Archive for the ‘Opinion’ Category

Just Don’t Pray


Charlie Hebdo, the apparently unstoppable rise of ISIS, refugees dying in European waters and now Paris.

Trying to make some sense of it all and attempt an opinion based on head and not heart is the hardest thing. The current trend of relying on the rhetoric of those who (albeit with the best of intentions) insist on turning the grey tones of reality into a feel-good monochrome of good vs evil and right vs wrong, is as harmful to the freedom of thought and expression as everything they believe they are taking a stand against.

Maybe some people sleep more easily at night if they have spent their day championing their chosen unfortunates through social media memes and surprisingly vitriolic attacks on those whose opinions they consider less altruistic – I am sure the certainty of their place on the moral high ground is some comfort to them in an increasingly chaotic world. But I am not convinced that their positions, as loudly as they proclaim them, are thought through with any real honesty.

I previously addressed the apologist “It’s not Islam” argument here, and although I am not going to bore you all with it again, I have to reiterate that although most Muslims are not extremist terrorists, most extremist terrorists are Muslim. And they ARE Muslim. It is dangerously naive to declare otherwise. Islam, like all Abrahamic religions, can be interpreted pretty much any way suits an adherent’s lifestyle. An extremist Muslim is just as much a Muslim as a moderate Muslim, they just take different messages from their holy book. And as long as Allah continues to resist making a personal appearance in order to mediate and clarify, that will remain the case.

It is not ‘racist’, it is not ‘discriminatory’, it is not ‘Islamophobia’. It is simply fact.

A few months after Charlie Hebdo the mass arrival by sea began and after that the heartbreaking images of Aylan Kurdi, sparking a massive response from an aghast European audience who were quick to assure the struggling refugees that they would be welcomed in Europe: an understandable reaction to the sight of a tiny body – victim of his family’s attempts to give him a more stable future, but was it really the solution?

Surely the prospect of a relatively indiscriminate welcome in Europe would (and indeed has) only serve to propel yet more people into the arms of utterly inhumane people smugglers and their unseaworthy vessels?

Surely the prospect of a relatively indiscriminate welcome in Europe would (and indeed has) encourage economic migrants to try to pass as legitimate refugees in order to take advantage of the situation?

Where is this huge influx of migrants going to live?

What are they going to survive on?

Where are they going to work?

How is Europe going to ensure that such large numbers of people are able to fully integrate into European life, and assimilate the European values that have made this the relatively successful group of countries people wish to flee to?

What explanation is there for the fact that there are children of previous Muslim immigrants – young adults born in Europe and brought up surrounded by European life and values – now taking part in murderous attacks on their countries of birth?

Who is going to rebuild countries like Syria if the brightest and best (or at least those with the funds to pay the immoral people smugglers) have been encouraged to attempt new lives for themselves in Europe?

The West has demonstrated time and again its total incomprehension of the cultural and historical mindset of Islamic countries – intervention by Western leaders is partly to blame for the spreading Jihadist mess the world finds itself in today – but is there another way in which the general populations of these countries can be given support other than the minefield (excuse the pun) of military intervention, or mass emigration?

Sadly I don’t have the answers I am only consumed by the questions, and perturbed by the attempts of some to simplify a highly complex situation by whitewashing many of the most pertinent issues, whilst allowing knee-jerk sentiment to drive their social judgements and political demands.

While the voices that appear to be shouting the loudest on the UK platform are those mentioned in the first two paragraphs of this post, the story in Italy is a very different one, partly (amongst a host of other reasons) due to the fact that Italy has long been obeying Europe’s orders to rescue and offer safe haven to boatloads of illegal immigrants, with very little back-up. Most of the memes I have seen circling here depict variations on a theme of happy immigrants living off obscenely generous government hand-outs, whilst Italian grannies hunt through the bins for scraps. No more factual than the mock-up of David Cameron, surfboard under his arm, stepping over Aylan’s corpse, but just as inflammatory – the savaging I got for taking one Italian social media commentator to task still boils my blood whenever I pass the man on the street.

So I was curious to see what would happen when a group of illegal immigrants arrived to be housed in the village. Dad, mum and small son from Ghana, two women in their early twenties from Nigeria, and two sisters of a similar age from Senegal.

The muttering from some quarters can probably be heard in Brussels (the village further up the hill got a large consignment of young African men, and the weight of the villagers’ displeasure led to the Mayor submitting his resignation) but a surprising number have been supportive of this development. And whilst the Ghanaian parents are so reserved I cannot quite see how they are going to begin making their way here, their six-year old son is already the life and soul of the party and as for the two Senegalese sisters, well they have brought with them an almost tangible sense of joie de vivre.

This, I think, has the potential to be a successful immigration story: a drip drip drip of people making it through the net in small enough numbers that the local community, rather than feeling overwhelmed, instead is able to welcome the newcomers; help them to find their feet and to integrate, whilst at the same time being able to enjoy the richness that the introduction of other cultures brings to all our lives.

And now Paris.

Disaffected young men whose apparent inability to find a sense of purpose in their everyday lives made them the ideal target for some particularly amoral puppet masters whose task is made even simpler by the ease with which religion can be interpreted to justify even the most heinous actions. It defies the imagination of normal people, as well it should.

But Paris wasn’t the first, and it won’t be the last – that much is certain. And whilst we should not play into the Jihadists’ hands with unjustifiable hatred towards all Muslims (another ‘Holy War’ – Islam against the world, is exactly what they are hoping for), we owe it to ourselves and to the innocent lives lost to be brutally honest about the causes, because only then have we any hope at all of tackling them.

So think about Paris, cry for Paris and mourn with Paris, just don’t pray for Paris – more religion is the last thing they need.

