Category Archives: Comment

The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds and how men get to speak while women stay silent


The following are some thoughts after seeing the show:

I have just watched the Secret Life of 4 Year Olds which is based on observation over two weekends, each six months apart, observing children. The men with PhDs, who said they had never been able to listen to children like that before (this group of children wore microphones), were the only ones who commented on behaviour while the female teachers were not shown expressing any opinion even though they had a lot more contact with children this age. This felt one-sided. 

The children were fascinating but I won’t comment on their behaviour. 

Channel 4 describes the show as follows: 

 This documentary follows 10 four-year-olds as they meet at nursery, exploring how children make and break friendships, share, stand up for themselves, and find their place in a new social group.

Dr Paul Howard -Jones is from the University of Bristol and one of two educational neuroscientists who observe the children from behind the scenes by observing the action on monitors. The show cuts away at regular intervals to the two male scientists reacting to the children while watching them and listening on headphones. 

Jones said :”Even though I wasn’t interacting with the children, I found myself becoming incredibly involved, emotionally, in the narratives that were developing for each individual child.”

The other scientist was Dr Sam Wass from the Cognition and Brain Science Unit at Cambridge University.

The two women who do interact with the children are “highly trained teachers” and their profiles are not posted on the website and their opinions are not sought. 

 The questions I have about this show 

 1. How much of children’s  behaviour is copied from their carers? 

 2. How can the scientists draw conclusions from the children’s actions without seeing how their carers behave? 

3. Do the teachers agree with all the conclusions?

 4. what do the teachers have to add about individual children and group behaviour based on their experience and education?

5. What do they think about the limitations and benefits of filming  children over such short periods of time?

If there is to be peace in the world, Lao-Tze

If there is to be peace in the world,
there must be peace in the nations.

If there is to be peace in the nations,
there must be peace in the cities.

If there is to be peace in the cities,
there must be peace between neighbors.

If there is to be peace between neighbors,
there must be peace in the home.

If there is to be peace in the home,
there must be peace in the heart.
– Lao-Tze

I read the above on peace this morning and I didn’t know what to post alongside it. I wasn’t sure what to say about it and didn’t want to promote any practice such as meditation even though this is what I would have instinctively gone for.

I wondered over it as I went about my day and it was on the way home from the playground with my daughter that I remembered about Zakia Zaki and being killed alongside her daughter. We were crossing the road and it was empty but I imagined some motorcycle riding up on the sidewalk and doing a u-turn and careening into us. “Mother and daughter the unsuspecting victims of crazy rider” is what the papers would have said although that barely sounds like a proper headline and we may not even have made the paper. How many mothers and daughters have died, I thought. Poor Zakia Zaki.

Zakia Zaki, head of Radio Peace in Afghanistan, was shot dead in front of her child in 2007. Some stories say that she was shot while in bed with her 7-month-old son and others say it was in front of her 8-year-old child. She was working for peace and that isn’t necessarily about staying still which is what I usually associate with it.

Zakia Zaki, a prominent female Afghan journalist has been gunned down inside her home near Kabul, the second such slaying in five days. Unidentified gunmen fired seven bullets into Zakia Zaki, head of a local radio station, [in the presence of her eight-year-old] old son last night. She died instantly.


What makes a cafe independent?

Tesco have apparently been criticised for setting up cafe shops that look independent even though they are 49% funded by the ginormous billions-in-profit-making multinational. I find this very bizarre. I would instead criticise the Harris & Hoole brand for thinking it was acceptable to present their cafe chain as an independent one.

Nick Tolley, the chief executive of the cafe chain said to the Guardian that Harris + Hoole was “trying to create a shop that’s local to the community”. He said localism was so important that one of store managers’ key performance indicators used to determine the level of bonus payments would be based on the “extent to which they are part of the community”.

He said: “The intention is to have the values of an independent, and behave like an independent.”

Apart from his serious lack of understanding that “independent” meant independent from multinationals such as Tesco, he also seems to not understand localism. Benefiting the local community means keeping the money within the location. This is a point Chris Mundy, co-founder of the Bristol Pound, made to the AFP: “Eighty percent of the money leaves the area if it is spent with a multinational – but 80pc stays if it is spent at a local trader”.

