Right now, if there’s one person I really can’t stand it’s the Taxpayer. He or she annoys me more than the Motorist, the Hardworking Family and even the Wealth Creator. Always in the news, putting his or her name to the latest mean-spirited whinge, this person contributes virtually nothing to society. Sure, there are those taxes, but big sodding deal. That’s no excuse for the way the Taxpayer behaves.

The Taxpayer is not to be confused with all people who pay taxes. Most taxpayers are not the Taxpayer, and it’s a good job too. Can you imagine what life would be like if most people who paid taxes went around acting as though this very fact made them not only morally superior but uniquely exploited? If all workers became so self-aggrandising, so embittered and resentful? We’d hardly get any jobs done! Thankfully there are enough people who recognise that while taxes pay for many things — sometimes things we’d rather they didn’t pay for at all — they don’t buy us the right to appoint ourselves superior human beings. Seriously, for how long do some folk have to be in a job before they can just get over themselves? (more…)

Maria Miller is proposing that parents of girls receive “info packs” to help broaden their daughters’ career aspirations. In the face of falling numbers of women in executive positions, what could be more beneficial for both equality and economic growth?

According to Miller, “making sure women can be successful at work and in business is essential if we want a strong economy”:

A vital part of future career success is the aspirations that girls have early in their lives, and the choices they make about subjects and qualifications. Parents are vital in helping girls make these choices, and we know that many parents want help with that. This campaign will give parents the knowledge and confidence they need to make sure that their daughters make choices which will help them realise their ambitions

Way-hey! Get influencing, mums and dads! Because that’s a major thing that’s holding this country back, quite possibly the whole reason why we’re in this sorry mess today – women and their stupid, girlie choices. (more…)

For reasons best known to no one, my children have got back into reading, watching and listening to Thomas the Tank Engine. As you can imagine I am devastated. I thought we were over this phase. We’d put it all behind us, weren’t going to speak of it ever again. The hateful phrase “really useful engine” was set to become a distant memory, but suddenly, out of nowhere, the old obsession has returned.

I really hate Thomas, and by that I don’t just mean the series, I mean the individual. “Thomas, he’s the cheeky one”. The cheeky one? He’s the most self-satisfied, obstructive, arrogant little prick on the whole of Sodor. Every single “adventure” involves him smugly deciding he’s going to outshine everyone else in being “really useful”. This invariably leads to some kind of major fuck up, usually involving a crash and some paint / bunting / milk churns, whereupon Thomas seizes on the opportunity to pile on the smarm in his efforts to “make amends”. God, I truly DETEST his supercilious little half-smile. Not that the other engines are that much better. The only one I like is James, except the TV series has got his accent wrong. Rather than chirpy Liverpudlian, it should be pure Leslie Phillips. He’s a rake, is James, welcome to chuff into my tunnel any time he likes *cough*. (more…)

So the Queen told Kate Winslet that motherhood is “the best job”. Why do I find this so annoying? I am a mother. I do think mothers are undervalued. All the same, I’d rather not be told I have “the best job”. Particularly not if Hollywood actresses and heads of state are claiming it’s their dream job, too.

The Telegraph’s Jemima Lewis is railing against the Queen’s choice of words, too:

A job is a position for which you must compete. […]  If you’re good at it, you might get promoted up the ranks and become an expert in your field. By contrast, any moron or sociopath can become a mother. There’s no line manager to assess your performance, and no hierarchy to ascend. You might think of yourself as an expert, but other mothers won’t thank you for telling them what to do.

(more…)

“If working parents didn’t feel guilty enough about leaving their children at nursery, now new research has found …” starts the 1,00,695th Daily Mail article on the crapness of “working parents” (aka mothers in paid employment). Yes, fellow “working mums”, it’s our turn again. Just when you thought all eyes had been turned on stay-at-home mummy bloggers, it appears we’re back in the firing line. Bring it on! (more…)

Here follows a self-important announcement of little relevance to anyone but me: I am taking a break from blogging, for 10 whole days. Is it because:

  1. I am finally sick of the sound of my own virtual voice going blah, blah, blah, blah, blah?
  2. I’m trying out a passive-aggressive tactic to see if I can get more hits?
  3. I’m too upset to carry on now that my favourite troll has lost interest in me?
  4. I am leaving my partner and kids behind and pissing off for an all-expenses-paid week in the Caribbean?

