Thursday, April 26, 2007

War of the Words

Mark Steel's Independent column is always worth a read. He focuses this week on politeness. He points out that the "war" on rude and anti-social behaviour always seems to focus on poor people, when in fact rich people are much, much worse.

When I started out in comedy it was pretty common for new acts to be asked to go out and hand out flyers in the street promoting shows in return for a 5 minute spot on the bill. It's not the world's most enjoyable job but it's interesting because you see the world from a very new perspective - the bottom. Sometimes it was just funny - like the students who bought me a litre of apple juice out of the blue - that's the time you think "I really need to buy new clothes and get a haircut". And not quite so funny - like people offering me jobs as a tequila girl and a "masseuse" ("I don't know how to do massage", "That doesn't matter") but then there are times when it really gets pretty nasty, usually alcohol is involved. Rough drunk blokes will shout "Alright darling, give us a smile then", but the ones that grab your arse or "hilariously" start humping your leg as their mates look on and cheer are always the posh ones. I remember kneeing a particularly horrid one in the nuts as he tried that kind of stunt to which he responded by spitting at me and calling me a lesbian. When they had finally fucked off I was stood in Leicester Square with a sense of disgust and disbelief and then the Polish waiter from the Italian restaurant opposite where I was standing came over with a cup of tea "is ok, on ze house". I cried.

Or to offer another example. Gerrard Finneran, the super-rich financier who was told he wouldn't be getting any more alcohol on his First Class flight. The highlight for me is section 6: "A male flight attendant then entered the first class section and saw FINNERAN with his pants and underwear down defecating on a service cart used by the flight crew. FINNERAN then used linen napkins as toilet paper and wiped his hands on various service counters and service implements used by the crew. FINNERAN also tracked feces throughout the aircraft". Some days you'd be glad you didn't get offered an upgrade.

And then there's the corporate rudeness. Varying from "Your call is important to us and will be answered by the first available operator", and then six hours of muzak to the ones I seem to get every day now "Hello Mrs Smur-i-ta-waite, I'm calling to ask you about your electricity bill", "Is this a sales call?", "No, no, no, I'm trying to save you money", "By getting me to buy your product?", "I'm just calling to let you know", "So you're just an information service, if I want to sign up for your service, you can't help me? ", "You would like to sign up? Certainly, do you wish to pay by direct debit...". Personally I find that pretty rude, not on the part of the guy in India making the call, but on the part of the mega-corporate who are paying him a wage he needs to earn to ring me up and lie to me.

Finally Steel goes on to praise volunteers, who do good in our communities without expecting anything in return. Personally I would advocate a national policy of a 2% tax cut for people who do at least four hours a week of voluntary work in approved schemes: mentoring, fostering, community projects. Suddenly the well-educated high earners would have an incentive to get involved in sharing their skills, and encouraging them to see how the other half lives might just bring them down a peg or two. Plus of course it would boost the voluntary sector to unfeasible highs and give kids across the country access to extra tuition, after-school clubs and mentoring, there'd be shopping services for older people and coffee mornings being organised, and a bunch less kids in care which would in fact save money...! When do I get to be prime minister?

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Consumer Rights

Apparently John Reid's just found out there is "no guarantee" of a win in the war on terror. So I reckon we should ask for a refund.

When you buy a washing machine or a DVD player, you have these rights, like it's got to do what it said would do, and if it doesn't you can take it back and you'll receive a full refund, and if it happens a few times you can take the store to court and have them closed down. I'd like consumer rights extended to political parties. So when, for instance, you vote for what claims to be a "left wing" party and they claim they're going to fix the health service, then they spend your money killing innocent civilians in the middle east, you can get a refund. And if it happens a few times you can have them closed down...

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Same Shit, Different Headgear

Don't you hate those Muslims nutters and the way they treat women as second class citizens? Oh sorry, that was the Jewish fundamentalists there. If you were a woman living in the middle east right now it'd be pretty tough to know which side to be on (but easy to know which end - the back).

The other thing I hate is when they (whichever kind of "they" they are) talk about defending women's modesty. What exactly is my "modesty"? I think they're defending me from the gruesome possibility of my being humiliated by looking sexually attractive in public. I looked it up and it says (paraphrasing):

1. Having or showing a moderate estimation of one's own talents, abilities, and value.
2. Having or proceeding from a disinclination to call attention to oneself.
3. Observing conventional proprieties in speech, behavior, or dress.
4. Free from showiness or ostentation.

