Friday, 24 April 2015

A 21st Century Call for Votes for Women

Yes, I'm the one with the 50:50 T-shirt on, looking like I've nodded off (of course am actually writing something very important)

This isn't the first post I have written whilst teetering on the edge of my political soapbox, however it is the first time I have had the privilege to feature on this blog the brilliant 50:50 campaign. Just 3 weeks ago, I guest posted on Mumsnet about lack of gender equality in the Commons and asked readers to sign the petition to ask for a debate in Parliament about improving gender equality. It was easily one of the best blogging experiences of my relatively short career in the art of bearing my soul via social media. However, it did come with a word count. So I would like to take this opportunity to publish the article in it's full glory. I warn you that these statistics may make you angry, please read on, get cross and put that energy to good use, by signing the petition

Forget MI5 - its the House of Commons who should be recruiting from Mumsnet

'When it comes to politics, I certainly don’t profess to having the solution to broken Britain, I doubt if I could cut the deficit and I’m not sure I have ever read an entire party manifesto, so what could I, the mother of 2 small boys, possibly bring to the parliamentary table?

Well actually, thinking about it, motherhood has unwittingly pitched me headfirst into running the gauntlet of Britain’s core infrastructure. Whilst pregnant I was offered numerous opportunities to experience and evaluate every aspect of the NHS. This was comprehensively completed, firstly with my local GP and 2 local hospitals. Post birth I received Health Visitors, attended my local children’s centres and maintained frequent trips to my GP. I intently researched affordable childcare and am fresh from a recent study of our education system, having toured round all my local primary schools for my son’s school application. At home, I am the main consumer in terms of shopping and well, actually everything excluding cars. I know the cost of a pint of milk across a variety of outlets and have witnessed firsthand the impact of economic policy on our household bills.

The very act of having a child has given me a crash course in all things politicians generally have a strong hand in affecting, improving or reducing. So surely this sets me up as quite well qualified to go forth into the political landscape? Of course I can’t be the first mother to suddenly feel a political fire in their belly so why isn’t the House of Commons fit to bursting with Mothers? In fact looking at parliament, forget mothers for a moment, where are the women? There are currently a total of 650 MPs in parliament but just 23% of these are women and only half of our female MPs have children. Just 12% of MPs are mothers making us sorely under-represented. There are more male MPs currently than there have ever been women members of parliament, leaving the skill set of half the UK population unrecognised and un-utilised.

Even business Secretary Vince Cable has been pressing for Company boards to include more women because of the benefits it brings, so why is Parliament still so unbalanced? Certainly any parent who saw the BBC2 documentary ‘Inside the Commons’ would have been appalled to watch MP Jenny Willott having to negotiate the back alleys of Westminster with her buggy. Likewise when Labour front bencher Rachel Reeves, who will become Work and Pensions Secretary should Labour win the general election, recently hit the headlines discussing her post-election maternity leave prompting a Tory MP to question her ability to give the job her ‘full attention'. Couple this with the fact that female MPs experience twice the amount of media intrusion than men, it hardly sells the possibility of living the dream by working in politics.

However, the recent addition of an onsite nursery would suggest Parliament is moving in the right direction. I have no doubt being an MP with small children is tricky but what job isn't when you’re struggling with the brain crushing fatigue that comes with owning preschoolers? Also motherhood simply cannot be the reason for the woeful under representation of women. Why? The average age of an MP is 50 therefore childcare, generally but not exclusively, is an unlikely time constraint for this older demographic. Likewise men are also parents and this appears to have no impact on their political presence.

In that same documentary we also saw Rotherham MP Sarah Champion positively giddy with delight having achieved an amendment to a bill that increased protection for children from sexual abuse which surely is up there with saving lives, in terms of job satisfaction?  David Cameron has said " This is fantastically important.. we need to do more, much more", and Ed Milliband seems to agree, saying "the reason representation matters is because it shapes the policies a government introduces and how they impact on women in the country". Who would have thought today the suffragette mantra ‘Deeds not Words’ is starkly applicable. Of course my rambling evangelising how great politics could be is not the solution. If it was as simple as a rousing speech then we would be there already. 

