Saturday, 15 September 2012

Topless Sunbathing? How Very Eighties...

So what's it to be, Prince Harry's testicles on the front page of The Sun or Princess Kate's blurry breasticulates in a foreign gossip rag? It's a question many of us have surely been asking over recent days. Well, my answer would be neither over breakfast, if you please. As a washed up housefrau, the decadence of it all appalls me. Just put your clothes on, kids, you'll catch a chill.
 "There's a couple of freshly laundered fleeces on top of the radiator and those t-shirts you wore yesterday have got another day left in them," would be my words to them, even before I start worrying about the poor royals' human rights.
But it does strike me these blue-blooded Monarchs-in-waiting are indulging in some terribly old-fashioned hobbies.
I didn't realise anybody played billiards anymore...and since when was it fashionable to do topless sunbathing? I tried it once, aged 19, in the South of France, of course. There's something about baguettes and berets and terraces littered with Pagnol novels that make even the meekest of students throw their TopShop crop top to the four winds. But it is so terribly eighties. Breasts are as milky white as the Elizabethans now, surely? It's all Lily Cole and that pale one from the Sugababes, isn't it?
Anyway, as for the moral outrage, well, Harry was asking for it. It may have been different if a dodgy paparazzo had flogged a picture of him having a crap in a hotel toilet, but he needs to choose his party mates better if he doesn't want to be photographed. Sending him to Afghanistan seems a little bit of a harsh punishment for this lack of judgement, but that's the Clarence House disciplinary for you.
As for Katie, well, of course she could reasonably expect privacy. Where does one draw the line - pictures of her flossing her immaculate teeth through the bathroom window? Shots of her squeezing her spots in her boudoir taken on hidden camera by a treacherous servant? Is it all in the public interest? However, the thought of her basking in the sunshine with her t*ts out, no doubt reading Flowers in the Attic or whatever while I graft my arse off and freak out over my bank balance daily does grate a little. (Ok, so it grates a lot, but I'm still coming out in support for her over all.)
Anyway, so the point is, they may be naff and rich and make me angrily jealous at their gilded lives, but they have to have a chance to let it all hang out (quite literally).
Clarence House regularly tries to keep the press at bay with its approved photocalls and interviews. Skiing, touring an orphanage, relaxing with family at Christmas, etc. In years to come, should we expect to see official shots of Harry in the shower or Kate and Wills in the bath? Perhaps they could do a "Hello" spread and make some additional dosh by having some Molten Brown product placement.
At least they're not politicos. At least they are young and attractive. Certainly, that's part of their problem. The Sun has dozens of shots of prime ministers picking their noses and chancellors eating beefburgers wearing clothes from Cotton Traders. All of them far too unpleasant to publish.

Monday, 10 September 2012

The End of It All

It was the defining moment of the summer for me. Tears were welling up in my mother's eyes as we stood for the German national anthem. 'How silly,' I thought as I looked over to her, 'what kind of idiot British person would cry during the German national anthem? Has she forgotten the war?'
But at the same moment I had this slightly xenopobic thought, I was urgently suppressing a tear from my own left eye. The sheer excitement and noise of the Olympic stadium, even during a relatively boring morning athletics session, had moved us to tears. It only took a few strains of the Deutschlandlied to send us over into "ridiculous weeping women" territory. I can't even remember which German had won a medal.
We soon pulled ourselves together and got on with some calmer admiration of Iraqi dwarves throwing javelins. But from that point forth, we knew we had finally cast off any remaining shreds of cynicism towards the "Summer Like No Other" or however the Olympic jamboree was branded.
And of course, it's over now. Already I am looking for the cracks reappearing in the transport networks, the rubbish accumulating on the gleaming streets of Hackney and Newham, a return to misery as usual. So many words have been written, so much over-excited puff consumed, an unsustainable suspension of all criticism must, at some point, end. We are not North Koreans after all.
What we must remember is that London is amazing city. It was before the games, and will be afterwards. Just because the papers aren't telling us what to celebrate every morning doesn't mean we won't find our own reasons for joy. We will just have to find them ourselves. Which is surely more fun.

Thursday, 6 September 2012

Multi-Tasking Miller

So, the moneyed elites have returned from holidays to Tuscany and the squeezed middle are scraping the mud off their supermarket camping equipment. And just days into the new school term it is very much business as usual. There was no easing back in to the infuriating statements and pathetic posturing of Government. No hors d’oeuvres to the great stinking dirty political wash-bin that we will witness in the lead up to Christmas. The 24-hour news channels bristled with tanned cabinet ministers spouting off in the gardens around Westminster, bathed in bright autumn sunlight. It was all free schools and Gove and that hotly-anticipated reshuffle.

Yes, the re-shuffle. Who would have thought it – a woman with an annoying voice and moles on her face replaced after ten months by chubby-chops Patrick McLoughlin. Swiftly dispatched to the far flung corners of international development (where, you may remember Blair stuffed that trouble-maker Clare Short) where she will not upset whatever plans young Cammers has for Heathrow.
And then there was the bombshell. This blog’s favourite private-school gimp: Jeremy Hunt, shipped into health, I expect as a salesman for the “nasty” NHS reforms. The populace has generally bought the “all in this together” line on the economy. But the Government now needs a bell-bonging, Murdoch-snogging Charterhouse chap to put a happy face on the privatisation of our beloved NHS.
Maria Miller – who will replace Hunto – is expected to multi-task. As well as culture she will be minister for “women and equalities.” God forbid that women should have a dedicated minister of their own.
A lot has been said about the casting out of some high-profile women, such as Caroline Spelman and Baroness Warsi. The cabinet is now even less representative of the population than ever before. But I have the hunch that Cameron knows this won’t piss off the voters as much as it does The Guardian newspaper.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Chewing on My Shin Pads

And so, after a glorious summer of worshipping tearful lady cyclists, cute blond judo champions, and plucky young female boxers, it is with a sigh that I realise the start of the football season is nigh.
I like the game, don’t get me wrong. It is a sensible, honest sport requiring little equipment, all-round fitness and a pair of feet. Much more equitable than, say “equestrianism” (horses, just call it horses).
But it is the dominance of the game – uniquely the men’s game – in our culture that gets me chewing on my Sondico shin pads in frustration. What are young girls suppose to think about  their potential relationship with sport if the closest they get to a role model is a handful of stunning Sharapovas in designer mini-skirts once a year at Wimbledon?
I know a lot of people who care about the footy – they are clearly desperate for those dreary Sunday Sportsline round ups on the news channels – but a lot of people couldn’t give a flaming referee’s toupee for it. Politicians have to be seen to enjoy it too, remember those pics of Cameron, Merkel and Obama cheering along at the Champions League final. I wonder who invited the photographers along.
The Olympics has been so refreshing – with the nation genuinely obsessed by everything from pingpong to pole vault. And why not? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to hear about these sports all year round? Wouldn’t it be great to have pictures of lady boxers in the sports pages every week? I’ve had enough of hearing about the exploits of hairy blokes doing a very narrow range of sports. I haven’t got time to decipher a three-day cricket match – give me a short sharp dose of slalom canoe any day.
Click here to see more about Stylist magazine's Fair Game campaign 

Saturday, 4 August 2012

Men in Orange Suits

The nation is wonderfully distracted. Many Londoners, at least, are living, eating and breathing the Olympics. Young girls across the country are watching the finest and most inspirational female competitors ever to grace our screens. Obsessed listeners rang BBC Radio London with the strange dreams they had been experiencing: winning a chocolate gold coin in the hurdles, throwing Victoria Pendleton in the javelin, and riding Zara Phillips around the dressage arena. My own dream involved weightlifting several large female weightlifters. Not sure I should reveal that one to a worldwide audience.
Anyway, it's all fabulous for morale, even if the killjoy Socialist Workers outside the tube are trying to put a dampener on things.
So, it's a perfect time for our leaders to entertain some Russian presidents and a controversial media mogul. There was brief outrage at Boris Johnson hanging out with Rupert Murdoch, but then we all just got on with staring at Jessica Ennis' abs. So, all political controversy has been put on hold. Only gripes about ticket sales are allowed.
Below are a couple of photos of the Olympic vibe around our way. We seem to have been over-run with very healthy-looking Dutch people dressed in orange. 
Many seem to be wearing suits. Or orange jumpers around their powerful shoulders. They all seem so bloody nice.

