence.
When the feminist theory of ‘lack of choice’, as described by Louise is dismissed because an individual actually quite likes wearing high heels and making jam, then the actual point is being missed. We are not talking of the choice of an individual, but the society in which we live, which limits our options. I am not a radfem, and don’t always agree with Louise. I confess that I am not quite convinced of the idea that we have to overthrow the patriarchy, but I do believe it exists, and that it limits women.
Take this as an example
‘I took the decision to leave work and stay home with my children. It made this decision with my partner because it was the best option for our family. No one forced me to do this’
I would ask this hypothetical woman, ‘If you were earning the same as your partner, would you have made the same decision? If you had the option of leaving work for a year, then returning to the same position with no loss of earnings and no loss of status in the company, would you have made the same decision? If you were able to rearrange your work life, perhaps working from home, or on flexitime, or job share – would you have made the same decision?’
The decisions we make are influenced by the society in which we live. If we lived in a society that valued women more, and saw them as equal to men, then we would have better maternity leave provisions, and more options for women who would like to continue to work.
To deny this, and state that you like to make jam, or love to knit, but are still a feminist is missing the point by a mile. It is not about the jam, it is not about the high heels, it is not about YOU. It is about the way our society is, and how we can change this.
The second part of this discussion, is the reasons that women feel that their choices are being attacked. When Sarah Ditum talked about discovering she was pregnant, and deciding to continue with her degree, she said it made her a better person and a better mother. She did not say that anyone who didn’t have a degree is a bad mother, so why was this they way it was understood and subsequently reported? Compare Sarah’s version of events, with this blogger’s version of events
Sarah: [said] that motherhood should not be a full stop on a woman’s life, and that I am glad that I went back to university and finished my degree after having my first child, partly because I think having interests and ambitions that were not my child has made me a better parent
CrazyWithTwins: Outrage fully tore up the auditorium when one speaker proclaimed that if she hadn’t finished her degree, she’d have been a bad mother. That was the cue for all mothers without degrees to object fiercely and the debate heated up a few hundred degrees.
I didn’t include the quote from CrazyWithTwins to ridicule or slate her take on the events, but to point out that there is a huge discrepancy between what was said and what was heard. It has been said that the acoustics in the auditorium were not great, and that there was a lot of shouting, hissing and talking going on, so perhaps that was part of the issue. Booing or hissing at someone because you disagree with them is not a mature way of discussing an issue, and the women who did this should apologise to Sarah Ditum.
How did we get from ‘the decision I made, made me a better mother’
to ‘if you didn’t do as I did, then you are a bad mother?’
Women are used to being criticised. You might even say that we are conditioned to being criticised. Pick up a newspaper or a women’s magazine to find out what we are doing wrong. We are too fat, too thin, too rich, too poor. We are helicopter mums, or neglectful mums. Barbara Ellen asked this week, ‘What part of a woman’s body will we be taught to hate next?’
When I was researching this post, I found this article. Check out the ads at the side of the page – even as we are told that we should be more positive about our bodies, the advice is to exercise and diet!
This week Great British Bakeoff finalist Ruby Tandoh talked about her lack of confidence, and how she wishes that girls today receive a different message than she did when she was a teen.
“I really struggled as a teenager, but every magazine or website I turned to for reassurance suggested that the way to improve my confidence was by changing my outfit or my hairstyle… It was all terrible advice, and it really set me back”.
Women are trained from a young age to look at themselves critically, and to look at each other critically. I am not sure if this is worse in UK, but I also find the constant putting down of one’s achievements wearying at best, and enraging at worst. I have lost count of the times that I have read tweets like this, or heard friends make these comments
‘Here is a little thing I wrote, it’s a bit rambling but have a look’
‘Sorry that this post is a bit rushed, but here it is’
‘Thanks, glad you like my blog. It is a good outlet for my ramblings, lol’
‘Thanks. I don’t normally look like this, its all just make up!’ (on receiving a compliment)
It is ok to be proud of your work, and the correct answer to a compliment is a simple, ‘Thanks’. Bite your tongue and don’t add a self-deprecating remark. I know it is hard, I have had to train myself to do this, but it is so important.
Women are also held to a higher standard than men. Look at the photo above. Do we tell men they should have a designer penis jab? Do we berate them for allowing the kids to sit around all day? Mums are too busy to cook, but Dads are off the hook.
Until we hold fathers to the same standards as we do mothers, we will always be on the defensive, as the blogger HeadinBook so rightly states.
Thinking about it, what it boils down to is this:
I am tired of having to justify and explain “my” lifestyle to every man and his dog, when so far as I am aware, no-one has ever asked my husband to do the same.
I searched the Daily Express website for examples to use in the above image. It may not surprise you to know that the search for ‘dad’ came up with far fewer articles of a berating or blaming nature, than those with the word ‘mum’.
No wonder we take offence when none is actually intended, as we are so used to defending ourselves against the constant barrage of insults, demeaning comments and accusations.
So where do we go from here? I would suggest that opening a discussion is the way forward. Not with recriminations, but with the aim of understanding the position of the others.
I confess that I don’t understand how someone can say ‘being a mum is everything. It is the be all and end all of my life’. I have written about the Cult of Motherhood before, and will revisit these thoughts in the coming weeks. I don’t understand how anyone can put a full stop into the middle of their life, no matter what they are talking about. We don’t stand still in life, we move on, we learn, we adapt to new situations.
I imagine that the coming weeks will see a flurry of blog posts about feminism vs mummyblogging, and I would hope that it remains civil and honest.
I will leave you today with the words of Jo Brand, celebrating the voices of women
Updated on January 4, 2016
I recently received an email suggesting I review Big Cup Little Cup Nespresso alternative capsules. I don’t normally do reviews on the blog, but I was interested in this product so agreed to do so. They had discovered my blog post about the Nespresso machine, that I wrote quite some time ago, and asked me to try out their capsules. I was quite tempted to see the if Big Cup Little Cup coffee could take on the giant Nespresso.
The Nespresso story is an interesting one. We often drove past the Headquarters and production plant in Switzerland, and while we lived there they seemed to be constantly growing and building.
The Apple of the Coffee World as Nespresso is often called, sell as much the experience and the brand as the actual coffee. As I mentioned in my previous post, their customer service is impressive, their attention to detail sharp and their business idea clever. When Nestle launched Nespresso ten years ago, they worked with machine manufacturers who sell the machines are reasonable prices, but these machines are only compatible with Nespresso capsules. This means that customers are locked into buying only their products, which they sell through their own boutiques and online. There are no BOGOF special offers in supermarkets, or discount stores offering these capsules.
