• 'Yeah, the Budget is bleak. So here's a pint to drown your sorrows.'

      All anyone can talk about at the moment is the Budget, following George Osborne’s speech yesterday which outlined where our economy is heading. To sum it up in just a few words - not very far, not very fast.

      This is because the announcement that the economy is to grow by 0.6% this year is in stark contrast to the earlier predicted figure of 1.2% during the Autumn Statement, as is the revelation that borrowing will be up to £144 billion as opposed to the forecasted £108 billion.

      Pretty bleak, I think we can all agree.

      All was not lost though, it seems, as the announcement that the price of a pint of beer is to be cut by 1p was met with cheers, and anyone who has since commented on it as held this particular policy up as a beacon of light on an otherwise dark day.

      Other semi-positive news came in the guise of the employment allowance, which will scrap National Insurance for a third of employers, increasing jobs by 600,000.

      I call these semi-positives because when looked at in conjunction with the rest of the Budget, other realities emerge. This is because although the price of a pint of beer has been cut by 1p, a pint of cider has gone up by 2p, a bottle of wine by 10p and a bottle of spirit by 38p.

      On the job front, the public sector pay cap of 1% has been extended by another year, and official figures obtained by Labour have shown that workers will be, on average, 2.4% worse off by 2015 as the typical increase in salaries lags behind inflation.

      Read alongside other news out yesterday, which has revealed that Britons are being driven to drink by work stress, these budgetary decisions, therefore, make perfect sense. More than a third of adults say their job is the most stressful aspect of their lives, which is why six out of 10 drink after work and one in seven drink during the day. And despite the fact that one in six workers is experiencing depression, stress and anxiety, managers have said they are unable to support them.

      So if, as the Budget suggests, work stress is only set to be on the up, the need for alcohol is likely to increase, too.

      Like I said: the Budget makes sense …

      If Osborne wants to increase alcoholism.

      Bearing in mind beer is the most popular alcoholic beverage in Britain, with the average person drinking nearly 500 pints a year, thus accounting for almost half of the alcohol drunk in the country, it begs the question why it is this Osborne felt the need to cheapen, as opposed to the lesser consumed wine and spirits – not only for the state of our economy, but for the state of our health, too.

      It seems that he is attempting, quite literally, to assuage the harsh realities of the Budget in the same way that a stressed worker might try to assuage his own worries with a pint of beer. But in the same way that a 1p reduction is really not much to write home about, anyway (“I've done my calculations on the budget and have worked out that if I buy 350 pints of beer I get one free. Well done, George”), so too another pint of beer at the end of a hard day is not going to do anything for a worker’s health or finances.

      Most worryingly of all, the fact that this announcement drew the loudest cheers and a subsequent load of positive responses suggests that, to some extent, the pacifying is working.

    • In defence of The Nap

      It’s that little slice of heaven when you either can’t have, or don’t want, the full pie of sleep. You slowly close your eyes following a faux battle with your subconscious to stay awake. Because let’s face it, by the time you’ve allowed yourself to get into that position, there aint no going back.
      My poor husband is someone who knows this only too well. Every night, without fail, I fall asleep mid-movie, mid-show or even mid-chat. It’s about as inevitable as Justin Bieber causing offence; we know it’s going to happen, whether we like it or not, so we either get annoyed about it or we embrace it. Simples.
      Tomorrow is World Sleep Day. In honour of this, much of the world media has jumped on new research which claims that women are grumpier than men without sleep. I mean duh, that’s as obvious as one of Pippa’s Tips. Women are always grumpier than men, sleep or no sleep.
      What is worth taking note of, however, is that the reason women are grumpier than men without sleep is because they need more sleep than men. The necessity of surplus sleep in women is, we are told, because of ‘exhaustive multi-tasking thought processes’.
      Often my husband will tell me to just retire for the night and go to sleep, rather than breaking up the evening with a nap. But, as I so often tell him, I can’t just end my evening at 9pm. I’ve got things to do, places to be and people to see (in the proverbial sense of the word). I’m a woman, after all. I can’t just switch off fully when I might be needed elsewhere. And even when I do go to sleep for the night it’s invariably never enough, so either way I know I’m going to be tired the next day.
      According to sleep expert Dr Michael Breus, naps are totally acceptable if you are not getting adequate sleep at night. And as previously established, by definition we women will never really get enough sleep at night – and that’s before children. Thus, it seems, naps are the only way forward.
      But The Nap has had an extremely hard time getting positive press. If it isn’t disgruntled husbands shooing it away, it’s the Taxpayer’s Alliance belittling the very notion of a power nap during the day – a la our very own life coach, Jayne Morris - even though as a quick Google search will show you the evidence behind the benefits of this have long been documented.
      This is why I hereby state the need for a National Napping Day, a la the unofficial holiday in America. It is time to break the shackles and stop treating The Nap as the inferior cousin to Sleep.
      In the words of the scientists towards loving male partners: ‘Be more understanding of your grumpier female counterparts, allowing her extra snooze time, or else face the consequences.’
      Couldn’t have said it better my … zzzzzz.
    • If childhood is over by 12, let's take the glee out of it and blame the parents

