April Love



































Feelin the love (February 2015)

When I first started blogging hearts, I thought I’d find and receive enough to fill a blogpost in a year, easily. Instead, I’ve filled one in a month!

Here they are; the January hearts.


What a super collection! And they haven’t stopped coming.

On 31 January I set a task for my lovely Tweetmate, @HeardinLondon, currently helping circus children in Nepal, to find me the central ❤ ️for February’s collection. She had this one before the end of the day!

From @HeardinLondon

The rest of the February hearts follow here.

14 February to 28 February

I wasn’t able to blog the little stories and origins of the hearts I received in the second half of February, but they are lovely, so here they all are:

                                 14 February 2015
Who else but @kaygeeuk would start my Valentine’s Day with a ❤️? This time she’s wearing one. “It’s really tricky to take photos of your own legs.”


And she’s found one on a colleague’s desk.


A Valentine’s hashtag campaign #showthelove against climate change has filled my timeline with green-inspired ❤️ tweets, of which this solar array is the best so far.

@GoodEnergy via @Carboncoach

13 February 2015
@kaygeeuk found this on the front door of her apartment block….


…and then kept looking…


…and sharing: “I’m taking them with me and spreading the love.”


Meanwhile @RAKFoundation has been promoting #RAKWeek2015 with random acts of kindness, including this one:


And, once started, @kaygeeuk can’t be stopped (and nor would I want to try!)


I wouldn’t usually pay much attention to a Life Insurance company, but @beaglestreet sponsors The Guardian’s “Happy for Life” app, and it seems they know a thing or two about the attractions of bacon.


@SuzetteWoodward found these (I’m not quite sure in whose timeline)

Credits for finding / sharing to @CinnTreeBakery @BoroughMarket @LittlethingsLTL and @SuzetteWoodward, or course.

@daisy_spring spotted this antique being tweeted by @WrathOfGod and shared it, saying “Thought of you” (a remark which still brings me pleasure any time someone tweets it at me).

@WrathofGod via @daisy_spring

I checked out my “Heart Age” with help from Public Health England (https://www.nhs.uk/Conditions/nhs-health-check/Pages/check-your-heart-age-tool.aspx) and this reminder:


@Bonklesoul, whose gaff, Soul Mansions is even more overrun by small people than The Shoe, shared this gift from his 11yo to his 5yo.


And @Aibagawa found this “how to” video for filigree ❤️ pancakes: https://www.youtube.com/embed/ntzfUlilkH8 in @chozabell’s timeline.

It seems, if you watch a murmuration of starlings for long enough, they will spontaneously resolve into a heart-shape. This is the second murmuration of my collection. This time in Doncaster. (Last time it was Norwich).

Thanks to Susie Hayman (@sustie), @ABeautifulMind and @LeedsTed for finding and sharing.

Finally, @CarolineHastie found this at @DiscoverMag and RTd into my timeline.


12 February 2015
As Valentine’s Day approached, hearts were proliferating everywhere. @AnUnexpectedBag found this instruction video for making ❤️ shaped hard boiled eggs: https://www.youtube.com/embed/4lCAqRzMtVM

And I did some baking with 7yo in The Shoe.


11 February 2015
Look at this amazing piece of paper-folding cleverness! @AngryofAlton found it here: http://thorness.co.uk/decorative/2473-hand-folded-book-art-home.html, originally posted on a friend’s Facebook page. He said “I genuinely thought I’d opened up one of your Twitter posts by mistake.”


10 February 2015
Sometimes, a Tweetmate doesn’t send me an actual ❤️, but instead a thought, which is just as lovely!

From @seismicshed

9 February 2015
I like the way @Labourcat didn’t let Starbucks seduce her at all with this tweet full of hearts! (I tweeted that I wouldn’t be adding it to my collection, but have since thought better of it. Why not make the #starbuckspayyourtaxes point here too?)


Another Tweetmate with a great eye for a found heart is @A_BoxOfRain. This one is “Light in an alcove in tonight’s restaurant.”


And @DrLangtryGirl went on a bit of a mission. “I googled ‘Medieval Manuscript Hearts’ – quite the rabbit hole I’ve just dropped into.”

Love makes the heart sing!


