Making mayo and other life lessons

When I was 15 I started my first diet. I was a little chubby maybe, curvaceous perhaps, even voluptuous (as one male friend described when I was staring at a depressed looking salad from the school canteen and complaining my jeans were too tight to eat chips). But I grew up in the era of heroin chic; a young Kate Moss was the ideal of female beauty, and my boobs were eminently unfashionable. Yes! Boobs can be unfashionable- Vogue said so. Not old enough to know better, I bought into this idealisation, and accepted that because I couldn’t meet the standards set by the magazines of the time (Just 17, Belle, even the occasional Cosmo) I was ultimately a flawed human being who would never ever be considered beautiful. All of this was, of course, utter bollocks. But it surprisingly difficult to get rid of these insecurities. I can still stand in front of the mirror for multiple outfit changes before leaving the house; sometimes I even think about not leaving the house. Objectively, this is ridiculous. I am a healthy weight, a healthy dress size, fit and I even have a little muscle tone here and there. I can do more than run for a bus and I can lift weights somewhat heavier than myself. But there is always that little voice that whispers (and occasionally shouts). I have mostly learned to tell it when it needs to shut up, occasionally over compensate, and sometimes I give in and where the baggiest clothes ever.

What the has this got to do with mayonnaise? I hear you ask politely, while in your head screaming get to the point, you insecure bint. The point is that just like my boobs where hugely unfashionable while growing up, so was mayonnaise- in my house anyway (and I wanted a rant about media based insecurity). Putting mayonnaise on your salad was the equivalent of saying I am really, really, really trying to be unhealthy here. Oddly the same did not apply if you wanted to make a pastie barm- this is a particular northern delight which is essentially a pie sandwich. The difference is that now, I am better at quieting the insecure voices and I am also going to eat all the mayonnaise I like, and never (well probably), eat a pastie barm.

Home-made mayo is delicious, takes about 5 minutes and adds an element of luxury to anything I eat with it. I particularly love to dip parsnip chips in it. It is also really versatile. Once you have your basic mayo, then you can add any flavours you like.

My mayo recipe is based on an amalgamation of Whole30 mayo and creamy sauce recipes. I make it in my magi mix food processor and it has never failed me yet.

1 warm egg (I put mine in a bowl of hot water for a few minutes)

1 dessert spoon of red wine vinegar

½ tsp. of salt

A couple of pinches of cayenne pepper.

1 tsp. Onion granules (if you like)

1 tsp. Garlic granules (if you like)

150ml of light Olive oil.

Put all the ingredients (except the oil) into the mixer and blast for a few seconds. Then, while the mixer is mixing, slowly, very slowly, like a tortoise moving through treacle slowly, add the oil. Do NOT panic if it doesn’t thicken immediately. If you add the oil slowly enough, then it will by the end.

Once all the oil is in, you should have a thick and creamy mayonnaise ready to use there and then, or to put into little pots to use each day.

The next step is to lick the bowl. You will want to and that is ok. Good fats right?

 

Everyday Sexism

I posted something on my facebook page. I thought it was fairly innocuous- two quotes from two women about what they think feminism is, essentially equality for women. I posted it because it is important to me to demonstrate that feminism is not how it is often portrayed. I identify as a feminist because I think women all over the world deserve equality that they do not have.

The first response from a male friend was to say that one of the women was hot. The second response from the same man was something along the lines of I bet she’s a goer. I found these comments upsetting, although sadly predictable. I replied asking him not to make such comments, I didn’t find them funny or clever. I had tried to be polite, but telling someone they are not funny or clever really isn’t very polite. But then neither is trying to dismiss someone’s argument by diminishing them through overtly sexual comments.

