July 2012


Right now, twitter feels a dangerous place upon which to be making jokes and random quips. Sure, the twitter joke trial is over, Guy Adams has had his account reinstated and the Tom Daley troll has not, as far as I know, been tarred and feathered on the nearest village green.* Even so, I wouldn’t want to push my luck. Not with corporate lawyers on one side and the righteous twitter mob on the other.

Thus I am not going to make a huge fuss about rap star Professor Green tweeting crap “jokes” about bulimia. I have no desire to kick a man when he’s down and I’d imagine that, if you’re a rapper, having Private Eye point out that you look like Michael Gove would be making you feel pretty down to begin with:

So yeah, Professor – real name Stephen – I have no desire to mock you, in the manner in which one might mock sufferers of a potentially fatal yet nevertheless hugely embarrassing and much misunderstood illness. (more…)

If you’re old enough to remember Brookside, do you recall that time when Jimmy Corkhill – crazy, lovable, thug-with-a-heart Jimmy – faked his qualifications and pretended to be a teacher? He was great, our Jimmy, nothing like his poncey, jargon-obsessed, over-trained middle-class colleagues. He might not have had letters after his name but he was from the streets (or at least the Close) and he spoke in a language that the kids understood. Like a Scouse Robin Williams in Dead Poet’s Society, he inspired the young scallies. When he finally got found out and lost his mind as a result, we felt for him. We were angry at The Man – in the form of the GTC – for not just throwing away the rule book and letting our Jimmy carry on. One look from Jimmy with those puppy-dog eyes – the same eyes that persuaded the long-suffering Jackie to take him back time after time – and we’d have given him anything, a PGCE, NQT status, a B.Ed, even QTS. But alas it wasn’t to be.

I wonder if Michael Gove watched those same episodes and felt our Jimmy’s pain. After all, Gove is well known for inventing education policy based on personal experience and while Brookside isn’t real life, I can attest that the emotions we felt for Jimmy were very real. Did Gove feel them too? Could this be why he’s now announcing that Qualified Teacher Status will no longer be required for those teaching in academies? After all, this is precisely the kind of thinking which would have helped your average University of Life graduate get a foot in the door and show those lefty HoDs, with their smart-arse qualifications and unions, exactly what’s what. (more…)

Whenever I see I’ve got new mentions on twitter, I’m overcome by a feeling of dread. You might call it having a naturally guilty conscience. I invariably think “oh shit, what have I done / what have they found out now?” It doesn’t make much sense – no one has ever tweeted anything nasty about me (yet). But I have this sense that one day I will be “found out” – over what, I just don’t know – and everyone will then know “the truth” and I’ll be publicly named and shamed.

Well, enough about me and my idle, self-important paranoia. I have just spent the evening witnessing someone else take their place in the Twitter Hall of Shame (I have also been watching Snakes on a Plane, but hey, I’m versatile – I can do both!). And by “someone else”, I mean the Tom Daley troll. I’m not quite sure why I’ve been watching this. I suppose I’ve never before witnessed someone having so complete a meltdown into violent, hate-filled, furious threats. I’ve never really seen so much real-life anger being spewed out, live, in real time, while I sit comfortably in a position of safety. I can just watch and watch. And so I’ve watched, as have many others (not that this excuses my own voyeurism – that’s down to me alone). (more…)

As a Humourless Feminist ™ of many years’ standing, I have grown adept at recognising The Things That Are Sent To Try Us. Jimmy Carr, Heat magazine, Procter & Gamble, Femail, David Cameron … I have seen them all and always sought to offer a suitably Humourless Feminist response. Now, however, I find myself confronted with the sexism-fest that is Olympic women’s beach volleyball, but I will not rise to the occasion. Bikinis? Dancing girls? Benny Hill? I know Humourless Feminist-baiting when I see it, and I’m not going to play along. (more…)

Ten years ago I had a twenty-a-day Mayfair Light habit. I’d wake up with a pack by the bed and lighting up was the first thing I’d do. To a non-smoker this may sound awful, but I loved my fags. It was the whole “being addicted” thing I couldn’t stand. So I booked in for some NHS group therapy – totally cringe but highly effective, and hence unlikely to be funded these days – and gave up completely. I still miss cigarettes, sometimes, but not how guilty and fearful the act of smoking used to make me feel.

