20 Jan 2015

Cbeebies. And Nick Jr, while we're at it.

When you first find out you're pregnant, you promise yourself that you will not be one of THOSE MOTHERS. Those SLATTERNS who SHOVE THEIR CHILD IN FRONT OF THE TV all day, while they just sit and TAKE SELFIES! No! You will be the mother who goes to ALL the groups! Does ALL the messy play! Plays ALL the stupid games! Your child will NEVER want for stimulus! It will be literate by six months, and conversant in seven languages by a year!

And then your baby comes, and cries, and howls, and will not sleep ever, not even for five minutes, not even once, except magically at 6:20pm when In The Night Garden comes on, which you only put on so you could have a crap in peace. And now you're STUCK WITH BASTARD IGGLE PIGGLE. FOREVER!
I sometimes feel like I have spent the whole of the last five-and-a-half years watching TV designed for infants. Some of it is amazing. Some of it is a diabolical shambles.

We begin with the aforementioned In The Night Garden. Now, we first saw this when Jimmy was three months old, and my niece was six months old, at Jimmy's nanny's house. The babies were utterly captivated. For months, Jimmy's favourite toy was a toy Iggle Piggle. I tell you now, that show makes The Magic Roundabout look like a sedate discussion of life in rural England. It is madness. Iggle Piggle is a cloth toy, adrift at sea forever, presumably because his mother didn't want him. To get to sleep, he cuddles down with the sail off his boat, drifting manically about the waves, and dreams of The Night Garden. The Night Garden is a land haunted by bizarre and enormous inflatable.  Then there's Makka Pakka. He's a curious fellow who lives in a cave, obsessively cleaning his stone collection. And anyone who happens to pass by. Upsy Daisy is the local hussy, with an inflatable skirt, kissing everyone. Three siblings, called the Tombliboos, live in a mound of earth with only one bed, and are forever losing their trousers. There is a typical welfare family, consisting of two parents and eight children, who are always losing children, or the patriarch's moustache. Next door, there lives an identical family, who wear blue and are never seen. When the Wottingers come out to play, you know you're in for a treat. Finally, the Garden is frequently torn asunder by vehicles running amok, threatening the lives of all and sundry.
It's madness. Small children adore it.

Then there's Balamory. Balamory started when my younger sister, who is now a teenager, was an infant. It's still going. It's set in a fictional Scottish island community which only seems to have eight adults and an endless stream of nursery age children. Miss Hoolie, the local teacher, is obsessed with the weather, and seems to hold the entire community together. PC Plum is the island's answer to Taggart. A posh, English inventor (played by a very young Miles Jupp) lives in a PINK CASTLE on the hill. Nobody seems to have put in a complaint to the council about a listed building being painted VIVID PINK. You would think they'd have recourse for that sort of thing, but PC Plum is a bit snowed under. Josie Jump never sits still. Edie McCredie drives the endless supply of children around in her bus. Penny Pocket and Suzie Sweet's age-gap romance is never acknowledged by the show, but it's there. Spencer paints the houses the various different colours, so I presume it's his fault about the castle. None of them ever change their clothes. It's like The Prisoner for kids.

The Tweenies are four, enormous toddler-monsters (I don't know what they're supposed to be) in a preschool run by another monster - Judy, and her boyfriend/dad - Max. The Tweenies are obnoxious arsehole Bella, idiot boychild Milo, whingeing diva Fizz and Jake, who is the baby, but so full of wailing self-pity, you want to call him a waaahmbulance. They constantly bicker, fight, and hate each other and make you wonder how on earth Judy doesn't kill them all and bury them in the back garden. They are accompanied by a dog-monster called Doodles, and a lady-dog-monster called Izzles, who talk to each other in STUPID DOG VOICES. They have a Tweenie clock to decide what they must do next, rather than an actual routine, which might do the horrors good as they're all clearly overtired and overwrought. Wankers.

