Monday, 27 June 2011

Eastbourne -Where Magical Realism was Born

As I pushed Pearl Rose out into the blazing sun, I felt as though my heart had been kissed and punched simultaneously. Having been discharged from EDGH Pediatrics outpatients clinic, we were leaving its foyer for the final time. Moving into the future away from Eastbourne, a place that had broken and made me all at once. The lesson that some daughters can be saved and that others can't. How lucky I was to be walking out directly into that day.The bitter sweet feelings I experienced as I marched forward into this summmer's afternoon were sublime and brittle in the stop of a heart. I felt the overwhelming magic of being human.

Over the last five years this concrete theatre of life has been the stuff of dreams and nightmares ; of new beginnings, near misses and final curtains. Within those walls I witnessed miracles and lost a friend. Behind it's closed doors and hospital curtains I have sat in various states of pain, wonder and trauma. The butchery of the birthing room, the lonely nights nursing tiny offspring weak as fledgling birds. one fed by a tube into his nose, one born with her eyes wide open but no fat on her minute body. The floodlit trauma of A & E, where I sat and calmly counted 16 health professionals arrive to care for my boy. Wheeling them both into the x-ray suite, one after a fall down a full flight of stairs, one struggling for breath as the pneumonia took grip of her lungs. The pain of being told that you have lost a child and the elation of seeing her days later pulsing 4mm big, a miracle the size of a Pearl on a hospital screen. The first scan of my unborn boy looked as though he was being cradled by an angels wing, when we walked out of the foyer back to the car it had started to snow.

My house in Eastbourne overlooked the hospital and as I took a break from my writing I would look down onto its ugly spread, it's chimney smoking come snow or shine and I would often marvel at how much of who I am was made within those walls. Such Realism, such Magic. I have since found out that Angela Carter the mother of magical Realism was born in Eastbourne and I can't wait to tell my children that they are in good company. One day I will write about its corridors , it's lamp lit wards at night and the octogenarians in their dressing gowns and matching slippers, whose best advice for fighting pneumonia was to keep the babies fingernails clean.I won't write about its realism but its magic and in the spirit of Angela Carter even the Porters will have gilded wings.

Meanwhile the baby has started to cry and I tut as I glance at my unfinished glass of wine. Too much magic and I may burst. Goodbye Eastbourne you've been emotional.

Nothing is a matter of life and death except life and death.
Angela Carter

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

These are not posters for the NSPCC, but fashion shots selling couture to grown women.

There has been much talk of the sexualistion of children, of dressing them more modestly to deter pedophiles. Of banning padded bras and stopping the intense marketing of cosmetics to increasingly younger consumers. Whilst I am in favour of retailers being held to account over such vile marketing and tacky products, I have been deep in thought this week pondering the beauty ideal persistently promoted by the media and how this in turn promotes the sexualistaion of very young girls. Are we further sexualising children by promoting a pre pubescent ideal to women, through constant media images of thin as the beauty ideal?

Small hips and breasts, thin thighs and tiny waists are all pretty standard catwalk requirements and like haute couture, represent a high ideal in the beauty industry. Although the models like the clothes are otherworldly, their aesthetic filters down into the mainstream and in turn many a female gazes up. Its unobtainable quality adds to its desirability.

Shape GB, the first ever national sizing survey of children, cites the average waist for an 11 year old British girl as 27 inches. Considering fashion models average 23/23 inches, many children have surpassed the given beauty ideal by the time they hit puberty. This is why, until recently. many models were under 16. Parents may worry that their children are being encouraged to grow up too quickly, whilst they in turn are terrified of losing their childlike frames. Looking like a child is increasingly being equated with sexual attractiveness and this is far more worrying than the headline grabbing padded bra. Constant images, unlike a few saleable products, cannot be removed from the shelves. They seep into our consciousness from an early age and may take generations to undo.

The model in the photos above is over eighteen .

