Friday, August 31, 2012

There's a demand... now where's the supply?

Every year about this time, when the nights start to sharpen and there's a chill in the air first thing, I go on a search for woolly tights.  In my mind, I see bright stripey tights, ribbed tights in cream or red, patterned tights with ethnic patterns.  When I browse through the internet I find them in bucketloads - as long as you're a baby or toddler.  They have cotton mix and woolly tights all over the place, in stripes, plain, ribbed and fairisle.  But not if you are a grown up, and most especially no no no if you are a plus size grown up.

Ordinary nylon tights are horrendously uncomfortable if you are overweight, and most especially if you are a tall and overweight woman.  They stick to you in all the wrong places, and droop and sag alarmingly at the crotch.  They are uncomfortable, and I for one hate wearing them, and avoid it at all costs.

As I don't wear staggeringly high heels, and in fact generally wear flat shoes and boots in the winter, what I would like to wear is cotton mix or woolly tights.  And I am not alone.  Do a search for woolly tights or stripey tights or cotton-mix tights, and you will find women clamouring for information about where to buy them.  They're like me... the weather draws in and they want to be able to wear skirts but want thick woolly tights to go with them.  I cannot understand why they should be ubiquitous for children and so hard to find as an adult.

I'd settle for stripey leggings, but I can't even find those in a plus size - all the leggings in the plus-size online shops are plain colours - and a lot are made of acrylic or nylon anyway, not natural fibres. I don't want opaque tights, I don't want sheer tights I don't want any tights made out of man made fibres - I want cotton or wool or cashmere or some sort of natural material.  In a plus size.

When you do find any sort of cotton mix tight it is invariably in a dark chocolate, grey or black.  Ok that's better than nothing... but why not colours/stripes/stars/hearts?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Diet update

Fresh vegetables galore, photo courtesy of  the US Agricultural Research Service

I'm on a "normal" day of the fast/normal cycle. I had expected that I might go mad for a lot of forbidden foods on normal days, but hat isn't what happens. In fact, this diet is changing a lot of things. Having been a dieter for a long time, before I gave it up as a bad job, it is impossible not to think of some foods as "bad" and others as "good". Some can be both: fresh strawberries good, strawberry meringue with fresh cream baaaaaaad.

Doing this on/off diet means that instead of feeling guilty about having butter on my toast this morning I just think... I earned this by sticking to 500 calories yesterday and I will earn it again tomorrow. I don't feel guilty. I enjoy the things I eat on a non-fast day and I taste them. Somehow the 500 calorie days have revitalized my taste buds so I am tasting the food I eat on both days far more than I did before. I am savouring the taste and thinking more about what I eat.

Yesterday, I made the mistake of following my mother's lead and eating half a melon and raspberries instead of an evening meal. It was delicious, but I was really hungry when I went to bed, it didn't sustain me the way a stir fry of vegetables or a soup would have done.

I'm still feeling positive and convinced I could stick to this forever. Turns out my sister has also gone onto the diet, and she also says that it is the easiest diet she has ever done. I'm eating many more vegetable and fruits than I did before - and I thought I had a diet fairly high in vegetables. It makes me appreciate my food, and it makes me want the food I take in, particularly on fast days, to be as nutritious and well produced as possible. Talking of which there is a crop of blackberries in the garden that won't pick itself! I'll keep noting my progress.

Once around the house

High Highs are about to release their first album, and then have released a new track from that album called "Once around the house". I love it.
You can find their facebook here, and a recent article on billboard here.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Update on diet