This dual strategy of forcing customers to continue to purchase only their products, while offering superior customer service has been very successful for the company. They are now the leading seller of coffee in Europe, even outselling rivals Lavazza in Italy. Over the years Nestle fought a series of court battles to prevent other companies selling coffee capsules that would fit in their machines, but have been unsuccessful in preserving their monopoly.
I have never had a problem with the way in which Nespresso capsules are sold, and find it extremely quick and easy to order online. I enjoy going into their sales boutiques to sample new coffee, and am hoping that one opens in Scotland soon.
Saying that, I know that some customers would prefer to be able to pick them up in a supermarket, or use different brands. They might find the exclusive club and the fuss around buying coffee a bit of a pain. For these customers, companies such as Big Cup Little Cup are ready and eager to fill the gap in the market.
The main difference between Nespresso and Big Cup Little Cup capsules is the packaging. While Nespresso use aluminium casing to keep the coffee fresh, Big Cup Little Cup capsules are made of perforated plastic, and are sealed in aluminium foil bags. This does dramatically increase the amount of packaging, and therefore waste.
In theory, you could open the capsule and empty the cafe into bio refuse, then wash out the plastic cap and recycle, but I would imagine only the really dedicated would go to this much bother.
Nespresso capsules can be recycled by collecting them and sending them back – in fact in Switzerland we even saw dedicated Nespresso recycling bins. Here in UK, you can do this by collecting them in a recycling bag and sending them back with a new order, or taking them to specific Nespresso boutiques. Again, a bit of a faff, so not sure how much recycling actually goes on.
I was a bit wary of the plastic capsules, as we had tried a non-branded alternative from France, and found that they sometimes got stuck in the machine, but the Big Cup Little Cup ones worked fine.
Now to the real test. What does the coffee taste like? I compared the two Little Cup, ie. espresso coffees, sent to me with a Nespresso coffee of similar strength. The coffees were
El Salvador Honey Process – described as, ‘Sweet toffee and vanilla notes, balanced by hints of orange citrus, medium bodied’
Sumatra Gayo Mountain – described as, ‘Rich, full-bodied coffee from Fairtrade farmers. Dark chocolate, hint of cinnamon, papaya aftertaste’.
The photos below show the coffees, from left-to-right – Nespresso Levanto – El Salvador Honey Process – Sumatra Gayo Mountain
As you can see clearly from the pictures, the Nespresso had a much frothier crema. Now, I am no coffee expert, and I know that the owners of high-end espresso machines turn up their noses at the clearly inferior Nespresso crema, but even I noticed a big difference here – the Sumatra Gayo was slightly better than the El Salvador but neither were close to a ‘proper’ crema*.
What is crema? It is ‘part of the visual lure of espresso, the aromatics, the mouthfeel, the flavor and long-lasting aftertaste’. If you are buying espresso coffee to use for cappuccino, then the absence of the crema might not bother you.
The El Salvador was very pale, and was not really to my taste, as an espresso anyway. It might be ok for a cappuccino – in fact, I will probably give it to my mother, as she dislikes strong coffee. The Sumatra Gayo was better, and I tried this as a cappuccino and enjoyed it.
The capsules are around 30% cheaper than Nespresso, so especially for those who drink a lot of coffee, there is a fair saving to be made. I drink mainly espresso, and the taste of the espresso was not as good as Nespresso, so I don’t think I will order Big Cup Little Cup again, but my parents are keen to try as they drink mainly coffee and cappuccino/lattes.
UPDATE 27th Nov
BigCupLittleCup are all about customer service, and it seems the fact that I didn’t find the coffee strong enough bothered them. So they sent me some of their strongest coffee to try. I am happy to say that this one hit the spot! The Millers Yard Espresso was delicious, and a real alternative to Nespresso.
A decent alternative to Nespresso capsules, for those who are don’t need glossy boutiques and exclusive clubs when buying coffee, Big Cup Little Cup may also be an option for those who boycott Nestle for ideological reasons.
*If you are interested, here is a good explanation of crema. My husband dreams of a Faema E61 coffee machine but we both know that we’d find it too much of a bother to use and clean. While the professional espresso machines deliver a superior coffee, they can’t come close to the convenience and the price of a capsule machine.
The company Big Cup Little Cup sent me two boxes of coffee capsules to review. This review is unbiased and independent. I received a small remuneration from the company.
Updated on July 30, 2014
The town of St Andrews is world famous for many reasons – Scotland’s first university was founded here in 1413 and town is of course home to the game of golf. The oldest golf manufacturers, Forgan’s of St Andrews was established here.
The former factory site of the club manufacturer, in the heart of St Andrews has undergone a spectacular transformation, with the opening of the restaurant Forgan’s in 2013. This review of Forgans St Andrews was not requested or paid for by the restaurant.
A hidden gem, Forgan’s is located behind the popular Mitchell’s Deli on Market Street. The covered passageway is lined with pots of herbs, giving the visitor an scented hint of what awaits them behind the heavy wooden door. On entering the restaurant, we were greeted by friendly staff, and directed to the ‘Bothy’ that we had reserved.
The restaurant theme is traditional Scotland, but not in a twee shortbread box way. The décor is modern, with lots of sneaky wee references to Scottish history and style. They have valiantly resisted the clichéd of tartan, instead opting for lots of weathered wood, leather and grey metal shelving.
One side of the restaurant is dominated by the large bar, the other by the open kitchen. Between these two ‘work stations’ is a large table with bar stools, for more informal dining and quick snacks. Rather more comfortable is the area beyond this, and the ‘Bothies’.
There are four Bothies, which can be booked individually for up to 10 people, or opened to create a room for a function or meeting. The huge wooden doors on the Bothies can be closed for privacy – or in our case to prevent the lively toddler escaping.Being able to contain her in a small ‘room’ meant that we could chat and relax without worrying that she was bothering other diners, or getting in the way of the waiting staff.
The Bothies also boast their own sound system, which the older kids in our party found fascinating. On the walls were books and some games, which again helped keep the kids amused while we waited on our lunch.
Our American guests were charmed by the restaurant, and delighted to find that the menu contained Scottish specialities such as haggis, fish and chips, and smoked salmon. For those who prefer international cuisine, there were dishes such as Boef Bourguignon, Club Sandwich or Tomato Risotto Cake.
Prices range from around £9 for sandwich/salad type meals, to around £13ish for more elaborate main courses, up to £32 T-bone steak. The kids menu is priced at £4.95 for main course and a drink, with an extra £1 for a starter or dessert.