They are usually on orange bikes:

Or wearing furry hats or orange welly boots...

Then there's the Chinese: they like to paint their faces:


The army like shopping at Primark in Westfield Stratford City, between duties filling up the empty seats in the basketball. The Union Jack fleece jumpsuit might be a little warm for the time of year. Not great camouflage either.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Hairy Armpit Revolution?

A certain brand of razor (by that I mean Gillette) has scored a real coup at the Olympics. Enormous tower blocks facing the Docklands Light Railway are adorned with massive hoardings and assault the eyes as you travel between venues. And once you enter the Olympic Park, or switch on your TV, you are confronted with the smooth. A gymnast's armpit, confidently braced without a hint of bristles. A diver's crotch, pink and plucked. Even Tom Daley's chest looks unnaturally lacking in the hair department. Yes, it seems like everyone has been going madly at the Immac. Pubes have been well and truly eradicated from this 21st Century Games.
So it was to my great delight to watch the glorious glorious women's weightlifting, 63kg class. At first, all was conformist: every woman who stepped up to the vast weights gave a triumphant flash of shaven pit as they wrenched it above their heads. Either that, or they covered their pits in a t-shirt. But then on came Seen Lee. The Australian mining engineer stepped onto the floor, took hold of the bar, made a face...and whooop! There they were: The most fabulously hairy armpits I had ever seen in a world television event. Millions of people the world over admired her tumbling curls as the enormous dumbell swayed above her head. If ever an event was designed to show off a person's complete disregard for oppressive norms of armpit maintenance, that was it. Bugger the gymnasts and their brutal bikini lines. Bollocks to the beach volleyball girls with their smooth exfoliated legs.  Stuff you, Gillette and your evil profiteering from body-hair insecurities. Three cheers for Seen Lee, what a wonderful woman. Hoorah. She came seventh. She gets a gold from me though.

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Wiggo's Big Bong

If you had commissioned the largest harmonised bell in Western Europe, would you ring it only once, like the Rank Films gong bloke? Or, would you bang at it like a person possessed, surrounding yourself with vigorous echoey chimes? I know what I'd do, but then I'm a kind of "more is more" person, when it comes to bells.
It was probably for the best that Bradley Wiggins only got to bong the big bell once though: tired from the Tour de France victory it was best to save his energy for the road race....
I hope they have plans for the thing once the games are done. Perhaps they could melt it down and make it into NHS beds or braces for children's teeth or perhaps needles for an immunisation programme of Hackney squirrels?
Anyway, that's my oblique way of saying I thought the opening ceremony was all right, as ceremonies goes. Not really a ceremony, more a bonanza. There's been so much breathless stuff written about it, I feel I might be wasting my breath writing more, but then again....Ok, I enjoyed it, up until the bit where Seb Coe started his speech and I nodded off.
Highlights for me were, in no particular order: Evelyn Glennie and her drums, the uprooted tree, street-dancing Victorian industrialists, the Queen, the hairy goblins and Noel Fielding, Mr Bean, the Olympic rings raining sparks etc.
Things I really didn't like were: the enormous freaky baby head. It reminded me of that scene in Trainspotting where Renton is hallucinating about a scary enormous crawling baby. That Danny Boyle, he seems so goddam nice, but such an obsession with freaky babies. Real babies really aren't that bad.
Anyway, it's been quite eventful for the volunteers on the first couple of days of the Olympics. I seemed to spend my first day testing out the Jubilee Line and DLR which were very smooth. I spent the second day in Greenwich with a legend of French equestrianism and Olympic gold medal winner from Mexico '68. He was trying to get in touch with the French delegation but had no pass, no ticket, no accreditation and no English. We fought the authorities tooth and nail, and eventually cracked through the ring of steel by striking a deal with a soldier who delivered a paper (old skool) message. After a tense wait, we got a call from the French team who got us to take him to the house - draped in Tricolores - they had rented in Greenwich. At last, the 80-year-old was safe and welcome, but no thanks to the games organisers. I left thinking perhaps more could be done to afford the legends of the sport perhaps a little more welcome. But anyway - we had a lovely time with Jean-Jacques, who bemoaned how health and safety had taken the fun out of teaching riding to kids.
Nobody seems to be reading my Olympic posts, but that's probably because they are watching the beach volleyball. I met two ball girls today - Muslims in headscarves. God I despise beach volley ball. The men's shorts go down to their bloody knees.

Friday, 27 July 2012

Work No 1: All the Bellends

Someone sack whoever made that bell. Then someone sack Jeremy Hunt while you're at it. This morning's hilarious but potentially deadly "flying bellend" scenario during the mass bellringing thingy, I fear, will be the highlight of my Olympics. I fear it will not be beaten by the thrill of golds on track, field and velodrome.
Anyway, I think the incident tells the nation everything we need to know about Hunt: an over-privileged, over-promoted jogger who is trying to re-style himself as an affable Boris Johnson-alike jester. Much as I love a jester, I find it hard to like one who has got away with so much. I have no particularly strong feelings about the BSkyB debacle, but isn't there anyone more intelligent to run the culture department? Someone who could ring a bell without it falling off?
Maybe it's a bluff. Maybe his department planned for the bell to fly away, thus turning Hunt from chancing idiot to loveable Mr Bean? We English love to laugh at ourselves, right?
Anyway, enough of him. But it was funny. Fuck it was funny.
This is the first in a series of "live" Olympics posts that I will be posting over the next two weeks. As a games volunteer, I'm planning to bring my readers the very best pithy observations from the heart of the Olympiad.
Today, I can report three fabulous members of the Nigerian basketball team on the tube, a man in a bright orange office suit and assorted milling loons around the Westfield shopping centre. I also ran into a pleasant young Belgian couple who had cycled from Liege to camp in the Olympic campsite next to my house. £20 per person, per night? To sleep in a field in East London? They've been had.
Anyway, posts will be regular, but short and sweet. And if Jeremy Hunt carries on like this, we're going to have a blast.

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Suicide Cyclists

How many vegan cyclists does it take to mount a rocket launcher on a tandem bicycle? How many ganja-puffing dog walkers does it take to launch a suicide attack on the Olympic stadium? What are the chances of a dirty bomb fashioned from old bicycle clips making it as far as the velodrome from outside of the perimeter fence?
All questions that the Olympic organisers must have been asking themselves before they closed off the towpath of the River Lea Navigation, where it wends past the Olympic Park at Hackney Wick.
Mystified and dismayed, cyclists and other users of the route have been staging protests after the decision to close off the vital section, that would have allowed locals to cycle to the Olympic games without going on roads or clogging up the bus lanes.
There is consternation that a section of the river that has been especially poshed up for the Olympics has been shut off at the last minute, apparently for "security" reasons. I have spent the last week wondering how on earth security could come into this. There are many other parts of the park where the perimeter fence is easily accessible to unscreened members of the public. And the fence is 20ft high, for Tom Daley's rippling sake.
Perhaps they wanted to prevent a Mumbai-style water-borne attack by canal barge? No, it still doesn't make sense - they would only have to guard the locks, not close off the whole pathway.
After much reflection this evening, I have reached the only conclusion possible: It is because the section that is blocked off comes dangerously close to the massive international press centre? Should Fathers for Justice or the We Hate The Olympics Its Shit And Give Us Our Money Back pressure group form a nasty flash mob in front of the world's press....
Yes, the prevention of angry protest and the ensuing international public relations disaster is the only explanation. We simply can't have a repeat of those regrettable riots where many poor people became terribly angry.
Ironically enough, it was by this very route that I was planning to cycle when I start work as an Olympic volunteer next Friday. My new route into the heart of the East End will be circuitous, dangerous and no doubt involve collisions with melon salesmen, two workmen carrying a large sheet of glass and a lorry dull of hay bales.
This, on top of a somewhat inconvenient new controlled parking zone in my street and an unsolicited "Olympic camp" on my local playing field.
Being a "critical friend" of Locog hasn't been easy in recent months. As I practice my welcoming smile for the capital's thousands of foreign guests, it is starting to look a little strained. Indeed, a little constipated, as I contemplate the arsey inconvenience of it all.