Today is a 500 calorie day on the alternate day fasting diet. So far, so good. I have been managing to stick to the limit. I miss not being able to have cups of coffee, and having to plan out everything I eat is a bit of a pain because I am not used to it yet. I think it will get easier over time. I had fresh fruit for breakfast - melon, raspberries, strawberries and blueberries. For lunch I had stir fried chicken and vegetables - leek, carrot, courgette, aparagus, spring onion - with a chicken broth. This evening I am planning a big salad and will splash out the remaining calories on a yoghurt and vinegar dressing. I feel a lot more positive about this diet than any of the diets I have been on before, for a number of reasons. First, because I only have to manage a day of dieting before I can eat normally again. So even though I expect to be on this diet for a long time, I don't have to see months and months of sticking to diet plans before me... it's one day at a time. Secondly, the "fast" days have such a low calorie limit that it isn't really possible to agonize over what to have. A little lean meat, some vegetables and fruit is all there is. Despite this, I don't feel deprived, because I know it is doing me good AND I can eat what I want tomorrow. It's genius. Thirdly, I feel it must be not only good for me, but good for the planet. Not only am I doing myself good, but I am also reducing my demand for food on the planet by about a third. at least. And that means I can afford to eat better on those days I am allowed to eat whatever I like. It changes your attitude to the food... you don't want to waste any when you have such a low calorie allowance. I am a bit hungry though.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

Alternate day fasting

All through my school life, I was called fat and made fun of. Which is strange, because I don't think I was fat. There were children who were a lot fatter than I was, who weren't bullied for it. Which I found confusing.

By the time I was sixteen, I was a size sixteen, which I thought of then as enormous, even though I think it was probably my natural size. I still don't think I was particularly fat.

It must be said that in the 1970s there weren't a lot of clothes that went above a 14, and so I found it difficult to find the sort of clothes my friends were wearing. Eventually, I went on a diet. I lost a bit of weight. I felt better about myself and stopped dieting. I not only put back on all the weight I had lost, I put on more.

This started a cycle which continued for about ten years... I would lose weight by dieting. As soon as I stopped dieting I would put the weight back on. I decided it was probably worse for me to yo-yo diet all the time, and I stopped dieting. By then I had tried a lot of different diets... low fat, low calorie, low carbohydrate, using milk shakes, using grapefruit etc etc.

I started to get free lunches at work, moved in with my future husband, who was a very good cook, and gave up smoking, and put on more weight. I had three children and put on more weight I began doing a mostly sedentary job from home... and put on more weight.

I've always said that I wouldn't diet until I found a plan that I could see myself maintaining for the rest of my life. And last weekend I think I discovered it. Horizon was about to broadcast a programme in which they talk about the alternate day fast, where you have 500 calories one day and a normal diet the following day.

I read the article on the BBC website, and then started researching for myself. This diet apparently has health benefits. People who follow it properly will not only lose weight, but also reduce their level for many of the markers of the diseases which our culture suffers from - heart disease, cancer etc.

So, I'm doing it. This week is my first week. And I really think I can do this for the rest of my life. The genius part of it is that you only have to diet for one day... and then you can eat normally for a day. And then you do it again.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Can't wait

I'm going on holiday in September for the first time in several years, and I can't wait. I love the sea... and though I have never been someone who likes to lie on the beach acquiring sandy crevices, I love beachcombing, and I love the sounds and smells of the sea.~

I remember being stopped by customs on the way back from a holiday in France, and the look of disbelief on their faces when they saw the shells and stones I had collected. Nearly every seaside holiday I've had has been spent this way.

I haven't been to the coast for a while, and so I am looking forward to it all. I don't care if it is raining, hailing or force 9 galing, I shall be walking along the beach, bags in hand, collecting shells, glass, driftwood and stuff.

The last time we went to Devon, my daughter was only about five or so, and I remember we walked along the beach at Westward Ho! and it was literally heavenly... it was sunny but very windy, and there was hardly anyone else on the long beach. The colours were muted and there was a very peaceful energy there, despite the wind.

This time we're renting a house in Teignmouth, which is somewhere I used to come with my grandparents. It's going to be *wonderful*. I've been living apart from my sons for more than a year, and so the prospect of seeing them every day is also very exciting for me.

I have started to make lists of things to take with me, and things we need to buy, lists of meals to make and stuff to have. But at the moment, I can only think about being close to the sea.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

A ramble on the state of society

I've been thinking a lot recently about our society. What sort of society we have, what sort of society we want, and what would the consequences be of a change in the way we organize ourselves? The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened considerably in the past few years in the UK. I consider myself lucky, and when I read about gang deaths in inner city areas I feel just as alienated by them as when I read fashion articles in the newspaper and see people paying £300 for a dress. Both of those things are so far removed from my world that they don't seem to be part of my reality, even though I know £300 seems like a small amount to some people, and gangs and violence are simply a part of living to others.

