Tuesday, 13 November 2018

Causes for joy and despair

The destruction continues apace, with the house now being deficient to the tune of two roofs, three walls, four windows and a door. It has, however, acquired three Very Large Holes. These will be for pouring concrete into as footings for the new steelwork, assuming the buildings inspectors who were coming today are happy with the holes. At nearly a metre cubed each, I can't see how anybody wouldn't be happy with them really. If you're going to have a hole... make sure it's a big one. Or three big ones, which must be three times as good.

Before it finally disappears forever, I do have another little visual treat for you, however. I present for your delectation the manner in which the lean-to extension is joined to the flat-roof extension:

Construction at its finest

Please don't spend too long staring at that image, looking for the cross-bonding of bricks, or the anchor bolts, or indeed anything at all. There is literally nothing, not even silicone sealant, in the gap between the two buildings. They are simply built "quite close" to each other. Not even that close.

On the plus side, we have discovered that the pitched roof is actually attached to the main body of the house with something more than glue and good wishes. Not much more, but something more.

A bolt, a bolt, my kingdom for a bolt!
In fact there are at least four M6 bolts holding the first set of roof timbers to the wall. Which is four more bolts than appear to have been used to hold anything else together. This genuinely made me almost giddy with excitement. You have to take your pleasures where you can.

Meanwhile, the nature of my mind is such that I have been awake since 4:30 this morning fretting about the roof trusses, and their location, and appearance, and size and whether they will have to span what was going to be an open, vaulted ceiling and completely change how the room was intended to look, or whether there's an alternative structure, or whether we should revert to having a "normal" flat ceiling in the revamped extension to avoid having exposed (not very beautiful) trusses. You'd be surprised by how many hours I can spend worrying about roof trusses.

And then this morning, MrBuilder arrived on site, as well as the Diligent Weekend Builders. So I asked MrBuilder if we had to have the trusses visible, and now I know all about king trusses and queen trusses and purlins, and he knows what we want, and it's all fine, we almost certainly don't need to have exposed trusses, and what was I worrying about anyway? But never fear, I'm sure there'll be another thing I can lie awake worrying about soon.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

The horror, the horror...

In a slightly surprising (to me) turn of events, the builders arrived at eight o'clock on Saturday morning to continue ripping the house apart, and appear to have every intention of doing the same on Sunday. Nobody can say they're not going for it. Today was, however, punctuated with pauses for them to stare and shake their heads, and on occasions to point and laugh. For those with minimal experience of building work... pointing and laughing is never a good sign.

I was chatting to a friend outside school the other day, and commented on the fact that the ceiling had been taken down. To my surprise she said, "Well I hope they're putting it back up again." I realised at that point that perhaps I had not outlined the full scope of what was happening to the house. In short, about a third of the downstairs area is being completely demolished, new foundations, floors, walls, doors and windows put in. Oh, and they might have to take the roof off and put it back on again as well.

To get your eye in, here's a picture from before they started, and the end of today...

Empty and ready for action

The only really notable thing about the above photograph is the abominable tongue-and-groove sloping ceiling that I've spent nineteen years hating.

At least the ceiling's gone.
Not only has the ceiling vanished, so has a section of the wall at the end, not to mention one of the roofs, and a large concrete lintel. I only regret that the wall to the right of the patio doors had gone before I had a chance to take a photograph of how it was joined to the side wall. Which is to say, it wasn't. There was a thick bead of silicone sealant approximately bridging the gap. It was possible to rock the entire wall backwards and forwards by hand. The draughts that used to plague that room are making more and more sense all the time.

This wholesale ripping out of the former lean-to roof, as well as the former flat-roof that's out of shot round the corner at the end of the room to the left, has allowed a thorough inspection of the structure of the third roof. Which is beginning to fall into the category of "things I'd rather I didn't know about".

