Sunday, 27 January 2013

Snow in London

I am an Aussie girl, and I love snow. Yes I accept its disruptive, it ices over and causes havoc, but you can't deny, it is pretty. I was down in London for 2 days for work this past week and it was so incredibly busy I didn't have much time for sight seeing, but I did manage some interesting pictures between my apartment and office.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Risk and Rape

I'm not an expert. I'm not a criminologist or a police officer or a barrister. I'm not a philospher or a psychologist. My only qualification for writing about rape is as a survivor. My childhood I have eluded to in this post.

The simple fact is that this wasn't the end. As an adult I have been the victim of rape twice, some six years apart with different offenders.

Today I got involved in some discussion on Twitter following the publication of this article discussing Conservative MP Richard Graham's comments that women are putting themselves at risk by the way they dress, on the back of the awfully misguided comments from Joanna Lumley.

What I find tedious is this:- where is the discussion on men who rape? Where is the discussion on what is appropriate behaviour when they interact with women? Why is the emphasis on women "bringing it on themselves"?Why aren't we talking about what is consent and how we establish  it? Why aren't we asking the hard questions?

When I was 17 I was raped, by a man at university. I was asked to help him with his English which I was more than happy to do and absolutely foolishly agreed to do this in his dormitory room which was near mine. This was stupid. I should have met him at the library, but at 17 I had no experience (apart from my childhood, and had never had any counselling or help with that) had never had a boyfriend, hadn't had my first kiss, I was naive. I still thought rape was something that happened in dark alleys after a drunken night out. Seems some people have not moved on from this naive assumption.

We'd met a few times and everything was fine, he seemed a pleasant chap devoted to learning English and improving his grades, I never had reason to be concerned. Then one day he was different. He was threatening, and he forced me to do things that fall under the definition of rape. I managed to make my escape before it escalated, but under the definition of the legislation, I was raped. But what I didn't do was report it to the police. I did notify the warden of the hall of residence and the tutoring service. Neither of these bodies urged me to go to the police. I didn't understand that rape is rape. I was ashamed and felt that my actions were complicit. I was wrong.  It didn't matter that I was naive and a bit silly.It didn't matter that he was known to me.He took advantage of the situation and he raped me. He shouldn't have done what he did, end of story.

For the record, every time we met I was sober. I didn't wear high heels or short skirts. I wore jumpers and jeans. Even if I'd worn a micro mini with suspenders and high heels and had been drinking copious amounts of white wine, he still would have been in the wrong. Men should not rape women.

Minimising risk is a dangeous conversaton, because it puts the onus back on the woman. The onus of responsibility should be on the man, for that is what the law says. The "Richard Graham rape scenario" is uncommon. Most victims know their attacker. The drunken woman in a short skirt in high heels in a park in the middle of the night isn't when most women will fall foul of a rapist. Discussing what women should wear or drink or how they should behave is a slippery slope.

The law makes it most abundantly clear.

It is not relevant what relationship, if any, a defendant has or had with you. Nor is it relevant if the act complained of occurred within a relationship. If the defendant intentionally penetrates with his penis the vagina, anus or mouth of the complainant without her consent where he does not reasonably believe in her consent the defendant has committed rape.

It also crucially says:

It means that the defendant (A) has the responsibility to ensure that (B) consents to the sexual activity at the time in question. It will be important for the police to ask the offender in interview what steps he took to satisfy him that the complainant consented.
Lets start talking about what rape is and what it isn't, what consent is and what it is not. I don't want to read anything else about high heels, short skirts and behaviour. I think women understand about assessing risk and being careful. What we do need is a discussion about men, about misuse of sexual power and teaching our sons about what is acceptable and not acceptable.

The crime of rape is about the deviant behaviour of the perpetrator, not the victim

Friday, 25 January 2013

You Are Asking For It......Rape

Your skirt is too short.

You are showing too much cleavage.

You've drunk too much.

You danced with the wrong man.

Why in the name of God are we still talking about victims like this? Is it not the 21st century?

Rape is NOT about the victim. The consequences of rape should be about the victim - crucially support, treatment, counselling and effective and real justice, I totally agree.

But rape is about the perpertrator. We need, as a community to start adressing rape. And it starts young. Maybe it's because of my history, but I see every potential young boy as someone who will misuse their sexual power in the future. And they need to learn. And they need to learn from us, the adults in their community about using that power for good.

This post today makes me sad.

