Monday, 29 June 2015

Not quite like his mother

Two conversations with LittleBear today.

After he had carefully lined up his pieces of croissant in size order, to save the biggest for last:

PB: You are the funniest LittleBear in the world
LB: And the loveliest.
PB: Yes. And the loveliest <kiss>

On the bus going home:

LB: <out of the blue> I love you Mummy
PB: I love you too sweetheart.
LB: That's good <nodding contentedly>
PB: It's nice to love each other isn't it? And Daddy loves me and you as well, and we love Daddy, so that's good isn't it?
LB: We love each other all together!
LB: Everyone loves me.
PB: Yes my sweet, everyone loves you. I don't think anyone could meet you and not love you.
LB: And the people who haven't met me. Even people who haven't met me love me.

Is there really such a fine line between self confidence and narcissism?  Because I was aiming to make sure he was confident and secure about his place in the world, and our love for him. He seems to have taken that and run with it though...

Two sides of the cousinly coin

I have a lot of cousins. Admittedly, I only have 5 first cousins, but then I also have my mother's cousins, my father's cousins, my uncle's cousins, my cousins' cousins, my grandfather's cousin's children, my grandfather's cousin's children's children. And they're all just "cousins", because quite frankly, though I can do the whole second cousin twice-removed thing, most people don't then know what I'm on about and it's easier to just call them all "cousins" and if anyone really cares, I can explain exactly how we're connected later. If it actually matters. And, to be honest, nobody really cares.

At various times in my life some of my cousins have lived with me. I've been on holidays with them, I've descended on them in a soggy heap when my life has gone pear-shaped, I've spent more time that was probably good for my liver with them in a shared university house while I was still at school but trying to escape from home. I've travelled to far flung corners of the earth with them, or to visit them. We're a close-knit but far-flung family in many ways.

This weekend we went to stay with one of my cousins, let's call them MrCousin,  MrsCousin, GirlCousin (14) and BoyCousin (12). They used to live only about twenty minutes away, but work took them further south and on Saturday it took us over 4 hours to get to where they now live. LittleBear was enormously tolerant of a very hot, very boring drive on very congested motorways. And we then proceeded to have a fabulous time. Not just because I barely had to do anything to entertain LittleBear once he'd discovered BoyCousin. And not just because we were waited on hand and foot with glorious food and drink by MrCousin and MrsCousin. And not just because we had a chance to sit and talk and have (hot!) cups of tea while the three smaller people played together. And not just because it was beautiful warm, sunny weather. And not just because GirlCousin and BoyCousin were delightful and a reassuring glimpse into the future of bigger children who are independent but still loving and affectionate. And not just because MrsCousin has Been There and Done That with picky eaters, and took LittleBear's foibles in her stride. And not just because LittleBear behaved beautifully and we didn't have a single sobbing meltdown all weekend. All of those things, but also because I got a chance to talk to my lovely cousins, who I haven't really seen properly in years, despite being very close for so many years before they moved. We completed each other's jokes, we reminisced about family absurdities from years ago and it felt like it hadn't been nine years since they moved to another part of the country.

Meanwhile, I find myself disheartened, disappointed and hurt by the other side of the cousinly coin. Among my rafts of other cousins are more that I also love, that I have always had fun with, that I've been on holiday with, that I want to spend time with, and I keep reaching out to...

How about you come and stay with us?
       Yes, we should make a plan sometime...
We could come and see you - we'll be in your part of the country soon.
       Yes, we should make a plan sometime...
We'll be visiting GrannyBear in August - why don't you come over for lunch while we're there?
       We'll have a look at our calendar...

There's always an assurance that we should make a plan, but never a plan.

And no matter how many times I invite them, or try and make a plan, I'm always deferred, delayed, put off, and nothing ever happens. They're busy. I know they are. I know it isn't really about me. Their immediate families are scattered around the world, and they spend a lot of time travelling. I get it, I really do. And then, I hear that they're going to see one or other sets of my cousins. Or I'm told about a party for a different arm of the family that they're going to. Time and again I discover how often they see the rest of my family. But never me. I try not to take it personally. I try not to feel hurt. I know that it's not a slight, it's just a matter of being busy, not being organised, being in the wrong bit of the country.

But I'm reaching a point when I can't do it any more. I'm sure the coversation they hear goes something like this...

How about coming to visit us?
Sure, let's check the diary... <diary is full of business trips, family visiting, holidays, more business trips, more family visiting>... um, it's looking pretty full, how about later in the year?
OK. Let's make a plan later in the year.

And what I hear?

Like me. Please?
Love me. Please?
Want me. Please?

It doesn't matter any more how much my rational mind knows it's not about me. The rejection still hurts. Even unwitting rejection.

To paraphrase...

After all... I'm just a girl, standing in front of her family, asking them to love her.

Just for a while, I can't keep asking.

Thursday, 25 June 2015


I think it may now be time for gin.

An hour turned into two and a quarter hours.

As forecast, I'd had a Bloody Awful day at work, and I hadn't even closed the front door on arriving home when Friend and Children arrived. But that was because I'm unable to get anywhere or do anything on time, let alone early, so it was a miracle I was home before they got here.

The surprising part about the following two and a quarter hours was that everything was fine. Boy did, indeed, sob as though the world was ending when his mother left, but once I'd balanced a wooden ice-cream on my head and pretended to be a chocolate ice-cream, he was giggling, and we were firm friends after that. In fact, I had to cuddle or carry or be sat upon by Boy for large chunks of the time.

Friend had brought some cereal for her two to have as their supper. They apparently are two of those longed-for children who eat everything at nursery and are therefore not starving when they get home. Mine meanwhile had eaten potatoes, green beans and bananas for lunch, and tomatoes and cake for tea at nursery, so I then stoked him up on cheese sandwiches, cucumber, peppers, tomatoes and yoghurt (there was no way on earth I was going to attempt actually cooking anything with an extra two toddlers in the house). Girl ate a modest quantity of her cereal. Boy rejected his, climbed onto my lap and then ate LittleBear's leftover sandwiches, his sister's leftover cereal, some extra sandwiches I made for him and a chunk of cucumber. I call that a result.

Boy then followed me everywhere and wanted to show me everything in a very sweet manner while Girl and LittleBear ran up and down like whirling dervishes until hysteria threatened to win the day. Finally I managed to get all three snuggled up on the sofa with me reading stories and to my great surprise, four books later, BigBear came home. No, he wasn't early. It was 7:40 already.

When Friend attempted to take her children home, Boy rather ungratefully clung to me and sobbed when removed to the car. Being his mother is clearly a tough gig.

Wednesday, 24 June 2015

Wish me luck...

I've offered to do a favour for a friend tomorrow. I've offered to look after her children for an hour. I don't regret doing so, after all she's a friend, and she needs a favour, and that's what friends are for. I do however have a certain sense of trepidation about it. Let me explain...

Friend has two children, Girl (4) and Boy (2), both of them lovely. Girl will be starting school in September, and the local school has arranged a New Parents' Meeting, for parents of the new pupils to meet the teachers, see the classroom and ask questions. They've arranged it for 6-7pm. Yes, that's right, they've arranged for the parents of 4-year olds to need to be out from 6-7pm. Because it's not like that's the time 4-year olds might be doing things like, ooh, I don't know, dinner, bath and bed.

So, to allow Friend and her husband to actually see the school their daughter will attend, and meet her teacher, I shall be having Girl and Boy here for the duration. I would have abandoned LittleBear with his father and gone to their house if it weren't the fact that BigBear works late on Thursdays, so won't be home till 8pm.

Therefore, tomorrow, I collect LittleBear from nursery, after a day at work that I fully anticipate to be Bloody Awful, and drive hell-for-leather home in order to be there when Friend arrives with Girl and Boy at 5:30. I then have to attempt to give LittleBear dinner, while not giving Girl and Boy dinner, as they won't need dinner at this point. But they will need to be kept happy.

Girl thinks I'm wonderful, and loves playing with me. LittleBear and Girl get on splendidly and play together happily. On the few occasions when Boy has been left in my presence, such as when his mother has done something unreasonable like go to the loo, his world has ended, the air rent by his pathetic sobs.

