7 Dec 2013

Feminism Is Not A Bad Thing

Hello, I have a vagina. I identify as female. I'm heterosexual. I'm a mother of two. I gave up work to look after my children. I live with my male partner, who is the main breadwinner. I have been married. I dye my hair. I shave my legs and armpits. I wear a bra.
And I am unequivocally feminist.

Women comprise about half the population of the world. Women come in all races, all sizes, all sexualities, all manner of gender identity. Women are all different - there is no overarching definition of womanhood. However, there are certain scions of society that believe women come in two types:

Now, regardless of your gender, you can probably appreciate that ideologies come in many different degrees. Nobody rational would say someone whose politics fall centre left is a Maoist. Nobody rational would say someone who supports the Conservative party are neo-Nazis. Nobody rational would say all Muslims are terrorists, or all Christians are Westboro Baptists. But plenty of usually rational people think feminism means extremism.
"Feminists don't want me to wear pink." "Feminists want me to be a hairy beast." "Feminists want me to suffer in childbirth." "Feminists hate men." "Feminist are all ugly lesbians." "Feminists abhor beauty."

Erm. No. Feminists want women to be on an equal standing as men. And that's not happened yet.

Radical feminism has been responsible, among other social factors, for revolutions in women's rights. It is difficult to fathom for young women now JUST HOW MUCH has changed in relatively recent years. Fifty years ago, the contraceptive pill was only available to married women. Abortion was illegal. Women were expected to give up work on marrying in order to have children. Thirty five years ago, illegitimacy made a young mother a social pariah. Twenty five years ago, marital rape was legal. Domestic violence against women was seen as a waste of police time well into the 1990s. Equal pay, despite being legislated for since 1970, is still widely ignored - indeed, Wimbledon didn't start paying equal prize money until 2007.

Women are regularly discriminated against, due to likelihood of pregnancy, by employers. This is becoming more of a problem as jobs demand increases. Personally, I was passed over for promotion to a salaried managerial role because I was engaged. Realising that work were unlikely to give me any job opportunities while I remained a pregnancy risk, I went ahead and had my children, with the rationale that when they were older, I'd still be young enough to establish a career. Five years on, I hope that's true.
In the UK, women are fortunate to have the reproductive rights they do, although many would argue that they are still too restrictive. In the US, supposedly the most developed country in the world, states deny women abortions. The same states also deny any sort of financial support to women raising these unwanted children. The lack of women's rights in less developed countries is highlighted as an action point by the US, while they simultaneously enact misogynist policies.

Look at our government. 508 male MPs, versus 147 female MPs. This is a country that considers women to be equal with men, yet they constitute just 22% of our government. We have a country that is so concerned that female doctors will outnumber male doctors in a few years that the DoH has recommended an emergency policy. And why is this a problem? Because despite this so-called equality, women are still expected to do the bulk of childcare, and when a child is sick, the childminder/nursery/school/nanny can't help. Despite this equality, women still do more housework than men, regardless of their working status. My marriage was not the finest in the world, and not a perfect example, but it was expected of me to do the majority of the housework, even when working full time, because I worked slightly less hours than my ex husband. Once my eldest was born, I was expected to do ALL the housework, ALL the childcare AND work part time. I mean, this was a man who cited my lack of doing the washing up as a reason for adultery, but I don't think his expectation of women is uncommon.

Then there is the aspect that seems to divide feminists and anti-feminists most deeply: makeup, hair dye, pink toys, youth.
The simple truth is that this is ACTUALLY a problem. Professor Mary Beard is a stunningly intelligent woman, a professor at a major university, with a real art for presenting history programmes. And people HATE her because she has the TEMERITY to turn up on TV screens with white hair. People threatened to kill her for daring to exist in a form she was comfortable with. Women, mainly those in the public eye, are expected to maintain their youth regardless of their actual age. When was the last time you saw a female presenter over 45 on your screens, that actually LOOKED her age? Ageism is a constant row in the media, but really it's a argument of sexism. Women are simply expected to remain young. If men don't, that's fine - they're silver foxes or distinguished. But a white haired woman on TV is worthy of death threats.
In the Early Learning Centre, which is normally pretty fair on gendering of toys, the doctor's kit comes in blue, but the nurse's kit comes in red or pink. The doctor's outfit is white and blue, but you can also have a pink nurse's outfit. The idea that men = doctors, women = nurses is so deeply ingrained in our collective consciousness (despite evidence to the contrary) that its pervading children's toys.
Some women wear makeup. Personally, I don't, for all kinds of reasons - chiefly, I shouldn't have to create a mirage image to be socially acceptable - but I'm not against people who DO. I'm very against the media message that women MUST wear makeup; that pimples or imperfections are crimes against humanity; that only the beautiful are capable of personal relationships. THAT is worth fighting against. I dye my hair because I like it red instead of dirty blonde, not because I'm FIGHTING THE SIGNS OF AGEING. My self worth is based around more than what I look like, but due to the media pushing perfection as standard, millions of women feel very differently. Men, however, just need Lynx to get women. Nothing oozes sex appeal like smelling of teenager-on-a-date.
The ideal size for women varies vastly with the fashion. A few years ago, the trend was for stick thin women, now it's for stick thin women with big boobs. Fifty years ago, curves were sexy. The fact that this is all a media illusion, and that personality will win out over looks 70% of the time, is irrelevant. Women suffer from body dysmorphia from a ridiculously young age, and again, it's because the media push perfection from childhood. Barbie may seem innocuous enough, but when her utterly unrealistic and anatomically impossible form becomes the target size of a young girl, things are seriously wrong. Fat is seen as universally Evil: unattractive, with connotations of sloth, of greed, ill health and poverty. Again, it is mainly women who suffer from this portrayal. Men don't usually struggle to buy clothes in larger sizes. Women are faced with dress racks in size 6-12, with a small 'fat' section at the back, for those in sizes 14+. Petite clothing far exceeds tall clothing, because small is feminine, and tall is EVIL. I speak from the point of view of a tall (175cm) woman who is also a size 18 - buying clothes is an absolute nightmare. Most shops which list sizes as S M and L consider L a 12. A size 12 is not large.

All this considered, all these ways in society in which women are made to loathe themselves, in which women are given less opportunities than men, in which women are punished for a solitary chromosome, is feminism REALLY that abhorrent a concept?

I leave you with something to think about. The majority of women menstruate from the age of around 12 until they are in middle age. I spend a quarter of the year, on average, bleeding. This will work out to about nine years of my life - quite a substantial amount of time. Historically, this has been used as an excuse to call women feeble, incapable and inadequate. However, I think society has now reached a point where menstruation is no longer a vile symptom of feminine weakness.
So tell me, in our equal society, where women have no need to be feminist because everything is so wonderful, why are sanitary products taxed as a luxury?

27 Nov 2013

A follow up post

Eleven months ago, I wrote this entry in response to Ian Watkins of Lostprophets fame being charged with numerous awful sex crimes.
I was concerned with the overwhelming response to the allegations, which was one of disbelief, because paedophiles are supposed to be hideous, obvious monsters. Someone good looking, and young could not have done this. I was concerned that this superficial interpretation of innocence can be very damaging. Ted Bundy was a good looking man. There is no portrait of a monster, and fame is no guarantee of good intentions.

Yesterday, he pleaded guilty to all 13 charges. The reports from the courtroom are horrendous, and I am deeply glad that the full gamut of evidence will never be heard in open court. No juror deserves that. What is more disgusting in many ways is that he persuaded his fans - young mothers - to abuse their own babies, and give them to him to abuse. This is no way exonerates them from guilt, but for him to manipulate his fame in such a deeply depraved way is horrific. It adds another layer to the unspeakable savagery.

Lostprophets are tainted forever. I doubt I will ever listen to their music again, and this isn't some sort of stand against his crime. I'm aware that it won't change anything, but it is borne of a genuine revulsion. There are depths we hope humanity won't plumb, taboos that we hope won't be broken, and he has broken them.

He will be sentenced on 18th December.

12 Nov 2013

Milk Money

British women have a poor rate of breastfeeding, one of the lowest in Europe. Breastfeeding is generally a Good Thing, providing total nutrition and some immunity to small babies. However, we now live in a culture where women of reproductive age are often working and pressured by necessity to return to work after giving birth; where breasts are largely seen as obscene sex melons; and where formula feeding is marketed as a magical solution to a happy baby.

Breastfeeding is not easy to establish. Very few women are genuinely physically incapable of breastfeeding. However feeding through the early weeks where it hurts, where your baby may be latching wrong and before milk supply is fully established is bloody hard. And there is shockingly little support available to women who struggle. My sister in law had problems latching her first baby, due to flat nipples and a tiny baby mouth. The midwives could only suggest she continued to express and bottle feed her baby. However, my sister in law didn't give up, and managed (after about five days) to successfully feed her daughter. She has had no problems since, but many women feeling awful after giving birth, with very little support and with the constant Magic Cure of formula on offer would give up.
And who can blame them? Giving birth, especially for the first time, is a huge bodyshock, leaving women feeling vulnerable, sore and disjointed. Breastfeeding publicly can be a matter of some embarrassment, even in front of family members. Facebook deletes photos of breastfeeding mothers as obscene. Women don't remember seeing their own mothers breastfeed. Some women perceive breastfeedng as physically repulsive, and don't want to do it. That is the world we live in.