At 19 life should be about having fun, wearing your skirts too short, showing a little cleavage, going out and having a life. At 19 I wasn't really having fun. I was settled too early, I was scared of men. I learnt too young that men abuse their sexual power. But I learnt at 5 (though it started earlier)

All my life I have lived both as a survivor, but yes, as a victim. I have been scared to wear the clothes I want, to live the life I want, to experience men without fear. I've felt safe covered in flesh and baggy outfits. I don't want to live like that any more.

I refuse to buy in to these messages about victims. Rape is about some men (and some women). It's about abuse. It's about a power differential.

If you are a woman, think. Think about survivors and think about supporting them in a real way. If you are a man also think. I love this post from James Parkin and urge you to read it too. 

Rape is a responsibility of us all.

Ending sexual violence should be a priority to each and every one of us.


Friday, 11 January 2013

Flowers Bring Happiness - Ten Things my Grandmother Taught Me

My grandmother, Ada May Turner, is my guardian angel. We were close right up until her death at the age of 79. It's only recently I have realised, that she never went away, although she has been gone 21 incredibly long years, the lessons she taught me are priceless, and with me always.

1. Sometimes making someone a cup of tea and presenting a tray of homemade scones is equivalent to therapy. My grandmother always had a teapot ready, and homemade scones were almost a daily occurance. She had a cake for cutting always stashed away.

2. Be kind. No matter what you have been through or going through, kindness is a balm. If we are all kind to one another the world is a happier place. I am often called kind, generous and even amazing, but that has all be taught to me by Nana.

3. No man is worth a woman's tears. It seems funny now but when I was 19 I had a boyfriend who was older than me, 27, he was an astronomer, fascinating, geeky and I thought he was gorgeous. He dressed like Don Johnson in Miami Vice, and I looked up to him so much. He decided to have a fling with my best friend and I found out in a most unpleasant way. I cried many tears over that man. My Nana sent me a letter saying she had done the same at my age, and really he wasn't worth it.

4. That sometimes a good shopping trip, putting on a frock and lippy, makes everything better. My Nana loved going to the shops, she was terrible! She used to buy me lovely dresses, and tops, and used to take me out for lunch. We were best friends!

5. Life is too short to make your own pastry. My nana was a home economics teacher, but she left home economics as she didn't like the way it was taught. She believed that it was fine to use convenience foods. Using a tin of tomato soup as a base for a vegetable soup, making a crust for a pie with ready rolled puff pastry, or using dehydrated onions in a casserole if you were short of time was fine.

6. On the back of this though, life is too short for bad ingredients. My Nana was an amazing baker but used butter, eggs, and lots and lots of elbow grease. She would beat enthusiastically, and make sure her cake batters were perfect. My Nana has spoiled me for madeira cake forever! None tastes like hers.

7. Beauty is nothing to do with how you look. My nana was the most beautiful person in the world. She radiated peace, grace and love. She smelt amazing, of lavender and of baking and of talcum powder. She made the world a better place just by being there. Everyone adored her.

8. That you never really know the power and influence you have had in your life until you are gone. My Nana was a simple countrywoman. She worked on her farm, raised her children, taught in her school, but the influence she had was amazing. Our house was flooded with cars, flowers and letters. Her funeral was packed. My Nana had touched more people than she ever knew.

9.That women can do anything. My mother gave me a book on Australian Prime Ministers one Christmas and said I would be the first woman Prime Minister of Australia. Julia Gillard got their first sadly. But my Nana as much as she was a knitter, a baker and a homemaker was an ardent feminist.

10. Flowers bring happiness. I associate lavender, pansies and bulbs with my Nana. Both she and my grandfather were talented and prolific gardeners. It is no accident that this blog is full of flowers. And this will remain so. Flowers bring happiness.  

Thursday, 10 January 2013

Taking Care of our Treasures

In my life I have received many blessings, but one of the most powerful blessing I have received is that I have been trusted to be a carer, on and off, since I was 15. I started as a volunteer in a nursing home. In my career as a volunteer and paid member of staff I have had many priveleged moments and opportunities. I have held the hand of a 99 year old lady whilst arranging the paperwork for her 100 year telegram from the Queen. I have been with a 96 year old lady in her last days, singing Elvis songs and reading from the Bible to her. I have taken terminally ill children to museums and watched with delight as they have seen a piece of artwork for the first time. I've had hard times too, had pots thrown at me by an irate woman with spina bifida, been kicked in the chest and sustained broken ribs, have at times felt unsupported and undervalued.

The rewards I have received have been immense, and it is with sadness that I approach my last shifts as a carer this week, and move on to my new, equally rewarding role with Bliss. The rewards are not monetary, but I am thankful for the pay I have received over the years, because many people do this, and much harder care tasks for nothing. I never forget that. When I moan about minimum wage I think about the thousands of thousands of people who do this every day with very little support much less pay.

