I'mNotAWriterBut…

I am a 51 year old working mum of five – not all at home thank goodness. Im a member of the Women for Independence National Executive. This Blog is growing and changing as my hopes and aspirations change. I actually DO expect to change the world but I accept that might not even make sense sometimes. I hope you enjoy the read.

Archive for the category “Family”

#International Women’s Day

 

Today on International Women’s day I had a conversation with the children about what makes a woman awesome. We talked about Marie Curie, we talked about mother Theresa, Malala Yousafzai. We discussed famous women, rich woman and women who have made great strides in their chosen field and achieved great things. But its important to remember that for every famous and startling woman there are millions of women making their own great strides every single day.

Heads up to those women living with poor health and long term conditions who every day look after themselves and others. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women wondering where their next meal is coming from or how they can make their money stretch enough to afford the books from the School book fair. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women surviving domestic violence a day at a time. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women fighting for their children with Additional support needs to be educated in way that ensures that they reach their potential. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women who are caring for parents, husbands, friends, neighbours who cannot manage without them. We are with you sisters.

Heads ups to those women who are struggling with pregnancy, birth or being a new mum. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women fighting addiction, starting each day with hope that this will be another day in recovery. whether or not it is. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women who because of disability, race, gender, or just because they are women face inequality and discrimination every day. We are with you sisters.

Heads up to those women who take a breath, put their lippy on and face a world they would rather hide from every single day of their lives. We are with you sisters.

And finally, heads up to those women who feel silenced, hidden, ignored, forgotten, helpless and without power. Those women for whom International Women’s Day is a complete irrelevance, for whom the idea that they might have agency or power or peace is so far out of their reach that they cannot even imagine it. We are so with you sisters. We see you and we have not forgotten you.

International Women’s Day is a day to speak up for women all over the world. Women who are achieving great things, Scaling great heights, succeeding in a world which is often designed to make that success more difficult.

But for me it is in the ordinary, the everyday, the hidden, the mundane that awesomeness can so often be found. So celebrate International Women’s Day and the great achievements of women past and present – but be proud of the achievements you make every single day of your life. A life lived is a success and you – WE – are awesome.

Love

#IWD2019

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Hope and Optimism

together

I haven’t blogged for ages. Partly because my life has been stupid busy – work, studies, family life, Women for Independence, hobbies and a million other things – but also partly because I’m struggling with many of the feelings that I’m sure others are struggling with. Everything is making me cross. I’ve been involved in quite a bit of anti-poverty work this summer, a consultation on what happens to people when they are in crisis or suicidal and looking for help, Brexit and Brexit and… more…bloody Brexit. And across all those things what I have consistently found missing in our wider society, is empathy and kindness.

 

Last week I was utterly appalled at the video that circulated of the young Syrian refugee being attacked by a taller boy in Huddersfield. It broke my heart, not only that a boy who fled a terrible situation in his home country should be so cruelly treated in a place where he should be able to expect to be safe, but because the boy who treated him so badly was just 16. What are we doing to our children in Britain today, that they grow up with such hate in their hearts and such aggression? As the story unfolded it was suggested that the boy’s social media profile was full of links to Britain First posts and Tommy Robinson’s evil mutterings. We are seeing this more and more, I wrote at the time of the EU referendum about the dangers of legitimising the voices of hate and I fear more and more that I was right. It scares me and it leaves me feeling impotent and bleak.

 

All this came to mind as yesterday, I was heading off to an event where I had been asked to read something I had written about movement. This was a civic event organised by Dr Clare Daly who heads up Birchwood Highland’s Highland Migrant and Refugee Advocacy Project.  I was surprised to be asked to write a poem. I play with poetry and words but I write poetry like I sing – for my own pleasure and no one else’s as my long suffering husband can confirm. I certainly never really thought of myself as a “migrant” despite moving from Rochdale to Caithness in 1997. But Clare explained that the event was looking at movement  – the movement of people from one place to another, and that experiences of movement whoever we are and wherever we are moving from,  are stories of shared experiences and are powerful and moving stories of people and their resilience.

 

So I went along yesterday, clutching my wee green book to read my poems – Northwards and Yellow Submarine.  The event was fantastic and inspiring. We heard from Philomena de Lima who is the Director of the Centre for Remote and Rural studies, a writer and a woman who’s work I have been aware of for over twenty years and never met. I felt like I was meeting a celebrity (I wittered a bit to be honest – she looked a bit startled!).  Philomena set the tone of the evening by talking about what connects us, rather than what separates us. She pointed out that history is not the past – we carry it with us whoever we are. People bring with them their own history, the history of their families, their countries, their people here to where our own history is all around us, where the history of the clearances still resonates and shapes us. We are all of us migrants but that is not what defines us – it is not the sum of our experiences. Migrants and citizens alike have shared experiences, shared concerns, shared identities as mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, employees, patients, friends and we share the rhythms of everyday life.  We share the values of friendship, care and community.

 

The rest of the event celebrated exactly that – our shared values and our shared hopes and sense of community. There was the wonderful Heartstone – a project from Dingwall –   who shared their story with us through words and dance. The Wee Choir from Forres who sang a several songs including a song by Karine Polwart that I loved. Its words of welcome ringing out around the Council chambers.  We heard from myself and Kirsty Glass who wrote a moving poem which was also read out in Gaelic, about the clearances and we heard a remarkable musical collaboration between Sarah Fanet and her guitar and Belal on the Syrian Oud. I think though that the person who really caught the spirit of what we were trying to convey and what we are all hoping for was the lady from The Scottish Highlands and Islands and Moray Chinese Association – Monica Lee Macpherson. She shared with us some of her story about coming to Scotland from Hong Kong and then spoke so genuinely, without notes and from the heart, about how we need to be kind to each other and care for each other, looking beyond our differences to what we have in common. She reminded us that race, colour mean nothing because it is humanity which joins us together. She invited us all to join them in their café and she touched me with her message of hope and joy. Something I have found missing in civic conversations recently.

 

Philomena spoke at the start about the need to find shared spaces to connect with each other and a new narrative of social cohesion, because building a society which is better for the excluded, is better for us all. That was what was happening last night. We were building a society which focuses on what we have in common, on what we share and what we can share with others. It has made me feel hopeful and optimistic and I’m delighted about that.

At home in Caithness with International Women’s Day

Caithness general

8th March is International Women’s Day 2018. This year the UN asks us to reflect on the courage of ordinary women and to celebrate activists who are fighting for women’s equality and rights across the world. In their comments on the International Women’s Day page, the UN focus on sustainability, and specifically mentions the activism of women in rural areas working to  champion rights for women.

These are big issues – massive issues – violence against women, gender pay gaps, poverty, exploitation, climate change and it is of course, important that we understand the worldwide picture but it sometimes means that we can overlook the issues of importance that women are campaigning for in our own areas. These are the everyday battles that women in our own communities are facing. We have seen the important work that @vvfabs and other Women for Independence members have done in highlighting Period Poverty, the WFI Justice for Women Campaign and tonight I met with women from Caithness Health Action Team (CHAT) who are fighting another battle right here in Scotland.

Caithness is a place in Scotland like no other. Some of you might know that I lived there for several years and loved it – still love it. It has a beauty which is stark and raw but it is beautiful nevertheless. It is however, 110 miles north of Inverness.  When I moved there, driving up the road in the late 90s, I thought we were never getting there. What looked fairly doable on a map proved to be a winding, twisting road which went on and on and on – and it was snowing –  and it was May  – and it took nearly three hours to get there from Inverness.