So, the government has come up with a great idea(!) Why not PAY women to breastfeed? Up to £200 in vouchers are available, if you feed til 6 months, in increments. They can't be used on formula, but other than that there's absolutely no way of checking the women in receipt of it are actually breastfeeding, except trusting to the word of a midwife. Midwives stop seeing most new mothers within two weeks of birth. How many of them are actually going to have time to confirm their client is still breastfeeding?
How about, instead of bribing women to breastfeed (or pretend to breastfeed), the money be invested in better support? The most support I got when establishing feeding with my eldest was a booklet from the NCT, which is a charity. The NHS provided support amounted to having my baby shoved head first onto the boob. It's not the midwives fault - they don't have the staffing to provide the time. Sometimes, all a new mother needs is someone to sit and watch them feed, offering reassurance, for an hour.
How about the money be invested in better education? Women are led to believe that breastfeeding is one constant arc of rainbows. There's no education about how to know whether the baby's getting enough, when latching is wrong, what cluster feeding is and how to work with it, how to ease sore boobs, when how to recognise mastitis. It's currently left to trial and error, or personal research, and not knowing makes a new mother feel abandoned, confused and failing.
How about investing in making breastfeeding culturally normal? No woman should feel like they have to go and hide in a toilet to feed their baby. No woman should panic-wean as returning to work looms around the corner. We see women give birth in screaming agony in soap operas, but there's no follow up of a woman weepily feeding a child in her pajamas three days later (unless she's got postnatal depression, or some other plot device). Feeding babies is culturally invisible, even though all babies need feeding at very frequent intervals, by some means.

A breastfeeding incentive amounts to large amount of spending, for very little reward. The money could be usefully invested in so many other places, with the aim of increasing breastfeeding rates. This is an excellent example of throwing money at a problem rather than treating the root of it. The only positive point I can see is that, if a midwife needs to continue her relationship with the mother for longer than normal to ensure the money is given correctly, women might actually start getting better postnatal support.

PS: This is not an attack on formula feeding, but on the way breastfeeding has become culturally marginalised, or at the extreme, reviled, and how it will take more than a cash incentive to fix that. You feed your baby how you see fit.

3 Nov 2013

The Juggler

So, I'm now a month into the year, and I've just submitted my first TMA of 9. NINE! My next one's due in three weeks, and then I've got another one due about ten days after that. Panic and flail.
The juggling of modules is harder than I expected. It would probably be easier if I'd done a science or arts module before. I'm so used to working within a social science framework, explaining theories and ideas, that to switch to either interpreting historical sources or working out how to condense scientific processes is quite a jump.
I tend to devote most of my time to the history module at the moment, as it's generally more work (60 creds, and lots of reading) and then do large blocks of science in one go. I find the biology easier to get my head round. Body systems are logical to me, whereas interpreting the body from Ancient Greek ideas is fascinating but deeply WRONG in my head. So far, I've learned the basics of medical practice in the 1500s, and cellular biology. They are quite different. Next up, the theory and practice of bloodletting and how cells use nutrition.
I think that when my eldest starts going to school full time (at some point, one day, no idea when), and I have a bit more quiet time, it'll get easier. I've been ill for two weeks, which dissuades me from studying, but I'm not particularly behind.  

22 Oct 2013

OU Module Groups on Facebook - a guide

OU forums are one thing - they are moderated by staff, who know how to keep people in line and steer debate gently away from DRAMAZ. However, Facebook OU groups are dens of iniquity.
Here are a few of the types you might find there, and just so you don't think I'm being evilly judgemental, I tend very much to be The Know-it-all, combined with The Joker. 

1. The Know-it-all
Sometimes, The Know-it-all has been studying for years, and sometimes they assume their mantel from other sources, such as a former job, or a GCSE in a relevant subject. Wherever their knowledge is gleaned from, they will give it to you, frequently, and in great detail, even if the question you asked has already been answered.

2. The Angry Mod
In any moderated forum, there will be times when the mods and the users have a bit of a set-to. With a few rules, understanding and a sense of perspective, these can be dealt with quickly. However, these attributes are often missing on unofficial forums. Banning, deleting of posts, posts declaring STOP THE DRAMA, users leaving to start their own groups, the whole thing firing up again three days later when someone who's been offline gets caught up. The Angry Mod is a self righteous beast, and prone to overreaction.

3. The Sensitive Flower
This person will have been through many a hard time, and be constantly wafting around, all sad faces and looking for sympathy. Sensitive Flower doesn't know when to start, it's all so daunting. You've just handed in a TMA? Sensitive Flower hasn't started yet :( You're up to Unit 8? Sensitive Flower hasn't finished Unit 1 yet. Eventually, Sensitive Flower will erupt in a rage because someone points out that they COULD just go and do some work instead of being sad. Sensitive Flower will flounce off group at least once a month.

4. The Professor
Unlike The Know-it-all, the Professor gives advice as though they are a tutor. They post endless notes on how to get ahead with tutorials, on how to revise, on how to tackle the latest TMA. Then they fail the exam. True story.

5. The Cheat
It pains me to write this, and I haven't come across one in a while, but there can be people whose behaviour on the groups sails perilously close to the cheaty wind. It usually happens about two days before a TMA is due: a post will appear, asking for help. I once had someone PM me on facebook begging me to tell them what I'd written for a TMA. I judiciously ignored it.I strongly advise you to do the same.

6. The Joker
It's 6am on TMA submission day. Everyone is exhausted, testy and annoyed. Someone posts a jokey picture of a cat that looks like Hitler, with a smiley face. Everyone mentally tells them to do one.

7. The Skimmer
There is always someone who thinks they can do their module by only doing the reading for their TMA, and nothing else. Usually, the Skimmer will appear on a group a few days before submission day and ask what, exactly, they need to read before they write the TMA. This is a godawful idea to do every single time, as you NEED to know your module materials inside out to pass the exam/EMA.

8. The Boaster
The polar opposite of The Sensitive Flower, The Boaster will get hold of last year's module materials so they can start early, and then complain that the TMA system isn't up and running three days into the course. By which point they've finished the course. This can backfire spectacularly, if the course materials change a lot between one year and the next, or if The Boaster does last year's TMA questions.

9. The Giver-Up
Closely related to The Sensitive Flower, The Giver-Up regularly threatens to give up. This tends to result in a deluge of sympathy, hints, help and attention. The Giver-Up does not give up...until the next crisis.

10. The Procrasinators, or as I like to call them, Everyone 
We all procrastinate to a degree, unless we have the self discipline of a ninja. Facebook OU groups may claim to be study groups, but after three days, there'll be a load of ""Look at all this food I'm eating instead of studying!" What colour highlighter do you use?" "What's your favourite biscuit?" "How are you all?" type posts, that take a good twenty minutes to read through...and then you want to add stuff, then you're pulled into checking threads for conversations about nothing more exciting than your cat.

Awful places.
But really, useful, often friendly and less formal than the OU forums. I have made some lovely friends on facebook OU groups. Enjoy, but try not to take it TOO seriously.

23 Sep 2013

"You want to do what to my ass?" When lyrics go wrong.

Blurred Lines, by Robin Thicke, Pharrel and T.I, has been getting a lot of press attention in the UK recently. This is because, a full three months after release, some media outlets have finally noticed the sexual violence implicit in the lyrics and some universities have banned it. T.I informs us that he has "something so big I'll tear your ass in two", while Robin Thicke sings that he's going to drug the woman he desires. Charming.
However, lyrics promoting violence against women, sexual or physical, are nothing new. This is particularly true in the world of hiphop and rap. Kim, by Eminem, is a particularly appalling example. However, these songs are usually wholly intended to be shocking, and rarely released and put on Radio 1's A list.

Here are a few songs that have been in the annual top 40, in the last three years. They have been widely played and bought, and they have some seriously questionable lyrics:
1. Love The Way You Lie, by Eminem ft Rihanna.
This song, charting the ups and downs of an abusive codependant relationship echoes the known abusive relationships both Eminem and Rihanna have been in. But do we really want to hear that if "she ever leaves again I'mma tie her to the bed and set this house on fire"? This charming ditty was the best selling single of 2010, by the way.

2. Frisky by Tinie Tempah
Ah, Tinie Tempah, a man who has not yet been to Scunthorpe and hogs wardrobe space at his aunt's house. However, when he's got the horn, beware women of the town. There's no outright rape mentioned in this song, but the whole vibe is one of "I will find a drunk hot woman, I will do her, and then I will forget she exists." Not dissimilar to Mr Thicke.

3. Starstrukk by 3Oh!3 ft Katy Perry
They want to know how to make love to something innocent without leaving their fingerprints. Yeah.

4.  She Said by Plan B
Oh God, where to even start with this? The great ode to date rape! She said he raped her, he said she wanted it, he got sent to prison and it's SO UNFAIR (and so unlikely because woman vs rich celeb doesn't usually win). Although this is supposed to be a concept album discussing the fall of the fictional Strickland Banks, don't women get enough crap from the media about making up rape without this tool adding to it?

5. Sweat by David Guetta ft Snoop Dogg/Lion
Snoop will make you give it up, and then not let you take it out til you can taste it. And if you can get him up, he will give it to you rough, but he's got money so presumably he can pay you off afterwards? I'm not wholly sure. I don't think he is either, the lyrics are a rambling mess.

6.  We Found Love by Rihanna and Calvin Harris
Rihanna, once more wanting an abusive relationship back because it's FUN TO HURT. Or something.

7. Black Heart by Stooshe
He is a monster, he scares her to death, he has a black heart, but he's really good at sex so it's fine. Right girls?

I feel special mention should go to Rihanna for producing so many songs implying that domestic violence is absolutely fine because LOVE HURTS and stuff.
My point is that there are so many songs out there that have suspect lyrics that have been ignored, or tutted at, or put down to artistic interpretation. Are we, as a country, going to continue to object to songs based on lyrical content? Or is Blurred Lines a one off? I hope the banning of Blurred Lines in some universities is a sign that we have finally had enough of the rape and abuse of women being an everyday, acceptable subject for a song. 

17 Sep 2013


All my books have been delivered.