8 February 2015
Writer, Kate Long (author of one of my long time faves, The Bad Mother’s Handbook) has a Twitter timeline (@volewriter) peppered with photos of wildlife she’s spotted. These ferrets aren’t strictly “wild”, though Kate said “Many ferrets I know would have your finger off soon as look at you”, but they do fit the bill for a ❤️.


7 January 2015
So, @kaygeeuk has been tweeting me potholes.

From @kaygeeuk in Ukraine

And @DrJenGunter found this pair of lovebirds (I know, not actual lovebirds). The same image had also been spotted by @SophiaGrene

Photo tweeted originally by @LaurenceGindt, then via @NebulaLights and @DrJenGunter

And @kaygeeuk went out to find more love. She said: “I pass this every work day. It’s on the step of the building next to the office.”


And also “art book for a friend’s daughter. This is in the middle.”


On a busy day for ❤️, my 12yo daughter baked cookies.


And I pinched @belugajill’s avi to add to my collection. It is a tile that she painted, which is now part of a table-top.


The finished tabletop includes another heart image too.

Here they are, in situ.


And with a week to go till Valentine’s Day, I bought a small bowl while I was out shopping, and turned it into my Twitter avatar.


5 February 2015
I do love hearts found occurring naturally, but equally, I love hearts which display real skill and craftsmanship. Like these, for example, from this amazing woodcarving studio (http://www.techeneek.co.uk/).

The beautiful work of @woodcarver_t shared by @thisismyfot

4 February 2015
It went a little quiet on the heart front between 1 and 4 February. And then Paula Doherty found this in a collection of images.

From “25 Awesome Hearts Found in Nature” via @PaulaDoherty864

And on a similarly frosty theme…this happy accident occurred in some light snow.

Thanks to @veryslomo for spotting and sharing.

Then @liveotherwise found a great example (and a perfect definition of procrastination) on Jack Monroe’s Instagram.

Picture (and herbal arrangement) by @MsJackMonroe, seen and shared by @Liveotherwise

1 February 2015

The first of these ❤️ is the most beautiful image of the day. A breathtaking find. A Tweetmate’s girlfriend had spotted it while they were out walking, and he thought to snap it and share it. Stunning.


These yin and yang cats have turned up in my timeline before, but I always like to see them again; they nestle together so perfectly. This time Alex Bellars found them. (He’s well up there on my “Tweetmates I’d love to meet” list. I recall we had a near miss in 2014. Next time we come so close to crossing paths, we must say hello!)

Via @bellaale

These ones must have been quite tricky to spot, but once you become a ❤️ hunter, you tend to see them all over the place. Whether on a pair of child’s tights…


…or in a calendar.

Published in the CountryFile calendar, shared by @A_BoxOfRain

31 January “Loose Ends”

Even after I thought the January hearts had stopped coming, I found them sneaking their way into one of my pies (baked, with contrition, by me for my DH because I forgot to get him a wedding anniversary card).


Pie and photo @itsmotherswork

And these cherries found their way into my timeline on the same day.

Shared by @wafaa008 then via @Koksalakn and @jmcefalas

Feeling the Love (January 2015)

Pic by DH. Bonfire Night 2010. Resurrected for New Year 2015.

When I first started Tweeting, my avatar was a pair of heart-shaped pancakes in a frying pan. In the years that have followed, the avi has changed regularly, but always with a ❤️ theme. After a while, people started spotting, snapping and sending me examples of their own found hearts. In the last year, particularly, I’ve started collecting these and swapping them in as new avatars when they seem especially fitting. But I sometimes lose track of who has sent me what, and when.

Then a friend, K, all the way from Ukraine, tweeted me this on New Year’s Eve.


How lovely it is that when Tweetmates see hearts they might think of me! My aim this year, then, is to collect all the hearts sent to me (and the ones I find myself) in one place, whether I use them as avis or not. And if they come with a story, to tell that story.

I wonder how many there will be by the end of the year?

31 January 2015

Today is a special day in The Shoe. This year DH and I have been married 17 years. ❤️❤️❤️ are all around, even when we’re doing chores, like polishing our posh shoes.

Shoes polished by DH, arranged by 9yo, photo by @itsmotherswork

29 January 2015

@kaygeeuk, who is a regular ❤️finder, spotted this one on the avi of another Twitter account. Who could resist an emergency giraffe?

