Saturday, 28 December 2013

Happy new year!

I hope that you all had a very happy Christmas and I wish you a wonderful New Year! Thank you for reading my blog posts over the past year. I really appreciate your support and all of your insightful comments. I am especially grateful to all of you who have subscribed to the blog and receive my posts on email.






Here are a few highlights from 2013!

Prehistoric parenting
Bath-etic tragedy
How Jeremy Irons saved us
Time travelling
Pink wellies and cigarettes
Puppy love
The ghosts of Stationers' Hall


I thought you might also like to know that my novel, A Sister for Margot, is currently on SALE at 99p / 99 cents until the 31 December. Perfect for anyone who received a kindle or ipad for Christmas! The book is a historical romance with a twist and has been climbing up the UK bestseller charts on Amazon this week. Click here for information on the book.


Thank you once again and I look forward to hearing more comments from you in 2014!

Emma Clark Lam.

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Beauty, truth and the third alien

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Middle Child came back from school a while ago and told me he had some important news. He had won a starring role in his school nativity play! That's great, I said. Joseph? One of the three kings? "Third alien," he said. Right. How many aliens are there? "Five," he said. Well, that's just brilliant! Of course he will always be my little star, even if his big break only amounted to three lines (one of which was said in unison with the other four aliens).


Alien face
The third alien makes his debut
©  | Dreamstime.com


It was a fabulous school production nonetheless! Watching all those little people singing their hearts out never fails to make my eyes water. My favourite bit was when MC's best friend Laura (fourth alien) whipped up her costume in a frenzy of excitement and flashed her Peppa Pig pants at the audience.

Friday, 6 December 2013

Childhood lost

Which is more important: a mother's love or a life of opportunity? A few weeks ago I went to see the film Philomena, a true story about a mother trying to trace her illegitimate son, fifty years after he was sold into adoption by Irish nuns. I won't spoil the ending, but it enough to say that her son went on to have a high-flying career as legal counsel to President Reagan in the United States. At several points on Philomena's journey to find her son, she remarks, "I could never have given him this." It is some small measure of consolation for the suffering she has borne - the fact that her boy made good in the land of the free. He would never have achieved such dizzy heights had he remained with his Irish mother, stigmatised by the circumstances of his birth - or so she believes.

The actor Judi Dench
Judi Dench played Philomena in the film
©  | Dreamstime.com
It is a well-worn argument used to justify the adoption of children in the cases of unwed mothers sixty or seventy years ago. In the aftermath of the second-world war, many unfortunate women were persuaded to give up their babies to save the children from the stain of illegitimacy. It plays on every mother's instinct: do the best for your child, at any cost. There were practical considerations as well since many unmarried mothers could not afford to bring up a child on their own. Indeed such a dilemma faces one of the characters - an unmarried actress who falls pregnant - in my novel, A Sister for Margot

Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Top tips for this Xmas and the next one...

People watching: 
Neil Nugent, executive chef for Morrisons

Morrisons' Xmas food
Gingerbread houses are expected to be BIG this year
Every year it feels like Christmas kicks off earlier than the previous year. All of us have a friend who has written her cards by the end of the November, or completed her Christmas shopping a month ahead of schedule, or got the tree up on the first day of December. Well, beat this Xmas keenos: I recently met someone who signed off on his Christmas back in April! In fact he's already preparing for next year. I'm talking about Morrisons' very own father of Christmas, Neil Nugent, otherwise known as the supermarket's executive chef. "Christmas is over for me now," he told me at the BritMums bloggers' Xmas do this week. "I'm on next year now."

The chef, who was poached from Waitrose by Morrisons in 2011, has signed off on 972 product launches for Christmas, all of which have been personally tasted over a period of time. Now he is waiting with bated breath to see whether we (the customers) will warm to his festive feast. "My neck's on the block for the range," he admitted, perhaps mindful of his 42-week old turkeys about to meet their doom. 