Tuesday, 10 July 2012

Usain Bolt's Boxer Shorts-Wallah

I like a sprinter in lycra as much as the next body-fascist. I'll happily spend an hour or two admiring muscular athletes of either sex spilling forth from their tiny costumes. When something looks this good, surely, it would be rude not to look?
But that is in the stadium, where to bare all, in the name of performance, is almost certainly necessary. Even if the lycra streamlining hood is not. Part of the sport's allure is admiring the peaks of human speed, endurance and strength alongside the rippling musculature.
But when I see female athletes strip for magazines, it brings me out in a hairy-armpitted fit of feminist fury. I'm sorry Victoria Pendleton, while I acknowledge your nifty ability with a bike and your tremendous arse, don't do it. Not for GQ magazine at least. I am most perturbed at the thought of all those pervy men in trendy suits and pointy brogues staring at her. Women in sport have a hard enough time being recognised for their talents as it is (will my dearest dear Paul Radcliffe ever live down the "pissing pitstop" moment?)
I know I know, we women have posters of Bradley Wiggins' incredible body adorned in a condom-like biking suit all over our walls. We drool over Wayne Rooney's delightful hairy legs (please note: irony). If only, if only, I could sink my teeth into (Sir) Chris Hoy's bulging thighs. Men are objectified too. But with men, it is a secondary thing. The lust is secondary to the nation's pride at their winning. And when ugly men do badly, we take them motheringly to our hearts. Look at Andy Murray.
But with women, it is everything. If you're not attractive, but successful, you are only begrudging admired and given little attention (see Sally Gunnell for details).
And if a beautiful woman loses - such as Sharapova - she's blamed for doing too many L'Oreal adverts instead of practising her backhand. Women should certainly boycott photoshoots of all but the most tracksuited kind until they are treated seriously by the sporting press, and the world in general.
But there may be a solution to all this hypocrisy and bum-gazing.
Despite my desire to be Usain Bolt's boxer shorts-wallah at the Olympic Games, I think, on reflection, I would support a Muslim-style "modest" Olympiad.
Let us filter out the distraction of the wobbling breast, the oscillating testicle, the raw naked-but-for-a-strip-of-peach-leotard crotch. Let us admire the sport for sports sake, be it by man or woman or neuter.
Stella McCartney could design something along the lines of a black jersey body suit with appropriately ruched sections for all. Especially for those bloody beach volley-ball porn stars. They should be bloody banned altogether until they get some clothes on.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Lanky freak? Admire the View

Can you sue somebody because they inadvertently allowed you to grow too tall? Does being 6ft 5ins ruin your life? These are the questions being posed at the high court in London as we speak. As a woman who is frequently compared to a giraffe, this story fascinates me.
20-year-old Kate Woodward claims that doctors’ failure to diagnose a tumour on her pituitary gland which led to her soaring to the size of a basketball player has “marked her out as a freak”.
Although she suffers side effects on her back, knees and teeth, it seems sad that she cannot wear her height with pride. She surely needs to, because it’s not something she’s ever going to hide. Surely the advantages of extreme height outweigh the inconveniences? I’ve always enjoyed the extra reach of my long octopus arms. I get a good view at concerts, rather than finding my face crushed between the sweaty buttocks of an overweight Happy Mondays fan.
My long legs won me all the sprint races at school, despite my body being built for long distances (I won those as well). I can eat an awful lot of cake without any ill-effects.
And it’s helped me get on in a man’s world. Being a short woman scuttling around the floor like a toddler in heels can be an impediment when negotiating with male colleagues and business contacts.
And then there’s the double-standards: if Kate was a man she’d be donning a mesh singlet and shooting hoops to the sounds of adoring cheerleaders right now. Surely?
The Leeds Teaching Hospitals NHS Trust have already admitted it’s their fault she’s too tall. But they don’t want to shell out quite as much cash….understandably given the state of the NHS.
So good luck to you Kate, but money won’t really change anything. You can’t lop a foot off your height without losing something vital, so the only thing you’ll get out of it is tailormade trousers and an extra-long bed.
Better to embrace your size. Find a 7ft Russian husband. Become a model, campaign for better legroom for tall people. Become the poster girl for the vertically un-challenged. And enjoy always being able to see what’s going on at the front.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

Dusting a Living

Every day after I have gone home from work, an army of cleaners arrives to cleanse our office of a day's worth of filth deposited by several dozen slovenly media professionals.
I've never stayed late enough to see them. I only have the word of my employers that they come: hunch-backed in their industrial tabards, tired from their bus journeys from the grimmer suburbs, they push their Henry hoovers across the floor and run their dusters across my keyboard. The very keyboard that earns me a tidy graduate wage as I sip tea at my ergonomic desk in my futuristic mesh chair. It is fortunate I have not met these people, as I have a deep aversion to watching anyone clear up after me. Lazy though I am, the thought of someone on bended knee scratching a toilet bowl in my wake is horrifying. A bit like asking a stranger to give you a sponge bath. There is something intimate, a little shameful about my dirt, the dust I spread, my filthy handprints on the computer screen. I'll clean it myself thank you very much. Sit down and and have a rest, Mavis.
Nonetheless, it is lowly, invisible cleaners like these who make our lives tolerable. Nobody notices that they have been - the absence of dirt is unremarkable in a regularly cleaned office or house. But everyone notices when they haven't. Bins overflow. Toilets back up. Washing baskets creak and stink. Kitchen sinks turn brown with tea stains.
Which is precisely why these cleaners deserve to be valued: not in the form of a patronising Christmas bonus, but with an honest living wage. I was moved by the experience of the poverty-wages cleaners at John Lewis Oxford Street, who, facing severe cuts to jobs and hours, held a "noisy protest" outside the store at the weekend. I can barely survive on £28k in London, let alone £6.08 an hour with irregular and uncertain shifts.
John Lewis has been able to sidestep responsibility for the low-pay scandal (hardly in line with their goody-two-shoes image) because the cleaners are subcontracted through a separate company. The cleaners' union said the company only won the contract because it promised services at a price it could not deliver without cutting jobs and hours.
And this situation is set to get worse - as more and more services in the public sector are contracted out (see: those lovely health service reforms) we are going to see more of the same. And more politicians shunting responsibility.
The recent bus strike over Olympic bonuses was a classic example - Boris claimed to be powerless as the buses are run by a private company. It was their fault, obviously. The bus service is only his responsibility when he's getting rid of bendy buses and introducing Routemasters and posing for press photographs. Not when things actually get tricky. Running a capital city is so easy when you've contracted it out.
So, hats off the those John Lewis cleaners bashing their brooms and bottles of Mr Muscle outside the company's flagship store. Let their protest ring in the ears of people buying £60 perfumes and £350 Samsonite suitcases on expertly hoovered carpets. Let it ring in the ears of the mums in the baby-change booths as they drop another disposable nappy into the emptied bins. Let it ring in the conscience of those John Lewis managers when they share the year's spoils among the company's partners.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

Attention Wonks: No Views Here

Until this week, I was doing well sticking to my resolution not to write about education. As it is my day job, I made a decision to keep it off the blog. It's simply too emotive a topic to be written about coherently. (mops brow with pedagogical flannel).
However, I have to make an exception this week. The mysterious "leak" of "top secret" documents revealing Michael Gove's plans to axe GCSE sent the Twittersphere alight from the second the Daily Mail rolled off the presses.
The left made the appropriate squawking statements about the return to divisive two-tier education systems. The right cheered a return to the good old days.
And no doubt Gove's wonks sat down with a cup of tea and a note pad (do wonks still use notepads?) and absorbed the reaction. Consultation via Mail scoop.
"Boss, they're liking the academic rigour but not the pigeon-holing at 14..." I can imagine one saying as he surfs the social networks.
"Is this going to help us win an election or not?" I can hear Cameron sigh as he delights in the doctors' strike being relegated to the inside pages.
It's like an episode of The Thick of It as seen from outside.
I've decided not to give my view on any of this. If the wonks are reading, I don't want to give anything away.