To maximise the annoyance factor of this blog post, I will now reveal that it’s Option Number Four. It is a business trip – but given that my business trips in recent years have been to Corby, Chipping Sodbury and Walsall, it’s a pretty sodding unusual one. I mean, I’m pretty sure it’s the real Caribbean and not just a conference centre in Dudley that happens to be called Barbados, but we shall see. To be honest, I still can’t believe it, although I’ve known for a couple of months.

Obviously everyone around me is taking the piss out of the very idea that this is “work”. It is, mind – but it’s in the fucking Caribbean! And every night I get to go back to a hotel room – in the Caribbean! – with no kids to put to bed or anything. I will miss them, of course, but I also can’t bloody wait! I don’t think I deserve this trip – it’s just something that happened due to an accident of project distribution – but I’m gonna really, really appreciate it.

If the WIFI in the hotel is crap (and I’ve heard that it is) I might have to go without twitter, too. And I will miss people there. I was having a ponder about it today and realised that I’ve been blogging and using twitter for seven months now. In that time I’ve encountered loads of people who are not only lovely, but who have challenged me and changed my way of thinking. I think *soppy bit* it is making me a more tolerant person. Although *less soppy bit* it is also making me a rude, antisocial person who just stares at her phone and ignores actual people in her presence. Swings and roundabouts, eh?

Anyhow, enough of a rather boring but uncharacteristically positive post from me. I’m *cough* pissing off to the Caribbean! I’m outta here! Will really miss people but, um, yes … it’s the fucking Caribbean!

*swans off*

… working sets a good example. I spot that with my children. They imitate. I was sitting on the sofa the other day, reading some files – some quite secret stuff, actually – and I turned round and there was Florence, aged less than two. She’d got next to me, got a bit of paper and a pen and was copying me.

David Cameron, When Glamour met David..., Oct 2012

That was our wonderful Prime Minister, answering the question “David, are you able to come up with a twee anecdote in which you reveal yourself to be simultaneously an attentive father and a mega-important alpha male, and which at the same time gets in a quick dig at the workshy?” And is he? Of course he is! Only Glamour have somehow got the questions mixed up, meaning it looks like he’s responding to this instead: “My childcare fees are astronomical and tax credits have been cut. Could you tell me more about your new commission looking into this?” Ha ha! As if! (more…)

Women! When you wake up tomorrow morning, which of the following would you most like to do:

  1. rush around like a blue-arsed fly trying to get the entire household off to holiday club / nursery / work, before arriving (late) at your own workplace for eight hours of unrewarding graft
  2. rush around like a blue-arsed fly trying to feed, clothe and not swear at your children, before spending the day thanklessly washing, cooking, cleaning and refereeing toddler fights
  3. get up late and have a leisurely breakfast in your state-of-the-art kitchen before popping out to meet your girlfriends for shopping / lunch / a session at the spa, before arriving back just in time to greet / snog / shag your partner (you may also, at some point, say hi to the cleaner and the nanny – but that’s optional)

I would of course go for Option 3. Does that make me a bad feminist? Or just someone who would not object to spending a much higher percentage of her time living as though she was on holiday? (more…)

Most mornings I trudge resentfully to work. Today, however, I skipped merrily through the August sunshine, eager to reach my desk, get my head down and perform my duties as a useful economic unit labouring away for The Man.  Whence this joy? It’s not simply because my kids were being annoying, making the office seem a welcome break (let’s face it, that would be most days anyhow). It’s because I’d just read this, a piece that’s enough to make any sane woman think OFFICE! WOO-HOO! YEAH!

The piece I’ve uncovered (via @Scriptrix and @LynnCSchreiber) tells the story of a woman whose whole family turn up at her office to “liberate” her from the tyranny of work and celebrate the start of her new life as an “ever-present loving homemaker”. I don’t know if it is a spoof; I suspect it isn’t. Either way, it reminds me of the reasons why I became a feminist in the first place. (more…)

Cameron to axe housing benefits for feckless under 25s as he declares war on welfare culture.

Mail on Sunday headline, 24th June 2012

Have you ever wondered how much feck you possess? Don’t worry – you don’t need to know what feck actually is. Me, I haven’t got a fecking clue. However, I still have a pretty good idea that feck-wise, I’m doing better than most of my neighbours.

I live in a former council house on a poor estate. We could have bought a much smaller house in a different area – one with a far higher concentration of feck – but this was the house we wanted (it’s big and it’s near Bargain Booze. Who could argue with that?). Many of the people who live on my street don’t work. I’ll be setting off early in the morning to drop off the kids at school whereas they’ll be, um, setting off early in the morning to drop off the kids at school, too. But they’re probably hungover. And they might be having a fag on the way, before going back home to watch Jeremy Kyle.

Many of our neighbours have more children than we do. Here’s me, thinking we can’t afford to have another child, and there they are, breeding like rabbits. Only rabbits who smoke. And who don’t have any feck left in the burrow. Obviously I am very resentful about this. Every day I think ooh, you, you, you feckless people! How dare you even exist without possessing the requisite amount of feck! 

Fortunately David Cameron is feeling my pain:

Speaking exclusively to The Mail on Sunday, Mr Cameron said: ‘We are sending out strange signals on working, housing and families.’

He argued that some young people lived with their parents, worked hard, planned ahead and got nothing from the State, while others left home, made little effort to seek work and got a home paid for by the benefits system.[…]

‘A couple will say, “We are engaged, we are both living with our parents, we are trying to save before we get married and have children and be good parents. But how does it make us feel, Mr Cameron, when we see someone who goes ahead, has the child, gets the council home, gets the help that isn’t available to us?”

Yeah, Mr Cameron! These people, they don’t half piss me off! I mean, speaking personally, I didn’t actually get engaged and live with my parents and try to save before getting married and having children or any of that bollocks. I’ve always just bumbled along being middle class. It always seems to have worked out, just about, for me. I’d obviously like a better economic environment, in which things weren’t quite so difficult for working parents. But still, in the absence of any policies that are going to make working and having children more affordable, yeah, let’s just have a go at people on benefits. It’s the very least we can do.

If I’m really honest, I wouldn’t say I worked out of some great desire to be “good”. If anything, I read the pronouncements of politicians such as Cameron and get a huge desire to change my behaviour just to be “bad”. But I work so I have prospects and a future. I work so I don’t feel trapped. I work so I feel I’m using the skills I had the opportunity to gain. I don’t do it because of my feck, whatever that is. It has crossed my mind that, if everyone around me on our estate is having such a great time, I could try to join them. But it doesn’t look that much fun from where I see it. It’s hardly winning the lottery. They’re not working because they don’t know what else to do and how else to be, and no one, as far as I can see, is giving them the opportunities to change or making change affordable.

Cameron claims that “at the moment the system encourages people not to work and have children, but we should help people to work AND have children”. I agree. Working and having children is hard emotionally and financially. I can think of many possible solutions – increasing childcare vouchers, encouraging childcare providers to fit around shift patterns, working to decrease the pay gap, investing in depressed communities to ensure that there are jobs – but cutting benefits for “the feckless” seems an odd one to start with. It won’t make things any easier for most people. I don’t know, perhaps if my neighbours get evicted, I’ll be able to do the school run marginally more quickly, then I might get to work earlier, then I’ll get a pay rise, then I’ll actually be able to afford the nursery fees I’m paying for anyhow… Is that the thinking? Cause I’m not sure that’s going to work. Hell, I don’t even know if I’ve got enough feck to make this doable.

Well, thankfully it won’t be me who has to operate the feckometer. Because knowing feck all about the morality behind it, I just wouldn’t know where to start.

