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By George, he’s just a baby

30 Jul
LEGO Prince George

LEGO Prince George

Congratulations to the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge on their happy news.

Putting his blue blood to one side, we all know that there’s nothing extraordinary about HRH Prince George of Cambridge as a human being. Just like any other newborn, he needs little more than food, warmth and the love and affection of his doting parents.

The behaviour of the public and media that greeted him outside St Mary’s Hospital last week told a different story however. The first greedy flashbulbs heralded a lifetime of public scrutiny.

Of course every child brings fresh hope and new meaning to the lives of their parents, but Prince George’s arrival has understandably had a tangible effect on the wider world as the latest addition to the Royal Family – an important British commodity. In economic terms alone he’s estimated to bring in over £240 million in merchandise sales alone by the end of August. And Legoland at Windsor has even created a new scene depicting the young Prince with his parents at the gates of Buckingham Palace to enchant visitors to their inspired theme park.

Behind closed doors, as the euphoria of the first few days of motherhood begins to wane, Kate will probably be walking round in a fug, attending to her child’s every whimper, adjusting to managing on three hours uninterrupted sleep at a time …potentially contending with cracked nipples and a cracking headache, barking at her bewildered hubby.

Wills will begin to see Kate through a new lens – not only as his wife, but as the mother to their child. Surprisingly the best piece of advice offered to the Prince I’ve heard comes from that great philosopher…  David Beckham, who posits that William’s quality as a gentleman will set him in good stead as a father – a notion I couldn’t agree with more. Good manners and kindness are basic qualities which should be instilled in all youngsters, as well as going a long way in keeping your relationship on track when you’re dealing with the physical and emotional demands of a new-born.

Now one week since the birth, Kate and Wills will be in the throes of their ‘baby-moon’ period of bonding and getting to know the new person in their midst. Bravo to the in-laws for providing their family home (a Georgian manor house) as a comfortable and familiar haven for this precious time.

In the Indian culture, the post birth confinement period, allows the mother the benefit of limited household duties and being cosseted by her extended family with special meals prepared and full body massage – enabling her to focus on her baby’s needs and recovering from the birth. Sounds great in theory – although 40 days cooped up at home might not do for everyone. My regular jaunt to the local coffee shop to gossip with my fellow NCT Mums provided a much need source of support for me once the family had left me to it and husband returned to work. The main premise is that Kate should be able to do as much or as little as she feels able to, and in her own time.

Of course, the Duchess of Cambridge hardly needs to worry about keeping on top of household chores or financial worries, and there will no doubt be a queue forming outside the Berkshire pile to wrestle for the coveted position of nanny to the third in line to the throne.

Putting these privileges aside, and the prospect of one day being crowned King George VII, I hope that Kate and Wills are allowed to enjoy getting to know their son without the intrusion of long lenses. The rest of the world will just have to wait – for now, he’s first and foremost, their baby boy.

Related links:

ITV royal baby boost the economy

Royal Baby News: Prince George Mania will boost the economy by £243m by end of August

Baby Center – Post delivery confinement

NCT – Dad’s view: the early days



Photo courtesy of LEGOLAND® Windsor Resort


An inspirational female entrepreneur and my budding idea

21 Jun

The germ of a business idea

The germ of a business idea

A business idea is forming in my mind. It’s a small seed which needs feeding with plenty of research, a sprinkling of expert advice and watering with gallons of motivation to help it germinate into a viable proposition.

With this in mind it was fascinating to watch the fabulous Laura Tenison, founder of the hugely successful JoJo Maman Bébé, being interviewed on BBC 2 by entrepreneur and Dragon’s Den investor, Peter Jones, about the story of her success.

A market leader in maternity and children’s fashion Laura’s first shop was perfectly located to appeal to the Yummy Mummies of Clapham – or ‘Nappy Valley’ as it’s otherwise known. Her success is largely down to a good concept done well – beautifully crafted clothing with a Gallic influence, marketed to aspirational and affluent parents. But where gazillions of others have failed, Laura has prevailed, and this she puts down to a blinding conviction in her business model, combined with the courage to challenge, or ignore the naysayers.