Let us take exhibit A, the steel sub-structure. There are three uprights along the right-hand wall, spanned along their tops by a long beam. Well, sort of. There isn't one long beam, there are two which are kind of welded together in the middle. Kind of.

Can you see the welds? Me neither

Attached to this structure is the wooden frame of the walls. Well, when I say attached...

I wonder what these bolt holes are for?
Each upright is equipped with splendid big bolt holes (highlighted above, for your convenience) for the very purpose of attaching wooden frames to the steel. And yet, our entire timber frame is attached to the steels with glue. Or perhaps silicone sealant. Hard to say. Perhaps it's the slime trail from an alien slug. At the moment, anything's possible.

Now that we've established that the steel frame is not exactly structurally sound, we could move on to consider the roof itself. Which is held up on the steel frame. Here we go, here's one of the main roof beams, resting on the wall. (Unlike the lean-to roof, mentioned previously, the main roof beams do rest on the walls.)

Problem? What problem?
I admit, amongst the profusion of random pieces of timber, you may be struggling to work out what's going on. To help you out, I've marked on the next photo just how much of the main roof beam is actually resting on anything.

Oh, that problem!

And just in case we hadn't found enough things to laugh at, once the ceiling and roof of the lean-to had come out, we discovered a new item to point and laugh at.

The original external wall of the house
Here we are, looking at what was originally the external wall of the house. There seems to be something grey and white and black running across the back wall. What can it be?

Secret surprise
Why, yes! It is a waste-water pipe. It turns out to be the waste pipe from a washbasin upstairs. It runs under the floorboards, springs out of the back wall (formerly hidden above the lean-to roof) traverses the house and exits out of the side wall and down into the drain. And it's held together with gaffer tape. That well known plumbing sealant. Which means this job just got a little bit bigger and will now involve asking the builders to do some additional work upstairs to decommission this particular pipe. Yay.

At least it's not boring round here at the moment. What was that Chinese curse? May you live in interesting times...

Thursday, 8 November 2018

A new adventure

So... this is currently happening in the Bear household:

Which is to say, we have finally faced up to the realities of the terrifying incompetence of the previous owner, and are having a large section of the house Properly Dealt With. We have, or perhaps used to have, an extension. It is hard to describe without the aid of diagrams quite the nature of the extension, and I do know how you all love diagrams. Sadly, I can't quite be bothered to draw diagrams for you tonight, so I shall try and paint a word picture instead.

Our house is moderately old, built ninety years ago, originally without indoor plumbing. Sometime in the reasonably-distant past, a solidly-built, flat-roofed, single-storey extension was added, containing a bathroom. Some time later, some half-wit added a lean-to extension up against the side of this first extension. The second extension, being a lean-to, had a sloping roof. Despite the rather ad hoc, and temporary, nature of this extension, it still struck the next owner, Mr Bodge-It, as a good idea to put a large pitched roof over the whole lot. So we have two roofs on our extension(s). Which is nice.

Over the years, the lean-to part of the extension has gradually become colder, and draughtier, and damper, and generally less pleasant to be in. So we now have a lovely firm of builders here, essentially ripping it down and starting again. Not least because in their first exploratory dig they discovered that the lean-to didn't actually have foundations, and the steels that were "supporting" the roof were gradually slumping and sinking, as could perhaps have been predicted given we live in the fens, and there was nothing but mud beneath them.

Failing to find foundations
Now that the builders have started work properly, they are enjoying the same experience that every workman I have engaged goes through. They are discovering the handiwork of Mr Bodge-It. Personally, I've almost lost the ability to be surprised by the things that he did to the house. I smiled happily when the gas man wanted to take photographs of the old gas fire installation to send to his professional trade magazine, on the grounds he'd never seen anything so awful. I carefully removed the green/yellow wiring used for a live supply to an outdoor light. I gently shrug when I open the central doors of the fitted wardrobe and find a chimney inside it, and no actual cupboard space.

