Just basic acceptance of women and their children would do for starters. Photo: Getty
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Should mothers have to be thankful that businesses “welcome” breastfeeding?

A healthy, humane culture should have space not just for the idea of us, but for our bodies, our children, what we are and what we do.

At primary school I had a friend called Pamela. I knew she was my friend because she told me this on a regular basis, albeit rarely without the qualification “even though everyone else says you’re really fat and ugly”. Plucky, brave Pamela. Without her, I may never have known companionship, given all that was offensive about my appearance. Without her, I may never have realised just how repulsive a body like mine must have been. Without her, I might have carried on assuming, if only for a little while longer, that I was alright, really. Thanks, Pam. I am grateful for your “friendship” – but that’s what you wanted, right?

Thirty years on, a poster in my local chip shop brings back memories of Pamela. I’m waiting for my cod bites when a bright pink slogan declaring that that this business “welcomes breastfeeding” catches my eye. Obviously I approve of this. Cod bites can take a while to cook and you don’t want to be stuck with engorged, leaking breasts and a screaming, hungry baby while you wait. If I was still breastfeeding, I wouldn’t have hesitated to do it there and then. Yet up until that point, it had not crossed my mind that my chip shop even felt in a position to grant permission. It all feels a bit “I’ll still be your friend, you fatso”; “I’ll still take your £4.25 even though you’ve been brazen enough to bear your veiny areolas in my humble establishment”. Should breastfeeding mothers be thankful for this? Is our freedom of movement – and to buy chips – so dependent on the largesse of others?

It’s not that I don’t understand the motivations behind the Gloucestershire Welcomes Breastfeeding scheme. As a new mum, I felt incredibly self-conscious about breastfeeding in public, hence my first child endured plenty of miserable feeds in cramped toilet cubicles and baby changing rooms that stank of dirty nappies. In a society that both sexualises women’s breasts and offers them slut-shaming advice on how to avoid sexual violence, it feels counter-intuitive to just sit down on a bench and whip your tits out for all to see (and no, I don’t buy the “it can always be done discreetly” line. Babies wriggle; it can be hard to get into position for latching on; sometimes, oddly, one’s own arms and knees seem to get in the way; a whole new wardrobe of breastfeeding tops is prohibitively expensive; achieving let-down occasionally requires a bit of a squeeze; and no, a “modesty apron”, hiding both breast and baby from view, is not the ideal solution to any of this). It was only when I had two children under two that I was stressed and distracted enough to think “sod it” and breastfeed anywhere and everywhere: on park benches, by roadsides, in shops, at people’s houses, in workplaces. I was lucky, I suppose, that no one ever challenged me (it may be that my accompanying weaponry – a double buggy the size of a military tank – was enough to ensure potential critics kept their distance).

Since 2005 it has been an offence under Scottish law “deliberately to prevent or stop a person in charge of a child from feeding milk to that child in a public place or on licenced premises”. In England and Wales the 2010 Equality Act states that it is against the law for women to receive less favourable treatment if they are breastfeeding when receiving services (there is, however, no right to breastfeed at work).  So, ladies, unless you are trying to sneak in a quick feed under the till or by the photocopier, it looks like you can relax: you cannot legally be discriminated against for trying to feed your own baby. Hooray! But this does prompt the question: what kind of culture is this, in which we need laws in place to ensure that something so fundamental – the very stuff of life – is not openly rejected and condemned?

Much of the rejection of breastfeeding in public strikes me as out and out misogyny; breasts are for the enjoyment of heterosexual men and we mothers are “spoiling” them by exposing them in all their leaking, squirting, nurturing glory. I think, however, this rejection also fits in with a more general view of motherhood as “other”. Raising children is essential to the continuation of the human race and yet it is sidelined in a male-dominated, wealth-obsessed culture. Mothers of young children are granted access to public spaces and workplaces on sufferance. We are told off for taking up too much space with our buggies, criticised for the noises our children make, shamed for “harming” businesses with our maternity leave and our flexible working hours. Women who have done nothing wrong and simply want to participate in society are put in a position of feeling grateful for every tiny concession granted to them. We tell ourselves this is because we chose to have children (even though not all mothers are mothers by choice). That we should not have to pay such a high price is rarely considered.