(DISCLAIMER: This jumble of thoughts and ideas masquerading as a blog post is the result of my own difficulty in trying to understand what is currently occurring in the world. I am still very far from understanding much at all, but in a way I’m rather glad to be aware of that…)

*Edited with this message to the posters of this morning’s overly dramatic meme: While it is of course unforgivable on the part of the world’s press to have neglected to report on the terrorist attack in Beirut, claims that the world ‘only cares about white lives’ is another patently over-simplistic response. The Middle East has been in chaos for a long long time – the loss of life there as tragic as it is pointless – and many Westerners struggle even to begin to comprehend how people’s everyday lives play out against such a backdrop. But France was a country at peace, and we know France. We know Paris. Many of us have walked its streets, spoken to its people. They may speak a different language, dress slightly better, eat slightly differently; but their everyday lives are almost as familiar to us as our own, and if it happened to them, it could happen to us. Just as we are all horrified by cancer, by stillbirths, by death in general – the emotional impact is always greater when these things strike the people we know.

That does not in any way mean that we do not care about the Middle East, or about its long-suffering inhabitants, but their struggle is so complicated so apparently lacking in solutions, and so far removed from our own experiences that we no longer know how to react to it.

Childishly dramatic denunciations of a cruel and heartless ‘world’ (I presume the meme posters do not include themselves in this) are not only divisive, they serve no purpose whatsoever.

And the word of the week is, BOOBS!



This week being World Breastfeeding Week, I’ve decided to leap onto the lactatory bandwagon with my own experiences.

Now before I tripped and fell pregnant, I hadn’t really given much thought to breastfeeding beyond assuming that it is what the majority of mothers do unless they have medical reasons that make it impossible. Given that nourishing their young is what the mammary glands in mammals evolved for, and excepting those occasions when nature stuffs up, why on earth wouldn’t a mother use workable boobs for their given purpose? Thought I.


Apparently so.

In the run up to Maya’s arrival, I began to hear all sorts of accounts of just how extremely difficult breastfeeding was: impossible, according to many. But, thought I, would it not be a massive evolutionary design fault if such an apparently large percentage of human mothers were unable to feed their young? Some, I can certainly believe (I grew up in a farming community, and have seen for myself that nature does stuff up) but surely they are the exception, and not the rule?

Sometimes these evolution-based thought processes serve me well: in this case they led me to assume reports on the blanket difficulties of breastfeeding had been rather exaggerated, and so I didn’t enter the process paralysed by anxiety which I’m sure played a part in easing me into the boobing journey.

Getting into the swing.

Getting into the swing.

(On other occasions they do let me down a bit: “What evolutionary purpose could possibly be served by a baby crying in its crib until 3 in the morning??” my sleep-deprived self wailed most nights for the first month of my daughter’s life. But of course I was looking at it all wrong. How would our species have even survived to evolve if its newborn young were left all alone in the opposite corner of the cave? Human babies are programmed to want to stay in close proximity to their mothers. Evolutionarily-speaking, it would have been their best chance of survival.)

Another rather startling opinion of breastfeeding that reached my ears, was that it was too intimate. Too intimate? Really?? So how would you define pushing a whole other person out of your lady bits? Coldly formal?

But when put hand in hand with the ‘boobs are for your man’ and the ‘breastfeeding ruins your figure’ school of thought, though, it does indicate just how far we have moved away from our natural state. Personally the fact that my breasts can make food for the baby my womb has grown makes me rather chuffed with my body. It is certainly a huge improvement on its ability to convert one small cream cake into three extra chins, and transform a modest helping of lentils into a biological weapon.

Anytime, anywhere.

Anytime, anywhere.

An additional and oft mentioned factoid was that ‘bottle feeding the baby would allow other family members to help out’, and ‘provide a bonding opportunity for the baby’s father’.

Hmmmmmm. Thought I. Given that breastfeeding is literally the only act that only the mother is capable of, surely there is an entire spectrum of ‘helping-out’ that can be done without needing to resort to rubber nipples. Housework. Cooking. Changing dirty nappies. Rocking the screaming infant. Cleaning up regurgitated milk… What? None of that up your street, Aunty Edna? You’d rather sit with a happily sucking baby in your lap feeling serene and helpful whilst its frazzled mother brings you a cuppa? Right.

And as for Daddy time, surely there is an entire spectrum of possible bonding activities there, as well. Cuddles. Bath time. Skin-to-skin. Wearing your sprog in a sling. Singing it silly songs and showing it that you are the other most dependable person in its little world.

Luckily for us though, (and yes, I am very aware of just how lucky we have been so far) no sooner was Maya laid on my chest, she started snuffling around like a truffle pig and found her target in a matter of minutes. The cluster feeding to get my milk supply up was admittedly not fun, the pain as my boobs got used to the repeated assaults on them was a little grim, the nipple thrush caused by antibiotics for an infected caesarean scar was even grimmer, my one dose of mastitis grimmer still, and the time she ripped a hole with her first tooth (it only happened once) absolutely indescribable.

But I am no martyr – the joy the breastfeeding bond has brought to my personal mothering experience completely and utterly outweighs the discomforts.

And now Maya is a toddler, I can see even more just how important her ‘Mummy Milk’ is to her. Far from just being additional nourishment or a thirst quencher, it offers her relief when she is poorly or in pain, soothes her when she’s upset, relaxes her into sleep or helps her come round from a nap, reassures her when we have been separated, and so much more. She often uses the time to explore my face – breaking off from sucking to poke at and name features “nos, Mummy, ais, teef, air, eeeass.” She strokes my arm, winds my hair round her fingers and stares beguilingly into my eyes. (On other less Madonna and Child-like occasions, she uses my body like a piece of gym equipment – climbing, bouncing, and cartwheeling her way to a full stomach. Without releasing my nipple. Ouch.) They are moments for me to relax and study her too – I have no option, there’s no rushing a boobing baby. The housework can wait. That translation can wait. This is so much more important, and this precious time so short.

