Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Pop goes the Primary School

A few weeks down the line from when the primary school places allocation was announced here in London, and I am hearing terrible stories about the children who failed to get into their preferred schools. In some cases, here in Haringey, children have been given places outside of the borough, which most probably means children being driven to school, which isn’t great news in terms of air quality, the environmental impact or the health of the child.

One Stroud Green couple found that, despite living just two streets away from their preferred school, their twins have been given their fifth and sixth choices. They are of course appealing, which in itself is a very stressful process, in order to at least get both children into the same school.

Some boroughs have already announced plans to build ‘flat-pack’ classrooms (neighbouring Barnet plans 16, for example), whilst Haringey is apparently in talks with a ‘business mogul’ (it says here), who is thinking of setting up a so-called ‘free school’.

I am not sure what the answer is (though I don’t think it’s free schools, and there are only so many extra classrooms a school can build), but the problem is set to get worse. The number of pupils in state primary schools is projected to increase about 14% from 3.96 million last year to 4.5 million by 2018. Statistics from the Department for Education show that the rise is steepest in London. Between 2009 and 2014, the capital's population aged between five and 10 will rise by about 16%. In the rest of the country, it will grow by about 12%.

I am reminded of a quotation from Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure’: ‘ we are too many.’ Yes, I know it’s rich for me to say that when I’m currently concentrating on my own ‘population expansion project’ (though I absolutely guarantee I’m stopping at two!) but I can’t help but think that London, where the problem of school place shortages (not to mention housing shortages!) is at its worst, is simply ‘full up’. To an extent the capital is a victim of its own success. I’m certainly not suggesting any solutions, but instead highlighting a problem that we ignore at our peril.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Easter fun in Stationers Park

No, this isn't an advert for Cream Eggs (I'm more a Mini Eggs fan myself), but it's me helping to run the annual Easter Egg hunt at Stationers Park, Stroud Green, earlier today.

I had the onerous task of hiding the patterned mdf eggs around the park. Too easy to spot and nobody's challenged; too tricky and I devastate the youngsters. I'm told I pitched it perfectly, though the one hidden in the fork of the willow tree outfoxed many.

Kids were rewarded for their toils with a Cream Egg, kindly donated by the local Waitrose. We took monetary donations, which will be put towards the replacement for the playfort, which is due to be demolished starting on 3rd May.

As a Friends of Stationers Park committee member (I was recently co-opted), I have been researching possible funding avenues for the new play equipment. We're still in need of £150,000, and so there's a lot of work to do to make sure we secure the money for a worthy replacement to the much loved but now structurally unsound fort.

I'm not sure we raised a lot of money today, but it was more about giving the families a bit of Easter fun. I think we definitely ticked that box, and the sun even deigned to shine for us, which was nice.

Thursday, 7 April 2011

Breastfeeding promotion: leapardskin bras, groping hands...

I saw some interesting NHS posters promoting breastfeeding today. They were displayed inside University College Hospital, and came in three designs, and so were pinned up as a triptych.

The first one featured a rather nice pair of breasts, one of which was in a rather daring leopardskin brassiere, the other of which was exposed and feeding a baby. ‘Designer Mum. Designer Milk’ read the slogan (see above!).

The second poster featured same nice bosoms (the bra had disappeared by this point), one of which was being mauled by a baby’s hand, the other of which was being groped by a fella’s hand. I can’t quite recall the slogan but the gist was ‘keep your baby AND your man happy’. The small print is that your baby can enjoy your breasts and hey, guess what, so can (and I quote), ‘your man’.

The third poster was the same woman, this time holding the baby with one arm and lifting a small dumbbell with the other. (I should mention that as well as lovely tits the model pictured has the teeniest, most toned stomach in the history of stomachs…i.e. it is not exactly in the shape of most post-natal mothers. Oh, and no stretch marks in sight, of course). Message: breastfeeding helps you get slim.

Now, I’m all for a bit of pro-boobfeeding propaganda. But I was a bit alarmed about the message these posters are putting out. Namely, breastfeeding will make you trendy, sexy and skinny – the holy trinity, no less!

Is it really true? There are loads of benefits to breastfeeding, but they’re more along the lines of long term health benefits to mother and baby. As for breastfeeding making you sexy, I’m not sure I’d welcome having my left bosom fondled whilst breastfeeding with the right. I know I always brag that women are excellent multi-taskers, but come on. The small print went on to reassure women that breastfeeding wouldn’t ‘ruin’ your tits. Perhaps not, though I recall how one female friend laughingly told me that her breasts were like ‘two sad little empty envelopes’ after she’d finished breastfeeding. Also, with all the ‘your man’ messaging, what of single mothers or lesbian couples? Not something the poster designers took into account, clearly!

And what about breastfeeding being a route to weight loss? Hmm…not in my experience! But then, if you’ve just been through the biggest event in your life and you’re struggling to cope with a newborn and establish breastfeeding, should your weight be an issue at the forefront of your mind? Er, no, despite what celebrity culture might tell us, it should not. There’s plenty of time for that malarkey down the line if a woman is concerned about her weight, but I have to tell you that boobfeeding isn’t some sort of guaranteed weight loss miracle!

So I was a little perturbed by the tone of these promotions. I know they were aiming for being controversial and eye catching, but I have an idea which is even more controversial. A poster campaign that exposes the dubious nature of the formula industry, the poor health outcomes for bottle-fed babies compared to breastfed ones.

But that would never happen, because the formula industry would sue. So for now, it’s leopardskin-clad breasts and hairy male hands groping lactating breasts. Um, not much would put me off breastfeeding, but….!