      Bleakest of the bleak news from last week. Childhood is, according to a Netmums survey, over by the age of the 12. Some even break their mother’s apron strings by as young as 10, the research claims.
      The survey of just over 1,000 parents about their 7-13 year old ‘tweenagers’ revealed some truly shocking facts. One in 10 said their child’s innocence had disappeared as young as 10 and nine out of 10 said their children are under more pressure to grow up fast than previous generations. Just one in 10 said they managed to protect their child from growing up too soon and one in three said they struggled with trying to keep their offspring from growing up too fast.
      Like I said, pretty bleak.
      Four out of 10 blamed magazines with sexual content. One in 10 blamed toys such as Bratz and more than half blamed inappropriate clothing.
      Six out of 10 blamed the internet while half blamed TV programmes, such as Glee, for promoting status and good looks.
      Woah, hang on a second. Glee?
      Glee: That of the bubblegum pop, equality promoting, underdog-hero fame. If there’s one thing Glee is not guilty of, it’s promoting status and good looks.
      For those who know me and are aware of my, let’s call it, sympathetic tendencies towards the all-singing, all-dancing karaoke-fest, I can assure you my horror stems not from any blind affiliation to the hit show.
      But the very nature of the fact that these parents quick to blame have clearly never watched the programme they are denouncing leads me also to another disturbing conclusion: Perhaps they are not as innocent as they are making out.
      After all, who is buying magazines with sexual content for their young ‘uns? Who is bestowing a Bratz doll or two on their little darlings? Who is allowing them to wear inappropriate clothing, surf the web and watch these programmes that are deemed improper?
      At the end of the day, if our children are growing up too quickly, it’s because we are allowing them to.
      As a child my parents were incredibly careful about protecting my childhood. I was not allowed to watch Eastenders until I reached secondary school and did not own a mobile phone until the age of 15. I was not allowed to stay out late or go to certain places without an adult until a similar sort of age. The hyper-sexual societal forces may not have been as great as they are now, but my childhood was still infused with reading, listening to music and spending hours on end in the garden.
      I am not denying for a second that these aforementioned aspects of society do not exist and are not frightfully worrying. But it is ultimately the responsibility of a parent to watch, limit and ensure that what their children are being exposed to is appropriate.
      It was just the other week that my husband saw a young child battling with his father: He, pointing out certain aspects of nature that were exciting him, his father, Smartphone in hand, aggressively trying to get him interested in the latest technology. If our kids are obsessed with all-things-adult it’s because we are too.
      We can blame Justin Bieber all we like for turning up two hours late to his own concert, thus leaving our children exhausted for school the next day. But it’s hardly his fault that parents deemed it appropriate to take children as young as five to see him in the first place.
    • What makes a night flight inhuman?

