Archive for the ‘ Personal ’ Category


I have decided to sync my WordPress account with my Blogger account. This isn’t very exciting at all except for the fact that the Blogger account is attached to my Google account, and so will come out with what is basically my real name. My old posts won’t transfer over, but new ones should post to both.

I had to have a quick think about this before doing it, as I know that people are concerned about internet anonymity. I was for a while but am much less so now – I don’t do or say anything sufficiently controversial for it to be a problem, and would be happy to stand by, explain or perhaps change my mind on anything I have said previously, or anything I would willingly say now. I have been meaning to talk about internet anonymity for a while, and at some point I may actually get round to doing it.

I guess the main thing for me to be concerned about is the fact that I have spoken about my strong dislike for the reforms of the NHS under the coalition – as a middle manager in NHS England, there is a risk that this is career limiting. I should make it clear that while there are major elements that I massively disagree with in the new structure, I am determined as always to make it work as well as possible for the people who require and rely on the NHS. I have a suspicion that Hunt, Cameron and Lansley aren’t that taken with that approach, but I am certain that anyone who ever has a real say on me getting a job or not would be pleased.

The second thing that concerned me was talking more openly about mental health issues under my name. I suffer from depression, and am often a little guarded in discussing this in real life. However, I have decided that the benefits of demonstrating that it is OK to talk about these things outweighs the discomfort I may have from people knowing that it is an issue. With respect to work, I don’t think this should be a problem – any organisation that I would be interested in working for would be able to accommodate that – especially given that it isn’t a threat to my work anyway.

So anyway – online me, pixie359, is now much more easily associated with my offline identity, Miles Taylor. And here is my face.


Miles mug shot


Equal parenting and feminist fatherhood

I’m a feminist and a soon-to-be father. I’m ridiculously angry by comments that Farage is making about his inability to change the gender discrimination in the City as if it were based solely on necessary biological differences. I am also angry about articles like the one in the Telegraph saying that fathers are worse at important parenting skills. I think it is true that women and men, or birthing and non birthing partners, face different challenges, and that women are often better equipped to parent. But this is in large part because of entrenched social norms, where women are expected to sacrifice personal fulfillment to manage the family, and men playing with children are something to be suspicious of. I am very much opposed to the unnecessary continuation of these traditions, and the damage that it does to families who are forced into roles that they don’t want.

I’m also in a really rather traditional family set-up, with myself as the bigger earner and the original house purchaser, and my wife almost always doing the cooking and managing the housework. I drive the car, and she makes sure it has everything in it. This has come about largely as an accident of our circumstances, rather than any view either of us hold about the gender roles in a relationship.

So what should I do about fatherhood? What role can and should I play in the upbringing of my child? How does this fit with my feminist principles?

My guiding principle must be that the division of both labour and reward is fair, or at least as fair as it can be given that the whole process is wildly messy and unbalanced. What is ‘fair’ can be really tricky to evaluate, as different ‘work’ is evaluated differently, both by society at large, and by individuals. So, for example, while both my wife and I work hard in our jobs, I get paid more. My wife enjoys cooking, while I like to set up gadgets. Rewards are also impossible to measure when it is mostly about interaction with a hazy eyed food processing tube that will at times hate you.

I feel like there should be some theoretical way of evaluating and therefore calculating how to share the workload of a household, but the problem is that every single relevant factor in doing this calculation varies wildly. At this point I have to say I have no idea what all of these factors are and how they vary, but there are a few things that I can immediately identify as key areas to work out. These are:

  • Physical and mental fitness
  • Personal preference
  • Time at home
  • Financial security
  • Long term opportunities
  • A good example

Physical and mental fitness

There is massive variation in people’s ability to do things in everyday life, and this is exacerbated in the early stages of parenthood. Due to a happenstance of biology, women go through 9 months of parasitism, massive physical trauma, and then are often woken every hour to be parasitised again. My wife has had added complications of pelvic girdle pain, which has made everything painful, and walking any further than between bed and couch really difficult. New dads will be tired too, but I don’t think that can compare to what new and expectant mums go through.

So, obviously, doing anything at all will be harder for women in the time around birth. That doesn’t mean that the man has to do everything, but he should be getting pretty close to it.