It's strange how exciting it is to have module materials delivered. It feels like a present, a gift. But for the more seasoned OU-er, there's the knowledge that within lies PAIN, CHAOS, and FRUSTRATION.

Oh, and knowledge, reward, and personal fulfilment.

A218 (History of Medicine 1500-1930) consists of seven books. Two study guides, two course books, two source books and the most giant set text that ever walked the Earth. The Greatest Benefit To Mankind by Roy Porter is a proper spider-killing, doorstopping, arm breaker of a tome. 848 closely typed pages of historical medicine. I love it, it's absolutely fascinating. I think I may have found my new favourite subject. On top of these books, there's an audio CD, DVD and a CD-ROM, as well as website material that isn't released until tomorrow.

SK277 (Human Biology) arrived yesterday, a few days late. This is a shorter module, with four coursebooks and a glossary. A lot of the course is online now, and that site doesn't open until next week. From flicking through, I think it looks manageable. But god knows what the site holds!

However, trying to work out how much time to allocate to each per week is giving me a headache. My eldest started school a couple of weeks ago, and is not having the best start. He come home for lunch, which means EIGHT walks to and from school for me every day. It's hopefully only for this week, or I may seize up and go mad. It does somewhat wreck the day, having to constantly clockwatch for the next collection.

I've sorted out folders, highlighters, notebooks, graph paper, pens, even an index card file to keep thematic notes for A218. I've cleared the dining room table for study space, even though in Winter I tend to do all my work in the lounge, trying desperately to keep warm in this icebox of  a house.
But I've not sorted out time. I think it will probably end up being three days a week on A218, two on SK277 and catchup at weekends. My partner's just moved in with me (I should probably scratch the 'Single Mother' bit from my header), so I have a bit more support on hand than in previous modules. I just need eldest to stay at school all day and youngest to stop being clingy because he misses him. Then everything will be dandy!

3 Sep 2013

All Change

My little boy starts primary school tomorrow. He went to preschool a few days a week for the whole of the last year, but this feels different. The teachers are known as Miss or Mrs Surname instead of their first names. He and his classmates will be the smallest in the school, instead of all being approximately the same age. It feels more serious, more permanent, more terrifying for me.
He is, of course, not bothered. He's slightly baffled by the amount of stuff he has to have, and the idea of wearing full uniform, but he's mostly excited. He wants to learn to read, and to write.

For me, I feel like I'm losing a little part of my baby. When you have a child, that child is part of you even after they're born. You hurt when they hurt. You laugh when they laugh. Your urge to protect them, to keep them safe, to insulate them from harm is stronger than anything you've felt before. Those feelings don't fade with age, they just become normal.Until something big happens - the first time they walk down the road instead of going in the pushchair, the first time they climb the slide by themselves, the first sleepover with family, the first time you leave them at preschool. Primary school is a Big Thing for a mother. It's a little loss.

The actual schooling in reception (or Foundation, as they call it now) is exactly the same as preschool - open play, stories, group time, outside access at all times - but with more focus on reading, writing and maths skills. I will never get used to calling it literacy and numeracy.
I should consider it a new beginning. But it's hard to let go of his babyhood. His little brother is going to MISS HIM so much.They may have had many fights in the last six weeks, but generally they get on well and play well together.

The other big change is that my partner is moving in. This is seriously weird for me - and probably for him as well. Since my (almost) ex husband left me, almost three years ago, I have lived on my own with the kids. Initially, my partner lived 200 miles away from me, then he moved closer, and now we figure it's about time he moved in properly. I have to get used to sharing space again, to stop thinking of everything as mine and my responsibility. I lived with my ex for nearly seven years, and it took a while to shift out of that shared-life-headspace. Now I have to get back into it.
And of course, this means I am no longer going to be a single mother. I'll need to change my banner and everything!

13 Aug 2013

Ready, steady...

I've been getting ready to start studying again, even though things don't begin officially til October. My module materials are due to be mailed out in the next three weeks. This is one of the best bits (for me) - the terror and the joy of opening the module materials!

I've bought lever arch folders (one is covered in OWLS) to store notes, TMA information and results, and general course information, and A4 document wallets to keep everything looking fresh. I'm recycling folder dividers from my last two modules. I've bought strong magazine files to keep my coursebooks and resources in. I've even got my boyfriend to put shelves up to keep everything on, as I have more readers this year (and one of them is the size of a breezeblock). I'm also expecting several DVDs, CDs and CD-ROMs to be included.
I've checked if I've got enough pens. I use Uni-ball black rollerball pens, as they write so beautifully, and I'm always losing them. They must be scattered all over my house. I've also bought some Staedlter highlighters.I get through a lot of highlighters, preferring to use a different colour per block.
As far as notes go, I use Pukka Pad A4 jottas. They're the only ones I've found so far where the ink doesn't bleed. I tend to also buy loads of post in notes, in curious shapes, that remain in my drawer year round until my children find them and use them to doodle on, then stick them to the wall!
Insofar as keeping my brain in check goes, I've completed the first Coursera course I did, on Social Construction of Mental Health. Now I've started on Social Psychology, which I'm enjoying a lot more. It's a lot more interactive, and more generally interesting to me - I've long been a fan of social psychology experimentation. There's also quite a lot more reading, which suits me as I respond better to reading than listening.
I am really looking forward to starting both modules in October. Since I finished in June, I've been feeling vaguely lost and inadequate. Maybe that's an overreaction, but I miss having a personal challenge. I'm really excited, even though I expect it to be a struggle juggling two modules that, although similar in subject, are using very different disciplines.

6 Aug 2013

Referencing - tips for OU study

Referencing can be a pain in the bum. Every university seems to use a vaguely different system, and I see more comments about not being able to do it than any other specific part of TMAs. So, as the October term looms over the horizon, I thought I'd give a few tips.

There's an excellent guide to referencing on the OU website. If you're a student (and I can't imagine why you'd need it otherwise), you can find it here. It tells you how to reference EVERYTHING you can possibly imagine.

A reference is not a great mystery. It's not a special code. You don't need to be a genius to work them out. All a reference does is tell the reader of your essay EXACTLY where to find the source or evidence for what you've written.
You might reference a summarised theory, or a direct quotation. Always work on the principle that you must prove you haven't just made something up.

You should be able to get everything you require for the reference from the source.

A book reference has several parts:
AUTHOR: By surname, or organisation. Sometimes this will be in the form of Surname, Initial. Often, it will be The Open University. 
YEAR: This is the year that the edition of the book published. It is bracketed.
TITLE: This will be the title of the unit, or the chapter in a book; or the book itself. If it's the title of the book, it should be italicised. If it's a chapter, it should be in inverted commas.
CITY/TOWN PUBLISHED: I don't know why they need this, but there we go.

So, a typical reference might read:
Heller, T. Muston, R. Siddell, M. and Lloyd, C. (2010) Working For Health, London, Sage

Or, if you're referencing a chapter:
Scott-Samuel, A. (2010), ‘Health Impact Assessment’ in Heller, T. Muston, R. Siddell, M. and Lloyd, C. Working For Health, London, Sage

Note with this example that you reference the CHAPTER, and then add the crucial word 'in' before referencing the book it's from.

I think this second example is where people trip up with the Open University.  
If you've read three lines of a quotation by Pliny in a coursebook, you reference the coursebook, not Pliny. Pliny may have written it originally, but you haven't read Pliny's book.
IGNORE the reference list at the end of each unit. It tells you the source for your OWN further reading, but unless you want to go and read the whole book the reference is taken from, you must only reference the coursebook.

A typical coursebook reference would be:
The Open University (2010), ‘Pluralism: Ways of Seeing and Ways of Knowing’ in The Open University, Working Towards Health In Everyday Life, Milton Keynes, Open University

Here, you have the author, the year, the name of the unit (in italics and inverted commas, don't forget them), the word IN and then the whole book reference. The author name may vary by unit, so check before you write the reference.

In-text referencing is a lot easier. All you need to do is put the author name, the year, and the page number (if necessary), in brackets immediately after the relevant bit of the essay. For example: (Scott-Samuel, 2010, p.34). If the reference covers more than one page, it would be: (Scott-Samuel, 2010, pp.34-47). Note that the full stop goes AFTER the reference, if it's at the end of a sentence.

Once you've got the hang of coursebook and textbook referencing, you can use the OU guide for everything else. The website and media sections are particularly useful.

To end, here are my handy and unorthodox referencing tips:

1. Do your end-of-text references BEFORE YOU START THE ESSAY. 
This goes against the grain, as you're supposed to reference at the end. But I find it much easier to assemble the resources for a TMA, write out all my references, and then not have to worry about them. It also gives a clearer idea of what you're going to be writing about and where to find things as you write. It may also be useful to save your basic reference for coursebooks and textbooks somewhere, so you don't have to think of them again from scratch with each TMA, especially on courses that are book-heavy.

2. Do your in-text references AS YOU GO ALONG.
Again, you'll often hear it said that you should do these at the end. Which is madness - how are you supposed to remember page references hours after you've written them?

3. Don't forget to ALPHABETISE your end of text references.
There is software that can do it for you. They should be alphabetised, A-Z, by author.

(N.B: Don't do your references in red, this is only for highlighting purposes....)

1 Aug 2013

Benefits: the blessing and the curse

I have long held the belief that nobody should plan children they cannot afford. This isn't because of people using children as a salary, but because it's not right to simply hope someone else will fund the raising of your child.

