Why Doctor Who Will Make Us Cleverer. Oh, And Is He Able To Clone Professor Brian Cox?

When I was at school, I was something of a geek.  A swot if you will.  I turned up to lessons on time, completed all my homework and actually revised for my exams.  Of my own accord.

I remember being about 13 when a member of the cool gang – you know the type; tangerine foundation, no skirt, and eyes which could barely be opened underneath layers of clogged mascara – casually informed me that although I was “like, a proper swot like,” I was still socially acceptable because I “didn’t seem like proper f***ing into Science an’ that.” Oh, and I had nice hair.

Now, I could discuss how it should be possible to be clever and cool, adamant that we shouldn’t put people into boxes.  You can highlight all your notes and still care about your appearance you know, but that would be hypocritical.  The cool kid I’ve just described is, after all, straight out of a teen soap opera.  All we need now is a few nice-but-dim athletes dancing around a basketball court whilst harbouring a burning desire to sing musical numbers and we’d have the cast of High School Musical!

The fact is, most kids (and adults) are desperate to fit in.  And, as sad as it may seem, school-goers do tend to fall into one or other category.  There are very few who have the courage to stick their head above the proverbial parapet and shout, “Hey, I’m just me!”  Let’s be honest, why should they? Being a child is hard enough today as it is.

So, in the absence of bullying, these things themselves don’t really bother me.  What does bother me, and I mean really bothers me, I’m not talking a minor irritation or a bit of a niggle, here.  I mean fists clenched, blood boiling, steam coming out of the ears kind of bothers me, is this:

Why the hell is it so bad to be bright? Why is it cool to fail all your exams and so absolutely mortifying to be even the tiniest bit academic?  And Science? Well, that’s just the geekiest of the lot, right?

Before anyone points out that not everyone is naturally academic, that kids have different strengths and we can’t and shouldn’t judge everyone in the same way, I know.  That’s not what I’m saying.  I home educate my son largely for this reason.  I’m not referring to children who struggle with academic concepts at all.

I’m talking about the fact that so many of our young people, and their parents, seem repulsed by the idea of learning, of knowledge, of a thirst for information – in particular the scientific variety.  When I was still teaching in school, I met a parent who, when told at Parents Evening that their child was excelling in Science, actually rolled their eyes and commented, in all seriousness, “Yeah, they are a bit speccy, they don’t get it from either of us!”  I almost wept into my desk.

On facebook a few weeks ago, an old school acquaintance was having a virtual conversation with their daughter. They were probably sitting next to each other on the couch.  The parent was calling the 11 year old “a geek” for choosing to go into school in the holidays for a workshop.

These are just two examples.  It’s everywhere.

Scientists are constantly portrayed in films as mad, crazy, socially inept, psychotic.  The list is endless.  On the rare occasion when there is an attractive or socially functioning Scientist, it turns out that they’re actually an undercover journalist or also into pole dancing.  It’s unbelievable.

Even the New National Curriculum contributes.  Quite aside from other criticisms I have of it (which are perhaps best left for another time), the Curriculum due to be rolled out in schools from September 2014 has, in a lot of ways, dumbed down Science even more than it was before.

Let’s take light and dark for instance.  Under the Old Curriculum (I didn’t much like that either), children were taught at age 5 that we need light to see, that darkness is the absence of light etc.  Pretty basic stuff, I’m sure you’ll agree.  Now it isn’t taught until age 7-8.  Earth and Space isn’t taught until between the ages of 9 and 10. So, potentially our children don’t even realise we’re only one planet in the solar system until then.  Or even what a Solar System is.  Or a planet for that matter.

Here’s where Doctor Who comes in. Finally, I hear you cry, she’s going to stop ranting!   Since it was relaunched in  2005 by Russell T Davies, the series has established itself as a firm family favourite.  The viewings of each episode in the 2013 series never dropped below 5 million and were usually considerably higher than this.  Last week, the marvellous Professor Brian Cox presented ‘The Science of Doctor Who’ with 2.2 million viewings (overnight).  Where else would you find people wanting to understand Science?  Hiding in laboratories with static wire hair and green potions probably!

We are desperate to find out how we too can travel through the universe.  Can time travel really be possible?  We want to know the science behind it.

