Thursday, 29 November 2007

Underhand Marketing Tactics 3

...the bastards nearly had me as well...

Whilst in the grips of raging PMT yesterday afternoon, I popped into my local Tesco Metro. I was suffering from that sensation of 'if I don't eat a huge quantity of chocolate right now I am going to do some serious damage to something.'

Anyway, there was a HUGE yellow sign right underneath my favourite chocolate bars, saying 'SPECIAL OFFER - 3 for £1.00'. 'Fantastic', I thought, grabbing at them like a deranged pigeon dancing on a discarded pile of chips. 'That ought to keep me going until teatime...'

Hang on a minute though...what does that little white sign poking out from underneath the HUGE yellow one say?

32p each, you say...
Dirty, thieving bastards. And yes, I did complain. The signs are now gone.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Competitive Mothers: Casualties of Feminism?

One of my favourite bloggers recently did a post about a conversation that she overheard between some competitive mums in a schoolyard. She hit on the concept of being 'not so much a product of feminism as a casualty of it', and whilst that comment wasn't directed at the mums, her post got me thinking that actually, perhaps it applies to them too.

To myself and other women born in the mid-70s, feminism is a bit like fluoride in the water* - you get all its benefits without noticing that it's even there. To us, it is the most obvious thing in the world that women can vote, buy and own possessions, have a mortgage, a career and lead a life free from sexual predation and abuse. On a day to day basis, unless we are actively engaged with feminist theory, those things probably don't even cross our mind.

Closer to home, it almost goes without saying that our education will have been equal to that of our male social peers, and that we were encouraged to compete with others in order to stretch ourselves to the very best of our abilities. Later in life, we will have learned about the seductive effects of money, power and status, and it is a reasonable assumption that, along with most of the rest of the population, we will have learned to define ourselves to a greater or lesser extent by how successful we are at what we do for a living.

But here's the rub...

When you have children, you can't switch all that off.

It's a bitch, it really is. You spend 30 years or so training yourself for the ordeal that is paid employment, and cultivating the mental attitudes required to succeed in it. You've made a good choice in the man you married, and between you, you have cultivated a relationship which is largely equitable, and earned just about enough filthy lucre to make it possible for you to give up the job you hated to stay at home with your adorable children.

Then, you bang out the first baby, and all of a sudden your world is turned on its head. And I don't just mean the sensation that feels a bit like your brains got slung down the medical waste chute along with your placenta...

You've got a brand new job to do, and like every other job you have done, it's vital that you are a success. You've read all the books, you think you know what's in store, and there's no way on earth you're going to end up like one of those haggard, harrassed, shouty supermarket mums who are clearly just too damn lazy to bother keeping their kids under control. You're a smart, independent, educated woman, I mean, how hard can it be?

Oh God, where do I start?

Well, firstly, try taking away all the motivational tactics that have kept you going through the tedious but respectable pain in the arse that has been your career to date. Let's start with your pay cheque, which although you probably didn't realise it, did at least serve as a monthly reminder that you had skills that someone was prepared to pay good money for. Along with that goes the promise of deserved pay rises, promotions, positive reviews, appraisals or even the basic satisfaction which accompanies the completion of a project well managed. Financially speaking, you're now just Mrs. T.H.E. Husband, and believe me, you will never again feel that you have completed anything.

So, once that's all gone, it's time to introduce a good old dose of old fashioned sexism and season it with a good pinch of feminist flagellation - self-inflicted, or otherwise. We're all familiar with the lazy stereotype of stay-at-home mums who spend their days drinking coffee, gossiping, watching Jeremy Kyle, spending their husband's money and occasionally ironing a shirt or pushing the hoover round in return. I'm mortified to admit that I was previously guilty of such intellectually lazy rubbish myself...