In the UK there is still a class system. It's rather odd that most people think that the class system is a thing of the past. For a long time I felt classless, and believed that I could move within any strata of society without feeling above or beneath others, but nowadays I think that's completely unrealistic. In the past I have seen the monarchy as the lynch-pin for the whole system. More egalitarian societies seem to be run better without a monarchy, or with a monarchy which considers itself more ordinary, like the royal family in the Netherlands who take to a bicycle from time to time. I still see the monarchy supporting the whole caboodle here, but it is, of course, more than that, and involves the services, the schools and universities, and the way thing have always been done too. At its heart is a system which is protecting the status quo, resisting change... and so what we have to ask is whether what we have is worth protecting, or should be swept away.

 I feel that it is a great shame that women haven't fought for a way to take control of the things that they would do differently. Not only do men have a fairly secure hold on commerce and politics, but they are also controlling the institutions which are traditionally the responsibility of women... wouldn't we tackle the drug problem differently, would we jail those who possess and are addicted to drugs? How would we handle prisons in general, wouldn't it look much more like the Swedish model than the British? The tragedy of the past 40 years of feminism is that women have been the worst offenders when it comes to belittling and devaluing the things which women traditionally took responsibility for... looking after people, raising children, being caring and nurturing rather than paternalistic and judgemental. It seems to me that a society which values only the male and not the female is an unbalanced society, and the sickness and violence that we see in our population are a result of that.

We all want to hold tight to our bit of turf, our possessions, our right to our castles, when actually, we all know that giving brings more pleasure than taking, and doing things for other people makes us feel much better than doing things for ourselves. Caring for others and reaching out to them feels so much better than grabbing what we can for ourselves. It has to be cohesive and coherent, though.

The big problem I have with David Cameron's Big Society is that what the government is doing at the moment in cutting the incomes of disabled and ill people is not caring and inclusive. How in hell he expects people who are not capable of work to obtain money if the government cuts their money off, I do not know. Some of them will have to throw themselves on the mercy of charities, but others will have a stark choice between starving and crime. I want my society to look after the vulnerable and old, and I do not want private companies brought in to decide that people with terminal illness or lifelong disabilities are fit for work when they are not. I want a caring society, and this isn't it. In the past revolutions, the problem has been that the new system of government and organization has been forced upon people against their will. To reach the goal of a caring society without that, one would have to convert people and make them desire it, and be willing to make sacrifices in order to achieve it. Would that be an impossible task? I don't know.

I sense a change in the way that people think about these things, and a desire for things to improve for everyone. How that is to be achieved is a question. There is a movement which aims to return humanity to a form of communism, providing welfare for all and removing the right to possessions. I see that doomed to failure because it assumes that we are all the same, and we are not. No system of organizing humanity which doesn't recognize our individuality is going to succeed. Money is at the heart of our system at present, the need to obtain money in order to obtain all the other things which people need... shelter, food, energy, clothing. What would the result of removing money from the equation be, I wonder from time to time? If we provided the basic necessities of life and allowed people to do what they wanted otherwise? People assume that everyone would become indolent and stop working, but I wonder how true that would be. Some people aspire to the life of living on the couch watching daytime tv, but I can't think that's many people, or for long. It's boring. On the other hand, sometimes it has only been the need for money that has got me out of bed on a cold morning. I have usually done jobs I liked, and which I enjoyed, but even though I am not strongly motivated by money to do a good job, I am motivated to keep doing it by the money that I have earned... ok I am confusing myself now.

Maybe we can think of ways to set up self-supporting systems... for example, building in small units for elderly people alongside schools or colleges, and giving brownie points to children or young people who help the elderly...building multi-purpose schools which can become community centres or health centres if the birth rate goes down...rearranging our cities and towns to enable people of all ages to help each other. Giving them places to meet and spend time together. I don't know any of the answers, but I do know that we can't go on as we are... there have to be some changes to the way that we do things... the current system has too many casualties, too many people addicted to drink and drugs, too many homeless or living in terrible conditions, too many young men alienated from education and their families.