Postscript: Since writing this post, it still looks like everything’s going badly wrong, but I have at least worked out the answer to the original question: it’s obviously Father Jack.

I could be a genius

If I just put my mind to it

And I, I could do anything

If only I could get round to it

Glory Days, Pulp

Does everyone feel like that? I know I do, at least some of the time. Then once in a while I try to put the work in and discover I possess an innate rubbishness after all.

At the moment I am not posting more than once a day, which is less that is usual for me. No more 4,000 word posts on films I don’t even like for the time being. I can’t afford to do that any more. The trouble is, I’m way behind on my actual work.

It’s not because I’ve been blogging all the time. It’s to do with schedules and bottlenecks and resourcing and restructures and, and, and … Basically, it’s to do with me being completely and utterly crap. I have been working but I’ve not been doing much of the work that actually had to be done.

It happens like this: I get something to do. I don’t want to do it straight away because it looks a bit hard. So I leave it till the next day, and I’m about to start, but then I remember that that job’s hard and, feeling a little bit afraid, I put it to one side. The next day, I see that very hard job on my to-do list and decide I can’t possibly begin it now – after all, it’ll soon be the weekend and I need a full-on, concentrated stretch in which to get something like that done. So then I leave it till the next week, by which time it’s become impossible and terrifying. So I do nothing about it until the shit has truly hit the fan, by which point it genuinely is hard to get it done whereas in actual fact, right at the start, it was probably a piece of piss.

I do this all the sodding time. It was like that with my PhD. I was desperate to get funding because I thought if I did, it’d mean I was clever and I could think deep thoughts and sit around reading big books all day long. Then I got the funding and suddenly found this immense stretch of unstructured time in which I was obliged to actually be clever laid out before me. It was bloody terrifying. So I’d go to the library, pick up Kant, think “nah, too hard for me!”, and retreat with a copy of Sophie’s World. This continued for three and a half years. I’d piss about all day then at night, when I lay in bed, the panic at how little I’d done would creep over me. So I’d drink wine and play on the Playstation, then get up late and read a bit more Jostein Gaarder.

Finally it came to a head. I was meant to submit a thesis and I didn’t have one. So I made one up (I mean, I had read the odd thing. Just nothing that struck me as remotely difficult). I thought I might be allowed to scrape a pass. Of course, I got a resounding fail, albeit with permission to resubmit as I had shown some promise (i.e. in the one chapter where I’d randomly happened upon something no one else had noticed over the past 200 years. Perhaps they hadn’t seen fit to notice it because it was a bit irrelevant, though). I couldn’t live with the idea of having sent nearly four years down the drain, so finally I forced myself to put down the Playstation controller and do some proper work. By that time I’d run out of PhD funding, so I had to get a proper job and rewrite my thesis in the evenings, visiting the library at weekends. It was difficult. And in many ways it did me good. I wrote something which, while not a heartbreaking work of genius, I still think is rather good, in places at least. It was the making of me. Except it wasn’t. As soon as I got the Dr title, I went back to being crap (actually, it happened before that. As soon as I passed I went back to being crap. It took me two years from passing to get the degree formally awarded as booking in for the degree ceremony became one of those things that was way too scary and hard).

Obviously being successful (at least financially) isn’t related to being good at your job. You only have to look at bankers to know that (perhaps the collapse of the economy is down to all bankers being like me. During my worst work panics, I think this must have been how Nick Leeson – or was it Liam Neeson? – felt at Barings). But in my office, I often see people who are, if not more successful, then way better than me at their jobs. The reason why? They just get on with it. When asked if they can do something, they don’t turn into Mavis off Coronation Street and start wringing their hands, saying “ooh, Rita, I don’t really know” (none of my colleagues are called Rita, so this is yet another thing that freaks them out).

I want to be more like the “get on with it” people. I even bought a book to tell me how to do it. What’s Stopping You? divides people into two types: high-AM (achievement motivated – the “get on with it” peeps) and high-FF (fear of failure motivated – that’ll be me). When I read it it all seemed pretty plausible. But then I stopped halfway through because I realised I was reading it to get out of doing any actual work. And I can’t go back to reading it now because it’s too hard and I’m too scared.