I find a certain frisson of entertainment to watching the reactions of professional tradesmen when they investigate our house. I got home yesterday to be confronted by Mr Builder, asking me, "Do you know what was holding the roof onto the walls?"

It came as little surprise to me to be told that the answer was "almost nothing." In fact, Mr Builder wafted something that looked like a particulary long and thin Viennetta*. It was in fact silicone sealant, and Mr Builder was so astounded by it that he wanted to take it home to show his wife. That's quite some silicone.

Today, sadly, I was home after they'd finished work, which did not prevent me getting a certain vicarious thrill from the things that they'd discovered during the day. I may, occasionally, be a little old-fashioned. A little bit tied to tradition. But there are times when I can't help but feel that sticking with the "traditions" of building regulations and basic mechanical engineering principles is a good idea. Take, for example, the tedious habit of only burying mains wiring in a wall in perpendicular lines. Wires should run up-down or left-right. That's just how it is. I can only imagine how much fun Mr Electrician had finding and digging out this cable run:

An unorthodox approach to mains wiring

Meanwhile, the ceilings have come down, to reveal the structure of the lean-to roof. Again, call me old-fashioned, but I generally find that if I want to span from one wall to another with a roof beam, the ideal way to do it is to rest the beam on top of the wall. That way all the lovely forces of gravity are transferred into the wall directly. An alternative method, I suppose, if you were more of a free-thinking artist, would be to screw the beams end on into the top of the walls, ensuring the full weight of the roof is taken on a handful of screws.

Can't think why the roof is sagging, can you?
The best bit about all this is we've only just got to the end of the second day. Imagine how much more there still is to discover! What fun!

On a more serious note, every one of these horrors that is found utterly vindicates our decision to Get It Done Properly. The extension wasn't just "a bit draughty", it was heading into the downright dangerous territory, and we are Doing The Right Thing in starting almost from scratch rather than applying another layer of bodge on top. I may not be quite so jolly as the windows, doors, walls and roofs come down and November bleeds into December. Now, where's that hot-water bottle...?

* Viennetta is a peculiarly English variation on ice-cream, once considered the height of sophistication. 

Monday, 29 October 2018

Being brave

Here we are, crawling to the end of half-term, wondering if it's now time for a holiday to recover from this one. More or less the same story as every holiday with LittleBear. Holidays with a small child are never quite as relaxing as holidays without a small child used to be. Which is not to say that they're not fun, they just involve considerably less sleep, less sitting around watching the world go by and definitely less reading a book with a nice glass of something in front of me.

This particular holiday was slightly talismanic for me - I have been increasingly feeling as though my world is getting smaller, my horizons narrower. I have found reasons and excuses not to travel. I have felt thwarted and trapped by my own inability to lift my head up and face the world. So I promised myself I would start with a small step. I would go to Zurich, where my friends live, where I've been before, where I know I can cope. And I didn't just promise myself, I looked two of my good friends in the eye when I said it, and they made me promise to stick with it, to not let life defeat me. And in my head, I built this trip up to be Something Important. It was to be the first step in travelling to more far flung destinations. If I couldn't do this, then there would be no hope for me.

Nothing like piling the pressure on myself is there?

Which is obviously how I came to be sat on GrannyBear's sofa the night before we flew crying that it was all too hard, and too scary and I couldn't do it. BigBear even offered to let me bottle out if that was what I wanted. I hadn't told him about my inner promises though, or that this trip represented something bigger to me than just visiting friends in Zurich. (I expect him to mind-read. For some reason he thinks this is unreasonable).

However, to cut to the chase, we went, everything was fine, and we had a lovely time. But since I'm not, generally, prone to writing the kind of blog posts that paint my life as some kind of Instagrammable perfection, I thought I'd share some of the odder aspects with you instead...