I don’t really know what the changing paternity laws give people in terms of time off, as I am sadly not eligible for it due to changing job too recently. However, it’s worth bearing in mind that this balance will change somewhat if one partner is returning to work while the other doesn’t. I think this can cut both ways – the person not at work is not not working, and the person working out of the house is presumably not trying to neglect their household responsibilities. Of course, it can be difficult to see this when you’re involved on side or the other.

Personal preference

People enjoy different things, and it seems mad to discount this when deciding who does what. For example, my wife enjoys cooking more than I do, and so it makes sense that she should therefore cook. But, that should only really be about prioritising who does which particular tasks, rather than how much they end up doing. So while my wife will do the majority cooking, I should ensure that I am doing the equivalent value of work in some other way. This matters all the more when there is more to do – and I think I have heard mention of an increase in required work when you have a child.

In deciding parenting roles, however, this needs to be put to one side a bit. I am sure that I would prefer not to be the one to tell off my child and stop it doing things – I’m more relaxed about Health and Safety than my wife, and would trust the child to learn, while she would want it not to injure or kill itself. But I think it’s important that a balance is found, and that messages are consistent at least until the child is able to start to distinguish and decide more independently. So for example we might agree that we say ‘don’t use prostitutes’ and ‘no smoking crack’ and even if I don’t hold an *in principle* stand against either of those activities, I will need to support and enforce those rules. Of course, in exchange for that, I might be able to convince my wife to allow him to try alcohol in a controlled environment and have consensual relations at a younger age than she would have liked, and she would have to support that too.

There is also a question of identity. Many of the women who are identified primarily as mothers are happy to be so, because they view the nurturing of a new person as the most important thing they could do. I think this is widely under-rated, and that people who choose to live like this should be proud of the job that they do. However, many woulds prefer to have more than one life, where they can be recognised in their own right. My wife will make an excellent and proud mother, but would also like to achieve things in the workplace, the community and perhaps in the political and public world.

Time at home

I’ve mentioned the importance of trying to balance the workload for all parties (except the baby, who can get away with minimal domestic input), but the main thing about being at home is spending time with the child. Traditionally, the mother looks after the child and does all of the housework during the day, and so does all the boring stuff like checking homework, making them tidy up. Because the dad is only around for a short period before bedtime, he wants to make an impact, and so doesn’t ‘waste’ his time by doing chores. This is a bad deal for the mother who never gets a break to relax and have fun with the child, as well as the father who only gets a small amount of time, even if that can often be more fun.

My wife will likely be working after maternity leave, and it looks like the easiest nursery to come to is by my work, so I will likely be doing quite a bit of that after the first year. It makes sense that I would do that as I will be responsible for him getting there on time, clean, fed and ready to play and learn. In the first year, my wife will be on maternity, so she will be doing a lot more of that.

Financial security

This is the boring bit, and the bit where it can get very cruel. Although money doesn’t make you happy, not having any money can make you very miserable indeed, and it is harder to bring up a child in a poor house than a well-off one. So financial stability really should come into how you allocate responsibilities. We are lucky enough that we could get by with very little, and that it would be feasible to survive on either one of our wages alone. But for many, this fundamental point of needing to make enough money to survive would make the decision for them without any real room for discussion about who does what – the family has to follow the money.

In realistic terms, me going part-time would have a bigger economic impact than my wife doing so would. It is this simple fact that makes it most difficult for me to realistically consider a major drop in working hours, but as I said before, we are in the lucky position of being able to cope with a reduction in one or both of our incomes. Of course, as my wife progresses career-wise this is likely to become easier to balance.

Long term opportunities

The problem with making decisions to make the present bearable, like only having the higher earner working, is the constrictions that puts on long term opportunities. So, if my wife significantly reduces or gives up work, she risks damaging her career and missing out on opportunities. Sadly, we live in a gendered world, so the response to me doing the same thing would be very different. I am not sure whether it is more likely that I would suffer negative consequences if I were to do that, as I would be seen as unusual and not committed to my work, or whether I would be treated as a hero for sacrificing myself to care for my child.

There is also the fact that, independently of this, women are seen as a greater risk by employers, as they are more prone to having to take time off for childbirth. Hopefully this will change in time, and I would like to think that if we decided to have another child, we would be in a position to share the leave entitlement. However, this is currently hypothetical, where the risk to a woman’s advancement is certain. This suggests that, given the pre-existing disadvantage to women, male partners should take the greater hit when there is optional long-term impacts, again in the name of fairness.

