In advance of today’s strike action Katharine Whitehorn wrote for The Observer that striking against a public body, the council or something like London transport lacks the impact of early factory workers ceasing production so the owner couldn’t make any money. Rather, it ‘just screws up the general public, who get stuck in tunnels, can’t get their benefits or their post’ who can thus be ‘forgiven for losing any sympathy they might have had with the aggrieved workers.’ It’s saying something when the rag the fiancé calls the Wet Liberal Weekly is printing such views. 

I’m not about to make another argument against those that fail to take responsibility for their lives (I was offensive enough when I wrote Incapacity benefits need cutting). I dislike trade unions, unionists and all who strike in the modern age and don’t want to go over old ground. Rather I’m interested in the efficiency argument. As Whitehorn argues, ‘the bright sparks in the union need to devise a new weapon that targets the right people.’ I’m feeling charitable so I’ll allow for intelligent people being in trade unions but this is strictly in order to keep the column flowing you appreciate.  

The fiancé and his ex-wife are fortunate. The boys’ paternal Grandmother was able to take care of the school aged stepchild so the fact his teacher was at the cinema or whatever it was he did instead of going to work didn’t cause too much chaos and both were able to go to their jobs. Because that’s the big flaw in strike action, decent hard working people are forced to neglect their duties as a knock on effect. Lack of sympathy aside, it’s manipulative and irresponsible. It’s also inefficient.  

What is effective is Johann Hari’s writing method and I largely fail to appreciate quite what has upset people so much this week.   

As a brief diversion, last Thursday there was no column because at the last minute I had to travel to Durham to attend my Viva which I’m thrilled to say I passed, meaning I can now call myself Dr Kathryn Ashcroft. I took a week off blogging (more of that later) partly as a reward.

Anyway, as someone who has successfully demonstrated responsible and defendable research practises I’m perfectly happy to admit that of the many quoted conversations in my thesis, the vast majority were written from memory at a later date. I captured the essence of the conversation, recorded the date and details of the interviewee but I wasn’t transcribing. What I do in the field is carry a notepad and pen to catch spellings and important details but at the end of the day sit at my laptop and type furiously as I play through the events of the day. Happy to admit and recently awarded a doctorate for my methods.  

I don’t mean to be rude about those kicking up a fuss over Harigate (although I’d like to politely suggest that we may be due a new suffix!) but are they really qualified to judge? Hari has pointed out he’s yet to be accused of misrepresentation by an interviewee. He didn’t change words for any effect other than for clarity. Ah the crime of clear and understandable writing!   

It’s disheartening to live in a world where throwing tantrums (what is a strike if not that?) is the best union leaders can come up with to get their point across and those seeking intelligent solutions to the problem of unclear communication are criticised.  

Bentham would no doubt be rolling his eyes at such nonsense upon stilts.   

I rarely lean towards utility, preferring to think myself a beautiful and unique snowflake, but where it suits me I’ll pick and choose from the annals of philosophy. Utilitarianism in particular seems to resonate with a lot of people and if not in objective, then the execution of strike action a great many would no doubt concede that it does not lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest good.  

To sound byte it: Do what you need to do unless it negatively impacts on us!  

Those negatively impacted by Hari are the type that suffer the crime of being offended. Such individuals suffer the indignity of being victim to no other crime and feel very left out. Apologies if I seem dismissive of them, I’m not a utilitarian. Those negatively impacted by strikers are in greater numbers and suffer genuine inconvenience. These are the individuals needing apologies!  

Somewhere along the line, things have got a bit mixed up.  

So to return to last Thursday. My Viva lasted two hours and in that time my examiners went through my thesis in fine detail as they assessed my arguments. I started a column on the train home but frankly, I felt empty. So I stopped. I stopped and stepped back. I reflected that my writing shouldn’t be a chore and might perhaps benefit from a brief holiday. A week later I’m feeling much refreshed and was eager to sit and write tonight.  

