Tuesday, 16 September 2014

liking cats more than dogs

Someone suggested I write a blog post about dogs and cats, and which I prefer.

They suggested it so long ago, that I cannot remember who it was, but I'm going to admit now that I've avoided writing it because I don't want to bug dog people, because I know that dog people really love their dogs.

My Mum and her dog c1971
I don't.

I grew up with dogs and cats. To start with we had Horace. I say we, but Horace was Mum's dog. He was a good, happy dog, who got lots of walks, until I was born. Then he was a very unhappy dog.

I am told he used to pee all around my bedroom while I was in my cot. When I was older, he would obey none of my orders, and would not leave the house unless my Mum came too.

I didn't dislike Horace, but I didn't like him. 

After Horace, my Dad (who doesn't like pets) must have refused another dog. We did have a guinea pig and a rabbit, but that didn't work out so well, so we left it at that.

When my Mum remarried we gained some cats. Her new husband had cats! Fripp (for Robert Fripp), and Joe (Cocker). Joe was a manky tom cat who set to work impregnating the neighbourhood, but Fripp was neutered, and black, and fairly tolerant. I loved that cat.

Mum got a new dog: Billy, half alsatian and half mad, Billy was a big slobbery mess of a dog who irritated the heck out of me, and never got enough walks. I was relieved when we had to let him go.

Britney, my sister's cat
When I was in my teens Joe went missing and Fripp died. We got more cats, some from Cats Protection, some from the people who seek you out if they know you're a cat person. There was Mary and Britney, Cerys (the one eyed git), and one whose name I forget, because he didn't live long, but he had a moustache like Freddie Mercury, and was one of the friendliest cats you could meet. I cried for him when he died. After I left home Mum got Danbert as well, diabetic, but not letting it hold him back, until it did. Now she only has Britney left, and she's a grumpy old thing.

As for me, I moved in with my friend Annabel, and her collection of lovely cats. I befriended her new kitten Cairo, and loved the way she would parade along the back of the sofa, until she fell off.

I didn't get a cat of my own until we moved to Largs. We weren't settled enough in most of the places we've stayed, and they wouldn't let us have one in Suffolk (because of the small children), so I wasn't expecting to get one here, but we moved in in January, called the Cats Protection League in February, and a week later, we had a cat.

He is the best cat ever.

He is an enormous ginger cat who thinks he is a lot tougher than he is, steals whatever food and drink he can find, and loves to be with the family.

He has no discernible purr, but he can meow if he suspects it is within two hours of feeding time.

He doesn't sit on laps, but enjoys resting on green cushions or blankets. If you make the mistake of using a green cushion yourself he will stare at you disdainfully until you relinquish it.

He's called Katsuma, and he is a daily reminder that cats domesticated themselves. They may not have a dog's IQ, but they're the kind of creature I'd rather live with.

What about you? Dog person or cat lover?

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Sunday, 14 September 2014

voting on Thursdays: Why Thursday anyway?

The people of Scotland will decide whether Scotland becomes independent on Thursday. Which begs the question... Why do we vote on Thursdays anyway?

Kezia Dugdale - picture pinched from her
webpage here
I have been impressed with Kezia Dugdale during the Scottish independence referendum campaign. There haven't been enough women involved, at a high level, and I thought she equipped herself well in the debate with Elaine C Smith (the actor, who did not know what the white paper said), and has generally been eloquent, polite, and thoughtful in an ongoing debate which has become increasingly nasty. I can see why she is seen as a rising star in the Labour party.

The other day, she was saying that we need to move on from elections on a Thursday, which made me wonder why it is we do vote on Thursdays?

I found out so you don't have to. 

Back in the day, when people worked Monday to Friday and stopped work at 5pm, the idea was that people would vote on Thursday, then count and announce results on the Friday, the new prime minister would choose their cabinet over the weekend, and they'd be good to go on the Monday morning.