I think the most awful Cbeebies show, if not solely for the wincing cheeriness at 5am, is Me Too! Me Too! is a show about what your parents do after they drop you off at the childminder. According to Me Too! the first thing they do is get lost going to work, when they surely should know the way by now. I'm not sure these parents aren't just off to get drunk. The childminder is a sage lady called Granny Murray, who issues fortune-cookie-level advice at the start of the show. This advice haunts said parent later on during a dilemma at work, and they're then able to SOLVE THIS THANKS TO GRANNY MURRAY! Based on this, Granny Murray should start childminding George Osborne's children. Granny Murray runs a tighter ship than Judy and Max over in Tweenie Land, it must be said.

Baby Jake's a strange one. Jake is the youngest of TEN SIBLINGS, who all live in a windmill. Their mother looks happy and smiling, rather than frazzled and alcoholic, which is where I'd be had I ten children in a fucking windmill! THE STAIRS! THE INABILITY TO PUT IN STAIRGATES! ARGH! Jake goes off to dance with his weird anthropomorphic friends, with his giant gurning baby head photoshopped onto a cartoon baby's body. It's a bit strange. My children find it the most amazing programme, which is why children do not yet run the world.

Grandpa In My Pocket features James Bolam, which is a definite plus point. Unfortunately, the old series also features Jason Mason, a child so insufferable as to make the Tweenies look like good fun to be around. Grandpa has a hat which makes him shrink, and also able to fly around in a toy plane, and drive a toy car. Jason, for reasons he keeps to himself, finds this garment-rendingly awful, and spends most of the time trying to get his Grandpa back in his easy chair. Well, maybe Grandpa wouldn't need to put his hat on if he didn't need to keep escaping from Jason Mason, the whiny little shit. Maybe if they'd just let Grandpa OUT now and again instead of treating him like a prisoner or a toddler, he'd not NEED his hat. The hat's probably a metaphor for dementia.

Rhyme Rocket consists of two young men being ordered about by a megalomaniac aardvark. The only acceptable TV aardvark is Otis, and this beast is not he. The two young men think up awful rhymes at each other, and it makes one toes curl in embarrassment that this is what young actors have to look forward to.

Zingzillas has been mercifully curtailed from the twenty minute agony it once was. The Zingzillas are four musical apes: Zak, the self-absorbed singer, prone to throwing wobblies at every opportunity like any typical frontman. Tang, the one who plays guitar and seems a bit stoned. Panzee, the one who usually throws her oar in whenever Zak's having a paddy (every episode, I tell thee) and then Drum...who plays the drums, and doesn't speak. Oh yes, all manner of band stereotypes are here! There are a trio of random totem poles that have no impact on anything, and a stoned DJ Loose, who reminds me of a cross between John Peel and Colonel Kurtz. There's usually a theme, which results in a messy mash up of a song at the end. The scat song is a particular joy.

Noddy's a joyless twat as well.

I Can Cook proves that you cannot ACTUALLY write a song about anything, even in kid's TV. However, I grant you, it's better than Big Cook Little Cook which was a dystopian nightmare of a show. Little Cook was a malevolent pixie of a man, determined to ruin everything. Big Cook would have been well advised to bake him into a pie.

Kerwizz is a quiz show, a little like the Krypton Factor for CGI monsters, but truly irritating and with no real point. The Kerwizzator is a manchild (age at start: 14, age now: probably mid-30s. TV is ageing) who smugs down the camera the entire time, like a young Henry Kelly. At the end, they pointlessly race, cheered on by a human audience of children who have basically been employed to cheer at a green screen.

DirtGirlWorld looked like this:

A 90s victim of laddette culture, with hideously big eyes and mouth that moved out of synch with the rest of her face. And her best friend was a weird, bulbous caterpillar. And it gave me nightmares.