Boy is also in the category of small child that (a) puts everything in his mouth and (b) climbs everything. Last time he was here, I felt vaguely prepared and at least put the cat biscuits on top of a cupboard. Boy climbed up the cupboard and found the cat biscuits. Apparently at bath-time his mother found some inside his vest.

I think we can all also agree that there are very few 2, 3 and 4 year olds who are not tired and cranky at, I don't know, let's say 6 or 7pm, for the sake of argument.

I can't imagine what can possibly go wrong. Apart from Boy sobbing inconsolably for an hour and half, eating Inappropriate Objects and falling off Things He Has Climbed, while LittleBear runs around in a state of screaming hysteria of over-tiredness and Girl wants to be carried by me at all times.

I'll see you on the other side...

Actually about Tim Hunt

I've already written something that was not really about Tim Hunt, but deferred writing about his comments myself until I'd allowed my brain to filter through all the opinions I'd read and decide what I thought. It's a bit too easy to be a cushion sometimes and bear the imprint of the last arse to sit on you.

Having shaken myself free of all the arses on the internet who were leaving their impression upon me, I feel now as though I've sort of, maybe, decided what I think. And, perhaps unsurprisingly, it's not black-and-white. There are shades and nuances to what I think that simply don't seem to get breathing space in the knee-jerk "burn him!" opinion pieces that were written immediately after his idiotic comments.

Let me tell you about my trouble with girls … three things happen when they are in the lab … You fall in love with them, they fall in love with you and when you criticise them, they cry.”

First of all, those comments were absolutely ridiculous. If they were meant as a joke, it was a joke that fell very, very flat. But it seems as though the reporting of the comments may have been, shall we say, a little deficient, because he claims his very next phrase was “now seriously”, which is a bit of a signpost to the idea that the previous statement wasn't serious.

The trouble arises not because Professor Hunt wasn't serious, but because of the number of people who think he was. And not, in my view, the girls who might want to become scientists or the women who already are scientists, but the men who think his "joke" is the truth, or even holds a kernel of truth. I was absolutely horrified by the volume of online commenters who referred to "feminazis" being out to get Professor Hunt, the ones who stated that there were "no" decent female scientists anyway, the ones who claimed women were physiologically unable to be rational and dispassionate and the ones who claimed that segregated labs are the logical extension of the single-sex train carriages that women want (because, obviously, avoiding being raped is exactly the same as stifling scientific collaboration).

I have a nasty suspicion that Professor Hunt hasn't actually had the misfortune to spend much time with people who genuinely think that women don't have a place in the lab. Or the boardroom. Or in parliament. Or at the bench. More to the point, even if he has been surrounded by misogynists all his life, because he isn't a woman, he will never have felt the impact of their attitudes personally. He will not have had his ideas casually ignored, only to hear them lauded when a man has them. He will not have been glanced at and ignored as eyes scan the room looking for the person who's actually in charge. He will not have been over-looked for promotion because he's in his mid-thirties, married, and his supervisor thinks he's going to start a family soon. He will not have watched his pay remain consistently behind that of a colleague doing similar work who happens to possess a different configuration of genitalia.

So, perhaps what he said was meant as a joke. I think it probably was. But when you're living a life where in a thousand tiny ways your worth, your abilities, your contributions and your intellect are doubted and undermined every single day, then a "joke" that reinforces the prejudices arrayed against you is, at best, unhelpful. And honestly, he should have known better. He wouldn't, I hope, say something crass and cliched and discriminatory about people of any particular skin colour, or religion, or age, or ethnicity, or sexual orientation, and he shouldn't have done so about women either.

In the end, he may (as he has pointed out) have done more good than harm, because the massive publicity, and the #distractinglysexy tweets, and the backlash against his comments, have brought the issues of sexism in the workplace, and the scientific workplace in particular, to the fore and prompted discussion on the subject. But the end doesn't justify the means. The fact that good may have come of his comments isn't an excuse to make derogatory jokes when you're in a position of authority and responsibility, when your opinions are respected and sought-after.

Was there an over-reaction to his comments? Perhaps. Though he certainly needed to apologise, explain and defend himself. And if I were a woman applying for a grant and found that he was sitting on the awarding committee, I'm not sure I'd feel confident that I was getting a fair hearing. I would have had lingering doubts about how much smoke there could be without fire, about whether there was a part of Professor Hunt who did think there was "trouble with girls". So I think it was probably right that he step down from sitting on grant-awarding committees at least.

On the other hand, as Athene Donald points out in her excellent blog, the evidence from the rest of his career is that he was (is) a fine scientist who has supported and mentored men and women throughout their careers with no hint of misogyny. If he really had been an abominable sexist beast who ruined the careers of aspiring female scientists, there would surely have been some of those women speaking up to say "Yep, he's a swine and he trampled on my academic development" after he made his comments. And yet there were no such voices. Nobody that I've seen or heard has actually provided any hint of a suggestion that he ever behaved in a sexist manner towards them. I would have hoped that that would count in his favour.

I don't usually take a particularly rabid stance on -isms, and am actively irritated when told I "can't" have an opinion on a subject on which I don't possess direct first-hand experience. Because I'm white, I can't have an opinion on any race issues? Because I'm a scientist I can't express a view on art? Because I'm employed I can't have an opinion on the unemployment benefits system? You name it, I've heard it and it's annoyed me. And yet, on this occasion I'm intensely and viscerally irritated by Boris Johnson, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox et al sticking their oar in to defend Tim Hunt. What the hell do they think they know about whether accusing women of being "trouble" in a lab is appropriate, or what level of reaction is appropriate? They do not know what it's like to face a relentless attitude that the science lab is not for them, or know how demoralising it is to hear someone so senior essentially say just that, even in jest. Did their hearts sink to find column inches being filled with debates about the differences between men and women? Do they spend their lives just wanting to be treated as a person, instead of being assessed and pigeonholed by gender first? I doubt it. I doubt that at any point in their professional lives anyone has thought "hmmm, eminently qualified, seems to know what he's doing, but on the other hand, he is a man... so perhaps he won't be good enough".

Unfortunately for my own self-consistency, I actually agree with much of what these men, and various others are saying - Tim Hunt was persecuted to a disproportionate degree for a single stupid, ill-conceived, sexist "joke", and the manner in which it occurred does not reflect well on many of the users of social media. But being told I've over-reacted by yet another privileged, middle-aged, white man just sounds a bit too much like "calm down, dear, it's only a joke". And if there's one thing that's almost guaranteed to rile me, it's being patronised.

Which is probably why I am prepared to give more time to Athene Donald's comments on the issue. I really do recommend you go and read her post on the subject. Not only was she my favourite lecturer at university, she's also a female physics professor at one of the best universities in the world*, she writes very well and is very interesting on a range of issues. And she makes a fantastic list of suggestions of ways to actually combat sexism that go beyond writing humourous tweets. Just in case you don't go and read her blog, here is what she suggests:

"It would be wonderful if everyone who has posted some horrified comment about #huntgate or who has read some of the outpouring of media articles, committed to taking one action, just one, in their local organisation to counter the local brand of disadvantage that women may be facing. We should all be pro-active, not look the other way. Here’s an easy list to help people make that commitment. Everyone should be able to find one they are in a position to carry out.
  • Call out bad behaviour whenever and wherever you see it – in committees or in the street. Don’t leave women to be victimised;
  • Encourage women to dare, to take risks;
  • Act as a sponsor or mentor (if you are just setting out there will still always be people younger than you, including school children, for whom you can act);
  • Don’t let team members get away with demeaning behaviour, objectifying women or acting to exclude anyone;
  • Seek out and remove microinequities wherever you spot them;
  • Refuse to serve on single sex panels or at conferences without an appropriate level of female invited speakers;
  • Consider the imagery in your department and ensure it represents a diverse group of individuals;
  • Consider the daily working environment to see if anything inappropriate is lurking. If so, do something about it.
  • Demand/require mandatory unconscious bias training, in particular for appointment and promotion panels;
  • Call out teachers who tell girls they can’t/shouldn’t do maths, physics etc;
  • Don’t let the bold (male or female) monopolise the conversation in the classroom or the apparatus in the laboratory, at the expense of the timid (female or male);
  • Ask schools about their progression rates for girls into the traditionally male subjects at A level (or indeed, the traditionally female subjects for boys);
  • Nominate women for prizes, fellowships etc;
  • Tap women on the shoulder to encourage them to apply for opportunities they otherwise would be unaware of or feel they were not qualified for;
  • Move the dialogue on from part-time working equates to ‘isn’t serious’ to part-time working means balancing different demands;
  • Recognize the importance of family (and even love) for men and women;
  • Be prepared to be a visible role model;
  • Gather evidence, data and anecdote, to provide ammunition for management to change;
  • Listen and act if a woman starts hinting there are problems, don’t be dismissive because it makes you uncomfortable;
  • Think broadly when asked to make suggestions of names for any position or role."