One of the things I checked out on my first visit to Wick were the medical facilities. I was reassured to see that there was a good hospital and doctors and services which would meet the needs of my growing family.  Since then however, the situation has steadily deteriorated with more and more services moving to Inverness. The biggest and most dramatic of these changes have been the changes to Maternity Services which took place in December 2016.  Previously, Caithness General had consultant obstetricians (2 and a locum) but no facilities for on-site specialist neonatal paediatric support or adult intensive care. Following a review, NHS Highland changed the Maternity Service from a consultant led service to a Midwife led Community Midwife Unit. These changes were supposed to provide safer, more reassuring care for the women of Caithness. At the time, Professor Hugo van Woerden, NHS Highland’s Director of Public Health and Health Policy, outlined the findings of his report, saying that the CMU was a recognised option and that NHS Highland “know how to make that model work.”

So here we are a year and half later, and it appears to be ABSOLUTELY clear that the model which NHS Highland introduced is ABSOLUTELY not working for the women of Caithness.

The idea is that where mums to be are deemed to have “high risk” pregnancies they would be required to deliver in Raigmore. Seems sensible right? But in the first year 210 babies were born to mums from Caithness and 199 of those were delivered in Raigmore. This suggests that over 90% of pregnancies in Caithness are “high risk”.  I wonder how that can possibly be the case but assuming that it might just be so, let us examine what that actually means.

It means some women being in Raigmore Hospital in Inverness for days or weeks. This means they are at least 100 miles away from their home, from their other babies, their husbands, their support and their communities. Oh and let’s not forget, from their visitors. Not everyone knows people in Inverness who can visit if you are admitted for a prolonged period of time. Often days might go by without a pregnant woman having a visitor.

It means women travelling over 100 miles in labour sometimes in an Ambulance but often in their own cars. I have had five children and three miscarriages. Each birth was different – long labour, short labour, waters broken at home, emergency section, elective section. In all of them (except the last one) the trip to the hospital was not pleasant – and I only had a twenty minute journey at the most. Imagine two and half hours in a car, in labour.

Now imagine that journey in the dark without access to a loo, in the driving rain or even – as we saw last week in the snow following a snow plough. There is a bit of footage doing the rounds on twitter just now which was put up by Bear Scotland which shows the snow plough followed by two ambulances and a car. You can see it here.

I understand that one of these ambulances carried a sick baby, one a mum in labour and the car in between another pregnant mum. This is the reality of the experience of women travelling from Wick in labour. Later that same night two women had to travel together in one ambulance with a midwife. Now, there is no doubt that the snow plough driver and the ambulance driver and the dad driving the car in between did a great job. However, expecting pregnant women, at a time when they are at their most vulnerable, to travel those sorts of distances is appalling. It took over four hours to make that journey in the snow. It is not ok to expect a woman in labour to share an ambulance with another woman. It is not ok to ship pregnant women almost wholesale down to a Maternity Unit 110 miles away which, incidentally, is already bursting at the seams.

We know from lots of research that women given privacy, space and a stress free environment during labour need less pain relief and have less complications and yet over 90% of women in Caithness giving birth are subjected to this long and arduous journey.

And there is more.

I heard that some women who have suffered a miscarriage also have to get themselves to Raigmore Hospital. In at least one instance that meant a woman had to drive herself the 110 miles. Again, Ill remind you of the lack of public toilets or any facilities to deal with the sometimes horrific bleeding that can come on during a miscarriage.

I heard about pregnant, labouring women who have had to urinate in a layby or hammer on the door of a closed hotel to use a toilet. The embarrassment and the mortification these women expressed  is huge.

I heard the experiences of women whose husbands work off shore having to leave their other children with relatives and neighbours because they have to go suddenly to Inverness – for days.

I heard of the lack of accommodation at Raigmore for partners and families.  I heard that often women who are more vulnerable or less assertive than others don’t get the help and support that they need for accommodation when they arrive in Inverness because they are not able to speak out loudly enough.

I heard that Raigmore is at capacity and struggling to cope with the extra caseload.

I heard that people are leaving Caithness because they have no faith in the health services for their families. How do we ensure the sustainability of rural communities if we do not provide good quality health care?

I heard that women are rushing to leave hospital because they need to get back up the road for their other children or their partners and that NHS Highland dismiss that as being “their choice” with no recognition that Hobson’s choice is no choice at all.

I heard that women are deciding to limit the number of children they are having, not because of their own preferences but because the experiences have been so difficult, so traumatising and so awful they cannot face going through all that again.

All this makes me furious, but what makes me just as angry is that I heard that these women feel that their voices are not being heard.

NHS Highland appears to have utterly no interest in addressing the fears and concerns of the women involved. They repeatedly tell CHAT that they can’t speak about the experiences of the women involved.  They have failed to share important information with CHAT and they have failed to consult effectively with the wider community,  and its not just over Maternity Services, it is happening with other services too. NHS Highland have been patronising and patriarchal in their approach to the changes they have made and in the way they have failed to engage with women. These are women who should be having one of the greatest experiences of their lives and instead, in many cases,  are having one of the worst.

Women are feeling silenced. They are scared of speaking out in case they get the lovely midwives in trouble when they know the midwives are doing their best but are hampered by policy decisions made by the NHS Highland Board. Women are silenced and disempowered in the decision making process. They don’t speak out because nothing changes, because no one is listening and because, when you have just given birth, you maybe don’t have the emotional and physical strength to shout about your experiences.

Well, We are listening, because we know that it isn’t just the rest of the world that is failing women, it is happening right here. The Scottish Government plans a “Best Start” for all babies and children in Scotland. They say that “Maternity and Neonatal care should be co-designed with women and families from the outset, and put mother and baby together at the centre of service planning and delivery as one entity”. This is not happening in Caithness and there is no sign that NHS Highland has even read the introduction to the plan let alone thought about how they might try to achieve this in Caithness. The Scottish Government must put pressure on NHS Highland to improve services for women in Caithness and hold NHS Highland to account if they continue to fail to do so.

A Best Start is what we want for pregnant women in Scotland going forward – it is part of the fairer, better society which so many of us are working so hard to achieve. We are however, not only failing the women of Caithness  but all women if we do not acknowledge and listen to their experiences of childbirth. NHS Highland need to  take urgent action to do exactly that – listen, and then they must find an innovative solution to the issues I have mentioned here. International Women’s Day isn’t just about what’s happening in the rest of the world – it is about our women here too. These are our women and our children and we must do our very best to make sure they are heard and that their concerns are addressed.

Breast may be best but are we doing OUR best for mums?

This was originally published a few years ago so state might be a bit out of date.

am a mother. I have five children ages 27,26, 21, 8 and 6, I am totally committed to doing the best for my children and I want for all children in society, what I want  for my own – a happy, healthy, nurturing home.  There were lots of differences in having my first baby in 1989 and my last baby in 2009, most of them positive. The antenatal care was better, the facilities were better. Labouring in your own room and not on a labour ward is of course, wonderful. The midwives were fabulous and, despite being both old (I had my last two babies at 43 and 45) and fat, I was supported and not judged the whole way through my pregnancies.

The biggest difference I found as a new mum in the 2007 was the amount of pressure that is placed on new mums. One of the areas where this is most apparent is the issue of feeding and weaning. Feeding our babies seems to have become a stick with which to beat new mums. A stick which, when wielded by inflexible and unsympathetic professionals and volunteers, actually disempowers women and diminishes their confidence and affects that new, and most important bonding relationship, between a mother and her new baby.