But we're smart, independent, educated women; we're not going to be like that, good God no, there will be no life of domestic drudgery for us, thank you very much. We are women who are good at our jobs and would frankly rather pass a good sized porcupine than stand accused of letting ourselves go, letting our houses go, not providing the most psychologically healthy, stimulating and educational envinroment for our children that we can possibly manage. We breastfeed until our nipples crack and bleed, we peel, chop and puree the finest organic ingredients, we sign up for the Baby Swim, Music and Movement, Tiny Talk, Tumble Tots, Advanced Japanese for the Executive Toddler etc...classes and all in all knacker ourselves out because we just want to regain that now elusive feeling that someone, somewhere, thinks we are doing a good job.

At the end of each day, we might collapse exhausted in front of the computer, and visit a Mums' internet forum, blog or message board in the hope of some support and encouragement from the motherly sisterhood. Once there, we will no doubt come across a slanging match between working mums and stay-at-homers, where we will find ourselves accused of living off men, being appalling role models, domestic servants, idling spongers, crashing bores, a disgrace to women, and basically just glorified prostitutes who "part their legs and iron his shirt in return for the allowance that pays for their leggings and sweat shirts."


Unsurprisingly, this sort of behaviour sends us spiralling into complete psychological annihilation. We'd always considered ourselves to be feminists, but this sort of behaviour from other self-styled feminists leaves us thinking that actually, they're a horrible bunch of bitter old hags, and hang on a minute, just exactly what is modern feminism doing for those of us who continue to subscribe to the most fundamentally feminine role of all?

So, as a smart, independent, educated woman, who's just utterly marvellous at her job you have two choices:

  1. The 'Competitive Mother' route. You keep on using all those skills, qualities and attributes that got you to where you were before you popped one out. You will have the most advanced, talented child in your peer group, because that's the only way you know of measuring your abilities as a mother, and without that constant self-affirmation, you will be crying into your gin on a daily basis.
  2. The 'Bollocks To You All' route. You accept that the choices you have made are the business of no-one but yourself and your family, that you won't be perfect, but you'll always do your best, and that you'll single handedly take on any rancid old Alpha Troll on any internet forum who might even think the words 'kept woman' in your general direction.

I choose the second route, but I can see how desperately easy it must be to fall into the first. I am lucky; I am not surrounded by other hyper-achieving super-mothers who want to compete with me. I'm also a stubborn old boot. It makes it all so much nicer. But I do understand how it can happen, and remain on my guard against it at all times.

There's not necessarily going to be any conclusions drawn here today. I'd always considered myself to be in sympathy with the feminist cause, but I'm finding more and more reasons to question it. It's not that I think it's fundamentally bollocks, but rather that it's lost its way and is hoovering up casualties and spitting them out to suffer the consequences. Whether you're finding that it's impossible to attract a good man unless you empty out your head and fill it with fluff and 'kittings', or that you can't reconcile motherhood with your duty to the Women's Lib, it's entirely possible that somewhere, somehow, Feminism is Screwing You.

* I solemnly swear that I will credit that idea properly when I remember where I found it.

Friday, 23 November 2007

No, NO, NO!!

OK, that's pretty much all I seem to say these days, as a result of trial by toddler, and I really must get a grip and try some POSITIVE parenting.

Apparently, you are just supposed to ignore bad behaviour, but here's a quick list of behaviours that I simply can't ignore. Please, someone, tell me I'm not misjudging this?

  1. Bashing toy bricks on my wooden table tops
  2. Bashing toy bricks on the windows
  3. Throwing toy bricks at the dog
  4. Playing with plug sockets
  5. Throwing toys down the stairs
  6. Surfing on upturned activity tables
  7. Playing with dirty nappies
  8. Tipping food into Mummy's lap (the icy cereal milk actually made me scream...)
  9. Flushing clothes down the toilet.

Repeat the above sequence of events about 75 times, and that's pretty much my day at the moment. Add to that the apparent dropping of the 2 hour lunchtime nap, and what you get is a woman on the edge of her sanity.

I'm handling it at the moment by taking him out lots. I've got a great story about a sweary parrot and some menacing wallabies at one of the local kiddie attractions, but it will have to wait till another time. The Husband and I are having a rare Night Out, and I must go and make myself look presentable. Finding something without snot trails on the shoulders and tomato sauce up the legs would be a good start. I won't recognise myself without them!