Of course, now I find that, pregnancy-wise at least, I might as well have been at home chain-smoking in front of Deal or No Deal rather than venturing out for some honest toil. According to a study reported in the Guardian (and several other newspapers), “work after eight months of pregnancy can be as harmful as smoking”. Naturally this is a real kick in the teeth for those of us who were still at the photocopier at 36 weeks, swollen ankles be damned. (more…)

Once again, I am late in following a trend. Having totally failed to acquire a troll collection back in the 1980s, when it was trendy to bring flourescent-haired plastic monstrosities into school, I suddenly can’t seem to move for trolls. What’s more, these are my very own trolls. I didn’t even have to nag my mum for months on end – they just came straight to me. Thank you, trolls.

Of course, I don’t know what these trolls look like. They may well not even have flourescent hair (although I picture them having it, obviously). They just seem to hang around in the ether, waiting to comment on things I write in the most obnoxious way possible. As activities go, it seems pretty unrewarding, and rather pointless. I worry about my trolls. They don’t have much going on, and I’m concerned that even their trolling careers might be taking a wrong turn. (more…)

At the risk of sounding like a knee-jerk liberal NHS-loving bandwagon-jumping nice person, I will admit that I, too, loved the Olympic Opening Ceremony. It was tops. Well, most of it was. Unfortunately I’d nipped to the loo during the James Bond/Queen bit (but am not quite self-obsessed/paranoid enough to think the whole thing’s a joke being played on me alone). And I wasn’t sure about the grime bit; it struck me as a little bit “middle-aged dad pretending he’s still got his finger on the pulse” (not that I am down with the kids, but I am sufficiently consciousness of my non-down-ness not to even try). But anyhow, the rest of it was good. And it was very, very silly, which, as far as I’m concerned, is the main thing. (more…)

Yes, rape is a crime and men (and in rare cases women) that commit it are beyond reprehensible. But there are ways that you can minimise the risk – this doesn’t shift the blame of the crime, but it can help the innocent. This isn’t blaming the victim – no more than advising people not to stand in certain areas of Manchester with their eyes closed waving a new iPhone around.

Comment on Independent blog, 26 July 2012

If i leave my front door open it doesn’t give thieves the right to nick my stuff but it increases the likelihood that it will happen.And if my insurers feel i was negligent in leaving my front door open they may well not pay out on my household contents insurance policy.Likewise if i choose to make myself drunk and incapable it doesn’t give people the right to beat me,rob me and possibly even rape me but it increases the likelihood that it may happen.So surely i have some responsibility to take steps to protect myself.

Comment on the Guardian Comment is Free, 26 July 2012

When a sensitive topic such a rape is discussed, feminists are often accused of not knowing the difference between victim-blaming and just advising people to take sensible precautions because hey, there are some innately evil people out there, people whose behaviour is in no way responsive to the culture that surrounds them. Well, as a feminist, I would like to show that not only can I copy and paste massive comments then write pointlessly long sentences at the start of blog posts, but that I do ‘get’ this difference. I totally do. (more…)

Did you know, if you drink excessively, you could leave yourself more vulnerable to regretful sex or even rape?

Copy taken from West Mercia Police’s Safe Night Out Campaign

Dear West Mercia Police

I am delighted to learn that you are taking an interest in whether women who drink excessively end up having “regretful sex”. Having endured many a pissed, regrettable shag in my time, I am overjoyed to see this issue finally being treated with the gravity it deserves. (more…)

Like Janet Murray, five years ago, if someone had told me I’d have a child at private school, I’d have laughed. Laughed and laughed. And then, once I’d stopped laughing, I’d have asked them a) at what point over the next five years I’d have been getting this sudden windfall, and b) why future me wasn’t doing the predictable thing and frittering all the money on shoes.