The response was another man saying he did find it funny, and then dismissing the views expressed in the quotes by saying we all know feminism isn’t about equality anymore and women are leaving it in droves. Someone else asked for evidence of this. I am not sure there is evidence of this, but I doubt I would be able to provide evidence that women are joining feminist movements either. There is immense difficulty in measuring either of these positions in a valid or reliable way. So I asked him not to bother. He said he was merely responding to a request for evidence. I don’t think that is what was really happening. Consciously or unconsciously he was dismissing the views of two women based on conjecture. Even if other women, people, believe that feminism is something else, to argue that “we all know” dismisses the views of these two women, dismisses their experience. It’s a form of suppression. I understand that it might seem like I am taking this too seriously, but when this forms many of your experiences, it starts to become tedious when they are consistently dismissed, by people who will never experience this.

The next morning I woke up to a response from the original man accusing me of lacking a sense of humour, posting incessantly about feminism, posting on a public forum and so I should expect ridicule. The point of his post was to introduce some light hearted banter to the issue. My response in asking him not to post in such a was disappointingly reminiscent of militant feminism.

I am not sure either of these men really thought about what they were doing, or the implications of their behaviour or language. I don’t think they were necessarily consciously behaving like privileged pricks with an over developed sense of entitlement, but that is how it came across.

I deleted my original post.

I am feeling slightly disgusted with myself for doing so, but I was starting to feel anxious about looking at my own facebook page. That’s not right.

I could have explained that I don’t think posting something on my facebook means I should expect ridicule- actually I don’t think anybody who posts on their facebook wall is asking their friends and family to ridicule them. It might be something that invites debate, but to simply post comments that I could be expected to find offensive isn’t offering any debate. It’s just mean.

I could have engaged with the debate, tried to explain why I found those comments offensive. But having tried to explain similar things to this guy before, I felt like I would be wasting my time; I wondered whether I would just be feeding the troll. So I didn’t.

The response indicated I was behaving like a militant, as though this is a bad thing when you are arguing for equal rights. I don’t think it is, but militant feminist was intended as an insult. Maybe I should just be quiet and look at kittens and flowers or something.

My incessant posting? If you don’t like reading what I post then you have several options- block me or unfollow me. You don’t have to try and silence me by being offensive and then exacerbating that offence by telling me I should be finding your comments funny. This argument seems to simply underline the fact he wants me to shut up, to stop posting things about feminism. I can’t say exactly why, but I can’t stop myself making the assumption that it is because these postings make him uncomfortable in some way.

This has really got under my skin. I think it is because it was such a stereotypical example of efforts to silence a view without engaging with it. And it came from a friend.

And he has shut me up. For now.

 

Post-script: A few days later the original guy tagged me in a post in which a woman described her fear of arriving home in her car to find a strange man outside her house with a ladder. She reversed away from the house and called her husband. He laughed and said there were workmen arriving to clean the gutters and she burst into tears because she was scared; because her husband didn’t understand that this would be a scary situation. She didn’t know how to approach a strange man without knowing whether she would be under attack. The original guy explained he hadn’t realised that women feel like this about all men they don’t know, that they have to, that because individual men see themselves as nice guys it is really hard to understand when women don’t understand how nice they are.

I see this is progress. But there is a sense of entitlement that comes with being able to dismiss others’ experience because you don’t experience it. I don’t want to fear all men, but I know that I certainly can’t trust all the men and so the safest bet is not to trust any. Many insidious arguments are used to dismiss the experiences of people, many were used in this exchange. Maybe it is one person at a time who changes.

Wellbeing

So what is it?

Health, happiness and prosperity?

The ability to deal with life’s challenges?

Maslow would argue it is the ability to achieve self-actualisation, before which, many much more basic needs must be met.

Jahoda: positive attitude towards the self; self-actualisation; autonomy; resistance to stress; environmental mastery; accurate perception of reality.

Well Jahoda, you do get full credit for high expectations and aspirational targets.

I’ll be discussing these ideas in more detail in another blog; first I have some stuff to get off my chest. Each year teacher wellbeing is raised as a concern. The consequences of ignoring wellbeing are clear- burnout, teacher shortage, increased sickness and absence, poor teaching; the list could go on. Wellbeing is key to good teaching; it is a cliché but you cannot pour from an empty cup. You cannot deal with the emotional intensity of teaching a standard classroom teacher time table unless your own cup is full- and it probably shouldn’t be full of gin on a Monday night, especially if it is a pint glass (that is for Friday). Teachers have an individual responsibility to manage their own wellbeing, to be kind to themselves and others, and to recognise when they are reaching the edge. So far, so good. Nobody wants to behave like a twat towards themselves continuously. But sometimes, the individual is overwhelmed by systemic issues that prevent people doing the very things they know will help.