Unfortunately this begins with Breast feeding. Now, before many of you get your keyboards out and start telling me about the benefits of Breast feeding – I know them.  I have breast fed 4 out of my 5 children – child number 4 completely refusing to breast feed despite my  experience and persistent efforts! I am wholly committed to promoting breast feeding. I am a trained breast feeding peer supporter and I believe, absolutely, in the benefits of breast feeding for both mother and baby. Articles on the health of people in Scotland do not make happy reading. Heart disease, alcoholism and obesity – cancer and long term health conditions like diabetes, are big problems and so it is important that we try to ensure that babies born in Scotland have the best start, and that means encouraging  breast feeding. What I take issue with is the manner in which Breast feeding is promoted.  The messages seem to be “You must breast feed, you must absolutely breast feed, you must exclusively breast feed, any woman can breast feed it is not true that some cant, you are risking your children’s future health, intellect and achievements if you don’t breast feed and you will be failing to do the best for your child”

If you want to bottle feed your baby, you can feel completely ignored in the antenatal feeding discussions.  At my NHS ante natal classes there was no demonstration of how to make a bottle up, no discussion of the different milks, of what will happen in hospital and of how to sterilise or ensure the cleanliness of the feeding equipment. Now, I – writing this and you – reading this – may very well know how to do all these things but if you are a 17 year old, just out of care, on your own with no experience of babies – how do you know?  You probably don’t even go to antenatal classes, you probably think breast feeding is “yukky” (a commonly used word to describe breast feeding amongst young adults) If you don’t read very well, if English isn’t your first language, if you aren’t very confident then how would you find these things out.  If you are cocky and defensive as many single young mothers are – who would you ask?  The needs of bottle feeding mums are ignored in this frenzy to promote breast feeding to the exclusion of everything else. In 2009 the Medical Research Council said that bottle feeding mums felt “… guilt; worry about the impact on their baby and what healthcare professionals might say; uncertainty about how to proceed; a sense of failure; and anger as a result of feeling under pressure to breastfeed.” (MRC/42/09,14th July) They found evidence to show that mothers were not receiving the advice they need to make decisions about quantity, or frequency of feeds and that this neglect of bottle feeding mums can put the health of the baby at risk.

Mixed feeding is actively discouraged.  In 2009 I was given a locally produced leaflet with the message that “just one feed” is sufficient to undo all the benefits that you have bestowed on your child from breast feeding.  Just one feed can increase the risk of diabetes, under achievement, asthma and eczema. Just one feed, apparently is enough to mean that your wee one will likely never want your breast again.  And this isn’t just confined to bottles – give your new baby a dummy and they are likely to develop nipple confusion.  I have looked at this in some detail and can find no scientific evidence that such a thing exists.  I have gone as far as emailing an old school friend of mine – now a consultant obstetrician and paediatrician in a large teaching hospital and he was unable to give me directions to any research. Many women occasionally swap from one to the other with little effect either on their milk supply or on the baby’s ability to suck. In fact my last baby was bottle fed completely for the first 36 hours and then I put her to the breast and I never gave her a bottle again. Where you have a healthy, full term baby there is no evidence to suggest that a baby will not be able to return to the breast after one or two bottles. Neither is a soother a problem either – and in fact there is research to suggest that a dummy can help to reduce risk of sudden infant death.  The effect of leaflets like “just one feed”  can be to increase the feelings of guilt, fear and failure in new mums.

I have also found that many women who breast feed, also feel these feelings of guilt and failure.  A mother I knew who was a successful breast feeding mum, a confident, professional woman, described still waking up in the night worrying about the fact that she gave her baby formula out of a cup when in hospital. This was despite the fact that the professionals advised this was what both she and her baby needed at the time.  Exhausted after the birth, a hungry and crying baby and a lack of her own milk, and she gave him a  formula feed – he slept, she slept and she was in a much better position to breast feed the following day. And yet this smart and confident woman still felt guilt and pain over “just one feed”

Women who have given up breast feeding are often made to feel like they haven’t tried hard enough. A new mum with a baby who was struggling with feeding mentioned to her health visitor that she was thinking of moving to formula feed to be asked “What??? You are GIVING UP? You know it is best for baby don’t you?  You need to try harder”  I have heard stories about a woman sharing a video of her child  pouring formula milk samples she had been sent in error – down the toilet….  Down the TOILET!!!! A woman who is also a peer supporter, but lives here from another country said in disgust “Only in such a rich country could people treat food with such disdain”.

Another woman I spoke to described her anxiety over timing her baby’s feeds; I suggested that she could give her baby a feed two hours after the last one if she wanted rather than waiting for the routine times she had planned and she asked me “Can I? Would that be alright?” I had to point out to her that he was HER baby and she could organise his feeds whichever way suited her and him. She was so relieved that she almost cried. Another woman was so anxious about her breast fed baby “getting enough” that she fed all the information about his feeds into her computer spending ages trying to figure out how much he was getting.  Time she could have spent just being with her baby and getting to know him. She was under pressure, anxious and desperately trying to understand why she was finding it so hard.

I have heard health professionals say in a horrified voice – “They use ground up tuna fish eye sockets for calcium in formula milk” and seen a whole room of women curl their lip in horror.  This is just mad.  Formula milk may not be breast milk, but it isn’t arsenic in a bottle.  I have heard women suggest that other women who bottle feed their babies are less “mothering” than mothers who breastfeed and seen a room of women sneer and denigrate others who use formula milk as though they – breast feeding mothers – are somehow better or superior.

If these messages were successful in increasing breast feeding across the board, across all different groups of women then it might – just might – have some justification in filling many women with a sense of having failed as a mother before they have actually started . They are however, not successful. Over the last ten years in Scotland the rates of breast feeding have remained static – there have been slight increases of a percentage point here and there, but no significant increase.  Importantly whilst there has been an increase of a whole 6% in ten years, of breast feeding across  the most deprived areas of Scotland  –  in Scotland’s poorest communities there are still  only around 20% of babies exclusively breast fed at 6-8 weeks.  Even when you add in mixed feeding the figure is still only 22.3%.  The government set a target to increase the proportion of new born children exclusively breastfed at 6-8 weeks in Scotland, from 26.2% in 2006/07 to 32.7% in 2010/11 (an increase of 25%). We are failing to achieve this. In 2010/11 the figure was 26.5%.

When we get to weaning the inflexibility of the advice continues. The official advice is that weaning should not take place until the baby is 6 months old.  This advice is lifted straight from the World Health Organisation Guidelines. I want to make it clear that I am not talking about other countries here but Scotland. There are countries where formula milk is not high quality and where hygiene is not of a high standard and this makes using formula milk dangerous. I am not talking about countries with low birth weight babies or without clean places to prepare weaning food.  I’m talking about Scotland.  These guidelines are WORLD guidelines they  offer guidance to countries where infant mortality is high and birth weight low. The average birth weight in Scotland is good at just under 8lbs. Telling mums that breast milk is the best food for children up to 6 months – come what may –  takes no account of your child and their own needs.  I know women whose babies cried and cried and they slogged it out until 6 months – exhausted, wondering where their happy child went, in order not to give give their wee one solid food before six months. Other women had babies who were not the slightest bit interested in food until they were past 6 months. They are all different – they are BABIES not computers.  There was recent research to show that weaning at 4 months can be beneficial and yet the official advice is absolutely NOT to wean your baby before 6 months old.

