9 reasons to queue up for the squat toilet

 

 

 

 

 

Warning this post contains graphic detail: if you don’t like that sort of thing don’t read it.

Travelling the world including Europe, Morocco, Turkiye, India and the Middle East has given me much experience of using squat-style toilets,  ‘Arab’ or ‘Asian’ toilets, hole-in-the-ground toilets, or ‘French’ toilets, as we used to call them in the ‘80s when France was exotic and foreign. Such toilets are often the bane of British people’s holiday, ‘oh Gah, those toilets,’ but I am now one of those people who queue up for the squat toilet. Here’s why I’ve converted:

1.Squatting is a much more natural position to defecate – it comes out easier

2.Some even say that western-style toilets are to blame for bowel cancer because sitting doesn’t allow you to expel fully and properly. I don’t know if it’s true but I’ll reproduce that 

3.Squatting regularly is good for almost every muscle in your body 

4.When you’ve got your period, ladies, you are actively expelling the waste more effectively as you are squeezing it out. Which has got to be better right?

5. It’s much more effective (forget hygienic) to wash your private parts with water after you have urinated or defecated than wipe them, and you don’t need an extra contraption called a bide 

6.When the weather is hot you get the opportunity to wash regularly down there (not to mention very helpful at ladies’ period time)

7. It’s more environmentally friendly to NOT use toilet paper. Although – to be fair – a lot of Turkish toilets also have toilet paper to dry your private parts, which, I must admit, I am all for. Soggy knickers is the only drawback.

8.You have a much more regular intimate relationship with your private parts than when you sit on a toilet, as when you squat and clean you are literally looking right at them. You can spot any changes or abnormalities more easily which, as you get older, you should be doing

9.It’s more hygienic in public toilets because the only thing that touches the toilet is your feet. 

But how do you actually use them? ‘I hate getting my feet all wet!’ I hear you cry. 

After much practice, trial and error, I can advise you. Of course I can only talk from a woman’s point of view, but I do supervise my son, so I can advise men also. 

  • Turn around (yes, like when you sit on the seated toilet) and place your feet on the feet plates with toes about level with the front, so your bum will be roughly over the hole when you squat.
  • If you’re wearing a skirt, pull it up and gather it around your waist and hold it there, and pull your knickers down to your knees, not ankles
  • If wearing trousers pull them UP AT THE ANKLES and take them (and knickers) down at the same time so they gather around your knees and no parts drape on the floor.
  • Squat as low as you can (I.e. a full squat, called malasana in yoga.)
  • Have your feet flat on the floor 
  • Don’t tip toe or try to hold a high squat 
  • If you can’t fully squat ask yourself why and practice 
  • Do your business 
  • Fill the jug with water 
  • Peer through your legs to look at your private parts 
  • Hold your left hand between your legs (via the front not the back) and over the toilet bowl. With your right hand carry the jug and also reach through your feet and pour water over your left hand so it is wetted making a cup shape with the hand so it holds some water while simultaneously wiping your private parts with your left hand. 
  • Pour gently so you don’t splash. 
  • Women (men skip to the next point) wipe front to back or sort of diagonally to the side so you don’t touch your bum hole 
  • When you’re happy your front bits are clean (half a jug to a full jug is a good guide) do the same with your back parts
  • Dry with tissue (women, front then back)
  • Or just shake 
  • Pull clothes up 
  • Turn around 
  • Flush toilet with flush or with jug of water 
  • Clean toilet if necessary
  • Leave cubicle 
  • Wash hands with soap in sink (not with jug and tap in cubicle) 
  • Done. 

Some toilets have a hose pipe instead of a jug but I would advise against aiming it at your private parts and squirting, if you want to avoid getting soaked. Use the method above, wetting your left hand with the hose instead of the jug.

In Turkiye some European style toilets have a built-in ‘bum wash.’ A jet of water shoots out of the back of the toilet aimed at your bum hole. These are a compromise. You need to use them in a similar fashion, using your hand as a cup to catch the water and wipe, as they rarely point in exactly the right place and if they do, often that alone is not enough to clean you.

Hey presto. 

Squat toilets all the way for me now. I’ll see you in that queue. Which one are you choosing? 

