Mary Robinson Everybody Matters

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 








Simple Steps to Promote with Social Media



Started a blog for your business or have a campaign to promote with Social Media? It may look complicated, but just follow these six simple steps.


1. Twitter

Since I started using Twitter to promote my blog, I have gained a lot of readers. And more people comment, both on the blog or on Twitter. And let’s be honest, that is what we are all looking for, us bloggers. As much fun as it is to write, it is a lot more fun if people are reading and enjoying the blog. For a business, you are looking to connect to your customers, and to strengthen customer loyalty.

If you don’t use Twitter, then have a look at my Twitter guide first to get a basic overview of what it is all about. Don’t be mislead by the Daily Mail – Twitter is not about discussing what you had for breakfast, but a fast moving, information exchange highway.

I use Twitter to stay up to date with the trends and news, to communicate with both real and imaginary internet friends, to have fun. It might take a couple of days to get into it, but do persevere. And most importantly, do not lurk. Twitter is best when you communicate with others, don’t be afraid, jump in and reply to something one of the people you follow posts.

When using Twitter to promote your blog or business, don’t just post links to your website – no one will follow you if you do this, it is like following a spammer (a twitter account set up to promote a dodgy business deal or spread viruses; they spams others in the hope that they will click on the link).

Think about using the name of your blog or business in your Twitter name – you have a NAME and a USERNAME which begins with @ (mine is @lynncschreiber) – I don’t actually do this any more as I use my name but if you don’t use your real name on your website, then get your blog or business name on your Twitter profile.

For bloggers – Find other bloggers you like and follow them, then look at the people who they follow, check out their profiles and latest tweets and follow them too. Once you build up a group of other interested bloggers, you will notice an increase in blog traffic. Bloggers tend to like reading blogs, and may link to your blog or retweet (RT) one of your posts if they find it interesting. I am sometimes inspired by a blog that I have read, and write a post based on that one, linking to the original blog.


2. Facebook

Many businesses have a Facebook page set up to promote their websites, to reach people who are not on Twitter. Use your private FB account, and set up a page with the name of your business or blog – this gives you the advantage of remaining anonymous if you want to be. Beware though, when posting a link that you do it from the page, and not from your private FB profile.

As with Twitter, the key thing is posting enough to stay interesting and interacting with others. Facebook is slightly tricky, because not all your posts show up in your follower’s timelines. On average, only 16% of  page followers see the update posted.

Without being creative, it is really quite difficult to make FB work for a blog or brand, as this post shows.  Why do Facebook do this? They want you to pay for promoted posts. I have experimented with promoted posts, and I have to say it does make a difference. I picked up quite a few followers, and the engagement was definitely higher. Not everyone wants to pay for this, and that is where the creativity comes in.

You can raise the number of people seeing your page posts by encouraging your readers to [like] or share content. This could be because you have published a really great photo (cute cats and inspiring words do well), or because your post is so well written that they just HAVE to pass it on.



3. Google+

A bit slow off the ground, but G+ is not to be ignored. For one thing, it is GOOGLE, which means that your website will score better in the google rankings if it is on G+. The huge advantage it has over Facebook is that every single G+ post pops up in your follower’s timelines. This means that you don’t have to pay for promoted posts. The downside is that, as yet, G+ is still not mainstream. There are a lot of Social Media geeks, and a lot of brands on there, which leads me to believe that it will become more important. ‘If you build it, they will come’, seems to be the Google+ motto. We are all there, waiting for people to migrate over from Facebook. I think that it will happen eventually, so worth setting up a page now and slowly building up with G+.


4. Pinterest

Pinterest is of great interest to any business or blog that uses a lot of photos in their posts. It is to be seen as a virtual pinboard, where you can save photos  and the attached website for later. Followers of your Pinterest boards, can repin then, so sharing them with others. Only use this to pin pictures that you have taken yourself, or have been given permission to pass on – creative people get (rightly) quite irate when their work is distributed and copied without their permission or even a link back to their site.

It is worth putting a watermark on your original images, giving either your website address or your Twitter profile, so that even if someone removes the link to your site, interested customers can still find where the picture came from. It also prevents naughty folk passing off your work as their own.



5. Vine Instagram

Like Pinterest, these sites are visual and great to promote creative brands or blogs. Vine is the new kid on the block, and offers the opportunity to upload 6 second videos. You can really let your creative spirit run riot – here are some examples of brands who have made great Vines, and some that just don’t hit the spot. Don’t try and cram too much into one Vine, and spend some time thinking about what you want to highlight. Make sure it suits your brand or blog, and make it fun.

If the six second limit is too short for you, check out Instagram instead.  The other advantage that Instagram has is the ability to upload pre-recorded clips, which means that you can make the videos look much more professional. Other advantages that Instagram has, is the ability to choose which still should show on Facebook upload, and the fun filters that helped make the apps so popular. Instagram belongs to Facebook and therefore the integration is smoother and better than Vine, which is owned by Twitter.

Your decision might be influenced by where your customers and readers are. If you already have a large Twitter following, then Vine could work better for you. More FB fans then look to Instagram.




6. Blogger Networks 


Look to see if there is a network that would suit your blog.

Mums in UK are spoiled for choice between Mumsnet’s  Blogger’s NetworkBritmums and Netmums

On Mumsnet, there are, as you would expect, a fair few blogs about parenting, but also blogs on many other topics. You must apply to join, and your blog will be checked to see if the content is appropriate for a parenting website (so maybe don’t apply if you blog about the latest bondage gear). The blog will then be included in the list of blogs, latest posts put on the Bloggers’ Network homepage, promoted on their Twitter feed (the mainMNTowers account has followers) and Facebook page.

Netmums tends to be less political than Mumsnet, and more focussed on reviews and brands. They also promote on other social media channels, plus mentioned on their Twitter feed  and Facebook page  – I have noticed they are quite active on Google+.They also highlight a Blog of the Week, With almost 2300 bloggers at time of writing this post, it is a fair sized network. Another great blogging network is Britmums which is much more blogger focussed than Netmums or Mumsnet, which are parenting fora with a Blogger’ Network.

Britmums advertises as ‘lifestyle bloggers and digital influencers’, obviously with an emphasis on parenting blogs. They promote on TwitterFacebook and Google+, among other social networks.

Don’t feel that you have to do all of these options. They are ways of building followers, but you do not have to do them all. And some of them, such as Mumsnet and BritMums update automatically so you don’t have to be constantly posting links to your blog.


Do’s And Don’t

Do publicise your website, but don’t spam people with too many links to it. A couple a day is fine, especially on Twitter as it is fast moving.

Do make it easy for your readers to find you – add buttons to your blog to encourage readers to share on Twitter or Facebook, and a link to your Twitter page.

Do build up a community around your website– read and comment on other blogs, reply to comments on your own blog

Do read and comment on other blogs, using your blog email address and linking to your blog (if there is an option to do this, most comment forms have space for your URL).


Do get involved in “memes” if you want to – basically a meme is when one blogger posts about something that interests them and asks others to do the same, linking to other blogs on the same topic. It can be feminismfrocks or something completely different. Another popular one is Silent Sunday.

Do use hashtags to direct traffic to your website. If you blog about knitting, use #knitting. That way anyone seeking information on these topics will find your blog link.

Don’t think you have to do everything, and be everywhere. There is such a thing as Social Media Fatigue.



Featured Image Copyright Jason Howie


Avoid The Knife – FGM in Kenya



I met Vivian in Nairobi. We were told that we were to meet a young woman who had narrowly escaped Female Genital Circumcision (FGM), a practice that is barbaric and abusive. She had escaped being cut, not because of the intervention of Western aid workers or other incomers to her rural Kenyan community, but because her parents forbade it.

The Luo community, to which Vivian and her parents belong do not practice FGM, but she grew up in a Kuria community where girls are cut. It is seen as a rite of passage,  which most girls eagerly anticipate . When Vivian’s parents refused permission for her to be cut, she tried to go behind their backs. She was nine years old, and impressed by the stories of her friends, who told of month long celebrations, and generous gifts of money given to girls who do not cry.

Girls are told that they will be unable to find a husband if they are not cut, and are called names and ridiculed for refusing.

For many years, Vivian’s parents sent her away during the ‘cutting season’ to protect her. Even this did not help, and she sneaked out to attend a ceremony. Only the intervention of her brother, saved her. It wasn’t until she was 14 years old, that she realised that her parents were right.

Vivian told this tale on a warm summer evening in Nairobi. She talked of her teen fears of not finding a husband, and of the peer pressure she was subjected to. She talked of the church, where she was told that FGM was bad, but not why it is bad.

She talked of going ‘back home’ and seeing the school friends she left behind. One of her friends dropped out of school when she was 12 years old, and soon was married to a man in his 70s. She now has five children, and blames her parents for taking her ‘to the knife’. She has nowhere to go. There is no divorce in such a community.

Vivian is an intelligent, educated and beautiful young woman, who is now working as a researcher in Kenya. Where Vivian is educated, her friend is unschooled. Where Vivian is  a free woman, her friend is enslaved by her circumstances. Vivian would not look out of place on 5th Avenue. The same could not be said of her friend.


Girls who are circumcised drop out of school earlier, marry earlier, have children earlier. The initial complications such as shock, severe bleeding, tetanus or sepsis are only the beginning of a life of pain caused by the ceremony. Later health issues may include the  formation of scar tissue, cysts, infections, infertility and childbirth complications, including increased risk of mother and newborn deaths.

Kenya is one of many African countries that has officially banned FGM, but it still goes on. It continues because girls like Vivian are told that they are worthless unless they agree to be cut. It continues because young boys and men are told that a woman who is uncut will be unfaithful.

FGM is violence against women, perpetrated to keep them subservient to men. As Lancashire midwife and anti-FGM campaigner Cath Holland puts it,


 “At its root, FGM is all about patriarchy. It’s about controlling women – controlling their sexuality, controlling their libido. In communities like Pokot it’s regarded as a prerequisite for marriage.”


Cath travelled to Pokot in the Rift Valley to train midwives, and returned a changed woman. Horrified by her experiences, Cath decided that the best way to effect change, was from within the community. She invited two Kenyan midwives to UK to inform them of the dangers of FGM. These women went back to Kenya to spread the word. One of their most effective tools is the Alternative Rite of Passage.

In the past years Cath has raised enough money to fund two alternative ceremonies, with a third one planned in December 2012 (during the traditional cutting season).


‘We were informed by the group that altogether over the last 2 years 414 girls participated in our “Alternative Rite of Passage” (ARP) ceremonies. Of these only 4 girls were subsequently subjected to FGM. The majority of the girls are still at school and some even attending secondary school’


Working within the community is the only way to protect girls from FGM. They have to be informed of the dangers, and empowered to make the decision not to be cut. Only then will they be able to resist the peer pressure, and the pressure from their community and family.


Vivian talks about her experiences, not only to foreign journalists and bloggers, but to the young girls who live in the community, paying back the advice she received from her mother. She was able to avoid the knife, and now she hopes that by telling her story, she can inspire other girls to do the same.


This post is part of the Violence Against Women Bloghop –  16 Days of Activism

©  Sarah Elliott/ MSF

Four Born Every Second – Saving Lives of Women and Children

Numbers are funny things, aren’t they?


If I said a house I bought a house in London  that cost £287,000, then you would know that it was not a particularly posh area of the city.

If I said I earned a bonus of £287,000 last year, you would think I was a high powered executive (sadly, these two examples are not true)

If I said that Mumsnet clocked up 287,000 page views in around 5 hours, you would imagine that it was quite a popular and influential website


How about this statistic:

Around 287,000 women die every year from pregnancy related causes.

Most of these deaths are preventable, if the women have access to health care.

Whether or not you belong to one of these 287,000 women depends purely on an accident of birth. If you were born in what we term a ‘developed country’, the risk is much lower. Women who live in Sierra Leone, in Burundi, in Cambodia — and even in United States of America — are not so fortunate.

In some African countries, maternal mortality is around 800 deaths per 100,000 births. In comparison, European countries show maternity mortality rates between 4 and 10 deaths per 100,000 births. The US is an anomaly in the developed world, with 16 deaths per 100,000 births.



Getting away from numbers for a moment, lets stop and think about what this means for the individual families.

When the mother dies, the risk of poverty and death to her existing children takes a great leap. They are less likely to go to school, less likely to get a job and escape the grinding poverty into which they were born. Less likely to even reach adulthood.

What are the risks of pregnancy related death, and how can they be prevented? The five leading causes of death during pregnancy are:


Haemorrhage – severe bleeding after the birth

Sepsis – infection during or after delivery, often caused by giving birth in unhygienic environment

Unsafe abortion

Hypertensive Disorders – pre-eclampsia, and eclampsia

Obstructed Labour


In societies with fully functioning health services, most of these conditions or problems would be recognised early enough to prevent loss of life, but what of countries with little  health care facilities?

We are conditioned to think of health care being expensive, but what if we provided emergency obstetric health care in areas of high maternity mortality? Would it make a difference?

