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Melanie Melons. *sigh*

December 22, 2011 Leave a comment

So this is a bit of a weird one, and I guess the only reason I’ve started to think about it is that now I have a daughter I’m hyper aware of the smug/judgemental/scaremongering (delete as you see fit) media coverage that says that Eleanor is doomed to have the same physiology as me, which means, poor lass, that she’ll probably end up on the lardy side but at least she’ll have huge boobs.

The general assumption seems to be that having big boobs is a good thing, although given the media representation of larger ladies you’d be forgiven for thinking that we’re actually just an adolescent joke.

Barbara Windsor in Carry On Camping - clearly being appreciated solely for her acting talent

One of my clients a few years ago in the online agency world was a cosmetic surgery company, and breast enlargement was definitely their biggest seller. We had to be *very* careful which search terms their ads came up against (it’s a XXX minefield out there) but once you’d filtered out the porn element, what remained were lots of women who seriously thought spending £4K on bigger boobs would solve their personal and emotional issues. Now I don’t have a problem with cosmetic surgery per-se – frankly if I thought I could throw money at my excess 4 stone and it would magically disappear, I’d probably do it, but sadly liposuction doesn’t work for this level of excess so I have to face it that it’s my lifestyle/level of exercise I need to change, if I want to permanently look different.

Poo.

I did once go and ask for a professional opinion on having a boob reduction, on the basis that if I didn’t have the boobs it’d be easier to do more exercise, which would make the rest of the weight easier to get rid of. It was then that I was made aware of just how horrific a procedure it is – involving cutting the nipples off totally and re-stitching them further up the remaining boobage.  Makes me shudder.

I decided not to go ahead partly due to the ikk factor, and partly because if I’m going to be overweight, I’d prefer to *also* have big boobs, rather than being overweight with no boobs at all, and this has been my general thought process about boobs since they arrived. I say arrived because that’s how it felt – through no fault/with no input from me at all, they just happened, and changed the way that people have perceived me ever since.

There was no guarantee boobs were going to happen – my mum’s a size 8, and in fact I spent a good year of my pre-pubescent life desperately wanting boobs, and borrowing one of my friend’s trainer bras, putting carefully-arranged socks in them & thinking nobody noticed how daft I must have looked.

And then puberty struck, and within weeks they started to grow… and grow. It got to the point where I thought it was normal to change bra size every couple of months. After a few months I thought “Great, that’s enough now, you can stop”, but they just kept growing.

Jessica Rabbit - another serious actress

By the age of 14 I was getting giggling sixth form boys coming up & brazenly telling me they’d had a vote and decided that I had the biggest tits in the school… and being groped regularly… and compared to Sam Fox…  and being told (seriously) that I should consider a career in topless modelling, even though I was a total nerdy swot, in the top set for everything, planning to go to university, considering either medicine or law (my how things changed later, but that was the flush of youth).

Being called Melanie didn’t help with the annoying alliterative nicknames either.

If this sounds a bit moany, then that’s because it really can be a pain. Don’t get me wrong, I am not undervaluing the benefits of gaining attention from the opposite sex, and me and my boobs have had some great fun over the years, but the problem is just that well, they’re just always there.

They get in the way, sports are a logistical/gravity defying nightmare; clothes either hang so wide that I look like I’m wearing a tent, don’t fasten and need safety pins/a vest underneath or sometimes just make me look like a whore. It’s hard to look efficient and businesslike when you have these bloody things in the way all the time, and nomatter how much you and other people studiously avoid the issue, there are *always* moments when you catch people having a quick look, which is unnerving, and undermining when you’re trying to have a serious conversation.

Dolly Parton. Millionnairess, successful singer songwriter. but it's all about the tits.

Even breastfeeding, which is what they’re bloody well *meant for*, was harder for me because I had to hold my boob *and* the baby, there was no way of doing it discreetly like these lucky mini-boob ladies who pop the baby against their chest and you don’t even see the boob. For me once they’d been released from their (ugly and unsupportive) non-wired feeding bra, you couldn’t avoid the associated acre of boob flesh nomatter where you tried to put your eyes.

So what’s the answer then?