Er, while writing this post I stumbled upon this. A whole blog dedicated to using the toilet while travelling. 

https://gogoguano.wordpress.com/

unschooling and the pandemic

Written 9 June 2020.

When my friend told me she was worried that her daughter would “get behind if she did not go back to school soon”, this got me thinking. While these are very real concerns for parents, who know how fiercely competitive the job market is getting, I started to think what does ‘behind’ mean? Perhaps now, in the midst of the Pandemic, is the time to reassess what education is actually for, and doing. Education should not be about content, that if we miss it, we will get ‘behind’, but should be about exploration, development and growth. These are very personal things, that should not solely be tied to a national curriculum and a keeping up with the peer group, and are not solely experienced within the four walls of the school building. 

learning to tie knots with dad

Since the beginning of Lockdown, when kindergarten closed, now reaching 9 weeks for us, I have witnessed my nearly five year old son grow exponentially, and we have not even opened a text book. We have been juggling full-time home working, temper tantrums, no outdoor space, the draw of screens, parental arguments, Ramadan fasting, elderly parents’ struck down with the virus, and all this involves learning and growth. My son has learned, and is still, learning so much.

 

balcony water play marble run

He has grown taller, he is has cycled through, and emerged from, various stages of early years development, including the stealing ‘treasures’ from the kitchen stage; playing with knives stage; experiments with blackmail and manipulation stage. Left completely to his own devices, we have discovered he loves: taking apart electronics; music, dance and percussion.  He – as I am sure heightened for many of us in the Pandemic Lockdowns  – has been struggling with addictions: ‘just one more biscuit’; ‘I’ve got to watch the next programme then I’ll do my chores’; ‘I’ve just got to scroll ten more, then I’ll go to sleep’*. 

pandemic telly addict

In todays age, GCSEs should be measuring how clearly you can see beauty even when it is not pretty every day; if you can be faithful and trustworthy; if you can disappoint another to be true to yourself; if you can live with failure; how well you can sit with pain in the empty moments when all else falls away.**

The best thing you can do is nurture children’s spirit and desire to learn, to want to explore, to find out. The rest will follow. Many more parents are ‘unschooling’ now, which is a deliberately provocative term, but nevertheless useful one. At the centre of this, is allowing children to learn in a self-directed manner. That is giving them freedom to explore, and to support what they want to learn about. 

pandemic NHS appreciation rainbow drawn by 4 year old

For more inspiration on critical and alternative approaches to education visit these two projects.

One of which is very resonant with me:

Disco Learning by Lucy Aitken Read is an unschooling course giving parents the courage to unschool.

The other of which I am a founder and governor:

Arbol Madre Holistic School is a Waldorf-inspired school aiming to educate mind, body and soul.

———-

*Thats me, not my 5 year old. My 5 year old is not scrolling before bed. It’s not that bad. Yet.

**Credits to The Invitation, a poem by Oriah Mountain Dreamer.

The angry locust and other stories

I got an email the other day for an academic conference session called Intimate Ethnographies in Multispecies Lifeworlds.  This important discussion is due to be held next spring at the American Association of Geographers conference in Denver, Colorado, and is being organised by Katie Gillespie and Yamini Narayanan. ‘What on earth is that?’, some of you ask, including me. OK, so let us break it down. Ethnography is when you study a population through living with them. And intimate ethnographies must be when you do that in very close quarters. So, for example, an intimate ethnography of a ‘tribe’ or ‘subculture’ might involve studying them through living with them, perhaps living in the same house, living in the same room even, and conducting their daily routines with them, as they do. OK, next- multispecies lifeworlds–  here is the idea that we are studying the lives, experiences, thoughts and feelings – ways of being- of not just humans, but other species. And not just one species, but more than one, and our coexistence.

I read on with interest. The session organisers show a particular interest in auto-ethnography.  Which, yes, you have it, means an ethnography of yourself, or your life(world). ‘Ooh’, I thought excitedly, ‘that’s what I am doing’. I always felt I could not help but be a sociologist in my own life. This is why I started to blog. I had not thought of my writing as auto-ethnographic before, but it is slowly becoming that way.