It transpired that Laura’s determination to succeed boils down to a desire to prove her worth to her mother. No major revelation there … wanting to make our parents proud is a trait instilled in many of us. Conversely, many people set out to shake off their parents’ expectations or do something in the opposite direction. The point is, the spirit of entrepreneurship must be nurtured at a young age, as we begin to formulate ideas about our own capabilities and the future person we will become. The importance of learning to pick oneself up after a fall, gaining valuable experience from mistakes and taking risks, are other vital traits for business success.

“It’s not because things are difficult that we dare not venture. It’s because we dare not venture that they are difficult.”
― Lucius Annaeus Seneca

But Laura’s success came at a price, right? Peter duly probed Laura about what she’d sacrificed to achieve such heady business heights. She conceded that she often brought her babies into the office and the interview cut to a scene of Laura whipping up the kids’ tea whilst asking them about their school day. But in reality, how many tea-times and sports days has she missed due to meetings or work issues requiring her input?

I’ve ruminated about this for a few days and wonder if I’ve really got what it takes to be an entrepreneur and still achieve work-life balance?

The next step will be to get down to the nuts and bolts of developing a business plan. With this in mind, it was timely to see that Yasmina Siadatan, former Apprentice winner, has been promoting Start Up Loans via Mumsnet earlier this week. Great, I thought, advice tailored to women entrepreneuers – until I realised that at 40 years of age I do not meet the criteria!

So, lots more research for me on the horizon and for now this project will run parallel to my ‘bread and butter’ freelance PR and writing work.

In the meantime, I’m delighted to see that a report recently published by the Women’s Business Council (WBC) is promoting the notion that women should be given better information and guidance on how to pursue entrepreneurial ventures. In particular it stresses that there should be a broader definition of what an enterprise is and ensure marketing of support services is inclusive, in recognition of the differences between men and women entrepreneurs.

A recent report by Dell revealed that the UK only ranks 6th place in a study of 17 countries and support for female entrepreneurs – with America leading the way. I applaud Laura Tenison for being such an inspirational role model in the UK, but the government and employers would do well to heed the WBC report if they are to give more budding female entrepreneurs the support and encouragement we deserve.

Related links:

BBC 2 Peter Jones meets Series 1 Episode 1

The Telegraph – Best place for female entrepreneurs? It ain’t the UK

BBC Business – From thought to profit: How ideas become viable

E-cigarettes – just what the doctor ordered

14 Jun
E-cigarettes may help you to stub it out

E-cigarettes may help you to stub it out

News that the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency will licence e-cigarettes as a medicine by 2016 (when new European tobacco laws come into force) has been widely reported this week. The directive, which will encompass all novel nicotine replacement products, reflects a commitment to ensuring quality and effectiveness.

The premise of e-cigarettes is that they allow people to carry on smoking without ingesting the horrible toxins which are known to be responsible for cancer. Given that around 100,000 people a year die of smoking-related diseases, the availability of e-cigarettes to help people wean themselves off the odious little cancer sticks must be a positive move.

An Action on Smoking and Health survey has revealed that 13% of smokers in the UK use e-cigarettes and they estimate that as many as 400,000 people have replaced smoking with puffing on an e-cigarette. The British Medical Association has tentatively welcomed the advent of e-cigarettes but calls for greater evidence of the safety and efficacy of the devices. Similarly, the National Institute for Clinical Excellence’s draft consultation paper on tobacco reduction highlights the lack of evidence around the long-term safety of e-cigarettes.

The reason that e-cigarettes are growing in popularity is, presumably, because they allow the smoker to enjoy the act of smoking without the associated health risks.

You see, smoking addiction is not just a physical craving, it has cognitive (I see smokers therefore I must smoke), emotional (I’m happy/ stressed) and social (let’s all be mates and smoke together) triggers.

