Effects of the cuts: a first hand experience

Almost every day, when listening to the news, you hear stories about the impact of the cuts to public spending. Frontline services such as the NHS, the police services and schools are being asked to do more and more with less and less money. Whilst, to uphold the ‘will of the people’, cabinet members travel to and from Brussels and swan off to smooze European leaders to deliver the Brexit we deserve… hmm.

We are almost desensitised to the cuts, we hear about them so much. Today, we experienced the impact of the cuts first hand. My wife and I live in a part of Norwich that has two very different communities living side by side. On the 27 June a 19 year old was shot in the back, in a drug related incident, in a park very close to our house. Every day we have people walk past our window who are either under the influence of an illegal substance or who are taking their daily trip to the pharmacy to collect their methadone.

On returning from our walk and stop off for a sneaky half at our local pub, my wife noticed some suspicious activity involving a group of four people and another individual. I urge ‘A’ to call 101. The process to speak to someone was tedious: phone ringing for a long time to reach the switchboard; decision made to connect us to the local constabulary; phone ringing for a long time to eventually to speak to an officer. ‘A’ told the officer everything she witnessed and gave detailed descriptions of the individuals. Everything was logged and a crime reference issued.

The officer then told my wife that she needed to call the local school – the area where the incident happened backs onto a school – in order for them to check their premises for any evidence of drug misuse, as well as they local council in case the area needed cleaning up. ‘A’ questioned why she had to do this. There was been a strong community police presence since the shooting; surely someone could pop by and check this out? The officer apologised and cited ‘cuts to policing’ as the problem.

Why is it our responsibility to make further phone calls to notifying other organisations about the potentially illegal goings on? Surely this convoluted process is only going to deter people from reporting suspicious or antisocial behaviour, not encourage it? It seems a pity that community safety relies upon the integrity of the community members alone, rather than alongside the community police who should be empowered, not redundant.

‘It’s all change for Thomas’

Yesterday, on the way over to my brother and sister-in-law’s house for brunch, we picked up the ‘i weekend’ so that we could do the crossword (I realise how awfully middle class that sounds). After failing to complete said crossword I decided to read an article on page 10 that caught my eye; the front page spoiler was titled ‘New gender balanced Thomas the Tank Engine (with UN approval). Link to article –

https://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/thomas-tank-engine-gender-balanced-female-trains-characters-steam-team-revamp-multicultural-a8517981.html

The article discussed how this much-loved children’s franchise is getting a makeover with a gender balanced team of engines accompanying Thomas on his adventures. I read part of the piece to everyone and this facilitated a discussion about gender stereotypes in children’s books and television programmes. Our nephew, AJ, is nearly two and has started to watch programmes such as Postman Pat; this show has had a multicultural makeover but still has very clearly defined gender roles. My sister-in-law said that the wives of Pat and his colleagues stay at home wearing headscarves and baking whilst the men in the programme save the day. Fireman Sam has female colleagues, although they all have short hair. Now, there is nothing wrong with a woman who decides to stay at home nor a short haired female firefighter but, in most children’s television programmes, there is a lack of representation of choice and, more often that not, the creation of a hierarchy, often based on gender.

In the newspaper article Ann Widdecombe, an unsurprising critic of the more inclusive Thomas The Tank Engine, was quoted as saying ‘Children aren’t interested in these sort of issues’. Well, of course they aren’t! But, just to make sure, we asked my nephew what he thought of ethnic and gender representation in television programmes he watched… his response… ‘elephant’s ear’ – said whilst pointing at the puzzle he was looking at. Typically Widdecombe missed the point and made an utterly irrelevant comment. As a one off, having female carriages in subservient positions being pulled by male engines has no bearing on a child’s understanding of gender roles and balance. However, it is the accumulative that can have a long lasting impact. Of course children will not be ‘interested in these sort of issues’. They are being subconsciously shaped by the choices we make for them; we are moulding their developing perception of gender by the examples we expose them to. Forgive me for being a bit preachy, but this responsibility cannot be overstated, Ann.