I got into care work because I adore people. I have learnt a lot of skills. Perhaps the hardest thing to learn is when to say "I am not doing this." One of the most valuable people to follow on Twitter, Ermintrude, a social worker and passionate advocate for those whose voice can't always be heard, posted this story yesterday. There is now a further update which can be found here.

Immediately there were tears running down my face. I felt so much for this treasured lady who had given so much in her life. But also, I felt for the two staff, who were inadequately trained placed in a position that was impossible.

I understand economics, I almost have a degree in it. I understand why care homes and home care providers have to pay minimum wage or near as darn it. But I am sorry it's the old adage, if you pay peanuts.....then often you have to pay staff who are inadequate for the task.

Being a carer isn't just wiping bottoms and making cups of tea. The equipment is intricate, and varies so much. Hoisting a person is not the same as using a hoist in a factory or labouring yard.

I think far too much emphasis in "moving and handling" courses is placed on employee safety, which of course, is paramount, but I'd rather 100 carers with bad backs that one 100 year old lady who has died in such tragic circumstances.

For what I have learnt in my years as a carer is this.

a) People are treasures. Sometimes you have to look really hard to see that person's jewel, believe me I know, but each of the people who trusts us is unique and special.

b) Often the things we don't do are more important than the things we do. I have had to walk into a situation, hold my hands up and say "sorry I am not doing this task, its potentially dangerous" and do what we say in Australia "call it out". There is always a safe way but sometimes you have to stop, hush the busyness and reassess.

For sometimes the lives we take care of need us to be still, to think, and to assess. And sometimes doing nothing is the best thing you can do.

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Undateable - Labels Belong on Clothes not People

The Undateables. The second series started last night. I think the Undateables means well, maybe. Presenting people with disabilities in their quest to find lasting love and happiness. But really? Isn't the label "disabled" disabling enough without adding "Undateable" to it?

When I was six my year 2 teacher had concerns. I couldn't catch a tennis ball one handed. I even struggled with a basketball with two hands. I couldn't really run, and climbing just wasn't for me. Never mind the fact I could embroider, read, write stories, no she wasn't interested in that. I got sent to an "assessment centre" for months on end.

The "assessment centre" was, to all intents and purposes, a special school. It was like a holding pen for children that didn't quite fit in, whilst the education system decided what should be done about these misfits. I was labelled. Only back in the 1970s the label wasn't disabled. It was retarded. Fabulous.

I had a young student teacher assigned to be my one to one. I remember one day sitting with my friend in a corner. We were discussing Star Wars, which my grandmother had taken me to see. The time came for us to return to our lessons. I asked my one to one about this boy. She explained he had a condition called muscular dystrophy. She explained that he could walk with help now but one day he would need a wheelchair. She also told me that his muscles were weakening over time, and gently mentioned that it was likely he would die before he got to be very old. She also said not to be sad, and not to treat him any differently to any other person.

My one to one explained the brain wasn't a muscle and he was very clever. She explained that he was just like any other boy, and that I was just like any other girl, and she taught me that I was never to make assumptions about people, or label them. I learnt young and have lived by that ever since. I just don't "see" disability. I see need, clearly some people have specific needs that need support, but I don't see those needs as dis-abling. I certainly wouldn't see that boy as being Undateable.

My husband Corey has a disability. He too struggled to find love. People have a weird perception at times of what disability means. Yes he gets Disability Living Allowance and has an adapted car, but he has a job (do you hear that IDS and your ConDem cohorts) and is a husband and father. He isn't what I would call disabled as such, as much as he has arthrogryposis multiplex congenita.

But he too was considered by some Undateable. It's not helpful.

Surely in the 21st century we should be living beyond labels. Disabled and Undateable. Unhelpful.

Labels belong on clothes not people.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

An Accidental Friendship

One of my favourite ever books is 84 Charing Cross Road. It's like a loveless romance story, a beautiful friendship that develops over correspondence over time and distance. Imagine my surprise that I now find myself somewhat like Helen Hanff in that wonderful book, having a found a friend that I can confide in, laugh with, and chat to.

Too often we can close off to friendship. We can make assumptions, or have biases. We can think, hmm that person is the wrong gender, has a disability, whatever. I have learnt in my life it always pays to keep an open mind and friendship can be a powerful thing. 