Sunday, 17 June 2012

In Xanadu did Michael Gove

It would be all to easy at this juncture to write an amusing ditty about Michael Gove and his plans to make five year olds learn poetry by heart.
Stuck in west Wales for a week with no access to the blogosphere I've had yonks to contemplate it.
I was planning to write one based around Kubla Khan by my old mucker Samuel Taylor Coleridge. The verse is strewn with stately pleasure domes, damsels with dulcimers, sacred rivers and sunless seas - so perfect for a little satire of Government diktats.
Alternatively, I could have re-written one of my favourite Michael Rosens about a boy holding melting chocolate or that McGough one about a teacher opening fire in a lesson. All would have been perfect.
But no, I'm going to resist it, for fear of looking like I have my head up my ars* and my brain in a Seamus Heaney trance every Sunday afternoon. (Come on, you've seen my poems in previous posts, you really don't want another one)
Instead, I'm going to rage and moan in a sarcastic fashion, the low-life, low-culture pond dweller that I am.
Of course it's nice to know poetry by heart. It makes one feel intensely smug. God is does. I knew a couple of poems once, I felt like I was the king of the world.
For instance, you can whip it out in public and inflict it upon unsuspecting passengers on the number 37 bus. Over dinner with a lover when there's a lull in conversation as an alternative to quoting The Matrix or Star Strek.
If there's nothing on telly, you can write it down in a notebook and illuminate the first letter of each line with a quill pen and ink made from herbs and roots.
And above all, you can reel it out in exams to fill space in your answer sheet. For surely, being able to quote poetry is far more useful than actually, say, writing it.
I went to school in the 1980s, before the compulsory National Curriculum stuff. We were nuts about poetry. Everything was game: bits of broken bike, tadpoles, paper bags, armies of plastic soldiers, our own navels. It was very liberating. And IT DIDN'T HAVE TO RHYME. Although rhyming is intensely fun, it was liberating to strew the page with random words and read it out in a bold and epic voice, with appropriately dramatic pauses.
What piques me in these Govian proposals is not the memorising poetry bit, but the idea that the Government - surely the antithesis of poetry - should go anywhere near it. Playing with words is surely the purest pleasure there is, and daring to share one's shameful efforts is finer than a double bill of Borgen with a bowl of Sainsbury's Soft Scoop (by that I mean good, obviously).
So, the idea of the education secretary making our little mites rattle off Wordsworth of whatever other rigorous old-skool poet they pick is depressing. Let's hope he really means he wants children to write their own and remember it. Or maybe remember each other's? Let's hope teachers find a way round this next directive. Some politically subversive poetry perhaps?

Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Distinctly Vanilla Flotilla

I don't know what I was expecting really: the Mary Rose? an armada of proper-style Elizabethan galleons, all canons and rigging dripping with barnacles and seaweed and Russell Crowe? A few tea clippers, at least, surging down the Thames? Maybe The Golden Hind, broken free from its dry dock with Japanese tourists aboard?
And what did we get? Well, as far as I could make out through the mist and the wobbly long-distance view of the BBC cameras, we got Ben Fogle in a rowing boat.
Yes, the flotilla was underwhelming - at least for the home television viewer with their Sunday Times "boat identification wall chart" spread out before them on a miserable Sunday afternoon.
What I had imagined would be several happy hours of "Look! There's the Gypsy Moth" and "Gosh, is that really what Pugwash looks like now?" turned out to be 90 minutes of wondering whether Sophie Raworth was groping Matt Baker on the couch or the other way around.
Incidental views of the Queen in her light coat and Kate Cambridge Duchess Princess Thingy in her flimsy red dress only confirmed the suspicion that those royal women are pretty hard nuts.
Anyway, so the dreary disappointment of watching the "assorted flags of the Commonwealth" born by the Sea Scouts, sent me upstairs to the bathroom to shunt some stuff around and scrub the toilet. I told family members that should any impressive vessels appear I was to be called immediately. Needless to say, I spent a lot of the afternoon with the cream cleaner and a damp sponge.
Perhaps none of this would have been so bad if my expectations had not been raised. I swallowed the Jubilee propaganda whole - I'm ashamed to say. Local radio described it as a "Majestic Flotilla" before they had even seen it. We were encouraged to appreciate a sense of "history in the making".
I desperately wanted to be part of something. The thousands of people with their heads shoved up each others stinking armpits on the tubes were all desperate to be part of something. I might have felt the same disappointment with the concert on Monday, had I not accidentally fallen asleep during Elton John. I'm so glad I was spared another self-satisfied Paul McCartney retrospective as I snored into my woolly jumper.
I've been asking  myself, perhaps it was because I thought I could celebrate the Jubilee via the television that it all went wrong. Perhaps I needed to get a bit more stuck in. Perhaps I should have just got pissed a bit more?
But I'm not sure any of that is the case, I think it was simply over-sold. In these times of £1,000 overdrafts and redundancy panic, the nation needs something to distract itself, give itself a reason to crack open the Stella. The Government knows this too - surely a weekend of state-sanctioned revelry would fix things? If enough people bought union jack serviettes and paper cups from M&S maybe we could fix the economy in passing? Next up is the Olympics - but it is set to be a cold, unfeeling and corporate occasion for most of us, as we get ripped off and forced to pay by Visa for everything. I don't know about you, but I can't wait to get the telly on.

Sunday, 13 May 2012

For the Love of Brooks

Is it fashionable to love Rebekah Brooks? I asked myself this morning, circa 3am. It's the kind of question that comes to me between breastfeeding the baby and eating half a packet of crackers over a copy of last October's Tesco magazine.
A lot has been said about her since her appearance "on the Leveson" as it is now known in our house. The ultimate networker? Charm that would stab you in the back soon as cook you a lemon drizzle cake? A mysterious horse-loving red-haired queen of red top who sold her granny to conquer, errrm, Fleet Street?
Well, all I know is, after the now legendary "Cameron LOL revelations," I'm enjoying the smirking fun she's having embarrassing the top brass.
She's been pretty deep in the do-doherself over the hacking stuff, but ultimately, as a civilian, she has not much to lose. Certainly not her reputation. She was editor of the News of the World and The Sun, for Page Three's sake.
She and the Murdochs were the ones originally being picked to pieces at Leveson, but they have artfully turned the focus onto the Government and its wrongdoings. "So we hacked a few phones? Well, that's nothing to what we can tell you about some of the cabinet ministers penchant for inappropriate text speak".
Jeremy Hunt, once a dashing culture minister with all his own hair, has been reduced to a lambada-dancing figure of fun by the Fred Michel/Adam Smith email revelations. For a while, we were forced to watch footage of him setting off for a run in his shorts on the news most evenings. I'm reassured that this Peter Pan like politician keeps in shape, but I'm not sure we need to admire the white stucco of his residence or the white stucco of his shapely legs every day. He is nothing more than an artifact of amusement now. Cameron holds him close to his public school breast - they were at Oxford together, after all.
It goes to show, you can't really win over the press even when its key shakers are being dragged over the coals by Robert Jay QC on national television.
So, what is the answer to my original question? Is it ok to love Ms Rebekah?
I don't care. I can't get enough of her.

