Chaotic housekeeping, as described by Jane Austen

From Mansfield Park by Jane Austen: this description of Fanny Price’s mother would perhaps be entirely true-to-life of many harassed, hard-up mothers today.

“Mrs. Price was not unkind… Her days were spent in a kind of slow bustle; all was busy without getting on, always behindhand and lamenting it, without altering her ways; wishing to be an economist, without contrivance or regularity; dissatisfied with her servants, without skill to make them better, and whether helping, or reprimanding, or indulging them, without any power of engaging their respect.

“Of her two sisters, Mrs. Price very much more resembled Lady Bertram than Mrs. Norris. She was a manager by necessity, without any of Mrs. Norris’s inclination for it, or any of her activity. Her disposition was naturally easy and indolent, like Lady Bertram’s; and a situation of similar affluence and do-nothingness would have been much more suited to her capacity than the exertions and self-denials of the one which her imprudent marriage had placed her in. She might have made just as good a woman of consequence as Lady Bertram, but Mrs. Norris would have been a more respectable mother of nine children on a small income.

“Much of all this Fanny could not but be sensible of. She might scruple to make use of the words, but she must and did feel that her mother was a partial, ill-judging parent, a dawdle, a slattern, who neither taught nor restrained her children, whose house was the scene of mismanagement and discomfort from beginning to end, and who had no talent, no conversation, no affection towards herself; no curiosity to know her better, no desire of her friendship, and no inclination for her company that could lessen her sense of such feelings.”

FWIW, one of the main themes of Mansfield Park is choosing the right spouse. Mrs Morris, Fanny’s aunt married a vicar and was comfortably well off, but had no children. As Austen suggests, had she married Mr Price, she would have risen to the challenge of a relatively small income, and her busy-body interference would have been used to the advantage of her children. I suspect that her eldest child may well have been brought up at Mansfield Park with Sir Thomas Bertram and wife, but with plenty of advice on how to better her situation.

She’s just had a baby, of course she’s got a bump!

Yesterday, when I saw the footage of Kate Middleton leaving hospital as a proud new mother, I was very pleased to see she still had a bump.  It is perfectly normal for new mothers to still have a definite bump, and it was great that hers was so visible.

I was therefore slightly incensed to read on Twitter that both Sky news and OK magazine (and no doubt other media as well) were wondering why she still looked pregnant.  She still looked pregnant, because she’s a real woman who had a baby yesterday.

Why back when I had little’uns, baby magazines all warned that you would still be wearing maternity clothes for a while after the birth: they suggested that you allow as long as it took to grow a baby before worrying about your figure. It would change whether you exercised or not.

At one point, I regularly went to a parent’n’toddler group, a playschool, and a primary school.  One day, for no particular reason, I can remember looking at the shapes of the women in the three different places.

At the Parent and Toddler group (children aged from 0 to 3) the overall impression was of ‘lumpy’ women.  Big bellies, wide hips, big boobs: these were women who had given birth relatively recently and their bodies showed it.

This contrasted with the women of the playschool, where the children were between three and five years old.  The women were rounded and perhaps a bit plumper than average, but their figures were less awkward then the new mothers of the toddler group.

By the time the mother’s children had reached primary school, the mothers’ figures looked normal.  Not lumpy, not particularly plump, just fairly normal.

Of course this was not a study to find how women’s bodies changed with time after pregnancy, just looking at a cross-section of normal women from one area of one normal town.  Although some of them may have embarked on years of dieting and exercise, others had just left their bodies to reshape naturally, but there was a definite progression.

Kate has now got a post-pregnancy body.  As an icon, she influences women and how they feel: and she has now shown the world that the mother’s of one-day old babies still have bumps.

It would be great if the media allow her to have a post-pregnancy body: it would be great if she doesn’t try to get it back to a pre-pregnancy flatness too quickly, to allow all the other women (and men) she influences to see that a post-pregnancy bump is normal.