If you have a health visitor with common sense then you maybe told on the quiet, that starting at four months old is ok. But many mothers report being told absolutely, under no circumstances are they to even think about weaning before 6 months.  When I was first a mum in 1989 and 1990 I was often told by professionals, “You know your baby, what do you think?” I was able to discuss whether my baby was hungry enough for weaning or not… I was advised – not ordered, supported not scared into doing what I was told and my children were all weaned at different ages because they were all ready for weaning at different ages.  I was given credit for being a mother, a good one. In many places in Scotland today that doesn’t seem to happen.

So what are we doing?  What on earth happened to freedom and support? What happened to the nurturing and help, that older women would give to younger women on the birth of their babies?   Surely, as women, we have campaigned to have choices, as feminists in the 21st century, we believe in choice for women and the right to live happy, fulfilled lives. How then can we justify pressurising women over this so that they feel the emotions I have mentioned?  We have women who are finding they lack confidence in mothering, that they have no power to make choices which are right for them and their babies for fear of either being labelled a failure, or of damning their children to a life of ill health and intellectual failure because of “just one feed”. We have a system which does not allow for the needs of individual babies and mums to be taken into account in a positive and empowering way.  We have otherwise well-adjusted women so disempowered by the advice, that they feel that they have no control over the  frequency, type and duration of infant feeding  and we also have socially disadvantaged women, completely unreached by the message that breast is cheap, can be easy and is often fun to do – with the right support. Strikes me  it is the whole approach to promoting breast feeding which is failing – not the mums who use bottles, dummies or wean at 4 months. If we want to make a real difference to breast feeding rates and the health of its population, then we need to empower women to make informed decisions without the use of a big stick – all women –  including those in the poorest areas of our country and if we can do this, then we might just start to change these depressing statistics and improve the health of Scotland in years to come.

Sue Lyons

References.

http://www.bmj.com/content/344/bmj.d8287

http://www.isdscotland.org/Health-Topics/Child-Health/Publications/2011-10-25/2011-10-25-Breastfeeding-Report.pdf?3725832701

http://www.mrc.ac.uk/Newspublications/News/MRC006208

http://fsid.org.uk/page.aspx?pid=416

The Power of Good People

Waking up is daunting just now. I planned to stop taking my phone to bed with me at night this year. I even bought a cheap radio alarm clock – remember those? And yet my phone is the first thing I reach for – not to see what my friends are up to, not to see who’s in a relationship, out of a relationship or who has liked my recent pictures on Facebook but to check what the hell Trump and May are up to now.

I haven’t blogged for a wee while, I went to see Paul Kavanagh – Wee Ginger Dug  speak in Inverness before Christmas. He was great –  witty, funny and insightful.  He said that there is no such thing as writers block – just “Can’t be arsed”. I went home and managed to write something. I am finding just now that it isn’t so much “writers block” as that I am overwhelmed by the tidal wave of appalling, depressing, disappointing, head shaking things that are happening. It’s not so much that I can’t be arsed, as I have no idea where to start because there is so much awful stuff happening that I am a bit overwhelmed. In addition, if I start writing I’m not sure that I will be able to stop and I have a life, a job, a family, hobbies, studies, obligations to meet. I feel like I would need to be writing full time to even stand a chance of covering all the things that I feel anger, sadness, horror, indignation or incredulity at – the list goes on and on. Dragging me down so that I find myself shouting at the television once again. I am finding it harder and harder not to say “I told you so” when I hear people who voted No to Independence and who voted to leave Europe speak about how they didn’t think that meant Scotland would be side-lined so much; they didn’t think that the UK would leave the single market; they thought there would be more money for the NHS. I have never been one to cast blame around but even I have been struggling with this. And I turn to my laptop to write and I don’t even know where to start.

My daughter is seven. She is a darling – a sweet child who loves her cuddlies, having her straight hair curly and wearing her favourite party dress and her sparkly shoes but she is also developing a no nonsense personality with a rod of steel running through her. She is beginning to find the wittiest comebacks and the sharpest putdowns to the teasing that her big brothers (27, 26 and 21) subject her to as their only sister and the youngest child. Trying to get the ball off her big brother who at 6’2 was holding it high up out of her reach, she realised that a punch to the belly would be effective in retrieving it for her and she was right. Off she went with her prize to play with the dog. I look at her sometimes, especially when I see things like the video of Tasmina Ahmed Sheik reading out the insulting and offensive responses to her appearance on Question Time, and I wonder what my girl will have to deal with growing up today. It makes me worried and fearful and bloody disappointed.

Last week – in the midst of the seemingly endless stories about Trump and his executive orders she brought home some work from school, which she completed last term. Amongst the maths work and the pictures, was a sentence she had drawn in bubbly coloured in writing and cut out of paper in a wavy sort of way. It read

“Bad things can happen but good people can help”

Looking at this, I asked her, “Where did you get this from?” and she said “Out of my head” shrugged and went off to play.

I looked at it for a long time. I put it up behind the sofa – propped up where I can see it and I kept looking at it. I put it in my handbag and I took it out and looked at it for a wee while.  I think I had forgotten. Then over the weekend, several things happened.

Firstly, it was our annual Burns Party. We do this every year in our house. It’s a great night, usually with around the 70 people mark; there is music and speeches and toasts and singing and haggis, neeps and tatties. There are burns songs – all the ones you would imagine, there are Scottish songs, there is ALWAYS Zombie, and an a capella version of Bohemian Rhapsody that is legendary, a Lancashire dialect poem in my sadly disappearing accent, and a Rattling Bog. It goes on until the not so wee small hours and then breakfast is offered to all those that stay around or return to tidy up. We have been doing it for 11 years. The people who come to our party are from all walks of life.  They come from all backgrounds and are all ages from children to grandparents. We have friends from Scotland, England, Wales, and Ireland, from Spain, Poland and over the years from many other places. They share our food, our haggis, neeps and tatties and they sing their own favourite songs or play their own instruments or even play our old piano.

It’s always good craic, but this year I was struck by how much love I felt in the house. People who meet up once every 12 months and have been doing so for five, ten years greeting each other with a hug, chatting like they saw them last week and new friends being scooped up and encouraged to join in. My burly husband introducing everyone to a Lyons Hug – sometimes to their slight surprise – the warmth, the smiles and the good humour of everyone. Not a cross word, in fact we have never had a cross word in all the years we have been doing this. I thought about my daughter’s picture and I smiled. I think I had forgotten how much people love and care for each other, I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Secondly, Trump carried out his #MuslimBan. I woke on Sunday Morning – without a hangover – to find that during the night a Glasgow Vet who had been a victim of this appalling policy had her costs met by a crowd funder set up by my wonderful sisters at Women for Independence. I have been involved with Women for Indy from the very start and was a member of their executive until last November. I think I had forgotten how much positivity and good we do. I think I had forgotten that we actually make a difference to individuals like Hamaseh Tayari; to policies like those on women’s justice; to the established media like the BBC by challenging the male dominated political commentary. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Yesterday I met with a group of women with lived experience of mental illness that I have been supporting over the last year or so. Several of the members are experiencing difficulties, emotional trauma, ill health, practical barriers to do with benefits and services and yet there they were, supporting each other even through their own pain. I think I had forgotten how strong and supportive these women are – how much of a difference their support makes to all of them. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

Finally, last night all over Scotland, all over the UK, all over the world people put on their coats, wrote slogans on placards and stepped outside to protest at Trumps ban and our government’s reaction (or lack of) to it. The protest in Inverness started to ping onto my Facebook page about 4pm and I couldn’t go along because I run a Rainbows group on Mondays at 6, but there in the pictures from Inverness, from Glasgow and Edinburgh, from elsewhere were faces I know, faces I care about – people I am proud to call friends. I think I had forgotten that people are willing to take action when something angers and horrifies them. I think I had forgotten that I know such good people.