Dozing on the job.

Dozing on the job.

Sadly there does not seems to be enough support for facilitating breastfeeding: I only had to look around the ward in the UK hospital where Maya was born to see that there were at least as many brand-new mothers holding bottles (ready made-up formula supplied by the hospital) as there were mothers holding their newborns to their breast. Saddest of all was the unavoidable observation that most of the mothers who had opted for bottle were fairly obviously those for whom the cost of formula would be burdensome. Then in Italy many of the mothers I have spoken to were told they “didn’t have enough milk” and were instructed to supplement with formula or give up breastfeeding altogether. Given how unlikely it is that such a large number of mothers are unable to feed or not producing milk, could it simply be that there is not enough knowledge on the science and mechanics of breastfeeding amongst the professionals?

(In the absence of fresh fruit and vegetables, tinned fruit and vegetables are better than nothing. Most definitely not as good as, but better than nothing. In the absence of breastmilk, formula is better than nothing. Most definitely not as good as, but better than nothing. And even then, only when used by mothers who can afford not to resort to watering it down to make it go further, and who have access to clean water and a means of sterilising all the equipment that goes with it. What a shame the formula companies lack the morals to take any of this into account when marketing their product. Profit is King, and the most vulnerable are expendable.)

Of course there are women that simply don’t want to, and women that simply can’t, but how sad to think that mothers who actually longed to feed their babies naturally might be being deprived of the experience and the related health benefits simply through a lack of information. Or worse, being actively misinformed by the very people they should be able to trust on the subject.

Mummy Milk apparently has a high alcohol content.

Mummy Milk appears to have a high alcohol content.

And then you have the tut-tut merchants that make life just that little bit more difficult and unpleasant. Showing less cleavage than most women do at the beach, or even out on the piss on a Saturday night, is unacceptable to some people if there is a baby involved. Tits for suntanning or attracting sex: fine and dandy. Tits for tots: just like urinating in public, apparently. So a poor mum, already stressed though lack of sleep and the fact that her child is now wailing in public (another tut-tuttable offence), has to try and winkle a boob out of clothing and bra and attempt to drape her and the thrashing child in a scarf, whilst the tut-tut brigade glare at her, just daring her to flash them a bit of side breast so they can stone her for a shameless exhibitionist.

She should just stay at home until she weans the brat.

But honestly, if it offends you, why look? I avert my eyes from builders’ hairy bums and women who persist in bending over whilst wearing skinny hipster jeans and a g-string, for example. I find both a little stomach churning, so I visually opt out, whilst all the while mentally acknowledging their prerogative to dress as they please. You would have thought that trying to do your best by the next generation would merit a little of the same leeway, but sadly some people are so keen to declare themselves mortally offended that they are actually capable of comparing nourishing a baby with urinating, or even masturbating, in public.

I suppose it says an awful lot more about them than it does about the lactating object of their disgust, but still.

And.... she's gone again.

And…. she’s gone again.

And now I’m breastfeeding a toddler (with no intention of stopping until my daughter is ready) I have no doubt that I shall soon be the cause of some loud tut-tutting (and hopefully a heart attack or two). I have already been treated to numerous eye-rolls, suggestions that the cause of any parenting problem I might have is this boobing lark, and an interesting lecture from my local pharmacist about the fact that I am “no longer producing milk, just a plasma-like substance similar to water”. But to anyone who might actually be interested, I shall simply explain that this is not “extended breastfeeding” but natural term breastfeeding. And yes, even I might have found it weird before I had Maya, but now I realise that it is the most instinctive thing in the world and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

So VIVE les BOOBS and all the tots who benefit from their milky goodness the world over, not just during World Breastfeeding Week, but now and for always…

Is there no keeping this child awake?

Is there no keeping this child awake?

Being A (guilt-ridden) SAHM


(Not the same as being a sham, but sometimes feels like it…)

Taming the beast...

Taming the beast…

The joy of spending every waking moment with my toddler is sometimes a little blighted by feelings of guilt – an essentially useless emotion that seems to be hard-wired into the psyche of the majority of women.

I suspect I secretly feel that being a Stay At Home Mother is the “easy” option, which is why I look at friends and acquaintances who have chosen the route of juggling motherhood with a full time job, and I ask myself where in the hell I get off feeling so damn exhausted.

And why, given that my time is not taken up with commutes or meetings or salary-earning whatnot, our apartment isn’t all sparkly and immaculate like something from House & Home.

And why my husband frequently comes home from an unforgiving day at the coal face, only to be handed a frozen pizza and told to deal with it.

And why I rarely have time to write a blog post, and why, when I do have time to write a blog post, I am capable of little more than staring blankly at the screen before giving up on attempts of active creativity and sinking into the entirely more passive distractions of social media, before eventually collapsing into bed.

Admittedly, being a SAHM to a baby is not quite the same as being a SAHM to a toddler. Babies are time-consuming, certainly – they expect frequent doses of milk, cuddles, and clean nappies. But babies are also pretty content to stare at shadows on the ceiling, curtains blowing in the breeze, their hands waving about in front of their faces, and the inside of their eyelids for a respectable part of the day. Occasions for Mummy to get on with daydreaming, telly goggling, biscuit devouring, blog posts and the odd spot of housework – without feeling too guilty about the first three because baby (as opposed to toddler) is unlikely to pick up on the lack of constructive nose to grindstone activity and decide to ape Mummy’s bad, bad habits.

