Dear AQA

Dear Aqa,

As a professional author and mother of a young girl, I would like to share a few poems that I have been asked to read in schools to GCSE age students, mainly by concerned teachers or school nurses who have few other ways to speak of safe female sexual pleasure to students but who know that the effect of being silent on or demonising these topics has dire consequences for young girls sexual safety as they grow up.

At GCSE I studied Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare. This, I think, is part if your curriculum. In this play two underage young people have penetrative sex with each other and then kill themselves. It is held up as one of the greatest love stories. I studied Chaucer’s Canterbury tales. There was arse licking and brooms shoved into vaginas as an example of comic verse. Chaucer is considered one of England’s greatest poets. Nobody banned these texts in my school exams because of their violent or sexual content, or because of the author’s private sex lives. Nor do I think they should.

That you have, in 2021, banned even referencing a young female whose work you previously admired purely because she has delivered a blog review of sex toys, toys which are, for many girls, one of the safest first ways to learn about their own bodies ( much safer than having actual sexual relations ) in a culture that, because of censorship like yours, still makes that seem extremely shameful, I think is not only extremely bias but dangerous for the message it gives.

I hope you reconsider Zoella ‘s place on your media curriculum if this is indeed the reason she has been removed and, instead of submitting to some parental complaints, actually make a reasoned public statement that you do not think it correct to remove a person from your curriculum because she highlights ways in which she enjoys her own body. You are an exam board not a moral judge and your curriculum is full of authors and poets and scientists who mention sex, both in their work and private lives. Private lives you may not agree with but have nonetheless not banned them for.

Please stop demonising certain sexual references or stories over others. I would much rather my fourteen year old daughter copied Zoella’s example than Juliet’s. I think most would. I do not want to ban my daughter from learning Shakespeare’s play because of this. This is more important than you seem aware of.

white children

POEM:

This is a poem I wrote about things I, my white family, white friends and other white people have said around me and still constantly argue against.

I guess it is a plea for white people to stop answering conversations about racism with ‘surely not’ – as in, surely not here / surely not in the UK, surely not now, surely not in our school / village / town / neighbourhood. I hear this a lot.

My daughter’s school has no racism, I’ve been told. Surely that boy who got beaten up outside the village shop wasn’t beaten up because he was black? Surely the teacher didn’t actually separate the kids based on ‘white’ and ‘not white’ skin colour in nursery and then get them all to sing the song ‘some people are black, some people are white’ when they were only four years old? Surely the police didn’t handcuff him for no reason at all? Surely not here? Surely not now?

I wrote this poem last year after watching my kid opening birthday cards with only white children on the front of them and after having a ‘school run’ argument about the fact that there is apparently no difference any more for the childre’s experience of growing up based on their skin colour. Not here. Not in the UK. Not now. Not in this school.

I’m not saying that if your kid goes to a birthday party that you have to match the skin colour of any cartoon on the card you buy to that of the kid that receives it. I’m just saying little things add up. And big things happen. And I think we need to think about both a lot more.

The you in the poem is myself and other white people I know. I guess it is a poem from a white, middle class person, intended mainly for other white middle class people, especially those raising children. I know that this is a big part of who read my poetry online.

white children’s birthday cards have white children on them
black children’s birthday cards have white children on them

as a baby, you played babies in your colour
at the doctor’s, the toy box cradled mini-clones of you
your first birthday cards were covered with cartoons painted pink
under bedtime lamps, stories whispered beauty into mirrors;
fairytales questioned ‘who is the fairest of them all’
no-one in your family substitutes this phrase
her skin is white as snow / you giggle at the dwarves
the prince is pale and andsome
you did not spend hours searching for that nineteen-ninety-seven
version of cinderella where Brandy begs Whitney Houston
to get her to the ball just so your children grow up
believing they can ride in pumpkins too; believing they are beautiful
you did not cry over the princess and the frog
you did not cry in tescos over the new range of birthday cards with doc mcstuffin on
you do not question the colour scheme of pixies

ditto mermaids
ditto fairies
ditto heroes
ditto elves

you watch the Harry Potter series for the seventh time
do not wonder if all wizards are white – they are
when someone questions Hogwart’s inclusion policy
you point out that one Scottish girl
(you do not call her Scottish though)
and the black boy with no lines
you watch lord of the rings
notice the lack of female characters
nothing more than that