Is there life on other planets?  How does a sonic screwdriver work?  How could you possibly refuel a TARDIS?  How does a TARDIS even work in the first place?

All burning scientific questions even if they have come from a fictional programme.

Even when he’s not talking about the Doctor, Brian Cox makes everything sound interesting.  His live series with Jodrell bank a few years ago and his programmes on the BBC all demonstrate how exciting and valuable scientific work is.  He makes it accessible for an everyman.  Without dumbing it down.

With such brilliant presenters and fabulous Doctors all over our screens at the moment, is this finally going to be the moment when we can finally say science is cool?  Will we be able to stop feeling odd for wanting to find things out?

I doubt it.

But at least we can all take heart from the fact that the Doctor will be igniting our scientific minds this weekend in the 50th Anniversary.  Maybe he’ll be able to clone our dear Professor Cox and send him into schools.

Are you fans of the Doctor and Professor Cox in your house?  Do you love Science? I’d love to hear about it.

A Simple Christmas? 8 ideas to Make it Wonderful.

Earlier this week, the Archbishop Welby said that families should not make their lives “miserable” at Christmas by putting themselves under pressure to keep up with the “over the top” consumerism of the festive season.  You can read the full story at the BBC News Website.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of articles all over the web, packed with ideas for how to have a simple Christmas: There are crafts; home made gifts and cards; ideas to set budgets.  You name it, there will be handy hints about it.

This morning, as I steeped fruits in Brandy in preparation for steaming the Christmas Puddings and wrapped my Christmas Cake batters up in their parchments beds, I began to wonder about this idea of a simple Christmas.

I’m all in favour of a Christmas without the materialism.  There is so much pressure on children (and hence their parents) to have the latest gadget, shoes, accessory or whatever; so many competitions between neighbours about who has the most fabulous display of lights, that we are in danger of forgetting the real meaning of Christmas. 

I’m all for the idea of making cakes and puddings.  I much prefer a rustic Mince Pie instead of a perfectly shaped (but not often perfect tasting) shop bought one and I love the special feeling that receiving a carefully chosen or hand made gift brings. But, and this is a big but.  I have a real problem with the term ‘simple’ Christmas.

You see, to me, the word simple conjures up an image of anything bland. Plain. Dull.  It isn’t well thought out or planned, it is mediocre – making do.  I know simple can be beautiful and that the simple ideas are always the best. See – I know all the sayings!

But the idea of a simple Christmas just fills me with dread.  It doesn’t sound special.  It sounds functional.  And Christmas should be magical.

So here I am, mid-November, trying to think of ways to make Christmas magical without costing the Earth.  Ways to make it wonderful without the all the excess.  Well, almost all!

Here are my top tips:

  1. Get Traditional

I don’t mean bring back traditions of years gone by, unless you want to of course.  No.  I mean create your own traditions.  Little things that you’ll do each year with your family to really bring the Christmas spirit alive.  We started a lovely one last year with our son who was then 2.  On Christmas Eve, probably mid-afternoon, I dashed upstairs with a note handwritten by Santa, to be delivered by his Elves.  The note talked about how good Jasper had been all year with a few references to achievements and things he had particularly enjoyed.  I left the note on his pillow with a new pair of pyjamas and a dressing gown wrapped underneath.  These were a special present from Santa to remind Jasper that he needed to go to bed early and hope to hear the sound of sleigh bells as Santa completed his rounds!

Another tradition I think is just beautiful is to write down on post-it notes  all the little things your child says or does throughout the year.  We always say we won’t forget but it is just so easy to when they grow up so quickly! Stick them in a shoe-box or jar then, on Christmas or New Years Eve, open them and read back.  You don’t have to limit it to children – you could do it just as a couple too.

2.  Make a meal of it!

The christmas Meal is usually the highlight of the day, but it’s so easy to get carried away with having hundreds of sauces, sides and stuffings, especially if you buy them all ready prepared.  I know it can be so much easier on the day when it can all be thrown in the oven without hours of peeling and chopping but if you create your family’s own perfect meal and stick to it each year with just a few tweaks, it really does become a doddle.