Toddlers, however, seem to be a different species altogether. Obsessively busy little creatures; they are rarely content unless doing something – playing, exploring, dancing, reading, scaling the furniture, wreaking havoc… Many of these activities they claim not to be able to fully enjoy without Mummy’s participation, and a refusal to participate can often result in the last two activities becoming the most prevalent. Toddlers also offer the added disadvantage of being unescapable-from. Small babies tend to stay put, and, if able to successfully block out any sounds of discontent at not being pandered to, you can often snatch a moment to get on with whatever it was you need to get on with. Toddlers, however, quickly develop the ability to track you down most anywhere, whereupon they hang off your trouser leg creating merry hell until, hobbled by descended knicker elastic and worn down by ear-splitting persistence, you have little choice but to hunker, tummy down, on the sitting room floor for a lively round of trains, throw yourself enthusiastically into a squillionth rendition of Each Peach Pear Plum or pull on your shoes for a walk to the piazza that is punctuated by a sit-down on every doorstep, a peep into every doorway, a pat of every passing hound, and endless queries about everybody whose name said toddler has ever learnt.

But whilst there is no doubt I feel permanently guilty for not being a good housewife, I would also feel guilty about leaving my daughter to shed daily tears of boredom so I could obsessively keep the house to the standard I presume most other people’s are (eternally clean, tidy and visitor-ready – a girl can dream…) and wheel out cordon bleu num nums three times a day. Life is short, toddlerhood is short, and although a little bit of learning to amuse herself while Mummy gets things done is undoubtedly good for her; playing, exploring, dancing and reading together are the very reasons I have chosen not to be a working mum.

But does that mean I’m not being a good role model for my girl child? Because sometimes I also feel guilty that the main female in Maya’s life is perfectly happy to play, explore, dance, read, very occasionally clean the house and most days churn out non-cordon bleu but reasonably edible num nums. Will she grow up believing that the sole role of a woman is childcare, sporadic housework, and food preparation?

I am, after all, a twenty-first century woman: not only should I be able to have it all, I should actively WANT to have it all. Society hints heavily that if I am not cross-eyed with exhaustion at the number of plates I have to keep spinning (rather than just because I am kept permanently on my toes by a busy toddler with a take-it-or-leave-it attitude to sleep) and weighed-down by the hats I chop and change between, then I am in some way letting down all womanhood and its sacrifices past and present.

Childcare, occasional housework, mediocre cooking, and a few hours a week translating and secretarialising for the local estate agent should not be enough: I should be climbing the walls with the desire to be out there, enjoying the cut and thrust of salary-earning activities and the stimulation of adult company.

But I most certainly am not. Not even remotely.

So is it actually better for Maya to have a Mummy who is low-achieving but true to herself? Would she be better prepared for the big wide world if she was thrust into the toddler-eat-toddler jungle of daycare? Or is playing, exploring, dancing, reading and going for walks with Mummy (with forays into the piazza and to her cousins’ house in order to learn how to play nicely with the other bambini) all that she currently needs at the grand old age of seventeen months?

Who the hell knows.

So I might as well just continue doing what feels right to us, and try to enjoy the guilt as much as I enjoy menstruation – after all, they are just a small part of what it means to be born with two kisses for chromosomes.


Girl Power is simply incomplete without wonky pigtails and an engine-less motorbike.

Those Maleficent Men ‘n Their Mud Machine


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

There can be few things in this world as baffling (and as terminally depressing) as Italian politics.

I have now been in Italy for almost four and a half years – a period of time that was sufficient to endow me with a reasonably fair understanding of the way the political tides ebbed and flowed in Spain and then subsequently in France – but to my shame, with regards to this country I have long given up even trying to work out what’s going on.

Recently, however, I inadvertently brought a small smidgen of political machinations into my own life… and oh how I regret it.

It all started with a Facebook spat about immigration – far from the first of that nature I have had on that particular forum, and unlikely to be the last given how I seem to enjoy giving myself angst-filled and sleep-deprived nights whilst I mentally harangue people whose attitudes make me feel ashamed to be human.

I won’t rehash the discussion for fear it may instigate in some readers a similar desire to throw themselves from a high building as it did me, but here are some of the salient rejoinders to my argument – paraphrased in the interests of succinctness:

– Certain people (me) are ignorant, impolite and lacking in good sense for pointing out that the person loudly posting about how “Italy is for Italians” is married to an immigrant.

– Certain British people (me) shouldn’t call Italians racist (I didn’t) when there are armed police protecting the Channel Tunnel from illegals.

– Italy is a country that welcomes those from all walks of life, such tolerance stems from the traditions and teachings of the Catholic Church (???).

– Certain British people (me) have no right to express an opinion on the subject of racial intolerance (I didn’t) as the concept was only invented when the British imported slaves into America (???).

– Certain hypocritical conformists (me) are only shouting about racism (I wasn’t) in order to indulge in a bit of pre-electoral mud-slinging.

Aha! So that’s what it was really all about: on the 25th of May, My Little Italian Village will be voting for their next mayor.

The current mayor, my neighbour/friend/ex-landlady, is completing her third (non-consecutive) term at the helm of the town hall, and for the last few years at least, has been greatly looking forward to hanging up her tri-coloured sash now she has reached her mid-sixties, and settling down to enjoy a well-deserved retirement.

Local politics, however, was not about to let her go quite so easily.

For as the elections loomed, it quickly became apparent that the only pretender to the throne, together with a number of his merry band of councillors, are of  the opinion that anybody a whisper to their left is a communist, whereas if they themselves shuffled any further to their right it is highly likely they would topple straight off the edge and into the arms of Il Duce.

