Sunday 29 June 2014

Making the most of the Channel Tunnel

Last week we jumped in the car, on a bit of a whim.  We'd done it a couple of times before - but never with The Boy in tow.  We turned down the Old Kent Road, and zoomed against the flow of traffic down to Dover.  We bought a ticket at the toll booth, flashed our passports, and drove onto "Le Shuttle".  Half an hour later we were in France.

We could have set our sights on Paris, or Reims.  The Loire Valley, maybe.  But no.  The weather forecast was too nice to stay in the car.  Instead we drove just ten minutes west from Calais, to a little fishing village on the Opal Coast called Wissant.

On a sunny day, as we were lucky to enjoy, Wissant has everything a young family needs: expansive, clean, sandy beach.  Informal cafés, friteries and restaurants serving delicious moules frites, croque monsieurs and "gaufres" (freshly made sweet waffles that are as light as air).  A couple of shops selling the essentials.  And not much more.  When we have a warm day, a natural playground and good food there's not much else our little family needs!

With a little assistance from the local tourist information point, and some googling by The Husband, we found accommodation just a few miles outside Wissant ("Villages Vacances Le Cap d'Opale" in nearby Ambleteuse) -

We chose this place primarily because it had a pool (quite a rare amenity for French hotels).  On arrival, it did have the austere feel (and layout) of a military barracks - but actually it was clean, well kept and ideal for us.  Our large "apartment" allowed The Boy to sleep in his own room upstairs, and the pool was brilliant.  It had a long sloping entrance into an L-shaped shallow end, which allowed The Boy to really test out his new-found water confidence by running headlong in!  A pleasant stroll along a footpath took us to the slightly larger village of Audreselles, which had several great eating options at night.  We have both discovered a taste for the region's ice cold blonde beers.

So, for less than three hours in the car door-to-door, this is a really manageable, really accessible, getaway.  The kind of short break you could easily take at the last minute, after consulting the local weather forecast (we both agreed Wissant in the rain would be a LOT less appealing!).

Happy holidays!!

Notes on a dinner party

A lovely dinner party last night, with good friends and good wine.  These days we find it's often easier for friends to come to us, so The Boy can sleep in his own bed and keep to his "routine" (such as there is one!).  The husband outdid himself with a delicious main course of thick-cut pork chops, marinated in a soy, citrus and maple syrup sauce.   I was in charge of nibbles and pudding.

Roasted stuffed peppers
Tescos had a large bag of small peppers on offer, so I had to incorporate them into our menu somehow.  I love the stuffed vegetables we buy in Italy, so I tried to recreate something similar using ingredients I had in the back of the fridge/store cupboard.  Here is the "recipe":
In a mixing bowl, combine:
- 1 small tub of cream cheese
- 1 small bag of Panko breadcrumbs
- a handful of finely chopped chives
- one onion, finely minced
- 2 spring onions, finely chopped
- a handful of chopped green olives
- the pulp of 2 blackened baby aubergines 

To cook the aubergines, you could simply roast them in a hot oven.  However I find it much quicker (and more fun!) to use the gas hob.  Turn the flame up high and hold the aubergines directly in the flame, until the skin is all blackened and the pulp is soft.  It should only take a few minutes, turning them regularly:

Give the mixture a good stir: the consistency should be quite thick and dry.  Season well.  Then de-seed the peppers (they should be just a few inches long, so you may need to use a teaspoon).  I find rolling them on the chopping board loosens the seeds too).  Stuff each pepper with the mixture, then put them all in a roasting tray (well oiled and seasoned - make sure all the peppers are well coated in the olive oil).  Roast in a hot oven until slightly blackened (about 35 minutes):

"Spiked" peach, lime & mint Granita 
We came back from our recent short trip to Calais with a huge box of fresh peaches (€2.50 for 20!).  So I made a peach and brown sugar cake, and this granita (somewhere between a sorbet and a frozen daiquiri!).
In a heavy saucepan, bring to the boil and simmer for 5 minutes:
4 cups of water
1.5 cups of sugar
A sprig of mint leaves
Chopped peaches (I used about 10!)

Discard the mint, allow to cool, and then  blend the whole lot along with a cup of white rum and a cup of fresh lime juice.

Put in a large Tupperware, and find space in the freezer.  Allow to freeze overnight.  Then simply "fluff up" with a fork before serving.  Refreshing and delicious!