So they're trying to save me from appearing talented, able, of high value, from attracting attention, from doing anything unconventional and from being showy or ostentatious. And further they think sitting me at the back of the bus is going to do this for me?

Believe me - they sit me at the back of the bus and I will use my considerable talents to draw a lot of attention. I shall be breaking with convention and screaming my head off in a definitely showy way...

Monday, April 23, 2007

The Unspeakably Obvious

Turns out Cru-blog is not the only place that thinks public funding for major sporting events may not actually help encourage sports at grass roots level. The question of course now is why doesn't someone pay me a small fortune to sit on the sports council.

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Holiday Snaps

If you'd like to see the pictures of myself and Mr Cru off adventuring around Lapland last weekend then please take a peek here. We had a fantastic time.

Saturday, April 21, 2007

Upcoming Excitement

I'm in Wimbledon tonight doing a show for Laughing Horse. It's a competition so support would be much appreciated. Details in Time Out, etc.

I'm also compering Soho Comedy Club on Monday - 8pm at The Roundtable, St Martin's Court, £5. Features James Sherwood and Pete Jonas so it'll be a great show.

Thurs 26th Apr I'm in Cambridge at the Footlights Bar. Details here, it's £10 including buffet curry.

And Mon 30th Apr and Tues 1st May I'm in Bury St Edmunds for the fringe festival, doing my latest solo show - Apes Like Me at Benson Blakes's bar on St John's Street.

Hope to see you there. I do have a mailing list by the way so if you'd like to be added just drop me a line. Cheers!

Friday, April 20, 2007

Bullsh!t headline alert!

The BBC tells us "One in 30 aborted babies lives" and when you open the article it says one in 30 fetuses (they're not babies until they're born thanks) aborted for medical reasons (which represents a tiny fraction of abortions and tends to be the very late term abortions because (1) it often takes several months for major medical problems to become apparent and (2) it's often illegal to have non-medical abortions late into a pregnancy) is alive when they bring it out and lives for no more than a few hours. You expect better of the BBC.

Stuck in the Middleton

Well readers in the UK will have done well to avoid the news that Prince William and his girlfriend Kate Middleton have split up. To be honest it wouldn't be news at all if it wasn't for the media perpetually speculating that they were going to get married and what-sort-of-queen-would-she-be? rather than taking the situation at face value as two young people who were dating. Still there seem to be a few hilarious versions of events going round:

1) Middleton isn't classy enough for the royals. Evidence for this (seriously, from the Daily Mail) - she says "toilet" instead of "lavatory". Right. Now only the other week William was pictured drunkenly grabbing a woman's breast while dancing in a nightclub while his brother Harry was falling over in the street in front of the paparrazi. When did that become less offensive than usng the term "toilet"?

2) The queen has told William to steer clear of Middleton because she's too bossy. Mmmm. As a rule of thumb when your granny tells you to dump your girlfriend, it'd be your granny who's the bossy one.

3) William has decided that Middleton isn't fun enough. Apparently Harry's girlfriend Chelsy Davy is "more fun" and Diana, his mum, would have wanted him to "have fun". There's no telling what is meant by this but it does seem to me a bit symptomatic of a worrying trend these days to define "fun" as "drinks til she pukes at least three times a week", which is what Harry and his chums spend most of their time doing.

So what is "fun"? Drinking far too much? Try asking for a soft drink next time you're out with friends and see how long it takes before you're accused of being "no fun". I feel like Mary Whitehouse saying that people should realise you don't have to be (1) drunk, (2) stoned, (3) gambling, (4) spending money or (5) in a big group of people your own age to have "fun", whatever the media might seem to tell us. I suspect when Diana said whatever she ssaid about her kids having fun she didn't mean "go and grope random women in nightclubs"...

Wednesday, April 18, 2007


Mr Cru and I had a pretty amazing weekend away. We've been in Lapland - northern Sweden Husky Mushing, Cross-country Skiing, Snowmobiling, Reindeer Sledding, Fishing through a hole in the ice, meeting the locals, eating a lot of reindeer and moose and staying in the Ice Hotel at -5 deg! I'll probably put the photos into a seperate blog when I get them but suffice as to say I am physically shattered but emotionally still on a high today. This was the tour we did, expensive but highly recommended.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Crisis in the Wrong Place

When kids misbehave the media reaction is always the same: blame the schools. And the government reaction is always the same: more regulation in schools. Articles like this one from the BBC address the issues of behaviour, school work, politeness and discipline but they do so in a completely false context - they assume that the kids in question come from loving, supportive homes.