Monday, 19 November 2007

Distraction Addenda

As it turns out, I don't actually know any 'self-satisfied shit-horns', so I was reduced to shouting it at Nigella, for describing a measurement of some ingredient or other as 'about 2 espresso cups'. I'm sure her audience understood her perfectly, but really, how middle-class?

The Husband took an opportunity to remind me why I like him so much; as Nigella's much-hyped 'effortless' tagine came out of the oven, he announced that it looked 'like a pile of monkey turds'. And it really did.

And whilst we're being crude, I had this comment e-mailed to me about my last post and felt that it deserved sharing, along wtih its reply...

"Not sure you’ve considered the implication of the phrase “self satisfied shit horn” or in particular…. the “shit horn” bit. It implies as the cramming of shit into something, playing on shoe horn…I think it’s an even cruder way of saying “fudge packer”. In short – you’re glorifying a term of abuse that I don’t think you mean to."

As I woudn't ever deliberately glorify homophobic terminology, I checked it out on Urban Dictionary and found that what it actually means is:

'When you sit on the toilet and fart. The echo of farting in a toilet.'

As per the following example:

'Every morning dad wakes us up by playing the shit horn.'

I like it even more now. Don't say you never learn anything here.

Distractions 1 & 2

The lack of posting over the past few days is the result of my little boy walking properly now, which means that we have reached entirely new levels of Not Getting Anything Done.

Having always found toddlers incredibly irritating, we are struggling to adjust and I'm overwhelmed by self-doubt about how well I am going to cope with this stage. Just like all the others, muddling along as best I can, I suppose...but it's REALLY HARD!!

Still, I have been cheered up, (and further distracted) this week by my rather belated discovery of Charlie Brooker. He's got a series on BBC Four at the moment, called Screenwipe, which seems to be devised around the idea of him sitting on a sofa, shouting abuse at the TV.

Much the same as I do really, only with a more inventive use of vocabulary.

This weeks' episode had a go at that Billie Piper/Belle de Jour/Prostitution's A Giggle series this week, which was always going to be winner with me. He is clearly a fellow Neo-Prude, although he probably doesn't realise it yet. More on that later, when I find some time and energy,

In the meantime, and with due reverence to the inventiveness of said vocabulary, I'm off to try and find someone to call a 'self-satisfied shit-horn'. It feels good to say, doesn't it?

Thursday, 15 November 2007

The F-word and the Grinch

It's Grinch Day again. It seems to come earlier every year, but checking back through defunct blog and paper diary pages, I find that actually I'm pretty much on schedule.

Grinch Day - the day on which I officially give myself permission to be a rancid old bag on the subject of anythng, you know...


The family over the road could have put their blue lights up for any number of reasons, but there was no escape from today's horror.

A 40 foot inflatable Santa, for sale in the garden centre on the main road into my town. It was the size of my house. And given it's prominence, we can be fairly certain that every bastard in Essex who is not over-burdened with good taste will be getting one.

I can't bear it...

Wednesday, 14 November 2007

High Chair Inferiority Complex

So, I was down at the Booby Group* yesterday afternoon, chatting with one of the other mums whose little boy is just a couple of months older than mine.

These mums are lovely, not pushy, competitive, or desperate to be 'yummy mummies', and it's ususally a great place to get advice from those who have been there already.

Still, I should have known better than to ask Exemplary Food Mum about her boy's eating habits.

Has she had ever had much trouble with H flinging his food across the room, turning the bowl over and shouting into it, that sort of thing, I asked her yesterday.

'No', she said, looking horrified. 'When he's had enough, he just puts his knife and fork together in the middle of his plate.'

'Knife and fork', I said, in despair. 'He eats with a knife and fork...?'

I stand in awe - my boy barely eats with his fingers, and spoons are just little plastic catapults for him to get a better aim with the porridge. Top of the dog's head = Bullseye!

*My local Breastfeeding Support Group, which I help to run.
** Having pinched the picture, it's probably only fair to link to this video. I am sure it is every bit as hilarious as they say.

Monday, 12 November 2007

It's started already.