None of the cheap and nasty chicken nuggets and chips kids meals though – their menu is a scaled down adult menu, including starters such as melon or haggis balls, and main courses of gourmet sausages, steak frites, or homemade mac cheese.
Our friends ordered the chicken, and the battered cod, both of which were pronounced ‘delicious’ and their daughter polished off her haggis, neeps and tatties.
My kids were less adventurous but described the macaroni cheese as ‘even better than yours, Mum’. [hmpf]. I had steak sandwich, which was tasty and well-seasoned.
Forgan’s uses local ingredients, which means they are slightly more expensive than a boil-in-the-bag pub restaurant, but the quality of the food and the preparation was excellent,so well worth the money. The waiting staff was unobtrusive but helpful and very friendly.
The restaurant is unlike any other establishment that I have seen, in that ‘child friendly’ isn’t limited to offering a children’s menu and some colouring pens. They have daily activities on offer, in one of the bothies, from craft sessions, cartoon time,board games, face painting and even a weekly Kids’ Ceilidh on Saturday mornings.
Adults will find plenty to interest them in Forgan’s, either in their daytime Gatherings of knitting, ‘make do and mend’ or a book club. The evenings are given over to music, dance, wine tasting and more.
The popularity of the restaurant was obvious when looking at the huge map, with tags pinned by visitors from around the world. It is not a huge restaurant, so worth booking a table to avoid disappointment.
Updated on March 24, 2015
Just across the river from Dundee, is the sweet little town of Newport, and Cafe Kitschnbake.
I’ve long been a fan of Mary-Jane and her incredible Tunnocks Teacake Brownies, so when she invited me along for a sneak peek of her new cafe last night, it would have been terribly rude not to go. Plus, I reckoned that she’d probably make the aforementioned Brownies.
The cafe is situated near the little harbour, and through the newly installed bifold doors, the visitor can enjoy an unrivaled view over the silvery Tay to Dundee. Fitting the name of the business, the decor is a little bit kitsch, quite colourful and very welcoming. The long wooden counter harbours the cafe’s main draw – the CAKE!
Not for nothing was Mary-Jane awarded the Scottish Homebaking Awards in the categories ‘Best Baker from Home’ and ‘Best Novelty/Celebration Cake’. I spoke last night to Melanie from the SHA, and she told me that MJ’s cakes were not only delightful to look at, they were utterly delicious, which is not always the case when one orders a novelty cake.
Mary-Jane has been baking for many years, and quit her job a few years ago to try turning her hobby and passion into her profession. For the past few years, she has providing cakes to customers in the Dundee and Fife community, and delivering cakes to cafes and restaurants in the area. Opening a cafe of her won’t stop her supplying cakes – in fact she has a waiting list for new stockists.
I suffer for my readers, let me tell you. I was FORCED to try the cake and drink prosecco, while chatting to the lovely team from the V&A Dundee, the owners of Jessie’s Kitchen and some of MJ’s loyal customers. It was a real hardship, but in order to give a good and balanced review, I soldiered on.
Sticky Toffee Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream & topped with Tunnocks Caramel wafers… just let the thought of that cake lie on the tip of your tongue for a moment. Anyone who knows me knows my love of both Tunnocks and Salted Caramel so I was pretty sure this cake would be a winner. It was what Paul and Mary would have judged a ‘good bake’, and the caramel to salt ratio was enough to give a zing without being overpowering.
My husband was driving, so had an expertly created coffee concoction instead of prosecco with a square of Tunnocks Teacake Brownies
which I didn’t steal half of.
Cafe Kitschnbake is definitely worth a visit, when you are in the area!
Photos by Zoe – see her Facebook page
Twitter was ablaze last night with disparaging comments about a group of young girls, known collectively as ‘Directioners’ – the fans of the group One Direction.
The reason for the discussion was a report about a group of Directioners, who were interviewed and followed by a camera team from Channel 4, as the journalists attempted to find out – Why are these girls Crazy About One Direction?
Directioners have a fierce reputation, and have recently been featured in GQ, who wrote about the Most Terrifying Responses to our One Direction Covers. GQ had revealed their new covers, which included quotes from 1D, which some Directioners objected strongly to.
Abusive tweets such as “DO YOU REALIZE HOW MANY PEOPLE WANT TO CASTRATE THE PEOPLE WHO WORK FOR THIS SHITTY MAGAZINE,” poured in, and the GQ website crashed as irate Directioners around the world clicked and raged.
I have to admit that it made me quite uncomfortable. There was no attempt made to conceal the identity of the users, which seems cruel when you consider that we are talking about girls in their mid to late teens. I had a look at the tweets of one of the girls named and she tweeted this in the aftermath, at first to GQ and then general tweets to her timeline
@BritishGQ MY TWEET WASNT EVEN TO YOU WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT EXTREME THREAT IT WAS TO SOME GIRL OKAY I WOULD NEVER HURT ANYONE
YOUR FUCKING MAKING ME LOOK REALLY MEAN AND HORRIBLE BUT I WAS JUST ANGRY AND NOW YOU DONT KNOW HOW HORRIFIED I AM
I wasn’t even talking to you. do you know how bad it makes me feel that you think I was. I would never actually do anything
I hate myself so much for what I said, ok
you still cant force harry into saying personal things though
do you even know how much I hate myself you’ve made me out to be a monster it wasnt even to you ik that doesnt change anything
im sorry but i wasn’t threatening you. im fucking shaking and i just wish i never said it just please dont speak bad about our boys
[harry] is just my sunshine he makes me so happy im useless
Her account has since been deleted.
The Channel 4 documentary didn’t really do much to repair that reputation, nor did the subsequent outpouring of grief and anger, as the watching fans tweeted #thisisnotus. As a typical ridiculous Twitter rumour of a mass Directioners suicide bid went around, others more tweeted,
“Shame on Channel 4 in the UK airing #CrazyAboutOneDirection and showing Directioners in a negative light to troll for ratings. #ThisIsNotUs,” said one fan.
Another user posted: “Channel 4 showed the 1% of the fanbase and forgot to include the 99% of directioners who are actually the nicest people ever.”
The media is quite happy to ridicule and shame these girls, with no thought to the fact that they have to go into school tomorrow and face the classmates who have watched the documentary or read the newspaper article.