On paper/screen we look like unlikely friends, a single, male, somewhat geeky chap and me, a chatty, nutty wife, mother and premmie blogger. Daniel and I "met" on Twitter some time ago, we think it was February 2012. One of the things I like to do on social media is work with charities, and I had been doing some tweeting about Batten disease, and was curious to see what the Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy guys were doing. I found Daniel and was really interested in his blog about his fight with the NHS, I was also interested because he had such a matter of fact way about him, and never made a fuss about his condition. I have met a couple of people with Duchenne and it's no walk in the park.

We got chatting from time to time, and I realised we had quite a lot in common, and Daniel is also blessed with being very calm and objective. He is also very funny too! We started becoming close friends, and he helped me to write my post Jimmy Savile is Dead, and since then has been one of my rocks. My husband has nicknamed him my Twitter husband, my own husband having no interest in blogging or the internet, or anything remotely geeky apart from Star Wars.

Recently Daniel and I met up, I travelled to see him at his home and took Joseph with me, who had a ball. It's very important to me that Joseph gets used to mixing with a range of people. He was most interested in Daniel's ventilator, and asked sensitive questions.

Daniel has changed a lot since we started talking, as have I, and its exciting to see him change, and become more open to new experiences, and getting out there again and grasping all that life has to offer. 

In Daniel's words

I 'met' Kylie earlier this year on Twitter, it was just one of those strange things, we run in totally different circles. She's a Wife, Mother and Premmie/Mummy blogger, I'm a single geek who blogs about health/disabiliy issues or geeky stuff.  Something strange happened though, we started chatting and found we got on great, this evolved and we found out we actually had a lot in common. Eventually around the time she wrote her 'Savile is dead' post I realised how much I really cared for her, despite only ever speaking on Twitter I found I totally trusted her (and her me), we had become best friends!  

Since then she has helped me a lot, with encouragement and just by inspiring me with the way she has coped with her own problems, it's an amazing thing, I am more confident, my panic attacks are more under control and I'm finding new meanings for my life, Kylie is a big part of this change, there are other factors like getting a new wheelchair & having to be in newspaper articles, but she's been there for me throughout and gently encouraged me when I needed it.

We decided last year that we should meet, I hadn't really met anyone off the internet before, it was strange thinking about it but I knew we had too, I'd left meeting a friend too long before and he had sadly died before we had chance. I knew nothing was going to happen to either of us but there was still a fear I'd lose another friend before meeting them.

We met in real life at the beginning of this year, she brought her son Joseph with her and it was great, we spent hours chatting and Joseph was happy playing and talking to me too, if anything it has made our friendship stronger, now when we Tweet I see a person not just an avatar.  I feel so lucky to have become friends with her, I think it's a friendship that will last a long time, hopefully I will meet her husband in the future as well and we can all hang out, me, my best friend and her family.

I hope you have enjoyed our story, and next time you are on Twitter keep your eye out for a new friend!

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

A New Year

Last night we rang in the New Year in typical fashion, in the front room in front of Jools Holland. I've never quite bonded with New Year's Eve in the UK, it doesn't make sense to me! No walking along the Hobart Docks or watching the fireworks from Salamanca. No barbecues in the warm evening watching the sunset. No backyard cricket.

2012 was a really good year for me. It's been about consolidating my work as a blogger, doing more volunteer work, and honing my skills more. It's been about becoming a better mother, and watching my son grow and develop. It's been about working, and keeping our heads above water.

It's also been a year of exorcising demons. I've had counselling and started anti anxiety medication for the third time in my life. This time, instead of aiming to be off in six months, I am looking at 12 months or more, to finally get this under control. I don't want to be controlled by anxiety, neuroses and fear of the ghosts of my past anymore.

2013 is not a year of detailed resolutions or goal setting. My main goal when I started blogging 3 years ago was to get a job in the premature baby sector, and I have achieved that goal. I am so proud to be working for Bliss. Previously my New Year's resolutions have been to lose weight (which is finally happening) and to put Joseph's birth and start behind me. Now I can use our experiences of family life in my new job, which is just so exciting.

My resolution this year is simply to be the best me I can be, and to be kind to myself. I have a lot of hard work ahead of me in my job, establishing a network of volunteers in Manchester. I also have a lot of work at home, to get used to being away from Joseph, establish a new routine and also to work on my marriage more. Corey and I have been ships that pass in the night in 2012, and we need to set aside time together to get the fun back. Often we simply have nothing to talk about.

Also, I really want to improve my knitting and creative skills, and the yarn bomb is a way of making this happen. I am getting so excited about it, and will be working to get others on board with this. I just hope I can make my vision a reality. As nuts as it is!

2013 is going to be an exciting year, and I am going to do my best to make the most of every opportunity that comes my way.