Wednesday, 17 October 2012

Brother V Brother

This afternoon I'm going to see David Miliband talk to students at Goldsmiths College where I am a part-time lecturer in journalism. We've spent much of the morning researching his policy positions on things and discussing what to listen out for when it comes to identifying a top line for the news stories I have asked them to write on it.

Perhaps because baby number two has been kicking me throughout the morning and because I'm wondering how our own family dynamic will change when this one arrives, two years on from the leadership election (and from the arrival of our first child) what I really care about is not who would make the best Prime Minister but the whole brother versus brother thing.

Sibling relationships are complicated, necessarily so as you can't walk away from a complicated relationship the way you can from a simple one, and family ties are important. But regardless of the complexity, of feelings of rivalry, of love and hatred and grudges and emotional tangles, I just still don't understand how one brother can publicly stand against another in a fight where there is only one winner. Even the word itself, brother, should be one of togetherness, not conflict - we call people we are not related to our brother or sister to show we see them as part of our community, that we walk in solidarity with them.

Those on the right might take a different views of siblings. It is the unionists and oppressed minorities most likely to use this fraternal or sororal term greeting after all. Tories might put family before society when it comes to their rhetoric, but only when that family knows its place. It is still the party of inherited privilege and inherited wealth and this of course also means primogeniture. Cameron may have invoked his stokebroker dad in his recent conference speech, though his line "My dad was a stockbroker from Berkshire" is disingenuous in its suggestion that he was the Berkshire equivalent of a self-made Essex man, what with wealth and aristocracy in his line for generations, but he doesn't once mention his three siblings.

By contrast, those on the left should reject thoughts about whether it is the younger or older sibling who should get opportunities. As a younger sibing myself I've even rejected the kind of double buggy that places the older child on top of the younger child to the detriment of the younger child's view, feeling it is unfair for the baby to automatically get the raw deal. So it's not that the younger Miliband, Ed, beat the older Miliband, David, that bothers me, but that they couldn't reach a deal together, behind closed doors. In fact they should have been fighting to stand down, each wanting the best for each other.

My mum says that when my brother and I were young children she used to feed the ducklings in the local park when we went to feed the ducks. When we were teengers she'd go for the half white and half grey adolescent swans, in their own awkward phase. Once we were adults she switched her feeder attentions to the grown ducks with their flashes of green and purple. Now she has grandchildren she's gone back to the baby ones again. I understand that - we identify, be it ducks, or public figures, with the creature at our own stage of life. So I, like most parents I suspect, still think of the Milibands and think, first of all, about their poor mother, and to be even more biblical than the obvious Cain and Abel comparisons, think about the Judgement of Solomon* and his suggestion to cut a disputed baby in half in order to flush out the real mother. (Perhaps the Labour Party should have suggested a leadership job share, with the candidate who said 'oh go on, let him have it then' being awarded the job).

See, I think about it a lot, every time I see either of the brothers in the news in fact. So of course there are multiple angles my students may take this afternoon, and many directions their questions may take,  but still, yes still, what I really want them to ask David, when it comes to the Q&A part of proceedings, is about his relationship with his brother.


*(I Kings 3: 16-28) Solomon must decide which of two women claiming to be the mother of a baby is the true one. He suggests cutting the baby in half so they can each have part of him. The 'fake' mother agrees. The true mother says in that case the other woman can have him so the baby lives, and it is therefore decided she must be the real mother as she wishes above all no harm to come to the baby.

Wednesday, 10 October 2012

A new fangled old fashioned phone

My daugter loves old fashioned red telephone boxes - it's my fault perhaps, as on holiday we found one and she went into it with her dad, who gave me the number, and I rang it from my mobile so we could have a conversation on the phone.

Who can blame her though - wonderful as mobiles are, there's nothing like a great piece of street furniture to brighten up your day, be it a phone box or a magnificent bright red pillar box (or the wonderful Olympic gold one we saw in Enfield recently in honour of Charlotte Dujardin).

She's been conditioned into such geekery since she was very young of course. At about six months old we took her to a family fun day at the British Postal Museum and Archive Store in Debden, Essex. (Play 'Where's Ellie' in the pic below).

Now I'm not one of these people who subscribe to the 'isn't it all terrible our children can use computers before they can talk' school of thought. I'm proud my daughter can swipe open my iphone, even if I worry about the number of times she'll accidentally call the emergency services on it, as she'll be living in a world where knowing how to use technology will be key. Nevertheless I like that she also has a feeling for design greats from before she was born.

As such, this amazing iPhone cover is top of my Christmas want list, £19.99 from

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Some blogs and articles I like (an occasional series)

We went to a wedding last year where a young girl, about four years old, turned to a woman my age who had no children and said "If you're not a girl and you're not a mum then what are you?" Had she said that to me in the trying to conceive years I'd have had to run outside for a not so quick cry. I was so busy thinking about this at the time, and cuddling my baby daughter, that alas I forgot to listen to her answer. I was reminded of the question however when I read this brilliantly hilarious article in The New Yorker by Jenny Allen.

 I'm a mom by Jenny Allen

Saturday, 6 October 2012

Mothers for abortion rights

When I became a mum I used to enjoy joking about the new found legitimacy this status gave me in being morally outraged. "As a mother," I'd say, "I really hate paedophiles," as if I thought abusing children was perfectly acceptable before I had one.

There is one area however where I think being a parent makes it even more important to stand up and be counted, and that is when it comes to abortion rights, particularly at the moment as Jeremy Hunt (Secretary of State for Health) has told The Times that he'd like to see the legal abortion limit halved from 24 weeks to 12 weeks.

This is because it is very easy to get confused when it comes to abortion and to think that it is about women not liking, or wanting, children.  Actually abortion is very little to do with children and everything to do with grown women looking at their lives and working out whether to ruin it or not by going ahead with an unplanned and unwanted pregnancy or a pregnancy in which the foetus faces huge medical problems. In fact it is only now I have a child and realise how all consuming being a parent is that I realise how catastrophic having parenthood forced upon you would be.

This doesn't mean I believe in sugar coating what abortion is by using euphemisms about collections of cells or worrying about the exact number of weeks at which a foetus becomes, with huge medical help, viable.  We do ourselves a disservice when we do this, as if we cannot face up to what abortion is. Yes, abortion is killing a potential baby. But not allowing abortion is ruining an actual, not a potential, life. And faced with two horrible possibilities I would always choose the actual life. That's why Hunt is being dishonest with himself if he really thinks abortion is okay, but only until 12 weeks. Either it is okay, and we value the actual life more than the potential life, or it isn't okay and the number of weeks is immaterial.

When I was less than a week old, in 1978, I went to a party. It was to mark the first anniversary of the opening of the day care abortion service, where my mum worked as a counsellor - though she was on maternity leave at the time. Some people may find this odd - taking a baby to celebrate abortion. But it wasn't to celebrate abortion, it was to celebrate the fact that women could end pregnancies, if they chose to do so, safely and legally. That is, it celebrated the opportunity to save lives, not end lives.

That's why abortion is one of the areas where mothers in particular need to stand up and be counted when it comes to supporting access to abortion. Because the anti abortionists, and those who want to limit access to abortion, need to know that women who are in favour of access to abortion are not baby hating monsters. In fact they may well already be mothers, very good ones probably. No, they just like women, actual women, with actual lives, and want to help those lives go as well as possible.