@emergencygiraff via @kaygeeuk

27 January 2015

One of my offline friends sent me this via Facebook. She’d found it on a Tumblr site. Her own Twitter name is a hidden ❤️.

Via @paperheartcrafts

25 January 2015

This one is subtle, but once you’ve spotted it, so very beautiful. “Starling murmuration over Chapelfield – looks like the love #Norwich.” tweeted Martin George.

By @geomr via @Psycho_Claire

Alex Bellars found this one on Instagram, posted there by blackse, who said: “Cheeky gave me this heart shaped crisp and told me she loved me.” Very cute.

By @Dr_Black (http://about.me/sueblack) via @bellaale

24 January 2015

Not all ❤️ are tweeted at me. Some just show up in my timeline as Tweetmates share them for other reasons.
This one, for example, was tweeted on the #6Csy hashtag, which relates to the 6Cs of healthcare; core health & care values. These are: care, compassion, competence, communication, courage, commitment.

Via @proudtonurse

I do wonder though whether I’ve slightly influenced what @A_BoxOfRain sees on his travels, as he RTd both of these images in quick succession.

Via @DreamHouseX and @A_BoxOfRain

Via @VictRORI, @amooona3asal and @A_BoxOfRain

These cupcakes had been tweeted by @sweettoothmarti and then spotted and drawn to my attention by @jmcefalas. Credit for them actually goes to @poppyscupcakes


By @poppyscupcakes, via @sweettoothmarti and @jmcefalas

I also drop in to Rob Francisco’s timeline fairly regularly to see what hearts he has found. It would be duplication (and probably theft!) if I reproduced all his found hearts here, but I did especially love this one: Loo roll heart, Leeds.
If you’d like to see more, he tweets them at @livingprocess

Found and photographed by @livingprocess

23 January 2015
With Valentine’s Day fast approaching this brilliant crafts website has a different take on Valentine’s messages: http://www.krakenkreations.co.uk/uncategorized/sweary-hearts-run-free/ Kraken Kreations (@KrakenKreations) has made a whole bunch of Sweary Hearts to send to a loved one. @jmcefalas tweeted me images of hearts suggesting “Smash the patriarchy with me”, or “Tie me to the railings and kiss me”, but the one I’d most like a mystery admirer to send me is this one:

By @KrakenKreations via @jmcefalas
(Buy one for someone you love a fuckload, here: http://www.krakenkreations.co.uk/product-category/valentines-day/)

In other Valentines crafts news, this was RTd into my timeline: http://www.knitty.com/ISSUEwinter08/PATTheart.php


22 January 2015
This teeny one stretches my definition of a ❤️ to the very limit. It’s a little poking tongue. (I thought at first it was a pout). Still, I think it counts.


This lovely image arrived with the message “found this and thought of you. x”


And this came “via a friend in Cape Town.”

Courtesy of @drlangtry_girl

Meanwhile, I had also baked a crop of my own:


21 January 2015
This intriguing tweet turned up from @UnexpectedBag

It turned out to be referencing this fonts website: http://www.dafont.com/myvalentineslove.font and its specialised Valentines font from which I’ve grabbed a few examples.

Via @UnexpectedBag

20 January 2015
First @jmcefalas RTd this into my timeline. At the time of writing (23 January) it seems that The Sun is maintaining its assertion that boobs are news. But for a brief moment, we thought they’d understood there are plenty of opportunities for male objectification of women in other places. Not quite a victory (yet), more a near miss. But still.
The image was created by @joelizaharrison, (http://jo-harrison.co.uk/) whose permission I’ve sought to include it here. I haven’t yet heard back, so this is a temporary posting.

By @joelizaharrison via @jmcefalas
Then @noreadingingaol sent this beautiful mediaeval book in the shape of a heart. I’ve been tweeted with this image before, but it takes my breath away every time.


18 January 2015
I’ve changed my avatar to this lovely gnarled heart in a tree. Myfot, who has a really good eye, picked this up in her Pinterest feed from a pinner called Ginny Branch Stelling (can you tell, I don’t really know how Pinterest works…?) I don’t have a photo credit for this, so if it turns out to be yours and you’d like it removed from my collection, or an appropriate credit attached, please do let me know.

