Royals and dope smoking etiquette

Advice on meeting the queen, meeting foreigners and meeting your past...

Dear Marina

I am a young Arab male who has recently moved here from Iran to study, and I cannot tell if the UK is progressive and open-minded due to all the talk on multiculturalism, or if they are prejudiced and nationalistic and afraid of change. Does Britain welcome me earnestly or begrudgingly?

Omid, London

At a guess I’d say you are not at all welcome. However hard you study, however useful your skills base, the fact is, you’re not from round these parts, are you?

As a guest in a country where people from neighbouring villages treat each other with deep suspicion you’re up against it I’m afraid.

The Prime Minister’s from Scotland and that’s pushing it for many south of the border. But Iran? Blimey – they eat babies don’t they?

Once we start bombing your people it should become clearer to you. No doubt you’ll be rounded up with your fellow Iranians for incarceration leaving you in little doubt as to the true multiculturalism of this once great empire!

Multiculturalism by the way, refers to the fact that Britain is an island populated by people from all over the place.

There is nothing inherent in the reference that suggests we actively enjoy each other’s company.

But hey, the Brits are a complex bunch. They will happily berate the fact that foreigners over running the place while queuing for a takeaway chicken madras without feeling the slightest bit ironic.

No wonder you’re confused: so are we!

Dear Marina

I’ve been invited to a garden party at Buckingham Palace. As a republican I am loath to curtsey or address a fellow human being as “Your Majesty”. What should I do if presented to the Queen.

Liz, Lewes.

PS: Would it be disrespectful to smoke a spliff in the grounds.

I myself faced a similar dilemma just this week. Pulled from a crowd of 8,000 guests to meet the monarch was a surprise and to be honest I’d not given it as much thought as you have. So I had to think on my feet.

Last time I met royalty I stood in line next to Norman Baker MP as Camilla approached. “Are you intending to curtsey?” he enquired. “What do you think?” I replied. We both made do with a nod of the head.

So as the Queen approached myself and my friend whispered in agreement: “We won’t curtsey, we won’t.” Whatever the Lord Chamberlain recommends – a quick jerk of the knee, as it happens - they can’t MAKE you cowtow.

As it happens the curtsey bit takes care of itself. She’s so tiny one has to stoop in order to shake hands and that kind of passes as a curtsey if you’re quick about it.

I was much more concerned at the state of my hands. I’d just snaffled a cutting from her herbaceous borders and the royal dirt was clinging to my fingernails. But you can’t keep them behind your back when the regal glove is coming at you. Said dirt transferred and I can only assume a footman was later dispatched to remove them to the royal laundry basket.

She was surprisingly good company – we had a lively conversation covering gardening – she’s given it up but was most impressed with my muscles (from digging) - finding strength to go out and meet people when what you really desire is a duvet day and the need for her generation to get involved with the revolution. Expect the Queen to launch her own brand of community action against climate change soon. And we didn’t use Your Majesty or Ma’am (to rhyme with spam) once. Oops!

In short, while the minions that surround her seem to seriously believe we are not all equal, the Queen is well up for getting down with the people. I feel she drew great strength from our meeting. At least now she knows that while her government does nothing, her people care about the unsustainability of current lifestyle choices and some of us are actively trying to do something about it.

As for toking, I did notice a discreet sign just inside the grand entrance stating that it is against the law to smoke at Buckingham Palace. But it’s a big garden and if you skin up behind your hat, you will, like countless others before you probably get away with it. Indeed a quick toke might get you relaxed enough to enjoy dispensing with formalities. The revolution, is, after all, ON. And should you get an attack of the munchies, I recommend the Victoria sponge. It certainly worked for me.

Dear Marina,

Are you on Facebook and why do you think it's so popular? I'm finding it irritating everyone going on about it the whole time. Don't you think it's a bit sad, are we all living in the past or just plain nosey?

Thanks
Orlando Jones Birmingham

I recently tried to join Facebook and attempted to fill in details about the festival I’m organizing for September. That’s Out of the Ordinary (www.outoftheordinaryfestival.com) a community event designed to help us to engage with the landscape and do something about climate change. It’s going to be fun. I’m especially delighted with the response from the black community who don’t generally tend to get involved with such events, unless they’re onstage drumming, as a rule. A multicultural festival indeed.

The preparations are going well – but we do need to sell more tickets to balance the budget – hence me trying to use Facebook. But I couldn’t work it out.

I know Ming Campbell is very trendy and loves his Facebook, having more friends than any other political leader. But me, I just can’t keep up with this newfangled communications tool. Perhaps that’s why he’s leader and I’m a disenchanted town councillor.

As I have no idea really what Facebook is all about I can’t say what motivates users. Perhaps it signals the isolation in which individuals find themselves living in this ironically titled age of communication. Do please send a carrier pigeon if you work it out first.

Marina Pepper is a former glamour model turned journalist, author, eco-campaigner and Lib Dem politician. A councillor and former Parliamentary candidate, she lives near Brighton with her two children.
Why not e-mail your problems to askmarina@newstatesman.co.uk?
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A new German law wants to force mothers to reveal their child’s biological father

The so-called “milkmen’s kids law” would seek protection for men who feel they have been duped into raising children they believe are not biologically theirs – at the expense of women’s rights.