They’re a mahoosive faff, but I don’t want to get them removed as it’s too icky.

Removable boobs, perhaps? or is that taking us back in a circle to comedy boobs again?

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The riots: my tuppenceworth

August 21, 2011 2 comments

I’m not sure I’ve ever known so many people get so passionate about politics, parenting, social issues, crime, race and policing, so in a way I’m glad the London/UK riots have stimulated a lot of passionate debate. There is nothing more worrying to me than people who either refuse or see no point in getting involved or having an opinion about politics; saying “It won’t change anything”.

Many of the contributory factors to the riots were political, and we’ve already seen that the discourse and proposed (many draconian) responses will be, so it’s important to understand the political context behind issues like this in order to go any way to solving them (as all parties have previously stated- David Cameron of course has conveniently forgotten his understanding/humanity of yesteryear, of course).

So, firstly I’m saddened.

Sad that shopkeepers in run down areas, with probably no stock insurance won’t be able to regain their livelihoods, adding to the shuttered up blight.

Sad that in the same world where millions in east Africa are at risk of dying of hunger (I blame corrupt govt and religious anti-condom rhetoric for much of that) we have people who have so little context on hardship that they loot their own neighbourhood and pretend that they’re getting what they deserve.

Sad that the media blaming frenzy includes bigotry of almost every shade, and in almost every instance fails to grasp that violence, frustration, bandwagon profiteering and cruelty are neither new nor confined to the poor, unmarried, young, black or any other sector of society.

I’m also heartened by the massive movement of people involved in the #riotcleanup. Hundreds of people with brooms, dustpans and brushes turning up in Clapham, Hackney and across the country, to make good the damage other people caused brings a smile to my face and a little leap to my heart.

For what it’s worth, I have a political theory. I think the riots can be traced back to the selling of council houses. The crucial accompanying theory is my belief that between the carrot and the stick; the carrot seems a much more effective way of maintaining social norms than the stick. The fear of official punishment is often a lot less than the quest for peer approval. So instead of vast police numbers, spending a fortune on jails and punishment, (or maybe an effective addition to) the answer could be in getting society to help to maintain those standards, right?

Here’s the thing: for hundreds of years there have been strong communities of relatively poor (some may say average, as judged by the standards of the past) who lived in subsidised council housing for their entire lives. They knew their neighbours, their parents, extended family, friends from school, staff from local shops all lived in the local area.

My paternal family came from exactly such stock. I remember my Nan in Leeds telling me (on many occasions) that when a new council estate was built, she and my Grandad were proud that their family were invited to be tenants, as they had looked after their previous council house so well, and been model tenants. They were very poor-bringing up 4 kids on one unskilled wage- my grandad went from being a barber to eventually working for decades at the Tetley brewery, but they were proud, clean, law abiding and have turned out, at last count 19 descendants of varying levels of education, but all of whom are working, law abiding and grateful for the chances they have been given. Amongst all of us, the fear of parental, family and social disapproval is a far greater disincentive to crime than the tiny chance of being caught.

So, what happened when council houses were sold off? One family, often from the exact same stock as mine, gain a goldmine-a foot on the ladder, a sense of ownership and a stake in their financial future. But as the houses were sold and not replaced, and the original buyers move on; sometimes making a healthy profit along the way the community changes. The estates where everyone knew each other now have various houses split into privately rented flats (better rental return that way) with transient tenants in. The inflating housing bubble-exascerbated by the lack of affordable long term rental property, makes the privately owned ex-council stock the only property reachable for first time buyers, who move in for a few years – never intending to make this their home or where they raise their family. After a few years of decreasing social connections/pride, a few of the houses get a bit run down, then the only landlords interested are the low level private landlords who rent out ex council property for more than the council would, in a worse state of repair.

Now we get into the much touted ‘broken windows’ theory. Once a neighbourhood goes this way, it’s incredibly hard to regain its social glue, and meanwhile all the people living within it have a constantly reducing sense of social collective responsibility, and the results are clear.

None of this is to say that parents, schools, stop-and-search and ASBOs, unemployment, despair and a materially driven media don’t bear some responsibility; but in Africa they say “It takes a whole village to bring up a child” and where one or more of the above are failing, having no social safety net is hardly the way to learn that society includes you.

