Sunday, 31 May 2015

Review: Aussie Shower Gel Smoothie Bodywash

So far this year I haven't had to buy a single bottle of shower gel - I've managed to win them all instead! This week I switched to the latest bottle, Aussie Shower Gel Smoothie Bodywash 250ml, which I won from I love Aussie hair products, especially the shampoo, so I was really looking forward to trying the shower gel out.

Retails for around £2.99 a bottle.

It lived up to expectations. The gel is nice and thick, and lathers up well. But the best thing about it is the smell! It smells just like Anglo Bubbly bubble gum. Yum. :)

Saturday, 30 May 2015

Trade-In Trials

Trade-In Trials

You really have three options when it comes to media you have already consumed: you throw it away, give it away, or try to sell it. The first just seems all wrong to me (I mean, putting a book in the bin? A book!?), so traditionally I've always gone for option two. But, inspired by all the TV ads on the subject, lately I've been using online trade-in sites instead.

Rather than go with the usual tried and tested option (Ziffit), I decided I'd shop around a bit more with this lot to see if I could get a better deal. They all pay within around seven working days of receiving your package, so I was more interested in how much they offered and how easy the process was when rating - as I prefer using Royal Mail to Collect+ that was also a factor.

Plenty of stuff to trade in... 
Trade-in Limit: £15
Shipping: Label is emailed to you, with the option of using Royal Mail or taking the package to your local Collect+ point.
Comments: This came out worst in my test, with no trade in offers for the bulk of my items and typically the lowest offers for items they did want.
Trade-in Limit: £10
Shipping: Label is emailed to you, and package must be taken to the nearest Collect+ point.
Comments: Slightly more offers than Fatbrain, with offers generally around the 20 - 30p mark. The biggest downside of ZAPPER is the high number of items the site didn't recognise the ISBN for, and even popular, well selling books fell into this category.
Trade-in Limit: £5
Shipping: Label has to be printed off and package taken to Collect+ point, although they will send you a Royal Mail label if you have no local Collect+ point (doesn't specify how local...).
Comments: The search function was slower than on the other sites, and trade in offers were generally low - but it would take some of the items none of the others wanted.

Trade-in Limit: £10 (to be paid in Amazon vouchers)
Shipping: Label needs to be printed, but there is the option of Royal Mail or Collect+.
Comments: Didn't offer trade-in on many items, but did offer a decent price for the items they wanted.
Trade-in Limit: £10
Shipping: You need to print the shipping label or write out your own label, then post it via Royal Mail.
Comments: I've used Momox before and was impressed with the offers I received from them for books which no other site wanted. The only downside I can see is that they're the only one based out of country (Germany), so turnaround time might be slightly longer.
Trade-in Limit: £10
Shipping: You can either print out the label or request that they post you one, then you either take your stuff to the nearest Collect+ point or, if your trade-in weighs over 10kg, they will collect it from your house.
Comments: By far the best trade-in site in my experience, offering trade-in on the widest range of items, along with offering the highest price in around 75% of cases. I've also found their customer service department to be very helpful, with a quick response time.

Have you tried out any of the trade-in sites? Which one is your favourite?

Empathy: Nature or Nurture?

Empathy: Nature or Nurture?
"I don't know who the **** Katie Hopkins is... So why do I care what she says about my body?" So tweeted one of my fave models, Tess Holliday, in response to Katie Hopkins latest round of fat shaming. Because being fat is 100% worse than being a vicious bully. Obviously.

Tess Holliday.

It's a question I asked myself a few weeks back when I heard of Hopkins for the first time. I figured she must have come from some reality show like Big Brother, and I wasn't too far off the mark - it was actually The Apprentice, and since then she's done her best to perpetuate her status as 'famous for being famous'. She writes for the Sun, and is basically a female version of Richard Littlejohn.

Katie Hopkins.

When I encounter people like this I always wonder about how they treat their children. I mean, when their kids come home upset because another child has said something horrid to them do they just turn around and say, "well, you are ugly / fat / stupid, what do you expect?" And if they don't, why do they think it's okay to say it to somebody else's child?

'Gripper' Stebson was one of TV's most famous school bullies.

People always say that bullies have low self esteem, but recent studies have shown that in fact the reverse is often true. Instead they are 'shame-prone'; they feel they don't live up to their own standards, but they still think they're better than the people they bully. I think that brings up interesting parenting challenges. I want Marianna to be proud of herself, of course, and to think that she's amazing - but to think that gives her the right to make other people feel bad about themselves for no other reason than to validate her own sense of superiority... The idea alone makes me feel queasy.

