Newhaverin Leith and life



I'm a sap and I'm thankful for so many things. I can't let it rest at a couple of things like being thankful for friends (although I am SO thankful for friends- who else would have me?) or having my health (I am neurotic about illness Woody Allen style). When Thanksgiving comes I think big. For all the moaning I do I really don't have any problems. My husband isn't a horrible man, when I want something to eat I know I won't go hungry, if I become ill I will be taken care of,  my drinking water isn't deadly drinking water. I'm content and I'm thankful for my circumstances. Are you? What are you thankful for?


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To be or not to be…a mother

One of my book group’s earliest meetings was to discuss We Need To Talk About Kevin, a fiction book in which a mother agonises over her son’s homicidal tendencies. Kevin’s mother was hesitant about having children, she wanted to focus on her career, but gave in because she thought it would improve her relationship with her husband. Does a child feel its mother’s dislike of being a mother and therefore become an evil person or is he just evil by nature?  This book gave way to one of the most heated discussions in our all female book group.

This book resonated with me on several levels. I am a woman whose mothers had children very young and who were career focused. I am a woman whose early professional life dealt with the sexual health of women who faced the pressure of having sex before they wanted to and having children before they wanted to. Lastly I am a woman who has known from an early age that I don’t want to have children. Or even one child. For me, in my life, having children is environmentally, financially and emotionally irresponsible.

Choosing to remain childless is difficult for some people to understand and hearing a woman, like the mother in We Need To Talk About Kevin, express regret at having children because it ruined her marriage and ruined her life, seems to scandalise people and women especially. My combined experiences meant I had a sympathy for Kevin's mother. When I’m asked by people how many children I have or when I plan to have children my response usually gets a frown or worse, the half smile and an infuriating ‘You’ll change your mind.’ I’m sure I won’t change my mind, thank you very much, and in fact my husband and I are planning for an addition to the family but in the form of a terrier.

We exist- women who choose not to have children. We’re not mentally ill, physically ill, we’re not selfish and we don’t hate children. Consider the other side if your initial reaction to a woman choosing to remain barren is surprise, confusion or disrespect. Imagine the tables were turned and saying to someone struggling on to the bus with a pram and an unruly toddler on a leash, ‘You’ll change your mind.’ Respect a person’s choice and don’t hate, appreciate!

If you want to take part in what is likely to be a heated exchange about We Need To Talk About Kevin, tickets are on sale at Filmhouse for the premiere of the film adaptation followed by a Q and A with the author Lionel Shriver for October 19th.

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Over-expressive, over-confident and over here

Honest, straightforward, hard working and ambitious or rude, obnoxious, a parody and kissing ass? North Americans, what with their straight talking, openness and positivity, seem to really make some Brits bristle. Before you read any further there's a caveat: this post is full of broadbrushing.

As an American living and working in Scotland for a decade now, I've had some pretty uncomfortable moments because of the way I express myself. I'm from the West Coast. Everyone is an armchair psychologist and everyone wants to hug and these are things I carry with me though after 10 years of strange looks and some actual negative physical reactions, I've had to dial it down. No more hugs but I'll still probably ask you, 'How does that make you feel?' and don't ask me how you look in that unless you're prepared for a pretty in depth answer.  These are things that, on the whole in my experience, don't mean I'll enter into the same type of conversation that I would expect from people from my part of the world if I'm offered a conversation at all.

I have a number of North American friends living here and we share the same tales of woe. Professional misunderstandings that lead to seriously ridiculous or hurtful situations, people taking offence at something we'd never register as an issue, inadvertently making people uncomfortable with a level of openness that seems standard to us and on and on and on.

But what's the problem? Is it the speaker or the listener? Interpretation is a problem, especially if negative interpretations are not talked about or questioned. So tell me how you feel. Let's share and maybe after we work it out I'll give you a hug and tell you how awesome you are.