Another way to rip you off…

November 13, 2010 1 comment

baby surrounded by money

it's mine, all mine!!!

I was out in London last night, on a rare Friday chatting to various girlfriends over mountains of wine and cheese, and amongst the many areas of conversation was the fact that many of life’s events (the two that sprang up were getting married and having kids) are seen a massive opportunity to bleed you for cash.

I have at least three friends currently planning weddings, and each of them has a horror story about a venue that was £N until they found out it was a wedding (now it’s £N x 3), or some other related issue that suddenly becomes more difficult or more expensive as soon as the word wedding comes into play.

The remainder of my social circle seem to be almost all either pregnant, or have a pre-schooler toddling around their house, giving them innumerable opportunities to be sold to and feel guilty. Apart from the reams of advice about how and what you should do about feeding, nappies, work etc, are endless supposedly well meaning acquaintances and magazine articles swearing blind that they couldn’t have managed without product “x”, or they would feel like  a bad parent without it.

The problem is of course, that engaged couples and new parents are prime sales targets – they *do* have to buy a certain amount of things, and emotions are high for both. Weddings will forever be paraded in videos and photos, and what the hell, it’s only once in our life, right? So it must be worth spending another £100, £1,000 or more to make sure it’s perfect.

New parents are not only beset with hormones and insecurity, but also many of us don’t live near to our extended families to solicit their advice, and even if we did – their experiences and the products they used may be hopelessly out of date or even now considered dangerous! My mum was aghast looking at my pregnancy scans, and it only really hit home how different it was when she explained how in the 70s, pregnancy was a case of 1) no period 2) doctor having a fumble to confirm diagnosis 3) get fat 4)hopefully have live child – with barely any medical input and nothing except the baby’s movements to confirm whether the child was alive or not, and certainly not what sex it was or whether there were any complications or disabilities to prepare for.

I am therefore forever thankful that my parenting story started in 2008, with an amazing amount of foreknowledge provided to me by the ever under-appreciated NHS.

I am also massively thankful that Jules and I’s amazing photographer friend Robbie Ewing, has decided to use our daughter Eleanor as a subject for a project of his – taking photos around each birthday to show the amazing growth and difference there is during a child’s formative years – and also saving us hundreds of pounds on the usually extortionate prices of baby studio photos.

Thank you Robbie, and for those who aren’t already bored of me talking about her – take a look at our gorgeous little girl here.

Pregnant or fat – what bloody dilemma?

October 3, 2010 2 comments

I had a random conversation on Facebook recently about public transport seating, and the horrible middle-class dilemma of whether to offer your seat or not

Please give up your seat for someone less able to stand

New tube priority seating signs.

and I had to hold back from just shouting at people, especially when I read some of the comments on the BBC article about it. This one, for instance:

I will gladly offer my seat to an elderly person , I believe that you choose to get pregnant , but aging is one thing you cant avoid! I’m 31 and anyone that is obviously older than me gets offered my seat , but pregnant people … not !
Kevin, London

I hope Kevin never gets close enough to a woman to be able to make her pregnant – he has clearly forgotten/not been taught biology well enough to realise that he also is of woman born, and therefore made her back ache too at one point. Enough of misogynistic ignorant wankers, however, as their existence, though annoying, is incidental to this story.

The prevailing thought seems to be that as it’s sometimes difficult to tell whether someone’s pregnant or not (or fat, yes, just say it), there are legions of otherwise altruistic people out there who would jump at the opportunity to offer their seat to someone less able than them, but they’re traumatised at the potential of embarrassing someone by offering them a seat, as if they’re not actually pregnant, this will inadvertently be calling them fat.

To this I say utter bollocks.

I’ve stood there, heavily pregnant (and obviously so), and been looked straight through, and I’m neither surprised or offended at all by it. There’s no reason that pregnant women, old people, or anyone else should have the automatic right to a seat. Others may be suffering far more discomfort from an outwardly invisible knee injury, other illness or even, heaven forbid, an hangover.