Thursday, 21 November 2013

The ghosts of Stationers' Hall

In 1403 an enterprising group of booksellers (known as stationers) set up a fraternity of tradesmen. A few hundred years later in 1670, after the great fire of London, they built themselves a beautiful meeting place, called The Stationers' Hall, a stone's throw from St Paul's Cathedral. They could hardly have predicted that several centuries later, a swarm of opinionated women would storm their hall, ready to challenge the male establishment. Thanks to the London Press Club, we had all been invited to attend a forum on women in media led by a female panel from journalism's frontline. 

Female panellists at the London Press Club event: Women in the media
THE PANEL: Kay Burley (Sky News), Carla Buzasi (Huffington Post), 
Anne McElvoy (Evening Standard), Lisa Markwell (Independent on Sunday), 
Sarah Sands (Evening Standard)
Credit: Nigel Howard / London Evening Standard

"I feel personally that I have got a responsibility in the way we portray women," Carla Buzasi, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post UK, told us in her opening salvo. She believes women bloggers are "worried about putting themselves out there" and has deliberately put female role models on her front page to set an example.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Reading for pleasure

Tuesday night found me discussing my novel, A Sister for Margot, with a book club from Nettlebed. The prospect of talking about my work with a group of strangers is always daunting, but the group's relaxed vibe made for an enjoyable evening. There's something about a book club that oils communication (or was that the wine?) and leads you down conversational alleys you may not have visited before. In two hours, we covered blighted potential, use of the present tense in A Sister for Margot, ebooks, the war dead and the devastation of Typhoon Haiyan.

Books on shelf
Books could keep you out of prison
I know from my own book club that discussion of a story or plotline is often a jumping-off point for more personal revelations. It is a cliche to say that women love to chat, but book clubs provide a few extra ingredients: literary analysis, escapism, a window on another world and the chance to exchange ideas. Girls consistently outperform boys at school and the popularity of book clubs amongst women perhaps harks back to a fondness for structured study and analysis.


Thursday, 31 October 2013

Life begins... again

I had a significant birthday the other week: I turned 40. My six-year old son assured me that I was now "properly grown up". This comes from someone whose definition of a grown-up depends upon a peculiar ranking of emotion. "I am not grown up yet," he told us recently, "because I love Mummy more than my girlfriend. When I am a grown-up, I will love my girlfriend more." He declined to reveal the identity of said girlfriend.


Chinese lanterns at a 40th birthday party
Intimations of mortality on turning 40
Lots of friends have asked me how I felt about turning 40. Frankly, on the morning of my birthday, it felt pretty much the same as 39, except that I had a stonking hangover. Life begins at 40, apparently, which is odd because I thought it began four decades ago (and I am sure people told me the same thing when I turned 30). There have obviously been a few false starts along the way.

Thursday, 24 October 2013

Different tribes

Somewhere in Tanzania there is a boy working long, tedious hours as a night watchman. Scraping together his meagre wages, he has managed to save up for a school uniform. This boy is clever, but he comes from a poor Maasai family. Whereas primary school is free in Tanzania, a place at secondary school costs about £120 a year for a day student. Our night watchman has a dream: he wants to continue his education at secondary school.
Students at Eluwai Primary School, Tanzania
The children at Eluwai primary school in Monduli
Credit: Josi Hollis

I was told this story the other day while I was having coffee with a couple of teachers from Tanzania, called Fred and Hermann. They were staying with my neighbour, Janine FitzGerald, who is a trustee of Serian UK, a charity that promotes education for sustainable ways of living in Tanzania. Via funding from the British Council, Fred and Hermann have been visiting the UK to learn about British teaching methods at  schools in Ellesmere Port, near Liverpool.