For me this half term is UCAS season, and it is an utter fucking bitch. Students who still have to ask to use the bathroom are making decisions that could be some of the most important in their lives; understandably they are anxious, angry, confused and inconsistent. In practical terms this means many one to one meetings, tears, re-writes, discussions, parental confrontations (for them), parental conversations (for me) and lots of other time consuming and emotionally consuming events. I get to work at 6.30am and I work continuously- maybe a break for lunch- by which I mean I don’t talk and eat at the same time, but I perfect the ability to type one handed. In emotional terms it means I am carrying the projected anxiety and anger, stress and concerns of about 15 teenagers, plus those who have decided they want to share the burden amongst every teacher they know. I have applied for 15 different subjects at universities I will never go to, and I am panicking about potential offers. This week I have hit the edge; physically and mentally, and thank fuckfully there is only one of my tutor group left to finish his UCAS statement. I have been buried within myself emotionally, and struggling to sleep; when I do I have crazy intense dreams- I woke up on Monday convinced I had booked flights to America that I could neither afford, nor use as they weren’t in holiday time. All of these extra things (like ucas) hang around the normal expectations of a classroom teacher- planning, teaching, marking, meetings, one to ones with vulnerable students, cpd and again the list goes on. I know next week is half-term, that I am celebrating the university offers my students are already achieving, that going to the gym and kick boxing the shit out of my personal trainer was a really great thing to do. I really am trying to take care of my own shit.

But what about systemic issues with wellbeing- what does the school do? Last year wellbeing was on the agenda. This year it is not. I don’t know whether that is because we don’t need to think about anymore because everybody has wellbeing, or whether we just don’t care anymore. What I do know is, that despite being on the agenda for a year, and having a group of staff ‘researching’ it; the only suggestion they seemed to come up with was tea and coffee and Costco pastries available from 8.30 am in the staffroom. Not everyday mind you, only on cpd days.

Well that’s solved all my problems. Thanks a fucking bunch. It’s not even good coffee; it tastes like they mixed the dregs of an ashtray with substandard coffee and poured it over lukewarm dogends. And I don’t eat pastries. So my wellbeing is taken care of by me bringing my own coffee and my own breakfast. Um?

So what would enable my wellbeing at work? What systemic changes could be made that would actually enable teachers to take care of their wellbeing, fill their cup if you will?

That’s for the next blog and other wellbeing related subjects are for another blog. I have gin to drink.

 

 

The Hierarchy Triptych: this is the first of three pictures

“They fuck you up, your mum and dad.

They may not mean to, but they do.

They fill you with the faults they had

And add some extra, just for you.

But they were fucked up in their turn…”

Philip Larkin

Repetition Compulsion: we are compelled to repeat the patterns of our early relationships, regardless of how unhealthy this might be. We repeat these patterns in our friendships, our romantic relationships and even in our working relationships.

This concept comes from the psychodynamic perspective in psychology, where childhood determines our adult personality and behaviour. While many Freudian assumptions have been dismissed as baseless fantasy, misogynistic or scientifically unfalsifiable, we should not dismiss an entire school of thought. In many ways the ideas of the psychodynamic perspective have been reformed and re-stated to fit into new psychological paradigms.

According to the tenets of sociology our primary socialisation occurs within the family. It is where we learn how to behave towards other people, and how they will behave towards us. In psychodynamic psychology, the relationships we have with our parents define our personalities, our needs, desires and how we respond to others as adults. Our childhood is our destiny, and we consistently repeat the patterns we learn as children with all other people we encounter. Unconsciously we reproduce emotions and patterns of behaviour with others, and we receive similar feedback that reinforces these responses. In this we move from the psychodynamic approach to the behaviourist. We can also get a little bit cognitive here. Cognitive psychologists might argue that what we have developed are relationship schemas- expectations of how events will occur based on our previous experiences. In this case the patterns of our expectations are reinforced because we only really pay attention to the evidence that fits in to our expected patterns. They colour our interpretation of someone’s behaviour towards us, and if something happens that doesn’t fit, then we might adjust our schema. However, it is more likely we will reinterpret until it matches our schema, or simply dismiss it. It will not be remembered. From any of these perspectives the lesson is that we will replay our family relationships like a Mobius strip.