as you grow up you take ballet shoes for granted
slip custom pale pink slippers over custom pale pink feet
criss-cross ribbons around ankles;
open arms and legs in first position
you think Selena Robinson is making slightly too much fuss
painting over silk

as a teenager, you covered puberty’s frustrations
with skin coloured foundation
teachers much less likely to
underestimate your academic talents
overestimate your interest in sport and dance and song
you were never stopped and searched
on your way home from the youth club
you do not become too frightened to ask an officer for help
you do not watch your father mishandled every holiday
his sides tapped by uniforms begging him for badness
you have never been pulled over
asked to step out of your vehicle to check if it is yours
just because your car is nice
you are less likely to be sectioned for shouting in the street
if you suffer from ill mental health later on in life

if you stab another person with skin colour like yours
the crime will not be labelled white on white crime
if a person with skin colour like yours
stabs another person with skin colour like yours
you will not be asked to comment on white on white crime

when twenty young people with skin colour like yours
stand on stage behind their favourite rapper
the tv standards agency is not inundated with complaints

you do not prefix ‘white’ searching netflix everyday
just to see an actor who vaguely looks like you

you did not rush to watch black panther
there are lots of other sci fi films

on stage, you see your skin speak
in books, you see your skin speak
on the news, you see your skin speak
in ads, you see your skin speak
in films, you see your skin speak

you can claim not to see colour
because your colour is the norm

still, you worked hard for your place in life
you are not rich, you are not racist,
you did not take part in the slave trade
you are not one of the privileged
you have problems of your own

you open birthday cards again
white people sip prosecco
you laugh easy at the jokes

 

FULL BLOG POST:

I have seen a lot of posts this week, mainly from white people about being confused as to what to do / say right now about supporting the protests against murder and continued systemic racism.

I have heard a lot of white people saying how confusing certain messages are – mainly pointing the finger in this respect at black people – that some black people are saying that white folks should shut up and educate ourselves, that some are saying white folks should speak up because it is so tiring that black people are constantly asked to explain this shit to everyone else, that some people are saying that white people should not speak about matters they know fuck all about. The confusion around this seems slightly ridiculous. Of course black people are saying different things online about what should be done, because black people are not a homogenous being with one brain and opinion about anything, including how to fight injustice. Of course there are many, many different viewpoints.

So I have shut up, I will continue to educate myself and donate time and money I can to causes I think are relevant and important and now I’ll speak up from the limited viewpoint I have.

So I guess this is a post from a white, middle class person, intended mainly for other white middle class people, especially those raising children. I know that this is a large part of who read my poetry online.

Some recommendations first, then a poem, because poems are how I’ve always composed my thoughts.

First of all, these are some of the books I’ve read and would put into the ‘all parents need to read / audio-listen to this’ category. As parents and carers of young children, I really believe we worry far too much about the unimportant aspects of parenting – the clothes, the nursery wallpaper, the shit that your baby doesn’t give a toss about – and too little time focusing on the important things – the mother’s well-being, mental health, physical recovery, support, how to bring up our children not to be racist within a society which still very much is. I do not believe any white person who says there is no racism in their family / friendship circles / own opinions. Myself included.

The books first. They are all UK / Ireland and one European-based. I have no doubt there are many brilliant other books, but I think we have a tendency to say ‘that happens in the USA not here.’ So these are books by authors closer to my home.

Lemn Sissay: My Name is Why. I think this book is written absolutely incredibly – a mix of memoir and local council records to uncover the systemic class and racial bias of Lemn Sissay’s upbringing – and life in general.

Gael Faye: Small Country. This is a novel, translated from French. It is set between Burundi and France and relates a childhood experience of the social construction of race, forced migration and loss. It is also beautifully written and funny and terrible.There is a film of it out soon if you’re not a big reader.

Akala: Natives – Race and Class in the Ruins of Empire. An academic book, which needs to be on the school curriculum. Yes, it’s the same author as Akala the rapper

Reni Eddo-Lodge -Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race. This is the book I hear most about. It’s easier to read than Akala’s book I’d say and just as important.

