Friday, 20 December 2013

How I feel about Christmas

I'll try and keep this as un-Liz-Jones-like as possible.

A rather fuzzy picture of our tree
I love Christmas. I really do. I'm like a child, almost everything about it excites me - the food, the tree, the fairy-lights, the cheesy films. Mainly the food and the fact that it's ok to start drinking at 11am, but most of it gives me a warm, fuzzy feeling.

I think this is mostly because the Christmases of my childhood were epic. They lasted for weeks, or so it seemed. I lived with my grandmother for the first few years of my life, and even when I was with my mum and stepdad, I still spent most of the school holidays with Gran. She made two Christmas puddings and a huge breeze-block of a Christmas cake every year, and helping her ice it was my job. She wrote dozens of cards, and received dozens back - they'd be hung on string along every wall downstairs, and then we'd run out of room and have to start putting them upstairs. In the last few days before the 25th, she'd drive pretty much all over West Sussex, delivering presents and cards to friends and family. On the day itself, she'd cook one huge turkey, or sometimes two slightly smaller ones, in her trusty Aga (God, I miss that Aga), and there would be at least twelve of us sitting down to lunch. Invariably someone would have to have theirs on their lap, armchair pulled as close to 'the Big Table' as possible.

In the afternoon, we'd open presents - except for my grandfather, who'd be incredibly uninterested in his, and finally get around to opening them in February - and perhaps try and play a game of Scrabble or Monopoly. In fact, about the only thing that did get a response from Gramps was if someone tried to fish the coffee creams out of the Quality Street (I don't think they still do them). That someone was invariably me.

The evening would always find Gran in the kitchen, making people sandwiches with cold turkey or ham, regardless of whether they were hungry or not. She and her younger brother would start on the gin, and that would start them arguing, or energetically 'debating' politics. I always joined them - that's where the ham and cheese were - and sometimes when I'm tipsily debating current affairs with my friends now, I can see exactly where I came from.

So yeah. Those Christmases were brilliant.

Now of course, it's different. A year passes slightly quicker, so it's not such an event - more "oh, it's Christmas again". I've said before that I'm definitely a winter person, so I still have a certain fondness for this twinkly, red-and-gold time of year. I have mixed feelings about it now though - Gran is, naturally, too elderly to be hosting guests and cooking for twelve, and Gramps has been gone nearly ten years. For I think what might be the first time ever, it's just going to be me, the parents and the siblings this year. The last few years, we've had Gran, my aunt and my uncle to ours, but this year, it's just us. In theory, this should mean my mother won't have a stress-induced psychotic break in the kitchen at 11am on Christmas morning - but I know her better than that. In theory, I should be looking forward to it - but as we've never been the kind of family that actually does things together, I don't know how it's going to go. When friends tell me they have plans with their families over Easter, for example, I find myself trying not to look at them as though they're utterly mad. The sheer amount of family-related things most people do over Christmas also baffles me - not because I don't understand that half the point of Christmas is being with one's family, but because the five of us are all so, so different, and rarely do anything as a group. Being with someone who's got four siblings and is part of a very close family makes me both jealous and claustrophobic. (I should note here that his family have never been anything but absolutely wonderful to me.)

On the other hand, though, the idea of being separated from loved ones at this time of year is horrible. I can't imagine being in a long-distance relationship, for instance, or having a relative in the Forces. It must be spectacularly difficult to be parted from those you love at this time, because Christmas brings with it the almost unfightable urge to return 'home'.

I'm quite looking forward to the time when I can look at the Boy in about October and go "OK, where are we spending Christmas this year?" That's going to be good. (And if he ever says "The Maldives, with no-one we're related to" then BONUS POINTS FOR HIM.)

The only Christmas song there is.

I also really want you to hear Thea Gilmore's version of 'The St Stephen's Day Murders', because it's another cracking Christmas song, but I can't find a decent video, so Google is your friend here, I'm afraid.

Monday, 9 December 2013

Girl problems

What's wrong with this poster?
So this is festive.

I wrote about sex & relationship education relatively recently, but in the last week or two, I've stumbled across a couple of articles that only reinforce the worry that our whole attitude to teaching young people about relationships is dangerously out-of-touch. Firstly, there was this, which was found by the Boy when he was doing his thing of reading the headlines on the BBC app on my phone while waiting for me to finish taking my face off and come to bed. As you'll notice, only one of those letters is addressed to a boy.

And last Sunday, the UK media's official troll, the Daily Mail, ran this feature. If you can't be bothered to read it - or as is more likely, you don't want to give them the page-views - I'll summarise: two American women have founded a 'workshop programme' called TRAAP (Teenage Rape Awareness and Prevention), and they're visiting schools over here to talk about sexual violence and personal safety. Here's a couple of quotes from the founders: "[We] want to make things a little bit easier by telling [girls] that it’s always OK to say 'no', whether it’s to a date who’s being too pushy, or a boyfriend who wants you to do things you’re not comfortable with, or a creepy guy at a party..." and: "we don’t want our daughters – or you – to make the mistakes that we did and our friends did". 

You know what? If there is a problem with sexual violence among teenagers, if there is a problem surrounding the issue of consent - and I can believe there is, having been a teenage girl once and having had to explain through gritted teeth that "no" means "stop, and get the hell off" - then women like this are PART OF THAT PROBLEM. Women like this aren't changing things for the better, they're perpetuating them. Why? Because all the time girls are targeted as the gate-keepers, the ones who must be in control, say no, protect themselves, it's not a boy problem.

Newsflash: it's a fucking human problem. (Or, if we're going to be crude, a human fucking problem.) 
By framing the discussion in these terms - by saying girls must protect themselves from pushy, sexually aggressive boys - the underlying assumptions are that a) everyone is heterosexual, and b) it's always going to be that way round - that boys are the aggressors and girls must fend them off. Those assumptions aren't applicable to everyone, so we need to stop using them. Furthermore, by telling girls that they're the responsible ones, that the onus is on them to stop bad stuff happening, you take all the fun out of the good stuff. Sex stops being something glorious and experimental and guaranteed to give you a dose of the warm fuzzies and starts being something that has all the joy of a nasty dental procedure.

Taking this approach - and, while we're here, separating boys and girls for sex education - immediately sends out the message that there are secrets to keep, things not to be shared. That sex isn't a collaborative thing. That our bodies are weird and do weird things and that no matter what, we should protect the opposite sex from that. I get that kids are separated for those lessons to spare everyone's giggles and blushes, but it's a short-term decision that has long-term effects. What would be the harm in teaching everyone everything?

The pressure needs to be taken off girls. So much so-called 'helpful' advice is directed at them - be safe online, be safe with your phone, and most insultingly, be safe if you're out alone at night. Why is that insulting? Because it assumes, wrongly again, that most rapes and sexual crimes are committed by strangers. Newsflash #2: the majority of them are committed by someone known to the victim, someone with whom they have been, or are in a relationship. There's no excuse for not knowing that now; the stats on that one have been out there for a long time.

It's quite simple: respect each other. Be considerate. It's boring but it's true - do unto others as you would have them do to you. Just be nice. Don't be a dick. You're going to be a lot happier that way.

The only explanation I've got for having paid actual money for this track is that it's been a very hormonal week, so I've been more susceptible to floppy-haired boys who write sentimental songs (it is quite cute though).

I'll redeem myself  with this one.