My biggest issue with Clifford The Big Red Dog is firstly that the dog is so fucking big they cannot fit him in an apartment block, but have no trouble fitting him on a standard foot passenger ferry. Then it's the idea that you would still love a monstrous dog. Imagine Clifford wagging his tail like dogs do, and felling trees and houses. You'd sell him. You know you would.

The Green Balloon Club thankfully seems to have died a death, but my God it was awful. Shrill, earnest, awful shrieking children, singing about bees waggling their arses. Oh, the agony.

Carrie and David's Popshop featured the undoubted talent of Carrie and David Grant MURDERING AWFUL SONGS OVER AND OVER AGAIN UNTIL I WANTED TO KILL THEM, PARTICULARLY EARLY ON SATURDAY MORNINGS. Again, it seems to have gone now.

Numberjacks is a programme that encourages children to think about numbers in an abstract manner. Possibly. I am forever bemused by the collection of villains. The Numbertaker dresses in white, with a top hat, sneaking around. Then there's Spooky Spoon, a bright pink spoon, hovering menacingly and cackling.

Postman Pat's got a bloody helicopter now. I assume Royal Mail will make him redundant soon, for using the helicopter to deliver people's festive Amazon deliveries, and he'll have to go and work for Yodel.

Fireman Sam used to be a jolly children's jaunt, where Bella Lasagne was considered a totally legit name for a woman of Italian descent, and Norman Price should have been locked up, or at least given an ASBO. Not anymore! Pontypandy has had a FOREST FIRE. It has air-sea rescue. No more sliding around on thin ice for the children - bitches gonna burn. It's like London's Burning without the joy of John Alford.

And then...then there's Thomas The Tank Engine. Thomas The Tank Engine remains as snooze-inducingly awful as it ever was, with added CRUNK RIMES every now and then. Unfortunately, the worst thing about Thomas is that he's such a snide little jobsworth. SUCH A USEFUL FUCKING ENGINE.

There are plenty more...but I think they're probably the worst. Unless you've been made to watch Pingu for eight hours.

However, it's not all bad. Show Me Show Me is AMAZING. Chris Jarvis is an ageless miracle. Something Special is also amazing, and Justin's House is good as well (Gigglebiz is execrable, but nobody's perfect). Mr Bloom is HOT, and therefore his veggies are fascinating. Let's Play is excellent. Alphablocks is actually educational, as is The Lingo Show. I really loved Small Potatoes, but I doubt anyone else even noticed (and Doodle Doo, for that matter. Sod Mister Maker, bring back Doodle Doo!) Melody and Ben and Holly's Little Kingdom are also wonderful, and all of these shows are a thousand times better than the BLAZING INTO YOUR EYE SOCKET SHITNESS of Disney Junior.

Carry on!

8 Jan 2015

Kill All The White Man

Yesterday, three Muslim men killed twelve people, for the crime of working for, or trying to protect a magazine that published an offensive cartoon.
In 2005, fifty two people in London died on public transport after a co-ordinated Islamic terrorist attack.
In 2002, two men, one of whom was Muslim, killed ten people across Washington DC, ostensibly because of jihad, but potentially because the Muslim man's wife was stopping him seeing their children.
In 2001, of course, a collective of Muslims orchestrated the 9/11 bombings, to avenge the acts of the US in the Middle East, as well as the more obvious jihad. Almost three thousand people died.

All these attacks have brought on claims that Islam is dangerous, Islam is murderous, Islam is megalomania. Islam must be stopped. Muslims must be arrested. Muslims must be killed. They're all the same. They're all going to kill you.
All of them.

Let's look at some other atrocities:

Between 1970 and 1990, the IRA killed a large variety of people in the United Kingdom, for religious and political reasons.

Arrest all the Irish?

In 2013, a Ukranian man killed a Muslim and bombed multiple mosques in London, to try and incite a war.

Arrest all the Ukranians?

In the 1970s, a white good-looking American,  killed up to forty women, because he hated women.