Emma Dabiri – Don’t Touch My Hair. I would call this an academic history / memoir about many things – from growing up young, Irish and black to the mathematics involved in hair braiding to the construction of female black identity. Again, there are a lot of videos of Emma speaking on news programmes online about this book if you google her and / or the book title, if reading books is a struggle.

Jackie Kay – The Red Dust Road. Jackie Kay is the current Makar – Scottish National Poet but I also love her novel – which is a memoir of being brought up as black child, adopted into a white family in the Scottish highlands – and the journey of her searching her blood parents. It is hilarious and challenging and truthful and Jackie is one of the nicest people I’ve ever met in my life.

Last week I watched Hidden Figures with my daughter. I’d recommend that movie too.

So those are my current reads and one film.

Next, this is a poem I wrote about things I, my white family, white friends and other white people have said around me and still constantly argue against.

I guess it is a plea for white people to stop answering conversations about racism with ‘surely not’ – as in, surely not here / surely not in the UK, surely not now, surely not in our school / village / town / neighbourhood. I hear this a lot.

My daughter’s school has no racism, I’ve been told. Surely that boy who got beaten up outside the village shop wasn’t beaten up because he was black? Surely the teacher didn’t actually separate the kids based on ‘white’ and ‘not white’ skin colour in nursery and then get them all to sing the song ‘some people are black, some people are white’ when they were only four years old? Surely the police didn’t handcuff him for no reason at all? Surely not here? Surely not now?

I wrote this poem last year after watching my kid opening birthday cards with only white children on the front of them and after having a ‘school run’ argument about the fact that there is apparently no difference any more for the childre’s experience of growing up based on their skin colour. Not here. Not in the UK. Not now. Not in this school.

I’m not saying that if your kid goes to a birthday party that you have to match the skin colour of any cartoon on the card you buy to that of the kid that receives it. I’m just saying little things add up. And big things happen. And I think we need to think about both a lot more.

The you in the poem is myself and other white people I know

Poem:

white children’s birthday cards have white children on them
black children’s birthday cards have white children on them

as a baby, you played babies in your colour
at the doctor’s, the toy box cradled mini-clones of you
your first birthday cards were covered with cartoons painted pink
under bedtime lamps, stories whispered beauty into mirrors;
fairytales questioned ‘who is the fairest of them all’
no-one in your family substitutes this phrase
her skin is white as snow / you giggle at the dwarves
the prince is pale and andsome
you did not spend hours searching for that nineteen-ninety-seven
version of cinderella where Brandy begs Whitney Houston
to get her to the ball just so your children grow up
believing they can ride in pumpkins too; believing they are beautiful
you did not cry over the princess and the frog
you did not cry in tescos over the new range of birthday cards with doc mcstuffin on
you do not question the colour scheme of pixies

ditto mermaids
ditto fairies
ditto heroes
ditto elves

you watch the Harry Potter series for the seventh time
do not wonder if all wizards are white – they are
when someone questions Hogwart’s inclusion policy
you point out that one Scottish girl
(you do not call her Scottish though)
and the black boy with no lines
you watch lord of the rings
notice the lack of female characters
nothing more than that

as you grow up you take ballet shoes for granted
slip custom pale pink slippers over custom pale pink feet
criss-cross ribbons around ankles;
open arms and legs in first position
you think Selena Robinson is making slightly too much fuss
painting over silk

as a teenager, you covered puberty’s frustrations
with skin coloured foundation
teachers much less likely to
underestimate your academic talents
overestimate your interest in sport and dance and song
you were never stopped and searched
on your way home from the youth club
you do not become too frightened to ask an officer for help
you do not watch your father mishandled every holiday
his sides tapped by uniforms begging him for badness
you have never been pulled over
asked to step out of your vehicle to check if it is yours
just because your car is nice
you are less likely to be sectioned for shouting in the street
if you suffer from ill mental health later on in life

if you stab another person with skin colour like yours
the crime will not be labelled white on white crime
if they stab another person with skin colour like yours
you will not be asked to comment on white on white crime

when twenty young people with skin colour like yours
stand on stage behind their favourite rapper
the tv standards agency is not inundated with complaints

you do not prefix ‘white’ searching netflix everyday
just to see an actor who vaguely looks like you

you did not rush to watch black panther
there are lots of other sci fi films

on stage, you see your skin speak
in books, you see your skin speak
on the news, you see your skin speak
in ads, you see your skin speak
in films, you see your skin speak

you can claim not to see colour
because your colour is the norm

still, you worked hard for your place in life
you are not rich, you are not racist,
you did not take part in the slave trade
you are not one of the privileged
you have problems of your own

you open birthday cards again
white people sip prosecco
you laugh easy at the jokes