Like the fact that my awesome planning saw us renting an apartment in a relatively central location. Just off a road called Langstrasse. And while it's not exactly the Reeperbahn, it is very definitely the red light district, and party district, and drugs district. Both prostitution and cannabis are legal in Zurich. Let me introduce you to the bar on the ground floor of our building.

Ideal for children

And perhaps we should all pause to ask ourselves what kind of an apartment needs individual red lights above the bedroom doors?

Anyone worried?

I was distinctly relieved that the only question that LittleBear asked was "Why is that shop called 'Acid'?" pointing to a shop with the characteristic smiley face in the window. That and asking why the bakery along the road needed to be open 24 hours a day. We decided not to explain the concept of the munchies. The bakery, however, proved to be a great blessing, allowing me to pop out every morning for fresh baked goods only a minute from our front door. And thus it was that we discovered that LittleBear has a passion for shoggi gipfeli. Those of you who are not already familiar with this confection may be tempted to Google it and determine that it is a chocolate croissant. But you would only know half the story, for a shoggi gipfeli from the "Happy Bakery" is nothing so ordinary sounding as a chocolate croissant. I cannot really do it justice other than by showing you my small boy attempting to tackle one.

Nearly as big as his own head

Despite our insalubrious surroundings, we explored Zurich, mastered the tram system (even went to the tram museum) and introduced LittleBear to a variety of food stuffs that weren't all cheese or chocolate. A lot of them were cheese or chocolate, but they came in different formats, such as raclette and rosti, chocolate meringue and ruby chocolate. He also ate sourdough and bacon and coffee ice-cream, not to mention tackling gruyere and emmental, which are considerably cheesier than red leicester. To be honest, I was more impressed that we managed to go out for dinner with a vegetarian, a coeliac and someone with lactose intolerance and find things they could all eat. LittleBear has almost ceased to be the hardest person to find food for.

I will leave you with what I think should be the cover for a rap album. Taken under a tram.

Sunday, 14 October 2018

What will it take?

My LittleBear loves football. He really, really loves football. He watches Match of the Day religiously on Sunday mornings. He collects Match Attax cards. He plays football at every possible break time at school. He coerces me and BigBear into playing football in the garden whenever he can, come rain or shine. He has been as happy as a pig in poo at being able to train with the local Under-7s team. Even the fact that the team is already full and that this is "only" training, pending a new team being formed at Christmas, is not enough to stop him being overjoyed at being able to play.

So he was very pleased with himself that the U7 coach sent me a message earlier this week, asking if LittleBear would like to come to an extra mid-week training session for "some of my boys". There's nothing he enjoys quite as much as someone showing signs of thinking he's good at football.

Wednesday evening rolled around, and I duly girded my loins and braved the horrific rush-hour traffic to battle our way to the other side of town for said extra training. As we got closer, LittleBear got quieter. As we pulled into the carpark he started asking where we had to go, and whether this was the right place, and how did I know. I assured him that Coach has told me where to go, and that we'd just ask someone the way to the football pitch. LittleBear's feet dragged and he didn't want to hold my hand to cross the carpark.

"What if it's not this way?"

"It's fine... look, it says Reception there, so we'll go in there, and there'll be a front desk and someone who knows everything and it'll be fine."

"But it's a school, and it's not our school, and we're not just allowed to walk in."

"It's a sports hall. Like the sports hall at LocalSchool, where we go for parties and things. Everyone's allowed in, and you ask where to go inside."

And, fortunately, Mummy was right, and (admittedly not actually at the front desk, but nearby) we found a nice young man in a polo shirt with a sports centre logo on it, and we asked him the way, and he pointed it out to us, and there we were, beside an astroturf pitch, at the edge of which was gathered a gaggle of other six and seven year olds, waiting for a hockey match to end. So far so good.

Not a sign of any six or seven year olds that we actually knew. Or our coach, A. LittleBear buried his face in my legs and wanted to be cuddled. I crouched down to talk to him, and he simply clambered onto my bent legs to sit on a lap that was barely there.