But things don't work out that way. In a stereotypical family, the woman looks after the children while the man earns the income. With very small children, many women choose not to work full time. Childcare may be taken on by family members, or by a nursery or childminder.
If the parents separate, the onus is usually on the mother to have residential care of the children. The father continues to work full time, and a percentage of his income routinely goes to his ex for the upkeep of his children. The father would have to be an exceptionally high earner for this percentage to pay for all the costs of caring for children.
The mother is left in something of a quandary. It can be difficult to go from a part time role to a full time role in a job. It is even more difficult to get child friendly, flexible working hours, as single parents often have nobody else to call on if a child is sick or injured. If suitable hours can be found, childcare is excruciatingly expensive. Family childcare can be cost effective, but it is tricky to find a family member willing to look after a child full time for nothing. Then there is the tradeoff between working and seeing your children. The children may spend every weekend, or every other weekend, with their father. Once preschool and primary school come into play, a mother may end up seeing the children the least, despite having the residential and financial burden.

Benefits act as a safety net, to empower single parents (male and female) in deciding how to look after their children when things go wrong. But there is no right answer. Staying at home means you're sponging off the state. Part time work often means crappy jobs with no upward progression, and low wages. Full time work means less dependence on benefits, but less time with children.

I hate needing benefits to raise my children.
I hate knowing so many people think I am subhuman, by association. I hate knowing that George Osborne thinks I've 'gone wrong' to end up on benefits in the first place. I hate that I conceived my sons in good faith that I would be able to raise them without financial assistance. I hate not knowing if the government are going to change things and make life more difficult. I hate having to justify my unemployment by saying I'm a student, instead of saying that I'm a full time mother of two small children.

But I also am grateful that we have a welfare system that allows us to be caught. The welfare system in this country fails many people, but it has kept me afloat for nearly three years. Without it, I don't know where I'd be now - homeless, sacked, and financially wrecked forever, I expect. Thankfully, I am coming to the end of being on income support, after 18 months, and I sincerely hope I never have to be on it again.

28 Jul 2013

Exam results

I got my exam results on Friday.

I got 63%, which is a Pass 3. However, with my OCAS being 80%, my module result is a Pass 2, or a 2:1, or a B, depending on how you score such things.


For what it's worth, the exam was an absolute beast. Of the 200+ participants, nobody got a distinction, a scant handful got a pass 2 and the majority were in the pass 3 and 4 categories. So, I am proud that I managed to score relatively highly, and get a pass 2 on the whole module.

My next modules start on October 5th. I've started to buy the set books for the medicine history course. I'm also reading around the subject somewhat. The human biology course has no set books. I have a moderately good knowledge of anatomy already, so we'll see how that goes!

26 Jul 2013

ERMAGERD THERE'S A BAYBE IN YOU?!? - A nation obsessed with pregnancy

In the last WEEK, the following stories have hit the news:

1. The Duchess of Cambridge had a baby, and shockingly looked like all pregnant women do the next day.

2. Katie Price lost her scarf and had her bump photographed for the first time. She be pissed.

3. Holly Valance has tried to block a magazine from publishing photos of her bump, as she wished to announce her pregnancy in her own time.

The press interest is supposed to reflect the nation's, so I assume we are a nation obsessed with celebrity pregnancy, to an often intrusive degree. And yet, we often seem to show a remarkable lack of insight into the biology of it.
Shockingly, women get stretch marks. Even famous ones. They just photoshop them out, the lucky things. Pregnant women don't always glow. They don't always want their bump photographed in loving detail, so the harridans of the Daily Mail can decide if they are TOO BIG or TOO SMALL.

I can't work out if people have failed to learn anything about biology, or whether these celebrities who are pictured looking amazing a few weeks later have brainwashed them into forgetting that birth doesn't happen by magic. One does not simply expelliarmus one's foetus. The uterus, celebrity or not, is a muscle. It expands to accommodate the child and contracts to expel the child. It then, painfully, contracts back to the size of a walnut. But not in 24 hours. OK magazine (who were probably hoping to hit the stands with a timely postnatal piece) publish a frontpage about "Kate's baby weightloss secret" the day after the woman gave birth. Thankfully, the public noticed that this was a bit out of order.
The media interest surrounding young Prince George is hardly surprising, and not altogether unjustified. Unfortunately, it's not quite stretched to including any sort of postnatal realism. I would be shocked to see an opinion piece speculating about lochia. "Has Kate graduated to lochia serosa, or is she still flooding with lochia rubra? Here's a handy colour chart to tell the difference."

The media need to treat famous pregnant and postnatal women with more sympathy, and realism. There should be less pressure to look amazing (though God knows, the Duchess did) immediately after giving birth, lest it filter down to the regular mortals. Without personal trainers, chefs, nannys and opportunities for sleep, the average postnatal woman shouldn't be made to feel guilty if she doesn't *bounce back* within weeks.

14 Jul 2013

What does dyscalculia feel like?

I've mentioned before that I'm dyscalculic. It is something that barely affects me, something I don't really notice because I've never been able to do maths normally, but sometimes is thrown into sharp relief by other people's *normal* perception of numbers and maths.

I can't keep count, out loud or in my head. If I am trying, I'll lose track incredibly quickly. I can't keep track of sequences either, in video games or whatever.
If you asked me to count how many things were on the floor, I can't do it by sight, I have to silently count things out in my head.
I cannot do simple maths. Any calculation I do mentally has to be broken down into the smallest component numbers and added together like that - 8+5 becomes 8+2 is 10. 10+2 is 12. 12+1 is 13. It takes me as long as it took you to read that in your head to calculate. I cannot do division or multiplication in my head, unless it is a multiple of 2, 5 or 10. I have never been able to remember my 7 or 8 times tables, despite being taught them by rote in school. Percentages make sense as long as they are something out of 100. When it starts being (for example) 13 out of 33, I can't do it. Decimals make no sense at all.
I cannot 'total up' shopping in my head in a supermarket, or other shop. I will sometimes think I've been overcharged or short changed, when I haven't, simply because I can't work out mentally how much I *should* have spent. This can also lead to me spending FAR too much money in shops, and is one of the reasons I shop online, where I can see EXACTLY how much I'm spending.
It takes me forever to work out how old someone is from their birthdate. When I worked in the NHS,  every January, I would memorise the age someone should be from the year they were born, so I didn't have to work it out every time.
I can't tell my left from my right. At all. I have a huge, hooked scar on my right arm which gives me a visual cue, but I still can't remember. My boyfriend laughs because he'll ask me at a junction whether we're going left or right and I have to look at my arm to tell. I now just point. It's easier.
I have rubbish depth perception, which makes judging distance difficult by sight anyway, but I have no real concept of how far a mile, a kilometer, a yard actually is. I can tell you one centimetre, but not six. If I am navigating a journey (I don't drive, and with the problems I have with my vision plus number related problems, that's probably a good thing), I navigate by landmarks and places, rather than road numbers and junctions. This has been known to make people incredibly frustrated. God forbid you ever ask me directions in the street - you'll never find where you want to be! I also can't read maps very well, and have to turn them to my orientation to get a sense of where I am.

But I'm not stupid. As far as my literacy goes, I'm way above average (ahem). It's almost as though my arithmetical brain stopped developing and concentrated on my literate brain. I'm sure it's more complex than that. I can do algebra (with a calculator) because I see it as a letter puzzle, rather than numerical. It is logical, in a way that regular maths is not. I've never considered that I have a learning difficulty - though some of my teachers have done - because I have no problems learning anything else. At school, I struggled with chemistry and physics, because of the need for maths in working out formulae, and I do worry that when I begin studying anatomy in October, this will become a problem. But I will cross that bridge when I come to it!
Some of the problems associated with dyscalculia in young children remind me very much of myself as a small child, and of my eldest son as he is now. He's barely grasped numbers yet, and may be the complete opposite to me (his father is borderline dyslexic, with an excellent grasp of numbers). We shall see!

13 Jul 2013

Benefits and Public Perception

The other night, BBC1 showed a programme called "We All Pay Your Benefits". I didn't see it, but from what I gather, the attitude of some of the claimants infuriated people across the internet.
Public perception of benefits is quite some way from the truth of it. Most people claim a benefit at some point in their lives. However, it is apparent that there are 'good' benefits, and 'bad benefits'.

Good benefits include child benefit, maternity allowance, state pensions, winter fuel allowance, and tax credits. Most people are unaware that state pensions are classed as a benefit - the idea behind them being that your national insurance contribution pays for your pension at the end. Alas, this is not so. Considering your NI contributions also pay for your NHS and several other benefits you might have to claim one day, state pensions are heavily subsidised by the government and thus included in benefit statistics. Approximately half of all benefit expenditure is on state pensions. Bear that in mind next time you see a shocking "£X amount spent on benefits this year" statistic.
Child benefit is now means tested. It's means tested in a completely unfair way - in a household where one resident parent earning more than £50k p.a, no child benefit will be paid. If both resident parents earn £49k p.a each, they'll still get it. People who earn more than £50k may still opt to receive it, and be taxed on it, in order for it to count as national insurance cotributions. Many parents in lower income brackets are entitled to claim tax credits, at varying rates depending on amount of children, and income.
Maternity allowance is paid if you don't qualify for statutory maternity pay because you've had interrupted employment. It's based on your NI contribution for the year before. It is virtually the same as SMP, but classed as a benefit rather than an employment right.
Winter fuel allowance has been in the news recently because they are talking about means testing it. Some old people freeze to death because they're terrified of their heating bill. Some old people, rolling in cash, claim it anyway because they can. Plans to stop people living in hot countries claiming have also been put forward, with mixed reception.

 So, that's your good, socially acceptable benefits. These are considered a 'right' and any attempt to change them is seen as compromising that right.

Disability Living Allowance and Personal Independence Payment are viewed with some suspicion, not helped by ATOS and their tyrannical screening process. ATOS have declared people who can't walk 'able to manage stairs' without ever asking them to do so, cleared the terminally ill for work and generally are making a total hash of things. People who have to attend such interviews are terrified of doing so. The concept of the man with a "bad back" who hasn't worked for 28 years, when you see him doing his garden every weekend is endemic. ATOS is not helping this. 

