Wednesday, February 28, 2007


I recently wrote this in my occasional newsletter to Organic-Ally customers:

“I write this as my son is being taken to the cinema by another parent at school. Since he first went to the cinema as a three-year-old (as a birthday treat for a five-year-old friend) son has refused to return to the cinema because he finds the sound simply too loud.

He only agreed to go today because we sent him off with some cotton wool to stuff into his ears. I wonder if you, too, think that cinemas have become too loud for the good of young children (and even adults) these days.

I once researched 'noise tolerance and social classes' and learned that extended exposure to loud noise can lead to noise-induced hearing loss (NIHL). An audiologist I met in Australia said she would NEVER use a 'personal stereo' type of gadget.

Part of me also thinks that noise and violence go together. Excessive noise raises certain chemicals in our body which in turn raise our blood pressure, apparently. Tell me what you think.”

Some customers wrote back and here's a selection of their views (used with their permission):

I definitely think that cinemas are too loud. I can't go any more - I know I have a problem with noise because I have Lyme disease, but it is a not just people like me and your son who have problems I'm sure.

With best wishes

T. R.

I quite agree about cinema sound being too loud. I believe that if you are 'subjected' to sound loud enough to leave a ringing in your ears then damage which is irreversible has been done. This plays some part in the deterioration of hearing that seems to be accepted as we grow older.

The last cinema trip was particularly annoying as the volume was too loud for the speakers resulting in distortion and poor quality sound. It would have been a much better experience had the volume been a couple of notches lower but fashion seems to dictate increasing volumes.

Non mainstream venues may well be a better option for children (and adults). The Galeri in Caernarfon near my home has a special screening for parents and chidren on occasional afternoons. Another local theatre plays some mainstream and some obscure films with sound at a sensible level.

Maybe there is somewhere like that near you. I have always been grateful that my parents insisted on me keeping my personal stereo volume to a level where only I could hear it. I really appreciate having got to 30 with pretty good hearing and the ability to enjoy sounds at a sensible level!

Kind regards,


How wonderful to find someone else who finds the noise of the modern world just a bit too much. I love silence, or rather, quietness because silence is very rare. I work as a gardener as I often need to stop to get my breath after hauling logs, lopping branches or whatever (and to blow my nose on an Organic-Ally hankie! :) ).

I listen. I hear birds, wind, the sea (200 metres away), our hens, and my own breathing. I love it – the sounds of natural life, not the frenetic, over-loud, mind-numbing stuff that most people seem to need to get them through the day.

I love music. I play the harp and I enjoy listening to certain kinds of music sometimes. What I don't understand is the apparent need for constant electronic/machine noise that many people have. What is it? Fear of reality?

Lovely to hear from you.

Kind regards,

H. A-R

Thanks for your latest e-mail newsletter. I just wanted to get back to you and say yes - cinemas are very loud these days! I used to go to the cinema a lot more than I do now, but on the last few occasions I've been, I've almost jumped out of my seat when the adverts came on. Throughout the first few minutes of any showing, I'm almost wincing at the sound levels, but you slowly get used to it.

You're absolutely right though - I do think a noisy world is a more aggressive world. A bit more peace would do us all some good.

Best wishes,


Typically son would wait till a movie is out on DVD or is aired on TV before he watches the movie. He's very patient that way. Still he is able to tell us much about movies we have not seen just from listening to what his friends at school tell him.

Another problem I have is with ‘telephone noise’: noise from people shouting into their phones. Here’s a letter in The Times yesterday which made me chuckle:

I’m on the bus

I feel like starting to campaign for a "Turn Off Your Mobile Phone Today" Day.

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Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Not so slow boat from China

Husband alerted me to this article by Michael Sheridan on Timesonline . It quantifies what we have known for a long time.

To China for the holy grail: a price of 99p

I particularly like the comment by Russell Brocklehurst which follows the article.

The point is: do we need to buy all those things that are being hawked at 'cheap' shops, websites and auction sites?