Vintage wine
Finally, a note on one if the wines we were fortunate to drink.  With these friends we always drink our respective wines "blind".  We all guessed this one was quite old - perhaps 1960s or 1970s - but we liked the taste and were all completely stunned when Chris announced that yes it was the 70s... 1870! Amazing that something which was bottled in the same year that France declared war on Prussia, the era of Gladstone and Bismarck, is still perfectly drinkable.  It still tasted of fruit, fruit that was picked over 140 years ago... Mind blowing.  Needless to say, this old bottle (dust and all) will be taking pride of place on our shelf.

Sunday 22 June 2014

BritMums Live 2014 - my first blogging conference

Whew.  I write this the morning after the conference before.  Bleary eyed but full of new-found confidence in the power of blogs, blogging and bloggers.

Because "who knew?" that starting a blog could help parents of children with Downs Syndrome come to terms with the diagnosis and do so much to break down the stigma of disability.  Who knew that sharing everyday progress in a blog could give parents everywhere the confidence to be rightly proud of their kids, and their own parenting abilities?  Who knew that starting a blog during the darkest days of raw bereavement could help millions of people all over the world deal with their own loss and grief?  Who knew that bloggers could raise awareness of all sorts of important issues in a way that no mainstream journalist could ever do?  Who knew how much we could all laugh, and share, and "oh me too!!", and cry, and cry, and cry, together.  The power of blogs, blogging, and bloggers.  Who knew? Not me.

There is so much I could write here about BritMums Live.  I learned a lot in the practical sessions (how to write a book pitch and find an agent, how to use YouTube more effectively, how to blog better as a beginner).   I could write about the food, the venue, the goodies, the brands (all excellent - they made us all feel so special!).  But for now I just wanted to touch upon the conference's emotional impact.  The inspiration I came away with.  The words which will stay with me.

Emma Freud and the Importance of Lying
I am in love with this lady.  What a career she has had, fashioned (she freely admits!) from being the girlfriend of Richard Curtis.  Addressing her audience of tiara-wearing bloggers, she spoke candidly on how she made Comic Relief so successful and how she really managed to get all those celebrities to climb Kilimanjaro or river raft down the Zambezi.  Turns out a fair amount of lying is involved.  But the good news is, she reckons this technique might also work for those of us who aren't so well connected.  I left her keynote address full of ideas about how to make my "purple party" for postpartum psychosis bigger, better and more fabulous.

Bryony Gordon & Actually Mummy on being nicer to each other online 
Talking of fabulous, an amazing panel of high-profile women in the media discussed (amongst many other things) how we can be more respectful (but still fully engaged) in online discussion. 
The golden rule?
Don't say anything online, that you would not say directly to the person's face.
Actually Mummy has reflected on her experience on this discussion panel, with this insightful post on what feminism means to her, reflecting on her experience on this panel.  Bryony has written a somewhat controversial article on breast feeding in the Telegraph.  Both have received more than their fair share of criticism and abuse.  It's hard to know when to just not "feed the trolls", and when to hit back.  It is a learning curve, this thing called social media.

Leigh and the bravery of one tiny baby
I wore my Action on Postpartum Psychosis t-shirt on the Saturday, in the hopes it might act as a conversation starter.  One of the ladies who approached me was Leigh Kendall.  Her experience was very different from mine, but she has been left with acute PTSD.  You see, her beautiful baby boy Hugo lost his incredible fight for life, just 35 days after being delivered early due to a devastating condition called HELLP Syndrome.  I never knew what this condition meant, until I met Leigh, and I certainly never knew such bravery and strength.  She came to BritMums, just a few months' after Hugo's death, as she is keen to use her blog to raise much-needed awareness of baby loss, premature birth, and maternal health.  And a place to document and share Hugo's amazing life and personality.  I really hope she gained some renewed enthusiasm for her blog, and her incredible efforts.  I urge every one of you to read Hugo's Story.

Emily Beecher on accepting that Good Enough is Best
Regular readers will know I have been a cheerleader of sorts for Emily's musical The Good Enough Mums Club, since I saw a sneak preview back in March.  I have been talking about it so much on twitter and Facebook (and to every parent I come across), I was starting to worry that maybe they wouldn't be as good as I remember... Would everyone think I was talking rubbish?  I need not have worried.  They closed the whole conference with a selection of songs and dialogues from the show - and it was even better than I remembered.   With the audience on its feet, joining in with a rousing rendition of "Head, Shoulders, Knees and Boobs", I just thought YES.  This is it.  This is what we've been trying to say all along.  Parenthood is tough, it's harder than you can ever prepare for, but you know what?  We are ALL good enough.