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Pink Stinks and I'm up to my neck in its signature scent

I knew the rot was setting in when I wondered aloud why Bob the builder was wearing earrings. It happened to be a female character and as a sociology graduate I was rightfully ashamed of myself. I deserved to be put in the stocks and have Haralambos text books thrown at me. I've been devouring gender stereotyping theories since I was 16. I've taken two term courses on feminist literature, written dissertations on the matter and here I was with a son, knee deep in Thomas the Tank Engine, stubbing my toe on diggers as I hung out his blue pants.

Fast forward a few years and one daughter later, I am again hanging out the washing. (No this will not descend into the tiresome division of labour debate.) I stand back and realise that I have created an entire pink wash, we've later renamed this the "Barbie load." Why does a woman who swore never to marry in white or shave her legs, buy her female offspring a pocket mirror that tells the infant peeping into it that she has pretty hair. It was a Bob in earrings moment and I decided I needed a kick up the proverbial.

Like everyone else I'm a product of my time. I played with Sindy dolls, devoured Enid Blyton and was force fed a Catholic doctrine, whose chief female role model was a compliant Virgin, so beautiful she never needed to wear make up, (According to Sr Francis.) I loved girly gubbins but my main passion was for books, and as I grew, the books became a bit more radical. I read Germaine Greer on the back of the bus for fun. So why was that poxy pink mirror with its cutesy voice irritating me from the toy box, as I sipped my wine? Because I detest Bob the builder, couldn't give a hoot if it's a digger or a fork lift truck and if I trip up on another Thomas figure again I'm going to kick it from here to Christmas. I hate boys toys, am sick of camouflage, dinosaurs and skulls. I went overboard in the opposite direction and now all this pink is making me feel a little sick.

It is time to be mindful. I am not above it all, just because I understand it. Meanwhile the mirror is no more. Tossed overboard on one of our jaunts out in the pram. Pearl Rose has now adopted George's fighter plane, it runs in the family but that's another story. Meanwhile I want to know why builders need to wear earrings at work?

Sunday, 12 June 2011

I knew childbirth would hurt and that sleep would become the new sex. I'd heard the horror stories and braced myself for the early years of motherhood hell, but nothing prepared me for my new mantle of social leper. When I bought a pram they didn't tell me I may as well ring a bell to warn people I was coming. I have come to discover that mothers in public places are not revered but reviled. We buy extra large prams to bump you with on purpose and have the audacity to wheel our offspring into shops, taking up space that real customers may need to browse the goods. "That' s it go on. Take up half the shop and don't bloody buy anything" one Lewes shopkeeper ranted as I left. I gripped the pram handles swallowing an overwhelming urge to shout abuse back through the door. I veer between fishwife and weeping sap, I'm still the same person but positioned behind a pram, I'm a nuisance on three wheels.

And then there are the trains. They have these designated spaces for prams and wheelchairs just by the toilets, a pole position for anyone travelling with wheels. I can tuck myself out of the way instead of standing in the corridors trying to keep the pram stable despite its knackered brakes. It's dog eat dog near the toilets. I've been pushed aside and am regularly beaten to the spot by a man who likes to stretch out his legs as he eats his McDonald's breakfast. Sometimes when he sees me coming he pretends to be asleep. And then there are the bus drivers who tut as you take too long to fold up the pram, an infant wedged under your arm screaming blue murder. I don't expect people to help because i'm physically struggling, but it would be nice not to be harried, talked to like an imbecile or pushed out of the way. Like the day I struggled past the barrier with a few heavy bags and the nice guard carried them on for me-ah wait! That was the day I left the kids at home and didn't really need a burly man to help me with my things.

I don't expect people to fawn over my kids, just to respect the fact that my baby can't walk yet and that the pram is not an irritating gadget but a neccesity for the time being. One day my kids may be wiping YOUR arse, spending their money in your shops and if I've done a good job helping you onto the bus. My particular issue is a feminist issue , part of a broader problem of mutual respect and tolerance. I've decided to stop apologising for myself. Fishwives have a point. I'm not a sap but a mother with bruised calves, a short fuse and a right to go about my business.

I notice that the aforementioned Lewes shop is going out of business. I did smile as I pushed the pram up the cobbled hill.