Thank you is not enough

Precisely 3 months ago (if you are reading this at 02.31 on the 21st August 2018) Mrs GG gave birth to our wonderful son AD: in that moment, in the blink of an eye, our lives changed forever. For this we owe so much to a man we have never met and only know basic details about. This post is a letter of thanks to this mystery man who has given us everything we wanted.

Dear Sir,

This seems a rather formal way to start a letter to a man who is the biological other half of our son but I don’t know your name and “Dear Sperm Donor’ didn’t feel quite right.

On the 21st May 2018 at 2.31 in the morning, after an intense and somewhat complicated labour, my wife gave birth to our son by emergency forceps delivery. We didn’t know we were having a boy and, after the surgeon’s second ferocious tug, he held this wriggling baby in the air and said “So what do we have here?”. All I remember is seeing these huge red balls and thinking “Good God, are they normally that large?!”. What an adventure these last few months have been: dirty nappies; a sickness bug; midnight feeds; smiles, cuddles, gurgling. We have loved it all.

Becoming a parent can be a complicated process and, as a same-sex couple, the lack of an essential ingredient was our obvious problem. When we first stepped into the fertility clinic in September 2016, holding our baby in our arms felt like a moment far in the future. We were given the choice of two sperm donors and your profile was the one we were immediately drawn to; we were moved by the information you had chosen to include revealing your personal reasons for wanting to help people like us, plus your interest in sport was a bonus as my wife is hardly blessed in that area and we needed to give the poor kid a chance on sports day.

Donating sperm to allow a couple to start a family cannot be an easy decision. A simple process but one that has potential implications for your existing family. It is likely I will never meet you in person to look you in the eye and thank you, but we will be forever grateful to you for this selfless act.

We are excited for the what the future holds: the person he will be; the ambitions he will have; the paths he will travel down. We await the adventures of the coming years with gratitude and will never forget your part in AD’s creation.

From the eternally grateful,

Mrs and Mrs GG

Eurgh, Hammonds furniture advert

Who has seen the Hammonds furniture advert? The one where a woman shows her friend her ‘amazing’, newly fitted wardrobes whilst a queue of other women wait outside for the ‘privileged’ moment when they get their own private viewing. No? Click on the link below before continuing to read further.

Seen it now? What did you think? Impressed by the spacious wardrobes for all the clothes, shoes and handbags? Eager to join the queue to take a look for yourself? If so, go away. I loath this advert.

‘Are you a dress diva, handbag hoarder or shoe lover?’ the sultry voiceover asks. Nope, not I. Not one of my closest friends would be happy being given one of those labels. Why must women succumb to these depthless descriptions? One of the meanings of ‘diva’ is ‘a self-important person who is temperamental and difficult to please’. Why on earth would you want to be described in this way, let alone be proud of it?

A woman’s life should be so much more than just the pretty objects she can buy or organising her husband’s clothes (as this advert suggests). Companies like Hammonds and adverts like this do women a disservice; they make us look shallow and superficial.

Women, female athletes, competitors…

Hands up, who has watched some of the Winter Olympics?

Nice and high now.

Enjoyed it? Been in awe of the twists, turns, height, pace?

Me too.

I last went skiing two years ago on a school trip (see cover photo) and every year, around this time, I have withdrawal symptoms. Watching the Olympics has been a good antidote.

As the games are drawing to a close I have taken time to reflect. Here are two things that I think could be improved:

1. The squeeling and orgasmic coming from some of the commentators. Eurgh. Excitement yes, hearing your sex noises, no!

2. The way female competitors are referred to as ‘girls’.

Let’s focus on the latter.

This gets on my wick. My partner and I roll our eyes and grumble every time we have watched highlights of the games: it isn’t just at the Olympics we have noticed it. Watch any form of women’s sport and, more times than not, female athletes are referred to as ‘girls’.

Whilst some of those competing are technically still ‘girls’ – the amount of teenage success at the games has been astounding – most are not.

‘Girls’ makes them seem childlike, lesser somehow. Why not refer to them as women, female athletes or, here is a novel idea, remove the gender altogether: athletes; competitors; performers.

