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Instructions for … a weather experts’ brainwave?

Having recently read Instructions for a Heatwave and seeing that the Met. Office is holding an ’emergency’ meeting to discuss climate change, I have been reminiscing about the summers we used to have.

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The Met. Office hopes that putting 20 weather experts in a room together will enable them to establish ‘new research priorities’ which will in turn help discover what is behind the last three years’ ‘unusual’ (read: weird, depressing) weather patterns.

Which will tell us … what, exactly?

What’s going to happen in the next 3 years? 10 years? Century?

ay_112384617We still don’t know for absolute sure that climate change is behind all this, though it seems fairly likely. What’s certain is that the weather in the UK we grew up with is fast becoming a distant memory. Last week, I saw year 8s huddled together at the bus stop in the rain, wearing ski jackets. In June. Lisi Reynolds’ mammatus storm has nothing on our recent real-life weather patterns.

Winters were cold: some snow, but not five months of freezing temperatures. Long, hot summers at school meant rolling socks down and skirts up; ice lollies on the way home; sunburn from a day at the beach. They were proper holidays. Now (pun alert), let alone having Four Seasons, will we ever even see another summer Holiday Inn?

I hope the Met. Office’s meeting agenda has clear instructions – not just for its discussion objectives but also preferably, a long overdue heatwave.

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South West Trains back on track with Mums To Be

God knows there are enough acronyms and abbreviations involved in pregnancy. NCT, IVF, PG, UTI (ok, TMI …) And trying to understand some of them is, I’m finding, a complete waste of time.

But not only has my MATB1 form (the certificate designed to enable a pregnant woman to claim statutory maternity pay – SMP – from her employer) enabled me to prove to my place of work I am pregnant, it has allowed me to show South West Trains that I am eligible for its Mums To Be scheme whereby expectant mothers holding a season ticket can upgrade to First Class – when there are no seats available in standard class – at no extra cost.imgres-20

It’s a good wheeze. Women currently make up 46% of the UK work force, and with 85% of them likely to become pregnant whilst at work and more and more people moving out of the capital due to the increasing impossibilities of owning or even renting property, after a winter of frankly unacceptable delays and diversions, in my opinion, the rail company has hit on an initiative to endear itself to at least some of its passengers.

What it means for me practically, is being swept leisurely into the dark blue carriage at 6.48am each morning with men in dark suits (it is 90% men) who either snore or chortle at recordings of Top Gear on their laptops. I am alone in my double seat space until a couple of stops later, when even first class is full. I can read the Metro, drink coffee, eat a banana, read, write … but most importantly, I GET A SEAT. And with an ever-growing stomach and a journey of over an hour, a seat on the train is now sort of vital.

The scheme comes into its own on the afternoon commute. Whichever train leaves London for my stop between 5pm and 8pm it is bound to be packed. Yet I don’t have to sprint down the platform peering through carriage windows for a squeezable-into spot. I may not get double seat to myself in first class, but I still GET A SEAT.

Thank you South West Trains: you’ve reached a new platform with this initiative. I am a grateful Mum To Be. Not least because you didn’t choose to call it ‘Mums 2 B’. I might have railed against it then.

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International women’s (holi)day

To me, holidaying alone is a luxury – and not at all scary.

Admittedly, my husband’s ski trip with friends and the fact that two of the five days are spent travelling to my destination and back casts an arguably less ‘selfish’ light on the whole thing; nevertheless, it feels indulgent and, to others, it seems, ‘risky’.

But why? I made the decision mainly because it will probably be the last time in a very, very long time that I am url-1able to do this: to just ‘go’. I work full time, commute for four hours a day, have wonderful friends, family and dog … but I needed a break and wanted some sun. Those who know me well know that I like my own company. Yet still I feel guilty and faintly ‘weird’ about this time away. I’m not antisocial. It wasn’t that I couldn’t find people to go away with. The facts are I’m 35, married, pregnant and just decided to take five days to spend on my own.

Yesterday was international Women’s Day. As I see it, I am doing my bit. I find it interesting that I have male friends who have holidayed alone and no-one bats an eyelid. And it’s true that my husband, family and friends have been completely supportive, if a little nervous because I know they care about me. But there are others who have been positively disapproving.

And that’s the issue, I guess. You could argue that it’s a bit stupid of me to go out to a country by myself, five months pregnant, knowing no-one. You may argue I am being oversensitive and totally out of line even writing this post. But if I’m not worried, why should anyone else be? I haven’t got drunk, been out at night or taken any ‘risks’. Which is more than many men would have done, I am sure.

