Thursday, 20 March 2014

Women's work is never done

The new childcare giveaway announced by the Government this week is not, I think, a victory for feminism. In fact it may signal a major capitulation in the battle for gender equality.
As a major step following what's been a gradual change in the workplace over the last 20 years it's actually a disappointment because, amongst all the trumpeting about 'helping families', are two distasteful conclusions:
Firstly, that society values any, yes any, type of paid work more than caring for your own children.
Secondly, that looking after kids is still, largely, women's work.
Two prominent speakers on the BBC over the last couple of days have (probably unwittingly) underlined this.
Danny Alexander, the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, said in a post-budget discussion on BBC2 that the £2,000 childcare subsidy would mean 'parents are not forced to stay at home to look after their children'.
'Forced', he said  - with all the negative connotations that word carries, as if spending time with your kids is the last thing you'd want to do.
In fact, parents are being 'forced' to go out to work, because there is no help for anyone who's already financially the poorer by giving up their wage to stay at home. This latter point was raised by Nick Robinson, the BBC's political editor, who unfortunately used the phrase 'stay-at-home mums' in explaining the detail of the new subsidy.
I don't know if Nick was just unthinking in failing to say 'stay-at-home parents', or was simply recognising a truth, because if one parent gives up or cuts down on paid work, it's still usually the mother.
And when childcare is outsourced - as the new subsidy is designed to encourage - it's overwhelmingly handed over to females working in the growing childcare sector and who, in the main, are not paid very well. So, while mums are spending less time with their kids and more hours in the office, the children are still being brought up largely by under-valued women. Plus ca change...
I have never believed that 'a mother's place should be in the home' any more than a father's.
And I think it is a fantastic advance that employers are now obliged to be family-friendly. No-one, 22 years ago, offered me part-time or flexible working after my maternity leave, even at the large and progressive organisation in Fleet Street where I worked. Voluntary redundancies, however, were being offered by my employer and, after 17 years of continuous working, it seemed a no-brainer to take a partially-funded break.
Actually, I found caring for my son as valid and as interesting as looking after reporters' grammar, spelling and syntax, and I don't regret doing that.
But I'm relieved that the rigid 'Peter and Jane' model of Daddy at work and Mummy always at home has softened almost into non-existence.
What we've now got instead, though, is Daddy and Mummy both at work and Peter and Jane at the nursery.
Can you see who has done the adapting? Everyone except Daddy. Not necessarily his fault, but the culture surrounding fatherhood has failed to evolve to the same extent as that of motherhood.
Why haven't we reached a position where sometimes Daddy is at home while Mummy is at work, and vice versa? I'm sure many fathers would welcome this, and shared parenting is more usual in some Scandinavian countries, but our governments and employers are failing to encourage it. Rather than opening up opportunities for men to be at work less and in the home more, they're encouraging a new status quo where often neither parent is at home.
After all the so-called 'progress', it's just different women who are changing the nappies and wiping the noses. Dads, it's now time for you to stand up for your rights. 
  • With apologies to the 'Peter and Jane' Ladybird reading books. But none to Danny Alexander.

Monday, 17 February 2014

What's in a name?

Last week I queried the title of this blog, which was established yonks ago when I thought I would link it with my website
I had also started writing under the title Whitstable Natives about the Kent coastal town where I live AND launched a column called Middle Aged Dread. However, with everything else I do plus general indolence I'm wondering if this is unrealistic and that I should perhaps focus on just one outlet for writing, so there might be some chance of keeping it up.
The issue then, of course, is what to call a blog which encompasses thoughts about my home town, my handicraft business, and also the fascinating and dynamic status of middle age.
I had one of those moments lying in the dark one night when all sorts of weird visions and odd phrases waft across the mind, and out of the surreal murkiness came a flash of what MIGHT be inspiration:

Purls of Wisdom

This I think evokes the iconic Whitstable oyster (called a Native, hence my earlier title) WITH the knitting theme.... I think?? And perhaps includes an ironic nod to the flawed idea of wise old heads?

I'll give it a go - if it's possible to change the name of a blog easily. If not I'm doomed forever to be 'Just a Knitter' and I hope you'll bear with me if I go off topic sometimes.

Thursday, 13 February 2014


Really, this whole blog should be called 'NOT just a knitter' because that's not the only thing I do by a long chalk. Don't you also get irritated when you are pigeon-holed by just one aspect of your life, which actually may be quite a small thing to you?
I'm fascinated by the complexity of human beings, how we can be both shy and assertive in different circumstances, and our beliefs and feelings are mixed so that an otherwise left-wing champion of social equality can nevertheless when the chips are down send their children to private school (guilty as charged...)
To many people in my town I am 'the lady who does the children's knits', but to others I'm a local journalist, to many I'm 'Matthew's wife' and for a lot of years I was 'Owen's mum'.
I hold my hand up here and confess that being known as a knitter does kind of fill me with horror. It may be quite cool in your 20s and 30s at the moment, but beyond that it has an unfortunate association with pom-pom slippers and People's Friend magazine. I've never been a girly girl, so it's a bit out of character for me to do something which is still very largely a female activity.
Then why do it? I've wondered that a lot myself and have come up with two reasons: firstly I'm a bit restless and can't sit watching TV or listening to music without doing something with my hands. Secondly, I come from a fairly creative family and can't draw or sing in tune like some of the others (though I am belatedly having piano lessons). I do enjoy making something attractive and useful from what essentially amounts to a couple of sticks and a bit of string. I've also long had a bit of an urge to run a business so, like my niece who has turned her hand to making truly fantastic cakes - puff for Kathy here - I decided to exploit what few skills I have and see if other people liked what I made.

Guess what? They did! After selling online first, I fared better by selling my stuff face-to-face where people can feel and see the goods. Although I'm not a bad knitter, my chief skill is in choosing yarns, colours and designs so I look for outlets which can best show this off.
Craft fairs are a bit hit and miss. You can never tell what other stalls are going to be there, and it's quite difficult to gauge the likely clientele. I have to charge a realistic price for my goods which are made with high-quality materials, so to be in the same room as someone offering cheap and cheerful knitted items can be tricky. I ought to do more to emphasise my unique selling points but I'm not one to grab customers - I rely on the goods rather than me to attract attention.
Independent shops are good because you don't have to give up loads of time to babysit the products. However, the commission retailers  charge varies a lot and you have to take the risk of 'locking in' your goods to a shop which may not be doing a good job to promote them. You cannot, for example, offer the same item online while it is in a shop, as you run the risk of selling it twice!
I'm now in the process of reviewing things so watch this space...
PS I also run a couple of websites including one for knitters: