Now I am six…

Today, Will turned six.

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When I was One,
I had just begun.
When I was Two,
I was nearly new.
When I was Three
I was hardly me.
When I was Four,
I was not much more.
When I was Five, I was just alive.
But now I am Six, I’m as clever as clever,
So I think I’ll be six now for ever and ever.
A.A Milne, ‘Now we are Six’

What an age – the beginning of something; an age he will probably remember being. I wondered today how he will look back on all of this – his growing interest in all things Star Wars, his newly neater handwriting in his notebook, the shiny grown-up scooter he has wanted for months, the specially-made-for-Will ham (no pineapple) pizza. I hope he remembers that for a whole three quarters of an hour after school whilst his sisters were out, it was just me and him, and that we did a jigsaw together and decorated the cake and put out the superhero napkins. I hope he remembers proudly counting out the SIX candles.  I hope he looks back and remembers how excited he was about being a year older, and being as clever as clever. (And about wearing a bow-tie.)

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RetroMen (and the women who don’t love them.)

There are plenty of times in life where you have to keep your eyes out for subtle, subliminal sexism. The pink version of the standard Lego might be depressingly easy to spot, less so the 17% pay gap between men and womens’ hourly pay -which rises to 35% for women who work part-time –  or the fact that women do an average of 15 hours a week more housework than men even when they both work full-time.  These issues tend to get swept under the carpet (classic housework time-saving tip, right there) most of the time; or at least until you look at the figures in black and white and have to remind yourself that we are in 2013, not 1831.

Radical indeed.

Radical indeed. Original print by Michelle available from dothandmade on etsy!

 

It’s always worth remembering that for all of the work of feminists and progressive policies over the last fifty years, that there are still some people out there who haven’t woken up to the fact that women are ACTUAL PEOPLE too, and still think of them as some sort of second-class domestic-droids with no intelligence or power of independent thought.

One of these, er, RetroMen* appears to be alarmingly local to me and has formed a joyous sounding political party, the Justice for Men and Boys and the Women Who Love Them. (Yes, not just campaigning for the rights of men – a terribly under-supported area, but also their Women. The ones who love them, but stay politely out of the way, presumably.)

You can imagine my delight when I read about this charming chap in the local paper. Mike Buchanan believes that the current government has implemented ‘anti-male’ policies, and has cut his ties with the Conservatives to become an Independent candidate. He is planning to stand at the next election, and ‘thinks he can win it’. Mr Buchanan says ‘one of the reasons that I and other people oppose Mr Cameron is that he sometimes says warm words about the family, but the actual policies are designed to drive women out to work. For example, the split on the child allowances encourages women to go to work, rather than stay at home.’

There is certainly work to be done in terms of making it possible for one PARENT to stay at home, or work part time whilst raising children, but encouraging women to go to work if they want to is no crime. In fact, many think of this as progress. And, ideally, it should be a parental choice, not just the woman’s  choice. With many mortgages hinged on two incomes, the idea of there being much choice about surviving on one income is more of a fantasy than anything for a lot of people. But Mr Buchanan does not mention children, or parenting, so I cannot assume that he is referring to this problem. It sounds a teensy bit as is he is suggesting that all women should stay at home. He probably likes his dinner on the table, newspaper ironed and ready on his return from Important Man Work.

He would hate living with me. Often, if I have been working all morning and out with the children in the afternoon, the house looks exactly the same – just with different piles of Stuff in new and interesting places – as it did when Rich left in the morning. I usually do an emergency tidy of the breakfast things and pile of shoes by the door about half past four, just to make a bit of an effort. Sometimes I do spend the whole morning doing housework, but that it because I quite like things to be clean and tidy as much as anything. I don’t think of housework as a career. (Luckily, I would have been sacked long ago.)

If his home is HIS castle, let him clean it !

If his home is HIS castle, let him clean it !

