Postnatal depression, music and me

A weird thing happened to me a couple of weeks ago and because we haven’t had any wi-fi, I haven’t been able to write about it (even though I really, really wanted to.)

Back in July, I was listening to Lauren Laverne on BBC6 Music; as part of the show, she has a weekly feature called ‘Memory Tapes’. I’d been listening to a girl talking about her life and listening to Sigur Ros as she flew over Iceland and I thought maybe I could email in my own memory tape. So I did- and promptly forgot all about it. Except about two weeks later, I got an email back asking if I would be free to be on the show on August 10th. OBVIOUSLY, I said yes.


Source: BBC6Music

My memory tape had been built around Benn and D, specifically songs that reminded me of key moments in my life with both- and I mentioned in my email (it’s on this page here) that I had struggled with PND. Although I’d never been explicit about my struggle with it online, I have been vocal about it away from social media and the blog. I knew that this element interested the producers of the show and I was determined to talk about it openly. So I did. (Despite the aforementioned lack of wi-fi making it bloody hard work to organise the whole thing.)

Now, I’m a massive fan of Lauren and have been for years, so I was dead nervous. Turns out, she’s absolutely lovely and encouraging. It was a bit weird hearing her do radio stuff before my call was cued in, but I tried hard to focus on what was being asked. I talked about how music was the anchor that threaded together my memories of D’s early months-I have huge swathes of stuff that’s forgotten or unknown to me and I can piece them together through a few songs. I spoke about how I knew I was lucky that I had had an excellent health visitor and GP, but that I knew not everyone was so fortunate. I guess I wanted people to know that you can get through it, but that we need to be more open and less dismissive when someone asks for help with their mental health. It took me months to admit that there was something wrong; when I was pregnant, I’d been assessed by a team as to how likely I was to get PND. They had been happy with my prognosis and I felt a bit of a failure when I realised something was up. In fact, I’d gone to the doctor about something else when it all came out. I am so, so grateful that she picked me up so quickly. It meant that it was nipped in the bud relatively early, although I would continue to be on medication until D was nearly three.

The aftermath of the call was slightly surreal; people sent lovely messages to the show which were read out on air and I had loads of supportive tweets. It felt good to talk about something that has been so important and shaped my life not so long ago. I’m fine now, but I know how it felt to not be fine. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help. Keep asking until you get it. Don’t be fobbed off.

After the call had gone out, I received an email asking if I minded if it went on the website- they’d had a huge response. Of course, I said it was fine. If you want to listen to it, it’s here. (Weirdly, I sound so much like my sister, it’s *creepy*.) I don’t know if it helped anyone, but hopefully it showed that PND is something that can be overcome with the right support. We need to talk about it more openly and make it less taboo to discuss it; to listen when someone asks for help and to notice maybe when they are unable to.

Happy birthday, Charlotte Bronte


Today it’s Charlotte Bronte’s 200th birthday. As a Yorkshire woman (despite being born in Wales and currently living in Brighton, I have my county written in my bones like Scarborough through a stick of rock) and a literature fan- as well as simply a reader- it feels important to mark this anniversary.

Despite Charlotte not being my favourite of the Brontes- in her letters, I find her to be sometimes maddening and I imagine that she might have been a high maintenance friend- without her, we wouldn’t know anything about her extraordinary family. After all, she was the one who discovered Emily’s cache of poems and overrode both Emily’s furious indignity and Anne’s reluctance to have the work published. She may have been stubborn (and maybe slightly overbearing to her younger sisters?), but she opened up the world of these three isolated women to the rest of us.

It’s because of this anniversary that I’m working my way through all of the Bronte material I can lay my hands on, as part of my self-set Bronte Challenge. I’m currently reading- and enjoying- Jane Eyre, a book I’ve never got on with before. This time, something has clicked, and I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s because of Jane’s determination to make the best of her life, despite her shortcomings, or the fact that as a woman in my early 30s, I get the mindset that Charlotte herself felt as she wrote the novel aged 31. I used to despair at Jane’s repeated reiteration of her plainness, but having read about Charlotte’s preoccupation with her health (bordering on hypochondria at times, although with siblings perishing around her, not wholly unwarranted) shortness and her teeth, I get where that came from. Maybe I just wasn’t ready for Jane Eyre when I was younger. Late to the party? Yes, I guess so. Most of my friends read the novel when they were younger. But I came to it with a more grown up view of the world and it worked for me.