 

Touring without Starbucks

I tour all over the UK  and I go to so many brilliant train station (and a few other) cafes that I thought I’d start a little list for anyone who, like me, would rather give their well-earned cash to a small business rather a millionaire coffee chain when they’re travelling.

So these are my favourite places to go grab a drink or some food after I’ve finished the packed lunch I thought would last longer on the train. To be honest, sometimes I choose cities to tour in because I want to go back to these places!

I love train stations and I love trains and I love eating. So this ties it all in. I’ll keep adding as I tour. Also, the station names are in alphabetical order. x

Ely Train Station
Ely Food Station
I have to change at Ely all the time for trains between South and North England and this wee cafe is at the end of the station. To be honest, I like it cos it does crumpets and jam. I’ve never tried anything else there but there’s sandwiches and toasties and stuff. Also, there’s lots of nice alcohol. They have good mugs for tea. I hate drinking out of those massive fucking costa mugs. But yeah, I go their for a cup of tea and a crumpet mostly. I never eat breakfast if i know I’ve got a fifteen minute hangover at Ely!

Hull (Quayside)
Thieving Harry’s
I love Hull. I’ve done loads of gigs in Hull and it was one of the first cities to keep asking me back, so I’ve got a soft spot for it perhaps. This cafe isn’t in the train station, it’s by the sea, but I love it a lot and the area is a really interesting one to go to.  I always get an earlier train to a Hull gig if I can so I can go and work from this cafe and have one of their grilled sandwiches . I think there’s a bit of a theme here. I like a toastie. Not sure if they still do those but the whole menu is really fucking delicious. And it overlooks the water. Good kid’s menu too.

Newcastle Train Station
Darceys Grilled Cheese
This place is right next to the Cafe Nero / Costa Coffee (I can’t remember which is which cos they’ve blurred into one for me) in the main entrance to Newcastle station. They have a sit down area with fake grass which I like and do hot drinks and all that standard stuff to but the toasties are fucking delicious. I’m vegetarian so I’ve only tried the macaroni cheese toastie and three cheese toastie. There’s a vegan one too. In case you’re vegan. And there’s meat too. In case you’re not vegetarian. I love gigging in Newcastle anyway but this place makes it even better. Also – my Newcastle gig venue is The Cluny and the food there is also fucking amazing, really good. The nachos especially, so if you want a day of eating in Newcastle I’d say, get a grilled cheese sandwich, go for a walk across the bridges, then go eat and watch a band (or a poet) at The Cluny.

York Train Station
Hilda and Janes pop up cake stall
I bought a toblerone brownie and it was lush. It’s not cheap but they’re big and filling and well, Starbuck’s not cheap either is it. It’s not at the station every day but three days a week so if you’re lucky, great! The cheesecakes and oreo brownies and crunchy brownies also looked like I could run them all over my face for pleasure. If that’s your thing.

 

when i was a teenage girl

when i was a teenage girl
the newspapers printed
stories about the monsters
they called paedophiles

when i was a teenage girl
a special assembly was called
which told us all to watch out
for a man flashing his penis
in the park near the school
we all thought it was funny
looked out for the long coat
pointed with our friends

when i was a teenage girl
one newspaper printed
a list of home addresses
of the people they called
paedophiles’, vigilante
justice and one count
of linguistic ignorance
graffiti-ing the walls of
a paediatrician’s home

when i was a teenage girl
i bought the top ten record
by another teenage girl
dancing in school uniform
called hit me baby one more time
please hit me baby one more time
please hit me baby one more time

when I was a teenage girl
my friend was called a slut
for owning three vibrators

when i was a teenage girl
the front cover of this album
had britney spears in pigtails
looking at the camera
as little angel as could be

when i was a teenage girl
my friend told everyone
he fingered me in the garden
at a house party when really
he was crying about a
problem in his family
he apologised to me at school
I agreed not to tell the truth
we stayed close friends