A good example

One of the things I am very keen to give my child is a good example, and to teach him how to be a good person. This includes making sure that any decisions we take in our family are to do with our circumstances, and not our genders. So *if* my wife and I end up in a relatively traditional set-up, and there is still a reasonable chance that we won’t, it should be clear that that is not a better set-up than any other. When he gets to start thinking about setting up a family of his own, however that looks, he should make sure that he is open to considering the things I talk about here, with the express aim of making the burden of responsibilities and the spread of opportunities as fair as it can be.

The worst outcome would be for us to end up in a traditional situation and carry on as if it is and should be normal. It is currently normal, although that has changed significantly over the past few decades, but it should change more. People who think that this is as it should be, beyond the relatively minor biological imperatives of childbirth etc, perpetuate an unjust society in which women don’t get to succeed as individuals in their own right, and men don’t get to succeed in their families.

Whatever happens, we are going to raise a man that recognises and respects women. We want him to be sensitive to the differences between people as well as aware of the extent to which these are needlessly and damagingly built by a variety of social pressures.

So it’s probably clear that I haven’t thought through every eventuality, and am as unprepared for fatherhood as anyone can be. I’m also starting from a position of power that may somewhat be a result of entrenched patriarchy, and I’m aware that my middle class white son stands to get a good start in life, better than most.

I am committed to doing my part to raise my child, and part of that is making sure that his mother is empowered. I do not want her to risk losing her identity into our son – being identified as a mother is a wonderful and vastly under-rated thing, and I’m sure many people are proud to be so, but I suspect my wife would like to do something else too. This requires me making sacrifices to support her – both as a mother, and as an individual. I don’t know what form this will take yet – it may be time off work, a reduction in hours, a different share of the housework or anything else – but I will be doing whatever I can to make sure the labour and rewards of our having a child will be shared.

And that not having a clue what will happen, but being committed to making it work for everyone involved is what I think any feminist good parent should be doing.

Loneliness of the long distance runner

So on Sunday I ran the London marathon, raising money for MS Society, a charity that invests in research into possible treatments and cures for Multiple Sclerosis.

I had a place last year, which I got through the ballot. I had never really run before and wasn’t particularly sporty. I entered on a whim, largely because a heavily pregnant colleague was doing, and I thought that if she could do it surely I could. I trained pretty well, until about 8 weeks out when I tweaked something in my knee. When it still hadn’t sorted itself at 2 weeks to go I realised I had to postpone until this year, so I hung up my running shoes until about the turn of the year.

My training was a lot less than it should have been, largely due to working long days with an hour commute either side, and weekends being the only time I get to see my fiancée and therefore at something of a premium. I had gone to about 17 miles three weeks in advance, but had to walk the last couple of miles. I was pretty sure that I struggled because I was knackered, it was late at night, I hadn’t eaten well, and I’d run 10 miles the day before, and had covered a huge distance up and down stairs at work all week. But whatever the excuses you can make, failure to run your distance on the last chance for a big training run is really dispiriting, and made me nervous before the big day.

I didn’t find there to be a loneliness during training. I guess I was aided by the vast number of podcasts I listened to, so I was constantly learning about science and technology, getting riled by politics, or laughing at the comedy. I could start running and get lost in something wonderful, in a way that I think has only really become possible in the last few years. It also helped that when at home, I have some beautiful countryside to go through, and there is little more beautiful that clear winter sky.

I have never taken part in a big sporting event like this before, so didn’t really know what to expect. Of course, I had the images in my head of huge hoards crossing the start line, and saw that there were a few spectators at the key points. That didn’t prepare me at all for the number of people all the way round, the amount of noise they made, and the effect that would have on me as a runner. There were bands, some official and some spilling out of the local communities, every half mile or so. Thousands of people came and lined the streets holding out sweets or fruit for the runners, and cheered people on. Many of the spectators didn’t have a particular runner, but were just taking part in the event.

My favourite spectators were the young lads in hoodies, from the poorer parts of town that we went through. In everyday life I think I would probably be a bit intimidated by a group of surly looking youths, but those same guys with the same surly faces were high fiving runners, enjoying the event and providing really valuable support.

I don’t think I’ve experienced such a positive coming together of such a wide range of people.