And although there are many around here who are of a similar persuasion, there is an equally high number who view such monochromatic political leanings with great concern and were therefore unanimous in their insistence that she stand again.

Playing against the newcomers is their lack of experience in the political arena, something that becomes painfully obvious when scanning their scant “manifesto” – little more than pointed and rather libellous digs at the opposition (a few examples of which are paraphrased below):

We promise that if we win these elections we won’t hog the town hall for twenty years! Was, unbelievably, their opener.

We promise that under us, the village will be managed for the people, by the people! As opposed to the current dictatorship, I presume.

We promise that we won’t misuse our powers to give favours to friends! Just… ouch!

We promise transparency in our actions! Especially interesting, as my new Facebook bestie (one of the would-be councillors), rather than creating his own profile, instead uses the profile of his mild-mannered foreign spouse to harangue the “friends” she has amassed through her school and playground interactions with his political issues.

As in between incessantly posting and re-posting variations on a theme that certain people (me) should keep their traps shut, he has also undertaken to swell the party votes by incessantly posting and re-posting variations on a theme that politicians who hold on to their power for too long, are anti-democratic.

Because apparently the democratic thing to do to a village unfortunate enough to have only two candidates, one of whom happens to be long-standing, would simply be to pass the keys of the town hall to the newcomers regardless of majority opinion.

One would hope that the overt mudslinging that has so far been offered in the place of real and attainable goals, plus the vitriolic lack of self-control shown by this particular councillor on his internet platform of choice, would perhaps make people think twice about the newcomers’ suitability to administrate. But perhaps that is just how politics works.

Either way, individuals capable of demonstrating such complete lack of humanity and compassion in their opinions on the human tragedy such as the one ever more frequently unfolding in the waters off Lampedusa, might ask themselves why on earth they feel qualified to look after the interests of others at all.

This is Status Viatoris, not looking forward to the 25th of May very much at all, in Italy.

Plodding Towards the Finish Line


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

I honestly never believed I would be a mother.

In fact, having made peace with the unlikelihood of ever meeting a suitable life partner; a future filled with foreign languages, travel, writing and the occasional empowering but short-lived sexual fling with a modest succession of mysterious strangers came to seem like a pretty reasonable alternative to family life.

So it is with repeated and overwhelming surprise that I greet the swollen, irrefutable evidence of how very much things have changed each time I happen to cast my eyes feet-wards.

The Incredible Bulk

The Incredible Bulk

I am full of baby. How wonderfully barmy and improbable that feels.

And the side effects no less so; one of the most unexpected being that I have at long last made peace with this lumpy, bumpy body of mine.

Such a visually unimpressive mishmash of flesh, bone, fat and sinew which has caused me nothing but shame and regret for so many years finally seems to have come into its own as it goes about, without any apparent help or guidance, building a brand new human being.

A little person, who despite having been gifted half of my DNA and lent the use of my innards for almost nine months, is already an individual in its own right; hardwired with its own personal strengths, weaknesses, preferences and potential for opinion.

In fact as I feel the determined kicks, wiggles and stretches – perhaps the most bizarre, occasionally unsettling but often wondrous, aspect of late pregnancy – I find it hard to imagine that this creature, so apparently purposeful and in control of its destiny, will pop out of me as vulnerable and helpless as any other newborn.

(Although in retrospect, if it instead popped out and strolled from the room in search of coffee and a newspaper, that might be more disconcerting…)

Having largely managed to avoid the whole preparing-for-motherhood behemoth so popular in the UK (I’m utterly intimidated by those gangs of pregnant women and/or new mums often to be found lurking in Starbucks et al) my midwife recently ordered me, on pain of anesthetic-free episiotomy stitches, to attend at least one antenatal meeting.

A meeting in which a group of fat, knackered-looking “ladies” with bumps of all dimensions, sat around in increasing horror as it was explained how best we could assist our poor bodies in expelling their oversized burdens, and what drugs (not as many as I had hoped) would be on offer to us in the event of the whole unlovely process smarting a tad.

Naturally there are always those who loudly declare their intention to eshew any type of pain-relief – does wanting to really feel the burn mean you will be a better class of mother? These declarations certainly release a sort of smugness into the air which is indicative of such an opinion.

Which would therefore mean that I am destined to be a pretty crap parent, given that I would be more than happy to take a needle to the back if it all gets too much.

The conversation then moved on to breastfeeding, another touchy topic offering mammas-to-be a hint of the ruthlessness of future motherhood-related peer pressure…

Personally, I do want to breastfeed: even as I recoil from stories of cracked nipples, mastitis, and dodgy latches, I still find myself hugely looking forward to those intimate moments with my child.

Going the boob route also seems (to the lazy layperson, me) to be a far more convenient arrangement than faffing around with tubs of powder, bottles, teats, sterilisers and microwaves at 2 o’clock in the morning.

And as for the miserly layperson (me, again), she is very much swayed by the lack of any financial implication involved in swinging her breasts around.

But all in all I feel that it is a matter of personal choice, and not a potential guilt-stick with which to belabour women already made vulnerable by the physically and emotionally arduous impact of pregnancy and childbirth.

In fact I know plenty of people – the Mothership, my lovely husband, and all of his siblings to name but a few – who were not breastfed. And who all enjoy health far more robust than my own boob-nourished, asthma-riddled, allergy-beleaguered, sinusitis-whipped, IBS-slapped, migraine-mangled-immune-system-of-a-newborn-kitten.


Drug-free birth, only breast milk will do – could this be just the tip of the iceberg in the game of guilt-ridden parenthood chess??