Via @thisismyfot

When @A_BoxOfRain tweeted this into my timeline he wondered: “this one may be a jingoistic ❤ too far…" It had been found at the bottom of a storage crate.

Via @A_BoxOfRain

And this lovely one is a child’s collection of Pokemon toys (quite a collection!) scooped together in the bath.

Via @TalkingDogGenre

17 January 2015
Kay Sidebottom said: Thought @itsmotherswork would appreciate my attempt at crafting with the kids earlier #beadseverywhere 🙂


Here’s one to make you boggle. Crocheted tapeworms. Oh yes. (The detail about the project appears here: http://www.craftsy.com/project/view/tapeworm/25712)

Tweeted into my timeline by the guru of the groovy gusset herself @gussiegrips
All together now….#doyerblardyexercises

This very striking image is part of a campaign to save the NHS. Details of which can be found here: http://999callfornhs.org.uk/national-day-of-action/4587740842 It was originally shared by @TeesidePA and @999CallforNHS

Tweeted into my timeline by @jmcefalas

16 January 2015
This collection of adorable snoozy puppies arrived with one of my favourite comments: “Saw this and thought of you”

From @Paper_Polly

15 January 2015
I had some fun with my “Happy for Life” app, which invited me to make a list of “10 good things about me”. Instead of keeping it to myself, I shared it on Twitter with the hashtag #10goodthingsaboutme and lots of people shared their own wonderful and inspiring lists. I added my last “good thing” like this:


14 January 2015
“Broken and abandoned”. (Saw this on the way home today and for some reason, I thought of you.)


From @cate_a_moore

Beautiful Scandinavian hearts. “Plaited ones were made by my lovely talented D1, one of paper, one of felt. Enamel one is from Copenhagen”



Via @jmcefalas

10 January 2015
This, from my friend Rita, is lovely. She said “F drew this for me. I told her my friend likes hearts and she wanted you to see it.” What I see is how much her little girl loves her mum.

From @ChafyMcStretchy

“Place mat at mountain lunch stop.”


Both the above from @A_BoxOfRain

9 January 2015
From @A_BoxOfRain


And there’s this which was RTd into my timeline by @kernowspringer via @NaturalBeeTrust

The photo says it was taken by Pchelen Med, who (if I’ve done my Twitter research right) is based in Sofia, Bulgaria and is married to a beekeeper.

8 January 2015
“This one is the neon light of a 24 hour sex shop.” I adopted this one as my Twitter avi from 8 January.

From @kaygeeuk

This from @ghostwritermummy invited maternity and baby bloggers to link up to Twitter hashtag #MaternityMatters.

Here’s the link to her blogpost: http://ghostwritermummy.co.uk/2015/01/07/maternity-matters-part-two/

7 January 2015
From @kaygeeuk (Heartfinder General) “the air is full of glitter as the sun reflects from tiny drops of ice and I find this. Magic.”


4 January 2015


Via @emwithme

Sent by @MarieElgaard from Randers, Denmark.

In the original, before cropping, you can also see a Danish flag. Danes seems to make much more non-controversial celebratory use of their national flag than Brits do.

This one RTd into my timeline by @ctmitrow in Australia.
Reproduced with the poem it was Tweeted with, by @poemprose Thank you!

3 January 2015

Sent by @kaygeeuk, who said “lunch came in a heart shaped bowl”.


Found and shared by @BigKid255

Via @karen_hackett


Nurture 1415 – Fragile equilibrium.

When I blogged #Nurture1314 last year, I entitled my post The Quest for Balance (https://itsmotherswork.wordpress.com/2013/12/24/nurture1314-the-quest-for-balance/) I felt like I was being swallowed up by my work, and though I love my job, I feared that when spat out (or worse) at the other end, I’d be nothing but a husk of my former self, and would have lost or missed too many other things that were important to me.

The promises I made to myself were about time and attention to nurture my children, my husband, my wider family and friends, my reading, my studying, my body and my mind. Not a short list then. How did I do?

Well I suppose I’m a glorious failure, though not an unhappy one, and not for want of trying.

I made a false start, and after four months, at the beginning of May, the lack of balance got the better of me. I lost my rag (mildly, but for me unprecedentedly) at work, and was told gently but firmly to step off the hamster wheel for a few days.