Sunday, 6 May 2012

Boris's Blond Ambition

So the election results were counted, and it turns out London no longer has enough earnest left-wingers to squeeze a Livingstone win.
So the talk has all been about beautiful Boris and his incredible charisma, his Cameron-challenging leadership skills, and his glorious "figurehead" status in this our magnificent "Olympic Year".
Newscasters up and down the freeview dial were chuckling about the harmless Old Etonian classicist who became the accidental ruler of the London Underground. And nemesis of the bendy bus.
And as his next four-year term overseeing cable-car projects and cycle lanes ground into action, there were already calls for him to replace the prime minister.
Could Boris be the tousled-haired saviour of British humanity in straightened times? Could the man who once said he would provide the "bubbles in the champagne" of the mayoralty simultaneously take on the deficit and steer the nation to track and field glory?
Well, the city is clearly divided on Boris's skills: there's the "oohh he's really intelligent you know, he just puts on the bumbling demeanour as a ruse" camp.
Then there's the "he's a complete buffoon, I've no idea why anybody voted for him" camp. Whatever the case, I know the man would almost certainly be dangerous as prime minister. He might be a friendly figure, but his skills in creating jobs, housing and burrowing out of recession are unproven.
Yes, Boris is certainly a figurehead. He's fantastically posh, seems to be boosting tourism (with the cablecar) and he's easily recognisable. He knows all the right questions to ask visitors (have you come far?) and knows how to shake hands.
Which brings me to my point: Surely as our ancient Queen prepares for her Jubilee next month, it's time for Boris to step up? Surely she should be invited to retire in the luxury or Balmoral, and Boris can step in as head of state? A short coronation at Westminster with appropriate multi-platform coverage should suffice.
This way, Queenie will get a nice rest, Boris will have no power whatsoever, and "the people" will get what they seem to crave: a charismatic leader in an ermine cloak to open sports centres and make a speech at Christmas.

Monday, 30 April 2012

Old Pirates Yes They Rob I

I returned from Kevin McDonald's new Bob Marley reggumentary this afternoon with the words to "Redemption Song" echoing through my head. Its lyrics - calling for people who were once enslaved to "free their minds" and take charge of their destiny - made me think about the current boom in modern-day slavery.
I know in the olden times young people with nothing to lose would set out to sea as unpaid cabin boys, hoping to cadge a ship's biscuit and some ale for skivvying below decks for months, even years on end.
But surely the age of the unpaid deck-hand is over? No. It is clearly alive and well on the high seas, where the usual laws of employers' decency seem to have been washed away by a freak wave. It's brought the TUC's Brendan Barber out in a pay and conditions rash. I can feel my own skin itching at the injustice as I type.
So we learn the poor waiters on P&O cruises are earning a paltry £250 a month for a 77 hour week, and they can push that up to £400 with tips. Except now, they won't get the pooled tips unless the crew reach their "performance targets". And all this for serving poshed up foods to pensioners hoping to get through the trip without falling overboard or contracting a fatal Norovirus. Or sinking a la Costa Concordia. Blistering Barnacles, as Captain Haddock might say.
The company claims withholding the tips will protect workers from passengers under-tipping during the recession. This way, all the slavery-wage workers will have a slice of the ever-decreasing pie - but only if they bend and scrape to the appropriate level.
But do people who book into £2,000 cruises really hope to make recessionary savings by tipping a bit less? Wouldn't they have saved more by simply staying at home. I would have thought once you'd spent that much, a bit extra for the crew would be (pardon the pun) a drop in the ocean. You might expect that holiday feeling to put people in a tipping mood. Perhaps the Indian and Filipino crew are so oppressed and miss their families so much, they're not smiling enough to earn the extra cash.
But it sounds to me as if P&O and owners Carnival are looking to push their profit margins even further, at the expense of the willing Asian workers who apparently "queue up" to work for them.
Ok, so working on Western cruise ships might be better than shovelling cow dung in the slums of Mumbai, but does that give multi-nationals the right to treat them like indentured workers on sugar-plantations?
Never before has the lyric "Old pirates, yes, they rob I, sold I to the merchant ships" felt more apt...

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Interlude Poetique Politique

Cuban heels Sarkozy,
Getting cozy with Bruni
As the final votes are counted
Enjoy your final days
Feasting at the Elysee Palace.

Francois Hollande, the flan,
Quintessentially French
But suspiciously Dutch
The people vote for the man
But don't expect much

Smiling Marine Le Pen
Hurlez Votre Haine
Papa Jean-Marie
Clapping in the crowd
As her daughter Marion
Spreads far right views
Across the South.

Liberte, egalite, intolerance raciale
I'd rather live in England
Any day.

Monday, 16 April 2012

La Isla Benita

Ok, I'll admit it, I've gone off Ken Livingstone. Until now, I've been a lifetime supporter of his Royal Redness. At aged 14 I even played the role of Ken in a "balloon debate," arguing for his life to be preserved for the good of the country.  I can't remember if he ended up getting pushed overboard.
My socialist grandpa, a lifelong London resident, was a big supporter too and played a lead role in casting Ken as an uncle figure to us all.
I loved the free Rise festival in Finsbury Park, so miserably cancelled by Boris, just because it had the worthy and irrelevant "Anti-Racism" tag.
But his time has run out. First it was the baby with the younger woman - not a criminal act, but I'm always suspicious of 60-year-old men having kids. You know who you are.
Then there was the bizarre bus oil deal with Chavez. Do we really have to get involved with dictatorships to run the transport system? Is he really planning to get involved in Venezuela again?
Ken's done great things for the capital over the years. But three weeks ago I saw him campaigning on Walthamstow High Street looking as tanned as a chestnut and as smug as a man just returned from the tropics/tanning booth.
I don't really trust white men with deep tans. I'm not racist, but the tan and the toupe suggest a dodgy moral fibre and an unbecoming vanity.
I'm not terribly worried about Ken's tax affairs or his "gaffes" with Jewish journalists, but the picture of him putting out his rubbish in nothing but trousers and braces was the final straw.
I've warmed to Boris since his election. He watched me swim a length of breast stroke at the local swimming pool last year as he launched some sports initiative or another. I felt we connected over this, but was unsurprised to see that the Olympics would not mean the municipal leisure facilities would invest in functioning showers.
So, although Blondy Boz has melted my heart with his charming cable car project and Routemasters and disgraceful extra-marital affairs, he is yet to penetrate my rational mind. I simply can't vote for him.
On the high-profile men front, the only figure left is Brian Paddick. A nice manifesto but a more pathetically publicity seeking individual I am yet to encounter. He's been dining out on his old job with the Met Police for too long. He fell out of favour when I saw him "commentating" on the August riots for the BBC. It was about 5am, and there he was in the studio, lapping up his "policing expert" status.
He needs to do more than go on I'm a Celebrity Get Me Out of Here to get my vote.
So that leaves me with the independent Siobhan Benita. She says she doesn't want people to vote for her because she's a woman, but that's precisely why I will be voting for her. London's women deserve one of their own leading the way - not just on tedious "women's issues" (toilets on buses anyone?) but everything. Let's give her a chance. She can't do any worse than Boris.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

The Power and the Glory?

“Forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” From the age of about eight to 15, I always thought this excessively sibilant phrase was vaguely to do with not playing on building sites or wandering onto our neighbour’s lawn.
We learnt the Lord’s prayer as a song at primary school. It was a pleasant, relaxing tune, featuring bread (nice), heaven (obviously nice) and “ Lord”, an unknown quantity but seemed to feature in a lot of jolly good songs.
I didn’t know what it was all about, and although my dad said God was all made up, I didn’t ask too many questions. I didn’t go to church and I always preferred “Make Me a Channel of Your Peace” anyway.
According to a new survey, I am among a dying breed of people who know the words to the Lord’s prayer. Archbishop Rowan Williams said it is a vital part of culture, and that young people should know it to understand references to it in life beyond the church. The culture he would very much like to remain “predominantly Christian”.
But I would say tosh. It’s just a prayer that someone else wrote with social control in mind. Surely the real God would rather hear our own freestyle prayers than hear the same old off-the-peg thing again and again? "Word up, God mate - chill out about all my bad shit and make everything tickety-boo. Amen." That sort of thing.
The same survey also said that a higher proportion of children say religion is important to them than 40 years ago. Is it the recession? Immigration? Liberation from indoctrination?
Anyway, let us not fret over our children’s moral fibre falling away because they don’t know the Lord’s prayer (or the national anthem for that matter). We have much bigger things to worry about. Like teaching them to write and think for themselves.