Then I saw the phrase ‘attention to uneven power structures’ and I thought again, that’s my interest. In any given situation I study, I am always interested in who has power and who does not, and how that plays out. Katie and Yamini go on to claim that ‘Centering lives lived in close relation, in multispecies lifeworlds, allows for a politicization of these relationships and the contexts in which they unfold’. I am aware that almost all of our perspectives give precedence and power to humans over any other animals, as a base assumption. Animals are considered to be secondary, second-class, ‘sub’ human. The way we construct knowledge- or the way we think about, and understand, ourselves and our time on this planet -is inherently ‘species-ist.’ So, these geographers call for us to think more about humans’ relationship, coexistence, symbiosis with the animal world, and the multiple species in it, and to apply a political lens to this study. They invite us to ask: who is the ‘underdog’ here? What are the ‘power structures’? How are they uneven or biased in favour of humans? What are the consequences of this? How can we think differently about this?

One of the specific questions they ask researchers to tackle is:
– What might an intimate ethnography look like with those animals closest to us—for instance, how might we think about ethnographies of those with whom we share our lives, our homes?

Well, here goes.

An intimate ethnography of human-insect-vanlife-life-worlds

Sikia, Halkidiki. Mount Olympus at background. Author’s own photo.

Living in a campervan for months on end, moving from place to place, means having a very different relationship with the natural environment (and the creatures in it) than you do living in a house. This experience has made me think a lot, specifically, about the insect world and our relationship to it, because, living in a van in the woods; on the beach; in a field; up a mountain; by a stream, we come into contact with various, and multiple, insects on a regular basis. When I lived and worked in London, when I reflect back on it, I rarely saw or thought about an insect*.

Last winter I read a feature article in the New York Times called The Insect Apocalypse Is Here. This piece summarised scientists’ incredibly worrying hypotheses that overall insect numbers are decreasing rapidly, year on year, with potentially apocalyptic consequences. Reading this article, has also informed my shifting relationship with insects. The journalist invites us to cast our minds back to when we were young (presumably assuming a readership born in the 1970s and ’80s), where he tells the story of a science teacher who recalls when he was a child, driving (and cycling) through the summer countryside in his home town in Denmark and the number of bugs striking the windshield (or his face!) was in the thousands. But today, that same experience, might be merely tens of insects. If that. If I cast my mind back, when I was a kid, living in a house in a semi-rural area of Southern England, this used to involve co-existing, to some extent, with various insects. In the autumn the spiders would come in. Big ones, small ones, hairy ones, ginger ones. There was always one in the bath, or one in the corner of the room. In the summer there were the flies that would invariably bother you in the kitchen; when you were trying to cook; the moths that would come in around the porch light at dusk; the ‘daddy long legs’ who would dive bomb you in the hall way; the dragon flies around the pond. Towards the end of my time in London- a large but relatively green metropolis- when I think about it, I rarely encountered insects in my home (except the bed bugs that had been ‘imported from India’, but that is another story all together).

Living in a van, however, it was necessary to coexist with various insect populations. Everywhere we traveled, there would always be some kind of insect population making themselves known to us, getting in our space, as we got in theirs. Interestingly we tended to be aware of one type of insect species at a time, as if they had different geographies, or they took it in turns to taunt us. We had bees in the mountains of Fethiye; mosquitos on the beach on the Albanian Riviera; beetles in the forest in Alanya; locusts in the grasslands in Halkidiki; sandfleas at the harbour of Andriake; flies in the farmlands in Urfa; scorpions in the Sahara dessert. As we failed to install any mosquito screens in our campervan and the temperature inside in summer was often 40 degrees or more, the open windows and roof vents meant there was no getting away from the insects. We had to at least try to get along with them. In the beginning we would spray the campervan with insecticide (indeed some campsites we stayed on sprayed the entire campsite with insecticide), but we soon learnt this was futile: it didn’t seem to remove the insects, only kill some of them and then more would appear. So we realised this was unsustainable, not to say inhumane, and we began to try to tolerate them.