The charity Médecins Sans Frontières  decided to find out.

They established two projects, in Sierra Leone and in Burundi. The focus is on emergency care, ie. antenatal care, an emergency transport service and a hospital providing 24/7 treatment of serious pregnancy complications.

At the Gondama Referral Centre in Sierra Leone,  patients are referred from health clinics and midwives in the area when there is a known risk of complications, or when serious complications develop during labour.




The population of Sierra Leone is similar to that of Scotland, around 6 million but they have just 200 doctors, and around 80 midwives. This in a country where only 17% of women use contraception. No wonder they have one of the highest maternal and infant mortality rates in the world.

Trained obstetricians work day and night to save the lives of women who arrive in pain, bleeding, frightened and exhausted. For some of them, the story has a happy ending. For some, despite every effort of the medical team, the women go home without a baby, or don’t go home at all.


The BBC One documentary, which airs at tonight,

at 10.35pm, follows the progress of some of these women


If you missed the programme, you can catch up here on the iPlayer


Bafta winning director Brian Hill has travelled the world to observe the differences in obstetric health care in Sierra Leone, Cambodia, the US and UK. The documentary is as shocking as it is inspirational. It is at times distressing, such as the scenes documenting still birth and the death of a young woman, but it is also incredibly powerful and moving.

Follow the story of Cambodian woman Neang and her 12 year old son Pisey, who has taken on the role of protector of his family. To earn money for his mother and sister, Pisey forgoes schooling to scavenge for rubbish which he sells to buy rice. In a poignant scene, he is filmed picking up HIV meds for his mother while she gives birth to his second baby sister in a nearby hospital. Health care in Cambodia is improving, and they have seen mortality rates sink in the past years.

There are moments of great joy, such as the birth of twins, to the delight of their father, and moments of sorrow when a child is born only to live a few minutes.



And what of the MSF project?

The results are very promising. A estimated reduction of maternal mortality rates by up to 74% shows that the concept of providing emergency care works.

The total annual running costs of these programmes is  around £1.70 per person in Sierra Leone. Yes, you read that number right. One pounds seventy pence per person, per year could save thousands of lives.  This isn’t about state of the art operating theatres or equipment, but very basic health care for those who so desperately need it.

According to MSF:


MSF’s positive experience from
these countries can serve as an encouraging
example for donors, governments and other
NGOs who are considering investing in a
functional and effective referral system and
24/7 emergency obstetric care in countries
where maternal mortality is high and access to
emergency obstetric services is limited.



Watch and share Four Born Every Second, and read about  the MSF project.

Interview with obstetrician Dr Philip de Almeida

More about the series Why Poverty?




Image by Anna Gordon

Mumsnet Blogfest 2012 – Dealing With Trolls

Panel discussion at the Mumsnet Blogfest 2012, headed by Eleanor Mills, Times Online journalist


Image by Anna Gordon


The word ‘troll’ for a person who comments on blogs or online news articles in a way to elicit fear and disgust may be new, but ‘hate mail’ is as old as the newspaper industry itself, according to Suzanne Moore. No longer are newspaper offices recipients of scribbled letters in green ink, as technology has found new ways of dispatching hate directly to the writer.

The more controversial the topic, the nastier the comments received, although Moore surprised us by saying that an article on Morris Dancers provoked the most hateful response of her career. ‘Don’t write because you want someone to like you’, she continued, ‘and expect people to disagree’.

Blogger Cath Elliot talked of her experience, including scary stalkers and a sustained and organised campaign of hate, which ended in a report to the police (and it is still ongoing).

Eleanor Mills reported that since the Times Paywall went up, there has been a marked reduction in abusive comments. The Paywall requires the registration in the user’s real name, and the resulting lack of anonymity means that people remain more civil than on the anonymous (and notorious) Guardian CIF comments fields.

It was something that a few  Guardian journalists noted – they are encouraged to respond to the comments, something that is surely not easy when they are being called ‘thick cunt’ or ‘fat whale’. Who wants to read comment like that about themselves?

All the journalists remarked on the stunning misogyny of the comments, ‘It is an attempt to silence you’, noted Suzanne Moore.

Tanya Byron made us laugh when she told us of her  mum saying, ‘Darling, if the daily mail is saying nasty things about you, you are an outstanding woman

Legal Blogger David Allen Green was asked to advise on the best way to proceed, and recommended asking for the local police computers crime division – but advised caution. Only in extreme cases is the involvement of the law generally useful.

Image by Anna Gordon

Mumsnet Blogfest 2012 – Finding Your Voice

Panel discussion at the Mumsnet Blogfest 2012, hosted by Gaby Wood, Head of Books, Daily Telegraph



The journalists Zoe Williams and Zoe Strimpel, writer Rachel Cusk were in London, while blogger Jenny Lawson, better known as TheBloggess joined in via Google+ videolink from Texas. It was 4am in Texas but Jenny was bright and cheery, wearing PJs, make-up and, at times, a cat.

The panel talked of the changes that motherhood had brought them, with Zoe Williams talking of the ‘pram in the hall’ syndrome – when women writers lose their creativity or focus after the birth of their child. She revealed she has a problem in thinking things through, but that as her children grew older, she was more aware of what she was writing and how it would affect them.


Image by Anna Gordon


I found Rachel’s answer intriguing, in that she found that before she had children that her creativity seemed more mysterious and uncertain. Children brought order and structure to her days, and to her writing so that she found she became better at managing her time.

Jenny was worried about being seen as a bad feminist when she admitted that she can’t do all things perfectly all of the time.

‘If I am going to be a good mom this week, then I won’t have time for my book… be proud of these things you are doing and learn how to juggle them’

She also talked of being called a ‘mommyblogger’ in an interview, and had the place in an uproar when she confessed to telling the CNN journalist,

Don’t call me mommy, unless you came out of my vagina‘ 

which had to be the quote of the Blogfest.

There was some controversy during this discussion, as to the value of confessional writing. While Zoe Strimpel talked of moving away from confessional writing, Jenny stated there is no such thing as over-sharing, as long as you stick to the boundaries you have set yourself.

‘Do not endanger your marriage of your child. Get together with your family and have a chat’

The panel touched on the topic of protecting yourself and your family from abusive responses, and Zoe Williams talked about her worry for her family when she talked about abortion.

Conflicting advice from the panel on the issue of editing, with Zoe S advising, ‘Don’t over edit. Publish. Quickly’, but Jenny explaining that she writes three posts for every one that she publishes. I would love to have known if she did this for the Knock Knock Motherfucker Beyonce Chicken post. (Don’t forget to come back here when you have read that, and thank me for brightening your day. Talk about overshadowing my own post).

When a member of the audience asked about what to do when her son asked her to stop writing about him, and whether she should allow him to read what she had written, Zoe Williams reacted with horror,

‘Copy approval is like smoking fags through a veil’

while Rachel noted that this disapproval is all part of adolescence, and children distancing themselves from their parents.

This prompted Prof Tanya Byron, who was scheduled to take part in a panel discussion later, to retort that if a child or an adult expresses a wish not to feature in a blog post, then it would be very wrong to ignore that wish.

I completely agree with this, even though I can see that it causes problems for many bloggers who write about their family life. I have written on the subject of privacy for family members of bloggers, and the issue of what mummybloggers do when their children grow up.



Mumsnet Blogfest 2012 – Inspiration and Friendship

I flew to London this weekend to attend the Mumsnet Blogfest. Parenting website Mumsnet had assembled a speakers list which was as dazzling as it was varied. Miriam Gonzales Durantez, Prof Tanya Byron, Zoe Margolis, Caitlin Moran, Susanne Moore, Zoe Williams… and many more.

The best piece of advice was by Caitlin Moran who said if you are not sure how to end your article cut and paste the second paragraph, which meant that I am continuing to write this article about 30 hours after I started it because I started to worry about how to end my article with this paragraph. So, thanks for that Caitlin.




The Blogfest was kicked off by Miriam Gonzales Durantez, who started by expressing her monumental debt of gratitude for the support she received on Mumsnet when she made it clear that she would help her husband politically, but that she would not change her identity or her life, or more importantly her children’s lives.

‘Your reaction and your support helped me more than you could possibly know’


Finding your voice – Zoe WilliamsRachel CuskZoe StrimpelGaby Wood – Chair, and Google+ Hangout with The Bloggess


Image by Anna Gordon


The journalists Zoe Williams and Zoe Strimpel, and writer Racheal Cusk were in London, while blogger Jenny Lawson, better known as TheBloggess joined in via Google+ videolink from Texas. It was 4am in Texas but Jenny was bright and cheery, wearing PJs, make-up and, at times, a cat.

I have written at length about this session here but in the main advice that I have take from this session was:

–       There is no such thing as oversharing, as long as you stick to the boundaries you have set yourself

–       Speak to your family about how much you are willing to reveal about your, and their lives

–       Don’t over-edit. Press publish. Quickly.

–       Try to balance motherhood and writing, and don’t try to be perfect in everything you do

–       Hold yourself to higher standards

–       Control your audience – get friendly people on your side by emailing friends or using facebook, build confidence and believe in what you are writing

–       Think about how much is you, and how much you want to share

–       Write about yourself and your life first, tell your story

–       Move away from confessional writing, regardless how tempting it is to use professional experience


The eagle-eyed will have noticed that this contains conflicting advice, which of course is normal when you ask four people for their writing tips.

After the panel discussion, we retired to the 28th floor to eat delicious cupcakes from Beverly Hills Bakery and check out the stalls from the sponsorsBoden, Skoda, Google and Nintendo,  and associate partners Mama Mio, Savoo, The Portland Hospital and Innocent.


Fight or flight? Dealing with detractors and tackling trolls – Prof Tanya Byron,Cath ElliottSuzanne MooreLiz FraserEleanor Mills.


Image by Anna Gordon


Eleanor Mills was chair of the panel and asked the journalists how they deal with trolls. Find the long version of my notes on this discussion here. This is what I learned:

–       Don’t feed the troll

–       If the Daily Mail are writing nasty things about you, you are doing something right

–       Ignore and if possible block the troll from commenting

–       Keep a paper trail – don’t delete messages without saving them in a document so that if the abuse escalates, you have evidence of this

–       Only go to the police as a last resort, or if you feel threatened

–       If you do go to the police, ask for the Computer Crimes Division, as they are experienced in this area

I asked a question on Facebook and Twitter for pre-teens and teens, and was pleased that the response to limit the use of Social Media, and to speak to children about the necessity of being cautious of what they post online.  This is in line with what I have written on Jump! Mag, but good to hear it confirmed.

After a quick stop at the BlogClinic, where I gave (hopefully useful) advice to a variety of bloggers on Social Media and Twitter, it was back upstairs for the panel discussion in which I took part.


Blogging can change the world – Natasha WalterHolly Baxter (Vagenda),Lynn Schreiber (Salt and Caramel), Naomi McAulliffe (Amnesty UK), Stella Creasy MPRosie Childs – Chair


Image by Anna Gordon


I was very pleased to be asked to speak at this session, particularly with such great panellists. The basic consensus was that blogging alone cannot change the world, but that it can help to raise awareness as part of a movement for change.

Great practical advice for anyone who wishes to involve their MP came from Stella Creasy, who said ‘tell your MP what you expect of them’. Don’t just tell them that you are unhappy with the status quo, let them know what a good resolution would be.

As always, after such an event, I realised that I had forgotten to make an important point, in my attempt to be brief and not waffle on too long.

A short break to slurp tea and search for cake then it was a mad rush to get downstairs to the Keynote Panel Discussion


Private Lives on a Public Stage: how much should you reveal online?
Liz JonesZoe MargolisEliza GrayTim Dowling, Geraldine Bedell  – Chair


Image by Anna Gordon


What shall I say? So many others have written about this session, so I will only say this. Zoe, Tim and Eliza were great, and deserved to have more attention paid to them than they did. Tim’s comments about only being able to write about his life when things are going well, and Eliza’s explanation of how her daughter accepts, and even revels in Eliza’s blog were interesting. Zoe was funny and open when talking about what it is like to be exposed (no pun intended) as a blogger who wrote VERY frankly about her sex life.

It was all rather overshadowed by a Liz Jones. A sad and strangely vulnerable figure, wearing designer clothes and an air of fragility, she was very different to what I had expected. She regretted everything she had ever written, was shunned by family and friends, even to the extent that her family hesitated to tell her of her father’s death as she would write about it.

She was unrepentant as she talked about the thought of ‘this will make a great two part column’ when her husband left her, and that her friends have to tell her not to write about them. She admitted that she had closed herself off from her emotions. I am not sure she feels emotions other than distaste for those she thinks are beneath her.

I found her a tragic figure of The Ghost of Blogging Future – a spectre of what could be if I were to fall into the trap of confessional blogging.

I am not going to say more, because the day was too joyous to be dragged down by this one person, and her resulting article in the Daily Mail.

Thankfully we were to be cheered up by the arrival of the last speaker of the day.