Who pays the price of the poor health which the young factory girls suffer in return for the pittance they are paid so that we can have our trinkets?

We must begin to retreat from living in this disposable world before these non-biodegradable 'disposables' bury us ... literally.

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Thursday, February 22, 2007

Olivers -- here's my twist

Oliver James calls for an effort to "raise the status of the parental role" because presently "being a stay-at-home mother has a lower one than that of streetsweeper".

OJ is right in that stay-at-home mothers (SAHMs) have a very low status and possibly even lower self-esteem. And, following from previous post, this is part of the reason middle-class familes are disintegrating. His 'affluenza virus' theory applies most to this class of people, I think.

Middle-class families are falling apart because the desire for material goods means that couples often lock themselves into a financial bind which requires both of them to work full-time. A stay-at-home parent (even part-time) is no more an option.

Or couples believe that they are so well-trained and well-educated that it will be a real pity should either leave their profession or career (but less so 'job') to concentrate on child-rearing.

So childcare is farmed out as much as is possible. Children grow up to become strangers to their parents. Time outside school is carefully scheduled with tennis, swimming, piano, violin, ballet, gymnastics, etc, etc. so that children are exhausted by the time exhausted parents get home.

Weekends are again rounds of frenetic activities with football, birthday parties, sleepovers, tennis, swimming, piano, violin, ad nauseum.

In a study I conducted in Singapore a few years ago, funded by the august British Academy, no less, I found many graduate mothers deciding that 'enough is enough'. They decided to be completely counter-cultural, go against the tide, give up their careers to focus on their children.

For most, if not all of them, this means having to accept a lower standard of living, but they found this all very worthwhile. The hardest bit of being a SAHM was in preventing their brains from turning into mush.

But being the intelligent women that these mothers are in the first place, many have found ways and means of getting around this problem.

So there are families, like ours, that do without two or three foreign holidays a year, without that second car, or the live-in nanny/au pair, and new clothes every season. (With less disposable income, we also do with less junk food, curiously enough.)

Careers have been put on hold because we know full well that children will not remain children forever. They grow up, become more and more independent, and then they fly the nest. But we take advantage of these formative years to mould their character.

Instead of saying "What a waste that we are not using our university education?" we say "Surely we can give our own flesh-and-blood a better education than other (probably much less well qualified) childcare providers."

Instead of looking at our "years of fallow" at home as years of waste, we take these as years spent on "investing" in the social and moral development of our offspring.

There is a danger, however, that if we extrapolated the argument that a parent (usually the mother) should provide full-time care, sooner or later the reasoning will come to a point: why bother to educate women at all?

Why bother to educate women indeed when they are merely to be bearers and carers of babies? So JO's assertion is in danger of being hijacked by some backward thinking males (or even females) that will remove the privileges of education that women in many cultures have so long taken for granted.

The argument is instead -- in my view -- to make re-entering the workforce easier for women who have had to take a break for childcare reasons. A nurse friend of ours worked one day a week at some point, and increased the number of days as her child grew older.

One day a week? Most employers won't allow this as this is too much of a hassle to organize. But when the women concerned are skilled professionals who need to keep at practising their skills or risk losing their license, or who need to practise to keep abreast with protocol, then working a day a week while her child/ren go to a day nursery is a profitable compromise.

So, equally, it will be disingenuous to assume that all forms of childcare outside the home is bad. In my particular situation, I wished that I had exposed my son to a little bit more of such care when he was younger. This is because as an only child he is deprived of the kind of exposure to social skills that children in care and children with siblings soon develop.

Feminism has indeed gone wrong to lead us to believe that women can only be as good as men if they behave as "men in skirts" (as JO calls them).

I say this from the unusual and perhaps unfortunate position as being considered in my time at university as being "too feminist to be a Brethren" by my mates in the Varsity Christian Fellowship and "too Christian to be feminist" by my colleagues at the Sociology Department.