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I’m not racist but…

The riots in England generated a lot of conversation and chatter among my friends and acquaintances on social media channels. Generally, like in the press, there were two camps- the camp that that put blame at the door of a society that condemns poor communities and their young people to continuous generations of hopelessness (Camila Batmanghelidjh wrote about this beautifully) and the camp that sees punishment and threats of humiliation for young people disrespecting their communities as the solution to the problems, like what we're hearing from David Cameron. But there is something I have seen coming from my personal circles that I haven't seen so much in the press and that is unmitigated racism. From the mouths, Facebooks and mobiles of the people I would consider the least likely offenders came messages that were meant to be funny or profound but really were straight up racist. This confused me for all kinds of reasons- the profiles of riot offenders spanning the spectrum of our society and institutional racism perhaps being at the core of the riots among them.

Writer and radio broadcaster Shalom Auslander says there are so many reasons to dislike people, why go with colour? So when you feel your inner racist coming through, what is it you really dislike?



Radio playlist- African spectacular

Yet another smashing night at Leith FM! I drop in to Saturday night's Soul Stream with Clayton P every other week to spice things up and my picks this time were some favourites from Africa. Links to the tunes are below and I defy you to stay still when you're listening.  I've got some heavy festival activity this month so I'll be back to Soul Stream in September. If you have suggestions for the next time I'm on just get in touch!

Afrikan Boy- Lagos Town

Ba Cissoko- Silani

Baloji- Independence Cha Cha

Seun Kuti and Egypt 80- Rise

Oumou Sangare- Seya

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Fat bottom girls make the rockin’ world go round

I'm in full swing as a guest DJ at Leith FM now. I'm having a great time dropping in on Soul Stream every other week to take audiences around the world to discover new jazz, reggae and hip hop. Last week we went to the streets of LA and learned about the Jamaican communities in Puerto Rico and Panama that helped grow Reggae en Español or reggaeton. Have a listen to the podcast. And yes I know I need to sit closer to the microphone.

My next appearance is on Saturday July 30th from 8-10pm on 98.8 FM or listen online at I'm thinking Africa....

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A great night at Leith FM

Last night was my first time on the radio. I shadowed Leith FM DJ Clayton P on his fantastic Soul Stream show which airs every Saturday from 8-10pm and gets Leith boogying to soul, funk, disco, raggae and hip hop tunes.

I met with Clayton, Station Manager Momo and a group of new volunteers a couple of months ago to get to know more about the station, say what we as volunteers could offer and to get paired up with someone at the station to get some real practical experience.

If I do say so myself our show was great and the two hours flew by. My friends and family in America listened in online and gave us great feedback through my Facebook page. We also had lots of messages and texts from work colleagues (Clayton and I know each other through our day jobs) and all the correspondence gave us both a real buzz.

Clayton's keen on my having my own show but I don't know if I'm quite ready to make that commitment because I still have so much to learn. I'm meeting Momo again tomorrow to talk about how I can help get their website up to date so for the time being I might be beavering away behind the scenes and not on air. However, Clayton and I agreed last night that I would drop in to the show every other week so tune in again July 16th!

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Me as agony aunt?

My friend David and I have a regular lunch date and, as I think we're well adjusted and intelligent people, I thought our time together could benefit others. I put a shout out to friends on Facebook to gather problems I could tackle as a hack agony aunt (with David being the angony uncle.) Here are the problems and what we had to say:

I would dearly love to wear some pretty little pump-like shoes, but every time I try I get blisters all over my feet! Everyone else seems to manage fine. Have i got freaky feet or does everyone else suffer in silence?

My take on the situation was pretty radical- why should a woman feel she needs to wear pretty pump-like shoes, especially if they give her blisters? Does society pressure women so much that they consider wearing pumps despite pain? If the shoes hurt, honey, get some flats. David took a different angle saying that most women wearing flats are indeed in pain and have blisters- they're just hiding it. If you can't stand the heat get out of the kitchen.