I have always been wary of awareness-raising dates. It seems to me that to bring attention to something can act as a red flag to those intent on slating it. It’s been as surprising to me that some people have been disapproving of my holiday decision as it has to see a number of status updates on Facebook yesterday from supposedly enlightened males. If I wasn’t away from home and being an international woman myself at the moment, I’d offer them some enlightenment and lamp them.

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Making sense of mental health: Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar

Sylvia Plath has a lot to answer for. Having studied Ariel aged 15, I read The Bell Jar in the summer holidays and was never quite the same again. It taught me the word ‘cadaver’; the important divide between those who had slept with someone and those who hadn’t and, most importantly, how depression felt.

imgres-17And, whilst the world rages about Faber’s new cover and mourns SP’s death 50 years ago, the real point, I think, is to celebrate the book’s depiction of lonely youth and mental illness.imgres-16

For me, Esther Greenwood’s suffocation in New York city, despite her outward appearance of ‘having it all’ was the first time the idea of ‘living the dream’ had been questioned, put on the firing line and shot. The idea that young women who work hard to be a success and get there might feel anything but ‘steering the city like (their) own private car’ was a revelation … and massively reassuring.

Soon after The Bell Jar, I read Margaret Atwood’s The Edible Woman and compared them for ‘A’ Level. Their dark maturity and sense have stayed with me ever since; The Bell Jar especially helping me through three periods of depression and even though this post is, admittedly, languishing on the side of personal indulgence, it’s hard not to take The Bell Jar personally. That’s its beauty. imgres-15

Whether the author’s biography overshadows the book or whether the new cover is pink (it’s actually fuschia) or not doesn’t matter. What’s important is that, in a world where I fear bell jars hang in greater numbers than ever before, today’s young adults discover The Bell Jar for themselves.

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Why Kate Middleton means sun for 2013

Those people who know me well will know also that I love Kate Middleton.

And I can’t fully explain why. Although I tried valiantly to do so to my brother at Christmas, the best I could come up with was that a) she’s the eldest sibling of three: two girls and a boy (like me), b) she loves dogs (like me) and c) she seems like a really nice person (I’ll leave the next bit blank). Hardly compelling reasons for what has grown, over 2012, to be an almost embarrassingly intense obsession.

imgres-13I have followed her wardrobe, nudity scandal and pregnancy sickness like Lupo sniffing out sausages at a children’s bazaar in Mayfield. I am a daily reader of WhatKateWore.com. For my work hen do this summer, my colleagues ran a ‘Kate quiz’ for me. Quite apart from the usual trivia, I know that the latest sighting has been of Kate buying a packet of mini cheddars at a petrol station in Buckinghamshire. I know that she is craving lavender shortbread and scones with cream and jam.

But as the year draws to a close (and what a year it’s been for us both), I will enter imgres-142013 defending my obsession ferociously. After twelve months of a wholly miserable UK climate – economical and environmental – Kate, together with the Olympics and Wiggo, have been rays of sunshine for us all.

I hope 2013 brings sun this summer. No doubt for Kate it will (either that, or a daughter).

Happy New Year’s Eve everyone.

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Banks’ swindles = kids’ Kindles?

Anthony Horowitz wants every child in the UK to be given a Kindle for free, using money from fines imposed on banks.

And as much as I am a fan of the paper and hardback, with ebooks outselling print on Amazon for the first time this year (100 to 114 as of August), it’s clear. E-reading technology is the future.

Unfortunately, it’s unclear whether our government agrees. According to Horowitz, when presented with the plan, Nick Gibb, then schools minister, did not bother to acknowledge it with so much as a “two line ‘thank you, go away’ note afterwards.”

In his proposal, among other things, Horowitz calls for silent reading in classrooms. As a classroom teacher of English, I remember only too well a couple of years ago being tasked with enforcing this at the start of each lesson: a sorry challenge, usually met by most with a muted groan because it was another book they’d had to lug around and always with the handful of surly year 8s who misplaced/never had books and so ended up with torn copies of year 11 texts to flick through for ten minutes. Hardly a way of inspiring children to read.

Free Kindles would change this. Choice for readers would be, arguably, limitless (for argument’s sake, I am assuming bankers’ errors could stretch to a library of ebooks).

Feedback from readers on community sites such as Goodreads is instantaneous, passionate and more importantly, two-way with authors. There is a new class of readers and they are young. They want to be enthused and inspired by books. There are amazing things happening to encourage reading in schools RIGHT NOW – and Horowitz’s wheeze is another one. The Evening Standard’s Get Reading Campaign has raised almost half a million pounds for volunteer readers to go into schools and help children who may struggle with the basics.

The London Festival of Education on November 17th will see Horowitz talk about his proposals and I hope the DfE might have had time to do some silent reading of their own by then.