“Thinking of the children”

The satirical cry popularised in The Simpsons “Will nobody think of the children?!” was usually wailed by a character who hadn’t a clue what children were being protected from.

Similarly, government plans for filtering Internet access have nothing to do with protecting children.

Let’s be clear about this – the Internet itself can’t be censored, you can only block some access to some parts.  But, like a paedophile lurking in the dark, those parts are still out there, only you can’t see what they’re doing any longer.

And this, I suspect, is what parts of the government really want: the ability to black out those parts it doesn’t like.  Awkward sites like Wikileaks that embarrass people in power; campaigning groups like Avaaz or Change.org who fight against injustice; social sites like Facebook or Twitter that allow people to swap ideas; trade unions, environmental groups…

Does that sound unlikely?  Surely, they’d never block Facebook…?

ORG - Open Rights GroupYou’re probably right.  But this legislation forces Internet providers to install the means to “filter” (“block”) sites.

Today, the only people blocking access to websites is us.

But if this legislation becomes law then we lose that right.  We become the same as China (except that the Chinese people didn’t have a choice).

And the reality is that Internet filters won’t protect the children: they’re not a magic wand banishing all adult content.  What they will do is stop people finding useful advice on sexual health, sexuality and relationships and give parents a false sense of security.

YOU should decide what you can view on the Internet, not the government; if you agree then the time to speak up is now – before it’s too late.

There’s a fast-growing petition at ORG, the Open Rights Group, telling David Cameron To Stop Sleepwalking the UK into Censorship.  Sign it.

And if you’re really rattled by all this talk of Internet censorship then you can join ORG, like I did.

Because no-one’s going to thank you for censoring their Internet access.

Camping it up

What did I get up to this weekend?

Er, well, I was – that is to say, when we – um…  Oh, damn it – this:Stu in a kaftan and wig

Camping in Wales for my old friend Vicki’s ’70s-themed 40th birthday.  It was a long way to go but worth every penny.

Even though it started raining just moments after we arrived and didn’t stop until the next morning everyone had a fantastic time.  Seriously.  It rained from when we arrived till when we left, almost to the minute!

Fortunately, more outdoors-y types had a plan: they strung tarpaulins between tents and gazebos to form a covered space just about big enough for everyone.  Umbrellas were scattered around outside this “safe area” for those manning the fire and anyone needing to visit the toilet.

In the end the rain was almost a good thing, in that it squeezed us all together – there was no choice but to get to know each other and have huge amounts of fun.  Yay!

I wasn’t supposed to be dressing as a lady, you know, and I was only in drag for about ten minutes, but the rather fetching kaftan was offered, as was the wig, and I’d had a few pink wines already, so what the hell, eh? 🙂

“Boys willys”

No, I haven’t been hacked, you read that title right.  It’s the Google search search I found open on the tablet yesterday when I got home from work.

I knew it wasn’t Amber, because she can’t spell that well yet.  Not quite.

“Have, er, you been searching for ‘boys willys’ on the tablet?” I asked the Lovely Melanie – just in case.

She gave me the look that says, I know what this is about but wish I didn’t.

Millie.  Eight years old Millie.

OK, we both thought.  Tricky.

sex educationBecause the girls use our phones, the tablet and the PC a lot at home they all have Google’s search settings set to “safe” – they should never return any p0rn results, and Millie’s search had brought up pretty harmless results.

But…this is one of those of those parenting occasions where you can’t just let it be; this is the sort of thing that requires nuanced and tactful questioning.  This is one of the occasions that requires a mother’s touch…

Damn, the Lovely Melanie is reading bedtime stories to Amber.  Looks like this is a job for… (looks around hopefully – nope, no one else is here).

Bugger.  Looks like this is a job for me.

Well, the Lovely Melanie and I always swore that we both wanted to be open and unembarrassed with the girls when talking about sex.  We don’t make any kind of a fuss about people being naked and we’ve never avoided direct questions about the difference between girls and boys.

So, with the tablet in my hand I went and casually asked Millie if she’d been looking up “boys willys”.

“No,” she replied, not looking at me.

Part of me was triumphant: Yay!  That’s that sorted!  Let’s go and do something else!

The other, more adult half, sighed heavily and took charge.