I took the bookpile to a spa for a day; treated myself in a range of other, lazy, ways; had a remember-which-way-is-up chat with Lovelyboss (no longer my actual boss, but still a good egg in a crisis); bought myself a new Daily Greatness journal; signed myself up for Headspace (meditation) and yoga classes and made a plan.

Just three days later I returned to work not a different woman, but an indisputably clarified and distilled version of myself.

It’s not easy to explain what changed, other than that I made a firm, clear “lifeboat” plan for if things ever got too much again. This has – perversely – enabled me to take on more, and work under greater pressure than before, while feeling much less stressed about it. I can also walk away from my desk at the end of even the most horrendous, emotional, difficult day and slough off most of the emotion before I arrive home.

I’ve finished my studies and got my qualification, made some space for “grown up” home-cooked meals with DH, worked through the bookpile and started a new one, added more Tweetmates to my list of those I’ve made friends with in real life, taken leave from work to pursue outside interests, taken in a couple of fine gigs with DH (and with my mum), found fun things to do with the children, contributed to a book, added in a regular massage to my self-care routines, committed myself to frequent swimming and made meditation and yoga the start of every single day.

I approach the end of 2014 in a much better frame of mind than I began it (and I don’t think I began it in a terribly bad way in any case).

Just recently, I’ve been struggling with the disciplines I’ve set for myself. I don’t do well in the winter. The urge to hibernate is strong. It’s not lost on me that I was able to lift myself up at the start of the summer, and that the energy and drive that made that possible has waned now.

So, for 2015, these are my five goals:

1) To make it through the dark months and, while being kind to myself, maintain my self-discipline until May, when my energy usually comes back.

2) To stick with the journal. It’s what’s most helped me to focus and be consistent in my practice this year.

3) To make this year at work not about what I do but about the way that I do it.

4) To make this year at home with my family about food; food for the body, food for the mind, food for the soul. That’s the heart of mothering and I forget that at our collective peril.

5) To get away. It took three days of decoupling myself from my world for me to find myself again. This year, I want to retreat, in the same way, but as a planned escape rather than enforced rest.

I’ve found my equilibrium, but I see clearly how fragile it is. 2015 is for making it strong.


Socialising boys to love well.

It was a Calvin and Hobbes cartoon that caused me to unravel this weekend.

There was an accumulation of things; some extremely serious incidents at work; some more mundane, but domestic-abuse-focused work tasks in preparation; the personal stories and sorrows of a friend and then along came the gif. On a Twitter feed I’m very fond of.

I have such a soft spot for the Calvin and Hobbes Twitter feed because the cartoons seem to be such an authentic evocation of boyhood. I’ve been a spectator on the boyhoods of my younger brothers (including one who had – and still has – a tiger) and am still observing the boyhoods of my sons. When I read the cartoons I enjoy their humour and the charm of recognition. This is boyhood as I have witnessed it many times, over decades, despite the changes in culture, media, technology, education and expectation in these years. Calvin and Hobbes makes me laugh out loud every time it sketches a scene that I remember, from thirty years ago, or from yesterday.

And then this morning, that image, with that caption, told a story that wasn’t OK, and one that I couldn’t enjoy.

It’s not “young love” when a guffawing boy fells a girl with a snowball. And we have to stop telling boys and girls that it is. I’m a sister to brothers and a mother to sons. I can see there’s a place for rough play in childhood for children of any gender. There are times when it can be exhilarating and fun and there’s no good reason why girls shouldn’t be equal participants. If they want to be.

But love does not cause hurt to the loved one. Ever. People who love you can sometimes hurt you, but its not love that does that. When we tell children that it does, we implicitly sanction abusive relationships in later life. I’ve probably said “young love” in response to rough play myself in times past, but the more I know, and the more clearly I see, the more definite I am: We’ve got to stop.

Hurting someone (other than in a consenting BDSM relationship, which is not the subject of this blogpost) is not a sign of love. It is not a sign of “interest”. It is not “playful”.

Who might think hurting someone is “playful”? Well, a court might be told that punching and hair-pulling are seemingly playful, in a case like this one: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/murderer-downed-15-cans-lager-4373451#ixzz3FAzp3O6x where a murderer, who stabbed his girlfriend 90 times had this said about his behaviour.