Male athletes are less likely to be referred to as boys; commentators opting for men or guys.

Women have a harder time getting the recognition they deserve; just look at how funding was cut from the GB women’s bobsleigh and given to the men’s teams: well that backfired didn’t it?!

Stop the use of ‘girls’ and use more appropriate terms; it could be a simple step to start to address the glaring gender imbalance in many sports.

Curse of the big bazoombas.  

‘You are so lucky to have bigger boobs; I wish mine were bigger.’

NO! No, you really don’t.

Breasts, boobs, boobies, tits, titties, bazookas, bazoombas… whatever you like to call them they are, more often than not, an annoyance.

People with smaller boobs want bigger ones, people with bigger boobs want smaller ones… who is actually happy with what they’ve been given?!

Not I, that’s for sure.

I was always a relatively average size, 34C, that is until Christmas of my first year at uni. Something very strange seemed to happen between the middle of December and the middle of January. I went back to halls in January 2007 to one of my housemates saying ‘crikey, where did they appear from?!’. The curse of the big bazoombas had struct.

Now if you are some who likes to lift and push your baps together for a ‘killer cleavage’ then mine would be perfect. If you are that type of woman I suggest you stop reading.

As a slightly masculine-of-centre female, who prefers jeans and a shirt to dresses and bows, my 34E fat sacks are nothing but hindrance.

Let me explain why…

1. They are only ever going to go south. They are, currently, pert and in the right place but I know the inevitable will happen. Droopy boobies here I come.

2. Bras are like scaffolding for the larger lady. I am not one for fancy, lacy bras so I have, primarily, taken to wearing sports bras to keep my bad boys in place and try to minimise their protrusion from my body.

3. Running can hurt with a sports bra on, let alone without! One time, at university, I played a whole 90 minute football match with just an ordinary bra on as I had forgotten my sports bra. Cue a few days of back ache and a supporter asking another player ‘was your captain wearing a sports bra?’. There was obviously a lot of bouncing happening.

4. Clothing with buttons can be a nightmare. I love a good shirt… checked, pinstriped, patterned… a shirt for every occasion. However, so often there is a tugging and stretching across my oversized mammary glands: cue the button gape. Now, for this, there is a solution. Hallelujah Marks & Sparks and their genius hidden buttons creating a perfect fit over the chest. More shops need to follow M&S’s lead.

5. Bigger boobs make you sweat more: fact! Whilst in Vietnam a couple of summers ago, sweating in the humidity was the norm. However, a line of sweat under your breasts is not a good look.

So thank you mother nature. I have no idea where these delights have come from (no history of gigantic jugs in my immediate family) and I wish I had been dealt a different handful, preferable less of one.

Getting my blogging mojo back

I started this blog just over a year ago. At that time I felt low and anxious after missing out on a promotion at work and needed a way of coping. The idea of a blog had been in the pipeline for a while but there was always a reason to not: work is really busy; I should be using my free time to exercise instead; what if students find out my identity… this list goes on.

Last January I needed an outlet, something only for me. It was the perfect time to start writing; I had lots of ideas, lots of things I wanted to say. I threw myself into the blog setting up twitter and instagram accounts and a facebook page. Soon I had started to connect with people across the globe and my writing diversified: politics, LGBT, gender and fertility treatment.

Fast forward 6 months or so and I was feeling better, my head was in a better place and I had made peace with events at work; the blogging slowed down. That coping mechanism was no longer needed. I thought about my blog often and started lots of posts but very few got to the stage where I was ready to publish.

As 2018 began I decided that I wanted to get my blog back up and running, whilst it was no longer needed as a coping mechanism it was something I wanted to do, something I enjoyed. The words didn’t flow, I found other things to do with my time.

This post is about drawing a line under the silence. I have things I want to write about and I have my blogging mojo back. Being ‘gutsy’ doesn’t just have to be about making statements it can be about celebrating the positive and 2018 is certainly set to be an exciting year.