The latest advice says teachers should send postcards home when badly behaved children make improvements. I have to ask - how many parents of these uncontrollable children go so far as to read postcards from teachers? I have two friends who work in specialist schools for children with emotional and behavioural problems - kids who have been excluded from regular school. Both have told me that they hate parents evening... not because of the complaints or the upset, not because of the late hours and the administrative work, but because they sit there all night and NOT ONE PARENT EVER COMES IN.

We shouldn't be sending postcards home, we should be sending inspectors round to find out why these kids aren't being raised properly. The only reason the government doesn't do this is that they are desperately short of foster carers and they know if they see what goes on they will have to take these kids into care. I was always top of the class at school (creep) but there were teachers who I believe knew or suspected they knew about my abusive home life but not once in 18 years of suffering did anybody come round to check up or ask me about my home life.

I would advocate annual parenting checks, questionnaires for kids to fill in and follow-up visits to observe what is really going on and question parents about their practices.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

A Range Of Opinions

Right-wing rubbish paper The Daily Mail has found space between the usual rants about asylum seekers and the horrors of the EU to publish this fairly standard piece about how abortion is deeply wrong and Miranda Sawyer used to be pro-choice but now she's changed her mind. Of course we here ar Cru-blog are used to such misogynist nonsense at the Daily Mail and take no notice. We prefer to read something high-brow, pro-feminist and left-wing like The Guardian. Who have run with an article about how abortion is deeply wrong and Miranda Sawyer used to be pro-choice but now she's changed her mind...

And whole chunks of the articles are exactly the same, whole paragraphs. Andthe articles, both of them, are pushing a documentary about the same subject shortly to be screened on TV.

Well I used to be pro-choice and I still am. I would put up a neat refutal of all Ms Sawyers arguements but she doesn't actually seem to have any. She says she spoke to people on both sides and it was hard for her to decide but in the end she decided she was anti-abortion. Needless to say she did her extensive research (1) in the deep south of the US and (2) while on a trip away from her infant son, just to make sure she was feeling irrationally emotional about children at the time. Seriously, and two papers and a TV station are publishing her piffle.

No Idea Whether To Laugh Or Cry

Some kid had the brilliant idea of filming his mothers reaction to the news that he's an atheist.

What A Tosser...

...I'm talking about Howard Johnson of course. Now I'm not a big fan of IVF treatment, I think people unable to have children should be encouraged to consider adoption as a preference to invasive medical treatment. Inevitably however some people feel that they want to have their own biological children for whatever reasons and when they do so IVF is the first port of call.

Natalie Evans is up for her last appeal in court. Unless Mr Johnson consents to her having the embryos created with her eggs and his sperm - frozen when she went in for treatment for oarian cancer - implanted, she will never have children of her own. The legal side of the case is complicated and has been through several layers of the court now but wouldn't be an issue in the first place if he wasn't just being horrid. Surely it's obvious that this is a special case, exceptional circumstances and that the only decent thing to do is to offer consent for their use?

If the court doesn't accept exceptional circumstances and rule in Ms Evans' favour then her best hope is the Mr Johnson dies - several women in this country have been sucessful with appeals to have fertility treatment using sperm from dead men. Notable Diane Blood and Diana Scott.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

How To Tell When Someone Really Cares

They spend a whole £2 on you... The government is today expecting some sort of gratitude for announcing they're putting a whole £2million in to research to fight anorexia. The BBC article kindly juxtaposes that news with a photo caption pointing out that there are 1 million people in the UK with an eating disorder. Don't spend it all at once guys!

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

It Aint What You Say...

Like many newsapers, the Evening Standard can do a great job of turning a regular little report into a specific targetted attack.


Implication: Mothers who don't stay home full time are literally asking for their kids to turn into violent criminals.

Actual story: The report concludes "Long hours in the nursery (more than 35 hours a week) had both positive and negative effects on children's behaviour: they were more confident and sociable, but also more antisocial, and more worried and upset." So, err, six of one,...