Of course, no one ever said this and it hasn’t happened. I don’t send my child to private school. I don’t even send him to an “outstanding” state school. I send him to a school with a “good” Ofsted rating, and one which, according to the Guardian, has a broader social and cultural mix than is representative for the local area. I love my son’s school, and so does he. Therefore I am a great, non-hypocritical, right-on liberal parent and not a misguided snob like Janet Murray. Well, it’s either that or I’m just incredibly badly organised yet oddy lucky – and I suspect it’s closer to the latter. (more…)

How do you read your news in the morning? Do you scan down the headlines, looking for what’s important? Do you gravely read the articles matter, even if they’re boring as hell? Or are you like me, heading straight to the opinion section to alight on something trivial yet annoying to set you up for the day? (Tip: start with the Guardian online, and if all else fails, work your way right down to Femail.)

This morning I didn’t need to look far for my morning grump. Over in the Guardian Hannah Betts is writing about the “Peter Pan Generation”, aka “Generation X-ers”, people whom she describes as “the true squeezed middle”. It’s yet another of those pieces which rants about the previous generation, the baby boomers, having enjoyed unprecedented privilege before pulling up the ladder behind them. Betts has got a point, certainly. Still, like her, I was born in the 1970s and I don’t think our generation have had it all that bad, certainly not as bad as young people today. Not only was a university education still free in the early 1990s, but we’d been raised in the age of Ross burgers, Supermousse and Cheggers Plays Pop. Looked at from this perspective, we weren’t really all that deprived. (more…)

Way-hey! It’s the start of the holidays! School’s out, the sun’s shining, so let the fun begin! Well, it’s fun for the kids, anyhow, who’ll be at home all day, getting under everyone’s feet and turning the place into a complete and utter madhouse. To tell the truth, I don’t know how I’ll cope. Or rather, I don’t know how my partner will cope. Me, I’ll just be going to work as usual. And I hate to say it – and feel a tosser for doing so – but I’m feeling a bit left out.

One of the many reasons why my partner retrained as a primary teacher was so that he’d be around in the holidays for our kids. It was a good decision, but not one that I could have made (I am monumentally awful in front of a class of thirty). This summer is my partner’s first as a qualified teacher, and our eldest child’s first following a year at school. It’s a special summer for both of them. They deserve it – they’ve both done so well — but I can’t help thinking hang on – I want in! How can they be having an idyllic Cotswolds summer without me in it? (more…)

I’m in the middle of writing up my mid-year appraisal, a task which is of course harder than doing the actual work which is being appraised. It’s especially difficult if, like me, you fear that writing anything more positive than “I’m crap at my job” will make you sound like an arrogant knob. So you twist and turn and faff about, finding ever-more convoluted ways in which to say “I’m alright, really, I suppose”. And then you get to the question which asks you where you’d like to be in five years’ time.

In five years’ time I will be forty-two and five years’ closer to death. Obviously I’d prefer it if this wasn’t the case, but putting “I’d like to have discovered the secret of eternal youth” on your appraisal form is not the done thing. I know this because the form even suggests the criteria by which you should be assessing five-years-hence you: “career progression, training, aspirations, work-life balance”. Looking on the bright side, I can think of things to write for all of these, apart from the last one. (more…)

Being the type of person who’s always up for a freebie, I’ve always thought I’d like nothing better than a sponsorship deal. Imagine my surprise when one finally comes along and I find out that actually, these things aren’t remotely as good as they’re cracked up to be.

