Wednesday, 30 April 2014

So did Sports Direct reject?

So as promised, here is how I got on with asking my local branch of Sports Direct to join the ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ scheme. Their Stoke Newington branch is located on the high street and so this afternoon I headed up there armed with my ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ pack. This consists of a leaflet titled ‘Becoming Breastfeeding Welcome, a step-by-step guide for family friendly businesses and community venues in Hackney’ An A4 poster stating ‘This is a breastfeeding welcome place’ which also states ‘Remember: you have the right to breastfeed anywhere’, a check list for the venue of all the things they need to do to welcome mothers which includes ‘Babies can be breastfed in any public area of our venue’ among other points and 2 window stickers to show passers by that the business has signed up to the scheme. 

Was I hopeful? In all honesty, not really. I expected that, even if I did get to speak to someone, I would be treated with disinterest. Admittedly also I hadn’t done my homework, I had no idea if Sports Direct were a franchise or controlled by a central office but either way I didn’t see this as an obstacle. 

 I don’t mind saying I shop quite frequently in Sports Direct and so confidently walked up to the nearest sales assistant and said I was a regular customer and would like to talk to their Manager about their recent negative press. The Manager came over and I introduced myself and asked if they knew about the incident as reported by Mumsnet. 

It transpired that the Manager was off that day and I was in fact talking to the Assistant Manager who was nevertheless personable and astute. She wasn’t aware of the incident where the Manager of their Nottingham branch had asked a customer’s wife to leave the branch because she was feeding her baby and she was very keen to know where she would find this information. I went on to tell her about how ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ works and how actually Sports Direct would benefit greatly to signing up to the scheme. The Assistant Manager explained that anything like this would have to be run past head office and so we agreed that I would leave the pack with her to speak to her Manager. I also wrote down all my contact details along with mumsnet website link so she could find the article I was referring to. I could see that she hadn’t ever encountered Mumsnet and so immediately reeled off it’s terrifyingly impressive viewing stats of 4 million new visitors and 50 million page views a month. At that moment I sensed that I might have caught her attention.   

So I didn’t get a ‘We are Breastfeeding Welcome’ sticker in the window of Sports Direct BUT I also wasn’t sent packing and will now be following up with the Manager to see what their head office’s response is. I hope at least that within Sports Direct I have started a conversation. I will keep you updated.

I didn't think it would take long for someone to set up a petition - please click HERE to view.

Also another great petition to change NHS Breastfeeding Guidelines to match WHO Breastfeeding guideline - click HERE

Monday, 28 April 2014

Milking it for all it's worth

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will know how much I have to say on the subject of breastfeeding, breast milk and anything boob related in general (click here, here, here OR here for a further lady chest-related reading) 

So obviously I jumped at the chance of signing up to volunteer for my local ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ scheme. I have mentioned this admirable organisation in previous posts whilst venting my frustrations around the squeamishness and general lack of normality that surrounds the notion of breastfeeding in England today. So can you legally ask a mother to stop feeding in your bar/restaurant/gym? Of course not. By law you can feed your child anywhere you like, as long as it doesn’t pose a health and safety risk (should you be tempted to conduct a feed on a building site I’m guessing) 

The very thought of someone being asked to leave somewhere because they were…wait for the outrage.. feeding their baby (am I really writing this?) is the type of thing that would have me aboard my soapbox faster than you can say lactation. However, I need to calm down, even I recognise it would be unfair to write off a venue purely because it’s proprietor isn’t aware of what exactly is considered lawful. There is undoubtedly still considerable confusion on the subject. This is demonstrated beautifully by an experience relayed to me by one of the volunteers I met at the ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ training. At the local swimming pool, she was told she could not stand at the water’s edge whilst her husband and their daughter were in the pool, as it posed a health and safety risk. She pointed out that she might be needed to breastfeed but the Supervisor said even if her baby needed feeding, it wasn’t like she could do it in public anyway. (Clissold Leisure Centre -hang your head in shame!)

However, it isn’t just about reminding business owners that it is perfectly legal to feed your baby in a cafe or at a swimming pool. If you’ll allow me to take a moment to recall my lactating years where there were many occasions I found myself in unfamiliar surroundings, with a screaming, hungry baby and, unless I was prepared to sit down on the pavement, nowhere to go to feed him. A cafe with a sticker on the window that read ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ would have been my saviour (and a far warmer option then the bus stop!) It was remembering these panicked moments that I realised the purpose of the ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ scheme is also to provide reassurance to the ladies out there who might hesitate before breastfeeding their baby in public. 

So feeling motivated and inspired leaving the training session I walked home taking a detour to one of my favourite child friendly haunts, The Russet on Hackney Downs who without hesitation enthusiastically signed up to the scheme. I didn’t even need to dangle the carrot of free publicity that comes with being registered on the ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ website.

However, I then came home to see THIS on Mumsnet 

When it comes to spreading the word on breastfeeding it seems there is much to be done.

This has spurred Mumsnet to build a map of where Mumsnetters have fed their babies (click here to have a peek). As someone who took some family sightseeing round London with my youngest in tow I am pleased to say when it comes to breastfeeding: St Paul’s Cathedral, Madame Tussauds and Fortnum and Mason’s were all very accommodating. 

So who can I next convince to place a ‘Breastfeeding Welcome’ sticker in their window? Sports Direct Stoke Newington High St here I come. Watch this space. 