What I am saying is that this fake guilt to cover up the fact that none of us really want to give up our seat, is exactly that – fake.

I’ve been commuting in London for 17 years and it’s a war out there – nobody enjoys the squeeze of the tube or the rush hour trains & buses, it’s thoroughly unpleasant, and I daresay we are all sometimes guilty of “I thought I could get away with it and hoped they wouldn’t notice me looking shiftily away.”

It’s not surprising that involuntary close contact with hundreds of strangers makes us guard our personal space so carefully. One of the methods we use is to have a book to read, or studiously avoiding eye contact – not surprising then that we sometimes miss the tell-tale signs of someone else’s greater need than ours.

That said, I am amazed when the occasional man tells me a story of a woman who has rudely refused an offer on the basis that it’s old fashioned/patronising – both at the woman that supposedly threw the offer back in their faces (sister, what are you doing??!!) and the man for taking this as a sign that all women will henceforward be like that. Is it ungenerous to suspect they’re slightly relieved to have an excuse never to offer again? 😉

My feminist sisterhood hackles are also raised by women who remain glued to their seat (older women are actually the worst offenders) in the face of a pregnant woman in obvious discomfort.

In reality we just have to accept that it’s supremely arrogant of us to expect anyone/everyone else in the same carriage/bus to a) notice us or b) care.

I know only too well that it’s hard to think of anything else when you’re pregnant, and it does sometimes feel like the entire planet wants to queue up and coo, guess the gender and stroke the bump, uninvited; but there remains a huge percentage of the population who are untouched by your own personal miracle, and just want to get to work on time without interacting with anyone too rude or smelly.

Baby on Board BadgeSo, take responsibility for yourselves, ladies. For a start you can now pick up from any underground station, a badge that says “Baby On Board. That takes away any excuses of those that do actually look at you.

For the people who don’t notice/hope someone else will stand up, there is always the tried and tested way that I used – walk up to a set of 4 or 6 seats (giving yourself the best chance by not putting just one person on the spot) and say “Excuse me, I’m heavily pregnant and uncomfortable, would anyone mind me sitting down?”. Not once did this fail me, and was usually met this choruses of “Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t notice.” True or not, they have an excuse, and you now have a seat. Win:win 🙂

For those who still have a slight quandary, just bloody well offer your seat will you – if you’re really that bothered by it, why not offer your seat and not make it obvious why? A simple “Would you like to sit down?” doesn’t bear any social stigma for anyone, and will spare you the non-existent cringe factor.

Breaking the chain part 1

September 15, 2010 Leave a comment
Mel aged 5, Eleanor aged 2.5

Me aged 5, and Eleanor aged 2.5

This post  will no doubt be the start of a series of thoughts about the issues of food, exercise and weight management, and how to ensure I do the best for my daughter, in the face of worryingly body conscious early “tweens” , and the undoubted risk of the diseases of affluence such as heart disease that being unfit can only exacerbate.

For a bit of context, I’ve struggled with my weight for my entire adult life. I wasn’t a fat child – probably average, but remember starting to be body aware at around age 10, and already felt somehow less worthy than the very sporty/lucky girls in the class who could wear stretched jeans without a thought (it was the 80s… *cringe*). I was a pretty active kid, doing dance classes twice a week, enthusiastically swimming at weekends, and was on the school hockey team, and in retrospect all this probably staved off for a few years the creeping weight gain that began properly in my university years. Not surprisingly this coincided with a much increased intake of both alcohol and cheap unhealthy food, and a near total absence of exercise.

I’m certainly not blind to the old formula of food in – exercise = weight gain, and have twice over the last ten years lost around 3 stone, from a combination of reduced intake, portion control and getting off my bum more. This has taken monumental self control over several months at a time, and I’ve been incredibly proud of myself during the process, and while the effects last…
The weight loss industry isn’t as profitable as it is by accident, however, and as seems the usual rule, I have always gradually put the weight back on. Sadly it seems that my natural state is not to remain easily slim. I will battle on, and I’m sure I’ll lose more again, but in the meantime my priority has to be to prevent Eleanor from repeating the same destructive pattern.

