Friday, 30 December 2011

Our Daily Bread.

This post has been sitting on my hard drive for months, waiting to be uploaded, and I kept telling myself that one day I’d get round to taking step-by-step photographs of the whole breadmaking process, but loaf after loaf has been and gone without my remembering to take a single picture. Here then is a post on homemade bread, with nary a photo in sight.
I’ve been meaning to write a bread post for a while, largely because the standard reaction when it emerges that you know how to make your own bread is so completely disproportionate to the actual effort required to make it in the first place, that really it’s a skill worth keeping in the armoury for days when you’re feeling less than brilliant. But also because it makes your house smell really good and generally makes husbands a little more amenable to taking the bins out in the rain.
Baking bread at home, while requiring a little practice, really isn’t that difficult, and I can never understand why it’s got this reputation for being something that only bakers and total domestic over achievers can do.  That’s not to say that in the two years that I’ve been making bread regularly I’ve not experienced every type of bad bread there is, from solid lumps of dough which refuse to rise at all, to one memorable loaf which had an air hole about the size of a grapefruit right in the middle. (Incidentally, it wasn’t the end of the world, I just ate egg-in-a-window for breakfast for about a week). The point is that with some practice, a certain amount of common sense, and some impressive sounding gastroscience gobbledygook I can turn out a pretty impressive loaf of white bread these days. The motive for this post is that if I can get just one person to abandon their bread maker, I’ll consider it a triumph. (Can’t stand Bread makers, evil machines that cost a fortune and then turn out a loaf so heavy that if you made a couple of extra holes in the bottom, they’d make better bowling balls.) We English may not be famed for our cooking, but even my French friends admit that we can do good bread.
Basic White Bread Recipe. (to fill 1x 2LB loaf tin)
·         500g strong white flour
·         1 sachet dried fast action yeast. (Ignore anyone who gets snotty about using fresh yeast. Yeast is yeast.)
·         1 tbsp caster sugar
·         1 tsp salt
·         About 320ml almost hot water.
Weigh out your flour and sift into a large bowl, then, before doing anything else, take out about 2 dessertspoonfuls and set them aside. Pour the yeast and sugar onto one side of the flour, and the salt onto the opposite side, then combine them gently.  (This may seem faffy, but salt is like kryptonite to yeast, so to leave the one sitting there on top of the other is just mean, and your bread wont rise.)
Stir the the water in about ¼ at a time, until you’ve got a sticky dough. Pour the reserved flour onto a clean worktop and turn the dough out onto it.
Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, turn on your radio and set a timer for 10 minutes. Turn the dough over in the flour a few times so that it’s well coated, as it should be very sticky at this point and begin kneeding. You should feel the dough come together and gradually become smoother and more elastic. If at about 6 minutes you feel that it’s getting too sticky, and all of the reserved flour has been absorbed, pour a tablespoon or so of vegetable oil onto the worktop and your hands and continue- I can sometimes manage to full 10 minutes without adding any oil, but it doesn’t hurt if you do need to add a little and it’s far preferable to adding more flour. Extra flour added at this stage is the reason why 90% of first loaves turn out so disappointingly heavy.
When the timer goes off you should have a smooth, elastic, non-sticky little ball of dough and quite tired arms. Rub a little oil on the inside of the bowl you used to mix, pop the dough in and cover with some oiled clingfilm. Put it in a warm place and drape a clean tea towel over the top to stop too much light getting to it. (That last bit isn’t strictly necessary, but it does add to the general aura of domestic idyll that we’re aiming for.)[1]
The dough should take somewhere between 1- 2hrs to double in size, depending on how warm your house is, but you should aim to catch it while it’s still puffed up and swollen looking, and before it starts to go flat on top and looks like its got cellulite. When you think it looks right, uncover (keeping the clingfilm for later), turn it out onto a very lightly floured surface and kneed gently for about 3 minutes. This time you’re just trying to get some of the excess air out of the dough, so you don’t have to go on for so long.
Shape it as you see fit, pop it into an oiled tin or onto a baking tray and re-cover with the clingfilm I had you save (you might need to re-oil it first). Turn your oven on to GM8
Leave the bread to rise again until doubled in size then remove the cling film and pop it in the oven for 25-30 minutes. Set a timer. Don’t ask your husband to do it for you. I once did this when I had to go out suddenly, and got back two hours later to find a sad little black cannonball smoking terminally in the oven. Usually, though, if nothing goes awry  it tends to take 27 minutes in my oven. Turn it out, tap the bottom and go through the usual charade of pretending you know whether or not it sounds hollow then set it to cool somewhere on a wire rack. The wire rack is surprisingly important as the bottom will go all sweaty if you just put it on a worktop.
It’s best to leave bread to cool completely before you cut it, although the temptation can be hard to resist. If you don’t wait for it to cool, the bread tends to pill like a cheap cardigan as you cut, so don’t say I didn’t warn you.
There you have it then. If you haven't already made a New Years resolution, allow me to suggest taking up breadmaking. It beats resolving to take up Atkins, at any rate
Until next time, I wish you all a very Happy New Year.

