Daily Archives: January 29, 2012

Party Time

During my time as a mother, I have discovered that I hate  am not very good at children’s parties. I never have enough money to hire a venue, I hate McDonalds and our house is too small. Also, if I’m honest, I don’t enjoy the idea of being responsible for a load of E numbered up children. Every year, I get annoyed with soft play areas for not spelling their names correctly, tentatively call a few church halls and wonder how people ever afford to do it. Every year, I end up inviting the same few friends and family round, buying party food that no one ever eats and staying up all night, trying to get the house ready, so that I am knackered, panicky and tearful by the time the guests arrive.

This year, I’ve decided to get ahead of myself. Tom’s sixth birthday is weeks away and I am determined to get it right.

“What kind of party would you like?”

“An Ancient Egypt party.”

“That’s quite specific.”

“What does specific mean?”

“It means that it’s quite niche.”

“What does niche mean?”

“It’s a very specialist party. It might be quite difficult to do. And the costumes are limited, for the guests. Why don’t we just do  general fancy dress party? You can still dress as a mummy.”

“I don’t want to be a mummy, I want to be a pyramid.”

“You can’t be a pyramid.”

“Why not? All you would need is some cardboard and yellow paint.”

“All I would need?!”

“Yeah, you’re good at making things.”

“Thanks. Seriously, though. I don’t think an Ancient Egypt party would work.”

“I do. I’ve been thinking about it. Monty could be the Sphinx.”

“We’d get reported to the RSPCA. What about the other children, anyway? We can’t expect their parents to rustle up pyramid costumes.”

“We’ll wrap them in toilet roll.”

“What about music?”

“I know! I know! Walk Like an Egyptian.”

“We can’t just invite a load of children to a church hall and wrap them in toilet roll and put the Bangles on repeat.”

“Why not?”

“It won’t work.”

“Yes it will. It will be fun. I’ve planned it.”

“Go on…”

“Well, you know that game call ‘Pin the tail on the donkey?'”

“Yes…”

“We could have ‘pin the hump on the camel’. Geddit?”

“I don’t know if they had camels in Ancient Egypt, but yes.”

“And we could have gingerbread mummies instead of gingerbread men and the adults could be different Egypt fings, like those men with birds’ heads and dogs’ heads on top of men’s bodies.”

“And loin cloths. Those things only wore loin cloths.”

“What’s a loin cloth?”

“A piece of fabric that covers your private parts and nothing else.”

“Well, they could wear normal clothes if they wanted to, but they could make bird and dog heads out of junk from lying around their house.”

“Who am I, in the plan?”

“Claire O’Patra.”

“Can we not just go to MacDonalds?”

                     I blame the Playmobil.

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Thanks, Lord Mackay of Clashfern

On Wednesday night, the Coalition Government suffered its biggest defeat in the House of Lords since it was elected. It was a landslide: 270 over 128. The vote was for an amendment to the planned CSA charges, tabled by Lord Mackay of Clashfern.

Last year, I wrote and wrote and wrote about the Government’s plans to charge single parents with care of their children to apply for child maintenance – and to take part of the money that was collected. I didn’t just write about it on my blog: I wrote to my MP and I wrote to the Consultation, as well as speaking to them on the phone (my questions about fairness expertly sidestepped.) I wasn’t the only one: single parent charity Gingerbread were working tirelessly to oppose the charges and many more people wrote letters and emails and made exasperated phone calls. No one paid any attention.

What the Government didn’t seem to understand is that for many women (and it is women in 97% of cases,) using the CSA is not a choice. Asking an agency to track down your child’s father and demand money is not an enjoyable thing to do (despite the common misconception that women who use it are cackling, money-grabbing scroungers.) You’d much rather they just contributed a little; helped out with school meals or swimming lessons, that kind of thing. When you don’t even know where your child’s father is, you can’t begin to try to come to an amicable agreement. Yet still, Maria Miller and her colleagues kept talking about how marriage separation is a difficult time and about how people would be given the ‘choice’ to come to their own amicable arrangements, all stuff that just isn’t applicable to many single parents. The charges would mean that many parents wouldn’t be able to afford to apply in the first place and that even if they could, the money their children needed would be discounted. It made no sense, it was completely unfair and it was ludicrous.

Then along came Lord Mackay of Clashfern, leading a wonderful revolt and talking absolute sense. In an interview with the Guardian, he had this to say:

“When a woman – as a typical example – has taken all reasonable steps and done all she can to reach an agreement but cannot manage it, I do not agree that she should be charged by the CSA for her application … That is utterly unfair. If anyone is to pay for that, surely it should be the person who has caused the difficulty by trying to escape from his moral obligations.”

and writing himself for the Telegraph:

“For many parents raising children on one income, making ends meet is already a struggle particularly in these straightened times. Child maintenance from the non-resident parent – even a modest amount – can play a vital role in protecting children. For those unable to persuade the non-resident parent to pay voluntarily, the combination of application and collection charges will be a bitter blow, effectively taking money away from their children.”

When I watched him speaking in the House of Lords (here at 2:42), I cried. Finally, a Conservative MP who wants fairness, a man who understands the reality for thousands of single parents. I never thought I would want to hug a Tory peer.

I can’t give Lord Mackay of Clashfern a hug, but I am going to write him a thank you letter – and I hope others who helped campaign against these charges will have the time to do the same.

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