And there is another good reason for her to want to stay a little rounder than normal for a little longer than the average celebrity. All the time she has a little bump, it will be harder for royal watchers to notice when or if baby number 2 is on the way…

Looking back, ten years ago,

A bit of history: the post I made to mark ten years on usenet

Path: archiver1.google.com!news1.google.com!newsfeed.stanford.edu!news-spur1.maxwell.syr.edu!news.maxwell.syr.edu!newsfeed.icl.net!newsfeed.fjserv.net!colt.net!diablo.theplanet.net!mephistopheles.news.clara.net!news.clara.net!landlord!wards.force9.net.POSTED!gaines.plus.com!nobody
From: Penny Gaines <pe…@gaines.plus.com>
Subject: Ten years on usenet
Newsgroups: misc.kids
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Message-ID: <s3s6eb.da3.ln@gaines.plus.com>
Date: Sat, 05 Jul 2003 17:54:37 +0000
NNTP-Posting-Host: 212.56.67.99
X-Complaints-To: abuse@plus.net.uk
X-Trace: wards.force9.net 1057429431 212.56.67.99 (Sat, 05 Jul 2003 19:23:51 BST)
NNTP-Posting-Date: Sat, 05 Jul 2003 19:23:51 BST
Organization: Customer of PlusNet

It is ten years ago today since I posted my first usenet message.

I’ve been here since the days when usenet was almost exclusively for
universities and high-tech firms, when my company was unusual for using
email, and even techies didn’t know what the www in certain URLs stood
for. Back then the accepted wisdom was no-one could archive every news
posting, but even then the pre-curser to the pre-curser of google was
saving them. I can’t tell you what the web was like, because it was
still being invented.

I’d found newsgroups, not by using a newsreader, but by looking at
different files on the computer system of my new job, and wondering just
what were these files with names like /var/spool/news/misc/kids/1546.
(Worth noting that the employees of this company were expected to do
this sort of thing: anyone who would only use the proper software
to look at a file would not have a job there.)

My first post was about vi, the unix text editor, which I still use by
choice.

I didn’t post to misc.kids until December that year, when I was pregnant.
Back then, mk was the only group for pregnancy, breastfeeding and
childcare.

The posters on mk really influenced my parenting. For instance, I knew
“breast was best” and I like the idea of exclusive breastfeeding, but
I thought it wasn’t something ordinary mothers like me could do. But
there were ordinary women in mk who had done it, so I learnt I might
be able to. And I did. The biggest thing I learnt was that every child
is different, and I was given the confidence to trust myself, not the
experts who had written books.I hope I’ve been able to help other, newer
parents just like I was helped myself.

I’ve got the t-shirt (my yougest still just fits into her “I’m a misc.kid”
one), and a photoalbum, even a fridge magnet.

The great thing about mk is it survives and adapts. It is a different
newsgroup now to what it was them, but thriving in a different way.
It has gone downhill at least twice, sufficiently badly for me to either
unsubscribe, or nearly unsubscribe. And both times it has re-vitalised
itself. I love it for being so open: it wants new people to come along
and wants to adapt to them. I hope it continues to adapt, continues to be
aviable newsgroup.

At one particularly low spot for mk, I got involved in the creation team
for mkm – a group that has developed into yet another different newsgroup.
I’m very proud of what I helped to create (although it is the moderators
who are doing the hard part now: merely creating it was relatively easy.)

So, I suppose I’m an old-timer now (but to me old-timers were around
before the “great renaming”, not before “the endless September”). I just
hope I don’t start saying “in my day, things were better”, I hope I
continue to see that people who have only just started on the internet
may have good ideas and ways of doing things that are better then the
old ways.

And I hope I’m still on usenet to post my twentieth anniversary message.


Penny Gaines
UK mum to three
PS I wanted to crosspost to mkm, but my system is playing up, so I’ve
had to send two copies.

First Usenet post

Twenty years ago, I made my first usenet post:

Newsgroups: comp.editors,alt.fan.warlord
Path: gmd.de!newsserver.jvnc.net!howland.reston.ans.net!spool.mu.edu!uunet!pipex!uknet!root44!penny
From: pe…@root.co.uk (Penny Gaines)
Subject: Re: Demystifying vi one step further..
Message-ID: <C9p2ux.7JA@root.co.uk>
Organization: UniSoft Ltd., London, England
References: <1993Jun29.163526.19829@Celestial.COM> <37929@castle.ed.ac.uk> <1993Jul01.161714.15055@Celestial.COM> <1993Jul2.210933.17371@ucsu.Colorado.EDU>
Date: Mon, 5 Jul 1993 13:59:19 GMT
Lines: 24

In <1993Jul2.210933.17…@ucsu.Colorado.EDU> cro…@ucsu.Colorado.EDU (Matthew Crosby) writes:

>Ok. Why is dd delete line? Wouldn’t dl be better? Is it just because dd is
>fast to type? Does anyone know.