Bugs and Beetles, by Naomi Adams

Another thing I became very aware of -in addition to the different insect geographies- was that they tended to have quite discernible daily rhythms too. Cicadas would sing all day, and then would instantly go to sleep, or just stop talking, at dusk**; flies would be attracted by food so would come at meal times; bees by water when we were washing; mosquitoes would come at dusk, feed from us over the period of about an hour, and then retreat, leaving us in peace for the night. Only when there was a plague of mosquitoes (i.e. problematically large numbers) did they continue to bother us through the night. Well, of course, I guess it makes sense: if there were more of them, then it would take longer for each to get their turn to feed. I began to change my attitude towards insects, as I began to have a relationship with them, as I began to understand them, and their needs. I read that mosquitoes take your blood to feed their babies, and I thought ‘oh well, in that case, fair enough’. Wouldn’t you do anything to feed your baby? We tried to avoid being bitten, through natural means- covering up with long clothing at dusk; covering my son’s bed with netting; burning citronella; sleeping in the path of a fan, and if there was a real plague of them we would cover ourselves in DEET to repel the worst of them. However, as time went on, I began to tell myself to just let them be, let them do their thing, let them feed. Just try to ignore the itch. It would be gone or replaced by a different itch in a few days. This was just the cycle of life.

The ants of Andalucia

When we were in Spain it rained. And rained. And an extended family of ants congregated in our shower. Our first reaction was horror and we wanted rid of them- they were in our space. But my partner, who is Muslim, said ‘in Islam you are not supposed to kill ants’. So we didn’t. We soon realised they came in when it was raining hard, they had their meeting (literally convening in a circle) and then when the rain stopped they would go back outside, and we were able to shower. Phew. This brings a new meaning to flat sharing.

An ant conference in Spain, author’s own photo

The Fethiye bees

That is not to say that I was not challenged by the presence of some insects on various occasions. Flying beetles dive-bombing through the roof lights at dusk was quite panic-making, and we were not prepared to share our space with these blighters.  The ‘Fethiye bees’ was another strange encounter. When traveling in southern Turkey we parked at an idyllic spot in the forest in the mountains above Butterfly Valley (interestingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, said to be lacking in butterflies now). We planned to cook dinner while our son played outside. I went outside to do some washing up in a bucket while my partner was cooking, but by the time I had finished the washing up I had about ten bees around me. When I finished the washing up they swarmed the tap, the washing up sponge and the pile of wet gravel where I had poured my washing up water. ‘OK, they are just thirsty’ I said to myself. But gradually they started to surround the campervan, sitting on the van and coming inside. They weren’t just thirsty, they were watching us. Then my son came inside. This was strange because he never came inside voluntarily. When I asked him why he had come inside he said dismissively: ‘oh, just too many bees’. He had left all his toys on the mound where he was playing and when I went to collect them, the toys were crawling with bees. I looked around. The bees were nowhere else to be seen. Only on our belongings. This was the point at which I said ‘OK we are leaving.’ The way in which they were surrounding us, watching us, taking interest in us, marked unusual behaviour for me. This seemed bizarre behaviour for bees: usually we coexist, but they show little interest in us. Perhaps we had disturbed their nest? But they were not stinging us, not threatening, just showing too much interest. This was too eerie. We packed up and drove off, driving fifty miles down the mountain and out of the forest into an urbanised area. That was better: just species like us here.

Tawny mining bee, photo by Penny Metal

The angry locust

This takes me to my last story, or encounter: the angry locust***. In Greece we spent nearly a month camping in abandoned campsites on the peninsula of Halkidiki. The economic downturn had obviously affected tourism and holiday-making and more than one campsite had closed-down in this region. We parked up on the beach near Sikia, in one such abandoned campsite, in the long, wild grass, under the shade of a tree and started to assemble our camp. We were aware of the noise of ‘cicadas’, in the long grass, which was a noise we were accustomed to. However as we settled in our camp we realised it wasn’t multiple ‘locust’ sounds coming from all around, but the noise was localised: it was coming from only one patch of grass. It was incredibly loud, and incessant and very close to our camp. We peered into the long grass and could not believe our eyes. The creature we saw was almost the size of a small rodent. But it was an insect. And it seemed to be shouting at the top of its ‘voice’. When we peered closer it would stop, but as soon as we moved away it started again. We sat for a while outside, but he disturbed our peace. We decided to go inside and have a nap, but the noise continued and seemed to get closer. We couldn’t sleep. Then I thought I heard another sound, this time coming from the opposite side of the van. I went out to investigate and indeed there seemed to be a response of sorts, coming from long grass the other side of the van. ‘I think we are in his patch’. I said. ‘We are parked in the way between him and his lady, and he’s not happy’. As the noise got louder and angrier, again, we agreed to move. We packed up the van and drove about fifty yards away to another pitch and parked up. We then walked slowly and quietly back to the pitch with the locust and indeed the noise had stopped. Whatever the matter was, he was quiet now. One nil to the locust.