There are lots of things they could do, too: all women shortlists or quotas, job shares, twinning constituencies, or even or having two seat constituencies, where the voters elect one male and one female candidate to represent them. The Director of the Hansard Society Ruth Fox has suggested this issue is "too important to leave to the parties", and that there is a case for constitutionalising equal representation. There are viable options on the table, and we need to be seriously considering them.

To achieve parity we need 177 more women MPs from a population of 32 million, around 1 in 100,000. So even if this career choice does not suit everyone, it doesn't have to. If I could walk into the House of Commons with the 176 other women required to create an equal parliament I would do it tomorrow. In the mean time my efforts are focused on our best chance for achieving political equality: the 50:50 campaign is petitioning for a debate and action to get better gender balance in the House of Commons, and to find the solution to finally give women political equality. To sign and share this petition click HERE  and let’s spark a debate and bring equality to the commons.

To read the Mumsnet post please click HERE

Monday, 30 March 2015

Are gay athletes who come out heroes?

Surely the short answer should really be no, because what has anyone's sexual preference got to do with being an athlete and who’s business is it anyway? If only that was the norm. Of course, it is infinitely more complicated than that. Tom Daley sums this up beautifully in his ’there’s something I would like to say' youtube clip (view it HERE) by saying that ‘in an ideal world I wouldn’t be making this video because it shouldn’t matter’ I am sure that Daley is proud that his youtube outing sparked confidence in other athletes who have since followed his lead.

I am specifically referring to England Women’s football team captain and Arsenal Ladies defender Casey Stoney, who cited the positive response Daley received to his statement, as one of the instigators behind her coming out. However, Stoney’s ‘revelation’ (for want of a better word) means that she is the ‘most high profile active gay footballer in England’ (READ FULL ARTICLE HERE) In the same interview Stoney also states that in female football 'that homosexuality is more accepted in the women's game than the men's game’ although sadly no further expansion on why this might be is given. 

The Premier league is conceivably Britain’s most cherished and celebrated sports arena, that evokes the most incredible demonstrations of passion and devotion that is passed down through families like an infallible blood line. This makes the silence from Stoney’s male counterparts in the premier league positively deafening. I’m guessing this might have something to do with what the American press has recently referred to as male ‘locker room’ culture? Something that I heard about for the first time when viewing Dale Hansen’s incredible response to NFL Draft Prospect Michael Sam coming out, which I touched on briefly last week (HERE). However, it is either Americans or players in America who are leading the way for gay men in sport. 

I’ve already mentioned Michael Sam, who's prominence is down to the fact he has come out at arguably the most pivotal time of his career. Unlike ex Aston Villa midfielder, Thomas Hitzlsperger, who chose to wait until his retirement before coming out. In THIS interview he states that he considered coming out earlier 'but he decided against doing so because he felt the resulting scrutiny on him might have proved too much of a distraction from on-pitch matters

Secondly ex-Leeds player Robbie Rogers, not only came out around the same time as Daley, but started the Beyond "it" anti-discriminatory initiative  a campaign urging more sports people to do the same. Rogers retired from Premier league football last year after injury, however has since returned to play for LA Galaxy. So what are they doing in America that’s inciting this confidence and more importantly why isn’t it happening in the UK & Europe? Rogers recently revealed, despite the support of his former club Leeds of his campaign, that he is yet to be contacted by a single British male premier league player. Am I naive to say it is archaic for the most fervent of British institutions, responsible for inspiring the hopes and dreams of so many young men, not to take a stand? Surely it is their duty to remove whatever homophobic obstacles are currently blocking them from being a progressive linchpin in the hearts and minds of all male footballers, both gay and straight?