when I was a teenage girl
I opened the cd in my bedroom
there was a poster folded up inside
to put up on my wall
it had Britney dressed in
a perfect white vest top
sat astride a chair
legs parted for the camera
camera zoomed onto her crotch

when i was a teenage girl
i was told not to use a tampon
when I was bleeding playing sport
because that would be like
losing my virginity to a tampon
before I’d had a dick in me

when i was a teenage girl
i was told not to put a dick in me

when i was a teenage girl
i was told that the only sex
real sex was a dick in me

when i was a teenage girl
i was told how great a dick
in me would be

when I was a teenage girl
two teenage girls in a
Russian pop video
snogged each other
in school uniform
looking sexy at the camera
singing
all the things you said
all the things you said
running through my head
running through my head

when i was a teenage girl
i was told off for wearing
a skirt too short at school
i rolled it down each lesson
and rolled it up each break

when i was a teenage girl
i was told not to take the short cut
I was told not to walk alone
i was told not to stay out late
i was told not to masturbate
i was told not to get pregnant
I was told not to get fingered
i was told not to be too sexy
i was told to be really sexy
i was told not to have sex
i was told to sing hit me baby
one more time in uniform like hers
i was told all the things you said
running through my head
running through my head

when i was in my twenties
i had a baby
i breastfed in the toilets
for fear of looking
like i was sort of trying
to look sexy
i’m still not sure
exactly why i was
embarrassed to feed my baby

when i was thirty
i was recommended botox
before i went on holiday
to look sexier on holiday

when i was thirty five
i was told not to wear a vest top
because women my age don’t show
our arms now for fear of bats
landing on the skin below
and letting all the world know
our arms are not sexy now

when i was fifty
i was told my sex drive would
go down with my bleeding
but no-one talks about the menopause

when i was sixty
i was told

when i was seventy
i was told

when i was eighty
i was told

I am hoping this will stop

but my grandma is ninety-two
and she is on a diet because
in our family, as I’ve been told
my entire life long
the women in our family
have bad stomachs

hold it in, hollie
hold it in, hollie

when i am dead
i am hoping
i can stretch out
in my coffin

wearing what
the fuck I want

New sketch: YOU WIN

Quick sketch of thoughts on the advertising industry after reading another article blaming mothers’ at work for children’s issues…

YOU WIN

take her! go on just take her!
i can’t do this any more!
you are too rich
you are too big
i am too tired
i am too small

put up your billboards!
sell her all those dreams
too high for her
to ever reach!

then highlight all her flaws
until she’s certain
she’s the ugliest

go on and tell her she’s too fat!
go on! then tell her she’s too thin
til she is petrified
of any life that
creeps across
her skin

go on just take her! i can’t fight you!
i’m so fucking tired of trying
david did not beat goliath
i don’t believe it anymore

so come pour
all your fucking sweeties
at each checkout
where we’re standing
coat your cereals in cartoons
your happy meals
in shit free toys
your fizzy drinks
endorsed by all
her favourite kid
celebrities

til she’s begging me
and begging me
and begging me
and begging me again

i know this is your strategy
so well done you, it works

i’m so tired of saying no
– so go ahead, she’s yours

make another fucking million
feeding her your shit
then telling her she’s shit
for eating all your shit
then selling her your fix

I’m told
mothers are to blame
for obesity and body shame

I’m standing at the checkout
She’s begging. I say no again

She tells me I’m the worst mum
She’s grumpy. I’m no fun at all.

I feel the advertising team
betting on my fall.

In my head, I shot the woman

Just been sketching memories on the train…here’s one
 
 
***
 
In my head, I shot the woman.
 
It was the same journey we always did. Great Gran’s house to Glasgow Queen Street train station. Queen’s Street station to Edinburgh Waverley. Edinburgh Waverley to London King’s Cross. London King’s Cross to London Paddington. London Paddington to home.
 
It was difficult with a one month old. Then a one year old. Then a toddler.
 
How long left, mummy?
Only six hours now
Can we play eye spy?
Of course.
 