Friday, July 06, 2012

125 years of James Wigg Practice

It isn't often I am invited along to a 125th birthday party. The James Wigg Practice celebrated 125 years yesterday at a party at Kentish Town Health Centre. There were speeches by Frank Dobson, Alan Bennett and Roy MacGregor, as well as past partners of the practice. There was music, cakes, tea, ice cream and entertainment, balloons and displays. As if on cue, the terrible weather of the past few weeks broke open the sunshine for the event, and a warm and sunny afternoon. It was an extremely enjoyable, well-organized and interesting event.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Jaywalking around the world

Source: via Fee on Pinterest
 by Keith Bloomfield cc attribution, non commercial licence

I had a friend from the Netherlands staying with me for a couple of weeks.  He smokes, and I like to visit the charity shop, and so we combined a trip up the road.  When we got to the complicated road traffic junction which has to be crossed to get to the parade of shops we were going to, I saw that there was no traffic approaching and crossed even though the pedestrian light was showing a red man.

There was Dutch muttering behind me, and it was clear that he felt I had taken an unnecessary risk. On discussing whether I had, in fact, taken risks with his life, he accused me of breaking the law, and said that in the Netherlands such behaviour could lead to a €90 fine.  He made the assumption that the law was the same in the UK.  It isn't.

In the UK pedestrians, and not cars, are assumed to have the right of way, and commonsense prevails.  If you jump out in front of a car and cause an accident, you will be held to account for that behaviour... both drivers and pedestrians are required to behave with respect for other users of the road.  But on the other hand, if you can see that you can safely cross, despite the pedestrian signal being red, you are allowed to do so.

Dear reader, the point of this blog post is to warn that things do not work that way in the rest of the world.  In the US in many states, pedestrians are required to respect the traffic signals, and in many states the vehicles, and not pedestrians, have the major right of way.

This incident made sense of something that happened to me twenty years ago in Germany, too.  I was in Hamburg, in a park which was intersected by roads.  There was a pedestrian crossing over the road, and I dutifully went there, but being able to see for about 500 yards either way that there was nothing coming, I crossed the road, to angry shouts in German from my fellow pedestrians.

I *thought* that it was simply the German love of rules which made them shout at me,  and that they were saying I should respect the red man symbol, even if the road was entirely clear, but I now realize they may have been telling me that I could be fined or arrested for my "crime".

I had always thought that jaywalking was crossing the road in a dangerous fashion, perhaps weaving in and out of cars etc... but it seems that I am assuming that other jurisdictions have the same sort of commonsense common law that I am used to.  They don't.  Crossing when the little red man is showing, or a "don't walk" sign of any sort is showing, is an offence in many countries, even if every car in the vicinity is up on blocks with no tyres.  You can be arrested.  

To my surprise, both Australia and New Zealand have heavy financial penalties for not observing the little red man, and in Singapore you may be imprisoned.  It therefore pays to find out the local laws regarding pedestrians wherever you travel.  A NZ$ 4000 fine for an adult or NZ$180 for a child may put a bit of a hole in your spending money!

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Jubilee Sunday

It's June 3, Jubilee Sunday, and the rain is falling softly outside my window. It rained torrentially last night and the road was flooded on our way back from my brother's pizza and beer party. It isn't raining hard this morning, but that soft penetrating rain is falling, which soaks you through. It's much colder than it has been for a while, a day for fires and cardigans inside.

My mother has gone to bed, feeling tired from two late nights after late meals and sleeping badly. My nephews stayed overnight and she got up early and made them pancakes while they forced her to watch wrestling on the tv and fought over the computer, but she looked worn out and rather grey-faced when they left, and I told her to go to bed and rest, and she did. She's looking forward to the Diamond Jubilee flotilla thing, but the pictures from the Guardian's website make the crowds look bedraggled and thin on the ground so far.