Someone on my street has started decorating the outside of their house for Christmas. Last time I looked it was barely mid-November. I haven't fallen asleep and missed a month, have I?

It's only the blue lights so far, but I'm just wondering how early they will consider acceptable for the flashing choo-choo trains and animated reindeers this year.

Last time I looked, Christmas was meant to last for 12 days, not for a sixth of the year. Can you imagine what the carol singers would have to go through:

On the 61st day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
61 flashing stars
60 blow-up snowmen
3 nodding reindeer
2 choo-choo trains

And the bill for the electricity.

Sunday, 11 November 2007

Slummy Mummy

So, what with the insomnia and the teething toddler (intermittent crying from 3am - 5am this morning), I am not exactly at my best today. Thankfully, this allows me to forgive myself for what I did this evening.

The boy has discovered an insatiable enthusiasm for books this week. It's coincided with the walking - he can now get one from his box and bring it over to me to read with him. 20 times in succession. Then another one, 20 times in succession.

Anyway, by 6:30 this evening, I was pretty much down to my very last nerve, especially with 'Where's Spot?' - 'Is he in the cupboard? - NO; Is he inside the clock? - NO'*and I found myself uttering the unimaginable:

'Oh pleeeeaase, just put the book down and watch the TV'

We will be visiting the library for some new books tomorrow, to keep Mummy from losing her last remaining shreds of sanity.

*He's in the basket. These things can be a worry, I know.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Sylvia Tidy-Harris in 'Same Old Crap' Shocker...

Last week, the Sunday Times gave us a lovely regional supplement about entrepreneurship. I spent a happy few minutes flipping through all the inspiring stories of successful businesses, when I saw her photo. That Bloody Woman. Sylvia Tidy-Harris.

For those of you who aren't familiar with the name, Sylvia Tidy-Harris is a reasonably well-known British female entrepreneur. She runs her own public speaking company, whose USP is that all of the speakers are women. So far, so good. She is also a fine example of a tedious, one-trick media pony. The 'trick' being that she refuses on principle to employ any woman of child-bearing age, and the 'pony' being the load of old crap that she trots out to back up the decision.

Lazy journalists trot her out on the same point over and over (and over) again when they feel that what is essentially quite a dull topic needs a bit of controversy. 'I know', they think, 'let's saddle up that female misogynist, Sylvia Hyphen What's-Her-Chops, she's always good for about 750 words that we'd never get past the editor if a man had said them'.

So back to the point, the only point that STH ever makes, that 'small businesses should be exempt from employing women of child-bearing age because the cost of dealing with maternity leave could cripple them'.

This is what I call a 'Daily Mail' argument. Her rhetoric is seductively facile; she states an unquestionable truth to get you on side, and then backs it up with flimsy, laughable crap.

Let me spell it out. As a small business, it is unquestionably true that (the sum total of) your employees must consistently bring in a good deal more money than it costs you to employ them. It's not arguable - if they don't, you'll go under and lose everything you will have put on the line to get the business started in the first place. This will include, but is not restricted to your house, your livelihood, your social life, your holidays, some of your friendships and probably your marriage/relationship as well. It really is that harsh.

Of course maternity leave is hard on small businesses. I know this only too well - The Husband and I worked together in our own business before I left to look after our little boy. But why be so belligerent about this particular issue?

There are many and varied reasons why an employee might need to take more than their statutory 28 days and not all of them include having babies. Serious long-term illness, sick parents, sick spouses, male employees becoming fathers and needing to get a job 'up the City' so wives can stay at home; they're all there, they're all risks, and if you choose entrepreneurship, then I'm afraid you don't get to just opt out of dealing with them.

What this means in practice is that an entrepreneur must assess their (perceived) immediate risks against the current legislation, and making sure that between the two, their tiny corporate arse is covered. An employee is an investment; the reality of small business is that you're not just paying someone a straight fee in exchange for work done, you're paying them for what they're going to be worth to you in the future.