Who is going to remind FIFA that before the giant pay-packets and sponsorship deals, sport is a haven, a place you can escape to, a brief pocketful of enjoyment whether you’re playing or just commentating from your spot on the sofa. The bliss of a winning football team radiates so thickly it virtually condensates stadium interiors. Surely this fact alone should wipe out any homophobia or racism, with one sweep of the hand? Not yet, it would seem, however it does feel like finally there are brave individuals setting a courageous precedent (Daley, Stoney, Rogers, Hitzlsperger & Sam) so it has only got to be a matter of time before those Premier league players follow suit. 

Of course it could be worse, you could play football for a country where homosexuality is just plain illegal, like Qatar. God forbid they ever host a world cup. 

Friday, 7 November 2014

Happy bloggy birthday - a year of blogging and what exactly have I achieved? Funny you should ask..

There’s no easy way to write this but I am just going to say it - in the basic art of blogging, I have failed. By setting up a blog you have then to care for it, feed it.. even if it’s just the odd snack - a link to some amusing cat photos or any other little tit bits to keep it looking in good health, maintained and, most importantly, loved. And apart from the odd book review I have let this blog fall into neglect 

I began with such good intentions. I made a vow, a contract. I blogged every day for a month and in this intensely close time I realised my love for this blog, I even published my new year's resolutions confirming my commitment to tending my own virtual garden (I am referring to this blog- not some bizarre euphemism for something else).  I am fortunate it is virtual and quite sympathetically doesn't tell anyone it has been left unattended and, other than showing the date of my last post, it doesn't demonstrate it's dire situation by sprouting moss, weeds or becoming coated in dust or displaying signs of decay. Why have I been so shameful in my actions, letting this once beloved space fall by the way side? It gets worse - because I have strayed and there is another blog in my life ( 

This is not some elaborate story to put off the inevitable revisiting of my new year’s resolutions, so lets get it over and done with. Up for a laugh? Lets see exactly how badly I got on.

I will begin quite unashamedly with my failures - those ones that I didn’t even come close to achieving: a short story a day for a week. I didn’t even give this any thought - I blame the rejection letter I received from the People’s Friend among other excuses. I also failed to find a local writing group or even consider setting up one of my own. The only resolution I feel quite genuine in my shame over failing to achieve is that I did not even pursue a good cause in need of support be it through social media or mentoring. My wet suit hasn’t yet emerged from it’s packaging and certainly hasn’t been near my local reservoir where I planned to go open water swimming. On the one occasion I came close to googling the swimming times I was plagued by a bizarrely irrational fear of developing Weil's disease. The half hearted award goes to my vow to go indoor rock climbing. I did attempt this once but didn’t quite anticipate the resulting toe ache and so haven’t revisited it since.

So what exactly did I manage during this sizeable chunk of 2014 that is now past tense? I stupidly set these resolutions to provide a little writing material, so whilst I may have achieved these about to specified, I am still ultimately missing a trick compounding them all into one post but there is a good ending I promise, in the style of Jane Austen to boot. I completed the Sarah Wilson ‘I quit sugar’ detox and learning about refined sugar and fructose was terrifyingly informative. I also blogged every day for the month of February which again was another out-of-my-comfort-zone but in a good way experiences of the year. 

However, as I have it, I am now going to play the card to redeem all failed resolutions as there was one that I did achieve that eclipsed all others. It was all encompassing, once in a life time and at one point occupied my every waking minute of my life. I promised you Jane Austen and yes reader, I got married. 

Had I any notion of quite how much of my life would fall by the wayside in the process of wedding planning I may well have re-ignited my original plan just to elope to Vegas. But kids and casinos are 2 words that should never appear in the same sentence and I’m not sure they would have forgiven me had I eloped without them. So, having allowed this creative space to fall into disarray surely it would only now be fair to make a vow not to let it happen again. However, having demonstrated my flawed track record I think it would be more positive to keep away from social contracts for now and just focus on the important part  - some actual writing, coming soon, I promise.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Book Review time - 'The One Plus One' by JoJo Moyes

I am one lucky blogger, being given another book to review by Mumsnet. This time it’s JoJo Moyes *chick-lit-fest ‘The One Plus One’ 

An extract from the back page:

'One eternal optimist…
Jess Thomas, with two jobs and two kids and never enough money, wears flip-flops in the hope of spring. And when life knocks her down she does her best to bouce right back. But there are some challenges even she can’t meet on her own. 

