Friday, 4 April 2014

We're all cut flowers

There's nothing quite like covering a murder trial to focus the mind. And there isn't a person reading this who is not familiar with the expression "life's too short", but my goodness a tired old cliche it may be, but how very, very true. I can't go into the details of this murder case as it's still ongoing. But it's one with which most of you would be familiar as the murder in question took place 29 years ago and no-one has yet been found guilty. I've covered this case for the past four weeks; the family of the murdered person are in court each day, silent in their grief and united in their determination to hear every last shred of evidence, no matter how harrowing. They sit, in a line, to the left of the dock, which contains the accused, and just under the public gallery into which every day, stream a variety of people some of whom acknowledge the accused with a raised fist of solidarity and occasionally grin to each other as various pieces of evidence are read out. To describe the family members of the dead person as courageous and dignified does not quite do them justice. I'm sure that nobody takes the thought of dying lightly, but once you've become a parent, clinging onto life becomes something of an obsession. And it's a purely unselfish obsession because you spend your time worrying about dying not for yourself, but because you cannot bear to think of leaving your children alone and without a parent. You realise that losing your own life for its own sake is unimportant; I know unquestionably that I would give my life in a heartbeat if it would save my child's. That must be the definition of true, unconditional love. But at the same time I cannot countenance losing my life and thus depriving my children of all the love, protection and guidance that only I can offer them. And that must surely be the paradox of true, unconditional love. The person who was murdered 29 years ago left behind three children. Of course they're grown ups now, but seeing them every day, the pain subtly but indelibly etched upon their faces, becoming the public facade of the private pain that family has endured for so long. About this time last year Rachel, a fellow news producer from the BBC was about to celebrate her 43rd birthday. Then she died, her body finally caving in to the bone cancer that had stalked her for about ten years. The funeral was like a who's who of BBC faces past and present, all crammed into a charming old church in Berkshire. People had come from far and wide to celebrate her life and as we sat there, watching the sunlight kaleidoscope prettily through the stained glass windows, we all vowed silently that from now on we would not sweat the small stuff because, you see, there really isn't time. No mother should ever have to bury their child. It's a complete subversion of what it is to be a parent. George and Whitney both warbled on about believing children are our future, so if you have to bury your own, does that mean that there is no future anymore? That's what if must have felt like for Rachel's mother as she bravely stood and spoke through her tears, about her feisty, funny, one-in-a-million daughter who we all knew simply as Rachel. Rachel, she explained, knew she was dying and had done since the age of about 36. She refused to feel self-pity and simply carried on, in between bouts of chemo, working, travelling and riding her beloved horse. "We're all cut flowers" is the one phrase from her mother's elegy that has stayed with me ever since. Of course we all know we're dying, from the moment we're born, we're effectively dying. So what do most of us do? We LIVE of course, as much as we can. We fall in love, we have children, we scramble up the greasy career pole, we lavish attention on our homes, pets and gardens, we amuse ourselves cooking from elaborate recipes and if we can, we spend our hard-earned cash on travel and adventures, we fill our lives with as much detail as possible so that not a scrap of this precious time is wasted. “Life is pleasant. Death is peaceful. It's the transition that's troublesome.” ― Isaac Asimov

