Saturday, 18 April 2015

a rant at Stuart Heritage, Man with a pram

I read a range of different types of writing - classic literature to women's erotica to science fiction to biographies.  I read paperbacks, ebooks, broadsheets, online tabloids (oh yes, I get sucked into the sidebar of shame on occasion!), blogs, all sorts.  I enjoy reading about people's lives, their dreams, their fears and their thoughts, and I enjoy reading that leads me to think, that inspires a reaction in me.  But this morning I read a 'lifestyle' piece in the Guardian, written by Stuart Heritage,  who styles himself as 'Man with a pram'.  Through studying both English Literature and English Language at an advanced level I recognise the importance of considering the intended audience and aim of a piece - was it writen to provoke a response?  Was it written to further an agenda, or to promote a product, or to share an experience?  Now this piece is written by a father, a man who has written on his partners pregnancy, the birth of his son and his child's early days.  This particular piece is about waiting for his child to smile.  It speaks of anxiously reading parenting books, seeing other babies giggling and laughing, his worries whether his beloved child not cracking a first smile in the accepted 'normal age range' being indicative of autism, or psychopathy, or a future of serial killing.  

A couple of people on twitter pointed out jumping from autism to psychopathy to serial killing perpetuated negative stereotypes - there were seven tweets. Seven.  None of which were unkind, threatening or abusive in any way, and yet Stuart chose to respond with this...

...which I guess tells me all I need to know about just how highly he regards himself and his opinions, as well as an interesting note about how quickly he leapt to the need to defend himself from 'trolls'.

• • • • •

Here's the part of the article that sparked my personal reaction.  In the midst of worrying about the lack of smile emerging from his offspring at the developmentally 'normal' age, he received an email from a service which, I imagine, he signed up for at some earlier point...

There it is.  His interpretation of a worst case scenario, of the ultimate failure of a parent, is to bring to this earth a "remedial-level dipshit".  I tweeted him a photo of my remedial-level dipshit - I wanted him to see the face that his words referenced.

I recognise that his article was a light hearted 'this is what being a parent is', oh look how we all worry about these things.  It was not a serious thought piece about language or disability, or the impact language has on public understanding of, or attitude towards disability.  This is exactly my point.   It is the careless use of language such as "remedial" that reinforces the negative image of individuals with learning disabilities - that they are useless, they have nothing to contribute, that their very existence is somehow evidence of a failure on the part of their parents.  Would Stuart use these words about a family member do you think?  If his precious baby had in fact had an intellectual impairment, would he still be able to make these jokes, to receive them in the mirthful manner he would no doubt maintain they were intended?  

• • • • •

I understand the concept of political correctness gone mad, the idea that people take offence at things that are not meant to be offensive, that this over sensitivity is pointless, and even, at times, faked simply to make a point.  Which brings me back to the point about trolls.  By disagreeing with something he'd said, commenting why they had an issue with it, a number of people were labelled as trolls by Stuart Heritage.  Isn't that actually just a very lazy way of refusing to engage with a viewpoint other than your own, and instead castigate those who raise an issue with something you've said?  Instead of trying to portray himself as a target of victimisation, perhaps Stuart Heritage might be better served by recognising that purely because he has a gorgeous (and now) smiling baby in his arms and feels that he can breathe a sigh of relief and gets to be a man with a pram occupied by an ordinary standard normal child, that doesn't give him the right to laugh at those who don't.  Those who instead find themselves pushing a wheelchair, using sign to communicate with their child, or who face the reality of losing their child altogether to a condition they can barely spell.  I wish Stuart could find a way to rejoice in his child without feeling the need to compare him favourably to others, the way so many of us have done.  

• • • • •

Edit - I've posted this and tried to tweet a link to Stuart, to find I've been blocked by him.  For reference, here is a screen shot of the only contact I've had with him...

Sensitive much, Stuart?

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Wednesday, 15 April 2015

A visit to Lacock

It was a gorgeous day when we visited Lacock, a National Trust place about an hour from Bristol.  There were some games set up to play with as part of their school holiday / Easter Egg hunt, and while we decided none of us were particularly talented at hoop-la, everyone had fun. 