Plus one lost stranger…
Ed Nichols is the good guy gone bad. He had it all, then one stupid mistake cost him everything. Now he’ll do anything to make it right. 

Equals a chance encounter…
Ed doesn’t want to save anyone and Jess doesn’t want saving, but could Jess an Ed add up to something better together?'

This is the warm hearted tale of hard up single mum Jess, her mathematical genius daughter and her troubled step son who are forced to embark on a calamitous road trip with Ed Nichols, an about-to-be-disgraced business owner wrongly framed for insider trading. 

Usually when reading anything from the ‘chick-lit’ genre I do this concealing numerous yawns accompanied with sporadic fits of eye rolling. However, I am very pleased to report that on this occasion I was entranced without issuing so much as a sneer. Of course the premise of 2 unlikely characters pitched together to witness tumultuous episodes in each other’s very different lives, virtually screams the ending to you just a few pages in, but this didn’t detract from the story at all. 

The plot is so neatly patchworked together with hilarious obstacles between our 2 protagonists cropping up on every page it is automatically a boldly captivating and pacey read. At numerous points it reminded me of John Cleese’s hysterically ill fated journey in the film ‘Clockwise’. It also sensitively and humorously tackled some tough subjects such as poverty, single parenting and bullying with delightfully gratifying outcomes starring affable and genuinely likeable characters. I am positively loathed to go into any more detail as I refuse to spoil any of the story of this gem of a book. 

JoJo Moyes - I salute you. This is a beautifully sophisticated yet effortlessly lighthearted read that I guarantee will have you transfixed. If this hasn’t already been optioned with a  cast lifted from Richard Curtis film already on queue, then call me Beryl.

Sunday, 6 July 2014

What did I know about Woodstock? As it turns out not very much.

Looking at photos taken at a music festival depicting mud coated revellers standing in torrential rain, mountains of rubbish, lines of portaloos, food stalls and film crews you would think I was looking coverage of last weekend’s Glastonbury festival. In truth this was an exhibition of previously unseen photos taken in 1969, of Woodstock, at an unveiling I was lucky enough to be invited to at Forge & Co in Shoreditch last week. This previously unseen collection of pictures was taken by Rolling Stone photographer Baron Woolman who, accompanied by one of the original Woodstock organisers Michael Lang, kicked off the evening giving a talk about their experience of one of the most iconic music events of all time. 

As a seasoned festival goer I thought I knew quite a lot about Woodstock - a spontaneous, natural coming together of free music and love, an oasis in the mud filled desert of festivals where Hendrix serenaded a sunburnt crowd. I was about to find out how sharply inaccurate my Woodstock knowledge really was. Firstly it didn’t take place in Woodstock. It’s intended site on an Industrial state in the town of Wallkill had to be hastily relocated after the local council blocked the festival application, citing concern about the crowds. However, this was a time when the town of Woodstock had iconic status hosting the recording studio of Bob Dylan and so the festival organisers kept the town’s name but in fact it took place 43 miles away on a dairy farm outside the town of Bethal.
Hearing Lang talk about the planning and organising of something that, at that time, was such a new and risky concept, truly confirmed how Lang and his team were innovators of their day. After all it is hard to deny that when you contemplate the basic premise of a music festival it is fundamentally bonkers. Grouping large crowds of people together under the influence of alcohol and other more questionable substances, most of them kids who’s parents were unaware of their activities for a whole weekend, is a crazy notion with little room for error should things go wrong. However, Woodstock wasn't some half baked idea scribbled on the back of a cigarette packet. Lang, who was 24 at the time, had intricately studied the logistics.