Lots of little snacks such mince pies that you can make with the kids throughout December; a pudding which you can steam a few months before and watch the brandy seep through as you feed it in the run up to the big day; a stuffing which you can knock up the day before.  All these things make it so much easier, cheaper and simpler on the day yet you’re still left with that really special Christmas feeling.  Probably more so because you have a house full of delicious smells throughout the festive season!

3. Get out into the Community

Whether you’re a Christian who celebrates the true meaning of the festival or, like us, a non-believer who uses the time to celebrate family and friendship, everyone can really get into the spirit of things by heading out into the neighbourhood.  Christmas lights in the streets, carol singers, Santa on his rounds and the general feeling of excitement in the air are enough to get even the most miserable of souls in the mood!

4. Do something good

In these hard economic times, when we’re all tightening our purse strings at Christmas, it can be so easy to forget that there are people so much worse off than us.  So many of us tend to have a clear out at this time of year in preparation for the influx of new things, so instead of binning or selling on ebay, why not take some of those no longer needed items to a charity shop? 

Take a batch of mince pies to an elderly neighbour who is alone or even have friends over for a cake and warming Christmas cocktail, ask everyone to donate a pound or two to help the charity of your choice.

Every penny counts.

5.  Sing

Gather around the fire, crowd around the piano or stick the radio on for a good old sing song.  Carols, Christmas hits or even one you’ve made up yourself.  Music has the power to really move us, so use it to make your Christmas special!

6. Cull your Christmas card list!

There’s been a huge increase in the number of people who send e-cards, especially as we’re all doing our upmost to save money.  Although these can be great to stay in touch with people who you might otherwise not speak to, don’t they take away a little of the personal touch which can mean so much at this time of year?

My Mum has a system whereby she uses a spreadsheet to tick off each year whether someone has sent her a card.  If they don’t send her one two years running and she hasn’t spoken to them in the meantime, she strikes them off her list.  When I was younger, I used to think this was awful and berate my mum for being scrooge-like and mean spirited.  But now I really appreciate why she did this and have even started doing it myself.  She saves time (and money) by not having to write and post hundreds upon hundreds of cards, yet she is still able to stay in touch with all the people she wants to reach out to.

A hand-written, personal note instead of the factory churned out Christmas wishes each year can really cheer someone up at Christmas, especially someone who might be on their own or vulnerable.

7. Get Crafty

While we’re on the subject of the personal touch, why not get the kids involved.  Haul out the glitter, get happy with the scissors and create cards and decorations of your own.  If you want to avoid the commercialism, this is a super way to really get your house feeling festive without looking the same as everyone else’s.  It’s also a great opportunity, especially with people being so time-deficient these days, to spend some quality time with your family.

And finally….

8. Smile

Laughter is indeed the best medicine.  In years to come, no one will remember how many gifts they got, whether you forgot to turn the oven on and how much you spent on the big day.  What they will remember is this:

A fun-filled, special day with family around them. 

So don’t spend a fortune, try not to be sucked in to the consumerism of Christmas (easier said than done with kids, I know) and have a lovely day surrounded by the ones you love!

Five Minute Friday: Tree – Living and Playing

It’s Friday again and that can only mean one thing:  Yes, it’s time for Lisa Jo Baker’s Five Minute Friday.  Five minutes of unedited writing inspired by a given word.  Today’s word is tree.

Here goes…

Tree.

The mighty oak which towers above.  A sprouting seed creeping towards the sky, vulnerable to trampling feet and hungry teeth.

Tree.

A 7 year old’s hiding place from an angry mother.  A cosy nook for a lonely owl or family of woodlice.

Tree.

Nature’s own climbing frame. A place to swing and play.

Tree.

A watchman for all time.  Through life, loves, wars. Change.

Tree.

Homeless wildlife. Flattened Forests.  Paper scattered.

Tree.

A new house.  A shopping centre.  Concrete jungles. 

Tree.

 

 

 

 

Sexism in the cult of Disney? Fictitious heroines one limited template? I don’t think so!

When I started writing this blog, I intended it to document our life as a new home educating family and to share some tips and activities about things which have worked for us.  My last post though was a tad – shall we say forthright?  I was passionate about the subject but after having said my bit, I was planning to go back to sharing some of the fun things Jasper and I have been up to.