Arrest all the white men?

Between 1968 and the mid 1980s, an English man killed at least thirteen women, because he could.

Arrest all the white men?
It'd protect the women.

Oh, I'm sorry, do serial killers not count? OK...

On one afternoon in 1966, a sniper in a clock tower killed sixteen people including his wife, and mother. Motive? He was stressed. In 1995, a man detonated a bomb in Oklahoma that killed 168 people, because he disliked the government. In 2007, a student in America killed 32 people because he was sad. In Scotland in 1996, a man shot a reception age class, and killed sixteen of them and their teacher. Why? Nobody knows. A Swedish man killed 77 people in 2011 because he hated Muslims. None of his victims were Muslim. A man killed 12 people in a cinema in 2012, because he believed he was a character from a cartoon.

Spree killers...all classified as criminally insane...all mostly dead now, as they usually shoot themselves. All with a grudge, all killing innocent people, all with guns, all men, all white, none Muslim, all insane.

Kill all the white men?

Because you don't know when they'll turn.

The Holocaust was perpetrated by white men. Hiroshima and Nagasaki were committed by white men. The white men of the US killed around fifty per cent of the Native Americans living there in the 19th century. Slavery killed untold thousands, perhaps even millions. Because the white men thought they were best. They thought their ways were best, their skin colour was best, their culture was best.

Kill all the white men?
They can't be trusted.
Power goes to their head.
They think their beliefs make them better than everyone else.
They're not afraid to use technology to make a point.
Better safe than sorry.

As for those claiming RELIGION MAKES PEOPLE MURDER, Communist countries reject religion utterly. The death toll under Stalin reached around forty MILLION. The death toll in Maoist China is estimated at four hundred thousand, although it may have been much higher.

People kill other people because they want to. Any defence they can use, they will. "My wife's a bitch. My mother abused me. My father was absent. My religion says I can, and then I'll go to heaven. I was angry. I was sad. I hate women. I wanted to make a difference. I feel good when I kill. I'm insane. She wouldn't stop screaming. I wanted to eat them. I wanted to know what it felt like. I want to start a war. I wanted people to notice me. I was told to. I was scared."

Do you think ANY of those reasons are valid? Or does claiming God told you to do it make it somehow MORE abhorrent?

Islamophobia turns my blood cold because it is racist. It is bigoted. Claiming all Muslims want jihad is like claiming all Christians want another Holocaust. It is ridiculous. It is offensive. It is painful to hear. Stop it.

6 Jan 2015

The reality of living in a deprived area

Wealth and health correlate - the more money you have, the better health you are likely to experience.
I happen to live in a deprived area, in the red on this handy deprivation index map. So, what's it actually like? How does it impact on our ability to make healthy choices?

First up, diet. Everyone knows poor diet is linked to numerous long term health conditions and obesity. There is a lot in the media about choosing to be fat, but how much choice do you actually get in deprived areas? All distances are courtesy of Walkit.com, and are fastest route, so mostly along dual carriageways.

CLOSEST SHOP: Cornershop and Nisa. 0.2km
ALSO AVAILABLE: Marks and Spencer 1.1km, Farmfoods 1.1km, small Tesco 1.7km.

The food choices are varied. The cornershop sells mostly sweets and newspapers, with a small amount of essential daily purchases, like milk.
The Nisa sells a very poor selection of 'fresh' fruit and vegetables, at slightly increased prices. I have never had an unmouldy onion from there, but it will suffice at a push. There is no fresh meat, just sausages, bacon and ham, and no fresh fish at all. There are four whole aisles dedicated to sweets, crisps and cake. There's also a large frozen food section. One whole side of the shop is full of alcohol. There is also a large variety of cigarettes. The deals offered by Nisa are usually focused on cheap multibuys of packs of sweets, alcohol and fizzy drinks.
I'm sure you're acquainted with the produce sold by Tesco, Morrisons, M+S and Farmfoods.
Cost wise, it is cheapest to get a full shop, including fresh produce, from Morrisons or Tesco However, this requires transport, on which more later. The nearest greengrocer is approximately 4km away. There are food banks all over the city, with supermarkets regularly collecting for them. The nearest one is about 2km away and open once a week, accessible by voucher.