The Boy in the Dress

A Summer dictated by a house move meant that writing took a backseat- I had been waiting for something to inspire me to ‘pick up the pen’ and get back to blogging. You know you have a hot topic when:

1. You get out of your car at work to your friend asking if you have listened to Radio 4 on the journey in (alas, it had been a morning that required music / singing to get me through the Monday blues).

2. You get an email from your wife asking if you had listened to Radio 4 (by this point I was regretting my decision to sing). 

With what I had gleaned from the aforementioned friend and my wife I decided to Google ‘Christian parents school dress’: I could not believe what I was reading. I had to listen to the interview myself. Whilst cooking dinner I caught up on the ‘Today Programme’ (Monday 11th September, 1hr 52mins in). 

In case you haven’t listened to the interview or read the range or articles available online, here is a brief synopsis of the situation:

A Christian couple, Sally and Nigel Rowe, have removed their six year old son from his primary school because another pupil (male at birth) sometimes wears a dress to school and, on other days, chooses to wear trousers. The couple said that their son came home confused and upset, just as their 8 year old son had done a year before when a similar situation arose. Mr and Mrs Rowe have taken the decision to home school both of their children and are mounting a legal challenge against the school which will state that their rights to raise their children with biblical values were not being respected.

If your reaction to this is anything other than shock I urge you to stop reading.

When a six year old child comes home and says that they are ‘confused’ by something it is the duty of parents to help them understand; Mr and Mrs Rowe have done quite the opposite. They had an opportunity to help their child comprehend the situation and begin to open their mind to the diverse world we live in. The path taken by the Rowes will not only narrow the life experiences of their child but misses a chance to teach about empathy for different groups of people. Supporters of the parents have argued that six is too young to explain potentially complex ideas of gender identity. Absurd. By hiding these topics from young people we do them a disservice; they deserve age appropriate explanations that allow them to make sense of the world around them.

The main argument presented by the parents was that the concept of gender being on a spectrum does not fit in with their Christian ideals. The Rowes are hypocritical: Christianity should be a religion of acceptance with people following key teachings such as ‘love thy neighbour’. Fortunately the Diocese of Portsmouth replied to the complaint, upholding such Christian values, by stating that its schools were safe places that celebrated diversity. Mr and Mrs Rowe have used their faith to mask their bigotry.  Religion should never be used to narrow lives, it should only ever enrich and enhance someone’s understanding of the world.

Mr Rowe has stated that primary schools are not the environment for gender disphoria and identity to be explored – he believes young children should be protected from such ideas. The couple believe that all parents should have been consulted before the child was allowed to wear a dress. Their own self importance shocks me. In every interview I have heard or article I have read, I have not seen the Rowes show any empathy for the child who is exploring their gender identify. Their son is confused; what about the child who is choosing to wear a dress? Presumably they are being allowed to explore who they are by supportive parents but many young people who are questioning their gender are unable to do so. Mr Rowe even seems to become an expert on rates of suicide amongst transgender people: when questioned about this he said that he did not believe it was linked to a lack of social inclusion. What naivity. 

The earlier that children encounter different people and different circumstances the more likely it is that they will celebrate diversity. I feel for the children of Mr and Mrs Rowe: they have parents who are narrowing their understanding of the world. Maybe the Rowes should have sat with their children on the sofa, picked up a copy of David Walliam’s book ‘The Boy in the Dress’ as a starting point. It’s not difficult to be honest with children. 

Why Pride?

I am going to admit something I am ashamed of: I have never properly attended a Pride parade. There, I’ve said it. I am a 29 year old lesbian and I have never properly been to a Pride. I have been in London for Pride twice; both times I have missed the parade, wandered past stages and had a few drinks in Soho. For my local Pride, in Norwich, I have been in the city on the day but haven’t watched the parade or heard any speeches. I actually DJed a local gay club on Pride a few years back: what a night. So I am not a Pride novice but everything so far has been on the periphery. 2017 Norwich Pride will be different.

