Tuesday, 17 December 2013

The Family Christmas Party

There was a moment on Sunday, at the Family Christmas Party, when my brother turned to my fiancĂ© Mark, and said “It’s not too late”.

Every year, my mother’s family get together – a request made by my late Nan, which the family have admirably honoured year in year out. In the olden days, it was at an aunt’s house – a packed, boozy, children running wild affair, and everyone had a good old catch up. As the year’s went on, and, Irish Catholic as they are, the numbers increased rapidly, we moved to the local Church Hall. And thus, the games began – musical chairs, pass the parcel, and the obligatory sitting on Santa’s lap no matter what age you were. I once took a friend who was performing in a show in Birmingham. I think she appreciated a family gathering whilst being holed up in digs, but she did look slightly traumatised post Santa’s lap.

It was all manageable until last year, when they decided there would be an additional “Britain’s Got Talent” element to the Party. How bad can it have been, you wonder? Well, pretty bad. There were some highlights. My uncle got up and sang You’ll Never Walk Alone a capella and revealed a rather wonderful voice. My nephews got up with my brother and his wife and did a dance routine. Others played the guitar. It was clear some of the elder relatives had gone to a lot of effort. They had the wigs, the costume, the make up. Alas, they just hadn’t learnt the words or had any intention of singing them. And trust me, Islands in the Stream goes on an awfully long time when the dance routine is uncoordinated, and they are holding a piece of paper with the words in one hand, and still miming them incorrectly.

I sound horrible don’t I? Don’t get me wrong, it’s highly entertaining. For a while. And hats off to them for not giving a shit. And they clearly love it. And I love them for it. And I guess that’s what Families and especially families at Christmas, are all about, right?

I felt my Mark was ready for the Christmas party. He was prepared – he’d met them all at my Brother’s 50th, and he’d been pre-warned about the entertainment. I had forgotten to tell him there would be games. He tried to get out on the first round of Musical Chairs, but Mother kindly replaced a chair for him. Bless. Then there was some food , and then about a 20minute wait before the first act came on. I was expecting costumes. What I wasn’t expecting, was 3 of my aunts to emerge Blacked up to the music of Baby Love. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Mark’s jaw drop before. But then I did. Again, they all held mikes. Again, they all mimed. But they did say they’d taken my note from last year and not brought the words on with them. Thank heaven for small mercies.

We had to leave to get our train, so we didn’t get to see all the acts. My Aunt and Uncle has told us they were doing Ashleigh and Pudsey, with my Uncle as Pudsey. I asked my mother on the phone how the rest of the afternoon went – she said my Uncle was dressed up as a cat. Enough said.

But this is life. This is reality. A big blurry mess of relatives, embarrassment, inappropriate comments, too much food and drink, laughing till you’re crying, and desperately trying to remember the names of all your second cousins. This is family. This is Christmas. And you know what, I hope that as you’re reading this, you’re thinking, well, mine ain’t gonna be as mental as that. And you’re probably right. And we have the whole Church Hall, so if you fancy coming next year, give me a shout – maybe I’ll start selling tickets ;-)

Merry Christmas one and all xxx

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

What happened to Sisterhood?

I’m going to have to write this blog quite carefully, in that, my issue is women attacking other women. And thus in talking about it, I must err on the side of not attacking those who should know better. Namely, other women.

Let’s start with the women who have come out against #teamnigella. There’s  one that really springs to mind, and I’m not going to give her more publicity by naming her, but she appears to be making a living out of attacking other women – for being fat, for not bringing up their children in the way she thinks is correct, or indeed, for leaving a millionaire who was probably abusing his wife emotionally and mentally as well as physically. It upsets me and angers me that anyone would think this is a good way to earn a crust. It especially angers me when it’s a woman. Because we need all the help and support we can get. And we need it most from our fellow women.

I had to think back – have I been one of those women in my time? And honestly, my answer is probably yes. When was that? When I was young. When I didn’t know better. When I was insecure and defensive. As we all are at some point right? And it manifests itself in different ways. We are critical of other women’s appearance (to be fair, I still am on occasion. Though usually when they are on the telly, which I think to some extent makes all people, male and female, fair game), maybe because that makes us feel better? We monopolize or manipulate friendships, or indeed isolate others, through fear and jealousy and all those weird emotions that make friendships, in our youth, almost as important as love affairs. We will do almost anything to be the chosen one by the desired male. ‘Chicks before dicks’ is a phrase that I think only really starts to take hold, in reality, once we’re at least mid twenties, if not later. 

So, when you grow up, when you’ve sorted your shit out a little bit, when you’re a tad more secure and settled, then you should have the capacity, the empathy, the foresight, to be a proper woman. And by a proper woman, I mean a woman who has other womens’ backs. Who recognises that for all our progress, we still live in a fairly patriarchal world, and we have to fight. Fight for survival, fight for recognition, and fight for the greater good. Because I fundamentally believe that ultimately, when we are properly equal, it will be better all round.

Which brings me back round to the woman who shall not be named. Who tweeted a couple of days ago ‘Sisterhood? Don’t speak to me of this thing you call the sisterhood. Stand at any school gate and you will learn it is entirely contrived’ and today that ‘If I was a man people would not be offended by me’. You’re right Miss. I wouldn’t be so offended. Because sadly, I still expect that of men sometimes. But not from women. 

Sisterhood comes from being happy with your lot, and thus being happy for everyone else that has theirs. So it takes work – on yourself, and on your relationships with others. Which means that I look at a woman who is constantly putting down other women, and I surmise that she isn’t very happy or secure, and I wonder why that is. I think Sisterhood is inbuilt, in our DNA, but that we’ve somehow forgotten about it. A woman I met many years ago said that our modern conveniences have made us forget our support of each other. She talked about the old ages when women would go the lake and fetch water and wash clothes (I’m aware the men should have been doing that too J) and they’d have a natter, they’d listen to each other. There was a daily gathering – a support network like no other. But I fear we’ve got too fussed about designer clothes, and house prices, and X Factor and all the daily crap that surrounds us and takes us away from what is important. 

But that doesn’t mean our sisterhood is lost. It just means we have to find new ways to reinvigorate it, within a modern world and to pass that on to our kids. And we have to avoid the media that perpetuates women attacking other women. And we have to make a concerted effort to be nicer and kinder to each other.  And, alas, understanding of those women who aren’t quite there yet.