December 2012


Here is an odd fact: whenever there is a twitterstorm surrounding Caitlin Moran, one or both of my children vomits. I don’t know why this is. During the Lena Dunham thing it was Youngest, all over the back seat of the car. This time, with that rather odd Times piece on equality, it’s been both of them in turn, one after the other (to be precise, one onto the pyjamas of his brother, prompting the latter to puke onto the floor – we call it vominoes). Obviously next time Moran plans on tweeting or writing anything remotely controversial, I’d like to be made aware so I can get a bucket at the ready.

That said, I always end up following said twitterstorms, in-between vomit mop-ups. The truth is, if Caitlin Moran didn’t exist we’d have to invent her. For philosophical purposes, obviously. She’s like that tree falling down in the forest with no one there to hear it, or … Actually, I don’t know many examples of philosophical stuff (I only got halfway through Sophie’s World in 1998). But anyhow, Caitlin Moran has meanings that extend way beyond anything she herself has written or said. I’m sure there’s a special word for stuff like that, I just don’t know what it is (I ought to know these words because I’m a privileged person. The reason I don’t is because I’m lacking in intellectual curiosity, busy with two kids and not quite sure how to look up words for phenomena that I don’t quite know how to describe in the first place. So not unlike Caitlin Moran, you could say). (more…)

Equalities minister Jo Swinson, co-founder of the Campaign for Body Confidence, has written an open letter to magazine editors, asking them all to avoid “the reckless promotion of unhealthy solutions to losing weight”. I’ll be honest – this really annoys me, and not simply because I’ve got billions of unhealthy solutions to losing weight to promote, just in time for the new year. I mean, if you’re interested, I’ll have you know that all of mine work. Indeed, on several occasions I lost so much weight I ended up being hospitalised. Plus I can always think up more (it’s just a matter of getting the right combination of not eating enough and brainwashing yourself into thinking that feeling cold, miserable and obsessed with food is acceptable as a constant state). Anyhow, that’s not the thing that’s annoying me the most. The truth is, I don’t want Jo Swinson, or anyone else in a position of authority, telling women how to feel about their bodies. It’s just none of their business. (more…)

In 1983 I met Paul Daniels in a department store in Blackpool. He signed books for both me and my brother. At first I was annoyed because my brother had picked up Paul’s “Magic Book” whereas I had “More Magic”, quite obviously the less impressive sequel. Still, when we reached the front of the queue, I got a kiss off Paul and my brother didn’t. Plus my book says “love Paul” whereas his just has “Paul”  (I suppose anything more would have considered been a bit gay).

I didn’t get anything more than a kiss from Paul, mind. This is probably because 1) I was with my grandma in a public place, 2) I wasn’t wearing a “super-short mini-skirt[.], teetering high heels and slap”, and 3) I’m quite possibly just not his type (I look nothing like Debbie McGee – more of a Courtney Cox, I am). The fact that I was also eight is probably neither here nor there. After all, I was an early developer and when girls aren’t in school uniform, who can tell? As Paul allegedly wrote in a recent blog post, with “groupies” it’s sometimes “impossible”. Anyhow, it’s just as well nothing more happened between me and Paul. Apart from anything else, he’d have forgotten the entire thing and would probably now say I was making it up, just like those Jimmy Savile accusers. (more…)

Way-hey! I’ve just “done” Christmas! And because I am all grown-up and have to take in relatives and stuff, I get to moan about it too! Hey, fellow grown-ups – isn’t Christmas just crap? Don’t you just hate all the hassle? I know I do – and yet, I also don’t. I’ve had a good Christmas, me. And even the bits that have pissed me off have possessed their own special charm.