The look and feel of an independent cafe is not the only thing that determines where people enjoy their coffee. As consumers, the money spent at cafes is an important social and economic tool. If I think that I am benefiting a local outfit who are sending their children to school in the area and buying their groceries at the local market, I am being cheated if instead my money goes towards buying the CEO a new island or a Rolls Royce.

Branding as an independent when you receive your funding and pass on your profit to a multinational is fraud no matter how you look at it.

I have been…

I Have Been:

I found this on Roofbeam reader’s site and I liked the look of it


Not so much. A little bit at New Europe, a bit on here and sometimes in my head, working on that novel.

That novel is proving quite difficult emotionally. I wish my subconscious would be a little more light-hearted. Here’s what I wrote on the morning of the attack on the little Chinese children and the killings in Newtown (some hours before they occurred, I hasten to add) and I can’t bring myself to write anymore yet:

The white casket seemed too small to have to spend the rest of its time under the earth on its own so Roisin thought she would go with it. No one held her back as she walked forward and stepped on the ground that was slowly sinking down. Face down, body in contact she felt all the pain flowing through her chest and there was the sound of wailing. Was she wailing she wondered? She couldn’t make a sound, hadn’t spoken in three months so it couldn’t be her. No need for noise as she started to hit her head against the wood. Twice she made contact before hands grabbed her and lifted her away. Too little, she thought. Too little


I’ve been more successful with my reading if a little more promiscuous. I start many things but finish few. I am up to M on my A-Z challenge and have started the award-winning Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I find it difficult to enjoy historical settings however so it’s a huge struggle. I am reading Vagina by Naomi Wolf and Your Many Faces by Virginia Satir. The latter is (or was?) a renowned family therapist and I wanted to learn about techniques that could help us lead a happy / healthy (happier / healthier) family life but it seems more about discovering yourself. It’s very good so far. Wolf’s book is a little more contentious as it was widely mocked and ridiculed when first published so I wanted to read it for myself.

It’s not an easy read as part of it delves into the brutalisation of women. There is much of interest. Some of the reviews I read mocked the pro-Assange views and the ultra-femininity but didn’t mention the horrors that women face such as female genital mutilation, and the mass rapes and torture that women experience in war. I believe that Wolf’s thesis is that we’ve come from a time when women used to be sacred and now they are regularly abused and defined by their sexuality.


I’ve been listening to Jonathan Coulton who seems to have a Banksy-esque style of juxtaposing contexts to provide much mirth (as well as political insights). My favourite is Good morning Tucson which starts with the line “It’s still so dark because it’s still so early”to which I listen on the way to the station for my early train in the dark.


I’ve just finished watching the Killing series one and the number of themes I could write about from that grows every time I think about it. Lundt is a single mother, she works in a police department which lies, is political and bureaucratic and uses almost criminal techniques to get what it wants; Lundt practically abandons her son in the process of the investigation but it’s hard to see how she could have avoided it; the political system in Denmark hints at issues with immigration and integration and the complexities of political dynamics.


At the bottom of Park Street at the pop up art gallery Antlers there are some beautiful pictures of Bristol and other places. I wish I had the money to do more than look. I’ve also been looking at Christmas lights on College Green and along the harbour.


My favourite thing.

I’ve been studying a MOOC as one of around 85,000 students at Duke University. I’ve been watching the lectures on my phone and doing the quizzes and I used the inter-library loan system to borrow the course book. The amount I still have to learn about arguing is astonishing. I have also signed up for two more courses on data analysis from Harvard and John Hopkins university respectively. I’ve also signed up to a gender in comics course.


Tired. Intrigued. Constantly amazed at how we managed to create another human being. Too tired for most other emotions but quietly aware that nothing stays the same.


The Mousetrap at the Bristol Hippodrome in 2013.

The Killing series two and three.

Running again. Bristol 10k in May.


For enough energy to be inspired by life.


Scandinavian thrillers – Jo Nesbo and the Killing so far.

My little girl’s feet, her bouncing, her singing, her dancing and her laughing and her tummy.

– the fact that we’re still here after the Mayan apocalypse.

White chocolate syrup.
Chinese food.
Netflix on my phone.
EBooks on my phone.

Happy 2013.










Stalking, a new offence covers trolling?

‘Stalking’ and ‘Stalking involving a fear of violence’ have now become criminal offences under Section 111 of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012, which adds a section 2A to the Protection From Harassment Act 1997.

