Friday, 20 June 2014

Can Sports Direct command respect? Stoke Newington branch certainly can!

So having had a slight hiccup in childcare arrangements my quest to convince my local branch of Sports Direct to become breastfeeding welcome was temporarily and frustratingly on pause. However, I am pleased to report that on the 22nd May I finally collared the manager of my local branch, having already left my number and email address on my previous visit (which I wrote about HERE) and heard nothing. I couldn’t help feel deflated when I asked if the Assistant Manager had passed on the breastfeeding welcome pack I left for him and he just looked at me blankly. Fortunately I expected it to have been ‘misplaced’ and so swiftly presented him with another one. He apologetically explained that he hadn’t spoken to the Assistant Manager as they had recently been working across 2 stores and he had barely seen her. 

So off I went again, with my spiel explaining the bad press Sports Direct had received regarding an incident where a mother was ordered out of one of their stores for feeding her baby (click HERE if you would like reminding). I can honestly say I was stunned by his response. ‘Women breastfeed in here all the time, there was a lady here a few hours ago feeding her baby. We are fine with customers breastfeeding’ I wasn’t expecting that. I asked him if he was happy for that to go on record along with his name and he said absolutely. 

So Lorenzo, Manager of Sports Direct Stoke Newington I salute you. I then asked if I could sign his branch up to the breastfeeding welcome scheme but he said he would have to check with head office and he’d come back to me. I am yet to hear back from Lorenzo and am not overly optimistic but I can certainly log this as a small but positive move in normalising the basic act of giving your baby food, whilst possibly browsing trainers and/or sportswear. I’ll keep be catching up with Lorenzo in a couple of weeks, do watch this space. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A few little gems from the Stoke Newington Literary Festival

As someone who has totally embraced the phenomenon of listening to book readings whilst consuming cider since Latitude 2006, it was with great delight I attended to the annual Stoke Newington Literary festival last weekend. Having been a regular here since moving to Stokey in 2011 (apart from 2012 where possibly ill judged scheduling meant  it clashed with the jubilee celebrations), I have a shopping list of delightful experiences: witnessing David Walliams doing an impression of Wonder Woman; Howard Marks apologetically explaining why he couldn’t bring himself to jeopardise the future of the festival by sparking up a spliff on the stage of the town hall; Irvine Welsh being asked why exactly he’d chosen to do such an agonisingly long reading (I am paraphrasing but it was agony); Cailtin Moran and Suzanne Moore pausing mid interview to order more gin and tonics and Cleo Rocos talking about the time when she teamed up with Kenny Everett and Freddie Mercury to smuggle Princess Di into their local gay bar.

This year did not fail to disappoint. The first talk featured Laura Bates, creator of the Everyday Sexism Project accompanied by journalists Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Cosslett of ‘The Vagenda’ (humorously targeting the media’s portrayal of women) located within the Unitarian Chapel on Newington Green. It’s not often you can attend a talk on feminism sitting beneath a plaque declaring that your seat once held the derriere of Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of British feminism  (oh alright I wasn’t directly under the plaque, I didn’t get there early enough). 

So what can I share here that I think you would appreciate that doesn’t involve me going off on a (hopefully) well informed rant? Well, my question was 'do palatable glossy magazines written for women, by women, exist without lecturing you on diets and bashing celebrities?' Apparently so. ‘In Style’ magazine has pledged not to criticise celebrity looks nor will they feature any diets. Likewise the Vagenda girls also confirmed they had consulted with Editors of Elle magazine about how they could positively promote feminism. Also the #everydaysexism project which so far has received in excess of 60,000 accounts of ‘everyday sexism’ detailed on their website and twitter feed, has resulted in Laura now being able to take her campaign to schools and universities, contributing to the retraining of 2,000 British Transport police officers and raising the reporting of incidents by more than 25 per cent. Not to mention Laura being the youngest member listed on this years Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Game Changer Power list.  

From feminism and onto the Miner’s Strike where Owen Jones interviewed Seumas Milne about the shocking persecution of the striking minors by MI5. A talk which could have quite easily have been the chilling premise of a Spy thriller blockbuster rather than real live events instigated by a Western, ‘democratic’ government. I learned how at the time the BBC, unable to show footage of the Police attacking the peacefully protesting minors, broadcast this film backwards, to show the Miners attacking the Police, amongst numerous other injustices.