Hence in a spirit of positivity – and fueled by way too much booze – I’ve compiled my own list of Christmas lessons learned. So here’s what Christmas 2012 has taught me – could this teach you, too?: (more…)

Buying Christmas presents for men is a nightmare, isn’t it? With women, it’s easy – chocolates, bubble bath, random pink stuff – it’s not as though there’s any need to consider the individual. With men, though, there’s that need to treat the recipient as a person, someone with actual likes and dislikes. Hence you never know what to get them, spend ages thinking about it – all the while chucking more random pink stuff into your basket – before muttering “fuck it” and buying socks and beer. Mind you, it’s the thought that counts – and while your present might be rubbish, you’ve thought about it loads.

Each Christmas I always want to get something special for my brother, something that will genuinely make him happy. Alas, I never know what to choose. It’s not just because he’s male (he has been for forty years, so I’m used to that) but he’s also unwell (and has been for forty years, too). He has schizophrenia – i.e. the “scariest” of the mental illnesses – but as ever, this doesn’t say much. As with all schizophrenics, what he actually suffers from is a rag-bag of symptoms, which includes hearing voices but certainly isn’t limited to that. And unlike many schizophrenics, he isn’t, say, obsessed with one particular thing. On the contrary, he isn’t all that interested in anything. I often wish, for him, that he was. (more…)

Come Christmas Day, my three-year-old will be getting the pink doll’s house he’s been asking for for weeks. Or rather, he’s been asking me for it for weeks. I’ve only recently discovered that his whims seem to change depending on who’s around.

During my son’s nursery Christmas Party last week Father Christmas asked each of the childen what he or she would like to receive. Much to my surprise I discovered that “a pink doll’s house” becomes “a lorry” when other children are around. Well, to be honest, it wasn’t all that surprising. He’s at the age at which one starts to learn what it means to be a girl or a boy within a highly gendered culture. He’s starting to realise he’s not really “allowed” to like pink things, at least not in public. From now on his beloved Suzy Sheep socks are for bedtime only. (more…)

In 1993, over the Christmas break, a woman faked her own abduction and then falsely claimed to have been raped. Her reason for doing so? Publicity, perhaps. A misguided need for attention. But also an attempt to get away from the holidays. The woman, a bulimia sufferer, simply could not face this time of year.

When the news of the fake abduction broke, I remember most people, my family included, being scathing. What a waste of police time and money. What a great deal of worry caused to family and friends. As if an eating disorder can be an excuse! And yet, while I couldn’t exactly understand the woman’s actions – and still can’t – a bit of me wanted to try. As a sufferer of anorexia and bulimia, I recognised the panic that Christmas can cause and I recognised, too, the lack of comprehension that sufferers face. (more…)

When something utterly unexpected occurs – when,  for instance, a stranger leaps out of a car and starts to sexually assault you – it’s funny how you don’t respond in the way you always thought you would. Until it happened to me, I always assumed one or all of the following things would happen: 1. I’d use my keys as a makeshift weapon, stabbing the stranger’s eyes with one hand and bending back his little fingers with the other; 2. I’d run like hell, faster than I’d ever run before, and I wouldn’t get out of puff because there’d be so much adrenalin flowing; 3. I’d memorize the stranger’s face and if he had a car, his number plate, too; 4. I’d do all the right things, all the things you’re meant to do, but then again, it wasn’t as though this would ever happen to me anyhow.

Of course, when a car did pull up in front of me on a dark road I instantly thought “what if someone gets out and attacks me?” And then I did that thing where you think that because you’ve already considered one eventuality it can’t possibly happen. After all, the stranger in the dark alley is way too much of a cliché. Still, it turns out that if you’re as terminally uncool as me, clichéd shit still happens. And when it did, I didn’t do any of the things I’d thought I would. I was too frightened and he was too strong (I remember thinking it strange at the time – shouldn’t the fear have been making me superhuman?). So anyhow, let that be a lesson to you, ladies. Take it from me – don’t ever leave the fucking house after dark. (more…)

Domestic abusers! You know that thing when you’re having a massive row with your partner over something entirely trivial – it could be, say, Christmas presents – and it reaches the point where you suddenly feel the need to head to the garage, arm yourself with white spirits and a lighter, douse your partner in flammable liquid and then wave a naked flame around, just to give him or her a fright?  Well, last Christmas Stephen Eastwood did just that and something entirely unexpected happened – he managed to set his wife on fire and she died! And now he’s got to go to prison!