Thursday, 17 October 2013

In praise of dog walking

There is a certain field in Henley that is green and pleasant and beloved of local dog walkers. Being the proud, new owner of a Labrador puppy, I have recently joined the throng of walkers who frequent this common ground. During the course of a month, I have even made a few friends. It is our dogs who break the ice: after the requisite amount of bottom-sniffing, the owners get chatting.
Walking  the dog in a field
Simple pleasures

I am convinced that walking in the fresh air actually facilitates the gentle flow of thought and conversation. I am not just thinking of the horse trainer I met earlier in the week who told me she snapped her vertebrae breaking in a new colt, or even the many Labrador owners keen to impart advice, but also my children. Since Pickle the puppy arrived, our weekend walks as a family have become an unexpected way of learning more about our kids' secret lives. 

Thursday, 10 October 2013

Erasmus, father of the ebook?

Ever since some bright spark from Mesopotamia in 3200 BC invented a system of writing, we have used the written word to express ourselves. For centuries, across different civilisations, authors and poets have acted on an innate need to communicate their thoughts and feelings. Quite apart from artistic expression, we owe our advance as a species to our inclination to record and share knowledge. Last Sunday this desire to write became part of our debate at the Henley Literary Festival during a session on ebooks and self-publishing.
Lucy Cavendish, Emma Clark Lam and Clive Limpkin at the Henley Literary Festival
Discussing the magic of ebooks:
Lucy Cavendish, Emma Clark Lam and Clive Limpkin

In amidst the feverish talk of marketing and earning commission, my fellow panelist Clive Limpkin reminded us that ebooks provide an opportunity for people to write, just for the sake of writing. Because very little expense is involved in producing an ebook, it can be a vehicle for an autobiography, a specialist text, or that novel you have always wanted to write (but couldn't get published through the traditional channels). 

Thursday, 3 October 2013

My literary week

Stella Rimington, former head of MI5
Dame Stella: MI5's first female head
Credit: James Gifford-Mead
We had a marvellous day out last Saturday: we went en famille to an open day for a private school in Abingdon. There were newly hatched chicks in the biology lab, smarties in the maths room and trampolining in the gym! The kids were in heaven, but what impressed me most was the onsite theatre, two-tier library and purpose-built lecture hall. I realised this was what we would be paying our fees for: the chance to plant our children in a glorious hothouse.

Now that my days in full-time education are long gone, I realise I miss that heady atmosphere of learning new things and discovering a world in books... which is why I adore The Henley Literary Festival. Once a year, thanks to this jamboree of writers, historians and bloggers, I get my literary fix. The festival takes place right on my doorstep for a week at the end of September and I have been attending ever since former journalist, Sue Ryan, set it up seven years ago. It has gone from strength to strength, selling over 14,000 tickets this year.

Thursday, 26 September 2013

To e-, or not to e-?

Not so long ago I felt like I was waging my own ebook revolution. Having published my first novel as a Kindle book on Amazon last year, I faced a dual challenge: I had to sell my novel, but I also had to make the case for reading books in a digital format. Amongst my own group of friends, I was often required to help would-be readers download a Kindle app before they could go on and purchase my book. It was a hybrid sales/computer-support role that I never envisaged for myself when I set out to write a family saga set in the second-world war.

Next week I am participating in a session at the Henley Literary Festival on ebooks and self-publishing - the prospect of which has sparked some navel-gazing. Coincidentally, I also happened upon a feature by Jonathan Franzen in The Guardian which takes a swipe at Amazon and self-publishing, in the midst of a complex argument about the perils of modernity. Here is an extract:

Book cover for Kindle novel, 'A Sister for Margot' by Emma Clark Lam
Only available as an ebook on Amazon
"Amazon wants a world in which books are either  self-published or published by Amazon itself, with readers dependent on Amazon reviews in choosing books, and with authors responsible for their own promotion. The work of yakkers and tweeters and braggers, and of course people with the money to pay someone to churn out hundreds of five-star reviews for them, will flourish in that world."

Thursday, 19 September 2013

Celestial insurance

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

Middle child has been doing some deep thinking about God recently. He is at a point in his life where he needs God, like a security blanket. The world is becoming a scary place. People die and don't come back. Whereas Quiet One takes a more flippant approach ("You die, so what?"), he is looking for an insurance policy. At bedtime, he asked if I could send him a message - when I died - to reassure him that heaven did exist. I promised, if I had the good fortune to end up in heaven, I would do my best to get in touch.