Marianna's currently too cool for school...

I suppose it all comes down to empathy. Although bullies are generally quite good at recognising emotions in other people, they lack the ability to empathise with those emotions - instead they tend to be highly egocentric, and make sense of other peoples' emotions through how they make them feel. (e.g. It upset her, but everyone was noticing me and that made me feel good.) In other words, unlike children with something like ASD who may struggle to recognise emotions in other people, bullies know and understand that they have upset you - they just don't care.

Bullies also tend to be good at moral disengagement which enables them to avoid feeling guilt or remorse for their actions. This means they:

  • Blame or dehumanise the victim.
  • Displace or diffuse responsibility for their actions (e.g. 'he made me do it').
  • Employ euphemistic labelling (e.g. 'it was only a bit of fun').
  • Use exonerative comparison (e.g. 'what I did wasn't as bad as what some other people have done').

More than anything, I hope I can live up to this.

So. while it might seem like something that should come naturally, empathy is actually a trait which needs to be taught, encouraged and nurtured. There's a great article HERE on how to do this, from the obvious imagining how you would feel in another person's place, to the importance of not relying on material reward for kind and sympathetic behaviour (because it subtly changes the understanding from 'how I should behave' to 'how I am expected to behave'). Another HERE about the difference between empathy and sympathy.

I might not be a perfect mentor on this subject - but here's to hoping I'll make a better go of it than a certain Sun columnist!

Thursday, 28 May 2015

Community Councils Online

I was reading the Oggy Bloggy Ogwr blog earlier, and they had an interesting post on how the Bridgend area's town and community councils are complying with the Local Democracy Act 2013. In their words: "It means town and community councils are obligated to publish things such as members' interests, meeting minutes and other assorted information on a "regularly updated" website." There will be time yet to implement this, but it made me wonder how close Torfaen's town and community councils are to compliance.

The popular view of first tier councils. In fact there are more than 10,000 community, town and parish councils in England and Wales, comprising more than 100,000 councillors - the 8,000 or so in Wales are paid £100 a year for their services.

Unlike the 20 in Bridgend, Torfaen only has 6 town and community councils - making my task somewhat easier! (For more on what they actually are, check out the One Voice Wales website HERE.) I've listed them by size:

Cwmbran Community Council

The joint biggest in Torfaen with 21 councillors, CCC has a pretty good website. There are some pages which badly need finishing, such as 'Meet Your Councillors', but other than that the site has plenty of information and is updated regularly, along with the social media presence on Facebook (although that does need to be better linked on the website). Overall Grade: A

Pontypool Community Council

Like Cwmbran, Pontypool Community Council has 21 councillors. In addition to being on Facebook (again, it needs to be better linked), PCC regularly updates its website and all the relevant information was easy to find. Overall Grade: A

Croesyceiliog and Llanyrafon Community Council

With 15 councillors, this is the second largest in Torfaen. The website is clear and easy to use, and its councillor information page is particularly well done in comparison with the others in the area. Minutes and agendas are updated fairly regularly, though there is no social media presence. Overall Grade: A

Blaenavon Town Council

Representing 12 councillors, BTC has a simple, well laid out website set up. It falls down on the 'regularly updated' part though, with the last meeting minutes uploaded in April 2014. Overall Grade: C/D.

Ponthir Community Council

In spite of its small size - 7 councillors - PCC has a very usable, regularly updated website with all relevant information available. They are on Facebook and the council also puts out a printed newsletter twice a year. Overall Grade: A

Henllys Community Council

With 7 councillors, Henllys, along with Ponthir, is the baby of the bunch. For all that the website manages to pack in loads of information, has regularly updated minutes, and a neat contact page. I couldn't find members' interests, but my only other quibbles are the lack of social media presence and the fact the splash page could do with updating. Overall Grade: A/B

Aside from Blaenavon - which really only needs a good updating session - it looks like Torfaen's town and community councils are all on track!

Wednesday, 27 May 2015

Holding On

After Marianna was born the doctors were a bit worried about her muscle tone, so she has to see a physiotherapist every three months to check on her progress. At her last appointment they wanted to see her reaching out for things more, so we've been working on her grip a lot at home. At first she was only interested if she could see some immediate benefit - i.e. she would hold her bottle - but she quickly progressed on to reaching out and grabbing other things.