Saturday, 15 March 2014

Things nobody tells you about becoming a parent - part 1

OK here's one for you: when is it acceptable to admonish someone else's child? Answers on a postcard please. I thought I knew the answer but just now, I'm not so sure. Before I go on I must tell you that I have never, in my whole decade of being a parent, gone up to someone else's child and had a go at them for upsetting mine. God knows but I've been tempted, several times, once most memorably, at a birthday party. The very child who had apparently been making my offspring's life a living hell for weeks,(tears, school refusal, loss of appetite, acute anxiety) came within touching distance at the same time as everyone else leaving the room. Reader I had to suppress the almost animal instinct rising rapidly within my breast. What I longed to do was to grab said child, push them up against the wall and croak evilly into their ear something along the lines of "you stay away from my child, d'you hear me?" and watch with satisfaction as they trembled and shook and slid to the ground like an unset jelly. Of course what I actually did was...nothing. Not even an evil eyeball moment. The child wasn't looking at me anyway, being more absorbed in the contents of the party bag they'd just been given. Another reason for demonstrating such admirable self control (I know, it came as a shock to me too), was that I really felt I wanted my child to think of a way to sort out the problem for themselves rather than having mummy get involved. This is how we equip our kids for life; for every difficult situation that they survive now, the learning curve will be huge and will stand them in good stead later on. But the best laid plans and all that, a few weeks later I found myself having a discreet word with the offending child's mum as the situation was deteriorating and getting more personal. The mum is a good friend and having her on board seemed to do the trick. The playground politics improved and now they are friends. The fact is, no matter how clear cut a situation seems, what a parent must, must comprehend is that from their child's mouth they have only been fed one side of the story. And you don't have to be a journalist to realise that to every single story, there are always at least two sides. Clearly there are exceptions to this; if it's an adult doing something bad to a child or if a person is suddenly attacked in the street by a complete stranger then without doubt there is a completely innocent party involved. But when you're dealing with primary school kids in a playground, well, unless you were there in a fly on the wall capacity, you know nothing for sure. This leads me onto several things about being a parent which no-one ever warns you about. 1. At some point your child may be the victim of a bully. The pain that you will experience as a result of this will be like nothing else you have ever known. It will dominate days of waking (and possibly sleeping) time. You will feel so helpless and yet strangely murderous at the same time. 2. At some point your child may be accused of being a bully. The bewilderment you will feel will occupy acres of brain-space. You will ask all your friends and family members if they think your child is evil/manipulative/a liar *delete as appropriate* and you will turn conversations over and over in your mind, seeking a glimpse, just a chink of truth that you can cling to in the hope that the accuser has got it wrong. 3. You are only as happy as your least unhappy child. This is applicable to any given moment of family life. Think about it; you're on a cross channel ferry and one child is sea-sick: nobody can relax and enjoy the journey. You've been offered a fabulous, well-paid position at work which will do more than just financially keep your head above water: one of your children is in tears each morning as the new child-care arrangement means they feel they don't have enough time to get all their homework done. You can't enjoy your work until it's sorted. 4. Your own personal needs can never come first ever again. If you do (as I did just last night in fact) get grumpy with one of your offspring because they keep getting out of bed to tell you they can't go to sleep and you shout at them to "just go back to bed!" because you're feeling desperate as it's now 8.30pm and you really need to sit down and eat some dinner as you've been at work all day and haven't stopped to draw breath since walking in the door at 6.30...well you get guilt-induced indigestion as suddenly you're trying to eat against a backdrop of child crying themselves to sleep. Fact. Back to admonishing someone else's child then, a quick and massively unscientific poll taken from fellow mums reveals the following opinions: 'S' - "I think it's ok if you're in charge of that child, if what they are doing is dangerous/silly, if you know the parents well enough that you know they would react in the same way and wouldn't mind you doing so" 'G' - "if the kid is biting one's own offspring and rather than telling off said kid, the mother attempts to 'distract' her child, thus epitomising one aspect of nervous, middle-class parenting or if the kid is very annoying and the mother is weak willed" ('G' who has a colourful way with words, actually used phrases other than 'telling off' and 'weak willed' but in the interests of propriety I've paraphrased a little...) 'W' - "when the parent isn't there and the issue needs immediate action or if serious and parent is there but doesn't say anything" 'B' - "when they are in your home and not following your house rules, of if hurting your child (or any child!). Maybe for rudeness of bad language" So there you have it. To sum up; if at all possible sort it out with the parent, not the child, and if in doubt then don't. And remember, there are always two sides to every tell-tale unless you've seen and heard the entire event unfold before your very eyes.......