My finishing time was 4:29:18, which was pretty much exactly what I paced for. I’m really pleased by that, although I think that with a bit of a training run I could improve, and with a real go I could probably take an hour or more off.

For the first 10 miles or so I was holding back, running just under 10 minutes a mile. I felt like running faster, and nearly gave in to goal creep. By about mile 14, my pace had dropped a bit going at a bit over 10 minutes. From around mile 21 to mile 25 I really struggled to keep my speed up, despite knowing just how fast I needed to go to get a 4:30 time. I can really see why people stop at this point, as while those last 3 or 4 miles don’t seem a lot from the outside, trying to force your legs to keep going when every fibre of your being wants to stop and rest is tough and 3 or 4 miles seems impossible. Those four miles were much harder than the rest put together. 25 to the finish was probably my quickest mile – I certainly belted the last 800 yards, knowing how close I was to the finish and the time I had planned.

One of the symptoms of the difficulty in those later miles, and probably one of the reasons I carried on, was the weight of the event I felt. The great majority of the people there were raising money for charity, and the number of vests that were dedicated to missed loved ones was huge. I was part of something that was honouring those that had suffered and died, and raising vast amounts of money to reduce this in the future. I had become, by accident, part of something massive, much bigger than the achievement of running alone. I got a bit emotional, and although I didn’t cry, I wasn’t too far off.

I’m sure London is very different in many respects from other, smaller, marathons, as you don’t get the same turn out for any others and there is not the same sense of scale. I imagine there is a real risk of loneliness if you stop running and have to walk four miles without support. But in my one experience, long distance running has made me feel more connected than ever to a huge number of people. We did something special last Sunday, and I feel inordinately proud for my part and for everyone else.

The sadness – a reminder

Today I was in a hospital all day, walking into peoples rooms to fiddle with furniture. This is a pretty grim job, as you are mostly intruding on people who are quite unwell. Thankfully, it’s not that regular an occurence for me, but I imagine if I was a doctor or nurse I would be able to get used to it, aided by getting to understand how they are being helped while in hospital.

While I was at it something really toook the wind out of me, and it was unexpected.

My mother died a couple of years ago, after suffering with MS for a long time. She was a wonderful woman – she was a radical feminist midwife in Nepal, she made Margerat Thatcher storm off in a huff after not accepting her racism and arguing for the NHS, and she gave everything she could to provide for me and my sister.

Sadly, my strongest memories are of her in her later life. She was frail, skinny and her mind had slowed down, although it never disppeared. She was disabled and drug dependant for years. As a child, adolescent and young man growing up I found it really difficult to deal with that situation and suffered a lot of anger and depression. I found her death difficult, although I don’t think any more so than anyone would find a parent dying.

Today, I saw a woman who looked just like her. Her hair was short and ruffled, her eyes sparkled the same way, and she had high strong cheekbones. Think early David Bowie. She was also horribly thin, and seemed a bit detached from what I was saying, in the same way that mum would be sometimes.

A sadness hit me hard, and took me by surprise. It has been a while since that has been triggered in me. I can normally talk and think about her more remotely now, remember the good things and hold off the bad, and so I don’t get so deeply, immediately upset. It has all seemed a bit less raw. But today I literally had to take a few deep breaths to steady myself. I thought I had largely dealt with her illness and death, but of course I’m not sure it’s the sort of thing you ever really finish. It just takes you off your feet less often, and hopefully with less of a bump.

I walked past the room of the lady I had seen around half an hour later, and she was up and about. I had clearly disturbed her as she was waking up, or under sedation or something. The thing that really confuses me is that I had another strong emotive reaction to learning this, but this one less understandable. I felt happy that she wasn’t who I had thought her to be – she was clearly stronger, more mobile and hopefully healthy than I projected.

But I also felt anger, strangely. The child in me wanted to kick and scream about how unfair it was. I hate that this was my reaction, but I felt a resentment toward her. This is an unfair, unkind and unproductive way to feel about someone you don’t know, and whos only sin is to have a face quite like another face you loved.

I don’t really know why I’m writing this down. I think if there is a reason, it’s to explain that you don’t ever really let go of the big things, someone dying doesn’t have to leave you. Importantly, there is beauty in this, and I’m glad that I can still be affected in this way – it shows affection and humanity. But there is also danger. I have to guard against the angry child.