One thing that occurred to me was that the girls felt a sense of belonging as a Directioner. Seventeen year old Natasha spoke of having to care for her mother, who is disabled, and her young brother,
‘When you feel shy and scared, if you divert your mind to One Direction, it makes you feel happy inside. You are in a One Direction shell, with noone around but you’
Earlier in the program, she had talked about how listening to the songs had boosted her self confidence,
‘I didn’t really think of myself of myself as being beautiful, but when I heard the song, it made me feel good about myself…
I love Zayn … He is from an Asian background like me, and I know how complicated it is, you kind of have an identity crisis, but when you are a Directioner.. you have all these other girls like you.. and you are like part of this gang, I am normal’.
The band a few slightly scary fans, and I agree with Grace Dent that at 19 years old, Becky should know better. When I was that age, I moved to Germany to work as an aupair, and met and fell in love with the man I would marry five years later. Becky visits the homes of Harry’s parents and is quite unmoved that they are (understandably) not keen on their son’s stalkers.
It was not explained what the parents of the girls thought of the obsessive behaviour of their daughters. I can’t imagine my parents would have been happy to fund me running off to stay in hotels, and visit the homes of A-ha members when I was 15 or 16 years old.
When I asked on Twitter yesterday about the former hearthrobs of my Twitter followers, there was a consensus that we were very lucky to have been teens in a time without the internet. For all the advantages it brings, at least we don’t have photos and screenshots of our madness popping back up into our Facebook and Twitter timelines. Were we not as bad as the One Direction, or simply less connected?
I think the latter. The first boy band, The Beatles had to hide from their screaming fans, but they weren’t being tracked via GPS and the Twitter feeds of their friends and family. One Direction is the first Twitter band. Their fans are connected to them, like no other band that has gone before.
A good friend on Twitter, @macdog73 commented earlier today, ‘Fans have a ‘direct line’ now, easier to feel a part of Idol life‘ and @woodo79 tweeted, ‘the Internet acts as an amplifier to visibility‘.
So what is the answer? Well, we could start by not identifying young girls in the media and on Social Media as targets of ridicule. Some of these girls were already vulnerable, and being singled out like this is akin to bullying.
We should also understand that the girls are looking to belong, as many of us were at their age. I was a Venture Scout at that age, and they were my ‘clan’. These girls find strength in belonging to a group of One Direction fans.
The songs such as What Makes You Beautiful and Little Things make the girls feel better about themselves for a moment. We should let them have this moment.
Updated on January 4, 2016
I am not the only feminist in UK who today has conflicting thoughts to the announcement by David Cameron about online pornography. While many of us are pleased that the government have finally noticed that we have a problem, there is concern over the plans. Are they viable, do they go far enough, do they go too far?
The Prime Minister today stated that internet service providers will be forced to block pornography as a default. This means that if consumers wish to access porn, they will have to have the block removed.
Other measures include
- New laws so videos streamed online in the UK will be subject to the same restrictions as those sold in shops
- Search engines having until October to introduce further measures to block illegal content
- Experts from the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre being given more powers to examine secretive file-sharing networks
- A secure database of banned child porn images gathered by police across the country will be used to trace illegal content and the paedophiles viewing it
This should be seen as a win, right? And anyone opposing this is either a lily-livered liberal, or a pervert who wishes to watch child porn. It is not quite that simple.
Lets look at this from the point of view of those who we are trying to protect. The children.
Children who view porn – either deliberately or inadvertently
The much repeated myth of children who accidentally view porn while googling ‘cute pussies’ is often rolled out to explain why these measures are good and sensible. I argue that the chance of that happening is much lower than your child being shown porn by a school friend on their smart phone. Or clicking on a ‘you may also like’ button on YouTube and finding a very different kind of video.
What can we parents do to protect them? We can block porn, we can set up parental controls, we can set up a mobile web filter such as Mobiclip. There are a whole range of technical options, but they don’t and never will prevent our children from seeing disturbing images and videos. Our children have a life outside our homes. Do you want to ask the parent of every child your kid comes into contact with if they block porn at home? How do you prevent your kids googling, ‘turn off porn blocking software’?
Even with the controls, how do we ensure that our kids don’t simply work around it? From the Guardian article
“… any default-on system needs to be simple enough for a stupid adult to navigate, and, if it is, any web-savvy kid should find their way around it in no time.”
That article raises a very important point – this is brushing the porn problem under the carpet, instead of dealing with it. Sian Norris wrote a great article about listening to our girls, and I think she has it spot on. Blocking porn doesn’t solve the problem, it just saves us having to talk about it. We can pat ourselves on the back, that we have protected our kids, when in reality we have done nothing of the sort.
We are ignoring the very real problem of young girls and boys being shown damaging content, while sending mixed messages – Cameron was asked on Women’s Hour about the Ban Page 3 campaign, which he dismissed as ‘.. an area where we should leave it to consumers to decide, rather than to regulators.”
Meanwhile the Daily Mail irony-meter imploded today with this ‘Porn is bad, and you shouldn’t view it, but hey – look at the sexy pics of this 16 year old’
Children who are being abused
Strictly speaking, the first group of children are also being abused by being exposed to pornography, but what about the children who are physically being abused. What about what is often falsely referred to as ‘child porn’.
To be clear, there is no such thing as ‘child porn’. That infers that they are actors, or in some way participants. It is child abuse, that has been filmed.
Does Cameron’s plan in any way help these children, and punish those who are abusing them?
Images showing child abuse are already illegal, and are police forces around the world work to enforce these laws. Google has a zero-tolerance policy for these images and takes them down. I recently reported a dodgy Flickr user whose pictures were all sneaky shots of teenage girls – the user was removed within an hour.
The UK agency CEOP is at the forefront of this, and have been fighting for adequate funding for years. The government’s solution to that seems to be to make ISPs pay to fund the new ‘proactive approach to seek out child sexual abuse content‘. Former CEOP boss Jim Gamble, who resigned in 2010, in protest at the government’s changes to the agency was scathing
Adult / Consensual Porn and the Tech Issues
Aside from the child abuse issue, there are other concerns about the viability of this legislation. It seems that the government is ignoring those ‘great brains’ of the tech community
This from Nichi Hodgson’s blog (on Cameron’s interview with Jeremy Vine this morning)
Vine then put to the Prime Minister that trying to get Google et al to prohibit ‘vile’ search terms might be perfunctory, given that most child abuse images are shared through peer-to-peer networking and in the heart of the Dark Web. (This excellent piece from Mic Wright blogging for the Telegraph explains the technicalities in astute detail). Cameron dismissed this, gave no evidence or statistics on how this information has successfully helped us prevent child abuse, break paedophile rings and arrest those downloading the images (mainly because it isn’t the method used). Instead, he said only that he wouldn’t repeat the awful things some people search for…
PC Pro investigated TalkTalk’s filter and found it pretty much useless – although the sites were blocked, images were still viewable. This blog discusses the actual filtering software, and the chance that legitimate retail businesses could be blocked, and this websitereports
TalkTalk’s filters are also hugely inconsistent in what they choose to blacklist. Social network controls bar access to Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, but not to Google+, StumbleUpon or reddit – including “subreddits” dedicated to sexual content. Likewise, photography site Flickr was banned, but not the “nude” section of fellow photography site 500px.