So today, in honour of Miss Bronte, I’ll curl up somewhere with a cup of tea and my copy of Jane Eyre- and I’ll thank her for forcing her sisters to share their work with the world.




“‘Ave you seen ‘er?” On Victoria Wood

An Audience with Victoria Wood, Dec 1988

Growing up, I always knew about Victoria Wood. My mum had her videos and we had a couple of signed books, too. I remember feeling dead grown up, aged about 10, when I was allowed to watch some of her stand-up. Here was a lady, who wasn’t thin or glamorous- but she was funny. Even as a kid, I knew she was unusual.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised that she’s had a huge effect on me. As a northern, working-class kid, she talked about things I understood. I even own an orange raincoat (although not a fetching yellow hat to go with it.) My sister and I have been known to say “I’m looking for my friend, Kimberly. ‘Ave you seen ‘er?” to each other. We don’t know any Kimberlys.

In restaurants with slow service, it won’t take long for Benn or I to whisper to the other “Two soups?”

I’ve always felt a bit suspicious about prawns too, thanks to this sketch:

And I remember seeing her programme about tea. Of course.

The thing is, Victoria Wood’s humour was funny and warm; it was grounded in real life and it was never cruel, either. I’ll miss her.



The inhabitant of a ‘post-baby body’ speaks

This last couple of weeks, I have been RAGING at the popular tabloid media. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the media. I studied it, I teach it, I even contribute to it from time to time. But seriously, Media, you have got to stop this obsession with a post-baby body.

When the Duchess of Cambridge came out of the hospital last Tuesday, the fragrant Kay Burley asked: “Why does she still have a bump?”

Kate Middleton Post-Baby Body

Image: The Hollywood Gossip

Um, because she spent nine months growing a baby? (I didn’t have a bump after D was born, incidentally because he was MASSIVE and my waters had broken earlier than my contractions had started, meaning I lost a load of fluid.)

On Wednesday, I saw that Marie Claire were tweeting triumphantly that Fearne Cotton was showing off her post-baby body that had ‘pinged’ back. Oh, how I loathe this phrase. Also, seriously considering a boycott of Marie Claire for promoting such vapid nonsense.

The thing is, it’s highly unlikely that 99% of mothers ‘ping’ back into shape. I know I haven’t. I did lose some weight after having D, but that’s because I live on a massive hill, walk everywhere and am in possession of a gigantic baby who weighs a ton. Of course I was going to lose weight. But once I went back to work and there was little chance of walking and more access to biscuits, I put some of that weight back on (I do, however, possess the most muscular upper arms this side of Jess Ennis.) It’s not rocket science. Those celebrities who ‘ping’ back into shape have money and access to a plastic surgeon, a personal trainer and/or oodles of time to bore themselves to death on a treadmill for the sake of a string bikini in the Maldives when their interestingly named child is two months old. I have neither the wherewithal, money or interest to go down this route. My flab is probably here for a while. Meh.

I thought Kate looked lovely as she left hospital; I couldn’t have managed to look so composed and be so charming 24 hours after giving birth, even with a personal hair stylist. I was torn between sobbing and pretending that I was compos mentis enough so that the nurse would give me codeine to take away the pain. Also, bravo to Kate to walking out of hospital with grace- I could barely hobble to the loo that was ten feet away from my bed.

Since having D, I am aware that my body has changed. I have loose skin, stretchmarks and during the pregnancy he caused havoc with my teeth. I suffered from postnatal depression. Do I regret any of it? Nope. I grew a human, which is pretty cool and that requires my body to change. I’m less hung up on how I look now, because I know there’s a reason for those changes (i.e. baby and chocolate.)


Style Crush: Gwen Stefani

So, a couple of weeks ago, I posted about my love affair with Shirley Manson‘s style and this week I’m going to discuss my devotion to Ms. Stefani, which I think I’ve had for even longer.