Lundy Island, North Devon
'Is there a heaven, Mummy?'
Earlier this week the novelist Margaret Atwood, in an interview on Radio 4, alluded to our spiritual need to understand where we come from. While discussing the "Crakers", a race of genetically engineered humans in her MaddAddam trilogy, she observed:
"They are also doing what children do once the discover the past tense and the future tense - so they have to have, 'Where did we come from' and that results in a theology."

Thursday, 12 September 2013

This is the house that we built

There was an intriguing article in our local newspaper in May last year, which opened with the line: "A man has won an appeal to extend his home." Unbeknown to us, our humble kitchen extension had become breaking news in Henley-on-Thames. The article continued:
"William Lam... can now demolish his conservatory and outbuildings and build a single-story extension incorporating a kitchen and dining room."
Scintillating stuff, although I was a bit miffed that Henley's newshounds had overlooked Mrs Lam's role in the project. Now, after two years of planning, design and various setbacks, this same man (and his wife) have finally finished their extension.

Modern kitchen extension on Edwardian house
Hot news in Henley!
The controversy centred around our plan to stick a modern, glass wedge onto an old Edwardian house in a conservation area. When we applied for planning permission, the Henley Town Council recommended refusal on the grounds that the design would be "out of character". Fortunately for us, the inspector who handled our appeal recognised that a modern solution would be "potentially acceptable" (even if he didn't sound entirely convinced at the time). 

After the project was completed this summer, we wondered with some trepidation how people would receive it. So far, our friends have done a decent impression of liking it. The best reaction was from the man who came to do a quote for some bathroom shutters. He ambled through the old hallway and then into the new kitchen, where he stopped dead in his tracks. For a moment he was speechless. Then he said: "Wow! I wasn't expecting that. It is absolutely stunning!"


Here it is, under construction... 


House with old conservatory
Before: the old conservatory 

Building site for kitchen extension: demolition
Demolition and laying the foundations (February 2013)

Building site for kitchen extension: steel beams put in place
Putting in the steel framework (March 2013)
Building site for kitchen extension: wall building
Up go the walls (March 2013)

Building site for kitchen extension: putting in the roof
On goes the roof (April 2013)

Building site for kitchen extension: glass doors
The glass doors and glazing are installed (May 2013)

Kitchen extension on Edwardian house
Finished - click on the picture for a close-up! (June 2013)

The extension was designed by David Greenhill of Vivid Architects and built by First Construct. None of it would have been possible without Louise Morton of Quadrant Town Planning, who helped to win the appeal.

Thursday, 5 September 2013

Puppy love


So I finally have my third child. A lovely, little boy with a full head of hair, beautiful, almond-shaped eyes... oh, and a tail. Am I mad? Barking. Both my (real) children are at school, life is getting easier, weekend lie-ins are no longer just an aspiration... and what do I do? I take on an eight-week old puppy. A black Labrador with big, floppy feet and a bladder that can barely make it through the night. And, who needs an alarm clock when your new baby greets the dawn with a high-pitched howl? Hello sleep deprivation, my old friend, it has been too long. 


Pickle, the black Labrador puppy
Look what the stork brought!
It was actually my daughter who campaigned tirelessly to get the dog, but I would be lying if I said I was opposed to the idea. I have played a quiet hand, knowing that she was best placed to wear down my reluctant husband. So is the puppy my desperate attempt to reclaim motherhood? As my kids become less dependent, am I plugging the gap with a dog? Can I only exist if I am needed? 

All the rituals of preparing for the puppy's arrival were spookily familiar. Since June we have been writing to-do lists and going on spending sprees at the doggy equivalent of Mothercare: Pets at Home. Dutifully my husband built him a cot, sorry crate, to sleep in and we agonised over a name, until we finally settled on 'Pickle'.  