And that’s a lesson for me. In amongst all this shit, in amongst the head shaking that I do, the voices of hate that we see everywhere, the ridiculous behaviour of our elected and unelected politicians, the breath holding that many of us are doing over Brexit and a possibly second indy ref, there are people who are prepared to stand up and say this is not on. People who are saying “you are wrong” and who are standing up for others and for what is right.

It is what we all need to do. Many of you may be feeling as overwhelmed as I do. We need to stand up and be counted. We need to remember that we are not alone in this – that, together with others, our voice is loud enough to drown out the voices of hate and division. We need to remember that across political parties, across the Indy debate – yessers, no’s or don’t knows, those for in, or even out of Europe, there ARE people  who are standing up and saying that this is not how we do things in Scotland. They are saying that this is not how we think about people in Scotland and that this is not what we want here in Scotland. That is how we will win a stronger, better future and it is how we will take people with us. It is how we will change people’s minds. This is how we will be those good people my wee girl wrote about.

I say in my blog introduction that I want to change the world – I think I had forgotten that. My wee girl, the people at my party, my Women for Indy Sisters, the women at the support group, the protesters have reminded me that “Bad things can happen but good people can help”. I’m going to make damn sure that I keep that at the front of my mind and speak up, speak out and speak loudly to ensure that my voice is added to all the other good people who are helping. I may not change things by myself but I don’t have to because together, we surely will.

More Butterflies….

 

 

Did you see them?  The Serenity Butterflies?  Did you pick one up and read it and smile, having read the piece in this blog or seen the article in the local paper? They were there only fleetingly – as butterflies always are. The local council accusing us of “fly posting” removed them sharpish which was somewhat disappointing.

Perhaps you saw them in one of the shops or cafés that cheerfully welcomed them to sit on their tables or near their check outs for their customers to pick up and read. Maybe you didn’t know what they were about and had to “Google” to see the reason for the unseasonal visitors.  I hope you found information about Serenity meetings. I also hope they created space for you to think about the subject of Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and mental illness more generally.

I’m off to the Serenity Group right now. They probably don’t really need me to be honest, but I like to go. I find a power, a peace and a warmth there. On a chilly Monday morning when I have had too little sleep and have too many deadlines, I need them. They remind me why this job is so important and why I love it. They set me up for the week with the power of their positivity and the care that they show each other.

At any one time, one in four people experience a mental illness. Look around you. I can see 10 people that I don’t know from my seat here in a coffee shop in Inverness – some of them will have experienced mental health problems themselves, some of them will know someone with a mental illness, in fact all of them will likely find their lives touched by mental health issues at some point. And yet the stigma surrounding mental illness continues.

People with mental illness find themselves more likely to be lonely, homeless, in prison. Many people don’t talk to others about their mental illness, I have heard some of the members at Serenity say that the only place that they can talk about their diagnosis of BPD is within that group. The only place – imagine that. Something as momentous as being diagnosed with a serious and enduring illness and you can’t talk about it in your everyday life, with people who know you well. Imagine not daring to breath a word at work for fear that you would be treated differently or even lose your job. Imagine worrying that your partner would leave you or that your children would be taken into “care”. Imagine all those things and being unable to share them with anyone.

This is why groups like Serenity, like HUG (Action for Mental Health) and other mental health charities are so important. They give people a place where they can just “be” in a world where headlines scream out the worst stories of people with mental illness that they can find. Often patronised, ignored and misunderstood, Serenity offers a place where BPD does not prevent them from taking part, where they can be open, where they can speak to each other and be understood, respected and cared for. Groups like this are a safe place, a source of comfort, they are empowering, they are supportive and most of all, they are not stigmatising.

See the butterflies? They were put there to represent the changes that people with BPD can see in their lives through , through understanding, through treatment and through the support that comes from sharing experiences with others who have the same diagnosis. They can also be a message for those of us without BPD, without a diagnosis of a mental illness. A message that we can leave outdated ideas of mental illness behind us, we can learn more, care more and challenge stigma wherever we find it. We can educate ourselves and with education we can challenge the fear that fuels stigma wherever we see it. By doing this we can help to change attitudes towards mental illness and work on a transformation to a better fairer society for everyone.

Identity

 

image

I’m writing this sitting in the living room of the French Farmhouse where my sister, her husband and daughters live. It’s raining but warm and the doors and windows are open. The kids are through the house playing, we have all eaten bacon butties and my brother-in-law is cooking up lasagne – he makes wonderful lasagne. He has been playing a cheesy playlist all morning, ABBA, Gilbert O’Sullivan, Barry Manilow – my sister and I and her girls joining in to sing all the words to the pop music that leaves my husband with his Megadeth and Foo Fighters preferences rolling his eyes at us and my much younger children somewhat bemused.

It’s a lazy Sunday Morning, probably being replicated all over the place, well …. maybe without the Barry Manilow. I feel at home here. I feel at peace which is a valuable thing after the turmoil of the last week and a half. And yet there is something just a little fragile about it all. There is uncertainty when certainty once reigned. There is just a hint of fragility about all our lives and there is fury too.

My sister, my parents, many of those living here have a slightly shaky feeling about the future, what about pensions, what about driving licences, what about health care? Many live here and work in the UK paying UK taxes what about them? The bafflement over the attitude to immigrants in the UK is clear amongst those ex-pats who recognise themselves as immigrants. They ask us “What on earth were people thinking?” and we, we shrug our shoulders and have no answers

I’m English. Despite living in Scotland for almost 20 years I have remained English. Despite campaigning for Scottish Independence, being an Executive Member of Women for Independence and standing for selection as a potential SNP candidate for last year’s Holyrood Elections, I remained resolutely English. I was pleased that when campaigning and speaking publicly, people were surprised at the flat vowels and shortened words of my, now fading, Lancashire accent. I enjoyed countering the allegations that a YES vote for an Independent Scotland was somehow anti-English, somehow a hate filled, historical grudge fest based on Bannockburn and the clearances. How could I, a modern English woman, possibly hate England or the English. I love England and love the place I grew up, love the people who have so much in common with the Highlanders I know and love. My eldest sons are English, I am English – there is no hate here. The Independence Referendum didn’t change that fact, it didn’t change my relationship with the place of my birth. And yet somehow the EU referendum has done just that.

It seems overly dramatic to suggest that somehow I don’t feel quite as “English” as I did but it’s true. Driving the length of England is something that I have done many times but this year it felt like driving through a foreign country. I felt a sense of unease as I was setting off, like I don’t really know this place any more. It seems to have become a place where it’s not okay to be foreign, not okay to be an immigrant, where the rise in racial abuse since the referendum has been visible and terrifying. I warned about a leave vote helping to “make the worst voices in society speak louder” and I’m miserable and disappointed that I might end up being right. The video of some young people on an Oldham Tram, shouting racial abuse and threats at other passengers made me feel sick. I traveled that same journey many times and never heard anything like it. The last time, a year or so ago I found it was busy but easy, with all sorts of people chatting in different languages, the different skin tones not really noticed by anyone except the middle aged teuchter wifey fae Inverness who was simply observing how diverse people were and smiling inwardly at the sounds of her own accent reflected back at her.

