Monday, 28 November 2016

Dear Playdoh (Baby No. 2)

Dear Playdoh (for that is what your brother has decreed you shall be called),

While you are still nicely contained in utero, I thought I might take a moment to pen you a little note containing a few small requests. If you wouldn't mind considering them over the next four months, I would be very much obliged.

  1. Your due date is 30 March.  I will give you a knock and let you know when this comes around.  Your brother wasn't particularly keen on making an entrance on his due date.  Or in fact anywhere close.  Then when he did finally decide to venture out, he took four days about it.  Less faffing about would be infinitely more comfortable for us both.
  2. When you make your final descent, if you could try your best to properly rotate yourself, rather than just shooting out like a wailing torpedo, you will save me an awful lot of blood loss, an ambulance ride and a whole patchwork quilt of stitches.  Better for me, better for you and better for your Daddy, who I'm sure would rather avoid sitting in a hospital room for eight hours with only a stale muesli bar for sustenance (poor lamb) and a wife moaning about the fact he forgot to bring her any shoes...
  3. If you've unfortunately inherited your father's genes and have a tongue tie, could you spend the next few months stretching it a bit? It's not much fun for any of us having to have it snipped. Especially not twice.
  4. I accept that sometimes you will be hungry / cold / hot / wet / burpy / tired. I will do my best to rectify these situations wherever I can, but if you could avoid apoplectic melt downs outside of these scenarios, I really would appreciate it. Your older brother cried pretty much constantly when he wasn't clamped to one or other of his beloved boobies, which was really rather tiresome and made life quite difficult for the first six (twelve, eighteen...) months. I'd prefer not repeat the experience.
  5. I will from time to time need to put you down - in a bouncy chair, on a change mat, into your father's arms... If you could attempt to be OK with that (for at least five minutes, but longer would be amazing), it would really help me out.
  6. One poo a day is generally considered an acceptable number. Poosplosions two, three, four or more times a day is a little excessive.
  7. Hospital is not a fun place to be, even if they do have an awesome playroom and macaroni cheese for lunch every day. Avoidance of fingers in doors and pneumonia causing bacteria is advisable.
  8. The pushchair is not your sworn enemy. If you prefer a sling, that's totally fine, but at some point it would be brilliant if you could also deign to be pushed about in something with wheels. Preferably some time before you exceed the maximum baby carrier weight limit / my back gives out.
  9. If you could possibly try to sleep through the night before the age of three, the whole family would be eternally grateful.
  10. I am all for a less prudish, uptight society, but I'm afraid bearing one's breasts in public is still generally frowned upon.  If you could try not to extract them in front of others every five minutes therefore, you will save me a lot of blushes and yourself a lot of ticking off.
Of course if you do decide fulfilling these polite requests is simply too much of a crimp on your right to individuality and self expression, I will understand. You could ignore all of them to be honest and I would still love you more than life itself I am sure. I also recognise you'll probably come with your own unique set of fun traits which could well trump anything your brother threw our way. If you're half as entertaining and lovely as him, it won't matter a jot. Though, you know, I would prefer to reach forty before I go totally grey...

I live in hope and look forward to meeting you soon,


Your Mummy xxx

Saturday, 12 November 2016

Asking "Why?"

"Mummy, why are your trousers wet?"
"Because you squirted water all over me while you were in the bath my precious little sugar plum."
"Why Mummy?"
"Well I think you got a bit excited and thought it would be funny."
"Err, because you're a giant pickle!"
"Sigh. I don't know, you tell me!"
"Ugh. Right, lets do your teeth."

So goes a standard toddler "why" conversation. It's enough to make you want to put your head under the bathwater and not come up for air. But right now, in both America and the UK, WHY is a vital question to ask. People who didn't vote for Trump are furious. People who didn't vote for Brexit are too. But above all, they are confused and uncomprehending. They do not understand WHY people voted as they did. They simply cannot see how it could be possible for anyone not to see the truth that they do, not to be repelled by the deeply negative, regressive values pushed by these campaigns. I know I can't, not really. Yet something must have turned people into Leavers and Trumpers.  What was it?

Plenty have, and will continue to make guesses. Some will be pretty spot on, others less so. In the USA there is now a sea of speculation to swim through. It was Hillary's robotic delivery, it was Bill's adultery, it was misogyny, it was pure racisim, it was the coal mines, it was the FBI, it was Russia... It was in truth probably all of these things and many more, with different issues being the vote winners for different demographics and different individuals within those demographics. Rather than left wing speculation however, liberal Americans need to hear the reasoning from Trump voters themselves.  However wincing and uncomfortable it may be, their voices have to be listened to because without this, as with Brexit, the other side just becomes a generalised characature, and not a set of real people with real lives and worries. And when you reduce people in this way, it becomes incredibly easy to ignore them, with the consequences we are seeing today.