* Yes, I'm biased. Wanna pick a fight about it?

Saturday, 20 June 2015

Bloody tradesmen (or, the outcome of those phonecalls)

Regular readers (and I assume there are some) will recall my stresses over trying to make some phone-calls last week. Well, after some morale-boosting from various people, I managed to plough through all of them. Special thanks go out to the people who suggested catteries we could use, and even more special thanks to my friend Piglet, who upon reading the post immediately emailed me and offered to come round while we were away and tend to the daft moggy. Daft moggy is now booked in to a cattery, so we are cleared for take-off for our holiday. Daft moggy is also vaccinated and has had his bottom shaved. Well, trimmed, but even for a daft moggy he looks particularly daft, as it turns out that under the thick black fur is a little tuft of white, in a particularly comical location. Poor puss.

Car was booked in for a bit of TLC, and then the very next time I started the car the warning light wasn't on. And it hasn't been on since. Not even a hint of it. So I cancelled the trip to the garage. (And that was another phone call. Go me!)

My aunt and uncle were unable to take a trip to the family cottage to receive the furniture delivery, but the decorator said he would let it in. Then the furniture people said they'd deliver between 7 and 10pm, and I didn't really think it was reasonable to ask a man I've never met to give up his evening as a favour to let in some furniture, so I cancelled the delivery and tried for the fourth time to explain that it's a holiday cottage, and that one week's notice is not helpful for a 500+ mile round trip, and an evening delivery is not helpful for getting someone to do a favour. After singularly little help beyond "we'll call you when we next schedule a delivery" again, I sent A Stiffly Worded Email, which did the trick. I'm much more firm in writing than on the phone. Lo and behold we now have a morning delivery next week and the decorator will let it in, and they're going to call his mobile an hour before delivering and... phew...

BUT (and it is a big but).... the decorating....

I have been organising this job since the beginning of March. That's March. Three and a half months ago. Right back at the beginning I told Jonty (that's the decorator) that there wouldn't be anyone in the cottage until July, so he had until then. In May he told me that the plasterer would start on the 8th June. On the 9th June he told me that the plasterer had just got back from his holiday. At that point I reminded him that we'd be coming on 4th July. Unfortunately that reminded was by text, so I didn't get an immediate reply. Instead I got immediate silence. Lasting, resounding, echoing silence.

Yesterday I phoned Jonty to see how things were going. After all, it's only two weeks till we go. Apparently the decorator is due to start in a week and a half. I mentioned that whole two weeks thing again, which caused a bit of humming and hah-ing. I did point out we didn't necessarily need to sleep in the room that's being decorated, as there are other rooms. Apparently the furniture from the room in question is currently stacked up in the other bedrooms. The wallpaper's been stripped, the curtain rail is down, the room is empty, it's all ready to be decorated, so it isn't even as if he can easily defer the decorating until after we've been and it be habitable.

Oh, and did I mention we're taking GrannyBear with us? Since her cataract operations she's not regained her long-distance driving-confidence, so by coming with us, she gets to go to her cottage, and we get free baby-sitting while we go to the pub to spend some time with my mother.

There are three bedrooms in the cottage. A bunk-bed room, a room with two narrow single beds and the main (being-decorated) bedroom.

Best case...
... is that the room is ready enough to sleep in, even if not finished, LittleBear gets the bunk room, GrannyBear gets the two-singles room and BigBear and I get the main bedroom, in whatever state it's in. I view this as A Highly Unlikely Outcome.

Worst case...
... is that the room is not ready, and the furniture is still heaped up elsewhere. First step would therefore be to "un-heap" sufficiently to find the beds that can be slept on. Then LittleBear gets the bunk room, GrannyBear and I share the two-singles room... and BigBear gets the living room floor.

Most Probable Case...
... is that the ceiling in the main room has been plastered, and the beds moved back in, but no other decorating has been done. It'd be bearable but somewhat disappointing and not exactly a jolly, relaxing holiday atmosphere.
Oh, and you remember that furniture delivery? The delivery of a whole new three-piece suite? That will, until we remove and dispose of the old three-piece suite, be crammed into the living room on top of the old one. In that same (very small) living room that BigBear might be sleeping in.

And we're going to drive for a minimum of five hours, with a toddler and a Granny, after packing ourselves up and shutting down the house for the week, to be greeted with all of that. A cottage that will have an unspecified number of un-occupiable bedrooms and a living room that's so full it may not be possible to open the front door. This does not feel like an inherently good idea.

I was actually crying with despair when I put down the phone after talking to Jonty. This is the only week until September when we can go to the cottage. I haven't been since last September. This is the place I go to recharge my spirit. This is the home I carry in my heart wherever I go in the world. This is the one unchanging, unwavering, strong thread that runs through the very core of my family, binding us together across continents, years and generations. I've already had to cancel the week we were due to go in May thanks to that lovely Mr Sony requiring BigBear's presence at a conference in London.

So now, either we just go and say "sod it, it'll work out fine", even though there's a fair to middling chance it'll be a complete bomb-site. Or we don't go, we break LittleBear's heart and possibly mine as I don't get to have my longed-for holiday. So we're going. Sod it, it'll work out fine.

We are, however, reviewing our travel plans. In the past, we've often stopped at GrandmaBear and GrandadBear's house in The North for a night on the way up. This has the advantage of giving LittleBear extra time with his grandparents, splitting the journey into more small-child-friendly chunks, and allowing us to arrive at the cottage early enough in the day to do all the buying-food-unpacking-finding-missing-lightbulbs-and-putting-sheets-on-beds required without having a nervous breakdown. We weren't going to do that this time, as we'll have GrannyBear with us, and GrandmaBear and GrandadBear don't have enough spare beds for us all. And GrandmaBear gets a bit anxious about visitors that she thinks might judge her (yes, we do have quite a bit in common). We didn't want to drop an anxiety-bomb on GrandmaBear.

Change of plan. We'll do whatever it takes to ease GrandmaBear's anxiety if it means we can arrive at the cottage at lunchtime the following day, eat at the pub, and spend the afternoon trying to make as much of the cottage habitable as possible. And BigBear can sleep in the living room at his parents' house. He might as well get used to it, as that's what the rest of the holiday looks like it'll have in store for him.

Happy Frigging Holiday.

On the plus side, I no longer give a damn about sorting curtains out before I go. My noble aspiration to have it all sorted so that by the time the next member of my family goes they will arrive to a beautiful and complete bedroom has gone by the wayside. Screw them. If I have to go through this rubbish, they can live with hanging the curtains. And I get to take the pick of the bunch from this lot

with me and see what looks best. Which was probably a better idea all along anyway, so there's the silver-lining. A pretty small silver-lining, but I'll take what I can get at the moment.

Thursday, 18 June 2015

The spirit or the letter of the law?

It would appear (much to my mother's infinite glee and entertainment) that my son takes after me. He is astoundingly, tediously, frustratingly, irritatingly, exhaustingly, accurately pedantic.