Finally, I just have to mention my friend Beth Bone, and just how lovely it was to spend some time with her - both during BritMums Live, and during today's "Climb out of the Darkness" (more on which later).

What were your inspiring moments from the conference?

Wednesday 18 June 2014

Mental illness on the screen: Mad, Bad & Dangerous?

We've all seen (or read about) the morbidly fascinating fly-on-the-wall / reality shows featuring mentally ill subjects.  And there have been a raft of mentally "deranged" (because invariably they are "deranged") characters in soap operas, drama series and films.  It makes for compelling viewing: seeing how the insane live, battling their demons, bringing madness into our front rooms.

If we are to change societal perceptions of mental illness, it cannot be done solely through better education of health professionals or even better provision of services (although both these things are vital).  No, it needs to be tackled at the heart of our culture: through books, films, media and, yes, popular TV.  Whether you watched Brookside or not, that first lesbian snog was important in the visibility and acceptance of gay people in the UK.  Likewise, people recovering from or living every day with mental illness need to come out of the shadows, tell their stories with pride and passion, and take their place on the cultural agenda.

So I thought it'd be fun (?) to take a look back over the history of mental illness on the screen, to see how far we have come - and what I'd love to see produced in the future.

First up - a selection of films.  Here, it seems that mental illness is a useful narrative device.  Something to square the circle, or fill in a plot hole or drive a character.  It can usefully instill in the audience profound fear and loathing, in a thriller or horror film.  Or provide a laugh or a distraction in a comedy or drama.  Mentally ill characters seem to fall into the following stereotypes:
- the pathetic / tragic heroine
- the tortured obsessive
- the institutionalised patient
- the psycho
- the split personality.
I could be wrong, but it doesn't seem as if this has changed much over the course of sixty years of film-making:

A Streetcar Named Desire (1951)
This Tennessee William's classic sees Vivien Leigh portray a "tormented" Blanche Debois who loses grip on reality through her alcoholism and delusions of grandeur.  Mental illness here is a vehicle for tortured and damaged figures, objects of our pity.

Psycho (1960)
The portrayal of Norman Bates in this iconic thriller is chilling to the core.  Whatever his psychiatric diagnosis (dissociative identity disorder, maybe?), his actions are cruel and disturbing - with a Freudian twist.  Mental illness here is to be feared.

One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest (1975)
The controversy in this Jack Nicholson classic is not so much the portrayal of mental illness, but more the portrayal of institutional treatment, and the dreaded Nurse Ratchett.  The film left its audience in no doubt that "asylums" were inhuman, and should be closed down.  The following decades saw the closure of the remaining large psychiatric institutions - but "care in the community" has been no replacement, given the lack of funding and resources allocated to mental health services.

Fatal Attraction (1987)
In this psychological thriller, Glenn Close plays Alex Forrest - a lady obsessed by her adulterous lover.  It is believed the character has some traits of Borderline Personality Disorder, and perhaps an obsessive condition.  Again, the mental illness is to be feared, the sufferer a monster.

American Beauty (1999)
Is Kevin Spacey's Lester a sufferer of depression, or simply going through an inevitable midlife crisis?  Are we all just victims of a hollow suburban existence?  The portrayal of mental illness here is so nuanced it is almost stylistic.

Fight Club (1999) 
Is this the most glamorous (Brad Pitt, anyone?) depiction of schizophrenia in film to date?  Edward Norton's "Everyman" character inhabits two lives, his own somewhat pallid existence and Tyler Durden's violent, sexual, anti-consumerist, anti-establishment rebel.  It makes for a cult film - but perhaps no realism here.

Me, Myself & Irene (2000) - Dissociative Identity Disorder
Always a tricky one, making a comedy out of an illness.  Here Jim Carrey's physical contortions are put to use depicting "advanced delusional schizophrenia with involuntary narcissistic rage".

Requiem For A Dream (2000)
I remember watching this as a teenager, and being profoundly affected by its themes and graphic portrayal both of mental illness, addiction and their treatments.  In particular, the electroconvulsive therapy used to treat the elderly mother's amphetamine-induced psychosis.  Little did I know that ECT would one day be considered as a potential treatment option for me!  This is a dark film, with little comfort.