Friday, 7 March 2014

Court up in the drama

I'm in court again. No, no, it's not what you think. I'm here with my BBC News hat on, sitting in the press or public gallery, trying not to stare too intently at the accused in the dock. Court rooms are funny old places. It’s always a bit like being at the theatre; you arrive in good time, take your seats and wait for the action to begin in the form of the practised double knock and then the command “all rise!” as the judge sweeps majestically in. Seats are re-taken and the drama unfolds. Most of the courts I’ve been to are hermetically sealed boxes into which natural daylight is forbidden to penetrate and even everyday sounds like traffic, phones ringing and snatches of conversation are absent. The gentle hum of the air conditioning provides the backdrop to the voices that narrate the story. It’s very easy to lose track of time once inside; all the easier I suppose to surrender oneself to the tale being acted out in which everyone has a defined role. I, of course, form part of the audience. I’m not permitted to participate, interrupt or draw attention to myself in any way. Mobile phones, naturally, must be switched to silent. The barristers are the leading men and ladies, well-rehearsed and word perfect, eager for their moment to stand up and speak convincingly to the court. The jury playing the part of the chorus, lend the proceedings a Greecian element of tragedy as they glide in and out, stage right, moving as one at the appointed moments, occasionally passing a note to the judge questioning, probing, submitting careful queries to hold the rest of the court to account. Witnesses make cameo appearances, sometimes mentioned so often in other evidence, the anticipation of actually seeing them in the flesh and, gasp, hearing them speak, is nearly overwhelming. The judge, is of course, the director, sitting up on high, centre stage, elevated, lit, separate, controlling procedures from above, ably assisted by his charming stage hands, the ushers, who ensure that everything runs to plan. The hapless defendant sitting stage left, safely contained behind the glass of the dock, is undoubtedly the baddie of the piece. Watching how they react to evidence from various witnesses and more interestingly, how certain witnesses feel brave enough to eyeball them furiously from the safety of the stand, gives a real insight into the case. Props are deployed when necessary, occasionally one suspects, more for dramatic effect rather than to back up the evidence. Am I ever able to predict the outcome? Sometimes, rather pleasingly yes. The whisper of “verdicts, they have verdicts” ripples like a stiff breeze through the waiting hacks, some of whom have attended every day to report on a trial that may have lasted weeks or indeed months. Waiting for the jury members to come back with their decision reminds me of waiting to give birth. You know it’s going to happen, you know that logically it HAS to happen, but you have absolutely no control over when and it can be a bit of a bore just sitting around waiting. When I’m covering a trial, once that jury has been sent out to begin deliberations, it’s as if my life is suddenly temporarily, on hold. I can’t move too far away from the court, even nipping out for a bit of fresh air is risky as they may come back at any time. I can’t move onto another story as by now, too much time and too many resources have been put towards covering this verdict. The court tannoy, as indistinct as it’s humanly possible to be, (honestly railway stations and airports have nothing on this), crackles into life every few minutes and your ears strain for a mention of “your” courtroom. I’ve been doing this job full time since January and have so far been privy to a paedophile case where the evidence was so disturbing that afterwards the judge exempted the jury from further service for fifteen years, the longest he could give. A GBH case in which the victim was scarred for life was distressing too, especially when, after the defendant was found guilty, the poor victim ran from the courtroom in tears having sat through four weeks of having their life laid bare. It was something of a relief to cover a good old fashioned case of theft; the defendant walked free from that one, contrary to everyone’s expectations. I now have that particular defence barrister on speed-dial as if I’m ever in the dock myself, I want him on my side! By Easter when my contract comes to an end, I’ll be putting all this behind me and will attempt to morph seamlessly back in to my ‘normal’ life which is a mixture of freelance journalism, writing, kids, taekwondo and the odd building project. It’s a strange existence being a Courts Producer and I’ll miss it.

Friday, 22 November 2013

Age has its compensations

Reader, I am slumped on my sofa, fresh from a rather testy road-rage altercation right here in the middle of Sevenoaks.   Yes I know, you're as shocked as I am.  This genteel town,  perched delicately on the edge of the north Downs, a chalky landscape which serves as a stunning backdrop and a handy barrier between us (Sennockians) and them (greater Londoners), a place where nothing bad ever happens.

Until you're driving down a narrow road with parked cars all the way down one side and a distinct lack of any passing places that is. Then all hell breaks loose.  I have the misfortune to use this particular road quite a lot as it's the most direct route to my children's school and on the days when we cannot walk or cycle, we jump in the car.  In my opinion this road really should be subject to a one-way system as commuters park all down the one side and people try to drive along it from all directions.

This afternoon as I was leaving the school, kids in the back seat, all of us knackered and saying TGI Friday, I had made it along half of this road when a car suddenly was bearing down on us clearly with no intention of stopping.  I slowed and weighed up my options, bearing in mind that all the parked cars were on the other side of the street so technically I had right of way. However I travel this route often enough to know that that rarely makes a difference.

