Holy trinity: English triplet babies are held by their grandmother, vicar and mother following their christening, 1942. Photo: Getty
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The World’s Toughest Job may or may not be being a mother

Being a mother is hard – but we don’t need a greetings card company to tell us that.

What do you think is the world’s toughest job? Nay, the #WorldsToughestJob? Perhaps the post can be claimed by whoever had to count out all one million of Ai Wei Wei’s sunflower seeds. Or by my friend Darren who worked 14-hour days on a rose farm, tagging roses, with a work “buddy” who was widely known to have had sex with his goat. Or maybe it belongs to my other friend (I have two!) who works in a paper factory, where duties include having to shovel pulp that smells like rotting flesh, emptying the roof tank of dead birds, cleaning out the lift shaft with “the lift itself dangling precariously above”, and inhaling so much dust that your snot is black and you suffer random nose bleeds for days afterwards.

Think any of those jobs sound tough? Well then you’re wrong. But fear not, just in time for an artificial national holiday (in the US) celebrating all occupiers of this hashtaggable post, an American greeting’s card company has generously provided us with the answer, and said answer will blow your mind.

Mullen, an American advertising agency, advertised online and in newspapers for the role of “Director of Operations”. Included in the job criteria was:

Must be able to work 135+ hours a week

Willingness to forgo any breaks

Must be able to lift up to 75 lbs. on a regular basis

Unlimited patience

Salary: unpaid

Spoiler alert: it’s motherhood.

They then interviewed the few presumably desperate but also inconceivably good-natured jobseekers (or, y’know, out of work actors) who applied for this unappealing position, shocked them all with this revelation, and compiled the encounters in to one heart-warming reminder that YOU ARE A BAD DAUGHTER BECAUSE WHEN WAS THE LAST TIME YOU MADE YOUR MUM A MOTHER’S DAY CARD YOU SELF-ABSORBED LOUT?

Bet you didn’t see that one coming, did you?

Here are some possible reasons why you might not have twigged the profound message being sold to you by Mullen:

  1. Sometimes, fathers are involved in childcare. Admittedly this probably only happens in weird hippie communes in Scandinavia where no one pays for healthcare and everyone is flying high on drugs and misandry, but hey, they might want a greeting’s card too.
  2. It has also been known in some rare cases (Louis Theroux documentary pending) for Women Who Are Mothers to have other jobs too. Like, maybe they work in accounting. Or write books. Or fly planes. Or perhaps, even, work for Mullen and are so weighed down by their feelings of perpetual guilt at not being a Full Time Mum that they thought they’d make a video showcasing all their failings.
  3. Maybe you didn’t see it coming because you are very much aware that raising children is a hard job, and that some women and men do choose to devote their lives to it at the expense of other careers, but the fact that you have a mum has made you realise this before. You didn’t think an advertising agency would really try and tell you this, as it’s a bit like saying “giving birth is painful”, or “Kate Middleton has nice hair”, but hey, I guess we all have our moments of stupidity.
  4. Maybe you thought we in the developed world had moved past tired stereotypes about the holy grail of womanhood being motherhood. Lol.
  5. You realise that mothers are often underappreciated in our society. There are number of ways to tackle this, you think: improved access to childcare, a supportive system of child benefits, equitable maternity and paternity leave, a change in the way the media presents mothers as one-dimensional caregivers. You didn’t realise that all that Mums needed was a fucking Mother’s Day card! Quick, someone call Germaine Greer, her work here is done.
  6. Some mums are bad mothers. They might be great women in all other respects, or they might even be crap in all other respects, but regarding their children, some mums get it wrong some or all of the time. Like me learning to drive. I’ve had probably approaching 100 hours of lessons, attempted many tests, and I still can’t do it. Luckily, this means I am in fact legally barred from the road, whereas there is no such audit for becoming a mother. But if there was, I’m sure a lot of people would fail.

So, yeah, being a mum is hard. But I think we knew that already.

Amy Hawkins is a student at the University of Cambridge and deputy editor of Varsity, the student newspaper. Follow her on Twitter @DHawkins93.

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Erdogan’s purge was too big and too organised to be a mere reaction to the failed coup

There is a specific word for the melancholy of Istanbul. The city is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. 

Even at the worst of times Istanbul is a beautiful city, and the Bosphorus is a remarkable stretch of sea. Turks get very irritated if you call it a river. They are right. The Bosphorus has a life and energy that a river could never equal. Spend five minutes watching the Bosphorus and you can understand why Orhan Pamuk, Turkey’s Nobel laureate for literature, became fixated by it as he grew up, tracking the movements of the ocean-going vessels, the warships and the freighters as they steamed between Asia and Europe.