Little Miss Sunshine (2006)
This film uses comedy brilliantly to bring a human side to mental illness (the uncle in this somewhat unconventional extended family is recovering from a suicide attempt).  

Black Swan (2010)
Natalie Portman plays yet another tortured heroine in the middle of a nervous breakdown: artistic, ethereal, but ultimately mentally ill.

Next up - TV. How has mental illness been portrayed on the small screen?

I'm not a big soap opera viewer, but I believe mental illness has recently been tackled sympathetically in Casualty, on BBC 1.  I'm told that Eastenders provided a realistic portrayal of Bipolar disorder (in character Stacy Slater), but then had the same character go on to commit murder.  This seems to be the programme-maker's temptation: to revert back to Mad, Bad and Dangerous. 

Research commissioned by the Department of Health and reported by Time To Change, on portrayals of mental health in television drama & soaps, found that:
  • * over a 3 month period 74 programmes contained storylines on mental health issues
  • of these there were 33 instances of violence to others and 53 examples of harm to self
  • almost half were sympathetic portrayals, but these often portrayed the characters as tragic victims
  • * the most commonly referred to condition was depression, which was mentioned 19 
  • times, breakdown was mentioned 8 times and bi-polar 7
  • 63% of references to mental health in TV soaps and drama were "pejorative, flippant or unsympathetic"
  • * terms included: "crackpot", "a sad little psycho", "basket case" , "where did you get her from?", "Care in the Community?" and "he was looney tunes"
  • See: 
One of my favourite dramas on TV in recent years has been My Mad Fat Diary, starring the wonderful Sharon Rooney.  It stands out, to me, for tackling self harm, eating disorders, depression and anxiety, and suicidal ideation.  It also shows, in a very touching and tragi-comic way, what it's like to be discharged from psychiatric hospital and to have ongoing group therapy.  Mental illness does not, in any way, define Rae Earl.  In fact, she soon emerges as the 
natural cornerstone of her teenage group of friends.  She has the same issues and experiences as everyone else - but does it all while living with her illness and grieving for her friend who did not recover.

I would love to see more series like MMFD.  Characters like Rae.  Can we see her go on to university?  To enter the world of work?  To start a family?  

Until then, I have to make do with the recent explosion in mental health-related documentaries and reality series.  Since being discharged from hospital myself, I make sure to watch any factual programmes on mental illness. A morbid fascination, if you will! 

Two recent examples stand out:
Bedlam (Channel 4), broadcast 2013, featured various inpatients and wards at the South London and Maudsley hospitals.  It gave me an insight into a wide range of illnesses and symptoms, from intrusive thoughts and extreme anxiety to a brain shutting down for self-preservation (after a traumatic bereavement).
Don't Call Me Crazy (BBC 3) was broadcast earlier this year and featured patients of a teenage psychiatric ward.  Perhaps because they were all so young, I really got the sense that their illnesses could have struck anyone - they were the unlucky ones.  The 1 in 4.

So, other than more series of My Mad Fat Diary, I'd like to see more factual programming on mental illness.  Programmes designed to challenge, rather than perpetuate, the "Mad, Bad and Dangerous" stereotypes.  And I hope that any production team, thinking about making a programme featuring mental illness, would read and follow the Time To Change Media Guidelines, available here: 

Saturday 14 June 2014

101 things (#3): deliver a presentation to a conference

In my previous life (as city economist and management consultant) I would have had few qualms about delivering a presentation to 100 delegates.  I would have created an informative PowerPoint presentation, full of facts and figures and graphs and assertions.  I would have delivered it confidently, and answered questions willingly.

Five years on, however, PowerPoint seems like some sort of alien device.  I'm more used to "That's Not My Dragon!" and lift-the-flaps than pie charts and laser pointers.  And while I will happily chat to anyone who'll listen about The Boy's latest achievements, the idea of talking about a grown-up subject such as maternal mental health, in front of an audience of health professionals and charities, scared me half to death.

But I booted up The Husband's old laptop (I don't even own a PC these days) and re-entered PowerPoint land.  I promptly remembered what drove me out of the corporate world in the first place.  But I persevered and produced something midway between a formal presentation and a family slide show.