Image by Anna Gordon


Caitlin Moran was like a toddler on speed. She bounced onto the stage, wearing denim shorts and a red checked shirt, her trademark badger hair tumbling about her animated face.

I was expecting a lot of fun, some risqué jokes but was seriously impressed when we got that, and a whole lot more. In between a story about meeting Sam Cam on a train, and fellating the microphone, Caitlin flung out loads of great writing tips.


–       Don’t force yourself to voice an opinion

–       When you write something down, it matters more, so don’t be nasty

–       The end of snark is coming

–       Ask yourself, ‘Why is this a story? Why am I writing this?

–       The aforementioned second paragraph trick, which doesn’t seem to work when you spend too much time worrying about your second paragraph, but has been filed away for another blog post

–       Take your time to let an article build in your mind, let it stew while you gather your thoughts. Which is why I didn’t rush to write this blog post yesterday, but took a day to process what I had seen and heard


Once she had finished, to resounding applause, we retired to the 28th floor (or was it the 29th?) to celebrate surviving the first Mumsnet Blogfest.

I met Twitter and Mumsnet friends who I have been conversing with for years, and was inspired by the wise panellists and speakers.

I talked to established bloggers, new bloggers and those who weren’t even blogging yet.

I chatted to charity workers and activists about feminism for hours over probably too many glasses of bubbly and then red wine while we tried to work out what was in the hors d’oeuvres that were being passed around (they are called arancini, btw – the little fried rice balls).


Mumsnet pulled it off. CEO Justine Roberts and her brilliant team are to be praised for organising a spectacular event that deserves to be remembered for the inspiring speakers, and for the friendships formed, and not for the response of one troubled woman to a group of women she never has, and never will understand.


Asda Christmas Ad – MartyrMum Strikes Again

I am flabbergasted at Asda’s Christmas ad.


There are people in this country who sat down, thought up this ad, presented it to another group of people, one or several of whom said, ‘I love it, darling!’ and then went on to produce it and put it on national TV.

Did no one think, ‘Hey, hang on. Isn’t this a bit sexist?’.

And bloody insulting to men.


I have a massive problem with crap ads that show MartyrMum doing everything to make Xmas special. Dad is relegated to helping to carry the Xmas tree (cause of course silly Mum can’t be expected to know that the tree won’t fit in the car, or make up her mind where to put it) and looking on with pride as his wife carries in the turkey.

Mum, after setting the table, peeling a mountain of spuds, preparing the turkey and all the trimmings doesn’t even get a seat at the table. She collapses onto a pouffe.

‘The supermarket used insight from its rolling ‘Mumdex’ survey of 4,000 mums to produce the advert as part of a wider strategy to reshape its business around what it identifies its key customers, mums’ according to Marketing Week.

As an aside, I find the word ‘Mumdex‘ horribly twee, and a bit reminiscent of Mitt Romney’s ‘binders full of women’.

I would be very interested to know how they surveyed the mothers, and why they decided to go for mothers in particular. And why they thought that this ad would do the trick.

I am fed up with the MartyrMum image that we mothers are being shoved into.

There are great mums and crap mums, there are mums who have the support of a fabulous partner – who might SHOCK HORROR – even be another woman. There are mums doing it all alone, and mums who would be as well alone for all the help their useless husband gives them. There are mums who are caring for their parents, for sick children, and mums who are being cared for by their families. There are families without mums, single parents, one dad, two dads.

What does this advert say about families? That we are all in a traditional set up with MartyrMum and DIYDad.

What does this ad say about motherhood? That we are doormats who do everything to make the family Christmas great.


I also have a huge problem with advertising that perpetuate the myth of useless Dad, who can’t be trusted to cook the dinner without burning it, or do a load of washing without dying everything pink. This in turn perpetuates the myth that housework is women’s work cause they are better at it. Which is absolute fecking nonsense.

My husband is convinced that there are men who deliberately make a total hash of chores, in the hope that their wife/partner will roll her eyes and declare him to be hopeless, ‘You just need to scorch your wife’s favourite blouse to never be asked again to do the ironing, he insists. (Not that he has ever done this, he is a dab hand with the iron, I have to say).


You want to know how Christmas is in our house? I order the gifts online, wrap them last minute while shouting at whoever had the sellotape last. The tree is chosen and decorated together with the children, and we share the preparations. I do most of the cooking, because I like to cook while he amuses the kids, sometimes taking them on a walk to run off some steam. We clear up the kitchen together, not as in the Asda ad, where MartyrMum slaves away while the rest of the family lounges around.


This ad reduces families to a simple and patronising stereotype, ignoring the realities of life in 2012. I don’t see myself, or my family when I watch that ad. Do you?


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Discover New Blogs

Do you like to discover new blogs? 

If you do, then you are in for a treat. I did this a while ago and it was a great success and we found loads of great new blogs. 


Have you just started blogging and are looking for your niche? Is it still just your mum and your husband reading the blog, and you are getting frustrated? It does take time to get started, so don’t worry if you are not getting too many hits – and don’t believe bloggers who say that they don’t check their stats daily. We all do, even if we don’t admit it.

The idea behind this post is to link you up with other ‘newbies’ (and maybe some ‘oldies’) so don’t be shy.


RULESWrite a blog post! I want to know:

– who you are

– why you started blogging

– which post you are most pleased or proud of

– which post had the most response (and were you surprised by this)

– which blogs do you like reading (include links so that we can discover EVEN more new blogs!)


Add the LINKYTOOLS code to your blog so that the list appears on your blog too. It is then like one of those annoying chain mails that reaches ever more readers (only you don’t have to worry about seven years bad luck if you don’t pass it on). 






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Saver or Spendthrift – And Were You Born That Way?

How do you teach your child to be good with money?

Are some people pre-destined to be sensible savers, or is it a learned skill? 


When I saw the competition by about SuperKid Savers, it reminded me of a blog post that I have been meaning to write for quite some time. 



When I first left home, I was terrible with money. It took me a long time to learn to budget, and if I am very honest I sometimes forget this important lesson. We are constantly tempted, by advertising that persuades us that we just cannot wait to get the newest gadget, by peer pressure to have a better house/car/outfit, and by our own wish for a bit of ‘retail therapy’. 

The heady days of easy credit may be past, but companies still try to persuade us with buy-now-pay-later and interest free credit and store credit cards. If all else fails, there are credit cards designed for people with bad credit and payday loans, with horrific interest rates. It is still all too easy to slip into debt – and one that is almost impossible to pay off due to the high interest rates of these shady companies. 

Teaching our kids how to budget is possibly one of the most important lessons that we can give them (along with how to sook tea through a Kitkat). 


We decided that the best way to teach our children about money is to give them some cash. We worked out what we could afford to give them, and made their pocket money quite generous. Obviously this depends on your own finances, but we have found this works really well. 


Our 10 year old gets £4 pocket money a week and our 8 year old gets £3 a week. 

The provision with this rather high amount is that they must save at least half of it.


As it turns out, most weeks they save all of it and it goes into a piggy bank. Any money that they get for birthdays or Christmas is added to this pot. 

The reward for this is that they are then able to decide what they wish to buy (within reason, but we would have to have a very good reason to refuse them permission to buy something that they had saved for). Our daughter decided that she wanted a computer so saved until she had enough money for a small netbook. When they ‘invest’ their money, they get a 10% bonus from us. With the computer that mean that we bought the mouse and mousepad. 

They are also expected to use this money for holidays and days out. 

We have found that by giving them a generous amount of pocket money and making them save some of it, they are less likely to ask for things all the time. If they want a game for the iPod, they pay from their own money. If they want a comic, they check if they have some cash left. No more, ‘Muuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuum, can I have…’ in the supermarket as they know the answer will be, ‘Do you have pocket money left?’. 

Giving a decent amount of pocket money also means that they don’t have to save for too long before they can afford to buy something. There is nothing more frustrating that saving 50p a week for a year and then only having enough for a reconditioned video game. They are encouraged by the rising balance to save more that they strictly need to. 


We haven’t set up savings accounts for them here in Scotland, so that is next on the list.


What do you do to encourage your kids to be sensible savers?  





Listen. Believe. Love.

BritMums - Leading the Conversation
In the past weeks it has been almost impossible to open a newspaper or click on a blog link without reading something about Jimmy Savile. I have avoided the topic, not because I have nothing to say but because I have so much to say that I am finding it difficult to concentrate on one aspect of this story.

Some have written about the BBC covering up the abuse, others have complained about the cancelling of the TV show last year and their sticking with the planned Christmas TV special about the life of Savile. Still others have compared the abuse with that of the girls in Rochdale, who like the girls abused by Savile were let down by those who should have protected them.

Amongst all this rage and terror, it is easy to lose sight of the real losers. The girls and boys who are abused every day in UK, not just be prominent citizens but by fathers and brothers, uncles and cousins, football coaches and scout leaders. The damage inflicted on these innocent children does not go away, it haunts them for the rest of their lives, as the Britmums bloghop shows.


Britmums have asked Bloggers to come together and speak out. To break the silence. To listen. To stretch out a loving hand. The stories shared on the bloghop are harrowing to read. Each and every one of these women deserves our respect for their bravery in sharing such a difficult part of their past. 


When we read the stories in newspapers about child abuse, it is tempting to look away. Too terrifying are the thoughts that come into my head. I look at my children and try not to imagine, if even for one moment, how it must feel to know that trusting another person had put them in danger’s way.

When our children leave the house we entrust others to care for them. Teachers, youth leaders, scout leaders, football coaches… even our own families.

How can we protect our children from abuse?

By talking to them, and above all by listening. I have blogged about this before, about the importance of raising self-confident children who are willing to question something that others do. About being involved in their lives, being there to pick them up, being ready to ask questions.

The abuse of children in care shows that paedophiles know exactly which kids to target – the ones without involved parents, the ones who are so starved of love and affection that they misread the signs of interest.

Being involved in our children’s lives, truly listening to them when they are worried, and giving them self-confidence is not 100% protection. There can be no guarantees but it is a start.

When children want to talk we must listen. And when adults who were abused feel ready to tell us about their past, then we owe it to them to lend them an ear.


Listen. Believe. Love.

teenage girls q

Feminism Is Over … Say Women

‘Feminism is over … say women’ 


Wow. That is a snappy headline. The alternative headline, “Feminism is over according a small sample of mothers on a parenting website that doesn’t really ‘do’ feminism” doesn’t have quite the same ring to it, but would be more accurate. 






FEMINISM in the modern world is viewed as outdated and aggressive and is being shunned by women, research has found.

One in seven would describe themselves as a feminist with many believing they have achieved equality with
men on issues like fair pay and skills.They believe single mother turned multi-millionaire author JK Rowling is a better example of a strong independent
role model than feminist icon Germaine Greer.



Just one in seven women describes themselves as ‘feminist’ – Telegraph


The survey of members of Netmums, Britain’s largest women’s website, revealed almost a third (28 per cent) think traditional radical feminism is ‘too aggressive’ towards men while a quarter (24 per cent) no longer view it as a positive label for women.

One in five describe feminism as ‘old fashioned’ and simply ‘not relevant’ to their generation. And less than one in 10 (nine per cent) of those aged 25 to 29 identified with it, while a quarter of older women aged 45 to 50 described themselves as a feminist.

Instead, two in five want to ‘celebrate difference’ rather than be equal to men.

And the biggest battle for modern women is to reinstate the value of motherhood, with more than two-thirds (69 per cent) making it top priority.



The death of feminism? – Daily Mail


It is the movement that, among its many triumphs, won women the vote. Yet, for the average modern woman, feminism is dead, research claims.

Just one in seven women describes herself as a ‘feminist’, it found, with younger women even less likely to describe themselves as such. 

A third view traditional radical feminism as ‘too aggressive’ towards men, while a quarter no longer view it as a positive label. One in five describe it as ‘old-fashioned’ and simply ‘not relevant’ to their generation.


Girls say feminism has lost the point – The Sun


One in five now says the term is “not relevant to my generation”.

Half of the 1,300 women polled felt feminism should be about equal rights and pay.

More than three quarters backed women who have breast enlargements and almost two thirds believed topless modelling was acceptable.

Harry Potter author JK Rowling, 47, was viewed as the best role model for young women.

But just one in 50 chose feminist icon Germaine Greer, 73, the study for parenting website Netmums showed.


 Gosh, that all sounds really quite worrying for feminists in UK, but never fear. The ‘research’ that these stories are based on is a survey of just 1 300 women of the parenting website Netmums (not to be confused with Mumsnet where the survey would have been laughed off the site). 

Aside from the fact that a study of 1 300 women of a certain demographic cannot be seen as ‘research’ the survey itself was so ridiculous. Under the headline FeMEnism, Netmums informs us that just one in seven would describe themselves as a feminist.