The first toy she really showed any interest in holding was the Nuby Safari Chime Hypo, pictured at the top of this post and now known as 'jangly hippo'. Now she's into absolutely everything, though her other favourites are her plastic teething keys and 'crinkly book'.

Though, like everything, 'crinkly book' has its faults...

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

C-section Recovery: My Story

Recently I gave in, after much nagging, and made a doctor's appointment about the lingering C-section pain. Today the appointment rolled around and I was relieved to hear that the decision to do aerobics too soon after hadn't done me any lasting damage.

Up until that poor life choice, it had been healing really well. The NHS website says that the general stay in hospital is two to four days, though you can be out in 24 hours if you and baby are healthy. Marianna was born just before 10:30 am and then the only thing I was out of for those first 24 hours was reality (thank you Oramorph!), and then my mind - with worry. Marianna was on NICU and I was stuck on the post-op maternity ward. The nurse came and told me around 6 am the following morning that Marianna had had a fit, but nothing beyond that. (I would say more about care on the ward, but I'd sooner forget it.) Having no idea that it was actually fairly common for babies born via C-section, I spent most of the second day a hysterical mess.

The limited information I'd read on C-sections before it happened to me was all about Grade 2 sections or below (there are four grades), which are done using localised spinal or epidural anaesthetics. Mine was a Grade 1 'Crash Section' carried out under general anaesthetic, so none of the niceties about being part of the experience applied - it was just a case of 'it's happening now so at least one of you makes it'. I don't know if the type of section does make a substantial difference on recovery times, but I wouldn't be surprised if it had some impact, especially in the short term. 

"Why you disturb me, peasant?" In intensive care.

Once I was moved to the general maternity ward I was determined to be discharged as soon as possible, in spite of the vast improvement in care and atmosphere. Some women find it comforting, I know, but I just found it so upsetting to be on my own (still mostly unable to move, don't believe anyone who says a C-section is the 'easy' option!) in hospital, surrounded by other mums with their newborns. I went home just after evening visiting hours on the third day so I could be immobile in the comfort of my own home. 

It takes around six weeks for the tissue to heal, and before that you're told not to do anything too strenuous and not to lift anything heavier than your baby. It made me feel even more useless when I made the daily trip down to the Royal Gwent to see Marianna. Not only was I exhausted by the time I got there, once she was moved from intensive care to high dependency I could still hardly lift her for changing, etc. 

On the high dependency ward.

By the time Marianna was discharged at three weeks things were beginning to improve. I could get out of bed on my own, and the bleeding had mostly stopped. I was only having twinges of pain by the time I returned to work at two months, and at three I was feeling so good I dug out all the exercise DVDs. The low intensity stuff was actually fine, and if I'd stuck to that there wouldn't have been a problem. Of course I didn't, and set my recovery back a good month at least. 

Here's to better life choices in future...


Monday, 25 May 2015

Magazine Monday: Tucker's Luck, 1984

Today's scans are actually from an annual (another thing I'm a fairly avid collector of), specifically the 1984 Tucker's Luck annual. Tucker's Luck was a short lived spin-off from BBC kids' drama Grange Hill, following the exploits of Tucker, Alan and Tommy now they've left school with one English O-Level between them. With that kind of backing it's not too surprising that they became part of the quarter of under 25's who were out of work in mid 1980s Britain.

"If you're stuck in a dole queue for hours - or anywhere else for that matter - here's a few ideas to keep the minutes ticking away... some silly, some sane!" Click HERE for full size.

Much like the NEETs (Not in Employment, Education or Training) of today, they were at the mercy of government schemes and low skilled, monotonous jobs. As Tucker exasperatedly told the job advisor at their local dole office:

 Have you ever worked in any of these jobs? 'Cause they offer even less self-respect than they do wages!

The annual too dealt with what was the reality of many of their readers - how to look for work, and how to cope when it didn't prove forthcoming -

Sunday, 24 May 2015

The Hitler Youth

For my German A-level oral exam you had to research and write a piece on a topic of your choice to discuss. There were only two of us in the class, and my counterpart had the good sense to write about skiing. I was particularly interested in WWII history at the time so I decided to write about the Hitler Youth movement, even though it was a pain to research as the school internet filter had a blackout ban on the word 'Nazi'... Anyway, here's the English translation of that report, followed by my school level German.