I recently received clothes vouchers for my 40th but I am still breastfeeding and have a bit of mummy tummy going on. What can I wear that is easy access but hides the mid section. I spend my life in black.

As a single man with no children and a woman who has chosen to not have children this posed a small challenge but David came through with pointing out the benefits of an empire waisted summer dress. I recommend any one of the number of Spanx tummy taming products. I know from experience they are amazing. A bit of work but amazing. I also thought that it's kind of lame that ladies with post-partum bellies can't just get their bellies out or wear a brightly coloured shirt without feeling funny about it. So, post-partum friend, get that belly out! Start a trend!

I seem to be suffering from unfathomable rage: every time I see David Cameron's face on the TV I want to hurl a brick through the screen. HELP!

We had a long discussion about this issue. Both of us agreed that if you have a reaction like this to someone on TV you should turn off the TV. If, however, you think you should keep watching then you should examine your extreme reaction and relate it to a reaction you would have in real life. Would you throw bricks at someone at work or on the street? No? Then you're irrational. The other approach is to embrace what David Cameron has to say because it's the viewpoint of your enemy. Understanding your enemy is the key to strengthening your own argument.

What is the meaning of life?

This isn't a question that can be answered. As David said, it's like asking what the meaning of a table or chair is. What is the meaning of your life or a good life? Is that a better question?

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The things you can accomplish spending a weekend with a lot of people called James- Social Innovation Camp 2011

I'm only now coming down after my weekend at Social Innovation Camp last weekend. It was kind of an emotional experience for me because it's the first time I have spent time with people outside of my work who have a common interest in something that is relatively new to me- engagement through technology. I don't really have any technical skills-my background is dealing with people on the margins of society- but more recently, I've been managing web content and facilitating a social media presence for Edinburgh Council. It's also been a little bit emotional because my work colleague, Catherine, who came up with our idea for SI Camp, invited me along for the ride making me feel somehow valuable in the process even though my skills really are soft. While my emotions were overflowing I did learn some really valuable things that will stick with me:

  • Don't look to a technical solution for something that should be happening in real life, with real human relationships. We got to a point where we were tired and over-discussing our idea and we started creeping into the area of trying to build all solutions into the technical aspect of our project. The overwhelmingly brilliant James (one of four men called James on our team- @jarofgreen) shut us down to say that systems should not replace human interaction. James is a master geek- he knows best and pointed something out that, to me, only shone through as common sense after he said it.
  • 'Service design' is the term for what I want to do for a living. Who knew it had a name?
  • I am not alone in my struggle to communicate the purpose and benefits of web and social media to middle management. I pull my hair out on a weekly basis about this but I was so glad to find common frustration with fellow campers. It's a good feeling to vent about the lack of awareness of the impact on an organisation's customer services by communicating through  web and social media. Solidarity!
  • Eatalia's makes a fan-bloody-tastic pizza.
  • People who offer care and support to family members are hugely overtaxed,  stressed, sometimes lonely and could use some help from their close networks. Tackling this is the core of our idea, currently called Share Care Club. We hope to find a way that people can organise and connect their existing trusted circles of friends and family and thanks to our work last weekend and the understanding of the Social Innovation Camp judges we have an opportunity to work with IRISS to develop the business behind the idea. I'm truly excited and I really believe this idea will positively impact many lives.

Read my fellow camper, James's (another James) take on our weekend on his Pretty Simple blog.

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The best little book group in Embra

Many moons ago I started a book group with my friend Kirsty. We decided to start the group because we wanted to read more and get to know about books we would not usually pick up. After putting an advert up on Gumtree we gathered a group of ladies who have become good friends and reading companions years later.

We are still on the go and if you want to come along sometime just get in touch with me. We are not meeting over July and August because of holidays but in preparation for meeting up again in September we are reading two books: The Psycopath Test by Jon Ronson and Annabel by Kathleen Winter. Get reading and get in touch to find out the date of the next meeting.

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