I don’t believe that whole swathes of England are fundamentally racist. I know many people who voted leave for reasons that did not include immigration or closing the borders.  For many however, immigration was top of the list and intelligent people, smart, clued up people allowed themselves to be taken in by lies and deceit. Add to that the many people, ignored, struggling to live a decent life, dealing with poverty, poor health, poor housing who were left behind as The Labour Party moved to the right. This left a void which in “little England” has been filled by the beer drinking, fake, back slapping, bonhomie of Nigel Farage and his ilk. Lies and half truths, sleekit voices with sinister suggestions whispered in their ears, words of division and hate spread across their tea room tables, wrapped around their fish and chips by the press, spilling their bile across front page after front page after front page.

People were lied to. They were told repeatedly that the reason they can’t get house/job/pay rise/quicker health care was because of the EU. They were told that immigrants who commit crimes, can’t be deported because of the EU whilst the government was systematically reducing the budget of the Borders Agency so they don’t have enough staff to do their job;  they were told that EU immigration was putting a strain on the NHS whilst the government was privatising and squeezing the NHS to within an inch of its life; they were told that social housing is so scarce because the EU allows immigrants and asylum seekers to come here and take our housing whilst the Government brought in policies which made it easier to sell off and harder to build social housing; they were told immigrants push wages down, are responsible for job losses whilst the government encouraged zero hours contracts and told people that £7.20 was a “living wage”; they have been persuaded that immigrants make our country poorer whilst the government happily spends millions on tax cuts to the wealthiest and increases the number of unelected peers and the money given to the royal family. Poor people are sent off to food banks believing that other poor people are to blame for the fact they can’t live on fresh air after sanctions or benefit disallowances.

These people were pieces on a draught board, jumped over by the rich and the wealthy in a game that many of them were not aware was even being played. The articulate, privileged voices of old Etonians and Oxbridge graduates talked about “taking back control” to people who felt they had no control and who wanted change. Add to that a lack of understanding and familiarity with the EU and its processes and systems and you had a bunch of people voting to free themselves from unelected law makers whilst their Government increases the number of unelected law makers in the House of Lords.

And yet, although I recognise the way the people were manipulated and am angry on their behalf, I find that I feel I don’t belong there, to an England that voted to make itself smaller, closed off, narrow minded, tight lipped, isolated in its imagined superiority. The differences between Scotland and England have never been so stark. The Independence referendum was about becoming a larger voice in the world, an outward facing, modern democracy contributing in its own distinct way to the EU and wider conversations. The franchise for the vote in the Independence referendum was based on residency not on nationality like the EU referendum. The contrast is clear. I have watched the Scottish Government repeat again and again that EU nationals are welcome in Scotland with a pride that I am part of that, that I campaigned for that, voted for that. I am proud that the leaders of all Scottish Parties came together with one voice to counter the lies and insinuations from the Leave campaign. I have heard it said time and again that  “We are all Jock Tamson’s bairns”. I have reassured friends from other countries that Scotland will be a place that fights for them and their rights. I have teased my friends here in France that they can come live with us if Scotland becomes Independent because they will be welcomed.

Jackie Kay’s poem “Threshold” from yesterday’s opening of The Scottish Parliament included the words “And this is my country…” She might have followed that up with “says the English wifie sitting in the French farmhouse pondering where she belongs now”. Because, despite the the sound  of  my own accent bringing a smile to my lips, despite the familiarity of Lancashire’s steep sided narrow valleys, something in me has shifted. Perhaps, for the first time, my Scottish identity, the one that has grown over 20 years, the one that is made up of my politics, my work, my children’s school, my community, my husband, my friends, is greater, stronger, more clear and focused than the Englishness that I never expected to lose, that I held onto proudly and that seems now on the verge of slipping into my own history. And so, I have been practicing “Je suis Ecossaise; Je suis Européenne” and you know what? It’s true.

Inspiration

Today is International Women’s Day and I have been thinking about women that have inspired me or women that I have respected.
There are many women of course. You can’t be involved in politics in Scotland just now without being aware of a number of politically savvy, impressive women. From Nicola Sturgeon as she stands up to the world as First Minister, to women in my own local networks that amaze me with their knowledge, with the way that they overcome their own fears and self doubt to speak up about the issues that they are passionate about. Working with Carers too, has brought me into contact with some amazing women, women who have to fight for everything they get for the people they love most in the world, often to their own breaking point. And that’s before I even touch upon my amazing mother and those women close to me.

And yet just now, there is only one woman on my mind and the reason she is on my mind is that I recently found out that she had passed away. She was my friend. I say that even though I hadn’t spoken to her for several years. She was always my friend and she will forever be my friend and would have continued to be so even had it been another ten years before I spoke to her again.

She came to my acquaintance with the least positive recommendation of anyone I ever met. I was being transferred from my job in a Jobcentre to an old style Unemployment Benefit Office in around 1993. Moving to manage a benefit section and with no experience of Benefit Processing, eyebrows were raised at my posting. “Who is your deputy?”  was the first question anyone asked and when I answered, the response was “Oh My God” or that sucked in sound that mechanics make when there is something wrong with your car. Fierce, uncompromising and a reputation for not suffering even the slightest of fools gladly, or in fact in any way at all – gladly or otherwise. She commanded respect for her knowledge of “widows running start”, “married woman’s reduced rate” and other jargon filled examples of advanced benefit processing. She was, I was told, a benefit expert, a harsh taskmaster and a critical, unforgiving supervisor and deputy and I should really watch my back.

Was I quaking in my shoes? Bloody right I was. I couldn’t “comp” a claim, I didn’t understand RITYs or the finer points of disallowances and tax and I wasn’t even sure that I even wanted the bloody job.

And yet in her I found a kindred spirit. Despite her brusque manner – she didn’t just call a spade a spade – she called a spade a fucking shovel – she had the kindest heart and she was a fabulous teacher. At our first meeting we eyed each other with caution, but we shared a sense of humour and under her watchful eye and by taking her advice on what I needed to know and how to learn it, I became an expert myself – knowledge which has helped me to understand the finer points of welfare reform and challenge many of the assertions that have been trotted out over the last few years. With my support she became better at managing people and getting the best out of them. She raged about “having to pussy foot around people’s finer fucking feelings” on many occasions but she learned to change the behaviour of people on our team through coaching and feedback and she grew and flourished. We complimented each other, worked well together. She had a fabulous sense of humour and when people would snidely question just exactly “who” was managing our section cos SHE seemed to have a lot to say – she bought me a mug which said “No – I’M the boss”. This made us laugh at their  lack of understanding of the way in which we worked so well together. I did a better job because of her and she did a better job because of me.

But jobs are one thing and of course don’t really last for ever. Mostly in my life, I move on and wave goodbye – often with a tear or two – but without any long lasting relationships continuing from my work. She was different.

At the point I met her she had just recently terminated a much wanted pregnancy after her amnio had given a diagnosis of Downs Syndrome. This was a difficult decision for her as it would be for anyone, and she struggled with her grief over the decision. How much harder it hurt then, when a few years later she received a letter telling her that she may have contracted Hepatitis C from an infected blood transfusion during the procedure. This did in fact turn out to be the case, and a new struggle started for her.

Life became a series of obstacles to overcome, the hepatitis C, the medication and its side effects, the effect on her own mental health and the stresses and strains of family life. I had moved to live in Scotland and long distant conversations became the norm. As my own life fell apart she was a source of support for me too. Living 500 miles away my marriage ended and despite her own challenges, she always found time to be on the end of the phone. Years later I thanked her for that and she laughed and said “Just repaying the favour chuck” reminding me of the time she phoned me late late late, in a terrible state, standing by the side of a reservoir, unclear about what to do next and I talked her through her feelings to the point she was able to go home. We later laughed about the reaction of her Lancashire based Doctor when, after promising I would phone her GP for her as she didn’t feel able, he returned my phone call and found it answered by “Wick Jobcentre”. “Where???” He asked bewildered, but he took my concerns seriously and further investigation showed she had a terrible reaction to her medication causing a serious depression.