The History of the Hitler Youth

Officer of Tomorrow

The Hitler Youth

The History of the Hitler Youth

The history of the Hitler Youth begins in Munich in 1919, with the founding of the German Workers' Party. Adolf Hitler had to investigate the party for the authorities, but the ideology so well suited him that in this same year he became a DAP member. By the summer of 1921 Hitler was the leader of the party, now known as the National Socialist German Worker's Party or 'NSDAP' [i.e. Nazi]. But the party was only for adults.

This changed in 1922. An 18-year-old named Adolf Lenk wanted to join the NSDAP. But he was too young - members had to be at least 21 years old. Naturally he was disappointed and told Hitler that their ought to be a Nazi youth organisation. Hitler was of the same opinion and the result was the 'Jugendbund' [Youth Federation]. By the end of 1922 it had 250 members; but it was short lived. Following the unsuccessful Putsch by the NSDAP in November 1923 [i.e. the Munich Putsch], the party and its youth organisation were made illegal.

Hitler meeting with Hitler Youth units.

Although there were a couple of groups given different names in an attempt to evade the police (e.g. 'Wandersportverein-Vogtland' [Hiking Club] and 'Deutschvölkischer Jugendbund Yorck von Warternburg'), we don't see another official Nazi youth organisation until 1924. 1928 witnessed the beginning of the girls' organisation 'Schwesterschaften' [roughly 'sisterhood'] (which would later become the 'BDM'), and in 1933 Hitler became the German Führer [leader].

Other youth organisations were quickly forbidden, in fact membership of the Hitler Youth became obligatory in 1936. Between 1933 and 1939 many children had already joined because of the violence towards other children by the Hitler Youth, and threats from Nazi supporters. At the beginning of the 2nd World War the Hitler Youth had more than 8 million members.

Structure and Activities of the Hitler Youth

There were two groups within the Hitler Youth for boys. First came the 'Jungvolk' [Young Boys' League] for 10 to 14 year olds, and the Hitler Youth proper for 14 to 18 year olds - although younger boys doubtless took part. 150 boys made a 'Fähnlein' [company] but the smallest unit was the 'Kameradschaft' [literally 'comradeship']. There were also two groups for girls; the 'Jungmädel' [Young Girls' League] for 10 to 14 year olds, and then the BDM for 14 to 18 year olds. The BDM was an abbreviation of 'Bund Deutscher Mädel' [League of German Girls] although an alternative version was 'Bald Deutsche Mutter' [Soon to be German Mothers]!

Many members of the BDM treated Hitler like a modern group of girls might a pop star; his visits to BDM groups were generally accompanied with screaming, swooning and fainting. From 1938 young women aged 17 to 21 years old could become members of the BDM-Werk, Glaube und Schönheit (Work, Faith and Beauty Society).

The majority of German children (especially the boys) couldn't wait to become members of the Hitler Youth. At ten years old almost every 'ethnically pure' boy took the 'Pimpfenprobe' [lads test]. With this test they had to prove themselves. It was very difficult and the required activities were normally as follows: a 60 metre sprint in 12 seconds, a long jump of 2.75 metres, and a baseball throw of 25 metres. Often the Jungvolk leaders would also make the boys do a 'Mutprove' [test of courage], for example jumping through an open window to prove their trust in the leaders. Naturally it was safe - but the boys didn't know this! After a successful test a boy would recite the words 'Meine Ehre heißt Treue' ['My Honour is called Loyalty', a phrase which was also the motto of the SS]. Now he was a true member of the Hitler Youth.

The Hitler Youth met at least twice a week. The 'Heimabende' [Home Evenings] were meetings where the Hitler Youth members had to learn the Nazi view of German history. Hitler believed that the boys needed young leaders to look up to. Because of this the Jungvolk had leaders who were only 14 or 15 years old, although it must be said that they were not very good teachers! For many Hitler Youth members these 'Heimabende' were a necessary evil because they were so boring.

Centrespread from the 1938 Jungvolk Jahrbuch [Jungvolk Year Book] - the activities the HJ took part in were very similar to what Boy Scouts might be doing in Britain.

There were also other activities. The Hitler Youth had their own duties, like patrolling the markets and the cafes. At the weekend there was sports, camping, hiking or war games. The older children learned how to use a rifle. They were being trained to become little soliders, ready to fight for their Führer. At the same time the girls learned how to be perfect mothers and wives. These children wanted to create a new Germany for their Führer.


Why did the German youth follow the Hitler Youth? This is a very complicated question, and for every child the answer was somewhat different. But at a general level the answer is clear. Children always want to be accepted as part of their peer group. The uniform, the parades, and so on, all helped to create a common identity and sense of belonging within the Hitler Youth. This was the plan of the Nazi Party.