Rather more positive is the plan to make images depicting rape illegal, which is explained in detail here. This has been slightly lost and muddled up with the proposals which are causing controversy, which is a shame. Rape Crisis South London clarified on Twitter that this change is not about filtering of images of rape. It is bringing the possession of images which depict rape into the same category as necrophilia, bestiality and life-threatening injury.
So where does that leave us? We have legislative proposals that are technically unsound, which won’t protect our kids out of the home, which our kids could well work out how to override, and the porn producers don’t care cause they aren’t relying on this method of distribution. How does that help the children and women who are being abused?
We need to speak to our children about the dangers of the internet. Openly and in an age appropriate manner, and continue to talk to them. And as Sian said, we have to LISTEN to them too.
We need to talk to them about consent – enthusiastic consent – and about controlling behaviour and bullying. They should be told that porn is not real life, and that if someone is pressuring them to do something that they don’t want to do, they should walk away.
We need to teach our girls that the glossy, perfect lives depicted in magazines are fake, and that imperfection is real and normal, and GOOD. That self-confidence and a positive body image is far sexier than perfect pins or huge boobs.
We need to teach our boys that decent men don’t treat women like objects, that there is no rush to have sex, and that the guys who tell you they are having lots of sex are probably exaggerating. That pressuring a girl into sex is wrong, and that it will be much better if you both enjoy it.
We need decent sex ed in schools, so that the children of parents who can’t or won’t speak to their kids about this are still informed and warned. Schools should not be allowed to opt out of sex ed, all children should have access to this information. Sex ed should teach kids about healthy relationships, not just about sex, so that they can recognise controlling behaviour and abuse.
Above all, we need policies that are based on what experts are telling our politicians. We need politicians who LISTEN to the damned experts, and who make decisions based on facts, not what they think makes a good soundbite.
Updated on February 25, 2015
‘Was nix kostet, ist nix wert’
This German saying, which means, ‘What costs nothing, is worth nothing’ is one I use a lot.
Lately I have been using it a lot when talking about payment for writing, and it came to mind when I read this blog post from writer, Nate Thayer, who was asked if he would be interested in having one of his articles republished on The Atlantic website. When he asked about format, deadline and fees, he was informed that while the Atlantic would like to publish his work, they were not willing to pay him for it. His reply:
I am a professional journalist who has made my living by writing for 25 years and am not in the habit of giving my services for free to for profit media outlets so they can make money by using my work and efforts by removing my ability to pay my bills and feed my children. I know several people who write for the Atlantic who of course get paid. I appreciate your interest, but, while I respect the Atlantic, and have several friends who write for it, I have bills to pay and cannot expect to do so by giving my work away for free to a for profit company so they can make money off of my efforts. 1200 words by the end of the week would be fine, and I can assure you it would be well received, but not for free. Frankly, I will refrain from being insulted and am perplexed how one can expect to try to retain quality professional services without compensating for them. Let me know if you have perhaps mispoken.
and the reply from Atlantic
I completely understand your position, but our rate even for original, reported stories is $100. I am out of freelance money right now, I enjoyed your post, and I thought you’d be willing to summarize it for posting for a wider audience without doing any additional legwork. Some journalists use our platform as a way to gain more exposure for whatever professional goals they might have, but that’s not right for everyone and it’s of course perfectly reasonable to decline.
Thank you and I’m sorry to have offended you.
I can see no reason to blame the editor, who is obviously under pressure to find writers who would be willing to share their work without payment, but what about the media outlets who consistently share content from unpaid writers, while pocketing advertising revenue? Atlantic is far from the only one doing this, many other online media sites do the same. I enjoyed this article about online media start-ups not paying writing staff.
Why do we accept that our work is not worth paying for? And does this make us worthless?
In recent conversations about the future of Jump! Mag, I have been asked why I feel the need to change the magazine, and to introduce a subscription to pay for these changes. Why not leave it as it is, and allow girls to read it free? For one thing, I think that Jump! Mag could be so much MORE, and could reach many more girls around the country. Hell, around the world, if we are going to think big. To do this, I have to engage writers, proof-readers, website designers and probably other people who I haven’t even realised I need, and these people should be paid for their contributions.
Creating Jump! Mag did not happen overnight, it has taken an awful lot of unpaid work to get it this far, and when we go on to develop it further, I will make no apologies for making money out of it. If it is not possible to run as a profit-making business, then it is not viable. And if it is not possible to make a profit while paying for contributors, then it is not viable.
I have spoken to others who work in a similar sector, and are finding that many have had similar experiences. When they have talked of their intention to make money out of the provision of educational or creative content, the response has been at times quite negative.
Would you criticise a plumber for sending you a bill when he fixed your leaky tap?
Then why the criticism of those in the creative industries who wish to make money from their endeavours?
We are not talking about a scam, a nefarious get-rich-quick scheme, but the creation of a website, an article or a book that takes a lot of time and effort. I have witnessed friends on Twitter spending months to write, edit and produce a book, which they self-publish and sell for pennies. Sometimes even free. Why do we not value the work that they have put into creating that book, unless they have been lucky enough to find a ‘proper’ publisher?
A week or so ago, a very talented photographer asked on Twitter if the price she was thinking of charging for a photography course was too high. The resounding response was, ‘No, it is too low. Don’t sell yourself too short’. Perhaps the problem is that when we price a course, we think we are asking for payment for the 3 or 4 hours that we are teaching. We are not. We are asking for payment for the years of experience, the weeks of preparation, the days of advertising, the hours of paperwork that follow such a course.
If we do not value our own work, then how do we expect others to put a value to it?
Part of this may be due to the ‘Imposter Syndrome’ which is so wonderfully described by Phyllis L. F. Rippeyoung, Ph.D. an Associate Professor of Sociology at the University of Ottawa here. Imposter Syndrome is not confined to academia, and is absolutely rife amongst writers. I cannot count how many blogs I have seen linked to with a self-deprecating comment such as:
‘This might not be of any use to you, but I wrote this blog post’
‘It isn’t very good, but if you want to read my blog on this’
‘Here is some nonsense that I scribbled down earlier’
‘A bit of a rambling stream on conciousness from me today’
and so on and on. I want to scream BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, but that would probably make them even more hesitant about sharing their work.