Saturday, 12 April 2014

A microblog dedicated quite simply to Strong Women

This week saw Woman’s Hour vote Baroness Doreen Lawrence as no1 game changer for 2014, who since the brutal murder of her son in 1993, where no convictions were made as a direct result of institutional racism in the Metropolitan Police, has tirelessly campaigned  for justice and equality. 

Today I would like to dedicate this blog to another incredibly strong woman who I was privileged to know who, had she not lost her battle with breast cancer in 2008, would be celebrating her birthday today. My friend Karen Watts. If I were to become ill, if I could deal with it with just a fraction of the courage, dignity and fearless defiance she demonstrated on a daily basis then I know that whatever the outcome, like Karen, I would be at peace. I could so easily eulogise about Karen’s beauty and inspirational determination however anyone who was lucky enough to know her will know all of this already. So all I will say is happy birthday Karen, your star still burns bright and reminds us all that time is precious. 

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Comically beyond convention...

So It was only going a matter of time before I wrote something about comic conventions. They are a ludicrously wondrous thing of beauty which, without fail, every time provides me enough material to write a sit-com series, well perhaps not a series but at least one amusing pilot that radically drops off after episode 2. Having just attended the London Super Comic Convention (LSCC) at Excel, last weekend and come away from it thoroughly buzzing from the enthusiasm of the creators I met, I felt like the time to share this vibrance is now (please be prepared for further cliched, comic-book style one liners)

So a quick bit of history, I consider myself very fortunate to have quite an intimate experience of these occasions that spans exactly 10 years starting with Bristol con 2004. Initially I attended on the payroll of a comic publisher (AP Comics) as an irritatingly enthusiastic book seller and then the following year was very fortunate to add comic book writer to my CV. I must confess that I have been riding on the success of this same publication ever since. I’m not complaining, if people still come to conventions and want to buy my book, I will very happily attend to assist in promoting book sales. I hastily add that I have written more books and that they are very much in the pipeline, however, due to various industry constraints the process is just a little slower, although every bit worth waiting for. 

Things have changed though, if you had you asked me about conventions back then, I would have pulled a face. I would have told you that they were just a communion of middle aged men attempting to recapture their youth. I remember seeing children at a convention was a rarity, which felt wrong. The venue should have been infested with gangs of grotty boys chasing a Dennis the Menace mascot, whilst their Dads eyed up the Desperate Dan impersonator who was eating an actual giant cow pie.  I knew that as a young woman attending this testosterone filled and sadly also un air-conditioned event, I was a rare commodity. I recall one bookseller giving me a £2 discount off my Stars Wars trade paperback, £1 for each of my fine breasts. Enough of this though, this isn’t a rant about sexism, I haven’t got time. 

However, more recently thanks to the influx of manga and anime, we now have the delights of cosplay (short for costume play) where mainly kids but delightfully lots of adults too, painstakingly recreate their favourite character’s outfits, wigs, makeup and props to wear to the convention. Never will you see such a stunning array of bespoke costumes, the good, the bad and the frankly blue peter in their efforts. Anyone who is familiar with any manga book knows that the girls wear giant high heels, wear few clothes and carry ginormous weapons and these are slavishly recreated. At a convention you will find yourself queueing for the ladies with Supergirl, Emma Frost, Wonder Woman and Xena: Warrior Princess. You will observe Lara Croft desperately attempting to dislodge the paper mache machine gun rather unfortunately stuck in her tights.

I recall one year at Excel in London, the centre security staff felt the need to repeatedly make the following announcement: ‘As you leave the centre please cover your imitation weapons or you will be arrested' 

One year, Hammer horror star Christopher Lee attended, however to obtain his autograph it was compulsory you purchased a copy of his album of music, that he had conducted. You cannot make this shit up. 

It was the same year I came across the ‘free hug’ phenomenon that involved wearing a sign around your neck that read, you guessed it, ‘free hugs’ and consequently there were lots of strangers having an impromptu cuddle. I remember initially finding it a delight to behold but after being accosted by several individuals of questionable hygiene wanting hugs, the novelty swiftly wore off. 

I witnessed grown men having heated arguments over who would win a fight: Captain America vs Iron Man. Ridiculous. Everyone knows it would be Iron Man, because he’s made of iron obvs!

Last year The Baby Show was running alongside in one of the other exhibition rooms, so there were a barrage of rather confused looking pregnant ladies warily eyeing up the Storm Troopers and Power Rangers attempting a conga line down the central hall way. 

My favourite site is always when an entire family have dressed up. I saw one family that came as The Incredibles in immaculately created costumes. This is just a tiny glimpse of the random beauty you will observe at a comic convention.

So not only has the demographic of comic lovers appropriately widened in terms of age, but also there are lots and lots of WOMEN and not just dressed as Trinity from The Matrix (or was she Cat Woman?) but actual creators, artists, colourists, writers and comic book lovers.

Generally in the UK, comic book sellers and therefore the readers tend to shy away from the brilliant Indy publishers out there favouring Marvel and DC before anything else. However, in this new digital age, talking to some of the artists to finally to hear the words ‘level playing field’ was a breath of fresh air. Finally a real platform to transport some of the incredible British comic book talent is being created via the forums of digital media. 

So now I can tell you with pride about the how comic conventions will always hold a place in my heart, with no face pulling or comments about testosterone levels. I am also pleased to say I have got my hands on some beautiful and innovative new titles which I will be reviewing here soon. Watch this space.

A photo of the turnout for my book signing *tumbleweed*