This is Status Viatoris, thirty-five weeks and counting (and hoping and praying and loudly pleading with sproglet not to leave her trapped in this penguin-waddling, back-aching hell for too much longer)… :-)

“There is No Such Thing as an Honest Romanian”


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Declared some daft besom apropos of nobody seems to quite know what, at the Mothership’s Italian class recently.

And had I been there personally, I would have hauled my pregnant bulk over the desks and taken enormous pleasure in bopping my fist right onto the end of her nose.

Of course it’s hardly surprising that she, and many others like her, feel utterly entitled to verbalise such prejudice in the righteous foghorn tones so beloved of the rather ignorant, given that their only information on it (and a vast many other subjects) comes from the criminally irresponsible British media.

And it would be a delightful thing if people actually backed up some of the “facts” they absorb from their Daily Rag (right or left-wing, tabloid or broadsheet – they are none of them free from the stigma of politically self-serving partiality) with a dash of thinking-for-themselves and a pinch of additional research, but hey, blindly following somebody else’s neatly packaged ideology-for-idiots is so much easier on an already overstretched brain cell.

(I wonder if any of them, media or media follower alike, has ever given a moment’s consideration to another time a country allowed itself to be whipped into a frenzy of distrust and hatred against a particular group of people. No? You know, way back when a significant proportion of an entire First World nation let themselves be convinced that all their socio-economic problems could be laid firmly at the door of an easily identifiable scapegoat? Still nothing? Oh well.)

Even the Italians, with their long history of fleeing Italian shores in times of crisis in order to seek their fortune elsewhere – North America, South America, Australasia, Germany, France, the UK… loathe these modern-day economic migrants just as much as the British, with their long history of pinching other people’s land and plundering its natural resources whilst oppressing the natives for their own good.

What a pair.

So what of the reviled Romanians?

Well first of all – and this might come as a surprise to much of the British media: all Romanians are not gypsies and not all gypsies are Romanian. Something I can only assume to be a well-kept secret when I note that 90% of articles talking about Romanians in the British press, clearly feature Roma gypsies.

The Roma, or Țigani, have been in Romania since before the 14th century, and, like their cousins in Bulgaria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, Spain and many other places, originate from Northern India. They have a rich musical tradition – usually one of the only aspects of their culture that finds favour with their host countries – but in most other ways they tend to be disliked outcasts due in part to their disregard for the local laws and social norms by which the rest of the local community abide.

They do emigrate, and all over the place, but sadly begging and pick-pocketing often remain their employment of choice (and necessity – prejudice rendering most other doors closed to them).

A Romanian is a different sort of character altogether.

Whilst keeping a strong sense of family and community, many are well-used to travelling to find employment, especially when it comes to construction and other manual labour. Sometimes within Romania itself, but very often further afield: Germany, Italy, Greece, Spain, the UK, Israel, Saudi Arabia… Men leave their families, sometimes only returning once or twice a year, in order to work and send money home.

And not just the men, there are also plenty of Romanian women who opt to work (often as carers for the elderly or infirm) far away from their loved ones, so that they are in a position to be able to support them financially.

It is far from an easy life – and certainly not one the comfortable, media-led armchair critics from wealthier nations would consider sullying themselves with – but many Romanians just get on with it.

Because they have to.

Because they don’t have a government that will give them money if they can’t find employment in their home town.

Because there is nobody to complain to if they can’t find quite the right sort of job to suit them, or if the little work that is available doesn’t pay enough to keep on top of the bills.

Because they exist within the harsh parameters of the real world.

Yes; there are dishonest Romanians, just as there are dishonest Brits and dishonest Italians.

And yes, maybe a few might take advantage of Britain’s absurdly generous benefit system – after all, there are plenty of British natives who feel not a jot of loyalty to their country of birth, and happily plunder the loopholes presented by the lumbering welfare state.

But that is absolutely no reason not to accord respect to the vast numbers of hard-working, honest Romanians out there. As well as the Bulgarians, the Czechs, the Poles, the Ukrainians, the Serbs, the Albanians and indeed whoever else is just trying to do what every other human being has tried to do since the dawn of time…

…keep crop, feathers and family together.

It is, after all, a basic human right.

This is Status Viatoris, hoping that her honest, hard-working, kind-hearted, lovely Romanian husband never has to hear the sort of crap her countrymen are capable of coming out with, although after nearly five years in Italy, he is probably getting used to it… :-(

Condemned to Solitude


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

No sooner is a woman in the position to pin on her twinkly primigravida badge (yes, they give them away free with each plastic pee pee stick – didn’t you know?), a surprisingly high number of curious bystanders begin to request information regarding her future procreational intentions.

It can be a little disconcerting, especially when her mind is rather full of other things: the anxiety involved in assisting this embryo through the gestational minefield before ushering it into a healthy babyhood, for starters. Questioning her sanity at placing herself in such a responsibility-laden situation, for seconds. And lastly, the dawning realisation that she has just willingly compromised her rights to being entirely her own person for at least the next eighteen years.

But regardless of the mental gymnastics that appear to be delivered – along with nausea and a tendency to easy tears – by the victorious spermatozoon, many women do already know the answer to this rather inappropriate question and can confidently state, “I plan to have two, three, four children…” (delete as appropriate and biology willing, natch), thus apparently satisfying the informationary requirements of the question poser.

However there is an answer that does not seem to satisfy, and – typically, I suppose, given my contrariness in most matters – it is the only answer I can offer.

“I only want this child. I have no intention of having any more.”

A statement that even in Italy, where the birthrate is one of the lowest in Europe and where there are more sibling-less children than one could shake a rosemary and olive oil grissino at, is greeted with a surprising lack of respect for my capacity for rational thought.