Along with all other mums, for the last few months I have been “sponsored” by the company Procter and Gamble. I don’t remember signing an official contract ; perhaps we have a named “spokesmum” who’s done it on behalf of the rest of us. Anyhow, turns out someone didn’t read the small print. It’s actually a rubbish deal. I for one haven’t seen so much as a branded T-shirt. (more…)

When we were kids, my brother and I would spend hours engaged in deep philosophical debates about why we were here. Or rather, why I was here (he was the eldest and for some reason or other, we never got on to discussing him). His line: ‘you were only born so I could have someone to play with’. My line: ‘I was only born because you were such a disappointment’. All very touching, I’m sure you will agree. Of course, we never got on to the real reason for my existence, which I will reveal to you now: I was born, as was my brother, so that our mother could get out of going to work, thereby screwing her employer and wasting an education that could have been given to a man. Forty years later, I imagine she’s still feeling smug about it. (more…)

Last night I scored my first “proper” full-on misogynist blog comment. It was, to put it mildly, a shock to the system. While up till then I’d had the odd attempt at a sexist put-down – “no sense of humour”, “PMS”, even the word “feminist” itself – this was something else. Although not remotely on the scale of the misogynist taunts and threats I’ve seen hurled at other women on Twitter, this upset me. Thankfully some lovely tweets and comments from some lovely people soon put it right. Oh, and some wine – that helped, too.

I’m not going to write a long post about this because other women have experienced far worse and have far more revealing stories to tell. What I am going to write about is the one remaining type of sexist comment I’ve received, the one that actually amuses me. I call it the Men’s Rights Flounce. (more…)

When I was pregnant with my children, I told people early on – way before the 12-week mark. It’s a decision I don’t regret, particularly when I recall the aftermath of an early miscarriage. Recently, though, I’ve started thinking that I wouldn’t do the same again. It’s not that I’m pregnant now, although you’ll have to take my word for it. The fact is, if I were pregnant, I’m not sure I’d want anyone to know until after I’d had all “the tests”.

I am on the wrong side of 35. The side upon which, apparently, everything goes horribly, horribly wrong, at least if you’re female. Reproductively you’re running out of time but as if that wasn’t bad enough, like Jackie in Footballer’s Wives, you start getting “rotten eggs”. You might still have a baby, but it might not be as healthy as the babies you could have had earlier (we’re assuming you’ve always had money and been in a stable relationship; if not, well, you just don’t deserve a baby, ever). That said, it’s probably best not to worry about it. After all, who do you think you are? You’re not some Nazi eugenicist, you’re a pregnant woman, and it’s time to start acting like one. The trouble is, I’m not sure I’d be prepared to do that. (more…)

Four years ago, when my eldest son was still a few months short of his first birthday, his father decided to take him to a new baby group. But not just any new baby group – rather than go to the local Sure Start centre, man and boy ventured across to the other side of town, to the place that we call Poshville. As far as baby groups went, it was not in fact different from any other, except that when it came to coffee time, there weren’t any biscuits. My partner commented on this, and mentioned that you got them at the Sure Start Centre in Scumsville. “Well, you would”, said one of the posh mummies, “you need to bribe those lot with biscuits or they’d never get away from the TV.” My partner responded by saying that in fact, we lived in Scumsville and had seven Oxbridge degrees between us. Whereupon everyone was very apologetic for misjudging the scummers and their relationship with custard creams. (more…)

When people do terrible things, it can be hard for external observers to understand why. While it’s easy to rush to judgement, it’s vital to take into account the context in which hateful acts are committed.

Perhaps we’ll never know what was going through the minds of Luke Salkeld, Andy Dolan, James Tozer and Jill Reilly when they decided, in response to the deaths of Ceri Fuller and his three children, to compose an article trawling through the Facebook status updates of the grieving mother left behind. (more…)

Lately I’ve been feeling a bit down. Actually, make that very, very down. Poor, sad, glum, down me. But don’t worry. This morning I headed to the doctor’s and asked for some pills. I got them and now I’m looking forward to feeling much, much better.

You’re probably reading this and thinking “well, that sounds perfectly reasonable”. But in case you’re not – in case you’re my mum, or my friends, or some random person I’ve just met in the street – here are a few clarifications to put your mind at rest: (more…)

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