So I reversed, just enough for the other car to nip into a space on their side so that I could mount the small pavement and make it past.  I could see the mouths of the girls in the other car working furiously as they gestured that I should reverse all the way back to where the line of parked cars began so that they could continue in a straight line.  You know when something irks you and a slight red mist descends?  Yes, I got a bit fed up by this point and pointed to the space and indicated that they should turn their steering wheel and go into it.

Eventually they did, with a great deal of huffing and puffing and gesticulation in my general direction.  As I pulled alongside I put down my window and coolly, with a raised eyebrow, enquired if anything was the matter.  Reader, I know what you're thinking - why didn't I just drive past and continue on my way?  Well to be honest because by that point I didn't damn well feel like it and when you're a lady of a certain age, if you don't damn well feel like doing something - you simply don't.

These youngsters were trying their best to give me a piece of their (clearly tiny) minds with a bit of 'eff' this and 'eff' that thrown in for good measure.  I pointed out that since I had young kids in the back they really should quit with the bad language.  "I've got a little girl myself that I've got to pick up NOW!" the spottier of the two screeched back at me.  I returned serve with a pithy 'well in that case you should know better than to use such foul language'.  I added that it wouldn't hurt to give the Highway Code a once over and then they would see that actually, I had right of way.

"Oh f*** off! Just f******g  move!" yelled the fat one, her beady little face contorted with the rage of someone who has plenty of anger to vent but nothing of value to say.  Regretfully I shook my head at them.  'Oh dear, there you go again', I tutted with a frown, enjoying their frustration of not actually being able to drive off as I was still blocking their exit.  "Old people shouldn't be allowed to drive!" she spat just as I had selected first gear and was beginning to ease away.

I stopped, the space behind me just tantalisingly too small for them to drive through.  I gazed at them levelly with the wonderful confidence that comes with age. 'Are you quite finished? Are you?' I enquired, enjoying the feeling that I was successfully now messing not only with their heads but with their entire day.  They ranted on for a bit longer in a similar vein but now I was conscious that the traffic was building up and the pedestrians were also blocked by my half-on-the-pavement car.

So Reader, you'll be so pleased to know that I resisted the urge to use my substantial and well-built car as a weapon and ram their little Peugeot to kingdom come, although the feeling of satisfaction would have been almost worth it.  And in that parallel universe I would have sat there calmly, observing the looks of horror on their squat little faces and the steam rising from their concertina'd bonnet, and do you know what I would have said just before driving off?  'Face it girls, I'm older and I have more insurance'.

Monday, 11 November 2013

We will remember them

It was with my BBC news producer's hat on that I found myself at the Cenotaph in Whitehall yesterday.  My job was to produce the coverage for the BBC's News Channel which involved planning where we were going to be and who we would interview in the way of war veterans, serving soldiers etc.  'What exactly does a news producer do?', I hear you ask.  Just about everything, is the answer.  It would be easier to give you a list of things that are outside my remit on a live broadcast!

I had the good fortune to be working with a very competent correspondent which always makes a producer's life more pleasant.  I knew that with him, whatever the day threw at us, he would make sense of it and remain on air, calm and unruffled as I whizzed about behind the scenes trying to sort it all out.  You'd be amazed how often correspondents, even ones that are household names, resort to prima-donna-ish behaviour or get really uptight if something out of the ordinary occurs.  I could tell you a few stories there but that's probably going to have to wait until I get my novel published and you can all try and guess who the fictional characters are based on!

Anyway, I digress.  Remembrance Sunday, in my opinion, is very important to our nation in many ways.  Critics who denounce it as a day glorifying war have got it wrong.  Yes it's true that the survivors are celebrated among their peers and the public applauds their courage and efforts to march past various war memorials up and down the country.  But in a way it exposes not just the heroism but the horror of warfare and acts as a useful pointer to the ability of man to wage war on his fellow man.  Isn't the point of studying history to prevent us from making the same mistakes in the future?

From a young age, my kids have been taken to our local war memorial and we've stood in the sun, fog and rain and observed the 2 minute silence together.  I've attempted to explain to them the significance of what those soldiers did in the two world wars and how both conflicts altered the course of history and how different our lives might be today, had the outcomes been reversed.