The truth is I believe in the right of all women in reaching their fullest potential through education and work opportunities. I always spoke up for the 'rights of women' in the Christian church. At the same time I believe that women should also have the option to choose what she has been made to do better than men: in the nurture of very young children.

Am I perpetuating the myth that women should stay at home?

On the contrary.

When graduate (and often non-graduate) mothers in Singapore work, they leave their children to a paid foreign servant girl. What their sons and daughters see therefore is a woman being paid lowly wages to do what they consider 'lowly work'. They hold little respect for such women.

When I stay at home and talk to my son about science, space, algebra, philosophy, religion, music, art, the position of women in God's creation, the need to be charitable to those less fortunate, his own responsiblity as a grown-up, his citizenship both here on earth and in heaven, he is seeing how clever (or not) I am and I am shaping his view of the world and and especially his view of women in the world.

Feminists have proposed the use of new language (eg 'person' instead 'man', 'manunkind' instead of 'mankind', 'her-story' instead of 'history') to 'right the balance' in our man-centric language. They have forgotten that children grow up to speak their 'mother tongue', but only if mother is around to speak with them.

When I, as an educated mother, take the time to explain my interpretation of this (man-centric) language to my child, I have a better chance of helping him to use it in an unbiased way than the lowly-paid servant girl, nanny or au pair who does not speak English all that well.

I have a better chance than any au pair in convincing my son that women can be just as clever and strong as men, but in different ways. They may be a full-time mother, but it does not make them less equal than man.

So, yes, for my strain of feminism progress, I need women like myself who are happy to take on the mothering role willingly.

Then families will once again be able to 'do family' seven days a week, and not on weekends only. If sacrifices have to be made, children will learn that what is advertised on TV is not the ultimate solution to their growing-up pangs.

If a child (and especially a son) belongs so completely to the mother as Steve Biddulph asserts, then these first six years are when mothers need to bond with their sons.

After this, sons want to be 'just like Dad'. Women then can think about returning to work without feeling guilty. It comes back to the (bigger? more important?) question of what employers can do to ease such women back into work.

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Sunday, February 18, 2007


First there was Jamie Oliver (JO) telling us about what to feed our children -- good on him -- and now Oliver James (OJ) tells us what my husband and I have believed in for a long time: children should be looked after by their own parents.

OJ coined the term "affluenza virus" which causes victims to place "a high value on money, possessions, appearances (physical and social) and fame" (see Times article here).

He puts this down to the legacy of both Thatcherism and "Blatcherism" (never heard that one before, does he really deserve an 'ism'?)

Is there anything new in what OJ is saying? Listen to the writer in Ecclesiastes: there is nothing new under the sun.

Or to borrow another cliche: the writing's on the wall.

It would seem logical -- to me as a social scientist any way -- that excessive consumerism (that was what we used to call it) would lead inevitably to the type of symptoms now so obvious and making OJ's thesis so credible.

Back in Sociology 101 and Social Anthropology 101 we were noting how families were the bedrock of society. They were the building blocks. Families, before institutions such as schools, government, etc, came into being, provided the sole context within which children learned their social and economic skills upon which basis they could attain political leadership.

They learned language, read the signs, learned how to hunt, they learned and practised the same religion that has sustained their society, they learned to conduct themselves concerning sex and marriage, they learned roles, they discharged responsibilities.

Without a state intervening at every turn to make sure you do not fail meant people learn to depend on themselves and on one another.

In the 14 years that I have lived in this country, I've seen how the importance of the family is falling apart in two different ways amongst two different groups of people.

In the first, the family has eroded as the state (ie welfare) has taken away the need for responsibility and the imperative to plan and work for one's own future.

When I first told my employer (a Christian non-profit organization) that they were not paying me enough for me to save for my pension, they could not understand what I meant.

Why does anyone need to save for one's pension. Surely the government should take care of that. No, I explained, I will not be working long enough in this country to qualify for a pension and while I am working here, I do not have have funds going into building my personal pension fund in Singapore.