But that's not all there is to it. Thursday was also a good day because it was often the day chosen for half day closing of shops (remember that?), so people could more easily get to vote. Conversely, Thursday was often market day, so people would be in town anyway. Also, holding the elections on a Thursday was seen as reducing the influence of religious leaders (being far from Sunday), and was considered the most sober day of the week (as people were generally paid on Fridays).

Things have changed, and, in particular, we now have the internet, which could surely be useful for voting? So perhaps Thursday is not the best day any more? Still, we stick with it. In fact there hasn't been a vote on another day since the 1930s (a Tuesday in 1931). Other countries now vote on a Sunday, and in the US they have used voting machines, which make for faster counting, but carry some problems (as Scandal makes clear).

More on this here.

What electoral reforms would you like to see?

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Update on the little girl's arm: She is healing well, and has ditched her big old white plaster for a much smaller pink stookie. She no longer has to wear a sling and she's a lot happier. Next appointment in a couple of weeks.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

offered more childcare: white old men in politics and the things women want

It seems to me that whenever there is a political decision to make, politicians start talking about more free childcare.

Apparently, this is to get the 'woman's vote'. Well, I'm a woman, and free childcare does not float my boat.

I'm not saying it isn't a good thing for lots of women having to work to keep (overpriced) food on the table.  For them cheaper childcare would be good in the short term.

But I think that the endless push for more free childcare is bad for two reasons:

  1. It undermines the value of childcare by families, which in turn undermines the value of childcare altogether, and keeps wages in that sector low.
  2. It ignores the benefits of caring for our children ourselves, not just in the short term, with the long lasting benefits of breastfeeding babies past the first few months, but also in the long term. All studies show that children do best when they are looked after by people who love them.
Money is important, of course it is. We need to keep ourselves fed, housed, and watered. But working as a waged employee is not the only way to earn money. And there is also nothing wrong with working as a team to look after your family, and earn money.

Childcare is considered a womens issue because it is mainly women who do paid work around childcare, or who work unpaid, caring for their children, grandchildren, and other family members. 

Some people argue that women are more caring, and so naturally fulfill these roles, but the advances of men into the domestic sphere in recent years (it is not unusual to see a Dad at a toddler group any more, although he might be the only one), have suggested that that is wrong

I think that most families make decisions about childcare based on practicality. For us, like many other people, my husband could earn more than me, and was willing to put in more hours away from the children. His career has taken off while I have been caring for our children, which is great, but means I'm unlikely to catch up, especially considering that employers don't think a lot of the experience I've gained in this time (in negotiation, overcoming obstacles, tenacity, juggling projects, time management, etc).

There are issues here about the long hours culture we have at the moment, wherein people are expected to show their willingness to work long hours, when actually, it would be better for everybody if people were rested. If an employer needs a job done for 50 hours a week, then they need 2 members of staff (at least one of whom could have flexible hours), not one frazzled one. There are also issues around the fact that men tend to get paid more than women. Men's work valued more. Address these and childcare may become a moot point.

The fact is that even with lots of childcare, there needs to be an adult in the family who can look after the children when they are sick, when others need to work at tricky times, and in the holidays. Childcare is rarely sufficient to meet these needs, and even if we reduce the long hours culture there will be people who need to work awkward hours.

Of course, there are other reasons to be annoyed at the offers of childcare; lots of people don't have children, so are not interested at all (saving the fact that they'd like to live in a world with nice people in it, presumably). But the main thing is that this is what is trotted out as a womens issue! Every time! This isn't a womens issue. This is just an issue. Women's low wages, and the low opinion of women's work in and out of the home are issues, as is the long hours culture, and the inflexibility of employment, so it seems a boss is doing someone a big favour to let them attend their child's assembly. Violence and social control of women are issues, especially in Scotland, where the Government ran a campaign warning women that drinking too much could lead to their getting raped just a few years ago.

The Better Together campaign may be getting a lot of flack for their awful advert, featuring the woman who was too busy ironing to think about the referendum, but both sides are run by white old men, and both sides are patronising to women.

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Sunday, 7 September 2014

thinking about financial independence: The Scottish referendum and the future of the pound.

