Friday, 23 September 2016

The fabulous Wheeldon Trees Farm

I don't really do reviews and stuff on this blog.  It's just not my thing, and I don't think I'd ever be able to bring myself to do one of those "company sends you a product and you 'review' it" type affairs.  Mainly because I don't have enough readers so they'd never ask me to.  Boo hoo.

Every once in a while though, I'll come across something that's just brilliant and I want to sing its praises - not because they've asked me to, but to highlight what can be done if people really think about their product properly.  If it makes my life better, then I want to let others know.

This week's revelation was not so much a product but a place - our lovely little holiday cottage up in the Peak District. Wheeldon Trees Farm, just outside Earl Sterndale in Derbyshire was basically awesome. Unsurprisingly for a place that features on the Baby Friendly Boltholes website, it was super child friendly.  You could pre-book a list of bulky baby and toddler paraphernalia (change mat, bed guard, potty etc.) so you didn't have to take them with you.  There was a mini farm, complete with friendly chickens, ducks, rabbits, sheep and two donkeys ("a big donkey and a little donkey!  Heeeehawwww" as Duckling repeatedly pointed out), and you could pop out to feed them with the owner (or the lovely caretaker Nigel) each morning at 9.30: not too early, but no so late that you couldn't then head off to do things during the day.  There was a fully stocked pantry and laundrette, a small swing park, and a massive games room, that kept Duckling entertained for hours one rainy afternoon (and Drake and I didn't do too badly either - even if I did have to suffer the usual indignity of being whooped at both pool and table football).  The kitchen was fully stocked with equipment we actually needed (I have written before about the hilarious set ups in some holiday homes), like bag clips and graters and a salad bowl and a fully working potato peeler (the same IKEA one we have at home no less!). There were laminated maps and directions for local walks, detailing which were buggy friendly (just one, but it involved a pub, so we were happy).  And, best of all, you got biscuits and homemade brownies on arrival, and a little edible gift on departure.  Tragically, I'm still in my first trimester and unable to stomach anything sweet but Drake and Duckling gave them a thumbs up.

Even when something did go wrong - like the shower developing a random drip and somehow leaking into the kitchen below (amusingly just as Drake and I were heading upstairs for an "early night". Romantic!) it was dealt with efficiently and quickly and without any fuss.  At least it was when we reported it the next morning...

This level of service does come at a bit of a premium, I will admit.  But the cost was really nothing outrageous, and I'd far rather pay a smidge more for a holiday where there's so much to entertain my child that I actually get that rarest of things - five minutes to relax and enjoy myself.  Why can't more places put this amount of thought in?  I mean really?  Forget designer taps, robes and sharp edged, toddler-head-damaging furniture: I'll take practicality, cleanliness and comfort any day.  God, I'm old.  And middle class.

Anyway, the final day revealed just WHY it was all so well thought through.  Every visitor is asked to complete a questionnaire on their departure (and provided with a pen) which specifically asks them if there was anything more they could have done to make the holiday better.  Our resounding answer - nothing at all.  Except maybe 25oC heat and sunshine.  Possibly a bit of a tall order for Derbyshire in September, even for the wonderful Wheeldon Trees team...

Saturday, 17 September 2016

The Lunch Box Dilemma

I'm not really one for getting publicly vocal about my feminist principles. Give me a bit of wine and I might hold an earnest debate with you about the patriarchy. But I am not going to lecture you if (as happened today) you force me to chose between a pink princess or a jungle explorer kids meal box. You're a nineteen year old cashier in a café at a tram museum. Life's too short.
None the less, The Lunch Box Dilemma irked me because it highlighted an aspect of modern childhood with which I have a real issue - just how stupidly gendered it has become. Gendering sells. But in the process, it also reinforces stereotypes that lead girls and boys to make assumptions about what they should and shouldn't like and what is and isn't appropriate behaviour for them (or the opposite sex). Equally brainwashed, many parents then line up to reinforce these assumptions in an effort to keep their child happy and conform to the norm.

So what lunch box to choose? Duckling was on the far side of the cafe so not around for me to ask. I had to make the call. Princess box = girl. Aspiration = youth, wealth, beauty and marrying a handsome prince. Explorer box = boy. Aspiration = bravery, adventure, autonomy and an all terrain vehicle. Why two boxes? I thought. Why couldn't they just have a jungle explorer box? Or a neutral castle box featuring both a prince and a princess, if they really had to? Why does LUNCH have to be gendered?!

Eventually, after the cashier had started rapping her nails on the till, I opted for the jungle explorer. Ashamed as I am to admit it, I am not immune to the strong social stigma attached to boys playing with "girl" things. Encouraging boys to actively 'go pink' takes guts, probably more so than suggesting a girl might want to 'go blue'. I'm sure nobody would have said anything had I selected the princess castle and Duckling wouldn't have cared a jot as long as it contained the requested chips (BAD Mummy). It might even have made me feel proud to be so markedly 'gender blind'. But I'm actually not - I would have been deliberately contriving to push a particular counter-identity on my son, for the sake of MY ideology - one that he's not remotely going to understand. Besides which, I don't think the fairytale princess narrative is a particularly positive one for either sex...