20141005-120542.jpg Is it “playful” to punch and pull the hair of your girlfriend at any time? No. Let alone when she’s small of stature, has poor eyesight and a learning disability. I think we all know bullying when we see it. But do we name it? No. “seemingly playfully”!? We should call bullshit loud and clear on statements like that.

Someone on Twitter (there’s always someone) wanted to pick over my criticism of the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon. He – because of course it was a he – told me that this behaviour isn’t gendered. Oh really!? He’s wrong. It may be true that at certain ages girls punch or pull the hair of boys in the same way that boys punch of pull the hair of girls, but our response to them doing so is very different. (I don’t want to re-ignite the discussion, so I’ve redacted the details of the other participants in the conversation). Read from bottom to top.


We tell girls off when they tease. We tell them that they need to be nice. We smile indulgently on boys as they punch, and pull hair and we say “young love”. And that’s what they learn. And that’s how they learn it.

My argumentative Tweetmate went on to seemingly insist that this was one of those unchallengeable forces of nature, saying:

20141005-132835.jpg They wouldn’t know how to express affection appropriately and positively. Boys wouldn’t know.
Why not? Why wouldn’t boys know? Aren’t people affectionate towards boys? Don’t the adults who love them express affection towards them appropriately and positively? If boys don’t know how to express affection without punching and hair pulling, that is our doing as the adults who care for them.

What worried me most at this point was that the critic’s bio told me he worked in childcare. Yes, that magical unicorn of the children’s services world, a man who works in childcare. A male role model for our confused boys. A man with the wherewithal, the interest, and – in fact – the job of socialising our children. Of showing them how, among other things, to show affection and interest appropriately and positively. And he didn’t seem to see it that way at all. It’s hard not to despair.

As @leiselilly says:

And yet it’s not impossible. I thought of the men I know. Many – no, most – of whom would never intentionally harm someone they love. My father, my brothers. Most of my past boyfriends and lovers. My husband. Even my first husband (whom a divorce lawyer once told me I should stay with because he didn’t drink, gamble or beat me).

It can’t be that hard, can it? For boys to learn to love well? Where does tenderness come from?


So I wondered “aloud”:

20141005-150214.jpg And was delighted to get some immediate and positive responses from men who had something worthwhile to say about it.

I asked these Tweetmates if they wanted to say more, so that I could add their thoughts on raising boys to this blogpost.

I’m adding the second reply I received here:

This is from restorative practitioner and Tweeter @alastairRP As you can see, he’s clear that it’s possible to raise boys in a way that enables them to express love.

What do you do when you are driving along and you see a small group of boys or a group of small boys walking together and you see them jostling each other; perhaps one of them is grabbing another in a headlock or aggressively exchanging punches to the upper arm. I know what I want to do. I want to pull up alongside them wind down the window and simply say “if you like him that much tell him or at the very least just give him a hug”. In reality what I do is drive on by ruing a missed opportunity.

Working as I do as a restorative practitioner in schools – mostly primary but not exclusively – such opportunities present themselves regularly and I am lucky to be in a position not to miss them. I’ve worked for over 20 years with young people damaged by their life experiences in some way, disaffected and unable to take their place in society. Often they dont stand out, you cant see that there is anything different about them until they try to express themselves. When words fail, and they often do, and the frustration and anger at their inability to both understand and express themselves spills over then for most I have spent time working with aggression isnt far away. I’ve seen the harm and felt the hurt that young men feel and the damage this does to them and those around them.
Too long we have heard “thats what lads do” “its just boys being boys”. NO IT ISNT. We must collectively challenge this widely held believe, this excuse to have to do something better for our boys, our young men. We owe them that, otherwise the behaviour will perpetuate, together we need to show them a less harmful way to understand and express their emotions.

Bringing restorative practice into primary schools gives hope that we can begin to do this. Hope that we can begin to show young men that there are more ways to expressing anger than to lash out, hope that they can better understand themselves and hope they can be equipped with the knowledge skills and confidence to talk instead however uncomfortable this might feel at times.

Is it too much to think that one day we can pass groups of young males walking along and see them showing each other how much they enjoy each others company in a way that makes us pass by feeling just a little warmer inside.

Here is the first of those replies, from restorative practitioner and Tweeter @PaulW_Chambers. It’s lovely.