Meadow grasshopper, Lewes, England, photo by Penny Metal

All power to the insects

These are trivial stories of encounters with insects but I want to draw attention to the power structures, as Katie and Yamini ask us to do. For all-too-long we humans have wielded power over insects (and indeed most other species), with little concern for their welfare, or even concern for how much we need them. As the article about the insect apocalypse points out, we are dependent on insect populations to pollinate our crops, to process our waste, as a food source for other animals. Without them we will starve and be neck deep in shit. But our attitude for far too long has been: Not In My Back Yard. As we swat that swatter; spray that Raid; pump that insecticide; jet that pesticide; spread that Rose Clear; shake that ant power, little by little, we contribute to this holocaust. Van-life has fundamentally changed that relationship for me. I draw the line at flying beetles in my hair, but other than that, live and let live. I learned to live with insects, to the extent that, now I am in a house in the city again, I miss them. Not only should we learn to coexist with insects, but, as with the bees; the mosquitoes; the ants; the angry (or horny?) locust in my stories, we should be curbing and adapting our lives, our behaviour around theirs: we should be allowing them to take the stage. Because one day we might miss them.

Clockwork Bubble Bee, by Naomi Adams

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Insect Trivia:

Crickets, locusts, grasshoppers and cicada: what is the difference?
Locusts are a type of grasshopper, both categorised as ‘Acridoidea family’ in the order ‘Orthoptera’. Crickets are also of the Orthoptera order, but crickets are typically wingless, and they are omnivorous: eating plants, smaller insects and larvae. Locusts and grasshoppers look similar to each other, they both have wings, and are both herbivores but locusts differ from grasshoppers in their ability to swarm. These insects make a sound by rubbing their wings together and this is called stridulation. Cicadas on the other hand, are ‘true bugs’ from the order Hemiptera, they are dark, stout insects with large heads and transparent wings. They look more like a beetle.  They come in two major variations: annual cicadas, and periodical cicadas. Periodical cicadas (only sited in North America) are often commonly referred to as the ’17 year locust.’  They spend 13 to 17 years as ‘nymphs’ living under ground, feeding from the juices of plant roots, before emerging- in number- in spring, when the soil reaches exactly 64 degrees Fahrenheit, when they climb up trees, shed their brown nymph skin and emerge as a cicada (most commonly black, with red eyes and orange wing veins). The male cicadas, the loudest insect around, then ‘sing’ by producing a sound from a pair of built-in drums called tymbals at the base of their abdomens. The females are attracted by the sound and after mating the females lay eggs burrowed in the twigs of the tree, before dying. The eggs then fall to the ground and hatch into nymphs who burrow into the ground, where they will then live for around 17 years. There is nothing trivial about that.

Photographs featured:

Feature photographs are courtesy of Penny Metal and Naomi Adams. Penny Metal is an artist who loves and photographs insects. She has published a book consisting of photographs of the insects of Warwick Gardens, a small park in Peckham ,South London. You can see more of her photos and buy the book here.  Naomi Adams is an artist and illustrator. Her relief pictures of bugs and beetles made from minute, found-objects such as beads, earrings and clock parts, can be bought here.

Footnotes

* Such is the rarity, that the beauty of the urban insect has attracted the attention of South London artist and photographer Penny Metal, who has published a book of photographs on these creatures, and our encounters with them.

** The sound Cicadas make is actually made by their abdomen not their mouth so technically they are not ‘talking,’ but I am anthropomorphising for dramatic effect.

***After researching, it is most likely it was a Cicada that we saw, not a locust, but humans often confuse the two.

Toddlers and screens: is the tablet computer a tool of the devil?