If we believed in ourselves, and were more confident in demanding fair payment for services rendered, would we find that we received payment.
Or would we simply find that others were willing to do the work for free? Are we helping to create the problem by offering to work for nothing?
Of course we all do work that does not pay in monetary terms. The blogs and campaigns that I have been involved in for Mumsnet have not brought cold hard cash, but they brought the opportunity to go to Africa with the Gates Foundation and IRP. The blog posts for the Gates Foundation blog, Impatient Optimists, were unpaid, but they gave me credibility and confidence as a writer.
I find that while I enjoy writing for Impatient Optimists, I have to fit it in with other commitments, and so I haven’t been able to write as often as I had hoped. It is partly the reason that I am determined to be able to pay for articles on Jump! Mag, because in doing so, I will be more able to rely on contributors to deliver an article when I want it. As wonderful as the voluntary contributors are, I am reliant on them having time to write for me, and of course they are going to put my request to the bottom of the pile if there is paid work to be had.
The real problem is that the lack of payment is desperately bad for journalism. I have met incredibly talented writers and journalists who have to subsidise their income with menial jobs because they simply cannot make enough money in their profession to pay their bills. Journalists who spend a lot of time and money researching articles, only to find that their work is not valued.
We want quality journalism, but we are not willing to pay for it, and as long as there is a stream of enthusiastic amateurs willing to fill the gaps, the media outlets are not going to pay for professionals. From here on, I see a steady stream of reblogged and recycled articles, with little original thought or opinion.
I see fiction writing going the same way, with the stream of self published authors accepting the risks, and accepting low sales prices in the hope that they will be discovered. Value your work and sell it for a decent price, I want to scream. Don’t give it away.
Was nix kostet, ist nix wert.
What are you worth?
Updated on January 4, 2016
No, Barclays. This is NOT how I see my daughter’s relationship with her father.
I have been known to throw things at the TV when that advert comes on. As this blogger notes, ‘Unconditional Love’ does not mean raising selfish kids. We may give up sleeping through the night and drinking tea while it is hot, at least for the first few years, but we draw the line at giving up our entire lives for our kids
It is no sacrifice, the changes that we have made since becoming parents. It is being part of a family, and making compromises to ensure that everyone in the family is happy and fulfilled.
While the focus was certainly on the needs of the children while they were babies and toddlers, as they have grown older, there has been a slight change. The wishes of the parents are no longer put far behind those of the children, and the children learn to negotiate and compromise to get what they want.
Who were Barclays hoping to catch with that advert? It is truly awful, and that is before we get to the horribly stereotyped pink-obsessed spoiled little madam.
Today, I saw this advert, which was like a breath of fresh air
I immediately looked to see if I could find it on YouTube so I could share it with others. On the second viewing, I liked it even more.
This is a caring father, who spends time with his daughter, not just money on his daughter. He cares for her, plays with her, laughs with her. He gives up his jumper during a walk in the park and shivers for her. (By this point I had tears in my eyes, sentimental fool that I am). He gives her boyfriend the evil eye and helps pack her books when she leaves to go to University.
Yes, it is an advert, and it is created for women like me who will share it with their friends and say, ‘awwwwwww isn’t this lovely’, and it was created by a cynical marketing team who want us to buy the cars they are flogging.
And yet… It is important that our girls feel that we see them as the Volkswagen Girl, not the Barclays Girl. It may be ‘just an advert’ but it sets a tone, and it sets and example. We are proud of our girls, and we value them.
The interesting thing about these two adverts is that the basic idea is very similar. The sacrifices that we make for our children, shown in a timeline from birth to adulthood.
In my opinion, Barclays totally missed the point. I am on TeamVW. Whose side are you on?
For any self-published authors out there – I have blogged on Off The Shelf Book Promotions about publicising your book on Twitter. This post gives basic Twitter tips for writers, to help you hit the ground running when you sign up to Twitter.
Debbie’s book Sell Your Books aims to help self-published authors market their books. It is concise, well-written and chockablock with useful tips, from identifying your target market, planning your strategy to getting media coverage. While it is a must-buy for those who have published their own books, it also contains plenty of tips for those who are working with a publisher.
As Debbie says,
‘If you think that a publisher’s profit from producing your book should cover its marketing costs, think again… Promoting a book is very, very time-consuming, involving many hours of work with no guarantee of success… It’s not even all about money – because a publishing company doesn’t exist that could field a person more passionate about your writing than you’.
Now, if you will excuse me, I am off to put all that newfound knowledge into practice…
Authors are often told that they should use Twitter to publicise their work. This advice is given to both self-published authors, and those working with a publisher. Twitter is easily accessible, has no barriers or borders, and costs nothing but time.
I hear you shout, ‘But I don’t have the time, I need to WRITE!’
That is what this post is about – ensuring that you get the very best out of Twitter in the time you can afford to invest.
Take a day or two before you start tweeting to organise your set-up. Doing this ensures that every tweet you send reaches your target audience.
Pep up your profile
Your profile is your shop window. It consists of:
- Header – the rectangular box
- A profile photo – lose the egg. The generic profile picture is a sign of a Twitter newbie. Be brave and put a picture of yourself as your avatar as people tend to respond better to a face than a picture of a dust jacket.
- Your Twitter name and your user name (the @name). Make it easy for people to find you by sticking as close to your author name as possible.
- A short bio – You have 160 characters of space on your profile to provide a snapshot of your personality. Use them wisely, but don’t go overboard with self-promotion.
- Your location – make this as vague or exact as you like
- Link to website or blog
- Header photo – lots of people don’t bother doing anything with it, but it is a good way of visually linking to your website, using similar colours or patterns
Updated on January 4, 2016
The comparison between raising girls vs raising boys is one that I have been making these past years. My children have conformed pretty well to the ‘gender stereotyping’ by being sensitive, artistic and the peacemaker (my daughter) vs rowdy, maths and science fan and dominant (my son).
A friend recommended the book by Steve Biddulph, “Raising Boys” a few years ago. I glanced through it, but really didn’t get on well with it. I can’t remember much about it, or why I put it down, but was interested to hear that Steve has followed up with a book about girls, called (predictively) Raising Girls.
On Radio 2 this morning, the presenter remarked that it was ironic that the book criticises the way in which young girls are put under pressure by the media, yet the Guardian illustrated their article with a picture of two very attractive actresses. The book has not been released yet, but the article focuses on this issue while giving the reader a list of ‘star aunts’ including Beyonce and Sierra Miller.