I became aware of No Doubt when I was about 11 and instantly loved Gwen- in the ‘Just A Girl’ video she looks amazing, all abs and bindi (I did actually go around wearing bindis for a while, and getting friends to do meticulous mehndi on my hands, a la Gwen.) As I was a tomboy all through childhood, I was interested to see a grown-up who was a tomboy who was also feminine- an oxymoron if ever there was one! I liked her baggy trousers, although I was always too shy to bare my midriff to the world. I did have bright pink hair though, during college. Gwen had more of an effect than I probably would have admitted at the time.

Her style has evolved as her career has, but it’s her long-standing use of feline eyeliner and red lipstick, combined with flawless pale skin that has had the greatest effect on me. They reckon that your makeup ‘habits’ are formed around the age of sixteen and you then work on a variation of this for the rest of your life. Black liquid eyeliner has always been part of my ‘look’ and now the lippy is too. It’s a modern take on a vintage look- no wonder she got the part as one of my favourite 30’s actresses, Jean Harlow, in The Aviator.

There’s a touch of the Marilyns about Gwen’s look (although that was muted during her solo career, when the clothes became more flamboyant) and I think it’s fairly easy to achieve if you know what you’re doing. I also think it’s the perfect look- you can dress it down or up and still look pretty cool. I bet Gwen never pokes herself in the eye with her eyeliner though when she does her makeup, like I do. Sigh. Glamour is hard to achieve…

All images: Last FM

Style crush: Shirley Manson


All images: Last FM

I’ve spoken before about how much I love Shirley Manson; I’ve always admired her ballsy, no-nonsense attitude and her incredible vocals. She also always looks amazing. If I look as good as her in my 40s, I’ll be a very happy bunny.

I also have a fondness for Garbage’s music, as it got me through some dark times after uni; her powerful message of confidence and individuality helped me when I lacked self-esteem. Shirley carved her own identity in a largely male environment and then stuck to her guns. I liked that a lot (and still do!)

As a pale-skinned redhead, her makeup shows that I can be adventurous with colours, rather than sticking exclusively to ‘safe’ neutrals and pale colours on the lips- it’s all about confidence. And, although rock stars get to wear what they like and get away with it, there’s something to be said about taking a little bit of fiery attitude and using it in everyday life.


Reading recommendations: feisty female edition!

Ages ago, I wrote that I had a bit of a hard time reading fiction. It’s not that I don’t read- I do, voraciously- it’s just that I was in a bit of a fiction rut. Since that original post, I started using Pinterest to keep track of my reading this year and I’ve noticed a common theme: I like to read about interesting women both in non-fiction (which I knew) and fiction. I thought I would share some of my favourite fierce fictional women.

(Note: all images are from Amazon)

Coraline- Neil Gaiman


Because I’m a teacher, I like to keep up to date with young adult books; Neil Gaiman is by far one of my favourite writers, especially in this genre. Coraline is a perfect antidote to the Bella love that many teenage girls have. She’s strong, independent and has a cat as a best friend. What’s not to like?

The Night Watch- Sarah Waters

The Night Watch

The first novel I read by Sarah Waters and it was un-put-down-able! Following three women whose lives are delicately linked, the narrative works backwards, which made me want to read it again- and also made my heart break a little for at least one of the characters.

The Crimson Petal and the White

The Crimson Petal and the White

The main character, Sugar, seems to really polarise viewpoints; you either love her or despair of her. She’s an intelligent women who wants to better her life and get out of prostitution- although she doesn’t quite do it in the right way. It’s a long book, but I loved it and was very, very sad when I finished it.

Gone With The Wind- Margaret Mitchell

Gone with the Wind

There’s a lot about Gone With The Wind that sits uneasily with modern readers, but at its heart, it’s a brilliantly told story with one of the most famous and infuriating characters ever put to paper. This is another long book and I’ve read it twice. Both times I’ve wanted to shout at Scarlett O’Hara for her terrible life choices and both times I’ve liked her despite myself. She is the very definition of a feisty female.

The Tenant of Wildfell Hall- Anne Bronte

I love the Brontes and I always think Anne is the most neglected of the sisters (as demonstrated here by the wonderful Kate Beaton: warning some, ahem, mild profanity.) When I read this a couple of years ago, I found it hard to initially get into, but once I was, I was hooked. The main character, Helen, escapes a violent marriage and defies Victorian social niceties- all in a way that is quietly, rather than overtly, defiant.

Who are your favourite fictional women? Any recommendations for me?