There are lots of things that are of concern to both sides in the Scottish referendum debate which is going on at the moment. Some things are less worrying than others. To be honest, there seems to be plenty of scaremongering which is best left alone.

When there was a fuss in the news about the future of the pound in Scotland, I thought that that was another one of these things where the No campaign was trying to cause a stir over not much.

I was wrong.

If Scotland becomes independent, the UK would be foolish to maintain financial union.  They would have no control over Scotland's finances, and all the main parties have stated clearly that they would not maintain the financial union. With a general election on the horizon in England, they're unlikely to change their minds.

But so what? Scotland could keep the pound, and just connect it to the English pound. This has been done before. Alternatively Scotland could use the dollar, or look into joining the Euro (although I can't see that one getting very far).  We could even create our own currency if we want to. The money in our pocket is not the issue that matters here.

Scotland is a fairly well off part of the UK. There are three primary income sectors. Firstly the gas and oil sector, which is subject to fluctuation, and we cannot guarantee the income it could generate. Secondly, the financial sector (so we should have some useful expertise), and thirdly, a really strong university sector, but that relies on people coming in from outwith Scotland to generate funds.

Scotland could generate income well, but she has an ageing population and also believes in more public spending than the rest of the UK. The ageing population is a problem everywhere, although there's a higher proportion of older people in Scotland (is this because we export our young people?).

Borrowing is an important consideration for all of the UK, but If Scotland needed to borrow she'd be in a worse position than the rest of the UK, having no track record - no credit rating. We would be able to borrow less, and would need to pay more.

The SNP have described continuing complete financial union as Plan A. The main UK parties have rejected plan A. So what's plan B? And can Scotland afford it?

What do you think? Please note that any nasty comments will be removed, so just be nice :-)

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Her Dad wraps ribbon
around her cast, ready
for a party.
Update on the girl's arm: She fell down the stairs this morning, it was terrifying, but she was fine. It sounds more dramatic than it was, it was only a couple of steps, but it was very scary. I cannot wait 'til she gets her next appointment on Tuesday. Keep your fingers crossed for us.

Friday, 5 September 2014

choosing a favourite Beatle

Picture of my Mum, in her
Two Virgins top, taken by
my sister.
Which is your favourite Beatle?  I know that half of them are dead, one is Thomas the Tank Engine, and the other one is Paul, but let's imagine that they're back in their hey day and pick one.

Back in the day, my Mum tells me, there were only two options - you could be in camp Paul, or camp John. George and Ringo were just not on the table. Mum was, and still is, a big fan of John. Can you tell?

Nowadays though, you can be a fan of whoever you like, and I'm plumping for George. Apparently, I'm not alone. There's a quiz here, to guess your favourite Beatle, and the comments would suggest that there are a lot of George fans out there (or that George fans are more likely to comment).

The Beatles may have been the first, but there is still the idea that each personality in a boy band is a different 'type', and fans still pick one. Believe me, I spent a whole day painting 'I <3 Harry/Zayn/Louis/Niall/Liam' (or 1D for those who hadn't chosen a camp yet) on young girl's faces at a school fair recently. 

The Beatles provide a good example of the types.  There is:

John: Troubled rebel, life and soul of the party, sexy and wild. See also Robbie Williams, Liam Gallagher, and Harry Styles.

Paul: Clean cut boy next door, well behaved. See also Ronan Keating, Gary Barlow, and Liam Payne(?).

George: The alternative one, often a bit quiet, not quite fitting in. See also Shane Lynch (although not quiet), Jason Orange, and Tony Mortimer.

Ringo: The sweet one. In Ringo's case he was painted as being a bit dim, well, he was the drummer, but also lovable. See also Steven Gately and Mark Owen.

Some bands also have a token minority person, see Zayn Malik in 1D. No boy bands have a gay one on purpose as yet, as far as I know. Steven Gately was pretty effectively locked into the closet, and if there is a gay or bi one in 1D, they are yet to admit it.