As with most things once kids are involved, there are many different opinions on how to feed children, whilst hopefully avoiding the dreaded O word (obesity, in case you weren’t up to speed with the new social evil).

A lot of people still seem to think that the “We bore no truck with fussiness, so my kids eat anything” route is the way forward, and that’s what my parents did with both me and my brother. I can understand the horror of waste instilled in them from their war years parents, but for me it certainly wasn’t a successful strategy.
My brother now eats anything, and always did, so it didn’t change him in the slightest. As for me, I am still repulsed by the majority of the things I hated as a child, and we all had to suffer endless hours of tears and tantrums, throwing food on the floor etc as I was forced to try/not allowed to leave the room until I’d eaten things that physically made me gag.
Those things are almost entirely foods that although I like the flavour of (bananas/ tomatoes, peaches) the texture just makes me gag and I can’t keep them down.
It may be churlish to bring up my own constant yo-yo dieting and daliances with bulimia, but I can’t see a way that creating negative associations with food is ever going to have a healthy result.

Now Eleanor’s a toddler, and sadly past the early weaning “eat anything mushy I give her” stage. Currently I give her a selection of relatively healthy items to choose from at mealtimes, and throw away what she doesn’t want. Yes there’s food wastage, but her intake is balanced over the day and she does try different things of her own volition at different times and if not forced.

I just hope I can begin to break the chain. I know this is only the start.

Lovely Random People on an easyjet Flight

September 2, 2010 Leave a comment

I often seem to be amongst the luckiest people, and today I had yet another example of people I had never met being very kind, to their own detriment.

The location was an easyJet flight from Bordeaux to Luton – certainly not a place renowned for its general altruism. Jules, Eleanor and I were travelling back from my mum’s house (yes, in France, lucky gits we are), and managed to end up amongst the last people to get on the flight (despite being amongst the first to check in, no idea how that happened, but toddler madness often creates a bit of tunnel vision.

Anyway, there we were on a full flight, with enough seats available for all 3 of us, but all spread across the flight without any 2 seats together. Now I hadn’t really expected there to be a set of 3 seats by this point, but this was a blow as we couldn’t exactly sit Eleanor (aged 2 + 3 months) with two random strangers (nomatter how much we may have been tempted ;)).

In a fit of panic I asked the general passengers if anyone travelling alone & sitting next to a single spare seat would mind moving (figuring that they’d end up sitting next to a stranger either way, so the impact on them individually wouldn’t be too bad) and like a flash two people sitting together close by stood up, and split themselves up amongst other passengers so that Eleanor and I could sit together (Jules was still several rows away, but that wasn’t the point).

What lovely lovely people.

Thank you, whoever you are.

Having your first baby – what you really need

August 14, 2010 Leave a comment

Now that Eleanor is two, the question that seems to be on everyone’s lips is when we’re going to “try” for number two. (Between the lines – are you shagging enough? ;))

The simple answer to that is that we’re skint until I find a new job, plus Jules isn’t mad keen. It’ll probably take a superhuman effort at persuasion, and even with that we realistically couldn’t start until I’ve been working for a few months. Bearing in mind our combined age is over 80, and how much harder it gets to conceive as time goes by, on balance it’s not looking very likely.

Many of my friends are having/ have had number two and as a result plenty of conversations have been had recently (often when contemplating the mass of baby stuff brought down from the loft) about what you really need for a newborn (clue: a lot less than you think).

Here’s a quick rundown of what you need:

Nappies – lots (tiny babies often need changing every couple of hours)

Note on re-usables: I love the thought, and have a couple of friends who swear by them, but I found dealing with a newborn hard enough without adding in even one extra step to the process of nappy changing. If you are going to try them, buy them from eBay and/or ask around your friends for trial packs that were bought but unused before you spend large amounts of money on them. As seems very common, I dutifully bought a trial set that never got opened, and this was passed to another far more worthy parent than me 🙂

Car seat – rear facing at first. This is mandatory, and also think about getting one that has a base that you leave permanently in the car. This is a godsend when you can just clip baby in and go, rather than faffing with seatbelts and waking them up unnecessarily.
Ditto pushchair wheels that you can put the car seat on- I’ve spent a productive two hours at the shops or visiting people with a baby Eleanor sleeping the entire time due to her not being disturbed by getting in and out of the car. Otherwise this would have been spent sitting at home waiting for her to finish sleeping before I could get out and about, which is a sure fire recipe for stir craziness.