Puppy toddlerhood is now upon us. We spend our days toilet training, shaking toys, removing foreign objects from Pickle's mouth and heading off canine stunts on the patio steps. Earlier this week we even took him to a 'post-natal' puppy class so that he could play with other dogs! However, for all the challenges, looking after a dog is parenting lite. When we need a break, we shut him in his crate and escape the house for a couple of hours - with no associated visits from social services. 

Yesterday the kids went back to school and, thanks to Pickle, I didn't feel quite so bereft. His wiggly, waggy-tail welcome made the house feel less empty when I got home from the school run. And thankfully he can't yet utter those words I have heard all summer: "Mummy, what shall I do now? I'm bored!!" He just digs up the lawn instead. 


------------------------------------------------------------------------


"I absolutely loved this book and will miss the family that I became so involved with over the past few days. I hope Emma has another book in the pipeline!" 
-- Annabel at CountryWives 


I welcome reviews of my book on Amazon!


Friday, 16 August 2013

The battle for a woman's working soul

New research from the US shows that mums are crying out for flexible jobs. Hulafrog, a network of US parenting sites, co-founded by my friend Kerry Bowbliss, recently surveyed more than 2,000 mothers on the thorny issue of working full-time or staying at home with the kids. The results find that 65% of the women would prefer to work part-time as an ideal career choice, while only 9% would prefer to work full-time. Some 59% would also be willing to earn less money if it meant they could work flexibly. "No suprise that moms want flexibility," says Kerry. "But it still surprises me that there aren't more flexible opportunities available." 


Kerry Bowbliss, co-founder and chief publisher, Hulafrog
Kerry's company Hulafrog offers flexible work
There has been much chatter about women and work on the internet recently after The New York Times Magazine ran a feature on stay-at-home moms trying to opt back into their careers. This was a follow-up to another NY Times feature written 10 years ago about a generation of elite, super-educated women who chose to "opt out" from their careers in order to raise children at home. Here is an excerpt from the most recent NY Times article:
This magazine, in a cover article by Lisa Belkin, called the phenomenon of their leaving work the “Opt-Out Revolution,” and other coverage followed: a Time magazine cover story on “The Case for Staying Home” and a “60 Minutes” segment devoted to a group of former mega-achievers who were, as the anchor Lesley Stahl put it, “giving up money, success and big futures” to be home with their children.

At the time, these women attracted criticism for turning their back on feminism. Now - shock, horror - some of these same mega-achievers are looking to get back into the job market. A few working mothers have pointed the finger and said, I told you so. To me this overlooks an obvious point: these women have been out for 10 years. Now their children have grown up and become less dependent. The time is ripe for a return to work. I doubt any of them would have ruled out a resumption of their careers when they decided 10 years ago to look after their children. 

This chop-and-change approach goes against the prevailing trend of 'leaning in'. Sheryl Sandberg's much-publicised book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, argues that women are unconsciously compromising their career goals, even before they have children:
In addition to the exterior barriers erected by society, women are hindered by barriers that exist within ourselves. We hold ourselves back in ways both big and small, by lacking self-confidence, by not raising our hands, and by pulling back when we should be leaning in... We lower our expectations of what we can achieve.
It is a powerful message, exhorting women to try harder in their careers, but as Hulafrog's survey demonstrates, there are many more women who would prefer a middle way between "opting out" and "leaning in". 

The founders of Hulafrog - Kerry, chief publisher, and CEO Sherry Lombardi - passionately believe there are not enough flexible opportunities for women. This is what motivated them to go to their parent subscribers and ask about the "age-old issue that haunts moms from pre-school pick-up lines to corporate boardrooms: work full-time or stay at home with the kids?" They were overwhelmed by the response.

Among other things, they discovered that a staggering 57% of stay-at-home moms would have continued to work if they had been offered the ability to work from home. "Think of what our workforce is missing," says Kerry. "All the educated, professional women who are sitting on the sidelines because they haven't been able to find the flexibility they need." (See my previous post on this untapped workforce.)