A letter, and why I’m a pompous arse

Yesterday morning I received a hand written letter through the door for the first time in quite a few years. It made me feel a bit of a fool for making really daft assumptions, so I thought I would share it. Sadly, my scanner is down at the moment, and the photos I have tried to take don’t seem to come out legibly – I’ll sort it when I’ve hit the right spot of the printer with the right sized hammer.

A touch of background first – my friend Suw wrote a novella called Argleton which I reviewed here. It’s worth having a look at the other reviews too – I think so far they have all been 5*, with one exception at 4*. That suggests you should read it, and if you do and like it, you could look at her next project which she is currently working on and will be funding through Kickstarter. I bought a handbound hardback version of Argleton, which is really nicely done.

This novella was sitting in my living room a couple of days ago when my mother-in-law-to-be* was round two nights ago. As she was leaving, she said, entirely unprompted, ‘Oooh, that’s a nice notebook’, and picked up Argleton to look at the mapping on the cover. I explained that while it was a very nice little book, it was a novella rather than a notebook. She immediately looked interested. As you saw in my review, the book is quite geeky, and a bit technology driven. This suited me perfectly because I live in my smartphone and work in technology development. My mother-in-law-to-be is much less knowledgeable about and interested in technology. I was a bit wary about lending it to her in case she didn’t really get it.

The next morning I got the book and the letter through my door.

The letter reads:

Dear pixie359,

Thanks very much for lending me the novella, I really enjoyed it. Well written dialogue and description.

I was trying to work out why you thought it might be a bit too ‘technical’ when it is basically a romance and sci-fi mystery and map co-ordinates and avatars. The nearest analogy I can come up with (it is rather late at night) was to think in terms of knitting or similar craft a.k.a. technical activity.

One can know that there are many sources of fibre to make yarn, and that these come in different staple lengths and textures and can be spun and worked in different ply. Needles come in a range of sizes, including circular, and with a simple combination of needle and yarn you can create many different stitches, which can combine to change both the surface pattern (moss) the thickness (aran), and properties (e.g. ribs). The end result can be as simple as a single stitch blanket square or a complicated 3d structure.

One can know all this, or even just some of it and guess at more. It would be perfectly possible to read and enjoy a novella where the plot hinges on the technicalities of knitted fabrics and the designers of these whilst having very minimal skills in actual, hands-on knitting and perhaps not enjoying the process of knitting. Does that make sense?

I’m glad I asked about the book – there is something pleasing about a small, well bound book with a good cover design that is very pleasing. I noted you were mentioned in the acknowledgments!

Mother-in-law-to-be x

Now, reading that teaches me more about knitting than I knew before, and as she says is easy to follow, and wouldn’t get in the way of a good story at all. More importantly, it teaches me that I was probably being both pompous and condescending in thinking she wouldn’t appreciate the story because of the technology. I don’t know if she noticed, but looking back I certainly do.

Of course she would be able to understand and enjoy a story that used technology. I think I let the fact that she doesn’t use, or really want to use, technology in the way that I do lead to an unrecognised prejudice about her ability to appreciate its use in a story. Not understanding a tool doesn’t mean you don’t understand the way people interact with it. I should have credited her ability to read and understand a story – extrapolating from ability to use a smartphone to ability to read a book about smartphones is ridiculous, and suggesting she might not enjoy or get it was hugely patronising.

Further, and more importantly, people that don’t feel at home at computers and mobile devices are not less intelligent, interested or aware (not that I have ever thought she was any of those things), they just interact with the world differently from me.

So, I’ve caught myself making an insulting assumption, and I apologise for it both to mother-in-law-to-be and anyone else who I have made such assumptions about.

If you have been affected by me being a pompous arse, please, to make up for it you can borrow my copy of Argleton.



*There will be no mother in law jokes – we get on really well, she is absolutely lovely, and while I may accidentally be a pompous arse occasionally I am not intentionally unpleasant

It’s all about the bumsex

I’ve been thinking about homophobia a bit recently, and have been chewing over a theory I’ve heard* that explains the particular objection to homosexual men to some degree. It’s all about the bumsex. Let me explain why this might do a lot of the work of explaining homophobia.