The German press call them “Kuckuckskinder”, which translates literally as “cuckoo children” – parasite offspring being raised by an unsuspecting innocent, alien creatures growing fat at the expense of the host species’ own kind. The British press have opted for the more Benny Hill-esque “milkmen’s kids”, prompting images of bored Seventies housewives answering the door in negligées before inviting Robin Asquith lookalikes up to their suburban boudoirs. Nine months later their henpecked husbands are presented with bawling brats and the poor sods remain none the wiser.

Neither image is particularly flattering to the children involved, but then who cares about them? This is a story about men, women and the redressing of a legal – or is it biological? – injustice. The children are incidental.

This week German Justice Minister Heiko Maas introduced a proposal aimed at to providing greater legal protection for “Scheinväter” – men who are duped into raising children whom they falsely believe to be biologically theirs. This is in response to a 2015 case in which Germany’s highest court ruled that a woman who had told her ex-husband that her child may have been conceived with another man could not be compelled to name the latter. This would, the court decided, be an infringement of the woman’s right to privacy. Nonetheless, the decision was seen to highlight the need for further legislation to clarify and strengthen the position of the Scheinvater.

Maas’ proposal, announced on Monday, examines the problem carefully and sensitively before merrily throwing a woman’s right to privacy out of the window. It would compel a woman to name every man she had sexual intercourse with during the time when her child may have been conceived. She would only have the right to remain silent in cases should there be serious reasons for her not to name the biological father (it would be for the court to decide whether a woman’s reasons were serious enough). It is not yet clear what form of punishment a woman would face were she not to name names (I’m thinking a scarlet letter would be in keeping with the classy, retro “man who was present at the moment of conception” wording). In cases where it did transpire that another man was a child’s biological father, he would be obliged to pay compensation to the man “duped” into supporting the child for up to two years.

It is not clear what happens thereafter. Perhaps the two men shake hands, pat each other on the back, maybe even share a beer or two. It is, after all, a kind of gentlemen’s agreement, a transaction which takes place over the heads of both mother and child once the latter’s paternity has been established. The “true” father compensates the “false” one for having maintained his property in his absence. In some cases there may be bitterness and resentment but perhaps in others one will witness a kind of honourable partnership. You can’t trust women, but DNA tests, money and your fellow man won’t let you down.

Even if it achieves nothing else, this proposal brings us right back to the heart of what patriarchy is all about: paternity and ownership. In April this year a German court ruled that men cannot be forced to take paternity tests by children who suspect them of being their fathers. It has to be their decision. Women, meanwhile, can only access abortion on demand in the first trimester of pregnancy, and even then counselling is mandatory (thereafter the approval of two doctors is required, similar to in the UK). One class of people can be forced to gestate and give birth; another can’t even be forced to take a DNA test. One class of people can be compelled to name any man whose sperm may have ventured beyond their cervix; another is allowed to have a body whose business is entirely its own. And yes, one can argue that forcing men to pay money for the raising of children evens up the score. Men have always argued that, but they’re wrong.

Individual men (sometimes) pay for the raising of individual children because the system we call patriarchy has chosen to make fatherhood about individual ownership. Women have little choice but to go along with this as long as men exploit our labour, restrict our access to material resources and threaten us with violence. We live in a world in which it is almost universally assumed that women “owe” individual men the reassurance that it was their precious sperm that impregnated us, lest we put ourselves and our offspring at risk of poverty and isolation. Rarely do any of us dare to protest. We pretend it is a fair deal, even that reproductive differences barely affect our lives at all. But the sex binary – the fact that sperm is not egg and egg is not sperm – affects all of us.

The original 2015 ruling got it right. The male demand for reassurance regarding paternity is an infringement of a woman’s right to privacy. Moreover, it is important to see this in the context of all the other ways in which men have sought to limit women’s sexual activity, freedom of movement and financial independence in order to ensure that children are truly “theirs”.  Anxiety over paternity is fundamentally linked to anxiety over female sexuality and women’s access to public space. Yet unless all women are kept under lock and key at all times, men will never, ever have the reassurance they crave. Even then, the abstract knowledge that you are the only person to have had the opportunity to impregnate a particular woman cannot rival the physical knowledge of gestation.

We have had millennia of pandering to men’s existential anxieties and treating all matters related to human reproduction, from sex to childbirth, as exceptional cases meaning women cannot have full human rights. Isn’t it about time we tried something new? How about understanding fatherhood not as winning gold in an Olympic sperm race, but as a contract endlessly renewed?

What each of us receives when a child is born is not a biological entity to do with as we choose. It is a relationship, with all of its complexities and risks. It is something worth contributing to and fighting for. Truly, if a man cannot understand that, then any money wasted on a Kuckuckskind – a living, breathing child he could get to know – has got to be the least of his worries. 

Glosswitch is a feminist mother of three who works in publishing.