Now, exercise. The opportunities for exercise here are limited to walking/jogging, children's karate and gym membership.
BANNATYNES: Costs more than £600 a year, 2km away
COUNCIL FUNDED GYM: £8 a session, 1.7km away

There are three parks within walking distance. One has lots of broken equipment, countless enormous rabbit holes, and is a popular haunt for drunks. One is much bigger, with better equipment, but is sited right next to the nastiest pub in the area. The last one is a proper landscaped town park, but last time we visited the park, it was full of dust and fumes from the housing estate being built behind it. The general area is well provided with pavements and trees, at least on the main thoroughfares. Once you get into the residential areas, it's less of a concern.

Education is a key determinant for health. The better your education, the better your job prospects, the better your later income, the better your health. The schools here are not great. There is only one primary school here, which received a good rating at its last Ofsted inspection. There are two secondary schools with catchment here. The closest is inadequate according to Ofsted. The other requires improvement, and is 1.7km away. Thankfully, the nearest preschool has an outstanding rating, but is oversubscribed by the entire city, as it has excellent special needs provision.

Transport is not amazing. In fact, my city is apparently the worst in the country for public transport, a particularly damning statistic for a 'new town'. There is a bus service every ten minutes into the city centre, which costs around £4 for a dayrider. Theoretically, this allows travel across the services in the city all day, but it's usually cheaper to get a dayrider than a straightforward return (it's £2.10 for a single to town). A taxi is between £5 and £7 each way, depending on where you're going - it's £5 to go the almost 5km into the city from my house, and £5 to go to the next suburb along. The bus is a five minute walk from my house. My husband is out of the house working from 10 to 12 hours a day. We can only afford one car, and all the families round here are the same. This means doing the grocery shopping has to be done either on foot, or at the weekend. Thankfully, we do the majority of our shopping online, as we can both afford both the technology, and the delivery charge. Access to the internet cannot be taken for granted.
It also means going to the doctors (which is 4km away) relies on public transport or friends. This is great fun when you've got a sick child on the bus.
One nice thing for the city in general is that it does have comprehensive cycle lanes and footpaths. The only problem, as a lone female, is that some of them seem designed to make you fear attack. There is one underpass here that goes under one road and over another. It terrifies me every time I go through it, even when it's the middle of the day, because it is totally invisible from the roads and surrounded pathways. Subways and leafy, murder-alley type paths are de rigeur. Good lighting, and CCTV are less popular.

Employment opportunities are slim to none here. You have to travel either into the city, or to the outskirts where the factories are. Unless you want to work in retail, but retail never paid anyone's living costs by itself. Or you could be a dinnerlady, or a cleaner. Which...same. If you work outside the area, you better hope you earn enough to run a car, or face the awful buses, or be healthy enough to cycle.

Housing conditions are poor. My house, which is a little older than average, is a terraced Edwardian villa. It features original windows in the kitchen and bathroom, which means no double glazing. All three exterior doors are originally, and not weatherproof. They also let in an unseemly number of slugs. The heating is inadequate for the size of the house, and the gas costs approx £1 an hour to run. The walls are lime plaster and keep falling down when you put nails in them, and there's no cavity wall to insulate. The damp gets really bad in the bathroom. My landlord's attitude is that it's an old house, it's not worth the work. Many landlords and rental agencies will not countenance your application if you are on benefits, because as ANY FULE KNO, people on benefits are going to ruin their house, and never pay their rent. I do not know how this is legal. How does it MATTER how you pay your rent, as long as it is paid? We claim minimal benefits now, but would still have trouble getting a new rent because of this ridiculous ruling by most agencies.