Maybe it's a bit early, it doesn't start until 2.30pm, and I suppose that people may have put off leaving in view of the weather. I imagine a nationwide searching of cupboards under the stairs for cagoules and waterproofs, wellies and umbrellas. Really, it's an old fashioned English summer... raining gently.

 I have mixed feelings about the Jubilee. I don't believe in an hereditary monarchy, notwithstanding the fact I have traced my family back to Edward III. It seems to be mostly sentimentality: if anyone suggested we should have an hereditary prime minister, or Council Leader, or doctor, or dentist, people would rebel. It's the fact that an accident of fate meant that we had our revolution and then lost our way and begged the monarchy to come back, which has left us in this situation. I wonder if they feel threatened by the gradual eroding of the hereditary peers and the changing of the house of Lords?

 I don't wish the family any harm, but I don't think they should still be there. I consider them an anachronism, a puppet group who have very little to do with anything, people we think we know and wheel out when anything with pomp and circumstance is required, like performing monkeys. In fact they are our very own zoo of royal animals, required to perform to order when we choose to enact one of the ancient rituals, like the state opening of parliament or this jubilee. Feeling this way, it doesn't seem appropriate or necessary to celebrate the fact that Elizabeth Windsor is still breathing after all these years. But of course people talk of the events that have punctuated their lives, and in England, the celebrations associated with Monarchs are one of the things people remember.

 It's complicated by the fact that so many people do celebrate the royal family and drink up any reports of their doings as voraciously as the accounts of film stars: our own posh family reality show, still going after all these years. People assign real meaning to pieces of metal pinned to their chests, or arbitrary titles assigned by the action of the monarch in touching them on the shoulders with a sword.

It's always seemed weird to me that the Queen should assign a lot of titles to her children - Charles has a dozen spurious titles granted by his mother. Why bother? If you are the son of the monarch and heir to the throne then you can give yourself any stupid title you might wish to have, so why bother with any at all? Why not stick to "prince"? It bemuses me. As a Quaker I ought not to recognize any of the titles, should stick to Elizabeth Windsor and Charles Windsor, and I know that many of the Quakers have written to both refusing to acknowledge any other title.

My children have actually been deprived of more than royal celebrations. I refused to go to or look at the Millennium Dome, as I considered it a dubious waste of money, and I retain that view. I'd have spent the money in burying all the miles of overhead electricity cables. In the end, I think that might have been the cheaper option, and it would have been a legacy worth having, I think. I refused to celebrate the millennium when the rest of the country did, as they celebrated on January 1, 2000, which was the last year of the previous millennium and not the first of the new one, as there is no year zero in our calendar. That annoyed me a lot. Perhaps I am just an old curmudgeon and would rather grumble than celebrate?

Anyway, I may not be a monarchist, but I do have empathy for other people, and thus I am sorry that they are soggily awaiting the flotilla of ships on the Thames in the rain. I think that those who choose to watch it will definitely get a better view on television than in person, but of course they cannot be said to be a part of the event in the same way as someone who queues and pushes and experiences the real life drip of rainwater down the back of the neck. I feel sorry for the many organizers of street parties, urgently trying to organize shelter to avoid a washout. Hopefully the rain will stop, but it shows no sign of doing so. But then, maybe it's what we English do best, resilience in the face of adversity. Maybe the tales will be better, more interesting, for it not being a warm June day of sunshine. Maybe.

Postscript:  I may not be a monarchist, but I can still deplore the treatment of elderly people.  How was this a thank you to the monarch- making her stand in the cold and wet for such a very long time.  I should think she thinks we hate her, poor thing.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Letter to Women's hour on hearing their discussion today about schools

Dear Woman's Hour, My reason for contacting you was the rather dismissive tone with which home education has been referred to already in the course of the programme about schools. My experience in home education/unschooling over the past twelve years has taught me that it offers a far better, more rounded education than any school. It isn't the measure of last resort that you implied.