I imagine a story such as this strikes fear into the hearts of respectable, behind-closed-doors attackers everywhere. Hence it may be of some consolation for them to learn that Eastwood wasn’t convicted of murder. Despite Eastwood lying to the police (he originally blamed his wife for the incident, claiming she’d started the fire with a cigarette, something which was later demonstrated to have been impossible), the judge who sentenced Eastwood to eight years for manslaughter declared himself “sure that [the defendant] did not intend [his wife] to catch fire and did not intend the result”: (more…)

So feminists don’t do chivalry? Frankly, I find the very suggestion reveals a complete lack of politesse. I’m a feminist yet I’ve always been a friend of courtoisie. Indeed, I’ve read whole books that seek to define appropriate ritterliches Benehmen (I didn’t study medieval literature for nothing  – well, actually, it’s starting to look like I did. But still …).

The debate on chivalry has been “restarted” by an article in the Atlantic (a publication which I sometimes feel was set up with the sole purpose of rewriting Femail in Pseud’s Corner-friendly language). You know all that stuff about how feminists get really mad if men hold doors open, so then men get told off for holding doors open, then women – who are not the same as feminists – get pissed because the told-off men have stopped holding doors open etc. etc.? Well, it’s that. Again. “The breakdown in the old rules, which at one extreme has given rise to the hookup culture, has killed dating and is leaving a lot of well-meaning men and women at a loss.” Blah blah blah – you know the drill. Except – except! – there’s a sort-of social sciencey bit.

According to Emily Esfahani Smith, a recent study has shown that “chivalry is associated with greater life satisfaction and the sense that the world is fair, well-ordered, and a good place” – so a world not unlike the end of an episode of Mike the Knight. Who could possibly be unhappy with that? Well, the authors of the study to which Esfahani Smith refers, for starters. What Kathleen Connelly and Martin Heesacker actually observe is that benevolent sexism – a term which the Atlantic piece immediately dismisses as a kind of Orwellian doublespeak – “is indirectly associated with life satisfaction for both women and men through diffuse system justification”. This isn’t quite the cause and effect scenario that Esfahani Smith would like to suggest. Still, never mind – where made-up social science stumbles, let’s throw in some made-up history instead! (more…)

I like to watch the clouds roll by,
And think of cherubs in the sky;
But when I think of cherubim,
I don’t know if they’re her or him.

The Cherub, Ogden Nash

I haven’t studied theology and I’m not a great reader of the Bible. Thus when it comes to the nature of angels in a Christian context, I’d say I’m pretty ignorant. I think there’s some debate about whether they are male, female, intersex or none of the above, but I’m worried this is just me confusing Christian representations of the divine with the above Ogden Nash poem. I’m pretty sure one was called Peter Gabriel and that Satan used to be an angel before the Emperor turned him to the Dark Side or something like that. But that’s about it. If you want a definition of angels (and you don’t mean the Robbie Williams song or the 1970s hospital drama) please don’t ask me. And yet, despite my professed ignorance, here’s one thing I don’t think angels are: simpering girlies in pretty white dresses, all trying desperately hard to look like Beyoncé while swishing their hips in a saucy manner. (more…)

Conservative MP David Davies claims “most parents would prefer their child not to be gay”. As a parent, I can only speak for myself but I’d like to think most of us don’t give a shit. Seriously, David. Even those of us who “want grandchildren”. We’re generally educated enough to know that you don’t have to be heterosexual to become a parent and, beyond that, we don’t all hold our children responsible for endlessly continuing the family line. Sod the potential next generation – my kids are complete in themselves.

Of course, my perspective on what “most parents would prefer” will be coloured by the views of those parents with whom I choose to associate. Still, I do have a broader perspective on things – otherwise I’d say “most parents would prefer their child not to be a Conservative MP”. Hell, that’s true of me. I mean, I’d try to be tolerant. I’d still love him and respect his choices. All the same, I fear my Conservative MP son would still see the disappointment in my eyes and it would burn into his soul (that’s if he had one – not that I’m bigoted, despite never having fought and trained with a Conservative boxer). (more…)

A week ago I attended the switching on of the Christmas lights in Coleford. If you have heard of this village during the past year, it’s likely to be because it’s where this family lived. I don’t want to write about this particular story because there’s someone left behind and just trying to imagine her pain is impossible. All the same, it was strange being in that place, for that cheery, festive reason. Perhaps it isn’t so strange if you live there all the time, but to me, because I don’t, there was something unreal about it all. How do these things happen and how do communities go on?

Four years ago Jon Ronson – author of the utterly brilliant Them - tried to make sense of the community Christopher Foster left behind after he killed his wife, daughter, animals and then himself. In an article for the Guardian Weekend magazine, Ronson travels to Maesbrook in Shropshire to talk to Foster’s friends and acquaintances:
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Today I am wearing my Fawcett Society This is what a feminist looks like T-shirt. I don’t wear it often, mainly because I fear it makes a hostage to fortune of both feminism and me. While wearing the damn thing I feel doubly sure I’ll be unable to park my car, or perhaps I’ll fail miserably to laugh a joke which was, by all objective standards, hilarious. I just can’t risk inadvertently confirming a whole range of anti-feminist stereotypes so generally the T-shirt stays in the drawer. Today, though, I’ve been staying in so it’s felt reasonably safe to give it a go (hence this is what a feminist looks like: someone who spends a Saturday afternoon cleaning the bathroom while listening to a That’s Christmas! double CD).

The best thing about my feminist T-shirt is that it makes my tits look ace. No, seriously. I look hot in this thing!* Perhaps I should wear it in public, just to mess with the heads of sexists, who will be extra-specially inclined to objectify me and yet be simultaneously repelled by the words emblazened across my ample bosoms. Ha! That’d show them! (I’m not sure what, but it would.) They would learn, if nothing else, that feminists, given the right T-shirt, can have ace tits. Then perhaps they wouldn’t notice me failing to park my car or being unable to laugh at hilarious jokes.
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Becoming a mother has brought with it many unexpected perks. I get my own special “mummy” porn. Proctor & Gamble are proud sponsors of me. And now, as an added bonus, TV presenter, classical musician and Hear’say survivor Myleene Klass is designing clothes for me. Honestly, will the treats never end?

Introducing her new clothing range for Littlewoods, Myleene explains that it’s “designed by a mummy for mummies”. Thank heavens for that. I am so sick of forcing my mummy-shaped body into all these “normal” clothes. Finally, someone has listened to the voices of mummies everywhere and catered to our highly specific needs. (more…)

Author’s note: when reading this post, it’s important to imagine each word read out in as whiny, annoying a tone as possible. Plee-eee-eeease.

It starts first thing in the morning, at around 6:30am. The request could be anything – “can I go to the toilet / can I go downstairs / can I have a drink of water?” On cue I respond with “how do you ask nicely?”, thereby getting the required “please” .* I wouldn’t mind any of this. Okay, I would, a bit, but they are reasonable requests for little people to make. It’s just the tone that gets to me. I can’t stand the tone. Reader, my children whine. (more…)