But then I read an article which appeared in the Daily Telegraph yesterday, entitled ‘I’d happily blow the brains out of a Disney Princess’ written by Beverley Turner.  There are a lot of really valid points in the article; you can read it here but if you haven’t, the gist of the bit that drove me mad is essentially this:

The author fumes that ‘the cult of Disney’ brainwashes children into believing that women should do no more than wait around, doe-eyed and pathetic, for a charming Prince to come along and rescue them from whatever perilous circumstances they happen to find themselves in.  She argues that we should have more true-to-life characters because most women “prefer to do more than wait to marry a Prince, in a size 8 dress with hair down to their waist” and that the Disney princess image is damaging to young girls as it teaches them that they need to be aesthetically perfect and can’t do anything without a man.

Oh come on.

Firstly, I’m not at all convinced that Disney Princesses are the distressed damsels Beverley Turner seems to think.  Yes, they do seem to be motivated (at least in part) by the desire to marry a handsome Prince, but very few seem to sit around waiting for this to happen or indeed to be rescued.  I said very few, not none before you shoot me down.  They know what they want and they go after it, navigating treacherous paths and any number of obstacles on their way.

Let’s take Princess Jasmine.  As the daughter of a Sultan she is expected, under obligation in fact, to marry a Prince.  Yet all the ones she meets are arrogant fools who treat her as nothing more than a “prize to be won.” Refusing to buy into that idea, Jasmine defies the system and decides she’s going to marry for love.  Fragile maiden I think not.

Then there’s Ariel.  Again, yes I know she’s after a bloke, but he’s not exactly attainable.  Does this put her off?  Of course it doesn’t.  She’s prepared to leave her home, literally travel across the ocean and change her whole world to get what she wants.  Now the usual argument here is that yet again, a woman is made to change who she is for a man, but I really don’t see it like that.  I think you’ve got to have a hell of a lot about you to be prepared to give up all you’ve ever known and venture into unknown territories without even a guarantee that the one you want will love you back.

Belle refuses to marry Gaston despite all the girls in the town thinking he’s a catch because she wants something more and she’s prepared to give up her liberty to protect her father.

Now, I don’t have daughters.  But if I did, I’d be quite happy for them to look up to these girls as heroines.

Secondly, let’s look at the skinny thing.  I think there’s confusion about the effect generally size 0 women, and the way they are portrayed in the media, have on young girls.  To me, the problem is this.  It isn’t that there are skinny women in magazines and as celebrities.  If that’s a problem, that says more about our parenting – if our girls can’t see someone with an apparently near perfect body without suffering a huge knock to their confidence, we need to helping them develop their self esteem more.  If we get into the realm of banning and dictating to publications because we don’t like what they put on their covers, we’re in dangerous territory.  The problem arise when these women pretend that they don’t have to work hard to maintain their figures; when we show zoomed in pictures of their invisible rolls of fat when they bend over on the beach or claim that they have “ballooned to a size 10” and wonder whether this will affect the quality of their work.  The most worrying though is when we airbrush women so that they are flawless without making it clear to young readers that this has happened.  Magazines need to sell copies.  Fact.  So yes, they want something on the cover that looks good.  The damage comes when we make women look almost 2d and then let them claim that they “eat what they want” and can still be slim.  That’s damaging.  A confident, articulate Disney Princess who happens to be slim, isn’t.

I happened to see Kimberley Walsh on Lorraine this morning and she summed it up perfectly for me.  Talking about her style and body confidence, she said this:  “I do think women have to work hard to keep a good body shape.  I do work out a bit but I like food and like to eat what I want.”  She admitted that despite her enviable figure, she has days when she doesn’t feel confident.  Just like the rest of us.  It’s all about, she states, being confident in yourself and knowing what suits you and your body shape.

Beverley Turner mentions the fit, athletic women who inspired young girls as part of the Olympic games.  She talks about achievement.  Isn’t defying the system to marry for love an achievement?  Or being prepared to risk death to save your family?