"LittleBear, please put your shoes on"
"They're sandals"

"LittleBear, please climb into your chair for dinner"
"You said I could sit in your chair. I'm not climbing into my chair"
"A chair then, any chair, just a chair where you can eat dinner please"

"LittleBear, why are your trousers so filthy?"
"They're shorts"

"Are you building a lego shark?"
"It's not lego, it's duplo"

He takes everything I say completely literally. Sometimes that can be quite endearing, especially when it forces me to address some of the stranger quirks of the English language.

With trembling bottom lip after I've just banged the muscle of my forearm against a bicycle on a crowded path, "Mummy? How can your arm die?"

With bewilderment after I've got a bit cross with the cat, "How do you drive up a wall?"

With indignation, "I am NOT a monkey, I am a three-and-a-half year-old boy!" (And, oh boy, is that half important.)

And then there's the peril of trying to make rules. Woe betide you if you make a rule that's too specific, because LittleBear is punctilious about obeying the letter of the law, whilst riding roughshod over the spirit of it.

I tried telling him not to throw himself head-first off the sofa onto a pile of cushions, so he threw himself head-first off the arm-chair instead.

I told him not to bang on a rather large window with his elbow, so he "stroked" the window with his elbow instead.

I asked him not to stab his placemat with his fork, so he stabbed the tablecloth instead.

I reprimanded him for trying to hit the cat, so he claimed to be "poking" him instead.

I was adamant that jumping up the stairs was not safe, so he tried hopping instead.

I informed him that I was getting tired of the whiny "What shall we do?" in the car, and to please not ask that question again. It's our current equivalent of "Are we nearly there yet?" and it starts up as the car door is opened, and continues at intervals for the entirety of the journey, with the frequency increasing in direct proportion to LittleBear's tiredness. When he's awake and perky, he's quite happy to chatter away, play with a toy, lose himself in thought gazing out of the window or generally be a contented little object. When he's tired though, it's enough to drive me up the wall. Having been quite firm on how unwelcome this question is becoming, this morning, before we'd even got in the car, LittleBear asked "What can we do?" at which point I became Mildly Tetchy. His defence? "I didn't say 'shall', I said 'can' Mummy".

It's a wonder I haven't strangled him some days.

For a while I tried to cover all the bases: "Do not hit, kick, poke, prod, thump, chase, follow, shake, grab, push or pull the cat". But the more things that I think of to tell LittleBear not to do, the more endlessly creative ways he finds of doing something else that's dangerous or foolhardy or indeed exactly what I've just told him not to do, but with a subtly different verb. So it's time to broaden the scope: "Be kind to the cat". And I'm sure he'll re-define "kind"...

Wednesday, 17 June 2015

It's not always that bad

This morning was really quite splendid, not because anything extraordinary happened, but because of all the things that didn't happen. And it reminded me that mornings don't have to be a nightmare, and also that they're not always a battle.

This morning LittleBear didn't:
  • thrash around on our bed declaring his legs didn't work and he couldn't go and get dressed
  • hide behind the bedroom door in an attempt to avoid getting dressed
  • lie on the floor kicking his legs in an attempt to avoid getting dressed
  • demand that I make a "flat LittleBear" on the floor out of all his clothes before he'd deign to wear them
  • refuse to choose breakfast
  • refuse to eat the breakfast that he'd been given
  • drop his breakfast on the floor and then sob because he wasn't allowed to eat toast covered in cat hair
  • throw himself on the floor sobbing because he didn't want to go to nursery
  • throw himself on the floor sobbing because he didn't want to brush his teeth
  • throw himself on the floor sobbing because he forgot to say goodbye to Daddy
  • throw himself on the floor sobbing. At all
  • declare that he doesn't like it here and doesn't love me any more
  • run away when I wanted him to put his socks on
  • run away when I wanted him to put his shoes on
  • lie on his stomach broadside across his car-seat instead of sitting on it
  • have a hysterical meltdown because he forgot to look out of the car window to see the river

This morning LittleBear came trotting into our room at 7am, clambered into bed for a big cuddle, went for a wee with no fuss, clambered back into bed to read about dolphins with me, got dressed quickly, hoovered up breakfast, played with his lego while I cleared up breakfast, read about tuna with me, brushed his teeth, got his socks and shoes on, got a dinosaur sticker for being so helpful, climbed into the car and put his arms through his straps and then listened to songs from "Here Comes Science" by They Might Be Giants all the way to nursery.

So next time I complain that mornings are always bloody awful, someone can now remind me that on 17th June 2015, the morning went like a dream.

And we'll gloss over being woken in the night by bleating, only to be told "I managed to do the thing I was trying to do", which turned out to be... getting the corner of the duvet lined up with the edge of the bed. Because I really needed to know that in the wee small hours...

Monday, 15 June 2015

Taking time to listen

The older LittleBear gets (and I suspect, the older I get) the more I find myself sounding like my mother. Fortunately, I don't happen to think that's a bad thing, though it is a little disconcerting when I open my mouth and my mother's voice comes out.

"Will you please stop talking - I can't think straight!"

I've been using that one more and more recently. And I vividly remember it being used upon me, really quite frequently.

Most people who meet LittleBear on a casual footing would be surprised to discover just how much he talks. Round new people, or even familiar people at times, he completely clams up, shrinks his head down into his shoulders, hides his face against me and points at me, muttering, "you tell them" about whatever is occurring. With me? He basically talks almost non-stop. And I just cannot function with constant noise, however adorable, funny or entertaining that noise might be.

I don't know whether I'm odd, whether it's hereditary, and both my mother and I are odd, or whether lots of people feel this way and just hide it better, but I cannot stand noise. I've never really enjoyed nightclubs or concerts, because I stop functioning. I can't think, I can't talk, I feel confused, bewildered, even angry. 

I'm the polar opposite of BigBear, who doesn't seem to be able to exist without background noise. Every room he enters, a radio is switched on, or the television. He loathes silence as much as I seek it out. Yes, this does cause issues, but we compromise, mostly. We no longer have the radio on in the bedroom when we wake up, and at breakfast I've met him on the middle ground of "no talking" radio. We can have Radio 3 and some gentle classical music, but nothing more strenuous. I'm not at my best in the morning, temper-wise. Having voices bleating away in the corner of the room disrupts something in my brain and I become irrationally angry and frustrated. It's as though I can't think because something else is filling my head with unwanted information.

Imagine me with someone who never stops talking. It's not pretty. Trying to write a shopping list, or find the things we need to be able to leave the house, or remember what emails I need to send, with a constant stream of, "Mummy, are nail clippers sharper than sharks teeth? What about a Great White's teeth? Are they sharper than dinosaur teeth? Are your clippers sharper than my clippers? Why are they Mummy? I'm going to make the world's biggest shark, it's going to be bigger than a Whale Shark, even bigger than a Blue Whale, it's going to be as big as the moon, and it's not going to have a dorsal fin, it's going to be streamlined and super, super, super fast. Mummy where are the long pieces (of lego)? Mummy, where are the eyes? It's going to have lots of eyes and then it will be able to see in the deep ocean even better than anything else ever."

So sometimes I snap and ask my LittleBear to please just be quiet for a moment so I can think straight. ("Mummy? Are you thinking in wiggly lines?")

And sometimes, out of nowhere, a little voice demands attention...


With an inward sigh I smile, for the umpty-tumpth time and say, "Yes sweetheart?"

"I love you Mummy."

And he turns back to continue playing with whatever he was playing with.

And I remember just how important it is to keep listening, keep caring, keep taking an interest, keep engaging with my LittleBear's world, because if I didn't listen to everything he wanted to tell me about sharks, I wouldn't be there to hear the most beautiful words in the world.

Friday, 12 June 2015

Not exacty about Tim Hunt

I could, and perhaps will, write about Tim Hunt's absurd comments about the "problems" of women working in science labs. Since everyone seems to be writing about it, and there's a splendid selection of #distractinglysexy pictures on Twitter where other female scientists are mocking the idea, I'll leave it for now, and instead play the blogging equivalent of word-association*. One of my old supervisors at university has written an article on Huffington Post about Tim Hunt's comments and it produced a strong visceral reaction in me.