So we do. We play eye spy. I spy something with my little eye beginning with, and she stares out of the train window until inspiration strikes. No, not a sheep. Sheep begins with s. My word begins with a b. Buh. B. No, not an elephant. That begins with an e and there are no elephants I can see. She giggles. Plays up to it. Tiger? No. Gorilla? No. Tractor? No. Bird? No, but that does begin with a b. Good guess, honey. We carry on till she guesses. Bushes.
 
Her turn.
 
She spies something with her little eye beginning with. She thinks. Beginning with cloud.
Is it a cloud? I say
Yes! She is over-joyed. Thinks I am a genius. Wants another go.
She spies something with her little eye beginning with…cloud.
Is it a sheep? I say.
No, she laughs.
This is difficult, I say.
She claps her hands.
Is it a field? I say.
No, mummy. She looks up out of the window, hinting.
I look up. She watches my eyes scan the sky. Fiddles on her seat.
Is it a plane? I say.
No! She bursts out laughing again.
Is it…a cloud? I say.
Yes! She hugs me. Wants to go again. She starts again:
I spy with my little eye something beginning with cloud.
I look around, thinking what it could be.
 
The first journey lasts almost one hour. I spot thirty clouds. The change of trains is easy. Twenty minutes. No stairs.
 
The second journey lasts four and a half hours. My bag is loaded with hard-to-peel fruit and bits of bread and cheese for her to build sandwiches from. I hope there’s a tea trolley soon.
 
After an hour, we spot the sea. We spot the caravans on top of the cliffs. We talk about going to one of them. We spot an elephant swimming further out in the waves. She giggles.
 
By Newcastle, she’s hungry. I pass her one lychee. She takes two minutes to peel and eat it and I close my eyes to ease the sting of tiredness a little, holding her hand as I do, just to be sure. She asks for another. I pass her one. Close my eyes again. I ask if she wants to put the peelings in the bin. She does. We go to the bin together and she jumps around in the vestibule for a few minutes.
 
We play snap. Quietly, I say. I show her how not to bang her hands so loudly on the table. The man opposite looks up again without smiling. I change the game.
 
We play eye spy again. I try to remember the names of clouds. I can only remember cirrus. She asks me if she can count the sheep instead. I thank the lord, as she stares out of the window and reaches thirty seven before the fields become barer again
 
She smiles at the man opposite. His response is so forced I think his lips must be constipated. The thought of this makes me laugh a little. I imagine his lips squeezing. I’d like to share the joke but I don’t have anyone to share it with.
 
By York, she’s hungry again. I lay a dishcloth out with slices of bread and cheese and she makes us both a picnic. She says she’s tired and sits on my lap and I read her four books and feel a bit queasy reading.
 
She asks for the chocolate. I remind her the pudding is for the last train. This one, then the underground, then the last train.
 
How long will it be till the last train?
Just three hours left poppet.
And then we share the chocolate?
Yes, I say.
Yes, she says, smiling.
 
She starts to fidget. I apologise to the new couple opposite us when she sings gently. They say it’s fine and I love them. She starts to fidget a bit more. We walk up and down the corridor ten times. I take my bag with me just in case.
 
She needs a wee. I carry her over the drips on the floor of the toilet cubicle, hold her on my hip while I wipe the seat clean of the previous man’s piss, make ugh noises to mimic hers and turn her disgust into a game not a struggle. She likes the voiceover about not putting jumpers and fish into the bin.
 
We sit again. I draw fifty dots on a piece of plain paper and she draws lines between them. We fill five pages of paper. We share some carrot sticks and pretend they are peoples’ legs walking into our mouths. She giggles and eats.
 
We change trains.
 
The lift is hard to find at Paddington. I have to put her in the pram because I can’t carry it and carry her and carry the bags. I balance her pram on the escalators with her in it and imagine us tumbling to the bottom, both dead, me to blame.
 
She falls alseep in the pram. We get to the next train and I have to fold the pram down because there is no space for it on the train. I wake her and grapple with the pram folding and she stands sobbing slightly into my leg because she’s tired and I can’t lift her and do the pushchair at the same time. It’s nearly evening now. I wonder if bedtime will be better or worse because of her tiredness. We find our seat. I soothe her crankiness with head strokes and a story. She points to the pictures and looks at me.
 