I’m unsatisfied with the information in blog posts and articles about the dangers and damage of too much ‘screen use’ by young kids. Having bought my toddler his own tablet (a decision that was made because he nearly broke my rather more expensive Notebook), I have first hand experience of managing a toddler’s (personal) screen use. While this turned out to be a traumatic experience which resulted in us ditching the tablet entirely*, I still wasn’t satisfied with the articles that seem to circulate which hail the irreversible damage of screens to children, and call for an outright ban in the early years. As a sociologist, to me this screams ‘moral panic’: when television first took off there were similar panics about the damage it caused. These scares are almost always over-sensationalised. But at the same time we do need to be aware of how these technologies are slowly but surely changing the way we relate to one another. Recent confessions from producers of social media that they deliberately design usage to manipulate dopamine levels are worrying**, as are reports that young people spend more time interacting on their smart phones than face to face. There are definitely things to fear from increased use of technologically mediated interaction. But technology is here to stay. So let’s talk about how we use it for good, and not what it does to us. Here’s six points I want to share which hopefully move us forward from the screen-good-or-bad debates:

1. Of course kids are gonna get fat and ill if they play on screens all day and don’t exercise or interact with anyone. The need for balance is obvious, let’s move beyond that

2. It’s the message that’s important not the medium, right? Are they using the screen to play ‘educational’ games, or watch endless ‘trashy’ cartoons? Or perhaps worse: YouTube videos of someone with painted nails endlessly opening kinder eggs (why!?). My son went through a stage where he was only interested in watching YouTube videos of someone pushing toy tractors through sand. This freaked us out. But as soon as he showed interest in following a narrative we steered him away from this and towards short films and series suitable for his age. For a while he kept asking for ‘tractors’ and we just changed the subject and he got over it (and moved on).

3. Children are dynamic and constantly changing. So are our family circumstances. If your toddler is spending a lot of time on their screen, this doesn’t mean it will continue in that vein forever. Our son was particularly difficult to handle around 22 months before he could really talk. Plus at that point we were trying to pack to go travelling (in a bus that wasn’t finished) and things were extremely stressful for us. We found the screen really useful at this point in our lives – a lifesaver in fact- because it would occupy him completely for at least an hour sometimes. Now he’s a bit older, and is beginning to occupy himself with imaginary play, and we are a bit less stressed as a family, we don’t need to use it so much as a babysitter.***

4. There is a fundamental difference between a personal screen and a shared TV in a shared space. This didn’t occur to me until it was too late, because we didn’t have a TV. For those who don’t have a TV (which is increasingly common) a personal screen seems an obvious choice for the kids but I found this a mistake that was then hard to go back on. The TV convenes the members in the room, while the personal screen isolate them. I try to watch programmes and play games with my toddler on his screen, but, mimicking me perhaps, he pulls it away, preferably watching alone. The TV just does not behave in this way. It’s something you gather round to watch and interact with together, for better or worse. From my experience I would say try and avoid giving toddlers a personal screen if you can. Or if you do get them a personal screen don’t tell them it’s theirs so they don’t get too attached to it, or have that sense of ownership. This keeps you more in control, to change the dynamic when you need to.

5. Screen-use is part of a social environment that you create for your family, and one in which you set the example. We thought a lot about what we fed our son at dinner time, but seemed more lax when it came to the diet of the mind, which seems ridiculous for a sociologist but what you don’t realise is how much you have to change your habits and ‘diet’ to help them. Put restrictions on use, or make a routine, that fits with when you need the screen most: ‘you can only go on the screen when mum’s making dinner’, or ‘no screens after dinner in the evening’. For example. Basically try to lay down rules or conventions that you want to form into healthy screen use that they take with them into later life. (And lets practice what we preach, innit. Obviously if you sit on your screen all evening, they will want to mimic.)

