Like Cartman I’m not a big fan of hippies. It’s a mindset rather at odds with my own. If I was living in the 80s I’d be a yuppie. It’s not that I don’t relish in authentic experiences (my favourite things include family meals, day trips with my stepsons where we collect pine cones or take photos of cranes and playing board games) but I’m definitely aspirational. I daydream about plans to pay off the mortgage early, to build a fabulous garden room and decking area, to buy rental property to develop a portfolio for income streams that are relatively passive. I muse over business ideas and have the habit of referring to the plans for ours and the stepkids future as building our empire.

Still, it’s been interesting how my friends have been changed by parenthood. Or rather, how beneath the veneer of high heels, make-up and ambition most of us seem to have similar ideas on the subject of breastfeeding, slings and co-sleeping (pro on all three counts). To be honest, my views are largely that the ‘natural’ approach coincides with what seems logical and sensible. Feed the baby what we evolved to feed it and keep it close. We’re just animals after all.

The theme of this weeks column is about what is natural and normal. And something natural and normal (within the animal kingdom) is eating your placenta. For the squeamish, my fabulously pregnant friend Samantha* sent me the link to a company that can provide the kit so you can dry it and make it into easy to swallow tablets at home. DIY vitamins just went hardcore!

Now Samantha’s argument is partly that eating your placenta stops predators smelling blood and coming to eat you and your babies so possibly not necessary in 21st Century Britain among humans. Similarly I got a bit anemic this year and rather than drink and bathe in the blood of serfs like Erzabet, Countess of Bathory (no single links covers this fascinating woman enough for my tastes so please spent half an hour looking into her bizarre story) who quite possibly got genuine health benefits from the replacement of lost iron in her body or go low key and drink my own menstrual blood I take a supplement. It lacks a degree of drama but doesnt scare the builders. And I get points from Boots!

I guess I just think that while placenta is quite possibly a superfood, I can probably manage without it (not that this will stop the fiancé and I from serving pate with Chianti at every dinner party for the following year and winking at our guests). Breastfeeding is commonly agreed to be natural and normal, making your own placenta pills is definitely in the “quirky” camp. Where do you draw the line between sensible and crazy hipppie? Co-sleeping is fairly contentious for example. Why do I see keeping your baby close as a good thing (I know I sleep better with another heartbeat in the room) but washable nappies as sounding like far too much like hard work?

The idea of natural and normal reared its head also on this mumsnet thread about face slapping. I doubt many of you will want to read the whole thing, in which case I want to include the gem of a link to the 80s where Victoria Wood sings ‘Beat me on the bottom with my Woman’s Weekly.’

I was quite staggered by the fear and disgust people can have of something they aren’t into. I mean, I get that people read comics in their thirties and wagon spot (such people are apparently teased by the “cool” trainspotters) but frankly I don’t care. Now, I’m not going to pretend I’m vanilla because far too many of you have spoken to me about my love of underwear and I’ve posted a picture of my corset so obviously I’m not a pack of five big pants from M&S and sex with the lights off kind of girl but equally I’m not on the scene. While I have an interest in attending SWAMP, when it comes to it what really turns me on is the idea of the fiancé with a pizza, some good red wine and Dr Who in the telly.

Sorry to let you down there Delphi sweetheart x

So I see myself as a bit on the fence. I’m fully aware of a quite extraordinary range of sexual practises and the fiancé used to send me video clips in a ‘do you reckon you could do this’ kind of way as (I think) a form of flirtation.** But equally, I don’t think I’m skewing the bell curve of British sexual practises and frequency.

A bit like the breastfeeding but disposable nappies please. A nod towards hippie values in a Tory household and a... ok mentioning being a Tory in a blog about sex no matter what I say now you’re going to assume I have him tied to the radiator and am hitting him with a Dulux**** paint chart whilst I type.

I’m in a bit of a corner here.

Just... what is natural and normal is subjective m’kay.