So, who's your favourite Beatle? And, do you have any favourites from other boy bands? Which 'type' are they?

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Update on the broken arm: She is so bored of the cast, but did get it signed this week by her favourite teacher, who sadly, has had to leave :-( Hopefully we will get a lighter cast next week.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

sick of the Scottish independence referendum debate

I've been a definite no, and a definite yes, and so have been trying to pay attention to the debate on Scottish independence. The latest poll shows Yes and No are almost neck and neck, but really, all the mud slinging is doing my head in, and we've still got a fortnight to go!

Largs: Third most desirable place to live in Scotland.
I spent my evening last night half trying to write a post on how lovely Largs came out third most desirable place, out of all the postcodes in Scotland, and how it's true, Largs is a desirable place to live, but so are lots of other parts of Scotland...

...while half chatting to people on Facebook. 

Much of the chat is about the independence debate and the upcoming referendum. People care deeply, and they're not letting pesky things like facts get in the way.

There seems to be a lot being said about how Scotland didn't vote for the Westminster government. Well no, of course not, the Scottish people just voted for their representatives, that is how democracy works here. 

There is talk of how Scotland did not vote for the Tories. Annabel Goldie and the other Scottish Tories in Holyrood may beg to differ, but the important point is that as the Tories are a minority government in Westminster, most of the people of Britain didn't vote for them.

A vote for independence is not a vote for the SNP, despite the SNP wanting independence. Similarly, a vote to stay in the union is neither a vote for a return to London rule, nor a vote for the Tories, despite them being unionists. The fact is that most Scottish policy, including that on education and health, contrary to popular opinion, is made at Holyrood, not Westminster, already.

Rather, what is at stake is dissolving the union of nations created when the Scottish King took over the English throne in 1603, and formalised in the Act of Union of 1707.

Personally, I was born in Yorkshire, and consider myself Yorkshire first, British second. My daughters were born in England, my son and husband in Scotland. Our family is British, and my inclination is to stay British.

However, I like living in Scotland. The weather may be 'character building', but the general attitude is great. There is an ethos in Scotland about helping each other out, about having free access to health services and education, and it is different to that in England. Even in left-leaning parts of England. 

I think the Scottish education system is great, and if the Curriculum for Excellence is causing some problems, at least it hasn't been tinkered about with as much as the English system.  I also believe it is morally right to keep the NHS free.

If I could have voted for greater devolution of powers in the referendum (so called devo-max) I would have, but I can't. So I have to choose between the pro-union side, scaremongering about losing the pound and the BBC, so obscuring the issues which actually matter, and the pro-independence side who seem to be trying to make out that if we don't vote for independence the Tories will take over Scotland.  Why on earth would the Scottish government change their policy on free NHS services if UKIP were to come to power in England? The British government has as much impact on the NHS in Scotland as the European government, so I think this is just scaremongering.

I'm sure it'll work out if we do become independent, but I'd hate to see the nasty divisivenessn involved in the Yes campaign carry on. I am hearing so much about how you can't really call yourself Scottish if you vote No. I have been told I should vote No because EVEN THOUGH I am English, I have been allowed to live here.  People have told me that the older generation can be 'racist' (meaning anti-English), but that things are better now. Apparently now, the Scots don't mind the English moving here (and taking their jobs).

Personally, I can't wait until it's over.

What are your thoughts on the debate?  And if you can't be nice, please keep your thoughts to yourself.

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Saturday, 30 August 2014

haunted by books

My friend Steve, who blogs over at Shores of Night has issued a challenge:
"List 10 books that have stayed with you in some way. Don't take more than a few minutes and do not think too hard. They do not have to be the "right" books or great works of literature, just ones that have affected you in some way."
I know he said not to over think it, but this has been rattling around my head all day.  I've been adding books to an Evernote as I deem them fit for the list, but I've now come to the point where I'm just going to finish it.

What books stay with you?