>-Matt cro…@cs.colorado.edu

dl will delete to next character left, but most people use its fast form, ‘x’.

In commands that process text that character twice acts on the whole line –
hence dd, cc, yy.

In vi you can combine any command that processes text (e.g. c,d,y)
with any command that moves the cursor (e.g. l, M, w).

Once you realise this (i.e. so you can use it without thinking about it), you will
realise one of the reasons why vi is so powerful. For the record, when deleting
the stuff in your posting I used d} and d4L, to delete most of the extraneous stuff.

Penny Gaines

It was almost a throwaway comment

It was almost a throwaway comment, but sometimes even throwaway comments cause ripples.

In an article on HS2 for Engineering and Technology magazine, I concluded

One option would be government support to decarbonise the electricity industry. Many people think that a better use for the money would be to build a world-class digital infrastructure in Britain. If it’s transport the government wants to build, we could start putting in place the infrastructure needed to make electric cars – possibly driverless – a real option.

But for all their romance, modern railways are essentially updated versions of 19th century technology. So, I’d say, cancel HS2 and build new infrastructure that looks forward to the future, not back.

As far as I’m aware, no-one else had previously suggested electric cars as a HS2 alternative, but in some ways they are very obvious.  They clearly need an infrastructure network, but that is appearing already, with supermarkets putting in charging points, as well as car parks in places like Milton Keynes.

As to driverless cars, again that is being discussed at length, mentioned on BBC Click, and in other places as well.

Having been first to mention electric cars as an alternative to HS2, I was gratified to see Allister Heath’s article in the Telegraph today: HS2 is already obsolete, David Cameron should be preparing the UK for self-driving cars. It would be nice to think that Allister read my article, allowed the ideas to permeate, and then wrote the Telegraph article.

Or maybe it’s just the zeitgeist of the times.

Read my article for E&T magazine here

The real digital revolution is yet to come

A post on Next Gen journal – Why Every Social Media Manager Should Be Under 25 – crossed my radar recently. The title summarises the viewpoint of the article: that unless you were a teenager when Facebook began, you are way too out of it to be a social media director.

She’s wrong of course: social media is about the social side of things, not the medium. People are people, whether they are using usenet, or the latest incarnation of facebook. It is in some senses rather amazing that what I learnt about internet debating on usenet, using text based programs like tin, are the same skills that I use when debating from a tablet computer on Twitter.

She’s also wrong, because she can remember when she heard about Facebook: it’s not always existed for her. So some of her ideas about relationships were already set when she signed up for her first social media account.

She is also wrong in thinking that social media is all about her (generation). Of course it isn’t: older people use it, and not just as a way of communicating between businesses and youth. The ways a 40-something will interact with another 40-something may be just as relevant to a social media director, as how two teenagers interact. And lets face it, many people – whether a grandparent in their 80s, or a 40-something like me – use social media tools to connect socially.

But she’s right to have seen that the way people think will be different in the future.

Of course her generation will change things a bit: I’ve said in interviews on a number of occasions that by the time HS2 is due to open in 2026, the teenagers who grew up with facebook will take those ways of working into their careers and expect to interact with business associates completely differently to present day managers.

It won’t be her generation though who “can best predict, execute, and utilize the finest developments to come”, and possibly not even the sixth graders who “know nothing other than Timeline”.

It’s going to be the people whose mums used twitter to announce their pregnancy and whose dads first showed their baby pics on Facebook. They won’t remember first encountering the internet, it will just have been around their entire life.

A thought on the Granny Tax

There has been much said about the so-called Granny Tax.

But all the commentators I’ve read have failed to mention is that there was already a ticking time-bomb with age related allowances.

Currently, the age related personal allowances kick in at the same time a man can get their state pension – currently 65. However, that state pension age is not fixed, and will gradually start to rise in a few years time. If it’s your 58th birthday today (22nd March) you will reach the state pension age on the 6th September 2019, when you are 65 years, 5 months and 15 days old.

So would you have got the age related allowance for nearly 6 months when you were working? Or would you have had to wait for state retirement age?

Both options would have been messy for calculating tax. And both options would have had some inherent unfairness.

It was probably sensible for the chancellor to announce something sooner rather then later, but whether this was the right option is an entirely different question.

On the other hand, if you are a women in your forties, your state pension age has increased several times over your working life. And the date you can start to receive private pensions – where you invested your own money – has also increased.