She helped me practically too. With an ex husband who thought that maintenance was something optional that I had a bloody cheek to ask him for, I frequently struggled my way from one end of my family credit to the other.  She bought new trainers for my growing too fast boys and she never once tutted or told me to pull myself together.

I never laughed so much as I laughed with her. I never cried so much as I cried with her. It would be a long time before I found a friend that I would love like I loved her and yet, time and tide wait for no man and, although she tripped the 400 odd miles to come see us in Inverness and stayed with us for a few days with her lovely daughter and grand-daughter, our contact grew less and the times between our phone calls lengthened and it became several years since I last spoke to her.

My friend inspired me with her resilience, she inspired me with her relentless sense of humour, she inspired me with her love for her family and the ferocious way  that she defended them. She inspired me with the way she spoke her mind, the way she fought to be treated with interferon and then, when it kicked off a terrible depression, the way she fought that to get some control back into her life. She inspired me with her determination to overcome the things that life threw at her, she inspired me by the way she faced this bloody disease she had been saddled with, and the stigma that came with having a disease that was associated with drug addicts and promiscuity. She faced it full on, stuck two fingers up at it and got on with it to the absolute best of her ability.

She was a force to be reckoned with – someone I would affectionately describe as a “bugger” and even though I haven’t spoken to her in a long time, the news of her passing fills me with a sadness that bites, a sadness that I will never hear her dulcet Lancashire tones on the end of the phone ever again, a sadness that is deeper because of our lack of contact. On her last visit, nearly nine years ago now, I introduced her to my new man, now my husband. She shook his hand and in a very posh voice said “Hello John, it’s very nice to meet you.” Then as he walked off she turned to me and in a low voice and a broad northern accent said “By ‘eck – E’s a bit of alright int e”. She made me laugh then and she still does.

Inspiring women aren’t always in the public eye, aren’t always celebrities or politicians, industry leaders, writers or  artists. They are often, like my friend, inspiring by the way they deal with life and its ability to knock us off our feet again and again. I’ll miss my friend and I’ll try hard not to make the mistake of letting friendships and contact lapse with anyone else ever again – another thing she has taught me even in her absence. It is in the every day that true inspiration is often found and I am proud that she was my friend and thankful that I knew her.

This land is ours, this language is ours – part one.

skye beaches

Land and language. It always saddens me when there is the suggestion  that somehow I lack the capacity to be a powerful voice for the place I live in, for the Gaelic language because I was not born here in the Highlands. I have come across this comment this week and whilst I know that this is not a majority view and we spoke loudly against the suggestion that the Independence debate was insular and anti english in its nature – I blogged here about it – it is still disappointing  to to have my commitment questioned.

So lets get a few things straight – in the nicest possible way.  I am English, I am from Lancashire, a small town in the foothills of the Pennines called Shaw. I grew up there and when I married my first husband, I moved precisely 3 miles away to another small town called Milnrow before moving to Caithness

I like being a Lancashire Lass  – I’m not ashamed of that – I am proud of it. I believe that growing up in that place, amongst those people, made me the straight talking,  no messing lass that I still am. I have lived here for almost twenty years and I brought my children up here, my youngest two were born here.

So, if there are people wondering how a proud Lancashire lass will stand tall for the people of Skye Lochaber and Badenoch, how can she speak up for the language and the land of this place, who think that somehow the only strong voices are those that come out of the mouths of those born here – then let me put your minds at ease.

I will stand up for this constituency and for its language and its land by caring about people – the people that live here and about the things that are important to them. Those things are important to me. I can stand tall and be a loud voice for gaelic speakers even though I don’t speak gaelic because it matters to people here in our constituency. It is because I love here, because I live here, because this is my home, that what matters to you – matters to me.

I also know very well that the gift of a second language is a fabulous gift to give to our children. My sister moved to France when her children were 8 and 3, my eldest niece went straight into school – a french school of course – and they didn’t speak french at home. She was fluent in three months. What I would give for all our children to have the opportunity to have a second language. Gaelic is part of our culture, part of MY culture, my families culture and I want all our children to feel that way.

There has been some great work done on increasing the use of Gaelic and the accessibility of Gaelic medium Education and I have much to learn but I know we struggle to get teachers, struggle in a land which is so rich with Gaelic words to find enough people to do for our children what my sister did for hers – give them that gift of a second language. We need to address that gap if we are going to make Gaelic part of the everyday life of more of the people living not just here in the Highlands or in our constituency but also throughout Scotland.

Every primary school in Highland should teach Gaelic. Not in a sterile and grammar based boring manner but in an inclusive, lets all chat together sort of way so that EVERY child who moves on to secondary school has conversational Gaelic. If a child decides to study Gaelic to exam level there is plenty of time to teach grammar and to write essays and its always easier to do those things  if you speak a language first. To be honest, I’d like to see French and German taught that way too. im sure there are lots of us who having studied a language to higher or A level have a dread of getting the tense wrong or saying la when it should be le or vous when it should be tu. IT seems to  me that these hang ups about grammar prevent us jumping in and chatting.  Speaking the language is what is important, having fun with it, learning rude words, feeling the words in your mouth and realising you can have a secret conversation with your friends which your mum can’t understand. I would love for all our children to OWN Gaelic as their language, regardless of whether they speak it at home.

That would need every PGCE in Scotland to include a Gaelic bolt on for students to choose. Every single one. Teachers who have Gaelic should  be offered incentives or a higher salary to teach Gaelic. In UHI I would expect that every degree course they offer should have a Gaelic module in every year – a module which people can choose to do alongside whatever course they are doing.   We should be offering that to every student – event those studying here from overseas. We have the amazing Sabhal Mor as part of the resources within UHI and so Gaelic should be accessible to every student – not simply those who want to study to a high level but for anyone who wants to understand and speak Gaelic. Only by increasing the accessibility of Gaelic will we increase its use.

And lets not forget Scots and Doric. The Scots language is often,  wrongly I belive, said to be a “dialect” rather than a language but it has its own rules and words and needs also to be protected and supported in addition to Gaelic. We have speakers of all these languages in our constituency – it gives us a rich and distinct culture but within that there is room for those that speak other languages, are from other counties, other countries. At our Burns party – John and I have one every year – it’s a riotous celebration of Burns but also of all sorts of languages in poems and in song  – Gaelic, Doric, Polish, German, and of course I do a Lancashire Dialect Poem every year (and occassionally do a twirling rendition of “Those were the days” but maybe the least said the better)

I  will stand up for Gaelic because I understand the passion of language, understand that wonder of words and I know that the language is part of our culture and our identity here  – a place that I live in and love and am proud of. A place which is now my place, my family’s place – my culture. I’m part of the fabric of our community and because of that, I’ll be the strongest loudest voice you could have. Just try to shut me up!