She asks if this is the chocolate train. I say it is. She waits. I pretend I can’t wait for the train to start moving to eat the chocolate. She scolds me to be patient. Says it’s our rules, remember. She feels the first jolt. I break the bar in half and we eat slowly and silently. I stare out of the window. Close my eyes. Taste the sweetness.
 
The woman opposite us looks up from her book. She smiles at me, head tilted a touch. I smile back. She looks at my daughter, mouth painted with chocolate and crumbs. Eyes heavy. She tells my daughter that they didn’t have snacks in her day. Advises me of the health effects of giving children too much sugar. Says it’s a shame for the kids is all. Smiles again, a little less this time. Goes back to her book.
 
 

New Poem on Mourning

Just wrote this after walking by the graveyard I walk past each day. Not sure a title yet:

 

when I die

please fling my ashes

somewhere nice and warm

i pass the graveyard everyday

the headstones look so cold

 

don’t bother with a patch of ground

for flowers plucked to wilt upon

as people pass and count my years

leave earth’s well-formed rocks alone

 

don’t shove me in another urn

a golden box atop a shelf

so bored I’d be up there alone

save your cash, enjoy yourself

 

go mourn me – if you want to mourn –

somewhere we have loved to be

get two pornstar martinis

down both prosecco shots for me

cup the floating passion fruits

lick the juices greedily

 

go snuggle in the cinema

read a whole book on the couch

get your arse up on a dancefloor

move your bones about

 

buy niger seeds and birdfeeders

and watch the goldfinch flock

climb up to the Campsie fells

flash the whole world far below

yours tits or arse or cock

 

I promise I’ll be there with you

Can’t promise I won’t watch

 

by Hollie McNish

31/1/2018

Breastfeeding for Geeks

Breastfeeding for Geeks

I get sent a LOT of articles and books and notes and emails and personal stories about breastfeeding. I have never studied infant health. I have never worked in maternity services. I studied economics. And from this point of view, in my humble and mathematic-loving opinion, I wish policy-makers would get over their fear of approaching infant feeding as a personal choice each mother is free to make for herself.

The UK has the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world. Some may say this is because we are lucky, free, and can choose not to undertake this mammoth task. Mathematically, this view seems not to hold up. More likely, it seems, being able to ‘choose’ to breastfeed in the UK is a massive privilege that most women cannot or do not want to partake in due to cultural, social, economic and political reasons.

For those mothers who, with all the body confidence and knowledge and support they could ever wish for, do not choose to breastfeed, this is not about you. We need to stop arguing about these totally acceptable choices. I don’t care (I mean I care, but not in this specific situation) about those mothers in the UK who have the total freedom to decide how to feed their child. I care about those mothers who would have liked to, but couldn’t or didn’t or didn’t feel able, and who are constantly made to feel shit about it because of the whole ‘mother’s choice’ bollocks.

If UK breastfeeding rates were purely a case of random personal choice by each new mother, then, if plotted onto a graph, there would be no correlation between those mothers who ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding and any specific social, cultural, economic or political factors which affect different people across the UK. The graph would be randomly scattered across graph paper the way my floor is scattered with dirty socks and pants.

This is not the case. There are clear correlations between a number of fairly obvious factors outside any mother’s control . To name a few:

  1. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding who live in areas of the country where maternal support services are under-funded.
  2. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding who are from working class and / or low income backgrounds, in particular those on zero hour contracts or other insecure employment.
  3. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding whose jobs do not offer flexible working patterns or who work for employers they do not feel comfortable talking to about possible options which may allow them to continue breastfeeding or expressing during work hours.
  4. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfed / continue breastfeeding who live in neighbourhoods with higher violent crime rates.
  5. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed who have previously suffered or suffer body image issues.
  6. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding if their family and friends are not knowledgeable or supportive about breastfeeding
  7. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding who have been exposed to little or no examples of breastfeeding in their lives previous to giving birth.
  8. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed if they become mothers under the age of 20.
  9. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding if they suffer pain while breastfeeding. BUT fewer women suffer pain or complications while breastfeeding in areas where maternity support services are well-funded and local support is available. (Maternity support services are not really ‘well-funded’ anywhere).
  10. Fewer women ‘choose’ to breastfeed / continue breastfeeding if they feel uncomfortable, nervous or embarrassed breastfeeding in public but want to actually leave their house without worrying about feeding. BUT The reasons mothers might feel uncomfortable, nervous or embarassed breastfeeding in public are correlated highly to points 1,4,5,6,7. Again, it is not a personal choice to feel able and comfortable to have a baby sucking on your breast in public spaces.