While we might love our parents, appreciate them and feel secure in their affection, we must remember that parents are people too. They are not perfect, they have made mistakes or perhaps simply done something very normal, but incomprehensible to a child, that left you at times feeling rejected and abandoned. Perhaps it was the time they first left you at school and you didn’t know they would return to pick you up because they had never left you alone in a room of strangers before, or it could have been the time you were ‘lost’ in the supermarket and when you found them again they shouted at you for running away; when you knocked over your glass of orange juice and you were shouted at, even though it was an accident. I hope that there are not more deep seated reasons for your inner child to scream and shout its feelings of abandonment, but we all have those moments. For me, the moment I recall happened on GCSE results day. My results weren’t good enough. The A I got in History was evidence of my lack of application- yes I got an A. But it wasn’t an A*. This crystallised a nagging fear I had been carrying with me since I was very small- without my academic achievements I was not worthy of love and affection. Now my parents weren’t abusive at all. But they were ambitious for me, and education was hugely important to them- for my dad he was the first person in his family to go to university and he had a quality of life and income that had been undreamed of by his parents. Conversely, my mum hadn’t valued her own education at all, until, she felt, far too late. They were both determined I would benefit from the education available, and everything they could do to support me. They built my cultural capital, they bought me all the books, and they hired a tutor when it seemed my primary school wasn’t teaching the maths that their friends’ children were learning. When I was academically successful I was rewarded with smiles and hugs. I never really failed academically, but the fear of failure loomed large. And with this came pressure and perfectionism. This is something that I have carried with me throughout my life; often an unrecognised and unacknowledged burden. A burden placed with the best of intentions because my parents came with their burdens and experiences.

It means that when I feel that I have fallen short of expectations, if I am not judged as perfect, then my world starts to fall apart emotionally. It means that the standards I set for myself are much higher than those I set for anybody else; when I would offer others compassion and understanding, I only give myself criticism and dismissal. While I clearly recognise this potential strength, and potentially dangerous weakness in myself, I must recognise that others cannot see my inner self. We all hold the illusion of transparency- that people can see much more of our internal thought process than is possible, and we expect them to behave accordingly. However, they can’t. We can’t. They know nothing of our psychological triggers and we are usually unable to recognise theirs. It means that in our working relationships we may well be abusing someone’s inner child unintentionally, and their reactions will be unconsciously reminiscent of a screaming toddler, unable to communicate their hurt and anger to what we have just said or done.

This doesn’t just happen in our personal relationships, but in our working relationships. When we interact with colleagues, we are not two value free Vulcan like automatons, but people who have our schemas, our learned responses and an abandoned and angry inner child. All of these things will colour our reactions and responses. In schools, I think this may be particularly true. We work within a very clearly defined (and often patriarchal) hierarchy. This is familiar family territory. Our parents (SLT) tell us what to do and what not to do. We conform or we are punished. But, SLT were fucked up at some point by someone else, so they too hug their inner child very close and hope that each interaction will not hurt it, will not trigger a tantrum.

What can we do? Recognise our own schema, understand why our inner child cries and check our learned responses. Are any of these appropriate anymore? Understand that we might be the trigger for the tantrum in someone else and try to reflect on our behaviour accordingly.

The Middle Triptych: Who the fuck are you to tell me what to do?

Whole30 Day30: why does it feel like an anti-climax?