From the act

(3)The following are examples of acts or omissions which, in particular circumstances, are ones associated with stalking—

(a)following a person,
(b)contacting, or attempting to contact, a person by any means,
(c)publishing any statement or other material—

(i)relating or purporting to relate to a person, or
(ii)purporting to originate from a person,

(d)monitoring the use by a person of the internet, email or any other form     of electronic communication,
(e)loitering in any place (whether public or private),
(f)interfering with any property in the possession of a person,
(g)watching or spying on a person.

A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 51 weeks, or a fine.

The new laws on stalking could possibly be effective for harassment by electronic means, known as trolling, as well. These offences are the final culmination of the Independent Parliamentary Inquiry into Stalking Law Reform which reported in February 2012. They came into effect on 25 November to coincide with the international day for the elimination of violence against women and sit alongside the existing legislation.

The new offences are added in to the Protection from Harassment Act 1997 which in Section 1(1) states a person must not pursue a course of conduct:

which amounts to harassment of another, and
which he knows or ought to know amounts to harassment of the other

The second arm of the offence prohibits a course of conduct which causes ‘serious alarm or distress’ which has a ‘substantial adverse effect on the day-to-day activities of the victim’ and brings with it a threat of imprisonment up to five years. These are meant to highlight the importance and very serious threat of harassment and stalking.

Clare Bernal was shot dead in Harvey Nichols store in Knightsbridge in September 2005. Michael Pech began stalking her after their brief three week ‘relationship’ had ended. After he had harassed Bernal for a period of time, one day he followed her from work and blocked her getting off the train. She told him to leave her alone or she would call the police. He told her ‘if you dare report me I will kill you’ and ‘if I can’t have you, nobody will’. He was charged under section 2 of the 1997 Act and breached bail on a number of occasions. Whilst awaiting sentence he went back to Slovakia and purchased a gun. On Tuesday 13 September, Pech entered the Harvey Nicholls store, walked up behind Clare and shot her in the head four times. He then turned the gun on himself.

Women aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than
from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria, according to World Bank data.

An anecdote about Loose Women and stalking

I dislike the show Loose Women and mention this first so you can judge whether that colours my judgement of what took place on one of their shows.

A woman guest on the panel was chatting and answering questions from other panel members. She was a singer on cruise ships and found fame after featuring in a reality tv show.

The lead loose woman, Kaye Adams said that there was an audience member with a question. All turned their eyes expectantly and a man stood up and declared his love for the singer. He then started to walk down the steps towards the stage. The singer looked shocked and a bit afraid, I project, while Adams proclaimed everything to be ok and encouraged the man, jokingly.

It wasn’t until he was on the stage and very close to the singer that it was announced this was a practical joke. The utter insensitivity that people, predominantly women, face to stalking was just shocking from this show supposedly about, and for, women.

Noam Chomsky on Gaza

For more information on what is happening in Gaza visit this Media Lens alert.

Meaningless mandates and erroneous privilege for the Bristol elections

There are two topics I dislike: one is the notion of voting as a privilege and the second is turnout somehow providing a mandate of some type on the leader.

Voting is not a privilege, it is a right in the same way that education and health and police protection are rights. Imagine saying that health is a privilege or police protection. It is the government’s duty to ensure we can exercise our right. The burden is on them and not on us.

More importantly, voting arguments about privilege rather than right are usually used to disenfranchise people with the justification that they don’t deserve it. No one needs to deserve it. As a citizen or resident it is your right to vote.

Definition of PRIVILEGE: a right or immunity granted as a peculiar benefit, advantage, or favor

The government is not doing us a favour by letting us vote, we have the absolute right to vote and they have to take it from us. So no part of me agrees that in a democracy, voting is a privilege, if it was a privilege this wouldn’t be a democracy.

In terms of mandate, I have seen many comments saying a low turnout means that the mayor or PCC won’t have a strong mandate. This is a populistic device to rouse some arguments worthy of newspaper headlines. The most important thing is that the system by which we are governed allows this to take place.

It is the system which suffers from credibility issues and not the mayor or PCC. Where are talks of reforming the system or demanding a media as a real fourth estate which actually questions the way things are run.

Why were pcc statements only published on 26 October? Why was the decision to not distribute information allowed to pass unchallenged by the media? The media are meant to be the check, in the people’s name, on government (legislation, executive and judiciary being the other three estates). Demand the media represent the people.