Things we wished we had said

A friend I’ve never met recently asked me if I would be kind enough to drop her some thoughts on socialising boys to love well; with kindness, gentleness, generosity and respect. Immediately I wondered if there is anything more difficult or something that makes us more fragile than when we have to communicate our feelings to or for each other? Failure to do so often leaves us in abject emotional poverty. And yet maybe by embracing this failure hope is offered, particularly for a generation of young men.

Let’s face it men are pretty crap when it comes to emotional literacy. When I walk onto a prison wing, or estates riddled with alpha male teens or even a training room full of police officers full of testosterone and I tell them they are beautiful, nine times out of ten a tumbleweed moment ensues.

Listening to our lives, it’s touch, taste and smell takes us to that dangerous landscape of the human heart where we come face to face with our humanity and what is reflected isn’t always easy to look at. So when my friend I’ve never met asked me, for my thoughts for some reason Jonny Cash blew across my bow. Someone who wrestled his demons all his life, that’s why so many adored him, why he was so loved – a broken man trying to piece his life back together.

And there’s the secret, the broken man with the gaze that pierces. The gaze that looks beyond behaviour and grabs hold of your heart; your compassion – something quite distinct from empathy. I believe compassion can be taught allowing both the heart and the brain to light up.

Once you’re real you can’t be ugly except to people who don’t understand. Being real with boys, young men and giving them part of yourself brings change in behaviour. I remember working with a guy serving 5 years inside telling me once that the guards treated him like a dog and so that’s what they got. Meeting him once a week for over a year and filling his world with kindness, gentleness and respect brought about a remarkable change.

The restorative soul in me works loosely around this pattern:
The experience (concrete/personal) links to
Reflection (observation/examination) links to
Forming (concepts/ideas/values/principles) links to
Practice (testing/earthing/action)
And back to experience (good/bad/boring) and we can learn from experience…we can.

Knowing how we feel and putting words to it then deciding what to do and say.

We have to not only understand those kids who oppress, but try and walk in their shoes, walk with them, journey into their darkness and together walk out the other side soaked in a dearer wine.

That means, cups of coffee, bacon sandwiches, visits in police cells, deafening silences, aching hearts, disappointments. It means tears before laughter, actions not words, practice not theory. It means being the complete opposite of how everyone else treats those who most have given up on. Encouraging boys to believe that they deserve and others deserve a better future than the ones they are creating by true, honest and open communication about coming to terms with demons and a youth or social worker becoming a true friend.

A lad who I worked with many years ago recently said to me, ‘The times I remember were when you made me feel more important than anything else and I wanted to pass that on and make other feel as good as i did.’ The natural fall out of silence is that people become accustomed to not talking about important issues and if we respond to emotions alone we often regret it all, and this is the barrier I try to break through and not to be left with the things we wished we had said.

I am

With thanks to @Debrakidd and “Don’t Change the Lightbulbs” for the inspiration.

I am good at loving, and intensely loyal.
I wonder what would happen if I said “yes” to more things?
I hear the laughter of my children and the laughter of my childhood.
I want things I can’t have and happy endings I can only dream of.
I am good at loving, and intensely loyal.

I pretend that music is playing and I’m not the only one dancing.
I feel sad that there isn’t more laughter in the world.
I touch smooth stones, fine-grained wood and cool ceramics to feel calm.
I worry that I’m raising my children in love and peace and they won’t survive in a world of hatred and rage.
I cry about that sometimes.
I am good at loving and intensely loyal.

I understand that we don’t always get what we deserve.
I say “There’s always more room in the fridge” (this is a philosophy, not a statement of fact)
I dream a terrible dream where someone wants me to sacrifice one of my children to save the others. I can’t. If we go, we go together.
I try to be the mum the children and their friends can talk to, and the boss my teams will one day say inspired them to great things.
I hope the world is becoming more my kinda place.
I am good at loving and intensely loyal.


Community responses to child sexual exploitation Pt4 – Addressing the cultural issues

This is the last of four blogposts about what I think are the main ways in which communities can help prevent child sexual exploitation. These are:

– helping the children to be less vulnerable
– making the perpetrators more visible
– providing support and challenge to the professional bodies tasked with protection functions
– addressing cultural issues that help to sustain abusers and minimise abuse

I’ve covered the first three bullet points in the first three posts. Here they are:




This post, then, picks up what I’m calling “cultural issues”.