Now, the bad benefits. These are mostly based on household income. Income support, jobseekers allowance, housing benefit, council tax benefit, council housing, and employment support allowance.
Income support is highly frowned upon. It is a pitifully small amount of money - £71 a week at present - with which you're expected to feed and clothe yourself, top up housing payments if necessary, and pay utilities. However, the screening process is incredibly strict and few people qualify - it is only for people who are pregnant, a lone parent of a child under 5, a carer or unable to work through disability or sickness. This means the majority of people on income support are likely to be women, going from lone parent and carer statistics - women who are either pregnant, parenting pre-schoolers alone, or caring. You have to go to the jobcentre every six months, to talk about what might happen if you go back to work. It is a box ticking exercise.
JSA is for people looking for work. There are two types - contribution based is linked to NI payments. Income based is linked to household income. This is the bad benefit people usually end up on at some point in their working lives. You have to go to the jobcentre every two weeks to sign on, fulfil the tasks assigned for claiming (applying for jobs, going to interviews) and woe betide you if you don't turn up, or haven't done enough work. You get sanctioned, you lose your benefit for two weeks and you're done. I have heard grown men weeping in the jobcentre because they've been sanctioned and can't feed their children for two weeks. It's their own 'fault', but being on JSA essentially enslaves you to a routine of interviews, application and failure until you get a job, however shitty. If you're under 25, you get £56.80 a week. How can anyone live on that? If you're over 25, you get the same as income support.
ESA is what you get if you're too sick to work, but don't qualify for DLA or income support. Once you are on ESA, you are drafted into a similar programme to JSA, of interviews and work programmes. 
Then there are the housing-based benefits. To get a council house, you have to be on a low income, to be unintentionally homeless (i.e. evicted, rather than leaving of your own free will) and to have a dependent child. The waiting list is long, the housing available usually limited, limited further now by bedroom tax. Housing benefit is for people who rent, to pay their landlord. In some cases, the money goes direct to the landlord. It varies in amount by council and by how big your housing need is - I have a three bedroom house, but I only get housing benefit for a two bedroom house as that is all I need. Council tax benefit was originally 100% for people on income support, but now everyone has to pay at least some of it. It is linked to housing benefit, but you can claim one and not the other.

I do not understand why some benefits are perceived as being good and acceptable, where some do not. The ones that are unacceptable are the ones related to living in poverty. If poverty is unacceptable; GOOD, so it should be. But being poor does not make a person inferior. It does not make them a moral outcast. It does not make them a workshy loser, a fraud or a whore. I've mentioned before that I went from home owning, financially solvent, working mother to unemployed benefit claimant literally overnight. We should be pleased that we have a safety net in this country, even though it fails many people - most often single men, and families who live on the very borderline of poverty. People working in the lower tiers of employment  - manual and unskilled - don't get the same working benefits as those in higher tiers. No pension schemes, no additional sick pay, no death in service benefit, so the slightest accident or setback can lead to serious financial problems. Far more investment in infrastructure, in education, and in working opportunities needs to be done before the "Problem of Benefits" can just be made to disappear. The government could start by introducing a living wage, so income top-ups weren't necessary....but that is for another post methinks...

4 Jul 2013


I like having a goal, and I like to learn. The reason I started my degree is so I wouldn't be aimless and miserable, waiting for my children to bugger off to school so I could get a new job (as well as needing a degree to get into the work I want to do). For the first time in nearly 18 months, I have no uni work, no TMA or exam date looming. My two modules don't start until 5th October. This is AGES away. I mean, it will fly by, especially once my eldest starts school after summer, but currently, I am BORED.

So, I've signed up to about twelve OpenLearn courses. OpenLearn provides a unit or so of an actual OU module for free, for you to work through at your leisure - either to get an idea of what kind of modules you want to sign up for, or just for something to do. These are good, but not particularly engaging. There's no real interaction with others, and I don't get the sense that I'm learning when I do them. Maybe that's because I'm comparing it to regular OU study, I don't know.

I read about Coursera in a magazine, probably the Radio Times, but I can't remember. The founder was interviewed about her vision for free education. I checked out Coursera and discovered an array of free courses, that run at different times. You can pay for accreditation on some courses (Signature Track), and get formal university recognition, but the majority of courses are totally free. Most available courses run between 6 and 12 weeks. All courses run from universities, and are written and led by professors within them. There are courses on all manner of things: law, healthcare, epidemiology, food science, architecture, anatomy,  media, computing, maths, music and history all have courses starting soon.

I immediately signed up for a six week course on mental health in society, which began on 24th June. I started this on 1st July, which gave me two days to catch up on the first week and send my first assignment in.
Each week of my course has a two hour lecture, broken up into chunks. The lectures are a combination of video, slideshows and audio. Additional reading is provided free of charge. There is a small assignment every week or two, with a TINY wordcount - max 500 words for an essay I'd norrmally write 1200 for - and assignments are peer-marked. I haven't had a go at peer marking yet, but the guidelines look fairly simple. There are myriad forums to discuss content on, and due to the diversity of students, discuss national differences in mental health care.The tutor for this particular course is engaging and passionate about her subject, and easy to understand. I run the lectures with the subtitles on, as I often have hideous amounts of background noise to contend with, and the subtitles are not always correct. As it's a free course, I don't mind, and frequently OU transcripts are not as accurate as they could be. In any case, transcripts of the lecture and copies of the slides are separately available for reference.

I think Coursera is a brilliantly executed idea. It does not care who you are, what previous experience you have, where you live, runs courses in numerous different languages and is truly egalitarian. The actual content seems (based on my limited experience) to be good quality and well presented. It is much better quality than some higher education paid-for services (DCA Home Learning springs to mind). As it's so accessible, persuading friends to start the same courses so you have a study partner shouldn't be too difficult - I managed it!
If you want something to do in your spare time, find learning addictive or want to have a go at university level work, this is the site for you. It's going to keep me busy this summer- once I've done this course, I'm starting a second on social psychology. Enjoy!


28 Jun 2013

Agnosticism, or why can't we all just get along?

We should all be agnostic. That would be a sensible, honest position for humanity to take. Nobody knows there is a God. Nobody knows there is not a God. It is currently impossible to prove either way, so why aren't we all avowedly agnostic?

Few are now happy to admit they do not know, at least publicly, and increasingly fall into two camps - the atheists and the religious.  Both camps use various means to justify their belief, both taking the moral highground. Atheists cite scientific proof as making God improbable, meaning to be religious is to be intellectually inferior. The religious counter with asking for proof that God does not exist, and being smugly comfortable in their moral superiority. Both sides seek to convert, with the atheists implying to believe is to be stupid and offering liberation from religious ideals and constraint, and the religious offering spiritual comfort and acceptance. The religious are viewed with suspicion, as delusional, exploitative, dangerous or merely idiotic.

Religion asks people to suspend their rationale, to have faith. Atheism asks people to suspend belief in a deeper meaning or reason for existence, to be reductionist, and at it's extreme, nihilistic.

Understanding religion is key to understanding culture, history, art, politics. Religion has done much bad and wrong, been corrupted by man for control and gain, but also given people structure, meaning, and identity for thousands of years. Religion is not faith - many people have been religious without believing in God, and many people believe in God without showing allegiance to a particular brand of religion.
Science deals in the concrete, the known. However, I do not believe that faith and science are mutually exclusive. Science has debunked some religious beliefs, but it has not yet managed to disprove the existence of God. Scientists are not all atheists, and not all concerned with trying desperately to disprove God.

Faith is as unique as a fingerprint. No two people believe in an identical God, an identical moral compass, an identical set of ethics. I am becoming increasingly irreligious, disliking being told how to believe, how to behave, how to think. No person has the authority to tell me what God wants of me.
But my faith does not move. I believe there is a God. I don't know if it a benevolent God, I don't know if it's the God of Judaism/Christianity/Islam or some other religion, I don't know if it gives a crap what I do or say, I don't know if it's listening, but I cannot believe there is nothing out there. I cannot believe our world was an accident, that humanity is a coincidence. I've made this point before.

It may be impossible to prove the existence, or lack of existence of a God or Gods. Humanity may search for the answers forever. Faith is a personal matter - whether you have it, or not - and to challenge someone's faith can be to challenge their entire identity. It is no wonder people get so defensive and argumentative.

24 Jun 2013

All men are rapists and all women are asking for it

Trigger warning: discussion of rape scenarios

When discussing the problem of men raping women, I frequently encounter men who are concerned that all women perceive men as potential rapists. This is described as some sort of feminist misandry, an assumption that All Men are Evil.
But actually, it's not a feminist notion at all. Quite the opposite. It is MEN who have taught women that all men should be treated as potential rapists.

One in five British women have been sexually assaulted, yet only 6% of cases result in conviction. Take the following scenarios:
A woman is walking alone down the street at night dressed in a short skirt. A man  rapes her.
A woman is drunk and talks to a man in a bar. They get along well. They go off alone, whether to her house or his house, or just into the street. He rapes her.
A woman, who has had numerous sexual partners, meets someone new. He rapes her.
A woman in a relationship tells her partner no. He rapes her.
A woman walks through a park with her children in daylight. A man rapes her.

Each of these women have been raped, however the distribution of blame varies. The first woman is likely to be blamed partly for walking alone at night, partly for her dress. The second and fourth women will be lucky if they even has enough evidence to go to court, and if they do, will be very lucky to get a guilty verdict. The third woman is likely to have her entire sexual history used against her in court.The fifth woman will probably be absolved of any blame, largely due to the factors of daylight and her children being present.