As the expert Guido Knopp has said, 1945 was more than a total defeat. It was the collapse of a complete belief system.The veterans of the Hitler Youth had to learn new values. And this was, in general, successful. Even Pope Benedict XVI was once a member of the Hitler Youth. Today these people no longer believe in Nazi ideology, although some of their grandchildren do. These 'Neo-Nazis' listen to 'Rechtsrock' [literally 'right rock', sometimes known as RAC in English speaking countries] and are strongly against Jews, Turks, asylum seekers and other foreigners. The influence of the Nazis cannot easily be forgotten.

Cover of Der Pimpf, the Nazi magazine for boys which began publication in 1935. There was also one for the girls, called Das deutsche Madel.

Die Hitlerjugend 

Die Geschichte der Hitlerjugend 

Die Geschichte der Hitlerjugend beginnt in München in 1919, als die “Deutsche Arbeiterpatei” sich gegründet wurde. Adolf Hitler muste diese Partei für die Regierung untersuchen aber die Ideologie der Partei hat ihm so gut gefällen, dass in diesem Jahr Hitler der Partei beigetreten ist. Als im Sommer 1921 Hitler der Vorsitzende der Partei war, heißt die Partei “Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei” oder “NSDAP”. Aber die Partei war noch nur für Erwachsene.

Dies hat sich 1922 verändert. Ein achtzehnjähriger Nazianhänger, der Adolf Lenk hieß, wollte ein Treffen der NSDAP besuchen. Aber er war zu jung, weil man 21 Jahre alt sein musste. Natürlich war er enttäuscht und er sagte zu Hitler, dass es eine Nazi-Jugendorganisation sein sollte. Hitler war der gleichen Meinung und die Folge war der “Jugendbund”. Ende 1922 hatte es 250 Mitglieder. Leider hat es nicht lang gedauert. Nach dem unerfolgreichen Putsch der NSDAP im November 1923 ist die Partei und die Jugendorganisation illegal geworden.

'Join us', as Germany entered total war military youth divisions were formed.

Obwohl es ein paar Gruppen mit anderen Namen gab, um die Polizei zu vermeiden (zB. “Wandersportverein-Vogtland” und “Deutschvölkischer Jugendbund York von Wartenburg”), sehen wir keine offizielle Nazi Jugendorganisation mehr bis 1924. 1928 sah der Beginn der Mädchenorganisation “Schwesterschaften” (die später zum “BDM” wurde) und 1933 ist Hitler Führer von Deutschland geworden.

Andere Jugendorganisationen waren bald verboten, in der Tat war Mitgliedschaftin der Hitlerjugend von 1936 an obligatorisch. Zwischen 1933 – 39 traten die meisten Kinder der HJ bei, wegen der Gewalt der HJ zu andere Kinder und Drohungen von Nazibeamten. Am Anfang des 2. Weltkriegs hatte die HJ mehr als 8 Millionen Mitglieder.

Struktur und Aktivitäten der Hitlerjugend 

Es gab zwei Gruppen der Hitlerjugend für Jungen. Erstens gab es das Jungvolk für 10 bis 14 Jährige und dann die richtige Hitlerjugend für 14 bis 18 Jährige, obwohl jüngere Kinder zwanglos teilnehmen konnten. 150 Jungen machten ein “Fähnlein” aber die kleinste Einheit war die “Kameradschaft”. Es gab auch zwei Gruppen für Mädchen; Die Jungmädel für 10 bis 14 Jährige und den BDM für 14 bis 18 Jährige. Der BDM war eine Abkürzung von “Bund Deutscher Mädel” aber eine beliebte Alternativ war “Bald Deutsche Mutter”!

Propaganda posters for the BDM, the first reads: Youth Serves The Führer, all ten years olds to join the Hitler Youth. Membership of the HJ was compulsory from 1936, though in practice you could often avoid attending meetings until the law was tightened in 1939.