I would question if they even understand what feminism is, since few seem to have questioned a survey that asks:  



Now, I am not a RadFem, and I am not as well read as some in the theory of feminism, but since when has the baking of cupcakes, or the application of fake tan or eyelashes been a feminist issue?  Ok, I get that some people still have this impression of feminists as dungaree wearing, hirsute dour women (I blame Jilly Cooper). I also know that there is  definitely a case to be made against the idea that women should always be perfectly turned out (see the criticism of Hilary Clinton’s unmade up face, but the acceptance of Boris Johnson’s dishevelled appearance). 

As to the ‘acceptance’ of topless modelling and prostitution, escort models and pole dancing – is it any wonder this group of women did not refer to themselves as feminist? I would like to have known if any of them have read a book or an article about feminism before filling out this survey.

Just one in 50 chose Germaine Greer as a role model for young women – I’d be surprised if that question wasn’t mainly answered with ‘Who is Germaine Greer?’

According to a Mumsnet user, who filled in the survey, the alternative answers for that question were apparently ‘Colleen Rooney’ and ‘Jordan’ – those well known feminist activists.




Over half the mums said that their teenage daughter was not aware of the feminist movement. As SGM argues – this is quite astounding, considering it is part of the curriculum in UK, but it is also quite worrying. I needn’t look for readers of Jump! Mag on Netmums then. Or maybe I should.


My criticism today is not towards the users of Netmums who answered this silly and inherently flawed survey. In fact, the thread about this survey on Netmums shows that some of them are quite upset about this.  

My ire is reserved for the creators of the survey, who it seems have no earthy idea what feminism is about and is more interested in getting their website into the national press than accuracy or – you know – truth.

They have also skewed the quotes to concentrate on the negative, as one Netmums poster pointed out. 


I find the results quite strange with the focus on the negative. It seems that an anti-feminist message was almost sought. 

So, “almost a third (28 per cent) think traditional radical Feminism is ‘too aggressive’” Doesn’t that mean two thirds don’t think that?? 

“17% claim feminism has gone too far, oppressing men and ‘losing sight of the natural roles of men and women’” What do the other 83%think?

And only “1 out of 5 describe Feminism as old fashioned and simply not relevant”, brilliant, that means 4 out of 5 think otherwise.

My experience tells me that feminism is on the rise, more and more women are sick to death of misogyny in society. As for the ‘man-hating’, it’s just an anti-feminist myth. Feminism is about a progressive society for women AND men, girls AND boys.



The national press have a LOT to answer for. Journalists are not stupid, they recognise a dud survey when they see one, but the press has decided to ignore that and concentrate on the snappy headlines, and great quotes. 

They know that this survey is not worth the pixels it is shown on, but have given it huge publicity – it was debated on the Loose Women TV show yesterday, and is scheduled on Mathew Wright show today. It is pure and simple lazy journalism – most of them have simply cut and pasted the ‘results’ of this survey without questioning it. 

At a time where feminism is so important – tell Malala Yousafzai that feminism is dead. Tell it to the thousands of women who will suffer casual sexism today. Tell it to the women around the world who are denied the right to control their fertility – it is vital that our press does not play down this importance. 


How can we say there is no need for a feminist movement when women are still not earning the same as men, not being treated equally, not able to make independent decisions about their lives?


Those responsible for creating and publicising this ‘research’ should be forced to sit in the front row of the next 200 One Direction concerts as punishment for their sins. Wearing Justin Bieber tshirts.






Grazia gets in on the act


Read the thoughts of other bloggers on this topic 

 FeMEnism – Netmums re-invents choice feminism

A Rant About That Survey

Friday Feminism – Reinforcing Stereotypes

Why the Netmums Study of Feminism is Absolute Bollocks

The Rise of FeMEnism and why it must stop

Netmums Survey – Only 1 in 7 women call themselves ‘feminist’

 Netmums Should Take Responsibility for Their Role in Perpetuating Patriarchy 2.0

Feminism – A Role of Motherhood



The Cult of Motherhood

What does the phrase ‘the cult of motherhood’ mean to you?

Nora Heyson

 It came to me this morning during an interesting discussion on Twitter about being a mother. I have storified it, so you can see the whole exchange, rather than just the quote later in the blog. 


The discussion started when we were talking about the excellent article by Rowan Davies in the Guardian about ‘Yummymummy Hate’. 

Now, anyone who has been following my blog for a while will know that ‘yummymummy’ is a term that makes me narrow my eyes and grit my teeth. I hate it for its twee-ness, for the assumption that mummies must be yummy, for the way it reduces a woman to just a mother, but only if she is attractive.

I feel the same about ‘mumpreneur’, ‘mummyblogger’ and other symptoms of what I call the mummy-fication of women.


The moment that someone calls Sir Alan Sugar a ‘dadpreneur’ is the moment when you can call me a ‘mumpreneur’.

A lot of bloggers like the title ‘mummybloggers, and indeed identify themselves as one. It is a term I have never felt comfortable with, as I don’t blog only about my life as a mother and posts about motherhood and children are becoming ever more rare on Salt and Caramel.

Mainly I dislike the fact that male bloggers, entrepreneurs – or indeed fathers – are not referred to in such a way. Just as they are not asked how they are going to square childcare and career, or if they have a provision in place in case their childcare falls through. We talk of dads ‘babysitting’ their children, as if they do not share parental responsibility, which is pretty insulting to them really. 


Which brings me to my point about the Cult of Motherhood and what it means to different people. I googled the phrase and the first hit was a US blogger who referred to herself as a feminist, yet called her friends ‘breeders’ and gave them names such as UTERUS and OVARIES.

There are a fair few articles on the expectation of mothers to be perfect and that the ‘Cult of Motherhood’ is damaging because it raises expectations that no normal woman can fulfil.

In an interview, the author Jessica Valenti talks about being a mother:


“I don’t think that putting all my energy into parenting — at the expense of my career, marriage and social life — will be the difference between Layla becoming homeless or the president. But too many women are made to believe that every tiny decision they make, from pacifiers to flash cards, will have a lasting impact on their child. It’s a recipe for madness. It also reveals an overblown sense of self-importance.”



An ‘overblown sense of self-importance’.


That resonated with me, as it was something that I had been trying to express in my Twitter discourse.

When we begin a sentence with ‘as a mother, I believe…’ — does it not express that I have a more insightful comment to make than someone who is not a mother? 

Should the simple accident of biology that made me a mother mean I can demand respect for my status as a mother? Why should I ask for respect for something that millions of human beings have done – procreate. Should fathers be more respected than men without children?

The blogger Clare Kirkpatrick (whose blog you should check out – it is excellent) argues that the women gain wisdom through motherhood that they would not have otherwise gained, and that we should respect this wisdom, and 


‘men’s experience as men has been valued above that of women for too long, yet the wisdom women carry, from having cycles, to being mothers, to menopause is not valued’


which is a good point.

In the end, we agreed to disagree, and I have been mulling over the exchange ever since.

I cannot think of any wisdom (other than don’t stick a finger down the back of the nappy to see if your baby needs his nappy changed) that I have gained from being a mother. I would say that I am wiser than I was before I was a mother, but would attribute that to the intervening 10 years and not motherhood. 

We don’t say, ‘Oh, he is a father, isn’t he wise’, do we? And I have met both mature and terribly immature parents, so this wisdom is obviously not automatically granted with your Bounty pack.


Becoming a mother has changed me, there is no doubt about that. Before I had children, I had no idea that I could feel this deep and totally unconditional love for another person. They make me less selfish, more cautious, they bring joy and chaos into my life. I could not imagine life without them, but they don’t alter who I am, or how I think. And their existence doesn’t make my opinion more valuable than a childless person.


Do we contribute to the Cult of Motherhood by expecting our opinions to be valued more because we have borne a child?

What do you think? 





Update – 

Other blogs on this subject 


A Fresh Start

The Awakened Mother



ban tv for children under three

Ban TV for Children Under Three Years Old? Not In This House

Ban TV for children under three years old – every couple of years a new ‘study’ is released calling for banning of TV for young children. This one was released by Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman.

Mumsnet Bloggers’ Network asked, ‘Are parents being demonised?’ 


The problem with making such a statement is that it immediately puts parents on the defensive, and that it sadly does not reach the parents of the children who are watching TV because their parents cannot be bothered interacting with them. 

I am not being snobby, but lets be honest – the kids that are plonked in front of Cbeebies all day every day are unlikely to have BBC News or Guardian reading parents. To co-relate their developmental deficit only with the amount of TV they are watching, is surely false. Children who are neglected in favour of the flickering square babysitter, are not being talked to by their parents.

And the parents who do try to limit TV are left feeling guilty that they are damaging their children, when this new study presents no scientific evidence to back up the claims made by the author. Do read the Guardian article as well, if you haven’t already as it offers a much more balanced view of the issue than the BBC

Dorothy Bishop, professor of developmental neuropsychology at Oxford University commented on the study, saying that Sigman’s paper is not


“an impartial expert review of evidence for effects on health and child development. Aric Sigman does not appear to have any academic or clinical position, or to have done any original research on this topic,.  His comments about impact of screen time on brain development and empathy seem speculative in my opinion, and the arguments that he makes could equally well be used to conclude that children should not read books.”


I had a look at the website of Dr Aric Sigman and noticed that his other areas of concern are alcohol misuse in children, and that he is author of a book called, ‘The Spoilt Generation’, with the tagline ‘Why restoring authority will make our children and our society happier’. According to the blurb


In this book, Dr Sigman takes issues by the scruff of the neck, among them children’s sense of entitlement, the effects of TV and computers, single-parent homes and ‘blended’ families, parental guilt and the compensation culture. He offers a clear practical message to us all – parents, grandparents, teachers and policy-makers alike – as to how we can redress the status quo, redefine our roles and together cultivate happier and better-behaved children.


I haven’t read the book, so cannot comment on it, but it is not one that I would buy. I don’t need to put myself back into the driving seat of parenting. I am quite happy to allow my back seat drivers to chip in with some suggestions. Which does not mean that my kids are spoiled – neither materially nor in any sense that they are the ones steering the car. We are a family and I value their opinions, and take them seriously.

What on earth does ‘children’s sense of entitlement’ mean? Don’t all children have a sense of entitlement? They want things all the time, which is totally normal. With time, they learn that I Want Doesn’t Get – as my mother drummed into me throughout my childhood. It is part of growing up, not a sign of greedy and spoiled children.

My children are allowed screen time within reason, which is a couple of hours a day. Sometimes more. Sometimes less. It depends what else we have planned. Today, for instance, we are at home and they have watched TV this morning for about two hours. They switched the TV off and walked to the bakers around the corner to fetch bread for lunch, and are currently drawing, using the iPad and iPod for inspiration. This afternoon we shall go to an indoor play area and they will run around like loons for several hours. 

They probably use their iPods, or the family iPad more than they watch TV. My daughter uses it to keep up with her friends back in Switzerland, which I encourage as it keeps her French language skills ticking along. My son loves to watch the walk throughs of SuperMario on YouTube. He would spend hours doing this, if I allowed him.

They didn’t watch much TV before they were 18 months old – and at that time it was 15 minutes so that I could quickly shower and dress. By the time they were 2 – 2 1/2 they were watching Dora The Explorer and Caillou. As they grew older they moved on to other programmes, most of them in some way educational. Now they are 8 years and 10 years they enjoy watching wildlife documentaries, US teen shows, and The Great British Bake-Off. 

I agree with MN Guest Blogger Dr Amanda Gummer – giving our children the remote control gives them control and responsibility, which we should be encouraging.

I don’t want to raise obedient robots (although it would be great if they would actually do what I say the first time I say it!).  I want to raise confident and self-assertive children, who respect others while being able to stick up for themselves. 





Privacy in Social Media and The Press

When we share our lives with our blog readers, or with our Twitter followers, do we automatically give permission for the press to access that information? Is there any privacy in Social Media? 





What would you do, if your entire life history was broadcast to the world, at a time when your life was falling apart? 

And where is the line to be drawn, when reporting a story of national interest? 


These questions have been going around in my head since I read the article on the Daily Mail website about the wife of Jeremy Forrest. 

For those who are not in UK, and may not have heard of this, Forrest was a teacher at a school in England who began a ‘relationship’ with one of his young pupils. While there are some who will defend him, by saying that she looked older than her 15 years, the fact remains that he was fully aware of her age. He was also in a position of authority and trust, which he betrayed. 

Forrest realised that his secret was about to become public knowledge, that (at last) the school were acting on information from Megan’s family about the relationship, and absconded to France with her. The Daily Mail reports this as a ‘tragic romance’, when it was nothing of the sort. It was the abuse of a young pupil by a teacher who should have known better. 

If this was love, he would have walked away. 

Girls of this age have crushes, often on their teacher. We have all been there, felt that heady rush of first love, the uncertainty, the doubt, the hope. It is totally normal, and wonderfully sweet. And innocent.

A responsible teacher would have distanced himself from his pupil. 


He did not. He tweeted, he blogged, he wrote songs about her. Using his ‘stage name’, he shared his thoughts and dreams, as so many Twitter users and bloggers do. We know all of this, because the Daily Mail has been sniffing about the internet, searching for anything that they can use in a story.