* She was also pretty fabulous when barren of womb (note to self: stop reading links to Daily Mail articles, you’re using their psycho- misogynistic language in irony now but they will slowly destroy your capacity for thought).

** Answer: What the fuck, I’m not a gymnast! I’ll try anything twice*** but you get I’m a short dumpy Yorkshire lass right?

*** Did you like olives the first time you tried them? Exactly, give it a few goes.

**** I wasn’t brand loyal prior to Charlie but I love the colours in the house and who am I to argue with my (amazing – if you need one USE CHARLIE) decorator?


 
This week’s column is a day late due to the continued laxidaisical attitude of the UK’s rail providers.

This week I bought a newspaper! Or rather, as the fiancé left the house with the elder stepson on Sunday I requested a copy of The Observer. Still, I'm pretty sure he bought it from the joint account which is pretty much the same thing as buying it myself.

I read about all kinds of things that real people in the real world have been doing (although as I type I'm struggling to recall much beyond a debate involving Miranda Sawyer about blockbuster shows* (Leonardo da Vinci having arrived at the National Gallery). The article that made me think the most was Rowan Moore's piece, A park for the people or private playground on the Thames? In it Moore argues against the labelling of private property, public. The proposed London River Park will be free to the taxpayer (it's funded by the Singaporean asset-management company, Venus) and Boris Johnson said 'The sheer beauty and design brilliance of this structure will provide yet another amazing and unique attraction for the capital.' This is all well and good but as the park will make its revenue from renting out pavilions for corporate exhibitions and events, it will not be private.

This all sounds a bit nit picking at first. After all, there are plenty of pseudo-public places from museums to street cafés. Where the problem arises is when amidst the Occupy movement, the likes of Canary Wharf and Paternaster Square make use of their private status to keep protesters out.

I'm torn. On the one hand I think the Occupy movement are a idiots living in a fantasy land of what society should be like and with exceedingly limited appreciation of just how fortunate they are to live in our liberal democracy. I don't consider myself to be one of the 1% but as I've said before, I have no problem with there being very rich people in this world. So the fact that the protesters can be kept out of significant areas is a very good thing in my mind. Keep Swampy and his mates out of Canary Wharf, the grown-ups need to go to work.

Still, what if one day I felt the need to protest? Ok so it's never going to happen; I see protesting as whining. If you want to create change then play the game and try to influence using the rules but I don't want to live in a country where freedoms are curtailed excessively. I see blocking people's ability to voice themselves ineffectually as being tied to free and open media. I'm all too familiar with the Government owned newspapers and brutality against protesters in Malaysia to not fear heavy handed regulation of civil liberties.

But ultimately I think Moore is stretching the argument. I think privately owned public spaces are a good thing and I think it's actually fair enough to call them public since to most people's experience that is what they are. I see the Gloucester Docks and Quays as being public in that I can freely access them with my family yet they also offer the benefits of being privately owned; just the other weekend there was a food fair and they are always clean and tidy. Have you seen what most council run areas are like by comparison? So sometimes they're closed for ticketed activities, I can live with that because the trade off is worth it.

I'm sure part of my views stem from my parents' experiences of public use of private space. When I was a teenager they bought a house that had several acres. The previous owner had laid it out as park land and allowed the villagers to walk on it. When my parents bought it, they erected fences in order to create fields for our horses. Few people can afford the luxury of land that serves no purpose beyond leisure and indeed the previous owner had declared bankruptcy. The villagers were disgruntled and my parents had to fight to prove there was no right of way (fortunately for them, the access hadn't been for a long enough period to warrant this).  Sure it sucks when something you have begun to feel is yours is taken away but we have to be realistic, someone has to pay for things.

If people want large amounts of truly public space then they need to recognise that funding that needs to come from taxes. There are three choices as I see it; have some public space, have lots of public space and higher taxes or have lots of public spaces which have varying conditions and may not be permanent. I choose the later, the world we live in is fluid and continually evolving. These semi-public spaces are a pretty good solution to our desire for well-maintained quality parks, dock sides and centres.