A few other quick gems include: Joanne Harris, author of ‘Chocolat’ among other titles, who regularly tweets her short stories to her followers; food writer and Times Journalist Rachel Cooke expounding the wonders of salad cream and apparently the best recipe for this retro-condiment was created by chef Simon Hopkinson. She is also an authority on incredible women from the 1950s including raleigh car driver Sheila Van Damme, who was faster than Stirling Moss; festival ‘headliner’ Lynn Barber talked about when she tackled Jimmy Saville about the rumours about him liking little girls and her being blacklisted by Hollywood as a result of a disastrous interview with actor Nick Nolte; A L Kennedy having to hastily change her choice short story about an experience in a sex shop because at the last moment an apologetic mother in the audience piped up that it might not be suitable for her young daughter sitting next to her.

The highlight for me though was Professor Tanya Byron who, years ago, presented the BBC’s earlier version of Supernanny: ‘The House of Tiny Tearaways’ and is now a leading expert in adolescent psychology. When she was asked, as a mother of 2 teenagers, if she had amazingly behaved children, she recounted an occasion when, at the height of her TV fame, she found herself being recognised in a busy coffee shop at the precise moment her 3 year old son descended into an uncontrollably riotous tantrum that involved him rolling around on the floor. Her solution to this was provided by her friend who offered to briefly claim ownership of her son whilst she made her escape, which of course she accepted. Was it reassurance that when it comes to parenting even the experts get it wrong that made me feel better? Possibly. 

My Stokey Litfest 2014 reading list 

Everyday Sexism - Laura Bates
The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media - Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Cosslett
The Skeleton Cupboard - Tanya Byron
We Made a Garden - Margery Fish
The Enemy Within - Seumas Milne
On Writing - A L Kennedy
Instyle magazine
‘Kitchen essays’ - Agnes Jekyll 
'Plats Du Jour' - Patience Gray

Thursday, 5 June 2014

A review of Gill Hornby's 'The Hive' - courtesy of Mumsnet

I was given a complimentary copy of ‘The Hive’ by Gill Hornby to review for Mumsnet. There is one spoiler here in the 5th paragraph however, I do give you a warning that it's coming. 

So to summarise the story an extract from the back cover: ‘Welcome to St Ambrose Primary School. A world of friendships, fights and feuding. And that’s just the mothers’. Maria Semple said ‘If you loved Bridget Jones’s Diary, The Hive is the book for you’ 'Well I don’t mind saying that I loved Bridget Jones - as a character her bumbling self deprecation made her instantly likeable - so I looked forward to getting stuck in.'

The first hook for me was the beautiful little early twist in the story where the first few pages appear to be describing a couple of school girls in the playground however it swiftly transpires to actually be about the mothers. This was a great little touch that I thought boded well for the rest of the story. Sadly I was disappointed. As we follow the politics of the small group of mums we witness their crumbling allegiance to their Queen Bee (who’s name is Bea). However, I failed to understand how Bea achieved her Goddess-like status in the first place as she was openly and abruptly unpleasant.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all bad and there were some amusing moments: Georgie, desperate to tidy her kitchen shovels her family’s breakfast wreckage swiftly into her dishwasher; to impress her status as chief organiser of a car boot sale, Bea wears a headset. There is also a pleasing commentary of the functions of an actual bee hive that crops up throughout the book, from Rachel’s bee keeping mother. There are numerous appealingly insightful and often heartwarming observations but frustratingly not much in the way of a plot to knit these all together (‘Heather was a tea cup, life was the storm’)

Ironically when writing this review I felt like a teacher summing up the story as having 'so much potential yet poorly executed'.  There were so many opportunities that weren’t explored and some horrific life changing events the characters experienced that were simply glossed over. These notable events (I won’t spoil) are shown little respect as they are simply shoe horned awkwardly in around a group of unconvincing and distinctly unlikeable characters.

Spoiler alert in this next sentence. I was extremely dissatisfied that whilst it was fitting that our Queen Bea met her demise part of this included her gaining weight. I’m not sure what Gill Hornby was trying to articulate here but for me I found it stereotypical and frankly unimaginatively shallow. 

I’m sure it was written with a lazy beach holiday in mind as it's swift and untaxing read. However, if I am being honest if I wasn’t given this book to review, I’m sorry to say, I wouldn’t have finished it.