Postpartum Psychosis: My Journey Through Motherhood & Madness

I had been invited to speak at Dr Andy Mayers' "Festival of Learning" event at Bournemouth University. The day-long conference was called "maternal mental illness - managing the risk factors" and had attracted a wide audience of health care workers, charities, and people just like me.  I was speaking just after PANDAS, BipolarUK and APP: providing a "lived experience" perspective.  Later, senior staff from Bournemouth's perinatal psychiatry team were to provide a more formal overview of illnesses and treatments.  So I knew my slot was an opportunity to give the audience a first-hand account of what psychosis was like: how it came about, what it felt like, what admission to an MBU meant to me and my family, and how recovery happened.  The Husband kindly agreed to share our extremely private (and precious) photos from the first three months of The Boy's life, so that I could illustrate my talk.

My (very loose) "speaking notes"!

In action, although the speaking notes soon got forgotten:

This slide was quite popular:

As was this one, where I tried to illustrate all the very many different people who helped in my recovery:

It was hard to portray psychosis in a PowerPoint.  How can I possibly explain it?  Psychosis isn't just a series of "thoughts".  No, what happened to me was very very real: the experiences (being suffocated, my stomach about to explode, causing the end of the world, not knowing who I or anyone was, being strapped on a gurney and taken to a crematorium) happened to me.  They just happened within the confines of my brain.

The other speakers - notably Diana Wilson from @MaternalOCD,  Rachel Dobson from @PANDAS_UK, Clare Dolman from @BipolarUK & @ActionOnPP, @JodiMBrown and Helen Hutchings from @TeaAndTalking - were incredible.  I still cannot believe I shared the stage with such inspirational speakers!  I would love to write-up the whole event, but I fear I could not do it justice.

Throughout the day we tweeted live updates using the hashtag #MaternalMH.  It's worth taking a read from 10 June, there was so much activity and enthusiasm!  Here is a short selection:

@pixiegirle: @katgrant30 : presents all the ppl who helped her & her family to recover from postpartum psychosis #MaternalMH

@teaandtalking: Media image of motherhood is false says @katgrant30 - so true!! #maternalmh

@JodiMBrown: It's so valuable to hear both sides of the #maternalMH experience from @teaandtalking & @PaulMentalNurse #BUFest14

@BestBMMH: @JodiMBrown telling it like it is, warts and all.... Definitely a risk worth taking! Thanks #MaternalMH

@BipolarUK: Check out #MaternalMH for sll the goings on at today's Maternal Mental Health conference. Lots of interesting info there.

@JodiMBrown: Health Visiting students from @bournemouthuni have told me that they wish all their cohort were here for such valuable learning #MaternalMH

@JodiMBrown: A beautiful, honest & moving account of her journey through #MaternalMH @katgrant30 @ActionOnPP > thank you so much x

@BirthROCKSLondn: #MaternalMH #BUFest14 @katgrant30 Breakthrough: Session with child psychologist - shown how to make baby smile, then saw him as a real baby

@DrAndyMayers: Powerful description of recovery journey @katgrant30 #MaternalMH #BUFest14 @BUFestivals

@katgrant30: @teaandtalking @PaulMentalNurse Helen & Paul I'm listening to your incredible story & my heart is in mouth.. Just awe-inspiring #MaternalMH

@katgrant30: Heart-breaking & incredibly illuminating description of perinatal anxiety & intrusive thoughts by @maternalocd #MaternalMH

Best of all - on the day, I got to meet many lovely PANDAS colleagues in real life!

Thursday 12 June 2014

Review of Stax Diner's opening night

The long-anticipated Stax Diner is finally here!  It's the creation of my friend and former employer Bea Vo.  Bea previously created the cake shop and cafe "Bea's of Bloomsbury", which is now a successful small chain across Central London.  Bea originally hails from the "Deep South", and this is certainly the main influence at work here.  We are talking buttermilk fried chicken (and waffles!), ice cream floats, dirty burgers, and the famous "blooming onions".  London has seen a recent trend in American-style burger joints, so there is a lot of competition out there.  But I genuinely believe Stax offers something quite unique.  I hope I can explain why in this post.

My expectations were high.  

I had been there last week, to help put the final touches to the paintwork. Bea had chosen a great colour scheme: "Cornell Red", blackboard paint and shades of grey, accented with old 7" records and vintage music finds.  She has also recruited a young team, both front and back of house, whom I am sure she is busily training up to her exacting standards!  It is a small space (only 40 covers), but I think the idea is good food, served fast.  No cutlery, just a massive pile of paper napkins to catch all that juice!  Tucked away just off Carnaby Street, in Kingly Court, it feels good.