Just the act of seeing her name took me back to my second year at university, took me back to sitting in her study during a supervision on Quantum Mechanics, took me back to crying in frustration and desperation that I couldn't understand, took me back to feeling sick with fear before a supervision, took me back to sitting at my desk trying and failing to work through the problems we'd been set, took me back to being told I was inadequate and would never master physics unless I gave up all my outside interests and focused only on working. I actually sat, staring at the screen with my hands shaking and my heart in my mouth as I relived the feelings.

Before anything else I should point out that Professor Claudia Eberlein was (and presumably still is) a superb theoretical physicist. I have absolutely no doubts about her professional skills, or indeed about whether she is a delightful person. I never had the opportunity or inclination to know her socially, though I have been told she is lovely.

She is also probably a good teacher for some people. I was not one of those people. Maybe she never realised how uncertain and insecure and lacking in confidence I was? Maybe she didn't think that should matter. Maybe in the very short time, and with the high work load we had, there wasn't time to take account of my crushing lack of confidence. Whatever the reason, being reduced to tears by a supervisor on a regular basis, having "insufficient" or "inadequate" or sometimes simply "no" written on my work, being told I would never be a physicist, none of these were things that did anything other than convince me even further that I couldn't do it, couldn't understand, was too stupid, too lazy, too useless.

Start with someone who doubts themselves, and reinforce those doubts, and you have a whimpering wreck before you know it. Is that Professor Eberlein's fault? Perhaps not, except, in her article she says:

"I have on a few occasions seen staff cry, men as well as women, but it would never have occurred to me to see this as a sign of them somehow not being suitable scientists; I would have just been concerned to address whatever got them into such a distressed state, and I would question the suitability of any director or manager not having the same priority. If there were a science department where women being reduced to tears were not an isolated instance, then I would ask what in that work environment has led to such extreme frustration that got them into such distress."

And I can't help but think - where was this attitude when you were reducing me to tears? Where was the empathy and the concern then? Or is it only a problem if the reason a girl is crying is because she's been discriminated against? Straight forward unkindness and aggression is OK? Where was the "suitability of a manager" when you were spending the entire hour of our supervision discussing the finer subtleties of one of the questions with my (tediously brilliant) supervision partner, ignoring me entirely until the end when you simply told me that I need to try the problems again as I clearly hadn't understood? That wasn't teaching. It's true, I wasn't as accomplished as my supervision partner, but I couldn't help but think that perhaps that meant I needed more teaching not less.

After spending a year being told that I was failing, inadequate and lazy, I was both surprised and mystified by the uplifting pep-talk Professor Eberlein gave a small group of us at the end of the year, just before our exams. She assured us we were all capable of achieving firsts, that we were all just as good as any man could ever be, not to doubt ourselves and not to let others tell us we couldn't do anything any man could do.

I got a third that year.

I sat in my Quantum Mechanics exam crying, and chewing my finger. I actually managed to bite my finger so hard and repeatedly I severed the nerves in the back of it and it was many months before I regained feeling in it. I barely answered any questions. I can't blame Professor Eberlein for that. I'd got my exam timetable written down arse-about-face, and went into that exam expecting it to be on Thermodynamics and Solid State Physics. The shock of turning the paper over and being confronted with QM was more than I could handle.

However, the combination of being convinced I would never master QM, and then utterly, utterly ballsing up the exams meant that when given a choice between taking a three-year degree or staying on for an extended four-year degree, I opted for the three-year. Anything to escape from the exams and the feeling of being utterly useless at theoretical physics.

I got a 2(i) at the end of my third year.

I got firsts and starred firsts for my final year project work.

I won a prize for my experimental work.

I found my niche. It turns out it's not theoretical physics, it's experimental physics, and especially where that overlaps with engineering. (Does that make me Leonard instead of Sheldon? Or, please no, not Howard!**)

A few months ago, I found my old supervision work in the loft. I instantly recognised Claudia Eberlein's handwriting on it. Even after 20 years I would recognise her writing anywhere. Especially "Insuff." which is what she was reduced to when she was tired of writing "Insufficient". And I flicked through it. I was surprised to discover how many ticks there were. How many times she'd written "Very good" or "good" or even "nearly". How is it that I remembered so vividly, painfully, humiliatingly all the "inadequate"s, "insufficient"s and "try again"s, and none of the things that I'd done right?

So, perhaps I should reconsider my view of myself and Quantum Mechanics? I still don't think Professor Eberlein did me any favours - any teaching style that reduces a pupil to tears is probably not a good one, no matter how lacking in self-confidence the pupil. But despite her criticisms, I wasn't actually that bad. I was just lousy at taking note of the times I was praised, but clung like a limpet to the times I was criticised. And that's definitely my problem and not Professor Eberlein's. It's a problem I still have, and it's still not her fault.

So, Professor Eberlein, I salute you as an excellent physicist, and forgive you for your somewhat harsh teaching methods. You were not as critical as my memory is fooling me into thinking, and I wasn't as bad at Quantum Mechanics as it felt at the time, it's just that I took the criticism to heart and cried like a girl... oh... hang on... isn't that where this all started?***

* For reasons that escape me, my family's own version of a word-association game was called "Partridge Jumping". Not only did you have to be prepared to defend the logic behind your association, but every time you added a word you had to recite the entire list of words backwards from where you were adding a word. Yes, we did consider this fun as children.

** I'm hoping you'll get the reference to the Big Bang Theory, but I'm aware that sitcoms about physicists aren't everyone's cup of tea. They should be, along with Doctor Who, but there's no accounting for taste. Take Big Bear for example, despite me loving him to bits he doesn't actually like either the Big Bang Theory or Doctor Who. It's a miracle we're still married.

*** This is a joke.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

Aspirational parenting

I read an article in the Guardian yesterday by George Monbiot that made me stop and think. The first thing that I stopped and thought was the same thing that I always stop and think when I read an article by George Monbiot and that was "Oh do shut up George, you're talking utter nonsense again". Makes you wonder why I've read more than one or two of his articles doesn't it? However, on this occasion my eye-rolling despair lasted only as long as reading the headline

Aspirational parents condemn their children to a desperate, joyless life.

And given that it's a sub-editor that's usually responsible for the headline on the Graun, I think I might, on this one, rare, occasion have to not disagree with George.

Once I got round to reading the actual article I was reminded afresh how much I loathe the competitive nature of so much that happens with parenting. And I was appalled, depressed and slightly sickened by some of the things he talked about. The very idea that people start coaching their children when they're toddlers, hot-housing them, force-feeding them knowledge and information and skills to try and make sure they get ahead. I was reminded of poor little Bertie in Alexander McCall Smith's 44 Scotland Street novels, a six-year old boy with a domineering and misguided mother who inflicts saxophone classes, Italian lessons, psychoanalysis and pink trousers on her son, despite his desire to join the boy scouts and hit things with sticks. Those were works of fiction, written to raise a laugh. Admittedly they're funny because we (almost) all know parents who possess some of those traits. Parents who start their little darlings on piano lessons when they're three and ballet and tennis and horse-riding and all the rest. But Bertie was an exaggeration. Wasn't he? It would appear not. It would appear that there are actual human beings in this world who pay someone to coach their child in the right skills to be admitted to the right nursery. Or pay someone simply to identify the right nursery for ensuring their child starts out on the right path to the right university. Whatever right means to the kind of people who do this.

I hate people. I hate the idea that there are small children out there who want to play and giggle and be loved and have a sense of worth that isn't related to whether they've achieved something. Who want to be secure in their parents' love and approval irrespective of whether they can correctly decline their Latin nouns aged three. I hate the idea that there are parents who already have fixed and concrete ideas about what university counts as good enough, what career is good enough, what salary, what car, what house, what material possessions are adequate before they will deem their child to have succeeded.

Which sort of, in a roundabout way, brings me back to the headline, and my initial disagreement with it, and my own aspirations for my LittleBear. Because of course I have aspirations for him. Hopes. Dreams. I'm only human, and I don't think there are many parents in the world who don't want the best for their children, who don't aspire to something "better" for their children than they have. It's what that "better" is that makes the difference though, isn't it? Just because you have an aspiration or two doesn't necessarily mean your child is condemned to some sort of joyless existence. You could aspire to joy after all, couldn't you?