That's why The Husband spends hours over each and every candidate we see, assessing their potential, and structuring their remuneration packages accordingly. It's time-consuming and tough, but it's not rocket science and I cannot entertain any argument that small businesses should be exempt from the process. If you're not able to deal with every aspect opf running a business, including employment legislation, then perhaps it's not for you.

My favourite piece of mendaciousness from Ms Tidy-Harris was this;

'And some women...may say are coming back - so the owner gets rid of the person they have trained up over the year to do the woman's job - and then, after a couple of weeks back at work demand to be allowed to work part time. But there may not be scope in a new and growing business for a part-time vacancy. Why should the business have to change?'

Er...they don't. An employee has the right to ask. The employer has the right to say no, providing they have sound business reasons, and can follow a tedious but straightforward procedure set out by the government guidelines. Again, it's not rocket science, and if you can't deal with it, then perhaps entrepreneurship isn't for you.

Any ideas for a gloriously fatuous political line I could sell to lazy journalists to get our business mentioned in the rags gratefully accepted. Free canvas print or vehicle graphic to any suggestion that gets us a mention in a national!

Friday, 9 November 2007

Insomnia; not funny any more

For about 5 - 6 weeks now, I have been waking up between 3am and 4am and been completely unable to get back to sleep. I'd get up and do something useful, but I haven't the energy.

It's starting to affect my ability to function now, which really isn't funny. Forgetting where speed limits change on roads I'm very familiar with, not having the motivation to do anything of any use, stupid oversights that risk my boy's safety. And there's no discernible reason for it.

All the sleep-related solutions that I know seem to relate to the actual getting to sleep in the first place; hot milky drinks, relaxing baths, no caffeine, etc. Dr. Internet does not seem to have the answer for when you have no problem dropping off, but can't stay there for long enough to cope with the following day. Drinking too much gin and staying up too late used to help, but it's hardly an appropriate long-term solution.

It's going to be another wall-breathing day, wish me luck.

Thursday, 8 November 2007

Double Annoyance

I have been caught speeding, and dealt with accordingly. The best outcome will be a £60 fine and three points. It's a 40mph limit there apparently, not 50mph, as I thought when I merrily shot past the camera van at 48mph without a care in the world.

It's doubly maddening; I am a self-righteous arse on the subject of speed cameras, which means that I can't even have a satisfying rant about it.

Now, where did I leave my emergency stash of Good Grace?

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Tales from The Chair, Chapter 3

Whilst there is no doubt in my mind that I will eventually win the War of The Chair, today I must concede defeat on the current battle; Eating With My Toddler.

The parenting books make it sound so simple.

If you regularly sit and share mealtimes with your toddler, they sagely advise, then he will quickly learn to feed himself, and surpass your expectations and impress your friends and family with his exquisite table manners.

It's not true.

The reailty is this; you need one hand on your plate to stop it being thrown on the floor, one hand on his bowl to stop it being thrown on the floor, a third hand to feed yourself, and a fourth to shovel his food into his mouth. Do you see the problem?

I surrender.

Tuesday, 6 November 2007

A Trivial Ethical Dilemma

During the composition of my previous post, I found myself wondering - 98% of which mums, exactly? They never ask me...

But today, I had an email from a friend about a market research group looking for mums like me, taking place later this week.

My dilemma is this; would it be appropriate for someone with my opinions on consumerism and marketing to go along, to put forward an alternative point of view? Or would it just be utter hypocrisy to get involved at all?

I really don't know the answer.

My current reasoning is this: given that true insight can only be had when opinion and experience are combined, it would not be hypocritical to go along, just this once, to find out what really happens at these things. It might even be interesting.

If you come back next week, and I'm suddenly promoting baby sleep aid products, then you'll know that I went, and they made me their bitch...

Monday, 5 November 2007

All Natural Ingredients

The Husband, it seems, is beginning to appreciate the joy of having a really good shout at a really bad TV ad.

He's talented too, especially at digging out any veiled misdirections and tearing them to pieces. His latest observation, levelled at the new Milky Bar ad, is the trend for food products to brandish the phrase 'All Natural Ingredients' as though it were definitive proof that the product must be really good for you.