[1] As long as the tea towel is clean. Otherwise it feels a bit scabby.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

The best laid plans...

I’m not one of those people who can just throw caution to the winds and improvise very well. By that, I don’t mean that I’m not capable, simply that whenever I try and make changes to a set of instructions which are designed to improve it, I tend to make things worse. Especially cooking.
Every so often I get a little obsessed with a particular baked item- usually about once every 3 months. It’s usually macaroons or banana bread. The former is my baking nemesis, and I’ve never been able to get them right, the latter I just really like. I use Harry Eastwood’s Cinnamon Banana Bread recipe, which uses no butter or wheat, and is probably why I feel I can get away with making it for three or four days on the trot and almost immediately inhaling an entire loaf. (I know the baking world is very divided about Miss Eastwood’s novel approach to cakes, with many people complaining that cake isn’t supposed to be healthy and that vegetables have no place in a sponge. I’m in favour of anything that gives me an excuse to eat more cake.)
A while ago I got it into my head that what my banana bread needed was some chocolate chips, and set about trying to introduce them to various recipes, increasing or decreasing other ingredients on a whim, which I’m sure made sense at the time. I’ve learnt two lessons from this latest speight of culinary experimentation: 1) The combination of chocolate and banana bread is still delicious when you’re eating it scraped off the bottom of the tin where it’s stuck and 2) If a cookery book, which was written by a pro, edited by professionals and tested by more pros says to add 150g banana, it really probably is best to add 150g banana. The fact that I am a housewife and have the wedding ring and baby to prove it, doesn’t suddenly give me the skill to make wild “improvements” to a recipe which I’ve plucked from the ether and my life isn’t actually lived out according to a Good Housekeeping 1953 centrefold. If I could just get my head around that my life would be so much easier.
The same tends to apply with knitting: while I am a perfectly competent knitter, when I try to make adjustments or alterations to a pattern they generally look terrible. Seams pucker, hemlines sag, holes appear on one side of a garment and not the other and I generally find myself wishing I’d just done as I was told in the first place. (Incidentally, if my mother read that last statement, she’d probably have a heart attack and she’s literally just had her kitchen re done, so please don’t tell her I said that)
Not everyone has this problem. Some people can freestyle to their hearts content, pulling jumper patterns out of nowhere and just “shoving in a cable” to an otherwise boring cardi- they’re like the knitting equivalent of musicians with perfect pitch and they never, ever seem to produce elephantine sweaters or brobdinagian hats.  Other people are meticulous enough to actually sit down and do the sums for the adjustments they intend to make, and therefore never end up with gigantic socks or tiddly little scarves. They tend to be the same kind of people who knit, wash and block swatches, then pin them out before diligently counting the stitches.
I’m not really either, and therefore when a project goes well for me I feel a glow of pride that I managed to get through something without getting delusions of artistry. The opposite side of this is that when a project I’ve tried really hard on just doesn’t work, despite my careful preparations, I feel totally crushed.
When I was expecting Daughter #1, I knitted a pretty blue matinee coat with flower shaped abalone buttons which came up so big that it fitted her until she was about 7m old. I didn’t swatch, although that was only part of the problem, the greater part being that the pattern called for 3 –ply and I’d only bought blue cotton double knit, assuming with the innocence of someone who’d only ever really bought 99p balls of acrylic before, that the difference between 22st to 4” and 32st to 4” wasn’t really that much. The one tiny coat took about 7 balls of yarn and came out with a gauge of steel so tough that I could take it off and stand it in a corner until it was next needed. Problems notwithstanding, I loved that coat, I was proud of that coat and every time someone complimented me on it, I swelled slightly.

