So it’s official – I belong to the blogosphere. Be careful what you wish for hey?!
I started this blog three months ago, largely as a reaction to the poor quality of the mummy blogger content that I was editing for my clients, but also because I thought that it would be funny to talk about pocket squares and tweed blazers instead of weaning and sleep training. Fast forward a few months and an invite arrives in my inbox from the lovely people at the Huffington Post asking if I’d like to be part of a blogger discussion panel on parenting, chaired by Jamie Oliver.
Jamie’s Spidey senses are tingling
So not only have I become the sort of person I always I thought I hated, I’ll be meeting someone who I also thought I hated! In the words of Buck Murdock in Airplane II, “I guess irony can be pretty ironic sometimes.” However, I’m happy to say that the event confounded my expectations and proved that I can be a judgemental prick at the best of times.
I arrived at the AOL offices where they were filming the discussion only to find, much like the first day at big school, that everybody seemed to know each other and were already engrossed in deep conversation. The fact I was dressed in full dandy dad regalia (multi-coloured bow tie, double breasted blazer, white chinos and suede loafers) probably didn’t engender much integration, so I adopted the default sitting-alone-in-the-corner-checking-my-phone pose until we were ushered into the office kitchen to await the Naked Chef’s arrival.
I soon got talking to Benjamin Brooks-Dutton, one of the few men in the room, who told me that he rarely does parenting events like this because his blog is largely about grief (he’s a widowed single parent) and most brands will stay well away. His story is absolutely fucking heartbreaking yet at the same time hugely life-affirming, and my perception of parenting bloggers was completely blown after speaking to him for just two minutes. So far so good…
We were then called into a room for filming that was straight out of a daytime TV chat show: leather sofas, widescreen TV, vase of flowers, obligatory daytime TV bowl of fruit, that kind of thing. I got talking to a lovely Brummie called Em, who, when I asked her what her blog was about, simply said, “most of it is about being a crap mum!” Again, I was surprised that the approach from both bloggers I’d talked to was less about the idyllic ‘2.4 kids’ lifestyle and more about the relentless grind of real life.
Jamie Oliver’s a decent bloke. There, I said it. He bounded into the room, obviously at his 2nd or 3rd appearance that morning (he’s flogging a book at the moment ‘Super Food, Family Classics’ so he’s forgiven), and was engaging and warm from the off. His fervent passion for trying to achieve something positive with his celebrity status instantly overrides any jealousy/negativity borne from his omnipresence – blame his PR guy for that. He was friendly, funny and seemed genuinely interested in our opinions. Another perception obliterated.
“Honestly Jamie, it was THIS big!”
The discussion was split into three sections: ‘guilt’, ‘the rulebook’ and ‘happiness’. My only real contribution of note (aside from raising the bar sartorially) was to declare that I felt guilty about not taking Shared Parental Leave, and spending so much time away from my baby daughter. Jamie said that he actively encourages his staff at his restaurant 15 to spend as much time with their children as possible, and that he’d hate to think that someone he employed would ever blame him for them being an absent parent, which was interesting. Moving around the room, it seemed that most people held on to some kind of guilt (particularly women), and we really need to rid ourselves of that feeling.
Unfortunately, we were so short of time that the next two topics of discussion were skipped over quite lightly, but it was encouraging to see that there appears to be no textbook way to look after a child, and that we should stop beating ourselves up when we’re not achieving what we think are perfect parenting goals; Jamie said quite rightly that social media is to blame for this. In a world where we can choose to project a certain image of perfection to others, reality can become skewed.
Anyway, as soon as the cameras stopped rolling, an unholy clamour ensued as it became ‘selfies with Jamie’ time. After waiting in line like a fanboy, I managed to grab him and take a very bad picture, as you can see. Then I just had time top pick up my Huffington Post branded mug and pen and hotfoot it back to work – reality bites!
So, for 20 minutes I became a proper blogger person, holding court with one of the most famous chefs in the world; I could get used to this…