Why is it that your sex at birth - the type of human body you have - now maps out virtually every choice you make, down to the colour of the straw you're expected to have in your milkshake?  Intersex individuals aside (and there is a whole other set of issues to be considered there), males and females do have different reproductive organs and different chromosomes. The male / female label really shouldn't do much more than describe our physical attributes however. Our brains for example are not intrinsically blue or pink, whatever the Science Museum may tell you (incidentally, I, straight, eternally scatty woman with one child and a bun in the oven, have a 'male brain' according to that test. Err, yay?!). Our identities are about so much more than our sex. Certainly some personality traits, skills, likes and dislikes may be more commonly found in women than men and vice versa. But it is very hard to unpick nature from nurture, and in most cases, we cannot categorically state that, for example, a woman is caring or a man is aggressive simply because her or his brain is naturally wired that way.  Evolution may be responsible for contributing to a general trend that sees women and men fulfill these stereotypes.  But it is also true that these traits are prominent because society tells us we should be kind as a girl and tough as a boy. Social norms reinforce and amplify any possible 'natural' tendencies (note tendencies, not inevitable traits), to a point where they are seen as fact, and deviation as abnormality. And that is dangerous. When our sex (physical attributes) doesn't seem to fully match our gender (social ideas of what we should be like) it leads people to commit unspeakable acts of violence against each other. For women to be eternally subjugated and exploited. For men to be excused for inexcusable behaviour. For young girls and boys to decide that, because they don't fit with society's identity expectations, there must be something wrong with them. They must have been born the wrong sex, and have the wrong body parts.

So yes, I know it was just a lunch box, but it represented a division that does nobody (except manufacturers and advertisers) any good whatsoever. Give me the neutral elephant, giraffe and monkey boxes at our local swimming pool any day.

Wednesday, 7 September 2016

The weirder side of pregnancy

So, here we are. Pregnancy No. 5... Like Mambo No. 5 but with less jumping up and down, fewer Ritas, Tinas and Monicas (they're not baby names we're considering) and definitely no gin and juice. So nothing like it at all really. Must work on my analogies.

Anyway, I am currently ten weeks in and as my last post may have indicated, I feel crap most of the time - sick, tired, headachey and generally grumpy. So far so normal. However, I've also noticed the development of a few weirder symptoms, which, given that I have no mental capacity to write about anything vaguely political or intellectual at the moment, I thought I would share.

First up is the hypersensitivity. Not one I've ever read about, but one that probably makes some evolutionary sense if you think about it - pregnant women needing to avoid danger and all that. Loud noises make me cringe. Unexpected hugs from Drake risk him receiving a swift karate chop to the neck. Uncomfortable knickers are torture. A completely overcast day requires sunglasses. Everyone knows about the sensitive smell thing (keep that beer AWAY from me!) but all the other senses? It's very odd and I fear my colleagues think I've developed some form of PTSD given the regularity with which I jump out my skin as they pop up behind my desk. Just give me some warning guys, OK?!

Then there's the weird throat pressure thing. Now this could just be related to the cold I had at the start of the pregnancy, but every so often I get a sensation like someone is throttling me, which is more than a little disconcerting. Thinking about it, maybe this is related to symptom one...?

Then there're the dreams. My God, the dreams. I've always been prone to odd ones, but my pregnancy dreaming really takes odd to new levels. The relief on waking up this morning to discover my new baby wasn't actually a sachet of tomato ketchup I had accidentally stabbed with a biro while trying to write my name on him/her/it was quite pronounced. No less random and disturbing was the dream in which my sister's ears went green and fell off. Then (stop reading now Drake) there was the one where I was trying to get jiggy with Tinie Tempah at my Nanna's house but kept being interrupted by annoying nieces and nephews wanting me to judge their art work. Though who hasn't been in that situation, right?

Then there's the really obscure symptom - the misreading of words. I don't know if this pregnancy per se or simply exhaustion, but last Thursday I passed our local bookshop and saw "My first book of pest control" in the window, complete with a picture of a smiling cartoon ant. Really? I thought. Seems an unlikely children's book. Before I realised it actually said "My first book of pen control" - a cheery tome to help pre-schoolers learn to write and draw. Obviously. "Is that boy really wearing an Abercrombie and Bitch t-shirt?" I wondered yesterday. (Um, no). "A Cub Scout Jumper Sale? Isn't that a bit niche?" I pondered last week. (JUMBLE Sale woman, JUMBLE!). Very strange...

Finally, I'm pretty sure my leg hair seems to be growing faster. Or maybe it's just because I have less energy to shave. Or indeed cause - the baby making bit being accomplished and the sickness putting a bit of a dampener on the libidos of both parties... Unless Tinie Tempah is involved apparently. Whatever, I definitely seem to be a tad more hairy than usual which is annoying in the current warm skirt-necessitating weather. Bring on autumn I say. And the second trimester. Weird symptoms I can cope with, and on occasion even find amusing. The sickness and bone-aching exhaustion are just grim. Still as my dearest husband keeps assuring me, "feeling awful is a really good sign!" Indeed, though I shall be telling him to jump up and down and move it all around under a bus the next time he says it.