And of course the article concludes that the government should shift it's focus away from childcare provision. The alternative option that occurs to me is the government should improve the quality of available childcare.

Read This

Mark Steel always seems to have something interesting to say...

Why Is It Always Our Fault?

The Guardian in it's quest to provide the latest and most insightful research, is now publishing the results of surveys by FHM... This in itself poses a problem for me. If we are to assume that results of a survey compiled through FHM are a fair portrayal of the views of men in British society we are implicitly accepting that FHM's readership is an "average" sample of men. Of course it's not - it's a minority of men who enjoy reading deeply misogynist material. So unsurprisingly the results reflect that.

So this apparently is what men want: "a 50/50 partnership, in which both they and their partner would go out to work, sharing childcare and housework". So how would that work then? You would pop the child in a drawer in the office from nine to five while you both worked? I don't think it's possible to do half the housework and half the childcare and hold down a full time job. And where is the evidence that these modern-thinking guys are actually doing any more housework or childcare?

Here's another quote: "men believe they have made a dramatic shift in roles in the last 30 years - at the behest of women - the survey also suggests that men feel women have now changed their minds and want to go back to old roles." Sure. Or women stuck with these neanderthals are realising that if they want the job done properly they need to do it themselves.

Monday, April 02, 2007

The Sporting Post

Ok, this is going to be a big one. There are things in life that we take for granted, things we've always known to be true and don't usually feel the need to question. And then sometimes for one reason or another we end up questioning them and sometimes they hold up to that questioning and sometimes they don't. Now I'm going to say something controversial:

Professional sports are a waste of money and resources.

I guess what made me really start thinking about all this was the death of Bob Woolmer. It's still not clear what happened but the general consensus that seems to be forming is that someone cared more about protecting their own match fixing racket than about Bob Woolmer's life. Even if we found out that Bob died of natural causes, the fact that we all assumed there was enough incentive for murder there should be cause enough for concern.

Then a couple of days ago I got a letter from my energy supplier - EDF. They were proud to announce they would be sponsoring the forthcoming rugby world cup. So proud in fact they felt the need to write and let me know specially. All I could think was that this was an excuse by the management to use company money to get themselves ringside seats. Personally I will not benefit at all from their sponsorship. I would benefit much more if they instead reduced my bill by an amount equivalent to my share of the sponsorship. A bit like I would benefit much more from the London Olympics if they just reduced my council tax in line with my share.

Today I read an article from the BBC about the impact of sports on fans. The research showed that winning fans were in fact more aggressive than losing fans. They also found these fans were more aggressive than they had been before the game. Losing reduced happiness, but winning did not increase happiness. It's not the biggest study or the most impressive but it doesn't seem to have found any positive side effects to guys watching sports. And of course we've all seen horror footage of fans rioting after football matches. And I think most of us have been out socialising and had our evening disrupted by the arrival of a big crowd of noisy drunk guys huggging each other and singing something about "One-nil". And many of us have felt intimidated or actually been hurt, deliberately or accidentally by these guys.

Professional sports do nothing for gender equality. The three top sports in the UK: football, rugby and cricket are barely played by women, when they are the matches are almost never televised or promoted and sponsorship is negligible. No women play these sports professionally in the UK. Other minority sports face a continuous uphill struggle to get funding and recognition for the women's side of the game. How can we tell young people that they live in a society where we value equal opportunities, then say "boys you can work as professional sportpeople, sorry girls you can't"?

And finally look at all the other things that professional sports fans are encouraged to do: drink too much, smoke, eat unhealthy pies and chips and waste money gambling. They also are likely to hang around in big groups of guys leaving their wives unsupported and their children feeling unloved. If children are brought along they are dressed up in team colours they are too young to understand, taught how to shout abuse at other fans and exposed to drunken rowdy behaviour.

By now you are probably thinking "bah humbug"and you probably have a few questions racing round your head. A few points about the benfits of sports that have been drummed into us all from birth and are going to take a bit of dislodging...

What about encouraging children to take up sports? Surely we need sports funding more than ever now to combat rising child obesity?

I am all in favour of sport in schools. And indeed my EDF letter assures me that they'll be funding a major school rugby program alongside the rugby world cup. I can't get hold of the numbers but what percentage of the money they're spending is going to schools? I suspect very little. Lots more good could be done if management didn't need to keep their executive boxes.