He was not alone in sharing his life on the internet. His wife was a prolific blogger, who wrote about the planning of their wedding, and their honeymoon. She posted photos, which have now been shared with the world via the Daily Mail website. They have even found her Trip Advisor profile and shared, without her knowledge or her permission, her comments on the hotel where she went on honeymoon.


Is this a step too far? There are some who will insist that if a person puts private information onto a public website, then they can’t complain about a loss of privacy. They are totally missing the point that sharing details of one’s life with the couple of hundred (or even thousand) readers of a blog is very different to having one’s wedding photos splashed across the tabloids. 

It is also a warning to anyone who uses Social Media, whether blogger, Twitter of Facebook user. Only share as much as you are comfortable having everyone in the country reading.  Think carefully about the details you post, and about the people you mention in your writing. I am very cautious when mentioning my family. I blog, they don’t. They have not given me permission to share their lives with you – my children are too young to take that decision and my husband is a Social Media virgin, without even a Facebook page. He would not be comfortable with me talking about him, which is why I rarely mention him and would never post a photo of him on my blog.


The line between private and public is blurring, and we are scrambling to keep up.

There needs to be a frank discussion about the press digging into private lives that have been shared in public. Does the fact that I have shared my thoughts on my blog, give the press permission to reprint my photos? And do I have to look more closely at copyright issues?

I will attend the Mumsnet Blogger Academy later this year, and was pleased to see that the legal expert David Allen Green has been invited to speak. I hope that we bloggers can all learn about how to protect ourselves from an invasion of privacy, and from legal challenges (eg. when sharing photos from other websites).  .



Featured image by Andreas Photography, used under Creative Commons


Love Bombing by Oliver James – A Mumsnet Blog Prompt

Love Bombing by Oliver James – does this book present a new concept, reheated advice from other ‘parenting gurus’, or just plain common sense?



As the animated thread on Mumsnet shows, books that tell us parents what we are doing wrong and how to fix it are met with suspicion, hope, derision and praise. The ‘Holy Grail’ of parenting advice simply does not exist. While some parents reach for a book from the Attachment Parenting shelf, others will head for F for Gina Ford.
Oliver James’s new book ‘Love Bombing‘, according to the blurb will reset our children’s ’emotional thermostat’ and is advertised as a way to help children with behavioural problems, ADHD and Autism.

‘I have had similar reports of sustained success – followed up one to two years after the love bombing – from parents helping children with violent aggression, myriad anxiety problems, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), sleeplessness, perfectionism and even autism’


Now, I won’t comment on the ADHD/Autism part of this, as I don’t have the necessary experience and knowledge – there are a few posters on the MN thread who are scathing of this and I hope that some parenting bloggers will join the debate. I will say that aiming this book at parents whose children have behavioural problems could be seen as a craven attempt to take advantage of desperate parents.

My own experience shows that giving children more attention does not mean that they will take over the household. When my daughter was around three or four years old, she went through a trying period. I talked to her nursery teacher about this, and was rather taken aback by her reply. I should spend more time with my daughter and give her more attention.

When you have 2 young children at home, it is tempting to reject this advice. How much MORE attention can I give them, I hardly have any free time at all. When my husband and I sat down and talked about it, we realised that attention is more than just being there and occasionally saying, ‘Oh, lovely painting dear. What a large nose Papa has!’.

I had a three year old dynamo, a one year old toddler, a household, was trying to set up my own business teaching English, friends to see, a busy life. And she was simply not getting the attention she needed, and was causing chaos to get that attention. Looking back on it, it was incredibly obvious, but lost in day to day life, I hadn’t notice.

We resolved to spend more time with her, and we soon saw a marked improvement in her behaviour. We didn’t do the full ‘love bombing’ that James recommends – he suggests taking a day or a weekend to spend one on one with your child, and allowing them to set the agenda.

I am a bit concerned that the Love Bombing idea seems to involve nights away in a hotel, or spending a whole day out with one child. How does this work within the family then? We have two children who absolutely love spending time together. I cannot see how I could take one of them away for the weekend to do fun stuff, and leave the other child at home with my husband. And there does seem to be the implication that it is the mother who is dealing with this issue.

Weekends are precious, and we like to spend the time together. I could see us doing a Family Love Bomb, where we let the kids take charge for the weekend – that sounds like fun.

Parenting books* are odd buggers, really. It goes against everything that I have learned on this parenting journey to sign up to one particular parenting philosophy and stick to it, as rigidly as a Gina Ford devotee to her schedule.

Every family is different, every child is different. While Gina Ford may work for some families, it doesn’t work for all. Attachment Parenting might be great for some, but other children might hate it.

When I see how totally different my children are, I realise that I adapt my parenting methods for each child.

My son is organised, methodical and stubborn. To get him to move in the morning, I need to set rules,  ‘Right, lets get dressed, have breakfast and get ready for school and if there is time left, you can play on the iPad for 10 minutes, but we have to leave at 8:45am’.

My daughter is scatty, disorganised and easy going. She needs to be reminded to take her dinner money, asked if she has her swimming stuff and cajoled to stop playing with the bloody dog and have her breakfast.

Son needs a timetable, which he will work through. Daughter needs more attention and gentle humour to jolly her along.

To be fair, Oliver James does not say that his way is the only way, and it may be something that is worth trying, even on a smaller scale. You don’t even need to buy the book, as the general idea is already in the articles that he has written. If it works for you, and you wish to know more about it then you can buy the book afterwards.

One thing I have noticed is that my children’s behaviour improves when I have an iPhone free afternoon. As hard as I find it to give up my Twitter addiction for the day, it really does improve communication between parent and child when neither are glued to a screen. It is stating the obvious, as is James’s advice to bomb your child with love, but a gentle reminder is needed now and again.


What do you think? If you have tried, or would like to try ‘Love Bombing’, please let me know how you got on.





*If you are going to read a parenting book then I would recommend the Mumsnet bible Why Did Nobody Tell Me which included advice from their users. Real women, mothers of real children, giving their advice. It is condensed MN Talk really, with slightly less swearing.


 Pic Credit


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The Signs of Controlling Behaviour – Red Flags and How to Spot Them

If we were able to teach young people to recognise the signs of controlling behaviour, the ‘red flags’, would we be able to protect them from abusive relationships?

If we were to teach children in schools how to spot a controlling person, would be help save them from misery and self-doubt?

If we talk openly with friends about the ‘red flags’ would they recognise their own relationships and find the strength to walk away? I hope so.

For this reason, I am writing two blog posts today. One for adults, here on this blog, and one for tweens and teens on Jump! Mag When writing for kids, I am very concious of the fact that not all parents will have had The Talk with their kids, and some of our readers are just seven or eight years old. For this reason, sex is a taboo topic on Jump! Mag, but I believe that the foundation for healthy relationship building is laid before children hit puberty.

Young people are very susceptible to controlling behaviour – when tweens and young teens, more likely from their peers but as time passes also in adult sexual relationships. 

It is important that young people are taught how to recognise a controlling person – whether it is a peer, and adult or a family member.

This blog post is written from the perspective of a woman, and advises how to recognise a controlling man. This doesn’t mean that I don’t accept that men are abused too, or that women cannot be controlling or manipulative. In the majority of abusive relationships, the man is the aggressor. For this reason, and because it reads easier than using he/she, I have used the pronoun ‘he’. 


The Red Flags 

We talk about the ‘Red Flags’ of controlling and abusive behaviour. I interviewed several women, and hosted guest blog posts, for the Mumsnet We Believe You Campaign. Women who were raped, women who had been abused, many of them over a long period of time. Often these women are asked, ‘Why did you not leave?’ and they find it difficult to explain even to themselves.

The answer is that their self-esteem had been slowly but methodically eroded until they were no longer able to make a rational decision. Women who had been strong, independent and happy became timid and fearful. They tiptoed around the house and the moods of their partner. They sought to do everything right, and blamed themselves when they did something ‘wrong’.

What happened between the time that they met their partner and the moment when they realised it was time to get out? And why did they not notice that their partner was abusive?

The gradual escalation of abuse is often very difficult to spot, if you are living in the middle of if. Here are the signs to look out for. If you are seeing a man, and you recognise these signs, take a step back and assess the situation.


Initial Infatuation Period

  • He is extremely attentive, phones, emails or texts constantly
  • He gets serious fast. Talks about the love of his life, or moving in together.
  • He is jealous – which might flatter you at first. ‘It is only because I love you so much’

 In this period, he will bring flowers and gifts, treat you like a ‘princess’, be loving and caring. You might feel uneasy about the speed of the relationship but  don’t want to rock the boat because he is so different from the guys who want to play the field.


First Doubts

  • He blames others eg for his failed marriage or relationship. ‘My ex is a real bitch, I am so glad that I have found you’.
  • He tries to change you. Your hair, make up, clothes. In a subtle way,  eg. by bringing you presents very different to the clothes you would normally wear.
  • He tries to stop you seeing your friends. ‘I just want to be with you, I want to spend time with you’.
  • He doesn’t take notice of your feelings, ‘Don’t be silly…’

 In this period, you might have moments of misgiving, but then he backs off and is the loving attentive man you first fell for.


Sowing The Seeds of Self-Doubt

  • He puts you down, at first when you are alone but later in front of others, often disguised as a joke.
  • He makes comments about your appearance, making you feel less attractive.
  • His digs are subtle, and when you call him on them, he is offended and upset that you ‘didn’t get his joke’.
  • He insults your friends, and tries to stop you seeing them.
  • He is moody and unpredictable, but blames his bad moods on you so you start adapting your behaviour to keep him happy.
  • He accuses you of being unfaithful, or of flirting with other men.
  • He ignores you, if you do something that displeases him, and ‘rewards’ you with his attention and affection when he is pleased with you.

By now, you are already doubting yourself, and beginning to refer to him for minor and major decision making.


Escalation of Abuse

  • He stops you doing what you want, or seeing who you want.
  • He isolates you financially, making you dependent on him.
  • He blames you for anything that goes wrong.
  • He becomes more abusive, both verbally and physically
  • He becomes upset if you talk of leaving him, and threatens to do himself harm

 By this point, you are cowed. You are frightened and isolated. You barely say anything, for fear of saying the wrong thing.


One woman I interviewed for the Mumsnet We Believe You Campaign talked of the red flags, and how she could see in retrospect many of the signs of abusive behaviour. She was one of the lucky ones.


“I always remember the boiling frog anecdote. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. That describes a woman in an abusive relationship perfectly”.



See also the Guest Blog of Amber Rudd Conservative MP for Hastings and Rye on Mumsnet

Great blog post from Eliza Do Lots here is getting lots of attention  and deserves a read. 




If you recognise your partner or your situation in the above description, you can find advice on how to get help from Women’s Aid or Refuge.

Talk to a trusted friend or relative. They may already be worried about you or have felt unable to speak to you about your partner.

These websites all have information on escaping from Domestic Violence – if you share a computer with your partner, have a look at this section on covering your tracks online first.


Women’s Aid – national support network for domestic violence services

Women’s Aid (Ireland) – Republic of Ireland’s domestic abuse support network

Women’s Aid (Scotland) – support for people suffering domestic violence in Scotland

Rape Crisis – specialist rape support services in England and Wales

Refuge – national support for women and children experiencing domestic violence

Broken Rainbow – support for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experiencing domestic violence across the UK

Directgov – government information for victims of domestic violence

The Hideout – information for young people and children about domestic violence

Men’s Advice Line – advice for men in abusive relationships

National Domestic Violence Helpline – national helpline for those affected by domestic violence

NHS: Live Well – basic advice on support options for victims of domestic abuse

Respect – runs a phoneline for people experiencing domestic abuse across the UK

Rights of Women – legal information for women experiencing domestic violence







 Pic Credit

twitter tools

Simple Twitter Tools to Follow and Unfollow

Learn to use Twitter tools to review your Twitter feed.

Upset about being unfollowed? Remember it is rarely personal. It is a numbers game. 

The growing popularity of Social Media such as Facebook and Twitter brings new ways of feeling inadequate or boring.



Who hasn’t glanced at their follower or friends list to discover that they have been dumped by someone they actually quite liked communicating with?

Was it something I said, something I didn’t say? Did I forget to RT her witticisms? Did she unfollow by mistake – maybe Twitter unfollowed me, it has been known to do this.

What is the best way to react to an unfollowing, and how to unfollow without causing upset or offence?

Every Twitter user has their own ‘optimal follower limit’. The amount of people they can comfortably follow without losing track. Some count their popularity by the amount of followers and always strive for more. Some prefer to have a closely knit band of friends on Twitter and are happy with just a handful of followers. At some point you will decide to unfollow people and unless they have thousands of followers they will eventually notice. Even if they do have lots of followers, they might notice.

Is it vain to check who has unfollowed you? Or only natural and a way of weeding out those who you are not communicating with? You can track who unfollowed you via different twitter tools such as and even tweet a passive aggressive ‘I know who unfollowed me’ message to your remaining followers. I have never quite understood why you would do this, but there you are.