 

There are many more correlations it seems. So, so many correlations that the idea of real and free ‘choice’ in terms of infant feeding ‘choices’ is a mathematical farce. Every time I see articles about a mother’s choice, or articles pointing blame at mothers in the UK for these low rates, or even supposedly positive articles trying to convince mothers to ‘choose’ to breastfeed whilst offering no support regarding any of these outside factors, it makes me want to be sick all over the graph paper.

Finally, what makes me want to be doubly sick is that, in the UK, the lowest ‘choosing to breastfeed’ rates are most often amongst mothers and families on the lowest incomes. This statistic is infuriating because, firstly, as I’ve said five hundred times now, this ‘choice’ is much more difficult for these mothers to make. Secondly, because feeding a baby is not like riding a bike. If you stop breastfeeding, you cannot get back on it with a bit of practice in 6 months time. You have to buy formula for a long time and formula is fucking expense for those mothers and families on the lowest income. Especially compared to the free alternative.

It’s shite I think

To finish up. I think breastfeeding rates are little to do with a mother’s choice. This does not mean that we must not say well done and congratulations to those mothers who have possibly gone through cramps and mastitis and stress and loneliness and all that other jazz to continue feeding. Or to thank the support networks – the partners or grandparents or carers or health practitioners –  who may have helped them. It just means that we should not make it too personal. A bit like getting good marks at school. Yes, you worked hard and yes, I’m not saying it isn’t partly because of all your effort. But you also didn’t have to share a room with two siblings, have the electricity cut once a month, have a parent you were caring for, go to a school with no textbooks etc etc. There are always other factors at play in what we can and can’t achieve.

Basically, stop pointing fingers at mothers and point it at those who make the decisions. If we want to ‘encourage’ higher breastfeeding rates in the UK, we have to make it easier for mothers to ‘choose’ to breastfeed and continue breastfeeding and to be happy doing so.

 

It is a very personal experience to feed a baby. But it is definitely not a purely personal choice.

Infant Feeding Report

I wish infant feeding wasn’t seen as such a personal choice, otherwise I think support for it would be on every international agenda that included environmental and health issues. Whenever people ask me about breastfeeding and the importance of it, the main thing I always want to say is that it is not a personal choice made by a mother or a family in private – it is a huge political, social and cultural issue.

Last month, I did a gig in Cape Town. There’s a drought. Water is scarce and diminishing. This is the sort of situation in which formal milk is a total fuckry for parents. It’s not about personal choice, it’s much, much bigger than that. I’m sick of hearing how breastmilk increases a baby’s IQ. I think this is the least important thing about supporting breastfeeding but strangely the one that is talked about so much in the promotion of it.

Anyhows – I thought this was a really interesting article, in particular how formula companies target poor mother’s more. There is so much disparity in who does and does not ‘choose’ to breastfeed. If it was just a personal choice, the rates amongst working class women would be roughly the same as middle class women for example. Or younger versus older mothers. They’re not though. From the embarrassment some women feel, to the inability to balance work and feeding, to the inability to feed comfortably, it is all due to lack of economic, cultural and political support.

As politicians worldwide discuss plastic waste, healthcare, environmental damage and climate change, I’m still shocked how little support for infant feeding is mentioned and I think it’s mainly because it’s still seen as a personal choice which we cannot possibly touch with a bargepole rather than something which politics and economics needs to support if we’re ever gonna ‘choose’ to do it more again. Women don’t need to be ‘told’ to breastfeed. For me, that makes fuck all difference if all of the environment around them makes breastfeeding costly, uncomfortable and hard to live normally whilst doing.

Anyways, ranting! x

Hope you enjoy the read!

https://www.savethechildren.org.uk/what-we-do/policy-and-practice/our-featured-reports/dont-push-it.

Please also take a look at the article in The Guardian published this morning.

https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2018/feb/27/formula-milk-companies-target-poor-mothers-breastfeeding#comments