I found it more troubling that Biddulph has only just recently discovered that young girls face massive societal pressure. From this article on the Girl Power Generation:
Professor Steve Biddulph, a child development specialist and author of bestselling books about the challenges faced by boys in modern society, recently turned his sights on girls. His Raising Girls, is also published this month. “I have been starting to get worried about girls recently,” he says. “Girls used to be doing fine but have recently started to have much more trouble deciding who they are.
“It was an awakening for me. I was very clear that there was a boy-catastrophe unfolding. Part of what I assumed was that girls were doing fine, but about five to six years ago we started getting research and statistics coming in from around the world that girls were, in fact, the ones in trouble.”
Only 6 years since Biddulph noticed that girls were in trouble? In 1995 the UN Bejiing 4th World Conference on Women noted that the portrayal of women in the media was damaging,
The world- wide trend towards consumerism has created a climate in which advertisements and commercial messages often portray women primarily as consumers and target girls and women of all ages inappropriately
In 1998 the BBC reported on the media’s portrayal of girls (accompanied by this suggestion that girls should be shown as ‘buxom wenches’ !), and the New York Times reported in 1997 that women were more likely to be portrayed in film and TV roles talking about romance than careers. Geena Davis’s foundation was created in 2004, Natasha Walter’s book Living Dolls has been on our bookshelves for some years, and widely discussed in the media.
Funny that a ‘child development specialist’ missed all of that.
In an interview with an Australian radio station near his home in Tasmania, he said: “I’m much more aware now of girls having enormous problems with things like bullying and eating disorders and generally not liking who they are. We’re noticing that even at primary school stage … There’s no mystery in what is causing that. I think we all agree about the pressures and what has happened here, that the corporations around the world started realising they could sell to young women and pre-teens. They gave them the message that your looks are the most important thing about them.”
Ok, so he was a bit late to the party. Never mind, as long as we are all talking about this issue, then all is well. Right?
Well, no. This is where I part company with Steve. His ‘solution’ to this issue – or at least the one that the Guardian reviewer has picked up on – is that girls need aunts. Not that the media needs to change, but that we need
‘a new feminism to include aunts mentoring younger girls and keeping them safe from the “toxic” influences of advertising and celebrity’
Isn’t that pretty much what feminism is? Women helping and supporting women and girls?
Biddulph points out that no girl and her mum always get on, and for this reason it is good for girls to have an aunt – even a honorary one – in her life. While I agree that it is great for girls to have a positive role model in their lives, I don’t see Biddulph advising that my son should have a fun uncle in his life to compensate for him not getting on with his dad during puberty.
It is a natural part of puberty, for both boys and girls to ‘reject’ their parents. Children become adults and in doing so they have to assert their independence.
As I mentioned, the book is due out later this month, so at present I can only go on what is being reported in the media. Perhaps this idea of aunts is only a part of Biddulph’s solution for our girls, and I will be interested in reading the rest of the book. I researched his previous work when writing this blog post, and came across a review of his Raising Boys book, which leads me to believe that I may not agree with Biddulph’s findings.
I also found a thread on Mumsnet, in which one of the posters asked about the scientific research on which the book was based. Specifically she asked about the often repeated statement that a surge of testosterone around the age of four years is responsible for a rise in aggression. When I searched for information about this, I came up lots of anecdotal tales on parenting websites, basically the same urban myth being repeated and strengthened. Often the source of this assertion was Biddulph’s Raising Boys, which this blogger remarked upon some years ago.
This research paper (PDF) is very interesting on the reasons for an increase in aggression in toddler boys, but does not find a link between hormone changes and aggressive behaviour
The testosterone surge
Increasing testosterone levels in young boys might affect the development of aggression. However, a link between testosterone and physical aggression in early development, although demonstrated in other primate species, has not been clearly shown in young humans (van Goozen, 2005). The postnatal testosterone surge in humans appears to be correlated with sex-specific morphological change, not with behaviour.
The author also makes this important point
Thus it becomes important to study the extent to which socialization pressures are applied to the early aggressive behaviour shown by girls as opposed to boys (Fagot & Hagen, 1985).
Are parents and other adults more likely to ignore or even admire boys’ aggression? Are they more likely to encourage boys to defend themselves in conflict with siblings and peers ?
Observations of young children reveal that parents are more likely to tolerate aggression when it is shown by a boy (Martin & Ross, 2005). Girls, as opposed to boys, are more likely to be required to relinquish their claims to an object in dispute (Ross et al. 1990). Perhaps because of such pressures, in conflicts with mothers, siblings and friends, girls are more likely to show submissive behaviour (Dunn & Herrera, 1997). Thus, girls are under considerable pressure to desist from aggression. Such social pressure may force overt aggression underground.
It is important to recognize that girls and boys start out with similar levels of aggression. Unqualified acceptance of the common wisdom that aggression is a normative part of boyhood impedes detection of those highly aggressive girls and boys whose problems persist into later life.
I find it worrying that we are excusing our boys’ aggressive behaviour as something that they cannot help, a result of a hormone surge that has not been scientifically proven. At the same time we are telling our girls that they should just walk away, ignore the annoying boy, he will stop if we ignore him.
It worries me because we are teaching our girls from a young age that the right way to react to aggression is to walk away, and we are teaching our boys that aggressive behaviour is in some way acceptable, and to be expected.
This is a terrible lesson to teach our children, and leads to trouble in later years. Our daughters should be protected from aggression, whether it is a male toddler, a teenager or an adult man.
Over the years, I have read a few parenting manuals, and have taken bits and pieces from various books, websites and online discussions. My main gripe against such books is that they deliver a one-size-fits-all approach to parenting, and are based on the author’s opinion rather than on scientific research.
Parenting ‘experts’ tell us how to raise our children. What to feed them, how to discipline them, how to prepare them for school, how to make them happy, or successful, or obedient. If we don’t follow the current phase, we are made to feel guilty, somehow lacking as parents.
My daughter doesn’t need an aunt to teach her that looking like a celebrity is not something to aim for. When she read an article in a pre-teen magazine, ‘How to Look Like Selena Gomez’, she remarked, ‘Why would I want to look like her? I look like me’.
It was her frustration that led me to start Jump! Mag. Over the past year, I have discovered hundreds of girls like her, who love to read about inspirational women, science, nature and games – and much more. They enjoy writing for Jump! Mag, and they love to read the writings of other girls. The development of girls has become a focus in my life – and I am learning more about how to inspire and support girls.
We constantly underestimate the intelligence of our girls. How often have you said, ‘Isn’t this incredible writing, for an 11 year old?‘. It is incredible writing, that is for sure, but why are we amazed? Our girls ARE amazing, and we need to tell them so.