Muslins – I used loads – what with spit up and reflux and how handy they are for all sorts of everyday issues, you can’t really have too many. Usually they’re around 30cm square, but if you find the larger ones around 50cm square then buy plenty, as these are great for using for a portable sunshade/sleep shade over the pushchair/car seat when out and about, and also help to cover the odd accidental boob appearance when breastfeeding in public.

Sling – I bought one of the classic
Baby Bjorn front carriers second hand on eBay at first, but didn’t get on with it as my boobs got in the way. In the end I found a material wrap style sling much more comfy, and there were times when it was a whole pile easier than getting the pushchair out of the car. If you’ll be walking up & down stairs, on an uneven pavement or going in & out of a few shops with slim aisles; the benefits of a sling are really appreciated.

Monitor – we found this crucial from the minute we put Eleanor in her own room. Of course you can hear crying from next door, but babies are actually quite noisy sleepers, and there are plenty of times that they’ll make what seems like a lot of noise but actually still be asleep. A monitor means you can hear the detail so you know if they’re distressed or not, but don’t get out of bed and disturb that essential sleep if it’s not strictly necessary.

Change mat – it will get messy. Small baby poos are very liquid and you’ll need all the help you can get to stop it getting on the furniture/carpet.

Babygros/all-in-one sleepsuits & bodysuits – lovely though the little designer baby outfits are in the shops, they’re a faff to get in & off, and if you can resist the temptation to spend £30 on an outfit that will get worn twice before they grow out of it, do. They can more or less live in babygros and bodysuits for the first 6 months, with the posh outfit being worn just for when you’re seeing the person who bought it.

A baby bath isn’t essential, as you can just sponge them down easily enough when they’re little. Once they’re more mobile it’s nice to have one of those sit-up bath supports so you can wash them without having to hold them with one arm at the same time, but it’s not essential at all.

If you’re bottle feeding, you’ll need bottles, teats, bottle brushes and some way of sterilising – although a hot dishwasher cycle also does the trick if you forget to take the paraphernalia with you once in a while. A quick hint – once we moved onto bottles I was worrying about how to get the boiling water cool quickly enough while she was busy crying and hungry; until a friend told me that the easiest way too have a bottle on hand at a moments notice was to prepare a few in advance – boil the water & measure enough into 3 or 4 bottles. Pre-measure the formula powder into a dispenser (they have compartments for each feed) and then you can keep the water at room temperature next to your bed as long as it remains sealed for 12 hours. Just tip in the powder and mix when the baby wakes up – a quick shake and the milk is ready. What a relief compared to waiting for it to cool each time.

Baby sleeping bags are brilliant – all you then need is a bottom sheet for your bed, and they’re snug all night without kicking off their covers.

Pushchair – this is the largest purchase you’ll make so think about what you’ll need it for – will you need it to be easily foldable for the car, lightweight for public transport etc. Many people end up buying a big travel system then also buying an umbrella fold pushchair a few months later as it’s such a faff to take anywhere – ask friends/other parents and don’t be afraid to go to a big Mothercare and try them all out – putting them up & down, etc before you decide.

Carrycot/moses basket/cot etc – we had a carrycot for the travel system, a moses basket and a cotbed, and we could have easily managed with just the latter two, or just the cotbed if necessary. People differ on how long you want the baby in your room, but in each case, you often find they sleep in/on practically anything when tiny, and they can’t usually roll over so you don’t need to spend £100s on a new sleeping facility for each stage of their development.

Most parents have varying views about what’s necessary and what’s not, but the thing I would guess most of us will agree on is that there is no shame in using hand-me-d0wns. Babies grow out of most things before they wear out, so always check with friends, Freecycle, on eBay and jumble sales before you lay out too much on something brand new. Lovely as it is to put your brand new baby into brand new stuff, a lot of it is totally superfluous and some of it I promise you will never even open, and end up passing on to other people within the next year.