"What's wrong sweetheart?" I whispered.

"I'm worried."

"What are you worried about? Are you worried we're in the wrong place? Or that we're not supposed to be here? Or that we're going to get told off?"

"The last one..."

So I resorted to one of my new tactics, used because I'm not very good at approaching people either. And I had a child sitting on a non-existent lap who was making it hard to move. In a slightly-louder-than-was-completely-necessary voice, that I hoped would invite eavesdropping, I said, "Don't worry LittleBear, we'll wait here until A arrives, and then you can join in."

My stratagem worked. The burly man in charge of the gaggle of boys approached me, "Are you with A? He's stuck in traffic and he'll be late. He's a rubbish driver, he's always late."

Slightly reassured, we were able to return to a vertical orientation and I began to get some blood back in my legs again.

The hockey match drew to a close, the girls left the pitch, and the gaggle ran onto the pitch, accompanied by BurlyMan. He beckoned for LittleBear to follow his gaggle, and I turned to give my boy a grin and a pat on the back as he trotted off. Instead I met a tear-streaked little face as my poppet stood irresolutely by the gate, shaking his head and clutching his hands together.

"I don't want to. I don't know anyone."

"It's OK my lovely, I'm not going to make you do anything. If you don't want to join in, that's OK. We can wait for A, and then you can join in if that's what you'd prefer. This is supposed to be fun, but if you don't want to, it's OK."

"I don't want to."

What else could I do? I have no intention of trying to force him to do something that clearly triggers terrible distress. And nor do I want to break his love of football.  So we stood for a few more minutes, having some extra cuddles, the tears mostly drying.

"I think I know that boy," LittleBear murmured, peering out of our cuddle and over my shoulder, back along the path leading to the pitch.

Finally, one of the other boys from our under-7 team arrived. Still no sign of A, but that suddenly didn't seem to matter, as we walked LittleBear and ThatBoy over to the gaggle and they joined in without a backward glance. A did eventually arrive, with another two boys, and in the resulting 7-aside match, LittleBear scored a goal, and became the subject of an argument between BurlyMan and A over who would get to sign him to their team.

As we drove home, an exhausted voice piped up from the back seat, "I had a really good time today Mummy."

I am trying to use this as an opportunity to help LittleBear learn that being worried doesn't have to be a reason to give up; that sometimes we can all be afraid but we can overcome our fear and do something fantastic once we've got past it; that he should try to remember this day, to remember that he was scared, but he persisted, and he had a really good time.

I'm not sure that he really understood or believed me. I'm not sure that my words are ever going to be enough to overcome his innate anxiety. I'm not sure I have any right to be surprised, as I see my own carefully-masked feelings in his open and raw experiences of life.

Tuesday, 9 October 2018

Everyday sexism #3

This is getting to be a habit.

Maybe I'm having a midlife-crisis. Maybe all this rage I'm feeling is normal. Maybe I've just had forty-four years of living with sexist rubbish and I've finally reached breaking point. But, reached breaking point I have. I am occasionally lying awake, seething about the world I find myself living in. That can't be right.

Recently the daughter of one of my colleagues set off for her first term at university, leaving my colleague and his wife with an empty nest (their eldest, a son, already being in his final year at university). Wife is a bit of a worrier, which position I have a great deal of sympathy with, and I rashly expressed the opinion that I felt she would probably worry more about Daughter leaving home than she had done about Son.

"Why would she worry more about Daughter?" I was asked. "Isn't that sexist of you?"