On the whole I am happy that my chip shop welcomes breastfeeding. It is better, I suppose, than not doing so. Nonetheless I find myself thinking of all the Gloucestershire businesses who could have taken part in this scheme and chose not to. Why was that? Did they just not have any space for the poster? Did they not read the email? Did they find it patronising (as I do)? Or did they make a decision against actively welcoming breastfeeding mothers on their premises? That one should be asking these questions at all says something depressing about our attitude towards mothers, motherhood and the value of our work. A healthy, humane culture should have space not just for the idea of us, but for our bodies, our children, what we are and what we do. Extra chips – to cope with the increased calorie requirements of breastfeeding – would be a bonus, but for now just basic acceptance would do.

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

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What David Hockney has to tell us about football

Why the sudden glut of blond footballers? A conversation I had with the artist back in 1966 gave me a clue. . .

In 1966, I went to interview David Hockney at a rather run-down flat in Bayswater, central London. He was 28 and had just won a gold medal at the Royal College of Art.

In his lavatory, I noticed a cut-out photograph from a newspaper of Denis Law scoring a goal. I asked if he was a football fan. He said no, he just liked Denis Law’s thighs.

The sub-editors cut that remark out of the story, to save any gossip or legal problems. In 1966 homosexual activity could still be an offence.

Hockney and a friend had recently been in the United States and had been watching an advert on TV that said “Blondes have more fun”. At two o’clock in the morning, slightly drunk, they both went out, bought some hair dye and became blond. Hockney decided to remain blond from then on, though he has naturally dark hair.

Is it true that blonds have more fun? Lionel Messi presumably thinks so, otherwise why has he greeted this brand-new season with that weird blond hair? We look at his face, his figure, his posture and we know it’s him – then we blink, thinking what the heck, does he realise some joker has been pouring stuff on his head?

He has always been such a staid, old-fashioned-looking lad, never messing around with his hair till now. Neymar, beside him, has gone even blonder, but somehow we expect it of him. He had foony hair even before he left Brazil.

Over here, blonds are popping up all over the shop. Most teams now have a born-again blondie. It must take a fortune for Marouane Fellaini of Man United to brighten up his hair, as he has so much. But it’s already fading. Cheapskate.

Mesut Özil of Arsenal held back, not going the full head, just bits of it, which I suspect is a clue to his wavering, hesitant personality. His colleague Aaron Ramsey has almost the full blond monty. Paul Pogba of Man United has a sort of blond streak, more like a marker pen than a makeover. His colleague Phil Jones has appeared blond, but he seems to have disappeared from the team sheet. Samir Nasri of Man City went startlingly blond, but is on loan to Seville, so we’re not able to enjoy his locks. And Didier Ndong of Sunderland is a striking blond, thanks to gallons of bleach.

Remember the Romanians in the 1998 World Cup? They suddenly appeared blond, every one of them. God, that was brilliant. One of my all-time best World Cup moments, and I was at Wembley in 1966.

So, why do they do it? Well, Hockney was right, in a sense. Not to have more fun – meaning more sex – because top footballers are more than well supplied, but because their normal working lives are on the whole devoid of fun.

They can’t stuff their faces with fast food, drink themselves stupid, stay up all night, take a few silly pills – which is what many of our healthy 25-year-old lads consider a reasonably fun evening. Nor can they spend all their millions on fun hols, such as skiing in the winter, a safari in the spring, or hang-gliding at the weekend. Prem players have to be so boringly sensible these days, or their foreign managers will be screaming at them in their funny foreign accents.

While not on the pitch, or training, which takes up only a few hours a day, the boredom is appalling, endlessly on planes or coaches or in some hotel that could be anywhere.

The only bright spot in the long days is to look in the mirror and think: “Hmm, I wonder what highlights would look like? I’ve done the beard and the tattoos. Now let’s go for blond. Wow, gorgeous.”

They influence each other, being simple souls, so when one dyes his hair, depending on where he is in the macho pecking order, others follow. They put in the day by looking at themselves. Harmless fun. Bless ’em.

But I expect all the faux blonds to have gone by Christmas. Along with Mourinho. I said that to myself the moment he arrived in Manchester, smirking away. Pep will see him off. OK then, let’s say Easter at the latest . . . 

Hunter Davies is a journalist, broadcaster and profilic author perhaps best known for writing about the Beatles. He is an ardent Tottenham fan and writes a regular column on football for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times