Society tells women that rape is their fault. Organisations tell women that rape is their fault, by distributing advice like this. The law tells women that rape is their fault, if they were drunk. The onus is on women to spot the rapists among us and avoid them, even in official police advice.

Women are conditioned by the world around them to assume all men are rapists or suffer the consequences and take the blame. It is not misandry, it is not feminism: it is how we are told to think in order to avoid attack.

In order for men to stop feeling beleaguered and hated, more rape education needs to follow in this vein (from here, where you can find several other excellent examples):

The victim blaming that occurs with rape and the justice system, media and society, assumes that all women are always available for sex. It also assumes that men cannot help themselves: if they see a woman, they simply MUST rape her. This leads to a culture where these lies become the norm. It is poisonous to society, and it's time for a change.

17 Jun 2013

Nothing to do, but wait...

My exam was on Friday. I had such horrendous anxiety this time - for a week before, I was either manic or catatonic, panicking all the while. By the time Friday morning came round, the eerie, nauseating calm had settled. My exam was at 10am, so I didn't have to sit around clockwatching all day. I don't revise on the morning of exams, but I did lie in bed drawing mental lines between different topics in the vague hope that this would help.
The exam itself was three questions, three hours. One question was picked out of three potentials, and the other two were picked from five. I chose a question about lifestylism, one about curative and preventative medicine and one about complementary medicine integration. I think I did enough to pass, but I have no idea beyond that. I wrote legibly (ish), the essays had structure (ish) and the reply was linked to the question. I finished in two and a half hours, and wrote 2500 words. I get my results on 2nd August.

And until then, I'm a little bit lost. I've studied continuously since February 2012. When I did my last exam, I immediately started my next module, so there was no gap, no waiting, no checking Studenthome continuously. This time, I don't even get my next lot of module materials til the end of August. I feel a bit down, a bit aimless and a bit bored. I've got plenty to occupy myself with, like the numerous weddings coming up, and my eldest starting primary school, but I miss having a big solid block of learning to do.

21 May 2013

The Gay Marriage Bill

Things That Will Happen If The Gay Marriage Bill Is Passed:

- Women will be able to marry women, if they want to.
- Men will be able to marry men, if they want to.

Things That Will Not Happen If The Gay Marriage Bill Is Passed:

- All your children will become gay. And so will you.
- You will be able to marry your gay children.
- The monarchy will be ruined.
- The 'agressive gay community' will rise up and take over, making us worship their genitalia.
- All heterosexual marriages will explode.
- All record of heterosexual marriage will be expunged.
- It will weaken public morality, and we will all become deviant monsters.

Things That Have No Bearing On Whether Or Not The Gay Marriage Bill Is Passed:

- A personal dislike of the mechanics of someone else's sexual relationship.
- Assumptions over what God might think
- Possible children of married gay parents. Same sex couple adoption is already legal and surrogacy is also legal, provided no payment is made. IVF for lesbian couples is not currently available on the NHS, but it is privately available and private insemination arrangements are also legal.

Seriously, Conservative back benchers, give it up.

13 May 2013

An Update on Learningz

I have finally done all my TMAs for this module. My results have been, in my humble opinion, pretty damn good. My OCAS score (an average of all my assignments) is 80%. Considering this is level 2 and on level 1, I only got 69%, I'm pretty damn pleased. It's not quite enough to get a first, but I'm really happy with a 2:1. I did not expect that. If I do AMAZINGLY on the exam (*snort*), I might get a first.
The exam. It looms. It's on June 14th and I'm already shitting myself. I have to memorise the WHOLE MODULE. I know what you're thinking - of course you do, or it's not a bloody exam. But in my last exam, there was one question per block, and I only had to answer three of them, so I could select which units to revise. And I got a notes sheet. This time, no such choice - no notes, all five blocks, all 24 units, all in my head by 10am on the 14th.
A month. Erk.I should probably start revising.

And then I have a break until October. I'm quite looking forward to this. Much will be happening to occupy my mind, including my eldest starting primary school, and loads of friends getting married. I confess, I'll probably be a tiny bit bored and start working through OpenLearn courses to keep me thinking. But then my module materials will appear and I'll PANIC.
Next year, I'm doing two level two modules - A218 and SK277. A218 is a history of medicine module. It's 60 credits. SK277 is anatomy, and it's 30 credits. I'm hoping they'll compliment each other nicely. It will be strange, after doing two back to back healthcare modules to shift to a science and arts module. There is a LOT of reading for A218, including three readers. I've been looking forward to starting SK277 for ages, because I have a deep fascination for anatomy. I'm really looking forward to next year in general. If I can pass, I'll have 210 credits of a 360 credit degree. Squee!

First thing's first. Pass the K203 exam...

17 Apr 2013

Thatcher: The Cult Of Personality

Today (right now in fact) is Margaret Thatcher's funeral. This event has locked down the centre of London. Four thousand police officers have been drafted in to keep the peace. Demonstrations are expected. Crowds lining the streets have been reported as booing. Big Ben has been silenced as a mark of respect. 2300 guests are attending the funeral itself, including the Queen, 32 MPs and many significant political and international figures. The funeral is costing £10 million. Ten. Million. Pounds. This is the key figure that is upsetting so many people (not just on the left wing, though i suspect many right wingers feel obliged to keep schtum). The last prime minister to be buried with anything like this level of pomp was Winston Churchill, who led the country twice: through World War 2, and again through the aftermath. He retired his position due to ill health, whereas Thatcher was ousted by her own party, in a wave of unpopularity. Churchill was given a full state funeral. Thatcher's own wishes was to not have a full state funeral, as it was a 'waste of money'. Her actual funeral is to be a state funeral in all but name - all it lacks is lying in state, and an RAF flypast.
Today is divisive, as was Thatcher.
Margaret Thatcher was struck with dementia in her last years, rarely emerging except for the occasional official function. Her tenure as PM ended over twenty years ago, and younger constituents have little idea who she was, or why she stirs such strong feelings in their parents and grandparents.
I was born in 1985, and my childhood and adolescence were shadowed by the financial difficulty her policies put my parents into.Whole towns were put out of work during the 80s, the idea of community was destroyed, and a culture of individual responsibility, and blame, was implemented.On the other side, she did wonders for the economy. But what use is a strong economy when it is full of unemployed people, who remain impoverished and unhealthy because of government reluctance to invest in social structure? The lack of social investment during the Conservative government of the 80s and 90s is one of the reasons that the current government struggles with balancing the economy - unemployment begets unemployment begets benefit dependence.

When news of Thatcher's death hit social networks, there was widespread sorrow, cheering and anger. Parliament was recalled, at enormous cost, for what was essentially a memorial service. A longstanding campaign to get Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead to number one swung into action.  Many people expressed disgust at the open joy others took in a sad, lonely death, regardless of political leaning.
Then things started to get a bit strange. Ken Livingstone was kicked off Sky News for saying Thatcher was fundamentally wrong. Glenda Jackson gave a candid speech in parliament about the social problems caused by Thatcher's government, and was booed and told to sit down by her fellow MPs. Ding Dong The Witch Is Dead was banned from playing on the Radio 1 chart show, despite getting to number 2 (the fact it didn't get to number 1 being held as a victory by the right). She has been vaunted as a feminist, when she loathed feminism. Death parties have been reviled, the Daily Mail have made calls for the arrest of peaceful protesters. A Falklands theme was announced for her funeral, which is somewhat disrespectful to the thousand people that died. David Cameron announced today that we are 'all Thatcherites', which is either a gross misjudgement of the national mood, or blind optimism.
Repeatedly, people have been told that their open hostility towards Thatcher's government, death and funeral is disrespectful, evil and uncouth; that Thatcher was simply an old lady who deserves a good send off.

It strikes me that Margaret Thatcher was two people. On the one hand, Margaret - elderly, estranged from her children, widowed and lonely in dementia. On the other, Thatcher - icon of the 80s, hate figure to some, glorious figurehead to others. It is Thatcher the Icon that people object to, and it is Thatcher the Icon that the current government are trying to deify through this cult of personality.

6 Apr 2013

The rage

Hello, my name's Soph, and I'm on income support.
I can hear your gasp of dismay from here.
I am poor. I am workless. Somehow, this has evolved to mean that I am also degraded and depraved. I am without feeling, and stupid. I am not contributing the economy, I am not useful. I own some luxury items, proof (according to Katie Price, fount of all knowledge on degenerate lifestyles) that I am secretly rich. I spend all my benefit recklessly, on cigarettes, alcohol and drugs. My children are not as good as your children. My community is not as good as yours.
If only I would just get a job, society's problems would be eradicated.

Let's start with the most common bugbear of the media and facebook, when judging the poor. I have a plasma TV. I have a leather sofa. I even have an Xbox. How can this be? Who have I murdered to get such luxury items? How do I afford such things? Easy - I bought them years ago, before I had children when I was still working full time. These things don't need replacing annually and may last for years. They're not a mark of being a benefits cheat. The outrage at my possessing them seems to be a product of deep snobbery. These are aspirational products, beyond my income. Perhaps I should have sold them when I signed on, just to reassure the government that I was taking my newly poor status seriously.

Next up, I don't smoke. Never have; it's a filthy habit and I'm asthmatic. Even if I could afford to smoke 70 cigars a day, I wouldn't. I drink a bit, a couple of units a week, on average. I don't do drugs, they are beyond both desire and income.

Now, why don't I have a job? Well, I'm a single mother to two preschool children. Childcare is excruciatingly expensive. If I worked part time, about 70% of my wages would be sucked up by childcare. It is subsidised by the government, but that's a benefit. The government would give me working tax credits, but again, that's a benefit.
My children, already splitting their time between their parents, would see me less than they do now. I would achieve nothing much beyond not seeing my children. I'd still be claiming just as much money from the government as I do now, but with almost no gain financially, and at a definite loss personally.
Work makes absolutely no sense; getting a degree does. I think that one of the best investments I can make is in the upbringing of my children. So I give them my time and energy, and hope it pays off when they grow up.