Yesterday, shading my eyes against the low autumn sunshine, I watched as the crowds grew progressively larger and as members of the royal family and the armed services took their positions around the modest white structure of the Cenotaph.  The music of the Massed Bands filled the air, as it has done every year since 1920, providing a melodious accompaniment to the golden leaves as they swirled lazily from the horse chestnut trees onto the assembled heads below.  The music played was standardised in 1930 and although it sometimes changes, the basic shape has remained much the same ever since.

With the pomp and circumstance of 'Rule Britannia' drifting over Whitehall followed by the more reflective 'Skye Boat Song' and Elgar's hauntingly beautiful 'Nimrod', the mood in the crowd became sombre and subdued.  The solemnity of the occasion broken only by the five hundred or so smart phones and tablets thrust high in the air as the Duchess of Cambridge appeared on the balcony of the Foreign Office, the fake 'click, clack' shutter noise punctuating the silence as we awaited the arrival of the Queen.

When Her Majesty appeared from the innards of the Foreign Office precisely at 1058:45, her diminutive appearance, as always, belied her importance.  In the crowd the recording devices went into overdrive and disappointingly some people even found in necessary to click clack away during the 2 minute silence.  Hmmmm.  At 1100 the canon boomed, the noise ricocheting off the Portland stone buildings, Big Ben began to chime and heads dipped in unison to remember, and for those of us lucky enough never to have personally experienced the horrors of war, to imagine, in silence.

I expected to cry.  I always have done either sat at home watching the service on TV or standing at the Sevenoaks war memorial.  A tear inexorably rolls as I think of the mud, guns, horses and Tommies of WW1 and of the concentration camps, sunk ships and downed aircraft of WWII.  The young lives cut short by our government's recent decisions to deploy to Iraq and Afghanistan and the horrific injuries sustained by our troops cut down by IEDs or Taliban AK47s which once would have guaranteed death but now, thanks to improvements in battlefield first aid, means a generation of amputees and brain-damaged young people are here to stay.

I think of the bravery of those who are still willing to join the armed forces or become reservists knowing full well that when push comes to shove, they will be expected to die or suffer life-changing injuries for their country.  I think of my own darling children and that potentially one day in the future with another pointless conflict raging overseas, I may be that clench-jawed mother sitting at home dreading the knock on the door from a uniformed officer, come to give me bad news.

So I cry selflessly for others and I cry indulgently for my imagined future self.  But yesterday no tears came.  Maybe it was because I was surrounded by my peers, a bunch of hardened hacks, or maybe my journalist's brain just couldn't switch off enough to get that carried away.  I must admit to quietly calculating the risk of a terrorist attack and what a coup it would be for any nutter wearing a suicide vest to get that close to wiping out the royal family, the leaders of all three political parties, a large proportion of the cabinet and the heads of the Navy, Army and Air Force.  I did find myself scanning the crowd for any sweating person sporting a rucksack with wires.

But thankfully the day passed off with the precision of a well-oiled machine that has been whirring for the best part of ninety-plus years and the veterans all escaped the cold and went off for their lunchtime reunions and I got home in time to spend some time with my family.  My opportunity to shed a tear came just now in Sevenoaks High Street as I lined up dutifully outside Tesco to join the 2 minute silence led by the small group of veterans who do it every year at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, come what may.

They stood by the road, their colour proudly raised against the grey drizzle and steadfastly performed their ritual, a poignant sight given their age and diminishing numbers.  I dipped my head and welcomed the lump that made its way to my throat and the tear that escaped my eye.  I ignored the cold and the rain. It was the least I could do, after all, they gave their today for my tomorrow.



Tuesday, 22 October 2013

What are we doing?

Is it April 1st?  I had to wonder when I heard on the news this morning that Facebook has decided to allow videos of people being beheaded to be shown on its site.  I did the aural equivalent of a double take and turned up the radio, convinced that I must have misheard.  But no, sadly everything I heard was accurate.

Apparently Facebook did have a temporary ruling in place that blocked the showing of such scenes, but has decided to allow these decapitation videos again (or snuff movies as they used to be called) so that users can "be free to watch and condemn such content".