      When I first saw headlines yesterday claiming that Heathrow bosses were under pressure to justify night flights, I honestly believed that it was for the benefit of the passengers. And I genuinely could not believe what I was expecting to read: that we have become so ridiculously precious we can no longer fly during sleeping hours.
      Of course, the pressure has not stemmed out of any concern for the passengers, but for the 100,000 west Londoners who live near the airport and are allegedly sick of the 15 flights that land over their houses between 11.30 PM and 6 AM every single day.
      My initial disbelief, albeit misguided, did not, however, waver. Especially on learning that these 15 night flights boost the economy by £340m and 6,600 jobs each year.
      Are we really to prioritise the needs of 100,000 people over the 60 million odd living in the UK, who, let’s face it, could really do without another economical slump?
      It’s not even as if those living close to the airport are suffering in silence, either. I’m sure it’s less than pleasant hearing the distinctive roar of the aeroplane’s huge engine, no matter what the time of day. But that’s why Heathrow has dedicated a section of their website to ‘Noise in your area’; outlining exactly where and when flights are going to be, providing information on moving to the area, and explaining how best to report noise, all in the wider context of the Noise action plan which is updated and re-published every five years. Not to mention the compensation schemes already available to homeowners affected by noise, which give money towards things like double glazing and relocation.
      I don’t want to get in to the highly contentious third runway, but if these proposals are realised and night fights are scrapped from Heathrow, we’d be taking the controversy to a whole new level.

      “London - and the country at large - depend on aviation”, reads a statement by Boris Johnson on the Mayor of London’s website. “The connectivity it provides is vital for the success of our businesses and enriches both our economy and society.”

      True, he is against a third runway at Heathrow. But I’m not sure he would support proposals to scrap night flights, either, if his above statement is anything to go by.

      The whole thing becomes even clearer in light of other news out yesterday of plans for Delta Air Lines to add destinations and increase flights to LAX, America’s third busiest airport. By July it is anticipated to have almost doubled the flights it had in 2006.
      To my mind, the only thing about a night flight that would make it inhuman is if it were to become extinct. And if that does happen, I’m sure a fair number of us will be on the first day flight outta here.
    • What makes a mum?

      I’ve never really taken much notice of award ceremonies. They come and go, as do the multitude of celebrities with the multitude of designer dresses and the multitude of tears, speeches and mock-shock.
      But for some reason, I have been a bit more attuned to them this year. What with the Baftas, the Brits and the Oscars, to name but a few, there seems to be no end to the countless celebrities adorned with a shiny trophy on their arm.
      Doubtless accompanying every single ceremony is the criticism, scepticism and raised eyebrows which seem to challenge each and every winner as if to force a justification for why they have won. Take Anne Hathaway, par example, Bafta winner for her supporting role as Fantine in Les Mis. For every person who recounts her unbelievable performance with awe and sheer delight at her very worthy win, there will be another five who scathingly retort at how little she was actually on screen.
      But love her or hate her, no one can doubt that after that performance, and irrelevant of whether or not she won, she deserved to be in the line up.
      After all, she delivered.
      Which is more than can be said for Kate Middleton (WARNING: This has nothing to do with Mantelpiece), who has not yet had her baby.
      I have a lot of respect for the Duchess of Cambridge - it was not that long ago that I spoke publicly in defence of her right to privacy as a pregnant woman. And I think she is a truly worthy role model and upstanding member of the Royal Family.
      But she is not yet a mum. Simple as that. Her Foxy Bingo nomination as Celebrity Mum of the Year is, therefore, baffling.
      Is it because the unborn child is constantly adorned in beautiful dresses and on-trend pieces from the latest season, all from the inside of her mother’s womb? Or maybe it comes down to the way Kate was pictured this week gently caressing the bump?
      Personally, I do not think one can judge how good a celebrity mum is merely from paparazzi pictures and often inaccurate media reports accompanying them, and therefore fail to take the countless accolades intended to applaud them seriously, as it is. But holding up a mum-to-be as an example of perfect motherhood is not only insulting to those mothers who are actually mothers, but is also tempting fate somewhat. Not to be morbid, but just imagine the horrendous scene of a woman who has somehow lost her baby with a Mum of the Year award still up on her mantelpiece. It just doesn’t bear thinking about.
      Imagine the horror of giving an Oscar to an actor before he’s finished filming, or a singer before her song has been released. There would be uproar, and rightly so.
      I do hope that this time next year we will all be looking to the Duchess of Cambridge, not only as a perfect princess but a perfect mother. But until then, and once again, let’s just leave this poor woman to carry her unborn child in peace.
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