He and his partners John Roberts, Joel Rosenman and Artie Kornfeld had worked out the volume of people within walking distance and therefore likely to attend (a figure underestimated by 200,000). They had attended other large events and not only counted the toilets but timed how long it took people to use them to ensure they were able to provide sanitation of epic proportions. They effectively came up with their own blue print that could have been utilised to sustain a refugee camp.
Woolman, who's career as a photographer started when demarked from the US army he submitted his photographs of the Berlin Wall going up to his local newspaper, likened Woodstock to the Normandy invasion.  The event was originally ticketed however it was the mass influx of revellers that made Lang and his associates take the last minute decision to cut the fences to make Woodstock free.

Another fact about Woodstock: it rained. I don’t just mean a shower, on the Sunday afternoon there was a full on electrical storm causing music to be postponed and the sound system needing to be dried out.

So what can I share about this festival that you won’t find on Wikipedia? Santana, thinking he wasn’t due on stage for several hours, dropped acid only to be immediately called to play his set. Apparently he spent the whole time on stage thinking his guitar was a snake and didn’t recognise a single note he played. The act deemed as the biggest pain in the backside were The Who (unsurprising as it was at Woodstock that Pete Townsend said ‘f**k off my f**king stage you f**king f**k) and Jimi Hendrix’s manager insisted that Jimi ‘closed’ the show. This meant, due to it running over, Jimi’s set took place at 9 o’clock on the Monday morning to a crowd of just 60,000 as most of the festival goers had already left. One of the photos in the exhibition of a group of people climbing a camera rig included a naked man, was used in the American encyclopaedia where this liberated individual was gifted a pair of airbrushed underpants.

So of all these pictures which was Woolman’s favourite? A photo capturing 2 men who quite obviously didn’t mind being photographed dealing drugs, as it epitomised how at Woodstock it was natural, no one cared. This placid ethos described is probably the only one of my rose tinted ideas of Woodstock that I actually got right. 

The exhibition is free of charge and runs until the 8th July. For more information click HERE


Friday, 20 June 2014

Can Sports Direct command respect? Stoke Newington branch certainly can!

So having had a slight hiccup in childcare arrangements my quest to convince my local branch of Sports Direct to become breastfeeding welcome was temporarily and frustratingly on pause. However, I am pleased to report that on the 22nd May I finally collared the manager of my local branch, having already left my number and email address on my previous visit (which I wrote about HERE) and heard nothing. I couldn’t help feel deflated when I asked if the Assistant Manager had passed on the breastfeeding welcome pack I left for him and he just looked at me blankly. Fortunately I expected it to have been ‘misplaced’ and so swiftly presented him with another one. He apologetically explained that he hadn’t spoken to the Assistant Manager as they had recently been working across 2 stores and he had barely seen her. 

So off I went again, with my spiel explaining the bad press Sports Direct had received regarding an incident where a mother was ordered out of one of their stores for feeding her baby (click HERE if you would like reminding). I can honestly say I was stunned by his response. ‘Women breastfeed in here all the time, there was a lady here a few hours ago feeding her baby. We are fine with customers breastfeeding’ I wasn’t expecting that. I asked him if he was happy for that to go on record along with his name and he said absolutely. 

So Lorenzo, Manager of Sports Direct Stoke Newington I salute you. I then asked if I could sign his branch up to the breastfeeding welcome scheme but he said he would have to check with head office and he’d come back to me. I am yet to hear back from Lorenzo and am not overly optimistic but I can certainly log this as a small but positive move in normalising the basic act of giving your baby food, whilst possibly browsing trainers and/or sportswear. I’ll keep be catching up with Lorenzo in a couple of weeks, do watch this space. 

Tuesday, 17 June 2014

A few little gems from the Stoke Newington Literary Festival

As someone who has totally embraced the phenomenon of listening to book readings whilst consuming cider since Latitude 2006, it was with great delight I attended to the annual Stoke Newington Literary festival last weekend. Having been a regular here since moving to Stokey in 2011 (apart from 2012 where possibly ill judged scheduling meant  it clashed with the jubilee celebrations), I have a shopping list of delightful experiences: witnessing David Walliams doing an impression of Wonder Woman; Howard Marks apologetically explaining why he couldn’t bring himself to jeopardise the future of the festival by sparking up a spliff on the stage of the town hall; Irvine Welsh being asked why exactly he’d chosen to do such an agonisingly long reading (I am paraphrasing but it was agony); Cailtin Moran and Suzanne Moore pausing mid interview to order more gin and tonics and Cleo Rocos talking about the time when she teamed up with Kenny Everett and Freddie Mercury to smuggle Princess Di into their local gay bar.