6.’Open ended browsing’ (such as surfing YouTube) seems to me to be the most problematic screen behaviour for my son as a toddler. He learnt how to surf YouTube within a few days of being introduced to it. We know ourselves how addictive surfing the net is, with the infinite information, pages to view, posts to scroll, pictures to swipe. I had a friend who went on Facebook every evening and he was unable to sign off until he had scrolled through every new post until he reached the posts from the day before. Crazy right, but we all can recognise our own similar negative screen behaviour like this. With my son, open ended browsing seemed to re-enforce his already short attention span: he would never watch something until the end, tending to jump from one YouTube video to another in the space of a few minutes. This was something we wanted to discourage from becoming habitual. Also open-ended browsing meant he could technically be watching something totally unsuitable. Although the feed generally filled with videos aimed at toddlers, this didn’t mean I approved of them. pseudo-advertising (aswell as actual blatant advertising) was rife, be it for branded toys or branded candy. But there is also something quite dark about some of the content, much of it being set to the same happy hardcore mix of ‘Old MacDonald’ and ‘Mommy Finger’ tunes (which makes you feel completely manic after a while); features disembodied adult hands playing with toys or unwrapping candy; in hyper-synthetic landscapes. Plus the feed is often hijacked by a channel called ‘bad baby’ which features older kids miming babies doing mischievous things involving gaffa tape. That’s not to mention that the content completely reinforces western capitalist norms, unchallenged. I guess it’s possible to restrict the YouTube feed to only videos that you have vetted and selected, but if you haven’t then I would avoid it entirely in the early years.

To conclude, I think to answer my title question, is the tablet computer a tool of the devil, with regards to young children, the answer is yes, it has the real potential to be, but you can circumvent the devils tactics with some attention to the details. With close supervision and restrictions you can hopefully use it to your ends, and not fall into the manipulation.

In post script, I think it’s important to ask why we are blaming screens when we should be blaming the conditions that we have to live in that mean that we need to use them as a babysitter (because that is basically what they are): long hours of paid work, plus housework that all takes place in isolated or nuclear or single parent families with no, or little, daily support networks. What we can try to do is to organise more co-parenting where groups of parents or family members get together and parent several children together, sharing the labour of parenting, housework and even the takings from paid work. But that’s another blog post.

Post post script, I’ve since had further dealings with kids-oriented YouTube videos and I have more to say about their sinister nature. Another blog post to follow.

*Oh no, we thought it was gone for good, how we were mistaken…

**I’m not going to hyperlink it, look it up yourself if you care (dare?) enough to go down this road

***Oh ho. The dynamic has shifted again and it creeps back in. You have to click ‘follow’ to hear what happened next.

What is Work?

‘You are not working at the moment then?’ I was recently asked. This is probably something that makes most stay-at-home-mums wince, as you are working so hard on a daily basis you literally fall asleep in your dinner. As a couple who are ‘not currently working’ but raising a toddler ‘on the road’, this question prompted a wider discussion between my partner and I about what is work and, perhaps more explicitly, what is work that is valued?

I’ve written a blog post about how it’s almost impossible to be lazy travelling with a toddler in a campervan, as alongside the work that’s involved in travelling (route planning, driving, packing and unpacking), parenting and daily survival tasks take up the entirety of two adults’ time, and we are still knackered at the end of every day.

However, while we feel like we are constantly cleaning and tidying up in the van, we find we interact with the task more, and appreciate the work done because it becomes our daily focus. When you have children it feels like all you are doing most of the time is cleaning and tidying anyway. However, having to fit paid work in around childrearing and these daily survival tasks makes these tasks feel like ‘extra’ chores rather than what we should focus on. When daily survival tasks feel like extra chores we rush them, we cut corners, we eat badly, the environment suffers (‘I haven’t got time to think about it!’) and we feel unsatisfied, harassed, overburdened.

Alternatively we don’t do these daily survival tasks at all: we outsource them. As I did when I worked a fifty hour week. We work so long we have such little time for child-rearing or cooking and cleaning that we subcontract all or some of these tasks to childminders, cleaners and restaurants. We are then unavoidably alienated from these basic survival activities.

189FACA8-3E27-488D-AA71-406C905CC06FWith life on the road we have found those daily chores become our life: preparing food, cooking, washing up, sweeping, making beds, airing furnishings, washing the vehicle and vehicle maintenance, washing the baby, hanging out laundry, washing and grooming ourselves when we find campsites with showers. In London I outsourced every single one of these tasks, I even tended to outsource grooming: with routine visits to beauticians for hair cuts, waxing, pedicure, massage.