You can go pro on to find out other variations of your follower / followee status and you can also check your stats with TwitterCounter to see how to get more followers. I need to tweet less, it tells me, but otherwise I score quite highly.

ManageFlitter is a useful twitter tool for managing your follower list. You can look at who is not following back, whose account is inactive, who doesn’t have a profile image. Check these accounts and unfollow those who are not communicating with you.


How do you decide to unfollow someone? I unfollow if I notice that the person never communicates with me (unless it is a corporate or high profile account, with thousands of followers). I try not to unfollow based on a single badly worded tweet, or the RTing of something offensive but might do so if it really annoyed me.

I have found that my limit is around the 1000 mark – any more than this and I find it difficult to keep up. I do organise people into lists using Tweetdeck which helps me keep track of those I really consider ‘friends’, and not lose them in a stream of corporate or issue-based tweets.

A couple of times a year, I weed out my follower list, using the ManageFlitterr twitter unfollow tool. Some of them I might re-follow again at a later date, and it is rarely a decision based on the person boring/ignoring/offending me. It is simply a matter of fact decision – I can only follow a certain amount of people at once, so I have to swap people in and out.

The worst thing you can do if you have been unfollowed is tweet that person a needy ‘I saw you unfollowed me, did you mean to?’. Seriously. Don’t do this. Take it on the chin and move on.

Sometimes this is easier said than done, and of course there are times when I have been upset that a valued  Twitter user has decided that they don’t want to listen to me blathering on any more. I try to justify their actions by telling myself that I do tweet quite a lot, and some people might not like this, and that maybe they are just interested in other issues than the ones that I tweet about.

It may even be that they followed me as I was tweeting about a particular topic, but have since moved on and tweet about different things.


Social Media is fast moving and ever changing. The people who tweet me at the moment are not the same people who I was communicating with when I started using Twitter (with a few notable exceptions). People come and people go, and getting caught up in numbers is bad for the self-esteem.




Picture Credit 


Twitter Friends – Are We All in Agreement?

Have you filled your Twitter feed with those who are often in agreement with you? Or do you enjoy hearing dissenting voices?


‘Is Twitter anything more than an online echo chamber?’ asked Laura Marcus in the Guardian today.



Drawing attention to the fact that twitter users tend to follow those who share similar political viewpoints and interests, Laura quotes Guardian columnist Suzanne Moore, who stated


“You chose who to follow. There is a whole world of deep dark Twitter if you follow those who don’t think like you. But people don’t do that. I would not so much say it’s leftwing as knee jerk. So outrage over a Daily Mail article happens every day, which is frankly daft. Sometimes it can be about a piece published ages ago but no one had noticed till Twitter went berserk”


I agree that sometimes I peek outside of my little Twitter world and notice that there are other kinds of conversations going on, such as when the Tom Daley troll raged around Twitter.

I can think of several of those who I regularly communicate with who have very different political views, with whom I have engaged in discussions. I have only once blocked a follower who slipped over the line from debate to abusive and offensive so I would say it works well. At times I have not entered into the debate as I was not in the mood for a heated discussion, or I have deflected the comment with humour.

Earlier this week a tweet from a person I follow and have debated on the subject of Assange made me narrow my eyes in displeasure. I absolutely do not agree with her, but we had already discussed this and she is entitled to her opinion so I skimmed past the tweet and forgot about it. To unfollow her because I disagreed with her on this issue would be foolish, as she is interesting and informative.

Sometimes a remark from a follower will make me stop and think, and at times I have revised my opinion. Without ‘opposing’ voices I would miss this.

As long as the discussion is respectful and non-offensive, why block a person for not agreeing?


Of course, Twitter spats can happen at the blink of an eye and a slightly badly worded tweet can lead to unpleasant words and recriminations. I dislike this happening on my timeline, particularly when I like both of the people involved and they try to include others in their argument. RTing abusive tweets may seem like a good idea at the time, but perhaps a mildly worded reply, asking why that person was being abusive and hurtful would end the fight there and then.

I blogged about Kirstie Allsop being trolled recently and several of my followers pointed out that if she had simply blocked and reported the offensive tweets, no one would have been any the wiser. That is of course a slightly different situation that when two Twitter friends have an argument, which leaves their other followers trapped between them, not wishing to offend anyone or take sides.


I asked on Twitter earlier – do you follow those you disagree with? Most of my followers reported that they follow a variety of people, both those they agree with and those they do not agree with.


@annette1hardy Absolutely not. I try to achieve a balance and want to hear different points of view.


@KathrynBatten Yes – tend to follow people who make me think or laugh, but as with friends in ‘life’ I don’t always agree with them.


@Sepultura78 140 character restriction may explain why folk are less inclined to use twitter as a medium for debate…
… Internet forums much better for locking horns with the opposition..


(that last point from @Sepultura78 is important – presenting your argument in 140 characters can be challenging)




Lately I have noticed a rise in Twitter bashing articles and comments.


Is the honeymoon over and people are realising that Twitter is not what they wanted it to be?


That advert made me want to hug Twitter. Are my Twitter friends real? Or a superficial friendersatz?

When I moved back to UK, I had more offers of help and meet ups from Twitter pals than from old RL friends. They know more about my day-to-day life, my hopes and ambitions, my dreams than my RL friends do. 

Social Media has brought me friends, work, fun and some amazing opportunities that I would never have had. Those who don’t use it, or who have given up because they just ‘don’t get it’ might find it hard to understand, but it is a vibrant part of my life.

Twitter is what you make of it.


Featured Image 


Learn Twitter in Ten Minutes

Interested in Twitter but not sure where to start? Read on and find out how to Learn Twitter In Ten Minutes, when my first book is released later this year.   A couple of months ago, I was approached on Twitter by a follower I have ‘known’ for some time. She represented a publishing house and wondered if I would be interested in writing a book about how to tweet. The company already has books on the market about learning to play Chess, and are looking to develop this line of books further. I was intrigued and agreed to send in a proposal to be reviewed by Anova’s sales team. They liked the idea, but pushed for an earlier publication date than we had originally fixed. No problem, I was only in the middle of an international move, setting up a new business, starting a pre-teen blog … not like I was busy. The book was really quite easy and fun to write, and after several reviews and changes, is almost ready to go to the printers. It will be released in time for Christmas, so if you are very well behaved, Santa might bring you a copy.


**UPDATE**   Book was released this week – Kindle edition coming early next week


Twitter, Trolls and Online Abuse – Is Ignoring the Best Tactic?

Dealing with trolls and abuse on Twitter is a recurring theme. Not a week goes by when there is not a new case being discussed. Theories on how to deal with online hate abound and are hotly debated.

The teenager who sent abusive tweets to Tom Daley has been arrested. Exactly what they will charge him for is at present unclear. There is plenty of evidence on the troll’s timeline to charge him for other abuses. I read several racist and homophobic tweets last night.

According to the Twitter rules, ‘Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others’ – Rileyy’s initial tweets contained no threats of violence towards Daley. They came later when he was on the receiving end of abusive tweets from Daley supporters.

Not that I am defending the young man, but questions do need to be raised – Was he provoked into posting more abuse by the comments he received from Daley’s supporters, and should Twitter have stepped in earlier?

Now that the police have stepped in, Twitter is off the hook. Should they be?


Twitter relies on individuals self-policing the website by blocking abusive posters but unless the abuse contains a specific threat, they are not breaking Twitter rules so presumably would not be banned. Unless of course, the abuse is against a celebrity or sportsman and other Twitter users start a campaign (otherwise known as bandwagon jumping or Twitchfork etc).

When I stepped out of my civilised Twitter world and into the bile-filled timeline of Rileyy and his followers, it was a bit of a shock. I am used to robust debate – I am a Mumsnetter fgs – but this was a whole new level. We all assume that Twitter is full of erudite and intelligent people debating and having a laugh, but that is simply a reflection of the people we follow. There is a whole other Twitterverse out there and it is pretty scary.

Kirstie Allsop was abused by two young women this week, although they did apologise once they realised that they had overstepped the line.



When I looked at their timeline, I was slightly amused at their outrage at the abuse that Daley had received. Could they not see that their comments towards Kirstie were just as bad?



As the consequences for Rileyy have become clearer, they realised that they’d had a lucky escape



I contacted Pheeb to ask her how she feels about internet trolls and abuse. I was interested to know if she realised that it would cause hurt and upset to Kirstie when she tweeted abuse at her, and if she had any idea what would follow.

” when she named me I was a bit in shock at first… Lets put it this way, I was more shocked because I didn’t say the worst. mentions were flooding in abusing me, I panicked because Kirstie said she was going to take action. Luckily by a split I deleted every trace.

The ‘abuse’ I gave kirstie was no where near the abuse tom daley received!! If you were actually there you would understand it was Another girl sending death threats I merely told kirstie to squat on a christmas tree… I joked about kirstie squating on a xmas tree, this riley joked about an olympic diver’s dead dad: big difference.

Basically my twitter behaviour has changed. I will not be sending any comments to anybody famous again!”


Should Twitter step in and delete tweets or suspend users? Any kind of moderation of a site with 140 million users and 340 million tweets a day is a mammoth job. One of the great things about Twitter is that you can call a wanker a wanker without being deleted (although you may be blocked by the user) but this freedom comes with a price.

What are the legal implications for Twitter? Should Twitter delete tweets or suspend users tweeting illegal content?


Hate crimes are any crimes that are targeted at a person because of hostility or prejudice towards that person’s:

  • disability
  • race or ethnicity
  • religion or belief
  • sexual orientation
  • transgender identity

This can be committed against a person or property.

A victim does not have to be a member of the group at which the hostility is targeted. In fact, anyone could be a victim of a hate crime.


Are you or someone you know…

  • being called names?
  • being pushed, hassled or threatened?
  • being beaten up, spat at or kicked?
  • having your things taken or damaged?
  • being made fun of or called names by anyone?

If the answer is Yes, that is bullying. This includes any name-calling or threats received via text message, emails or social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

Bullying often is a criminal offence. Report it.

Harassment is any unwelcome comments (written or spoken) or conduct which:

  • violates an individual’s dignity; and/or
  • creates an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Harassment can take many forms including violence, threats, abuse, and damage to property. It can involve verbal abuse and name calling, offensive graffiti or post and can be received via text message, emails or social networking sites like Facebook or MySpace.

It may cause physical injury, mental stress, anxiety, or insecurity. It can also occur for a variety of reasons, including race, religious belief, sexual orientation, gender identity or disability.

Harassment is a criminal offence. If you are being harassed, report it.


If we prosecuted every single Twitter post that fell into one of those categories, there would only be corporate accounts and lawyers left on Twitter. Even mild mannered people like myself may at some point have been provoked into tweeting something offensive. The #twitterjoketrial showed the danger of the police  and prosecutors getting carried away.

At the same time, those shouting DON’T FEED THE TROLL are slightly missing the point. The fact that there is little danger of consequences means that Twitter users feel that they can use language such as “paki cunt” when berating other users. If we simply block and ignore, does it give them the impression that they can carry on spreading their vile opinions?

When Twitter takes a back seat and allows the site users to police bad behaviour, they are abdicating responsibility to others, and the inevitable “twitchfork” mob that ensues. A swifter reaction from Twitter could allow things to cool down.

Relying on young, naive Twitter users to keep a cool head and see the potential consequences of their actions will not always work. Pheeb was able to backtrack and deliver a decent apology, the mob was appeased and Twitter moved on. Rileyy was not as clever, and now has to deal with the fall out.



Do read @mummybarrow’s excellent blog about this. When young people are being abused like this, then it is time for Twitter to take a second look at their terms and conditions.


Featured Image 


A Day of Two Trolls on Twitter

An online troll is a person who posts comments on a website or internet forum in order to cause upset, and recently this has been extended to Social Media such as Twitter and Facebook.

There are different types of trolls. Some are ’emotional trolls’ who get their kicks from posing as a distressed person, and asking other users for advice.

Other trolls post hard luck stories, in the hope that other forum users will offer to send them money or gifts.

I have always found the emotional trolls the most disruptive to a website, as they encourage other posters to share sometimes traumatic experiences. They are also very difficult to expose as trolls due the subject of their posting.

There is another type of troll, possibly the most common one. The offensive troll. These users post inflammatory comments, often aimed at certain members of society – ethnic minorities, women, benefit recipients, people with disabilities, or single parents… the list of targets is long.


I began writing this blog post earlier today after reading the article in the Daily Mail by Jan Moir, in which she calls an Olympic athlete, ‘some bitch from Holland’. While I was writing it, a Twitter user posted abusive comments at one of our own athletes – Tom Daley.

Both the Twitter user and Jan Moir are, in my opinion, ‘trolls’. The former uses more crude language than the latter (although she is catching up) but is at least not writing for a national publication.



While I was writing this, a Twitter user called Rileyy found out what happens when a troll goes too far. Starting with a barrage of abuse against British diver Tom Daley, he swiftly backtracked when Daley replied to his tweets.