I recently put a question out on Twitter about what Pride means to individuals within the LGBT+ community and the responses were enlightening. Many people discussed how Pride events were about remembering our collective history and the struggles of the past. Others talked about it being about standing together in support of those LGBT+ people around the world that are not given the rights who are in Britain. Some mentioned that Pride is about visibility and raising awareness of the diversity within our society. The overwhelming majority of responses talked about Pride being a celebration. 

This discussion on Twitter led to me question why I hadn’t properly attended a Pride. The answer is embarrassingly simple: I hadn’t felt the need to. In the past I have, at times, felt embarrassed by my sexuality, as though it was something to hide; I didn’t feel like it was anything I wanted or needed to celebrate. How wrong I was.

In exactly a month today, Norwich, the city in which I live, holds its 9th annual Pride event that continues to go from strength to strength. Last year thousands of people lined the streets to celebrate the diversity of our ‘fine city’ with many local businesses and services supporting the event.  Those involved have work tirelessly to ensure the event continues to grow and that the celebration attracts a wide audience. The 2017 event is set to be bigger and better than the last.

This year I plan to pop my Pride cherry: I will be using my Twitter and instagram to report live from Norwich Pride, bringing the action to you as it happens. I will be looking around the different stalls, listening to inspiring speeches, watching the parade and sampling the Norwich nightlife. 

If any of your reading this live close enough to join us then please do; Norwich is a wonderful city with amazing architecture, a thriving university and a refreshingly liberal outlook. I feel immensely proud to live in a place that is so vibrant and that encourages such an open celebration of diversity. 

On the 29th July I, and the rest of Norwich, will be honouring LGBT+ history, raising awareness of those less fortunate than us, celebrating our differences and having a great deal of fun doing it: come and join us! 

It’s the little things . . .

Pay attention to detail next time you are in conversation with someone or listening to a presentation. Really listen. Do you ever hear the subtle, underlying messages that I heard today?

No teacher looks forward to a staff meeting; if you are in the profession you know the ones. Sat in a stuffy hall after a tiring day teaching, listening to things that you either already know or could have been put in an email. After one of the hottest days of the year this is the situation I found myself in today.  First on the agenda was an outside speaker talking about how to support young carers. 

In a sense, the topic of his presentation does not matter, it was the underlying gender stereotypes which caused irritation. I decided to carry out my own little test. As our guest spoke I began to notice him referring to ‘mum’ when giving examples of people who needed care. At the top of my notes pages I wrote ‘mum’ and ‘dad’. I kept a tally. In the 20 minute presentation our speaker referred to the person being cared for as ‘mum’ six times; not once did he refer to them as ‘dad’.

‘So what?’ I hear you say. ‘It’s just a figure of speech’. ‘Don’t be so sensitive.’ ‘You’re such a feminist.’

Sensitive: no. Feminist: unapologetically yes. 

Why was it mum and not dad on every occasion? Is it that a woman’s role is to be the carer? Women are seen as the ones who do the cooking and cleaning, looking after their family. Maybe it’s because women have historically been submissive and need protecting. Could it be that it would be weak for a man to admit he needs help? Is a man less likely to need the support of others?

Whatever the reason, clearly no malice was intended. I am also fully aware that we all have some innate gender bias. However, if this is to change for future generations we need to challenge each other and think more carefully about the impact of, what we deem to be, insignificant comments. 

A global citizen 

Political events over the last year have brought into question the concept of being a global citizen; Brexit, the election of Donald Trump, the rise of Marine Le Pen in France.  Swaths of voters have chosen right wing, inward looking, isolationist policies at the very time that we should be looking outwards, reaching out and working together.

I, and many of my generation, have been left dismayed by political outcomes. As a teacher I have seen teenagers upset and angry that decisions about their future have been made by people that won’t be effected by the consequences. Whilst my passport says I am British, in many ways, I view myself as European: a global citizen. I don’t want to feel alienated from the rest of Europe due to my nationality and the decision by the 52% to leave the European Union. 

This will not become a rant about the referendum; yes I voted to remain but I fully respect the democratic process and the subsequent outcome. Would I prefer if we were remaining? Yes. Was I saddened and shocked by the outcome of the referendum: undoubtedly. However, one year on, we must accept and reflect on what has happened, finding the best possible solution for our country and our relationships with our neighbours.