When BigBear and I were expecting LittleBear, we talked about what we wanted for our unborn child, what was important to us, what we hoped for. And we both had the same basic hope. Our first hope was that our child would be born healthy. Nothing more. Not exceptional, just whole and pink and perfect. And after that, the thing that we both want, more than any other is that he feels loved and has self-confidence and a sense of self-worth.

As you may have noticed from some of what I've written here, I'm perhaps not over-endowed with confidence in myself. And, it would be fair to say, BigBear is not exactly overflowing in the self-confidence department either. And therein lies the "better" that we want for LittleBear. We want him not to suffer from the fears and anxieties that have beset us. I'm sure he'll have his own fears and anxieties, and I'm sure that it's not entirely in our hands what happens in his mind. After all, we both had loving parents and we both ended up the way we did anyway. But that doesn't mean I can't aspire to have a more psychologically robust child than I have ended up myself. It was that hope that, slightly indirectly, led me to my course of CBT...

... I sat in my doctor's surgery, crying, as seemed to be the case rather often at the time. And I looked at my beautiful boy playing with toy cars on the floor and sobbed, "I just don't want him to grow up like me. I don't want him to think he's a failure. I don't want him to hate himself." My delightful and sympathetic doctor looked at me, somewhat bewildered and asked, "How long have you felt that way about yourself." And thus I ended up getting some help to stop feeling "that way"...

So, yes, of course I'd be delighted if my boy goes to a "good" university, or is a talented musician, or a skilled sportsman, or indeed excels in any field. And yes, of course I will nurture and encourage him to make the most of his inate talents. And I'm sure I'd be proud of him if he had a "successful" career. BUT, what I really want is for him to find a path through life where he feels fulfilled, where he is rooted to his own life, connected to people who love him and who he loves, where he does something that inspires him and satisfies him, where he has a sense of his own worth, where he is confident in the validity of his own feelings and able to express his own opinions. Where he is happy, secure and loved. I hope to give him as much of that as I can, to lay a foundation on which he can one day build his own life.

Every night, as I kiss my LittleBear good night I say "Night night, sleep tight, Mummy loves you lots and I'll be right here if you need me" and my LittleBear always replies "Night night, sleep tight, LittleBear loves you lots and I'll be right in my bed if you need me". I will hold true to my promise as long as there is breath in my body. But I know that the day will come when my LittleBear won't any longer be in his bed if I need him. And I hope I have the strength to let go when that day comes and let him find his own way, his own life and his own joy. That's what I aspire to.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Nightmare day from telephone hell

I think I may have mentioned before, I don't really like making phone calls. In fact, I dislike them so much that there are friends I haven't talked to in months because I can't overcome the telephonic repulsion field that prevents me from picking the damn phone up. What if I phone at an inconvenient time? What if the person at the other end doesn't want to talk to me? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I have to leave a message?

It can take me days, or even weeks, to muster up the emotional strength to make a phone call. Today I have a list of six phone calls to make. Six. That's about six months worth of emotional strength. And I have the perfect day lined up for telephone-avoidance. Most of the jobs I have to do today are in the lab, downstairs. My phone is on my desk in the office, upstairs. I can easily spend all day busy (and not just "busy") nowhere near a phone, and give myself a rueful shrug at the end of the day that it just wasn't my fault. So instead I'm going to CBT the hell out of this problem.

The Problem


We're going on holiday. We need to put the cat in the cattery for the week we're away. It's the same cattery we always use. I know the owner, she's lovely, she recognises my voice when I phone and remembers the idiot cat's name. When she's fully booked and hasn't got room for the idiot cat, she's recommended other places nearby. She won't think I'm an idiot... She won't think I'm an idiot... She won't think I'm an idiot... She won't think I'm an idiot. CBT to the rescue! Even if she does think I'm an idiot, it doesn't matter. I'm not an idiot, and the opinion of somebody who runs a cattery will not change that.


We can't actually send the cat to the cattery unless he's up to date on his vaccinations. His vaccination reminder came through the post this week. I must phone the vet. He must have his vaccinations. What can go wrong? Nothing. Seriously, nothing can go wrong. They might not have an appointment this week. That's OK. I can ask for one next week, or the week after. As long as I phone soon then there's time to be flexible. The worst thing I can do is leave it to the last minute. There is no negative outcome to phoning the vet. They have asked  me to phone.


I really ought to deal with the engine warning light on my car. It's no longer intermittent, it's now permanent. I'm fairly certain it's still just a corroded cable falsely reporting an error. After all, that's what it was when it was intermittent and the car was serviced. And the garage did say to bring it back in once it was more permanent and they'd sort it out. So all I need to do is phone them and say the light's back and can they sort it. They're virtually expecting me to call. But... but... but... garages spring questions on you sometimes, you know, like "is that the model with the double overhead flugle-carb-dunker? Or is it the one with the single cam fangle-winder?" And then you end up turning all pathetic-woman and saying "Erm, it's blue. Does that help?" Even though you're perfectly competent and intelligent and do know how an internal combustion engine works, but before you know it you get chalked up as a complete idiot who doesn't know the difference between a glow plug and a spark plug. And breathe... back to the CBT... it's not that bad... even if they think I'm an idiot, does it really matter? No. Has anyone ever asked me a question I couldn't answer when booking my car in for a repair? No. Pick up the phone.

My aunt and uncle

How can this one be difficult? Seriously, this is my much-loved aunt and uncle, and I need to ask them a favour. A favour they offered to undertake already, completely unbidden. I need them to take receipt of some new furniture at the family cottage in a couple of weeks time. I've already deferred delivery every month for the last three months, and I think the sofa company are getting a bit hacked off with trying to deliver and being told there won't be anyone there. But it's an imposition, and I don't have any flexibility about dates with the sofa people, who appear to send a lorry out to the north-west once a month, and that's the only option. All my aunt and uncle can say is "yes of course" or "sorry, we're busy". They won't mind me asking. They wouldn't have offered if they minded. They're not just being polite.

The sofa people

I either have to phone them and say "yes, that date's fine" or "no that date's not fine" after I speak to aunt and uncle. Why am I so worried that they'll shout at me like I'm a little girl who's done something naughty? It's not my fault they only offer delivery one day in every month. It's not my fault this is a holiday cottage that there's rarely anybody at. They've already taken the money for the furniture. I'm the customer. They have no right or reason to be cross. If they are rude to me it's because they are providing poor customer service. I'm the customer.

Some sort of cat grooming person

This one's hard as I don't even know who to call. I just know my idiot cat's fur is getting out of control. He's getting too many furballs, he's being sick, he's getting unspeakable poo stuck in his fur, and generally his life (and ours) is getting stinky and horrid. A proper grooming, and some trimming of his ridiculous pantaloons would improve the world no end. First I have to find someone, then I have to call them, and then I have to discover that what I'm asking is utterly, outrageously, ridiculously stupid, because nobody in their right mind clips the long haired tangled pantaloons of a middle-aged moggy and then I can feel embarrassed and stupid and hang up. So that phone calls not going to happen is it? No, let's get back on the CBT track, I've been losing the plot a little bit. Cat groomers offer a service, for which a customer pays. If I would like that service and I am either mocked or denied, then I can take my custom elsewhere. I have nothing to be embarrassed about in trying to make my cat's life more comfortable. I can do this.

The outcome

So I started at the beginning, and phoned the cattery. They're full. So are my back-up cattery. My hands are shaking, I feel physically sick and I'm fighting back tears. I don't know what to do. I don't know where to start. If I can't make some arrangement for the cat to be looked after while we're away, then we can't go. I've ruined our holiday and it hasn't even started yet. I've failed, again. I should have phoned weeks ago. Screw you CBT, all you did was help me pick the phone up, I'm still stuck, wallowing in my own recrimination and worthlessness and I can't make it stop, I can't get things right, I can't do it, I can't, I can't, I can't.

One phone call made. One failure notched up. Only five more to go.