It is often pointed out to me that the problems we face are due to evils such as Thatcher's privatisation but I fail to see a golden era that ever existed in the UK. The fiancé and have been watching the Bond films in order of release and the sexism and racism are really quite shocking. I’m pretty sure the veneer of glamour was absent from the majority of people’s lives. Indeed, the thing to look back on with real pride is the Keep Calm and Carry On generation. To those buying into this notion I’d love to ask them what they think it means. Because it was about perseverence in the face of adversity, not throwing your toys out of the pram!

* In case you read it and are interested then I side with Sawyer and did not visit on this weeks trip to the capital. I need space to enjoy art and hated the experience of the Picasso exhibition I attended in Liverpool a few years back. In case you didn't read it and want to, here is the link.


 
Much as I know it’s daft (evidence: I’m a divorced woman), the something, old something new lines have nevertheless been running through my head. My friend Jelly suggested that the fiancé is my something old (he’s not that old!), my house is new, my “MASSIVE MORTGAGE” is the something blue and that I should buy a pair of blue Vivienne Westwood plastic shoes (oh how sorely I am tempted).

As I perused the Martha Stewart wedding website, I came across this explanation and I decided I rather liked it as more than just a wedding thing.

Something old

Continuity with family and the past is really important to me. I feed my stepsons at a dining table my Grandparents bought together some 35 years ago. It is big and heavy and while I quite like it as a piece of furniture what I love about it is that my brother had his toe operated on by my uncle when he was training to be a chiropodist (I come from a special family), that there are dents from the Christmas I put dinosaur excavation kits at each place setting and we got a bit carried away as we raced each other, that chew marks remind me of when my old dog Kelsie was a puppy and the chip that was the result of me turning the big Disney eyes on the moving men and pleading for them to get it into my new house no matter what.

And old stuff is good. I like furniture that feels sturdy but it’s also good value. I bought our TV cabinet at an antiques/junk shop for £48. It’s made from Oak and was apparently made in the 1930s. It is somewhat Tardis-like and all of my paperwork fits inside it. That and my laptop constitute “my office.” I’ve been shopping a lot as we do up our house and many of my favourite things are the old things I’ve picked up. Today’s buy was an arts and crafts pendant lightshade for £15.

A topic that came up at my Life Coaching Workshop (this will be running again in January at the Gloucester Guildhall and I do private coaching in case you’re interested) is the shapelessness of modern secular life. I think a lot of us feel it and the void left by a society that has outgrown organised religion. There are a host of solutions (hence I have a job!) but I find ensuring I have some roots in the past is helpful. Facing me on the sofa is a statue of a mare and foal. I’m not an ornament fan but it was my dad’s and having it (it recently came out of storage in my brother’s attic) has brought a surprising amount of peace. I grew up on a stud farm (we bred thoroughbreds) and it is a nice reminder of where I came from.

Something new 

Obviously it’s unhealthy to be too focused on the past and I like the idea that new things suggest optimism and hope. If I may be naff, the new bed I’ve bought for the loft conversion has a strong sense of the future for me. The bed I currently sleep in was cheap and bought because the fiancé was polite enough to leave the marital bed when he left his ex wife. The bed was a short-term necessity. It is ugly and basic (it screams bachelor) and makes me think of the life he had when he bought it. The new bed is my fantasy bed (I love love love brass beds) and where (are your vomit bags ready?) I hope to conceive a child.

I guess this links to the something old. Just as I love the oil painting my parents had in their hallway and which now adorns my living room wall, I hope that I will create memories in some of the new things I’ve bought which will then become the old for the next generation as my Grandparents’ dining table has become for me (obviously not the bed!). I have pictures and sculptures picked up from my travels that I hope that one day (when I’m old and downsizing), my family will want. I love the idea of one of my stepsons having a modern apartment but saying “actually Kay, I always loved the carving of the faces you bought in Cambodia. Can I have it?”
Something borrowed
As an academic, my ideas about borrowing often come back to ideas. My PhD had to contain sufficient original material to demonstrate new contribution to my field (in case you’ve ever wondered, that’s what a PhD means in simple terms) but it was also packed with citations from my peers. To express my own thoughts I not only needed the language of those that had come before me but showing I had knowledge of the field was a vital component.