The other source of my high expectations is my experience working with Bea at her pop-up diner at Maltby Street.  Sadly no longer operating, it was here that Bea first served up huge plates of French toast and maple bacon, buttermilk pancakes and bottomless coffees.  The loyal clientele from the Maltby Street days can rest assured that the Diner's spirit and soul lives on at Stax.

So, on to our dinner...

Despite a tempting array of alcoholic drinks (including IPA ice cream floats!) we stuck to soft drinks, with raspberry iced tea and an Arnold Palmer (half lemonade, half iced tea).  My RIT was fab - made with fresh raspberries and beautifully refreshing.

We hummed and haa'ed a while, before choosing a Po'Boy and a fried chicken bun (the "chickadee").  We also felt duty bound to order the onion blossom!

There were, let's be completely honest, a few standard teething issues.  But this was the "friends and family" night so all feedback here is constructive.  The waitresses were not working completely as a team, with two different girls asking us at various different times for our orders.  Perhaps they hadn't worked out the table numbers yet?  They seemed a little nervous, but that is understandable!  I was a little worried about the queue backing out the door at one point, but soon the food started flowing from the pass.

I think our highlight of the night was the fried chicken.  Hot, juicy, crispy, tender - everything you could possibly ask for.  The brioche bun was nice too, but to be honest I'd have been just as happy with a bucket of the chicken.  The husband's Po'Boy also delivered.  To quote: "a fried prawn cocktail in a bun".

The blooming onion is a Cajun-spiced revelation.  It's a whole onion, intricately sliced (and then battered) in order to resemble a blossoming flower once deep fried.  Be prepared to get your hands dirty here.  To be honest, we could've done with some cutlery at this point!

I should mention that we came as early as possible (6.30pm) so we could bring The Boy along before his bedtime.  He'd done pretty well in his buggy, alongside our stools out on the balcony.  But he was by now fast getting tired and irritable (and liable to throw things off said balcony) so we had to sneak off before trying any of the desserts.  A great pity!  But we will definitely be back soon.  For the soft opening week (commencing Friday 13 June 2014), there is 50% off your total bill.  For more information see

Please note: we were invited along to take part in the pre-opening "Friends and Family" night.  All views expressed above are my own.

Wednesday 11 June 2014

What my pregnancy journal means to me...

The lovely (and vastly more experienced) blogger Jocelyn, from The Reading Residence, kindly invited me to write a "guest post" for her new campaign, #BringBackPaper.

As a keen note taker of life, I was more than happy to oblige.  The post I wrote was perhaps not what was expected, as I decided to write about my pregnancy journal, and how it helped me through my mental illness after The Boy was born.  The message I give to anyone going through a mental illness is to try and scribble any notes down when you can.  You may find it useful for recording important information, but also to help you recognise your own recovery and progress.

You can read the post here:

Friday 6 June 2014

From SAHM to WAHM...

What have I done?!?

Only gone and got myself a local editor position at Mumsnet... The UK's most popular parenting website. 


It's all happened so fast.  One minute I was browsing Mumsnet, posting about my next PANDAS support group meeting.  I noticed on the sidebar that they were looking for a new "Local Editor" in my area. The next minute I was emailing in my CV, then a confirmation and partnership agreement! 

It's a self-employed position, building up the content and traffic of one of Mumsnet's local sites: chat, meet-ups, local events and activities.  I will earn money through the advertising revenue I generate for the site (a concept familiar, I'm guessing, to those parent bloggers who have successfully monetized their blogs).

It's an attractive role for me on a number of levels:
- I can finally use some of the business development skills I must have picked up while working at a Big 4 management consultancy 
- I can certainly use all my local mummy contacts and knowledge that I have built up during the last 18 months
- and (lastly but my no means least) I can work flexibly from home, around the needs of The Boy.

It's quite daunting, stepping into this world of online marketing, but I think I'm ready for the challenge.  I've really enjoyed using twitter, and starting this blog, over the last few months - so I see this as the next logical step.  I'm sure it won't be easy: being confident enough to approach businesses, ensuring a good mix of content on the site, networking with as many local parents and groups as possible.  But I really do think it will suit me.

Does anyone have any tips for making a successful transition from SAHM to WAHM?

Tuesday 3 June 2014

In support of Kirstie

I should first declare an interest: I am a huge fan of Kirstie Allsopp, and loved watching the "are they/aren't they?" banter between her and Phil on Location, Location, Location.  She's a comforting, regular face on my TV and someone whom I've always assumed to be a little bit bossy, a big sister to us all.