Thursday, 29 March 2012

Miliband's Pasty PR

As the nation panic-buys petrol, the nation's politicians are panic-buying pasties.
Almost as soon as Osborne had slammed his now famous "comedy pie tax" down on a depressed nation, he was accused of "never having been in a Greggs."
Our PR-savvy PM was then left to wade in with a claim to have "once bought a pasty at Leeds station," as if this white lie somehow cleansed him of his privileged past. No real normal person would be able to afford a pasty at the West Cornwall Pasty Company in a station without being on expenses.
But worst of all is the posturing of the opposition. The guffawing faces of Ed Milliband, Ed Balls and Rachel Reeves just dropping in at a branch of Greggs leered out at me from the Metro this morning. You may be allied to the trade unions, but we don't believe you buy pies either, Miliband. You may "speak human", but you're probably gnawing on quinoa like a horse as you slip your pastries to the dog.
I could probably believe it with Ed Balls who looked rotundly at ease handing over the change for a pack of sausage rolls. Rachel Reeves looked like she would have rather preferred a double chocolate muffin, but kept on smiling through the photo-opportunity.
Meanwhile, the economy is collapsing and petrol station forecourts are running dry. Oh well, at least it's sunny. Not even pasty weather.

NB:I don't know why Greggs is seen as plebeian, it's just a bakery. Growing up with Bakers Oven we always thought Greggs was a bit posh because it had yumyums.

Sunday, 25 March 2012

The Biscuit Tin: A High-Tech Slimming Device.

The Government's latest high-level strategy to combat the nation's so-called obesity crisis will be the "resealable Dairy Milk bar". I imagine it will be about as effective as the hi-tech slimming device we have in my house: "the resealable biscuit tin."
The proposed introduction of this incredible bar is part of a gamut of bold measures, including Asda bringing in a low calorie range. Having tried their standard high calorie ranges, I dread to think what the slimmers' versions will taste like.
But Andrew Lansley is barking up the wrong tub of Slim-Fast. He should be talking to Theresa May about her alcohol minimum pricing policy.
Rather than setting a minimum price for booze, why not print the calorie content on a big red label on the front? Some alcohol already comes in conveniently resealable bottles so we're half way there already. It might at least make a handful of conscientious women think twice about that eighth Bacardi Breezer.
Set a minimum price for burgers and chocolate and bombs away - a svelte nation once again we shall be.
Not convinced? Me neither. It is our Americanised culture of cars and parkways and out-of-town malls and 24-hour Tescos and concreted playing fields and TV advertising and Playstations and sendentary desk jobs that is responsible for all of this.
Lay off the NHS, Tory fat-arses. And lay off my Mars Duo. I'm lactating a 12 kg baby and 360 calories ain't nothing.

Thursday, 22 March 2012

First it was the Pigeons...

Poor Miss Polly Hoops. The delectable hula dancing girl in the thigh-high stockings has got herself some incredible publicity these last few days. Some of it featuring her in a very small pair of shorts and a skimpy vest.
Anyway, Westminster Council has served the poor performance artist with a "noise abatement notice" after her Trafalgar Square hula shows got up the nose of, well, it's not clear. Maybe someone irritable in the portrait gallery cafe who just realised it would cost them £6.50 for a coffee and a small biscuit.
The theatre studies student has the good fortune of having Eddie "Introduce the Euro to Britain" Izzard on her side as she contests the notice in court.
But if the press coverage continues, I think she will have the support of a large portion of the male population, not just the transvestite former unicyclist comedians.
Doesn't Westminster realise we need more of this sort of thing (sexy people hula-ing, not noise abatement notices) during the global financial meltdown? Less "GlaxoSmithKline antibiotics factory jobs joy" boring budget-day talk and more "Shout Out to Miss Polly Hoops! Get Your Hoops Out for the Lads" &c.
On reflection, perhaps the recession isn't an excuse for the sexual objectification of women. Or is it? Oh I don't know anymore.

Sunday, 18 March 2012

Osborne's Emergency Olympic Shopping Directive

I know I'm supposed to love shopping. As a registered female, I'm destined to adore nothing more than browsing boutiques for over-priced handbags and ridiculous foot-crushing, spine twisting 'shoes'.
However, I find the whole thing a tedious, creativity-sapping, wallet-draining, self-loathing boost.
The vast majority of women's clothes - which appear to be made for a climate far from the British Isles - repulse and anger me. What will I do with a sleeveless chunky-knit cardigan with extra cleavage plunge?
The closest I get to shopping for fun is buying a triple pack of M&S briefs and stopping on the way home for a muffin and a copy of Private Eye.
So it is with a massive sigh that I read about possible plans to suspend Sunday trading laws during the Olympics.
Is it really that urgent that we all get shopping during the games? Is it all that terribly vital that the Korean volleyball team has a chance to slip off to Lillywhites for leisurewear of an evening? Can't we all just have a nice rest, a glass of Pernod and a slice of Fiona Bruce on Sunday evenings? Can't we just stop shopping for five seconds and have a foot massage or talk to each other or browse internet suicide forums or whatever?
We need a day of the week where, for a couple of hours, we are obliged to face the fundamental emptiness of our souls and scrub the bath and/or talk to our spouse. Surely?
No, George Osborne is expected to argue - extending shop opening hours during the Olympics may be a vital key to "boosting the economy". If I hear this phrase again I feel I may hurl my blazing knitting needles into the gas fire and rip off my sagging utilitarian maternity bra in a rage.
Will the Japanese rhythmic gymnastics team really spend enough on Burberry in Selfridges for those blasted spending cuts not to go ahead?
Former transport minister Philip Hammond gave the same argument for raising the motorway speed limit to 80 not long ago. People, he said, would be able to get to places quicker, thus creating heaps of wealth. Mmmmm. I've often thought it was my unwillingness to break the 70mph speed limit that is at the root of my failure to thrive financially.
I'm not religious or anything. Far from it, the church and its power-constructs appall me as much as the current Government. But I do think they have one thing right: keep one day special. Well, at least a couple of hours where we are saved from the lure of Homebase.

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

The Smugness of Knitters

I was thinking of ruminating on the pictures of Ken Livingstone putting out the rubbish half naked, but I have decided to save readers this delight. Today's post takes a distinctly domestic turn:

We've all seen them, the Shoreditch Knitters: sitting smugly on the tube in their skinny jeans, deftly crafting a pair of exotic-looking socks from recycled yarn. Every time I see one, I feel a pang of resentment as the multi-coloured fabric pours from their trendy second-hand 6mm needles.
How dare they know how to knit so well? How dare their rib stitch come out so smooth yet pleasingly stretchy, whilst mine becomes a thick mass of knotted string? How VERY dare they look so smug as their hands dance across the gently vibrating wool?
As any career-woman on maternity leave knows, it is pretty much an obligation to turn one's hand to the ancient handicrafts during the times of confinement. Headteachers, businesswomen, actresses, all will have been tempted towards the crafting shop as they push their little one around the neighbourhood.
With no prior experience, I have happily spent the last eight months stabbing my hands with felting needles during the creation of a tiny and pointless mouse.
I have given myself cramp in the hands knitting wonky dishcloths and even an apple cosy.
There are few soft furnishings in the house that have not escaped my obsession with blanket stitch. Only my recent return to work has saved me from felting embarrassing sheep and clouds onto my jumper collection.
During the time off, crafts save you from that feeling of endless, pointless toil that never ends. While the cycle of sweeping up sick and half-eaten food will genuinely go on forever, you might just embroider a pair of jeans with a daisy by 9pm. It's pointless toil, but there is a goal. Women of work need a goal, even if it is just the production of a felt finger puppet.
But the crafts also consign you to endless hours of disappointment and frustration - a similar emotional landscape to that created by life in an office. The pressure to achieve is greater now, too. The internet means there is no excuse for a lack of crocheting knowledge.
Perhaps we thrive on it, this angry, frustrated busy-ness. It wouldn't be enough simply to relax and enjoy the fabulousness of our babies.