Of course there are subtle messages in Disney films.  Disney is a huge corporation and we need to be careful about the messages such a powerful company is able to send out to our children.  Sometimes though, I think we should just let things be what they are.  And the films in which our Disney Princesses appear are just this: Fun-filled fairy tale adventures enjoyed by children for generations.

And Beverley?  Blowing the brains out of characters you don’t happen to like?  Great message to our daughters.

Women of the world unite? No thanks. My response to the Blogfest feminism debate.

I don’t know what I expected from Blogfest yesterday.  But it certainly wasn’t what I thought it would be.  I arrived at King’s place to a room packed full of influential women (and some men).  Women who have a voice and are not afraid to use it.  Intelligent women, strong women.  The high profile panelists and sponsors were a symbol of how far women have come and it was empowering to see the power that ‘Mummy-bloggers’ (but let’s not restart that discussion) have online.

Every session I attended was thought-provoking, insightful, useful.  The day ran seamlessly from start to finish.  From the debate about online abuse, to the most effective way to harness social media.  The delicious food and sumptuous cocktails, to the blog clinic and the writing tips from possibly the most informed panel of writers anyone could have hoped to see.

But we let ourselves down at the end.

The question ‘Can you be a mummy-blogger and still be a feminist?’ was always going to be controversial.  I think it’s safe to say, it was designed to be and yes, a lot of what the panel had to say was insulting – at best, but it was our response that I thought was most disappointing.  The twitter feed had to be taken down because it was too distracting for an audience of the intelligent women I mentioned earlier.  Eventually the whole thing descended almost into anarchy and the panel essentially shuffled off the stage before Jo Brand came on to rescue things. 

Everyone has a voice and we have a responsibility to use that voice.  Whatever sector we work in, whatever we choose to do, we have a responsibility.  It could be teaching our children that they can make a difference and that what they say really matters.  It could be arguing with the council that we need more parks; influencing multi-national corporations; even convincing the person to whom you’ve been on hold for 45 minutes that actually you are a valued customer and you do have the right to be heard. 

The point is it doesn’t matter. 

We are all influential in our own circle.  And if we’re not, we need to make sure we are.  I know it isn’t as simple as that, I’m ignoring many complex issues obviously.  I know there are glass ceilings and, to paraphrase a wonderful blogger in the audience at feminism debate , we live in a country where success is measured by wealth and earnings.  When you give up work to have and stay with your children, you necessarily lose that and it can be very difficult to find your voice let alone have it be respected. 

But we still can drive change.  We can teach our children to be good online and “real-world” citizens; we can show our children that women are equal to men; we are raising the next generation of world leaders.  If we sit and complain about how women have it tough and that they’re not taken seriously, that’s the message we’re giving out. 

In business, if our only concern is to get to the top, if we trample over everyone with our very non-feminist (ha!) high-heels, then we are perpetuating the view that career women are heartless bitches.  But what we really need to do is this.  If we want women to be (as they should be) thought of as equal to men then we need to stop this bickering, this judging, this petty-girly-back-stabbing because the ones who are holding women back in their fight for equality isn’t the men we complain about.  It’s us.  The women.

And to me that’s the issue.    I can’t work out whether Sarah Ditum was suggesting women can’t be “competent mothers” if they don’t go to university or not – I have heard there was a problem with the sound.  The sound of a shouting audience perhaps?  But so what if she thinks that?  If she does, she’s a pillock.  End of.  It isn’t insulting to women who didn’t go to university, it shouldn’t be taken as a step-back to women generally.  It’s her opinion.  As an individual. 

And, correct me if I’m wrong, but I thought that was the whole point of feminism in the first place?  For women not to be pigeon-holed and forced into one role or another.  For them to have a right to choose.  And by saying they can’t wear high-heels, they must not make jam (God-forbid) and absolutely must go to University and hate men is just forcing them into another box.

Feminism should be about women having the right to do what they want and choose to do. To have children and not be made to feel worthless; to be high-flying at work; to look like shit one day but a totally glamorous babe the next.  Every decision we make, whether good or bad, shouldn’t be affecting other women.  If a man does something wrong, whether heinously or not, we call him for what he is.  As an individual.  If a woman does, she’s doing woman-kind a massive disservice.  Whatever her point, Sarah Ditum was expressing her right to free-speech.  As an individual.  And our screeching, hysterical response was, quite frankly, a joke.   Women can’t park, women can’t drive, women can’t play football, play poker, have an intelligent conversation or heated debate without becoming emotional. Judge, judge, judge.  Blah-bah-blah.