The debate surrounding women, work and children will always be emotive, depending on which side of the fence you sit. However, in a modern age we should strive for an ideal that suits all types, including the option of flexible work hours or working from home. Employers need to sit up and take notice. More than 2,000 women have spoken. Have a look at Hulafrog's Infographic on the subject and see for yourself.


Moms@Work




Further links

Hulafrog's press release on the survey
Lisa Belkin's NY Times feature on opting out
Judith Warner's NY Times feature on opting back in
Lisa Belkin's recent article in The Huffington Post
Comments on Facebook




------------------------------------------------------------------------


"I absolutely loved this book and will miss the family that I became so involved with over the past few days. I hope Emma has another book in the pipeline!" 
-- Annabel at CountryWives 


I welcome reviews of my book on Amazon!

Friday, 2 August 2013

A life in books

Review: A private collection of books once owned by the novelist Elizabeth Taylor provides a rare insight into her life.

Elizabeth Taylor’s avowed aversion for adventure, coupled with a horror of publicity, goes some way to explaining why her talent as a writer remains underrated. Writing just after the second-world war, Taylor impressed many of her contemporaries, including Kingsley Amis, but fell into relative obscurity towards the end of her career.

The novel, A Wreath of Roses, by Elizabeth Taylor
"Taylor's marvellous, dark novel"
An excerpt from the jacket of her novel A Wreath of Roses shows an author who confined herself to the domestic dramas of middle England, much in the tradition of Jane Austen. “I hate ‘adventure,’ ‘experience,’ [I] can never make any use of them or assimilate them," she said. "Change disrupts me and I cannot write. [People] are my only adventure and I hope never to have any others.”


Despite these rather prissy sentiments, she was in the words of her contemporary, Rosamond Lehmann, “sophisticated, sensitive and brilliantly amusing, with a kind of stripped, piercing feminine wit.” Her nuanced prose could ridicule a character’s folly and then subvert the reader’s response with a poignant twist of sympathy.

Taylor’s early success, beginning with the publication of At Mrs Lippincote’s in 1945, coincided with the rise of her more famous namesake, making it difficult for her to attract due recognition. (The writer once received fan letter requesting a photograph of her in a bikini – with customary wit she remarked this was not possible since she did not own one.) The centenary of Taylor’s birth last year has helped to rehabilitate her work, including her twelve novels – one shortlisted for the 1971 Booker prize – and dozens of short stories, many of which appeared in The New Yorker magazine.

A dedication in the novel, Palladian, by Elizabeth Taylor
John owned a
confectionary company

Despite a quiet life in Buckinghamshire with her husband John and two children, Taylor was dedicated to her art and developed intense friendships with other writers. Notwithstanding an early and passionate affair, her relationship with her husband was based on mutual respect and she inscribes a dedication copy of her novel Palladian to him. 


She also enjoyed a fulsome correspondence with authors E. B. White, a fellow contributor to The New Yorker, Elizabeth Bowen and William Maxwell, her editor at The New Yorker. A rare collection of Taylor’s own books, sold by her son Renny last year, offers a tantalizing glimpse into these relationships.


Amongst the collection is a first edition of E. B. White’s children’s book, Charlotte’s Web, which Taylor read aloud to her grandchildren. An inscription from White, who stored his manuscripts in old whiskey cartons, bears a private joke: "and I do like whiskey."


An inscription from E.B. White in the children's story, Charlotte's Web
A private joke?

In another inscribed book – The Second Tree from the Corner – White describes himself as Taylor’s “grateful reader,” a sign of their esteem for one another. Taylor’s son says his mother rarely travelled to the United States, but fostered her friendship with White through a long and frequent correspondence. Like Taylor, White valued his privacy, often slipping out of his office via the fire-escape to avoid meeting visitors.