I know this as back in the day I liked nothing better than kicking back after a hard day at work with a glass of chilled chardonnay and a fag. I finally stopped smoking with the introduction of the ban. Nothing’s that good to have to stand outside in the drizzle and cold to ‘enjoy’. Of course I relapse from time to time, usually as a result of a boozy evening out (a rarity since becoming a Mum).

But the cynic in me wonders if the manufacturers of e-cigarettes aren’t just trying to cash in on people’s smoking addiction – as nice as the people at NJOY and ahem, Marlboro are, I’m sure they don’t really have the world’s health on their conscience.

Furthermore, in Paris, apparently numerous bars are promoting the sale of e-cigarettes in various enticing colours and flavours. Now I’m no smoking cessation expert, but I would think that one of the first challenges in giving up smoking is breaking the association between holding a short stick in your hand and having an alcoholic drink…

In short, I don’t have a problem with e-cigarettes for those who need a temporary crutch to help beat their cravings. What I do take exception to is flagrantly encouraging the act of ‘smoking’ in bars and restaurants (and even on public transport). It somehow seems to go against all the progress made to reduce the visibility of smoking in public places.

I certainly hope that future generations – not least my own daughter – don’t feel the need to give smoking (electronic or otherwise) a try to be ‘in’ with the ‘in crowd‘. We’ve come so far with the smoking ban, it seems a shame to start making the act of puffing on a device masquerading as a cigarette acceptable.

Related links:

E-cigarettes face new restrictions

E-cigarettes are in vogue and at crossroads

ASH briefings – e cigarettes

BMA website – Tobacco / E-cigarettes

What’s the etiquette with electronic cigarettes?

Image credit: Copyright Piotr Marcinski /     Title: Tobacco addiction metaphor

Welcoming the new Children’s Laureate

7 Jun

Illustration by Margaret Chamberlain for My Two Grannies

Illustration by Margaret Chamberlain for My Two Grannies

Great news this week that Malorie Blackman, author of the acclaimed teenage novel Noughts and Crosses, has been appointed as Waterstones’ Children’s Laureate.

Malorie is the first black author to be awarded the title, which brings with it a £15,000 bursary and a commitment to participate in a calendar of engagements to support children’s literature and reading over two years.

Malorie has pledged to champion the survival of the local library, as well as redress the balance for teenage readers and promote diversity in literature.

For those of you who aren’t familiar with Blackman’s work, she’s a best selling children’s novelist whose works feature black characters – the sort of books she wishes had been more readily available when she was a young girl. Unsurprisingly some sections of the media in announcing Malorie’s new role, have made much of this point.

I empathise with Blackman’s motive to feature black characters in her books; after all, as the mother of a mixed-race child I admit to actively searching out books in the library containing characters that my daughter might identify with. Most recently we have enjoyed My Two Grannies by the wonderful Floella Benjamin – the cover image of the two grandmas unashamedly resembling my little one’s real-life grandmas. The thing is, just because my daughter has a particular skin colour, doesn’t mean I exclusively read her books about children who look like her. As a matter of fact her favourite bedtime reading at the moment are the Tales of Beatrix Potter, in which there’s not a brown face in sight.

The question is, do we really need somebody to ensure that there are enough BEM (black and ethnic minority) characters in children’s books? There were certainly plenty in my local south London library. Of course, it may be less easy to find books depicting black, Asian, or eastern European children for that matter, in rural Cumbria – but my guess is that our wonderful local libraries pretty much know their local audience. Assuming our libraries, schools and book shops have got the balance right, surely the important thing is that the books featuring BEM character aren’t labelled as stories just for the black or ethnic minority kids.

You see, I believe that diversity in books is important for all children, just as it is for adults, in order to help us understand that all people, whatever their race or religion, are essentially the same, whilst appreciating the complex challenges that people from different cultural backgrounds face. Certainly, in adult literature there are plenty of examples of multicultural Britain from Monica Ali’s feted Brick Lane to the modern day tragedy, Pigeon English, by Stephen Kelman, about the experience of a young boy from Ghana growing up in Peckham.