Do you know what though?  I’ve very rarely heard this said by a man.  I know there are misogynists out there, too many of them, and I know that they seem to be the ones in power.  We cite David Cameron’s ‘Calm-down dear’ line  all the time as a prime example of this but having heard a lot of what else he has to say (regardless of his political agenda) I genuinely don’t think he is.  It was a stupid thing to say, certainly.  A very misjudged comment that has got him into a lot of hot water, at least as far as our perception of him is concerned.  But was it really an example of misogyny?  I don’t think so. 

It’s women who are more damaging.  We can’t do anything without fear of what our ‘sisters’ will think of us.  And it isn’t even just about giving women the right to be as, and I use this term very loosely, powerful as men.  Our friend looks nice, we tell her so.  But then comes the judgement.  She’s lost weight because she fannies around with herself instead of looking after her children.  Her hair has obviously been highlighted by a top stylist.  Shouldn’t she have been playing with her toddler?  She’s been promoted.  Bitch must be sleeping with the boss. She doesn’t spend any time with her family anyway, why does she bother having them? 

It’s pathetic ladies.

So I say this.  I’m not a feminist and I’m proud of it.

The feminists can shoot me down and quite frankly, I couldn’t care less.  I will continue to do what I think is best, for me and for my family. Not for the feminists, not for the women who scream and shout, not for the friend who will criticise me or my choices for being against woman-kind.  In the words of Jo Brand in her key-note speech, I will go forth “with a sense of righteous indignation.”but as myself.  As an individual. 

 

 

 

Five Minute Friday: Truth

Thanks Lisa-Jo Baker for today’s Five Minute Friday: truth. 

This is a tricky one!

Truth.  It’s a funny word.  We hold it in such high regard, yet we all seem to not only attach different meanings to it, but also adapt those meaning to suite our current needs.  Everyone’s truth is indeed different, especially when it’s so open to being edited!

So does truth really exist and, if it doesn’t, should we place such a high value on it, especially with our children?

‘Tell the truth.’ we demand when they argue and we want to get to the bottom of who smashed the window, or drew on the wall.  They tell us and yet we insist they’re lying.  We question, we interrogate, pick holes in their story as though they’re a criminal under oath rather than a willful child.  Whatever they tell us, we punish them anyway.  We know, we tell ourselves as parents, what happened.  We were children once.   So where is the incentive for them to tell us the truth if we’ve already made up our minds?

Then, not half an hour later, we find ourselves ten minutes late to meet someone.

“Sorry we’re late, the traffic was bad.” We apologise with a little white lie to disguise the fact that we were behind because the toddler wouldn’t eat his lunch, we forgot our coats or were still chatting on the phone when we should have been in the car.  The traffic was bad but it shouldn’t really have held us up.  So is half-tale really the truth?  We give our children such mixed messages, rarely bother to explain and then criticise and punish when they get it wrong.

As adults, lots of us believe it is ok to tell a small untruth to spare someone’s feelings or to avoid an argument.  We’ve had those ‘new’ shoes for ages or that new hair cut looks lovely on our friend but when children do the same, we talk to them about liars having their tongues cut out or sing rhymes about their pants being on fire.

We claim to have a greater understanding of truth; we say that we can tell when truth is important and when it is best not to voice it, but is this really true?  We want to avoid an argument or spare someone’s feelings but aren’t we just trying to avoid an awkward moment for ourselves?  I’m not saying we never should tell white lies, I’m ashamed to say I do it myself all the time.

But I am saying this.  Children need modelled behaviour.  They copy us, look up to us, we are their shining example.  And what they do need is consistency.  If we’re going to hold up truth as a beacon of all that is right, surely we owe it to our children to be truthful ourselves or at least be consistent in what we say truth is?

Or, if we are prefer to keep those lines muddied with a few fibs here and there, we should credit children with enough intelligence to explain to them why instead of punishing them when they try to work it out themselves.