Some of you know my circumstances. I did not choose to become a single mother. I really resent George Osborne saying benefits claimants have 'done the wrong thing'. I'm not sure what I could have done to make things different, personally or economically, unless I'd married a sheikh on the rebound.
Due to being in the lowest income bracket, I am automatically at a major social disadvantage. I don't drive, which saves me a fortune, but makes transport a headache, and restricts access to health services. I have to live where housing is cheap, so I don't live near good schools, for which my children will suffer. Luckily, I have the internet and can do my shopping online, or I'd be extremely restricted over where I could shop. In turn, this would limit my choice of food. When I return to work, I will be limited as to where I can go due to lack of transport. Poverty is about far more than a simple lack of money; it affects every area of your life.

Hundreds of thousands of  families in this country are claiming some type of benefit. Many of them are working. George Osborne made a speech this week that demonised every single one of them. Iain Duncan Smith claimed he could live on £53 a week if he had to (he'd be dead in a year if he tried, it's starvation level income). The Daily Mail did not ascribe Mick Philpott's awful crimes to his abusive, sociopathic personality, but to the fact he was on benefits. Benefits make you a child killer, and don't forget it.

The government are eroding social equality - did you know legal aid for civil cases has now been cut? This means that the very poorest members of society can no longer get help in court in matters of divorce, child custody, clinical negligence, welfare, employment, immigration, housing, debt, benefit and education. So, no more funded appeals against benefit decisions - funny that. Civil justice is now the preserve of the rich, and they have criminal legal aid in their sights too.

The government are making scapegoats of the poor, and they are doing this because they can. The poor depend on benefits, as they have for hundreds of years, and thus belong to the government. Our voice cannot be heard against the baying mob, screaming at us to get back to work. Unemployment is not at an all time high because of benefits being more desirable; it is at an all time high because there are No Jobs.

The government are making us hate each other, trying to distract us from the reality of the situation - the financial crash was caused by greed and gambling, not benefits spending. People are on benefits because there is no work, and being on benefits is depressing and demotivational. It gives me the rage.

I think the ConDems must be absolutely terrified of a united Britain, because the only "them and us" that really exists is between this government and the people.

6 Mar 2013

Labour pains

Once upon a time, there was no such thing as pain relief in labour. It didn't matter if your labour lasted an hour or three days: there was nothing to offer for the pain. As well as this, if your baby got stuck, it died and most of the time, so did you. This used to be considered part of the curse of womanhood - to punish Eve for her fall, God stated that women must bear their children in blood and pain. In our time, it is difficult to understand how absolute the word of the Bible was historically. Childbirth was a pain women had to bear.

Times have changed and obstetric practice has gone through various fashions. For example, twilight birth was first offered as a treatment for pain of childbirth in the 1860s, via chloroform (praised magnificently by Queen Victoria, who didn't have easy births despite her grand multiparity), and evolved to being normal practice in the US until the 1940s. Women were injected with a morphine based mixture in the early phases of labour, and then remained barely conscious and unaware of pain until after the birth. The side effect was a drowsy baby with decreased respiratory function.
In the 1970s, pethidine was given to labouring women in hospital, usually without consent. Our notion of informed consent is surprisingly modern - until the mid 1980s, women were shaved and subjected to enemas in early labour, monitored and confined to bed throughout the labour and then given an episiotomy during the birth without much explanation, as a matter of course, to keep things tidy and easy for the delivering doctor.
Radical midwifery began the change in obstetric practice in the 1980s, as a response to this overmedicalisation of childbirth. The radical midwifery movement saw childbirth as a natural and normal act, whereas the medical fraternity of the time saw it as fraught with risk.
Nowadays, obstetrics falls somewhere between the two extremes. Women are considered low risk, unless they fit one of a number of criteria which escalates them to high risk. Women now have a right to choose where to deliver their child, and have a choice of pain relieving medications. Some women are able to have a vaginal delivery, with minimal interference, at home or hospital. Other women have more technical deliveries, overseen by several clinicians. However, the assessment of who needs what kind of birth is done on a case by case basis, and the woman's needs are acknowledged in the process - or at least, they should be. As I've alluded to before, this isn't yet internalised procedure for all clinicians.

The issue of pain relief in childbirth is one that comes up, most often when women are in their first pregnancy and their midwife, family and friends ask them what they are planning to use. Midwives generally advise women not to plan their pain control too much, as it doesn't allow for adaptation in labour. Friends who have already had children, will often fall into one of two camps based on their experience - 'have ALL the pain relief because it's the worst pain ever and you'll DIE' or 'pain relief is for wusses'.
The red camp are scaremongerers, the blue camp are not being realistic. Nobody knows what they are capable of withstanding physically until they do it. No woman can predict how the length or intensity of their labour, whether it's their first child or ninth. There are women who have their children with no pain relief at all, and ones who have an epidural at 4cm because the pain is so vicious. Neither are wrong, or right, they're just doing what they need to do to get through it.
There are side effects of using pain relief - pethidine, diamorphine and meptid can lead to a dopey baby, or worse a baby in respiratory distress. Having an epidural contributes to birth interventions, because the woman cannot coordinate her physical pushing with the uterine contractions, and being confined to bed protracts labour as gravity cannot work. Gas and air is the safest form of pain relief, though it can lose it's effectiveness in the later stages of labour.
However, an excessively painful labour may lead to psychological problems postnatally. I had no pain relief in my first labour because it progressed so quickly that there wasn't time. For some time afterwards, I had vivid flashbacks to being in agony and terrified - pain is very frightening if you don't feel in control of it. The pain, and speed of delivery, alienated me from my baby to begin with. I simply couldn't comprehend that this child had come from me. I had been expecting a long first labour, mostly in hospital. Instead, I got two hours of agony on my toilet at home, an hour of trying not to push while I got to hospital, and then an hour of pushing. I don't know if my trauma would have been lessened if I had pain relief, but I probably would have felt more in control. It has been almost four years, and I can still feel my body trying not to push if I think about the half an hour or so before I was 'allowed' to push by a midwife.
Equally, a labour without pain relief can be extremely cathartic. I had my second child without pain relief, by choice, expecting a fast labour. I got a fast labour - 1 hour 50 minutes - and felt wholly in control throughout. The pain was awful, as labour pain is, but it never felt unmanageable. His birth was healing, both to the trauma of my first birth, and the trauma of my second pregnancy.
A drug-free labour can be extremely empowering, but a planned drug-free labour that goes awry for whatever reason can lead to feelings of failure and inadequacy. Some women consider using pain relief to be cheating, or an easy way out, rather than an advantage of modern medicine. Other women consider using pain relief as a normal part of life - after all, you take medication for a headache, why not for the worst pain you'll ever bear?

Labour pain requires management. Some women can manage it on their own, through sheer force of will, through breathing techniques or hypnosis. Some women need drugs to manage the pain. Pain thresholds vary from person to person, and people's perception of pain also varies. Most women are capable of giving birth vaginally, without pain relief, but not doing so, through choice or necessity, does not make them less of a woman, or less of a mother.

1 Mar 2013

Self Harm Awareness Day

Trigger Warning: contains mild descriptions of self harm.

I first hurt myself around my 11th birthday. I was badly bullied at school, pretty much every day from the age of 5 until the age of 16. Some bullies took it too far, in a way that even candid I do not wish to share with the rest of the world. I began to pull my hair out, in direct reaction to this.
At first, it was merely a response to being stressed. I would feel stress and reach up and pull out a bit of hair. After a while, I was barely even aware I was doing it - it became like biting my nails. My parents noticed after a week, because I'd managed to pull out almost all the hair on the crown of my head - no mean feat considering the thickness of my hair.
They freaked out. They went to see doctors (I don't remember going myself), they asked me if I was being abused. They didn't know how to deal with it. I pulled my hair out intensively for three weeks, ish, and didn't even attempt to stop until my dad asked me to because it was upsetting my mum so much.
But I didn't really stop. I just stopped letting people see. I would pull out my eyebrows (still do, for that matter, it's a habit), my eyelashes, any hair I could get a hold on. My teachers were aware of the problem and would call me out on it at school, which would jolt me into stopping.
I was 11. I was partly bald. I was bullied already because of the way I looked, and this just made it worse. I went into hospital for emergency surgery on my back and the nurses commented on it in recovery, and I burned with shame. They didn't realise I could hear them. I knew I had to stop, but I didn't stop hurting myself. Starting secondary school was a whole new world of shame and bullying. I looked like a freak.
I would tighten plastic bag handles and elastic bands round my fingers until they went blue. I would use a compass to write all over my legs and arms. Nobody noticed. I was always careful that nobody would see.
I was 17 the first time I purposefully sat and tried to cut myself. Again, the reasons why are personal, but I felt such a deep seated rage, and I had nobody to take it out on. Nobody to scream at. If I was a different type of person, maybe I would have been aggressive, starting fights and punching walls, but I wasn't.
I fell into a rhythm of bruising and scratching my arms so badly that I couldn't move them the next day. I decided not to actually cut myself because it would be too difficult to conceal. I would hurt myself one day, to make the rage and pain stop. Then I would be so ashamed and nauseated at what I'd done, that I would begin to feel the rage again. And thus the circle continued. Most days for about a year, I would do it. Eventually, I escalated to using a razor, usually on my legs where nobody could see. I also headbutted walls, in rather fruitless attempts to knock myself out.
Nobody noticed. I didn't WANT anyone to notice. A GP once mentioned that he thought I might be depressed. I disagreed, went home and told nobody.
I joined a website called ruinyourlife.com (now http://www.recoveryourlife.com/) and for the first time, found other people with the same problem and nobody to tell. I had no idea We counted our self harm free days, then months, then years, with people there to support us when our count went back to 0. I was never suicidal, though others were. Suicidal urges came separately, quite apart from the need to hurt. Pain was a method of control, to take the rage out on myself, and crucially to calm me down.
As time went on, I stopped, but when things were hard, I would fall into destructive patterns - binge drinking, drug taking, restrictive eating.I suppose recovery came with maturity, with finding other outlets, with motherhood. I realised a lot of the things that had happened to me weren't my fault, that I wasn't the vile and ugly person I'd been made to feel like. I found self-worth.
But for 14 years, I could only count the self-harm-free time in months. I'm 27. I last hurt myself when I was 25, shortly before my marriage ended. I still get tempted, when I'm very upset, because it's a learned behaviour, but I distract myself and the feeling passes.