Laudable or laughable or just downright bonkers?  Have we become so immune to inhumanity, suffering and torture that we think it's somehow OK for it to be streamed on a social media site where most people turn for a bit of light gossip and a few holiday snaps?  Do we not believe that if children or vulnerable people have access to such sites then the content should be monitored?

What is wrong with this situation?  Er...quite a lot actually.  PM David Cameron has stepped into the fray branding Facebook "irresponsible" and saying it needs to "explain its actions" to worried parents.  I'm sorry but I don't want some spotty 21-yr-old FB employee "explaining" to me why he or she thinks I need to be able to view such content so that I have the "freedom" to  condemn it.

Why do we need to witness something in order to condemn it?  I know that paedophilia is abhorrent.  I do not need to see it in action to have that confirmed.  I also know that someone having their head cut off is indicative of an unlawful and not-very-pleasant situation and although it may pass for accepted retribution in some parts of the world, I do not need to see it to realise that it must be condemned.

The internet is a wonderful tool but its major downside is that it allows people, sat on their behinds in their own living rooms, to see stuff without any effort on their part whatsoever.  In the past if you had a strange urge to experience another culture in which decapitation was the norm, some effort would have been required.  You would have had to do some fairly detailed research to discover where this sort of practice took place.  Then you would have worked out how to get there arranging visas, vaccinations etc.  Then you would have had to earn (yes earn through having a job) the money and taken the time off to travel.  Once in situ you would  have (hopefully) gained some understanding of the country and its people, and then if you were "lucky" enough to witness the desired decapitation, it would have been horrific but at least you would have been able to put it into some sort of context.

But some numpty who's taken time off in between gaming and ordering pizza to surf the internet looking for weird stuff?  How is that right that they should be able to view something as deeply disturbing as the film that supposedly drew attention to Facebook's decision which was of a masked man murdering a woman, possibly in Mexico.  Nice.

This whole debate is symptomatic of the society we live in where some people think it's acceptable to film episodes on their mobiles and post them onto Facebook and other sites purely for the amusement of complete strangers.  It's voyeurism of the worst kind and it's happening all the time.  At one end of the spectrum there's the teen who points their phone over the cubicle door and snaps their mate on the loo, and at the other, the gang rape of a drunk girl.  There is little awareness from individuals who do this of the effect that it may have on the person being filmed.

We also seem to have conveniently forgotten that there are large numbers of primary school age children out there who (unbelievably) have a Facebook account.  There is supposed to be an age limit of 13 (still babies really) to set one up but I personally know of several much younger Facebookers.  Why they are allowed by their parents to set up an account I do not know, perhaps in some cases the parents simply aren't aware.  But as I'm always banging on to my own kids who, you will not be surprised to discover, DON'T have anything to do with FB (!) once you've seen something horrible you cannot 'unsee' it; it's imprinted on your brain forever.

Come on Facebook, show some initiative and take a stand against such vileness being streamed through your site.  I've said before that while I am very much anti-censorship I am also totally pro-child protection and sometimes we so need to sacrifice our "rights" to be all seeing in order to protect those who can't protect themselves.

Monday, 14 October 2013

I predict a diet

Calories - 1900 (oh poo), exercise - none (bah), alcohol consumed - lost count (oops).  Yes I have been making like Bridget J recently and jotting down all the little things that when put together, go towards making up the bigger picture.

Reader, just two weeks ago I stepped on the scales and almost fainted.  The digits that flashed before my sleepy eyes came as a shock.  In effect about twelve pounds of extra flab have crept slowly and silently onto my frame over the past year, resulting in straining seams and a general feeling that all is not as it should be.

I'd been aware for a few months that clothes were feeling a bit on the tight side, especially around the midriff, but I put it to the back of my mind, assuming that all would right itself once the summer was over and I had more time to exercise.

But no, it is not as simple as that.  It would appear that after four weeks of slugging it out, every week day at a mixture of circuits, aerobics, taekwondo, kick-fit and total body workout (like circuits but harder!), the weight is simply not shifting. The flab is more toned but it's still there; the clothes are still not fitting. Which is a complete pain as it means that I now am looking at the dreaded calorie counting, or in other words - a diet.

God how I detest having to think about every damn morsel I put in my mouth.  I'm much more used to being so active that it doesn't matter a jot what I eat or drink, a much more satisfying state of affairs but one that is seemingly temporarily (or so I hope) unavailable to me.