There aren't many opportunities for socialising. The primary school have craft mornings for parents (which aren't advertised, so how you're supposed to know it exists is beyond me). There's a large immigrant population here, which has no apparent provision from anyone. There are no language classes in the area, and no advertised groups for those who have recently arrived. The nearest Surestart centre was closed as part of budget cuts (to make way for the £120 million city centre redevelopment, which has so far pissed off everyone who lives here, and attracted very new visitors) but the preschool who occupy half the site has managed to open a few groups for families, as so far the plans to turn it into a disability outreach centre have not been implemented. The nearest fully operational Surestart centre is a little over 2km away, and includes a KS4 pupil referral centre that may put off some parents from attending. There are two pubs locally, and plenty of outdoor drinking spaces, as well as a Costa, but as far as making friends go, opportunities are somewhat limited if you don't already know people here. You can travel out to other areas, if you can bear to navigate the awful bus system. But that's a big if. Being part of strong social networks is one of the best ways to protect your health.

Health services need to be easy to access. I speak as someone who feels rubbish at the moment, but cannot face the bus journey, and then half mile walk to the doctors' when struggling with sickness and pelvic pain. The nearest doctor's surgery is actually in the next suburb along, and would take me 25 minutes to walk, or I could get off the bus in front of it. The reason I joined my actual doctor's surgery is because they have a branch surgery at the top of my road. Alas, this has been out of use for six months, although they claimed it would reopen after Christmas. I have personally never had a problem with getting appointments because I have inside knowledge on how the system works, and thus don't object to detailing my health woes in great detail to a receptionist. Dentists are also a problem. I have a very good dentist, who I love, who is only about 2km away, but who will only see me as long as I have a prescription exemption certificate. Thankfully, I've had one almost constantly for the last five years. However, when I lose my exemption, as I will around a year after my baby's born, I will either have to pay astronomical private dentist fees, or re-register with an NHS dentist miles away. Bad teeth is an image of poverty, because many people either cannot reach, or cannot afford, a decent dentist.
The local hospital is an originally PFI funded, highly modern, highly in debt, new build about 10 minutes away by car. I have to say, I've used them regularly since it opened, and I have never been less than impressed with their care and service. However, to try and get there by bus is a nightmare. You have to catch the local bus into town, going PAST the hospital as you do so, then transfer to a DIFFERENT bus which will eventually drop you off right outside. The local link community bus service that linked up directly from the north of the city to the hospital was dropped as part of the council cuts over a year ago.
My son is autistic, and is still waiting for his assessment, one year after initial referral. Thankfully, the council-run educational psychology team is a lot more efficient than the NHS-run neurodevelopment team. I imagine other disabilities and services are similarly hit and miss, though thankfully we don't need to access them.
On a slightly different note, midwifery services are also taxed, and I have been warned that if I have a homebirth (this is the plan, I'm sure I'll blog about it at some point), the midwife on call may be coming from up to 64km away. However, homebirths are being encouraged to reduce the load on the maternity unit.

Now, a lot of these problems are things that could be (in fact, can ONLY be) solved by a forward-thinking government, or some well informed local councillors. The local councillors here are mostly concerned about things like parking on grass verges, and tree trimming. I know this because they send me the most unintentionally hilarious newsletter every now and then. They do nothing about improving the general local services, aside from repeatedly shutting down attempts to open YET MORE takeaways on the main drag into town. I imagine actually fixing the structure of the area takes considerably more red tape than people in a four year term of government can be arsed to go through.
And some of these problems are circumvented by moving away (if you can afford it), owning a car (ditto), or taking on the 'Big Society' initiative and trying to set things up yourself. Again, this is not easy.

In a few months, I've got to propose an improvement to my community as part of my dissertation. And just writing this has given me so much to think about how much this community COULD be improved. But where do you START?