Meanwhile all we heard on the media back in the early 1990s (apart from how the Child Support Agency would ensure that errant fathers pay their dues) were young girls getting pregnant and expecting to be given council housing. Do-gooders however argue in their defence, "Don't be stupid, who would want to live on the pittance given by this government to single teenage mothers?"

I personally know of very young girls who have children by different fathers and expect to be housed. If they have a partner with them in order to qualify for housing, these partners are kicked out very quickly.

Just this last Friday I learned from a childminder that the government gives up to £7000 a year to teenage mothers to spend on childminding while they get an education to better themselves.

Because they do not pay these fees, they mess the childminder around, dropping off early and picking up late, etc. "School" also does not last very long as there are no sanctions if they did not do well.

In sum, the government is pouring money into this group of mothers and their children, but the effect is not at all positive. (And we have not even discussed the plight of the baby involved.)

Once again money is being spent on trying to alleviate the symptoms of a problem rather than its root. The Chinese have a saying, "Zan chao chu gen": to get rid of the grass/weed, pull them up by its root. And this, I'm afraid, is the mentality I have when it comes to a problem like teenage pregnancies.

What about the issue of having a parent (usually the mother) stay at home to look after the young children.

I think this is a good idea when it is a grown-up, well-educated, emotionally-secure mother who's doing the nurturing. If the mother is a child herself, probably from a broken family who has never understood how love and discipline go together, then this argument does not wash.

The second way the family is slowly dying a death is amongst the middle class.

Enough said for now. I shall continue with this discussion another time.

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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Another scan

This morning found me trudging off to the hospital again, this time having drunk nearly two pints of water.

I couldn't get through the whole two pints. It was making me feel quite ill and I felt like throwing up. Then I found myself shaking, as the cold water made its way into deeper parts.

I had been recalled so that the sonographers could decide whether or not I actually do have an abnormal womb (see another post).

Bus journey and a long wait at the waiting room later, and after two other sonographers have had a go at scanning (both external and internal -- ouch!), the opinion was I do not have an abnormal uterus after all. What I have is probably a fibroid growing from where the surgeon had closed me up after a Caesarean-section.

I'm not sure if I'm any happier or clearer about the situation. Now we wait for the doctors to decide what could exactly be wrong with me and what therefore should the course of action be.

Meanwhile, life goes on. There are customers' orders to fill, a school uniform shop shift to do, and a family to look after.

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Thursday, February 08, 2007

Lessons in the snow

It's a few cm of snow on the ground and everything grinds to a halt in the UK.

Why is it, I ask myself, that if our Scandinavian friends can cope with much more snow and higher summer temperatures, etc, that when weather conditions deviate slightly towards 'extreme', nothing works on this island?

Husband had a text from London Underground to say the station is closed due to 'unsafe platforms'. They knew it was going to snow and yet these platforms have not been made safe. Somewhere further down the line a faulty train was holding up the system and had been since early morning for I don't know how long.

At his 'alternative' station trains were running late as well due to 'adverse weather'.

Knock-on effects? Son's school is closed. We were already warned about this yesterday. The fact is a number of teachers and children depend on public transport to get in. Our roads were also not gritted, making it quite unsafe for children to be walking along the pavement.

And so on and so forth.

At least we managed to build a snowman in the garden. The process was turned into a Physics lesson as we experimented and discovered the best way to fix nose and eyes to the snowman.

Then son's classmate rang to ask if son would go over to play.

Father and son then walked round to collect my son. In a few minutes' time we'll do that in reverse as my husband would walk round to them to pick son up.

One hour round trip, but what fun to have in the snow? Make that slushy, yukky, slippery, icey, whatever you call that white/brown stuff on the ground.

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Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Bird Flu

Suffolk this time.

In a factory farm.

Am I surprised? Not the least bit.

See Bird farms, bird flu

Hopefully, more people will begin to realize the dismal conditions that these cheap supermarket birds are reared and think about better animal welfare and stop buying cheap-cheap-cheap all the time.

At this factory farm, there's no more chip-chip-chip.

See previous blog.

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