Thursday, 8 March 2012

Lightening Bolt and the Ginger Dwarf

I'd like to be in the meeting when the royals decide where to send their family members on visits. As second in line to the throne, it's only fitting that serious William gets to work in the Falkland Islands to save a few lives, sparking an almighty diplomatic calamity.
And so Jamaica - stereotyped as the land of Rastamouse, batty-riding shorts, and people drinking rum out of coconut - was always going to get Harry.
The media this week lapped up his photocall with Usain Bolt, who made one of our finest princes look like an ugly ginger dwarf (do you remember how oddly dashing he seemed at Kate and Will's wedding, do you? Did that ever happen?)
Newspapers and TV newsmen were falling over themselves to report the hilarious antics of the rogue-ish prince, who cheated to get a head start in the 100metres. What a game posh bloke he is! Wonder at his ability not to take himself too seriously! I don't think I read a single negative word about the outing. Perhaps everyone was so excited about a press trip to Jamaica their critical faculties departed. I found it all rather cringeworthy and embarrassing. I hated watching Bolt have to look grateful and impressed to be around royalty.
It all reminded me of a documentary I had seen about the Nashi, Putin's youth movement. Its members are brainwashed by a cult of personality (Putin dives for pottery! Putin wrestles naked with a bear! etc)
Thank god then for the wonderful Portia Simpson Miller, prime minister of the island. She played along with Ol' Ginge Windsor with the hugs on the doorstep, but she took out a sharp little flickknife when she said it was time for the island to "take charge of it's own destiny". I have to admit, I didn't even realise that the Queen was still head of state in Jamaica, so I'm glad she pointed this out.
I'm quite a royalist at heart - I believe the royal family is a useful thing for Britain to have - but the idea of the Queen being the symbolic leader of a tropical island full of people descended from slaves? Surely this nation doesn't still require a white woman in London to oversee it still?

Monday, 5 March 2012

Token Pencil Skirt

So the European Commission wants to give the ladies a chance to play with the big boys at the top table of business. Not in the name of equality, of course, but because companies with better gender balance make bigger profits, apparently.
Many women find the idea of quotas to help them penetrate the [insert latest glass-related metaphor] distasteful.
Nobody wants to be appointed to fill a gender, race or disability quota, rather than on their merit as a worker. But others realise that the quotas may be a necessary evil to open the way to generations of highly capable women to come.
I'm not a fan and I don't think I could ever take a job in the knowledge that I was the token pencil skirt.
But I think we are missing the point. The whole debate seems to work on the presumption that men who are appointed to boards are "successful" and women who do not reach these heady heights are failures. They need a leg up.
Nobody ever seems to question the narrowness of what male politicians, journalists and businessmen regard as success. All paths away from FTSE100 companies, from high office, from business lunches, sock garters and central London are paths downhill in their eyes.
Rather than simply bemoaning the lack of women at the top, perhaps we should celebrate what women are doing "at the bottom", quietly, and happily getting on with their lives.

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

A Bad Case of Wind (Ecological Interlude Part II)

Pox-faced wenches casting buckets of excrement from windows into stinking alleyways below. Children wading along open sewers. Thousands of tons of manure from both horse and swine caked onto cart wheels. The stink of a city with no sanitation where every man fights for himself, lowering his capacious drawers and crapping where he fancies.
This was Britain just a few hundred years ago. There was a general acceptance that our towns and cities were filthy, and for a long time, there was very little drive for change.
Of course, in the developed world, this is unthinkable now. The filth finally got too much, disease prevailed and something was finally done. It is hard to imagine we ever tolerated it.
Now to my point: I think the story of how we power our energy-hungry lives in a finite world will be similar. There will come a time, perhaps decades hence, when it will be hard to imagine that we ever relied on dirty oil and gas. Hard to imagine we ever drove cars that belched tons of filth out into the air and our lungs. Cooling towers will be as out-moded as chamber pots thrown in to the street and children sent up chimneys.
But unfortunately, we are still stuck at the filth-out-the-window stage. Opposition to wind farms, usually in the form of Conservative MPs and Little-Englander pressure groups is strong and Cameron is listening. Wind farm fans are often seen as boho vegan weave-your-own tofus who "simply can't understand the necessity to go nuclear".
We are still stuck in the dark ages then, when it comes to renewables. Investment is wobbling because the government's policy direction is shaky. A handful of landowners and villagers who have allowed myth and suspicion to take over are hampering the march towards a clean and sustainable future.
But when the new utopia happens, when absolute necessity compels us to embrace wind, wave, sun etc it will be hard to imagine the times before. The Nimbyists protesting against windmills will go down in history with slave-traders and those who would drown ugly women as witches.

Friday, 24 February 2012

Cameronesco and Pound Clegg

Britain used to be known as a nation of shopkeepers. This week's outcry over A4e and the government's "work experience" scheme has revealed it is now a nation of shelf-stackers.
As the economy and thus public services contract into their mossy shell, the supermarkets are left to crawl unchallenged across the land like fearsome millipedes in 100 hobnailed boots. While under Labour we all worked for the council as outreach professionals, we now all work for Morrisons.
Any villager  brave enough to defy the march of the Big Four is an enemy to "job creation". Any city councillor to oppose new developments is an opponent to regeneration.
Millions of people's lives now consist of a day's work bleeping barcodes, followed by a trip to Asda to spend their meagre wages on frozen pizza and sink unblocker.
The Waitrose workers go to Sainsbury's for their shopping. The Sainsbury's workers go to Tesco, the Asda workers go to Farmfoods. God knows where the Poundland workers get their groceries.
It's clear that for many, the supermarkets have greater influence on their lives than the mighty, but shrinking, "state".
When people are out of work, with shaky CVs and no chance of a job, the Government and its friends and their subcontracted friends and their friends of friends send them to stack shelves in Asda and Poundland. For some, it is the first work experience they have had.
Opponents of the Welfare-to-Work type schemes being operated have suggested that shelf-stacking is humiliating, belittling.
Anyone complaining about shelf-stacking has clearly never worked a 10-hour shift:

1. In an insurer's post-room tearing up little bits of paper for no apparent reason.
2. Sticking free shampoo samples on page 27 of Cosmopolitan magazine.
3. Watching widgets fly from a machine.
4. Watching photocopiers print out entire books in triplicate.
5. Operating an industrial dishwasher at a private equity-owned leisure centre.

These sort of jobs only reflect the reality of most people's work situation. Only a slim slice of society has challenging, interesting, rewarding well-paid jobs. The vast majority of 'careers' are boring, repetitive, poorly paid, but vital to the functioning of everything. That is why so many graduates work in call-centres. Someone's gotta shovel the proverbial. We can't get an Indian call centre to bleep out your hummus (although, God knows they've tried to get a machine to bleep out mine - "Unexpected pair of naked arse-cheeks in the bagging area" etc)