When I was at school we all played sport twice a week. Well most kids did. We were told in every subject from music to maths that we shouldn't be competitive, it was about doing the best WE could. Except sport. Then is was about winning. And I wasn't good enough at it to win. So I wrote excuse notes, faked illness, went AWOL, etc. And I was wildly depressed about it - all the subjects I was good at I had to shut up about and the one thing I wasn't so good at I was paraded infront of the rest of the school and made to look like an idiot. Parents were not invited in for geography day - no, they came in for sports day and laughed at me.

Funding school sports equipment is the excuse for everything these days. You can even get free school sports equipment vouchers with chocolate eggs. Equipment doesn't make kids fit, bright enthusiastic dedicated teachers and parents who encourage kids to participate without belittling them make kids fit. Chocolate bars and a nation obsessed with sitting on the sofa watching others do sport don't help either. The number of children who will go on to play professional sport is tiny. The number who aspire to do so and see their dreams end in disappointment is much higher. And the number who know from the outset that they'll never be able to live up to that standard and are quickly taught that sport for them is something to watch, is the highest of all.

What about encouraging sports at grass-roots level for adults?

Years after I left school I discovered I enjoyed playing sport. I tried to join a team and when I couldn't find a team I started my own. Over the three years I ran that team (in Tokyo), I spent a fortune out of my own pocket paying for practice courts, balls, bibs, kit, spare shin-pads, socks, adverts to find new players, laundering kit, competition entry fees, website upkeep, hiring refs and linesmen, league subscription fees and internal administration money. Not to mention all the time I put in. Of course I was pretty careful about saving money where I could. We got our shirts from a local mens team who were throwing them out to get new ones, etc. Despite eventually winning the all-Japan women's five-a-side tournament, I was never able to get any sponsorship money from local businesses or government programs.

When I came back to the UK I joined a local FA-registered side. I paid £50 FA registration fee, I paid to train every week, we all chipped in to pay for coaching, I paid for a transfer when I wasn't getting a game and we payed for matches we played and covered our own transport to and from games.

As far as I can see there is NO FUNDING at grassroots level for adult sport in the UK or overseas. Or if there is it isn't coming into the women's games at all. I no longer play group sport, the effort and cost isn't worth it.

Don't men need sports to somehow use up all that testosterone?

Well, as the Cardiff University researchers have established, watching sport in fact generates more testosterone and increases the likelihood that guys will become aggressive. If guys wanted to use up excess testosterone, they could try playing sport. Mr Cru likes boxing - he used to participate but now he just watches it on TV. I'm not a fan but in the interests of domestic harmony I tolerated it when he first moved in. A little over a year later I've started deliberately leaving the room when it's on. If I watch it late at night I don't sleep so well and I have more violent and upsetting dreams. Even as cynical and defensive towards it as I am, I am still well aware that I am affected by it. I thought boxing was the extreme end of sports but I increasingly see similarly agressive behaviour being accepted as the norm in rugby and even in supposedly non-contact football. And of course our screens and stadiums are now welcoming the even more violent option of "ulitmate fighting" where kicking, strangling and breaking arms and legs are also allowed. Occassionally Mr Cru will watch this too to my horror and every time I see it, there is actual blood spilt.

But what if I like watching sport?

So do I. But wouldn't it be nicer to go and see a game where the stakes were a great deal lower, where the games were genuinely played for honour? The prize money came from the ticket sales and thus accurately reflected the entertainment value of the sport? So playing good quality skillful sport became as important as winning and diving and then screaming for a penalty was a thing of the past? I think a happy medium would be that ticket sales could go to pay players wages, sponsorship money could only be given to school sports campaigns and merchandising profits should as a sign of good will be given to charity. Government money should of course be barred from going into sports, other than where needed in schools. I think the fun to be had watching sport under that arrangement would be much greater. And you could genuinely feel that you were doing something positive by going to a game.

But what about our international reputation for being good at sport?

We could trade that in for an international reputation for having the good sense not to waste resources encouraging drunken violent sexist aggression, cheating and in some cases even murder. We could use the money we save to build a new reputation as the country which prioritises improving the human condition across the globe rather than spending all our money on having half a dozen guys who can kick really hard and run really fast...