When I got home yesterday evening I told my partner that I was scared that I might die suddenly, and on top of everyone missing me and stuff (I presume), the next worst thing would be everyone at work finding out how behind I am and I’d have no chance to cover it up, what with me being dead and all.  He just said “oh, everyone feels like that at work”. But I don’t think that’s true. He just said that because he’s exactly the same as me. And now he’s got end of course things to do and I’m in a full-on panic about my stuff, and it’s as tense as hell at home (and I bet if I did die and go to hell, even the hellish stuff wouldn’t prevent me from still worrying about the messy spreadsheets left behind).

And so, I’ve just written a 1,000 word post on why I can’t keep writing like this and need to get my shit together. But in a way, this post is meant as a kick up the arse. A recognition of what a complete idiot I can be. I could be so much better, if only I stopped worrying about being worse.

PS The last time I started a post with a song quotation, people left comments correcting me because I’d misheard it. Well, I could have looked up the Pulp lyric but I just didn’t put my mind to it or get round to it. And now I’m too scared. Will you go and check for me?

This morning I nearly crashed my car on the way to work. It’d been a difficult, up-and-down night with the kids, but that wasn’t the reason why I was distracted. The fact is, I was reminiscing about late-90s Irish girl band B*witched, and that caused me to forget what I was doing and nearly mow down some hapless passers-by.

I suppose you could argue that had something disastrous occurred, hey, at least I’d have been able to give a clear account of events leading up to it. Still, I doubt grieving families would have taken much comfort in me saying “I was just thinking about that weird bit towards the end of C’est la vie, where they all do an Irish jig and start coming out with totally out-of-context quips such as “what are you loik?”, and it’s that which led me to take my eyes off the road”. In such a situation, said grieving families would probably prefer me to have been drunk.

The truth is, concentration is not my forte (I write that, and straight away I’m thinking about defunct 80s hotel chain Trusthouse Forte and trying to remember which company bought them. See, that’s just how bad I am). I thought that having a blog would help with this. Rather than letting my mind wander all the time, I’d write things here and – boom! – they’d be gone. But in actual fact, it’s got worse. I can’t write down anything without thinking of a million other things I simply have to write about. I’ve even set up a draft post called “Ideas” where I note down said items as and when they come. I’m terrified that one day I’ll accidentally publish it and anyone who reads it will think I’ve gone completely mad (actually, they probably won’t. They’ll no doubt just assume it’s the contents listing from that one time a wannabe radical feminist was guest editor of Take a Break).

As a linguist I sometimes go to seminars on language acquisition. Whenever I’m concentrating (and not, say, trying to decide whether I want mushy peas or tinned sweetcorn with my tea) I get to see scans of brains in development as children learn to speak. These illustrate all the different connections that are created, many of which will be in place for life. There are things called synapses and, while I don’t know precisely what they are because I was looking out of the window at some builders and a black and white cat during the explanation bit, I get the impression that mine must be all over the shop. All over the shop, that is, where I’m buying my sweetcorn later. No, actually, make that peas.

Anyhow, where was I? Me and concentration. Not good. And now, not only am I meant to go back and concentrate on work for the rest of the afternoon, I have to do so while being totally torn between whether my next post should be on the demise of Trusthouse Forte or the trial of Norwegian murderer Anders Behring Breivik. It’s really hard being me. I think.

Well, I’ve said my piece. Do you think there’s a pun you could make with that and the word “peace”? Probably not. But still, people often make puns with “peas” and “peace” . Mushy peace? Does that work? <wanders off babbling contentedly>

Two weeks ago I was interviewed for an internal promotion. Today I found out I didn’t get the post. And I was – how shall I put it? – somewhat less than devastated.

I knew my interview didn’t go well. I knew the other internal candidate had more experience than me. I knew, basically, that I was perhaps not up to the job. And so, to be honest, I was just not that arsed.

