Monday, 18 May 2015

Don't you believe it!

Social conditioning has a lot to answer for. It is one of those vague terms used to explain away all sorts of injustices in the battle for gender equality. In the past, I have felt ambivalent about it, believing that it was all too easy to make social conditioning the scapegoat for our difficulties in achieving equal pay, boardroom roles for women, or penetrating male-dominated professions. However, a startling survey by Privilege Insurance last week on female and male drivers not only challenges the old myth that men are better drivers, but also demonstrates just how pernicious social conditioning can be.

Infographic showing statistics from Privilege Insurance driving survey
Firstly, the survey finds that women are better drivers than men, in use of speed, observational skills on the road and response to other road users (among other things). Secondly, it suggests that there is a discrepancy between women's ability on the road and how they are perceived as drivers by society. The results from the survey actually show that both sexes tend to believe men are better drivers. 

Anecdotally this is borne out by my experiences of being in a car. On family outings, my husband is always the default driver because there is a general assumption that he is the better driver. Similarly, when I was learning to drive as a teenager, my family use to tease me for being a bit dopey, while they described my brother as a "natural driver". Possibly I am the exception to the rule, but how many times do we observe a car making an error on the roads and then assume it must be a woman behind the wheel?

Monday, 11 May 2015

Heroic defeat

Imagine what it feels like. You wake up on Monday morning feeling flattened. Perhaps for a few seconds there is blissful oblivion, but then the full weight of your disappointment crushes down on you like never before. This is Ed, this is Nick, this is Nigel and all the MPs who lost their seats last week. The political casualties of the general election are facing up to their failures, after six weeks of campaigning hype, nerve-bending adrenalin and exhaustion. Their bid to change history, to alter the course of their own lives, has come to nothing.

Picture of a door to the polling station during the UK general election 2015
Being shown the door on election night
Of course these men and women are thick-skinned and tough - to survive in modern politics you probably have to be - but I imagine public defeat still makes them feel empty and demoralised. Where they may differ from us ordinary mortals is in their ability to pick themselves up, dust down their political colours and get on with their lives. 

Monday, 27 April 2015

Social butterflies

Hermaphrodite Mum
Three kids and a single mum

If I could bestow a single gift upon my children, it would be social confidence. Already I can see that my eldest is struggling to make her mark on the world, preferring to hide away in the corner rather than attract undue attention to herself. When I picked her up from dance club after school the other day, she was standing on her own while the rest of the girls chatted away to each other. "I just don't fit in!" Quiet One snapped at me when I committed the error of asking if she had made any new friends. 

A row of multicoloured Chinese lanterns at a party
Parties: back in seek-a-snog mode
I was similar at her age, or certainly during those precarious teenage years when you would rather die than cause a fuss or go out on a limb. My best friend at school was much more gregarious than me and at parties I used to drift along in her slipstream. She would launch into a group of people like the Titanic on her maiden voyage, holding forth on any subject, while I threw in the odd laconic comment. Fortunately parties in those days were simple affairs. A little flirtatious chat and a lot of cider were just a prelude to a snog in some dark corner of the room.

Monday, 13 April 2015

Cornish fantasies

Aidan Turner as Ross Poldark in the BBC series
Just on my way, Ross...
© Mammoth Screen / BBC
Last week I saddled up my horse and galloped off to find Poldark. Well, in a manner of speaking. It was more a case of cramming the boot of our Volvo with buckets, spades, suitcases, wellies, wine and coats, whilst leaving a slither of space for the dog. Meanwhile in the back seat, the kids were wedged in with a box of board games and various bags of food (including a rogue red pepper that had escaped its casing) as I rested my feet on another three bags in the front. Only my husband enjoyed the luxury of a footwell, but then someone needed to drive. This was us, off on our hols to the West Country.

Our destination was a Landmark Trust cottage, tucked inside the border of Cornwall, with no television, wifi or mobile signal to pollute its venerable rafters. Quite an undertaking for my family with our various addictions to Instagram, Facebook and Amazon instant video. In their stead, we had Cluedo, a 1000-piece jigsaw, chess and Bananagrams to while away the time. 

View of Daymer Bay, Cornwall
Poldark country
How were we going to cope? Oddly enough we felt excited about our wifi-less wilderness - not exactly 18th century Poldark, but a return to more simple pleasures. Regretfully not much bare-chested scything came to pass, but there was a fair bit of trekking along coastal paths while gazing over the clifftops at the turquoise sea and spumes of white spray below (where, oh where, were those pilchards?).

Thursday, 26 March 2015

Lose yourself

My daughter found something out about herself this week. After taking a narrator role in her school play, she discovered she rather enjoyed being in the limelight. Quite a departure for my shy girl who generally feels more comfortable observing life from the sidelines. Standing on the spotlit stage, she delivered her lines with aplomb and basked in the audience's attention like it was warm sunshine. For a few hours, she was free from the self-conscious strictures of pre-teenhood.

Two girls reading books on play equipment
Lost in a good book
The transformation came about because she was able to borrow the persona of another character and suppress her usual inhibitions. Wearing another personality for a few hours also meant she no longer had to worry about how other people might judge her. Like any spell in the sunshine, the after-effects have lingered, giving her a rosy glow of confidence. 

Wednesday, 18 March 2015

The whips and scorns of time

I finally worked out who Bradley Cooper was the other day. Yes, I know - I have been living under a rock. Last Saturday, my husband and I watched him and Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook, a quirky rom-com about two young people with mental health issues who [spoiler alert] end up falling in love. The message we took away was that most of us harbour a little craziness, whether we paddle away mid-stream or occasionally sink beneath the flow.

"The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday - that's guaranteed," Pat (Bradley Cooper) told us in the final scene. "I can't begin to explain that. Or the craziness inside myself and everyone else. But guess what? Sunday's my favourite day again."

Girl staring at her reflection in water
"The world will break your heart ten ways to Sunday..."
Credit: Will Lam

Oddly, I found this quotation comforting. We are not alone, I thought! The idea that life is about heartbreak and disappointment, as much as fulfilment and pleasure, is not a novel one but it teaches us that we can't always expect an easy ride. We have to embrace human experience in its entirety, the rough with the smooth.