We take, we tweak and we pass on. One of the most significant borrowed ideas I have is my mother’s question; when he’s driving you crazy ask yourself whether it’s a him thing or simply a man thing. This is very good advice for the straight woman and can easily be adapted for men and lesbians. In essence, step back from the situation. See, there I’ve already tweaked it and I’ll be passing it on to my children. As a stepmother of boys, I’ll endeavour to help them understand the craziness of girls and to respond empathically yet without taking shit from them.
Picture
Could the fiancé find a Pepsi Max in this fridge?
Something blue
I wondered when I started this column whether I’d have anything to say about blue but as the words have flowed I realised the colour blue means a hell of a lot to me. When I was in Mongolia, my guide gave everyone in my group a blue prayer scarf. Traditionally the Mongols tie scarves to make wishes and demonstrate dreams. Across the country you see them tied to trees and rocks. I could never let go of mine and have instead tied it to something where I’ve lived ever since. I’m not sure about love, modesty and fidelity but I’ve been happier since I’ve had it.

When I was in Turkey in September I saw evil eye pendants wherever I went. I loved them and bought not only one for my house but also a key ring for my car keys! They are blue and lovely.

I’ve also been quite naff (I blame being a bride) and bought a sign that says “And they lived happily ever after.” I expected the fiancé to hate it (straight men seem to have an innate aversion to anything you could describe as shabby chic) but he suggested we hang it over the front door. I bought it as a decoration for the wedding but I love the idea. It also looks lovely against the scarf (which we’d previously discussed hanging over the front door) and the pendant.

I’m still not sure what the old, new, borrowed and blue of my wedding day will be but I’ve got the long term stuff in hand and really, marriage is about more than a wedding isn’t it? It’s about the long term bigger picture.

 
I grew up reading Cosmo so I have been absolutely inundated with messages of sexiness being rooted in confidence, everyone being beautiful in their own way etc etc. Of course I bought none of it. I remember reading an article in Marie Claire where loads of different women were photographed naked. Whilst oddly perplexed by the fact I looked most like the “skinny” girl (looking back as a 29 year old I realise that my fourteen year old frame was in fact just like the majority of girls of that age, very slim). I was torn between a desire to look like the woman I identified as being the most attractive (all voluptuous curves) and still being thin enough. I had no idea what my thin enough should be; I wasn’t sure what I should weigh. I settled on as long as my hip bones protruded above my stomach when I lay down, that was ok. I remember collaborating this fact with a girlfriend who agreed it was her measure as well. But then she also had a glorious rack and I had two peas on an ironing board.

The only thing I can bring to mind for the small waist, big boobs combo being my ideal was Baywatch. But then I can hardly blame my parents based on that as there was also a lot of Antiques Roadshow. Still, it is without question that we are vulnerable to what we watch. My parents liked Jonathan Creek and even now I find myself watching QI and thinking Alan Davis is rather doable. Sorry mum if you’re reading this but the reason I could never follow the storyline is that I was harbouring a crush and my attention span was held by those bouncing curls. (Actually mum, you might want to skip the rest of this column...)

At fourteen I felt like the only flatchested girl at school until suddenly I WAS the only flatchested girl at school. Seemingly overnight bras were everywhere and boys took to snapping them open. I’m still perplexed at how they lose this skill actually. The fiancé is 36 and has his moments of utter ineffectuality in this department. The man can rehang radiators, fix the locking mechanism on the double glazing and perhaps most significantly do the most extraordinary things with his tongue and fingers where it’s most appreciated but release a double hook? Cue endless fiddling and cursing. I’m on the lookout for a bra with buttons but am not convinced that’d help. Anyway, the mortifying day came when one of them went to snap mine and found nothing but a smooth expanse of back.