In the same collection, an inscribed copy of Bowen’s Court, an account by Elizabeth Bowen of her beloved home in County Cork, Ireland, speaks of a more intimate friendship. Inserted at the back of the book are clippings of Bowen’s 1973 obituaries snipped out, presumably, by Taylor herself who once wrote how she “worshipped” her friend. Taylor stayed with Bowen in Ireland, both of them working companionably on their respective projects. Bowen’s book remains, among other things, a memorial to “the authority of light and quiet” around the house, which served as a retreat to many of her artistic cronies.

Elizabeth Taylor’s collection of books stands as a similar monument to a writer’s life. Their personal inscriptions hint of experiences enhanced by her adventures with people – friends as well as characters in her novels.


This article was first published as a blog post for Jonkers Rare Books, a purveyor of fine books and first editions. Based in Henley-on-Thames, Jonkers specialises in collecting nineteenth and twentieth century literature, as well as children's and illustrated books.



Thursday, 25 July 2013

Exercising the boy

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

The summer holidays have begun. Sigh. I love having my children at home again, but it does take me a few days to transition into full-time earth mother with a dozen craft projects up her sleeve. We are only a few days in and I am already wondering how we will all survive the next six weeks together. Middle Child is careering around the house like a Cocker Spaniel in desperate need of a walk, while Quiet One hibernates in her bedroom.
Cocker Spaniel with flying ears
Middle Child needs daily exercise
and regular spells in the garden
 
© Zaretskaya | Dreamstime.com

If you could harness Middle Child's boy-energy in some way, our town would become carbon-neutral within a matter of months. Instead, he channels his vigor into disrupting his sisters and generally being a pest. Recent acts of torment include hiding Quiet One's pencil case in the bin, chucking her flip-flops into the neighbouring garden and 'autographing' her collection of pop CDs. Non-Walking Toddler is not safe either: just as she is contentedly communing with the Tomblibooshe delights in switching the channel over to CBBC's Splatalot.

Upstairs, Quiet One spends her days reading, sketching and doing her homework. She has even been known to empty the dishwasher of a morning and make her own bed. While Middle Child demands more TV time, more biscuits, more crisps, or a later bedtime (dream on, little man!), she habitually toes the line. Even NW Toddler has become remarkably low-maintenance as she sits watching the antics of her older siblings with curiosity bordering on obsessional devotion.

Last weekend, I read a newspaper article about how girls should learn to be more disruptive and challenge authority. According to Dr Kevin Stannard of the Girl's Day School Trust, by encouraging girls to be obedient and conscientious, we could put them at a disadvantage in later life. 


"Are we doing girls a long-term disservice by defining their performance in terms of their compliance to expectations of behaviour and work that reflect, reinforce and reproduce differences between the genders," he asks.

He acknowledges that girls outperform boys at school (a structured environment that encourages a balanced approach to debate and essay-writing) but says that they lose ground later on, during university interviews, for example, where they are required to be more combative and risk-taking.

I can see his point (I am a girl after all), but I couldn't help feeling rather provoked. In my mind, it isn't the girls that are at fault, or even the way we teach, but our culture and the personality traits we are told to celebrate. 'Male' qualities, such as competitiveness and risk-taking, are often lauded at the expense of more 'female' attributes, such as empathy, co-operation and compliance to the rules. Put quite simply, society would fail to function if there weren't a few female types around to oil the wheels. We may be attracted to charismatic leaders, challenging the status quo, but who actually does the work?

While I don't wish to repress Middle Child's zest for life, I have no qualms about teaching him to live by the rules. Over the last few days, he has cleaned the butter off his sister's pencil case, retrieved her flip-flops and missed a few of episodes of Splatalot. I have also signed him up for tennis camp and forest school. Until I can sell his energy back to the national grid, he will be burning it up with all the other reckless types. Meanwhile, I will be applying for my diploma in personality management.




Hermaphrodite Mum is a fictional creation of Emma Clark Lam
Previous posts by Hermaphrodite Mum: