Ariel and I went to Slimbridge today on a whim and saw ducklings hatching!

We went into the duckling room first thing to admire the ducklings and there were two eggs in the hatchery (a little warm box where it is a little drier than the egg incubator, to help the ducklings dry out once hatched, where the eggs are moved once there are signs of life). They were apricot silver calling ducks, I think. They looked very much like the one pictured, although a bit less wet and straggly!

The two eggs were both intermittently rocking a little and one had a crack where the duckling had started chipping at the shell from the inside. Duckling Woman told us that it can take many hours, even a couple of days, for an egg to hatch and that they were in the early stages, but that if we checked back later we might see a little hole in the egg rather than just a slight crack. Apparently it takes a lot of effort to break an egg with a miniscule little “egg tooth” (not a tooth, just a sort of bump really) so they often have a few little sleeps while in the process of hatching out.

When we went back an hour or so later there was a third egg which had been brought in and it already had a hole in it! We could see movement through the hole, the little beak chipping away, and feathers, and we could even see the movement of the ducking breathing. Apparently, the little air sac inside the egg gets bigger as the duckling uses up all the nutrients in the egg. When the littl’un is ready to hatch, it starts by breaking into the air sac at which point it begins to breathe! From that moment, even before it is hatched, the duckling begins to cheep. We couldn’t hear any cheeping as the 5-day-old Laysan Teal ducklings (rarest duck on earth) on the other side of the room were very noisy. But apparently they cheep to one another as they are all hatching together and this encourages them, hearing one another, and maybe it also lets mummy duck know what is going on. Anyway, it was really cool and we watched it for a while, the two original eggs had both progressed a little – the one that previously just had a little crack, had chipped almost all the way around while the other which was just rocking before had got some cracks.

A drink and a snack in the cafe later and we decided to go back and see the ducklings on our way out. All the eggs had progressed a little bit and the “middle egg” was catching up, with a visible hole although not such a big hole as the third egg. We went over to see the ducklings and just as we were looking at them and talking to Duckling Woman, someone cried out “oh look it’s come out!” and we rushed over to see the duckling hatch. It was the middle egg which had obviously got a wiggle on and overtaken its more advanced clutch-mate. It had its head out but not its feet and we saw it wiggling around and coming out – very ungainly, but just amazing to watch.

There is a little yellow sac thing that comes with it – like a placenta?? – but otherwise the egg is empty. The duckling, once unfurled, was huge compared to the egg! We got to have a look at it later on and inside the egg you could see the blood veins which had nourished the littl’un before it hatched. Duckling Woman had told us to expect that the duckling would just collapse in a heap and snooze after the mammoth effort of hatching itself, but it seemed to have plenty of energy left – maybe because the “birth” was so unexpectedly quick and easy – and spent a while just crawling around and trying to get onto its feet, rolling its fellow-eggs around and trying to cosy up to its own broken egg (return to the womb??) It was fab!

After that Duck Man came in and had a look. The third duckling – the one everyone thought would hatch first because it was ahead of the others – by now was trying desperately to push out of the egg even though it hadn’t chipped all the way around the edge yet. It was just pushing and pushing. I think (in my anthropomorphic way) that it was annoyed at having been overtaken, and encouraged by the now much louder cheeps of its clutch-mate, and possibly annoyed at the fact that the duckling was rolling the egg around as it tried to get on its feet – no wonder it wanted to get out fast!

Anyway Duck Man came in and decided to “help” by breaking the shell open a little (impatient obstetrician! episiotomy now!) I don’t know if this is a good thing or a bad thing for the chick, and it didn’t feel right, to my wholly inexpert eyes, for him to interfere – however it had the unexpected advantage for we onlookers that we got to see the second duckling hatch as well. It came out within less than a minute of being “helped” and it too was completely amazing. It came out in one go, not head first and legs after like the first one – or legs first and head later like the cartoons…

Oh it was amazing! (Amazing!) I’ve gone on and on about this – I felt while watching it, so privileged and awed.

I kept relating it back to what I know about childbirth in terms of the length of the labour, the experience of the hatching bird / birthing child, the need for time and rest, and this probably coloured my reaction to Duck Man’s intervention. It was a thoroughly absorbing natural process and it was tainted somewhat by the intervention. But still.

What a surpisingly and wonderfully powerful experience: I was walking on air for a long time afterwards – it was a little moment of Joy.

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The other day I came across a report produced by the Advertising Standards Agency recently. They have done a survey of advertising compliance in the cosmetics industry and discovered that 93% of the adverts surveyed complied with the law. That may sound good – 93%! – but then even gambling adverts have a 99% compliance rate while food and drink advertising is at 99.2% – and both of these industries are held to special higher standards with tighter controls than is the case in the general law. There are seven times more non-compliant beauty ads than either gambling or food and drink ads. Skin cream adverts were the worst offenders with a 19% breach rate.

It interested me, so I share it.

I could go on a bit – I could refer back to The Beauty Myth and body fascism and talk about how horribly the cosmetics industry perpetuates and exploits women’s socially created insecurities, trying and too often succeeding at making us all feel inadequate and unacceptable for not being supermodels, blah blah blah. I could relate it to the woman and her two male friends who thought it was OK yesterday to make loud remarks (from a safe place on the other side of a high fence) about how unacceptable my tits are, my tits which do not even try to be “acceptable” and yet which still felt humiliation at having their inadequacy pointed out so loudly, pointedly, rudely, aggressively. Poor boobs. Lovely boobs. Stuff’em.

Or maybe I could go in another direction. I could get into an ASA groove and relate an adjudication I read about today on four TV ads for a gambling website, which featured the (self-)humiliation of a number of people with dwarfism. The adjudication considered at great length to consider whether or not the ads were juvenile and therefore likely to appeal to young people and encourage them to gamble. They were also careful to refer to the characters in the adverts as “persons of restricted growth” or “persons of short stature”. Which is all very sensitive – yet why is the horribly offensive nature of the advert – which features little people participating in stunts designed to belittle them, to humiliate them, to make them look silly, to use their bodies as entertainment, as entertaining (so reminiscent of the freak shows and the dwarf tossing of days gone by) – why is this overlooked entirely? I’m not sure to be frank whether to call this kind of advert “ableist” as it may depend on whether you consider dwarfism to be a disability… but surely, whatever you call it, it isn’t acceptable in a just society?

Well I could go on and on and on, following these little avenues or maybe some other avenue or – like – whatever.

The trouble is, I’ve been deep inside a place at the centre of me, looking out, pondering, looking in, allowing slow thoughts to come clear. Digging, thinking, working things out. Planting seeds and allowing them to germinate in their own good time. Gardening starts to teach you patience, starts to make you think, a little, of the long view. This is all jumbled up because it is that time when jumbling happens, when clear thoughts emerge from soup. Have patience. The seeds are here.

What I’m saying is that – in the scheme of things – skin cream? Skin cream?

People are dying out there. Women are dying. They are under boots and behind doors and inside the Woman’s Room. We are being beaten and tortured and imprisoned and starved and raped and ignored. All over everywhere. And I put on my boots and I dig in the soil and I look forward to harvesting – what? That sneaky “we”, it isn’t “we” at all… And I can talk about this guy, or this woman, or this company, or whatever and – it all comes back to – the woman looking in a soul mirror, a woman looking in her mirror and seeing blood. But not her own. Not my own.

I have given suck, and know
How tender ’tis to love the babe that milks me:
I would, while it was smiling in my face,
Have pluck’d my nipple from his boneless gums,
And dash’d the brains out, had I so sworn
As you have done to this.

That oath. It was sworn long before me, long before my babe who lies safe, safely sleeping – yet both of us have the blood on our hands, our innocent hands. The oath sworn, before either of us, nevertheless binds us both, just as surely as it binds every woman and every man on this entire planet. I am not afraid of blood, but whose blood is it? And what can I do to heal the wound it came from, to unwind the oath and save the babe? Whose babe? Not mine, for she is safe asleep, with blood on her hands too.

Oh, and I want milk. I want milk.
But whose babe will go without?
And how much of this is menstrual poetry?
And how much of it is real?

I saw this poster on the bus today. In case you can’t make it out, there is an image of a punchbag set in a dishevelled kitchen, and the caption says:”A domestic violence victim will be beaten 20 times in the next year, unless a friend stops it sooner” with a line at the bottom saying “Enough. Call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support.”

I did think for a horrified moment that this might be a campaign sponsored by Women’s Aid and/or Refuge, who I think run the helpline. It’s not. Surprise! It’s the Home Office.

There’s another similar poster where the image and main caption are the same, but the sub-caption reads: “If your friend is being hit, she’s probably too scared to do anything to stop it. So her beatings will just go on and on. Help her take the first step, call the National Domestic Violence Helpline for support.”

(Link to the similar poster – PDF)

Just who is doing the beating here?
These women – sorry, not “women”, “domestic violence victims” – are magically getting beaten by – who?
As usual in the case of crimes against women, the perpetrator drops out of the limelight.

I do get that a campaign encouraging friends to support those who are being abused has a place. I do get that perpetrators often seek to isolate their partners, to cut them off from the friends who may help them to escape – that encouraging friends to see through what is going on, encouraging friends to take an active role in helping victims is, on the whole, a good thing.

But.

Why do we have a campaign telling a woman’s friends that they are responsible for “stopping” the violence when they can do nothing to stop the violence and can only offer support to the victim who might otherwise feel or actually be unable to escape? And why don’t we have a campaign targeted at men to just stop hitting and abusing women? And why don’t we have a campaign targeted at men to stop their friends from hitting and abusing women? And why is it always the women (and her friends) who get the spotlight, when the people who actually can stop the violence, or influence the perpetrator to stop the violence, are offstage somewhere, overlooked?

Is it that we feel these men are so far beyond the pale, so monstrously twisted, so clearly unhinged that no campaign or well-meaning friend could possibly influence them to modify their behaviour? Because that aint so. Men who beat and abuse their partners are human beings, just like us. Human beings, not monsters. Maybe when we search our souls for solutions to the problem of domestic violence we should ask ourselves fewer questions about how we can help women to escape and a great deal more about why these men commit this violence and what can be done to make them stop.

To make them stop.

I have given suck, and know
How tender ‘tis to love the babe that milks me

I am remembering the heady days of 1997. I was one of the idealistic 20-year-old student types who stayed up all night to watch the results came in. I was one of those who saw more women than ever being elected. I saw the back of the Tories who had been seemingly inevitable, in power for almost my whole life, hated by everyone I knew yet voted back in, time and time and time and time again: the sleaze, the stinking self-interest, the cesspool of complacency and corruption and – ohdoweallremember? – the simple sword of truth.

I was one of those who wept to hear Tony Blair in his first hours as Prime Minister. I cried to hear him speak. Education, education, education: I remember it all. It was like having hope, it was like seeing the people in charge and believing that they were on your side, believing that they would be honest and true and fair and that Things Could Only Get Better.

Not so idealistic now, not quite so easily manipulated, I have still found myself a bit of a sucker for “vote for us because even though we’re crap, it’s better than letting the other lot in” politics. Time and again I’ve turned up to support the least bad of the two unappealing options. Remember Thatcher, remember sleaze, remember the Tory years, the 18 years of hurt – and never let it happen again.

No more. My vote means, in the grand scheme of things, very little. I am just one person with one ballot paper and one little X to give. If my little X makes all the difference between maintaining the barely-sane status quo and switching over to all-out-attack-on-everything-I-believe-in, then so be it. Don’t blame me, blame the barely-sane politicians whose manifesto is so unpalatable – OK?

But I’m not a great believer in voter apathy as a means of “sending a message” to the people in charge. You’ll send a message to someone by – er – keeping entirely silent and abandoning even the very small amount of say you do have over what they do? Seriously. If you really think it’s all a load of crap you should turn up and spoil your paper. Write “This is all a stupid con and politicians are a waste of space” if it makes you feel better. But staying at home is just – lazy. Staying at home is just two fingers up the nose of all those people in all those countries that are literally dying for democracy.

Gordon Brown has just cut housing benefit and abolished the 10p tax rate for low-paid workers, while giving the comfortable middle classes a well-timed – or not-so-well-timed in view of the local election results – tax cut. David Cameron thinks abortion should be even less freely available. And I didn’t even know until today that That Old Bloke is no longer in charge of the Lib Dems… who is this Nick Clegg chap anyway? I really can’t be bothered to read up on him, but the picture they have on Wikipedia suggests that he has a certain public schoolboy charm about him. Something like a cross between Hugh Grant and the dim one from The Vicar of Dibley.

So which of this crew needs a boost from me?

Well – I’m giving my unwanted tax cut to Refuge – I’ll try to remember Nick Clegg’s name – and, yes, I promise that the very next time I get pregnant by David Cameron, I will absolutely not have an abortion later than 21 weeks (not unless I really need one, anyway). I hope that cheers them all up while I offer my vote to the useless Greens.

I heart the useless Greens: like apathy, only ethically superior.

What is the consequence of giving Woman to Man?

What is the consequence of placing an individual at the head of a closed family, of giving him authority to rule and guide his family, the family that is his?

What is the consequence of giving Woman in submission to Man? Of placing children, his children under his absolute care and control as the head of his household?

What is the consequence of empowering Man and, as a corollary, disempowering his family, his woman, his children? Allowing him to rule and guide through the mechanisms of submission, obedience – control.

Is it, sometime, abuse? Could we, perhaps, expect that abuse will happen almost inevitably as a result of such a family structure?

So should we be surprised if, sometimes, the consequence is that a man in control of his disempowered family can lock up a daughter in a place where nobody can hear her scream or see her bleed? That he can keep her there, utterly dependent on him for survival, a prisoner for twenty-four years, twenty-four years, as he rapes her and rapes her and rapes her. Repeated sexual abuse my arse. He raped and raped and raped his own daughter. Should we be surprised that he could impregnate her repeatedly, and keep her imprisoned, alone through her pregnancies and labours, imprisoning her children with her, the children of his rapes and rapes and rapes – should we be surprised that this happened? Horrified, yes, of course horrified. But can we really be surprised that this happens?

Should we be surprised that a man capable of such systematic, long term abuse, such cleverly designed, coldly planned cruelty can keep his abuse a secret? From neighbours, friends, associates. From his own family, his own wife, the people living in his house, with him and his imprisoned daughter and his imprisoned (grand)children, the fruit of his shocking, incestuous rapes… is it really so surprising that a man who can do this to his daughter and his (grand)children can control his other family members to the extent that they also knew nothing of what he did in the basement.

How he did it we can only speculate. Perhaps he ruled them with terror, perhaps with violence, perhaps with drugs or alcohol, perhaps he wore them away until they lost themselves and didn’t know even so much as the day of the week. We can only guess.

Why he did it is not guessable – we can say no more than that he did it because he could.
Why is it that he could?
See above.

Or, to put it another way: what about the wife, eh? The mother! How could she not have known what was going on in her own house? You can’t keep something like that secret from your wife! She must have known. It just seems so terrible, her own daughter. Mm. Hey, did you see O’Sullivan’s 147 last night?

Such things hollow a person out.