Today should be a day for celebration right? I did it! Well, barring falling face first into a bucket of donuts and wine with my mouth open in the next few hours, I did it. I managed a month without alcohol, gluten, grains, dairy, legumes and soy. I probably listed those in order of importance didn’t I? I was going to write about the NSV’s, the leaner, fitter me and the demons I might have conquered on the way, but that’s not how it has turned out. But I did it! So why am I not celebrating? It all feels like an anti-climax to be honest. I was expecting to be feeling great, happy and proud but instead I feel depressed, worried, sick and anxious.

I started today in the urgent care walk in centre. I have had a cough for about five weeks now, and it has ebbed and flowed in its severity, but last night while on my own, I had a few ‘attacks’ where I didn’t feel I would ever breathe again. It was so hard to suck air into my lungs that it was audible, probably about a mile away. I obviously survived and regained control of my breathing but it was horrible. So this morning, I skipped work (with the kindness, grace and care of my colleagues who covered me) and went to the urgent care centre. I waited for a bit, saw someone, waited again and saw someone else. I was diagnosed with a chest infection and given antibiotics and told to rest up, keep hydrated and take painkillers as necessary. It wasn’t the kick ass finish I wanted for today. I wanted to be seeing my students, going to the gym and ending on a high. We don’t always get what we want.

Do we?

The other thing that is stopping me celebrating is the current state of the UK. I am grieving for the result of the referendum. I am heartbroken at the rise in racist attacks, bemused at the backtracking from promises to possibilities, fearful of the lack of leadership from those who ‘won’, and scared by the uncertainty. Zimbardo famously carried out what has come to be known as the Stanford Prison Experiment. In it he randomly assigned a sample of normal, psychologically healthy young men to either the role of guard or prisoner. He put them into a mock prison, and watched the events unfold. The story goes that the guards became increasingly sadistic, the prisoners increasingly withdrawn and psychologically disturbed, until the experiment was ended eight days earlier than planned. Zimbardo argued that we learnt that the roles we give people dictate their behaviour. Much more recently this experiment was ‘repeated’ but with different parameters. This time the guards released the prisoners and they planned to live together as a commune. This result seemed much more humanity affirming. Perhaps we had, as societies might do, made progress in how we treat each other. The guards and prisoners recognised the inherent inequality in their assigned roles and decided they would not accept it.

However, it didn’t end there. Within 24 hours came uncertainty. Not all the members of the commune were doing their jobs, some of them were lounging, expecting others to work in their place, some were demanding more of members than had originally been asked. In the early hours of the morning, in response to this, some members decided to stage a coup- they would institute an authoritarian regime and police it how they saw fit. The ethics committee watching events refused to let this situation play out, fearing psychological damage to the participants. This included those who wanted the regime and those who passively supported it. What would they think about themselves when they stepped out of the experimental situation? What would others think of them? After all, this was being filmed and shown on the BBC.

I fear that the conclusions drawn from these experiments may now be tested in the real world. That we have assigned roles to the leave and the remain sides, that those who see themselves as ‘guardians’ of Great Britain feel empowered to become more sadistic as they enforce their ideals, now seemingly with a mandate from over half of those who voted. These ideals seem to embody a racist and xenophobic dehumanisation of those ‘not like us’. Just as the prisoners in Zimbardo’s experiment were purposely dehumanised and de-individuated, and the guards were given permission to enforce their order upon others, so those ‘not like us’ are experiencing a rise in abuse both general and specifically personal. It is dangerous and it is a society of fear.

I am fearful that the uncertainty that is pulsing across the UK, Europe and the world will end with people looking for authority, for a regime that offers certainty, regardless of the conditions attached to regaining certainty, as those who are supposed to lead hesitate, refuse to take action, and make contradictory and inflammatory statements. . In the real world we cannot simple halt what is happening because we do not like how our participants are behaving, or because we fear the ethical and moral consequences of that behaviour. What can we do? Look to the research into the processes of social change, minority and majority influence to convince people to behave differently? Again, there lies uncertainty.

So my personal achievement seems small, insignificant and almost worthless in the face of the enormity of what seems to be happening around me. On the other hand, tomorrow I will be able to drown my sorrows for the first time in 30 days, and blame the shitty feeling I wake up with on a hangover. Is that a silver lining?