I think parents should be supported in the choices they make for their children... by choosing to home educate I lost the financial assistance of my education authority... I saved them around £2000 a year per child (over the course of their home education that amounts to around £68,000) but was then expected to pay all costs forever, including entering any exams, myself. I think the system in Canada which gives parents an educational allowance and allows parent to choose where to put that, is far, far, fairer.

I also think that feminism in the UK has become a movement which tries to propel women into working at a career outside the home, instead of supporting the full range of choices, which includes the choice to stay at home to look after pre-school or children who are of compulsory educational age. The original suffragettes were campaigning for equal value to be assigned to the work which was traditionally the work of women, and instead it has become devalued and women are often the ones who are devaluing it.

In your programme it was implied that an after-school club would offer children care, like an interested and involved parent. No, it *won't*! An involved and caring parent will be able to set the things that they do with a child into the context of that child's history. They will be able to interpret and make sense of the world for the child, with that knowledge behind them. It is also highly unlikely that the ratio of children to carer is as high as it is likely to be at home. Having an interested parent involved in an activity is likely to provide much more educational value than a paid carer will be able to provide.

It seems obvious that it will provide more benefit to a deprived child whose parents are not interested in their children... but I don't think it sounded as though any of the parents you interviewed in connection with that segment fell into that category.

I worked for ten years in the city and had a good career before I had my children. I believed that a woman of value should have a career and was convinced by my teachers in the 1970s that no intelligent female would want to be "just" a wife and mother. I intended to return to work.

I have worked, but part-time and from home since I discovered that I adored motherhood and wanted to be at home with my children. I enjoyed every moment of it.

I know that not all women are like me, but a substantial proportion (80%) in several research studies have said that they would prefer to have the means to stay at home with their children than to leave them in the care of others. When I wrote to a national newspaper to talk about how little status we have in our society, as stay at home mothers, I was inundated with letters of agreement from other women who desperately wanted to be able to stay with their babies.

I feel severely let down by feminism, which seems to see the fight as a race to leave someone else doing the childcare or education, instead of a fight to give women free choices, and the support to do what she feels is right for herself, her family, her children.

It is interesting to note that Dutch women are apparently the happiest in the world, and that 60% of Dutch women with or without children, are working part time.

It is also interesting to note that the research in the UK and Canada shows that it is the children from homes in the lower socio-ecnomic area who benefit most from home education. Children from families who would be expected to fail in formal educational institutions do better in home education, and the difference in expected performance outstrips children from middle class families. It always astonishes me that the mainstream education industry seems uninterested in the differences between schools and the alternatives, and what they may learn from them.

If we were paying parents who want to, to stay at home with their children, properly supporting part-time work for parents who want it, and offering parents a free choice about how they spend a universal educational allowance, I believe that it would go a long way towards solving many of the problems which our society is suffering from today. It would help youth unemployment (by freeing up jobs), it would support parents who want choices about their child's care and education, and it would strengthen the bonds in families, potentially preventing children from slipping into gangs or bullying cultures.
yours with feeling

Friday, May 04, 2012

George Barnett: Bewitched

New video by George Barnett, which appears to have been shot in one go... not sure if that is just me being hypnotized by the skill of the person who shot the video. He plays all the instruments, wrote the song, sings it and stars in the video. He's *so* talented, *so* thin, and so young and energetic... I'd have been lying on the pavement waiting for the paramedics to arrive after one verse! Please watch the video:

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Free comedy on the web

Many of the comedians who participate in Radio 4 programmes also provide access to their work on their websites. I wasn't sure about Henning Wehn when I first heard him on Radio 4 quiz programmes, but he has definitely grown on me over the past year. His recent series on Radio 6 was available on the iplayer, but they only stay available for about a week. On his own website he has a selection of his best bits, available here. Jon Ronson isn't exactly a comedian, but I find his occasional series "Jon Ronson on..." very amusing and interesting, and I like his style. It often IS funny too. All of the previous series are accessible on this page. I'll add to this as I come across things on the web. In the mean time, bear in mind that iplayer radio is accessible no matter where in the world you are... you can catch the News Quiz, Henning knows best and a large number of other programmes. You can find the iplayer here.