So when I read the criticism of her recent remarks (made in an interview with Bryony Gordon of the Daily Telegraph) my hackles were raised.

What did Kirstie say?
Based on my reading of the article, Kirstie made several important points about lifestyle choices (as well as some very touching comments on how this country deals with death and bereavement).  Her point seems to be that, despite all the "choices" women now have, the one thing that cannot be changed is our biological fertility.  We have increased life expectancy dramatically, but failed to lengthen the fertility window, so women (and men!) should consider their choices (study, work, house, kids) in a different order. 

I do recommend reading the whole interview, but if you want the essence of it here are Kirstie's own words:

“Women are being let down by the system. We should speak honestly and frankly about fertility and the fact it falls off a cliff when you’re 35. We should talk openly about university and whether going when you’re young, when we live so much longer, is really the way forward."

“At the moment, women have 15 years to go to university, get their career on track, try and buy a home and have a baby. That is a hell of a lot to ask someone. As a passionate feminist, I feel we have not been honest enough with women about this issue.”
"[Fertility] is the one thing we can’t change. Some of the greatest pain that I have seen among friends is the struggle to have a child. It wasn’t all people who couldn’t start early enough because they hadn’t met the right person."

“But there is a huge inequality, which is that women have this time pressure that men don’t have. And I think if you’re a man of 25 and you’re with a woman of 25, and you really love her, then you have a responsibility to say: 'Let’s do it now.’ I was lucky with Ben that he absolutely wanted more children immediately and he was very committed to that. But men need to know, men need to be taught in school that there is a responsibility, that if you love someone, decide if you want to have a child with that person or not.”

What was the reaction?
Kirstie raised an important issue, in a forthright manner, and from (the horror!) a position of undeniable privilege.  She has managed to have children in her mid-late thirties.  And she has accomplished this while enjoying an enviable career and home life.  It is unfortunate that part of Kirstie's professional persona is the "homemade home" wife (worth knowing she is not actually married in real life!).  People automatically assumed that her words were retrograde, trying to force working women back to the home, barefoot and pregnant.  People thought she was somehow against higher education for women, or that women should not try to have both a career and children.
Here is a flavour of the reaction on twitter:

@jdpoc: Re @KirstieMAllsopp comments on women's careers - not all women are daughters of Barons and married to millionaire Property Developers, eh? 

@deepintheheath: @KirstieMAllsopp how can you afford to buy a house without a decent job? Surely encouraging women to study later will widen the inequalities

@catmarieyianni: "Dont go to uni, dont have careers young, have babies instead." Wtf is @KirstieMAllsopp goung on about

So the negative reaction seems to stem from:
- people who resent someone of privilege lecturing others on careers
- people who think university education is the only path to success
- people in their early twenties who hate to think they should be even thinking about having children.

Why I agree with Kirstie
A lot of people assume that modern fertility specialists can work miracles.  Yes, there are a lot of amazing treatments out there, but the statistics don't give the full picture: successful fertility treatment in your later years becomes much (much) less likely to be done using your own biological eggs.  Stories of women giving birth in their late 40s and beyond are likely to involve donor eggs.  
So what? 
Well, if having a genetic/biological child is important to you (and it certainly may not be important to everyone, nor should it) then you might want to pay attention to your so-called fertility window.
I am acutely aware of my "ovarian age", due to a few fertility tests I underwent when we were first trying to conceive (which we accomplished naturally - in the end!).  If we did try again for a sibling, we are unlikely to be good IVF candidates, due to the lack of egg follicles I have.  But at least I now have this knowledge.  It worries me that many women my age (I am "only" 33) would have no idea how many eggs they had left.  Personally speaking, I would rather try and go down an adoption route, then go through the pain and heartache of donor-egg IVF.

I wish that young men and women were taught more about their fertility, and how it is likely to change as they grow older.  I spent years and years desperately trying not to get pregnant (while I went to university, and forged a career in London) that it didn't occur to me that getting pregnant would be so difficult.  We need to educate young people about what fertility treatment can and cannot do, and not leave it to people in their 40s to suddenly realise that IVF is not the fail-safe back-up plan they always assumed it was.