We’ve all been there: you’ve just had a long, hard day at work, during which it’s become evident that the project which is three months’ behind schedule (and which you assumed everyone had forgotten about) is still expected to reach completion next Monday. You’ve picked up your kids only to find that they are far more whiny and annoying than you remember them being (especially the one who keeps brushing past the other simply in order to get another opportunity to say “Muu-uuuu-uum! He pushed me!”, again and again). You’ve got the buggers to bed, settled down with a glass of wine and finally you’re all set to relax. Only you can’t sodding well relax. Relaxing doesn’t feel normal. In fact, it feels positively unsettling. You desperately need something to irritate you again. Well, here’s a suggestion: pick any Guardian Comment Is Free piece on the subject of rape and scroll down to the comments. It works every time. (more…)

Has anyone else noticed that when cis, fertile men get sentimental about pregnancy, it’s most likely to be when they’re suggesting pregnant women shouldn’t be allowed to have abortions? This is the moment when the most rational amongst them can turn to mush; witness Mehdi Hasan in his now-infamous New Statesman piece on being an anti-abortion lefty:

I sat and watched in quiet awe as my two daughters stretched and slept in their mother’s womb during the 20-week ultrasound scans. I don’t need God or a holy book to tell me what is or isn’t a “person”.

Aw, isn’t that sweet? (Providing you squint a bit and ignore the part that reduces a living human being to a mere “mother’s womb”.) It’s always nice to find men who are in touch with the cute side of pregnancy, even if it’s only in order to tell the unhappily pregnant that they just don’t “get” it.

When we’re discussing a normal pregnancy – that is, one in which a woman is appropriately receptive to her “with child” state – it’s a different matter. Sure, men write about it, but it tends to be in sarky, distancing (dare I say paranoid?) tones. There’s a real fear of engaging too closely with the subject; you might have been able to impregnate your bird (“he shoots, he scores!” as a million fatherhood manuals quip), but actually showing an interest in the implications of this would undermine the manliness and virility which you’ve only just demonstrated. In a wonderful (and unusual) article on becoming a new father, Sarfraz Manzoor notes that the books he found on the subject “tended to be written by men who deludedly believed they were funny. The blokiness was deeply dull”. God forbid that men should be expected to take pregnancy and birth seriously. It’s way too girly for that. (more…)

The other day my sons were fighting over a banana. It’s not as though bananas are particularly treasured in our household  – certainly not if there are bank -breaking fruit such as strawberries available – but I hadn’t been to Sainsbury’s for a while. This particular banana happened to be the last thing in the fruit bowl, hence scarcity made it valuable. My youngest was content with sharing, but my eldest wanted all of it. Having witnessed all attempts at persuasion fail, I went for the compromise option, giving Eldest most of the banana while offering Youngest a single bite. Obviously this solution pleased no one, hence I ended up pacifying the little blighters with Coco Pops instead.

You may be reading this and thinking “well, that’s just a rubbish solution – of course it didn’t work!” And you’d be right. That’s why I made it up. What I actually did was what any reasonable parent would do and split the banana in half. This seriously pissed off Eldest, who threw a major tantrum, during which he hurled his half into the recycling bin. Naturally he then saw Youngest munching on the remaining half and wanted back the piece he’d rejected. Only he couldn’t have it because it was already covered with that morning’s leftover Ready Brek. “Well, you should have been willing to share”, said I. Lesson learned, until next time at least. (more…)

When you’re lying awake in the dark there’s plenty of time to think, perhaps even to over-think. This Sunday morning – I don’t know the precise time – I found myself in a hotel room, eyes wide open, unable to sleep. Everything around me was silent, but I was still listening, just in case.

My partner and I were spending a night away from the children, just the two of us, as a special treat. At some point both of us had been woken by the sound of raised voices. I couldn’t work out what was happening at first. Two people in the next room, a man and a woman. The man was angry, the woman apologetic, fragments of back story echoing through the walls. Something about a fight in town. He’d been left without his phone or money. The police were mentioned, I’m not sure why. She’d returned to the hotel earlier, and he resented her for having done so. You left me for dead. She said sorry, tried to leave the room. He wouldn’t let her. She started to plead and that’s when we switched on the light.
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