Die Mehrheit der deutschen Kinder (besonders die Jungen) konnten nicht warten, Mitglied der Hitlerjugend zu werden. Mit 10 Jahren macte fast jeder “ethnische reine” Junge die “Pimpfenprobe”. Mit dieser Probe mussten sie sich beweisen. Es war schwer und die Aktivitäten waren normalerweise folgendermaßen: einen 60 Meter Sprint in 12 Sekunden, einen Weitsprung von 2,75 Meter und einen Baseballwurf von 25 Metern. Oft wollte der Jungvolkleiter auch eine Mutprobe, wie zum Beispiel durch ein Fenster springen, um das Vertrauen in den Leiter zu beweisen. Natürlich war es sicher – aber die Jungen wußten dies nicht! Nach einer erfolgreichen Probe bekamen der Junge ein Messer mit den Wörter “meine Ehre heißt Treue” darauf. Jetzt war er ein echtes Mitglied der Hitlerjugend.

Die Hitlerjungen trafen sich mindestens zweimal pro Woche. Die Heimabende waren Treffen, wo die Hitlerjungen den nationalsozialistischen Blick der deutschen Geschichte lernen mussten. Hitler glaubte, dass die Jugend jungen Leiter haben muss. Also mussten Jungvolkleiter mit nur 14 oder 15 Jahren unterrichten, obwohl sie nicht sehr gut Lehrern waren! Für viele Hitlerjungen ware diese “Heimabende” ein notwendiges Uebel, weil sie so langweilig waren.

Camping with the BDM.

Es gab auch andere Aktivitäten. Die Hitlerjungen hatten Aufgaben wie z.B. das Patrouillieren von Wirtschaften und Cafes. Am Wochenende gab es Sport, Camping, Wandern oder Kriegspiele. Die älteren Jungen lernten, eine Schußwaffe zu benutzen. Sie mussten als kleine Soldaten ausgebildet werden, um für den Führer zu kämpfen. Zur gleichen Zeit lernten die Mädchen, Mutter und Frauen zu sein. Diese Kinder wollten ein neues Deutschland für ihren Führer erschaffen.


Warum ist die deutsche Jugend der Hitlerjugend gefolgt? Dies ist eine sehr komplizierte Frage und für jedes Kind war die Antwort etwas anders. Aber im Allgemeinen ist die Antwort klar. Kinder woollen immer gut mit anderen aus ihrer Altersgruppe auskommen. Die Uniform, die Paraden, usw. haben alle in der Hitlerjugend gleich gemacht. Dies war der Plan der Nazipartei.

Wie der Expert Guido Knopp gesagt hat, 1945 war mehr als nur die totale Niederlage. Es war der Einsturz von einem ganzen Wertsystem. Die Veteranen der HJ musste neue Werte lernen. Und dies war erfolgreich im großen und ganzen. Sogar der neue Papst Benedict XVI war einmal Mitglied der Hitlerjugend. Heute glauben diese Leute nicht mehr an nationalsozialistische Ideologie, allerdings glauben einige ihre Enkelkinder daran. Diese “Neonazis” hören “Rechtsrock”, sind stark gegen Juden, Türken, Asylbewerber und andere Ausländer. Der Einfluss der Nazis können wir sicher nicht leicht vergessen.

April 1983 cover of Der Pimpf.

Saturday, 23 May 2015


I love Eurovision. The cheese, the sequins, the awkward hosting. There were some nice slower songs this year, like Giannis Karagiannis' One Thing I Should Have Done for Cyprus, I Am Yours by The Makemakes for Austria, and Adio by Knez for Montenegro. Azerbaijan too with Hour of the Wolves by Elnur Huseynov. But really, Eurovision is all about the upbeat pop. Guy Sebastian's Tonight Again for Australia, Golden Boy by Nadav Guedj for Israel, and even Britain's entry Still in Love With You by Electro Velvet was surprisingly decent. The staging for it was brilliant!

Electro Velvet

I also really liked Black Smoke by Ann Sophie for Germany, De la capat by Voltaj for Romania, and Serbia's entry, Bojana Stamenov with 'Beauty Never Lies'. The public comments that scroll across the bottom showed Britain was at its usual trash talking best tonight though, with stuff like 'this is what Ursula from The Little Mermaid did next'. (Why would anyone judge a song on anything other than the singer's appearance, after all?)

Bojana Stamenov, her career was launched in 2012 when she placed fourth in Serbia's Got Talent.

My overall favourite was Belgium's entry, Rhythm Inside by Loïc Nottet. It reminded me a lot of Lorde, and was the type of thing I'd happily download. I was most surprised by how badly Germany did; their song wasn't the top of the night, okay, but it definitely didn't deserve to languish at the bottom. I loved how close the voting at the top of the board was though - made it all much more exciting.