I like my job and I want to be good at it. I would also like to earn more money, especially with my partner sending off a million and one job applications and still not getting so much as an interview (who’s the idiot reading these CVs? What ARE they thinking?). But I have to be honest: I don’t want a promotion just for the sake of it. I don’t want to get to the top of the tree simply to say I’ve done it. The truth is, I’d rather be good at what I do.

Coming from a man, comments like this might sound like bravado. I say that, yeah, but I’m crying inside. But I am not a man. I am a woman so you probably believe me. Women lack ambition. Women lack resilience. Women just don’t have the drive. I’m a woman, and I’m probably paid less than the average man in my profession, and it’s probably all my own fault. And clearly, there’s a moral in this, which is that ALL WOMEN DESERVE TO BE PAID LESS THAN MEN AND THE PAY GAP IS AN EVIL FEMINIST LIE!

Look, I call myself a feminist but clearly I am letting the side down. I ought to just sell out completely, take myself off to Femail and see if I can get into one of their features on “How, as a wussy mother, I realised I couldn’t hack it in the cold, hard world of work”. I mean, here I am, the only mother of small children in my entire office who hasn’t gone down to working part-time, and I can’t even get a lousy promotion. How’s that for a double fail? I manage to combine hard-nosed career-bitch child neglect with a total lack of career progression. Woo-hoo! What’s even more worrying is I think I’m also the only woman in my office who openly describes herself as a feminist and uses “Ms”. They’re probably all pissing themselves behind my back.

To be fair, women at the top of the so-called tree rarely seem to be feminists. The so-obvious-I’m-cringing-to-mention-it example of this is Margaret Thatcher. The sad thing is, growing up in the eighties, I really, really liked the fact that the UK had a female prime minister and a female head of state. I didn’t give a fuck what the policies were. I lived in a country where it was still legal for a man to rape his wife and I just thought “hey, cool, we’re led by women!” (to be honest, my political ignorance throughout childhood plumbed much greater depths than this would suggest. I think I was in my mid-twenties before I realised Margaret Thatcher was not, and had never been, married to Michael Foot).

Does it matter that I want more women in positions of power and authority even if I don’t want to be there myself? Isn’t it a pretty crappy cop-out, leaving it to the anti-feminists to schmooze up to the dizzy heights and then do fuck all for the rest of us? What pisses me off most is that, while I don’t think for a minute I even have the capability to be prime minister (but then neither has David Cameron blah blah blah), I feel really guilty for not being better, for not doing more. I can’t help feeling that as a feminist, I have to represent female success and progress on an individual level. But I don’t. I just bumble along. And then I think, do men feel this same pressure to represent their sex? And if not, aren’t I letting the side down even more?

It drives me utterly insane each time I see an article on “women of influence” and Michelle Obama and Samantha Cameron are there topping the list. I mean, I love my partner, but does this mean I should have thought “stuff romance” and just been a more tactical shagger? Is that the way we do it now? (To be honest, I wouldn’t even be good at that. My partner is a white, public-school educated man with a first from Cambridge, perhaps the only one who, rather than running the country, is buying shoes at Matalan. Not quite sure what happened there). Surely a proper feminist should be topping the “power” lists, elbowing her way to the top on her own merits? Is it feminism’s fault that she’s not there yet?

Perhaps. But perhaps not. As I’m in a thinking-in-foreign-languages mood today, I’ve got a song in my head by a German group called Die Sterne. Called Wir / Ihr, it contains the following lines:

Wir lehnen es ab

weil uns das lieber ist als

nach euren Regeln das Spiel zu verlieren

und dann zum Dank dahin zu vegetieren

(My crap translation: We turn it down because we’d rather not lose the game  playing by your rules and then rot away by way of a thank-you. It works much better in the German). But I think that’s kind of it. We’re losing at the game because the rules and the values are the same, and they’re the wrong ones. And while that’s not feminism’s “fault”, it’s something feminism needs to work to change.

Anyhow, enough German song quoting. That’s my excuse for not getting the job and I’m sticking to it.

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