All of this left me with a terrible precedent to live up to when making the matinee coat for my next daughter. I chose a pretty 1960s pattern which was similar, but not too like the one I used for daughter #1 and bought a gorgeous cashmere/ silk/ merino blend in an elegant shade of purple. I picked out some hand painted mother- of- pearl buttons which had been a gift from my mother and were decorated with flowers in exactly the same shade of purple and then I sat down and knitted a swatch. I pinned the swatch out, I measured the swatch and I looked around smugly for another knitter to comment to about the perfection of my gauge and when that didn’t work, I told The Director instead. Buoyed up by my own diligence, I cast on.
I don’t know what kind of weird self delusion came over me at that point. I began knitting the back and at some point, about 15 rows in I vaguely remember thinking to myself “this looks a little loose” and then a few rows later “Good grief, I could practically read the newspaper through those holes” but for some reason, I kept going. I finished the back, and thought “Gosh, that looks rather big” but, undeterred, I cast on one of the fronts. Reader, I persevered through two fronts and two sleeves, all the while thinking that the coat looked as though it would be too big for a newborn. I blocked it. I sewed it up. I improvised a fricking collar. And then after three weeks of hard work I photographed it and sat back to examine the fruits of my labour.
Oh well. I guess it’ll fit her eventually.

Saturday, 29 October 2011

Preparing for winter

Now, I love everything about Autumn. This year’s extended summer was extremely distressing to me, as at 5 months pregnant an October heatwave is the last thing one needs, but now that the dark approaches and the frost has started to creep up on us, I feel much happier. There is something about eating autumn food at seven o’clock when it’s already dark which feels so right. From Harvest festival until Christmas is always my favourite time of year. However, this is also that time of year when a certain type of person takes great delight in complaining about the effects of Americanisation, commercialism and bad behaviour in the run up to Halloween. Now, admittedly, this particular festival does seem to bring out the exhibitionist in people but to dismiss it as mere Americanised debauchery is to overlook a thread of British tradition which stretches back over thousands of years. Almost all of the traditions we see as American: trick- or- treating, costume parties and pumpkin carving have their roots in ancient British pagan and Christian culture.
The 31st of October marks the festival of Samhain in the traditional pagan calendar. Before the Christianisation of Britain, the feast of Samhain  (Lit. “Summer’s End”) was celebrated at the end of October and was one of the great pagan feast days, balancing the opposite point of the year to the spring festival of Beltane.
Samhain marked the end of summer and with it the harvest and the beginning of preparations for winter. It was a time for taking stock- taking inventory of the harvest and deciding which animals to keep and which to slaughter for the winter. Each village would typically hold a communal meal, after which huge bonfires were lit, from which each family would carry home a flame with which to light the hearth. The tradition still endures in Britain, although its origins have largely been forgotten- on the 5th November, whole towns gather around the bonfire and enjoy the fruits of the harvest- hot soup, sausages and toffee apples. Children are given sparklers lit from the communal fire, little knowing that the practice is thousands of years old.  As the night drew in the village would gather around the bonfires through which people would walk and drive their livestock as part of a ritual of Purification. (While there was a spiritual significance to the act, which represented safely passing by the division of the worlds, it also had a practical purpose- the heat would kill off parasites living on the animals)
As well as a practical festival of stock taking and preparation, Samhain was seen as a night when the wall between the worlds of the living and the dead were at their thinnest, and at which the dead could return to earth. Candle lanterns with faces (or “Jack o Lanterns”) were carved from Turnips and set in windows- some say to keep the dead away while others believe the aim was to guide them home. (pumpkins are not a native vegetable to England, and so the modern pumpkin lantern is a genuine bit of Americana, although have you ever tried to hollow out a turnip with a spoon? They’re tough, to say the least)
People- particularly young men would wear masks and animals skins as “disguises” to confuse or deceive the marauding spirits. It’s interesting to consider the hoards of girls in their sexy kitten and horny devil costumes in this light- these days people tend to dress up with the aim of encouraging devilment, not protecting themselves from it! While I might turn my nose up at the quality of supermarket “seasonal range” Halloween costumes, it does make me smile to see that one can purchase one’s protective disguise along with your cornflakes, with no real idea why. Cultural memory is a wonderful thing.
Cultural historians, the lot of them.