Sunday, 19 February 2012

The Wheel of Ill-Health

At our local GP practice, the drawbridges have finally gone up. Pour the boiling oil on the sick and fire the poison arrows on the invading cancer patients.
Receptionists were once quite happy to field anger and abuse from behind their desks. They now have the protection of a large perspex screen with just a few holes for the ill and dying to mumble through.
It is interesting that after several decades breathing the germs of their "service users", reception should now go into lockdown. It coincides exactly with staffing cuts which make it impossible to get through on the phone to book an appointment.
Only last year somebody would answer promptly and politely, and appointments were scheduled with only a short delay. Now it's not worth calling, unless you fancy "Greensleeves" on a relaxing loop.
I overheard a feeble old man complaining about this to staff recently. The receptionist replied wearily that she would have more time to answer the phone if she didn't have to speak to moaners like him. Goodness, ouch. He really was quite old and infirm. Not some hyper-paranoid mum like me. A really weak old man who had to walk to the surgery to book the appointment. Anyway, at least it means those strong enough to walk down there to make a booking get the best appointments. The genuinely sick can just sit listening to the hold music.
Meanwhile, I picked up the glossy flagship brochure of the "Not Always A and E" campaign, designed to stop people with hangovers rushing to casualty for a paracetamol.
It's a laudable campaign. People do indeed misuse the service. But it is hardly surprising they do, when the GP is uncontactable, the out of hours service is non-existent, and emergency appointments seem reserved for babies and children.
I had some fun at home with the reassuringly expensive brochure. It invites the user to "find your symptom" on a revolving wheel, then turn to different numbered sections. I spin the wheel for "choking, chest pain, blacking out, blood loss and stroke". Thankfully, I'm referred to A and E, as these are classed as "serious emergencies".
A simple case of vomiting or "a sore tummy" takes me to my GP, but diarrhoea can be "treated by health a professional at your local pharmacy".
Excuse me, but why is "a sore tummy" more serious than the runs? A sore tummy could just be a case of a Gaviscon and a lie down. Who put this together? HOW MUCH did all this spinning origami cost? Interesting they have the cash to tell me to "self care" if I have a hangover, but they can't be bothered to run a national flu-jab publicity campaign.
I shall be keeping my "wheel of ill-health" to hand for the next time  I or a family member becomes ill. It should help me penetrate the moat and castle walls of the health services I have helped pay for.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Full English Cous Cous

A fantastic foodie row has broken out in Stoke Newington, where the "poshing up" of a cafe  menu has got grease lovers weeping into their quenelles of blanched quinoa (or whatever).
Local newspapers reported that Clissold Park cafe regulars were furious that instead of chips and chocolate pudding, they would now be fleeced for the delights of couscous and roasted carrots with cumin.
The affair got me thinking about Britain's vile food culture. A culture where you can be judged on what you eat to the same extent you are judged on how you speak. And a culture so in thrall to food fashion, people barely have time to down their duck fat-roasted potatoes and polenta chips before they are horribly out-of-date.

For example:

Kentucky: Officially The Food of the Proles.
Homemade beetroot pie: Middle class boho (possibly Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall fetish)
Roast grouse: Posh, but becoming less so.
Sundried tomatoes: So nineties.
Any kind of flan: 70s tasteless opulence.
Prawn cocktail: so much maligned and hated it is now officially in fashion again.
Hummus: Was posh, but now very popular in Asda so officially plebeian. Possible trendy resurgence circa 2030.

How on earth does one send out the right message? How on earth does one keep up? How do you manage to eat "neutrally," without sending out a vast illuminated streetsign with your social status all over it?
Can I safely eat a humble bowl of porridge, safe in the knowledge that it doesn't "say" anything about me? No. Porridge eaters are clearly show-off health-freaks afraid of the chocolate muffins.
Is it safe to eat a plain ham sandwich? Probably not, depends if you are eating it ironically.
The trend towards inverted snobbery is an interesting one. The young posh and middleclass won't shut up about their passion for their "local greasy spoon", as if they are some sort of gastronomic trailblazers with a penchant for fried eggs.
Pop into any dubious cafe in London and it will be bristling with boatie-shoe wearing graduates lapping up the oil. Chances are they will be braying about how they would much rather a bacon sandwich and an overfilled mug of builder's tea than the latest from Heston Blumenthal.
It's somewhat of a shame, as there's very little space in the cafes for the old ladies  who simply like fry-ups in an uncomplicated, un-postmodern way.

Monday, 13 February 2012

Ecological Interlude

Driving down the M4 this weekend I saw a solitary wind turbine. Its sails were stuck fast for want of a gust of wind. It looked sort of sad standing there. Yesterday it offered so much promise, but today, nothing. It made me think how the economic crisis has diverted our attention from ecological panic and investment in renewable energy/recycling and the like.
I wrote this in jollier times, when every business in the world was cynically cashing in on the mania for all things "green". Now they just offer two-for-one deals.


The Eco-Beast has risen from
Its Fairtrade cave
Rubbery free-range arms flailing
Embracing passing humans

The Eco-Beast has risen
A recycled energy-saving
Lightbulb in its hot and greedy hand
A carbon-neutral festival field
Littered with compostable plastic cups.

The Eco-Beast has risen
It’s plastic-wrapped organic charms
Glistening in the sun of global warming

Follow me! It calls
As a wind turbine groans overhead
Follow me! It calls, as vegan superfoods
Rain down from above.
And dollar signs swivel in its yellow eyes.

Thursday, 9 February 2012

Yvette for Statsminister

After feasting my eyes and mind on BBC Four's Borgen these past weeks, I have been thinking long and hard about my lady-heroes. Who are they? Who exactly do I look up to in awe and wonder? Who do I admire? Who, if I was a teenage schoolgirl, would I like to be?
Obviously, if she was real, I would be putting up posters of the fictional Danish Statsminister Birgitte Nyborg all over my bedroom wall. The way she gave Troels the boot and forced Bent to resign whilst perched on the edge of a fountain just rocked.
Unfortunately, she's actually a rather attractive actress and not someone I would hold up as a fine example of feminist triumph. A lovely actress though she is.

(browses the internet briefly...)

Bugger, I've just realised Borgen is actually completely true to life. The real Danish Prime Minister, Helle Thorning-Schmidt, is also a rather attractive actress.

Oh well, good luck to her. Absolutely nothing wrong with being a political success and a Viking goddess. Maybe everyone in Denmark is lovely.
Anyhow, back to my topic. Who are my lady-heroes?
My first thoughts turn to the prominent "media/comedy lesbians". The fabulous Sue Perkins, the wonderous Sandi Toksvig etc, have all achieved great things in the face of the patriarchy. Sue brings her sharp wit and student ents officer dress code to prime time TV. Sandi holds her own in the comedy sphere despite the vertical challenge. She even wrote an important play.
Clare Balding too, while not fitting the mould of telly totty, brings her own brand of calm old-skool BBC presenting to a modern audience. She has a reassuring air, whether she's presenting Crufts, cycling around the country, or bigging up Olympic athletes. With Clare, you know things are going to be all right.
She fights for the top prize for best tall posh woman in showbiz from the majestic Miranda Hart.
But who else, who else? Well, there are those  who have been mocked for their outspoken character and unwillingness to conform to the norm. Street-Porter, Widdecombe, fine examples of women who just don't give a flying spider crab.
Vanessa Feltz - my talk-radio hero - has been royally dragged through the gutter for being a bit fat. Then a bit thin. There are Facebook sites allowing people to express their "hate" of her. But her BBC Radio London phone-in show is a triumph. I simply don't understand the haters and all the antagonism makes me love her all the more.
But surely I have more lady-heroes than comedians and under-dogs? What about the world of politics?
While I admire Clinton, Merkel's ability to "deal" with that stunted self-seeking prune Sarkozy takes my breath away.
Back in the UK, I am in awe of any woman brave enough to enter that braying hive of masculine childishness - the House of Commons. But a special mention must go to Yvette Cooper.
Oh wonderful Yvette. Men love you. Women love you. You have to deal with three quite young children and a frightening husband and you still stand head and shoulders above the rest of the shadow cabinet.
You even went to a state comprehensive. I know it is pandering to the patriarchy mentioning her appearance, but I love her sensible, undistracting wardrobe and speaking style.
While transport secretary Justine Greening looks and sounds like a local government bureaucrat and Theresa May clatters around like a nervous puppet, Yvette looks like a devilishly competent headteacher.
Last month, I read about Yvette's alleged "plotting" for the Labour leadership with husband Ed Balls. Newspapers alleged they used lasagne to woo supporters, awaiting to unseat the troubled Ed Miliband.
The question is, though, could Ballsy ever step aside for his wife? Is she really the one wearing the trousers, as it were? Would he settle for being "husband" to the Statsminister? Really? Ed Balls? We shall see. But in the meantime, I'm enjoying watching her rise and rise. And I hope she's been watching Borgen.