I went to an Ottoman palace on the Asian side of the Bosphorus, waiting to interview the former prime minister Ahmet Davu­toglu. He was pushed out of office two months ago by President Recep Tayyip Erdogan when he appeared to be too wedded to the clauses in the Turkish constitution which say that the prime minister is the head of government and the president is a ceremonial head of state. Erdogan was happy with that when he was prime minister. But now he’s president, he wants to change the constitution. If Erdogan can win the vote in parliament he will, in effect, be rubber-stamping the reality he has created since he became president. In the days since the attempted coup, no one has had any doubt about who is the power in the land.

 

City of melancholy

The view from the Ottoman palace was magnificent. Beneath a luscious, pine-shaded garden an oil tanker plied its way towards the Black Sea. Small ferries dodged across the sea lanes. It was not, I hasten to add, Davutoglu’s private residence. It had just been borrowed, for the backdrop. But it reminded a Turkish friend of something she had heard once from the AKP, Erdogan’s ruling party: that they would not rest until they were living in the apartments with balconies and gardens overlooking the Bosphorus that had always been the preserve of the secular elite they wanted to replace.

Pamuk also writes about hüzün, the melancholy that afflicts the citizens of Istanbul. It comes, he says, from the city’s history and its decline, the foghorns on the Bosphorus, from tumbledown walls that have been ruins since the fall of the Byzantine empire, unemployed men in tea houses, covered women waiting for buses that never come, pelting rain and dark evenings: the city’s whole fabric and all the lives within it. “My starting point,” Pamuk wrote, “was the emotion that a child might feel while looking through a steamy window.”

Istanbul is suffering a mighty bout of something like hüzün at the moment. In Pamuk’s work the citizens of Istanbul take a perverse pride in hüzün. No one in Istanbul, or elsewhere in Turkey, can draw comfort from what is happening now. Erdogan’s opponents wonder what kind of future they can have in his Turkey. I think I sensed it, too, in the triumphalist crowds of Erdogan supporters that have been gathering day after day since the coup was defeated.

 

Down with the generals

Erdogan’s opponents are not downcast because the coup failed; a big reason why it did was that it had no public support. Turks know way too much about the authoritarian ways of military rule to want it back. The melancholy is because Erdogan is using the coup to entrench himself even more deeply in power. The purge looks too far-reaching, too organised and too big to have been a quick reaction to the attempt on his power. Instead it seems to be a plan that was waiting to be used.

Turkey is a deeply unhappy country. It is hard to imagine now, but when the Arab uprisings happened in 2011 it seemed to be a model for the Middle East. It had elections and an economy that worked and grew. When I asked Davutoglu around that time whether there would be a new Ottoman sphere of influence for the 21st century, he smiled modestly, denied any such ambition and went on to explain that the 2011 uprisings were the true succession to the Ottoman empire. A century of European, and then American, domination was ending. It had been a false start in Middle Eastern history. Now it was back on track. The people of the region were deciding their futures, and perhaps Turkey would have a role, almost like a big brother.

Turkey’s position – straddling east and west, facing Europe and Asia – is the key to its history and its future. It could be, should be, a rock of stability in a desperately un­stable part of the world. But it isn’t, and that is a problem for all of us.

 

Contagion of war

The coup did not come out of a clear sky. Turkey was in deep crisis before the attempt was made. Part of the problem has come from Erdogan’s divisive policies. He has led the AKP to successive election victories since it first won in 2002. But the policies of his governments have not been inclusive. As long as his supporters are happy, the president seems unconcerned about the resentment and opposition he is generating on the other side of politics.

Perhaps that was inevitable. His mission, as a political Islamist, was to change the country, to end the power of secular elites, including the army, which had been dominant since Mustafa Kemal Atatürk created modern Turkey after the collapse of the Ottoman empire. And there is also the influence of chaos and war in the Middle East. Turkey has borders with Iraq and Syria, and is deeply involved in their wars. The borders do not stop the contagion of violence. Hundreds of people have died in the past year in bomb attacks in Turkish cities, some carried out by the jihadists of so-called Islamic State, and some sent by Kurdish separatists working under the PKK.

It is a horrible mix. Erdogan might be able to deal with it better if he had used the attempted coup to try to unite Turkey. All the parliamentary parties condemned it. But instead, he has turned the power of the state against his opponents. More rough times lie ahead.

Jeremy Bowen is the BBC’s Middle East editor. He tweets @bowenbbc

This article first appeared in the 28 July 2016 issue of the New Statesman, Summer Double Issue