Samhain was seen as the best night of the year for divination, and fortune telling games were popular. Couples would observe the behaviour of roasting nuts to try and foretell whether the relationship would be successful, and unmarried women would throw an apple peel over their shoulder to try and spot the initial of their future husband. Any teenage girl who’s ever been to a Halloween sleepover will know that some things will never change.
After the Christianisation of Britain, Pope Gregory III took the opportunity to adopt the existing pagan festival, superimposing it with the Christian feasts of All Saints and All Souls, which elsewhere in the Christian world took place in May.  The feast of All Saints commemorated all the beatified dead, while on All Souls Christians were called to pray for those dead who had not yet ascended to heaven, but were still trapped in purgatory.
The festival became known as Hallowmas or All Hallows Eve and adopted a number of the traditional Samhain traditions, giving them a Christian significance, such as the carving of lanterns to represent the trapped souls, and making offerings to the dead in the form of small, spiced cakes (marked pointedly with a cross to show their Christian importance.) The most enduring tradition, however is that of “Soul Caking”, in which children and young people, dressed in their protective masks would go door to door singing songs and prayers to the dead and requesting cakes from the people inside. Each cake eaten was said to represent a soul freed from purgatory. I have never come across an example of medieval children throwing eggs or toilet paper at the houses of people who have forgotten to bake, mind.
There is no set recipe for soul cakes- each woman would have had her own and I’ve no doubt there was fierce competition between wives to bake the best cakes. The only stipulation was that a soul cake contained spice, and dried fruit and was marked with a cross.  While I have nothing against Chocolate tombstones and jelly worms, my recipe is below for anyone who fancies laying on something a little more traditional for the little devils who come calling this Halloween. This is my basic recipe, but as we get nearer to Halloween I tend to start making them fancier, with brandy soaked fruit and caraway seeds.
In the meantime, I’m going to keep carve myself out a protective root vegetable, dress my daughter up as something improbable and take stock of my blessings before the winter draws in. It might take some time.
London Housewife’s Soul Cakes.
225g SR flour
Lg pinch salt
100g butter
75g caster sugar
40g currants/ sultanas
1 tsp mixed spice
1 egg, beaten with 3 tbsp milk.

Rub the butter into the flour and salt until the mixture resembles dry breadcrumbs. Stir in the spice, sugar and dried fruit then use the beaten egg and milk mixture to combine, so that you have a soft, but not sticky dough. Kneed as lightly as possible to bring the mixture together, then roll out on a floured surface to a depth of about 1/2 an inch. Cut out rounds with a small cutter (about 2") and mark the top of each round with a cross, using a knife.  The dough can be chilled at any point, which, while not being particularly authentic, does make them a little easier to roll, cut and cook.
Dust the cakes with a little flour. Heat a griddle or non-stick frying pan over a medium heat without oil and cook the cakes for 2 minutes or so on each side until coloured and cooked through. You shouldn't need to oil the pan, but if you do, use a tiny amount of butter or flavourless oil, wiped over with kitchen paper. These cakes shouldn't be fried.