This year did not fail to disappoint. The first talk featured Laura Bates, creator of the Everyday Sexism Project accompanied by journalists Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Cosslett of ‘The Vagenda’ (humorously targeting the media’s portrayal of women) located within the Unitarian Chapel on Newington Green. It’s not often you can attend a talk on feminism sitting beneath a plaque declaring that your seat once held the derriere of Mary Wollstonecraft, the mother of British feminism  (oh alright I wasn’t directly under the plaque, I didn’t get there early enough). 

So what can I share here that I think you would appreciate that doesn’t involve me going off on a (hopefully) well informed rant? Well, my question was 'do palatable glossy magazines written for women, by women, exist without lecturing you on diets and bashing celebrities?' Apparently so. ‘In Style’ magazine has pledged not to criticise celebrity looks nor will they feature any diets. Likewise the Vagenda girls also confirmed they had consulted with Editors of Elle magazine about how they could positively promote feminism. Also the #everydaysexism project which so far has received in excess of 60,000 accounts of ‘everyday sexism’ detailed on their website and twitter feed, has resulted in Laura now being able to take her campaign to schools and universities, contributing to the retraining of 2,000 British Transport police officers and raising the reporting of incidents by more than 25 per cent. Not to mention Laura being the youngest member listed on this years Radio 4 Woman’s Hour Game Changer Power list.  

From feminism and onto the Miner’s Strike where Owen Jones interviewed Seumas Milne about the shocking persecution of the striking minors by MI5. A talk which could have quite easily have been the chilling premise of a Spy thriller blockbuster rather than real live events instigated by a Western, ‘democratic’ government. I learned how at the time the BBC, unable to show footage of the Police attacking the peacefully protesting minors, broadcast this film backwards, to show the Miners attacking the Police, amongst numerous other injustices.

A few other quick gems include: Joanne Harris, author of ‘Chocolat’ among other titles, who regularly tweets her short stories to her followers; food writer and Times Journalist Rachel Cooke expounding the wonders of salad cream and apparently the best recipe for this retro-condiment was created by chef Simon Hopkinson. She is also an authority on incredible women from the 1950s including raleigh car driver Sheila Van Damme, who was faster than Stirling Moss; festival ‘headliner’ Lynn Barber talked about when she tackled Jimmy Saville about the rumours about him liking little girls and her being blacklisted by Hollywood as a result of a disastrous interview with actor Nick Nolte; A L Kennedy having to hastily change her choice short story about an experience in a sex shop because at the last moment an apologetic mother in the audience piped up that it might not be suitable for her young daughter sitting next to her.

The highlight for me though was Professor Tanya Byron who, years ago, presented the BBC’s earlier version of Supernanny: ‘The House of Tiny Tearaways’ and is now a leading expert in adolescent psychology. When she was asked, as a mother of 2 teenagers, if she had amazingly behaved children, she recounted an occasion when, at the height of her TV fame, she found herself being recognised in a busy coffee shop at the precise moment her 3 year old son descended into an uncontrollably riotous tantrum that involved him rolling around on the floor. Her solution to this was provided by her friend who offered to briefly claim ownership of her son whilst she made her escape, which of course she accepted. Was it reassurance that when it comes to parenting even the experts get it wrong that made me feel better? Possibly. 

My Stokey Litfest 2014 reading list 

Everyday Sexism - Laura Bates
The Vagenda: A Zero Tolerance Guide to the Media - Holly Baxter and Rhiannon Cosslett
The Skeleton Cupboard - Tanya Byron
We Made a Garden - Margery Fish
The Enemy Within - Seumas Milne
On Writing - A L Kennedy
Instyle magazine
‘Kitchen essays’ - Agnes Jekyll 
'Plats Du Jour' - Patience Gray