Friday, 5 June 2015

Decorating dilemmas and indecision

Earlier in the annals of the Bear Family, you may remember I was suffering angst and anxiety about contacting a painter and decorator to sort out the decoration of a severely water-damaged room in our family's holiday cottage. Having (temporarily) overcome my horror of phoning people, I do seem to have got something organised, and on Monday the plasterer is going to start work re-boarding and plastering the ceiling. Which, I think, means that the decorator has been in this week to strip wallpaper etc. I'm kind of burying my head in the sand about it and not chasing him, just assuming it's happening. That's the best approach isn't it?

We have already chosen the new wallpaper and paint for the room. The wallpaper is a Greek Key design from Graham and Brown.

Greek Key

 And it's then going to be painted with Crown "English Muffin". From the sample pot we used on some sample wallpaper, I don't think it's going to look anywhere near as pink as shown in this picture, but paint and pictures of it are always a bit tricky.

The woodwork is all white, including built in wardrobe doors, window frame, door and skirting. All sounding quite simple and promising so far isn't it?

Then there are two, large, relatively dark, non-negotiable wooden dressers. And two single beds with patchwork bedspreads (small boy not included).

And all I now have to do is choose curtain fabric (oh, and either get the curtains made or make them myself, but at the moment that feels like a walk in the park compared to finding the right material). I know what colours would work, I know what patterns I definitely want to avoid, I just can't find the perfect material. Every time I think I know that I definitely want something pinkish I then realise a neutral would be better. And every time I think neutral would be perfect I remember that actually a green would look rather good. Every time I decide a nice subtle, delicate pattern is what's in order, I look at the bedspreads and realise I have no hope of finding a pattern that doesn't fight with the existing ones. And every time I think I should choose something plain, I remember how dull and dingy I find the current, thin, life-sappingly beige ones.

The carpet is still undecided too, so I guess that comes into the list of Things I Still Have To Do, but I'm ignoring it, since I'm going to have to wait till I'm at the cottage, go to a local carpet shop and arrange measuring, fitting etc once actually there. But curtains I feel I ought to be able to get sorted here. And by ignoring the carpet, I don't have to worry about whether the curtains work with the carpet. A problem deferred is almost as good as a problem solved.

So, BigBear's cousin has offered to help out, and I figure, there must be some other interior-design minded people out there, so what the hell, I've now presented you with (almost) all the information I have and I'll see what you come up with. I say almost, because I can't show you what the furniture looks like as I don't have pictures and at least 90% of you have never seen the room in question. And of the 10% who have seen the room, I'd put even money on a good half of them not remembering it.

I now have ten fabric swatches from John Lewis scattered around the place, none of which are quite what I'm after. I have these four coming from Sanderson soon (and they're rather pushing the limit on how much I'm prepared to spend on curtain fabric!)


I have absolutely no idea what any of these will look like in the flesh, and am reaching the point where I no longer know what I think as I've stared at so many fabric websites over the past few weeks I'm starting to see the warp and weft in my dreams. I am once again suffering from my complete and total inability to just let it go. There are times and days when being obsessive and focusing intently on a problem until I've gnawed it into submission and it lies on its back whimpering for mercy are a good thing. Like at work, when trying to make the impossible possible. But curtains? Get a grip woman!

So now, I place my sanity, sleep and the approval of my family in your hands. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to suggest an actual definite fabric that would look nice as fully-lined floor-length curtains in an 1840s slate-built quarryman's cottage with walls and bedspreads as shown. If you so much as think about saying "a nice light green with a slight self-pattern in it" I will find a hitman to hunt you down and strangle you with a Laura Ashley tie-back. I want specifics or nothing. (And I don't want £60/m either...)

Thursday, 4 June 2015

If wine is the answer, what's the question?

LittleBear: Mummy! You haven't got anything to drink with your dinner!
PhysicsBear: So I don't. I'll go and get something. Thank you LittleBear.

I head into the kitchen and put the kettle on

LB: Mummy? Are you ever going to not have tea to drink with lunch and dinner?
PB: Erm... I quite often don't have tea actually. In fact, you're right, I don't want tea. I'll have something else.

I turn kettle off

LB: Are you going to have wine?

It's 5:45. Yes, it was a vexing, frustrating, rage-inducing day at work, but I'm not going to hit the bottle. Yet.

PB: No, I think I'll just have juice, thank you.
LB: But you like wine don't you Mummy?
PB: Ah, well, yes I suppose I do. Why do you think I like wine?

Beginning to get perturbed now. I mean, I think the last time LittleBear saw me drink any wine was at Christmas, and that was one glass. Where has this idea come from?

LB: Because Daddy likes wine

Even more bemused now. I can't remember when BigBear last drank a glass of wine. Flummoxed by this conversation I decide on a change of course.

PB: I'm having juice. Would you like to try some?
LB: Juice is yucky to me.
PB: Have you ever tried it?
LB: No. It's yucky.
PB: How do you know it's yucky?
LB: Because I've never tried it.

And there is the heart of the logic that appears to prevent LittleBear eating or drinking anything new. Meanwhile I am left with a lingering concern about what LittleBear might be saying about my drinking at nursery...


Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Rage Against the Machine

In an ideal world, technology would make life easier wouldn't it? In fact, in an ideal world, technology would mesh so seamlessly into your life you wouldn't even notice it making your life easier. Only a few short months ago, that's how it was in the Bear House. And now we have descended into a swirling maelstrom of rage, frustration, recrimination and angst. Oh for those long-lost halcyon days....

We had a PVR. A lovely, modest little Humax. We watched television, we recorded television, we watched recordings, we listened to the radio, we downloaded recorded radio programs to MP3 players to listen to on the bus. It just worked. Press a button and what you wanted happened. You don't really appreciate the glory of a well-designed user interface until you lose it. A user interface that's so unassuming, so mild, so perfect that you can just use it without having to think about it, or fight, or hunt around desperately for the right button or obscure menu option. I feel almost misty-eyed at the memory. Sniff.

And then, slowly, inexorably, our dear little Humax started not to be quite so happy. Instead of switching on and working we'd get the dreaded "green screen". Something was going horribly wrong with the HDMI handshaking between the Humax and our television. We tried everything. New cable, different input, different settings, switching on to an HD channel only, switching on to an SD channel only, switching the TV on first, then the Humax, switching on the Humax then the TV, standing on one leg and only using the remote control left-handed. Nothing worked. Every day it took longer and longer to get to the point where anything worked. With a heavy heart, I researched finding the perfect replacement. I consulted Which? for recommended buys. I read reviews, scoured websites, studied specifications. We (I) decided, in retrospect rashly, not to trust the HDMI interface between Humax and Sony again. I found absolutely nobody online complaining about the connections between Panasonic and Sony units, so chose the best reviewed Panasonic PVR I could find, the DMR-HWT130EB:

"This PVR is one of the best we've tested and a worthy Best Buy"

"all the features you could possibly need in a recorder"

" the Panasonic DMR-HWT130EB is an excellent smart recorder to consider"

How wrong I was. Well, I was right about the HDMI interface. That works fine. Completely glitch free. But the user interface? Oh dear... how is it possible to get it so badly wrong? We've had this stupid machine for months now, and yet BigBear and I still both manage to accidentally press a wrong button at least once every single day. We're not idiots. We're technologically literate. BigBear was even part of the team writing a PVR for Sony a few years ago, so he really does know what he's doing. As far as I can tell, the user interface was designed by rejects from Microsoft who probably thought the Office Paperclip didn't pop up and ask you questions often enough.

Try something simple... try and find a program you want to watch... bring up the electronic program guide. So far, so good. Where are we in the schedule? Nope, not going to show you. You have to pay a license fee on the patent to show you where in the schedule you are, and apparently Panasonic were too tight-fisted to do so. So instead you have to stare forlornly at the screen until you see the tiny writing that tells you the current time, then try and work out where on the schedule that falls. Once you've done that, you have some chance of knowing which programs are currently showing.