Saturday, 23 April 2011

On Travelling around London.

There are numerous ways to get about our fair city. Most recently the introduction of the “Boris Bike” has taken the capital by storm in pleasant way and I am all in favour of the velocipede revolution. Not for any namby pamby “green” reasons, you understand, but simply because I think they are quieter, cleaner and generally more civilised than most motorised conveyances. A person on a bicycle is not divided from the world in the same way as a motorist, who travels in their own carefully controlled environment. One sees far more from the saddle of a bicycle than from behind the wheel of a car, plus, it’s good for you and frankly in London, it’s usually the quickest way of getting anywhere. I, like most vintage fans lust after the glorious Pashley Princess,

 but manage very well with my trusty old Raleigh.

I cycled quite happily until I was 8 ½ months pregnant, at which point my grossly distorted figure resembled more closely that of a weeble than a woman with far more propensity to fall down at the slightest push. At this point, I submitted to the request of The Director that I give it up for the bus.

Ah, the London Omnibus.
Banish from your mind dear reader any nostalgically sepia tinted images of scarlet route masters with their cheery drivers and sympathetic conductors.

The modern incarnation of the London bus is a far less amiable one. My experiences with London buses to date have been almost uniformly bad. Most recently a driver stopped in the middle of a bank of bicycles, forcing me to walk (with my baby in her pram) down the road along Oxford Street into oncoming traffic in order to remount the pavement. On another occasion, after failing to tell me that my Oyster card was depleted (I, wearing headphones had missed the accusatory beep) the driver stopped the bus after driving me for 20 minutes into darkest St John’s Wood and unceremoniously threw me off, miles away from a cash point or newsagent. I had to walk for half an hour to get to my destination. Of course, if he had simply told me when I attempted to get on that I was out of funds, I would happily have disembarked, topped up my card and awaited the next bus, but this particular driver seemed to derive some sadistic pleasure in abandoning me to my fate.

Using the buses with a pram is especially difficult. I have of course, never attempted to mount a bus with my gorgeous Silver Cross Kensington,

being rational enough to see that it would be far too cumbersome and bulky to be convenient to myself, or other passengers, but I do have a smaller modern “travel system”

(the excellent Linear Freeway, also by Silver Cross) which I take out on occasions which necessitate the use of public transport. The drivers generally park about half a mile from the kerb, making it terribly difficult to get on and off without the aid of fellow passengers. Once you’re on the bus, the driver seems to delight in pulling away the moment the last Mollusc has been swiped. For anyone who has ever tried to negotiate a moving bus with a cumbersome buggy on swivel wheels, I cannot recommend the experience. The drivers are almost always surly and unhelpful. The atmosphere throughout the average bus ride unites its passengers with the Blitz spirit historically reserved for periods of enemy bombardment.

Generally I find that one bus ride per outing is more than enough to send me into a flap like that of a pigeon trapped in a lift and usually for my return journey I resort to flagging a Hansom Cab. What a difference the experience proves. If my experiences with buses have been uniformally bad, those with the ubiquitous black cab have been universally excellent. I have never had to wait with outstretched arm for more than a minute, even with the titanic Kensington. The drivers always manouver the car as close to the kerb as possible and hop out immediately to open the door and help load baby and buggy in. They are always polite, respectful, friendly and fluent in English. I always consider it a treat after a day in town (particularly after the descent into the lowest circle of hell that is Oxford Street) to take a taxi home and really I don’t think there can be any sight more comforting to a weary Londoner than that of a black TXII with it’s light on.