He then realised that his comments were being RTed by irate Daley fans (and there are a LOT of them) and generally appalled observers, and then even featured on Sky News. His disbelief turned back into rage.








It is easy to use this as an example of where a Twitter user went too far with a comment, which he did not expect anyone except his own followers to pick up on. A quick glance through the rest of Rileyy’s Twitter feed revealed however that this was not a one off comment. His feed is full of hate, bigotry and misogyny.









What is the correct way of dealing with such a person? Should Twitter shut down his account? According to the Twitter rules, ‘Violence and Threats: You may not publish or post direct, specific threats of violence against others’. Officially the abuse towards Daley does not fall into that category. The only option open to a user who is a target of such vile behaviour is to block the abuser.

(as I continued to write, Rileyy crossed the line by posting the below threat, which should be enough for Twitter to delete his account. If that is not a direct, specific threat, then I don’t know what is. I would hope that the police get involved in this now too.)


@TomDaley1994 i’m going to find you and i’m going to drown you in the pool you cocky twat your a nobody people like you make me sick


(ITV has picked up the story here)

The TV presenter Kirstie Allsop was abused yesterday by two young girls, in a similar fashion to the Olympian Daley. Hate and bile filled messages out of the blue, from young Twitter users.



The offensive troll is limited only by the size of his or her readership, and how often the offensive comment or blog post is passed on to others. Twitter and Facebook are good mediums for the distribution of these articles. We are all guilty to some extent of ‘feeding the troll’ when we pass on a link, with a statement such as, ‘OMG, I cannot believe that XX wrote this, pls read and RT’ or ‘lets get this trending!’.


Trolls feed on attention and the only way of stopping them is by not giving them the attention that they so desire. Easy said – but not so easily done, as our first instinct is to shout to the roof tops, to draw attention to the bigotry.

When however, an article is not shared on a blog or a forum, but in a national newspaper then it becomes more difficult to ignore. Printing this kind of article lends legitimacy to the opinions of the writer, and signals to members of the general public that using offensive language or rhetoric is acceptable. It makes it more difficult to go against the grain and say, ‘Actually, I find that rather offensive’, without being dismissed as a typical lefty, a member of the professionally offended brigade.


Jan Moir’s article in today’s Daily Mail is a case in point. Not only does she call a world class athlete ‘some bitch from Holland’ for beating our British competitor, she filled a column with spiteful remarks against respected sportswomen and presenters. (here a link to a photo taken by @jonathanhaynes, not the Daily Mail website)

‘Zara Phillips… still contrives to sound like a bored Essex under manicurist despite being a) royal and b) taking part in the poshest Olympic sport’

‘.. what in the name of crispy grilled trout with almonds has happened to Sharron Davies’s face? … Sharron is going for gold.. if she manages to move her facial muscles before midnight, someone should give her a medal’.

Moir goes on to praise the British cyclist Lizzie Armistead for looking flawless after the 80 mile race, and for not having ruined her perfect manicure, then it is back to bad cop Moir when describing Sue Barker’s make up as ‘a little Halloween’.

This is not a Daily Mail reporter who has had a bad day; Moir has form for making sweeping and offensive statements. Her editor obviously found calling a foreign competitor in the Olympics a ‘bitch from Holland’ perfectly acceptable. Although, we really should not be surprised at this, as this blog shows – the Daily Mail does not shy away from posting offensive crap. Racism, xenophobia, misogyny.. all in a days work for the Daily Mail.


And so a day on Twitter comes to an end with two very different trolls.

Am I adding to their fifteen minutes of fame by even writing about them? Should we punish them by withdrawing our attention, or should we protest against them?


And should Twitter be doing more to stop the terrible abuse?



** UPDATE **

BBC News report that a 17 year old Twitter user is being investigated in Weymouth in connection with the tweets, and have tweeted that the person has been arrested.






Rambling in a Biergarten

It occurred to me that lately I have done lots of ranting and campaigning on the blog, and not as much general rambling, reviews, and travel reports. It has become a bit too much Salt and not enough Caramel.

I started to rectify this earlier today with a blog post about my new handbag and find myself wishing to tell you readers more about my life.

It has been a busy couple of months. Moving to Scotland, receiving the offer to blog in Kenya, my first book contract, agreeing to host a workshop for Mumsnet about Social Media, writing for Salt&Caramel, Jump! Mag and more recently for the Gates Foundation blog Impatient Optimists (which I shall be doing more of in the coming months).

Sometimes I feel as if I am constantly rushing to keep up, hit the next deadline, finish that article…

On top of all this, we have bought a house and will be moving in after the summer holidays. I am currently in Germany with the family for the summer.

I am trying to keep working while I am here, but as anyone who has kids will know, it is not easy to keep kids amused during the summer holidays and get some decent work done at the same time. Today I got them through the day by promising a playarea this afternoon, and what a great idea that was.

We are in a biergarten in the North of Munich, called Sankt Emmerans Muehle. Fairly typical biergarten at first glance, and chosen for the fact that it has a playarea. When we drove in we were stopped by a dashing young man (I am showing my age!) who offered to park my car. Valet parking in a biergarten seemed strange, but he explained that when it gets busy later, they otherwise run out of space. By parking cars themselves, they can fit more vehicles in and park cars in front of other cars.

The next surprise was when I sat down to do some writing. As I searched for my trusty dongle, a message popped up offering free wifi. HURRAH, my inner geek shrieked. Wifi and a playarea – bliss for working mums.



So here I sit, the sun shining through the old oaks, as the wind rustles through the leaves. A plate of salami and cured meat has just been brought.  I nibble on the salami and wrap some of the grated cheese in a slice of cured ham. OUCH. It is not cheese, it is horse radish. That is the sinuses cleared anyway.

My children return to devour some of the ham and salami (son) some of the cheese (daughter) and two big brezels (both). Daughter is an almost vegetarian, weakening only for bacon.

The waiter brings a glass of chilled Pinot Grigio and I listen with half an interested brain to the conversation of the northern Germans on the table next to me. As ever, they think that I am only English speaking as I have spoken to the kids and the dog in that language. It makes them more careless with the volume of their conversation. This happens a lot and I am often torn between humouring strangers who speak to me in broken English, and telling them that I speak German, which may make them feel silly.

I speak German with a north Bavarian accent, which comes as a surprise to those who think that I am a forriner.

This post is becoming ever more rambling, so I will stop here and wish you all a pleasant and sun filled evening. Prost!


Wristlet Bags

You may be thinking, ‘What on EARTH is a wristlet bag?’ and until a few months ago, I would have asked the same thing.

A wristlet is a small clutch bag with a wrist strap. Something like this:



I don’t know about you, but a ‘clutch bag’ always made me think of the kind of bag that my Mum would buy for going to a wedding in the early 80s, with a little golden chain, in a matching colour to her pill box hat with the veil. I never liked clutch bags, because unless they have a silly gold chain, you are always left with the dilemma of where to put it when you want to do something. It seems to defeat the purpose of putting all your stuff into a bag to free up your hands, if you then have to carry the blooming thing. Or stick it in your sweaty armpit.

That is where the Wristlet comes in, as they have added a natty little wrist strap so that you can dangle the bag from your wrist. Clever.

The bags generally have a pocket for cash and slots for cash and credit cards. Depending on the size of the bag, you can store a mobile phone, lipstick and perhaps a pair of sunglasses. The wrist strap frees up your hands if you need to carry a cup of coffee, or grab a child’s hand.

They are obviously not going to do the job if you still have very young children, as they would laugh in the face of all the galumph that you need to carry around when you have a toddler. Now that my kids are older, I love that I can grab my keys and my purse and head out without stashing nappies, wipes, drinks and about half the household in a huge bag.




An American friend of mine has several, which I have always secretly coveted, so I started looking for one when we moved back to UK.

Not as easy as you might think. I found the above bag at the airport, and have since had a look online to find others.

This brown one from Fossil looks good and would be very versatile. There are other colours available on Amazon.

Finding them in the shops may be tricky, but a quick google revealed that they are already becoming more popular in Europe. Fiorelli, Fossil and of course the good old American Coach make great little Wristlets. 




What do you think? Would you buy one? Or do you have one already and can give some tips on finding them in UK?


London Family Planning Summit – Global Bloggers Report

At the London Family Planning Summit, I joined a group of bloggers from around the world. They were from activist blogs, charity blogs and blogging fora. Before and after the summit their work was added to by those who could not attend, but who observed the Summit from afar.

It is interesting to read the other blogger’s work, and to see what their impressions of the Summit were.


Bloggers who attended the summit:

Maeve Shearlaw was blogging for the White Ribbon Alliance

Zoora Moosa was blogging for the Fword

Owen Barder blogged for the Centre for Global Development

Rachel Silverman and Amanda Glassmann also blogged for the Centre for Global Development

Charlott blogged (in German) for Maedchenmannschaft 

BritMums founder Susanna for BritMumsBlog



Blogger thoughts after the Summit:

Amie Newman blogged for ImpatientOptimist (and other blog posts on Impatient Optimist on Family Planning topic)

Ruth C White blogged about the Summit on Provoking Policy

Marge Berer blogged on The Berer Blog 

The White Ribbon Alliance have a great video with highlights of the Summit.

These bloggers wrote in advance of the summit:


HidingUnderTheBed talks of the situation for women in Mexico

Lesley wrote of her experiences in South Africa

On PintSizedRants  Ptit thinks about how her life would have been very different without family planning

SGM writes about access to contraception being a basic human right

Dorkymum met some of the Youth Activists and was inspired by them

Christine Mosler blogged for Thinly Spread 

Jen blogged for MumInTheMadHouse 

Munch blogged about access to contraception


The Family Planning Summit London 2012 – More Than Statistics and Soundbites

The Family Planning Summit of 2012 took place in London today. A stones throw from the UK Houses of Parliament, world leaders, activists and health care workers and providers gather together to put Family Planning back on table in developing countries around the globe.



Melinda Gates began by calling it ‘an important milestone in the history of Family Planning’.

In Ban Ki-Moon’s pre-recorded video address he expressed the wish that ‘no child should be born unwanted, and no woman should die needlessly in childbirth’.

There followed a lot of speeches by ministers of various countries, expressing their commitment to the cause.  Speeches filled with statistics and soundbites.

‘One in three 15 year olds in Sierra Leone is pregnant or has given birth’

‘Teen pregnancies account for 40% of maternal deaths’

‘doubling our budget of Family Planning’

‘In Malawi we have a saying: No parenthood before adulthood’


The Swedish Minister for International Development Ms Carlsson stood out from the crowd, by talking about the role of boys and men in beproductive health.

Her Norwegian colleague was amusing, telling of sitting under the table as his mother discussed women’s rights, ‘I learned never to talk when grown up women were talking’ and said ‘it is not enough to reach the hearts of the development ministers, we must reach the brains of the finance ministers’.

After lunch I had the opportunity to sit in when the UK Prime Minister David Cameron and Melinda Gates met some youth workers. Some of them were British youngsters who volunteer for three months in developing countries. Others were youth peer counsellors who work in their own countries to promote uptake of Family Planning.

The young people sat with Andrew Mitchell first then in swept the PM with his entourage. It is incredible how many people accompany the PM. I did wonder if he gets used to it or if it bothers him sometimes. He didn’t flinch, although the young people did, when the press photographers dashed in and started taking photos.  After a few moments, he shooed the press out of the room and then had a chat with the volunteers.

He chatted for about 10 minutes, before being signalled by a member of staff to wrap it up then he was off. I was slightly disappointed that Melinda Gates did not have a chance to speak to the volunteers, and wonder if she was too.

Cameron then gave his speech. Back to statistics and soundbites, although it did go down well with the delegates. I have never been a big fan of Cameron, but I do have to hand it to him. His support of this summit is a very good thing.

After his speech he took a couple of questions, and the floor was energised when a woman stood and asked if Cameron felt that it was right that the Holy See should try to influence African Nations on matters of Family Planning. I am not sure if Cameron misunderstood, or if it was a typical political manoeuvre to deflect from a question he did not want to answer. In any case, he blathered his way through some more soundbites and stats.

Melinda Gates then announced that the Gates Foundation was doubling their investment, and talked about the investment in innovation. She drew parallels to her and her husband’s interest in technological innovation, and the innovation on behalf of the planet, to do good things. She was excited to announce innovation on behalf of women, talking of the investment in Research and Development in Family Planning.

When you invite half a dozen heads of states to an event like this, then ask them to say a few words, you can be sure that they will not stick to their allotted 5 minutes. The Ugandan President even joked that this was not a theatre and he was not an act (although I am not quite sure that was a joke and his comments  left a nasty taste in the mouths of those who recalled some of his less amusing statements)

So the afternoon session dragged on a bit, with speaker after speaker, statistics and – yes, those soundbites.

Are we perfecting the art of soundbites, getting them just the right size to fit into a headline or a tweet?

The end of the official announcements was marked with the Comic Relief-esque, ‘We wanted to raise $4.3bn, but we have raised a total of $4.6bn’ and then Andrew Mitchell and Melinda Gates departed the stage.