I let go with both barrels. I reminded my (all male) colleagues that they didn't have the faintest inkling of an idea of what it's like to be a young woman, let alone a young woman away from home for the first time, faced with large numbers of (probably inebriated) young men. In fact, I leapt up and drew a line down the white board and presented them with Jackson Katz's challenge,
What steps do you guys take, on a daily basis, to prevent yourselves from being sexually assaulted?
Unsurprisingly, and in keeping with the young men who were originally asked this question, they had no ready answers. And I then began to enumerate the ways that I, and other women, avoid being assaulted on a daily basis. The ways in which avoiding being assaulted is something we actively and regularly think about. I pointed out that one of my friends, in our quiet little village, was not going to come to the pub with me because she was too afraid to walk down the unlit lane from her house on her own. I cycled to her house and we walked together. At the end of the evening I took a small tour of the village to escort first her, and then another friend home, before cycling home myself.

Yes, we are afraid to walk home alone at night. And no, this is not right.

This experience was followed swiftly by reading about a thought-experiment proposed on Twitter: if you are a woman, how would your behaviour change if men had a 9pm curfew?

There were two tragedies in the responses to this:

The first was the pitiful nature of the ways in which women's lives would change. We would go out running after dark. We would go for more walks. We would feel safe putting headphones on after dark. We would do our grocery shopping in the evenings when it's quieter at the shops. We would go to the cinema without worrying what time the film finished and whether the carpark was properly lit. Tiny freedoms that most men simply wouldn't think twice about. Tiny freedoms that in fact it turns out many men don't think about, and didn't realise women were living without.

The second tragedy was the number of angry men replying about the outrage of threatening men with a curfew, and that women were just being hysterical by being afraid, and that a generalised fear of men was just as bad as racism. Seriously. Women are afraid to go out at night, and the retort is to ascribe our behaviour to an ancient Greek idea of our uterus being so out of control that it wanders around our body causing widespread derangement. Way to go angry men. Missing the point quite spectacularly, and decrying even the the faintest inkling of a suggestion of a thought of playing with the hypothetical idea of any restrictions to male freedoms, while attacking women whose lives and freedoms are already restricted every single day.

And finally, I was reminded by this thought experiment of my own school days, when in our early teens, we had Personal and Health Education lessons (or whatever they were called then) at my terribly nice, all-girls, private school. We were told all about periods, and sex, and drugs (but not rock 'n' roll). We were given rape alarms. We were told how to hold our keys so the blade pointed between our knuckles, ready to gouge the eyes of any attacker. We were told how to make sure we didn't look appealing enough to rape. We were told how, if attacked from behind, to scrape a heel down the attacker's shin and grind it into his foot bones. We were told never to cry "Rape!" or "Help!" if we were being attacked, but instead to yell "Fire!" because the world of self-interest we were being raised in could not be expected to respond to attacks upon our person, but would rouse itself if there were a wider threat.

And over the past few days, as these memories have flooded back, I have been asking myself how my teachers could live with having to teach impressionable teenage girls how not to get raped? Why were they not marching through the streets demanding equality? Why were they not breaking down the doors of the nearby boys' school to demand the boys were taught how not to rape? Why were they not teaching us to burn society down and start again*? How could they be complicit in making us believe that rape was our fault if we didn't avoid it? Where was their outrage? Where was their fire? Where was their fury?

Maybe it was in the same place as mine, simmering along, with no outlet. I am filled with rage, with fire, with fury, and yet it is an impotent rage, because the truth is - what can I change? How can I defeat the sense of entitlement that some men have over women and their bodies? What can I honestly do? Maybe all I can do is issue a call to arms, shamelessly stolen from the film 'Network',
 All I know is that first you've got to get mad. You've got to say: 'I'm a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!' So, I want you to get up now. I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! I want you to get up right now. Sit up. Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell - 'I'm as mad as hell and I'm not gonna take this anymore!' Things have got to change. But first, you've gotta get mad!...You've got to say, I'M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I'M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE! 