If I didn’t have the reassuring option of taking one, I would probably venture out rather less than I do. And so I raise an ethereal glass to the much maligned London Cabbie. Gentlemen (and occasionally Ladies) Thank you.

Monday, 4 April 2011

On a Lighter Note...

I wanted to post a photograph of the Baby Bear Hat, which I've just finished Crocheting for a friend, whose baby is due in July.
I had to frog the wretched thing four times before I came up with something that looked right- when a pattern reads "Baby Hat" it can mean anything from a premature newborn to an 18month old toddler, it seems! It's a simple double crochet beanie, with stitched on double crochet ears in Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran, which is lusciously soft and bearfect for a newborn. (I've just proofread this post and stumbled across the appalling pun which I promise was a typo. However, always a fan of the cheesy pun, I've left it in)
I showed it to the director, whose eyes immediately filled with pound signs, as he imagined a possible babywear empire. Try as I might, I can never make him understand that part of the pleasantness of a handmade gift is its exclusivity. I just hope my friend likes it. And doesn't give birth to a mutant baby with a giant head.

Come to think of it, i rather hope that anyway.

A Note on Mumsnet.

I have to confess that it took me until the sixth month of my pregnancy to actually sign up to Mumsnet. The parenting website, which has spawned a host of imitations has a reputation for being frequented entirely by -as the excellent Toby Young put it- by “Laptop wielding harpies”. If you imagine the lovechild of Mary Whitehouse and Arthur Scargill, going on a date with an anti coalition cuts protestor to the Ritz Restaurant, you might get close to the terrifying, million headed hydra that is Mumsnet. When I finally did sign up, I went straight to the “Ante-natal” section, and tentatively joined in a thread of women all expecting babies in the same month as me. This safe environment was actually exactly what I was looking for, presenting a broad spectrum of women who’s gestational period was the only real thing we had in common. I still try and speak to these ladies every day. More on them later.

As I grew braver, I began to poke my nose around the rest of the site, and pretty soon wished I had stayed within the cosy confines of my usual thread. Not to put too fine a point on it, Mumsnet ladies are vicious. There is one board in particular which I would no longer approach unless I were feeling particularly strong of stomach. Called “Am I Being Unreasonable?” it is a forum designed for women to post those tricky questions which one would usually put to one’s close circle of friends. A few examples from today include:

“To not put bells on my cats?” (Sample answer: “I get really pissed off with my neighbours vile shit machines killing birds in my garden. I throw bits of gravel at them. You are being unreasonable. Keep the bloody things in, they are a menace”) and
“To buy an IPAD even though DH [Darling Husband] says no?” (Answer: “I wouldn’t buy it for work purposes. If I came across someone using one in a work situation I'd think they were a [bit] of a twit”)

These are two light hearted examples, I didn’t want to make fun of any of the genuine cries for help that are posted in equal measure to the everyday niggles. Some women go on to ask for advice about abusive Inlaws/ husbands/ work colleagues, some ask really distraught parenting questions, and sometimes genuinely supportive advice is given. Most of the time, however, the responses are cruel, spiteful and insulting. It’s called being “flamed” and smacks of the very nastiest schoolgirl bullying, as though somehow, behind the secure anonymity of a computer, women feel free to flex their most arrogant and judgemental muscles. On the few occasions that I’ve entered into the fray, I felt as though I were 11 years old, back at school and hiding in the toilets from the popular girls. 

 The hottest topic, however, is that of Breastfeeding. Oh. My. Gosh. I would never, ever, venture into one of the conversations on breastfeeding. If Mumsnet ruled the world, women’s nipples would be gaffer taped into their babies' mouths at birth and left there for, at the very least, the first six months. Suggesting that you might prefer to feed your baby formula is received with the same reaction you might expect, had you casually mentioned that darling Anemone was rather partial to a shot of gin in her bedtime bottle.
 I have observed that what you put into your children seems to carry greater weight that what you actually do with them. As though to return to work when they’re three months old is perfectly acceptable, nay laudable, as long as they're breastfed. To devote every waking second to them, then give them non organic baby food , however, should carry the death penalty.