It was an effective strategy.  

What justifies it as effective is directly linked to answerability. There is a degree to which I feel answerable to my readers but I don’t think it’s modest of me to say this blog has limited influence. Hari is deemed more answerable because he has a greater readership and is an ambassador for a broadsheet newspaper. There’s a degree to which he can’t be effective due to numbers. Somebody is bound to get upset.  

Perhaps there lies an excuse for the strikers. The vastness of their problems relates to decisions that reflect the intelligence of mob rule. Taken individually I’m sure there are smart and good people amongst the numbers but taken together they are reactive and short-sighted. Join a union and it seems you sign away your effectiveness; you give way to the view of the majority and relinquish your autonomy. It may be a reason but it’s a poor excuse as anyone with any sense should surely appreciate that your autonomy is the essence of all that you have.  

Perhaps it’s an effective way to navigate life but it lacks accountability and there lies my complete lack of support. If you can’t take responsibility for your own life then please don’t bemoan those you feel impact upon it. You cast yourself in a position of vulnerability. 
 
Back in my life before children I was pretty judgemental of what I considered to be poor parenting. From general fussiness to outright bad behaviour I struggled to see why parents allowed it. There was no doubt in my brother and I’s minds when we were growing up as to what was acceptable or not and while I wouldn’t say we were angels, we were good kids. Ultimately I saw parenting as being about putting in hard work in order to reap rewards and most importantly, parents could and should dictate family life until the children, having been raised on respect and reason could be allowed more of a voice.  

The general consensus (not from my mother I hasten to point out – she was in full agreement) was that I’d learn.  

Well, not only did I go on to have a family but I started with a pre-schooler and a toddler. Furthermore, I play a supporting role to their father as they already had a mother. If anything would teach me parenting was tough then that would. Not only do I parent but the ground rules are laid by my partner and another woman. And me a control freak!  

Of course that isn’t quite the whole story. In getting to know the fiancé I was keen to learn about his attitude to his sons well before I met them. I needed to make sure that he and his ex were “our kind of people” (see my mother above). Tick box number one for parenting, I have become more of a snob than I ever could have imagined!  

What was I looking for? Lots of things; Did they give the kids cereal or crisps for breakfast? Were mealtimes at the table? Were ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ drilled into them? Were books read regularly? Happy with my answers I progressed with the relationship, knowing at least the bases were covered.    

Bad behaviour was out. The eldest has used a swearword once. It was 18 months ago and he was trying it in context with me rather than swearing at me. His father and I explained it was a word that might upset people and he happily accepted this. They behave in public and recognise that a restaurant is not the place to explore control issues. Last weekend I spent nearly two hours at the dinner table with a three year old refusing to swallow his food. They can be very trying but they don’t act up when we’re out.  

I would confidently take the boys pretty much anywhere. The main reason I’d do this is because we plan accordingly. We tell the boys what will be happening, what we expect of them and what their reward will be at the end if they behave. For example: “we’re going out for the day in Gloucester and we’ll be having a nice lunch out, we want you to behave and eat nicely and if you do we’ll go round the docks after and see all the Cranky the Hook’s” (for non-parents: these are cranes). The eldest often comes back with a question or request these days; “I don’t want pasta and can I bring my Lego man?” We always accommodate his desires (this may change if he starts asking for the absurd or impossible).  

We achieve this by doing exactly what I assumed I’d do when I became a parent. We put in a lot of hard work and we reap the rewards. And it is hard work. The youngest will generally cry at every slight refusal and has taken to trying to make himself vomit through crying. We know it is just a control thing but it is really really horrible. We desperately want to just back down and have him just shut up and calm down but this is our groundwork.   