The rest of the afternoon (and into the early evening) was taken up by discussions and Q&A sessions by various panels of experts. I attended the two sessions on youths and girls. By the end of these I was suffering from severe statistic overload, but there were some highlights.

Mary Robinson spoke eloquently about attending the Rio conference, where she and others were dismayed at the ‘backsliding‘ from the Cairo Declaration.

‘the Cairo and Beijing texts are fundamental and must be upheld’ she stated, emphatically to nods of agreement from the listeners.

I would happily sat and listened to Ms Robinson for quite some time, but she finished by saying that the pledges made were important, but the swift implementation was vital to help women. The overrunning of the earlier session by the Presidents mean that she ran out of time, as she had to rush to the airport, ‘because planes don’t wait for me anymore’.

The First Lady of Zambia was one of the few who mentioned the role that men play in the health of women. She talked about women not having a voice, and men talking on their behalf. She bravely went where David Cameron had feared to tread, taking on the churches, referring to the earlier question about the Holy See.

She also talked about domestic violence and rape. ‘We have to say no to violence. I am saying no to domestic violence’.

Ian Askew from Population Control started with a few shocking statistics.

40 t0 60 % of post rape services (ie reported rapes) are for girls under the age of 15 years.

Over 30% of girls stated that their first sexual encounter was not consensual.

It was something that bothered me continually throughout the discussions. When we talk of 12 year old girls getting pregnant, should we really be talking of how to protect them from sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy, or should we be taking of protecting them from sexual abuse?


Critics of the summit (and no, I am not talking of THOSE kind of critics, the ones that sent me my first twitter hate tweet this morning) pointed out that it is impossible to talk about Family Planning without mentioning abortion. Which is true. It is also impossible to talk about these issues without mentioning domestic violence, and I am very glad that several speakers did so.

It is impossible to talk about Family Planning without mentioning abortion but at the same time it would have been impossible to put abortion on the agenda.

I don’t agree that it is a ‘wasted opportunity‘, but a good start on a long road. Getting all of these countries to come together, cajoling private companies to do their bit, keeping a lid on the anti-family planning protesters – it must have been like herding cats.

Melinda Gates has been criticised for allowing her personal beliefs to come before the good of women of the world, but I feel that this is taking a very narrow view of the issue (not to mention ignoring all that Melinda has already achieved).

If abortion rights had been on the agenda, then I do not think that so many countries would have agreed to take part. Would countries with very strict abortion laws, or even a complete ban on abortion such as Malawi or Indonesia have taken part? The handful of token anti-choice protesters were hardly noticed today. That would not have been the case had abortion reform been a part of the Summit. The message of the Summit would certainly have been hijacked.

In my opinion, the UK government and the Gates Foundation did the best that they could to help save lives in the developing world. I do not believe that they would have been as successful in raising that amazing about of money and promised support if they had included abortion rights in the summit.

It was an extremely long day for the delegates, but the culmination of many months of organisation by Dfid and the Gates Foundation. Now, as Andrew Mitchell stated, comes the even more difficult part.

‘We cannot just talk the talk. We must walk the walk’.


A pretty good final soundbite.


Family Planning in Kenya – A Tale of Two Women

This week I will be blogging from the London Summit on Family Planning, organised by the UK government and the Gates Foundation. The ambitious aim is to provide family planning methods to an additional 120 million women worldwide by 2020. I have already blogged at length about this, so will simply give you all an impression of what this means for two  of the women I met on my recent trip to Kenya.

Miriam is 32 years old and was at the Marura Village Dispensary in Laikipia District with her 3 month old son, Peter. She already has five girls at home and is struggling to keep them in school. Her eldest daughter will soon leave school, at age 13 years in order to train as a hairdresser.

When I asked her if she wanted more children she laughed loudly and made it very clear that Peter was to be her last child. She was exhausted, she could not afford to educate the children she had already, why would she want another child?

She had a swollen neck, and had been told that she would need an operation for which she is trying to save money. She was very worried that she would not be able to save the money for the operation, and having another child would certainly make this more difficult.

Miriam was attending the clinic to have her son vaccinated and would be returning to access contraception in order to prevent further pregnancies.


 Jane is ten years older than Miriam, but was vibrant and energetic where Miriam was exhausted and listless.

Jane has three children, a boy aged 22 years, and two girls, aged 15 years and 12 years. It is no coincidence that the age gap between her children is so large. Jane has been using contraception since her late teens. She had her latest implant in May of this year.

She told me that having contraception meant that her health and the health of her children was improved. She now counsels women in her community on the importance of spacing out the births of their children.  She laughed and said,

“I am a good example to the women here. It would not be possible to advise on contraception if I had 9 children at home”.

Her eldest son has left school but the girls are still in school.

“We need to educate our children so that they can get good jobs and support their parents”


She is strong in her conviction that being able to space out the births of her children has enabled her to do this.


These are just two women in Kenya, but their lives and experiences mirror millions of other women around the world.



Oi! P&G. THIS is how to advertise to women

Ok, before I start, I have to say that I know this is advertising. I am aware that Nike are trying to sell me their brand and they are cynically tugging at my heartstrings to do so.


at least the message is better than the P&G Sponsors of Moms advertising that I ranted about earlier this year.

Advertisers should take note that women are not all mums and those of us who are mums don’t all define ourselves by our “status” as a mother.

I am a mother by an accident of reproductive luck. It is not something that requires particular skill. I just got lucky. It does not define me, as a person or as a blogger.

Nike have come up with an inspiring advertising campaign that tells girls that they can MAKE THE RULES



Featured Image – Broken Glass Nike Swoosh


Saving Kenyan Lives

Gordon Okal Owera is a 26 year old teacher from a small village in Kenya. We visited him last week with the woman who saved his life. It is not an exaggeration; Pamela cajoled, bullied and persuaded him that life is worth fighting for.



When Gordon started feeling unwell in Autumn 2011, he thought he had just been working too hard. A school teacher, he worked left home at 6am and didn’t return until 6.30pm. He put the fatigue that he was feeling down to the long hours, particularly during the harvest in December. He would work in the fields from early morning till midday then go home and sleep.

In January Gordon returned to school. One morning he was doing the school records for his boss when he felt extremely unwell. He was sweating severely and applied successfully to his boss for permission to go home. He intended to rest for a hour but woke up late at night, having slept the day away.

His sister came to care for him and was alarmed by his appearance. His lack of appetite had caused extreme weight loss. She brought him to her village where she could care from him better, and consulted the doctor.

Gordon had Tuberculosis. A disease that is all but eradicated in the Western world but is still a killer here in Africa. After 2 weeks in hospital, Gordon was allowed to go home and referred to the local TB clinic.

The clinic is supported by CDC (who I wrote about recently) and they assigned Pamela to be his support worker.

I lost hope, I told my mother. I will die and you will go on living.

 Not if Pamela Mbuya Otieno had anything to do with it. Pamela is a Nutrition Assistant for the CDC funded DOT Support Group.  (Directly Observed Therapy)

Although he was not really keen on being treated, as he struggled with the stigma of the disease, he was too polite to tell Pamela to go away.

Just as HIV is stigmatized in Kenya, TB patients are shunned by their neighbours. They are told that they have been possessed and should consult a local herbalist to be ‘cured’.

Gordon started taking the medications that Pamela brought him daily. The support workers know that if they do not visit every day, then there is a high chance that their patients will stop taking the meds, particularly when they begin to feel better.

I developed a likeness for the drugs

His enlightened friends stuck by him, but some turned away. He was most worried about being able to return to his job as a teacher. He talked of a young child in his class who was malnourished and who was teased for being ill. The children ridiculed the girl. Gordon would sneak the little girl some porridge during breaktime. It was clear that he was worried about her.

When he went to an open day at the school, some of the children expressed disbelief at seeing him as they thought he had died. They were pleased to see him and some have visited him at home since then.

Gordon plans to return to teaching next month. He sees his job now as important, he has to educate the children in living with TB, in the hope that the information will filter through to the parents.

 Once a week the children are split into gendered groups and discuss various issues. Gordon teaches the boys how to relate to each other, how to become successful and how to stop harmful behaviour.

They also talk about the importance of family planning, and how the children can protect themselves from unwanted pregnancies that would disrupt their education. Almost no girls go back to school once they have left to have a baby, so providing this information before the girl becomes sexually active is vital.

HIV/AIDS is another topic that is covered by the teachers. The children learn how to protect themselves, the symptoms and treatment and that it is no longer a death sentence.

Pamela sees her work as one of ‘great importance’, and enjoys seeing the people she has helped restore to health. She supports up to 4 people at a time, for the six months until the treatment course has finished.

When asked how she feels about Gordon, she replied

‘I call him my son. He is like a son to me’.

The CDC (Centre for Disease Control and Prevention) is based in Atlanta. The Kenyan office in Kisumu district is one of the most deprived areas of Kenya, with the highest rates of HIV and Malaria infection.

We spent two days with the CDC in the area, looking at different projects, from family planning clinics, to TB treatment projects. The work they are doing is very effective, even if it only benefits a small section of the population directly.

Their main focus is the research of diseases, in order to find the best method of fighting Malaria, HIV, Typhoid, TB and other infectious diseases. Their DOT projects, such as the one that Gordon is involved in, saves many lives as these projects are recommended to other areas.

I was impressed by the coordination between the US-funded CDC and the Kenyan health workers. This ensures that the Kenyans do not feel resentful towards the projects, as they ‘own’ them. The Kenyan health workers are accepted and valued members of their communities.

En route to the projects, I spoke to one of their staff about the problems that Kenyans face. I asked why so many people travelled to Nairobi, when they appeared to have a better life ‘up country’. By which I mean, not exactly an easier life but at least one in which they are not living in the slums. The people we met often had small vegetable plots, a cow and perhaps a couple of chickens. It certainly seemed more pleasant than the squalor of Kibera.

He told me that they hoped to find employment in the cities. The work that they do on the farms or homesteads is not considered ‘work’. This is reserved for white-colour work in an office. The tragedy is that the area in which we travelled was verdant and fertile, but it is either not being farmed or is being farmed by a few large farmers.

The splitting of family farms into smaller parcels over the years has meant the size of each individual parcel has decreased. Many families live on land that is not even large enough to farm enough to feed themselves. Being able to sell vegetables or fruit to others is simply not possible.

Research and development in the agriculture industry is ongoing, to help Kenyan farmers become more efficient and lessen this problem.


Living (HIV) Positively

DSCN3471Jasinta lives with the knowledge that she has HIV.

She was diagnosed in 2009 but kept it a secret, even from her husband.

‘I lived in stigma and denial’, she told me. The stigma of HIV is a big problem here in Kenya. Newly diagnosed patients find that their neighbours and friends turn away from them and their customers shun their businesses. It is a lonely life for many Kenyans with HIV.

When she discovered she was pregnant, a year after her her diagnosis, she went to the local health clinic. She was lucky that the clinic she visited was one that offered a support group for mothers with HIV. She was assigned a Mother Mentor, who told her about the disease and the ways in which she could protect her unborn child. She took her medicines at the exact times, used condoms, and regularly attended the health clinic.

When Jasinta told her husband her secret, he reacted well and agreed to be tested. He too was HIV+. They worked together to improve their health, eating as well as they could and following the recommendations of the health clinic to the letter.

When their baby boy, Warren Charles, was born Jasinta breastfed him for six months before weaning him. She found weaning hard, as her son was not happy about giving up the mother milk, but her husband supported her. She had been sticking to the strict medication regime that the health centre prescribed.

Her son was tested several times in the first year of his life. The tests were negative. Jasinta had a Negative Baby.

We talked about her other children, and how she was preparing them for the news that she and her husband are HIV+. She spoke of the way in which children in school were informed about HIV/AIDS. When Jasinta talked to her eldest son, who is 10 years old, about people with HIV, he was most distressed

Mama, having a mother with HIV would be terrible. AIDS kills!


The children were taught in school that HIV/AIDS kills; they learned songs with this message. For Jasinta, dispelling the myths around the disease became a personal goal.


She decided to become a Mother Mentor in order to help other women. Since that day, she has travelled to the Health Centre regularly, to support newly diagnosed women.

I interviewed Jacinta at the CDC/KEMRI funded Siaya District Hospital Clinic Research Centre, in the province of Nyanza. This area is infamous for the high rate of HIV/AIDS, Malaria and one of the highest rates of Maternal and Infant Mortality in Kenya.The Atlanta-based Centre for Disease Control works with the Kenyan health authority KEMRI to research and control communicable diseases. In the coming years, they will broaden their range to include non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer. 

I asked Jacinta what she told the women she counselled.

I tell them to go to family planning and get help. I tell them not to live in stigma. I tell them that I am positive and I have a negative baby. I look better than many women who are HIV negative. I take care of my health.

Jacinta beamed as she told me

 I decided to live my life positively. I am very happy. I am HIV+ and I have a Negative baby