When you read the title of the blogpost, did you think I would be writing about race? Ethnicity? Religion? Quite often when people talk about a “cultural issue” they are trying to imply the culture of those “other” people who are different from “us”, usually for reasons of race, ethnicity or religion. That’s not want I want to write about. I’m talking about “us” now. A massive “us” that includes the whole population of this country, irrespective of race, ethnicity or religion. The cultural issue at the heart of what went wrong in Rotherham belongs to all of us. That’s why only a whole community response will do.

The cultural issue is the objectification and commodification of people and how that stops us from seeing people as people and instead makes us categorise and label them, and treat them in instrumental ways.

This “news” item was top of the Most Viewed list on the Guardian website this morning.

Should we, or should we not, look at pictures of a naked woman? This woman is a stranger to most of us; a woman who did not choose to share the pictures. And yet somehow we need to be reminded that there’s an ethical argument to treat a fellow human with respect?

It’s “back to school” season, so naturally advertisers are plugging school uniform ranges. And American Apparel attracts its sixth – sixth! – censure for appearing to sexualise children, in this most recent case by using “upskirt” shots of school wear as part of its campaign.

It’s pretty clear that American Apparel doesn’t care if girls (and boys) are being gang-raped, traded, drugged and threatened with violence by serial rapists, if they can attract a bit more media attention, they’re happy to edge towards child sexual abuse imagery. The exposure more than outweighs the possible taint to the brand because….who gives a fuck?

You can’t have this, and not have Rotherham.

You can’t hurrhurrhurr over an up-skirt shot one day and then be all outraged that your peers, the perpetrators – oh yes, they are your peers – treated the victims in Rotherham, in Derby, in Oxford, in Rochdale, in Peterborough and elsewhere, like fucktoys. In fact, the existence of the word “fucktoy” in the modern lexicon is symptomatic of a culture which repudiates personal agency and bodily autonomy, of young women in particular, and sees them as a collection of holes to be penetrated.

You can’t pore over the “All Grown Up headlines in the Daily Mail, to see whether the girls (and it is always girls) are looking childlike or fuckable: http://www.themediablog.co.uk/the-media-blog/2013/01/the-daily-mail-all-grown-up.html and then be surprised that your peers, the police officers and social workers who should have protected them – oh yes, they are your peers – behaved as though the lines were blurred and the victims somehow chose the way they were seen, and treated.

You can’t call the abduction of a child by a teacher a “relationship” and then be surprised when the police tell you that your own 15yo is “consenting” or social workers agree that the 30yo abuser she is “in a relationship” with should attend GP appointments with her about contraception. You can’t let this nauseating headline stand:

As though once someone has abused a child, a newspaper should be seeking out and publishing the abuser’s views on what the victim does next.

How about this?
You can’t stand by when a school excludes a 12yo after she reported a rape, on the grounds that she was a willing participant and breached school rules by having sex in the grounds, and then expect other schools to protect victims and expose perpetrators. You need to know that 12yo’s can’t consent because they are children and you need to be not in any way ambivalent about that. So that you can put pressure on schools to safeguard children properly.

What do I mean by ambivalent? I mean this:


If we are not fighting this, we are letting it happen.

After many days of misdirection, someone with clout finally came out with a useful analysis of the problem in Rotherham and elsewhere. Nazir Afzal points out that the power imbalance that made abuse possible in Rotherham is the oldest one in the book: the misuse of male power.


He’s entirely right.

Yes, there are sometimes female abusers and yes, boys are abused too, and when they are they are no less victims than the girls. Overwhelmingly though abusers are men, and more often than not their victims are girls.

Quite independently of race, ethnicity or religion, we have a culture that does not respect women’s privacy and bodily autonomy, that doesn’t respect children and childhood and sexualises child-related images for profit, a culture that promotes the idea that children are, or soon will be “ready” for the sexual use of adults, a culture that looks directly at a victim and sees someone who needs punishing. A culture that quietly sorts our children, especially our girl children, into those you can get away with abusing, and those you can’t. We do this because it serves male power and male sexual aggression.

We can stop this. If we want to.