Fat is ….my issue

Slightly different tack today.  This is an article that I wrote a year or so ago and which I sent to woman’s Hour in February which resulted in my discussing the very personal issue of my weight live on radio.  (14th February if you fancy a listen on BBC iPlayer if its still there )

I’m a fat lady. I’m not cuddly, big boned, a bit on the large side, bonnie, plump or any other of the twee euphemisms – I’m fat – obese. I’m the sort of fat that people do television programmes about how much fat people eat and we all stretch our eyes and are astounded that they can eat three lots of fish and chips in one sitting and that they drink four two litre bottles of coke a day or takeaways every night of the week or 195 bags of crisps a week. Except I don’t. Don’t eat 195 bags of crisps a week – don’t do any of the things I have just listed actually. I guess then I must be lazy. Never move off the couch, never do any exercise, never really do anything except waddle to the fridge and eat a cream cake. Nope that’s not me either. I suppose my whole family must be fat – children, husband, dog, cat… everyone. Nope ‘fraid not that either. I have three grown up boys – two positively skinny ones and one slighter bigger built but by no means fat, – and I have two little ones aged 2 and 4 who are just as they should be – not skinny and not overweight. I have a lovely husband who is a bit younger than me but he isn’t fat either… well, he could maybe do with losing a stone or two but I mean he isn’t FAT – not like me. I’m 5’3 and weigh around 20 stone. I wear a size 26 clothes and I don’t have a coat that stays buttoned just now. Although I have an underactive thyroid gland for which I take thyroxine I have always been pretty healthy. I have been fat for almost as long as I can remember although I wasn’t a fat child and my parents are not fat either. In fact my mother is probably 8 stones wet through… and 76… and never stops. But I can remember being a size 16 at 16, When I married my first husband I was a size 20ish and its gradually crept up over the last twenty five years.

I cook, that’s what I do. A stay at home mum, I do voluntary work for a few organisations but really what I do is cook. Friends with broken hearts get food, friends with broken bones get food. Come round to our house and expect to be asked to stay for dinner. Need a recipe for something? I have one; Cant cook? I can give you tips; Need to feed a family on a budget? I’m the queen of that. Intimate dinner for two – yep; family meals yep; Christmas dinner for 4? 6? 15? Yep that’s me too. Throw a Burns Party for 70 people and cook haggis neeps and tatties – did that last weekend. I don’t buy ready meals, I cook from scratch – most things except bread. Fruit and veg, salad, all play a part in my family meals and I work hard to provide healthy, tasty food for my family. We don’t have a fryer or a microwave. I make jam and chutney and I occasionally bake biscuits and cakes. I’m good at cooking. I’m a happy fatty, I am loved by my family and my friends. I do stuff, have hobbies, do voluntary work, look after my babies and I’m happy. Or am I?

Recently I had coffee with a friend of mine. A lovely friend, we have known each other for 15 years or so. We have been through divorce, one night stands and remarriage, alcoholic and controlling men friends, children’s traumas and most other things. I hadn’t seen her in a while though – she works, I don’t and I have toddlers which she doesn’t. She has lost three stone in weight by doing a popular food replacement diet. She looked great and she had a cup of coffee and a diet bar thing whilst I had a melting cheese feast toastie and coffee. I was less than gracious about her decision to do this diet programme and I sceptically raised my eyebrows as she talked tentatively about the programme. I pinched my lips at the cost and I raised my eyebrows at the thought that the counselling was any good. I spat out the words “Yes, you look really good” and I came home in such a bad mood that when my husband asked did I have a good time, I said no. The real truth is that I was jealous -straightforwardly, unambiguously jealous. It took me two whole days to admit that to myself and a bit longer to share it with my husband. I haven’t told my friend yet. Now, jealousy is not a feeling I have very often, I rarely feel jealous about anything. In fact, I think the last time I felt its true grip was when a friend told me she was pregnant just after I had miscarried in 2006. I am not very comfortable with the feeling of jealousy but I have to accept that if I am jealous of my friend’s slimming success then I can’t be so happy being a fatty after all.

Truth is, I haven’t been happy with my weight for a while. I was able to avoid the issue completely from 2007 to 2010. In a new relationship with a man who doesn’t care one iota that I’m on the large size, I was busy being pregnant and having babies. My pregnancies were fine, no complications, nothing out of the ordinary despite the fact that I was both old and fat as I was having the babies at 43 and 45 years old. Whilst I’m pregnant I don’t put any weight on at all, this was the case with my older boys who are now 22, 21 and 16. I sort of just change shape. I didn’t worry about being fat. The midwives looked after me marvellously and there was never any judgement made or any sniping at my weight. So I was pretty much able to ignore the fat thing completely. I got married had babies and felt fantastic. Only when I saw a photograph did I mentally flinch and as I’m very, very skilled at avoiding cameras I was able to continue in my happy fatty mode. The last year has seen this happiness slide somewhat. Following the birth of my last baby, I had to have my appendix out. My recovery was slow. A mild but persistent infection meant weeks of visits to the nurses at the Doctors surgery, Following this my energy levels were shocking and culminated in tears at Christmas last year when I could hardly manage to walk around our local (small) shopping centre. I could no longer believe that this tiredness was simply the babies and so I saw my GP. At the start of 2011 I was diagnosed with sleep apnoea and got myself a very pretty machine with a very fetching face mask (NOT) to wear at night. It worked, my energy levels have massively improved and I’m a million times better but it was clear –  The need to lose weight was staring me in the face. I have ignored it the whole year, well actually I did do something about it and joined a slimming class to which I went for a month lost a stone and stopped going. And there is the problem or the question, or the nub of the matter if you like…what am I going to do about it?

Over the last thirty years I have been to slimming classes galore, I have tried the F-plan, The cabbage diet, the Atkins Diet, the starve yourself diet. I have calorie counted, I have joined Gyms, I have done online diets and I have done total food replacement diets. I have steeled myself to excercise more, to eat less and to be slim for countless christmases, birthdays, holidays, weddings (including two of my own!!!!) and parties. I have completely failed at everything I have tried. I can’t bear the thought of another trip to a class, another humiliating sweaty session at some trendy gym where the fat lady tries to fade into the background – that’s me by the way. And yet if I am truly honest, I can’t bear the thought of another Christmas do in some fat lady’s dress, or shopping for another wedding outfit, or trying on another coat to find it doesn’t fit. These days I am starting to be surprised when I find something that looks ok. Note, that I didn’t say looks good, or looks fabulous, or sexy, I said ok. That’s as good as it gets, I look ok.

The real thing that I can’t bear to think about though is what my wee girl is going to think about her mum if I don’t do something about this. I have four boys and my last baby is a little girl. The boys don’t care, their friends have loved me… I feed them!!!! The boys just see their mum and don’t bat an eyelid but my baby girl….How is she going to feel about me when she not only has to deal with the “your mum is really OLD” but also has the “your mum is really FAT” comments to deal with. How am I going to take her shopping for clothes when I look like a blimp? How can we go to see the ballet when I might not be able to squeeze into the theatre seats? Never mind the thought of tripping off on a girlie weekend on a plane – imagine the fold down trays that won’t fold and the extender belt for the seat. So I have to do something but what. I can’t afford the pricey food replacement diet that my friend is doing and nor would I want that, food is part of my life and who we are, we sit at the table to eat, friends come round and I feed them, I don’t want to be sitting there drinking some crappy shake. I want to keep that part of my life, but I have to change it. And besides, I can almost feed my entire family for the £300 it would cost for a month of shakes and nutrition bars. I have looked at personal trainers who offer nutritional advice and they are affordable – just – but they all seem to be about 14 years old. So I have to make a decision… I have to try something and stick at it. It has to work for me, my mad chaotic family life, my social life and my pocket. How do I choose? How can I find something which will make me a success at dieting and which will allow me to be happy and healthy? I can see fifty peeking over the horizon and a teenage daughter who wants me to drop her off round the corner because she is embarrassed of me. Happy fatty? maybe not after all.

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