Nothing on the current screen appeals... try and page down to the next screenful... oops, no, the page up and page down buttons are handily located at the opposite end of the remote to all the other navigation buttons, and just out of reach of your thumb. You squirm your hand round to hit page down, and accidentally change the TV input setting, because the buttons are too close together, and have the same labels on them. That's right, they've labelled both the PVR page up and page down, and the TV channel up and down with "CH" and some arrows. And put them next to each other. Awesome design skills there.

Now you're back to where you want to be and have found a program you'd like to watch... OK, let's watch it. Nope, you can't just select it, you're going to have to answer a subsidiary question about whether you really mean you want to watch it. And then, if it's also available in HD, you'll be asked if you wouldn't rather watch a different channel instead. Three button presses just to choose a channel? The default action on selecting a program should surely be to watch the damn thing, shouldn't it? If I want information about it, or to record it, place the burden on me to choose a different button, rather than mess around with the simplest function of a PVR. And the HD alternative could be offered in a little pop-up window later, you know in that discrete, simple way my lovely little Humax used to. And yet, when I'm navigating seventeen layers deep in a set of menus and I accidentally press the "guide" button, which is where I'd expect the "up" button to be, I bomb straight out of the menu system and back to the guide I didn't want to see. No double-checking this time, oh no, my mistake, my problem. We're only going to ask you questions when it will slow you down and irritate you. 

How about if you've missed a program and are wondering if it's repeated at a peculiar time of day? Or someone at work has mentioned a really great program you should watch, but they can't remember when it's on? What you need is a search facility. Nothing sophisticated, no need to worry about categories or genres, just a simple keyword search. Oh, no, you can't do that. If you want to search for a program you'll need to turn your computer on, search on the internet for the time, date and channel, and then go and scroll through the EPG till you find it. Which is convenient.

And don't think about trying to start watching something while you're recording it. Apparently if you start watching it, that means you're no longer interested in recording it. None of this high falutin idea of wanting to chase a recording through because you're only ready to start watching twenty minutes after the program started. Oh yes, you can start watching it fine. Everything will appear to be fine. But the bastard box will have stopped recording the moment you pressed "play". Obviously it doesn't claim this is what happens in the manual, but in practice, this is exactly what keeps happening. User error perhaps, but when it's one that occurs with no warning and when used by two moderately competent people, you can't help suspecting a flaw in the UI somewhere.

As for trying to play things that you've got recorded? Don't expect to be able to do that in a hurry. First of all, to bring up your list of recordings you need to use a button helpfully named "Direct Navigator" and disguised as a left cursor. Once you've got used to that though, you'll need to get used to... waiting... and waiting... and waiting... and waiting a bit more, while this useless excuse for a PVR thinks about whether it can be bothered to populate the list of recordings. And it doesn't show any clue that it's thinking, it just shows you an empty page, nonchalantly pretending to have deleted all your recordings. Once you have got a list of recordings, you will find them marked with small, obscure hieroglyphs to hint at further information. Perhaps on a 92" television these etchings would be decipherable. To the normal human eye, on a normal human telelevision, they're just a colourful heap of gibberish. 

If you haven't, by this stage, thrown the remote control and/or PVR itself out of the window, you may consider watching a recording. Be careful not to leave one program selected for too long or it will just start playing it. Not full-screen mind you, just as a thumbnail within the library. Just enough to start annoying you or to spoil the start of a film. Three button presses before you're allowed to watch a live program, and yet the bloody thing starts playing a recording without you pressing anything at all.

How anyone was able to actually use this machine and conclude that it was a really good device is beyond me. Sure, the picture's good, and erm, yes, it does let you watch television, after its own fashion. But it's not really useable. Anything that makes you trip and stumble and swear every time you try using it has failed at a fundamental level in its design. 

I'm seriously considering giving up on it and buying a new Humax.

Monday, 1 June 2015

Any old iron

I have been feeling vaguely triumphant about LittleBear's eating recently. Which is always a bad idea. Never be tempted to feel proud, or complacent, or even remotely nonchalant about anything child-related - you're just setting yourself up for a bigger fall later.

The reason for my happiness was that he'd actually conceded to eating some meat. He'd helped make frtikadeller, and eaten three tiny ones that he'd rolled himself. He'd also tried roast chicken, only on the understanding that he could then pull the wishbone, but still, bribery or not, he actually tried it and admitted it wasn't yucky. It felt like light at the end of the tunnel.

Then my brother and his family came to see us.

My sister-in-law looked askance at me and said "does he drink milk with every meal? You do know milk hinders iron absorption don't you? You might want to keep an eye on that..." I'm mostly certain she meant that kindly. Actually, I am certain she meant it kindly, and since I know she hasn't (so far...) read this blog, and I'm a lot more circumspect about talking about my insanity than writing about it, I also know she doesn't have a clue what my anxious mind has done with this information.

Obviously, the first step was to double-check on iron absorption issues. LittleBear would need to be drinking three quarters of a litre a day to have a significant impact on his iron absorption. He drinks more like a third of that amount. Which is actually about the recommended amount for his age. Phew. Not doing anything wrong.

You'd think that would be that wouldn't you?

You'd think I could stop worrying wouldn't you?

You haven't been paying attention have you?

I've got something new to worry about. Iron. Is LittleBear getting enough iron? There's so much I don't know, so much to research, so much to check, double-check, count, monitor, read... it's exhausting. BigBear says "he's fine, don't worry". BigBear is right, as well as sensible, this time. But telling me not to worry is a bit like telling someone with depression to cheer up. It just doesn't work like that.

So... now I know the difference between haem-iron and non-haem-iron. Now I'm moderately well-read on the bio-availability of elemental iron, and the impact on absorption of grain size of the additive. Now I've read The Bread and Flour Regulations 1998. (Now I know that the fortification process of wheat flour in the UK allows for the addition of powdered iron, in its elemental form, which is something of a surprise.) What I don't know is how much iron is added to any given flour, in what format, and how much LittleBear will absorb of what he eats. I'm a PhysicsBear, not a BiologyBear or MedicineBear. Now I'm getting really cross that it's next to impossible to find out the iron content of flour, bread and other wheat-based products, because it doesn't seem to be a legal requirement to list the trace quantities in food. I'm having to rely on other people's random websites to tell me the iron content of most foods. And that vexes me.

[Though, for anyone who wants to join me in worrying about such things, there's a really handy resource from the Royal Surrey Hospital. It actually tells you how much iron is in some fairly normal foods, and how much you need.]

Now I know that LittleBear should be eating about 6.1mg of iron per day. And now I'm also gazing at all the things he eats and mentally checking off whether they have iron in or not, and whether I should be doing something differently. I was fine a week ago. A week ago it hadn't even occurred to me to be worried, and now I'm verging on obsessed about it. I lay awake last night until gone 1am rumminating and pondering and massively, massively overthinking what LittleBear eats. Again. (OK, so some of that was because I think the cafe we went to in the afternoon gave me caffeinated instead of decaffeinated coffee when I ordered, because I was wired yesterday after that outing...)

I have become so fixated on this issue, I've actually added up what he's eaten today:

Cheerios             3.0mg
Toast                   0.8mg
Potato                 0.8mg
Broccoli              0.2mg
Peas                    0.5mg
Dark chocolate   0.2mg
Rice                    0.2mg
Cake                   0.3mg
Milk                   0.2mg

6.2mg! Woohoo! We made it! And today didn't include any of LittleBears "better" foods for iron, like sausages, baked beans, pinto beans or even dried apricots. Maybe he's not going to be anaemic after all! (Yes, yes, yes, the fact that he has absolutely no signs of being anaemic is utterly irrelevant. What do you want me to do? Be sensible and look at things rationally? No! I shall count random numbers instead. That's clearly a much more effective life-management technique.)

Oh, and that list of foods? Those are only the things that had any noticeable iron content in, not the sum total of the things that LittleBear ate today. Honest. There were strawberries, watermelon, cucumber, carrots, sweetcorn, cheese, shortbread and rich tea biscuits. And for all I know, there's iron in those too. In fact, I know there is in the biscuits as they're made with flour, and therefore have iron in by law. So there.

Now the real question? Is this going to be enough to stop me fretting? Hmmm.....