At the time this was very much a bad thing. Funny how things change as a few years later as a first year undergrad, I decided all my bras spoilt the effect of my lightly corseted white shirt and decided to go without. I was in the club with my on-off Ed (what we were on-off was never really clear) and he ran a hand down my back affectionately. “You’re not wearing a bra” he uttered as the song ended.* I smiled at the group of lads as their eyes shot to my chest and pulled Ed away to the dance floor, him walking a touch awkwardly. But as a young teenager I had to go to my mum and say that I wanted a bra. I actually measured in at a 32A so it wasn’t truly pathetic.

Sure it’s about confidence and by 19 when I elected to go braless I had a perfectly pert pair of 34C’s. I was also pretty slim. I was logical enough to appreciate that I had grown into a close approximation of the woman I had admired five years earlier. My bottom was a bit bigger but this was 2001 and Destiny’s Child were everywhere. What was desirable had evolved and I quite liked the junk in my trunk.

But there was a gulf between looking good in my clothes and looking good naked.** I actually think I tend to look better in my lingerie (why wear knickers when you can evoke French eroticism with lingerie) than in my clothes. As Caitlin Moran puts it; ‘If you’ve got some half-decent tits in a half-decent bra, it doesn’t matter if the rest of you looks like a child’s teatime blancmange that fell on the floor and got attacked by the cat – everyone will be looking at the tits in the bra.’ I’m less fond of my breasts out of a bra (they are substantial and I’m nearly 30) but they are rather fabulous encased in lace.

It was the last step towards nudity that took the longest. It wasn’t a big step after all to go from happy in clothes to happy in underwear. You see, my clothes and then my lingerie are such an important part of my sense of self. I’m almost always in a dress, I feel less like myself out of one. But I also feel a strong sense of identity in the fact I wear nice (and matching) undergarments each day and that the knickers are generally proper knickers (I’m not a fan of arse-floss). Remove them and it’s a bit of a blank canvas; stripped of my applied personality I was so exposed.

Three things helped. The first was dying my hair; that stays when my clothes go. Far more effective was my tattoo. It is a big stamp of personality on my crotch. Its enduring nature is reassuring. And there is a sense I’ll never be truly naked again.

But the final stage happened this morning.

The fiancé and I are currently sleeping in the room I keep trying not to call the nursery. Also in the room is a gorgeous wardrobe with a mirrored panel. In order to fit in a double bed, our heads are necessarily level with this mirror. This has had its interesting moments such as turning to be presented with a flash of home pornography that truly made me jump (although I think the fiancé likes it). I’ve stayed in hotels with mirrors in the bedroom and have made use of them before but this was my first view unprepared as it were. I didn’t look awful. The fiancé remarked on me noticing myself (I think his words were “checking yourself out?” which is charmingly male of him. I was of course checking the extent of how utterly awful my breasts looked like when I was on my back!).

To this morning.

I was reading in bed. I was on my side and the duvet had ridden down to my waist. I laughed at my book and happened to raise my eyes to catch sight of myself. I looked happy. I looked relaxed. I looked ok. Normally when I see myself in the mirror I jump on all of my (perceived) flaws but for some reason I was able to see myself as a whole.

I looked pretty good. I looked good enough to be happy in myself. Healthy, happy, relaxed. And that’s enough isn’t it? My body can cut down trees and prepare walls for plaster, it can do things that make the fiancé tremble and it breathes, menstruates and does a whole manner of things all by itself. Pretty snazzy.

I’m not about to visit a nudist colony or start posting amateur porn but I think I’m going to be able to finally feel truly happy naked.

* If anything makes me believe in supernatural forces it is the fact all uttered statements of this nature coincide with songs ending.

** Furthermore there was a period when I was with my ex-husband when my confidence plummeted (and my weight soared). I found myself once I freed myself of him and have largely been happy in my clothes since then.