Last weekend I offered the boys the choice between playing quietly or going to the living room to play noisily and the youngest took himself off to the naughty step to wail. I checked on him every five minutes, asking if he wanted to rejoin us in the kitchen/dining room. Eventually after twenty minutes he appeared red faced at the door. I immediately picked him up, gave him a cuddle, wiped his face and carried him to where his dad was cooking and explained what was being cooked. He then sat on the floor and played quietly with his brother. TWENTY MINUTES. And for what? On the surface we achieved nothing. That’s what is so hard and why it’d be so easy to just give in. But the parents stayed in charge and in control.  

I suspect I may come to eat my words if I have a biological child because we currently only do this eight nights in every 28. On a Sunday night when they go back to their mother’s we’re exhausted. Can it be kept up 24/7?  

What set me off today was an article in the Daily Mail. I did actually buy and read The Observer this week but the aggro from that was standard low level stuff and nothing requiring a soapbox. The article was called Kale risotto, cabbage crisps, caramelised Brussels sprouts... Would YOU dare feed your family the Gwyneth Paltrow way?  

What irritated me most about Charlotte Kemp wasn’t the fact she’s evidently not a particularly commanding parent and her kids are allowed to run amok in shops but that she was so defensive about her parenting. She assumes that Gwyneth Paltrow has staff helping her clean up as she cooks rather than this being simply sensible advice. Kemp clearly had a chip on her shoulder before even beginning the piece; Gwyneth is too rich, too skinny and too other worldy to be taken seriously.  

What is so threatening about the way Gwyneth parents? I understand the fear of doing it wrong. Tonight the youngest made a fuss of being scared of our chickens. I absolutely wouldn’t leave a scared child but equally felt the fiancé while correct in picking him up for reassurance was a touch mollycoddling to my mind. His ultimate compromise was spot on (reminding me yet again why I’m with him) when he knelt by a patio chair with my stepson standing on it. He was reassuringly close yet not holding him like a baby.  

Am I odd in feeling able to speak out? In all honesty I’ve no idea what I’m doing here. I had a chat with my elder stepson (I really need nicknames for them!) and he said “I’m brave with the chickens when they’re far away but when they get close I get nervous.” I said that was fine and that the next weekend we have them he’ll have lots of time to get used to them. Also maybe we should eat some things made with their eggs and what did he like? CAKE!  

I think that went ok but if someone said otherwise then I’d take that on. Trust me I’m a perfectionist. I want my boys to grow up healthy, happy, to have the education they want and then fulfilling careers. I hope they’ll find a partner that makes them as feel cherished as their father makes me feel and that they’ll have homes and families of their own. I think most of us want the same things for our kids but I’m not threatened by other ways of doing things. I’d never want to home school, there will always be some kind of junk food in the house and we bought a cabinet for the X-Box accessories. But I cook most meals from scratch, we have bedtime stories every night and our household is brimming with affection (my first instinct for the eldest to bond with the chickens was to pick up the friendlist and allow him to stroke her).  

Bottom line, celebrity or regular folk, rich or poor, educated or not we all have something to learn. And we will all get it wrong sometimes. But there’s no competition. Good on Gwyneth if she does it all looking as poised as she does. I begrudge her nothing. You see I have a secret. As it happens I have the best man and the best kids in the world. Oh they have their imperfections but they all adore me and tell me so on a regular basis. With that in mind I know I’m doing whatever I’m doing, I’m doing right.
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I’m going to have to start buying a Sunday paper again as I feel really quite out of touch with the world beyond my front gate. I think part of it has been being ill which for me at least with a numbing exhaustion that makes me apathetic to all but the most riveting of stimuli. Such as trimming hedges and taking photographs of my new chickens.  

It has been a bit of a paradigm shift for me but I think it’s a reflection of my inner recluse. There has always been the temptation to stay away from the world and I do dip my toe into that wonderful pool of swirling absurdity that is agoraphobia. My feel of losing control beyond my safe zone was very real when I used to drift in and out of consciousness. Imagine being stone cold sober and stumbling down the street midmorning as people pause and look at you, the occasional tutting to their friend. It is, I assure you, utterly mortifying.   

