Friday 25 February 2011

get out of the kitchen

Dramatic music swelling, the contestant burst into tears. "I've ruined everything because of an uncooked potato!" she wailed. John and Gregg stood motionless with what was probably supposed to be expressions of great concern, but ended up looking more like confusion with a hint of panic. John slung an arm around her shoulder, with a stiffness usually only seen when two men attempt to comfort each other while being incredibly conscious of not looking too gay. With a hearty clap on the arm, he said "It's just a bad day at the office, hey!" in that awkward way your dad tried to console you when you were a teenager and your first boyfriend dumped you. When the contestant was eventually told she hadn't made it through to the next round, the dramatic music returned as did the awkward shoulder manoeuvre when John attempted to console a deeply distraught Gregg - who almost seemed to jump at the shoulder clap, as if he'd forgotten this bit from rehearsal. So this is the new touchy feely Masterchef. Oh, help us.

Masterchef has evolved over the years, and it's always been one of my favourite programmes. From the first endearingly simple format when Lloyd "Guess Where My Accent's From?" Grossman presented to the updated version with John "Puh-sta" Torode and Gregg "Phwoar! I Could Smear That Pudding On My Naked Body" Wallace, I've watched every episode. There wasn't much wrong with it, apart from the fact that it followed precisely the same format each series: the invention test, the restaurant test, ingredients test, the "why I should be on Masterchef" speech, and cook-offs (with a few other tasks in the finals that were either repeated each series or were very similar.) Admittedly, I shouted at the television a few times and the editing was often rather creative and sometimes misleading, but it was still compelling. As was suggested by fans on the BBC food boards and elsewhere, the challenges needed a bit of tweaking, perhaps taking cues from the format of America's "Top Chef".

"Top Chef" is, in my expert opinion*, brilliant. The challenges are creative, fun, exciting, and interesting. The ubiquitous product placement is maddening and distracting, but the format is terrific. The judges do not hug, shoulder clap, cuddle, kiss, or give pep talks to the contestants. The incidental music is always the same in every episode, unlike the BBC's love of finding the most inappropriate song just because it happens to be on the musical director's playlist at the time. Sigur Ros when someone has just cut their finger on a mandolin while slicing fennel? Oh yes, please!

"Top Chef" does have its moments of drama in the form of in-fighting, bitching, and the occasional romance, but the presenters never seem to be acting. The basic format hasn't changed in 8 series, but the challenges are rarely the same - and this is what makes it wonderfully watchable. "Masterchef" didn't need to adapt the reality TV format, add drama where it's not needed, and force the presenters to behave unnaturally. It did need to revamp the challenges, and hopefully that will happen this series. But please, leave the Torode and Puddingface as they are. It just ain't natural.

*("Expert" meaning: "one who watches a ridiculous amount of cookery programmes and has an unnatural love of the Food Channel.")

Monday 21 February 2011

what has the nct ever done for us?

The Telegraph ran an article on Saturday about the stigma surrounding caesareans, with an interview with television presenter Kirstie Alsopp who has had two caesareans herself. The subtitle (unsurprisingly) doesn't really reflect what she said in the article and she didn't exactly "launch an attack on natural birth campaigners" via Twitter, but she is quite obviously upset about the lack of information parents receive antenatally about caesarean sections.

I've been there, done that. In fact, I was being there doing that six years ago tomorrow - almost to the minute as I write this. I responded to Ms Alsopp's tweets on the topic (whether or not they made it through the thousands of replies she must have received is another issue entirely), specifically, to her question about whether or not my NCT classes covered c-sections sufficiently. The article states:
Miss Allsopp, whose two sons were delivered by C-section, said many women were made to feel a "failure" after undergoing the procedure.
Although I never thought anyone else made me feel like a failure, I certainly thought that about myself. I felt duped; despite having read dozens of books about childbirth (including the fantastic Thinking Women's Guide to Better Birth by Henci Goer) I still just nodded mutely when the suggestion of an induction and then a c-section were presented to me. I've never been one to do what I'm told (apologies to my previous teachers, bosses, and parents), yet I didn't think to question what I was being told or ask for alternatives.The article continues:
She said more information should be provided by the National Childbirth Trust about C-sections in its antenatal classes.
In my case, I agree with this statement. To be fair, no one can expect a thorough explanation about every birth scenario in 8 evenings, but the coverage on this type of birth was very brief. Considering around a quarter of births are by c-section, it's a big one to gloss over. One of our evenings involved an overview of the surgery (including a "re-enactment" of who would be in theatre using Playmobil figures), and that was it. Out of 8, 4 of us ended up with unexpected caesarians. I knew nothing about it going into it, had no idea how difficult recovery could be, and had absolutely no information about breastfeeding after surgery (which is more a fault with the NHS, in my opinion.) The fact is, no matter what type of birth you'd like, preparation for other scenarios isn't a bad thing.