Presumably, in order to promote greater multicultural representation in children’s literature, the writing industry needs to encourage people of all backgrounds in their writing endeavours; and in this respect, Malorie is a great role model. Furthermore, if we’re looking to support diversity let‘s not stop at skin colour – let’s have more books about mixed-race families, same sex parents, children with disabilities and so on, to really reflect the diverse and wonderfully imperfect world in which we live today.

Above all, excellent children’s literature must feed our children’s imaginations, provide guidance on what’s right and wrong, entertain, as well as foster a love of reading and learning about the world.

In a nutshell, I whole heartedly welcome Malorie’s appointment, but I don’t think we should obsess about her being a black author promoting black characters in children’s books. I do however, hope that she will continue the excellent work of former Children’s Laureates in promoting quality literature for children which speaks to and inspires all of our younger generation.

Related links:

Children’s Laureate Malorie Blackman: ‘I’m looking forward to redressing the balance for teenagers’

Book Trust: Malorie Blackman announced as new Children’s Laureate

Bird’s Song blog (chief executive of Booktrust)

Bringing library closures to book

25 Apr


My heart sank this week to learn of the demise of the local library – with more than 200 libraries up and down the country closed last year due to Councils’ spending cuts, 170 so called community-run libraries being kept afloat thanks to unpaid volunteers, and hundreds more facing closure.

Since arriving in Brittany a couple of weeks ago, myself and the little one have already acquainted ourselves with the excellent local library here (albeit for a nominal fee). Reading the likes of Le Petit Chaperon Rouge (Little Red Riding Hood) and Le Lapin (The Rabbit) are not only quenching my daughter’s thirst for a story, but improving both our French.

Our regular library visits (which date back to her very first months) by no means precludes a burgeoning book collection of her own, but the benefits of learning about borrowing books from a library extends beyond the cost savings. Flicking erratically through the array of titles (invariably starring an animal as the main protagonist), and sitting on her own to ‘read’, while I peruse loftier titles (ahem), is particularly rewarding for mademoiselle. Even returning the books is teaching her a valuable lesson about looking after borrowed items and sharing with other children. Not forgetting the social aspect of meeting and greeting other library users and staff.

My personal passion for libraries is relatively recent, admittedly. This is perhaps, in part, due to the fact that as a child books were readily available in our house, and in my teenage years, my passion for reading was fuelled by my grandmother – a voracious reader, with whom I could freely discuss not only books, but music, fashion and my latest crush.

As an English Literature undergraduate in the early ‘90s I developed a love/hate relationship with my university library – not unlike the haunted library in Ghostbusters, mysteriously catalogued and with an eerie quietness which made me want to blurt out some profanity, Tourette’s style, to break the uncomfortable silence. Where the student grant allowed, novels, plays and poetry would be purchased, untouched by human hand, from Blackwell’s and devoured back at my digs. Countless afternoons spent curled up on my ramshackle sofa, never far from a boiling kettle and the biscuit tin; far more conducive to literary digestion than sitting straight-backed and silent at a rigid desk.

Aside from a brief encounter with an academic library in the name of professional development, I pretty much managed to put the sweaty-palmed experience of libraries behind me until 2010. I didn’t give up reading– I just preferred to pick up books on Amazon, or on a whim in the airport WH Smiths.

The combination of tightened purse strings and an expanding belly forced me to venture tentatively into the local library to swot up on baby-rearing techniques. Of course I consulted the internet too, but physical books by recognised authors, with their forewords and friendly pictures, seemed to provide greater comfort and reassurance in light of the challenges ahead. Greeted by a cheery face and intuitively displayed books, I could easily find everything from romantic fiction, to travel books and indeed, baby manuals – with comfortable seating to boot! (In actual fact, mother’s instinct was never far wrong, but Tracy Hogg’s Secrets of the Baby Whisperer provided a good foundation).