More than just individual anecdotes, Americans will also need objective, broad studies of all voters. In the UK, the Lord Ashcroft poll for example went some way to providing this at a high level after the Brexit vote. While it served to confirm many common assumptions, it also showed there was diversity in opinions and voter profiles. Brexiteers had a generally more negative outlook on the current state of the UK (and life in general) and tended to be older, in lower social classes and less progressive in their beliefs. But not everyone was. Some 27% of leavers were under 24 and 43% were in the highest social grouping. People voted out primarily because they wanted decisions affecting their country to be made in Britain (49%) with immigration and border control concerns (33%) ranking second as the main reason. The assertion made by some trying to "excuse" Brexit - that it was not actually about xenophobia (overt or not) but the more palatable, fluffy promise to better fund the NHS - was shown to be a bit tenuous. It was a factor but only about 12% of people polled voted Leave primarily because of this.

Statistics aren't sexy, but gathered well and combined with more in depth, qualitative research, they can pinpoint the most common and deepest held reasons people voted the way they did. This matters because it is only by understanding why people do the things that they do that we can begin to come to terms with new realities, move on and make effective changes. Progressives in both the USA and UK need to look forward and plan how to address the fears and motivations of their populaces - from every walk of life - in a way that is based on realism, generosity and practicality rather than fear, negativity and untenable populist policies. This doesn't mean liking, condoning or even tolerating Trump, Brexit or whatever other right-wing nightmares are in the pipeline.  It does mean putting stereotypes aside and calming the anger to find effective, evidence-based ways of winning back the hearts and minds of people who clearly feel the establishment have left them behind. We must all be two year olds and ask "WHY?".

Tuesday, 8 November 2016


"What is on your mind?" the app I use to write blog posts asks me every time I open it up. Well, mainly Duckling and his two year old melt downs. But also Brexit. Still. And Trump.

It is hard to know what to say about a man so odious, though many have tried. Screaming carrot demon is one of my favourite monikers (thank you Samantha Bee). Absolute arsehole (or asshole if we're being authentically American) would be my less creative version.

What depresses me more than Trump's vile personality though, and the vile policies and rhetoric it gives rise to, is the ardent support he enjoys from such a large proportion of the US population. There is much I could write about populism, the post fact society where feelings matter more than truth and reason and the bitter divisions within the US in terms of race, income and political ideologies. Trump has exploited all of these to get to where he is, just as the Brexit campaign did in the UK, to such unfortunate effect.

But this is about Trump the man. Why is it that so many are unwilling to recognise Trump for what he is? An egomaniac. A narcissist. A sociopath. These are undoubtedly big words, which, to be blatantly condescending, are unlikely to be in most Trump supporters' everyday vocabulary. The traits that define them - lying, cheating, manipulation, self-agrandisment, thin skin, lashing out, overt sexism, obvious racism, viciousness, pomposity, basic disregard for human equality and human life - should be easy to recognise though, and should start alarm bells ringing in the minds of anyone who has even a vague ability to recognise right from wrong, even the most basic notion of what happened in Germany in the 1930s and even the slightest idea of characteristics that might be undesirable in a democratic, decent, respectable President.

Hilary Clinton is of course not exactly a perfect alternative. The charity and email server scandals were very unfortunate (if not nearly as scandalous as Trump makes out) . But in terms of 'wrongdoing' this article from the Slate sums it up nicely. Major misdemeanours by Clinton = 1. By Donald Trump = 230.

Where are society, the State, parents, schools, the media, all of us - in the US and beyond (for there are Trump backers here too) - going so wrong that so many people are immune Trump's malignancy, or, worse still, are actively embracing it? Are half the US population missing basic emotional intelligence and compassion? Are the women that plan to vote for him really so hating of minorities that they'd rather ignore their own rights and vote for a pussy grabber than a fellow woman? Are children no longer being raised to be kind and respect others? And if they are, at what point does the message switch to "just look out for yourself and people like you. Everyone else can fuck off?" I can understand how a tough life (or frankly a comfortable, well-off life that you want to protect) can give rise to this kind of thinking. But as with the xenophobia driving Brexit, it doesn't make it excusable.

Everyone is entitled to their political beliefs, and in his own unique way Trump does represent many dearly held by Republicans in the US, however unpalatable they may be to us more liberal minded Europeans (though I can no longer vouch for the liberality of roughly half my country to be honest). But there is a difference between being conservative in your beliefs - which in America is strongly tied to the concept of FREEDOM let's not forget (albeit really only for white middle class males) and being a power-crazed lunatic who just spouts whatever nonsense he thinks will put him ahead in the polls. Many voters at this juncture probably believe that being in Trump's 'in group' (white people) they will be protected, represented, have their lives improved. That's why they're voting for him. They don't care about all the many people he hates, the women he's assaulted, all the people he has alienated and stamped on. He doesn't hate THEM. He makes mistakes and talks like one of them. He GETS them. Until the day he decides they or the social group to which they belong, for whatever reason, have offended him, and then their lives will be made as miserable as the many Mexicans and Muslims he plans to piss all over if he comes to power. Fascism 101.

If there wasn't a chance this will all end in nuclear armaggedon, the idea of Trump actually having to navigate the complexities of leading a world superpower would be utterly hilarious. It would make a far more engaging reality show than The Apprentice. But it isn't funny. Whichever way the election goes today, there will have to be some serious soul searching in the USA tomorrow, and beyond, where Americans ask themselves "How did we allow this man to get so far, how is it so many found him acceptable and how do we stop something like this from ever happening again?" Let's hope it doesn't take four years of a living Trump nightmare to drive the message home.