It was however vaguely amusing the time I full on passed out in WH Smiths with my ex. He caught me, guided me to the ground and we were promptly surrounded by worried onlookers who offered all kinds of advice to his ‘It’s best to just leave her alone. She does this all the time.’ I used to come to almost instantly but would keep my eyes closed for a second or two to avoid the sick feeling that would accompany eyes being five foot above the ground then eyes being five inches above the ground. I opened my eyes in fear as my ex demanded that someone overly inspired by ER made a move to touch me. ‘Don’t touch her, she hates that!’   

I suppose it made a change from people being completely focused on me, suddenly they were appalled at my unfeeling ex who was trying to persuade them all an ambulance was unnecessary. There was talk of ‘just to be safe’ and ‘possible head injury.’ Time to get up. I was cold and exhausted and wanted to sit on the sofa with a cup of tea. I absolutely did not want to go and sit in A&E while they looked up the details of my neurologist. I took my ex’s arm and asked to be taken home. I was very unsteady on my feet and the onlookers were blocking us slightly so he pretty much picked me up, barged his way through and ran out into the high street with me limply flailing as the crowd questioned whether they ought to be letting him take me.  

So yeah, while I’m perfectly healthy these days there will still be that flash of doubt. The worst that can happen isn’t really so bad but it’s pretty unpleasant.  

Being the sort of person I am, I hate being afraid. When the fiancé and I went to Go Ape there was a part near the end where you basically have to step off a ledge, trust your harness and get swung towards a net. I was terrified and absolutely didn’t want to do it. But I was more scared of not doing it. Oh and that argument that things are never as bad as you think they’ll be? Absolute rubbish. It was absolutely awful! So I moved to Malaysia by myself and faced those challenges.  

I’ve been called brave before but I often feel like I’m the most scared person I know. My blood runs cold when I get on rollercoasters (I love them when I’m on them), I panic when the fiancé is even ten minutes late home.  

OH MY GOD HE’S DIED. I CAN’T BELIEVE HE’S LEFT ME TO DIE IN A FIERY DEATH OF TWISTED METAL AND I’VE LOST MY BEST FRIEND. HOW WILL I LIVE WITHOUT HIM HE’S THE NORTH TO MY COMPASS AND oh hi sweetie, you stopped to get petrol?   

The daft thing is even when the worst happens you cope.   Still, it’s nicer at home. Even on a nice day out I’m often counting down the hours until I’m home again. For me, leaving the house is only ever about achieving or attaining something. Going to work, going to buy food, not being an irrational social outcast destined to die alone her face pecked off by her chickens. Stuff like that. And I like restaurants and watching films on really big screens and all the things I can’t do at home but I’ll admit that the major appeal of moving in with the fiancé was a vast reduction in the amount of times I’d have to go out.  

I think it’s why I’m such a homemaker. I get people to come to me. Baking an elaborate cake is far easier than going out for cake. If I create a warm home and a charming garden for the fiancé then maybe he’ll be happy to be content with me in my haven.  

Being ill has made me self-indulgent. I don’t generally allow myself to think like this. There’s a big exciting world to explore and it’s much more fun being a recluse when you’ve pictures and memories of the things you’ve done, places you’ve seen and food you’ve eaten (at least a quarter of my photos are of food). You can also pretend to be an interesting and vibrant person and not the hobbity creature you really are.  

But nobody likes too much self involvement and so I need to strike out. My columns must have been getting horribly tedious of late and...  

Oh!  

I just remembered! I went to the Bath and West show last week. I was a fashion scout and was going to write about fashion and be interesting and witty in my observations on style and everyone would love me and I’d be given a job as a columnist on a proper newspaper and get to go to Fashion Week and slap Liz Jones and have oh so much fun because I’d magically be transformed into a confident awesome person. And I’d be thin.  

I really ought to concentrate more. Damn those secateurs and chickens!  

Anyway, here are the pictures:
I'll caption them/write something about them if I get any comments asking me to. 
 