In the end Sweden edged out Russia - much to the glee of the liberal Eurovision arena audience - to take home the trophy. It grew on me much more the second time I heard it too, so I hope it does well in the charts. Here's to 2016 in Sweden! :)

Sweden's entry was Heroes.

Friday, 22 May 2015

Betty Boop

Betty Boop
Betty Boop

Betty Boop started life, quite literally, as a dog - a poodle to be precise. A makeover followed, influenced by songstress Helen Kane (otherwise known as 'The Boop-Oop-A-Doop Girl') and 'It' girl Clara Bow, and the character quickly graduated from bit player to the star of her own show in 1932. She had her share of trials, from being the subject of a lawsuit from Helen Kane (Kane lost after it was determined she had nicked her own style from Baby Esther), to attracting the ire of the National League of Decency. Following the 1934 Production Code her neckline rose while her hemline dropped, and her flirty antics gave way to juvenile wholesomeness. Audiences began to tire of the new Betty, and the show ended in 1939.

1936 Betty Boop
A less 'sexy' looking Betty in 1936.

We watched the best of Betty Boop today and Marianna seemed absolutely fascinated by her first experience of black and white! The Boop cartoons, like most early cartoons, are full of anthropomorphic animals and objects, and songs. So many songs. My favourite episode is Betty Boop and Grampy, originally released in August 1935. Grampy is an eccentric inventor who apparently loves to host parties for his granddaughter and random passers by.

I guarantee the song will stick in your head for days to come. ('Over at Grampy's house...')

I also like 1935's Making Stars, a send up of the WAMPAS Baby Stars campaign which ran from 1922 to 1934, and helped launch the careers of such famous names as Clara Bow, Joan Crawford, and Ginger Rogers. Betty's version has literal baby stars. A new fave was 1936's 'Not Now', in which Betty is kept awake by the yowling of a cat. I told Marianna the cat was singing her song. She didn't seem impressed...

Marianna with a sign reading: I like sounding like a strangled cat for hours on end.'

Friday FrolicsMy Three and Me

Thursday, 21 May 2015

It's All About Community!

The last few days have been fairly busy. Tuesday was the AGM of Torfaen County Borough Council (webcast HERE), and the handover of the mayoral chains from Cllr Mandy Owen to Cllr Giles Davies. Giles has really championed community engagement over the last couple of years, and I'm sure will make a really good mayor! The deputy mayor for the coming year is Cllr Veronica Crick. Unfortunately I was too busy being sick to make the meeting (bleh!) but I caught up on it all afterwards.

I did get to see more of this little face though, so it wasn't all bad.

Wednesday was the AGM of Cwmbran Community Council, with the election of the new Chairman Cllr Mike Johnston. There were light refreshments after so, as the council AGMs are generally short meetings and we'd have time afterwards, we took Marianna to meet everyone. She really enjoyed all the fuss!

Community councils are the 'first tier' of government, and Cwmbran's is one of the largest in Wales. They're even on Facebook, HERE.

The only really contentious issue with the Community Council this year has been changes to the summer playschemes, namely that provision for under 8's will be reduced to two hours a day to comply with CSSIW recommendations. (Parents are up in arms because although playschemes are commitments to the child's right to play, they're generally seen as cheap childcare for school holidays. CCC was worried they wouldn't be able to recruit enough suitably qualified staff this year - we compete with TCBC playschemes for them - which could result in provision being cancelled last minute. Next year there'll be a choice of sticking with reduced under-8 provision, or substantially upping the charges to cover staffing and training costs.)

I also got a noticeboard key at the meeting yesterday, so I went and put a few posters up (and gave the front a bit of a wipe down...). I only own novelty drawing pins though, so love hearts and stars were the order of the day.

The point of that story is that the outrage seems to have made no difference to the willingness of press and public to attend CCC meetings or engage with consultations (i.e. next to none). This is a problem faced by all authorities, but especially those in more economically deprived areas due to the correlation between educational attainment and 'social capital', and the ability and confidence to engage with traditional engagement methods (text heavy surveys / questionnaires and formal meetings).

One of the posters I put together this morning using a Kingsoft template.

With that in mind, I was impressed with the meeting I attended today organised by Bron Afon, the biggest RSL in the area. The aim was to set up a Northville community group and, though attendance wasn't massive, the meeting was informal and welcoming. Marianna wasn't the only baby there either - children always seems to give a community meeting a nicer atmosphere! There was some discussion about problems in the area (trolleys, litter) and a date was set for a litter pick and follow up meeting on Thursday 25th June. It will be awesome if there is enough sustained interest to really get a community group off the ground!