Belinda Phipps, the NCT's chief executive said:
If you've got a class of people who want home births then Caesareans aren't very interesting to them. Our teachers do a demonstration with Playmobil, but we don't force it on people. Our view on Caesareans is we would want to make sure women don't have a procedure if it could have been prevented.
This saddens me. My interpretation of this statement is that Phipps believes caesareans are simply not of any "interest" to some people and teaching about it would somehow be perceived as "forcing it on people". But how is the NCT teaching parents to avoid a procedure they may not need by not talking about it? Prevention, education, information - why isn't any of this covered? Those of us who did opt for home births most certainly didn't do so without any information about the alternatives. I wrote three birth plans: home VBAC, hospital VBAC, and a repeat section. Having experienced a section, I knew exactly what I did and didn't want if I needed another. When I had Jack, I didn't even know I could request anything or try to make the experience as "natural" as possible. It was only through experience that I could try and make the next birth better for me.

I am not anti-NCT or their classes and in fact, I've always told people how wonderful they are for making friends. Especially for us as first time parents, knowing others who were also having their first at around the same time was wonderful. Beyond that, I don't think I actually learned very much about pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding.

As I mentioned before, there is only so much you can cover in a few hours, so I don't necessarily fault the course; it's far more informative than the one day Parentcraft classes offered by the NHS. I don't think we can put the entire blame on the NCT for not fully educating a small percentage of parents who opt to take (and pay for) their antenatal classes, but they can expand their material to cover more about caesarians. I did mention this to the instructor when she asked us for feedback about the class, so there's every possibility that the local course material has changed. On the flipside, there was no discussion about home births either. Although this could be because the instructor knew none of us were planning on having one at that time.

So essentially, Alsopp is right - the stigma surrounding caesarians needs to stop. No one's really talking about it, not just the NCT. Talking about it doesn't encourage anyone to opt for one unnecessarily or offend us mad hippy mothers. And while I'm here, can someone point me to the person who coined the phrase "too posh to push" so I can slap them?

Friday 18 February 2011

bits of stuff n' things

I have so many random yet lovely things in my head at the moment, I feel I must share with the online world, whether it's of any interest to anyone or not. Because that's what the online world is all about: sharing your deepest thoughts and/or abusing celebrities on Twitter. Or griping about your angst-filled life on Tumblr using the medium of song lyrics and photos. Or blogging.

So, yes, sharing time.
  • Helena Bonham-Carter's acceptance speech at the BAFTAs: Brilliantly random, rambling, funny, and as far away from a typical acceptance speech as you can get.  
  • Adele's performance at the Brits: Simply stunning.
  • The Best Chocolate Ice Cream in the World: My friend Annalisa posted this recipe recently and my children agree, this really is the best chocolate ice cream ever. I got an ice cream maker for Christmas, so now I can make ice cream with the kids, containing ingredients I can pronounce. Also check out her recipe for mint ice cream, which is utterly divine.
  • Shock Absorber sports bras: They are the only sports bras on this planet (or at least in the UK) that allow me to run without giving myself a black eye. You bounce, you don't move and you don't hurt.
  • Top Chef returning to British television sets: Forget Masterchef (which has done Very Bad Things to the format this series), tune into Top Chef on the Good Food channel. We're getting season 7 (Washington), and it's brilliant. The challenges are creative, entertaining, and the lovely Padma Lakshmi is a  marvellous presenter. I give her extra bonus points for still having a very distinct baby belly that she makes no effort to hide, despite being two months postpartum and appearing on American TV.
  • Kindle: Maybe I'm deluding myself, but I seem to devour books much more quickly on this device than I do in their original paper format. The screen is so easy to read, remarkably so similar to paper that I actually caught myself trying to "turn" the page when I first started using it. It's lightweight, I love how easy it is to download and organise books, and hopefully sites like Lendle will allow non-US Amazon accounts to share books in the near future. I never thought that anything could come close to a paper book, but I've been converted. (Although I still love the look and feel of a real book.)
  • Oscar films: For once, in many years, I have managed to see a few films that are nominated for Oscars. Normally, the only nominated film I would have seen would be something I saw with the kids or on an airplane. This year, I've managed to see "Black Swan", "Inception", and "King's Speech"...along with the kids' films, naturally. All three "grown up" films were fantastic, in completely different ways. 
  • Good customer service: And last, but certainly not least, kudos to Hotel du Vin for providing excellent customer service after I made a complaint. We went to the Cambridge bistro for a friend's birthday and while we enjoyed our evening and the food was excellent, service was disappointingly patchy. I sent an email to the general address on the site, and got a response a couple of hours later from the manager in Cambridge. Hugely apologetic and stressing that this is not what the "Hotel du Vin experience" should be like, she invited the four of us to come back and have a meal, free of charge. No arguments, no need to ask for anything - exactly how a complaint should be resolved.