It makes me ponder on whether I'd rather be a) stressed out but thin, or b) happy but plump. It's a tough one to call.  Clearly life is just a bit too comfortable just now (poor little me eh?) So today I started a secret food diary (secret in that I never talk about 'dieting' or being unhappy with my body in front of the kids) into which I aim to note everything that passes my lips to see exactly what I'm doing wrong.  Thank God for the internet.  I can simply Google "how many calories in half an avocado" - 133 in case you were interested - and fill in the little column and add up as I go along. Riveting.

So I'm an adult, with forty-odd years of yo-yoing up and down between the dress sizes which I regard as a minor nuisance but not earthshattering.  My self-confidence and esteem are generally high and while I might hate the muffin top, I love the person underneath it. But how do you deal with a 7-year old girl who is also overweight?

Yes it's Daughter.  My wonderful, funny, clever, beautiful little girl has been overweight for about 2 years now and it's getting to the stage where it's a struggle to get clothes to fit.  At the beginning of term I happened to be in BHS in Oxford St and noticed that they do a school uniform range in a 'generous' fit.  I was simultaneously repulsed and relieved.  I quickly bought her a pair of these trousers and was then sad but relieved that they fitted.

Last September we had real problems trying to get skirts and trousers to fit.  We traipsed around the shops, trying on larger and larger sizes, but she's only little and the age 8-9 clothes just about did up round the waist, but of course swamped her everywhere else.  Until that point I'd kind of ignored the weight, putting it down to puppy fat that would simply melt away when she grew a bit, I felt really uncomfortable about the prospect of putting a, then 6-yr-old, on a diet.  I personally know of a woman who died, just a few years ago from anorexia which in turn stemmed from childhood weight issues. I absolutely LOATHE the current thin obsession and would much rather focus on being fit and strong, with a healthy weight a convenient side effect.

On that shopping trip I was almost in tears in John Lewis, struggling to get a pair of school trousers done up, I suddenly decided that enough was enough and my continued ignoring of the issue was tantamount to child neglect.  At home we sat down and had a talk about healthy eating, exercise and all of the family needing to reduce our 'jelly-bellies' that had crept on over the summer.  "But not ME!" son helpfully shouted from his bedroom, "I don't have a jelly-belly!".  No darling, not you (through gritted teeth, trying to keep it all light and non-judgemental).

So we decided that as pretty much everything we ate at home was healthy, and that she did lots of daily exercise (PE, taekwondo, swimming, gymnastics, trampolining in the garden, scootering to school), the only thing she could alter was what she ate at school, most specifically the puddings. I look at their school lunch menu from time to time and shake my head in wonder that the school has a 'no chocolate' policy for the packed lunch brigade, but thinks nothing of serving up sticky toffee pudding, jam doughnuts, apple crumble and custard, caramel shortbread every single day.  Empty calories, as my mother would say.

So bless her, last year she agreed that as she would like her clothes to fit better, she would have pudding only twice a week, and the other 3 days would opt for a yoghurt or fruit.  Reader, the difference was immediately noticeable.  Her sticky-out tummy became more streamlined and she began to look like the other little girls again.  But just recently I've noticed that it's happening again.  We bought a (larger size) dress on Saturday for a dance competition and it wouldn't do up.  Oh dear.  I got that sick feeling, a mixture of guilt (that I'd let it creep on again), desperation (am I doing the right thing by making it an issue?), fear (of triggering some sort of eating disorder) and downright weariness - here we go again.

It transpires that at school she has returned to eating a pudding every day, just like her dad (in a crisis blame him) if a pudding is in front of her and a queue of people behind, she simply cannot resist.  So as from today, we're trying packed lunches which thank goodness, she is really keen on and at the moment, I have time to make.  If we can control the calorie intake, surely the weight will disappear?  There's been a big 'push' recently by the NHS highlighting the problems caused by childhood obesity; they're calling it the 'foremost public health threat currently facing the youth of this nation'.  Children, like my daughter, who carry excess weight in their early years are much more at risk of developing type 2 diabetes, high blood-fat levels, liver disease, joint and mobility problems and some cancers as they get older.

Reader I sincerely hope the packed lunches make a difference, otherwise we'll have to get the doctors involved then it really will become an 'issue'.