A healthy dose of class snobbery runs through the site. I recall a thread in which a mother had linked to a thread on another parenting forum (Bounty) on which mothers were talking about early weaning. I should point out at this point that the government advises weaning a baby at six months, and any earlier than 4 months has been advised against since the 1950s. The posts on the Bounty forum were badly written, along the lines of “BABE, U NO UR OWN BABIE” and the women posting were obviously ignorant of a) the standard incessant feeding of a small baby and b) the dangers of early weaning, but rather than post a response trying to issue gentle guidance in the right direction, the conversation was seized upon with a bloodthirsty glee by the Mumsnet “Booby gang” and the women were widely declared unfit for motherhood and the human race in general.

It becomes clear after a very short while that the average Mumsnetter is an educated, comfortably off middle class woman, which is all very good.; the country needs well educated, comfortably off parents. However, it only serves to highlight the ever increasing chasm between the middle and working classes. Nary the twain shall meet, it seems, lest the pool of smug moral superiority be sullied by someone who doesn’t have the benefit of a £200 NCT training course.

Alright, I confess, I am tarring everyone with the same brush, which is unfair. There are a great many wonderful women on Mumsnet, however as yet, I have yet to come across a single one with my extremely traditional values, which, given the millions of members, I find slightly startling. Traditional conservatism is also highly unpopular. A recent web chat with Nigel Farrage, leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party was almost immediately flooded with women banding about utterly fatuous misconceptions about the party’s policies, throwing out casual insults or simply posting blank messages, in an attempt to fill the thread’s 1000 post capacity before Mr Farrage arrived to talk. Very immature. Whether you support a party or not, I believe in giving each an equal platform before judging them, unfortunately, our friends on Mumsnet appear to have succumbed to moralhighgrounditis, and therefore anything which does not fall under the list of approved subjects is dismissed out of hand.

Things of which Mumsnet approves:

-Ella’s Kitchen Organic babyfood pouches
-Baby led weaning
-Working mothers
-Aggressive feminism
-Bugaboo pushchairs
-NCT antenatal courses.

Things of which Mumsnet does not approve

- Formula milk before 6 months
-The Liberal Democrat party (not since they entered into the coalition. Before that, Nick Clegg was the number one Mumsnet crush)

-Gina Ford

Before you all have me pegged as a dismissive, judgemental mumsnetophobe, I’ll go back to the group of ladies I mentioned earlier. We’ve been talking regularly now for well over a year- a core group of about 15, with others who drift in and out and there have been times when I would have been genuinely lost without them. We all have different parenting styles and personalities and it would seem that when you really get to know a small group of Mumnetters, the usual stereotypes appear to fall away. I know that I can post almost any conundrum to these ladies and be sure of a supportive, honest, caring response. I call them my Cave Ladies.
The reason for this strange moniker came out of a conversation I had with The Director, about six months ago. Men being a solitary species, he didn’t understand why women need to gossip and confer on almost all aspects of their daily lives and the only way I could think of to explain it was with the analogy of cavemen: All the cavemen would go out to hunt mammoth and so on -we’ve seen that in cave paintings- but while the men were out chasing dinner with a big stick, the women were left behind in the cave, keeping the fires burning and looking after the babies, gossiping and advising each other. It’s only really since the 1960s, when women going out to work became the norm, that this daily network of women has dwindled. I think the success of Mumnet lies in the fact that it taps into a fundamental need in women, particularly mothers, for community. The international sisterhood isn’t a concept devised by feminists, but rather something running through the line of women into obscurity. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the decline of the housewife, and thus the community of mothers, daughters, neighbours and friends runs alongside the rise in Postnatal Depression.

Which posts a tricky question: If Mumsnet taps into the underlying need of women for solidarity and sisterhood, why are we so bloody horrible to each other?