When daily survival chores are done by us for us, we focus on them, we appreciate them, we take pride in experiencing them and perfecting the skills involved.

This takes me to a wider connected point about parenting. These daily survival activities are not only appreciated more but they are also the daily activities that our son sees us doing, emulates and takes part in. img_3856Without even knowing it, he is learning to cook, how to clean, how to clean and dry clothes. Not only is he learning how to do these tasks in a very real way, moreover he is learning that these tasks exist rather than them being hidden, as they are when they are outsourced. Nor is he learning them in a synthesised way that he might do at nursery (using a pretend washing machine or cutting pretend plastic vegetables).

That’s not to mention he is learning the other tasks that are routinely necessary for surviving Van Life such as filling up the water tank, charging the batteries, emptying the grey waste and the toilet. All these tasks connect us to, and remind us of, our water use, energy consumption and our waste in a way that house dwelling, again, alienates. (More on this in another blog piece).

Of course not everyone has the ability to focus on these tasks because not everyone is able to get away from doing paid work. This is not an attempt to say that we are doing a better job of parenting than anyone else. I think what I want to do is draw attention to the way that capitalism devalues these tasks (which are of course of great value and necessity to us) while valorising paid work, which is in the interests of capital.

Feminist writers have drawn widespread attention to the devaluation of domestic work in the home, referred to as the ‘second shift’ (clearly highlighting its secondary place). However feminist ‘answers’ have usually focused on:
a) giving women equal access to the ‘first shift’ of paid work, and
b) attempting to raise the status of domestic work as akin to the importance of paid work
Rather, perhaps, what we should all be doing is challenging the very notion that paid work is a necessary, useful or desirable pursuit for any of us.

Survival or specialisation?

what do we want for the next generation?

As I was growing up, I never had to do any chores or anything to help in the home. No washing up, no laundry, no cleaning, no cooking. The most I did was take my plate to the kitchen when I’d finished my dinner. At my dad’s house he expected us to offer to wash up (that’s polite) but we rarely actually did it. My mum’s reasoning was that she wanted us to focus on our school homework, so she didn’t want us to be distracted with chores. My mum’s goal was for us to have a good education and for that to give us the best opportunities in life. Her approach certainly worked for these purposes: my sister and I both worked and studied hard and got excellent academic results. I guess what my mum’s approach enabled us to do was to specialise – it has enabled us both to access good careers but neither of us can cook and we are embarrassingly undomesticated. Furthermore, my partner says if I was left to fend for myself in the wild I wouldn’t last two minutes. He’s right.

In the context of 1980s feminism and rising possibilities for social mobility, my mum’s focus on her daughter’s education was an understandable goal. But what are our goals now, today, in 2018? Do we want our son to specialise on his one career? My partner certainly doesn’t want that. He wants our son to be self-sufficient; an ‘all-rounder’; multi-skilled; survivalist.

Is not the era of specialisation dead anyway? There are no more ‘jobs for life’. Most people, we are told, will have three or four different careers in their lifetime. We are told we need to be ‘Entrepreneurial’ – adaptable, flexible. As a parent, what’s the best way to achieve that for a child? Should we be raising our children to be flexible to the needs of capitalism; to be able to adapt and survive in an ever-changing technologically advancing job market? Or do we want to bring up our children to be able to survive, to know themselves, to feed their basic needs, when all this melts away?img_3694

In my research on the London middle classes, we found parents who talked about ‘global travel’ as a kind of ‘cultural capital’ for their kids, an experience that they can ‘cash in’ for a university place or a job. In my experience, the middle classes always talk in this way: searching for ways to capitalise on something. (This is not their fault but the system). I hate to think of our travels with our son in this instrumental way. And I know my partner doesn’t. But I am burdened with a sociological knowledge and understanding, which is just that: a burden, that prevents you from just being. How can you know ‘game theory’ and not apply it, right?

So I guess it’s what you do with that knowledge. We want to think beyond the instrumental. To provide our children with the (multi) skills to be of value in the community, rather than be of value to an employer; to share skills rather than compete for them. When we are deciding what to teach the next generation, what to guide them to study, we want to always hold in mind ‘what is of value to the community?’ (I.e. all of us) rather than ‘what gets them ahead in the rat race?’.