* I fear the answer to this may lie in two places. Firstly, undoubtedly our teachers were teaching us as they had themselves been taught. They too had been raised to assume that it was up to women to avoid rape. And no doubt they wanted to keep us safe from harm. The second reason may have more to do with the demographic of the school. I cannot imagine the plethora of Establishment barristers, doctors and bankers represented amongst the parents being delighted to have their daughters turned into societal fire-starters. You may think I malign them, but this was a school at which I was branded a communist for supporting the Liberal Party, so it was not a place where breaking free of the shackles of a conservative society was encouraged. I'm delighted to say that many of my friends have grown up to be perfectly normal members of society.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

Everyday sexism #2

Because I'm feeling militant (still), and because BrotherBear almost decided to wind me up last night, I thought I'd take the opportunity to recount another incident of everyday sexism that has irked me. Again, it wasn't a huge affront; I wasn't physically assaulted; my life's course has not been altered. But it was yet another tedious case of male entitlement. Male presumption. Male domination. It was a brief encounter with some boys from one of the local schools. Initially I laughed it off, with the currently-popular phrase, "boys will be boys" echoing through my mind. And then I thought, "No, damn it!" There is no reason to excuse bad behaviour on the grounds that boys somehow can't help being sexist pigs. They can. They should.

I refuse to be party to the attitude that boys somehow get a free-pass on shitty behaviour just because they're young. I refuse to accept that "we all make mistakes when we're young" is enough to excuse young men from sexual assaults. I refuse to sit down and shut up while my body is considered an open target for comment by any man who feels so inclined. 

Rather than explaining in yet another way what this particular occurrence was, I shall instead share the letter I sent to the boys' school....

Dear School Office,

Yesterday afternoon I had a rather disappointing interaction with three of your boys. I couldn't tell you who they were, or even how old they were, though I would guess about 12-13 years old. They were wearing their school uniform, hence my decision to contact you. It was not a serious incident, and I don't want you to think I am seeking any kind of punishment to be meted out, but I would like you to be aware of the event.

I was cycling home with my six-year old from the Junior School site, when three of your boys, who were standing on the path with their bikes and scooters, called out to me...

"Can I ask you a question?"

Filled with the milk of human kindness, naturally I stopped and was willing to answer whatever question they might have had. I was met with silence. I gently prompted them to go ahead, only to have more silence. Eventually, my would-be questioner announced he couldn't remember. "That's unusual," I replied, and continued on my way, keen to catch up with my own son before he reached the road. 

As I cycled off, the non-questioner then shouted after me, "You're fit!"

Not, as I said, a serious incident. It was probably a dare, and they probably thought they were being brave and funny and clever. And, as they were young, and I am old and wise(!) I didn't feel threatened. BUT, after a lifetime of living in a world where women are routinely whistled at, leered at, shouted at and judged by men, I had hoped the next generation had moved beyond that behaviour. It's just not OK for men to shout at women in the street. And when those boys are 16 or 17 instead of 12 or 13, what seems brave and funny to them now will be threatening and unpleasant for the girl or woman that they choose as their target.

I don't want anyone to make a huge issue of this, but I would like you to be aware that some of your students are behaving this way, and that perhaps a gentle reminder of what is acceptable and what is not would be in order.

best regards


I'm sure there are those among you who are now thinking, "Huh? That was it?" You are perhaps wondering why I am so enraged by something so minor, and why I am mentioning sexual assault in the same breath as "You're fit!"

It's because it's all part and parcel of the same attitude of entitlement; the same entrenched view that women are objects, present only for the titillation and gratification of men. And yes, I know, not all men. Don't bother to tell me that. The problem isn't all men. The problem is there are enough men. Enough men who don't see that wolf-whistling at a woman out running is sexual harrassment; enough men who don't accept that once you start viewing women as objects you open the door to treating them as objects; who don't understand that we're sick of it, we've had enough, we are not empty vessels for their fantasies, inadequacies or rage to be projected onto.

BigBear (and this is no insult to BigBear) commented to me that, "It's the same thing that happened when we were young. Nothing's changed."

And therein lies the problem. Nothing's changed. Isn't it about time something did?