Wednesday, 20 May 2015

When an ism isn't an ism...

When I finished my undergrad degree I was faced with the age old question: what next? I had nothing lined up and the world was my oyster, so long as whatever it offered was exceptionally cheap. One option I considered was going on to do a masters in gender or LGBT studies - it being a particular interest of mine - but I eventually concluded it was a) beyond my means (I'd have to cough up for tuition, accommodation, and living expenses as South Wales lacked a course) and b) unlikely to help me get a full time job. Anyway, the point of this story is that Goldsmiths was one of the universities I looked into.

I'm glad that's as far as I got.

Goldsmiths Student Union is in the midst of a scandal at the moment after their diversity officer, Bahar Mustafa, used the official SU account to tweet #killallwhitemen and label other students 'white trash'. She says it was an in-joke and I'm sure it was, though it obviously speaks of problems within the SU of cliquey, unprofessional behaviour. Similarly the closed meeting for BME women and non-binary people has been blown out of proportion - safe spaces are important, particularly with initial organising meetings as I believe the one in question was.

Bahar Mustafa - petitions for and against her sacking are gaining signatures this week.

My real concern is the claim she made in her defending statement: "There have been charges laid against me that I am racist and sexist towards white men. I, an ethnic minority woman, cannot be racist or sexist towards white men, because racism and sexism describe structures of privilege based on race and gender. Therefore, women of colour and minority genders cannot be racist or sexist, since we do not stand to benefit from such a system."

Mustafa graduated from Goldsmiths with a MA in Gender, Media & Culture. The above really makes me question their standard of teaching. The idea that racism and sexism rely solely on the perpetrator being in a relative position of power is popular on the net, especially on Tumblr where such beliefs are seen as a prerequisite for SJW (Social Justice Warrior) status. Looking at racism specifically, this is an Americo-centric view which relies on the principle that BME individuals (or in US phraseology, POC: Persons of Color) are always a minority of the population, and white individuals always the majority. (Because presumably there is nothing but an unpopulated wasteland beyond the borders of the United States of America.)

The core problem of Tumblr style activism - the recognition that there are numerous factors which oppress (see intersectionality), but an obsession with the idea of 'checking your privilege' frequently leads to only more in-fighting and exclusionism.

Of course, the reality is rather different. It's perfectly possible for a white individual to experience racism in India, Japan, or Trinidad. Oh, and the UK, and the USA, and even Sweden. As a white British woman, let me assure you, I can be racist to a white Polish man - it doesn't matter that thanks to his gender he historically has more power than me (though it must get UKIP women like Diane James off the hook). Similarly, a black woman in the UK can be racist to a Roma woman, who in turn can be racist to a Chinese woman. It doesn't matter that all three are members of oppressed minorities in their country of residence. Even if you're not willing to relinquish the idea that racism requires power, you have to at least concede that the power balance shifts between every interaction making it difficult to make claims like 'all BME women can never be racist'.

The issue is that you can't just superimpose US experience on other places. In the US race is seen as the key determining factor when it comes to levels of attained education, income, and so on. In the UK it's class. The truth is that in both countries the experiences of being 'white' or 'black', or 'male' or 'female', or 'rich' or 'poor' are not homogeneous. A middle class white woman will have different experiences to a white woman living below the poverty line, though they have the commonality of being white and women. A black Muslim will face different challenges to a black Jew, though they share skin colour and perhaps any number of other descriptors, from 'short' to 'model train enthusiast'.

In the classic Monty Python sketch all three are white British men of a similar age - but socio-economic status makes all the difference.

It also completely ignores the legislative realities of the UK. As sets out: "It is against the law to discriminate against anyone because of: age, being or becoming a transsexual person, being married or in a civil partnership, being pregnant or having a child, disability, race including colour, nationality, ethnic or national origin, religion, belief or lack of religion/belief, sex, or sexual orientation. These are called ‘protected characteristics’." This means that under UK law you can be - and people have been - convicted of racist behaviour for calling a Welsh person 'a sheep shagger' because it implies prejudice against their national origin. That example really illustrates the wide scope of the UK legal definition of 'racism'.

American media might be ubiquitous, but that doesn't mean to say all American beliefs, laws, and values apply the world over. Bahar Mustafa is guilty of nothing more than being naive and unprofessional - Goldsmiths itself is the one that ought to take a long hard look at what they're offering students for the hefty sums they're charging.
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