And then there are Mr Buchanan’s thoughts on why there are more homeless men than women. ‘Because society, as well as government… is sympathetic to women rather than men.’  Really? Really?  So that is why so many magazines and websites such as the MailOnline are dedicated almost entirely to the criticism of women for being, in no particular order; too thin, too fat, too loud, too quiet, too pregnant, not having had children, being unmarried, or married to the wrong person, too sexy, too old, too young for that dress, too rich, too chavvy….

That is why because one of my friends has had to alter her facebook settings to male in order to get rid of all the adverts for weight loss and diet plans. (Never mind the male obesity problem, eh? It’s clearly not as unsightly as overweight women.)

That is why so many women are underpaid, undermined and kept at home doing the cleaning. Because society is more sympathetic to women than men. Got it?

This was not supposed to be a ranty blog, (there have been quite a few of late!) but I did spit my beautifully filtered coffee out as I read this over breakfast yesterday, and it seems wrong that the coffee was spat in vain.

The problem is not that I think that men have no rights. The problem, Mr Buchanan, is that your campaign for the Rights of Men (and boys) sounds an awful lot like it is centered around the right of a man to keep a woman at home.

Good luck with that…

*I am using that for the first time here, mostly because I can’t always say tosser when I mean tosser. It’s not meant to be knocking retro as a look- because I quite like that -I just mean unreconstructed men.

The rule of three.

Mostly, I love having three children. There are a few drawbacks; the shoe-shop bill, for instance, can easily reduce me to tears. As can the fact that the law of averages means that at least one of them will object – loudly – to every single suggestion that I make; and then there is the whole ‘outnumbered by your offspring’ issue…

When people see that I have three children, they are quite often given to commenting. In fact, a lot of people seem unable to stop themselves from commenting. Mothers with three kids are obviously fair game for this sort of opinion-giving. When mine were smaller, everyone used to say, ‘wow – you have got your hands full!’ This was true, and very often literally the case; sometimes I would be holding a child by each hand and be wearing Tilly in the sling. But the comments usually had a tone of ‘rather you than me!’ or ‘are you stark raving bonkers?’ or perhaps ‘all THREE are making quite a kerfuffle and you appear to be totally unable to control them.’

These days, I mostly get, ‘how on earth do you manage with three?’ On very rare occasions, the kids are miraculously standing beautifully behind me when people say this, looking relatively clean and sane. At times like this, I must look like some sort of supermum, and like to just shrug and say, ‘oh, you know, I get by…’ Of course, 99.9% of the time when people say this, the children are causing some sort of loud mayhem, and racing about half dressed and feral. And so I mutter something about wine, about embracing chaos, and loving a pack-mentality kind of family life, and generally attempt to leave the vicinity fairly quickly.

But there are many, many wonderful things about having three. They are a gang; a team. They look out for each other. They travel as a pack and are fiercely protective of each other. Having to assert themselves within a tight group of three has made them develop three very different, and strong, personalities. But best of all, they are great friends. The love getting up early at weekends and playing long and involved imaginary games involving Princess Leah, Luke Skywalker and Harry Potter. They like playing in the park together, riding their bikes together, and chasing each other round in circles…(no, really. I know.) Sometimes, they talk to each other using words that only they understand.

But lately, when people ask me how on earth I manage with three, I want to say that I honestly don’t know. I I want to say that sometimes I am so bored with shouting and disciplining them, trying to be fair and consistent and calm with all three but failing miserably, that I fantasise about booking myself a long holiday alone. I want to say that sometimes the effort involved in making sure that everybody eats a reasonable meal, gets some time to read their book, has their teeth cleaned and hair brushed nearly kills me. I want to say that sometimes I come back from the school nursery run feeling as if I have completed a half marathon. I want to say that sometimes I look at the laundry bin and want to weep. But I don’t say any of that. It’s not what people are asking.

I say ‘oh, you know, we manage.’ And sometimes it is more true than other times.

But despite all that, I wouldn’t be without them. Three may be a crowd. But it is a fun crowd.

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The fast and the furious: High Street Fashion in 2013.