I explained that we weren’t cross at all, but that we knew it wasn’t Amber or Mummy.  Or me.

Millie still denied it – which worried me, because I wanted her to understand that we really weren’t cross or disgusted or anything like that.  So I ploughed on regardless, explaining that the internet is great for finding things out, that almost anything you would ever want to know is on there somewhere.

But the problem is that “somewhere”.  There are lots of things on the internet that are confusing or strange or just plain wrong – and there are even things that may be scary.

There still wasn’t much response from Millie, so I pressed on.

“I have a willy, as you know,” I reminded her, “so if you have any questions I’m something of an expert.  And Mummy has seen my willy” (it’s true, she has – three times at last count!) “so you could even ask her.”

“OK” said Millie.

And that was pretty much that.  I reiterated that being asked questions would never make us cross, and that I hoped Millie would never be embarrassed to ask questions.

The Lovely Melanie, who had been lurking outside, then stepped in: “Is there anything you want to ask us now?”

“No,” said Millie, so I kissed the top of her head and let her run off.

Then I remembered; I’d forgotten to correct her grammar: it’s “boys’ willies” not “boys willys”.


Summer hell-idays

We’ve had something of a rocky start to the school summer holidays.  Six more weeks of this might be a bit wearing.

You know things are going to be tough when, just 45 minutes after school finishes, Millie is mooching round the house moaning “I’m bored…!”

“Yes,” I sympathised, “if only we had a computer or a garden or lots of toys or a wall of books or bicycles or some pets or a nearby wood or some colouring books or DVDs  or…”

Yesterday morning – when, fortunately, a doctor’s appointment kept me at home later than usual – Millie started moaning and being rude and unpleasant the moment she woke up; to the point where I had to sit down and have a chat with her.

Luckily, I was feeling calm and reasonable, so instead of simply shouting at her I took this infinitely more productive approach.  Like the opposite of thunderstorm, this calm approach can help us all to take a deep breath and clear the air – because even the most zen parents eventually resort to some good old-fashioned shouting occasionally.

Most times it’s Saint Melanie who takes this approach, but even she’d been pushed just a fraction too far, so it was up to me.

Plus, I’d be off to work so if this didn’t work then it wouldn’t be me reaping the whirlwind! 😛

So we had a quiet chat, just the two of us, and it seemed to do the trick.

At least, when I got home that evening Amber was the one in big trouble for biting and calling people names.

Sigh.  Six weeks and three more days…

Millie does the double!

Platinum house points certificate

Well, this is getting embarrassing now.

Just 48 hours from the end of term and Millie squeaks in with a Platinum certificate for 200 house points.

Not content with a remarkable ton she’s scored an almost unheard of double ton!

How not to break important news

My entire department at work was suddenly called into a meeting this morning by my boss’s boss.

That’s seldom a good thing, but no one knew what was going on.

It took a while for us to find out from her…

MY BOSS’S BOSS: Well, thank you for coming in.  I wish I had good news for you, but I don’t.

(The whole room tenses.)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: Does anyone know what I’m about to tell you?  Has anyone heard from other people?

(Heads are solemnly shaken)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: I want you to know that we have been fighting this as hard as we can, but I received an email about it last week and there’s nothing more we can do.

(Breaths are held)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: I’ve spoken to [HER BOSS] today and she says this has been coming for a while, but it’s still not a nice thing to have to say.

(Eyes remain unblinked)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: I was taken by surprise when I received this email last week, but I held off from telling you until now.

(Teeth are gnashed)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: I thought I would wait until we knew for sure that this was definitely happening.

(Hearts are stopped)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: But now we know that people here are definitely going to be affected by this decision and there’s nothing we can do to change it.

(17 people are silently screaming “WHAT???  WHAT IS IT???  WHAT???  TELL US!!!”)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: We’ve been told that…


MY BOSS’S BOSS: The entire department…

(Aaaagh!  Yes?!?!?!?)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: Everyone here today, without exception, is…

(Tell us!!!!  Just bloody tell us!!!!!!)

MY BOSS’S BOSS: Going to be moved to the other office in King’s Cross.

EVERYONE ELSE IN THE ROOM: Wha-?  Er, wait, is that all???!  Jesus!  Oh, my god, I thought we were being sacked!  We’re not sacked?  We’re not sacked!  Hurrah!