Self harm remains a taboo. Harming the self is something that society is programmed against - extreme body modification is looked down on for the same reason. I have known many people who self harmed regularly, who are covered in scars, who were simply too afraid of being categorised as suicidal or beyond help to tell anybody. Self harm does not happen in isolation - it is a reaction to events around the person. The more openly it can be discussed - without panic or labelling - the more help can be offered to those suffering.

Useful Links
Trichotillomania Support
Self-harm Information and Support
FRANK Drugs Advice
NHS Alcohol Abuse Advice
B-eat Eating Disorder Support

15 Feb 2013

Chickenpox - a study of frontline care in action

The NHS relies on patients being able to self-diagnose. If every patient went to their GP, or a walk in centre or A+E with a sniffle (and some do), the service would be swamped. So, the NHS expects individuals to be able to decide when they are ill enough to need a professional opinion.

My eldest son has chickenpox. Chickenpox is the last remaining widespread childhood disease. In the USA and other countries, a vaccination is offered, but the NHS does not offer it as it's largely harmless and short lived. Some parents, in an effort to expose their child to the disease young, hold chickenpox parties to spread infection. Varicella infection is dangerous in non-immune pregnant women as unborn babies can die from it, so I think a chickenpox party is a bit daft. However, most children will have it before they leave primary school.
Parents expect it, they recognise it and they treat it largely without professional help.

So, I phoned my doctor's surgery to ask them to record it on his notes. After all, doctors aren't psychic. The receptionist was astonished that I'd done this and told me only a doctor could record a diagnosis. So, I sighed a deep and heavy sigh, pointed out that I didn't want to infect her waiting room or waste an appointment, and my son isn't particularly unwell, just incredibly spotty and grumpy. Eventually, she agreed to put it on his notes.
Then I wandered up to my local chemist. There is a service called Pharmacy First that allows your chemist to diagnose and prescribe medications for children in the chemist. It's only really for over-the-counter medications, so parents can have them for free without using a GP appointment. They prescribe for conjunctivitis, hayfever and mild analgesia. I asked for piriton, if it was available, after asking for calamine. I didn't take my son with me, because he's INCREDIBLY spotty and likely INCREDIBLY contagious. After some argument about whether or not chickenpox is contagious after the spots come out (they said no, I said yes), they ummed and ahhed over whether to give me the medication without seeing the child. Eventually they agreed to - I use the chemist on a very regular basis, for all kinds of minor illness, so they're well acquainted with me and my kids.
But what else would I want free piriton for? I could buy it easily. I'm not going to sell it on the black market, or use it to drug my poor defenceless children. Their argument was that they had to be sure, and it wasn't a 'remote' service.

And you know, I understand that. It seems that the more the NHS tries to give patients additional autonomy, the more bureaucracy needs to be fulfilled, the more patients are put off. Why bother going through rigmarole and form filling at your pharmacy when you can go direct to your GP? I have eight years experience in general practice, as a receptionist, administrator and nursing assistant, I'm pretty confident I know how the system works and how to diagnose chickenpox, and everything I've done this morning has been aimed at saving GP time. My motives for doing so have been scrutinised. Is it that impossible to imagine a patient might genuinely want to avoid wasting resources? Is it impossible for a person to diagnose the most easily recognised rash without formal medical training?

The NHS relies on self-care and self-diagnosis. However, there seems to be another force at work trying to keep diagnostics firmly in the hands of professionals. Front line care is flooded by people who are anxious about minor symptoms, who need reassurance and OTC medication. The NHS needs to give people confidence in their autonomy.

8 Feb 2013


Immunisation and cancer screening are the two of the leading forms of healthcare prevention practiced by the NHS. Most women will have smear tests regularly during their pre-menopausal years, and then breast screening when they are older. Men are increasingly offered prostate checks, and both genders are being offered bowel cancer screening. These screening tests are designed to catch early neoplasms, and in doing so, save lives.
Immunisation is routinely practised on children, from 8 weeks old until approximately 16 years. Immunisations carried out after that point are either for holiday/employment means or immunologically compromised patients.
In cancer screening, patients have the right to refuse. They might be exhorted to attend, for QOF measures and for their personal health, but they're under no obligation to go.
However, families who choose not to immunise their children are denounced.

 Childhood immunisation has been part of the NHS since it's inception, and was part of public health schemes long before that. The Diphtheria/tetanus/polio vaccine was administered regularly from the early 1960s, and as more vaccines have been developed, more have been offered. My children are immune to diphtheria, tetanus, polio, meningitis C, haemophilius influenzae type B, whooping cough, pneumonia, measles, mumps and rubella.
Pre-immunisation, these diseases killed millions. My grandmother suffered diphtheria in the days before the NHS, immunisation and penicillin. She was in an isolation hospital for months, forced to lie down constantly and kept away from her family (except her sister who was in with her). She watched other children on the ward die. This was not uncommon. Families who couldn't afford to send their children to hospital, if their child was suffering from a notifiable disease, were legally culpable. The child would usually die without good nursing. In my days working for the NHS, we had several patients suffering from ongoing disabilities from polio infections in their childhood, some dating from as late as the 1950s. For these families, a simple immunisation would have been a lifesaver.When I summarised patient notes, it was rare to find a patient growing up pre-1965 who didn't suffer from one of the childhood diseases that we now consider rare.
The MMR jab was not developed until the 80s. I suffered from mumps in 1988, and my brother suffered measles around the same time - neither of us were immunised, as we were too old when the vaccine became available. Cases of measles are now on the rise, as the herd immunity offered by mass vaccination wanes. This is largely due to the Wakefield Report, which linked autism to MMR vaccination, a report that has since been deemed false, and fraudulent.

There are many reasons that parents do not vaccinate their children. There are worries of autism/neurological illness, or a distrust of vaccination ingredients. Others do not believe the theory of vaccination. The common thread, from what I've seen on the internet, is fear inspired by ignorance. In one story I read, a woman refused to vaccinate because the immunisation contained ingredients she didn't know. This reminds me of the time my dad went through his PC and deleted every file he didn't recognise, and then wondered why his computer didn't work.

However, more common is the reluctance to introduce drugs to a newborn's baby. From conception, pregnant women are told not to smoke, not to drink, not to take medication unless it's necessary, not to eat raw fish, to cook meat properly, to avoid cheeses, with the clear message being "If you do, and something happens to your baby, it is YOUR FAULT."
Then, almost as soon as the baby is born, women are enjoined to take their precious newborn to a clinic to have an enormous needle stuck in it's leg, full of chemicals.

And if parents refuse to vaccinate their child, through fear, or ignorance, or cultural belief, or just because they don't want to, society vilifies them. They are called child abusers. Their friends are reluctant to let them play with their children, schools and nurseries are reluctant to take them on. The child and it's parents are punished for failing to conform to the biomedical patriachy. "The NHS has these lovely vaccinations, that could save your child's life, and you don't want it? You ungrateful swine, we hope you get diphtheria, just to prove how amazing we are!"

I remember telling a nurse, who I was friends with, that I wanted my eldest to have his first MMR and HIB/Men C booster separately. She looked at me askance and immediately started having a go about there being no proven link to autism. She could see no other reason why I didn't want my son exposed to two lots of vaccine at once. Nonetheless, after ranting at me like I was an idiot for a few minutes, she accepted my request. My reasons had nothing to do with fear of vaccination - I think vaccination is a wonderful thing - but because my son (like me) reacts badly to immunisation. He gets poorly, and has a localised reaction every time. I didn't want him to have to suffer a double lot of ouch if he didn't need to, and if he was allergic to the MMR, I wanted a clear cause. As it was, he had classic measles-type rash ten days after immunisation and was poorly for a day or so. I knew what had caused it, and didn't worry or panic. My younger son has the constitution of a horse, so there was no need to space out his immunisations. He also had the post-MMR rash.

There is definitely a feeling within the NHS that immunisation is not a parental choice, but a duty. Although a parent needs to give signed consent for administration, it is assumed that they will give this, and any questions are construed as dissent.

There are now a generation of parents and grandparents who do not remember life pre-vaccination. They do not remember fearing that an URTI would mutate into diphtheria. They do not remember worrying that a viral rash would be early measles.Parents are now able to look after their children without worrying about deadly childhood disease, meningitis excepted. There is very little education available on the components and benefits of immunisation, to the average first parent, because consent is assumed - some cursory leaflets and a bit of information in the 0-5 year book. Infectious childhood diseases, which are still rife in certain parts of the world, are assumed eradicated, the need to immunise questionable.

It does nobody any good to call anti-vaccination parents stupid, to act as though they are single handedly ruining the NHS and all it has striven for. Instead, the NHS needs encourage questions on how vaccines work, their ingredients and their necessity, with practitioners able to give answers there and then. An informed choice is better than blind conformity.