Secondly, Kirstie is right about university.  It is not the be-all and end-all when it comes to having a successful career.  I blithely went down the university path, but I sometimes wonder whether I could have used my imagination a little better back then.  I was so keen not to disappoint anyone, so keen to always be top-of-the-class, that I overlooked a lot of valid choices.  Now, having come out of the rat race for a few years, I am full of ideas for what the future may hold for me.  It's exciting.  I might go back to college, I may not.  But I know that having had my son, and fulfilling that dream of motherhood, I can also look forward to a new challenge in life.

What do you think about Kirstie's remarks?  Did you prioritise career over children?  Do you ever wish you'd known more about fertility? 

Super Busy Mum

Monday 2 June 2014

101 things (#2) - build a playground

This is part 2 of my new series "101 things for a mum to do while her baby is at crèche" (see part 1 here).

As regular readers of my blog will know, The Boy is an avid park user.  So when a group of playgroup parents got together to try and redevelop a local park, of course I had to get involved.  The playground in question is the one right in the grounds of the Imperial War Museum - one of London's top tourist attractions, but also an important community resource (lying between Southwark and Lambeth boroughs).  The playground isn't "bad" - but it could be so much better.  There is the potential for not just a state-of-the-art play facility, but also community space, a youth club, sports activities and all sorts of other events.

After just three meetings, the group has already secured initial grant funding, and an agreement from the Council to reopen the disused One O'clock Club building that lies adjacent to the playground, for a trial period over the summer.  The next stage is to raise further funds through grant proposals, and general fundraising.  To this end, and with my former management consultant hat firmly in place, I wrote the below words of support.  Watch this space for more news on the project - we hope very much that our ambitious plans will come together very soon.  

What about near where you live?  Is there a park or open space that could do with some love and attention from the local community?  You may be surprised by how amenable the local council is to plans coming directly from local parents.  Get out there and get involved! 

What is the "want" for this project? Who will benefit?
The park sits in the borough of Southwark, adjacent to the Elephant and Castle district.  It boasts the important historic, educational and cultural attraction: the Imperial War Museum.  We believe that by developing the playground within this Park, and by re-establishing a new and improved programme of activities in the (currently) disused One O'Clock Club building, we can provide significant benefits to the local community.

- there are (according to ) a total of 26 primary schools within a 1-mile radius of the park, catering to thousands of local 3-11 year olds. 

- the Museum itself attracts visitors, young and old, from around the world: over a million people, every year. (See IWM Annual Reports) 
- Southwark, and neighbouring Lambeth, are two of London's most diverse and challenging inner city boroughs.  There is a real need for both usable outside play space, and for activities to engage the local communities. The Southwark Open Space Strategy 2013 states that "parts of the borough, including... Elephant and Castle... [are] in greatest need for good quality outside space to help address socio-economic issues." 
- the beneficiaries of this project will encompass a wide range of ages and backgrounds, but we expect to benefit especially young families with pre- and primary- school-aged children. 
- the population of Southwark is projected to grow by up to 19% between 2011 and 2026.

Benefits and Outcomes 

Having carefully read the Southwark Open Space Strategy 2013 we strongly believe our project is not only complementary to the wider strategy - but vital to it.  The project also complements NHS Southwark's Strategic Plan 2010-2015 (which seeks to improve health and increase levels of physical activity within the borough) and the Southwark Play Strategy (which "aims to promote the creation and maintenance of stimulating and challenging play environments that enable children and young people to develop their physical and social abilities").
Objectives in the SOSS2013 include (these are the broad objective headings, the document lists more detailed objectives under each): 

- Enhance provision to meet the needs of an increasing and changing population
- Health and Wellbeing 
- Regeneration 
- Biodiversity 
- Community Cohesion
- Tackling Inequality 
-  Education & Culture
- Heritage & Design 
- Climate Change.

We have ambitious plans for the Peace Playground, which we hope in the medium to long term will help achieve ALL of these objectives.   Fundamentally, we hope to encourage the use of high quality open space (in an area with the highest proportion of residents who currently do not access open space: 19% and 15% in Walworth & Aylesbury and Elephant & Castle respectively, compared with just 2% in Dulwich).

We hope to provide a programme of events and activities which inspires, challenges and enthuses local children and their families.  As the Strategy states, "open space can also represent a source of wider social benefits and cultural value... can help create a sense of community... can provide opportunities for social interaction and the development of social capital..." And we hope to achieve all this through maximising the historical and cultural importance of the site.  We will create a heritage play space of world-leading design and in sympathy with the local environment and local community and their needs.

A playground for peace, in the shadow of the Imperial War Museum.