It was a great day for walking through the grounds, spotting flashes of colour among the undergrowth and climbing on old tree stumps.

Inside the cloisters of the abbey I got sucked into the shapes and the textures and the lines and patterns as usual - cool stone walls and high ceilings - gorgeous.  Several scenes from various Harry Potter scenes were filmed here, as well as lots of Jane Austen period dramas and the like - Woolf Hall too I think.  Easy to see why - the incredible lines of the buildings, the well tended vast grounds, and the village - it was preserved as though frozen in time.  Much cheaper than trying to un-modernise other places as well I'd imagine! 

No more photos, apart from this example of trying to take a picture of my three delightful offspring.  One who pulls faces, one in a strop, and one who struggles to stay still for a second.

Love them dearly, but sometimes they are right buggers.

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Tuesday, 14 April 2015

the things you can't take with you

As you know, I've been really excited about our pending house purchase - I've been browsing kitchen catalogues, day dreaming about fancy garden buildings, pondering paint colours... but then earlier I was looking at my everyday images post and realised that we weren't only moving to a new home, but away from this one.

Away from the house in which Noah took his first steps, celebrated his first birthday.
Away from the house we brought Petal home to when she was six and a half hours old.
Away from the house where Smiler spoke his first words.

And mixed in with the memories of those momentous events are a thousand other flashes of everyday events.

Faces smeared with jam after breakfast.  Tears for a mislaid toy.  Coloured pencil drawings of smiley faces and stick people.

Grazed knees.  Bumped foreheads.  Early mornings.  Late nights.  Garden picnics.  Growing tomatoes.

Homework.  Barbecues.  Knitting.

Sneezes.  Keyboard practice.  Haircuts.

Some moments are so brief, so busy, so fleeting, that you barely even register them as they pass.  Some of them are preserved because they were particularly noteworthy, others are just ordinary moments which stick for some reason.  Some remain present because of physical momentos - tangible reminders - perhaps a scar from a grazed knee; a carefully saved love note; that first lost tooth.  These are portable, you carry them with you on your journey onwards for as long as they are important to you, to those around you. 

But what if your momento is a tree?

What if that family memory, that trip into the unknown, that day in the sunshine was all about a living growing breathing (in a fashion) tree?

You can't pack it into a brown cardboard box and seal it up with tape, write on it with a thick black marker "TREE - BACK GARDEN" so the movers will get it to the right place.

You can't fold it up and toss it in a suitcase, intending to shake out at the other end and hang it up in the bathroom while you shower to get rid of any creases. 

You can't wrinkle your nose at it, shake your head and decide it isn't worth shifting, that you'll just order another online and start afresh in the new place.

...but that, or at least a variation on that last, is the way it's going to have to go.  

• • • • •

Two years ago we had a fantastic day out at Chew Valley Trees, choosing from hundreds which one we wanted to take home, to place in out carefully pre-dug hole, to take root amongst our snowdrops and bleeding hearts and fritillaries.

We've watched it grow taller, fulfilling the promise of slender, graceful arching branches.

In springtime it bursts forth with generous clumps of strongly fragranced white blossom, delicately tinged with pink.  

When the blossom falls, the planting beneath is buried in petals, a layer of white tears which fade in days, nourishing the earth to begin the cycle all over again.

But the roots have travelled too far now, it has intertwined with the earth and won't tolerate being moved along with us. 

So we will leave it behind.

But we will take with us the image of the slender branches, the echo of the blossom, the remembrance of the scent.  We will carry with us the memories of the day we bought a tree.

And in a nod to our tree, we will return to the place we visited that day, and choose another.  The kids are a little taller, the dog a little less puffy, me a little more so.  Apart from that, we're much the same as last time we visited.  How strange - so much has changed, and yet - so little.

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Monday, 13 April 2015

life lessons for my children

I've been tagged by Rachel of Rachel in Real life in this beautiful post about the five life lessons she'd like her son to learn.  Started by Michelle of Mummy from the Heart, the rules of the #Big5meme are pretty self explanatory, but I'm sure you'll be shocked to see I haven't exactly followed them... 