So, just to prove to the sceptical masses (ok, to the nosy few) that I have actually given the matter some consideration, I shall now list my reasons for feeling that one child will be my lot in life:

1) Although the statistics on overpopulation vary, there can be no doubt that many of the more serious current and future world problems are/will be caused by there being far too many human beings on the planet. My conscience simply would not allow me any peace if I had more than one child.

2) I would be able to afford educational possibilities and horizon-broadening opportunities for one child, that I would not be in a position to offer to two. Important considerations (I feel) in a world that is becoming evermore competitive and complicated.

3) Similarly, as I am English my husband is Romanian and we live in Italy, much of our holiday time over the next years is going to be spent travelling hither and thither to keep sproglet in touch with far-flung relatives. Not something that we would be able to do either financially or logistically with any ease in the case of multi-sprogs.

4) A child needs to be loved, sheltered, fed, clothed, educated and tirelessly cuddled. Having a sibling is not a need, it is a circumstance. A circumstance which plenty of us have never found ourselves in and not suffered as a consequence. And as an afterthought, it is important to remember that just as there are people who have wonderfully close and supportive relationships with their brothers/sisters, there are plenty of others who would happily cross continents to avoid them.

5) I don’t actually want more than one child. Seeing women walking along with a toddler at her side, another in a pushchair and a third “on the way” (for example) makes me want to run as fast and as far as I can. Watching friends juggling two or more children with their different and often opposing requirements – baby’s having a nap, four-year old is clamouring to go to the park, got to pick her up from ballet, take him to football practice, we’re late for school but the toddler’s just filled his nappy… simply reinforces my conviction that it is not for me.

6) And to the wagging fingers that are accompanied by: “Just you wait and see. As soon as you’ve popped that sprog you will be swept away on an uncontrollable sea of biological impulses that will have you planning the next three before the umbilical cord is even severed!” I would say: whilst I do not doubt that at some point during what remains of my fertile years I may well have a brief hankering for a second baybeeeee, I sincerely hope that I have the strength of character to take my present concerns into account and not be dictated to by my hormones. After all, what woman would seriously consider placing her hormones in the driving seat when attempting a spot of rational decision-making?


So there we have it: the reasoning behind my inability to offer curious bystanders a satisfactory answer to their queries in six explanatory steps! Now all that is left to do is translate it into Italian and post flyers round the village ;-)

This is Status Viatoris, who maybe one day will have a strongly held conviction that people actually approve of! Unlikely, I know…

AKA – just life


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

So, as I mentioned briefly in another post a while back (almost certainly in the guise of a flimsy excuse for not keeping this blog up to date), over the last year or more it has been getting harder and harder for me to view “Life In Italy” as anything more exotic than “just life”.

Now this is not a serious problem in itself, nor is it difficult to figure out how things might have reached this point, bearing in mind I am fast approaching the big ONE EIGHT (18 years in the UK, 18 years out); but it does make writing saccharine articles about the wonders of La Vita Italiana a little tricky. Especially when adding the pressure involved in being financially remunerated for such services…

Thus I find myself ringing the death knell on yet another paying job; although I shall continue churning out a few more words until a suitable replacement is found – probably in or around Tuscanyshire, as a writer more inclined to throw themselves wholeheartedly into La Vita Italiana alla Ex-pat seems to be what is required.

Actually I am rather astounded that I wasn’t given my marching orders, and long ago, when taking into account the rather negative slant I often give to much of my article writing.

Not that it has ever been my intention to be a party pooper just for the hell of it, but I do feel that presenting people with the simple exchange of Life at Home for Life in Italy as a recipe for the perfect existence, is misleading in the extreme.

Life is pretty damn hard wherever you go, and moving to a country in which you barely understand the language, know little of the culture and even less of the struggles and concerns of the locals can only make it harder, especially if a heartless article writer has deliberately hoodwinked you into believing that you would be walking into the warm and welcoming embrace of a Peter Mayle novel.

On the flip side, my conscience has frequently prodded me over the last three years over my complicit involvement in encouraging a certain sort of foreigner to view Italy (and much of the rest of Southern Europe) as little more than a retirement village, not forgetting those would-be holidaymakers who contribute to the ghost village phenomenon by buying up property in picturesque areas, only to inhabit it for a paltry few weeks a year.

I have seen the housing market in many parts of Spain being ruined for locals due to an influx of wealthier foreign buyers unwittingly pushing up the prices. I have seen villages in France, and Italy (and even touristy corners of the Scottish Highlands) that now remain predominantly empty for most of the year – with those who actually live and work in the area unable to get onto the evermore pricey property ladder and equally unable to find anywhere available to rent.

Being asked to write articles that actively encourage readers to take advantage of a country’s dire political and financial position in order to pick up second homes on the cheap quite frankly turns my stomach, as much as it might make financial sense to the wily investor.

And obsessing over what the local ex-pats do, and when, and where – celebrating the royal wedding! celebrating the royal birth! celebrating the Queen’s jubilee! celebrating the London Olympics! – churns my innards yet further.

I thought I was writing for people who dreamt of life in Italy? Who gives a tinker’s cuss what the other bloody ex-pats are up to! Probably the same thing as they got up to back in Basingstoke, just with a bit more of a tan and a gut full of chianti… Either way, I think we can all be pretty sure there will be a fair number who fit into the following category: An Eggz-Pat Rant.

This is Status Viatoris, who has luckily been offered some sort of badly-paid joblet with the local wildlife rescue organisation – much more up her strada, let’s just hope it can been undertaken with a bulbous mid-section and then a sproglet in tow, in Italy.