Here's my ten.
  1. Exquisite Corpse by Poppy Z Brite - Ms Brite's publishers decided they didn't want to publish this book.  She was a good seller, but this was just a little too horrible.  Publishers were leery of portraying real serial killers like vampires.  It was a little too glamorous.  She found publishers though, and it came out.  I read it.  There's a scene in it so disgusting that it actually made me vomit.  I can still picture that scene, although I wish it didn't stay with me.  I've not risked Ms Brite since, although I'm sure I'm missing out.
  2. Forever Amber by Kathleen Winsor - Oh Forever Amber.  I read this in my late teens and got so caught up in it.  I couldn't put it down, although I had to at one point, when I could no longer actually read the book, I was crying so hard. A glorious book, and very silly.  There's a great old film too.  If you've got over two hours to kill check it out here.
  3. The Mummyfesto by Linda Green -  
    so bad I couldn't read it, and no-one will take it off my hands. Made me realise that I could actually get a book published, so perhaps it was good after all.
  4. The Wraeththu series by Storm Constantine - interesting ideas, fab characters, and a well developed mythos. I want more books like this in the world.  Actually, there are more books like this in the world, as Constantine has recently(ish) written more.  They're on the list.
  5. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte - I loved this book as a kid, and it still stays with me, although my take on it has shifted. And this, again, is something that I love. A story that can be understood in different ways.  First, at face value, I empathised with Jane, and could fall in love with the infuriating Mr Rochester alongside her.  I loved the magic of their coming back together.  But then the cracks start to show.  How could he treat Bertha so? Why not marry St John? Why not marry no-one and be a teacher, perhaps write books, enjoy walks on the moors?
  6. A Game of Thrones by George RR Martin - I love the Song of Ice and Fire series, and I cannot wait for the next instalment, but the reason I've chosen this particular book is ... SPOILER ALERT ... I remember that I was lying on my cheap futon, with my elephant duvet cover on, in my damp flat in Meanwood, next door to an illegal boxing club and repeatedly broken into, when I read the bit in the book where Ned dies.  He dies!  There are myriad ways set up to save him, and you're wondering which one will come to fruition when he goes and actually dies!  Before Martin that never happened, but that break with the rules meant that surely anything was possible.  
  7. The Adventures of Charlotte the Marmot by Gerda Muller.
    And now for something completely different. I don't remember the story in Charlotte the Marmot, but the pictures were captivating. In particular there was one with a cross section of Charlotte's underground home, beautifully detailed, which completely captured my imagination.
  8. Man, Myth & Magic, edited by Richard Cavendish.  My Mum collected the magazines that form this seven volume encyclopaedia of the supernatural, which I loved reading as a teenager.  It gave me an abiding interest in religion, superstition, and ways of living, and I have no idea where it is now.
  9. The Sookie Stackhouse series by Charlaine Harris.  These stories are a fun bit of fluff, but the characters are engaging, and well wrought.  When True Blood first hit our screens I enjoyed watching the story I recognised, and the characters I knew.  I especially liked the way that Vampire Bill said 'Sookie', and of course, the delightful Eric Northman.  I was REALLY happy when True Blood took those characters and ran with them, leaving the books to do their thing while they did something else.  I am so happy that Lafayette lived, and it made me think that I rather like it if we create characters and send them off into the world.  So I like the possibilities of fanfic.  Why not let other people play with your characters?
  10. The Bible by various authors.  I was trying to avoid this, but it kept coming back to me. Steve said it doesn't have to be the 'right' book, and I don't like this being in my list, but there you go.  I did have a copy of the Bible as a teen, full of stickers, underlinings and highlighter pen.  I spent a lot of time reading it and having it explained to me.  But then I grew out of that little bit of rebellion, and I am still angry about the lies of Christianity and the harm it does to us all.  But the Bible still impacts on me. I live in a Christian country, and everything around me is formed by the patriarchal nonsense in its pages.  Meh.
And breathe.

At home we're loving the start of the Largs Viking Festival this weekend, and I'm chuffed to bits for winning a competition with one of my blog posts (on driving).

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