To set a baseline, I’m going to try and draw up a list of the sort of features a particularly close friendship could or should have. With about three minutes thought, I have come up with:

  • Loyalty to that person
  • Trust in that person
  • Willingness to sacrifice for the other
  • Understanding beyond verbal communication
  • Ability to challenge each other
  • Comfort in the company of the other
  • Comfortableness in the company of the other
  • Emotional investment in their wellbeing

All of these and more are likely to be present in the strongest friendships, and are positively encouraged in some circumstances traditionally associated with homophobia – the armed forces and sports teams in particular require very strong relationships. I can see a hardline priest exalting all of these things. It seems to me that it is largely these features that people are referring to when they say ‘they were like brothers’.

Thinking about all of the features of a gay male relationship, I struggle to find many features that differ significantly from the friendship described above. Except for one thing – bumsex.

I know that there are other sexual practices of course, and that not all gay men go in for anal sex. In this instance I think it is really the image that sticks with people, and I am talking more about the emotional reaction others have to gay men than what they actually do.

Without wanting to get into an evolutionary psychology speculation as to why, there is a very strong emotive reaction for a lot of straight men to the idea of a penis being pointed at them. It feels threatening. The image of homosexual anal makes me wince, and the idea of performing homosexual oral makes me gag. Gay couples holding hands or kissing generates much less response in me, and can be anything from heart-warming to unsightly in exactly the same way an amorous straight couple can be. I would not be at all surprised to hear many straight men admitting to the same thing, however they feel about homosexuality otherwise.

And let me make it clear – I have absolutely no objection to homosexuality, and I am not a homophobe. There is no caveat to that statement. That slight discomfort at the idea of getting bummed myself does not influence the way I think about or treat people who enjoy it. I am trying to explain an uncontrolled reaction that I have to certain images that I suspect may explain a significant amount of the homophobia we have suffered culturally.

In fact, if there is something in this suggestion that somewhere near the root of homophobia is the instinctive reaction to certain imagery associated with it, rather than any reasoned arguments, perhaps we would do well to realise that. It allows the discussion to be framed differently, as anyone pushing for equal marriage rights, gay adoption or acceptance into religious organisations can work from the knowledge that they are not up against reasoned arguments against their lifestyle, but people who have built a childish ‘yuck’ reaction into a belief system and wish to subject others to the same reaction.


*Credit where it’s due on request

Ada Lovelace Day heroine nomination

Last Friday was Ada Lovelace Day, a day to celebrate and support women in STEM. One of the ways it does this is encourage people to write about a heroine in one of the related fields. This is my entry.

I don’t know a great many women at the cutting edge of STEM, but I think that even if I did it wouldn’t change my nomination. I want to write about Jenny Neuburger. Don’t worry that you haven’t heard about her.

She is a statistician, and has recently finished her doctorate. Her thesis was working on the data provided by longitudinal studies into the wage gap between men and women, controlling for confounding factors such as time away from work and educational achievement. Since this, she has been working on patient outcomes for surgical interventions. Before her doctorate she worked in policy development for Shelter.

You may have noticed that she tends to work in very socially positive areas. She has a great sense of social responsibility, and works in fields that rightly give a sense of satisfaction, knowing that in doing your job you are helping people. She is doing Good Things. However, this is not why I wanted to nominate her. Lots of people commit their working lives to positive goals – where would many of the greatest institutions be without that goodwill? The NHS would have been sunk long ago, as would the civil service and local government.

I have every confidence that Jenny is excellent at what she does. I can’t imagine she would have successfully completed a PhD without the requisite skills. However, I can’t nominate based on this, because I can’t assess it properly. Without a similar level of knowledge and understanding I am in no position to pass comment on hers.

The thing that I think makes her stand out is her passion. She really cares about her work in a way that I have rarely, if ever, seen. She not only recognises the importance of what she does, and this is the sort of analysis governments make spending decisions on, but enjoys the actuals of it. Almost every time I see her we have lengthy, involved and very interesting conversations about her work. Confounding factors, different analytic models and statistical significance will come up, and it won’t feel like a school lesson. No one else I know will happily and enthusiastically talk shop in the way she does, while being so clear and engaging.

This enthusiasm is hugely important. I don’t know what her future holds, and I don’t know how her career will progress. What I do know is that she will enjoy the journey, and will give everyone else great value along the way. That’s the sort of thing that makes a heroine.