Bleugh! I’m ill and am getting thoroughly sick of it. A lot of it is my fault as I’ve not really allowed myself time to get better. It’s just a cold I kept saying and then kept going to work and going out. It has now been more than a fortnight. Anyway, nobody wants to hear about that but what to write about when I just want to crawl up on the sofa, drink tea and watch old episodes of CSI?  

Facebook threw up the answer with an update from the SITS Girls. In a post on blogging I read “List posts are also notoriously easier to write, when compared to a long, essay-style post.” Well that was a start, I’d write a list. But what about? I’m a big list maker but I doubt my shopping lists and to do lists would be terribly interesting. Actually they possibly would but given my absurd levels of expectation as to what I ought to achieve, they’d probably get me sectioned!   

So I’m writing a top ten list of ten somewhat akin to kid’s books. Don’t know what I mean? Neither do I so I’ll just start (look I said I was sick!).   

One fireplace 
The heart of our home and one of the reasons we bought this house. When we first viewed the house I thought “oh I was sure they said it had a gas fire” so realistic are the coals/how gullible I am (delete as deemed appropriate). Just the other day I noticed that the brass swirly things were angel type characters rather like mermaids on ships. I keep noticing more things about it and look forward to dressing it at Christmas.
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Two fridges 
We have a regular fridge and what we call Party Fridge. It started with the old house which came with a fridge but I had one already. We put it in the garage and decided it may as well be plugged in. Party Fridge currently contains white wine, rose, beer, cider, four different canned soft drinks, amazing lemonade and some apple juice. It used to seem so decadent, now it just seems sensible to have an entire fridge of nothing but chilled drinks.   

Three screens 
The fiancé has a triple monitor system. This doesn’t particularly bother me although we partly bought the house because it had a dinky study just off the living room where two of the three will be moving to. There are lots of cool things planned for our house and I see the huge quantities of black plastic as a reasonable trade off.   

Four guitars 
Not true. There are three guitars (2 electric, one acoustic) and a bass but I looked at them for several minutes just now trying to remember which wasn’t a guitar until I remembered it was the one with only four strings. Needless to say, the fiancé is the musician not me!
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(The fiancé is playing one as I write this)
Five types of sugar 
In case you’re interested they are Caster Sugar, Golden Caster Sugar, Soft Light Brown Sugar, Soft Dark Brown Sugar and Icing Sugar. I like to bake.   

Six dining chairs 
There are only six dining chairs but we are a household that likes a gathering. Last weekend we seated nine people by adding a dressing table stool, my mum’s breastfeeding chair and a beautiful odd chair that I put with my writing desk and which looks lovely. For Easter we borrowed chairs but also brought them in from the garden.   

Seven buds to the light fitting 
Five made it to petals, two are suspended in a perpetual vinegar stroke of flowering. Gross gross gross!
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Eight places to sleep 
In addition to our (double) bed and each of the boys’ beds, we have a single bed, an inflatable double bed and a travel cot. We hope to add a double bedroom (in the attic) by the end of the year. Following on from party fridge and the expandable dining situation, I like having people to stay. I like sitting at the table for breakfast. The fiancé and I rarely bother (although the boys always eat their meals at the table) but when we have guests we make an effort.   

Nine metres by three metres 
The gazebo we’ve bought to extend our house into the garden for our wedding in December. See also 26 metres of fabric and one lunatic woman planning to make that into lining curtains.   

Ten household appliances used on a weekly basis
-       Kettle 
-       Espresso Machine 
-       Coffee Grinder 
-       Oven 
-       Fridge 
-       Freezer 
-       Party Fridge 
-       Washing Machine 
-       Tumble Dryer 
-       Dishwasher 
Notably not a microwave (we have one but it has been used twice since we moved in) or toaster (used fairly often but generally only the boys eat toast and that tends to be fortnightly). I used to see these as standard items and saw espresso machines as akin to icecream makers in the practicality stakes.