Later, with a pram in tow, the local library had even greater appeal, – with nursery rhyme CDs, ‘bounce and rhyme’ classes and information about local playgroups and activities.

Library visits and our nightly reading sessions continue to be met with gusto by my daughter and I am relieved that I overcame my library phobia in good time for her to enjoy this particular habit.

I also count my own blessings for having been given an early introduction to reading and books and strongly support efforts to protect our local libraries, which are such an important gateway to reading and ergo, life chances, for many young people who may not be able to access books so readily at home.

How challenging misconceptions could save lives

19 Apr

79082-20130419 jab image

They said, “If you teazle
A sneezle
Or wheezle,
A measle
May easily grow.
But humour or pleazle
The wheezle
Or sneezle,
The measle
Will certainly go.”

An extract from ‘Sneezles’ by A A Milne

A A Milne died in 1956, seven years before the introduction of the measles vaccination. In 1988 the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine was introduced, to protect against three significant childhood diseases in a single combined vaccination. A subsequent booster jab was found to provide nearly 100% protection.

A decade later the MMR vaccine came under close scrutiny with the publication of the findings of a small study of 12 children, which revealed a potential link between the MMR vaccination and autism and bowel disorders. The scientist responsible for this controversial research, Dr Andrew Wakefield, published an article in The Lancet recommending that the MMR vaccines be administered separately to avoid any risk.  With a group of impassioned parents of autistic children championing his theory, the story could not fail to make the headlines.

Since then, Wakefield’s claims have been discredited by subsequent research studies, but the impact of his work on the public’s consciousness has been far reaching. Only this week, the news of a measles epidemic in south Wales affecting over 750 children (those aged between 10-18 worst hit), has been top of the health news agenda.

Although Wakefield’s credibility has subsequently fallen on stony ground, the Welsh outbreak reminds us that efforts to allay people’s concerns about MMR have been insufficient.

For many parents, who perhaps recalled the thalidomide scandal, the persuasive testimonials (backed by a report in a serious academic journal), were sufficient to convince them that the MMR vaccine posed a greater risk, than protection for their offspring. In reality an astonishing 16 youngsters died of measles the year before MMR was introduced.

The NICE target is for 95% of the population to be immunised to gain ‘herd protection’, but the measles statistics speak for themselves, with over 2000 cases last year – four times the number of cases than in 1998, when Wakefield’s findings were first published.

In Wales the finger of blame is wagging at the South Wales Evening Post for reporting the concerns of parents back in the late ‘90s. But this does rather smack of shooting the messenger and potentially alienates an important ally in the war against inoculation avoidance that needs to be fought.

A programme of emergency clinics is now underway in south Wales, but in addition, it is now expedient to address the misconceptions about the risks of the combined MMR vaccine, as well as general ignorance and apathy towards childhood inoculations on a national scale.

In short, those delivering public health information (now under local authority control), have a responsibility to get the vaccination gospel out to the masses. This will be no mean feat: Dr Google cuts more sway with your average Joe Public than their local GP. Add into the equation differences between rural and urban populations, transient, and multi ethnic communities and you begin to comprehend the complexity of the PR task in hand – this isn’t going to be as simple as putting out a Department of Health press release

As with any successful communications campaign, propaganda alone will not cut the mustard. A thorough understanding of audience and current perceptions, effective communications channels and influencers needs to be mapped out. Consistent messaging needs to be disseminated across a comprehensive network of health visitors, nurseries, childminders and schools to ensure that no-one slips through the net.

Crucially, the healthcare professionals interacting with parents every day need to be ‘on message’. How many organisations forget to adequately engage their staff before going ‘public’?

Competing priorities, budgets and bureaucracy will have to be negotiated to get the right resources in place; but doing nothing may result in the newspapers having a fresh headline – the death of a child who could have been protected with a simple jab.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici.

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