It's a particularly brilliant piece of wordsmithery, as it invites the consumer aboard this train of thought; 'Natural = Healthy, therefore Milky Bar = Good For You' . Its predecessors 'No Artificial Ingredients', 'No Added E-Numbers' and the like just don't do the same job.

If you're not convinced, the following statement, from
Talking Retail, regarding the switch to 'All Natural Ingredients' might help:

'Responding to the growing market trend for permissibility in confectionery, Milkybar is the first major kids’ chocolate brand to make the move to all natural ingredients.

The change brings with it a number of benefits for retailers, and will help to drive sales by appealing to the increasing number of mums looking for more permissible treats for their kids.

In quantitative research, 98% of mums found the concept of Milkybar ‘made from all natural ingredients’ either very, or quite appealing, with 78% of mums either a lot more likely or more likely to buy Milkybar as a result (McCallum Layton, March 2007).

Whilst I'm all for getting rid of artificial ingredients and E-numbers, it does bother me that the 'All Natural' claim is being used as misdirection on a product that remains a fundamentally unhealthy choice because of its high sugar and fat content. It doesn't alter the fact that you're still better off giving your child a banana.

Still, you have to wonder how far this is going to go.

Are we about to witness an 'All Natural' renaissance of some of the horrors that regularly graced my grandad's plate?






All coming soon, to a '100% Natural' dinner party near you.

Friday, 2 November 2007

And in other news...

My little boy started walking yesterday!

He makes me laugh - for some reason known only to himself, he will only do it if he is holding his shoes in his hands. Take them away, and he's on his arse.

He is an odd bod sometimes, but I am so proud of him.

Ethical Banking: A Contradiction in Terms?

In a recent drive to improve my standards of ethical consumerism, I opened a current account with The Co-operative Bank. It was done with a view to moving all our family and business banking if they proved to be a worthwhile choice. It's not looking good.

Yesterday I had a notice through the post about changes to their overdraft services and charges. 'Boring', I thought, 'I don't have an overdraft facility, I told them that I didn't want one when I opened the account'. Luckily, as my hand hovered over the bin, I spotted the following.

'Informally - If you have not formally requested our overdraft services as above, you may still request our overdraft services by undertaking a payment or withdrawal from your account, even though no overdraft limit has been agreed or where the payment or withdrawal would cause you to exceed any agreed overdraft limit.'

Let's look at that for a second. If I make a very easy mistake, such as forgetting I took cash out yesterday, or handing over the wrong card at a till, there will no longer be that slightly embarrassing moment where my card gets declined and I think that the person on the till assumes that I am an out of control shopaholic or identity fraduster. Instead, there will be an automatic £20 charge, plus a daily service charge of £20. Thanks, but I'd rather take the shame.

The best bit is this - there is no opting out. I was on the phone for 15 minutes this morning trying to get them to find a way round it, but it was no use. The lady I spoke to accepted that it would be an easy mistake to make, that she could see why I'd prefer to go back to my old bank where I can screw up for the price of the interest charge, or just use my credit card instead. She could see exactly why I thought they were taking the piss, but there seemed to be nothing that she could do about it.

I am certain that someone high up in that company has calculated that an enormous profit can be generated from this sort of ruse, even from customers who are generally excellent at managing their accounts. A bear trap like this is hardly in line with their policy of ethical banking; I would be willing to bet that many of the people who get fucked over by these charges can't afford to repay them straight away, and will end up having to fork out yet another £20 charge to arrange the authorised overdraft which they'll be needing in the meantime.

Anyway, I have given them a week to phone me back with a better option, or I'm closing the account. Luckily, I kept my old one open, just in case they turned out to be wankers. Foresight is a gift, you know.

Thursday, 1 November 2007

Insomnia Hits Home

So, I have got insomnia again. It has been around for a while now, and today I have reached the stage where I feel sick, am crying at every little thing, and the walls appear to be breathing. This is Not Good News.

Anyway, until I get this resolved, I am unlikely to be able to string a coherent sentence together. I will therefore be taking a short break until such point as I can see properly again. Please bear with me.