Democracy is about information, transparency, accountability and more than just a low turnout. There are no “shoulds”, as in “you should be voting because people died” etc. There are only benefits to voting such as making people more engaged citizens and letting the parties know who counts. There is less incentive for elected parties to care for the needs of people who do not cast a ballot.

The system provides the mandate. The arguments about the mayoral mandates just provide fodder for the headlines.

A red trousered little person

Liz Jones doesn’t understand patriarchy

I have written about Liz Jones before and unwisely for her, she did not take heed of my message to keep it nice and try to energise and inspire people. Instead she picks on a whole group of women, mummy bloggers.

She is critical, as usual, and wrong. I won’t bother defending mummy bloggers too much as many of them have already done so and quite well. It is the comment about patriarchy that I want to mention and to point out how she has it so wrong:

As I left at the end of the day, with my goodie bag of stretch-mark cream, organic chocolate, Boden umbrella and Caitlin Moran’s new book, I felt the hand of the patriarchy on my back.

Women have again been duped into thinking the world exists in their tiny, safe, fragrant homes, that life revolves around burps.

They might just as well don a burka, and shuffle, so narrow is their vision.

That doesn’t even make sense. Why would a woman who writes about her life dismiss and criticise other women who make a living out of writing about their own lives? Jones earns considerably more at her job which is in fact within a patriarchal organisation.

The mummy bloggers on the other hand are getting paid to write about the things they do and as an aside are attending conferences, dealing with companies to promote their goods, networking, selling, creating, and choosing to do the things they love.

I don’t necessarily believe it’s as simple as a bottom-up grassroots revolution of all these individual women, there’s something very uniform about all these blogs which suggests there is a source of this model but I won’t go into it now.

The only sign of patriarchy here is the occasional male PR company that buys posts and uses these blogs for its clients. The rest is all about women. Do the PR companies have a disproportionate power over bloggers? That would be an interesting question to ask. The rest of what Jones writes isn’t worth mentioning.

Update: it occurred to me that Liz Jones is the prime example of a victim of patriarchy: a woman stripped down to bitterness and having turned against anything feminine at all. No love, compassion, understanding or caring in her output. She is the stripped out core of capitalism in a patriarchal system at its best. The mummy bloggers she speaks of though are mostly united and help each other.

Women out of the pink box and into a pink festival

You only need to read through the themes of the workshops of women outside the box to realise what a useful resource this may have been for women running their own business: “Inspiration-Perspiration; Inspiring stories from entrepreneurs, Start-up, Growth, Work-Life-Family, Marketing, Pitching”.

Breaking into markets is hard so there is excellent help for these entrepreneur mums. Mentors, exporting, writing press-releases. Invaluable help really that people working in business and industry have instant or at least some access to.

I know that juggling work and a family life are difficult. I have a friend whose life consists of sleepless nights with her son, running knitting workshops, a cake-making business, learning to crochet and various other things on the side. This festival seemed ideal for that type of very busy mum so I became rather curious at the branding of this conference with its emphasis on fun and femininity.

Why does Women Outside the Box need to sell their event as fun and by extension (maybe?) frivolous. There are pamper evenings and glamour times. All of this gives me the message that women’s business is not serious business. “De-stress in the Pamper Studio” says one of the messages just underneath “girls to girls” market as if it is teenagers having a laugh, and all you need, after the fatigue-driven evenings and mornings of getting everything ready in your life, is a quick break in a spa.

I am unimpressed with the branding and I suspect if it was aimed at cardiac surgeons or others in a position where people relied on them professionally, this flippancy and trivial approach to the amazing effort a lot of women are putting in, would not be accepted.

Admittedly there are plenty of trivial people who don’t run their business out of a sense of having no other choice and to support their families. There is no consequence to their failure – men or women – so de-stressing is probably best done in a spa with a glass (or bottle) of wine. A lot of people, however, and many of them are women, face severe consequence if they fail. Forget letting your nails go undone for a month, they may not be able to pay rent or support their child as a single parent.

Of course, fun is a good thing and it would be nicer if all of life was approached in this way but I suspect that it is not the joie de vivre of just existing that the branding was aiming for but rather the whole “girls just want to have fun” slogan that Cindy Lauper cursed us with.

I have asked Women out the Box to comment.