We all like a bit of a snigger about health and safety right? The fact that you can’t change a lightbulb or go up a ladder without having been on a specific training course, or that you need to fill in a special form if your child has tripped over and grazed their knee at nursery. (At one point, when Will was a bit smaller but no less accident-prone, I once suggested that I just signed a whole pile of them at the beginning of the week, to save time.)

The workers of the factory in Bangladesh that collapsed last week didn’t get a chance to joke about health and safety gone mad though. And anyway, it hadn’t gone mad, because there weren’t any regulations in the first place. The thing that has gone mad is the clothing industry.

Made in Bangladesh

Made in Bangladesh

The factory in Bangladesh that collapsed and then caught fire, killing more than 400 people isn’t the first incident to highlight the total lack of concern for garment workers’ safety and wellbeing, it probably won’t be the last. But this feels different. This feels like the one that should make us grow up and realise that something is wrong with being able to buy an entire outfit for £10. The real cost of those £8 jeans, £5 tops, and all the other clothes that are slightly more expensive, but still say ‘Made in Bangladesh’ on the label,  was highlighted in the pictures of families waiting desperately for news of their loved ones beside the rubble of the factory. Fast fashion really does costs lives, and it is time we stopped pretending that it doesn’t.

It’s very hard to equate the clean, expansive rows of clothing in shops on the high street and in supermarkets with the dirty, crowded factories where they are made, by workers too poor to be able to fight for any rights they might be entitled to. It’s time that we fought for them. And although I think there is a gap in the market for more clothing that is made in Britain, it wouldn’t be fair to just bail on these workers in places like Bangladesh. They have given us our fast fashion fix, often at great personal cost . We owe them the right to a well paid, safe job in a factory that doesn’t put their lives in danger. That’s worth another £5 on the price of our clothing, at least.

It’s a complex and difficult issue to talk about because it’s not just one chain of shops, or even type of shop that supports the practice of unregulated, underpaid work. Some retailers are better at distancing themselves from it than others. Some are probably worse than others, but it is very hard to find the information to prove it. Complicated and intricate supply chains are everywhere. Primark and other large budget retailers are the obvious target, but the fact that much more upmarket chains such as Mango and Bennetton were also using suppliers in the same factory indicates that the practice is far more widespread than that.

Garment Workers

The reason that Primark gets it in the neck the most is that it is the most obvious embodiment of the high-volume, low-cost, fast turnaround element of the fashion industry that should now have started to disgust us all. And clearly, Primark is not just a shop for people who can’t afford to shop elsewhere, so the argument that those shops exist to keep the poor in clothing is irrelevant. The fact that there is a Primark Flagship Store on Oxford Street says it all. And anyway, shopping at Primark is something of a false economy, because it is mostly badly-made, from low quality fabric. It doesn’t last.You end up having to buy more, three weeks later. But hey, that’s instant fashion gratification for you. (By the way, I am not saying this as someone who is immune to this urge to buy-something-cheap-now. I know that my current love affair with Zara is almost bound to end in tears, and that if I looked closely into their supply chain, I would probably end up finding similarly awful practice.)

So, what to do? My plan is this: firstly, to find ethical alternatives where possible. Ethical Superstore is a good place to start. But it is not always possible: ethical fashion is still not mainstream, and is by definition, more expensive. I do not live in fairyland. (Sadly.)

Secondly, sign this petition to put pressure on retailers to take responsibility for their workers’ rights and welfare.

Thirdly, remember that if that if a top only costs me a fiver, someone elsewhere is likely to have paid a much higher price for it.

Fourthly, I am going to write to my MP (Richard Fuller.) I’ve had enough (well, almost) of writing angry blog posts about the unfairness of it all; it won’t change the world. But I feel passionate enough to demand that my representative in Parliament asks some questions of the fashion industry, on my behalf. I’ll write him a nice little essay on my feelings on the matter. Anyone who wants to sign it, leave a comment below, or on my facebook page.