Popping Out From Behind the Fandango…


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

… to say HAPPY NEW YEAR!

A bit late, I know, but I wanted to see Mallorca through to its natural conclusion before breaking the spell ;-)

I imagine the sudden change in subject from Current Life in Italy to Distant Past in Spain may have come as a bit of a surprise to some, especially as I chose not to usher it in with even the smallest parp of a fanfare.

In fact posting the book chapter by chapter on Status Viatoris was an idea that came to me in the dead of night whilst I was mulling over a lack of success in locating my blogging mojo; and in typical SV fashion, no sooner had the thought popped into my head than I found myself seated expectantly before the computer in my pyjamas…

Although I had long since resigned myself to never making a peso from An English Fandango (unless the clamour for an e-book reaches intolerable decibels, natch), I find I do regret choosing the point of lowest reader traffic in my blogging journey so far to launch it into the bogglesphere.

It feels as though I’ve let it down somehow, and, despite the relief of finally having made a decision about its destiny, I can’t help but worry that I am ill-prepared for the possibility of seeing my little creation sink into oblivion without even a small flurry of bubbles to mark its passing…

Oh the ego is a terrible thing, so it is!

So, 2012 has been and gone since we last spoke, and I for one was a little sad to see it leave.

Because without causing a flap or creating a fuss, it turned out to be a pretty fabulous year for me (poorly Pooches notwithstanding): the house, all bar the leaky roof, is finished; I seem to have landed myself with a highly entertaining business venture; English-teaching is turning out to be a lot more satisfying than I found it nine years ago; I have spent the last two months being paid to translate descriptions of thrilling things to do in Kenya; An English Fandango is slowly being released from the prison of its word document; my relationship with Tigger is growing – although the last time I wrote something similar that part of my life temporarily went tits up – and my previously incorrigible itchy feet are now made conspicuous only by their absence.

Challenged and yet content, ferociously busy and yet fulfilled: it’s only taken thirty-five years for me to be able to cautiously stick my bonce over the parapet and declare that I might, just might, be settled.

And as I doubt very much that I would have been able to reach that point without the increase in confidence gained from the writing of this blog, and most especially from the encouragement and affection of so many of its readers, I want to thank you all hugely for sticking  with me over the last thirty-three months and 328 posts.


This is Status Viatoris, wishing all SV readers, their families, friends and loved ones much health and happiness in 2013 – take care of each other and make every day count, in Italy.

P.S An English Fandango – Granada will have its first airing on Monday 14th January. Don’t miss it!

Bling from Beijing


status viatoris – being ‘on the way’/being in a state of pilgrimage

Very popular, certainly in my area of Italy, is the phrase “andiamo dai cinesi!”

You need some socks/knickers/shoes? Andiamo dai cinesi!

Fancy something sparkly for your finger/ears/nose? Andiamo dai cinesi!

Need some threads for a night out? Andiamo dai cinesi!

Running short on household items? Andiamo dai cinesi!

From tiny shops, hidden away down the back streets, selling Rolax watches, Yves Son Loran bags and “high fashion” at one hundredth of the price, the Chinese in Italy have started branching out into superstores full of practically everything you could possibly want or need.

Providing, of course, you don’t happen to mind that it is utter shit:

Socks that are so synthetic they make your feet pong before you even put them on, plasticky trainers masquerading as suitable footwear for sporting activities, children’s toys than reek of chemicals or petroleum and leave a tacky film on your hands, rings that turn your fingers black, chipped photo frames that won’t stand up, bedsheets that are practically see-through but still manage to sandpaper your arse, raunchy peek-a-boob French maids outfits made out of a garishly coloured and whiffy dental floss/fishing line hybrid… the shelves are crammed with temptation for those who don’t seem to consider or care about the concept of false economy.

I am not by any means a big spender, but when I do hand over money, I expect to be handed something of quality in return: something that will do its job properly or something that looks attractive, and certainly something that won’t fall apart in the blink of an eye and require me to shuffle back to the shop and get another one.

And I suppose those expectations do cost a little more at the moment of initial outlay, but surely it’s worth it?

These Chinese one-stop-shop-superstores worry me on three different levels.

– Firstly I think they encourage the belief that anything costing more than peanuts is a cynical rip-off on the part of greedy and ruthless manufacturers. Whilst it is a given that anybody going into the retail or manufacturing industry is after a profit, it does not logically follow that their only aim is to deceive their customers.

Quality raw materials cost, labour costs, marketing costs, overheads cost; only by shaving corners off any or all of these expenditures are you able to significantly reduce the cost to the customer. So for those unfazed by sub-standard consumables, the dismantling of the Western manufacturing industry, and the resulting exploitation of Chinese factory workers; I suppose the Italo-Chinese hypermarkets are the places to go.

– My second concern is an environmental one. The developed world is only just starting to look for answers to the ravages of a throw-away consumer society, but recycling can only go so far. Is it really responsible to encourage the manufacture of items that are both difficult or impossible to recycle, as well as being doomed to an early grave in our already overflowing landfill sites?

– Thirdly are my worries about China itself. I don’t doubt that it is a rising power and I have nothing but respect for the work ethic of its inhabitants, but whilst it continues to be the primary cause of big game poaching, bear bile “farming”, ivory smuggling, fatal shark maiming – often for motives no more weighty that medieval and utterly unproven medical “cures” (I won’t even go into the human rights issues) –  avoiding supporting its economy where possible feels to me like a responsible course of action.

What are you experiences of Chinese commerce in your countries?

This is Status Viatoris, just checked, and her tea mug was made in Thailand, so hoping that is a slight improvement, in Italy.

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