As kind of a personal tribute to the late great Terry Pratchett, we have some quotes of his around the house, so I'm going to use them as my rules.  Not actual rules, obviously, but more like thoughts I'd like them to keep in mind. 

A good plan isn't one where someone wins, it's where nobody thinks they've lost.
     - The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

There isn't a way things should be.   There's just what happens,  and what we do. 
     - A Hat Full Of Sky

Sometimes the only thing you could for people was to be there.
     - Soul Music

Goodness is about what you do.  Not who you pray to.
     - Snuff

It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die.  That is true, it's called Life.
     - The Last Continent

And an extra one, so that they know it's okay to bend the rules - sometimes you're meant to do five of something, but maybe you can squeeze in just one more...


“If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.”
“And what if your story doesn’t work?”
“You keep changing it until you find one that does.”

     - The Amazing Maurice and his Educated Rodents

• • • • •

I hope Smiler, Noah and Petal grow up recognising that they are absolutely unique, as is everyone else.  I want them to learn about themselves and each other as well as the world around them.  I don't want them to waste time waiting for their lives to start, because twenty years down the line they might wish they'd taken those opportunities they'd had way back when, when they were too busy to go and do and try and see and experience.  I hope they grow to realise that none of us have all the answers, and none of us really know what we're doing, but some of us are just better at hiding that than others.

• • • • •

To carry this on, I'd like to tag these lovely lovely people ...

Click back through, see what it's about, and let me know when you've worked out your five life lessons!

Big5Meme at Mummy from the Heart
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When Smiler met Captain Barnacles

When we visited Bristol Aquarium at the beginning of the holidays I was expecting the starfish, the lion fish, the seahorses and the turtles, but I have to say, the polar bear caught me by surprise ...

... but turned out to be a highlight for Smiler!  

A big Octonauts fan for several years now, the books are currently in circulation (in his room, in the car, in his bag, in the van ...) so he was very pleased to see that the live show coming soon (to Bristol Hippodrome) meant colouring sheets at the aquarium.  But it also meant Captain Barnacles at the aquarium...

Smiler struggled.  People dressed up like this are confusing for him - Captain Barnacles is on the TV, but in front of him; a cartoon, but real; he can move his arms and legs, but his face doesn't move and he doesn't speak - this is difficult for Smiler to get his head around I think.  But - and I have photographic proof - they shook hands!  I know that might not sound like deal much to everyone out there with ordinary kids, but let me tell you how this goes with Smiler.  

Step One : We see there's going to be someone dressed up at a place we are going to.  

Step Two : We then choose between option A or B
Option A - we tell Smiler. He is then obsessed with this for the next [insert number here] minutes / hours / days / weeks, repeating it over and over, checking with us about it, stressing over it.
We go to the place, see the character, and Smiler is almost hysterical.  As though the character is a bright light,  he won't look at them directly, but is so excited he can't speak or go near them. 
Option B - we don't tell Smiler until he is about to come face to face with the character or an un-ignor-able hint (such as a massive poster and a queue).
We then tell Smiler or stand casually next to the character or un-ignor-able hint waiting for him to spot them / it.

Step Three : He shakes and stutters and points at them but still won't look at them directly
He refuses to go closer.  If they approach he will move away, or shout, or (embarrassingly) push them away, while still not looking at them.
He tells us one or more of the following three things : 
     ¤ he's tired and wants to go home; 
     ¤ he's hungry and wants something to eat; 
     ¤ he's broken his leg and must go to the hospital.  
Still not looking at them.

He pouts and refuses to say anything other than a combination of the three options above until we move him away from them still not bloody looking at them.

Step Four : We leave, and Smiler spends the next three weeks telling us he wants to meet whoever it was and shake hands or give them a high five.  He cries when we tell him this isn't possible.

Step Five : For the next two years, every book / toy / programme / mention or reference to that character (even an indirect one) or the place they were when he saw them leads to a ten minute discussion about the time he saw them / they were there and he didn't get to shake their hands or give them a high five. 

So this ... a very big deal.

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