What is the best way to raise the confidence of a child – boy or girl? It is to tell them that they have done something well, to express approval and admiration. Then they won’t feel that they need to emulate a pop star or actress, because they are happy being themselves.
Updated on January 4, 2016
When Mary Robinson speaks, people listen.
Not because she is the former President of Ireland, and the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, but because she is an inspiring and compelling woman.
My ten year old daughter and I went to hear her give the Christmas Lecture at Dundee University this weekend, and were not in the least disappointed. I had heard Mary talk at the London Summit of Family Planning earlier this year, when her speech was sadly cut short as she had a plane to catch.
The scent of mulled wine and a sense of anticipation filled the air of the foyer when we arrived. As the staff scurried around, setting up the tables for the reception after the event, we climbed the stairs to the main lecture theatre, catching an exciting glimpse of Mary on our way. The 350 seats of the lecture theatre were soon filled, as we organised our notebooks and pens, ready to take notes. My daughter remarked that she could still smell the ‘gloomy wine’.
After the VIPs had arrived and been seated, then there was a hush as we all looked towards the door. It swung open to reveal a very sheepish young man with a bottle of water and glasses, to the amusement of the audience.
Dundee’s Lord Provost Bob Duncan welcomed Mary to the city of Dundee, before she was formally introduced by University VP Chris Whatley.
Mary spoke of her decision to write her memoir being influenced by Ela Bhatt, who told when asked for advice, told her friend
‘Mary, you must. Our experience is not our personal property. It must be shared’
And so she did. She talked of her childhood and youth, and of the realisation that she was different to her classmates, who discussed what to do when they left school only as a stopgap to marriage. Mary didn’t know what she wanted, but it wasn’t marriage. She considering becoming a nun, until her parents sent her to Paris aged 17 years, to a finishing school. ‘And that changed everything’.
She returned from Paris, having had her eyes opened She discovered feminism, socialism, and that despite the privileges she enjoyed, that she was not equal to her brothers. She began to question, not the teachings of the Catholic Church, but the way in which it was put forward, in a very patriarchal way.
When she returned to Dublin, she was changed, and to her parents it was not for the better. Despite their best efforts to change her back, she continued to go her own way. She studied law at Trinity College, then went on to Harvard.
It was a time of change. The start of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, the Vietnam War, the civil rights movement and the assassination of Martin Luther King while Mary was studying in the States, .
Back in Ireland, she was elected to the Senate, where she campaigned for legalisation of Family Planning and of homosexuality. Mary talked movingly about the people she met who influenced her, such as Josie, who had been abused by the husband from whom she sought a judicial separation. Mary fought in the courts, not just on behalf of Josie, but on behalf of those who came after her.
In 1988 she decided to retire from elected public life, only to be surprised by a suggestion that she should think of becoming a candidate for the Irish Presidency.
It is fair to say that Mary Robinson transformed the Irish Presidency, from the day she took office and set a light burning in the kitchen window. A symbolic gesture to guide the Irish diaspora home, it showed the warm and compassionate side of the woman whose first interview as President was on a children’s TV show.
She spoke of being the first Irish President to meet the Queen, and of meeting Gerry Adams against the wishes of the British Government – and of some of her Irish countrymen and women, including her hairdresser who refused to do her hair on the morning of the meeting.
Mary attended the 1997 Pan African Women’s Conference in Rwanda, and she talked of the way in which Rwanda has furthered their advancement by championing women’s development. She stated:
‘I have seen the future of Africa, and she works‘
She left office in 1997, two months before the end of her term to take up the position of United Nations Commissioner for Human Rights, a move that she now admits was a mistake. The previous holder of the office had left unexpectedly, and she allowed herself to be hurried into the job. She talked of her regret, that some Irish people may have seen her hasty move as a sign that the Presidency was a mere stepping stone to bigger and better things. She realised later that the reason that the previous holder left early was because the job was so difficult, and indeed it brought her to the brink of a breakdown until her brother took her aside and gave her some very good advice.
Mary spoke about the work that she did at the UN, during which time she addressed the huge challenge of ensuring that Human Rights were central to UN policies. She realised that there were important rights that the richest countries in the world were not taking seriously. The rights to food, safe water, health care and education.
After her 5 years at the UN, she wanted to work on promoting Human Rights, particularly in African countries, working on health issues, and in particular on women, peace and security. In that time she realised that there was an issue that no one was as yet addressing. The conditions in many countries were worsening, and this was due to the changes in the weather.
In Liberia, she was told that where they had once had two predictable rainy seasons, they now had long rainy seasons which prevented the planting of crops, led to food insecurity, water shortages and threatened the livelihoods of many.
‘The poorest people are most affected but are least responsible for the change in climate …
We are warned by scientists that we are drifting towards an uncertain and unsafe world, but we do too little to ‘turn down the heat’…
We must talk about how climate change affects people.’
The Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice was founded to draw attention to this important issue.
After the lecture, Mary answered some questions from the floor. First off the bat was a question about the legalisation of abortion in Ireland, following the death of Savita Halappanavar. As a former President, Mary is obliged to stay out of political issues. Perhaps it was wishful thinking on my part, but I sensed that she would love to rant about this, but was confined by her professionalism.
Next to ask a question, was Cat, my daughter, who has written an article for Jump! Mag, to be published simultaneously with this one. Mary answered with warmth and at length – you can listen to the audioboo on Jump! Mag. I liked the advice that girls should be true to their values, and be confident and willing to speak up.
The next question was about the renewal of violence in Northern Ireland Mary spoke of a sense of false complacency about the peace process, and disregard of the underlying issues that were not resolved. She called the violence of the weekend ‘a wake up call’ and brought up the idea of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which has helped in other areas of the world.
‘There is hatred that has to be addressed…
We have to learn to care so much that we get beyond the seeds of violence and build reconciliation and relationships for the future’
Later that evening, as Mary signed books and chatted to a long line of fans, a large television behind her broadcast scenes of cars burning in Belfast. The following days have seen the violent protests escalate, and we can only watch in horror and in hope that the authorities can calm the situation. Those of us who grew up in the shadow of the Troubles are now trying to explain the conflict to our children.
My daughter and I queued to have a book signed, despite the fact that I already have a Kindle edition of Mary’s memoirs Everybody Matters, I felt it would be a great memento for my daughter.
When we arrived at the front of the queue, Mary greeted my daughter with enthusiasm (despite the fact that she had been signing and smiling for well over an hour) and spoke kindly to my girl, signing the book with the advice