When the news of the early General Election was announced I was shocked. The reasoning given was that, by electing a Tory government, we were giving Mrs May a clear mandate to negotiate a deal with Brussels. Suddenly the woman who had vowed not to call a snap election went against her word and did just that. From then on the election campaign was, for the Conservatives, about two things; Mrs May and Brexit. Their campaign was centred around a person not the party. In the eyes of the Tories this election was all about who is going to lead Britain through Brexit.

As voters we had a choice between a ‘bloody difficult woman’ and a sincere, honest politician. I want Brexit to result in a good deal for Britain but I don’t want a hard Brexit. I don’t want negotiations to break down and further alienate our European counterparts. I don’t want immigration quotas put in place to divide rather than unite. Quite clearly last year more people voted for a change to our relationship with Europe but at what cost? We are entering into the unknown, a period of uncertainty. No deal is not better than a bad deal. No deal leaves us even further isolated and powerless.

As the result of the General Election has become increasingly evident our questioning of the Tory campaign has become valid. Mrs May asked for a mandate to negotiate our exit deal from Europe and failed. Mrs May wanted to solidify her party’s control on British politics and has failed. Calling the election was a clear misjudgement and the decision has backfired. Rather than political stability and certainty we have the complete opposite.

When waking up this morning my faith in people to make politically astute decisions has been restored. There has been a lurch to the left with voters being won over by of Labour’s socialist policies whilst becoming disinterested with a tired Conservative rhetoric. As many of you wake you will hear Corbyn state that British politics has changed forever: I could not agree more.

Many voters will be rejoicing at the thought of Britain becoming a more equal and outward looking society. When speaking after the tragic London terrorist attack Mrs May made the mistake of suggesting changes to human rights whilst flippently stating that potential terrorists would be ‘deported back to their own countries’. This was the last in a series of catastrophic misjudgements. 

We are global citizens who want peace and unity, not division. We want equality whilst also celebrating our differences and diversity. My previous post discussed how Britain found itself at a political and social crossroad. Whilst that is still the case the events of election night have made the path just a little clearer.  

A country at a crossroads 

Today our country stands at a crossroads: by placing a small cross in a box we are making a monumental decision about which path our country takes. With  less than one hour until polling stations close I feel an immense feeling of fear and anticipation.

In recent years British politics has moved towards the middle ground. People have complained that there has been very little choice between the main political parties. This election has changed that. The campaigns of Labour and the Conservatives have been polar opposites: Labour have focused on public services ‘for the many’ whilst the Conservatives have been fixated on Brexit and May’s ‘strong and stable’ leadership. In many ways I welcome this variation; we finally have a clear choice with parties sticking to their core values rather than squabbling for the centre ground of politics. 

Six weeks ago nobody would have thought that Jeremy Corbyn’s campaign would have been such a success. As a Labour voter I have been pleasantly surprised by his professional and robust campaign that has sparked both curiosity and admiration. Slowly, but surely, Corbyn has proved his critics wrong with a Labour campaign that gathered pace as we headed towards polling day. Whilst the last six weeks have not been a completely smooth path for Labour it has been a far bumpier ride for Mrs May and her counterparts. People have started to become numb to her tired rhetoric and the broken record of Brexit: their campaign has felt miscalculated. 

Our vote today is about more than Brexit: it is about the direction of our country. Yes, the winner of this election will lead us through negotiations to leave the EU but they will also be responsible for our NHS, education system and care of our elderly. Whatever the outcome of this election we will have learnt a few things:

1. Mrs May underestimated Corbyn’s ability to create a campaign that would ignite a passion for a fairer Britain.

2. Our country is more than Brexit and any politician who has neglected important issues such as education has misjudged our country’s priorities.

3. Young people have been inspired to take an interest in politics and vote.

The path chosen by the British people, at this time, remains unclear but, over the coming hours we will learn the direction of the country for the next five years.